Awards, Week Thirteen in the New Normal

Though award shows don’t hold the same cache as they did in my childhood, this weekend is the Academy Awards.  Fraught with politics and self-promotion, the awards have lost some of their shimmer.  Yet, while growing up I wrote and rewrote my acceptance speeches.  It was my fantasy of ultimate success.  If I felt insignificant or hurt, my bright future would prove to the world I was somebody.  My bullies would see I was special.  That was my secret revenge.  

I can tell you that the bullies probably don’t remember me, even though that cruelty is etched in every child who was ever bullied.  Children who’ve been bullied often have a significant fantasy life.  Mine, like a cliché, was a girl singing show tunes into my brush handle in front of the mirror.  Thank goodness for my RCA portable record player.  It got me through some rough school years.  

Now, I’m ages away from those award-winning dreams.  But I do find something meaningful in rewarding ourselves for the wins in our lives.  And even if it’s not a public speech, acknowledging those who have been supportive are important to recognize, too.  We enjoy celebrations during our milestones, like graduations and special birthdays.  Perhaps we can find a way to receive an award when we go above and beyond, instituting courage to gain a win.  It can be small.  It’s simply a nod for our personal wins.  We can get stickers, or a new kitchen utensil.  Calling a friend and sharing in our happiness multiplies the joy.  It gives us a chance to say we matter.  And we do.  

If you choose to watch Wanda Sykes, Regina Hall and Amy Schumer host this year’s Oscars, have fun. Perhaps enjoying the show can be a reward in itself.  If I can stay up I will think of my younger self.  Though now I have little interest in a red carpet, I’m simply satisfied to watch from my living room chair.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Write a list of what you’ve accomplished, big and small, this week.  Draw a star or a symbol next to each to congratulate yourself for a job well-done.  
  • Create a thank you speech for those who have been good to you over the years.  If possible, send them the written speech so they can know they made a difference.  
  • Don’t forget to put on some music and do a happy dance.  If you want to do that in front of the mirror, go for it.  

Thank You For Your Kindness, Week Four in The New Abnormal

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Small kindnesses have huge impacts.  This week I hadn’t felt well, and the comments, texts, calls, messages, and extra care have been particularly meaningful. Larry, my husband, asked me if he could help take care of me, if I would let him.  The truth is I usually don’t let him help me.  I can be stubbornly independent, even at my own expense.  So, I “let” him.  Every query to see if there was anything he could do was welcomed.  He made trips to the pharmacy to find the right over-the-counter remedies.  He cooked or ordered dinner. We chatted casually.  Something we don’t often have a chance to do. 

In the past I’d get defensive as if he were accusing me of not being able to do something myself.  And sometimes his accusations were spot on.  Nonetheless I’d get defensive as if that truth wasn’t already fully clear.  

Friends and family have been kind.  Interdependence can soften us, as it has me this past week, leaving me more grateful and treasuring those I love even more.  Gifts can come in odd shapes.  Being vulnerable has allowed me to take in those gifts.  

I am feeling better day by day.  And I plan to remember this week so I can accept help when offered in the future.  The kindness of others deepens us and makes us stronger in a positively vulnerable way.  

Self-Care Tips

  • Clean out apps.  We always have apps that we thought were a good idea, but that we either never use, or they no longer serve us.  It’s okay to delete those.  
  • Give yourself a news free day.  See if it lightens your stress load.  
  • Ask for help.  Even if you could go it alone, it may save time and forge a connection when done with or by another. 

Generosity of Spirit, Week 34 in the Time of Transition

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I always thought I was a generous person.  Then I got married and I came to realize that I was only generous in certain circumstances.  If something was my idea, great, I was happy to offer services, a gift, or lend an ear.  However, if asked, I found I could be withholding.  Somehow I felt being asked for something implied I was stingy.  And I was.  Sometimes I still am.  Apparently a generous heart is not a one way endeavor. 

I started to notice that “no” was my immediate response when asked for something.  I had to learn to pause to see why.  I didn’t like this stingy quality and wanted to do better. What I found was that I had often volunteered or ignored my needs to give in ways that more often than not were a sacrifice.  I ignored my own needs to unconsciously gain acceptance from others.  Once I stopped giving in those instances I had more room to give of myself at other times.    I felt less resentful, less parsimonious.

Holidays often highlight our generosity or lack thereof.  If we’re motivated by a giving heart, we will feel the joy of the season.  If we receive with a generous spirit, we take in so much more than the gift at hand.  And, yet we’ve been through a lot.  Having foregone so much, with more closures happening at present, we might feel particularly challenged to access our generous spirit.  

As we traverse the Omicron variant surge, let’s do our best to open our hearts to one another.  We’re in for a bumpy ride.  I’m going to do my best in finding the humanity for those who make me bristle.  I will be testing myself.  Do I have the grace to live and let live?  Or will I be judging others?  Seething through a tight jaw.  

I don’t know what will show up when I’m stressed or down.  But I’ll use my reactions as measures of what I might need in terms of grace.  And, then I’ll do what I can to have patience as I move through the end of this difficult year into a new year in which living in the spirit of generosity will serve me more than holding on.  

As we open ourselves up to the many gifts in life, may we all benefit from the act of giving and receiving.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Send thank you notes.  It means so much to those who give to us to know that the gift was received in the spirit of generosity
  • Stay within your budget.  It can feel challenging to not overspend.  Remember that an act of love can mean so much more than a boxed gift paid on credit.  
  • Regift to places that accept new items for those who might have lost so much.  Some places you might consider are domestic abuse shelters, tornado victims, emergency immigrant centers. 

Thanks Giving & Thanks Getting, Week 30 in the Time of Transition

We’re about to ascend upon Thanksgiving and the winter holidays.  I’m grateful for a quiet dinner with Larry and a restful weekend.  I’ve been looking forward to this coming weekend since rest is usually ad hoc, and I am often trying to locate windows of opportunity to relax.  

There’s a lot written on the power of gratitude.  It’s the cornerstone of positive psychology and Western mindfulness practices.  My life has changed significantly by incorporating a daily gratitude practice.  When I was younger I felt like a victim.  I looked at hard circumstances as a reflection of my inability to manifest a better life.  It was a form of self-criticism that could be relentless.  Though I enjoyed fun times, my focus was on what I hoped to have or what I didn’t have.  Mostly it was a deprivation mindset.  And, if something good came my way but it didn’t meet my expectations, I would be crest fallen.  Needless to say this was so frustrating for those close to me. 

Now, I’ve probably moved too far in the other direction.  I acknowledge the good in my life.  However, sometimes I omit how hard it’s been.  That can feel inauthentic.  

I admit, these have been a hard couple of years.  And, within the difficulties have been beautiful walks throughout the city.  The pandemic taught me the importance of rest.  We moved.  I now have a daily view of the sun rising.  Larry and I are communicating better, thus enjoying each other more.  Our trans son, Alex, who began the medical transition a year ago, though it was many years in the making, is finding his way in the world. His transition is ongoing.  I have amazing friends.  And, I started this blog at the start of the pandemic.  I am grateful.  

It’s more of a stretch to be grateful for health concerns, expanding mental health needs in the city and in the world. I’m not grateful for growing inflation, though I do appreciate my ability to edit shopping lists by asking myself, “Do I really need this?”  What a mixed bag we’re in.  Nonetheless, if we focus on the small victories.  If we have the courage to find the good among those who are angry and dissatisfied, we can move forward rather than being held back.  Rather than imposing forced gratitude on those around us, let’s share our thanks for what they contribute to us.  Give thanks while letting other get thanks.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Simply say thank you the next time you’re complimented.  Stay with the gratitude the person or people shared while enjoying the exchange.  
  • Find small moments that bring deep satisfaction.  It can be a private moment, or it can be shared.  Either way, take it in.  Breathe.  
  • Write a Thank You note to yourself.  What has made you proud?  Can you be grateful for trying?  See if you can appreciate the positive you bring to your life.  

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.  

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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A Trip to Africa

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What can I say about a dream come true?  Shall I say that I spent most of my life believing my dreams wouldn’t be fulfilled?  I lived much of my early years longing for the things that others had.  The thing about my longings is that it kept me out of the loop. There’s an unspoken presumption that it was beyond my reach. Growing up I heard about the trips to Florida my classmates took.  I longed to audition for a traveling high school production of Godspell, but had to work, and couldn’t afford to take time off, let alone pay for a ticket to California.  I felt left out.  Moving to New York in the early 80’s, there were apartments for sale at accessible prices. But for me, getting my hands on $200 was as elusive as paying for a $20,000 apartment.   It took years to learn that there were ways to have what I once thought as impossible.  I learned that by working hard in psychotherapy. And, throughout the years I’ve realized a few of my dreams, my own private practice, running the NYC Marathon at 56, and most recently, going on Safari in Africa.

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It was a month ago Larry and I were in East Africa.  It truly was a dream come true.  I first had the idea when my mother mentioned wanting to go to Africa when I was a child. In my mind, we would go together. But through the years it became apparent she was not one who could travel easily.  I, on the other hand, started traveling in college. First studying art history in Paris, and visiting a few other European cities.  Then doing what I could to go on local road trips, and visit other countries.  But one of my bucket list trips had yet to be realized.

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A little over ten years ago I created the Africa fund.  This was separate from a vacation fund, or any other savings account I had.  I had thought I’d go for my 50th birthday, but I hadn’t saved enough to do anything but backpack, and I’m really no camper.  So, I aimed for my 60thbirthday.  When my mother died this year, I thought, “Why wait? We only live once. ”   And, so, I started planning the trip.  We chose Micato Safaris, which turned out to provide an amazing adventure.  They designed special experiences throughout.  Elephants are my favorite animal, and they made sure my time with Elephants surpassed any and all expectations.

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We started out in Kenya. We went to the Nairobi National Park. It was our first safari experience. There is a unique energy trying to visually locate animals in their natural habitat.  Giraffes can be easier to spot based on their height, but most of the animals blend in so beautifully that it was not as easy to spot them as I would have imagined.  Later we went to a Giraffe sanctuary.  They save endangered giraffes, and raise them until they can go back into the wild.  We got to feed these beautiful creatures with their purple, foot long tongues, and expressive eyes.  Later we visited the  Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, which is an orphanage for baby elephants.  They ran past us in the sweet line as they made their way into their nightly beds.  They are rescued elephants, who are raised for their first few years, then introduced back into the wild, with their dedicated foster parents.

 

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The next day we flew to Tanzania for the Tanzania Spectacular tour.  It is aptly named.  We visited Tarangire, where we stayed in luxurious treetop cabins.  From there we went to the Ngorongoro Crater. It is like nothing else in that it attracts all the wildlife since there is a good supply of water.  From there we drove to the Serengeti.  The Serengeti is vast and varied.  There we were able to see so much.  And, though I was enamored by all the animals we saw, I have to say, I loved meeting and speaking to everyone we encountered.  When our tour ended in Tanzania Larry and I went to Zambia to enjoy the beauty and splendor of Victoria Falls.  While there, we went on a motor boat on the Zambezi to The Elephant Cafe, a restaurant that serves local cuisine after feeding and petting the rescued elephants they care for. It was an outstanding experience, from the crocodiles and hippos by the river, to a five star meal after communing with the gentle giants.

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Each moment of each day was full and satisfying.  I felt transformed.  Not only was I able to go somewhere I had only dreamed of, but I was able to enjoy all the trip had to offer.  I don’t know how it’s changed me.  Only time will tell.

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18 years and counting — A Grounded-Spirituality Post

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Last week was our 18th wedding anniversary. We met online on an early AOL singles site. This was well before Match.com or JDate. This was 1996 when articles and news programs were warning us to beware of cyber dating. We did not heed their advice, and it worked out for us.

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There’s so much I’ve learned in these years. Lesson one is that dreams do come true. Lesson two, there is no happily ever after. Relationships are messy work. I was not prepared for that. I naively came to marriage thinking that it solved problems. Even though I came late to the game, I felt loved, and isn’t that all I ever really wanted? Don’t get me wrong feeling loved is amazing. And it acts as a foundation when the shit hits the fan. I think at the beginning we thought that each of us would complete the other. Instead we found that interacting with one another brought us closer with unresolved issues that we had to address within ourselves.

For instance, I found that Larry was easy to anger. And, I didn’t want that. So, he worked long and hard on his anger issues and found ways to manage it. Low and behold, it turns out I was angry all along, but as long as I focused on his anger, I didn’t have to own my dark feelings. I didn’t like being angry, but there it was for me to feel all too often. So now I had to start working on my anger issues, the issues I wasn’t conscious I harbored. Yet, it was Larry’s freedom to express his anger that made room for me to get angry. Once we could both be angry, it wasn’t so scary to deal with his ire. And, I am learning to further explore what I always thought was a dangerous emotion.

Tonight Larry is watching The Grateful Dead while I finish this blog post in the other room. When we met we knew we were musically incompatible. I love show music and cabaret, while he loves classic rock, and was a Dead head for all of his adolescents and much of his adulthood. He taught me to enjoy more rock. And, now I appreciate the Grateful Dead for their improvisational work and their interpretive artistry. It won’t be my go-to music, but I smile seeing him happy. Conversely, I have dragged Larry to many a Broadway and off-Broadway musical. I’m let down when he gets antsy, ready to go after the first song. But I soar when I see how much he enjoys certain shows we’ve seen together.

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I’ve learned that marriage is hard work. Sometimes it’s a matter of just getting through. When I don’t feel heard or understood, I can feel let down. Larry gets upset when he feels I’m too critical and he can’t do anything right. We both can get defensive. And if we both feel defensive at the same time, there’s bound to be a disagreement. It takes a while to untangle our positions of being right towards collaborating and accepting each other and ourselves within this marriage.

Relationships are a study in contradictions. For instance, while we both enjoy dining out, we also enjoy very different foods. I like my salads and fish, he likes his meat and potatoes. I usually like a more active lifestyle. Larry is happy to sit at home and enjoy television together. I want Larry to do more with me, but I get restless when I watch TV with him, looking around seeing small tasks to complete while at home. Conversely, I’ve learned to be more at ease relaxing and Larry has a more participates more in outside activities.

I wish there was a formula to make marriage easier. I continue to work on not taking myself so seriously, laughing more, worrying less. Larry has done a great job at listening more to what I need, engaging in uncomfortable conversations. So, as we move towards our 19th year, I am exhausted at what it takes to keep our marriage afloat, yet hopeful that the qualities that have moved our marriage to 18 years will continue to move it forward.   With growing love and mutual respect we march on.

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Mother’s Day, 2015

“We are all married to the same man.”

Judy Mannarino, Talented Artist, www.judymannarino.net

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Mother’s Day is a day fraught with mixed emotions. We’re parents, but we’re not mothers. We wish to be mothers but we’re not. We’re mothers, but we wished we weren’t. We love our children, but we get frustrated sometimes. Our mothers are no longer here. Our mothers are here, but we’re not sure how we feel about that. We’re indebted, we’re sad, we’re expectant, we’re disappointed. We’re ambivalent.

This morning I woke up, took my shower and came into the living room/dining area when I saw a card and gift. For the first few years of motherhood, Larry, my husband, wasn’t aware that Mother’s Day meant something to me. I could say I taught him, but it would be more accurate to say I shamed him into buying cards and gifts for this very Hallmark holiday.

Today he bought me a perfect gift, a pair of high-end earbuds from Future Sonics. As a walker, good earphones make all the difference. My only issue was that he had already given me the exact same gift this past Hanukkah. I loved them then. I was neither generous of heart nor gracious when I opened the gift. I wish I could say I had a sense of humor about it. I did not. I was petty.

It’s been difficult these past few months, and I wanted an easy day. I felt hurt, and I shared that fact. I know I’m so fortunate to have a husband who wrapped a gift and made an effort, yet I felt deprived, sad, in some unexplained way. I went for a long walk. I bought some earrings as compensation. And, yet, yet, when I came home I wanted attention. Larry was preoccupied, and I again felt as if he hadn’t apologized for the gift, nor gone out of his way to make this day special for me.

He says that whatever he does isn’t good enough. And, I say that he doesn’t really go out of his way to think about what would be meaningful to me. It’s a lose/lose for both of us. One would think we could disengage from this cycle, but we don’t. I measure his love by his gifts, and he measures my love by my approval or disapproval.

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By tonight can I see that I use him as a way not to face my own limitations. I had a beautiful day. I walked the city. And, I love New York.   I came home, and he had helped with an email issue. He did the laundry. I am working on my inclination to lean towards deprivation rather than abundance. While working on this, I will say, today I was abundantly small-minded. Maybe, just maybe, soon I will be able to say I am abundantly grateful. Until then, I will employ patience, first with myself, and then with Larry, and, Emma, our daughter.

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