For love or money?

I have sleepless nights wondering how my poor musician boyfriend can provide me with a summer house on the shore filled with big books. Am I confused?

Garrison Keillor
June 29, 1999 8:00PM (UTC)

Dear Mr. Blue,

My boyfriend is an incredibly loving musician, but I'm struggling over the
relationship, I think because I grew up in a wealthy family with a big
summer house
where success in business or medicine is glorified but artistic ambition is
pooh-poohed. My boyfriend encourages my desire to write, but at the
same time, I have
sleepless nights wondering how a poor musician could satisfy my
childhood expectation of a big house on the shore filled with big
books. How can I enjoy this kind of love, without such pulls? Am I



Dear Sad,

You're not confused at all. Musicians aren't investment bankers, so if you expect to live in a big house on the shore, a musician isn't a
good bet. You've got that right. A few musicians are millionaires and the
rest are struggling to pay the rent. The best hope for you and your
boyfriend is for you to write a big book that will earn about $6 million and another $30 million for the movie rights. You can buy any
house on the shore for that and fill it with first editions. I can't tell you
what sort of book it should be, but probably it should be one with a lot of
spin-off product potential, and that suggests a book with talking animals.
A book that grandparents will buy for their kids. That's a market that's
simply unbeatable, the grandma market. How about a book about a shy
little rabbit who has no friends and then the grandma rabbit visits him and
gives him some wonderful wisdom that can be put on T-shirts. If you
can't write this book, then you can't keep the musician. You'll have to
find the investment banker, an older one who's made his bundle and
dumped his first wife and wants you to adorn his big trophy house, you a
beautiful and sensitive literary wife whom he can show off to his beefy
martini-swilling banker pals to demonstrate what a fine man he is despite
his history of screwing people royally. This marriage will give you
material for a book, but probably not one that grandmas will buy for the


Dear Mr. Blue,

I am a professional man in my 20s who can't
sustain a relationship more than a couple of months.
We meet, I fall head-over-heels and can think
about nothing else but her. That lasts about two
weeks. We get to know each other, and my feelings
fade. By then, we've gotten to some stage of
physical intimacy, which keeps me interested a
little longer, but I always end up full of contempt for the girl and we
break up within weeks.

It's frustrating. Am I dating the wrong women, or am I treating them
badly? What can I do?



Dear Falling,

Why the contempt? That's the odd note here. Maybe your
head-over-heels fall is really a case of lust. You want to get into her
drawers and your strategy for getting there is to hurl yourself at the poor
woman and overwhelm her with ardent attention and seduce her and then
the contempt is not so much for her as for yourself. Maybe you need to
write a new script. Skip the initial fall and the physical intimacy and try to
meet a woman, get to know her and be good company for a period of
time, say, six months, during which you are considerate, cheerful,
empathetic and a lot of fun to be with, and you do not ever try to lead
her toward intimacy. Look on it as an experiment in civility. Be a friend.


Dear Mr. Blue,

My wife and I -- married 20 years, with four children -- have a
"functional" relationship. But there is a woman at work whom I've been
secretly in love with for 16 years. We've flirted. We've accidentally
touched each other a couple of times. I've looked down her dress and up
her dress and through her dress. She used to be married but now she's
divorced. I'm sure she knows how I feel because sometimes I can't take
my eyes off her.

I'm going to change jobs soon, so I won't see her anymore. I've
often thought about telling her my feelings. I've never told anyone about
this before.


We would never be compatible in an actual relationship. In fact, I think
she's sort of engaged, and I wish her all the best. Nevertheless, I think
about her an awful lot. I have strong feelings of lust in my heart. Am I a
human being or a wicked adulterer? What should I do?

In Love

Dear In Love,


We're all human and, according to Christ's formula, we
are all wicked adulterers, so the real question is, What should you do?
And the answer is: Do nothing. You're not in love with the woman at
work, not if you've had feelings for her for 16 years and kept them
secret. You've fantasized about her, and I hope it's given you some
pleasure, but don't pursue a romance with her, just as you wouldn't
pursue one with Meg Tilly. Change jobs, and let the fantasy fade. And
take a new look at your wife. The revival of romance in your marriage is
a possibility to consider, and the person to initiate it is you. A loving and
intimate and humorous life with your mate of 20 years has vast
potential for happiness compared to the slim rewards of looking down
somebody's dress. Start by arranging for the two of you to have a quiet
meal together after the kids have been fed. Offer to fix dinner. Make
risotto and salad and split a bottle of white wine, and sit and talk. That's
where the renaissance starts, in conversation, conversation that is utterly
devoid of accusation or lament, conversation that is intended to make her
laugh. In the course of producing and raising four children, you've
understandably lost track of each other. Find her. Get to know her again.
And see what this leads to.

Dear Mr. Blue,

My live-in boyfriend of two years broke up with me two weeks ago, and
though I've known for a long time that it would end, I am starting
to get very lonely. I've lived here for 15 years and have no friends. I
don't even have any casual acquaintances. I have no idea why, except I
don't get out much. Ever since sometime in college, I've felt some kind of
alienation from other people. I would really like to have children, but I'm
afraid I'll never find a guy to marry. I'm fat, which is a turnoff for
a lot of men, and I talk too much. I can't seem to lose
weight or talk less. I have other good qualities (who doesn't?), but I just don't know.

Alone in Houston


Dear Alone,

Don't retreat into the shadows, girl, get out of the house and
hang out in the vicinity of people who are having a good time. You can
watch from the periphery at first, and then move in. There are group
programs to help you lose weight: Try one. Especially one that lets you sit
in a circle of other people and talk about what's going on with you. And
one sure cure for loneliness is good works. There are lonely people in
awful straits who would be terribly grateful for your company and your
concern. There are neglected children whose parents are overwhelmed by
life, children whose lives you could change for the better, and if you met
them, they would quickly cure this alienation you feel.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I am a psychology professor in my mid-40s who has published many
journal articles and research papers, and now I have the fantasy of writing
a novel. How does one get started? I am accustomed to writing articles
with definite structures to guide me (Introduction, Methods, Results and


Budding Novelist

Dear Bud,

Set aside some time when you'll be free to think about this
book. Schedule it, like any other project. And then do the work of
discovery, to locate the germ of this novel. It's a game, one without clear
rules, so there are a thousand ways to delude oneself, but your aim is to
locate a realm of imagination in which your writing is quickened. There is
enough drudgery in writing fiction: The first step is to find what your
imagination leaps at.

Dear Mr. Blue,


I am stuck in an endless dating pattern. Every man I have seen for
the last four years has quickly fallen in love with me. He has been
quick to use the L-word, which I have returned only much later, if at
all. The problem arises when I give in and begin to return this love.
At this point Mr. Romance gets panicky, withdraws and deserts me
because he suddenly isn't sure if he wants a relationship. I am an
independent, strong women with many outside interests to keep me happy,
but I can't help wondering where I'm going wrong.

Broken Record

Dear Broken,

It's an endless pattern until, one day, it ends, and Mr.
Romance doesn't panic, he uses the L-word, and the M-word and the B-
word. I'm going to take a wild guess here and say that your problem is
that you possess a charm, a sweetness, an engagingness, that is irresistible
to confused guys, and they adore you, and say so, and then they don't
know where to take it from there. You're a shining goddess, and they're a
bunch of farmers, and the thought of relating to you is bewildering to
them. Accept their adulation, keep things casual, play it for laughs and
eventually one will show up who is ready for you.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I am a beginning comedy writer looking for advice on how to develop
my skills. I like the challenge of being funny. I've read famous humorists,
read books on comedy writing, listened to sketches and monologues. What
else should I be doing to develop? Funny ain't as easy as it seems.


Dear Pete,

First of all, get a new name. Pete is a guy whose office you go
to to talk about your lousy childhood. Or he's the guy who replaces your
muffler. He's not a guy who tells jokes that make milk come out of
people's nostrils. Second, if you didn't have a lousy childhood, try to get
one. It's the first source of comedy: accusing your parents, belittling
them, holding them up to ridicule. If your parents are wonderful people,
get a new pair. Third, be brash. Comedy is done in bold strokes. It differs
from physics in this regard. Don't tiptoe around. Fourth, get yourself into
a situation where you have to do funny stuff, open stage at the comedy
club, and stand up there and die like a man. And then regroup and go
back and die again. How about Victor Feldman for a name? A name that
is vaguely dentist-like. Do you have a pair of comedy pants? Get some, if
you don't, and a comedy shirt. Then you're on your own, bucko.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I thought I had the perfect marriage. For eight years, my husband was the
most loving, sensitive, understanding and considerate person I had ever
known. He made me laugh. We were best friends. Our hearts and souls
seemed to be woven together. I was
crazy about him. Then, almost overnight, my husband changed and
became preoccupied, cold and dismissive. I sensed he was angry with me,
but he said I was
overreacting. I have bided my time and tried to make our home life
happy and
peaceful. He hasn't softened up at all, though. We haven't had sex in
almost a year. When I tell him how much I miss what we used to have
together, he shrugs and says only, "I'm doing the best I can; this is
just the way I am." I love my husband, but I don't understand what's
happened to us, and he's not saying. I am positive there isn't another
woman. Can our marriage be salvaged, and if so, how?

Freezing to death

Dear Freezing,

Some dark force has gotten your best friend in its grip,
and my first guess is depression, but of course I don't know. This
behavior is not normal. He needs help. I wish I could advise on strategy.
It seems to me that you've done the right thing in trying to maintain an
even keel, but obviously something more is needed. It may be necessary
for you to force the issue. Men are sensitive creatures, susceptible to
stress, susceptible to all sorts of things. Something makes me think that
alcohol could be a factor here. Is it? You need some allies. Are there
family members you can talk to, who can be trusted to keep a
confidence? Yes, the marriage can be salvaged. If, for example, he is in
the grip of a depression, perhaps one exacerbated by alcohol, good
treatment could swing him around in short order, but he is in a cell and it
needs to be unlocked. No matter how cold and dismissive he seems, keep
telling him that you love him.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I am a single mom of 36 trying to make a living in a competitive,
family-unfriendly corporation and also trying to make films. I'm
completing my first
short film, which for its many flaws is earnest and good-hearted and tells
story. I have a camera, I have ideas, I have unfinished scripts and a desire
to tell my stories. I also have a nagging feeling that I'm not good enough
and never will be, and I fight this nagging every day. And then I meet
young men who are making films that are
not that great that they are very proud of and not afraid to show to anyone
who will see them.
My stories are not dark, they are not trendy, they are about heroes and
heroines. Simple stories about people who are struggling toward a goal. I
believe that the world needs more hero stories, especially when the heroes
are women.
How do I start thinking more like these male filmmakers? I admire their
confidence and
I want it too.

Practicing bravery and trying to get out of my own way

Dear Practicing,

Don't covet the arrogance of young men. If you have
good stories to tell, then you have something the world wants and you'll
find a way to tell them. The nagging feeling is not meant to stop you but
to push you: None of us is quite good enough and we keep working at it
and someday we may suddenly be good in ways we couldn't have
predicted. I admire your enterprise and perseverance. Good luck.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I'm really hurting. I know what I have to do, but I don't know how. I'm in
love with a married man who lives 400 miles away. This is a
story that cannot end happily, and if I'm smart I'll put a stop to it. And
yet ...

He is a truly rare, extraordinary, beautiful man. He helped me get through
the breakup of a five-year love affair with a man I was set to marry. He
has spurred my creativity and returned me to the
joy of writing. Our conversations are deep, heartfelt, challenging,
meaningful. Our sexual encounters have been hot and sensual. Even at this
distance he makes me feel
smarter, sexier and more wonderful than I'd thought possible.

Of course, this cannot continue; I believe he loves me, but I
know he also loves his wife and will not leave her. He has been honest
about this from the beginning. I feel like I'm caught in some novel about
star-crossed lovers. If I thought we could manage being friends without
lust tripping
us up, I'd do it. But we've tried, and we are both too weak to resist this
dark impulse, which borders on obsession.

Can this be ended cleanly, once and for all? Am I bound to continue
endlessly pining for him after the ax has fallen? We have been caught in
one another's nets for such a long time. For seven years, over and over
we have danced in circles around one another despite obstacles too
numerous to name. If I can't be with him exclusively and for the rest of
our days, I know it would be best not to have any contact at all. It's
just that the prospect causes me no end of despair. How do I find the
courage to do what's right?


Dear Cliché,

Yes, this affair can be ended, if you choose to, and no, it's
not going to be clean. It's going to be bloody and messy and tearful and
anguished, but then so is your life dancing around him, and it isn't going
to be easier to finish off this bastard a year from now, so you'd better just
nail your shoes to the floor and do it now. Toss all his letters and gifts and
memoirs and every photograph of him into a box and stuff it into a bin in
one of those rental storage places. Clean your house and throw out
everything you don't need or love. Rearrange your furniture. Turn the bed
around. Paint the kitchen. Go to church. Take a trip. Just keep jiggling
your life, to reduce the pain. And the pain will gradually recede and go
away, and gradually you'll get your life back.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I'm a 30-year-old woman who, like most everyone else, had my heart
broken a couple times during my 20s, and also went through some
tough career issues. Now, I'm involved with a man I love with all my
heart and who also loves me, and I'm starting a challenging new career.
And yet I find myself slipping into cynicism sometimes, an old habit,
taking a negative slant. I'd hate to let it keep me from
believing in my new life.

How does a person keep a positive attitude? Mantras? Jokes?

Angst Addict

Dear Angst,

Cynicism is waiting out there for all of us every single day,
like a horned toad in the flowers, saying, "Your life is meaningless,
nobody loves you, and you don't love anybody, gribbet." And you simply
tell him to shut up. Jokes are good, as a pure art form. Smiling helps. So
does singing "Oklahoma" in the shower, or "Side By Side," or "Let the
Rest of the World Go By," or your choice of great dumb happy songs.
You do want to keep a little store of negativity on hand, though, for good
luck. Like a gargoyle you put on the house to keep evil away.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I am a 46-year-old woman, dating a 59-year-old man these past two years.
The bottom line is: I want this to move to marriage. He's willing to
consider marriage if we live together
first to see how we get along. The idea of living together is abhorrent to
me: I think you commit to each other and work out your daily stuff as you
go along. Plus, I'd have to
move 50 miles away, adding an hour each day to my
commute, and live in a house that I don't really care for -- I'd do it
for a husband, but not a roommate. What's your view?


Dear Annoyed,

If you don't like his house and you're concerned about the
inconvenience of the commute time, you ought to think twice before you
marry the gentleman. It doesn't sound as if the joy of his company is of
sufficient wattage.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I'm so goddamn shy it's driving me crazy. I'm in my first corporate job
and I can hardly assert myself, and it's just getting worse. I speak up in
meetings and get panic attacks and it's even worse when I speak with
my boss. I get red in the face. He even mentioned my lack of
self-confidence to me. My timidity is really depressing me, and I feel like
I can't find the courage to crawl out of my scared little hole and stand up
for myself. It is a sad state to have no courage.


Dear Arghhhhhhhhhh,

Be patient. Work the corners. Don't retreat. Focus on
your analytical strengths. Sit back, let the windbags blow, let the pompous
and the self-infatuated strut, and you be the one who figures out the
bottom line, who gets the clue, who sums up the problem in a few words.
Be good, in other words, and this will give you the courage to speak.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I'm an English major concentrating in writing at a university. I enjoy
all genres of writing but find that when writing nonfiction, I have a
problem writing in my voice. Everything seems forced and tight. I have a
sense of humor but find it hard to get that on paper. Any ideas?

Needs to Relax

Dear Needs,

In writing nonfiction, getting your voice on paper is not the first concern.
Think of yourself as a carpenter and put your skills at the service of others
and get their voices on paper. Exercise some idealism, and put yourself at
the service of persons who are in distress, who don't have your
advantages, who must endure indignity, and try to convey their common
humanity. That's where nonfiction has to start: the privileged and
educated descending into dark and dangerous regions and bringing back
the news and finding their voice in the process. Don't force anything. The
world is full of news, the streets are littered with messages, and you
simply walk around and collect them.

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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