I enjoy writing this column every week but how would you know that, me being from Minnesota, from stoical people, brought up to bite our tongue and persevere through suffering, and if pleasure occurs, be patient, it will soon pass. In other parts of the country, our stoicism would be diagnosed as depression. Sedatives are pretty much wasted on us. Joy is a word on Christmas cards, not used in conversation. At games, the cheerleaders only try to keep the crowd awake, and if our team wins, we think, “Well, I guess it could’ve been worse and next time it probably will be.”
We’re people of few words and that’s why we’ve produced very few writers. Fitzgerald was an Easterner born in St. Paul by mistake and he left as soon as he could and never returned. The poet Robert Bly’s big book was Silence in the Snowy Fields, which pretty much says it all, and then he wrote Iron John about plumbing. As for Louise Erdrich, she grew up in North Dakota.
We were a center of high tech years ago but the idea of email and iPhone never occurred to us and instead of computers, we have Hormel, which manufactures Spam. So our brightest minds fled west and now we’re the No. 1 producer of turkeys, a high-strung bird with an itty-bitty brain and an enormous torso. Forty million turkeys in this state, and they are prone to panic and their bodies are bred too big for their tiny ankles and so in a thunderstorm, when thousands of them run flapping in terror across the feedlot, they’re likely to break a leg and have to be decapitated and made into lunchmeat. No wonder they seem so depressed.
We, however, are not turkeys, you and I, and for this we are thankful and not only at Thanksgiving. We are not a herd creature. In large crowds, of course, we go with the flow and go down the Down stairway and exit through the door marked This Way Out, but nonetheless we are independent individuals and we can discern what is true, what is noble and right, what is lovely and admirable and to think on these things.
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I think back to my college days and the fascination of the literary crowd with Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood and how it was declared a classic and now it looks like a lurid blood-bucket story told from the point of view of the killers, not much sympathy for the rural Kansas family that was shot down. If you wrote a book about the Uvalde massacre sympathetic to the shooter, you’d be run out of town. Hundreds of mass shootings have turned the tide.
The world of herd fandom is odd. I go to a concert and sit through two hours of incoherent noise and leave, surrounded by fans stunned by genius. I feel odd about many Republicans (“Guns don’t kill people.”) and the fevers of progressive lefties who will object if you refer to gypsy moths on the grounds it’ll make Romani people feel marginalized.
It is a foolish goose who attends the Coyote Covenant Church. We meet each other as individuals, my friend, and we show due respect and mind our manners and we make small talk and then perhaps larger talk and I ignore some thoughtless remark and we press on. Arrogance is deadly, a good heart counts for a great deal, true feeling is a beam of light, and maybe a bond of friendship is struck, but if a crowd gathers of bristling feathers and big chests and tiny heads with sharp beaks, then I am out of here and on my way.
Life goes on, great plans crash on the rocks, there is no such thing as 24-hour dry cleaning so get over it, that dog won’t hunt, and the printer prints gibberish and you ask Alexa for Chopin and she thinks you’re going shopping, and yet — last night, sitting holding my love’s hand, the phone rang and it was an old friend I hadn’t spoken to in ages and nothing has changed, we talk and it’s music. If I drove up there tomorrow, I’d be welcome. This and her and a cup of ginger tea and a novel in progress are all this man requires. That and six glasses of water and regular flossing.