On being ... bits and pieces

By Ingrid Sapona
I’ve always been fascinated by mosaics – from stone floor pictures that decorate all sorts of ancient ruins, to ceilings and walls in famous buildings (like the Tiffany mosaic at the Chicago Cultural Center). I even love the metaphor of a mosaic – the idea of different bits and pieces coming together to form a whole. I often wonder whether the expression “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts” was inspired by a mosaic.
Last winter I took a six-week mosaic class. We used small square glass tiles (1 cm x 1 cm) for our project. The tiles, manufactured in Mexico, come in a wide variety of colours and hues – each perfect and beautiful in its own right. The base for the project was a 12" x 12" fibreboard. After browsing some books I chose a scene with rolling hills and a river that was traversed by a lovely stone bridge with a road leading to a rustic-looking house. I chose the picture, in part, because I thought there were enough different shades of tiles to make the hills, the pastures, the water, and even the sky look realistic and natural.
Once the picture was sketched on the board, the instructor brought over some tiles and a pair of tile nippers, which she showed me how to use. After suggesting what area to start with, she handed me the glue and, with no further instruction, I started. At first I had a hard time cutting the tiles into the sizes and shapes I wanted. But eventually I realized that even the broken bits that don’t come out the way I wanted might fit some other place later, so no effort was wasted.
Because you work on it literally one centimetre at a time, it can be very hard to envision how a section will look. I learned that, at times, the best thing to do is stop and literally take a step back to see how it looks from a distance. (And, when you do step back, you get an even better idea of how the colours blend if you kind of squint!)
One of the big surprises was how time consuming it was. It seemed that every time I sat down to do just one little hill, or a section of the river, before I knew it, three hours had passed. (When I signed up for the course I wondered why the classes were so long – I soon understood.) And, I found that if I didn’t complete a section in one sitting, I rarely managed to get the shading quite right when I resumed – so, best to keep at it once you start. Another interesting revelation was the fact that you can use the grout to add depth and texture – it isn’t just functional.
Though I completed my glass mosaic project a while ago, the idea of writing a column about mosaic as metaphor has been on my mind for months and it seemed especially appropriate for today’s column because it’s my 250th On being… (I know, I can’t believe it either!) You see, each column is like a separate mosaic tile: I strive to make each something that can stand on its own, yet it really only represents a fragment of the thoughts and events that happen over the two weeks between columns.
In many respects, writing the column involves my talking about the bits and pieces that make up the mosaic that is my life, in hopes that it inspires you to reflect on bits and pieces of the mosaic that is your life. Though I can’t say that when I started the column I had a vision of the picture I’d be filling in piece-by-piece, the fact is life is a picture we craft by our choices, our action and reactions, and our efforts every day – and I try to make that fact come through in each column.
Sometimes I get discouraged because I don’t think the idea for a particular column is too exciting, or I worry that I’m writing about something no one else will be able to relate to. That frustration is very much like trying to shape an individual tile – sometimes I get just the piece I wanted and sometimes I don’t. But, like all the tile bits that weren’t exactly what I wanted when I cut them, with every column I learn something about myself and I do think no effort goes to waste (though I do hope there aren’t too many columns along the way that waste my readers’ time). And, even the seemingly insignificant things I often write about – the stuff that fills in the time between events that we later look back on as marking a day or a week – is like grout: it adds texture and richness to life.
So, at this point, I’ve filled in 250 tiles in the mosaic. When I step back and squint, I can see the rough outline of the picture I’m crafting. But, like everyone, I have no idea how many tiles I have yet to fill in. I don’t think I’ll be writing On being… for the rest of my life, but I plan to continue sharing the bits of my mosaic as I work on it for at least awhile.
I’m honoured that twice a month for the past 10+ years you’ve taken time out from crafting your own mosaic to see how mine is shaping up. Thank you – and happy crafting to you all…
© 2012 Ingrid Sapona


On being ... older than I feel

By Ingrid Sapona

Like most folks, I look in the bathroom mirror as I’m flossing and brushing, or doing my hair. It’s a funny thing – even though you may look at yourself every day and you know changes are happening – you don’t notice signs of aging as they occur. Instead, they kind of bonk you in the head from time-to-time. One day as you’re putting on your mascara you notice a few gray eyebrow hairs, or you notice that when you smile those crow’s feet around your eyes are becoming pretty pronounced. By-and-large, I’d have to say that so far, the physical changes are no big deal.

The truth is, I feel great. Sure, a few aches and pains, but nothing out of the ordinary and when I look in the mirror I’m ok with what I see. But, despite my relative youthfulness, more-and-more these days I catch myself saying things that sound like something my mother or (late) father would say.

A classic example occurred just this morning when I was reading about Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke’s decision “to spend $40 billion a month to buy mortgage-backed securities.” The quoted text I just typed is exactly how the newspaper put it. But, this is how the voice in my head read it: “Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke’s decision to spend $40 BILLION – that’s with a B – not an M…”

That emphasis on the billion, and the little added comment about it starting with a B, not an M, is something my father used to do all the time. He’d say the amount and then, as if he thought someone would call him out for being mistaken or exaggerating, he’d reconfirm by emphasising “that’s million, with an M!” It was also his indirect way of pointing out how out-of-control prices were getting.

I know it was sometime during Bush 43’s presidency (with two wars going on) that millions became billions without many folks taking note. More alarmingly, it seems that lately, billions (with a B) are all-too-frequently giving way to Trillions (with a T). Maybe that’s why I’ve sort of assumed the mantel of my father – trying (in vain) to draw attention to these astronomical figures. I’m afraid that it’s only a matter of time before I start spouting an updated version of one of dad’s other money bon mots: “that’s when a billion bought something”.

But it’s not just money matters that have me channeling my parents more and more. Recently I was working out in the gym in my condo building when a young man walked in. As is my habit, when the door opened I turned to see who it was and, though I had never seen him before, I politely said “good morning”. To my surprise and irritation he didn’t acknowledge me or the fact that I had spoken to him. Yes – it occurred to me he might not have heard me – but I said it fairly loudly and I before I spoke I looked to see whether he had any ear buds in. He didn’t.

Next thing you know, I stopped what I was doing and walked up to him. I waited until he looked up at me and I sternly repeated, “Good Morning”. Though he was clearly surprised at my persistence, he quietly replied, “good morning” adding (by way of explanation, I guess): “Sorry, I’m a low talker”.

I’m relieved to report that on hearing his explanation, I didn’t blurt out: Low Talker? What the hell is that? – Even though that’s what I was thinking. Instead, I meekly smiled and resumed my workout, hoping my behaviour didn’t seem too much like a grouchy senior who thinks it’s her job to instill manners in folks of a younger generation.

Mind you, I wasn’t so embarrassed by the incident that I kept it to myself. Most who I told the story to (mainly other residents who frequent the gym) got a laugh and said they would have had a hard time not commenting on the “low talker” response. One friend, however, explained that she thought the “low talker” reference was to something in a Seinfeld episode. That news didn’t thrill me either… nothing like realizing you’re out of touch with pop culture references to make you feel even older.

It’s little incidents like these (which seem to be occurring more frequently) that remind me that, no matter how good I feel, I’m definitely getting old. That said, I take some solace in the fact that at least I’m still young enough to notice these quirks!

© 2012 Ingrid Sapona