On being … an honest effort

By Ingrid Sapona

Last week I was on a culling quest. My goal wasn’t to make room for new stuff – I just wanted to feel that I have more breathing space. I decided to make it a fairly comprehensive cull. So, in addition to my office, I included my closet and my storage locker. I knew it would be a challenge, but I wasn’t prepared for some of the emotions that bubbled up.

I began with my office. I got off to such a terrific start that in short order, my shredder gave out (it was on its last legs). But – if this isn’t a sign that the fates were on my side – Staples had a fantastic shredder on sale. I was back in business in no time. My approach was straightforward: if the project is complete, I’d get rid of all the research, drafts, etc. The tougher call was for projects I think might eventually get resurrected or updated. With those, I basically got rid of things I thought I might have digital copies of.  In the end, I filled four bags with shredding. So what if a stranger looking at my office wouldn’t notice much of a difference!

Next up – my closet. Though I don’t subscribe to the rule about not keeping clothes that are more than two years old (or is it two fashion seasons?), I’m pretty good about not accumulating things I don’t wear. I’m not one of those folks who keeps clothes that are no longer the right size. If something’s too small, I’ve come to terms with the idea that I’ll likely never be that size again. And, if something’s too big (hurray!) -- since I’m doing my damnedest to make sure I won’t be that big size again, out it goes.

Really, there were only a few things that truly gave me pause. These were items that had sentimental value – things like a t-shirt featuring Banderooge, a cartoon strip one of my classmates did throughout our four years at university, and my very first ski sweater. I’ve held on to these for a long time, but I finally came up with a rationalization I could live with for letting them go. I reasoned that if there was a statute of limitations on holding on to clothing, it had to be less than the 35+ years I had these items. That satisfied the lawyer in me, so into the donate pile they went. In the end, my closet effort was more of a clean-up and reorganization than a cull, but that’s ok.

Finally, it was on to the four file boxes from my storage locker that I brought up. My goal was to try to get it down to three. Three of the boxes had receipts, business records, and financial records that relate to taxes. I was sure that I could get rid of some of them because the actual tax statute of limitations had passed. (Of course, before I shredded any, I checked on line to find out how many years of records you have to keep. I ended up being able to shed two years’ worth of records. Unfortunately, that wasn’t enough to bring the total number of boxes down. But, the three are considerably lighter, at least.

The last box was the one I knew would be the most challenging. It had copies of articles I’d published in different places – newspapers, magazines, journals, etc. In journalism school, we learned that it is important to keep a “clip file” of samples of your work. Of course, these days clips and samples are digital, so the only real value I could ascribe to the stuff in the box was nostalgia. But, I couldn’t bring myself to get rid of all of them. So, I came up with a compromise: I kept one copy of each and shredded the duplicates.

But there was more in that box that caught me by surprise. I came across writing samples of a different sort. There was an episode of Freaky Stories -- an animated children’s show – that I sold, a couple of plays I wrote, four sitcom scripts, and a children’s story. Yes – long before On being… I was interested in other genres. The Freaky Stories opportunity came through a comedy writing class. When the instructor told us the producer of Freaky Stories was willing to read our submissions, I jumped at the opportunity. I was thrilled when they bought my episode. (Sadly, my story was never produced.)

There were also file folders of rejection letters from people I had sent those scripts, stories, and plays to. I don’t mind admitting, I soon found myself in tears. A small part of it was feeling the sting of the rejections anew. But that wasn’t all I was feeling. Part of it was surprise at how many rejections there were. You see, all these years I’ve been hard on myself, thinking that I never really put the effort into getting stuff published; that I gave up too easy. But these folders of rejections belie that. Not only that – once I started reading the cover letters I had sent (there were copies of those too) – I began to smile. I was pretty darned creative with my pitches.

I decided to keep that box of documents. After all, its contents are proof that I’m stronger and more resilient than I realize, not to mention that there’s life after rejection. And, the contents helped me realize that, despite the failures, at least I know I’ve put forth an honest effort at getting my work published and produced. In the end, I think that’s about all we can ask of ourselves, don’t you?

© 2016 Ingrid Sapona


On being … pessimistic

By Ingrid Sapona

I’d be lying if I said that the only thing I’ve been able to think about this past week has been the U.S. election. Actually, since the results came in, I’ve tried very hard to not think about it. Oddly, it’s been pretty easy to put it out of my mind.

Indeed, in conversations with friends, the topic of president elect Trump has barely come up. Other than commenting on some tidbit from a passing news story – like the fact that Trump was surprised when his meeting with Obama went longer than 10 minutes – none of my friends have had much to say. I’ve been thinking about why that is and I think the answer is not that we’re all in denial – it’s that folks outside the U.S. are simply dumbstruck. Well, dumbstruck and scared. 

The truth is, for me, the election result represents the mere tip of the iceberg of concerns I have about the U.S.’s future. Even if Hilary had won, for a couple years now I’ve been concerned that the U.S. is on a path toward self-destruction that no leader may be able to alter. I’ve found it interesting that the pundits and pollsters who were so wrong about the likely outcome of the election are now all focused on the election as an example of the peaceful transition of power. While that outcome seems likely, by making that the focus, everyone again is overlooking the real issues.

The most disturbing thing to come out of the campaign is what I think of as the normalization of hate. Whether the hatred takes the form of misogyny, or bigotry, or discrimination, or homophobia, or xenophobia, or any other name or label people put on it – it’s hatred all the same. Under the guise of overturning political correctness – or the virtue of honesty – or even just exercising free speech, it’s become perfectly acceptable in the U.S. to give voice to hatred.

I know that hatred is nothing new, but when those seeking power – or in power – incite hatred, as Donald Trump certainly did, it’s not just those who are the object of the hatred that are at risk – civil society is in jeopardy. And, when you combine the ratcheting up of open hatred with the fact that there are as many guns in the U.S. as there are people, I think the future in the U.S. looks bleak.

As you know, writing On being… helps me sort through my thoughts on topics and issues that are nagging at me. Usually, by the end I’ve uncovered a more positive perspective that I may have missed in my initial reaction. But, I’m afraid this On being… has not served that purpose. Sadly, the only shred of hope I have is that time will prove my fears for the U.S. unfounded.

© 2016 Ingrid Sapona


On being … honoured

By Ingrid Sapona

Like many folks, the past couple weeks I’ve been thinking about the Nobel Prize in literature.  No – I don’t fantasize about winning it… that’s not the kind of writing I do, after all. Yes, I was surprised that Dylan won – but honestly – as is the case with about 99% of the folks that win Nobel Prizes, I don’t have any opinion about his body of work, or even whether he’d be on my short list if I were on the Nobel Committee.

Actually, what I’ve really been thinking about is the news stories about his initial lack of public response. (By the way, I started writing this the day before the news broke about his telling the Swedish Academy, “the news about the Nobel Prize left me speechless” and that he accepts the prize.) Note that I didn’t say that I was surprised by his lack of response – I was surprised by how much was written about that. 

The bulk of the articles the first 10 days focus mainly on either how his apparent silence was in keeping with his character or on what his silence meant. Not being a Dylan-ologist (trust me, if that isn’t a major at some university already, it will be soon), I had no basis to evaluate the different theories about his silence, nor did I have much interest in them.

What cracked me up about most of them was that in the same breadth that a writer would say “no one knows how Mr. Dylan feels about the honour”, as Liam Stack wrote in the music section of the New York Times, they’d invariably go on to read something into his silence. Mr. Stack, for example, went on to talk about Mr. Dylan’s “ambivalence to one of the world’s most prestigious  honors…”. How do we know Dylan was ambivalent? We don’t – that’s the point!

Things got really interesting to me, however, when the story became the reaction of Per Wastberg, a member of the Swedish Academy who, when asked by a Swedish newspaper about Dylan not responding, said, “One can say that it is impolite and arrogant”. Shortly after that came the news about the Swedish Academy trying to distance itself from the member’s comments, with the permanent secretary saying it was only that member’s private opinion. The secretary went on to say that every person awarded a Nobel Price can make his or her own decision about how to respond.

My first thought was that I can understand what Mr. Wastberg was probably feeling that caused him to say that. After all, I often think it’s rude when people don’t respond to my emails in what I consider a timely fashion. And, what’s 10 times more frustrating is that there’s nothing you can do about someone not responding. In other words, I felt Mr. Wastberg’s exasperation.

But then I started thinking about whether Mr. Wastberg had any right to even feel that way. True, the stature of the Nobel Committee and the Prize elevates the matter far above something like someone not replying to an e-mail from a friend or client. But, what it boils down to is whether being honoured imposes a burden on the honoree. I don’t think it does – even when the person or organization bestowing the honour is the august Nobel Committee.

Honouring someone is like loving them – it shouldn’t be a gesture, nor should it have strings attached. Clearly, it’s wonderful if the person on the receiving end responds favourably, but loving someone, forgiving someone, and honouring someone are all acts that are profound on their own. Their power and grace comes in feeling such things and being brave enough to express how you feel.

© 2016 Ingrid Sapona


On being … a hugger

By Ingrid Sapona

Are you a hugger? I’m talking about perfectly innocent, platonic hugging. For the longest time, I thought there were two kinds of people in the world: those that are huggers and those that aren’t. Applying that simple, binary approach to the issue, I fall into the non-hugger category.

I think the reason I saw the world this way is because most of my friends are also non-huggers. I don’t think that’s a coincidence, by the way. I think the fact we don’t normally hug each other is actually something that helps bind our friendship. I’ve never felt less close to my friends because we don’t hug at hello or goodbye. Indeed, for those of us who aren’t natural huggers, it’s kind of comforting to be around others who behave the same.

But, even though I think most folks would have little trouble self-identifying as either a hugger or non-hugger, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve adopted a more nuanced view. In fact, I now think of it as kind of a bell curve with non-huggers at one end and natural huggers at the other end.

Natural huggers are folks who, without any hesitation or pause, automatically reach out toward everyone they meet with arms wide open and – before you know what hit you – they embrace you for a moment and then release you. (Please don’t misinterpret this – I’m not talking about Trump-like groping or anything.) The hallmark of a true hugger is how wholeheartedly they envelope you in their embrace.

If you’ve ever come across a natural hugger, I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. I love – and admire – natural huggers. There’s something so genuine about their hugs, there’s really no room for embarrassment – on the hugger’s part, or on the huggee’s part. Whenever a natural hugger embraces me, I feel a human connection that’s both grounding and transcendent.

Clustered in the middle of the bell curve is a variety of what I term social status huggers. Social status huggers engage in a wide variety of hugs. Everything from the leaning forward, bending-at-the-waist-so-that-no-lower-body-parts-touch quick clasp of the other person’s shoulder hug, to the yo-how’s-it-goin’-bro, pat-on-the back kind of hug, to the fake-affectionate cheek-brushing-cheek hug. (Of course, if you’re greeting someone who’s French, that involves both cheeks.)

The reason I think a bell curve is an apt description is because when you’re at the non-hugging end of the curve, even social status hugs can be unnatural and uncomfortable. Think I’m exaggerating? Well, surely you’ve had this happen to you: you’ve leaned into someone, ready to do the cheek-to-cheek hug thing and as the other person leans in, they quickly turn their head and you end up brushing lips instead of cheeks. Awkward! That happens because the other person grew up a non-hugger. It’s true – when you’re a non-hugger, you never know which cheek to start with!

Once I began thinking of it as a curve, I began wondering whether everyone remains in pretty much the same place on the curve their whole life. I first realized it’s possible to move along the curve when I noticed my Dad’s behaviour the last three or four years of his life. Growing up, it was clear to me that Dad was not a hugger. (The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, after all.) But those last few years of his life, I noticed that with increasing frequency, he reached out to give friends a hug when they parted company. It was always a subtle gesture – in fact, I’m pretty sure most of those he reached out to hug never really thought about it. But, it was noteworthy to me, not to mention touching and inspiring.

So, the past few years I’ve been making an effort to move away from the non-hugger end of the curve. I realize I’ll never be a natural hugger (by definition of the word “natural” – you are either born that way or you’re not). But, I now aspire to selectively give whole-hearted hugs in that transcendent way a natural hugger does.  

A somewhat uncomfortable encounter I had last week – or, as I suspect the huggee might put it – that I precipitated, reminded me that my technique still needs a bit of work. The circumstance was a brief meeting I finally had with a woman who works for one of my clients. She lives in Europe but was in town for a conference and so we planned to meet.

Because we’ve worked together for four or five years, I felt close to her and very comfortable chatting. At the end of our meeting, I opened my arms widely and reached in to hug her. By the time I registered the slight panic on her face, I had already committed to the hug, and I carried through with it. But, unlike a natural hugger whose sincerity seems to triumph over such awkwardness, I was a bit embarrassed. So, as soon as I released the hug, I quickly reiterated how nice it was to have finally met her and I scurried off.

Despite that little setback, I’m not giving up. Though I still value my no-hugging-required friendships, I’m determined to initiate hugs more frequently. After all, I figure most of us could use more human contact.

What about you? Where are you on the curve?

© 2016 Ingrid Sapona


On being … incredulous, nervous, and sad

By Ingrid Sapona

There are a few reasons this is a tough topic for me to write about. But, it’s the elephant in the room – the subject that has kept me up at night for some time – so I must write about it. The column is about Donald Trump.

To be honest, one of the main reasons I hesitate to write about Trump is because when I write On being… I try to present coherent arguments and thoughts. But, when the topic of Trump as president comes up, I often end up ranting. On that front, all I can do is promise that I’ll try to be coherent and that I’ll be heavy-handed in my editing.

I know that the fact the Trump candidacy has gotten this far is certainly a surprise to many. But that’s not the incredulity that the title alludes to. What I’m referring to is the way the media has covered his campaign. Going as far back as the Iowa Caucus, the media has turned cartwheels to find neutral ways of describing Trump and his campaign.

Fact: Ted Cruz won the Iowa Caucus. I know, it doesn’t matter at this point. But what does matter is that Trump lost – but no media outlet said that. Instead, they said things like: Trump came in second and Trump suffered a defeat. Now, no one can fault the media for putting it in those terms – they’re correct and true. But it’s equally true that Trump was the loser. Why would they not say that? Perhaps because it sounds unnecessarily mean or hurtful…

I know, I know, back in the early days of the primaries, Trump’s penchant for simple, straightforward words hadn’t quite made their mark. Of course, if Trump were a reporter covering that story and talking about anyone who hadn’t actually won, I’m sure he’d have had no problem calling them a loser.

But, what really bothers me is how many different acronyms the press uses to describe Trumps lying. He gets away with nicknaming Cruz “Lyin’ Ted” and referring to Clinton as “Crooked Hilary”, but when discussing his penchant for lying, the press speaks of him as making “false statements”, or that he makes claims that are “not the truth”, “provably false”, and that he “mishandles facts”. Again – all reasonable synonyms – but they are also very benign and easy to gloss over. As Trump knows, nothing drives home to people the truth than simple, short words. So, the bottom line is Trump lies – a lot.

I should say that I’ve noticed that over the past couple weeks or so, the press has finally come around and that various media outlets (the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the LA Times, for example) have finally begun to label his lies as “lies”. Bravo!

Another thing I’ve found unbelievable is that almost nothing has been said about conflicts of interest between Trump’s business empire and his running of the country. I’ve been wondering about that since the day he entered the race. This issue came up here in Canada years ago when businessman Paul Martin, who owned a huge shipping company, became the federal Finance Minister. To avoid potential conflicts of interest, Martin signed an obligatory blind management agreement under which he handed over autonomous operational control of his companies to the manager. And, when he was running for Prime Minister, he transferred his company outright to his sons. What would Trump do? Would he continue to run his empire from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue? Why doesn’t anyone at least ask? Doesn’t anyone care?

In mid-September, Newsweek finally ran a long story about the potential conflicts of interest that could arise from a security point-of-view. I was relieved when the article hit the newsstand, as I was SURE that the topic would become the focus of attention and questions. But, the issue has kind of gone nowhere. (Mind you, it’s not because the press can’t wrap its head around the issue of potential conflicts of interest – they certainly seem to think it’s an issue for Clinton and the Bill, Hillary, & Chelsea Clinton Foundation, a non-profit corporation that carries out humanitarian programs.)

Another thing about the press coverage that has bothered me is the propensity of folks in the US to use game analogies – things like Trump “doubled down”. For heaven sake – that just means he told a bigger lie or he refused to back down off a lie. Again, I understand the writer’s desire to be clever, or to find new ways to describe (crazy) behaviour, but it doesn’t help. The thing about such analogies is they make it acceptable to use other game analogies. Think of the folks who, claiming they’re tired of the current crop of elected officials, say they’re willing to “roll the dice” with Trump. But the election isn’t a game!

So, to my American readers, all I can say is that you should know that much of the rest of the world is nervous – very nervous about the idea of Donald Trump as president. In a post-debate editorial, the Toronto Star put it this way, “If Trump was seeking to run almost any other country, it would be a tragedy just for his own people. But the prospect of Trump in the White House presents a danger not only to Americans but to the entire world.” 

And finally, the other reason I initially hesitated to write about Trump is that the column isn’t meant to be about politics – it’s about behaviour. But here’s the thing – this column isn’t about politics. Regardless of whether Trump wins or loses, I feel sad seeing that his way of behaving – of bullying, belittling, bragging, lying, being nasty, aggressive, hurtful, and hateful seems to have become acceptable in the U.S. That doesn’t bode well for society, I think…

© 2016 Ingrid Sapona


On being … unimaginable

By Ingrid Sapona

I sometimes buy on-line vouchers/coupons from Groupon and other such sites. Though many of you probably know what a Groupon is, for those who don’t (like my Mom), here’s a brief explanation. Groupon’s an on-line service where merchants offer special deals on their products or services. To get the deal, you buy the Groupon voucher, which you then redeem with the merchant. WagJag is another voucher/coupon service we have here in Canada and it works the same way.  

I tend to buy Groupon and WagJag vouchers for restaurants I like or that I’m interested in trying, and for things like oil changes and sometimes tickets to shows. I don’t buy many vouchers, but they send out emails to entice you, and I will confess to breezing through the e-mails frequently, to see what’s on offer.

Last week an email from WagJag advertised tickets to see Trevor Noah’s stand-up act. Out of curiosity, I clicked through to the website to find out about the deal. As I was scrolling around, I noticed they were also offering tickets to see comedian Amy Schumer, so I clicked on that first.

A number of things about the deal surprised me. Besides finding it odd that she’s playing a huge sports arena, I was surprised when I saw the price. The tickets ranged from $70 to over $600. (Actually, the highest price was over $950, but that wasn’t for just the show – it included a limo and dinner, though there was no indication that Amy would be at the dinner, which you’d hope at that price!) Oh, and for some reason, though the shows are here in Toronto, all the prices are in US dollars, which means we can add an exchange premium of at least 25%.

Out of curiosity, I then checked the price on Trevor Noah’s show. He’s playing a smaller venue (nicer, I think, for a stand-up act), but tickets to see him aren’t exactly cheap either. They range from US $84 to US $613. Now, I like Trevor Noah quite a lot, but at those prices, I’ll have to settle for enjoying him four nights a week on the Daily Show.

You know, WagJag claims to be “an online deal community where Canadians and their families can find great savings on things they need and love…”. So those ticket prices are supposedly a savings! I guess I had NO idea comedians command such prices. Clearly I’m woefully out-of-touch.

A few days later, another ticket offer caught my eye on WagJag – tickets to Adele in October. I know Adele is hugely popular – so popular, in fact, that she’s playing four nights here. Naturally, I was quite curious to see what her tickets are going for, and so I clicked on the deal.

Well, my first reaction was that there was a misprint. There had to be. There was no way the high price was over $8,800. Thinking I was misreading a comma for a period, I clicked to make the font bigger. To my shock, it really was a comma. Oh – and in case you’re wondering – no dinner or limo included – just the show. In fact, $8,800 isn’t even the all-in price – there’s an additional $1,100 in fees on top of that. Did I mention that all those amounts are in US dollars and they are PER TICKET!

There was also a disclaimer-like notice for each of these offers to let buyers know that the offeror is a “resale marketplace, not the ticket seller”. For what it’s worth, apparently you also get a “200% worry-free guarantee”… I guess that’s the difference between the WagJag tickets on offer and those you buy from a common scalper.

Normally when I hear about something I can’t afford, I may think about it for a couple minutes – maybe dream about buying it when I win the lottery – and then I move on. But not this time. I can’t tell you how many times the past few days I’ve thought about the idea of spending $8,800 for a concert ticket. For the longest time, I just couldn’t get my head around why anyone would pay that kind of money for a concert.

Eventually, however, I figured out what’s really bothering me. It’s not about Adele at all. It’s not even about wondering who has the kind of disposable income that allows them to spend thousands of dollars for two hours of entertainment. What I’ve really been hung up on is that I lack the imagination to think of anything I’d find so entertaining that I’d be willing to spend $8,800 on for two hours.

What would you spend $8,800 on?

© 2016 Ingrid Sapona