Once upon a time (4 years ago), when I was just a little baby writer preparing to start my MFA, I fell in love with Flannery O’Connor. For those of you who don’t know, Flannery O’Connor is this bad ass American lady fiction writer. She’s known best for these like laser sharp portrayals of unlikeable country ass folks. She’s raw and her prose is just….sharp. My journalism background pushes me toward writers who say what they mean. I’m not one for sprawling descriptions and flowery prose.
I like a chick that gets the point.
Anyway, for those reasons and more, I fell hard for Flannery O’Connor. I purchased her complete collection, I researched every little bit about her, I stared lovingly at her pictures and really, for a little while, thought I was her. [Update: I’ll never be Flannery O’Connor or James Baldwin for that matter.]
In the height of my delusion, I discovered a book of Flannery’s personal letters called The Habit of Being. I couldn’t find the book at The Strand. I couldn’t find the book on Amazon (believe it or not). And it certainly wasn’t in my local Barnes and Noble. And so, because I hate being denied the things that I want, I developed a three year pseudo-obsession with finding this book. One time, I saw it on a used book table, but I didn’t have five dollars cash (why God why!?). Another time, I saw it on Amazon but when I went back it wasn’t there (or maybe I forgot to go back and look).
For years, I’d stop in old bookstores, and I’d accost sidewalk vendors. I even looked for it in the Brooklyn Public Library.
No one had this book.
Year after year, I babbled about this book whenever I got the chance (or every few months when I remembered). And then, one day on the Upper West Side, I stumbled into a rare bookstore because it was cold out and I cannot resist a warm store full of old books.
And there it was: Flannery’s book of letters.
I was triumphant! I could’ve kissed the old wrinkled store clerk on the mouth! I paid my 22 dollars and, when I stepped back into the sobering tundra that was Amsterdam Avenue, I realized….
I don’t really give a f*ck about Flannery O’Connor’s letters anymore.
Sometimes we get so caught up in the indulgent, painful, obnoxious activity of longing that we forget why we’re fighting so hard. We can carry around these longings like scars, whipping them out at parties or when we’re alone and bored. We get stuck on ideas, on people, on the past. We miss a person so deeply, or lament over a period of our lives, but when we pause for a moment we don’t even know what we’re so attached to. We get so busy being victims and aggressors, that the objects our obsession lose value.
Half the shit we pine for is better off unrequited.
And so, while I probably won’t read Flannery’s letters for another five years or so, her bound letters are a decorative reminder to k
eep obsessing over dead white American writers always bring awareness to my longing and my pursuits.
Where is your awareness? Do you really want what you’re longing for?