Pat Conroy

How can it be that our conversations about The Water is Wide, now leaves our hearts, empty and broken?

I read a text received before the crack of dawn from a friend, a fine writer who refuses to get out of her damn way and share her words with paper and pen. Pat Conroy is dead. 

After spending a month immersed in reading and researching Conroy for our discussions, I felt a stabbing pain of personal grief that I don't deserve, but, dammit, I feel it anyway because that's what writers end up doing to us. 

They make their personal laments our private matters. The magic of good writing. We get to own it. We've invested our time, emotion and imagination into the pages of another's soul. It's a fair deal. Writers have no choice but to write, maybe a narcissistic endeavor, like standing in a mirror, snarling, holding up your pen in perfect stabbing stance. But, like an addict, the need prevails and voila, the written word. If a reader chooses to make the deal and crack open that book, then hell yes, the story becomes their own. 

You better believe I feel losing Pat Conroy is personal. It's damn personal. Back in 2007, he said in a letter to the editor in The Charleston Gazette that "people cuss in his books," and that he cusses, too. 

And there it stands. The essence of writer and reader. He writes. We read. The grief is therefore real and raw this morning as the fog lifts off of Julington Creek, revealing another day of ospreys boasting and the thrushes singing their morning cantatas. Pat is gone, but this world of the Southern experience, that he captured and penned, is still here.

And leave it to Conroy to exit on the one date that stands alone in our Gregorian calendar as a complete sentence. 

More ironic that my refusing stubborn dear friend, who won't write, who won't make that risky deal between reader and writer, is the first to tell me of Pat's denoument. I think it's sign, perhaps a metaphor riffing on "man plans and god laughs." How much more cajoling will it take to convince my friend to just write? 

The Water is Wide by Pat Conroy

Defining Education

Oh, the eternal quandary of the educator. The Water is Wide opened up deep conversations about the philosophy of teaching. Luckily, many of our book group members are educators, so Pat's wonderful words spoken personally to their own experiences. 

The takeaway is clear. Just like Conrack, our teachers were fueled by idealism and smacked with reality. Like Conroy, I believe that teaching is a noble profession ignored by the powerful out of simply fear. 

However, I remember 12th grade English teacherMrs. Fetter, who insisted we knew of Samuel Johnson, John Milton and Donne, "because when you are at cocktail party and someone brings up Paradise Lost, it is imperative that you'd be capable of intelligent conversation." My fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Tucker, ruled that books were pretty much sacred biblical artifacts. If one was found, god forbid, on the floor of the classroom, the flaming gates of all hell broke loose. Mrs. Graber taught Anatomy, so no literature ran through the veins of my dissected cat, but I was told to memorize everyone bone, joint, tendon and muscle of the body and you believe believe that is exactly what I did. My atlanto-occipital joint bows my head in homage the these teachers, and each educator in my book groups,  who have enriched my life.

Here are the links the the videos shared:

Gullah Gullah Island television program

Daufuskie Island info

The rather awkward but interesting interview

A beautiful clip about the book

I hope you'll join me at the San Marco Book Store on April 14 for a screening of Conrack