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. 

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.  

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.  

July 4th, Week Ten in the Time of Transition

From online stock images

When I was a child our family would pack into our Ford station-wagon and head out to Pennypacker Park to watch the fireworks.  We played in the playground or chased fireflies until the moment when it became dark.  Then the night would light up and we cheered with delight as we gazed skyward.  It felt magical to enjoy a hot night of colorful pyrotechnics.  The crack, pop and whiz of the fireworks foretold if we’d be seeing a Roman Candle or a burst of high-definition pink chrysanthemum.  My favorite was the waterfall, cascading sparkles in the sky. 

Online Stock Image

Tonight I may skip the fireworks.  Fortunate to live in New York City where the Macy’s fireworks grace the darkness over the East River, I am reticent to stand among so many on the East River Promenade to catch a glimpse of the larger displays.  It is not only that we are making our way out of a pandemic, it’s more that I don’t like myself so much when I jockey to find the right spot and stake my claim.  I become territorial and highly suspicious of my fellow humans.  Some come with young children, and I turn into an angry older woman afraid that they will block my view by placing their toddler on their shoulders.  Those moments as I wait do not showcase my best self.  I am greedy about my space, selfishly competitive to those who only seek an evening of summer recreation. 

After spending so much time these past fifteen months learning more patience, enjoying moments of solitude, I think stepping away from the fireworks will be an act of kindness for myself as well as the nameless strangers who I might secretly hold in contempt.  I’d rather bask in my young memories.  I was less cynical then.  That child in me still feels the awe of the seven-year-old in Pennypacker Park.  The sparkle of a childhood recollection reignites the magic of an earlier time. 

Self-Care Tools:

  • Think of the ways you’ve grown during the pandemic and find ways to foster that growth as we transition. 
  • Take a mental health day.  If you can’t take the day off, perhaps you can give yourself and hour or two.  And, if you don’t have any time to spare, take a minute to touch base with yourself. 
  • When things didn’t turn out how you would have liked, remember to say to yourself, ‘it’s not what I wanted, but it’s what I’ve got.’ Sometimes it just keeps it real. 

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

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.  

You Never Know, Week 46 in the Time of Coronavirus

Sometimes I find myself quick to judge.  I hear a whiny individual at a Zoom meeting, and I silently groan.  I also know that there have been times, and I chance to say there are still times, in which I am the one who warrants another’s groan.  In my more open-minded moments, I remember that everyone is trying the best they can.  We are all going through this pandemic, and there’s nothing easy about that.   But there are other times when my exhaustion and impatience take over and I am unforgiving of anyone who annoys me from the selfishly maskless to virtual-meeting squeaky wheels. 

Something I’ve noticed recently in my professional and personal life is how instantaneously we are to jump from one emotional state to another.  As quick as I am to criticize and sigh, I am equally swift to be moved by others’ suffering now.  When I open up to the sheer humanity of getting through each day in this time of Coronavirus, it is awe inspiring.  

Not only are we plodding as best we can day in and day out, but so many have faced hardships that would bring tears to our eyes if we only knew.  But we do not know.  It’s easy for me to judge someone based on my own needs and preferences.  In those moments I forget that they are struggling in their own way, as I grapple with life in my way.  

I have heard people imagine how much easier it is for others.  I have listened to their envy.  What I do know is that while others may enjoy specific circumstances, they are not immune to suffering.  No one is completely protected from the world’s ills.  Let’s try to tease out our opinions from our innate compassion.  They do not have to be mutually exclusive.  I will probably continue to remain judgmental in certain ways.  Nonetheless, I hope to remember not to take myself too seriously.  I hope to remember others live with a story that would take my breath away.  We all live with our stories.   

Self-Care Tips:

  • Write positive affirmations on post-it notes and place them on shelves, in drawers and in cabinets.  This way you get positive messages throughout your home.  Examples of positive affirmations are, “You matter,” “Focus on your gifts,” or “You’re awesome.”
  • Create an avatar for your anxiety.  When you have racing thoughts, or anxious thinking, draw or digitally create an avatar.  Like in a comic book, have the avatar say the things you’re thinking.  In this way, it places the anxious thoughts outside of you, making them potentially easier to address.  
  • If you listen to the news, try reading it for a day.  See if it feels differently to read about current events rather than being told. 
  • Set an alarm on your calendar to laugh.  Find something funny on YouTube, read a joke, or enjoy a cartoon.  We all need a daily laughter break.
  • When you judge another, also leave space in your mind to appreciate that the person has his/her/their own struggles.  

So Long 2020, Week 42 in the Time of Coronavirus

Before the end of this week we will welcome in a new year.  Never will there have been a greater collective sigh throughout the globe than at the rotating midnight hour of 1/1/2021.  We all faced many challenges throughout the year.  And we all learned essential truths about ourselves.  I learned that doing less was a relief.  I learned that patience is not an end point, but an ongoing process.  I learned to use my crankier tendences as a reflection on what vulnerabilities I am attempting to protect.  I learned that I still have a lot to learn in asking for help.  Plus, I learned that 2020 gave us endless opportunities to learn.  I also learned that even with the possibility of learning, sometimes learning to relax was the best option.   

            Having to slow down gave me a chance to see the best in others.  Family, friends and others shared their kindness and generosity of spirit again and again.  Courage rose exponentially as we faced multiple traumas.  There was the courage to get through a single day.  And there was the courage to recreate ourselves in the face of endless hardships.  

            I’m uncertain what the future brings.  I long to travel, but don’t want to go anywhere until we’re all safe.  I yearn live theater, however, I can’t say what that might look like post-pandemic.  January 1st will look pretty much the same as the other days these past months.  Nevertheless, I feel tremendous hope for our near future. Nature will continue to bring special moments, as long as we show respect to our natural world.  Thanks to acts of goodness and kindness, both apparent and unseen, we will continue to make it through this time of Coronavirus.  Personally, I thank you for reading these blog posts.  By giving your time and attention, you have been invaluable to me.  

Self-care Tips:

  • Rather than looking for happiness, try working on feeling deeply satisfied.
  • Instead of New Year’s resolutions, think of what you’d like to let go of at the end of this year.
  • Sleep, laugh and cry.  Not necessarily altogether, but each provides relief and release.  
  • Review this past year and acknowledge all you accomplished, both large and small wins.
  • Review this past year and celebrate the inner strengths you never knew you had.   

A Show Under the Stars

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It was around 1974. It had to be since it took about four years for my mom to perfect her tennis game.  She played every day at the Cherry Hill Tennis Courts.  She started out at the free outdoor courts in Kressen Woods, but it didn’t take long for my mom to realize that indoor courts were her best bet.    It was winter so playing indoor tennis made sense.  On that chilly  Wednesday I answered the phone, hopeful that a friend was calling.  But it was for my Mom.  The rich, low voice on the other end said he was Gladys Knight’s manager and wanted to see if Arlene, my mom, would play mixed doubles with them. I could not believe my ears.  I wrote down the message, making sure I got the number right. This was way better than any random weekday call from a friend.  When I told my mom she had a message, she first thought it was a prank. But her curiosity got the better of her and she ended up calling back.  Turns out Gladys was headlining at the Latin Casino, the Vegas Style night club that graced the West side of Cherry Hill’s Route 70. Ms. Knight liked to play tennis but they needed a forth.  My mom’s name was offered.

 

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The next day, Thursday, after her regular league, my mom stayed and played mixed doubles with Gladys Knight and two of the Pips on court 14.  It was on the end, and was reserved for games without viewers.  I couldn’t wait until she came home.  She said they were very nice and they were on for another game the next day, a Friday.  Not only that, but they asked her to be their personal guest at their show Friday night. I wanted to ask so much more, but dinner had to get on the table and my chores took priority, at least while I lived in her house. I had fantasies of going with my mom, even though it was a nightclub and I was 14.  My mom was strict, and as far as she was concerned fourteen was closer to childhood than adulthood.  I had a differing opinion, like any good adolescent.

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My mom was no expert in making decisions, so she had to think about the offer.  I was amazed she had to think at all, how could she Not see a Motown star’s act?  But the words, “I have to think about it,” usually meant a delayed NO.  And that time was no exception.  She said they were lovely, but there would be too much smoke at the club.  My Mom was a dedicated Camel smoker until I was six, probably when she was pregnant with my brother.  Since then she would cough loudly in any public place, asking anyone within her vicinity to put out his cigarette.  Usually my mom was bashful, but she boldly made her requests much to the chagrin of the smokers.

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Fast forward to this summer, and my husband, Larry, has been working at Pier 17, the outdoor venue at The South Street Seaport.  Gladys Knight was headlining last week, and I knew I just had to see her. Larry made it happen.  Everyone at the venue treated me as if I had just played tennis with Gladys. Knight. But they were just great at hospitality. It was a spectacular night.  Before the show, the audience members started coming in. They looked extraordinary. Everyone was dressed up to the nines. It was it’s own show.  Then the band opened the act. In came the star.  Gladys Knight is musical royalty, yet she performs with enthusiasm and a generous heart.  Her voice sounded beautiful, complimented by her excellent band and back-up singers.   My mom might have thought the 1974 show wasn’t for her, but for me, Gladys Knight is a Knight to remember. IMG_1877.JPG2018-08-25 20.54.00.jpgIMG_1878.JPGIMG_1873.JPGIMG_1872.JPG