The Writer’s Almanac for Sunday, November 21, 2021


For the TSA Agent
by Barbara Crooker

who motioned me out of line
when I was en route to St. Louis,
took me aside, and asked, Are you
in pain? Several days before,
my back had spasmed, sending me
to the ER, where I got drugs
but no relief. So I winced and nodded;
she fixed me with her dark eyes, put
a solid arm around my shoulders,
and said, You’re going to be all right.
Then, swift as water flowing around rock,
she snapped back into her role, hitched up
her belt, motioned the next person in line
to come on through. And I was left wondering
what had just happened, and what was I supposed
to make of it? But I was in the terminal,
washed in the artificial light, and the moving
walkway pulled me forward, carried me away.

 

Barbara Crooker, “For the TSA Agent” from Some Glad Morning. Copyright © 2019 used with permission of University of Pittsburgh Press. (buy now)


It’s the birthday of anthologist and writer Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch (books by this author), born in Cornwall in 1863. Quiller-Couch published fiction and literary criticism under the pen name “Q” and was best known at the time for his publication of the Oxford Book of English Verse (1250–1900), a book that remained the most popular anthology of its kind for nearly 70 years.

He is remembered by writers today for one of the most enduring but non-attributed pieces of writing advice ever given. He wrote in his 1916 book On the Art of Writing, “Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it — whole-heartedly — and delete it before sending your manuscript to press: Murder your darlings.” Now a popular catchphrase among editors especially, “murder your darlings” admonishes writers to refrain from being too precious about their prose and to trust in the values of simplicity and efficiency.


Today is the birthday of Voltaire (books by this author), born François-Marie Arouet in Paris (1694). He was one of history’s great thinkers and satirists — and he spent much of his time annoying people in power. His father wanted him to become a notary, but he refused, and the two quarreled about it into Voltaire’s adulthood. Sometimes he would pretend that he was serving as a notary’s assistant, but he was really writing. He was thrown out of Paris for the first time when he was only 21, for writing a poem critical of the king. After he returned, he wasted no time in insulting the royal family again, and this time they had him thrown in the Bastille for almost a year. It was there that he adopted his pen name. Voltaire made good use of his time behind bars; he wrote his first play, the tragedy Oedipe, which was a great success when it was staged in 1718. In 1733, his Philosophical Letters on the English — a critique of the French establishment — landed his publisher in the Bastille. He spent much of his life fleeing or being sent into exile, where he would manage to offend someone in his new home, forcing him to flee again. His work, and the work of other Enlightenment philosophers, influenced the American and French revolutions.

Voltaire finally returned to Paris just a few months before he died in 1778. He wrote a final farewell, saying, “I die adoring God, loving my friends, not hating my enemies, and detesting superstition.” Though he believed in a higher power, he had long been deeply critical of organized religion, so he was denied a church burial, but friends found an abbey in Champagne that would accept him. Thirteen years later, the revolutionary French National Assembly ordered his body moved to the Panthéon in Paris. It’s estimated that a million people turned out to watch his procession.


Today is the birthday of American playwright Tina Howe (1937) (books by this author). She was born to a very literary, upper-class family in New York City. Her grandfather, Mark Anthony de Wolfe Howe, won the Pulitzer for biography. Her father was a news writer, broadcaster, and historian. And her aunt, Helen Howe, was a monologist and novelist.

After her BA at Sarah Lawrence, she went to the Sorbonne to study philosophy, but got distracted by writing plays. While in Paris, she watched a performance of Eugène Ionesco’s The Bald Soprano, which changed her life. She said: “It was as if I’d been hit in the head with a thunderbolt […] It made me realize that my goal in life was to bring the same sort of joy and anarchy and fizz and helium to female rituals that he was bringing to male rituals.”

When she came back to the Sates, she taught at a high school in Maine, where she agreed to take the job on condition that the drama department produce her plays. Her first play was panned by the critics (the ending had one of the characters dive naked into a wedding cake). Her second play, Museum, had 18 actors playing 44 characters and brought her attention as an avant-garde playwright. Howe’s plays have been called “surrealist comedies of manners”; she shows very proper, upper class people trying their best to follow social norms, even as circumstances become more and more ridiculous.

She uses the settings in her plays to make the story more surreal. For example, one character jumps on a trampoline until they almost go out of sight of the audience. In another play, giant vegetables grow inside of a house. Howe says: “I am a visual artist. I often start with a set because I believe a play should astonish and amuse the audience. The public must be shown something totally familiar, like a suburban home, and yet detect in it an element of strangeness, something threatening.”

Howe has won an Obie Award and grants from the NEA and the Guggenheim Foundation. She’s written English translations of Ionesco’s plays and taught playwriting at Hunter College and NYU. She lives in New York and today she turns 84 years old.


Today is the birthday of American novelist Mary Johnston (books by this author), born in Buchanan, Virginia (1870). She was the first woman to top the best-seller list in the U.S. Her work was so popular that she supported herself throughout her life from her writing alone, and never married. Her book To Have and To Hold was the best-selling novel in the U.S. in 1900, and three of her novels were adapted to silent films.

Johnston wrote historical novels that often centered on love stories. Her novel on the Civil War, The Long Roll, told the story of Stonewall Jackson and the troops that fought under him. Although her characterization of General Jackson seems pretty sympathetic to modern readers, Stonewall Jackson’s widow published an editorial in the New York Times denouncing the book. She said that her late husband was presented as cold and eccentric, and took issue with Johnston’s claim that he liked “sucking lemons.” Although Johnston did speak out against lynching, her view of the confederacy was typical of other Southerners. Her father was a Civil War veteran and she was a friend of Margaret Mitchell, who wrote Gone with the Wind. Mitchell once said, “I hesitate to write about the South after having read Mary Johnston.”

Her book Hagar is considered one of the first feminist novels, and a lot of people stopped reading her work after she published it. She supported the women’s suffrage movement and founded the Equal Suffrage League of Virginia. She argued before state legislatures in Virginia and Tennessee as part of her activism.

Johnston died at 65 at her home in Warm Springs, Virginia, which is now recognized as a historic site. Johnston’s novels are not widely read or studied now, but she’s remembered for being a hugely popular woman writer at a time when women were much less likely to get published.

 

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

Available Now: BOOM TOWN by Garrison Keillor!

In Garrison Keillor’s newest novel, Boom Town, we return to Lake Wobegon, famous from decades of monologues on the classic radio show A Prairie Home Companion.

**Available in Hardcover, Audiobook, and eReader formats**

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.

 

Praise for Boom Town:

“Wonderfully over-the-top. Blisteringly funny, acute, and true. Keillor’s speaking to us with encouragement and empathy about the American life. But at the same time, he’s got our number that way he’s always had it. This book is a tonic.” —Richard Ford

 

“You can’t go home again unless you’re Garrison Keillor and home is Lake Wobegon. Then, of course, it is imperative that you do so—and we are fortunate indeed to tag along and share in the final chapter of the most fascinating and compelling characters ever conjured from the most vivid imagination of America’s greatest storyteller!

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

 

Read the first chapter for free >>>

Purchase Boom Town Hardcover >>>

Download the audiobook as mp3s  >>>

Listen to the audiobook via Audible >>>

Read it on Kindle >>>

 

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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.

The list of the dead were mostly Hispanic names, Rodriguez, Garcia, Lopez, Garza, Torres. Sources said the teachers Eva Mireles and Irma Garcia loved their kids dearly and died defending them. Nineteen kids, killed. Many of them were so severely shot up that authorities had to ask grieving parents for DNA samples so the bodies could be identified. The justice of the peace who had to write the death certificates collapsed in grief. A nation is horrified. We accept street shootings in sketchy neighborhoods, but 10-year-old kids trapped in a classroom, the screaming, the panic, some kids jumping out of windows, it’s unbearable. The agonized parents, the terrorized kids, the lingering effects of fear in the lives of ordinary people for years to come. The sign “Bienvenidos” in the schoolyard.

The governor said it was not a political issue, that evil is everywhere, that gun control is not the answer. Senator Lee of Utah who has voted against mandatory gun registration said that “glorification of violence” and “breakdown of the family” are responsible for the shooting, and how do you address those? Censorship of Netflix and Hulu? Requiring regular church attendance? Senator Romney said, “Grief overwhelms the soul. We must find answers.” Apparently he feels that prayer is an answer, but it’s dismaying to see, according to Newsweek, that Romney has received $14 million in donations from the National Rifle Association over the years. Evidently his soul was not sufficiently overwhelmed.

Perhaps we will see the serious fortifying of schools, churches, shopping centers, and where do you stop? It would be an expensive proposition, but to give one deranged 18-year-old such power over the psyches of millions is intolerable, so perhaps you pay ten or twenty or thirty thousand armored men to stand in doorways. Perhaps the sheer expense would convince Republican senators that gun registration with background checks is a good idea.

The president spoke Tuesday night and pointed out that other countries have mentally ill persons as we do but none seem to have so many mass shootings. Montreal had one in 1989 and Nova Scotia another in 2020, even after Canada banned assault weapons. A U.S. federal ban on sale of assault weapons that passed narrowly during the Clinton administration expired in 2004. A federal judge in California overturned that state’s ban on assault weapons, comparing the AR-15 to a Swiss army knife. A bill for gun registration and background checks, which the House approved narrowly, may be brought up again in the Senate after Memorial Day but is not expected to pass, given the reality of a filibuster.

I had a dear friend who took up gun ownership seriously and believed it was necessary in order to defend against a leftist takeover of the country. For a while, we tried to avoid talking about this but the subject kept coming up. The friendship ended. I still miss him. He was funny, loyal, a sweet guy, and the gun obsession changed him.

Apparently we are two countries, and in one, it’s considered normal to go around armed with a gun, and in the other it’s considered weird. I happen to be fond of Texas but I live in New York because if someone steps onto a New York subway train carrying an AR-15, it’s considered terrifying; it’s not a Swiss army knife. So I live here, not there. Freedom is not an abstract idea, it includes the openness of society, the happiness of walking wherever curiosity takes you and of mingling with strangers, getting a feel of community.

I propose that Mr. Lee and Mr. Romney take the $14 million and use it to make nonviolent TV shows that glorify good families. I wish them well. Meanwhile, I don’t care to do any shows in Texas.

 

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.

We honor Henry for answering the call. There surely were ways he could’ve avoided it. He could’ve found a friendly doctor to find something wrong with him. He was a bright guy and he was Black, he could’ve applied for some advanced training program for which his smarts and race and personality would’ve been prominent assets, but he went with his infantry unit to Vietnam. The nation depended on men like him in 1861 and 1941, the two Good Wars, but the call was the same for the mistaken wars, and those who answered are deserving of equal honor.

Lincoln stood on a platform on the field at Gettysburg in November 1863, four and a half months after the great battle, and while he referred to the “honored dead,” he knew that it had taken the whole four months to make the battlefield decent, that when Lee’s army yielded the field in the heat of July, the Union Army followed close on his tail, and the bodies of thousands of dead lay torn and twisted, swollen, rotting, eventually to be laid in shallow trenches covered with a few inches of dirt, where pigs and wild dogs found them and dragged them out to be chewed upon until finally decent burial took place in the fall, which was not even complete when Lincoln arrived on November 19.

He was sick with smallpox, feverish, had a severe headache, and sat for hours listening to dreadful music and a pompous speech by a gasbag named Edward Everett (“Standing beneath this serene sky, overlooking these broad fields now reposing from the labors of the waning year, the mighty Alleghenies dimly towering before us, the graves of our brethren beneath our feet, it is with hesitation that I raise my poor voice,” it begins and goes on for two hours), and then Lincoln delivered his remarks, not even 300 words, in a weak voice, muffled by the restless crowd, numb after Everett’s effusions.

The country was weary of war and ready to sue for peace and a year later Lincoln would’ve lost the election to George McClellan who would’ve settled with the Confederacy and we’d be two nations today, but Sherman’s advance through Georgia and the fall of Atlanta swung the election to Lincoln, and here we are, divided again, confused as ever, gasbags on every hand, mendacious politicians, demagogues, grandstanders, but what Lincoln said that day is even more true now: it is up to us the living to give the nation a new birth so that Henry Hill and all the others did not die in vain.

I think the conservative Mitt Romney has a good point when he says it’s no time to transform America, that we need to reunite the country, which means paying attention to public safety, public health, schools, jobs, infrastructure, which doesn’t lend itself to high-flying oratory but it’s what we all need. Government by a few people for the benefit of some of their people is a dishonor to the dead. Let’s do better.

I write this from Minneapolis, not far from where Henry and I attended high school, a city that got hit hard by COVID and crime and a loss of confidence in city government, which is all Democratic. The happiest place in town is the Twins’ ballpark, a friendly place where you feel safe and can rub elbows with your fellow Minnesotans, and otherwise there’s a sense of unease that calls for a rebirth of freedom to move around and live your life without fear. This is not my problem, I’m irrelevant, the city belongs to the young parents with little kids and mortgage payments, and I’d gently suggest that a conservative Mormon might be a good choice for mayor. Just a thought.

Time is more like it used to be than it was before

I have suddenly become very easygoing thanks to the black hole in our galaxy out near the constellation Sagittarius that astronomers have provided pictures of, a mass equivalent to four million suns, temps in the trillions, with a gravitational force that bends time, which has given me a larger perspective and made me less intolerant of those who say “less” when they mean “fewer” or those who misuse “who” and “whom,” of whom I know a few, plus aggressive drivers, over-friendly waiters, misplaced glasses, spam, a great many formerly irritating things are less so thanks to this new information and I’m grateful to whomever and whoever provided it.

It’s an enormous universe we’re floating around in. We thought it was a big deal to put men on the moon, but in the greater scale of things, that’s like going out the front door to the mailbox. We’re adrift in a sea of endless ignorance and to me this says, “Enjoy your insignificance. Be contented with what you have.” I have a cup of black coffee, a laptop computer, a grandfather clock whose pendulum ticks off the time without bending it, and from the next room I hear my wife getting dressed. She is an independent woman, curious, venturing, an observer of humanity, who never depended on me for entertainment though we do enjoy each other’s company. For me, she intensifies time greatly, which is even better than bending.

Here in Minnesota time bends often and we may get snow on Opening Day of baseball season or a heat wave in December and we become a cold rainy Georgia. So we’re accustomed to disappointment. What’s bewildering is success. Our parents didn’t prepare us for that. They taught us to endure. So when, as sometimes happens, there is something to celebrate, we are torn: will our jubilation be seen as prideful? Will it be a trigger for people whose self-esteem is low? So we stifle ourselves.

I am facing this problem with my 80th birthday coming up in a few months. I’m a medical miracle. Had I been born thirty years earlier, I’d have died fifty years ago. I should charter a plane and fly my family and several Mayo doctors to a Pacific island with zero light pollution where we can lie at night and be amazed by the trillion brilliant pinpoints of the Milky Way and maybe see Sagittarius and feel young and giddy, but I won’t, and if people congratulate me, I’ll say, “Well, I’ve been lucky so far but you never know, there’s probably a pizza deliveryman out there fated to intersect with me and I’ll perish in a pile of pepperoni.”

I suppose the black hole out there is a challenge to Christian faith, to believe that the Creator of the black hole with its four million suns (which is thought to be one of the smaller black holes in the universe) also sent His Son to this planet to tell people, “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” assuming that the kingdom includes those four million suns. It is a great deal for the mind to grasp, especially mine, which in recent weeks has been trying to clear my shelves of unread books that I’ll never read, due to vision problems that make small type illegible due to immaculate degeneration.

By my age, however, faith is a settled matter. Unbelief happens in your twenties and you go along enjoying cool incredulity until something happens, the birth of a child, visions of starry sky, perhaps a grasshopper landing in your palm and eating sugar left over from your cookie and then flying away, and you wander into church and fall in with a bunch of believers, and see as through a glass, darkly, but have faith that someday we’ll behold God face to face.

Meanwhile, time is foreshortened. My middle years are a muddle of chronology, but childhood scenes are in clear focus, the thrill of tobogganing down a steep hill and out onto the frozen Mississippi, the girl in seventh grade who challenged me to wrestle and threw me down and kissed me on the lips. I didn’t resist. And then there was the lunch at Dock’s restaurant thirty years ago where I met a woman and we talked for three hours and we’ve been talking ever since. She is funnier than I and if she ever writes a memoir about our marriage, I think you’ll be well entertained. In fact, I’m writing a blurb now. “The only reason I’d come back to Earth would be to read this book.”

 

If you want a story, sit down and I'll find one for you

Storytelling is an art of necessity that you learn when you are young and come home rather late from lying in the grass with Corinne in her backyard talking and holding her hand, your head on her shoulder, observing the slight rise of her breasts as she breathes, and your mother is at the door, wanting an explanation, and rather than get Corinne on your mother’s list of Temptresses, you invent a story in which you were hitchhiking and a drunk picked you up and he was a veteran of D-Day, wounded by the Nazis in defense of democracy, a good man fallen on hard times, and he was too drunk to drive so you took the wheel and drove him home and listened to his long list of troubles and then had to walk home. True? No. Sinful? Hardly.

Storytelling is crucial in panhandling, something I’ve never done but who knows what the future may hold? A bedraggled couple approach in a parking lot, pushing a baby stroller, and say, “Do you have any money?” This is not a good opening line. You need to say, “I’m sorry but my wife and I came down from Bemidji and slept in the park and our money was stolen during the night and we need to take our baby to University Hospital because he needs to take a blood test. Can you spare twenty dollars for cabfare?” This is a plausible tale, your speaking in whole sentences suggests you’re a reasonable person, not stoned on drugs, and you’ve made a specific request. And there’s a baby in the stroller.

President Biden came to Minneapolis to speak at a memorial service for Walter Mondale and he told a story about his arrival at the Senate at the age of 30, soon after the death of his wife and little girl in a car crash, and how Walter and Joan Mondale befriended him, a genuine loving friendship in the midst of a great deal of false bonhomie, and it was a fine story. The humanity of the man was put forward. People need to see this. There is so much slashing and trashing in public discourse that bears no relationship to reality, it’s all special effects and puppetry.

Say what you will about social media, Facebook is where we go to see video clips of my twin grandnieces Ivy and Katherine scootching around on a blanket on the floor of Hieu and Jon’s apartment in Ho Chi Minh City, two tiny girls who will see the 21st century that I will miss out on, but I need to offer them some family history, since their last name is Keillor too. I could tell them about my grandma Dora Powell and her twin sister, Della, who learned Morse code as children so they could give each other answers to questions on tests. After they grew up, they became railroad telegraphers, under the name D. Powell, sharing one uniform, working morning and evening shifts, and then Dora taught in a country school and boarded with a farmer, James Keillor and his widowed sister Mary, across the road. She could see he was a well-read man who loved history and poetry, and one day he crossed the road to school and proposed marriage and, as she said, she “walked away but not so fast that he couldn’t catch me,” and they kissed and he hitched the horses to the carriage and drove to town and found a man to marry them, and that’s where we come from. They fell in love through dinner-table conversation.

My parents, John and Grace, fell in love in 1931, a farmboy and a city girl, and he courted her by singing hymns with the word “grace” in them. They were in love for five years, unable to marry, no money, needed at home, and one day, driving a double team of horses to haul manure to spread on a relative’s field, coming down a steep hill, the horses bolted and John couldn’t hold them and they galloped wildly home and the wagon crashed in a ditch and he was thrown clear, and after he chased down the horses, he borrowed a car and drove to the city and married Grace. Lying in the ditch, his neck not broken, he felt God’s grace shining on him and against the opposition of both families, the two lovers claimed each other without hesitation. We are soft-spoken stoics, modest to a fault, but capable of deep feeling. We love you girls in Vietnam both dearly.

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

June 8, 2022

Wednesday

7:30 p.m.

Tower Theatre, Bend OR

Bend, OR

Garrison Keillor and the Hopefuls (Robin and Linda Williams) comes to Tower Theatre in Bend, OR for an evening of poetry, gospel, sing-alongs and the News from Lake Wobegon. 7:30 PM

buy tickets

June 10, 2022

Friday

8:00 p.m.

Bankhead Theater, Livermore, CA

Livermore, CA

Garrison Keillor and the Hopefuls (Robin and Linda Williams) comes to Bankhead Theater in Livermore, CA for an evening of poetry, gospel, sing-alongs and the News from Lake Wobegon. 7:30 PM

buy tickets

July 10, 2022

Sunday

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.

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.

September 16, 2022

Friday

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

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.

Radio

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The Writer’s Almanac for Thursday, May 19, 2022

The Writer’s Almanac for Thursday, May 19, 2022

“The time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time.” — Bertrand Russell, philosopher, born on this day in 1872.

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Writing

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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Time is more like it used to be than it was before

I have suddenly become very easygoing thanks to the black hole in our galaxy out near the constellation Sagittarius that astronomers have provided pictures of, a mass equivalent to four million suns, temps in the trillions, with a gravitational force that bends time, which has given me a larger perspective and made me less intolerant of those who say “less” when they mean “fewer” or those who misuse “who” and “whom,” of whom I know a few, plus aggressive drivers, over-friendly waiters, misplaced glasses, spam, a great many formerly irritating things are less so thanks to this new information and I’m grateful to whomever and whoever provided it.

It’s an enormous universe we’re floating around in. We thought it was a big deal to put men on the moon, but in the greater scale of things, that’s like going out the front door to the mailbox. We’re adrift in a sea of endless ignorance and to me this says, “Enjoy your insignificance. Be contented with what you have.” I have a cup of black coffee, a laptop computer, a grandfather clock whose pendulum ticks off the time without bending it, and from the next room I hear my wife getting dressed. She is an independent woman, curious, venturing, an observer of humanity, who never depended on me for entertainment though we do enjoy each other’s company. For me, she intensifies time greatly, which is even better than bending.

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If you want a story, sit down and I’ll find one for you

Storytelling is an art of necessity that you learn when you are young and come home rather late from lying in the grass with Corinne in her backyard talking and holding her hand, your head on her shoulder, observing the slight rise of her breasts as she breathes, and your mother is at the door, wanting an explanation, and rather than get Corinne on your mother’s list of Temptresses, you invent a story in which you were hitchhiking and a drunk picked you up and he was a veteran of D-Day, wounded by the Nazis in defense of democracy, a good man fallen on hard times, and he was too drunk to drive so you took the wheel and drove him home and listened to his long list of troubles and then had to walk home. True? No. Sinful? Hardly.

Storytelling is crucial in panhandling, something I’ve never done but who knows what the future may hold? A bedraggled couple approach in a parking lot, pushing a baby stroller, and say, “Do you have any money?” This is not a good opening line. You need to say, “I’m sorry but my wife and I came down from Bemidji and slept in the park and our money was stolen during the night and we need to take our baby to University Hospital because he needs to take a blood test. Can you spare twenty dollars for cabfare?” This is a plausible tale, your speaking in whole sentences suggests you’re a reasonable person, not stoned on drugs, and you’ve made a specific request. And there’s a baby in the stroller.

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What are fathers for? Anybody’s guess

I took my love to dinner last Sunday and told her what an excellent mother she is and it’s absolutely true, I observed her in action all those years, driving our child to appointments, reading to her, rocking her to sleep, listening to her anxieties, attending numerous meetings with teachers, but then the question of my fatherhood arises and I am pleading the Fifth, so no questions, please, I’m well aware of my inadequacies.

I’m not proud, but after my first cup of coffee, when I sit down at the laptop, my self-esteem problems go away. This is the beauty of writing, it takes the mind off one’s failures, failure is simply valuable material for comedy, and thanks to my long-standing habit of never reading my own books, I am perpetually hopeful. When I sit down to write, I am 27 again. Everything is possible.

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Nobody asked, but I’ll tell you anyway

I come from Minnesota, the modest K-shaped state with the bump on top, sitting on the front line of defense against Canada, predominantly white Protestant but trying not to be too obvious about it, maybe grow a beard and eat oysters on the half shell and read poetry to raise questions in people’s minds. Sometimes we’re called the North Star State, sometimes the Gopher State, but really we’re the Recovery State, where Hazelden was born and various programs for curing chem-dep and other addictions. AA is big. There are thousands of big rooms full of folding chairs where people hear accusatory talks and then break up into discussion groups.

Bob Dylan was from here but he loved Woody Guthrie, the itinerant life, the train whistle in the night, surrealist poetry, none of which are popular here, and we have no idea where he is now. Some say he has a big farm near Moose Lake but who cares? Prince was a greater musician but came to a tragic end, there being no good recovery program for addicts so rich and famous. Fitzgerald is our one great writer in the American Pantheon and he was good but no Hemingway.

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Driving across Indiana today

I come from low-key Minnesotans who like to end a sentence with then or now — “So what are you up to then?” — which is intended to soften the question and avoid an accusatory tone and if you said, “Oh, just waiting to see what turns up,” they might say, “Sounds good then,” so when I heard that the Supremes plan to toss out Justice Harry Blackmun’s decision in Roe v. Wade, I thought, “So what kind of a deal is that then, for crying out loud,” which is my people’s idea of profanity but doesn’t call down fire and brimstone then.

He was a low-key Minnesota Republican who grew up in a blue-collar neighborhood of St. Paul and got scholarshipped to Harvard and returned to Minnesota to be resident counsel at the Mayo Clinic, and the heart of Roe v. Wade is the reluctance to interfere in a woman’s intimate life and dictate the answer to an agonizing question, which reflects a Midwestern temperament. We would interfere with a big kid bullying a little kid, or a child torturing an animal, or some other act of cruelty we witness, but the Mississippi law the Supremes are prepared to uphold is a radical invasion by the state of a woman’s life. That’s what sort of deal it is.

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Kindness: you look and you’ll see it.

I’ve been a rhymer ever since I was twelve and read the limerick about the young girl of Madras who had a remarkable ass and so when I read about a trans legislator in Kansas, it started my engine, but she turns out to be a nice woman named Stephanie Byers (choirs, lyres) who is only advocating kindness for her kind, no big deal in my book, and I looked up the girl from Madras. It’s one of the only limericks that accuses the reader of unseemly thoughts — her ass is “not soft, round, and pink as you probably think, but the kind with long ears that eats grass,” and I loved this as a kid, having grown up evangelical and knowing something about righteous fever.

I’ve gone through my own fevers back in my youth, I marched, I manifestoed, and I am still capable of high dudgeon, but I’ve come to have a higher regard for kindness than righteousness, especially the sort that burns other people at the stake, which we see more of these days.

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One more word about Twitter, then I’ll shut up

I once knew a librarian who at age 34 fell in love with a poet she met in a bar who, though sober, announced that he adored her. For years she’d only dated men who were looking for a sympathetic sister, but this fellow lusted after her and suddenly she was shopping for a bigger bed and learning to samba. The problem was that his poems were bleak and not ingeniously bleak but dull bleak, disconnected dark images of dread and dismay. He wrote one for her and she said, “It’s nice,” and he said, “I can tell you don’t like it,” and she said, “It’s sort of dark,” and he ran out the door (he was living with her) and she hasn’t heard from him since.

It can be dangerous to tell the truth. Why couldn’t she have said, “I love it, it’s one of your best”? His poems weren’t hurting anybody. Polar bears weren’t dying from them, they weren’t poisoning the rivers. Let the man be a bad poet and eventually he’ll find his way into marketing or lawn mowing or some other gainful employment.

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What macaroni and cheese means to me

Men my age are not riding high these days compared to back in the Renaissance or the 19th century so I am taking a back seat and not getting fussed up. I appreciate new stuff like YouTube and the Unsubscribe option and the peanut butter latte, but I don’t know who famous people are anymore — Abe Lincoln, Al Kaline, A.J. Liebling are on my A-list but I wouldn’t know Adele if she walked up and offered me her autograph. I’m out of it. So I keep my mouth shut. I’ve listened to people discussing their loyalty to particular coffees from specific regions of Kenya or Nicaragua and I don’t weigh in on this. I’d be okay with Maxwell House Instant. Coffee is coffee. Debating it is like arguing about doormats. You walk in, you wipe your feet, it’s not a transformative experience. I feel the same way about gender: it’s your beeswax, not mine. Be who you want to be but don’t expect me to call you them or it or us.

I drink coffee because it is a warm liquid and I accept the myth that it enlivens the brain though probably hot water from the tap would serve as well. My coffee habit is a cultural choice: I don’t want to be part of the tea crowd, it’d mean I’d have to have a ponytail and wear linen clothing and have a cockadoodle named Josephine. I drink coffee and have short hair and jeans with a hole in the knee.

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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). 

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