Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Are We Who We Were?

Originally uploaded by troppmann.
A couple of weeks ago, I was reading through some old Quiet Crisis transcripts on cleveland.com. One of the panelists theorized that it is Cleveland's close knit community fabric that has retarded its reincarnation from rust belt to renaissance. The panelist suggested that it is difficult for Clevelanders to gain support for new ideas because the community has essentially "typecast" them based upon past ideas, jobs, associations, etc.

The theory made me think of my ten-year high school reunion. The only event that I participated in was the "girl's night out" at a Lakewood bar. In high school, I was never part of a specific clique but had friends across most of the groups based upon who I had classes with, who was in my homeroom, who was also on the school paper, etc... Anyway... I'm sitting at a table with Kristin X, the person responsible for my enduring fondness for black penny loafers, when she says, "Look. Lori X is coming this way. Well, she better not try and talk to me because I didn't speak to her in high school and I'm certainly not going to speak to her now!" I wondered that night how things went for Bill Gates at his ten-year reunion.

I know other people that think the same way. I have more than one close friend who is inclined to still judge people based upon how they acted and dressed in high school. Often, the ones who are still being judged on past faux pas are fairly successful - published authors, musicians, entrepreneurs, sound engineers, etc. People who, had they not spent their youth under the microscope in Cleveland, my friends would tremendously enjoy meeting at a party.

I later referenced this theory gleaned from the Quiet Crisis transcript when speaking with a friend of mine in Cleveland who is considering a move to New York. This friend's frustration has grown exponentially as he has, at age 38, been referred to as a "boy" in a local weekly newspaper and has been typecast as someone who rode the coattails of an elected official no longer in public office. This friend has an undergraduate degree from a nationally-regarded liberal arts college and a MBA from one of the top business schools in the region; he also has tremendous experience in nonprofit management and government affairs. Evidently, it doesn't matter. Cleveland won't allow him to break out of the role he played for just a few short years in his early twenties.

I can personally identify with Cleveland community-think and typecasting. I have not recommended people for employment based upon their past performance in college group projects. Does this mean that I've been essentially, "black-listing" people for life based upon youthful academic laziness? A little bit. All other things being equal, yes, it counted. As time goes by and they build an employment history and reputation in their field, I hope that their work product will eclipse their college performance. I will, however, probably always remember them as having let down the group.

I've also been "typecast." In Cleveland, in certain circles, I was perceived as a "kid" into my mid-thirties. Luckily, I was at least perceived as "the smart kid" but when you're worried about the onset of wrinkles and graying hair, it's a bit frustrating to have certain colleagues treat you less seriously than some guy in his fifties with less experience.

So... are we who we were? I believe that we can learn from past mistakes, from being exposed to new people and ideas and from other experience. However, I also think that an individual's core values are not likely to change too drastically.

None of the above was my actual inspiration though for writing this entry. This morning, I had been reading a couple other blogs posted on blogger.com and one interested me enough to read the poster's profile. Included in the profile, under interests, was the name of a Cleveland artist with whom I am familiar. The reference made me think about what I knew about this person. I remembered him handing me a business card a long time ago that said, "Tell Me Your Secrets." I remembered that in my last apartment in Cleveland, he lived around the corner from me and that he used to always walk his little dog past my place. I remembered that his home was a strange storefront/industrial building with a bubble machine on the roof. And, I remembered visiting his gallery and liking his work. But, none of this was really explaining for me why a twenty-something art student in New York City would list this artist by name on her blog as "an interest."

Curious, I "googled" the artist's name and found his web site. Turns out the artist, whom I thought of more in terms of his dog walking, has done cover art for Marvel comics and album covers. Further, one of his posters is part of a collection at the Louvre. Reading through the web site, I started to remember once having known some of this.

So, maybe the real answer to the question, "Are we who we were" is "Only so much as other people neglect to see who we have become."