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.

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.

No Words

Just a couple of days ago, I wrote about writing things down during these Covid/coronavirus/quarantine times and how I was motivated by the #1000WordsofSummer program. And right after I wrote those words and sent the blog post, it felt like the bad news that’s permeated the United States all of a sudden took an even nastier turn. All at once, it felt like everything changed, and writing about anything other than current events became ridiculously trivial.

But the thing is, even though the news is now full of images of violence and uproar, the real problem is that nothing has changed. Oh, certainly the lives of the loved ones of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery changed immeasurably, very quickly.

But the grief here is that what happened to these people is not new. In the United States, it’s been happening since even before we were the United States. For more than 400 years, we have decided that one group of people is worth less than another group of people, and that view of reality has driven our society ever since. We live in a culture that devalues the personhood of many of its own citizens, all because of the color of their skin. A culture that, yes, needs to be reminded that Black lives do matter.

Yep, we are seeing that this is a time to change, but that’s not new either. It’s been time to change for a long time.

I don’t have words for the sadness I feel for what’s happening, for what’s been happening. I know I’m not alone; it seems like people are fumbling around trying to find some words that help.

I don’t have those words. As I read back over this post, I see a lot of “I feel,” and “it seems like.” Which is another way of admitting that I just don’t know.

I’m going to sit with not knowing for awhile and instead try to listen. And remember to be as kind as I can while we all figure this stuff out.

Wherever there is a human being, there is an opportunity for a kindness.

Lucius Annaeus Seneca

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 2)

The other day I contemplated a list of some of the things I’ve done to eat up the day while all of this Covid swirls around. It may also be a preview of some things I want to write about but here are some of the things that have kept me busy:

  • make up some stories
  • find a change of venue (around the house)
  • try not to snack (too much)
  • consider ordering new pants because all the snacking make the old ones obsolete
  • get on a video call or 7
  • enjoy having your college kid at home
  • go to the dump
  • there’s always laundry
  • make elaborate dinners
  • eat hummus for dinner
  • get take-out for dinner
  • wage war on squirrels at the bird feeder
  • read some good books (because every book is a good book)
  • Yoga with Adriene — aspire to be stretchy!
  • eat all the Reese’s
  • stay on social media way too long, even though you know better.

What are you doing with your Covid days?