Thursday, May 29, 2008

Why our economy is failing

Our economy is tanking, and consumers are paying the price in time, frustration, and money. Aside from the mortgage crisis and the high price of oil, here's why:

Poor customer service!!!!!

On the phone: How frustrating are customer service phone lines...where, if you have enough graduate degrees to figure out how to get to a live person, you still have to press or say a zillion commands the overly soothing voice won't understand?

And if you get an actual human, unfortunately chances are you won't be able to understand him or her very well.

The newest wrinkle: fake friendliness, which they think makes them seem like they care but actually wastes more time. In recent dealings with a credit card company, cheeryisms like, "How are you doing today?" made the call twice as long.

In store: how rare is it to want help, and actually find someone who knows the products? Even at Nordstrom, which prides itself on customer item I wanted had to be shipped from another store. I received a different item, with another shopper's receipt. Couldn't get the box picked up for weeks. The actual item I ordered never surfaced, despite numerous calls to and "I'm sorrys" from an assistant manager.

For many Chicagoans, one word exemplifies the problem: Macy's.
There are still people protesting the changeover from Marshall Field's...a recent news story told of a man who bought one Macy's share so he could attend the shareholder meeting. Learn more: here.

One bright note: at a recent trip to Ulta, an employee was helpful and knowledgeable about the benefits of various flatirons. She seems to be the exception to the rule.

In home: A Certain Cable Company. Need I say more? Last summer, a neighbor and I each spent hours on the phone to resolve very frustrating, persistent service outages (particularly so because I work at home and couldn't send files when I wanted to) and scheduling repair visits. And because they don't have dedicated service reps, often I had to re-explain the whole situation. I couldn't get them to show up when they said they would or at all. I think he got them to show up once, but then the required follow up visit to our building never happened.
I complained and got them to let me pay 1/2 for 6 months...then fortunately my building changed to a different provider.

In general:

--Almost every time I shop, no matter when I go: long checkout lines at most stores.

--What's on the shelf: How many times do you go to a drug or grocery store and the product you want isn't there...because it's out of stock Do you have the patience/time to track down an employee and see if they have what you want? I don't. More and more, it seems groceries are carrying fewer national brands and filling aisles with their own products.

The frustration of shopping these days often outweighs the enjoyment of acquiring and using new products. You'd think retailers would want us to shop more...what can be done?

Thursday, May 22, 2008

On Portraying a Dog

Last week my musical improv class at ComedySportz had our show. We had a large crowd, including 6 of my supportive friends/family, and my team won. A great night.

If you're in a regular play, you know exactly what you're supposed to say and when you're supposed to move, and after all the rehearsing you pretty much know what everyone else will say and do. The fun and frightening thing about improv is that you never know what character or activity you'll be called upon to do...and all choices and decisions are made on the spot. In one game, A Day in the Life, an audience volunteer comes on stage and shares the details of his day. Then we perform a musical about that. My team captain had already chosen the two team members who'd take the leading roles, with the 3 remaining playing all other parts.

Our volunteer was a radiologist whose day began by forcing his dog, who'd had a bad weekend, to take medicine. Instantly I knew I should be the dog. A second later, the captain whispered to me that I should play the dog.

So when our "radiologist" called for his dog, Bootsie, I dropped to my hands and knees and crawled to him. I barked. I shook my recently shorn (more on that another day) but still somewhat curly black hair. I thought of Scooby-Doo, who sort of talked in words like 'ruh-roh,' and did that. I refused to take my medicine, even when he enticed me with a ball. And, the audience laughed.

In another game, Sideline Karaoke, one member from each team leaves the theatre while audience members suggest songs for the rest of us to silently act out, as in Charades, and for them to guess while singing as if they were at a Karaoke bar. I think this game is one of the hardest, so I hope I never have to be the guesser.

The songs we had to do were You're So Vain, and two I'd never heard of: Sister Christian and Woop, There it is. For Sister Christian, another woman (who also is short with dark curly hair) and I tried to show that we were sisters by linking arms and pointing to each other. Then we tried to portray nuns. Our team member got that, but couldn't make the connection to sisters. Then we tried praying, then taking communion while she guessed 'Catholic' and other religious things. A guy then tried 'sounds like fist', and she guessed the song.

The other team got hung up on Material Girl...she got 'mat' when team members drew on the floor, and 'girl', but couldn't get further. My team member amazingly guessed all three.

These examples illustrate some of the benefits of taking improv: enhanced team building and communication skills. Most of us have been taking classes together for almost a year now and have come to appreciate each other's strengths and weaknesses.

Note to self: figure out how to apply these lessons to every day life.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

How Much Can I Chew?

Ever have a brilliant idea that turned out to be more than you bargained for?

A friend and I had talked about submitting pieces to a local public radio station. Faithful readers may recall that I'd entered the Public Radio Talent Quest and made it to the Top 100 People's Choice out of more than 1400 entries. I've been a classical radio announcer and a news anchor at my high school and college stations.

Said friend loaned me a broadcast quality digital recorder and showed me the basics of use. Because I hadn't yet come up with a brilliant story idea, I decided to try the complex recorder out at my Romance Writers of America chapter's writing conference by interviewing a few authors and creating podcasts for their Web sites and mine.

Why interview one author when you can interview 17? In the midst of conference events on Saturday, I corralled 17 multi-pulished authors--including our keynote speaker Debbie Macomber, who has sold more than 60 million books!!! I talked with each about a different aspect of the writing life. Everyone was excited to participate. One author even contacted her publisher's publicist--who wants to post it and another Avon author's on the Avon site!

Except I didn't yet have a product, just digital files. I, the untechie, had to get the interviews off the recorder and into my computer. The manual made my eyes glaze over. I was afraid I'd lose the files or convert them to some format my computer wouldn't read. Fortunately, my friend helped...that part was easier than I thought. Then I had to edit each interview with Audacity software, add music (which I created myself via another program) and add an intro/outro...a lengthy process.

I'm calling the series Authors Tell All. The first, with author Jenna Petersen who also writes as Jess Michaels, will be posted on my site under Features soon.

I hope to do more in the future. But this time around, I'll be charging for my time and talent!

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Major Motion Picture Audition!!

Yes, faithful readers, yours truly had her first audition for a major motion picture this morning. And not to be a day player--the receptionist, pizza guy, friendly neighbor who has one or two scenes and a few lines--but for a supporting role: the main character's mother.

I've thought for years I could easily handle being a day player, and have tried to get auditions. Anyone who is comfortable in front of the camera and doesn't quake under the gazes of the director and 40-50 crew members should be able to say, "Right this way, sir" or "Here's your pizza. That'll be $18.99." But actually acting a role with many scenes and extensive interaction with the lead characters is another thing entirely.

Got an email about the audition Tuesday afternoon, the script for part of two scenes followed. Ran out to buy the book. Scanned the very long book the movie is based on for scenes with the mother to learn more about her character. Interestingly, very few descriptions. And it was interesting to see how the scenes appeared in the book and who said the lines vs. the screenplay pages.

Learned the lines and had a friend help me run them over coffee. Pondered and pondered over what to try to embody the character or not? Printed several sets of directions because there's so much construction I wasn't sure which way to go.

When I got there, one of the talent agents rehearsed with me. Very helpful, because it a) made sure I knew the lines and b) helped burn off nerves. Again came the challenge of balancing my theatrical nature with the comedy in the lines and the need to be real. The actual audition simply consisted of doing the scenes on camera with the agent reading the other parts. Then they send the video to the movie people...not like a theater or improv audition where there could be more than 10 people scrutinizing you.

Apparently not very many people are being submitted for this part!!!!!! But I know better than to count a single feather, much less a whole chicken.

No one said to keep this confidential, but I didn't ask if I could share info I'll just say that one of today's most famous teen stars is the lead.