I don’t live by the day. I live by the second.

The front cover of O’Connor’s college diary
Photo: Emory University

In December of 1943, during her first year of studying Sociology at Georgia State College for Women, 18-year-old Mary Flannery O’Connor began to keep a diary in the pages of a spiral notebook. On its cover she wrote Higher Mathematics I; inside, over just 30 pages and 40 days, she recorded a series of entries in which she wrote of her craft, her faith, her aspirations, her life. After graduating, O’Connor was accepted onto the Iowa Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa and she soon began to see her writing published—her first novel, Wise Blood, came in 1952. By the time O’Connor’s life was cut short at 39, she had two novels and 31 short stories to her name. She was posthumously awarded the National Book Award for Fiction.

The Diary Entry

Jan. 31, ’44

My desk is the monument to my mind, and by the appearance of it, my mind must have intimate contact with garbage collectors. I don’t live by the day. I live by the second. What I can postpone that is unpleasant for another second, I do. If it requires four or five backbreaking steps to hang the skirt up instead of putting it on the back of the chair, it is put on the back of the chair — to be hung up later. As the days go by and the stacks of clothes on the back of the chair get thicker and the mountains of paper and books on the desk rise, the walls of the room gradually diminish until there is only a narrow rim left up around the ceiling. This has an irritating effect on Regina [her mother], which she voices in the strongest possible imperatives. The room is highly contradictory. Over the mantelpiece, a most mellow gray, aging picture of Christ — gentle and benign, merciful yet stern, and looking just the least amused. He must be often. Hung by the side of the door, the Devil — cross-eyed, thin, wicked — my own creation. He is a peculiar wall piece, but he doesn’t disturb me. Over the bookcase, a china duck headed for infinite space — only hoping that he will find a shore before he grows weak and drops into the sea.

Further Reading

Flannery O’Connor’s college journal is held with her papers at Emory University’s Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library. In 2017, a selection of its entries were reprinted in Issue 94 of Image, a quarterly journal founded in 1989. That issue, sadly, is now sold out, but you can read some entries that were reprinted the next year in Harper’s. From 1946 until 1947 O’Connor also kept a prayer journal. It was published in 2013.

Diary entry reprinted by permission of the Mary Flannery O’Connor Charitable Trust. All rights reserved.

2 responses to “I don’t live by the day. I live by the second.”

  1. Nguyen Cong Kien Avatar

    It is incredible that this can feel so relateable despite being almost a century ago. Something just never change I guess.

  2. […] and month that it was originally written. So, for example, on 31st January I featured the diary of Flannery O’Connor, and reprinted an entry written on 31st January in 1944; on 13th January, it was a diary entry of […]

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