On being ... out of touch

By Ingrid Sapona

What comes to mind when you read: goat butter? Do you think: “Maybe it’s a quirky invective or interjection – kind of like bollix or fiddle-faddle.” Or maybe you think: “Yum – gotta get me some of that!”

If you fall into the latter category, then perhaps you’ll be pleased to hear that Goat Butter Shortbread is the Number 4 recipe on Epicurious’ list of the "109 Best Cookie Recipes to Make Again and Again." Honestly – Epicurious’ editors think Goat Butter Shortbread “may be the star of your Christmas cookie platter.”

Mind you, if you’ve just used up the last of your goat butter for some other recipe, don’t worry. Of the 109 Best Cookie Recipes, there are other shortbread recipes you might be interested in. For example, Number 24: Blood Orange and Poppy Seed Polenta Shortbread. If you can’t find any fresh blood oranges, that’s ok. The editor’s say you can use bottled blood orange juice and the zest of a navel orange. What’s that? Your grocery store doesn’t have any blood orange juice? Damn – this Covid-thing is really screwing up supply chains, eh? 

But again, no worries: scroll on down to Number 102 for the Whole Grain Shortbread with Einkorn and Rye Flour recipe. Surely you have einkorn flour in your pantry. (And while you’re pulling that out – you’ll also need some rye flour and a bit of rice flour for that particular recipe.)

I’ve always found Epicurious’ lists ridiculous. How can 109 recipes all be “the best”? Heck, the editors couldn’t even agree on THE best shortbread recipe – there are seven on the list! I guess the idea is that with 109 recipes, there’s bound to be something any given reader would want to try. Indeed, the fact that I read through the list is testament to the reality that even absurdly titled lists draw readers in.

Of course, Epicurious’ editors aren’t the only ones who love list-based headlines. Just last week the New York Times’ Cooking newsletter featured “47 Recipes for Thanksgiving Leftovers”. And Food 52 had one called “55 Crock-Pot Recipes to Set & Forget.” Other than being surprised at the sheer number of unique Thanksgiving leftover recipes and crock-pot recipes – I don’t find those headlines nearly as annoying as Epicurious’ 109 Best Cookie headline. Why? Because neither of the other two lists are pretending to be anything more than a cumulation of recipes of a certain type. The Times and Food 52 aren’t touting any of those recipes as being anything more than tried and considered decent enough to pass on – no claims to being “the best”.

As I noted, though I snickered at Epicurious’ absurd title, I figured it was worth a quick scroll through. But, I didn’t get very far into it before I got irritated. The goat butter shortbread recipe was the first that had me shaking my head. Trust me, it’s not because the idea of goat butter grosses me out – after all, how different could it be from chevre, which is also made of goat milk. No, I was annoyed because it seems wrong to feature recipes with obscure ingredients with a damned pandemic going on!

I’m all for trying new recipes – heck – that’s why I subscribe to such newsletters. And I get that many folks are feeling Covid-fatigue and so they’re looking for inspiration and maybe trying a new recipe will help. But showcasing recipes with esoteric ingredients is tantamount to sending folks out on a treasure hunt. Given how rampant the virus is in many places, the editors may as well have added corona virus to the ingredient list. After all, the more stores and places intrepid bakers visit in their search, the more they risk exposure to Covid. And why? To try a new Christmas cookie recipe?

If your thinking that a more appropriate title for this column would have been On being … over the top (given the goat butter and all), you’re right. But the very first thought I had when I saw multiple recipes with hard to find ingredients is that the editors are really out of touch. Out of touch with both the availability of such items and with the realities of the risks related to traipsing around for ingredients during a pandemic.

Post Script: After I finished this column, I decided to see whether any of the major Canadian grocery delivery services (Loblaws, Voila by Sobeys, and Longo’s Grocery Gateway) carry goat butter, blood orange juice, or einkorn flour. Well, it turns out they ALL carry goat butter – but not the juice or flour. So, I guess Canadian bakers interested in trying cookie Number 4 can breathe a sigh of relief, knowing they can get out goat butter delivered to their door. Even so, this year I’ll stick to baking a batch of my Mom’s brown sugar shortbread. They’re delicious and comforting – the perfect antidote to Covid-fatigue – not to mention, I always have butter, brown sugar, and all-purpose flour on hand.

© 2020 Ingrid Sapona 


On being ... on edge

By Ingrid Sapona

November 11th is Remembrance Day in Canada. It’s a day we honour Canadian forces, particularly those who have died in foreign wars. The date is significant because it marks the date fighting in World War I stopped. Canada lost over 66,000 servicemen and women in WWI – almost one third more than it lost in WWII.

In the U.S., November 11th is Veteran’s Day, which is also to honour vets. As I first noted in an On being … in November 2010, Remembrance Day has a very different feel than Veteran’s Day. Here, for example, at 11a.m. that day most Canadians observe a moment of silence. As well, in the days leading up to the 11th you see a proliferation of red poppy lapel pins. Millions of people wear them on their coats and jackets to honour and support veterans. The pins represent the poppies that emerged from the undisturbed earth of the battlefields and cemeteries of Flanders. Wearing a poppy is a simple gesture but it speaks volumes to Canadians and to those in other Commonwealth countries.

About a week before Remembrance Day a news story broke about Whole Foods employees not being allowed to wear Remembrance Day poppies at work. When asked by media outlets why, the company “explained” that it honours Remembrance Day in other ways, but its dress code prohibits any additions to the company’s standard uniform, other than for items required by law.

The day this story emerged I was running errands. When I heard it on the radio, I was enraged. Alone in my car, I yelled at the radio, railing about the ignorance of the U.S.-based company. How could they do business here and yet be so ignorant of what the poppy means to Canadians? The poppy doesn’t have any political significance, nor is it a symbol of protest. It’s simply a symbol of remembrance. Didn’t they get that? There aren’t many Whole Foods stores here in Canada (only 14 across the country), but from that moment on, I promised myself I’d never shop there again and I planned on urging friends to boycott the store as well.

As the story unfolded, it was clear I wasn’t the only person appalled by Whole Foods’ decision. The most vocal critic was Ontario’s Premier Doug Ford – a bombastic Conservative who I almost never see eye-to-eye with. When Ford heard about Whole Foods’ position, he urged the company to apologize and reverse its decision. And then, when Whole Foods made it clear it would not reverse its policy, he vowed to introduce legislation prohibiting any company from banning the wearing of poppies at work during Remembrance week.

Hearing Ford’s comment I literally cheered him on. Not only that, I relished the thought of what he might name that bill. You see, the Ford government has a penchant for attaching absurd names to bills. Here are just a few examples: “Bill 100, Protecting What Matters Most Act (Budget Measures), 2019; Bill 224, No Time to Waste Act (Plan for Climate Action and Jobs), 2020; Bill 221, Exalting Our Veterans Act, 2020; Bill 171, Building Transit Faster Act, and so on. How about: The FU Whole Foods Act of 2020?

Later that day I mentioned the Whole Foods poppy story to a friend. He hadn’t heard about it. I explained Whole Foods’ tremendous cultural insensitivity, but gleefully noted that Ford would help them see the error of their ways. My friend – a Conservative – agreed that the store’s policy was ridiculous, but he didn’t think we need legislation about it. To be honest, what shocked him the most was my unequivocal support of Ford and his idea of passing a law about wearing poppies. I admitted it was unusual to be on the same side of an issue as Premier Ford, but it was a testament to how angry I was by Whole Foods’ attitude.

After speaking with my friend, I started thinking about why I had such a strong reaction. Was I over-reacting? Was my reaction really all about the poppies? I think it was … but still, perhaps it was stronger than it should have been.

A few days later (Nov. 7th), I got an email from a friend in Scotland. She sent a screen shot of a news alert she had just received on her phone that said the Associated Press called the presidential race in favour of Biden. In the email she commented that she was in the grocery store when the alert came in and that, as she read it, she found herself in tears. Then she added, “I hadn’t realised the fear I was feeling that Trump might win.”

Her words really rang a bell with me. Beyond agreeing with her joy that Biden had finally (albeit unofficially) been declared the winner, we both understood that her uncontrolled tears were a subconscious release of pressure that had been building up. That, in turn, made me wonder whether my (over)reaction to the Whole Foods story was like her tears – a way of venting fears and anxieties I’ve been harbouring about the election and the pandemic.

I decided to write about this because I’m sure there are others out there like me and my friend – folks who are generally coping ok, but who may be caught by surprise by the depth of their reactions. If you find yourself reacting to something in ways that seem unusual, perhaps you’re more on edge than you realize.

© 2020 Ingrid Sapona 


On being ... more aware

By Ingrid Sapona

I switched tv/internet providers and as part of the deal, I got a two-month free trial of HBO. The one-line description of the miniseries The Undoing intrigued me. It’s an HBO production and it stars Nicole Kidman and Hugh Grant. Since I like both of them, I decided to check it out.

I have odd/bad viewing habits. Usually I have the tv on in the background as I’m doing something else (a bit of food prep or light housework, for example). If I’m familiar with the actors and the characters they play, I typically follow along just by listening and glancing at the screen every now and then. When starting a new show, however, I try to give the screen my undivided attention to get the characters straight and to decide whether the story’s interesting to me.

So, the other day I sat down and started watching The Undoing. After the opening credit montage there’s a short scene that foreshadows some plot point that will no doubt be central to the series. Don’t worry – no spoiler alert necessary because I couldn’t even tell you what happens in the first episode.

The truth is, I pretty much tuned out because I was distracted by the very next scene. Actually, I’m not even sure you’d call it a scene. It was a series of still photos of the stately buildings along Central Park West that then dissolve to a short snippet of film showing a bustling New York City street full of cars. When I saw all the traffic, the thought that immediately popped into my head was, “Oh, this is a period piece. It obviously takes place pre-Covid.” I know – a pretty odd though to become distracted over. And yet, distract me it did.

I was struck by how quickly my subconscious compared the brief, bustling urban street scene with the desolate downtown streets that have become the hallmark of large cities grappling with Covid-19. It’s the same kind of thought process I’d have if I was watching a movie and noticed all the cars were Model Ts. In that case, my mind would go to work to figure out what era the film is set in based on the cars. But even so, I was surprised by the fact that in just seven or so months, my subconscious has obviously adopted a different vision of what a contemporary urban street scene looks like. So, the notion of “the time of Covid” has already become a social reference for my subconscious.

That got me thinking about other changes taking place in society that seep into our subconscious without us even noticing. And of course, once I started thinking about this, I noticed others are thinking about the same thing. Indeed, New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote a column on Oct. 28th titled, “The Floor of Decency”.  In that piece, Brooks posited that before the Trump presidency there was a “basic minimum standard of behavior to be an accepted member of society”. As he put it, “… a lot of us weren’t even really conscious of this floor. It was just there, like the sidewalk you step on when you walk down the street.”

Brooks argued that Trump hasn’t just lowered the floor – he has smashed it. He refers to various things Trump’s said and done to show that there no longer is such a floor. That floor, says Brooks, upheld a “basic standard for political behaviour so it was not just dog eat dog.” And with the floor gone, citizens lose faith in government, institutions, and ultimately, in each other.

The conclusion Brooks basically comes to is that the years of Trump have made him aware of how fragile our standards of basic decency are. Armed with this keen awareness of the importance of a floor of decency, he ends on a hopeful note: that a new leader may “bring us back to a world of no bottom.”   

I decided to write about these stories today because to me they have a common theme. They’re both about the idea that lurking below our consciousness are norms, views, and standards that it’s easy to ignore until something comes along to uproot them. And, while it isn’t that important to became aware of something like “the time of Covid” becoming a reference point for our lives, it was a good reminder to me of just how fast notions become engrained in our subconscious. And, coupled with Brooks’ new recognition of the significance of a floor of decency, I have a new-found interest in uncovering the values and ideas lurking in my subconscious. After all, if we don’t learn to recognize the norms and values that matter to us on a subliminal level – things like honesty and integrity – we run the risk of letting them slip away.

© 2020 Ingrid Sapona 


On being … a dose of pandemic wisdom

 By Ingrid Sapona

I don’t know about you, but I’ve really enjoyed some of the pandemic-related funnies folks have circulated. One friend of mine was a particularly diligent forwarder of Covid-humour those first few months. I have no idea where he got them all, but he sent a weekly compilation every Friday. The emails tapered off when he returned to the office, but he’s recently revived the mailings (in honour of the second wave, I think).

Three from his latest batch struck particular chords with me and – like all good humour – got me thinking. The first one was this tongue-in-cheek comment on hindsight:

Besides putting a smile on my face, the comment brought into focus a couple of realizations. First is the simple truth that back in March, few among us would have imagined that in October we’d still be missing some of simple things we once enjoyed (like the happy-go-lucky freedom of eating out). In an odd way, the joke also speaks to another realization I’ve come to as I’ve observed subtle changes in peoples’ behaviour of late. As the numbers of COVID cases have been going up again, more than a few of my friends have mentioned things they’re doing now, “before things get closed down again”. They’re going to get their hair cut, for example, and stocking up on “essentials” they fear might soon be in short supply. In other words, they’re ordering dessert while they have the chance! Of course, the reason this simple funny comment rings true is because of the life lesson at the heart of it: make the most of today because no one knows what changes tomorrow will bring.

And, for those prescient few – I’ll call them the Covid-whisperers – who might claim they realized early on that the rest of 2020 would be pretty much a write-off, consider this gem of pandemic comic wisdom:

I’ll bet it applies to the Covid-whisperers too…

But on a serious note, I imagine that for some it reinforces a belief that five-year plans are a waste. For other, perhaps it brings to mind the famous stanza in Robby Burn’s poem “To a Mouse” about the best laid schemes… What I thought of when I read it is not the folly of planning where you’ll be in five years. I say chart away and set sail – but do so knowing that the most important skill you’ll need is the ability to adapt!

And finally – this last one I love because it’s both sweet and profound:

Like many, over the course of the pandemic, I’ve reflected on how I’m coping and I’ve read about how others are coping. For folks who’ve remained healthy, it seems that how they’re coping has a lot to do with their economic situation and with the day-to-day tasks they have to juggle. For many women with families there’s a lot of pressure related to keeping children engaged and it’s a lot of work getting groceries and preparing meals day in, day out for the gang. On the flip side, some who live alone – especially seniors – are having a rough time because they feel socially isolated. By comparison to many, I feel very fortunate that I’ve not felt much stress or anxiety because of the pandemic. About the worst I can report is frustration about not being able to make plans to see my sisters for the holidays.

I loved the photo because it’s cute and clever. I think visualizing the pandemic as mud that we’re all struggling to get through is quite apt. And the depth of the mud is a good metaphor for the difficulties and challenges brought by the pandemic. The picture reminds us that that no one will be able to say how deep the mud is until we’re out of it. And even then, the depth will be relative to each of us.

But what I like best about the picture is the hope it represents. To me it shows that regardless of our size and shape, with dogged determination we can come out of the mud standing tall and strong (if a bit dirtier for the ordeal).

© 2020 Ingrid Sapona


On being … insights from a stranger

By Ingrid Sapona

Because of the pandemic, I’ve taken to daily walks to try to maintain cardio fitness. I’ve found a few different routes I like, but on weekday mornings I tend to do the same route – a nice mix of flat and hills. I go at pretty much the same time every morning and so there’s a handful of folks I see regularly enough that we greet each other.

That particular route takes me through a streetcar underpass (kind of a tunnel) and past a streetcar stop called Humber Loop. This stop is a juncture for a few different lines and a bus route. Unlike most streetcar stops, Humber Loop has a brick building that serves mainly as a rest stop/service stop for streetcar drivers. On one end of the building, however, is a glass enclosed waiting area for folks to wait out of the cold or rain. There are lights and a few very uncomfortable benches, but that’s it.

Because I walk very early, I’ve noticed some homeless people sleeping on the hard, cold benches. The building is not heated, nor are there any public washrooms – it’s strictly shelter from the elements. It always makes me sad to see them, but I figure at least it’s better than them being outside.

One morning last week, as I was passing through the Loop, I noticed a senior ambling up the hill a bit ahead of me. She was going slowly and I knew I’d end up passing her, but I hesitated a bit because I figured she probably didn’t expect to hear anyone behind her at that hour. When I caught up to her, I gave her a wide birth – not just to social distance, but so as not to frighten her. As I passed, I made sure to say good morning, so she knew I was friendly.

When she looked up, I saw she had on a face mask. She was wearing a black raincoat and I noticed a lapel pin that looked like a cross and she was holding rosary beads. When she returned my greeting, I noticed she had a charming, old-world accent that sounded Italian. When I apologized for possibly startling her, she assured me I hadn’t. She then pulled down her mask, making it clear she wanted to have a bit of a conversation.

She said she was just thinking about those poor men – pointing in the direction of the streetcar building. I said yes, it’s sad to see them. I told her that I’ve noticed three or four men there every morning. She shook her head. I said that the only good thing about the whole situation is that at least they’re not out in the cold and rain. But, I added, I know it’s not heated and when winter comes, it must be awful. She agreed but added, “Never mind the cold… that’s not the worst”

I quickly interjected, “Oh I know, where do they get food?” “It’s not just that,” she added again. Pointing to the facemask pulled down under her chin, she said, “We feel safer because of this, but what about them? Because of the virus, there aren’t even places for them to clean themselves now!” I nodded in agreement, as these are all things I’d thought about all these mornings.

Then, looking more distraught, she said, “But worst of all… they have no LOVE. There’s no one to touch them, to love them. Everyone needs love. And who loves them?” I was dumbstruck by her insight and all I could do was nod in sad agreement.

When I composed myself a bit, I confessed to her that I’d never thought of that aspect of homelessness. Though I’ve often thought about – and donated to charities that provide – food and shelter for people living on the street, I never thought about the fact that they have no one to love them. After a few minutes of silent, shared anguish, we began walking together up the little hill. When we got to the top, we nodded at each other and headed off in different directions.

The rest of that morning’s walk I could think of nothing but the conversation I had with that stranger – a woman I’ve never seen before, or since. Her innocent lament helped me realize how focused I’ve always been on people’s physical needs. Though I do believe it’s important to ease hunger – because it impacts body and mind – I’ve disregarded the most crucial needs of all – the need for love and a sense of belonging.

I wish I could end this column by telling you I’ve done something to help fill those kinds of needs for any of the homeless people I see in the morning. But I haven’t come up with any concrete way of doing that. Nonetheless, I’ve thought about that stranger’s comment so many times in the past 10 days, I felt the need to write about it.

Thanksgiving is around the corner here in Canada. I know many of us have been thinking about the fact that Thanksgiving will be very different this year because of Covid-19. But, for many homeless people, I’ll bet it won’t feel much different from any other day. My hope is that those of us in a position to ease the hunger and physical harshness the homeless face – on Thanksgiving and every other day – will do so. But, regardless of any monetary support you may be able to provide to help the homeless, my hope is that this column prompts you to also recognize the void of love and loneliness homeless people face every day and that you try to help fill that void.

© 2020 Ingrid Sapona


On being ... the best office

On being … the best office

By Ingrid Sapona

A friend of mine moved recently and she offered me her computer cabinet (a re-purposed Ikea closet). For about 20 years I had a purpose-built computer armoire. I originally bought it when I lived in an apartment and my dining room was also my office. I loved it and it came with me when I moved into my condo years ago. Here in the condo I have a den that I use as my office.

I loved the armoire but about eight years ago I had to give it up when I bought a monitor that was too big for it. At that point, I had to re-configure my small-ish den. When my friend offered me her computer cabinet, I had to decide whether I once again was up for re-configuring the den. After measuring to make sure her cabinet would actually fit, I decided that yes, I did want it because I like the idea of hiding away the computer so that the den looks like a den.

To get the cabinet here, I needed to rent a cargo van, borrow a furniture dolly from a neighbor, and arrange for a friend to help me with the move. The night before the move I did my best to get the room ready. That meant emptying a filing cabinet that would need to be moved over and disassembling my desk. It wasn’t until I started to actually move the desk out that I realized I needed to move a bookshelf and couch out of the way too. Luckily the couch is relatively light and once I took off all the cushions, I could stand it on one end!

The next day we picked up the cargo van and headed to get the cabinet. I texted my friends when we got there and she asked me if I could send my friend up to help them move it. So, he went up and I waited on the street with the van. It seemed to take a long time – but I figured it just felt that way, as I was nervous because the parking enforcement guy seemed to be circling and I was in a no parking zone. Eventually my friend returned and said he’d stay with the van and that I had better go “look at it”. When I asked why, he said it broke when they tried to move it, but he thought it would be fixable with a bracket or… To be honest, I stopped hearing him after “it broke”.

When I got to their condo, my friend’s husband had already disassembled 2/3 of it. They explained what happen and how it could be fixed. I ended up not taking the cabinet. I know they felt awful about my having rented a cargo van, but I didn’t mind, as it was worth a try. The way I figured it, the reason I wanted the cabinet was to make the den feel less office-like. But so many screw holes were blown out, while I might have been able to fix it and make it usable, I doubted it would ever look decent – and the whole point was to make the office more den-like.

After returning the van my friend helped me move the filing cabinet and desk back to where they originally were. Then he left me to set up my computer and return the files to the cabinet. As I was doing this, I realized that my office set up is quite comfortable. The desk is spacious, the filing cabinet is handy, and the couch is a nice place to sit if I’ve got a lot of reading or thinking to do on a project. As well, I’ve managed to store my office supplies pretty neatly, and the lighting I installed when I first moved in is great.

And yet, for years I’ve been obsessing about how to make the den “better”. I can’t tell you how many hours I’ve spent looking at Murphy beds on-line, wondering how one might fit and whether I should get one so that it’s more like a den than an office when someone visits. And I’ve considered whether to put a door on it to make it more of a private room for when I have company.

Once my computer was up and running and I sat down to do some work, I realized why I’ve been ambivalent about the den all these years. It’s because I wanted the space to be something it’s not – and never will be. It won’t be a spacious, second bedroom or a roomy t.v. room. Though I’ve never had a problem accepting that my Toyota will never be a Tesla, or that my galley kitchen will never be a gourmet chef’s dream, I’ve accepted them for what they are and I’ve been fine with them. Why aren’t I able to accept the limitations of the den, I wondered? Once I saw it like that, I realized the route to greater contentment was acceptance.

So, though some might have chalked up the computer cabinet fiasco as a waste of time, it wasn’t. It helped me realize the problem with the den wasn’t the den – it was me. There’s nothing wrong with the den – it’s perfect as my office and that’s really all I need it to be.  

© 2020 Ingrid Sapona



On being ... scared

By Ingrid Sapona

In the U.S., fear was the main news story all week. With over 182,000 Americans dead from COVID-19 since March, it’s not surprising that fear is rising, right? But the coronavirus, which barely seems to register with most Americans these days, wasn’t the source of fear that was featured on the nightly news.

The fear that was the focus this week is fear that’s being fabricated by politicians to suit their own purposes. It’s based on mis-characterizations and outright lies and it’s meant to sow division, discord, and hatred. It’s a tried and true technique straight out of the dictator playbook. Those in power foment distrust and create havoc and then sweep in with force – whether government agents or surrogate militia – that they control.

While it’s easy to gloss over law and order rallying cries coming out of a political campaign as mere rhetoric, doing so during a time of crisis – both economic and medical – is reckless. Furthermore, not recognizing the danger of such talk adds insult to injury for people from marginalized groups. I’m not much into professional sports, but the most eloquent comments about the campaign of fear came from LA Clippers’ coach Doc Rivers in an interview after an NBA playoff game. Rivers said, “You know, what stands out to me just watching the Republican convention and they’re spewing this fear. … All you hear Donald Trump and all of them talking about [is] fear. We’re the ones getting killed. We’re the ones getting shot… and all you do is keep hearing about fear.”

While the truth of what Rivers was pointing out was powerful, it’s what he said next about the shooting of Jacob Blake that really drove home the profound emotional toll that accompanies the physical violence blacks face. He said, “It’s amazing why we keep loving this country and this country does not love us back. And, it’s just really so sad. Like, I should just be a coach and I’m so often reminded of my colour. It’s just really sad. … We protest and they send riot guards. They send people in riot outfits. They go to Michigan with guns and they’re spitting on cops and nothing happens. … I didn’t want to talk about it before the game because it’s just so hard. Just keep watching it. Just keep watching that video. If you watch that video – you don’t need to be black to be outraged. You need to be American and outraged. And how dare the Republicans talk about fear? We’re the ones that need to be scared…”

On being … is meant to be an examination of human nature. I try to tell a story about my thoughts and feelings in an effort to prompt a reaction in the reader. My hope is that your reaction to my take on things may lead you to think about how you may be feeling or behaving.

I hesitated to write today’s column because I think some readers may be turned off because they’ll see it as being about politics. That’s not my intention – today’s column isn’t motivated by politics. It’s rooted in my deep feelings of fear – fear about the future of America. I’m scared for the future of a country where lying is perfectly acceptable, where things of consequence are written off as a hoax, where vigilantes are encouraged to engage in violence, and where invocations of the rule of law are a farce.

I’ve been feeling sadness about all these things for some time, but this week I realized my sadness has turned to fear. So, I’ve been reflecting on ways of coping with my fear. I decided I must own up to my fear and talk about it – and write about it. So, when I realized this, I couldn’t not write today’s column.

To those politicians who want to use fear as a motivator, I say bring it on. I’ve decided I’m going to let my fear motivate me to stand up against racism, injustice, and tyranny – and to invite others to join me. Perhaps by doing so, folks who may be sitting by quietly – in fear of backlash or in hopes of avoiding uncomfortable situations – will find courage too.

What about you? Are you feeling afraid these days? If so, what’s behind it? Is it based on something real, or is it fabricated fear planted by some politician? What coping strategies will you employ to combat the fear?

© 2020 Ingrid Sapona




On being ... thoughtful

By Ingrid Sapona       

I’m sure I’m not the only one tired of reading about peoples’ opinions about facemasks. Indeed, I’ve already done a column about that. So, it is with a bit of hesitation that I set out on today’s column, as I fear you’ll tune out thinking this’ll be more of the same. Honestly, though facemasks will be mentioned, I promise the context is different.

My inspiration for today’s column was an entertaining article I came across on COVID etiquette by Dorothy Woodend, a writer/editor at the Tyee in British Columbia. The sub-head to the article is really what drew me in: “The pandemic confounded the rules of how we relate to one another.” Woodend raised some interesting questions and points about how to behave in different situations. So, I thought it would be fun to share a few of her insights so that you can – as I did – compare your views to hers.

For example, if you run into someone you know and you’re wearing a mask and they’re not, should you remove your mask to talk with them? Woodend wondered whether leaving it on in such a situation might be seen as virtue signalling. Gosh, I never gave a thought to what might be appropriate in that situation. I suppose, depending on the other person’s sensitivities, you could be seen as being passive aggressive regardless of what you do in that case. Oi… how complicated social interations have gotten!

That whole question of how you react to – and feel about – other people’s COVID-related behavior is interesting. The other day I was waiting a long time for the elevator in my building and when if finally arrived, the lone guy in it waved me off to indicate he didn’t want me to get in with him. Naturally, I nodded in assent and stayed put. But, behind my mask, I was annoyed. As I waited for the lift to return, I reminded myself that everyone’s entitled to their own comfort level in enclosed spaces and that I shouldn’t judge.

Another question Woodend touches on his how to welcome folks and demonstrate that you come peaceably. It never occurred to me that the handshake might have developed as a way to show to a stranger that you don’t have a knife or other object you could use to hurt them. But now, handshakes are off limits, as even a hand empty of weapons could carry the virus that could do grave harm to others. Woodend joked that maybe we’ll end up resorting to some sort of weird social dance where we “wave, flail and contort to convey good will”. Being a self-conscious dancer, I’m thinking it might be better to opt for the silly-seeming elbow bump alternative.

The need for clear enunciation is also something we’re all going to value more, as we try to understand folks through their mask. Might elocution classes ala Henry Higgins come back into vogue, Woodend posits. At a minimum, I imagine folks will have to learn to speak louder or be prepared to repeat things. Humour aside, I have thought about how wearing masks has made daily interactions so much harder for people with hearing problems who rely – even a little – on lip reading. Maybe now that many of us are experiencing the challenge of understanding people talking through masks, we’ll understand how profoundly hearing impacts daily life. Perhaps, as a society, we’ll end up doing more to support and help those with hearing problems.

As social creatures, I think there’s something to be said for paying attention to how we conduct ourselves vis-à-vis each other. I think that’s really what manners are all about – customary behaviours that are meant to facilitate smoother social interactions. (Or, as one reader of Ms. Woodend’s article put it, however crudely: Manners are the KY of social intercourse.)

Given that COVID’s changed so many aspects of daily living, it was bound to impact our social interactions, right? And, all change requires adjustment, which definitely can be challenging. But if we approach social interactions with a bit of a sense of humour and an open heart, I think we’ll manage. And who knows, maybe increased thoughtfulness, understanding, and kindness to others will also be a COVID legacy.

What do you think? Any particular changes in etiquette you hope will become the norm in the post-pandemic world?

© 2020 Ingrid Sapona