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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Blog Break

 

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I wasn’t planning on taking a break from my blog, but that’s what happened. I’m glad I took this break. I’ve needed a breather in general for a while, and the blog was just a part of what I needed to put aside. I enjoy writing, but I noticed something as the weeks went by without penning a word. I noticed that I felt relieved at times, and frustrated at other times. Same circumstances, different responses.

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As the weeks went by I started criticizing myself. I was hard on myself for not writing even as other obligations loomed large. I’d think,  “If I don’t write on a regular basis it’s predictive of not publishing later.” I questioned myself. “Could my attention on family and professional training simply be an excuse?” Of course it can. Or, more likely, it’s the choice I’m making at this time.

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We all make choices. And each choice excludes another. To spend more time with family I give up writing. To choose a concert this summer I give up going out this weekend. To work more I give up a cleaner home. To write this I give up some sleep. We make choices large and small every day.   Tonight I chose to write this short piece. And tomorrow? We’ll I guess I’ll see what choices I make and how they translate.

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One imperative option is to take a break from self-criticism. Whether I have a blog post or I skip it, I am doing the best I can, as we all are.

 

 

 

 

Stop Everything

 

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For the past few days I’ve spent most of my time in bed with a hot water bottle. I had a lower back spasm that seemingly came out of nowhere. The first two days were difficult to get up and down. On second thought, difficult is an understatement. But with the pain came some important lessons I apparently needed to learn.

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The first was how kind and generous my family and friends were. I am usually a do-it-myself kind of person, sometimes to a fault. I am strongly independent. But there are moments I can become resentful when others don’t pitch in. It’s in these moments that I realize that I could use some help. But when I feel aggrieved my requests sound more like criticisms than inquiries.

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Since my mobility was impaired, I had to ask for anything I wanted. What happened felt like a flood of love and care. Emma, my daughter, and Larry, my husband, were very helpful. Emma didn’t give me her usual teen attitude, and Larry went out of his way to make sure I had what I needed. Friends offered to help., which meant the world to me.

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What surprised me most was when I called to cancel theater tickets for two shows, both theaters were more than accommodating. And when I had a time-limited gym class, they postponed it without hesitation. Normally I don’t ask for special requests. I want to, but I respect most rules and adhere to them. I can even be righteous when others don’t respect the rules. I know, not an attractive quality, but true, nonetheless.

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I think this back pain may help me to recognize the need to ask for help more often. It was great for accommodations when there were special circumstances. But it seems like an activity worth pursuing even when I just want or need something. It could be as simple as someone helping me with reaching a product high on a Fairway shelf, or it may be asking a favor of a friend or colleague. In any event, this is a time when the pain gave me a positive gain.

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Slowing Down

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This past week I had jury duty. My first reaction was one of annoyance.   I’ve done a lot of jury duty, even one stint for three months. So as far as I was concerned, I’ve done my time. But then I thought again. It’s an enforced day of quiet. I promptly changed my schedule around and planned my reading accordingly. First were some back issues of The New Yorker. Then, much to my delight I was going to be able to read Paul Lisicky’s The Narrow Door. The book came out the day prior to having to serve and I made sure I had my copy.

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Years ago when I walked downtown to the courthouses, just north of the Brooklyn Bridge, I had a clipped pace and could make the five-mile trek in 90 minutes. But this time it took me 110 minutes. 20 minutes longer than in the past. It wasn’t the cold weather. I walked throughout the winter in the long trial. Though cold and windy, I enjoyed the empty sidewalks allowing me to walk with ease. Perhaps the 20 minutes isn’t so bad given it was 20 years ago when I moved quicker, getting to my destination with time to spare. But I did notice I’m losing some stamina.

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I enjoy walking just as much as I did in the past, but I’m slower, tending to walk shorter paths. 20 years ago I’d walk to and from 100 Centre Street, last week one way was more than enough. I also started noticing that I’m doing less outside of work. I’ve always been a busy person, mainly pursuing the arts such as exhibits, theater, films, and the occasional dance performance or opera. Now I’m more selective, finding I prefer to rest more.

I guess I couldn’t keep up with my previous pace. And, I suppose I don’t have to. Losing a minute a year for a five-mile walk allows me to enjoy more of the scenery on the way.

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Taking a Break

 

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I took an unintended break from my blog. Every weekend I thought of writing something but I felt distracted, uninspired. This weekend is no different except I’m going to post this. Breaks are important. We could all use a vacation from time to time. But discipline is important, too. Sometimes I’m not quite sure what’s most important at any given time.  It’s like when I need to rest, and I also know it will feel good to workout. What do I choose?

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In the past few weeks I defaulted to taking it easy. Or, more accurately I took it easy on writing while celebrating the holidays and catching up on daytime tasks. I just didn’t feel like writing. In life there seems to be so much I don’t want to do that has to get done like paperwork or washing dishes. So when I set a task for myself because I think I should, I can rebel then criticize myself for not doing whatever it is I think I should be doing. Not a great set-up, but one that’s oh so familiar.

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How many times throughout my life have I had a bad case of the shoulds? There was a time I had been even harder on myself. Ironically being hard on myself didn’t necessarily make me more productive. Often it prevented me from doing what I needed to get done. My inner meanness shut me down to a mentally warring state.

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In general I’m more motivated now. And, yet there are times, like this past month when I hit a wall. For now I’m going to respect that wall. Maybe it stopped me for some unknown reason. If I take it easy I may just find out why I needed to slow down to a halt.

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Perhaps what’s next in 2016 will be revealed. I’m counting on peace and kindness being in the mix.   I’m happy to break for that.

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Grief Shaming

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Last week on Facebook I had changed my profile picture to one with a transparent French Flag on top of my face. When I was in college I had gone to school in Paris one summer studying Art History and French. The art history stayed with me, the French, not so much. It was a seminal summer for me. Memories surged after the bombings and I responded based on my relationship to my past and those in my present. Yet, shortly after that, so many people started writing pieces or making comments about how wrong it was to change our profile pictures when so many more had been tortured and killed in Damascus, Beirut, Jerusalem, Sierra Leone….. And the shaming began.

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I would much rather see a way in which we can educate and inform rather than tell one another that what has moved us isn’t good enough, or is racist or wrong. We’re all served well to learn more. But nothing is accomplished when we’re shamed into feeling bad about what matters to us.

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The irony is that often it’s in an attempt to create tolerance. Instead it creates a rift. “My way of seeing the problem is better than what you’re doing,” is the implication. And, though we see it online, we also hear it in our lives. There are so many times that clients will tell me that they’ve been criticized for the manner in which they’ve mourned a loss. If someone is relieved that a parent has died, they are considered cold-hearted. Alternatively, people who mourn for a year or two are asked when they’ll get over it. If someone loses a dear pet, eyes roll.   Why are we so dismissive of how others handle loss? And, what have we lost as a result of that?

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The Last Word on The Marathon

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So, I’ve been writing a lot about planning on running the marathon, training for the marathon and running the NY Marathon. Not only was the run a personal endeavor, but having written about it, it became a shared event. I secretly think it was self-centered of me to do this, and perhaps even more so in writing about it, but it’s a risk I’m taking. That said, I do want to complete this cycle, so I’m writing what I believe will be my final chapter on this subject. As selfish as I was in working towards and running the marathon, I have been acutely aware of how kind-hearted and generous my friends and family have been.

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In fact, more than anything else I’ve gained from my experience running the TCS 2015 New York City Marathon is that I’ve gained an appreciation for all the good will out there. Even though I trained for the marathon, I’m not a serious runner. I started running five years ago, treading lightly to avoid extra knee pain. I’ve always loved walking but never in my dreams did I think I could run. Nonetheless going at my very slow pace, I could maintain a runners gait. After a couple of years running from time to time for a couple of miles or so, I thought I’d enter a race. I didn’t care about my time, and resented those who kept encouraging me to pick up my pace. I am usually a private person, so I was uncertain about the yelling that took place. “You can do this!” “Go, go go!”

Instead I put on my head phones and finished the race noticing people 10 years older pass me by. I didn’t check my time, and was happy to have done it on my own terms. From there I entered other races. I still had a “leave me alone” attitude, but I was proud to be in the races, increasing my distances. For my first half marathon, which was the More Half, I liked that there was a mix of women all ages, shapes, ethnicities and sizes. I felt like my unique running style was perfectly suited for me and for the event.

A friend said if I could do a half marathon I could do a whole marathon. But I thought getting through half a marathon was all I would ever be able to do. I loved going to First Avenue year after year to cheer the runners on the first Sunday of November. I always cried because I was moved by their determination and stamina. But they were runners. I was not. I contemplated walking the marathon. And when I thought of that it seemed doable. At some point I decided I will try to run the marathon. Maybe not completely, but as best as I can. My friend Jeannette was very encouraging. She had gotten into the marathon and was committed to her training. Zena, another friend who lived in Chicago until recently, was a complete champion of my running. She gave me a half-marathon necklace to commemorate my first half. She gave me advice about running. And when she was in New York she ran a race at my pace even though she is twice as fast.

Then there were my friends who would compliment me. I didn’t always take in the comments, replying, “Well, I’m really slow.” But people were kind. When I did announce that I was going to do the marathon, I got so many encouraging and enthusiastic comments. In the past I might have felt that I was now obligated to run because I said I would. And, what would people think? But instead I felt grateful. I was happy reading comments from friends and family. I felt supported.

And, as I thought about it, I knew if I showed up I would complete the marathon. I just had to show up. So, Sunday morning I got up early, got dressed took the subway to the Staten Island Ferry, took the Ferry and a bus to the Verrazano Bridge, where I would start the race. It was unseasonably warm. For me the weather was perfect. I prefer to be warm rather than cold. As a slow runner I don’t get as sweaty as those at faster paces.

I was in the last group of runners. Many were running for the first time, so there was a friendly yet nervous energy in the air. I had my playlist on. Fabulous music for 10 hours created by Larry. The gun went off and I started at the pace I kept throughout the race. When I was in pain I walked. I only stopped to use the porta-potties. I drank the Gatorade. I like luxury bathrooms and I don’t like energy drinks, but that was a small price to pay to do this race.

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What was most amazing to me were the crowds of onlookers. I painted my name on my shirt. I knew I needed encouragement to do this run. Partyers would chant, “JANET, JANET.” I would hear my name from balconies, from strangers, from tourists and cops. It kept me going step after step. At mile 15 I was sure it was mile 16, and felt deflated for that mile. But then came mile 16 and I knew I could do 10 more. After 16 I was met by friends, first Zena and Seth, with an awesome sign as I entered Manhattan from the Queensboro Bridge, one of five. Then later Larry and Emma with our dog Lucy. They were with our other friends we met through Lucy, Just down the street stood more friends with another sign and a banana. From there I was met by many strangers wishing me and the other runners well. It was amazing energy.

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In some ways the psychological training was more significant than the physical training. I had to get out of my own way. I had to learn to be less judgmental, at least for the duration of the race. I had to let in others’ enthusiasm. I had to appreciate the love shared. Don’t get me wrong, I had my moments. At two separate times I thought, “Fuck You,” when marathoners who wore tee shirts stating all the marathons they had run were condescending to me, a mere novice. They were nice in that fake way that lets me know they have “Experience.” But those moments were fleeting. Mostly I felt and continue to feel grateful.

Even though I ran this race for me because I wanted to do it, a bucket list item, everyone was so amazing. And that is what kept me going. I am surprised at myself for enjoying such a positive experience. I can latch onto the gaps in life complaining about what I don’t like. Yet for one day, one very long race from morning until night, I was smiling. A true reflection of all that was given with love and generosity. It brought out the best of New York City and the best in me. So thank you. I am now a proud New York Marathoner.

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