Is home really where the heart is?

Serious drama???

Serious drama???

Teachers are—at any rate they should be—wary of talking about, much less posting for the NSA to read on the internet, what happens in their classes. I’m wary but not deterred.

I assigned my classes Flannery O’Connor’s essay, “Some aspects of the grotesque in Southern literature” as the reading for yesterday after they had read her story, “Parker’s Back.”

O’Connor’s essay is at the same time universally applicable to literature and extremely dated and (obviously) sociologically specific. She was a “southern lady” who died just at the dawn of the civil rights movement (1964). She was also an anomaly, a devout Roman Catholic from the Baptist South, and a student of human nature who saw and wrote about the absolute sameness of all people. Her fiction presupposes racism and segregation; she most definitely understood that all people are created equal, but her letters and other writings are confusing about her actual views on race. Read her story, “The Artificial Nigger” and try to figure out her understanding.

I asked my classes to think about the social milieu of Georgia (where she spent most of her life) in the 1950s and the differences between that time and the now. They have a superficial but remarkably informed (I, as an amateur observer, not a scholar or authority on such things, would say) view of the civil rights movement and the changes in Southern culture (and Northern culture) since O’Connor wrote.

In one class we had a short (three or four sentences) but significant exchange about the necessity for a writer to use material from her

Outside the walls?

Outside the walls?

own time and place in fiction in order to make it “real,” that is, “believable” as O’Connor says all good fiction must be at its core. Even her characters who have “ecstatic” religious experiences are recognizable and realistic. The students agreed that a sense of reality is necessary for literature to give the reader any understanding of herself.

Our conversation stuck in my mind and prompted me to think about my adjustment to living in some of the most disparate areas of our country. I used to say (quite recently, to be honest) I have lived in Dallas since 1994 and am still in culture shock. I moved here from Boston. What I don’t say, of course, is that having grown up in Nebraska and spent my young adulthood first in California and then in Iowa, I was in culture shock for the entire 17 years I lived in the Boston area.

Stir in a bit of the disconnectedness of my being gay in a basically straight culture (the progress toward gay marriage rights does not in any way change the fact that being gay is to live as an “outsider” (a “pagan” in the early Latin sense of the word), and I can honestly say I am often unsure exactly what my culture is.

(Note: My knowledge of pop culture is decidedly limited, but if you think LGBT folks do not live as outsiders, you are welcome to point out to me one serious—as opposed to comedic—portrayal of the main character(s) in a TV drama in a committed LGB or T relationship shown with the same care and “reality” as straight couples are shown universally.)

As luck (or God or serendipity or synchronicity or chance or fate or whatever you might want to call it) would have it, my thinking yesterday about my lack of mooring in a “culture” was given a jump start this morning when a daily “meditation” (yes I am on a quest) I subscribe to included these observations.

I will look for and create places in my life where I feel seen and understood for who I am. . . . If I am constantly misread and misunderstood somewhere, I will go elsewhere to see if I am understood there. I cannot come to see and understand myself if I am misunderstood and accused of being other than who I think and feel myself to be. . . . I will go crazy trying to get approval where it is constantly withheld. I need not overreact and run away in horror, but I definitely owe it to myself to [come to understand that] [t]he truest home that I have is within me. . . .

My meandering from Douglas to Worland, WY; from Kearney to Scottsbluff to Omaha, NE; from Redlands to Ontario to Upland, CA; from Iowa City, IA, to Methuen, MA; from there to Beverly, to Salem, MA; and from The Bay State to Dallas, TX, has not been a conscious and deliberate journey to find the “home that I have within me.” But I have arrived at a place where I can create a situation in which a young black football player from Houston can have a discussion with a young white woman from Atlanta about how one finds one’s true self, based on the academic process of trying to understand a work of literature.

Can this be where my heart is?

Can this be where my heart is?

My task at this juncture is to learn that the home I have within me is secure enough to allow me to teach in that way. I do not need—no matter how much I crave—approval (much less “love” as O’Connor’s poor old Parker learns) from university deans or anyone else. I pray I will discover before I die that that is a joyful discovery and not a lonely and painful one.

(Disclaimer: I know this is not an attempt at humor. I wonder sometimes if people know when I’m trying to make jokes and when I’m not. It is, however, about senescence.)

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