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Working the Phone

When I was a kid, one of my least favorite activities was trying to sell things going door to door.  Whether I was trying to get sponsors for the Walk-a-ton, Read-a-ton, or Whatever-a-ton, there was just a sense of dread when I knew a particular Saturday afternoon was going to be spent trying to get sponsors.  Most likely because I have a very deep seated fear of rejection, and anyone who has ever had to go door to door knows, this activity is a virtual gold mine of rejection.  Now, some rejection is nicer than others.  A polite "No Thank-you", with an unspoken, "we don't care how many books you read to cure diseases", is certainly better than the literal door slamming in the face, but neither one feels particularly good.

My dad would try and encourage me by telling me I didn't have get a certain amount of sponsors, after all the eight year old me couldn't control the universe and what other people chose to care about, but he did require that I put in a certain amount of effort.  I was required to go out and knock on a certain number of doors.  Whether people sponsored me, or purchased over priced candy bars, was not important.  He wanted me to put in a certain amount of effort.  I wasn't in control of other people, but I could control the amount of effort I put in, and that effort was displayed by the number of doors I knocked on. So, my father would send me out, not for a certain number of sponsors, not for a certain length of time, but to go knock on a certain number of doors.  So, out into the cruel wilderness of my neighborhood I would go, (I'm sure I was barefoot, and it was definitely uphill both ways), to knock on doors, hoping, of course that no one would answer, that rejection would be avoided, and I could go back to playing G.I. Joe.  In the end, I would end up with some sponsors, never the most, but not the least, usually somewhere in the middle.

Now the the road to becoming a real live, honest to goodness, filmmaker has not lead me to knocking on any front doors, but I have had to make more than my fair share of phone calls.  In other words, knocking on doors from the comfort of my own home.  The method may be different, but the idea is still the same.  With the press of a few buttons, the caller is interrupting the world of the call taker, in order to ask them to do something.  This is not a great formula for success.  Unless you're asking the other person to receive a garbage truck full of money, most people will not reward an interruption by granting a favor, but when it comes right down to it, there is really no other way to get things done.  No matter what you are trying to do, eventually you will have to ask someone you don't know, to help you with something you need.  At eight years old, I did that by knocking on doors.  Today, at slightly more than five times that age, I make phone calls.  You might think, and I understand if you do, gentle reader, that this might be a much improved way of doing things.  No going outside into the cruel world.  No walking necessary.  In fact, no sitting upright, or even pants required.  So why is it that it still takes a unbelievable amount of will power to stop looking at the list of calls I need to make, and actually get my fingers to start doing the walking?  It's got to be the rejection.

The rejection of the phone call is a little different than that of the slammed door.  When the door is slammed shut, as painful as that is, at least you know it's time to move on.  With the phone call however, it has been my experience the receiver of the call will simply try and wait you out.  They ask you to call back the next week  They'll have an answer for you then.  Except they will be on an Alaskan cruise the next week.  A phone call the week after that, will find that they have been too busy to check on that "thing", but call back next week and they should have it for you.  But you guessed it, gentle reader, they're not there next week, so you leave a message, and another, and another, and another until you wonder if you should even bother calling back.  On the one hand, it looks like your call is being ignored, and on the other hand, continuing to call might just embarrass the person so that if they weren't avoiding the call before, they probably will be.  I have made over ten calls to the same number, just trying to get any kind of answer from them.  They don't say "No", they don't say "Yes" they just say, "Could you please call back".  A more paranoid person would begin to suspect conspiracy.  But, I continue to dial, because unlike in my childhood, there is no relief for just having made the calls on my "to do" list.  I need people to answer those calls.  Ideally, I need those people to help me on my filmmaking journey.  So I continue to let my fingers walk up and down the neighborhoods of my contacts list, (barefoot and uphill both ways). Deep inside I know it is building the perseverance I need to succeed.  I also now know why they call it "working" the phones.


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