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road test: one week of virtual hangouts

road test: one week of virtual hangouts

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Illustrator Ashley Ronning tried taking her entire social life online.

You may be one of the many people now using Zoom for work, but what about in your downtime? Just before restrictions eased, I set myself a challenge: to attend a whole week's worth of social events online. Here's how it went. 

All illustrations by Ashley Ronning

MOVIE NIGHT One of my earliest Zoom encounters was a night at the movies with my friends. To make it happen, my partner streamed a film to all 10 participants using Discord, while our sharehouse watched on the big screen in the lounge room. We also set up separate laptop screens showing all of our buddies for general giggles and commentary (and to feel like we were in the one lounge room). We watched Gremlins 2, which was so fun and schlocky – the perfect cheer-up movie for the start of our socially distant life together. I’d definitely do it again, but I feel like a group text chat would be less distracting than keeping an eye on a bunch of blurry Zoom boxes.

BIRTHDAY BASH For obvious reasons, a friend of mine had to cancel a huge 40th birthday blowout weekend. So, on the day of her birthday, she invited a handful of friends to join her on Zoom. People sang songs, read poems and shared memories – her partner even served up a birthday cake! I hadn’t prepared any cake for myself, though I did dress up and sip some water from a plastic champagne glass. I loved seeing my friend being spoiled and celebrated, but I’m still holding out for her to reschedule a real party once we’re all let out of the house again.CLUB NIGHT A friend mentioned her favourite IRL club night in Melbourne, Finishing School, was taking the party online. I’d never been before (IRL or online), but figured there was no time like the present. After paying the organizer a $5 entry fee and getting my Zoom password, I found myself in a virtual club, complete with a DJ and 100 other people on my screen. I had a bit of a boogie, but found myself people watching for the most part. Everyone looked fabulous and was dancing their socks off. While I do love the convenience of a boogie in my own home (I definitely saved some dosh using my fridge as a bar), I really do miss getting down on the dance floor with my friends. This was fun, but totally different from a regular club night.

DRAWING NIGHT A couple of artist friends had organised to meet up for a weekly drawing night just before COVID-19 hit Australia, but we never made it to our first session. Feeling a bit disconnected from our creative community, we decided to kick off our weekly drawing regimen on Zoom. It was so nice to see familiar faces, catch up on each other’s work, and talk about what we’d been feeling and experiencing through this mess. I found it great for mindless doodling, and show and tell was optional. Still, there’s nothing like drawing together at the same table, scribbling in each other’s books and sharing snacks.
TAROT READING I hadn’t tried a tarot reading before, but when I saw a friend offering readings online, I thought it’d be a great time for some introspection. She took it slow, led me through a mindfulness exercise and explained everything to me as we went. It was a beautiful way to talk through experiences and learn about myself through symbolism and imagery. I could tell there was some personal connection lost through the internet pipes, so once we’re through this, I’ll definitely be booking a face-to-face session.

THERAPY I was super-keen on trying a Telehealth session as my mental health has been quite shaken by the pandemic. I had a few good cries during our sessions, but the experience wasn’t quite the same as meeting face to face – being in the same room and being able to read body language is clearly important in this kind of setting. Despite that, I’m so happy it’s an option to help keep my brain in check. I don’t think I would have lasted this long without it.