Happiness Doubled by Wonder
We all complain about Zoom, but some see the tool as the best way to connect with their community
I am so grateful to all of you. To have readers follow my thoughts and competitions is a blessing to me and a testament to the community we are forming together. The author G.K. Chesterton said that “gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder,” and that’s certainly how I feel when I consider everything that we have been through as a nation, and will continue to go through until we are widely vaccinated and can reach something approximating herd immunity to the coronavirus, perhaps as early as the end of next summer.
Always one to look for silver linings, I encountered two people last week who have been given opportunities by the Covid-19 lockdown. In each case, the unlikely hero is the most-downloaded app of 2020 (as we found out at a recent Pub Quiz): Zoom.
Thursday night I hosted a poetry reading with a poet (and improvisational bass player) from Sacramento, Lob Instagon; a indelicate and talented barfly Canadian poet named Wolfgang Carstens; and Todd Cirillo, the widely-published (12 books!) poet and publishing house founder who helped to originate the After Hours Poetry Movement in his home of New Orleans.
Cirillo revealed to the 40 or so people in the Zoom room that he appreciated the chance to meet with all of us to share some poems, for he had mostly been lying around in bed since his positive Covid-19 diagnosis. All of us realized that under normal circumstances, this talented writer and performer could not have summoned the energy actually to travel to an event, and that it would not have been safe for him or for others for him to do so. Yet on this evening, his work commute brought him only to his couch and his laptop, enabling him to connect meaningfully with a crowd of admirers without fear of infecting them. Zoom enabled a gathering that would have been otherwise geographically and epidemiologically impossible. And the poetry was masterful!
The poetry reading took place this past Thursday. On the previous Friday, I met with a number of faculty while wearing my hat of Academic Director of Academic Technology Services at UC Davis. Chairing a meeting of DOLCE, a faculty forum I founded whose acronym means “Discussing Online Learning and Collaborative Education,” I got to introduce two speakers, a faculty member who is using advanced software to facilitate discussions and engagement in his large biology classes, and a graduate student who spoke about ways that we faculty can make our learning management system, UC Davis Canvas, more accessible to all users, including deaf and blind users.
One of the attendees was a longtime faculty colleague who has been known to work on her laptop Monday evenings while sitting at the bar at de Vere’s Irish Pub, the beloved neighborhood gathering place and Pub Quiz sponsor that has suspended operations while we all wait for the vaccine to come to all residents of Davis, California, where I live. This colleague doesn’t participate in the Quiz, however, for she has been deaf since birth, and your quizmaster regrettably provides no subtitles (though I could hand out a paper copy of the Quiz during such circumstances).
In our faculty forum, this colleague revealed that as an expert in reading lips (even though she is entirely deaf, she is so adept at lip-reading that she can even tell when a conversation partner speaks with an accent), she has felt entirely isolated since we’ve all (necessarily) started wearing masks. She said that she has never felt disabled in her life, but going to the store, the office, or the post office, for the first time in her life, she identifies as disabled.
But not on Zoom! If she were to teach her high-enrollment classes in a physical UC Davis classroom (this is a hypothetical, for I don’t foresee students returning to our classrooms before fall), she would have no way to engage with them. But like the poet Todd Cirillo, she found Zoom to be just the communication medium she needed. With the help of the AI transcription service Otter (viewable at https://otter.ai/), this colleague was able to keep up with our Zoom conversation that featured dozens of fast-thinking and fast-talking colleagues from across the disciplines. After hearing her insights, I’ve already reached out to see if she could present at our April DOLCE.
I keep my work meetings and poetry readings short (30 minutes) because of Zoom fatigue, a necessary condition for too many of us. And yet, in a year marked by darkness, illness, and death, we should be grateful for the ingenuity and technological tools that provide us tiny respites and meaningful connections, the connections that can sustain us as we gird ourselves for a holiday season in which hope can be discovered and fostered despite the absence of the warmth and hugs of our extended families and favorite friends.
Happy holidays to all of you. I am grateful for your friendship and support.
Thanks to all the patrons of the weekly Pub Quiz via video and that I send out in print form, and especially to the Original Vincibles, who have made a sustaining commitment that keeps this entire enterprise going. I hope they are enjoying their most recent holiday gift from me. If you want to be added to my “nice” list, please consider joining the list of supporters on Patreon at https://www.patreon.com/yourquizmaster. If you want a Zoom Pub Quiz of your own, that can also be arranged. Also, if you are considering a really big gift for someone on your holiday gift list, consider sponsoring an entire year of the Pub Quiz in one fell discounted swoop. Details on Patreon.
P.S. Did you know that five questions from the previous week’s Pub Quiz appear in the Sunday Davis Enterprise every week? Here are three more for you to consider:
Books and Authors. John Powers of NPR called the novel Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy the greatest spy story ever told. Name its author.
Countries of the World. What landlocked country of about 110 million people is one of the few African countries that never fell into the hands of colonizers, with the exception of when it was occupied for a few years under Italian dictator Mussolini in the 1930s?
World Capitals. What is the capital of Australia? (As you may know, I am obligated to ask this question once a year until you learn this fact for good)
P.P.S. Thanks again to everyone who contributed to my ongoing fundraiser for the Smith-Lemli-Opitz Foundation. Because of your gifts (almost $2,000!), the board can now make plans to update the Foundation’s website. The need continues!