Lies, damned lies

August 27, 2014 § 9 Comments

I’ve never been a huge fan of neurolinguistic programming (NLP). Apart from the fact that it’s been shown to be pseudoscience, it always felt fake to me, certainly in the form it was preached: standing in front of a mirror and repeating things until you believed them. I’m just too cynical for that.

But the armchair sociolinguist in me suspects that its popularity as an idea has had far-reaching consequences on the way we use language. No-one has problems anymore, only challenges or opportunities. People don’t die , they pass away, pass on, and in a deeply ambiguous phrasing, go home. Companies restructure, which is just a way of saying a lot of people will be losing their jobs. Others aren’t unemployed, they’re just between jobs. And Gwyneth Paltrow must take the cake, of course, with her “conscious uncoupling” from Chris Martin.

There are places, of course, where these rephrases are positive, I think. I think ‘sex worker’ is a more honest term than ‘prostitute’, which comes with all kinds of stigma. I also think ‘disabled’, instead of words like ‘crippled’ or ‘retarded’, has definite benefits.

But on the whole, what I see is the overt use of language to sanitise unpleasant concepts. Traditionally all languages and cultures use euphemism to discuss taboo subjects: sex and bodily functions come to mind. But I think the combination of NLP and its cousin, political correctness, means we’ve moved far beyond the scope of euphemism.

We’ve taken it one step further: we simply manipulate words in a concerted way – on purpose – until they sound like something that’s excusable, understandable, quite acceptable really. So we didn’t kill innocent civilians in that war we were waging. It was just collateral damage

What amazes me, though, is that we all know it’s bullshit. We know what’s really meant. And yet, so often we just roll our eyes and join in, upholding the status quo. More fake words in a world that seems to celebrate fakeness more and more every day.

I think it’s time to start changing our language – not in an NLP sense, but in the sense of calling a spade a spade. I’m tired of ‘fake it till you make it’. I’m tired of fake in general. I’m tired of the dishonesty we see in the papers every day, from people at all levels in society. It’s exhausting.

And I firmly believe that until we begin to be honest in the way we speak – and think – about things, the state of the world will only get worse. Sugar-coating the facts doesn’t change them – it’s just a sophisticated way to lie.


Dear John

August 20, 2014 § 4 Comments

Dear John*

I really thought you were different. That you were The One.

You see, I told my friends about you. I said you were reliable, reasonable, that you had never let me down. I sang your praises to anyone who would listen. And now, here I am, waiting for the day when you finally walk out of my life.

Because my building, you see, is still incomplete. It was meant to be be finished weeks ago, and it’s not. The small renovation that was going to take two to three weeks at most, has now dragged on for five weeks. I think I could probably have done it in less time myself, and I have no clue what I’m doing.

And here’s the thing – the work is good. The work that has been done has been done well. And you’re a nice guy, a good guy at heart. You’re just really screwed up and not very good at taking care of the business side of your business.

Now, I’m no expert, but I’ve been a freelancer for longer than I care to think about, so here’s some free advice, because our ways are working are not dissimilar; it’s the nature of the work we do that differs.

1. Decide how long you think it’s going to take and then double it: It always takes much, much longer than you think it will. I know that in my job, and it’s particularly true of builders. You guys are just crap at setting time frames and deadlines for yourself. And you will make your client far happier if you finish early. Trust me on this.

2. Itemise your quote accurately: Builders have this habit of estimating what certain finishes like cupboards, tiles or doors and windows might cost. Cut that out. Because you don’t know what your client likes, so you can never ever get it right, and you usually underestimate by 50% at least to make your quote look good. Tell me how much you estimate for labour and bricks and tiling cement and the like, because those are quantifiable, and then leave a list of finishes that will be required without adding a price. That would be the honest, more accurate way to do it – that way I, the client, can go and look at what I would like and work out whether it will suit my budget or not.

3. Be punctual: Really, I should not have to tell you this. It’s disrespectful enough to arrive five or ten minutes late. Today, you’re two hours late and counting, and it’s been like this every single day of the build so far. I also have things to do and places to go, and clients I need to meet on time. Get your shit together and learn how long it takes to get to my place, and then leave on time in the mornings. It’s not rocket science.

4. Be honest: That includes pitching up when you say you will. There have been at least five days where you didn’t arrive at all or left, promising to return, and never came back. That’s unprofessional at best, and rude and dishonest at worst. It’s lying, pure and simple – as is having a conversation on your phone with another client, in my presence, and explaining that you’re on the other side of town to where you actually are, which is at my house. How much confidence do you think that instilled in me? Just tell the truth, for crying out loud.

5. Communicate: On the days when you simply didn’t pitch, a phone call or a text of explanation would have caused my anger to simmer at an acceptable level. And I might have been more tolerant of your tardiness if you’d bothered to call and tell me you were running late. Talk to me, that’s all. Just pick up the phone.

6. Compartmentalise: You cannot let your personal life get in the way of your business life. Do that, and you will have no business left. I am not your friend – I am your client. If you’re sick or injured, that’s one thing, but the fight you had with your girlfriend, your dwindling finances, your need to pay your workers, your homelessness: none of these things are my problem or my business. The quickest way to sort many of those things out is to finish your job, do it well, and collect your money so you can move on to the next thing and collect your money there. All you have to do is show up, on time, do the work, and do it properly. It’s really not that difficult.

7. Guard your reputation: Word of mouth is how you get work. No-one hires a builder because they saw an ad in the paper, or they looked up people in the Yellow Pages. People talk to their friends and colleagues and that’s how we end up phoning you and asking you to quote on our building requirements. Right now, if anyone asks me about you I’ll have this to say: he did a good job on the building itself, but he took more than twice as long as he estimated, didn’t pitch on several days, was late every day, left early every day, hardly communicated, constantly needed extra money for personal costs he couldn’t cover and I had to project manage every tiny little detail. Would you hire you with that assessment?

So, dear John, all I can say is I’ll be glad to see the back of you. It’s not me, it’s you.

* Names have been changed to protect the not-so-innocent

Nose piercing for the middle-aged: a guide

August 13, 2014 § 3 Comments

Since I had my nose pierced a few months ago as a birthday present to myself, (and you can read about it here) both friends and acquaintances have become obsessed with snot. I’m sorry, but there’s no refined way to say it.

Not only have several wannabe piercees come out of the woodwork, but by far the most common questions I’ve been asked are: “Did it hurt?” and “How do you blow your nose?” A sub-question to the latter is: “Don’t your bogeys get stuck on it?”

So, at a friend’s behest, I am writing you all a guide.

1. Did it hurt?

Well, duh. Of course it did. A sharp needle was inserted into my nostril till it came out on the other side. Logically, that should hurt. But it wasn’t excruciating – imagine squeezing a blind pimple on your nose, and you’ll have an idea of what it feels like. And it’s over in a matter of seconds. Your eyes water a little, and it’s tender afterwards, but there are far worse pains in the world.

2. The snot

I can’t believe I’m writing about snot. But I am prepared to sacrifice my dignity to inform you, my friends. I hope you are grateful.

Basically, the stud I have has an L-shaped post. One arm of the post goes through my nostril, and the bit perpendicular to that lies flat against the inside of my nostril. I can blow my nose as usual, and so far I have not noticed anything unusual in the passage of my mucus. No trapped tendrils, no bogey blockages, no green gunge that will not be dislodged.

Granted, I haven’t had a cold or flu since I had the piercing, but in the normal course of allergies and my general nasal health, all is proceeding as it always did.

3. Where to have it done

You don’t just walk into a jewellery shop and ask to have your nose pierced – they do ears, and that’s it, by and large. So I began by asking someone I’d met who had a number of non-ear piercings and tattoos.She very kindly recommended a tattoo and piercing business not far from where I live, and I made an appointment. Simple as that.

What I hadn’t considered – and clearly my friend had – was the hygiene practices. Everything was clean, sterilised and properly handled. I think that’s an important consideration – if needles aren’t coming out of sterile packaging, you need to get out of there in a hurry.

Just as an aside, the wondrous thing about it all, was how it broke down a number of my preconceptions. I arrived at the converted house, which was painted black inside and out, feeling very nervous. I’m a suburban working mommy – this was way out of my comfort zone. Inside were a variety of very pierced, very tattooed, much younger people, the kind who might make someone as middle-class-boring as me a little uncomfortable.

But it turned out they were just people. Lovely people. In fact, the woman who did my piercing was so kind, so warm, so humorous that I wondered why I’d ever felt uncomfortable in the first place. That was a huge lesson for me – I honestly thought I’d got past judging people by they way they look.

4. If you want to do it, just do it

So many people have told me, when they’ve seen my nose stud, that they’ve been considering having it done, but haven’t done so because their children will be horrified. My children were horrified too, but you know what? They’ve largely got over it, or learned to live with it. Because I am unapologetic about it. It’s my face, not theirs, and if it embarrasses them, then I’m probably doing my job as a parent.

Besides, my parenting approach is this: they’re probably going to blame me for all of their woes in therapy one day. I might as well give them something to work with.

If you’ve always wanted to have a piercing, just go and do it. If you don’t like it, you can always have it removed.

How to choose a school

August 6, 2014 § 7 Comments

This post is for all the new parents out there, furrowing their brows over school brochures and websites, trying to figure out which school they should send their little darlings to.

No doubt you are looking at academic records, geographic location, extramural activities, sporting prowess, and trying to decide whether your child should be at a single-sex or co-ed school. I’m here to tell you that NONE OF THAT MATTERS. What you need to consider, is proximity to the school – the distance from your home and/or workplace to the school.

Trust me on this. It is the Most Important Thing. All you want is to be as near as possible to a school – a single school – that all of your children can go to. And if you can possibly manage it, get close enough so the little swines can walk there and back. It may be worth moving house.

First, if you’re agonising about single-sex or co-ed, look at your children. Are they all the same gender? Single-sex is for you. Boys and girls? Co-ed. Driving to one school a bare minimum of twice a day, day in and day out for the next 45 years of your life (it feels that long) is bad enough. Having to co-ordinate drop-offs and pick-ups at two (or more) schools is enough to make the most experienced logistics expert weep. Why would you do that to yourself?

The second thing to consider is the parking at the school. Phone the school and ask how many kids there are. I reckon you can work on an average of two kids per family and work out the number of families at the school. That’s the minimum number of cars that have to navigate that parking lot in the mornings. If the numbers don’t add up, you might have to pick a school slightly further away, but it’s a small price to pay.

Because there’s something about school parking that brings out the village idiot in even the most intelligent of people. There, in a space filled with children, people hoot and race and ramp and screech to a halt and wave their fists and swear and shout. It’s mind-boggling. And the fewer the parking bays, the worse the behaviour – it’s like an unwritten rule. Spacious parking lots are the way to school-run sanity.

Once you’ve assessed the quantity aspect of the parking bay, it’s time to assess the quality. Are there trees? How many? You want a good mix of sun and shade, and some dappled spots for the in-between days. You’ll spend a lot more time sitting in your car than you’ve bargained for. The perfect temperature and sun:shade ratio are all-important.

Then, are there some grassy areas or tables and chairs where you could sit and do homework with one child while you wait for others? Because you don’t know it, but you’ll be doing this a lot. Schools carefully plan things to end so that there’s not enough time to take one child home and get back for the next one . I’m convinced they convene special meetings just for this purpose. No teacher will ever admit to it, but that doesn’t mean I’m wrong.

Finally, scope out the parking bays closest to the exit so you know where to head on Day One. Rookies think that the best bays are closest to the school gates, but when there’s a concert or a play and everyone wants to leave at the same time, you will be prepared. You will have carefully parked your car so you don’t even have to reverse into the traffic.

No – none of that queueing and sighing and waiting for you. You will simply fling your children into the back seat, start your engine and flee out of the school gates with your Super-parent cape fluttering out of the window, a maniacal cackle echoing in your wake. Five minutes later, having followed all of the advice above, you will pull into your garage or driveway and have your children in bed before the front-gate parkers have even left the school grounds.

You don’t have to thank me. Just send cash.

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