September is perhaps the cruelest month; it marks not only the end of summer but the beginning of the school year. While many students look forward to their new schedules, fall often brings increased anxiety, especially for high school students.
It’s been fifty years since I started high school. I was reminded of that this summer when I attended a Monkees concert at Ottawa’s Bluesfest. Two of the remaining group members (heartthrob Davy Jones died in 2012) are in the midst of their fiftieth anniversary tour.
I was a Monkees fan. In 1966, my Grade 9 year, The Monkees were a new music group with their own television show. Over it’s two year run, nothing could come between that show and me. Their posters plastered my bedroom walls. Daydream Believer? Like millions of fans, I day-dreamed constantly about Davy Jones.
On a beautiful July night I biked along the Ottawa River to this summer’s concert. Memories of riding my bike along that same path, as a teen, prompted all kinds of comparisons. It is the same path, along the same river, but I’m different from top to bottom. My curly blonde hair is now straight and gray. My runners, like all my shoes, have orthotics. Even the name of the path has changed. For over forty years it was The Ottawa River Parkway. However, like a number of Ottawa landmarks, it was renamed during the Harper regime and is now The Sir John A. MacDonald Parkway.
At the concert venue I stopped to chat with a couple of female police officers. Now there’s a wonderful improvement from my high school days. The idea of female police officers was unheard of back then.
The concert started with ‘Last Train to Clarksville’ and I was instantly transported back to my Grade 9 bedroom with my LP playing on my red and white plastic record player. From my vantage point at the concert I could see the stage and screen but my attention was drawn to the sea of music lovers walking by me to other concerts in the park that night. That parade was far more interesting than anything on the stage.
In the 60’s your hair colour was whatever grew out of your head. Many of the people who passed by me that night were sporting red, blue, purple, green or striped hair.
Clothes are another story. In those days we were mortified if a bra strap was showing. Now bra straps are part of the outfit. Or not. That night I watched vulnerable young girls, looking uncomfortable as they yanked up their strapless tops. Their shorts left little to the imagination.
In spite of Women’s Lib, feminist studies, and talk of gender equality over the last 50 years, many young women feel they have to display so much skin. Back in the sixties, Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech. In part it reads, ”I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character.” If only today’s young women were confident enough to be judged by their character, their talents and abilities, as opposed to the amount of skin they expose.
So here we are, in another school year. Teens enter high school, nervous about their new surroundings, their teachers, the demands of the high school curriculum, their friends. Back in my day The Monkees provided me with a wonderful escape from those realities. Watching their show, listening to their songs, gazing at their posters ...that was easier than worrying about friends, pimples and my unmanageable curly hair.
The opportunity to follow teen idols is so much easier today. What would I have done to keep myself away from the constant temptation of the internet and social media overload concerning today’s stars?
Today’s teens face substantially more pressure than I did in 1966. Thank goodness I did not have to keep up my image on Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat. Kids may have talked about me behind my back but I never found out about it. Photos were something you took with a film and then waited a couple of weeks to come back in the mail. There was no danger of someone taking my photo and posting it for the world to see.
Images of war were in my history books, not in real time on my cell phone. For me, war was something that had happened in Europe, a long time ago. There was no knowledge of mass shootings, suicide bombings or random acts of violence.
So my heart goes out to today’s students, especially those starting at new schools. I hope they can find a balance between doing schoolwork, spending time with family and friends, following their idols and developing their talents. I hope they can learn to discern what’s important and real. I hope they’ll be lucky like me and get fifty years after high school, with family and friends to keep them company.