Uphill

Everything is uphill in Seattle
Everywhere you go, you have to climb
Everything is an uphill battle
If you want to get there on time.
She’s waiting in the cafe, darling Kate,
Tonight is your important second date.
You’ve got enough strikes against you already.
Don’t arrive late and all sweaty.

      Excuse me, where is the Capitol Grill?
      It’s six blocks up that hill.

People do not coast in this town
They don’t believe in the fall of man
They’re never depressed, or feel let down
If you’re tired you can move to Spokane
Maybe it’s the fresh salt air
Maybe it’s the coffee in your cup
You climb the hill and there is a stair
And it goes up.

      Excuse me, where is Capitol Square?
      About six blocks up there.

You need strong legs and lungs
To live in this city
It’s for the ambitious and the young.
Not for the senior citizens committee.
You want to bicycle up hills like a breeze
Whistling as you pedal in third gear
And not huff and puff and wheeze
As you bring up the rear

      Excuse me. I’m not from here.
      I can see that. What you looking for?
      A pizza shop called The Green Mill.
      It’s up the hill.

Pedalling with powerful thighs
On their upward routes
Seattleites trying to rise
And get above the clouds.
They bike, they hike, they race
Up that long incline
They’re heading for a place
Where there is sunshine.

      Excuse me. I’m looking for heaven.
      It’s straight ahead. Six blocks or seven.
      No sorrow, and we’ll never be ill?
      It’s right up that hill.

Everything is uphill in Seattle
Climbing, climbing every day
Everything is an uphill battle
And heaven is right up that way.

CHEERFULNESS by Garrison Keillor!

Garrison Keillor's newest book, CHEERFULNESS, now available.

Drawing on personal anecdotes from his young adulthood into his eighties, Keillor sheds light on the immense good that can come from a deliberate work ethic and a buoyant demeanor. “Adopting cheerfulness as a strategy does not mean closing your eyes to evil,” he tells us; “it means resisting our drift toward compulsive dread and despond.” Funny, poignant, thought-provoking, and whimsical, this is a book that will inspire you to choose cheerfulness in your daily life.

1. CHEERFULNESS

It’s a great American virtue, the essence of who we are when we’re cooking with gas: enthusiasm, high spirits, rise and shine, qwitcher bellyaching, wake up and die right, pick up your feet, step up to the plate and swing for the fences. Smile, dammit. Dance like you mean it and give it some pizzazz, clap on the backbeat. Do your best and forget the rest, da doo ron ron ron da doo ron ron. Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition, hang by your thumbs and write when you get work, whoopitiyiyo git along little cowboys—and I am an American, I don’t eat my cheeseburger in a croissant, don’t look for a church that serves a French wine and a sourdough wafer for Communion, don’t use words like dodgy, bonkers, knackered, or chuffed. When my team scores, I don’t shout, Très bien!! I don’t indulge in dread and dismay. Yes, I can make a list of evils and perils and injustices in the world, but I believe in a positive attitude and I know that one can do only so much and one should do that much and do it cheerfully. Dread is communicable: healthy rats fed fecal matter from depressed humans demonstrated depressive behavior, including anhedonia and anxiety—crap is bad for the brain. Nothing good comes from this. Despair is surrender. Put your shoulder to the wheel. And wash your hands.

We live in an Age of Gloom, or so I read, and some people blame electronics, but I love my cellphone and laptop, and others blame the decline of Protestantism, but I grew up fundamentalist so I don’t, and others blame bad food. Too much grease and when there’s a potluck supper, busy people tend to stop at Walmart or a SuperAmerica station and pick up a potato salad that was manufactured a month ago and shipped in tanker trucks and it’s depressing compared to Grandma’s, which she devoted an hour to making fresh from chopped celery, chives, green onions, homemade mayonnaise, mustard, dill, and paprika. You ate it and knew that Grandma cared about you. The great potato salad creators are passing from the scene, replaced by numbskulls so busy online they’re willing to bring garbage to the communal table.

I take no position on that, since I like a Big Mac as well as anybody and I’ve bought food in plastic containers from refrigerated units at gas stations and never looked at the expiration date. And I am a cheerful man...

Read the first Chapter>>>

Purchase Cheerfulness Softcover >>>

 Listen to the audiobook via Audible (to come)

Read it on Kindle >>>


 

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All I know is what she tells me

I get the news from my wife, who sits reading the paper across the breakfast table from me and tells me what I need to know, ignoring much of page 1 and picking out the story of the Italian Jews who were sheltered in Catholic monasteries in spite of an anti-Semitic pope and saved from the Holocaust and the story about Florida’s war on undocumented workers, which deprives Floridians of a ready workforce to help clean up the wretched mess after a hurricane and the pictures of beautiful colorful clothing worn by Sudanese women even during their cruel civil war.

It’s not a partisan newscast, it’s humanistic, it’s not about issues but about people, which makes me think she should run for president, which would be good for the country — Mexico is going to have a woman president, why should we lag behind — and I do believe her style is a winning one. My mother was a conservative but she loved Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt because she felt they cared about people. Joe Biden’s trip to Maui to commiserate with fire victims by reminiscing about the time he almost lost his Corvette as a result of a kitchen fire — dumb, dumb, dumb, Joe — why did Jill let you say that stupid clueless thing? A Corvette is not the equivalent of someone’s home, Joe. Who is briefing you for these appearances? Fire him.

I haven’t mentioned candidacy to Jenny because I know she’d say, “Get real. No way.” And also because I have no wish to be First Gentleman. I have a good career as an octogenarian stand-up and after forty years imprisoned in the blue taffeta skirt of public radio, I can finally go out on stage and speak my mind. I’m not about to give that up to become a smiling nonentity, a piece of furniture, which is what a political spouse needs to be.

I’m not willing to give up the luxury of free speech, not even for the good of the nation, and I do think a Jenny presidency could be just what the times demand. She’s never held office, which means she speaks clear English, no b.s. She comes from a very tight family and she values this highly. She has experienced poverty. She has seen mental illness up close. She has made a life in music, playing in orchestras, under the baton of all sorts of conductors, which enables her to read character and distinguish true leaders from egotists. Sitting in the string section, she knows the difference between “painful,” “passable,” and “passionate and profound.” Music is a public service and like other public services, health care, education, law enforcement, legislation, it has the power to change people’s lives for the good. This is the purpose of it and it has little to do with charisma, PR, and the conventional wisdom, and the murmurs of the media.

But this horse is not going to run, so that’s that. So rather than accompany my wife on the campaign trail, standing just behind her and to the left, maintaining appropriate facial expressions, careful to avoid nasal excretion or outbursts of methane, I am writing a musical, which is a crazy thing for an old man to do. The chance of my writing a hit musical is less than the chance of my winning the U.S. Open, but so what? Success is not what old age is about; it’s about having a good time. This musical has stuff in it that won’t be found in The Lion King or Chicago, such as an excellent duet about making love.

Dogs mate and cats mate,
Even older couples copulate.
Let’s us unite and get tight.
People driving through drive-throughs mate,
Even folks with high IQs mate.
Let’s undress and coalesce.
Episcopalians of course mate
Even if it’s not right.
And there are Quaker women
Who have ten Mennonite.
Folks who make headlines mate,
Where no one can see.
And porcupines mate,
Very delicately.
It’s a delight to unite,
When push comes to shove, let’s make love.

A First Gentleman wouldn’t write a song like that and it’s nothing you could sing on public radio and even if I finish the musical it’ll never get produced. Too outdated. But hopelessness is no problem for people in my age bracket. It’s just good to be busy. I hope Joe is enjoying being Leader of the Free World. But if my wife takes him on, he’ll have to get smarter quick.

The meeting will come to order (bonk bonk)

Any American who saw Jim Jordan, the alleged chair of the so-called House Judiciary Committee, on TV Wednesday could’ve been charged with contempt of Congress for his harassment of Judge Merrick Garland, an excellent legal mind and dedicated public servant, Mr. Jordan being a bully and a hack from a gerrymandered district in Ohio who got his law degree from a church school in Columbus and never took the bar exam. He was a champion wrestler in the featherweight class and though heftier now, maintains his featherweight status. He never held a job but went straight from college into politics. Interviewed in 2018 and asked if he’d ever heard Donald Trump tell a lie, he said, “I have not.” He has been called “nuts” by Lindsey Graham, who knows about nuttiness. He voted to overturn the results of the 2020 election and then sent a note to the White House asking for a pardon in the event he was prosecuted. Ten days before leaving office, Mr. Trump gave Jordan the Presidential Medal of Freedom in a closed-door ceremony. He appeared before me Thursday under an independent subpoena issued pursuant to 515.2 U.S.C. and I hereby read into the record his testimony:

ME: A whistleblower has submitted a detailed firsthand account of you beating your wife and I ask: when exactly did the beating cease?

HIM: I wish to say that —

ME: Answer the question, Yes or No.

HIM: If I may, this is a —

ME: Let me ask this: when did you discontinue your use of fentanyl and was your dealer not a man named Guido who ran a shoeshine stand outside a porn shop?

HIM: I have no idea —

ME: Was it recently or are you still using?

HIM: If you’ll please allow me —

ME: Look at this photograph of a crippled dog: did you kick the dog or did you instruct someone else to do it and are you familiar with animal cruelty statutes in Ohio?

HIM: I don’t know exactly —

ME: When President Trump urged Americans to take disinfectant by injection as a cure for COVID, did you do as he told you to do?

HIM: If you will permit me—

ME: I yield to the gentleman from Oklahoma.

ROGERS: There’s no trick to being a humorist when you have the whole government working for you. If all politicians fished instead of speaking publicly, we would be at peace with the world. That’s why I love dogs: they do nothing for political reasons.

ME: Thank you. The HJC is the best show on television and it is predicated on the assumption that 51% of American voters have the intelligence of an adolescent Hereford and they take yelling and smirking as evidence of high principle whereas studies show that only 31% of the voters are certified idiots. I yield to the gentleman from Baltimore.

MENCKEN: Democracy is a pathetic belief in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance. It is the worship of jackals by jackasses. If a Republican had cannibals among his constituents, he’d promise them missionaries.

ME: The HJC hearing Wednesday was viewed by only a million or so, most Americans having work to do, but it was fascinating to watch elected representatives work hard to create an elaborate distraction about Joe Biden’s wayward son even though Garland had given a Trump appointee the powers of a special prosecutor and there was no issue but the representatives created the sound of conflict by rapid-fire questioning. I ask unanimous consent to enter into the record —

EDITOR: Without objection, so entered.

HIM: What is Hunter Biden’s shoe size?

GARLAND: I do not —

HIM: Were his footprints not found on the floor of the Biden garage next to the deep freeze where bundles of hundred-dollar bills were packed into a Ukrainian ukulele in the vegetable tray? Yes or No?

GARLAND: With all due respect —

HIM: And is it not true that Hunter Biden discarded his illegally obtained pistol into a dumpster where it could’ve been found by a ten-year-old child and used to carry out a mass slaughter in an elementary school?

GARLAND: I’m sorry but I am — ME: I recognize the gentleman from Missouri. TWAIN: There is no distinctly native American criminal class except Congress. It has a kindly feeling for idiots, and a compassion for them, on account of personal experience and heredity.

Thank you, Mr. Twain. The column is adjourned.

Sing on, dance on, good eye, ain't you happy

A good week is a good week; let smarter people deal with the debt ceiling crisis and popularity of authoritarianism, my week began with a happy Sunday in church with a lot of blessing going on — sprinkling the schoolkids, the choir, the congregation — and our rector looking joyful as she marched around casting holy water on people — I thought she might like to use a squirt gun or a watering can or the sprinklers in the ceiling. Her sermon cautioning against perfectionism was, for want of a better word, perfect, and we sang a lively Shaker hymn —

O brethren ain’t you happy, ye followers of the Lamb.
Sing on, dance on, followers of Emmanuel,
Sing on, dance on, ye followers of the Lamb.

which for an old fundamentalist brought up to believe that rhythmic movement of any sort is wickedness incarnate, was rather exciting. And we confessed to a whole new set of sins such as wasting the earth’s resources, treating its inhabitants unjustly, and “holding future generations hostage to our greed,” which immediately made me feel bad about Medicare, and we admitted to not observing our kinship with all of God’s creatures, which seemed to say we’d now embark on a vegan diet, which I’m not yet ready to do, I’ve given up pride and greed and envy but not the bacon cheeseburger.

I flew off to Minneapolis to attend a Twins game and stayed with my beloved in a hotel that used to be the Milwaukee Road depot where, when I was 18, I took the Hiawatha train to Chicago solo, a big step toward independence and sophistication. The old train shed still stands and I walked under it and recalled the tweed sport coat and chinos I wore, the knapsack I carried, the pack of Marlboros in my pocket. But that was then and this is now.

Minneapolis was my big city as a kid growing up among the truck farms to the north, and at the age of 10 I rode my bike into town past the manufacturing plants that have been converted to condos and through the red-light district, which is now respectable, to the public library and big rooms with long tables piled with fresh new books and if that doesn’t make you want to be an author, then what will? I mostly love the changes and ignore the rest.

At the game I sat next to a true Twins fan named Alex who gave me the lowdown on various players and yelled the right things — “Looked good to me!” at the ump who’d called a strike a ball and “Good eye!” at a Twin who let Ball 3 go by and “Throw him the meatball!” at the opposition pitcher who had an 0-2 count on a Twins batter.

It was a big pleasure, the proximity to genuine fandom. I’m old and out of touch. I paid $45 for a Twins cap: in my mind, it should’ve been $5. The Kramarczuk’s bratwurst stand doesn’t take cash, only credit cards. I don’t get it. What country is this? But I bought one, with kraut and mustard. I’m not used to the raucous music blaring every half-inning though it thrilled the row of girls ahead of us who stood up, hips shaking, arms waving. I come from the era of intense silence. I may be the only person in the ballpark who remembers the fall day in 1969 when Rod Carew got on base with a double, took a big lead, stole third, and the fans sat transfixed in silence, knowing he might do it, wishing he’d do it, and then he did it — he took a daring lead off third and dashed home and slid under the tag and we jumped up and yelled, “YES!” We didn’t need the Stones’ “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” to rouse us, the feat of stealing home was enough. I can still see it in my mind, his perfect timing, the headlong slide.

But there were three triples hit that day, a classic exciting moment, the ball hit to a far corner and perhaps bobbled, the fleet runner dashing, the base coaches windmilling him on. It’s still clear in my memory, and so is the Shaker hymn, which I hope the choir does again someday and if they start dancing, I’ll join them. And someday I may bring a little pipette of water so that if the rector blesses us, I can bless her right back. And bless you, dear reader. Here comes the meatball.

Waking from wacko dreams to think clearly

Never mind what you’ve been taught, some problems have simple solutions. The cure for bad habits — lying, for example — is to stop doing it. Don’t waste a psychoanalyst’s time trying to discover the underlying causes of lying — the basic cause of lying is stupidity, or arrogance, take your pick.

And then there’s the problem of Supreme Court ethics and justices accepting valuable perks from billionaire pals, which may lead to a conflict of interest or the appearance of one. The simple answer is to raise their salaries: a quarter-million a year is not nearly enough to support a Supremacy lifestyle in D.C. There are psychoanalysts who earn more than that. Raise the salary to a million-five so Clarence Thomas can afford to charter a jet and not be indebted to a robber baron. Require the justices’ clerks to spend two years as public defenders before they shop around for fancy jobs with big firms in 15th-floor suites with big walnut credenzas.

And the unprecedented dilemma of a presidential candidate under multiple indictments and his trials possibly delayed until after the election: the answer is to break precedent and conduct a single trial on national television with the entire adult population empaneled as a jury. Let the nation hear the evidence and render a verdict. Then hold the election, and if he’s a convicted felon, send in a substitute.

I came up with these ideas at 4 a.m., which is when I do my best thinking and thank goodness I’m a writer so my business hours begin upon awakening and sipping my first cup of coffee. I think everything would work much better if everyone woke up at 4 and spent a few hours thinking, then went to the office at 9 with good ideas. Work until 2 and go home. Nothing good happens after 2 p.m. You know it and I know it.

Waking up at 4 a.m. is my idea of “woke,” not the stuff and nonsense that goes by that name. I’m not that brand of woke, Bud, and that’s no joke. It’s all smoke and a whole glossary of gelatinous phraseology by which the dreamers in our midst rain fire down on behalf of victims of yesteryear while ignoring the cruelties of today under vicious tyrants whose victims head for — guess where? — America to find decency and to survive, meanwhile the dreamers give the bullies of the right a dead horse to beat and thereby elect officialdom to enthrone tycoons and beat the peasantry into submission.

America is a good country that’s provided hope and sustenance to countless refugees. I take an Uber car and the driver is usually Hispanic or Muslim, often with limited English, but thanks to GPS they can navigate and earn decent money. I encounter workers every day whose English is limited, who may well be refugees, and whatever life they make here is a vast improvement over violence and starvation back home.

I do my best problem-solving after waking from wacko dreams in which tall pines fall and comets crash as fierce carnivorous beasts clamber out of the stormy sea and I ferry a band of foreign orphans across a raging river to a safe haven. I wake from this drama feeling cleansed of all anxiety, and anxiety — dread, the yips, creeps, sense of malaise, call it what you will — is the enemy of clear thinking. My dear mother was a worrier and she never left the house without imagining she had left a faucet running, the oven on, a door unlocked, and so she sat in church contemplating grim scenarios of flood and fire and robbers when she should’ve been praising God for His watchfulness over us.

In her old age, Mother lightened up a great deal and put her worries aside and when she was 94 I put her aboard a flight to visit Scotland, her ancestral homeland, and she, a formerly fearful flyer, was lighthearted as a schoolgirl. She suffered some hard blows, the deaths of beloved sisters, the death of her oldest son, Philip, the loss of her husband, but these troubles seemed to rid her of anxiety. She adopted the wisdom of old age — when your time is running out, why waste it on worrying about what might happen, enjoy each day as it comes — and now that I’m old I’ve adopted it too. I wake up at 4 a.m. and I am truly grateful. I plan to go to Scotland in the spring. Why not? Let’s go.

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

September 28, 2023

Thursday

8:00 p.m.

Crest Theatre, Sacramento, CA

Sacramento, CA

Garrison Keillor brings his solo show to Sacramento, CA. Poetry, Limericks, Sing-Along and the News from Lake Wobegon

buy tickets

September 29, 2023

Friday

8:00 p.m.

Cerritos Performing Arts Center, Cerritos, CA

Cerritos, CA

Garrison Keillor brings his solo show to Cerritos, CA. Poetry, Limericks, Sing-Along and the News from Lake Wobegon

buy tickets

September 30, 2023

Saturday

8:00 p.m.

The Coach House, San Juan Capistrano, CA

San Juan Capistrano, CA

Garrison Keillor brings his solo show to San Juan Capistrano, CA. Poetry, Limericks, Sing-Along and the News from Lake Wobegon

buy tickets

October 1, 2023

Sunday

7:30 p.m.

California Center for the Arts, Escondido, CA

Escondido, CA

Garrison Keillor brings his solo show to Escondido, CA. Poetry, Limericks, Sing-Along and the News from Lake Wobegon

buy tickets

November 20, 2023

Friday

7:30 p.m.

Highlands PAC, Highlands, NC

Highlands, NC

Garrison Keillor brings his solo show to Highlands, NC. Poetry, Limericks, Sing-Along and the News from Lake Wobegon

buy tickets

November 29, 2023

Wednesday

7:30 p.m.

Honeywell Center, Wabash, IN

Wabash, IN

Prairie Home Holiday with Garrison Keillor, Heather Masse and Richard Dworsky comes to brings a show full of great music, stories and a sing-along to Wabash, IN.

December 9, 2023

Saturday

8:00 p.m.

Town Hall, New York City

Town Hall, New York City

A Prairie Home Companion’s 50th Anniversary Tour comes to Town Hall in New York City with Elle Dehn, Heather Masse, Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks, Rich Dworsky, Sue Scott, Fred Newman and Tim Russell.

January 11, 2024

Thursday

7:30 p.m.

Ryman Auditorium, Nashville, TN

Nashville, TN

A Prairie Home Companion’s 50th Anniversary Tour comes to Nashville with Heather Masse, Christine DiGiallonardo, Rich Dworsky, Sam Bush, Stuart Duncan, Sue Scott, Fred Newman and Tim Russell.

January 13, 2024

Saturday

7:30 p.m.

McCain Auditorium, Manhattan, KS

Manhattan, KS

A Prairie Home Companion’s 50th Anniversary Tour comes to the McCain Auditorium in Manhattan, Kansas with our favorite regulars, Rich Dworsky, Sue Scott, Tim Russell and Fred Newman. Additional guests to be announced.

February 23, 2024

Friday

8:00 p.m.

The Grand 1894 Opera House, Galveston, TX

Galveston, TX

A Prairie Home Companion’s 50th Anniversary Tour comes to the Grand 1894 Opera House in Galveston, TX with our favorite regulars, Rich Dworsky, Sue Scott, Tim Russell and Fred Newman. Additional guests to be announced.

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The Writer’s Almanac for Wednesday, September 27, 2023

The Writer’s Almanac for Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Rachel Carson’s groundbreaking book Silent Spring was published on this date in 1962. Carson was a marine biologist, but she was also a crafter of lyrical prose who contributed to magazines like The New Yorker and Atlantic Monthly, and who had already published three popular lyrical books about the sea. One of these — The Sea Around Us (1951) — had won the National Book Award. In the course of her work, Carson became aware of the ways that chemical pesticides were harming plants and wildlife.

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The Writer’s Almanac for Tuesday, September 26, 2023

The Writer’s Almanac for Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Today is the birthday of American composer and musician George Gershwin (1898), whose lyrical and jazzy pieces, like Rhapsody in Blue, “Summertime,” “I Got Rhythm,” and “Embraceable You,” have become part of the American Songbook and influenced musicians like Charlie Parker and Janis Joplin. Gershwin and his brother Ira wrote the music for popular shows like Porgy and Bess (1935) and Girl Crazy (1930), which made Ginger Rogers an overnight Broadway sensation.

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The Writer’s Almanac for Monday, September 25, 2023

The Writer’s Almanac for Monday, September 25, 2023

It’s the birthday of American novelist William Faulkner (1897), who once said, “If I had not existed, someone else would have written me.” Faulkner was famously snippy, and had a long feud with Ernest Hemingway, which started when Faulkner said: “Ernest Hemingway: he has no courage, has never crawled out on a limb. He has never been known to use a word that might cause the reader to check with a dictionary to see if it is properly used.” Hemingway retorted: “Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words?”

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A Prairie Home Companion: Sept 30, 2006

A Prairie Home Companion: Sept 30, 2006

Our classic broadcast comes from a 2006 show in Montana. with singer-songwriter Stephanie Davis, acoustic duo Growling Old Men, singer Prudence Johnson.

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The Writer’s Almanac for Sunday, September 24, 2023

The Writer’s Almanac for Sunday, September 24, 2023

Today is the birthday of American writer F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896), best known for novels like The Great Gatsby (1925) and Tender is the Night (1934), which came to epitomize the Jazz Age and “The Lost Generation.” Fitzgerald was a constant reviser and fond of keeping notebooks, in which he separated ideas under three headings, “Feelings and emotions,” “Conversations and things overheard,” and “Descriptions of girls.”

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The Writer’s Almanac for Saturday, September 23, 2023

The Writer’s Almanac for Saturday, September 23, 2023

Today is the birthday of activist, politician, and newspaper editor Victoria Claflin Woodhull, born in Homer, Ohio (1838). In 1872, she became the first woman run for the presidency of the United States. In an address to Congress, she once said, “I come before you to declare that my sex are entitled to the inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

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The Writer’s Almanac for Friday, September 22, 2023

The Writer’s Almanac for Friday, September 22, 2023

Today is the birthday of English scientist of electromagnetics and electrochemistry Michael Faraday, born in London (1791). His research on the magnetic field around a conductor carrying an electrical current laid the basis of our understanding of the electromagnetic field. He made some of the most major discoveries in physics. Albert Einstein kept a picture of him on his wall, along with a picture of Isaac Newton.

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The Writer’s Almanac for Thursday, September 21, 2023

The Writer’s Almanac for Thursday, September 21, 2023

It’s the birthday of H.G. Wells, born Herbert George in London (1866). He is the sci-fi writer most known for The Time Machine, The Invisible Man, and War of the Worlds. Wells wasn’t the first to write about time travel or alien invasions, but his brand of sci-fi was uniquely realistic. He wanted to make the made-up science as believable as possible. Wells called this his “system of ideas” — today we would call it suspension of disbelief. Wells said: “As soon as the magic trick has been done the whole business of the fantasy writer is to keep everything else human and real. Touches of prosaic detail are imperative and a rigorous adherence to the hypothesis. Any extra fantasy outside the cardinal assumption immediately gives a touch of irresponsible silliness to the invention.”

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The Writer’s Almanac for Wednesday, September 20, 2023

The Writer’s Almanac for Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Sept 20 Today is the birthday of American poet and essayist Donald Hall, born in Hamden, Connecticut (1928), who once said, “Every good poet in the world has written only a few terrific poems.” When he was 89, he no longer wrote poetry. “Not enough testosterone,” he said. Instead, he turned to prose: his last book is a collection called Essays After Eighty (2014). Starting the book was simple. He said, “One day I looked out the window and began writing about being an old man looking out the window at the year going by.”

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The Writer’s Almanac for Tuesday, September 19, 2023

The Writer’s Almanac for Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Today is the birthday of essayist Roger Angell, born in New York in 1920. His mother was The New Yorker’s first fiction editor, and his father was an attorney and leader of the ACLU. (His stepfather was E.B. White, author of Charlotte’s Web.) He’s most well known for writing essays about baseball, and he’s the only writer who was elected to both the Baseball Hall of Fame and the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

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Writing

All I know is what she tells me

I get the news from my wife, who sits reading the paper across the breakfast table from me and tells me what I need to know, ignoring much of page 1 and picking out the story of the Italian Jews who were sheltered in Catholic monasteries in spite of an anti-Semitic pope and saved from the Holocaust and the story about Florida’s war on undocumented workers, which deprives Floridians of a ready workforce to help clean up the wretched mess after a hurricane and the pictures of beautiful colorful clothing worn by Sudanese women even during their cruel civil war.

It’s not a partisan newscast, it’s humanistic, it’s not about issues but about people, which makes me think she should run for president, which would be good for the country — Mexico is going to have a woman president, why should we lag behind — and I do believe her style is a winning one. My mother was a conservative but she loved Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt because she felt they cared about people. Joe Biden’s trip to Maui to commiserate with fire victims by reminiscing about the time he almost lost his Corvette as a result of a kitchen fire — dumb, dumb, dumb, Joe — why did Jill let you say that stupid clueless thing? A Corvette is not the equivalent of someone’s home, Joe. Who is briefing you for these appearances? Fire him.

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The meeting will come to order (bonk bonk)

Any American who saw Jim Jordan, the alleged chair of the so-called House Judiciary Committee, on TV Wednesday could’ve been charged with contempt of Congress for his harassment of Judge Merrick Garland, an excellent legal mind and dedicated public servant, Mr. Jordan being a bully and a hack from a gerrymandered district in Ohio who got his law degree from a church school in Columbus and never took the bar exam. He was a champion wrestler in the featherweight class and though heftier now, maintains his featherweight status. He never held a job but went straight from college into politics. Interviewed in 2018 and asked if he’d ever heard Donald Trump tell a lie, he said, “I have not.” He has been called “nuts” by Lindsey Graham, who knows about nuttiness. He voted to overturn the results of the 2020 election and then sent a note to the White House asking for a pardon in the event he was prosecuted. Ten days before leaving office, Mr. Trump gave Jordan the Presidential Medal of Freedom in a closed-door ceremony. He appeared before me Thursday under an independent subpoena issued pursuant to 515.2 U.S.C. and I hereby read into the record his testimony:

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Sing on, dance on, good eye, ain’t you happy

A good week is a good week; let smarter people deal with the debt ceiling crisis and popularity of authoritarianism, my week began with a happy Sunday in church with a lot of blessing going on — sprinkling the schoolkids, the choir, the congregation — and our rector looking joyful as she marched around casting holy water on people — I thought she might like to use a squirt gun or a watering can or the sprinklers in the ceiling. Her sermon cautioning against perfectionism was, for want of a better word, perfect, and we sang a lively Shaker hymn —

O brethren ain’t you happy, ye followers of the Lamb.
Sing on, dance on, followers of Emmanuel,
Sing on, dance on, ye followers of the Lamb.

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Waking from wacko dreams to think clearly

Never mind what you’ve been taught, some problems have simple solutions. The cure for bad habits — lying, for example — is to stop doing it. Don’t waste a psychoanalyst’s time trying to discover the underlying causes of lying — the basic cause of lying is stupidity, or arrogance, take your pick.

And then there’s the problem of Supreme Court ethics and justices accepting valuable perks from billionaire pals, which may lead to a conflict of interest or the appearance of one. The simple answer is to raise their salaries: a quarter-million a year is not nearly enough to support a Supremacy lifestyle in D.C. There are psychoanalysts who earn more than that. Raise the salary to a million-five so Clarence Thomas can afford to charter a jet and not be indebted to a robber baron. Require the justices’ clerks to spend two years as public defenders before they shop around for fancy jobs with big firms in 15th-floor suites with big walnut credenzas.

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The gift of Miss Helen Story, remembered

The time I have spent looking for my glasses — over the 70 years since I got glasses in the fourth grade, it must add up to a couple thousand hours, roaming nearsighted from room to room, bathroom, bedside table, desk, kitchen counter, coffee table, maybe six months of eight-hour days — a person could train for a triathlon in that time, find a cure for foot fungus, write a memoir — and yet, looking back over this endless series of ridiculous frenzies, I see how what a classic comedy it is, the half-blind man searching for his sightedness, and how can the regular reenactment of comedy do anything but make a man cheerful? I ask you.

Add to this my other blunders, stumbles, screwups and snafus in family life, professional career, political path, real estate — good Lord, the majestic apartment on Trondhjemsgade in Copenhagen that I bought, 13-foot ceilings, elaborate molding, a view of Ørstedsparken, you could’ve entertained royalty in the dining room or negotiated the union of Denmark and Sweden — I quit my radio show at the peak of its popularity and took my Danish wife to live in splendor and sit with her friends speaking my kindergarten Danish — my mind boggles: What was I thinking?

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Looking forward to September 13

It’s been a busy summer for this old retired guy due to the fact that it takes twice as long to get half as much done due to voice-activated Google, which means I can say, “How exactly am I related to Katharine Hepburn?” and the computer screen does some backflips and flashes the answer, “You and she are descended from Elder John Crandall, 1618–1676, Westerly, Rhode Island,” which I have known for years but it makes me feel good to see it again, given the fact that by the age of 81 a man has accumulated a truly stunning list of mishaps, bungles, fiascos, and debacles, all of which are unaffected by dementia but shine bright and clear, warning buoys on the reefs of despair.

Google is a marvel and also a pernicious addiction. Back in the day I focused on the work before me, the sheet of paper in the Underwood typewriter, and didn’t follow the whims of curiosity because it would involve hauling down Webster’s Third Unabridged or the Encyclopedia Britannica or World Almanac, but now if I’m curious I can instantly find out what year Buddy Holly’s plane crashed (1959) or which popes fathered children (many) or who was the first daredevil to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel and survive (a schoolteacher, Annie Edson Taylor, in 1901 at the age of 63), none of which have anything to do with the project at hand.

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As I keep telling myself, life is good

The birth of the spotless giraffe at a zoo in Tennessee, the only known one on earth, is important news to those of us who grew up as oddballs, seeing the spotted mama giraffe nuzzling her child, remembering the kindness of aunts and teachers who noticed our helpless naivete and guided us through the shallows.

And then there was the story of the cable car in Pakistan that lost a couple cables and dangled helplessly hundreds of feet in the air with terrified children inside. A nightmare in broad daylight. A rescuer harnessed to the remaining cable had to bring the children one by one to safety.

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The short walk from altar to apartment

I prefer not to write about politics because I find people’s stories about personal experience more interesting than their opinions about what’s wrong with America, which tend to be secondhand or thirdhand.

And absurdity doesn’t interest me. You have an ex-president running for the White House who may be headed for a federal facility other than the White House unless he can win the election and pardon himself, meanwhile his leading opponents in the primaries go out of their way to avoid criticizing him and they focus on the legal problems of the incumbent president’s son.

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Crossing the flats, looking for mountains

In homage to my ancestor David Powell, I rode a train across Kansas heading for Colorado, his goal in 1859 when he left Martha Ann and the children behind in Missouri and headed for the gold rush. Kansas is a state of vastness, some of it seems undisturbed since David rode across it. Here is a little farm near the tracks with no neighbor for several miles. A good place for an introvert like me. I could tow a trailer out on the treeless prairie and pull the shades and sit there and slowly go insane, buy a couple rifles with scopes, and yell at the TV about government oppression.

David was an extrovert. He was a leader of his wagon train and organized the lashing of wagons together to cross the rivers. He hunted antelope with the Arapaho and traded with them. He arrived in Colorado too late to get rich and instead sat in the territorial legislature and helped draft a state constitution. At age 62, an old man in those times, he settled in Kansas and wrote to his children: “I built a house 21r x 24r, one-story of pickets, shingle roof, 6 windows and 2 doors, divided and will be when finished one like my house in MO. Dug a well 20 feet deep, plenty of water, and put up a stable for 10 head of stock, covered with hay. We have done very well with oats and I have 25 tons of timothy hay, not yet sold. I am very comfortable, the times are fair here in Kansas, we are all well except for a touch of influenza. Our love and best wishes to all, yours affectionately.”

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Out with the old, in with the young

I am delighted by the court ruling in Montana that the state, by encouraging the use of fossil fuels, violated the constitutional right of young people to “a clean and healthful environment,” something no court has ever proclaimed before. “Clean and healthful environment” is in the Montana state constitution. The legislature had forbidden state agencies to consider climate change when considering fossil fuel projects, and this decision would change that, but the state will appeal and likely the decision will be tossed away like used tissue, but still it’s an interesting idea: that we have legal obligations to our kids beyond feeding and clothing them and not putting them to work in shoe factories before they’re 12.

Nobody suggested back in the Fifties that we kids had a constitutional right to a “natural and healthful attitude toward sex” nor did I consider asking a court to reverse the deep sense of shame instilled in me, which has messed up my life to the extent that I dare not see a therapist for fear I’d discover things nobody should ever know about himself.

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Whether solo or accompanied by Richard Dworsky, Heather Masse, Prudence Johnson, Dan Chouinard, Dean Magraw, or others, Garrison Keillor delivers an extraordinary, crowd-pleasing performance.

Garrison Keillor’s celebrated radio broadcast A Prairie Home Companion ran for forty years. He wrote the comedy sketches and more, and he invented a “little town that time forgot and the decades could not improve.” These days, his shows are packed with humor and song, plus the audience-favorite News from Lake Wobegon. He has written dozens of books — recently, Boom Town (a Lake Wobegon novel), That Time of Year (a memoir), a book of limericks, and Serenity at 70, Gaiety at 80 (reflections on why you should keep on getting older). Garrison and his wife, Jenny Lind Nilsson, live in New York City.

Trained as a jazz singer at the New England Conservatory of Music, Heather Masse is equally versed in a variety of traditions — folk, pop, bluegrass, and more. As member of Billboard-charting group The Wailin’ Jennys, she has performed at hundreds of venues across the world. She was a frequent guest on A Prairie Home Companion, both solo and with The Jennys. One reviewer rightly lauded her “lush velvety vocals, capable of melting butter in a Siberian winter.”

 Prudence Johnson‘s long and happy career as a singer, writer, and teacher has landed her on the musical theater stage, in two feature films (A River Runs Through It and A Prairie Home Companion), on a national radio show (several stints on A Prairie Home Companion) and on concert stages across North America and occasionally Europe. She has released more than a dozen recordings, including albums dedicated to the music of Hoagy Carmichael and Greg Brown, and a collection of international lullabies.

 For 23 years, Richard Dworsky served as A Prairie Home Companion’s pianist and music director, providing original theatrical underscoring, leading the house band, and performing as a featured soloist. The St. Paul, Minnesota, native also accompanied many of the show’s guests, including James Taylor, Bonnie Raitt, Yo-Yo Ma, Sheryl Crow, Chet Atkins, Renée Fleming, and Kristin Chenoweth.

 Dan Chouinard is a St. Paul-based honky-tonk pianist, concert soloist and accompanist, street accordionist, sing-along enabler, Italian and French teacher, and bicycling vagabond. He’s been writer and host of a number of live history-with-music shows broadcast on Minnesota Public Radio and Twin Cities Public Television. He played on a dozen live broadcasts of A Prairie Home Companions plus a half dozen APHC cruises, and served as rehearsal pianist for Meryl Streep, Lily Tomlin, and Lindsay Lohan on the 2005 APHC movie. He’s featured on a number of recordings with Prairie Home regulars Peter Ostroushko, Prudence Johnson and Maria Jette.

 Composer/arranger/producer/guitarist Dean Magraw performed and recorded extensively with Ukrainian American virtuoso Peter Ostroushko over several decades, and he has worked with some of the finest musicians in the North America, Europe, and Japan. As one of his collaborators commented, “Dean Magraw’s guitar playing transcends, transports, and lifts the soul to a higher level as he weaves, cajoles, and entices every note from his instrument.”

Recent reviews:

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