Gratitude for Groceries: Avoiding a mental breakdown on Aisle 8

The Superstore I frequent is always busy. Early morning, afternoon, and evening; it doesn’t matter what time you pick, you will endure 3 unavoidable challenges:

  1. A re-enactment of Mad Max as you locate a parking spot amid a sea of libertarian drivers capitalizing on the murky assessments of fault assigned by Manitoba Public Insurance to accidents in parking lots.
  2. A game of red-rover navigating tightly packed aisles filled with Type-A personalities duel-wielding shopping carts.
  3. A lengthy wait at the checkout compounded by a coupon-cutter at the front applying a level of scrutiny to her receipt typically reserved for border security.

Recently, Superstore tried to address one of these challenges with a guarantee that all checkout lanes will be opened at all times. This is an admirable step forward as it not only address challenge #3, but also provides more employment opportunities and hours for Superstore staff*.

Superstore is capitalizing on the new checkouts, stationing a greeter at the door to hand out cupcakes during the Thanksgiving weekend and emphasize the glories of the new initiative.

Given my massive sweet tooth and susceptibility to distraction by bright colours, the orange and black Halloween cupcakes attracted me like a moth to a flame. The greeter cheerfully extolled the benefits of having all checkout lanes staffed as I simultaneously turned off my podcast and consumed a cupcake without dropping my phone or wearing said cupcake…a feat that borders on a small miracle for yours truly.

Her discussion inevitably trailed off as the next shopper came through the door, but it made me reflect on how agitated people get while waiting in checkout lines. My own experiences as an employee at Sobeys for more than 2 years attest that people embody all the stages of grief as they wait in the checkout line.

I have seen shoppers pace uncomfortably, glare at fellow shoppers, swear at staff and children and even throw fruit at cashiers. Clearly, being pushed to such emotional extremes while purchasing groceries must be awful and I sincerely hope that their lives improve.

However, I also find the emotional hardship to be a bit silly. At the end of the day, we are just buying groceries and all of the negative emotions that froth to the surface from the experience seem…misplaced.

The whole experience of grocery shopping is a display of our opulent standard of living. Being able to buy groceries for a fraction of their historical price and from one convenient location is a luxury, plain and simple. To experience intense negative emotions and express a misanthropic demeanor suggests a misalignment of values.

As I mentioned at the start of this article, grocery shopping is not without its stresses. A child screaming in my ear or a catastrophically poor driver laying into his or her horn will take an emotional toll on anyone. But here is a personal strategy for keeping a level head:

Podcasts

For anyone that has access to an audio device (research shows smartphone ownership alone is at 68%), load up a few audio episodes about something important in the world, and listen to it.

A few weeks back, I found myself waiting for twenty minutes in a checkout line prior to the new policy and found myself listening to a CBC report on Syria. Listening to a gut-wrenching reports on the refugee crises, it became very hard to get upset over the challenges of the grocery store. It also instilled a sense of gratitude for what I have. This gratitude continued long after the podcast ended, I cleared the checkout aisle, and endured the Thunderdome experience of leaving the parking lot amidst a sea of shoppers and lead-foot drivers. I have so much to be thankful for and the fact that grocery stores represent a stress-point in our lives is a reminder of how well-off we are.

Happy Thanksgiving.

If you enjoyed this article and my writing, be sure to follow and share it with your friends!

*I am not familiar with Superstore’s staffing practices and am assuming the most altruistic of purposes.

Followers

A worldwide celebration of board games called International Table Top day took place on April 11th, 2015. As part of the big event, a number of communities and stores within my hometown of Winnipeg put on events. As I was promoting my Kickstarter campaign for a card game in May, I was determined to attend as many events as possible on this day. What followed was a 15 hour odyssey that took me to five separate events.

One of these events was held at a bookstore called McNally Robinson. By this point in the day, it was 6:00 P.M. and I had been going hard for nine hours. After demonstrating the game at a table the store had graciously provided me, I got up and doggedly began to shuffle towards the exit.

As I walked, I pulled out my smart phone and observed my social media activity. I am still new to social media and have yet to fully appreciate the finer nuances of followers. General crowd funding theories state that engaged followers are fundamentally good and generally nobody argues that gaining followers is a bad thing as long as they are a human and not a software algorithm. The more people following you, the bigger the audience that will view your content.

When it comes to Twitter, follower numbers are the most straightforward (if somewhat crude) metric for monitoring your effectiveness. Looking at my phone I was disheartened that I lost several followers since earlier that day despite posting multiple times about audience-relevant board game materials.

Darn, losing followers sucks.

As I was dwelling in my little emotional pit of social media ineptitude, I was surprised when a woman that had played my game a few minutes ago approached me. She asked me where I was going to now. I replied that I was attending another gaming event to show off my game. Then she dropped a more unusual question on me.

“I know this is awkward, but do you mind if I come with you”, she asked?

“Sure”, I replied. “As long as you can help me find my car.”

It is worth noting that I have incredibly poor navigational skills and what she initially took as a joke led to a fifteen minute ordeal as I wandered around a large parking, searching for my generic silver Corolla.

We eventually found my car and were off to the next board game event. I had been to event earlier that day and one of the organizers raised an amused eyebrow when I returned with a follower in tow. When the question came up, I simply replied that while I struggled to gain and keep digital followers, I was much better at gaining physical ones.

On reflection, I realize that face-to-face conversation is my preferred means of communication. The immediate reasons are that I like to be outside, my day job looking at a monitor and my weak wrists don’t lend to extended typing sessions on a smart phone.

Beyond that, with social media I find it difficult to share in the same type of communication. The nuances of body language and vocal variety are obscured in the text. While readers can imagine the tone of the text, this can quickly lead to misunderstandings. With the internet being the internet, these misunderstandings quickly lead to thermonuclear emotional meltdowns and ensuing flame wars.

It is much rarer for such incidents to happen during conversation. Take the rest of Table Top Day for example. I ended the day playing board games with my new found friend and exposed her to a hobby that she was relatively new to.

We went for coffee after and discussed everything from Chinese-Canadian culture, pursuing a degree in the performing arts to communal living and the roles of our political parties. I learned that she lived in Ontario where she taught performing arts at a local university. To celebrate turning thirty, she was on a journey across Canada via railcar, stopping at the major cities (and yes, I will defend to the death that Winnipeg is a major city). Most of all though, we discussed the question that we all wonder about, what to do with the limited time we have on this Earth.

Each of the aforementioned topics was a conversational minefield that if posted online, would recreate Chernobyl within the residents of my little corner of cyberspace. In person and within a relaxed setting, I was much more comfortable to glide between these topics, knowing that a misstep will result in an immediate que (hopefully not a slap) as opposed to being vented as a vitriolic text wall.

With all that being said, I shouldn’t discount social media followers. After all, I owe very real connections with board game designers and publishers to the likes of Facebook and Twitter, but to me social media has always been a jumping off points to more significant forms of communication. Twitter is great for Q&A, Facebook feed can provide helpful news and updates; but discussing the meaning of life is something I have always struggled to fit into 140 characters.

Locking Down Motivation

I began training for the Manitoba Marathon’s Relay a few weeks ago. The plan was to keep my first outing low-key. After over-training for a marathon and injuring myself, I intended to keep the distance short; five to six kilometers tops.

After a few preliminary stretches that involved nearly kicking a hole in the wall, I was ready to run. I made a snap decision to leave the door unlocked, as I only expected to be gone 30-45 minutes and did not want to carry keys that would function as sandpaper to my legs.

The run itself went well, with the sunny day and explosion of spring vegetation serving as distractions from the deceptively cold temperature. The biggest hurdles in running are mental and the appearance of a warm day goes a long way in convincing the body it is warm. Cold reality only sets in when you stop running, providing a powerful motivation to keep on running.

Trouble arose however, when I returned to my house and found the door locked. Absent-minded as I may be, I distinctly recalled not locking the door and was thoroughly confused. My roommates were out of the house when I left so how could have this happen?

Did the wind somehow operate a bolt-action door?

Did an agitated youth (the kind I imagine sporting Hammer-time era parachute pants) find his way into my house and decide to lock me out while they helped themselves to my fridge and television?

All possibilities worth considering.

More likely however, one of my three roommates came home after I left and locked the door.

The solution to this was to pound on the door and shout in a tone typically reserved for law enforcement officers before performing a forced entry. My noise fell on deaf ears however and the house remained locked. I went to mash the doorbell, but realized that the button had long-since fallen out; the joys of a house with a rental price around the $300 mark.

At this point, I sat down and reviewed my options. I was locked out of my house, that much was certain. Alerting my roommates was not an option. Kicking down the door, while an easy task if the door’s quality matched the doorbell, would result in a voiding of my security deposit.

To top it all off, I had an appointment in an hour. Thankfully, I work well on deadlines!

At this point, my only option was to run to my roommate’s place of employment and hope that they were on-shift. This created a second problem, as my roommates worked equal distances from my house, but in opposite directions.

Gambling on the Earls restaurant situated to the west of my house based purely on my enjoyment of running that route, I took off. Bolting through suburbs and navigating the ever-changing elevations of a sidewalk that enjoys Winnipeg freeze-thaw cycle, I arrived at Earls in record time.

To my relief, my roommate was on shift and I quickly obtained his key before sprinting home in a mad dash to prepare for my appointment.

Reflecting on the whole incident later, I realized how the curve balls in life help us understand what we are truly capable of. I never planned to add 4km of sprinting on to my run. If I was asked that day if I could sprint 4km after a 6km run, I would have said no. Finding myself locked out however, I began performing a feat I thought impossible. It is said that necessity is the mother of invention. I would add that necessity is the mother of motivation as it is during these moments of desperation that our artificial limitations are stripped away and we discover what we are truly capable of.

Next time, I will to throw my keys in the river to brush up on my diving skills…or die trying.