Friday, January 29, 2010

Customer Relations in the Time of E-Mail

Things are starting to come together.  I've been so busy messing about with emails about my move, phoning, trying to get quotes, that I haven't had a minute for the writing this week. Once things are more or less in hand, I'll get back to it, calm and relatively undistracted, she said.

(Grumbly stuff follows) In this day and age (as my mother liked to say), isn't it strange that customer service is worse than it was before the advent of the internet?  I know this, because I was around then, running an office, a household, using the phone and an occasional letter to arrange things, and getting a prompt response and real help.

In my efforts to get quotes from moving companies, I've done several online forms, and emailed, according to their requirements, and only one has been in touch with me so far.  Back in days of yore, friendly, almost eager people would phone within a day or two to say they'd noticed me, heard from me, appreciated me, whatever - and would be back in touch in due course. This is certainly not my experience in 2010. People just don't bother to respond at all, in most cases. Perhaps they don't like where I live. I don't have too much in the way of goods to move, so perhaps the value of it isn't worth their while. Couldn't they just say that? Perhaps someone in the office doesn't open emails. Someone in the office certainly doesn't follow up on phone messages. Oh, Yikes! I could go a little crazy here. There's no point in complaining, either, because they're not going to respond to that, and who do I complain to? What's with the world?  It's become so darned anonymous!

Now, on to my poor cats' travel arrangements.  This involves flying and is stressful for all of us, particularly me.  I need a pet transport company that's concerned for both the pet and the guilt-ridden owner. There aren't many companies around here that will handle everything door to door, but I managed to get responses from two, of the four I contacted. The first was very sweet, but confused me with all her details so early in my querying. I'm a plodder, and like to do things as they are about to present themselves. She wanted to load me down with the lot in a half-hour phone call, had me scribbling down all this stuff, until I thought, "Wait a minute...I need to get her to send me this detail, not write it down myself." I think she was a bit miffed when I said that, and then she proceeded to repeat everything all over again, as if I were a rather inattentive child.

Second company seemed good, much more practical, got to the point, although we still talked a lot of detail for a good hour, but I was happy. I needed to phone her back the next day with some more information. She didn't have the foggiest idea who I was, or where my "file" was. Our first conversation had been quite friendly, with family anecdotes, so I was bewildered by her apparent amnesia.  I mean, what if she forgets where my cats are going, when the time comes? She took my name and number again, and will "get back to me". Nothing so far...(Grumbly stuff ends.)

If any of you are contemplating the start of your own business (which I hugely endorse! I don't believe in working for the man, unless times are desperate), customer relations and providing that extra service is the most valuable skill you can have, or develop. Form a good working relationship with your client, and they will love you and trust you, even if you still have to learn something new for the job! They'll forgive you that, because you stay in touch with them, give them regular reports, follow up, ask questions, remember their names, and check to see if they are satisfied.   Imagine if we found agents like this? I'd be their love-slave for life...

So much for my so-called writing blog. Odd one today. You'll have to put up with me going off course for a while. I'll be back to my normal me soon enough, I guess.

My dear J.D. Salinger has gone. Because he was rarely seen in his solitude in the depths of New England, only his 60s photographs are available to us, and so he remained broodingly handsome and cool - a term coined back then, by the way - to the end. (I always thought he looked more like a jazz musician than a writer.) They say he had some fifteen manuscripts locked in a safe, because he hated to publish.  His estate will burst into the headlines if this proves to be true. Imagine having a new Salinger book in your hand. Imagine Google licking its corporate lips in anticipation...

Enjoy the sun, if you have it. We do. Very cold, but bright and beautiful.

Friday, January 22, 2010

On Goofing Off Last Week With Bloggers' Blahs. (Perhaps nobody noticed...)

I goofed off last week. Perhaps nobody noticed. Only dear Squeakie mentioned he'd not seen my blog, sweet guy. I know I mentioned taking a Writers' Rest the week before, but now I think I have a case of Bloggers' Blahs.

A lot is going on with me right now, yet I've found it so difficult to sit down and try to explain it.  You seemed to be waiting for me to report in, as well, last Friday, which was very disconcerting, because I felt somewhat stressed, as if I'd stood you up for lunch. I know you wouldn't want me to feel like that just because I miss a blog or two, right?

Anyway, I've finally made a decision about where to live. I shan't say where until it's finalized - a lot of stuff needs to be arranged, but I've started getting quotes on freight, and cat transport, that sort of thing.

I haven't truly been myself for the past three years, but I didn't realize how unlike myself I'd been until I made this decision to move. I immediately felt light-hearted, vigorous, and full of anticipation - the way I always used to feel, but had forgotten.

My writing has gained from this rurally-generated, introspective period, of course, and was a life-saver. To mess about with painting (thinking, thinking, all the time, about my situation, as I applied the paint) would have been unhealthy, but writing took my mind off all my concerns, my anxieties. It was the one thing (other than my cats!) that got me springing out of bed in the morning. I will finish this third novel, Summer Must End, at just about the time I will need to start packing to leave this bit of rural Ontario, which is planned, coincidentally, for around the end of summer.

In retrospect, country living was necessary for me because I had never done it. I thought I would find myself here. Well, I looked all around, and there wasn't a sign of me anywhere. I gave up looking after the first year, but I did find my writer's muse. Everything has a purpose, even when it's not immediately recognized. Loneliness did it for me, as it does for a lot of writers.

Writing this now, I feel as if I'm saying goodbye, which is just plain silly. This blog isn't going anywhere, although it will have a different IP address, if you cared to check it. It's the first time I've travelled anywhere and not had to say, "I'll call you when I arrive," or, "I'll see you next summer," or similar sentiments. In this case, I'll sign off from my blog one Friday morning, and sign on again in another time zone the following Friday, and you won't even know...

I've heard nothing from my agent, and this is now starting to totally irritate me. I would email them, but I'm too prickly - probably say the wrong thing, and I'm not that confident about finding another agent if I upset the one I have. But, I mean, what's with them not even politely bringing me up to date with my novel's journey? What publishers have seen it? Has anyone turned it down out of hand? Has there been even a murmur of interest anywhere? It would take just a few clicks of the mouse and a quick email to reassure me. I'm starting to have doubts... It's been six months. Perhaps that's not so long. Like Scarlett, I guess I'll think about it tomorrow...

Friday, January 8, 2010

Not Writers' Block, but Writers' Rest. You get that, I know.

Back to normal after the whirlwind of the holidays, right? Well, not me. I thought I'd immediately get back to Summer Must End, but I haven't. I've been incredibly lazy, mentally - lolling about on the couch watching daytime (!) TV, playing computer games, browsing on eBay, dabbling in the kitchen, sewing, crocheting. For Pete's sake, this is a writer's life? Surely not! It must stop, this literary idleness. My poor characters are still stuck at Christmas morning, where they were when I left them on December 1.

I repeat that I don't have Writers' Block. What I have is Writers' Rest.  This is a new term I'm coining to illustrate that period in a writer's life when the story is rich and rewarding, and absolutely ready, but in no particular hurry to emerge. It can only be better when it does appear. It will be like soaking fruit in sweet rum or brandy (Rumtopf) for a long, long time, and each day it gains a more intense flavor, more richness, when you finally pluck it out to savor.  Well, that's what I tell myself anyway.

So enough about the novel. I just heard from a friend I haven't seen or spoken to in fifteen years. What a delight that was. My usual weekly or monthly emails to friends are more or less the same content, as nothing huge happens during the down time - except when you pick up an agent here, you buy an antique there, sell the odd painting... But leave it for a decade or so, and you have real news! This initial contact just touched the tip of the iceberg and there'll be a great deal of catching up to do, but this first one was amazing. I had checked her "Message Source" first, because I thought she was one of those very polite Somalian or Nigerian emailers who use the subject of "Dearest Frances, Remember Me?" or stuff like that. (I avoid opening things with such overly-affectionate references.)

My friend Googled me! What a wonderful system of friend-recovery we have with search engines, especially if we're prolific with online words. I belong to Facebook, but it's never done much for me, as I use it only to stay in touch with a handful of friends and my children, and it's not open to the public. Sometimes I consider cancelling it (not as straightforward as you think), but it's not hurting anyone, that little page of mine. My blogs are posted there, so perhaps one of my kids will look at one out of the blue. The world is full of surprises.

In my current Writers' Rest period, emails and blogs are okay for me. I am in idle mode, warming the engine before I begin the final journey with this current novel.  I have no doubt at all that you understand exactly what I'm saying, so I'm not even going to ask what you think. I know you all so well, and I know you get that.

From now on, I'll be mentioning TWO long-distance friends who've been there for me over the years, through thick and thin - my friend in New Zealand, along with my friend in Oz. I'm not even going to mention how long I've known them. We girls have to maintain some mystery.

Have a good one. Give your friend a hug. You've no idea how lucky you are.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Deal with your Limitations, and Have a Happy New Year!

I was going to write some kind of inspirational piece of my own, about resolutions, steadfastness, courage, and self-belief, for this stimulating new decade, but I more or less try to do this throughout the year, either for my own or your benefit, so it seemed redundant. In fact, your own words in response to many of mine have helped me enormously, so here is a good place to thank you for spurring me on.

Instead of my usual blog, I'm quoting Delia Quigley this morning. She quickly gave me permission to reproduce her fine article on Limitations, which I read on Care2 yesterday. It moved me to examine my own feelings, and I thought you might enjoy it, too.

"The New Year is upon us and if you are a goal setting kind of person then you know that just saying you will make changes does not necessarily mean it will happen. There are all kinds of things that can get in the way of our good intentions, most of all our mental excuses. Change in life is inevitable; actually it is the only thing we can guarantee to happen other than dying. The question is, do you shape your life according to your dreams and desires or do you just let life happen, like a free fall through time, dreaming of what you shoulda, coulda, woulda done, if only?

Making resolutions, setting goals, and making commitments are easy to do, but it is the ability to see them through to completion that is difficult and tests our human nature. The fact that self-sacrifice is called for is what makes overcoming our limitations and manifesting our dreams so challenging. It requires that we give up our comforts, our fears, and our long-standing habits, even the ones that are painful or threaten our well being in some ways. At least we know what to expect from them, but stepping out into the unknown? Sheeze, now that’s a scary place.

Limitations are not always visible to the eye at first glance. They take some investigation, like hidden chambers or weak character flaws that need to be confronted and coaxed out into the light. They begin in our mind as thoughts and translate into actions that hold us back from achieving our potential. Instead we settle for a kind of uncomfortable mediocrity, knowing in our hearts that if I could just take that first step…

1. Identify your limitations.

This requires coming to know yourself by observing your thoughts with integrity and scrutiny. By watching your thoughts you begin to notice, say, a tendency to procrastinate, to judge yourself harshly, to belittle yourself or to ignore what is best for you. Sitting in meditation helps with this process, as does writing thoughts down in a journal for future reference.

2. Recognize your limitations.

Now the work begins, because you have to stay present to how that mental limitation can show up over and over again. In A New Earth, Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose, Eckhart Tolle refers to these limitations as a negative state of thoughts that are easily overlooked, precisely because they are so common, so normal. You live with these negative thoughts without even knowing you are thinking them. Paying attention to what and how you are thinking allows you to counteract the thought or action before it can manifest.

3. Accept your limitations.

Rather than lash out in anger and do battle with yourself, accept that this is the person you have become, and these are the thoughts your ego has created as a means of survival. Think of the mind as a computer where your thoughts are made up of random input from past experience, images, conversations, instructions, and interactions. You must first accept whatever and whomever you have become in order to begin changing that person.

4. Honor your limitations.

This may be the most important task of the four steps and, for some, the most difficult. To honor life’s lessons introduces them as worthy opponents. If we are, as some say, spiritual beings having a human experience, then confronting our limitations should be done with the understanding that these challenges are what help us to grow beyond the ordinary and away from mediocrity. To honor these lessons is to take them on with a courage we may think is impossible, but is within each and everyone of us, just waiting to be called into action."
Delia Quigley is the Director of StillPoint Schoolhouse, where she teaches a holistic lifestyle based on her 28 years of study, experience and practice. She is the creator of the Body Rejuvenation Cleanse, Cooking the Basics, and Broken Bodies Yoga. Delia's credentials include author, holistic health counselor, natural foods chef, yoga instructor, energy therapist and public speaker. Follow Delia's blogs at  Body Rejuvenation Cleanse and Broken Bodies Yoga, and her website, Delia Quigley

I'm good at sticking at things, once I've decided what they are, but there are some I must do battle with, despite my determination. It's that mental negativity that comes in, and Delia understands that. Helpful in quitting smoking, there is an evil little character (used in a no-smoking product commercial) I use as a visual. He has form and substance to him, so that I can rant and rave when he appears, and it does work. With other things, deciding where I want to live, for instance, I allow negativity to creep in, because I've developed doubts about my own decision-making. When I consider returning to Oz, which I long to do, I find myself suddenly thinking of huge Huntsmen spiders! Well, that sure as heck doesn't help! I need to maintain a prettier representation - hibiscus blooming, the smell of eucalyptus, balmy (for me) winters, the company of family and friends.

Despite my resolve, when it comes to the idea of actually publishing my books, I've developed a new pessimism. What if my name becomes known, even a tiny bit? Will there be television interviews? Will the Walrus want to do a full page feature? All of this terrifies me! I need a warm, fuzzy view of success - able to support myself from my writing, living in a house I own and love, throwing impromptu get-togethers with other artists and writers. And, most importantly, lucky enough to protect both anonymity and peaceful locale from curious eyes. Of course - and here's that negativity again - the kind of fame I fear is unlikely to happen anyway, so why worry?

So I'm not writing out my list of things to achieve this decade. Writing them down doesn't guarantee anything. Instead I will quietly work on getting them right, honing them to things of beauty. One of them is facing the fact that I have a huge birthday this year. It's been depressing me somewhat, the idea of it. How can I, Fran Caldwell, be that old? My new resolve will be to joyously celebrate it. After all, the alternative to aging is pretty nasty. Let the battle begin!

So thanks, Delia, for opening my eyes. Of course, it's not really new to me, your philosophy. I just chose NOT to think about it.

Have a wonderful New Year, dear friends. You all work so hard, with few grumbles, really. I wish for you all what I wish for myself: to complete the finest work we hope for ourselves, have the best agent, and find a top publisher, all done with a modicum of privacy, unless you long for the limelight.

Remind yourself that you have one of the greatest gifts, with this abiity to write. Whatever happens in your life, you will always have that.

“I’d rather be a failure at something I enjoy than be a success at something I hate.” — George Burns

Quotes to Consider

"If you would not be forgotten, as soon as you are dead and rotten, Either write things worth reading, or do things worth writing." ~Benjamin Franklin

"Well behaved women rarely make history."~Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

“A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.”~William G.T. Shedd (1820-1894), theologian, teacher, pastor

"It is common sense to take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something." ~Franklin D Roosevelt (1882-1945), 32nd U.S. president

“Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.”
~Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882), essayist, poet, philosopher

"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover." ~Mark Twain

"You miss 100% of the shots you don't take."
~ Wayne Gretzky