How can I meet girls in odd clothing if I'm not a writer?

Published September 22, 1998 7:38PM (EDT)

Dear Mr. Blue,

I find I have no desire whatsoever to write, either creatively or
otherwise. This makes it hard to meet girls in odd clothing or
even to be invited out to events where people say unusual things.
How does one break the news without offense to intellectual
friends that he has not the slightest impulse to assemble words
in long, long strings?

Mr. Black

Mr. Black, you are doing the right thing by refusing the call of
literature, but why make a big announcement about it? Look
authorly and tell those unusual girls that you're at work on a
memoir about your troubled youth in the Sufi commune in Santa Fe
and it is much too dark and grievous to discuss at a party, and
let it go at that. People will respect your privacy and they will
also accord you the blatant adulation that is the reward of every
writer. To create a fiction about being a writer is an artistic
act, and it is the surest way to meet a thrilling woman whose odd
clothing suddenly falls from her tanned and sinuous shoulder as
she puts her soft cheek against yours and whispers, "You are so
beautiful and I am a fool for you. Meet me on the terrace, under
the long, long strings of ivy, and tell me unusual things."

Dear Mr. Blue,

I'm a professor at a university whose knowledge and
understanding extend far beyond the boundaries of my discipline.
Is it going to be hard for anyone to fall in love with me?
I am plenty busy with work and hobbies and don't have time to
pine for romance. But is it possible, theoretically speaking, to
be too smart to be loved?

Alone in Academe

Herr Doktor, you are no doubt a heavyweight schmartie, but what
about Einstein? Was he not also a sharp cookie? And did women
love him? Sir, he was a regular little dumpling of love. Women
loved to run their fingers through his hair, that's why it was
wild like that. He whispered little endearments about space and
time to them, and they trembled with pleasure. He lived a good
long life and enjoyed physics, string quartet music and women,
and not always in that order. Sir, to be too smart to be loved is
to be too dumb for words.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I'm a woman, almost 29, emerging from a super-repressed
upbringing, having gone to Catholic schools all the way through
college (I am no longer religious). Now I've been working in the
city for about two months and am meeting a lot of interesting
men. I've been interested in trying pot, 'shrooms, sex, nature
colonies, bisexuality (a little bit), ceramics, camping,
personal ads, bartending, revealing my past to people, group
therapy, intimacy, self-defense class, singing
before a live audience, travel, etc., but I'm scared of what can
happen. What do you think?


What do I think can happen? Well, if this is a horror novel, you
will probably have your brains eaten by ants from a mushroom you
ate at a bisexual colony as you did ceramics in the nude with a
bartender, and if this is a book for Oprah's Book Club, you'll be
tremendously empowered by your experiences and derive from them a
new sense of self that leads you to write a book about it. My
advice -- stay away from men who tell you their best friends are
women, don't sleep with anyone you would not want your parents to
meet, don't reveal more of your past than people care to hear,
don't be intimate with strangers and don't sing your own songs
in front of an audience, sing Irving Berlin's.

Dear Mr. Blue,

Whenever I sit down to write a short story, I find myself gripped
with unreasonable fear, anxiety and dread, and I become sweaty,
fidgety and nervous. I'm working on autobiographical material.
What am I so afraid of?

Two Keys Short of a Typewriter

It's scary to reveal yourself on the page, but, my gosh, this
sounds like you're giving birth to a major classic. Wipe off your
hands, hang onto the table and write.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I am a screenwriter in Austin who has enjoyed modest success
optioning scripts to producers in Hollywood. My agent tells me
that if I just moved to L.A., I could make more money and maybe
hit the A-list. Problem is, I like Austin, my wife likes Austin,
my kids like Austin and I am loath to move to L.A. What is a
C-list writer to do?

Anxious in Austin

Dear Anxious, You can easily give the impression that you live in
L.A. Keep a phone there, with voice-mail. Fly in for lunch now
and then. Make vague references to your problems with the lawn-care company, the Volvo mechanic, the schools in Studio City.
Nobody is going to come looking for you. Producers don't want to
see you every day; they expect writers to be elusive, leading
slightly weird lives. Stay in Austin, but use those L.A.
screenwriter terms that they learn in story seminars, like The
Quest, The Sword, The Wound, The Arc, The Curtain of
Plausibility and so forth. And make sure your hair is a little
goofy. Producers need to have their hair be slicker and smoother
than yours. And good luck.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I live in a cabin in Northern California in a place where
electromagnetic waves fear to tread so we can't get radio or
television. I have taken to writing short stories and even a
couple of novels. Some people are entertained by what I write and
when they say, "I liked your work," it makes me feel like a brand-new balloon. I have only a sixth-grade education and no editor
other than my cat, but last month a lovely lady from Brooklyn, New
York, stayed next-door for a couple of weeks on her way to
Fairbanks and she said my stuff is great and that she would be
happy to make me Rich And Famous. She also made a perfect apple
crumble. We have e-mailed a few times since, and she says that she
is going to have a sad time the rest of the year in Fairbanks.
Should I tuck my cat under my arm, borrow some money and go
rescue her now or wait until next apple season? I will pretty
much respect any advice you care to heave in this direction.


Dear Gene, Mr. Blue is not totally comfortable with the idea of
his advice being respected, but never mind. I suggest that you
and your kittycat make a trip and try to cheer up Miss Brooklyn.
Snow will soon be falling in Fairbanks, and she is probably
living in a tarpaper shack with a barrel heater and could use
some of your flash and style. Of course, you should e-mail ahead
and let her know that you're on your way. And bring along a big
bag of apples. They're expensive in Alaska.

Dear Mr. Blue,
I am about 60 pages into my first novel, which was going
swimmingly, and then a month ago, I moved to Copenhagen for
advanced study in a scientific field. I'm having a
wonderful time and found an exciting new lover, but I can't
seem to find time to write fiction anymore. I'm afraid that if I
let it sit, I won't return to it.


Look at your calendar. Where the giddy whirl of your social life
starts to thin out, write in some appointments with your novel.
Three hours the first week, and six hours the next week, and nine
hours the week after that. Place the appointments in the part of
the day where you are most productive. Keep your appointments. At
a minimum, you can give six hours a week to it. In Copenhagen,
people spend six hours just eating dinner on Friday night. Skip a
few meals and pursue your novel.

Dear Mr. Blue,

My best friend has recently stopped chasing after his childhood
sweetheart who he's been pining for for the last dozen or so
years. He and I had a drink together and I confessed that I had
been pining for him for nearly as long. I was summarily
(although not unkindly) rejected. What's wrong with me? Is it the
fact that I own power tools? That I use big words? Should I still
be friends with this man, or just write a novel about him?

Always a Buddy, Never a Bride

You don't dump your best friend just because you lunged at him
and discovered he isn't in love with you. You laugh at yourself
over this failed seduction and you look elsewhere for romance.
There are men who long for a woman who can use power tools and
big words. Me, for one. My wife can whip out a drill and put
screws in the wall in 10 seconds flat as words like
"eleemosynary" and "indehiscent" spring from her lips. Find a
tall gloomy guy like me and show him your stuff.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I've been a technical writer for several years, now am
an editor, but I'm finding myself overwhelmed by the
urge to write creatively. Should I chuck the
editorial career, or will the stoic practicality that grounds me
hold me back?

Confused in Cincinnati

My dear Confused, you should resist the urge to write creatively
and embrace your editorial career. That is the advice your mother
would give you, and I agree with her. Keep that green eyeshade on
your forehead, the No. 2 pencil clamped in your lead-stained
fingers and prune those sentences. If, one morning, you wake up
and the Muse is lying next to you in bed, murmuring endearments,
biting your ear, then write whatever she tells you to write, but
we do want to see her teeth marks on your lobes.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I am a journalist who enjoys regular hours, good pay and a caring
employer, but what I write about now is truly deadening to me,
compared to previous jobs where the hours were crazy and the pay
and benefits were poor. What do I do? I am a family man with
small children. The jobs that keep my soul alive are, by their
very nature, irregular and time-consuming, and the jobs that are
best for a family man make me shrivel from their blandness. Help!

Torn Between Two Lovers

And on a similar note:

Mr. Blue,

I used to be happy as an overworked and underpaid newspaper
reporter and now I am miserable as an overpaid and underworked
technical writer. I hate producing boring and meaningless drivel.
It's a life not worth living. How do I break out? Will any
newspapers have me back? Will I have to swallow a major pay cut
and lifestyle degradation? What should I do?

So Damn Bored

Dear Torn and Bored,

Many an advice columnist would say that you
made your bed and now must sleep in it, but not Mr. Blue. I say
stay where you are as you plot your escape. Only you can assess
the height of those prison walls, but be assured that there is a
whole green world of freedom beyond them. There is a route from
here to there, and you can't traverse it in one mighty leap, you
must scheme it out. Meanwhile, you really should look at this
deadening, boring, meaningless drivel you're producing and try to
do better work.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I have been married for six years to a woman I fell in love with
in high school. I am the sum total of her romantic experience,
and she is damn near all of mine. I love her and respect her more
now than ever, and I sense no diminution in her love for me.
Nevertheless, I have been increasingly obsessed with the idea of
having an affair. Will my faithfulness deprive me of one
of life's best experiences? Or should I hope that this itch never
needs to be scratched?


Your letter seems to fold up at the word "nevertheless." Up to
that point, you write strong declarative sentences, and then
everything turns wobbly and flabby. "I have been increasingly
obsessed" is like a cloud of fruit flies compared to "I love her
and respect her more now than ever," which is a well-planed beam.
You seem to be in the midst of one of life's best experiences
right now. What you are toying with is the idea of putting a
torch to your house to see what it looks like when flames burst
through the roof. We all have such thoughts -- we look at the
plane in the sky and think, "What if it blew up right now?" --
but we don't take action to bring about the disaster. So don't.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I have a difficult time getting through anything by Thomas
Pynchon and fear being in a social situation where I might be
asked to comment on "Mason & Dixon" and not being able to say
more than "I liked the talking dog." Am I an idiot?

Pynchon Challenged

I don't remember the talking dog at all. Was it in one of the
parts I skipped?

Dear Mr. Blue,

I've met a woman who thinks I am a wonderful writer. She has
just returned from a three-week trip to Paris to visit her boyfriend,
a sculptor. She says she thought about me while she was away.
During her absence, all of my writing ceased inexplicably and in
the eight hours she's been back I've been full of ambition.
Though she is an attractive young woman, I haven't thought of her
sexually. Nevertheless, the feeling of being reunited with her
has been powerful. I can't decide if it's her or how she helps my
writing that I love.


This sounds like a crush to me, harmless if it's played for
laughs, but you seem to be trying to work it up into a major
motion picture. Three weeks when your writing simply ceased?
Really? Well, I guess you are going to pursue a romance with her,
aren't you -- yes, you are, and you will soon be thinking of
her sexually, and if, during this courting ritual, your writing
blossoms and burgeons, I guess you have your answer.

Dear Mr. Blue,

My wife and I have been married for 10 years, a marriage lacking
in passion, though we are very good friends and do well together.
But I have this sensual side that finds little release. I've
contemplated having affairs, but haven't. I've contemplated
leaving her, but can't imagine life on my own. We've tried
working on our sex life, but nothing seems to come of
it. I guess that on some soul level, I've decided friendship is
more important than sex. By the way, I'm a writer and my writing
life is going pretty well.

Frustrated in Virginia

Sex does not easily lend itself to being worked
on. You take off your clothes and sit on the bed facing each
other with the manual open to the chapter on foreplay and somehow
inspiration flies out the window. The videos are faintly
embarrassing, and the therapists even more so. Sex works better
in the dark, and usually there is one person who instigates it,
and since you're here, let's say it's you. Try bringing your
sensual side to bear on your wife as if you were contemplating
having an affair with her. You're a writer, you have an
imagination, so use it. Construct a plausible fantasy in which
she is a mysterious woman who appears and excites you, a fine
respectable woman with a secret sensuous side, and play this out
(keeping the fantasy strictly to yourself), and seduce her. If
rebuffed, try again. If the fantasy wears out, create another
one. You can create one whose power to excite will amaze you.
Imagine you're another man having an affair with your wife.
Whatever. And let me say one more thing, in case you may have
forgotten it. Languorous delicious oral sex. No home should be
without it.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I met a woman at a writer's conference this summer, we spent a
marvelous weekend together afterward and (I thought) fell
wonderfully in love. But since then, nothing. We live seven
states apart and my heartfelt letter to her received only a tepid
note. The comment of one of the writer's conference faculty rings in
my ears: "The men at writer's conferences are average looking and
hard up; the women are beautiful and fucked-up. Don't get
involved." Must Cupid's arrow clash with the Muse's pen?

Just Curious

You have been dismissed. It doesn't mean she's
crazy or that you shouldn't have gotten involved, only that she
isn't in love with you. Write a story about it and move on.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I am a writer with a close platonic friendship with my ex-husband
five years after I left him. After the divorce, we tried to patch
things up and failed. Still, we are close and have shared most of
our adult lives with each other, and I feel loved by this man. He
helped raise my daughter, though he's not her father, and for the
past two years he has supported me while I took time off to
write. Now, after five years of self-imposed celibacy, I met a
man I like and we are going out. Hearing this, my ex-husband has
suddenly become interested in me romantically again. I've known
the new boyfriend for two months, the ex-husband for 15
years. The boyfriend is promising me the world. The ex-husband
isn't sure he can give me what I want, but he doesn't want to see
me disappear into another man's arms.


Dear Perplexed,
You are indebted to your ex-husband for his help,
and for that reason, as well as your obvious affection for him,
you ought to let him court you, and hear his appeal to your
heart, and if that means sending the boyfriend to a cold shower
for a few weeks, so be it. If your heart is not moved by him,
then tell him so in a kindly way and go dancing with Mr. World.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I am doing well as a freelance writer, but I still have a problem
meeting deadlines without an editor holding a gun to my head. How
to be more efficient?


Me too. So maybe it is the passage of deadlines and
the feeling of cold steel against our temples that stimulate us
to get the sentences marching across the page. You can go be as
efficient as you like, put stuff in color-coded folders, keep
your pencils in a neat row, draw up a weekly work schedule,
create flowcharts, surround yourself with clocks and timers, but
it won't necessarily put wonderful stuff on the page, says me.

Dear Mr. Blue,

My wife is a wonderful, bright, beautiful woman with a need to
write. Her problem is that she is too sensitive about my opinion
of her work, and my every hesitation, shrug, raised eyebrow and
suggestion creates deep insecurity, and now she no longer shows
work to me.

The Writer's Block

Stop raising those big hairy eyebrows of yours, mister. Shrugs
and raised eyebrows suggest you don't care enough about writing
to be critical, so you're merely sarcastic: You shrug, you roll
your eyes, you sigh, you push the work away and say, "Oh, I don't
know. Maybe it's a little long." This is death on writers. This
wonderful, bright, beautiful woman deserves better than a shrug
from you, and you don't have better to offer, so she's withdrawn
her work from your dry gaze, and good for her, and boogers on

Dear Mr. Blue,

I am a third-year undergraduate at a college in the East. I came
from a small town in the Midwest and have spent the last two
years more or less drifting through everything -- classes, money,
friends, majors. I need a "calling," but nothing particularly
excites or challenges me. I've been told I'm a skilled writer,
but I haven't explored it much. Lately I've been drawn to treks
abroad and "rushes" like skydiving and whitewater rafting. I
tell everybody I like adventure and unpredictability, but way too
often I find myself alone at night, unwilling or unable to face
reality. I can't seem to force myself to follow through on
anything. All this stuff scares me. The paths ahead that
everyone else sees are shrouded in fog to me, and it doesn't
seem like there are any guides. I don't know how much more of
this I can take. Any advice?

Dismayed in D.C.

You seem to be at a bad turn in the river, Dismayed, and I
sincerely suggest you find yourself a good and kind therapist who
will listen to you for a few hours a week. You don't need advice,
you need to talk things through with a caring professional. You
sound quite rational and bright and eminently likable, and a
therapist could help you through this troubling stretch and save
you some anxiety. Decide if you'd prefer to talk to a woman or a
man, and get a recommendation from your college counseling
office. It's tough being young and alone and scared. Let someone

Dear Mr. Blue,

I am a writer, a single-minded one, and when I'm working on a
story, I get completely wrapped up in it. So I've had some very
productive periods. But whenever something or someone else
becomes the focus of my attention, my writing completely falls by
the wayside. Six months ago I met, fell in love with and moved
in with a terrific man. We are very happy together, plan to get
married, and love to spend as much time together as possible -- and
as a result I haven't written a decent sentence since I met him.
Isn't there some way I can make room for both passions in my

Fixated in New York

See the advice to Worried above. Your single-
mindedness is to be envied, though, and if that method, total
immersion, has worked for you, then you might have to consider
training this terrific man to adapt to the cadences of your
writing life. You might propose an escape clause in your marriage
contract that allows you, at your absolute discretion, to
disappear for a few days, weeks, even a month, to go off and
write, at the end of which you'll return to him, blazing with
passion. I daresay that most men, especially terrific ones, could
learn to live with that.

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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