Circles and Cycles

Joni Mitchell’s influence

I believe every woman should promise herself the gift of listening to Joni Mitchell’s Blue album before leaving this earth. Listen at night with the headphones of your choice and play as loud as you can comfortably stand it. Relaxing substances are optional. There was a lot of poignant music that defined that era, but it was this album in particular that got me through college.

That was back in the day when artists would make an album (vinyl) every forever. So we relished each offering they gave us for a long period of time. And singers, like me, memorized every pause and breath.

It was 1973. A good friend of mine had just rallied a few of us young women attending the veterinary technician program of our college. The issue of dress code was about to be challenged.

We were done with having to attend classes wearing a white uniform dress, white shoes, and stockings. The few males in the program were mandated to wear white pants, white shoes, and a button-down shirt with a white lab coat.

I’m not sure why, but I chose to wear white stockings. I looked like a British nurse! My friend was really cool, though, and deliciously defiant. She wore men’s plaid wool pants UNDERNEATH her white uniform dress. She rode her bike to school in Minneapolis. Through the slush, storms and bitter cold, she rode her bike most of the time to class, jobs, all over the city. Now that’s badass in Minneapolis winter.

The school was also home to human healthcare programs, hence the human medical professional attire.

Standing up for convictions

We knew what would be better for us. We had to walk the college’s dogs in all kinds of weather as well as clean cat cages and runs. We bathed the animals and worked with them in school. Having a dog jump up on you and rip your stockings was a common occurrence.

The first time we took our case to the powers that be, we were denied. After we gathered almost all of the class in solidarity, we finally got the dress code changed.

Women were allowed to wear pants. Boots were acceptable when necessary, like when cleaning runs or walking dogs. White lab coats were worn now by both men and women in the program. There would be more barriers ahead, but this was a nice hurdle to jump and accomplish.

Joni’s Blue album got me through trying to salvage a relationship with my boyfriend, who was in the service. Our connection was being challenged by distance and my own unrest.

I was going to school and trying to keep my grades up. Plus, I was holding down a job and doing lots of partying. Tearfully I spoke with my mother about a decision I had to make. My boyfriend was being shipped to Germany and asked me to go with him. That meant I’d have to leave school and, in all probability, a career I really wanted.

Truth was, I was already growing in a totally different direction than his. I was protesting the war and advocating for women’s rights. I didn’t want to deviate from my plan. I didn’t want to leave school. I didn’t go with him, and the relationship would end.

Have you ever thought how different life would look had you zigged instead of zagged?

The Last Time I Saw Richard had me missing my little brother. Blue, A Case of You, River, This Flight Tonight…all of them had meaning and were listened to over and over, the grooves in the vinyl worn out. And all to assuage my aching heart.

Music is the fabric of our lives.” Thank you, Richie Havens.

We were barely out of the tumultuous sixties, and veterinary medicine was, for the most part, male-dominated. But, in the veterinary technology programs, in this new concept, women were in the majority. The industry saw us akin to human nurses/lab techs. “Just like a nurse, only for animals” is what my mother told everyone.

This was a concept already established in Great Britain. It seemed like a normal transition for women who wanted to be in veterinary medicine in a nursing position.

Like-minded people

Listening to Joni’s Blue album today naturally brings back memories. Those were days of solidarity and taking care of each other. It wasn’t that we were all closely knitted. We didn’t all hang together. There were cliques in school. Like-minded people still sought out other like-minded people. But, we also watched out for each other. What affected one group often affected the entire class. We really weren’t in competition with each other.

When called upon, we realized a sense of solidarity. And, then, we brought that sense of community to the workplace. We were in this adventure, within this new field of veterinary technology, together!

Today, Joni’s Blue album, just like her others, still hold relevance. Commonplace is the young veterinary student, nurse or doctor, going to school and trying to hold down a job. Maintaining a relationship and having a social life gets squeezed in between.

The musical backdrops of all of our lives may differ, but there is a common theme. Each era, each generation is paving a road forward for the next. Let that sink in.

The road forward at that time, for many of us, was gender equality in a predominantly one-sided field. As a mentor once put it, “See those marks on my back? Those are from all the arrows I took in the beginning.”

Each of us has scars on our backs. It’s the footprints in front of those scars that drive us forward.