Took yet another step further away from the pandemic cavern this weekend. For the first time in 459 days, my writing group met in person.
We had been meeting for years in conference rooms of our county library system, but the cancellation of any non-essential meeting forced us to go virtual. I didn’t know anything about Zoom at the time, but my wife had an account which she had to use immediately for her work. Hers was a Pro account, allowing her to host more logins for longer meeting times, and she didn’t need it during my group’s Saturday morning meetings. With nobody else in the group stepping up, it was either learn how to host a Zoom meeting or let the group disband until the pandemic was over.
Any student who’s taken one of my college composition courses can tell you I can be visibly uncomfortable as the center of attention. Phone calls also don’t sit well with me. Yet hosting a Zoom meeting was an entirely different experience. Maybe it was seeing everyone’s face, yet not feeling anyone’s active gaze on me except when I was speaking, that made it work for me. I could go on mute and not worry about sneezing or coughing; I could step away without anyone noticing, or even turn my camera off a moment. And I still had opportunities to say what was on my mind. I could be personable, but on my own terms. It was liberating.
Around the second or third meeting I came up with an effective hosting strategy. On a screen separate from the meeting I created a list of commenters for each story reviewed in the meeting, and posted that list in the chat. When the first commenter was finished, I invited the next commenter on the list to begin. Commenters appreciated knowing when their turn to speak was coming. If a commenter went on a little too long, I could send them a private message urging them to finish. When all commenters were finished, I created a new list for the next story to be reviewed, posted the list in the chat, and the process resumed.
Our group was very active during the pandemic, with enough submissions to warrant a second meeting most months. I don’t often pat myself on the back in this blog, but I’m pretty sure the ease with which we transitioned to virtual meetings had a lot to do with our success during this difficult time.
I was ambivalent about meeting in person again, for no other reason than to avoid the 45-minute car trip, but I wasn’t going to miss this one. We met outdoors, at a covered pavilion in a private park. All six of us were fully vaccinated; we didn’t wear masks or keep our distance, a clause I’m hoping won’t haunt me in the future. The feeling was far different from our Zoom meetings. Getting online doesn’t take much effort, but meeting in-person requires attention to several small details. I felt more committed to the group than I had in the past year and a half, and I think we made the right decision for this month’s meeting.
We’ll likely continue meeting in person through the summer. By the time the weather turns cooler the county library may have reopened their conference rooms, and we’ll move our meetings inside. Looming over these plans is the threat of another wave of infection. We’re not entirely back to where we’d been before, but reliving our past experience this weekend was refreshing.