Off the Grid

Posted July 16th, 2017 by Candice

Saturday I jumped in the truck with a bottle of water and a 25-year-old Virginia topographical map.  Where I was going Mapquest, Garmins, and smartphones were useless.  I drove north on Route 11, then west on Route 220, then, after some miles, made a left onto a windy road that doglegged around Tinker Mountain, ran parallel to the Appalachian Trail and crossed three county lines, Botetourt, Roanoke, and Craig.  Soon there was only sky, mountains, and road in front of me.

My destination?  An old one-room church and its cemetery.  I’d found lists of forgotten cemeteries in Botetourt County, most of them transcribed from county records in the early 1990s.  I liked the names in this particular cemetery (the last person was laid to rest in 1941) and wanted to photograph the one-room church.  It had been ages since I’d taken a photo-jaunt.

I followed the vague directions: “2 miles from Lone Star Concrete Plant, west on Rt. 600, sits up on a hill reached by foot across the road.”  The concrete plant is still there, with a different name.  Route 600 is clearly marked, though it’s a hard right on a curve.

Then I was in a leafy green cathedral.  Pavement became gravel as the road narrowed and twisted.  I glimpsed silos just beyond the tree tunnel, but few driveways.  Typical Virginia back country–no place to turn around, no place to pull off.

It occurred to me the one-room church, if it hadn’t already melted into the ground, was hidden from my view.  I could park in one of the driveways and scrabble around on foot, but it was already in the 90s.  The best time to explore alone is in January when the trees are bare and the snakes are hibernating.

Disappointed, I managed an awkward K-turn without sliding into a creek, and headed back.  A sign pointing to Haymakertown popped up and I went that way.

There was no town, only a scattering of eight or so brick ramblers braced against the mountainside.  The houses sat on three-acre lots, with tidy lawns, flowerbeds, and basketball hoops nailed to shade trees.  Instantly I fell in love with this tiny community backdropped by tremendous beauty.

I imagined everyone knew each other, helped shovel snow-blocked driveways, shared bumper crops of zucchini and tomatoes, watched out for children who missed the school bus, picked up extra gallons of milk for neighbors.  These people live off the grid.  Stores, banks, and schools aren’t a hop, skip, and a jump away.  Trips to “civilization” are more deliberate and special.

As I passed the hamlet, I thought about how much time I fritter running errands.  Every day I have a to-do list:  buy cat litter (with two large, always-eating cats, we go through a lot of cat litter), drop off library books, stop by the pharmacy.  If I crammed all my errands in a single day, I’d be gone for hours, just tooling around.  If we didn’t live in a town surrounded by stores and activities, I’d feel less pressured.  Have more time for work and play.

Short of moving to Haymakertown, I could pretend we live off the grid.  Ignore the siren call of the shops, tamp down the “need” to buy coffee because it’s on sale.  It might work . . . until we run out of cat litter.


Hitting the Refresh Button

Posted July 9th, 2017 by Candice

Confession:  I don’t know where the refresh button is on my computer, or what it does.  I only know I’ve been told to “refresh” a page for up-to-date information (I think).  I just click out of the Internet and start over.  Don’t laugh.

In 1982, when my husband bought my first PC (an Osborne we still have) and dragged me kicking and screaming into the home computer era, things were pretty simple.  Then came the Internet around 1997 (for me) and that wasn’t too bad either.  I could find books from my childhood!  Twenty years later, the digital world is out of control, so many changes, so many updates, that I find myself in front of the Mr. Coffee maker, unable to figure out which button to use.  Sometimes I feel like running away.

Here at Hollins University this summer, I’ve listened to a number of guest speakers.  The question of social media platforms has come up.  People are anxious about what they should be on and to what extent (worries too often from people who haven’t even written a book).  What about the pitfalls of creating a brand too soon?  If your online persona reflects the sexy YA you just published, what if you write a picture book next?

Discussions expand to the types of social media and I remembered how MySpace was all that and a bag of cats until it was overrun with “older” people.  Young people jumped ship to Facebook, but darned if their parents didn’t follow them over there so they could post embarrassing baby photos and play Candy Crush, so next the hipsters defected to Twitter and Instagram and Snapchat.  Somehow Facebook and Twitter became “musts” for writers and illustrators, along with websites (blogs seem to have fallen out of favor), and now I’m hearing murmurs we should be on Instagram, too.

I have a website (woefully out of date and in the process of being re-done), a personal FB page and a fan FB page that I forget about most of the time.  I will never have a Twitter account and, because I don’t own a smart phone, can’t use Instagram.  As the digital world leaves me in the dust more each day, am I in danger of not being published because I don’t maintain a broad social platform?

Tomorrow I turn 65.  (Medicare!)  I have been in this business more than half my life.  Writing for children is my life.  Yes, times have changed but I’ve managed to weather those changes and stay fresh.  Didn’t nobody draw those 137 books I’ve sold.  Yet I spend more hours now working than I did back in the day.  I’m older and slower, but also more thoughtful.  Age has given me perspective and experience, things I can’t describe in 140 characters or less, or prettied up through a digital lens.

Being at Hollins allows me to refresh, away from housework and errands and the hunting and gathering of food.  I walk out the door into cardinals singing, cicadas drilling, muskrats foraging, herons stalking, buzzards gliding.  Trees and mountains and fields.  Oh, how I love fields.  Give me a blanket of chicory and Queen Anne’s lace, horses under blue skies and I’m in heaven.

Every chance I get, I ditch screens and emails.  It’s enough I do my work at a computer.  My body isn’t meant to stay hunched over a laptop, much less have a phone clamped to my hand.  What’s better than driving the little red truck down a winding road, windows down, into the deep green of a Virginia summer?

What I see won’t be Instagrammed, what I experience won’t be crammed into a YouTube video.  Real, unfiltered life seeps into my work, far more important than broadcasting on any social media.

I’m glad to be 65, old enough to have lived before the digital age and know I have a choice.  If I need to be refreshed, I don’t hunt for a button.  I just go outside.