On being ... a fossil collector

On being … a fossil collector

By Ingrid Sapona

My 25th college reunion was a couple weeks ago. I didn’t go. I’m not one of those who refuse to go to reunions -- I’ve been to previous ones from high school, undergrad, and law school. When the “save the date” announcement came out over the summer, I contacted a few friends to see whether they were going, but it seemed that most weren’t. Given this, and feeling too cheap to spring for airfare, a hotel, and a rental car, I pretty much decided not to go.

Then, when the actual invitation with the schedule for the weekend came out in September, I phoned the last friends (a husband and wife) that I hadn’t contacted earlier to see if they’d be going. They live about a half-day’s drive from the college, but they return there quite often because they have relatives nearby. My friend said they probably weren’t going to the reunion because they’d recently been at our alma mater for another event and they’d be there later in September to drop their daughter off for her freshman year.

I knew that my friends’ daughter had applied and been admitted, but I wasn’t thinking about the fact that the academic year was about to start. Anyway, the conversation then segued to what dorm she’d be living in. As soon as he said the name I mentally skimmed a map of the campus to find that dorm. When I pictured which one it was, I thought to myself: “Oh, the new dorm”.

Then my friend went on, “You know, it was the funniest thing. When she told me what dorm she’d been assigned, I said to her, ‘Oh, you’ll be in the new dorm’.” I immediately confessed to my friend that I had had the same thought! Then he told me that when his daughter heard this, she gave him a quizzical look and it took him a minute or so to realize that what he (and I) fondly thought of as the “new dorm” was now over 25 years old! We both had to laugh…

After that, I didn’t think any more about the reunion until I got an e-mail from the alumni association with photos from the event. Naturally, I was interested in looking at them. As I clicked on the link for the photos, my mind nostalgically went back to college days and college parties. Then, the funniest thing happened when the photos came up. Instead of a bunch of college co-eds partying, I saw a bunch of middle-age mom and dad-types -- definitely not the image of a college get-together that I had been anticipating moments before.

My surprise at the reunion photos reminded me of the “new dorm” conversation I had with my friend and got me thinking about how some images and recollections are cast in our minds, much like a fern imprint that’s fossilized. Now, don’t misunderstand. I’m not implying anything derogatory about people my age being somehow frozen in time -- just some of our memories. Besides, I rather like the imagery of thinking of memories as fossils. After all, I was always quite enthralled when I came across a fossil and thought about how the object that made the fossil is gone, but its imprint is still tangible.

Memories are like that, I think. They’re imprints in our minds and senses and when you come across them you can take pleasure in them once again. But more importantly, memories share other characteristics with fossils: they’re a link to the past but they only represent a fragment of it. Also, they take time to create. Furthermore, they’re evidence of a world that’s still evolving.

So, looking at it that way, it’s easy to accept the fact that though our memories might be frozen in time, our lives aren’t. After all, if you look at yourself in the mirror every day -- or see college friends quite regularly -- you certainly know that the college co-ed that once existed doesn’t any longer. (Thankfully, physical changes seem to blur when viewed from a nearby vantage, so often we hardly even notice them!)

I feel very fortunate that over the years I’ve collected many memories. And, I’m looking forward to collecting many more fossils in the years to come because I intend to fully enjoy the time and effort that goes into making them.

© 2007 Ingrid Sapona


On being ... pathetic

By Ingrid Sapona

Maybe it’s just me -- but sometimes I can’t help but think life is just a game of connect the dots. I often hear or read something that seems quite random and odd and then a day or so later I hear something else that seems random and odd and all of a sudden my mind sees a connection between the two.

Here’s an example. One of the local newspapers runs a column on Sundays titled: 10 things we learned this week. The column always highlights random facts, statistics, and tidbits that don’t make the mainstream news. This week’s column, for example, informed me that today is National Boss’s Day. Though that fact itself wasn’t meant to be one of the 10 things, true to the column’s title, that certainly was something I can say I learned by reading it.

Anyway, Boss’s Day was mentioned as a way of introducing other work-related tidbits, including the fact that a recent Florida State University study revealed that 30 percent of employees who consider their bosses “abusive” confess to having “slowed down or purposely made errors” on the job. I found that statistic surprising and somewhat unsettling. (But maybe it’s not that odd, given that the story also noted that apparently six percent of those who didn’t have abusive bosses also confessed to purposely slowing down or making errors.)

Then, one of the papers this morning ran a Vancouver reader’s essay titled, “A contrarian’s rules for living”. In this essay a gentleman elaborated on various ways he copes with 21st century phenomenon that he finds annoying -- things that I venture to say annoy many of us. Some of the ideas he mentioned are things we’ve all either heard others say they do, or have done ourselves. Things like trying to circumvent automated phone systems by either immediately dialing zero or by pretending you have a rotary phone and “remaining on the line” in hopes of speaking with a real person.

Not surprisingly, another phenomenon he rails against is telemarketers. Most people I know have their own way of dealing with telemarketers. Some screen their calls using call display or voice mail. Others do as I do, which is to basically not give them the time of day. I usually listen to their first sentence and then -- as politely as I can -- I simply say, “Thanks, I’m not interested” and I try to I hang up quickly -- before they have time for a rejoinder.

Our Vancouver writer’s approach is very different: he tries to waste the telemarketer’s time. Sometimes he asks them to call back at a time he knows no one will be home, other times he asks them to hold on for a second and he puts down the phone and walks away to do other things. I must say, these are techniques I’ve never heard, or thought, of -- probably because they seem a tad nasty and beyond what seems called for to deal with telemarketers.

When I first read the statistic about the behaviour of some workers who have abusive bosses, my initial reaction was to feel sorry for them. In trying to understand their behaviour, I couldn’t help but think that they must be pretty down and out. I guess they see themselves as powerless to change their boss or their work situation, so they resort to doing something they think will give them a feeling that they’re somehow getting back at “the system”. Similarly, I think our Vancouver essayist would argue that his rude behaviour toward those making telemarketing calls is just his way of getting even with businesses that resort to telemarketing.

Though I couldn’t put my finger on it right away, I couldn’t help think that there was something to these stories that made them seem connected. Clearly, in both situations someone feels taken advantage of and they probably see their action as a way of exerting control or asserting themselves. But in both cases their actions are misguided because it won’t help them achieve the desired result, be it an improved work situation or relief from telemarketing calls. Indeed, if anything, I’d say that in both situations their actions are more likely to fuel the abuse or mistreatment they see themselves as being on the receiving end of. Rather sad, I’d say … and a bit pathetic too.

© 2007 Ingrid Sapona


On being ... a cheerleader

By Ingrid Sapona

I like metaphors. I often find them helpful when I’m trying to make sense of things. An old chestnut that I’ve always liked is: life is a marathon, not a sprint. I try to remind myself of that as I rush around trying to get things done. Or, better yet, when I’m impatient for things to happen, like when I’m waiting for clients to decide on whether to go ahead on a project.

Other than thinking about them in terms of a metaphor for life, I never really thought much about marathons until two years ago. No, I’ve not taken up running. (Never have liked running and can’t imagine that I ever will.) My involvement came about when the food bank that I’m on the board of decided to use the Toronto Waterfront Marathon as a fundraising event.

Unlike traditional charity runs that usually support just one cause (like the Run for the Cure, which raises money for breast cancer research and awareness), the Toronto Waterfront Marathon is open to any charity that wants to field a team to raise pledges for the charity. To further sweeten the deal, the marathon organizers offer $5,000 to the charity that raises the most, to the charity that has the biggest team, and to the charity that raises most per team member.

I thought this was a great opportunity for the food bank, so last year I agreed to put together a team and make the marathon one of our fundraising events. Then, when the marathon organizers asked City Council for suggestions of groups that might participate in a “cheering section challenge”, which carries another $5,000 prize, the food bank was nominated.

I don’t mind admitting I felt a bit put out by the whole cheering section thing. I didn’t really buy the event organizers’ argument that the runners need to be cheered on. And, if having bands and crowds along the route did make the event more appealing for runners, it seemed rather cheeky to get charities and community groups to do the work of organizing them. But, given the money at stake, we agreed to do it.

So, with a lot of help from the marathon organizers (they found a band for our section and, as they did with all the cheering sections, they provided the audio equipment and cheering kits), we managed to put one together. We didn’t win the prize, but it was such a positive experience that I agreed to organize the food bank’s cheering section again this year.

So, the 2007 marathon was this morning. Though we didn’t win the cheering section prize this year either, I’m quite sure that all of us out there cheering this morning left feeling energized and somehow enriched, despite the scratchy throats and tired feet.

Because of the location of our cheering station, when the runners pass us on their way out it’s early in the race and everyone’s pumped. They’re running in packs -- sometimes talking amongst themselves -- and many acknowledge the band by pumping their arms in the air to the beat. They kind of breeze past, concentrating on their pace and stride. Some acknowledge us with a nod, but not many make eye contact. A few look rather amazed, however, that strangers would get up so early and make their way down to the lakeshore and stand there waving, cheering, and ringing cow bells.

I’ll admit that early in the race I feel a bit self conscious standing there cheering on total strangers. Every now and then I wonder whether I’ve gotten a look that said, “Who are you? What are you doing here?” When that happens I remind myself that I’m there trying to win that prize for the food bank.

When the runners come past us the second time, however, the feel is very different. Those doing the full marathon are about one third of the way into the race and most are still smiling, though for some, the smiles have given way to a look of weariness, if not pain. And, because the pace has slowed a bit, there’s lots more eye contact. Whenever I make eye contact with someone I offer a bigger smile and a louder cheer. The look on their face makes it clear they know that I appreciate their achievement and that seems to fuel them.

When the half-marathoners come back past us the vibe is different again. They’re well past the half-way mark of their race and most look tired. Some are mixing walking with their running. When I see this, instead of just giving them a whoop, I yell out, “Good job, keep going”. This direct encouragement almost always results in a smile and silent “thank you” mouthed, with many quickening their pace to a jog. In those moments the energy exchange between the runner and me, the cheerer, is palpable.

As the morning continues and the gaps between runners grow, I have more time to think about marathons in the abstract, and that’s when the old chestnut about life being a marathon comes to mind. But this time, instead of just thinking about being a runner in my own marathon called life, I think about the role of the cheerleader. I think about those who come in contact with our lives intentionally or accidentally but who manage to help us along when we’re weary -- sometimes just by acknowledging a challenge we’re facing.

Unfortunately, in real life cheering sections aren’t strategically stationed like they are on the marathon route -- but that doesn’t mean that we don’t come across cheerleaders or that we can’t cheer others on. From now on I’m going to try to pay attention to the little things others say and do that encourage me and when I’m around someone who’s looking weary or tired I’m going to try to remember to take on the roll of the cheerleader. After all, even though we all must run our own race, we’re not alone on the marathon route.

© 2007 Ingrid Sapona