I have had more conversations in the last six weeks than I’ve had in the previous six months. On the phone, over text, in Zoom rooms and Google Hangouts, on Skype and WhatsApp, and casually from a safe distance of six feet with shop owners, grocery workers, friends, and strangers. I find the depth of these conversations fulfilling both on an intellectual level and an emotional one. And as someone who lives alone, they have become my life force.
When New York City ordered its residents to shelter-in-place, I complied seven weeks ago. Joining the ranks of neighbors at Key Food and Whole Foods, I stocked my pantry shelves with staples and snacks and every conceivable variation of dried goods available. I tested my internet connection to ensure that it was working. I consciously subscribed to streaming media apps, filling my library queue with books to do in my ‘downtime’ after work assignments.
In that first week, it was business as usual. I had “working from home” down pat, and after testing out a few video conferencing tools and their featured options, I felt confident that I would make it for the long haul. And then reality set in. Pre-pandemic, I was a doer, a tourist in my city, a 3-4x a week yogi, I was a subway warrior and road tripper, a budding hiker. I was an avid host entertaining folks with meals and libations and visiting my tribe, who mostly live out of state in California, Connecticut, Italy, Maryland, New Jersey, Rhode Island. Today, like so many others, I am a stay-at-home cat mama, cooking for a party of one, struggling to get on the mat, strolling through the 500 square feet of my living space, and feeling the quarantine fifteen hard.
Tech and discipline aside, I was most concerned about being isolated from my community. I knew that making natural, genuine connections would take more effort, but it was necessary to maintain sanity and perspective. And so I dug in. Through my work with The Brooklyn Soloists, we’ve built a strong community of local entrepreneurs and small business owners, many of whom have become friends. At our first-ever Virtual Town Hall chapter meetings in March and April, twenty-five members joined the call to connect and support one another, a number that mirrors our in-person meetings.
At that moment, I discovered people were starting to show up. Not only at our group meetings but everywhere. Folks with whom I had lost touch reached out, inspiring me to do the same. Friends and family members previously hesitant about video conferencing took the initiative and set them up. Casual acquaintances checked in on Facebook and LinkedIn. My phone was buzzing and ringing off the hook with recognizable numbers (anyone else noticed the lack of robocalls recently?). Even my (snail) mailbox got some love, as cards–the best practice of physical distancing IMHO–accompanied the bills and direct marketing.
As a communications advocate, this phenomenon brings me more joy than I can articulate. Over the last few years, I had developed cynicism for anyone that casually threw around the word “busy” as an excuse for not being able to connect. However, I believe that we live in a time where communication has never been more accessible. The real unspoken reason folks were disconnecting had more to do with a selfish prioritization of that time. This situation has provided me with a bit of hindsight that maybe it was the exhaustion of the life we were living that played with our perception of time. I’m hopeful that we are all beginning to realize that an overscheduled calendar or a night of binge-watching The Stranger Things is less critical than, say, a casual dinner or, in today’s world, the virtual version of that dinner, with friends or family.
The change has already started. Maybe it’s because we no longer have to commute between meetings, or that we have a better handle on our schedule, or that folks are craving human connection as a respite from a very busy (aka homeschooling centered) family life. Whatever the reason, gratitude for the content-rich conversations with friends, family, and colleagues becomes the norm as we adapt to this new strange world.
I appreciate that you are lowering your guard to let people in, that you are engaging in honest, meaningful conversations about life, health, work, and yes, how to make a sourdough starter.
About that sourdough starter, if you need 1:1 guidance through the process check out this course offered by Brooklyn Soloist, Laura Scheck, Teaching Table: Sourdough Bread Baking for Beginners – starting in May 2020. Hope to see you there!