What's not to admire about Ann Patchett? Among her lyrical novels like Bel Canto, and the brand new State of Wonder, she also penned an illuminating, honest, heart-breaking tribute to her friend Lucy Grealy, who wrote Autobiography of a Face. I love this nonfiction book for its portrayal of a complex friendship between two struggling writer girls with their own sets of problems (though Lucy's were far worse than Ann's, causing Ann to be the motherly, stable, patient one), but also for its portrayal of my beloved alma mater, Sarah Lawrence College, where the two women first met. Oh how I will always and forever love and miss Sarah Lawrence, my home for four years ---- a place of immense happiness and sadness all tied together into one glistening, life-altering knot. A place where I found "my people," or as Lidia Yuknavitch would say, "my tribe."
Ann Patchett was the commencement speaker at my graduation, in May of 2006. She was the perfect speaker for me that day, and for my class...and when I saw that she actually came out with a little book --- called What Now? --- based on that commencement speech, I was thrilled! I read the book in one sitting, nodding my head the whole way through. The Tumblr page affectionately called Sarah Lawrence Girls posted an excerpt from this book, and it happens to be my very favorite excerpt. So, I wanted to share for myself (originally posted here):
If all fairy tales begin “Once upon a time,” then all graduation speeches begin “When I was sitting where you are now.” We may not always say it, at least not in those exact words, but it’s what graduation speakers are thinking. We look out at the sea of you and think, Isn’t there some mistake? I should still be sitting there. I was that young fifteen minutes ago, I was that beautiful and lost. For me this feeling is compounded by the fact that Sarah Lawrence was my own alma mater. I look out at all these chairs lined up across Westlands lawn and I think, I slept on that lawn, I breathed that wisteria. I batted away those very same bees, or at least I batted away their progenitors. Time has a funny way of collapsing when you go back to a place you once loved. You find yourself thinking, I was kissed in that building, I climbed up that tree. This place hasn’t changed so terribly much, and so by an extension of logic I must not have changed much, either.
Thank you, Ann Patchett. You make me feel so much better.