On being ... an anniversary of sorts

By Ingrid Sapona

Port Dover is a small Ontario town on the shores of Lake Erie, about 100 miles from Toronto. Over the years it has become known as the place hundreds of motorcyclists gather every Friday the 13th -- spring, summer, fall, and winter. I first heard about the Port Dover, Friday the 13th tradition from Ian (not his real name), one of the guys I race with at my sail club.

Ian’s an avid biker. I know this because he has a collection of t-shirts from different bike events that he wears proudly all summer. One of the most noticeable things about the t-shirts (besides the fact that they’re all black and adorned with kind of stereotypical biker images) is the fact that they all conspicuously proclaim the date and location of the event.

A few weeks ago Ian had on a new t-shirt. Unlike the others, this one was surprisingly understated -- it simply read: Port Dover, 50th Anniversary, August 13, 2010. When I read it, I commented that I was surprised that the event has been going on since 1960. He gave me an odd look (perhaps he was surprised I could do the math) and said it hasn’t been.

When I pointed out that that’s what his shirt said, he explained. In fact, August 13, 2010 was the 50th Friday the 13th they’d been meeting, not the 50th year. Clever of them to market it as the 50th Anniversary, don’t you think? Well, I did, but that could be because marking things like anniversaries has been on my mind since earlier this year when I realized this is the 200th On being….

I know it’s clichéd to say this, but I don’t know where the time has gone. Though I’d be lying if I said it feels like just yesterday that I started the column, it certainly doesn’t seem like it’s been over eight years that I’ve been sharing experiences, thoughts, and feelings with all of you in hopes of connecting in some small way to your life and your experiences.

Writing the column’s been a fantastic experience for me in many respects. From a writer’s perspective, I feel I’ve progressed. I’ve learned a lot about the craft of writing and about the art of editing. (The fact that I actually do edit them down, always aiming for 800-1000 words, will come as a surprise to my mother, who often mentions she finds them too long.) Writing about my foibles and frustrations has also helped me grow as a person. And finally, I have been gratified, and often quite amused, by readers’ comments.

When I started the column, friends mentioned they thought I’d run out of ideas. I was never concerned about that because, as long as you’re breathing, thinking, and feeling, there’s new On being… material every day.

That said, more than one 14th or 29th has rolled around where friends have heard me complain: “tomorrow is On being… day, and I don’t have an idea yet”. But such whining isn’t because I’m idea-less. Most of the time there are a few things on my mind but my struggle is in identifying an underlying behaviour or truth I think others will be able to relate to on some level. Indeed, the real challenge is in finding a way of conveying an idea in an anecdote I think readers might react to – whether it’s a situation they can picture themselves in, or just something that makes them laugh.

Of course, there have been times I’ve nixed a topic because it’s something I think I’ve already written about. In fact, that concern is what made me realize my 200th column was coming up. This spring I had an idea, but when I sat down to write it, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I’d written something like it before. (On being … déjà vu?)

I couldn’t remember exactly when (On being … a mind like a sieve), so I started looking back at previous columns. When I still didn’t find it, I realized I should have a list of all the titles to date. I had never bothered keeping one (On being … lazy), so I set about creating a chronological master list. And, for no particular reason, I decided to number it. I’m sure glad I did, as I wouldn’t have wanted to let this milestone go without somehow marking it.

One last bit of trivia about the first 199 columns. Turns out -- and this was totally accidental -- there is one title that I have used more than once. Any guesses? Ok -- I’ll tell you: On being… inspired. I used that title in 2002 and 2008, and then a variation of it this summer (On being … oddly inspiring). At first I thought it was just a funny coincidence, but the more I thought about it, the more I realize that really, in some ways, every column could be titled On being… inspired. After all, that’s the way I feel when I write them and that’s my hope for my readers.

This milestone of 200 columns snuck up on me, but that’s because I’ve enjoyed the journey I’ve taken to get to it. And, like all milestones in life, ultimately it only tells me how far I’ve come -- it doesn’t tell what lies ahead -- but that’s what makes life interesting.

I look forward to future milestones for On being… and I’d be honoured if you’d continue with me on this journey of self-discovery.

© 2010 Ingrid Sapona


On being ... an Aha! moment

By Ingrid Sapona

When I lead a seminar or workshop I usually hand out a sheet of paper with a little image of a light bulb going off inside a brain and a heading at the top that simply reads: Aha! I then encourage participants to jot down any points they “get” during the session -- you know, things that make the proverbial light go off.

I do this to encourage participants to focus a bit on whatever it is they’re getting from the seminar, rather than just focusing on the points I discuss. I guess I also recommend it because writing things down is -- obviously -- one of the ways I process things best, so it’s only natural that I encourage others to do so.

Lately, however, I’m not so sure that there’s any point to even hope that someone will have an Aha! moment at the time they’re actually being “taught” something. I say this because, more-and-more, I’ve noticed that my Aha! moments are delayed -- often long delayed. I noticed this quite acutely, for example, on a project I was working on earlier this summer.

The project involved putting together information about how a manufacturer of widgets (not the real product, mind you) puts together price quotes in response to specific requests from its customers. Though I’ve never done any work for clients in the widget industry, since the process ultimately involves creation of a legally binding agreement, with my legal training I figured I’d get up to speed pretty quickly.

The client provided me with lots of information but I kept thinking they must have some standard contract they use and, for some reason, they just weren’t sharing it with me (despite the fact that I signed a confidentiality agreement). Eventually I phoned someone I knew in the company’s in-house legal department, figuring maybe he could send me a sample contract.

As we talked about how the purchase order stuff works, I suddenly “got” that the types of contracts involved are not the traditional ones I was thinking of (which is why no one could send me a copy). Instead, I remembered a course I took in law school on the Uniform Commercial Code (the UCC). The UCC didn’t apply per se, but the underlying principles were applicable.

After the call I was relieved because lots of stuff I had been struggling with for the project started to make sense. But, I was also frustrated because, despite the fact I got an A in that course in law school, I had never really understood the circumstances in which it applied in the real world. Twenty-plus years later and I have an Aha! moment about the UCC. I’d call that a bit of a delay, wouldn’t you?

The same thing happened regarding something related to my boat this summer. For years I had been using a certain type of fastener in the rigging. These fasteners (split rings, for all of you sailors) are not the only means of securing the rigging. Indeed, I’ve always thought of them as just an additional line of defence to prevent certain things from coming apart. These rings are about as sophisticated -- and sturdy -- as paper clips, so I’ve always been a bit skeptical about how well they’d hold under stress. But, having been told to put them on, for years I’ve dutifully done so.

This season, however, I was a bit lazy about getting around to it. Then, one day I noticed that in one place the rigging fitting had become quite loose. I chalked it up to my overzealous use of WD40 when I originally fastened that fitting, so I simply tightened it again. I didn’t put a ring in it, figuring I’d just keep an eye on it.

Sure enough, a few weeks later the fitting was loose again. This time, as I tightened it, I had a major Aha! moment. I finally understood how the ring prevents the slipping. In other words, I “got” that the ring isn’t meant as a last line of defence -- it’s a first line of defence! You can be damned sure I quickly put rings in all the places they’re meant to be.

Those are just a couple recent examples of cases where – well after the fact -- I manage to finally really make sense of something I “learned” long ago. I suppose I shouldn’t feel frustrated about the fact that some Aha’s! come a bit late, or surprised when I have a revelation that helps me understand something I hadn’t “gotten” before. Indeed, I’ll bet I’m not the only one this kind of thing happens to...

I guess having Aha! moments aren’t really an indication of things we didn’t learn in school -- they’re just proof that we’re life-long learners.

© 2010 Ingrid Sapona