My Secret Life, part 1

Today’s post comes from Bill in Mpls

It’s not what you think. I don’t know what you’re thinking, but it’s not that.

When I was in high school, 15 or 16 years old and living in the suburbs, I would sometimes get on the city bus and go downtown by myself. Once there, I would visit art galleries. There was a gallery on Hennepin, up a narrow staircase to the second floor, called the Bottega Gallery. It was run by a guy named Tom Sewell and it had a reputation as avant-garde. In fact, when Marcel Duchamp was in town for his show at the Walker, curator Martin Friedman brought Duchamp to the Bottega Gallery. I didn’t know anything about the avant-garde or about abstract art of any kind, but I was drawn to the Bottega Gallery and returned whenever I came downtown. At that time, Hennepin Avenue was pretty scruffy. To my suburban sensibilities it had a tang of dangerous bohemianism and adventure.

After visiting the Bottega Gallery, I would walk down to the Walker Art Center to look around. This was the old Walker, with a grand staircase leading up to an open gallery looking out on a center atrium. It was the only Walker I’ve ever really loved. After the Walker, I would make a stop at the Kilbride-Bradley Gallery. As I recall it, K-B Gallery was part gallery, part art supply store. Bob Kilbride published a newsletter/“zine” called The Potboiler, which was always entertaining and free for the taking..

When I say I didn’t know anything about abstract art, I mean I had no basis for knowing anything. Art appreciation and art history were not taught in my high school. Art was not part of my home life. I doubt that either of my parents ever visited a gallery or art museum in their lifetimes. That wasn’t in their world. My impulse to seek out art galleries feels a little like a rogue mutation of the family genetics. Nothing foreshadowed it, but there it was.

Looking down from the altitude of more than half a decade, I have enough distance to see my teen-aged self dispassionately and wonder where the motivation for those ventures came from. It certainly wasn’t peer pressure– none of my friends or schoolmates knew about my excursions. I never talked about it. I always went alone.

My secret life was innocent enough, but private. It makes me wonder how unusual that is. Did everyone have a secret life like mine? Did anyone?

Did you? Tell.

55 thoughts on “My Secret Life, part 1”

  1. I developed an interest in Jazz on my own without knowing anyone else who had an interest in that music. That interest started soon after I graduated from high school in 1959. It evolved from my love of rock and roll music which lead me to develop an interest in blues and folk music and from there to Jazz.

    At that time there was a fairly large market for Jazz recordings and the the store where I bought rock, blues and folk records had a good selection of Jazz records. There must have been some other people who bought Jazz records at that store although I didn’t have any contact with them. Also, local news stands sold copies of Down Beat magazine which is devoted to Jazz and I started reading it from cover to cover.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Rise and Shine Baboons!

    Great Blog topic, Bill. Thanks. I especially love that you are my age and I can relate to the lack of art education or appreciation that was very mainstream at the time. I was forbidden to take or DO (even doodling) any art, because “it doesn’t have anything to do with making a living.” While my mother was trying to make me a productive adult by saying such things, she took it way too far, as was her pattern.

    I was just thinking about and remembering My Secret Life. My secret life as a teen was politics, especially anti-Viet Nam war politics. While this was hotly debated and demonstrated all around, in my little, conservative Republican town, it was widely supported. I watched the reporting and asked questions of myself (never, ever outloud, as it would have been mocked)–Why are we there? How does Viet Nam’s welfare affect the USA? What is the role of defense and offense? I can see that we need to defend ourselves, and that having no defense at all would be foolhardy, so I am not a pacifist. But why do we need to arm ourselves and be involved in Viet Nam?

    I know I have reported this story before. My uncle discovered that in 1972 I supported McGovern. I was busted as a silent war protester. He took me to vote and tried to convince me to vote for Nixon on the drive there, and in the voting booth for the time it took to vote. My secret life was no longer a secret.

    I did not gloat at him when Nixon was subsequently taken down. Not out of consideration and great social skills. By 1973, I was barely talking to him.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Being a wee bit younger than some of the Baboons, I don’t remember Vietnam protests. I do remember asking my mother what refugees were and why we had to hear about Cambodia and refugees every day on the news. It was sad – I didn’t like seeing all those sad, sick kids. I also remember asking what the big deal was with this “water gate” and why the president was in trouble for it…(I had pictured in my 7-year-old-mind an actual picket fence type gate trying to hold back water…).

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Another winner, Bill. Yes, indeed, where do these impulses come from? How did you even know about the Bottega? From your comments, and Jacque’s, I’m glad to discover that I’m not the only one in the group that didn’t have much exposure to art growing up.

    My secret life took place inside of my head. I learned early on that was the safest place for exploring any idea that was different. I didn’t really consider it secrecy as I wasn’t trying to hide something, but I realized that conflict would ensue if especially my dad knew what I was thinking.

    In fairness, I think I developed an interest in a lot of things in opposition to my father. If he didn’t like or approve of it, it had to have some merit, so I’d check it out. In some warped sense, you might say, he’s responsible for setting me on a course of pursuing whatever hifalutin notion popped into my head.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Part of what I find so intriguing in retrospect is that I have no idea how I found out about the Bottega Gallery. I must have seen it and decided to explore, but I have no specific recollection of my first venture downtown and what I knew or expected. There is something of a mystic quality to how you go about finding what you need, especially when what you need is outside of your known universe.

      Liked by 4 people

  4. Morning all. Bill – thank you for this phrase “rogue mutation of the family genetics”. I love it and have often felt this in regards to my family. Not sure if any of my rogueness is a secret though!

    Liked by 3 people

  5. Thanks for the thoughtful contribution, Bill.

    I’ve dealt with your question earlier when I admitted on these pages that I grew up thinking I was a “freak” because I daydreamed so much. Only when I was an adult could I see that walking around telling myself stories was a deeply positive way of playing with narrative, exploring fantasies and gradually defining my own special identity. In my towering naivete I didn’t guess that other kids were doing the same thing.

    Daydreaming didn’t just consist of creating silly fantasy scenarios in which I would do heroic acts. Much of the time my daydream life involved carrying on debates with voices in my own culture. I was too polite as a kid to argue out loud with opinions I couldn’t accept, but I fought battles inside my head that allowed me to explore my particular take on some issues.

    That is too vague. I should give examples. I used to argue with the voices in my culture that dismissed rock music as ephemeral trash. I resented the way official cultural spokesmen discredited popular culture in general. I told myself stories in a nonstop flow, like some crazy movie theater that never shuts down.

    While walking the sidewalks to and from school, looking like any carefree kid, there was a lot going on that only I could “see.” I was making value judgments, practicing skills and forming positions on issues that would eventually define me.

    Liked by 5 people

  6. I have thinking and worrying about this issue of what part of our character we get from our family by nurture or nature and what part is just us and what part I passed on, the negative parts passed on being the worry. I liked “Finding Our Roots” because it sort of addresses the question, but they always find a fourth great grandmother who had a trait for which the celebrity guest is know and pronounce that’s where it came from. Rather silly sort of analysis, I think.

    My secret life was all the time I spent in the woods from the age of 4 to 18. I do not have clear memories of what I did. A bit of reading, not that much. Only hunted grouse (partridge in NE MN) a handful of times. Walked a lot. Beats me. Cut trails. Watched wildlife. Now it’s even secret to me. But I am against the grain in my family, but so is my sister in a different way, so is my ex-brother in a still different way. Maybe being against the grain is not against the grain.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. My secret live eventually became quite public. My first one was in high school. I was 100% convinced that we’d be nuked. I researched everything on this subject, and wound up scaring the shit out of the kids I babysat in an effort to apply pressure on their parents to build bomb shelters. I was dead serious about this as were the parents who fired me from watching their kids.

    My second secret life was becoming overly-invested in civil rights. Although I didn’t really know that the whole thing was about getting the right to vote initially (something I admitted in my letter to Obama), there was something intensively visceral in my response to black oppression and I was compelled into action. I refrained from marching, seeing that as a pedestrian, non-productive use of energy, and worked behind the scenes.

    Instead, I learned, then taught, black history to both suburban whites and young black kids. I organized a huge rummage sale bringing blacks and whites together for the endeavor. Another confession to Obama was how naive I was believing that if they just worked with one another, the
    problem of inequity would be resolved.

    None of my friends or neighbors knew of these activities until articles began to be written about them. Although this resulted in being shunned by the racists surrounding me, I harbored pride in having involved myself at the time.

    O/T: This Sunday, the Strib’s featuring an article about my cottage and, hopefully, doing so to highlight the demise of treasures being torn down which can never be replaced in order to make room for McMansions.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. I’ve instructed the kids that if they don’t or can’t keep it in the family, they must sell it to someone who agrees in writing to keep it as is. Your experience mortified me.


  8. I started subscribing to The New Yorker magazine when I was in Grade 7. I have had a subscription ever since. I didn’t know anyone else in my small school who read it.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. my mom had it on the coffee table, with architectural digest life and look
      time news week and lots and lots of magazines. i was a magazine junkie growing up and had 10 or 15 mags a month coming to my own house for years. now i have an armload of bookmarks on my computer but less time to sit. i still love sitting in a doctors off ice or a wiating room with a table full of magazines. the sunday paper gets read covr to cover by me and my kids see it happening and i hope it gets passed on. i dont read 100 books a year but i flit form bit to bit consuming incoming data form many sources.

      pshchology today scientific america national lamoon preverntion mother jones all high school subscriptions. i didnt know what i didnt know and i couldnt believe for 10 or 15 dollars a year you could get that good stuff


  9. My secret life was similar to Clyde’s. Wherever we lived, when I was growing up, there were spots that I could go to all by myself. One place we lived, I had a particular tree I liked to climb and would sit up there. One summer, most of my free time was spent exploring a nearby creek. It’s hard to say exactly what I was doing all those years; mainly, I was just wandering around, looking at stuff, and not thinking much. When I was a teenager, there was more time sitting outside and thinking, although I suspect my thoughts were not that profound.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. OT. I am lunching all by myself in Bismarck. I drove 90 miles this morning to testify in a court case, only to get a call just as I pulled up to the courthouse that they didn’t need me. I will soon drive back to work.


        1. Oh, I am paid for my time, not my testimony, and I took a State car, so it is the State that is out of luck here. I just had to drive for three hours.


  11. I think I had secret fascinations, but the person I kept them from was mostly me. My co-teacher when I moved to that coastal California teaching job (1972) was a person I liked a lot, and when I learned that her college major had been Anthropology, I remember just staring at her as I realized: OMG, I COULD HAVE MAJORED in anthropology! I had taken one 3-credit course in cultural anthro. and loved it, learning about other customs and religions… But I’d already changed majors twice and it didn’t occur to me till later.

    And I had loved to dance as a little girl, till kids started taking ballet lessons (I was already getting piano lessons, which was all we could afford). What I saw was mainly that I couldn’t do that kind of dancing, plus high school Phys. Ed. taught me that I “was clumsy and uncoordinated” (a lot of team sports). When I was 29 I discovered folk dancing as soon as I arrived in Mpls., which brought those two loves together – I call folk dance learning anthropology from the inside out.

    I’d still like to take some anthropology classes, but I find books…

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Having liberal parents who encouraged participation in the arts in all sorts of ways (dance, theater, music, visual arts…all of them), it was hard to rebel or need for a secret life. It occurred to me while I was in my 20s that the only thing that might shock my parents was if I brought home a bible-thumping Republican wearing a navy suit and “rep” tie (I was sort of dating a tattooed maker of bull whips at the time…). There was no need to keep secret my protests during the Reagan years, my participation in the Democratic Socialists of America or my subscription to Mother Jones magazine (heck, my mom signed me up as a member of Women Against Military Madness when they came by the house because she thought it suited my politics – and she was right). My friends were just as lefty-liberal, artsy and nerdy as me – so no secrets there, either. Makes a girl feel a bit ordinary.

    There were a few episodes from my not misspent youth that, for reasons of discretion, are best kept secret – nothing that would prevent me from being elected president, but enough to have some good stories to swap with the Dowager Countess should I ever have opportunity to visit Downton Abbey. 😀

    Liked by 3 people

      1. Yep. Back in the days when they were protesting at Honeywell and the police chief’s wife would get arrested for civil disobedience. I didn’t get in on any of their arrest-worthy protests.

        Liked by 1 person

  13. my dad asked me if i ever smoked pot when i was akid and i told him yeah. he asked again about a year or two later and i said yeah. he just shook his head and said im not sure why i ask if i dont know what to say when you answer.
    i found that if i did what i wanted and told them the right side of it when i got home the consequences were rarely a problem.
    i had a buddy in 4th or 5th grade that i used to go downtown on the weekends with. in 6th grade i went downtown to buy clothes and hats and jewelry from the cool stores and head shops that hippy and counter culture era provided to a suburban youth who wanted a piece of that . i ended up going to the warehouse district and shooting film and photos of the underbelly. it was there for the viewing in the 60’s and i ate it up. my parents would see me get on the bloomington bus company bus for a quarter or hitchhike to my destination if it wasnt on the bus line.
    i hung out with older kids who drove in 6th or 7th grade and had an exciting james dean kind of childhood. my vw van opened th eworld to me at age 16 when i took my first solo trip to the canadian rockies. i explained to my dad i needed to go at 16 because at 18 or 20 id need to be responsible. there was no arguing with that so away i went.
    i kind of thrived on meeting and surounding myself with secret life moments.
    i can hardly wait for my kids to grow up so i can get back at it again. i think ill tell my wife what im thinking about doing and see if she has any problems with it. you never know… she may think its a good idea either to join me or to get me out of the house.

    Liked by 2 people

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