On Twitter, I follow a lot of anime people and a lot of tech people. Recently, one of the tech people asked, “Can I have my tech feed back?” I can relate to that. Remember when we talked about anime nazis only in the context of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure?
That said, I really loved one person’s response to that tweet: “It turns out your tech feed was really a people feed and those people are going through something more urgent and scary than tech.” What a great way to put it! In the past few weeks, Anime Twitter has gotten decidedly political for the same reason—those anime tweets were coming from people.
My own Twitter output has done a 180 lately. I’ve been tweeting less about anime and more about politics, because that’s where my brain is. Even though I’m certain nobody is following me for my political opinions; I’m certainly not an expert, which is why I tend to talk less and retweet knowledgeable people more.
I wasn’t going to let my mood spill over onto Otaku Journalist though. I had a lot of ideas for today’s post. I was going to write a behind-the-scenes of the My Anime List story. I was going to write about doing an article on somebody you admire without embarrassing yourself. But each time, I couldn’t get past the first paragraph. It’s hard to spend your entire week thinking about one thing, and then switching gears just to be consistent with a theme.
So I put down my computer and went off the grid.
I spent the weekend in “Real America,” as we’re starting to call it these days. Grant County, West Virginia is significant to me not just because John has family there, but because it’s the “nearest opposite” of my county politically, having gone nearly 90% for Trump. Out of 11,000 people total, it is 98% white, and when you ask people who the black, Hispanic, and Asian residents are, they can name them! The Indian doctor, the black Jones family, and so on. People instantly recognize John and I as “not from around here” from our (lack of) accents. They are friendly because we are white, but they are notoriously wary of outsiders.
Grant County is less than a three-hour drive away, but it’s astoundingly different from DC and its suburbs. People prominently display Confederate flags. You can buy a machete at the gas station rest stop. We saw a restaurant serving “American-style tacos.” A major problem in my grandmother-in-law’s town is that feral cats keep taking over empty houses, which sit side-by-side with the remaining few houses people still live in. There are few jobs. The poverty is obvious. But there’s a lot of pride in what they do have. My father-in-law calls it “hillbilly ingenuity,” the way people here find DIY solutions rather than calling a contractor.
I always thought exploring abandoned houses would be cool, like something out of Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot. My FIL’s family home certainly has character—his father built the original four rooms, and then they just kept adding on in various architectural styles—but an elaborate haunted house it is not, just sort of moldy and full of junk. It sits on 130 acres of land that include a river and an entire mountain, Cave Mountain, our destination today.
My FIL gave us a heart-stopping ride up the mountain in the back of his pick-up truck. There’s no roads, of course, just well-worn dirt path that includes a traverse over a creaking bridge that his father built 50 years ago. Along the way there are machine graveyards, which include a rusted-shut Oldsmobile, an abandoned sawmill, and a defunct tractor, as well as real graveyards, like the family plot and the bleached-bone ribcages of deer. Once, this was a farm, with cattle and crops. Today, my FIL has repurposed the wooded land to make maple syrup.
We spent the weekend tapping trees. To harvest syrup, you go to a maple forest after a frost and drill to where the sap runs, usually just an inch or two inside the tree. There was still snow on the ground but the trees were warm and would start bubbling even before we could get the tap sealed shut. I was on top of a mountain, acres from regular municipal things like the town water supply (you get your own well water out here), but in the cold air I could still hear cars on the highway, on their way to DC. Some bubble.
I was wearing a sweatshirt and two winter coats, but around 4 PM the evening chill was undeniable. We headed back to John’s grandmother’s house and talked about Trump. It was my first time with Internet access all day, and this was when the airport protests were just picking up. We checked Twitter religiously while John’s grandmother voiced her dislike of Trump’s policies. At the same time I’d been communing with nature or whatever, a Somali family was being held with no food at Dulles airport, just two hours away. I think there is no distance that will protect people from the constitutional crisis that is unfolding before us as we watch.
I was anxious and upset about the state of my country, and I thought escaping DC to a place where people proudly voted for Trump would make me feel better. But after a week, the excitement that was in this place for Trump before feels more like jittery unease as it becomes more and more apparent that the “swamp” of DC isn’t that far away at all. You can look around at the abandoned houses and lack of jobs and see why people here felt left behind by the increased economic growth our cities experienced. But now it feels out here like Washington is finally going to have an impact on rural America, and not in the way people wanted.
This weekend, I’ll stay “home” and protest—I have no doubt there will be a demonstration in DC every weekend from now on. Hopefully the feeling that I’m making a difference, or at least trying, will help me write about anime again. The escape that anime gives us is as important now as ever. It’s just that it’s been hard to think about it when every part of my real life is shoving politics in my face. I want you to know that if you need to take a break from it all like I did, it’s totally fine. But you just might discover that no matter how far away you go, there’s still no escaping it. Like it or not, current events are something that affect all of us, whether we take action or not.