I thought I was making a simple request. Yet the responses ranged from the few friends who shrugged and accepted my “odd” need, to the many who just ignored my plea. What enormous thing had I asked for? Not to be phoned before 3:00 in the afternoon – because that was my writing time.
“Unless,” I foolishly added, “it’s an emergency.” Strange what constitutes emergency for some people. A few days later I had a call from a friend who said, ”I know you said not to phone but this is important. My hair’s a mess. Do you know a good beauty parlor?
Even those who honor my request sometimes cloak their words in patronizing passive-aggressive vocabulary: “I know it upsets you to be called…” I explain it isn’t that I’m “upset”, like some weak heroine of bygone movies. It’s just that I need uninterrupted time to write.
My request was actually made years ago when I was working on my first book, “Widow’s Walk.” Since it was emotionally difficult to write I expected understanding from a friend who’s a psychologist. We went to dinner one night and she proceeded to analyze my neurotic behavior. ”You should see a shrink about why you can’t be phoned while you’re writing,” she pronounced.
Choking on my curried chicken, I tried to curry empathy. “When I’m writing it’s as if I’m under water and a phone call shocks me to the surface and it’s hard to get back into the book.”
My clumsy metaphor failed to work.
So the next time my psychologist friend attacked the subject I asked, “Do you take calls when you have a patient with you?”
“Of course not,” she said. “But it’s not the same. I’m working.”
Sometimes, I admit, my need to be undisturbed backfires . Like the morning when the phone rang and I grabbed it to bark into the receiver, ”What is it?” The “it” turned out to be an agent who wanted to accept my manuscript! Fortunately she accepted my stammered explanation.
I’ve tried keeping the phone off the hook, but the click-click-click is equally disturbing. A writer friend asked, ”Why don’t you let the answering machine take messages?” Sounds reasonable, but even if the volume has been turned off a corner of my mind keeps fretting whether I should call back, maybe it’s important, she/he might be offended, etc. So this morning when I saw from Caller ID that it was a call from a friend who’s seriously depressed I felt obligated to pick up the receiver. She said, “I figured you wouldn’t answer if this is a bad time.”
“It is a bad time,” I said ungraciously, “but it’s okay.” (What that means is anyone’s guess.) She talked for some forty minutes, then I spent another forty minutes trying to swim back into my story.
My only consolation is that I’m far from alone in this. At a lecture some years ago I heard a well-known British author say she hated phone interruptions when she was writing. Afterward I went to the table where she was signing copies of her new book and asked, “Why don’t you let an answering machine take the messages?”
“What a splendid idea,” she said.
Phone calls can be a common hazard for all of us who work at home, not just writers. So I share what I think is our best line of defense: “I don’t ask you to understand my need. Just respect it.”
Then hang up.
“WIDOW’S WALK” – available through iUniverse.com
“TURNING TOIWARD TOMORROW”- xLibris.com
‘TEN WOMEN OF VALOR” – Create Space.com & Amazon.com