I Went All the Way

 

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Sometimes something so simple can be hard.  I had the idea of riding my bike on the last Summer Streets on Park Avenue down to the Brooklyn Bridge.  I keep my bike in my office.  It’s a short folding bike, allowing for both my feet to touch the ground when I stop. It’s in my office so I can get out when the impulse strikes.  It rarely strikes.  I call myself a wimpy rider since I want to easily touch the ground, and I am not skilled enough to weave in and out of traffic.    I will only face the streets to get into Central Park or ride on the East River promenade to Randall’s Island where there are few if any cars.  Sometimes I lack the gumption.  I have to fill the tires with air days before a ride since I’m not even sure what to do should I find myself with a flat.

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I was out of town the first Summer Street week, and last week I thought I might, but my timing was off. The trick is to go early before the crowds.  It’s not so bad riding on Park Avenue, which is wide and has separate sides going in either direction.  But once we head around Grand Central Terminal and pass Union Square, we squeeze together on Lafayette Street, unable to pass slow cyclists, and the inevitable joggers in the wrong lane.  (It is also true that certain cyclists ride on the jogging side.)

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There was one cyclist on a Citibike chatting with her friend.  I was on her left, when she veered to her left almost hitting me, and I yelled “On Your Left!” She was startled.  I couldn’t believe that I reacted with such verve.  Sometimes I think I’m fine only to have an innocuous moment force me to see how stressed I am.  That was such a moment.  It was contrasted by a lovely biker passing me on my way uptown simply stating in a warm, soothing voice, “ On your left.”  I could move incrementally to my right to let her pass.  It was an easy moment that juxtaposed my rash reaction.

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I was excited and scared to take my bike on the ride.  I liked the idea of being able to move easily through the streets of Manhattan.  I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity. I love this city, and taking part in something like this elicits an inner thrill.  But I am not great in terms of being part of a crowd. I’m a defensive rider, with a bit of anxiety thrown in to make it interesting, well, more like marginally stressful.   I’m better off on an empty path speeding up and slowing down based on my own estimations, not on the precarious bicycling of strangers.

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I didn’t wake up early enough to leave at 7 AM when the streets were wide open.  Instead I ventured to Park Avenue at 10:30 AM, with all those tourists and New Yorkers on a pre-bunch ride. Nonetheless, I was set to go down to the Brooklyn Bridge and back again to Yorkville.  I’m proud I made the ride, but I went for a slow jog today. I had enough of my bike for the weekend. If I can, perhaps I’ll make it to Central Park during a break this week.  After all, my tires are filled with air.

 

All images were stock from the internet

The Fluctuating Value of Sleep

 

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When I was ten-years-old I was going to sleep-away camp for the first time. I was leaving for 2 weeks at a bare-bones Y camp in Medford, New Jersey. The night before I left I was atwitter with anticipation. What should I wear? I want a low key, yet cool look. In 1970 that meant hot pants and a tight colorful tee. I’d save my red hot pants for a dressy camp night. And, while awake, going over my list of flashlights and swimwear, I decided I’d arrive wearing denim shorts with my tie-dye t-shirt. It wasn’t snug, but it was cool enough to appear nonchalant.

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That decided, I stayed up all night nervous about the friends I’d make, and wanting to have a good experience. I was happy to go off on my own. Even at ten I had an independent streak. I didn’t mind losing any sleep. I wasn’t tired in the morning. Getting little sleep just heightened my excitement. My parents couldn’t get ready fast enough, even though we couldn’t arrive until after 1 PM.

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Camp was great. I could eat all I wanted. We were allowed foods never offered at home, fried chicken, camp-made blueberry pie, pancakes, and bacon. Every day was an adventure. And, it wasn’t just that we were in the woods, but we learned to row and canoe. I learned and loved archery, group activities, theater and songs. They were all pleausrable. I slept well after fun-filled days. I didn’t think twice about how much sleep I was getting.

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And, when college came, I got great enjoyment in staying up all night going from one disco to another, until I came home to change so I could get the train to school. Even though I might have had to force my eyes open throughout the day, I took pride in the fact that I stayed up all night. Later, in my twenties, getting little sleep was a semi-regular event. I’d work all day, take an acting class, go to rehearsal for one showcase or another, go out with friends, and crawl home between 1 and 3 AM. With 5 hours or less sleep, I’d get up for work thinking about how to learn my lines for the showcase, while offering professional level customer service during the day.

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This summer of 2017, I am not so happy when I lose sleep. And, I do not have the same get up and go as I did in my first 30 years. Now when I can’t sleep I feel like I’m losing something, rather than simply adding hours to my day. Not getting enough sleep has become a regular event. Once losing sleep was the cheap price I paid for a good time. Now, a coveted commodity, sleep is worth its weight in gold. Having a good time is predicated on a good night’s sleep. I can only enjoy dinner with friends or family, or a night at the theater, if I slept well. This might even include a precious nap. I no longer stay up thinking about what I’ll wear out. Comfortable sleepwear is more my concern. Soft fabrics keep me cool and woozy. These days I no longer measure my strength in how many hours I can keep going. These days I measure my sleep, happy when I sleep in past 8 AM.

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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Stop Everything

 

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For the past few days I’ve spent most of my time in bed with a hot water bottle. I had a lower back spasm that seemingly came out of nowhere. The first two days were difficult to get up and down. On second thought, difficult is an understatement. But with the pain came some important lessons I apparently needed to learn.

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The first was how kind and generous my family and friends were. I am usually a do-it-myself kind of person, sometimes to a fault. I am strongly independent. But there are moments I can become resentful when others don’t pitch in. It’s in these moments that I realize that I could use some help. But when I feel aggrieved my requests sound more like criticisms than inquiries.

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Since my mobility was impaired, I had to ask for anything I wanted. What happened felt like a flood of love and care. Emma, my daughter, and Larry, my husband, were very helpful. Emma didn’t give me her usual teen attitude, and Larry went out of his way to make sure I had what I needed. Friends offered to help., which meant the world to me.

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What surprised me most was when I called to cancel theater tickets for two shows, both theaters were more than accommodating. And when I had a time-limited gym class, they postponed it without hesitation. Normally I don’t ask for special requests. I want to, but I respect most rules and adhere to them. I can even be righteous when others don’t respect the rules. I know, not an attractive quality, but true, nonetheless.

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I think this back pain may help me to recognize the need to ask for help more often. It was great for accommodations when there were special circumstances. But it seems like an activity worth pursuing even when I just want or need something. It could be as simple as someone helping me with reaching a product high on a Fairway shelf, or it may be asking a favor of a friend or colleague. In any event, this is a time when the pain gave me a positive gain.

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Grief Shaming

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Last week on Facebook I had changed my profile picture to one with a transparent French Flag on top of my face. When I was in college I had gone to school in Paris one summer studying Art History and French. The art history stayed with me, the French, not so much. It was a seminal summer for me. Memories surged after the bombings and I responded based on my relationship to my past and those in my present. Yet, shortly after that, so many people started writing pieces or making comments about how wrong it was to change our profile pictures when so many more had been tortured and killed in Damascus, Beirut, Jerusalem, Sierra Leone….. And the shaming began.

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I would much rather see a way in which we can educate and inform rather than tell one another that what has moved us isn’t good enough, or is racist or wrong. We’re all served well to learn more. But nothing is accomplished when we’re shamed into feeling bad about what matters to us.

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The irony is that often it’s in an attempt to create tolerance. Instead it creates a rift. “My way of seeing the problem is better than what you’re doing,” is the implication. And, though we see it online, we also hear it in our lives. There are so many times that clients will tell me that they’ve been criticized for the manner in which they’ve mourned a loss. If someone is relieved that a parent has died, they are considered cold-hearted. Alternatively, people who mourn for a year or two are asked when they’ll get over it. If someone loses a dear pet, eyes roll.   Why are we so dismissive of how others handle loss? And, what have we lost as a result of that?

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Tooting

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Fart was a curse word growing up in our household. If I “passed gas,” the only acceptable phrase I could utter, I was in a lot of trouble. I was banished from the scene and, best-case scenario, I could come back once I had gone to the bathroom and washed my hands. My mother would yell, “Go to the Bathroom!” It never made sense to me because once I had expelled my gas I was done. But as far as she was concerned it was only an introduction to a much dirtier deed.

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So imagine my surprise when I would go to my friends’ homes and they would laugh, or make an off-handed comment should someone fart. It was not a big deal, and they acted like it was the most natural thing. I didn’t dare fart in public believing I’d be perceived as uncouth and socially immoral. As a very young child I thought my mother was an authority on manners. And, it was my job to exemplify her fine status, learning to say please and thank you even under duress.

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‘Was that you?’

There was one time in particular when I simply mortified my mother. She was an avid tennis player and had a group of friends at the tennis club. I came with her at the age of 10 to sit and watch because I was off from school due to a professional development day, even though we called it a school day for teachers in 1970.

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Bad moments in skiing.

“Janet, this is my friend Mrs. Stein.”

My mother said in her formal yet genteel tone. I was facing a fit woman about my mother’s age of 32 with dark full hair and what looked to be an expensive white and yellow tennis outfit.

“It’s so nice to meet you.” I said in my most polite voice.

I smiled and surprisingly expelled a slightly squeaky fart. It totally snuck up on me. I turned a shade of pink, while my mother turned beet red.

“Janet!!!” She said in horror.

Mrs. Stein had a closed lipped sneer. Two peas in a pod.

“Pardon me. I’m so sorry,” I said meekly.

I knew I would get in more trouble later. But my mother quickly left the offending area to play another match with Mrs. Stein.

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It wasn’t until I was pregnant that I fully embraced the intelligence of my body. I couldn’t contain all the gas.  Thanks to those 10 months, farting is no longer an off topic. And, I’m happy to say that, though I am not the ladylike woman my mother hoped to raise, I am more at ease with the ways and means of my digestive system.  What once was forbidden is now an affirmation of a working body.

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Wrong Again

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The impulse to judge is a strong one. Although I can be intuitive, seeing how someone holds him or herself or has a certain expression that speaks volumes about character, I can also go to a less caring place when looking at others. More often than I’d like to admit, I can dismiss someone at first glance. Sometimes, though, I’m fortunate enough to be proven wrong.

The other day I was in a group and I totally dismissed a conservatively dressed woman as someone tight, lacking a sense of humor. Well, I couldn’t have been more wrong. When she shared she had us all laughing with a wonderfully dry wit. Now, here’s a woman I wanted to know. Yet, I almost didn’t give myself the chance because of my own inaccurate conclusions.

I wonder how many missed opportunities I’ve experienced. How many people would have contributed to my outlook if I hadn’t been so judgmental. In reading a wonderful piece about a fat bride and her joyous wedding, Lindy West affirms true happiness.

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http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2015/jul/21/my-wedding-perfect-fat-woman

While I persist in learning to be open, I have no doubt I’ll continue to be inspired. And, thank you to those who reveal your true selves, rather than the narrow impression I forged, I am humbled.