thinking out loud
...seems to be in short supply most of the time. Robert and I saw the Peter Tunney billboard on the Major Deagan the other day and it got me to thinking.
It isn't a sentiment that's often out in front. There's so much that can get in the way of a simple expression of thanks. Responsibility. Pride. Inattention. Worry. Regret.
We've seen more than the usual share of destruction and deprivation in our world lately. Disaster, hostility, and suffering are everywhere. And yet, a second look reveals neighbor reaching out to help neighbor, kind souls sheltering strangers, young and old lending their hands and backs to rescue and cleanup operations.
This time of year is special, no matter what else is going on in the world, because we're reminded to take that extra moment to say, "Thank you." To our families and friends who stand by us. To our partners and clients who help us keep a roof over our heads. To the men and women who protect us and defend us. To those who go out at any hour in all weather to save lives, fix what's broken, and keep watch when things get rough.
So again: Thank you.
Michael Chabon is an author whose reputation certainly precedes him, and I don't know how I've managed to go this long without digging in to his work. Certainly, there is a nagging concern that what you've heard or read is hype, and that the actual experience is going to be a letdown.
This is not the case here. Telegraph Avenue is everything I want in a novel and more. It's a deep and thoughful reflection on the relationships between blacks and whites, the intermeshing of cultures, of gentrification and urban renewal. It's a detailed and insightful memoir of a time and a place, populated with a rich tapestry of characters who are fully drawn and completely believable. There's a compelling story that spins an intricate web around you and makes you care about what happens; that involves you in a complex set of relationships between people and their community and the conflicts between their personal histories, their aspirations, their families, and their limitations. Local politics, social responsibility, Black Panthers, kung fu, environmentalism, aging blaxploitation stars, midwifery, the impossibility of being 14 years old -- it's all there.
And music. Telegraph Avenue pulses with music, both in the many references that become a soundtrack running in your head and in the detailed, lively descriptions of the incredible conflagration of funk, soul, R&B, rock and roll and jazz that bubbled up out of the American cultural melting pot beginning in the Sixties and continuing to this day. If you don't know what a CTI release was, go do some listening. It will add a layer of depth to the experience of this book that is priceless.
Chabon delivers extremely realistic dialog that includes plenty of street slang and Clarke Peters handles the narration of the audiobook with superb attention to the personalities and characterizations. He gives a believable and authentic voice to a wide cast of characters that includes everything from a 14 year old gay white kid to a nonagenarian Chinese woman, and delivers the narrative in a style that is deeply sensitive to cultural and political connotations. His wonderful voice becomes the music of this experience.
I'm all for austerity.
Spend less, reduce clutter, get rid of stuff that holds you down, take only what you can use, relinquish attachments—all are worthy objectives. These are guiding principles for my personal life, and also for my political views, since the personal is political. Like they say: think globally, but act locally. I vote for smaller government, less waste and excess, more responsible conservation of resources, and more caution when considering the rights of individuals to make up their own minds. Less is more.
I'm serious. Let's get small. Really small. Let's take up less space. Let's let go of the idea that bigger is better. Let's give up on that old American dream of wealth and prosperity for all. It is not sustainable. It only works when there's a third world -- an "under" world -- to supply us with our gadgets and material wants. Guess what? The third world watches Dallas and Real Housewives and American Idol on TV, too, and they want what we have. Who's going to supply them?
Yes, they've been watching. They want their MTV and their Starbucks and their KFC. They want their burgers and fries. They want their big houses and stylish clothes. Trouble is, there's no room at the table any more. If all 9 billion citizens of the world lived like the typical American family, we'd all be drowning in pig shit and choking on fumes.
We can't pretend that we can turn the clock back to a time of innocence when the future was all bright and rosy, and everything seemed possible. Those who look to reinstate the Glory Days are in for disappointment and disillusionment. The American Century is over. Anyone who has looked closely knows that it wasn't all that glorious anyway.
We're in a new century now. Let's promote some different American values, some values for the future and for the world.
Let's start small:
Try to be kind.
Say thank you more often.
Talk to dogs and small children. You will learn something every time.
Honor your elders, but question authority every time.
Work hard. Eat well.
While we're on the subject, less meat is not such a bad idea.
Plan for the future, remember the past.
Live in the present.
Finally! My first audiobook production on ACX is out!
I truly enjoyed reading Dr. Asma's book, and I think it's a good listen. While I don't hold with everything he lays out in his "Chicago-Style" Buddhism, Asma's thinking is very broadminded and his approach is generous. He wants to bring everybody into the tent, and focuses on the practical aspects of Buddhist teaching. Very low on the mystical, hippy-dippy stuff, and high on the mind-focusing, ethical living side of the equation. I found the chapters on science and Buddhism and art and Buddhism particularly engaging.
So. Buy the book. It's worth it, and you'll be helping me get hired by more authors and publishers.
Open letter to [insert service provider here]
Hello. I thought you could use some feedback on my recent experience with your company.
Ultimately, when it came down to the installers actually doing the work, your technicians were knowledgeable, affable, and expert. If only the same could be said for the rest of your operations.
I spoke to 8 different people in various levels of Customer Care yesterday, and it seemed that each had different information. From the first contact at 8 AM, when I confirmed that all was on track and that I should expect my technician to show up between 9 and 12, to the 2nd, at 1 PM, who told me that my order was cancelled and proceeded to create a new order for me, to the last - who was the most competent and tenacious, and stayed with me on my mobile phone until the technicians actually arrived, not one could see the record of my most recent contacts in sequence, or could explain to me exactly why my order was in limbo.
Overall, there is an overriding sense that, particularly at the lower levels of customer care management, representatives are trained to limit customers' expectations, and to explain and apologize for what they cannot do rather than act on what they can do.
Clearly, [insert service provider]'s CMS must be incredibly complicated and managing customer care for an organization as large as yours is a daunting proposition. Nevertheless, when a company is in a position where so much power and control resides in one set of systems, the responsibility to attend to customer needs is magnified, rather than diminished. Look at Google. Look at Amazon. Other large 'monopolistic' corporations are succeeding by starting with the customer experience and building backward from there. If you don't know about it, go read up on how Zappo's dealt with their recent systems breach and ended up making better customers rather than losing any.Further impressions:
- Low level representatives generally want to help, but cannot because they are not properly supported by training and systems - this must lead to feelings of uselessness and powerlessness, which cannot be good for morale or employee retention
- The experience of being on hold with your company is excruciating because of the extremely poor sound quality of the hold music employed - I was much happier when agents put my call on mute, rather than sending me to 'hold hell'
- transfers from one group to another are very poorly supported - there is degradation of the signal from one transfer to the next, and CSRs inevitably failed to provide a direct number in case the call was disconnected
- there is no way to call back and pick up a conversation with the same agent one has dealt with earlier or to bypass the annoying IVR when one is calling for the seventh or eighth time
- Speaking of IVR, I have no philosophical objection if it improves the quality and speed of service, but to force someone through a phone tree, then collect information that does not result in connecting with an informed agent is a demeaning waste of time for both customer and agent. If your system is going to ask me for account number or incident number or trouble ticket number, then the agent I connect with had better have my account on screen when she picks up.I have taken the time to provide detailed feedback because I know that those of you at the top of the food chain at [insert service provider] would not accept the poor quality of interaction that I experienced when you are the customer. I hope my frustration can translate into better care on the front lines.