You know when someone – a famous someone – you don’t know dies, and you suddenly feel the world is a different place? I felt that when Leonard Nimoy died last year, for example – like a piece of rationalism had exited the world, leaving us spun deeper in chaos (yes, I know he wasn’t actually Spock, but my brain will forever associate him with Spock; also with the similarly rational scientist in the remake of The Body Snatchers; not to mention the evil scientist in Fringe more recently…).
There have been others lately – so many sudden deaths of famous people that were part of my background, but I was very surprised by my reaction to David Bowie. He’s a soundtrack I’ve been hearing all my life, but only in passing. I’ve never really been a fan. He’s been someone in my cultural background, as well as a musician influencing so many others styles, and life choices. Bit like Lemmy, who died nearly at the same time – totally different music and life style there, but another one with a whole backstory to a generation, another icon.
It feels like Bowie in particular had fingers in everyone’s musical pie. So many people cite him as an influence.
I’m struggling with my mood and demeanour today: I’m turning on the head of a pin, turning on the side of a coin. I had a bad day at work (oh yes) yesterday, to the point of where running off to Mexico (Fry’s preferred emergency solution to just about anything) seems like a better idea than showing up in my life today. I’m very tired and somewhat irritated by the fact I know I’m going to do the right thing and show up anyway, regardless of how I feel.
So hearing another musician, another cultural icon that I was…sort of ambivalent about really, has died, should not be upsetting me. Should definitely not be the excuse my psyche has been waiting for, for a total mood dip. Yet I can really feel it descending. Instead, I should be, by logic, shouting out the only song of his that I really really liked, Heroes, very loudly. And then trying to be one, within the confines of my life.
And not cry.
Maybe that, him knowing he was going to die, explains that strange, scary and portentous song and music video – the Black Star that went round shortly before he died, on Youtube. For anyone confused by the word PORTENTOUS in that last sentence: I’ve discovered on using it on Facebook, that it has semi fallen out of use. I say ‘portentous’ and what people were hearing was PRETENTIOUS. A whole different word. When I first saw the last Bowie video, I commented that I found it portentious: as in, containing an omen, a sign, a hidden meaning that was there, but which I couldn’t quite read or decipher. That it presaged something coming, I just wasn’t sure what. And it riled loads of fans who thought I had just accused The Master of being PREtentious. And then they went on to misunderstand that word too, and ask me who I thought he was pretending to be? Which incident among increasingly many in my life, shows up the limits of communication, as well as the mixed joys of trying to keep good words going when half the world has lost them already, and you didn’t use them within enough context to make them clear.
Anyway. I’m in the coffeeshop before beginning work, which is this morning, annoying. Both the idea of beginning work, and the people. Two habitually tragic faced men have sat down near me, facing me. Odd choice: I usually sit facing the window and the exit – more to see. I wouldn’t sit facing a grumpy woman (that would be me). There’s another woman, sitting next to me-ish, on the phone, saying loudly: “See? See? Noooooooo – really?? See? He doesn’t move much, sits in the corner now…” I really want to turn down her dial – and the dial of everyone who speaks loudly on a phone, inviting us all into their usually extremely boring and lengthy conversations. I also want to enquire after whether she’s talking about a person or a pet….and the thing is, she would be annoyed if I asked, as if she hadn’t just talked so loudly everyone was forced into her business.
I have to go in a moment. So this woman is wasting my precious alone time. Huh. Then I will have to go and sit tensely and wait for the phone to ring at work. A secret of customer service: when you are mediating services that have been repeatedly cut, you find yourself often explaining to people why you can’t do what they want. Sometimes this is due to poor research on their part – 5 minutes of googling prior to their call would have shown them we never did whatever it is, or we definitely don’t do whatever anymore. So poor research and faulty expectations on their part. Sometimes it’s that we did and don’t any longer, or simply can’t though it would make sense if we did. But someone else often does do the thing. And the secret is: you don’t calm people down when they are cross. THEY CALM THEMSELVES.
They call, often too cross already, and then they make the decision to stay cross and to make very sure you are aware they are cross (by sprinkling their shouting, or conversation or demands with swearing, or phrases like ‘you lot of inept idiots’, ‘what kind of arseholes do you employ down there’, ‘do you lot ever think of anyone else’, ‘what do you actually DO there’). It doesn’t matter what you try to say or what explanations you attempt to give, or how you say it. If they are determined to stay cross, cross they will stay. And they will get crosser too. In many ways it’s like dealing with a child having a tantrum. If they don’t get what they want NOW (or better still, yesterday), then anger and rudeness is what you will receive.
Any deviation from this is because THEY decided to become civilised, and hear what you are saying, or accept your apology for their trouble and inconvenience: for a theoretical and very common example, roadworks and cones and lane closures caused by allowing a water company to repair a burst water main that supplies the local hospital, er – important stuff; and sometimes substances have to set before continuing, so it will look like there’s a lane closure and no work going on – but there’s a reason. They will decide for themselves that being rude and arrogant and abusive to someone who is doing their best to help in a flawed system is at best counter productive. Obviously if I was inept or unhelpful or sounded like I had no idea what I was talking about, I would contribute to their annoyedness, but I try to be calm and quiet and conciliatory.
The annoying thing for me is when the other day I had to say: “Sir, I am trying to give you an explanation. If you don’t let me speak, then I can’t help you…” and after the call being told to not antagonise the caller. Me. Who just spoke quietly and calmly to someone who was shouting and not listening at all, and who I really felt had vented enough already. Some of them don’t ring to be helped or informed, and I often realise I am experiencing a feeling of quiet sadness that realising you were 2 hours late to work because a vital water supply TO A HOSPITAL is being replaced, an unforeseen emergency situation, is NOT ENOUGH of an explanation for some people. It makes me feel sad about the people and whatever is in their minds; and very sad about the future of communication. The world seems to be a lot about fulfilment of demands, and very little about understanding circumstances and trying to reach a compromise – which is what has to happen when people have differing but strongly held views.
I think in the case of the barrage of the cross motorist who was very late, he was so abusive because of a flawed perception that we had overruled his needs without asking him – we the Still Mighty and Terrifying Public Service Sector, who decree when the roads will be done, to give people stuff like, you know, drainage…People are unclear about what constitutes need, greater need, group need over personal need. And if they are stuck deep enough in their personal need, they won’t be able to hear anything about group need. And they won’t understand that we can’t poll everyone, we have to let the water main get fixed, because it’s an emergency. For example. Still – that explanation is not one any caller wants to hear (or in this case was prepared to hear), and neither is it a comfort to me.
Sometimes knowing a thing doesn’t particularly help. It just does make me sad and fearfully stress me out that when I go to work I never next know when a caller will decide that I personally am responsible for the entire failure of HIS/HER LIFE that day, morning, week or year. It’s odd. My supervisor made a telling remark the other day. She said: “It’s the idea of the Nanny State. They all complain they don’t want it, but they do” and she’s right – or they would have no one to complain at or about, whenever anything doesn’t work. They complain at all the things we don’t or can no longer do, not accepting that in many cases, they voted for the Party that’s defunded our services to the point they can function only very carefully, and in some cases not so efficiently, anymore. Expected to do ever more, but with ever less money. So prioritising becomes tighter and tighter, and clashes of interest will happen.
So I will go in, sit there through the long minutes, in a Bowie-less world, singing ‘Heroes’ to myself. I will be polite and I will try to be kind, and helpful. (Best not to try and channel Lemmy, eh?!) Let’s hope today’s people feel reasonable. And if they don’t…how best to be quietly helpful, quietly heroic, in daily life? Crises are easy. You stand or you don’t. But every day, the grind, the challenges to not become closed, or uncaring – that’s a heroism that goes on every day, for all of us. Personally, I reckon that’s what Bowie was talking about in the song – nothing grand or melodramatic, just how to do more than survive, how to properly communicate, to make things a touch better. That’s being a hero in your small bit of every day life. And I will keep trying, absolutely damn it! Because what other thing is there to do?!