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.

 

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.

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.

The Last Word on The Marathon

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So, I’ve been writing a lot about planning on running the marathon, training for the marathon and running the NY Marathon. Not only was the run a personal endeavor, but having written about it, it became a shared event. I secretly think it was self-centered of me to do this, and perhaps even more so in writing about it, but it’s a risk I’m taking. That said, I do want to complete this cycle, so I’m writing what I believe will be my final chapter on this subject. As selfish as I was in working towards and running the marathon, I have been acutely aware of how kind-hearted and generous my friends and family have been.

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In fact, more than anything else I’ve gained from my experience running the TCS 2015 New York City Marathon is that I’ve gained an appreciation for all the good will out there. Even though I trained for the marathon, I’m not a serious runner. I started running five years ago, treading lightly to avoid extra knee pain. I’ve always loved walking but never in my dreams did I think I could run. Nonetheless going at my very slow pace, I could maintain a runners gait. After a couple of years running from time to time for a couple of miles or so, I thought I’d enter a race. I didn’t care about my time, and resented those who kept encouraging me to pick up my pace. I am usually a private person, so I was uncertain about the yelling that took place. “You can do this!” “Go, go go!”

Instead I put on my head phones and finished the race noticing people 10 years older pass me by. I didn’t check my time, and was happy to have done it on my own terms. From there I entered other races. I still had a “leave me alone” attitude, but I was proud to be in the races, increasing my distances. For my first half marathon, which was the More Half, I liked that there was a mix of women all ages, shapes, ethnicities and sizes. I felt like my unique running style was perfectly suited for me and for the event.

A friend said if I could do a half marathon I could do a whole marathon. But I thought getting through half a marathon was all I would ever be able to do. I loved going to First Avenue year after year to cheer the runners on the first Sunday of November. I always cried because I was moved by their determination and stamina. But they were runners. I was not. I contemplated walking the marathon. And when I thought of that it seemed doable. At some point I decided I will try to run the marathon. Maybe not completely, but as best as I can. My friend Jeannette was very encouraging. She had gotten into the marathon and was committed to her training. Zena, another friend who lived in Chicago until recently, was a complete champion of my running. She gave me a half-marathon necklace to commemorate my first half. She gave me advice about running. And when she was in New York she ran a race at my pace even though she is twice as fast.

Then there were my friends who would compliment me. I didn’t always take in the comments, replying, “Well, I’m really slow.” But people were kind. When I did announce that I was going to do the marathon, I got so many encouraging and enthusiastic comments. In the past I might have felt that I was now obligated to run because I said I would. And, what would people think? But instead I felt grateful. I was happy reading comments from friends and family. I felt supported.

And, as I thought about it, I knew if I showed up I would complete the marathon. I just had to show up. So, Sunday morning I got up early, got dressed took the subway to the Staten Island Ferry, took the Ferry and a bus to the Verrazano Bridge, where I would start the race. It was unseasonably warm. For me the weather was perfect. I prefer to be warm rather than cold. As a slow runner I don’t get as sweaty as those at faster paces.

I was in the last group of runners. Many were running for the first time, so there was a friendly yet nervous energy in the air. I had my playlist on. Fabulous music for 10 hours created by Larry. The gun went off and I started at the pace I kept throughout the race. When I was in pain I walked. I only stopped to use the porta-potties. I drank the Gatorade. I like luxury bathrooms and I don’t like energy drinks, but that was a small price to pay to do this race.

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What was most amazing to me were the crowds of onlookers. I painted my name on my shirt. I knew I needed encouragement to do this run. Partyers would chant, “JANET, JANET.” I would hear my name from balconies, from strangers, from tourists and cops. It kept me going step after step. At mile 15 I was sure it was mile 16, and felt deflated for that mile. But then came mile 16 and I knew I could do 10 more. After 16 I was met by friends, first Zena and Seth, with an awesome sign as I entered Manhattan from the Queensboro Bridge, one of five. Then later Larry and Emma with our dog Lucy. They were with our other friends we met through Lucy, Just down the street stood more friends with another sign and a banana. From there I was met by many strangers wishing me and the other runners well. It was amazing energy.

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In some ways the psychological training was more significant than the physical training. I had to get out of my own way. I had to learn to be less judgmental, at least for the duration of the race. I had to let in others’ enthusiasm. I had to appreciate the love shared. Don’t get me wrong, I had my moments. At two separate times I thought, “Fuck You,” when marathoners who wore tee shirts stating all the marathons they had run were condescending to me, a mere novice. They were nice in that fake way that lets me know they have “Experience.” But those moments were fleeting. Mostly I felt and continue to feel grateful.

Even though I ran this race for me because I wanted to do it, a bucket list item, everyone was so amazing. And that is what kept me going. I am surprised at myself for enjoying such a positive experience. I can latch onto the gaps in life complaining about what I don’t like. Yet for one day, one very long race from morning until night, I was smiling. A true reflection of all that was given with love and generosity. It brought out the best of New York City and the best in me. So thank you. I am now a proud New York Marathoner.

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Wonderful Central Park

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It’s 6.2 miles around the Central Park loop. On a good running day I’ll run to the entrance to the Park Drive at 90th Street, jog around the park and run back, an 8-mile run. That doesn’t happen too often. I’m more apt to do a three-mile run to the park, around the reservoir or around the bridal path surrounding the reservoir, then back home again. I like that run. There are beautiful views of the city, some people watching, and the ground is soft.

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But, for now, as I train for a half-marathon, which I may or may not run, I am working on longer runs, making the loop a better choice. As I cross Fifth Avenue to join the other joggers, always on the drive, I pass a bevvy of tourists. They have come from the museums with selfies-on-the-reservoir as their next objective. I can get frustrated as they block the path, oblivious of native New Yorkers trying to get by.

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When I finally pass the tourists I go down a small slope and move towards 96th Street with a playground on my right and lush trees on my left. I veer to my left passing a field to my right and distant tennis courts to my left. Soon I pass the 103rd Street by-pass, which is a short cut to the west side, eradicating the two hills to come. I fuel myself with positive thinking since I feel good that I’m going the tougher route.

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Once I pass 103rd Street, the road zigzags past the Lasker Pool & Rink, the North Woods, and the Meer. By that time I am approaching the hill. Lesser cyclists stop or mimic the Engine that Could. When I ride my bike, I use self-talk of encouragement to get up that hill. “You can do it, Janet.” You’ve got it.” Just one foot in front of the other.” The pro cyclists speed righteously up the hill, indicating their athletic prowess. And, just when I think I’ve made it, there’s another slope towards the top. This last time, I went up another hill where there’s a 1/5 mile track. I did that just to prove to myself I conquered the hills. From there I go down hill. It’s a gentle decline, nothing too steep. I pass a pretty pond with a bridge and a scenic willow tree.

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Then I run for ½ mile at which point I’m at the 90th Street entrance on Central park West. It’s not quite half way, but it feels like it to me. To my left is the reservoir. Once I pass that there’s the great lawn. These days there’s a long line of theatergoers staking their claim to see Cymbeline at the Delacorte Theater. As I continue I can see the New York Historical Society peeking through the trees to the west. Next is the lake where you can rent canoes and row boats. But within a blink I’ve already passed Strawberry Fields and the crowds of tourists with their umbrella carrying leaders.

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Unknown-4Sheep’s Meadow with the picnickers, and frisbee players is next on the left with the reopened Tavern on the Green to my right. From there I can smell Horse Manure as I pass the Handsome Cabs and their passengers. I don’t hate the odor, but it’s distinctive. By the time that ends, I’ve passed the carousel followed by the Boat House. I now have less than a mile in the park, yet by now I am hungry for milestones for the end of this run. There’s a hill, actually not quite a hill, but an ascent of some degree. But as I run through that I treasure the sight of the Still Hunt, the cougar sculpture on a cliff.   And then there’s Cleopatra’s Needle just as The Metropolitan Museum rises on the east. I am simply relieved. I have a quarter mile to go in the park and that makes me giddy.

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I fall in love with the city and Central Park even while I push myself at West 72nd Street and East 68th Street.   I get tired there. I want to quit. I think about walking away from this. I need to think of walking away. Having an exit clause helps me to finish. I don’t do as well when I feel like I have no choice. Knowing I can walk away gives me the freedom to choose to keep running. That is a freedom I so need, and so appreciate.

I end where I began, East 90th Street, across from The Cooper Hewitt Museum. I turn south to 88th Street to run straight to the East River, jogging in place when I’m stuck at a light. On my steps I stretch. Breathing heavily, I think, “I did it!”

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Audiobook Activity

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I love audiobooks. Mostly I listen to them when walking or jogging. Though I’m happy to listen when in a car, but that doesn’t happen much living in Manhattan. Right now I’m enjoying The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman, which I’m enjoying immensely. The first time I read Alice Hoffman was in the early ‘90’s with Turtle Moon. As an author she has a great knack for weaving a story while allowing us to develop a relationship with the characters. And she does that by creating a strong sense of place. The Museum of Extraordinary Things is wonderful because it gives us an historical perspective on New York City. And, much to my pleasant surprise Judith Light is one of the narrators.

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I was soap addict in high school. Four years after Dark Shadows, I started watching One Life to Live. I came home from school shirking my homework until after the precious 45 minutes had ended. But it wasn’t until my senior year when Judith Light lit the screen. There was a depth to her acting that swept me away. I was an unhappy, mix-up teen and her acting was the therapy I needed to get through my days. When Karen Wolek, her character, didn’t appear I felt a deep loss, hopeful that the following day would contain a riveting scene. Judith Light’s acting work kept me going through my tumultuous college years, too. After moving to New York City in 1981, I was hopeful I’d run into her. That never happened.

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And when Ms. Light left the show in 1984, they lost this viewer. Life went on. I went to therapy and 14 years later I became a therapist myself. I continued to walk the city. I listened to books. I went to the theater. Sometimes I saw a show just because Judith Light was in it. It’s been a pleasure to listen to The Museum of Ordinary Things. Thanks Alice Hoffman for another good book. I’m looking forward to your upcoming The Marriage of Opposites. And, thank you, Judith Light. I’m grateful to hear your voice, reminded of how you helped me through difficult times years ago.