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.

Hidden in Plain Sight

 

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This week Larry and I went on a tour of Gracie Mansion, an activity over 15 years in the making. We live a half a block from New York City’s first family home. Yet, we’ve only seen the façade prior to today. I would usually walk into Carl Shurz park passing by the city-guarded mansion.  We spoke of going on a tour during the Guiliani years, but we always found ourselves too busy. So, two weeks ago, I thought, screw that, we’ll always be busy, let’s just do it. And, we did.

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The tour is free. We just went to the .gov site and got on a list. Tours take place Tuesdays. They start on the hour beginning at 10 AM. We got a 2 PM time slot, a slim opening I had on a full work day. And, that was it. We were scanned going in, and then shown a home built in 1799 during the Federalist period. When it comes to style, I’m much more of an early and mid-twentieth century buff, but I appreciate history and Gracie Mansion is chock full of history. The architecture, furniture, art work and fixtures were the key focuses of the tour. We had a well-informed well-styled woman to take us around along with about 15 others. Another group tour of 20 well-heeled woman from a Bronx senior program were taken by their own tour guide.

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It was fun to learn new facts about the city. I learned that Frederick Douglass was a visitor, but never a resident, of New York City. I just assumed he lived here since there’s an impressive two-way Boulevard named after him. And, I learned that most of the present furniture were gifts rather than original pieces.

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It’s fun to find out that no matter where we live there’s something new to learn. I don’t always retain the information taken in, but I do cherish the experience. We enjoyed a peak into another era. It’s so easy to deny ourselves the simple pleasures of living in the city.

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I’m much more apt to go downtown to the theater than walk down the block on a Tuesday afternoon to take in a quiet treasure. Sometimes slowing down to enjoy what’s hidden in plain sight can enrich us in ways we underestimate.

Wonderful Central Park

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It’s 6.2 miles around the Central Park loop. On a good running day I’ll run to the entrance to the Park Drive at 90th Street, jog around the park and run back, an 8-mile run. That doesn’t happen too often. I’m more apt to do a three-mile run to the park, around the reservoir or around the bridal path surrounding the reservoir, then back home again. I like that run. There are beautiful views of the city, some people watching, and the ground is soft.

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But, for now, as I train for a half-marathon, which I may or may not run, I am working on longer runs, making the loop a better choice. As I cross Fifth Avenue to join the other joggers, always on the drive, I pass a bevvy of tourists. They have come from the museums with selfies-on-the-reservoir as their next objective. I can get frustrated as they block the path, oblivious of native New Yorkers trying to get by.

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When I finally pass the tourists I go down a small slope and move towards 96th Street with a playground on my right and lush trees on my left. I veer to my left passing a field to my right and distant tennis courts to my left. Soon I pass the 103rd Street by-pass, which is a short cut to the west side, eradicating the two hills to come. I fuel myself with positive thinking since I feel good that I’m going the tougher route.

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Once I pass 103rd Street, the road zigzags past the Lasker Pool & Rink, the North Woods, and the Meer. By that time I am approaching the hill. Lesser cyclists stop or mimic the Engine that Could. When I ride my bike, I use self-talk of encouragement to get up that hill. “You can do it, Janet.” You’ve got it.” Just one foot in front of the other.” The pro cyclists speed righteously up the hill, indicating their athletic prowess. And, just when I think I’ve made it, there’s another slope towards the top. This last time, I went up another hill where there’s a 1/5 mile track. I did that just to prove to myself I conquered the hills. From there I go down hill. It’s a gentle decline, nothing too steep. I pass a pretty pond with a bridge and a scenic willow tree.

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Then I run for ½ mile at which point I’m at the 90th Street entrance on Central park West. It’s not quite half way, but it feels like it to me. To my left is the reservoir. Once I pass that there’s the great lawn. These days there’s a long line of theatergoers staking their claim to see Cymbeline at the Delacorte Theater. As I continue I can see the New York Historical Society peeking through the trees to the west. Next is the lake where you can rent canoes and row boats. But within a blink I’ve already passed Strawberry Fields and the crowds of tourists with their umbrella carrying leaders.

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Unknown-4Sheep’s Meadow with the picnickers, and frisbee players is next on the left with the reopened Tavern on the Green to my right. From there I can smell Horse Manure as I pass the Handsome Cabs and their passengers. I don’t hate the odor, but it’s distinctive. By the time that ends, I’ve passed the carousel followed by the Boat House. I now have less than a mile in the park, yet by now I am hungry for milestones for the end of this run. There’s a hill, actually not quite a hill, but an ascent of some degree. But as I run through that I treasure the sight of the Still Hunt, the cougar sculpture on a cliff.   And then there’s Cleopatra’s Needle just as The Metropolitan Museum rises on the east. I am simply relieved. I have a quarter mile to go in the park and that makes me giddy.

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I fall in love with the city and Central Park even while I push myself at West 72nd Street and East 68th Street.   I get tired there. I want to quit. I think about walking away from this. I need to think of walking away. Having an exit clause helps me to finish. I don’t do as well when I feel like I have no choice. Knowing I can walk away gives me the freedom to choose to keep running. That is a freedom I so need, and so appreciate.

I end where I began, East 90th Street, across from The Cooper Hewitt Museum. I turn south to 88th Street to run straight to the East River, jogging in place when I’m stuck at a light. On my steps I stretch. Breathing heavily, I think, “I did it!”

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Audiobook Activity

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I love audiobooks. Mostly I listen to them when walking or jogging. Though I’m happy to listen when in a car, but that doesn’t happen much living in Manhattan. Right now I’m enjoying The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman, which I’m enjoying immensely. The first time I read Alice Hoffman was in the early ‘90’s with Turtle Moon. As an author she has a great knack for weaving a story while allowing us to develop a relationship with the characters. And she does that by creating a strong sense of place. The Museum of Extraordinary Things is wonderful because it gives us an historical perspective on New York City. And, much to my pleasant surprise Judith Light is one of the narrators.

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I was soap addict in high school. Four years after Dark Shadows, I started watching One Life to Live. I came home from school shirking my homework until after the precious 45 minutes had ended. But it wasn’t until my senior year when Judith Light lit the screen. There was a depth to her acting that swept me away. I was an unhappy, mix-up teen and her acting was the therapy I needed to get through my days. When Karen Wolek, her character, didn’t appear I felt a deep loss, hopeful that the following day would contain a riveting scene. Judith Light’s acting work kept me going through my tumultuous college years, too. After moving to New York City in 1981, I was hopeful I’d run into her. That never happened.

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And when Ms. Light left the show in 1984, they lost this viewer. Life went on. I went to therapy and 14 years later I became a therapist myself. I continued to walk the city. I listened to books. I went to the theater. Sometimes I saw a show just because Judith Light was in it. It’s been a pleasure to listen to The Museum of Ordinary Things. Thanks Alice Hoffman for another good book. I’m looking forward to your upcoming The Marriage of Opposites. And, thank you, Judith Light. I’m grateful to hear your voice, reminded of how you helped me through difficult times years ago.

Walking on

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If I’m not aware what I’m feeling, I become acutely aware when I start walking the city. Walking through beautiful Central Park on my way to a morning appointment a runner came towards me. As far as I was concerned she was going against the clearly marked directions on the pavement. I held my ground, and when I kept walking towards her, righteously indignant about following the markers, she barely moved to get around me, whispering, “Fuck you.” I wasn’t sure I heard her right. But she was a fast runner and she was well past me when I started to think of replies. My first thought, was, “Have a nice day.” Like I said, I was feeling righteous, and I thought my fake kindness served my feelings well. Sometimes I can just stew over a simple incident like that. But it was a beautiful morning, and I had gotten a rare early start.

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Then I was crossing 72nd Street, it was my light, but a cyclist tore down the road. He waved at me, indicating that he’d go around me, and I smiled back. A lovely New York moment. I forgot my self-righteousness after that. I find it amazing that a mis-matched moment can embroil me, but an act of kindness lifts me to a better place.

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This happens a lot as I walk or jog public areas. Sometimes someone takes up the whole sidewalk. He or she unconsciously walks in the middle so no one can get by. More often than not, I get irate, as if it’s my private sidewalk and I take it personally, silently cursing them out.

I went for a short jog this afternoon, but school was letting out, and, again, I got angry at the parents and caregivers who straddled the sidewalk.  Funny how I love to walk, yet I can get worked up over minor inconveniences. Perhaps my walks give me a chance to move through my emotional repertoire. An inner drama played out on the streets of New York.

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Memorial Day, 2015

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Traditionally today is the day you can safely wear white. The unofficial beginning of summer. Staying in Manhattan is a treat when so many go away. It’s such a simple pleasure. This afternoon I went for a jog on the East River and enjoyed the array of characters I encountered. The row of men fishing. Most had rods and used fish meat as bait. But some had traps and used chicken gizzards. I got thumbs up as I slowly ran by. Appreciating the encouragement I smiled back with my thumbs up for their potential catches. It was a New York moment. I passed a family ready to barbecue, a plastic checkered tablecloth on top of which were a rainbow assortment of 64 ounce sodas, yellow for pineapple, bright orange for Sunkist soda, purple for Fanta grape, and deep red for cherry. The children were playing on the grass while the moms chatted over a card game.

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There were families riding bikes together, and other joggers, all passing me by. I didn’t care, there was a light breeze, and I was enjoying the river on one side and the thin crowds from East Harlem, upper Manhattan and the upper eastside on the promenade. I didn’t see a lot of white, but I did see people of all ages wearing vibrant colors, as if they were manufactured from the same color lots as the sodas. One guy was schlepping a cart filled with picnic booty from Cosco. He was wearing a Hawaiian shirt . That’s something I don’t see often anymore. My pale blush t-shirt was wet from sweat, like a sugary pink lemonade powder as it moistens to become a beverage.

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My struggle to write a piece for this week belies the pleasure I enjoyed while out. So I’ll end this here, high on the memory, low on creativity. Sometimes the limits of expression confound me. But I’m laughing about it, thanks to the day.