Friday, July 30, 2010

Information Exclamation Observation

The Internet is a strange place (as if we needed any reminders). Not because of the fact that anonymity combined with an audience turns people into hateful twits, or the eerie speed and ease with which you can find pretty much any variety of pornography, but run-of-the-mill social networking. It strikes me as strange because there’s just so much you can find out about people you thought you knew well.

What I find of particular interest is information about my friends’ religious orientation. I’ll get back in touch with someone I knew in high school and often find that their profile page is so Jesus-laden that I’m surprised that he/she hasn’t already killed him/herself in an attempt to get closer to their lord. Then I start to wonder if these friends of mine were very religious when I met them, and if so, how could I have missed it? I know people who will shove their religion down your throat any opportunity, and I also know people who are kind enough to keep it to themselves, so they could very well have been part of the latter group. Has anyone else experienced this sort of surprising discovery about the nature of their friends in their adventures through social networking?

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Bachelor of Arts in Mediocrity

In life I’ve been fortunate enough to be generally well-liked. There have been exceptions, of course, like mean little turds I had to endure in elementary school, and the occasional grown-up turd in my adult life, but such people have come up only on occasion. I worked hard and did well in school, becoming a favorite of some teachers and professors (or so it seemed). I even received the Unsung Hero award and a $500 scholarship at my high school just for being someone others could look up to (the words of one of the teachers who came up with the award, not mine).

I was able to continue stirring up this sort of positive sentiment in people even in college, but I have not met with much success in trying to do so in the working world. At every job I’ve ever had, I’ve gotten along well with my co-workers, and customers seem to at least not hate my guts, but my job performance seems only mediocre. I put much of the same effort into my job as I did my school work, but I’ve been getting unremarkable results.

Why is school so different from work, at least in my case? I’m sure this is one of the reasons people become professional students. School proved to be a good environment for me, I think because if I stuck with a particular group of students long enough, like when taking a foreign language class, a comfortable, stable atmosphere developed that never develops in a workplace where new people traipse in and out on a daily basis. This is probably why I took almost nine years worth of foreign language classes during my school career.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Endless Bummer

It sucks trying to get any sleep during the summer. Even if you’re about to fall over dead from fatigue, it’s still often difficult to get the rest you need to function like a normal human being for the coming day. I know most people share this affliction with me, but there is another that may have targeted fewer people, including myself: ownership of a mind in a state of vicious unrest. I find myself often bombarded by thoughts and ideas, but the bombardment has seemed particularly acute in the past week or so. It seems to be worst just before and after sleeping, as those are the times when I’m the least preoccupied with tasks and responsibilities. Some thoughts will recur throughout the day, reminding me from time to time of how crazy I am, and others will stick and ride in grooves deeper than ocean trenches, pounding my brain with the persistence with which the earth rotates. Am I alone in this situation, or are there others to whom this is happening?

Thursday, July 22, 2010

On customer service (and humanity)

At work today, I was stuck [read: trapped] on the phone with a customer who knew the exact thing she wanted, but neither knew what it was called nor knew how to describe it using terms that could point me in the right direction. It became apparent early in the conversation that this customer knew more about the products than I did, as she was louder and more insistent than I was. It took a 20-minute session of explanation and re-explanation to assure her that I knew (kind of) what I was talking about, and then she asked for my name and schedule so she could come in and continue our delightful conversation in person. Grand.

During the phone call, I drifted between varying levels of concern and consciousness, ranging from mild interest to near-comatose, and at one point I settled into a rather dangerous line of thought: Why is it so rare to encounter a polite, empathetic customer? Such a thought is not dangerous in and of itself, but when it pops into your head at a moment of lowered inhibitions, such as when you’re about to smack a customer because they won’t listen to a damned word you’re saying, you could utter something you would regret. Well, I’m sure plenty of you out there wouldn’t regret speaking your mind, but I bet that you would rue the decision afterward when considering your new employment status.

Anyway, I digress. Why are polite, empathetic customers so hard to find? I guess that question begs a bigger, broader question: Why are polite, empathetic humans so hard to find? It’s not difficult to be nice, to be friendly, or to have manners, but I encounter incapable individuals on a near-daily basis. Everyone needs some reassurance from time to time that if life is getting you down, it’s just a matter of time before things turn around, but why is it that all too often such empathy is nowhere to be found? If you find yourself asking these same questions, make an effort to effect the change you wish to see. Smile at somebody, throw out a “thank you” or two, and remember that we’re all in the same boat together.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Application Trepidation

Neither the job where I smell people all day nor the one where I run my ass off all day represents my desired career path, so I am doomed to continue doing that which I despise: applying for jobs. There’s nothing like fretting over the use of each word in a resume or cover letter to make you feel so insignificant and bent to the will of a potential employer. Running over the same list of the same information over and over again on countless applications has served as a fine alternative to ipecac.

What is it about applying for jobs that is so depressing? Is it the constant, pressing fear of rejection? Is it having to bottle yourself into a single-page resume, knowing in all likelihood it will be tossed without ceremony into the same receptacle as snot-filled tissues and empty bags of Cheetos? Is it the feeling of inadequacy? Yes. It’s all of them and probably more.

But there is a light at the end of the tunnel. No, not the light that you head toward when you die, but, you know, hope. It’s an awful, dehumanizing process, but I know it’s going to get me closer to where I want to be in life. Then I can ditch the smelly customers and move on to a job where I’ll only have to deal with smelly co-workers.

Friday, July 16, 2010

On writing (and getting the hell on the stick)

I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was ten years old. I remember writing my first story at that age, penned with care on ten sheets of tiny notebook paper. I had done creative writing before for school assignments, but this was the first time I had ever written anything for myself. When I was 12, I started the horrid first draft of the novel that I’ve been working on at least once a week for the past year. I’m 24 now, so I suppose you could say that I’m well-invested in this story, you know, having spent half my life toying with the concept and all.

I did a lot of growth as a writer from then until now, generating a style, finding genres that suited me, and sharpening my command of the English language, but there was one thing that that I barely did at all: write. I wrote a page or two of junk every few months, and stared at discouraging blank pages a little more often. I was never going to get anywhere at that pace, I was never going to reap any sort of reward for my work, and I was guaranteed never to get even a whiff of what I could have accomplished. I created maps of new worlds, a new language, and a history of a people who existed only in my mind, but it didn’t matter because I hadn’t told any sort of story.

My writing ability would not have allowed me to produce a novel of even mediocre quality when I first had the idea, but now I have no excuse. I knew it needed to be done, so I made the commitment to write, and with a lot of encouragement from my diligent writing companions whom I met in the pursuit of my dream, I now have something to show for my efforts: a concrete body of good-quality work. I can read through the 40-or-so pages of writing I’ve done over the past year and see that I’m getting somewhere.

If you want to create that piece of art that’s been gnawing at the inside of your head, don’t put it off another day. It’s so easy to get mired in the swamp of creative procrastination (also known as research, creating the background, and someday) that you may miss the perhaps years-long opportunity to start and never even notice. Make like a Nike shoe and just do it.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Nose Knows or The Smell of Clientele

Let’s take a moment to discuss how people smell. Some people smell good, and some people smell bad. According to a study I just made up, a staggering 93.7 percent of the customers at my main job fall into the latter of the aforementioned categories. I’m getting dehydrated because breathing through my mouth all day is drying me out.

Dealing with stinky customers has made me feel better about myself, however. I’m beginning to believe that I’m of some exceptional ability, because buying and applying deodorant, something which must prove to be a monumental task for most of the store’s clientele, is something I can do with ease.

I would be remiss if I limited this discussion to the variety of odor that can be dealt with using deodorant, which is only a part of the fetid rainbow that is the spectrum of human stench. Let’s break this stink down into a few categories:

Breath: I don’t know if it’s something you ate (week-old roadside coyote and road apples, I’m guessing), or if it’s the smell of your mouth trying to escape one dying cell at a time, but the right kind of bad breath can flatten the very person who has been paid to stand in front of you and make sure you get what you need (besides a healthy dose of mouthwash). I know your diet and hygiene are none of my business, but I’d appreciate it if you brushed your teeth one of these years.

Feet: If I can smell your feet at you’re walking around, your stink has reached my nose. I’m about 5’ 10”, making my nose a little over five feet above the ground. This indicates that the area of effect of your foulness has at least a five-foot radius, which is about four feet and eleven inches greater than the area generally accepted by society. Changing every 3,000 miles applies to engine oil; not socks.

Body: This is the most common, and in my opinion, worst, affliction among the customers with whom I work. Perhaps the worst aspect of body odor is that breathing through the mouth doesn’t always do the trick. Sometimes I can taste how bad you smell, and that’s just the highlight of my day. Some may be worried about the potential negative health effects of deodorants containing aluminum, but these are eclipsed by the negative health effects of my hands choking the life out of these people.

Good hygiene is a wonderful thing.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Tomorrow is the first day at my second new job. The second job I had to take because I can’t get enough hours at my first job. The second job I had to take so I can cover my budget. My modest budget.

I’m thrilled.

I’m trying to keep a positive attitude about the whole thing, but it’s difficult not to think about the last time I had two jobs. When I was 19, I got a full-time job as a greeter at a semi-fine-dining restaurant in a hotel near Seattle. I was making pretty good money, but this was the during the year I took off between high school and college, and I thought because I wasn’t doing anything but working, I should try to make as much money as I could while I had the opportunity. After being at the restaurant for a couple months, the sick and twisted idea of getting an additional job chomped its teeth into my brain. The fact that it would be a second job wasn’t the sick and twisted part, but the idea that I should go back to work at my last job was. The only job I had held before the restaurant (not counting the week I spent at UPS—that’s another story) was when I was 18 working as a bottom-rung customer service lackey at Blockbuster for minimum wage, and as you can imagine, it sucked balls. I know this now, and I knew this at the time, so the reason why I thought this would be an even partially good idea escapes me. My old manager hired me back on, and I spent one day doing the job I had grown to hate, learning an important lesson: coming back to an old job is like putting on a pair of dirty underwear. Not long after I got home from work, I called the manager at Blockbuster and told him I wasn’t coming back, labeling myself as the perfect turd of an employee. I didn’t even get paid for the day.

Let’s hope everything turns out better this time. (However, if it does, I’ll have a lot less to write about here. A writer’s dilemma, huh?)

Friday, July 9, 2010

On confidence

Over the past few years, I’ve come to find just how important confidence is. Being confident can make the difference between getting what you want in life and being the person people walk all over to get what they want. Feeling confident makes you look confident and turns you into a good-vibe generator. I had dinner this evening with a friend who just had her braces removed after wearing them for a year. She just had them removed, and this was the first time I saw her braces-free. She normally has a good level of confidence, but today she exuded such rich self-esteem and happiness with her restored smile that it was thick and palpable in the air around our table.

There is something to be said about a person’s level of confidence. Different parts of society prescribe different proper levels, but it doesn’t seem difficult to determine what most people feel is best. You don’t want overconfidence, where you’re so much of a self-indulgent boor that no one can stand to be around you, nor do you want a lack of confidence, where few people want to be around you because you’re such a drag. Surround yourself with supportive friends, practice what you do best, and do your best to have a positive attitude, and you’ll achieve a level of confidence that will not only make you feel good about yourself, but will make others feel good about you as well.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

On writing (and not vomiting on the way to work)

Is it just me, or does everyone feeling like heaving up their breakfast when they hit the road to get to their job? I felt awful this morning just because I dreaded going to work, and it took just about everything I had to keep from turning my car around and heading back home, which left me brimming with energy for the day ahead, of course. After my stomach settled, I started thinking about how I need to put more time toward writing if I ever want to leave behind jobs like the one I have for good. Then I thought about why I started writing in the first place. I’ve always been compelled to write, and though I have not had much confidence in my writing or spent time writing on a consistent basis until the past year or so, the desire to write has always sat upon the couch in the living room of my mind, stinking up the place with ideas.

That has been my experience, but is it like that for all writers? Why do others write? Do they do it because they feel the need to do so, or are they doing it for some far-off money-making potential? Do they write to escape reality? Do they do it to work toward breaking free from a life with which they’re unhappy? The likelihood that there are far more reasons than I am able to generate is high. I suppose the same goes for reasons that anyone does anything.

Perhaps now is as good of a time as any to think about why you do what you do, whether it’s your job, your creative work, or anything else. If you’re not happy with something, start taking even small steps toward changing or eliminating it from your life. There’s no reason tomorrow can’t be the day you’ll remember as the day that everything changed.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Fireworks have been sporadically going off in the alley since sunset yesterday, and the smell of propane from the neighbors’ grills has been wafting into my apartment since noon, which means that it must be the Fourth of July. Just about everyone gets patriotic today. Even people who disapprove of our country’s presence abroad or handling of domestic affairs can be spotted hanging out at barbecues, waving flags, and watching fireworks displays. However, few of these people seem to think about what it means to have national pride. It seems to be the same as yelling out, “Hey! I happen to be from here, so this is the best country in the world!”

Americans are often singled out and accused of being boorish when they say they are proud to be American, but almost every nationality and ethnic group is guilty of this behavior as well. You are part of a particular group, so you think that group is the best, right? Sorry to be a party pooper, but perhaps that sort of energy should be redirected into something constructive.

Friday, July 2, 2010


I was talking to a friend today about plans we have for the near future. When we worked our way back from the next couple years and the next few months to just the upcoming days, and started talking about plans with friends, there was an abrupt change in her tone. She was talking about one of her friends who always flakes out on even the least involved events, and she asked me, “Why can’t someday be now?” Someday. It’s so damned easy to just throw it out there.

“When are we going to go to Europe?”
“When are you going to take that Kung Fu class?”
“When are we going to try that Indian restaurant on the corner?”

We often convince ourselves that the odds in many situations are insurmountable, so we think that our time is better spent sitting at home having never even attempted to break down barriers that, for all we know, could be made of tissue paper. If you give it a shot, you have at least a small chance of succeeding. If you sit on your ass, your chance of success is nil.

We put things off until "someday" because putting a concrete date on something can be scary. It’s also often the only way to motivate yourself to do anything. You’ll always be able to make excuses for why something can’t happen now, so make excuses for why it needs to happen. Make someday now.