Online Courses and Conferences — COVID-19’s Surprising Upside

COVID-19 is expanding my world. No, I’m not flying anywhere, not even to the “green” countries I can visit on my Israeli passport.  Other than the occasional supermarket run and a weekly synagogue visit I’m mostly sheltering in place but now I’m getting to workshops, conferences, and events I wouldn’t have attended before.  In my pre-COVID life, so many activities were off-limits because of distance– the downside of living in Israel or timing eg incompatibility with  Shabbat observance. Now all that is solved.

There are other pluses too—reduced costs, along with no airfare, no jet lag, no sleepless nights in strange hotels, and no need to hunt down kosher food.

When the pandemic started, it seemed like a purely dark cloud, with no silver lining. Life was going to be boring—for a long time. Then, I learned that a workshop I had long wanted to attend had moved online. In non-plague years Nancy Churnin’s picture book biography writing class takes place in Austin Texas but this year, I could participate– from home.  That proved to be a huge gift. For the first time since COVID hit, I had a focus, something to look forward to and a new perspective not just on picture books but on life.

When that class ended, I kept going. My next stop was a four-day memoir writer’s Bootcamp led by Marion Winik , a writer who had, like Churnin done most off her teaching in real-time. The boot camp offered an extra perk– a fifteen minutes Zoom  tete a tete   with Ms. Winik, a teacher in creative writing graduate programs who regularly publishes in the New York Times magazine.

Was our meeting life-changing? I’m not sure but it shook out some of my mental cobwebs planting fresh new ideas in their stead and I missed the hassle of shlepping myself to Provincetown, Massachusetts where the boot camp usually takes place.

The week after I returned to kids lit—another dream come true as I joined the semiannual conference of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. In healthier times this event takes place in Los Angeles mostly on Shabbos but I got to watch it all– on recordings at home.

That was supposed to be it for a while but when a neighbor told me that the International Society for Jewish Genealogists would be holding its yearly convention virtually, I couldn’t resist. It’s out of my league–I’m a newbie genealogist having barely turned the topsoil on dig into ancestral roots but I couldn’t deprive myself of yet another new experience and I connected with someone from my grandmother’s home town. Now we’re becoming friends on email and the phone. That alone seemed worth the price.

Like real-time travel virtual journeys have had their bumps. I’ve endured frozen screens, shaky audio, and the occasional boring speaker. These days there’s no need to duck out discretely or take an open-eyed nap or duck. Just click on the leave meeting button and you’re free.

This week I’ve got nothing on. I’m down in the dumps experiencing the pain of withdrawal.  I think I’ve gotten addicted to online events.

What’s next? I don’t know but I’m looking around, searching for a new conference or workshop or class to fill my days. I hope I’ll find it soon.

About the Author
Carol Ungar is a prize-winning author who writes from the Judean Hills.
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