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.  

Love and Hardship, Week 54 in the Time of Coronavirus

Throughout this past week I heard how difficult the week was.  We had all gone through a year milestone, but there would be no celebrating.  How do we celebrate one year of a pandemic?  We don’t. We hunker down, as we had for over 52 weeks, and trudge on.  It has been recommended that when we feel particularly vulnerable that is the best time to incorporate a self-care and self-love practice.  And, though I share self-care tips, all of which I either try or do on a regular basis, self-love and self-care can feel like ephemeral notions.  

Self-love and Self-care are phrases bandied about as if being able to understand the phrases gives us magical powers in living a life full of love and care towards ourselves.  I, however, think these ideas often stay conceptual because we are told to just do this or that and it will all be okay.  It is my belief that we have to rethink self-love and self-care.  

I used to imagine love meant 100% acceptance of the loved.  More often than not I pushed down feeling of sadness, anger, frustration, and bewilderment.  My thinking was, ‘How can I truly love them if I feel this or that?  I better learn to be more accepting.’  So I moved forward with shame and self-rage so that I could be a “loving” person.  I attended to their requirements, or at least I thought I was, while I eschewed my own needs.  Not only was this the opposite of self-love, but it was a misattunement of all love.  

When we deny ourselves the space to feel all our feelings then we block kindness and care towards ourselves and others.  Love more often than not is imperfect.  We’ve all seen this as we distance in place.  Cohabitating for long stretches without diversions means we witness the best and worst in each other day in and day out.  If we live alone, then we are grateful for any contact, sometimes even when it leaves us wanting.  

When I say how important it is to give ourselves the space to feel our feelings, I do not mean that we are free to rage or dump those feelings on others.  Sometimes I share my love by not sharing my thoughts.  I silently acknowledge this act of generosity.  In this way I have the room to experience my feelings but I am not compelled to hurt some else, even at those times I want them to hurt like I hurt.  

The great thing about love and care is that it is an evolving practice.  When we are hard on ourselves, perhaps for not being as caring as we think we should be, like when we want someone to hurt like we’re hurting, then we can double down on patience and kindness for attempting the difficult.  Perfection and the determination to reach perfection get in the way of living and loving fully.  Now that we have passed the one-year mark of living in the Covid-19 pandemic, let’s applaud our grit.  Let’s celebrate our imperfect love.  Let’s appreciate whatever self-care we’ve been able to incorporate. Let’s acknowledge how hard this has been. Let’s commend all we’ve learned about love, care, kindness, and patience.  Yay, us!

Self-care Tips:  

  • Daydream.  Let your mind go.  These breaks are essential, not only for creativity, but for survival at difficult times.
  • Savor breakfast.  Sometimes we want our day to start so we have whatever we can in the morning.  Truly enjoying our first meal is a lovely foundation for the day.
  • Chew slowly.  We can really relish our food by slowing down, chewing slowly.  It lowers our stress and supports us being in the moment.  
  • Find a new source of humor.  Laughter remains invaluable.  Ask those who share a similar sense of humor if they can recommend a show, a comedian, a video, or anything else that will make you laugh.  
  • Take a picture.  Whether you want to document a moment, beauty, or something meaningful, a photograph allows you to revisit it again and again.  

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.  

What We Don’t Know, Week 45 in the Time of Coronavirus

I have to admit that I wasn’t sure that the judge I watched numerous times on Law and Order was Fran Lebowitz.  It looked like her, but was she a doppelganger, or was she, in fact, the writer?  After watching “Pretend it’s a City,” Martin Scorsese’s excellent (in my opinion) docu-series of Fran Lebowitz, I was happy to learn that, yes, it was her as Judge Janice Goldberg in the original Law & Order. 

The short series on Netflix was a delightful, laughter-filled escape from current events this past week.  I learned a lot, evaluated my own thinking, and admired FL’s ability to speak her personal truths, thoughts I often have, but don’t share aloud.  Somehow the cable show also had me pondering on the wonder of all I don’t know.  I’m not even sure how I arrived at that thought trend, but once there, my mind wandered endlessly to all that is yet to be explored.  I’m not speaking of subjects that vaguely interest me, but not enough to occupy my time, like physics or economics.  I’ll leave that to the experts. Then I’ll simply read their selective theories.  I’m more thinking about what curiosities I can discover in a day, or in a new place, or with those who think differently than myself.  Am I willing to let go enough to be in awe of the newness of an experience, much like a young child?  I’m willing to try.  I’ll see how it goes.  If nothing else, I’ll learn more about my curiosity or lack thereof.  

I can’t say I was in child-like wonderment whilst I tried to learn two new computer programs today.  It was more like initial confusion followed by adult frustration.  My curiosity quickly morphed into baffled exasperation.   Though I wasn’t as open as I would have liked, I was able to marvel at my reaction, and my limited ability to take in perplexing information.  I will try again briefly today, but it appears I need more time and energy to learn these programs.  May I say that the tutorials for both wrongly claim the ease in which one can get them up and running.  What I didn’t fully appreciate before is that I cannot rely on old knowledge to magically create aptitude for new skills.

It helped to admit that I couldn’t figure out how to launch the programs. Though I was hoping not being able to master the first program, I could figure out the second one.  Not having the bandwidth to take in anything new happens more now in the pandemic.  And, if that’s not enough, even old facts leave me with limited mental access.  If I once knew something but can’t recall it at a particular time, I’m more embarrassed than if I never knew it at all.  Or, if I am familiar with a topic, but know no specifics about said topic, I’ve been reluctant to admit that.  I am happy to eschew that behavior by proudly admitting all I don’t know.  I certainly don’t know how this will go, but I’m curious to find out.  In the meantime, I’ll reread Fran Lebowitz’s essays.

  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Admit that you don’t know something. It’s better to learn by not knowing than to be uncertain of what you might know.  
  • Make room for making mistakes, it’s bound to happen, and it helps us grow.  
  • Shape recommendations or suggestions to accommodate your life rather than shaping your world to acclimate to specific advice. 
  • Watch Netflix’s “Pretend it’s a City,” or something else true to your sense of humor.  
  • Place a light fragrance on your wrist, sniff it periodically, to get you through tough times. 

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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Free Shakespeare in the Park

 

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On a sweltering Tuesday in August, in my first full summer as a New York City resident, I was nervous and excited about the prospect of obtaining free tickets to A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park. The day in 1982 was hazy, and the great lawn was full of picnickers all with numbers for a place in line. I was number 26. I had gotten there so early, maybe 7 AM to ensure my audience participation. And, I was far from the first one in line. But with a coffee and an H&H bagel for breakfast, I felt well-prepared. Hour after hour of baking in the sun, I was a lucky recipient of two tickets to the show.

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The production was magnificent. Directed by James Lapine, a name I wouldn’t recognize until after the first production of Into the Woods, Shakespeare’s mystical comedy was a seamless theater piece. Before the show I spotted Kevin Kline among other stars in the V.I.P. section. As a young aspiring actress, I felt part of something.   Christine Baranski was spot on as a comedic actress. William Hurt was dreamy.

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35 years later, Larry, my husband, and I celebrated our 20th anniversary seeing the latest production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Another wonderful evening of theater, this time with the wonderful singing voice of Marcelle Davies-Lashley. Although neither Larry nor I had ever heard of her before, we’ll be following her now. And, though the entire cast did a great job, our notable favorites were the indomitable Annaleigh Ashford, plus Danny Burstein and Kristine Neilsen.

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It was so much fun to share the evening with Larry. Between our work, our parents, our kid, and life’s needs, we don’t go out even half as much as we did twenty years ago. We very much felt like a part of something as as audience members, as New Yorkers, a supporters of Free Shakespeare in the Park, and as a couple. It’s more fun to laugh together. And, for that I appreciate a good night’s theater under the stars.

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(All images are from www searches)

 

Rushing to Yoga; A Grounded-Spirituality Post

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It could have been any day.   I woke up, and immediately did a mental check list of all that had to get done before I left the apartment. I had promised myself that I would make room for yoga. It had been too long and I missed the class and the benefits from going. So, in addition, to gearing up for a busy day, I was in a crunch to get through the family rush hour to make it to class.

First-things-first. I meditated, or I sat down on a mat, spending time with myself, trying not to think of anything except the moment, but getting caught up in the quagmire of my thoughts. Every thought took me away from the moment in which I had the thought. Oh well. Next I brushed my teeth, took a shower, got dressed, made breakfast for myself and my daughter, ate, read and answered emails, and made a list of everything else to be done that day. If I didn’t write the list, then they wouldn’t get done, and I’d have a faint sense that I was missing something. Okay, I was left with a mere five minutes to catch up with my husband. We did that, promising we’d be in touch during the day. I dressed for the cold weather and I was out the door. Down the steps, and I turn back around since I forgot my yoga mat. Then I flew out the door, ran down the stairs and ran to the gym, where I took class with a wonderful Hatha Yoga instructor, Suzanne.

I made it just in time. Well, actually, I was a couple of minutes pass 8:30 AM, but the teacher was speaking with a new student about her assorted injuries. I set up, and I was good to go.

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It’s funny to me that getting to yoga, an activity which grounds us, and has the capacity to bring us inner-peace, is fraught with anxiety and hurried angst. I seem to live in two worlds. The one world is filled with my to-dos. The other world is all I do to remedy living in a hectic environment. I take yoga to feel better. And, I feel better when I take yoga and other things like it. Yet, I haven’t bridged the gap between my yoga class and the rest of my life. At this point, my sense of humor will have to suffice in the absence of a constant Zen presence. Maybe I can find a laughing yoga practice. Another to-do.