Ann Patchett – Present and Powerful!

Recently, I had the good fortune to be invited by my friend Isabelle to go see Ann Patchett being interviewed at the Toronto Reference Library. Ann Patchett is on tour for her latest novel, Commonwealth. I have read several of her novels over the years (including Bel Canto, Run and State of Wonder) and really enjoyed them. Even more noteworthy, there is a fascinating story about her friendship with Elizabeth Gilbert in Gilbert’s Big Magic, which I recently read, that made me really eager to see her in person. Gilbert said about Patchett when she first saw her speak: “It was as if she’d thrown off her invisibility cloak and a full-on goddess stepped forth.” That is someone I wanted to see speak in person.

ann-patchett-photo-and-book-05262016Early in the interview, Ann Patchett told us that she felt a newfound freedom since she turned 50 a couple of years ago. This was evident to me as she spoke her mind with no hesitation whatsoever. She was truly present with us and so powerful as a result. She was embodying Amy Cuddy’s definition of “presence” in her book Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges (which we are reading right now in the Making Room For You Book Group – see my newsletters for more on that).   Cuddy defines “presence” as “the state of being attuned to and able to comfortably express our true thoughts, feelings, values and potential”.   She seemed so comfortable expressing her true thoughts feelings, value and potential. She is a woman with nothing to prove.

Throughout the evening, Patchett was funny, and engaging and no nonsense. She exhibited great trust, both in herself, in others she is close to, and in life. For example, in terms of trust in self and in life, when speaking of her writing process, she said that she did not tend to grasp at ideas. She trusted that the good ones would stick around and the bad ones would float away. As for trust in others, she told us that she had vetted everything in Commonwealth, which is more autobiographical than her other novels, with her family and that they supported her 100%. She seemed very, very secure in their love and support.

When asked about the US presidential election, Patchett came out strongly and unequivocally in support of Hillary Clinton. And Patchett is from Nashville Tennessee, a very Republican State. She basically said that this is a race between an excellent candidate – “She was Secretary of State, for God’s Sake!” – and a terrible candidate. She campaigns for Clinton in Nashville, proudly wearing her Clinton button. It is also noteworthy that she does not watch tv – “TV exists so that they can sell us things” – or go on social media. She gets her news from the newspapers and NPR. She doesn’t understand what the fuss is all about and admits it may be because she does not see video footage of the candidates on the news.

In my course work for Feminine Power we have been working on cultivating three different energies as transformational leaders – playful curiosity, tenderness and ferocity. I couldn’t help but notice how well Ann Patchett was exhibiting these energies especially during the question period and when it came time to end the interview.   At this point, she had us all laughing hard as she outlined her boundaries in no uncertain terms with regard to autographing books and photos.   Here she was very playful, and even tender in her understanding of people’s desire to connect with her directly, and clearly ferocious in tending to her own needs – “There are 650 of you here – we could be here all night” . She laid out the rules: “Ok people, this is how it’s going to go down.” With respect to photos, she instructed us to imagine we were on safari and she was the zebra. “Stay in the Jeep!” “Take photos from a distance!”.   It was really funny and powerful at the same time. She got her point across very clearly and we all had fun in the process.

As I work to become a more powerful transformational leader, and work to help other women do the same, I am going to look to Ann Patchett as a role model.   I am a few months away from my 50th birthday and sensing into that freedom that Ann Patchett is embodying. She really inspired me. And, of course, I will read Commonwealth, and also Truth and Beauty: A Friendship, which Isabelle tells me is excellent.

PS Here is another fine example of powerful presence: Michelle Obama’s impassioned New Hampshire campaign speech!


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