If love's not there to begin with, is it ever gonna be?

Published July 29, 1998 1:53PM (EDT)

Dear Mr. Blue,

Where can an intelligent, cute woman, 28, meet men who can
challenge her? I am working for a magazine in New York, hoping to
become a novelist/editor. I desire an intellectual and romantic
partner, but I tend to attract really young guys who are
eccentric in one way or another but not all that smart. So what
do I do?

Single in Brooklyn

There are a number of intelligent and romantic men out there
wandering around in search of you, and if you are attracting
eccentric underage dolts instead, it may be that, out of an
excessive fear of hurting their feelings, you are sending
romantic signals that you don't really mean to send. Maybe you
should try being cool for awhile. Practice a distant demeanor.
Operate from behind a veneer of charming but devastating irony.
It's possible to be good company and not offer easy
friendship. And when an intelligent romantic man comes along, he
will figure out how to break through those defenses and let you
know that he's crazy about you, which, of course, he ought to be.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I have become best friends with a wonderful woman and would like
to intensify our relationship, but she's reluctant. I didn't
pursue this when we first met because she was already in a
relationship, but that's long since past. She says she doesn't
want to gamble the friendship we already have. Is there anything
I can do, or do I remain

Unrequited in Conn.

By "intensify our relationship," you mean that you want to sleep
with her, I presume. She has said no, and she has said it in a
kindly way so as to spare your feelings. Why make her say it more
bluntly? Be a friend.

Dear Mr. Blue,

After four loving years, my darling has announced that, although
his tender feelings remain, he is "prepared to go the
distance of his lifetime without" me. It is not the first time a
loved one has done this. Is it something about men that allows
them such emotional efficiency? How do I salvage my dignity in
this situation?

In Pain

The psychological advantage is with the abandoner, who steels
himself to make the break, announces it, fends off all
entreaties and marches off into the night, a brave soldier who
did what needed to be done. Meanwhile, the abandoned feels like
shit. But you are not without resources. Do not be pitiful; be
pissed off. If you've been crying on your friends' shoulders,
stop. If friends bring up the subject of the breakup, tell them
that your darling was impotent and you got tired of helping him
deal with his sexual insecurities. Get a haircut and buy some new
duds. Cut out alcohol and put yourself on a diet of greens and
fruit. Hurl yourself into profitable activity: Read a book a
week, enroll in a French class, memorize poetry, go to the gym
daily. Do this for 90 days, and at the end of it, sit down
and ask yourself how you feel about your life. Ninety days of
self-improvement fueled by anger should use up much of your
anger, and then you can have the final revenge, which is to
forgive the pitiful bastard and get on with your life.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I always aspired to be a writer, and as a kid, wrote stories that
didn't sell to the New Yorker. Now, approaching 40, I write
marketing reports for large corporations. My old friends with
Bloomsbury aspirations, the ones who didn't turn into lawyers,
are also stuck in literary ghettos like corporate communications.
We pathetically refer to ourselves as "the creative community."
Is there hope? Or is the literary life a cruel hoax like
basketball stardom?

Staring at the screen

There is always hope, Staring. Forty isn't old for a writer, and
the literary life can begin in middle or even old age -- it
isn't like mathematics or chess or playing the violin. But you
can't go back and pick up your youthful aspiration; you'll need
to aspire anew. And aspiration is the easy part. What's hard is
the stamina. Give yourself a couple of years to find out if you have
it or not. Spend some time writing descriptive narratives of your
own life. Put them aside for a few months and then take a hard
close look. Write a three-page outline of a novel you might like
to write. Write another, and another. Write some sonnets, an
excellent exercise, and see if you can write a decent one. If,
over a period of time, you find your thoughts returning to one of
those novel outlines and the story begins to seem real to you,
try to sit down and write a few chapters. Meanwhile, don't tell
a single soul about any of this. In a year or two or three,
you'll be able to judge for yourself whether you're serious about
writing or if it's a pleasant fantasy, like being Michael Jordan.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I'm a singer and I spend a lot of my precious creative energy
thinking about a Famous Person Who Sings (not you -- sorry). I am
inspired by him, and even feel that an interchange would benefit
us both. In my heart I believe that the Famous Singer and myself
are meant to meet and ... um ... harmonize. How do I stop wanting
to do these ordinary things with this extraordinary man?

Blue and Sentimental in San Francisco

You can go on wanting, B&S, but God help you if you take one step
toward realization. If he is a principled person, Mr. Famous
Singer dreads the thought of being accosted by emotionally needy
admirers seeking to ... um ... harmonize with him, and if he is
not principled, then you are in for a patch of pure misery. Take
your feelings for Mr. F.S. and put them into singing Gershwin.

Dear Mr. Blue,

In your experience, is it ever worth holding out for someone who
thinks you're swell but is still getting over a previous
relationship? Or is it better to assume that if it wasn't there
to begin with, it ain't gonna be?

In Love With a Pillar of Salt

Your someone doesn't appear to want a suitor right now. Bide your
time and be a good-humored pal, hang loose, don't breathe too
hard, don't obsess. There are pleasures in easygoing friendship,
and pursue those for awhile.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I have a great new job. I'm divorcing a schmuck. I have two
bright, beautiful daughters, and I have met the man of my dreams,
a true soul mate. Life is going great. Now here's the problem:
Every time my pen hits the paper, icky sweet stuff comes out of
it. Does one have to suffer to write good stuff? Does good
writing only come of angst? What's a happy writer to do?

Content in Conn.

Suffering goes with being human, and in that sense, yes, you do
have to suffer to write good stuff. But it doesn't have to be
concurrent. And it doesn't have to be your own angst, it could be
someone else's that you experience imaginatively. Your bright
beautiful daughters' angst, for example. Imagine how, deep down,
they might despise the man of your dreams and adore the schmuck
and employ devious means to punish you over time. Perhaps they
will run away with schmucks of their dreams whom they know would
cause you dreadful angst. Your two bright beautiful daughters
riding with two 50ish bikers named Tiny and Big Al. Life is
going great right now, Content, but there is plenty of angst
right around the corner. You can defend your daughters by writing
about evil and sorrow in advance of their providing you with it.

Dear Mr. Blue,

What is the protocol for submitting stories these days. Is it on
disk or still double-spaced manuscript? I haven't written in
years but now feel ready to write. I wanted to be a writer in
high school but felt I should live a little first. So now I'm 50
and am writing, writing, writing. So where to start?


Submit your stories on paper, double-spaced. If one is accepted
for publication, you can offer to send the editors a disk, to
save them some word processing.

Dear Mr. Blue,

At the age of 41, I decided to flee the downsizing corporate
world for a life of creative entrepreneurship. I moved to a
rural area where I hardly know a soul, and after three long
years of hard work, I suddenly find myself more successful than I
could have imagined in my wildest dreams. I sleep better knowing
that I have a large nest egg. And now, I can have the luxury of
taking my life back. The problem is, I forget how. Can you help?


That's a pleasant problem to have, Introverted, the problem of
stopping work for awhile and figuring out how to live. I
recommend travel, unprogrammed travel. Get away from home, where
your work is, and give yourself a period of solo wandering on the
open road. If you like to drive, wander America, and if you
prefer trains and are patient about language barriers, try
Europe. Don't plan ahead, other than to figure out health
insurance and bring a credit card that works in ATMs. You've
worked hard in a focused way, and now you need a lack of focus
and an inner sense of time, not the ASAP-time of the working
world. Go where it pleases you, think your own thoughts, deal
with loneliness, linger, dally, and you'll find your life again.

Dear Mr. Blue,

On Sunday nights I go to this little bunch that calls itself a
church, and we are kind of making up our religion (basically
Christian) each week as we go. I have become one of the regular
preachers, and have come to really enjoy the work of deciding
what to say in church, but I mostly enjoy it from a literary
standpoint more than a religious one. And since there are
five or six preachers, I can't preach every week, but I still want to
write something. Any ideas about what to write in between?

The Rev

I suppose I shouldn't say this, but the thought of sitting and
listening to a preacher who really enjoys his work but more from
a literary than a religious standpoint is my idea of exquisite
suffering. So if you ask me what you can write in between
sermons, I'd say you should write searing, soul-baring,
confessional autobiography, holding nothing back whatsoever,
addressing your sins in pinpoint detail.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I am a college senior and in the fall I plan on going to graduate
school to learn how to be a librarian. Apart from its being a
noble profession that requires specialized training, I enjoy the
work. But every time I tell people about my plans, they give me
this look of disdain, as if I'd said I was going to grad school to
learn how to be a caddie or a men's room attendant. How can I
convince them of the importance of my work and plans?


You do it by using pretentious jargon. You're not going to be a
librarian, you're going to study "information science" and become
an "information technology storage and retrieval specialist" and
work in "digital collections and services."

Dear Mr. Blue,

What's the story here?

If I cheat, and don't tell, I can save my relationship, which I

If I cheat and tell, all goes to hell (yet I'm not a hypocrite.)

If I don't cheat, I'll never know.

And if it's true that in the end each proton in the universe will
decay, leaving the chances for survival at nil, what's the worry

Wondering in New York

You can know about unfaithfulness without cheating, simply by
reading the accounts of others. This is what literature is for.
Ask your information retrieval specialist to give you an adultery
reading list, both fiction and nonfiction.

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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