The Fluctuating Value of Sleep

 

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When I was ten-years-old I was going to sleep-away camp for the first time. I was leaving for 2 weeks at a bare-bones Y camp in Medford, New Jersey. The night before I left I was atwitter with anticipation. What should I wear? I want a low key, yet cool look. In 1970 that meant hot pants and a tight colorful tee. I’d save my red hot pants for a dressy camp night. And, while awake, going over my list of flashlights and swimwear, I decided I’d arrive wearing denim shorts with my tie-dye t-shirt. It wasn’t snug, but it was cool enough to appear nonchalant.

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That decided, I stayed up all night nervous about the friends I’d make, and wanting to have a good experience. I was happy to go off on my own. Even at ten I had an independent streak. I didn’t mind losing any sleep. I wasn’t tired in the morning. Getting little sleep just heightened my excitement. My parents couldn’t get ready fast enough, even though we couldn’t arrive until after 1 PM.

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Camp was great. I could eat all I wanted. We were allowed foods never offered at home, fried chicken, camp-made blueberry pie, pancakes, and bacon. Every day was an adventure. And, it wasn’t just that we were in the woods, but we learned to row and canoe. I learned and loved archery, group activities, theater and songs. They were all pleausrable. I slept well after fun-filled days. I didn’t think twice about how much sleep I was getting.

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And, when college came, I got great enjoyment in staying up all night going from one disco to another, until I came home to change so I could get the train to school. Even though I might have had to force my eyes open throughout the day, I took pride in the fact that I stayed up all night. Later, in my twenties, getting little sleep was a semi-regular event. I’d work all day, take an acting class, go to rehearsal for one showcase or another, go out with friends, and crawl home between 1 and 3 AM. With 5 hours or less sleep, I’d get up for work thinking about how to learn my lines for the showcase, while offering professional level customer service during the day.

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This summer of 2017, I am not so happy when I lose sleep. And, I do not have the same get up and go as I did in my first 30 years. Now when I can’t sleep I feel like I’m losing something, rather than simply adding hours to my day. Not getting enough sleep has become a regular event. Once losing sleep was the cheap price I paid for a good time. Now, a coveted commodity, sleep is worth its weight in gold. Having a good time is predicated on a good night’s sleep. I can only enjoy dinner with friends or family, or a night at the theater, if I slept well. This might even include a precious nap. I no longer stay up thinking about what I’ll wear out. Comfortable sleepwear is more my concern. Soft fabrics keep me cool and woozy. These days I no longer measure my strength in how many hours I can keep going. These days I measure my sleep, happy when I sleep in past 8 AM.

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.

 

 

 

 

Slowing Down

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This past week I had jury duty. My first reaction was one of annoyance.   I’ve done a lot of jury duty, even one stint for three months. So as far as I was concerned, I’ve done my time. But then I thought again. It’s an enforced day of quiet. I promptly changed my schedule around and planned my reading accordingly. First were some back issues of The New Yorker. Then, much to my delight I was going to be able to read Paul Lisicky’s The Narrow Door. The book came out the day prior to having to serve and I made sure I had my copy.

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Years ago when I walked downtown to the courthouses, just north of the Brooklyn Bridge, I had a clipped pace and could make the five-mile trek in 90 minutes. But this time it took me 110 minutes. 20 minutes longer than in the past. It wasn’t the cold weather. I walked throughout the winter in the long trial. Though cold and windy, I enjoyed the empty sidewalks allowing me to walk with ease. Perhaps the 20 minutes isn’t so bad given it was 20 years ago when I moved quicker, getting to my destination with time to spare. But I did notice I’m losing some stamina.

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I enjoy walking just as much as I did in the past, but I’m slower, tending to walk shorter paths. 20 years ago I’d walk to and from 100 Centre Street, last week one way was more than enough. I also started noticing that I’m doing less outside of work. I’ve always been a busy person, mainly pursuing the arts such as exhibits, theater, films, and the occasional dance performance or opera. Now I’m more selective, finding I prefer to rest more.

I guess I couldn’t keep up with my previous pace. And, I suppose I don’t have to. Losing a minute a year for a five-mile walk allows me to enjoy more of the scenery on the way.

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Letting Go in ’16

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What a concept! Letting go has been used as a catch phrase describing a way of not feeling what we don’t want. I am not amused when I make a complaint and I’m told, “just let it go.” If I could have let it go I wouldn’t be complaining in the first place. But 2016 feels like a good time for me to let things go. Partly because I haven’t liked what I’ve felt, but mostly because what I have previously over-enjoyed isn’t serving me right now.

 

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I usually make lots of plans, however, my plan this year is to plan less. I’m letting go of being too busy. It means more Yes time to do less, and more “No”s in the scheduling category.

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I feel relieved with this plan. In the past I would get overwhelmed with all that I had to do. I am smiling as I write this because I’m looking forward to less. And in this case less is more; more freedom, more ease, more inner peace.

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I don’t imagine living a less fulfilling life. In fact I image I will be more fulfilled doing less. But New York City still offers a lot. I will try to relax as I choose plays more judicially, or pick what art exhibits I’ll see. I go to the opera and dance performances less, so that feels easier. Movies may be difficult to decide on, but I’m up for the challenge. I will be reading less based on recommendations and more on what moves me at any given time. I’ve been fortunate to have gone to a lot of parties and events over the years, and am happy to slow down significantly. I’m just not in the mood right now. I still look forward to going to work, walking, running, and spending time with my family. And I’m always up for a good laugh.

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It will be interesting what I end up doing or not doing, as the case may be. Yet, letting go does not feel like an imperative at this juncture, it feels natural, as if I made it to this point and letting go is what’s next.

Grief Shaming

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Last week on Facebook I had changed my profile picture to one with a transparent French Flag on top of my face. When I was in college I had gone to school in Paris one summer studying Art History and French. The art history stayed with me, the French, not so much. It was a seminal summer for me. Memories surged after the bombings and I responded based on my relationship to my past and those in my present. Yet, shortly after that, so many people started writing pieces or making comments about how wrong it was to change our profile pictures when so many more had been tortured and killed in Damascus, Beirut, Jerusalem, Sierra Leone….. And the shaming began.

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I would much rather see a way in which we can educate and inform rather than tell one another that what has moved us isn’t good enough, or is racist or wrong. We’re all served well to learn more. But nothing is accomplished when we’re shamed into feeling bad about what matters to us.

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The irony is that often it’s in an attempt to create tolerance. Instead it creates a rift. “My way of seeing the problem is better than what you’re doing,” is the implication. And, though we see it online, we also hear it in our lives. There are so many times that clients will tell me that they’ve been criticized for the manner in which they’ve mourned a loss. If someone is relieved that a parent has died, they are considered cold-hearted. Alternatively, people who mourn for a year or two are asked when they’ll get over it. If someone loses a dear pet, eyes roll.   Why are we so dismissive of how others handle loss? And, what have we lost as a result of that?

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To Run or Not to Run

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I don’t like when I get sick. Nor do I know anybody who does. For the last few days I was well enough to do a few things but sick enough to sleep a lot and eat very little, feeling weak and dizzy. Next weekend is the NYC Marathon. I’m scheduled to run, well, mostly walk. And, this weekend was slated as a pivotal training weekend. All my plans were opportunities to run miles to my destinations. That didn’t happen. I cancelled plans.

I’ll gage the week to see how I feel. I plan on entering the marathon and completing it with my slow jog. It will be dark and late, but that’s my plan. I was scheduled to run last year but an injury prevented me from running. I rescheduled for 2015.

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It’s hard to know whether my body is informing me that it will be compromised if I attempt 26.2 miles. Or, is it a reaction to my fear, challenging me to overcome obstacles? It’s hard to know what lesson is in front of us.

There have been many times I misread the signs. I would have a funny feeling about making a plan. I would then think I’m just not open and accepting enough, so I’d go, trying to be okay about it. But in the end it was a lesson on setting limits not on expanding them.

When it comes to fitness I’ve learned a lot about myself. I don’t like boot camp classes, or instructors or trainers who yell and push. I like gentler, kinder trainers who encourage and gently prod me to try more. I want to enjoy my workout. I don’t expect to enjoy the entire marathon, but I’m going to do my best. Larry, my husband, created an awesome playlist. I’m writing my name on my shirt so I can take in the encouragement. I trained throughout the year, learning new stretches, and exercises to strengthen me physically.

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If I don’t do the marathon, I gained a great deal this past year. I love to run, something I dreaded most of my life. I know that after next week 4 to 5 miles is my sweet spot, and I will maintain that, choosing not to run longer runs, unless something changes. I got comfortable doing something just for me. So, it was a year well spent.

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In this next week I’ll do my best to listen closely to how I feel. I will respect my body whether that means a marathon, or it means starting it and not finishing, or, even if it means opting out. Even though my age (56) may be a contributing factor of my lack of speed, my age also gives me the advantage of making a choice that’s right for me. No matter what, I’ll do my best.