Should writers breed with other writers?

Published June 2, 1998 4:56PM (EDT)

Dear Mr. Blue,

I read that a person could be a good writer, a good family man/woman or the life of the party, but not all three. My fear -- being nothing more than mediocre as family man, friend and writer, while I try to excel at all three. What can I do?


Dear Paul,

Worrying about being a good writer is one good route to mediocrity, and as for being the life of the party, it isn't hard if you hang out with dull people whom you don't like. (Why would you want to star at a party with your friends?) That leaves family life to excel at, and you can do that, but it takes time. What can you do? Your best, certainly.

Dear Mr. Blue:

How can my boyfriend love me so much and then forget to call me after he promised to? I would never do that.


Dear Stephanie,

Is this an argument we could skip? Of course, you're right, and the guy should have called as he said he would, but why keep score? Guys are not clock-punchers at heart. We're cow-punchers, who roam the plains and eat when we're hungry and drink when we're dry and don't necessarily call when we said we would. Isn't our spontaneity what you love about us, our ability to create surprise and to invent fun and to suddenly throw ourselves at your feet?

Dear Mr. Blue,

Are writers better mated with other writers or with non-writers, and if the latter, would artists of a visual sort be better than musicians or are tactile artists best when all is said and done?


Dear Paul

I am not a breeder of writers, or of artists, but I do feel that writers mate well with musicians, and that a writer-writer relationship is to be avoided. I've met a number of writerly couples and they struck me as spooky. They seem to either loathe each other or serve as each other's flack. Can't you find a nice violist?

Dear Mr. Blue:

One: How can a person make a living, make time for writing and still have a social life? Two: I have a problem with using romantic foibles as grist for the writing mill. It seems crass to open partners to emotional public scrutiny. Even if the names are changed, the hearts remain exposed.


Dear Ruskyle:

You make time by clearing out the underbrush. You eliminate the morning newspaper, and all television, and all social life that is merely pro forma and is uninspiring, and you buckle down. As for exploiting one's romantic life, Mr. Blue shares your feeling of revulsion, although he accepts that in some cases the end justifies the means.

Dear Mr. Blue:

I've read a number of biographies of writers and noticed that the happiest writers were those who had either a spouse or parents willing to support them when they were struggling to be recognized, while those who had to support themselves at the same time as they sought recognition were more likely to have lives full of crisis and misery.

Ink-Stained Wretch

Dear Wretch:

There are other writers, many others, who were supported by their parents and who failed to do much with their talent, such as it was, and were miserable, and no biographies were written about them, but never mind that. I wouldn't come to a judgment about this from biographies. And even if you did, what good will it do you? Either there is someone waiting to pay the freight for you or not.

Dear Mr. Blue:

What do you think of Dr. Johnson's assertion that "no man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money?"

Dear Pagel:

I believe that Dr. Johnson must have said that to an editor who was trying to coax him into submitting work for publication for a pittance, and then, struck by his own brilliance, he repeated it to Boswell, who was buying the drinks at the time. Dr. Johnson lived in the days before gigantic advances were paid to blockheads, and if he had known what was to come, he might have thought twice.

Dear Mr. Blue:

In the past months, my dad died; I got kicked out of my house; I turned 50; the hotshot software company I'm working for has been dragged in the gutter by certain misguided but influential members of the Swedish press; and only strangers call me on my recently upgraded, Microsoft Internet Call. Can I expect my writing to improve?

Just Wondering

Dear Just:

Sorry to hear that you've run onto this rough patch. Trouble is supposed to come in threes, and you've exceeded your quota. But trouble has some good to offer anyone, writer or not. Most of life's big lessons can be learned no other way than through calamity and grief. Thoreau said that more than anything else, we crave reality. With the death of your father, you are given the gift of reality, and a clearer vision of things, which is preferable. You might apply this in your writing, if you're a writer, or you might simply become a better friend. When a person's heart is broken and his spirit cast down, you come out of it feeling more clearly the delicacy of things and this emboldens you. As for your Microsoft Internet Call, Thoreau got along without one and so could you, probably.

Gospadine Blue,

Why did God pitch the tools of love in the throne of excrement?


Dear Martin

Some people think that God used subcontractors in designing the human body, and that it was civil engineers who put the waste disposal system through the major recreational area. I myself have no problem with the design. Do you?

Dear Mr. Blue:

I recently received e-mail from a fellow TT'er telling me I should get my haiku published in hard copy. Is he crazy or what?


Dear Mike:

My love of haiku

Was small as a cicada

And then got smaller.

Dear Mr. Blue:

After four years in New York, I am back in Chicago, where I was born and raised. I loved NYC. Three months ago, I came back to Chicago because I have brothers and sisters here and I got an extremely cool job offer. But now I have this feeling like I have to get the heck back to NYC. New York had its flaws, but it was honest about them, whereas Chicagoans live in subdivisions 50 miles away from their job, drive everywhere they go and spend more time in shopping malls than they do walking around their neighborhood. Should I move back, even though I'll be giving up possibly the greatest job a 26-year-old writer ever had, or stay where I am? Which is worse: a great job in a city that makes you feel inhuman or a terrible job in a city that makes you feel completely alive?


Dear Kate:

Nothing wrong with being in love with New York, but three months is a short time to spend in Chicago working at a great job and feel restless. Give it more time. New York will be even more dazzling and wonderful when you get a big offer to go back there in a couple of years. Meanwhile, enjoy your hometown.

Dear Mr. Blue:

I am living in Mexico and recently met a woman to whom I have become quite attracted, who is from South Africa, currently married to a Chilean. She is vibrant and quick at erupting into laughter. She is perplexed at what she describes as my "inability" to laugh out loud at what she perceives humorous. She believes it is not natural. I explain to her that one does not necessarily need to guffaw to appreciate comical things. But is this something I should work at? Is it important for two soul mates to be able to laugh out loud together?


Dear Peter:

So you're not a big guffawer. Neither is Mr. Blue. You can't change this. Laughter is spontaneous. It's not up for discussion. If this lady is seriously giving you a hard time about the way you laugh, or don't laugh, drop her. Do it simply and swiftly and gently. Send her a bouquet of flowers and a note, "My darling, I have come to the conclusion that I am not worthy of you and can only bring you pain, etcetera etcetera." If she is only kidding about this, OK, but it doesn't sound like it to Mr. Blue. You and she don't sound like soul mates. You two sound like a formula for misery. This woman has a critical mind that can drive you nuts if you want to be driven. Mr. Blue says, bag this.

By Garrison Keillor

Garrison Keillor is the author of the Lake Wobegon novel "Liberty" (Viking) and the creator and host of the nationally syndicated radio show "A Prairie Home Companion," broadcast on more than 500 public radio stations nationwide. For more columns by Keillor, visit his column archive.

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