Sunday, January 4, 2015

A Season of Waiting

It’s early January, the holidays are over but winter has just begun. Here in Georgia that means rain and a damp chill that’s hard to shake even though the temperature rarely drops below freezing. It's a season of waiting, waiting for spring and sun, for things to bloom.

I’ve got a week before the semester starts again and I’m trying to make the most of my quiet days, alone in my duplex, to settle comfortably into the stillness and wait with patience and awareness. It’s quiet here, surprisingly so considering that I share a wall with a woman about my age and her two sons. I rarely hear them. I rarely hear anyone. My cul-de-sac is hardly as isolated as O’Connor’s family farm, but it’s far enough from Milledgeville’s small downtown to feel isolated. And sometimes when I sit here at my desk, looking out my window the grassy hill, I think about her.

I haven’t been to Andalusia since November, but I know its terrain well enough to picture it now, muddy and green underfoot, bare trees cluttering the horizon. I imagine that O’Connor felt at least a little of my restlessness, especially given that her choice to live at Andalusia was so heavily influenced by her illness.

I’ve always been impressed by writers who jot notes on cocktail napkins, who are inspired at parties, or bars. I find writing is a lonely habit, and one that requires stillness. Ideas come slowly. Isolation is essential because it’s uninteresting, it doesn’t clutter or distract. The silence of a familiar room becomes a liminal space where boundaries blur and ideas mingle.

Waiting reminds me of waiting rooms and I remember a connection that occurred to me months ago between Flannery O’Connor and Elizabeth Bishop. I thought about the two of them this summer during a talk given by Doreen Fowler as part of the NEH Summer Institute: Reconsidering Flannery O’Connor. Fowler gave a talk on O’Connor’s story “Revelation” and she spent some time on the importance of the waiting room as a setting, which got me thinking about Bishop’s poem “In The Waiting Room.”

Both of these works use waiting rooms as spaces where boundaries break down and are re-established, where identity becomes a slippery thing, and the normal boundaries of personality slip and slide.

I liked thinking about the two of them together, mostly because their writing is so different. O’Connor’s fiction is loud, stark and grotesque where as Bishop’s poetry is quiet, lush, and muted. They were very different women, but they were both women who kept to themselves and waited for the right words to come.

The view from O'Connor's bedroom window on a drizzly winter day.

--Laura Martin is a graduate student and the creative writing MFA program at Georgia college. She works under Bruce Gentry on the Flannery O'Connor Review. She is currently working on a book about fairy tales.


Unknown said...

Laura Martin, I like your essay very much. I, too, have noticed the similarity between Bishop's "The Waiting Room" and O'Connor's "Revelation" and have wondered about that similarity. I love both the poem and the story. Your essay strikes home with me on another front, too; I like quiet and solitude, too, when I'm writing.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Laura M said...


Thanks so much for your kind words. I'm a huge fan of your O'Connor work and proud to be part of the team currently working on the Flannery O'Connor Review, which of course owes a great deal to you.