Wheedling to Ruin
The week after I left my job at Popular Woodworking Magazine, one of the advertising salesmen called me on my cell phone to chat. Which was weird because it was our first-ever phone conversation.
“Hey, congrats on going out on your own,” he said, which I think was sincere. “Good news. The people at Bessey Tools love your work and really want to support you.”
<curious noises on my end, ending in a question mark>
“They want to set you up with clamps. Whatever you want. And they don’t want anything back. Just hang them up and use them.”
I took a deep breath and didn’t say anything for an eternal five seconds. Here’s the narrative in my head: Oh my clamp-lacking donkey, I needed clamps. I didn’t have nearly enough, and I was always borrowing them from colleagues. And Bessey clamps were (and still are) my favorite. I was grateful for this kind gesture, which would make my life so much easier. But…
“Thanks, but no thanks,” I said. “I know it sounds stupid. But… Uh… Anyway, really, thanks. Please let them (Bessey) know that I love their stuff and almost all my clamps are theirs.”
<curious noises on his end, ending in an exclamation mark>
He did let them know my gratitude. I hope. I don’t know.
Two weeks pass, and I open my email.
It’s someone from General Tools. They’ve heard I’m out on my own now. And congrats. They Love my work. And hey, Quick Question:
“We’d like to send you one of everything we make – all the marking and measuring tools. No obligation. Just use them as you see fit.”
My reply was (deep breath with my fingers over the keyboard) OK, something like: “Thank you. But no thank you. Love your stuff. But I have everything I need – including your tools and those from other makers.”
For the next few months, these gentle questions and my deflecting answers were a regular part of my days as a newborn out-of-work editor.
Then things squealed to a stop. Advertisers from the magazine stopped calling. Toolmakers who’d asked me to review their tools stopped sending messages. They gave up. On the one hand, I was relieved for the silence. But on the other hand, I thought of all the other editors of woodworking magazines who’d vanished off the face of the earth when they either jumped or were pushed from the helm.
Will I now diminish? Should I grab onto these lifelines offered by manufacturers? Or should I fall back on my training as a journalist from the 1980s? Here’s a free summary from my four expensive years of newspaper training: Don’t take anything of value from anyone you write about. If your mother says she loves you, find two other sources who can confirm it. Overall: Trust, but verify.
I’ll be honest, this philosophy makes it difficult to make friends. You have to keep everyone at arm’s length, yet you want to pull people close to learn intimate things. You need friends because you don’t have institutions to prop you up. You look for people who are uncompromising. And if you’re lucky, you find Nancy Hiller.
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