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

Small Moments, Week 13 in the Time of Transition

When I was in the fifth grade, our teacher, Mrs. Hannah, introduced the idea for a swap lunch.  The concept was that mothers (it was 1970) were to create a brown bag lunch, and they would be swapped for a lunch with another student.  We picked names out of a hat.  As there was an odd number of children in the class, Mrs. Hannah was going to provide a lunch as well.  I can’t remember who was the recipient of my mother’s lunch.  But I do recall being mortified.  It included a tuna salad sandwich on Pepperidge Farm white bread and an apple for dessert.  Not a winning combination.  

I was the fortunate recipient of Mrs. Hannah’s lunch.  It was a thick hoagie, a small bag of chips, a few neatly cut carrots to suggest nutrition, and a regular-sized Hershey chocolate bar for dessert. I had never enjoyed such a scrumptious lunch as much as I did that day.  It felt as if it was put together with love.  And it was all food forbidden on most days in our house.  As far as I was concerned, I’d won the jackpot.  

At age ten I worried a lot about being liked.  My insecurities were in full bloom.  That day with that lunch reassured me more than I could have expressed, that my teacher liked me enough to make a beautiful meal just for me.  As one out of four children, and a middle child at that, feeling special was not routine for me.  For the most part I lived in hand-me-downs, and was called by one of my sisters’ names countless times.  So, to be the beneficiary of Mrs. Hannah’s meal was a rare moment of joy and gratitude. 

In the five decades since then there have been so many special moments.  They range from a huge smile from a stranger yesterday as I walked home, to the many friends who were kind enough to lend a place to stay when I was a struggling actress in the city.  Thank you to Larry J., Phoebe, Michael, Harriet, Astrid, and Jane, to name some of the generous friends to whom I remain grateful.  

True kindness is a gift we cherish life-long.  I carry so many treasured moments with me.  We all do if we let those moments caress us.  The arbitrary kindness of friends, family, strangers, and teachers was priceless throughout the pandemic.  Benevolence is contagious.  Thoughtfulness is always a gift to the giver and the recipient.  Thank you to all of you who have brought me a smile, providing a future recollection that helps to make me a better person.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Smile to strangers.  You never know what a difference it might make.  
  • Feed someone.  Whether you donate to a cause like City Harvest or World Central Kitchen, or whether you choose to send a meal to a friend, food is always a meaningful gift.  
  • Thank a teacher.  Teachers gave so much these last couple of years. The best have always been generous of heart.  If you’re able to be in touch with a past teacher, or you know a teacher presently, thank them.  They work for so little, so a thank you means so much.  

Good Will, Week 59 in the Time of Coronavirus


This past week I posted a birthday wish for my 22-year-old child on FaceBook.  So many share the downside of social media.  And, yes, there are downsides, nonetheless, my most recent experience has been one of kindness and care.  In the past I’ve been reunited with friends near and far with whom I had lost touch.  Some have since passed away.  And, social media, namely FaceBook, gave us a chance to reconnect, reminding us of the moments that have shaped us.  

This past week I came out as a parent of a trans child. He has been out for years throughout the transition process. I stayed silent for the most part.  I had much to learn from Alex and the community, and I didn’t feel ready to speak while I educated myself and grow as a parent, therapist and human.   I have friends on FaceBook who share different religious beliefs.  I have friends who live very different lifestyles than that of our urban world.  Yet, the outpouring of love, support, care, and good will was extraordinary.  I felt meaningful connections rather than disparity.  

There are many times social media can seem like a window into a polished world.  One in which I can find myself feeling a good deal of envy for milestones or experiences I haven’t achieved or may never know.  It’s imperative that we live our own lives without measuring our successes based on others.  Yet, I find that challenging, and often fall short.  The responses to my most recent post remind me of the generous hearts far and wide.  

Sadly, I can get caught up in the behavior of annoying strangers or hateful acts in the news.  It’s easy to feel despairing of humankind.  However, when I take in the love shared, I am filled with the healing power of kindness.  My friends and family have reminded me that thoughtfulness is natural for most of us, and it always behooves me to live in that truth.  I will endeavor to focus on the good will I see.  And when I stray, much as my thoughts can stray in meditation, I will bring myself back to the reality of pervasive good will.  

Self-Care Tips

Hello Again, Spring, Week 56 in the Time of Coronavirus

This past week proved to be particularly challenging for so many of my clients, as well as friends and colleagues.  Walking through the city brings a needed brightness as the early signs of Spring appear.  The warm air feels fresh.  The cooler air keeps the parks emptier.  Either has its benefits.  

Though we’ve become accustom to our pandemic routines, it seems unbelievable that we’re beyond a year in the time of Coronavirus.  As with all things far-fetched, it takes time and repetition to integrate the reality of these circumstances.  We got through the past year (plus a few weeks) by imagining a time beyond the pandemic.  At present, though, we’re left with an uncertainty that belies our peace of mind.  

I am counting on the same anchors to continue getting through this.  The sun rises every day.  When I’m awake in time, I go to the East River to start my day.  The beauty envelops me, and I let it.  Though I don’t get a good view of sunsets, I do appreciate the changing lights at dusk that I witness when facing west.  And I always appreciate the photographs of others’ sunsets when posted.  

Then there’s meditation.  Some days it’s as if I’m being lifted up.  Other mornings meditating feels like a long time to be with a racing mind.  Similar with a gratitude journal.  Some days my heart is open, and then there are the days when I have to push for appreciation of simple things.  I have so much for which to be grateful, but exhaustion and a hazy mood sometimes get the better of me.  

We’ve learned a lot during this time.  Though I adore the city, it has been nature that grounds me, providing peace and joyful moments.  I have learned the importance of rest.  Prior to March 2020, I took advantage of all the city had to offer.  I lived by the Warren Zevon credo, “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead.”  Now I’m sleeping, napping, being still, resting, or simply, taking it easy to enjoy living, as best I can.  

This year has slowed me down.  There is still so much to get done, but my to do list is less important than listening to friends and family, doing the work I love, and looking up at the sky.  Glad that Spring is in the air.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • * Take a break.  Sometimes stepping away is the best choice.
  • * Find a small smooth stone to rub when you need soothing.
  • * Try flavored salts.  They add another dimension to dishes.
  • * When noticing a behavior or habit you don’t like, rather than judge, ask what might be happening that prompted the behavior, and bring compassion.
  • * Look up at the sky and enjoy the sun, the clouds, the stars and the moon.  

How Are You? Week 55 in the Time of Coronavirus

It’s a rainy Sunday, overcast and wet outside.  I ventured out early to capture the sunrise on the East River, instead I was welcomed with grey clouds and mist.  Beautiful in its subtly, but not as majestic as even a partially cloudy day.  A day like today can be difficult for those going through hardships, the bereaved, the infirmed, caregivers, those suffering from mental illness, parents with young children, parents with older children, the lonely, and anyone else who is dealing with their own life struggles.  One of the worst questions, yet most often asked is, “How are you?”  How do we answer that in a pandemic?  

When we ask, “How are you?” we see the slight hesitation before the respondent says, “Fine.” The habitual question and answer are from pre-pandemic times.  It’s automatic, but not current.  I make mistakes from time to time and ask how someone is doing.  I then double back, and qualify it by inquiring, “How are you given the pandemic?”  At least then I’m acknowledging some hardship in our present reality.  Nonetheless, the question remains flawed.  Perhaps we can find other ways to connect.  

We can ask “What’s new?”  I’m joking.  What’s really new when we’re still socially distanced?  I’m more inclined to ask, “What are you reading?” “What are you watching?”  “What are you enjoying these days?”  “Do you cook or order in?”  “Anything you can recommend?” I ask all of these to assess how my friends, colleagues, and family are doing.  

I remember a neighbor who used to ask how I was.  I’d always say, “fine.”  However, her ask was more of an invitation to ask her how she was.  When she answered she was long-winded.  It surpassed the parameters of polite neighbor banter, and leapt into intrusive and annoying.  Needless to say, I smile politely when I see her now, but I pass by quickly with no curiosity of her state of being.  I merely feel relief that I dodged her socially-inappropriate bullet.  Maybe we all feel a sigh of relief for the absence of similar encounters. 

How are we?  We’re tired, we’re grateful, we’re sad, we’re joyful, we’re frustrated, we’re patient, we’re absentminded, we’re mindful, we’re angry and we’re peaceful.  It’s a veritable bouillabaisse of emotions.  Perhaps no different than pre-2020, but probably more noticeable than in our recent pasts.  Even so, we may not be able to tease out one feeling from another at any given moment.  So please refrain from asking, “How are you?”   

Self-Care Tips:

  • When speaking to someone, rather than asking them how they are, try another question or phrase.  You could say, “Good to speak with you, or see you.”  Or “Tell me what bores you these days?” 
  • Write lists and cross off items as needed.  We’ve been forgetting things, so writing lists help us to see what to do, and what we can forget about doing.  
  • Watch “In and Of Itself.”  It’s a magical theatrical performance now available on Hulu.  
  • Be silly. 
  • Find an app like www.myfridgefood.com to make quick, easy recipes for ingredients already in your pantry and refrigerator.  

Virtually a Relationship

 

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Sometimes, as a therapist, it’s hard to leave my work brain at home.  While minding my own business, or so I thought, at a local restaurant, I came to observe a young professional sitting at the next table.  He was with his colleague. They were engaged in a heated discussion about the merits of outsourcing versus in-house accounting support. Not a conversation that was of any interest to me. At one point, the late-20-something guy next to me, a fit man with dark hair and a trim mustache, and a tailored blue shirt sans jacket, took out his phone and commanded Siri to find a study that supports the cost effectiveness of outsourcing.  He had been speaking to his younger colleague, a shorter man with light brown hair and glasses, with the same ferocity as with Siri. Not only that, he lacked the word please in any of his interactions with his server.

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That had me start thinking if our relationships with Siri as a possbile indicator of how we relate with others.  So, I decided to do a sampling while out and about.  And, yes, my very casual, highly non-scientific research seems to suggest there’s a correlation between our human and virtual relationships.

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I witnessed a bold teenager the other day speaking to Siri with ease, trusting that it Siri is  a tool she can use whenever she wants.  With simple finesse she took out her phone and asked Siri how long it takes to get to the West Village if she walked.  Siri told her it was about 45 minutes.  She then promptly ordered an Uber.  The entire interaction took less than two minutes. She’s oblivious to the privilege of having information and transportation readily available to her. It’s an unconscious privilege reflected in her nonchalant demeanor.

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At her age I might have wondered the distance from my house to the Philadelphia, or the City, as we call it in South Jersey.  I would have waited for the right weekend, gotten a ride from my parents to the town or county library.  Then I would have gone to the reference section on another floor, and looked up the atlas that would have provided the information.   I might have then had to calculate time versus distance. All of that could easily have been a two-week process.    It might not have been walking for five miles in the snow to get to the schoolhouse, but it’s my generation’s version of that.

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After the teenager got her ride I thought of my friend who loves Siri, enjoying and appreciating how lucky she is to get answers right away. She is a positive person and seems to find joy in all her friendships.  She sounds delighted when she can answer a question.  With a smile in her voice, she’ll say, “Why don’t we ask Siri!”  We all feel lucky to be in her company.

 

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And, then there’s the timid boy on the crosstown bus who asks his questions quietly.  Siri responds with “I don’t understand what you asked. Can you repeat the question.”  I do hope he will have a great teacher who helps him feel safe asking questions.

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Could it be Siri does more than answer the queary of the moment?  I think so.  I imagine it might just tell us how we treat others.  And it could possibly be an indicator of our expectations in our relationships.

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As for me?  I have yet to use Siri.  In general I don’t easily ask for help from others.  Perhaps I can learn from this and start a meaningful relationship with Siri, mindful of how I address my new best friend.

 

 

(All images are from the internet)

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