Before my first Hutchmoot in 2011, I received a recommended reading list that I took pretty seriously.
I read Bird by Bird by Ann Lamott
I read Acedia and Me by Kathleen Norris
I read some other writing book that talked about writing and used the word “moodling.” I don’t remember the name of the book, but I do remember moodling.
And then there was Flannery O’Connor’s Everything That Rises Must Converge. I had seen it on Audible and downloaded an audio version of the book. In the weeks before Hutchmoot, I was unexpectedly away from home with a family emergency. I listened to the audio book while I was driving.
The book was odd, to say the least. I had never read Flannery before, so I had no context and no pre-formed ideas about her work. In fact, I knew literally nothing. When the second “chapter” began, I met a whole new cast of characters. The third one, even more. The chapters were unsettling and everything felt unresolved.
I found a library and was fortunate to find the book on the shelf there. As it turned out, Everything That Rises is a collection of short stories. I ditched the audiobook and leafed through the hard copy, reading a couple more stories.
A few weeks later, I was sitting at Hutchmoot in a session given by Andrew Peterson and Jonathan Rogers called “Tales of the New Creation.” Jonathan started talking about Flannery O’Connor.
He mentioned a specific short story — I think it was the one where the woman gets gored by a bull. As he talked, I nodded my head. Yes, I had read that story.
Afterwards, he approached me. “Are you a Flannery O’Connor fan, too?” he asked.
“Absolutely not,” I said.
He stared at me in stunned silence.
It turns out that Jonathan Rogers is something of an expert on Flannery O’Connor. He wrote a book about her. He teaches classes about her. He references her frequently.
I felt awful.
Later that weekend, I tried to apologize, but I think I just put my foot in my mouth further.
This Flannery O’Connor discussion extended over years. I don’t know why I couldn’t follow the advice given to Thumper — “If you can’t say somethin’ nice, don’t say nothin’ at all.” Every interaction with Jonathan just dug the hole deeper.
It hit rock bottom at Laity Lodge, a retreat center in Texas, where I had gone to the first Rabbit Room retreat in 2014. Jonathan surprised me at the coffee urn the first morning there.
We made some small talk and he said something about Georgia. It turns out that he’s from Georgia.
I said, “I’ve never really spent any time in Georgia. When we drive through going to or from Florida, my kids always think it smells bad.” This is true. There is a stinky stretch on the interstate that goes through Georgia.
Jonathan looked at me in silence and finally said, “Do you lie awake at night trying to think of ways to insult me?”
Honestly, Jonathan, it just comes naturally.
I’m really sorry.
There’s more to this story, but I’ll have to continue it in my next post — Kindness. Because, despite my interactions with him, Jonathan Rogers is one of the kindest people anyone could ever meet.
Especially to people who don’t deserve it.