“When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” Maya Angelou
As an artisan, the tools and materials you work with are concrete and finite, predictable and dependable. Humans can be capricious, contradictory, vain, temperamental, and (occasionally) refreshingly decent. Some people just are not honest, and neither handshake nor contract will make it so. If you do succeed in dragging them up to the line, they will forever damn you with faint praise. One of the most insidious manipulations is essentially a twist on the classic victim-persecutor-rescuer triangle in which the disappointed patron switches from loyal supporter to victim of the artisan’s bid for independence. [Don’t hesitate to use your wand, a stupefying spell works wonders here.]
This morning at the Farmers’ Market, I came across several people that I have fallen out with over the years. Individuals whom I no longer trust to be fair-minded or whose affect is so consistently cynical or sarcastic that their company became intolerable. Do other people have similar experiences when they live someplace for a really long time, or is it just that I expect too much? Several of these folks have a substantial improvement to their homes at my expense, and they’ve never made the first move to compensate me. The others have for a short time made work less than enjoyable, and I’ve done with them.
A meeting of the minds requires effort from both sides. Eye contact, a smile, an open heart. Forgive, don’t forget. “…good fences make good neighbors.” Several years ago, I was thrown into a living and working arrangement with Clay O’Reilly, a zealous follower of the Alcoholics Anonymous 12-step program. Not ordinarily a drinker, contrariness moved me to buy a six-pack, go to the lakefront dock and work out tunes on my guitar. Clay came down later, and told me this story [he was from Arizona, and had married into a Navajo family]:
“I set out for a walk one morning with my brothers-in-law. We came across a break in the fence, and I started back the way we had come to fetch some tools. A short way down the road, they called me back to resume our walk. Having found some pieces of wire and a couple of sticks, they had mended the fence. Just like that. You learn to work with what comes to hand.”
This summer I replaced our sewer line, after years of living with clogged drains and litigious, entitled neighbors. I seem to have so little in common with these people, but managed to begin mending fences. We share boundaries, love dogs, fly-fishing, and enjoy a certain pride of place. We just won’t talk about politics: immigration, rights of minorities, rise of the capitalist oligarchy, excesses of US foreign policy, inexorable decline of democracy, or the systematic destruction of public education. For now. For now, the plumbing works and I haven’t precipitated a lawsuit.
In the early 90’s, I spent a winter in Maine working for a struggling publication called Joiners’ Quarterly. We rarely published on time, payroll was irregular as well. The housing market had taken a dive in the late 80’s leaving the owner/editor/publisher financially embarrassed. Irate building clients, hungry creditors (his father-in-law among them), and a litany of subscribers’ complaints occupied most of his time. I took to visiting a local roadside diner, where I fell into a conversation with one of the patrons. Something on the order of Little Feat’s “Dixie Chicken” ensued, and I had a minor epiphany: all small towns are essentially alike, everybody knows everybody, they have all had dealings, and some people can only be trusted if you are willing to work at keeping them honest.
Caveat emptor…Caveat Artisan!