The Writer’s Almanac for Thursday, May 26, 2022


Lonely Harvest
by Margaret S. Mullins

As a child, my father helped me dig
a square of dense red clay, mark off rows
where zinnias would grow,
and radishes and tender spinach leaves.
He’d stand with me each night
as daylight drained away
to talk about our crops leaning on his hoe
as I would practice leaning so on mine.

Years later now in my big garden plot,
the soggy remnant stems of plants
flopped over several months ago,
the ground is cold, the berries gone,
the stakes like hungry sentries
stand guarding empty graves. And still
I hear his voice asking what I think
would best be planted once the weather warms.

 

Margaret Mullins, “Lonely Harvest” from Family Constellation. Copyright © 2012 by Margaret Mullins. Used by permission of The Permissions Company, LLC, on behalf of Finishing Line Press, www.finishinglinepress.com. (buy now)


It was on this day in 1521 that German priest and theologian Martin Luther was declared an outlaw and his writings were banned by the Edict of Worms. The edict made Luther more of a hero than he already was and it’s a big reason that Protestantism caught on so quickly.

Luther decided to become a priest after getting caught out in a thunderstorm one night. He swore to God that if he survived he would enter the religious life. He did survive and he went on to study theology, become ordained, and get a job as a professor in Wittenberg. As he became more and more involved in the church he began to grow disgusted with some of its practices. He was especially angry about the church’s sales of indulgences, which were said to decrease the time a person had to spend in purgatory.

On the eve of All Saints’ Day in 1517, Luther nailed to the door of his church 95 theses attacking the sale of indulgences and other excesses of the church. They were originally written in Latin, but they became so popular that people demanded they be translated into German, and so they were. Hundreds of copies were printed up on a printing press, which was still a fairly recent invention, and Luther’s message spread throughout Germany and Europe.

Religious leaders and politicians began to realize how dangerous he was becoming to the traditional church, and in April of 1521, a group of Roman princes pressured Emperor Charles V into forming an assembly in the city of Worms to try to get Luther to reject his writings.

On his trip to Worms, Luther was celebrated as a hero at most of the towns he passed through. He refused to recant and went back to Wittenberg to start the reformation.


It’s the birthday of jazz trumpeter, bandleader, and composer Miles Davis (1926). He was born in Alton, Illinois, and grew up in East Saint Louis. His family was fairly well off, a fact he liked to remind people of, since they tended to assume he came from poverty. His dad was a dental surgeon and the family had a ranch in Arkansas where young Miles learned to ride horses. He moved to New York in 1944 to study at the Institute of Musical Art, which is now Juilliard. His true schooling, though, came by way of jam sessions with Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, and when Gillespie and Parker parted ways, Davis filled Gillespie’s vacancy in Parker’s band.

Always an innovator, Davis formed a nine-piece ensemble in the late 1940s that included a tuba and a French horn; their aim was to re-create the smooth sound of the human voice, and their album Birth of the Cool (1956) heralded the beginning of the “cool jazz” movement. Though it was historically important, it was a commercial failure, and Davis resented the success of later musicians — mostly white — who enjoyed celebrity under the cool jazz banner.

He developed a heroin habit in the early 1950s due partly to the company he kept and partly to depression over romantic troubles and his lack of critical acclaim. He finally beat the habit in 1954 after locking himself in his room at his father’s house until he had come through the difficult withdrawal symptoms. But he was also musically productive during those years developing a “hard bop” style. He wrapped up the 1950s by releasing one of the most celebrated jazz albums in history, Kind of Blue (1959), which was based on modal scales rather than chords, and was more melodic than some of his earlier work.

In the late 1960s Davis began introducing some electric guitar and piano into his records, inspired in part by Jimi Hendrix and James Brown. He cut what some consider his last pure jazz album, In a Silent Way, in 1969 and then moved increasingly toward funk and rock and roll; his jazz-rock fusion double album Bitches Brew (1970) was hugely successful — his first gold record — and won him a lot of new fans even as it alienated his old ones. He was the first jazz musician to be featured on the cover of Rolling Stone and began opening for rock acts like the Grateful Dead, Santana, and Neil Young.

He broke both ankles in a car accident in 1972, which slowed him down, and checked out of public life altogether in 1975, ill and exhausted and battling a cocaine addiction. There was a three-year period where he didn’t play his trumpet at all, and it took some time to get his chops back when he returned to music in the early ’80s. This time he surprised the critics and fans alike by taking an interest in British New Wave music. He died of pneumonia and a stroke in 1991.


Today is the birthday of photographer Dorothea Lange, born Dorothea Nutzhorn in Hoboken, New Jersey (1895). She contracted polio when she was seven and her left leg was noticeably weaker than her right for the rest of her life. She came to see that as a kind of blessing: “[It] was the most important thing that happened to me, and formed me, guided me, instructed me, helped me, and humiliated me,” she said. Her father abandoned the family and her parents divorced when Dorothea was 12. She had a lot of anger toward her father as a result and she changed her name, dropping the Nutzhorn and taking her mother’s maiden name, Lange.

She went to the New York Training School for Teachers in 1913 but she had never had much interest in academics. She was more interested in taking pictures. She got a job at a New York studio, studied photography at Columbia, and learned on the job from a number of established photographers. She decided to travel across the country and support herself by selling her pictures. She got as far as San Francisco before the money ran out. She married the muralist painter Maynard Dixon, had a couple of kids, and settled down to a fairly comfortable life taking portraits of the Bay Area’s rich and famous. In the 1920s Lange and Dixon traveled through the desert Southwest. She took photos of Native Americans and this was her first real experience with documentary photography, which would be her career and calling for the rest of her life. When she returned home to San Francisco she began to document the changes she saw around her neighborhood after the stock market crashed in 1929: men in suits standing in breadlines, or waiting near the employment agency, or sleeping on the sidewalk.

In the early 1930s, Lange met a Berkeley professor and labor economist named Paul Taylor. They fell in love and left their respective spouses. They traveled together throughout the United States documenting the hardships of the Great Depression. Taylor wrote economic reports and Lange took pictures for the Farm Security Administration. It was during this time that Lange took her most famous photograph: “Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California, 1936.” In 1960 she recalled taking the photograph:

“I saw and approached the hungry and desperate mother, as if drawn by a magnet. I do not remember how I explained my presence or my camera to her, but I do remember she asked me no questions. I made five exposures, working closer and closer from the same direction. I did not ask her name or her history. She told me her age, that she was thirty-two. She said that they had been living on frozen vegetables from the surrounding fields, and birds that the children killed. She had just sold the tires from her car to buy food.”

Lange was always respectful of her subjects, and would not photograph them if she could sense that they were uncomfortable. “Her method of work,” Taylor later said, “was often to just saunter up to the people and look around, and then when she saw something that she wanted to photograph, to quietly take her camera, look at it, and if she saw that they objected, why, she would close it up and not take a photograph, or perhaps she would wait until … they were used to her.” She often captioned her photos with the words of the subjects: “Somethin’ is radical wrong” and “I don’t believe the President knows what’s happening to us here.”

During World War II the War Relocation Authority hired Lange to document the government’s internment of Japanese Americans. She gave up a Guggenheim Fellowship — she was the first woman to receive the prestigious award — to take this post, but the Army felt her photographs were too critical of the internment policy so they impounded the pictures for decades. Lange also documented the formation of the United Nations in 1945. She and Taylor continued their practice of documenting conditions around the world — he with economic reports and she with her camera. She died of esophageal cancer in 1965.

Lange said:

“You know, so often [photography] is just sticking around and being there, remaining there, not swooping in and swooping out in a cloud of dust; sitting down on the ground with people, letting the children look at your camera with their dirty, grimy little hands, and putting their fingers on the lens, and you let them, because you know that if you will behave in a generous manner, you’re very apt to receive it, you know? People are very, very trusting; and also, most of us really like to get the full attention of the person who’s photographing you. It’s rare, you don’t get it very often. Who pays attention to you, really, a hundred percent? Your doctor, your dentist, and your photographer.”


It’s the birthday of American pianist and composer William Bolcom, born in Seattle Washington (1938). Bolcom was something of a musical prodigy: by the time he was eleven, he was studying composition and piano privately at the University of Washington.

Bolcom has composed over 300 symphonic works and chamber pieces. He performs often with his wife, the mezzo-soprano Joan Morris. They’ve recorded popular parlour and vaudeville songs from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Bolcom has also composed several operas based on literary works, like Frank Norris’s novel McTeague, Arthur Miller’s play, A View from the Bridge, and Robert Altman’s film, A Wedding.

When he was 17, he began what would become a 30-year-long process of setting poet William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience to music. It became a three-hour long composition for soloists, choruses, and orchestra. Along the way, he realized he wanted to bridge the gap between “popular” and “serious” music, so he incorporated elements of jazz, folk, soul, reggae, and vaudeville. The world premiere was held at Stuttgart Opera in 1984. On Blake’s work, Bolcom said:

“I’ve been looking at these texts since I fell in love with them at 17. I thought that maybe they would make more sense sung than spoken. Singing spreads them out. When I read these poems aloud, they make a weird kind of sense. But people have gotten all ‘aw, shucks’ about reading poetry aloud today. It’s like listening to a bank draft. T. S. Eliot was like that. Blake is kind of a gloss on Handel. His prophecies are the arias of their time.”

William Bolcom won the Pulitzer Prize (1988) for 12 New Etudes for Piano.


It’s the birthday of American avant-garde composer and musician Moondog (1916), known as the “Viking of 6th Avenue” because he used to busk on 6th Avenue in New York, between 52nd and 55th Streets wearing a Viking helmet, dressed in a flowing cape, and wielding a sword. When Dizzy Gillespie encountered him in the 1950s he thought Moondog looked like Christ.

Moondog was born Louis Thomas Hardin in Marysville, Kansas, to missionaries. He always loved music and made his own drums from cardboard when he was five years old. He was blinded at the age of 16 in a farming accident and sent to the Iowa School for the Blind, where he learned to read music by Braille. By 1943 he was in New York City where he became acquainted with Leonard Bernstein, Arturo Toscanini, and Charlie Parker. He christened himself “Moondog” in honor of a dog “who used to howl at the moon more than any dog I knew of.”

His music was a mix of Native percussion and flute, jazz, classical, and ambient sounds like babies crying and ocean waves tumbling. People who passed him on the street often thought he was homeless, but he had an apartment and recorded several records with large labels like Epic. In the 1960s his song “All My Loneliness” became a hit for Janis Joplin. He moved to Germany and gave up the helmet and the cloak because he was getting so many offers to serve as a guest conductor for orchestras. He was a major influence on avant-garde composer Philip Glass who brought him back to the United States (1989) to lead the Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra at the New Music Festival in Brooklyn.

Moondog was a noted inventor of musical instruments such as a small, triangular-shaped harp known as the “oo” and the trimba, a triangular, percussive instrument that is still used today. Moondog died in 1999. On what inspired his music, he said, “Mostly silence…” and “I deny that there is such a thing as originality. All an artist can do is bring his personality to bear. If he is true to himself, he can’t help but be different, even unique, for no two persons are alike. I do not strive to be different for the sake of being different, but do not mind being different if my difference is the result of being myself.”

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.® 

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Lake Wobegon is having a boom year thanks to millennial entrepreneurship—AuntMildred’s.com Gourmet Meatloaf, for example, or Universal Fire, makers of artisanal firewood seasoned with sea salt. Meanwhile, the author flies in to give eulogies at the funerals of five classmates, including a couple whom he disliked, and he finds a wave of narcissism crashing on the rocks of Lutheran stoicism. He is restored by the humor and grace of his old girlfriend Arlene and a visit from his wife, Giselle, who arrives from New York for a big love scene in an old lake cabin.

 

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In Boom Town, we are invited to catch up as Garrison gets caught up with all of those beautifully flawed human beings that populate and promulgate their mythical town where all the women are finally accounted for, all the men are self-realized or died trying, and all the children are still way above average.” —Martin Sheen

 

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Here're your orders: make something beautiful

I woke up this morning and my good woman wasn’t gone, she was asleep beside me, I didn’t feel an aching in my head, no blues around my bed. I made coffee, it tasted fine, not like turpentine. I could put gin in the coffee and make it taste like turpentine but why would I? And that’s how I feel about the Six Supremes who’re trying to take us back to the 19th century. No need to grieve over it, November is coming, and the simple solution is to throw the bums out. Elect a Congress with a two-thirds majority in favor of enlarging the Court to fifteen, which will reverse the reversals. Ninety million eligible voters sat out the 2016 election and that’s how we wound up where we are with this ambitious minority in power. So you’re depressed by this turn of events. Think of the Six, staying home with the shades pulled, their spouses and children going to the hair salon accompanied by plainclothesmen with a bulge under the jacket. They know that they are widely despised. They avoid eye contact with passersby. I doubt they’re ordering takeout: some worker at Domino’s sees Alito’s name on the order, she is likely to tamper with the pizza. The Six are not attending concerts. No picnics for them. No long car trips except to Mississippi, Alabama, and Texas. Clarence and Ginni surely have close friends but after he announced that the Supremes should take a hard look at gay relationships and contraceptives, he must be thinking about the children and grandchildren of the friends, the boy with his hair in a bun, the girl with the tattoos, and what about the paperboy and the waiters at the country club? And what if he takes a wrong turn and runs into the Pride Parade? They might put him on a rainbow blanket and march down the street tossing him in the air, waving his arms and legs, a ridiculous fate for the Leader of the Pack. You and I, my dears, can walk freely through town with a clear conscience, enjoy the breeze in the trees and say hi to the cop on the corner. The Six cannot. The cop is not so friendly, imagining everybody carrying a loaded .45 and if he sees one of the six enablers, he might give them the finger, which so far is protected by the First Amendment. Don’t be disheartened. Deal with the problem. If you’re troubled by inflation, cut back on expenses. Don’t buy sparkling water. Fill up the glass with tap water and if you want bubbles, stick a straw in the water and blow. If you’re depressed by the state of things, skip the news and take a walk beside a large body of water and look at the stars and the moon. The newscaster will say, “Good evening” and then give you fifty-seven reasons why it’s not. Give yourself a break. The Gang of Six is heading for 1845 and I doubt they’ll get to Prohibition before they fade into the sunset and go down in the WWTT chapter of history (What Were They Thinking). The Six couldn’t find abortion mentioned in the Constitution so they dumped Roe but maybe when they go to their physician to deal with their gloominess, they’ll find a medical originalist with a bucket of leeches who’ll bleed them white and administer powerful purgatives until they’re considerably lighter, and thus they will regain their senses and so will we. Meanwhile, remind yourself that other people have thrived under wretched governors so don’t be discouraged. The Duke of Saxe-Weimar threw Bach in jail for daring to think he had individual rights. Dante was sent into exile and he wrote the Inferno so he could put the politician Argenti into the Fifth Circle of Hell. Dostoevsky joined a liberal study group for which, in 1849, he was thrown into prison and sentenced to death by firing squad, and was third in line to be executed when a pardon arrived. He lit out for Paris, London, Berlin, and figured out how to survive, writing Crime and Punishment in serial installments for magazines, avoiding politics. While cruelty is in power, do what Mozart did. Exercise your gifts. Create beautiful things. Wolfgang stayed clear of emperors and did his work and he lives on today and the emperors are just moldy names on marble slabs covered with pigeon droppings. If you can’t write The Marriage of Figaro, write your own marriage and make it a work of art.  

America is missing a holiday maybe

It’s over and gone, but every Midsummer Day I remember the dinner at Hanne and Ole’s farm in Denmark back in 1989 when fifty of us sat in a meadow at long tables with white cloths and good china for a feast of cold soup and salad and white wine, platters of lamb and potatoes, and dessert and coffee, and the Danish lady next to me speaking perfect schoolgirl English, and around ten p.m., as the sky turned dark, we traipsed down to the ocean shore and lit a bonfire and burned a straw witch and all the Danes sang from memory songs they’d known from childhood and we could see far away up the shore, other bonfires, other parties, other witches being burned.

We have no celebration like it in America. There’s no commercial motive behind Midsummer’s Day, no political rationale or religious, it’s about the glory of summer and friendship and the casting out of evil spirits. I was there as an outsider, and in celebration of the day they went out of their way to make me feel welcome. The Danish lady had heard that I was an American author and she read a book of mine and talked about it, which, my being a self-effacing Midwesterner, made me uncomfortable but it was a kind gesture.

Maybe the Fourth could become that sort of celebration. We need some community parties that have a good feeling without a big message. The boomers went in for big music festivals, Woodstock and then the Grateful Dead concerts, thirty thousand people in tribal clothing, seriously stoned, listening to a stoned band on a distorted sound system vamping for twenty-five minutes on a song that was better at four and a half. The Dead concert was not about community, it was about who was not welcome, your parents, teachers, people over thirty.

I attended a strawberry fest once and that was a fine celebration. You pop a big ripe red strawberry in your mouth and you feel your meanness dissipate. That’s why strawberry-rhubarb pie is such a great innovation, combining sweetness and irony. It is a beautiful marriage and marriage, as we know, is the basis of community and the true test of character. The Deadheads were under the drug-induced illusion that they were lonely geniuses, but when old friends and neighbors gather to celebrate, it’s a triumph of hope over experience.

Denmark is a nation of a dozen political parties so you knew there was plenty of stiff disagreement under the surface and, as in any group of people who know each other all too well, various old feuds and misunderstandings and interesting gossip, but they set it aside when the witch is carried in on her pole and consigned to the flames. Let go of the past, summer is here, live these brilliant days one by one, put regret and recrimination behind.

Marriage is a great test and some of us were allowed to retake it until we got it right. To make a life with your most knowledgeable critic is heroic, and the reward is a spacious happiness, no doubt about it. I have no objection to same-sex marriage but it strikes me as a compromise, whereas marrying someone from the other team is a bold move. My parents eloped and married in secret over the opposition of both families and this was a bond between them, they were in love to the very end, though they were as different as could be, a farm boy and a city girl, a stoic and a romantic. My mother loved comedians and laughed at Jack Benny and Lucille Ball and my dad didn’t understand comedy, it struck him as contrary to Scripture. She adored Christmas, he thought it was a pagan aberration, but they worked it out.

And now Jenny walks into the room and asks what I’m writing and she’s going to want me to read it to her and when I do, she’s going to tell me to take out the part about same-sex marriage, that it’ll hurt people’s feelings, but I’m not going to do it. Some of my best friends, et cetera, et cetera, and if you can’t kid your friends, then we have a problem. She and I have been together thirty years and she still mystifies me. We could make Columbus Day into Couples Day: marriage is a voyage into the unknown and when you get there you find out it’s not where you thought you were going, thank goodness.

A weekend in the wilds of Connecticut

I have seen some of the future lately and I must admit it’s very appealing to me. My wife drives through Connecticut, a woman’s voice in the dashboard directing her along a twisting route through small towns laid out in the 18th century, a street plan designed to frustrate intruders, and my daughter in the back seat FaceTimes her roommate Saamiya who is in India, visiting relatives. My daughter is drawn to people, loves to be in a group, and the phone is her instrument of choice, and soon Marisa joins from London, and Erin in New Jersey, Hindu, Orthodox, and Jewish, joined in small talk. Remarkable to me, not to her.

“Can you feel how smooth the car runs?” my wife says. She took it to a garage for an oil change two days ago and the garage texted her videos of two very worn tires and an engine that needed retuning and she texted back her consent. The cost was steep but the advance info lessened the shock. I wish I’d been at the marketing meeting that came up with that idea.

We come to her family’s old summer house and turn on the AC and I attend to my email, fifty deletions, four replies, and then I post on Facebook a comment on the benefits of being a cancelee in this cancel culture (you find out who your true friends are) that is read and liked by 494 persons. I like this. Back in my day, I could’ve written a letter to the editor of the morning paper about public shaming and friendship, and maybe it would’ve appeared four days later, and maybe two friends would’ve said, “I saw your letter to the editor.” But now, having written three sentences, I find out in a few hours that 494 persons have friendly feelings toward me. A gentle rain on the roof.

How many friends does a person need? Thousands? No, 494 makes me happy. My wife sits on the porch reading an e-book borrowed from the library and then she comes in to show me, on her iPhone, video of the family of foxes cavorting in the woods a hundred feet away. The FaceTiming continues. My wife loves this porch because she sat here with her grandfather and grandmother when she was a little girl. She and her siblings were parceled out singly to the old folks, each kid feeling special in turn. She was cherished on this porch, by the old folks and now again by me. A fox trots across the lawn. Saamiya speaks from India. A general blessedness is in the air.

Other people can dread the future persuasively, and God bless them, but I imagine a world in which people feel drawn together by digital democracy and find a humane commonality, in which life is made simpler in small crucial ways, and meanwhile medicine continues to take great leaps. In two months I shall have a mitral valve replaced by an ace surgical team, most of them half my age, which, assuming success, which of course I do, opens the door to my reaching the age of 97, my mother’s ultimate age, or 101, my editor Roger Angell’s, which would let me see more of the future than I was counting on, a very happy thought.

I’ve been a writer since my mitral valve problem got me excused from football when I was 14 and instead of enduring humiliation at the hands of bigger boys, I wrote sports for the Anoka Herald and my aunt Eleanor read my stuff and said it was good. My parents believed that praising their children would encourage the sin of pride so they didn’t but my aunt took it as her auntly duty, and she was my most athletic aunt and most literate, and she was a force in my life. I’ve never gone to a shrink, I just sit down and write, and this is a gift, along with the blood thinner and the anti-seizure meds and the woman on the porch.

So I’ve canceled my 80th birthday party in August, to which I would’ve invited all 494 of you, because I don’t want COVID to get in the way of the valve replacement that can send me tap-tap-tapping into my nineties. I’m a happy man of simple tastes. If you offered me some super sex, I’d be happy with the soup.

 

Just a word about Sunday, then I shut up

Father’s Day is a wonderful joke, a day on which you sit with your brood and someone turns to you and says, “When is Father’s Day? Isn’t it in June?” and you, the father, say, “I have no idea whatsoever.” And that’s the end of it. Mother’s Day is the big deal when tanker ships full of French perfume dock at the bottling plants and four-star restaurants hire extra staff and Father’s Day is the Sunday when someone gives you a bottle of cologne that smells like disinfectant. The price tag is still on it, $1.89.

Women, as we know unless we’re in Texas or in the memory unit, run this world. There was never a single object that a man set down that a woman didn’t reach over and move it. Never a sentence came out of a man’s mouth that a woman didn’t correct. Women decide what we shall eat and what we shall sit on or sleep on, and a man’s opinion is of no more use than that of the family cat. This is a major factor in the popularity of gay marriage: two men decide they want to be free and sleep on cotton sheets and not polyester and have dark brown towels and wear festive colors rather than the prison uniforms women buy for us. The sex is an add-on, mainly it’s about exercising personal taste.

I know, I grew up in a women’s world, the kitchen, and it was great fun. These were Midwestern Christian women but once they got loose of their men, they were funny and loved cooking and tidying up, while the men did the hard work, which was conversing with their sons-in-law.

So don’t give me any cologne, my darlings. Honor your mother who endured excruciating misery and the cruel hands of male obstetricians while your old man watched TV and ate Chinese takeout.

I’m not the man my father John was. He built the house I grew up in, dug the basement, poured concrete, raised the walls, did the plumbing, planted a lawn and garden. I find it challenging to put up a pup tent on flat ground. He was a farm boy. I was a compulsive reader. I put in my time hoeing corn but I gravitated to a nest under the stairs where I read novels and poetry. To my father it was almost as if I were styling around in high heels and nylons. I regret the unhappiness I caused him. We never bonded until he was dying and I brought my little daughter to see him and they bonded instantly, she delighted him, and I got in on her ticket.

Things are different now. Traveling around last week, in and out of airports, it was touching to observe the gentleness of young fathers with small children, their sweetness and patience, a far cry from the brusque tyrants of old. In my boyhood, daddies weren’t cuddlers, they were the warden, chief critic, executive, and it was beautiful to see up close a young dad with a weepy infant in arms and two rambunctious toddlers, speaking kindly to his offspring as he installed them in a row, comforting, encouraging, coaxing. Back in my day, dads were enforcers of high standards to which their children aspired but inevitably failed leaving an embittered pater consoling himself with a bottle of Scotch, and now a loving style of fatherhood predominates. This bodes well for humanity.

Nonetheless, it strikes me as wasteful to set aside a Sunday in June to honor ejaculation. Put fatherhood together with motherhood for Mom & Dad Day in May and maybe start a new day in June in honor of underlings, minions, employees, offspring, in recognition of the fact that leaders learn from people below them on the organization chart. Many clerks have brought up their bosses to be decent human beings. I’ve learned a great deal from fan letters, e.g., what they omit. There is nothing so instructive as standing in front of a group of people you’re supposed to teach. You learn about comedy from listening to the laughter. Parenting skills are taught by small children.

Maybe on Underling Day you’d turn society upside down and put the inmates in charge of the asylum. I don’t know. When I divorced his mother, my son, who was seven, said, “Why can’t you and Mom take turns being right?” I still haven’t answered that question.

 

A Prairie Home Companion An Evening of Story and Song Humor Love & Comedy Tour Old Friends Poetry Prairie Home Christmas Show Solo Songs Stories The Gratitude Tour
Schedule

July 10, 2022

Sunday incl LIVESTREAM

7:30 p.m.

Ryman Auditorium, Nashville, TN

Ryman Auditorium, Nashville, TN

A Prairie Home Companion American Revival comes to Ryman Auditorium on July 10, 2022 with Aoife O’Donovan, Joe Newberry, Heather Masse, Rich Dworsky, Sam Bush, Pat Donohue, Fred Newman, Tim Russell and others. LIVE STREAM AVAILABLE

July 25, 2022

Monday

7:30 p.m.

Brown County Playhouse, Nashville, IN

Nashville, IN

Keillor & Company with Prudence Johnson and Dan Chouinard bring their show to Nashville, IN for a performance of classic love songs, poetry, The News from Lake Wobegon, and a conversation about Why You Should Go On Getting Older

July 27, 22

Wednesday

7:30 p.m.

RESCHEDULED Midland Theatre, Newark OH

Newark, OH

Keillor & Company with Prudence Johnson and Dan Chouinard. A performance of classic love songs, poetry, The News from Lake Wobegon, and a conversation about Why You Should Go On Getting Older

July 28, 2022

Thursday

8:00 p.m.

Rescheduled The Kent Stage, Kent, OH

Kent, OH

March 4 in Kent, OH Keillor & Company with Prudence Johnson and Dan Chouinard. A performance of classic love songs, poetry, The News from Lake Wobegon, and a conversation about Why You Should Go On Getting Older

July 30, 2022

Saturday

8:00 p.m.

Door County Auditorium, Fish Creek, WI

Fish Creek, WI

Keillor & Company with Prudence Johnson and Dan Chouinard bring their show to Fish Creek, Wisconsin for a performance of classic love songs, poetry, The News from Lake Wobegon, and a conversation about Why You Should Go On Getting Older

August 20, 2022

Saturday

7:30 p.m.

Big Top Chautauqua, Bayfield, WI

Big Top Chautauqua, Bayfield, WI

Garrison Keillor and his Prairie Home Friends (Fred Newman, Heather Masse, Rich Dworsky, Richard Kriehn & Dan Magraw) bring their show to Big Top Chautauqua for a performance of night of laughter, song and The News from Lake Wobegon.

October 9, 2022

Sunday

7:00 p.m.

Paramount Hudson Valley, Peekskill, NY

Peekskill, NY

Garrison Keillor brings his solo show to Peekskill NY. Be prepared to laugh and sing along as you celebrate all that unite us.

October 13, 2022

Thursday

7:30 p.m.

Virginia Theatre, Champaign, IL

Champaign, IL

Keillor & Company with Prudence Johnson and Dan Chouinard. A performance of classic love songs, poetry, The News from Lake Wobegon, and a conversation about Why You Should Go On Getting Older

November 6, 2022

Sunday

7:30 p.m.

The Bend Theatre, West Bend, WI

West Bend, WI

Garrison Keillor brings his show to West Bend, WI for a performance of sing-a-longs, poetry, The News from Lake Wobegon, and a conversation about Why You Should Go On Getting Older

December 4, 2022

Sunday

8:00 p.m.

Broward Center for Performing Arts, Fort Lauderdale, FL

Fort Lauderdale, FL

Keillor & Company with Prudence Johnson and Dan Chouinard bring their show to Fort Lauderdale, FL for a performance of classic love songs, poetry, The News from Lake Wobegon, and a conversation about Why You Should Go On Getting Older

Radio

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The Writer’s Almanac for Tuesday, June 28, 2022

The Writer’s Almanac for Tuesday, June 28, 2022

It’s the birthday of the man who wrote, “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains”: philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, born in Geneva in 1712.

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The Writer’s Almanac for Monday, June 27, 2022

The Writer’s Almanac for Monday, June 27, 2022

Today marks the birthdays of poets Frank O’Hara (1926), Lucille Clifton (1936), and Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872).

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A Prairie Home Companion: July 2, 2005

A Prairie Home Companion: July 2, 2005

A wonderful 2002 Tanglewood performance, with guests Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, Peter Schickele and Inga Swearingen.

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The Writer’s Almanac for Sunday, June 26, 2022

The Writer’s Almanac for Sunday, June 26, 2022

Pearl S. Buck was born on this day in 1892. A child of Christian missionaries, raised in China, her novel “The Good Earth” has become a classic.

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The Writer’s Almanac for Saturday, June 25, 2022

The Writer’s Almanac for Saturday, June 25, 2022

Anne Frank’s diary was published on this day in 1947. “It’s an odd idea for someone like me to keep a diary; not only because I have never done so before, but because it seems to me that neither I — nor for that matter anyone else — will be interested in the unbosomings of a thirteen-year-old schoolgirl. Still, what does that matter? I want to write, but more than that, I want to bring out all kinds of things that lie buried deep in my heart.”

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The Writer’s Almanac for Friday, June 24, 2022

The Writer’s Almanac for Friday, June 24, 2022

Poet Stephen Dunn was born on this day in 1939. He published more than 10 books of poetry before his collection “Different Hours” won the Pulitzer Prize in 2001.

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The Writer’s Almanac for Thursday, June 23, 2022

The Writer’s Almanac for Thursday, June 23, 2022

“Today I have so much to do/I must kill memory once and for all/I must turn soul to stone/I must learn to live again”–Russian poet Anna Akhmatova born in Odessa in 1889.

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The Writer’s Almanac for Wednesday, June 22, 2022

The Writer’s Almanac for Wednesday, June 22, 2022

It was on this day in 1944 that the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944 became law — a law better known as the GI Bill.

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The Writer’s Almanac for Tuesday, June 21, 2022

The Writer’s Almanac for Tuesday, June 21, 2022

“My ideal state as a reader when I’m reading other people is feeling I’m vaguely wasting my time when I’m not reading that novel.”–Novelist Ian McEwan, born in Aldershot, England (1948).

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The Writer’s Almanac for Monday, June 20, 2022

The Writer’s Almanac for Monday, June 20, 2022

Today is the birthday of Vikram Seth, born in Calcutta, India (1952), author of “A Suitable Boy”, the longest single-volume work of fiction in English since 1747.

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Writing

Here’re your orders: make something beautiful

I woke up this morning and my good woman wasn’t gone, she was asleep beside me, I didn’t feel an aching in my head, no blues around my bed. I made coffee, it tasted fine, not like turpentine. I could put gin in the coffee and make it taste like turpentine but why would I? And that’s how I feel about the Six Supremes who’re trying to take us back to the 19th century. No need to grieve over it, November is coming, and the simple solution is to throw the bums out. Elect a Congress with a two-thirds majority in favor of enlarging the Court to fifteen, which will reverse the reversals. Ninety million eligible voters sat out the 2016 election and that’s how we wound up where we are with this ambitious minority in power.

So you’re depressed by this turn of events. Think of the Six, staying home with the shades pulled, their spouses and children going to the hair salon accompanied by plainclothesmen with a bulge under the jacket. They know that they are widely despised. They avoid eye contact with passersby. I doubt they’re ordering takeout: some worker at Domino’s sees Alito’s name on the order, she is likely to tamper with the pizza. The Six are not attending concerts. No picnics for them. No long car trips except to Mississippi, Alabama, and Texas. Clarence and Ginni surely have close friends but after he announced that the Supremes should take a hard look at gay relationships and contraceptives, he must be thinking about the children and grandchildren of the friends, the boy with his hair in a bun, the girl with the tattoos, and what about the paperboy and the waiters at the country club? And what if he takes a wrong turn and runs into the Pride Parade? They might put him on a rainbow blanket and march down the street tossing him in the air, waving his arms and legs, a ridiculous fate for the Leader of the Pack.

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A weekend in the wilds of Connecticut

I have seen some of the future lately and I must admit it’s very appealing to me. My wife drives through Connecticut, a woman’s voice in the dashboard directing her along a twisting route through small towns laid out in the 18th century, a street plan designed to frustrate intruders, and my daughter in the back seat FaceTimes her roommate Saamiya who is in India, visiting relatives. My daughter is drawn to people, loves to be in a group, and the phone is her instrument of choice, and soon Marisa joins from London, and Erin in New Jersey, Hindu, Orthodox, and Jewish, joined in small talk. Remarkable to me, not to her.

“Can you feel how smooth the car runs?” my wife says. She took it to a garage for an oil change two days ago and the garage texted her videos of two very worn tires and an engine that needed retuning and she texted back her consent. The cost was steep but the advance info lessened the shock. I wish I’d been at the marketing meeting that came up with that idea.

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Just a word about Sunday, then I shut up

Father’s Day is a wonderful joke, a day on which you sit with your brood and someone turns to you and says, “When is Father’s Day? Isn’t it in June?” and you, the father, say, “I have no idea whatsoever.” And that’s the end of it. Mother’s Day is the big deal when tanker ships full of French perfume dock at the bottling plants and four-star restaurants hire extra staff and Father’s Day is the Sunday when someone gives you a bottle of cologne that smells like disinfectant. The price tag is still on it, $1.89.

Women, as we know unless we’re in Texas or in the memory unit, run this world. There was never a single object that a man set down that a woman didn’t reach over and move it. Never a sentence came out of a man’s mouth that a woman didn’t correct. Women decide what we shall eat and what we shall sit on or sleep on, and a man’s opinion is of no more use than that of the family cat. This is a major factor in the popularity of gay marriage: two men decide they want to be free and sleep on cotton sheets and not polyester and have dark brown towels and wear festive colors rather than the prison uniforms women buy for us. The sex is an add-on, mainly it’s about exercising personal taste.

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Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit a shirt

As a Midwesterner, I was brought up to be self-effacing and make no demands of anybody. I don’t honk, I don’t wave at the waiter who’s ignoring me, I don’t want to be a problem. Offer me ranch or blue cheese dressing, I say, “Whatever is easier for you, whichever you have more of, whatever nobody else wants.” “Just choose, damn it,” the host says, and I’m tempted to ask for blue cheese but I don’t want to if it deprives someone else of blue cheese who is on the edge of the cliff already and, denied his dressing, might harm himself. “We have plenty of both,” the host says. But now I’m wondering, “What do I have against ranch? Is it my antipathy to cowboy mythology and the fetishization of guns?” And the host screams, “CHOOSE!” And I ask him, “Which one has less impact on the environment?” And he shows me to the door and locks it after me.

Self-effacement is rare in New York where I live. People don’t go around meeking each other as they do back in Minnesota, because here, the Christian faith is an oddball item, as it was in Jesus’s time. It’s a city of Jews and Muslims and Buddhists and a million people who moved here to escape from fundamentalist families, plus other minorities, Sodomites and Gomorrhians, and the people who designed the Tower of Babel and went into the practice of law.

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Looking down the road, seeing the future

It would appear that five of the Supremes are favoring an absolute right to possess any weaponry whatsoever by whoever has the cash, and to bear arms without restriction in schools, churches, shopping centers, aboard airliners, in the courtroom itself, that a right is a right, period. And when the Executive Quintet opens those doors, we’ll see dramatic changes here in the land of the free and home of the brazen, such as the man police apprehended carrying a gun near Justice Kavanaugh’s home last week, with intent to do harm.

We have 400 million guns now and when we get up to a billion, there will be more men with guns than police can apprehend, and it’s safe to say that no parent will send children to school, even one with armed guards. Law enforcement has been overwhelmed in many cities, including Minneapolis, where police have begun to privatize themselves and hire out as freelance security. Education, I suppose, will move online. Millions of people will become consultants and work out of their homes; manufacturing will all go to China. The closing of schools will likely mean the end of interscholastic sports except fencing, sharpshooting, and bowling, which may be useful for self-defense.

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The meaning of life as it dawned on me the other night

I enjoy writing this column every week but how would you know that, me being from Minnesota, from stoical people, brought up to bite our tongue and persevere through suffering, and if pleasure occurs, be patient, it will soon pass. In other parts of the country, our stoicism would be diagnosed as depression. Sedatives are pretty much wasted on us. Joy is a word on Christmas cards, not used in conversation. At games, the cheerleaders only try to keep the crowd awake, and if our team wins, we think, “Well, I guess it could’ve been worse and next time it probably will be.”

We’re people of few words and that’s why we’ve produced very few writers. Fitzgerald was an Easterner born in St. Paul by mistake and he left as soon as he could and never returned. The poet Robert Bly’s big book was Silence in the Snowy Fields, which pretty much says it all, and then he wrote Iron John about plumbing. As for Louise Erdrich, she grew up in North Dakota.

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Recovering from disaster, thanks to my heroes

I’ve been writing nagging hectoring columns about malfeasance in high places lately, and now it’s time to admit I left the water running in the shower three weeks ago and it leaked down to two apartments below us and caused water damage and now insurance adjustors are working out a settlement and I am required to wear a hazard-orange vest with IN THE EVENT OF ERRATIC BEHAVIOR, CALL — and my wife’s phone number written on the back. I distinctly remember turning the water off, but plaster damage below us says otherwise. So I’m not going to write about the federal judge who threw out the mask mandate that led to the steep rise in COVID cases. I have my own problems.

My wife is a forgiving person. She has not filed for guardianship. She kicks my butt at Scrabble but she’s gracious about it. She rations my bacon cheeseburgers. She tells me if I look bedraggled so I don’t walk down the street and people hand me spare change. And she turns out the light at night and rolls over and puts her arms around me. This is better than a Pulitzer Prize. So I don’t wake up in the morning with an aching in my head and the blues all around my bed and the water tastes like turpentine because my good gal left me here cryin’. She didn’t. She has made coffee and she has read the morning paper so that I don’t need to. When you skip the news, life is a lot more like Anne of Green Gables or The House at Pooh Corner.

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Some news, as we know, is realer than others

Uvalde stays in the mind despite all distractions, a pleasant day at a little summer house in Connecticut and Scrabble on the porch and the drive back to Manhattan on the Merritt Parkway with its arched stone bridges dating back to the days when families went for a “drive” for pleasure — it stays because it is so real. I don’t understand economics, Ukraine is far away, climate change is an abstraction, but the terrified parents across the street from their kids’ school hearing gunshots, they are real, and I have a great-niece who is the same age as the kids in room 112 and I imagine her as the girl who lay on the floor among dead classmates and called 911 and said, “Send the police now, please.” That is my niece, a lively independent spirited girl who loves reading and bonds with her grandma and eats like a trucker but is thin as a rail thanks to the intensity of her life. That girl has a name, like the kids in Texas.

The teachers Eva and Irma are real. They are my fourth-grade teachers, Miss Carroll and Mrs. Moehlenbrock. The Border Patrol trooper in the hallway who said to his two colleagues, “Let’s get this done,” and the three of them burst into 112, I know men who would’ve done that. The shooter is completely unreal, a blank shadow.

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What we know is not nearly enough

Of the ten worst mass shootings in America in recent history, five have taken place in Texas, so it was brave of Governor Abbott to go to Uvalde after the massacre of nineteen fourth-graders by an 18-year-old high school dropout with two newly bought AR-15s who had a whole hour to kill the kids and two teachers. The grief of a gun-lobby governor seemed rather thin but he went because he had to.

The hour delay between the first call to 911 and the shooting of the shooter was not explained in the media. A team of three Border Patrol troopers, carrying a ballistic shield, broke into the classroom at last and the shooter was exterminated.

Videos from Uvalde showed scores of heavily armed cops walking around, bearing assault rifles, bulky in their armored vests, even an armored vehicle outside the Robb Elementary School. For a moment I thought it was a scene from Ukraine, but no.

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Time to head for the graveyard and pay respects

Memorial Day is soon upon us, a day that is personal to veterans of foreign wars and rather abstract to us freeloaders and draft dodgers, and seldom the twain shall meet, but this Day is one of those occasions. I speak as one who got a notice from my draft board to report for induction back in 1967 and I wrote to them and said I was opposed to the war and wouldn’t go, and somehow the matter disappeared and the FBI never knocked on my door.

A classmate of mine, Henry Hill, died in Vietnam, in Quang Ngai, at the age of 24, a star athlete and class president, a first lieutenant, infantry commander, died of multiple fragmentation wounds, and I think, “The Army was unable to turn this guy into a deadly killer. He thought he was still on the football team.” I don’t feel responsible for Henry’s death, I think Robert McNamara, Lyndon Johnson, and Hubert Humphrey were, and plenty of others who knew what was going on.

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Press Kit

If you are hosting a show with Garrison, please feel free to use the below press photos for marketing, as well as the below short biography. Promo video for purpose of booking is available here.

Garrison Keillor did “A Prairie Home Companion” for forty years, wrote fiction and comedy, invented a town called Lake Wobegon where all the children are above average, even though he himself grew up evangelical in a small separatist flock where all the children expected the imminent end of the world. He’s busy in retirement, having written a memoir and a book of limericks and is at work on a musical and a Lake Wobegon screenplay, and he continues to do “The Writers Almanac” sent out daily to Internet subscribers (free). 

He and his wife Jenny Lind Nilsson live in Minneapolis, not far from the YMCA where he was sent for swimming lessons at age 12 after his cousin drowned, and he skipped the lessons and went to the public library instead and to a radio studio to watch a noontime show with singers and a band. Thus, our course in life is set. 

Recent reviews:

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“[Keillor is] an expert at making you feel at home with his low-key, familiar style. Comfortable is his specialty.” -Betsie Freeman, Omaha-World Herald

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