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.