I hate to follow a week of no posting with a largely negative piece.  However, this subject is what is foremost in my mind right now (other than my run-ins with the TSA this weekend over a pair of kitchen shears . . . hold on while I take a couple of calming breaths.  Okay.)

Working for yourself is one of the greatest things in the world.  You set the hours, you set the pay rate, you call the shots.  You get to do what you love when it's convenient for you.  It's delightful.

There are, of course, problems.  99 percent of those are money-related.  Because you don't have a front office or secretary, people feel free to argue with you as to why they don't owe you (or owe you that much) for your services.

Most of you know that in addition to teaching lessons, I also teach and tutor at a school, work for my church and attend grad classes.  I divide 40-50 hours between those four venues, and I count myself lucky; many teachers' hours are far more grueling.  I keep busy, though, so when people don't show up for appointments, it bugs me.

Last week, most students had off school for Memorial Day.  They know I teach on Memorial Day (I can't afford to take off for every government holiday!)  But for whatever reason, three families forgot.  Three in a row, no call, no show.  If you've never experienced this, it's difficult to describe the feeling: you bounce between worry and sympathy (maybe traffic's bad; maybe something terrible happened) and resentment (I hope they're having fun while I'm waiting for them!)  You're reluctant to start a project, because you think they might walk in the door at any moment.  So take all that, multiply it by two hours, and add the frustration of knowing my family is gathered and waiting for me at my parents' house; I told them I would be late, because I had lessons.  And I had to stick around until it was clear the last person wasn't going to come (about halfway through the lesson is when I usually give up.)

The next day, I received a very nice and apologetic e-mail from one mother.  I e-mailed the other two parents (again, a little concerned, and giving them the benefit of the doubt.)  One wrote back to say he was sorry and that he'd just forgotten, but I don't know whether he would have written if I hadn't written him, you know?  And the other wrote with no apology, just an explanation (she'd forgotten) and a request to make up the lesson as soon as possible.  I said no, of course.  I never do makeups for no-shows.  In fact, this is why I instituted an eight-hour cancellation policy; many times parents would e-mail or leave a message minutes before the start of the lesson, and I wouldn't receive it until hours later.  In the years since I adopted this, I've found people cancel much less often, which is in everyone's best interest.

My mom, who has taught piano for almost as long as I've been alive, has had far fewer problems with this.  I think a lot of it is due to the fact that, with no kids and little life experience, people just don't take me as seriously.  This is sad, but there's not much I can do about it.  Also, another part of me sees it as part of a widespread phenomenon that is more and more common: lack of follow-through.

Okay, I know every generation thinks the next one is going you-know-where in a you-know-what.  But this is different.  In all my years of dating, I've never had a guy make plans and then just fail to show up -- but my single girlfriends tell me this is common, and not just among obvious jerks.  Whenever Rob and I throw a party, we can count on approximately 10% of the "YES" responses to just not show.  This held true even for our wedding of several hundred guests.  Many of those people never apologized or offered any explanation, either.

During the AP Exams in May, there was a lot of buzz over a student who had walked out during the initial orientation (filling out name, address, etc.) and never returned to take the test.  I know the student, so and I asked her one day what had happened.  "I thought I wouldn't do well, and I just didn't feel like taking it," she said.  The school had gone into a frenzy, calling her house and both parents at work, grilling her friends, at the point of calling the police, when she finally answered her cell phone.  Why, I wondered, hadn't she told anyone she was leaving?  "I didn't want them to bug me about it," she said.

She was in for an unpleasant surprise: since she had skipped the AP Exam, which exempts students from the final, the school ruled she had to take a final exam instead.  Her teacher (a friend of mine) admitted to making the test pretty difficult.  He was at his wits' end, too, confused about what would cause a student who had prepared for an entire academic year to blow off the last day, especially when her parents had already paid close to a hundred dollars to take the exam. I told him I had seen that attitude a lot, and not just among her age group.  It's my life.  I don't owe you anything.

Is the problem getting worse?  Sure seems like it to me.  What do you think?