Zooming in and out of summer, for worse or better

I have a confession. I don’t like Zoom. A friend once said that he doesn’t “do” New Year’s. I don’t do New Year’s either. I don’t like staying up until after midnight and partying and getting hammered. I don’t like thinking about the next 12 months and making resolutions and all that. It’s all too scary.

It’s not like I don’t do Zoom. I do Zoom. I just don’t like it.

I find Zoom exhausting. And frustrating. And sad. The people are there—yet not there. I can hear and, yes, see them—and it’s not like TV, because they can also hear and, yes, see me—but I can’t reach out and touch them. There is no human contact. We can’t shake hands, can’t hug. We are each in a box, a bubble, a cell. It’s like visiting a prisoner and having to speak through phones with thick glass separating us.

Like I said, it’s exhausting and frustrating and sad. It almost makes me feel more isolated and more lonely, like I really am in prison, locked up. Almost.  

I am okay on Zoom for an hour or two. I can hang with that. After that, I start to lose it. I zoom out.

I don’t know how people who work at home on Zoom do it. I would think, I would hope, they aren’t on Zoom all day. They probably have meetings interspersed with desk work or whatnot throughout the day. Right? I hope.

The same goes for students. Doing classes all day online must be a challenge. But they probably have classes at different times during the day or different times during the week, instead of one after another all day. Or, as public school students in Claremont have recently started, at least for now, they’re on from 9 to noon—not really all day. Also, they’re more used to looking at screens.

Then again, despite my frustrations with Zoom, despite all of its drawbacks, it is a lot better than the alternative.

Which is nothing.

In this time of social distancing, when we aren’t supposed to get together, aren’t supposed to have meetings, aren’t supposed to congregate be in crowds or audiences, Zoom has been something of a miracle, a godsend. It is downright amazing and wonderful that we have this technology and are able to get together in this way.

Just imagine if we couldn’t. Just imagine if this pandemic had happened 20 years ago. We wouldn’t have been able to have meetings, have classes, have get-togethers online.

Now that would really be sad and frustrating. It would be more than that—it would be a disaster, even more of a calamity than what we’re experiencing.

Indeed, given all the sickness and death, all the unemployment and hardship on small business, all the disruption in school and so many aspects of life caused by this pandemic, Zoom is a tiny thing to get frustrated and sad about. A stupid thing to be bummed out over.

I have been amazed at what I’ve been able to do on Zoom. I have been able to stay at home and see a doctor. I have been able to take care of business and get together with friends (also on Google Hangouts). I have been able to attend Quaker meetings.

But it turns out this is just the beginning. As I recently remarked to a friend, more and more events are happening on Zoom, with three that I knew of, in addition to morning worship on a recent Sunday.

Earlier this summer, I was able to attend an annual five-day gathering of Quakers from California, Hawaii Nevada and Mexico. Although I really missed going to Walker Creek Ranch in the serene, gorgeous rolling hills of rural Marin County, where we’ve been meeting in recent years, it was a thrill and a joy to see all those familiar, beloved faces in those Brady Bunch grids, those Hollywood Squares, even with the fumbling with muting and unmuting. 

And, yes, this also made me sad, but it was certainly easier and cheaper than traveling up north, all the more so since I’ve been more disabled after having spinal surgery three years ago. I could have attended sessions from early morning (yoga) to 10 at night—there were even meals— but, again, I can only take so much Zooming and so limited my attendance.

Just recently, I attended a concert with Annie Patterson and Peter Blood, who compiled and edited the great songbook, Rise Up Singing. It was actually billed as a sing-along, but we were all muted, so that we wouldn’t be a complete cacophony of voices.

Also this summer, I saw two play readings on Zoom put on by the Open Fist Theater Company in Los Angeles. One was Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and the other was a new comedy written by a company member called That’s F***ing Hot [or with a title that can’t be printed here]. Both were lots of fun, and it was amazing to see how well the actors worked not together but each in their own space. (It was also fun to see a cat walking by in the background as Hermia lamented. I can write a whole column on what we see and don’t see in the background on Zoom.) Also, not having to drive to LA was nice.

I’m hoping that the Colleges fully get in on the act and, in addition to classes, put some presentations—some talks, perhaps a few concerts, even a play—on Zoom.   

So, yes, there are lots of nice things about Zoom, as irritating and tiring as it can be. Another bonus with Zoom is that it forces us to focus. It forces us to listen, to really listen to what is being said. It’s like hearing a story on the radio and having to use memory and imagination to sense, to picture what’s being said.

This is most evident—and effective —in a series of conversations presented on Zoom by the Local Spiritual Assembly of the Bahai community entitled “Claremont Speaks Black,” a forum that allows Black residents of Claremont to speak freely and frankly on being Black in Claremont—something that needs to be heard in these days of civil unrest over racial injustice, including police brutality.

This is good hard work being done by the Bahais. There have been two presentations so far. One was with a Pomona College administrator and Claremont Police Commissioner, and the other was with a professor from Pitzer College. 

They spoke of having to “dress up” when going out, even for a walk around the block, of feeling “at home” at the Colleges but not in Claremont, where Black men they know are stopped by the police for no reason, of everyone turning to look at them when they enter a restaurant or store in the Village.

Because we were there but not present, because we were muted and, for the second presentation, not seen, they were free to be open and say all this and more. And we who were attending had to listen, really listen, use our empathy and our imagination, and were able to get a real sense of their experience of being in Claremont.

Just the kind of understanding, at last, that Black lives matter, that we need at this time.

Like I said, this is good work. The next session on September 13 will feature Josue Barnes, who co-founded Claremont Change. (Email claremontlsa@gmail.com for more information and the link. It’s sure to be worthwhile—all the more thanks to Zoom.) 



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