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

Foggy, Week 57 in the Time of Coronavirus

It’s foggy this morning.  How apropos for these times.  Our minds are foggy. Well, mine is.  By the end of any given day I have limited access to names and words.   If I want to relax in the evening, I’m challenged to remember one of a number of shows I enjoy watching.  

It also seems foggy when we think of moving forward.  We are slowly making our way back to a life previously known.  I’d love to travel, dine out, enjoy theater. Yet, I am more cautious now, valuing health and safety over social luxuries.  Presently, travel consists of walking to Central Park.  Though today I moved through the fog to Randall’s Island where I soon got lost. It was a bit of a challenge not being able to find my bearings since distance visibility was obliterated by low clouds.  

In general, this morning’s walk is very much how I’m getting through these days in the time of Coronavirus.  I can’t see anything in the distance so I’m reliant on what is right in front of me.  What’s right in front of me is quite simple.  I work. I write. I prepare simple meals. I eat.  Larry and I laugh, when I’m not being defensive or critical.  I walk. If I’m feeling really adventurous, I take out my bike.  Every morning I meditate.  Every night I sleep, lucky if I do it well enough.  Of course, there are other things that fill in my days, but my brain is foggy, and I can’t think of much more now. 

As the haze of the pandemic continues to blanket our days, we will take one step at a time to find our way to safer ground.  Are we there yet?  No.  But we’re steps closer.  Given all we’ve been through, we can trust our ability to persist through the mist.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Nostalgia! Throwback to another time.
  • Listen to music you enjoyed at a younger age
  • Play a game that used to be fun for you.
  • Find scents that elicit positive memories, whether it’s from a bakery, a freshly mowed lawn, or from a family member’s fragrance tray.  

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.  

Boy, Oh, Boy, Week 44 in the Time of Coronavirus

Yesterday I hit the wall.  Before I lost all steam, I had lofty plans.  I had research to do.  There is always cleaning and organizing.  I was behind on my writing.  Yet, by the time I was three fourths of the way through a walk in Central Park, I felt as if I was dragging my leaden legs on the southern arc of the Reservoir.  When I finally reached home, I couldn’t get my sweats on fast enough.  Then Lucy had to go out.  I love her, and also dearly wished there was someone else who would have taken her out.  I was able to speak with a friend from the other coast, and that gave me a pleasurable energy shot.  Though life in California is as fraught as it is in New York and throughout the world. 

This past week brought to the forefront the negative results of anger and hate.  Those are human experiences, but when those feelings are unchecked, then further fueled, they become destructive.  I hope we can learn from this, rather than take sides with defensive righteousness.  I certainly see how my own unexamined anger hurts Larry, Alex and probably others.  Once I see that I’ve hurt them, I have to consider what changes I can make so that we share joy rather than pain.  It’s an ongoing process of patience and kindness mixed with tools to calm my agitated soul.  

Was it possible that I had no energy to calm myself after Wednesday’s attack on the Capitol?  That played a part in my exhaustion, nonetheless, having witnessed it from afar, it’s not the only reason.  From what I’ve heard I am not alone in running out of steam in this time of Coronavirus.  We are all frayed.  We have been faced with challenges that have pushed us beyond our known limits, while still having to conduct our lives on a daily basis.  

I imagine yesterday’s pause was essential.  It meant I missed attending my first Zoom party.  It was only this morning that I even remembered that it was last night.  I think of my friends and family daily.  I so appreciate what they are doing to brighten others’ lives.  Though it’s an internal reflection since I rarely reach out these days, I am grateful that they are in the world and in my thoughts.  

Here we go into another week.  What will it bring?  We’ll see.   For me, I plan to get more rest.  I’m hopeful that will make room for added patience and kindness. 

Self-Care

  • Light a candle.  Whether it’s a small birthday candle or a luxurious scented candle, light a candle to brighten these dark winter nights.  
  • Compliment someone.  It’s easy to think nice thoughts, but it’s invaluable for someone to hear that you noticed.  
  • Look up.  Sometimes we see things we would have otherwise missed. 
  • Go for a walk, short or long, it can be an essential calming tool
  • Pause.  Check your breath and survey your body.  Coming back to ourselves, even 30 seconds at a time, is another way of acquiring calm. 

Cautiously Optimistic, Week 43 in the Time of Coronavirus

Is this really a Happy New Year?  Yes, we survived 2020.  And, yet, recalling how happy we were to be in a new decade just a year ago, we are constantly reminded of the unexpected turn of events in March.  

In this first weekend of the new year, we take stock of the meaning of “hindsight is 2020.” Relieved that 2020 is behind us, our memories are raw from all we witnessed, and all we faced personally.  I now know the impact of ongoing stress on my body and mind.  I am just beginning to understand what is required to sooth myself and support others going through the intensity of extreme tension.  Sometimes it means reaching out and caring for someone, taking the attention off myself.  Other times it means paying close attention to what I need, whether it be a nap, meditation, or another episode of Law & Order.  

I am appreciative of the laughter brought to me by New Yorker cartoons, silly memes, posts on social media, and absurd memories with my sister, Sharyn.  I have grown to love the color of the sky as I walk through the city streets and parks.  I am grateful to my grandfather, Sam, who watched nature shows like The Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom.  Though I was bored as a child who preferred to see The Jetsons in those early years, now that I’m his age from that time, I appreciate the pleasure of seeing animals in their natural habitats on the small screen.  

I have chosen not to make any resolutions.  I am not resolving to be better in any way.  Yes, I will work on bettering myself, but that remains a daily practice, one with many pitfalls, and flawed attempts.  And, this year, much like last year, I will pick myself up again, and again, dust myself off, and slowly move ahead.  If I remember I will look up at the sky in child-like wonderment.  A moment of awe whatever year it might be.  

Go gently into 2021, step by small step.  

Self-care Tips:

  • Alternate self-care behavior.  This way you find what works best, and what you need in different situations.
  • If and when you feel aches or pains, touch the area with care.  This is not a substitute for medical care, please attend to that.  This is a small gesture that affirms the healing power of touch.
  • Rather than thinking of all you will do in 2021, think of what you will no longer do.  Find the joy of saying no thank you to one or two “shoulds.”
  • Lower your expectations.  We’ve lived with a lot of disappointments this past year.  Lowering our expectations allows us to take in and act on what comes our way.  
  • Try something new, or try anything you’re not good at, like a new recipe, trying your hand at poetry, or learning a new language.  It helps us to develop humility.  

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 to Choose

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I need a new pair of sneakers. Does anyone even use the word sneakers anymore? I mean, I’m looking for a pair of shoes that will serve for walking and running, something sporty. I tend to like bright colors, perhaps turquoise or purple. But I’m not able to find a pair in my size, with a proper arch, that’s good for city streets. They usually don’t have enough support, or they’re too cushy or too heavy. Or the hue or color combination is wrong. It’s easy to eliminate the choices. I don’t like the style. I don’t support the manufacturer. Today it’s running shoes, but on any given day I can easily find something I don’t want.

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Running shoes are particularly tricky. When I was very young, my father owned a shoe store. He would bring me home a pair of Keds with a rubber tip. Red was my color of choice, but I usually got whatever he had left in my size. I was reminded often of my wide feet. At seven I no longer wanted the childish sneakers with the rubber tip. They were for babies. But I couldn’t complain, that was a house rule. I had to ask reasonably. Diplomacy was fostered at a young age.

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By the time I was eleven I preferred P.F. Flyers. I liked the name.   And all the cool kids had them. I was not cool, but I imagined that with the right sneakers on PE day, I would be welcomed into the club. Even saying PE instead of Phys. Ed. was cool. Bu that was not to be. I would wear my P.F. Flyers privately gleeful as I looked down at my feet.

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As my feet grew I became the lucky recipient of the expensive Tretorns my mother wore for tennis. Once the tread wore down, she needed another pair for the slow clay courts of the Cherry Hill Tennis Club. The Tretorns were soft and comfortable. With their inner cushioning, and the white canvas exterior accented with a wave of blue leather, my feet were happy. My hand-me-down tennis shoes became the one piece of clothing with a recognizable label. I didn’t have to play tennis, I just had to wear Tretorns to feel a little bit more like a belonged in Cherry Hill.

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Even after I moved away to college I received my mom’s old shoes when I came to visit. That was fairly often since I lived in Philadelphia, the closest city. My mom switched out her shoes every three to six months. I wore the sneakers for a year or so. By that time my sister ,Susan, could also wear my mom’s old sneaks.

Once I moved to New York things changed. It was my therapist’s comment about wearing my mother’s used, tennis shoes that had me start looking for my own sneakers. By then cross trainers were popular with the rise of Jane Fonda workout tapes. I hated to spend my hard earned money on sneakers, but I was trying to be a grown up, and that’s what grown ups do. So I purchased whatever wide-width was on sale. More often than not they didn’t reflect my aesthetic. New Balance changed all that in the ‘90s. Finally, I could choose good athletic wear that lasted a good amount of time.

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I’ve since moved beyond New Balance. Yet, now I have the entire Internet to peruse. Plus, I’ve been given conflicting advice. One professional tells me to get extra support because I’m walking on concrete sidewalks. Another person says mimicking bare feet is best for the spine. And, on and on. This morning I settled on a pair of Rykas. They discontinued my bright turquoise design, but I can count on their soft bounce to my hard steps. I didn’t wear out this pair as quickly as my last pair of running shoes. I injured myself so I missed a few runs this year. It’s a minor injury, and PT is working, but my running shoes are more about the slow walk these days. I feel fortunate that I get to choose a new pair of shoes. I feel lucky to have choices in life. It didn’t always feel that way. So if I now have a hard time choosing what’s good for me, then I’ll choose that option every time.

 

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