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Posts Tagged ‘Ann Patchett’

Lately I have begun to measure time by the way I savor or squander it. Yesterday, I had the day to myself. I spent many hours reading in silence. When I find my writing languishing, it is good to read the words of those willing to share the places they have stumbled and succeeded. “The Getaway Car” has traveled both paved and potholed roads.



Art stands on the shoulders of craft, which means that to get to the art you must master the craft. If you want to write, practice writing. Practice it for hours a day, not to come up with a story you can publish, but because you long to learn how to write well, because there is something that you alone can say. Write the story, learn from it, put it away, write another story. Think of a sink pipe filled with sticky sediment. The only way to get clean water is to force a small ocean through the tap. Most of us are full up with bad stories, boring stories, self-indulgent stories, searing works of unendurable melodrama. We must get all of them out of our system in order to find the good stories that may or may not exist in the freshwater underneath.

—Ann Patchett from “The Getaway Car” in This Is The Story Of A Happy Marriage, HarperCollins 2013.




Forgiveness. The ability to forgive oneself. Stop here for a few breaths and think about this because it is the key to making art, and very possibly the key to finding any semblance of happiness in life. Every time I have set out to translate the book (or story, or hopelessly long essay) that exists in such brilliant detail on the big screen of my limbic system onto a piece of paper (which, let’s face it, was once a towering tree crowned with leaves and a home to birds), I grieve for my own lack of talent and intelligence. Every. Single. Time. Were I smarter, more gifted, I could pin down a closer facsimile of the wonders I see. I believe, more than anything, that this grief of constantly having to face down our own inadequacies is what keeps people from being writers. Forgiveness, therefore, is the key. I can’t write the book I want to write, but I can and will write the book I am capable of writing. Again and again throughout the course of my life I will forgive myself.

—Ann Patchett from “The Getaway Car” in This Is The Story Of A Happy Marriage, HarperCollins 2013.


-posted on red Ravine, Saturday, April 19th, 2014

-related to posts: The Ant & The Grasshopper – Ann Patchett & Lucy Grealy, Which Came First, The Grasshopper Or The Egg?, Ann Patchett – On Truth, Beauty, & The Adventures Of “Opera Girl”

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Pulling A Rabbit Out Of A Hat, St. Paul, Minnesota, January 2008, photo © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Pulling A Rabbit Out Of A Hat, drawing by writer Ann Patchett, St. Paul, Minnesota, January 2008, all photos © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


I was watching WCCO’s Good Question: What’s With The Easter Bunny? when it dawned on me that I had this old snapshot of a drawing by Ann Patchett on the front page of The Magician’s Assistant. The night we saw her at the Fitzgerald Theater, she smiled when I handed her the book — “I don’t get a chance to draw these much anymore,” she said, and from her pen flew this big-eared bunny poking out of a hat.

According to Darcy Pohland who covered last night’s Good Question (watch the video for some fun footage from kids on the subject), the Easter Bunny has ancient roots:

It’s part of a pagan tradition that started in Germany as part of a spring celebration. It honored Eastre (also Ēostre or Ôstarâ), the Anglo-Saxon goddess of dawn and spring; a fertility goddess who brought the end of winter.

One version of the bunny legend comes when she comes late one spring and finds a bird with wings frozen to the ground. She turns it into a snow hare with the ability to lay eggs in rainbow colors one day a year.

Snow hares with the ability to lay eggs in rainbow colors — you have to love that. I’m fond of the Snowshoe Hare because it’s directly related to one of my Totem Animals, the Lynx. They do a 7-year dance together and the Lynx’s ability to survive depends on the Snowshoe Hare’s abundant life and death cycle.

On this 53 degree Saturday in Minnesota, I’m longing for the end of Winter. Which means I’m jumping up and down for Eastre, the Goddess of Dawn and Spring. If you celebrate Easter, I hope you look glorious in your bonnet. Looks like tomorrow will be a good day for hunting those eggs. Or learning to pull a rabbit out of a hat.


Rocky:  And now….
Bullwinkle:  Hey Rocky, watch me pull a rabbit out of my hat.
Rocky:  But that trick never works.
Bullwinkle:  But this time for sure. Presto! [pause] Well I’m getting close.
Rocky:  And now its time for another special feature.

Rocky & Bullwinkle Sound Clips



Ann Patchetts Bunny, St. Paul, Minnesota, January 2008, photo © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.     Ann Patchetts Bunny, St. Paul, Minnesota, January 2008, photo © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.     Ann Patchetts Bunny, St. Paul, Minnesota, January 2008, photo © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Ann Patchett’s Bunny, St. Paul, Minnesota, January 2008, photo © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


-posted on red Ravine, Saturday, April 11th, 2009

-related to posts:

Ann Patchett – On Truth, Beauty, & The Adventures Of “Opera Girl”
Which Came First, The Grasshopper Or The Egg?
The Ant & The Grasshopper – Ann Patchett & Lucy Grealy
Book Talk – Do You Let Yourself Read?
My Totem Animal

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Truth & Beauty, Minneapolis, Minnesota, September 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Truth & Beauty, cover of Ann Patchett’s Truth & Beauty, Minneapolis, Minnesota, September 2008, all photos © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



It’s been a long couple of weeks. Sometimes it feels like the world’s gone mad. Where do you go to find ground? Go to what soothes you. For me it is my practices. One of those practices is gratitude.

When I was thinking of what I wanted to post at week’s end, I returned to our Poetry & Meditation group of a few weeks ago. After Robert Frost, homemade rhubarb cookies, and chamomile tea, I asked Teri if I could take another look at her postcard from Ann Patchett.



The Box & The Egg, cover of Truth & Beauty by Ann Patchett, Minneapolis, Minnesota, September 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Ann & Lucy, back cover of Truth & Beauty by Ann Patchett, Minneapolis, Minnesota, September 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.[a friendship], cover of Truth & Beauty by Ann Patchett, Minneapolis, Minnesota, September 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



See the hardcover of Truth & Beauty, the one with the box and the egg? Well, there’s another cover, a paperback, with an illustration of a grasshopper and an ant. Teri wrote to Ann, thanked her for her work, and asked — why two covers? And what’s the meaning behind the box and the egg?



Ann wrote back.



Sunset Produce, postcard from Ann Patchett, Minneapolis, Minnesota, September 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Nashville, TN, postcard from Ann Patchett, Minneapolis, Minnesota, September 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



Here’s what she said:




Dear Teri,

Sorry to be so slow in answering your question about the cover of Truth & Beauty. I had nothing to do with it but I like it a lot. I think you’re right — fragile egg, protective box = Lucy + me, but I like the fact that it’s open to interpretation. It’s a cover that makes you think instead of being an illustration. Also, I love the paperback cover of the grasshopper and ant.


Thanks For Reading!, postcard from Ann Patchett, Minneapolis, Minnesota, September 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


Thanks for reading!

Yours,
Ann Patchett





 
I read the postcard again, turned the handwriting over in my hands, and felt immense gratitude at Patchett’s willingness to give back to a fellow writer. Perhaps it’s a small thing. But I don’t think so. She probably gets hundreds of postcards. A writer’s time is valuable. She didn’t have to write back.

And so, it is with gratitude I end the week. On one of those Fridays when I’m sure the world has gone insane, I’m happy to express my appreciation for one of the writers who came before us. And raise a glass to a few moments of peace.



Jumbo, postcard from Ann Patchett, Minneapolis, Minnesota, September 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



We are big fans of Ann Patchett on red Ravine. To read more about this accomplished author, check out these posts:




Post Script: Is there anything you’re grateful for this week? It helps me to make a list (the little things count the most). Gratitude to Teri for sharing her postcard with us. And for taking the risk of writing it. It was almost exactly a year ago (October 16th, 2007) when we sat in the Fitzgerald Theater together to hear Ann speak.

It’s been my experience that many famous writers are generous with their time and energy, and encouraging to fledgling, up-and-coming writers. If you have a favorite writer or poet, maybe you’ll want to take a chance — write to them. You might one day open your mailbox to a pleasant surprise.



Truth & Beauty II, cover of Truth & Beauty by Ann Patchett, Minneapolis, Minnesota, September 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved. Handwriting, postcard from Ann Patchett, Minneapolis, Minnesota, September 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Truth & Beauty II, cover of Truth & Beauty by Ann Patchett, Minneapolis, Minnesota, September 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Handwriting, postcard from Ann Patchett, Minneapolis, Minnesota, September 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Truth & Beauty II, Handwriting, cover of Truth & Beauty, postcard from Ann Patchett, Minneapolis, Minnesota, September 2008, all photos © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



-posted on red Ravine, Friday, October 3rd, 2008

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The Ant & The Grasshopper, pen and ink on graph paper, doodle © 2008 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.


At Sarah Lawrence College, Ann Patchett admired the hugely popular Lucy Grealy from afar, never realizing that the two were destined to become the greatest of friends. Ann wrote short stories that people liked but was not someone they remembered. Lucy was the one everyone knew.

Talented poet, waif who as a child lost part of her jaw to cancer, Lucy ran the Friday night film series back at Sarah Lawrence. Students chanted “LOO-cee, LOO-cee, LOO-cee,” and crowded into the coffee shop to hear her read her poetry. Ann sat in the audience, watching, believing they might have something in common.

Now this. It is August 1985. Ann and Lucy are the only two from their graduation class who’ve been accepted into the Iowa Writer’s Workshop. Lucy couldn’t afford her own place; hence, the two are roommates, meeting up for the first time since arriving in Iowa City. Ann stands in their empty house, and like a banshee Lucy shoots through the door and throws her ninety-five-pound body on to Ann, locking arms around neck and legs around waist.

Here is Patchett writing in her memoir Truth & Beauty: A Friendship:

I do not remember our love unfolding, that we got to know one another and in time became friends. I only remember that she came through the door and it was there, huge and permanent and first.

And so their friendship began. Instantaneous, complex, epic. It lasted seventeen years, until 2002. Lucy died in December of that year of a drug overdose — ruled accidental — at the age of thirty-nine. 

Writing Truth & Beauty, Patchett said, was part of her mourning process: “I wrote a book about us. I wrote it as a way to memorialize her and mourn her, and as a way of keeping her own important memoir, Autobiography of a Face, alive, even as I had not been able to keep her alive. This was a story of a Herculean effort to endure hardship, and to be a friend.”




The Ant & The Grasshopper

Throughout the book, Patchett draws on Aesop’s fable of “The Ant & The Grasshopper” as metaphor for her relationship with Grealy. Ann is the industrious Ant, laboring through summer to have food in winter. Grasshopper Lucy whiles away time, too concerned with the business of living to think about the future.

When winter comes, Grasshopper finds himself dying of hunger, while Ant eats from the stores collected in the summer. But in her version of the fable, Patchett makes this modification:

What the story didn’t tell you is that the ant relented at the eleventh hour and took in the grasshopper when the weather was hard, fed him on his tenderest store of grass all winter…Grasshoppers … find the ants … They need us to survive, but we need them as well. They were the ones who brought the truth and beauty to the party, which Lucy could tell you as she recited her Keats over breakfast, was better than food any day.

And so Patchett tells the whole story of Ant and Grasshopper — their dependencies and differences, the sordid details of their lives.

Ann and Lucy were creative muse to one another, better off together than apart. “We were tender and patient and kind. We were not like the world at all.” They were physically in the same city only for a small portion of their long friendship. Ann eventually settled back home, in Nashville, while Lucy’s home base was the glamour and glitter and grit of New York City.

Apart and together, they shared a deep desire to become real writers. Writing was not only salvation but the one thing that made the two of them interesting. And Lucy, with her celebrity and high drama, made Ann more interesting and more alive:

Even when Lucy was devastated or difficult, she was the person I knew best in the world, the person I was the most comfortable with. Whenever I saw her, I felt like I had been living in another country, doing moderately well in another language, and then she showed up speaking English and suddenly I could speak with all the complexity and nuance that I hadn’t even realized was gone. With Lucy I was a native speaker.

Even so, for all their soul-deep connection, these two friends grew apart. Lucy became more needy, Ann less patient. Each became her own person.


Year of the Grasshopper

On the back cover of her memoir, Autobiography of a Face, Grealy is quoted: “I spent five years of my life being treated for cancer, but since then I’ve spent fifteen years being treated for nothing other than looking different from everyone else. It was the pain from that, from feeling ugly, that I always viewed as the great tragedy of my life. The fact that I had cancer seemed minor in comparison.”

Autobiography of a Face made Lucy famous. She struck the universal chord — of wanting to belong, to not be different.

The memoir starts with the diagnosis of Ewing’s Sarcoma at age nine. After chemotherapy and radiation, reconstruction began. Lucy’s life was on hold as she waited for surgery after surgery — thirty-eight total — to bring forth normalcy, possibly even beauty.

While she waited, her insecurities deepened, becoming incessant and overwhelming. Do you love me? Do you think I’m pretty? Why doesn’t he love me? Will I ever have sex again? She wanted to be loved, but more than anything, she wanted to give love. She confused sex for love.

Grealy wrote of early drug use in Autobiography of a Face. She got codeine pills for each surgery and root canal, and after a while, even when she wasn’t in pain, she took the pills for the milky high they offered.

No matter how bad I felt about the world, about my position in it, I felt safe and secure and even rather happy thirty or forty minutes after I’d downed a couple of pills.

In spite of securing a book contract on the heels of her memoir, Grealy struggled with writing. The surgeries became more painful and less effective, her loneliness deeper and more despairing. She could hardly swallow food, and the physical pain intensified. She was tormented by self-hatred. Eventually she got hooked on heroin. She lost the book contract, lost the trust of her friends, and eventually lost her life.



Year of the Ant

Ann was a product of twelve years of Catholic school, “where we were not in the business of discovering our individuality.” Her Ant traits included:

  1. Enviable work ethic, writing her novel “as if it were a factory job.”
  2. Balance.
  3. Responsible (she funded her own degree, prepared for classes she taught, and used every writing fellowship to get actual writing done).
  4. A tendency to “blur into other people.”
  5. Tidy (“Unlike Lucy, I could never give myself so completely over to my art that I would not notice the half-eaten plate of spaghetti in the middle of the living room floor.”).
  6. Above all, always going to be fine; “It’s your blessing and your curse,” Lucy once told her.

From the moment Lucy jumped into her arms in their Iowa City rental house, until almost the end of Lucy’s life, Ann carried Lucy. Physically at times, and emotionally. Ann was present during Lucy’s many jaw reconstruction surgeries, holding her head while she puked into a pan or serving as patient advocate with medical staff. More fundamentally, Ann soothed as best she could Lucy’s constant self-doubt and tried to boost her esteem.

It was the single thing I wanted most for Lucy, to have a minute of peace from her relentless desire to understand why she hadn’t found True Love.

Toward the end of Lucy’s life, as her emotional and physical pain spiraled out of Ann’s control, the pragmatist Ant sought tangible ways to help the Grasshopper — sorting and paying bills or furnishing a new kitchen. Ann tried to get Lucy to move from New York to Nashville, to go through a sort of Ant-inspired rehab. Shelter, soft “Lucy food,” love.

But Lucy was never going to live in Nashville. Even if it might have saved her life, it wasn’t the life she wanted.

 




It’s natural to look at your closest friends and wonder how you’re different from them and how you’re the same. Early on, the differences are exotic. Have you ever been attracted to a friend who is so spontaneous — pure in-the-moment grasshopper — that you can’t help but be drawn to their energy? There’s something about how natural Grasshopper is, without filters and boundaries, that makes Ant more natural.

But then your ant nature kicks in. Try as you may, you can’t stop from becoming critical. Ant watches Grasshopper refuse to plan for the future or seem unable to take cues on when to stop talking about herself. Enough already! you want to say. Grow up! It’s not all about you.

The further I got into Truth & Beauty, the more I grew impatient with Lucy. I found that my admiration for her brilliance dulled at certain points, overtaken by my exasperation with her obsessions and insecurities. Yet, when I was done, I admired even more the deep, pure writing that came out of those same obsessions and insecurities.

My face may have closed the door on love and beauty in their fleeting states, but didn’t my face also open me up to perceptions I might otherwise be blind to? At the end of each day, as I lay in the bathtub, I looked at my undeveloped child’s body. I considered the desire to have it develop into a woman’s body a weakness, a straying from my chosen path of truth. And as I lay in bed at night, I considered my powers, my heightened sense of self-awareness, feeling not as if I had chosen this path, but that it had been chosen for me.

I also at times winced at the bald honesty with which Patchett laid her truth on the line. Ann admitting to Lucy her growing revulsion at how Lucy lived her life. Lucy calling Ann on her superiority, her got-it-all-togetherness: “…at least I can make you feel like a saint. That’s what you’ve always wanted.”

I read Grealy’s book first, then Patchett’s, then Grealy’s again, this time looking for clues as to what really caused her addictions and eventual death. Was it the cancer or the shame that came with having part of her face caved in? Or was there something in her core – recklessness, risk-taking – that was apparent early on?

I came to no conclusions. Or rather, I came to the conclusion that writing memoir is the most courageous and risky kind of writing one can undertake.

Not everyone loved Truth & Beauty. At Clemson University in South Carolina, Patchett’s book generated enormous and uninformed criticism for its portrayal of drugs, sex, and women in romantic relationship. Patchett talks about that firestorm in an essay published in the Atlantic Monthly in August 2007 and again in an interview with the same magazine.

Lucy Grealy’s older sister, Suellen Grealy, wrote a heartbreaking essay titled “Hijacked by grief,” in which she lashes out at the “not so gifted” Ann Patchett for “hitching her wagon” to Lucy’s star. These jabs stand out against an almost polite tone of desperation, a genuine longing for privacy and a return to wholeness for a family that has been picked apart.

Ann and Lucy started out believing writing might save their lives. Each walked the long, arduous road to become a writer. But even when a writer is brilliant and talented, and even when a writer possesses equanimity and self-control, writing will not save one’s life.

Writing does, however, demand that you be willing to let go, to let it out, to write the truth as you know it.

 

Must-Read – Must-Hear



Must-See

Charlie Rose interviewed Lucy Grealy on November 16, 1994. She is the last guest on his hour-long program. Her interview starts approximately at 38:20 on the youtube video below. [Note: It’s advised that you let the show run its course versus trying to fast-forward to the start of the interview; the latter might cause audio and video to get out of sync.]







-Related to posts Ann Patchett – On Truth, Beauty, & The Adventures Of “Opera Girl” and Book Talk – Do You Let Yourself Read?

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Do You Let Yourself Read?, Minneapolis, Minnesota, October 2007, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Do You Let Yourself Read?, Minneapolis, Minnesota, October 2007, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



I had a voicemail from one of my writing friends yesterday. She said she was frustrated because she wasn’t giving herself time to read. Last year, she had structured it in:  made a reading list, read the Classics over Summer, devoured books to feed the hunger — to be close to other writers.

This year, it was hard to give herself space.

I was relieved to get her call. I had the same thought process rushing through my head. I set aside one day a week (read — 5 hours) to work on my creative writing projects:  to map out chapters, daydream, doodle, jot down ideas; to transcribe recordings from last June for my memoir; to scribble thoughts, future writing topics — to stare out the window and daydream.

I’m listening to Anne Lamott’s Word By Word in the car, to and from work (books on tape (CD) are the greatest!). She says every writer, every creative person, needs time to just sit and stare out the window.

You have to slow down and create space in your life for ideas to surface. Staring out the window can be productive for a writer.

Last year I was religious about giving myself time. I had the structure of a year long Writing Intensive with Natalie Goldberg to guide me. She assigned books to us, great literature to read. I read so many good books over the last two years.

What’s going on now?



   Do You Let Yourself Read?, Minneapolis, Minnesota, October 2007, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Do You Let Yourself Read?, Minneapolis, Minnesota, October 2007, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Do You Let Yourself Read?, Minneapolis, Minnesota, October 2007, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Do You Let Yourself Read?, Minneapolis, Minnesota, October 2007, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



Yesterday, during the 5 hours set aside for writing, I wouldn’t give myself the time. I tried staring out the window through the ash and oaks, listening to crows and the pretty pretty, pretty of cardinals, daydreaming about my projects. I felt guilty.

I thought of everything I had do around the house:  give Kiev fresh water in her dish, make the unraveled bed, go through upcoming bills, slip in a load of laundry. I played tennis with Mr. StripeyPants on the bed. I fiddled with my hair. I took a long, hot shower. Still — no reading, no writing.

(Monkey Mind anyone?)

It took me a while to figure it out. What I really wanted to be doing was reading. Writers need to read other writers. People who have gone through the distracted pain, unspent joy, and daily soul-searching required to write a book.

I’ve started reading three books over the last month. I’m in the middle of Natalie Goldberg’s Old Friend From Far Away, Sinclair Lewis’s Main Street, and a book of Best American Essays – 1999. Not one of them have I finished.

Finally, late in the afternoon, I said, “Forget this!” (the language was not as kind), and settled in on the couch with Sinclair Lewis and Main Street. It felt so good to let myself read. I wandered the muddy streets of Gopher Prairie, Minnesota, met Dr. Will Kennicott, and got lost in Carol Milford’s head.



Do you let yourself read?


  • WHAT:  What are you reading? And I’m not just talking about magazines, the New York Times, or MSN online. I’m talking books. Tell me what books you’re reading.
  • WHERE:  Where do you read? Propped up in bed, stretched out on the couch, in the tub, out on the porch swing?
  • WHEN:  When do you read — late at night, early in the morning?
  • HOW:  How do you read? Do you slow down and savor every word?
  • WHY:  Why do you like reading. What inspires you to pick up a book?


Reading is good for the Spirit. I come from a family of readers. My mother read a lot when we were growing up. When we didn’t know the answer to something, she encouraged us to head down the hallway and grab one of the black Collier’s encyclopedias from the corner bookcase.

Did your parents read to you when you were a child? Who taught you how to form words? It is not only writers who should read — everyone should pick up a good book.

If you’re reading, let’s talk books. Tell me the what, why, when, where, and how. If you’re not reading, tell me why. Why is it the last thing on your list?



    Writers' Hands VIII, Minneapolis, Minnesota, October 2007, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Writers' Hands VIII, Minneapolis, Minnesota, October 2007, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Writers' Hands VIII, Minneapolis, Minnesota, October 2007, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



-posted on red Ravine, Saturday, February 23rd, 2008

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 Writer’s Hands IV, hands of Bel Canto author, Ann Patchett, signing a copy of her latest book, Run, Fitzgerald Theater, downtown St. Paul, Minnesota, October 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Writer’s Hands IV, hands of Bel Canto author, Ann Patchett, signing a copy of her latest book, Run, Fitzgerald Theater, downtown St. Paul, Minnesota, October 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



Part I.

Fitzgerald Theater (Inside), night of Ann Patchett, author of Bel Canto and Truth & Beauty; A Friendship, on MPR's Talking Volumes, St. Paul. Minnesota, October 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

On a rainy October night, inside the haunted Fitzgerald Theater, Ann Patchett held the audience rapt. She has created a huge life for herself. A writer’s life. Awed by her confidence and poise, I was surprised to find she is also funny, and witty. Bel Canto was the novel that put her over the top. And earned her the alias, “Opera Girl.” But it was the memoir, Truth & Beauty, that drew me in.

The Write Kind Of Jazz, live jazz quartet, night of Ann Patchett, author of Bel Canto and Truth & Beauty; A Friendship, on MPR's Talking Volumes, Fitzgerald Theater, St. Paul, Minnesota, October 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved My friend, Teri, read the book for one of Natalie Goldberg’s workshops. Then attended the Iowa Writers’ Workshop last summer (where much of the book takes place). She suggested I read it. Along with Lucy Grealy’s Autobiography of a Face.

Suddenly, it was October, and Teri, Liz, and I grabbed dinner at Mickey’s Diner before walking across Exchange Street into the bustling, sold-out crowd at the Fitzgerald.

We found split seats tucked way in the left corner, right under the balcony. Opening with an airline joke about her lost luggage, Ann Patchett sat across from Kerri Miller wearing black Jazzin' With Ann Patchett & Kerri Miller, Ann Patchett & Kerri Miller enjoying the live jazz quartet at the Fitzerald Theater, St. Paul, Minnesota, October 2007,photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved. jeans, black boots, and a burnt orange scarf. Casual. It didn’t matter. Her comments on grief and loss stilled the room. It was her grieving process for Lucy that became Truth & Beauty. There was no tour when the book came out. She seemed happy to talk about the healing.



Part II.

At times, Ann had the audience in stitches. Other moments, there were tears. Later she would joke with us, pose for a few photos, and sign our books. She seemed glad to be there.

I listened with hungry ears. Teri and I nudged each other anytime we heard some snippet of wisdom, another link in the chain of making our way as writers. Liz took notes in the seat behind us (thanks, Liz!). And every once in a while we would explode into laughter at one of Ann’s jokes.

I soaked it all up. What did I learn?


  • She doesn’t have to write every day. She has no rituals or rules.
  • She doesn’t write between books. She rests.
  • After writing her books, she lets them go. She doesn’t read them again. She doesn’t even remember Bel Canto. She’s moved on.
  • The idea that’s cookin’ may not be the book at all.
  • Writing a novel is about faking it with authority.
  • Two words: pen pal. She has close pen pals.
  • A new definition of pornography was forged when Clemson University (in South Carolina) strenuously objected to Truth & Beauty being on the freshman class syllabus, claiming it was filled with “pornography.” There was a protest; Ann needed a bodyguard to make her speech.
  • Profound, close relationships between two women scare a lot of people.
  • Run, Bambi, Run!
  • The center cannot hold; the falcon cannot hear the falconer.
  • When you write a new book and go on tour, people really want you to talk about the last book because that’s the one they last read. (In this case, the last two books.)
  • She met her best friend and writer, Elizabeth McCracken, during the living of Truth & Beauty. She trusts her with her life.
  • She writes 98 percent for herself, 2 percent for Elizabeth, and no one else.
  • You can’t put love on the scales.
  • In her mid 30’s, she had no knowledge of opera, had never been to an opera, had never listened to an opera. But after Bel Canto, when something goes on in the world of opera, The New York Times calls “Opera Girl.”
  • Research brings her a lot of joy. She hates magic. Why? Magic is the most misogynist art form in the world
  • No experience matches the moment she finished her first published novel, The Patron Saint Of Liars.
  • She was two blocks away from the World Trade Center when it went down. She was holding someone’s hand. 


Part III.

               The Fitzgerald Theater (Outside), night of Ann Patchett, author of Bel Canto and Truth & Beauty, St. Paul, Minnesota, October 2007, photo by QuoinMonkey, all rights reserved.

The Fitzgerald Theater (Outside), night of Ann Patchett, author of Bel Canto and Truth & Beauty: A Friendship, on MPR’s Talking Volumes, St. Paul, Minnesota, October 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


What I want to say is that Ann was inspiring. She didn’t pull any punches. She was at the same time vulnerable and strong. Very strong. She knows how to take the criticism of her readers, and the country. She mentors others, gives back. But also seems like she guards her time with her life.

The day after we saw her at the Fitz, she flew to Dallas. Or somewhere in the heart of Texas. The tour went on. I smiled when I thought about her missing luggage. I wondered if Run would do well. But I could tell it wouldn’t matter all that much. She’s already moved on. She’s looking in the eyes of a stranger, waiting for the next book. She’s doing what she’s wanted to do since she was 5 years old. She never wavered for a moment. She’s a writer.


In the moment of our death, we are closest to our life. And the person who is with us at that moment is the person that we desperately need. Because they’re the only person who really understands what we’ve been through.

  – Ann Patchett, Fitzgerald Theater, October 16th, 2007


Part IV.

Post Script:  Don’t take my word for any of this. To hear Ann speak about ichthyology, magic, Bel Canto, bodyguards, Opera Girl (and to find out whose hand she was holding), listen to her talk in its entirety at the link below (you might even recognize a familiar voice during the audience Q&A):

Live appearance: Tuesday, October 16, 2007
Patchett discussed “Run” with Kerri Miller and the Talking Volumes audience at the Fitzgerald Theater.


Related links you might enjoy:

Seattle Arts and Lectures: Elizabeth McCracken & Ann Patchett
Novelists, 5th Avenue Theatre, January 10, 2000

StarTribune Article on Ann Patchett
Setting Her Own Pace, October 2007
(you may have to register and log in to read)


-posted on red Ravine, Tuesday, November 6th, 2007

-related to posts: WRITING TOPIC: WHAT HAVE YOU LOST & F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Birthday Celebration

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What Have You Lost, Rainpainting Series, outside the Fitzgerald Theater, downtown, St. Paul, Minnesota, night of Ann Patchett, October 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


If you want to know someone, truly know someone, ask them about the things they have lost. No matter how long it’s been. It doesn’t matter. The things we have lost stay with us.

These are the words of Ann Patchett, author of The Magician’s Assistant, Bel Canto, Run, and Truth & Beauty: A Friendship. She wrote the memoir Truth & Beauty to grieve the loss of her friend, Lucy Grealy. The book was her grieving process.

What are the things you have lost? Have you ever lost face, your faith, time. When did you lose your virginity? What about your innocence. Did you lose your childhood, your dreams, someone close to your heart? Did you lose your keys the day you hiked the ocean cliffs of an Oregon beach and were left stranded in the dark.

Make a list of the things you have lost. Choose 1 or 2 items off of your list and do a 15 minute writing practice on each. Let yourself grieve. Take the time. What do you have to lose?


Grief is a debt you owe. After you pay, you can get to the joy.

-Ann Patchett on Talking Volumes at the Fitzgerald Theater, St. Paul, Minnesota, October 2007

-posted on red Ravine Sunday, October 28th, 2007

-related to post, The Parking Is Free

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