What I’m Not

 

 

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We just took a trip to a resort in Punta Cana, in the Dominican Republic. It was beautiful. The weather was warm and clear, and everyone was friendly. I wanted to enjoy this vacation. Last year was hard and I was looking forward to some R&R.   But the food, though plentiful, went from bland to awful.   The amenities promised were elusive or not as advertised.   The other travelers seemed to be content, but I couldn’t help notice the missing details, the absence of my desired holiday away. I would go for a run on the beach, grateful for the easy breeze, and the laps of the ocean. Yet, I kept thinking of all the things I didn’t like about being there. I was angry at myself for booking and paying hard-earned money for this trip. I kept playing back other vacations I should have taken. I was blaming myself for not being able to let it go. Why couldn’t I simply enjoy what I had. Why was I so upset? Why couldn’t I be a more spiritual being? There are so many who are scared for their families and loved ones. There are those dealing with death, health challenges, immigration issues. And, I am feeling sorry for myself for not enjoying the beautiful resort I was in. What kind of person am I? And, the self-criticism was relentless. I am not grateful. I am not selfless. I am not worthy.

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This is not a new theme for me. I have a long history of being hard on myself. I understand that it’s not productive, yet I don’t seem to stop. In fact with the time and space on vacation, I seemed to swim a little in the outdoor pool and swam constantly in a state of condemnation. As the week continued, I’d have moments of peace, thinking that this will be a really funny story with some distance. And there were other times when the inner monologue chattered on.

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I am not a published book author, I’m not a size 8. I’m not a home owner. I’m not a multi-millionaire. I’m not a doctor. I’m not organized. I’m not young. I’m not coordinated.” The list could easily continue. I am clearly aware of what I’m not. In fact, sometimes my mind is so crowded with what I’m not, there’s no room for what I am.

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What I am is a mother and a wife. I’m happy with my work. I have a private practice and work with amazing individuals. I’m a friend. I’m a sister and a daughter. I am a theater and arts lover. I’m a subscriber to theater companies and a member to a number of varied museums. I’m a walker. I love walking the city. I’m a Manhattanite. I’m funny at times, and critical at other times, I’m a foodie. Life is good. But it won’t always be good. Sometimes a vacation turns out to be a vacation from what I love. And being away gives me greater appreciation of what I have.

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So I’m thinking this vacation was about taking vacations every day from self-criticism. It taught me to spend less mind-space on what I’m not, and celebrate more on who I am. Maybe this bad vacation can have a good outcome.

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If nothing else, I’m blogging again. So, yeah, I’m a blogger, too.

Back to the Basics

 

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I learned to iron from my mom, but not before I scorched a shirt or two. Cotton and Polyester were the fabrics of my childhood. And, although I liked my Danskin striped shirts and ribbed pleated pants, cotton was the classier choice for anything other than playing in our Haddontown neighborhood. When inside I had chores, one of which was the ironing.

 

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I would set up the creaky ironing board in the kitchen close to the counter with the electrical outlet. And then I’d carefully plug in the Sunbeam, aqua iron until it was hot enough to smooth away the folds. I would iron my father’s shirts for work, my sister’s and my blouses, leaving the trickier ironing of dresses to my mother.

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In my twenties I volunteered at a new age retreat. One of my jobs was to iron the leader’s white oxford shirts. Perhaps I was chosen because Virgos are known for our attention to detail. They never told me. What they did say was, “Janet, it’s imperative that you bring integrity to your work. There must be no lines in his shirt. Anything that takes his attention away from leading the group compromises the quality of the retreat.” I took them seriously, and performed my ironing with fear and seriousness. At the end of the week I was commended for my work, but at great cost to my happiness.

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Today I ironed my dresses, two green, two blue, one orange and one black. It’s been a while since I’ve ironed. I tend put on no-iron clothes or slightly creased shirts. I take out a steamer from time to time, but sometimes it just doesn’t do the job of old fashion ironing.

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There is something meditative about ironing. I can tell immediately if I’m doing it right. And I know this because the wrinkles disappear. I find this ever so satisfying. It’s clear what task is at hand, and it’s clear when it’s complete. Few jobs are that straightforward in life. Unlike my fear of failure at the retreat, I’m happy to do my ironing with music on in a state of ease. My dresses are done and I’m grateful to my mom for introducing me to the finer points of ironing.

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Blog Break

 

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I wasn’t planning on taking a break from my blog, but that’s what happened. I’m glad I took this break. I’ve needed a breather in general for a while, and the blog was just a part of what I needed to put aside. I enjoy writing, but I noticed something as the weeks went by without penning a word. I noticed that I felt relieved at times, and frustrated at other times. Same circumstances, different responses.

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As the weeks went by I started criticizing myself. I was hard on myself for not writing even as other obligations loomed large. I’d think,  “If I don’t write on a regular basis it’s predictive of not publishing later.” I questioned myself. “Could my attention on family and professional training simply be an excuse?” Of course it can. Or, more likely, it’s the choice I’m making at this time.

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We all make choices. And each choice excludes another. To spend more time with family I give up writing. To choose a concert this summer I give up going out this weekend. To work more I give up a cleaner home. To write this I give up some sleep. We make choices large and small every day.   Tonight I chose to write this short piece. And tomorrow? We’ll I guess I’ll see what choices I make and how they translate.

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One imperative option is to take a break from self-criticism. Whether I have a blog post or I skip it, I am doing the best I can, as we all are.

 

 

 

 

Letting Go in ’16

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What a concept! Letting go has been used as a catch phrase describing a way of not feeling what we don’t want. I am not amused when I make a complaint and I’m told, “just let it go.” If I could have let it go I wouldn’t be complaining in the first place. But 2016 feels like a good time for me to let things go. Partly because I haven’t liked what I’ve felt, but mostly because what I have previously over-enjoyed isn’t serving me right now.

 

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I usually make lots of plans, however, my plan this year is to plan less. I’m letting go of being too busy. It means more Yes time to do less, and more “No”s in the scheduling category.

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I feel relieved with this plan. In the past I would get overwhelmed with all that I had to do. I am smiling as I write this because I’m looking forward to less. And in this case less is more; more freedom, more ease, more inner peace.

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I don’t imagine living a less fulfilling life. In fact I image I will be more fulfilled doing less. But New York City still offers a lot. I will try to relax as I choose plays more judicially, or pick what art exhibits I’ll see. I go to the opera and dance performances less, so that feels easier. Movies may be difficult to decide on, but I’m up for the challenge. I will be reading less based on recommendations and more on what moves me at any given time. I’ve been fortunate to have gone to a lot of parties and events over the years, and am happy to slow down significantly. I’m just not in the mood right now. I still look forward to going to work, walking, running, and spending time with my family. And I’m always up for a good laugh.

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It will be interesting what I end up doing or not doing, as the case may be. Yet, letting go does not feel like an imperative at this juncture, it feels natural, as if I made it to this point and letting go is what’s next.

Taking a Break

 

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I took an unintended break from my blog. Every weekend I thought of writing something but I felt distracted, uninspired. This weekend is no different except I’m going to post this. Breaks are important. We could all use a vacation from time to time. But discipline is important, too. Sometimes I’m not quite sure what’s most important at any given time.  It’s like when I need to rest, and I also know it will feel good to workout. What do I choose?

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In the past few weeks I defaulted to taking it easy. Or, more accurately I took it easy on writing while celebrating the holidays and catching up on daytime tasks. I just didn’t feel like writing. In life there seems to be so much I don’t want to do that has to get done like paperwork or washing dishes. So when I set a task for myself because I think I should, I can rebel then criticize myself for not doing whatever it is I think I should be doing. Not a great set-up, but one that’s oh so familiar.

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How many times throughout my life have I had a bad case of the shoulds? There was a time I had been even harder on myself. Ironically being hard on myself didn’t necessarily make me more productive. Often it prevented me from doing what I needed to get done. My inner meanness shut me down to a mentally warring state.

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In general I’m more motivated now. And, yet there are times, like this past month when I hit a wall. For now I’m going to respect that wall. Maybe it stopped me for some unknown reason. If I take it easy I may just find out why I needed to slow down to a halt.

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Perhaps what’s next in 2016 will be revealed. I’m counting on peace and kindness being in the mix.   I’m happy to break for that.

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To Run or Not to Run

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I don’t like when I get sick. Nor do I know anybody who does. For the last few days I was well enough to do a few things but sick enough to sleep a lot and eat very little, feeling weak and dizzy. Next weekend is the NYC Marathon. I’m scheduled to run, well, mostly walk. And, this weekend was slated as a pivotal training weekend. All my plans were opportunities to run miles to my destinations. That didn’t happen. I cancelled plans.

I’ll gage the week to see how I feel. I plan on entering the marathon and completing it with my slow jog. It will be dark and late, but that’s my plan. I was scheduled to run last year but an injury prevented me from running. I rescheduled for 2015.

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It’s hard to know whether my body is informing me that it will be compromised if I attempt 26.2 miles. Or, is it a reaction to my fear, challenging me to overcome obstacles? It’s hard to know what lesson is in front of us.

There have been many times I misread the signs. I would have a funny feeling about making a plan. I would then think I’m just not open and accepting enough, so I’d go, trying to be okay about it. But in the end it was a lesson on setting limits not on expanding them.

When it comes to fitness I’ve learned a lot about myself. I don’t like boot camp classes, or instructors or trainers who yell and push. I like gentler, kinder trainers who encourage and gently prod me to try more. I want to enjoy my workout. I don’t expect to enjoy the entire marathon, but I’m going to do my best. Larry, my husband, created an awesome playlist. I’m writing my name on my shirt so I can take in the encouragement. I trained throughout the year, learning new stretches, and exercises to strengthen me physically.

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If I don’t do the marathon, I gained a great deal this past year. I love to run, something I dreaded most of my life. I know that after next week 4 to 5 miles is my sweet spot, and I will maintain that, choosing not to run longer runs, unless something changes. I got comfortable doing something just for me. So, it was a year well spent.

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In this next week I’ll do my best to listen closely to how I feel. I will respect my body whether that means a marathon, or it means starting it and not finishing, or, even if it means opting out. Even though my age (56) may be a contributing factor of my lack of speed, my age also gives me the advantage of making a choice that’s right for me. No matter what, I’ll do my best.

A Six-Year Old State of Mind

When I entered the first grade at Stafford Elementary there were too many students for the two classrooms. I was assigned to an extra class, which was temporarily located in the southeast corner of the all-purpose auditorium, the exact location where they display the book sale in the Spring. The teacher, a mean spirited woman, whose name escapes me, derived her sense of power by placing me in the corner.

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I would laugh uncontrollably with Robin Reed, a beautiful, tall girl with large green eyes. We would just look at each other and start laughing. However, my laugh, for reasons unknown to me would set off the teacher. And, I alone would have to sit in the corner, having been shamed in front of my classmates. I thought this completely unfair. As a six-year-old fairness meant a great deal to me. Why was I sent to the corner, and Robin could stay at her desk learning how Dick and Jane were getting on? My back was to the class so I’d miss the lessons and get behind. One unfairness on top of another. Perhaps it was this experience that wed me to proper rules. This fabricated black & white idealism.

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Today I was in Central Park on a run. I was going the way of traffic, far on my right on the Bridle Path. I like the soft earth under my New Balance even though I always end up with small stones and sand that has to be emptied. It was late morning, and with the heat there weren’t many runners out. And, yet, from time to time a runner would come at me on my lone path, on their wrong side of the path. I get mad at them. I hold my ground running along, certain of my right to be where I am. But I am filled with righteousness, and a touch of malice.

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Since I run because it gives me pleasure, my holier-than-thou attitude does not lend itself to enjoyment. In fact, I allow those unwitting runners to get in the way of my satisfaction. So, I started to ask myself where these thoughts may have originated. And first grade came to mind. My idea of what’s correct and fair was compromised. I held onto my notion of right and wrong as a defense. It’s time to let it go. I needn’t think mean thoughts for runners who are going where they want to go. There is room enough for all of us. Well, I’m not quite there yet. But I’ll work on it with each subsequent run.

Addendum:

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After a month of torture from that First grade teacher, the class got moved to the old art room, and Mrs. Schlosberg became our teacher for the rest of the school year. She was kind, and thoroughly supportive. I even won a poster of Cambell’s Soup as an outstanding student award. It was a great redemptive prize. I will always be grateful to her. And in the end, first grade worked out. I made it to second, and so on.