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

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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.