“This One Is Very Good”

I LOVE Flannery O’Connor.  When my husband and I recently traveled to Savannah, I was thrilled to tour the childhood home of one of my favorite writers.  I loved listening to the docent who is part of the Flannery O’Connor Foundation. She gave a passionate and animated presentation of this prolific southern writer.  As usual, I got chills thinking that the formative years of Mary Flannery O’Connor were spent in the very home I was touring.  Her childhood fantasies and role play began at 207 E. Charlton Street, Savannah.  I could feel her presence.  I hung onto every word of the guide, and I was even asked to participate by reading aloud Miss O’s own words she had written in a childhood book.  “This one is not very good.” She was referring to one of her childhood books. She made notes to herself or to the next reader of this particular publication.  Flannery was quite the critic even as a six-year-old.  She knew what was good and what was not.   

As I searched my memory, I tried to remember what was my favorite Flannery O’Connor writing.  Last year I read, “Conversations with Flannery O’Connor,” though I had not read any of her short stories in years.  She only wrote two books, novels, and I have not read either of them. Most of her work is essays and short stories.  I remember reading some of these in a Southern Literature class in college.  However, as is my pattern with most writers, I became enamored with Flannery and researched everything I could on her.  What struck me as a college student about the descriptions of her was that she wrote with such confidence and was a straightforward and fiercely independent Southern woman who conveyed this through her stories.  This intrigued me.  As a young writer, I didn’t have the courage to write all the thoughts I had.  It is said that she disliked unoriginal or writing that was used to impress. 

This is why I love Flannery.  She didn’t write to please others.  She used her writing style to shock her audience because she wasn’t sure they held the same beliefs she did.  “When you can assume that your audience holds the same beliefs you do, you can relax and use more normal means of talking to it; when you have to assume that it does not, then you have to make your vision apparent by shock-to the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost-blind you draw large and startling figures.”  In other words, her style was to get your attention even if you don’t agree with her.  Over the years I have written many human interest stories, written interviews.  I have written many short non-fiction humorist essays.  My quirky look at life.  I usually write for an audience who agrees with me and is touched or humored by my writing.  As a college student, I remember thinking of her a headstrong formidable presence.

According to the New Georgia Encyclopedia, her friends spoke of her “merciless attacks on affectation and triviality.”  She didn’t put up with much.  This surfaces in her work.  I remember reading “Geranium” and feeling anxious at the tone of the story.  The story about a flower.  There was shouting and arguments.  I felt like a voyeur to a confrontation that I just wanted to leave, but I couldn’t.  I wanted to see the outcome.  That’s what Flannery O’Connor does.  She touches the mercenary part of your soul that wants to see the bizarre patina of her narrative.  She doesn’t give you a charming story tied up with a pretty bow and obligatory ending. 

Yes, I love Flannery O’Connor.  She is everything I am not.  She makes me want to grow.  Once again, I am picking up her completed works and reading each story.  I continue to read about her strong-willed shit-stirring approach to writing.  That’s my shocking explanation of how I perceive her.  I am no Flannery O’Connor expert, nor can I say I have read everything she has written.  I haven’t even read half of it.  But, I love Flannery because she inspires me to reach a new level in my writing.  She gives me the courage to write.  Period. 

Dearest Diary

I have been writing for all the wrong reasons.  There was a time when I wrote what I was thinking, and when I finished, I would read it and breathe.  I had a sense of cathartic accomplishment.  I didn’t write for anyone.  I just wrote what was on my mind.  In a letter to Elizabeth McKee, who would become Flannery O’Connor’s agent, Miss O’Connor wrote, “I must tell you how I work. I don’t have my novel outlined, and I have to write to discover what I am doing.  Like the old lady, I don’t know so well what I think until I see what I say; then I have to say it over again.” I get this. As a writer who has no credibility, I am cautious to say I understand how a great writer like Flannery O’Connor works, but I do.  

I was never one to write a journal or a diary.  I did have a diary in the 4th grade. I found it in high school, and I think I destroyed it. I can’t remember what I did with it, but I do remember what I wrote and how embarrassed I was with such personal thoughts.  Apparently, I wanted to have long hair and long fingernails.  This was the daily theme of my diary.  I must have sensed even as a 10-year-old how shallow I must have been, so I quit writing in my diary when I realized I had pretty good hair and my nails were just fine. I also gave up the desire to be a country music singer and marry Donny Osmond which peppered some of the pages as well.  

When I discovered my diary as a teenager, I laughed quite hard at my 10-year-old self, but I think the reason I destroyed my diary is that I remember the pain behind those entries. It was my 4th-grade year, and I had attended three schools in that one school year.  I felt so lonely and out of place.  I wanted to be anything, but me. I spent a lot of time in my room fantasizing about another life.  I would act out skits. I would role play.  I would write. I would tape myself singing on a tape recorder. 

I spent a lot of time alone.  My sister is 7 1/2 years younger than I am so I learned how to play alone those years as an only child.  I could always entertain myself through any of these avenues.  

Writing or creating has been an alternative world for me to cope with my insecurities, my anxiety, and my boredom.  However, I stopped writing for a while because I couldn’t.  I took Ernest Hemingway’s advice to heart. “You shouldn’t write if you can’t write.”  I couldn’t write because I was not writing for the reasons I began writing for in the first place, as a coping mechanism. I began to write for affirmation or to inspire. I was honest in my writing, but I stressed too much about it.  So, again today I made a goal to write daily. Just sit down and write and be honest about where I am each day. If that inspires someone, then I am happy to be a source of inspiration.  If not, then I will have a diary which I can read in years to come and cringe at my honesty and insecurity.  And, also Dear Diary, I wish I could have long flowing hair and long fingernails, but I no longer wish for Donny.  Though, I would like a shot at being a country music singer one day.  Now, I know what I am thinking. 

Praying for the Right Girl for My Daughter

“Is Camille married?” She asked me. “No, not yet. I am just praying for the right girl to come along.”

She choked on her response.  “Oh. Oh. Oh. I am so glad you are okay with that.”

Yes, yes, yes. I am okay with that.

I was at a wedding in Montgomery, Alabama this summer.  A town I love and have called home since I was in the 9th Grade. I left there when I went to college. My husband, a lawyer, and I returned to Montgomery when we first got married, and he began his first job after law school. I was an attorney’s wife. I was in the Junior League. My children went to the best schools. We were members of the best church. We were in many social groups. Camille was a debutante. Yes, she was a debutante.  

Camille was raised going to etiquette classes which I taught, was a member of cotillion and made her debut at one of the best balls in the South. She had boyfriends, and we did all the right things to teach her right from wrong. Camille was an acolyte in the church and as a high student became a lector because of her ability to speak well before an audience.  And, she is gay.

Camille evolved into who she is. She was born that way but did not find the courage to live true to herself until she moved to Atlanta.  

She didn’t officially “come out” she just “evolved into”  being who she was born to be.  A gay person.

 

I have many friends in Montgomery as well as other small towns in the South who are supportive of her and do not believe she is going to hell.

But, I do have those who have told me they are praying for her and for me. I also officiate same-sex weddings. I have had people ask me why don’t I just pray for the right person for her or perhaps wait awhile, in case she decides she wants to marry a guy.  

No, I will not wait. I am a mother who prays for her children. I pray for their spiritual needs and their earthly needs. I pray for their happiness. I pray they know how to love themselves. I have been praying this prayer for years. It seems to me that one of these prayers have been answered. Camille loves who she is as a gay woman. She does not question that she was born this way and nor do I. I am grateful that we are at the point in our lives where I can just sit back and pray for her the right girl to come along.  

Give Me Art

I am not sure if this is satire or a little melancholia.  I wrote this to detail my feelings as I discard certain “things” from my home in my desire to lighten the load, and not have so much “stuff.”  I was thinking about art in all of its forms. Art that requires physical space and art that occupies mental space.  I LOVE art I can touch, but I also love art I can read and hear.  This was an effort to console me. 

Give me art.

I must discard the canvas gently stroked with your brush.
The swirls and the colors shaped beautifully by your gift.
The fiber and the texture I can feel with my touch.
It is time to let it go.
Its dwelling place is gone.
Give me art.
I want to hold it close.
Write down the words that fill that space.
The beautiful prose I hear. 
Formed lyrically from your talent.
I have a home to store it.
Give me art.
Never to be cast out.
My spirit will hold the verse
and it will rest upon my heart.
 

 

 

On Tasting Grief

 

My grief made me vomit sobs.

The pain was not palatable.

Repulsive pain.
The kind of pain that will make you hate.
Bitter.
That sick taste.
My grief made me vomit sobs.
Like a virus that lingers.
Cast out this substance.
Still shaky on my feet.
Time is what it takes to swallow life again.

Buy Good Bay Leaves

My advice to my daughter today is…

Buy good bay leaves.
Your recipe calls for bay leaves.
If you buy the cheap ones and put them in your dish,
they will be superfluous.  
Profuse or perhaps refuse.
You will have to navigate them and take them out
before you can enjoy your meal.
The eye will see them and think the cook went to great detail
while preparing this bounty.
 
If they still have their flavor, it will be worth sifting them out.
But, if they have no essence they become trash to you.  
Unnecessary. 
You don’t need them.  
Buy good bay leaves.
 
 
 
 

I Know People

I know people who live a life one foot in front of the other.  

They don’t leave the path on which they trod.
Maybe a stumble.  They must take a step back.  
Then, onward they go.
I know people who walk in a circle.  
They can’t find their path. Life floats them along.
I know people who trod and who float.
They capsize.  They plunge.
They ascend.  They rise.
I know this person.