• About Quota

    Bookmark and Share

    My daily writing--emails, journal entries, marginalia, more emails, blog posts, and tweets--shapes me as a writer, helping and hindering the big stuff I'm trying to accomplish. Every word counts.

    My name is James Black. I'm on Facebook and Twitter. Friend and/or follow me if you like.

  • Recent Tweets

  • Categories

  • Add to Technorati Favorites
  • Recent Comments

    Elisse on The First Year of Grief Is as…
    The First Year of Gr… on Postmortem
    The First Year of Gr… on A Eulogy for My Father
    The First Year of Gr… on Keep on Truckin’
  • wordpress stats plugin

The Great Chain of Being in Contact

My friend Jane posted this on my Facebook wall: “Had a lovely imaginary conversation with you yesterday, which made me think it’s time for a real one.” Which brought to mind categories of conversations.

Face-to-Face: Or F2F. This kind of conversation happens in real time. You get to experience the facial expressions and gestures of the person you’re talking to and receive and give immediate feedback.

Presentational: Somewhat F2F, but one speaker addresses many audience members. If there’s time for questions, which in a very limited way resembles conversation, some jackass usually eats up the time by spouting nonsense in an attempt to outshine the speaker. Continue reading

910 Words

I wrote 21 emails today.

Total number of words: 910 (not including greetings or signatures). That’s approximately three pages of writing.

The shortest email was three words (not including my signature): “Just received this.”

I used the word “available” ten times. And I said “thank you” over and over.

And I used the phrase “at your earliest convenience,” which is just a semi-polite way to nudge someone.

In context, the 910 words did what they needed to do. Out of context, there’s not much in those words. The emails didn’t need to establish what was going on so much as convey developments as they happened.

But choosing those words took some time and energy. Had I not used a polite, professional discourse, and had I used too many or too few words, the readers would have looked for hidden messages and wondered if something was wrong. So not only did the words in the emails not establish context, they needed to avoid suggesting context. Here’s the latest, the subtext says. This is all there is. Just doing my job. Nothing else to see here. Go on about your business.

You Don’t Have to Be a Genius

On a recent visit to Kansas City to see my parents, they take me with them to the Apple Store. We’ve become rather devout Mac users and go to the house of worship every so often. The store is small but busy. No one loiters for long, unless you count me, camping out at a MacBook to reply to a few emails (that day’s daily writing).

Take away the clutter of bustling customers, and you’d be left in a room with a simple design. There are many tables, each large enough to fit about six computer workstations. At the end farthest from the door, there’s a counter that serves as the store’s Genius Bar, where customers ask questions and technicians–yes, the Geniuses–attempt to answer them.

The Genius Bar is home base, but Geniuses are scattered throughout the store, easy to spot in bright-colored t-shirts. As I click through my email and type a few replies, I realize something unusual is going on in this public, commercial setting. The Geniuses attend to the customers, neither bowing to them nor revealing thinly veiled resentment for being asked for assistance. They seem interested in the customers’ concerns, and the customers make reasonable requests.

Hardcore selling is not happening here, but the parties in question are negotiating. The power differential is decidedly less lopsided than in the tech support horror stories I’ve heard. None of the Geniuses rolls her or his eyes condescendingly as a demoralized customer asks earnestly how to open a laptop. Rather, each Genius-customer pair I observe seems to be having a civilized conversation. I don’t hover so close or so long to see any of these conversations through to the end, but they all move along to reasonable solutions. No one throws confetti. But no one storms off in a huff, either.

Learning takes place, and not just for the customers. I assume that’s part of the plan. Customers and geniuses bring expertise to their interactions. Although it should be no surprise that the Geniuses know what they’re doing, the customers know their stuff, too. One session that I do watch involves a customer trying to add photos to a book she’s laying out with her Mac. She needs advanced-level help. The Genius asks many questions, inviting the customer to establish her expectations and, beyond that, to guide the session as much as she wants.

I understand why I’m drawn in by this activity while experiencing déjà vu. I run academic support services at a university. My staff and I are no Geniuses, but we try to do what they do. We attempt to meet students “where they are” and to help them learn what they need to learn so they can do what they need to do. Our best work happens when students open up about what they expect and know. In those situations, I learn a lot about how I learn and how I write. If things are going well, my daily work allows me to reflect, learn, and grow.

That doesn’t always happen, of course, and I’m guessing the same is true for the Geniuses. I may have just caught them on a good day. There’s a strange mix of education and customer service in this kind of work, so consistency is difficult. But I doubt Apple would devote resources to this if it didn’t work pretty well.

And how comforting it would be for anyone trying to learn anything to have access to a bona fide Genius. I love the term Genius to describe an educator. At once, it conveys a sense of humor and a grain of truth. But beware. In the search for answers, questions often raise more questions. Which can be helpful. Frustrating. And just brilliant.

Okay, Now You.

As expected, my first posts are not representative of my typical output. Post-retreat, I feel at risk of slacking, although I’ve done pretty well. I’ve switched from generative writing mode to revise-and-send mode. I’ve already revised a very short piece and sent it out (fingers crossed). There are two or three other pieces that need to get out into the world, then I’ll get back to the novel.

Today was my first day back to work. I wrote ten emails, which is a pretty typical per-day total during summer months. This evening, I’ve sent nine emails, and I’ve sent about 150 lines of chat. It could have been a more productive writing day, to be sure.

Okay, now it’s your turn. What did you write today? Did you communicate via email, chat, or texting? Did you work on poetry, fiction, or a novel or play? What did you accomplish that you wanted to? What did you write because you had to? Please share by posting a comment.

%d bloggers like this: