This morning in my Facebook memories were photos of one of the best days of my life here in Monte Vista. The new Valley Art Co-op (of which I was a member) was about to have its grand opening. I didn’t know any of the people, I liked everybody, was living with my post-teaching resolve just to be nice to people and was in the first blush of love with this place that has turned out to have many sinister little corners. I still love it very much, but it’s not Heaven. The Valley is Heaven, but where people go gets complicated though human complications and nature’s complications are similar — if not the same.

The local window painter had decided against joining the co-op and everyone wanted the windows painted for the Grand Opening. They were mirrored windows and no one could see inside to the shop so this was important. Someone hired the local window painter to paint the windows beside the door, but there were (miles?) of windows and the co-op had no money. I also think, maybe, some of this painter’s friends who were members were a little angry and very disappointed that she hadn’t joined in the experiment of an art coop..

“Can you paint windows?” someone in authority asked me.

“Sure,” I said. I never had but…

I spent a few days sketching and planning the windows. I saw them as the San Luis Valley. People (tourists) driving by the co-op would see the whole valley painted there. We were the VALLEY Art Coop so that made sense and no one complained. I didn’t know the valley well then (I still don’t) but I had a general, global idea. We were going to paint them as PART of the grand opening celebration.

I wanted to use tempera so they’d be easy to wash off, but the local professional window painter said I should use acrylic. I had a lot of craft acrylic so that was all good. The day before, I painted an underpainting of white so the next day all of the painters would have a place to start.

It was glorious.

During the various seasons (Christmas and Crane Festival) we added to the paintings.

Part of the Christmas window

The “calumny” began when the professional window painter got jealous and thought I was after her job. The gossip machine started to roll and it was ugly. First she (behind my back) accused me of using the wrong paint. I’d used what she’d told me to use but when I saw how hard it was to get off the window, I switched to tempera for all the seasonal changes. Then she went at me publicly in front of the Post Office and then during the Christmas show of the art guild we were both members of. Calumny was heaped upon my head (which, I understand from 19th century novels, is the usual way of dispensing calumny). She even went and scraped off part of the painting. OH WELL.

Her life would have been so much easier if she’d just 1) joined the co-op in the first place and painted the windows herself, 2) asked me if I wanted to paint windows all over town and compete with her (I didn’t). But strangely how people often don’t do the easy thing.

How does this relate to nature? Ah, geese. At this moment, the two geese families and their babies (almost fully grown) are swimming serenely together in the pond as if the competitive ugliness of spring mating, nest building, egg sitting had never happened. As if they hadn’t gone at each other with the full capacity of killing each other.

And this town “pond” — like that at the Refuge — is small. In the passing years, this woman and I have participated in shows together. Last year, with Covid, the show at the museum still happened, but we artists were pretty much the only people there. She sat down beside me and opened up. I just listened, thinking to myself, “OK, you’re sorry, but you still did that. I forgive you because you thought I was after your bread-and-butter, but you could have saved yourself and me a lot of grief back then and never had to carry around this thing you’ve carried around for 5 years by just TALKING to me.”

Words from Hamlet went through my mind:

“Use every man after his desert and who shall ’scape whipping? Use them after your own honor and dignity. The less they deserve, the more merit is in your bounty.” Hamlet (2.2)

It was one of those “There but for the grace of God moments.” No one likes calumny heaped upon their head, and I feel about her now the way I feel about rattlesnakes. I don’t seek them out, but I appreciate their role in the ecosystem and see their beauty.

32 thoughts on “Calumnation

  1. Her ego was not being fed. I guess she thought if she didn’t do it, nobody would. They would learn their lesson! I remember you posting about this. It was a shame then, and still is. I do love the idea of seasonal painting. That could have been so much fun.

    • I don’t think she’s OK in her head/heart whatever. She’s extremely vulnerable and tends to blame other people. It’s her schtick but pretty self-destructive. But two things I’ve learned here. 1) artists are egocentric, 2) small towns are just like big cities but with fewer people (duh). 🙂

        • Something is definitely not OK with her. I feel a lot of compassion for her along with caution. And, as I’ve gotten to know more people here in the interval of 7 years, I’ve heard that she just does that. ❤ it's pretty sad.

  2. I learned a new word today AND read a great story! Sorry you had to go through all that Martha, especially when you were new to the area. I’m glad everything more or less has worked itself out. I hope she feels like a heel:)

  3. When I’m feeling cynical, which happens sometimes, I wear my “I used to be a people person, but people ruined it for me” t-shirt. Makes me feel better.

  4. Those windows were indeed glorious! Wow. What a sight to see. Yeah, if only she had talked this out back then. Talking instead of nursing grudges should happen more often in this world, but it doesn’t and here we are. People just make up crap out of a situation and the fall-out can be nasty. I admire your forgiving nature.

      • Same here. I’m slammed with that now since I’ve been running our condo board since December. A conversation could go a long way towards preventing ill will. Otherwise it’s time consuming crisis management. Almost daily. But I keep trying! 🙄

        • Oh god. I remember my aunt running the HOA in her townhome complex. When she was done, ‘Never never again.’ I guess we all have a tendency to believe our assumptions about others are accurate perceptions.

          • I totally understand what your aunt meant. It’s been an eye opener about people on many levels. I keep thinking…everybody has a story…so I can try to make some sense out of nonsense. Who knows what’s going on with people, especially those who’ve lived a long time. It’s hard though.

            • I said to a friend today that even when you’ve had a (comparatively) long life, life is short. I also thought about how I live here. I’m like an iceberg. There’s a part floating through Monte Vista but so much more than that below the surface. I suspect all of us are that way at a certain point when most of our life is behind us and we know what people expect to see/talk to etc. Out at the Refuge I frequently run into the man who was my neighbor last year, who had three Trump flags hanging in front of his house. He’s an incredibly nice person who understands about Bear and always keeps his dog apart so that there’s no risk of trouble. He knows I love his dog. I helped him shovel his walk last winter. He has NO IDEA the effect of those Trump flags on me, how much I hate everything Trump stands for. He drive the Meals on Wheels throughout town every day and I know his life story. He doesn’t know mine. People here open up to everyone. I know so many peoples’ life stories, their challenges, illnesses, fears, it’s crazy. The whole thing just seems completely insane to me, what older people carry inside themselves.

              • It is insane. It’s almost like we fill up with more and more story lines as the years go by. Some things fit and some don’t, but there they are. People tell me their life stories all the time. Spontaneously. Even people I barely know. I don’t spontaneously share and am rarely asked, which is fine. The Trump thing is bizarre. I have friends who have dropped other people because of him. But I can’t do that. We just don’t discuss…that topic. They can be very nice people, like your neighbor. And, I agree, life is short no matter how long you’ve lived.

                • Exactly. So many story lines. I don’t spontaneously share, either. But I have really felt the burden of other peoples’ stories in the past year. I think that’s one reason I’m not eager to get out there. I love the little museum in Del Norte and the woman who runs it is wonderful, but her life right now is harrowing (husband going down quickly with Alzheimers; various other family stuff) and I discover I can’t handle it. I don’t want to hear it. It’s like I’ve hit a kind of limit with everything right now. I was looking at the Washington Post yesterday (it arrives in my email) and I thought, “OK, so everything’s completely fucked up everywhere” and I cancelled my subscription. I can’t do anything about anything. It isn’t that I don’t care; it’s that I DO care. I guess that’s what they call “compassion fatigue.”

                  • Oh my. This sounds like me. I absorb the sad/negative/distressing vibes of whatever I hear from people. It is wearing and overwhelming. I get why you canceled the Post. After a while it’s all a swirl of crap in my head and I wish there was an on/off switch. Or at least a pause button. This especially hits when combined with family (of origin) drama & ongoing crises. Old stuff. Old awful stories. I care but can’t fix it, but they keep coming to me with the newest chapters. Compassion fatigue is a very apt term. It is a burden. Maybe we are too good at listening.

                    • I read an article in a local magazine this morning that I’m going to share in a post at some point. It seems that long long long ago in the time of smilodons and mastodons there was a brave, smart little girl who had it figured out. I deal with this a whole lot better when I can get out with Bear somewhere, but summer makes that really difficult. Bear is a better philosopher than I am. We need a necklace or something that has a “sorrow meter” on it so we can communicate “Nope, sorry, full.” ❤

                    • Oh I like that necklace idea. A lot. ❤️ We could retrofit it to emit a beeping sound when the meter registers Full – if someone gets too close (or a prerecorded “GTFA from me” 😉). That long ago story sounds intriguing. I look forward to the post.

  5. I needed this, Martha. I remember this story (and chuckled that she actually scratched some of the painting off) and you and she speaking again last year. I share a similar attitude about certain pond dwellers. You’re last paragraph bought a tear to my eye. Sums up how I feel about some humans right now. And so, before all the concrete trucks get here later (garage project STILL going on) I’ll hustle off to a little non-Covid piece of refuge I recently found. I can’t tell a soul where it is. 🤍❤

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