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VALERIE SCHULTZ: It's a Zoom life

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Columnist Valerie Schultz

Zoom fatigue is real, my friends.

Have you felt it? Have you been Zoom-exhausted yet? Zoom fatigue is especially prevalent among people who work on screen all day trying to earn a living, or people who preside over a houseful of children on different devices all day trying to learn appropriate grade-level stuff, or the saints among us who do both. Every day.

Zoom is the amazing app that has made much of our homebound activity during the COVID-19 pandemic possible. We know we are lucky to have access to online tools that make real-time virtual communication possible, but still. Sometimes we are just so sick of the screen.

Writers, in line with our job description, have not had to deal with much Zooming. But sometimes even we have to show up and log in. Recently, for example, I gave the keynote address for the Catholic Library Association’s annual convention. First we had to get our times straight, as I was living in Pacific time and they, in Baton Rouge, were in Eastern. Then we had to get our technology straight, by holding a Zoom practice session. Then I had to pray our Wi-Fi situation would not get squirrely on the day of the presentation.

The morning went smoothly except for one glitch: My dog decided to yell at my cat. Twice. I was talking through headphones and hoped the animal noises hadn’t been audible, but no such luck. I knew they’d all heard my menagerie when, during the Q&A session after my talk, a faraway attendee typed in her question: “Can we see the pup?”

“Well, this is the Age of Zoom,” said the facilitator, as my husband brought the adorable, small-but-loud Harriet before the camera. “Lots of pets in the picture.”

It’s a Zoom life, all right, so I’m grateful that we’ve already had some training for a pandemic-induced life of isolation. We already knew how to shop online, how to work remotely, and how to FaceTime with the family. Since last March, Zooming has become ubiquitous, even though I had never heard of Zoom before my husband started working from his home office, aka the upstairs bedroom. Zoom is now the workplace, college classroom, interview spot, birthday party, medical appointment, speed date, church and any other venue needed to facilitate interaction among humans.

I am personally grateful that Zoom has inspired the creation of what my retired priest friend calls his “Little Congregation” and what I call “St. Quarantine’s.” Going to Mass during COVID-19 is problematic for many spread-friendly reasons, like sharing the Communion cup and singing in close quarters.

Although we Catholics are normally obligated to attend Sunday Mass, many of us have been unwilling or unable to do so in person. Mass has been available on television for a long time, but our Zoom Mass is different, because it is communal in the present tense. While we are not able to take the Eucharist physically, we can Zoom along with the Mass spiritually. St. Quarantine’s originates in California, but parishioners come from as far away as Ireland. The fact that the universal church arrives at my kitchen table every week is surely a kind of miracle.

Zoom was a poor substitute for the Thanksgiving table, of course. My husband and I spent Thanksgiving alone, having canceled travel plans and precious time with our children and grandchildren. We did not share food or drink with our loved ones, but we did share the things we were grateful for, one of those things being the ability to Zoom from our individual homes.

Zoom made us mindful of the fact that we all had food to eat and a roof over our heads and love to share at a time when so many people have lost so much. Maybe Zoom helped us to be less likely to overeat and more likely to be verbally demonstrative.

Maybe. I am sad at the prospect of a Zoom Christmas, although I am pretty sure that’s where we are headed. The prospect of Zoom gift exchanges and Zoom caroling makes me feel a bit of "bah, humbug" coming on. But Zoom is as good as it’s going to get until the happy day in 2021 when we bare our upper arms for the COVID vaccine.

Meanwhile, we’ll Zoom. We’ll weather the frustrations of bad internet and unintentional muting, boring backgrounds and embarrassing interruptions. We’ll lose our minds at the thought of another scheduled Zoom meeting. We’ll long to gather and hug and connect physically. But we’ll only see each other safely onscreen, thanks to the blessing and the curse of Zoom.

Email contributing columnist Valerie Schultz at vschultz22@gmail.com. The views expressed here are her own.

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