On being ... a conformist?

By Ingrid Sapona

Things are not always as they seem. That’s a maxim I often remind myself of when I’m trying to make sense of others’ behaviour or actions. I’ve never questioned whether things are what they seem when trying to make sense of my own behaviour, however, because I figure I know what’s real when it comes to me.

I have a very small mailbox and I get lots of mail. I often have to yank it out, sometimes even needing two hands to pull it. When that’s the case, I usually leave the mailbox key (which is attached to my key chain) in the lock as I struggle with the mail. One day last fall I was so preoccupied with the struggle that I didn’t realize I had left my keys in the mailbox lock until I got up to my apartment and wanted to open the door.

About a month later, I went downtown one morning for a few meetings. As I put on my coat after my first meeting, I checked my pocket for my keys. I panicked when they weren’t there. I looked through my purse and briefcase but they weren’t there either. I couldn’t have dropped them, I reasoned, because I’d have heard them.

After mentally retracing my steps, I remembered I had stopped to get my mail that morning and I had struggled to get it out. That’s when I realized I probably left them hanging in the mailbox lock again. This time, however, the incident was cause for alarm because at least two hours had passed and the mailboxes are labeled by apartment number. Anyone finding the keys could easily have helped themselves to whatever they wanted from my apartment.

I phoned the superintendent immediately. Thankfully, she found them. Aside from the obvious reasons for concern about someone getting into the apartment, that second incident raised deeper concerns about whether it was a sign of an emerging forgetfulness.

In November I lost a pair of gloves. When I discovered they weren’t in my jacket pockets, I tried to figure out the last time I had them. I was pretty sure I’d worn them when I ran errands the Saturday before. I called or went back to each place I’d been, in hopes they’d been turned in. No such luck.

They weren’t particularly valuable gloves, but they matched the jacket quite well. Clearly, I needed to accept that they were gone. I decided the “lesson” in this was about letting go of things. But, deep down, I worried about whether the loss of the gloves was yet another sign of increased forgetfulness.

At that point, I temporarily switched to wearing another coat. As soon as I found new gloves, however, I happily went back to wearing the jacket. It’s a warm fleece one from my sail club.

A few days later I was wearing the jacket while driving. As I had my hands on the steering wheel, out of the corner of my eye I noticed the club logo on the left sleeve. I didn’t remember ever seeing it there. In fact, I could have sworn the logo was on the front lapel. But, there it as on the left sleeve.

Another day, while I was talking to a friend, I noticed that the drawstring at the bottom of the jacket was pulled tight. That seemed odd because I never liked it drawn in because the toggle on it sometimes bruises my thigh. I was so distracted by the taut drawstring that I was unable to concentrate on the conversation. All I could think of was, “oh my God, I must be fidgeting with the drawstring and I don’t even realize it!”

On their own these incidents were inconsequential. But, taken together, the evidence was mounting that – at a minimum – I’m not particularly present to the moment or, worse, that I’m becoming oblivious to things. (How could I have never noticed the logo on the sleeve? I’m one of the most observant people I know!)

A couple weeks after that, as I was leaving an event at the sail club, I was putting on my jacket when a member asked me if it was mine. Figuring he was teasing me, I assured him it was. He then went on, “I’ve got one just like it and at a club party a few Saturdays ago, someone took mine.” I was at that party. Then he added, “when I put on my jacket that night I discovered gloves in the pockets.” You guessed it – I had taken his by mistake and he had mine – along with my gloves.

I was tremendously relieved when I got my jacket and I saw that the logo was on the lapel, the drawstring at the bottom was wonderfully loose, and my gloves were in the pockets where they belong. In other words, physical proof I’m not losing it.

On the way home that day I started thinking about how I had come to convince myself that these incidents might mean I’m losing it. I had taken reality – leaving my keys in the mailbox, having gloves go missing, seeing a logo where I’d never seen one before, etc. – and, since I couldn’t conceive of any alternative explanations, I came to a conclusion (that I’m losing it) that conformed to “reality” (or so I thought).

This realization made me wonder how many times I’ve taken “facts” and misinterpreted them, all the while thinking my conclusion incontrovertibly conformed to “reality”. Plenty of times, I suspect. So many, in fact, maybe I’ve coined a new meaning for the term: conformist! Quite a thought… Guess I should be reminding myself a bit more of that maxim – things aren’t always as they seem.

© 2007 Ingrid Sapona


On being ... a fresh perspective

By Ingrid Sapona

A couple weeks ago I made a formal proposal to a client on an idea I had. Before making it I had run the idea past them and sensed (perhaps mistakenly) an interest on their part, which is why I put time and effort into doing a fairly detailed pitch.

The client was expecting the proposal and, given the details involved, I expected they’d think about it -- you know, mull it over. I was quite surprised when, within 24 hours, the client phoned to say, in effect, thanks, but no thanks. Given the reasons they cited, it was clear the idea was dead on arrival.

I was quite upset with the client and myself. After all, how could I have been wrong about what I perceived was their interest -- both initially and when I mentioned I’d make a full proposal? Why did the proposal not merit more consideration on their part? Why did I bother putting any effort or mental energy into the project in the first place?

Though I’ve never been the type to “count my chickens before they’re hatched”, that doesn’t mean I don’t feel tremendous disappointment (especially when the little chickadee is an idea I like or believe in). And, when I’m disappointed, though I know it’s not particularly productive, I tend to brood.

The brooding made me unable to concentrate on much of anything that afternoon. So, I turned to the mother of all time fillers (or wasters, depending on your perspective): e-mail. Just then one came in that was clearly a joke or one of those chain-letter stories promising all your wishes will come true if you forward the e-mail within X minutes and threatening dire consequences if you don’t.

Though I often delete such e-mails, I opened it and started reading. It wasn’t particularly interesting but, wondering why my friend sent it, I kept reading. Then, toward the end of the story came this statement: “I believe that God only gives three answers to prayer: 1. “Yes!”, 2. “Not yet.”, 3. “I have something better in mind.”.”

When I read these words, I literally caught my breath. What a positive way of looking at things! After a pause to think about it, my next thought was that maybe the client’s resounding “NO” means something better’s on the horizon. Of course, I’ve no way of knowing if that’s the case, but I do know that looking at it that way is better than brooding over the “No” I’d been given.

Over the next few days, as I made my way out of the funk caused by the rejection, I thought again and again about those words. It occurred to me that sharing the inspiration I felt in an On being … would be a nice way of starting a new year of columns. But, as I usually do before committing to a topic, I needed to kick the idea around a bit.

My first thought was, “how can I test this idea?” Obviously, if a perceived rejection is really just “not yet” or “I have something better in mind”, it’s going to take a bit of time for either of these possibilities to come to pass.

Flash forward to the fabulous weekend I just had and my reflections on how it came to pass. In late December I got an e-mail from an editor I didn’t know. He had gotten my name from another editor for whom I had written a short piece last year.

He was interested in an article about a gourmet weekend package offered by a local hotel. I thought it would require traditional reporting -- you know, phoning the hotel, getting a few details about the type of people who splurge on the $1,000 per couple weekend, etc. But, that’s not how it panned out. Instead, I was invited to “cover” the story by attending the Saturday night dinner (at one of the most exclusive restaurants in town) and the Sunday brunch (at one of my favourite places). Treat doesn’t begin to describe the experience…

On my way home from brunch, while marveling at my good fortune, I started thinking about how this assignment came my way. First, I thought about the referral from the one editor. Nothing particularly noteworthy about that: referrals aren’t that unusual, especially if you’re an OK writer and you’re conscientious about deadlines.

But then I started thinking about how I got the assignment from the first editor. In that case, the editor had kept my contact information from years before when I had pitched her (and a bunch of other editors) an article idea about Toronto. I didn’t get a single response back then to my queries. In fact, given my success rate, after that I pretty much stopped pitching article ideas to editors.

That’s when it hit me: maybe the initial (silent) rejection of that long-ago query really wasn’t a rejection. Maybe it was a case of “I have something better in mind”. (In this case WAY better!) That’s sure one way of looking at it!

So there you go. I offer this not so much as a comment on prayer (for, though I believe in prayer, I certainly don’t waste them on things like queries and pitches), but as a reminder of the benefits of a fresh perspective -- one I sometimes forget to take: the long view. After all, only time will tell whether today’s rejection or disappointment may some day end up working out as you hoped or maybe something even better will come as a result of your efforts.

© 2007 Ingrid Sapona