Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Moving Day

Dear Stockton,

Three years (and change) ago, I got a job offer from Stockton Unified and was happy to accept it. I suddenly found myself with two weeks to find an apartment, move in, and get ready for a new school year. It was busy, crazy and hectic, but I managed.

I'll never forget the response of one friend, telling me I was silly to accept an offer so quickly, even though before this she had encouraged me to take any job I could find in this job market. I know now, from what happened to that friendship since then, that she was just being a brutal snob--Stockton had a terrible reputation, and she didn't want to take the time to find out if maybe, just maybe, it had it's good qualities. "Why would you want to live there?" she emailed me from her ivory tower in San Francisco's run-down Mission neighborhood.

All I could do was stifle the hurt and quietly reply, "Because this is exactly the job I want."

Anyway, I moved. I was delighted to find out that Stockton has a long-running and very active choral group, Stockton Chorale. There is a full symphony, the third-oldest in California. Stockton has a major university (University of the Pacific), a small remote campus for Cal State Stanislaus, and a thriving junior college, San Joaquin Delta.

As I explored my new surroundings and approached my thirtieth birthday, some of the life and spunk that had been missing while I lived in Antioch came roaring back--I was happy and content with where my life was going. I got a spot in Chorale and started singing regularly. My confidence soared. In February 2009, I went to the gym one day and did a monumental thing--I sat down with a trainer, looked him in the eye and said the most brutally honest words I've ever uttered about myself: "I need help."

Three years in Stockton--the longest I've lived anywhere since graduating from Chico in 2001. I've had tremendous highs and a few crushing lows, but I come out at the end of my time here confident that I am a better person for everything that has happened in this small, misunderstood city in the heart of the Central Valley.

When I look back on these three years, I think my thoughts will go immediately to the good things that have happened here: adopting Harley, volunteering with Animal Friends Connection, singing with Chorale, losing 60 pounds, finding a new confidence, discovering Keane (though I had to drive to Oakland to do it), the new friendships both near and far. The distressing parts--noisy neighbors, a bad boss and losing my job, last year's ER adventure--will fade into insignificance because honestly, they don't define my time here. They only served to make me stronger.

Now that I've made the decision to leave, I can see that staying in Stockton would not mean continued growth. I've gone as far as I can here, and it's time to find my next adventure. Will I come back someday and settle here? Probably not. I don't see my life path bringing me back here...but then, I never say never. But I'll never regret my decision to move here three years ago.

Stockton is more than it's reputation of gang violence and frequent crime suggests--it is lovely waterways and a thriving arts community. It is a stubborn determination to take back the city from the "Most Miserable Cities" list in Forbes. It is full of small business and chains alike, staying afloat somehow in a nasty economy and an horrible housing market. It is Haggin Museum, the Bob Hope Theater, the University Bell Tower, and the Miracle Mile. It is the Port of Stockton and the Stockton Ports. It is tree-lined streets and lovingly tended old homes in the university neighborhood, and the surrounding farm lands of the delta country.

This city has its work cut out in terms of battling poverty and gang violence, yes. Underfunded police are stretched thin but every single time I've spoken to an officer--whether it is a police chaplain hanging out at an elementary school to open lines of communication with the children and families of the community, or two officers responding to my call when I feared the child next door was being abused--every time, the police have been polite, committed to the community. They thanked me for calling in what ended up being a false alarm, as they'd rather have that than a dead child.

I suppose in 20 years, Stockton will be just another place I lived, another thumb tack stuck in a map on the wall illustrating my life journey...but I hope that I never forget how I thrived here, how I moved to this place just for a job and left it three years later a better, happier person for my time here. I am excited to see what new adventures will unfold before me, but I also leave a small piece of myself in this "miserable" little city, with the cats and kittens I've cleaned up after, and the community of singers I made music with. Maybe some of what I taught in my two years here will stay with some of my pupils, and they will take their memories of Miss Cooper with them as they become adults. I hope so.

I wish this place prosperity and a turnaround from everything that tries to bring it down.

Thank you, Stockton, for being my home.


Meg of the Little Pink Blog

St. John's Anglican -- Where Chorale meets

St. John's

On the Miracle Mile

Little Manila, in downtown

A view of Mt. Diablo from one of many waterways.

The Miracle Mile

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

High Note

Last night, I attended my first rehearsal with Sacramento Choral Society and Orchestra.

From the moment I stepped into the room being used for singer registration, I was welcomed with friendly smiles and genuine excitement to have a new voice. I paid my dues, and for a Sac State parking pass, and retrieved my brand-new, shiny scores.

We will be performing some amazing pieces in our October concert--Leonard Bernstein's Chichester Psalms, (here is part 1, the most difficult of the three parts), Joseph Jongen's Mass Op. 130, and an arrangement of Let the people praise thee, O God arranged by William Mathias for the wedding of Charles, Prince of Wales and Lady Diana Spencer. Each piece is an example of 20th century music, with changing meters and difficult harmonies. The tonal center rarely stays in one place for very long, making it difficult for singers expecting notes to resolve a certain way.

The Bernstein, in particular, is going to be challenging. In the first nine bars of the first movement, the meter changes...nine times. That's right. The first nine bars all have different time signatures:

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Anyway, enough music geekery. Suffice it to say that I'm very excited to sink my teeth into these pieces, and I foresee quite a few hours of practicing with the practice CDs in my car ahead. We're singing in three different languages for this concert--Hebrew, Latin and English. The Latin is easy enough--I've sung Latin so many times that sometimes I feel like I speak it--but the Hebrew is going to be a challenge.

The best part of last night, however, wasn't just that there is fantastic music and a smiling, welcoming group of 160 singers. The best part was that the new singers all had to stand and introduce themselves. I mentioned that I am "one of the gazillions of unemployed California music teachers." Two ladies said, "Talk to me!" So I made two fantastic connections last night, both in a local school district. I had a good, long chat with one after rehearsal and I'm very excited to get to know some other music educators in the area. She actually went through the music ed program with my high school music teacher!

Our director is delightful--I can tell that he will demand excellence, but always with a smile on his face.

I'm so glad I made the point of joining right away--I knew, when I left Chorale, that it was essential to continue singing, and to be among other musicians making connections and having that creative outlet. I can tell I will enjoy my time in SCSO, and can't wait for more.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Monday Music: Stornoway

I'm back, I'm back!!

Not that anyone ever comments on my Monday Music posts...but I do rather enjoy doing them. This week I'm featuring a band that is new to me. Two Keane friends were Tweeting back and forth about Stornoway, so I clicked on the link one had posted and listened to a couple of songs. They're quite good, and I like their sound. So here's "Zorbing" for this week's Monday Music.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

It's a Sign: Gold Country

I've made so many trips up to the Gold Country region of California in recent years...and with that, of course, comes tons of signs. Here are some of my favorites.

I love this random bit of English-ness in the middle of nowhere, California!

I love a good shop name. And yes, we had pie here!

Well, I laughed.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

I'm Here!

It's been a busy few days. Yesterday, I drove up to Lake Tahoe to meet another Keane friend, Karen. She was there for a work conference this week, and Friday was her last day, so we drove around a bit and had a lovely lunch. We chatted about Keane and other things we have in common and it was so much fun. Another awesome friend through my favorite band!

Today, Dad and I drove to Stockton to load up my desk, computer and piano. I am now blogging from my own computer in my bedroom at Mom and Dad's house. This makes me happy for many reasons:

  1. It's MY computer, with all of my files and pictures and documents on it...and my iTunes library, which is currently playing.
  2. I don't have to share it with anyone! If Mom wants a turn on the computer, she can go in her room and use her computer without having to kick me off.
  3. I can use the computer at any time of day or night. No, "Meg, Dad needs to shower...get out." No, "We're going to bed...turn it off." If I wake up at 3:30 in the morning, I can log into Facebook to whine about it. 
It's a tight squeeze. I've been joking that it's like being in a college dorm room again. But I've got my things and there is comfort in that. Cali Swimmy has just been placed in his customary place in front of the monitor and my raggedy old Snoopy doll is in one of the cabinets next to the bed. I brought my own pillows up, rather than using the ones Mom kept in here for my visits--they're more comfortable for me.

The only thing left is to get the rest of my craft stuff and a set of Rubbermaid drawers in which I'll keep my underwear and socks (currently in boxes in my closet).

Tomorrow, I think I'll go for a good, long run and then spend the day relaxing. I've earned it!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Downtown Stockton

Yesterday, I gave myself some time before my last hurrah with Chorale to walk around downtown with my camera. Downtown Stockton has certainly got a lot of work to do if it wants to be a city where people come to eat, drink and be merry...people are working on it, but the economy has hit San Joaquin County very hard, and it's going to be a long time before Stockton's city center has any sort of pull. Plus, it's just too near the southeast part of the city, where gang activity keeps people inside. Downtown is "safe" enough in daylight, but I was still watching my back.
That said, I like it there. It has character, and a certain flavor about it. From the man who was practicing karate kicks on El Dorado Street to the crowds of kids in front of the movie theater, there is a certain charm in watching the people. Stockton doesn't pretend to be anything other than it is--a run-down city smack in the middle of an economic downturn that is trying, valiantly, to make things better.

I found this sidewalk art and was completely charmed.

I went to the top floor of a public parking garage to get some view pictures. A police officer gave me a "look" but didn't stop to ask. I guess he figured I was just a harmless lady with a camera, with no ulterior motives and no intention of jumping. Plus, the garage has surveillance cameras.

You can verrrry faintly see Mt. Diablo right behind the
port, way in the distance. It was hazy yesterday.

Still too faint, even on zoom.

Looking towards Weber Point. The street where the cars
are stopped is shut down every year for the Asparagus

Finally, it was time for Summer Sing. I snapped a quick picture of one of the stained glass windows in St. John's before we got involved in the Mozart.