Virtually a Relationship

 

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Sometimes, as a therapist, it’s hard to leave my work brain at home.  While minding my own business, or so I thought, at a local restaurant, I came to observe a young professional sitting at the next table.  He was with his colleague. They were engaged in a heated discussion about the merits of outsourcing versus in-house accounting support. Not a conversation that was of any interest to me. At one point, the late-20-something guy next to me, a fit man with dark hair and a trim mustache, and a tailored blue shirt sans jacket, took out his phone and commanded Siri to find a study that supports the cost effectiveness of outsourcing.  He had been speaking to his younger colleague, a shorter man with light brown hair and glasses, with the same ferocity as with Siri. Not only that, he lacked the word please in any of his interactions with his server.

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That had me start thinking if our relationships with Siri as a possbile indicator of how we relate with others.  So, I decided to do a sampling while out and about.  And, yes, my very casual, highly non-scientific research seems to suggest there’s a correlation between our human and virtual relationships.

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I witnessed a bold teenager the other day speaking to Siri with ease, trusting that it Siri is  a tool she can use whenever she wants.  With simple finesse she took out her phone and asked Siri how long it takes to get to the West Village if she walked.  Siri told her it was about 45 minutes.  She then promptly ordered an Uber.  The entire interaction took less than two minutes. She’s oblivious to the privilege of having information and transportation readily available to her. It’s an unconscious privilege reflected in her nonchalant demeanor.

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At her age I might have wondered the distance from my house to the Philadelphia, or the City, as we call it in South Jersey.  I would have waited for the right weekend, gotten a ride from my parents to the town or county library.  Then I would have gone to the reference section on another floor, and looked up the atlas that would have provided the information.   I might have then had to calculate time versus distance. All of that could easily have been a two-week process.    It might not have been walking for five miles in the snow to get to the schoolhouse, but it’s my generation’s version of that.

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After the teenager got her ride I thought of my friend who loves Siri, enjoying and appreciating how lucky she is to get answers right away. She is a positive person and seems to find joy in all her friendships.  She sounds delighted when she can answer a question.  With a smile in her voice, she’ll say, “Why don’t we ask Siri!”  We all feel lucky to be in her company.

 

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And, then there’s the timid boy on the crosstown bus who asks his questions quietly.  Siri responds with “I don’t understand what you asked. Can you repeat the question.”  I do hope he will have a great teacher who helps him feel safe asking questions.

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Could it be Siri does more than answer the queary of the moment?  I think so.  I imagine it might just tell us how we treat others.  And it could possibly be an indicator of our expectations in our relationships.

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As for me?  I have yet to use Siri.  In general I don’t easily ask for help from others.  Perhaps I can learn from this and start a meaningful relationship with Siri, mindful of how I address my new best friend.

 

 

(All images are from the internet)

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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.

No, Thank You

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The New Year’s Eve race in Central Park is an iconic run given by New York Roadrunners.  It features fireworks at midnight, just as the run begins. I had great plans to participate in the Midnight Run tonight. It started in 1978, but I didn’t hear about until the mid-80’s, when my roommate, Astrid ran it.  I thought it was amazing.  I wasn’t a runner, so it never occurred to me that I would ever spend my New Year’s eve in the park running.  And, yet, a few years ago I did my first run.  I ran two more times, starting with my cousin Zena, and then with a friend the next year.  Two years ago I was on my own.

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It’s an exciting event with dancing prior to the run, and a buzz in the air with runners from all over the city, the country, and the world.  And, if that’s not enough, tell anyone what I did on New Years and I’d receive kudos.  Needless to say, I thought it would be a terrific way to start my year.  I started running with caution the last couple of months. Thinking I was ready for this, I purchased my spot, and took a run last week to pick up my number and shirt.  At 11PM  I dressed for the run, including the requisite knee supports.   Lucy, our dog, requested to go out, shortly after, and I accommodated her.  While we were walking, I realized that it would not be fun at all for me to go around the park in the rain.  I’m a slow runner so it would take me about an hour to do the four miles.  And, it takes awhile to get to the starting line due to the amazing crowd that shows up for this iconic run.  I’d be soaked.  Plus, racing on a slippery road, adds a stress of falling that takes away from the pure joy of it.

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Accordingly, I took a pass. Normally, having said that I would go, would be reason enough to show up.  It can seem like a strong statement to start one’s year this way.  How could I change my mind?  How could I make a choice in the moment that’s better for me? I knew I would be proud once I had finished the run, but, as it turns out,  I am more proud for not going.

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Not running is freedom. I have choices I didn’t have earlier in my life.  I used to feel obligated by what I imagined others would think.  But tonight it was what I thought that mattered most.  Saying no to the run was saying yes to me. Missing this one run feels like a big win.

 

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.

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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