Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Zoom Calls Us To a 'Dark Winter' Of Despair

A rainy day, crows caw and a damp chill steeps the last Tuesday in October with dreariness. This weekend we push the clocks back an hour. A dark winter lies ahead. That's what we hear, anyway. Poets have written about winters of despair. In “Snowdrops” Louise Gluck writes:

Do you know what I was, how I lived? You know
what despair is; then
winter should have meaning for you

I did not expect to survive,
earth suppressing me. I didn’t expect
to waken again, to feel
in damp earth my body
able to respond again, remembering
after so long how to open again
in the cold light

of earliest spring–

afraid, yes, but among you again
crying yes risk joy

in the raw wind of the new world. 

(Two weeks ago the 2020 Nobel Prize in Literature was awarded to Louise Gluck. She received it “for her unmistakable poetic voice that with austere beauty makes individual existence universal.”)

In “the raw wind of the new world" we're now living, a world none of us has ever before lived, the news media tells us one in four young adults has considered the possibility of suicide. A friend recently returned from visiting a loved one at the hospital where nurses say they have been overwhelmed by people incapacitated from drug and alcohol abuse. Still, I believe that with a purpose to our days, making the small moments count, we stay sane and healthy. The ordinary days infused with a touch, a smile, lunch with a friend ....

I appeared on a local author’s Zoom call organized by the library. It was the first time this year I had the chance to connect with my readers, other than through this blog, which is why I accepted the invitation. As I talked on Zoom to those little squares of faces listening to me share my thoughts about writing fiction and memoir, I noticed that my eyeglasses looked like headlights. They had caught the reflection from my dining room chandelier. I hadn't been prepared for my eyeglasses looking like headlights. Had it distracted my listeners, few as they were? Looking back, it was actually pretty funny. I’d show you a picture of me with the headlights for eyes but the librarian forgot to tape the interview, which is just as well.

Fire up the laptop. Hop on Zoom. Talk to your doctor and financial advisor on Zoom. (Unfortunately, Zoom spelled the ruination of legal analyst, author and journalist Jeffrey Toobin's career.)

The church I attend apparently received a grant to install audio equipment and cameras in the sanctuary to expand its Sunday Facebook audience. Maybe this is the way it will go now, I think. This is how we find God. Online. No one has to dress the kids for Sunday School. The memory returns ... him and me teaching Bible Study to preschoolers in a sunlit room with crayon-colored pictures of Jesus surrounded by children taped to the walls. At the church, Zoom is the preferred method to discuss the pressing issue of racism as it relates to our spiritual journey.

Writing allows us to make “individual existence universal.” It offers intimacy with others through sharing our stories. Our stories form a collective. We experience much the same. We are in this together.

The acknowledgement in Gluck's poem is that we all experience despair. It's what we do with that, what we learn from it and how we survive, despite it, that tells our story. When this is over, will we take the risk to 'open again'? Will we survive the 'raw wind of the new world' and find the intimacy that brings joy?


kathleen pooler said...

Susan, all the talk these days entails preparing ourselves for the worst winter yet (winter is bad enough without Covid). Zoom is certainly an alternative for staying connected. Lately, I have refrained from participating in online workshops due to health issues though I did have a Zoom session with my high school girlfriends. We get together once a year. There were six of us and it got a bit challenging to get a word in edgewise! Other than a few technical difficulties, it was a positive experience and better than not connecting at all. I think we all need to come up with a plan for getting through the pending endless days of isolation. I keep thinking that “this too shall pass” and next year will be better. I hope so. Nice essay—thought-provoking and relevant. Thanks!

Susan G. Weidener said...

Kathy, I believe the world is irrevocably changed by this and we probably will never go back to the old 'normal.' You're so right that each of us needs to figure out how to cope with this in our own way and our own time. For me, travel had been a top priority and I long to get back to international travel ... hopefully, we will someday be allowed back into Europe! I had thought of starting the Circle back up in 2021 but, like many, I worry about Zoom fatigue and whether the medium is suitable to such intimate work which requires focus. A high school friend get together sounds ideal if we're going to use Zoom. And for many, remote work requires it ... without it, no job! I hope as of this reading your health challenges are being met. Happy anniversary to you and Wayne!

Sherrey Meyer said...

Kathy and Susan, I agree with your perspectives on this time we're living in and through. Yesterday, our governor extended the State of Emergency Order until the end of January 2021. On Friday, Oregon reported its largest number of COVID cases to date, 550. We are definitely in a surge, and that news lays a heavy mantle on lots of people. Along with Susan, Bob and I are hopeful our trip to Scandinavia will take place next August as rescheduled, but I checked US citizenry admissions to that area and currently, we'd have to quarantine for 10 of the 12 days we are planning to be there. With respect to Zoom, I find it fatiguing if I do it too many times close together. I've been signing up for some of Jane Friedman's workshops which last about 1.5 hrs. On a variety of topics, I have found them bringing me to a more exciting and refreshed state of mind with respect to my writing. However, not long ago, I did a two-day workshop sponsored by one of the colleges here, and at the end of both days I was exhausted. On Day 2, my attention span wasn't very good.

Kathy, I hope your back pain has eased and you are feeling better. I think I owe you and Wayne a happy anniversary wish. Susan, thanks for an interesting and relevant post on our living experiences right now. It seems life is moving rather slowly. Hopefully, the election will help to change that.

Susan G. Weidener said...

Sherrey, I hope you and Bob get to Scandinavia next summer. In addition to quarantine taking up almost the entirety of your vacation, the problem now is US citizens are not even allowed in because our case count is so high. Hopefully, like you said, the election will change that and we'll have a plan so that Europe trusts us to enter as our count goes down. It feels like the whole is closed!

I will pray that Oregon is soon on a healing path.

As for Zoom, I was the presenter. This description I found on the Internet sort of sums it up for me: "Psychologists say several factors lead to Zoom fatigue. Users can feel like they're performing for the camera more than they would while meeting colleagues in person — especially when software continuously displays to a user their own live image, adding an element of self-awareness." Thus the eyeglasses that looked like headlights which I became aware of by the end of my talk, although I was aware of trying to smile and look lively, while sharing insights about writing. And I couldn't really see the folks listening.

Susan G. Weidener said...

I meant it feels like the whole world is closed!