As we enter year twenty-seven of the Corona Quarantine, Cambrians are doing a pretty good job of adapting to our new reality. Happiness begins at home!
My wife and I have separate workspaces where we can write, play our instruments, and goof off. We have a few regular check-ins each day – morning coffee, lunch, afternoon coffee, and Jeopardy.
Her office is set up with an integrated desk for her computer and a cabinet that holds everything; pens, pencils, notepaper, stamps, paper clips, 3×5 index cards, and what I think is either one of the Dead Sea Scrolls or a yellowed press clipping from the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Across the room, her digital piano is set up in the closet, so she can move from the PC keyboard to piano keyboard in a few short steps. Her biggest weapon is her grand piano, which lives upstairs and gets daily vigorous workouts that range from Chopin and Mendelssohn to Lennon and McCartney.
My office is set up in what was a walk-in closet attached to the guest room. It contains a work desk I built to take advantage of a recess in the wall. In addition to my PC and associated devices, I am surrounded by my own musical tools. Most are kept in cases, but one or two are left out within easy reach should the muse strike. Behind me, a curtain conceals a couple of amps that allow me my own vigorous musical-ish workout. It’s mainly about the loud!
Our use of digital technology to keep in contact with the world has expanded. We have mastered Facetime through frequent sessions with the grandkids. It fills part of the void, but nothing replaces reading a book or playing the piano and guitar together. Sitting at the dinner table helps us all learn new scientific facts, like how far pasta can fly before sticking to a sibling’s ear. I miss those zany kids!
We have extended our virtual world to include work, worship, and writing.
As a home-based content creator, I have gotten comfortable with social distancing. My weekly sessions with my publisher, as well as client interviews, have been done over Zoom for quite some time. Seeing and hearing the people I’m writing about adds another dimension to the process of building compelling stories.
During a recent interview with the owner of a long-established printing and data management firm, I was struck by the impact the ongoing pandemic was having. On the day we spoke, he sounded exhausted, worried, and determined to keep his business open and delivering for his clients as COVID-19 cut his staff by almost half.
Even in a business with automated workflows, intelligent, data-driven systems, and process-bound operations, the reduction in well-trained, experienced employees was determining whether this family-owned, multi-generational concern could continue to operate.
It is all about people.
Jan’s routine has adjusted to the new realities. She has suspended her teaching practice, believing vocal and piano lessons wouldn’t be as useful over the web. Lyra, a woman’s vocal group featuring talented singers from Cambria, has not been able to maintain weekly sessions, leaving a musical and emotional gap in her Wednesday afternoons. The weekly writer’s group she participates in has adopted an virtual meeting format, using Google Hangouts. They gather online to share their works in progress, offer critiques and suggestions, and, most importantly, support each other as writers, artists, and connected creators.
Sunday services are another part of Jan’s evolving routine. The process of moving what had been an in-person communal gathering, with a set flow, into an environment of multiple remote participants, was not trivial. The switch required both simple and complex changes to use online tools to deliver the service and enable congregant participation.
As a contributing musician, figuring out everything from audio levels to synchronization of sound was quite a hill to climb. Fortunately, this community is rich in talented, experienced members with backgrounds in the creative and technical arts. After multiple rehearsals and tech run-throughs, the service is again open to the congregation. People are able to come together as a community. The spirit is willing, and the flesh can wear sweatpants.
California’s Brown Act sets the rules for government meetings to ensure transparency and accountability. As the pandemic widened, in-person public gatherings became at first impractical, and then impossible as shelter in place orders were enacted. The Brown Act rules were adjusted to allow for agencies to conduct the people’s business through virtual meetings.
The Cambria Community Services District (CCSD) and the Cambria Community Healthcare District (CCHD) quickly adjusted, conducting web-based meetings to ensure the public’s ability to participate in the process of government. These sessions are accessible through the internet, over the telephone, and, in the case of CCSD, the existing livestream and public access television.
Is This Thing On?
As the CCSD Board and staff work through different processes to hold online meetings, we get to experience every variant of the memes poking fun at web-based sessions.
You’re muted…YOUR MUTED!!!!…UNMUTE YOURSELF!!!!!!!! Sorry, can you hear me? (CROSSTALK) Can you hear me now??? WHY ARE YOU WAVING AT ME????? WHO IS PLAYING THE BACKSTREET BOYS ???? I CAN”T HEAR ANYONE!!! DEAR GOD, IS THAT MY HAIR????? Oh, That’s better. Haley, any public comment? (I learned that you can actually hear and see eye rolls in high definition.)
Remote meetings offer Board members and staff the chance to mispronounce regular participants’ names in a whole new forum. Perhaps the abundant stay-at-home time presents the perfect opportunity to learn how to pronounce them correctly. It’s not like they aren’t called two or eight times a meeting! And for goodness sake, if “Elizabeth Bettenhausen” just rolls off the tongue, surely we can manage to put the “T” in the vice-president’s name! Say it with me now – Cindy Siedel…uh, Cindy Seitel, uh, Cindy Steidel – yeah, that’s it!
Hopefully, more Cambrians will find their way to the Zoom Room. Perhaps an inviting graphic might draw some regulars back. How about a pre-roll package featuring a perky, upbeat theme song and an announcer introducing the cast, super-imposed against the backdrop of various Cambria landmarks? “From the beautiful central coast of California, it’s time for CCSD LIVE!!! (canned muttering and grumbling, chairs scraping and agendas rustling.) “And here’s your host, President Harry Farmer!!!!!” (Shot of the blue beetle pulling up and Harry entering the frame from his home.)
Hear Me Roar!
On a more serious note, the current webinar format used by the CCSD has a lot of positives and a few negatives. The ability to participate in the meeting is there, though not in a way that allows citizens to “speak” in their own voice. Instead, public comments are submitted to the Deputy Clerk via email. She then reads them into the public record. A serious objection was raised by a citizen who felt this process was an impediment to full public participation. I understand this objection, though I don’t agree that it blocks engagement. It might feel like voices are being muzzled; however, the words are communicated as they are written. As the need for these virtual meetings continues, the opportunity exists to try different ways of including public comment in its native tongue.
As both a comment-er and a silent observer, I found myself intrigued by hearing public comment read aloud by a neutral party. People generally have a speaking style that is unique to them, and over time it can lull this listener into less than a fully attentive state. At the last meeting, I found myself paying closer attention to the words rather than the delivery. It was a bit disconcerting to hear how harsh many of the comments were. I found myself reacting viscerally and felt less open to understanding the stated points of view.
I had a similar moment of disquiet on last month’s CCHD web meeting when the new Director was sworn in using an extended version of the Oath of Office. The first part was familiar – it is the oath sworn by officials ranging from our CCSD board, our School District board, and even the Governor of California. The second part, however, made me sit up and say, “huh?”
“And I do further swear (or affirm) that I do not advocate, nor am I a member of any party or organization, political or otherwise, that now advocates the overthrow of the Government of the United States or of the State of California by force or violence or other unlawful means; that within the five years immediately preceding the taking of this oath (or affirmation) I have not been a member of any party or organization, political or otherwise, that advocated the overthrow of the Government of the United States or of the State of California by force or violence or other unlawful means except as follows:
_____ (If no affiliations, write in the words “No Exceptions”) _____
and that during such time as I hold the office of _____ (name of office) _____
I will not advocate nor become a member of any party or organization, political or otherwise, that advocates the overthrow of the Government of the United States or of the State of California by force or violence or other unlawful means.”
I checked with the District Administrator to make sure I heard the words correctly. He pointed me to the State of California Constitution. Further examination showed this section was added in the early 1950’s – during the time of the second “Red Scare.” Sound judgment has eliminated the paragraph from current oaths, and hopefully, it won’t make a reappearance in future swearing-in ceremonies.
Throughout this uncertain time, Cambria’s essential services continue to be delivered by the men and women who keep the water flowing, the ambulances running, and the open spaces available to us to clear our minds and stretch our legs (six feet apart.)
Our grocery stores are doing vital work, keeping shelves stocked with the food, medicines, and consumables we need to keep body and soul together. Thanks!
Our restaurants are adapting to the new reality, transitioning from sit-down establishments to pickup and delivery models. This fills some of the gaps for both the businesses and the residents who support them. Thanks, and hang in there!
Most impressively, the true spirit of Cambria is on display everywhere. Individual citizens and community organizations are shining brightly. Raising money, operating food banks, looking after the kids who depend on school lunches to survive. Making masks and keeping regular communication going out to the community on the many Cambria and San Simeon social media sites. The scope of this beautiful generosity is too great to capture in one paragraph, but the efforts are humbling and heroic.
Beautiful Cambria. Beautiful Cambrians.