“Seriously? I already gave it to the computer. Twice.”
“I’m sorry, ma’am, but I need your claim number to assist you.”
She sighs heavily. Repeats the 22-digit string.
“Was that 4206 at the end there, ma’am?”
“I do apologize, but I am unable to find it.”
A deep breath. “Shall I repeat it a fourth time?”
“Yes, ma’am, I do advise that you do.”
“I do apologize for any inconvenience, ma’am. I can confirm that I have now located the claim. How can I assist you today?”
“I want to cancel my claim.”
“All right, I’d be more than happy to assist you with that. I understand that you want to cancel your pending claim for,” a pause while she reads the screen, “a defective boyfriend, remedy sought: breakup, for a claim amount of $2,000. Can you please tell me in a few words why you wish to cancel this claim?”
“I—well, just didn’t need to make the claim. I just want to retract it.”
“Can you be a little more specific, ma’am? I see that this claim was filed 48 hours ago, so it is in the processing queue set to be paid out and the relationship terminated in under 24 hours.”
“I don’t understand, I can’t cancel?”
“Correct, ma’am, unless one of the available cancellation options is selected, at this stage of processing, the system will not let me cancel.”
“I see. Uh, I guess my reason is that I regret starting this process and I want to wipe it from the system.”
“Ma’am, I’m afraid that’s not a listed reason.”
“So there’s like a drop-down list of acceptable reasons to cancel?”
A slight waver of disloyalty in her voice as she admits: “Yes, ma’am.”
“Can you just read me the options and I’ll tell you which one is right?”
There’s a longer pause on the other end now. It tolls the death knell of the sacred secrecy of the drop-down list. But it’s 5:55, and the call center shuts down at 6:00 or when all open calls are closed out, whichever comes first, so she says, a little quieter, “For this category of claim the options are ‘romantic argument resolved (bilateral),’ ‘couple’s counseling scheduled (bilateral),’ ‘flowers/date night/grand romantic gesture offered (unilateral),’ ‘apologies for making a big deal out of nothing (unilateral),’ or ‘sudden death of one or both parties.’”
“Oh, definitely the one about unilateral apologies. That’s it.”
“All right, I can assist you with processing that cancellation reason. Can you please tell me which party initiated the apology for making a big deal out of nothing (unilateral)?”
“All right, ma’am, I will record that. And on which date did you issue that unilateral apology?”
“Today?” she says, as though it’s a question.
It’s 5:56. “Are you sure you didn’t apologize within 12 hours of the breakup request?”
“Yes, I’m wondering if you actually apologized within 12 hours of the breakup request. Because if that’s what happened, this claim won’t go on your record and your premium will not increase.” She drums her nails on the desktop.
“Oh, absolutely, you’re right now that I think about it, it was definitely—you know—just an hour or two after I filed the claim.”
“I do thank you for your answers, ma’am. I will be happy to put in a cancellation request on this claim. You should see a confirmation email in your inbox shortly, and a courtesy copy to the other party.”
“Oh, no, please don’t send one to him. I—isn’t there a note in my file? I requested this claim to be kept private, just to me.”
“Unfortunately I’m not seeing that request, ma’am. I’m showing that the other party was copied on notice of your breakup request.”
“I’m showing that it was sent this morning.”
The line goes dead.
She pulls off her headset with her left hand while finishing out the claim with her right. Confirm no email to other party (good luck to her putting that cat back in the bag. That’ll be an old-style breakup in no time, with no compensation. You hate to see it.) Confirm cancellation, confirm cancellation reason in acceptable time window, no penalties. Turns off the lamp. Grabs her coat, steps out into the rain and hurries to the hole-in-the-wall burrito place for some takeout.
As I’m guessing you’ve noticed, the world has gone a little quieter. This is one of the blessings popping up like stubborn shoots in the chaos.
If you, like me, find noises in general objectionable, now is a great time to open a window and listen. The birds are going absolutely bonkers. Are they always, this time of year? Probably, but now there are fewer cars and trains and crowds to drown them out. Maybe it gives their tiny ears a break, too.
(Excuse me for a second while I Google “do birds have ears.” This is a well-researched operation, folks.)
Just now there is one making a bona fide ruckus somewhere outside. It’s echoing off the buildings. I’m very proud of her, whoever she is, screaming out her cause.
Many people are asking: how do you do it? How do you write novel(s) and this award-winning weblog while maintaining a full-time job and friendships and other activities?
Well, I say, leaning back knowledgeably in my chair, it’s all about discipline. For example, it’s very important that before I finish this sentence, I open several new tabs to check the news. The news is terrible right now, so it will definitely upset and distract me, which is important for my process. In general, stopping mid-sentence or even mid-word a good deal to change tasks is highly recomm
And by the way, don’t think that I don’t actually practice what I preach. Look: in the last two minutes, I opened thirteen new tabs in my browser, and had a momentary blackout where I had no idea where I was or what I had been doing before. The system works, people.
Coming to you live from this confusing crisis. By the day and the hour it’s expanding while our lives are contracting, staying home if we are able, avoiding our communities.
This isolation is absolutely for the best. It’s also hard, surprisingly hard, even for a confirmed introvert who often craves more unstructured quiet time alone, and whose ongoing bout with walking pneumonia should have made her very accustomed to working from home, resting, and avoiding exposure.
But there’s a problem, reader. I need routine. Badly.
The first day of resting with my pneumonia saw me pulling all the books off my shelves to arrange them in some non-librarian-approved order. This was exhausting. But it wasn’t to last. Before too long, I was binge-watching Love is Blind on Netflix late into the night while my eyes and brain turned to compost, no doubt wondering what they’d done to deserve this fate.
Without a bit of structure, I turn into a listless puddle of a person. I forget to brush my teeth until dinner. I don’t put on real clothes. I play Civilization VI, turn after turn after turn, unable to stop, until I get genuinely depressed.
The self-quarantine we’re all doing will be this kind of structureless time on steroids, and the situation is making me anxious for people I love and for people I don’t even know. The anxiety makes the puddle-self grow even puddlier. If I don’t change my ways, I may achieve many types of victory on Civ, but at what cost?
I need to meet myself somewhere, not just watch myself melt through my own fingers for the duration. However long the duration of this turns out to be.
So. I have a plan. Due to overwhelming demand,* I will be posting something here every day until…someday.
The thing is, in spite of the listlessness and my recent aversion to writing and my general slide into feeling as though I have no bones or muscles at all, I’ve been on a bit of a tear when it comes to ideas. Early this morning I started listing things I want to write about, and there were a few dozen that came up.
An interesting side effect of listing these ideas out, and committing to writing one a day, is that I’m forced to wonder what life will be like 11 days from now, when I might be writing something my audience has been clamoring for (my thoughts on various conspiracy theories.)*
So, watch this space, if you wish. I’ll see you tomorrow. But finally, some words for solitude from the wonderful Henri Nouwen:
Solitude is not a solution. It is a direction…Every time we enter into solitude we withdraw from our windy, earthquaking, fiery lives and open ourselves to the great encounter. The first thing we often discover in solitude is our own restlessness, our drivenness, and compulsiveness, our urge to act quickly, to make an impact, and to have influence; and often we find it very hard to withstand the temptation to return as quickly as possible to the world of “relevance.” But when we persevere with the help of a gentle discipline, we slowly come to hear the still, small voice and to feel the gentle breeze, and so come to know the Lord of our heart, soul, and mind, the Lord who makes us see who we really are.
There is a nightmare image every writer knows: the cursor blinking at the top of a blank page. Or, somehow worse yet, the cursor blinking at the end of a bit of text, when all the steam has run out and there is no way forward.
Several times before I wrote Book One, I had tried to write novels. I never got very far beyond page 10 or so, because I inevitably ran headfirst into a wall of horrible inertia at the end of the first idea. The rest of the story vanished in front of me like smoke. I could sort of see it, but only if I squinted, and by then it dissipated.
This phenomenon is a bit like the paradox of choice: if the story can become absolutely anything, then the horizon is so completely open that my poor little human brain starts to overheat from all the possibilities and I get a paralyzing case of the vapors.
I’ve been bothered lately by war. I feel closer to it than I’d like, through my location amid the bland-yet-menacing military-industrial office parks of Washington suburbia, and due to my job. And like a borderline conspiracy theorist, I begin to see trappings of ubiquitous war everywhere in our politics and society.
Annoyed and anxious, I look forward to a world wherein war is not always simmering at a low level, forgettable, stable, unpopular and yet generally uncontested.
Is this my desire to bury my head in the sand, to pretend the world is a different place than it can ever be? Am I simply naive? Or is my peace-seeking a virtue?