The Childhood Home of a Southern Gothicist

Have you read any Flannery O’Connor? You need to. She writes some seriously fantastic stuff. Reilly and I went to her childhood home in Savannah, Georgia.

Does she know where you live?

Touring the author’s home was the last thing we did in Savannah, and I have to say it might have been better than touring Hemingway’s home in Key West. Some reasons are more substantial than others.

The tour was small. The touring hours neared an end when we decided to take the tour. An older couple were the only ones there with the docent. They seemed nice enough, but neither of them had ever read any Flannery O’Connor, but the woman said that a friend of theirs likes O’Connor’s writing, so I guess that piqued some curiosity. As the docent told us various stories in different rooms of the house, the woman in particular made comments about how creative O’Connor was. She commented constantly. Like, constantly. And the broadness of her comments confirmed that she hadn’t read any of the author’s work. She also showed that she wasn’t listening by asking questions about topics the docent already covered. It was annoying, but I also felt bad for being snobbish, because we and the docent discussed how O’Connor’s childhood stories had affected her writing that the other couple had read zero of. I guess I’m glad they were there so they could learn how cool this author was. Except that when we described Flannery O’Connor’s writing to them, the woman expressed that that type of writing didn’t interest her. So maybe I felt that the tour was an overall waste for her. And that makes me a little sad. This sadness is different than the sadness I felt learning that many of Hemingway’s relatives suffered from depression and committed suicide. In Savannah, the proximity of dumb tourists gave me quite a thrill, albeit a sad one.

"Not a very good book."
“Not a very good book.”

The docent was very knowledgeable. Reilly and I stayed after the other couple left and after tour hours ended to talk some more with the docent, Toby. He answered questions about the estate, about where O’Connors moved after leaving Savannah; we discussed Flannery’s personality and how her parents managed such a precocious child. We even talked about Toby’s own writing goals and his writing process. This tour felt very personal. The conversation was very stimulating and much needed after eating ourselves into a complete stupor at Paula Deen’s restaurant.

It wasn’t as hot. The entire time we spent in the South the weather was rather pleasant. In Key West the year before, Hemingway’s house was shaded, but the doors were kept open. It felt more humid and much warmer even though Savannah is right on the coast. Also, it seemed a legion of polydactyl cats roamed the property. Because Savannah seems so magical and haunted, the town protected and preserved Flannery O’Connor’s house. I felt more comfortable there.

The power went out. With Grimm’s Fairy Tales on the toilet, of course. It was only a short power outage, but it was a cool effect that added to the creepiness of Flannery’s stories.

Bathroom reading, obviously.

Jerry Bruckheimer. Flannery O’Connor’s estate does not permit any film or theater adaptations of her work, but Jerry Bruckheimer’s name has quite a presence in this house. He happens to like Flannery’s writing, and he made major contributions to have the house restored and turned into a museum. Which is pretty cool. I just get a little scared when I think of what kind of movie Bruckheimer would make if the estate decided to expand Flannery’s work to other media. The work by itself powerfully engages the imagination and provides wonderful dialogue. Explosions or other ridiculous effects and bad acting would definitely detract from that. The estate has acted wisely, but maybe a play would work well sometime in the future.

He's so cute!

I really enjoy touring authors’ homes with someone who loves to read. We have fun discussions, and we make each other smarter. It doesn’t seem possible, I know. Just take my word for it.

Laws of Attractiveness

When I was in high school, I liked math. In 9th grade I took geometry with Ms. Johnson; 10th grade was Algebra II with Mrs. Duke; 11th grade was Trig/Analytic Geometry with Ms. Marlette; and my senior year was Calculus with Mr. Kroft. I earned As in those courses, except for Calculus, where I got a B for the year. I really enjoyed those subjects, especially geometry and algebra. Trig/Analyt was … interesting. I think I might have earned A’s solely on notebook quizzes. Then, I learned enough in calculus to squeak by with a barely-passing score on the AP exam.

Science classes in high school were fun, too. 9th grade was Earth/Space Science with Mr. Gaines; 10th grade was Honors Biology with Mr. Couch; 11th grade was Honors Chemistry with Ms. Thurman; and 12th grade was Anatomy/Physiology with Mr. Laird, and Physics with Mr. Wolf. I received overall A’s in these courses. I might have gotten a B during one quarter in Physics.

I usually didn’t consider myself a very superficial person. When it came to my studies, I focused on the grades. I studied as much as I could, and the classroom environment encouraged a pretty healthy social setting. I made really good friends in high school sometimes just because we ended up in the same classes together. But, I also fell victim to some of the stereotypes adolescence fosters. I made good grades. I took hard classes. I was a nerd/geek/dork/dweeb. By definition, those types of people weren’t very attractive. We were bookish, mousy, homely, unkempt. And we were proud of that. And, anyone who was stylish and “cool” just wasn’t as smart as we were. So there.

This notion carried over into college. The textbooks didn’t help. I remember my biology and math books containing features of the scientists and mathematicians who contributed to the texts. Pictures of big glasses and giant (greasy/frizzy) hair and 70s collars and halfway smiles, and the sickly pallor that could only be explained by extensive exposure to fluorescent lighting and not stepping outdoors for days convinced me that the smarties were not only unattractive, but eccentric and socially aloof. I’ve seen photos of Watson and Crick and Pierre Curie and the editor of my freshman calculus text. Einstein wasn’t exactly an Adonis. I’ve seen Bunsen and Beaker.

This isn’t to say there weren’t exceptions. One of the TAs for freshman biology was quite attractive. I had a classmate in a technical writing class who majored in molecular biology. He was HOTT. I never knew scientists could be so beautiful. I didn’t know brainies could make time for skiing and rock climbing and basketball and music and dating and good hair and smelling like masculinity, even when they’re doing research 80 hours a week. They can and they do. Understanding this was a major breakthrough for me.

Then it became an obsession. I pored through my textbooks like celebrity gossip magazines. I looked at my professors. I looked at my classmates. I took note of the world away from academia. I observed the nerds who stood out and surprisingly, not all of them looked like frumpy hermits. Some of them are cute and have really pleasant personalities. I want to be their friend. Here are some examples:

Brian Greene, physicist. He’s a major promoter of String Theory. Look at his great hair and classic, ribbed sweater. Look, he’s also outdoors, by the coast, soaking in some rays. It’s hard to tell simply by looking at him that his mind is working to reconcile quantum mechanics and general relativity.

 

Danica McKellar, mathematician. You might have known her as Winnie Cooper from The Wonder Years. Interesting thing about this show is that my 8th grade Algebra teacher loved it, especially Ben Stein’s character, and she would talk about him all the time. So I can’t think of this show without thinking about Algebra, and then an actor from its cast is actually quite a reputable, well-known mathie. PhD. She’s published a couple of books about style and math, where she suggests what stilettos and lipstick to wear as well as making math more accessible to teenage girls (and anyone else).

 

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Becky Middleton, rocket scientist. This photo was not taken in a vacuum, but in a simulated vortex, also known as a subway car. After BYU she spent some time working at the Jet Propulsion Lab in California. Her engineering background may very well be her secret to her curly hair. How could that not make sense? This photo doesn’t explain why she’s laughing, but the chances it could be about Excel spreadsheets are pretty high. This picture proclaims nerdiness will never go out of style.

So, my impressions have changed. Scientists are dressing better. They’re getting braces. They’re getting leak-free pens for their shirt pockets. Sometimes I wish I could make that work. They’re smiling; they’re flirting. They’re confronting the world’s problems but not without noticing how attractive you are. And, they’re smooth about it. Science and math have definitely evolved. 20 years ago I would not have guessed they could be so … glamorous? Nerdiness has always been and always will be cool. But now, it happens to check itself in a mirror before leaving for the lab.