The Customer Service Blues

Fear keeps me from writing most. Fear of deadlines, of sounding ineloquent, of not being able to find the words I want to use. Describing feelings and emotions is fucking hard and sometimes words just don’t feel adequate. But the challenge and satisfaction of expression are what keep me trying.

Today, despite fears of sounding small or negative or too sad, I write about some feelings I had earlier.

Today, I was a human punching bag. I am the anonymous voice one hears after they dial a 1-800-number. After the automated robot track plays and after rage-inducing hold music loops, it’s little ol’ me who greets you with a fake name (and sometimes smile.)

My purpose is to serve. Or, as I aptly express in the closing of all of my emails; “I’m here to help.” Half of the time it’s smooth sailing with anecdotal tidbits of weather from around the world or cheery banter sprinkled in with the technological lessons I’m giving the older folks. But then the other half is pure madness. Amidst dodging the yelling and condescension delivered by irate users with utmost precision, I’m also weaving through tangled messes of inconsistent workflows, hushing of the barking dogs in our office, dually worrying about job performance while failing hard in the game of office politics, and playing the collected soothsayer over the phone all at once. I wear a lot of fucking hats as they like to say and it can be thoroughly exhausting.

Today was particularly grueling. Phone call after phone call after phone call left me feeling just a little bit more defeated and depleted than the last. As familiar of a feeling this can be, I have no eloquent or concise way to summarize what it’s like to deliberately fill your mind and body with numbness for nine hours straight as a mode of defense. The purpose of the anonymous voice is to serve and, as a result, means staying quiet when you’re insulted, being articulate when relaying every single vague policy, and handing over all of the cash.

Today I was scoffed at, interrupted immediately after being asked questions, screamed at, had my educational background and intelligence levels questioned, was talked over, was assured within 30 seconds of answering a call that I would be incapable of helping them and thus need a Manager instead, and had to remain uplifting in tone as I knowingly omitted a scam as the likely source of a man’s missing $300 and forwarded him on to the correct department. Luckily for me (and every person sitting around me IRL,) I wasn’t called sweetie by an agitated middle-aged man today.

But after nine hours of this, I was left feeling sad, frazzled, and lost. So I spent my subsequent three hours after work in Powell’s with my nose buried in books I could use as excuses to cry into.

Amongst the unwelcome feelings that invaded my psyche, however, I am also acutely aware that no matter how shitty I am feeling on a day like today, a billion folks will always have had it far worse on this same exact day. As a result, I remind myself to be grateful that not all days are like today and that I have a well-paying (though sometimes soul-sucking) job with health insurance and am loved and have a roof over my head and food in the belly that I’m insecure about and am in generally good health. And I am indeed grateful but having this perspective doesn’t always equip me with the necessary strength to disregard my very real inability to remain truly numb. You see, I really haven’t mastered my skill in emotional numbness quite yet and this shit can really sting. Although mastering this skill seems so fucking key to salvaging a sense of self-worth, it’s a really hard act to keep up when you’re just a soft Cancerian crab like myself. And that’s okay.

What I am thankful for beyond the above-listed good things is the self-soothing that comes from attempting to write out these seemingly indescribable feelings. Feelings can be hard to think, talk, or write about because they just don’t follow the rules of reason. But attempting to tackle each of these all of the time is goddamn necessary. So as we all learn to navigate our own emotions and feelings erryday, try and remember the real goddamn feelings behind that cool, monotone voice you hear when you dial 1–800 next. That is all.