Host Garrison Keillor answers your questions about life, love, writing, authors, and of course, A Prairie Home Companion.
Mount Morris, MI
My dear Kala, anyone from the Midwest is born with a powerful inferiority complex and this is an engine that propels us. We turn down all compliments, we doubt ourselves continuously, we feel like failures most of the time, but we persist, we persist, we persist. And we keep going. Overcome uncertainty? Darling, we're in a line of work that is about adventure and taking big chances certainty is for airline pilots and cardiologists. We artists and writers don't know if our work is good or not. Nobody does. Picasso was rich and famous and he had as much uncertainty as you do, probably more. All of my heroes were full of self-doubt. I end up every show feeling like a failure: it goes with the territory. The pain diminishes over time, though, and my sense of failure today is mild compared to what I felt as a kid, playing right field, the time that easy fly ball was hit straight into my outstretched mitt and bounced off the heel of the glove and rolled into tall grass and I retrieved it and threw wildly toward home and three runs scored my soul was seared that day.
I don't know if people mean it or not when they compliment you and me. People are polite, they know how sensitive we are, so they say nice things, but surely you know some people whose opinions you trust, who would tell you if they think something is mediocre. Listen to them, but not too closely. Walk away from your work and start up something new. Maybe you need to overcome low self-esteem by being a little more outrageous. I never dared to do that, having been brought up by very nice people, but maybe you should. Maybe I should, too. I don't know. I am just a demented moth, hurling my tiny thorax against the screen every Saturday evening, beating my diaphanous wings, mesmerized by that old light bulb.
I had a speech teacher at Anoka High School named LaVona Person who always smiled at me from the back of the room when I stood up and did my assignments. She was a beautiful Lutheran woman and her smile was brilliant, stupendous. (She also was gay, which I knew nothing about until she died and I spoke at her funeral, standing next to the little urn containing her ashes.) I was a kid with half-rim glasses and high-water pants and I don't know why she smiled so dazzlingly at me or if she smiled even more brightly at others, but the light of her smile stays with me, a sort of general benediction.
Life is good. You are loved, kid, and go do your best and then forget it and do something else. Amaze us. We're waiting.