Reading: The Keillor Reader

I've spent most of my life ignoring Garrison Keillor, with the exception of The Writer's Almanac, which I adore (get yr poetry daily, via web, RSS, newsletter, and/or podcast); the occasional column in the Washington Post; and a single viewing of A Prairie Home Companion (film). It wasn't a conscious decision; I just assumed I was not his type, and vice versa—as a child of the Midwest I'm naturally suspicious of anything that smacks of condescension toward my native peoples, and of anyone born in Minnesota. (LOL I kid, FIBs are the true enemy in Wisconsin.) It didn't matter whether or not he was actually being condescending; I never even bothered to find out. Which in its own way is probably condescending.

But then he filleted DJT in this amazing piece in the Tribune and I knew instantly we were soulmates: it's both cutting and empathetic, exhausted and a little gleeful. How dumb this all is, how terrifying, and yet, at its core, how very sad.

I sought out The Keillor Reader immediately and found this, which I loved, on how he chose his vocation:

I took a last stab at self-sacrifice and wrote a letter to a Trappist monastery near Dubuque, asking for admission, and they wrote back politely suggesting that I give the matter further thought. A good Christian was supposed to sacrifice his desires to the Lord. But if I couldn't be a Trappist and lead a life of prayer and poverty in a black robe in Iowa, then nuts to that. I'd just go ahead and be a writer.

Nuts to that. Also ugh, Dubuque. And this:

On Wednesday the high school kids gathered out on the parking lot and watched Venus cross over the sun. They wore paper eye protectors, and as usual when grown-ups are involved, the thrill of the moment was oversold. Kids were expecting some sort of galactic explosion and instead there was a tiny speck of shadow that some of them saw and others thought they saw and others weren't sure. It made you wonder what else has been oversold. The joy of seeing Paris, France. The joy of seeing someone's underpants. Maybe marriage is like this. You stand around with paper over your eyes and then it's over and she says, Did you see it? And you say, I think so. I don't know.

And this:

Life is good when you finally grow up. You find work you enjoy, buy a car that starts on cold mornings. Look for love, sing along with the radio, beget children who nestle on your lap and put their little arms around your neck and kiss you. You put away sarcasm. You mow your lawn, read history, learn to cook a few things well, seek out good shoes, converse with strangers on the bus. You find a hairstyle that suits you. Your taste changes: time goes by and contemporary art strikes you as ditzy and shallow whereas you are moved by Hopper and Rockwell and Nordic painters of snowscapes. Young Sarah Singer-Songwriter only makes you wonder if she is getting enough fresh air and exercise, whereas a Chopin étude carries visions of women in lamplight, the forbidden kiss, the whisper of silk, the nobility of kind gestures.

"The nobility of kind gestures," an appreciation of small graces. Elegant and precise and light on its feet. In college I used to read Robert Fulghum in the library on breaks from studying for finals (does anyone remember Robert Fulghum?), because I like short, funny essays, and the tenor of his writing is very much the same, what I can only describe as a sort of generous gimlet eye.

I know I keep ringing and ringing this same bell, but what I want most from writers—or any diversion, any form of entertainment—these days is a note of hope that is not naive, that looks at the world straight on and sees both the tragedy and the beauty that comes with just getting through. I don't want easy answers, I want reminders that this is what life is, that constant despair is not an option, and neither is utopia. I guess I want the sort of comfort that people find in religion, and I think a lot about those lines in the Friday Night Lights pilot, when Coach Taylor recites his gametime sermon to the team: "Give all of us gathered here tonight the strength to remember that life is so very fragile. We are all vulnerable, and we will all at some point in our lives fall. We will all fall." And somehow we will rise.

+ Unrelated, but see also: Laura Miller, Slate's book critic, appreciating how the other half reads: "One-star reviews testify to a loss of faith, and they wouldn’t get written if that faith didn’t keep rising up in the first place."