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.