I lived in Italy for two glorious years in the early 90s and developed an enduring preference for Barolo from the Piedmont region. The next time you get a carnivore’s holiday away from your spouse for a meal, try a bottle of a good Barolo with your steak dinner. You won’t regret it.
I keep telling myself that I’m going to resume drinking wine when I turn 80 next year but I haven’t run this past my doctor yet and my wife is leery, given the meds I’m on. And the truth is that I don’t miss alcohol. I was an ambitious drinker and then I stopped, and it’s been eighteen years and no yearnings. My real addiction is to work. But surely one glass of Barolo on my birthday wouldn’t hurt. Maybe I should have a glass on my 79th, a test run. I will certainly make it a Barolo.
I just finished re-reading your 2009 National Geographic essay "Take in the State Fair," an annual ritual for me, an Indiana native who now lives in Italy. I love everything about the state fair essay: the writing (especially the playful use of grammar), the narrative, the insight into humanity, the references to the Long Dark Time (god I hated winter in Indiana), the occasion it affords me to revisit my childhood love of carnivals (skeeziness and all).
This summer in particular I've been ruminating on my hometown during a two-month sailing trip in the Eastern Mediterranean (it's for a work assignment – I'm still Midwestern after all!) with my partner, who is Italian. During the 11-hour stretches between islands, I regaled him — or at least distracted him — with Indiana stories. As I re-read your essay, I was struck by how "the older metaphor of farming (life as hard labor that is subject to weather and quirks of blind fate and may return no reward whatsoever and don’t be surprised)" parallels the sea. Thanks to the peril and unpredictability of the elements, this atheist suddenly found herself wildly superstitious, carrying no less than a St. Michael's medal for protection, a Neapolitan cornicello to ward off bad luck, and a green aventurine crystal to bring good luck. The coup de grace? Occasionally pouring wine into the sea for Poseidon "just in case."
I suppose that's why I love the state fair essay. As a story of the macro told through a deliciously nostalgic micro, it gives me something new to ponder every year. Thank you sincerely for your work.
All my best,
I wasn’t aware that the essay was that interesting, Janna. Thanks for alerting me. I’ll go back and read it for myself. This year I’ll be a spectator again and make my rounds through the poultry and swine barns, the cheese curd stand, the Swiss skyride, the River Run (a.k.a. the Pee Ride), the dairy building, the bratwurst booth, and people will walk up to me and tell me about a show they saw in Avon or Lakeville or Aitkin. It’s a wonderful time. The Geographic piece didn’t mention that I did a bunch of Grandstand shows at the Fair during which I walked out in the crowd, and we sang America and the Battle Hymn and It Is Well With My Soul and the Star-Spangled Banner. A great singing audience. That’s what people remember most fondly. A unique experience, to be among 10,000 Minnesotans singing.
Garrison, I remember hearing from my North Dakota grandmother, who was the Methodist Church organist in her tiny town, reminiscing about the controversy over replacing the (pump) organ, which had died. Suggestions for getting a piano were not well received among those who believed that the piano was an instrument of taverns and bars.
Nobody ever sang “A Mighty Fortress” in a bar, Kathleen. I think the Methodists were just too cheap. They’d rather become Congregationalists than spend money on a good piano.
Garrison Keillor -
My husband and I are planning a road trip to Minnesota this upcoming October/November. We married December 2020. My husband is 25 years old and has listened to your radio show for over a decade. He has listened to all episodes and read your books multiple times. Growing up, he has dreamed of Lake Wobegon. Your stories have inspired him to move our lives from southern Illinois to Minnesota in the next few years. We plan to take multiple trips at different points throughout the year to see if the weather is something we can handle. We both love Christmas, cold weather, and snow. We are both driven individuals with a love for small towns but also the city. On our list of stops, we have the Fitzgerald Theater, Chatter Box in Olivia, Holdingford, Saint Joseph for the Lake Wobegon Trail, and Duluth. Do you have any additional locations I should plan for us such as a museum or place dedicated to Prairie Home Companion? I have referenced the site every few weeks watching out for any opportunity Connor may get his book signed by you or watch you perform. I know that would be pivotal in his life. He truly is an old soul with such a simple outlook on life. So many of his morals and values that I love about him derived from your teachings. I thank you for that and hope to share my appreciation in person someday.
Shelby, drop me a line and let me know when you’re coming and if I’m in town, I’ll buy you lunch and if you like, I’ll take you to church. It’d be my privilege.
The summers frighten me now. They’re too hot and I’m not sure I’m all that crazy about winter, either. I grow old and I am dismayed when I’m supposed to be resolute, brave, and personifying equanimity – whatever that means. The news has always been bad but now it’s terrible.
Our little downtown neighborhood is rapidly being shadowed by the high-rise response to urban sprawl, they call it infill. An addiction treatment center is planned for the corner lot next to the riverside park. I live uneasily in comfort and small splendor, rising at four-thirty to write a novel. Where can a man find this equanimity I’m looking for?
Equanimity is what most Midwesterners feel they’re born with, a stoical composure in the face of rapid change and insult and injury, but it isn’t a feeling nor exactly a virtue so much as a realization that things happen, change occurs, people come and go, and we float along taking it all in but are not shaken. It’s a day-to-day proposition. Some people turn to yoga, some to Buddhism, some find it in morning prayer. My dear wife finds it in her daily walk. Sometimes I find it in writing, although in writing to you about equanimity, I feel anxious that I may be leading you down the wrong path, so I’ll tell you about the man who walked into the bar with his hands full of dog turds and said, “Look what I almost stepped in.”
Garrison: My "Garrison Keillor Reader" is right up there on the humor shelf with Benchley, Perelman, and your Library of America Thurber edition. I'm curious: when you want a good laugh, who do you read? Which of the New Yorker wits still provide mirth?
R. Lee Procter
I read Cora Frazier and Andy Borowitz in the magazine and whenever I hear my wife laugh, I walk over and ask to read it when she’s done. She loves devastating reviews of singers, but she also goes for essays by bewildered fathers and reminiscences by women about what outfits they thought were cool when they were young. My wife had a fit once reading about bell-bottoms. I’d say the best road to mirth is to marry a funny woman. We were sitting with friends the other night, one of whom said he admired his daughter for her good judgement, and I said, “I wish I had that” and my wife said, “I wish you did too.” When you give her a set-up, she’s right there with the line.
Here in Europe folks are encouraged to return shopping carts by use of a simple coin deposit mechanism. You insert your coin or even a suitably sized token, release the cart from its chains, and after you’re done you return and rechain the cart to retrieve your coin. This results in far fewer carts left loose to roam the parking lot and demonstrates that most people really do want to do the right thing if they know what that thing is, and it’s made simple and convenient to do it. That’s gently encouraging, don’t you agree?
All the best,
Phil from Preston, England
The value of coins has diminished to the point we now see teenagers not bother to retrieve coins that fall to the ground. Fifty-cent pieces are very rare so the quarter would be the applicable one in your shopping-cart dispenser and the quarter is at a tipping point. To be effective, you’d have to employ the credit card, but this requires a big investment in machinery. I don’t think the problem will be solved in my lifetime, so I say, to hell with it, let’s focus on climate change.
The America where we helped out our neighbor and looked out for each other has been replaced by a society governed by me...me...me. Never mind my fellow citizens. I will do what pleases me the most. You're on your own. Personally, I'm old school, I return the shopping cart so it's out of other shoppers' way, and I got the vaccine early in order to protect my friends, family, and everyone else. Too bad we're losing ground on the Golden Rule. Thanks.
Duane Meneely, Albuquerque, NM
Thank you, sir. I grew up at a time when there were more Duanes –– I have a cousin Duane, our high-school quarterback was Duane Blaska ––– and recently my ophthalmologist told me I suffer from “Duane syndrome” which means that when I look up, I tend to see double, which explains why I dropped pop flies and gave up baseball and spent recess in the library and so became a writer. But now I’m writing about me…me…me. You’re right about the Golden Rule and let’s set a good example for the young, as you do.
Dear Mr. Keillor:
My dearest friend died about a year and half ago after a long battle with depression. His children read John Masefield’s “Sea Fever” at his memorial service. Thank you for lending your voice to Geoffrey’s favorite poem and rekindling some cherished memories if only for a few minutes.
I loved that poem (“I must down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky and all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by”) growing up in Minnesota far from any tall ships and then when I was 11 my dad took me to New York and we went out to Jones Beach and I saw the lonely sea, which was impressive, as were the young women cavorting on the beach. I don’t care for the line in which he years for the “vagrant gypsy life” but the rest is good though for me the metaphor of death as a sea voyage doesn’t ring so true as a car trip to North Dakota. Perhaps I should write that poem myself. “I must off to the road again, to Highway 10 and go forth toward the western flatlands and the Red River of the North.”
You should write about the disclosures by Janet Malcolm in NYRB regarding how she and other writers strung together long quotes that contained actual quotes combined with inventions. Her characterizations of the writers at the magazine –
their arrogance and insularity – caused her to change her ways at her second trial for libel in San Francisco.
You share with her a history of disengagement from THE MAGAZINE -- you and Tina Brown and her evidently with David Remnick, since she turned to NYRB in the years before her death.
Here's an opportunity as a New York resident to show there's more to you than midwestern cornfields.
Look up! Or at least look around!
Leo Vanderpot, Croton on Hudson, NY
I packed up my stuff and left the magazine when Ms. Brown left Vanity Fair and took over the editorship in 1992. I wasn’t a Vanity Fair writer, so I saved her having to discover that and give me the bad news. Probably it was an act of arrogance on my part, but I believe it saved me and her a lot of time and that year I was very busy courting Jenny Nilsson who married me in 1995. I’ve now written her into my new novel BOOM TOWN in which I’ve invented some long quotes and I believe, though I’m not positive, that a wife cannot sue a husband for libel. I guess I should look it up.
I served three small United Methodist churches in Tishomingo County, MS in the early 1990s. It was a VERY difficult time for me vocationally. I definitely had "Tishomingo Blues."
Praise the Lord for the blues, Brother Jon, which now serves to make you more grateful and glad for good things of which I hope you have an abundance.
Dear Mr. Keillor,
In Post to the Host for 7.18.21, you responded helpfully to Rev. Dr. Wes
Johnson, whose eulogy for his sister had vanished from his computer. A
couple of notes on that:
You may know that Carlyle's complete 'The French Revolution' was tossed in the fire by the housemaid. Also, the T. E. Lawrence left his draft of "Seven Pillars of Wisdom" on the train. Both had to be done again from scratch.
You may not know that the great mathematician, Paul Erdos, proved an
amazing number of very difficult results on loose sheets of paper, but
lost some of them. He'd admit that some of the proofs may have been
wrong. But in one case he knew it was right, because he managed to
re-prove it. "Unfortunately," he said, "I've lost it again."
The lost manuscript is God’s way of testing a writer’s commitment: Did you really truly absolutely believe in your work or were you simply passing time? The irony is that if you grieve too hard and too long for what you lost, you will lose the memory of it and be unable to reclaim it. There is a lesson here.
Like you, I’m bemused that the Cleveland Indians changed their name to the Guardians. I'm led to wonder about our Indianapolis Indians. In July 2020 a committee was formed to consider a name change. No word so far. As a lifelong resident and a liberal in-hiding, I can say that I expect nothing from that committee.
Verl (buz) Wisehart, Stilesville, Indiana
The committee is stumped by the logic that, if they change the team name, then the name of the city and the state will need to be changed, and until Indiana is taken over by young progressive Democrats in a century or two, this is unlikely to happen. So why waste their time? If “Indians” bothers them so much, they can move to Cleveland.
Just read your commentary on team names and I do agree that rodents are particularly unsuitable. Here in Amarillo our ballclub is nicknamed the Sod Poodles, another name for Prairie Dog, which we refer to as Soddies:
Go Soddies, go!
Run to and fro
Bite their ankle
Make \'em rankle
Dig a hole
Go, Soddies, go!
Helene from Amarillo
(Not a baseball fan)
That’s a better fight song than our Minnesota Twins song or the Gopher fight song at the U of M, either of which has such a curious rhyme as ankle/rankle. But surely you could work the word “bodies” into it. The prairie dog is a burrowing animal, who tends to duck down out of danger, much like the gopher, which surely is a better example for the young of Amarillo than an animal that attacks. Personally, I think it’s a name that can be lived with.
I am of like mind with your wife when it comes to hearing someone say things such as, “Her and me went to the store.” In a somewhat related vein, the amateur botanist in me bristled at the following:
The compound that is chlorophyll
Formed as the light increases
Makes every little flower thrill
Flowers do not photosynthesize – leaves do. Replacing the word “flower” with “leaflet” would not upset the poem and would bring a contented sigh to garden folk like me.
All the best,
Carol Kelly.Marion, Ohio
I shall correct this in any future editions. Thank you.
Dear Mr. Keillor,
Can I persuade you that “America" is the absolutely perfect name for the two Americas? “Amer" translates as bitter in French and perhaps in Latin and Italian too. “Rica”, I believe, means riches, wealth and sweet (like chocolate candy). I’m bitter that there's so much poverty amidst so many riches in the USA, but that’s my bittersweet America. Alas, my only homeland.
PS. Forget the secondrate mapmaker!
Your interpretation is hereby entered into the record, Ms Petersdaughter, and is duly noted by the court.
Okay, I bite. What is the penguin joke? Hold on-do Penguins bite. Or just nip?
Two penguins on an ice floe. One says, “You look like you’re wearing a tuxedo.” The other says, “What makes you think I’m not?”
I hope you’ll come within a half-day’s drive to Pittsburgh next time you hit the road. During the many months of lockdown, I’ve caught up with various old friends, and now I’d like to catch up with your show, whatever form it takes these days.
What I miss isn’t just Mr. Keillor — it’s an entire family of performers. Hoping for a reunion sometime in 2021… or before too long.
Reviving an old show like Prairie Home is like reviving an old romance, except maybe harder. When I hear from old fans, it’s clear that in the five years since it went away, their memories have burnished the luster and they are now remembering a much better show than the one we did and if I live to be 100 (which, thankfully, I won’t) I’d be hailed as a genius, and I’m glad not to have to think about that.
The steady erosion of common sense and critical thinking is nothing new; 25 years ago, Carl Sagan penned his prophetic quote. Days ago, Brian Williams read it again on his show.
“I have a foreboding of an America in my children's or grandchildren's time -- when the United States is a service and information economy; when nearly all the manufacturing industries have slipped away to other countries; when awesome technological powers are in the hands of a very few, and no one representing the public interest can even grasp the issues; when the people have lost the ability to set their own agendas or knowledgeably question those in authority; when, clutching our crystals and nervously consulting our horoscopes, our critical faculties in decline, unable to distinguish between what feels good and what's true, we slide, almost without noticing, back into superstition and darkness.”
“The dumbing down of America is most evident in the slow decay of substantive content in the enormously influential media, the 30 second sound bites (now down to 10 seconds or less), lowest common denominator programming, credulous presentations on pseudoscience and superstition, but especially a kind of celebration of ignorance."
Clay Blasdel, Derby NY
I look on the wars of my lifetime as wars of ignorance, I see profound foolishness long before Sagan wrote what he wrote, but I prefer to look at young people I know who are embarking on ambitious lives, making families, finding their callings, exercising their citizenship, building better, and I wish them well. We never considered the extinction of the planet before and now we do. We have some idea of what must be done, and we should start doing it but smarter people are coming along who will decide the outcome.
My experience with wives, of which I’ve had two, and daughters, of which I have two plus two steps, is that moms are the bad cop and dad is the other one. We dads get to be the fun guy. Most girls go through a period of intense rebellion against their mothers, which seems needed so the girl can establish herself as a grownup, and then after that, with any luck, they are Friends. The best dad can do is try to keep loving both of them and stay out of the way.
My dad was a tough cop with his sons and my mother loved comedians. But I come from interesting people who tried to focus on the next life rather than this one. The closer I get to the next life, the less I think about past and future. I just think about the sentence I’m writing at this moment and when I come to the end, I place a period and head for the next.
I have been watching the Olympics, particularly woman’s gymnastics and what it says about great parenting. To let your child travel halfway around the world to do gyrations on a slab of wood 4” wide that could land her in long term care if she puts a toenail wrong indicates a trust in her training and skill and dedication. My niece does gymnastics, and I am forever cringing when she does a back flip on the thing. I can barely walk around my bedroom without stubbing a toe. Her parents cheer her on. That’s really all kids need, that you believe they can do it, whatever it is.
My daughter is a strong swimmer and does a beautiful butterfly stroke and it astonishes me to see it, being the weak swimmer I am. It’s a love she was given thanks to an excellent teacher, a woman who got in the pool with little kids and encouraged them. I hope the teacher has some idea of what she accomplished.
Do you write only on a laptop computer, or do you still sometimes write with a pen on paper?
I started out on an upright Underwood manual typewriter and was loyal to it for twenty years and then got converted to word processor and then laptop, but I still like to print out a story on paper and mark it up with pen. Computer efficiency comes at a high price sometimes: I can recognize dialogue that is hand-written with a pen from that which is computed. Computer writing easily gets wordy and tone-deaf. There’s a connection between hand and ear --- ask any otolaryngologist.
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