education, music, musings

Repost: There’s life beyond your senior year… confessions of a C student

Here’s a repost from the original blog, written March 28, 2018. It appears as/is. I know it’s not currently college application season, but I think this post could be useful for some people.

Yesterday, my alma mater did a fundraising drive called #LoveYourLongwood.  This is apparently a new development.  For many years after my graduation in 1994, Longwood University was rather relaxed about fundraising efforts.  I’d say in the past ten years or so, they have become much more assertive about pushing alums to donate money.  I usually ignore the pleas, although I did donate during the holiday season.

I probably would have made a donation yesterday, had I not looked at our rather paltry bank balance.  March still has three days left in it.  Still, as I get older and our finances have improved, I have given some thought to donating more money to my college.  The truth is, I owe a lot to Longwood.  Maybe my time there didn’t lead to a smashing career, but it did leave me with a lot of intangible gifts like wonderful friends, some excellent experiences, and the opportunity to study music simply because I love it.  It was a warm, nurturing place to go to college.  Today, almost 24 years after I graduated, I still reap the benefits of my four years there.

I have written about my college admissions experiences before, but I’m going to briefly repeat the tale for anyone out there in Internet land who is currently experiencing the pain of rejection from college.  I’m inspired to write about this after reading an article in the Boston Globe about the immense pressure high school seniors are dealing with at this time of year.  It takes me back to the spring of 1990, when I was myself trying to find a place to go to school.

I may call myself “The Overeducated Housewife”, but the simple truth is, I was a very ordinary student.  I didn’t earn great grades in high school and didn’t have super high SAT scores.  I did do well on standardized tests, particularly in writing.  However, I was a singularly unimpressive student in high school, even in English class.  I would get praises for my writing, but I didn’t care enough about the books we were reading to put a lot of effort into my papers.  Consequently, I earned average grades.

My parents, who had already raised my three sisters, didn’t really care too much about my performance.  I got through high school pretty much on my own efforts, with lots of Bs and Cs and the occasional D.  I remember working hard in school, particularly in my math and science classes, but not as hard as I probably should have.  I didn’t have any extra help, nor did I have anyone pushing me to excel.  I was also completely unmedicated, which isn’t a bad thing, but I think if I had grown up ten years later, I probably would have taken meds for depression or perhaps ADD.  I was encouraged to get good grades, but it was entirely up to me to accomplish that.  I didn’t really know how. 

In high school, I spent most of my free time riding horses.  I did do well in that activity, although I wasn’t particularly talented.  My success in riding was mainly due to my fabulous pony, Rusty, a dedicated riding coach, and a lot of dogged hard work.  I was definitely not “born in the saddle”.

When it came time to decide on a college, I had sort of a beer budget and champagne tastes on every level.  I didn’t have the money to consider attending private schools.  I didn’t have the grades or impressive resume to consider trying to get scholarships or applying to super competitive schools.  My mother, ever the pragmatist, told me I shouldn’t bother applying to the one school I really wanted to attend.  She didn’t think I’d get in there.  She was right.  In fact, Longwood was the ONLY school out of the four I applied to that accepted me.

Looking back on it, I think I would have had more choices if I had applied to a couple more schools.  The other three that I’d applied to, besides Longwood, were in a slightly higher league– too high for me at the time.  I do think I would have ultimately succeeded if I had gotten into any of the other three schools, but they were very popular choices among my peers.  My crummy grades and mediocre test scores were simply not competitive enough and I got the dreaded rejection letters.  Even Longwood accepted me conditionally, mainly because I was struggling in math.  Fortunately, I had a wonderful math teacher my senior year who made sure I got through with the required C.

My trend of mediocre academic performances mostly continued at Longwood.  I never once made the Dean’s List; however, I did blossom in other ways.  It was at Longwood that I finally started doing what I was probably born to do.

People who knew me when I was growing up didn’t know that I could sing.  My mom knew that I had absolute (perfect) pitch, because I took piano lessons when I was very young.  My piano teacher noticed I could name pitches without a reference note.  But I would never sing in front of anyone because I was (and still am) very sensitive to bad singing.  I knew I could sing on key, but didn’t think I sounded particularly good.  So I wouldn’t sing in front of other people, and was never encouraged to try.  My parents were both musicians, though, so it makes sense that I’d have a knack for music. 

To earn a bachelor of arts degree at Longwood, I needed to take a course in one of the fine arts.  I chose music appreciation and a one credit voice class.  I ended up excelling in the voice class and my teacher invited me to study privately.  Before I knew it, I had joined Longwood’s Camerata Singers, which required an audition.  I was soon singing with people who had been in choirs all through high school.  That experience was truly life changing for me.  Making music is now something I do most days, even if not many people hear my efforts.  It’s made me a much happier person.

It may seem like a minor thing now, but that one voice class opened up a whole new world to me.  I only wish I had taken it sooner.  I might have majored in music instead of English.  I both excelled in and loved my music classes.  I got straight As in them, with the lone exception of that one music appreciation class I took.  By contrast, I was a mediocre English major, except when I took writing classes.  In my writing classes, I excelled like I did in music.

It was an adjunct music professor at Longwood who cared enough about me to encourage me to study music, even if she couldn’t persuade me to change my major. I can’t help but wonder if I would have gotten the same attention at any of the other schools I had considered.  Looking back on it, it seems as if I was destined to go to Longwood.  Maybe I wasn’t a superstar student, but I think I flourished there.  Even today, I communicate with professors who knew me in the 90s.  My husband, Bill, attended much more prestigious American University and he hasn’t seen or spoken to any of his former professors since the 80s.  Sometimes, the less famous college offers a better value.  I know I’ve often mused about how much more I got out of my time at Longwood than I did the University of South Carolina.

After Longwood, I joined the Peace Corps kind of on a whim.  I was soon exposed to people from other parts of the country and then the Republic of Armenia, a place that had been mostly off limits to Americans only four years prior to my arrival. I used my music skills a lot in Armenia.  Then I went to graduate school and earned those two master’s degrees that I don’t use… which became the reason I call myself “overeducated”.  Still, I recognize that I was able to compete with people who went to “better” schools, both as a Peace Corps Volunteer and a graduate student.  I don’t regret any of those experiences now, but sometimes I wonder how in the world I ended up here.  In some ways, I have been extraordinarily lucky.  I often feel kind of like a fraud, but I know deep down that I’m not one.   

I empathize with high school seniors who are now dealing with the hell of trying to get into college.  I don’t envy them at all.  They’re dealing with so many things that I didn’t have to deal with.  Life has gotten super competitive on many levels.  I thought it was bad in 1990, but my generation had nothing on their generation. 

It’s harder and more expensive to go to college these days.  So many young people are racking up huge debts, and competition for well-paid work is stiff.  Young people are having to worry about gun toting lunatics invading their schools and killing random people.  We have a total buffoon in the White House who doesn’t care about anything but making rich people even richer (ETA: Remember, I am writing about Trump, not Biden). 

I don’t envy you young folks at all, although I am very impressed by how young people are standing up and making their voices heard.  And young people today are doing such incredible things… things that perfectly average, mediocre people can’t conceive of doing.  I would imagine that the pressure to stand out must be insane… and yet it gets harder and harder every year.

I’m impressed by that insane drive to succeed that some young people have, but I have a heart for those who were perfectly average folks like me.  It’s true that life is not a dress rehearsal, but most people end up okay, even if they aren’t stars.  These years on the brink of adulthood can be tough going, but eventually, most people come to a place where grades and test scores no longer matter.  So take heart.  There’s life beyond the spring of your senior year.  You just have to get through it and keep your eyes on the prize.

A musical project I completed at the time I wrote this piece. Lately, I’ve focused more on playing guitar than singing. I’m better at singing than guitar playing, though.
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musings, nostalgia

Growing up and liking it…

A couple of days ago, I wrote about how I learned what enemas, prostitutes, and hemorrhoids are. Now, I’m going to share the story about how I learned about periods. Why? Because it has nothing to do with current events, and it’s kind of inappropriate. That’s how I roll. This post is kind of a rerun. I wrote about this topic on my old blog, but the post was from 2012, so I doubt anyone would have been reading it now, anyway.

So here goes… the story of how I learned about what it means to be a woman.

I was in the 4th grade and did not know anything at all about periods.  I remember finding my mom’s maxi pads and tampons and playing with them.  I had no idea how they worked or what they were for; but I came up with plenty of creative uses for them when I played.  It was a big surprise when all the girls in my class were ushered into a room called “The Pit” at my elementary school.  The Pit has since been filled in and is now used as a regular classroom; but back in my day, it was like a miniature indoor amphitheater.  It was oval shaped with ugly brown carpeted steps that went all the way around that we could sit on.  A teacher could stand in the middle of the Pit and facilitate a chat.  We used it for music classes or watching films… or getting our class pictures taken. 

I remember being surprised in the late 80s when I found out our high school, which was built in the mid 1970s, also had a “Pit”, only it was more like an actual amphitheater and had ugly puke green carpeting instead of brown.  The first time I ever saw it was when I was a high school junior and had signed up for a weekly class/discussion on sex.  I’m pretty sure I only signed up for it so I could get out of chemistry class. 

This is the cover of the edition of the booklet I had…

Anyway, one day in 1981 (or ’82… can’t remember exactly when) all the girls were brought to The Pit to watch a film called “Growing Up and Liking It“.  I remember the film looked like it was made in the early 70s.  It was all about puberty and how menstruation works.  They made it sound like it was sooo special.  Checking out the Museum of Menstruation and Women’s Health Web site, I see that the accompanying booklet “Growing Up and Liking It” was revised many times.  My friends and I got the 1978 version.  We could also buy little goodie boxes with samples of feminine hygiene products made by Personal Products. I’m pretty sure one of my friends ordered one of those boxes. It had a lot of different maxi pads and pantyliners in it, but I don’t think they included tampons.

I recall being so excited after watching that film.  All my friends were excited, too.  I used to go to my best friend’s house and we’d talk about how we’d feel when we were all grown up and passed that rite of passage that every healthy woman deals with. It didn’t even occur to me how horrifying it is to bleed from the crotch every month. 

I was sure that my first period was just around the corner and, once I got it, I’d be magically all grown up.  My mom got her first period when she was only ten years old. By the time I was nine years old, I already had boobs growing, so I was sure I’d be one of the first to go on the rag.  As it turned out, I didn’t have my first period until I was almost exactly thirteen and a half years old.  It was New Year’s Eve 1985.  And I didn’t have another period until July 1986.  Unfortunately, I have only missed two periods since, and that’s only been in the past few years, as I finally approach menopause.

But I do remember how giddy we all were after learning about menstruation, even if now I think we were nuts and actually miss those innocent days.  I wasn’t even grossed out about the prospect of bleeding from my privates every month.  I was blissfully unaware of how periods can make women feel, how they mess up clothes, and what they smell like.  I’m actually very lucky, though, because my periods are pretty low maintenance.  They rarely last more than four days and aren’t painful.  I don’t even really get PMS.  The worst I get is cramps, mood swings, and that icky, unclean feeling.  I have friends that have had to get hysterectomies because of their periods.

Seems like we had a couple more school talks over the years.  I guess they did them just to be sure that there weren’t any Carrie moments at the school and we didn’t have 17 year old girls freaking out because they’d never heard of menstruation.

Awww… poor Carrie. My mom never told me about periods, either. I learned in school.
I didn’t know Disney was in the business of teaching young women about their periods. The narrator is so maternal sounding.

My mom never had a heart to heart talk with me about periods. I remember telling her when mine finally started. Her exact words were, “Don’t go out and get pregnant.” And I never have, not even after I married Bill. I have three older sisters, and none of them talked to me about periods either, although one has had a frank talk with me about menopause. I haven’t reached that stage of life yet, but I suspect it’s just around the corner. Frankly, I look forward to it, because I don’t enjoy periods at all. And as my hormones start fluctuating again, like they did when I was in puberty, my skin has become a mess. Wrinkles and zits… not the most appealing combination! And I’m sure my hands will soon get talon like and develop age spots and arthritis. I’m also starting to get looser skin on my neck and hairs growing in weird places. That’s what happened to my mom.

One time, when my niece was a little girl, my mom was pushing her on a swing. My niece introduced my mom, her “Grammy”, to her friends. One of the kids said my mom didn’t look old enough to be her grandmother, but then her big brother said, “Sure she does. Look at her hands!” I guess the hands are the one part of the body that defy anti-aging efforts. Not long ago, I saw a video starring Christie Brinkley, whose face looked as beautiful as ever. But she wore a high necked dress with sleeves that conveniently covered her hands.

Check out the dress Christie wears! Christie’s younger daughter, Sailor, looks just like her.

I am grateful that I grew up at a time when personal products were convenient and relatively comfortable. I have never been able to wear tampons. They’re too uncomfortable for me. But I do remember that when I first started having periods, pads were very thick and uncomfortable, and they didn’t have “wings”, so they’d shift and bunch and sometimes I’d experience bloody “blowouts” because they didn’t stay in the right place. Today’s pads are much thinner, more comfortable, and offer more coverage where it’s needed. And the wings are revolutionary, because they help stabilize the pads and prevent messes. There are also other methods of dealing with that monthly business, too… like menstrual cups, which I’ve never tried. Some women take birth control and skip having periods altogether. I have never had a need for birth control, so I haven’t used that myself.

I think my older sisters had to deal with less sophisticated products that required belts and pins. And when they learned about puberty, they probably watched a film like this one…

It reminds me of Leave it to Beaver… only the beaver is between the legs.

Today’s kids probably might enjoy a film more like this one…

“The Red Badge of Courage” indeed…
You look forward to periods until you actually get one… and then you wish you could regress to childhood.
This was not the film we saw, but this one probably would have been more informative. They even show a woman on the toilet, changing her pad.

Well, anyway, it’s amazing how fast 35 years can pass. I, for one, am glad my days of having periods are going to be over before too long. No more “not so fresh” feeling ever month or bloody underwear and sheets. And some of you who are cringing as you read this post are probably glad it’s now come to an end!

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nostalgia

Bruce Springsteen always reminds me of high school…

Last night, I decided to download a comprehensive album of Bruce Springsteen’s music. I had just listened to his latest album, Western Stars, and then one from the pinnacle of my youth, Born in the USA. I had a sudden urge to hear “Hungry Heart”, and rather than fetch my iPod or move up to my office, where my whole, vast musical collection is stored, I decided to just order another Springsteen compilation. Bill and I sat there and listened in our German Eckbank Gruppe (corner booth) and I was suddenly transported to my 14th year.

This NEVER gets old… even as I do. “Hungry Heart” was released when I was about 8 years old.

When I was fourteen, Springsteen was at the top of his game. I got my dad to buy me his Live 1975-1985 box set for Christmas. I had it on cassette tape and, along with Dire Straits’ Brothers in Arms album, I used to wear out those cassettes, riding my bike to and from the barn where I boarded my horse, Rusty. It got to the point at which I had the whole box set memorized, right down to the stories Springsteen told about facing the Vietnam draft, and fights he had with his father over his rock n’ roll lifestyle. I was definitely a true fan.

As the years passed, I stopped listening to Springsteen so much, especially when his sound changed. I think it happened in the early 1990s. I was in college and had started discovering new music, thanks to my stint as a radio DJ and unofficial music studies. The faculty members of Longwood University’s music department kindly gave me the opportunity to study voice privately and join their auditioned choir, The Camerata Singers, even though I wasn’t a singer until I came to college. Being in a choir and studying voice introduced me to music I had never heard. I had limited time and even more limited funds, so old interests went by the wayside. Prince, another one of my obsessions during adolescence, suffered a similar fate. I stopped listening to him at around the same time I quit listening to Springsteen.

When I was a high school senior, this was probably my favorite song.

When I got older, I had more time and more money… and I started listening to and buying those old albums I missed. Last night, as I heard Springsteen’s familiar, evocative lyrics, and the familiar cadences of his best known songs. I was suddenly reminded of being fourteen, in the traumatic tempest of adolescence. I remember fourteen was a particularly stormy year for me. I was a bucket of emotions. One minute, I was cracking off-color jokes. The next minute, I was in tears for some reason. People literally thought I was crazy. The evidence is in the inscriptions left in my yearbooks.

As a teenager, I really related to Springsteen’s stories about his parents. He had a contentious relationship with his dad, just like I did. Bruce’s dad harassed him about his hair and his life choices. Mine harassed me about my weight and my outspoken personality. He would have preferred me to be more demure. It’s not me. But there was still a lot of love beneath those fights.

In those days, I remember people asking me if I was bipolar. In the 80s, they didn’t refer to bipolar disorder as such; it was called “manic depression”. No, I am not bipolar, but I was very moody in those days. In the midst of crying jags, temper tantrums, and hysterical laughing fits, I was riding my horse and my bike, struggling with school, writing short stories, and loving music. I loved more music than I could possibly purchase. It surprises and, frankly, kind of depresses me I never made an effort to study it seriously when I was growing up, although I’m pretty sure I was like that because my parents were/are musicians. I wanted to do my own thing, without pressure from my parents to do what they were doing. I’d rather ride my horse, who was the best company and never judged me for being who I am.

I have always had really eclectic musical tastes. I think it comes from having three much older sisters who introduced me to the stuff they liked. My oldest sister was mostly gone from our house by the time I was old enough to know what was going on, but I seem to remember she was a fan of Stevie Wonder, Barbra Streisand, and… actually, I don’t know. I’ve never really gotten to know Betsy that well. She’s thirteen years older than I am and an extremely high achiever. When I was growing up, she lived in other countries: France, Morocco, Egypt, India, and she visited so many others because of her work.

My sister, Becky, was more of a hard rock/alternative fan. She introduced me to groups like The Who, Roxy Music, Dead Can Dance, and The Police, and singers like Eric Clapton, Dan Fogelberg, and Kate Bush. She also introduced me to James Taylor, who is probably my favorite of all of them, besides Kate Bush. I used to raid her record collection the most. We shared a room for awhile, even though she’s eleven years older than I am. I’m probably closest to her.

Sarah, who is eight years older, liked “urban” music. She liked funk, R&B, and white soul, like Hall & Oates. She introduced me to Earth, Wind, & Fire, The Commodores, and Rose Royce. I remember she also introduced me to Pat Benatar. The very first album I ever purchased was Benatar’s Crimes of Passion, which came out in 1982. I even remember how much it cost… $7.86. For a kid who got $2.50 a week as an allowance, that was a lot of money to save up. I remember walking from my house to Murphy’s Mart, which was a shitty discount store in a strip mall near my home in Gloucester, Virginia, and plunking that money down at the cash register. I wore that album out.

I used to buy a lot of 45s in those days, since they were much cheaper and I usually just wanted to hear one or two songs. I also used to tape music from the radio. Now I routinely download entire albums, sometimes without even having heard any songs on it. I often do that when I’ve been drinking. I have surprisingly good taste when I’m drunk, too. Bill and I often refer jokingly to my “drunken downloads”. They’re usually a pleasant surprise.

I switched to cassettes when I got a Walkman, because I liked listening to music while riding my bike. Also, cassettes never skipped, although they could be damaged in other ways. I remember one time, I left a copy of Zenyatta Mondata on the dashboard of my car, in direct sunlight. It was warped when I came back. Anyone who has ever listened to cassettes knows that sometimes the tape jams and makes a squiggly mess that requires a pen or pencil to correct. I had a few tapes break, too. I was glad when CDs were a thing… and even gladder when MP3s were a thing, even if I do miss the magic of opening a new album and looking at the artwork. Sometimes there would even be special gifts in those LP records. I got a Prince and the Revolution poster in my copy of the Purple Rain soundtrack. That doesn’t happen with downloads.

So anyway… there I was last night, listening to Springsteen and remembering being a teenager. My home economics teacher actually went to high school with Springsteen. She was from New Jersey and a few years younger than he is. She was a freshman in high school when he was a senior. I took her class when I was a freshman. I remember being kind of an anomaly in her class. Most of the people who took it with me weren’t bound for college. I took the class because I like to cook and it hadn’t occurred to me that I should have explored music. Ms. Kulnis, who had married a Gloucester local, told us that back during his high school days, Springsteen was kind of “gross”. In 1986, he was definitely not gross. He was a huge star in his prime. But as a teen, he was unkempt, greasy, had super long hair, and, she said, kind of skinny because he didn’t work out. She said he wasn’t appealing back then, musical talent notwithstanding. She had no idea he would someday be a megastar.

I’ve always loved the slower, live version of “Thunder Road” than the album version, which is more upbeat. I heard it for the first time when I was 14.
Above is a link to my favorite version of “Thunder Road”, which doesn’t have video footage.

It doesn’t seem like it was that long ago that I was fourteen. I have some good memories of that time of my life, though I sure as hell wouldn’t want to repeat it. I would not want to be an adolescent again for anything, although I might have made some different choices knowing what I know now. The nice thing about the passage of time is that it tends to smooth out the worst memories. I remember being chronically upset during my teen years. Mostly, I got yelled at by people. I had a short temper and a foul mouth. Sometimes, I was kind of impulsive, but never to the point at which I did anything that got me into serious trouble. Most people seemed to think of me as a “good kid”, although I probably wasn’t as good as some of my friends were… or appeared to be. On the other hand, some of my friends were being naughty behind closed doors. I never had a need to sneak around, because my parents mostly didn’t care what I did, as long as it didn’t embarrass or involve them.

Original version of The E Street Shuffle. He’s changed it significantly since then.

Springsteen’s older music is like a soundtrack to that time of my life. It takes me back every time. The 80s seemed so modern at the time, but now it seems like such a quaint time. One thing that remains constant is the staying power of certain artists. I can tell a truly gifted musician if their music stands the test of time. Springsteen’s definitely does, for the most part. Most artists have an off album or two. Springsteen is no different. I don’t think I cared much for his Human Touch or Lucky Town albums, for instance. Some people don’t like his 2009 album, Working on a Dream. I have only heard one song from that album… a freebie I got from Amazon. No one can bat 1ooo every time. But here I sit in 2019, listening to Springsteen’s 1973 album, The Wild, The Innocent, & The E Street Shuffle, released the year after I was born. It’s still very solid.

A more recent version of The E Street Shuffle.

By contrast, Western Stars, which is a brand new album, is very different than Springsteen’s early stuff is. I like it, but listening to Born in the USA (which I only JUST added to my collection) took me back to the 80s. I had to hear “Hungry Heart”. I ended up listening to a panoply of Springsteen’s hits from over the years. It was fascinating. I suddenly realized how far we’ve come. Springsteen doesn’t have Clarence Clemons anymore. He’s entered a new phase, just like all great musicians do at some point. I haven’t seen him in concert, nor have I seen Billy Joel… both are acts I’d brave the crowds and pay big bucks to see, just because I didn’t have the money or wisdom to see them when I was younger. I hope I can catch them before one of us dies.

I dare you not to dance to this one.

Thank God we still have the ability to take a carpet ride back to our youths through nostalgia. Maybe not everyone is whisked away by an old Springsteen song. I’m sure today’s young people have other artists that take them back.

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