How do I handle being the Antarctic stud?


Garrison Keillor
August 26, 1998 4:51PM (UTC)


Dear Mr. Blue

I found pictures of my girlfriend kissing and frolicking with
another man. It's not the first time. I felt angry. Devastated.
Wrote her a farewell letter. Now she has called and wants to
"talk." I have refused. If she writes me, I plan to return the
letters unopened. I have nothing to gain from speaking to her.
Am I being cruel and closed-minded?

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Silent in Seattle

When you entertain jealousy, Silent, you are taking a 300-pound dog for a walk and there's no telling where you may
wind up. But let me ask: Where were the pictures? Did you invade
her privacy to find them? And after you saw them, did you ask
(politely) for an explanation? If you didn't, then I'd say you're
closed-minded. And it's cruel to return letters unopened. But
maybe losing you is not the worst thing that ever happened to
her. So there's no need to feel guilty.

Dear Mr. Blue

I work in Antarctica for six to seven months a year and I'm quite
happy about my work, so this past year, I've been sending out a
weekly e-mail to 10 friends describing my experiences there, but
now the e-list has grown to nearly a hundred, and I'm getting
interesting e-mail from women who want to meet me when I get
home. I'm flattered by the attention, would certainly enjoy a
woman's company, but gosh, I'm only one man! How do I tactfully
handle this?

Loco on Ice

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Dear Loco, You're only one man, but what a guy. You've managed to
become a distant romantic figure to scores of women simply by
talking about what interests you. Enjoy your good fortune, sir.
Correspond with all of the women who interest you, and be vague
about when and where you might meet. That will sort itself out
eventually. One woman will loom large in your imagination as you
sit hunkered over your whale-oil stove. You will meet her, enjoy
her company and in due course you'll be married and have three
babies and live in Toronto, the northernmost civilized place in
North America. I've got this one all worked out for you.

Dear Mr. Blue,

About a year ago, I split up with a woman I'd been seeing for
five years who is beautiful and funny and intelligent, but we
argued a lot and were unhappy around each other. We're still
attracted to each other in other ways, though, and have remained
good friends. And now she's moving away and I realize how much
I'll miss her. She and I have both changed a bit in the past
year. How do I know that I'm not making a huge mistake in letting
her go?

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Losing Lots

Dear Losing, When you say that you were unhappy around each
other, that sounds to me like a verdict. "Beautiful and funny and
intelligent" doesn't mean much if the outcome was unhappiness. Of
course her decision to leave town is painful for you; it closes a
door you had left slightly ajar. But do you feel so strongly
about her that you would hurl yourself at her feet and proclaim
your love and promise to be a wonderful guy this time and not the
son of a bitch of a year ago? It doesn't sound to me as if you
do. You only sound regretful. So let her go, with tears in your
eyes, and start fresh with someone else. Maybe Mr. Antarctica can
help.


Dear Mr. Blue,

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Are critics any use whatsoever to creative people, or are they
just energy vampires and purveyors of despair and depression
whose effect is to choke the creative impulse at its source and
suppress artistic productivity?

Wondering

Dear Wondering,

We're all artists and we're all critics. Each of us is filled
with beautiful creative impulses, and at the same time each of us
comes equipped with a bullshit detector that looks at emperors
and thinks, "Naked." Critics are in business to serve consumers
and also to create a community of criticism that serves art and
promotes its survival. This community creates something like a
mainstream, which is enormously useful to artists, especially
younger ones. It's a baseline, and it gives everyone something to
disagree with. For the survival of literature (or film or dance
or art or music), critics should be slightly biased toward young
artists, slightly biased against the mastodons and emperors. But
you, dear Wondering, can solve your problem with critics very
simply: Stop reading.

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Dear Mr. Blue

After a long year of dating losers, including a volunteer
fireman, a nudist, an underwater welder, a scientist and a guy
who truly despised his ex-wives, I met a wonderful guy (I think)
and started seeing him. He's bright, funny, charming, but a
little depressed. He is still pining over a recent break-up. The
lights aren't on in the window, but the door is slightly ajar on
the off chance that his former flame will seek help for her
mental problems and come back to him. Should I keep looking? Or
are all the good ones taken, as my brother keeps telling me?

Dating Dregs

Dear Dating, Don't listen to your glum brother. There are plenty
of good ones out there, and this guy may be one of them. It takes
awhile to get over a romance, and he needs your company, your
humor, your sweetness, your smarts, to help him move on.
Patience, dear Dating. This may take a year. Maybe more. If he's
really bright and funny, then it should be a good year for you.
Give it time, enjoy the time, and then, if you wish to stay with
him, sit him down for a little talk. Tell him, if he needs
telling, that the past was then and this is the future and the
future is the good part.

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Dear Mr. Blue

I have a large circle of friends, but none of them seem able to
fix me up with a date, so I am working on finding my own romance.
I'm a graduate student. I work on my dissertation in coffee
shops, read newspapers in bars, try to make myself
available ... but to no avail. And now I'm starting to drink too
much. It's good for my songwriting, but it's crushing my ego.
Any advice?

Bookish

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Dear Bookish,

Maybe you look better in action than as a decorative fixture. Get
out of the bars and join a group whose purpose expresses your own
deepest ideals and do some good for the world. One day you may
find yourself suddenly distracted from doing good by a romance
with a fellow do-gooder. Or you could get a job in one of those
bars. People are always falling in love with bartenders,
especially around closing time.

Dear Mr. Blue,

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Six years ago I gave up the practice of law to write novels. The
first one I rewrote many times and it's not bad. It hasn't sold,
but it got me an agent. My second is rather good, but according
to my agent it's too politically and racially sensitive to sell.
I've begun a third, with a "high-concept" plot, and sent it out
to big editors at major houses. Two have said no, and we're
waiting on two others. Mr. Blue, I am so discouraged after all
these years of sitting and typing and nothing to show for it ...
how can I keep going without any validation? I used to think I
was somebody.

Mired in the Slushpile

Dear Mired,

It's a tough life, for sure, and you've labored awfully hard for
no reward, and you are entitled to feel discouraged. So go ahead
and despond for a day or two. You don't say that you long for
your old law practice, and I take that to mean that you like your
work here in the distillery of literature. You simply wish the
barrels would age faster.

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The cure for discouragement is in the writing itself. Take your
grievous sense of failure and instill it in one of your
characters. (Don't make him a writer, however.) Let him walk that
long deserted alley and hear the broken glass under his shoes and
smell the pee in the doorways and see the shadowy shapes of
cardboard cartons where old broken-down fiction writers are
bedding down for the night. And from this dark vale he will
emerge a finer character and maybe even a funny one. A beautiful
aspect of writing is that it offers you, the writer, a way to
relieve the anxiety of writing. You sit down and write the blues,
and if it's good you feel vindicated. By the way, I'd get a
professional second opinion on that second novel. "Too sensitive
to sell"? Doesn't sound right to me.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I am a Manhattanite who fell in love over the Internet with an
exceptional man who lives in northern California. I've flown out
there four times in the last six months to see him and, you know,
it's nice in some ways, I guess, but it ain't New York. In fact,
I sort of hate it. But him I love. And he won't leave
California. What should I do? Live someplace that I hate for the
sake of love? (The phone bills are killing me.)

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Seriously Conflicted

Dear Seriously, What a great story. The fact of four cross-country flights in six months suggests a serious operatic romance
indeed, one of Traviata strength. Of course you hate northern
California. That's a crucial plot element. You're a New Yorker,
and California goes against your beliefs. You are having a
cultural experience you don't want to have. That's entertainment!
But here's this sweet tenor singing his heart out to you, and
face it --- you didn't fall in love as a New Yorker! You fell in
love as a simple naked human being. Honestly, you owe it to
yourself and to your passion to take a chance and try to imagine
living there. (I'd say the same to him, if he had asked.) I know
a woman who went to Saudi Arabia, learned Arabic, converted to
Islam, and put on the veil, all for love, and compared to that,
this is simple. Take this into the second act, love.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I've been writing a novel for five years, my first, and because
of other commitments (a job, a life), I haven't finished
it. I feel frustrated that I haven't, though writer friends tell
me that first novels often take the longest, which comforted me
for about five seconds. Meanwhile, I have been working on other
writing projects that seem more compelling. Should I feel guilty?

Guilt Ridden

Dear Guilt Ridden, This is the commonest aspect of the writing
life, putting aside an unfinished work and taking up a new one,
and there's no guilt involved. This isn't carpentry, you know,
it's pure invention, and you can't make it happen on a schedule.
(This is why Mr. Blue's column is often late, but never mind
that.) Sometimes a work has to rest. You put it away, do
something else, and one morning it whispers to you from the
drawer, and you pick it up and see it with fresh eyes. I would
only caution you against putting away an uncompleted first draft.
The discovery stage can be pure drudgery, and the first draft may
be ugly, but it's important to get something down that marks what
is in your head.

Dear Mr. Blue,

For the past few months, I've been talking with a coworker on the
phone. We joke and flirt, and we've discovered we have many
things in common. He's asked me out several times, but we have
never met in person. The problem is, he has told me that he
prefers slim girls. My figure is voluptuous. I am afraid he will
reject me based on physical appearance. Any suggestions?

Zaftig in California

Dear Zaftig, If you can joke with this guy, then you can joke
about this. Tell him you're fat. Huge. You go into a restaurant
and look at the menu and tell the waitress, "OK." So fat you
have your own Zip code. So fat that tiny fat women are in orbit
around you. If this doesn't make him beg to meet you, then don't
bother with him. Let him consort with some dour skinny woman.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I am a graduate student, working toward an M.A. in religion, on a
full scholarship with a stipend for living expenses. I've figured
out I don't want to keep studying religion, but I'm going to
finish the degree while the nice financial arrangement buys me
some time to think. The two things I'm good at are cooking and
writing. What should I do after I graduate? Go to cooking school?
Enter an M.F.A. program? Find a menial job to pay the bills and
write all I can? Please advise. I'm afraid that if I enter the
corporate world, I will die a slow, grey, torturous death of the
soul.

Bemused

Dear Bemused,

If you're good at cooking and writing, why go to school? Why not
simply practice them? Get out of academia and put your feet on
the ground and walk. For starters, do what people are willing to
pay you to do, and probably that's cooking. A good useful
occupation: taking a necessity and making an art of it. Find a
job that challenges you, apply yourself to it, and see what it
has to teach you. At the same time, you may discover that your
mind, freed from pulling the academic plow, leaps up fresh to
your writing; physical work can be liberating that way. That's my
advice, Bemused, and you're free to use it as you like.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I've just met the love of my life, and I've never been happier.
At the same time, I've never been less productive. Is this a
temporary phase? Must I break up with him to make my creative
dreams come true? Are great achievement and true love
incompatible?

Lately Lazy in Los Angeles

My dear Lately, Hurray for you and your happiness. May it float
your canoe for a long time to come. May you enjoy vast lazy
afternoons and evenings with the L.O.L. Mornings too, if those
are available. Your anxiety over productivity is the first sign
that it is returning. Lucky you.


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

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