Each morning, I awake at the buttcrack of dawn, get into my car while it is still dark, and drive ten miles to a large cinderblock building, where I enter through an unmarked door and proceed past high-technology to a small workstation in the back of the building, tucked away behind high, beige sound-dampening cubicle walls. I take my seat amidst musicians, painters, and more than a few poets, and begin my work day.
No, I don’t report to some government-run artistic thinktank. I work in a call center. That’s right. I’m one of those people you get on the phone when you dial any of the eight gazillion toll-free numbers (we’re taught to say “toll free” rather than “800″ to avoid confusion, as there are now more than six toll free area codes).
Coming in this morning, I began to wonder what it is about this work that draws artistics. Perhaps it is the challenge of learning real-world corporate lingo or the interactions we get from other artistics. Um….no. That’s not it. We interact very little. Perhaps it is the inspirational hues generated by the mercury vapor lighting. Um….I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a human face in the phosphorescent glow of Mercury, but suffice it to say that even Leonardo wouldn’t have been able to find beauty here. No, the real reason the artistics come to call centers is that, like waiting tables, it is a mind-numbingly boring job that frees up the mind for all sorts of creative endeavors while providing that which a career in the arts rarely provides: a steady paycheck.
Sitting at my desk, I get to spend eight hours a day working to make the world a better place (via the installation of television viewing equipment) and let the muse descend over me, envelope me with that warm embrace of the creative, and watch the clock for that fateful hour when, spirited away from the infernal chirpchirp chirp of the phone, I return to the blank page and can spread my unique light into the world.
Unfortunately (and very much like waiting tables), by the end of the shift you are so bone-weary and wracked with carpel-tunnel, the very thought of holding your head upright is a feat of will unsurpassed since Hillary took his first steps to the summit of Everest.
Call centers attract us with the promise of easy, steady work, relatively stress free. Beckoned in by shiny new Dell workstations and our own private extension, we unwittingly bite on the hook, get addicted to that weekly delivery of a paycheck (yes, weekly. It has something to do with high turnover, I’m sure), and then five years later are stuck here.
So why do we seek this work out? Why slave away at a call center, answering fairly incipid questions about how we’re better than cable? Why not spend the days in the park, completing the great American novel or in the woods penning a poem? What is it about a call center that draws the Prussian blue from our fingernails and prods us to buy a neck tie?
Aside from the fairly ubiquitous nature of call centers (They are everywhere), and the frequency with which the jobs come available (see above re: high turnover rates), it is something far more simple. For in that crowd of artistics, we are far too qualified and far too neurotic to have a job at a doctor’s office or a school or in a J.C. Penney. Instead, we gravatate away and consign our days to waiting tables and answering the phone. Talking to people, be it through painting, poetry, or phone sales, is just what we do.