On being ... complicated

By Ingrid Sapona

My dear readers, I owe you an apology. I lied in a recent column. If it makes you feel any better, I now realize that when I wrote it, I was lying to myself too. But I’m going to set the record straight -- so here goes: I’m in a love/hate relationship. It’s not healthy, I know. There are times when things are so bad that I end up tossing and turning all night, thinking about what I did wrong and why the relationship is what it is.

There are so many things about the relationship that drive me crazy, it’s hard to know where to start, but here’s one: all the ridiculous choices I’m expected to make. Half the time I don’t even understand what some of the choices are, and yet I’m forced to choose. Mind you, after all these years, I have developed some coping mechanisms. For example, I know better than to ever choose “customize”, as all that ever leads to is more questions designed to make me feel stupid.

And when I ask for help, which I do sometimes -- but usually only as a last resort -- what kind of response do I get? Well, it’s the rare response that’s helpful, let me tell you. Most responses range from gibberish to cryptic. Honestly, I think the Oracle of Delphi’s responses were easier to make sense of!

Intimidation is another hallmark of this relationship. It often takes the form of something seemingly innocuous, like stopping me mid-task and asking, “are you sure you want to continue”? I know that question is meant to strike at the very heart of my insecurity. No, I’m NOT sure -- I’m never sure when I’m asked that. Sometimes I’m brave and forge ahead, hoping that my friend Norton will jump in to help me if need be. But sometimes I stop -- dead in my tracks -- worried that if I go on, something terrible will happen and I’d be left with nothing.

And then there’s the game playing. First it was Password; lately it’s a combination of Password and 20 Questions. Really, how many times should I have to say what my mother’s maiden name was, or what my favourite movie is? Having to verify who I am all the time is hurtful. It’s a constant reminder that I can be easily confused with someone else. Until this relationship, I always thought my uniqueness had more to do with my personality than my ability to come up with -- and remember -- passwords. And to make matters worse, sometimes my choice of password is commented on and I’m reprimanded because it’s too simple or too short.

Another less-than-stellar quality this relationship brings out in me is jealousy. Oh, it’s not that I worry some teen will push me aside and take front and centre in the relationship. (I figure I don’t have much to worry about with them because they’re into more action -- Wii is the euphemism it goes by these days, so I hear.) What I’m jealous of are the few of my generation who are adventurous and interested in trying new things. That’s just not me -- and most of the time I’m not even able to fake it!

Given all these negatives, why do I stay in this relationship? Well, the simple truth is that I’ve gotten to the point that honestly I don’t know what I’d do without it. Sure, it frustrates me, but it’s given me lots and taught me things too. For example, I’ve come to realize that how I might do things isn’t the only way. Indeed, this relationship has made me more tenacious because when my way doesn’t work, I’ve learned to step back and then try a completely different approach. And, when I figure out something that had previously stumped me, my self-esteem skyrockets.

And, in fairness, I know that sometimes I’m not particularly easy to be with either. I can be very demanding and impatient. And I’m sure that sometimes my habits -- like the fact that I’ve been know to keep stuff I no longer need or that I don’t ever use -- can cause problems and slow things down.

I guess the bottom line is that over the years we’ve produced some good work together and I must admit that this relationship has enriched my life in many ways. Not only has it helped me stay connected to family, friends, readers, and clients – it’s helped me make a living without having to leave the house. Pretty cool, I know…

So you see, a couple columns ago when I talked about a how Greek lettering mysteriously appeared at the end of a column (for some, but apparently not all, readers) and I made it sound like I just shrug and take computer-related things in stride -- well, I wasn’t being truthful. The truth is -- for better or worse -- my relationship with computers is way more complicated…

© 2009 Ingrid Sapona


On being ... a mirror

By Ingrid Sapona

My sister and I went away for a long weekend. We borrowed Mom’s car and on our way back I suggested we zip through a car wash before giving the car back. I was quite surprised when my sister was dead set against the idea.

At first she said it was because it was too late (it was after dark, but not even 10 p.m.). Then she argued that by the time we got to Mom’s house after the car wash the car would be dirty again because bugs would be attracted to the headlights. Given that the car wash is about a mile and a half from Mom’s, I didn’t buy that argument and I told her so.

After pressing her, she explained that car washes are extremely anxiety-provoking for her. Thinking that maybe she’s become claustrophobic (in which case being in the car while going through a car wash could be unnerving), I asked if that was the problem. She assured me it wasn’t that. Then I asked whether she was worried something might break on the car. Apparently that wasn’t it either. Finally she confessed she gets nervous trying to line up the wheels to get onto the conveyor belt at the car wash and she hates being yelled at by the kid directing her onto it.

I told her the attendant always yells directions about which way to steer to line up your wheels because that’s his job. I figure the yelling has to do with the fact that the car wash is loud and the kid’s trying to communicate with folks who’re inside their cars with the windows rolled up. She agreed that I was probably right, but said she just can’t stand being yelled at. Luckily she’s a good sport so she wasn’t offended at the tears of laughter streaming down my cheeks.

Eventually we compromised: she drove to the gas station and after we filled up, I took over to get us through the car wash. Even though she wasn’t driving, I could see she was anxious as we approached the attendant. He motioned for me to steer more to the right, so I did. Surprisingly, he didn’t yell – he just used hand signals. Eventually, I eased the car onto the conveyor belt.

My sister pointed out that the guy didn’t yell at me and she said I must be better at lining up the wheels than she is. I told her the truth: it was just dumb luck. Once the car was on the conveyor belt a sign lit up about shifting into neutral. I had just started doing so when the kid yelled: “Put it in neutral”. So there you go -- I got yelled at anyway. At that we both laughed and watched as the bubblegum-coloured soap started to swirl over the windows.

After we left the car wash we talked a bit more about her anxiety over it. While it doesn’t matter whether she ever goes through a car wash by herself, my hope was that by analyzing it, somehow the grip of that particular source of anxiety will be lessened.

When I finally got back to my place, I eventually went downstairs to get my mail. As I approached my mailbox my stomach knotted up when I saw a small sticker on it. I knew the sticker was from the security desk -- it meant they had signed for a package or something for me. I wasn’t expecting anything and I immediately got worried because the last time such a sticker appeared it was for a registered letter from the IRS. My immediate thought was that the IRS was writing me again.

I went straight to the security desk, but there was a “back in 5 minutes” sign. So, I went upstairs to unpack, but my stomach was churning. Unable to concentrate, I decided to go back down to face whatever it was that was waiting for me. I can’t tell you how relieved I was when they handed me was a journal that simply didn’t fit into my too full mail box.

After breathing a sigh of relief I headed back upstairs. A few minute later I started laughing, thinking about how ridiculous it was that I was so anxious just because there was a sticker on my mailbox! That reminded me of my laughing at my sister’s anxiety about the car wash. Though her reaction seemed silly to me, I’m sure others would find my anxiety about a potential letter just as ridiculous.

The weekend away with my sister was fun -- and instructive. I don’t know if I’d have found the humour in my own anxiety triggered by that stupid sticker if I hadn’t laughed about her reaction to being yelled at by the kid at the car wash. That’s when I realized that though our anxiety triggers are different, we both have some ridiculous ones!

Since my sister and I live in different cities, she’s not around to act as a mirror for me, as she did over the weekend. But, now that my awareness is heightened, I’m going to pay more attention and to when I’m feeling anxious I’m going to try to figure out what’s triggering it. I’m sure I’ll discover more than a few triggers that are pretty absurd. So, if you hear me laughing at myself, I hope you’ll understand…

© 2009 Ingrid Sapona