2020 was a pretty good year for Rivervine

I feel guilty posting this. The past nine months have been nasty for most people. Isolation, e-learning, facemasks, shutdowns, riots, political turmoil, and a host of other troubles have made 2020 a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year.

But looking back, I’ve actually kicked ass, despite it all.

Yeah, I know I whined a lot on social media. Dealing with my physical and financial challenges has been a struggle. Playing the SSDI game has been frustrating and stressful. Seeing a therapist for anxiety and depression gave me some ineffective coping mechanisms that proved to be a huge waste of time and money when what I really needed were solutions to my real-world problems, not more bills I can’t afford to pay.  

So I did what I always do: suck it up, count my blessings, and post a rant on Facebook.

As I was counting my blessings recently, I realized I navigated this year fairly well. Having said that, I have no school-age children at home, so I didn’t have to deal with the e-learning. I’m not an essential worker, so I didn’t have to go out in the cootie fog (I never got the $600 a week unemployment benefits either since I’m self-employed, but oh well). I don’t own a brick-and-mortar business with overhead to pay despite a lack of revenue. I’m naturally an introvert, so I didn’t mind the social distancing. My heart goes out to everyone who has truly suffered through these horrendous obstacles.

I got a lot of stuff done, though. And I learned a lot.

Empathy is not a communist construct

The main lesson I learned in 2020 came over the summer during the Black Lives Matter protests. Although the BLM movement started in 2013, I didn’t get the whole white privilege argument until the first day of the George Floyd protests.  

I have always been working class. I’ve never been wealthy. I’ve never had what I considered privilege. But on the evening of May 29, I was scrolling through my Facebook news feed and my friend, Jamaris Tubbs was livestreaming. He was downtown at a protest.

Jamaris Tubbs talks to a crowd of protestors in Fort Wayne May 29, 2020. Photo contributed.

Jamaris is a sweet and gentle soul. He’s also Black. I usually see him smiling as he’s networking with the rest of us in the Fort Wayne entrepreneur crowd. But that day, there was terror in his eyes. I’ve never seen him look like that before. He was legitimately frightened, afraid that he was being hunted simply for the color of his skin.

After a few minutes of watching his video, Facebook notified me that my friend Tee started to livestream, so I switched over to her page. She had that same shaky voice—a mix of anger and fear. She too is Black.

My news feed blew up with all my other Black friends posting their thoughts on the matter.

I just sat back and watched. And listened. I read their stories.

I don’t call myself a “White ally.” In my opinion, that term smacks of hero complex and puts the attention on the White person. I’d rather encourage Black people to tell their own stories in their own voices, and support them in their efforts to advance in the mainstream.

I was really disheartened—although hardly surprised—when conservative pundits uncovered a 2015 interview with Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors admitting that she and Alicia Garza were “trained Marxists.” And of all the material on the BLM website, the right-wingers focused on the one line saying, “We disrupt the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure …” That language has since been taken down.

Of course the cries for “defund the police” were controversial, but if you listened closely, you’d hear cries to improve education and social services in poor, traditionally Black communities. They want just as much investment in their neighborhoods and schools as there is in the mostly White suburbs.

Now, here we are six months later and there’s very little talk of BLM. I noticed in the first month or two of the protests, there were a lot of White people hashtagging #blacklivesmatter. They would make it a point to patronize Black-owned businesses and eat and Black-owned restaurants—making sure they posted selfies on Instagram. But now, everything’s back to normal. Well, as normal as we can get during a pandemic.

What I want to tell people, though is that we need to increase our emotional intelligence. We need to reach out to people who don’t look like we do, or pray the same way we do, or love the same way we do.

This isn’t some big communist plot. I actually read the Communist Manifesto this year, because I wanted to know what Karl Marx really believed. I didn’t agree with a single thing he wrote—and nowhere did I find any mention of the need for us to show empathy and compassion toward one another. All these critics saying BLM is a socialist movement miss the whole point of the campaign.

While there are some extremist factions that are violent and really do want a hostile takeover of the American government, the vast majority of protestors—the ones who don’t make the evening news—are fighting for a respectable seat at the table. They want adequate representation in decision-making and public spending. They want to be valued, not as tokens to give a company brownie points for its diversity quota, but as viable contributors to its success.

This is the lesson of 2020 that we need to remember most, even when the hashtag stops trending.

Year of the Pengwen

As I mentioned in the beginning of this blog post, I can’t complain too much about 2020. I only got, like, three blocks filled in on my Apocalypse Bingo card.   

My lucky streak started in November 2019 when I stepped in as marketing chair for the Northeast Indiana Base Community Council. Since then, I learned how to use a content management system called Wild Apricot, and updated most of the content on the NIBCC website. I also worked with a volunteer to produce a hard-copy brochure, and I set up the group’s LinkedIn page, as well as wrote several newsletters and helped promote events like the speaker luncheons and Race for the Warrior.

I joined a book club in December of last year called Books, Broads and Brews. Each month, we read a certain book, then meet at a local pub to discuss it. I managed to read eight of the group’s books of the month in 2020. According to Goodreads, I read an additional 41 books and will finish one more before Dec. 31. My goal in 2021 is to read one book a week, rotating among fiction (to hone my own chops), business development (nonfiction), the club’s book of the month, and one by a local author.

For my own business, Rivervine LLC, I set up a Patreon account, built my own website and one for a client (Guitar Angel), and took on enough copywriting/coaching clients to keep me busy but not wear me out (I have a whole slew of disabilities preventing me from working fulltime). I wrote 10 blog posts (in addition to this one), two articles for Input Fort Wayne, and one story for Fort Wayne Ink Spot.

In February (before the pandemic), not only did I turn 50, but I also did a fabulous photo session with Kristine Logan Photography at Country Heritage Winery in LaOtto, Indiana. That was so much fun and she did a beautiful job. I even had my hair and makeup professionally done by Angie Gibson.

Photo by Kristine Logan

I had a full hysterectomy in June. Recovered just fine. It would’ve been in April or May but COVID-19 kept the surgery centers closed for elective surgeries.

In July, my business was awarded a microgrant from the Fortitude Fund after having been turned down for it last year. The money was used to help publish and promote my second novel.

My daughter came out from California in August. We had so much fun. We went to every ice cream place we could find. We also went to the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo, and did other mommy/daughter things like getting manicures, pedicures, and massages.

The highlight of my year, of course, was releasing Zinfandel’s Grimoire, a book that has taken me 20 years to finish. It was published Nov. 3 but I waited until Krampusnacht on Dec. 5 to hold the launch party. Of course, thanks to Covid, we had to do it virtually over Facebook Live, but that worked to my advantage because I was able to invite six of my friends to speak during the event. I spoke for 30 minutes of the two-hour event, and interviewed each guest for 15 minutes. We had a fabulous, well-rounded discussion about tropes and themes covered in the novel. I also re-released my first book, Fermata Cellars, with updated text and a new cover.

Eddie and I had a lot of fun adventures. COVID-19 may have prevents us from going to heavily populated areas, but we were still able to visit some of Indiana’s state parks and start accruing our Quest pins. We earned pins for Indiana Dunes and Salamonie State Parks. We also ran up to Jas. Townsend and Sons, Inc. in Pierceton this summer and met Jon Townsend himself. He’s the host of a YouTube channel we both like about 18th century cooking.

Eddie and Gwen Clayton meet Jon Townsend from the Townsends YouTube channel. Townsend has a brick-and-mortar shop in Pierceton, Indiana, about half an hour west of Fort Wayne.

Speaking of Eddie, he left his full time job in April and started attending classes at Indiana Wesleyan University. Even though he doesn’t have a degree yet, but it’s in progress, he was able to get a job teaching aviation mechanics for Ivy Tech Community College. He’s loving his new career path. I’ve never seen him so happy.

Best of all, I am officially one-year cancer free! Good news.

Hopefully 2021 will be even better. We are working on improving our health, and growing our knowledge base about photography and videography. The Rivervine YouTube channel officially launches March 9, but you can get a sneak peek of all our beta testing. Once we get 100 subscribers, we can get a custom URL.

If you’d like to support our efforts, please subscribe to my Patreon account at patreon.com/rivervine. I am so appreciative of the seven subscribers I have so far, and hope to at least double that number by 2022.

Thank you all for being part of our journey. May 2021 rock for you and yours.

Published by Gwen Clayton

Gwen Clayton is a freelance writer living in Ashland, Kentucky. She is the former editor of the Greater Fort Wayne Business Weekly, and has written for numerous other publications since 1986. Her first book, the paranormal thriller "Fermata Cellars," was published in 2016, and her Bible-inspired short story, "Purr: A story of love, lions and a Hebrew named Daniel," was released in 2019. She recently finished writing, "Zinfandel’s Grimoire," which is the sequel to 'Fermata;' that book is in the editing and design phase of publication. Her current works in progress include the third book in the Rivervine Trilogy, tentatively titled, "Comatis Unveiled," and the nonfiction, "Dragon's Poker Table: A rocker chick's breast cancer journey." Her books are independently published under the imprint, Rivervine LLC. In addition to writing books, Clayton contracts as a copywriter for local, small businesses.

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