Meet Flannery O’Connor

At a time when it seems society’s rules are either niceness or insult, sentimentality over thought, I began to feel out of place in my riots of opinion, when the words poured out in a verbose storm.

My writing is steady but the network is small. I lack the ever-desirable community of writers with whom I might feel simpatico.

Along came Flannery.

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May I introduce you to Flannery O’Connor?

More concise words than mine can provide a smart introduction to this remarkably smart woman. Suffice it to say, Flannery’s name was one I have heard since encountering the shocking and violent story “A Good Man is Hard to Find” in an educational milieu.

Flannery’s name popped up from time to time among Catholic circles. As I entered more into the Catholic literati (anonymously through social media) her name and body of work became a force to be reckoned with. It was in listening, yet again, to “The Fountains of Carrots” Podcast that I encountered a sincere passion for a remarkable writer.

Their advice was not to begin with her short stories for an introduction but her novels, starting with “The Violent Bear It Away.” Best to alternate between reading O’Connor’s fiction and letters in order to come up for air from the grotesque.

Flannery O’Connor was a successful writer in Milledgeville, Georgia in the 1950s and 60s, who died at age 39 of lupus-related kidney failure.

I read her two novels and recommended “A Good Man” for a book club, knowing just enough to facilitate the group. Her stories illustrate the action of grace in the lives of the broken, who, for the most part, are trying to resist it. If grace works in conjunction with nature, but nature is deformed, what will happen? This question she explored.

As my reading continued, I purchased the 600-page volume of O’Connor’s letters. It was true what they said. Here I met her.

What drew me in first was her unabashed opinions. She wrote what she thought and did not hold back.

How long had I been surrounded by the feeling that one must be “nice,” not step on toes, not speak with the freedom the clear ideas I developed throughout the day after listening and reading. For fear offending, I veiled language and opinion.

This is not a call to be rude but to be honest. O’Connor was honest. In her letters to friends, in her letters to strangers, she was full of integrity, said it like it was. If she did not have an opinion, she said that too.

Here is a woman to be admired, I thought.

Deeper into the pages, I followed the advice, alternating between stories and letters. Letters are a powerful way to meet another person.

Next, I discovered the way Flannery, already a respected writer, sent her stories out again and again to friends whose opinion she valued for the input. She almost always made the recommended changes, trusting them for their technical skill and because they grasped the vision of what she was about. It was not their intention to change her writing, as one publisher would have done, but to help make it better. That willingness to seek out the advice of others, to put her work on display and humbly make corrections stirred me. It is a frightful thing to submit for feedback. Yet, she did it again and again.

Inspired I sent my own work out. The responses were promising.

O’Connor wrote letters. If she loved a novel, she wrote a letter to the writer to tell him so. This was how some of her friendships were formed. Before social media and author’s lists of 20,000 followers, these letters formed lasting friendships.

Authenticity, humility, connection.

There is a great deal more to be gained from Flannery O’Connor. She saw the world for what it was, full of pain and full of hope; full of disfigurement and full of beauty. She saw humans as prone to pride and arrogance, but redeemable when a crack can be made. She was interested in that crack.

With any author, you can study the literature and you can study the author. For the time being, I aim to study both.

How to Find Friends When You’re All Grown-up

Sharing with you the wisdom of Rebecca Frech and Fountains of Carrots.

Previously published in the Hughson Chronicle-Denair Dispatch

 

In infancy, no one but the mother exists in the infant’s eyes. Solitary play is good enough, as long as Mother (the primary giver) is near.

In early childhood, parallel play makes for best friends. They may not speak to each other or know each others’ names, but being in the same room, doing their thing, makes them favorites, like two adult introverts reading separate books on the couch.

Later in toddlerhood, group play arises with communication and rules of conduct. Consequences are administered when the rules are broken. Social skills are learned. For some, this gives away to private conferences and sharing secrets. For others, it transfers to team sports and online gaming. Friendships are negotiated and renegotiated but within our social structure, they still take place largely at school.

Until we graduate.

Then we work.

And the same thing continues. We become work friends until the day we ask each other out to lunch. Then we move to the new stage of more-than-work-friends.

For the person who leaves office camaraderie for freelancing or homemaking or a toxic workplace, the realization may come that outside of having proximity, we have no idea how to form and maintain friendships.

 

 

In an interview on Fountains of Carrots, Rebecca Frech, author of “Can We Be Friends?” points out the awkward truth. With the societal changes in our communities, we are going to have to learn how to make friends and it is going to feel an awful lot like dating.

Yet, such boldness as asking someone out because you would like to be friends is surprisingly refreshing. One such friend took that step with me. I was leaving office-life for freelance-life. We broke bread together during my last week and she, in characteristic awkwardness, said she wanted to be friends. We called it “declaring our friendship.” It helped cut through the period of wondering, harkening back to junior high, “does she like me?”

I am usually the one to call and schedule, but that is okay because I know where we stand.

Another friend, from the same office, is much more comfortable with expressing sentiment than I am. With maturity, instead of “you’re my best friend forever” she said, “you’re my closest friend in Modesto.”

I gesticulated, emotionally, “it’s mutual.”

Meanwhile, the drama that would normally break friendship elsewhere in my life was mitigated by my saying, “I like you and want to continue this friendship.” That friend and I spoke openly and honestly, problem-solving the issues at hand.

It is hard and difficult and vulnerable. Some are afraid to put themselves out there and ask a potential friend to lunch. Others let the priorities of work and home take precedence over the indulgence of a Friday Frozé or Taco Tuesday without the kids.

 

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Photo by photo-nic.co.uk nic on Unsplash

 

 

Some of the keys to forming friendships, according to Frech include,

 

first,

acknowledging it will not be easy. It will be awkward.

 

Second,

accepting that you may be the person who has to lead and ask the other person out. Standing around waiting for a friendly phone call may not work if the other person is also waiting.

 

Third,

anticipating the awkwardness of dating. It takes time to know if your personalities “mesh.” If you hang out a few times and it fizzles out, that’s okay.

 

Fourth,

asking the other to step forward if you are doing all the initiating. For friendships to grow, there needs to be a give and take. Sometimes, individuals get comfortable in the roles they have found through family or marriage as the go-getting or receiver, but a new friendship requires new flexibility.

 

Fifth,

understanding that the best friends for you right now might be very different from the friends you’ve had. Those with the external match up (Football! Homeschooling! Bunches of children! Same church!) may not match up internally for what you need right now. There are benefits to be gained when the other is busy in different ways than you.

 

Frech advises, identify what you need. Are you looking for intellectual stimulation? Are you looking for in-person friendships which social media cannot fulfill? Do you need someone with shared values because those you’re surrounded with have a different worldview? Once you know, you can start actively looking for that person by going to places where people are (because you can’t do this at home!).

Then ask, date, and see where the road takes you.