Later this month, I will embark on a once-in-a-lifetime pilgrimage with a small group of fellow writers and sisters in Christ from various parts of the country.
Our small entourage will include Christina, who blogs at As I Went Walking.
And Karen, who blogs at Write 2 The Point.
And for just a leg of our adventure, Beth, who blogs at The Goodness of the Garden…All Year Round.
Each of us has, on some level, a passion for the writer and writings of Flannery O’Conner. So we’re heading to Georgia, where we’ll take in all things Flannery by visiting her final residence — a place called Andalusia Farm in Milledgeville, Ga.; a little spot of the earth where she lived with her mother and accomplished some of her best work.
Flannery was a remarkable woman (more on her here) who left a written legacy in her wake after succumbing to lupus – as her father had before her – at age 39.
Those familiar with her know she was as much known for her love of pea fowl and her Catholic faith as the written word.
And that she was a bit quirky.
Not to mention a horrific speller at times.
Well, keep in mind, her “time” was prior to the online dictionary or spell check. But rather than find her way to a dictionary, she just made her best attempt and moved on from there. No apologies.
It’s hard for me not to admire someone like that. Even if at first glance you don’t feel the same, think about it. I’m sure Flannery cared about spelling, but it wasn’t the main thing. The main thing was getting her thoughts down, and if traveling across the room or even reaching down or across to grab a dictionary to get it right would mean messing up her train of thought, she would choose the spelling error every time.
My father often admonished me for my laziness in spelling. Whenever I was stumped, I would call out to him, a wordsmith, “Dad, how do you spell…?”” And he would reply, “That’s what dictionaries are for.”
Of course I do think it’s important to get it right. Grammar and spelling errors bug me like most writers, especially when I make them but also when others do. In college we received an automatic “F” grade in reporting class if we got the spelling of a name or business wrong. No second chances. Just a fat old F.
Which is why Flannery’s ways makes me smile. Despite her mastery of the written word, her spelling habits were a bit like my oldest son’s shirt-tucking habits. At his 8th grade graduation Mass, he was the lone boy who refused to comply with the instructions to tuck in his shirt.
Maybe we could settle for this: there’s a time and a place to be firm on these kinds of things, and a final draft – as, perhaps, the final polished event of the school year – isn’t the time to be sloppy. But the letters of Flannery’s I’ve been reading in preparation for this trip have retained all her spelling errors.
That’s just Flannery, after all, and what I like about it is it shows her humanness.
One that made me chuckle recently comes on p. 320, when she says, “That Phillopino (sp?) gentleman I was talking to after the reading…” It made me giggle because she really does spell it just like it seems to sound. Not only that but she knew when she got it wrong.
It’s heartening to realize our heroes aren’t perfect. We smile because it gives us hope. It tells us that even though we’re not perfect, that doesn’t mean we are incapable of accomplishing something heroic.
It helps us put things in perspective, reminding us that we are all human together, and that’s okay.
That’s perhaps why the four of us pilgrims are giving up a piece of our summers and making individual sacrifices to visit a fowl-speckled farm clear across the country. To most, it probably doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. But we’re completely committed to the cause. Though we don’t yet know what it is we’re going to learn, we’re guaranteed we’ll come away enlightened and changed in some way.
Even if no better at spelling than when we started off.
Q4U: Which of your deficiencies have you found matters less to your success as a human being than you first thought?