Monday, March 27, 2023

Quitting is Hard

Sunday afternoon I got a terse note from Dyan acknowledging my resignation. She asked me to delete all my Foundation files as per my confidentiality agreement. She didn’t ask me to delete them two weeks or a month from now in case Nancy or Lu want a file that I didn’t send to Lu and Brian this morning. 

I also made a healthy donation to the Foundation yesterday, thanking the Foundation for my experience and challenging the other board members to match my donation. 

I am free. It’s over and I felt happy when I made the decision, both about all I did and about being free. I think, though, I may be a bit of a persona non grata with board members. That’s why I made the donation. As the day wore on, I lost my overriding sense of happiness, and a kind of sadness set it. I felt shitty that there’s a group of people who may think badly of me. I’m sure some of board are pissed that I quit. I know I did the right thing though, and that as time passes, I’ll get over the disappointment that I’ve been to them and myself.

I won’t be joining any more organizations that want to use my mind. I’ll be available for body work, pulling invasive plants, serving food, collecting tickets, things like that, but no thinking and sharing. I don’t work easily with people when I am to take orders.

I feel like someone just out of jail. I feel kind of dirty for quitting, but I had to leave. Shopping won’t be the same for a while. I’m not keen to run into board members. I remain totally relieved that I quit. I have all my time to myself now. I don’t dread opening my emails in the morning, fearing a slew of clinic messages asking me to do something else.

I know that I was part of the problem, and its not pleasant knowledge to have. I spent a lot of time thinking about what I learned about myself and didn’t like what I concluded. But I was correct. And then suddenly a thought came into my head: I don’t recall ever, ever doing anything with my father. Not one thing. No drives together, no camping, no movie together, and as an adult, I was never invited for dinner or never invited out, except one time, and he had Rita with him. I didn’t care for Rita at the time. She’d been with my father though Connie’s residency in the sanitarium. 

People think I exaggerate when I say, I never socialized with them. I did, though, eat dinner with them between ages five and nine. I didn’t interact with them at all. I have no memories of those meals except for one thing: I loved a name game called geography. I loved playing that game because I loved geography. I loved reading maps, charts and globes.

I was always alone, or when I was with them, no talking was my rule. And it’s this isolation that I blame for my inability to function well in groups unless I am the boss. I will say though, I was, I believe, a good boss.

I never once asked anyone to do something I was not prepared to do. When we had a flood in the theatre, I bailed out the furnace room while everyone else cleaned up with buckets and mops. I always let people do things their way, when approaches to a task could be done by a multiplicity of ways. Basically, I respected people.

I think my greatest call, as a boss, was when the local judiciary started sentencing wayward youth to community service to our project of building the theatre. I was happy to work with them. I hosted many young offenders, but I met everyone for coffee nearby on their first day. Every one of them agreed to be referred to as a volunteer (and to keep their crime and arrest to themselves), because they were unpaid. I did that for them, not for me or my staff. I wanted them to come in without baggage.

I prioritized in every major project, the hiring of a trusted ally. My first ally was Moira McPherson. I still cry over her death, thirty years ago, when I think of her. That’s how much I loved and respected her. We were partners; she was part of every major decision. I often asked her to accompany me to board meetings; I sent love letters to her husband for the time Moira provided to me.

She helped me build and run the public theatre I designed, raised every cent for, and ran. I also supervised every aspect of the construction. I had no boss. I told the arts council that I’d build their theatre and raise every cent needed for every aspect of its creation, and that I would submit a written report on activities and financial status monthly if I could work unsupervised.

I went on to create an art gallery as well, and both facilities currently are thriving—especially the gallery. I am capable of big jobs. From nothing, I pulled projects together with a lot of help. I organized an art and sculpture exhibition in three enormous studios of the CBC building in downtown Vancouver. There were 600 artists in the show—300 of them making their self-portrait on a standard size piece of paper. I and my friends created a single artwork made of 600 self-portraits. I raised every cent for the entire show.

All this permits me to believe I am, or was, a competent person. I am prouder of the way I treated my employees than I am of what I built. When I built the theatre, I was 26 years old and had 30 employees, many of whom were older than me. I heard that Michael Ames lived in the community for whom I was building the theatre. Mr. Ames, Mike, was the director of the Museum of Anthropology on the UBC campus. It’s the Vancouver resource that I appreciate most.

He agreed to mentor me. I could ask him questions every week. He promised me an hour of his time. He trained me to be a good employer. He taught me the importance of morale and to respect staff. A favourite thing about him was the advice he gave me about hiring. He said not to be afraid to hire “by my gut” and not what I see on paper when hiring people who will be working closely with me. He was really impressed with Moira.

In grade seven, I sat in the front seat of the centre row in Social Studies class. Mr. Smith, the teacher, would stand right in front of me with his body 2-3 inches in front of my desk, and he’s shott a shower of spittle from his moth as he talked, and it would rain down on me.

He wore shirts that looked like they were made of plastic. His armpits were yellow-brown, and in his breast pocket, that hung very low on his chest, he had Craven A cigarettes, red and white, sideways in the plastic pocket. And he said something. I can’t remember any more what it was. But I’d reached my breaking point, when there was a pause in his teaching, perhaps going to the blackboard, I picked up my books in my arms, left the classroom without saying anything and went to the office to, essentially, tell on myself.

The vice-principal, Mr. Berry, moved me to a different class. He honoured himself and me in the way he handled me. He listened and helped. But it’s what he said that makes me remember that day so well. He advised me not to join the army or the police or any such hierarchy. He said that he thought I was a great student, that my grades spoke to my success with teachers and schools. He posited that I didn’t respect Mr. Smith and if he was correct, then I should be careful to only work where I have respect for my employer—forever.

What a guy he was, and he was right. I lost respect for the board. That is different than me failing. Not for the board itself, not for the board members either, but for their approach to fund raising and communication. The two operations go together, and they are vital for the future of the Foundation. I felt like I had failed them, and myself, last night. Explaining my reason for leaving to friends as undertaken due to a loss of respect helps me avoid self-loathing. I have a PhD in self-loathing. 

The thing about writing, communications, and fundraising, in my experience, is everybody thinks they know how to do it. These are two aspects of non-profit operation over which members often drove me mad. These fields were prime targets for grandstanding by board members.

The board caused me to lose respect, and I am a guy with baggage outed by my grade seven ice-principal. Both parties are responsible. That’s a good and fair ending. 

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