Flannery

When I was in fourth grade, my family took a trip to Washington, D.C. My memories of this time are few and hazy, though I remember being excited before we went. As a young nerd, two of my favorite things, in general, were museums and U.S. presidents.

I remember that on the drive down from New York, we stopped in Maryland to eat at a Bob’s Big Boy, which my parents were not happy about. It was my brother Jim’s birthday. We stayed in a hotel, something that, as a large family, we didn’t do often. There was a pool there, which thrilled me and my siblings.

I remember standing in front of the White House on a gray day, my youngest brother at the time beside me in a stroller. We went to Arlington National Cemetery to see the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the John F. Kennedy Eternal Flame. I was sad to find out that the Kennedys had had a baby who died. Growing up Irish Catholic, I was sad to hear about most misfortunes that befell the Kennedys.

We visited Mount Vernon, which I remember being some kind of colossal failure, I think mostly because it was unseasonably hot and my siblings were cranky and bored. At the gift shop, my parents bought me a book. It was full of small biographies of famous American women. I spent the drive home reading it, memorizing details from the lives of women like Edna St. Vincent Millay, Margaret Mead, and Flannery O’Connor, none of whom I’d heard of previously.

Flannery O’Connor was of particular interest, her first name being my last name. I worried that, perhaps, I could never become a famous writer because there wouldn’t be room for two people with the name Flannery in American letters. (Her actual first name was Mary, a fact that has never left me.) However, I felt a kinship with her. She too was Irish Catholic. She had liked animals, which were very important to me as a nine-year-old. She was also, of course, bookish.

I didn’t actually read anything by Flannery O’Connor until my senior year in high school, when our teacher, herself a devout Catholic, assigned several of her short stories in our AP English Literature class. Reading those stories, I felt as stunned as Julian’s mother after she is knocked in the head with a pocketbook at the end of O’Connor’s “Everything That Rises Must Converge.” I hadn’t expected the violence, the sharp observations of human behavior, the mysticism. It was then that I became a Flannery O’Connor devotee which I knew, somehow, had been inevitable.

I saw earlier this week that The Paris Review tweeted, in honor of her birthday, this 2012 blog post with a recording of Flannery O’Connor reading her classic story “A Good Man is Hard to Find.” Since listening to it, I’ve been thinking about my favorite O’Connor stories, which I’ve shared below. (I’ve linked to the stories, if I could find them on the internet. I can’t promise that the text will be perfect, as I didn’t read through all of them.)

I find that I go back to these and other stories often, both in my mind and in rereading them. My relationship with them has changed over time. When I started writing more seriously, focusing on short stories, I experienced O’Connor’s writing less as a reader and more as a writer. As my relationship with Catholicism grew weaker, I felt less emotionally connected to her expression of spirituality and more intellectually interested in it. Even though I can’t recreate that feeling of being hit over the head that I experienced when I first read her work, I know that Flannery O’Connor has affected me as a reader, a writer, and probably as a human.

Remembering our first encounter, my reading her short biography in the backseat of my family’s car, looking at a photograph of Flannery supporting herself with crutches on the steps of her Georgia home, I think about the little ways in which life is strange and mysterious. And I’m grateful for them.

Haley’s Favorite Flannery O’Connor Stories:

5. “Wildcat”

6. “The Geranium”  / “Judgment Day” (“Judgment Day” is considered a rewrite of “The Geranium.”)

Also, if you’re interested in the life of Flannery O’Connor, I recommend Brad Gooch’s biography Flannery: A Life of Flannery O’Connor

Carnegie Hall

Last night, I went to see John Mulaney perform stand-up at Carnegie Hall with three of my friends. Our seats were in a box in the first tier. I have a sort of fondness for those little boxes. I think this is because they’re small, but not really cramped, and each one has a tiny entryway with coat hooks and a mirror, and when I sit down and look out at the rest of Carnegie Hall I feel cozy and grand at the same time, which are two of the best feelings.

The coziness of the boxes means you must sit close to other people. There are eight seats to every box. So, in addition to my three friends, we sat with four strangers, who were the best kind of strangers in that they were very friendly for about thirty seconds and then happily went back to their own conversations. I was seated on the left side of the box, next to the low barrier that separated us from the next box, which meant that I was also very close to the people on the other side of that barrier.

Ten minutes before the show started, a couple walked into the next box and sat in two empty seats next to the barrier. Both were blonde and, I thought, effortfully dressed up. He was wearing a jacket and tie, she a dress and necklace that didn’t quite go. Her hair was braided into a crown around her head. (Incidentally, this is a style I’ve long wished I could master.) She sat in the seat in front of him and they chatted excitedly, seeming in awe of Carnegie Hall.

When they arranged themselves into a selfie-taking position, their backs facing out so that you could see the rest of Carnegie Hall behind them, the guy apologized to us for reaching his arm into our box in order to take the picture. My friend Lee offered to take their picture instead and did just that. We went back to our conversation, they went back to theirs. But then I tuned back into their conversation. Because it was very loud. Loud and actually just the guy speculating about whether Nick Kroll would open and doing his own impressions of characters from Kroll Show, like Fabrice Fabrice.

I find that my patience for others wears thinner by the day. Strangers especially. But I still love observing them, passing judgment from the safety of my own thoughts. I was embarrassed for this guy, with his loud voice and his not-very-good impressions. I wanted to turn to my left, grab him by the shoulders and say, “Stop talking. Or at least control your volume. You sound nothing like Fabrice Fabrice and your girlfriend isn’t even laughing at you.” He deserved to know, I thought. But then, he serves me better as a character if he doesn’t.

The lights eventually went down, everyone settled into their seats, and Fred Armisen walked onto the stage. “Oh my God,” the guy started saying to himself, over and over again.

He grabbed his girlfriend’s shoulders from behind. “That’s Fred Armisen,” he practically screamed into her ear. “That’s. Fred. Armisen. From PORTLANDIA. He does Portlandia!”

“I know who Fred Armisen is,” she said, giggling a little, and squirming around in her chair to get free from his grip.

Ha! I thought. So she knows he’s annoying.

Armisen performed and then Mulaney went on and we all laughed and laughed, as people tend to do at comedy shows. The girl with the crown braid laughed hard at a joke about elementary school grading. Her laugh reminded me of the sounds I make when I’ve just cried for a long time and am not ready to stop, but can’t really cry anymore. When Mulaney did a bit about the changes to the Catholic mass, I laughed a little too hard, clapped my hands a little too loud, and wondered if anyone around me was as annoyed with me as I was for the performance of “getting the joke” that I was giving.

Toward the end of the show, the couple held hands on top of the barrier that separated us. She reached her hand back and he reached his forward and they proceeded to perform that kind of playful handholding that happens when you’re simply happy to be in someone’s company. Their hands moved up and down the barrier, closer to me than I would have liked. I watched them out of the corner of my eye. I suppose there’s someone for everyone, I thought, even though I’m not sure I actually believe it.

17 Not Bad Things That Happened Today

I had a stupidly bad day yesterday. *

Today was not bad. It was perfectly fine and kind of boring but I’m grateful for its not-badness and am celebrating it with this list of every not bad thing that I did or that happened to me today:

  1. I took a hot shower this morning. (My showers have been lukewarm at best during the last few weeks).
  2. I showered, got dressed, put on makeup, dried my hair and packed my gym clothes in under forty-five minutes. That’s not the fastest I’ve ever done all of those things, but it’s definitely not the slowest.
  3. The G arrived only 2 or 3 minutes after I got to the station.
  4. When I got to work, I made my usual breakfast – instant oatmeal – and it was neither too watery nor too dry.
  5. The bathroom at work wasn’t totally clean, but it also wasn’t totally dirty.
  6. I made a plan for when to take breaks away from my desk and stuck to it.
  7. I ate a delicious turkey and gruyère sandwich for lunch.
  8. I went to the Strand and bought a replacement copy of The Dud Avocado for $7 and though it doesn’t have my underlines, I’m happy to have the book back in my possession.
  9. I almost finished The Flamethrowers on my way home, but saved the last bit for tonight because I kind of hate finishing books on the train.
  10. I narrowly missed getting run over by a guy I rejected romantically two and a half years ago who was riding his bicycle on the sidewalk in front of the YMCA.
  11. I got my favorite locker at the gym, which is obviously #69.
  12. I got my favorite elliptical machine, which is obviously the one in front of the TV that plays Bravo, and felt happy while working out and listening to Devo and looking up every so often to see Kim and Kyle Richards fighting in the back of a limousine.
  13. I made a Greek salad for dinner, which is the same thing I ate last night and it was just OK, but I guess it was better than eating the old pasta I threw out tonight after letting it sit in the fridge for three weeks.
  14. I watched last night’s episode of Shahs of Sunset. GG wore a hat that said “#Fart” on it and also revealed that she keeps knives all over her house for “safety” and both of those things warmed my heart.
  15. I also watched Girls and was happy that Hannah’s dad is gay and not dying.
  16. I put fleur de sel on a miniature non-dairy mint chocolate chip ice cream sandwich and it was delightful.
  17. I wrote this list and realized I’ve (probably temporarily) escaped from the negative thought spiral that entrapped me yesterday.

*I say “stupidly” because, looking back on it, I realize a lot of things that were probably kind of fine and not important at all in the grand scheme of things just seemed bad because I woke up at 3:30 am and didn’t fall back asleep and convinced myself that my day would be terrible because of that. For example, I just missed the subway, which was pulling out of the station as I went through the turnstile. I needed to get to work to finish a project that had a rapidly approaching deadline and didn’t want to wait ten minutes for the next train. Those ten minutes didn’t really make a difference. But turning the unpleasantness of waiting for the subway into something worse in my mind suited the narrative of having a terrible day, so that’s what I did. I stewed the whole time I was waiting, thinking about how I could have made that train if I had just left the house a minute earlier. As the day went on, other “bad” things kept happening. It’s no wonder to me now that they did. I wanted them to.

Fangirl

“I didn’t get into them until high school,” the girl said, shrinking herself deeper into her faux fur coat so that her eyes were the only visible part of her face, as we reached the exit of Terminal 5.

“Are you kidding me? I didn’t get into them until college. And I’m OLD.” Her male companion, wearing only a suit and thin wool scarf, wrapped his arm around her. “I’m THIRTY,” he said.

All around me, I heard conversations like these, people comparing notes on the first time they heard Sleater-Kinney, the point at which they became fans, how many shows they had seen and what number this one was for them. A man who looked like he hadn’t showered since the 90s told a group of men who looked like different cartoon versions of him that this was the sixth show he’d seen on this tour alone. As I listened to the group share their personal records for numbers of shows attended during past tours, I wondered how it felt to be that big of a fan. I wondered what they would say to me if I told them the particulars of my Sleater-Kinney fandom:

I got into them in college, a few months into their hiatus. Dig Me Out got me through one really rough time and then a few other minor rough times and depending on the day, I’d say it’s in my top five favorite or most important albums. They were the only music I listed in my Facebook interests, back when that was a thing. I get back into at least one of their albums at least once a year. That show we just saw? It was my first.

I’ve always had this sense that I’ve never been a real fan of a lot of the bands I love. If I wasn’t there at the beginning, to experience a band’s greatness during their early years of recording or touring, then what claim do I have on them?

I never felt this more than when I saw Pavement during their 2010 reunion tour. I was twelve when they released their final album in 1999. And while the possibility exists that I had heard “Cut Your Hair” on MTV as a child, I think it’s safe to say that I never really listened to Pavement until I was well into my teenage years. But I became a fan nonetheless, their music partially soundtracking my college years. Eventually, I came to count them among my “all-time favorites.”

But when I saw Pavement live, I felt self-conscious. I felt young. I felt like I was not as big of a fan as many of the other people there. Looking back on it, I was young compared to a lot of the crowd. I was twenty-three. And I wasn’t as big of a fan as many of the other people there. I didn’t know the words to every song. In fact, I think there were a few I didn’t really recognize. But I also had a lot of fun at that show. I knew most of the songs. I sang-screamed along to some of them alongside one of my best friends, who at the time was also a twenty-three-year-old girl. Afterward, I told people that it was one of the best shows I’d ever seen in my life. That was probably the truth.

sleater-kinney at terminal 5 (or, probably the worst concert photo taken for the purpose of instagramming in the history of the practice)

sleater-kinney at terminal 5 (or, probably the worst concert photo taken for the purpose of instagramming in the history of the practice)

Last night, I watched Sleater-Kinney perform a lot of songs that I knew well, some that I didn’t, and a few that are so important to me that I smiled the whole time they were happening. More than once I thought back to earlier that day, when I had considered not going to the show at all. I was on my way to a meeting, exhausted and unable to concentrate on the presentation I was to give shortly. I didn’t see how I was going to make it through the morning, let alone the afternoon and evening. I told myself that going didn’t matter, that I really wasn’t that big of a fan, that I wouldn’t be missing anything life changing. But I reasoned that I’d spent fifty bucks on the ticket and that alone was a reason to go. So I went. And it was good. (Even if I had to stand in the back against a wall behind a girl who kept whipping her pigtails my face while performing what seemed to be premeditated dance moves.)

I almost ended with that last paragraph, but I’m not sure I made the point I set out to make when I started writing this or if I even remember what the point is. I think it is: I have sometimes felt that my music fandom or knowledge is insignificant compared to that of other people. I wish I didn’t feel that way. It’s definitely OK to be into something exactly as much as I’m into it. Also, who cares?

Selection

It’s 8:30 in the morning on a freezing day in February when you report to the Brooklyn Supreme Court for jury duty. Your summons tells you to enter through the court house’s front entrance on Court Street, but you see an entrance at the back and decide to take a chance and enter there, not before ascending and then descending the stairs twice in uncertainty. Finally you say to yourself, You’re not going to get arrested if you go in the wrong way, you idiot. So you go in and get on a short security line, hurriedly stuffing your bagel in your already overstuffed backpack, as someone walks down the line to check your summons, making sure you’re in the right place. When it’s your turn, you put your coffee on the table in case the security officer needs to inspect it for small weapons, place your backpack on the conveyor belt, unzip your coat, and walk through the metal detector. No beep, you’re free to go.

The security officer hands you your backpack and says, You don’t travel light. What do you have in there, rocks?

No, you say, just books. This is not entirely true. You also have a bagel, your computer, a power cord, a phone charger, the special kind of marker pens that you like, and a fruit cup you impulse-bought at the deli in case you need a snack later. You smile at the officer, pick your coffee up from the table, and read the sign that tells you to go upstairs to Room 205.

***

You enter the enormous room and find a seat that looks non-threatening: close to an outlet but not right next to it, near some people who look like they might watch your bag and not steal your wallet if you need to go to the bathroom. You pull out one of the two graphic novels you brought with you but don’t open it. Instead, you text your friends with whom you were out last night. You use your book as a sort of plate for your bagel, which you eat quickly even though it’s under-toasted and has too much cream cheese.

***

This is a busy court house, a sort of authority figure in a dapper suit says from a dais. He talks for a long time and says, during the course of his speech, some approximation of the following things:

Most of you will end up being chosen for a trial.

You will be dismissed at 5 o’clock. Now, don’t YOU tell ME that you gotta leave at 2 o’clock cause you gotta be home to cook dinner. Unless you’re chosen for a trial, you will stay here until 5 O’CLOCK.

No tweeting, Facebooking, saying anything on social media about the details of any case. If you do any of that, we can tell. I know you think it’s impossible, but we have our ways. [Looks down at screen, presumably.] SEVENTEEN of you have posted something on Twitter or Facebook since I started talking. Let’s see. Oh, here’s a good one. Hell no hell no hell no I ain’t stayin here till 5 o’clock they be trippin. #juryduty #hellno

***

At least 100 people who have reported to jury duty believe that they do not have a basic understanding of the English language. What happens to those people, you never find out. At least 40 believe that they have reported on the wrong day, though each of them in turn are humiliated by the dapper presider over the central jury room, who examines their summons documents and, into the microphone, announces that they have indeed reported on the correct day.

***

Last night, your friend told you about how he reported for jury duty a few months ago and his name was never called so he just got to go home and got credit for reporting and won’t be called in Brooklyn for another eight years. You hope so badly that this happens to you. But they’ve started calling groups of people to be interviewed and you’re worried. You’re so, so worried that your name will be next.

***

At 11 o’clock, you hear your name read over the loudspeaker. You’re actually surprised that you hear it because one of your biggest fears up until this point this morning was that you wouldn’t hear it called and that you would get in trouble. Trouble, to you, is an undefined term, but perhaps involves getting arrested, or at least getting a stern talking-to by someone in uniform. Getting a stern talking-to by someone in uniform is, by the way, how one of your favorite sexual fantasies begins. Anyway, you report to Room 7, along with about twenty other people, all of whom look like they believe they are about to be executed.

***

You’re sitting next to the wall in one of the hard plastic chairs trying not to touch the person sitting next to you, who is uncomfortably close. It’s not their fault, though. There are too many chairs and too many people for this small room. You’re already sweating when the lawyers enter the room, armed with legal pads. One of them is lean, with dark, graying hair and a long face adorned with a crooked nose. He shuffles sideways behind the table at the front of the room and sits down. The other lawyer is pink-faced and silver-haired with the look of a former high school football player who spends his early mornings at the gym. His suit is tailored to accentuate his upper body. He addresses the group first.

He is the plaintiff’s lawyer and first, he shares information about the nature of the case, which will be brought to trial a week from today. His client was injured in a construction accident. It had been decided at an earlier date that the fault lies with the defendant. This upcoming trial is damages only, meaning that the jury will decide how much money to award the plaintiff for his injuries and medical costs, his pain and suffering and his loss of income. He tells you that they estimate the trial to last between ten and fifteen business days, though it could be shorter or longer. They will pick six jurors and three alternate jurors.

Then the other lawyer, the defendant’s counsel, speaks. He tells you that he understands that no one wants to be chosen for a jury, but that our justice system wouldn’t work if citizens didn’t perform their civic duty. If you are chosen, he says, you may find that you get satisfaction out of serving on a jury. You may even form lifelong friendships with your fellow jurors. He’s seen it happen before. He thanks you on behalf of his client and tells you that he and Plaintiff’s Counsel will review the questionnaires that all of the prospective jurors have filled out and will return in a moment to begin jury selection.

***

Yours is the third name called and so you briefly become Juror #3. You are asked to sit in the first row along with five others. They question each of you in succession. The first prospective juror is about your age, in his mid-twenties. He is a TV production coordinator. You find that he is extremely opinionated and refuses to answer questions because of some, in your opinion, very confusing convictions, such as his having a moral quandary with personal injury lawsuits even though he stated on his questionnaire that he doesn’t know anyone who has been involved in a lawsuit. The lawyers ask to speak with him outside and when he returns, he looks smug and you think, Great, my chances of getting picked just got a little bit higher.

The second person questioned is seated next to you and you find that she’s also around your age, a former public servant who now works for a corporation, and she really wants to be on the jury. Like, she’s trying to get chosen. She tells the lawyers several times that she doesn’t have any issues because being a juror is her civic duty. OK, you think, keep talking like this. She has no personal issues, no bias, no personal history that relates this case. When they’re done with her, you feel better, though you are also very nervous because you suddenly remember that you’re a terrible liar.

***

“I see here that you studied history,” Plaintiff’s Counsel says to you, pointing with his pen at the spot on your questionnaire where you wrote down what you studied in college. “What kind of history?”

“Mostly European,” you say, as European history was indeed your concentration, though if you thought it appropriate you might have told him that your specific interest lies in the British Isles, particularly the decline of the British aristocracy, which you think is what you would have studied if you had gone to grad school. But you didn’t go to grad school. You got a job that led to a series of other jobs, which added up to a career. A career that you don’t give a shit about, you’ve lately been realizing. But it allows you to live. In Brooklyn. And suddenly you’re starting to see how every choice you’ve ever made has led you to this jury selection panel.

“Did you ever study American history?” Plaintiff’s counsel asks. You tell him that you did but with kind of a bitchy tone because you think the way he asked the question was condescending.

“Well, did you know that our great president Abraham Lincoln was a lawyer?”

“I did,” you say, giving him your best tight-lipped smile to make sure that he knows how fucking annoyed you are. He goes on with some bullshit about the institution of the law in our country and you just zone out because this guy is trying to make you like him and make you think he’s smart but you find him to be blatantly manipulative and smarmy.

As you’re questioned about real things that relate to the case over the next half hour or so, you reveal that your father is a litigator who represents large insurance companies, that you do in fact know a little bit about at least one type of surgery that will be discussed in the case, that you’re starting a brand new job next week and your first day is Monday, and that you guess you’re pretty sure that you don’t have any significant biases that would relate to this case. You think your chances of being chosen out of this group are good, but not too good. There’s a chance that they won’t want you and will pick one of these other people in your demographic.

The lawyers step out to discuss the six people they’ve questioned. When they return you feel the beginning of an anxiety-related headache, like everything you’ve been worried about has become material and is pressing down on your brain. One of them states briefly that you shouldn’t be offended if you’re not chosen, it’s just that you’re not right for this particular jury and you might be chosen for another. Jesus Christ, you think, who would be offended except for the perky girl next to me who will probably kill herself if she’s not selected for a jury today?

“Miss Flannery,” one of the lawyers says. “And Miss Jones. You have been selected for this jury. Please follow the court officer to the empaneling area, where you will be sworn in.”

Your heart is beating quickly and you’re shaking your head and you think you say something like “Ugh I fucking knew it” out loud and with trembling hands you open up your backpack and shove the book you’ve been reading inside before throwing it over your shoulder and following a person in a uniform to an office window, where a clerk sits, talking and laughing with someone seated at a desk behind him.

The lawyers are there and they hand your juror information card to the clerk and one of them says, “Miss Flannery will be Juror #3 and Miss Jones will be Juror #6.” You look behind you at the other juror, an elderly woman wearing a round felt hat that perfectly accentuates the roundness of her face and body.

“You know that they move up, right?” the court officer asks. “Miss Flannery is the first chosen so she’s Juror #1. Miss Jones is Juror #2.”

And with that, you’re sworn in by the clerk and told to report back to the courthouse a little over a week later, three days after you start your new job. When you walk outside, you feel your eyes well up with tears. You think you’re probably crying, though you can’t be sure because it’s been so cold and windy that you cry anytime you’re outside anyway. You take your phone from your pocket and dial your father’s office number. When he picks up you say, “Dad, I was picked.” And he says, “I knew you would be.”