On being ... listless

By Ingrid Sapona

The end of the year means different things to different people. For many, it’s a time to make resolutions. (I had to laugh when one friend commented that this year she has resolved to not make losing “the same 15 pounds” one of her resolutions.) For others, it’s a time to look back at their year and take stock in what’s transpired.

For newspapers and other media, the year end seems to mean endless lists. Lists of the year’s (or, decade’s) biggest, best, worst, and funniest whatever fill the pages and airwaves. Personally, I find this tradition a waste of newsprint, ink, airtime, and my time. Fortunately, it’s pretty easy to ignore such “news”, so that’s what I do when I’m alone.

But, at Christmas I’m lucky enough to spend time with my family, and my sister loves year end lists. Loves them. And, because one of our quirky family habits is to read news stories to each other over breakfast, she inevitably wants to share her enthusiasm for such lists. Finally, the other day, in a thinly veiled attempt to get her to stop reading me one such story, I asked her why she seems to find those lists so fascinating.

Rather than answer the question, she went off on a tangent about how much she likes making lists because they help her organize and prioritize. When I told her I make lists for the same reason, she seemed surprised. She then admitted that one of the main reasons she makes lists is because she gets a lot of satisfaction from checking things off when she’s completed them. As she said this, she made an invisible check mark in the air with her hand and then said, “I just love looking at my list and seeing all the little check marks for things that I’ve finished.”

Though I get a sense of accomplishment when I complete something on my “to do” list, for me the thrill is short-lived. Her hand gesture drove home a subtle, but important difference in our list keeping method -- and outlook. Instead of putting a check mark next to an item, I cross it off. So, the next time I look at the list, rather than counting check marks and feeling good about all I’ve done, I see all the things I still need to do. It’s kind of a glass half empty/half full thing, I guess. Maybe I should switch to check marks….

Actually, in thinking about it, I realized that her use of check marks is really just a means of giving herself positive reinforcement, which she’s really into. Indeed, just last week I witnessed another very endearing example of her use of positive reinforcement. There was a geography quiz in the paper (a slow news day, I guess) and so we decided to test our knowledge. Before she began reading the questions aloud, she drew columns on a piece of paper, putting one name at the top of each column.

She recorded our answers and when we were done, she scored us. Then, holding up the sheet, she enthused: “look how many stars there are!” I couldn’t help laugh when I looked at the paper and saw little stars next to each correct answer. I, on the other hand, probably would have put a little tick mark next to the ones we got wrong and counted them instead. See what I mean about half empty and half full?

So, after she explained about how much she loves checking off items on lists, I pressed her further regarding what it is about year end lists that she finds so appealing. One of the reasons she enjoys them, she said, is because they’re a quick way of reviewing the year. I’ll grant her that with respect to lists of news events, but I know those aren’t even the types of lists she likes best.

Her favourites are those that rank things (like books that were on the best seller list longest, the year’s top grossing movies, critics’ top picks, etc.). She especially enjoys these lists, she says, because she likes to see whether she agrees with the ranking. I, on the other hand, couldn’t care less how something ranks based on some random measure or some other person (or organization’s) opinion.

Anyway, a day or so ago, when I mentioned it was time for me to be thinking about a topic for On being … , my sister immediately suggested I write about lists. Before I could say anything, she smiled and said, “I know, you hate lists!” I was surprised she realized this because she’s certainly never let on that she knew I didn’t like them, nor has it ever stopped her from enthusiastically discussing them. Then she started laughing and said, “Yeah, you could call it ‘On being … listless’.”

Besides finding her suggestion delightfully funny, I was tremendously moved by it. Her witty, on point title showed me that she truly “gets” that, besides my interest in coming up with a thought-provoking or clever title, my true aim with On being … is to show how even seemingly insignificant things like check marks on a list can impact our outlook.

Happy New Year to you all, and may your 2011 list of hopes, dreams, goals, and achievements be check mark-filled!

© 2010 Ingrid Sapona


On being ... a bargain?

By Ingrid Sapona

It all started innocently enough when a friend and I found ourselves near the store where I bought my couch three years ago. I haven’t been in that neighborhood or store since. We decided to stop in to look at their chairs.

A chair has been on my wish list for a long time. Cost is one reason I haven’t gotten one -- decent chairs run almost as much as my couch. But, the main reason I haven’t even looked for one is that in order for a chair to fit, I’d have to move a bookcase I had custom made years ago, and I don’t know where the bookcase might fit. (It was too expensive to get rid of and besides, it’s full of books.)

To my surprise, the store had a very comfortable, not overly-large, leather recliner -- on sale. It had been made for someone and then they didn’t like it. Knowing it would fit my décor, I took down the dimensions and went home to think about it. Though the chair was a good deal, the big question was whether I could part with something in the office/den so the bookcase could go in there. After much deliberation, I decided that with serious culling I could sacrifice a filing cabinet in the office. A few days later a friend with a hatchback helped me bring the chair home.

At about the same time I was losing my internet connection once or twice a day. It was either my aging computer or aging router. After many calls to tech support, my internet service provider sent me a new router. When that didn’t solve the problem, I realized the time had come for a new computer.

I considered my needs and budget and, after measuring to make sure it would fit into my computer armoire, I bought a 23-inch all-in-one. My friend who configured it noted that because it sits so high in the armoire, it might cause neck strain. Unfortunately, the shelf it was on was not adjustable. I hated the idea of getting rid of the armoire because I’ve had it for as long as I’ve been in business and because it was roomy enough for the printer, as well as books and office supplies. I figured I’d make the best of it.

Soon after I started using the computer, however, I realized the neck strain was a real issue. The computer shelf, which rested on two narrow ledges, was screwed into the sides of the cabinet. Below the ledges were support beams that held up a drawer and keyboard shelf. If I could unscrew the shelf and cut it so it simply rested on the support beams, the height would be fine. It was certainly worth a try.

A friend came over with power tools and we made the alterations. For good measure we also removed the armoire’s legs (saving about two more inches). Voila! The height of the shelf on which the computer sat was now perfect. Problem solved. Or so I thought…

About a week after the alterations I noticed the drawer and sliding keyboard shelf were kind of loose. When I went to adjust them, they came off. No matter what I tried, I couldn’t get them to stay on. That’s when I realized the shelf we had altered was, in fact, a structural element and without it being fixed to the cabinet sides, the frame of the armoire shifted just enough to prevent the drawer slides from staying in the tracks.

With the armoire unworkable, I was left with no choice but to re-outfit the office -- and pronto. Complicating matters was the fact that I had already sacrificed valuable filing space when I moved the bookcase in to make room for the chair, and I couldn’t afford to sacrifice any more. So, my mission was to find a way of fitting the computer, printer, office supplies, books, files, and space to do work, in an organized, aesthetically pleasing way in a room that measures a bit less than 8 feet by 10 feet.

Armed with measurements and sketches of possible layouts, I went in search of office furniture. I looked everywhere -- on-line and in person. Among the places I tried was that well-known Swedish superstore that has all sorts of interesting things, but that never seems to have anything that meets my particular needs. (Mind you, if I liked the white industrial look, maybe I’d be more enamored with their stuff.)

I knew that whatever I’d end up with would be a compromise, but it was still tremendously frustrating and time consuming. I ended up buying a small corner desk and separate bookshelf. Though far from ideal, at least I have a place where I can work without suffering neck pain. And, I think I’ve figured out a way of modifying the desk in a manner that would give me a wee bit more space to work. Of course, to make those changes I’m going to need someone with carpentry skills and tools. In the meanwhile, I’m making do.

The whole chair and computer shopping spree has been a royal headache. In reflecting on it, I realize it proves something I’ve always believed, but clearly forgot: there’s no such thing as a bargain. Though the chair may have been a good deal in itself, the ripple effects from it have been anything but…

© 2010 Ingrid Sapona