On being … disconnected

By Ingrid Sapona

I wrote earlier this year that we’re in the process of selling the home I grew up in. As I noted earlier, sorting through over 50 years of family stuff and the accompanying memories was a challenge. As my way of coping with the emotion of it all, we tried to give things to people we thought might use, or enjoy, them.

We also donated lots of things. But, no matter how many trips I made to Goodwill, it barely seemed to make a dent. We ended up having an “estate” sale in hopes of getting rid of the rest.
The estate agent came through the house and assured us we were a good candidate for a sale. He insisted he’d be able to sell nearly everything.

He also discouraged us from being on hand during the sale, which was fine by me. I once put a few things in a garage sale my friend had and I found it awful. I hated it when someone picked up something I had marked $1 and they offered me 25¢ for it. I found it equally uncomfortable to hear people described stuff I once loved as kitschy or odd.

Because the estate agent was so confident that he could get rid of pretty much everything, I stressed to him that we really wanted to get rid of the shelving that was along two walls of the basement. I explained we needed that out because we would be having foundation work done before we sell the house. The estate agent said that if worse came to worse, he’d put a sign up saying the shelving was free for the taking. Great idea, I thought.

After the sale, the agent phoned me to tell me it went very well and that most of the things were gone. As for the rest, he offered the name of a “clean out” guy. Since I hadn’t seen what was left, I said I’d let him know. Before we hung up, he said he thought we could probably handle getting rid of whatever was left ourselves.

When I finally went to the house, I was dismayed by how much was still in the basement. There was a truly odd assortment of things that didn’t sell, as well as ALL the shelving. Though I might have been able to handle getting rid of the miscellaneous stuff, there was no way I could take down the shelves. So, I ended up phoning the clean out guy (I’ll call him John).

John came over to give us a quote to leave the house “broom clean”. He said he’d donate whatever he could and that he’d toss the rest. But, most importantly, his guys could tear down the shelving. He said he could probably cart the wood away with a few trips, though a short-term dumpster rental would be easier. I vetoed the idea of a dumpster. For starters, I didn’t want the world to know we were getting rid of stuff. But the main reason was because I couldn’t stand the thought of our stuff being chucked into a dumpster.

On the appointed day, John and one other fellow (I’ll call him Jim) came to the house. I quickly reminded them of what we needed done, and I left them in the basement. In fairly short order, I could hear hammering-like sounds, and wood falling. About an hour later, John left – apparently to buy garbage bags – but Jim continued. A bit later a small covered pickup backed up to the garage. The driver let himself in the side door and went directly to the basement – I figured he was part of the crew.

Next thing I know, he was filling the truck with stuff that didn’t sell at the estate sale. The truck quickly became full, or so I thought. But, he made at least a dozen more trips. It seemed as though the flat bed was a cover for a bottomless pit. Eventually he closed the back and drove away. Meanwhile, I could hear more lumber crashing to the floor.

Shortly after that, John returned for Jim. They were done for the day and the basement looked as though a tornado had come through. Watching the odd comings and goings of John and his crew, and hearing the thumps and thuds and then seeing the mess was like watching sausage being made. Very disquieting…

On day two, Jim and two others arrived with the kind of trailer lawn guys use for their riding mowers. They backed it up to the garage and Jim went back to work. I heard them talking and they estimated there was about 1000 lbs. of wood. With every plank they brought up, I couldn’t help wonder how – or when – Dad brought it all down there. I know it was over the course of years, but it was an amazing amount.

At one point Jim said that he was almost done, but he wouldn’t be able to finish until the next day because he needed a crowbar to get the rest. Given how much he had already brought out, I was surprised there was anything left. He said the rest was very sturdily attached to the rafters, so a hammer wasn’t enough. You know, I was kind of proud to hear that. I couldn’t help but think of all the hard work – and care – Dad took to build those shelves. He had clearly meant for them to stay put and I was glad it was at least a bit of a struggle to take them down.

I know that for John and Jim the “clean out” was just a job. But for us, their last bit of work was about more than just disconnecting the shelving from the rafters, it was about disconnecting our family from that house.

© 2017 Ingrid Sapona


On being … underlying assumptions

By Ingrid Sapona

I’m sure you’re familiar with the saying “a picture is worth a 1,000 words”. It’s a catchy adage that many embrace. I imagine there are a number of reasons it’s so popular. First off, the saying kind of paints a picture itself, albeit with words!

I also think it resonates with folks because most people probably have a catalogue of images they can bring into their mind’s eye quite quickly. Images of beloved persons, memorable events and sometimes even horrible incidents (think of the collapsing World Trade Center towers). Many memories are easier to conjure an image of than to describe.

Anyway, the idea of using pictures to explain things comes up a lot in business communications – my line of work. I’m all for using graphs, diagrams, and art work to help express ideas in a document because many folks are visual learners. I urge people to use both pictures and words in their business communications – that way you’ve covered most people you may be trying to reach.

Mind you, I’d never recommend just a diagram without a written explanation. Why? Because some people aren’t visual learners. I know because I’m in that category. I get so little out of most diagrams, I usually just skip them. I’ve taught lots of business writing classes and when I say that, there’s almost always an audible gasp from somewhere in the room. But it’s true – and I’m sure I’m not the only one who ignores them.

I had an interesting exchange with a work colleague this week. We were discussing how a process worked. Neither of us were experts in it, but we both had some experience with it. I started to explain my understanding. Mid-explanation he interrupted me. He reached for a piece of paper and with a bit of a patronizing tone said, “You’ve heard the saying 'A picture’s worth a 1000 words'?” I nodded. “Here, so let me show you”, he then said. He proceeded to make a diagram explaining the process to me – or at least his understanding of it.

I watched him as he made his sketch. I understood what he was getting at – not because the diagram made great sense to me – but because I followed what he was saying. I disagreed with his interpretation, but I waited till he was done. I then explained I thought his underlying assumption wasn’t necessarily valid and I pointed to the general area in the diagram that was based on the faulty assumption.

He sat and thought about it a moment and said, “Oh, I see…I see…” (Clearly a visual learner – even his word choice related to the visual.) A couple seconds later he somewhat grudgingly added, “Actually, you’re right!” Actually? I decried. Gosh, glad I could persuade you … now, can you seem a little less surprised that I understand the process? I didn’t say that last part, but I wanted to because he was clearly taken aback by my calling him out on his seeming surprise that my analysis could be correct.

The look on his face said he got that I didn’t appreciate the “actually” part. To his credit, he hesitatingly said, “Sorry, I didn’t mean it that way”. I accepted his apology, but before we parted company, I pointed to the diagram. I told him that, despite the old adage, for some of us a picture isn’t worth a thousand words – it’s just a picture. So, I suggested that next time he decides to “show” someone what he means using a diagram, he shouldn’t assume they’ll get it by seeing it.

© 2017 Ingrid Sapona