Portrait Of A Non-Artist As A Young Man


Dedalus at Context Gallery, DerryStephen Dedalus: Those of  you who recognize my purposefully altered title and have toiled through James Joyce’s novel know of the intellectual and religio-philosophical awakening of young Stephen Dedalus as he begins to question and rebel against the Catholic and Irish mantra with which he has been raised. He finally leaves for abroad to pursue his ambitions as an artist.

The European equivalent of the Spring Revolution, the movement that was born in Plaça del Sol, and has in the last weeks ignited Athens and many other European cities has unearthed the good old debate of European and specifically Greek mobility and immigration. “Few things will affect our future more than migration” touts a recent book review in The Economist.

Where should you pursue your dreams, your ambitions, your life? Should you stay or go abroad like good old Stephen Dedalus – and if you are Greek – follow in your great-grandfather’s footsteps at Ellis Island or Adelaide?

Yet, I find this a relatively easy question. What does it take to go chase the dream – your dream – is actually a much more difficult one to answer. And whether you have it or not is an entirely different story.

But let me backtrack and give you a real case and its dilemma:

Leaving the restaurant where a friend and I had dinner the other night, we walked outside to pick up our cars from the valet service that as we subsequently discovered was only euphemistically called “valet” yet was nothing but. The valet head honcho armed with walkie- talkie and a seriously “don’t’ mess with me” long face could not care less if some of us – euphemistically called here the “customers” – were waiting. He was grumpily mumbling something to some other guy totally indifferent to the waiting small crowd. When we finally caught his attention with car tag in hand, both Helena and I had realized that if we let them bring our cars around it might take another forever (plus we were both parked less than 50 meters away). So, we asked for our car keys and told him we’d pick them up ourselves. He handed us the keys and asked us if we had paid. “How much is it,” my friend asked. “Oh, it’s complimentary but you leave as much as you like” he replied…

Helena and I looked at each other – and there we had it: an average disgruntled, uninterested, passionless, careless, probably underpaid and totally oblivious to his mission member of the workforce: the young parking attendant whose job is not to park cars but to make the overall customer experience a better one starting from the ease, comfort and great feeling one has even before he gets into the restaurant. Not only does he not get it – I wonder if anyone has ever bothered to explain it to him – but on top of that he thinks that his mere physical presence entitles him to a tip, maybe just maybe, because he does not get paid by the restaurant or the proprietor who runs the parking business and who has plenty of other such “schemes” running around town, but by the same customer whose car he parks. Yet, tips are not entitlements. You earn them. Based on how good a job you do, you are either rewarded because of your good service or penalized because the customer did not receive  the greatest service.

And here comes the dilemma: What would happen to this guy if he found himself abroad? Could he make it? Would he be better off if he left or if he stayed because I am sure he is one of the many who might be thinking that his job here is not worth it, and that maybe he’d be better off somewhere else. What would he need to get re-trained, incentivized, motivated and responsible? Is he re-trainable? Better yet: Since he is right here, right now, why is it that nobody in his line of business makes him see and understand what his line of work is all about and what is the point? Is there a future here? Is there a future for someone like this anywhere in the highly competitive, full of young, over-educated un/under-employed people who have trouble finding their footing in the world?

How can we ask the question when a peculiar mindset dominates the current landscape? Where a job is just a job where you show up, you punch in a time-card and your body is there occupying the space doing the absolute minimal you can possibly do – yet thinking that you are entitled to benefits just because you show up.

What does that do to people –  if all they see around them is similar models of discontent, absolute bare minimal performance and no pride, no joy, no sense of accomplishment? Can they really give it their best – are they accustomed and resilient enough on moving on or are they completely derailed by the generic anarchic vagueness of the future?

And what do current economic, social and political systems and infrastructures offer today and need to offer tomorrow to their young to prepare them for their new reality where the old “entitlements” are out the window burnt by the older generations’ greed and irresponsibility? So, while the debate about migration and whether one should leave their country or stay, is occupying the current socioeconomic agenda, identifying the real competitive advantage of a generation that is slated to be the next batch of leaders really soon is truly urgent, compelling and imperative.  So, all of us older folks in the culprit generation who led the 80’s frenzy, let’s just roll up our sleeves and listen, guide, support, empathize, mentor, coach and encourage -some of them to stay and some of them to go – wherever their dreams may be.


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