porcelainandporcupines

Archive for February 2013

Many years ago my then-boss and I stood in the parking lot behind the building we worked in, taking a break to smoke and talk about anarchy. Said boss was of the genial sort of fellow who upon moderately close inspection reveals himself to be little more than a self-aggrandizing nitwit, which, while that would certainly be tiresome today, was a fully age-appropriate novelty a decade and half ago. And so, despite his rather pedestrian view on the banality of ties, I did quite enjoy our conversations, Joe’s and mine, and can recall them fondly today without wondering what that might say about me and my development as a person.

While I don’t remember all of the details of the anarchy conversation, I do remember the broad strokes being that Joe was Pro and I was Con, and while Joe painted a pretty picture of the freedom to do whatever you want, I really hung it on the wall by pointing out that the lack of order would apply just as equally to those with darker impulses, and once you give those guys free reign, I would be the first to die. If for no other reason than because it takes me an unbelievably long time to realize when someone who seems nice is in reality a self-aggrandizing nitwit, making it seem unlikely I would be any quicker identifying an actually harmful entity. You take away the rules, and I immediately become the dumbest zebra at the watering hole.

The lethality of total chaos, however, does not prevent me from enjoying the occasional controlled societal breakdown. On the contrary, the low-level havoc created by a brief suspension of the rules of order is, strangely, an environment in which I thrive. The need for a leader suits my natural inclinations toward bossy know-it-all-ness, while the temporary nature of the leadership position ensures that no one will have an opportunity to discover that I have no idea what I’m talking about.

The blackout that hit Cambridge back in November, for example, was exactly the sort of moment in which I shine. Being in the right place at the right time made me one of the first to be informed that the Illustrious Libraries were to be closed, and I rushed back to my primary library location, bursting with the importance of being the bearer of vital news. Once arrived, though I did first inform the ranking members of the library staff, they allowed me to inform our users of the situation. Which, not to toot my own horn (on the internet? the scandal!) I did with such aplomb that those users left in the library greeted the conclusion of my announcement with a round of applause.

Thusly justly fĂȘted, I made my way home through the darkened streets of Cambridge, illuminated only the headlights of the cars that stretched, bumper to bumper, unmoving along the length of Mass Ave, enjoying the company not only of Devin, whose weekend had just gotten an unexpectedly early start, but of hundreds of others who recognized that without power the conveniences of modern transportation had become a burden, and that, in these reduced circumstances, the people with the most power were those who could do for themselves.

However, while the unexpected nature of the citywide blackout is part of its allure, it is, at best, a fickle beast. Its unpredictability is what makes it so welcome, yet occurring only once in the 2 decades I’ve been here makes it an unreliable source for the rush of self-worth that accompanies the exaggerated competence of laughing in the face of little-to-no danger.

Fortunately, winter comes every year, as does the thrill of a potential weather-related emergency. As a person who is not even moderately outdoorsy, I recognize that my opportunities for nature-related victories are limited : I’m not going to hike the Appalachian Trail, or scale Mount Everest, or purposely put myself in a position that could result in losing my mind in the wilderness or having to amputate my own arm. Nature and I have, for the most part, reached a detente in our conquer-or-be-conquered relationship because, up against elemental anarchy, I know that, for the most part, I would lose.

But when Nature brings the fight to me, when the whole city – yay, even the whole state – decides to back down, that’s when I have to step up. Climbing snow drifts and tumbling down the other side for the purpose only of ending up with a vegan cupcake may not be on par with doing so to find shelter or escape from a sabre-toothed tiger. But when the populace at large must stay indoors or risk being snowed upon, it is an act of heroism simply to walk out one’s front door, and I am the hero for those times. And it is with great gladness and pride that I share the plowed but still snow-covered streets, closed to vehicular traffic, with my fellow, foot-traveling champions.

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The summer after my freshman year, I had a job telemarketing. I was not particularly good at it; despite the one day I was the top seller in the office, thanks to the 8 cups of coffee I drank out of a ceramic demi-tasse with a black exterior and white interior which I stole at the end of the day and which today I regret not knowing what I did with, I never was able to sell enough to meet the minimum weekly quota to earn a bonus. So, while on the down side that meant that I was not making a lot of money, it should be noted that I was at least getting rejected a lot. People do not like telemarketers, I tell you what.

In retrospect, it’s obvious that the main problem with my sales technique was that I apologetic about the invoice : the way I hit the would in our scripted “After two months, you would be sent an invoice,” let them know that I wasn’t really behind the product. Sure, they would get the Non-Profit Board Report for 2 months, and that’s cool, but, even if they enjoyed it, they’d still have to deal with this invoice in 2 months time. Like, you’re a non-profit organization and that we respect that, and our publication might help with the management of that organization (I think? I don’t know if I ever saw a copy of the Non-Profit Board Report). But we are not a non-profit organization, and we will charge you. Of course, you could cancel the invoice, but the way it was set up, we were basically coming as close to ripping you off as the bounds of the law would allow. All of that, conveyed with a simple would.

However, sometimes the problem was that the leads weren’t very good. That was the culprit the week we were selling The Marketing Report and all of the businesses that the list of contacts spit out were slaughterhouses.

As it turns out, slaughterhouses are not really all that concerned with marketing, for the reason eloquently provided by the gentleman on the other end of the phone who, in response to my request to be connected with the marketing department, drawled “Lady, all we do is kill old pigs.”

The brilliance of that response, of the unconcerned deliberation that made it clear that the foolishness of my question would not be entertained, has always made it one of the great joys of my life. However, as much as I appreciated the laconic verbal smack-down that put my self-hating would to shame before it could even be uttered, what I did not realize until this past week is that what I truly admire about that gentleman is the simplicity of purpose expressed. This is not someone who’s ever had to worry about an elevator pitch, of breaking down an overly complex process into its component parts, who has to chase fads, keep up with the latest technology, or worry about obsolescence. As long as there is an old pig that needs killing, this guy is in business : that is the hedgehog-like focus that proves elusive for most companies.

It’s the professional equivalent of my gastronomical envy of pandas, who only eat bamboo; fortunately for the panda, bamboo is only eaten by them. I enjoy the lovely natural symmetry of that relationship, in no small part because it relieves all of panda-kind of most food-related stressors : a panda never has to figure out what to do for lunch, or what it’s in the mood for. There are no ethical implications to panda’s diet, it doesn’t matter if the bamboo has been humanely raised or if it’s locally sourced. The question of what to eat has been so solidly settled for pandas that it never even needs to be raised; a panda only gets as far as “what” before it realizes that the answer is “bamboo”. It’s bamboo; it’s always bamboo.

Make no mistake : I don’t want to switch to a diet of only bamboo any more than I want to make a career of killing old pigs. Or pigs of any age. It’s just that, every now and then, instead of answers, what I would like is a lack of questions.


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