Review: Ticket for Reference

Ticket for Reference
Perzine, Kate Dunn, 30 pgs,

Prolific Australian zinester Kate Dunn writes a frank but sentimental mini-memoir of her call centre work. Drawing on several years experience of frontline phone wrangling, caught between customers, bosses, and a year of middle management. All the while striving to hold on to empathy.

Kate’s anecdotes are sly, surprising and sometimes sad. Predictably, but still shockingly, there are stories of humans mistreating other humans over the phone under the untouchable status of “customer.” Kate attests to the still-reverberating effects of wounding words and attitudes absorbed from faceless strangers on the other end of the horn. But there are also stories here of the kind, the interesting and the strange. Unforgettable characters and camaraderie among call centre labourers.

The guise of servitude demanded by call centres work extracts intense emotional labour from Kate and company. Still, Kate gamely frames the emotional endurance and conversational dexterity required of call centre workers as a unique skill honed under fire: a way to guide communication, to insulate oneself from verbal abuse and violent language, to persistently work toward a goal with words.

Kate’s stories unfold in chapters beginning with years as an initiate, paying dues, then finding strides as a pro, knowing the ropes even if still taking knocks. Finally, Kate’s call centre career ends after a year as a middle manager, striving to model humane leadership for frontline colleagues, while also carving out an individual sense of what it means to be a good professional. Kate genuinely and rightly takes pride in growing and surviving in call centre work, and readers with any history in these kinds of service oriented positions will find solace and solidarity in Kate’s ode to this oft-demeaned profession. (Joshua Barton