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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I’m Not Going Anywhere, But My Schedule is Full

I’ve never been so stir-crazy in my life. I want to get in my car and go somewhere, eat out, stay in motels, swim, work out at a gym, sip a beer while listening to live music, write in a coffee shop, and eat donuts with my friends after Mass. I want to sit in someone else’s house or ride in someone else’s car. I want to go into the vet’s office with my dog and to sing to my friends at the nursing homes. I want to jam with my musician friends. I’m so sick of Netflix and Zoom I could scream.

My calendar is loaded with events, nearly all of them online. The photo shows the Post-It version. I have the same information on my Google calendar, but I like to be able to see what’s coming up. I get great satisfaction out of peeling off a note and throwing it away once the activity is over.

Yesterday, I spent four and a half hours in Zoom meetings, first a reading for the upcoming issue of Presence, a Catholic poetry journal in which I’m blessed to have a poem. We had a wonderful group of poets from all over the United States. In normal times, Presence’s in-person readings are usually done on the East Coast, and I would not have been there. It was an honor.

That was followed up by an Oregon Poetry Association board meeting. We had a lot to talk about: money, membership, publications, and online events for the upcoming months. Stay tuned for information about readings in March and weekly workshops during April, National Poetry Month.

It was all good stuff, but I kept looking out my window at the almost-sunny afternoon that I was missing. Like my restless dog sighing in the doorway, I wanted out. It was Sunday. I’m supposed to be able to go out and play on Sundays.

The schedule continues to be busy with classes, readings and meetings. I have books to promote. Physical touring is out this year, so I need to get the word out online. Tomorrow I’m being interviewed for the UnRipe podcast out of Australia for childless women. Australia! Imagine that. A while back, I was part of a discussion by childless “elderwomen” that included women from Australia, Ireland, England, Ohio and Oregon. Listen here. How cool is that? As a result, I’m selling copies of Love or Children: When You Can’t Have Both in countries where I have never been. Very cool.

I can read my work at open mics or invited readings almost every night of the week. I can take workshops that would not have been possible pre-Zoom. I can go to Mass at many different churches via YouTube and attend concerts online.

And yet, I want out. I’m my father’s daughter. On Sunday afternoons after church, he’d tell us all to get in the car because we were “going for a ride.” Deep into his 90s, when he finally let me or my brother do the driving, he loved to just get in the car and go. Up in the mountains, down to the beach, through the old neighborhoods, it didn’t matter. He just wanted out. We often wound up dropping in on friends or family. In the time of COVID-19, we can’t do that anymore.

I thank God for the Internet. I don’t know how I would survive so much alone time without it, but I sure miss “real life.” How about you?

***

Annie the dog, featured here a lot lately with her two weeks in the hospital with Vestibular Disease, continues to get stronger and less dizzy, although she still falls a lot when she’s not on solid ground. She likes to dive into the bushes and wade in muddy water, and then she crashes. But she gets back up. Her bedsores are healing, and there’s nothing wrong with her appetite. We are scheduled for a follow-up vet appointment tomorrow. Thank you for all your love and prayers.

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Zooming in on What We’re Not Supposed to See 

“Zoom” used to mean fast fast airplanes and fast cars, that noise kids make while moving their toy vehicles across the floor. Zoom, zoom!

“Zoom” also signifies making things closer, like I just did so my old eyes could read what I’m typing.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “zoom” thus:  

1. a: to move with a loud low hum or buzz

    bto go speedily: ZIP cars zooming by on the highway

a: of an airplane: to climb for a short time at an angle greater than that which can be maintained in steady flight so that the machine is carried upward at the expense of stored kinetic energy

3. ato focus a camera or microscope on an object using a zoom lens so that the object’s apparent distance from the observer changes—often used with in or out

bFOCUSZERO: used with in trying to zoom in on the cause of these problems

4to increase sharply: retail sales zoomed

It’s fun to say. Say it with me. Zoom!

But these days, to Zoom means to attend a meeting from home via the Zoom app on your computer, tablet or phone. The other people see you, you see them arrayed in boxes like a photo gallery (or the old Hollywood Squares TV game show), and you talk. It’s not normal or natural, but it’s better than not meeting at all. No driving, no social isolation, no masks.

So where did this kind of zoom come from? San Jose, like me.

Wikipedia says Zoom Video Communications was founded in 2011 by Eric Yuan, a former Cisco VP who launched his meeting software in 2013. (To read more about Eric Yuan and the origin of the Zoom app, click here.) No surprise, Zoom has made tons of money, especially since the pandemic hit. I mean, who isn’t using Zoom for business, hobbies, or family connections? My brother uses it in the courtroom. My friend Karen Zooms with the family. Our church Zooms for Bible study. Students of all ages are taking classes via Zoom.  We are Zoomin’ all over the place.

Among my old film-camera gear gathering dust, I have a zoom lens, a long lens that lets the photographer get up really close. Think spies and sleuths watching people from their cars or from behind a fence. Or birdwatchers getting pictures of that tiny red-headed finch. Or a portrait photographer getting so close you can see the pores in the subject’s skin.

That’s a little too close. But you know what? That’s how close we’re getting on the computer version of Zoom.

Zoom allows us to stare at people in a way that would be rude in real life. Often facing each other’s faces for an hour or more, it’s hard not to notice every little thing—glasses, freckles, hairdos, is that a zit? I caught glimpses of myself last night as I watched a recorded Zoom meeting. Good Lord, the wrinkles, the bad hair. What was I thinking when I chose that blouse? And then I sneezed. Online. And blew my nose. Gross. The only consolation is that everybody else looks just as bad.

Members of Willamette Writers, Oregon’s statewide writing group for which I co-chair the coast branch, met the other night to prepare for our upcoming conference, July 31-Aug. 2. (Usually in Portland, it will be all online via, you guessed it, Zoom. It should be amazing. Read details at the website and consider attending.) We discussed backgrounds and lighting. You need a plain background, a light that shines on your face, and the camera slightly elevated for a more flattering view. You need to turn off the phones, background noises, kids and dogs. In other words, you need to recreate a TV set in your own home.

I Zoom from all over my house, as well as out in the yard. I’m still seeking the ideal spot where I’m comfortable and can see and be seen. The other morning, I thought the trees were a fabulous backdrop, but I was told I needed to turn around so the sun was shining directly on my face. Then I couldn’t see the computer. It might work on a foggy day like today, but it’s too cold.

I’ve Zoomed in my office, Fred’s old office, the living room, and the kitchen. The other night, caught in a tight schedule, I did an impromptu cooking show as I made my dinner while Zooming. I have not yet Zoomed from my bedroom, but it could happen.

I’m loving this chance to peek into homes I will probably never see in person. It’s like someone stripped away the walls to show us what’s inside. I see pictures, trophies, plaques, and books. I see desks that make me jealous. I see doors and wonder what’s on the other side. I catch glimpses of cats, dogs, spouses, and children.

Again, I’m staring. If we were meeting in person, the homeowner would probably ask, “What are you looking at?” They might be embarrassed that that ratty old chair is what caught my attention or that I’m reading the titles of the books stacked on their desk. I’m a writer. I’m nosy. I’m looking at all these “settings” and getting ideas.

I’m typing in my den right now. If someone caught me on the Zoom camera, they’d see no makeup, uncombed hair, and that behind me on my chair are pants that I washed yesterday but haven’t gotten around to hanging up yet. They’d see the out-of-control plant that still has two Christmas ornaments on it because I didn’t notice them before I put the boxes away. They’d see a huge fog-softened spruce tree out the window. They’d see me, my life. In all this COVID-19 isolation, I admit that I want to be seen, wrinkles and all.

How is the Zoom world going for you? Love it? Hate it? Have you found the ideal Zoom location? Have you given in to the temptation of buying a Zoom light or tripod? Do you have a most embarrassing Zoom moment to share?

 

 

 

 

 

‘No Contact’ now something to brag about

Lately businesses have been advertising “no contact” delivery. For example, Domino’s workers will bring you a pizza, leave it on your porch, text you that it is there, and drive away. You don’t have to see the delivery person or exchange money hand to hand because those hands might be tainted with the coronavirus. Pay with an app on your phone, money deducted from your bank account. No contact. No hello from a stranger. No one to put your clothes on for.

TV commercials for Xfinity and AT&T boast about how you can sign up for their services, get a “self-install kit” (good luck with that), and be online in a jiffy with no human contact.

I took Annie to the vet on Friday. No contact there either, at least not with the humans. You park, telephone to say you’re there, and a masked aide comes out to get your dog. You wait in the car. No more sitting with the pooch in the examining room, hugging her while they shove a thermometer up her bottom. Annie, people-loving pup that she is, trotted off happily. Dr. Hurty and I consulted by phone. Her test went well. Her ear infection is bad. We have this treatment. Shall we do it? Yes, please. I wait. Another call. That’s done. She will need these meds. Okay. I wait. The tech brings Annie out. We drive away. The phone rings. I park on the Bayfront, which is surprisingly crowded, and give my credit card information over the phone.

All of this requires a certain amount of trust as I hand over my beloved dog and my financial information.

No contact.

The service department at Sunwest Honda will now come get my car, fix it and bring it back. No more driving to Newport and settling in on the soft leather couches in the waiting room with the other folks getting their cars serviced. Sometimes we all stared at our phones, but sometimes we started talking, made new friends, and shared stories. Even if no one else was in the waiting room, we chatted with the folks at the counter where we dropped off our keys and said howdy to car salesmen who stopped in to get a cup of coffee. If we got bored, we could peruse the new cars and dream about which one we might buy. Now we stay home.

No contact.

I keep thinking about “negative contact,” a term I remember from my dad’s CB radio days. He roped us all into his hobby. Negative contact was not a good thing. It meant you failed to reach the person you wanted to talk to.

“Negative contact” is used by pilots and air traffic controllers to indicate that whatever they were tracking in the sky–another plane, helicopter, drone, etc.–is no longer in sight. That does not mean it isn’t there.

There’s also a legal term, “No negative contact” related to restraining orders and limited visitation in domestic violence situations. The person can be nearby if there is no negative contact, e.g., actions like hitting, harassing or stalking.

Suddenly “no contact” has become something advertisers boast about. You will get your merchandise without having any connection with another human being. Hooray.

No contact.

The other day, I heard beeping and saw the big white propane truck backing toward my driveway. “Gas guy!” I shouted, jumping up. As soon he parked, I rushed out to greet Ray, the friendly man from the valley who pumps propane into the tank that powers the fireplace that heats my house. I didn’t have to have any contact with him. I order online, and I pay online. But I like Ray, and it’s sweet to be able to speak to another human being. He had laryngitis, so I didn’t force him to say too much, but we parted smiling. So good to see people.

On our walks, Annie and I often see the mail carrier in his green Honda Element. We always wave to each other. I don’t know his name. I just know he’s the guy with the wild brown hair who drives from the wrong side of the car. But it’s contact, positive contact. Did he leave germs on my mail? I choose not to think about it.

COVID-19 is changing our world drastically. God knows when we’ll be able to mingle freely again with no one freaking out about contagion. But I don’t think it’s going to be the same. A lot of those things that have moved onto the Internet will stay on the internet. It’s just easier. As I type this, I’m waiting for a Zoom meeting that starts shortly. I’m still in my bathrobe, haven’t brushed my teeth. I have opted not to use the video function. I will see them, but they won’t see me.

No contact.

You know how people used to try to keep their kids, and themselves, from staring at screens all day. Suddenly that whole effort is kaput. Go ahead. Stare at your screens. Work, take classes, hold meetings, socialize, entertain, or play games on your computer, phone or tablet all day every day. Your mom can’t stop you anymore.

It’s almost time for the meeting. But I’m only half attending, no need to be polite. If I get bored, I can run off for tea, check Facebook, or write a few more words on this piece . . .

When this is over, will we remember how to walk up to another person, look into their eyes, and say, “Hello, it’s good to see you?” Will we ever shake hands again? Or hug? Or sit and listen in a room full of other people?

No contact. No negative contact, but no positive contact either.

It’s all like a big game of musical chairs, except instead of chairs, we competed for people. If you weren’t with anyone when the music stopped, you’re on your own.

See you on the screen. I’ll be one in the fuzzy blue bathrobe.

 

Are you ready for your Zoom closeup?

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I feel so exposed lately. Zoom meetings, online readings, Skype, selfies—my face and my house are suddenly on the screen.

It’s not just me. I have been watching famous musicians performing from their homes: Joan Baez in her kitchen, Mary Chapin Carpenter in her living room with her big white dog and her cat, Keith Urban in his studio with wife Nicole Kidman dancing barefoot, Blake Shelton getting a haircut from Gwen Stefani at his ranch. (Go to Facebook Watch–after you read my blog). I’ve watched poet Billy Collins read from his office and Portland Archbishop Alexander Sample pray the rosary from his chapel.

I have watched video masses from all over, and I have helped make them at our church. While the camera is on, I’m conscious of every noise, every note, and every facial expression. Why do I look so serious, I ask myself when I watch online the next day? Why do I move like an old lady? It’s church, but it also feels like putting on a show for which we need way more rehearsal and better lighting.

I’ve done Zoom meetings, readings and promotional videos. I’m sick of looking at my face. What’s up with my hair? That freckle on my nose is huge; actually my nose is huge. Why don’t I open my mouth bigger when I speak? That shirt isn’t as cute as I thought it was. And the background! Mostly I Zoom from my office, which is jammed with stuff. Pictures, calendars, and notes cover every wall. Suddenly I’m conscious of the many religious symbols—a crucifix, a Virgin Mary statue, Buddha?

Apparently, as a writer, I’m supposed to have a backdrop of books and a few tasteful pieces of art. I’ve got books, but this is where I work. This is the factory, the backstage, never meant to be shown to strangers on a screen. But I know people will be checking it out because that’s what I do when I watch. I look at the furniture, the knickknacks, and the glass on the desk. Is that booze or iced tea? I try to read the titles of books I see on the screen. I’m nosy, and I’m sure you are, too.

Last night, the American Idol contestants performed from their homes while the judges watched from their own homes. All of the contestants were sent a “kit” to help them create their “sets.” They sang from garages, living rooms, bedrooms, porches and decks. A few decorated with wall hangings. One had a Christmas tree. Most had guitars, banjos or pianos strategically placed. I assume someone from the show helped them set up and told them what to move out of the way.

After the show, I looked around my house. What room could I use for my set if I were on American Idol? My first reaction was “none.” Maybe the kitchen. At least it has more light. Or maybe I could empty the dining area…. No, I love my house, but TV set designers would reject the whole thing and make me sing outside among the trees. I don’t know what they’d do about my barking dog or the neighbor’s rooster. Or the robins who have been especially vocal lately. Could somebody please turn off the wind?

Did you see the swanky furniture and the gorgeous piano at Lionel Richie’s house?

I have talked about my books on actual TV shows. The sets are really quite small, just a little decorated area with bright lights, nice chairs and maybe a plant or two, with cameras, cables, and general messiness just out of view.

Without professional TV crews helping us, Zooming can be dicey. For a morning coffee meeting a couple weeks ago, I showed up in my bathrobe, thinking that was the thing to do. Uh, no, everybody else was dressed. Oops. Be right back. Quick, find a shirt and pants. Should I put on makeup? Is that trying too hard? Sigh. Does it even help?

At one meeting last week, somebody’s dog would not stop barking. Somebody else’s phone rang. Billy Collins keeps talking to someone off-screen. If nothing else, this sheltering-in-place business is an equalizer. We’re all embarrassed.

“All the world’s a stage,” Shakespeare wrote in “As You Like It.” Suddenly all the world is a Zoom set, and we are the players.

Want to see how I look right now? Nope. Let me get some makeup on first. I took the photo above on Saturday night when I was feeling photogenic. Same background. Notice the light shooting out of my head.

How are you doing with all this Zooming and Skyping and Facetiming that put you and your home online for work, school, and socializing? Are you ready for your closeup? Any Zoom-disasters to report? Please share in the comments.

Stay well.