Writing Exercise: Do You Rehearse Phone Calls Before Making Them?

Last week, The New York Times ran a Modern Love column that, as far as I can tell, garnered more attention than any previous Modern Love column has. In it, the author writes about how she and her now-fiance decided to test-drive a set of 36 questions designed to make people fall in love with each other. (As you may have deduced, it worked.)

The Times later provided that list of questions, and I thought some of them would also make nifty writing prompts. To be clear, I’m not out to make any of you fall in love with me – hence why I don’t plan to write answers to all the questions, nor do I plan to stare into anyone’s eyes for four minutes – but a handful of these made me think “Heeeyyy, that could be fun to write about!”

And that’s how I make decisions.

So, without further ado, the question: Before making a telephone call, do you ever rehearse what you are going to say? Why?

Oh God, do I ever. I don’t do this for all my phone calls, but when it comes to the calls that make me nervous, I not only rehearse, but I write out a note card with talking points. I’m not even kidding.

I’d love to be one of those unflappable souls who remain calm and collected under pressure, but I’m not. One of my lesser qualities is that if I’m nervous, there’s an exceptionally good chance that I’ll get completely flustered, discombobulated, and forgetful. If I don’t have notes in front of me, I’m liable to lose my train of thought – or, worse, have full command of my train of thought but be unable to be even minimally coherent, thus leading to all the words coming out in a jumbled heap of nonsense.

When that happens, I get even more flustered, which makes my voice go up at least one octave. And when that happens, I start thinking of the scene from 40 Year-Old Virgin in which Steve Carrell says that his girlfriend’s daughter, who’s having a total meltdown and becoming increasingly hysterical, sounds like a tea kettle. And then I get even more flustered, if that’s possible.

So, to prevent this generally wretched scenario from happening, I sometimes bust out the note cards and rehearse their content.

I vividly remember the first time I did this, too. It was the summer before I started 9th grade, and I liked a boy who’d been in my English class the previous year. We’d gotten all googly-eyed after dancing together at the spring formal at the end of the year, so I was very much in like. And, because I was a Sassy, Independent Young Woman Who Didn’t Think Traditional Gender Roles Did Anyone Any Favors (note: I maintain this stance), I decided to call him and ask him out.

I was wringing my hands about what to say when I called, and that’s when my dad suggested writing out what I wanted to say on a note card and rehearsing it a few times before picking up the phone. This was a brilliant idea!

I did just that, and although my hands were shaking when I picked up the phone in my parents’ basement (this was in pre-cell phone 1995, and I needed privacy in order to make this very important phone call), I got through it without sounding like a concussed tea kettle. And, not only that, but he said yes!

We never wound up actually going out, because our vacation schedules didn’t mesh and then I wound up changing schools, but still: NOTE CARDS AND REHEARSAL FTW, YOU GUYS.

Writing Exercise: Three Things that Stopped Me in My Tracks

This exercise, which comes from Now Write! Nonfiction (edited by Sherry Ellis), asks that you describe three things – all of which happened in the fairly recent past – that stopped you in your tracks. This can be a literal or figurative stop, but should basically just be something that really grabbed your attention.

While we were on vacation in Texas earlier this month, I stumbled upon three things that – for me at least – were incredibly cool.

First: My parents just moved from Colorado to Houston last month, and it turns out that while my mom was packing up their house in Colorado, she dug up some awesome stuff that I’d completely forgotten about. One such no-longer-buried treasure is a Denver Broncos t-shirt that I bought when I was in Israel, and which my mom thankfully knew I’d definitely want to keep. In the interest of full disclosure, this t-shirt came from a shop that sold kitschy, awful junk and catered exclusively to American tourists looking for, well, kitsch. But you guys: it’s a piece of Broncos paraphernalia in both English and Hebrew. Is it kitschy? Probably. Was I beyond thrilled when I found it sitting on the desk in the room where Brandon and I stayed? You betcha.

Second: Also while visiting my parents, I walked by a table and was totally sidetracked by a book: A Yard Full of Sun, by Scott Calhoun, which documents his efforts to build a xeriscape garden at his home in Tucson, Arizona. Now, at first blush, I can totally understand why most of you might be perplexed by this book’s ability to sidetrack me so thoroughly that as soon as I saw it, sat down on the couch to check it out and didn’t get up for another hour. Well, my dears, let me explain.

To start, I miss the sunshine like you wouldn’t believe. I’m a sun-loving kind of gal – I’ve been known to force everyone outside when the sun comes out, regardless of things like work commitments or hungover roommates during college – and the sad, limpid East Coast sun just bums me out. There’s even a quote about this in the book: “Here in the West you can’t get away from the big sky and full light…differences in light make the West unique. As Larry McMurty says in his book Roads, ‘Eastern light is never as strong and full as Western light; a thousand McDonald’s will not make Boston feel like Tucson.’” So, the title book’s made a part of my brain jump up and scream “OMIGOD, I WANT THAT.”

Furthermore, I’ve always loved the idea of xeriscape gardens using desert plants. (At the risk of sounding weird, I love pretty much any plant native to the southwest desert. If I could have a saguaro cactus in my living room, I would.) Obviously that can’t happen here in DC, so reading about someone else’s extensive work using desert plants in their native territory really struck a chord with me. On a related note, some poor fools have tried to do desert-style xeriscaping here in DC, using, get this, cacti. DC is a swamp. Cacti aren’t native to swamps. At all. Here’s a glimpse of how beautifully this landscaping experiment has turned out:

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Cacti in DC really thrive, as you can tell from the fact that they’re waterlogged and wilting in sadness.

Third: Since Brandon’s and my parents are all living in Texas now, we also spent time in San Antonio visiting his family. His mom and I are big fans of thrift shopping (seriously, you can score some amazing threads and save so much money!), so we hit up one of the bigger thrift stores in SA. When we first got there, I found a tile trivet showing a traditional Shabbat scene with “Shabbat shalom” written in Hebrew. I have very few things left from my year in Jerusalem – I’d bought tons of spices and textiles, which have long since been used or been packed away – and I really miss some of my memorabilia. The tile didn’t remind me of Jerusalem itself, but it did remind me of the many Shabbat dinners I shared with my friends when I was there. I put it in our cart, but the more I thought about it, the more I felt like I not only didn’t need another trivet (I have plenty), but it wasn’t worth getting something I wasn’t going to use just because it vaguely reminds me of a place I lived almost a decade ago.

So, I went to put it back – and as I walked towards the shelf where I’d gotten it, a second tile caught my eye. The artwork on that tile looked exactly like the depictions of Jerusalem that most local artists use in their tile paintings. No, that’s not possible, I thought. There’s no way I would’ve missed a Jerusalem tile earlier! As I got closer, I thought I must be imagining things. But then I got to the shelf, and there it was: a tile depicting Jerusalem. My jaw must’ve hit the floor. Needless to say, I bought it without a second thought.

What are some things that have stopped you in your tracks lately? Let me know!