Dear Mr. Keillor,
I'm halfway through college, and I realize what I want to do. I want to be an adventurer. To travel, to meet people, to gain experiences, to work, to suffer, to live.
And to have some really great stories.
I'd like to have 50 different jobs before I die. There's so much to do, and know.
My question, and fear: Is that selfish? Is that enough?
You got the right idea, Taylor. Somebody has to be an adventurer, we can't all be drones and mercenaries. I don't think it's selfish at all -- you will go off to South America, Africa, Asia, India, Nevada, anyplace ending in A, and you'll see astonishing things and file posts on Facebook, and your thousands of friends, classmates, cousins, will read these and feel envy, amusement, horror -- you will be a bright flashing light in their humdrum lives. I have a friend in Kenya who is a peace worker, mediating between rebellious tribes and the government, and her family, while they worry about her constantly, is terribly proud of her gumption and bravery and resourcefulness. I notice you didn't ask me HOW to become an adventurer: you sense, correctly, that I am not one myself. I travel cautiously and avoid dealing with unpleasant people and rent cars rather than hitchhike and never stay in accommodations that do not have a private bath. And I don't drink the water.
You'll be able to have 50 different jobs so long as you're willing to work for cheap, which, being an adventurer, you will be. (An adventurer does not have a mortgage or car payments.) And so long as you report on your adventurers, you are earning your keep and more. But don't go looking for suffering. It will find you soon enough. And good luck.
Dear Mr. Keillor,
In Wikipedia, "the Lake Wobegon effect" is defined as "a natural human tendency to overestimate one's capabilities, [and it] is named after the town. The characterization of the fictional location, where 'all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average,' has been used to describe a real and pervasive human tendency to overestimate one's achievements and capabilities in relation to others."
But as I've listened to your stories over the years, I've come away with a different take. You speak often of how shy the residents are and how little they toot their own horns. I grew up among older Norwegians and Swedes who, rather than overestimating their capabilities, often downplay them and turn the conversation in another direction. If anything, they indulge in a little false modesty in order to avoid seeming to boast.
Have I just misunderstood at least part of the theme all these years?
You're right about the reticence of Wobegonians in keeping with their Scandinavian heritage ("Don't think you're somebody") and their genuine modesty and their tendency to step away from any sort of praise. I share that tendency and I try to understand it because at times it seems rude of me -- if someone says "That was a good show" and I hurry to point out what was wrong with it. (And it is rude. And I've learned to say, "Thank you" and shut up.) I was brought up to be modest, though I secretly entertained delusions of grandeur, imagined being heroic, saving lives, winning games, setting world records. In a small town such as Lake Wobegon, the social fabric of the community is so important that the members are careful to avoid attracting too much attention that might turn into envy. Your life might depend on your neighbors and if you get a reputation as someone High and Mighty, people might not come to your aid as readily as they ought to, figuring that you're much too capable to need their help. Look at the rich and famous who have died in stupid accidents because people nearby didn't dare warn them. I think of my dear friend Corinne, a brilliant teacher, an irrepressible lefty, a quick wit, a staunch friend, whose friends didn't recognize the depth of her depression -- because she was, after all, Corinne -- and then she killed herself. So the "Lake Wobegon effect" is a bunch of hogwash where Lake Wobegon is concerned. And the slogan about all the women and all the men and all the children is so obviously not about overestimation -- when you say that all the children are above-average, you are saying that tests and grades and intellectual measurement are not, in the end, so important. If everybody is above average, then you have junked the idea of averages. That "pervasive human tendency to overestimate one's achievements" is found in New York and Los Angeles and in Wikipedia, but it doesn't have anything to do with the Little Town That Time Forgot.
Science reports that brain cells transplanted from mice to rats can extend their normal lifespan two-fold, at least. They can live a lot longer than the body that originally hosted them. Over the past few years more than a few of your stories have alluded to end-of-life concerns. And at 64 years myself, I understand. Before your "pen has gleaned your teeming brain", would you be interested in another 80 or 100 years, if science could offer that to you? Or would you decline, indicating things are going pretty much the way you expected them to go, and, therefore, the way they should go? You seem so interested in observing and writing about lives (yours and other people's), would you want it to go on for...awhile longer??
Back when I was in college I expected to die young and gloriously, like James Dean, and attain immortality, but I didn't have a car that would go fast enough to kill me, and then I got too old to die young, and then, at 55, I got a little baby girl and got interested in longevity. At 70, I'm still interested. I think I'm too old to take advantage of regenerative medicine, though. I think that's for people who now are in elementary school, who will likely live to 120 or 150, God bless them. I just don't know that I'd be a useful contributing member of society at an advanced age. And I would rather not be a carnival exhibit or a biology experiment. So I think I'll stick with the plan, which is: three score and ten and everything after that is a gift and a blessing.