See the Changes (Stills was always my favorite)

One of the pleasures of getting older is looking back on meaningful things in the progression of your life, or making sense of things that maybe didn’t at the time, or even reflecting on what weren’t good times and seeing how they contributed to who you are. I’m realizing how important the music of various times has been as the soundtrack to my story. I more and more listen to the music of my young adulthood and hear a beauty in it that I didn’t necessarily get at the time. I just knew I liked it, but maybe not so much what it meant.

I was reading The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen (originally published in the Netherlands in 2014), and felt compelled to take a photo of this quote. It’s so true!

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Hendrik

 

When we were on our recent vacation in England, I happened to hear over a cafe sound system songs by Leonard Cohen that took me back to the time when I didn’t even think I liked Leonard Cohen.

 

Cohen

 

Now I appreciate him for the incredible poet that he was, and wish I’d paid more attention. The song playing was The Sisters of Mercy (1967), and I fell in love with it there in the cafe.

 

 

I don’t remember if it was the same cafe or later somewhere else on the trip, but my attention was caught by the Crosby, Stills & Nash song See the Changes (written by Stephen Stills) from the 1977 album CSN.

 

CSN

 

See the Changes (Stephen Stills)

She has seen me changing
It ain’t easy rearranging
And it gets harder as you get older
Farther away as you get closer

And I don’t know the answer
Does it even matter?
I’m wonderin’ how

Ten years singing right out loud
I never looked was anybody listening
Then I fell out of a cloud
I hit the ground and noticed something missing

Now I have someone
She has seen me changing
And it gets harder as you get older
And farther away as you get closer

And I don’t know the answer
Does it even matter?
I’m wonderin’ how

Seems like something out of a dream
I had years ago yes, I remember screaming
Nobody laughing all the good times
Getting harder to come by without weeping

Now I have someone
She has seen me changing
And it gets harder as you get older
And farther away

 

 

Most of my favorite Crosby, Stills & Nash songs were written by Stephen Stills, and his voice was always the one that stood out to me. I went to see him in concert in Sacramento back in about 1990ish, and he was older and heavier (as I am now), but he could still play that guitar and his voice was as strong as ever.

 

 

As we steered our canal boat through the English countryside into Wales, See the Changes became the soundtrack in my head, the song I sang aloud when no one was listening. The lines “…and it gets harder as you get older, and farther away as you get closer…” seemed particularly relevant as I took ibuprofen every night after the day’s hard work or raising and lowering locks and bridges on the canalway.

 

 

I also had a lot of time to reflect on the meaning of those lines and whether or not I’d say that it’s true that it gets harder as I get older or if anything seems farther away. I suppose it depends on what the “it” is. Some things get harder as I get older, like getting up if I sit on the floor, or getting by on little sleep, or being on my feet all day. Those are the physical things.

 

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The mental and emotional things, for me, have gotten easier in a lot of ways. My social skills are much better, I’m more tolerant and open-minded, I deliberately aim for kindness and compassion in my approach to life and the other inhabitants of the planet. I love learning, and since I quit drinking 5 years ago, my brain engages and I want to learn more, always.

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Farther away? Well, the closer I get to the PhD finish line, the farther away that seems! People I started the program with, in my cohort as they say, have in some cases finished (congratulations, Barbara!) or are close to finishing (you go, Jennifer!). I’m still about a year away at best. But I remind myself over and over that it’s not a race or a competition, that I’ll finish in my own time and will be proud of what I accomplished. Retirement seems farther away than ever! I dream about the retirement house we will move to some day, where it will be and how clean and simple and tranquil it will be. The projects I’ll get done, all the books I’ll read. It’ll be awesome, if I ever get there.

 

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Gee, I wonder what this house costs?

 

In addition to music and language, visual imagery, of course, is a huge part of our memories, nostalgia, reminiscing. I love to look through old photographs, but unfortunately, due a house fire in 1987, a lot of family photos were destroyed.

 

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A rare old family photo: me in 1965 at preschool. I’m the 4th seated in front from the left, worried looking blonde in white.

 

When I was in high school in the late 1970s, I was obsessed with Seventeen magazine. Summer breaks seemed so long and luxurious (maybe because I wasn’t motivated to get a summer job like other teens; shy and lacking in confidence, the idea of applying for jobs was beyond me), and I couldn’t wait for the newest edition of the magazine, with the upcoming fall trends and teen advice. I was shy, yes, and also a loner, but I wanted what was in those magazines! I commandeered my mother’s old sewing machine, dragging it into my room, and followed all of the instructions on how to remake your wardrobe (turning flared pant legs into straight ones was a big one). In particular, the August 1978 issue was one that I read and reread, tried to copy the styles from, and wanted so badly to be the cover model, Lari Jane Taylor. I actually have remembered her name all of these years. I still love the look. I even still have a copy of the magazine, carefully preserved in an archival sleeve. It was my bible going into my senior year of high school, a year fraught with uncertainty and insecurity. In my 17-year old brain, I thought the right color eyeshadow would be the answer to my problems.

 

Lari Jane Taylor

 

 

Lari Jane Taylor was also the cover model of the January 1979 issue, looking into the spring. That issue didn’t have the same impact on me, clearly, since I’d forgotten about it until I searched on her name. I prefer the August 1978 look anyway.

 

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Ah, the late 1970s. A strange time, a transitional time between the “hippie” era of the late 60s and early 70s and the me-first greed of the 1980s. I often felt a little lost, not identifying with my peers. I became vegetarian, made my own clothes, listened to the “wrong” music (I abhored disco music, although I think it’s fun now). I wasn’t a punk, either. I was a geek in a land of jocks and cheerleaders on one side, and feaks and punks on the other. If you’ve never watched the one season of Freaks and Geeks (set in 1980), I highly recommend it, by the way.

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I was flipping throught the 1978 magazine, and all kinds of advertisements and images struck me as hugely amusing now, 40 years later.

 

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Whoa, 11 8-track tapes for $1! Even that $1 turned out to be a bad investment in a short-lived music format.

But look again at the song lyrics to See the Changes. The lines just before “and it gets harder as you get older, farther away as you get closer”:

Now I have someone

She has seen me changing…

Having someone with you on your journey who sees the work you are doing, who appreciates how hard you are working and can help you get perspective when whatever “it” is seems harder or farther away–that’s now my takeaway from this song. Whether it’s a sibling, a friend, a significant other, a companion animal (I’m not joking)–having someone to talk to, to bounce ideas off of, to give you comfort when you feel down–can make a world of difference. Hey, that English canal boat was a 2-person job and it was hard (but fun) work. Kind of like life.

Here’s to you, Captain Bob!

 

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Peace and hugs.

Sticks and Stones

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Remember the old childhood rhyme:

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me?

There are variations on the words, but for anyone who was ever called names as a child, an adult might have recited this to you to remember the next time (and there was always a next time). It really didn’t help. Words do hurt.

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I will never forget proudly riding my new bike to school in 4th grade and someone calling out, “Hey, fatty on the red bike!” All these years later, I still hurt for my 9-year old self.

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I loved that bike.

Labels. I started thinking about them at work recently. One of our volunteers had the Dymo LabelMaker out, and was on a roll reorganizing the file cabinet of materials we hand out to animal adopters at the shelter.

DYMO

I’ve always loved label makers. Getting things organized and in their place with the nicely typed label–such a satisfying thing to do. Between my educational background in library science and my years working cataloguing art in museums, I naturally tend to categorize and label things. Things, not people. Labels are great when we need to know what’s in our food, for example. Although the little labels put on every piece of produce in the grocery store drive me crazy. Someone has to put them on, and then they are hard to get off. Another reason to go to the farmers’ market. They don’t have to label the food to identify it.

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What I did learn about the labels on our produce is they actually are a code that means more than just an identification for the checker for pricing. This IS important.

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But it was a slow day and my mind drifted to what labels I would put on my coworkers and our volunteers. The Bossy One. The Talker. The Mother. The Scary One. The Big Sister.

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And as I was doing this, I realized how unfair it is to reduce people to a single characteristic, and how hurtful it can be. Growing up, I always thought of me and my siblings with the labels The Pretty One (Cathy), The Funny One (Ellen), The Boy (Steve, obviously), and The Baby (me). My alternate label would have been The Shy One.

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That outfit was high fashion in 1971! I was a shy nerd, but a well-dressed one.

But I wanted to be pretty, and funny, too! I never wanted to be The Boy, but my brother was also The Athlete, and I, to my embarassment and humiliation, had (have) no athletic abilities whatsoever. We are all so much more complicated than simple labels imply. I worried about following in the footsteps of these siblings when it was my turn at Druid Hills High School, and how disappointed the teachers would be when the youngest Cottraux turned out to be a quiet, clumsy nerd.

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Things happen in life that we don’t predict, and I never went to Druid Hills High School. I arrived in California at age 11 with no labels, but that didn’t last long.

Stereotypes abound in popular culture. In books and movies, there’s the Sassy Best Friend and the Goofy Sidekick and the Grumpy Old Man and many others. A popular movie in the 1980s, still beloved today, was The Breakfast Club (1985).

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The 5 high school characters are clear stereotypes. I most heavily identified with the Ally Sheedy character, Allison, who in plot synopses is called The Basket Case. I disagree. She’s an introvert and an outcast, misunderstood, with things to say if anyone cared to ask.

One thing I disliked about the movie is that the key to opening up for Allison is getting a makeover by Princess and Popular Girl Claire, played by Molly Ringwald. Suddenly she’s happy and being noticed by the boys. Life doesn’t work that way.

before and after

One of my favorite television shows, and it unfortunately wasn’t on for long, was Paul Feig and Judd Apatow’s Freaks and Geeks (1999-2000), set in 1980. I graduated from high school in 1979, so the world depicted in the show is a little closer to my high school experience. A great show with a great cast, critically acclaimed, yet it failed to find an audience for reasons I don’t understand. I developed several celebrity crushes seeing the early careers of actors like Jason Segel and James Franco. I loved this show. Please watch if you find it.

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The high school counselor, played by Dave Allen, reminds me so much of my senior English teacher. I’ve forgotten his name, but he was different. He took the desks out of the room and put in old couches. The first day of school he talked about how the movie Midnight Express (1978) was the scariest movie he’d ever seen (drug smuggling reference, if you’re unfamiliar with the movie). I was a little afraid of him, but he was a great teacher.

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Dave Allen as Mr. Russo.

Labels and stereotypes, again. In 1977, Randy Newman released the song Short People, about the ridiculous nature of steretypes and prejudice. And as a short person, I found it highly amusing.

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Ridiculous yet hurtful. So why do we persist in labeling each other? Within the family it starts, then continues when we go to school. Teachers label us. We decide we are good or bad at something based on stereotypes and labels. I was in school in the days when girls weren’t encouraged in math or science. According to Peter DeWitt in Education Week, teachers use a term Growth Mindsets; he discusses the labeling teachers use with students and how it leads them to treat students in fixed ways.

Adam Alter, writing for Psychology Today, describes a study done by Darley and Gross (1983) that is still relevant today:

College students watched a video of Hannah playing in her neighborhood, and read a brief fact sheet that described her background. Some of the students watched Hannah playing in a low-income housing estate, and her parents were described as high school graduates with blue collar jobs; the remaining students watched Hannah behaving similarly, but this time she was filmed playing in a tree-lined middle-class neighborhood, and her parents were described as college-educated professionals. The students were asked to assess Hannah’s academic ability after watching her respond to a series of achievement-test questions. In the video, Hannah responded inconsistently sometimes answering difficult questions correctly and sometimes answering simpler questions incorrectly. Hannah’s academic ability remained difficult to discern, but that didn’t stop the students from using her socioeconomic status as a proxy for academic ability. When Hannah was labeled “middle-class,” the students believed she performed close to a fifth-grade level, but when she was labeled “poor,” they believed she performed below a fourth-grade level.

Scott Barry Kaufman, also writing for Psychology Today, describes how we become trapped by labels. Labels can become self-fulfilling prophecies, and follow us long after the label has been lifted. I will always be that 9-year old girl humiliated by the mean taunts as I rode my beautiful red bike. And labeling doesn’t allow for variations and gradations:

When we split people up into such dichotomous categories, the large variation within each category is minimized whereas differences between these categories are exaggerated. Truth is, every single person on this planet has their own unique combination of traits and life experiences. While this isn’t true of objects, such as rocks, books, and television sets, it’s true of humans. Which is why we must be very, very careful when we allow labels to get in the way of our perceptions of reality. As the actor Anthony Rapp so aptly put it, “labels are for cans, not people.”

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Have you ever seen the Diversity Day episode on the comedy The Office? Funny, yet a little too true in how stereotypes work.

I particularly like this quote from Ellen DeGeneres:

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And here is one from Joan Baez:

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I still get labeled. The Good Sport. Annoying Vegan. Book Nerd. Crazy Cat Lady.

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We were out walking the dog this afternoon and I saw this on a telephone pole:

Kevin

I laughed, and wondered why someone felt the need to write the name Kevin on the pole. “I shall call this telephone pole, hmmm, lemme think, Kevin!” It’s probably not even the pole’s name. Who knows.

I tried Googling songs about labeling, and came across this by The Ting Tings. Not my musical style, but it seemed appropos.

My name is Genevieve, and someday I am going to get back on that bike again. I don’t care what anyone says.

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