Getting Away, Week 23 in the Time of Coronavirus

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Sometimes we just need to get away.  It helps to clear our heads and take a break from day-to-day stress.  That’s exactly what we did this weekend. It’s been a long time coming.  I booked this trip before the pandemic shut down our world.  I rebooked three times in the hope that quarantines were a temporary inconvenience.  In the end we had to wait until the Canadian borders opened up for the fully vaccinated. 

I was nervous to take my first big trip out of the country.  But I also wanted a proper vacation.  It felt like I needed a proper vacation.  So here we are in Quebec City fully enjoying the hospitality and food that is offered with care.  

The joy of walking unfamiliar streets and seeing the colors change on the trees has proven to be just the break I needed.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Take a break.  If you can’t get away, give yourself quick moments throughout the day when you take 5 deep breaths for a short pause.
  • Start taking note of the colors changing on the trees.  What colors do you like the most?  Which trees look as if they’re ablaze?  Enjoy he richness of the season.  
  • Savor the natural foods of the season.  Whether you like all things pumpkin, or you’re an apple fan, the flavors of fall offer so much.  

Singing in the Park, Week 21 in the Time of Transition

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As a young child I delighted in our Magnavox HiFi.  I would sit on the scratchy green wool sofa in our den while listening to Rosemary Clooney.  Her album, Rosemary Clooney Sings for Children with its pink background was a clear favorite.  I loved the track, Betsy, My Paper Doll, because I was the lucky recipient of the Betsy McCall paper dolls hidden in the pages of my mother’s McCall’s Magazine.  The other song that spoke to me was The Little Shoemaker because my father was in the shoe business.  At six, it felt like Rosemary Clooney was singing to me personally.  I hadn’t realized Rosemary Clooney was an icon until years later when I watched her sing with Bing Crosby in White Christmas on the Sunday Million Dollar Movie. 

Recently I was reminded of that album while walking in Central and Carl Shurz Parks in this time of transition.  On the grass are one- and two year-olds in a safely distanced semi-circle with their caregivers listening to Broadway level singers shaking egg instruments and leading the children in song.  They are singing their hearts out to their young audiences who may or may not be singing along.  Each performer grateful for any gig as theater crawls back from being dark.  

How fortunate I was to have enjoyed the musical styling of a great songstress.  And, how lucky these toddlers are to meet up with some of the best singers from around the country. It’s not clear if it’s simply a part of their activity schedule or if the family values the influence of music in our lives.  Either way, I appreciate walking past them remembering the simple touch of my mother’s hand when placing the needle gently on the spinning album even when I asked to hear it again and again. 

In addition to Rosemary Clooney, I heard Lena Horne, Harry Belafonte, Ray Charles, Bobby Darin, Julie Andrews, Judy Garland, and many more who allude my memory, crooning through our oak HiFi.  On Sundays we listened to opera on the classical radio station.  That’s when my grandparents visited. We all sat quietly on the same itchy green sofa or love seat.  If we couldn’t be quiet, we had to go play in the basement.  I favored Puccini and Mozart.  The songs felt pretty to me.  But not having an album cover to attempt to read was a limitation that had me go to the basement after an aria or two.  

I’m not listening to enough music these days.  It’s time to open-up iTunes and delight in Rosemary Clooney and friends.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Play music you used to enjoy.  Take in the memories and notice how the songs and music impact you now
  • Take a walk and see what associations you conjure.  What recollections come to mind?
  • Create new memories by sharing music with someone you respect.  If possible, listen together.  If you can’t, you can enjoy the association with the music. 

Hello Sunrise, Week 25 in the Time of Transition

When I was a young child and my bedtime was 7:30, the advent of a darker evening meant that I was awake longer while the night sky became opaque.  It felt as if I was staying up later, even though I understood in theory I was going to bed at the same time.  Since the pandemic my bedtime has gotten earlier.  I go out less, plus I got older these past 19 months.  I have yet to go to bed at 7:30, but it feels easy to get into bed when it’s been dark for a few hours.  

The advantage to this is that the sun rises later giving me a chance to wake up with time for coffee and a very short walk to the East River promenade to get a picture of the morning’s dawn.  I love how frequently the light changes from moment to moment and from day to day.  While our world has changed in so many ways, I appreciate the regularity of the sun.  Even on cloudy or rainy days, the sun may not make an appearance, but trusting it resides behind the clouds gives me great comfort.  

There is a simple joy in recognizing the beauty in nature.  While a city girl at heart, getting away, or finding the green patches among the concrete, is a balm for the soul.  The cool weather sunrises, and when possible, the sunsets provide a colorful array of grace.  Those moments have been invaluable in bringing ease during these tenuous times. 

Self-care Tips:

  • Enjoy sunrises and sunsets.  If you don’t have a view of them, there are amazing pictures online.  Thank you to those who post such gorgeous photographs. 
  • Ground yourself by standing on grass, rocks, or other solid earthbound foundations.  Feel your feet connecting to the earth.  Stand tall so that you feel as if the crown of your head is extended from an invisible cord skyward.  
  • If your schedule permits, allow the early dark evenings to ease you into a sense of restfulness.  

A Rare Moment of Calm, Week 24 in the Time of Transition

I hit the ground running.  There was so much to get done and I’m still behind.  I did the best I could, which means I had to readjust from vacation mode to New York City-paced backlog catch-up.  Within a few days the vacation glow is flickering.  

Sometimes getting away is the space needed to reevaluate what works and what doesn’t.  There’s no way I can keep up my current pace.  What goes?  Time will tell. 

The idea of living simply makes perfect sense.  I can be still when meditating.  The quiet time before my coffee is delightfully simple.    The rest of the day is a maze of work, calls, paperwork, walks, family time, dog time, emails, and if I have the energy and a rare opening, a good tv program.  

It took me until today, while walking Lucy, to appreciate the cool air on the East River Promenade, without my phone, without a podcast, without distraction.  Just Lucy and I strolling along.  When I was away, I was able to go for swims.  I love the tranquility of an empty lap pool.  Though I have yet to find a quiet pool in the city, my walk with Lucy brought calm to my otherwise hectic days.  

Self-Care Tips

  • Find a new book, tv program, a movie, or something you can enjoy at the end of busy days.  
  • Try to go for a quiet walk without a phone or other interferences.  Notice what it’s like to move peacefully.  
  • Play the make-believe drums with spatulas and pots.  Get out all your frustration by tapping into your inner child pretending to be a rock star.   

Popularity Contest, Week 22 in the Time of Transition

Over fifteen years ago I organized a networking event for psychotherapists and others in related fields.  I hosted it in my office garden and prepared a beautiful buffet of crudité and homemade dips and finger food.  I received a lot of maybes, and about fifteen said they would attend.  Of course, I over-estimated and prepared too much food.  In the end I had five guests, two just stopped by.  

It was an intimate event. The four of us were able to appreciate and understand what each of us offered clients, and it ended on a positive note. However, I was mortified that more people didn’t come.  I was embarrassed for myself, and felt I let my colleagues down.  It was challenging to stay focused with the other women who came. Instead I spent too much energy  focusing on who wasn’t there.  

It harkened back to parties in elementary school and junior high to which I was never invited.  Or times when the red rope was not unhooked for me at Studio 54 and the Palladium.  The rejection felt personal.  I was not one of the chosen ones.  

Since those times I realize I do better in small groups or one on one.  I get too distracted at large parties.  Yet, as I currently work on a book, mostly on odd weekends, I have been told by so many that I need a platform.  That means that I must amass followers and readers.  I always feel awkward when asking for others to read my work.  Larry, my husband, may be the exception. 

I like writing, but I don’t like marketing for myself.  It feels too much like my 10-year-old-self asking to be liked.  No, thank you.  I will continue to create this book on getting through difficult times with self-care tips, slowly and painstakingly.  I don’t know that I’ll get an agent or get it published. Nonetheless, I will proceed, trusting that I don’t need to be someone I’m not just to be popular.  It is not in my best interest to consider numbers rather than you, dear reader.   

Self-care Tips:

  • Affirm that you are enough.  Write “I Am Enough” on post-its and place one on a corner of your bathroom mirror, and other places you  view daily (inside a drawer, on your refrigerator door, etc.)
  • Learn a new song.  It can be easier to remember things put to music.  So learning a new song is a great way to exercise your brain.  
  • Remind yourself that bigger is not necessarily better.  When plans change and you have a smaller event (as in these past 18 months) find the sweetness in the intimacy of the experience.  

20th Anniversary, Week 20 in the Time of Transition

I’m teary this weekend.  It’s hard to watch the news because my mind pivots to the many clients who spoke of their losses the days, months, and years post-9/11.  As we commemorate the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001, those of us who remember can clearly recall the exact circumstances when we witnessed or heard of the attacks.  I am one of the fortunate who worked downtown, but I had taken the day off to attend a seminar.  I never worked in the World Trade Center, but our social service center had a direct view.  There were so many other stories like that of those who for unforetold circumstances were not in the towers when they fell.  

I was out of social work school for three years when the planes crashed.  Having had training in trauma, but not much experience, I was asked to work with employees in companies who were downtown. It was a quick, intensive training on mental health first response.  I had the privilege of listening to individual stories in a new chapter in tragically disrupted lives.  Each person I heard had so much courage. They came from all walks of life surviving while countless loved ones, coworkers, colleagues, and others did not make it.  

I recall the kindness and caring that New Yorkers shared.  There was a common grace for others.  Sadly, I also remember the fear from Muslim friends and those from the Middle East who were harshly judged, misunderstood, or seen as the enemy.  Their love of our shared country unacknowledged.  On the one hand there were so many acts of kindness.  On the other hand, there was so much blame going around.  

So much sadness, so much anxiety.  Both defined the days and months that followed.

  

Post-trauma can alter our nervous systems.  Twenty years later we’re all familiar with that.  The last eighteen months have played havoc on our nervous systems.  Sometimes we are upset or act out which then affects others who are in a vulnerable state, and on it goes.    

It’s a challenge to give someone else the benefit of the doubt when there is so little room to accept our own confused emotions.  With practice we have a bit more patience, a bit more benevolence to get through these days without rushing to judgement of ourselves and others.  I cried today.  I could have gone on the defensive.  Well, I did for a bit, then I cried some more, understanding that vulnerability was the strength I needed to harness rather than residing in a distrustful stance.  So many moments leading to big changes. 

  

Self-Care Tips:

  • When you react with anger, impatience or in an accusatory manner, take a moment to ask yourself what might be going on.  Then, if you’re able, see if there’s something you can do to care for yourself.  Perhaps a few minutes to regroup. 
  • Stretch.  It’s easy. And it can help to move to the next moment with ease.  
  • Read a child’s book or poem aloud.  Read it in a voice other than your own.  Being silly and indulging in play is a mood changer.  

Are You Okay? Week Nineteen in the Time of Transition

Transitions can be tricky.  We usually wish for a straightforward line to the next signpost, but what we often get is a winding road uphill.  That is certainly the case these days.  This past week is a perfect example of changed plans and tragic outcomes.  Water and fire have altered lives irrevocably.  

The news is full of sweeping coverage of homes lost and displaced families.  In addition, we know of or are hearing of personal stories of loss and vulnerability.  I am one of the fortunate ones.  I was not in our subway system, and I am not in a flood zone.  I hadn’t gone on Facebook, so I wasn’t aware that we could indicate we were safe.  Sometimes I’m just clueless about social media.  I’m still uncertain how to navigate Instagram.  

However, some friends and family in other parts of the country, and other parts of the world were so thoughtful in reaching out to see if I was okay.  These are simple, caring acts that are deeply appreciated.  In my day-to-day I get caught up in whatever is in front of me.  I’m not great about being in touch with friends and family. Sometimes I’m even criticized for it, though I never find that approach inviting.  

Life can get very full very fast.  But this week taught me that being in someone’s heart is not a matter of how many times I’ve called or written.  I so appreciate that.  I know it’s true for me.  Throughout any given week, I recall a moment or a personal exchange with someone I consider close, and I smile.  Unbeknownst to them they provide sustained joy over time.  

There have been a good many people who have given their time, attention, love and humor.  I am forever grateful. For that, thank you to those who reached out to me or to others.  It matters.  It matters a lot.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Send a simple text or IM to let someone know you’re thinking of them
  • Play music aligned with your emotions.  If you’re feeling overwhelmed, play Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings.  If you’re a bit playful, listen to Gershwin.  Or, if you’re wistful perhaps Aaron Copland will do. 
  • Go to a different Janet Zinn’s website for stunning nature pictures: https://www.jczinn.com

A Pandemic Birthday, Week Eighteen in the Time of Transition

A few years ago I was at a networking event when I spotted an old acquaintance.  I was happy to see her, filled with memories of the two of us with mutual friends enjoying parties, volunteering, and talks in the mid-80’s.  When I approached her and reminded her who I was, in a cold tone she responded, “Yes, I know who you are.”  I felt hurt and dismissed.  I thought about those early years in New York City when I couch-surfed and lived hand to mouth.  It was a hard time, and I was not always my best self.  I had thought warmly of this person recalling her dedication to friends and of her strong work ethic.  Her taciturn words indicated she thought less of me.  

At first I blamed myself, thinking I must have been pretty bad for her to have that reaction.  Then I thought, yeah, I may have done some crazy things, but I have worked hard to grow and change.  I thought how sad for my younger self that I put such a rude person on a pedestal.  And then I was proud of myself for my ability to appreciate the positive qualities in others.  It doesn’t mean I want to befriend everyone.  But it does mean that I can respect others and the gifts within them.  

This past week I was fortunate enough to celebrate another birthday, though new aches and pains may suggest otherwise.  The outpouring of messages and love means the world to me.  I feel abundant, filled with gratitude for friends and family who took the time to send thoughtful messages.  Taking in the goodness of all of you enriches my life in ways that are difficult to articulate.  All I know is that I am better due to you giving your best.  What good fortune to be in such good company.  I apologize to my younger self for giving authority to those who were unkind.  When we’re unseen we cannot be known.  I see you and I appreciate you with all my heart.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Change it up.  Donate to a new non-profit, one aligned with your values but previously not on your radar.  
  • Provide a simple act of kindness to a stranger.  We all need a lift.  
  • Forgive your younger self for making errors in judgement while he/she/they were learning how to appreciate those who appreciate us.  

Not This! Week Seventeen in the Time of Transition

I remember when I was in my 20s I took a self-help seminar.  I was doing a team activity, and I really didn’t like one of the members.  She was inappropriately rude, saying things like, “I can feel your anger.  Your jaw clenches.  It’s not pretty.  Why don’t you just let it go?”  Though it enraged me that she would say such a thing, only adding to my ire, I thought I was supposed to become more tolerant of others.  So I pushed my anger down, thinking I was “letting it go,” and tried to be accepting of this team member.  

It’s taken me years to listen to myself and not others idea of me.  I now see I can respond by saying I don’t want someone to speak to me in that way.  At the time, I thought I had to carry my shame for allowing my anger to be seen, and I had to hold her insensitive reaction to me.  Part of the slow learning curve on my part had to do with not wanting to be where I was.  I didn’t want to be an angry person.  I thought that made me negative.  At worst, unlovable.  Sometimes I just didn’t want to be where I was at any given moment because it was uncomfortable, or it felt intolerable.  

Getting through the pandemic has felt so uncomfortable for most of us.  Now in this transitional time that has seen a surge of cases, so many have little or no tolerance.  We’re seeing more impatience, more agitation.  We’re beat. Collectively we are silently saying, “Not This!”  Though we wish this was all behind us, we continue to endure.  Repeatedly we are challenged to meet the moment we’re in.  If and when we look back, we are sadly nostalgic.  When we attempt to look ahead, we can feel anxious and hopeless.  We might not like these feelings but they’re real.  When we deny them because we want to be in a better place, my experience is that those uncomfortable emotions linger.  The old adage, “What we resist, persists,” is fitting.  

If we’re able to live with our anger, impatience, boredom, frustration, and exasperation, we can address those feelings.  And, in dealing with where we are, no matter how we feel about it, we get to the next moment, and the next.  Getting through these difficult times is a moment-by-moment process.  Our courage to face ourselves no matter what, more than anything else, allows us to grow in so many ways.  Let’s meet ourselves at this time with patience, kindness and care.  And, when it’s too difficult to muster patience, kindness, and care, let’s have extra compassion for living in a difficult space. 

Self-Care Tips: 

  • When having a difficult time, speak with yourself, or write a note, as if you were addressing a beloved friend.  
  • Turn on the music and dance.  It can be as short as one song or make a playlist for a movement break. 
  • If you’re able, balance on one foot.  Do it for a few seconds or for longer.  It can improve your ability to be in the moment, especially in relationship to time and space.  

Sweet Sixteen, Week Sixteen in the Time of Coronavirus

Sweet Sixteen.  It doesn’t feel so sweet these days.  I remember when I was turning sixteen, I yearned to have a fancy party as many of my friends were having that year.  We couldn’t afford an expensive affair, so I begged and cajoled my parents into allowing me to have a house party.  My mother did not enjoy entertaining, nor did she feel comfortable in having a good number of adolescents in her home.  I didn’t realize at the time what a gift she was giving me just by saying yes.  

I worked hard to pay for the party doing overtime to make it happen.  I would make runs into Philadelphia to get beads so I could make each guest a personalized necklace.  My ambitions were high even though my craft skills were not.  

When the party came to be I remember how uncomfortable I was to bring together my friends from various parts of my life, from Hebrew school cronies to my drama student friend, to those in B’nai Brith Girls (BBG) to old elementary school friends, and my more avant-garde crowd.  I was an emotional mess thinking that each knew a part of me, but I was not at ease with me as a whole, and projected quick rejection once they saw the other aspects of  my personality.  Needless to say, trying to calm my mother pre-party and calm myself took all my energy while setting up.  

Each person I invited had a special place in my heart.  They had given me their friendship. Not understanding what that meant, I wanted to repay their kindnesses.  However, I didn’t know myself well enough.  I felt fragmented.  Sadly I only remember my discomfort walking indoors and out to make sure everyone had what they needed.  Scared they’d find out I wasn’t who they thought I was.  

It took me decades to learn that our many personality traits are naturally unified.  We are and have always been a culmination of the different parts of ourselves.    

Last night I had the great fortune of going out for the evening.  I was able to meet a FaceBook friend from the pandemic for the first time, as well as her awesome sixteen-year-old daughter.  My new friend is an extraordinary woman who is bright, sensitive, and fun, among other wonderful traits.  Larry was there, as was his friend who has become mine, and his delightful girlfriend.  For me it was a magical evening.  Perhaps even more so since there’s been a Covid-19 surge, and yet we could still meet for dinner.  We don’t know what’s coming, but in our uncertainty and fear we made room for laughter and love.  

If I think back to my 16-year-old self, I don’t know that I could have shared my fears if I was supposed to be having fun.  Or, I would have missed the fun in deference to my uncertainty.  Thank goodness for life experiences that allow us to keep moving forward while honoring the moment. Though I am not grateful for the pandemic and what I thought was this time of transition, I am grateful for new friends, long-term friends, a good husband, and all the other gifts from these many pain-filled months.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Make a positive comment online.  It can be a compliment for good service, a nice comment to a post, or a short hello to an old friend.  It’s an easy way to make someone’s day.
  • Make a note of a life lesson you’ve learned.  Remember how you used to be and recognize how you’ve grown since then.
  • Check in with yourself to see what you need.  Sometimes we’re preoccupied with what others need, and we don’t know if we need rest, if we need to reach out to a friend, or we need quiet time.