A friend and I have been listening to commencement speeches and sending them back and forth. The recent habit was inspired by a speech we listened to together. It was awful.
(The truth is, though, that there are some really great speeches out there. John Legend’s at the University of Pennsylvania from a few years back is probably my all time favorite. From it comes one of my favorite things to think about: the collision of sound and silence.)
A couple of days ago, I found Ann Patchett’s commencement address given at Sarah Lawrence in 2006. I loved this for this moment in my life because she talks about the journey of a writer.
What I found (funniest) most interesting was the concept of staring and how much time a writer spends staring.
Yesterday, I went to wash my car. I use one of those places where you put the quarters in the machine and wash it on your own with this little spray hose thing. Next to this place is an alley. And across from the alley was an apartment building. It was not very well-kept and on the door nearest to me was spray painted APT 3. It wasn’t well done. And I imagined that one day someone just got sick of knocks on the door asking for Apartment 1 and grabbed a spray can and wrote with loud, big, sloppy words. So there, it says.
On the steps sat a man. Hair every which way. Long beard. Smoking. A Jesus-looking figure, if you will. Minus the cigarette. So, as I dried the car, I stared at him. And from that staring came this entire story. An estranged daughter. An all-too-helpful son-in-law. A lifetime of struggles.
And then my mind went to something my father said to me last week. Your imagination is a little out of control.
When I sat down last night to get my chapters in on Lucha, I realized that my transition from the previous activity (in this case the Dodgers & yoga) requires staring. At nothing. Stare. Stare. Stare. Then, the words comes. Easily, really. And they don’t stop.
There’s really a lot to be said for staring.