On being ... port-able?

By Ingrid Sapona

In this era of passwords and PIN numbers, it’s a real challenge to remember them all. One number I bet you remember is the phone number at your house growing up. In my case, that phone number has been around for over 50 years and until today, it’s been the one that rang at my Mom’s house.

Phone numbers have been a topic of discussion around here of late. Last year one of my sisters gave me her old cell phone and she added me to her U.S. cell plan. I don’t use that phone a lot – just when I’m in the States. In fact, I use it so seldom, I can never remember the number. That can be embarrassing when I ask someone to call me back, but then I can’t tell them what number to call. Ugh.

When my sister and I initially talked about her adding me to her plan, I assumed I’d get a number with a Texas area code, as that’s where she lives. To my surprise, she ended up getting me a number with a Buffalo area code. She figured that made sense because I’d use the phone mainly when I’m visiting Mom in Buffalo. So, I always think of that phone as my “Buffalo cell”.

I was actually pretty amazed that she could just pick the area code she wanted for the cell. I had never heard of that. I always assumed a phone number has some connection to the billing location. But I guess – at least with cell phones – that’s not necessarily the case any more.

I wasn’t around when phone numbers started with an actual location, but from the song “Pennsylvania 6-5000” I know that they used to. (Apparently Pennsylvania 6-5000 was a phone exchange for the area around Penn Station in New York.) I AM old enough to remember a variation of that name/number convention because people in our neighborhood used to say their phone numbers with letters in the first two places, rather than numbers. So, for example, our phone number started with “NX4”, followed by the last four digits.

At some point I noticed everyone in our neighborhood had a phone number that started with “NX”. After that, I started paying attention to telephone prefixes (that’s what I call the first three numbers after the area code) because I realized they gave you a general idea of where a person or business might be located. In the days before GPS, knowing that was pretty helpful. And, on the flip side, if you knew the prefix for a certain area, it was easier to remember the number of someone you knew who lived in that area.

When I bought my condo in 2007 I was hoping to keep my phone number because it was also my business number. But, I knew I was moving outside the area I always associated with the phone prefix I had. Sadly, when I inquired, I learned I’d be assigned a new number.

Facing loss of the number that had been my business number for over 10 years, I got a little creative. I asked whether my business number, which was a land line, could become my cell phone number. That was doable because, by then, you could “port” an existing number to a cell phone. I was tickled. Sure, it meant the added expense of a cell phone (remember, in 2007 cell phones weren’t as ubiquitous as they are today), but it was worth it to me to keep my business number.

Now, back to the Buffalo cell… There are times when it’s come in handy, but with two cells it’s very easy to miss texts and messages because one cell is usually turned off to avoid roaming charges. Believe me, I completely understand Hillary Clinton’s (some would say questionable) decision to use just one cell! Anyway, about a month ago my sister told me she’s planning on switching cell providers. Her new plan will cover North America for calling, text, and data and she’s offered to add the Buffalo cell to the new plan, if I want it. I thanked her for the generous offer, but I asked for some time to consider it.

In thinking about it, I realized much of my ambivalence comes from not liking the Buffalo cell number and having no sense of connection to it. I wondered if I’d use that phone more if it was a number I liked. That’s when I had the idea of porting our long-time family phone number to the Buffalo cell, given that we’d otherwise lose the number when the phone is disconnected prior to the house closing. I mentioned this to my sisters and they both loved the idea of one of us keeping that number “in the family”. Technology being what it is, as of this afternoon, the family phone number is now the number of the Buffalo cell.

I don’t know about you, but I find stuff like “porting” phone numbers and area codes that don’t necessarily relate to a specific area strange, albeit kinda cool. Of course, to make the most of what’s possible you have to think outside the conventions and norms you grew up with AND you have to be willing to ask.

© 2018 Ingrid Sapona


On being … of use

By Ingrid Sapona

The late comedian George Carlin had a great routine about “stuff”. If you aren’t familiar with it – or if you haven’t seen it for awhile (it goes back more than 30 years!) – check it out on YouTube. (I bet it’s the funniest five minutes you’ll have today!) 

The most memorable point Carlin made in that bit was the idea that each of us see our “stuff” as things of value, but we see other peoples’ stuff as junk. That thought echoes in my head whenever I begin going through my things with an eye toward donating stuff I no longer need.

Of course, a little self-censorship when deciding what to pass along and what to put in the garbage bin is a good thing. After all, no charity wants that oven mitt with the hole in the thumb, or the half-full tubes of acrylic paint from that art class you took a couple years ago – that stuff is junk. But what about the half-used rolls of Christmas wrap, or the dozens of Altoids tins you’ve got floating around in a desk drawer? Many would see those things as junk, but a crafter may have some use for them.

Over the past year I wrote about clearing out my Mom’s house in preparation for selling it. If all goes well, the closing will happen in February. So, I’ve been reflecting on the work that’s led up to this happy/sad point. Most of the work related to dealing with the 50+ years worth of “stuff” in the house and my efforts to minimize what went to landfill. Or, as I preferred to think of it – finding the right place for all our stuff.

Some of it was easy. For example, two dozen boxes of books went to a charity book sale. A refugee resettlement group got lots of the home furnishing. We also did kind of an estate sale (basically an up-scale garage sale that someone else runs for you). Boxes of crafting odds and ends went to an elementary school art teacher we knew, and so on. But, in the end, there was stuff that ended up going into the recycle bin or the trash.

There was one outlet for getting rid of stuff a friend told me about that I didn’t get a chance to use, but that I have been fascinated about since – it’s called freecycling. Trash Nothing is a freecycle network that has groups all over the place. Members of the group post messages describing items they’re giving away (offers) or stuff they’re looking for (wants). No selling or trading is allowed – all items must be offered free. Members contact each other directly and the person who wants what someone is offering arranges to pick it up.  

You have to be a member of the group to post, and membership is usually limited to folks who live in the same area. I joined a Trash Nothing group where Mom’s house is. Unfortunately, I didn’t end up using it because it would have been hard to arrange for folks to pick up stuff I might offer, since I live out-of-town. But, I love the idea behind Trash Nothing so much, I’ve continued getting emails about “wants” and “offers”.

I’m intrigued by the things people offer, and humbled by the things people are seeking. This week, for example, someone posted this offer: “Hundreds of used (cassette) tapes – metaphysics and self improvement tapes which can be taped over”. Most of the offers include quite down-to-earth comments, like that suggestion about being able to tape over the cassettes. Here’s another one: “Parting with this Coffee pot because we switched over to Keurig and it's been sitting around taking up precious counter space. It's in Great working condition, clean, could probably use a new water filter...” Sounds like she’s gonna miss that coffeemaker, doesn’t it? I’m sometimes struck by the seemingly trifling things people offer – things that others might unceremoniously toss into the garbage. Here’s an example of what I mean: “I have many (well over 30) recipe cards from various meal delivery services. Some from my own deliveries and most from someone else who gave them to me. I’ve scanned those I'm using, the originals can go to a new home.”

As for “want” posts, they’re often quite moving, like this recent one: “Looking for beds, futon, or air mattress for my children. We are all sleeping on the floor and aren't sleeping too well. We still need dressers, shelving, table and chairs. Beds are most important. Thanks”. Here’s another: “Mom of 4 starting over from scratch. In need of everything. 3 year old girl, 11 year old boy, teen girls in need of toys, storage, kitchenware, pots and pans. Beds, dressers, we literally need everything again. Very grateful for help. …”

And then there are some very practical, straightforward requests, like this: “I am looking for a medium sized dog crate for a mini-border collie/Australian shepherd puppy I will be getting soon. I can pick up anywhere (in the area of the network). Thanks!” I’d never think to ask strangers for this kind of thing, but I’m sure there are folks whose dogs have outgrown their crate, so why not let them know you need one.

The Trash Nothing posts are a great reminder that just because something – some stuff – is no longer of use to you, it doesn’t mean it’s junk. I don’t think folks who participate in Trash Nothing networks are necessarily out to prove George Carlin wrong, but …

So, if you’ve ever doubted that anyone else might have a use for junk – er, stuff – you no longer want, there’s an easy way to find out: just offer it on a freecycle network. I bet there’s someone out there who’d find a use for the stuff.

© 2018 Ingrid Sapona


On being … avoidance behavior

By Ingrid Sapona

Baby it’s cold out side…

So, rather than burrowing under the covers and risk Vitamin D deficiency, I decided to avoid the cold and head south. Way south… (Mexico, to be exact.)

I’ll be back at the at the end of the month, so stay tuned.

And by all means – stay warm!

© 2018 Ingrid Sapona


On being … 2017’s year-end retrospective

By Ingrid Sapona

Normally my year-end list is a potpourri of observations about things I found interesting throughout the year. (And it’s usually fairly long, as a result.) This year’s list is thematic, instead. (And because of that – surprisingly short.)

I’m betting most of you won’t have to read too far down the list to pick up on the theme…

A is for alternative facts.
B is for “believe me” and its new synonym: b.s.
C is for Comey.
D is for dangerous.
E is for echo chamber – perfect for someone who loves their own voice – bad for democracy.
F is for feckless.
G is for all the toady generals (Flynn, Kelly, Mattis, McMaster).
H is for hatemongering.
I is for indictment(s) – or maybe this should be under W – for wishful thinking.
J is for Jarred, or jail (but see P below).
K is for Kelly Ann – see A above.
L is for liar.
M2 is for meanspirited misogynist.
N is for nasty.
O is for obsessed.
P is for post truth – and pardons (but that depends on I above).
Q is for quixotic – “in the name of winning”.
R is for reckless.
S is for Spicer, Scaramucci, self-serving, and scary.
T is for twit who twitters.
U is for unpredictable.
V is for vindictive.
W is for wanton disregard for the truth and for reality.
X is for xenophobic (normally X is the hardest letter… not for 2017!).
Y is for year – hard to believe it’s not even been a full year since we were told it was “the largest audience ever to witness an inauguration, period, both in person and around the globe”.
Z is for zealot.

Whew – what a year, eh? Sad thing is, I fear 2017 was just a prelude – foreshadowing of things to come. Hope we make it through 2018, 2019, 2020 and beyond…

© 2017 Ingrid Sapona


On being … a recipe for happiness

By Ingrid Sapona

If you’re thinking of buying me an Ancestry DNA kit for Christmas, thanks, but there’s no need. I recently found out I’m Danish. Not 100% Danish – I’ve got a some Greek from Dad’s side and some German from Mom’s side – but deep down, I’m predominantly Danish.

I got my first inkling I might be at least part Dane earlier this year from a BBC series called Coast. The series focuses on countries whose geography is dominated by their coast. It was during an episode on Denmark that I first heard about “hygge” (roughly pronounced: whoog-eh).

Besides being a funny sounding word (especially as pronounced by series host Neil Oliver, who has a heavy Scottish accent) I had a visceral connection to the word. As Oliver described it, to Danes, hygge represents a kind of cozy, contented happiness. It reminded me of the German notion of gemütlich – a term my mother often used – and gezellig, a Dutch word. (Funny that all these hard-to-pronounce words – hygge, gemütlich, and gezellig, feature hard g sounds.) But, the way Danes used the word in sentences, hygge clearly looms larger in the Danish culture than the analogous words to for Germans and Dutch.

After learning the word, I tried introducing it to friends one afternoon as we relaxed with a drink and some nibbles after a great day on the lake. My friends listened politely as I explained how the coziness of the cabin, the sharing of food and drink, the camaraderie of the sail, and the relaxed conversation all made for hygge. Despite my efforts, they didn’t embrace the concept the way I did.

Anyway, after that I started hearing references to hygge here and there in the news. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if you’ve heard it too, as it’s gotten a fair bit of press this year. One of the reasons non-Danes have been talking about hygge is because of the possible (actually, I’d say likely) connection between hygge and the fact that Denmark consistently ranks among the happiest countries in the world.

So, when I read about The Little Book of Hygge – The Danish Way to Live Well, I immediately ordered if from the library. Meik Wiking, the author, is the CEO of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen. (Believe it or not, it’s a think tank.) Anyway, the audio book came in last week and – besides enjoying Wiking’s accent – I came to the inescapable conclusion I’ve got Danish blood flowing through me.

Wiking has been looking at whether hygge is “an overlooked ingredient in the Danish recipe for happiness”. It’s fascinating stuff. He compares the meaning and use of hygge to Germans’ use of gemütlich, Dutch use of gezellig, and even to the way Canadian’s use “homey”. One of the most interesting differences is how hygge can be both a noun and a verb. Here’s an example he gives of it used as a verb: “Why don’t you come over and hygge with us tonight?” (Gemutlich, gezellig, homey, and cozy aren’t used as verbs.)

Another thing that really sets hygge apart from similar words is how much Danes talk about – and focus on – hygge. Indeed, they even rate social events in terms of how hyggelige (pronounced: whoo-ge-ly) they are. Wiking’s conclusion is that hygge is a defining feature of Denmark’s cultural identity, much the way having a stiff upper lip is part of British cultural identity, and the way freedom is central to Americans’ identity.

Wiking distilled down the things Danes do to cultivate hygge and they are all things I’ve always tried to pay attention to. Wiking says it’s about creating intimacy and taking pleasure from soothing things. It’s also about being together with loved ones, shielded from the world and able to let your guard down. And, it can also be about being alone and enjoying some of life’s simple pleasures, like a cup of tea and some sweets.

The good news is that there’s an art of hygge, which means that with a little effort, you can bring hygge into your life. Wiking suggests starting by creating a soothing atmosphere with some candles in a space that’s a comfortable, cozy refuge from the storms of daily life. Then, invite some friends and family over to make memories. Be sure to take in the moment and focus on gratitude and equality. All these things sound simple, straightforward – perhaps even obvious. But, they’re also things we often let slip from our daily lives as we rush about.

So, my dear friends, as someone who is reconnecting with the Dane inside her, my wish for you this holiday season – and all through the coming year – is that you create some hygge for yourself and for those you care about. Happy Holidays!

© 2017 Ingrid Sapona 


On being … severe cognitive dissonance

By Ingrid Sapona

I never took psychology in school and I remember that when I first heard the term “cognitive dissonance”, I didn’t know what it meant, so I looked it up. (It might well have been before Google and certainly before Wikipedia.) Even after doing so, I didn’t understand it. I knew it had something to do with holding contradictory ideas in your mind at one time. I found that puzzling because we all hold dozens of ideas in our minds at the same time, and many of them are contradictory.

But, the past couple weeks I’ve come to understand what cognitive dissonance means because I’ve started experiencing it. Sadly, my understanding came because of the news related to someone I had long-revered: Charlie Rose.

Before I go on, for those of you who need a Psych 101 refresher, here’s a brief description of the term from Wikipedia:

In the field of psychology, cognitive dissonance is the mental discomfort (psychological stress) experienced by a person who simultaneously holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values. The occurrence of cognitive dissonance is a consequence of a person performing an action that contradicts personal beliefs, ideals, and values; and also occurs when confronted with new information that contradicts said beliefs, ideals, and values.

For years I’ve been a huge fan of Charlie Rose. I found him to be the best interviewer, bar none, on t.v. His breadth of knowledge was remarkable. Even more amazing, however, was his curiosity. His interest in all sorts of things served as a model for anyone who aspired to try to understand the wider world. I had no doubt that his manner and style played a big role in getting all sorts of guests to open up in ways few other interviewers can. His technique was disarmingly simple: engage guests in wide-ranging, meaningful conversation. He did this by showing interest in them – which always felt very genuine – and what they had to say.

And yes, I was enamoured with his mild southern accent and charm. And, having watched him interview – and flirt – with many, Catherine Deneuve and Diane von Fürstenberg are two examples that come to mind, I’m sure I wasn’t the only woman who found his manner attractive.

So, when CBS suspended him (and shortly thereafter fired him) for alleged sexual harassment, I was stunned, shocked, and saddened. Clearly, I wasn’t alone. If you need any proof that others – some of whom knew him professionally and socially – felt the same way, watch the video of Gayle King on CBS This Morning on the day after the announcement. Indeed, it was King’s clear inability to reconcile how Rose behaved toward the women who made the claims with her own experience with him that first brought the notion of cognitive dissonance to my mind.

How could Rose, a man who seemed so supportive of women in general and respectful of them when he interviewed them, be the same person who traipsed around naked in front of women who worked for him? Or who called women staffers to describe his fantasies about watching them swim naked in his pool?

But, when there are multiple reports by different women who all have similar stories, it’s hard not to believe them. Couple that with Rose’s apology for inappropriate behavior (albeit he said he didn’t believe all the allegations were accurate), it’s no wonder I’m experiencing a severe case of cognitive dissonance. (I imagine there are many who feel the same about the news of Matt Lauer – or … well, fill in the blank – there are certainly a lot to choose from these days.)

The truth is, the Charlie Rose story isn’t the only source of my feelings of cognitive dissonance. Trying to figure out what to make of the flood of allegations that has emerged has also been a source of tremendous mental discomfort. All the different commentaries swirling around is enough to make your head explode. There are those who doubt the veracity of some of the accusers (folks who ask: Why did it take them 10 years to come forward?) and of course, those who blame the victims. Fortunately, there are also a number of folks talking abut the idea that sexual harassment is as much about power as it is about sex.

But the real source of my cognitive dissonance is my wonder if this is, indeed, a turning point – or a “moment”, as CBS This Morning co-host Norah O’Donnell said the day after the Rose suspension. I want so badly to believe that all these stories will make a difference and that things will change, but I don’t see that happening unless we address what’s really at the root of all this: the fundamental inequality that exists between the sexes.

© 2017 Ingrid Sapona


On being … illusion-shattering

By Ingrid Sapona

Do you remember feeling crushed when you found out there’s no Santa Claus? Or maybe it was learning the truth about the Easter Bunny or the Tooth Fairy that started you on the road to cynicism.

To be honest, I don’t remember how I felt when I lost those innocent beliefs. But, given how crushed I was recently when I read an article about big name literary prizes, I can only imagine my reaction on learning the truth about Santa.

Here’s what happened. A couple weeks ago I was leisurely reading the Saturday Toronto Star when I came across this headline in the book section: Burning Book Prize Questions. I immediately thought “Oh, this’ll be interesting. I’ll bet they’re going to talk about the odds of different books winning the Man Booker Prize (a £50,000 international award), or maybe the Scotiabank Giller Prize (a C$100,000 prize for fiction) or maybe the Governor General’s Award (another big Canadian literary prize).

Turns out, that’s not what the article was about at all! The burning question for discussion was whether all the jurors – those people who decide who wins the award – really read all the books. That question NEVER entered my mind. Ever. In fact, I thought it was a downright stupid question. Of course the jurors read all the books. How else could they decide who gets the prize?

Now, I know that when a writer submits a manuscript to a publishing house, the manuscript’s first stop – and maybe its last – is the desk of some young personal assistant. Yes, a nameless, low-paid worker is the writer’s first hurdle on the road to fame and fortune or the rejection pile. But, if a book beats the odds and actually makes it onto the long – or better yet the short – list for a particular literary prize, surely the author gets treated with more respect. The way I see it, those charged with bestowing the prize owe the authors – and the reading public who pay attention to such prizes – the courtesy of reading the chosen books. So, as I said, what a silly question! Nonetheless, I continued reading…

I didn’t have to wade too far into the article before I was speechless. One of the Giller prize jurors who had actually won the award himself, apparently also found the question silly – but for very different reasons. Pointing out that there are a lot of books, he seemed genuinely surprised that anyone would think that the jurors would read them all!

Mind you, that’s not the only reason he gave for not reading all of them. His main justification was that there are books by people that he finds “problematic in their sensibility”. I’m sure that’s true, but then why agree to be on the jury? (The cynic in me suspects that being a juror is a good way of keeping your name in circulation in the literary world. But I digress…) Apparently he reads the first 50 pages but only continues if he feels compelled to. Besides, he reckoned that the four other jurors – each with their own sensibilities – could have caught something he might have missed. He went on to also note that he knows that some of his peers on the jury did, in fact, read all the books.

Thankfully, one of the other jurors interviewed for the story – a writer that has been short-listed for a major literary prize – said he believes in giving each book a fair shot and so he read each one in good faith and with an open heart. Now that’s more like it, I thought…

I was really quite stunned by the idea that someone who is helping decide which book will win an award would do so without having actually read all the books from cover-to-cover. It’s not even that it’s illusion shattering -- it seems downright wrong to me. Why should anyone ever put any stock in the quality of the books that are short-listed or even that win?  

I guess this just means that from now on, when a critic recommends a book or when someone recommends one because it’s an award winner, I’ll take the advice with a pound of salt instead of just a grain. Or, better still, maybe I’ll just stick with the tried and true – reliance on recommendations from friends.

So, read any good books lately?

© 2017 Ingrid Sapona


On being … insulting

By Ingrid Sapona

I went to the Bulk Barn the other day to buy a few things. They didn’t have what I was looking for, but one of my favourite candies was on sale, so I scooped a few into a small baggie. As I put the twist tie on the bag, I made a mental note of the candy’s four-digit product code.

When it was my turn to be rung up, I put the baggie on the scale and told the cashier the code. She looked at me and kind of scowled as she typed it into the cash register. As she did so, she grumbled, “I’ve worked here many years”. I politely explained that I was just trying to be helpful. She scowled again and put the item in a bag as she told me the cost. Her obvious irritation took me by surprise and caused me to think about insults – about being insulting and feeling insulted.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been guilty of leveling an intentional insult or two. Of course, at the time of doing so, I always felt it was justified. But, the older I get, the more I realize that my momentary feelings of self-righteousness aren’t always well founded. And, as important, I’ve come to realize that insulting someone usually doesn’t change them or improve the situation. If anything, an insult often makes a bad situation worse, as people feeling belittled or insulted seek to even the score in whatever way they can.

When I realized the cashier felt insulted, I immediately checked in with myself to see whether – on some level – I intended to insult her. I concluded that I really didn’t intend to insult her in any way. I had only made note of the product code because I know cashiers must enter them to determine the cost. I even considered whether I might have made a sub-conscious assessment of her age or mental ability to remember all the different product codes. Since I hadn’t even looked at her after announcing the product code because I was busy fishing through my purse to find change, I really hadn’t paid any attention to her age or seniority.

On my way home, as I nibbled through the 60¢ worth of candy I bought, I couldn’t stop thinking about our brief conversation. I shuddered at how easy it is to misconstrue what someone says and why it is we sometimes feel insulted, even when absolutely no insult is intended. I felt bad knowing that she felt insulted, even though I knew I bore no real responsibility for her feeling that way. Indeed, I came away thinking that her interpretation was more a reflection of her self-esteem than of what was really said.

This little episode helped me see the difference between being insulting and feeling insulted – and it helped me see that a person can feel insulted even when no one was actually being insulting. It’s also a good reminder of how easy it is to misinterpret words! So, in the end, this incident has made me think that next time I feel the sting of an insult, instead of trying to feel better by trying to decipher what the person was getting at, I should be looking inward to see why the comment triggered the feelings it did.

© 2017 Ingrid Sapona