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. 

20th Anniversary, Week 20 in the Time of Transition

I’m teary this weekend.  It’s hard to watch the news because my mind pivots to the many clients who spoke of their losses the days, months, and years post-9/11.  As we commemorate the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001, those of us who remember can clearly recall the exact circumstances when we witnessed or heard of the attacks.  I am one of the fortunate who worked downtown, but I had taken the day off to attend a seminar.  I never worked in the World Trade Center, but our social service center had a direct view.  There were so many other stories like that of those who for unforetold circumstances were not in the towers when they fell.  

I was out of social work school for three years when the planes crashed.  Having had training in trauma, but not much experience, I was asked to work with employees in companies who were downtown. It was a quick, intensive training on mental health first response.  I had the privilege of listening to individual stories in a new chapter in tragically disrupted lives.  Each person I heard had so much courage. They came from all walks of life surviving while countless loved ones, coworkers, colleagues, and others did not make it.  

I recall the kindness and caring that New Yorkers shared.  There was a common grace for others.  Sadly, I also remember the fear from Muslim friends and those from the Middle East who were harshly judged, misunderstood, or seen as the enemy.  Their love of our shared country unacknowledged.  On the one hand there were so many acts of kindness.  On the other hand, there was so much blame going around.  

So much sadness, so much anxiety.  Both defined the days and months that followed.

  

Post-trauma can alter our nervous systems.  Twenty years later we’re all familiar with that.  The last eighteen months have played havoc on our nervous systems.  Sometimes we are upset or act out which then affects others who are in a vulnerable state, and on it goes.    

It’s a challenge to give someone else the benefit of the doubt when there is so little room to accept our own confused emotions.  With practice we have a bit more patience, a bit more benevolence to get through these days without rushing to judgement of ourselves and others.  I cried today.  I could have gone on the defensive.  Well, I did for a bit, then I cried some more, understanding that vulnerability was the strength I needed to harness rather than residing in a distrustful stance.  So many moments leading to big changes. 

  

Self-Care Tips:

  • When you react with anger, impatience or in an accusatory manner, take a moment to ask yourself what might be going on.  Then, if you’re able, see if there’s something you can do to care for yourself.  Perhaps a few minutes to regroup. 
  • Stretch.  It’s easy. And it can help to move to the next moment with ease.  
  • Read a child’s book or poem aloud.  Read it in a voice other than your own.  Being silly and indulging in play is a mood changer.  

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.  

Cloudy, Week Fifiteen in the Time of Transition

I shifted my routine earlier this week to catch the sunrise.  Typically I relish the space between sleep and daytime.  The sweet spot of the morning.  Following those moments I shift into meditation, then move on from there with coffee and the rest of the day.  As soon as I awoke I brushed my teeth and ran to the East River to get a glimpse of the sunrise.  

It was a cloudy day, and the sun was hidden.  No bright colors, just hues of grey.  At first I was disappointed.  It’s not often I get out to take a peek of the sun coming into view.  But then it occurred to me that this was a perfect metaphor for this time in transition.  We all want to see the sun but instead we’re stuck with gray skies.  The anticipated bright horizon more of an idea than a clear vision.  

We expected, as we’ve done in the past, for things to move along until we could live again as we had pre-pandemic.  Instead, we’re in this mist.  Some of our days look similar to what we’ve known before, but it’s still hazy and not clear enough to navigate straight ahead.  We’re living in a miasma of uncertainty.  

We thought that we would have to endure fear, loss, and ambiguity for a fixed period of time. Then we could face our futures because of these important, albeit, unwelcome experiences.  We could frame the pandemic with stories of what we’ve endured along with life lessons we were forced to learn.  But the discomfort has expanded to an indefinite stretch of time.  We are still reeling.  Our fears remain palpable.  

Nevertheless, I am going to continue to look for the sunrise when I wake up too early.  And, when the clouds are heavy I will find simple ways to comfort myself.  I’ll walk, drink water, read something fun, eat a peach, and rest well.  I’ll take care of myself as best I can, then I’ll see what’s needed by those I love, and by those who are in more need.  I’ll continue to face my days acknowledging my limitations while moving past barriers that keep me stuck.  I’ll get it wrong and try again.  In that way I keep going while in transition.  

Self-care Tips:

  • When you find you’re being hard on yourself, think about what you’re attempting to learn and shift your focus on the lesson, seeing this moment as part of your learning.
  • Remind yourself that it takes time to learn patience.  
  • Eat a peach or other fresh fruit or vegetables.  Summer is a great time to savor the land’s bounty.   

Goodbye to the Old, Week Fourteen in the Time of Transition

I’m in my congested closet trying to decide which of the various, multi-colored pocketbooks and bags I’m going to let go.  I tend to rely on the same two or three, but I love to choose from the others on special occasions.  Of course, there have been few special occasions in the past year or so.  Nonetheless I had the privilege of attending a joyous outdoor event last night, and though no one else would care, I was so happy to sport the perfect small, blue bag for the evening.  

As it turns out I’m not as willing to give up as many bags as I thought.  I was able to go through my closet, and doing my own version of Marie Kondo, I let go of anything that no longer brought me joy.  Three bags later and I’m feeling a bit lighter.  I love the concept of evaluating things based on the joy it provides.   It works in so many areas of our lives.  

I gave up my gym membership.  I prefer movement in my own company or walking with a friend.  I was able to downsize my social life so that I can recharge more effectively.  Plus, I feel no obligation to continue to read books that aren’t right for the time, or watch shows that may be good, but for me. 

All this gives me a freedom.  I may be busy, but my life is less crowded.  My defenses less fired.  As I let go to enjoy more peace, I feel the joy.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Let go of something that is joyless this week.  It can be a plan you made or an item in the back of your closet.  Start small.
  • Experiment with doing something differently.  Workout with someone if you tend to go solo.  Or drink your favorite beverage in a new cup or glass.  See if you like the change.  
  • Muster the courage to disagree with someone who can be forceful.  Or, if you tend to voice your disagreement, have the courage to listen quietly, perhaps hearing from a new place.  

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.  

Gifts of the Ordinary, Week Eleven in the Time of Transition

This morning was clear and cool enough for summer.  My knee wasn’t hurting and I could take a slow run by the East River.  Ah, a moment of little pain.  A small yet welcomed gift when my days are full.  Not only could I run after a week of limited walking, but I could enjoy an empty promenade with friendly passers-by.  That all added up to a great start to the day. 

As we continue to step into a world redefined it’s so easy to want to go back to all we were doing prior to the pandemic.  We might miss socializing, or live entertainment.  Choosing what we do and with whom enhances our sense of continued well-being.  And choosing to find the gifts in the ordinary is helpful in our day to day.  

I am appreciative of the large flowers gracing our small garden.  The smiles and gentle “hellos” are a kindness I so enjoy since I tend to busily move about without seeing individuals.  A day without rain brightens the weekend.  All these simple gifts deepen my satisfaction.  As I can become easily agitated by unpleasantness when I’m feeling raw, I am grateful when I’m in a place in which I can take in the goodness around me. 

Ordinary moments are turned into small gems as we amass them throughout the day.  They become even more dear, because they may be ordinary, but they are not always common.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Take stock of the small moments of joy you amass throughout your day.
  • Sing to yourself.  Notice what you choose.  Enjoy it if you can.  And, if not, change the station.  
  • Read good news.  Usually newspapers and other news outlets have pieces that are inspiring, humorous, or just positive.  

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. 

Happy Pride! Week Nine in the Time of Coronavirus

Happy Pride Day.  Today our trans son is celebrating.  24 years ago we unwittingly scheduled our wedding on Pride Day.  Some friends fittingly missed our straight wedding to celebrate their identity while they marched for their rights.  Others gay friends were generous to give up their place in the parade to witness our wedding.  And everyone had to deal with the traffic that was rerouted to accommodate the crowds and the parade.  Larry and I realized then the privilege we enjoyed by being able to get married in 1997.   

The world has come a long way since then.  It took another 14 years for same sex marriage to be legalized in New York state.  Yet in many ways we have a long way to go.  I see this as Alex enjoys the freedom to be himself among his friends, however, he gets judged in others’ company.  Not all, but some. 

When I was young, I naively believed love would heal all.  I am a true believer in love.  And I believe we all have the right to love.  But healing often takes love, respect, compassion, listening, non-judgement, hard work, and much more.  Love can be a foundation for change, but it’s not a one-word solution. 

I hope I see a time when all will enjoy the undeniable rights of living freely in an accepting world.  One in which expression and personal sovereignty are available to all.   

Self-Care Tips

  • Take an action for pride month in a way that supports LGBTQIA movements, organizations, groups or individuals
  • Celebrate summer.  Eat seasonal fruits and vegetables, have a BBQ, take a nature walk, or enjoy summer in any way that you like. 
  • Enjoy a summer nap.  There’s nothing like taking a break in the heat of summer.