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Why I Am Not Joining the Strike

by Garrison Keillor

Posted: May 11, 2023

I salute the Hollywood writers who went out on strike this past week but I can tell you that we essayists won't be joining them…

I salute the Hollywood writers who went out on strike this past week but I can tell you that we essayists won’t be joining them. For one thing, the essay is deeply imbedded in our nation’s very identity (U.S.A.) but for another thing, a national essay strike would be like a National Husbands Day of Silence, most wives wouldn’t care and many wouldn’t notice.

The strike won’t affect me much. I grew up evangelical back when we were anti-Hollywood and if you loved the Lord you didn’t go to movies and didn’t have a TV. I didn’t set foot in a movie theater until I was 17 and went to see “Elmer Gantry,” and so my brain never developed an affinity for visual entertainment. I can’t remember movies I’ve seen, whereas parts of Ecclesiastes and Isaiah and the Sermon on the Mount, Psalm XXIII, are vivid and powerful. “Whoever increases knowledge, increases sorrow,” I read in Ecclesiastes when I was young and this turned me away from scholarship and journalism and toward a life in comedy. My wife is smarter than I am and she knows it and she is more anxious and she grieves more deeply, but when I walk into the room and pass gas, she laughs like crazy. I’m happy to oblige.

Solomon said some powerful things about the meaninglessness of life that Governor DeSantis, if he had his wits about him, would prohibit being read in Florida public schools, such as his line: the race is not to the swift nor the battle to the strong, or the one about Vanity of vanities, all is vanity. Do we want our third-graders to carry that around in their heads?

Now if I were writing a movie and not an essay, someone would’ve been shot by now, or a crazed elk would be approaching a Girl Scout camp, or a crazed real estate magnate’d be running for president, but it’s an essay and so calm reason prevails. I look around me here on Manhattan Island, which, if this were a movie, would be riddled by gunfire, buildings aflame, gang warfare, but instead normal people are out walking with small children and stopping at the ice cream truck and couples sit at outdoor cafes, talking. My wife is out there walking and I await the sound of her key in the lock.

In Ecclesiastes, I read: “Live joyfully with the wife whom you love all the days of your vain life which He has given you under the sun, all your days of vanity; for that is your portion in life, and in the labor which you perform under the sun.”

I spent decades in the vanity of ambition and then I met this one woman and now the beauty of marriage dawns, that if one falls, the other will give a hand to the fallen, and we lie together and keep each other warm, and this sweetness between us is utterly ordinary, a sweetness shared by millions of others. This is one thing that Hollywood has a hard time portraying, marital peace and mutual pleasure, those unexpected moments when I sit looking at the screen and feel her hand on my shoulder. I know this touch by heart.

It’s not the “Is this dandruff?” touch or the “I threw this shirt away a week ago, what’s it doing on you?” touch or the “Do you realize we’re leaving for dinner in fifteen minutes?” touch, it’s the touch that says, “You’re my man, you make me happy just sitting there.” Her hand rests on my shoulder, maybe she touches my hair or puts her cheek next to mine, and it’s clear as day, no need for underscore or dialogue. You can depict this in an essay. I just did. And most of my readers recalled that moment in their own experience. I wish they all could but some of them are too young.

We essayists are paid less than a mediocre minor-league second baseman earns but we accept this. Some people can earn truckloads of dough by peddling blatant falsehoods. So what? Says Solomon. “What has been is what will be. There is nothing new under the sun.” But he’s wrong. There is.

Falling in love is nothing new, a million songs’ worth, all the same, but this unexpected touch and the sudden proximity of the beloved and the wordless exchange of knowledge — your presence makes me happy — do you know what I mean? I hope you do — it’s forever new.

Garrison Keillor © 05.09.23

America's story teller, known for his heartland wit and wisdom, and for many years as the voice of Prairie Home Companion on NPR. For additional columns and postings, subscribe to

Posted: May 11, 2023

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