Special To The Washington Post
I saw one of my novels at a yard sale last week and it appeared to have been used as a coaster. The interior was quite pristine but there were rings of rust on the cover where wet glasses had been set. It was on sale for 35 cents. Had I known I was only writing a coaster, maybe I wouldn’t have worked so hard on the themes and motifs, the connotations and so forth, but that’s just the way life is. There’s a lot of wastage. No way around it.
You take your kids to the ballpark to experience the great pastime and to your dismay, they insist on ketchup rather than mustard on the bratwurst and they decline the kraut. Ketchup on a brat is like cream cheese in your coffee, but they insist.
And then, in the bottom of the sixth, the thrilling double play – a sizzler to short, the underhand toss to second, the sharp throw to first, the runner caught by half a stride – and you look over at your kids and they are texting.
Hey. Wear R U?
They missed the OMG play of the game. Two hours, wasted.
With the time I’ve wasted over the past 40 years looking for my reading glasses, I could have written Moby-Dick and written it better. Not all that yik-yak about melancholy and breakfast and the nature of evil, but cut to the chase and harpoon the dang whale and bring a couple dames aboard the Pequod for the general interest.
“Why not get yourself a chain to hang around your neck and attach your reading glasses to?” says Madame, trying to be helpful. Because I am not an elderly reference librarian, that’s why not. Because I am not Angela Lansbury.
Life is short enough without wasting big swatches of it on self-pity and despair and that is why I skipped my 30s and tacked that decade onto my 60s when I had a better handle on things. It was like daylight saving time except in decades.
Back in the day, before America took up child worship and children were cosseted and counseled and therapized and bestowed with every known comfort, it was the keen desire of every young person to become older. When I was 9, I longed to be 15. At 15, I wanted to be 21.
So I skipped my 30s. I grew a beard, moved to the country, wore old farmer clothes, got a job in radio, took up bluegrass with its maudlin ballads about shedding tears on the flowers of the grave of the one whom you betrayed, and adopted the identity of an elderly sharecropper.
Now that I truly am old, I have that decade saved up, to spend wisely. I don’t write novels anymore – other people do it so much better – and I don’t play golf: Two hours of self-loathing is not fun. I am thinking of giving up baseball. I realize it is iconic, but I’m Episcopalian and we have all the icons we can handle.
Self-pity? Gone. Ditto, despair. I do not stew about You Know Who and the fate of the Republican Party and that saves me about 45 minutes a day.
Efficiency is my focus now, moving swiftly through necessary tasks – shower, breakfast, morning paper, and glide out the door in one uninterrupted motion while picking up billfold, cellphone, both pairs of glasses, laptop in briefcase, car keys, and kiss Madame as I take the cup of coffee from her hand, no bumbling, no doddering.
My desk is orderly, the meetings I chair are models of succinctness. My prose – can you tell? – is what Strunk & White had in mind. And I now have three hours of free time in the afternoon that I didn’t used to have.
I honestly feel that Moby-Dick would be a better novel without the whale. Old Cranky Pants with peg leg obsessing over an albino fish? Give me a break. In my version, Captain Ahab is harvesting squid, which is high in omega-3 and low in saturated fats. The crew puts in at least an hour of vigorous capstan-winding every day.
Queequeg and Ishmael are gay and nobody is perturbed by that. They collect their share of the squid profits and buy a house on Nantucket and never go to sea again.
It is a huge waste of time to be a tragic hero on a big quest. I have avoided that and you should too.
Keillor hosts ‘A Prairie Home Companion.’ © 2016, Garrison Keillor. Distributed by The Washington Post Writers Group.