On being ... a differnet coping mechanism

By Ingrid Sapona

I had a busy morning with a few other things that needed my attention before I could get to today’s column, but I wasn’t panicked because I had started one called On being … ignored. I don’t usually write columns in advance, but as I was getting ready to write the last column there were two things weighing equally on my mind: the nature of being fooled and the issue of being ignored.

I ended up using the April Fool idea last time for two reasons -- one that’s obvious, and one that may surprise you. The obvious reason was that it wasn’t too far beyond the first of April, so the title was still “timely”. The other reason was because the whole issue of being ignored had been particularly irritating to me and I was worried I might end up just sounding just whiney, or I might write something I’d later be embarrassed about.

So, I put On being … ignored aside and figured I could always use it for a future column. I knew I had gotten pretty far on it before I shelved it and, knowing how inflamed I was by the topic a couple weeks ago, I thought picking up where I left off would be a cinch. Last night I printed off a copy of it for reading on the subway on my way home from a morning meeting.

My meeting this morning was in a lovely part of town and it was a beautiful spring day. The flowering trees are glorious right now and, as I was walking back to the subway, at one point I was surprised that I noticed the shade offered by a huge maple tree. I don’t remember the last time shade of a tree caught my attention like that in spring. (Shade is the kind of thing I usually only “notice” when I’m looking for it, for example, if it’s really hot and I’m at a street festival and I’m desperate to cool off a bit.)

Anyway, on the subway ride home I turned to On being … ignored. The genesis for the column was a business networking push I’ve been on, in earnest, for the past four weeks or so. Though I have a modest “normal” networking routine that involves keeping in touch with past clients and reaching out to businesses I consider viable potential clients, things are so slow work-wise that I decided I had to get serious about beating the bushes.

Of the 100+ calls and e-mails I sent (all personalized, of course) as part of this push, the response rate has been abysmal. I can count on one hand the number of people who’ve responded to my outreach efforts. (I suppose I should be thankful that I can also count on only one hand the number of snarky responses I’ve received, including one e-mail that read simply: “Do I know you?” and one receptionist who, after I asked to be connected to Ms. X (a past client, in fact), asked me to repeat my name and then said: “I’ve never heard of you and I’ve been here 19 years” and then refused to put me through.)

As you might imagine, the whole process left me feeling rejected (yes, being ignored is tantamount to being rejected), angry, and worried about the economic viability of remaining in business as a consultant. No wonder I felt a need to write a column about it! But, as I was reading On being … ignored this afternoon, I realized that though I’m still very much “at it” (the networking), at least for the time being I’ve moved beyond the turmoil that made me want to write about it.

Indeed, when I sat down today and found I couldn’t finish the column I had started just two weeks ago, I realized that writing about something that’s bothering me isn’t the only -- or even necessarily the best -- way of dealing with life’s ups and downs. Sometimes just letting a bit of time pass and allowing yourself to noticing other things -- like spring blossoms and the shade from by new leaves on a tree -- works just as well. Of course, if I use this technique all the time, what would I write about?

© 2010 Ingrid Sapona


On being ... an April fool

By Ingrid Sapona

I have mixed feelings about April Fool’s Day. On the one hand, I love the whimsy of a clever prank. On the other hand, I always worry about people engaging in malicious mischief under the guise of an April Fool’s Day stunt. As well, April Fool’s makes me wary because I know all too well that innocent capers can easily backfire. (Don’t ask…)

That said, over the years I’ve enjoyed being taken in by harmless, creative hoaxes others have come up with to mark the day. For example, years ago my favourite Toronto newspaper ran a photo of a squirrel doing something particularly odd (even for squirrels). I don’t remember the details, but I distinctly remember seeing the photo, reading the explanation in the caption and, though dumbfounded, believing every word of it. I also remember feeling like a gullible lout the next day when I read that the photo had been an April Fool’s joke.

Since then I’ve had my guard up, viewing every photo and bizarre news story on April 1st as a possible hoax. To the best of my recollection, that doctored squirrel photo was the last April Fool’s the paper ran, until this year when it ran a photo of a church with a sawed off steeple. This year’s photo allegedly showed a lovely old wooden church in Newfoundland whose massive, cone-shaped steeple was lying on the ground alongside it. The caption claimed that vandals had gotten in and sawed the spire off. My immediate reaction was: Yeah, right. Ha, ha -- April Fool’s! (Come on, say it with me: fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.)

The next day I asked a friend whether she had seen the photo. She said (with a remarkably straight face): “No, but I heard about it. I can’t believe someone would do that to a church.” Wanting her to know that I wasn’t going to be taken in by her playing along with the hoax, I said, “Well, they made it look pretty real -- but the paper was clearly trying to have a bit of April Fool’s Day fun.” To which she replied, “It wasn’t a joke -- someone really did that to a church in Newfoundland the other day.”

Yup – the photo was real. On March 31st someone sawed the steeple off a 116-year-old Anglican Church in St. John’s. It seems there’s been an ongoing dispute between the town and the diocese and the vandalism might have been related to that. (The diocese wants to tear down the vacant church to expand the adjoining cemetery but the town wants to keep the historic landmark.)

I had to laugh when I realized my “misreading” of the photo made me the April fool. Not only that – there wasn’t even a jokester setting me up. The culprit was my own mind and the victim was my ego. Ah well, another year until I have to worry about fake news stories or photos, I thought. But the very next week there was another incident that was so nuts I thought it had to be a belated April Fool’s Day fabrication.

The story was about U.S. fighter jets dispatched to escort a United Airlines flight from Washington, D.C. to Denver after a passenger who was caught smoking in a washroom “joked” that he had been trying to light his shoe on fire. Come on, I thought. In this era of airport screening that includes having to take off your shoes before you can even get on a plane, surely no one would be stupid enough to joke about that -- especially not on a flight in the U.S. and especially if you’re a guy from the Middle East.

But, once again, I later learned the story was true. Obviously, given that F-16s really did end up escorting the plane to its destination, I guess the flight crew (not to mention a U.S. Air Marshall that was on board) wasn’t thinking: “April Fool’s”, nor did they see the supposed humour in the Qatari gentleman’s actions or words. (As it happens, the wisecracking passenger had the last laugh: because of diplomatic immunity he got off without being charged with anything. If he had been charged, do you think maybe he’d have claimed that in Qatar they celebrate April Fool’s the whole month?)

You’re probably wondering what these two crazy stories have in common. Well, both drove home for me the role context, expectation, and suspicion play in how we interpret things we see and hear. Given that it was April Fool’s Day, when I saw a photo of something unheard of, I took it to be a fake. On the other hand, when a guy on a plane is caught “lighting up” in the washroom and then makes a wisecrack what would normally pass as ridiculous, those on board are not likely to see the humour.

So, with two weeks yet to go in the month, I say: beware the April fool. You never know who -- or what -- it might be…

© 2010 Ingrid Sapona