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.

Day Job

I have a college friend who is an author. If you have kids of a certain age you have almost certainly heard of her work; Disney turned one of her characters into an animated series and it thrills me to see merch and Halloween costumes based on my own friend’s creation!

Anyway, I follow this good lady on Facebook. There, she mentioned that she had retweeted (on her Twitter page, of course) some political revelry about Saturday’s announcement that the US elections have been called in favor of President-elect Biden. One of her Twitter followers unfollowed her over the retweet and told her to stick to her day job.

Okay, now, people need to stop it.

I live in a very “red” part of Virginia, and was it my imagination that at our little Kroger yesterday, people were extra inconsiderate? We always have our share of loud and proud mask-refusers, but hey, you fella who rammed someone else’s cart so you could get closer to the oranges, was that necessary?

Anger serves a purpose. If it spurs you to make change, it serves a really valuable purpose. But temper? Snideness? Calling people names and telling them what to do with their own platforms? Come on, y’all, wouldn’t it make sense to take that energy and work to make things better in your little corner of the world?

My friend Anne Marie had the best response to her un-follower: “I told her my day job was being human and writing was just a part of me, and I wished her well.”

THAT’s a professional! Doing her day job! And now, hopefully I can pry myself away from the news long enough to be a little more productive at my own day job this week.

Grrrrrrrr-ate(ful), part 1

It’s November, a month in which I have often run through a list of things in my life for which I’m grateful, posting one each day up there on Facebook.

But this year, wow, things are so weird, aren’t they? I’m not of a mind to give Facebook a lot of content these days – I even took a break from that site and still resent its psychologically-tuned addictive delights (but darn it, it’s an unparalleled place to find out about weddings, funerals, and births).

So I’m going to get it all out of the way and share a list of things I’m grateful for right here:

  1. Leftover Halloween candy.
  2. NaNoWriMo.
  3. That we have the privilege of electing our leaders. Even when things seem to be a little screwy in our country, as they do as I write this on November 2, 2020, I believe in our system and I believe in America. Can we strive to be better? Yep. But I believe that we are worth it.
  4. People who remember my birthday.
  5. My sweet husband, who doesn’t make fun of me for making a big deal out of my own birthday like I’m 5.
  6. Our couple of kids, who are now both in their 20s but still full of surprises. Mostly good ones.
  7. Family members who make me smile and have my back. They know who they are. I love them hugely.
  8. A group of really incredible people whom I’m lucky to call friends, people from all the way back in elementary school on up to the folks I’ve met in the last couple of years. I learn from and am inspired by each of them.
  9. Our two very affectionate and amusing cats.
  10. A job that lets me talk to and learn about interesting people.

Okay, that’s enough of that for now.

As I started writing the above it occurred to me that it’s asking a lot to ask people to comb through a list of 30 things. But it is a great thing in these unsettled days to catalogue the good things you’ve got going on, and I hope you can think of a few, yourself.

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.

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

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.

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…

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.

Greetings!

I try to keep this blog about the local environs here in Franklin County and elsewhere in southwest Virginia, but as you know we’ve been lured here and there with other exciting events lately.

And since we’ve been home, I have been toiling over holiday cards.

I’ve made a big deal over holiday greetings in the past. For years I made them myself, and during other years I worked pretty hard to get the perfect picture of Reynolds kids.

After a certain age, they got tired of this routine and photo cards became too much of a fight.

This year I shopped local and got some cute cards at the Gifts Ahoy! store (where you can also get a sample of fudge, hello!).

But I didn’t buy enough and had to supplement with a trip to CVS.

Then my sister’s card came and it was so great, that I just had to take a break from my cards and stand in awe.

That is their cat on the right and you know what? She doesn’t like you. She only likes my sister. And that blotch represents the name of their own family member who has decided to no longer participate in card production.

These guys have holiday cards that people look forward to every year. They are that clever. Every year! And she has pointed out that the beauty of photo cards is that you don’t have to write things on them.

I like writing things. But I’m at the point in my card process where I’m not writing much more than our family’s names on the cards anyway (sorry S’s, T’s, W’s, and my one Z friend; I run out of steam), and I hereby vow to concoct a photo card next year. It will not measure up to my sister’s, but hey, I have 11 months to get creative.

I’ve got some secrets for you

Not really secret secrets, but a whole lot of tidbits that I’ve been snooping up over the spring and summer.

I’ve been lucky enough to have been writing a few stories for our local Laker Magazine. And even better, they are history-related; researching them has taken me all over the place, which is awesome when you move to a new spot.

So check this out.

In May, right before the 75th Anniversary of the D-Day Invasion, I wrote a piece about the National D-Day Memorial that’s just up the road from us in Bedford, Virginia (it’s on page 24). I also added an article about Moneta, Virginia, which featured in the 1991 Disney movie, What about Bob? (Of course, you knew that movie was filmed at Smith Mountain Lake, not Lake Winnipesaukee, because it’s easier to spell it was early fall when they began filming and chilly New Hampshire was busting out in colorful leaves.) That one is on page 66.

In June, I wrote about Huddleston, Virginia (page 32), one of the communities near the lake that was, at one time, a more substantial town. It was named for Henry Huddleston Rogers, a guy who used his own funding to build a railroad to transport coal from the fields in West Virginia down to the ports in Hampton Roads. He also had some famous friends…

In July, I got to share some information about Wirtz, Virginia (page 36), which is a very tricky place to actually find. This article also includes a huge shout-out to the folks at the Franklin County Historical Society, because I bothered them so much I think I started to get on their nerves a little bit.

In the August issue, I had a piece about some very unusual residents of Penhook, Virginia (page 34 and SPOILER: they were German POWs, working as farm labor during WWII), and the mistake that gave the community its name. In researching the story, I was able to drive by the dairy farm that still stands on Route 40, and also make the acquaintance of the marvelous man whose wife had been tasked with bringing water to the prisoners working on her grandfather’s farm back in the 40s.

I added the page numbers for the links, above, because I know you’re busy and I really just appreciate you even taking a minute to (a) peruse these li’l projects and (b) even read this blog after I’ve neglected it for so long. But the Laker Magazine is really a gorgeous showcase of what makes SML cool and lovely. It is definitely worth looking through.

I hope you enjoy that end-of-summer reading! If you ever cross my path in person, rest assured that I have multiple copies of the hard-copy magazines to share. 🙂