Several years ago I read in one of those “self-help” publications that one must treat her telephone as her best friend and business ally.
“In order to receive good news via telephone one must treat each phone call as a potential source of good news,” the article said.
– Ah, how wonderful! – I thought. – Besides working hard making my films and sending them out to as many film festivals as I can if I also kiss good night to my phone and tell it “I love you” time to time then I will be as successful as Bill Plympton!
I had observed in the past that Bill Plympton eagerly picks up his phone every time it rings as if missing a phone call would mean missing an Oscar nomination.
I, on the other hand, am only happy to miss a phone call. Once I spent my whole birthday lounging in bed, napping, reading magazines and listening to my answering machine picking up phone calls wishing me happy birthday. That surely beat going to an overpriced restaurant where it’s too loud to talk. Throwing a party for 100 people is too much work, too. But after deliberately missing hundreds of phone calls and responding to the ones I got with: -Ah, it’s you. What do you want? – my phone stopped ringing.
Reading that “self-help” article made me realize that my relationship with a phone should be improved.
– I love you, – I said to the phone and kissed it. – Now bring me good news!
It rung. I picked up.
– May I speak to Signe Baumane?
– Yes! – I said as cheerfully as I could, beating my default mode of over-caution. – This is Signe.
– We are a documentary film production company and we are looking for an animator.
A job offer! Great! The article is right – the phone love pays off!
– We like your work and we were wondering if you’d be interested to work with us.
– Of course, I am very interested!
Images of piles of gourmet food and piles of brand new underwear flashed through my head. I needed some cash quite badly.
– Great. We should start by setting up a meeting to get going on storyboards.
Hmm. Strange, they didn’t ask what was my fee. The view of gourmet food got obscured by a cloud of mist. Is there any money in this? How do you ask the money question without appearing to be greedy, or needy? But not asking the question now will lead to unnecessary ambiguity and wasted time later.
I broke into sweat and blurted out:
– What is your budget for animation?
Phew… That was a good way of asking how much they intend to pay me. Good move, Signe!
– We actually don’t have a budget for animation.
– You don’t?
My heart rate went from 70 bpm to 120 bpm. I started to feel the trap – I had expressed my interest to work on the project just a minute earlier, how will I reason the jump to disinterest?
– We were hoping you’d work for free.
You were hoping? How about MY hopes? This was the time to cut the conversation short and hang up. But every time I did that growing up (- Can I have that cupcake? Oh, I can’t? Goodbye!) my mother punished me (now I realize she just needed any excuse to make me weed her garden).
The impulse to be nice prevailed. Small talk makes people happy. Anybody who called me should feel happy, so I ask:
– How many minutes of animation do you need?
– Anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes.
1/3 of their doc is going to be animated and they don’t have a budget for it. I need to enlighten them what it takes to make it happen.
– 10 minutes of fully rendered color animation will take me anywhere from 6 month to one year to make. I need to pay rent and eat during that time.
– How about 7 minutes?
I should give them a tough-sounding reply. Here it is:
– I really can’t. Sorry.
– 5 minutes?
They really want me. I am flattered.
– So, yes?
They are very pushy. I should get off the phone before I commit to the biggest mistake of my recent life.
– Let me think about it.
But there is nothing to think about. I just need to get off the phone politely.
– Think about it. Our project will save lives of thousands of starving children and it will enlighten millions of dimwits. You really want to be part of our project – it the the Future of our Planet.
Who can say “no” to the Planet? My set of values is set against me.
– OK. I’ll think about it.
– We will call you in 2 days.
I hang up and take the rest of the day off to recover from that phone call. I feel bad for rejecting my Planet, but how can I reject my survival needs?
The next time the phone rings I jump, startled.
– No, I don’t love you, – I tell the ringing phone before picking it up.
– What did you decide?
– Email me detailed info on your project and I’ll get back to you via email! – I shout my orders into the receiver and and hang up.
The doc company emails me the info and in 15 minutes I write an elaborate eloquent reply why I can’t save Future of Planet by starving myself.
I am wary of picking up the phone and when I do it is always with suspicion and irritation – I hate to be interrupted. And the person who calls always wants something that I don’t quite have – my time, my money, my compassion.
Yes, I am that bad, that selfish, that self-absorbed, putting my current project above other humans’ needs.
It is striking to me how many people love phones so much that besides landlines they also have several cell phones. I am happy to walk away from a phone that might ring. I am happy to discover that I have forgotten my cell phone at home. I rarely listen to messages and don’t look who’s call I missed. In the age when everybody is keen on getting more connected, I am bent on getting less connected.
Well. If you don’t count email. I write about 50 emails on a slow day. With email I don’t feel the pressure that a phone call puts on me. There is no immediacy, I can respond when I have time and when I get my mind prepared.
Email never interrupts me. It delivers good news with the same silence as the bad news. Bad news I can just ignore by deleting them. I can dwell on good news by reading them over and over again. When I get angry at an email I can shout at it in privacy before responding politely in writing.
– I love you, – I tell my email. It might be a little homoerotic love.
I perceive phone as a male, with it’s hard, rigid, tangible structure. Even if it is unreliable, it is there.
Email, on the other hand, is like ovaries – no one ever sees it, but everyone knows it exists as it sends it’s proof of existence once a month via menstruation.
It turns out, Phone Phobia does exist. About.com says so:
- feel extremely anxious when making or receiving calls?
- delay making phone calls due to anxiety?
- worry about bothering the other person?
- worry about what you will say?
- worry about embarrassing yourself?
- avoid making calls or have others call for you?
- obsess what was said after calls?
When on the phone do you…
- have trouble concentrating?
- feel nauseous?
- feel your heart race?