The Working Waterfront

Remote meetings mirror remote island life

Town meeting slated for in-person, but beware ‘mute yourself’ call

Barbara Fernald
Posted 2021-08-04
Last Modified 2021-08-04

I was working in my studio last week with the television on behind me when I heard one commentator say to another, “I think you win the background game today.” I didn’t turn around, but briefly imagined what might create a backdrop so interesting as to “win the day” among news correspondents.

After the year of COVID 19 with so many meetings, broadcasts, and lessons from home, I believe many of us found entertainment in the details of the stamp sized rectangles in which others presented themselves. Even if you have never attended a Zoom meeting, you might have witnessed your favorite newscaster bravely working from home offering you a glimpse of the life that doesn’t show up when they broadcast from a TV studio.

The opportunity to remotely connect with people has helped many islanders get through the isolation of the past year. The fact that these encounters take place without masks has offered a sense of normalcy as we get to see smiles, frowns, frustration, and laughter among each other while holding space in our Hollywood Squares.

Why leave home to jump on a boat to get to your car to drive two hours to a meeting…?

I know I’m not the only one who thinks about presentation. I’m aware of what is behind me and I try to angle the light so my glasses don’t reflect. I try to make sure my laptop screen is level with my eyes. (The jowls I’ve acquired from 68 years of gravity do not need to be exaggerated by my looking down toward a laptop camera!)

While I don’t care to do it myself, I am pretty entertained by the people who use a green screen on Zoom. The app allows one to change their backgrounds at a whim. I also respect those who attend meetings without video. They might see me, but all I see is a box with their name. It’s OK to be private on Zoom; there are still plenty of people who allow you to peep at their world.

A friend I see regularly on Zoom but whom I have never met in person said to me after a meeting, “Wow. I just realized that every single thing I see in the room behind you had to get to the island on a boat.” Remote validation for island living.
My husband, Bruce, serves on the board of the Maine Lobster Collaborative which meets about six times a year. Zoom meetings have worked well for him and he hopes they will continue even after the pandemic restrictions end.

“You can go to a meeting in any weather without worrying about your boat or the ferry schedule,” he says. It’s such a good point. Why leave home to jump on a boat to get to your car to drive two hours to a meeting when you could attend the same meeting from your own kitchen?

The board members are scattered among Ellsworth, Jonesport, Portland, Augusta, Pretty Marsh, and Islesford, so it makes a whole lot of sense to continue meeting online. When I asked him if he looked behind people during his Zoom meetings he replied, “I’m always checking out the backgrounds.” When Bruce Zooms from his favorite spot at the kitchen table, there is a steel lobster that hangs on the wall above the window behind him. He gets comments.
We’ll all be a little out of practice for live meetings when the Town of Cranberry Isles holds its annual town meeting on Great Cranberry on May 1. It was postponed for two months in hopes to have warm enough weather to hold the meeting outside in the ball field. The daffodils are at their peak, the grass is turning green, and the trees are budding. There is birdsong in the background all day long.

A lot of us will be seeing each other for the first time in a very long time.  As much as we’ve benefitted from attending meetings remotely, no green screen or artfully arranged bookshelf can compete with the live background of a Maine island and its people in the spring. I’m looking forward to it.

The meeting will be live, but don’t be surprised if the moderator still uses a term from Zoom meetings, asking people to remember to mute themselves after they’ve spoken.

Barbara Fernald lives, writes, and makes jewelry on Islesford (Little Cranberry Island). She can be reached at