The university I work for has set-up a dedicated Facebook group for staff members to join, as a means of keeping touch with colleagues and friends. After only a week the group has over 1700 members and is beginning to form a social life of its own.
People are sharing photos of their home workstations, their pets and their images of balancing family and work-life. Others are describing the ways in which they are successfully adapting, or honest accounts of how they are struggling.
It feels like a community. It is a community. One wonders now it is in operation why we’ve waited until now to set-up a Facebook page like this. Well, I think the reason is that we are such a social community on a campus that wants, needs and inspires people to physically congregate in large and small groups, that the idea of needing an online method of connecting seems, well, unnecessary.
But now it is necessary. More than ever. This became very apparent to me yesterday. Bear with me…
The people who set-up the Facebook group are colleagues and friends I know well. They had the idea of setting up a ‘live lounge’ theme whereby members could post videos of themselves singing, playing musical instruments, and the like. They also know that I occasionally have one glass too many and do a live stream of myself playing the guitar or piano on my own Facebook account. You can see where this is heading.
When I got the call to play the piano on a live stream to colleagues, I was eager to help, slightly terrified, and slightly excited. In this triumphant state, I agreed.
I decided on the songs I was going to play. That was the easy bit. The difficult, and most stressful bit, was working out how to position my phone in such a way that it would capture me and the piano and not fall off the precarious perch I had fashioned, using a camera tripod and ramming the phone into a latch that would much prefer a camcorder with the correct mechanism. I honestly practised getting the phone in to a fixed position more than the songs I was to play.
Cut to the day. It only dawned on me with about half an hour to go before I was due to live stream, that I’d better say something, as opposed to just sitting down, playing, then wandering off. So that was a bit stressful as I hastily scribbled down some notes.
Ten minutes to go and I set-up the phone in its awkward and ill-fitting location, got the screen flipped so I could survey the camera view, and spruced it up a bit.
Five minutes to go. Had a mild panic that my mum will call in the middle of the recording and thought there’s probably something I could do about that, but it’s too late now and anyway I’m not disturbing that perfectly balanced phone.
Three, two, one. Hit “live” (carefully without knocking the phone over) – and off I go.
I played for around 16 minutes and thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
The reason for this long-winded story is that I was not prepared for the reaction.
Colleagues and friends were so supportive and so warm in their kind feedback I was a bit of an emotional wreck in the evening. I’ve never known such support and warmth and solidarity from a community. I’ve never received so many likes, views, comments before. And all of them so caring and kind.
I say this not to boast. Really. I hope I played well. But I think the level of support was there because it was a community of people who want to support their colleagues. There is a need out there to be kind and to encourage. This group of people does this sort of thing every day, many times a day. But now, isolated at home, with no physical social contact, it becomes much more difficult. But in putting myself out there, trying to play well and choosing songs that may suit the current situation, I drew out the natural urge of my colleagues to be kind and encouraging, human.
Some said they cried during my playing. That wasn’t me making them cry. That was their reaction to this whole situation where even the simplest sounds or songs can remind you of someone you love, or someone you’ve lost, or trigger your anxieties about the weird and changing world we are living in at the moment.
I cried afterwards. I almost cried during the recording which would’ve been a bit awkward. Reading all the lovely comments really was quite overwhelming. It still is.
The Facebook group will evolve as they always do, and I expect we’ll all get to know one another a lot better as a result, which is no bad thing. I already look forward to meeting up with those people who said they also played, or were learning the piano, when we’re all allowed to stand within less than a Richard Osman of each other.
So, thank you everyone for your generosity. I hope you enjoyed it. I’ll never forget it. I hope other people have a go too. You won’t regret it and will get so much support.
And if I’m asked back, I’ll (almost) certainly say yes!
Stay safe. Stay at home. Exercise.