May 12, 2015.
Texted from the past: selfie of my date to the high school senior ball. Time-traveling video uploads to Facebook and Vine below.
Prom season and I 've been seeing and skipping over the usual spate of the usual stories. Every spring they appear along with the blossoms on the apple trees to let us know that tra-la it's May, it’s May, the lusty month of May, that shocking time of year, when tons of wicked little thoughts merrily appear. By the way, if you don't understand that Guinevere is still in her teens and Arthur and Lancelot are barely out of theirs when Lancelot arrives in Camelot you're missing the beauty and poignancy behind that tragedy. Anywho. Here come the stories about students banned or ejected from their proms for various reasons, a favorite being what some girl has chosen to wear. Seems always to surprise people that pretty young women want to dress like pretty young women.
Old, old story probably going back to the invention of clothing but likely even farther to when humans began living long enough to not be young and discovered it's more fun and feels more pleasant to be young. Old men have always hated it that they retain their desire for young women long, long after young women have stopped showing any desire for them. Middle-aged women have always worried that men their age prefer younger women and younger women don't necessarily mind or discourage it. And every generation throughout the millennia all these supposed adults have gotten together to blame and shame the beautiful young women for their own disappointment, regret, bitterness, insecurity, and fear of death.
They get back at beautiful and young men by sending them off to war.
Because of when and where I went to high school, what the girls wore to the prom and senior ball wasn't an obvious issue. Disco was in the air elsewhere, but at our high school James Taylor and Joni Mitchell dominated the soundtrack of our lives. It was a GE town and most of us were the children of scientists and engineers and aspiring to be scientists and engineers ourselves---those of us who weren't aspiring artists, academics, intellectuals, and other sorts of bohemians. Even the cheerleaders and football players were nerds. One of the most popular clubs was the Folk Culture Club. We weren't such a collection of hippies, folkies, and geeks that Earth Shoes were considered the height of fashion. But I never saw a real live girl my own age tottering along on a pair of Candies until I got to college. Girls went to the prom dressed like their mothers did to theirs. They went to the senior ball, which was semi-formal, dressed like they were going to a quilting bee or the Renaissance Fair. No cleavage, no shoulders, no long, endless views of naked backs, no flashes of thigh, no leg at all, all the dresses were ankle-length. Another reason to hate the 70s. I skipped my junior prom, so fortunately there are no pictures of me in a baby blue tux. My girlfriend my junior year was a senior and she invited me to her senior ball. She was a talented seamstress and she made her own dress. It was lovely and she was beautiful but she looked like one of Guinevere’s shyer and more modest ladies-in-waiting in a Pre-Raphaellite painting.
My girlfriend my senior year was a sophomore and I took her to the senior ball and like my first girlfriend, she also looked like she'd stepped out of a Pre-Raphaelite painting. Once again, I was saved from a baby blue tux. I wore a sporty blue gray suit with thin red pinstripes I thought made me look like Robert Redford in The Sting. She was the girl who looked like Scarlett Johansson, by the way, so we made a pretty good looking couple for the time. If you looked at the pictures now though you'd probably think we both could have used a good haircut and a decent meal.
I haven't seen or heard from her in over thirty years. I don't know how her life has gone or what kind of adult she became. I wonder if she looks at pictures from those days and sees the resemblance herself but wishes she'd dressed more like Johansson in The Avengers than in The Other Boleyn Girl. Well, not for the ball. A catsuit wouldn't have been appropriate. And the choices for bouquet that went with black leather would have been limited. But you know what I mean.
As for me, like I said, I'm just grateful there was no baby blue tux. But I look at the pictures from that night and from the previous senior ball and remember the thousand stupid things I said and did both nights and the bad 70s hair is among the last of my regrets. There's so much I wish I could undo, so much I would have done differently if only I'd known better.
If only I'd known better?
That's like saying if only I hadn't been seventeen and eighteen at the time.
Youth is wasted on the young is something only stupid old people with bad memories say and mean when they say it.
To be young is to waste your youth.
It's to not know better because you can't know. And I don't mean in the sense of not having the experience and knowledge necessary to making sound decisions. I mean that you can't know the future. Gaining experience is a matter of learning to be afraid of the future and anyone who is afraid of the future isn't young even if their age says they are. And while I think it's a job of adults to teach the young to slow down and think, to make them look both ways when crossing metaphorical and real streets, I think one of the cruelest things any adults can do is teach young people to be afraid of the future.
In fact, name any cruelty an adult has committed against a child and part of that cruelty is teaching the child to be afraid of the future.
When I started out as a young college professor I worried that I wouldn't like my students. I thought that over time I would grow to resent their ignorance, self-centeredness, and general foolishness. I was afraid I wouldn't make allowances for their not having arrived at a premature middle age.
That hasn't happened.
I liked my students then and I like them now. In fact, over time, as I've grown old and they've grown younger and younger,I like them more and more. I try to keep this to myself. I don't think they want to hear how fond their geezer professor is of them. But it's true. I enjoy their company and get a kick out of talking to them. It makes me happy to watch them busy being young. Fortunately, I'm busy being old and don't have the time or energy to try to horn in on their fun in any way. I think it's almost as bad for an adult to try to join in on their fun as it is to try to take it away. But I want them to have that fun. I'm glad when I see them having it and sad when I see they aren't, especially when I see that the reason they aren't is some adult's fault.
Like I said, I don't want them running out into traffic but they have to be allowed to waste their youth. They have to make mistakes, do foolish things, do things they will regret, break each other's and their own hearts. They have to be young because that's what they are.
My students are technically and legally adults but they are also still children. At any rate, I see them as children, maybe because they are the same age as my children. Again, this is something I try not to let them know. But the point is that not only do I see them as children but in looking at them I am reminded. I remember but remember it differently than I used to. Seeing them I see me and my girlfriends and our friends and classmates as we all really were, as young.
I wish there were more pictures of us when we were that age even if it meant there was one of me in a baby blue tux. What I wish more is that I could have known better. Not about everything. Just enough to know I was young and not to have hated myself so much for that.. But it's nice now to be finally able to look back and forgive myself a little for it.
It's a clichéd lament that this generation is addicted to self-documentation. These kids and their compulsion to take selfies and share them with their world! Who do they think is looking? Well, only them, and that's how it should be. We old folks should look away and mind our own business. But you know who will be looking? Their future selves. And I think it will be a joy to most of them to be able to look and see and say to themselves, "How about that? We were young and it was fun to be so."
Keats said it better, didn't he?
Anyway, I hope they all have a good time at their proms and they don't break each other's hearts and don't wind up with too many or any serious regrets. I hope the pretty young women and the pretty young men get to dress like pretty young women and pretty young men, and at that age they're all pretty. I hope they'll take lots of selfies even ones that will embarrass them later. And I hope the adults stay out of their way and let them waste their youth.
Except for the part about teaching them to look both ways, of course.
Painting, "The Lady of Shalott," by John William Waterhouse. 1888. Via Wikipedia.
Scenes from my senior ball?: The movie version of Camelot isn’t very good. It’s not as though the camera is never where it should be but more as if you can feel it wanting to pull away to find something else to look at. I don't think the director Joshua Logan trusted the material. Or his stars. For instance, he didn’t seem to want to keep the camera on Vanessa Redgrave for “The Lusty Month of May”, although I can’t figure why he thought the audience would prefer to watch extras who were bad actors having “fun” instead. The song is really a solo and it’s part of a triptych as well: Arthur’s “I Wonder What the King Is Doing Tonight” and Lancelot’s “C’est moi” go on either side of it. Keep that in mind when watching the clips. (Logan did much better with “C’est moi”.) Keep in mind also that Guinevere’s nineteen at most and Lancelot’s maybe twenty-two. Then both songs will break your heart.
And Franco Nero as Lancelot: