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Garrison Keillor: Too much information, baby, I love you

March 13. 2018 11:55PM

Stormy Daniels is going to tell her story and if it is true that she whispered in her lover’s ear to meet with Kim Jong-un and talk about denuclearization and if steel tariffs were also part of the discussion, it’ll be news for a week and then something else will come along and she will be forgotten.

There is way too much information out there. It is filling our heads with sawdust and getting in the way of our direct experience of the world. For example, the fresh snow in my front yard, the birch trees, the bright winter sky, like so many bright winter skies going back to when I waited for a school bus under one when I was 13. On my front step is this morning’s paper and if I pick up the paper and open it, the school bus disappears. Either I can read about Stormy or I can see this day for all that it contains.

The past is still present all around us and the news does not prove otherwise. I wouldn’t have said that when I was young and scuffling for attention, but now I live on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi and the interstate and watch the daily struggle for prominence, the horns honking, the fists shaking, the Lexuses and Audis competing for an inside lane from which to ace out the Chevys and arrive at their reserved parking spaces three minutes earlier. I sit up here like a marsupial in a persimmon tree, observing the male elk bashing each other bloody, and I glance at the paper where President Nebuchadnezzar says once more that he is a genius, and then move on to what’s real: our family and friends, the ambitious young, the elders sliding with dignity into oblivion.

I went to my friend Leon’s art show Saturday and was stunned by his extravagant genius. I only know him from having had lunch with him regularly; he doesn’t bring paintings to lunch. My people are Yorkshiremen and lowland Scots; his are Ukrainian. If my people took brush and paint in hand, we would paint walls, whereas he and his people paint horses, curtains and windows, the faces and forms of beautiful women, lush plumage and vegetation. Some of the work contains glitter. My people would never put glitter on anything; they’d remove any glitter already there. What’s my point? It’s that our lunches are about news and meanwhile he’s made his life into art and with art, the past lives on into the present.

I’ve been making notes for a memoir and discover oddly that my clearest memories are of beloved teachers and relatives, lucky accidents, wonderful trips, magical places. The gloomy periods of self-pity tend to vanish, the breakups and defeats, the manuscript lost in the Portland train station, the easy pop flies I dropped, the stories rejected. I spent two years once on a novel that nobody liked except me and now I can’t even tell you what it was about but I can close my eyes and relive a hard-hit ground ball down the third-base line that I caught on the first bounce backhanded, braced my right foot, and threw to first, nailing my uncle Don by two steps. I was 14.

Life is a comedy. I wasn’t brought up to think so but it now seems evident by what is remembered, what has disappeared. Watergate is dead matter, a dim mist of images and transcripts that only a dozen historians care about, whereas the musicians in my backyard on a summer night in 1973 are very clear, sitting in a gazebo, fiddles, guitars, mandolins, a concertina, a cardboard box for a drum, someone blowing on a beer bottle. The sun went down, we lit a fire, children who are now middle-aged parents roasted wieners and marshmallows, and the music played on and on, old tunes that if you didn’t know them were easily picked up. And after enough beers, we put down the instruments and sang Beach Boys songs, Supremes, Shondells, Temptations, Drifters, songs everybody knew the words to — “My Girl,” “I Think We’re Alone Now,” “Save the Last Dance For Me” — and the neighbors came out and stood in their backyards and listened. It’s all still there somehow. Clouds of cigarette smoke in the air. We were venturing into our 30s, our prospects uncertain, singing “Baby, don’t you know I love you so, can’t you feel it when we touch,” and I hear it still.


Garrison Keillor lives in Minnesota.

Courts Politics Guest Commentary

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