It’s a quiet Monday night. I’m home from a casual work session at the train club, working out a blog for the coming week. Unlike most nights, I’m carrying a production pager (the kid who is supposed to have it is visiting his fiancée in Toronto and everyone else has kids this weekend, so against my better judgment, I took it).
I’m in that writer’s space now: all the thoughts, words and elements neatly switching around in my head, aligning. I can see where I’m going, the points I’ll make, the specific words that will punch meaning across. The words are starting to flow and I’m totally involved and twittletwittletwittle…
I look over. The pager is going off.
Imagine your worst Indian support person. That’s what I’ve got from ops, some women who is babbling away a mile-a-minute in a singsongy voice, telling me that servers are crashing, everything is failing. I flinch and check the time – the guy who agreed to back me, who’s pager I’m carrying, is on his way to the airport to fly home. He’s off the grid.
I ask her to describe what she is seeing but she cannot. I ask her to post me a cut out of the log files but she has no access to email (???). I tell her that I need to hang up and consult with a designer about what is really happening but she cannot drop the call, otherwise she’ll be unable to reestablish it. Everything I try, she’s in the way, about as helpful as wet clay.
So I’m bringing up my roster, trying to dial a designer with my left hand while logging into a work session with my right, the cellphone clamped under my chin. While I’m doing this, she says she can give me an ID number. Now, I’ve heard of pids and ter numbers and all sorts of things, but not an ID number. She tells me to write it down, which I do. “10T”. Okay, so WTF does that ID mean?
I’ve gotten a little further (with her tinny yackyyack in my ear) when suddenly the nature of the call changes.
And I look down at my scratch pad. That ID number? ID:10T? D’ya see it? Uh oh.
Turns out its one of my Indian female coworkers who wanted to make sure we were going jogging the next day (in preparation for the 5k we’re running soon). And this little prank she’s pulled was just a whim. And yes, she got me good.
But when I hung up, I realized that everything I’d mentally assembled was gone. The logical sequence of presentation that is writing had vanished. There was no way of rebooting my mind and getting back into it – writing was over for that evening.
The same thing happens in Douglas Adam’s Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, where, to prevent Samuel Taylor Coleridge from penning The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, a time traveler plays off as a traveling lightning rod salesman and bothers the poet so much that he cannot write his classic, now or ever. That’s how bad a distraction it was. And I knew the feeling.
Generally, it’s a bad idea to take any calls while writing. If its a salesman, you’re screwed. If it’s a friend, even worse. I don’t know about you, but most people, when told that you need to hang up because you are in the struggle of creativity, take that as to mean that they should just tell you all their crap faster, as if speed, not content, is the issue. What they don’t understand is that the mood is broken, the writer’s thread of concentration lost, everything destroyed.
Sometimes (like in this case) you might as well shut down the word processor for the night. Maybe you can recover, but probably it won’t be as sharp as it was before, so why bother?
The best thing is to not take any calls.
p.s. I took a call while writing this, from one of those police benevilent societies that allow telemarketers to profit off dead police officers. I said no thanks and hung up. How ironic.
p.s.s. I got back with my coworker, not as cleanly but still, it was something. Serves her right!