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.