I love having caller ID. When an unknown or an 800- number comes up, I rarely answer. I figure, this saves both me and the telemarketers trying to call me quite a lot of grief. Today, though, I'm waiting for the plumber to come fix my toilet, so when the unknown number came up, I took a chance and answered, thinking it might be him.
It wasn't. The call was from somewhere in the subcontinent, from a man who claimed to represent Microsoft. He asked, how I was doing? On this side of the phone line, I gaped, unsure whether to say anything. In fact, even as naturally suspicious as I am, it took me half a minute of silent gaping to realize I needed to hang up. I didn't know if he was from Microsoft. I doubted it. Everything from the series of numbers and letters that had appeared on my phone read out to the pause while it connected us to the distance in the line suggested that maybe I shouldn't trust this situation. All this was almost tipped by one enormous fact: the fact of his voice.
The lilt of it, the pitch of it, the seeming sincerity when he asked how my day was--it all reminded me strongly of a colleague at work of whom I am quite fond. That half-moment when I didn't hang up? It was consumed with the need to remind myself that this wasn't the man I knew, and that it was OK to hang up.
Still, I was strangely shaken. I felt I'd been discourteous to a stranger--this even though I myself have worked as a telemarketer to help support my family over the summers while I was in grad school. I know from experience that a hang up isn't an insult; it's just a reason to move to the next call. But that human voice... that unique timber that no robocaller has ever replicated...
Because I'm working on manuscript revision today, it struck me how crucial this element is in writing. If I can make a voice that personal on the page, it's hard to hang up on. Our love for the sound of our fellow beings is one of the things that pulls us into story, whether we know it or not. It's what we most enjoy when we sit round a campfire and speak of ghosts. It's what makes us crave stories when we're alone and need the comfort of voice.
As writers, we're the ultimate scammers and salesmen, pitching a line we acknowledge up front to be false, and expecting emotional payment regardless. Any number of craft elements help make this possible, but I rarely give voice its due. Today, I'm rethinking this.