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.

Home for the Holidays

We have two kids: one attending a large university and one living in New York City. We are blessed to have them both home with us right now.

The college guy was sent home (along with many contemporaries) right before Thanksgiving, with the understanding that all of those classmates would stay put through the holiday break and into January. With our New Yorker, it’s a little more complicated.

She travels with a cat and she doesn’t care to fly (for which I don’t blame her, because there is one (1) crowded flight per day from NYC to Roanoke). Amtrak won’t let you ride the rails with a pet for more than a seven hour trip, so our system is to have her take the train to DC, where we meet her and drive her back. It’s a long day of driving but half of it is with our girl and her kitten, so it goes quickly and happily.

The New Yorker will be with us into mid-January, too, so now that we’re all here we are solidly hunkering down.

We generally spend Christmas in Massachusetts, visiting with Jim’s family. This year, like so many other people, we decided that it was safer to keep everyone here and I’ll be honest, after the long year it’s been, I appreciate foregoing the two-day drive and the coordination necessary in a family visit. Jim’s sister and her partner are up there, visiting from Texas (after negative covid tests!) with their ancient cat and a dog whose medical complications require a diaper. Our youngest is allergic to dogs. It would not have been a harmonious time.

My in-laws got me a mug with all of the places I like to visit in their town when there isn’t a pandemic!

So the point of all of that is to say that we are gratefully having a quiet holiday and this year, I’ll take it! A friend wrote on a holiday card that they hope we can find some magic this year for the holidays, but I’ll set the bar down a little lower and send you a wish that there is simply a reason for you to smile and hope.

Grrrrrr-ate(ful), part 3

Well, election evening sure was interesting, wasn’t it? As I write this I am a little tired because Jim and I stayed up a too late last night watching the returns. I bet you did something similar.

With all of that going on, I want to finish up this three-part series of the things for which I am grateful, stuff that I might have put on Facebook during the month of November if I was in more of a Facebook-sharing place right now. Here is the first list and here is the middle one.

So, generally, by this part of the month, I’d be stretching a little bit for things to write. So please forgive me if some of these are kind of out there, but I am grateful for…

  1. Medical and mental health professionals. It’s easy to not appreciate them until you need them, but maybe one good thing about this nasty pandemic era is that we have them and the good they do right out there in front of us.
  2. Other essential workers: the folks at the grocery store, or the folks picking up your trash. All of them.
  3. While I’m at it, I am definitely grateful for the guys who work at the solid refuse stations here in Franklin County. When I take my stuff to the dump, I am usually also treated to some pleasant conversation and even some wisdom. Sometimes the guys at the dump are the friendliest people I’ll see all day. And y’all, people are friendly around here.
  4. My dentist and his team. I started off the day with them yesterday and they are some of the nicest people out there.
  5. Coffee. At home and anywhere I can get it (and fortunately, Roanoke has some fine establishments). That first sip of the morning is my favorite part of the day.
  6. I can’t get the “make-a-list” function in WordPress to start lists at anything other than “1,” but if I could, this would be the “26” post, corresponding to November 26, or Thanksgiving. At the time I write this I don’t know who is going to be with us for the holiday (thanks, covid), but I am grateful for them nevertheless, whether you make it to our house or not.
  7. Tortellini and white sauce. It’s my favorite meal and the creamy comforting goodness that we had for dinner last night.
  8. Travel. It’s a memory right now, but in 2019 and early 2020 we did quite a bit of it and I very much look forward to doing it again.
  9. Health. It’s another thing I take for granted too much, but I try not to.
  10. Faith that sometime, hopefully soon, all of … this … is going to be behind us. I am certain that better times are ahead.
Also, the ladies were ready for a picture this morning! Cow-operation!

Grrrrrrr-ate(ful), part 2

Yesterday I started my November compilation of things for which I am grateful, in lieu of sticking with an old practice of dribbling the list out day by day on Facebook.

Last year, I switched things up by eschewing Facebook and sending handwritten notes to the people for whom I am grateful. But (a) that was kind of a lot of work, albeit quite rewarding, and (b) I don’t want to do that two years in a row because what if you forget someone? I don’t need that kind of stress.

ESPECIALLY ON ELECTION NIGHT!

So, with no further ado, here are ten more things I am grateful for:

  1. People who work to help the rest of us vote. I’m related to one of those! They get up early and hang out all day, making sure that we the ability to have our voices heard.
  2. November 11 reminds me to be grateful for the veterans who keep us safe, sacrificing so that our communities can be secure.
  3. Military families, too. Military spouses are incredible human beings.
  4. We live in a place where I can see cows on a regular basis, along with wild turkeys, lots of deer, rolling hills, and all kinds of amazing scenery.
  5. Everyone who reads this lil blog (and basically anything I write) makes my heart sing.
  6. I am grateful when someone spells my name right. There’s an “e” at the end, y’all. And when someone asks to check the spelling? Wow, you’re the real heroes.
  7. Hobbies. Needlework is my go-to right now, but I’ve done the scrapbooks, the card making, the quilting, the knitting. Craftiness is goodness.
  8. Zoom. Yeah, I said it. It lets me see some beloved faces and I appreciate them now more than ever.
  9. On this chilly evening, I appreciate that our heater is working a-okay and I can enjoy the blustery weather outside by peeping at it from a cozy house.
  10. All the people and organizations that are out there trying to make the world a better place for folks who can use a hand.

I’ll finish up the last 10 items on list tomorrow. Have you voted yet? I am sending fervent wishes for a good voting experience for everyone, and that all of us get to have our voices heard. Happy Election Day, US!

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.

It’s a Complicated Place, Franklin County

I’ve had the chance to learn and write a little bit about the history of the southwestern Virginia counties that border Smith Mountain Lake. I’ve learned some of the area’s darker history from Beth Macy’s excellent book, Truevine, and also from our neighbor, who grew up in Woolwine, Virginia, not too far from here.

I’ve seen the Confederate soldier manning the porch at the Franklin County Historical Society, and have been in there doing research when other folks have come in looking for their ancestors among the volumes of data amassed inside.

But this week I was grateful to the Washington Post for its article about how Franklin County, a tiny county (56,000 of us as of 2019) was introduced to the Black Lives Matter movement. “When Black Lives Matter came to white, rural America,” tells the story of three women, Katosha Poindexter, Bridgette Craighead, and Malala Penn, who are trying to raise awareness of racial justice here.

I learned that Franklin County is nearly 90 percent white, which supports what I’ve seen in the past two years we’ve lived at the lake. I learned that the Ku Klux Klan was very active not very far from where we now live. And sadly, from some of the comments on local social media pages about the women’s BLM protest, I learned that some ugly attitudes are still around.

Fortunately, I’m catching up today with a college friend who has a keen eye and ties to Smith Mountain Lake; maybe Heidi will help me sorth things out.

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!

Intentionally Uninformed

I am a bit less in-the-know lately: I deactivated my Facebook account.

When I quit running several years ago, and announced my decision to Jim, his reaction was, “Wow, Anne, let me let Sports Illustrated know!” (because he’s hilarious). But to be fair, I think an announcement like quitting some social media is much the same.

But for me, at least, it was a hard decision. I’ve been off of it for almost a month, and I still miss it. I miss keeping up with folks from our old home in Fairfax, and I miss the how-to resource in the “Residents” page of our new home here in Smith Mountain Lake.

However

There’s a lot of bickering on that Residents page. Heck, there’s a lot of bickering all over the place on Facebook. I would find myself scrolling, scrolling, scrolling, and finally felt like I was reading a whole lot of things that weren’t serving me in order to find the gems that kept bringing me back.

And here’s the thing. I kept coming back. Even when I had other things to do. Any free moment? I’d just click on over there. I even took it off my phone, but it’s easy enough to get there from the browser. And though I tried not to post anything, I’d do it and then spend the rest of the day checking to see if anyone had commented on it or had given it a thumbs-up.

I know plenty of people who find real value over there in Mr. Zuckerberg’s corner of the world. But I was starting to feel like I was being fed a “product” that wasn’t good for me. So I zapped it. Now I keep a book close by for when I get a twitchy social media finger (one particularly helpful one is Cal Newport’s Digital Minimalism, which gave me the idea in the first place) (along with pressure from our kids), and if I need to take a break from whatever I’m doing online, I’ll read a page or two instead of clicking over to Facebook.

I hope to keep at it until it’s not so hard!

I don’t know how long I’ll be away from the ‘book – I’ve only disabled my account, not deleted it. And to be fair, I’m still active over on the others: Instagram, Twitter, and even Messenger. But right now, there’s enough of what I don’t like over there to keep me from going back.

Where I Live

For the last couple of weeks it feels like most of the things I tend to write about are terribly trivial.

… an unnecessary insertion into a week filled with long overdue conversations about race that deserved our full and undivided attention.

Monica Hesse, The Washington Post, June 9, 2020

But like most of us, I suspect, I’ve been thinking about race a whole lot since the end of May, along with my place in making things better.

Because the place where I live, in this corner of southwest Virginia, has a lot going for it:

It’s hay bale season and every field is now full of these
We also have ridiculous scenery
And real farmers!

And we live among some of the kindest people you’ll ever meet.

But this corner of the world is also trying to figure out, I think, where it stands regarding its past.

The Confederate on the porch used to stand at the courthouse. He moved to the historical society when he was replaced (with another Confederate)

And while it’s not too unusual to see a Confederate flag in someone’s yard, on the other hand, our county’s school board voted just last week to ban the symbol from its dress code, overturning a decision to the contrary that was just made in January of this year.

There’s a lot to think about.