Outsider Art

George Wilson Outsider Art refers to art created outside the boundaries of official culture, outside the established art scene. I first heard the term Outsider Art about a month ago when I saw an interview on facebook.

The Outsider Art Fair is this week in New York City (January 21-24) at the Metropolitan Pavilion.

In a New York Times Magazine article, I learned about the Creative Growth Art Center in Oakland, California, where artists who have not had formal art education come to create. The work is considered more pure, raw, than mainstream art. Not always, but sometimes, the artists are physically or emotionally impaired.

George Wilson

In a Huffington Post article, Priscilla Frank discusses how a policeman learned to embrace his creative side.

Charles Sabba

I love this idea of self-taught art, art without academia.

Maybe it’s because in the eighties, I was accepted to the art program at NYU and things didn’t go well for me there.

In order to get in, I had to show a portfolio. I had to sit through a nerve-wracking interview. And when I got in, I was thrilled to be part of the New York City art community.

Until I wasn’t.

It didn’t go badly at first. In fact, during my first semester in the program, my drawing teacher appreciated and encouraged my style, which was heavily textured, strong contrast, little grey. And lots of white space. She didn’t judge the things I drew: a carrot peeler, an eggbeater, half a grapefruit.

You see I was 19, and newly married. That’s what I had in my apartment. That domesticity was my life.

My photography teacher showed black and white slides (with lots of grey) of a woman wearing a housecoat. This housewife was slumped on the couch, a broom near her side, a cigarette dangled from her lips. My teacher compared these photographs to my own, which told a different story of homemaking. In my photographs, my young son stood smiling and bottomless near a stacked dishwasher; and in a self-portrait, I proudly pushed out my pregnant belly.

The following semester, I had a male teacher. He was a prominent and respected figure in the school. He had a specific belief about art and artists. I didn’t fit into his schema. I was married with a child and I was economically well off, not a starving artist.

Soon enough I felt that I didn’t belong. I can’t tell you why he had such an influence over me but he did. And I learned years later, that he was fired because I wasn’t the only female student he’d bullied and shamed.

After I left the art program, I didn’t draw or paint for a long time. But years later, I made a few collages.

Corie Adjmi

 

Corie Adjmi

I’ve been thinking about drawing again, inspired by outsider art.

Smoke and the City

BLOG-CHILD SAVE US FROM TABACCO In 1984, I flew to Europe in a no-smoking seat.

The row in front of me was a smoking row.

That’s how it was then— preposterous!

I was three months pregnant and allergic to cigarette smoke.

The plane ride was a torturous eight hours as the man in front of me lit up every thirty minutes.

While government has been slow to respond to the dangers of cigarettes, smoking was banned on all U.S. domestic flights in 1990. And in 1995, Delta made all flights, including international flights, smoke-free.

On New York City streets, I run around, and in front of, people who are smoking.

Not wanting to breathe secondhand smoke, I sprint past buildings where workers congregate, smoking.

And what makes this running around extra-annoying is that smokers seem oblivious to the discomfort they cause.

Fortunately, the law has gotten involved.

And while Michael Bloomberg’s initiative to ban smoking in bars and restaurants was met with much resistance, it has been successful.

According to statistics, smoking in New York is down, and the city, and its restaurants and bars, seem to be thriving and doing just fine without the smoke-filled haze.

While Bloomberg was in office, he proposed a law to force residential buildings to develop smoking policies. He wanted buyers and tenants to be made aware of smoking regulations.

Unfortunately for me, the law did not pass.

I learned the hard way about noise due to construction in the city a few years back when I rented an apartment. But I truly thought it was me alone who experienced such terrible luck.

How was it possible for one individual to be surrounded by so much noise? (See: On Writing and Distractions.)

There is a Yiddish folktale: It Could Always Be Worse. But with the three apartments surrounding mine under construction, and one above me, I did not believe that could possibly be true.

But it was true.

A few months ago I signed a one-year lease on a New York City apartment. And in this new apartment the problem is much worse.

My neighbor is a chain-smoker and her secondhand smoke seeps into my apartment making it difficult to breathe.

The hallway carpeting reeks.

(Read this upsetting article about third hand smoke.)

Neighbors on all sides are incensed. But there is nothing we can do.

Our building does not have smoking restrictions. And us non-smokers have no rights, even though our health is at stake, our quality of life is compromised, and smoking is ranked second in causes for New York fires.

I don’t know how I didn’t notice the repulsive smell when I went to view the apartment. But I didn’t and the real estate agent didn’t point it out to me. Legally, she’s bound to mention bed bugs.

To make matters worse, my neighbor is an eighty-year old woman. She has been smoking for decades. And even if we (me and my neighbors) had the right, we wouldn’t evict an old lady.

We are stuck.

So often as a non-smoker, I've felt trapped, without choice, powerless.

So I was happy to discover that there are new smoking laws that protect children.

In England, you may not smoke in a private vehicle carrying children under 18.

In Italy, there is a ban on smoking in cars carrying pregnant woman and children.

In France, smoking was barred in July 2015 for children under 12.

In the United States, smoking with kids in the car is banned in eight states and the age of the child varies from state to state.

These laws do not apply to e-cigarettes or convertibles with the top down.

One day, soon I hope, in the same way we came to understand the importance of legislation demanding the use of seatbelts and helmets, and laws prohibiting drinking and driving, we will come to realize the obligation we have to protect non-smokers.

We will look back on this time in our history and wonder why we allowed smokers to subject non-smokers to pollutants that are known to affect health, cause cancer.

Could it get any worse?

BLOG-NO SMOKING CHILD IN CAR

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.

Faith

BLOG-FAITHAn Alpha-fetoprotein test indicated there might be a problem with my unborn baby’s health. The good news was that this particular blood test often showed false positives.

The bad news was that the test could be right.

I thought I was the kind of person who’d need to find out if my baby was healthy. I figured I'd have an amniocentesis done and within two weeks, I'd know.

My husband and I went for genetic counseling, a requirement before amniocentesis was preformed at the time, and we learned that our chances for having a sick child were exactly equal to the chance of me having a miscarriage due to the procedure.

Five months in, my stomach the size of a soccer ball, I was already attached to my unborn baby. Wanting it, I decided at the last minute that I could live with whatever my higher power had in store for me but that I couldn’t live with a miscarriage that was my own doing.

The rabbi encouraged me to pray with all my heart as if anything could happen but believe, simultaneously, that everything was going to be okay.

I spent the next twenty weeks of my pregnancy not knowing.

Thankfully, the baby was healthy.

Looking back, I don't how I did that.

Be Here Now

BLOG-BE HERE NOWMy cell phone was dead so I left it charging in my bedroom. I sat outside on the front steps waiting for my grandson to get off his camp bus. Normally, that time would’ve passed uneventfully as I caught up reading emails or scrolled through instagram and facebook. But sitting there, alone, no phone in hand had me fidgety and bored.

When my kids were small, I waited for the camp bus every day and I didn’t have a cell phone.

I guess it was during that downtime that I used to think, which I absolutely have no time for now. Now, instead of coming up with my own thoughts, I read other people’s ideas and “like” them.

BLOG-MIND TOO ACTIVE

Through social media, I am reminded...

It’s never too late.

I am enough.

Miracles happen when you believe.

There are countless recipes I must try and a plethora of clothes I must buy.

There is no time anymore to sit still and just “Be.”

As a young mother, I didn’t have all those social media distractions and I am grateful for that.

For years, I fought against technology and cell phone use. I left my phone off in my purse and wouldn’t talk on it in public places.

But I do now. And it’s hard to know what’s lost.

That day, waiting for the bus, alone and undistracted, I had a writing idea, one I might not have had if I were “liking” someone else’s new facebook picture or copying and pasting a memorable quote.

Now, I check my phone countless times a day. I think it’s the intermittent reinforcement. You never know when that great email is coming. Just this week I received a second invitation to submit one of my posts to the North American Review for their blog. You can find that post here.

Just as I am thankful I had children before cell phones were as indispensable as fingers, I’m glad I began writing before I had a cell phone too.

Presently, I start my day reading emails and checking out what’s posted on instagram but a decade ago, I did Morning Pages, which are three pages of longhand writing, strictly stream-of-consciousness.

Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way, says “The pages may not seem spiritual or even meditative—but they are a valid form of meditation that gives us insight and helps us effect change in our lives.”

BLOG-Words influence change

Over many years, I filled stacks of black and white composition notebooks. My children knew that writing time was sacred and my daughter, at two, would say to her siblings, “Shhh, Mommy’s doing her Morning Pages now.”

It was a daily practice, a ritual.

It was a time to be still and reflect.

It was a time to plan and discover.

I loved the feel of my hand moving across the page (no you can’t do Morning Pages on a computer).

It’s also important to know  you can’t do Morning Pages wrong. And there are so many ways that journal writing can go right.

Sometimes I figured out a way to deal with a family matter, uncovered a dream I didn't even know I had or developed a writing idea.

Sometimes, I simply jotted down what I needed to do that day.

The point is that it encouraged mindfulness, focusing my attention on the emotions and thoughts happening in that present moment.

It was my time to

BLOG-BE4And since you're on your cell phone or computer, and not meditating, I might as well leave you with this...

BLOG-BE STILL

 

Should Your 20-Somethings Live at Home?

'I can't move in with my parents. They moved in with my grandparents.My two 20-something year-old children moved back home this year after living on their own for a while. I liked the idea of them moving back in— even as I watched band equipment pile up and block the front door. It was like a second chance, a chance to know my children as adults, and to parent them as adults too, which is a whole different story than parenting them as children.

And quite frankly, I missed them.

When adult children return home, after living independently, some things remain unchanged like the fact that their Harry Potter collection still rests on their bedroom shelves, but they no longer need me to cut fresh fruit for their breakfast lest they miss a healthy start to their day.

It’s common now for 20-somethings to live at home. They are what are known as the Boomerang Generation and close to 40% of millennials live with their parents.

There has been some worry over this: Are these adult children unable or unwilling to live on their own?

Parents, including myself, have an uneasy feeling. Are we enabling unhealthy or, at the very least, unsettling behavior?

Shouldn’t they be paying their own bills, doing their own laundry, cooking their own meals?

At first, when my adult children moved back home, I wondered if I was making a mistake, overindulging them. They are 16 months apart and when they were small, I used to sit them side-by-side, like twins, under a breakfast tray in my bed, and serve them cheese and croissants and orange juice while they watched television.

I was giving them breakfast in bed before they were three. Of course they’d want to come home. Who wouldn’t?

I wondered if allowing them to come back was wrong—a setback, a crutch.

After all, when I was a 20-something, I already had a husband, 2 children and a house. But things are not the same as they were when I was a 20-something and lately I’ve been thinking about this cultural shift in a different way, mostly because my 20-somethings seem to be doing just fine.

It’s important we consider what’s changed.

For one, people are living longer.

Women are not pressured to marry and start a family as early as they once were. (I know a woman who had twins at 47!)

And economically, this generation can’t compete.

It is arrogant, and I believe a bit naïve, for any generation to look at the one after it and judge, or to think we did it better.

My generation can look at 20-somethings and criticize their “delayed” development or we can scrutinize what’s happening in our culture from a different point of view, a positive one.

Historically, in this country, 18 year-olds went off to college, and many of them never returned home. Sometimes that was due to job opportunities in far-off cities but often people deliberately moved across the country to get as far away from their parents and family strife as possible.

Consequently, we have seen epic numbers of depressed people, lonely and isolated.

But the 20-somethings I know have been parented with more emotional attunement. And, in my opinion, that’s not a bad thing.

In fact, it seems that psychologists are beginning to understand the importance of Bowlby’s Attachment Theory, and its ramifications at all stages of development.

Bowlby’s ideas are being considered not only in how young children attach (and separate) but in marriage as well.

Dr. Sue Johnson, the author of Hold Me Tight, says that we are emotionally attached to and dependent on our partners in much the same way that a child is on a parent for nurturing, soothing and protection.

I’m suggesting that 20-somethings need that support and comfort as well.

There was a time when multigenerational living was the norm. But then things shifted as people needed to work outside the home: going off and becoming independent became a necessity, and then a goal.

So while healthy separation and becoming independent may be important skills to master, is it possible that we drive that agenda unnaturally, or at least prematurely, by expecting two year-olds to spend all day at school and 18 year-olds to live on their own?

There’s been a backlash and not just in families.

Today schools and work environments are responding as people cluster at communal tables and shared workspaces.

We are social beings and we need one another.

When our emotional connections are disrupted, at any age, it can be unsettling. Traditionally, as children moved away from home, parents had to deal with the sadness associated with empty nest syndrome.

So maybe it’s not necessary to push our chicks out of the nest so soon.

It is true that your 20-something may leave his or her shoes on the kitchen floor but then you may find your freezer stocked with your favorite organic vegan cookies.

Your razor may go missing but then your 20-something comes home and wants to talk, hang out, just as you were feeling lonely.

Why not let them stick around awhile?

My 20-somethings are beginning to spread their wings.

And when they feel ready, I know they will fly.

Our Old Ways Don't Hold Water

BLOG-WATER COOLERThere was an emergency in my apartment building the other day and the water was shut off. Some New Yorkers mind the rodents, some— the noise. I mind when my water is shut off. (Not that I’m fond of rodents or noise. See: On Writing and Distractions.)

But having water taken away gives me anxiety. I think about all I can’t do: cook, laundry, shower.

But mostly, it forces me to think about people in other countries who can’t turn a faucet to get water and have to walk for miles.

It makes me pay attention to how much we depend on it and expect it to just flow freely, clean and clear, through the tap.

It was disconcerting when, hours later, the water was turned back on in my building and chunks of mud came out of the showerhead. When I attempted to brush my teeth, the water ran brown, then blue.

What does that even mean? 

This got me conjuring up wild scenarios in my head, a world without water, a science fiction thriller.

The next morning, I read an article in the New York Times, California’s Drought Changes Habits in the Kitchen. The article addressed how the drought is causing food shortages, higher prices and smaller crops. Lawmakers and citizens alike are making changes in order to conserve water.

A new state rule prohibits waiters from serving water without a customer asking for it first. There is a $500.00 fine for breaking this regulation.

Cooks are using the water they used to boil pasta to water their plants. They are baking and steaming vegetables instead of boiling them.

The article resonated.

It simply never occurred to me that I could, or should, reuse the water I boiled pasta in.

But now that I’ve heard this idea, why wouldn’t I?

I’ve written about our relationship to the earth before in Gratitude+Giving=Grace  and Earth Day 2015. And again, it's possible that no single small initiative by any individual is going to save the world or be overly important.

But what seems essential is consciousness and a sense of responsibility.

Think about it: We take water for granted. Like it’s always going to be there.

But what if it’s not?

This past weekend, I walked on the Asbury Park Boardwalk. As I left the boardwalk, I walked along a path around a lake where people jog and bike and walk to the main street.

On the path, there was a five-gallon water bottle and cooler. Beside the cooler, on a chair, there were stacks of plastic cups and a garbage can where people could dispose of their used cups.

Clearly this was not an environmentally sound setup but this is where we are now. The Age of the Water Bottle and it stood out like a mirage in the desert.

Perched on top of the water bottle, was a sign, and on it was a Jewish prayer known as Shehakol. It is a blessing said before drinking water.

So there I was tired, hot and thirsty and there was this offering, this water for me and everyone else who passed by. All the homeowner wanted in return was for those who drank the water to stop for a moment and express gratitude.

There was something in the generosity, the thoughtfulness, coupled with my thirst that made that moment have deep meaning and as I recited the prayer, I felt sincere appreciation.

Simultaneously, I felt a bit of anxiety as I stopped to reflect on how when I was a child, water was complimentary. I could drink from the tap without thought and play for hours, carefree, with a garden hose; and how presently we pay for water that we drink out of plastic bottles, how we pollute our drinking water and how  environmental issues like droughts are making water scarce in our own country.

The five-gallon water bottle is a symbol of where we are now.

The question is: Where are we going?

Let's Talk About Sex

BLOG-Let's Talk About ItI was never one to talk about my sex life. I thought discussing sex was distasteful. Where did I get that notion?

According to the New York Times article, Let’s Talk About Your Sex, I’m not alone. Even couples therapists don’t talk about sex.

Or at least, they didn’t until recently. And shockingly, couples therapists aren’t required to have any training in sex.

But there are provocative voices emerging in the field of couples therapy and the questions these therapists are asking and the ideas they are probing are gaining my attention.

A few months back, in a blog post titled, Your Brain and Love, I recommended Stan Tatkin’s book, Wired for Love. The premise of the book is that if you understand your partner's brain and attachment style, you can defuse conflict and build a secure relationship.

I am now reading Hold Me Tight, by Sue Johnson. She is the developer of Emotionally Focused Therapy and believes we are emotionally attached to and dependent on our partners in much the same way that a child is on a parent for nurturing, soothing and protection.

Both books emphasize safety, loyalty and attachment as the foundations for intimacy.

But the New York Times article also mentions therapist, Ester Perel, who I wrote about in a blog post called, Desire and Marriage: A Pardox? She believes that the current conversation around intimacy and sex are limiting, that while an affair can be an act of betrayal it can also be about expansion and growth.

Dr. Nelson, the author of The New Monogamy: Redefining Your Relationship After Infidelity, is also noted.

Both Ester Perel and Dr. Nelson believe that a marriage is not over after an affair. They are broadening the conversation, not speaking in absolutes, asking important questions. They are curious, studying.

In regards to an affair, Ester Perel speaks about being an investigator as opposed to a detective. A detective wants to know where and when and with who. An investigator wants to get to the meaning of the affair.

The New York Times article attempts to position Sue Johnson against Perel and Nelson and I’m wondering why we feel the need to turn their ideas into opposing ones, a battle of it’s either this or that.

Why can’t we look at their ideas as this and that?

All of the therapists mentioned above are adding to the conversation about what it means to partner with someone you love. They are changing the dialogue, challenging old rules and supporting new ways of being in relationship.  Some of their beliefs (like how an affair can draw a couple out of deadness or that your couple bubble comes first, even before your own children) can feel frightening or downright outrageous.

But they are talking, stretching our beliefs, and I admire that.

Not too long ago sex wasn’t taught in school. People feared that talking about sexuality would encourage kids to have sex prematurely. But some were having sex anyway so why not educate them, give them information that could prevent them from contracting a disease or getting pregnant.

Dr. Nelson trains therapists to ask a couple about sex in the first session. “If you’re not talking about sex, you’re perpetuating the idea that they shouldn’t be.”

So in an effort to move out of darkness and into possibility, I agree, Let’s talk about sex.

A Tip for My Uber Driver

BLOG- 5 STARSI’m a nervous traveler so when my Uber driver informed me about two accidents and huge delays on the 405, he contributed to my already high anxiety. After riling me up, he tried to calm me down by assuring me that LAX was pretty cool about allowing check-in as close to 30 minutes before flight time.

I’d planned my arrival at the airport, allotting one hour and 15 minutes before flight time. (I like to stand in long lines at Starbucks and get coffee before a flight.) 30 minutes was not going to cut it.

I was not happy.

And then to top things off, my driver wouldn’t stop talking.

He talked even though I read emails, head down. He talked even when I gave one-word answers. He talked and talked and talked.

And then I started to worry. Was my Uber driver judging me?

It was in Maureen Dowd’s article, Driving Uber Mad, that I learned Uber drivers rate their passengers. And it did cross my mind, since I wasn’t in the mood to chat, that he could find me unpleasant and consequently, give me a bad rating, which would make other drivers wary of picking me up in the future.

On my behalf, I will disclose, I’d just completed a grueling weekend where, over four days, I hiked a total of 36 miles, a great deal of it uphill. And some at 18% incline.

I was exhausted, totally wiped out.

And I’d spent four days in a group. I needed to unwind. I needed to spend time in my own head. I needed a blog post idea.

I can reason about all of this now, in retrospect. But at the time, I felt bad about being unfriendly.

Was I being mean?

Rude?

Reluctantly, I listened as he talked about L.A. traffic, his previous fare and how he kept his car clean.

I listened to how he used to live on the east coast, and that even though most people in the east like the foliage and the fall; he preferred spring.

And then the conversation veered when he said, “I’d like to get a five star rating from you. If there were any issues with this ride, I’d like to hear your comments. Just be upfront.”

As much as I wanted to say, “Besides your non-stop talking everything was fine, I simply said, “I’ll give you five stars.”

After all, as far as service went, I convinced myself, he’d done a good job. In the end, because of his navigation system, his determination in maneuvering away from the 405 and his constant up-to-the-minute reporting, it appeared I was going to get to the airport on time. The only problem with the ride, I deduced, was my mood, and that I wanted some quiet.

And then he asked, “You want to know your rating?”

Over the weekend, everything I did was rated in numbers: how many miles I hiked, how much I weighed, how many inches I lost. This was just one more scale I could place myself on.

“Sure,” I said feeling confident. (You’d feel confident too if you’d hiked 36 miles in four days and lost eight inches.)

“You know, only a cool driver would tell you your score.” He glanced at me through the rearview mirror.

I waited patiently for my results to appear.

“4.8,” he said.

I didn’t think that was so bad but according to my driver, it wasn’t good. And I wondered what I’d done that got me less than five stars.

“WHAT? WHY?” I asked, all of a sudden feeling knocked down a peg (or .2).

“I don’t know,” he chuckled.

And I could tell he was thrilled to reveal this less than perfect (and supposed to be private) score.

He went on to say that the rating system was flawed, that someone gave him four stars because his car wasn’t clean. “Look around,” he said. “My car is spotless.” And to his credit, it was.

He told me that he thought I was the perfect customer. He said that I was respectful and I hadn’t kept him waiting.

“Unless someone throws up in my car or is disrespectful, they get a five,” he said.

“Well, I’ve never thrown up in an Uber. And I’ve never been disrespectful.”

“I have a friend,” he said, “who gives a four to anyone who doesn’t tip.”

“Wait a minute,” I said. “Tip? You don’t tip Uber. That’s the point. That’s the best part of Uber. Isn’t the tip included in the price?”

SIDE NOTE: Even though I consider myself a good tipper, I have to admit, I hate tipping. Especially after drinking a glass of wine at dinner.

I hate that it’s arbitrary.

I hate that I have to do mental math.

Just last week, at a restaurant in L.A, my bill came on a touch pad and all I had to do was press 15%, 18% or 20% tip. I pressed 20% and the total was added for me. All I had to do was swipe and sign.

Brilliant.

That I didn’t mind.

*****

What was my Uber driver trying to tell me? Was he going to take away a star if I didn’t tip him?

“Actually,” I said, “I thought you weren’t supposed to tip.”

“Well, it is discouraged,” he admitted.

But then he went on to tell me about the price of gas and how it’s gone up. He told me he believed the Uber App should have a place to add a tip.

And since I loved the aforementioned experience at the L.A. restaurant, I agreed that would be a good solution, even though I’d only moments before learned there was a problem.

As he pulled up to the curb at LAX, my driver said, "It’s because the founder of Uber doesn’t believe in tipping.”

Like-minds!

Me too, I wanted to scream.

SIDE NOTE #2: Don’t misunderstand. The way things are set up presently in restaurants and beauty salons, for example, tipping is important. And tipping generously is even, in my view, a moral obligation. Workers rely on their tips to make ends meet, to put food on their tables.

But there's a problem with tipping. It’s too subjective and when to do it is not always obvious. And of course how much to tip is suspect to fluctuating or arbitrary criterion like mood swings or income level.

Why not have flat rates? A standard tip included. I thought Uber was on to something.

Why should a worker’s income be placed in my hands, or any (cranky or lazy or stingy) customer’s hands, and not their employer’s hands? *****

As my Uber driver helped me lift my luggage from his trunk, I said, I’ll trade you five stars for five stars.”

He laughed and said, "Okay."

But I’ve been thinking. Maybe I shouldn’t have been so quick to make a deal. Maybe I should’ve given him four stars (or less) for chewing my ear off for over an hour and trying to manipulate me into giving him a tip.

The ride, overall, was an uncomfortable reminder that we are always being graded or weighed or rated or judged.

Here’s a tip Mr. Uber driver- Proceed with caution. Yes, you’re in the driver’s seat and can steer conversations wherever you want; but your passengers shouldn’t feel trapped as if the air bag has just blown up in their face.

Someone less congenial might take away a star, or two.

Let the Children Play

BLOG-PLAYWhen I was in kindergarten, my school day ended at noon. My teacher played the piano and my class sang along. She read out loud to us, The Carrot Seed and Are You My Mother?

In all fairness, I do remember a pencil can in the middle of our communal table and echoing the words to a Dick and Jane book.

But mostly, I remember Green Trees. Yes, that’s right our playing field had a name. And I recall, vividly, a seesaw and running and playing tag.

Twenty years later, things were different.

My son’s kindergarten day ended at 3:00. He was not yet 5, but the first thing his teacher told me at his parent conference in November was, “He still wants to play.” She said this as if this was a bad thing and that something had to be done if my son was to succeed at all.

Being an NYU student who was majoring in education, I ignored her. Well, that’s not exactly true. I talked about her endlessly to anyone who would listen, wondering why someone who obviously knew nothing about children or education was allowed to teach.

The year before, when my son was 4, his teacher raved at our parent conference about how he had a glowing imagination. She reported that he could brilliantly story tell, recall details from stories he’d been told and had a flare for description. And most importantly, he had a twinkle in his eye and a smile on his face.

So you can imagine my surprise when his kindergarten teacher did not feel the same way about his development and wanted him to sit still longer and pay attention better.

This child of mine had learned to tie his shoes the previous summer while he was still 4; but when I showed up in April to help out in his classroom, his teacher looked at me, pointed to my son’s untied shoe laces and said, “It’s time he learn to tie his shoes.”

Why had my son played (pun intended) like he couldn’t tie his shoes throughout most of the year?

And what else had he pretended he couldn’t do?

According to Let the Kids Learn Through Play, a New York Times piece, academic teaching in kindergarten can backfire. It can cause unnecessary stress and spoil a child’s desire to learn.

Jay Giedd, a neuroscientist, spent his career studying how the human brain develops and says that most kids younger than 8 are better suited for exploration than they are for didactic explanation.

Formal education at an early age will not foster people who can discover and innovate; and in fact, may result in children earning lower grades than children who had the opportunity to learn through play.

My grandson is now learning to read and it’s as if this generation of teachers and educational policy makers still did not get the memo:

Children learn through play.

It is essential for their development, not to mention their happiness and overall well-being.

BLOG-PLAY UNITES BODY MIND SPIRIT

All (Fat) Talk and No Action

BLOG-EXERCISEWhen I was young, I had an aunt who repeatedly called herself fat. I believed her.

But she wasn’t.

In The Problem With Fat Talk, Renee Engeln reports that in a 2011 survey, 90 percent of college woman admitted to engaging in fat talk. Only 9 percent of them were actually overweight.

Shaming the body is a big deal. It makes people feel bad and it brings others around them down too. Plus, it's contagious.

Studies show that fat talk is common in women across all ages and all body sizes.

For most of my life, I was spared that destiny. I didn't engage in fat talk, count calories, compare low fat diets or eliminate carbs. I could eat as much as I wanted and was still naturally thin.

Until I wasn’t.

Or until I thought I wasn’t because technically I was still thin, just not as thin as I’d always been.

My body started changing in my forties when I grew a fibroid the size of a honeydew. (I know in my post Attachment Theory, I said it was expected to be the size of grapefruit; but it wasn't.)

It was huge and I wasn’t used to having to hide parts of myself under clothing. Around that time, feeling defeated, I succumbed and began fat talking.

But the fibroid was removed 9 months ago, and up until a month ago, I was still at it. Fat Talking, I mean.

I’d stopped exercising, gained some weight and felt bad about it.

I was fat talking myself into a tizzy and I didn’t recognize myself. Who was this woman talking about getting fat all the time?

And then one morning, I had enough.

I booked a stay at a spa.

Four days of rigorous hiking, exercise and diet.

I did this to take care of myself. I’ve always believed exercise was important and I couldn’t believe how I let myself get so out of shape. Not literally as in my physical shape (although that too) but strength-wise. I used to be athletic: a cheerleader, a track runner, a tennis player. How was it that a set of stairs had me huffing and puffing?

For a month now, I’ve been exercising regularly; Pilates, treadmill, weight training, stretching, a little bit more each day.

I’ve been cooking with less oil, reading lists of ingredients and drinking water with lemon and cayenne pepper.

It’s only been a couple of weeks so it’s not that I look all that different; but I certainly do feel different.

I have some goals: build strength and tone. And never again let myself be all (fat) talk and no action.