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My Mission is to Surprise and Delight

By Sheila Black


My daughter works in the Apple Store--the Help Center, open 24-7,
people from all fifty states, angry because their iPhones
malfunctioned or they don't know how to program their data
plans. She practices sounding knowledgeable yet ditzy; mysterious
yet lucid, and able to reassure. She has never been ranked down for
a "bad conversation, " and they rate every call. Some of the kids
lose it--the ones who get fired." A bit better than minimum wage,
but not much. "You get addicted to the notion-what would it
mean to be the perfect Apple helper every time?" They reward her
with T-shirts. "You are the Future!" in a pretty Apple box. And
letters signed "Apple." "We know you have dreams. We know
you are the one we have been waiting for." They have taken
over the Wells Fargo Bank building downtown, a row of white
Apple cubicles made of slick plastic-beautifully designed. Steve
Jobs said "simplicity takes effort." He said "Apple is for the
person with the unique mind." After work, my daughter and her
co-workers bend over their iPhones, When I say "rosemary,"
my daughter Googles a picture of it. Her latest t-shirt bears the slogan
"My mission is to surprise and delight." This annoys her faintly.
"How can I wear it outside the Apple Help Center?" she asks. "Apple
loves you," says the latest letter. I want to say "You, Steve Jobs, did
not invent a machine alone. No you, Steve Jobs, invented a new
form of loneliness. No wonder you were not able to live forever.
The body has to get its own back somehow. How you have separated
each from each, self from self, the anti-parable in which
all breads and loves become as one. The silver apple, which
will never be edible, will never be baked into any kind of pie."
I ask my daughter how she does it-eight hours, call after call,
and everyone angry, or sad, or simply frustrated. "I never speak
as myself," she replies, "but as Phone Girl." Phone Girl has no
past, no present, no family. Phone girl is all light and longing.
She is only a voice, and a voice can be anything." My daughter
holds out her hands, "She is a light you can see straight through."

Added: Monday, July 14, 2014  /  Sheila Black reads "My Mission is to Surprise & Delight" at the 2014 Split This Rock Poetry Festival: Poems of Provocation & Witness, March 29, 2014 at the National Geographic Grosvenor Auditorium in Washington, DC.
Sheila Black

Sheila Black is the author of four poetry collections, most recently Iron, Ardent (2017), and has co-edited two anthologies, Beauty is a Verb: The New Poetry of Disability (2011) and The Right Way to Be Crippled and Naked: The Fiction of Disability (2017). In 2012, she received a Witter Bynner Fellowship from the Library of Congress. She holds a BA in French literature from Barnard College and an MFA in poetry from the University of Montana. She currently serves as Director of Development at the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP.) Before that, she was the Executive Director of Gemini Ink, a literary arts center in San Antonio, Texas and served as Associate Director of Corporate and Foundation Relations at New Mexico State University Foundation.

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