Not in Control

I’m often a Zoom host on calls of 10 to 40 people.  I started learning how to do this in October, 2019 and it’s been a rocky road since.  I’ve made lots of mistakes, ones that diminished the experience of many folks.  And I’ve forgiven myself for that.  It’s always my intention to be excellent but sometimes my brain has trouble keeping up with my heart.

Twenty-one months later, I’m a good Zoom host – not brilliant like a few Zoomies I know, but I take care of the participants well.  Then there was today.  I was a host three times … and adventures abounded.  For instance:

1.  There’s a chat feature in Zoom.  My job in the early morning was to post a message that the organization wanted to be passed on.  I copied and pasted and … Voilà (!) the window started filling with fast-moving “j”s!  Within two seconds, the space was full.  I scrolled down, trying to get to the end of the letters – still full – so I scrolled some more.  Finally a blank space at the end of the zooming “j”s.  I slammed my finger down on the space bar and the flood stopped.  I held the backspace key down and watched in horrified fascination as page after page of “j”s were sucked back into cyberspace.  “What’s going on?!”

2.  My job includes dividing participants into pairs for the breakout rooms.  There’s a “Create Rooms” window that appears.  Piece of cake occasionally, lots of focus required usually.  I clicked a little up arrow to increase the number of rooms to accommodate the 20 people who were on one call today.  Suddenly 100 breakout rooms appeared and I couldn’t think fast enough to get that number down to 10.  So there were 20 folks, each alone in a room, surrounded by empty rooms.  I gathered my wits (slowly) and manually paired up the participants.  The body was shaking.

3.  On another call, I set the length of the breakout sessions to the standard 30 minutes.  I thought I was finished with that part when I glanced down and saw that the time had magically morphed into 300 minutes.  I fixed that.  Then I got busy with other tasks.  Just before I was to open the rooms, a little birdie told me to check the settings again.  The big uncover?  The sessions were set to close in 3 minutes.  (Sigh)

Somehow (thank you, whoever you are) I got through all this.  The participants were well served, and blissfully unaware of my trials.

I ended the afternoon chatting online with a Zoom support person.  After much exploration together, he thought my program was corrupted.  “Uninstall and reinstall”.  So I did.

And tomorrow is another day.

Smoke Alarm Blues

It bleated away this morning, waking me up.  It’s supposed to chirp intermittently when the battery is dying but this was a continual blast on the eardrums.  Smoke?  No.  Fire?  Not at all.  I pressed the Reset button and it stopped, only to resume ten minutes later.

Okay, Bruce.  The alarm is in your hand, having been twisted off from its ceiling mount.  Look for instructions on opening the thing up so you can switch batteries.  No instructions.  Very well.  Hold the bottom part and twist the top part.  Tight as a drum.  No problem.  There seems to be a thumb hole on the side of the apparatus.  Get your digit in there and pull the top off.  Tight as two drums.  All right.  Stare at the alarm for awhile.  Nothing magically opens.  After more staring, I realize that I have no clue about how to get to the battery.  And I feel incompetent.  How can this beast be consumer-proof?  I must be missing something.  No, I’m not.  I’m a smart person.  But the top persists in remaining unopened.  (Sigh)

I considered taking the alarm to Home Hardware and asking one of the employees for help.  But here comes Renato.  I’ll let him have a go.  My friend picks up the circular warning machine, glances at it for a few seconds, puts his thumb in the hole … and pulls outward, like opening a drawer.  And there revealed was a D battery.  More staring, accompanied by gulping.

Renato smiled.  I sort of did.  Inside, it was more like dying.  What does it mean that my university-educated brain couldn’t figure this out?  That this human being overflowing with Buddhist insights was incapable of uncovering a battery.

I thought about this on and off all day.  Am I a stupid person?  No.  Am I a bad person?  Certainly not.  Am I an imperfect person, complete with this deficiency and that?  Yes.

And so I sit in my man chair, humbled by a gadget.  What’s happening right now?  Sadness.  A wee bit of shame.  And a little chuckle.

Feet of clay
Brain of mush
Heart of gold
I’ll take it


This afternoon, the Grade 8 students at St. Mary Choir School (graduating tomorrow) put on a cabaret for family, friends and younger kids.  All those sweet voices.  All those smooth dance moves.  And tons of smiles from the performers.

However, I was stunned by one reality of the gathering.  As I looked around at the adults and high school students nearby, I saw six people spending a fair slice of the concert on their smart phones – texting, I guess, and cruising the Internet.  Oh my.  Here we have lots of performing 14-year-olds, and as they’re giving it their all, they look out at the audience and see many heads down.  When a loved one was singing, I saw phones pointed at the stage, videoing the performance, but most of the tech use was not that.  How sad.

Why is there so often a huge gap between the present moment and what people are focusing on?  The here and now is precious – often joyous and sometimes painful, but all of it life.  And we need to experience it.

I remember a few years ago, sitting in an airport lounge, waiting for the boarding call.  A family of four took the seats directly across from me … mom, dad, a boy (about 12) and a girl (about 10).  With nary a word, they each pulled out their handheld thingies and started tapping away.  It could have been 20 minutes of silence and knitted brows.  (Sigh)  No eye contact either.

May we find a better way.