There was a time when I listened to Garrison Keillor’s “Writer’s Almanac” on National Public Radio almost every day, but then I stopped listening so often because of the daily closing of the show: “Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.”
It felt more like a taunt than a good wish. I was not well, I was not doing good work, and I was not keeping in touch.
Even today, years later and in a much better mental and emotional state, I sometimes avoid clicking on the podcast. Just the memory of pointless guilt can reawaken pointless guilt.
The “Writer’s Almanac” always begins with the word “And”: “And this is the Writer’s Almanac for Friday, the nineteenth of June …”
That “and” can either be a sign that the days plod on and on, connected by a weary conjunction, or it can be a sign of continuity, that our lives are not merely additive, but have some sort of narrative in which meaning accretes and accrues.
And the poems—the poems can actually have an antidepressant effect, even or especially the tougher ones.
So now I usually do listen to that small daily serving of civilization. But when I do, I always think that there were times when I thought I was not well, did not do good work, did not keep in touch, and had forfeited the right to do anything about it.
Remembering like this is not wallowing, it is therapeutic. It is like looking at the high water mark on a plaque commemorating a historical flood. Imagining the water over your head can help you feel high and dry.