Zooming into the Houseparty - Debbie Bennett

I’m one of the lucky ones. I can work from home with relative ease. Now that Clare lives elsewhere, you’d think that being child-free would be easy, but unfortunately I’m not husband-free – and with us both working from home, we generally operate on schedules that appear to be light-years apart. I’ll be in the middle of something, at my desk in the dining room, and he’ll come in and switch the tv on in the lounge while he eats his breakfast. Since we moved, I no longer have the luxury of my own space, so I’m getting used to television-plus-husband’s-opinion in the background.


But I can work from home. And I can work in the office too. It’s a short drive and not particularly crowded as yet, with alternate desks marked as not to be used and signs and stickers on every surface including the floor – much like the High Street is right now with the pavement littered with round circles as if we can’t work out for ourselves where to stand. It’s all such a mess out there, isn’t it? I go into work once a week or so as I like the interaction with people.


Working from home involves copious amounts of Skyping. By the end of Week One post-corona, everybody had switched off video for meetings – ostensibly to save bandwidth, but in reality to avoid having to get dressed before lunchtime. I can cope with Skype meetings, but it’s the phone calls that get me, when my laptop starts ringing all by itself and I hit reply and suddenly I’m live on somebody else’s screen and I’m looking down and hoping I remembered to put a bra on that morning. I’m really going to have to have a look at the default settings for Skype.


My local writers group is currently running their monthly meetings online. This started out because the chairman was stuck in Cyprus for several months and unable to get home, but it’s turned out to be a way for everybody to stay connected and monthly meetings are still Zoomed. Except for me. I can’t do a meeting with 20+ people in a virtual room online. For me, a meeting is about being able to see everybody at once – to listen to a conversation that flows naturally. Online meetings seem to stilted to me without the benefits of physical presence, without the ability to chat with the person next to you in the break, to hand round a copy of an anthology you have a story in, or some leaflets you picked up. Zoom meetings just don’t do it for me. And so I don’t. And I miss that interaction.


Houseparty is different. Despite the initial negative press, this was easy to set up on my phone and laptop and a good way to hang out with my girlfriends on a Friday night with a glass of wine in the early weeks of lockdown. Smaller numbers make it work better I think and the screen simply splits to as many/few people as it needs to. And I can happily chat to my daughter on Facebook Messenger video, so 1:1 is definitely better.


But overall, I say no. Virtual space isn’t me. It’s too easy to get distracted by other stuff and very hard to commit 100% attention online. I am happy with my own company and being home alone doesn’t bother me (although I haven’t had to do it for weeks on end), but I do like to see people in the flesh. Clearly, body language is important to me, if only subconsciously, as I find it hard to connect to an image on a screen in any meaningful way.


I’d be rubbish at being a solitary writer/artist starving in a garret, wouldn’t I?



Jan Needle said…
I feel your pain, Debbie. As the lockdown goes on and on my grasp of normal reality is getting weaker. Since it happened. I've started a small series of light-hearted books called Covid Capers, which were meant to spread a bit of jollity at a quid a go. The first one, revealing that Shakespeare was actually a hack on Ye Globe who roars around England collecting stories on a (slightly anachronistic) Norton Dominator was light enough, but by the second my humour had clearly darkened. Lying Doggo is a scurrilous imagining of the life in Eton School of Horus Nicholae de Peperpott Paste-Shippam and his hideous little chum Gregor Goinn. Julia Jones's husband says that if the libel lawyers get hold of it I'll be a millionaire, but I'm not so sure, and will deny everything. Of course.

The problem with lockdown, though, is that I have the growing feeling that when I produce something (even in the white heat of rage) it is fired into a gigantic void. I'm left sitting in my room, at my computer, as if I'm the only person in the world. I long for someone to turn the telly on and interrupt me, so that I can at least have a good shout at them. Send him over, Deb - I'll give the bastard what for! Even when a fine review of another of my books, The Blood Hound, popped into my inbox this morning from a site called Discovering Diamonds it somehow felt vaguely unreal. And now I've got to sit and start another one. Just to keep me sane? I'm no longer sure.

As to Zoom - well that's a boon. One of my sons lives in Germany, the lucky lad, and has an Italian girlfriend called Ariana. They divide their time between cooking and foraging for food in the Black Forest. Strangely enough that makes everyone feel less lonely. Weird old world, innit?
janedwards said…
Working from home is hard! We miss that human contact, though at least in warm weather a coffee (or glass of something) in the garden is not out of the questions now :-)

Online chats are great but harder to do events online I've found.
sandra horn said…
I had to stop attending my Zoom choir meetings as I found it disturbing after a while. People were there and yet not - and their faces didn't look right!
I've sometimes found myself logging into work meetings 5 minutes early in the hope of having some random chat before the meeting starts! - that seems quite sad when I read it back, and I'm not actually that starved of human company as I live with 2 other people, but the random chat is so much more fruitful than whatever is on the agenda.
Debbie Bennett said…
@ Cecilia - we actually do have a weekly 'team meeting on skype. There are only 5 or 6 of us and it is more about chat than any meaningful work stuff. I think it's supposed to be good for our mental health and meant to replace the chit-chat you'd have at work itself - what was on the tv, the recent football match, holidays etc. I just can't relate to it in the same way on a screen. It all seems so artificial to me.
Umberto Tosi said…
I'm with you, Debbie. Fortunately for me, I worked from home as a writer off and on through decades past. I had to rely on the phone, the library and the US postal service instead of the Internet until recent years. Thanks to Skype, Zoom, et al, we're all in each other's homes, offices and faces now. One has to look presentable at all times, which takes away one of the old bonuses of freelancing. No more working in PJs, hair flying! Anyway, thanks for your first-person account here, letting us know that we may be remote, but not alone in all of this. Happy Zooming!

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