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Gratitude & Delight by Jessica Sands, New River Gorge Creative-in-Residence

January 25, 2021

New River Gorge Bridge in Winter

New River Gorge Bridge in Winter by Jared Musgrave

Editor’s Note: Jessica Sands is the first of two 2021 New River Gorge Creatives in Residence at Lafayette Flats. Jessica was born in WV and raised in Southern Pennsylvania.  She received degrees from Bethany College and West Virginia University, and she is currently working as Senior Lecturer, Multilingual Writing at Cornell University.  This is Jessica’s contribution to the Lafayette Flats blog.

This beautiful opportunity of being a Creative in Residence at the Lafayette Flats has filled me with gratitude. You see, my experience has been unique from those Awarded Residents in the past.

This January, the SARS Covid-19 vaccine is first being distributed, Joe Biden, is now President. The turbulence of 2020 is still here, and the world seems to oscillate between forces of fear and damage on one hand and simultaneously, in opposite, beautiful, creative paths forward. Writing here in Fayetteville has been one of the perfect places on earth to be at this moment in time, like the eye of a storm. I toast Amy McLaughlin and Shawn Means for keeping this Residency alive and well this challenging year!

Arriving in the January winter of Fayette County, the mountains were not hibernating. The Nuttall sandstone and shale, loud. The Lafayette Flats at 171 North Court Street stood out as a building with dignity and history, and I was glad to arrive.

The landings and hallways between flats feel like gallery spaces. Abundant, yet not overwhelming. In fact, the whole building is so thoughtfully curated in its décor and layout and fabrics that it succeeds in fulfilling a beautiful cultural goal: it inspires everyone in the spaces to think in new ways.

For me, thinking in new ways is exciting because it creates doorways into new actions and patterns. I love how the purples and blues, the textures of the Eddy flat smoothed my spirit and led me to think clearly and calmly. Our environment shapes us. And here, the masterful design of the space liberated me to create new art and a positive, productive work experience for me. I wrote and chatted daily with people in town, like Lisa at Studio B, Laken at Maggie’s, and Emily at The Station.

Amy and Shawn are amazing. They have all the intel on history and happenings from Fayetteville to Charleston. They are interested and interesting people, who I’d love to be friends with. Ask them about art, trails, restaurants, books, films and performances. I would have been more social during my January stay if the pandemic wasn’t an issue. So I primarily spent my days in three ways: On the trails, at the New River Yoga Studio, and writing.

My writing project celebrates the stories of women who have an inspiring relationship with the state of West Virginia, and it will be a success. Here’s an overview of three amazing women contributing to the project: Samantha Harkins, a native of Hundred, WV and a new mother, wife and the Deputy Mayor of the City of Lansing in Michigan writes about finding her true self. German native, Susanne Buettner Bussolari’s four descriptive vignettes tell of her growing love for the students, people, and culture of West Virginia as a graduate student at WVU, and Sabah Karayegen-Giraldo from a small coal-mining village in Turkey contributed a lyric poem about teaching autistic children in Monongalia County Schools for over a decade. My own story about West Virginia, born in Glendale in the 70s, was dormant and has been awakened. I might add it to the collection.

Jogging on the Fayetteville Trail in a wintry mix, wearing my mask to buy provisions at The Station, I felt restored daily. And delighted. I signed up for a month of classes at The New River Yoga Studio and met Candace Evans. A mother and fashionista, the smart entrepreneur of Thread clothing boutique. From the start, I was attracted to her aesthetic, her West Virginia-meets -Richmond feminine charm. Yet her vibrant teaching at New River Yoga (she is also the owner) revealed her big heart and amazing energy. Candace devotes a lot to the Fayetteville community, and she inspired me every day.

So many women, so many stories of overt and subtle courage have shaped and been shaped by this Mountain State. In these past weeks, re-realizations emerged for me. They have awakened and sustained me like a yoga pose or evolving deciduous trail. Thoughts and feelings of my past have become bright and vivid. This is a complex and beautiful West Virginia that changes and yet remains the same. I am biased toward it and always will be because I love beauty and truth and goodness. And in Fayetteville, the place is beautiful, the people are true, and to be in West Virginia is Good.

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