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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I Went All the Way

 

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Sometimes something so simple can be hard.  I had the idea of riding my bike on the last Summer Streets on Park Avenue down to the Brooklyn Bridge.  I keep my bike in my office.  It’s a short folding bike, allowing for both my feet to touch the ground when I stop. It’s in my office so I can get out when the impulse strikes.  It rarely strikes.  I call myself a wimpy rider since I want to easily touch the ground, and I am not skilled enough to weave in and out of traffic.    I will only face the streets to get into Central Park or ride on the East River promenade to Randall’s Island where there are few if any cars.  Sometimes I lack the gumption.  I have to fill the tires with air days before a ride since I’m not even sure what to do should I find myself with a flat.

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I was out of town the first Summer Street week, and last week I thought I might, but my timing was off. The trick is to go early before the crowds.  It’s not so bad riding on Park Avenue, which is wide and has separate sides going in either direction.  But once we head around Grand Central Terminal and pass Union Square, we squeeze together on Lafayette Street, unable to pass slow cyclists, and the inevitable joggers in the wrong lane.  (It is also true that certain cyclists ride on the jogging side.)

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There was one cyclist on a Citibike chatting with her friend.  I was on her left, when she veered to her left almost hitting me, and I yelled “On Your Left!” She was startled.  I couldn’t believe that I reacted with such verve.  Sometimes I think I’m fine only to have an innocuous moment force me to see how stressed I am.  That was such a moment.  It was contrasted by a lovely biker passing me on my way uptown simply stating in a warm, soothing voice, “ On your left.”  I could move incrementally to my right to let her pass.  It was an easy moment that juxtaposed my rash reaction.

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I was excited and scared to take my bike on the ride.  I liked the idea of being able to move easily through the streets of Manhattan.  I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity. I love this city, and taking part in something like this elicits an inner thrill.  But I am not great in terms of being part of a crowd. I’m a defensive rider, with a bit of anxiety thrown in to make it interesting, well, more like marginally stressful.   I’m better off on an empty path speeding up and slowing down based on my own estimations, not on the precarious bicycling of strangers.

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I didn’t wake up early enough to leave at 7 AM when the streets were wide open.  Instead I ventured to Park Avenue at 10:30 AM, with all those tourists and New Yorkers on a pre-bunch ride. Nonetheless, I was set to go down to the Brooklyn Bridge and back again to Yorkville.  I’m proud I made the ride, but I went for a slow jog today. I had enough of my bike for the weekend. If I can, perhaps I’ll make it to Central Park during a break this week.  After all, my tires are filled with air.

 

All images were stock from the internet

Running Again

 

IMG_1337.JPGI ran my first race in over a year.  It was slow process, both recovering from benign injuries, as well as running 15-minute miles this morning.  In the past months I went through acupuncture, medical massage and physical therapy putting Humpty Dumpty back together again. So, tentatively, step by step I took on Central Park’s Drive.

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What I noticed right away was the throngs who passed me as I inched my way forward.  I am no stranger to being left behind.  In elementary school I often was picked last in kickball, more for my lack of popularity than for any inability to kick and catch the ball. In junior high school I was not asked to parties.  I awkwardly went to school dances, uncertain how to pretend I was fine while swaying my hips to The Captain and Tennille.  Then, in my early adult years, I didn’t know how to negotiate apartment hunting, and ended up subletting again and again to keep a roof over my head.  I am still learning how to navigate the world.

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But today, I knew where I needed to be for start  of the event. I showed up along with a few thousand New York Road Runner members. Each one of us running for our own reasons.  This run helped me appreciate what I’ve learned over the years.  Some things are easier for some and not others.  We all have our own journey.  And, having others pass me can distinguish my particular trek through life.  A perfect spring day in Central Park making for an invaluable run.

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One Step in Front of the Other

 

 

-9bcc6173bfec0f98.JPGWhen I was 10 years old I was allowed to walk on Haddonfield-Berlin Road, crossing highways entrances and exits to go to The Woodcrest Shopping Center. For a short time they had The Jerry Lewis Movie Theater, and I could get in for 50 cents, the amount of my allowances after chores. Or, I would go to W.T. Grant’s, deemed a twenty-five cent department store, but more of a five and dime. that sold colorful birds, toys, clothes, plastic jewelry, and featured a lunch counter. I was much too shy to go to the counter alone. But I loved getting lost in the aisles ending up with some sort of sweet. There was also Crest Lanes where I could bowl. I loved the crack of the pins being hit, and the overhead light of the score pad. In the other direction I would walk to The Haddontown Swim Club. It was lovely after a hot August walk to reach the pool and jump in to the cold splash of wet relief. These were some of my first destination walks.

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I would get upset that my mom didn’t drive me places, but with four children and a house to run, driving me to and from a destination that was just over a mile away, was not to be. What upset me then, actually provided me with a pleasure I’ve enjoyed throughout my life. I’ve lived in Manhattan for over 35 years, and a destination walk remains one of my favorite activities.

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Some of my best visits with friends have been walking to work with them, or going to a movie theater in another neighborhood. Films may not be fifty cents anymore, but the destination is still as satisfying. I love going to various farmer’s markets, or to a specialty stationary store. I walk to museums, or parks. Last week I took the subway just to walk in parks in other parts of the city. The destination is more often than not, motivation, but the walk is the true treat.

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Although I love city walks, and will make sure I go on foot when I visit other cities, walking in the woods, or taking a hike is equally as pleasurable. In these hectic times, walking has been wonderful for stress, it’s been reliable transportation, it’s been an education, and it’s been a gift.

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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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