Sunday, November 25, 2012

I'm (Not) A Slave 4 U

So I've already covered some helpful tips for making the holiday shopping season a less stressful experience for everyone.  That was the nice version.  This is the slightly less nice, perhaps a little bitter version. 

Somewhere along the line it became acceptable – at least in the States – to treat retail and other service workers as somehow less than ourselves.  I blame the "customer is always right" mentality.  This business strategy has led us to a point where the consumer knows that he or she can literally abuse the employees and rules of any given business and never face any retribution, because heaven forfend that business cost itself a sale or suffer a negative online review.  You can complain about almost anything, however ludicrous, and expect to receive an apology and probably a coupon or free item.  You can return items past the return date stated on your receipt, or without a receipt, or items that an employee saw you steal, and expect to get a refund.  Because if we say "no," you might not shop with us (or steal from us) again.

I'm not saying everyone abuses the system.  I'm not saying everyone is a bad customer.  But my experience has shown me that an appalling number of people have become so accustomed to being coddled that even the kindest souls simply seem to forget that retail workers are human.  So get ready to check your behavior – and if you're guilty of any of these things, think hard about how you'd feel if someone did any of them to you or about the hell you'd raise if a service employee acted similarly toward you.

Let's get into it.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Merry Shopmas!

This is reposted from my now-dormant fashion blog.  Happy Thanksgiving!

I'm baaaaaaack!

Well, that's the plan anyway.  I work retail and it's late November, and that means my soul will belong to the mall gods for at least the next month, but my intention is to pull this blog back from the netherworld and get back to it.

And I mention the timing not just to make a blatant play for your sympathy, but also because it's topical!  Black Friday is staring us down and soon many of us will be fighting the crowds in search of gifts for our loved ones.  So in the hopes of making everyone's season a little more merry and a little less Grinchy, I give you:

Care and Maintenance of Your Retail Associate:  A Handy Guide for a Happier Holiday

No, this is not the new Romero movie.  This is your local mall.

 Before I start, let me say that this list is not just intended to be the grumpy rantings of a retail salesperson.  These tips will make your life easier too.  Some of them are common sense, some of them are common courtesy, but they're all good things to keep in mind.  That said, let's get into it:

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Nature abhors a vacuum but what's between your ears?

I have a crush on The Newsroom

The first few minutes went live on the web before the first episode aired, and I was quickly intrigued.  I was a huge fan of The West Wing and its "smart people talking really fast about smart things" formula, and I was excited to see this applied to broadcast journalism.

(Full disclosure:  I minored in journalism in college and considered a career in the industry.  I went a different direction partially because of exactly the media issues addressed by The Newsroom  – I say at the risk of getting ahead of myself – and partially because I wanted to do something more artsy.)

So that first clip is really well-known.  But the clip that reaches inside my chest and wraps its hand around my beating heart is this one: 

YES YES YES.  It's the speech I imagine my college journalism professor – a fantastic and smart man who taught his students to be diligent and meticulously ethical – would want to see on television news.  It's the speech I would love to see, and the speech that would get me watching a news show religiously (should I ever own a working TV again).

The show does fall victim to some trademark Sorkin pitfalls:  the male lead is a genius prodigy with daddy issues, there is angst aplenty about co-workers who can't admit they're in love, everyone is a super genius who talks a mile a minute, etc.  And the liberal bias is deep enough that you need a snorkeling mask.  But beneath all that, the show makes some very important points about the state of American journalism.

The graphic at the left circulated on Facebook not too long ago.  It's one of those "laugh because it's funny; cry because it's true" things for me.

I'm a self-confessed CNN junkie.  When I had a working TV or when I'm somewhere where I have access to and control of one, I'll happily leave CNN on all day.  I like seeing the different ways a story is presented based on the time of day and the demographic audience at that time, or the way the presentation is changed between daytime and prime time and the weekend.  But mostly I like a steady stream of information.  (It's the same reason I feel naked without my smart phone now – I can't stand feeling like there's something going on that I don't know about.  Maybe that's why I studied journalism.)

But I feel a little guilty for my CNN obsession, because I know that even though it's not as clearly biased as Fox News or MSNBC, it's still not presenting the highest form of discourse or anything close to a complete picture of the news.  (There are a few exceptions to this.  Fareed Zakaria has a Sunday morning show that deals with a lot of international news that the network at large ignores or under-covers... but it's hidden away on Sunday morning.)  I could listen to NPR or watch C-SPAN, but I don't.  I call myself a purist, but instead of going to the organic farmer's market I happily swallow the processed, preservative-laden canned vegetables from the local chain grocery store. 

So how do you fix the state of journalism when even those who love it fall into the trap of style over substance?  I don't know.  It's too late to put the advertising worms back in the can, so whether we like it or not, news and its presentation are a business.  Print journalism weakens with every passing day.  And while the rise of blogs and the internet provides a wider range of sources for information, it also skews the signal to noise ratio heavily.

For now, I'm content to get lost in Sorkin's idealistic little world once in a while and resolved to begin seeking different sources for my news fix. 

Post title is a line from this R.E.M. song.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Been Away Too Long

Well hi there, blog.  Remember me?  I don't really blame you if you don't.  I haven't visited much lately.  Sorry about that.

I started this blog because I wanted and intended to write more.  This was partially because thanks to certain online shenanigans I sort of have an audience now, but mostly because I like to write.  It's how I process things sometimes, it's how I express myself, it's how I'm most articulate.  And lord knows I've had things I wanted to write about the past few months... but I either didn't have the energy or the time or both, and I sort of lost the plot in there somewhere.

Anyone who reads this blog knows that my father passed away over the summer.  That, while not unexpected, was a tough time.  I still miss him a lot and I think about him all the time.  (When my car acts up I catch myself going, "OK Dad, I hear you.  I'll check the oil.")  For a while other things seemed less important in comparison.

I didn't write for a while because I didn't want the post I wrote about my dad scrolling off the page.  Or because I didn't think I could write anything else as good as I was told that post was.  But the number of people who told me I need to be writing suggests to me that the greater error would be letting myself stagnate.

So, here we are.

What's up with me?  Some of the same, some new.  My depression got really bad for a while, which is another thing that kept me from writing.  I got to a point where I felt totally overwhelmed by my life.  I felt trapped and alone and terrified and I didn't see a way out.  And then the weirdest thing happened...

I took a trip to Ireland with some of my immediate family.  Our family there had arranged a memorial mass for my dad since not all of them could come to the funeral.  The day we left I was hanging by a thread mentally and had no idea how I was even going to get through the week.  But something about that trip – maybe just being away from my life for seven days, maybe seeing family I never see, maybe being in such a beautiful place – helped me turn a corner.  When I came back I was amazed at how good I felt.  How calm and happy and weirdly zen.  It was like I just forgot to pack all the anxiety and melancholy that had been weighing me down and left it overseas.

For a few weeks I tread carefully, waiting for that high to dissipate, but it hasn't.  It's like someone ran an anti-virus program on my brain and gave me a fresh start.  Yes, I'm still on my meds.  Yes, I still need them.  But I'm in a better place now than I have been in a long time.

I feel stronger somehow, too.  I've spent a lot of time apologizing and/or carrying crosses that weren't mine to bear.  I feel more able to give that up now.  I feel like I can stand a little taller and look the world in the eye without flinching.  I feel better equipped to face my own problems and to not make anyone else's problems my own.

I don't know how or why it happened, but it's a pretty good place to be.

There's been a myriad of other things since then – family emergencies, car trouble, a million of the other random things that make up day-to-day life and would usually send me into a tailspin.  But I've been good.  I credit a lot of that to my mother, who has recently given me incomparable lessons in strength, dignity, and grace.  Some of it, though, I think is progress I made on my own. 

Anyway, that's sort of the State of the Tara.

I'm going to make an effort to write more, even if it's just silly pop culture crap.  In the coming year I'm starting a web show – a prospect which terrifies me, but about which I'm also very excited.  I'm sure I'll have things to write about that process as well.

I feel like I've finally gotten (mentally, anyway) the fresh start I've been seeking for so long.  There are still a lot of things I need to work out, but I feel a lot better about where I am than I have in a long time, and I'm incredibly grateful for that.  Right now I'm trying to channel all of that into progress.  And that includes this blog.

So in short, I'm back.  Nice to see you again! 

*Post title stolen from the new Soundgarden song.  Did you miss Soundgarden as much as I did?