Thoughts from Lake Wobegone

Hi everyone,

During Garrison Keillor’s Saturday night performance at the Starlight Theatre in Kansas City, he gave the news from Lake Wobegone, one of his long running standards, and awarded the audience with one laugh after another. He went on for at least fifteen minutes without a hesitation and without a script or cue cards.

A key to his hilarious (apparent) ramblings is that he’ll start a story, wander off on what seems like a rabbit trail, and suddenly come back to tie in the older story to the newest one. I won’t remember them all but during the course of his news report he spun tales that involved (1) Babe Ruth who came through at the end of his career playing on a traveling exhibition team and hit a homer so hard and far it cleared the park and landed in a cornfield and town kids searched for it forever but no one ever discovered it; (2) his first girlfriend when he was 13 and she was 14 with whom he had a one-time fling; (3)a statue on the public square that suffered damage during a tornado that blew a bean pod into its left ear and the plant took root and started growing there; (4) a man who flew 41 missions during the Vietnam war but upon coming home fell on hard times and into hard ways, eventually became the town drunk and wandered over to the next community and took up with a woman who had an artificial leg, no hair, and an eye that popped out, which caused his wife to leave him, whereupon he took up serious drinking, lost his house to the bank, and moved to the woods where he drank and lived as a hermit; (5) his Scout master taking him and other boys to the woods in January and left them to camp out and “toughen up” in a tent in 30 degrees below zero weather and during the night he needed to go to the bathroom but came from a family that valued modesty so he walked so far from the tent that he lost his way. There was much more but you get the idea.

My guess is that when Keillor sits down to create one of his shaggy dog reports, he might start by making a list of half a dozen or so totally unrelated and equally implausible situations. In this case a partial list might be:
1. Babe Ruth coming to Lake Wobegone and hitting a homerun so hard that the ball was never recovered.
2. A “wrestling” match with his girlfriend that turned friendlier than he’d expected.
3. A statue with a bean sprout coming out of its ear.
4. A war hero who becomes the town drunk and falls for an equally unfortunate woman in the next town.
5. A wacky scout master who leaves boys stranded in the woods in a tent in the dead of a bitter January.

Now imagine tying every one of those improbable yarns together in some way by the end of your report. That’s the genius of Garrison Keillor. He may or may not tell the story the same way every time but he knows where he is, where he is going, and how he is going to get there. It’s a brilliant form of entertainment.

It is also a tempting writing prompt! I think I’ll try this sometime — start with a list of off-the-wall posits and see if I’m clever enough to bring them together. Not to try to be like Keillor. I don’t think anyone can do that or should. But as Ruth Culham says in her book, WRITING THIEF, we learn from masters and so we get better.

All I know is that I had a fine time at the Starlight Saturday night.

Garrison Keillor’s last tour

Hi everyone,

You can lead a horse to water, but . . . 20150823_113805_resized . . . it would rather have a Bloody Mary on Elaine Fry’s back deck where we spent a quick but wonderful weekend. 20150822_164057_resized
This included incredible baby-back ribs from Jack Stack’s Smokehouse 20150822_164229_resized
before zipping off to Starlight Theater, America’s second largest outdoor venue, to see Garrison Keillor and his touring group put on an incredible show as part of his retirement stops across the United States. 20150822_200855_resized_1 At intermission he came down into the crowd and led about 6,000 people in singing. It was quite a treat. 20150822_212142_resized

I’ll have more soon but for now I’ll pass along this one bit of wisdom that Keillor gave to writers. I’ll have to paraphrase. “Writing is hard. Very hard. While you are working on something, you have no idea if it’s any good. And when you finish it, you still don’t know if it’s any good. But if you have to ask somebody else, you’re not a writer.”