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.   

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.  

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. 

Individualism, Week 58 in the Time of Coronavirus

I’ve been confused.  I thought I knew myself. Instead, who I knew was a woman who was highly influenced by the world around me.  This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, it just wasn’t representative of the totality of me.  We’ve all been there.  Whether we’re enticed by a product commercial, or whether we want to join in on experiences with those who surround us, we make choices based on an outside influence.  Sometimes this works to our advantage.  I’ve visited beautiful places based on recommendations.  I’ve also spent a good amount of money on things I didn’t need, and ultimately didn’t want.  

There are some things that have been a constant.  I knew what I liked, theater, work, blueberry crumb muffins.  I knew what I didn’t like, loud noises like relentless car horns in stuck traffic, or people who take up the entire sidewalk making it impossible to pass.  Nothing has changed on those fronts.  I have noticed that I like a lot more now, though, than my previous short list.  

I like my garden much more than in the past.  I’m enjoying it more, too.  I’m a squeamish gardener at best.  For some reason getting my hands dirty is not fun for me.  For instance, as much as I love lobster, I am no fan of pulling it apart to secure the tender meat.  But choosing flowers and enjoying a small and rare patch of green in the city is as good as it gets while I find my way back into the larger world.  

I’m also much more appreciative of the small things.  Kindness, whether from a friend who reaches out, or a stranger who keeps a door open, mean so much to me.  I am grateful for Alex’s late night texts filled with bad jokes, and lots of love.  I am grateful that Larry washed the dishes last night after a long day at work.  He did it without me asking, or even before I could complain that I had one more thing to do. 

There are many things that I would not have known about myself had the world not changed drastically.  Surprisingly, birds have been nice to see.  In the past I appreciated the bright red cardinals I’d pass, but I was nonplussed by other avian varieties.  Now, when walking in the park I look up to see all sizes and colors of birds, enjoying the brief siting as I move through the now leafy spaces.  Most importantly to me, I’m not missing the many activities that defined my evenings.  I assumed I’d be bored if I did less.  Not so. I am better rested.  I feel more grateful.  Letting go feels easier.  

An unexpected benefit of this time of Coronavirus is being untethered from much of the external influences.  Other than Netflix, along with other cable programming, choices are limited.  That’s helped me and others make choices that feel personally authentic.  It allows for a freedom we didn’t know possible.  Our worlds grew smaller, and our hearts expanded.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Find something in your drawers you forgot you have but brings a smile.
  • Take a private moment to enjoy something that is fun for you, it could be dancing alone, singing in the shower, or drawing. It doesn’t matter if you’re good at it or not.  
  • Get out in the sun and take in the vitamin D.  

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.