Not being possessed of great patience, I hate being put on hold. I especially resent being ignored by a company’s automated phone system, with its impersonal assurances that my call is important, even as it leaves me stranded in Nowhereland. Note to businesses everywhere: filling the void with a 30-minute loop of Barry Manilow’s greatest hits doesn’t make me feel more loved.
Being stuck on hold frustrates me because there is always a long list of things I want to get done, most of which cannot be accomplished while carrying a telephone. I have learned to use the speaker feature on the handset so I can move a little, but when someone at XYZ Company finally gets around to me, I’ll have to drop what I’m doing. I may be able to throw in a load of laundry or feed the dogs, some activity that doesn’t demand much focus, but it’s hard to get much done creatively when I’m on hold.
This peeve of mine, then, takes on a shade of irony when I confess, Dear Readers, that I have been keeping myself on hold for the better part of the past four months.
It started when I had a close brush with employment. The position was at the hospice where I have volunteered for years, and I heard about the opening in March, nearly two months before it was posted. This allowed plenty of time for indecision to eat me up, one bite at a time. It’s been 25 years since I’ve worked for anyone else. I like to run things, so how would I tone down my natural bossiness in order to function in a large corporation? Then there are the hours! Forty of them, sometimes more, every single week, and they all start in the morning. Still, the extra money would be good. Perhaps this is the universe’s way of sending me in a new direction, making me stretch beyond my limits. And I can do anything for a few years. Right?
I’d never written a resume but managed to pull one together that wasn’t half bad. It must’ve looked good to HR, too. Despite my lack of recent (as in, not in this century) work history, I still warranted two interviews back in May. I was assured that I would receive a decision, one way or the other, by the beginning of June.
Meanwhile, that screeching sound you might have heard was my life grinding to a halt. Not knowing if I was about to undergo a major lifestyle renovation, I was too distracted to start anything new. I stopped writing except for the occasional blog post. I wouldn’t make summer vacation plans — what if I got hired? I couldn’t even let myself buy clothes because I didn’t know if I’d need to construct a work wardrobe or just pick up some more gym shorts. Whenever a question arose about plans for the future, my answer was the same: I don’t know yet.
As it turned out, I repeated that phrase for almost six weeks, which was how long it took for the position to be filled. The new employee, as you may have surmised, was not me. My first reaction upon receiving the rejection email was, “Thank you, thank you, thank you.” Pushing myself to apply and interview was a good exercise. Now I could get back to doing what I do well.
Except then my back went spastic with sciatica, and that became the new obsession. I can’t sit at the computer to write because of my back pain. I can’t finish that quilt because it’s too hard lean over the sewing machine. I can’t go to the movies because the theater seats are uncomfortable. I’d like to repaint a couple pieces of furniture, but I’m afraid it might make my back hurt more. This constant preoccupation with one’s limits is even more boring than being trapped on hold with Barry Manilow.
“You know what, Mom?” my son said when I turned him down for a lunch date the other day. “I’m getting a little sick of your back.”
“We all are,” I agreed. “It’s a major killjoy.”
In a weird way, this pain reminds me of growing up with a volatile parent. Some days, it acts almost normal. Other times, despite your best behavior, it gets in a foul mood and cannot be appeased. Since you don’t know what you did wrong or how to fix it, you try to stay very still so at least it won’t get worse. I didn’t like living like that back then. I like it even less now.
I have been waiting four months for my circumstances to settle down so then I could get back to my creative life. That’s an entire season. Nobody has that kind of time to waste. Laura Hillenbrand has written a couple of bestsellers, including Seabiscuit and Unbroken, from bed. Philip Roth, at 80, continues to crank out one novel after another while living with chronic back pain. They have figured out how to do what they love, despite life getting in the way. I find that inspiring.
Four months is far too long to be on hold, so I have decided to hang up now and get moving, even if it hurts. The wait might go on for a really long time, and I have things to do.