Thursday, May 14, 2015

A Pat Conroy Road Trip

If you've been following Meanderings and Muses for any length of time, you've come to know how much I love Pat Conroy's work.  And him.  I've blogged about him here often enough, that's for sure!

The occasions I've been to a Pat Conroy book event, I have always walked out wishing for an opportunity to be able to sit and listen to him tell stories for a couple hours (or weeks even).

I finally got that opportunity and it was every bit as amazing as I had thought.  Only more so.

Catherine Seltzer has written "Understanding Pat Conroy."  It's an academic study of his work.  Not, as they both stress, a biography.

But, for those of you, like me, who have been hoping for a biography, your wish is about to come true.

Catherine Seltzer, with Pat Conroy's blessing, will be writing an unauthorized biography.  

Yes, you read that correctly.  


Because, as Pat Conroy explained, unauthorized means yes, he's allowing her to tell the story, with his blessing, that he feels deserves to be told.  

But, because it will be unauthorized, no one can step up and say "No.  You can't write that."  Unhappy friends and/or family members will just have to take it as it is.  Apparently, Mr. Conroy feels strongly about this and wants the book to be an honest accounting, pulling no punches.

Tuesday, May 12, Catherine Seltzer and Pat Conroy opened the South Carolina Book Festival with an event.  An "Understanding Pat Conroy" conversation. 

The event took place in Columbia, SC, at the University of South Carolina.  

I knew I wanted to go, but truth be told, I'm not all that comfortable driving that far alone, spending the night in a strange town alone.


Here's one more reason why I love Donald Barley to the moon and back.

When he learned about all this he said, "Of course you're going."  

And he took a couple days vacation to drive me to Columbia, spend the night and drive back home the following day.

As it happens, one of his oldest friends from high school, Sharon Allen Griffin, and her husband Joe live in Columbia, so it was an opportunity for them to visit and catch up while I sat entranced and enchanted listening to Mr. Conroy and Ms. Seltzer have their conversation.

(This is a wonderful piece Donald spotted on his way back to the car after helping me wind my way through the maze of the beautiful USC Darla Moore School of Business while we searched out the W.W. Hootie Johnson Performance Hall)

During the conversation, Catherine would ask questions, and Pat would respond, usually with a story.  And oh, what stories!

Some of his family was in the audience and as any Pat Conroy fan would know, his family is a major story source for him.

He told funny family stories, and he told heart wrenching family stories.  

And he told the funniest dark stories I have ever heard.  

I keep thinking I should feel kinda guilty about how hard we all laughed about the story he told us of his mother's funeral and the brothers all being pall bearers.  But Lord a Mercy, I was laughing so hard I could not catch my breath.  And, you know,  I think Pat's mother was probably listening in and laughing just as hard as we were.  

He told a story about explaining "shagging" to Barbra Streisand during the filming of "Prince of Tides."  Explaining to her that shagging can mean a couple different things, but here in the south when we shag, we might be dancing.  And so he did a little shagging while sitting (which made us howl).

He did another dance in his chair and I laughed till I cried.  I have tried a couple time to share it, but I swear, if I wrote it here, none of you would believe it and you would think I was being cruel, so suffice to say - you had to be there.  Pat Conroy can tell a sad, dark tale and make you laugh harder than you think is possible.

He is, of course, the consummate southern storyteller.  Get him started with southern stereotypes and he can drag out the southernist of southern accents, and out-story anybody on God's green earth.  I have not a doubt.

Catherine Seltzer is delightful.  Delightful!  And oh how I envy her.  While writing "Understanding Pat Conroy," and now the biography she'll be spending loads and loads of time with Mr. Conroy, and his beautiful novelist wife, Cassandra King.

Can you imagine just how divine that would be??


Enormously jealous!

After Pat and Catherine's conversation, they accepted questions from the audience.

The young man sitting next to me was a USC student.  

A writer.  

He asked Pat Conroy if he had any suggestions for a young up and coming writer.

And, he did.  

He shared heartfelt words and I had tears blurring my vision by the time he was finished.

And I know the young man next to me will remember each of those words for the rest of his life.  To say that he was touched is an understatement.

And then, after a couple hours of storytelling, some belly laughs and some tears, we moved into the corridor for the signing.

If you've ever been to a Pat Conroy book signing you know he is always going to take the time to talk to every single person in that line.  He will share a story, ask everyone a question or two and be thoroughly and completely in the moment, open and engaging.  And it's beautiful.  And huge fun to be a part of.

He's funny as all hell.  He is as full of natural charm as any human being can possibly possess and, to me, these things just make him sexy as the day is long.

I walked out a happy girl.  Feet barely touching the ground.

And when I finally found my way out of the maze called the Darla Moore School of Business I was still chuckling over some of the stories.

And then I saw this magnificent sculpture in the entrance courtyard.

The name is "Eternal Flame," and it's by artist Leonardo Nierman.

But to me, it looked like an abstract ballerina dancing joyfully and it seemed to perfectly represent exactly how I felt.

Donald was waiting for me at the entrance and I couldn't talk fast enough to tell him what a perfect evening it had been.

By the time we got back to the hotel I had pretty much run down, so could then listen to how his evening with Joe and Sharon was.  And, just as I knew they would, they had a terrific time.

When we were getting ready to go the next morning, it just wouldn't do for us to leave until Harley dug around in his bag until he found whichever toy was his favorite of the moment for the ride home.

Another thing you've learned if you're a regular Meanderings and Muses reader is how a short little 3 1/2 hour trip for most people can take the Barley family at least twice that long.

This trip was no exception.

First there was the stop at the Indian Motorcycle place.

Donald would love a motorcycle.  And while I love motorcycles, especially Indian motorcycles, I'm really very happy that we can't afford one because I would worry myself to death.  If he went out for a 3 hour ride, I would pace for 2 hours and 58 minutes worrying.

That said - I do love this Scout.

It was fun seeing not just the new models, but all the old models they had on display too.

Harley didn't seem to have a fave.  He was only wondering why we were here and not in the Harley Davidson place.


I admit to drooling just a bit over this Chief Vintage (don't you love the color??)


But, I quit drooling when I spied the price tag.

After leaving the bikes behind, we had another bit of serendipity.  This happens to us on every road trip.  We never know what's going to pop up to capture our attention, but we know it'll be something.

Something interesting, fascinating, odd or lovely.

Always fun.

Taking a wrong turn getting back to the expressway led us to this wonderful old church which is under renovation.

While we were enjoying the peacefulness and beauty of this old church, taking pictures and talking about some of the exquisite detail work

a man appeared at the front door and wished us a very robust good afternoon.

Pastor Littlejohn and his wife and a small band of volunteers have done an amazing job bringing this church back to life.

When they found it a few years ago, it had been desecrated inside and out.  Graffiti all over, ceilings and floors caved in.  Windows broken.  Vandalism had all but destroyed it.

What kind of person is capable of vandalizing a church?!

There's a special circle of hell awaiting them, I have no doubt.

While visiting with Pastor Littlejohn and looking at pictures of the church when he had first discovered it, we were joined by the local police who I think were pleased to see we were not there with malice on our minds.

Time to get back on the road.

This scene always lets me know we're getting close to home. 

This is what we see, and always chuckle about, when we get off the expressway at Gastonia on 321.

And then we start seeing pink and red poppies.

And then, just outside Lenoir we see this "tree."  When the wind blows, the sparkly metal doves "fly" around the tree.  

I love this.

Ah, home.

Home is where your books are delivered.

And these were waiting for us at the door.

The Ellen Crosby book is one I won from Dru's Book Musing.  If you're not familiar with my friend Dru's book blog, do scoot over and take a look.  And tell her I said "Hey!"  I'm thrilled with the win 'cause this is the second book in Ms. Crosby's newest series.  I read the first and was hooked.  The protag is international photojournalist Sophie Medina.  Sophie is, says Library Journal, "a tough, relatable heroine."  I agree.

The Sally Mann memoir is one I have been very impatiently awaiting and can't wait to get into.

But first - 


Life is good.

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