Ruth: Yesterday, I walked around my neighborhood, having a heart-to-heart talk with myself about what I should be working on next. If anybody overheard me, I hope they thought I was yakking on a cell phone to somebody important. Anyway, the talk had some effect and I’m now working on a short story, which I’ve never tried before.
In the meantime — when I’m not talking to myself or checking my email or fiddling around with this short story — I’m feeling thankful for caller i.d. At first, I thought it was a bad idea. I mean, just think of your long, tortured adolescence, when you’d call your boyfriend’s house to see whether he was home (of course, he didn’t even know he was your boyfriend, which was a great part of your sad, misspent youth). Or those cute prank calls you used to make at slumber parties. Gone, all gone, with caller i.d.! No wonder kids today waste so much time on video games.
But I’ve changed my mind about caller i.d. I now realize it’s a blessing. As I sit at the computer, ostensibly writing, I’m also waiting for a series of phone calls. Caller i.d. helps me prepare for them.
Calls from car mechanics or insurance companies, for example. I don’t want to answer the phone using a mellow, soothing voice. Forget it. I want to snap a strident, impatient hello! that lets them know my time is being wasted and our car’s youth being squandered while it’s sitting in the shop. What do they mean, they can’t get out there to evaluate it till Friday to make sure the power steering damage is part of the wreck? What have we been paying for all these years? Should we take up riding bicycles till they get their act together? Do we look like Lance Armstrong? And no, now that they mention it, I don’t think a mechanic’s shop that points one headlight toward the Big Dipper is an outfit I want to trust with my life.
Pause. Clear throat. Clear mind. Phone rings. Check the caller i.d. If it’s about my father, everything is different. I’m dealing with worn-down saints on the other end of the line, people who devote their lives to taking care of other people. The shrew does not answer the phone at such times. She’s been replaced by someone with a calm, dulcet voice.
The shrew may reappear, though, when an 800 number shows up. Sternly, the shrew demands she be taken off their call list — especially if it’s one of those college-loan agencies that have been hounding this household ever since a certain daughter went to graduate school and started taking out loans.
When the phone doesn’t ring, though, it’s just business- and personality-as-usual. I try to work. Outside, the weather is brilliant and autumnal and the wildfires that are ravaging California are thousands of miles away. But sometimes I don’t think ravaging wildfires are the worst problem we have in this country, however terrifying and destructive they are. When I heard the remark by the demented talk show host who said the wildfires were destroying only the homes of people who hate America, I had to wonder. How can people like him and Ann Coulter thrive on their fury and self-righteousness and bitter sanctimoniousness? How can they live the way they do?
In my world, I see so much tragedy visited on friends right now. The friend whose dear husband may be losing his mind and sweet disposition to Alzheimer’s. Another whose son is going through a wrenching divorce and can’t stop drinking for his sake, for the children’s sake, for anybody’s sake. Some days, it’s as if pain lingers in the air and, one way or another, life will get us in the end.
As it will, of course. Who am I kidding? But I think of a quotation from Bob Solomon, a philosophy professor who died several months ago. He suggested we all adopt an attitude of gratitude toward life. And I think yes, that’s right, gratitude. If we’re not abandoned and howling in the mud, if we’re not hemorrhaging and brutally damaged right now, then, yes. Feel grateful every second you can and savor it.
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P.S. My script is going to air next month on a public radio show called 11 Central Avenue, which is billed as an audio comic strip. I’m thrilled, but have gotten intimidated by seeing which other writers are being featured. Rick Moody, for God’s sake, who wrote The Ice Storm. He’s referred to in the press release as “prodigiously talented.” And I think, well, hell, nobody’s ever called me prodigiously talented. The most I’ve ever gotten is a mere “talented.” And I’m pretty sure that was just me talking about myself, trying to get the rumor started.
(Copyright 2007 by Ruth Pennebaker)