O, What a Luxury

We all know that I have a terrible inferiority complex when it comes to meeting celebrities (even local ones).  “Will they like me?” I think.  “Can I trust myself to say something witty and endearing?” I think, sweating profusely.  “What if I’m not dressed nicely enough to impress them?” I think, from a dead faint on the floor.

It’s silly, and it doesn’t make much sense.  We’re all people, after all.  We’re all plodding through this wonderful, cruel maze that is The Human Condition.  Celebrities just happen to have a marketable talent.  Or are lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time.  Or are really, really ridiculously good-looking.  Or are hard workers.  Or some combination of all four.

The fact is, I can’t seem to remember any of this wisdom when faced with a real, live celebrity.  And thus I’m always surprised when they turn out to be nice, regular people.  (Of course, some celebrities are as appraising and arrogant as I fear, and those I choose to smirk about later: “It goes to their heads. It always, always goes to their heads. Heh heh heh.  I was right all along.”  But then again, plenty of people who don’t have their own TV shows are appraising and arrogant.)

So when Wednesday night found me sitting in the sixth row at a Garrison Keillor poetry reading, I knew I was in for it.  Here was a man whose voice I had literally been hearing through the radio for my entire life.  My parents own a boat on Lake Superior, and some of my earliest memories are of hurtling through the northern woods on Sunday afternoons, listening to Guy Noir or News From Lake Wobegon and laughing whenever my parents laughed.  Sometimes, uncomfortably full with the Happy Meals we had begged for for miles and miles (and which were somehow disappointing once actually opened and consumed), my sister and I would fall asleep in the backseat of the minivan to the sound of Mr. Keillor’s voice, and wake up at home.

Garrison Keillor is perhaps the most important public figure of all, in the Minnesotan mind.  He brought us–our church basement suppers, our bars and hot dishes, our passive aggression, our experience of being up at the lake or down on the farm or “in town,” our grandparents and parents and cousins–to the world.  And sure, we’re not always so neurotic as A Prairie Home Companion portrays us to be.  Nor always so poignant nor so musical.  But the spirit of the show is right.

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All of the sudden the poetry reading was over.  The wide sheets of paper Mr. Keillor had read from were scattered on the floor.  And Mr. Keillor himself was strolling down the stage steps, down the aisle, and out into the lobby, where, as he said, he would be happy to sign copies of O, What a Luxury and to chat.  Mom and I joined the growing line, squashed in between an older woman who exclaimed that she was “just wild for E.E. Cummings” and a young couple tossing computer jargon–discs and codes and bytes–back and forth like a softball.

Then we were at the front, and I silently handed my book to Mr. Keillor, deciding in a split second that perhaps I should just be quietly friendly and not attempt any conversation.  He looked up, though, and jokingly commented on my mom’s hair, and then turned to me with an “what do you have to say for yourself, young lady?” expression.

So I told him that I’m a recent graduate from the University of Minnesota.

“And what did they do for you there?”

“They gave me an English degree, but I’m still figuring out how to use it.  I’m trying to get a job writing or editing.”

“Are you a good writer and editor?”

“Yes.”  (Then, because that seemed too vain) “I mean, I like to think I am.”

“Send your resume to Prairie Home Companion, then.”

I’m going to end the conversation here, but note that there was some additional stuttering on my part before the exchange was over.  Perhaps also some gushing to my patient mother during the drive home: “I can’t believe Garrison Keillor told me to send in my resume!  I mean, it wasn’t exactly a promise of a job, but still.  I’m going to have to write a cover letter right away.  I think I’ll say something about listening to APHC as a kid, but I don’t want to ramble, you know, so I’ll have to be concise…”  You get the idea.

To conclude this saga, I think there’s a lesson to be learned: if we ever happen to develop a marketable talent; or are in the right place at the right time; or become really, really ridiculously good-looking; or increase our work ethic…in other words, if we become celebrities, let’s remember to be kind to stuttering recent graduates who ask for our autographs.  Because it will mean a lot to them.

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Friday Favorites 4

This Milk-Bone marketing fail:

IMG_1591I discovered this beaut in Target today.

For the Fido who is watching his waistline.  Bring him home the low-cal treat he really craves.

And if the caloric statement isn’t enough to make you pause and raise your eyebrows into your hairline (it was for me), the grammatical error surely is.  Because unless that happy Beagle’s name is Mini and she is the owner or creator of the portion controlled Milk-Bones, there should be no possessive involved.

This meme:

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I cannot explain why Nigel Thornberry’s head placed on any body never ceases to be hilarious.  It is simply so.

This daily dose of literary magic:

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Every single day of the year, The Writer’s Almanac website posts a poem and a series of “this day in history” stories (mostly related to writers).  I’ve been an email subscriber for a few years now, and so my daily literary comfort arrives in my inbox at precisely 12:45 a.m.  If you choose, you can listen to the recording (on the W.A. website or via iTunes podcast) instead of reading the page yourself.

Garrison Keillor, lord of radio, narrates.

This book:

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I’ve read a great deal of literature concerning Nicholas and Alexandra and their family.  I’ve been fascinated with them since a young age, and have consciously tried to learn everything I can about their story.  That being said, it took me longer than it should have to get around to reading Massie’s take, especially since his biography is one of the most frequently cited.

I’ve included Nicholas and Alexandra in my favorites because it is such an exhaustive account of N&A’s childhoods, their reign, the Russian Revolution, their abdication, and their deaths.  Massie has a talent for writing about immensely complex events and people using plain, approachable style.  I like that in a biographer.

There were some things I didn’t like so much, however.  Firstly, Massie’s determination to dramatically point out every bit of irony, coincidence, and “if only.”  Secondly, the lack of attention given to the grand duchesses Olga, Tatiana, Anastasia, and Maria.  I realize that since they weren’t able to inherit the throne, they were considered less important than their brother, but that’s exactly what has always made the grand duchesses fascinating to me: four beautiful, intelligent, über sheltered young women, murdered for no reason other than that they were the daughters of the former emperor and empress of Russia.  It’s the worst part of the tragedy.

This movie:

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I had not read the book.  I was unprepared for Anna Karenina’s sudden and violent end.  I shrieked aloud and immediately felt that the English major gods were ashamed of me for not having known what was coming.

Joe Wright (Pride and Prejudice, Atonement) is one of my favorite directors, but I was happy to see him take greater risks with this film than I’ve seen him take before.  At the end of the film you will feel (A.O. Scott (NY Times review) says it best):

“Dazzled, touched and a bit tired. But, really, you should feel as if you had been hit by a train.”

Home for the Weekend

Typical Saturday at home, complete with:

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1. Spotting Fabio at Whole Foods.

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2. Generally drooling at Whole Foods.  How I love this place.  I would have taken a better photo of the salad bar or the fresh meats, but people were starting to eye me with suspicion.

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3. Lunch at Cossetta’s, where I hid from the parking lot attendants, hoping they wouldn’t remember the time I took up two parking spots with my massive truck, and then ate/talked for two hours with friends while remaining blissfully aware that “the girl with the massive truck” was being paged over the speakers.

4. Dessert at Garrison Keillor’s Common Good Books, which I evidently frequent.  Just kidding about the dessert.  Not kidding about this book, which I giggled over, but couldn’t actually justify buying, mostly because it’s a ‘show’ book more than a ‘read from cover to cover’ book.  What I did buy was Keillor’s Good Poems for Hard Times, because I love Good Poems, American Places so much.  I’ll admit that I’m a little afraid of poetry.  Have been for years.  It’s getting better slowly, but I still appreciate a good anthology, because someone else has already claimed that the poems inside are respectable and worth reading.  I feel free, then, to go around quoting this Robert Bly, or that Walt Whitman, confident that what I’m quoting is profound and beautiful.  Or, at least Garrison Keillor says it is.  And who’s going to argue with that?

5. Walk across the frozen lake with Mom and Dad.  And Ruby, of course, who galloped about, sometimes taking a rest to walk in the snowmobile tracks behind Dad, sometimes veering to sniff at an abandoned fishing hole cut in the ice or a piece of log jutting above the surface.

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In other news, I hiked smugly after taking this shot, convinced I had captured something pure and lovely and perfectly lit.  And then I saw the smudge of finger in the corner.

The Hazards of Crafting

We didn’t go Black Friday shopping, per se.  Mom and I patrolled Grand Avenue in St. Paul, where we did some (utterly justifiable, I tell you!) damage at Pottery Barn, Patina, and at Garrison Keillor’s Common Good Books (new location).  We may have also made an unrecorded Caribou Coffee stop, and we may have had to return ten minutes after leaving to retrieve mom’s sunglasses.

We swung home in the late afternoon to pick up my sister, who was back from her Target shift.  She’s currently taking an introductory clothing design/construction class at UW Madison, and needed to go to the fabric warehouse to pick up supplies for her final project.

I am not a crafty person, my friends.  There was an embroidery phase in middle school, and a knitting phase in high school, but both were short-lived, and neither produced particularly exemplary results.  To me, then, this scene looked rather bleak, and bordered on terrifying:

 

The labyrinth of fleece.

Tassels the likes of which I’ve never seen. If Quasimodo ever decides to do some remodeling in the belfry, I think these would serve him well.

Taken before being nudged out of the way by a woman who clearly respected the subtle distinction between cotton 111 and cotton 112 (a magnifying glass was produced for color confirmation).

“Why so cheap?” Holly wondered, peering dubiously over the rim of the barrel. The plastic circles glinted ominously, and Holly quickly decided that there must be something buried beneath, something that fed on the fingers of unsuspecting crafters. Just then, her sister Amy thrust her hand into the barrel. “Noooooooooo!” Holly screamed, not pausing even as two women in green smocks dragged her toward the exit.

Good Poems, American Places

I’ve been reading a few poems from this book every night before bed.

I read the poems aloud, as poetry should always be read, although in a hushed voice that befits the often hushed state of my house past midnight.

This was the second poem in the collection, and it continues to be my favorite.  In fact, I’m becoming a large Robert Bly fan; Mr. Keillor took care to include several of his poems.

“In a Train”, by Robert Bly

There has been a light snow.

Dark car tracks move in out of the darkness.

I stare at the train window marked with soft dust.

I have awakened in Missoula, Montana, utterly happy.

Not Missoula, but University of Minnesota Morris. And with more than a light snow. But this place makes me utterly happy.

Searching for F. Scott (and other adventures)

I’ll keep this brief, as I have an awful lot of story writing to do tonight.  I’m at seven pages, which has seemed like a huge accomplishment these past few weeks, but not anymore; I’ve just done my math and realized that seven pages is not even halfway to fifteen pages.  And fifteen pages is what I need.  I also need them quickly so that I can edit and make more drafts before actually turning the thing in.

My day, although only briefly mentioned here, was wonderful.  Mom and I took our show on the road at 11:30, and returned at 5.  Here’s what we did (in and around St. Paul):

1.  Ate at The Nook, a bar/burger joint that has been featured on everyone’s favorite show, Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives.  We both ordered the Juicy Lucy with sweet potato fries.  Deliciously messy, let me tell you; I had to dive under the table a few times to hide the fact that there were gobs of hot cheese clinging to my chin.

2.  Hunted down Garrison Keillor’s bookstore Common Good Books.  The first thing I appreciated was that the poetry section was front and center.  The second thing I appreciated was the framed photo of F. Scott and family.  The third thing I appreciated was that the place looked like this:

The fourth thing I appreciated was finding a copy of Mr. Keillor’s “Good Poems, American Places,” signed by the man himself (which I bought, obviously).

3.  Got ice cream at Grand Old Creamery.  Half a scoop of chocolate peanut butter, half a scoop of raspberry lemon sorbet, and I was a happy camper.

4.  Hiked from Grand Avenue to Summit Avenue.  Summit Avenue is the street I want to live on some day, when I’m a grown-up lady English professor with enough books to fill a proper library.  Summit is lined with old, frosted Victorian mansions.  It used to be (and still is, I suspect) the classiest address you can have in the Twin Cities.  James J. Hill’s house-turned-museum (which I drag my family to once every few years) is there, and the Catholic Cathedral, and the Governor’s Mansion.  F. Scott Fitzgerald lived in a few different houses on Summit.  Having learned this, I may or may not have jumped out of a moving van in order to take a few pictures of his former residence.  I may or may not have followed up with a James Bond roll into the bushes.

I’m not a stalker.  I’m just a fan.  Really.