Tag Archives: interaction

Yep, It’s Cold Outside

As a shallow person you might imagine that I have mastered the art of small talk. And you would be right. To some extent at least. Honestly,  there are many times when I really don’t want to talk to anyone about anything. But when I do I can usually figure out something small to talk about. Especially these days with “45” and all of his hijinx. Can’t get much smaller than that. But there are better things to talk about. Like pets. It’s pretty easy to make small talk about a pet, particularly when you happen to have one that’s 19 years old. There’s a lot to be said about growing old no matter who/what you are. Just ask my 103 year old Mother. She’ll tell you a thing or two about it. And not that I would ever try to equate the two, but both make pretty decent conversation starters. If, of course, it’s a  conversation you actually want to start. However if, unlike me, you don’t have longevity to fall back on, evidently you can always talk about the weather. Because, it seems, that’s what Canadians (and I’m guessing) Americans do. Although, I must admit, I have never really seen the point.

It’s not that I don’t care about the weather. Anyone who knows me well knows that this sleek “do” of mine requires a fair bit of tampering and has a significant dependence on blue skies and very low humidity. Even the slightest of mists will cause these strands to go awry and there’s nothing worse (to me at least) than making my way to some fancy, shmancy party only to discover that my carefully coiffed hair has transformed into something that I’m quite sure would have made a rather comfortable home for Joey, my dearly beloved but very long ago gone, pet budgie (may he rest in peace). Suffice to say, it is very unlikely you will find me out frolicking in the rain. But other than my hairstylist, who really cares about my first world weather problems? It just seems to me that, whether we like it or not, weather simply does not make for great conversation. As a matter of fact, I find the whole notion of our collective obsession with weather rather disconcerting. For a couple of, perhaps, unrelated reasons. Let me explain.

Who doesn’t spend oodles of time watching, listening and googling weather reports?. As a regular TV news fan I see people who have selflessly dedicated their lives to showing us all manner of weather patterns each and every night. There’s maps covered in solid, dotted and dashed lines, some curving, some straight, some just going around in what appear to be endless circles. And to what end? Why on earth do I want to know that it’s sunny and 80 degrees in Florida when I am sitting on my couch, shivering under my blankets? And, as much as I hate to cast a dark cloud on their predictions, we all know that many a time the weatherperson is simply wrong. I mean who hasn’t woken up to what was supposed to be a bright and sunny day only to find the rain pouring down and, as a result, no chance you’re gonna fulfill your promise to take your ten year old nephew to the go-kart track? Somehow the prospect of seeing “The Return of Mary Poppins” just doesn’t cut it with him. Although if I must say, it is a very delightful movie and something every parent should keep in their back pocket for a rainy day. But I digress. The thing is, how helpful is it to know what the weather will be tomorrow or seven days down the road anyway? I mean in most cases, who can change their plans? It’s not like I could say, “Oh darn! Wednesday’s going to be rainy. Guess I’ll just have to stay home from work so my hair won’t get frizzy.” Besides, in this part of the world we all know you can wait 15 minutes and the weather will change. Seems to me if you really want to know what the weather’s like it’s best just to open your door and step outside. Guaranteed you’ll be 100% accurate, for that moment at least. So why, may I ask, would anyone want to talk about something as unpredictable as weather?

Not only that but, in case you missed it (icymi) people seem to treat weather as a blood sport. And I can say that having recently spent 38 years in one of the northernmost cities in this country of ours. Just try talking to me or one of my compatriots about the weather. Because, when we say “yep, it’s cold outside”, believe me, we know from where we speak. Have you ever spent an entire month getting to and from work, school, grocery shopping, and just about everywhere else knee deep in snow with temps hovering around the -40c mark? Without factoring in the wind chill? Do you know what happens to your skin, nose, ears and just about every other part of your body in that kind of cold? Have you ever looked outside your window and thought that someone had forgotten to mention you had landed on the moon? You get the drift. When someone from this little Island of mine complains about a chill in the air ‘cause the temps have uncharacteristically fallen slightly below the freezing point you can bet your bottom dollar I’ll call, raise them 50 bucks and take the pot on this hand.  Seems to me there’s a lot of one-upmanship going on when it comes to weather and who knows what kind of trouble that can lead to? There’s a pretty good chance that amidst all of your chin wagging about the cold you’re going to run into a climate change denier and I, for one, don’t want to be around when the resulting mayhem ensues. Which is why it seems to me that it’s best to avoid the weather topic altogether.

So for this season of light, joy and happiness take my advice and do your best to talk about anything but the weather. If you’re at your wit’s end about what to say you can always revisit my blog. With a few notable exceptions I’ve pretty much provided you with 5 good years worth of topics. Think of it as my little holiday gift to you. You’re welcome.

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There’s no such thing…

ghostYou’ve heard it before. You’re sitting around, chit chatting with a bunch of friends and before you know it the conversation turns to ghosts. Someone in the group has a story to tell about how their front door mysteriously opens and closes, once a year, at the exact same time as, coincidently, the previous owner “bit the dust”, as people are wont to  say. Then there’s the guy who swears up and down that every morning when he comes down for breakfast he discovers that the front burner on the stove is on and there’s a faint smell of burnt toast lingering in the air, and he never eats toast so there has to be ghost in the house. And a hungry one, at that. This conversation continues on for some time, because who doesn’t have a story to tell about a ghost?  But sure as the sun rises every morning, you know there’s gonna be one voice in the crowd, one Doubting Thomas who, before too long will emphatically declare “there’s no such thing as ghosts”. And while, in this particular case it’s entirely possible that the validity of this statement is open to debate, especially given all of the evidence you’ve just been privy to, I do believe there are circumstances when those who are so bold as to proclaim “there’s no such thing as” (and you can fill in the blank here) are, and I say this with the utmost respect, entirely wrong.  Let me give you an example.

In my line of work people ask a lot of questions. It’s only natural. Some people teach, others learn and on both sides of this equation there are lots of questions asked and answered. Most often, a great deal of thought and consideration is afforded these questions. Teachers, as an example can spend days formulating the kinds of questions that will compel their students to think carefully and deeply about the subject matter. Students, on the other hand, know that the right question can send their teacher off on a tangent that, with any luck, will take a huge bite out of class time thereby preventing any further questions being asked of them. In either case, these are usually what one would call “good” questions. But every once in a while, and this is not unique to the classroom, someone, and you may well have done this yourself, will preface a question they are just about to ask with the rather self-deprecating proclamation “this may be a stupid/silly question but” primarily, it seems to me, to pre-empt the possibility that someone else may be thinking the very same thing. The polite response to this admonition is, of course, “there’s no such thing as a stupid/silly question” which, I am going to tell you now, is unequivocally not true. Because, and I say this with a fair bit of confidence and not simply because I am shallow, there really and truly is. I know this because I am routinely asked stupid/silly questions. Like these.

  1. Do you know who you look like? For starters, while I am not particularly vain, I am prone to looking into a mirror several times each day. Let’s face it. If nothing else, more than likely I’m gonna wash my hands a few times and typically, there’s a mirror above the sink in which I am doing that. Intentional or not, at that point I’m faced with my face so it’s not all that hard to come up with the answer to this question. Without a doubt I bear a rather strong resemblance to my Mother and at least one of my Brothers, which makes sense given that my siblings and I are the progeny of the same, happy couple. Nothing out of the ordinary here and probably the case for many people.  Seems to me like a rather obvious answer to a somewhat silly question.
  2. Has anyone ever told you who you look like? Now I’m the first to admit that I’m no spring chicken which means I’ve been around the block more than once or twice. Barring the answer to that first question I have come to understand that I bear a striking resemblance to to a very popular chanteuse. Seems to be common knowledge at this point. So let’s think about this. If you who are asking me this question, have come to this conclusion all on your very own, why is it that you think perhaps no one else ever has? And if you see fit to actually come up to me, a complete stranger, to ask me this question, don’t you think it is possible that someone else may have done so as well over the very many years I have been on this planet? Fortunately, in most cases people answer this one themselves with “of course they have” relieving me of the rather tedious task of coming up with a witty response to what, now that I’ve explained it, you must conclude from my perspective, is a rather stupid question.
  3. Are you Barbra Streisand? Ok. I get it. You really want to meet a superstar and you don’t want to take any chances at missing out on your opportunity to do so. I will concede that the degree of stupidity of this question could be contextual. Let’s say you and I were to meet at the backstage door of the Dolby Theatre on Oscar night. We’re both dressed to the nines and as you glance over it suddenly strikes you that you may be standing next to the most popular singer, actress and director (not to mention a few other accomplishments), ever. You want to know for sure, so you ask. To tell the truth, this could very well be a legitimate question in this case. However, since I have never been in the above circumstance, I usually get this question in the midst of a somewhat more mundane activity. Like checking out at the Target. Or walking into Costco. Or stopping to go to the bathroom at some truckstop on the I-5. Or standing in line to check into my room at a hotel. Ok, so it’s a Hyatt. She still wouldn’t stand in the line. The answer to the question is, of course, “no”. But hey! You already knew that. Just seems a little silly to me.
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Thank you very much!

thank-youHere’s what I’m  thinking. You’re thinking that I’ve been so busy with my “Happy” course that I haven’t had time to write the blog. And perhaps you’re thinking that I’ve become so happy and have found so much meaning in my life that I can no longer find it in my heart to write about being shallow. Of course, that was always a possibility when I signed up for the course. I knew from the “get-go” there was a chance, however slight, that this course could, once and forever, change my inner being, my worldview. Perhaps alter the very core of my existence in this universe of ours. And it might. If I could only get started on it. You see the course is now in Week 3 but unfortunately I’m not. I’m here in the “big city” doing other stuff and since I’m relatively happy anyway, my initial excitement for the course, and for gaining a better understanding about how to be happy and find meaning in my life, has waned. Even so, I still read the emails of encouragement they send to me each and every week so I know that right now, at this very moment, they are talking about the importance of being kind to others which, coincidentally brings me to the thoughts that have been swirling around in my mind for sometime now. Yes, I do think about what to write before I actually get to the writing.

So last week I’m at a concert and there, sitting a couple of rows ahead of me, is a woman I used to work with. When I say “used  to” I’m talking about quite a long time ago. To put that in perspective, when she turned around and enthusiastically waved to me while simultaneously mouthing my name, a momentary feeling of terror descended upon me as I desperately tried to remember why she looked vaguely familiar. Quickly gathering my composure, I returned a somewhat more subdued wave and smile to her in an effort to prevent the interaction from moving to the next step. Which, as you know, is a more personal, close encounter. Being only a row or two apart, and with the start of the concert still several minutes away, I instinctively knew there was a chance she would decide to come over to renew our acquaintance and “catch up” as people are often wont to do under circumstances such as these. And that is just what she did.

Now I am the first person to admit there’s nothing wrong with getting a compliment. I even know how to respond when I get one because, at some point in my life, someone whose name will forever escape me, taught me how. The thing is, compliment exchanges usually go something like this:

Complimenter: What a lovely dress!
Complimentee: This old thing? It’s been hanging in my closet for ages so thought I should give it a last walk around the block. Can’t believe it still fits.

And that’s not the way to do it. At least not the way I was taught. What you are supposed to do when you get a compliment is just say “thank you very much” and apparently that will make both the giver and the receiver feel better. Perhaps even happy. It’s just that most people don’t. But what if thank you very much just doesn’t work? Because sometimes it doesn’t.

As I continue to struggle with remembering who my long, lost friend is she comes right up to me, looks me straight in the eye and says: “I can’t believe it! You look exactly the same as you did when we worked together”. To which I wanted to reply “So how come no one told me I looked so old back then?” because even I find it very hard to believe that in the thirty years since we worked together (and I only surmise we did work together because she not only recognized me but also knew my name) I haven’t changed, not even one tiny little bit. How can that be so? I mean, as far as I can tell she must have changed quite a lot since I can’t even remember who she is. Surely neither she nor I had the deep-set wrinkles we currently have. Or the extra pounds. Or the little gray hairs that no matter how hard you try to hide insist on sticking straight up from your otherwise sleek hair. And if I did look back then like I do now, I certainly wish someone had told me.  Maybe I could have done something about it.

But I didn’t say what I wanted to say. I didn’t say any of those things I was thinking. I simply said “Thank you very much. And without even a break in the tempo, added: “And so do you”. Because it was the right thing to do. It was my way of being kind to others. And you know, as I write this, I have to say I’m feeling just a little bit happier about the whole thing.

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Meet Me at the Meet-Up

coffee_shop_smallIt’s a funny thing when something you don’t think about much suddenly crosses your path not once, but over and over again. I’m sure it has happened to you. You go about your life, minding your own business, with nothing particularly remarkable or out of the ordinary happening from one day to the next, just the “same old, same old” stuff. Next thing you know you’re reading the newspaper and your eye catches a small article on the bottom left hand corner of the page, the one with the full page ad your bank has placed to let you know how diligent they are about saving you money while you wonder why they had to spend all that money to let you know when a simple robo-call would have sufficed. The following day you’re on the bus avoiding eye contact with everyone, because who really wants to admit, even to themselves that they are on the bus, and you start reading the placards from front to back and there it is again. The last straw comes when you log into your most recent MOOC (did I mention I finally passed my Harvard course?) and lo and behold, there it is again and you’re convinced that not only is this a significant trend but maybe even a movement (thanks Arlo) and you better get down to business and start writing about it before someone else does. And that’s how we got here.

Let me start by saying that as a shallow person I’m not one for joining much of anything, especially not things that would put me into close contact with a whole bunch of people I don’t know. So as I write about this apparently new phenomenon I will put my bias on the table and admit upfront that the whole thing is not really something I can subscribe too or even understand. But it is what it is and, like Twitter, just because I don’t do it doesn’t mean it’s not happening and shouldn’t find its way to the Shallow Blog. Which is why, in case you haven’t already heard, I want to tell you about “Meet-Ups”, which are no longer “run of the mill” get togethers, you know, the kind you used to have with people you actually knew. No, these are special get togethers, and like much else in our overly connected world, have been redefined as “a meeting, especially a regular meeting of people who share a particular interest and have connected with each other through a social-networking Web site” (dictionary.com). And that’s the key. No longer do you just call up a couple of friends, people you have known and loved for who knows how long, to meet at the local coffee-shop and talk about whatever it is friends talk about. Nope. Now you go to your local “Meet-Up” website, find an aptly named group with a rather singular focus that interests you, determine if they are accepting new members and, if they are, if you are an acceptable new member, signup, check the calendar for the next meeting, put it in your calendar and finally, make your way to the designated site (ironically, usually a coffee shop of some sort) where, hopefully, there will be more than one other person with whom you can meet because otherwise, it seems to me, you’d have been just as well to have stayed home. You might also want to keep your fingers crossed that when you get to the ascribed location that there is a sign or something on the designated table as otherwise I fear you will be walking up to numerous groups of people you don’t know in an effort to find the right people you don’t know.

In case you think this is just some passing fad, a fleeting moment in time, have a look around the internet for Meet-Ups in your local area and I can assure you, having done extensive research for this blog, you will find no shortage of options from which to choose. In my area alone there must be a couple of hundred Meet-Ups covering an astounding array of topics. For example, there’s the “Libertarian Meet-Up” which I find a little confusing as what the heck are they doing forming an organization of like minded folks? The “Jesus, Ice Cream and Beer Group” is intriguing but makes me wonder whether you have to like all of those things to join or if you can just pick one. The “Church Thing Group“, while the name at first glance may appear a little vague, is more specific with their objective to “try to figure God out”. If you join this one I’m afraid you may be in for the long haul. And you might want to stay clear of the “Atheists, Agnostics and Skeptics Meet-Up” as I would hate to think what might happen should the two groups actually find themselves meeting up. Unlike the “Gardening, Vegetarian and Vegan Meet-Up” who could get together with the “Pagan Meet-Up” to form the “Pagan, Vegans”. There’s the “Emotion’s Anonymous Group” which is dedicated to getting people together to work out their emotional difficulties. Nice, but I would think this one could get a little depressing. Of course there are a whole bunch of groups that focus on achieving financial success and if I had to chose one to attend it would probably be the “Abundance and Cashflow Group” as I figure that’s my best shot at snagging a free coffee.

All this talk about Meet-Ups got me to thinking that there could be some value in organizing a “Shallow Meet-Up“. People could get together at their local coffee shop and sit around talking about stuff like how the guy cutting his nails in the next cubicle is really annoying, or who should or shouldn’t win the next season of “America’s Got Talent”, or how difficult it is to get a “no foam” latte made correctly, or maybe even about this blog. People can self-identify as shallow and just about anyone who wants to join is more than welcome. It would be very “Seinfeldesque” although that group just “met up” without having to organize a Meet-Up. The more I think about it the more convinced I am that it could work. And, if it does, it would be great if you could drop me a line to let me know how it goes.

A little something extra: To my friends in Southern Alberta, and especially those in High River, we are thinking about you all of the time. I hope this blog can bring a smile to your face, even if it’s just for a moment.

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Ya Gotta Do What Ya Gotta Do

graduation_diplomaI have never professed to be among the intellectual elite and I’m pretty sure if you could locate them, my high school math and science teachers would corroborate that statement. Some of them might even express a degree of surprise if they knew how far I have been able to make it in this little life of mine. Because, truth be told, I’ve held my own in the world of academe having completed more than one undergraduate degree and another beyond that. And since I’m tooting my own horn anyway (it’s what us shallows do), I’ll be so bold as to add that every once in awhile I write a pretty mean blog post. There are even the odd times that I run into people that I can confidently say I might even be smarter than. Like the cashier at the big box store I visited this weekend who, when presented with a rain check I had received the previous week looked like a deer in my headlights as she proclaimed “I don’t know what to do with that”. Or the supervisor she called over who, looking rather perplexed, shrugged her shoulders while echoing that sentiment. Now it’s been more than a few years since I have worked in retail but having mastered the “self-checkout” at the grocery store I took a flyer and suggested they scan the barcode on the slip I handed them just to see what might happen. And as Tom Cruise would say, mission accomplished.

Perhaps I was riding that wave of confidence when I decided it was time for me to kick it up a notch and experience the ivy league. How, you ask, did little old me manage to infiltrate those hallowed halls? Well I haven’t actually “been” inside them but I am taking a course at Harvard, online, in something called a MOOC. Now I realize not everyone is as familiar with the term as I am because, in case I have never mentioned it, I spend most of my daylight hours working in the world of online learning. And in that world some consider MOOCs to be the best thing since sliced bread, if you can pardon the vernacular. So, you ask, what is this thing they call a MOOC? Here’s the learnin’ part of the post. MOOCs are “massive, open, online courses”, massive because they attract hundreds of thousands of people; open because they are free; and online because that’s how you take them. For the most part they’re taught by big name professors from even bigger name schools who videotape their lectures so that those of us who can’t be there, can be there. And that’s how I ended up at Harvard, taking a course with what appears to be a lecture hall full of law students.

Now I don’t know about you but I have always thought that, unlike me, the students at Harvard really are members of the intellectual elite. Let’s face it, the list of Harvard attendees reads like a “who’s who” of well, everyone. I mean you’ve got your Presidents, your Nobel Prize winners and your game changers the likes of Misters Gates and Zuckerman, all with Harvard parchment on their walls. I suppose that’s why I had high expectations, so much so that I was a little concerned about my ability to comprehend the level of discourse that I assumed would be elicited from this group. And it quickly became clear that my professor (well I am taking the course) was want to engage the students in dialogue around tough philosophical questions, like whether it was ethical for a group of shipwrecked sailors to decide to kill and eat one of their mates in order to save the rest. Now most of us probably don’t want to imagine ever being in this particular situation but, nevertheless, we surmise that the answer to that question would be both difficult and complex. Which is why I was a tad taken aback when a pretty cool looking guy in the front row put up his hand and, when called upon, stood up in front of hundreds of his classmates, not to mention his esteemed teacher, and confidently stated that he would, in fact, sacrifice one for the good of the others. When asked to explain the premise upon which his decision had been made, he took a moment to think about it and then replied “ya gotta do what ya gotta do”.

Okay, so it’s not exactly what I was expecting. No matter. When I finish the 5 multiple choice quizzes and final multiple choice exam I’m going to get a certificate. From Harvard. And you better believe I’ll be hanging that up on my office wall.

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