Getting It Together Six Feet Apart - Umberto Tosi

Colorado Symphony's "Play On" virtual ensemble
This changes everything! We repeat this mantra with every crisis, disaster, plague, and war. There's truth in it, despite that our ways may change, but human nature not so much. COVID-19 remains rampant worldwide at this writing, while our cities hunker down to stall its spread and buy time for our doctors and scientists. Squint, and you can see the outlines of changes to come in a post-pandemic world. I'll leave analyses of the cultural, economic and political tectonics to others, and note only the vibrations we're already feeling in our world of writing and publishing.

It's early days, but reports indicate a surge in book sales as might be expected what with so many of us sequestered at home with time on our hands. It's difficult to tell if this will be a longterm trend, but demand for books seems to be surging at the moment, particularly for e-books - delivered electronically without risk of transmitting infection.

More substantial changes, however, could manifest in the way we communicate with each other and with our readers. The crisis does bring out the worst in some people. It's difficult to discern whether America's Hair Hitler and his enablers' incompetence is outdone by their malevolence or vice versa. At the same time, we see the best of humanity as the current pandemic spreads - brave healthcare workers and dedicated people who keep things running, for example. “What’s true of all the evils in the world is true of the plague as well. It helps men to rise above themselves,” wrote Albert Camus in his 1947 allegorical dystopic novel, La Peste (The Plague).

Amazon reports high demand online for The Plague and other pandemic scifi - including Stephen King’s The Stand and Dean Koontz’s eerily prescient, 1981, thriller, The Eyes of Darkness which centers on a fictitious "Wuhan-400" virus. The latter jumped to third place in Amazon's sales rankings last week - as if people haven't gotten enough of the real thing.

Were Camus around today, he might note the elegant irony that both of the horrific challenges to humankind's future on this planet - the pandemic and the climate change crisis - require sensible, worldwide collaboration at a moment when we've not been so widely torn by authoritarian, irrational tribalism since the rise of Fascism in the 1930s. We must get it together, folks, while keeping six feet apart at the moment. That's why the good Lord - being us - created the worldwide Web. We're turning to the tools of electronic communication - of video chats, Skype and teleconferencing to keep calm and carry on.  I'm used to using these tools to stay in touch with friends and my widespread family already. Now we're turning to them more and more for creative work and collaboration.

Koontz, dog, and prescient book
An ensemble from the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra performed a gorgeously inspiring, digital flash mob performance from Beethoven's 9th - using Web conferencing tools on YouTube that quickly went viral last week. They called it: "From us, for you." The legend elaborated: "...We’re adjusting to a new reality and we’ll have to find solutions in order to support each other. Creative forces help us, let’s think outside of the box and use innovation to keep our connection and make it work, together. Because if we do it together, we’ll succeed. ..." A dozen "virtual orchestras" have followed suit, springing up daily on YouTube.

On a personal level, I received from a digital birthday party invitation a dear, longtime friend the other day, tailored for our sequestered situation. She was throwing an online cyber-party for herself and friends, using Zoom, the popular Web conferencing platform favored for remote team meetings and by online teachers to conducted lessons with "classrooms" of students in real-time.

She sent a link, passcode, and easy access instructions to her invitees, to pour themselves a glass of their favorite beverage and gather online at a specified time and date. I'm only used video conferencing once or twice in my life - the first time years ago when the reception was dicey, but it still seemed a wonder to me!. Now, seeing opportunities as well as wanting to attend the cyber party I hurried to brush up.

My last pre-Covid-19 reading.
Playing e-catch-up is nothing new. I've been doing it for decades, I realize. I learned word processing and emailing in the 80s. As a magazine editor, I grappled with desktop publishing in the 90s. In the oughts, I tried my hand at Website design and early efforts at online publishing - all things that seemed almost alien at the time.

Here I am an octogenarian scrambling to learn new software again and adapt it to the peculiar needs of the writing life! Web conferencing, is not new, of course. It's been widely used in business and in online teaching for decades. To this end, I hastened to get some tips from my eldest daughter, Alicia who lives in Mexico City and is a veteran English literature instructor adept at creating cyber-teaching courses. (We have kept in touch by video chat for years now.) I also talked to another of my daughters, Cristina, whose special needs son attends remote workshops via Zoom in the San Francisco Bay Area.

I realized a wealth of possibilities. It dawned on me that we writers here at Authors Electric could use Zoom (or similar platforms) to do literary readings - like those we've long done at bookstores - on the Internet. Over the past seven years, I've been reading at and helping organize live readings with Chicago Quarterly Review. But these won't be possible for the duration of the pandemic crisis - likewise for those sponsored by other publishers. Inspired by those Rotterdam musicians, I proposed using Zoom to present a series of online readings with my colleagues here at Authors Electric. Eight of our fine writers stepped forward immediately, ready to contribute. As I write this, we're planning programs, promotions and formats. Other groups apparently have similar ideas - a trend that could well continue well after the pandemic subsides. Zoom.us usage has jumped more than 500 percent as of this writing. This has some security experts shaking their heads about the platform's vulnerability to hackers - and indeed, prank attacks by Zoom trolls appear to be on the rise. This could lead to upgrades but probably won't stop the trend. The need to communicate is in our DNA after all. Stay tuned!

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This post marks five years of monthly posts as a member of this imaginative and distinguished writer collective. I find the task remains as challenging and as gratifying as on day one. I thank my AE colleagues for their support, friendship, and inspiration, and bow to our many followers for their attention and fine comments. I hope to continue into the foreseeable future, as long as I am granted the time and strength and am not booed off the stage, which is always a possibility. Onward together now, people! Now perhaps we will take it to another level in the post-COVID-19 era once we manage to survive it.

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On a pre-COVID019 Chi lakefront stroll.
Umberto Tosi is the author of Sometimes Ridiculous, Ophelia Rising, Milagro on 34th Street and Our Own Kind. His short stories have been published in Catamaran Literary Reader and Chicago Quarterly Review where he is a contributing editor. He was contributing writer to Forbes, covering the Silicon Valley 1995-2004. Prior to that, he was an editor and staff writer for the Los Angeles Times and its Sunday magazine, West. He was also the editor of San Francisco Magazine. He has written more than 300 articles for newspapers and magazines, online and in print. He joined Authors Electric in May 2015 and has contributed to several of its anthologies, including Another Flash in the Pen and One More Flash in the Pen. He has four adult children. He resides in Chicago. (He can be contacted at Umberto3000@gmail.com



Comments

Bill Kirton said…
Thanks, Umberto. I'm always a sucker for Flash Mobs and this was the real thing. I can't remember whether I expressed interest in the live readings but I'd certainly be happy to be part of the initiative in some capacity.
Umberto Tosi said…
Thank you, Bill. Delighted that you're onboard to read some of your compelling prose. We'll be in touch, working out the details.
Griselda Heppel said…
I saw the Rotterdam philharmonics Ode to Joy - beautifully and very skilfully done. And yes, we are all emerging blinking into a new internet age of FaceTiming, zooming and house partying, not that any of these systems are new but our exclusive use of them to interact with friends and family is. Interest in that sales of Camus’s The Plague and the Dean Koontz book have rocketed... rather scuppers my theory that no one wants to read this stuff when it’s all going on around them. Just me then.
Great post for our time, thanks!
Susan Price said…
Is AE doing readings already? Let us know and we'll be there.
Umberto Tosi said…
Thanks, Griselda. Yes, we are blinking all together now. @Susan: Just in the planning stage now, most pleased if you'd like to participate! More setting up via our FB private group... Thanks!

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