Language as a persuasion tool – this is Lexicon, by Max Barry

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Book lovers, twitter addicts, we all occasionally reply those game tweets that publishing houses are constantly posting about book give aways for top answers. So, I won this book called “Lexicon”, from australian author Max Barry, and somebody (I can’t recall his name, so sorry about that) twitted me asking for my input on the book. I finished the book last night and, well, decided to take upon that request, mainly because it was a good entertaining reading. It hooked me up since the opening scenes, it took me to a fantastic world about secret language schools and world wide companies with the knowledge to compromise regular people, persuade them to do whatever it is they want or need us to do. It is cleaver, thrilling, entertaining, but it is not a book that you will want to reread, search for hidden meanings and universal truths. It is not a contemporary classic, it is just another entertaining book with a cynical view on society and a happy ending.

I even had this feeling the book was wrote to become a movie, one of those summer blockbusters with a lot of deaths and an underlying love story, that as expected will end well. I could see someone like Kristen Stewart playing Emily Ruff/Woolf, being embraced by her lover, portrayed surely by Robert Pattinson, and looking at the sunset together in the end.

Emily Ruff is the main character, a young poor con artist who was recruited to study to  become a poet, although she proves herself to be a little too wild and inconsequent for the structured, stiff and disciplined poet lifestyle. After committing a serious mistake, she is banned for years into a city in the middle of Australian desert, Broken Hill, before being restated to the company. Missing her lover, life in the US will never fulfill her again.

Meanwhile, Wil Parke and Eliot, one of Emily’s teachers, try to understand what happened in Broken Hill. Apparently, all it’s 3.000 citizens are presumingly dead after a nuclear attack. Will Emily have something to do it? Read it, and you’ll understand.

More authenticity, less excuses

by Marcele Folgati 

While talking to my single friends, I could observe a common feeling amongst them: they are not happy about being single and they blame men’s behavior for that.  Ok, we understand. But let’s think about it, go a little deeper into the matter and maintain an open mind?

It is a fact that many men nowadays don’t want a relationship, perhaps because they are afraid of women, or maybe they are immature, they even might not want a relationship and that’s it. But my focus in this text will be the women’s side and the phrasing: “I am single because men don’t want anything serious”. Who never heard anything like it?  I see things in this attitude that worries me. My first worry is the idea that being single is something bad, which is not. The second is not being the owner of your own frustration. We have the right to be sad, hurt and skeptical, who never got involved with the wrong person and had to seek her friends for comfort? Even the wrong person taught us something, it is part of a phase of your life. Truth is, there is no right or wrong, at that time the wrong seemed right, didn’t he? What we have to deal with, in truth, is our choices and consequences.  When deceptions seemed to happen over and over, feeling like history is repeating itself, it is time to stop and think on what we are seeking for, and what sort of men we are attracting. Change the pattern in ourselves might be a good way to find new ways to relate to others.

We, the women, own our lives and only we have the power to decide what we want, from the jacket we choose to use on a colder day to the type of relationship we want to have, a friendship or a sexual  or an emotional relationship. We are responsible for our choices and we need to be conscious of that.

There is a text published in a facebook page from Brazil that ended up going viral. On it, a girl (let’s call her Martha) states that the more time she spends being single, the more she wants to stay that way — Super well-resolved, isn’t she? No! After that statement, Martha explains how disappointed she is with the number of unfaithful guys she knows, men that don’t respect their girlfriends. However, the other day, she was involved with a guy that received a text message from his girlfriend saying: “I love you so much, I can’t wait for us to be together forever”. The guy closed his cell phone and continued to kiss Martha. Again: let’s think a little more about it? Even if Martha didn’t know about his girlfriend, when she chose to stand by his side after reading the message, she became as responsible as he for the situation, right? But to our protagonist, the problem wasn’t hers. She completes: “I felt relieved for being there just for being”. That’s the point: why would she consider herself exempt? We need to understand that being responsible for our choices is, in fact, freeing. Instead of doing that, Martha, like so many others, prefers to hide behind the “mistakes others make”.

The key to live intensively is to surrender yourself, and there is no surrendering without the willingness to embrace the vulnerabilities of life. In order to do that, it is important for us to not approve behaviors that might go against our values. I am not talking about false moralism, but about respecting yourself. If for Martha the indifference of a guy towards his girlfriend is shocking, I ask myself why she sustained that behavior? Why did she kept kissing him? It is said that men betray more than women, but I believe they betray equally and one doesn’t do without the other.

Going back to the beginning, your happiness cannot be conditioned to others. “I’d rather be alone because I am afraid of what I see around”? Why not staying single simply because being single is also very good? It is a phase in our lives with more freedom, filled with uncertainty and delightful surprises.

Let’s live! Surrender yourself. After all, being single, dating, engaged or married, we are all, always — again, ALWAYS! — subject to the twists of life and our would may be turned upside down overnight and what we thought was right escapes to our control. It is good when it is like this, simple. I’ll finish it up with a song I used to hear all the time in  my teens: “Girl put your records on, tell me your favorite song… Just go ahead, let your hair down…”.

BIO:

Marcele Folgati is a Brazilian journalist, one of my closest friends, and she kindly agreed to write (again!) a piece for quirksmag. For that, I am extremely grateful. 

If you liked this text, please visit Marcele’s last text, Punta del Este: where beach and countryside come together. 

The sell out experience

I was educated in a lefty liberal Brazilian school most of my life. When I choose to study to be a journalist, I was an idealist with a purpose: expose the harsh reality to people, all the schemes and scams that go behind the scenes and have a direct impact into everyone’s life. I quickly learned that maybe the social reality was even worst than I thought, that people died in hospital beds for lack of governmental resources, lack of political interest in fix the health care system or lack of education. It happened because nurses thought it was nothing and rerouted people to the waiting area instead of calling a doctor right away. It happened because people thought it was nothing and waited for months before even thinking of looking for a doctor. It happened because the system has major flaws, and some people just don’t have the means to afford the same insurance I had. Me, the daughter of somebody who owns his own company. That is capitalism.

Journalism school gave me two things: the critical thinking of the capitalist system in an educated, theoretical point of view and a bitter disbelief in social change, which is most of the time shaken by my ideals and the evident necessity of change. Most people are now thinking “oh, she is a communist”, to which I would reply “no, I am not affiliated to any political party and, although I think the core ideas are pretty appealing, I still have many doubts about socialism being the solution for our problems”.

Anyway, after all that explanation, one may wonder what drove me to apply for a marketing job and actually take it. On the very first interview I understood the job was more sales than anythingelse, but I still told myself I needed the money and tried to go along with it. On the second interview, I was having second, third and forth thoughts, but I still went along with it because I was guaranteed it wouldn’t be door-to-door. Well, on my very first day, 10 seconds into what they call training and I would call brain wash, I knew it was precisely door-to-door sales. I wanted to run away, but I continued going. I was curious to see if what we were supposed to sell was something that could potentially benefit people.

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That afternoon, I was dropped of at a college area of Columbus with a trainer, someone who would conduct all conversations and show me what I was supposed to do in the field. I was looking at it as a sociological experiment, I knew I wasn’t going to become a door-to-door sales person at that point, that job just wasn’t for me. Since I stepped into the second interview, I had the feeling I was selling out, but I told myself I would manage to keep that feeling aside as long as I  believed people would benefit from whatever it was I was supposed to sell. That feeling got only worst after the training the company provided, full of sentences like:

“To make a sale you need to show the customer you care about him. Stay next to him. Show him your main concern is that he understand the consequences of signing of with you, that he will be saving money. Be friendly. Remember, the key is to make him believe you know what you are talking about and it is on his best interest to sign. Smile.”

When we started walking and knocking on people’s doors, my worst fears became true. It looked like a scam to me and the trainer was always giving me hints of how to behave in this encounters in order to close the sale. Hints like:

“You are being too polite, don’t ask people, command and they will do what you need them to do.”

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I was feeling completely out of place. It was harsh going door after door telling people to buy something I didn’t believe it was necessarily good for them. I managed to finish off the day and go back home. Driving from the office to my house was tough, I cried a little, thoughts of “what now?” rushed through  my head and before I sank into all this, I decided I was going to sing, get home, shower and move on. Problems will always be there, and there are other jobs a person can do. I am relatively young, I could find something better. Two days after that I was  training for a seasonal job, a temporary position that would allow me to continue my search for a real full time job.

A change of life

Every time I go back to Brazil, it takes me a few days to readapt to the crazy, busy, metropole type of life Sao Paulo provides to its citizens. Traffic suddenly becomes a big concern, since driving 9 miles can take 1:30 hours during peak hours, usually from 7am to  10am in the mornings and from 5pm to 8pm at night. You plan your life geographically,  avoiding to go places because you might get stuck in traffic for so many hours that it is just not worth it. Thankfully, that’s not something I have to worry about in my new town.

IMG_0476It has been less than a year since I actually moved from Brazil to Columbus, and it surprised how quickly we adapt to good things. For instance, my house in Brazil used to have walls all over for safety reasons and my suburban american house only has trees and, well, imaginary lines. The streets had public lights, also for safety reasons, but nights here are so dark I spent three months feeling scared to take my dogs outside to go potty. Eventually, I grew out of it, thankfully. Not only that, I realized how beautiful the sky gets when you can see it without the intervention of street lights and tall walls. It is so quiet here, I don’t miss the city noises at all.

Suburbs trumps Sao Paulo in two other topics: quality of air and friendly neighborhood, almost like a community. Quality of air is a no brainer, since Sao Paulo is one of the most polluted cities in the world, and I feel the difference everyday. But the way our neighbors welcomed us, bringing us cupcakes and banana breads, introducing themselves and offering to help us in anything we might need, that was a surprise. We always hear about how friendly and welcoming Brazilians are in comparison to other countries, and for some reason I thought it would be difficult to break the ice. After the first months I could tell that our neighbors were more friendly than any other I had the chance to meet in Brazil. I witnessed the couple that lives across the street taking out the trash for the family next door, feeding their cat while they were away for summer vacation. I also realized they talked about groundhogs and how to get them away of both their yards without endangering other houses. Everybody says Hi, for the very least, when they drive by. Small gestures that make all the difference when it comes to adapting to a life in a new country.

Back to Business

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Coming back from vacation in Brazil has been a little crazy. As soon as I landed, I was getting ready to job interviews, rewriting my resume, searching all kinds of jobs I think I would enjoy doing. This is the last step of moving in to the US: finding a job. It has been a good and emotional experience. I have been to interviews where the interviewer would suddenly ask “I am picking up an accent, where are you from?”, to which I would uncomfortably reply “I am Brazilian”, realizing he didn’t even take the time to look at my resume before inviting me in. There has been times I was a little unsure of myself, a little off my game and I completely embarrassed myself mumbling around and acting all nervous and shy. That has happened to me before, and it is something I really pay attention not to do, but sometimes this doubtful voice takes over and it is a mess. What can I say? I am human after all. I have been to places I had absolute no desire to work at, simply for the experience of having job interviews in English and for the luxury of being able to choose my future. I also have been to places just because, well, I want and need the money.

A friend of mine suggested that, because I had language skills and education knowledege and I had worked with translations before, I should just advertise myself on Craigslist as a Portuguese Teacher and English/Portuguese Translator, which I did. I liked the idea of language teaching, it suits me. Rookie mistake. In a week, I only got two weird emails replying for the add. One offering me a part time job, with no description at all, saying I should contact someone named Bruce asap. Scary thoughts rushed through my mind, and I didn’t talk to Bruce. If he was for real, I would imagine he would be more informative in the first place.

The second email was even worst. Here is what I received:

Hello,

I am {not disclosing name}, I came across your ad on Craigslist that you need a suitable job, well am in need of a cleaner for my newly rented apartment asap, so if you are interested in the job just mail me for the job details.I believe and understand you are an intelligent person and can do with cleaning job?

Now, I mentioned on the add my name, the fact that I am Brazilian, my expertise and that I was looking specifically for a Teaching/Translation job. I don’t know what would prompt someone to say something as rude and pretentious as “I believe and understand you are an intelligent person and can do with X job?”, implying that a) She/He was doing me a favor by offering me a job; b) I might be intelligent enough to do a cleaning job (and if I didn’t take the job, well, perhaps I wasn’t that intelligent after all). I couldn’t help but wonder if the fact that I am latin would have anything to do with her/him offering me a cleaning job, or if I was just reading too much into it. Sometimes, I have to say, having so much experience working with discourse analysis can make people a little too critic, reading things that people might not have meant to say. I told myself I wasn’t going to say anything, but swallowing that quietly was harder than I thought. That phrasing on that email bothered me for days. Just to be clear, what bothered me was the person’s attitude towards me, not the job she offered me.

So, one day, I sat down and decided to write her/him back. I decided I wanted to get some closure on this matter, plus I deserved to give a voice for that part of me that was having trouble keeping quiet. I needed to stand up for myself, so here is what I wrote:

Hello, X.

I think you are intelligent enough to understand that I am actually looking for a job as a portuguese teacher or translator. It is incredibly rude and pretentious of you to assume that because I am seeking for a job, you would be doing me some sort of favor by offering a different position, and in addition add that I might be intelligent enough for that.

Hope to never hear back from you.

Juliana

I really tried to keep it civil and polite. I really didn’t want to start an email discussion, only reason why I said “Hope to never hear back from you”, I just wanted to let her/him know how I felt.

I wonder if other people, after receiving the same email, would feel and behave the same. Readers, what do you think? Did I overreact? How would you feel if something like this happened to you?

PS: After that, I had another job interview and I was hired. So, that was resolved. I found something that challenges me, a job way out of my comfort zone. We’ll see what happens now. Feeling goosebumps, I’ll start monday. Cross your fingers, please!

PS 2: I apologize for abandoning the blog for a while, but I hope you guys will understand that I had a busy schedule the last few weeks because of the trip to Brazil and job searching. Now, we are back to business! Hurray!