Tag Archives: work

Use your words: why opening your mouth is better than keeping it closed.

For Ange.

Anyone who has worked with children has probably heard the phrase ‘use your words’.

I’ve been in many situations as an educator where children passively accept patent disrespect from a social equal – I’m not referring to bullying, but friendship disputes that are clearly that – and lash out by hitting, kicking or biting the person. Spitting, throwing something at them.

Sometimes the stimulus is them having a desired object or activity denied them by a peer or an adult (by accident or intent), or a range of other real or perceived slights that cause them to experience unpleasant emotions.

Some children respond with a bright flare of violence. Some respond with passive aggression, insults, undermining the source of their discomfort. Others react by totally removing themselves – mutely recoiling and passively whimpering, often allowing the situation they dislike to continue.

As educators, we teach children a core principle that I really believe in: use your words.

This is early communication education. Outside of bullying and abuse where clear power imbalances operate to silence the victim, this phrase places part of the responsibility for negotiating difficult circumstances back on the person feeling upset. It requires the person to open their mouth and say how they’re feeling, and to accept that they must at least attempt the first and most basic part of conflict resolution.

Another part of this is the ‘stop, go, tell’ technique we teach from infancy. Both techniques are largely to teach children to resort to everything except violence first. If someone pushes in line and you know you were first you say ‘STOP! I don’t like that! I don’t want you to push in. I was first.’ If that doesn’t work, you ‘go’ by walking away. And if pursued, you tell an ally and they intervene on your behalf.

What you don’t do is keep your words inside you, and go from zero to sixty by clocking someone over the head because they pushed in line. This is a work in progress, but I have seen it work – slowly and over years in a child’s life.

So how are you using your words?

This week has been a reminder for me of the power and importance of communicating our feelings in a timely fashion. A dear, funny, clever friend of mine has been dealt a stunning blind-siding blow in the form of an unexpected divorce ultimatum from an uncommunicative husband. It seems that it was old news to him, and new news to her.

How does something like this happen? While I’m sure there are subtleties and complexities I can neither comprehend nor convey – for in every divorce there are delicacies and mysteries of the human heart known only to those involved – it seems communication was a cornerstone fuckup.

He didn’t use his words until the very last moment, which far from being the moment of truth was simply the moment of coming out from his hiding place. So much was hidden and removed from discourse.

My first girlfriend didn’t use her words. For months she was a mystery to me, hiding under the cloak of ‘I’m just a private person’. Ten years later, I’ve learned that when people say they’re too ‘private’ to tell you important things about themselves and their thoughts – while still enjoying close proximity to your tender core – it just means they’re dysfunctional.

Now, this is not to say you can’t be private in general. Of course you can – who (besides me, apparently) wants to broadcast the entirety of their daily life to the world? However, if those closest to you have no idea how you feel and what’s going on in your skull, that’s a problem.

And it extends also to how and when you communicate. My partners tell me when they’re feeling something important, even if it may come out a little wrong. Otherwise that pent up feeling may escalate to conclusions you didn’t know you were approaching, hot feelings that could have quietened given an earlier intervention.

By using our words, we acknowledge our reality as interdependent beings who need to ebb and flow into those around us, to be known and to defuse bombs and to enjoy a richer quality of life.

And for the tall humans who have been somehow broken to the point where they think they have no choice but to hit, hurt, scream or run away without talking – get yourself into therapy. Your actions have consequences and if you can’t effectively use your words, you need to get help to find out how.

When we reach adulthood we can ask for consideration in finding our voice. However, we are no longer ten years old, no matter how much we may feel so, inside. A 37 year old man is old enough to know, especially when being told, that he needs to accumulate the tools to open his mouth better.

And if we need no other motivation, it is that brokenness feeds other brokenness. Opening our mouths and talking about how we feel is probably one of the more important steps in arresting that flow.

Help: I need somebody.

Needing people is horrible.

Wouldn’t it be nicer if we didn’t? I’d love to occupy that sacred space of the successfully neuro-typical. I think few of us actually breeze through life without depending on somebody sometime, but I reckon you’re a bit closer to that breezy feeling without a brain that doesn’t work the way everyone says it is supposed to.

I’ve had a really rough week at work. I’ve a history of abuse from a couple of sources, which has left me with a bit of the ol’ PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder). While it seems like I have the things trendy to have, these days – bipolar, ptsd, anxiety disorder – they’re still really real. Most of the time, I can ignore them.

But not this week. I’ve been dealing with some gross chronic pain stuff and I’ve had a lot of triggers (things that cause my body to react and often ‘remember’ and ‘relive’ the feelings felt both physically and emotionally when experiencing abuse). The result has been panic attacks and a very strong fight or flight response. When you’ve got a line of customers banking up 20 strong, that’s not ideal. There’s no time for it. Having a full blown anxiety attack while smiling through gritted teeth and asking “cheque or credit?” is some kind of perverse exercise in will.

I get to a point when I’m having a rough week where I feel like pretty soon I’ll fail to cope. That’s when I start to feel like I need to ask for help. I reckon chucking up in the staff loo while having a good ol’ sob is a decent indication that I might need some gentle words and support.

But when you’re having a rough week, how do you ask for that aid? I often find it difficult to ask people to give me a little leeway when I’m not in the best space, and I don’t know quite how to go about asking for some kind words and a little love without seeming needy or weak, or feeling needy and weak. I usually write about it in places like this, obscurely, in some effort to turn my discomfort into a useful tool. But I am very ashamed of my sadnesses. Deeply. I feel like my fright and mental hand wringing lessens me, and asking for comfort is asking for indulgence.

I guess the problem too with all this mental health stuff is – in the end, everyone goes away, and you have to somehow find a way to feel ok alone in your bed, with no help. All the rest is trimming.

I guess the trimming just makes the bedtime easier though. That’s not such a bad thing is it? Lord knows, the bedtime is hard enough. If we have to be left to the silent halls of our heads, let the last sounds be the words of a loving friend, not the pitch and fall of a shrieking problem.

Dear Customer: an open polemic, I mean – letter.

Dear Customer,

I’m glad you exist, fundamentally. Because you exist, I have a wage. And because I have a wage, I can feed the two furry little mouths that depend on me, keep a nice house and do things with my friends. I can acheive personal goals. Money’s good stuff, really, and your existence makes that happen for me. So thanks.

But there’s a few aspects of your behaviour in this late capitalist relationship that have me on the grumpy side most days. Some of the time, I spent all of my lunch break bemoaning how you’ve neglected your half of our connection, and my coworkers echo my sentiments.

Rather than getting angry in a non-constructive way that will be undeniably vehement and probably have me dropping f-bombs everywhere you’d care to step (though who are we kidding – I daresay that’ll happen here anyway!), I thought I’d break down your problematic behaviour into key areas.

Messing everything up. So, I’m sure you actually think I get paid to tidy up after you, but here’s a curious thing: I don’t. Very little to no extra time is allowed in my day to tidy up the floor and racks when you leave unwanted items and clothing everywhere. Instead, I have a lot of other duties that take up loads of time, and when I’m finished doing them I’m usually out of hours – and then I turn around, and there’s a pile of clothes some lazy arts student, overprivileged BMW driver or bored middle aged house husband has left for me to pick up. Also, when you leave items on the counter and chime “just pop that away for me, will you? There’s a love!”, that’s not some sweet bonding experience for me. That’s about two to five extra minutes of work that I don’t have time for, and your cute intimation that we’re friends so of course I won’t mind at all is actually a lie you’re using to prop up your own terrible sloth. I’m not a love. I’m a person restrained from chasing you out of the store with a phonebook only by her love of income.

Fucking with my sorted racks. When I’m shelving clothing, I move everything off one big rack onto a smaller rack, into sections. This is so I can put it away quickly so I can meet a quota. It is very important that I meet my quota – it helps me keep my job. When you stand in my personal space, remove clothing and put it back in the wrong place, that means I have to handle that garment again. It adds time – for the love of god, I repeat, IT ADDS TIME. And the more time I spend unravelling the work you’ve created for me, the less time I have to get through everything else I have to do. Are you seeing a pattern?

Being over familiar. I am not your sister, daughter, neighbour or friend. I am your sales person, and as such, I expect that our transaction will be pleasant, mutually respectful but emotionally distant. When you get up in my personal space, address me with false intimacies, touch me, unduly compliment me, ask me questions about my personal life or pass comments about my appearance (“don’t worry about being fat, sweetheart, all the nice fat girls get the good husbands that stay,”) please don’t act as though stung when I ask you to refrain or I am icy or uninterested. I will of course smile sweetly at your babies, pretend I care about your holiday in Portugal, and remember the names of your sick relatives, but I am not actually that interested. Sorry. I turn up, I drone, I go home and get a pay-check. That’s about as deep as it gets, and I sure wish you’d keep your distance.

Asking for personal favours. No, I will not give you a discount because you are a regular. Nor because you have a nice smile or you’re flirting with me. If you’re a friend and you ask me for a discount – really? Shame on you. Asking someone you care about if they’ll give you a discount, especially in front of other customers, puts them in an impossible lose-lose situation. If I say yes to you, I risk getting in trouble with my boss and my stability at work, setting a precedent for other customers, and if I say no? I risk upsetting you and the emotional equilibrium in our relationship. Just don’t ask and things stay easy for everyone. Asking for mates rates has always been a pretty dick move.

Stealing. Look, I have no moral problem with stealing. I don’t think it is a particularly effective political tool for smashing capitalism though – and I think that the activist kids who do it ‘for that reason’ need to get a fucking grip and learn about stock loss anticipation before they think they’re making even one shred of a difference. Unfortunately, you aren’t. Not a dent. They saw you coming, they jacked up prices, and they made a margin for your five finger discount so that it wouldn’t matter. It just isn’t an effective tool of resistance. Plus don’t be a jackass – you just like free shit and you feel you shouldn’t have to pay for it. Fine. But here’s the thing – while I see no moral prerogative to err away from thieving, I think that it doesn’t make much practical sense for all the work it creates for me and my co-workers. Seriously, it is a nuisance and it makes my day much harder. I hate the whole theft tension it creates – watching people as they go into change rooms, checking bags, never trusting anyone. I hate having to check collars, keeping my eye on people I’d prefer to trust. And then, of course, where do you think all the stock loss margin comes from? Not profit. It goes to higher prices, comes out of staff hours, out of benefits for us. In a big company, the buck will always be passed on to those who can probably least afford to cop it. We suffer – not you, not the bosses. The workers. If you want to resist, look into healthy unionisation and improving workplace conditions and getting rid of those vile workplace agreements, rather than a childish thumbing of the nose that does fuck all. Also – stealing from charities and co-ops is possibly the lowest thing I’ve ever had the misfortune to witness.

Faffing about at the counter at close. JUST WORK OUT WHAT YOU WANT TO BUY AND BUY IT, PLEASE. You know that we’re closing, and you’ve been told several times. What do you imagine I do when we close up – just skip to my locker and exit merrily, with squirrels and mice scrambling forth to put everything to order? No. There’s a lot more work to be done. Tilling up, tidying up (after fools who can’t use their basic motor functions to put. a shirt. away. When the shirt rack is a metre away from the crumpled heap it has been thrown in) and making sure the banking is in order. This all takes quite a lot of time, and if I am not done by 6pm, I miss my bus. Do you know what happens if I miss my bus? I get to stand in the pitch black and freezing cold for forty minutes at a bus stop ten metres away from where my co-worker was mugged in broad fucking daylight and wait for the next one all because you couldn’t decided between the tracksuit that said princess or the tracksuit that said diva. FUCK. YOU.

Not talking/grunting/giving commands/using your mobile phone while checking out. Under etiquette in the dictionary, for you, it must clearly say “only applicable when interacting with those not of the servant class”. That must be what you think of me, because I’m apparently not even worthy of a polite turn of phrase. Slapping your change on the counter and motioning at your book will, of course, render service. But you’ll also get simmering impotent rage that hopefully shrivels your testes. When someone throws money at you and refuses to engage with you in even the most superficial of levels – I think they call it ‘manners’ – it communicates a pretty basic disrespect for you, and their opinion that they think you a bot, just there to press a button. You have no thoughts, personality, or feelings. You just switch on, light up, and march to their command. Telling me what I’ll do is even better – “that bag, you’ll give me a discount. Now.” Oh I’m sorry, I was under the impression that I was the one with the cheap apron on. Also, speaking on your phone and expecting service is just ridiculous, and is why I wait pointedly rather than checking anything out for the chatting champ. Don’t give me that mystified, entitled expression when you’re done, either. If you want service with a smile, you better learn how to say please and thank-you and wipe that shit-eating self-satisfied grin off your face. Then you’ll get all the smiles in the world.

Asking to see the manager. Look, I know you feel like this is an awesome party trick that will get you what you want – a discount, me fired, yadda yadda yadda. Here’s an unhappy truth – the manager is the one who made these prices and rules up. I’m her minion. I carry them out so I can get paid, so if you think you scare me by banging your fist on the counter and demanding to see my superior then…epic mirth. I doubt anyone will fire me because I asked you to lower your voice when you were screaming in my face about our pricing and leaving spittle in my hair. They will likely placate you until you leave the store, then we will collectively gripe about what a jerk you are. You are the customer, but you are not always (and probably rarely) right. Oh, and while I’m here – playing co-workers off each other is a really piss poor thing to do and I hiss in my brain tank at you for doing it.

That’s all for now, dear customer. I think the underlying theme here is: don’t be a jerk. Please remember that customer service kids are just trying to earn a living in this crazy world the best we can. We don’t earn a tonne, and we don’t get paid enough to put up with bad behaviour. Tidy up after yourself, be polite, use your basic manners and we’re likely to be much more helpful next time you want us to get the ladder to pull down the high box of tins off the top shelf, rather than saying no, looking bored and hoping you’ll do it yourself and spill them everywhere, dreadfully embarrassing yourself and maybe dramatically (but not severely) injuring a nearby co-worker so you feel chronic and everlasting guilt and buy us all cake.

In short, my lovely customer: pull your socks up, and I’ll happily sell you another pair that’ll go beautifully with those shorts.



Industrious: stuff I know about work.

I love specific skill.

What I mean is that I love really delicately acquired knowledge that you’ve soaked up over time – the stuff you can only learn through the tiptoe of listening, learning, then application. I’m working in a job that is the most physically intense of my life, and I’m doing it with the best mental health I’ve had in ages.

I’ve got my head in the game, and I’m loving the feeling of being really able. Even on days when my back pain is all up in my grill, and I’m morose because I’m overtired, I’m still enjoying the sense of knowing where and when and how things happen.

And I love that my head is full of strange information that I can’t transfer anywhere else. What does transfer is a hardiness; a more robust knockabout understanding of the space my body fits in…and a confidence that overflows. I walk with a longer, heavier gait. I finish my day utterly exhausted, dirty and sweaty – welcoming in the afternoon that is mine. My rest is restier and my sleep is sleepier!

Like I said, I like specific skill, and the intuition grown from that. So here, here are some things I know – things I never knew before.

  • A stanley knife, a sharpie and a tape gun are the most useful tools a girl could ask for. On that note, remember to always close your stanley knife all the way – don’t be hasty! (it hurts). Hold onto your sharpie – losing more than two in a week makes you look stupid when you ask for another one. If you do lose it again, buy your own. This is better than looking like a knob.
  • Making friends with your coworkers and indulging in cheerful chatter may feel really strange, but it is totally necessary to making your day go more smoothly. A friendly rapport makes working together easier, better, faster and more seamless.
  • Oooh, hey new muscles!
  • Ask for the Homewares tub to be emptied at least two hours before you actually need it emptied. This goes for electrical too (though that’s usually swift). Remember that your needs aren’t paramount – you make a request and it goes in a queue. Since you can’t know how many requests linger before yours, make it early so you don’t disrupt your own process.
  • A tidy section is a good section. Sweeping between tubs is a great idea. Neatness in everything!
  • Throw out broken things. Unless a collectable is really rare, it is pretty much a truism that nobody wants to buy broken things. This will feel horrible at first, but if you don’t do it, you’re creating more work for someone else down the track. That’s not nice.
  • Don’t read the back of DVDs and CDs and videos. Just work out what is worth money, file it, and keep moving. Attention to detail is only really useful when it comes to the rarer collectables.
  • Nobody buys classical music from secondhand stores.
  • Driving pallet jacks is not only FUN but kind of hard to master. When you get it right you feel like a total winner.
  • Setting a target for each chunk of the day and working towards it works really well. Look at the way you interact with certain items, and work out ways to increase your handling speed. Try to bust your quota a little bit each day – have a personal best you can smash, have goals and ambitions that keep you going, small though they are.
  • Work feels good. It feels wholesome. Remembering that while you work will make you smile through even the ickiest of tasks.
  • It is ok to sit down and stretch and look after your back injury. Your bosses would prefer you stay in work, keeping your section running, than put yourself out for a long period by aggravating yourself. Don’t be paranoid about taking care of yourself.
  • Take all criticism on the chin and thank the person giving it. They’re doing you a favour. Better that they speak rather than just think it – that’s no use to you. Apply any advice immediately.
  • Take initiative. If you can think of a faster, better, more efficient way to do something – go for it. But consult your boss first.
  • If coworkers help you out, thank them. Look for ways to help others.
  • Don’t be the first in the lunchroom every day. Don’t be too eager to leave work.
  • When you open a new box – NEVER INHALE. Who knows what shit is in there?!
  • People will buy the strangest things. Why no, I have no need for a giant pink cushion in the shape of a pair of lips, or an exercise machine that tones you through vibrations, or even a complete collection of Shirley Bassey records. But somebody is all over that shit.
  • It is ok to sometimes throw out things in spite, provided they are already on the borderline. I have, and will continue to, happily toss out Dianetics books with a slightly besmirched cover. And Olivia Newtown John records with a-little-bit-torn jackets (excepting Xanadu. That shit is off the chain!)
  • You are tougher than you think you are. And when you’re riding home on the bus with chipped nailpolish, and a sooty face, and aching bones, and boots weighing down your callousing feet – you will feel very grounded and very good.

I Can Dream of You

My new job involves sifting the clues of people’s lives.

It is a very calming, meditative occupation. I work through huge tubs of donated items for the business arm of a charity. We then resell the goods donated and the money goes to support the work that the charity does.

This sifting process is amazing, though. Some days as I work through what feels like a world of mysteries unwrapping in my hands, a gentle sea of static washes through my head. I’m free to mentally wander and run free as I trace the curves of czech crystal, cup the heavy roughness of Bendigo pottery and push my fingers into the dark crevices of handbags, digging for gold doubloons.

What I’ve found most entrancing is that I begin to imagine the stories behind the objects I’m handling. Rather than junk or sale items, I regard each lot as a fragile eco-system of nesting and personal history.

A sense of people emerges, more so when I encounter the rare photos album or wallet with pictures. I wonder if these are the souls who owned what I’m holding now, or someone who that person lay next to at night, cared for in some way – or never speaks to anymore.

Deceased estates are sad. The collections of beer mugs and love letters from an old man now gone into the ground; his worship of his wife in 1948 curling gently away from paper and into my misty eyes. I’m assuming my coworkers think I react to the dust and grime. At least, I hope so.

There are the geeks with mismatched china and bins full of computer parts; the women who are clearly so well-presented that their donated clothing and bags are still in excellent condition, but just out of season; there’s the quiet old lady who loves Mother Mary and obscure saints, with a large collection of biscuit tins and half-finished crochet samples floating in between good silver.

I feel such affection for all of them. They don’t know me, but I feel like I know them. I see the effects of their travel – their hand-painted plates from Dunkirk, their commemorative shells from Papua New Guinea and Hawaii, the china thimble from Gloucester.

I marvel at the people who will keep a pair of hair clippers, still new in their box, from the early 60s. There’s a frugality to those collections that I appreciate. It pains me to throw any of their possessions away, knowing how cautious they were in keeping them. Knowing too that it was probably a poverty mentality born of The Great Depression that fuelled it. It hurts me to disrespect that.

I wonder what someone will say of my possessions, one day. Everyone walks through our stuff and cocks their head, taking it in – whether it is because we’ve passed on, or if it is the gaze of a new lover in our bed who sneaks a look at how we’ve decorated, while we run to the loo. People look at the feathers in our nest and think on them.

We’re all anthropologists in this sense – we rush to a new friend’s bookcase, we admire their furniture, we look coolly at their collection of action figurines. We want to see each other’s stuff, get into each other’s landscape.

Perhaps we can’t ever see the whole picture, whether alive or dead – standing close or in my case, very far away.

Imagining another, however, is a wonderful mystery.

Big Sarah’s Little Boots.

I have new boots.

Disclaimer: They are not vegan, which makes me quite sad. There was not a single scrap of a chance I was going to find vegan work boots with steel caps that were safe and in good enough condition for me to go to my new job on Monday though. Yeah, I prefer having my toes not chopped off (I will be working near heavy machinery and heavily loaded trolleys that may run over feet).

I plan to save up my pay and buy some really great custom work boots from Veganwares and give these current ones to the Salvos so somebody else who needs to start a new job and needs safe feet can benefit from my temporary unethical choice.

But even though I regrettably have dead cow on my feet, I am excited about the fact that I own work boots – steel-capped (for kicking holes in patriarchy, too)! And a trusty belt! And big thick work socks. And those singlets that make your tits look great at the same time as shouting these tits are hardworking, capable tits!

I am not pleased about the fact that the only boots I could get were in men’s sizes. The shop girl said that women come in all the time asking for footwear for jobs on factory floors, in sheds, on farms – places where you need something sturdy, reliable and safe. Yet all that is provided are boots for men, which is ridiculous, and quite sexist. I called my father from the change rooms to bitch about this, and he bemusedly said the best recourse was probably hiking boots from a camping store.

In the end I settled on a pair of Jackaroo men’s size sevens. Insoles for arch support. And hard yakka acrylic woolies for my toesies.

I put all my gear on and The Boy got a bit excited. There were the arms around the waist and a big grin and the “heyyyyy, sexy” thing. Awww.

I look like the girls from back home, who drink rum and have a perpetual sunburn and bits of grass in their hair. The girls who swagger along Peel street, having come into town to bank, knowing their secret knowledge and rippling with strength, wit and a ‘don’t fuck with me’ rural fierceness. I’ve spent my whole life running away from this aesthetic, and yet here I am, inhabiting it.

It feels rather nice, actually, though I feel a fraud. ‘Tis all a bit like drag for this femme for now (could I rock redhot red lipstick with these? likely…) but for some reason this attire makes me feel like I can do things.

Now I’m going to go cook a big pot of chili and sing along to Neko Case’s Middle Cyclone and dream of the browning hills and fairy-scatter lights of my hometown. I’m going home this Easter, to camp with my family. I’ll be putting up tents, like I know how, and making fires, and rock hopping through rivers.

In my boots.

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