Friday, March 25, 2016

March 25, 2016

Today is one of mixed emotions out on the farm, as we mark Flannery's 91st birthday on a day of spiritual significance: Good Friday. I'd like to think that, were she around to celebrate her 91st with us, Flannery would look at the passing of another year with a sardonic comment and a nice helping of Coke and coffee. The date also is at the height of a busy season on the farm, between planting and the mating season of the beloved birds. I would imagine, too, a birthday celebration would be a welcome break from the business of farming.

Someone with such an eye for the eternal soul would look at a birthday as but a drop in the bucket, and this one especially, since it would no doubt entail a service at Sacred Heart Catholic Church downtown.  I, too, have attended my share of Protestant Good Friday services both here in Milledgeville and at home in Woodbury.  Traditionally, Good Friday would be marked with a fast; one wonders how this would coincide with birthday celebrations.  Indeed, the holiday is a quite solemn marker of, as David Ulin put it for the LA Times a year ago, our passage through a fallen world, one that Flannery’s fiction describes in close detail. I find myself caught in the middle of the celebration of Flannery the person and the spiritual gravity of the holiday. But Sunday is coming, and then the solemnity of today will turn to gratitude and celebration.

And in that spirit of thankfulness I mark Flannery’s birthday here on Good Friday—in gratitude for the stories that describe both Southern history and piety in a new and startling fashion, for Andalusia that offers me the chance to get to know like-minded folks from all over the world, and for the stroke of good fortune that allows me to live in a place where the two can come together.  Happy birthday, Flannery, and thank you. 
Sacred Heart Catholic Church, Milledgeville, GA

Daniel Wilkinson is a Visitor Services Assistant and Bon Vivant at Andalusia Farm

Friday, March 18, 2016

Springtime at Andalusia

Any visitor to Andalusia in the past couple of weeks could tell: Spring has sprung. The first two weeks of March saw comfortable temperatures and the accompanying changes of attire and attitude.  The blooms and fresh scents are equally as satisfying as turning off the furnace and putting the sweaters away.  March also brings with it, however, a rather sulfuric shade of yellow to cover the outdoors. Those of us who cannot abide pollen had their two weeks of fun; now it's back inside, lest we need the whole pharmacopeia to keep ourselves on two feet. The birds, too, are feeling the effects of warmer weather; Manley II has taken to spreading his tailfeathers for visitors and staff alike (though Joy/Hulga doesn’t cotton to his behavior and will peck at him for his insolence).  In any case, these days of Spring are important to the spirit; there’s new growth outside, and the best of us take the cue from nature and bring our better selves out, as well.  

I think Flannery was well aware of nature’s effect on the human spirit. O.E. Parker had his epiphany beside a tree, and Joy/Hulga’s enduring image of Manley Pointer will be his running off through the fields.  Indeed, even the terrible scenes at the end of “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” are tempered somewhat by their taking place away from civilization.  There are others still who are unprepared to take on the outdoors, such as Mrs. May in “Greenleaf.” 

Thus, these days of Spring bring Andalusia and the fiction into sharper relief, far more so than the days in winter where I am forced off of the porch and must place myself next to the heaters, or in summer where the heat is such that any place except directly under the attic fan is far too hot. I usually tell visitors who have not read much of the fiction to grab one of our reading copies and head to the Hill House porch to read “Good Country People” in eyeshot of the infamous barn and hayloft. Perhaps I should offer “Parker’s Back” or “Greenleaf” instead, stories whose characters are deeply invested in the outdoors.  (I leave to our social media friends to remind me of further stories that deal directly with nature.)

I am reminded of how good things are as visitors and friends share with me what conditions they are stepping away from, even for a little while; a Colorado friend, for example, passed along pictures of his parka and snowy backyard earlier in the week. We invite you to partake in all the trappings of Spring out at the farm—flowers, cool weather, and birds both real and drawn (our new art exhibit opens on April 9).  There will be extra hours to do so to boot on Thursdays beginning April 7, when we will be open until sunset daily.  Further, third Thursdays will be Thursdalusia, in which the new Nail House pavilion will be put through its paces with music, storytelling, and more.  The staff no doubt will be taking advantage of this time of year, too, except for one; the Bon Vivant needs a decongestant and a hot tea. 

Daniel Wilkinson is a Visitor Services Assistant and Bon Vivant at Andalusia. His springtime hobbies include tending to the flowers behind the Brown-Stetson-Sanford House in downtown Milledgeville, singing Easter choral music, and playing golf very poorly.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Reading and Performing Flannery

In her essay “Writing Short Stories”, Flannery O’Connor tells us that “A story is a way to say something that can’t be said any other way, and it takes every word in the story to say what the meaning is....When anybody asks what a story is about, the only proper thing is to tell him to read the story.

I am writing this from my home in Los Angeles, having just returned from Georgia after retyping Flannery's two wonderful novels back-to-back over a 17 day period. I started with Wise Blood at Andalusia, then moved to Savannah, to SCAD and the Flannery O'Connor Childhood Home, where I retyped The Violent Bear It Away. Getting to perform these devotional re-readings and re-typings in her stomping grounds added a great deal of texture to the experience. As Flannery herself reminds us, the most meaningful experience is in the reading all the words themselves, and my time with these novels has affirmed in me the rightness of her advice. But during those in-between times, when I found myself sitting, for example, on Flannery’s front porch, looking out across to her pond, the smaller gaps in my understanding filled in, and I was drawn that much closer to her. It is an experience available to anyone with a volume of her stories and enough gas in the car to get to Georgia. If you are a true pilgrim, perhaps you will make your drive in an Essex with a rope holding the door on.

-- Tim Youd is a Los Angeles-based artist who has undertaken the project of retyping 100 classic novels. He stages each performance in a place charged with literary significance specific to each novel. He recently retyped “Wise Blood” at Andalusia before moving on to a residency at Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) where he retyped “The Violent Bear it Away” at SCAD and Flannery’s Childhood Home.