2020 took my voice (but maybe just for a while)

Back in the early spring, I started writing here and there about the things that I’ve been doing to keep myself busy and my mind off of the pandemic. I had big plans (and even an outline!) for topics centered on how COVID-19 was rolling out in the Virginia countryside.

But then, in the light of every thing that went on in 2020 (and dammit, keeps happening into 2021), I started feeling like there were so many voices out there, with so many big things to say, that I didn’t want to add mine to the pile. I drew away from social media (with one of those “Farewell Facebook!” posts) and I did even write about that here but I went on back because the truth is, you still need to keep up with stuff.

This writing blackout has continued even more intensely on my “creative” side. I took a course on writing short fiction in September and could barely bring myself to punch out a couple of stories. I started a novel for National Novel Writing Month in November but instead watched the election play out on Twitter. For hours.

And as you may have noticed, my writing here has been paltry.

So I don’t know what has brought me to toss these words up here on WordPress today. I guess I hope someone might read them and think, yeah, Anne, I feel the same way. Like the last year has wrung and twisted you to the point where you just want to curl up and regroup. Even if you know that your concerns pale in comparison to what many, many people are facing. You sure aren’t alone.

Something Happened

But I can’t put my finger on it.

What clearly happened, though, is that over the last few months, I have been unable to write anything at all. I think the last time I wrote something here was in May, about the Confederate flag, but since then, nothing.

Jim is in a pretty robust writing group and reports that some of his group members have been in the same straits (not him, though; that guy’s been writing up a storm. I wish he’d share his secrets). I’ve been wanting to write here but when the opportunity has come up, I’ve just done something else, like look at too much Twitter.

But maybe I’m coming out of it – for instance, here we are. And I took a short story course that forced me to write some short stories. That was hard, y’all! And it was all I could do to keep from jumping on Twitter to announce that, well, writing is hard.

The short story course is wrapping up tomorrow night and I am going to endeavor to keep up some creativity, especially in this next week ahead of the election. There should be plenty of things to write about, no?

In this little writing break, I hope that you’ve been well and feeling safe, and that you’ve had an outlet for some creativity of your own. If so, keep at it! If not, I get it.

Creeping Out, Creeping Back In

I first drafted this post talking about how lucky we were in our remote part of the country. Until very recently, our reported cases of Covid-19 had been very moderate. Even with the rate of people wearing masks standing at about 50-50, with the wide-open spaces in Franklin County we felt like we might miss the worst of it.

Then Memorial Day came and evidently everyone went to Myrtle Beach, including that virus. Myrtle Beach is a spot on the South Carolina shore, just about five hours south of our area. There’s a boardwalk, and golf courses, and an amusement park, and evidently lots of pent-up need for people to get out to the sand, because they opened up their businesses in June and the virus exploded.

Look, it’s the Coronavirus Highway!

People in Roanoke love Myrtle Beach! And they brought that virus back with them. The worst souvenir ever.

So now our local cases are creeping up. Mask wearing is a little better, but I’m cautious and more mindful of staying home. But for awhile there…

Jim and I went out to eat at our favorite restaurant, instead of doing take-out.

Napoli Cowboy has a nice outdoor area now! And you have to make a reservation.

I made a trip to Rocky Mount for a mammogram, which is no fun but you gotta do it. Hats off to the clinic for being extremely impressive at monitoring patients’ health and getting us in and out quickly.

I started going into Roanoke on Saturday mornings to peruse the tremendous Kolsch selection at Barrel Chest, where they remember you and what you like, with always something new and good to recommend.

I would also include a stop at Roasters Next Door so I could support a local coffee shop that happens to have delicious lavender-pancake flavored lattes.

But now it looks like all of those good things might be on hold and it’s 100% worth it if we can avoid this mess spreading any more than it is.

A Reason to Put Earrings On

I’ve started volunteering with our local Smith Mountain Arts Council (SMAC). A number of our neighbors here at the lake have hidden talents as singers, actors, writers, artists, and photographers, and SMAC is here to give them a place to shine.

Sadly, though, with Covid-19, our usual array of performances have been shuttered this season.

For me, this makes my life a little easier because I am in charge of the press releases for the arts council, and with no shows, I have very little to reveal to the local press. But we keep up our monthly meetings, and these have been switched to Zoom meetings.

Because these meetings take place on Friday mornings, it would be in bad form to morph them into a virtual happy hour (though I see nothing wrong with using a 90-minute meeting to move along a Fellowship-of-the-Ring needlework project). We still have our Zoom happy hours on Friday nights with the family, and that’s still my favorite part of the week.

The kids must love logging in to see this sight

But last night, I got involved in another meeting, this time with a book group! In the pre-Covid times, they met in Roanoke, at a nice coffee shop, but they’ve gone online for the past few months. They’re a Meet-Up group and I signed up a while ago but got to meet them last night. They’re very nice and some of them were even drinking wine. We read and discussed Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad, with an hour-long discussion and plans for our next few books (Why Religion? by Elaine Pagels for July and How to Be an Antiracist by Ibrahim X. Kendi for August). We meet once a month, which leaves time for other reading.

And next month, fingers crossed, we are going to meet – properly socially distanced – outside in a Roanoke park!

What are you Reading?

Quarantining is made for reading. What an opportunity to make some headway on that pile of books next to your bed.

So many books, so little time.

Frank Zappa (also me)

The Goodreads app is (free! and) a great place to keep a running list of books you’ve read, and more importantly books you want to read, so if you find yourself at the library, boom, there’s your list. You can also see what your friends are reading, thus inspiring new reading choices (“Whoa, if Melanie is reading that book, it must be good!”). On the other hand, everyone can see that steamy summer read you just added to your Goodreads list. (Go ahead, live a little! No judging here!)

Goodreads is also a great source for quotes, like this one:

When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace.

Jimi Hendrix

I also grabbed the Zappa quote, above, from Goodreads. Though I kind of thought that I’d made that up myself, so witty.

I mentioned the other day that I am currently reading Erik Larson’s The Splendid and the Vile, about Winston Churchill and the Nazi bombardment of London during World War II. This book became very timely yesterday, when the US president used a Twitter post to compare himself to Churchill.

DT: When I walked over there to St. John’s Church to get my picture taken, I was being like Churchill visiting the bunkers. [Anne here: I’m paraphrasing.]
Twitter: Nope.
Erik Larson on Twitter: Seriously, nope.
Twitter to Erik Larson: OMG I JUST READ YOUR BOOK AND IT’S AWESOME!

And it is a good read. But I am also reading too much Twitter.

I am trying to dial back my social media, though, by looking away from Facebook. That seed was planted by another book: Cal Newport’s Digital Minimalism. Feeling that I was spending way too much time on Facebook, I disabled my account a week ago. I don’t miss it, but I fear that now Twitter is becoming my time-suck, so I’ll have to work that out. I try to keep my Kindle handy for when I feel like I need a break and my Twitter-finger starts itching.

I hope you have something good to read (and I’m — as always — grateful that you’re reading this)!

I grabbed this from Buzzfeed


Meeting the People

We have been pretty good about staying away from folks with all of the Covid quarantining, but with restrictions loosening up around Virginia and a set of balding tires on my car, it was time to head in to the city to get them fixed.

Slowed down by the tractor man

The car dealer where I was getting the work done is a 45-minute drive from home, so I planned to camp out there. I brought along my trusty computer, hoping to get some work done. It was not to be.

People in Southwest Virginia are loquacious, and everyone has a tale to tell. I enjoyed some stories from a nice lady, a retired nurse who worked at the huge Veterans Administration hospital in Salem, and I admired pictures of Buddy the car salesman’s geodesic dome house (and learned the story of how he was able to buy it for cash) (hint: it had been a “hippie house”). I had a great talk with Theresa, who has a son the same age as that Reynolds boy who is now back in Kentucky (neither of us know what to do about those darned video games that keep the kids up all night). We all talked about wearing masks, and how we didn’t like them covering our noses. We talked about current events, with Buddy observing that we all bleed red.

Some of these folks were white. Some were Black. Chatting with all of them was much more enriching than burying my face in my computer (even if not, well, literally). And anyway, I got my chance because evidently the mechanic liked my car so much that he found more things wrong with it and I got to stay longer than any of my new friends.

My home for much of today. I was soon joined by some kids who turned on the Disney Channel very loudly on that TV. Bless their hearts. And also bless their dad’s heart: he wanted to talk about his political opinions. This finally did prompt me to find a quieter place to work.

I have not yet met a southwestern Virginian introvert.

Write it Down

I have been reading Erik Larson’s book, The Splendid and the Vile, which is about Winston Churchill and England during World War II. One of the things that I’ve learned from the book is that the English government prompted people to write about their experiences during the war.

Once all of this Covid-19 stuff is over, I imagine there will be a lot of narrative about it. At least I hope so. This morning, I stumbled on a really good motivation to add to it, #1000WordsofSummer, where for the next two weeks, you write 1000 words each day. And if you sign up for the daily emails, you’ll get some inspiration to go with it. It’s not too late! Go sign up here — enter your email and start writing. Author Jamie Attenberg (@JamieAttenberg) is the force behind this cool project. Use the hashtag. I’ll see you on Twitter.

Today’s inspiration was telling yourself that your words matter. You’ve got to believe that, right? Otherwise it’s hard to get yourself to sit down and pound them out — at least, it is for me.

The program started yesterday, so today I’m trying to write a little (or maybe a lot) more than 1000 words to play catch-up. And heck, there’s 209 words right here.

2020 Graduations

It’s thick into college graduation season, and because of the work I do, it’s a busy time. With all of us trying to do our work remotely, there is a little bit of extra tension this week.

But the tension we’re going through is, of course, no big deal compared to what the students are dealing with. And their moms and dads, too. You want to assure them that their kids’ experience over the past four years was the real cause for celebration, not just one day.

On the other hand, I am mindful that I was lucky enough to enjoy (in person) our daughter’s graduation back in December and I’m truly sad that the class of 2020 is missing out on a very special time.

The creativity that I’ve seen this spring, with families’ celebrations of their kids’ graduations and the hard work I’ve seen my colleagues put in, has been so incredible; I know that they must feel very much the same way that I do.

I’ll leave you with this: these are some of the faculty members at the college where I work (we’re the liberal arts college within a large university). When our director of student outreach asked them to send in video congratulations messages, he got more than 60 responses! That makes me like these folks even more.

I know you don’t know them, but once you watch this video, I’ll bet you’ll like them, too.

Just a List (Part 1)

I can’t write these days.

I can do it for my 9-to-5, more or less, but I have to almost tie myself down (in the form of promising a deadline) to do it. But I can’t seem to write here.

I thought, wow, won’t it be fun to tell folks about how we’re spending the Covid days, out here in the country? But then it just never seems to happen. I told you about going for socially distanced walks, and I told you about making beer bread, and I know we’re doing other things but it is just so hard to start something, work on it, and finish it.

But today I got a bit of hope from another writer who is kind of going through the same thing in her own way. Check out this post on Sanctuary, from the Brevity blog, and in the meantime, I’ll be over here trying to start myself a list of the things I’ve been doing. And a list of the things I should be working on. And a list of the things I should be grateful for…

Sharing Covid-19 Experiences

I’ve been writing about how the pandemic is affecting my immediate environs, and social media is a rich resource for learning about how everyone is trying to stay healthy and mentally checked-in while quarantined. But there are two groups of folks who would love to hear what YOU are going through!

I’ve mentioned that I do some work with George Mason University in Fairfax, VA. A couple of teams I know are working on projects that study how people are getting along in these challenging times. They would love your input.

Personal Coping Strategies

The Anxiety, Stress, and Relationships Lab (part of the clinical psychology program) has an online survey about Covid-19’s effect on interpersonal relationships. Do you have extra people living in your house right now? Are the stresses of the news and changing circumstances impacting how you might be getting along with them? These folks want to know how you are coping. The survey is completely confidential so you can be totally honest about how you might have been eating more cheese, bourbon, or ice cream over the past month. They will not judge you. The survey form also offers resource information to help you out if you need it, and the information they learn will help other people find positive ways to be resilient in the future.

Faith Communities’ Response

Another group at Mason, the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media, is conducting a survey of how religious communities are adapting in the face of the pandemic. The religious studies department is teaming up with the digital history folks to gather input from churches, synagogues, mosques (tell your own community!), as well as from individuals to learn how they are making due when they can’t get to services. If you go to the Pandemic Religion: A Digital Archive site, you can also read about the experiences of a variety of religious communities. And then add your own experience. It’s not only interesting as heck but is also a solid reminder that we are all in this mess together.

And if that doesn’t make for a community, I don’t know what does.