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.   

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.  

The Charm of a Three-Day Weekend

Memorial Day reminded me of the joy of a three-day weekend.  I can always use three days.  I don’t so much see it as an extra 24 hours, as I do experience it as needed time.  If we split up the weekend, one day is devoted to accomplishing chores, while completing unfinished tasks from the previous week.  The next day is for socializing.  Whether we catch up virtually or in person, it can be nice to check in with friends and loved ones.  And the third day is for much needed rest.  That is what I consider a full and gratifying weekend. 

During this current Saturday, Sunday coupling, I am already stressed attempting to get everything done while staying well-rested.  If I want to relieve my stress, then I have to let go of getting everything done and find a way to deal with half a deck.  It reminds me of times in my childhood when I’d find pieces missing from games, usually thanks to Susan, my younger sister, who seemed to get great pleasure playing with my toys and ruining them in the process. The red might be missing from Candy Land, or Mrs Peacock and the lead pipe were nowhere to be found when I took out Clue.   I’d find work-arounds so that I could finish games, not familiar yet with adult-onset stress. 

The simplicity of life during lock-down is waning.  Now I’m adjusting to longer to-do lists, adding to daily stress.  While I have maintained some anxiety relieving practices, I find that my mind wanders to expanding responsibilities, leaving me with a full mind, lessening my mindfulness.    It seems essential to return to the care free playfulness I had as a child.  Should I be able to access a younger me, then I’d easily let go of the missing pieces and continue on with my weekend, such as it is. 

I will spend the rest of my Sunday working around a limited time frame.  As care free as my seven-year-old self, I will enjoy the game of life, at least for the next 12 hours, even if it turns out I’m missing a random Jack and the Six of Spades.  Apparently just writing about this is an exercise in letting go.  Thanks for playing along with me, you made my weekend. 

Self-Care Tips:

  • Play.  Remind yourself of a younger you who enjoys a carefree period of time
  • Take dance breaks.  Even dancing to one song shifts our energy and allows us to move from stress to ease. 
  • Throw out old spices.  Go through your spice rack and let go of old spices while discovering forgotten spices that will add new flavors to your meals.   

The Joy and Trepidation of Seeing Smiles, Week Three in the Time of Transition

I woke up early and ran to the East River promenade to get a glimpse of the sunrise.  I almost forgot my mask, but quickly put it in my pocket testing the waters of walking down the block without one.  No one was wearing masks but the few of us out were all at least 20 feet apart.  That felt comfortable enough for me.  

As we all know, the CDC, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, updated their mask mandate.  For a couple of days now more and more people are on the streets and in the parks maskless.  I love being able to see the many faces of the city.  Yet, I also feel mask shy.  I would have preferred a step-by-step shift during this transitional period.  Instead I’m hearing people mention mask burning parties.  I hear plans to make up for lost time.  There is warmth and excitement in the air, as well as a good measure of apprehension.  

I may be progressive in my political thinking, but I’m conservative in my Covid-19 opinions. I want more people to get vaccinated, making it safer for all of us.  I liked the illusion of security I felt when everyone was wearing a mask.  Well, mostly everyone.  

My ambivalence is present when I remove my mask to enjoy the aromatic lilacs in the park.  I then test the boundaries by walking with my mask on my wrist should I need to quickly don the face covering when others pass by.  After exiting a store, I forget to take it off since a more recent habit has me wearing it inside and out.  

To quell the mixed feelings I focus on the flowers in front of apartment buildings, in window boxes, and the beautiful plantings in the gardens and parks.  Whatever I may be experiencing, ambivalence and all, Spring colors, longer days, and warmer air all seem to make it easier to get through this time in transition.  

Self-Care Tips:  

  • Stop and smell the flowers.  
  • Take a walk.  Whether you go around the block or enjoy an afternoon stroll, there’s nothing like a walk on a Spring day to feel refreshed.  
  • Enjoy in-season fruit and vegetables from a farmer’s market or farm stand.  

Good Will, Week 59 in the Time of Coronavirus


This past week I posted a birthday wish for my 22-year-old child on FaceBook.  So many share the downside of social media.  And, yes, there are downsides, nonetheless, my most recent experience has been one of kindness and care.  In the past I’ve been reunited with friends near and far with whom I had lost touch.  Some have since passed away.  And, social media, namely FaceBook, gave us a chance to reconnect, reminding us of the moments that have shaped us.  

This past week I came out as a parent of a trans child. He has been out for years throughout the transition process. I stayed silent for the most part.  I had much to learn from Alex and the community, and I didn’t feel ready to speak while I educated myself and grow as a parent, therapist and human.   I have friends on FaceBook who share different religious beliefs.  I have friends who live very different lifestyles than that of our urban world.  Yet, the outpouring of love, support, care, and good will was extraordinary.  I felt meaningful connections rather than disparity.  

There are many times social media can seem like a window into a polished world.  One in which I can find myself feeling a good deal of envy for milestones or experiences I haven’t achieved or may never know.  It’s imperative that we live our own lives without measuring our successes based on others.  Yet, I find that challenging, and often fall short.  The responses to my most recent post remind me of the generous hearts far and wide.  

Sadly, I can get caught up in the behavior of annoying strangers or hateful acts in the news.  It’s easy to feel despairing of humankind.  However, when I take in the love shared, I am filled with the healing power of kindness.  My friends and family have reminded me that thoughtfulness is natural for most of us, and it always behooves me to live in that truth.  I will endeavor to focus on the good will I see.  And when I stray, much as my thoughts can stray in meditation, I will bring myself back to the reality of pervasive good will.  

Self-Care Tips

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.