David Biddle: Summer Stories, Rebellion, and Open-Ended Questions
Summer stories have always been significant in our lives—not just the ones in novels and movies, but the real ones, especially the ones we lived as teenagers. Whether good, bad, heart-breaking, cataclysmic, or cathartic, those are the special stories that often define the rest of our lives.
Without doubt, the summer I was 15 shaped me forever. It was the year I lost my family. We spent most of that season at a cabin on a lake up in Canada. My parents were in the early stage of ending their 19-year marriage. It was also the year that I began to seriously think — quite innocently compared to life here in the 2020s — about why there are gender limitations on our behavior and our appearance as male and female members of society. Forget boy stuff and girl stuff, what kind of human being did I feel I wanted to become? Why did what people think of me create so much personal pressure? What do we do when we’re expected to conform, and we don’t want to? Those questions were essential to me. They needed to be answered. I felt like a wise and profound citizen of the planet trying to think through all the stuff that everyone ignores.
I survived that summer writing about those questions in love letters to a girl friend who would break up with me after the first week of the new high school year. My parents wouldn’t be speaking to each other much by the fall, except to argue late at night. As our family stumbled towards full implosion, I found myself reading rebellious books about young people with a new perspective — didn’t matter if it was Dickens or Roth, Tolkien or Vonnegut. There was nothing like the 1970s if you needed to be a rebellious teen. Rules weren’t made to be broken; they were meant to be exploded––especially if love was being torn asunder on all sides.
I began to cultivate a detailed hippie vibe, although by then we called ourselves freaks. That long hair thing was huge for guys back then. So was the simple idea of male friends hugging each other publicly. It was shocking to people when I got my left ear pierced just before I turned 16. For that matter, girls weren’t allowed to wear jeans to school for a long while there. They couldn’t take shop class either. And battles flared up all over the country about letting girls play baseball. Those seemingly small rules of gender presentation were significant issues for most of that decade. And then they weren’t.
That 15th summer shot me off riding a mainline vector that would become my core personality. I’m pretty sure teen summers do that in one way or another for most of us. All that reading about rebels and trying to play one in real life led me to want to write fiction and poetry for the rest of my life—somehow, someway.
It’s been almost fifty years for me since that summer. I’m still writing. I’m still a rebel. My hair is long again (extended story, that). And I wound up publishing a novel called Old Music for New People with The Story Plant about modern teen rebels on a family summer vacation questioning notions about family, gender, love, race, music, truth, nature, and the cosmos.
This world we’re all living in is a bit nuts right now. Maybe it makes sense for every adult these days to think back to those teen transition summers that helped point to where they are now. It’s also important for people in their early teens to be aware of what’s coming and to know that they’re about to get to a point in life where they can ask important open-ended questions, and then actually answer them for themselves. And, finally, without doubt, parents of young teenagers need to remember that those crux summers will touch them again. Everything changes. No-Matter-What.
About the Author...
A part-time professional freelance writer since he published his first article on appropriate technology education with RAIN: Journal in 1985, David Biddle has published work with the likes of Harvard Business Review, BioCycle, Huffington Post, The Philadelphia Inquirer, GetUnderground, Resource Recycling, BuzzWorm, Talking Writing, etc. He was also a contributing editor to InBusiness (the 2nd best sustainability publication of all-time) for over a decade. His coming-of-age summer vacation novel, Old Music for New People, was published by The Story Plant in December of 2021.