What Did Flannery O’Connor Pray For?

Often when I read, I’m struck by something, but I’m not sure why.

I’ve read The Habit of Being several times — it’s a collection of Flannery O’Connor’s extraordinary letters. O’Connor is one of my favorite writers, but I can hardly bear to read her fiction; it makes my head explode.

On July 1, 1964, O’Connor (who was a devout Catholic) wrote to Janet McKane:

Do you know anything about St. Raphael besides his being an archangel? He leads you to the people you are supposed to meet…It’s a prayer I’ve said every day for many years.

A week later, she wrote McKane a follow-up letter, with the prayer, which reads in part:

O Raphael, lead us toward those we are waiting for, those who are waiting for us: Raphael, Angel of happy meeting, lead us by the hand toward those we are looking for. May all our movements be guided by your Light and transfigured with your joy.

O’Connor died of lupus two weeks later.

I’ve often thought about this idea, that was clearly so  important to O’Connor — the prayer for being led to the people you are supposed to meet. This struck me as an oddly specific domain for an angel — and why did this matter so much to O’Connor?

But yesterday, I was at an event, and someone told the story of how at a networking event, she’d met a guy, and she told him, “You should meet this other guy I know,” and she’d introduced them, and now they’d started a huge project together.

This chance meeting, and her introduction, had transformed their lives.

As I heard her tell this story, it suddenly became clear to me: for O’Connor, working on her writing, sick, weak, living with her mother in Milledgeville, Georgia, because she couldn’t manage to live on her own, the hope of “meeting the ones we are looking for” would have been enormously important.

We’ve all waited and hoped for a “happy meeting” to occur.

It’s a very important thing, to play the role of making introductions, connecting people, helping to lead them to the people they need to meet. It can be such a huge thing in a person’s life. I myself set up someone I hardly knew on a blind date, and the two people ended up getting married.

As I’m thinking about O’Connor…I wonder if her prayers to meet the person she was looking for was tied, at least in part, to her art.

On March 4, 1962, she wrote to Father J. H. McCown:

I’d like to write a whole bunch of stories like [“Everything That Rises Must Converge“], but once you’ve said it, you’ve said it, and that about expresses what I have to say on That Issue. But pray that the Lord will send me some more. I’ve been writing for sixteen years and I have the sense of having exhausted by original potentiality and being now in need of the kind of grace that deepens perception, a new shot of life or something…

Sometimes this type of renewal comes from an encounter with another person.

Has anyone ever made an introduction for you, that transformed your life? Or have you ever played that role for someone else?

 

Video: The This-Doesn’t-Count Loophole.

In my new (bestselling) book, Better Than Before, I identify the twenty-one strategies of habit-formation, and one is the Strategy of Loophole-Spotting.

I’m doing a video series in which I discuss the ten categories of loopholes. I love studying loopholes, because they’re so funny. And ingenious! We’re such great advocates for ourselves — in any situation, we can always think of some loophole to invoke.

Well, what is a “loophole?” When we try to form and keep habits, we often search for loopholes, for justifications that will excuse us from keeping this particular habit in this particular situation. However, if we catch ourselves in the act of loophole-seeking, we can perhaps reject them.

In Better Than Before, I describe all ten categories of loopholes; in this video series. I’ll describe them, one by one.

Fourth of ten loopholes: The “this doesn’t count” loophole. One of the most popular loopholes.

 

Here are some popular “this doesn’t count” assertions:

I’m on vacation.

 What are weekends for?

 I’m sick.

It’s an all-you-can-eat buffet.

 I ate it off a child’s plate.

 My wine glass wasn’t full.

This is a just one-time thing. (Samuel Johnson observed, “Those faults which we cannot conceal from our own notice, are considered, however frequent, not as habitual corruptions, or settled practices, but as casual failures, and single lapses.”)

 I ordered it for both of us, which means you’re eating half, even if I eat the whole thing.

We’re adults, and we can make mindful exceptions to our good habits — but that’s different from insisting that something “doesn’t count.” (If you want to read about how to make exceptions, look here — all about my friend’s brilliant “pie policy.”)

The truth is, everything counts. Nothing stays in Vegas.

Do you find yourself arguing that something doesn’t “count?” When?

Podcast 21: Join a Group, Put an Item on the Schedule, Enjoy the Present Time, and the Joy of a Treadmill Desk.

It’s time for the next installment of  “Happier with Gretchen Rubin.

This episode was particularly fun to record; Elizabeth was in New York City for a wedding, so we were together in the studio — and not only that, our mother was there, too! We tried to persuade her to make a cameo audio appearance, but she declined.

This week…

Update: We got many responses from people who tried the idea to “be a tourist in your own city” from episode 15. So many imaginative ideas.

Try This at Home: Join or start a group. If you want to start a group for people doing happiness projects together, request it here. Or if you want to start a group for people working on their habits together, request it here.

After we recorded the show, our mother made a good point: if you’re in a group that meets regularly, it’s much easier if you set a year’s worth of dates, or to set some kind of rule (first Monday of every month), to set the dates. Thanks to her reminder, one of my book groups has now set a year’s worth of dates.

Better Than Before Strategy for Habit Change: Put an item on the schedule. It sounds simple, but it really works. (Except for Rebels! It does not work for Rebels.) Something that can be done at any time is often done at no time.

Listener Question: “I’m always looking forward to the next thing in life, and not enjoying where I am now enough.”

Gretchen’s Demerit: I relied on sleep medication to get back into a sleep pattern after coming back from Australia, instead of using good sleep practices to get back on track.

ElizabethTreadmillDeskTheFamilyElizabeth’s Gold Star: Now that she has started her new job on The Family, Elizabeth is back on her treadmill desk. You may remember her treadmill desk; she mentioned it in our very first episode. Hearing her gold star made me very happy, because, as I describe in Better Than Before, it was my idea to give her that desk! Best gift I’ve ever given.

Elizabeth and I have a favor to ask. We’re part of the Panoply network, and Panoply has created a listener survey. If you could take a few minutes to take the survey, it will really help us — and Panoply — learn more about our listeners. Thanks!

As always, thanks to our terrific sponsors. Want to avoid post-office pain, and buy and print official U.S. postage for any letter or package, right from your own computer and printer? Visit Stamps.com to sign up for a no-risk trial, plus a $110 bonus offer — just enter the promo code HAPPIER.

Also, thanks to The Great Courses, which offer a wide variety of fascinating courses. Special offer for our listeners: go to thegreatcourses.com/happier to order from eight of their bestselling courses, including The Art of Travel Photography, and get up to 80% off. Limited time.

We’d love to hear from you: have you joined or started a group — and if so, did it make you happier? What’s your group organized around?

Comment below. Email: podcast@gretchenrubin.com. Twitter: @gretchenrubin and @elizabethcraft. Call: 744-277-9336. Here’s the Facebook Page.

To listen to this episode, just zip to the bottom of this post and hit the red “play” button.

Or if you’re reading this post by email, click to view online, to listen to the podcast from this post.

Want to know what to expect from other episodes of the podcast, when you listen toHappier with Gretchen Rubin?” We talk about how to build happier habits into everyday life, as we draw from cutting-edge science, ancient wisdom, lessons from pop culture—and our own experiences (and mistakes).  We’re sisters, so we don’t let each other get away with much!

HOW TO SUBSCRIBE: If you’re like me (until recently) you’re intrigued by podcasts, but you don’t know how to listen or subscribe. It’s very easy, really. Really. Instructions here.

Or for an amusing short how-to video made by Ira Glass of This American Life, click here.

If you want to listen to more than one episode, and to have it all in a handier way, on your phone or tablet, it’s better to subscribe. Really, it’s easy.

Again, be sure to subscribe and listen and subscribe on iTunes so you never miss an episode. And if you enjoyed it, please tell your friends and give us a rating or review. Listeners really respect the views of other listeners, so your response helps people find good material. (Not sure how to review? Instructions here; scroll to the bottom.)

HAPPIER listening!

Secrets of Adulthood: Remember to Go Outside.

From Further Secrets of Adulthood: Remember to go outside.

I remind myself of this often! My favorite activities are reading and writing, both of which are mostly done indoors.

I remind myself to enjoy the outdoors. It’s both energizing and calming to be outside.

Agree, disagree?

A Memoir and a List of Loopholes Used to Justify Drinking.

Because of my interest in habits, I read a lot of memoirs of addiction. I don’t tackle addiction in Better Than Before, but still, I find that I get a lot of insights from these accounts.

I recently finished an excellent new memoir, Sarah Hepola’s Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget.

I was particularly  interested to see how she used loopholes to justify her drinking.

When we try to form and keep habits, we often search for loopholes, for justifications that will excuse us from keeping this particular habit in this particular situation. However, if we catch ourselves in the act of loophole-seeking, we can perhaps reject them.

We’re so good at thinking of loopholes! I’ve identified ten categories, in fact, and Hepola uses several of them as she justifies her drinking to herself.

I don’t want to sound unduly critical of Hepola, by identifying her loopholes. We all use them — we’re very ingenious when it comes to finding loopholes. Hepola’s memoir is thought-provoking and insightful, precisely because she’s so honest about her thoughts and actions.

Here are some examples of the loopholes she invokes:

“Drinking on a plane is a line-item veto in the ‘never drink alone’ rulebook.” This doesn’t count loophole.

“Everyone drinks alone on a plane.Questionable assumption loophole. For instance, I’ve never had a drink on a plane in my life.

“You’re allowed to drink alone while traveling. Who else could possibly join you? I loved drinking alone in distant bars.” Planning to fail loophole. Part of the fun of traveling, for Hepola, is feeling free to drink alone.

“It would not be an overstatement to say this felt like the very point of existence. To savor each moment.” Fake self-actualization loophole.

“It was my last night in Paris. I had to say yes.” This sounds like a combo of fake-self-actualization loophole and the tomorrow loophole.

“I knew some speed bump of circumstance would come along and force me to change. I would get married, and then I would quit. I would have a baby, and then I would quit.” Tomorrow loophole.

“It wasn’t fair that my once-alcoholic friend could reboot his life to include the occasional Miller Lite…and I had broken blood vessels around my eyes from vomiting in the morning…It isn’t fair!” Questionable assumption loophole.

Writers drink. It’s what we do.” Questionable assumption loophole.

“Paris was the problem, not me.” Lack of control loophole.

Most of us have a favorite few loopholes. Mine? False choice loophole. If you want to see a list of all ten, look here.

In the end, Hepola is able to reject the loopholes, change her habits, and quit drinking.

How about you? Do you have a favorite loophole, that you find yourself turning to most often?