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Sanctum sanctorum

Kilkenny Ireland, late September 2006 —
I realize that this page is quite long for an online document. But here it is....
I was fielding a lot of telephone calls about the ad I'd placed in the newspaper. I had to answer the 'phone.

I felt "accessible."

I had been trying recently to protect myself against accessibility at the whim of others. The feeling had come from interactions at all sides — home, work, friendship — and, indeed, here, newly, on the development of this requisite. I had to find a new housemate — and had to answer the phone.

I was accessible, again, fresh after having done some work establishing boundaries for my privacy.


For months, I had had a wireless router in my bedroom for sharing internet access with my two housemates. This router malfunctioned erratically — it would blink out every few days, and sometimes serially on a given day. In order to restart it, you'd have to unplug it and plug it back in.

My housemates would come knock on my door, if they had tried to get online and it wasn't working. I accepted this. I'd told them to do so. But in my heart, I would get a sinking feeling even to hear one of them come up the stairs. I found myself altering my state of thought, every time I heard somebody approaching my room, as I prepared myself to field a brief, congenial social encounter.

I came to realize that I had no personal space. No sanctum sanctorum.

A feeling inside me about this lack built up over months. I let it happen. For one thing, I had two good housemates. For another, I had promised them internet access. And I didn't know what else to do.

I had tried to get some technical assistance from the shop that had sold the router. Their only involvement, ultimately, was to insist that Belkin is a state-of-the-art router and that nobody's ever complained about it.

I finally decided, about a month ago, that the time had come for a technical solution. Looking for a way to split the signal with hard wire, I found a simple junction box called a "switch" [named with just such inventive taxonomy as calls a wireless transceiver a "router."] It was a simple answer to the problem — a network cable connection back out the same hole in the wall that lets the cable in to the modem, and from there through the floor and down the corner of the walls below.

Then — after talking with a couple of friends who gave my intuition full and confident support* — I decided that I would ask my housemates not to come knocking on my door. This I did; and after some objection and a period of disregard, the rule stuck.

So I had just come to a point at which I was prepared to defend a personal space. I had become, in this one realm, "not necessarily accessible" within a moment — and that's just the way I'd like it to be.


And I'd already had it with my telephone. In this matter, as well, I had been trying to find a defensible boundary — trying to stake my freedom to attend a missed call when it suited me to do so.

One particular friend likes a fellow to pick up the phone when it rings. He'll ring again. Then, later, again; and again.

I'd have known he'd called. I was gonna get to it so of course the added pressure of repetitious belling (with no explanatory text message) would only make me less enthusiastic to speak right away.

This had happened within the fortnight previous — he'd gone buggy that I wouldn't pick up the phone, hadn't let me know what he was on about, and without knowing it had made me feel hunted. (And I wasn't in the form to hear the question that I would have to resist answering; [or the implication; "I've been trying to reach you...," with expectant silence.] ... So I procrastinated....)

"Been tryin' to contact him all weekend," he'd told a mutual friend, with whom I happened to be working at the moment. He'd called the other lad to try to find me. To find out if I was okay maybe; fair enough. I'd seen him on Friday. We'd all been out together.

So the mobile telephone was already a vector of invasiveness — into a world that I'd been trying to better protect.

And there I was.


Thursday, and my phone was ringing. Fortunately, too. I needed to find somebody to move into the room that S_ was going to vacate.

The phone was ringing, and that was fortunate — but that doesn't mean I wanted to anwer it — but I had to.

And people called, all day people with various requests and questions. A few wanted to see the place immediately. Naturally, I considered it more reasonable to set up an appointment.

A woman rang me at 20 past 3. She would like to see the place. I told her okay; when would be a good time? She wanted to see it right then. I told her I'd prefer to make an appointment; how would it be if we could meet at 4:00 at the Market Cross shopping Centre?

She said she would call me. I could not understand our inability to communicate. I told her, rather curtly, that I could meet her at 4 o'clock in front of Market Cross "That's what I can do for you."

She told me what she was wearing.

My friend, the one who's mad about telephone connectivity, rang me just as I was heading out the door to meet this mad woman. He wanted help shifting something from Argos [a catalogue store] near Market Cross; near my apartment [and] over to his place. I told him I was just then going to meet somebody; and we agreed that I'd get in contact soon as I'd finished.

[I told him that this woman was making me crazy; that I didn't know whether I'd even stop and speak with her; that I might only pass by and get an impression of her; that I'd likely be free soon.]

My phone beeped an incoming call as I was finishing the discussion, and as I was locking the door. As I descended the stairway, I checked to see what number was top of the "missed calls" list. It was the madwoman herself, ringing at 4 o'clock.

That pretty much settled it. For whatever reason, we were unable to communicate (she spoke native-quality English.)

But I went for the walk down to the entrance of the shopping center, down on High Street. Why not.

Didn't see her. I stood there for about four minutes, wonder why I really should, fidgeting a bit, standing from foot to foot.

Screw that. She's not it. I walked, inward into Market Cross, to pass back up through the other main exit.

I saw C_, an acquaintance of mine. I stopped her, flagging her down. Blathered at her a bit; people were making me crazy blah blah.... She just kind of looked at me, almost quizically (she'd normally be the one to bubble on about something, laughing too much as she does.) I calmed down, speaking with her. I talked with her for a few minutes.

My phone rang. I didn't want to get it, but had to; and my conversation with C_ had just ended, with us just then saying our goodbyes. You're ringing, she noted, and encouraged me to answer it.

We said goodbye, I squeezed her shoulder, and walked on. I looked at my phone — madwoman. I slid it shut. I looked back, instinctively; and I think I saw her, following me, and having seen me answering my phone.

I just kept going. I went home, and tried to call the friend. I sent Madwoman a text, something like: "Sorry, I was there didn't see you. Anyhow, you're too pushy. Wouldn't work." (She'd called again. I just wanted her to stop it.)

[I don't like to be rude. I was feeling some amount of stress, and probably succumbing to it like an idiot.]

I couldn't get in touch with the friend. I kept getting his answering service. I didn't text, figuring what, I don't remember. Figuring he'd ring me soon. He didn't. I didn't hear from him for an hour-and-a-half. During this time, I felt the obligation to do as I said I would do; felt accessible again beside all the other calls I had to take.

I sent him a text, tearing the head off him. I felt obligated to help you, accessible on a very busy day... something like that.

(In truth, "busy day" had nothing to do with the principle of the situation: whose business is it whether I'm busy or not. I didn't like being left hanging accessible for such an indefinite period — and, of course, the timing found me sensitive about just this particular issue. The more-specific timing [a busy day, on the telephone] had made me irritable on top of any matters of principle.)

He sent back a nasty text. He was pretty sarcastic, and not entirely logical either. He claimed that I had agreed to come over to his place when I was available.

I sent a text to him that evening, apologizing. This was partly due to the fact I'd lost my sense when I'd written to him; but partly due also to the tone of his message, which seemed to imply that he was ready go to to war over the petty matter that I'd expressed anger. Upping the ante, sending anger back to me, I could see this was at least slightly dangerous. Fuck that. I apologized, finding it better to eat this one.

I texted him the next evening, saying something like "in all fairness, I wouldn't have agreed to call over, for us to walk to Argos. I live near Argos. Would've made no sense:" but that [was] the past was gone.

He wondered if I was going to have a pint.

Which I did.


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* My friends, the ones who supported the idea of a "closed door policy," have neither of them any real idea what it's like to need creative space, the latitude of privacy to work on a project. These two were speaking as men, only, and both said yes — absolutely. Tell the housemates that you want to be left up to your own business — and then don't answer the door.

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