Write me a letter, with a real stamp on a real envelope. Or even an email.
Don’t call. I won’t answer.
I used to have a listed telephone number in my retreat house, where people paid for solitude and silence to work on their writing. The message on that phone said that the phone was never answered by a human being, and asked that the caller leave a message, or reach me through my website or Facebook pages.
Yet year after year, that phone rang while some writer was trying to work. I silenced the ringer, and the calls continued. Every caller ignored my outgoing message. Salesmen droned on about their products, or elderly voices said, “Hello? Hello? Why doesn’t she answer?” I was living elsewhere at the time, and finally had the phone removed.
My policy of requesting that you write to me developed after years of thought, much of it waiting, waiting, waiting with a telephone receiver pressed to my ear. When I worked for newspapers, I often took notes while my callers provided information. The phones were equipped with a handy apparatus that sat on my shoulder and held the receiver against my ear so I could type madly while keeping my neck muscles tense so the thing didn’t fall off.
Now, when most people have phones with screens on them and multiple functions, I have an itty bitty cell phone that can’t be clamped to my ear unless my hand is holding it. I can’t type that way, so I can’t take notes. Therefore I use the cell phone to make calls at my most convenient time. I have a list of people who have this number so when they call I can, at a glance, decide if I must interrupt whatever I am doing to respond.
Most of the people on that list know and respect how I use my cell phone, and know that if they leave a message, I will return their call as soon as possible. The people who don’t know I have their number don’t need to know. I call them back too, when I’m not in the middle of something more important.
Remember, I am a writer. If you want to talk to me, you have to write.
Writing takes a lot of thinking time, preferably without interruption. I may spend this time walking the grasslands that are my primary inspiration (when chigger season is over), or sitting at my desk, or pacing my office.
I may not look busy, but my brain is chugging and whirring and spinning and creating.
The folks who have lived with me have learned that when my office door is closed, or I am wandering around mumbling to myself, I am busy no matter how it might look. If I lose that line, that inspiration, I may never get it back, which will destroy the power of that poem or that sentence in an essay.
Look at the positive effects of writing to me:
If you write to me, I can read your request at a time of my choosing.
If you write your request, I will cheerfully read it and respond when doing so is convenient for me. For that reason, I will be more likely to do whatever it is you want me to do.
If you write, I can form an opinion about your literacy, which may be particularly useful if you are asking to interview me or come to Windbreak House for a retreat.
If you write, I don’t have to leap up in the middle of eating a good meal to listen to what you have to say because you have the time or the impulse to talk to me right now. I won’t grow more annoyed while my meal gets cold and the conversation dwindles away.
If you write, the insistent ringing may not drive from my brain that line that I’ve been thinking about for 20 minutes as I revise a poem.
If you write your request, I can think about it, instead of having to give you an answer immediately.
If you write your request, I don’t have to call you back, and listen to your message, and leave a message, and listen to your message when you call me at an inconvenient time, and call you back and leave a message, and so on ad infinitum.
If you write, you might keep your message concise, instead of rambling on about why you couldn’t call yesterday because your dog threw up.
P L E A S E:
— do not send me photographs;
— do not send me attachments;
— do not text me;
— do not send me anything that requires my phone to dance the hula or contact Mars to respond.
Smart phones might be able to do these things.
My phone is an elderly flip phone. When you send me anything but a voice mail, the phone tends to smoke, gurgle, whimper, and stop working, which irritates me so much I might never return any call you make henceforth.
My old flip phone serves my purposes: I can dial a number and talk to someone on it.
I do not want or need a phone that sends photographs, plays tunes, stores games, or sings Happy Birthday or yodels the national anthem.
Please: don’t call. Write.
Linda M. Hasselstrom
Windbreak House Writing Retreats
Hermosa, South Dakota
© 2019, Linda M. Hasselstrom
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