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.  

Oh, The Memories, Week 52 in the Time of Coronavirus

This is the last week of a full year of social distancing and all that comes with it.  Most of us are ready to finish this disruptive chapter and return to the activities we love.  Yet, I imagine there will come of a time in the future when we will wax nostalgic for this time.  

Perhaps we’ll appreciate the safety of wearing masks, not just to protect ourselves from Covid-19, but because we had less colds or cases of influenza.  We will yearn for a ready-made excuse for plans we prefer not to attend.  We will crave long walks in the middle of the day.  We will appreciate the rare times when family members in the house laughed together at silly moments.  We will hunger for communion with nature on a regular basis.  We will long for a simpler time, like we’ve been experiencing now. 

We all discovered, had we not known before, the public value of toilet paper, the comfort of everyday yoga pants, the ease of simply staying in.  We found comfort in our surroundings. The delight of first blooms. The joy of open spaces, a river view.  And we found solace in the small wins.  In losing so much in the span of this pandemic year, we gained a deep appreciation that less is more.  We’ll see how this plays out in the coming months.  And it will be interesting to see when we become sentimental for the lessons learned in the time of Coronavirus.   

Self-Care Tips:

  • Ask yourself, “Is there anything I need?”  Answer as honestly as you can.  You may discover there are needs not addressed.  Or you may find that you are taking care of yourself better œthan expected.  Whatever the answer, checking in with yourself is a reminder of your importance.  
  • Think of a situation in which being right became the be all and end all.  If possible, see if you can shift to compassion and apologize for not appreciating the other’s perspective.  
  • Note an insecurity of yours.  Now see if there is an upside for something that feels bad to you.  I.e., I used to cry a lot and thought I was too sensitive, now I use my sensitivity to appreciate music, joy, and empathy.  
  • Choose an item at home that elicits a specific memory.  See if you can remember the experience, then assess if you might feel freer should you be able to discard or give away that item.  
  • Enjoy a soundtrack from a beloved film of the past.  It will envelop you in euphony and nostalgia.  

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. 

Snow, Week 41 in the Time of Coronavirus

Initially there were grave warnings about the snowstorm that was going to plague the Northeast.  When it started to fall, the winds were strong, and walking home from work was a bit of an effort.  The following day there were hills with footsteps at the curbsides.  Crossing the street took balance and navigation.  Patience was needed, as only one person at a time could reach the next corner.  Each person had their own pace, based on age, winter fitness, and footwear.  Good snow boots were the best.  So happy that past winters required me to find the right boots. 

            By Friday I was ready for a walk in the park.  The park closest to me, Carl Shurz, had sledding children with their parents.  It was hard to tell who was having more fun.  The walkways were icy, so my time in the park was limited to dog walks.  Central Park was more of a mix.  The Park Drive was clear for walking and running.  The side paths were too slippery to walk safely.  So, I stuck to the Park Drive.  From the Upper Eastside I could see snowmen and women being constructed.  There was a couple cross-country skiing displaying easy smiles.  A snow ball exchange spontaneously occurred.  A great way to play while socially distanced.  

            Rather than the storm being a threat to the city, it provided a needed change to the atmosphere.  Families had a reason to come out and play in the cold.  Individuals were able to enjoy the scenery, as well as the dogs and people romping about.  It lifted our moods.  If anyone fell, strangers came to their rescue.  Passing connections were found in these acts of kindness.  

            The sun’s reflection on the snow adds a brightness to our days.  The light has melted some of the pain on these past months.  The snow has been a gift in this time of Coronavirus.

Self-care Tips:

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.

My Super Power

 

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When I was in the fifth grade I had a recurrent dream that I could fly.  I was elated that I could soar past the bullies and the teasers.  I loved that they had to look up to me in my dream.  I soared in the air down Haral Place past the mailbox on my way to Stafford School.  I held onto that dream.  It gave me a sense of being special when I felt anything but special.

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But the teasing got worse in junior high.  Patty Craven howled at me as if I were a dog.  She bribed a classmate to ask me out so they could laugh at me.  She was cruel, but I took it.  I found small ways to be unkind to others, somehow justified in my low social ranking.  I wasn’t proud of my behavior.  I got myself, and an accomplice, in trouble by confessing to a teacher.  I couldn’t live with my guilt.

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It was then that I longed to be invisible so I could hear what the popular girls said about me, but they wouldn’t know I was there.  I could disappear so that I wouldn’t be inclined to emulate the bullies.  I just wanted to blend in, so that my frizzy hair and my bad complexion wouldn’t make a statement.  Or I didn’t want to be seen at all.  But, that was not to be. Once in a while I would still dream of flying, but during the day I was an obvious target.

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Being invisible seemed like the coolest super power.  Casper was a friendly ghost and he was invisible.  It was a nice power.  Samantha and her relatives could become invisible on Bewitched.  And, Jeannie from I Dream of Jeannie could vanish after some mishap.  Boy, would I have loved that in school and at home before my mother punished me.

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Nonetheless, like all the mortals I’ve known, I could not make myself invisible, until now.  Forty-six year later, at the precipice of my 60thbirthday my wish has come true.  I walk down the street and must quickly side step the person coming towards me. I look at the businessman leering at the woman in front of me while unaware of my presence.  Tada, meet invisible me.

 

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On the sidewalk I’ve had gadget-frenzied individuals run into me, shocked when they hit a person who was unseen moments prior.  I can hear inappropriate conversations in ride shares because the other passengers aren’t aware that this particular unobserved person can hear their banter.  I am reading my emails on the bus when two loud friends sit next to me and continue in their outside voices, as if I am not there.

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These are the minor inconveniences.  More than anything, being invisible has its advantages.  I am no longer concerned on the days I go around with unkempt hair. My shoes are comfortable because I’m okay with someone seeing me with my walk-friendly athletic wear, understanding that most people won’t be looking at all.  There’s a delightful freedom in that.  Not only can I face the world with abandon, I observe the quirks of others in private.  So I embrace my invisibility.  Though it serves a different purpose from the wish of my 13-year-old self, I am relishing the magic of post-mid-life invisibility in the present.

One Step in Front of the Other

 

 

-9bcc6173bfec0f98.JPGWhen I was 10 years old I was allowed to walk on Haddonfield-Berlin Road, crossing highways entrances and exits to go to The Woodcrest Shopping Center. For a short time they had The Jerry Lewis Movie Theater, and I could get in for 50 cents, the amount of my allowances after chores. Or, I would go to W.T. Grant’s, deemed a twenty-five cent department store, but more of a five and dime. that sold colorful birds, toys, clothes, plastic jewelry, and featured a lunch counter. I was much too shy to go to the counter alone. But I loved getting lost in the aisles ending up with some sort of sweet. There was also Crest Lanes where I could bowl. I loved the crack of the pins being hit, and the overhead light of the score pad. In the other direction I would walk to The Haddontown Swim Club. It was lovely after a hot August walk to reach the pool and jump in to the cold splash of wet relief. These were some of my first destination walks.

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I would get upset that my mom didn’t drive me places, but with four children and a house to run, driving me to and from a destination that was just over a mile away, was not to be. What upset me then, actually provided me with a pleasure I’ve enjoyed throughout my life. I’ve lived in Manhattan for over 35 years, and a destination walk remains one of my favorite activities.

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Some of my best visits with friends have been walking to work with them, or going to a movie theater in another neighborhood. Films may not be fifty cents anymore, but the destination is still as satisfying. I love going to various farmer’s markets, or to a specialty stationary store. I walk to museums, or parks. Last week I took the subway just to walk in parks in other parts of the city. The destination is more often than not, motivation, but the walk is the true treat.

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Although I love city walks, and will make sure I go on foot when I visit other cities, walking in the woods, or taking a hike is equally as pleasurable. In these hectic times, walking has been wonderful for stress, it’s been reliable transportation, it’s been an education, and it’s been a gift.

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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.