Is That You? You Look Different on Zoom

I parked at the community center in Keizer, Oregon last Sunday, climbed the stairs to the little theater where the Mid-Valley Poetry Society reading was happening and did a double-take. Is that T? And J? And  . . . ?

Oh my gosh. It was surreal. Many of the faces were familiar, but I had only seem them on my computer screen on Zoom. They towered over me or were smaller than I expected. They hugged or held back. They limped or bustled. It was like going into a blind date where you have only seen a photograph. In person, they look different. “John?” “Sue?” 

As people venture out of their pandemic hideaways, suddenly we’re three-dimensional, without the flattering lighting, the carefully arranged backdrop, and the option to turn the camera off. Now they can see all of us. When they saw me, did they think she’s heavier than I thought, and I didn’t know she wore glasses? 

I have made wonderful friends on Zoom, including people from all over the world. I feel like I know them, but it’s not the same. It’s a snapshot, not a rounded picture. As I learned last month when I attended a poetry convention in Ohio, meeting on Zoom is not like eating breakfast with other poets, noting how they choose cereal and fruit or pile on the pancakes, whether they are chirpy or sullen in the mornings. It’s not like meeting in the hallways, elevators, or swimming pool. Sure, you still get the words of the speakers, but you don’t connect as people. Mostly you’re staring at your own stupid face wondering why your hair looks so bad. 

Zoom has its advantages. I have talked to people in the UK, Australia and Dubai, as well as across the US,  whom I could probably never meet in person. It’s COVID-safe, much cheaper and easier than traveling, and somewhat anonymous. But we’re becoming a nation of screen people. Even when someone is standing right in front of us, we’re staring at our screens. We’re raising a generation of young people who don’t know how to socialize, how to sit with someone, look at them, and converse. They only know how to Zoom, and that’s sad.

I also discovered that performing in real life as opposed to Zoom is a whole different thing. My two poetry chapbooks were born during the pandemic. I have done readings on Zoom to promote them but none offline. When you’re reading on Zoom, you’re more focused on the technology and your own face than the audience. Because they are muted, you can’t hear if they laugh or cheer or gasp.  Nor can you hear any applause, just maybe catch a glimpse of waving hands. 

You don’t even know whether they’re listening. If you look at all the people in their squares, many are moving around, playing with their pets, or checking their phones. You’re background noise. I’m one of the worst offenders. I can’t sit still when I’m at home with an endless to-do list. And who’s to know if I’m checking email or washing dishes while I listen to your poems? 

But in the theater, meeting room or living room, the audience has to sit and pay attention. The performer can look out at them and see them listening. When I read at the open mic last weekend, the applause was like a loud rain after a long drought. So beautiful. I had to deal with a tricky microphone and blinding stage lighting, but just to stand there and proclaim my poems and feel my words going into the air felt so good. You don’t get that on Zoom. Now I’m longing to get up there with my guitar and sing. Church has been my only gig since March 2020.

I attended a conference in Ohio last month. It was a hybrid, in person and on Zoom. Giant screens showed the people attending online. They could see where the camera was aimed, but they couldn’t see all of us. They didn’t taste the food. They didn’t sit at the tables while we did the cut-up poem exercise, fighting over the scissors and glue sticks and laughing at the mess we were making. I ended up with a poem I liked. Did they? And who was there to admire it?

Sitting in the courtyard drinking wine, lounging on soft chairs close together and really listening to each other’s poems was a whole different experience from hearing them online. 

We don’t even realize everything COVID has taken from us. We have lost loved ones in the pandemic, yes, but we also have lost a way of life. It’s not over. This may only be a temporary break before we go back into isolation. The news is full of rising case numbers and new variants. Some cities are reinstating mask mandates. We all want the pandemic to be over. It isn’t, but we’re pouring out of our houses. We’re traveling, we’re meeting, we’re hugging. Stop? It’s like trying to put ketchup back in the bottle.

On my trips to California and Ohio last month, I found myself surrounded by strangers, mostly without masks. I had no way of knowing whether they were vaccinated, whether they were infected, whether they had just been with someone who was sick. If we get COVID, we get COVID seems to be the philosophy now. 

I suppose there’s a limit to how long we can sequester ourselves in fear before we have to crawl out and see what’s left, see who is left. 

Meanwhile, what a gift to walk into a room, see someone you’ve grown to admire on Zoom and fall into a hug. Oh my, they’re so tall. They’re so real. They’re so three-dimensional, with arms, legs, clothing, and warm skin. It’s not the same. It’s wonderful. 

Are you meeting Zoom friends in real life? What is it like for you?

Read about it:

“The Rise of Deja Zoom: Meeting Your Virtual Friends IRL” https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2021/12/deja-zoom-pandemic-friendships-virtual/620869/

“Dating Over Zoom? Don’t Be Surprised If Those Online Sparks Fizzle in Person” https://theconversation.com/dating-over-zoom-dont-be-surprised-if-those-online-sparks-fizzle-in-person-138899

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Does Every Pandemic Week Feel the Same to You, Too?

COVID, COVID, COVID, vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, Biden, Biden, Biden. That’s all we hear anymore. A year ago, it was Trump, Trump, Trump. I understand that news outlets need to cover the most important stories, but aren’t other things still happening? Are we still fighting in Iran and Afghanistan, maybe in other countries, too? What happened to those places that got hit by hurricanes and wildfires last year? When are we going to get some new TV shows? When is American Idol going to come back? You know, important news.

Of course we want to keep informed about COVID and what our new president is up to, but shouldn’t somebody be covering the rest of the world, lest we look up one day and realize, shit, that happened and we totally missed it?

We get more information in our local paper, the News-Times, between the big ads for Thriftway and Power Ford. For example:

  • The cliff area in Newport known as Jump-Off Joe is falling into the sea. Huge landslide movement after last week’s storms (as opposed to this week’s storms) dissolved the sandstone cliffs.
  • We have a couple murder trials pending.
  • There’s the story of the truck that got stolen twice from a Lincoln City woman’s driveway. She got it back after the first theft. The next day, it was gone again.
  • Someone set the Presbyterian church in Newport on fire. Thank God firefighters caught it before there was too much damage.
  • The plans for when to bring students back to school keep changing.
  • Here’s another obituary for someone I knew, making me very sad.
  • And yes, they’re covering COVID and its vaccines, shots not coming to my age group anytime soon.

At least the local paper tries to mix it up.

So do I, but every week, it feels like it was trash day/laundry day/grocery day just a minute ago. I get up, pray, bathe, eat, write, walk the dog, do the Zoom du jour, binge-watch Netflix and Amazon Prime shows, play a little music, and fall asleep.

Things do change, but it’s slooooow. I offer some random news from the 97th Court lockdown:

  • Annie the dog, subject of several posts here lately, is much more stable now, but I don’t think she’ll ever recover completely from her holiday illness and hospital stay. Her head is still tilted to the left, her eye a little squinty. She tires quickly and seems afraid to be alone. But she’s back to dragging me down the street on our walks and refuses to turn around when I say it’s time to go home. I’m trying not to think about her future but to enjoy every moment with her.
  • I long to get out of this house. I want to see my family in California, Arizona and Washington. I still hate masks, which are not only uncomfortable but also make it twice as hard for hearing-impaired folks like me to figure out what people are saying, even with my hearing aids. But I totally understand why we need to wear masks and I’m grateful that most people are doing it these days. Isn’t it amazing how something we never even thought about a year ago is now available in all kinds of colors and designs and you can buy them by the dozen at the grocery store?
  • It’s a weird world where I don’t need makeup to leave the house because the mask covers half my face, but I do need my lipstick for Zoom events where I’m forced to look at myself on the screen. Board meetings, classes and readings, interviews, and open mics keep me on Zoom almost every day. It’s truly a wonderful thing being able to meet, hear, and read with writers from all over the world, people I would never meet in person, but I’m weary of staring at a boxes on a screen.
  • I’m reading at Coffee and Grief #19 on Sunday, Feb. 4, 7 p.m. PST. https://www.facebook.com/events/883771512396349. I have attended previous sessions and heard some amazing writers. Please join us. Bring Kleenex. The link is included in the Facebook post.
  • I will be the guest speaker for the Coast-Corvallis chapter meeting of Willamette Writers on Feb. 22 at 6:30 p.m. PST. Topic: Publishing 101. I will discuss the various ways to get your books published. Register at https://www.Willamettewriters.org. While you’re there, check out all the other workshops and chats you can join via Zoom, no matter where you live.
  • Next month, I will co-host a series of poetry readings on Tuesday nights by the winners of Oregon Poetry Association’s poetry contest. Stay tuned for details.  
  • I am putting together a new email list via Mail Chimp. That chimp and I aren’t totally getting along yet, but you should see a place below this post to click and get on the list. Sign up in February, and I will send you a copy of my book Shoes Full of Sand for free! If you already have it, God bless you. You may choose another book from my catalogue at suelick.com/books. Why? Why not? Thank you for reading this far. Send me an email at sufalick@gmail.com to let me know your choice.

Happy Groundhog’s Day. Pray for an early spring.

I invite your comments on any and all of this. How are you doing? Are you COVID-crazy yet?

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Hugging the open mic in Yachats

Sometimes I think to myself that Yachats, population 688, is where all the old hippies from California have gone. Here you still find people with long hair, long skirts, tie-dye shirts and flowers in their hair. They gather for peace rallies and palm readings, craft festivals and Celtic festivals. They also gather for open mics. (Some say open “mike.” I disagree. Deal with it.)
I had had the note on my refrigerator for six months or so before I finally headed south on Friday night. Most of my music time these days centers around church music, but the new song circle in Yachats spurred me to check out the open mic. There, I could sing anything I wanted.
I have been to so many open mics. Bars, restaurants, coffee shops with loud espresso machines, community halls. Drunks, rockers, stoners, Bob Dylan soundalikes, kids just learning to play an instrument, pros reliving their glory days. Good microphones, bad microphones, no microphones. But I’ve been missing the open mic we used to have here in South Beach and my friend and former bandmate Stacy was involved in this one, so I thought I’d give it a try.
The usual venue, the Green Salmon coffeehouse, was not available, so we met at Ona, a restaurant on the west side of the highway. When I arrived a little before 7, not late, there was no parking to be had anywhere around the building. Parking at the grocery store down the road apiece, I lugged my guitar to the restaurant, arriving just as another woman was opening the door, and walked into a noisy, steamy-windowed, orange-walled room loaded with Yachatsians clustered on a variety of chairs and sofas. Stacy beckoned me to the last empty chair, right in the front row, just in time for the festivities to begin. We could barely hear each other talk over the roar coming from this room and the bar/dining room behind us.
You’d think I wouldn’t get stage fright after 30 years of performing, but I do. I get anxious, and I start thinking I’ve had enough of the music business. Why do I keep doing this to myself? I’m too old. These are not my people. Why drive all the way down here when I’m not getting paid? Yada yada yada. I have learned not to take these thoughts seriously because as soon I get behind the microphone, I will change my mind and want to perform every minute of every day until I die.
Our hosts started us with some guitar and mandolin with vocal harmony. Nice. Then “Rambling Ruth” played “Three Coins in the Fountain” on her violin, along with a couple of other oldies. Stacy performed with her brother and a friend. Delicious music. A brand new quartet of women got up and sang gorgeous a capella harmony about peace, love and . . . harmony.
I was number five, thirsty, and nervous as hell. I had been clutching my guitar between my knees for an hour. I had expected to plug my guitar into an amp, but there was just one microphone that nobody seemed to be using. I had pictured us at a white-tablecloth restaurant where we sat at tables and ordered food and drinks. I had thought I’d have dessert. But no, we were just packed in this hot room and told we’d have a break around 8.
The break came after number 4. I bolted to the bar and waited in line while the bartender with the braided beard served actual drinks to paying customers. He gave me a glass of ice water. Ah. That helped.
Then Stacy read a poem written by her mom, and I was up. “Sue Lick?” The MC looked around. Me. I hugged onto the mic, wanting to be heard. I started singing and playing. By the end of the first tune, some people were singing along. They laughed at my jokes, applauded, and made me feel like a star. They also quieted down for my second song, a new one. I couldn’t hear well enough to do the fancy guitar licks I had practiced, but I sang as well as I ever have. And the last song went over big. I said thank you about a hundred times and went back to my chair, feeling happy, wanting to do this forever.
Every act after that was genius. The poets, the woman who sang “Look to the Rainbow” a capella, Ian playing originals on guitar, the woman in the red velvet mini-dress and leg-warmers who fumbled through a song she just wrote on the ukulele, the guy reading from his memoir, the mayor leading us in Roger Miller’s “You Can’t Rollerskate in a Buffalo Herd.” Loved them all. Promised to come back next month.
I’m aging into an exact copy of my mom, but inside, I’m an old hippie from California, too.
Next open mic: April 19, 7 p.m., Green Salmon. Check the City of Yachats page online for details.
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