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Knock-kneed, shy, and pathetically skinny while growing up, I wasn’t a joiner. I did not play sports or bounce along with the cheerleading squad. I had a couple of mutually creative (nerdy) friends I hung out with, but my greatest joy was having time to curl up in a chair and read, or even better, to write my own stories.
Now I’m 49 and I can still be a happy hermit. For me, a day stretching out with no commitments, nothing but the stories playing out in my head while my fingers click across the keyboard is a lovely thing. I know we’re not all alike, and I acknowledge the satisfactions of a more socially enmeshed life than I cultivate, but I can go for days without hearing from another human being (outside of my immediate family) and hardly notice. I don’t fear solitude as some do. It’s a good predisposition to have as a writer.
Rarely do I join groups. I’m pretty picky when I choose to spend time with other humans. But, when Karin invited me to be a part of the Girlfriends Book Club, I didn’t have to ponder it too long. I find writers and book-lovers to be wonderful companions.
So, in celebration of this new joining, on my inaugural post here, I will open my journal and share a recent and rare day trip I took with some other book-loving girlfriends;
“March 24th, and Debbie, Terri, Margaret and me are on a literary pilgrimage to Andalusia, Flannery O’Connor’s home in Milledgeville, Georgia. Debbie’s behind the wheel, snorting nasal decongestant as we barrel down Hwy 441 outside Watkinsville, oohing and aahing over azaleas and wisteria blooming on the roadsides. We’re out of Oconee County now, discussing four short stories we agreed to read; "The River", "A Good Man is Hard to Find", "Good Country People", "The Displaced Person".
“We’re talking about Flannery’s Southern Gothic style. Her grotesque and bizarre characters, the influence of her Roman Catholic faith, the way she frequently examined questions of morality and ethics. The fact that she tried to portray her characters as they might be touched by divine grace, their transformations often accomplished through pain, violence, and ludicrous behavior.”
All of a sudden, inspired by the sheer joy of being with book-loving girlfriends, I scribble a random aside, “Oh, this trip is beautiful! I feel a well-being inside me I can’t put into words! I mean, these girls don’t give a hoot that I’m writing in my journal! They’re so down-to-earth and accepting, so happy to be on our bookclub field trip, I believe any one of us could fart real loud and it wouldn’t matter. This is what I call priceless companionship!
“Okay, I just happened to look up and we’re getting close. We’re north of the Wal-Mart shopping center, midst a mecca of car dealerships, filling stations and dollar stores. Yep, there’s the ‘Andalusia’ sign, and now we’re turning, driving down a long dirt road . . .
“Feels like we’ve entered another world! This 550 acre farm which Regina O’Connor, Flannery’s mother, ran as a dairy farm. Where Flannery came when she was diagnosed with lupus, where she spent the last 13 years of her life, her most creative. She died in 1964, only 39 years old. A brief, brilliant career producing two novels, 32 short stories, and a ton of reviews and commentaries. I tell my book club I know all this because I own seven biographies about Flannery.
“We are stepping inside the 19th-century farmhouse and I see her crutches leaning near her bed. I feel Flannery’s presence! Well, maybe it’s just that we’re both Southern storytellers who focus on spiritual matters. I’ve taken a class in eschatology, but I’m not certain what I believe about departed souls, spirits, whatever, and how they interact with the living material world. Can they enter different realms? I don’t know. But, just the act of looking at those worn, stained crutches is making me recall things I’ve read about Flannery’s struggle with lupus, how painful it was for her to walk, how she conserved her strength in order to get 2-3 hours of writing done each morning.
“’Grace changes us and grace is painful,’ Flannery wrote. I agree. Now I don’t want to exploit my own issues, for at this age, I believe everyone is wounded in some way, whether it’s from a divorce, an illness, a child who passed away too early, or other tragedies, disappointments in life. But my own brush with death, and a lingering traumatic brain injury (right front temporal lobe, you can read about on the blog page of my website) gives me a sense of urgency to tell stories that focus on the way grace touches all of us. I have no doubt I am a walking miracle. I believe divine intervention changed my life, set me on a different course.
“I write because it is my gift, and I like to write about how God redeems the seemingly unredeemable. As Flannery O’Connor said, ‘I am not afraid that the book will be controversial. I’m afraid it will not be controversial.’“
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