You can know anything. It's all there. You just have to find it.

-Neil Gaiman


Friday, September 25, 2009

Lake Wobegone, where we're all above average

Okay, I thought I had written about this before but I guess I didn't. As some of you know, I live in the Twin Cities. And as some of you know, the most famous person (living) to still hang around here is Garrison Keillor. Well, and Josh Hartnett. But I already told you my Josh Hartnett story.

So now I will tell my Garrison Keillor story.


If you are under thirty, don't know what Lefse is, and don't understand jokes about Scandinavian Lutherans, then you might be saying, "Who?"

But if you have not just heard of Prairie Home Companion, but actually listen to it, then you know of whom I speak.

I was fortunate enough in the Spring of 2006 to take a class called "The Composition of Comedy". It was a creative writing class and it was the last 4-credit course I needed to fulfill my English degree. I had never taken a comedy writing course, never heard of such of thing, but it sounded interesting and was going to be taught by you-know-who. So I jumped at the chance. Me and about 250 other people who realized that this opportunity doesn't come along too often.

The class started off in a large lecture hall. Actually the hellhole that was the Science Classroom Building, a building I used to abhor because that was where my Organic Chemistry class was. I sucked at Organic Chemistry; I hated Organic Chemistry. Because I didn't UNDERSTAND Organic Chemistry. I was a whiz at drawing the molecular structures though, and coloring my hydrogens red and my oxygens blue. My hydrocarbon chain drawings rocked. Too bad I didn't know what they meant.

About midway through the semester, after learning how to write a stand up comedy routine, anti-love letters, sarcastic hate mail to horrible businesses, and humorous biblical screeds, Mr. Keillor decided classes would be better if they were smaller. Much smaller. So we divided up into groups of about twelve and figured out times to meet in the Civil Engineering building. Another hole in the ground. Literally. It goes down so deep into the ground you can feel the temperature change. It's a weird building. Designed by weird Civil Engineers who undoubtedly designed it to withstand a nuclear blast. Because they could. It certainly wasn't designed by the Architecture school because it is as ugly as sin.

Anyway... the class met in a tiny room with Mr. Keillor. Eleven normal students and one loud, weird, crazy girl who had to make comments about everything. You know there is always one. This probably happened because he said something nice about something she wrote and suddenly she was his best friend. Laughing WAY TOO LOUD at all his comments.

So we were all assigned a final project. An essay. A comedic essay. I wasn't really sure what I was going to write about. After a rough draft I noticed that most of us were writing about something that happened to us in our childhood. Something that wasn't necessarily funny at the time, but made for good comedy now. And that is exactly what comedy is. Tragedy separated by time. It's tragic when you have an attack of explosive diarrhea outside a popular resort in Mexico and you have to run down the street crying because there are no public restrooms and feces are dripping down your legs like Thanksgiving gravy and people are gasping in horror and pointing, but about ten years later it becomes pretty damn funny.

That was actually someone's story. Poop is always comedy gold.

So I wrote a story about what I had to go through as a kid to get a dog. And it was all true. And it turned out to be pretty funny. The best part was I think it was one of the better stories I have ever written and it never would have occurred to me to write it as a comedy. Now I realize it couldn't have been written any other way.

So we were all invited to Mr. Keillor's office hours to review our stories individually. Which is pretty impressive considering there were over 200 people in the class and he made the time to talk to us individually.

So I show up for office hours during lunch. Of course the obnoxious girl is there, waiting to talk to her best friend, Garrison. I hear her laugh and snort and try to not think about how much I want to punch her.

But then something weird happens. I'm standing at the door and I hear her scream, "But I don't know what to write about!" She is crying. Freaky, ugly, loud crying. I have never seen such drama. So I do what I do best. I stand there like a robot and stare at her with bug eyes. I look at Garrison Keillor. He stands like a statue; it's apparent he's seen this before, or he's had this reaction from people before. He may sometimes appear to be completely befuddled looking but right now he looks as calm as a Zen master. He hands the paper back to her. She is sniffling and wiping her eyes; I guess she didn't get the praise she was looking for.

Garrison looks at me. "Yes?"
"Um..." I say. "I think I'm next."
"Okay." He tries to calm the crazy girl down and then she leaves.
"And who are you?"
I tell him my name and he sits down in his chair and rifles through a stack of essays. "Oh, here you are." He squints at it. "Hmmm...I haven't read this yet. Do you mind if I read it now?"
He peers at me a little closer. "You're not going to cry, too, are you? If I scribble all over this."
I almost snort. "Not if it makes it better."
He grins. It appears he likes my answer.

He reads my essay while I stare at the bookshelf, pretending to read the spines, but I'm not reading anything. I notice he is wearing the old school Saucony Jazz running shoes, the exact same kind I'm wearing, except mine are navy blue and his are red. I feel like I should mention this, our similarly awesome taste in athletic footwear but I can't bring myself to say anything. I realize that saying that would make me sound like crazy girl, or at the very least, a giant dork. "We have the same shoes!" Yeah, colossal dork.

I sit silently and listen to him chuckle and go, "Hrrmpf." Then he takes out a red pen and proceeds to draw a line through every sentence on the first page. Except for the first two. He hands the paper back. "You don't need all this."
"I liked your story."
"Okay. Thanks."

He thinks for a minute. "Did you ever get another dog?"
I smile because I know what he means by that question. "No," I say. "I have two cats."

He nods and then I get up and leave.

In my next post, I will will tell you what happened next with the story and post the complete thing.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

EEEEEeeee I can't wait! I hope you've got some followup on crazy girl as well.