On being ... who?

By Ingrid Sapona

Last night a movie I wanted to watch on t.v. was pre-empted by a football game. I was very disappointed because I had finished all my work with the intention of sitting down and enjoying it. Frustrated, I flipped through a few shows, landing on a situation comedy (“Samantha Who?”) that I’d never seen, or even heard of. Here’s the local t.v. guide’s description of the show’s premise: “Sam …awakens from a coma with her memory completely gone. As she assembles the puzzle pieces, she realizes that the Old Sam was not a very nice person. Maybe with her slate literally wiped clean, she can become someone completely different.”

The premise seemed hackneyed and I expected some kind of sit com version of Anastasia. Every episode (they were doing a mini-marathon, showing four back-to-back) featured Sam trying to figure out the answer to questions like, “Have we met?”, “Do I know you?”, and “Do I like this (or that)?” And of course, being a comedy, only a few of the characters know about her memory problem and she tries to fit into her old life by basically playing along and faking it.

So, for example, when invited to a birthday party for her friend Rene at a trendy club, she persuades her boyfriend Todd to go with her because Todd can help her by filling in some details about her life, should she need that. While Todd is parking the car, Sam goes into the club and is immediately pulled into the coat room and is passionately kissed by someone -- you guessed it -- that she doesn’t recognize. Soon she finds out from her girlfriend that the guy from the coat room is Rene, Sam’s married lover. And, following the strict tradition of the bedroom farce, much of the rest of the episode is spent trying to hide Rene from Todd. But the interesting part is that “New Sam” -- the woman who emerged from the coma -- is appalled by the idea that “Old Sam” was the type to cheat on her boyfriend and was the type to do so with a married man.

In another episode, Sam finds out she was invited to be a bridesmaid, but when she shows up at the wedding, she learns she’d been un-invited because the bride was mad at her. Realizing she’s hated, Sam tries hard to win the bride’s friendship back. She does, but in the process she realizes the bride and others in the bridal party are shallow and two-faced, causing her to question the kind of person she was, given that she hung out with such people and that acceptance by them was so important to her.

I ended up quite engrossed by the show because in each episode New Sam ends up in a situation that causes her to reflect on the choices Old Sam made in life -- things like the friends she chose (the two-faced folks in the “in crowd”), the work she did (for an unethical boss intent on making money at the expense of the poor), her relationships with various people (like her parents, whom she hadn’t spoken to in two years), and her excessive spending (she’d run up a $30,000 credit card debt). And, after catching a glimpse of the consequences of some of Old Sam’s choices, New Sam makes different, better choices -- choices that make her more content. In other words, New Sam realizes that who she is is reflected in the choices she’s made.

The show somehow reminded me of a comment someone said to me as I was getting ready to move to Holland for my first job after grad school. I was excited, but nervous about moving to a country where I didn’t speak the language and where I didn’t know a soul. The comment was, “Just think -- you can be anyone you want to be. You can completely re-invent yourself because no one will know anything about you!”

At that age (mid-20s), I was finally feeling mature and comfortable enough with who I was as a person that the thought of re-inventing myself seemed crazy, not to mention scary. I also knew that a good deal of effort would be needed to overcome how much I would miss my friends and family and that whatever energy might be left over would be needed just to make my way in a new place -- never mind trying to re-invent myself.

I didn’t re-invent myself in Holland, and if I were to find myself surrounded by people who didn’t know anything about me today -- or if something happened and I didn’t remember much about my past -- I don’t think I’d end up being that different. To put it another way, I don’t think New Ingrid would be that different from Old Ingrid. That’s not to say, however, that I don’t think there’s room for improvement. But before you can make any changes, you really need a firm grasp of who you are -- and that’s where the idea underlying “Samantha Who?” comes in – the notion that to know who we are we should look at the choices we’ve made.

So, on this eve of a new year -- rather than making resolutions or setting lofty goals, I think I’ll spend some time reflecting on the choices I’ve made (big and small) with a view toward considering whether all the consequences that have flowed from them are what I hoped and intended and whether they truly enrich my life and lead to greater happiness for me and for others in my life. Who knows, maybe 2008 will see a New Ingrid.

Happy New Year!

© 2007 Ingrid Sapona


On being ... challenged

By Ingrid Sapona

Last December I read that 2007 would be the 50th anniversary of the Canada Council for the Arts. To celebrate, the Council challenged Canadians to do 50 arts activities in the year. While the idea had immediate appeal to me, I found the prospect of trying to do so many artsy things in one year a bit daunting.

I go to a lot of cultural things -- theatre, dance performances, opera, book readings, etc. -- but 50 translates to about one per week, which seemed ambitious. At the same time, I thought that taking up the challenge might motivate me to get out more, would be a good thing. So, I decided to go for it.

Because I thought it’d be more fun if others would join me for at least some of the 50, I decided to challenge some friends to join me in the quest. To make it more fun and more real, I came up with some rules -- like the requirement that an activity should be something the Canada Council could, would, or does, support. In other words, a Leafs game wouldn’t count.

I only asked friends who do a lot of cultural things, figuring they’d be more likely to join me. One friend replied within minutes, a few took some cajoling, and a few never responded, including one who was, in part, my inspiration for even taking up the Challenge. I really thought he’d be game because one of his New Years activities is to create a list of things he wants to do in the coming year -- things like try a new restaurant, take in a baseball game, etc. Interestingly, a few months later I ran into him and – unprompted -- he confessed that the idea of doing 50 things was too overwhelming, so he simply never responded.

That got me thinking a bit more about challenges. It’s always seemed to me that challenges fall into one of two categories: the first is those where you compete against others, with the intention of winning or at least seeing how your skills stack up against other contestants. I’ve never been big on contest-type challenges. I can’t ever remember succumbing to a dare, and I can’t think of any skill-based contest I ever intentionally entered. (The junior high science fair doesn’t count, since entering was more-or-less expected.)

The other kind of challenge is where you take on a task (or set a goal) just to try to prove to yourself that you can do something. I’ve taken on more and more of these types of challenges as I’ve gotten older, and I’ve noticed my friends seem to too. To me, the Culture Challenge clearly fell in this category. (Maybe my friends who didn’t respond to my invitation to join the Culture Challenge were turned off because they saw it as more of a contest-type challenge, given that I set some rules.)

I have to say, the Culture Challenge turned out to be fun and fascinating in many ways, not the least of which was observing how my friends have responded. I was also surprised at how motivating it’s been. There were many cold evenings when, though I would have happily stayed home, I dragged myself out mainly to be able to add to my list. Similarly, there were a few events that sounded just so-so but that I went to just because of the Challenge. Every time I did so, I enjoyed myself.

Earlier this month I reached the magic 50 and have since gone past it. Looking back, I’m amazed at the variety of things I went to. There was a terrific exhibit called “Tintin in Peru”. I learned a lot about Peru, but even more about the history of Tintin and about Hergé, our intrepid hero’s creator. Then there was a textile exhibit called “Colour & Light”, which offered a glimpse into life in India and Pakistan through embroidery created over two centuries.

Besides the more-or-less passive events, I also had some fun, hands-on experiences -- things I might never have considered participating in, had I not been looking to add to the list. For example, I attended an animation workshop at the National Film Board and participated (with hundreds of others) in a night-time installation piece called Pulse Front: Relational Architecture 12, which involved gripping a sensor that took your pulse and translated it to a current that was then beamed through the night sky via a search light.

When I set out on the Culture Challenge, my main goal was to get out more. What I didn’t count on was how the different cultural experiences would enrich my life and open me to other ideas. Ultimately, maybe the best thing I discovered is that merely by engaging in a challenge you achieve so much more than you set out to.

So go ahead and pick a challenge for yourself for 2008 -- I dare you!

© 2007 Ingrid Sapona


On being ... discomboxulated

No, it’s not a typo. And yes, discomboxulated is not a word -- but given that I’m surrounded by boxes and everything is discombobulated -- combining the two is really the only way to describe my current state of being.

So, I moved earlier this week. I purposely scheduled the move so that I’d have plenty of time to unpack before it was time to write On being… Well, as they say, the best laid plans. So, here it is 4 p.m. on the 30th and I just finished talking with a friend who asked how On being was going and I confessed that I hadn’t started it and that I had decided to skip this issue because I’m feeling too stressed out. But, after I hung up, I realized that writing On being is probably just what I need to feel a bit more combobulated, if you get what I mean.

I knew moving would be stressful, but I thought the hard part was making the decision to take on the financial responsibility of a mortgage. But, when I decided to go for it, I thought the most stressful part was behind me. I thought the actual physical move was just a function of planning and execution. Little did I know…

My current frustration could easily be attributed to the glitches over which I have no control, like the fact that the new phone line was connected for one day and then disconnected, for no reason that I know. Or the fact that they didn’t come out to set up my wireless network as scheduled yesterday. So, as I write this I’m not even sure how I’ll send it, but I won’t worry about that till I’m done. (You have to love this wonderful digital era. A simple move across town and for three days I’m without phone, without Internet, and with no television. Thank heaven for radio that’s transmitted the old fashioned way!)

I was even prepared for a bit of chaos, which I used to define as pretty much any mess around me, but which I have now expanded to include things like living with cupboards with no doors (because I took them off to adjust the shelves but that I can’t seem to re-hang until I can round up an extra pair of hands to help).

What I was not prepared for were the number of decisions I’d have to make. Everything from paint colours and light fixtures, to what style of cheques to have printed. On top of all those things, given that I wasn’t having the movers pack my stuff, I decided the move was an opportunity to cull through everything with an eye toward “setting things free”, as one of my sisters refers to it. I was proud of all the items I decided to donate (things that are perfectly good but that I don’t use enough to justify keeping) and all the things I tossed (the truly unusable stuff).

Then came decisions about how to pack up all my things. Everything from deciding what size boxes to use for different things, to deciding what to box together -- all with a view toward making the unpacking logical and effortless. And given that I have the “luxury” of two storage spaces with this condo, as I was planning and packing I was silently deciding what would go in which storage locker. (Note the lower case “l” in luxury – buying two storage spaces was a concession the initial owner made, no doubt, because of the cozy (read: small) size of the living space itself).

Thanks to all those pre-moving day decisions, I was confident that unpacking would be a breeze, not to mention decision-free. On moving day I was expecting to be able to blithely instruct the movers about what would go where and that was that. But as they moved all the furniture I realized the rugs (rug remnants, really) were pretty cruddy and so yet another decision: whether to take them or ditch them. I decided to ditch them – after all, now that I own something, I’m trying to move away from the poor student (or, at my age, suffering artist) look.

After the movers left and I started unpacking, I realized that with every item I had to decide where to put it. Some things were straightforward -- files would be put back in the filing cabinets they came out of, but all the linens and dishes and glassware and food and cleaning supplies and, and, and… Where should I put them all?

I know it sounds simple, but part of the problem is that awhile back I realized that my life is very much governed by the law of physics that says that things at rest tend to stay at rest. That’s definitely been the case with most of my stuff over the years. Rarely did I move or change things around. Given this, every decision of where to put things seems all the more burdensome.

On top of all that, I’ve always had this fantasy that when I finally own something it will look clean and clutter-free, like the places in those home and garden magazines. But that’s not easy, given my space limitations. So, as I’ve been unpacking I’m once again been looking at each item and deciding whether to keep it, donate it, or toss it – decisions I thought I made a mere month ago as I was packing. (I must say, my sense of what I need and what I don’t seems much keener here, which is a good thing, I think.)

I know that this feeling of discomboxulation is temporary. At some point all the things will have ended up someplace and all the boxes will be empty or hidden away in storage. And I’ll move on to face other – likely more consequential – decisions. But until then, don’t ask me to decide anything other than whether I’d prefer a glass of something red or something white!

© 2007 Ingrid Sapona