What We Don’t Know, Week 45 in the Time of Coronavirus

I have to admit that I wasn’t sure that the judge I watched numerous times on Law and Order was Fran Lebowitz.  It looked like her, but was she a doppelganger, or was she, in fact, the writer?  After watching “Pretend it’s a City,” Martin Scorsese’s excellent (in my opinion) docu-series of Fran Lebowitz, I was happy to learn that, yes, it was her as Judge Janice Goldberg in the original Law & Order. 

The short series on Netflix was a delightful, laughter-filled escape from current events this past week.  I learned a lot, evaluated my own thinking, and admired FL’s ability to speak her personal truths, thoughts I often have, but don’t share aloud.  Somehow the cable show also had me pondering on the wonder of all I don’t know.  I’m not even sure how I arrived at that thought trend, but once there, my mind wandered endlessly to all that is yet to be explored.  I’m not speaking of subjects that vaguely interest me, but not enough to occupy my time, like physics or economics.  I’ll leave that to the experts. Then I’ll simply read their selective theories.  I’m more thinking about what curiosities I can discover in a day, or in a new place, or with those who think differently than myself.  Am I willing to let go enough to be in awe of the newness of an experience, much like a young child?  I’m willing to try.  I’ll see how it goes.  If nothing else, I’ll learn more about my curiosity or lack thereof.  

I can’t say I was in child-like wonderment whilst I tried to learn two new computer programs today.  It was more like initial confusion followed by adult frustration.  My curiosity quickly morphed into baffled exasperation.   Though I wasn’t as open as I would have liked, I was able to marvel at my reaction, and my limited ability to take in perplexing information.  I will try again briefly today, but it appears I need more time and energy to learn these programs.  May I say that the tutorials for both wrongly claim the ease in which one can get them up and running.  What I didn’t fully appreciate before is that I cannot rely on old knowledge to magically create aptitude for new skills.

It helped to admit that I couldn’t figure out how to launch the programs. Though I was hoping not being able to master the first program, I could figure out the second one.  Not having the bandwidth to take in anything new happens more now in the pandemic.  And, if that’s not enough, even old facts leave me with limited mental access.  If I once knew something but can’t recall it at a particular time, I’m more embarrassed than if I never knew it at all.  Or, if I am familiar with a topic, but know no specifics about said topic, I’ve been reluctant to admit that.  I am happy to eschew that behavior by proudly admitting all I don’t know.  I certainly don’t know how this will go, but I’m curious to find out.  In the meantime, I’ll reread Fran Lebowitz’s essays.

  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Admit that you don’t know something. It’s better to learn by not knowing than to be uncertain of what you might know.  
  • Make room for making mistakes, it’s bound to happen, and it helps us grow.  
  • Shape recommendations or suggestions to accommodate your life rather than shaping your world to acclimate to specific advice. 
  • Watch Netflix’s “Pretend it’s a City,” or something else true to your sense of humor.  
  • Place a light fragrance on your wrist, sniff it periodically, to get you through tough times. 

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.  

So Long 2020, Week 42 in the Time of Coronavirus

Before the end of this week we will welcome in a new year.  Never will there have been a greater collective sigh throughout the globe than at the rotating midnight hour of 1/1/2021.  We all faced many challenges throughout the year.  And we all learned essential truths about ourselves.  I learned that doing less was a relief.  I learned that patience is not an end point, but an ongoing process.  I learned to use my crankier tendences as a reflection on what vulnerabilities I am attempting to protect.  I learned that I still have a lot to learn in asking for help.  Plus, I learned that 2020 gave us endless opportunities to learn.  I also learned that even with the possibility of learning, sometimes learning to relax was the best option.   

            Having to slow down gave me a chance to see the best in others.  Family, friends and others shared their kindness and generosity of spirit again and again.  Courage rose exponentially as we faced multiple traumas.  There was the courage to get through a single day.  And there was the courage to recreate ourselves in the face of endless hardships.  

            I’m uncertain what the future brings.  I long to travel, but don’t want to go anywhere until we’re all safe.  I yearn live theater, however, I can’t say what that might look like post-pandemic.  January 1st will look pretty much the same as the other days these past months.  Nevertheless, I feel tremendous hope for our near future. Nature will continue to bring special moments, as long as we show respect to our natural world.  Thanks to acts of goodness and kindness, both apparent and unseen, we will continue to make it through this time of Coronavirus.  Personally, I thank you for reading these blog posts.  By giving your time and attention, you have been invaluable to me.  

Self-care Tips:

  • Rather than looking for happiness, try working on feeling deeply satisfied.
  • Instead of New Year’s resolutions, think of what you’d like to let go of at the end of this year.
  • Sleep, laugh and cry.  Not necessarily altogether, but each provides relief and release.  
  • Review this past year and acknowledge all you accomplished, both large and small wins.
  • Review this past year and celebrate the inner strengths you never knew you had.   

Thanksgiving, Gratitude & Disappointment, Week 37 in the Time of Coronavirus

There’s no doubt that this is a Thanksgiving like no other.  Many will spend Thanksgiving, if it is being spent at all, without loved ones.  In a large number of cases, it will be the first holiday without someone because they died, either of Covid-19 or from other causes.  It’s hard to feel thankful for these facts.  We can embody gratitude for what we’ve had in the past.  Or we may feel grateful for not having to be social when we’re not up to seeing anyone.  However, that’s a far cry from the delight of festivities of past years.  

Gratitude and its cousin, appreciation, can feel like a burden in times of fear, sadness and loss.  I am all for gratitude journals, and gratitude as a tenet of living a deeply satisfying life.  But we must come to this on our own terms.  When Thanksgiving comes around, I find there’s a collective social desire to manufacture gratitude on top of hardship.  A kind of “fake it ‘til you make it” premise.  I propose that we are tender with the losses and disappointments of 2020.  In telling the truth of what we have and what we don’t have any more, or what we never had, we can find compassion for ourselves in these times.  And if we can be grateful for anything it is for our capacity to heal.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Enjoy laughs. David Sedaris’s new book The Best of Me is just what we need in these times.  Hearing him read it in the Audible version adds to the pleasure. 
  • Consider the Buddhist tenet “we are not our thoughts.”  When you are having thoughts that you don’t like, or are uncomfortable, do a mental separation.  Touch your hand and say, “The is me.  That was a thought.”  You may have to repeat it a few times.  
  • Listen to jazz standards or other soothing music.  I can recommend Natalie Douglas, Diana Krall, or Nancy Lamott.
  • Hydrate.  We tend to forget to drink water in the colder weather.  
  • Purposefully take a day off.  If you can’t do that, take short breaks, even if it means going to the bathroom alone and taking a couple of breaths before resuming your responsibilities.  

Time, Boredom & Patience, Week 36 in the Time of Coronavirus

I woke up early this morning.  My plan was to sleep in.  But we all know what happens to plans in this time of the coronavirus.  I took advantage of the early hour to run to Central Park to slowly jog in the park.  There are parts of my body that demand the slow pace.  While runners and walkers passed me by, I chose patience for my leisurely stride.  I admit there were moments I compared myself to other grey-haired runners who were twice as fast.  Then I went back to kind self-talk as I slowly but surely went around the Park Drive and other paths.  

The park looks beautiful.  Though drawn out, my run was anything but boring.  Yet, for many of us boredom has set in during the pandemic.  It’s not the ennui of a lazy summer weekend, it’s more of a dull lethargy.  It’s a feeling of “I don’t wanna.” It’s a sensation many have day in and day out as we ride the Coronavirus wave.  

 Most of us thought that we would see a slight bump and then get back to our understanding of “normal.”  We all know that didn’t happen.  We’re three quarters of a year in, and we are still showing signs of impatience.  The funny thing about time is that it can draw out our boredom.  Time can also give us the space to incorporate patience.  

            As a child, I can’t say that I really enjoyed the years I spent going to Shabbat services.  I would squirm in my seat waiting for the final benediction.  Those hours spent in Synagogue, as well as the hours spent in school assemblies, and at the beauty parlor waiting for my mom to finish getting her bouffant, taught me how to sit still.  They helped me to endure boring moments and they allowed me the necessary time to learn patience. 

            I wasn’t patient then.  I’m still learning to be patient now.  Without a lot of external distractions, I find that I’m more in tune with how I’m feeling, how I’m reacting, and how to care for myself in those moment.  The pandemic has been so difficult in so many ways.  Yet, one take away is that it has given me a chance to be a little more patient.  And when I am patient with myself and my varying moods, then I have more patience for others.  When things don’t go my way, and there seems to be a lot of that in the pandemic, I rely on patience to get me through.  It’s a somewhat flawed system, because when I lack the patience to be patient with myself, then I have to find the patience for my impatient self.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Go old school.  Watch a movie from the 30s like Swing Time, 42nd Street, The Thin Man or My Man Godfrey.
  • Double down on old school by checking out stand-up comedians like Jack Benny, Richard Pryor, Lily Tomlin, Robin Williams, Moms Mabley, or Wendy Leibman
  • Find a noise, a hoot, an out loud, “yay,” or something that’s all your own to cheer you on for small wins during the day.  i.e.: Yay, I took a shower today.  
  • Take out the good china, silver, crystal.  Sometimes we have to make any day a special day. 
  • Get rescue remedy.  It’s the perfect Bach remedy for these times.  

Dropping, Spilling & Breaking; Week 33 in the Time of Coronavirus

Today while making chili, beans spread out in the sink while I was draining them. Usually I’m not so lucky to have a contained spatter. Just two weeks ago glass shattered in all directions. I put on my shoes and cleaned up the shards that extended into two rooms. I’ve certainly seen an uptick in drops, breakage and absent-mindedness. It seems to have increased in these last few weeks. Yes, I can be clumsy, but I usually don’t have to clean up a spill every day. Well, I can’t say that anymore.

The amount of energy it takes to get through our days when we’ve been limited to external outlets is trying. There’s bound to be some fallout. For me one fallout is the inevitable dropping of at least one ball up in the air. Have any of us had to juggle so much while those around us are simultaneously juggling their own load? I doubt it. It’s my first time on such a long haul.

The good enough news is that I am better prepared to clean it up. Though I’m more careful on the outset, it has not prevented me from spilling my coffee, or dropping a jar of herbs. In the past I’ve cursed and resented having to interrupt my flow to wipe up the mess. Now I see it as part of the process. Albeit, a slow, dirty, frustrating process, but very much a part of this bumpy road we’re on. We now can expect the unexpected. It might come in the form of a broken vase or a wet counter. Or, sadly, it might be in the form of a broken heart, an interrupted life. Sometimes a rag can do the trick. Other times a box of tissues is not enough to catch the tears we’re shedding.

Let’s have patience with ourselves and each other. There may not be a solution for what we’re going through, but a kind word, a caring gesture can make all the difference in this messy era.

Self-Care Tips

  • When you drop something, take a breath.  Give yourself a moment, then clean it up.  Let the clean-up be its own activity.  
  • It’s soup weather.  Enjoy a new recipe.  Rely on an old favorite.  Or go out and purchase soup to warm up.  
  • Repeat this mantra for these times: “It’s not what I wanted, but it’s what I got.”  
  • Go old school and create a collage.  It can be a vision board, a creative venture, or make up your own theme.  
  • Find blue light glasses for your screen time 

I Was Wrong; Week 32 in the Time of Coronavirus

Last week I made acorn squash with essence of orange and maple syrup.  I asked Larry to bring a spoon, as I thought that might be easier than a fork.  He proudly came back with a grapefruit spoon.  Silently I was annoyed.  Didn’t I just ask him for a spoon?  A regular spoon?  I begrudgingly took it from him.  I was tired and rather than open up with vulnerability, I found myself closing down with negativity.  When I tried the spoon, which has unobtrusive serrating, it turned out to be an excellent choice for the squash.  Larry likes to find the perfect tool for the job, and I was wrong to not trust him.  In the past I wouldn’t have even tried the utensil. I would have marched into the kitchen to get a regular spoon.  Yes, I have been known to be that petty.  Yet in this instance, being open allowed for a better culinary experience.  

For years as a defense mechanism I have needed to be right.  I would even sacrifice a better experience than admit I was wrong. Or, I’d say I was wrong, but secretly think I was right.   It’s hard to become a better person when I can’t be open to all that is unknown.  There’s nothing like a pandemic to test the limitations of being right.  So many of us thought this would be a short stint of sacrifice followed by triumph.  It is anything but that.  

I am faced with my foibles as I go through my days in a pandemic.  For those of us who are parents, we see the cracks in our seemingly strong facades on a regular basis.  As a therapist, I’m faced with the benefits and constraints of talk therapy.  We have no answers now.  We can talk about and work on making changes on how we deal with our current circumstances, but we cannot immediately change the national and global ills.  Personally and professionally I believe speaking about our hardships with the intention of growing is invaluable. If you prefer something more active, vote.  Also, we can deliberately make changes to the seemingly mundane.  We just have to be open to doing something differently.  Perhaps we’ll get it right if we admit we were wrong.  It’s working for me.  Thank you, Larry.  

Self-Care Tools

  • Try using a grapefruit spoon for grapefruits, squash and anything else you deem applicable.  
  • Find a course or article online on art, music, dance or theater history.  It’s great to dig a little deeper into an artform you appreciate.  
  • Change the way you put on your shoes, or other daily habit.  If you’re a sock, shoe, sock shoe person, put both socks on first.  If you always start with your right foot, start with your left.  See how it feels to switch up an ingrained habit.  
  • If you are incorrect about something, see if you can admit to being wrong.  It might feel like a lovely release.  
  • Do what you can.  These can be challenging times, do what you can, appreciating you’re doing your best under the circumstances.  

Weeds in Context; Week 29 in the Time of Coronavirus

As a young girl, how I loved to blow the puff of a dandelion while I made a wish.  And the bright yellow flowers were so nice sprinkled about the lawn when I was growing up.  I remember being told I shouldn’t like dandelions because they were weeds.  And, though I secretly enjoyed the seed carrying wisps and the bright yellow blooms, I did not share this with lawn lovers in my neighborhood.  

But in a pandemic, in a concrete jungle, flowers of any kind can brighten my walks.  So, as I was spending a work break by walking on the East River esplanade, I smiled when I came across some dandelions.  I have a deep appreciation for dandelions in this pandemic.  Seeing them is a bright spot during these difficult days.  Not only do they bring me back to my childhood, but they also connect me to the present.   

Dandelions remind me that the value of an experience is based on context.  In the context of the Coronavirus, a flash of color is a small gift.  In the context of suburban lawns of the 60s, that same weed was a scourge on manicured properties.  Context really matters these days.  When we think of caring for ourselves, and perhaps those we love, getting through a pandemic may present new pathways to our well-being.  We may have hit our saturation point of plowing through.  Now we have to embrace the weeds of the past, both literal and metaphorical, as we wind our way on the twisted Covid-19 road.  Where once I might have called myself lazy for taking a day to rest with so much to get done, these days, indulging in a respite is a loving act I can give to myself.  

Let’s bring out the weeds. Make a bouquet of them.  We owe it to ourselves to enjoy the wild flowering plants in these turbulent times. 

Self Care Tips:

  • Make a wish.  If you’re not able to wish on a dandelion puff, write your wish down and put it in a secret place where you might forget about it for a while.  
  • Actively listen.  See if you can listen from a place of curiosity.  Instead of adding what you know to the conversation, see if you can learn something new from the person speaking.
  • Be willing to be wrong.  We open up and grow if we are not attached to being right.  
  • Make one small change that leads to a larger change.  That could mean taking out your yoga mat so that you might stretch someday soon, or it could mean you open up a new document so that you can write something you’ve been meaning to write.  Or, you buy an ingredient for a recipe you’ve been wanting to try.  
  • Whether you need inspiration or a short break, go to YouTube and search for someone who makes you smile and watch a brief video of their words, song, dance, or other offerings.  

Outdoor Musings; Week 27 in the Time of Coronavirus

It’s such an odd experience to go for a walk and find myself, again and again, a focus of various restaurant patrons on the streets of New York.  I realize they’ve been starved of social interactions.  And, people watching has taken on a new importance.  Pedestrians have become the dinner entertainment for the open tables’ clientele.  So if I walk uptown or downtown on the avenues, I become a subject for diners’ eyes.  Conversely, I look to see how to walk around so I’m not too close while they’re eating their meals mask free.  

It may be that I provide much needed amusement with my firecracker ponytail, my loose tee-shirts and touristy fanny pack.  I don’t care.  I’m at an age where I believe other people’s opinion of me is none of my business.  It gives me more head space to enjoy my daily walks.  

The character of the city has taken on its own pandemic configuration.  For instance, I was so looking forward to this past Labor Day Weekend.  In previous years, the city empties out and we can roam freely, the streets void of residents.  Not so last weekend.  If anything, it felt more like neighbors had prematurely returned from second homes or vacation dwellings. 

 I love the East River Promenade.  Yet, I’m not so fond of it during the pandemic.  This summer the river-facing benches are like chaise lounges at resorts, people have to get there early and stake out their territory.  Should I identify a rare empty bench, I would have to race walk to claim it as mine.  And, forget it when said bench is shaded.  

When I’m out with Lucy I get the distinct impression that she is confused that her park is no longer all hers.  We walk to areas she loves to sniff only to come across sun worshippers or picnickers who are located in the exact spot she wants to examine.  So we move on trying to forge a path around these interlopers. 

The city is, in turns, emptier, and more crowded.  The indoor places are a quarter full at most, while outdoor spaces seem to be at capacity.  This weekend brought even more people outdoors with cooler temperatures and Labor Day behind us.  I’m looking forward to the future when travel is a safer option.  My plan is to stay in the city as it empties out.   Lucy and I will sit on a readily available bench.  And, if they want, the runners by the river can enjoy Lucy’s mellow aura and whatever quirky yet casual get-up I’ll be sporting.  

Self-Care Tips

  • Set an alarm on your daily calendar to acknowledge yourself for small accomplishments. 
  • These times are so difficult.  Write down or share with others something for which you are proud.  
  • Set a timer for complaints.   This way you can acknowledge all the things that you find annoying, but it’s framed within limits.  
  • One-minute stretch brakes help come back to yourself, physically and emotionally.  
  • People watch when you’re outdoors.  You never know who you might find amusing.  

Being Okay Not Being Okay, Week 18 Blog Post in the Time of Coronavirus

I am in awe at the speed and dominance my emotions morph during the time of Coronavirus.  I am moved to tears by the humanity I witness or hear about.  Moments later I am immersed in fury for a perceived injustice.   I am in love with my child and husband for their simple kindnesses, and then I am agitated when I turn the corner to see that some arbitrary chore or other wasn’t accomplished.  My pettiness is astounding. My gratitude short-lived.  

As an observer I find this fascinating.  As the subject I find it disconcerting.  More and more I’m hearing similar stories of unwielded emotional lability.  By the week’s end I am exhausted.  Too tired to be social or active.  So I am resting more and more.  I have found resting to be restorative.  Prior to Covid-19, I thought resting was an obligatory lessening of activities when I hit a wall or got sick.  No longer.

I am not a closet napper these days.  Now I proudly nap, understanding the need for the down time.  I hadn’t realized the array of my rigid beliefs until I had to set up new rules during the time of Coronavirus.  All of a sudden I am making room for my widening range of emotional connection.  I have eschewed the notion that getting the most things done is a winning strategy.  And, I am throwing out plans right and left in favor of what works for me in the moment.  

This has been a tragic time in our world’s history.  And, though I recognize the losses we all have had to endure, I am also grateful for the gifts of this time.  The difficulties that have come our way make it impossible to go on as before.  I am unable to hide my less attractive features like my pettiness or judgments.  I can see them upfront and personal.  All I have to do is go for a walk to hear my thoughts; appreciating someone who raises their mask when passing, while silently cursing those who are not choosing to protect me and everyone else from the spread of Covid-19.  

These are kneejerk responses.  Later I may be able to find compassion, understanding everyone is doing the best they can.  But I don’t always dwell there.  So, I am using my ire to teach me.  I’m not defending against the notion that I get angry or disparaging of myself and others.  Instead I am learning about how and when those feelings present themselves and seeing if I can have patience for myself and others as we travel this unchartered territory on our own and all together.  

Self-Care Tips

  • Change the lighting to shift a mood.  We get set in the way we light things.  Yet, sometimes turning off a light or changing the bulb color helps to relax us.  Conversely, bringing in more or altered light can provide an emotional lift
  • Expand your vocabulary.  There is something singularly satisfying in learning new words.  Word Genius brings new words to your email.  There are also other platforms that are terrific.  
  • Star Gaze.  If you can, go out on a clear night a gaze up at the stars.  You will see infinite possibilities which will be a lovely contrast from the limited options we presently have.  If you can’t go out, then check NASA’s website for images or go to NOVA for images. 
  • Light a candle. It’s so simple and can remind us that a small source of light brightens large spaces.  
  • Add fresh herbs to the inside of your mask.  One mint leaf or rosemary sprig on the inner side of the mask can make all the difference.  If you don’t have fresh herbs, perhaps trying an essential oil or a light fragrance