big disclosure: i don’t use anti bacterial soap. i have no issues with those who do. i respect it’s importance and place in the world and am glad it exists. i love seeing huge dispensers of it in offices and grocery stores. in rare situations i will indulge in a pump or two...when meeting new babies and their parents or visiting the hospital or ill. most often, however, i simply wash my hands well and thoroughly with lots of hot water and bubbly soap. if i’ve handled something particularly dirty or questionable i wash my hands twice as i do when i’m sick or changing diapers.
i feel good about about this. my kids were babies when the medical news was heavily peppered with cautions about protecting our immune systems so heavily with anti-bacterials and antibiotics that we could become unable to resist common germs. i took this seriously (even though i never researched it in depth) and so far, the whole consistent use of soap and water schtick has been a system that has worked for me.
my mind works in bizarre ways so i thought a lot about my feelings about anti-bacterial soap on a recent trip. i was traveling to speak and chose to add a day to give myself some writing and down time in a new city. i cherish these little pockets of time and desire to eek every second of fun, productivity, and rest out of them. looking forward to the trip, i decided ahead of time to treat my planning like i treat my hand washing: the “old fashioned” way. this meant that i would use the internet to find and book a hotel that struck my fancy (using hotel sites alone...no review sites) and to rent a car but that i would do all other aspects of the trip checking nothing out ahead of time. no review reading. no “top 10 things to do in dallas” lists to tick off. i would simply go to dallas and have an experience. my time might not end with me having eaten the perfect food or seen the most amazing site but it would be filled with getting my hands dirty experientially and relationally in a way i rarely do anymore.
when i pulled out of the rental car garage i studied the paper map that had been left for me in my car and chose a path to the hotel. i made it there without incident and stopped at a market next door where i bought local fruit and vegetables to bring back to my room. upon check in at the hotel (which i chose as a result of my not so secret love of independent hoteliers who are bringing old travel lodges back to life) i asked where, in meat and barbecue land, i might find a hearty vegetarian meal. their suggestion was amazing and, over dinner, a server on break chatted with me about other places to be sure and eat while in town. she hugged me when i left and promised to look for me when she visits oregon.
the next morning i hesitatingly headed to the hotel’s partner restaurant, knowing it was a meat eater’s paradise. once the waiter knew i was a (cheerful and gracious) vegetarian he began filling my table with everything non-meat related he could think of. i loved this man at once and asked him what i should see if i had 24 hours in his hometown. i wrote down everything he said. that night, armed with my two server’s ideas i mapped out the hours i had allotted for exploration.
a tire blow-out on the freeway the next morning meant i had an extra opportunity to meet a local when mike, the triple a respondee, weighed in on all things dallas. after huge thanks and a shared selfie i followed the sound of drums to a park where i met acro yoga folks who “flew”* me and found a food truck with the best grilled cheese, tomato, and jalepeno sandwich i am sure i will ever eat. across the street at the art museum i met viviene who, when i asked if she could orient me to the museum, told me to “relax and let the art minister to me” and that i “was family and that [she] hopes someone will tell her the same if she ever gets to come to portland.” later, gazing at the spot in the road where jfk was shot i looked around and witnessed people laughing while others cried and still others walked by without seeming regard for the specificity of the place. likely, these latter folks were home and walk by us tourists all the time. this felt somehow right.
in that moment, it struck me how much i had experienced without ever looking at yelp or trip advisor. i had eaten well (stupidly well), experienced connection with a variety of people (not in-depth connection but simply that of asking and listening to what they liked and thanking them), and had seen art and historic sites. i had found my way in a new city without the help of a disembodied voice coming from my phone and as a result actually had a sense of location and space in this new place that i sometimes never have when i travel with the help of gps exclusively. on top of all of this i didn’t feel the anxiety or sadness that i sometimes feel when i’ve over-researched what to do in a city and simply don’t have the time to make it all happen. it felt beautifully rich to have simply had a dallas experience that was directed by dallas residents.
checking out of the hotel, i gushed to the front desk staff about my trip. i told them that i had emailed them details about how wonderful i found their hotel. as i left the parking lot i realized that i had done this at each location i found to be beautiful, meaningful, or delicious by making a verbal or written effort to express gratitude and praise to the proprieters and staff who had contributed to my experiences. each time i did this the response was something like, “if you loved us, we’d love a review on trip advisor/yelp! that’s where we succeed or fail.” this struck me. it is obvious that a satisfied and thankful customer (even a gushingly grateful and expressive one) isn’t really enough for a hard working business owner anymore. they know the power of a negative review and feel a need to capture any potential positive ones. no longer can they relish in doing the work they love or feel called to or stumbled up (whatever the case may be) but now they must also run p.r. campaigns in order to ensure their longevity.
in many ways i have come to think of internet review sites as the anti-bacterial soap of our experiential lives. these sites, at the ready to direct us toward the best of everything and away from whatever others seem to deem only worthy of a star or two, keep our experiences safe and tidy. sometimes i wonder if they keep life too safe and too tidy. there are times, of course, where resources (time, money, energy, etc) are at a minimum and doing research up front is imperative and crucial. do we really, however, need to read multiple reviews before choosing each experience we have or business we frequent every day? if we do, and we fashion our days with wonderfulness curated by the reviewers who have done the experiential work of life for us, might we begin to rely on a certain “safeness?”
sanitized experience has it’s place. it also has it’s cost. a life lived completely inside one’s comfort zones padded by the safe and seemingly reliable opinions, critiques, and reviews of others has the potential of making a life very narrow and rigid. lives lived in this way don’t build up immune systems that can respond flexibly, handle hardship, less than the best, or the “good enough.” these lives miss out on the hilarity that can ensue when the absolute wrong route is taken or the whacky restaurant chosen. these lives visit places but don’t experience them. they inhabit spaces but aren’t fully present in them. just like bodies that are used to anti-bacterial soap, the slightest speck of dirt can cause alarm and possibly even illness.
so why not choose an adventure? it doesn’t have to be a huge one. it might be one that simply stretches you just a little. try a restaurant you know nothing about. instead of waiting to give a review online, give it in person, allowing the business to right a wrong or celebrate a success. choose a book that simply appeals to you rather than one that’s been suggested. watch a film completely outside of the genre you prefer. read or listen to a news story from a perspective that is not your own. or, go a bit further. have a day that unfolds in a place you don’t know. you don’t have to get on a plane to do this. i bet there’s a corner of your own city (or one nearby) that you’ve never wandered in. try a spin or yoga or tennis class even though you’ve never entered a gym. go to a civic/community event you know nothing about (a town hall meeting, a dance recital, a concert at a church, or book or poetry reading) and revel in the stretching that occurs. get your hands fully dirty...knowing that there’s plenty of soap and water for whatever is left that you don’t want to keep.
*to be "flown" in acro yoga is basically to have a base person support your weight while you "play" with finding balance in different poses. while my flight looked nothing like this, here is an example of my daughter flying click here