This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage
By Ann Patchett
I have Reese Witherspoon and Hello Sunshine to thank for borrowing this selection of essays. (Hi, Reese is my new idol; love her unapologetic ambition. Thinkin' of my ambition and all of my plans for 2018 & beyond. Fills me with excitement. Love that I don't have to feel sorry about it.)
"Living a life is not the same as writing a book, and it got me thinking about the relationship between what we know and what we can put on paper. For me it's like this: I make up a novel in my head (there will be more about this later). This is the happiest time in the arc of my writing process. The book is my invisible friend, omnipresent, evolving, thrilling. During the months (or years) it takes me to put my ideas together, I don't take notes or make outlines; I'm figuring things out, and all the while the book makes a breeze around my head like an oversized butterfly whose wings were cut from the rose window in Notre Dame.
This book I have not yet written one word of is a thing of indescribable beauty, unpredictable in its patterns, piercing in its color, so wild and loyal in its nature that my love for this book, and my faith in it as I track its lazy flight, is the single perfect joy in my life. It is the greatest novel in the history of literature, and I have thought it up, and all I have to do is put it down on paper and then everyone can see this beauty that I see."
("The Getaway Car," pp. 24-5)
"The art of writing comes way down the line, as does the art of interpreting Bach. Art stands on the shoulders of craft, which means that to get to the art you must master the craft. If you want to write, practice writing. Practice it for hours a day, not to come up with a story you can publish, but because you long to learn how to write well, because there is something that you alone can say. Write the story, learn from it, put it away, write another story. Think of a sink pipe filled with sticky sediment. The only way to get clean water is to force a small ocean through the tap. Most of us are full up with bad stories, boring stories, self-indulgent stories, searing works of unendurable melodrama. We must get all of them out of our system in order to find the good stories that may or may not exist in the freshwater underneath."
("The Getaway Car," pp. 29)
"Forgiveness. The ability to forgive oneself. Stop here for a few breaths and think about this because it is the key to making art, and very possibly the key to finding any semblance of happiness in life."
("The Getaway Car," pp. 29)
"Enough time has passed that I wish him well, in a way that is so distant and abstract it doesn't even matter."
("The Sacrament of Divorce," p. 61)
"Sifting through the notes I had taken years before, I remembered the basic point behind my intentions, and all these years later that point has never changed: I am proud of my father. I am proud of his life's work. For a brief time, I saw how difficult it would be to be a police officer in the city of Los Angeles, how easy it would be to fail at the job, as so many have failed. My father succeeded. He served his city well. I wanted to make note of that."
("The Wall," p. 153)
"The ability to have a friend, and be a friend, is not unlike the ability to learn. Both are rooted in being accepting and open-minded with a talent for hard work. If you are willing to stretch yourself, to risk yourself, if you are willing to love and honor and cherish the people who are important to you until one of you dies, then there will be great heartaches and even greater rewards."
("The Right to Read," p. 193)
"I believe it is human nature to try to persuade others that our most passionately held beliefs are true, so that they too can know the joy of our deepest convictions."
("Introduction to The Best American Short Stories 2006," p. 208)
"Standing waist deep in the swimming pool at Yaddo, I received a gift—it was the first decent piece of instruction about marriage I had ever been given in my twenty-five years of life. "Does your husband make you a better person?" Edra asked.
There I was in that sky-blue pool beneath a bright blue sky, my fingers breaking apart the light on the water, and I had no idea what she was talking about.
"Are you smarter, kinder, more generous, more compassionate, a better writer?" she said, running down her list. Does he make you better?"
"That's not the question," I said. "It's so much more complicated than that."
"It's not more complicated than that," she said. "That's all there is: Does he make you better and do you make him better?"
("This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage," p. 249)
"My mother shrugged, so what. "I'll die, you'll die, he'll die, you'll get tired of each other. You don't always know how it's going to happen but it's always going to happen. So stop trying to make everything permanent. It doesn't work. I want you to go out there and find some nice man you have no intention of spending the rest of your life with. You can be very, very happy with people you aren't going to marry."
("This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage," p. 252)
"There were two things about marriage that surprised me. The first was that I discovered Karl had been holding out on me. He actually loved me more than he had previously led me to believe. This is not to say he hadn't loved me for the past eleven years, he had, but there was a portion of himself he kept to himself, thinking that if I wouldn't marry him, then chances were at some point I would go. It was like finding another wing in a house you had happily lived in for years. It was simply a bigger love than I had imagined."
("This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage," p. 265)