Tag Archives: Personal Essays

Thinking outside the laundry bin


CC photo “Down at Every Laundromat in Town” courtesy of hjhipster on Flickr


THERE’S A coin-operated laundry room in the building where I live. Each load, washer and dryer, is $1.75. That’s $3.50 for a full, wash-and-dry cycle. The machine-mounted coin collector has one slot for loonies (that’s a one-dollar-coin, for you non-Canadians) and one slot for quarters.

Yes, it sounds like the beginning of a math quiz. But in reality this a tale about human psychology.

For three years, I’ve been buying rolls of quarters and loonies from the bank to feed the laundry machines. Because there is a slot for both loonies and quarters, I enter my $1.75 in the form of one looney and three quarters. I’ve done it this way every time, for three years.

The coin tray is regularly raided for soft drinks, bus fare, coffee, and other items. Every day pockets are emptied, and coins are deposited in the tray. Eventually either the looney or quarter supply is depleted. The dollar coins are typically the first to go, leaving behind a bunch of quarters.

That’s what happened recently. So I go to the nearby convenience store to rebalance the quarter-looney ratio, because it’s one looney and three quarters to do a load of laundry. And all I have is a tray of measly quarters.

Have you spotted the fallacy I’ve been under for three years? It’s obvious once someone points it out to you, as it was pointed out to me this week.

It’s not one looney and three quarters to do laundry, it’s $1.75.

One of my family members came up with the idea. What if we just took the quarters and put 7 of them into the machine? The answer, of course, is that you get to do a load of laundry. No loonies required.

It’s remarkable to me that a household of highly-educated people could have missed this for so long. Talk about the obvious. And yet a machine with one slot for quarters and one for loonies has a subliminal ambiguity built into it. Is this a system which provides options, or is it delineating the requirements? Sub-consciouly we had decided upon the latter: there’s a slot for loonies and quarters because 1+3 is the inviolable rule.

It got me wondering about how many versions of this I’m living in my life, right now. Where else am I unnecessarily putting loonies and quarters into slots, metaphorically speaking? What else am I doing uncritically, mechanically, unconsciously? How many insights, breakthroughs, leaps, mind expansions, and personal liberations could I be effecting?

The lesson I’ve drawn is that opportunity is all around. What is required is a mindset that is ever-vigilant, always on the lookout for a new and better way: a mental attitude that says “don’t limit yourself by tacitly accepting things as they are.” There is always another way, if you go looking for it.

I Envy You, Lucky Stupid People


NOW THAT CANADA’S ten-month Winter season is over, and it’s finally almost sort-of kinda like Spring-ish, everyone is outside. The smokers are spending more time than in recent months out on the fire escape of my building, chatting with one another about the issues of the day: how to make your hair smell nice, who said what about who on Facebook (like omg!) and how amazing Katy Perry is. Yes, it’s like having C-SPAN and Noam Chomsky and Foreign Policy Magazine, all on the other side of the thin wall that separates me from my neighbors.


Conversation and the Writer’s Voice


A TOPIC CAN BE both vast and yet reducible to the most simple of terms. Here’s an example: a writer is a person who does things with words. Whether her goal is to inform, deceive, terrify, entertain, charm, persuade or seduce, a writer will have to do it with words. A reader, also, has nothing but words from which to cultivate the pictures, emotions and experiences which are ‘in’ the text. A writer’s voice is a big topic, but the topic does indeed rest upon these objects called words. And words alone.

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A Pleasure to Meet You, Ideal Reader


I WAS ASKED the other day who I imagined my ideal reader to be. “Well,” I answered – “I hadn’t really thought about that.” Not exactly a stellar reply, I know. Of course I had a half-formed, all-wispy-like inkling of my readers. Tween girls, not on the list. Marxist-Leninists? Not so much. The Nobel Literature Prize Review Board and the editors of Vanity Fair? Hell yes … one day. Well, now I’m curious – just who is my IDEAL reader?

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The Return of the Fountain Pen

Wahl-Eversharp Doric in Kashmir, c. 1931

Above: a Wahl-Eversharp Doric in the colour “Kashmir,” c. 1931, after a restoration.

FOR YEARS I’ve been restoring old fountain pens. As I’ve written elsewhere, I enjoy writing with this now anachronistic instrument — and in fact I’ve used a fountain pen for so long that they may not yet have fallen out of favour when I bought my first (a Sheaffer No-Nonsense) in the late 1970s.

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The Key Concept


HANS KÜNG, in his book Theology for the Third Millennium: An Ecumenical View, records the satirical line about the late-Renaissance pope Julius II — the Warrior Pope — in which the commissioner of Michelangelo’s infamous Sistine Chapel ceiling inserts the keys to his treasure vault into the locks barring entrance to heaven’s gate and is thereby denied.

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Death by Exposure

EARLIER IN THE WEEK, journalist Nate Thayer posted an entry to his website titled “A Day in the Life of a Freelance Journalist — 2013.” Now, this is not any old journalist we’re talking about. Nate Thayer has written for dozens of highly regarded publications. He’s won meaningful and serious awards for his investigative journalism. The man interviewed Pol Pot.

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