Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Big Things and Small Things

Editor's Note: Wendy Welch is the 2018 New River Gorge Winter Writer-in-Residence at Lafayette Flats. She will be living and writing in Fayetteville for the next three months. This is her first contribution to the Lafayette Flats blog.

Three weeks into a three-month writing residency at Lafayette Flats in Fayetteville, West Virginia, here’s what I have to show for it: a 65,689-word manuscript, and 40 rows of Mandala Madness.

I am well-pleased with both. It remains to be seen what Pamela (my agent) says about the 65K, and I’ve got about 240 rows to go on the mandala.

With the intense work schedule to get that first draft done, time to explore the joys around me have been limited. My husband came for the reception that flat owners Shawn Means and Amy McLaughlin threw at The Grove (best draft cider ever), and we loved our day out exploring Thurmond and enjoying the backroads of the New River Gorge.

Shawn and Amy took me through the Gorge the day I got here, bright-eyed and bushy-haired from the dry winter weather. Seeing its bridge in a snowstorm has ruined me for other views in life. It was magnificent.

But the smaller things around here, the bits of little pleasures you could overlook if you went off hunting big things, they live in abundance. Amanda and Dan invited me to their home for a book club, and we had homemade soup and brilliant conversation. Karen took me for a walk through the park, and we had brilliant conversation and homemade soup from the Cathedral Café.
The Baptist and Presbyterian and Methodist churches are very welcoming, members quick to reach out and include you in social activities, volunteer opportunities. I imagine Fayetteville Church of God is, too, but I’ve only been here three Sundays so they’re next.

And then there’s the Flats themselves. Amy and Shawn have great artistic spirits and also wickedly wonderful senses of humor. Here are some photos to help you see the world from their eyes.

The woodpecker graces the underbeam of the wooden stairs to the third floor.

The little room is by WV artist Courtney Childers Chapman, located in the Quinnmont Flat.

All the flats are named after important historic or geographic features in the area. I’m in Eddy, which is meant to be the body of water, but for me has come to be the name of the peregrine falcon that graces my front door. Each flat has one as a spirit animal. On bad writing days, Eddy and I have held conversations.

Stained glass panels decorate the transom over each flat’s door. This one’s Eddy.


This is the climber on each refrigerator. 

They found a 1954 TV in the basement during renovations, and Shawn used it to frame a vista of the town from the same year.


The Eddy light switch has a sense of humor a bit earthier than the rest of the flats.

The fairy door in the corner of my bathroom. They seem to be gone for the winter.

This, this is the crowning glory of Quinnmont Flat. Amy is as kind as she is funny; when she realized how important long bubbly baths were to my artistic process (yeah yeah) she offered a deal. Reaching 50K on the draft would unlock bathtub powers for Quinn when no guests were using it that week. I would never go so far as to wish Amy and Shawn less customers, but ohhhhh baby, that bathtub is as lovely as it looks. If y’all come, ask for Nuttall or Corten.

So the point of the residency, from Amy and Shawn’s point of view, is to spread the story of West Virginia as told by its residents, rather than those charming reporters who come in and explain just how awful we are to us, and why we are all too gullible to be trusted with voting. It can get ugly, those narratives that have for year confined and defined Appalachia.

But we won’t be throwing the baby out with this bathwater. (See what I did there?) No, in telling the big, wonderful, overarching stories of the state and its people, let’s not overlook the warm welcomes of the churches, the great artistic pizzas of the parlors (have you tried ever gorgonzola and grape in combo?), the hospitality of the people (thank you Amy!) or the beauty of the place as designed by God or People. The flats are beautiful. The gorge is beautiful. Little, big.

Come explore Fayetteville. Check out the yarnbombed tree, find out why they say food comes here to be born, and explore the hidden wonders of Shawn and Amy’s creations. You won’t be bored. Ever.