PAUL CURRINGTON RESISTED the siren song of Zoom for a long time. The organizer of Fresh Ground Stories, which I wrote about back in 2019, wasn’t sure how in-person storytelling would translate to a virtual version. “Who wants to tell a story to a tiny little pinprick of a camera?” he wondered.
But after a hiatus, he gave it a try — and he has found it therapeutic. “Fresh Ground Stories has been so helpful in getting me through the pandemic. I didn’t think the Zoom version would be as helpful as it is, but it is.”
A year after the coronavirus halted most in-person gatherings, I looked into how some of the groups I wrote about back in the Before Times are coping now.
Some groups are lying fallow, like fields waiting to be replanted after a long winter. That’s especially true of those centered on a certain event or activity that had to shut down. It’s hard to play basketball, for example, when you can’t be near other people.
But other groups have moved online, as have so many things.
Currington says about 50 to 80 fans show up for each monthly Fresh Ground Stories session, some from as far away as Australia. Other storytelling groups have hosted virtual workshops on crafting good tales.
“People are finding us and being great tellers and great audience members,” he says. The latter is as important as the former: He wants to draw folks who actively support the art form and their fellow story spinners.
The Puget Sound Bonsai Association still meets monthly, but it, too, has moved to Zoom. “We still schedule guest artists who perform various demonstrations at our virtual meetings,” says Bruce Williams, the association’s secretary. They’ve also gone old-school and added more content to their monthly email newsletter.
In February, they moved their annual show, this year called the “Margaret Holton Winter Silhouette Virtual Show,” online. They had entries professionally photographed so folks could see and vote for them online.
Williams said the silhouette theme came from a Japanese tradition of showing deciduous bonsai trees in winter, when they’ve lost their leaves and their structure is most evident. I found it particularly fitting for a time when many of us have lost a lot and have to show what we’re really made of.
Other clubs are making it work in various ways. The Century 21 Bowling League had to scrap its plans for normal league play in 2020, but whenever bowling alleys are open, it hosts socially distant doubles leagues.
Like many education-oriented groups, Seattle Audubon is doing online classes. Birding is a particularly good socially distanced activity, but not in groups the way the Audubon used to do it.
In some ways, the pandemic likely will change things forever. Some groups might never start up again, at least not as they were. But it has opened new possibilities for many others. Folks who never used videoconference software before are now adept at firing it up. Most groups hope to continue offering online options in the After Times for out-of-towners or those who aren’t able to make in-person meetings.
Some things haven’t changed: New members are welcome. Groups still depend on organizers willing to set up meetings, as well as participants willing to join in. And people still need one another — in person or not.
“I never thought I’d be grateful for Zoom, but I am,” Currington says.