I know: there are people who have been living this sort of life since the world shut down in March, but it has only just come to me how much time I spend in a virtual space these days.
Not, actually, that this is all bad. If there were a county meeting scheduled in the commissioners’ meeting room, commissioned only a few years ago in the new courthouse and now probably barely used, at 9 a.m. on Tuesdays, I might intend to go but would really have to work to get there. And then most of the time I would go into work afterwards and report the content hadn’t been worth the extra effort.
Now I sit down at my computer here in my house, breakfast in front of me, and watch the meeting unfurl without diverging much at all from my morning routine. It’s barely any extra effort at all, so even if the meeting’s content doesn’t leave me particularly content, I’m not put out.
A year ago at the Riverwalk Homeowners’ Association annual meeting, the attorney hosting it looked around his crammed conference room and announced we would have to find a different venue. As houses get built, more people are attending, and we barely fit a space more intended for eight.
Friday the meeting was virtual, which allowed lot owners who don’t live here to participate. Although attendance was about the same as the previous year: smushed in a conference room, room to spare on the Zoom screen.
But it was that morning when I took stock of my life and realized that, for at least a week or two, a large chunk of it is playing out on the computer screen.
Last Tuesday I attended my county business Zoom. The State of Colorado recently despaired of receiving any timely assistance from the feds, so the legislature approved state money for utility, housing and food assistance, along with some business assistance targeted at very specific sectors such as restaurants, gyms and entertainment venues.
But it turns out to be even more specifically targeted: Gunnison County, in the state’s “yellow” on the Covid Dial, is in “too good” a shape to warrant any help. The county has to be “in the red” both covid and businesswise. Our restaurants can keep some state sales tax money, and some license expenses will be covered, but that’s it.
Thursdays I have two standing virtual appointments. One pre-dates the pandemic: after casting about for friends to go to lunch with and coming up fairly empty, I reached out to the friends I used to go to lunch with, now scattered across four time zones, and we still have our Thursday lunches together. It’s not like the days where we would all gather at the W Cafe, but it’s the same set of friends and it’s the highlight of my week.
The other Thursday regular viewing is an after-the-fact viewing of the county’s town hall, where Incident Command provides updates from Public Health.
This week the meeting featured three local women addressing mental health concerns. One had some very disturbing numbers regarding alcohol usage: a full 25 percent of those surveyed said they indulge in binge drinking, defined as five or more drinks in a sitting (or stumbling), at least five times in the last month. And 71 percent of people ages 18-24 reported binge drinking at least once in the last 30 days.
I don’t know how many people participate in the business and community surveys the county is taking monthly, but 58 percent of business owners reported their mental health as down from a year ago, and 23 percent of respondents said they feel stressed or anxious “most or all of the time.”
Friday morning I thought I was attending another computer town hall, but it turned out to take place via telephone, with one of Colorado’s senators, Democrat Michael Bennet. Any question I would have put to the senator he had already anticipated. He is well aware that 12 million Americans may find themselves without shelter in the next two weeks if Congress doesn’t act, and he expressed great frustration with Mitch McConnell, the senate “leader,” for not allowing floor access to legislation that is seeing broad bipartisan support.
Then there was the HOA meeting that evening, which went as well as these things usually go — although it seems like the new board that got voted in is likely to be more proactive rather than a loose confederation of volunteers shoring up problems as they come along. I imagine I will prefer the old way to the new, not being a huge fan of HOAs. But my suggestion that we develop some means of neighborhood communication seemed to meet with favor.
This morning is our virtual breakfast with friends, all of us but me in that “60 and over” demographic where it’s dangerous to congregate in person these days. Assuming a single one of us felt it was safe to gather at a restaurant anyway. So we meet online instead, as we have done since March.
Monday I have a personal financial meeting that I am ill-prepared for (it’s on today’s list of things to do, but once again the list is longer than the day, so we’ll see). It was supposed to take place in person, but as covid cases ratcheted up again, the office opted to return to virtual meetings.
I did go into the office one time, and was rather impressed by all their efforts to keep themselves and their clients safe, but Zoom should keep us even safer and ought to work just as well.
Then, on Tuesday, I’m giving a whole new virtual realm a try: I am going to take a tap-dance class from my old (she’s not old; our relationship goes way back) teacher Leslie Channell. She works for the Denver Center for the Performing Arts in its education arm, which apparently has spent these many months figuring out how to bring arts education to the cloistered. The DCPA itself, she said a month or so ago when I ran into her and her mother on the Gunnison streets, is dark and planning to remain that way until probably a year from now. Which is why entertainment venues need more assistance than T-shirt shops.
I’ve already received my instructions for class, many of them addressing the technical aspects of Zoom, offering a bewildering slew of instructions I didn’t even begin to understand and that frankly terrify me to attempt, because I only just got my computer to the point where people can hear me on Zoom without a microphone. I’m going to have to print out my instructions, and hope I can reverse engineer them in time for:
The 17th annual Pat’s Screen Printing Festive Holiday Party.
I’m afraid it’s going to go like a business Zoom or HOA meeting, but I’m trying to make it festive. We’re providing food, sort of: guests, who are supposed to tell me what they want by tomorrow, will have to come to Pat’s to pick up pre-packed boxes from one of our restaurant customers. Our blind gift exchange is likely to be a lot more blind, and perhaps bland, this year.
I’m going to try Grinch Bingo, which ought to work okay, but the big experiment of the night will be our popular holiday relay, where each “table” competes for a prize that is a donation to the local non-profit of their choice. I have no idea how well, if at all, this will play on TV, and then there’s the part where the donation won’t be overly charitable this year. I’m sure it’s the thought that counts for non-profits, who haven’t had as much luck finding assistance as businesses.
But that’s life in Virtuality, every bit as uncertain as reality, each step forward into the unknown until it becomes known, some of them for the worse — but some of them for the better.