We here in South Carolina are very proud of our native son, Pat Conroy. Perhaps you have heard of his books, many of which were made into movies. Two that pop out are The Prince of Tides and The Great Santini. Excellent works. He is also famous for writing soul-searching, penetrating, deep books. He went to the local college, The Citadel, and it helped create the grist he would run through the busy mill of his erudite and tortured mind. He really was a master at language. For example, this is one of the Pat Conroy quotes taken from The Prince of Tides, a remarkable story about growing up in a dysfunctional Southern home: “There is such a thing as too much beauty in a woman and it is often a burden as crippling as homeliness and far more dangerous. It takes much luck and integrity to survive the gift of perfect beauty, and its impermanence is its most cunning betrayal.” In this blog, I want to share the Pat Conroy quotes I found were most about values from his book My Losing Season.
This man has the chops, without a doubt. Check this line out from The Prince of Tides: “Rape is a crime against sleep and memory; it’s afterimage imprints itself like an irreversible negative from the camera obscura of dreams.” In My Losing Season, he recounts being a senior on the basketball team. Instead of winning, they mostly lost. They lost big sometimes. It left a scar and a deep sense of being incomplete. Especially with the father he had (if you ever saw or read The Great Santini), you can tell how deeply he felt “daddy issues”. However, as reached middle-age, he began to reprocess and reframe his experience. He also reached out to every member of the team from that year, and the story is really quite a page-turner.
Those of you who know anything of Values of the Wise know that I don’t just read for entertainment, I read to find quotations. These few dozen Pat Conroy quotes cover values as diverse as fulfillment, meaning, passion, development, creativity, healing, truth, overcoming, acceptance, and the theme of the book: failure. He notes that winning is great, but it doesn’t teach what failure can. We are so lucky he lived so long and wrote so much — considering he thought of suicide quite a bit and was awfully depressed much of the time.
This is probably my favorite paragraph of the book. I can see Robert Duvall’s face, having watched the great movie, The Great Santini:
“Does it bother you, son, that you’re a mediocre novelist? That’s what all the critics say.”
I looked at my father’s face and saw the look of the trickster, the playful wisecracking imp with the touch of pure malice in his mean Irish eyes.
“They say you’re not as good as Updike or Roth or Styron or even that broad from Mississippi—what’s her name? Dora Delta.”
“Eudora Welty,” I said. “They’re all better writers than I am, Dad.” He looked at me with hard eyes.
“Never admit that again. That’s an order, pal. You’re my son and you get it in your goddamn noggin that you’re the best writer that ever lived. You got it, pal?”
About the book he says: “This is the story of a mediocre basketball team that is remembered by few, a team that spent a year perfecting the art of falling to pieces. I thought I would be a senior on one of the greatest basketball teams in Citadel history. I could not have been more wrong.” Without further ado, Pat Conroy quotes from My Losing Season:
There was a time in my life when I walked through the world known to myself and others as an athlete. It was part of my own definition of who I was and certainly the part I most respected. When I was a young man I was well built and agile and ready for the rough-and-tumble of games, and athletics provided the single outlet for a repressed and preternaturally shy boy to express himself in public.
Games allowed me to introduce myself to people who had never heard me speak out loud, to earn their praise without uttering a single word. I lost myself in the beauty of sport and made my family proud while passing through the silent eye of the storm that was my childhood.
I was a basketball player, pure and simple, and the majesty of that sweet sport defined and shaped me growing up. I cannot explain what the sport of basketball meant to me, but I have missed it more than anything else in my life as a voyeur and a fan.
I exulted in the pure physicality of that ceaseless, ever-moving sport, and when I found myself driving the lane beneath the hot lights amid the pure electric boisterousness of crowds humming and screaming as a backdrop to my passion, my chosen game, this love of my life, I was the happiest boy who ever lived.
I substituted hustle for talent and the sure knowledge that if I did not want it more than my opponent, he would defeat and humiliate me with those gifts that nature denied me. What I had was a powerful will and a fiery competitiveness and the burning desire to be a great player in the Southern Conference when there was not even the slightest chance I could be a memorable one.
The lessons I learned while playing basketball for the Citadel Bulldogs from 1963 to 1967 have proven priceless to me as both a writer and a man. I have a sense of fair play and sportsmanship. My work ethic is credible and you can count on me in the clutch.
I believe with all my heart that athletics is one of the finest preparations for most of the intricacies and darknesses a human life can throw at you. Athletics provide some of the richest fields of both metaphor and cliché to measure our lives against the intrusions and aggressions of other people. Basketball forced me to deal head-on with my inadequacies and terrors with no room or tolerance for evasion.
As a boy, I had constructed a shell for myself so impenetrable that I have been trying to write my way out of it for over thirty years, and even now I fear I have barely cracked its veneer.
It was the year I began to catch small glimpses of the man I was becoming, moments when all the disfigurements and odd bafflements of my hidden childhood began to reveal themselves in unfocused glances into my nature. In this last year I would play organized basketball I came into my own as a player, not because of my team’s success, but because of its crushing disappointments and failures.
Basketball provided a legitimate physical outlet for all the violence and rage and sadness I later brought to the writing table. The game kept me from facing the ruined boy who played basketball instead of killing his father. It was also the main language that allowed father and son to talk to each other. If not for sports, I do not think my father ever would have talked to me.
I had walked into a travesty of a marriage and had done it with my eyes wide open and with the frantic warnings of all my family and best friends begging me to run for my life from the woman I loved. Even my father had warned me that Lenore was a gold digger, saying that I was an easy southern mark who did not understand one thing about the slippery, counterfeiting strategies of a big-city woman on the make.
My depressions had taken on a quality of serene artistry. I find myself exploring caverns of my psyche where the stalactites are arsenic-tipped, the bats rabid, and blind pale creatures live in the lightless pools dreaming of fireflies and lanterns shivering with despair. I have a history of cracking up at least once during the writing of each of my last five books.
I hope you’re enjoying these Pat Conroy quotes
I have come to revere words like “democracy” and “freedom,” the right to vote, the incomprehensibly beautiful origins of my country, and the grandeur of the extraordinary vision of the founding fathers. Do I not see America’s flaws? Of course I do. But I now can honor her basic, incorruptible virtues, the ones that let me walk the streets screaming my ass off that my country had no idea what it was doing in South Vietnam.
From the day of my birth, I was programmed to enter the Marine Corps as a fighting man, but then my eyes locked onto the headlights of the sixties and took me far afield of the man I was supposed to be. Now I understand I should have protested the war after my return from Vietnam, after I had done my duty. I had come to a conclusion about my country that I knew then in my bones, but lacked the courage to act on: America is a good enough country to die for even when she is wrong.
But I thought about the invoking of the honor code of The Citadel. In those words, I heard a subtle, secret taunt that The Citadel’s honor code didn’t quite measure up to the standards of their code at the Coast Guard Academy. I thought about who I was as a man and what was important to me and what I believed in and the things that mattered. Later that afternoon I placed a phone call to South Carolina, and when Shannon Faulkner answered I said, “My name is Pat Conroy and I’m about to become your best friend.”
There were my alumni and classmates who thought I meant to destroy the college and were eloquent and passionate in their hatred of me. When the brotherhood turned mean against this lone South Carolina girl, I used my own infinite capacity for meanness in return. I thought the entire affair could be conducted with gentlemanly restraint, disgusted when the bumper stickers began sprouting throughout the state—“The Citadel, 2,000 cadets and one bitch.”
When I began to write the first sections of The Great Santini, I had been preparing my entire life for that public unveiling of the ruthless bastard who raised me. My rage was the molten lava of my art. I did not tell the whole truth in The Great Santini by any means. At that time, I lacked the courage and I did not think anyone would believe me. It was my belief that if I told the truth about Donald Conroy I would lack all credibility and no one would want to read a book that contained so much unprovoked humiliation and violence. It was not just that my father was mean, his meanness seemed grotesque and overblown to me.
To be honest, I do not think I was a physical match for my powerful father until I was five years out of college. But he thought so. The reason I know is he did not touch me after my seventeenth birthday. He was not a sentimental man, but he was street-smart. Also, he did not need me for a punching bag any longer; I had four more brothers still serving as prisoners of war in his shameful household. I can barely look back on my sorrowful youth, yet it haunts my every waking moment and makes me a terrible husband, father, and friend.
As I watch him, the boy hiding his desperate urge to cry, I realize that all my books inch their way out of my flesh because of the million things this boy wanted to say for twenty-one years, but could not. I am simply writing down the screams that stopped in this boy’s chest during the voiceless solitude he felt in his trial by father. I am not an artist, I think. I am a recording secretary.
My father may be the only person in the history of the world who changed himself because he despised a character in literature who struck chords of horror in himself that he could not face. He had the best second act in the history of fathering. He was the worst father I have ever heard of, and I will go to my own grave believing that. But this most immovable of men found it within himself to change. I could not believe how much I had come to love my father when he died on May 11, 1998, and his children buried him in the National Cemetery in Beaufort, not far from our mother’s grave.
Great teams look back at their college days through banners of streaming light. Bad teams glance over their shoulders with great reluctance at streets that will always be paved with their own hangdog shame. There is no downside to winning. It feels forever fabulous. But there is no teacher more discriminating or transforming than loss. The great secret of athletics is that you can learn more from losing than winning.
Losing prepares you for the heartbreak, setback, and tragedy that you will encounter in the world more than winning ever can. By licking your wounds you learn how to avoid getting wounded the next time. The American military learned more by its defeat in South Vietnam than it did in all the victories ever fought under the Stars and Stripes. Loss invites reflection and reformulating and a change of strategies.
You’re reading Pat Conroy quotes from My Losing Season
But it’s Al Kroboth that represents the soul of this lost team that I gathered out of time and the great distances that had come between us. In his heroic walk, we saw the stuff our team was made of—that we might have been hurt, humiliated, exhausted, and defeated, but we never would quit on our school or our coach or each other. The exemplary courage that Big Al exhibited on his forced march through the jungles of South Vietnam was the same valor he took to the boards every game at The Citadel.
When speaking of our coach, our voices are lit with mythmaking and awe. His name still inspires dread and foreboding in us. His boot is still on our throats and there is honor in how we bent to his will and danced to the tune of his whistle.
I left The Citadel as a point guard and walked straight into my life as a writer. I thought I was the luckiest man on earth. I carried The Citadel inside me, and I knew it was not just a college I had gone to, and I have never pretended it was. It’s a civilization and a way of knowledge, a paradox, a bright circus of life, a mirror and a bindery of souls, a hive of sweat and hard work, a preparation for the journey, a trailblazer and a road map, a purgatory, an awakening, and an insider’s guide to the dilemma of being alive and ready for anything that the world might throw your way.
I came to the writing life as a point guard, and it became the metaphor of my transition. The novelist needs a strong ego, a sense of arrogance, complete knowledge of tempo, and control of the court. As a novelist, you tell people where to go and bark at them when they are out of position. It’s up to you to fill the seats by your style and flashiness and complete mastery of tempo. You thumb your nose at critics and academics and keep your eye on the flow of the game. You stand in the center of things and you create the world around you. You must retain your poise and confidence, and you dare them to box you in or trap you in the corners. The point guard knows that the world is fraught with pitfalls and dangers, and so does the novelist.
So I found my team again, and they were in bad shape. I brought them together and I apologized to all of them. Not one of them knew how much I had loved and respected them when I was a young man disguised as the would-be captain of their team. They did not know how highly I held their skills and how I marveled at their talent. They did not believe me when I said I consider it a great honor to have taken to the court with them.
I would choose again the same teammates I had in 1966-67. I would take to the court with them forever, these same guys. It was the year I learned to accept loss as part of natural law. My team taught me there could be courage and dignity and humanity in loss. They taught me how to pull myself up, to hold my head high, and to soldier on. I got dizzy from loving that team, and I never told them.
I have other Pat Conroy quotes – as well as other folks who have struggled, existed, developed, shared, fought, committed suicide, suffered mental illness, and overcome here in the Wisdom Archive.
keyword: Pat Conroy quotes