So, Kendra knows I love her (at least I hope she does. Love you, Kendra. Love your blog.) And Kendra isn’t afraid to stir the pot, which is something I really like about her. But I honestly lost sleep over her post about not liking Breaking Bad and Flannery O’Connor.
Now, I could care less about Breaking Bad. I’ve seen all of two scenes of it and asked Daniel, “Um….is all of it like that? How is this fun? Does it ever get fun?” But Flannery is another story. I love Flannery so much that after reading Kendra’s post during a midnight nursing session, I couldn’t stop thinking about how I could convince her that Flannery is amazing. Because I’m so sad that Kendra or anybody else is missing out on O’Connor awesomeness!
How do I love thee, Flannery? Let me count the ways!
1. Reading Flannery convicts me of my apathy and sin. Remember the grandmother in ‘A Good Man Is Hard to Find’? I am repulsed by her selfishness, childishness, and self-righteousness. And it’s because if I’m really honest with myself, I see her mirrored in my own soul. But I’m usually not honest with myself and would rather feel good than examine my conscience. Usually I just walk around self-satisfied and smug because, “hey! I didn’t commit adultery this week! Doin’ pretty good! I can probably skip going to confession yet again.” And then I think “She would of been a good woman,” The Misfit said, “if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life.” Flannery is that gun to my head, reminding me that if I really believe what I say I do, my soul should be looking a lot different than it does.
2. She’s not afraid to shout the truth. Why are her writings so violent and bizarre? “When you can assume that your audience holds the same beliefs you do, you can relax a little and use more normal ways of talking to it; when you have to assume that it does not, then you have to make your vision apparent by shock — to the hard of hearing you shout, and for the blind you draw large and startling figures.” I need Flannery to yell at me and wave her arms so that I can wake up to the truth.
3. Instead of feeling depressed, when I read Flannery, I’m struck by how Christ seeks to find every tiny opportunity to reveal himself to reveal himself to each soul no matter how fiercely it denies him. It’s a source of hope to me. In Wise Blood, no matter what Hazel Motes does or where he goes, he’s haunted by Christ. In The Violent Bear It Away, Rayber is the “progressive,” materialist father of a special needs child he believes to be completely worthless according to his “scientific” worldview. Yet, he cannot help but love his son, at times so much that he feels he could be thrown to the ground “in an act of idiot praise” struck to the core by this love that he finds inexplicable. He denies Christianity, he’s not a good father, and the way he views his son is heartbreaking, but the idea that even in such a man, the love of Christ could find a tiny foothold…excuse me while I go grab a tissue.
4. “She could never be a saint, but she thought she could be a martyr if they killed her quick.” That. Just that.
5. She’s so darn funny. If you don’t laugh out loud when you’re reading Flannery, you’re not doing it right. Hazel Motes: “Nobody with a good car needs to be justified!” I just die.
6. When people have a real hard time loving Flannery, I always wonder if it’s because they don’t understand the rural south. The south is weird. Really, really weird. And I can say that because I’m a native southerner that loves the south with all my heart. But I think if you don’t get the south, it’s hard to read Flannery. I was recently in a book club that was reading her short stories and someone asked about the random monkey at the BBQ joint in “A Good Man Is Hard to Find.” What is it supposed to signify? they asked. I said, “Oh, I guess I just thought it was a weird southern thing. You know…have a monkey at your BBQ place.” Another person confessed, “yeah, I’ve actually been to a BBQ place that had a monkey.” Case closed. The south is awesomely weird.
7. Flannery says something that our apathetic, comfortable culture desperately needs to hear. It either is, or it isn’t. If Christ is who he says he is, then following him is a matter of life and death. If he isn’t, then what are we doing? As the Misfit says, “If He did what He said, then it’s nothing for you to do but throw away everything and follow Him, and if He didn’t, then it’s nothing for you to do but enjoy the few minutes you got left the best way you can…” If it’s true that Christ rose from the dead, then every cell of your being should be transformed. If it’s not true, then nothing matters. There is no goal but pleasing yourself and there is no true pleasure to be found. It’s everything or nothing with Flannery. One of my favorite things she says in her letters is that she was talking about the Eucharist to a woman who said that it was just a symbol. To which Flannery replied: “Well…if it’s a symbol, to hell with it.” If that’s all it is, who really cares? But if it’s Jesus? Could anything matter more?
8. She shows me that something can be grotesque and heartbreakingly beautiful at the same time. When I find those two things in Flannery’s works, I’m reminded of looking at a crucifix and seeing the gutwrenching grotesque violent agony of Christ’s passion and how that sight is the most beautiful image I can imagine.
9. When she was five she taught a chicken to walk backwards and she was featured in a movie reel because SHE TAUGHT A CHICKEN TO WALK BACKWARDS and said of the experience “everything afterward has been anticlimax.” I mean… I just…I love her.
10: I might not be Catholic if it wasn’t for Flannery. I am not exaggerating. Reading her short stories and novels had a profound effect on Daniel and I and our choice to convert. I owe her so much. And I love her weird, sassy, witty soul with all my heart.
Further reading: If you want to read a great introduction to O’Connor and her works, do yourself a favor and read Ralph Wood’s Flannery O’Connor and the Christ-Haunted South. Dr. Wood was one of our college professors and one of my favorite people in the universe.
And once again because the quote is just so good:
1st image found here.