Monday, March 23, 2020

School's Out. For...??

When we got notice that Sacramento County was closing all schools, the call was three weeks of closure. This would take my school district right up to Spring Break, leading to four weeks off campus, three with some distance learning, and one freebie. Teachers would come back as planned on April 13th, and students on the 14th.

Then Governor Newsom told us all on live TV that he'd told his daughter she very likely won't go back to physical school until August. Okay, so maybe that will be the case.

But as time goes on (and it's only been a week but it feels like a lot longer), it's becoming more likely by the minute that California schools will remain closed until the summer break. For the record, there has been no official notice. It's just very, very likely, and today Virginia made that move.

And so, another uncertainty. If we are to remain closed, will be move to formal online learning? How will we track student attendance? What will grading look like? How do we ensure our students who are required extra support (via IEPs or 504 plans) receive that support effectively? Obviously, these are not questions that I have to find the answers to--I have district and school administrators to do that. Still, I worry and wonder.

But otherwise, I just keep on. Today I finally established a routine for myself, getting up to work out at 6:00, followed by a shower and my usual breakfast. I was at my school computer by 8:00, ready to go. It's been a productive day as far as knocking some things off my list and making contact with my students. I'm still figuring out exactly what to teach, because most of my kids don't have access to an instrument, and there's only so much online rhythm-reading they're going to do before we all want to throw our laptops out the window.

I am, however, trying to give them some fun stuff. For my art classes, links to virtual tours of the British Museum in London and the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. Activities as I can find them that are easy to access and educational.

It's...not easy. By a long shot. I'm lucky, however, to have some amazing colleagues (the text thread between the middle school team has been informative, hilarious, and so needed) to help me navigate this. We are a good team, and I'm grateful to have them.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Keane 2020

Disclaimer: For the whole week before this concert, I hemmed and hawed about going, but at that time, information about COVID-19 was a lot less clear than it was a few short days after my return. I opted to go. I am very, very fortunate that I have not, in the two weeks since. shown any symptoms of the virus, nor do I think I exposed others to it. Knowing what I know now, I probably would not have gone, and I think Keane would not have started their tour at all had information been clearer. In the end, I got very lucky in many ways, and I am grateful for that. This blog post does not, in any way, serve to downplay what has been happening with COVID-19. It is simply a celebration of an evening that was very special to me, for a lot of reasons.

When Keane announced they were taking "a break," many of us knew what it really meant. It was a break-up. In the years since, we heard reports of Tom entering rehab for his drug/alcohol addiction, of Tim's marriage ending and then a drunk-driving arrest. Richard and Jesse stayed low to the ground, though Richard was on Twitter as usual, being a friend to the fans as he always is (and welcoming a son with his wife, which was lovely). 

Many of us despaired of ever seeing Keane back together, but in August 2018, they surprised us with an impromptu gig in their hometown of Battle in England. A couple of months later, a picture showed up on their official Instagram: the four of them sitting on a sofa in what appeared to be a music studio. There was only one emoji for a caption: a waving hand.

Well, of course, it started a frenzy. I was a few short months out from losing Mom, and the thought of Keane coming back to make music together again was a source of huge joy. 

Before long, the tease was revealed to be actual pictures of them at work together in a studio, and news of a forthcoming album. A year later, Cause and Effect dropped, and tours started to be announced. Interviews with the band showed a prevailing calm in their relationship that had been missing in 2012-2013. Pictures and videos from back stage showed four men, comfortable in their renewed friendship, hugging before shows and looking genuinely excited to be making music together again.

And the album, of course, is marvelous.

Eventually, the North America tour was announced, and I noticed that the usual Oakland gig would fall on a work night. I could go, but it would almost certainly mean taking a sick day the next day to recover from the excitement and the two-hour drive home. I had taken three personal days in September to go to New York City, so I didn't want to test the limits. Instead, I bought a ticket to the Seattle gig, on a Saturday night, and booked a quick little getaway trip on Expedia. Not only would I get to see Keane again, but I'd revisit a great city for the first time since 2006. Win-win!

Of course, no one had any way of knowing that a new virus would start making the rounds in the world, so the week before my trip, I was wary as I saw Seattle becoming a hot spot of COVID-19 in the United States. As in my disclaimer above, if I had known then, as I boarded the airplane, what I knew a few short days later, I probably would not have gone. And Keane, had they known, probably would have cancelled their whole tour sooner. A week after Seattle, that's just what happened--the tour was forced to cancel and they returned to England. 

But oh, the Seattle gig.

Earlier in the day, as I explored the many changes that have happened in Seattle, I staked out the Show Box, and saw Keane's crew unloading equipment.

I was that nerd. You know, the one who gave two thumbs up to one of the crew guys and squealed, "I'm soooo excited!!" To his credit, he just grinned back and said, "Good!" 

I had purchased a VIP ticket so I would be among the first in to the venue, and I knew a few people who would be there--Marion, who I met a few years ago on Tom's solo tour, and Andrew, who I had not met in person, but knew from social media and Keane fandom. We met up in line, and chatted with Andrew's wife and other lovely Keane fans, getting more and more excited.

We Sharpie'd numbers on our hands to keep track of what order
we lined up in.

Marion, Meg, Andrew
While we waited in line, I checked in on my social media. Opening Twitter, I could see I had a new private message. Figuring it was a reply from Marion or Nate I had missed before seeing them, I opened my inbox...and saw it was from Richard.

Yes, as in Keane's drummer.

See, he follows me on Twitter--has for several years now--and I like to joke we are "Twitter BFFs" but really, I'm just one of the fans he happens to follow, and we have interesting conversations from time to time, and share a lot of cat pictures. 

The message informed me that he had asked his drum tech, Alex, to give me something after the gig. 

After a couple of high-pitched squeals (and a little disappointment that the guys wouldn't be able to come out after gigs this tour because of virus concerns for them and for fans), I figured he would probably make sure I got his drum sticks. He often signs them after a show and gives them to a fan. "Awesome!!" I thought to myself. I just felt honored to receive a gift at all.

The opening act, Saint Sister, was good--a little same-y for my tastes, but lovely. They had a harpist, which is definitely unique, and gorgeous voices. 

Finally, it was time for Keane's crew to set up, and as they went to work, Alex walked by. Marion yelled at him and pointed at me. "This is Meg!!" 

"Hi Meg!" he yelled. Bemused, I just waved back and yelled my own hello.

Finally, Keane's set up was ready. I was in the very front, right under one of Tim's keyboards. All that was left was for our guys to step out and get things started. The crowd was buzzing. My friends and I were bouncing up and down in anticipation.

And then...there they were. 

Friends, music is one of my biggest reasons for existing on this planet, and Keane is my very favorite band. It had been seven years since I had seen them in person--except Tom's solo tour, of course--but seeing them walk out, four friends who love making music together, was incredible. I was screaming my head off, clapping my hands, and feeling so happy in that moment.

They gave us two solid hours of music--favorites from all of their albums, new and old. The crowd sang along, went wild, and ate it all up. Tom bantered with us, and between songs, he would turn to look at his band mates--all four of them just smiling at each other and clearly enjoying the feeling of love coming from us. It was obvious they were a little bit emotional to see how much we still love them after all this time.

At one point, we all realized that though it was still Saturday in Seattle, it was Sunday--and Tom's birthday--in England. So we sang "Happy Birthday" to him while he stood there and grinned at us. 

Not gonna lie--my pictures are crap. I took them all with an iPhone 6, and I didn't really care about quality, only capturing the moment. 

Tom in profile

Richard at work

Richard and Tim



There's Jesse! I was too far from him to get
pics of him in action. 

At the end of  the last song, "Somewhere Only We Know," Richard stood and pumped a fist along with the last words, as the audience sang along at full volume. This is one of my favorite Keane songs, and perhaps their biggest Stateside hit, so it's always special live, as a whole room of fans sings along with Tom.

They gave us a three-song encore, even though they were still jet-lagged and exhausted from a concert the night before. And then, our guys gathered together at the front of the stage, arms around each other. It was so good to see them together again, I almost cried.

Shortly after this next picture, I put my phone down, and as Richard looked over in my general direction, I waved at him, and he saw me and waved back.

Two glorious hours of Keane were over, and I was riding high on all of it. But--I still had a gift to receive. Alex came up to where I was standing, and reached around some boxes to grab...

A massive bass drum head.

Signed by the whole band, and personalized to me.

From top to bottom, Tim's absolute chicken-scratch, Richard
JQ (Jesse Quin) and Tom. The "To Meg" part is Richard. 

As I mentioned above, getting sticks would have made me happy. This was amazing. And it turns out they only change the kick drum head once per tour (according to Richard in his reply to my "OMG THANK YOU" message), so not a lot of these get given out. He was happy to give it to a music teacher. I was delighted to get it.

It was nearly impossible to leave the Show Box without getting stopped by tons of people asking, "How did you get that?!?"

"And it's personalized!!!"

I just giggled, shrugged, and shook my head a lot.

Eighteen hours later, I would arrive back at my car at Sacramento International Airport, having brought a huge drum head through TSA screening (not one problem, but about six agents with wide eyes saying, "That's so cool!!") and one flight home (one flight attendant offering to stow it in a cupboard at the front of the plane, and waiting for me when I got off the plane, also saying, "This is really cool!!"). I gently laid it in the trunk on top of my suitcase, and then got in my car, where I let out a loud laugh.

"What a weekend!!"

What a weekend, indeed.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Gimme Shelter

Well, nothing like sheltering in place and self-isolation to get a gal blogging again.

The last couple of weeks have not exactly been easy on the ole anxiety. If you know me, you know I have this weird ability to make huge changes, like moving to England to teach, but when it comes to my day-to-day routines, loss of continuity can be very, very difficult.

I've gone two weeks now without printing a weekly To Do List. This is unheard of for me, and it has caused some angst. The first week was because I was out of town for the weekend (more on that later), and when I got back, I had a sinus infection and ended up not only not updating the list, but also spending two sick days at home--making the list moot.

When I did go back to work, I was there two days before notice came from Sacramento County that all schools were to close.

That leads us to this week, in which nothing was exactly clear until Tuesday or Wednesday.

Teachers at my school district were to be called in for three days this week (eventually cut to two, and that second day was "leave when you feel you're ready"), and that caused some anxiety as we all wondered why we needed to be there after Monday--which was a school-wide day for planning online learning.

By Tuesday morning, I was sitting in my classroom with a racing heart and no idea exactly what to do as I lead class meetings with my equally confused students. Still, it was good to see their faces--even electronically--and I noticed right away that they seemed eager to connect with teachers. It reminded me that teachers are a big part of a kids's normal routine, and when "normal" goes out the window, I'm not the only person feeling anxious about it.

So here we are--it's Saturday, and it's taken me three days to write this post. Fortunately, things are looking up. Today I'm doing a big clean of Casa Meg, and I'll spend the rest of the weekend getting my To Do List back in order for the coming week. Working from home requires more focus, so I'll be creating a fairly regimented schedule for myself. It will include time for working out, and allow for plenty of time just relaxing with a book, some Netflix, or a craft project.

I am one of the most fortunate ones. I have health care, and I'm continuing to be paid through this. Working from home as a school teacher isn't ideal, but it's doable. My admin team and my fellow teachers are hugely supportive (we're all in this together). I stocked up my freezer with chicken, ground turkey, and lots of frozen veg before all this, so I'm capable of making healthy, filling meals without needing to go to the store too often. (Later today, chicken curry with cauliflower, carrots, and a jar of korma sauce.)

Most importantly, I bought an extra box of Tetley. I mean, priori-teas, right?

So I'm set. I worry about Dad, who has a very hard time not doing stuff for himself, but seems to be mostly convinced to stay at home and let me look for paper towels for him. But overall, I'm in a very good position, so in addition to curbing my anxiety, I'm trying to look outward. So far, I've bought some gift cards from two different independent book stores, and asked them to donate the cards to students in need. It's a win-win, for struggling business, and struggling kids.

We will get through this. It's weird as hell, and sometimes the anxiety flares up, but I know we all can do this.

In the mean time, I'll be locked up at home, marveling at just how much sleep cats can accomplish in a day.