Tracy McAulay, VCLA Cohort XXVI
County of Ventura
Like the first two VCLA sessions, session 3 was a whirlwind. We delved into the economy, transportation and the arts – no small task for a single day. All of the presentations were fascinating, and I could write pages. As I reflected on the day, I decided to stop short of writing the novel I wish to write and focus my comments (somewhat).
We started the day with a presentation by Matthew Fienup from California Lutheran University’s Center for Economic Research and Forecasting. Every time I hear him speak, I wish I had studied economy instead of music and psychology. Ok, maybe not instead of; perhaps in addition to.
The news was unsurprisingly concerning. The County’s pre-COVID economy was lagging and we are now working our way through a world-wide pandemic with economic impacts that dwarf the 2008 recession. Eventually, we will come out the other side, but the recovery is not projected to be as robust, as fast, or as complete we may wish.
Matthew shared a slide of his adorable puppy and asked a simple question: “whose eyes do you see this crisis through?”. For his new puppy, coming into his home slightly before the onset of the pandemic, sheltering in place probably seemed like the greatest idea ever. Everyone in the family was home 24/7 which translated into frequent walks and a non-stop stream of affection and human companionship – a dog’s dream.
Some of us are experiencing something similar to the puppy. Those who can easily work remotely remain employed safely at home and are less likely to contract the disease. Sometimes, the results of sheltering in place can even feel like blessings. For example, I traded my minimum 65-minute round trip commute for a very long walk through my neighborhood in the mornings and some parts of life seemed to slow down, a relief from the constant movement of life before. I was in a unique position to be able to support my daughter as she embarked on the strange journey that is distance learning but even more than that, I am suddenly a part of her kindergarten experience in a way that I never would have been had she started in 2019 instead of 2020. For this group, some things are better than they were before. This group is fortunate.
Unfortunately, this way of experiencing the pandemic is not universal. The pandemic is disproportionately impacting some groups more than others. Matthew stressed in his presentation that there are families who did not recover economically from the 2008 recession and there are those who will not recover economically from this most recent crisis. Job loss, illness, reduced hours and sudden and prolonged unemployment will have long-lasting impacts for many families in our community. I think it is important to note as well that this presentation was focused on economy – it didn’t delve into the physical and emotional impacts of this crisis, which will also disproportionately impact some members and groups in our community more than others.
We are in for rough times, but the impacts have not been and will not be felt equally. There is concern of a K shaped recovery, in which people in higher paying, technical and remote sectors recover strongly while lower-paying, non-remote industries decline and fail to recover as quickly or as fully. Two separate, side-by-side recoveries with significant and lasting repercussions which would exacerbate existing inequalities in our community.
One would expect, based upon the lack of pre-pandemic local economic growth followed by pandemic fueled job losses, that the housing market would soften. Ventura County consistently defies these expectations. Pre-pandemic, rent and home prices continued to increase while incomes since 2000, after adjusting for inflation, decreased . Stranger still, home prices and rent continue to increase even in the wake of the pandemic. It is staggering and almost incomprehensible; but 15 years of working in the housing industry have frequently caused me to pause and wonder if housing here will ever be attainable for all members of our community.
After the seriousness of the morning presentations, the drum circle was a welcome respite. There is something about the rhythm and resonance of a drum circle that speaks to our soul. It’s an external, shared heartbeat. A community.
We came together in the courtyard of the Museum of Ventura County, masked and distanced in a large circle. Instantly dubbed “The VCLA Cohort 26 Percussion Ensemble”, John Lacques from Drumtime led us in call and response and then randomly called on each of us to play a solo – a connected series of short performances by VCLA’s finest and truest drum amateurs (well at least most of us were amateurs – I have my suspicions about a few of you!). I was nervous. I like to be prepared. Even as a musician I was not an improviser; I diligently practiced so that I would be ready for every performance. As I anxiously waited for my turn to solo (have I mentioned that the primary factor that ended my musical career was chronic and debilitating stage fright?), I placed my hands on my drumhead so that I was ready to go when I was called. It was then that something magical happened. My drum wasn’t sitting idle. It was immediately clear that it wasn’t tensely waiting, worried about what would happen when it was our turn (traitor!). It was engaged, vibrating sympathetically with the current soloist, quietly understanding what was being said and singing along.
We are connected, it softly reminded me. Even when we are socially distanced, even if we seem completely detached, alone and disconnected. We are part of a bigger whole.
Shortly after this realization, I managed to mess up my very short solo. Somehow, I got off beat. As a former musician, it was humbling. I don’t exercise my creative muscles often enough anymore. I am pulled in so many exhausting directions every day as I multi-task my roles as a wife, parent, friend, employee and concerned local citizen. I am out of practice and out of touch with my own creativity. I have felt it before, and I felt it again, calling to me to return. One day, I will find a way to answer that call.
Live music exists in the moment. It dawned on me that even as I had stumbled, the other drums (and drummers) had been there, quietly beating in support. Once again, I placed my hands on the drumhead, noting that my drum was already actively responding to the beat of the next drummer. We are connected.
As I looked around the circle, I reflected that sitting in community with people outside of my household has become a novel experience. Something I used to take for granted was suddenly a profound and specific joy. One of the most impactful consequences of prolonged orders to shelter in place is that we are isolated from family and friends. Less often, we think about how isolated we are from our community as a whole. Interacting with acquaintances and strangers is an important and under-rated part of our social fabric. The arts are critical in connecting us, before, during and after this pandemic finally ends. For a brief time, music brought shared experience and community to our cohort.
My thoughts wandered back to the question posed earlier in the day – whose eyes do you see this crisis through? By default, we see and experience the world through our own unique lens. It is easy to feel connected to and understand those with similar experiences. It is much more difficult, and correspondingly more important, to remember that we are also connected to people with experiences and perspectives drastically different from our own. We are connected to those who appear to be perfectly fine, just as we are connected to those who are clearly struggling. As humans and especially as leaders, it is important that we take the time to step away from our individual points of view and choose to actively listen, and maybe even hum along quietly for a time, to everything that is happening around us so that we can gain a comprehensive and deeper understanding of the challenges and successes facing our community.
We are connected.