Wednesday, May 12, 2010


If something seems too good to be true, it usually is.

I'm having to relearn this little axiom. Getting a refresher course as it were.

I've found myself not answering the calls or returning messages from someone who feels I owe them a great debt. And the thing is, I do. But I also feel I have done much to repay that debt.

Back when I was diagnosed with osteoporosis one of the things I did was join a gym. This gym had a section for cardio, fitness machines and free weights. I had been mostly just using the fitness machines and the cardio but was interested in learning to use the free weights so one day I approached one of the women trainers there at the gym. We talked about what I wanted, what I needed and she was interested in working with someone with osteoporosis as she felt weight training would be very beneficial but I could not in any way afford her at $50 an hour and she would want to work with me three times a week. Long story short, we agreed that I would pay her for one session a week (my personal allowance was $40 a week) and she would keep a tally for a future trade for the other two days a week. A killer deal.

At the time we made this bargain I don't think either of us imagined our association would go on for so long but in fact, she worked with me for six years. I only put an end to it a little over a year ago. I had become extremely uncomfortable with the weight of the debt she was keeping track of.

Over that period of time, on several occasions I asked her if she wanted to be released from this agreement since there was no way I could ever pay back the debt. “It's not always about the money,” she would tell me, “sometimes, it's about helping people.” And I felt that we had become friends over the years as well though we didn't associate outside the gym.

It's not like I took a blasé attitude about it. And it's not like she didn't get anything in return. We did a beautiful free standing piece of etched glass for her, she came many times to the shop and picked out a pate de verre piece for herself or as a gift for a friend. I did several small pate de verre pieces for her personally. I always gave her a lump sum of cash whenever we had a big job and I put myself at her beck and call if she ever needed help with anything. In fact I helped her move twice, helped her pick up a large piece of furniture on a separate occasion, I let her juggle my hour around to benefit herself and her paying clients, when I started bringing eggs in from the country to sell them for my sister, she always got two dozen and I never let her pay for them. So I was doing what I felt I could to help balance the scales. Still, six years of $250 - $400 a month going on the balance sheet quickly adds up.

When I finally quit that gym and ended our sessions together we talked about some work I would do for her. It took a long time for her and I to finally come up with something that she would like. We planned another freestanding piece of etched glass which we delivered in March and a set of 6 wall mounted pate de verre pieces which I have not started on yet.

In the last 6 months or so our relationship has deteriorated. She is impatient and I believe feels like she is going to get stiffed. I feel like she is pressuring me to drop everything and concentrate on her work. I'm unable to do that though as my income producing work has to take precedence (just as she juggled me around or canceled me to benefit her income producing work) and I do include her stuff in my work schedules but it does not have top priority. Actually, I did start on the large drawings for this new work but was unhappy with them so I need to start over.

So much for the friendship I thought we had. It has now become all about the money I owe her. Two days after we delivered this last piece to her, she was telling me she was going to tally it all up and give me the balance that I was still in for. I reminded her of the occasions when I had told her that I could not possibly repay the amount that was adding up and she could have ended our workouts with no hard feelings. She laughed it off. But now every communication I get from her is about 'the glass'.

I will do this last set of pieces for her and I will try and get them done sooner rather than later because when they are done, we will be done. And if she feels like I took advantage of her and stiffed her for what she is still owed, well, then I'll be sorry that she feels that way but I won't feel guilty.

I don't blame her really. It's my fault. I should have known better. There is no such thing as a free ride no matter how hard they try to convince you. I know that.

And I should have remembered.


  1. Sad story, Ellen. Indeed, there are no free rides but I would never have thought about applying that axiomatic truth to friendship, which, when true, is always freely given, freely received and freely shared. I wonder what an etched glass of "a pound of flesh" would look like.

  2. I agree that this is a sad story. But more than sad it is telling of her "investment" in you. It is one thing to give yourself away to something like service to another, but friendship has a whole other depth to it. I will say that you will be well rid of your feelings of indebtedness towards this person. Let yourself be free of her and her mercenary ways.
    Be free little birdie.......get her off your back and outta yo head.

  3. A good friend once told me there are no debts in friendship.

    If she believes money is more important, than she doesn't understand the value of friendship, and she doesn't deserve yours.

  4. What a sad story. The truth is, sometimes it isn't about the money, it's about some kind of weird power-over dynamic. Once you quit the gym, she no longer had the power and that's when things went sour.

    It sounds like she has been richly paid for the training she offered to you. One of your pieces of etched glass is worth a whole hell of a lot.

    Lessons learned, yes, but oh ... I bet the whole story leaves a bitter taste in your mouth. Yikes!

  5. I agree with Reya about it seeming to be a power thing - otherwise if she was just being greedy she'd be asking for cash I think.

    I wonder how I can make you indebted to me so that I can have some of your glass? I did NOT just say that! I would NEVER. I think I'll just go to your site now & buy something. Sheesh!

  6. I'll have to agree with Reya. I've had some "friends" who enjoyed a certain control over me. When they no longer felt it, then the relationship fizzled. It sounds to me like you are better off without her. Pound of flesh is right!

  7. RELEASE HER! Reya said it! Sounds more like a control power trip.You have well and truly paid her above and beyond - your pieces will increase in value- as art is want to do-release her! Tell her mission acomplished- your art will fetch way more than her training has given you, in the's dimes to doughnuts.A lesson well learned and thanks for the reminder!

  8. Weeeeel...I think the real story here is undervaluing ourselves, which is something most creatives (especially me) do. I suspect the two of you are a lot closer in the exchange than you think. The difference is that she's been doing a job; you've been doing favors in exchange.

    You price a job; you don't count the cost of a favor, which makes it tough to communicate the value of your creative work. A job has clearly defined boundaries and prices; work that's your life, as it is with most creatives, gets so intertwined it's hard to put a price on it.

    Personally, I'm learning that when I give someone a $750 piece of pate de verre as a housewarming gift instead of a $25 azalea, I'm being unfair to both of us. If they realize the value of what I just gave them, they know I've been wildly extravagant and it embarrasses them. If they don't, I'm setting myself up for resentment when they don't appropriately value what they got. (There was this time my sister turned the 1800-piece cast-mosaic vessel I made for her birthday into a fruit bowl...)

    It might help you to sit down and list all the "dayjob stuff," i.e., the glass products and services, that you've provided, price them out as you would to a gallery or total stranger, and see just how much you HAVE contributed. She knows you make a living from your creativity, but I doubt she knows how much--an itemized tally might be instructive. You can show her paid invoices for like work, and let her do the math...but please stop telling her you couldn't possibly pay for it. I think you already have.

  9. A piece of your art is worth way more than I am sure you owe her. This is such a sad tale...but relationships started or based on money changing hands never turn out well. And I do speak from experience. I hope things work out soon for you. You don't need something like this hanging over your head. Saps your creativity.
    Be well dearest one!

  10. Ugh. Nothing like the weight of debt. Seems like you were super clear. And it seems petty for her to press you. Hope you can get that one off the "balance sheet" soon so you can focus on that which nourishes not depletes you!

  11. Reya's is certainly the voice of reason here. The sooner you finish your association with her, the better. I hope this settles soon. That kind of stress is so difficult.

  12. “It's not always about the money,” she would tell me, “sometimes, it's about helping people.” And I felt that we had become friends over the years as well though we didn't associate outside the gym.

    That is the point where the ledger should have been burned. She was not true to her words nor was she honest in her beliefs. And now she's being impatient?

    An "F" word comes to mind. But I digress...

    I think there is a very easy solution Ellen. Your current piece for her should be your last and should hold the value of the remaining "balance" of her services to you. I mean, art is a very personal thing and it's value is whatever you assign to it.

    In fact, finish the piece according to your timetable and tell her it's worth six million - keep the change.

    That will shut her up and hopefully make her go away for good.

    You don't need "friends" like that. And besides... what she gave you was intangible. What you're repaying her is priceless. She's making out waaaaay better in this deal and she knows it.

  13. You know, I had never thought about it being a power thing but now that you bring it up, I can definitely see it, especially knowing what I do about her relationships with other people, a subject we talked about a great deal. Thanks Reya for shining a light on this for me.

    Thanks also to all of you who also saw more clearly than I. Obviously we were not the friends I thought we were. And I guess I probably knew it. It was such a relief when I ended our workouts together. I will complete this last set of pieces because I did agree to it. And I will feel that the scales are well balanced regardless of her feelings.


I opened my big mouth, now it's your turn.