Wednesday, September 19, 2007

City Views, Country Dreams

Good morning from sunny New York.

On such a crisp late summer day, I surely should be outside. And before long I will swap my indoor rubber flip flops for socks and sturdier shoes and have a long walk in the park.

But before then, taking advantage of a welcome bit of free time, I have been trying to sort out a number of experiences from the past few days. Sometimes, I wonder if I am in fact living several parallel lives. I do not mean this in sci-fi sort of way, but rather that I have my inner self-image, and continually find that my actual daily physical time seems to be lived by a totally different person.

Last Saturday, I went to see a small exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art. My MOMA membership is about to expire and I do not plan to renew it immediately. So, I am trying to make a few quick visits before the end of October.

The exhibit I saw on Saturday was quite eccentric, and centered upon ten year's correspondence between a MOMA curator and a young artist who was trying to leave his Michigan university and family, and move to New York, find patronage and pursue his creativity. His correspondence was itself creative. None of it was an actual letter on stationery in an envelope. It could be a scroll, a tiny many-layers-of-folded tissue paper with a word on each fold, all sorts of formats.

My particular interest in the exhibit arose because in the decade following the period of the correspondence I knew the artist well. He had come to New York, continued to collect patrons, and to slowly create a new persona for himself, leaving his Michigan background very far in the background. He traveled to Japan, he was an artist in residence at a rather surprising choice, the Hudson Institute think tank. His fame grew from a number of successful "happenings," beautifully staged. Conceptual art can be awful. His was mostly magical. And always, he was very good at the self-promotion that can be essential for artists' survival.

Somewhere in this cramped apartment I have some little bits and pieces of his work that are perhaps as significant as anything on view at MOMA. Or perhaps they are not.

As time passed, our lives went in different directions. I would continue to see some of his gallery exhibits, at major NYC spots like Mary Boone Gallery, and see him in party photos in French "Vogue."

Looking at the pieces in the exhibit, I took a long meander down memory lane, and thought about what my life was like when I was in my late twenties. New York has never been a gentle place, but my memories do yield a collection of experiences that seem lighter, less cynical, maybe just younger.

I was actually alone in the MOMA gallery room the entire time that I looked at the show. I wonder how many other folks have visited the exhibit and had similar memories to mine. As I left the museum, I was still sort of not quite in the present tense, but full of contemplation. Having time for contemplation is a luxury for me these days.

Yesterday, Tuesday, was to be a day off for me. However, I had arranged a meeting to fit the schedule of a visiting top human resources lady, so that we could sit down, in a location outside the shop, to talk with one of my staff members, very seriously, about the need for her to improve her performance.

I had drafted a form that ultimately we would sign, regarding this need for improvement. My draft had been reviewed and very slightly revised by the HR lady. On Monday evening, I had taken home all the prior personnel files for this staff member. She has worked for the company for almost eight years. My company is very benevolent, often seeming to pride itself on rescue missions. I have been the manager of my shop for about a year and one half, and had intentionally not read old personnel file, preferring to form my own impressions of my staff.

Well. The eight-year file was full of prior need for improvement forms. It seemed as though over and over and over, prior managers had come to the edge of terminating the employee, and then pulled back. All the forms addressed failings similar to what my form detailed. I realized, that again, I was being called upon to be the "heavy." To do what others had not been able to do.

Yesterday's meeting went much as I anticipated it would. The staff member was defensive, and did not agree with much of what I had written, although she did accept some of the comments. She does not realize how much the pace and demands of the shop have changed, and that what might have been accepted four, five, six or even seven years ago, just will not cut it now. We asked that she think about the improvements that we had requested, and that we would meet again in two weeks to re-assess progress.

She then said that she was rather upset and did not want to go back to the store, but would like to take the rest of the day off. I told her several times, that of course she had that choice, but that making that choice was another example of letting down the rest of her colleagues. And that it meant that I would lose my day off, since someone would have to fill in for her and it was too late to make other arrangements. She stuck to her wish to go home and went home.

It was a very busy day. Customers were well served. We juggled priorities all day, more or less productively. The HR lady did come back to the shop also, and had a brief visit with each of those other staff members present. The earlier meeting remains a confidential matter, but of course everyone was buzzing with curiosity.

My plans for yesterday afternoon (glamorous grocery shopping, laundry and house cleaning were shelved. I have got some of those duties taken care of already today.

Inside my head, I still think of myself as the would be artist who left her childhood home to live in New York and enjoyed the comraderie of other like-minded folks. I am a person who actually makes art.

Ah, but the version of myself who jumps awake at the earliest light or alarm beep (whichever signals first) is quite another person. This person has difficult meetings during which she must harden her heart, this person does not make art, has a difficult time keeping up with creative friends, is thankful for continued good health and stamina, has found a way to support herself, often feels that the treadmill on which she daily runs keeps being set to faster and faster speeds. This is all the same person.

I expect that many of you who might read this feel or have felt similarly about your owns lives, althought the specifics vary. It is quite marvelous that we can be so supportive.

Still too early to wish you my usual pleasant dreams.


  1. I know what you mean Frances, about being so many different persona.
    Not a nice job for you to have to do, but it sounds as though you may not get much improvement from your staff member, sadly.
    I would love to visit MOMA, so interesting to follow the progress of someone you once knew.

  2. Gosh that was hard to read. When I was in banking we had someone like that on the staff. I was always seen as one of the good guys and would always be drafted in to sort these tricky situations. Never easy is it and never their fault. Lovely blog as usual.
    I bet autumn in New York is a picture with the trees in Central Park and am trying to visualize it from here in Suffolk England!

  3. a thoughtful and thought-provoking post. we have a few people like that at my place of work, too. and at one time a few years ago i was in the place you are--expected to somehow fix a person who had been there for many years, doing the same substandard work without much complaint.

    you sound much more capable and sensible than i was. it was the hardest job i've ever had, and i didn't do it well. after two years they transferred her to someone else, who also couldn't do much. and after another two years they were on the verge of transferring her to someone else, when she quit.

  4. It is always difficult being a strong person, being perceived by others as the one who will deal with and sort out problems others are too frightened to approach, or, perhaps, do not wish to approach for fear of not being liked as a result.

    You are still an artist, just look at your paintings and remind yourself of that fact and remember to peer out from the treadmill that out lives seem inevitably to become, to look beyond the restrains of today and see the that somewhere in tomorrow you can stop for breath.

    Sweet dreams Frances whatever they may be!

  5. Sadly every organisation has people like you describe and it takes a lot of courage to face up to the responsibilities of management. It's tough that the hard decisions fall on you. It's all the more reasons to keep that artist inside you alive.

  6. What a drain she sounds, and a bit of a prima donna SACK HER Thats my inner beast talking, I did once have the job of telling a fellow member of staff, that if she didnt start wearing deodorant she'd have to leave, i tried to do it gently whilst holding my breathe!!! She still hates me..xx

  7. I would hate to be a manager of people, what a hard job for you, the sensitive artist that you are. When you retire you will be able to devote yourself fully to your passions. That's what keeps me going when I become totally p***** off with the ever-increasing madness of the system we work under in this country.

  8. You have the patience of a saint my friend. It is so hard to have to put the hard word to someone, but, taking into account that she has "previous" form and the way she used emotional blackmail to literally shaft you into having to work your day off, this clodhead needs to go.

    Obviously she is so wrapped in her own idyllic world, it is time reality bit.

    You are still and always will be an artist, be it with painting brush to hand or keyboard. Your words bring us with you, sharing your MOMA moments; the girl you were is still very much alive within, just nicely matured like a good wine.

    Reading CV/CDs is a highlight of the day. Keep the words coming.

  9. Not making art at this minute, perhaps, but an artist through and through as I see from your photographs and paintings - an artist who lives in two worlds and seems to have figured out how to thrive in the one that is so hard on the artist's soul......and that is huge!

  10. Wow Frances not an easy meeting for you - both with the employee and with the two different facets of your life.

    The employee is being offered a positive choice over and over and yet she chooses not to take it - then again in the past she has been allowed to stay, so ignoring the positive offer and ignoring is has become learned behaviour. I suspect this time she may be asked to leave. Very difficult for you though.

    And then there is the creative you - as Pondside says you are not making art at the moment, but you simply ARE an artist, not something that stops it IS you- which tempers the business you. And makes you who you are. I don't know you very well Frances, but I do know that I like very much the person that has emerged through your blogs and through your posts and comments on Purplecoo - you are a very special lady and someone I feel admiration and respect for.


  11. Perfectly put Frances (and hello by the way). I think we jhave to adopt different persona to survive the various demands made on us. And yet I am not sure this is so for men; what do you think? Lovely thought provoking blog as ever xx

  12. I thought this was a really fascinating post. I loved what you wrote about different personas and the way that they sometimes don't match up to your inner view of yourself. You sound like you are handling a tricky situation very well. You are clearly thoughtful as well as creative.

  13. hello Frances...i have just treated myself to a luxurious 30 or so minutes catching up on your blogs all the way back to August! They make such lovely reading...loved the description of JC Oates..definitely the artist at work there right doen to the jacket ruffles!

  14. Hello Frances,
    As I read your thoughts it made me think of many people I have known in my past. What becomes of them, what they were then and what they are now, often unbelievable outcomes. How our journey through life unfolds, not always how we may have thought, but never the less all experiences that makes us who we are.
    I went on a printing course last Friday , monoprint , wipe out and mono line techniques. It brought back memories of teaching, printing with the children and always enjoying the art activities and feeling that was the real me. So many years on I am here, feeling like the real me. So much of our lives we have to be the other people. But who you are is always inside you waiting to get out.
    You seem to me to be an amazingly sensitive person, living a full and interesting life. You question things, you see things and we are all lucky to share your experiences through your wonderful writing. You may not be painting or drawing as much, but your creativity and observations continue to develop in other ways. We have shared some of your art and evidence of your talents. Isn't success a life well lived. Your life seems to be full of experiences, all contributing to the person you are, the person we have come to know through these blogs. I hope you know how much pleasure you are bringing to other peoples lives through your blog and your thoughtful comments.
    milly x

  15. Dear Frances,
    Your writing is wonderful, just like your creativity in your Art-Work, from the pictures you have shown us.

    How sad that the employee decided to take the rest of the day off, when she could have pulled out all the stops, and gone that extra mile, for her sake and for yours.

    It has been a while since I visited a Gallery, to stop and stare, and ponder over a piece of an Artists Creativeness, spent many hours in London enjoying this.


  16. It's a very hard job, being a manager of people who each have their own agenda and it's usually so different from yours.
    I was thinking about blogging about the wearing of 'masks', changing our mask to suit each person or situation we encounter.
    Lovely art work, a beautiful blog.

  17. I am going back in time and reading some of your earlier posts that I missed because, like you and so many others...I too have "another me"...I just had my own appraisal meeting not too long ago (we have 2 a year for all the staff). Thank you for sharing this!