Does love have to be a five-alarm fire?

Published July 15, 1998 2:24PM (EDT)

Dear Mr. Blue,

I'm dating a lovely, clever guy whom I adore on many levels.
However, I don't have that "house on fire" feeling for him --
the tug in the chest, the giddiness, the jello-knees
thing, the innate sense that We Belong Together, none of that.
(Nor does he feel it for me.) I believe we're well-matched
as far as wit, personalities and interests go, but gosh
darn it, I really miss that house aflame feeling. Do you
think it's possible to develop that sort of intense chemistry
over time, or is it necessary to start with it in order to
sustain a relationship?

Wistfully Smoldering

My dear Wistful:

I speak as one whose house has burned a few times, and while it is a glorious
experience and
while I pity anyone whose house doesn't at least have serious smoke damage,
there is no
connection between this and a sustained relationship. And if you burst into an
operatic love affair, it'd be good if the object of your giddiness turned out,
once your knees
stopped shaking, to be an honest, compassionate person with a sense of humor
who could
clean a bathroom, make a meatloaf and repair a faucet and also be exciting on
occasion. I
do think, my dear Smolderer, that if this lovely guy (I would wince if a woman
referred to
me as "clever," by the way) is making you wistful for a real romance, you
should pull back
a little so it won't break his heart if you find one.

Dear Mr. Blue,

Usually I find you a font of wisdom -- but where did you put your brain
when you wrote that the Bible didn't have a sequel. The Torah and the New
Different casts of characters and God's personality changes.

A Jew In Colorado

Mr. Blue stands corrected.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I was recently accepted into the 1998 Poetry Festival, a grueling,
week-long master class at the Robert Frost Place in Laconia, N.H. In
defiance of the realities of my apparent limitations, I submitted my poems
to a blind acceptance process, a splendid equalizer that allows a working-class, middle-aged
grandmother with a ninth-grade education to contend. But it is wicked
difficult for me
to be away from my cottage and loving kin. And as a financial choice it's
not the sensible one. Most of all, I feel like a hopelessly gooney oddball
outsider in a classroom setting. Yet I want to learn. Any tips?

Torn in Maine

Dear Torn:

A writer may have to tear herself away from loving kin now and
then, and of
course poetry is never a sensible choice on financial grounds. Burglary beats
poetry, when it
comes to making money. As for being an oddball outsider, that's a position of
advantage for
a writer, without a doubt. The real question is: Can these jokers teach you
anything? Do you
respect their work? Do you hanker to be in the midst of other poets and talk
the talk and
smell the mouthwash? If you do, go, and if you don't, then accept the
invitation as a
compliment, and enjoy your summer in Maine. I don't know who is running the
class, but I'm willing to bet that he or she would be charmed half to death to
have a
working-class, middle-aged grandmother with a ninth-grade education in the
midst of all the
hairy-legged M.F.A.s.

Dear Mr. Blue,

Where can a gentle idealist look to find kind and intelligent companions?


Dear Jo:

In books, particularly in 19th century fiction.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I've just received an attractive job offer in my old hometown. I
have friends, family and a cheap house waiting for me there, but I
feel like going back would be a kind of failure. I love the people,
but I hate the town. I moved to Dallas two years ago to be in a
bigger pond, but now my little pond is pulling me back. Should I go?


Dear Jaffo:

Why go live in a town you hate? It would only make you less lovable to
the friends
and family you love. This is one of those situations in which, if you have to
ask for advice,
the answer probably is no.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I am a writer with a question about love (sort of).
I'm in love with a wonderful woman, the best person I've ever met in my life.
Even better, she loves me, too. We've lived together for a few years and
are working out better than I could have ever hoped.

We don't have many more years to decide if we're going to start a family.
38 and I'm a few years younger. We would like to buy a house and stop
throwing money away on rent. The problem is that I've been pursuing those
"struggling artist" jobs that cover little more than living expenses. My only
skills are strong proofreading skills and usually showing up for work on time.
I have spent my life dreading the kind of jobs people take for money only, but
woman I love wants a garden of her own, plus a little security, and I want to
it to her.

She works too, of course, and earns at the top of her profession, which is not
much. What do I do? She's not a materialistic woman (we don't even own a car),
but to give
her the few things she wants I'll need more $$ than I make now. Do I set aside
my writing
and pick up another job? Should I sell cars or something? Or do I watch her
wait even longer
for her dreams to come true?


Dear Willing:

It's sweet of you to want to make your love's dreams come true,
but how
could she enjoy a garden that was purchased by your working at a job you dread?
What you
don't mention here is your own writing -- how you feel about it as you look
at 40, if it
sustains you, if you imagine that it might earn money so you can have a
family. Your love
for this woman is, in the end, the severest test of your own writing and your
commitment to
it. Is it good enough that you're willing to go on struggling and ask her to
struggle with

Dear Mr. Blue,

Is it more important to know where you're going when you start
book-length fiction, or more important that you keep at it every day? I seem to
start and stop
frequently, beset by small children and little sleep, and usually I have no
idea where I'm going. The result is often, well, you can imagine. Zero. I
wonder if I should put more time into concocting a plot?

Chris H.

Dear Chris:

There's no harm in making an outline if it serves to stimulate your thinking
and free you up
from the gloom of the indefinite. It is more cheerful to write the history of
your toaster than
to try to write a book about Something. An outline is only a sketch. It may
turn out to be
utterly wrong and need to be re-drawn. Often in the course of writing, you will
find yourself
pulled in a direction you could not have predicted, that strikes you as more
truthful than what
you had intended to write. But if it helps to make a map, do. It's good to
keep at your work,
every day if possible, but don't forget to enjoy those small children too. And
remember that
sleep is a form of meditation and a good night's sleep can solve difficult
problems. It really

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.

MORE FROM Garrison Keillor

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Books Writers And Writing