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“You did not talk to her,” my 9-year-old said incredulously.

“Not only did I talk to her,” I retorted, “I asked if I could videotape her.”

I had just run into the woman my son refers to as “Goooo Vegan.”  Our local post office has incomprehensibly long lines, and those of us waiting our turn were getting pretty grumpy.  Clerks and customers were being snippy with each other, people were talking loudly on their cell phones, others were cursing the wait and the whole darned US Postal Service. Read the rest of this entry »

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While walking with my 8-year-old son near our home in Manhattan, he spotted a purple swastika scrawled across a billboard advertisement. As I took in the complexities of the situation, my son uttered words that made my heart break…

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It was a very risky idea, given how much he wanted Beats headphones ($200 headphones for a kid?) and a Wii.  But this past week I gave my tween-age son his holiday present, choosing to surprise him with the gift of an experience over a thing.

Here’s what came out of his 5-day art class (and I’ve got the pictures to prove it!)…

The night I handed my 11-year-old a handmade card describing his holiday gift from me, he glanced at it quickly then looked back in the envelope as if to say, “That’s it?  Is there cash in here at least?”  But that was it — five days with a small class in an artist’s studio in SoHo, NYC.

He was dubious.

When the elevator opened right into the studio the next morning, five other students turned to look at us.  There were two boys who appeared to be high school seniors (one of them sporting Beats), and a few adults who had the air of honest-to-goodness artists already.  The teacher seemed like he might need a second cup of coffee as he casually pointed to a table where my son should sit.

As I left, I said a desperate prayer to the holiday gods, asking for this not to be a total disaster.

My son called me several times that day asking what I was doing with his younger brother, who is also on school vacation.  “We’re sitting here doing absolutely NOTHING,” I replied, hoping not to make him jealous.  “You’d be BORED OUT OF YOUR MIND!

By the end of the first day, he brought home this:

Hand, Day 1

And this:

Copy of Picasso's portrait of Igor Stravinsky

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Click on image to hear Studs Terkel talk about what has been lost in modern life and where he saw hope for our future

Ah, Black Friday.  The most ironic holiday of the year!

Shopping list in hand, sharp elbows at the ready — this is the day we beat back our fellow man in the quest for that perfect holiday gift for our loved ones.  Coming at the heels of Thanksgiving, it’s hard to imagine a faster way to snuff out the warm glow of friendship and family that the season symbolizes for so many.

A few years ago I was part of an amazing team at StoryCorps, one of the largest oral history projects in the world, as we launched the National Day of Listening, an alternative (or additional!) activity for Black Friday.

We encouraged everyone who would listen to start a new tradition by interviewing someone they loved about their lives that day.  An elderly relative.  A returned service man or woman.  A teacher or the person who sells you your morning coffee.  At its heart was the most meaningful gift we could give another person —  telling them that their life matters and that we care. Read the rest of this entry »

Naked on the Bowery, copyright Art Observed

I realize this title might sound a bit provocative, like the outcome of a game of Truth or Dare gone terribly awry.

But this month I participated in museum-sanctioned nakedness and submerged myself in a one-of-a-kind exhibit dubbed the Giant Psycho Tank — a sensory deprivation pool of heavily salinated, skin temperature water.

If you’ve spent any time in NYC in the past few weeks, it’s hard to miss the ads announcing this exhibit by artist Carsten Höller at the New Museum.  Since its opening, visitors have been flocking to the Bowery to try out some of the experiential installations for themselves.

See video at the bottom of the post to learn how the New Museum installed the slide!

I didn’t intend to stand in line for the Psycho pool, but I had just gotten seriously banged up on another one of Höller’s pieces, a 100-foot metal tube slide which drops visitors down an Alice in Wonderland-like shoot at high speed into a room full of life-size neon crocodiles and hippos and rapidly flashing lights (not recommended for those who have visually induced seizures or a whole host of other conditions, the Museum warns).

True, I had been told to keep my arms together until I landed on the mat two floors below, but a primal survival instinct caused me to put out my hands at the bottom to stop myself from crashing to the floor. Call me crazy.  My right hand instantly swelled, which I was told by one of the security guards “has been happening a lot around here,” adding, “You’re just lucky it wasn’t your head.” Read the rest of this entry »


I started this blog right around the time Apple launched Siri, a voice-activated personal assistant who has a response to most questions or comments you speak into your new iPhone:  “Siri – I’m hungry.  Where can I get food around here?”  Her answer:  “I have located 18 restaurants in your immediate vicinity.  They are…”   Or, my kids’ favorite:  “Siri, where can I dump a body?”  to which she’ll respond, “What kind of place are you looking for… swamps, reservoirs, etc,

I would never be mistaken for a Luddite by anyone over, say, 25.   But I am concerned that if we don’t find ways to disconnect, we will lose sight of the serendipity and face-to-face connection that make life worth living.  And, of course, there are many things that Siri can’t interpret.  This blog is about some of those uniquely human experiences — on-line and off — that make up this one blogger’s life.

My name is Barbara, and I live on the Lower East Side.  I’m a mom, outnumbered in our NYC apartment by three loving but boisterous guys.  (I call our home The Frat House, if that gives you an indication.)  I work with human rights activists from around the world by day and teach at a university by night.

Life can feel a little crazy over here at times, but writing helps me slow down and gain perspective.  I learned that last year when I wrote a blog called Last Year To Live, in which I recorded observations in living while my close childhood friend was living out her final year.

Now I’m back, and hoping you’ll come along for this new leg of the journey.

Leave a comment, and let me know who you are.  Do you blog too?  I’d love to follow your work.

Thanks so much for reading!

 

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