ORLANDO – If you have an interesting story to tell, Gregory Patrick believes, then just sit down and write about those unique experiences you’ve lived through. More importantly, he added, start by figuring out why you think other people will want to read your story.
But don’t, he added, try to capture your entire life in one fell swoop. Pick a chapter in your life, even a very brief one, then go into some depth about what it is you experienced, and how it may have changed you or altered the path you were on.
Patrick should know. He’s already published two books – “Foe” in 2006, and “Mad Man Knitting: or The Waiter and the Fly” in 2010, which cover two very different moments in his adult life. He’s now writing a third book, “Will Knit For Food,” that he hopes to have completed by Christmas. His books deal with specific chapters in his life, covering such diverse topics as his religious views, his career, and his temporary existence as a homeless man living in the woods of North Florida with his cat, Mario … until he discovered a new career almost by accident.
“When I’m writing the non-fiction stuff, I like saying it’s a little more complicated than a sentence or two,” Patrick said. “I like writing the non-fiction stuff so I can write in a very honest way.”
A native of Savannah, Georgia, Patrick has lived in Orlando since the 1990s. A military kid, he gravitated to theater and performance art in the City Beautiful, playing Hannibal Lecter at the former Terror On Church Street haunted attraction in downtown Orlando, appearing in plays at Theatre Downtown and other local stages, and doing spoken word poetry around the city for years.
“I did them around town,” Patrick said. “I was screaming, yelling. I was covered in blood. I had a series of microphones and would give a series of shrieks while delivering my poetry. I was getting a lot of press coverage at the time.”
Part of his goal, he said, was political.
“Glenda Hood was the mayor at the time, and she was trying to take money away from AIDS groups and give it to this cultural arts center that still hasn’t been built today,” he said.
Patrick was also critical of conservative Christian groups that were denouncing homosexuality.
“I kind of felt like Christianity was more of a political movement than a spiritual movement,” he said. “People would ask me if I was a Christian, and I would say ‘I don’t belong to that political party.’ I felt like Christians were being anti-Christian.”
He didn’t mince words during this performances, and stepped on some local toes.
“I got punched on the street one day,” Patrick recalled. “I came out of a coffee house and a redneck came over and said ‘I heard what you said,’ and I think he called me a faggot and he punched me. I had people leaving my performances crying. They were not for the faint of heart. They were really intense.”
But someone else who caught his performance suggested he write a book. At the same time, Patrick found himself gravitating toward a new direction – becoming a monk.
He was on a journey of spiritual discovery – one that began with a rejection of what Christians were advocating.
“I was one of those …. I don’t know,” he said. “I don’t know if there’s a term for people like me. I still believed in God, but God no longer believed in me. That was the category I felt I was under. I felt like He existed, but it had no bearing on me because He wasn’t helping me. To me, Christians were crackpots. That led me to the monastery, which is where I found the truth of what I was looking for at St. Leo’s in Dade City.”
“Foe,” then, is Patrick’s first book, about his brief experience – all of three weeks, as it turns out – being a monk. How he became one, and just as quickly exited the Benedictine monastery, is the subject of that memoir. It’s a fairly complicated saga, Patrick added.
“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you, so that’s why I put it in a book,” he said.
His second book, “Mad Man Knitting,” looks at a radically different chapter of his life: how he became the head server at one of Savannah’s most popular restaurants, The Firefly Café. But once the restaurant got sold, everything start to change, for the worst, in terms of both his career and his private life. To cope with the mounting problems in his life, Patrick became obsessed with knitting, and found himself spending long hours chugging beer and working on different patterns.
The book is more representative of his life today, Patrick said, than “Foe.”
“it conveys my time as a server in Savannah, and my mind had changed a lot, my views have changed a lot,” since “Foe” was written, he said.
“I don’t know how fervently I want to be attached to that first book,” he said, although he added, “I’m proud of that book. It’s a great first book.”
His third memoir, “Will Knit For Food,” recounts the harrowing experience he went though this year when he lost his job at the Firefly Café, saw his savings dry up as jobs became scarce, and ended up living in a tiny trailer in North Florida, right on the Georgia state line, totally alone except for Mario. He was barely able to scrounge up enough to eat – until he decided to knit a teddy bear for a friend, and made a unique discovery about his knitting skills.
“I was living in Florida, and there was a convenience store in Georgia that was three miles away,” he said. “One day I had only 53 cents left. It was either feed me, or Mario. I went to the convenience store and they had some small cans of cat food – I think they were 37 cents each – and I bought one and walked home. Mario ate well that night.”
Patrick’s first two books are available at Amazon.com. To learn more about his knitting work, log on to http://www.menwhoknit.com/community/?q=blog/656.
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