Monday, May 27, 2013

my first negative post

Before you read this post from some years ago, I just want to say that it is negative and I'm a bit sad and confused that it is being looked at every week by quite a few people. The negativity doesn't sit well with me and I'm often tempted to take the post down, but the contributions in the comments by some supportive folk make me resist the urge. There are plenty of more positive things on this blog, so maybe don't spend too much time with this one.

Where do I start?
One of the reasons that I no longer want to run a business is that sometimes I feel used.

This lovely little viola is over 100 years old. A couple of years ago a muso and teacher from a very 'hands-on' musical family complained to me that her son needed a small viola, and what with fees and life and everything there was nothing around that could expand him musically in the alto clef. There was actually a longer story than that, but you get the drift. I had this viola, but it needed to be restored and set up for the first time probably since the First World War, judging by the strings and fittings on it. Now these people weren't poor, but they were local contributors and participators and I respected them, even held them in some esteem, and I wanted to be helpful in supporting the musical education of their son. So I did the works on the viola to make it useable and said they could borrow it for a couple of months while they worked out their finances, and the direction they wanted to go. I asked for no payment and just handed it over.

This was not unusual. At any given time over the last 20 years there has always been at least one instrument out there 'on loan' or being paid off over years without interest because I felt good being able to contribute. This has no doubt been the most rewarding part of the business for me. But there is this weird thing called 'the politics of charity' that is all too willing to come back to you for a bite. I won't expand on this because it is complex.

Most of the time a 'loan' gives someone a bit of support without any real cost to me, but the net result all round is positive. But sometimes I've been made to feel that life for others is so complicated that my ownership of the item is a nasty burden for the borrower and returning the goods is a challenge that the borrower is way too busy or weighed down by life to contemplate.

A couple of years after this loan was made, I rang the mother to touch base and see what her plans were, explaining that I was retiring and was running out of opportunities to sell the instrument. It turns out that the boy hadn't been playing the viola for some time, but they hadn't gotten around to returning it. That's OK. That's life, we get busy raising kids, no problem there...but could you please return it? Arrangements are made, apologies are given, the date passes by, nothing happens, a couple of months pass by and I have to be the nasty person who rings up to enquire. Note now I'm the policeman, the rule enforcer, the nasty greedy man who wants his stuff back. More apologies and a final return of the instrument.

What do I find? The case is covered in pet hair and dust inside and out, the bow has been left fully tensioned and therefore warped, the instrument is OK, although two strings are worn out. Net result? That loan has obviously cost me the opportunity to sell the viola. The real cost is not just the sale, the bow and the strings, but after 20 years of trying, I finally feel like giving up.

 It was not even worth their while to clean the case. How is it possible for me to feel dirty when I tried to be helpful?


  1. This person should know better. And there is no excuse for returning anything in a worse condition than when you got it, especially when it's a loan.
    You are, and have been, so generous over the years, lending instruments and giving students the opportunity to learn without a huge cost.
    There are many people out there who will remember you for that.

  2. over the years i have on countless occasions gone out of my way for students and their parents. very many appreciate it while some never say thanks and just take it for granted. on times like that i console myself with the knowledge that i was a good and generous person, that i did the right thing. i know on this occasion you have lost the opportunity to sell the viola and this is very bad, especially for a business. but i barely know you but have already worked out much about you and your nature robert. i'm with julia on this one

    you have been inspiring, learned and generous and very many of us will remember you for all of that

    arwen's meanderings

  3. How hurtful and disrespectful. When I was a young girl, the neck of my beautiful violin was snapped in an accident and I remember vividly the look on the violin maker's face when I returned to get it fixed. I realised then how much love went into his work and I was mortified that he should think I was so careless with it. Please don't let other people's lack of respect detract from the beauty and enjoyment of your work.

  4. I also have a few things "out there" on loan that I suspect will never be returned. Call it gullible or naive, but I like to believe people are honest.

  5. Thanks for those comments. I don't normally like to venture into negative territory, we all have enough of that already.

  6. I'm glad you expressed your feelings...

    You have shown me via a strong and steady example how to be loving, generous, kind and thoughtful. I feel so grateful.

    They missed an took a risk... and I couldn't be prouder!


  7. I think I've been on both sides of that equation. I know I have been helped a lot over the years by some really generous people and I hope that I've done a few things to help a few people. Try not to let the bad experiences slow down your generosity. It is worth so much more than the losses incurred.
    I still remember going in to a violin shop trying to buy hide glue when I was making my first mandolin. The owner didn't have much at the time, but went in the back and put some in an envelope and just gave it to me. The generosity coupled with the timing made a huge difference in my life.
    I'm sure some of your generosity has had effects that are way bigger than anything you can imagine.

  8. Points beautifully made Scott.
    This wasn't actually a major episode- there are countless examples, good and bad over the years, I guess this one just jelled in my mind as another confirmation of my need to just make stuff without running a business. And being a bit emotionally vulnerable while in the process of letting a good business go, I allowed myself the luxury of having a whinge....
    Thanks for your thoughtful input.