Readings — From the February 2018 issue

Higher Yearning

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From a journal that Flannery O’Connor (1925–64) kept during her second year at Georgia State College for Women. The journal entries were published in Issue 94 of Image Journal. Regina is O’Connor’s mother.

december 28, 1943

I am. This is not pure conceit. I am not self-satisfied but I feel that God has made my life empty in this respect so that I may fill it in some wonderful way — the word “wonderful” frightens me. It may be anything but wonderful. I may grovel the rest of my life in a stew of effort, of misguided hope. At times I would rather be a social success than ever write a line, but it seems so utterly impossible that I should ever achieve an ease with people that the very thought sends me scurrying back into myself like a frightened rabbit.

december 29, 1943

One new quarter of college begun. I achieved a nice success in Eng. 360 by making a rather humorous remark and then not laughing at it while the others did. I must try to do it again. That is the sort of me I strive to build up — the cool, sophisticated, clever wit. The inarticulate, confused blunderer overwhelms most of the time, however.

january 1, 1944

My glasses have undergone a metamorphosis. From a sickening pink shell, they have matured into a most intellectual horn-rim. The evolution of my shoes — hair — dress — mouth — all so slow. So unnatural. Am I just a brainy kid or am I a clever individual with refined, cultured, supersophisticated artistic potentialities? At times I act and react like a moron.

january 9, 1944

I am so tired — saturated to satiety with this orb. I love to sleep. I wish I could sleep a year — wake up with so much behind me.

january 12, 1944

I hear the home guard yelling, stomping steadily down the street. My thoughts are strangely disconnected — shifting. I don’t know whether I am happy or sad or just puzzled and uncertain. One minute I see hope for myself — I see myself center — not quite center — a little off-center but near enough — in a world surrounded by acclaim, prestige, art. Then I see myself in an altogether different setting. I am a unit in a small unit. In the first world there are people. They love me but they are far away. I don’t love them. They, most of them, would irritate me. In the second world there are few people. They touch me. They are warm.

january 21, 1944

Today I envisioned myself as a cartoonist. I make four hundred thousand dollars before graduating from college and with it in tow, prepare for the leisurely life of a lethargic scholar and traveler. If I could overcome my inertia — if I could break in — if I could make money — enough for Regina and me to be independent — if I could, then I could devote my life to art, religion, and — my inhibitions pull hard — love. As it will be, I fear, I will be morally obligated to go out and work (teach — how I loathe the thought) and get in a lovely rut and live and die just Miss O’Connor, assistant professor of twiddle.

january 24, 1944

I am disgusted with the way this process of formal education is encompassing me, and I am the least bit disgusted with myself for conforming to it. It has gone on all day — from seven this morning until nine, with time out only for eating and face washing. That is no way to live.

january 31, 1944

My desk is the monument to my mind, and by the appearance of it, my mind must have intimate contact with garbage collectors. I don’t live by the day. I live by the second. What I can postpone that is unpleasant for another second, I do. If it requires four or five backbreaking steps to hang the skirt up instead of putting it on the back of the chair, it is put on the back of the chair — to be hung up later. As the days go by and the stacks of clothes on the back of the chair get thicker and the mountains of paper and books on the desk rise, the walls of the room gradually diminish until there is only a narrow rim left up around the ceiling. This has an irritating effect on Regina, which she voices in the strongest possible imperatives. The room is highly contradictory. Over the mantelpiece, a most mellow gray, aging picture of Christ — gentle and benign, merciful yet stern, and looking just the least amused. He must be often. Hung by the side of the door, the Devil — cross-eyed, thin, wicked — my own creation. He is a peculiar wall piece, but he doesn’t disturb me. Over the bookcase, a china duck headed for infinite space — only hoping that he will find a shore before he grows weak and drops into the sea.

february 2, 1944

It is pleasanter to daydream than to work. It is pleasanter to be five years older and beautiful than status quo and under par, but I must force my loose mind into its overalls and get going. Once I am in, at least, I stay put. I think I will go back — way back — to when I first began. What I know about it is only hearsay. There is so little I know about them that I sometimes wonder just what they must have felt and how they must have acted with me. Me! Red and ugly with my latent heat, dribbling and drooling, howling and yelling, and otherwise letting nature take its course. But I was theirs and they loved me; and they never stopped, though at times it must have been mingled with contempt and kept alive by conscience. They probably enjoyed me more the first three years than they ever did later. I was too little to kill their pleasure then, too little for them to kill mine. When I grew less ugly (and from pictures I did show remarkable improvement after the first year), they must have had high hopes; they must have struggled even harder. I was totally unaware of them — except as a satisfaction for my necessities. If, in my animal state, I recognized possession, it was because they were undoubtedly the most agreeable-looking creatures in cradle distance. Their heyday came when they got me home, though. I guess that day lasted about four years. I was their plaything, and I hope they played. They have never got a chance since.

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