Monday, November 22, 2010

Jef recommends a stroke of genius

Before I created "Frazz" - mostly before, anyway; there was some crossover - I was art director for the capitol bureau of Booth Newspapers, a chain of Michigan dailies. The last few years I did that job, a very happy and stressful part of it was to draw editorial cartoons for the eight papers.

I loved that job, but it wasn't perfect. For one, some people thought I wasn't very good at it. (That happens to every editorial cartoonist, and it's not that hard to get used to when it's random crackpots. When it's the editor of the largest paper, it's a little problematic.)

But for another, it was apparently making me stupid. In one editorial-cartoonists convention alone (so maybe it was just Minneapolis that made me stupid), I (1) asked Walter Mondale which newspaper he drew cartoons for, and (2) listened to Garrison Keillor speak, and with all honesty thought to myself, "Damn, if he weren't already such a prolific writer, he could make a good living in something like radio."

I guess it wasn't quite that bad, but I still had it backward. I was a huge fan of his writing and had never heard "A Prairie Home Companion." I still avoid the show, mostly because of the guy who makes sound effects with his mouth. I know radio doesn't work this way, but any time I hear that guy, I find myself looking down to see how much spit he's gotten on me. But if I stumble across the show and it's just Keillor talking, I leave it on and enjoy it a lot.

To hear Keillor speak is as infuriating as it is enjoyable. His writing flows in a very conversational, seemingly random and very natural style. I try to make my own writing do that, and it takes me forever. I'd like to think Keillor suffers as much, not out of any animosity toward Keillor, but because it would comfort me to know my own frustration was an integral part of the process instead of a profound lack of Keillor-caliber genius. And maybe he does strain at it, but when he spits it out orally, with no "undo" key or other hack editing functions, in real time, it's harder to ignore the difference between us. At least I can draw pictures. Between that and never hiring a sound-effects guy, it may be a wash.

I'm thinking about Keillor now because he's in the current issue of Men's Health. He had a stroke a little over a year ago, and he's written an account of it that's beautiful, informative and funny. There's even a sex scene of sorts. When your brain is a vault like his, and there's been a security breach, you want to see how much of the treasure is still there. Keillor's audit of the Bureau of Sexual Memories turned up enough currency to be either a testament in stark contrast to the abs-like-this-get-you-laid ethic that the rest of Men's Health magazine seems to push, or to suggest that a stroke can insert surrogate memories as readily as it vaporizes real ones.

There's no reason to suspect the latter, but either way, I'm happy for him. I always have been. Keillor has always struck me as someone who finds joy not because his life is easy, but because he is at peace with his turmoil. I myself am at peace with Keillor's sexual memories. Visual thinker though I am, I could read his accounts without any unwelcome images coming into focus unbidden. My own life and vault are full enough to ward off any hint of envy.

But most of all, the sound-effects guy was nowhere to be found.


Sara Davis said...

They say that it takes 10,000 hours of focused practice to be a master. Whether its golf, piano, writing..whatever.

My point is a) its possible. b) you devote so much time to your comic and your training that I doubt you want to spend that much time to become a master of Keilloresque writing.

However, your writing is more than entertaining as is.

Purplestate said...

Garrison doesn't have as many cool footnotes, either.

Lars Larson said...

I have always loved listening to GK as well. I have been just as envious too. But I try to time the monologue just right and turn on the radio to catch the NFLW because it is harder and harder to listen to the rest. Sometimes a band like Wilco will surprise us and turn up, or some rockin' Blue Grass trio, but I think I expressed myself as well as I could the other day to my son when I said, "I hate it when Prairie Home Companion makes me feel like I am listening to the Lawrence Welk Show."

(I think the accordion guy also did sound effects.)

Billunit said...

"His writing flows in a very conversational, seemingly random and very natural style..." That is the best description I've read. And I totally agree that it's difficult, if not impossible, to duplicate.