Wednesday, June 24, 2009
Show & Tell: Pat Benatar, I wasn't...
(Photo: Me, as a 19-year-old university student in my dorm room, going to a punk rock social (dance) at university, February 1980, and trying to look appropriately sullen & smouldering, lol. You can't see it, but I'm wearing safety pins -- carefully sterilized in rubbing alcohol (I wasn't THAT much of a punk...!) -- instead of earrings. My sister was visiting for the weekend & took this photo with her new Nikon SLR camera, & there must have been some static on the lens, because there is this cool lightning burst effect happening all around me -- which seemed kind of appropriate in the context of the event, lol.)
(Warning: long, rambling post ahead that may not ultimately make much sense...)
I just dropped a card in the mail to one of my oldest & dearest friends, one of three sisters who lived across the street during my growing up years. Her 50th birthday is this Saturday. It had a cartoon KISS-like band on the front, with a message inside that read something like, "As you turn 50… rock and roll till nine and party every other Saturday," lol.
My own 50th birthday is not for another 19 months… but I know it's coming. Fast. And it occurred to me that, this fall, it will be 40 years -- 40!! -- since our families became friends.
And so I've been pondering (not for the first time, nor, I am sure, for the last) -- how did I get here? I certainly don't feel like I'm almost 50 (...well, most days, anyway). I know I look older than I used to, but I don't think I LOOK almost 50.
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I think this latest round of introspection was triggered by the sight of that yummy Rolling Stone cover in my last post. As I recently commented to Irish Girl, it shows I CAN write about something other than infertility & childlessness (lol)… and yet it's still somehow all tied in with the way I feel about myself.
Part of me felt (feels??) ridiculous, lusting after a singer (in much the same way I used to drool over pictures of David Cassidy & Donny Osmond) -- one who is (gulp) young enough/old enough to be my son (not to mention, as Deathstar so aptly put it in her comment, playing for "the other team"). And yet, watching the online video clips of Adam (yep, he can sing…), strutting his stuff confidently onstage with note-perfect renditions of Led Zeppelin & Aerosmith songs from my past, reminded me of that part of myself that still likes to listen to the local classic rock radio station at full blast (and sing along). It takes me back to a time when I was younger & thinner & prettier & (slightly) wilder, and music was so much better than the rap & hiphop cr@p that seems to dominate the airwaves these days.
Even before I saw the Rolling Stone cover, I was in a nostalgic frame of mind about music. CBS Sunday Morning recently did a story on Green Day, who first became popular in the early 1990s -- long after I had left university, but whose energetic, guitar-oriented style brings back fond memories of the edgy new wave/power pop bands I loved back then. Last Saturday, dh went golfing, and while I cleaned the house, I was energized by "American Idiot" & "21st Century Breakdown" blasting on the stereo. (Hey, if the teenagers across the street can blast my eardrums with rap while they wash their cars, they can put up with my music for an afternoon, lol.) I'm not as familiar with the new album yet, but I loved "American Idiot," especially "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" and "When September Ends" (which, Billie Joe Armstrong explained, he wrote after the death of his father). There's something achingly beautiful about the imagery of the words and his clear, piercing vocals over the melody of the guitar.
Music has such power to conjure up images, to transport us back in time. Yesterday, browsing at a nearby music store on my lunch break, I found newly remastered copies of the Rolling Stones' "Tattoo You" and "Emotional Rescue" albums, which were both popular while I was in university. I was instantly back in a dark student lounge, smelling of beer, pogo-ing madly on the dance floor with some cute young guy as Mick Jagger wailed "I'm so hot for her and she's so cold."
University was my liberation. It was, hands down (and with some apologies to dh -- although he was a big part of it too, toward the end), the absolute best time of my life -- lots of fun, little responsibility.
You have to understand -- since I was a kid, I had struggled with feeling shy and insecure -- always the new girl in town, always feeling conspicuously different. This was compounded when I got glasses at the age of 7. I hated my glasses, & when I learned that these things called contact lenses existed, I couldn't wait to get rid of them. My optometrist had other ideas: he felt that teenagers were too irresponsible to handle the consistent care that contacts required. He was probably right -- but the summer before I entered Grade 12, when I was 17, I finally got my contacts. I was ecstatic. (Ironically, a few years ago, I got an eye infection & wasn't able to wear my contacts for several months. By the time it cleared up, the type of lens I had always worn was no longer manufactured. I haven't been able to find a comfortable lens that provides good vision since then, and so I've been back with my glasses for some years now.)(And they're BIFOCALS now, too…!!)
Of course, Grade 12 is pretty much too late to change the order of things in high school. I did have a couple of memorable makeout sessions with my sister's boyfriend's best friend -- but, for the most part, in high school, once a geek, always a geek (even if you suddenly become a somewhat more attractive geek).
In May 1979, the year I graduated (30 years ago now -- eeek), my local Rotary Club sent me to Ottawa for a week as part of an amazing program called Adventure in Citizenship. I found myself among more than 250 other high-achieving high schoolers from right across Canada -- kindred spirits. I sat on the airplane to Ottawa -- my very first plane ride -- with two fellow Adventurers, both from British Columbia -- a girl (whom I'm still in touch with), and a gorgeous guy with a warm smile who said he wanted to be the first NDP prime minister of Canada. I was a staunch Progressive Conservative back then ; ) but I was instantly smitten.
I had a fabulous time on that trip. I flirted shamelessly with a few other guys (including one whose byline I now see in a local newspaper), but when the time came to say goodbye to B.C. Guy, in the sumptuous lobby of the Chateau Laurier, I sobbed on the shoulder of his powder-blue, three-piece suit (it WAS the 70s...) while he patted my back in bemusement. I felt like Cinderella. I'd been to the ball & had a tantalizing taste of an alternate life -- but now the clock was striking midnight, and I had to go back to the kitchen (i.e., high school) to toil once more in obscurity. (He and I exchanged letters for a month or two after we returned to our respective homes and then lost touch.)
My mother had always told me "Things will be different when you go to university," & thankfully, she was right. At university, I blossomed. Always at or near the top of my classes in high school, I was content to coast along on Bs & B+s. In retrospect, I think -- I know -- I could have done better, had I studied more and partied less -- but I was having an absolutely blast. University was a blank slate, where few people knew me, and I was free to be the person I had become. I lived in a residence for the four years of my undergrad (which is where I met dh, in third year). Weekends started on Thursday afternoon & the partying didn't stop until sometime Sunday. My family only lived an hour away that first year, & yet I can probably count on my fingers the number of weekends I went home to visit -- that's how much fun I was having, & how much I didn't want to miss out on any of it. I can remember how the residence newsletter profiled the girls from my first-year floor in a sentence or two each. Beside my name: "Loves the attention." Touche. (It was an eye opener to see the same guys who'd flirted all fall with me that first year trying the exact same lines and tactics on a fresh crop of first-year resident girls the following September… and the September after that...!)
Towards the end of first year, I met my first serious boyfriend (whom I'd had a crush on for as long as I'd known him). I couldn't believe my luck. That such a nice, gorgeous guy that I liked so much was actually liking me back seemed too good to be true. In the end, it was. We went together for almost a year, before he broke up with me (and broke my heart). (I believe he wound up getting married to the girl who was my next door neighbour in residence that year. Hmmm.) In that summer between first and second year, though, he came to visit me and accompanied me to an all-class high school reunion (points to him for that!!). It was one of the most satisfying moments of my life to walk into the hall where the classes from the 1970s were holding a banquet -- me, the girl who'd never had a date in high school, accompanied by this tall, blond, gorgeous looking guy -- and watching jaws drop. : )
I read the Rolling Stone interview with Adam and I recognized some of myself in his story. Not the gay part, obviously ; ) -- but the drama geek who didn't quite fit in at high school, began exploring his sexuality when he left, did some partying and eventually found his sense of self and self-worth. Maybe that's why it resonated with me as it did. (That, & it's a hot picture, lol.)
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I can remember being near the front of a stage at a Cheap Trick concert in the late 1970s or early 1980s, just in front of the dark, good looking bass player -- almost close enough to touch him. I was newly liberated from my hated glasses (thanks to the contact lenses), and (finally) feeling pretty. We made eye contact & he smiled at me, more than once. It was a heady sensation.
Another time, a couple of years later, I was with a girlfriend at a local dive on a hot August night, watching a popular band from the nearby city, from a table near the stage. The guitar player had long dark curly hair & smouldering dark eyes. I couldn't take my eyes off him, and he was watching me too, as he played. During one of the breaks, he came over to our table to chat. Having now hooked my prey, however, I had no idea what to do. I may have been a flirt, but I wasn't a groupie (totally inexperienced at that point, in fact), and the aura of danger that surrounded this guy petrified me. The mantra of the day may have been "sex and drugs and rock & roll," but for me it was more like "flirtation, alcohol and rock & roll."
So -- reality & my conscience intervened. The spell was broken, the conversation ultimately went nowhere, & when the bar was ready to close, my girlfriend & I left. We drove past the band standing in the parking lot, smoking and chatting up some other (more receptive) chicks, and I had this funny feeling: "That could have been me." Not that I REALLY wanted it to be me. I may have fantasized about bands, but when push came to shove & fantasy threatened to become reality, I knew there was something wrong with this picture. I liked to have fun, but deep down, I knew who I was -- & I wasn't that much of a risk taker. Years later, I read Pamela DesBarres memoir, "I'm With the Band." I admired her chutzpah, & was fascinated by the stories she dished out, but knew it was definitely NOT me. It was a parallel world that I briefly had the key to enter. I chose instead to remain on the outside, looking in.
I still get that feeling sometimes today, albeit under very different circumstances. I see pregnant women and moms with babies and children and know that this, too, could have been my life, with a little more luck and perhaps a little more effort and persistence on my part. Ultimately, it was my choice not to continue to pursue infertility treatments, or adoption, and remain childless/free -- just as it was my choice not to hang out with the band after the show that night. I knew, then and now, that both were ultimately the right choices for me. Yet still I think about that point of choosing -- and the mystery & allure of roads not taken.
In some ways, I feel like I'm back in high school again, since Katie was stillborn & we abandoned infertility treatments -- knowing I'll never be part of the popular clique (i.e., parents), but also that there's another world waiting out there for me. It's taken awhile for me to find my niche, but as time goes on, I'm adjusting to this new world more & more.
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So what happened to the girl who once dared to wear safety pins as earrings, and flirted with guitar players (albeit from a safe distance)? She grew up, met a wonderful guy, got married, got a job, got a mortgage and moved to the suburbs. She tried (and failed) to have children to pass her vinyl collection along to, and gained weight and a few grey hairs in the process. (Recently -- reluctantly! -- her hairdresser persuaded her to colour her hair for the first time in her life.)
Right now she's feeling a little old & creaky -- particularly among all the 20 & early 30-somethings she now works with (some of whom, like Adam, could very well have been her kids). She's struggling with the feelings of invisibility that women over 40 sometimes talk about. She finds she needs reassurance from her dh now & then that she's still attractive & desirable, despite the extra years & pounds. And she still loves music.
I wrote earlier that university was the best time of my life. That doesn't mean I would want to be 19 again. There was angst, & too much of it, over guys who really didn't deserve it --until I met dh, & even then, we had a few years of long distance romance until we finally got married that I wouldn't want to repeat. There weren't all that many hangovers, but there were a few doozies that were hard enough to handle at 20, never mind 48. I'm older, but I'm wiser too. I've earned all my wrinkles & grey hairs, & then some. The rock & rollers I admired as a kid are all older & wiser too -- many of them with families, and even grandkids now -- & many of the ones who weren't so wise aren't here any more.
I think it's normal to feel some wistfulness, some raging at the dying of the light. But there's still a lot of light left. (And wasn't rage what fuelled the punk rock/new wave movement in the first place?)
At any rate, I know I have company. My friend is turning 50, and more of us will soon follow. My perky, single, miniskirted 20-something co-workers will someday be 40+ too, & fretting about their weight & grey hairs (enjoy it while it lasts, kids...). Dh has already crossed the rubicon (i.e., he's over 50 now) -- his hair is more grey than not these days -- but I still think he's boyishly cute. ; ) The Stones are all pushing 70 (!), but they're still going strong (so much for Mick's infamous quote about not wanting to be 40 & still singing "Satisfaction"...!) …and Bruce Springsteen (whom I once dreamed I found skinnydipping in my swimming pool)(I don't actually have a swimming pool, let alone one with Bruce Springsteen in it...)(and more's the pity, lol) is still jumping off pianos & doing knee slides across the stage even as he nears 60.
So maybe there's hope for me yet. : )
To see what others are showing & telling this week, click on over to Stirrup Queens.