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. 

Boy, Oh, Boy, Week 44 in the Time of Coronavirus

Yesterday I hit the wall.  Before I lost all steam, I had lofty plans.  I had research to do.  There is always cleaning and organizing.  I was behind on my writing.  Yet, by the time I was three fourths of the way through a walk in Central Park, I felt as if I was dragging my leaden legs on the southern arc of the Reservoir.  When I finally reached home, I couldn’t get my sweats on fast enough.  Then Lucy had to go out.  I love her, and also dearly wished there was someone else who would have taken her out.  I was able to speak with a friend from the other coast, and that gave me a pleasurable energy shot.  Though life in California is as fraught as it is in New York and throughout the world. 

This past week brought to the forefront the negative results of anger and hate.  Those are human experiences, but when those feelings are unchecked, then further fueled, they become destructive.  I hope we can learn from this, rather than take sides with defensive righteousness.  I certainly see how my own unexamined anger hurts Larry, Alex and probably others.  Once I see that I’ve hurt them, I have to consider what changes I can make so that we share joy rather than pain.  It’s an ongoing process of patience and kindness mixed with tools to calm my agitated soul.  

Was it possible that I had no energy to calm myself after Wednesday’s attack on the Capitol?  That played a part in my exhaustion, nonetheless, having witnessed it from afar, it’s not the only reason.  From what I’ve heard I am not alone in running out of steam in this time of Coronavirus.  We are all frayed.  We have been faced with challenges that have pushed us beyond our known limits, while still having to conduct our lives on a daily basis.  

I imagine yesterday’s pause was essential.  It meant I missed attending my first Zoom party.  It was only this morning that I even remembered that it was last night.  I think of my friends and family daily.  I so appreciate what they are doing to brighten others’ lives.  Though it’s an internal reflection since I rarely reach out these days, I am grateful that they are in the world and in my thoughts.  

Here we go into another week.  What will it bring?  We’ll see.   For me, I plan to get more rest.  I’m hopeful that will make room for added patience and kindness. 

Self-Care

  • Light a candle.  Whether it’s a small birthday candle or a luxurious scented candle, light a candle to brighten these dark winter nights.  
  • Compliment someone.  It’s easy to think nice thoughts, but it’s invaluable for someone to hear that you noticed.  
  • Look up.  Sometimes we see things we would have otherwise missed. 
  • Go for a walk, short or long, it can be an essential calming tool
  • Pause.  Check your breath and survey your body.  Coming back to ourselves, even 30 seconds at a time, is another way of acquiring calm. 

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.   

Thanksgiving, Gratitude & Disappointment, Week 37 in the Time of Coronavirus

There’s no doubt that this is a Thanksgiving like no other.  Many will spend Thanksgiving, if it is being spent at all, without loved ones.  In a large number of cases, it will be the first holiday without someone because they died, either of Covid-19 or from other causes.  It’s hard to feel thankful for these facts.  We can embody gratitude for what we’ve had in the past.  Or we may feel grateful for not having to be social when we’re not up to seeing anyone.  However, that’s a far cry from the delight of festivities of past years.  

Gratitude and its cousin, appreciation, can feel like a burden in times of fear, sadness and loss.  I am all for gratitude journals, and gratitude as a tenet of living a deeply satisfying life.  But we must come to this on our own terms.  When Thanksgiving comes around, I find there’s a collective social desire to manufacture gratitude on top of hardship.  A kind of “fake it ‘til you make it” premise.  I propose that we are tender with the losses and disappointments of 2020.  In telling the truth of what we have and what we don’t have any more, or what we never had, we can find compassion for ourselves in these times.  And if we can be grateful for anything it is for our capacity to heal.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Enjoy laughs. David Sedaris’s new book The Best of Me is just what we need in these times.  Hearing him read it in the Audible version adds to the pleasure. 
  • Consider the Buddhist tenet “we are not our thoughts.”  When you are having thoughts that you don’t like, or are uncomfortable, do a mental separation.  Touch your hand and say, “The is me.  That was a thought.”  You may have to repeat it a few times.  
  • Listen to jazz standards or other soothing music.  I can recommend Natalie Douglas, Diana Krall, or Nancy Lamott.
  • Hydrate.  We tend to forget to drink water in the colder weather.  
  • Purposefully take a day off.  If you can’t do that, take short breaks, even if it means going to the bathroom alone and taking a couple of breaths before resuming your responsibilities.  

Stressing About Stress, Week 22 in the Time of Coronavirus

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Oh Boy, another opportunity to stress.  We are going away to unload stress from city living, and yet here I am stressing about going away.  I’ve gotten used to the steady hum of anxiety just below the surface.  I have yet to speak to anyone during the pandemic that hasn’t acknowledged added stress. These feelings manifest themselves in many forms.  For me, I have a hard time focusing, going from one task to another without completing any of them until I’ve come back around twice.

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For the first time in years we will be at a place where there is no WiFi or cell service.  To that end I set a deadline for myself to complete this post before we left.  Last night was my made-up target.  When I failed to do that, I had to search for another word rather than fail to come back to myself with some patience and understanding.  Now I’m telling myself I simply did not finish this last night, and am doing that now.

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This also meant that my walk, run or bike ride was going to be short today.  I didn’t wake up early.  Instead I slept until I woke naturally and abbreviated my previous goals.  Perhaps we’ll settle in early enough for me to take a walk around the large property this evening.   Or, not.  Either way, we’re on an adventure.  I am in turns, excited and nervous.  And I’m interested how my stress will wane in the wooded Catskills.

 

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Self-Care Tips

 

  • Do something sensual. This isn’t necessarily sexual.  This has to do with your five senses.  Find a scent you like, make touch a sensate experience.  Mold clay, taste something divine.  Listen to the birds or music, or secondary sounds.
  • Make-up with yourself. Think of something for which you got mad at yourself.  Now let yourself know that you are your own reclaimed friend.  As a friend to yourself you may feel more inclined to treat yourself with respect and compassion.
  • Learn something new. Whether you listen to someone who knows something you didn’t know, or whether you look up information online on a site like lifehacker.com or zidbits.com, it’s fun to learn facts, hacks or material new to you.
  • Do it differently. Like I had to shorten my run today, as well as my blog post, it can be relieving to accomplish something outside your routine.
  • Get away. If you’re not going anywhere try a virtual tour on Fodor’s or another travel website.  Or, take a new route on a walk.  Or leave your home for a safe place in a new venue.   All can expand your outlook.

Boredom, Week 21 in the Time of Coronavirus

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It felt so nice to find expanded trails on Randall’s Island yesterday.  The monotony of life during the Coronavirus can be stifling.  Though I walk daily, finding fresh paths and unseen sights has been challenging.  And, to find them in places that are free from others is nearly impossible in the city.  But I persevere as if it’s a made-up game to challenge the norm.

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I’m coming up with a lot of private games.  Can I meditate and let my thoughts pass by or will I go on a tangent and then find myself caught between my imagination and the present moment?  Will I be able to find an isolated spot in the city and take a deep breath without my mask on because no one is around?  Will I be able to employ grace in giving another the benefit of the doubt, or will I be judgmental?  I am always the winner of these games.  I am either humbled, understanding that I am still growing.  Or, I was able to accomplish it in that moment, understanding that I will be playing that game again with no guarantee of same outcome next time around.

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I hear so often how bored we are.  When we don’t have our go-to activities it can feel boring to face the void.  There are a lot of theories about boredom.  Some experts think that acting out of boredom is a way to incite problems that give us something to focus on.  Others think underneath boredom is anger.  Still other experts postulate that boredom connotes a lack of purpose.  All are understandable while our world confronts Covid-19.

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We miss getting together with friends and family.  Many miss public gatherings.  Others miss going out.  Naturally there’s a lot we miss.   The pandemic has been a time of losses.  Too many have lost their lives, others their health, a great many their livelihoods.  And most everyone misses a sense of safety.

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The upside of boredom is the opportunity it provides for innovation.  We are in a position to discover ourselves anew.  We may find out things about ourselves we never recognized.  For instance, I always thought of myself as an active individual.  I liked being busy.  Though I, along with so many psychotherapists are busier than ever, I am resting more, making down time a priority.  Or, we may find hidden corners of the city’s parks that allow us to move freely.  Or, we find out that our value is not about what we have or what we do, but by how we live our lives.  And, we can only discover these personal truths by living through the boredom.

 

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Self-care Tips

  • Find a quarantine concert. There are so many from Eryka Badu to Nora Jones and Norm Lewis.  com has a list.  And, this link was in the NY Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/21/arts/music/best-quarantine-concerts-livestream.html.  There are so many more.  Check out pages from your favorite artists or genres.
  • The wonderful charity MIND has a 24-hour free helpline: 800-123-3393, this is a mental health hotline for those who are experiencing depression & anxiety.
  • Give someone the benefit of the doubt. Rather than expecting them to behave a certain way, see if you can open yourself up for another possibility.
  • I just heard this adage: If it’s hysterical it’s historical. When you’re feeling something deeply it can be a personal kindness to think of it as a way of working through something from your past that still plays a role in your emotional well-being.
  • Give yourself permission to change your mind.  Giving our word matters.  Yet there are times when we are not up to doing what we committed to doing.  You can then change your mind.  More often than not the other person will feel relieved with the cancelled plans, to

When Will This End? Coronavirus Blog 5

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We’ve hunkered down and we’ve stayed the course.  We’re tired, we’re unfocused, we’re cranky, and we’re over it.  Yet, caring for ourselves and making sure we’re all well is not a one-time deal.  I hate that.  In all things I prefer to go after something, get it done, appreciate what I’ve accomplished and then, Bam, I can go on to the next thing.  Take cleaning.  It’s been a great distraction to clean.  My office is sparkling.  My closets are in order.  Yet when I was dressing this morning, I saw that things were not exactly the way they were when I refolded and cleared out my drawers on Friday.  And when I got to my office today, I could see dust accumulating again.  Cleaning can be great, but it’s a never-ending job.  And, that’s pretty much how it feels to move on with life during the Coronavirus.

I didn’t think it would be easy to cancel all my plans, work remotely, and live in a small apartment with my family, each of us with our own style of being.  Nor did I know that who I thought I was prior to the Coronavirus needed an update during social distancing.  I am more defensive, and less productive than I imagined I’d be at the start of this.  I have to dredge up self-compassion from well below the self-criticism that has become the proverbial inner-chatter.  I need more sleep.  I’m reading less.  I’m deleting emails with recommendations on best practices now.  There’s too much to read, watch, and engage in.

My impatience, and, I imagine, the impatience of so many of us, to “get on with our lives,” is a disruptive hum as we go on with life as we’ve come to know it.  This is a process fraught with uncertainty.  Our minds like definitive answers, and there are none now.  It is challenging to stay in the moment, living for the now.  And we’ve come to understand that the only thing we are certain of is the uncertainty.

Unconsciously, to combat the uncertainty I’ve been hard on myself. It’s an old habit that comes out when things get tough.  We all have old behaviors that sneak up on us when we’re stressed.  Some of those behaviors have taken hold as we march on in quarantine.  My challenge is to name it, and to then bring compassion, patience, and loving understanding to myself, even as my thoughts veer to benign cruelty.  I don’t like that I’m mean.  So, I’m working to do better.  It is an on again off again process.

Though I’m not 100% grateful for this, one of the gifts of this prolonged social distancing is that we can work on self-care in a way we might have missed out on before.  My moods and negativity are now front and center.  Making incremental changes that will help me to live life with more consideration, more care is a priority at this time.  And, as the announcements come in prolonging social distancing, I am given more time to employ compassion moment by moment, day by day.

 

A few simple exercises in which I’ve engaged to prompt benevolence to an impatient mind.

 

Stretching – It allows me to feel my body but it’s gentle.  Sometimes I add sound, like a Sigh, a groan, or an Ahhh to it, for a more substantial release

Taking a Moment – I walk away from whatever I’m doing.  This helps to see something from another vantage point.  It allows me to look at something different, and in this new view, my mind shifts.

Breath – I know, I know, it’s so pedestrian.  And, yet, focusing on our breath, whether we choose focused breathing or some other form or discipline, gives us a pause, and creates a bridge to a calmer moment.

Drink a glass of water – Getting the water and drinking it gives us a chance to recalibrate.  Not only do we hydrate, but we take ourselves out of the negative moment into something more neutral.

Turn on a Song and Dance – Moving changes everything.  I might cry or smile so big.  It’s a mood changer like no other.

 

 

View at Medium.com

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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What I’m Not

 

 

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We just took a trip to a resort in Punta Cana, in the Dominican Republic. It was beautiful. The weather was warm and clear, and everyone was friendly. I wanted to enjoy this vacation. Last year was hard and I was looking forward to some R&R.   But the food, though plentiful, went from bland to awful.   The amenities promised were elusive or not as advertised.   The other travelers seemed to be content, but I couldn’t help notice the missing details, the absence of my desired holiday away. I would go for a run on the beach, grateful for the easy breeze, and the laps of the ocean. Yet, I kept thinking of all the things I didn’t like about being there. I was angry at myself for booking and paying hard-earned money for this trip. I kept playing back other vacations I should have taken. I was blaming myself for not being able to let it go. Why couldn’t I simply enjoy what I had. Why was I so upset? Why couldn’t I be a more spiritual being? There are so many who are scared for their families and loved ones. There are those dealing with death, health challenges, immigration issues. And, I am feeling sorry for myself for not enjoying the beautiful resort I was in. What kind of person am I? And, the self-criticism was relentless. I am not grateful. I am not selfless. I am not worthy.

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This is not a new theme for me. I have a long history of being hard on myself. I understand that it’s not productive, yet I don’t seem to stop. In fact with the time and space on vacation, I seemed to swim a little in the outdoor pool and swam constantly in a state of condemnation. As the week continued, I’d have moments of peace, thinking that this will be a really funny story with some distance. And there were other times when the inner monologue chattered on.

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I am not a published book author, I’m not a size 8. I’m not a home owner. I’m not a multi-millionaire. I’m not a doctor. I’m not organized. I’m not young. I’m not coordinated.” The list could easily continue. I am clearly aware of what I’m not. In fact, sometimes my mind is so crowded with what I’m not, there’s no room for what I am.

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What I am is a mother and a wife. I’m happy with my work. I have a private practice and work with amazing individuals. I’m a friend. I’m a sister and a daughter. I am a theater and arts lover. I’m a subscriber to theater companies and a member to a number of varied museums. I’m a walker. I love walking the city. I’m a Manhattanite. I’m funny at times, and critical at other times, I’m a foodie. Life is good. But it won’t always be good. Sometimes a vacation turns out to be a vacation from what I love. And being away gives me greater appreciation of what I have.

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So I’m thinking this vacation was about taking vacations every day from self-criticism. It taught me to spend less mind-space on what I’m not, and celebrate more on who I am. Maybe this bad vacation can have a good outcome.

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If nothing else, I’m blogging again. So, yeah, I’m a blogger, too.

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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