Recently I was granted the opportunity to meet Pat Conroy through an invitation to a private party. The host of the party gave each attendee a copy of Mr. Conroy’s latest novel, which they could in turn have signed by the author. My connection to the whole affair was peripheral.
The homeowner has collected many of my paintings and this would be my second attendance at one of his parties. For this event, I was also invited to paint the party as it took place. This ended up being for the best because from the moment I found out that I would be meeting an author whose books I so enjoyed, I became a bundle of energy. Luckily having something to do during the event allowed me to focus on something else, rather than spending the evening obsessing over what I might say to him in person.
This has not been the first opportunity I’ve had to meet someone of noteworthy stature, and I rarely react so star struck, but writers especially dazzle me. I don’t consider writing to be my greatest gift. However, my creative field is closely related enough that I can appreciate and understand the degree of sacrifice it takes to follow a creative path.
My location during this event ended up being the approximate mid-point of the book line. From it I could see the backyard by evening with its beautiful tent, table and decorations. As people entered the house and passed me they would often make conversation and look over my shoulder to see the painting in progress. As is often the case, people comment on my talent. To one such commentator I replied by saying, “It’s just practice.” Her response was, “Only someone with talent would say that!”
I do believe that we all have special gifts; inclinations toward certain activities that make us more likely to succeed. When something is of great interest to you, it is easier to study. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s ‘fun’, and I never considered myself to be the most talented in my classes, just the most determined.
Pat Conroy made a name for himself writing novels that read like non-fiction. This quality historically put him at odds with family members and even his own alma mater. I admire Pat Conroy for his courage. “Don’t air your dirty laundry in public,” my mother used to say. If his books contain even a thread of truth, then how painful they must have been to his family and to him as well.
As the event drew to a close I ended up last in line for my personal meeting and autograph. Nearing the author I hated to take any of his time in lengthy conversation because after standing on my feet for three hours, I knew that he must be tired as well. He pulls back out a beautiful pen to autograph my book and says,”What’s wrong, you look guilty?”
“Your books made me cry,” I blurt out, wanting to explain and say more but otherwise remaining mute. His reply expresses that he’s always surprise to meet so many people from so many different places who have read and enjoyed his books. At least that was the best translation I could make as I walked away.
I paint because I feel that I must. There is little other explanation. Courage for me as an artist means living with the insecurity of my choices and its impact on my immediate family. What I really wanted to say to Pat Conroy was, “Thank you.”