How You Talk To Your Partner Matters

Halfway through the meal, Richard stopped. “I was writing down everything you said,” Richard confessed. “It was a homework assignment for school.” My first reaction was to PANIC.

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And How Are You Crazy?

Helen Fisher says that couples want to know everything about a potential life partner before they tie the knot. But when I first met my husband, I didn’t care if a closet door was left open. People change. And maybe that’s the point.

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Are You Addicted to Your Cell Phone?

BLOG- ADDICTIONMy daughter caught me scrolling through facebook and said, “You’re not just doing that for work.” She was calling me out on what I’d been telling her, which was that I needed to be on facebook and instagram and twitter in order to stay in “the know”.

It was how authors promoted their books.

It was where I could announce my new literary agent, Carrie Howland from Donadio and Olson!

It was where I found interesting articles and learned about communicating in a social media world, which felt as natural to me as raising a baby whale.

I needed information!

But all this was relatively new.

I joined facebook, instagram and twitter only 18 months ago. I did that for two reasons. One, I wanted to promote my new blog; and two, I didn’t want to be left behind. I wanted to know what was going on around the globe, and I wanted to be a part of it.

Simultaneously, everyone in my family complained, bitterly, how I never answered my phone. And that was because I could leave it untouched for hours at a time while I wrote.

So over these 18 months, I became more connected and reliant. And little by little, something changed. (Read: Be Here Now.)

Just this weekend, I’d been wondering if I’d crossed some invisible line because last week, on vacation, in a first attempt to boost my numbers, I studied those social media sites for long periods of time when I was supposed to be relaxing on a beach.

It was my first vacation completely connected.

Before that friends teased me because I couldn’t manage to get my phone to work once I left the country. And of course, the truth behind that was I didn’t want a working phone.

Now that scenario seemed impossible, ridiculous, archaic.

So when my daughter called me on my behavior, it solidified what I’d been contemplating. I had to pay attention to what I was doing.

“I’m going to read,” I said. And I went upstairs. Alone in my room, I checked my wordpress numbers and read some email messages. Before I knew it, I was hooked and kept scrolling. Just a few minutes more I kept telling myself, my daughter’s voice in my head.

I stumbled on Oprah's SuperSoul Sessions.

I was elated!

I thought about how as a child, I got bored. But now, as an adult, with all this access, how could I ever get bored? There was so much to see; I couldn’t keep up.

The SuperSoul speaker was Elizabeth Gilbert. And she was speaking to a huge audience about passion and curiosity and I clung to every word with guilty pleasure. I told myself again and again, rationalizing, that I could’ve paid for seats in that audience and her talk would’ve felt like a cultural outing, something special.

Elizabeth’s speech was empowering and informative and yet as I watched her on my I-phone, I watched the clock intently aware that I was missing precious reading time. I’d been in my room for close to an hour, my book, unopened, at my side.

And here’s what happened:

I wanted to watch another SuperSoul Session but didn’t. I was intent on reading. And worried that the Internet had control of me, I made sure to read. It was a bargain, kind of like how an alcoholic decides he doesn’t have a drinking problem if he can go without alcohol for two days.

The trouble was, I didn’t get into the shower when I was supposed to, and running late, decided not to go out.

My Internet distraction, just like any addiction, had an impact.

There are so many possibilities of how my evening could’ve unfolded.

Maybe my daughter and I would’ve had a meaningful conversation.

Maybe I would’ve read more pages.

I definitely would’ve showered when I was supposed to and then my night would’ve taken a different direction. Instead of staying home, I could’ve gone to a jazz club and heard live music. I could’ve gone to a movie in an actual theater and not watched the stupid one I rented at home.

It’s not that any of these activities were necessarily bad, because I really did appreciate the Gilbert talk; it was just that they all felt a bit out of my control.

And while I had a nagging feeling that I was tipping into new territory over the last few weeks, I kept pushing the thought away, denying, and or defending my choice to send a text, answer an email, post a comment. As if any of these were actually choices.

The word addiction kept popping into my head.

Was I addicted?

That’s ridiculous, I told myself. Just 18 months before I didn’t even have a facebook friend.

But if addiction is a relentless and compulsive pull to a substance, or activity, and interferes with everyday life, I (shockingly) was guilty of that.

And then I woke up to the NY Times article: Addicted to Distraction and everything I’d been feeling was laid out in front of me.

I related to Tony Schwartz’s experiences wholeheartedly.

And yet, and maybe this is denial, I had questions.

Schwartz wrote about being less focused because of the amount of time he spent online.

I had been noticing the same thing.

He stated that reading was a focus building practice. And he wanted, like I did, to do that more.

So instinctively, I agreed with him. But why?

Why was reading a better choice?

Was that thinking outdated?

Maybe that's the equivalent of insisting we use horses for transportation. Horses are naturally more beautiful than cars and they don't have us relying on foreign countries for oil. In addition, cars go too fast and, as a result, we miss a lot.

According to Nicholas Carr, “We willingly accept the loss of concentration and focus, the division of our attention and the fragmentation of our thoughts, in return for the wealth of compelling or at least diverting information.”

We make trade-offs.

And that’s why we drive cars instead of horses. In time, problems get addressed and voila—the electric car is on the frontier.

Tony Schwartz gives suggestions on how to limit the amount of time you spend on your phone, and in fact, I was ahead of him in that I had my phone far away from me, on purpose, as I read the newspaper Sunday morning.

But these are short-lived solutions. This doesn’t really address the problem.

If there is a problem.

Maybe things are the way they are supposed to be.

Maybe trying to stay off our devices is a pointless fight against change and modernization.

But in the last few paragraphs of Schwartz’s article, he gets me.

He depicts a scene.

He recounts how he saw a father and his four-year-old daughter at a restaurant. The father is on his phone and his daughter cannot get his attention.

In my opinion, this scenario illustrates our biggest loss.

I’ll bet that father wouldn’t dream of bringing a book to the restaurant. It would be socially awkward and unacceptable. But his phone—no problem.

I’d like to say there is a time and a place for everything (because that’s what my mother would say) but when something is compulsive, it is compulsive. There are no boundaries.

We are scrolling ourselves into oblivion and the key here, and what makes these behaviors, or advancements, different than others, is its addictive component.

We are in denial (Denial= Don't Even Notice I Am Lying) or at least I was until my daughter finally got my attention.

My Mother-In-Law (In-Laws Part II)

BLOG-Coco Chanel2When my mother-in-law was 70 years-old, she frequented nightclubs with red ropes outside. While people a third of her age waited in long lines, in freezing temperatures, bouncers all over New York City ushered her in. Have you been to Lavo? she’d ask my daughter-in-law and my daughter. (She skipped right over me, the one who enjoys author readings and likes to eat dinner by 7pm.)

Any other fabulous places I should go? she wanted to know.

Obviously, my mother-in-law has spunk. But she has grace and wisdom too.

Widowed, she knew enough about herself to know she didn’t want to be alone. She joined an online dating service, attended fundraisers and parties for singles. At one of these events, she met a lovely man from South Africa, and within a few months, they were married. I am not exaggerating when I say he is one of the most pleasant and kind people I know.

Women who know my mother- in- law say she should give classes.

The class might be titled:

Set Your Sights On A Goal And Never (Ever, Ever, Ever) Give Up.

I've learned some important things from my mother-in-law.

  1. Always hold on to the banister when you walk down stairs.
  2. Everything you say to someone registers. Even if they appear to not be listening, it festers in the back of their head, so say what you have to say.

But mostly, I've learned from watching her.

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On Friday nights before Shabbat, Syrian families sometimes gather for what is known as maza, or Syrian appetizers. Maza is a middle eastern tradition and typically, kibbe is served. Kibbe is made of bulgar and is stuffed with spiced chopped meat and deep fried.

 

Image: Monique Haber

There is no telling how far back this tradition goes, centuries I’m sure, but this past summer, in an effort to bring her family together, one of her most important values, she started her own tradition. Wanting to please young and old alike, instead of inviting everyone in her rather large family over for maza (nobody wants to eat fried meat and dough anymore) she invited us for Cookies and Cocktails.

She might be one to do away with kibbe but she definitely hasn’t updated her views on marriage. She thinks everyone should be married. And the sooner the better. So my 24 year-old single daughter is a subject that perplexes her. When my daughter was hesitant to go on a blind date, my mother-in-law told her, “Just go for a drink. What’s the big deal? I would go for a drink with the mailman.”

My mother-in-law is a beautiful woman and she takes good care of herself. Exercise may include a brief walk in high heels, usually the length of 2 department store windows, but she watches what she eats. She is known to eat only half of everything. She eats half a main course, half a cookie, half a muffin.

"But what if it’s a mini muffin?” one of her children challenge. “Then you can have the whole thing.”

But she won’t.

She has her way of thinking.

She’s been travelling a lot lately: South Africa, Israel, Mexico, St. Barthes, Turkey, Spain, Portugal.

But please don't misunderstand. My mother-in-law has had her challenges. Her best quality is her attitude.

The class she should teach: A Positive Mind, A Positive Life.

In-Laws and Creative Living

BLOG-MOTHER IN LAWWe all know those mean mother-in-law jokes: What do you do if you miss your mother in law? Reload, and try again!

My mother in law is well balanced. She has a chip on both shoulders.

Is there a family relationship more burdened?

Tempting fate, I went to the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) with my daughter-in-law, Margo, last week. We went to hear Elizabeth Gilbert speak about her new book, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear.

 

BLOG_BIG MAGIC2

 

Margo is pragmatic. She is a nurse and scientifically minded. On our way to BAM, Margo rattled off a list of over 32 things she’d done that day, including errands in Brooklyn and New Jersey, tending to her children, helping with homework, meeting with a painter and just before leaving her house, giving an injection to a pregnant friend.

I, on the other hand, tinkered with a story idea for most of the day.

And to tell you the truth, I was feeling a bit down about that. It is hard to stay home, facing an empty screen and have what appears to be nothing accomplished at the end of the day. Of course, I know this is not really true but Elizabeth Gilbert’s message couldn’t have come at a better time. She assured the creative souls in her audience that we were doing exactly what we were supposed to be doing and she encouraged us to keep at it.

She talked about fairy dust and inspiration but she also talked about hard work and perseverance.

She talked about the voices in her head, how they take up space and how she lets them come alive: The Doubter, The Critic, Fear—and while that process didn’t sound so crazy to me, Margo diagnosed her with multiple personality disorder.

You’re probably wondering why my not necessarily artsy daughter-in-law wanted to hear Elizabeth Gilbert talk about creativity, especially considering she is one of the few people in the world who didn't even read Eat Pray Love. Or see the movie.

This is how it happened.

I was supposed to be going to the BAM with my husband but he forgot and bought tickets to the Giants game.

I invited my daughter but she opted out.

My son, Margo’s husband, was going to the football game with his dad and Margo didn't want to stay home. I promised her a drink after the reading and let’s just say it didn’t take a lot of arm-twisting.

My oldest daughter kept smirking, doubting the whole prospect.

BLOG-MIL3

But she was wrong; because while Margo and I are not exactly alike (I drink vodka, she drinks tequila) we both loved the event, and the hole-in-the-wall bar we found afterwards with live music. Granted, it was a bit awkward when two men started talking to us but we left soon after and found a great restaurant. I know I’m in the right place when there are vegan options on the menu.

It’s not always easy for us to find time to get together much less share intimacies. But that night, we learned new things about each other.

A mother-in-law and her daughter-in-law: loving each other, respecting each other, caring about each other.

Now that’s art.

That’s Big Magic.