On being ... attention focusing

By Ingrid Sapona

The story that surfaced in late May of the finding of the remains of 215 children buried at a former Indian Residential School in B.C. made news around the world. About a month later, the Cowessess First Nation announced the preliminary finding of 751 unmarked graves at the former site of a Saskatchewan Indian Residential School. The unmarked graves were found using ground-penetrating radar. Experts expect many more graves will be found on the grounds of other Indian Residential Schools across the country.

The first Indian Residential School opened in 1828 and the last one closed in 1996. Stories about children who went to Indian Residential Schools but never returned have been told for years. We’ve had some idea of the scope of the issue ever since the 2015 release of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) of Canada Report. One of the findings announced in the Report was that the TRC identified the names of, or information about, more than 4,100children who died of disease or accident while at Indian Residential Schools.

The leader of the Cowessess First Nation, Chief Cadmus Delorme, eloquently spoke about the significance of the finding of the unmarked graves and of this moment. He explained that the Cowessess community will now work to honour the buried by putting names to the people in the graves. He acknowledged that doing so will hurt, as it will trigger some of the pain that many Indigenous children endured at the school. He called on Canadians to stand beside Indigenous people as they heal and get stronger. He also asked Canadians to open their minds to the fact that the Country needs to have truth and reconciliation.

Somehow the finding of the unmarked graves has brought the issue of Indigenous relations to the fore in a way that release of the Truth and Reconciliation Report didn’t seem to. Maybe the idea of 4,100 dead children was just too big a number for folks to comprehend. Or maybe, because the Indian Residential School program ran for over 160 years, people somehow rationalize the figure (4,100) as translating to “only” about 25 children per year. But 215 is a number that people seem more able to comprehend – after all, that could be the number of kids in one grade at the local elementary school.

The immediate official reaction to the news was the lowering of flags to half staff. “Every Child Matters” became the catchphrase and orange quickly became the colour associated with the issue of the treatment of Indigenous children. (I must admit to ignorance here – perhaps orange has long been associated with Indigenous matters, as it’s the colour featured in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission logo and graphics.) Colour-coded ribbon campaigns have been around so long that I almost find them meaningless. But, I couldn’t help but stop when I saw this on a recent walk:

The photo shows a public elementary school in my neighborhood. The school’s on a fairly busy street and the playground is protected by both railings and a fence. The orange ribbons tied on the schoolyard fence and tree are a nice gesture, for sure. But, the fact they are tied on a sturdy fence that protects children at play at that school also drives home the difference in the level of care afforded kids there versus the care provided to Indigenous children at Residential Schools.

While symbols like ribbons and lowered flags are moving, they don’t necessarily stir emotions enough to prompt dialog, much less change. Perhaps as a result of this, others have taken to different ways of drawing attention to the issues. On another recent walk I came upon a series of spray-painted messages that provide a much more vivid sense of the stain the Indian Residential School system has left on Canadian society and our collective psyche. Here are a few pictures of the crude – but powerful – messages: 

I’ve always hated when people deface things with graffiti, but these scrawlings have moved me in ways I can barely express. The method of communication reflects the rawness of the feelings of so many. These messages are way more powerful than any anodyne sign proclaiming Every Child Matters.

We can’t erase past harms and injustices perpetrated against Indigenous peoples. But, we owe it to them to acknowledge how we have treated them and to do all we can to help them heal. Restorative justice is the purpose of reconciliation and we’ll never get there unless we stop denying the racism that underlies the notion of assimilation.

Indigenous leaders have used this moment to urge Canadians to read the Truth and Reconciliation Committee Report and to take concrete action toward implementing the Commission’s 94 Calls to Actions. That certainly seems the least we can do…

© 2021 Ingrid Sapona




On being ... homeschooled?

 By Ingrid Sapona 

Last year I bought a set of DVDs of a stretch/exercise program that my local Public Broadcast Station (PBS) runs. I don’t have a DVD player for my television any more, but I figured I could play them on my computer. Unfortunately, when I tried to play one of the DVDs, I found out my computer was set up only to play CDs, not videos. 

After a bit of Googling, I found there are programs (dozens, actually) you can install to play a DVD. I downloaded one (probably one with a free trial) and managed to watch the first workout. Each DVD has six 30-minute workouts, but I couldn’t figure out how to view the second, third, fourth, etc. Ugh… 

My original plan was to convert the DVDs into a format (M4V) so I could play them on my iPad. If I couldn’t figure out how to play the original DVDs on my computer, there seemed little hope for the next step. Dejected, the DVDs ended up on a shelf. 

Recently, I Googled how to convert DVDs to M4V. There was no shortage of information about it, but the more I looked, the more daunting it seemed. Then, a couple weeks ago I came across a 9-minute video by “KaptainTech” – who sounds about 16-years-old. The 2012 video made the process seem straightforward, if you don’t mind downloading two pieces of software. The video included links to the software, but I figured it likely that the software was either discontinued or that it had changed so much the video instructions were probably no longer accurate. 

Nonetheless, this week I decided to give it a try. One of the software links wasn’t quite right, but I managed to find the program and download it. The other link worked perfectly. Then I played KaptainTech’s video, pausing it every time I needed to carry out a task. I must say, he did an outstanding job showing every step. The program interfaces looked a bit different but, rather than worry (or wonder) about it, I just clicked on exactly what KaptainTech said to. To my amazement – it worked! 

When I was done, I left a comment on the video to say thanks and to let others know the 2012 video is still useful in 2021. (I got the idea to mention that from others who noted that it worked for them as recently as 2020. Clearly, I wasn’t the only one concerned that the process might have changed since 2012.) A number of commentators also mentioned they watched a lot of other videos but found KaptainTech’s the best. Again, it was nice to know that I wasn’t alone in having watched dozens of other videos about the process before taking the plunge. 

This was the third or fourth time I’ve found great videos on YouTube made by ordinary folks that show how to do something. Last year the door on my microwave wouldn’t stay closed. When I mentioned the problem to a friend, she said the same thing happened to theirs and they fixed it themselves after watching a few YouTube videos on how to fix it. She sent me a link to the one they found most useful and suggested I try it.  

Having nothing to lose, I did. The process involved taking apart the door. According to the video, if this one spring has fallen out of place, the door will not close. Unfortunately, in my case the spring wasn’t just out of place – it was broke. So, I couldn’t fix the door, but it was pretty empowering to try. (As an aside, you’d be surprised at how many things that seem sturdy are just snapped into place!) 

Similarly, a few years ago my computer was overheating because the fan stopped working. My friend suggested it might just need a new fan. To get at the fan, I’d have to open up the computer. I went searching on-line for an owner’s manual or the manufacturer’s specs that might show how to do that, but I couldn’t find anything. 

My friend suggested there might be a YouTube video showing how to disassemble it. Sure enough, some guy (with a heavy accent, a big gut, and – unfortunately – no shirt) did a video showing how to disassemble the exact HP model I had. I watched it a number of times, before giving it a try. Turns out the fan had kind of melted into place, so it was unfixable. But, it was an interesting exercise. 

It used to be that if you wanted to learn how to make something (or how to fix something) you’d take a course. For example, if you were contemplating trying to fix your microwave door, you might take a course on small appliance repair. You might learn some troubleshooting techniques, but you wouldn’t necessarily learn about your particular model. Now you can probably find a video showing how to fix your exact problem. 

Watching a video that walks you through the steps to accomplish a specific task is not the same experience as taking a course. Following KaptainTech’s instructions click-by-click was more like doing paint-by-number, than learning how to paint. But, given that I was just interested in successfully converting the video formats, it didn’t matter to me that I didn’t learn anything about the coding behind each step. 

There are a lot of folks out there with a lot of hands-on experience and, for whatever reason, many of them like making videos demonstrating how to do things. (I’ll bet that as kids they lived for show and tell!) And of course, not all such videos are created equal. But, I’ve come to see home-made how-to videos as a kind of homeschooling tool. They can give you courage to tackle a particular job or they can help you decide when it might be best to farm something out to an expert. 

What about you? Do you ever turned to YouTube videos for help? If not, you don’t know what you’re missing. 

© 2021 Ingrid Sapona


On being … choosy?

A woman I used to work with had an unusual approach to ordering at a restaurant. When we’d be given the menu, I’d look down and begin to mull over the choices. When I’d look up, she was always ready and we’d resume the conversation until the server came to take our order. At that point, she’d quickly glance down at the menu and then tell the server what she wanted. I, on the other hand, tended to debate between a few of the items, never making the final decision till the server looked at me. 

Once, after ordering, I mentioned to her that I was impressed she always seemed to have something different and yet she never hesitated when it came time to order. She looked at me puzzled and said, “Oh, I just always order the first thing on the menu – it’s easier.” Well, I would never – could never – do that! To me, part of the pleasure of eating out is perusing the menu and thinking about the different items and then choosing.

In many respects, having choice is a luxury. We’ve come a long way from the Model T days when the only colour available was black. But honestly, sometimes I find that too much choice is… well… too much! This idea’s been on my mind lately as I plan a kitchen reno.

Going into this, I knew I’d have decisions to make. But I consoled myself figuring it would be fairly straightforward since, at the end of the day, it’ll still be a small galley kitchen. The threshold decisions revolved around the type and colour of cupboards, the countertop, and the backsplash. Early on I decided I’d go with the current trend of using the same material for the counter and backsplash. This appeals to me for two reasons. First, I like the idea of a solid piece f material for the backsplash because I think it’d be easier to clean – no grout lines. But equally important – to be honest – is it’s one less thing to choose! 

I’ve always loved marble and so my plan was for a marble countertop and backsplash with white cupboards on top and a contrasting colour on the bottom. Once I started looking, I learned that marble isn’t ideal in kitchens and so most folks use quartz that’s designed to resemble marble. That seemed ok, until I started looking at quartz. Up close I didn’t think it looked too real. So, it was back to the drawing board and I started looking at natural stone instead.

Olympia Tile+Stone is one of North America’s biggest tile and stone distributors. Their 3500 square foot showroom isn’t too far from me and I’ve always been curious about it. But, after combing through countless quartz patterns at three showrooms, the prospect of wandering through Olympia’s showroom was too daunting. 

Instead, I went to a stone place recommended by the countertop fabricator I planned on using. After a couple hours looking through aisles of magnificent stone slabs, I managed to narrow it down to about a half-dozen. A week later I returned with a friend to get her opinion. I ended up buying a piece of quartzite that – as one of my sisters would say – spoke to me. But, because what I chose has creamy undertones (not white/grey), I had to re-think the cupboard colours. 

Because I’m having coloured cupboards, the sky’s the limit in terms of choice. All the cabinetmaker needs is a swatch of paint and he’ll match it. I still figured I’d use some kind of white on top and a contrasting bottom. Fortunately, he gave me samples of the three most popular whites and one of them goes well with the countertop. But, I was torn between a few different colours for the bottom cupboards. So, I decided to paint some panels of my current cupboards to see how different shades look in the natural light. I tried four colours before I chose one.  

Choosing flooring was another matter. I wanted to replace the current tile, which is neutral but it has a bit of texture I find really traps dirt. Complicating the choice is the fact that the tile covers the front hall and a small bathroom off the hall, in addition to the kitchen. Again, taking a pass on Olympia’s huge warehouse, I decided I’d start at a few independent flooring stores friends recommended. One of them had a very limited selection and I didn’t find anything I liked. The other had a decent selection and they encouraged me to take a couple tiles home to compare them. That was a great idea, as I was able to see how they’d work in the hall and bathroom, as well as with the cupboard colours. The next day I made my choice and returned the samples.  

Having made the main choices, last week I went to sign off on the final cabinet colour and details. Or so I thought. Turns out I have to choose hardware for the drawers and doors. OMG. The cabinetmaker recommended a particular brand that he said is widely available. He even suggested I might find better prices at big box stores that get volume discounts he can’t get. I went home thinking it’d be straightforward. Well, on the manufacturer’s website I searched for “transitional style” pulls (as opposed to traditional style, for example) and there are over 700! Can you say overwhelming?   

While it’s nice to live in an era where there are choices for all sorts of things, I don’t mind admitting I sometimes find too much choice stifling. Of course, there are coping mechanisms. For me, purposely not going to places with too many choices usually works. For my former work colleague, simply choosing the first item on the menu worked. What about you? Are you the more choices, the better type – or do you have some default strategy you use when having to choose things? 

© 2021 Ingrid Sapona


On being … cautiously optimistic

By Ingrid Sapona 

Last Friday Ontario went into Phase 1 of its three-phase plan for lifting Covid-19 restrictions. The phases are tied to health system indicators that include the number of new Covid cases, hospitalization rates, and vaccination rates. The relatively modest easing of restrictions that came with Phase 1 may not seem newsworthy to people in countries where things have been open for awhile. But, it’s big news here because Toronto had the longest lockdown in North America.  

People often ask me what’s going on with the pandemic in Ontario. I’m sure they thought it must be totally out of control, given the restrictions and border closure. We’ve had just under 9,000 deaths here in Ontario, a province of 14 million. (By way of comparison, Illinois has a population of just under 13 million and there have been over 25,000 deaths there.) Many people blame the Province for lifting restrictions too quickly in March, when case numbers were increasing and vaccine shipments to Canada were delayed. But, another reason our lockdown lasted as long as it did is because Ontarians are generally more willing to sacrifice personal freedoms for the collective good. To put it another way, we’re not as accepting of high death rates as people in some jurisdictions are.  

Anyway, Phase 1 means the return of patio dining, with up to four people per table, and outdoor gatherings of up to 10 people. In-store shopping is now available in “non-essential retail”, but with a 15% capacity limit. During the most recent lockdown, in-store shopping was only allowed for grocery stores and pharmacies; all other retail was curbside pickup only. Retailers like Walmart, Costco, and dollar stores had to block off all sections except for the grocery and pharmacy aisles. Now we can shop in all the aisles – though there are still capacity limits. Unfortunately, hair dressers aren’t going to re-open till Phase 3, which won’t happen till 80% of Ontarians have one dose and 25% have had both doses.  

On my Friday morning walk there was definitely a different vibe on the street. All the little shops on my usual route had jazzed up their window displays. Signs about curbside pickup had given way to notices about facemasks and capacity limits. Big stacks of chairs and tables suddenly appeared near restaurants, no doubt ready to be set out on the sidewalk by lunchtime.  

The weather on Friday was lovely, so a friend and I decided to meet on a patio for a late lunch. On my way to our rendezvous, I stopped to drop off some clothing and housewares at a Goodwill-type shop that accepts donations. Such shops were completely closed during lock down. I had to laugh when I pulled up and found a lineup of cars, all waiting to donate. Can you say pent up demand? Clearly, I wasn’t the only one who decided to declutter during the lockdown!  

After donating, I noticed a line of people waiting to go into the nearby Winners store (a discount store that’s part of the TJ Maxx chain). Because we’ve had capacity limits on grocery shopping throughout the pandemic, we’ve all become accustomed to seeing lineups. But I was shocked when I realized the line at Winners snaked around the corner. There had to be 50 people waiting! One newspaper commentator assumed the folks lined up at stores were people who chose not to do on-line shopping during the pandemic. I suppose that could have been part of it, but I think many of the folks happily waiting in lines at stores are just eager to be able to browse through items in person.  

Given our northern climate, dining alfresco always feels special. But, after months of eating at home, being served a meal by someone feels absolutely decadent. It also feels mildly virtuous to patronize restaurants again, as they’ve had an especially hard time during the pandemic. At lunch on Friday, I honestly don’t know who had bigger smiles: the restaurant staff or the patrons!  

The past few days there’ve been lots of newspaper stories about how people are feeling as things start to open up. While there’s definite excitement around re-opening, there’s also a palpable sense of trepidation. Many commented that though they’re trying to enjoy the re-opening, they’re wary of what might happen if case counts begin to rise again. Lots of people mentioned that they don’t think they’d be able to cope – emotionally or economically – if we go into another hard lockdown.  

So, as things being re-opening here, I’d characterize the mood as one of cautious optimism. People are hopeful that we’re on the road back to a full reopening, but everyone’s paying close attention to case counts and vaccination rates and hoping they both go in the right direction.  

What about you? As restrictions are eased and things reopen where you are, are you feeling a sense of elation and unbridled optimism? Or are you – like many of us – holding your breath a bit as you begin to reconnect with your old life?  

© 2021 Ingrid Sapona 


On being … any excuse

By Ingrid Sapona 

I don’t know about you, but to me one of the best things to come out of the pandemic has been reconnecting with folks that I hadn’t been in touch with in a long, long time. Early on in the pandemic (hard to believe we’re talking well over a year ago now) I made a point of fairly regularly checking in with friends and family. I suspect many folks did that. 

Those check-ins were pretty much to make sure that those I care about were alright on a very basic level. Many of the conversations seemed to revolve around comparing notes about new routines. For example, finding out how people were coping with transitioning to working from home and whether they were getting groceries in person or by delivery. 

About a month into the pandemic, I also started reaching out to people who were not in my immediate circle of friends. I spoke with folks I went to school with or who I knew from the sail club – that kind of thing. I know I surprised more than a few people when I dropped them an email to find out how they were getting along. But without exception, all of them responded with details about – highlights, for sure – how they were doing. However brief such interactions were, I found them sustaining, especially during the lonelier moments of the pandemic. 

I don’t know about you, but I sometimes feel self-conscious reaching out to folks I’ve not been in touch with for a long time. Part of my trepidation comes from not having anything particularly exciting to say or report. There’s also my basic insecurity about whether they’ll remember me. And of course, there’s the concern they’ll think I’m contacting them because I want something or because I have something to brag about. Cynical, perhaps… but I think those are potential reactions when you’ve not been in touch with someone for awhile. Anyway, this past year I put those thoughts aside and I used the pandemic as an excuse for reaching out to people near and far. 

Last week I kind of wondered if karma was at work when – out of the blue – I started getting emails through LinkedIn from people I’d not heard from in years. Turns out, the emails were to congratulate me for my work anniversary. (For those who aren’t familiar with it, LinkedIn is a social network for professionals and I’m one of the 750+ million people who are on it.) 

I knew that LinkedIn tracks work anniversaries because I regularly get system-generated messages about anniversaries of others in my LinkedIn network. When you get such notifications, you can simply ignore them, or you can send a message to the person to congratulate them. If you don’t feel like personalizing the message, you can just click on a button and LinkedIn will send a generic “Congratulations on your work anniversary” message on your behalf. I don’t tend to use the automated generic message, as it seems too impersonal. If I do send a note, I customize the message, though it’s often just some variation on “Wow – can’t believe you’ve been there X years! Congrats!” 

When the first congratulations message came in this week, I thought there was some mistake. When the second note came in, I checked the dates on my LinkedIn profile and realized I had, in fact, started my consulting business in May 1997. So the anniversary was a legitimate, er, professional, excuse for folks to drop a line. 

Anyway, the emails were the one-click – “Congratulations on your work anniversary” – type. But still, I was surprised by some of the folks who sent them. There was one person whose name I recognized immediately, but I couldn’t even remember whether we went to undergrad or grad school together. There was also a message from a woman I met more than 10 years ago on a fun gourmet weekend. And then there was someone I met half a dozen years ago at a culinary boot camp. My sisters and I took the two-day cooking course and we ended up chatting at length with this classmate when we discovered we were all staying at the same little inn. 

I ended up responding with personal emails to some of the congratulations messages. I’m so glad I did because a few folks responded in kind and we reconnected. For example, I had a delightful back-and-forth with the guy from the culinary course. We swapped stories about what we ended up learning on the course that we actually put to use – or try to – in our cooking. It was so nice to share a fond memory and to know that he and his family are well. 

We cross paths with so many people during our lives, it’s natural to lose touch with many. But just because you’ve lost touch doesn’t mean the connection is necessarily lost for good. Sometimes all it takes to reconnect is a bit of effort and a willingness to try. 

If you’re like me and you find it easier to reach out to others if you feel you have a reason to, that’s fine. Just remember, any excuse will do – from work anniversaries to shared experiences. Hell, I think the pandemic will be an excuse we can lean on for a long time yet. Not sure about that? Feel free to try this line: “Just wondering how you’re adjusting to life as the pandemic restrictions are being lifted.” 

© 2021 Ingrid Sapona


On being ... offensive

By Ingrid Sapona

The pandemic is still raging in much of the world. That’s the bad news. The good news is there are multiple vaccines that minimize the chances of those inoculated ending up in the hospital or dying from Covid-19. These facts alone make getting vaccinated a no brainer for many of us. 

But getting a vaccine isn’t just about protecting yourself. Doing so protects others by lessening the chances of spreading the virus. Also, if the virus is left to circulate, the chances of it mutating increase. The so-called variants of concern (VOCs) are of concern because they can cause more severe illness or can be more virulent. Though the vaccines work on the current VOCs, they might not be effective against new mutations. In short, getting the jab is a win-win: it’s good for you and good for society.  

Here in Canada, public health folks and political leaders have urged us to “take the first jab that you’re offered.” That plea reflects the fact that in Canada the supplies of vaccines have sometimes been spotty. In fact, because of this, Ontario has decided it’s best to get first vaccines into as many arms as possible, rather than using some of the supply for second dose. Under this plan, folks will get their second dose as supplies are replenished.  

Vaccine “skepticism” isn’t as big an issue in Ontario as it is in the U.S. According to the provincial government, as of May 9th, 48% of Ontarians 18 or older have received their first vaccine. That figure is all the more impressive, I think, given the confusion and somewhat conflicting news about risks related to the AstraZeneca (AZ) vaccine, one of the approved vaccines here in Canada. The concerns relate to reports of serious blood clots.  

Though the blood clot issue was troubling, in early March I gladly received a jab of the AZ vaccine. My rationale was that the risks associated with getting Covid were higher and worse than the blood clot risk. In fact, many of my friends who also qualified for the AZ vaccine at that time took it. Since then, eight Ontarians have suffered from blood clots associated with the AZ vaccine and this week Ontario paused the use of it. So, for those of us who got the initial dose of AZ, it’s not clear what we might get in terms of a second. But, 14 months into the pandemic, I’ve come accept such uncertainty. After all, it seems clear that the only way we’ll make it through to the other side of the pandemic is with a healthy does of prudence and patience.  

Here in Ontario, we’re currently suffering through the third – and by far worst – wave. Since Christmas we’ve been living with many restrictions on our activities and travel. By and large, people have complied and folks seem to agree that mass vaccination is the surest way to return to something akin to normal.  

At this point, supply of vaccines isn’t so much an issue here. Instead, the problem is around logistics and just bad planning by those in charge of vaccine distribution. The inevitable problems that arise when millions of people try to register on-line have been compounded by issues around who should administer vaccines. At first, only regional health officials were going to be used. Eventually, however, pharmacies were also tapped as a resource.  

Originally the government distributed vaccines across the province in an equal manner. (No politician wanted to be seen as favouring one group or region over another, after all.) More recently, however, the province realized it should offer more vaccines in “hot spots” – areas and workplaces where the positivity rate is highest. This strategy is being implemented, in part, using “pop up” vaccine clinics. Pop ups are great for those plugged into social media, where you can get rapid updates about the length of line-ups and the number of doses still available. For others, however, pop ups aren’t that helpful. Thankfully, a bunch of digitally savvy community volunteers formed a group called Vaccine Hunters to help people register for vaccines and to keep people up-to-date on where they can find them. That’s how keen people are here to get vaccinated!  

So, with this backdrop, you can imagine how folks here feel when they hear about the lengths U.S. leaders are going to to bribe Americans to get a Covid vaccine. A few days ago, for example, we heard that New York’sgovernor authorized free vaccines to folks attending Toronto Blue Jays games in Buffalo in June. The shots will be available to ticket holders on their way into the game. Nice gesture, sure. But for Jays fans who live north of the border, it’s rather bittersweet, given that we can’t get down to Buffalo for games (or a jab) because the Canada – US border remains closed.  

And then there was the governor of Ohio’s announcement of “Vax a Million” (that’s what he called it!) – a weekly draw that’ll pay out five $1 million dollar prizes. The lottery, which starts on May 26th, is open to all Ohio residents who are 18 or older and who have been vaccinated. (There will also be five draws for full-ride scholarships to state universities for Ohio teens who get vaccinated.) Apparently 42% of Ohio residents have had one vaccine to date, but the rate at which people have gotten vaccinated has dropped nearly 80% since early April.  

Ohio and New York aren’t the only states offering residents incentives for vaccinating. Maine is offering free hunting and fishing licenses, LL Bean gift cards, and other prizes. West Virginia is offering vaccinated residents aged 16-35 $100 savings bonds. New Jersey has a program where folks 21 and over can get a free beer when they get vaccinated. Various companies and employers are also offering prizes and give-aways to vaccinated customers and employees.  

While I think it’s fine if someone wants to offer a small token to encourage people to act promptly (folks who may have been too busy to find time) or to recognize their effort. To me that’s like giving a kid a lollypop after they go to the doctor – a feel-good gesture. But feeling you need to bribe citizens to the tune of $1 million to take a vaccine to help end a pandemic that has taken over 3.3 million lives world-wide is very different. Frankly, it’s offensive.  

At a time when billions of people around the world are desperate for the vaccine, how dare some people not realize that the vaccine is the prize.  

© 2021 Ingrid Sapona 


On being … a disturbing perspective

By Ingrid Sapona 

I don’t know if this happens do you, but every now and then I hear or read something that just stops me dead in my tracks. It’s usually just a sentence or two but it helps me see or think about something in a way I never have before. That happened to me last week when I saw a CBS news segment about a film nominated for the Oscar in the category of Best Live Action Short. 

The film, which ended up winning the Oscar, is called Two Distant Strangers. In the news segment the CBS reporter described it as a “time loop” film. If you’re like me and you’ve never heard that phrase, think: Groundhog Day – where the characters relive a day over and over. In Two Distant Strangers an African-American man re-lives variations of a deadly run-in with police. 

The reporter noted the police killing of George Floyd was part of the inspiration for the film, as one scene shows the cops atop the black man who rasps the sad, familiar refrain “I can’t breathe”. Then the news piece cut to an interview with Travon Free, the writer and co-director. Thirty-six-year-old Free said the film was a way for him to communicate not only what he felt in reaction to the George Floyd killing but also what he has been experiencing all his life. But it was the next thing that Free said about why he wrote the script that truly gave me pause, sending a chill up my spine. He said what else inspired him to write it was “the number of times I’ve had police officers point their gun at me, and the number of times I’ve been pulled over for no reason.”   

The idea I can’t move past is of having a gun pointed at me. I simply can’t imagine the terror of staring down the barrel of a gun. And to have that happen more than once in one’s life is, well, unfathomable. Don’t misunderstand – it’s not that I’m doubting the reality of it. I absolutely believe it happens in the U.S. every day. It happens so often, I’ve lost track of the videos I’ve seen of police shooting black folks. 

But what I never thought about is that those videos are from a camera looking in the direction of the suspect – whether the videos are recorded by police body cams or by bystanders witnessing the terror. As horrific as it is to see those incidents from those vantage points, I’ve never thought about what it must feel like to be the one facing the drawn gun. Just imagine facing the reality that in the blink of an eye (or the tremble of a nervous hand), a bullet could be tearing through you. 

The thing is, we’ve romanticized guns – we trivialized them. The same day I saw the interview with Free I was watching a movie that took place in the 1880s. In one scene a bad guy broke into the hero’s house and pointed this old, primitive looking pistol at the hero. My first thought was how hokey – almost comic – the pistol looked. Besides figuring that it was too early in the movie for the hero to die, my subconscious blithely disregarded the deadly threat a loaded gun fired at point blank range. 

After realizing how I reacted to that gun scene in the film, I thought about all the tragic videos I’ve seen involving police shootings. It made me wonder if we subconsciously think of those videos like some movie (indeed, one we’ve seen very often). I know it sounds stupid, but if people are used to trivializing the threat of deadly force in movies or t.v. – why should they not do the same when they see a video of police pulling a gun on someone whose vehicle they stop? Does that help us just view them and move on, as though they’re just some live action movie?  

What Free’s comment made me think about is how very different it must feel when you are on the receiving end of having a loaded revolver pointed at you. Surely it wouldn’t seem as meaningless as it so often does in movies. And I don’t think having it happen more than once would make it feel any less threatening.  

I realize so far, I’ve focused on the gun-related aspects of what Free said. His comment about being pulled over many times for no reason is, of course, about systemic racism. We’ve all heard the expression – driving while black, walking while black, and so on. In the past, I’ve tried to wrap my mind around what it’s like to be targeted just because of the colour of my skin, but I’m sure I don’t truly get what that’s like. After all, if I really did understand, I’m sure I’d have thought about what it’s like to have a police office point a gun at my face.  

I know, for many of us, these things are pretty unthinkable. And yet, we should all think about them. If we don’t, we’ll never muster the courage to try to end racism and gun violence.  

P.S. Two Distant Strangers is currently streaming on Netflix. 

© 2021 Ingrid Sapona


On being … just as well

By Ingrid Sapona

MasterClass is a website that’s been around since 2015. I first heard about it a few years ago when a friend mentioned the site. She had just taken a negotiation skills MasterClass taught by some business guru. I made a mental note of the site but didn’t take the plunge into a subscription until I noticed there was a MasterClass given by a very famous pastry chef – Dominique Ansel. So, I subscribed. After watching Ansel’s course, I watched a number of food-theme courses – including a few by chefs I was not sure I’d like. I found all of them fascinating. 

The classes are videoed “lectures” of the instructor (the Master) looking straight at the camera and monologuing about their life, their career, and their profession. The lectures are thoughtfully structured and are divided into bite-size segments so you don’t have to watch it all at once. There’s also downloadable course material that provides additional information and useful references.  

I truly love cooking and I’m always interested in learning about it, so I was especially interested in the food-themed classes. Though the chefs do demonstrate how to make different dishes, they aren’t just cooking shows. The chefs talk about so much more. They talk about what first drew them to the profession and what excites them about it. They also talk about things like the significance of farmers, food security, and cooking as an act of love.  

Because I’ve dabbled in scriptwriting and dreamed about writing a play, I decided to check out a few of the film, television, and theatre MasterClasses. To my surprise, the high-profile writers and directors also talked at length about practical business aspects of their profession. It’s clear that their success isn’t just about their artistic talents – their understanding of how the entertainment industry works is also critical.  

All the instructors are experts in their fields. But what really sets MasterClasses apart is that the instructors have managed to distill from their knowledge and experience information that’s interesting and useful. Put another way, the MasterClass instructors I’ve watched are true teachers.  

As odd as this may sound, the most important thing I took away from watching different MasterClasses was knowledge about myself. I realized I don’t have the intensity, drive, and joy toward cooking or scriptwriting that seems necessary to succeed in those fields. While that realization may sound depressing – it’s not. It’s actually a real gift. When I hear Shonda Rhimes explain the steps involved in developing a script, or talking about writing dialog, or about creating characters, a part of me thinks “I could do that.” But when she describes the collaborative process required to get a script produced, it just sounds horrible to me. So, even if I had Rhimes’ writing talent, given my personality, I don’t think I’d like working in the business.  

Similarly, while I was enthralled listening to chefs describe their creative process and how they develop dishes, I don’t feel creative in that way. As well, though I appreciate artful presentation, chefs clearly feel pride and pleasure I don’t think I’d get from it night after night. It’s not that I think I’d get bored, it’s more that I think doing that would get tedious and if that happens, I think the quality of my work would suffer.  

As I watched different MastersClass instructors, I was struck by the fact that it isn’t just talent that they have in common. They also exhibit a focus and drive to achieve in their chosen fields. And, it seems clear that they couldn’t really imagine themselves doing anything else.   

When I signed up for MasterClass, I thought it was a bit of a splurge. But, I figured taking a few classes might be a fun way to pass time during the pandemic. Well, I’m pleased to say that I got my money’s worth. I definitely learned a few things about cooking and writing. But more importantly, the classes helped me realize it’s just as well I didn’t try to become a chef or a scriptwriter – I don’t think I have the right personality for either of those careers.  

What about you? Any field you’ve felt passionate about but haven’t pursued? Any alternative career paths you wish you’d gone down?  

© 2021 Ingrid Sapona