Getting to Know Paula High-Young
Alternative Health and Personal Development Copywriter
The Positive Negative
Spring—so full of possibilities. Little did I know how true it would be, especially this particular bright, sunny day. I parked in my parking space at the photo lab—a relatively new, custom lab in town—before digital photography arrived on the scene. I went inside.
To be clear, when people took their rolls of film to a photo lab for “process and print,” they’d receive back the photo prints and strips of negatives in their order. If they wanted larger prints, they brought those specific negatives to us to make enlargements.
While we offered several photo services, I’m the gal who made the large photos. Using the negatives customers supplied, I produced beautiful custom enlarged photos and color-matched them to any smaller prints ordered.
On this morning, I received three customer order envelopes. These were my tasks for the morning and possibly for the next couple of days.
I needed to finish the first order within a couple of days. Looking inside, it contained one color negative. The envelope displayed a scribble of basic cropping instructions. The customer wanted two different-sized large prints.
The negative depicted a dancer twirling on stage, under theatrical lighting. I could immediately see there would be lots of color and lighting possibilities.
“Humm…” I thought. This is going to be a very interesting negative to work with.”
Normally, I’d print one test strip to start. But this one needed a few more. I settled on a lighter test and a darker one. About 10-minutes later, the two test-strips emerged from the photo processing machine. I studied them.
“Holy cow!” I thought, “There are probably a dozen different ways to print this! What mood—what feeling did the photographer intend?”
I took the tests to the front desk and spoke with the clerk who had taken in the order.
“Hey, do you remember taking in this job?” I asked her. “Did the gentleman give any other directions or idea on how he wanted it printed?”
She shrugged, barely looking at me. “It’s just another negative to me. The guy just wanted the two different sizes.”
“Okay, thanks.” I nodded. “I’ll call him and ask.”
After he answered, I tried explaining about the range of lighting and color possibilities within his negative.
I asked, “What kind of mood or feeling are you aiming to express in the photo?”
He was silent for a few seconds. “Uh, Gee. . .,” he said, “I dunno. It’s my girlfriend performing at a dress rehearsal. Um. . . just print it however you think best, I guess?”
“Um-hmm. . .,” I said, trying to buy some time while I thought of how to explain the predicament. This guy—is obviously not a professional photographer—he merely took a really lucky shot.
“Okay Sir,” I finally said, “Here’s the thing. You’re paying good money to have these large prints made. There are more than a dozen different ways to print this particular negative. If you could, please come and look at a few test strips. Give me more ideas on what you’d really like; I’d appreciate it. I want you to be happy with the photos.”
“Yeah, I guess. . .” His tone, less than enthusiastic. “But. . .” he sighed with exasperation, “it’ll have to be later this afternoon.”
“Perfect! Just ask for Paula. The extra trip will be worth it. You’ll see.”
I decided it would be helpful for him to see the range of possibilities. I printed six more test-exposures with various color and lighting variations. He’d have eight tests from which to choose, and I moved on to other orders.
Around 3:00 pm that afternoon, he arrived. I laid out the eight different tests.
“Wow!” He rocked back on his heels and blew out a breath. “You got all those from my one little negative? How?”
“I just varied the exposures, similar to how you would in the camera to take the picture,” I explained, “Although—in my darkroom, I can also change the color balance. We normally print for a nice, warm skin tone. But with all this colorful theatrical lighting and the amazing shadows. . .” I trailed off. He got the idea.
He pulled out the small drugstore original he’d received from the “print and process” of his initial roll of film—a 4” x 6” photo—too dark and dull—with muddy color.
I’d seen this—hundreds of times over the years. Fast-photo places, like drugstores and inexpensive photo labs, cranked-out low-quality fast prints and called it good. They didn’t care about quality. Most people didn’t understand the difference between those quickie photo labs and high-quality custom labs.
The drugstore hadn’t offered large photos. He shrugged. “I just figured it would be kind of like this—only bigger.” He motioned to the dismal original. “I had no idea you could do so much with it.”
I briefly explained moods, colors, and the overall range possible with this negative, and we settled on which two test-strips he liked best.
I smiled, “I can totally work with this. I’ll call you once it’s ready.”
He blew out a sigh of relief. “I’m so glad you called and convinced me to come and look at these. I had no idea what you were talking about—until I saw all those test-strips. Thank you so much for taking the time to print the extra tests and consult with me.”
I finished the prints late that day, just before closing, and called him. I told him he could pick them up the next day.
When he picked up his order, the quality blew his mind. He had the customer service clerk call me upfront again.
“My girlfriend is going to be so surprised—and amazed! I’m giving one of the 11 x 14’s to her in two weeks, for her birthday. The other goes to her parents for Christmas. They will be floored. Thanks again for taking the time to make it great.”
Sometimes people simply need a little more information than they realize. They don’t always know what amazing things are possible. I love getting the opportunity to light the way.
The Seamstress and the Mouse
For a few months, I talked callers through fixing technical problems with their computers—over the phone. I tended to be too thorough for the “Free Tech Support” branch of the company.
During those months, I experienced several entertaining moments. One of my favorite tech support stories is about the sweet grandmother whose call came to my desk the week after Christmas. Her computer mouse wouldn’t work correctly.
Depending on the client’s issue, there were specific sets of procedures and questions we went over. I brought up her computer configuration on my screen and found a few potential fixes to talk her through.
Let’s call her “Mrs. Jones,” since I don’t remember her name—I’ve slept since then. I began asking Mrs. Jones the usual discovery questions and analyzing her answers for possible clues. She had never owned a computer before this.
She received it as a Christmas gift from her kids and grandkids. The idea being, they could send her emails and share photos. She could, in turn, easily respond, and they could keep in touch better.
Unfortunately, her kids and grandkids lived in a different state, so they weren’t around to set-up the computer for her and get it running. Her son did his best to walk her through the set-up instructions over the phone, but the pesky mouse issue persisted.
Based on what she’d told me about the mouse problem so far, I continued looking up various things to try—and we chatted. Each potential repair we attempted failed to remedy the glitch, but this gave us enough time for me to learn a few things about her.
Recently widowed, she’d raised four terrific kids who’d grown-up and started their own families. She had a bunch of grandkids and another on the way.
Still a seamstress at heart, she made lots of clothing and toys for her family, even though she’d retired a decade earlier. I heard the pride in her voice as she talked about the loving touches she added.
Meanwhile, we tried the last idea on our list for enticing her mouse to behave—to no avail. We joked, maybe her cat could scare it straight.
Odd how none of the “normal” fixes worked. I thought.
Then. . . a wild concept hit me in a flash of inspiration.
“Mrs. Jones,” I asked cautiously, “where is your mouse located right now?” “Well,” she said innocently, “it’s right here, next to my right foot—on the floor.”
I suppressed a tiny giggle as my mind raced through the logic.
I KNEW it!!! Thinking this through—She’s always been a seamstress. This mouse-thing looks like a sewing machine foot pedal to her. Nobody told her any differently.
A fleeting moment of awkward silence passed, and she timidly asked, “Is that okay?”
“Mrs. Jones,” I said as gently and upbeat as I could, “I think we have found your mouse problem.”
“Oh good,” her enthusiastic tone bubbling up. “What’s the issue?”
“It’s a matter of positioning,” I said, smiling. “I can certainly see how it resembles a foot pedal to an expert seamstress like you. But you’ll need to move the mouse to your desktop. Place it on whichever side of the keyboard most comfortable to you—usually the right side, for most right-handed people.”
She laughed nervously, “Oh my! I feel so stupid. I’m sorry. How could I have been so silly—not catching something this simple? And now I’ve wasted your time. Oh, wait. . . On the desk? The mouse pad too?” She sounded flustered—maybe on the verge of tears.
“Mrs. Jones, it’s okay. You need not worry—sometimes the written directions are not as clear as intended. It’s my job to help you sort out your computer issues—that’s all this is. And yes, please. . . on the desktop—the mouse pad too.” I smiled, hoping she could hear it in my voice.
She released a heavy sigh as she moved the items.
“Mrs. Jones. . . Please don’t feel bad. You’re NOT stupid—far from it. You’re an amazingly talented lady who has spent her life sewing beautiful things for people. Far fewer people can sew nice things than use a computer.”
“And. . .” I continued, “contrary to what your grandkids might think, most of us were not born knowing how to set-up or use computers.”
“Besides,” I went on, “any of us over middle-age have had to learn. You’re just learning now, that’s all. So, you’re actually pretty brave.”
She took a deep breath, and I could sense her relief. “Mrs. Jones, is the mouse on your desktop now?” “Yes, it is.”
“Great,” I encouraged. “Next, you’ll need to make sure the mouse’s ‘tail’—its cord, is leading out, away from you—toward the back of the desk, and point the rounded end toward you.”
“Oh. . . OH, right! Okay, got it. Thank you. You are so patient. . . and kind.”
“You’re welcome, Mrs. Jones. I’m glad I get to be the one to help you stay in touch with your family and share photos and memories. Now, do you see on the front end of the mouse, it’s divided into two buttons—left and right—and a wheel between them?”
“Yes, I see those.”
I talked her through a few practice exercises, which helped her learn to use the mouse. Her computer worked perfectly. She thanked me repeatedly for my understanding. I felt genuinely happy to help her. I made her day, and she gave me a beautiful memory.
The call probably only lasted about 15-20 minutes.
Meanwhile, I noted—during my call with Mrs. Jones, the young technician on the opposite side of my cubical wall spoke rudely to his caller.
The tech occasionally muted his phone and made rude comments about his customer being so stupid. “I got an old guy who just doesn’t freakin’ get it.”
I felt sorry for the client—having ended up with such an impatient young, know-it-all, rude tech. But that sort of tech-behavior seemed culturally normal around there.
Funny how communication can heal some of the most basic issues, and yet we live in a world of, “Hurry, hurry, hurry, we don’t have time for that.”
Call times were a big deal there. It’s the main reason I left. They frequently penalized me for spending too much time talking with clients while I researched their potential fixes.
But if I had not talked with Mrs. Jones, I would NEVER have figured out her unlikely issue. And she would have experienced mounting frustrations with each subsequent call—being shuffled from one impatient tech to another. . . never solving her simple problem.
In Tennessee Williams’ play, A Streetcar Named Desire, Blanche DuBois famously said, “...I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.”
And I’d respond, “Who among us has not, on occasion?”
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