Ruminations: Pat Conroy. A True North.


Those of you who know me well knew that this post was inevitable.

Those of who who don't really know are probably wondering, "Why on earth is she going to take an entire blog post to write about a 68 year old man from South Carolina?" 

It's time for the Ode to Pat Conroy post. 

Pat Conroy, for those of you unaware, is a literary genius.  And no, that is not hyperbole.  He is the author of such works as The Prince of Tides, The Great Santini, Beach Music and, his most recent novel, The Death of Santini.  You might have seen Pat making his way around the talk show circuit lately--he's on what I can only imagine to be a grueling book tour around the entire United States (the last time he went on such a comprehensive book tour was back when My Losing Season was published--his most recent novels, My Reading Life and South of Broad, did not have him on such a long tour due to some health issues).  This year, though, Pat is ALL over the country and will be in the Chicago area on Thursday evening. 

Unfortunately, I will not be there.  Thursday marks the first day of our road trip and while I would love to be in Winnetka watching Pat sign books and hearing the lilt of his Southern drawl, instead we'll be heading towards his territory--the Southern states ("Oh the heat, the fury" to quote a Talking Potato) .

There are many reasons why I believe Pat Conroy to be my ultimate literary hero--they range from his amazing prose  about the strife of growing up in families of secrets, to his ability to describe the low-country with the words of someone who loves it more than I love Lake Michigan.  But a huge reason why I adore Pat Conroy as much as I do is because he brought me and one of my very close friends together--he is a huge reason why Chad Weiden and I are friends and it is because of Pat that I understand the concept of an epic friendship.

Five or so years ago, Chad and I were already friends--we had bonded over gin drinks and horrible co-workers and were carpooling to school in the mornings.  It was at the corner of Pulaski and 31st Street in Chicago when we realized, though, that each of us absoultely ADORED Pat Conroy--it isn't common for 29 year olds to talk at length about old men, so it's natural that this topic hadn't come up yet.  We were discussing what we would name future children (him) or dogs (me) and we both settled on the name Savannah as one we loved--I said it was because of the Jimmy Buffett connection and then, at nearly the same time, we both said, "And because it was the name of that cray girl in The Prince of Tides."  Following this revelation was LOTS of screaming and giggling and realizing that "Holy crap, I just met someone who is obsessed with this man as much as I am." And so began this cosmic and epic friendship that has been described by some as "A strange little world of Emily and Chad that we're all just audience members to." 

After we learned about our shared respect and love for the literary giant, Chad and I basically turned into really adorable stalkers.  We wrote his agent numerous letters and emails, introducing ourselves, telling him we were huge fans, sending in pictures of us wearing our 5 custom made Pat Conroy themed t-shirts.  We went to Atlanta to read his new book South of Broad and we visited all the spots mentioned in Prince of Tides along the way.  We made an effort to cook our way through Pat's cookbook one winter and we forced our friends to listen to interviews of the man on itunes.  We started a fake Twitter account for Pat and managed to get about 3000 followers and we ran the Charleston Half Marathon wearing shirts that read "I run for Pat" with a huge picture of the man on our shirts--to say that we had a fairly unhealthy obsession with him is an understatement. 

After several years of reveling constantly in Pat's words and quoting him on a daily basis to one another, we learned that Pat would be making a rare appearence at the Savannah Literary Festival in Georgia.  It was a no-brainer--we would take days off from work and fly to Savannah with the intention to meet Pat (truth be told, we were both hoping to spend the time with him for days on end, but a handshake seemed acceptable at the time).

When we arrived in Savannah we had one mission--get to the book signing, meet Pat, take pictures, have panic attack.  And that is quite literally what we did.  We were by far the youngest audience members by a good 20 or 30 years and all of the old ladies absolutely LOVED our Pat Conroy shirts and obsession.  When the (riveting and moving) speech was over, we went outside with everyone else to stand in line to meet Pat.  

Naturally we made friends with everyone around us and we were ushered to the front where, upon seeing our t-shirts and noticing our youth, Pat put down his pen and said, "Ooooh, are you those teachers from Chicago who have written me all the letters?" He then INVITED US around the table to shake his hand and pose for pictures with him, then signed our books with a flourish.  

Afterwards we proceeded to do exactly as planned--have a full-fledged panic attack on the streets of Savannah.  Then call our husbands screaming and nearly crying (me, Chad held it together a bit better than I did) with our luck.  Meeting this man was....I honestly struggle to put it into words.  Then we went to the bar to drink.  Obviously.


So, to say that Pat Conroy is an important person in my life is an understatement--he is one of THE most important people and he is also a huge reason why Chad and I are such good friends.

 Pat Conroy is such a great author for me (and for Chad and for our friendship) because he has this ability to write about very horrible and awful things and yet turn them into very beautiful and soulful experiences. And I think that Chad and I feed off of drama.  Well, I know we do.

To say that Chad and I have had a complicated friendship is an understatement--about every other month one of us is mad at the other for any given reason and it's not uncommon for us to go months without speaking and then fall right back into a pattern of sending one another 45 texts in an hour (It's true, I've counted).  One of the reasons why I believe we act like this is our tie to this author--I know that sounds crazy, but Pat allows the crazy and Chad and I can be crazy.  

Pat Conroy is an author who writes about the realities and struggles of families and friendships and he explores the complications of being in what we often call "intense relationships" with those people in your life--he writes about how people come and go and how relationships change and develop, grow and falter.  And I think in many ways, that is something that draws Chad and myself not only to Pat's writing, but also to one another as friends. 

This Thursday Chad will be able to attend the Winnetka reading, and I won't. That's ok though as I know he will represent the Pat Conroy Book Club (membership: 2) with pride and respect--he will wear his custom made I (heart) Pat Conroy t-shirt and Pat will most likely recognize him as "Those teachers from Illinois who have written me all those letters."  I know that afterwards Chad will call me freaking out about meeting him and we'll giggle and go crazy with hyperbole while our husbands sit back and roll their eyes. 

Because that's what friends do--despite the distance emotionally or physically between us--Pat Conroy will always bring us back together. 

xoxo, John Hardin--see you soon and miss you lots.