Dear Windbag: You're no writer -- you're just a schlump who wants to screw a colleague

By Garrison Keillor
Published February 2, 1999 5:25PM (EST)

Dear Mr. Blue,

My wife is a honey, a sweet-natured woman, patient, generous
and my biggest fan. Everything I write she reads and loves. She thinks I'm
some kind of major undiscovered writer, though my lifetime earnings from writing would barely keep alive two cats, and my wife has two degrees and has passed the bar exam.

I've lately been seeing another woman, a colleague at the college where
I teach, who is a brilliant talker, and a writer, and when
I'm with her, I feel alive, and dangerous. We don't talk about the
sexual attraction, but it's there constantly, flashing out in sudden
unguarded glances. She can compose, on the run, long, elegant
sentences, delightful long riffs of language. And I respond. With her all the
events of my life become stories that must be told. The first
night we went out, we talked nonstop for five hours. And such talk. More like
a long, long jazz session than a conversation. Even the waiters waiting to go
home were smiling as they listened. But she's married, too.

I guess my question is this: Do I keep seeing this woman, knowing that
it will probably lead to an affair, or do I stay in my
comfortable but all-too-predictable nest and continue to teach undergrads
about inverted pyramids?

Sleepless on Long Island

Dear Sleepless,

If your wife thinks you're a major undiscovered writer, she's wrong. You're not. A major writer would've written a better letter. Yours I've cut by about two-thirds, and it wasn't long elegant sentences that I cut. And evidently your wife is wrong to be so loyal to you. You have a conversation with your colleague and immediately you're in love with her and you imagine that she's crazy about you and you're ready to throw over your
predictably loyal wife. Fine. Go right ahead. But don't imagine that you're a major writer whose gigantic talent somehow justifies his personal dishonesty. You're not. You're just a schlump teaching composition who wants to screw a colleague. Good luck.

Dear Mr. Blue,

My wife and I are in our mid-30s and have been with each other for
almost five years. We have a great relationship, love each other very much
and have great fun together. But our sex life is terrible! My wife can't get in the
mood unless everything is just right -- candlelight, soft music, romantic ambience
and a great deal
of foreplay and teasing. And God forbid if anything breaks her mood. When
things work
perfectly, it's wonderful, but more often than not, we end up frustrated
and angry.

I would like to have sex more spontaneously. Just once, I'd like us to run to
the bed and do it on top of the unfolded laundry. We have tried to talk about this, but we just end up arguing about it, with her telling me that I should get a book on how to have sex with a woman.
Should I just get used to 45 minutes of foreplay and sex by

Confused, but ready

Dear Confused,

This doesn't sound terrible to me. Maybe inconvenient, but hardly terrible.
You can't speak
French to your wife if her language is Danish -- it's about that simple.
Don't argue about
this anymore. Just speak her language. She knows what excites her and she's
made it clear to
you: Her erotic imagination is aroused by the slow steady progression toward
the temple.
Accept it. You are able to play her game and she can't play yours, so play it
her way and play it elegantly and wholeheartedly. You may be surprised, as you throw yourself into this stately drama, at your own pleasure in it, as you become more and more adept, which surely you will. Add a couple elements of your own -- silk pajamas, a tiny dish of caviar, a dish of warm oil -- and gradually, over the years, introduce a few pieces of unfolded laundry into the ritual. In 50 years she may come to be so stimulated by the sight of unfolded laundry
that she will grab you and throw you down on top of it and ravish you. Meanwhile, you can have a wonderful sex life on her terms.

Dear Mr. Blue,

Thirteen years ago, I married a brilliant scientist with a great sense of
humor. We have two
beautiful children who I love with all my heart. My husband is a good
provider (I work too),
reliable and does not cheat on me. But we have problems. He is a
Republican and very simplistic about moral issues. He drives a very fast,
very small car that
terrifies me. Although he loves our kids dearly, he's totally absent-minded with them to the point that he's unaware of what they're up to,
and he shows such poor judgment with them that I'm not comfortable leaving
them with him. And he's been involved for the past two years with a religious
group that thinks the man should make all the decisions in the family. I don't want to go through a divorce, but I'm having such a hard time now. I feel I don't have a partner but a rebellious teenage son who is out of control. What should I do? I feel like I can't move.

In a Vise

Dear In a Vise,

If the man is out of control, there's not much you can do except protect your
children and yourself as best you can. But I think you might try to learn more about his religious feelings.
Your husband is searching for spiritual ground, and you should go along with
him, if only to
get a clearer idea of what he's looking for. Try to keep an open mind and
don't judge the
group by its most prohibitive tenets. If this is a Christian group, they may
hold that the man
is the head of the family, but concomitantly believe that the man must
exercise this
leadership in a loving and caring way and not leave you feeling lonely and
scared. If he is
committed to this group, then perhaps you and he could find warmhearted
counseling there.
His search may offer you a basis for working out some of these problems. Walk
with him a
little way. Republicanism is a problem, but if he still has a sense of humor,
maybe you can
kid him out of it.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I have been involved with a married man who is also my boss for almost a
year. I am 41
and he is 56. The chemistry was immediate when
we first saw each other. We flirted for a year before we went out on a
date. On that date, he told me that he has been married for 15 years to
his second wife and would not leave her, that she is going through menopause
and the
passion is just not there anymore. I know he likes me a lot, but he is
unwilling to
change his current situation. I've heard rumors of his inappropriate behavior
with other
women in the office. Don't you think his marriage is down the tubes? I
believe men who
exhibit Clintonesque behavior are unhappy in their marriages.

Calm me down. I want to call his wife.


Dear Upset,

You walked into this story with your eyes open, and it isn't a very good story
in the long run.
You need to start another one. A year isn't so long. It's when you let it go
on for four or six
or 10 or 15 years that it gets really hard. Close the door gently and
walk away and keep
walking. Don't call up anybody unless you want to call a friend and get her
reading on the
situation. This is mine.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I'm a 33-year-old female college professor whose past two relationships
with men (one younger, one older) have each lasted less than a year. Both
ended when the guy told me that there was someone else he'd rather be with and that "she's
not as
intelligent as you but ..." In both cases, the guy was going after a
20-year-old coed. Until this point, I had never believed that smart
women had a hard time attracting men, nor had I believed that I was
over-the-hill. From 19 to 31, I had three long-term (three- to five-year)
monogamous relationships (all of which ended because of career moves), so I
have reason to believe that I'm a decent girlfriend. I fear that it was OK to be smart as long as I was young and cute, but now that I am just smart (and kind), I'm of no use to men. Does a single 30-something woman have any hopes for romantic happiness in a sea of perky, malleable coeds?


Dear Analytical,

Forget the past two guys. They don't count. Much too casual to even be called
a relationship.
And their parting line is so unclassy, you have to feel sorry for whatever
20-year-old woman
they might have wound up with. If you want to take a long hard look at
yourself, go ahead,
but don't do it through the eyes of a couple of guys who were just passing
through. Everyone
needs to stop and assess herself now and then. You use the terms "perky" and
sarcastically, of course, but start there. Except, instead of "perky," let's
say "cheerful good
humor," and instead of "malleable," "responsive." These are qualities that any
of us respond
to, not only men, and as we get older, and sorrow settles on us, and we learn
less readily,
we tend to darken and stiffen. One needs to be aware of these changes, whether
single or
married, woman or man, and by God lighten up a little and get out of one's
rut. And an
educated person needs to be on guard against arrogance.

I disagree that men are turned off by intelligence. I do think that what
attracts us most to
another person is her love of life and also that she has room for us in her
life. And then
there is the matter of chemistry and happenstance and the sweet mystery of

Dear Mr. Blue,

I moved far away from all of my family and friends about two years ago.
Since then, I have become increasingly shy and antisocial. Although I have
great friends where I now live, I become crippled with nervousness when I
encounter anyone I'm attracted to. I recently approached a boy I had a crush
on, but I freaked out and scared him -- why am I sabotaging myself? I swear to
you, I was an outgoing girl not long ago. Could you offer any advice on how to get past this?

Scared at Nineteen

Dear Scared,

If you were an outgoing girl not long ago, you will be again, and meanwhile
don't be hard on yourself. It's a big deal, leaving home, whether you're 19 or 39, and a person can get scared, and when you do, you tend to feel not so charming as you once were, not so quick to say something funny, not so sure exactly who you are. But you bravely stepped up to this boy you're attracted to and you had some sort of exchange with him.
"Freaked out" -- what does that mean? That you suddenly lost your confidence,
got tongue-tied, blurted out something awkward? Well, those things happen to us all, believe me. It's a bumpy road. Especially romance. That's why it's the subject of a trillion songs and stories and plays and movies. Because when love walks in, we freak out, get nervous, say dumb things and worry about it afterward. You have great friends, so you're not antisocial: You're simply a long way from home and living life. I admire your bravery and
wish you well.

Dear Mr. Blue,

The man I was engaged to told me last month that he doesn't want to marry
me after all. I'm dealing with that, but he insists that he wants us to
remain close friends. I was willing to try that, too, but if I don't send him
e-mail every day,
he starts reeling me back in with calls and attention. When I start getting
secure in that close
space, he ignores me for a few days until I stop initiating contact. I'm
that this friend thing isn't doing good things for my emotional well-being,
but when I try to tell him that I'm going to take some time off, he gets
really upset.

I've written three chapters of a novel I'm excited about, but this "push
me/pull you" game has really squelched my muse. Should I just cut him off
and finish the novel, or is it possible to remain close friends?

Wanting to Be a '90s Kind of Woman

Dear Wanting,

Real friends cut each other some slack and let the friendship find its own
level, as time goes
on, as the rhythm of life dictates, according to their needs. This guy is
behaving badly,
probably because he's emotionally at sea, and you shouldn't indulge him,
especially as you
have a book under way and ought to pay attention to it. Tell him that you're
going to take
time off, starting now. Be true to your book; don't let him get between you
and what you're
about to write. You need to be a little ruthless about this. Inspiration
doesn't come along
every day, so don't fritter it away. Don't discuss this with him, and don't
mind if he gets
upset. Ignore him. When the book is done, throw a party to celebrate, and
invite him.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I have been dating a wonderful man, a writer I met through an
online dating service, for about four months. He is 49, 10 years
older than I am, and he lost his wife of many years just over a year ago.
We corresponded for two months before we finally met in person.

The problem is that I find myself very much in love with him,
and I don't know how he feels about me. I've told him I think he's
smart, attractive, etc., but he has never said anything similar, or
even said that he likes me. We see each other one night a week and usually
spend the
weekend together. We've met each other's families and gone on trips together.
He fixes things around the house for me and buys me little presents.
He makes long-range plans that involve the two of us. He often acts loving.
And the sex is
fabulous. Yet we don't seem to be able to talk about feelings and goals. Am I
crazy to need
to hear how he feels in words? Am I rushing things too much?

Confused in CA

Dear Confused,

Romances don't come with a schedule, but it sounds as if you
two went
straight from First Date to Late Middle Marital and skipped some intermediate
steps, such as
courtship. I suppose that if you had postponed having sex with him, his sexual
urge would
have led him to make rather grand pronouncements of love and devotion, and
even take
elaborate vows. No, you're not crazy to want to hear him say how he feels. My
guess is that
he doesn't know and he doesn't want to lie. He's getting over the loss of his
wife, which may
take years and years. You two have arranged to be lovers, provisionally, and
that is all you
can expect for a while. Yes, it strikes me that you're rushing, considering his

Dear Mr. Blue,

I'm 28 and back in college to earn my B.A. I want to be a writer;
and I love to write and do it all the time. The problem is that I don't
like to read. All the forced reading in high school and college really
ruined it for me. Teachers in my writing program tell me that if I want to
write, I have to read everything I can, every chance I get. I am brushing
up on the classics and some modern works, but in general, I don't have time.
I believe I can prove them wrong and become a
writer without being a voracious reader. Do you agree?

A Nonreading Writer

Dear Non,

Yes, I agree with you. Your teachers are right to urge you to read,
but that is a
separate pleasure from the joy of writing. While the work of other writers can
be useful to
you, it's not essential that you read voraciously. The urge to commit to paper
is the crucial
thing, and then the ability to narrow the eye on one's own work and edit and
rewrite, which
is even more crucial. Reading can sharpen your eye, perhaps. But it isn't
necessarily what
impels one to write.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I'm 16 and I love to write poetry (teen angst is a good muse). Out of
curiosity, I'm
wondering if mental disorder --- manic-depression, for example --- facilitates
the writing
process. I've heard of studies done on artists who say that after
taking Prozac their creative tendencies waned.


Dear Confused,

There is research that claims to show a much higher incidence of depression,
alcoholism and suicide among creative people, though nobody claims to show a
relationship between mental disorder and creativity. Serious mental disorders
can destroy a
writer as they might destroy anyone else, and there are plenty of great
artists who led stable
and happy lives. And most artists, I believe, would say that their work comes
from the part of
them that is strong, not from a weakness or disorder.

Dear Mr. Blue,

At 21, in love, I got married. Nine months later, my husband cheated and
filed for divorce. It crushed my heart. That was four years ago, and
though I've been dating, I've felt no caring for, or bond with, anyone I've
dated. I'm mildly interested at best, and only for a short while. After two months (you could set a clock by it) I become ambivalent.

I hate being a cold fish. I am afraid that I will overlook a man with
whom I can make a wonderful life. Loneliness is my greatest fear. How
can I stimulate my old, thoughtful, loving self? Or do I just wait
around hoping that the right man will come along and I won't be able to
help myself from falling in love?

In Search of Faith

Dear Search,

You've been through a ferocious hard time at a young age, and it takes longer
than one imagines to pull out of these harrowing times. Your old thoughtful loving self is still there, and the lack of romance in your life doesn't say otherwise. You're doing the right thing. You're seeing people and (I hope) enjoying their company, and you're not letting yourself plunge into some desperate romance ignited by the fear of loneliness. Your letter could well
have said, "It crushed my heart ... two months later I married an alcoholic ex-con 30 years older than me," but it didn't, because you are guarding your heart so it will heal. After two months of dating someone, at about the point where the two of you would rightly wonder about each other's interest, you wisely withdraw into a protective ambivalence. Don't try to overcome it. You're 25 and that's much too young to worry about not having a mate. So don't. You're a fine person, you're not filled with anger toward the husband who betrayed
you and you're going to have a good life.

Dear Mr. Blue,

For two years my whole life has been turned upside down, ripped
apart, stomped
on and then thrown off a cliff, and now that the worst is over, I wonder how
in the world I
can fix all of the idiotic things I did while I was running around in grief
making idiotic
decisions? I quit a job I loved and took another that I hated and charged up
unspeakable amounts on credit cards. The choices I made were all my fault, but
I truly don't
have a clue as to how to put the broken pieces of my life back together.


Dear Stupid,

You're not. And your life isn't broken. You've gone through a bad patch and
now your
senses have returned, and naturally you feel contrite, but don't beat up on
yourself. Really.
Unless you've left out some particularly heinous details, perhaps involving
plastic bags and
body parts, you haven't fallen off any cliff that the rest of us haven't.

Dear Mr. Blue,

why is it that at 33, looking the best i ever have, working at a good
job and in a happy habitat, i have no one to share my life with? i
get offers of dates, but none fits the bill. as i look back there were some
lovely men i left
behind. at the rate my contemporaries have married and
started families, i'm feeling more blue now than ever about it. i definitely
do not wish to grow old alone, but i've realized i already am! what's a girl
to do??


Dear Lonely,

I think you should start using capital letters immediately. It's OK to write
in lower-case
until you're 20, but you're beyond that now. And maybe you should accept
one or two of
these date offers and get to know men before you decide they're not right for
you. Thirty-three is not "old" by anyone's estimation. You're young, looking good, a happy
and you're ready for romance. Don't be blue. It's a great time of life.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I've been married for a year to a wonderful, kind, patient
man whom I adore. The problem is that when he wishes to initiate sex, he
turns to me and
says, "Wanna get frisky?" I find
this less than alluring. We used to kiss for hours, have long conversations
and stare deeply into each other's eyes. "Wanna get frisky" just seems so
blunt. And however frisky I might have felt, when he says that, all desire on
my part to frisk has fled. I try to subtly reintroduce
romance into our relationship by giving him massages with scented oil or
suggesting creative uses for maple syrup, but these just seem
to be beside the point as far as he's concerned and he continues to use
that "frisky" line as his sole romantic overture. What should I do?

Long, Cold Winter in Akron

Dear Akron,

You're right, it's dumb, so tell him. Just say, "I love you and I cringe when
you say that," and ask him to come up with a code phrase you like better. We all lead busy, complicated lives, and it isn't always possible to build up to lovemaking gradually, using massage oil or maple syrup. Sometimes you need to just look the other person in the eye and say, "Want to jump off the cliff?" or whatever your phrase is. "Want to tap the maple?" "Want to pick up the baton?"

Dear Mr. Blue,

I have been seeing a charming man for six months and have
begun to love him, and though he says he cares deeply for me, he won't
say those four words I long to hear: "I love you, too." I told him that when
I say I love you
I need that someone to say, "I love you, too," and that if he can't say
that to me, maybe I'm not the one for him. He's says it's too soon to
know if we're really right for each other. What do you think?


Dear Sad,

Nobody likes to be prompted and coaxed to express affection, like a child
being pushed
forward to kiss Grandma, and you shouldn't push your boyfriend to say it. It's
really very
simple: Do you love his company and look forward to seeing him? If you do,
then settle for
his company for now and let him figure out how he feels and how he wants to
express it and

Dear Mr. Blue,

I am 33, a woman and a playwright. I love to flirt, with men and women, and I
do love a
bawdy turn of phrase. People think I'm a vixen and a bitch. The truth is I am
lonely beyond
belief right now. I wonder if maybe I am too bold in my conversation and
scare men away,
but I so hate the idea of having to tone myself down to find a date. I crave
physical affection
so much. How can a strong woman find love?

The Passionate Playwright

Dear Passionate,

Some people can use a little toning down, whether to find a date or on general
principle. I
know a woman who brays when she laughs and talks too loud, and she is looking
somebody and wonders why it's so hard. Well, she's a strong woman, but you
don't have to
yell to be strong. She doesn't need to be demure, just to crank down the
volume a little. It
isn't attractive. As for bawdy talk, it's all very entertaining, but it could
very well be off-putting to a man who's interested in courting you. He'd probably rather you be
bawdy with
him personally and not to the world in general.

Dear Mr. Blue,

Unrequited love is a source of pain in many people's lives, including my own.
What is it
about humans that makes us so bullheaded that we won't give up and see the
writing on the
wall even when the letters are 10 feet tall? I always believed in soul mates,
but I'm
beginning to wonder if we're all just too self-destructive to find them.

World-Weary from Washington

Dear World-Weary,

You're describing what is noble and endearing about people, their refusal to
give up. There
are 10-foot letters on all of our walls, and they spell "mortality," but we
don't stop
breathing on account of it. We search for soul mates, and in the process we
find people who
amuse us and alarm us and turn out to be interesting companions. We live in
the hope of
writing a great masterpiece and in the process of failing to do so, we manage
to do other
useful things. Spring will come to Washington soon, and your weariness may
lift somewhat in
the delirium of all those blossoming trees and flowers.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I'm 37, a happily married woman with two young children. I recently have
become very good friends with a 26-year-old single male colleague. We
talk about movies and computers, and I amuse him with stories of the
circus that is everyday family life. Here's the problem. I'm pretty
sure this guy is in love with me, even though one of the things he
likes most about me is the respectful, loving relationship I have with
my husband. Am I doing this man a favor inviting him over for dinner
and Monopoly with the family and taking up social time that might be
spent looking for a younger, freer version of me? Do I have any
responsibility here?


Dear Anxious,

At 26 a guy can be in love with you in a sweet, hopeless way, loving you and
your family together, a sort of practice romance, trying out the feelings, and if he has no romantic attachments right now, this might be awfully pleasurable for him. Of course it would be cruel of you to toy with his feelings, but it doesn't sound as if you are doing that, and so what's the harm in bringing him home with you? Your responsibility is simply to be clear about your
own feelings, and he can sort his out on his own. So many friendships have
faint erotic
overtones, and it's no problem so long as your good friend doesn't one day
blurt out his
feelings for you, and then the dog is out of the yard, and you have to put him
back in his

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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