The Good Die Young

I was friends with a boy, beginning in kindergarten until his death in fourth grade. On our very first day of school, we kissed each other on the lips after another kid dared us to.

He had the bushiest eyebrows of any kid I’d ever seen in my life, and a little cavity on one of his canines (I can’t recall which one). Somehow, I just knew that we would be best friends that first time we met.

As we moved from K through 4th, we gradually became closer, though we rarely saw each other outside of school. The Christian academy we attended didn’t have a cafeteria. It didn’t even serve lunch, so everyone had to bring their own.

My mom always packed me an egg or a bologna sandwich, like most of the other kids. Sometimes, when she didn’t have time to make me lunch, my dad would buy me a burger and drop it off at the school office for me.

My friend, on the other hand, would come to school with fried rabbitfish or some savory chicken dish in a huge Tupperware and perfume the entire classroom with his lunch. His food often turned off a lot of the other kids, especially the foreign students, but I always joined him, and we’d share our lunches.

I remember that morning, the day after he died. I was walking towards my classmates, gathered in front of our classroom, and I knew immediately that something was off. Everyone was quiet and some of my friends were hugging each other and crying.

My teacher was also among them, crying too, which was weird because she’d usually come into the classroom after everyone was seated. Before I reached them, an older cousin of mine, attending the high school academy, came over and told me what had happened.

I remember feeling confused at first, before turning angry and slamming my backpack into a wall.

The day before, we had gone to the local college where my dad worked, to research our science project at the library. After that we walked to our classmate’s house and played video games before returning to school, just as the sun was beginning to set, and wrestling at the kickball field.

The next morning, he was dead.

It took me a long time to revisit those memories. Even longer to come to terms with my friend’s death. So long, in fact, that I was a grown-ass man when I finally did, and I cried like a baby that day.

After that, I jumped on the internet and googled everything I could think of to find a picture of him. I think I might have started the search sometime around 6 PM and kept at it till well after midnight.

Finally, after wracking my memory all night for anything that might turn up results, I found a video on YouTube. He looked exactly how I remembered him! After watching the video maybe a dozen times, I paused it at the perfect angle and took a screenshot of my deceased best friend.

It was weird watching him moving around and breathing and smiling, especially since the last time I’d seen him, he was lying in a casket.

Sometimes I wonder what he would look like if he were alive today. Would we still be friends? Would he be married and have kids of his own? Maybe our kids would be the same age and be best friends like we used to be.

So many questions come to mind whenever I think about him.

Was I the way I was in elementary and high school—distant, cold, and untrusting of people—because death had taken away my very first real friend? Except for my wife, I don’t think I’ve ever really had a best friend since he died.

This year my daughter entered the fourth grade. She’s the same age as I was when my he died. When I told her about him, her reaction was probably the most authentic reaction I’ve ever gotten whenever I’ve shared this story.

She didn’t pretend to know how I felt or tell me how sorry she was. She just asked me a bunch of questions with a dumbfounded look on her face.

Then she told me she would be “kinda” sad but also “totally” mad if her best friend died and left her. Nothing like a child’s opinion to put things into perspective, huh? I think the fourth grade me would “totally” agree with my daughter. He just didn’t have anyone to answer his questions truthfully.

Some folks might hear a story like this and think, “Poor kid. Never got to grow up.” Or say, “Too bad he never got to reach his full potential.” I used to feel that way, too.

But now whenever life gets hard, I feel like those who died young, they’re the blessed ones. They never got the chance to grow up, so life never got the chance to grind them down.

My friend didn’t have to stress out about trivial things like being late for class or missing curfew. He never had to deal with his first girlfriend breaking his heart or go on living after his mom dies.

He never had to dread turning 30 and feeling like he hadn’t done anything with his life.

Here’s the screenshot of my friend, forever young. Check out those bushy eyebrows lol. Miss you bro!

Image courtesy of Sha Merirei

Is Home a Place or a Feeling?

Though I think it could be both, for me personally, home has gotta be a place. When I think about home, I think about lush, green limestone islands, clean, white sandy beaches, and a lazy, laid-back atmosphere that’s conducive for lounging the day away.

Palau is home. It’s where I experienced many important “firsts” in my life. Things like my birth (though I don’t remember it happening, which is a blessing when you think about it), my childhood, my adolescence, my entering into adulthood. And with each stage came memories of happy times and heartbreak.

In that way, home is a place.

Having said that, all those memories, which have remained with me everywhere I’ve gone since, do evoke strong feelings of home within me. They’re like little mementos, locked away somewhere deep in my mind, that I sort of neglect.

But every once in a while, something happens, jolting me awake and causing a memory to come rushing to the forefront.

In fact, a couple weeks ago, on my way downtown to see a realtor about an office space, Greenday’s “American Idiot” came filtering through the car speakers from a random playlist on Soundcloud. I was suddenly back in Palau, a teenager all over again, free of adult responsibilities and stresses.

From behind the safety of my ride, I rocked out like it was 2004. Folks who might’ve seen me, from the street and the passing cars, must’ve thought I was a total idiot. But it didn’t really matter though, because for those 3 or 4 minutes, I was back home, in Palau.

I love how music can do that—momentarily transport us to a specific time and place, in an instant. Next to writing, it’s most definitely one of my favorite pastimes.

I remember another time, at an aisle in Walgreens, with my wife. She was buying herself underarm deodorant, seemingly going through every single one of them, uncapping and sniffing each and asking for my opinion.

Honestly, I was bored out of my mind. If memory serves, I think I might’ve told her liked all of them, hoping she’d choose one and we could get out of there.

Then she handed me a cherry blossom-scented Secret.

All it took was one whiff and memories of my first girlfriend, both sad and happy ones (but mostly happy), flooded my brain. It had been a long time since I’d thought about her, but that warm feeling of home, of Palau, came alive within me at that moment.

I kinda feel guilty about this last part, but I really wanted my wife to buy it and tried my best to convince her to. I’m not exactly sure why I did, but I did.

Could be that the smell made me feel homesick, and I thought that if my wife wore it around me, it would be as if I’m back home all the time. Maybe. In the end she decided on some other brand whose name I’ve since forgotten.

Upon further reflection, I guess I was wrong in my first assessment that home is more a place than a feeling.

Perhaps, home is a feeling, associated with a place, where important events in our lives happen.

I think of it like the proverbial “white room syndrome” in writing, where characters exist in a vacuum.

We all need a setting to ground our experiences. Some of my fondest memories here in the U.S. have been at loved ones houses, and even Airbnbs, just as those in Palau happened at parties and my ex’s place.

I wonder, whenever I finally do return back “home” to Palau, will I recall my time here in the U.S. and get those warm homey feelings? I think I will, honestly.

This place is, after all, where many important events in my life—raising a family, learning invaluable lessons, discovering my passion for writing, and many more to come—have (and will have) occurred when it’s all said and done.

Featured image by Peter R. Binter

New Writing Space for a New Writing Project

I rented an office space in downtown Tacoma, for the entire month of June, so I can finally have some incentive to get up bright and early, make the commute, and sit my butt down in a chair and finally get to work on my first novel.

I figured, “Hey, if you don’t wanna watch $450 of your own money go down the drain, you better utilize that office space, dude!” So that’s what I signed myself up for this summer. That and Environmental Science 160.

I’m the type of person who hates deadlines. I’m also the type who needs them in order to get anything done—an expert procrastinator, one might call me. I prefer the term “Clutch.” I like to think this attitude comes from my athletic background (I was a basketball and tennis star in high school, sorry not sorry about the humble brag).

But now I’m beginning to think that I’m just a plain ole’ lazybutt. Yeah, I really think that’s it.

Here’s why I think that. My office lease began on the 1st. I didn’t move in until today. There are 30 days in June, and I paid $450 for the month. I didn’t use the space for the first 2 days of the month, and though I’ve been here for more than half of the day today, it’s mostly spent moving stuff in and chatting with Dom, the hippy dude at the front desk.

Considering I’m paying for the office space specifically to write my novel, and I’ve barely even begun it, that means I’m out $45. Not good.

It’s not all bad, though, I think. The lost 3 days have created a sense of urgency in me. Scare me into action, one could call it.

After finally getting moved in, getting connected to the wifi, and taking some pictures of the setup for my wife, I sat down to read the assigned chapter for my ANTH 204 class.

So, there’s this guy called Otzi the Iceman, who was murdered 5,300 years ago, on a mountaintop somewhere in the Alps. He died from a flint arrow to the back. Some archaeologists believe he had been in a fight 3 days earlier and was on the run. His body (including tattoos), clothing, copper ax, and other gear were preserved relatively well because he was covered by glacial ice.

Fascinating stuff.

Anyway, I found myself wondering if Otzi had had a wife, maybe kids, too. Maybe he was on his way back home to them when he was murdered. He probably didn’t expect to die when he did. No one ever does, unless they choose to do it themselves.

He was only about 40. From what we know, there’s no written word back in Otzi’s time. We only know his story because he was 10,000 feet above sea level, and a freakin glacier just happened to be his final resting place.

It’s 9:57 P.M. right now, and I’m still at the office. I’m happy to report that I’m 348 words into the first draft of my first novel. I was gonna wait until tomorrow morning before starting it, but what if I died on the way and never began the one thing I’ve been working toward since summer of last year?

No way I was taking that chance. Anyway, it’s getting hella late. I really gotta go before my wife begins to think I’ve been murdered and left in a ditch somewhere in downtown Tacoma.

Featured Image by Лариса Мозговая from Pixabay 

What Makes a Good Life?

I’ve been thinking a lot about this question lately, and so many things have come to mind about what makes a good life. Of course, I wanna be financially secure, be able to know I have a home to come back to every night, have family and friends that I can turn to, and be healthy enough to enjoy all these blessings.

As I write this post, I honestly feel like I already have all those things in my life right now. On the one hand, I wanna be selfless and just be grateful to be so blessed. But on the other, there’s a part of me that wants to be selfish and reach for something more, to have the ability to not only hold on to the blessings I already have but attract even more into my life.

Like a squirrel stocking up for winter, I want to have replacements (I guess is the word), just in case I fall on hard times financially, or lose a couple of loved ones to death or betrayal or whatever it is that causes relationships to fall apart.

So, after a whole week of ruminating on this question, two things have emerged in the forefront of my mind as possible answers to what makes a good life. The first is self-discipline; the second is time.

I believe these two go hand in hand, and, at least in my case, whenever one has complemented the other in my life, those periods have always been productive and deeply satisfying. I think the best way to explain what I mean is with an example from my own life.

For a couple of years, from late 2016 to early 2019, I was hopelessly dependent on marijuana. My marijuana use began innocently enough, actually helping me to overcome some self-destructive tendencies I’d developed after leaving the army.

Not surprisingly, people around me began noticing positive changes in my behavior. And for the first time in a while, I felt like I had some control over my life. It felt like I had shed my old skin and emerged a different person with a brand-new, optimistic outlook on life.

But as marijuana took on a more central role in my identity, my tolerance to its positive effects began increasing. Gradually, it became harder to focus on my responsibilities as the marijuana haze enveloped every waking moment of my life. It got to the point where I was paying top dollar for buds in the high 30% THC range and smoking through my entire stash in a matter of days.

I knew I was addicted (whether to THC or dopamine, I don’t know) when my entire day would be shit unless I was high. Basically, I had to be high to be around people—even my own loved ones—or I would be irritable and unsociable the whole time.

That was the endless game I became stuck in, always chasing the next high, most of my time spent either getting high with friends and wasting the day away, or half-assedly taking classes that I didn’t even care about.

I was like a banana leaf swaying in the wind, waiting for things to happen to me and not going anywhere. I stood still as life passed me by.

Today I look back on that not-too-distant past as a stepping stone to where I’m at now. But it’s hard not to wonder how much farther along I would be if I’d had enough self-discipline to regulate my marijuana use.

Regret is a very strong word that I hate using, but if there’s one thing I would’ve done differently in those days, I would’ve started journaling. It would be fascinating to know all of the thoughts going through my head while I was caught in the throes of marijuana dependency.

I did write a few poems that give a glimpse into my mindset. Most of them were quite dark and still conjure up a part of my shadow self whenever I reread them.

NEW BABYLON

Exiled in Babylon
wading through bile within the beast
Where the daily grind takes a toll
on the body and the Mind

Where strangers walk the grounds
Where danger’s all around
Competition’s the name of the game
for me to win, someone’s got to lose

Where love is hard to come by
Where true friends are hard to find
Where i live, always wary, always weary
In a Babylon State of Mind.

I guess my point is that we all need self-discipline to even begin to discover what our true passion is. There are so many options in today’s world that it’s hard to choose just one discipline for our self (pun intended lol).

Once that’s established, we need to set a waypoint, a goal we wanna reach, and that same self-discipline is needed to keep us from deviating from the path. We can’t fool ourselves into thinking that this path is gonna be an easy one. To make it through the hard times, it’s gonna take a lot more of that self-discipline (sorry, that’s the last time I’ll use that word in this post).

And finally, we only have a limited amount of time on this Earth to reach our goals. It doesn’t matter how much passion we have, or how great our plan is, when death comes-a-knocking, all our goals might as well be ice cubes under a hot summer sun. 

Featured Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay 

Sharing Writing Advice: Short Story

Whether you’re a published writer or you’ve just recently decided to become one, the short story form is a great way to hone your craft. For me personally, as a beginning writer, this form has helped me to vastly improve my writing skills.

A short story is loosely defined as a work of fiction, or nonfiction, between 1,000 and 10,000 words that has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Of course different sites and publications will have different word counts, but generally, if you stay within these parameters, you would have yourself a short story.

But don’t just take it from me. Below are quotes from some of today’s best writers.

A short story is the best form for starting off.

Joyce Carol Oates

Concentrate on the short story. Do not waste the next five years of your life writing an 800-page block of a novel that might well be a failure.

Ian McEwan

They were a great way to begin to learn my craft as a writer. The hardest thing to do as a young writer is to finish something and that was what I was learning how to do.

Neil Gaiman

Why Start With Short Story

If you’re reading this then you probably already have a good grasp of some basic elements of story, mainly: setting, character, point of view, conflict, plot, and theme.

For a new writer, it’s hard to successfully incorporate even half of these elements into a short narrative, let alone all of them into an entire book. So, it’s best to take baby steps.

As toddlers, we first crawl before we are able to walk. We probably fall hundreds of times before we even take our first step. Then we fall hundreds more times before we master the skill of walking.

It’s the same thing with the art of writing. Consider the writing classes we take as the crawling phase. When we implement what we have learned from those classes and begin constructing sentences into paragraphs, and blocks of paragraphs into stories, we’re learning how to walk.

I still cringe when I read the first short story I ever wrote, but I keep it in a folder to remind me of how far I’ve come. Next year I will, in all likelihood, look back at my most recent piece and have the same exact reaction.

Writing is an ongoing learning process, after all. And just like a toddler who gets stronger and more balanced after each fall, writers get better by writing and failing, and then repeating that process. I would just hate to have to take 5 years to learn from one mistake, as McEwan said.

What Makes the Short Story Form Unique

Not unlike other forms of storytelling, a short story must have a beginning, a middle, and an end. It must also have all the basic elements of story. Something must be happening to someone at a certain time and place which results in a change in that someone in the end. In this regard, the short story form isn’t all that unique.

The main difference is the limitation in word count, which, it could be argued, makes the short story form more difficult. Think of it as more of a sprint rather than a marathon. We need to pack as much energy and emotion as possible into the story without going over the set word count. Setting word counts becomes important when we start submitting stories to various publications, which have varying guidelines for length.

In short story writing, there’s no room to meander through the woods, leisurely taking in the sights and sounds and smells of nature. We have to be economical with our descriptions and details without being too vague.

This means that we have to limit the number of characters and/or scenes in the story. Say, I decide to write a war story with a bunch of different characters. I would probably need to be able to characterize all of them as effectively as possible, with as few words as possible.

I forget where I read this, but in creative writing, we’re always trying to say more with less words. Writing short stories has definitely helped me develop the habit of cutting out unnecessary words, sentences, and even paragraphs.

Some writers enjoy the freedom to be able to worldbuild and flesh out minor characters and find the short story form too limiting for them. Others enjoy the challenge of trying to fit an entire narrative into preset boundaries, finding that the limitations actually push their creativity.

Conclusion

As someone who has only been doing this for less than a year, writing short stories has really helped me become a better writer overall. Since June of last year, I’ve had 2 false starts attempting to write a novel. One became a short story and the other has been shelved for the time being. The story concepts are strong but I just didn’t, and still don’t, have enough mastery of craft to be able to sustain a novel-length project.

As Gaiman said, the sense of accomplishment for finishing a project is so very important, especially for creative types. Fortunately, I’ve been able to complete 5 short stories which has really built my confidence as a writer. I now have a good idea of the strengths and weaknesses in my writing, so I know what to work on to get better.

The Two Faces of Racism in Everything That Rises Must Converge

Last year, while most people took a quarter off and enjoyed summertime in the Pacific Northwest, I took a writing class in Seattle. At some point (the 3rd or 4th week, I think), the class read some of Flannery O’Connor’s short stories and shared our thoughts about them on a discussion board.

It was insightful, and a bit scary, to read many of my peers’ reflections on the stories and O’Connor herself. Insightful because I got the chance to see different perspectives that I wouldn’t have been able to otherwise. And scary because of how some can so easily dismiss an author and their work as racist with no regard for the time and place in which they were written.

Everything that rises must converge. This is the title of Flannery O’Connor’s short story collection published in 1965 after her death from lupus complications. It’s also the title of one of the 9 short stories contained within O’Connor’s posthumous collection.

The short story, like many others of O’Connor’s, falls into the Southern Gothic genre and deals with themes such as racism, hypocrisy (virtue signaling?), and the generational and class divide during desegregation.

Summary of Everything That Rises Must Converge

The story is set at a time when buses were just beginning to be integrated in the South. As a reader, we experience the story through the third-person POV of Julian, a typewriter salesman who just recently graduated from college. He lives with his mother, and aspires to become a writer.

One evening, Julian begrudgingly escorts his mother, who wears a recently-purchased purple hat, to the YMCA via bus. The mother had splurged on her new hat and sort of regrets it, saying she could’ve paid the gas bill with the money, but Julian, in his haste to get the deed done, convinces her to just wear it.

Initially, it’s easy to identify with Julian’s views on racism. I must admit, though, that as the story progresses, so does my irritation with his resentment towards his mother, and his constant daydreaming about teaching her a lesson.

Aboard the bus, they encounter other white women who share similar views as the mother. O’Connor captures the atmosphere of sudden change in the dialogue between the women. The idea that “They [black people] should rise, yes, but on their own side of the fence.” Julian retreats I and out of his own “mental bubble” not only to escape his mother’s ignorance, but also to flee from the depression of their poverty.

He fantasizes about making friends with black people to upset his mother. He comes off as very ungrateful and hypocritical. In back-to-back paragraphs, he acknowledges his mother’s sacrifices to raise him (her teeth had gone unfilled, so that his could be straightened), then goes off on a rant claiming that “in spite” of his mother, he “turned out well.”

This makes him seem disingenuous, and it shows later in the story in his awkward interactions with black bus riders. At one point, he attempts to start a conversation with a black man by asking for matches until quickly realizing that he doesn’t have any cigarettes (he couldn’t afford them) and that there’s a NO SMOKING sign in the bus.

Julian also recalls previous times he’d tried to “strike up an acquaintance on the bus with some of the better types” only to be disappointed by a well-dressed undertaker and “a cigar-smoking Negro with a diamond ring.” The black men he encounters are financially better-off than Julian, and the one with a diamond ring even gives him a couple of lottery tickets seemingly out of pity.

His mother, on the other hand, is overtly racist but in a sort of clueless, ignorant way. It’s hard to be upset with her because there are clues about her upbringing. Clues that hint at the way of life she’d known. For example, it’s revealed that, as a child, she had a black nurse named Caroline who she seems to hold affection for. O’Connor presents the mother as a traditionalist in the same way anti-abortion activist are seen today. Of course, I’m in no way equating abortion and racial inequality (though there is a huge racial disparity in abortion rates).

The inciting incident happens when a “large, gaily dressed, sullen-looking colored woman,” wearing the same exact hat as Julian’s mother, boards the bus with a little black boy named Carver. Julian hopes that the black woman sits with his mother, once again, thinking it would be a good lesson for her. O’Connor’s diction in the scene makes clear that Julian is, in fact, very much intimidated by the woman, just as his mother is afraid of black people.

He admits that his “mother lumped all children, black and white, into the common category, ‘cute,’ and … little Negroes were on the whole cuter ….” His mother actually manages to have authentic moments with Carver, unlike Julian who had tried and failed multiple times, and wasn’t even making an effort with Carver’s mother.

When Julian and his mother get to their stop, Carver and his mother get off, too. Instinctively, and to Julian’s dismay, his mother decides to give little Carver a nickel, something she likes to do with children. As it turns out, she only has a shiny new penny to give. Carver’s mother smacks (punches?) her and tells her, “He don’t take nobody’s pennies!”

Julian’s fantasies of his mother being taught a lesson become reality, and he gloats, initially. But then his mother begins acting weird and Julian starts to worry. Ultimately, he realizes that his mother is having a stroke.

O’Connor uses the characters in the story to illustrate how life was in that era. The bus ride serves as a microcosm, giving us a glimpse into how regular people (both black and white) dealt with integration after many years being segregated. By choosing to tell the story from the perspective of Julian, a direct descendant of rich white slaveowners, struggling to reconcile his family history, his current family’s poverty, and the shifting racial climate in the South, O’Connor preserves a fictive, yet accurate portrait of the time period.

Two Sides of the Same Coin

In the short story, it’s painfully obvious that both Julian and his mother are racist in their own way. But what of the person who created these two racist characters? Was Flannery O’Connor “a disgusting racist whose work should be banished from modern literature”, as one of my peers put it?

Perhaps the most relevant information we can glean about O’Connor’s feelings on Southern race relations are from O’Connor herself. In a letter to Maryat Lee, published in an article by The New Yorker, she writes, “You know, I’m an integrationist by principle & a segregationist by taste anyway. I don’t like negroes. They all give me a pain and the more of them I see, the less and less I like them. Particularly the new kind.”

This integrationist-by-principle-segregationist-by-taste attitude mirrors Julian’s inner conflict throughout the story. He believes that the black community is entitled to rise equally with the white community, that they shouldn’t be treated differently. But, at the same time, he daydreams about the Godhigh mansion of the plantation days “that had been lost for him.”

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Julian also only seeks out “the better types” and “distinguished-looking” black people. He fantasizes about “participating … in a sit-in demonstration” or bringing home a “suspiciously Negroid woman” who is “intelligent, dignified, even good” just to scorn his mother.

His motivations have little to do with his support for the black community and everything to do with his rebellion against his mother’s more traditional views.

Essentially, he’s only seeking out a token black friend to distance himself from his family’s racist history.

Ann Charters in The Story and Its Writer describes O’Connor as “one of the greatest religious writers of modern times” (709). O’Connor’s religious background, though an important influence, is never explicitly mentioned in “Everything That Rises Must Converge.” Instead, we see subtle hints of it scattered here and there.

As Julian impatiently waits for his mother to get ready to leave the house, he poses in the doorway “like Saint Sebastian.” On their way to catch the bus, he “walked along, saturated in depression, as if in the midst of his martyrdom he had lost his faith.” His grandmother’s family name being “Godhigh” also hints at the religious influence.

In her essay in The New York Review, prolific author, Joyce Carol Oates, writes about O’Connor’s religious upbringing and her rebellious attitude towards her mother. It’s interesting to learn about this rebellious side, particularly towards her “stubborn, self-righteous, and unflagging” religious mother.

Her real life relationship with her mother, in a way, also resembles Julian’s own relationship with his. Oates writes that at the age of fifteen, O’Connor lost her father (also to lupus) and took it “as a sign of God’s grace.” In the short story, there is no mention of Julian’s own father.

O’Connor, in her own words, writes that “Belief, in my own case anyway, is the engine that makes perception operate” (Charters, 1199), that, for her, “the meaning of life is centered in our Redemption by Christ” (Charters, 709).

In addition to her religious beliefs, she leaves behind her thoughts on writing. She asserts that the “meaning of fiction is not abstract meaning but experienced meaning.” And that writing fiction “calls for the strictest attention to the real—whether … a naturalistic story or a fantasy” (Charters, 1194). In other words, as a writer of fiction, we draw from our lived experiences to give our stories and characters life.

O’Connor states as fact that “fiction writing is something in which the whole personality takes part—the conscious as well as the unconscious mind” (Charters, 1196).

Applying this assertion to the main characters, we see the two faces of racism in the story—the fox and the wolf. Julian symbolizes the self-righteous, racist liberal, and his mother represents the unapologetic, traditional kind.

Furthermore, O’ Connor writes that fiction requires two qualities: “the sense of mystery and … the sense of manners,” that the sense of manners come “from the texture of existence that surrounds you” (Charters, 1197). If her sense of manners come from her environment (the South during the Jim Crow era), then her sense of mystery must come from her religious background.

Considering her strict attention to the real, we can begin to piece together where her personal experiences bleed into her fiction writing. In “Everything That Rises Must Converge,” O’Conner weaves together her environment and her background to beautifully capture the atmosphere of the South in a short story.

Conclusion

More than fifty years after her death, O’Connor and her words have retained their relevance for a reason. A quarter of the way into “Everything That Rises Must Converge,” Julian and his mother have an argument about culture before they board the bus. Julian had just removed his tie to spite her, and she responds by telling him he looks like a thug.

Rolling his eyes upward, he put his tie back on. “Restored to my class,” he muttered. He thrust his face toward her and hissed, “True culture is in the mind, the mind,” he said, and tapped his head, “the mind.”

“It’s in the heart,” she said, “and in how you do things and how you do things is because of who you are.”

“Nobody in the damn bus cares who you are.”

“I care who I am,” she said icily.

I would say true culture is in both our hearts and our minds. The heart as the intuition, and the mind as the intellect. If we’re all intellect with no intuition, we’ll never have the heart to truly empathize with others. If we’re all intuition with no intellect, we’ll act out impulsively with no regard for the consequences our actions have on others.

Simply put, don’t be demeaning because you know stuff. And don’t let your emotions think for you.

True culture is in our hearts and our minds. The heart as our intuition, and the mind as our intellect. If we’re all intellect with no intuition, we’ll never have the heart to act. If we’re all intuition with no intellect, we’ll act out impulsively with no regard for the consequences our actions have on others.

O’Connor, through Julian and his mother, warn us about the extremes of our own dual natures. Whether it’s the duality between philosophy and theology, liberalism and conservatism, or masculinity and femininity, there’s a certain balance that’s required in order for both natures to rise and eventually converge. Essentially, two equal halves create a whole.

Read “Everything That Rises Must Converse”

Featured Image by RENE RAUSCHENBERGER from Pixabay