Richard Swerdlow

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Tax day is here again.

Like most average Americans, around 29 percent of my paycheck goes to income taxes. As a teacher, in such a costly city — San Francisco is rated the world’s second-most expensive city – ahead of New York and Tokyo — I should probably be upset.

But you know what? I’m not.

I may not have a lot of extra money, but I don’t mind paying for things I use every day. And I see my tax dollars at work all day long. From clean water to make my morning coffee, paved roads I drive, buses I take, health department food inspectors making sure my lunch is prepared hygienically, to police officers keeping my city safe while I sleep. And in my professional life as a public school teacher, every day I see the life-changing power of education, free to everybody, thanks to tax dollars.

Whenever I hear someone complaining about taxes, I wonder: Don’t you drive across bridges, maintained by taxes? Do you fly in airplanes, guided by tax-funded air traffic control? Have you visited a national park or beach, funded by us, the taxpayers? And if your house were on fire, would you call the fire department, paid for by, yes, your tax dollars.

I’m pleased my doctor must meet government safety standards, as does my auto mechanic, and barber, enforced by tax-funded licensing agencies. I’m glad intersections have stoplights. I’m glad streets have street lights. I’m pleased I can flush, courtesy of the sanitation department. In fact, I’m OK with contributing to a functioning society – and I’m not alone. According to a Pew research study, about a third of Americans like paying their taxes.

Not to say I’m totally thrilled. I don’t always agree with how our money is spent, and, like 57% of Americans in that study, I think the wealthy should pay their fair share, despite our current president who announced not paying taxes makes him smart.

What’s smart is each of us, reasonably pitching in to making a country that’s livable for all of us, not just billionaires. So, on Tuesday, maybe it will lessen the pain to consider the many benefits your taxes provide for you, for me, and for everyone who lives our country, even if you live in the White House.

With a Perspective, I’m Richard Swerdlow.

Richard Swerdlow works for the San Francisco Unified School District.

Richard Swerdlow new

It’s been a rainy winter in the Bay Area, and that’s good news after years of drought. But for teachers, few days are rougher than a rainy one, a classroom full of energetic kids stuck inside.

This winter has me remembering one rainy day, early in my career. With weeks of wet weather, my third grade students spent every recess trapped indoors, and we were all beginning to get a little cabin fever. After school, as parents pulled up in the pouring rain, I watched kids exuberantly splash their way through the biggest puddles on the short trip from school door to car door.

So, the next day, as students glumly prepared for yet another indoor recess, I suddenly decided rainy days don’t have to be miserable. I demonstrated folding a boat out of paper, and decorating it with water-proof waxy crayon. The kids could hardly wait. Soon, on the floor of the busy, noisy classroom, a paper navy had formed. Big boats and small boats, all brightly colored with crayon flags of many nations.

The kids and I grabbed jackets, hats and boots, and clutching paper boats trooped outside, kids whooping in joy, after so many “inside voices” days. “OK” I hollered, “Find a puddle and float your boat!”

Kids scattered across the sopping school yard, gathering around the deepest puddles, splashing and shouting. Some boats sailed, some floated calmly, some sank instantly. From puddle boat races to tiny Titanics, I was surrounded by delighted children, playing in the downpour.

The paper flotilla didn’t last long – I didn’t want anyone to catch pneumonia. So inside we trooped again, students flushed and happy as kids on Christmas morning. And, it was the best rainy day any of us ever spent in school.

In this overprotected era where kids increasingly experience the world virtually on screens, splashing in real puddles in real rain was really fun – and a real chance to explore one of nature’s most playful phenomena.

Paper boats and puddles weren’t on my lesson plan that long-ago rainy afternoon. But it turned out to be one my most memorable days as a teacher. In school, as in life, sometimes it’s best to literally go with the flow.

With a Perspective, I’m Richard Swerdlow.

Richard Swerdlow works for the San Francisco Unified School District.

Richard Swerdlow new

Of San Francisco’s many charms, it’s those iconic hilly streets that make ours such a picturesque city. As any San Franciscan knows, some streets are so steep the pedestrian sidewalks along the roads are actually cement staircases. And one sunny afternoon, making my way up one of those sharply inclined sidewalks, I paused to wait for a pedestrian in front of me on the narrow stairs. But it looked like I would be waiting a while because the pedestrian blocking the sidewalk was a very, very old lady. She was carrying two large grocery bags, making painfully slow progress from step to step. I did what any polite person would – or should – do, and offered to help carry her bags.

She cocked her head and considered, looking me over carefully. But those groceries looked heavy and it was a long way to the top. She handed over the bags and we resumed climbing together.

Up the precipitous cement stairs we rose, up, up, up, while she chatted about her long life. A native San Franciscan, she had lived in the same apartment for 50 years. Buried a husband from cancer and lost her son in Vietnam, but just kept on going – up, up, up. Listening, some stories had me cracking up, others close to tears.

She told me how her steep street had changed, through earthquakes, hippies, 70s swingers and tech millionaires. From elegant days when no lady would be seen without a hat and gloves to today, when people are sometimes seen without anything.

And, ascending the staircase sidewalk, it occurred to me, this is the reason we are all here. To share this long hard climb, listen to each other’s stories, help carry each other’s heavy burdens, to laugh and to cry together, as we make our way, slowly but inexorably, to the top.

I was having such a good time, I didn’t notice we’d reached the end of the stairs. “It goes quickly, doesn’t it?” she said to me, eyes twinkling. “Enjoy yourself.” She thanked me, took her groceries and vanished into her doorway.

She may have thanked me, but I really should have thanked her, because I learned something on that hilly street. It goes quickly. For all of us, our long hard climb will be over before we know it.

So, as my twinkly-eyed companion advised me, enjoy yourself. I never got her name, but I will never forget her, and the day we shared the steep climb to the top together.

With a Perspective, I’m Richard Swerdlow.

Richard Swerdlow works for the San Francisco Unified School District.

Richard Swerdlow new

Ostriches, it’s said, bury their heads in the sand when they see danger. The ostrich logic being, if you don’t see it, it’s not there. And lately I’ve been thinking about ostriches.

That’s because since November’s election, I’ve been hearing from people so upset about the election’s results, they have simply stopped keeping up with current events. Stopped reading newspapers, cut out watching TV news, refused the temptation to click, even stopped listening to – gasp – NPR.

Quitting news cold turkey – or cold ostrich – can free up a lot of time. One friend tells me she discovered reading novels again. Another person has begun listening to classical music, yet another started running in the morning, instead of reading headlines. He just doesn’t want to know.

I’ve seen some wacky elections, but I can’t remember one which has resulted in the widespread magical thinking that if you ignore the outcome, it doesn’t exist. And though I feel bad for anyone experiencing depression or anxiety, I’m not convinced it’s the best idea to take mental health advice from a bird.

So, here’s my advice to those who just can’t deal with the news – face it. Read it, watch it, listen to it. Our country was not founded on a stick-your-fingers-in-your-ears approach. If you are so shattered you’re actually ignoring the news, get involved, take action and change the news. That’s exactly what our nation’s founders did with King George of England. This is your opportunity – heck, your responsibility – to use the political process to create the country you want.

Curling up in a ball and pretending it’s not happening never solved anything. In fact, it doesn’t even work for ostriches. Contrary to popular belief, ostriches do not stick their heads in the sand – nine feet tall and with a kick so powerful it can kill a lion, they face problems head on, not head in sand. This legend has been proven to be inaccurate.

And maybe some of those news stories you can’t face will prove to be inaccurate, too. Or maybe you will discover that, like an ostrich, you can face anything, head held high. Not hopeless, but empowered.

So, whether you view the election results as good news or bad news, keep on keeping up – because even ostriches don’t bury their head in the sand.

With a Perspective, I’m Richard Swerdlow.

Richard Swerdlow works for the San Francisco Unified School District.

Richard Swerdlow new

It’s that time of year. Holiday shopping is on everyone’s to-do list. But I will not be among those estimated one fourth of shoppers who wait until the last minute to start. I’ve made a list, checked it twice, and already wrapped all my gifts.

I hope everybody likes their presents. In fact, I hope they like them better than I did, when people gave them to me last year.

I admit it. I am a re-gifter.

And I’m not the only one. In a poll, 67% of respondents admitted re-gifting: passing along an unwanted gift to someone else. Re-gifting has become so popular there are actual rules, such as never re-gifting food items, freshening up the present with new wrapping paper and – duh – not gifting it back to the person who gave it to you in the first place.

Although re-gifting a present seems a little naughty, not nice, I feel merry knowing I’m part of a national holiday trend. In such a busy season, it’s certainly a time and money saver. And it’s environmental, too. All of us have received something so awful it’s just sitting in the back of a closet. Although re-gifting has a Scrooge-like reputation as an underhanded, lazy gift strategy, re-gifting is actually good for the planet, saving gas for shopping trips, as well as the resources to needed to produce and transport some other gift item. Joy to the world!

Re-gifting, like the gifts themselves, needs to come out of the closet. Why is re-gifting tacky, but recycling is cool?

Attention Christmas shoppers: That gift you are hanging onto but will never use is just cluttering up your life. Gift or otherwise, we all have too much stuff. Moving it along is a gift to yourself. Someone else may honestly love it.

When it comes to re-gifting holiday presents, let nothing you dismay. Reduce, reuse, recycle, re-gift. If your friends are like my friends, you’ll probably get it back next Christmas anyway.

It’s the gift we keep on giving.

With a Perspective, I’m Richard Swerdlow.

Richard Swerdlow works for the San Francisco Unified School District.

Richard Swerdlow new

She was a great boss.

That rare combination of friendly and professional, cool enough you could hang out with her and have fun, but remember she was in charge come Monday morning. Unlike those horror stories of “gotcha” supervisors, she wanted troops under her command to succeed, and she got it everyone also had a life outside of work. I felt like she had my back, and it motivated me to be a better, more effective employee. Understanding leaders, she proved, create happy and highly productive workers, a management strategy maybe more organizations should try.

So, when I applied for another job, she said she was sorry to lose me, and gave me the most glowing recommendation. I landed that new job, and loved it. I never forgot how she’d helped me, and kept meaning to drop her a note.

But my new position was keeping me busy. Whenever her name came up, or I was in the old neighborhood, I thought of her, and “send note” went on the next day’s to-do list. But somehow, I never got around to checking it off. There was always time, after all.

But there wasn’t. When I heard she died, the first thing I thought was I never did send her that note. And, though I’m sure she knew I appreciated her, I wish I had told her.

So, my former boss has tasked me with one final project: making sure to let people know I appreciate them. if there’s a person you need to say something to, say it while you have the chance. Tell those who matter – heck, even if it’s your boss – how much they mean to you. We all punch out of life’s time clock sooner or later and there’s truly less time than you think.

My former boss and I will never sit down together for another annual employee review. But she has still managed to counsel me in an area for improvement in my performance. And it’s a tool all of us could use to improve our performance in this job called life.

With a Perspective, I’m Richard Swerdlow.

Richard Swerdlow teaches in the San Francisco Unified School district.

Richard Swerdlow new

Watching the Paralympic Games in Rio, I’ve been so inspired by the abilities of those 4,342 athletes from 159 countries. But, of all their incredible accomplishments, I was most impressed by one thing these athletes could do: They could use the metric system.

As commentators described 100-meter freestyle, one- kilometer time trial, 40-kilogram power lifting, they might as well have been speaking the original language of the Olympics – Greek. In metric units, I was clueless about distances, depths or weights. And when it came to Rio weather, I couldn’t figure out if 20 degrees meant freezing or sweltering. I’m not the only one. One study concluded only about two in 10 Americans understand the metric system.

The United States, along with Liberia and Myanmar, are the only three remaining nations in the world that have not converted to metric measurement. We’ve been thinking about going metric: In 1968, the U.S. Department of Commerce announced moving to metric was in our best foreign trade interests, and the 1975 National Metric Conversion Act designated metric measurement the “preferred” system of weights and measures. But in 2016, the metric experience of most Americans is pretty much limited to buying a 2-liter bottle of soda. Distance is still measured based on the length of an English king’s feet and weight is calculated with pounds – a standard based on a Roman rock.

My own metric misunderstanding has me thinking our country needs to go for the mathematical gold and switch to the metric system, once and for all. Metric measures – based on units of ten – are much more simple, as well as more practical and precise. And as more metrically-minded nations begin to challenge our championship status in the race to be the leader in science, technology and engineering, we need to conform to the measurement standards used by the rest of the world.

Like the Paralympics themselves, the metric system is an inspiring example of peaceful global cooperation. And with those amazing Paralympic athletes as real proof almost any goal can be achieved with enough determination, the time has come for the United States to cross the finish line to the metric system.

With a Perspective, I’m Richard Swerdlow.

Richard Swerdlow teaches in the San Francisco Unified School District.

Richard Swerdlow new

It’s been called the “Leaning Tower of San Francisco.” Like it’s namesake in Pisa, Italy, this tower is listing to one side. However, unlike its 185-foot high Italian cousin constructed in 1372, this tower was completed in 2009. Fifty-eight stories high, the gleaming 645-foot glass and steel skyscraper is the tallest mixed-use residential structure in San Francisco.

It may be big, but there’s a little problem. Since construction, the huge building has sunk 16 inches and is now tilting about 2 inches. In this opulent building, where apartments can rent for $10,000 a month, some residents are feeling slightly nervous. And who wouldn’t, living precariously high above San Francisco’s hip south of Market neighborhood in a tilting tower? As less living-large San Franciscans gaze upwards with schadenfreude, blame’s going around, with theories about causes and remedies being discussed.

And it all seems like a metaphor for San Francisco housing in 2016. Of course, terrifying heights have been a San Francisco symbol since Hitchcock’s “Vertigo.” Now, with both rents and home prices soaring as high as those sleek condos going up on seemingly every corner, nobody’s really on firm footing. Living in a place which has become unaffordable for all except the super-wealthy is bound to leave most of us feeling unstable.

Like that tower, in San Francisco, housing, a basic need, is beginning to tilt dangerously. Everyone has a friend driven out of the city by high rents, and those lucky enough to have locked in low housing know how suddenly their situation could topple. In San Francisco, with an average income of $78,000, few of us could afford to move into one of those shiny new buildings.

A city where housing is largely built for the luxury market, out of reach of most of the people who live and work there, has a foundation as shaky as that leaning tower. And the supply of affordable housing is more unbalanced every day.

The leaning tower of San Francisco may only contain 419 residential units, but when it comes to housing costs, these days, all San Franciscans are tilting and sinking.

With a Perspective, I’m Richard Swerdlow.

Richard Swerdlow teaches in the San Francisco Unified School District.

Richard Swerdlow new

Use it up.
Wear it out.
Make it do.
Or do without.

That quaint saying dates back to the Depression. I learned it from an elderly lady I’ll call Gladys. Gladys recited this rhyme to illustrate a point. Growing up amid two world wars, she told me, everyone understood frugality.

Her wartime days of rationing and margarine coupons are long over. But, like many who lived through wars and the depression, she still has trouble throwing away something serviceable. That vase started out as a wine bottle. Bread is stored in a tin box cookies came in years ago. She repairs her clothes, sewing rips, replacing buttons. She still wears shoes she bought in the 60’s, and has clothes in her closet older than I am.

“Why would I buy a new coat? This one is fine.”

Shopping for jeans the other day, I thought of Gladys, as I passed shops filled with “fast fashion” – inexpensive, stylish clothes bought to be worn for one season – heck, for one night sometimes. Every shopping center sports these flashy chain stores, filled with the latest looks and pounding music. Somehow, I didn’t think it occurred to those hip young shoppers at the mall buying the trendiest new fashions, to mentally inventory their closets, and “make it do or do without.”

And it’s not only clothes. I watched as two teenage girls threw some fast food in the trash, screaming, “Gross!”, after a single bite. Fast food, like fast fashion, is disposable. Gladys, who carefully eats every last scrap of food, never wastes a drop of milk, would be appalled.

I’m not sure I agree with Gladys on everything. She needs some new towels, though she can’t bring herself to discard her old ones. But Gladys’ Depression mindset has made an impression on me. In a throwaway culture and an increasingly plundered planet, Gladys has me rethinking what I buy and what I toss.

That saying may be old, but my day at the mall, it seemed as new as any jeans I saw in stores.

Use it up.
Wear it out.
Make it do.
Or do without.

And I decided my old jeans are just fine.

With a Perspective, I’m Richard Swerdlow.

Richard Swerdlow is a teacher in the San Francisco Unified School District.

Richard Swerdlow new

Growing up in Northern California, I loved the Fourth of July.

I loved the corny red, white, and blue parades, bands playing piccolo music, smells of hot dogs and suntan lotion, scorching days of no school and nights where the sun didn’t set until 10 o’clock.

But most of all, I loved fireworks. Not those rocket-launched fireworks that light up the entire sky with bursting explosions to the oohs and aahs of the crowd below. I mean the kind you could buy at a fireworks stand and set off yourself.

In California, nearly 300 communities still allow the sale of Fourth of July fireworks. And I saved my allowance all year to go wild at those “safe and sane” fireworks stands. On almost every suburban block gatherings of neighbors watched impromptu fireworks displays. We used matches to light the cone-shaped curiosities and marveled over geysers of golden sparks and whistling bangs, with their bright wrappers and dramatic names – sparklers, fountains, spinners, Roman candles. And, I have never forgotten the exuberance of being a kid, waving a sparkler in glowing streaks through the warm July night.

You won’t see those fireworks stands in San Francisco or Oakland – two of the counties that prohibit fireworks. And from my grown-up standpoint today, I’m amazed at my childhood fondness for home fireworks. Each Fourth of July there are burns, injuries and fires, even a handful of deaths, resulting from legally purchased fireworks. Those seemingly-harmless sparklers, burning at 2,000 degrees, can be lethal.

So, the lazy July Fourths of my childhood are not how I celebrate Independence Day now. Sparklers are too dangerous for kids to hold, cancer risks of UV sunlight have eliminated the smell of suntan lotion, and nitrates make hot dogs hazardous as cigarettes. On the Fourth of July these days, I watch fireworks, instead of lighting them.

But here’s the thing about holidays: they bring out the kid in all of us. I haven’t set off fireworks for years, but watching those booming displays, my heart still pounds to the beat of three cheers for the red, white and blue, and suddenly I’m a Yankee Doodle Dandy, remembering the silvery magic of a sparkler illuminating that long-ago summer night.

With a perspective, I’m Richard Swerdlow.

Richard Swerdlow teaches in the San Francisco Unified School District.

Richard Swerdlow new

I’m so over the rainbow.

Gay Pride month may happen in June, but in my neighborhood – San Francisco’s Castro – Gay Pride happens every day. Rainbow banners fly from lamp posts, shop windows, and flutter from Victorian houses. Rainbow coffee mugs, socks, and t-shirts are for sale all over the place, and Castro street’s intersections feature rainbow-painted crosswalks illuminated by – what else? – rainbow street lights. And, above it all, a 40-foot rainbow flag flaps at the corner of Castro and Market.

Now, I love the colorful flag and the whole “Go Team Gay!” pep rally feeling. And I’m certainly in favor of gay pride – I’ve been out for about 35 years. But I’m not sure it’s OK we have hijacked the rainbow.

Rainbows – once a staple of kindergarten finger paint art, leprechaun pots of gold, and groovy 70’s posters – have become indelibly associated with the gay movement.

As a result, nowadays, everything with a rainbow theme – from rainbow connections to rainbow coalitions, from Rainbow trout to Rainbo bread, from “Reading Rainbow” on PBS to the peacock logo on NBC, from Broadway’s “Finian’s Rainbow” to the Rolling Stones’ “She’s a Rainbow” – seems to be about gay pride.

Rainbows are one of nature’s most magnificent visual phenomenon, and it’s selfish we called a monopoly on them. The rainbow is just too beautiful to belong to one political agenda. Though my opinion won’t be popular in the LGBT community, I think it’s time to return the rainbow. I’m ready for rainbows to be reclaimed by Kermit the Frog and paint supply store displays.

It’s 2016. With marriage equality coast-to-coast, maybe we can stop always chasing rainbows. Though, worldwide, the gay movement still has a long way to go, I hope we’re after the same rainbows end – moving beyond requiring this ubiquitous symbol on all things gay. I know I’m feeling beyond it.

After all, if happy little bluebirds fly beyond the rainbow, why, oh why, can’t I?

With a Perspective, I’m Richard Swerdlow.

Richard Swerdlow is a teacher with the San Francisco Unified School District.

Richard Swerdlow

Another school year is over, and it’s almost graduation time. As a third grade teacher, it’s always bittersweet to see students leaving for middle school. Every fifth grade promotion, I remember one student.

This student – I’ll call her Toni – was tough, even for a third grader. She lived with her father and four older brothers – Mom was in prison. Dad was rarely employed, and the gang member brothers were in frequent trouble with the law. Toni wore the same dirty jeans to school every day, with unkempt hair, and a don’t mess-with-me-attitude. She could take out any kid on the schoolyard with one punch.

She was often sent to the principals office and with her sullen back-talk, she was not popular at school with students or teachers.

But she tried. Her smudged homework was stained with whatever can of food had been dinner. I liked her even after she got in trouble for using the f-word at school, and admired how her rough exterior helped her get through her rough circumstances.

I watched Toni navigate my third grade, then fourth and fifth, with swagger and street smarts. But fifth grade graduation was coming up. On this last day of school, fifth graders – boys in neckties and girls in grown-up dresses – pose for family photos, speeches given, certificates presented.

I wondered about Toni, a dad we’d never met and her one pair of jeans. But promotion day ceremony, as students solemnly marched into the auditorium, there was Toni. Dressed in a pressed white blouse and a blue skirt, hair neatly brushed. And, though she didn’t get a single award, she sat beaming on the stage.

I asked about Toni’s graduation makeover. Turned out the principal had brought in some of her own daughter’s clothes for Toni, and helped do her hair, filling in for that mother who couldn’t be there. And it dawned on me schools are so much more than reading, writing and arithmetic – how teachers and principals do what it takes, no matter what, to help our students.

I saw Toni once, years later. She was a teenager, walking into Juvenile Hall. Visiting someone, a brother, maybe. She didn’t recognize me. And she was dressed in dirty jeans.

But, in my mind’s eye, I will forever see the pretty girl that graduation day, dressed in pressed clothes and a beautiful smile.

With a Perspective, I’m Richard Swerdlow.

Richard Swerdlow teaches for the San Francisco Unified School District.

Richard Swerdlow

My Grandma Betty loved chocolate. All her life, whenever I’d visit, I’d bring her some. Cheap chocolate when I was young, good chocolate as I got older. Grandma always opened the box and shared with me, and together we would giggle with our mouths full of luscious chocolate. Our special shared joke – me, Grandma and chocolate.

Years passed, and when Grandma Betty had grown very old, and was in a nursing home, my mom and I went to visit her one day. We brought along a box of chocolates. And boy, was Grandma happy to get them.

But the nurse wasn’t as happy. “Now Betty can’t eat those, you know better than that.” And the nurse was right – at 92, Grandma Betty was on a restricted diet. Grandma sat silently in her wheelchair, and watched as the elegant box was snatched out of her reach and returned to me.

Grandma Betty died a month later.

At her funeral, her many children and grandchildren remembered her. But all I could think, sitting there, was how the plain pine casket reminded me of a box of chocolates.

It’s the simple moments, the simple things we shared we remember about people we lose. With Grandma, I remembered sharing chocolate.

And, I was suddenly angry Grandma didn’t get to enjoy that chocolate, or share it with me, one last time. At 92, Grandma should have scarfed the whole darn box if she felt like it.

And, I silently promised Grandma Betty, if I’m ever 92, I’m going to eat all the chocolate I want. They can pry the box from my cold, dead hands. The time comes for all of us, no matter how wholesome your diet, and all the organic kale in the world won’t help.

Today, everyone is obsessed with healthy food. Nothing wrong with eating nutritiously. But my memories aren’t sharing celery sticks, or salt-free egg substitutes with Grandma. I remember chocolate. Fat-filled, sugar-filled chocolate.

Life is short, and if you like chocolate, eat it when you have the chance. Enjoy it; it’s later than you think. Grandma never intended a lesson about life with our shared chocolate binges, but, like chocolates, lessons sometimes come in surprising boxes. Grandma showed me life – and chocolate – is rich, sometimes bitter, sometimes sweet and sometimes unexpectedly nutty.

And, to this day, when I open a box of chocolates, I think of Grandma Betty. Grandma, I lift this lid to you.

With a Perspective, I’m Richard Swerdlow.

Richard Swerdlow is a teacher for the San Francisco Unified School District.

Richard Swerdlow

To me, an elementary school teacher, it was a familiar sight. The group sat at tables sharing boxes of crayons as they colored pages of outlined animals and castles. Everyone was coloring so nicely, I almost forgot they were grown-ups. And, though this coloring book meet-up I happened to see was at a coffee shop, it didn’t look all that different from art time at a pre-school.

Coloring books, once the domain of kindergarten crafts and rainy day pastimes for bored kids are now actually one of the hottest activities for grown-ups. Book stores are filled with them. On Amazon, five of the 10 best-selling books are adult coloring books, and the New York Times best-seller list of games and activities is dominated by coloring books for grown-ups.

With a coloring book and a box of crayons, anyone can be an artist. I can’t draw a thing – my horses, cows and dogs all look exactly alike, and houses lean towards one door, two windows, and a triangle roof with a curly-cue of chimney smoke. But give me a complicated picture to color, and I’m Picasso. And in today’s world with too much information, so many demands on time and energy, there’s something relaxing about switching the brain to soothingly repetitive neutral for the inconsequential decisions of coloring. Should the castle be magenta or burnt sienna? Which green for the tree, granny smith apple or mountain meadow? And I’m not the only one who’s noticed the calming effects of coloring. Therapists and mental health experts have compared this grown-up coloring craze to yoga or meditation, with similar benefits in mindfulness and reducing anxiety.

Friends find grown-up coloring kind of dumb. One pal joked she prefers her mindfulness and reducing anxiety to come in a cosmopolitan. Yes, I know it’s silly, and no, I’m not hanging my crayon masterpieces on the fridge. But, for millions of people, completing activities like coloring pages, Sudoku or crosswords puzzles are tiny triumphs, and these small accomplishments honestly help find a way to connect all the dots in life. And, in the end, discovering what gets you through life is what it’s all about – whether it’s coloring pictures, or coloring outside the lines.

With a Perspective, I’m Richard Swerdlow.

Richard Swerdlow works for the San Francisco Unified School District.