Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Hangin' on the Telephone

I may have mentioned this before. I'm pretty sure I have, since I have an existing tag called "I Hate the Phone." But yeah, I hate the phone. Specifically, I really hate making phone calls. My feelings about making phone calls vary, but they range from mild annoyance to sheer terror.

I had one of the (thankfully rare) sheer terror moments today. I have to admit, I worked myself up into it over a period of a few days. Here's the story: I responded to a notice on my grad school's alumni e-mail list--a fellow alum was looking for an editor to tidy up a novel manuscript for a friend. She was moving out of the area, and he was looking for someone who could help with grammar, syntax, and formatting, since English is not his first language (he's Italian) and he's also elderly (in his 80s).

I thought it sounded like an interesting project--a semi-autobiographical WWII novel called I Due Villaggi that's already been published in Italian. I called the alumna and she was very nice and encouraged me to give him a call. She said the guy is very sweet but a bit hard of hearing and difficult to understand over the phone due to his accent, so he'd probably want to meet in person to talk about it. He lives in Oakland. Fine. Whatever. I can go to Oakland.

But then the anxiety started. At first it was just the usual mild stress at having to make a phone call to a stranger about a job. Not that big a deal. As a freelancer, I have to do that periodically, and I find it stressful, but...working is good. Then I kept thinking and ruminating about the fact that he's in his 80s, and hard of hearing, and possibly difficult to understand; and I started having these horrible visions of not being able to make myself understood if I called, or not being able to understand anything he said, or having my brain freeze up and not being able to communicate clearly.

Normally, when I have to make a phone call and I'm anxious about it, I have to just eventually decide to DO it--and by the time I hit that "dial" button it's too late to NOT do it, if that makes sense. At that point I just have to suck it up and get it over with. But if I've managed to get myself overly anxious about it, I start to feel like the worst possible scenario I can think of will in fact pan out, or at the very least, my brain will implode. Today, I could hardly manage to convince myself to make that call. ONE phone call to a person I don't know for a job that I want, okay. TWO phone calls to people I don't know, one of whom might not understand me and I might not understand them--well, that's just panic-inducing.

Part of me almost would have preferred to call the alumna back and tell her I couldn't do the job after all, but the other part of me realized how utterly ridiculous that would be. I did manage to make the call. It took me a few hours to work up to it, and some considerable self-bribery with coffee and a long reading break and the promise of having gotten it over with.

As it turned out, I could understand the guy just fine 98% of the time. I mean, my mom taught college-aged ESL students for 15-plus years. I'm used to deciphering accents. Hell, a good portion of my family and stepfamily are from different countries and have accents. Evidently, in my anxiety, I had forgotten these important facts. Also, he seemed to be able to hear me OK, for someone in his 80s, for cripes' sake. I'm still anxious because I'm supposed to call him back in a couple of days to arrange an in-person meeting, but for some reason that stresses me out less than a phone call. Go figure.

"It's about 300 pages," he said, when we were talking about the project. "Does that scare you?" "No," I said, laughing. And no, it doesn't--it doesn't scare me nearly as much as having had to make that stupid phone call.

4 comments:

TadMack said...

Oh, yeah, I seriously feel you on this. I'm also not looking forward to wandering into bookstores, finding managers, shaking hands, smiling, handing them my book... the in-person stuff is tough.

DaviMack said...

Do you find yourself having to ... talk yourself into things like this? I mean, by saying things like, "if I do this, then I can have ____" kind of thing?

"If I read ___ pages of articles for my dissertation tonight, I can have ___ popsicles...."

a. fortis said...

ALL THE TIME. Some things I can only bribe myself into doing. "If I make this phone call, I can take a coffee break afterwards." That's a frequent one.

DaviMack said...

At least it's only coffee you're bribing yourself with. ;)