23 April 2011

FIN - ending #1

Those of you who have stumbled upon this blog by chance:
I only hope you will find evidence of a story, a little bit of jewelry I call my own collection,  the things I have seen or have loved: inspiration which I hope will lead one to new ideas, and some of the most talented people who I have called...or still are... my friends. Take from it what you will. It started with THIS.

Because receiving an education is a lot like being a snake that swallowed a chicken egg: It's in you, but it's going to take a while to digest it. I had come to Sarah Lawrence after 12 years of Catholic girls school. I had thought it was the most ludicrous, antiquated, sentimental secondary education in the history of education. We were taught modesty, humility, and how to make a good white sauce. The white sauce I could have done without, but I'll tell you something: Modesty and humility go a long way when you are down on your luck. 

I had studied writing at the Iowa Writers workshop, I had studied writing at Sarah Lawrence College with Allan Gurganis and Grace Paley and Russell Banks. It wasn't  until I got to Fridays and I had to work the dish wash station because the police came and too the regular dish washer away- that I finally learned how to stare. And at the end, it was the staring that got me that novelists job that I had wanted. Because as I scrubbed out the soup pots and the margarita pitchers, I figured out that for me, "what now?" -- always going to be a work in progress. "What now" is never what you think it's going to be, and that is the thing that every writer, every person- has to learn.

 I came to come to understand that fiction writing was like duck hunting. You go to the right place at the right time with the right dog. You get into the water before it's light outside, wearing a little protective gear, stand behind some reeds,  and you wait for the story to present itself. This is not to say you were passive; you chose the place and the day, you picked the gun and the dog. You have the desire to blow that duck apart for reasons that are entirely your own. But you have to be willing to accept not what you wanted to have happen, but what happens. You have to write the story that you find in the circumstances that you've created. Because more often than not, the ducks don't ever show up. The hunters in the next blind begin to argue and you realize that they're in love. You see a snake swimming towards you and your dog begins to shiver and whine... and you think of this gun in your hands that belonged to your father.... And in the end, you will have written a novel so completely devoid of ducks, it will startle you.

 It took me a long time of standing still and being quiet to figure out what in retrospect appears to be a pretty simple lesson: that writing a novel and living a life are very much the same thing, and the secret is finding the balance between going out and getting what you want and accepting the thing that actually comes your way. If you're trying to figure out what what comes next, I urge you to turn off everything that has an off switch and listen. Make up some big plans and be willing to change them on a dime. Identify your heart's truest desire and don't change that for anything. Be proud of yourself for the work you have done; Be grateful for the people who helped you do it. Write to us, and let us know how you are. You are- every one of you- someone's favorite unfolding story. We cannot wait to hear what happens next. 

Ann Patchett's Commencement Address to my Class of 2006, Sarah Lawrence College

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