I am Cautious

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I am cautious. I ride a low bike so that when I stop my feet reach the ground. This is reminiscent of my old banana seat bicycle in the 70’s with the purple handle bar streamers. It was comfortable because of its lack of height and its smooth, plastic seat. I was a proud rider on the streets of Haddontown, Kresson Heights, Brookfield and Woodcrest, riding my modern bike in my bright red keds.

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This past week I braved the New York Streets to take my bike out for the third time this summer. I was halfway to my destination, Central Park, when I realized the traffic was too thick. Cars and trucks were double parked. I am not that adventurous. I am cautious. So, at Third Avenue I turned around and headed for the promenade on the East River. When I get to the park I ride to the crosswalk because I can avoid riding up on the curb. I like a flat ride, no bumps. That’s not easy in New York, so I do what I can.

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It wasn’t very crowded. It was Tuesday, and some had just started back to work, while others were just getting back from their Labor Day getaways. I rode as if I were a child, gleeful to have the promenade virtually to myself. I ring my high-pitched bell when the few people walking are four wide and there’s no place for me to go. They part and I move on, happy I didn’t have to stop. I am in heaven. There’s something so sweet about moving in space, especially when I know at any given moment my feet can touch the ground.

 

The Voice

 

MPW-3067.jpegThe movie Funny Girl opened in 1968. I was eight years old and in Third Grade, struggling with Mrs. Mishaw, the dower educator who wore Irish wool suits and had no patience for fools. I was a dreamy fool finding solace in movies. Barbra Streisand as Fanny Brice became my hero. Fanny Brice for celebrating her kooky self, and Barbra for singing so magnificently. She was the balm for an otherwise abrasive year.

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This past week I got to revisit the magnificence of Ms. Streisand singing “Don’t Rain on My Parade.” She brought down the Brooklyn house with her clear, luminous voice. I was enthralled then, as I am now. And, if that weren’t enough, she sang at least three Sondheim songs, my favorite composer.

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I was late to the game. I first heard about Sondheim from Paul Puccio a co-worker at Strawbridge & Clothier when I was in college. I went to see Angela Lansbury in Sweeny Todd in 1980, and have subsequently seen most productions of the shows and revivals in New York or London. So, having Barbra Streisand’s splendid voice, and Steven Sondheim’s magical lyrics and composition, was simply perfect.

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We all have moments like this, when we experience art and emotion, and feel transported. There is hope for the future, and deep satisfaction in the moment. The concert, thanks to Barbra Streisand, gave me, as well as thousands of others, that transformative moment. Life isn’t always easy. In fact, we have witnessed so much heartache and struggle in the media recently, and, for some, in our private lives. So bearing witness to art, music, theater, dance, literature, or other artistic mediums, gives us an opportunity to replenish our faith in ourselves and the world around us. It can move us deeply, and replenish our soul.

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I am still a dreamy fool late into my 50s. And, Barbra Streisand’s voice remains a balm through thick and thin.

(all images are taken from the internet)

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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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.

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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Pleasurable Reading

I haven’t been writing, I’ve been reading. It’s a solitary experience, so it doesn’t get much glory. Nonetheless, I had forgotten how much I love reading for pleasure. For a number of years I read for work, for classes, for workshops, or for information. I slowed down my pleasure reading. Yet, while away, I relished the simple gratification of reading books and articles just because it made me happy.

(before vacation/during vacation)

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Our lives rarely lend themselves to the simply pleasurable. We may enjoy the odd quote or statement on Facebook or Twitter, but it’s rare that we allow ourselves the kindness of curling up with a book. But after this vacation I cant ignore the fulfilling aspect of reading for pleasure. Although my colleagues may scoff, I will be reading less professional journals and reading more fiction. It makes me happy.

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My apartment might get dustier but my smile will come easier.   Another thing I started to do a couple of years ago is to stop reading if the book wasn’t satisfying. I used to feel compelled to read if I started a book. It was as if I made a solemn commitment to the book, and it was my obligation to finish it, no matter what. Not so now. Reading now has more to do with my relationship to myself than to an inanimate object.

 

This may translate into creating more quiet time so that I can read. Living fully between reading, and committing myself to the space to enjoy my books, that is my goal. It’s only been a week since I returned from vacation, and I’ve been able to read, as well as listen to good music. This weekend I can endure doing taxes knowing a book is waiting in the wings. It’s great to get back to the simple joys.

Life is short, yet good literature lasts a lifetime.

 

Some of my recent favorite books:

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