There are downsides to being a writer.
So I’ve been told. I mean, I wouldn’t know. I’m a babbler, I’m a scribbler, I’m a self-indulgent noodler. (Can you sing that?)
In other words, not a writer. At least, not a real one. Definitely not one with a capital letter. Despite not having personal experience in this area, there are tons of helpful people on the internet (Helpful people? On the internet? Are you INSANE?) who will tell you the downsides to being one. Some of them talk about the solitude. Some of them talk about the invisibility. Some of them just tell you that it’s too damned hard and you’re no good at it anyway.
Those look like some serious downsides, but are they really? Take solitude, for example. I don’t mind solitude. I can turn up the music as loud as I want,. There’s never a line when I need to use the bathroom. I don’t have to share the remote. Solitude is cool.
Invisibility? Well, that’s something that affects everyone. Heck, even some of the most famous writers this county has ever produced have to struggle with invisibility (and not just because she’s shorter than you think). To the rest of us ordinary folks who live lives of quiet desperation, invisibility, well, it’s just the way things are.
As for being no good, well, you got me there.
How do I know I’m not a writer? Well, real writers wouldn’t take more than three weeks to produce fifteen hundred (1856 actually) words. And writers tend to get paid from time to time — I don’t, unless the definition of ‘from time to time’ includes ‘once in thirty-five years practically by accident.’ And I’m definitely not a writer because nobody asks me where I get my ideas.
They come from all over the place, that much I know. Neil Gaiman claims that they come from inside his head, but that’s clearly madness. Harlan Ellison claims that they come from Schenectady. A Famous Canadian Writer has said that sometimes story ideas come to him in dreams. And an Even More Famous English writer sometimes had them come to him in drug-induced stupors.
Of course, one downside of Inspiration — no matter where it comes from — is that it can be dispelled by a person from Porlock. Or maybe the phone company.
A week or so ago I was staring at an empty not-really-an-xterm window and looking for ideas when there was a knock at the door. “A politician” I thought. “This time for sure.”
Umm, no. It was a twentysomething guy in a blue golf shirt bearing the logo of The Phone Company. Was I interested in purchasing home phone service? A satellite dish, perhaps? An internet connection?
Well, no. “We already have all of those.”
“But ours is better. The picture quality of our satellite service is unmatched in the industry.”
Hmm. I felt this necessitated a small lecture. So I talked about the differences between analog and digital and that, no matter what he had been told to say, his statement probably wasn’t true. I mean, to a first approximation, one digital TV signal is much like the next. I told him about watching The Alternative Factor on analog cable with both the vertical and horizontal hold nor working. I told him about all kinds of things. I think he started to look uncomfortable when I started discussing Shannon’s theorem.
There was a pause. He regrouped.
“Well, our service is cheaper than our competition.”
I didn’t quite read him the blog post I wrote on this topic, but I certainly delivered a nice (if I do say so myself) précis. I talked about phone services that cost five times what the competition charges, about the nice lady with big hair, about being a bovine. In short, I disagreed with him.
He looked cowed (moo!), perhaps even shaken, but still not beaten. He still had one more card that he’d been told to play.
“Our tech support is second to none. If someone has to visit your home, it will be a talented, highly-trained and experienced expert.”
Ah. That card. I told him a story.
Once upon a time, this house (I patted the doorframe when I said this) had one phone line. One day we decided to add a second one — in those days some nerdy folks used these things called modems that you’ve probably NEVER EVEN SEEN to work from home, check email, jack into cutting edge virtual reality systems, stuff like that. A second line meant that you could do that and still be reached. Good stuff.
I checked the wiring; it was clear that the house had once had two phone lines because there appeared to be two sets of wiring. To my untalented, untrained and unprofessional eye, it looked doable. So I phoned The Phone Company and they scheduled a visit by a technician. (And by ‘scheduled’ I mean they told me ‘Someone will be there sometime on date X. Probably. Hope you’ve got a spare vacation day handy.’) So I sat at home, used the existing phone line to connect to work and hoped that no one needed to talk to me. Eventually there was a knock at the door. It was a guy with a tool belt.
“I have a work order to install a second phone line.”
Cool. I let him in and showed him around. “The house has phone jacks in these four rooms. I’d like a jack for the second line installed right THERE please. Also one right THERE. That one’s right next to an existing jack so with luck you won’t need to string any new cable.”
He frowned. “Let me see your basement.” I showed him the basement. He looked at the wiring blocks, frowned and reached for his tool belt. He looked confident. After ten minutes or so he said “Let’s go upstairs.” We went to the first floor. He looked at where I wanted the jack, frowned and reached for his tool belt again. After ten minutes or so he said “Done.” We plugged a phone into the new jack. It worked. Score. “Now the second floor.” We went to the second floor. He looked at the existing jack, frowned and… (did you guess?) reached for his tool belt. After ten minutes or so (surprise!) he said “Done.” Yay!
We plugged a phone into the new jack. It worked. Looked good.
Then we plugged a phone into the jack that been there already.
It was dead. Nothing. Nada. Not good. I ran to the other room on the second floor with a phone jack. It wasn’t dead, but it turns out it was connected to the wrong line. H’m. It looked as if, in the process of giving me a jack for the new line, he had disconnected one of the existing second-floor jacks and rewired the other one. Unfortunate.
Back to the first floor. Look in all the closets. Back to the basement. Back to the tool belt.
He looked at me.
“I’m pretty sure you just disconnected everything on the second floor.”
You could tell that he didn’t believe me. “I don’t think so.”
“I’m pretty sure. Humor me, please. Let’s go check.”
We went and checked. Every single jack — old and new — on the second floor was dead. He looked unhappy. Back to the basement.
He looked at me.
“I’m pretty sure you just disconnected the first floor.”
You could tell that he didn’t believe me but he agreed to check and sure enough, every jack on the first floor was dead. He looked even unhappier.
Back to the basement.
After twenty minutes or so (and two more exclamations of ‘Stop’ by me), things were close. The old jacks on the first floor worked. The new jack on the first floor worked. The old jacks on the second floor worked. The new jack on the second floor? Dead. As a doornail. (And what the hell is a doornail, anyway?) Impossibly, the technician looked even unhappier. He climbed into a closet on the second floor, pulled a panel off the wall and stuck his head through the hole. Time passed.
“Well” he said “it’s not going to work. One of the wires is cut somewhere and I can’t tell where.”
A quick aside: In The Olden Days, home telephone wiring was typically done with quad (four strand) cable. A phone line used two wires; typically the first phone was put on the red and green ones. The other two wires (yellow and black) could be used for a second line (although there were circumstances where this might not be a good idea) or as spares if something broke or otherwise damaged the red or green wires. He had concluded that there was a break in either the yellow or black wires so a second line on the second floor was impossible with the existing wiring.
The Phone Company was willing to redo the wiring at additional cost, of course. But he couldn’t do it — I would have to call and make an appointment. Better find another vacation day.
“Umm, no” I said. “I think we can make this work.” He nodded and looked happy for the first time — he was going to get out of there. No more know-it-alls yelling “Stop” — paradise. He and his tool belt walked to the van with the logo on the side and drove off.
I went back upstairs to clean up — he had left the panel off the wall, for example. I climbed into the closet he had been sitting in and stuck my head through the hole. Right there was a junction box — one cable arrived from the basement and two others snaked off from it to the two rooms on the second floor. Seemed simple enough. The cable from the basement had three wires connected to terminals in the junction box.
The fourth wire — the black one if I recall correctly — wasn’t connected to a terminal. It wasn’t connected to anything — for some reason it was just wrapped around the junction box.
Whaat? This is what the guy had been staring at when he concluded there was A BREAK IN THE WIRE SOMEWHERE?
I unwrapped the black wire and screwed it onto the black terminal on the junction box. And suddenly everything worked.
So the technician had come to my house, had disconnected existing phone lines AT LEAST FOUR TIMES, didn’t know it until I told him and had interpreted an obviously disconnected wire as being broken.
The conclusion, I told the twentysomething guy in the blue golf shirt, was that I wasn’t sure that I would call The Phone Company’s history of tech support as being uniformly excellent. Certainly nothing to brag about.
The twentysomething guy in the blue golf shirt — my person from Porlock — looked stricken, couldn’t think of anything to say (maybe he was just bored — that happens to me a lot) and went to the next house.
And that’s where I get (some of) my ideas.