Phoning It In

As a writer, it is a mortal wound to have your words identified as cliché.

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To have nothing new to say, and nothing novel to offer, is to look down and see spurting lifeblood flowing from the femoral artery of your quill. You might as well place your hands upon your chest and lie flat with the waiting of the inevitable.

As a human being, to live a clichéd life is to miss out on the depth and breadth offered when handed the menu of all that is available whilst you still draw breath.

Would Madam prefer beef or chicken tonight? Or perhaps the fish? The chef has a lovely bit of Dover sole.

“No, tonight I shall have cricket as my protein.”

As you wish.

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But sometimes, no matter how hard you try to order ‘off menu,’ you are snapped back to form as if your life were fired in the kiln of shape memory alloy.

Turning the page will reveal a predictable, cringe-worthy, mulish experience. Sometimes there is nothing left to do, but soldier on.

And then blog it.

Words are everything to me. They are the more than one million flavors of communication available at my beck and call. They reside on my shelves, bound between covers in several ‘parts of speech pantries’ I never need to restock. But I have a preference as to how I like to use them. I rarely dish them up straight from the pan, hot and bubbling, but rather allow them to cool, their flavors to meld, taste-tested a dozen times before serving.

I like to write. Not so much to speak.

Which is why I detest … THE CONFERENCE CALL.

And if you have ever spoken to an individual in business that is part of an organization consisting of more than two people, and those ‘more than two people’ must communicate a lot of information that needs addressing soon and fast, you’ll likely have heard about just how bad conference calls can be. Or annoying. Or snooze-worthy.

Or disastrous.

I’m getting used to them. But I hate them more than I hate the thought of eating a slice of stinkbug pie—

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with a side of cowpie patty ice cream.

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Really.

I like to be prepared. Over-prepared. I don’t like surprises. I like to know what’s going to be discussed, and will have given it all a great deal of thought with most of those thoughts written down for handy reference. Spontaneity is not my friend. It is as if spontaneity and I met one day at a snow cone shop and spontaneity grabbed my cone and threw it down on the side walk. And all I can do is look at my cone melting in front of me with no idea what to say or do because I didn’t rehearse this part of life.

Yeah, meta.

But if I’m going to have one of those spontaneous, disastrous moments occur, I want it to be MY moment. And not a repeat of the cosmic collection of moments everyone else has already had and tweeted about.

But I didn’t. It was so … predictably, boringly normal.

Was I prepared with all my notes that I’d been gathering, writing and crafting for the last three weeks? Check.

Was I sufficiently caffeinated for focus, and now holding a brimming cup of chamomile tea to counter the effects of the previous jittery drink? Check.

Had I used the bathroom? Was my phone plugged into the socket so that soon it would be fully charged? Did I have a timer set to make sure I’d not call in late? Check, check and check.

I was ready.

Did my alarm not go off, and being fully immersed in work, I would not recognize it until ten minutes passed the call time? Check.

Once integrated into the call, did the house phone on my desk begin to ring with shrill hysteria, and did I suddenly discover that this phone had no ‘off’ ringer switch? Check.

Did the answering machine on the other side of the room kick in at full volume making it sound like someone else joined the call? Check.

Did the above scenario repeat itself verbatim sixty seconds later? Check.

Did the doorbell ring and set the dog into an absolute frenzy because someone unexpectedly showed up at a place that requires a travel agent and a spirit guide to gain access to? Check.

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Did I embarrassingly have to excuse myself to answer the door and calm the dog and yank the answering machine from the drywall? Check.

Did I return to find my phone had died because it hadn’t been properly secured into the outlet and therefore I’d dropped off the call from battery failure? Check.

While plugging it back in beneath my desk, did I bump the desk so hard that it knocked over my cup of tea onto all my well-prepared notes rendering them unreadable? Check.

Did I phone back in to join a group of people who were now seriously doubting whether I was firing on all cylinders? Check.

After sixty seconds of rejoining the call did my phone alarm finally go off reminding me and everyone else that it was time to phone into the conference call? Check.

Had I mistakenly allowed one of my girlfriend’s children to play with my phone the day before only to realize that the smarty pants had changed all my sound notifications to that of Pac Man dying? Check.

Did everyone on the phone call gasp in horror and accuse me of playing video games whilst on the call? Check.

Yes. It was disastrous. I failed miserably. And I have nothing new to offer the scenario of disastrous, failed, humiliating conference calls.

I am cliché. I am watching the lifeblood bleed out of what could have been an interesting story. I am resigned.

I am silent.

I am thoughtful.

I am determined.

Tomorrow, I eat crickets.

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~Shelley

*BONUS ROBIN GOTT CARTOON!* (click)

Don’t forget to check out what we’re cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all talked about down in the pub. Plus, you can see more of Robin Gott‘s humor–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone.

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75 thoughts on “Phoning It In

  1. Oh, my. What a horrible sequence. I’m totally with you on the need to be prepared. Surprises are not my thing either. And to top it off, someone actually makes it up your driveway in the middle of all this!????? Unbelievable that all these things came together at once. I’m convinced….either you weren’t meant to complete that call for some reason or else you’ve upset someone’s karma. I’m really sorry, but I can definitely assure you…..you are definitely anything but cliche! Even this little tale is told from a peak perspective! 🙂

    • I think you may have nailed it, Torrie. If I were to ask someone like Deepak Chopra, or the Dalai Lama, or … Oprah about their take on what happened, I bet most of them would say, “You were fighting against a plan that was already in place. You need to stay in your lane and sit in the sludge. All is as it should be.” And much more like that only more eloquently put and probably with a soporific accent. 😛

  2. I feel your pain. I could see this happening to me. I am neither a fan of conference calls nor surprises. Or phone calls. Or doorbells. Or…

    Thanks for a good laugh. Was a treat to read this. Loved the part about needing a travel agent and spirit guide to find your house. So funny.

    • We are birds of a feather, Carrie. And I think there should be some special sort of ‘work around’ clause for folks like us. Just like most recent studies addressing the fact that kids (and grownups) have different preferences with learning modalities, we should also create some sort of a campaign for people and their “working” modalities. Although, it’s a little scary to admit that it seems I prefer a sterile, non-invasive environment for my ideal work situation. It’s just one little skip away from someone identifying that I work best in a white, padded room.

  3. Mrs P, a cliche you are not. Maybe next time, try being totally unprepared and things may (may) go your way!? The cartoons are out of this world, I never, ever want to eat cow patty ice-cream, I really don’t.

    • What?? Our little Cheergerm couldn’t create some fabulous meal out of cowpie patties? I won’t believe it.
      And yes, I’m going to give some thought to the idea of occasionally showing up as a big ol’ blank slate with the hopes that I can embrace spontaneity at last. Or at least shake its hand. Maybe I should start with just making eye contact.

    • So I guess the answer is, make sure the next three years of classes are based around an “anti-conference call” success plan. Surely there are loads of professions out there that flourish without them. I bet biologist don’t have to be involved in too many. Or maybe upholsterer? Definitely ice cream truck driver.
      I’d give it some serious thought, Susannah.

  4. That hardly sounds cliche! I feel sorry for you, though, because I hate conference calls just as much. Spontaneity I can do, but my ability to form sentences has been severely compromised since coming to Japan… just last night, I was trying to describe something to a friend, and could not for the life of me come up with the word, or any of its synonyms, yet that word was integral to my conveying the proper meaning of my sentence.. so I just say there, hands extended as if they might be able to catch the rogue thing, before it became so awkward I used the wrong word just to get everyone to stop looking at me. 😛

    • I wish you could hear the ear-splitting groan that just came from my side of the screen, Alex. I cannot count how many times that has happened to me. I do the exact thing. Hands outstretched, waiting for a synaptic connection, and I’m becoming increasingly and uncomfortably aware that everyone is looking at me with giant thought bubbles above their heads that say, “Wait. She’s a writer??”
      Ugh.
      But you have a much better excuse. You’re trying to think of a word in a foreign language. I’m still fumbling around with the mother tongue.

  5. Oh the joys of the home office! Oh the wonders of technology! Oh the evil fates that do rain down upon us at the worst possible moments! Sounds like you had a bad day at the office, my dear. But I wouldn’t blame the conf call. Imagine if all those embarrassments had happened live? Or worse, recorded on video for posterity? Then again, I’m just like you on the spontaneity and preferring writing over talking. We writers don’t tend to present as well verbally as we do in print. Let’s lobby for a shift to live chat conferences instead of voice calls. Call them ‘thought conferences’. We might actually get some work done. 🙂

    • Yes! I vote we go with ‘thought conferences’ too. Brilliant idea, MEL. I’m going to propose a big chat room forum for next time. Likely it’ll last three times as long, as everyone will be waiting to hear my responses to their questions. I hope they won’t be able to see how many times I press the backspace bar. Awkward. And revealing. 🙄

  6. Honest Shelley I’m not laughing. Not while you’re still holding that cricket bat anyway. What a comedy of errors, a whole suitcase of disasters, you poor thing.
    At least you used up your bad luck for the whole year and an air of karma can return.
    Wishing you a wonderful Easter
    xxx Massive Hugs xxx

    • I love the sunshiny spin you put on it, David. Makes me have a bucketfull of renewed hope. It’s early April, and it’s all smooth sailing from here on out.
      And a happy bunny day to you and the family. I hope Reuben had some lovely surprises.
      Huge hugs to you too! xoxo

  7. Priceless. At least you didn’t dial the wrong number. I was only involved in conference calls twice, luckily more of a listener than participant, but I still had, and made, notes. Nobody else did, so my office used mine. The good news was that it was over lunch (provided by the company), and if anyone had been recording it, there was an awful lot of munching going on!

  8. Oh my. If anything requires the need for a single malt this is the thing. You had everything planned out but sometimes defecation just occurs. I haven’t had to experience many conference calls so I am indeed fortunate. I have had the awesome experience of standing by while my meticulous and thorough plans have crashed and burned. Ouch. This could leave a mark. However you took it like a pro. You offered up a crisp and imaginative writing with some very clever drawings. I especially liked the cricket service. I don’t see how you or anyone can consider your musings cliche. Come on. Stinkbug pie with cowpie patty ice cream. That might be standard fare in the Underworld, but cliche I don’t think so. Joyful read; as always.

    • Benson, you had me cackling at the Underworld cuisine hunch. I hope I never have the chance to confirm or deny it.
      And as is true every single week, I thoroughly enjoy reading your take on my post. Your comments are the antithesis of hackneyed phrases.
      Inventive as always, and much appreciated. Cheers

  9. Oh my. Never having had to make a conference call myself my only experience of them is when my husband works from home occasionally and seems to spend virtually all day on a series of them, but your blog had me nodding in recognition. Yup, I can just see it all happening and sliding inexorably out of control…
    I just loved the comic timing of intersecting Rob’s cartoons in the stink bog pie and cow patty ice cream – masterfully done. 🙂

    • And may the luck of the connection cosmos ever be on your side, Laura! Fortunate, indeed. And kind of fun when you can be on the outside looking in. Most conference calls end up looking like bad Saturday Nite sketches. Predictable to the core.
      Glad you liked the toons. They’re always my favorite parts of the posts. 🙂

      • I’m not sure my husband’s conference calls ever reach that level of amusement, even for those looking on, but I’d definitely rather be on the outside. If I never have to take part in one it will be too soon. 🙂

  10. Oh dear, i have never had a conference call and indeed,after reading this, i never do! You are masterful with words Shelley, so i can see all this happening as if i was in the room. All i can say next time you try it take the doorbell off,put the dog in the yard, no calming chammomile tea or jittery caffeine, type and laminate your notes just to be on the safe side!!! Love the cowpatty ice cream and a cliche you certainly are not!

    • Oooh, you just gave me some great ideas, Janice. After I hit reply, I am heading out to the front door and pulling that puppy from the frame. (the doorbell, not the dog) Or maybe, I’ll put up a giant skull and crossbones sign that says, “I’d turn back if I were you.”
      And the lamination suggestion is a good one too. Although, I may have to use Cling Film until I can locate a laminator.
      Cheers!

  11. Oh Shelley that was priceless 😀 😀 I’ve had a serious laugh, snort, chortle and I’m definitely going to tweet and circulate this to my many ( OK 2 or 3) delightfully disfunctional friends. I relate to every deliciously disastrous moment, the only thing to do at times like these is go with the flow, stick a bucket on your head, a flower in your ear and continue as if everything is perfectly normal……….. Have a great Sunday 🙂 PS Love the cowpat ice-cream!

    • I’ve never thought of the bucket on your head solution. I like the idea of shutting out most visual and auditory stimulation when things go pear-shaped. And the flower behind your ear bit tosses in a touch of whimsy. See? Even in calamitous moments, Jane, you are as stylish as they come.
      I shall take a page from your book and meet mishap with a jaunty swagger. 😛

  12. Shelley, I laughed so hard at this one, I’m not sure I can get up. Need some time to recover. That sequence with the snowcone shop was priceless. 🙂

    Rob, I love the stinkbug picture, even if I don’t want to eat that pie.

    Happy Easter to you both!

    • Thank you, Sue. I’m so happy to hear it struck your funny bone exactly where we were aiming. And coincidentally, the snow cone shop is my favorite writing chunk too.
      A happy, hoppy day to you as well! Cheers

  13. The conference call from hell!! Surely this would make a great script for a sitcom episode 🙂
    … my favourite was the Pac Man sound effects implying you were playing video games …. ahahahahahahaha!
    I really hope the other people on that call knew you well enough to know you were having a particularly bad day 🙂

    • Sadly, two of the three others on the call were brand spanking new to my predictable plights, but the other knows me well enough that I could actually hear her eyeballs rolling skyward with each fresh faux pas.
      Still, Joanne, the whole point is to sit back and laugh about it, which is why I love to share my every day debacles. And why I’m so glad you saw the humor. 😉 Cheers!

  14. Oh, Shelley – very funny in your telling of it, if not at the time it actually all happened. I’m an obsessive over-planner too and I know it doesn’t always work and can just lead to extra layers of anxiety. There’s a Robert Burns quote from ‘To a Mouse’ that sums it up perfectly – ‘the best laid plans of mice and men gang aft agley’ nearest translation of ‘agley’ would be awry, horribly wrong – or bosoms skyward (aka tits up). 🙂

    • There are so many phrases of wonderment to touch upon within your comment, Anne, I almost don’t know where to begin. I love ‘To a Mouse’ and yep, that bit hits home. And it’s finally good to know what agley means.
      I was about to ask what bosoms skyward meant, but then you made the clouds part brilliantly.
      I’m still laughing, Anne.

  15. Clichés — I end up finding them in my writing when I didn’t even know I had put them in there. It could be that I know more of them. My grandmother was a cliché queen. She knew ones that were used back at the turn of the 20th century. And I loved going over to her house to listen to her stories about her past. An excellent storyteller.

    I hate the phone — period! If you don’t want to talk to me face to face, send me an email, pass on the phone all together. I’m plagued with one phone call each week that comes from my mom 3 states away. She’s 90 years old so I put up with it, with a grin no less, but it’s only because I love her.

    • I’ve always been fascinated with word etymology and the origins of phrases, Glynis, and I’ve amassed quite a collection of books that uncover the mysteries of each. The problem now is that because I study them as often as I do, the common cliches are the first things that come to mind when trying to write some fresh passage. And that is NO help at all when attempting to be original. Still, the books are a bit of an addiction.
      (And perhaps now we know where your storytelling skills have come from, yes?)

  16. Oh, welcome to my world. As a home-based employee, every meeting is a conference call. And, yes, my home phone rings EVERY TIME I have to unmute my line. Every. Bleeding. Time. The joys of being a remote employee.

    • I bet you’ve got a billion little tricks up your sleeves, Nancy.
      Maybe you could write The Professional’s Pamphlet: a Survival Guide for the Inaccessible Agent?
      I’d buy it.
      More importantly, I’d read it.

  17. Shelley, your angst was my reality last week. I too on a part time job and the job is completely on-line. Conference call after conference call. It annoys me that I cannot see the people in the “room” — there were 20 of us training, so I put on my pajamas and reminded myself I didn’t have to commute anywhere. Also, I stuck my tongue out at my computer and picked at myself knowing full well no one could see me do it. By the end of the fourth conference call, I was amazed how much it didn’t bother me anymore. I thought about the day job and the meetings I have to attend and there, I paste a smile and try to look and sound intelligent. At home, I was able to be me with all my warts and not give a hoot. 😉

    • You’re right, Cindy. If I had to list them, I’d surely come up with a boatload of positives for the fact that I didn’t have to meet folks face to face, and that no one can comment on the fact that half of breakfast spilled down my shirt and my chin is sporting egg yolk. I do feel better just thinking about the spared humiliation. Always good practice to look at the bright side. 😀

  18. I feel your pain, I just wish I could balance it with writing as non-cliché as do you! Only last week, my husband and I had a conference call to update our Wills. Aaaaarrgghhh. Honestly, I wanted to die before the call was over, but I was afraid to until we’d finished the update. Phone calls come in only two categories, ones that are tedious and interrupt your meditation, or ones that bring horrible news, also known as charities wanting contributions. Here’s wishing you never have one of those ghastly experiences again! xx

    • Ardys, I loved your comment. So funny. Wanting to die in the middle of a conference call to update your wills. You do know how clever you are, right?
      Well, I’ll raise a glass to toast you the same (and wish you good health!) Here’s to the death of the conference call!
      xox

  19. Shelley, how awful. You’ve just described my worst nightmare about conference calls (or any professional calls, for that matter–I am NOT a phone person)…and lo and behold, it happened to you! I feel your pain. If there were any way to communicate solely via email or in person, I would do it. But until a teleporter is invented, I guess we’ll all have to suffer through it.

    • I think maybe my next conference call, Abby, will be staged so that all things horrific and horrible will be expected, and I’ll delight in all the boxes that don’t get ticked. I shall prepare for the worst and hail in the outcome. That way, no surprises. I’ll just know from the get-go that it’s going to totally suck.
      Writers. Ugh. o_O

  20. i hear clichés probably provide as much protein as crickets, at least that’s what jiminy keeps telling me. though your snow cone analogy struck quite close to home.

    as a child, my friends’ parents owned a baskin-robbins store. you’re probably thinking, that’s a childhood dream come true. but in my case the only thing i can remember is walking and talking one hot, hot texas summer day and forgetting to watch where my ice cream cone was going.

    when it hit the hot asphalt of the parking lot there was nothing i could do but watch it melt away. the lesson here, eat ice cream as fast as you can. brain freezes are forgettable, wasted ice cream isn’t.

    you’re always a treat shelley!

    • It’s rather amazing what childhood traumas stick with us, isn’t it, Mac? I’d have been scarred with that regrettable episode too.
      And it’s good to hear you’ve got yourself a meticulous and conscientious muse. And one who shows a concern regarding your diet and your writing.
      Glad you enjoyed the post, Mac. Cheers!

      • if only my conscious chirped a little louder when i eat, then it and i could relax instead of exercising.

        shelley, i have the feeling i’ve enjoyed every post of yours i’ve read so far (whether that’s true or not it’s the feeling that counts)!

  21. beetween yoo ‘n wrobb –> this could eeeezeelee be a prime-time teevee comedy sketch. you ‘n robb and eric idle and the gang.
    being resident of a “remote” office, i have to frequently call in to “attend” what i call “group hugs” — ‘cept there’s apparently not much hugging.
    rob out-dun(g)nnn himself this time!

  22. I don’t like either conference calls or leaving voicemails. Re the voicemails, I always sound drunk. Conference calls always end up with everyone babbling at the same time thus nothing seems to get done! Enjoyed this post as usual – you are not alone!

    • Isn’t it strange, Jan, that everyone who’s commented on conference calls here has identified themselves as wholly against them? Which leads me to ask, “Where are the folks who find them worthy?”
      This just in from the desk of Things We All Know But Refuse to Admit: It appears there are none.
      Thank you for joining the dark side.

  23. This just cracks me up 😀 Seriously funny! And while reading this, I was called by The Boss to participate in their ongoing video conference call. So I bookmarked this and just sat there listening to all the flaky voices. It was hilarious… for me, anyway. Thanks.

    • How wonderfully timely! Glad you got a giggle out of it, and if nothing else, I suppose it gave you a chance to practice restraint with the desire to shout out to everyone on the call, “THIS IS SO CLICHE!”
      Cheers!

  24. Hello Shelley! I’m finally visiting your blog AFTER meeting you and AFTER hearing Alys, Boomdee, and Pauline rave about your writing and Robin’s cartoons. You, my new friend, are such an entertaining writer and while I don’t have much to go on but this post, I cannot imagine you ever being cliche!
    I’ll stay awhile longer on my next visit to Peak Perspective. I very much look forward to it!

    • Aw, Laurie, you really are too good to be true. Did those lovely women also tell you that I pay them to say nice things about me?
      Okay, actually I don’t, but I really should.
      A million thanks for the lovely words. I look forward to you and I having many, many more of them.
      Cheers, Laurie!

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