Sunday, September 7, 2008

What Now? by Ann Patchett

"What now is not just a panic-stricken question tossed out into a dark unknown. What now can also be our joy. It is a declaration of possibility, of promise, of chance. It acknowledges that our future is open, that we may well do more than anyone expected of us, that at every point in our development we are still striving to grow."

I'm a senior this year and everyone keeps asking me these dreadful questions that I can't dodge well enough. What are you going to do after you graduate? Have you taken the GRE yet? Where are you applying to graduate school? Are you still applying to Teach for America? They never stop. The questions that bother me the most are the presumptuous questions because what if I'm not applying to graduate school? There's no way to answer that without the both of us feeling sheepish.

Every night I'm online doing hypothetical Monster job searches and asking strangers on message boards what they did with their English degrees after they graduated. It's nerve wracking.

Up until What Now? I had never read anything by Patchett. I found her when I was reading through commencement speeches for inspiration after exhausting the job search engines. (Salman Rushdie is a personal favorite if you're into that kind of thing.) After giving a commencement speech at Sarah Lawrence she decided to extend her speech into a book. Finally, someone else who started out wanting to write was going to give me an answer with some meat about the What now? question. It didn't hurt, of course, that this woman just happened to be an award winning author with an MFA from the Iowa Writer's Workshop and not another disgruntled barista working at Starbucks at thirty. This is not to say that Patchett didn't have times where she struggled, either. For a while she was waitressing, wondering why she was working at T.G.I. Friday's with a masters degree.

This book is a grown up Oh, The Places You Will Go. It's better than whiskey or deep breathing exercises or even a plate of carb heavy comfort food, which happens to be the ultimate test, just so you know. She made me feel like the world was alright again, even if it was only until I snapped back to reality and remembered that I'm at Appalachian and not Sarah Lawrence.

It's a tiny book with only 96 pages where her writing shares space with black and white pictures of women winding through mazes and men in business suites staring at road signs, ect. That might have been part of the book's charm for me... I like little books. With all the time it takes to obsess there isn't as much time for reading texts that aren't required.

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