Tuesday, January 19, 2016

A Second Glance at First Impressions

(Editor's Note: Mary Ann Henry is the 2016 New River Gorge Writer-in-Residence at Lafayette Flats. This is her second contribution to this blog.)

Now that I’ve caught my breath, I’d like to share some first impressions about the Winter Writer’s Residency, the town of Fayetteville, the people of Fayetteville, and the Gorge-ous (sorry for the pun) landscape.

First of all:

There are the Flats…
Lafayette Flats, a beautifully renovated, historic, one hundred and ten year-old building on the main street of Fayetteville, sits across from the Court House. The building has been restored to its original glory and the Writer’s Residency is on the top floor. The nearly floor-to-ceiling windows offer a bird’s eye-view of the town and allow amazing amounts of natural light in, even when the temperatures might preclude stepping outside. I’d like to add: it’s an ideal place to write.

There are the Owners…
Why are some of the most unassuming people in the world, sometimes the most impressive? I don’t know the answer but I do know that Shawn Means and Amy McLaughlin quietly go about the business of making the world a better place. Really, not a cliché; they do. Besides their daily work in the non-profit world in Charleston, they have turned this building into an artistic showplace. Paintings and prints from West Virginia artists line the halls and the individual accommodations. It must be seen to be appreciated how dedicated these two people are to collecting art by West Virginia artists.

There’s The Town…
I’m thinking Fayetteville is best discovered in layers.  There’s the outward persona; you might think the national praise heaped on this small town might threaten to make it bigger than its britches. After all, National Geographic voted it one of its Best Places To Live & Play; Frommer’s voted it The Coolest Small Town. (And did I mention that it’s a great place to grab some gourmet grub?)

There are the People…
But from what I’ve seen, the town takes it all in stride. Yes, their casual friendliness says, ‘We already knew all that about coolness and liveability. But hey, how the heck are you?’ The people of Fayetteville are friendly and welcoming and dare I say they convey a happiness that transcends any negative stereotypes that outsiders might have about West Virginians?

There’s the Art and the Artists…
I know, I know: artists are people, too. (And so are writers. Really.) But any mention of first impressions of the Writer’s Residency and Fayetteville must include this: I’ve never met so many artists in such a concentrated area. Yes, the town, with its Big Reputation, encompasses only five square miles…which leads me to:

There’s the Geography…
The New River, with its seemingly impossible northward flow, is one of the oldest rivers in the world. Of course it is. It dissects the Appalachian Mountains, which were formed more than 460 million years ago. These mountains were once bigger than the Alps, the Rockies. (If you were 460 million years old, your edges would be a bit rounded as well.) Old and beautiful, these Appalachians.

Finally, there’s the Hiking…
And the mountain biking and the rock climbing and white-water rafting and the kayaking. The opportunities are everywhere and anywhere. But it’s the relatively sedate sport of hiking that calls to me and gives me a break from the computer. Fortunately, a ten-minute walk and I enter a lovely forest with wandering trails, one of which eventually leads to the main reason this part of the world is world-famous aka The Gorge.  During my 3-month Writer’s Residency, I plan to explore those trails, many with somewhat scary and intriguing names. Endless Wall, I’m coming for you.

Mary Ann Henry is a writer and a teacher of creative writing. She can be reached at: lowcountrywritersretreat@comcast.net.   Her short story collection, Ladies in Low Places, can be found at http://www.amazon.com/dp/0991358007

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Peculiar Travel Suggestions are Dancing Lessons from God

Editor's Note: Mary Ann Henry is the 2016 New River Gorge Writer-in-Residence at Lafayette Flats. Mary Ann is originally from West Virginia, but has spent the past 26 years in Charleston, South Carolina. She arrived in Fayetteville on New Year's Day and she will be a guest of Lafayette Flats through the end of March. During her stay, Mary Ann plans to rewrite a novel that is set in West Virginia. Her last book, published in 2014, is a collection of stories called "Ladies in Low Places." This is her first contribution to the Lafayette Flats blog.

The concept of Home? Much as been written. Much is misunderstood.

When some West Virginia artist friends first suggested applying for the Winter Writer's Residency at Lafayette Flats in Fayetteville, West Virginia, my reaction was: why would I re-visit West Virginia in the winter when the first chance I had, I high-tailed it out of the frozen tundra of my home state in winter to my cozy beach cottage in Folly Beach, South Carolina?

But, then, I recalled one of my favorite writer's quotes: 'Peculiar Travel Suggestions are Dancing Lessons from God.' (Kurt Vonnegut) That quote stayed with me, haunted me even. And when I returned from a back-packing trip to Ireland, I sent in my application. The result? Amy McLaughlin and Shawn Means, owners of The Flats, turned out to be my 'literary angels'.

It's only been a few days but the apartment/flat is comfortable and lends itself to a writer's need to "nest". Within walking distance are shops and restaurants and, a big bonus: a yoga studio a 90 second stroll from my front door. And beyond the town itself,with its charm and its interesting characters, lies the great New River Gorge. The drama of nature waiting to be discovered. Or ignored if I want to "hole up"and hide from the world and write. Which is what I plan to do. But it's nice to have options in deciding just what kind of dancing lessons I want to take.  -- Mary Ann