Thursday, October 18, 2012

"... before I lose patience with you, Francis!"

When you work with seniors, you learn patience. Copious amounts of patience. Bucketloads of patience. You learn to smile and be kind when you have to repeat yourself, well, repeatedly, either because the person you're speaking to is hearing impaired or memory impaired or both. You resist the urge to hurry them along or snap because after all, would you want someone speaking to your grandma like that? So when someone comes along who tests MY good nature? Anyone else would've strangled her with an electrical cord or given her a Glasgow Smile with a grapefruit spoon.

I received a call today from a woman interested in our latest construction project- she was on our website, saw information about our patio homes and wanted to come in and see them. That's wonderful, I told her, except they haven't been built yet. We just began the ground clearing this week.

"So you don't have one I can see?"
"No, ma'am, they haven't been built yet."
"I don't mind if it's not finished, I just want to take a look."
"There are no structures yet. Just mud and a lot of sawdust."
"So you don't have one I can check out?"
"No. They haven't begun construction yet."
"When will they be done?"
"If everything goes according to plan, late next fall."
"So I could move in around May or June?"
"No, ma'am. The construction may be partially finished at that point, but they will not be ready to move in until late fall- you know, October, most likely November- at the earliest."

 Then she decides she's interested in our apartments. She wants me to read everything to her over the phone. Now, if this was a person who was legally blind perhaps, that would be acceptable. But she has given clear indication that her eyes do indeed work. I told her that absolutely everything she could possibly want to see is on our website. She can look at floor plans, see measurements and dimensions, see pictures of what kinds of and sizes of furniture will comfortably fit into said apartments. I already had proof that she had been to our website, as that is how she got my name and phone number, as well as the initial information on the patio homes, in order to call me in the first place.

"Tell me again how to go to your website. I don't remember how I got there."
"Let me spell it out for you- it's a little confusing. It's w-w-w-dot-i-t-h-a-c-a...."
"Yes, Ithacacare, go on," she interrupts.
"Well, no, that's the mistake most people make. Not "Ithaca-care." It's just IthacareLongview. Let me spell it again. I-t-h-a-c-a-r..."
"Ithacacare Longview dot com. Okay. I got it."
*silence, as blood pressure starts to rise*
"It's not working."
"What's on your screen?"
"Ma'am, let's try that again. w-w-w-dot-i-t-h-a-c-a-r-e-l-o-n-g-v-i-e-w-dot-com."
"Yes," (getting frustrated with me) "Ithacacare dot com."
"No, ma'am. Not 'ithacacare'. Let's try it one more time."
"I know I'm typing it right."
"Well, ma'am, you're mispronouncing it as you read it back to me, so I'm thinking maybe it's being misspelled. There's only one 'C.'"
"No, I don't think so."
"Let's try something else. Let's do a search instead. Go to your search box and type 'longview + ithaca.'"
"Plus? Like in math?"
"Yes. It will help narrow the results. There's a city in Texas named Longview that comes up first if you don't add the '+ Ithaca'."
"It didn't work."
"What appeared on the page after you searched?"
"Try it again?"
"Ma'am, you are typing in the search box to your right, not the address box, correct?"
"Type 'longview + ithaca' in the search box, then click on the little magnifying glass."
"Oh. Okay. Hmm. This doesn't look like what I saw before. This doesn't have what you said would be there."
"What do you see?"
"It just says 'Longview Retirement Homes.' It looks different from what I saw before."
"That's not our page. We don't call ourselves a Retirement Home and we don't use that language on our website. I think you're at ads on the search results page. Look down the page- you should see a choice that says 'longview-home.' That's us. Click on that one."
"What are you seeing?"
"Ma'am, what browser are you using?"
"Windows 7."
"No, ma'am. What program? Explorer? Firefox?"
"Oh, Explorer."
"Okay, I just opened Explorer myself. I just typed 'longview + ithaca' in the search window, clicked enter, and now I'm on a page with a list of sites. The fifth one down- the one that says 'Home- Longview.' That's us. So I click on that link, and there's our website."
"Oh. Okay. Yes, this is the one I saw before."

I should mention here that this was the first of EIGHT calls this woman made to me today, all in the span of two hours. While looking at the floor plans on her computer, she wanted me to describe the space to her as if she were walking through it. And we had a repeat of the whole conversation about when the patio homes project would be finished. NEARLY WORD FOR WORD.
"So I could move in in late spring, around May or June?"
"No, ma'am. The construction will be well along at that point, but the patio homes will not be ready to move in until late fall- most likely November- at the earliest."

I also realized something else in the course of these phone calls. Americans are greedy with our space. Nothing is ever spacious enough for us. I'm sure that has something to do with the vast expanse of our country; small countries like Ireland are happy with small homes that are efficient with what little space they have. This woman- who was going to be living alone and did not plan on having frequent company or visitors- did not feel that a two bedroom, two bathroom apartment would be enough space for her. I asked if she was planning on using one of the bedrooms as a studio or office; she said no. She just wanted the space. She also asked if I was absolutely sure that we didn't have a two-bedroom TWO AND A HALF BATHROOM apartment in our community. ("Oh my gosh! Here it is! It's been hiding behind the drapes! Silly me for not noticing.") In addition to being rather insulted that she thought I could've forgotten that we have another category of apartment, I had a bigger question: WHAT THE HELL WAS THIS WOMAN GOING TO DO WITH THREE TOILETS ALL TO HERSELF???? Do you really need more than a one-toilet-per-person ratio in your living quarters?

Our residents have to deal with downsizing and simplifying their lives when they move to our community. And yes, it is difficult taking the contents of a multiple-bedroom house and making it fit into a three-room apartment. But nearly all of them tell me how much they had come to love the results, even if the process was hard. The freedom they feel from getting rid of unwanted, unused, unneeded things that were cluttering their lives enables them to do the things they've always wanted to do but didn't have time for, like painting, exercise, taking classes, traveling. They all seem to feel that having to downsize and simplify was a huge gift that has allowed them to live a richer, fuller life. I only hope it will be the same for this woman.

And that she stops calling me.

Monday, October 15, 2012

N is for ...

N is for novel.

Yes, this coming NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month for you newbies) will mark the 3rd year that I've officially been working on my novel, although it started way back in 1995 as a character sketch I did for Fiction Writing class my senior year of college. It's a big, sprawling, steaming mess of a pile of words right now, one that will need much pruning, I think, but the goal is to just write everything I have in mind with it, then shear it into something semi-respectable.  Or at least readable.

But is writing is hard. It takes focus, perseverance, and dedication. It's hard to get into a groove and once you're there, it's so, so easy to lose it. So easy to be distracted, to blow off your work and read or watch tv or hang out. So hard to discipline yourself into doing your writing before you'll allow yourself any of those activities. And so easy to doubt that what you've been pouring yourself into is any good and worth the time you've been sacrificing to it.

Look at him, hard at work.
No distractions. Not even frites.
My friend Eric is a great inspiration to me. He has somehow managed to maintain a regular writing habit, even meeting with a critique group weekly. Oh yeah, and he has two books published. So I consider him my role model and aspire to the good writing habits he's developed.

I've also been inspired by Ernest Hemingway. For the past couple of months, I've just been sucking up biographies of him. It started with The Paris Wife, which is fiction based on his first wife, Hadley's life. I thought I was going to veer off in the direction of the other 1920s Paris expats, like Dos Passos, but I kept coming back to Hemingway. I'm on my fifth biography of him right now, and I just finished A Moveable Feast. There's a lot to dislike about Hemingway the person, but his writing, when it's good, is very very good. And even more than learning from his style of prose, I've been learning a lot from his thoughts and approach to writing. Discipline and dedication, treating writing like the work that it is and not just an artful distraction is what I've gleaned from Hemingway.

And for my friends who know how long I've been working on this project and keep asking me what it's about, I share this Hemingway quote:

"A book you talk about is a book you don't write."

Had to include this. It cracks me up to no end.
Apparently the Biebs & One Direction stole
their 'dos from Hem's back-to-front combover.
So, with all that, I'm locking myself in my "tower" room, a pot of tea and my happy lucky little cup (it helps keep my good fortune up) beside me, my good luck purple candle burning, and usually a dog buried in my lap on whose back I have to balance my laptop.

But for your patience, I will share with you the first couple of paragraphs of my novel in progress here. (No, I don't have a title yet. I suck at titles.)

He had been asleep for barely an hour when the ambulance woke him. Well, not so much the ambulance but the abrupt stop of the squealing siren right outside his window. Owen opened his eyes to find the ceiling of his room awash in flashing red and white lights like an angry disco. The room was the same one he’d had as a kid, even though his parents had long since left for Florida and he could’ve taken their bigger bedroom with the better view. He had a nostalgic fondness for this room that was better described as a desperate clinging to the past. It had sheltered him through a bewildered childhood, a painfully awkward adolescence, college years that alternated between exhilaration and devastation, and now this most recent chapter of his life: a sort of numbed holding pattern. 

The d├ęcor of the room hadn’t changed much in thirty-five years: a narrow twin bed with a headboard scarred with stickers and decals, a simple straight-backed chair and desk whose top was tattooed with three decades of carvings and inkings, a matching dresser and nightstand, equally abused. The wall hangings hadn’t changed much either. The avocado green walls still held the pair of black and white photographs of Frank Lloyd Wright buildings his mother had installed back when the room held a crib in the hopes that he would be inspired to become an architect. The prints had been joined over the years by thumb-tacked pages from Mad and Rolling Stone, movie posters, beer ads featuring generically-attractive girls, a few random postcards sent by traveling friends. All faded. All dusty. 

Owen rubbed his eyes and sat up in his small, lumpy bed. I really ought to redecorate in here, he thought for easily the millionth time. At least get some new furniture. He stiffly rolled out of bed, one hand supporting his lower back, an old man’s gesture that seemed incongruous to his age, and crossed the room to the window. The ambulance and a sheriff’s car were parked on the lawn of the house next door. 

“Jesus, Edith’s gonna have a heart attack when she sees those tire tracks on her grass,” he muttered, then his tired blue eyes flew open wide. Just then, a pair of EMTs came down the front porch steps with a stretcher bearing a body zipped into a bag. “Shit.” He repeated the word as he stumbled down the stairs and outside.