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:
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.
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.
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.
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)!
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.
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.
I have not yet met a southwestern Virginian introvert.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This is one of those, “Golly, things are different here!” posts.
In Covid-time in Wirtz, it’s pretty easy to socially distance yourself. Fewer people = easier to spread out. But once in a while, you need to get out of the house to get groceries or, like today, get an oil change. (That light has been on in my car for a more time than I’d like to admit.)
Our local oil change place is not a Jiffy Lube franchise like you might see in Northern Virginia, but is called Liquid Lube.
Not gonna lie, when we first moved here I thought it was a restaurant and I got excited.
But it’s where you get your oil changed. This morning as I wrote this, I was little prickly because I had made the effort to get there before they opened and at 8:40 my car was still sitting there waiting.
And despite the nice reading area outside, I am in a busy time at work and was feeling my Northern VA roots kick in and getting a little impatient.
When it’s not a socially- distanced time, you can hang out in the waiting area during an oil change and have amazing chats with the folks in there. I have met a retired coal miner who loves his pontoon boat because he enjoys taking his in-laws out for boat rides. I’ve met a woman who occupies herself on long drives by holding a hardback book up on the steering wheel. I’ve met the athletic director for the local Christian school (he told me to have a blessed day, of course).
But today we are all spread out.
It’s kind of funny to think of your oil change place as a place you miss hanging out. Just like everywhere else, I guess.
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…
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.