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.

From Here? Come Here?

I am doing some work with the Smith Mountain Arts Council — just press releases, but that’s enough that they invite me to monthly board meetings — and it’s a sad time for the arts council because we are having to cancel all of our events, of course. This was the subject of some conversation at our last meeting (on Zoom); the council comprises many talented and energetic people (mostly retired) who want to offer some kind of outlet for performance and give their neighbors a chance to get out for an evening.

One of the guys in the group finally spoke out, confessing that he and his wife would absolutely not be going out until they were completely comfortable that it was safe. There was much agreement.

Then I ran into a neighbor this morning who expressed some exasperation that businesses aren’t opening back up quickly enough. I was a little surprised by her reaction, and I’ll admit that was because she is well into her sixties, in a demographic that I assumed would be more on the side of keeping things locked down a little longer.

But that’s just my oversimplified thinking, obviously.

I do a lot of thinking about the people who are “From Here’s” — whose families have lived in Franklin County for hundreds of years, who have Confederate soldiers in their family trees, and who have seen the fortunes of this place rise and fall with manufacturing, tobacco, the railroads, and farming. On the other hand, a lot of us folks around the lake are “Come Here’s” — people who are mostly retired, and who have moved from places in North Carolina and Virginia, certainly, but many of whom are from New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin (where my neighbor mentioned above originated).

Items like this little fella are available for purchase at a local gift store.

I fall into the trap of thinking that the Come Here’s think one way, and the From Here’s think another. But my conversations over the last couple of days once again illustrate that that’s more than a little naive. Then I default to thinking, gee, I wish I was a historian or sociologist, just to try to make sense of it all.

Tomorrow, I promise, I will lighten up and talk more about fun quarantine activities and pondering if our college son will ever get out of bed before mid-afternoon.

Covid’s Creep to the Country

I think I’ve mentioned that where we live is fairly rural.

As with some rural communities, there may be some sense of insulation from the effects of Covid-19 as it sweeps around the world. In fact, someone I know was teased a few weeks ago at a local gardening store when he told the cashier that he would load his own mulch in order to maintain some social distance. “A CUSTOMER IS COMING TO THE LOADING AREA,” she announced over the store’s loudspeaker. “BUT HE DOESN’T NEED HELP BECAUSE HE WANTS TO SOCIAL DISTANCE!” There was chuckling. This person now buys his mulch from the Lowe’s in Rocky Mount.

(About ten days after this interaction this same establishment went to curbside-only service. No more loitering in the garden store, y’all!)

And indeed, today’s Roanoke Times reports only 16 cases of Covid-19 in Franklin County, with 19 in Bedford County just across the lake.

However, a large population of our neighbors are retired and are very respectful of the threat that the coronavirus presents. You see some folks wearing masks in the stores, and appreciate businesses’ attempts to distance their customers.

The Burnt Chimney Post Office is not playing around.

We are supporting our small businesses with take-out orders and only venturing out when we need to. But if we went to our windows to bang pots at 7 pm in support of health care workers, I don’t think anyone would hear us.

When I talk to friends in the DC area or our daughter in New York, it is clear that they are living in a world that seems very different, even if I suspect strongly that it is not.

It’s Still Spring

So…. whatcha been up to?

Here in Wirtz, we’re probably doing much what you’re doing these days: staying put.

But I’m feeling extremely lucky being able to do it.

For one thing, since moving to this area year ago, I have been very fortunate to work as a freelance writer, with my main client being the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at George Mason University. In case you don’t know, Mason is the largest public research university in the commonwealth (!) (that’s right, Virginia Tech!), serving students from its campuses in Fairfax, Manassas, and Arlington, Virginia. The College of Humanities and Social Sciences is one of the largest colleges within the university, boasting over 20 distinct departments and programs. It has some amazing faculty members, students, and alumni, and I help to write about them.

Like most institutions of higher learning (and even not-so-higher learning), Mason has been hustling to meet the needs of its students in the face of this nasty covid-19 mess. What this means for me is that now all of my colleagues are working remotely, just like me. And the messaging has been flying fast and furious, so I have been fortunate to help keep those messages going.

Let me tell you, being able to work during this time is a huge (I’ll say it) blessing. It helps draw my focus from social media, which is so crazy right now, and the news — none of which seems to be all that good. And it’s springtime here, so I can work from an office view like this one.

Most of this blog has been all about the neat things to see around this area, and obviously we haven’t been out doing a lot of that. But in the coming days I’ll tell you what it’s like socially distancing in the country, because it sure seems different than what my friends are experiencing in bustling northern Virginia.

I hope you are well and healthy and have something good to keep you busy, too.

A Long Trip Home

It’s funny how a dreadful event can refocus your perspective very quickly.

Our travel home from Alabama went a little bit sideways, leaving me grateful for everything that didn’t go wrong.

As background, the easiest way to get to Auburn, Alabama, is through Hartsfield-Jackson Airport in Atlanta. (It’s such a big airport that even Roanoke’s little airfield offers direct flights!) From there, you rent a car and drive straight down I-85 for an hour and a half. Once you cross the Chattahoochee River you know you’re almost there.

Jim, Cora, and I had managed to book our flights home separately but all ended up on the same flight home to Roanoke, an afternoon flight that allowed us to get out of town in a leisurely fashion. The rest of the family had earlier flights, so they scooted out of town with dispatch. As we finished up our breakfast, I got a call from an Atlanta number.

Was I ever surprised to hear one of my favorite voices on the other end: my sister, Sarah. She started the conversation with, “Anne? Everything is okay, but…”

And with those four words, your heart skips because you know that everything is not okay. And it wasn’t. She had stopped off of I-85 in Union City, just south of Atlanta, to refill her gas tank. While doing so, another car drove up to the pump next to hers (as they do). When she turned around to attend to the gas pump, someone got out of that car and into hers and sped off. With all of her possessions.

With a presence of mind that I can only aspire to, she ran into the gas station, called 9-1-1, borrowed a phone, and got in touch with her family, including me. Suddenly grateful to be packed up a little early, we jumped in the car and made our way to Union City. By the time we got there, Sarah had spoken with the police and made a report.

And we had formulated a plan. We picked her up and drove with her to Hartsfield-Jackson. Jim and Cora flew home, but Sarah and I stepped up to the National Rent-a-Car counter and drove ourselves to the airport in Roanoke (me: “Sarah, Sarah, look! It’s Fancy Gap!”). We were met there by her husband, who had spent the afternoon cancelling credit cards, acquiring a new phone for my sis (at the Apple store in mid-December), and driving the four hours from northern Virginia.

She wrote about the experience on social media, making the cautionary point that YOU SHOULD ALWAYS TAKE YOUR KEYS WITH YOU WHEN YOU FILL UP YOUR CAR, but also expressing her great relief that things worked out much better than they could have.

That’s some relief that I share.

Fear? What Fear?

Come on and take a ride with me.

If you’re going to drive anywhere near our house, you can expect some roads that are pretty narrow and twisty.

They can get a little scary for this suburban gal.

In fact, fear is something I really had to overcome when we moved down here. The roads are generally two lanes (or a little less) without wide shoulders to pull onto. There isn’t much traffic, allowing you to move quite quickly. For the first month or so, I was pretty convinced that there were deer just waiting to pop out in front of the car (knock on wood, I’ve only had rabbits do that so far!), so I tended to hold up whatever traffic we had.

I’ve seen a lot of Ford Super Duty f250 grilles in my rear view mirror, let’s put it that way.

One day, I was rolling up to an intersection with a four-way stop and saw that a van had turned in my direction, but had turned wide and was coming right at me in my lane.

He was right about where that minivan is. But coming towards me in my lane.

In that instant, as I was trying to figure out how I was going to get out of the ditch that I was going to need to drive into to avoid that guy, the van righted itself and all worked out fine. But I was shook up enough to go home and Google “How do people live in scary circumstances?” Because I didn’t think I was going to be able to do it.

What I found was a TED talk from Col. Chris Hadfield; you should watch it if you have a minute because he describes exquisitely how it feels to blast off into space, which is undeniably dangerous. For him, though, the apprehension was worth it because by facing that danger he was achieving the goal he’d had since childhood, of becoming an astronaut.

Truly, I am not aiming so high.

But here’s the takeaway that I got. If you can separate the perceived danger (getting run off the road by a country driver) from actual danger (this most likely will not happen), you can achieve an objective that you want.

And my objective is to learn how to live here. We live here. Jim’s job is here. There are many, many cool things about our new home.

Hadfield concluded his talk by speaking about “taking that ability to adapt, and ability to understand, and the ability to take our own self perception into a new place.” That’s enough inspiration for me to keep getting out on the road.

And then he sang David Bowie’s Major Tom, which is pretty darned brave, too.