I hate Zoom.
I mean, I also love it, of course. For many months I spent all day on Zoom talking to students and I can now use it with some ease to facilitate discussions and give lectures. That part is great.
What I hate about it is that it’s pretty much the only way to connect with my friends right now. Sure, I could use FaceTime or Houseparty or whatever, but it’s all the same. It’s me looking at my friends via a screen. It just feels so….contrived.
There I am, alone in my kitchen staring at my phone with one or more of my friend’s faces staring back at me. What should we talk about? Who goes first? What can we get through in our allotted time?
It’s just not how my friendships have been lately. Or really ever.
But when I think about it, there are a lot of things that have changed in my friendships over the years. For example, before Shawn died, we used to host a lot of parties. We’d spend the day prepping and then have people over in our yard or our kitchen, telling stories and generally having a good time. Shawn and I both liked things to be “just so” when people came over, so while we might have toys on the floor, we never had an empty fridge or a lack of beer. And as our friends will tell you, the condiments were always set out and ready to go. We weren’t the kind of people that hosted crappy parties where someone might have to – God forbid! – actually open the fridge themselves to get the mustard.
But after he died, I couldn’t do it anymore. I couldn’t face having crowds of people at my house and I certainly couldn’t figure out how to prep my house for a party. At one point, a few months after Shawn died, Claire looked at me and said, “are we going to have parties again? Or….do we not do that anymore, now that Dad died?”
It was the kick in the pants that I needed. No – I didn’t go back to hosting lots of beautifully arranged parties. But I did start having people over again. Instead of perfectly organized food options, and chairs set artfully around a manicured lawn, I let other people bring the food and use the grill. I made people help clean up afterwards and I never used anything but paper plates.
Around that time, I heard of the concept of the “crappy dinner party.” It was a popular idea at the time, but the basic idea is this: have your friends over for a dinner party and serve hot dogs (or whatever you can find), don’t clean up ahead of time and don’t worry if things go wrong. Yes, it would be “crappy” but it would make it much more likely that you’d actually see your friends, since you didn’t have to plan it out.
I started to apply this concept to my everyday life. If I had friends who happened to stop by in the late afternoon, I’d invite them to gather around my kitchen counter. Maybe I didn’t have any extra food and maybe I also needed to be on the phone with the damn bank again, but at least we were all together, right? I needed them there, because I needed to connect with others, so I lowered my standards. Way down.
I think this idea can be moved into the age of coronavirus. No, we can’t all gather in each other’s kitchens anymore. But we can do Zoom calls, and we can lower our standards in the same way that I once lowered mine. Sure, usual phone rules apply when you’re not living in a global pandemic. But since we are, I think we get new rules. Becky and Michelle and I have tried this out a few times with great success, and in some ways, it’s similar to the dinner party approach I first cultivated in early widowhood.
I often get on with Becky and Michelle as I’m cooking dinner. I may need to step out of the frame for a while to dry dishes or chop an onion. I may burn something and curse and interrupt our train of thought. I may miss entire segments of a story because someone needs help with finding a book and it has to happen right at that moment. I might miss the majority of some of these calls. It may sound like I’m not really listening (because…I’m not really listening.)
But what these types of “crappy” Zoom calls do is connect me with my friends when I so desperately need it. They show me that there are other people who are here for me, even if we can’t finish a sentence and even if the connection is fuzzy. They say, “I see you,” even if we can’t actually see each other 100% of the time (or even 25% of the time, really.)
It’s not a great substitute for a real chat with my friends around my kitchen island. But we have to lower our standards right now. I’ve done it before, and I can do it again. The important thing for me is this: don’t lose those connections. Even if they are strained or imperfect, those people on the other end of the call are my community.
And if there’s something we all need right now, it’s community.
I should know. It’s what kept me going for weeks and then months and then years after Shawn’s death.
Sure, Shawn might be out there in the universe somewhere, horrified that I never use the tablecloths anymore. But I think he’d give me a pass. I mean, widowhood, single parenting and global pandemic combined should give me some sort of break, right? Honestly, no matter what we are all facing individually, this pandemic affects all of us.
If there’s ever a time, it’s now. Let’s lower the damn standards.
Image Credit: Becky Hale Photography.