On being ... a taste of my own medicine

By Ingrid Sapona

The new year is traditionally a time for resolution making. While I’m all for taking inventory of your behaviour with a view toward making changes, given that I’m pretty constantly examining my own quirks and habits (and writing about them), I don’t tend to try to make resolutions to change just because the calendar year is ending.

The past few years, however, I have set goals specifically for the New Year. (Resolutions are quite different. To me, goals are objectively measurable or quantifiable, while resolutions typically aren’t because they involve modification of some behaviour or way of being.) For example, my goals last year related to the number of classes I’d take at the gym, the things I’d change or replace on the boat, and the number of club cruises I’d participate in. (For those keeping track, I fell short on one of these goals, I surpassed one, and I met the other -- sort of. I won’t bore you with the details of which was which.)

As you can see, my New Year’s goals tend to be modest. And why not? My theory is the goals should be a bit of a stretch, but basically achievable. That way, at the end of the year you have a sense of accomplishment and you can set the bar higher the following year.

This year though, I’ve decided to break with my personal tradition and so, in addition to extending my goals about the gym, the boat, and the like, I’m making a resolution as well. Though this may not sound particularly noteworthy, given how many times I’ve gone back and forth about it over the past few weeks, it certainly seems column-worthy to me.

There are many reasons for my hesitation, not the least of which is because the idea of making this resolution came up in a kind of round-about way. You see, most people make New Year’s resolutions to change behaviours that (to paraphrase Dr. Phil) aren’t working for them. In this case, however, I can’t really say the behaviour I’m resolving to change hasn’t worked for me. In fact, part of me thinks the behaviour at the heart of my resolution might just be one of the proverbial “secrets to my success” (to the extent I dare consider myself successful). So, resolving to change it is a tad unnerving.

But anyway, here it is: I resolve to be less practical in 2007. Given that most people consider practicality a virtue, I realize this resolution might sound ridiculous. Does this mean I’m resolving to be less virtuous? I suppose, but let me explain.

The idea that being practical can go from being a virtue -- and therefore something good -- to being a negative (if not quite a vice) didn’t come to me as a result of any detrimental consequences I suffered as a result of a particular practical act or action I took. Instead, the belief that there might be a down-side to being practical came to me a couple weeks ago when I noticed how many times I found myself saying to friends, “sometimes you just have to let yourself be impractical”. Honestly -- for some reason, that saying almost became my mantra in December. (No, I didn’t just invoke it as a one-size-fits-all response -- I’m more creative than that and, I hope, more compassionate.)

The more I found myself saying it, however, the more I started thinking about whether I really believed that whomever I was saying it to would actually benefit by being less practical. In each instance I came to the inescapable conclusion that if they’d only let themselves be a little less practical, they might just open the door to more friendship, companionship, and happiness.

For example, a friend was bemoaning the fact that she doesn’t know how to let someone know she’s interested. In that case, my advice about being less practical basically amounted to urging her to let him do little things for her, even though she can do them herself. As I explained to her, letting his generosity and helpfulness trump her natural practicality might allow feelings of need and want to blossom, which might be the first step toward letting their relationship evolve from the purely platonic. Though this might seem like a trivial example, it’s typical of the types of situations where being practical can be a roadblock to letting others in.

Given that I’ve been known to take some pride in my own practicality, the more I found myself admonishing others to be less practical, the more I started wondering whether there’ve been times or situations when being less practical might have served me. Though it’s impossible to know, odds are there have been.

So, I’ve decided to take a dose of my own medicine and I vow that starting January 1, 2007 I’ll be less practical. After all, heeding my own advice seems, well (I can still stay this since still 2006) the practical thing to do! Heaven knows what possibilities are in store for me as a result of this resolution. Of course, if anything interesting comes of it, you’ll probably read about it in an On being…

© 2006 Ingrid Sapona


On being ... all good

By Ingrid Sapona

As a writer, I’ve always been fascinated by words and expressions that come into vogue. Some of them become popular among a particular generation. For example, expressions like groovy and “far out”. If someone uses those words in a sentence other than to describe something with ridges, or a place that’s somewhere quite a ways away, you can pretty quickly guess their vintage.

What I’ve never really understood is why one generation feels the need to use different words than a previous generation used to describe something. It’s one thing when new words or expressions are coined to refer to something that didn’t exist before -- like the Internet or Google -- but do we really need another synonym for “good”, or “well thought of” or “highly regarded”? And yet, to describe those qualities in someone in the 40s you might have used “hip”, in the 70s you might have used “cool”, and in the (ever-so-confusing) 90s the synonym du jour might have been “bad”.

Then there’s a whole other set of expressions I suspect have their origins in a particular field of industry or science but that somehow become mainstream. I’m not talking about clever marketing catch-phrases that seem to take on a life of their own, like “where’s the beef?” Since the goal of advertising is to be memorable, those types of slogans don’t really count. I mean expressions like: “out of the box”, “window of opportunity”, and “pushing the envelope”.

There are two things about these kinds of expressions that amaze me: how widely they catch on, and how, when they do, they rarely even get paraphrased. For example, you don’t hear people say, “I like that idea, it’s really expanding the envelope” or “I’m looking for an idea that’s outside the circle”. One of the stranger things about such expressions is that they don’t even necessarily seem pithy to me. If anything, on their own, they’re kind of odd or confusing. And yet, they catch on like wildfire, despite their obliqueness.

And then there are phrases that become so popular that their use doesn’t seem restricted by age or context. Two expressions in this category from the last 90s that come to mind are: “Been there, done that”, and “I don’t think so”. (If the latter expression doesn’t seem familiar it’s because it was as much about the intonation as the words, with the “I”, “don’t” and “so” always said in a very monotone and the word “think” always strongly emphasized.)

Those expressions I always found troubling because, though on the surface they might not seem it, they are incredibly sarcastic. As a writer I take words more seriously than some and I couldn’t help think that the widespread use of those expressions was a sign of a pretty serious shift in the general public’s outlook and demeanor. Indeed, a shift that didn’t seem too positive. This conclusion seemed inescapable to me when a prominent politician here boldly exclaimed, “I don’t think so!” after being asked whether his government would talk with a teachers union that was about to strike. To me that response was the verbal equivalent of giving the union the finger.

But I’m pleased to report that in the early years of this millennium, there’s evidence of the verbal pendulum swinging, and I couldn’t be happier about it. It all started a few years ago when I noticed teens (girls and boys) saying “Sweet!” a lot. (And, just like tone was everything with: “I don’t think so”, every use of “Sweet!” definitely came with an exclamation mark.) Now, that one word alone -- and the fact that it stayed mainly a teen phenomenon -- wouldn’t be particularly noteworthy. But, if you couple that with the growing use of the expression: “it’s all good” -- I think society may be on to something.

The first person I heard say “it’s all good” was a teenager, the daughter of a close friend. From the context it was clear it was her short-hand way of saying that she and her friends were responsible and that he shouldn’t worry if they go out. As soon as she said it her father stopped, took note of its meaning, thought about it, and then agreed he trusted her. (After she left I asked him about the awkwardness of the expression and he explained it’s not bad grammar on his daughter’s part -- it’s just the way the expression is.)

Since then I’ve started noticing it being used in commercials, in conversations on the subway, in restaurants, etc. And, without fail, when it’s said, I’ve noticed it seems to give people pause, literally. Sometimes there’s a pause and a chuckle and sometimes it’s a pause followed by a brief look of reflection and a nodding acceptance that, in fact, things aren’t as bad as they seem. But the really neat thing is that afterward, the conversation always seems to soften a bit. It’s quite amazing…

As you can imagine, for someone like me who believes in the power of words and who thinks that they can have a profound effect -- the thought of having more people walking around saying “it’s all good” is very promising. So, with that thought, my wish for all of you is that this expression comes to represent your holidays and that you find the New Year “is all good”.

© 2006 Ingrid Sapona


On being ... lost?

By Ingrid Sapona

OnStar operator?

I think I’m lost.

Yes, the GPS seems to be working.

Blond. What difference does that make?

What was that?

What am I looking for?

Oh, I’m looking for The Point of No Return. You see, I thought I’d see it.

Yes -- I thought there’d be a sign or something, but I keep missing it…

Well, you see, I hurt my leg the other day.

No, not in the car. I was running late and a streetcar was coming so I decided to make a dash for it.

I know, I should have given myself more time...

No, I didn’t fall or twist my ankle … but I did think I tore something …

Luckily, the streetcar operator waited for me as I hobbled on.

Yes, it is unusual. Anyway, when my stop came, I very slowly got off but it hurt to put weight on it.

Well, I had no choice -- I had to get off. So then I slowly hobbled into the theatre, which was where I was going. As soon as I got in I asked the usher if he could get me an ice pack. He said he would, but just before the curtain went up he came back to me and said I’d have to wait till intermission and fill out an incident report.

What could I do? I sat through the first act thinking about what to do and whether it was bad enough to go to the hospital.

No, I’m not looking for a hospital now -- I went that night.

I left during intermission.

What difference does it make? I took a cab.

Anyway. I know you always have to wait at emerg.

Emerg? That’s how we refer to the Emergency Room up here. So anyway, I was prepared for a wait. And I know I wasn’t exactly an emergency, emergency but I did want to make sure nothing was torn.

I got there at about 9:45 p.m. and the place was practically empty. I thought that was a pretty good sign and I ended up seeing the triage nurse within about 15 minutes.

After I told her what I’d done she told me to go back out and wait till someone called me. Then, about 15 minutes later someone directed me to another room. The sign on that door said “Emergency Streamline” or something, which I thought was another good sign. There were three other people in there so I took a seat and waited. Slowly but surely, the others were taken. The last guy before me was called around 12:15 a.m., so I figured they’d call me soon after that.

No, I hadn’t brought a book -- I wasn’t expecting to go to Emerg when I left the house that night -- I was going to the theatre, remember?

Six hours! That’s the point…

No. If I’d known I wouldn’t get home till after 4 a.m. I probably just would have waited to call my doctor in the morning.

I agree, in retrospect it probably was a bad decision. So that’s why I need to know: how do you know if you’re at The Point of No Return? That night I thought The Point of No Return was probably about midnight -- but it turns out midnight wasn’t even the halfway point!
What’s that? You can’t tell me where The Point of No Return is?

That’s it. You’re sorry? Isn’t there someone else there who you could ask? Or can’t you look it up in some reference guide you must have?

Sure, I’ll wait -- yeah, you can put me on hold.

Yes, I’m still here operator.

What’s that? The Point of No Return is right after Throwing Good Money After Bad? That’s no help! I don’t know where that is either… Why just the other day I saw a picture in a cookbook for this Italian breakfast bread with pine nuts and grapes that looked so good, I just had to make it.

Yes, pine nuts are darned expensive, but it sounded really good. So I splurged. Actually, the pine nuts were one thing -- it also called for this special sugar that I had to go to a natural food store to find. The sugar alone set me back almost five bucks. Then there were the grapes… Oh, and I forgot the yeast.

No, yeast’s not that expensive, but I forgot to get it so I ended up buying it at a nearby gourmet store and I paid an arm and a leg for it. Then I ended up throwing out the first batch of dough anyway.

Well, I followed the directions but half the yeast/water mixture ended up on the counter. I tried to scrape it up, but it was futile. So I ended up starting over. After all, the dough was only flour, yeast and an egg. But then I realized I had used two of the three packets of yeasts, so I had to go get more! Anyway, I started again. But the second dough didn’t rise.

What could I do?

Yes, I started again.

No, I didn’t think “the third time’s the charm” or something…

Of course it occurred to me maybe I was Throwing Good Money After Bad. But how do you know? That’s what I’m asking…

The problem with The Point of No Return and Throwing Good Money After Bad is you only ever know you’ve gone beyond them after the fact …

I understand, operator.

Thank you for your help. But would you do me a favour?

If you ever figure out how to spot The Point of No Return -- you know, if you find a sign I should be watching for -- would you let me know?

© 2006 Ingrid Sapona