THE SOLITARY ENDEAVOR

  By Brian Kaufman

Originally posted April 16, 2020

I belong to two critique groups. Because of stay-at-home orders, both groups have switched to online meetings via Zoom.

The New Normal

For years, one group’s meetings included a member in Portland, thanks to Facetime. We’d pass the cell phone around the table when sharing our feedback. So, I’m not a newbie when it comes to online meetings. And Zoom is user-friendly. It’s a quality program. And there are side benefits to online meetings. I drive an hour each way to attend, so Zoom saves me a lot of time.

THAT SAID—I HATE THE NEW NORMAL.

Years ago, AT&T ran a very successful ad campaign with the slogan, “reach out and touch someone.” The commercials showed people who obviously cared for each other, separated, calling long-distance. Those feel-good commercials always put a smile on my face.

NOT SO FOR MY FATHER.

He explained, “Long-distance calls are nice when there’s nothing else. But it’s not the same as touch. And people might get used to pretending to be close when they aren’t. He reminded me of this later, when Colorado State instituted a phone registration system. “The point isn’t better service,” he said. “The point is to put a buffer between the administration and the students who want to register.”

I recalled those conversations years later. My wife and I had breakfast on the 16th Street Mall in Denver. I cracked jokes. She tried very, very hard not to laugh. Meanwhile, a couple at the nearby table sat staring at their cell phones throughout the entire meal.

I don’t believe they shared two words with each other. Perhaps that’s a commentary on their marriage. For my purposes here, it’s a commentary on technology.

WE BUFFER OURSELVES.

Writing is a solitary occupation. Family, friends, and society are the natural enemies of the writer. He must be alone, uninterrupted, and slightly savage if he is to sustain and complete an undertaking.

–Jessamyn West

But even writers need human contact.

My ideal is to write most of the day, then go running, find friends, and socialize all evening; my mind recharges with human contact.

— Philipp Meyer

In fact, I think writers need more connections than other professions. Loneliness takes a physical toll, with consequences that are as damaging as lousy nutrition or tobacco. For writers, loneliness is an occupational hazard that must be addressed.

Our daily normal is now called quarantine.

Lack of human contact can affect the writer’s art, as well. Writers try to tell the truth. The solitary nature of writing requires an anchor, lest reality slips away.

Verbal communication is helpful, and the Zoom camera allows some visual cues. My friend, Pat Stoltey, added a little flare to the laptop visuals with a pink cowboy hat. (I promised myself that I’d find some way to join her in that effort. I have hats. Lots of hats.) But we connect with non-verbal cues and physical touch. Zoom, quality program that it is, falls short.

COVID-19 is a reality that can’t be ignored. But when the lockdown is over, I will have a renewed sense of just how precious contact with my writer friends is. And I don’t think I’ll be alone in that.

How to Be Alone

Stay Connected

The Art of Socializing During Quarantine

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