Thwarted Plans, Week Two in the New Abnormal

I made plans months ago to get away this past week.  I was heading to a conference that was cancelled last January.  Looking forward to warm weather and outdoor dining, Omicron thwarted our quasi-vacation.  Instead, I am in my apartment lamenting my unrealized trip.  

Most of us have had to reroute our former intentions.  The only traveling I did this week was mostly by foot.  Though I did take one jaunt by ferry to Astoria Park to enjoy the opposite view of the East River.  Not quite the coastline I had pictured, but the one closest to home.  

I’m hearing about Covid fatigue left, right, and center.  Without recovering from the initial stall of all that we knew to be our lives, we are plodding through the ever expanding unknown.  Here and there we enjoy bright spots.  But just as quickly we are easily agitated by small disturbances.  At least that describes my experience. 

I’m still making tentative travel plans, ever hopeful for shifts in the health of our world.  I may have missed the boat, or rather, plane, this time, but I’m not giving up on future travel.  For now, I have books to take me to new places.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Clean out old emails.  If you’re anything like me, unless it’s junk, I keep some emails just in case. This weekend, I’m purging old emails.  I invite you to join me. 
  • Take the time to unsubscribe from unwanted solicitations. If that’s too much, start with one a day.  
  • Have a plan B.  If and when plans shift, you have something else you can enjoy in the meantime.  

A New Abnormal, Week One in the New Abnormal

Welcome to 2022.  There are a lot of surprises in store.  I’ll be surprised along-side you.  I’m calling it the “New Abnormal” due to the fact that it’s been abnormal for awhile.  A new normal doesn’t resonate with me since there have been too many tectonic shifts these last couple of years.  Although this new abnormal is, well, new, I am no stranger to abnormal.  

When I was 9 years old I secretly played with Barbies.  Under our ping pong table in the basement, I created a world that entertained me for hours.  I quickly came to understand that my third-grade classmates were not still playing with their Barbie dolls.  At least no one admitted to it.  They had moved on to more sophisticated toys like the Zig Zag sewing machine or the totally cool walkie-talkies. But I relished my alone time away from my three siblings to do as I pleased, inventing new roles that my small dolls could inhabit.  Even later when I was to learn that Barbie was no friend to feminists, I silently appreciated those precious years when they provided me with a gateway to my creative mind.  

As much as I loved those solo hours under the table, on Sundays my Grandpop, Sam, would play ping pong with me, my Barbies far from underneath the table in the appropriate cases tucked into the basement closet.  My Grandpop was quite athletic.  When he played ping pong, he played to win.  I only learned the game by trying to keep up.  He usually won.  But he never gloated.  He was a humble man, who taught me the importance of doing a good job for oneself. 

At school I was relentlessly teased for my frizzy hair, my hand-me-down wardrobe, or my socially awkward demeanor.  To certain kids at Stafford School, I was abnormal.  It felt like an unwanted burden as a tween.  As an adult, especially in this time of Coronavirus, I have come to understand that having had a tough beginning was the introduction I needed to get through difficult times.  

As we enter 2022, we all have a sense of what it takes when the unexpected comes.  We’ve had plenty of practice these last 22 months.  Abnormal times require abnormal qualities.  I may have been unpopular playing with my Barbies, but being able to entertain myself for long periods of time in my own company has served me well.  Plus enjoying the company and sportsmanship of my Grandpop has given me an ease with quiet focus.  Let’s rejoice in what’s distinct from others.  Celebrating our inner abnormalities may just get us through this new year.  

Self-Care Tips:  

  • Laugh a little.  Watch a Betty White clip on YouTube or elsewhere.  
  • Clean out something simple as a signal for a fresh beginning.  It can be a drawer, a pencil holder, a room, your refrigerator or freezer, your oven or a closet.  Throw out what doesn’t serve you anymore.  If you can recycle it or repurpose it, great.  
  • In what ways have you known yourself to veer from the crowd? If it’s something that gives you pleasure and it doesn’t harm you or anyone else, allow yourself the grace to appreciate and enjoy your “inner abnormal.”

Happy Halloween, Week 27 in the Time of Transition

The first time I wore a mask I was three years old and was aware of the tiny holes for my nostrils, and the slit for my mouth.  Not easy breathing, but so exciting to this little girl.  I was a cat, Felix the Cat, to be precise.  My one piece, highly-flammable costume had a small tie in the back of the black and white jumpsuit.  I held a small paper bag for my trick or treat goodies next to my sister Sharyn and my dad who came home from work early to escort us up and down our New Jersey suburban block.  

I loved Halloween.  Getting dressed up and pretending to be someone or something else, was good with me. Plus, it was the one time in the year in which I had my own candy.  In those days, the early 60s, candy cigarettes and dots on paper were my favorites, with Hershey kisses a close second.  

I will not be dressing up this Halloween.  Instead, I will watch children donning costumes, purchased and home-made, in strollers and in small groups as they accept the offerings from the businesses on the Avenues.  I will not venture downtown to witness the Halloween parade, a more crowded and less innocent affair than when I came to the city in the 80s.  The only mask I’ll be wearing is some colorful number from my new mask drawer, thanks to the pandemic.  

I’m not big on horror films or scary things in general.  My view is that there is enough to frighten us on a daily basis.  I don’t need to purposely activate that fear.  But I give a pass for Halloween, appreciative of all the city dwellers who decorate their homes for the pleasure of passers-by.    Whether you dress up or not, wishing you a Happy Halloween or a very nice Sunday, or both. 

Self-care Tips:

  • Wake up early when possible to get one thing done that will help start your day.
  • Sleep in when possible, and enjoy a slow morning.
  • Watch or reading something that eases your fears like a light comedy or an inspirational tale. 

A Rare Moment of Calm, Week 24 in the Time of Transition

I hit the ground running.  There was so much to get done and I’m still behind.  I did the best I could, which means I had to readjust from vacation mode to New York City-paced backlog catch-up.  Within a few days the vacation glow is flickering.  

Sometimes getting away is the space needed to reevaluate what works and what doesn’t.  There’s no way I can keep up my current pace.  What goes?  Time will tell. 

The idea of living simply makes perfect sense.  I can be still when meditating.  The quiet time before my coffee is delightfully simple.    The rest of the day is a maze of work, calls, paperwork, walks, family time, dog time, emails, and if I have the energy and a rare opening, a good tv program.  

It took me until today, while walking Lucy, to appreciate the cool air on the East River Promenade, without my phone, without a podcast, without distraction.  Just Lucy and I strolling along.  When I was away, I was able to go for swims.  I love the tranquility of an empty lap pool.  Though I have yet to find a quiet pool in the city, my walk with Lucy brought calm to my otherwise hectic days.  

Self-Care Tips

  • Find a new book, tv program, a movie, or something you can enjoy at the end of busy days.  
  • Try to go for a quiet walk without a phone or other interferences.  Notice what it’s like to move peacefully.  
  • Play the make-believe drums with spatulas and pots.  Get out all your frustration by tapping into your inner child pretending to be a rock star.   

Are You Okay? Week Nineteen in the Time of Transition

Transitions can be tricky.  We usually wish for a straightforward line to the next signpost, but what we often get is a winding road uphill.  That is certainly the case these days.  This past week is a perfect example of changed plans and tragic outcomes.  Water and fire have altered lives irrevocably.  

The news is full of sweeping coverage of homes lost and displaced families.  In addition, we know of or are hearing of personal stories of loss and vulnerability.  I am one of the fortunate ones.  I was not in our subway system, and I am not in a flood zone.  I hadn’t gone on Facebook, so I wasn’t aware that we could indicate we were safe.  Sometimes I’m just clueless about social media.  I’m still uncertain how to navigate Instagram.  

However, some friends and family in other parts of the country, and other parts of the world were so thoughtful in reaching out to see if I was okay.  These are simple, caring acts that are deeply appreciated.  In my day-to-day I get caught up in whatever is in front of me.  I’m not great about being in touch with friends and family. Sometimes I’m even criticized for it, though I never find that approach inviting.  

Life can get very full very fast.  But this week taught me that being in someone’s heart is not a matter of how many times I’ve called or written.  I so appreciate that.  I know it’s true for me.  Throughout any given week, I recall a moment or a personal exchange with someone I consider close, and I smile.  Unbeknownst to them they provide sustained joy over time.  

There have been a good many people who have given their time, attention, love and humor.  I am forever grateful. For that, thank you to those who reached out to me or to others.  It matters.  It matters a lot.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Send a simple text or IM to let someone know you’re thinking of them
  • Play music aligned with your emotions.  If you’re feeling overwhelmed, play Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings.  If you’re a bit playful, listen to Gershwin.  Or, if you’re wistful perhaps Aaron Copland will do. 
  • Go to a different Janet Zinn’s website for stunning nature pictures: https://www.jczinn.com

A Pandemic Birthday, Week Eighteen in the Time of Transition

A few years ago I was at a networking event when I spotted an old acquaintance.  I was happy to see her, filled with memories of the two of us with mutual friends enjoying parties, volunteering, and talks in the mid-80’s.  When I approached her and reminded her who I was, in a cold tone she responded, “Yes, I know who you are.”  I felt hurt and dismissed.  I thought about those early years in New York City when I couch-surfed and lived hand to mouth.  It was a hard time, and I was not always my best self.  I had thought warmly of this person recalling her dedication to friends and of her strong work ethic.  Her taciturn words indicated she thought less of me.  

At first I blamed myself, thinking I must have been pretty bad for her to have that reaction.  Then I thought, yeah, I may have done some crazy things, but I have worked hard to grow and change.  I thought how sad for my younger self that I put such a rude person on a pedestal.  And then I was proud of myself for my ability to appreciate the positive qualities in others.  It doesn’t mean I want to befriend everyone.  But it does mean that I can respect others and the gifts within them.  

This past week I was fortunate enough to celebrate another birthday, though new aches and pains may suggest otherwise.  The outpouring of messages and love means the world to me.  I feel abundant, filled with gratitude for friends and family who took the time to send thoughtful messages.  Taking in the goodness of all of you enriches my life in ways that are difficult to articulate.  All I know is that I am better due to you giving your best.  What good fortune to be in such good company.  I apologize to my younger self for giving authority to those who were unkind.  When we’re unseen we cannot be known.  I see you and I appreciate you with all my heart.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Change it up.  Donate to a new non-profit, one aligned with your values but previously not on your radar.  
  • Provide a simple act of kindness to a stranger.  We all need a lift.  
  • Forgive your younger self for making errors in judgement while he/she/they were learning how to appreciate those who appreciate us.  

Sweet Sixteen, Week Sixteen in the Time of Coronavirus

Sweet Sixteen.  It doesn’t feel so sweet these days.  I remember when I was turning sixteen, I yearned to have a fancy party as many of my friends were having that year.  We couldn’t afford an expensive affair, so I begged and cajoled my parents into allowing me to have a house party.  My mother did not enjoy entertaining, nor did she feel comfortable in having a good number of adolescents in her home.  I didn’t realize at the time what a gift she was giving me just by saying yes.  

I worked hard to pay for the party doing overtime to make it happen.  I would make runs into Philadelphia to get beads so I could make each guest a personalized necklace.  My ambitions were high even though my craft skills were not.  

When the party came to be I remember how uncomfortable I was to bring together my friends from various parts of my life, from Hebrew school cronies to my drama student friend, to those in B’nai Brith Girls (BBG) to old elementary school friends, and my more avant-garde crowd.  I was an emotional mess thinking that each knew a part of me, but I was not at ease with me as a whole, and projected quick rejection once they saw the other aspects of  my personality.  Needless to say, trying to calm my mother pre-party and calm myself took all my energy while setting up.  

Each person I invited had a special place in my heart.  They had given me their friendship. Not understanding what that meant, I wanted to repay their kindnesses.  However, I didn’t know myself well enough.  I felt fragmented.  Sadly I only remember my discomfort walking indoors and out to make sure everyone had what they needed.  Scared they’d find out I wasn’t who they thought I was.  

It took me decades to learn that our many personality traits are naturally unified.  We are and have always been a culmination of the different parts of ourselves.    

Last night I had the great fortune of going out for the evening.  I was able to meet a FaceBook friend from the pandemic for the first time, as well as her awesome sixteen-year-old daughter.  My new friend is an extraordinary woman who is bright, sensitive, and fun, among other wonderful traits.  Larry was there, as was his friend who has become mine, and his delightful girlfriend.  For me it was a magical evening.  Perhaps even more so since there’s been a Covid-19 surge, and yet we could still meet for dinner.  We don’t know what’s coming, but in our uncertainty and fear we made room for laughter and love.  

If I think back to my 16-year-old self, I don’t know that I could have shared my fears if I was supposed to be having fun.  Or, I would have missed the fun in deference to my uncertainty.  Thank goodness for life experiences that allow us to keep moving forward while honoring the moment. Though I am not grateful for the pandemic and what I thought was this time of transition, I am grateful for new friends, long-term friends, a good husband, and all the other gifts from these many pain-filled months.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Make a positive comment online.  It can be a compliment for good service, a nice comment to a post, or a short hello to an old friend.  It’s an easy way to make someone’s day.
  • Make a note of a life lesson you’ve learned.  Remember how you used to be and recognize how you’ve grown since then.
  • Check in with yourself to see what you need.  Sometimes we’re preoccupied with what others need, and we don’t know if we need rest, if we need to reach out to a friend, or we need quiet time.  

Gifts of the Ordinary, Week Eleven in the Time of Transition

This morning was clear and cool enough for summer.  My knee wasn’t hurting and I could take a slow run by the East River.  Ah, a moment of little pain.  A small yet welcomed gift when my days are full.  Not only could I run after a week of limited walking, but I could enjoy an empty promenade with friendly passers-by.  That all added up to a great start to the day. 

As we continue to step into a world redefined it’s so easy to want to go back to all we were doing prior to the pandemic.  We might miss socializing, or live entertainment.  Choosing what we do and with whom enhances our sense of continued well-being.  And choosing to find the gifts in the ordinary is helpful in our day to day.  

I am appreciative of the large flowers gracing our small garden.  The smiles and gentle “hellos” are a kindness I so enjoy since I tend to busily move about without seeing individuals.  A day without rain brightens the weekend.  All these simple gifts deepen my satisfaction.  As I can become easily agitated by unpleasantness when I’m feeling raw, I am grateful when I’m in a place in which I can take in the goodness around me. 

Ordinary moments are turned into small gems as we amass them throughout the day.  They become even more dear, because they may be ordinary, but they are not always common.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Take stock of the small moments of joy you amass throughout your day.
  • Sing to yourself.  Notice what you choose.  Enjoy it if you can.  And, if not, change the station.  
  • Read good news.  Usually newspapers and other news outlets have pieces that are inspiring, humorous, or just positive.  

Autumn is Here: Week 30 in the Time of Coronavirus

This Autumn is like no other.  And, given that fact, we will go through it differently than in the past.  For most of us, it feels quite disorienting.  We like to be able to count on what we’ve known to be true.  

For so many of us the Fall is when we start anew.  We count on the school year, even years after we’ve attended school, to pace ourselves.  I feel like I have to create a new pace for living through a pandemic.  No one I know counted on it lasting this long.  We made mental deals with ourselves to get through the first three months.  And, as we enter our eighth month, we are bedraggled.  At least I am.  

Last week my walks were slower, my runs shorter.  I just didn’t have it in me to move around the city with alacrity.  Now that we’re in the last quarter of the year, I am thinking how to enjoy this period, while securing more down time so that I can enjoy the weather, the fall colors, and moments of grace when they come.  Luckily, it’s beautiful in New York City.  There are hints of changing hues in the parks, and a clear, crisp air that propels my movements outside.  But when home, I’m depleted, though I have work and life responsibilities that call.  

To face this time in life, I am making the distinction, or at least I’m working on making distinctions, between the things I can and cannot control.  I can wear a mask.  And, when I forget to put it on, because Covid-brain, I have an extra one in my bag that I can pull out.  I can go to bed early.  I can take walks.  I cannot control how the day goes.  And, I am not always able to control my reactions.  Afterwards, I am able to take responsibility for those outbursts.  I do apologize. And sometimes I even learn from those difficult interactions.  And, when I’m being hard on myself, I can recognize that something is amiss. I then slow down to look to see what the genuine issue might be.  If there is a silver lining during this pandemic, it’s having the space to slow down.  It might not have been a welcomed gift at first, but with time I am able to appreciate its power.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Allay insomnia by writing down a list of worries that swim around in your mind.  In writing them down they can be transferred from your mind to the paper, allowing you to pick it up in the morning, if you’re so inclined.  
  • Open up your spices and sniff them.  Having your sense of smell ignited expands possibilities.
  • Go online window shopping.  Though we might not be able to visit all the stores we like, we can take our imagination online.  This way you can look without overspending.  Window shop without spending a dime.  Or, if you feel you can’t look without buying, give yourself a budget so you can choose within your financial means.  
  • Put an ice pack on your forehead or back of your neck.  The cooling sensation soothes as it shifts our stressed-out feelings from tightness to some release.  
  • Give yourself a moment to slow down.  See how that feels.  Notice what you like about giving yourself a moment.  And, notice if you think you’re giving something up by creating a moment just for you.   

The Frustration Budget, Week 20 in the Time of Coronavirus


The light breeze in the high heat and humidity of this New York summer is a simple pleasure these days.  When I amble along on the sweltering sidewalks I can feel the gentle air waves stroke my head and shoulders lifting me up from the heaviness of the muggy day.  It’s a simple joy to feel the wind when it comes.  It eases the countless frustrations that have set upon us during this time of the Coronavirus. 
 
Given how easily I can be set off these days, I have come up with a made-up system.  I have begun to enact a frustration budget.  Living through a pandemic can wreak havoc with our nervous systems.  So, I am going to assess what is a livable measure of frustration, and anything above that quotient will not be spent.  I am not my best when I’m overstressed.  And, then I circle back on annoyance with my mood and behavior, thus adding to my agitation level.  
 
At this point I think I need to set up my budget with a low level of frustration.  I am subtracting rather than adding to my to-do list.  I am laughing at myself for my lack of memory, including my lack of access to common words, and forgetting seemingly simple tasks.   I open my pajama drawer when I mean to retrieve socks from a parallel drawer.  I am at work, and I am unable to make a point since the word “overcome” will not make itself known to my brain in that moment.  Pre-pandemic, I would get annoyed with myself, and maybe even defensive.  Now, deep in the storm of Covid-19, I am amused by my foibles.  At least that’s how it is this hour.  
 
The frustration budget will be a work in progress.  I just thought of it this week, as I felt exhausted by the end of my day, and quickly followed it up by being less than pleasant when I came home.  It was then I thought, “why not limit what I take in that doesn’t bring me joy?”  And, why not?  I don’t need to finish those articles now when I don’t have the bandwidth.  I can look at the New Yorker cartoons, and save anything else that really interests me.  I can leave the room if the TV is on a program that I neither like nor care about.  I can shorten my walk if I get exasperated by those who are not following the CDC recommendations.  I can lengthen my meditation so that I purposely have more calm moments in my day.  
 
I am amazed by the changes that have occurred since our world changed.  Much of it is difficult.  But some of it, like noticing that I can’t continue on building a wall of aggravations on top of displeasures brings a sliver of mindfulness. It’s a kindness that I can give myself.  I imagine the daily distractions and activities in the past allowed me to ignore certain annoyances, but now they are front and center.  It is time to tear down the wall one frustration at a time until I am thriving within my frustration budget.  
  

Self-Care Tips:
·      Notice what frustrates you and see if you can let go of anything on your list
·      Start a Bullet Journal.  It’s a creative way to track what’s important to you.  
·      Keep a Mood Tracker so you can care for yourself no matter what you’re feeling
·      Write personal affirmations and put them on post-its, then place them where you’ll see them like on the bathroom mirror, in your sock drawer, or on the calendar.  
·      See if you can laugh at yourself when you find you’re being hard on yourself.  It really shifts your mindset.  If you can’t laugh at yourself.  Maybe you can smile at the fact that it’s not easy to go from frustration to humor.  

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