MICHIGAN CITY | Wearing his trademark red sneakers, Garrison Keillor parted the curtains Sunday night and appeared onstage at the Purdue University North Central Sinai Forum at Michigan City High School.
The popular author, radio personality and humorist, singing his version of “Let Your Light Shine on Me,” wandered down from the stage and up and down the aisles, inviting the audience to sing along.
“That lighthouse was really in my thoughts as I flew in today,” Keillor said. “We were bucking a bit, like a carnival ride. Some people were getting a little pale, including the flight attendant. … I knew Michigan City had a fabulous lighthouse.”
Keillor regaled the audience with his homegrown poems and stories of his upbringing and explored the meaning of truth in his storytelling.
“I know what it’s like to be accused of making up things,” he said, as the audience laughed. “And of course it stings, … but I come from a real place, Lake Wobegon. You may not find it on a map, but you won’t find loyalty on a map. These things exist in our minds, but we know what they are. … And I know where I come from, a place where people have taught you basic precepts.”
Keillor said the precepts include:
• “Be cheerful, it could be worse. Some day it will be and you’ll look back at this time and wonder why you didn’t enjoy it more. So enjoy it more.”
• “The way to get something done is to do it. And the way to stop doing something is to not do it anymore.”
• “Never marry someone who doesn’t have a good sense of humor. Make sure of this — she is going to need it.”
• “It is no easy matter to be married to your best informed critic. So look before you leap.”
• “Past the age of 18, if you want a really nice birthday party, you have to give it yourself.”
Keillor advised not to discuss a relationship “with the person you’re in the relationship with.”
“And don’t use the word relationship,” Keillor said. “Deep down, it’s an irrational attraction and there’s no way to make it stronger by discussing it, as if it were a math problem.”
Keillor said he always wanted to be a “tragic poet and to be haunted and wounded and preferably to die young, which was the best way to secure your own immortality. Buddy Holly, Janice Joplin, James Dean — they’re still selling posters of these people. They became permanent by the simple matter of their death.
“My wife is a staunch Midwesterner," he said. "They raised us to avoid exuberance … to be terribly polite at all times. Nobody wants to go through a doorway before someone else … so it takes a long time to clear a room. We grew up with this wonderful repression, … which actually increases your enjoyment of life once you get loose from it.”
His parents were “children of the Depression,” Keillor said.
“So there wasn’t this sort of constant introspection and sensitivity that came in with my generation. You wouldn’t sit around and bemoan your lack of chances in life, because everybody was in the same boat.”
Then Keillor gave some plain-talking advice for the upcoming Midwestern winter.
“You don’t talk about your problems. We all have to bear a certain amount of misery in life. So let’s change the subject. Don’t complain about the cold. Winter is not a personal experience. Everyone is as cold as you are.”