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The World Turns

The days are definitely longer. I got a COVID shot last week and a guy in Georgia invited me to come do a show in the fall and one morning I asked my wife, “What’s in the news?” and she said, “Not much.”

Things change, we move on, “lizard brain” is now in the Oxford English Dictionary and so is “amenitize” and “back-sass,” “bohunkus,” “code speak” (deliberately ambiguous), “cooked-up,” “jinx” (when two people say the same thing simultaneously), “pitchy” (meaning off-key), and “running around like a chicken with its head cut off,” and this is not the Omaha English Dictionary, this is O-X-F-O-R-D, this is men in medieval gowns and hoods with letters after their names such as DCL, DM, and DLitt and where “color” is spelled with a U.

The decapitated chicken was a common phrase in my childhood, and one we saw firsthand in the backyard when we killed chickens. Nobody in my family ever got frantic, there was no shouting, no hysteria. Once in a blue moon my mom might say, “You kids are driving me to a nervous breakdown,” but no breakdown followed. We were a quiet family; I don’t claim that this is virtuous but it certainly saves time.

I came to imagine that an impassioned temperament was a sign of artistic talent so I accepted being an ordinary workman, which suits me just fine.

I came to imagine that an impassioned temperament was a sign of artistic talent so I accepted being an ordinary workman, which suits me just fine. And I accept being a white male though I don’t consider it definitive, any more than “size-12 shoe” or “Minnesotan” or “man on blood thinner” is. I am not simply white, I’m of Scots-Yorkshire ancestry, a mournful people who thrive on cold and cloudiness. Precipitation cheers us up. In bright sunlight we shrivel up, put us in a cold fog and we bloom. We are comfortable with silence. We wave away compliments. We are good at suppressing feeling, our own and other people’s.

Nonetheless, when the woman I love sits on my lap and puts her head against mine and says, “I need you,” I am moved, deeply. I don’t hurl brushfuls of paint at a canvas or compose a crashing sonata or write a long poem, unpunctuated, all lowercase, in poetic code speak and revolutionary syntax, but I am very moved. I wouldn’t say so if it weren’t true.

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This is a benefit of the lockdown. Two persons isolated together in a small space, their contact with the larger world severely limited, either come to appreciate each other tenderly or they seek distant corners. I appreciate this one and like to lie in bed next to her and speak softly about whatever is on my mind, tell her secrets, and though she is reading a book, she hears me and responds. We used to have a bigger life and now it’s quite small and I feel content in it. She does the worrying and I, coming from the Cold Rain People, am happy to be warm and indoors.

Americans died at Normandy and Guadalcanal and Okinawa and the Battle of the Bulge to defeat the fascist racist white nationalists, and they didn’t intend to die but they accomplished good by their sacrifice, and we should be grateful. More of our people have died of COVID-19 than died in World War II, which is a tragedy, but if we the survivors gain from the pandemic a love of the simpler life and a tenderness for those in isolation with us, then this should be put in words.

The white nationalists who stormed the Capitol are fighting for the rights of the fearful to avenge themselves on society — if you suffer from violent hallucinations and carrying an AR-15 in the Piggly Wiggly gives you comfort, go right ahead — and we the quiet majority are drawing comfort from movies and books and cooking and Googling the OED. I could Google Little Richard and there he’d be, on YouTube, standing at the piano, banging out “Tutti Frutti.” I enjoy a little tutti-fruttism now and then but I abstain now because my wife is working the crossword. She reads a clue to me: “the ----- is wider than the sky: Emily Dickinson” and I say “Brain” and this impresses her. I also spell Samuel Pepys’s last name for her.

It is a small transaction. I majored in English in college and here I’ve put my education to some use. But in the pandemic lockdown, it feels important. It makes me happy.


I wish there were more words for domestic happiness. We have plenty of words for deliberate ambiguity; we need words for the silent comfort of being in one room with the one you love.

Garrison Keillor
Prairie Home Productions