Happy Birthday, Blog!

Here is the start of my very first post in this blog, dated November 29, 2019, after I relocated to WordPress from my old host.

One year ago today, my blog debuted on this platform. I’d been writing a blog for years, but it was on a different site, and the host company had become increasingly difficult to work with, so it was time for a change. Here’s a link to my very first entry on this site.

So, what has changed since that introductory post? A lot. Who would have guessed on November 29, 2019, that in three months’ time the world would be mired in a global pandemic featuring a virus none of us had even heard of yet? Who could have imagined a huge numbers of people working from their bedrooms or dining room tables, 93% of K-12 students in the U.S. taking classes from home, and college students holed up in their dorm rooms to watch their professors on computer screens? A year ago, did anyone think that in a few months, even in some of the richest countries in the world, access to toilet paper would be an issue? And who would have imagined a year ago that we’d all be donning masks to shop for groceries or walk the dog?

And that doesn’t even touch upon the real tragedy: 1.5 million people dead, including more than 250 million Americans. And so many others are suffering long-term, sometimes debilitating symptoms.

TC Williams High School 2020 graduates watched their own graduation ceremony from their homes. Here is the screen that appeared when my son’s name was called. (And yes, this is the famous “Remember the Titans” school from the Denzel Washington movie.)

Things are different now from a year ago on a personal level, too, though more predictably. My son graduated high school — well, graduating was predictable; graduating while sitting in the living room watching the ceremony on television, not so much. That opening post described the very large arts contest I ran for years as a PTA volunteer, a contest for preK-12 students at more than 220 schools. One year later, it is no longer on my to-do list. It was a huge part of my life for many years, but I chose not to continue as district director when my own son graduated, though I may still be pulled in to help with sorting or judging entries. Similarly, the time I spent with the school orchestra boosters’ groups is over. I miss those kids, in no small part because there was no closure, with the way the 2019-20 school year as we knew it ended so abruptly in March. No spring concerts, no final orchestra trip, no celebration of the graduating seniors.

A year ago, my son was embroiled in college applications. He applied to only six schools, fewer than most of his friends, some of whom applied to 20 or more. And one of his was a stretch, with only a 3% acceptance rate. (He didn’t get in.) Worst of all, he was accepted to his first choice of schools — Berklee School of Music’s Boston Conservatory — but had to decline because the financial aid package did not make enough of a dent in the absurdly high price tag. Of course, not getting what you want often works out for the best. Berklee switched to all-online for this semester, with students learning from home. So we’d have been paying absurdly high prices for him to sit at home taking all of his classes on a computer screen rather than taking advantage of state-of-the-art facilities and performance opportunities. And if school had been on campus (as it will be this spring), he would have been a 10-hour drive away from us, at a time of unprecedented, nerve-wracking uncertainty.

All-Virginia Orchestra auditions in February mark the end of normality for our student musicians. I’m grateful they had the chance to spend the day together before the virus caused schools to shut down for the rest of the year. Here is my son practicing with a friend while they awaited their audition time slots.

By February, the virus was out there. But it wasn’t yet a major factor in our part of the country, and widespread restrictions had not set in yet. We had no idea it was our final month of normality. Maybe “normality” is not the right word. Applying to college as a music major can be complicated. We spent every weekend of the month visiting one university or another, for all the required auditions and interviews, not to mention for all-state orchestra auditions — a useless exercise, as it turned out, because the all-state rehearsal and performance weekend, of course, had to be canceled in the end. But I remember that weekend as bittersweet, in retrospect. It was my son’s last chance to spend time with his orchestra friends. Soon afterward, in-person school shut down — forever, as it turned out, for the high school class of 2020.

He ended up at a good state university with a nationally ranked music department, and I now think it was the best outcome. While a lot of his classes are online, some have been in person. Students take their own temperatures each morning and report them on a phone app, they aren’t allowed in their friends’ dorm buildings, and most clubs and other extracurriculars take place online only. Students were sent home for much of September because covid-19 cases were rising and the school needed to rethink its policies and find more quarantine space. But then they returned to campus, until Thanksgiving break started a week ago. And now he’s home until winter break ends in January. He was in two orchestra concerts, as principal second violinist, but there was no audience and no much-anticipated trip for us parents to see him perform in person in his first college concert. Instead, we’re waiting for a link to watch it online. Who could have guessed a year ago that college in 2020 would look so different than it did in 2019?

Another difference from a year ago is in the writing project I’m currently working on. In my introductory blog post, I said I was juggling several manuscripts-in-progress and not getting far with any of them. I also said I was closing in on a decision about which one to pursue first. In the year since then, I’ve begun a different writing project altogether, a YA science fiction book, and I have been (slowly) making progress.

I had to cancel my summer trip to England and Scotland, so instead of blogging about a fabulous tour of the U.K., I blogged about my new obsession with Escape to the Country, the television show that helps families find quaint thatched-roof cottages and wisteria-draped barn conversions in the British countryside, while we Americans stuck at home follow along for vicarious travel thrills.

I’d anticipated a fabulous summer trip to blog about in my first year. Then travel from the U.S. to Europe was halted, including the trip we were planning to England and Scotland. I hope we can go in summer 2021, but it might have to wait for the following year, depending on how quickly a vaccine is widely available.

I should make it clear that I’m not complaining about the shutdowns and abrupt about-faces. I take this virus seriously, and while I’ve had a few quibbles with the way some decisions were announced, I support most of the choices made by my state governor, my son’s university, our local schools, and my city’s leaders. It’s been a difficult year all around, with so many people forced to make difficult choices. I have it easier than many: everyone in my family has remained healthy, we haven’t lost our income or our house, we have health insurance, and we can afford internet access. I’m one of the lucky ones.

A year ago, when I began this blog, I said I’d be discussing a variety of topics: “writing, reading, and parenting, as well as, at times, politics, art, and history.” I have covered all of those topics, though I envisioned them in rather different proportions than I ended up with. Then again, I envisioned quite a different first year than what we’ve had.

Here is to a happier and healthier next year.

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