What Now?

What Now? is the title of the commencement address (and newly published book) that Ann Patchett delivered recently at Sarah Lawrence. It is charming, wise, and funny, just like everything else Patchett has written.

Patchett herself is charming, wise, and funny. Some writers write they way they are, others write the way they would like to be, and then there's the rest of us who are not quite sure who we are or how to write.

I recently heard Patchett speak at Powell’s in Portland on a book tour she was doing for the paperback edition of her recent novel, Run. She ambled in with a coffee mug in hand, wearing casual slacks and sneakers, completely oblivious to the huge crowd that had gathered to hear her but with that knowing grin that lights up her face and everyone else around her.

I believe What Now? (I sometimes refer to as Now What?) can be enjoyed and appreciated by a person at any stage in their life. The following passages in this slim volume should make that clear.

Writing is good for many things, but curing loneliness isn't one of them.

…people need to talk, and often a willingness to sit and listen is the greatest kindness one person can offer to another.

…the activity I'm most likely to be engaged in is staring.

Nothing at all is very much out of fashion these days, as are stillness, silence, and studied consideration.

Catholic school and college and graduate school had prepared me both for how to be part of a group and how to be the group's leader, but none of them had taught me the most important thing: how to be alone.

What now is always going to be a work in progress. What now was never what you think it's going to be and that's what every writer has to learn.

I learned the most from sticking with my dream even when all signs told me it was time to let go.

The secret is finding the balance between going out to get what you want and being open to the thing that actually winds up coming your way.

…at every point in our development we are still striving to grow.

Make up some plans and change them. Identify your heart's truest desire and don't change that for anything.

…the kind of fire that comes from the perfect balance of intelligence and compassion.