Friday, July 14, 2017

Places of Pilgrimage

For Bastille Day, we join George Piggford in looking at the O'Connors' pilgrimage to Lourdes.

In spring 1958 Flannery O’Connor embarked on her one and only trip to Europe. Although, as Brad Gooch has noted, O’Connor styled herself an “accidental pilgrim,” this trip was primarily one of pilgrimage, especially to the famous Marian shrine in Lourdes, France.

After spending some time with her friends Sally and Robert Fitzgerald in Italy and visiting Paris, O’Connor traveled with her mother and a group of other Georgia pilgrims to Lourdes. There in 1858 the Virgin Mary reportedly appeared to a young woman named Bernadette Soubirous. The centenary of this event inspired O’Connor’s “Cousin Katie” Semmes to suggest—or really, insist upon—the trip. Her hope was that the healing properties attributed to the waters at the shrine might be beneficial to O’Connor’s worsening health.

Although O’Connor declared in a letter to Elizabeth Hester that “I am one of those people who could die for his religion easier than take a bath for it,” she did make the journey to that holy site, in her own words, “as a pilgrim.” After some resistance and “with bad grace,” she entered the pool in turn with the other malades. She was understandably dismayed by the unsanitary conditions of the common bath, the shared “sack that you take a bath in,” and the “thermos bottle of Lourdes water” passed around from pilgrim to pilgrim that “everybody had a drink out of.”
“Somebody in Paris told me the miracle at Lourdes is that there are no epidemics, and I found this to be the truth,” she later quipped to Elizabeth Bishop; “apparently nobody catches anything.” 
After a return to Italy and a special blessing by Pope Pius XII at the Vatican, O’Connor and her mother travelled home to Andalusia. By the end of the year O’Connor reported to Hester that “the trip to Lourdes has effected some improvement in my bones,” which, according to her doctors, “were beginning to recalcify.”

Cousin Katie, who was herself very ill in Savannah, was thrilled to hear of this improvement. Despite O’Connor’s sardonic comments about the pilgrimage, she was herself open to, and suspected that she might have experienced, the power of the miraculous. She added in the same letter to Hester: “Before we went they told me I would never be off the crutches. Since last week I am being allowed to walk around the house without them.”

O’Connor even attributed renewed progress on the novel The Violent Bear It Away to her experience on the pilgrimage. “I am by no means finished,” she wrote to Hester, “but at least I know that it’s possible. I must say I attribute this to Lourdes more than the recalcifying bone. Anyway it means more to me.” Certainly the European trip reinvigorated her body, at least temporarily, as well as her literary imagination.

* * *

Although I have never been to Lourdes, like O’Connor I have travelled as a pilgrim to Rome and the Vatican, on the occasion of the 2009 International Flannery O’Connor Conference at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross. But the closest I’ve come to a visit similar to O’Connor’s at Lourdes was my first trip to Milledgeville and Andalusia ten years ago.

My first stop in Milledgeville was at Memory Hill Cemetery and O’Connor’s flat stone grave. Some visitors leave peacock feathers or flowers. I brought a rosary made of Jerusalem stone and draped it on the tablet, near the “IHS” (for Iesus Salvator Hominum, Jesus, Savior of Men). I prayed for the repose of O’Connor’s soul, and of her father’s and mother’s, and I asked Flannery to pray for me.

I then drove through the heart of Milledgeville and to the property of Andalusia. Like many before me, I wasn’t sure what to expect, other than a wooden farmhouse and some fields and trees. I had been praying for a renewal in my academic work, a new direction and a new start, and this desire inspired the visit. I wanted, like many, to gain a better sense of the world that formed O’Connor’s imagination and her writing.

After pulling my car behind the house, I wandered around the backyard a bit, came up to the front door, opened it, and entered. It struck me as a simple place, frankly in need of some repair. The most fascinating room, to the left of the entrance, was roped off and contained an enticing bookcase filled with various volumes from O’Connor’s own library. The crutches, too, were there—not hundreds as at Lourdes. Just one aluminum pair.

Craig Amason, who was then director of the property, greeted me warmly. I purchased a couple of O’Connor books, the latest issue of The Flannery O’Connor Review, and a bumper sticker that declares in the words of Hazel Motes, “No man with a good car needs to be justified.”

I then strolled around the property a bit more, and eventually, downhill from the front porch of the farmhouse, I circled a small pond covered in algae. Looking at a photo of it now, it reminds me of O’Connor’s description of the pool at Lourdes, stagnant and unhealthy. To my knowledge, no one currently bathes in it or believes its waters to be in any way medicinal, physically or spiritually.

Still, that visit was in its own way transformative. I discovered then a new subject for my literary criticism and a new, powerful enthusiasm. As a Catholic I feel close to O’Connor, as one can to the souls who have gone before us, to all the departed and to the Communion of Saints. As I write about her work and think about her life, I intuit a deeper connection to O’Connor as a fellow believer and as someone who is both dead and still, mysteriously, alive.

I am certain that I am not the only one who perceives Andalusia to be, if not quite a shrine, a holy place where God was loved and suffering was endured, and, yes, where witty comments were made amidst many moments of grace.

George Piggford, C.S.C., is a Catholic priest and Associate Professor of English at Stonehill College in Easton, MA. His “Mrs. May’s Dark Night in Flannery O’Connor’s ‘Greenleaf’” appears in Christianity and Literature.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

On Andalusia's Book Club

This forthcoming Thursday morning at Andalusia is one of my newfound joys out here at the farm: the monthly meeting of the Book Club. We’ll be taking a look at Wise Blood, and while the novel itself came together while Flannery was up north and away from Andalusia, there’s only so far that the place of composition and setting of that novel can get us before we’re grounded once more in the style and wit of Flannery’s Andalusia years.

I’ll do my best to replicate Dr. Bruce Gentry’s leadership for the next couple of meetings. Fortunately, my own teaching days are replete with O’Connor, and even this past term I featured Wise Blood on my freshmen syllabus, and I’ve been revisiting some of the more controversial and counterintuitive readings I’ve encountered in preparing to teach. I try not to openly disagree or dismiss any reading; rather, my aim is always to get my fellow readers (in the above case, they’re students, too) to delve ever deeper whenever possible. Such is the substance of that wonderful lifelong learning; one must not be ever satisfied with one interpretation.

My own teaching resources aside, I found myself revisiting some of my students’ thoughts on the novel; those first impressions were quite a freshening of my experience with the novel. The visceral reactions to Hazel’s and Sabbath Lily’s “romance” were especially useful in that I never can quite crack the shell on many of Flannery’s fictional romances. Their responses pull Flannery back into the real world for me, out of the, ahem, haze of academics’ takes.

That dose of the real world is really the substance of a visit to Andalusia in the first place. The wit present in all those books and letters and essays is the same one who lived through the door at the back corner of my office, and I need reminding of that as often as possible. Flannery, after all, did much the same thing as we will this Thursday; there’s a rich tradition of literary discussion and readings here among the local intelligentsia. We’re proud to keep that alive, and we’ll look to fill all our chairs on the morning of the 29th.

One of many sets of visitors to Andalusia

Daniel Wilkinson is Andalusia's Visitor Services Manager and Bon Vivant. Andalusia's Book Club is held on the last Thursday of each month. For July 27th, we'll be taking a look at "Good Country People.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

On Father's Day, for Edward O'Connor

Several years ago during my graduate student days, as part of hosting Dr. Avis Hewitt of Grand Valley State University and her students in their forays into the archives at Georgia College, I was fortunate enough to have lunch with the late Dr. William Sessions at the Brown-Stetson-Sanford House. He spoke briefly to the students of the role of Edward O’Connor in the development of his daughter’s literary talents. Dr Sessions’s looks into the written materials from Edward show a man with no small talent in the written word: apt turns of phrase and rhetorical devices abounded, he said, with a demonstrable desire to improve as well. I wonder, sometimes, had his talents blossomed, if Edward would have come to be another poetic voice describing the horrors of World War I. Living in the shadow of the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Savannah and growing up in the care of a man with literary aspirations, it is no surprise Flannery became the literary figure known to us now; Flannery confessed in a letter to Betty Hester that she carried a great deal of Edward within her sensibilities. (Indeed—I think Flannery, especially in her childhood, looks a great deal like him.)

Edward O’Connor’s life during Flannery’s childhood is a familiar one of the age. Finding sustainable work during the Depression frequently proved difficult, and traveling to and from jobs was part and parcel of Edward’s life. Such is the familiar story of the father whose role in providing for his family entails some time apart from his loved ones. He found himself working in Atlanta and came to Milledgeville to be with Regina and Flannery in his final months. Lupus claimed Edward’s life on February 1, 1941, not long after his 45th birthday. His grave sits in Milledgeville’s Memory Hill, alongside Regina’s and Flannery’s.

And thus on this hot, sunny Sunday at Andalusia we celebrate the life of a man who likely didn’t spend a great deal of time here outside of a few special occasions. What he did offer is the hope of every good father: a legacy. I think he’d be gratified beyond measure to know that it’s a literary giant. Those of us here can only offer our thanks and a Happy Fathers’ Day.
Edward O'Connor

Daniel Wilkinson is Andalusia's Bon Vivant and Ricky Wilkinson's son. 

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Bon Vivant Under a Hot Tin Roof

In recent months, I have been a bit spoiled by uncharacteristically pleasant weather. A mild Winter made for a very long Spring indeed, and I can’t say that I minded it. My peach farming friends will disagree, of course, but a modicum of sweaters and long sleeves will engender few complaints from me. But my Spring has given way to a heat wave and sent me inside.

Visitors to the farm will remember that the authentic experience we try for here entails the removal of the air conditioning unit formerly attached to the downstairs office’s window. But all is not lost, of course; over 150 middle Georgia summers have gone through these walls, and those within them were no worse for the wear. There’s architecture to use to our advantage: great big windows and doors for a cross wind, and the glorious attic fan for the hot air that gets trapped in the first floor’s ceiling. A couple extra fans help in places like the bath and dining room where the air can sit rather heavily, and all of a sudden there’s a pleasant breeze here.

While I may dislike their tendencies to lose limbs in storms, our trees are a summertime help that largely weren’t around in Flannery’s day. Pictures of the farm from Flannery’s day show a landscape that was far more open; shade was at a premium, and space for cattle took precedence. A little time and good fortune has given us a set of trees and shade at all hours of the day. I am especially fond of the Live Oak by the front steps and what I think is a cedar by the window of my office. (I am a poor botanist—my apologies if I’ve misidentified something!)

Heat builds character, and if the first couple of weeks of June are any indication, this summer will be a characterful one indeed.  We may have lost something in our constitutions in longing for air conditioning as we do.  I must not be spoiled by Willis Carrier. Each summer’s day brings a new appreciation of Flannery’s and Regina’s resilience, and if they could make a go of it, I can too (at least once a breeze kicks in).

Daniel Wilkinson is Andalusia's Bon Vivant and needs a glass of ice water. 

Friday, June 2, 2017

Photography on the Farm

I tend to tell our guests out here that I get the fun jobs out here at the farm—event hosting, tour leading, and the like. Our visitors keep the place and Flannery’s fiction fresh for me, out of what she called the darkness of the familiar. For that I’m grateful, and even moreso when our guests come armed with a camera and a willingness to share what they see here on their visits.

There’s first those visitors who have their phones in hand when they come in the door. The ubiquity of the cell phone camera is an aspect of modern society that I’m not completely sure I buy into, but I have a tough time arguing the point when I see folks’ first looks into Flannery’s room. A visitor from Wisconsin just this week spent more than a few moments at Flannery’s doorway, taking several shots as overhead clouds brought new shadows and diffused light in what would otherwise be a bright room over the course of a summer day. Even folks who don’t have much experience with Flannery’s fiction tend to linger a bit in the kitchen and dining room with their cameras as memories of grandmothers and old country homes come back to mind.

Visually, there’s a great deal to offer at Andalusia for our photographer friends. Professional photographers find a spot for their clients out here that’s far removed from the unsightliness and noisiness of daily traffic, and even on our busy days there’s always a quiet corner or two to set up a shot. On a recent Sunday, a future Flannery fan’s first birthday photoshoot was held out here and shared to our Facebook page; I can say without question that that little guy was the highlight of my day. The iron pot on the front porch of the Hill House has never been put to cuter use.

In town, the abandoned buildings of Central State Hospital have been a popular spot for photoessayists due largely to the stark and austere beauty of a big building left to the elements for decades. How they get in those buildings and survive I’ll never know; I can only imagine the tentative steps as what should be a solid floor sways and squishes under foot. The beauty here, meanwhile, is a far more charitable and welcoming version of austerity—we called it simplicity in years past, and that’s the lifestyle I try to celebrate as we welcome folks to the farm.
We offer special thanks to one of our volunteers, Jack Yu of Milledgeville, for the use of this photo. 
Daniel Wilkinson is Andalusia's Visitor Services Manager and Bon Vivant

Friday, May 26, 2017

A Habit of Being Habit

A confession popped out yesterday morning during the monthly meeting of the book club: I, the person attempting to lead this meeting of the book club, had not read The Habit of Being. I did quickly qualify my seeming faux pas, however, in saying that I had not read Flannery’s collected correspondence cover-to-cover. That, I hope saved me from further embarrassment in front of those who attended. 

All that is, of course, not to say that I don’t enjoy the letters; they display the same wit and sharpness that the fiction does. I prefer to tackle the letters topically. Our aged clothbound copy of Habit here in our office at the farm is annotated in just that way, and I’ve been spoiled to a great degree by the quality of the note-taking done therein by our directors. But with annotations and do-it-yourself indexing comes some rather undisciplined usage of sticky notes, and they give our copy a well-used air. That’s a good look for a book and reminds me of what my minister used to say long ago about the quality of life for those who have a well-used Bible. Hardly any aspect of Flannery’s time here goes unnoticed, and their efforts in that that old copy of Habit are borne out in the experiences that our visitors have here.

My personal copy of the Library of America’s Collected Works of O’Connor has a little more grace about it in my refusal to use sticky notes (lest that wonderfully austere black dust jacket be upstaged by a neon yellow slip of paper), but its level of use approaches that of the farm’s Habit of Being. The ends of its pages are yellow from the chalk of the high school classroom I worked in. The bookmark is frayed at the end, and there’s a chunk of the cloth missing from an unexpected meeting with the ground after falling from my bookbag years ago. One day, I’ll steal a few annotations for the smaller collection of letters in the LoA’s volume, and then that book will indeed have that “lived-in” air, though I intend to keep my moratorium on sticky notes.

For now, however, I’ll get back into Habit more frequently as I refine the non-literary portions of our guests’ experience. If Mystery and Manners can get us inside the fiction, Habit lets us in on daily life here in Flannery’s day. Making Habit a habit, too, saves me from future missteps in front of the book club!

Daniel Wilkinson is Andalusia's Bon Vivant and Visitor Services Manager

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Collaborating with the Neighbors

In her almost 15 years at Andalusia, Flannery started an important tradition that we’re proud to carry on today. When her daily 9-ish to noon time in front of the typewriter concluded, Flannery frequently received guests, from renowned authors like Katherine Anne Porter to local clergy and teachers. The exchange of exciting ideas and new projects was important to those in Flannery’s circle, and they remain so for Andalusia in the modern day in the form of Thursdalusia and our book club.

Thursdalusia, our third Thursday open mic (without the mic), sees local musicians, storytellers, poets, and, once, even a drum circle descend upon the Nail House deck in Flannery’s backyard for their five minutes of fame. Even folks like me who are amateurish musicians and rather poor poets find a little niche in lifting a good joke or story; I prefer the witty “backwards” fairy tales of the great Archie Campbell. No act is too tough to follow, and the critics are few and far between.

There are slightly more critics at the monthly book club meetings, but they’re equally as inviting and gracious. The last Thursday morning of each month entails a discussion of one O’Connor story or novel, beginning at 10:30. I’m grateful to be leading this month’s discussion of one of my favorite stories, “Parker’s Back.” Having taught this story to my freshman students a few times, I’m grateful for the chance to discuss it with some more mature and seasoned readers. Tattoos, thankfully, are optional this Thursday morning. Wise Blood is next month, by the by, so read ahead!

These recurring events are part and parcel of experiencing Andalusia; reading and writing are as much a part of the farm as the barn and pastures. I return to that sentiment that appears here so often: creating and nurturing a lifelong love of learning. Iron sharpens iron in these collaborative events; I relish the poem that puts a new spin on old wisdom or a new view of a story I’ve read a hundred times that shakes me out of a critical rut. New ideas are powerful things, and they’re the currency of Andalusia’s Thursday programming.

Daniel Wilkinson hosts Thursdalusia and is Andalusia's Bon Vivant

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Holding the Hand that Rocks the Cradle

While we tend to focus on Flannery in this space and at the farm, today is a good occasion to appreciate a different resident of Andalusia’s Main House, Regina Cline O’Connor. Much like her daughter, Regina was a lady of many talents. In my mind’s eye, I see her changing in the blink of an eye from a hard-charging and determined businesswoman to a skilled hostess to a dutiful caretaker for a sickened daughter.

The preceding is not to say, of course, that their relationship didn’t have its problems. For Flannery, I’m sure that being called home from a “writerly” sort of life in and around New York City for medical reasons frustrated her immensely; her movement from Milledgeville to the Fitzgeralds’ home in Connecticut was several years in the making, of course, beginning with her first move to Iowa and then to Saratoga Springs, NY, and the Yaddo writers’ colony. Flannery’s lupus diagnosis proved a quick end to her time away from home. That kind of drastic change in lifestyle was bound to create some tension, but, like any good relationship, they no doubt found themselves good complements for one another.

Art needs patrons, and Flannery had one in her mother. In The Habit of Being, Flannery had her doubts that Regina understood the full import of her fiction, but in that farm life Regina facilitated, Flannery found inspiration for the fiction. So too, in refining her works and her inner being by welcoming the local intelligentsia, Flannery needed a hostess—not just someone to offer a drink and a snack, but someone to make that house a more welcoming place. Regina fit the bill very well, and though Flannery might have put a couple wry comments around the “hostessing” act, I imagine she appreciated Regina’s welcoming those visitors in the midst of her daily duties on the farm.

Regina’s handiwork is still evident at Andalusia, of course. The curtains in the front two rooms are the results of her talents as a seamstress. Indeed, our exhibition last year concerning Mid-20th Century fashions focused a great deal on Regina’s talents at sewing. Meanwhile, I am sure that running a dairy farm and keeping its books was no easy task.

Thus, on Mother’s Day, the rest of the staff and I thank all of our mothers for bringing us into the world. I always tell our guests from my hometown’s part of Georgia that we’d all best act right, lest someone see us and get word back to our mothers. That’s partially a joke—somewhere, sometime, someone’s going to know Mom. My “joke” is also a wish that we live in such a way as to make self-evident our Mom’s contribution to our characters.

Daniel Wilkinson, Andalusia's Bon Vivant, is Robin Wilkinson's son. 

Friday, May 5, 2017

A Weekend of Departures

This weekend, Milledgeville and Georgia College say its annual goodbye to its graduates. Black robed figures will fill the auditoria and gyms to the music of Edward Elgar and hear, one hopes, words of inspiration and gratitude. Some—those I’ll call “the lucky ones”—will stay on here in town, working, going to graduate school, or both. Others take what they’ve learned into a whole new walk of life elsewhere.

Graduation is a pretty big event around here; one would expect as much in a town that now boasts three postsecondary schools. Flannery showed as much in “A Late Encounter with the Enemy,” where a small Southern college elects to celebrate an aged Confederate “Colonel” at its commencement exercises. The Confederate veterans may have, ahem, Gone with the Wind, but the occasion and grandeur of it all stays.

There is one departure among all the various hundreds, however, that hits a little closer to home. Abbey Lee Orr, our visitor services manager and the smiling face that greets folks both in person and virtually via emails and social media, departs with her husband Paul for Philadelphia in the coming days. She has along the way managed to get along with and indeed soften my stodgy and cantankerous ways—efforts that will, if I have anything to say of it, earn her at least one Nobel Prize. Abbey’s efforts at the farm are wide and varied and invariably meticulously meted out. But there’s far more to her departure.

In amongst all the puppy stories, art projects, and greatly deleterious fast food lunches, I have no mere coworker, no mere person behind the desk in an adjoining office. I have a friend. And one feels happy for friends at times like this—going off to the bright lights and big city to begin a new chapter of life. But I am all too human, and thereby selfishly feel sad at times like this. When I need a sincere word, a new perspective on an old problem, or even a person to hear my latest bad joke, I’ll look over and not find Abbey. Registering her absence will take some time. But do so I shall, and look eagerly to the bright days ahead, as I take on her responsibilities at the farm and she forges a whole new life in parts north.

When this entry posts, Abbey and I will have said our goodbyes after our last shift together at Andalusia, and Georgia College’s newly minted graduates will be readying their robes—departures will be the order of this weekend. Our world of social media and telecommunications won’t bridge the corporeal gap created by this weekend’s departures, but they’re a start, and a reminder that this indeed is a joyful time, and joy is lasting; sadness is ephemeral. Among those walking in graduation are our visitors, volunteers, and students, and I hope that in some small way their time at Andalusia has spurred them on to become the lifelong learners their teachers hope them to be. Come back to see us early and often. To Abbey, I can but promise to try my level best to pay forward to others the joy that working with you has offered me. Thank you.
Daniel Wilkinson is Andalusia's Bon Vivant and an Instructor of English at Georgia College. 

Friday, April 28, 2017

A Sanctuary's Sanctuary

A tour this morning at Andalusia was greeted not just by yours truly, but by the peafowl, as well: their enthusiastic voices rang out around the farm for most of the morning. Springtime is an active season for Manley II and Joy/Hulga, of course, between his attempts to get her attention with a dancing spread of the tailfeathers and her steadfast refusal to pay him much mind. Their seeming disagreements during the dances notwithstanding, there are some rare moments of seeming agreement between the two of them: choral singing. I speak, of course, of the distinctive peafowl call. It’s somewhere between anguish and exuberance, and I really can’t tell which unless I see a hawk overhead. Manley II, younger, has a sort of bluegrassy tenor voice, Joy a deeper alto. In good times, it’s a pleasant shout; in bad, a full-throated honk that would make a whole flock of geese take notice. Flannery said in one of the letters that she stopped counting at 50 peafowl. I can only imagine the hue and cry if they all starting going at once. 

Flannery’s birds had some practical uses, as well, though I wonder if they were outweighed by the birds’ tendencies toward volume and flower bed ruination. (I think chiefly of that wonderful anecdote from Alice Walker’s mother, who, during a visit to the farm years ago with her daughter, was unimpressed by a spreading of tailfeathers and instead told Alice that those things would “eat up every bloom you’ve got if you’re not careful.”) Appetites for destruction aside, between her peafowl, geese, ducks, guineas, chickens, and heaven only knows what else, I am sure the insect situation at Andalusia was firmly in hand. I would think that there’d be hardly any of our now ubiquitous mosquitos and such with all that avian activity. Furthermore, some of those chickens likely became, for lack of a better term, 8-piece buckets on special occasions.

The foregoing, of course, are just the domesticated birds of Andalusia. There’s still a contingent of wild turkeys in the vicinity that sometimes find themselves by the horse barn or on the hiking trail, and the ever-present crows and aforementioned hawks will periodically battle over prime perching space within earshot. 

We are, in short, a bird sanctuary within a bird sanctuary. Those honks and screeches of the peacocks are but slightly discordant notes over the course of our days, but they’re charming and endearing. We, of course, welcome you to come sing along with them—Manley’s got to dance for someone, after all.
Daniel Wilkinson is Andalusia's Bon Vivant and Peacock Choir Director  

Friday, April 14, 2017

Visiting Flannery

For Good Friday, we are pleased to offer this poem by Alice Friman.
--Daniel Wilkinson, Editor
Visiting Flannery 

Across the pond and up the hill
from where I sit, the lady’s house—
her room of crutches and ugly drapes,
the flat and sorry pillow. Her Royal
turned for concentration to a wall.

I come often, greet the orphaned space,
wave when I leave. But today, Good Friday,
I wonder what she’d think—this Yankee
heretic, two generations from steerage,
scribbling by her pond across from
the screened-in porch where afternoons
she’d rest, enjoying her peahens’
strut and feed. How old is too young
with so much left to do? Even the barn,
reliving her story of what happened there,
is buckled to its knees.

Suddenly, a flash from the water—
fish or frog—and I too late
to catch the shine. The Georgia sun
dizzies my head and I am no saint.
Nor was she, although there’s some
who’d unsalt the stew to make her one.
Still, I like to imagine—before the final
transfusions and the ACTH that
ballooned her face past recognition—
the two of us sitting here, watching the trees
sway upside down in sky-water, ecstatic
in the bright kingdom she refracted in a drop.

Funny how two pairs of eyes fifty years apart
make one in sight: a country pond
floats a heaven, and patches of trillium
spread their whites, laying a cloth for Easter.
She smirks. Easy imagery. We do not speak,
both knowing what won’t sustain when clouds
roar in like trouble, the trillium inching
toward water, fluttering like the unbaptized
lost, or the ghost pages of an unwritten book.

Poet, Alice Friman, is Professor Emerita of English and creative writing at the University of Indianapolis, and Poet-in-Residence at Georgia College & State University. She has published six full-length collections of poetry: The View from Saturn, Vinculum, The Book of the Rotten Daughter, Zoo, Inverted Fire, and Reporting from Corinth.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Rainy Nights in Georgia

This past week has been an adventurous one, to say the least. Two days’ worth of tornadic weather joined the disastrous fire on that Atlanta interstate, and we topped it all off with an earthquake under Lake Sinclair that measured a 2.5 on the Richter Scale. If there ever was a weekend that called for watching a golf tournament and early-season baseball, this one surely qualifies. “Therapy sports,” one might call them.

However, with severe weather comes some additional responsibilities for us at the farm. One of the trees in the front yard lost a significant section of its main trunk in this week’s high winds, which have continued over the course of this week. Further, the needs of the horse barn stand in ever sharper relief as sections of the tin roof report in the stiff breeze. Even the peacocks take precautions: their heat lamp is still humming along in these cooler evenings, despite the calendar’s insistence that Spring has arrived.

Storms can even get the law involved out here, oddly enough. Thunder “right on top of the house” as my grandmother would put it has in the past set off the security system in the main house, and yours truly was almost to row up to the house in a driving summer storm a year ago with a member of Milledgeville’s finest. That officer had never been here as a tourist; while the rain died down, I gave him the condensed version of the house tour.

I won’t mind a little cooperation from Mother Nature this weekend, and I’m sure that mass of visitors in Augusta would prefer to be dry. If the weather holds this weekend, we will locate some volunteers and a chainsaw or two, and the front yard will appear roughly normal in short order. Then, maybe, I can see how the pros deal with it all over in Augusta.

Daniel Wilkinson is Andalusia's Bon Vivant and has been known to make very large divots on local golf courses.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Happy Birthday, Flannery!

Today, we celebrate what would have been Flannery O’Connor’s 92nd birthday. Some new friends from Iowa making their “pilgrimage” to Milledgeville even brought a cake to the farm to mark the occasion. Flannery’s 91st birthday fell on Good Friday, and thus the day was rendered slightly less festive, but the 92nd brings with it the first right and proper days of Spring. It was a beautiful day for a celebration. I’m sure our friends down in Savannah at the Childhood Home celebrated in style today, as well. Were she with us to take part, I’m sure she’d have a sardonic comment and a wry smile over Coke, coffee, and cake.

Flannery didn’t have too much to say concerning birthdays, outside of a couple pearls of wisdom in The Habit of Being that extol the virtues of childhood after growing into adulthood. Surviving childhood, she held, taught one all that was required to succeed. Her dictum may be a bit reductive and smack of all those meddlesome teachers and “innerleckshuls” found in her fiction, but we can forgive someone who had only 39 birthdays of wanting to learn efficiently. So too, birthdays that occurred at Andalusia had the specter of lupus hanging over them; aging, no doubt, came painfully.

However, as the blooms take over the plants and Manley Pointer II readies his new crop of tailfeathers, new beginnings hover all around Flannery’s birthday, too. As Flannery would look to Easter and the Lenten season for renewal, we can look merely to the arrival of Spring to get that sense of novelty and vitality this time of year. Thus, in the spirit of birthdays and new beginnings, we look to her fiction and life and find ourselves transformed in the ways that she’d shout at our “hard-of-hearing” egos and “almost blind” senses of self. Thank you, Flannery, and happy birthday.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Behind A Guided Tour

With the arrival of Spring and its warm days, the tour season is upon us at the farm. While we do our best to show all of our visitors the ins and outs of life at Andalusia, sometimes those busy days get the best of us and there’s just too many folks to greet. That’s, of course, a good problem; I relish a house full of visitors. One of the reasons I enjoy the tour groups, though, is the ability to slow down a little bit. All of us have a few standard stories that we tell to the visitors, but a good tour is not all boilerplate. I rather like to digress, as if my entries on this blog haven’t given me up already, and I’ll divulge where I get some of my anecdotes.

One, of course, is Brad Gooch’s biography. Gooch’s research and interviews with folks who knew Flannery personally are an invaluable resource for questions about how daily life went for her and Regina. The pictures in that book, while largely familiar to most of us, are a page flip away for those who have never seen daily life at Andalusia during its days as a functional farm.

Further interviews with personal acquaintances of Flannery are available in a volume compiled on behalf of Andalusia by our former director, Craig Amason, and Dr. Bruce Gentry, Professor of English at Georgia College and a member of our board of directors. The folks in At Home With Flannery knew the O’Connors personally and interacted with Flannery and Regina in various capacities, from local business owners to piano teachers, and their perspectives provide me with a useful third set of eyes. These folks bring me out of what Flannery called “the darkness of the familiar” in one of her letters.

My most frequently-consulted source is, indeed, our old, heavily annotated The Habit of Being. Our directors put (here I’ll use a precise, scientific measurement) a whole slew of sticky notes and place markers in a hardback copy of Habit that point to specific structures and people unique to Andalusia. These highlights cover everything from Flannery’s visitors to farmhands’ family crises to the news of what flowers the birds recently took to eating. They’re Flannery’s words and feelings, of course, but she’s a fair reporter, I think. Sheer use has given that volume a bit of a lean and a couple of bare places in the cloth cover, but I won’t replace it anytime soon.

Thus, there’s more than physical renovations happen out on the farm. It’s my goal never to give the same tour twice. I try to hit the highlights that everyone’s there to see and hear about, but I try too to find some particular interests: the things a group has recently read, their experience with farmhouses of our vintage, and the like. The principle, as I frequently state in this space, is to engender a lifelong love of learning in our visitors through our love of our space and our writer. And if I have to go read compelling interviews and pithy, witty letters to give our visitors something to remember, I’d say we’re all winners!

Daniel Wilkinson is an Instructor of English at Georgia College and Andalusia's Bon Vivant. 

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Lent on the Farm

With Ash Wednesday on March 1st, the Lenten season has begun. Ashen foreheads were prevalent about Milledgeville on Wednesday, and no doubt many discussions took place about what luxuries and comforts will be given up during the next forty days. In our grand tradition of missing the point on purpose, my Grandmother and I always gave up rutabagas and Brussels sprouts this time every year, and our Springtimes have been unanimously wonderful. We are pleased to carry on with such a bewildering array of lifestyle changes this year, of course. If it ain’t broke. . .

Those who give up things that they actually like during this time of year will likely say that refusing a couple of life’s luxuries in order to replace them with increased focus on the divine is a greatly enriching experience. I have no cause to doubt them, and I suspect that the irreligious amongst us can agree in principle. Many of us find that the “off the grid” aspects of a vacation—when we can turn the phones off, let the email program auto-reply for us, and stay out of conference rooms—are the most vital aspects of getting away, long before the luxuries of our destination have their effects on us. We can, to borrow a phrase from a certain Roman Catholic writer, with one eye squinted take a sacrifice as a blessing.

This spirit has put Easter atop the list of my favorite holidays. The sacrifices of Lent and the mournfulness of Holy Week give way on Easter Sunday to celebration and a renewed sense of purpose and direction. Even the sacred music that churches use during this time of year reflects this range of emotions; to answer Friday’s “Were You There?” with Sunday morning’s “Hallelujah Chorus” gets at the transformative nature that the preceding forty days are supposed to have on those who participate.

We can’t get you permanently off the grid out at the farm, but we can offer a little peace and quiet on the trail or the porches. Even during the times when I’m a bit swamped with some behind-the-scenes duties at Andalusia, a quiet moment with Manley II and Joy at the aviary can be just enough of a “detox” that brings back my sense of focus. A little renewal can go a long way indeed.

Sacred Heart Catholic Church, site of many an Ash Wednesday for Flannery and Regina O'Connor

Daniel Wilkinson is an Instructor of English at Georgia College, Bon Vivant at Andalusia, and was for a recent Lent season, Interim Minister of Music at First United Methodist Church of Milledgeville.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

And the Award Goes To:

I must confess: I’ve never been an avid Oscars watcher. Likely stemming from a tendency to stay away from movie theaters, the awards have always been more of a news item to read during the following Monday morning than appointment viewing. I’ve always been one to wait a while and watch a movie from the comfort of my own couch than to head off to the cineplex, save for a now yearly convoy of several friends to the latest Star Wars release.

One might think that teaching would put me in a theater seat more often in order to stay apprised of new developments on the adaptations front, but literary adaptations have not done well for themselves in recent years, especially adaptations of Southern literature. I think immediately of James Franco’s attempts at As I Lay Dying and The Sound and the Fury; Faulkner is hard to even read, much less to put on camera. I have to go back to No Country for Old Men for the last time a Southern work made award-season hay, and even then I have to stretch a good bit to put Cormac McCarthy into the Southern canon. 

I am cautiously optimistic about the forthcoming version of “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” being written by Benedict Fitzgerald, the son of Sally and Robert Fitzgerald. As far as literary adaptations go, Fitzgerald has a writing credit for John Huston’s Wise Blood and a wonderful TV miniseries version of Moby Dick with Patrick Stewart and Gregory Peck, so I’m hopeful for this film. However, the most engaging moments in “A Good Man” take place on a back road and in dialogue between only two characters, and all the while some starkly violent things are happening off in the woods, largely out of our view. It will require some, shall we say, interesting directorial work to film a story about a whole family’s getting murdered while dealing with some rather deep theology at the same time.

Adaptations of Flannery’s fiction have been hit-and-miss over the years. As much as Brad Dourif has spoiled me with his Hazel Motes from Huston’s Wise Blood, the rest of the movie doesn’t quite “sing” like the novel, but I suspect I am biased in favor of prose. My favorite remains The Displaced Person filmed at Andalusia, and not merely because the farm is featured in it. Glenn Jordan’s direction mirrors our view of the farm, I think; he employs long, sweeping shots of the house and landscape that show off our pond and the rolling pastures. Indeed, the production crew even refilled the pond for us at the bottom of the hill for a wonderful shot of the house. The main house and the Hill House look lived-in, but comfortable. The plot itself is quite faithful to the story, down to Mrs. McIntyre’s self-assurance and Mrs. Shortley’s fatal indignity.

Flannery’s stories, I suspect, may be rather difficult to film. That narrator of hers, at times caustic but always honest with us, is hard to replace with a camera. Actors, too, will have a tough time beating out the ones she’s put in my head. I’ll prefer, at least for the time being, to head out to the farm and have the “play” of the story set before me in the landscape.

Daniel Wilkinson is an Instructor of English at Georgia College, Bon Vivant at Andalusia, and a huge fan of Roger Ebert. 

Sunday, February 19, 2017

On First Looking Into Flannery's Homeland

The first time I visited Andalusia, I was a high school student from an adjacent county; the trip was organized, and likely funded, by my free-spirited, flower child GT teacher, and while I am sure we were assigned at least one Flannery O’Connor story, I don’t think I understood a single thing about her work. It was probably “A Good Man Is Hard to Find,” and since I knew where Toomsboro was—my father took us through there countless times when tracking down a genealogical lead or a good fishing spot—I probably responded with a “Cool” and thought very little about the brilliant and formidable writer from the next county over. In the late seventies, her name was floated around our rural community, but few of us were aspiring literary researchers, and even fewer of us thought writing a viable career path.

We were practical, the progeny of agrarians, or career military men, our mothers were at home cooking cornbread, and even those of us who wanted to read and write “literature,” stored those ideas for some future in which aliens from another solar system cured cancer with light sabers. The name Flannery O’Connor echoed quietly, like Culver Kidd, or Aaron Burr, who purportedly spent the night in the Warthen jail. It was not as common as “Silk Stocking Street,” or the official “Georgia Plate” designs--our own county’s claims to fame. O’Connor made a little rumble, but even in Milledgeville five to ten years later, O’Connor’s work and reputation seemed something stored in small pillbox, silver and velvet lined and valued, but also hidden away with the good silver and protected by those with the access key.

This woman whose writing I came to know, was still on the other side of the river. And on that day, my first time to visit Andalusia, I had to cross that river, the Oconee, and a greater, more treacherous river, the one running so swiftly, so filled with eddies and currents that it might pull me under--that river which stood between the real world and the writer. So: there the river—and me in my little high school row boat.

Across the river were the lucky few, the writers, and they weren’t real, not real like those of us who rode a schoolbus, and went fishing with our grandparents and came home covered in redbug bites. Not real like the hopeful older brothers who thought the kaolin mining industry was the new salvation.

But there I was, and there she had been—from my father’s generation, and she saw the same “Jesus Saves” signs and we both had driven through “Goat Town” and had watched the hydro-electric dam being built. The same flood of technology swept our lives, shifted our stable one-income homes, pulled our mothers into the workforce and independence.

We watched the same suffering of poverty and racial inequality rip our cultural fabric, and we watched with bulging eyes and gasping breaths as our grocery stores and our schools became barricaded, our many divided institutions rumble toward a solid and integrated system, like an earthquake reversing itself.

What do I remember of my visit to Andalusia that day? Only a few peacocks, people still farming, I think. I remember a tractor running, but maybe it’s only in my imagination, whetted by my much later reading of “The Displaced Person.” Time—even now—seems convoluted; how could I have gone there, and not seen some likely spot for Mr. Guizac’s end, or the very cow from which Asbury’s undulant fever ensued? Historically, I wasn’t so far from the years O’Connor conceived and wrote those narratives. But that first day, I knew nothing, really, of O’Connor’s characters or fictive world. And yet---

I remember rust on some of the screens, a wooden table with a cloth that partially covered it. I remember being introduced to Mrs. O’Connor, her offering us lemonade from the table in the yard. I remember her demeanor, one of kindness and suffering, of a kind of earned pride. We did not go inside. I remember a breeze , gauzy, cotton curtains flowing into the dark and hidden rooms.

I remember the sensation of being somewhere important, somewhere that was changing me, almost like a birth. I felt the way I have felt many, many times since--when reading her stories and novels and letters.

I have visited many other times, often alone, but at times with friends or family members whom I forced on pilgrimages, willing them to feel the sacred in every board or feather or pinecone (which I just now remembered calling “pinecombs” as a child). Several times, when the farm was closed to the public, I drove out highway 441, and parked somewhere close, walked back down to the entrance and touched the chain that held the sign reading “Private Property.” Once, I climbed under the chain and negotiated the dirt drive, weaving in and out of the trees to conceal myself, just to get close enough to see the house. (Gosh, I hope the statute of limitations has run out on being prosecuted for this crime--involuntary as a sneeze as it was.)

Something of Flannery still moves here. I can see it when I follow the tours, the most recent of which was with the National Endowment for the Humanities scholars this past July. The first time I touched that soil, something grew in me. Something still grows in me, a hunger for more than just her words. Her vision, I think.

Next time I visit, I plan to take off my shoes, grind the dirt between my toes, and find, once more, some molecule of the world that Flannery O’Connor wove into being. I urge anyone reading to visit. But be careful. You won’t be able to go just once. Even if a chain and sign do go up again.

Sue Whatley is a native of Georgia, transplanted to East Texas, who consoles herself on the inferior Texas versions of her beloved Georgia pine trees and red clay. She teaches at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas, and coordinates the Christian Writers Fellowship, a long-time writer’s support group there. Her BA from Georgia College, her MA from Northeast Louisiana University, and her PhD from Texas A&M, Dr. Whatley has proudly engaged Flannery O’Connor’s work with every step of her travels. When she retires, she intends to follow Flannery’s pursuits—writing and working with other writers, making people laugh, and raising peafowl, though she has no plans for teaching any of them to walk backwards.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Valentine's Day on the Farm

Valentine’s Day this year falls on a Tuesday. I have a standing trivia contest engagement each Tuesday evening, so I personally am unbothered and rather thankful that I’ll be occupied. It’s cheaper that way, to say nothing of less stressful. That does not mean, however, that I can completely avoid matters of the heart, in that the farm can be a rather romantic place. Museums have long been a solid choice for an afternoon out with a loved one, and Andalusia is no exception.

A reader of Flannery’s fiction doesn’t have to concern themselves too frequently with love stories, except for those who enjoy the travails of Manley Pointer and Hulga Hopewell. A tour of high-school students this past week was particularly well-read, and they took special enjoyment of the cow barn, having previously looked at “Good Country People” in class. They also inquired, as one would, of Erik Lankjaer, Flannery’s occasional visitor and correspondent. So much “young adult” literature is rife with thin characters and completely impossible and sickeningly sweet love stories, and it is refreshing to see those kids read and get something out of a “date” that goes so badly awry.

For all its literary significance, local and repeat visitors of Andalusia most often bring their pets and the family and focus on the scenic beauty of the place. In years past, I personally have brought a picnic and a story to share with my company; those with little or only a passing interest in O’Connor invariably came away a fan. (Or either I just read it well.) A certain set of peafowl are also a wonderful attraction; Manley Pointer I once proffered a companion of mine a fanning of his feathers and a dance, and I'll be forever grateful.

Thus, while your Tuesday may be filled with flowers and chocolates and gourmet dinners, I hope the days leading up to your February 14th can have at least one long walk and a good story. After all, flowers wilt and chocolates melt, but the company they’re enjoyed with will make them last. Cheers!

Thanks again, MP! 

Daniel Wilkinson edits Andalusia's blog when not entertaining the farm's guests and teaches English at Georgia College. 

Friday, February 3, 2017

(Mis)Adventures in the Arts

I have, in recent years, avoided New Years resolutions altogether. Usually, a vow to lose weight and read more of the untouched or unfinished books on my shelf ends up broken in circumstances that clearly are never my fault whatsoever. I end up feeling bad about it all twice over: I remain too well-fed and less well-read. This time by, I broke down and hopped back on the resolution bandwagon, intending this year to end my estrangement from the world of the visual arts. With my coworkers at Andalusia having a past in the art scene, I’d best figure it out. A visit to the Columbus (GA) Museum of Art in my younger days did not provide the revelations I had wanted. Perhaps I was too young.

To this point, then, my relationship with visual art has been fraught, to say the least. I’d like to think I’m a decent reader with a fair set of interpretive standards. I can’t seem to bring them to bear on the visual art world, however. I’ve got a very weak standard for visual art: Do I like it? For every artwork that I can get my word-addled noggin around, there’s a dozen that completely flummox me. A deceptively simple “What does it mean?” can render me completely nonplussed. The Rembrandts and Van Goghs can already stump me; by the time the abstract modernists come along and start seemingly just flinging paint at canvases, I’m hopelessly lost. Perhaps I’m asking the wrong questions.

Critics haven’t been much help to me, either. Modern art criticism has fallen on the same tendency that so bedevils modern literary criticism: impenetrability. Tom Wolfe’s The Painted Word tried its level best to provide some sunlight-as-disinfectant in 1975 with a more simplistic analysis of modern art and its critics, but left me with little to go on as far as how to understand works of art. The Painted Word was, however, a master class in crankiness, and for that I am grateful.

Flannery herself might help; we do have a reproduction of her self-portrait hanging on the wall in the front parlor, after all. Between the paintings and her cartoonist gig for the Georgia State College for Women newspaper, I suspect she’d be a good sounding board if nothing else. Unfortunately, Mystery & Manners contains only literary (and avian, if you like) criticism.

Thus, I approach our first guests to Andalusia’s February Four lecture series with a little hope in mind. Flannery’s Farrar, Strauss & Giroux paperback covers by June Glasson and Charlotte Strick have proved a striking and welcome change, and I’m looking forward to hearing and seeing how these ladies can merge the “What does it mean?” of narrative and visual arts. I’m hoping that getting inside a creative process for these artworks will give me a little help in understanding other ones. When pressed again, I want to have something a little more substantial to say than “Isn’t that nice!”

Daniel Wilkinson teaches English (fortunately for his students) at Georgia College and is a Visitor Services Assistant and Bon Vivant at Andalusia. 

Friday, January 27, 2017

The Sporting "Distractions"

Milledgeville—and indeed very nearly all of Georgia and I hope the South at large—awaits the arrival of the evening of February 5th. Right after the February Four presentation on O’Connor’s new book covers by artists June Glasson and Charlotte Strick, our Atlanta Falcons, will take the field at the Super Bowl. The franchise’s history is something out of a Flannery story, really; times of competent play and frequent victories give way invariably to ignominious defeats aplenty with little warning. With little exception, the Falcons have, in short, had Human Development hit them right between the eyes fairly consistently for fifty-one seasons, far more often than Ruby Turpin in “Revelation.” Nevertheless, a Turpin-like grieving over the Falcons’ fate remains for the fans.

All this losing over the years has contributed to no small amount of apprehension among us Atlanta faithful. We might be celebratory this week (hence the inspiration for this post), but it will yield next week to something more somber and darkly anticipatory. The Raybers of the sports world will attempt with their statistical studies and prognostications to dissuade the longtime fan of his misgivings, but the prophecies-come-true of the past fifty years are hard to ignore. Sunday afternoons on Bon Vivant duty at the farm have often been a welcome change in the Fall and Winter months, as the guests free me from the obligation of checking the score.

Flannery herself didn’t have to worry about Atlanta-area sports during her lifetime, of course, though the Georgia Bulldogs not far away in Athens likely occupied a significant enough share of the news. In the fiction, sports are largely a distraction; I think immediately of a newspaper sports section that occupies Bailey’s mind at the beginning of “A Good Man Is Hard to Find.” I hope Flannery would be a little heartened by Atlanta’s uniting in support of the Falcons during a, shall we say, contentious moment in our country.

Our modern Andalusia has turned toward the sporting world to good effect, however. Our warm January has brought the outdoorsy folks an early taste of Spring, and they’ve taken advantage of what the farm offers. Our hiking trail and open spaces bring a fairly consistent number of local, repeat visitors inside our gates, and we’re happy to have them and their frisbees and footballs as often as they’ll join us. It’s my hope we’ll have the full range of guests on a warm February Sunday forthcoming: the lecture audience, the faraway travelers on a literary pilgrimage, and the picnicking hikers. Cheers!

In Iowa, Flannery takes to UGA apparel amid the snow and cold. Notwithstanding her time in Connecticut, I feel she would take the Falcons over New England next week, if for no other reason that their mascot is a bird. 

Daniel Wilkinson, a Visitor Services Assistant and Bon Vivant at Andalusia, is a poor football prognosticator but tries his best.  

Friday, January 20, 2017

Flannery in the Time of Politics

Last December, I was heartened by an article in the Paris Review concerning "The Displaced Person" and David Griffith's ability to find therein some personal help on a hot-button issue.  I found myself encouraged not necessarily because I agreed with his policy thoughts or even his interpretation of the story itself, but for the essayist's ability to look into the views of someone whom he believes to have been a bit too recalcitrant for her own good on social issues.  Flannery's biography or theology might not provide a ready list of virtues for him, but her art does. Griffith finds in literature a possible solution to a big, troublesome, societal-level problem, and surely that's a step in the right direction.  In much the same way, when Flannery looks to rural Protestants for her characters, I am encouraged that someone so different than they can use them so deftly and, oddly enough, believably. 

Reading Flannery should remind us that history is a long time in its making, and philosophy even longer.  David Griffith found out as much when he struggles with the immigration issue nearly six decades after Flannery's own foray into the topic.  I look over the fields here and can but imagine what they looked like when they were being plowed by the real Displaced People. Teaching Wise Blood this week, I found myself wondering what Hazel Motes would think about whether or not his "Church Without Christ" might still be with us today, hiding out under a more palatable label. I cannot be discouraged that these big issues haven't been solved yet, even though minds far greater than my own have fought round after round over them. In trying to avoid the rancor of modern politics, we can find an example not very far away.

In hosting the various members of the Milledgeville intelligentsia here at the farm, I can find in Flannery's own life an example of how those with opposing views enrich and sharpen me. From professors to businesspeople to poets to holy men of all stripes, they were welcomed here by a warm hostess and their ideas found clear, reasoned voice and, more importantly, gracious reception. May we all be so joyously inviting. More importantly, may we evaluate these ideas soberly and righteously and continue to welcome those who espouse those ideas.

It's a unique privilege as an English educator that I'm free to participate in this Great Debate and to train up new participants for it.  I wish for my students an intellectual life in which they can readily seek out the whole range of events, philosophies, and policies. Though here at the farm we can focus on Flannery the person and the life that Andalusia's workers lived, our ultimate aim is to spread the message of a lifelong passion for learning, for new ideas, and I'm thankful that I can work in the home of such an exemplary learner. 

Katherine Anne Porter, herself not exactly a Roman Catholic writer, welcomed by a familiar lady of, shall we say, different sensibilities.

Daniel Wilkinson is an Instructor of English at Georgia College and the Bon Vivant of Andalusia Farm. 

Friday, January 13, 2017

Porch Life

In recent weeks, entries on this blog may have given our readers the erroneous impression that we were experiencing what the rest of the country calls "Winter." If so, Winter consisted of a cold snap that lasted right around 72 hours. Last Sunday was a rainy and cold one on the farm, but it gave way almost immediately to sunshine and balmy afternoons fit for the porch, and if there's a a positive to losing winter, it's increased porch time. I am a firm believer in that one's quality of life and the amount of time one can spend sitting on the porch varies directly. 

Milledgeville, like all Southern cities of a certain vintage, makes good use of its porches. The oldest homes still standing here in the historic district went as far as to be equipped with second-story balconies, and the one belonging to the Brown-Stetson-Sanford House has long been one of my favorite spots for a cool, quiet read. Atkinson and Terrell Hall on the campus of Georgia College have expansive porches, complete with rocking chairs and coffee tables. Now that the statute of limitations has passed on the offense, I can now admit that I used to sneak onto the Atkinson Hall porch and watch our outdoor graduation ceremonies from the shade, surely to the envy of all those poor souls in black robes and hats in the May sunshine. 

The folks at NPR's All Things Considered did a whole series of vignettes about the role of the porch in American life and literature in 2006. The author that immediately leaps to mind, of course, is Harper Lee. To Kill a Mockingbird is a good candidate for the quintessential "porch novel," but among a few of Flannery's stories the porch figures prominently. I think immediately of when the principles meet in "The Life You Save May Be Your Own"; Tom T. Shiftlet does his best confidence game on the porch. 

The modern Andalusia's porch is invariably a highlight for our visitors.  Flannery, of course, relished her time greeting guests and tending to her birds on the steps of the Main House's porch.  We're glad to keep that tradition alive, save for the birds, who are far better off in their aviary.  Whiling away a Sunday afternoon with some of our guests on the rocking chairs is easily my favorite duty when we're open to the public, but special events are no stranger to the porch, either. A rain-soaked Thursdalusia took refuge to the porch and became my favorite of the season. 

I know I will relish these warm afternoons while they're here. The summer usually sends me back inside to the relative coolness of the attic fan. Thus, consider this a formal invitation to join us on the porch out at the farm, especially now, while the weather's nice! 
Daniel Wilkinson is Andalusia's Bon Vivant and Blog Editor

Friday, January 6, 2017

Learn by Living

With our elementary and secondary teacher friends reopening their classrooms after the break and Milledgeville's collegians drifting back into town (and likely bringing some wintry weather with them, too), we are pleased to revisit this essay from 2014 from Rhonda Armstrong. Cheers! 
--Daniel Wilkinson, Blog Editor & Bon Vivant

“First-grade schoolchildren, who learn by living”[1]
My two daughters, ages three and seven, refer to Andalusia simply as “the farm.” They visited for the first time this summer, while I was staying in Milledgeville, and the peacocks were, of course, the big draw. They filled multiple pages of the then-new easel with their drawings, enjoyed a picnic under the trees, and braved the dark to venture into the barn. They entered the house under duress, to visit the restroom, although they were suitably intrigued by the art in the back room and the magnets in the gift shop.
Flannery O’Connor’s writing desk, with her crutches propped alongside? The seven-year-old gave it a cursory glance before wandering out to the porch in the middle of my informative speech. She doesn’t know anything about Flannery O’Connor, and how would she, really? During those occasions when she has peeked over my shoulder while I’m reading O’Connor, I have quietly closed the book before she can read someone being shot, or choked, or shoved through a  banister, or abandoned in a cafĂ©. So out to the pleasant porch she goes.
In a 1963 letter to Janet McKane, the New York grade school teacher with whom she corresponded, O’Connor described the local schoolchildren’s visits to Andalusia: “The children go all over the yard and see the ponies and the peacocks and the swan and the geese and the ducks and then they come by my window and I stick my head out and the teacher says, ‘And this is Miss Flannery. Miss Flannery is an author.’ So they go home having seen a peacock and donkey and a duck and a goose and an author….” (HB 545).
I always had the impression that O’Connor disliked children, so much so that she wouldn’t hang around with them even when she was one. The stories of her childhood are often funny: how she ordered her playmates into the bathtub of the Savannah house, where she forced them to listen to her read aloud, thereby ensuring they would never return for a second visit. That image of a tiny O’Connor presiding over a bathroom lecture fits, I think, with our image of her as an adult: well documented sense of humor, but no apparent patience with silliness, and no willingness to waste time with company that couldn’t hold their own in an intelligent conversation.
When I teach O’Connor’s short stories, my students often latch on to the portrayals of Wesley and June Starr in “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” and they comment on how awful those children are. But in contrast to June Starr, who is sassy and obnoxious even as she is led off into the woods to be shot, O’Connor writes a character like Mary Fortune in “A View of the Woods.” Mary Fortune’s world looks an awful lot like Andalusia, and although she is her grandfather’s one favored heir, she rejects his love when he sells off a parcel of land, obliterating her view of the woods across the front lawn from the house. She proves to be irritating and sullen in her grandfather’s presence, but as a reader, I am with her all the way.
It is characters like Mary Fortune who make me believe that O’Connor had some respect for those “exceptional” (and O’Connor informs McKane that “around here [exceptional] means the defective ones”) first graders bumbling about on a farm ogling peacocks, ponies, and writers alike. Maybe she appreciated their refusal—or unwillingness—to have more awe for the author than they have for the goose.
I’m tickled to see that Andalusia’s wish list includes a donkey and a goat, and that Dr. Bruce Gentry is reporting on middle school students visiting the farm. They might not (yet) understand the importance of that front bedroom, but the lilies and the barn have quite a bit to offer, too. 

[1] From O’Connor’s essay “The Kind of the Birds,” reprinted in Mystery and Manners, 9.

 Rhonda Armstrong is an Associate Professor of English at Georgia Regents University in Augusta.

Friday, December 30, 2016

A Happy New Year on the Farm

On behalf of my colleagues at Andalusia, I'd like to wish all of our readers a Happy New Year.  We hope the holidays have found our patrons and friends well-rested and revitalized in anticipation of the coming of 2017.  We've all been using this holiday week while the farm has been closed to the public for a little rest, too, though the Bon Vivant's rest may be a little different.  I used a sojourn to some friends in south Georgia to call on the good folks at the Childhood Home on Charlton St. in lovely downtown Savannah.  Their tour is a useful reminder of Flannery's early life and formative years that helped to produce the author that we celebrate on the farm.

2017 at the farm is shaping up to be one of further growth and excitement. The newest development on the farm is a little shift in my colleagues' space: some office space has been realized upstairs in order to give our shop a little room to breathe; you good folks who have purchased things from our online store have required us to devote a little more space to packaging and readying items to ship. For this good problem, we can only say thank you and to keep it up!

In February comes some of my favorite events of the year: the February Four.  This year, we will focus on The Violent Bear It Away, Flannery's second novel. As with Wise Blood last year, we will present each Sunday afternoon a variety of perspectives on the novel, from criticism to the illumination of some frequently overlooked minutiae. (This year, I'm especially looking forward to the discussion on moonshine, both the making and the novel's usage thereof!)

Our book club remains well-attended and enlightening. On the last Thursday of each month, a guided discussion of an O'Connor work takes place either in our gallery rooms or on the porch if the weather cooperates. Dr Bruce Gentry of Georgia College generally leads these discussions, but keep an eye out during the summer months, when the Bon Vivant will attempt in whatever way he can to pinch hit for Dr Gentry!

Of course, reminders for these events and others are on our Facebook page and newsletter (the subscribe button at the bottom of our website will ensure you find future newsletters in your inbox, hot off the presses).  Thus, to all our readers, patrons, neighbors, and friends: Happy New Year, and we'll see you in 2017. Cheers!

Daniel Wilkinson is Andalusia's Bon Vivant, and Instructor of English at Georgia College, and the caretaker of the Brown-Stetson-Sanford House in downtown Milledgeville. 

Friday, December 23, 2016

Christmas in the Bird Sanctuary

As Advent fades into Christmas, I meditate on how the transition to Andalusia—brought on by circumstances nobody willed or could control—would have felt. This post will ponder Flannery O’Connor’s Advent and Christmastide letters from those years. These both sadden and inspire me.

Sally Fitzgerald’s editorial note that separates 1949 from 1950 letters places O’Connor at home “for Christmas with her mother and for an operation to correct a floating kidney” (Habit of Being 19). Over the next three years, Advent and Christmastide continue to be fraught with physical challenges and overflowing with the self-examination that led to an acceptance of living at Andalusia and ultimately to something like self-abnegation.These are the letters Fitzgerald places in Part I: Up North and Getting Home. They are the letters that reach across all the intervening years by speaking to how we face unsought changes that we initially perceive as adverse ones.

Regina Cline O’Connor and Flannery did exactly that. At least, that is my reading of the records, as an only daughter who was blessed with health: The daughter had experienced flight from Milledgeville, the Bird Sanctuary, but periodically returned to the nest, battered in some way that was seldom immediately understood. Gradually, over these years, the permanence of that nest became clear.

Advent is intended to be a season of self-examination that culminates in hope, anticipation, and joy. Yet Christmas in the early 50s for both Miss Regina and her daughter seems annually to have been informed not only by things of the Spirit but also by urgent, physical conditions. The freedoms Flannery experienced in Connecticut become increasingly constrained and distant during this period, with the denouement beginning perhaps in late summer 1952 when the Fitzgeralds ship her Bible home and she acts on her passion for peacocks (43). Home now clearly means Andalusia, the place where your body and your Missal are.

In the initial interstices of uncertainty, O’Connor turns to her best friend from college, Betty Boyd Love, announcing in a letter from “Baldwin Memorial Horspital as usuel” on 23 December 1950 that she will be grounded in the “bird sanctuary for a few months.” At this point, she believes herself to be in “the horspital” for “AWTHRITUS” (22). Her usual good humor prevails, yet she concludes with “Write me a letter of sympathy (23).

Fast forward a year to Christmas 1951 when Flannery describes preparations on the dairy farm for the anticipated arrival of “a refugee family” before turning to her personal status. She expresses hope that she will yet return to Connecticut: “If the Lord is with me this next year I aim to visit you” (30). Both the material for her short stories and the hope for health coexist this Advent and Christmastide. On 2 May 1952, she writes Robert Lowell a fascinating sequence of statements: “I’ve been in Georgia . . . but I am going to Conn. . . . , I’m living with my mother in the country” (35). On 23 May, she again writes Betty Boyd Love.

Reading retrospectively, I know that Love will become more distant as her friend’s prominence as a writer increases. I admire Flannery for announcing and confronting her own demons when she writes earlier of the shock of marriage and now of the presence of a “stalking” child (36). I am in awe of her ability to deflect cultural assumptions that marriage represented success and literary fiction writing had no vocational equivalence to child bearing. I envy her ability to live in the bird sanctuary without reverting to childhood herself.

The Lord is willing for Flannery to make the trip to Connecticut, yet the circumstances of her time there in mid-summer 1952sound stressful. According to Sally Fitzgerald, that visit included a difficult relationship with two other guests, one from New York’s Fresh Air Fund and the other a refugee; a virus; and a conversation during which O’Connor “learned the true nature of her illness” (37).

By Christmastide, in a letter to the Fitzgeralds dated 30 December 1952, Flannery O’Connor emerges in a way that seems to me both slightly sardonic and hopeful, turning her mother’s encounter with an electric mixer and her own shingles to rhetorical advantage (50). In the days ahead, I will be meditating on that mixer and those shingles.

-- Elaine Whitaker chairs the Department of English and Rhetoric at Georgia College. Her photographs and blog are influenced by Ignatius of Loyola and Virginia Woolf. The window is the one behind which Flannery O’Connor may have read; the landscape is her view as it appears in Advent 2016.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Reading for Milledgeville

Previously in this space, I pointed out a few Andalusia-specific stories for some of our first-time visitors. These farm-centric works put Andalusia in a new light each time I revisit them. This time around, here are a few works that illuminate the city-side of Milledgeville. The town is frequently but a setting in O’Connor’s fiction, but a few works bring it out of “the darkness of the familiar.”

1. “The Partridge Festival”
For decades and decades, Milledgeville was a punchline to most of the state due to the sprawling campus of Central State Hospital, the world’s largest mental institution in its day, on the south side of town. “I’m going to Milledgeville” usually did not mean that one was heading off to college. Andalusia is located several miles away from the hospital campus and didn’t figure too prominently in the daily running of the farm, but it loomed very large indeed for the area’s economic prospects in its heyday. The protagonists of “The Partridge Festival” depart a farmhouse for a trip out to speak with a notorious gunman who took his revenge after being slighted by some of the townspeople at their annual fall fair.

2. “A Late Encounter with the Enemy”
Graduation day remains a big event, and now Georgia College holds a pair of them in an academic year. For many years, my own included, the college held its ceremonies on the green space known locally as “Front Campus” when the weather permitted (or, more memorably, even when it didn’t). The scenes at Sally Poker’s graduation (John Wesley’s mistake notwithstanding) are something that could easily have played out in any recent afternoon in early May; the organized chaos of getting hundreds and hundreds of people into a sea of chairs in the middle of Milledgeville is one not easily forgotten or missed.

3. “A Stroke of Good Fortune”
Though not quite the “alone-in-a-crowded-room” feeling one gets from big-city life in “Judgment Day,” “Stroke” has its own brand of claustrophobia as it survey’s Ruby Hill’s apartment complex. A story in which almost everyone knows everyone else’s story serves as a fairly nice metaphor for life in a town that, while large enough for many amenities, frequently does not let one hide. So too, I imagine our collegians have had several colorful metaphors for stair-centric dormitories.

4. “A View of the Woods”
Andalusia’s neighbors surprise our first-time visitors. A car dealership and a shopping center anchored by a certain ubiquitous big-box retailer are the “triumphs of Mr. Fortune,” as named by one of our volunteers. Piece by piece, Mr Fortune has sold off portions of his property to various business interests to the chagrin of his granddaughter’s husband. Andalusia, of course, has no intention of letting Mr Fortune triumph in the real world; indeed, I rather like our spot in town. As the business of Lake Sinclair moves south and the business of Milledgeville moves north to meet it, Andalusia can be a big, quiet, green solace in the midst of all the hustle around it.

With that sentiment, I hope Andalusia can be a little spot of peace and quiet for you in the midst of a holiday that can frequently be anything but. We’ll be open right up until the holiday, so drift in, stay a while, and maybe take a gift or two out of our shop (and those of our locally-owned neighbors). Cheers!

Daniel Wilkinson is an Instructor of English at Georgia College and the Bon Vivant at Andalusia. He wouldn't refuse the title of Man-About-Town if anyone would like to level it at him.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Wintertime on the Farm

The late, great wit of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Lewis Grizzard, said of his time as a “prisoner of war” at the Chicago Tribune, “Chicago has two seasons: Winter and the Fourth of July.” For 2016, it seems like Milledgeville has had two seasons, as well: summer and Christmas. We’ve finally had our first cold snap of the season; houses across the area, our Main House included, are all popping and creaking as our furnaces warm and expand the frames. I can’t say that I’m sad to finally be cold; wearing shorts at Thanksgiving felt a bit unnatural. The cold snap, in short, makes the business of mid-December feel right.

Milledgeville will be a little quieter after today; our collegians will decamp for their homes, and their instructors will settle in (or in my case, barricade myself in) and grade their exams and papers. I’ll miss their presence in a couple of weeks; the students make things “normal” around here, in spite of their large numbers and tendencies toward loudness. After that, even their instructors (yours truly included) will depart for home, and then the town will be well and truly quiet.

All the stillness aside, the local tourism scene doesn’t see much of a drop-off once the collegians depart. Those who come into town to see their folks usually want to step out and see the sights, and the local museums and attractions are happy to provide. Some will have special programming, too; I remember quite fondly a few nights of caroling with the Milledgeville Singers out at Lockerly Arboretum.

Andalusia will remain open right up to Christmas, and we’re pleased to announce our new online shop. If you’re too far away to pay us a visit, we’ll ship our wares to anywhere in the country. When the holiday business gets to be a little too harrowing, come out to the farm and sit a spell. It might be a bit too cold for the porch, but Uncle Louis’s room in the back of the house is plenty cozy!

Daniel Wilkinson is a Visitor Services Assistant at Andalusia and an Instructor of English and Georgia College.