Friday, 22 February 2013


This week I seem to have made an excessive number of calls to 13-numbers. You know: those calls to ‘service’ providers that have you pressing button-after-button on an interminable menu or dealing with the malapropisms of voice recognition systems. 

I'm still twitching and the meds haven’t kicked in yet, but for what it’s worth here’s 10 tips on how to survive the process. 

1.     Try to make the call on a day when on which you have few other life stressors because by the end of the call you will have accumulated more stress points than can be conceived of by the Holmes and Rahe stress scale. That’s enough to be going on with.

2.     Make a strong cup of tea or coffee. If your call is to a call centre that's likely to be off-shore, switch to anything containing over 15% alcohol. Keep fluids handy; humans function best when hydrated or you just may want to drown yourself halfway through the call. 

3.     Don’t dial until you have given yourself a good talking to. Prepare yourself mentally.  Deep breathe, remind yourself the call will be of temporary duration (okay, okay even if it lasts for hours, technically, it’s temporary)

4.     Have all your ID requirements handy (Account name / your name / DOB / password / PIN / underpants size /next week’s tattslotto numbers - get my drift?) Be prepared to repeat these many times. Many, many, many times.

5.     Do not be discouraged when your issue is not covered by the menu options. Pick a number…any number. Chances are the outcome will be the same.

6.     Think of voice recognition, not as a conspiracy against you, but as a source of customer entertainment (although it really is a conspiracy against you but you’ll feel better not nurturing that notion) 

7.     When you eventually get through and the company jingle blares repeatedly in your ear, there is only one thing you can do: grimace and bear it. After listening to the tune ceaselessly, be prepared to experience waves of nausea each time you subsequently hear it on television or radio. It is possible your ears may bleed.

8.     As you are transferred though an endless stream of customer ‘service’ operators, try not to be distracted by all the background chatter of other operators. Be prepared for your jaw to tighten as you repeat yourself again and again. Simple massage of the temporomandibular joint will assist at this stage. Please note that's massage the joint, not smoke a joint (although you might be tempted) 

9.     At some point you may forget what the problem was that you were ringing about. This is a common setback. You are vulnerable at this point. Do not attempt to get the operators to assist. You will end up with a 'friendly sales team member' and before you know it you'll have agreed to a contract for a service you don't need or want. Terminate the call and take a long nap. When you eventually recall the issue, unfortunately you will need to go back to Step 1. Before you do so, ask your friends to send good vibes.

10.  If you find yourself weeping at any stage in the process, hang up immediately and seek psychological assistance. Please be mindful that this step is the trickiest of all: Lifeline is a 13-number.  

Monday, 11 February 2013

Tourist's eyes

When my aunt visited from Italy last year she was enthralled by the uncustomary sights, scents and sounds of our city. Wherever we took her she’d take in all the sensory data and exclaim, ‘Ma, guarda!’ Look at that! Everything to her was new and fresh. I was amused by her enthusiastic reactions over everything, from her awe at kerbside garbage collection (in her town residents carry their garbage to strategically placed collective bins) to her wonder at the Australian landscape.  

As we talked and she explained her perceptions, I realised she had opened my eyes to appreciating the things I took for granted: wide open parks, greenery, the architecture; most of all the sense of personal space. I hadn’t looked at my home city like that for some time, but I was still intrigued by her response. ‘But, you live in Puglia, one of the most beautiful regions in Italy; all those ancient Roman roads, the architecture; the churches!’

‘Bah,’ she said. ‘It’s just old concrete.’

Her perception of her hometown was tempered, blunted by familiarity, as indeed mine had been in my own hometown. We had both been looking at the same thing but one with the jaded view of a long time dweller, the other with the fresh eyes of a tourist.

Cut to present day me, coming to the completion of the first draft of a novel that I’ve been working on for too many years to count. Despite my limitations, I’m determined to finish it one word, one paragraph or one page at a time. It may still take years because I've struggle with tying together the loose ends. The fine tuning to the shape and flow the novel needs eludes me. It feels overwhelming.  The novel and I have a long partnership and like many long relationships, occasionally we fall out; we have words (or lack of them) and we don’t communicate well. How had I arrived at this point?  I realised that I was too close. I’d been holding the work so near my eyes that the words had become indistinct.

It occurred to me that the notion of ‘tourist’s eyes’ could be applied to other areas, such as my writing. I could use this concept as a way to make sense of the story world from another’s perspective. To a certain extent, my writing buddies help me with this perspective by giving me feedback on the work. They look at each page I write with the eyes of those new to an area, having to take in the information to get their bearings—in this case their bearings in the story. A bit like my aunt appreciating what I had taken for granted and pointing out the areas in which she was confused about how things are done and where they are going. I needed to take a step back to look at my novel in a way I haven’t before.

So I opened my eyes and took a new ‘tour’ of my writing. Like the familiar streets I drive through or walk in each day, I'd ceased to see some of the finer details. One of the first things I noticed was that there was so much more to the characters and the plot that I hadn’t committed to paper. Even though I walk around with their lives filling my head, I've forgotten to let the reader in on these. I experienced a bit of culture shock on that tour. The world of the novel was foreign and I was disoriented. If I was lost, how would a reader feel? These discoveries were a starting point.  

It’s not easy work being a tourist. The down side is that it can be tiring and frustrating; the up side being the experience of a new world. That’s what all writers want to ultimately offer their readership—a world that they can escape to and enjoy.

Gradually, I've started to clean up my characters’ world; I’m tweaking the ‘road maps’ and cutting out the bits that don’t serve the story. I might have to take many trips as a tourist but that’s okay. And, luckily for me, there’s a kind of kerbside garbage collection service on my PC via the delete button. Ma guarda!

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Friday, 1 February 2013

Climbing lots of stairs

The other day I was talking to someone who is struggling to find employment. It isn't just the economic climate that’s the problem. It's the attitude of employers; they want experience, preferably gained in someone else’s environment. They want extended hours for less pay. Sometimes candidates are considered ‘overqualified.’ It's very hard to pick yourself up each time you’re knocked back. The sad fact is that often you don't know you knocked back because employers invariably do not bother to respond to applicants. Eventually you get that you’ve been unsuccessful when they don’t respond to your emails or return your calls. Contributing to this has been the system of online applications which has a certain degree of protective anonymity for the employer. They get away with it because they can. People are desperate for work and the employer continues to get applications because of that fact, not because they are ‘employer of choice’.

The most spurious argument for non-reply to candidates is that there are so many applications they don’t have the resources to do so. When I worked in the recruitment industry, the practice was to send letters to every candidate when they were unsuccessful. One occasion, I signed over 500 letters in one sitting. A number of people ridiculed me about this saying it was a waste of my time and resources. From my point of view the applicants had put time and personal resources into his or her application and deserved the courtesy of a reply to show that their application had been received and properly considered. These days email provides flexibility to respond easily as can appropriate wording on the job ad itself about expectation of response times.

One of the first things eroded in a continuous and unfruitful search for employment is the individual's confidence. For many unemployed people the cost of repeated applications is both practically and emotionally wearing. My friend fell into this category. It culminated when the consultant at the employment agency where he is a registered client told him on the last visit that she had not bothered to match him with potential work ‘because it was January’.  

My friend’s reaction was, ‘I'm not climbing the corporate ladder. I'm just climbing lots of stairs.’ At the top there is usually a shut door.  

Why am I ranting about this? Because employers and recruitment service providers often miss the fact that work and the process of seeking it isn’t just about economic considerations. It’s about a sense of purpose and achievement. It’s about establishing and maintaining social networks. It’s about belonging somewhere. And those in a position to offer or advance employment owe each applicant an appreciation of that. 

If nothing else, we owe them the courtesy of a reply. 

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