I have been in the art/culture/museum business since 1991 with a few years in there thrown away to teaching, and although I certainly have had a damn good time, not all of it has been wine and roses. If not for a few good mentors along the way, I might have quit this shit a long time ago because I am not a half bad dry waller, house painter, and general handyman kind of dude. They say I clean up nice, and that may be true. There is always something proletarian about me I won’t quite give up, and I will never be a snitch. My generation is one at odds with itself, calling out the posers, never quite united enough to be any kind of force in the world, You pitch in with this or that, and that’s your right. So many people my own age disgust me, disappoint me, or even inspire me without acknowledging my understanding of what they are getting at, and yet we are all so far from each other we will never sing down a war or wax poetic about Taps or Red Dawn together over wine in someone’s sprawling kitchen with the children conveniently silent and in bed like we are Jennifer Aniston on Friends. We are not together in solidarity except maybe in threes and fives, someone in the middle of a divorce, with everyone’s mind on work, money, parenting, and the inevitable seriousness of our predicament. We will work forever, even longer than the Boomers. We will have no choice.
I am 46. I have been out of work three days in the last fifteen years. I have no healthcare.. I have a pathetic 401K. My life insurance policy is worth almost enough to cremate me and hand me off to my kids in a 50 psi cardboard box. I have no illusions about social security, and my parents, middle class people from what seems like a different world a million light years from here, are dead and gone. I am an orphan, but that’s not just because my parents aren’t around. I’m an orphan in just about every way a person can be. I’m even an orphan to my siblings and my brothers and sisters of my generation. I am an orphan in some ways to my mentors.
I had two truly great mentors, and both of them were a little too old to be Boomers. They weren’t WWII guys, either. They were born at the end of the 1930’s or early in the 1940’s, in the shadow of two great generations. I have never asked them about this because they probably don’t think much one way or the other about it. Both of these guys are far too humble, and the only part of me that is humble, you can thank them for that.
Bill was a VP at a huge, international corporation. He married an artist, a really good artist, and he managed a lot of people and huge budgets in a complex for profit industry. He was a philanthropist, an art lover, and a business guy who brought that sensibility to a hundred boards as a Trustee. He became President about the same time I became Acting Director, and this town is full of people just like me who served as Director while he was President of their board.
Clyde headed up a state art education department. He was a good artist himself, and I think he’s even better these days. Clyde’s whole schtick these days is the vision thing, and his vision thing is so much better than George H. W. Bush’s it should make your head spin. Clyde was a Trustee, too, and he and Bill are buddies. Clyde’s probably more famous than Bill, and although Bill has given more time and money to managing and stabilizing organizations, it is Clyde’s dreaming that has made much of it even worth funding or managing.
I’m not sure where I stand with these guys. It seems impolite to ask. Clyde makes fun of my ponytail and my beard and my motorcycle and how many kids I’ve had. He is good at the down home ribbing. I never hear from Bill. I wonder if he’s forgotten me, given up on me, or condemns me. I don’t really care anymore. I think he just got sick of me and sick of “it,” being this crazy business. Maybe he stayed too long and could never make sense of it so he went back to the things that make sense to him. He taught me how to mentally tick off budget stuff, estimate huge columns of multiple digit numbers. That’s kind of an achievement. I was an English major in college after all. I haven’t forgotten either of them, and I am genuinely grateful for what they’ve passed to me. It seems ever so sweeter that their generation was an afterthought. They were overshadowed on either end of their lives by other generations, but they both managed to have a huge impact whether it’s recognized or not.
I have taught a few people much of what I know, and I stay in touch with a few of them. Some of them were former interns of mine. I rejoice when they get a new job, a better job, or an even better job. I rejoice when they go back to school. I wish sometimes I were them because my life seems kind of boring sometimes. I don’t get to travel to China for work. I’m not sure I qualify yet as a mentor. I hope I do. They are doing good things, and humble as I wish I were, I still want some credit for what they’ve done. I want to participate. I want to share in it. I want to profit from it. Sometimes I have to stop myself from emailing them “Take me with you.”