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.

 

Back to the Basics

 

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I learned to iron from my mom, but not before I scorched a shirt or two. Cotton and Polyester were the fabrics of my childhood. And, although I liked my Danskin striped shirts and ribbed pleated pants, cotton was the classier choice for anything other than playing in our Haddontown neighborhood. When inside I had chores, one of which was the ironing.

 

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I would set up the creaky ironing board in the kitchen close to the counter with the electrical outlet. And then I’d carefully plug in the Sunbeam, aqua iron until it was hot enough to smooth away the folds. I would iron my father’s shirts for work, my sister’s and my blouses, leaving the trickier ironing of dresses to my mother.

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In my twenties I volunteered at a new age retreat. One of my jobs was to iron the leader’s white oxford shirts. Perhaps I was chosen because Virgos are known for our attention to detail. They never told me. What they did say was, “Janet, it’s imperative that you bring integrity to your work. There must be no lines in his shirt. Anything that takes his attention away from leading the group compromises the quality of the retreat.” I took them seriously, and performed my ironing with fear and seriousness. At the end of the week I was commended for my work, but at great cost to my happiness.

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Today I ironed my dresses, two green, two blue, one orange and one black. It’s been a while since I’ve ironed. I tend put on no-iron clothes or slightly creased shirts. I take out a steamer from time to time, but sometimes it just doesn’t do the job of old fashion ironing.

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There is something meditative about ironing. I can tell immediately if I’m doing it right. And I know this because the wrinkles disappear. I find this ever so satisfying. It’s clear what task is at hand, and it’s clear when it’s complete. Few jobs are that straightforward in life. Unlike my fear of failure at the retreat, I’m happy to do my ironing with music on in a state of ease. My dresses are done and I’m grateful to my mom for introducing me to the finer points of ironing.

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Blog Break

 

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I wasn’t planning on taking a break from my blog, but that’s what happened. I’m glad I took this break. I’ve needed a breather in general for a while, and the blog was just a part of what I needed to put aside. I enjoy writing, but I noticed something as the weeks went by without penning a word. I noticed that I felt relieved at times, and frustrated at other times. Same circumstances, different responses.

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As the weeks went by I started criticizing myself. I was hard on myself for not writing even as other obligations loomed large. I’d think,  “If I don’t write on a regular basis it’s predictive of not publishing later.” I questioned myself. “Could my attention on family and professional training simply be an excuse?” Of course it can. Or, more likely, it’s the choice I’m making at this time.

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We all make choices. And each choice excludes another. To spend more time with family I give up writing. To choose a concert this summer I give up going out this weekend. To work more I give up a cleaner home. To write this I give up some sleep. We make choices large and small every day.   Tonight I chose to write this short piece. And tomorrow? We’ll I guess I’ll see what choices I make and how they translate.

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One imperative option is to take a break from self-criticism. Whether I have a blog post or I skip it, I am doing the best I can, as we all are.

 

 

 

 

Slowing Down

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

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

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

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

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Letting Go in ’16

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

 

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

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

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

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

18 years and counting — A Grounded-Spirituality Post

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Last week was our 18th wedding anniversary. We met online on an early AOL singles site. This was well before Match.com or JDate. This was 1996 when articles and news programs were warning us to beware of cyber dating. We did not heed their advice, and it worked out for us.

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There’s so much I’ve learned in these years. Lesson one is that dreams do come true. Lesson two, there is no happily ever after. Relationships are messy work. I was not prepared for that. I naively came to marriage thinking that it solved problems. Even though I came late to the game, I felt loved, and isn’t that all I ever really wanted? Don’t get me wrong feeling loved is amazing. And it acts as a foundation when the shit hits the fan. I think at the beginning we thought that each of us would complete the other. Instead we found that interacting with one another brought us closer with unresolved issues that we had to address within ourselves.

For instance, I found that Larry was easy to anger. And, I didn’t want that. So, he worked long and hard on his anger issues and found ways to manage it. Low and behold, it turns out I was angry all along, but as long as I focused on his anger, I didn’t have to own my dark feelings. I didn’t like being angry, but there it was for me to feel all too often. So now I had to start working on my anger issues, the issues I wasn’t conscious I harbored. Yet, it was Larry’s freedom to express his anger that made room for me to get angry. Once we could both be angry, it wasn’t so scary to deal with his ire. And, I am learning to further explore what I always thought was a dangerous emotion.

Tonight Larry is watching The Grateful Dead while I finish this blog post in the other room. When we met we knew we were musically incompatible. I love show music and cabaret, while he loves classic rock, and was a Dead head for all of his adolescents and much of his adulthood. He taught me to enjoy more rock. And, now I appreciate the Grateful Dead for their improvisational work and their interpretive artistry. It won’t be my go-to music, but I smile seeing him happy. Conversely, I have dragged Larry to many a Broadway and off-Broadway musical. I’m let down when he gets antsy, ready to go after the first song. But I soar when I see how much he enjoys certain shows we’ve seen together.

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I’ve learned that marriage is hard work. Sometimes it’s a matter of just getting through. When I don’t feel heard or understood, I can feel let down. Larry gets upset when he feels I’m too critical and he can’t do anything right. We both can get defensive. And if we both feel defensive at the same time, there’s bound to be a disagreement. It takes a while to untangle our positions of being right towards collaborating and accepting each other and ourselves within this marriage.

Relationships are a study in contradictions. For instance, while we both enjoy dining out, we also enjoy very different foods. I like my salads and fish, he likes his meat and potatoes. I usually like a more active lifestyle. Larry is happy to sit at home and enjoy television together. I want Larry to do more with me, but I get restless when I watch TV with him, looking around seeing small tasks to complete while at home. Conversely, I’ve learned to be more at ease relaxing and Larry has a more participates more in outside activities.

I wish there was a formula to make marriage easier. I continue to work on not taking myself so seriously, laughing more, worrying less. Larry has done a great job at listening more to what I need, engaging in uncomfortable conversations. So, as we move towards our 19th year, I am exhausted at what it takes to keep our marriage afloat, yet hopeful that the qualities that have moved our marriage to 18 years will continue to move it forward.   With growing love and mutual respect we march on.

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Mother’s Day, 2015

“We are all married to the same man.”

Judy Mannarino, Talented Artist, www.judymannarino.net

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Mother’s Day is a day fraught with mixed emotions. We’re parents, but we’re not mothers. We wish to be mothers but we’re not. We’re mothers, but we wished we weren’t. We love our children, but we get frustrated sometimes. Our mothers are no longer here. Our mothers are here, but we’re not sure how we feel about that. We’re indebted, we’re sad, we’re expectant, we’re disappointed. We’re ambivalent.

This morning I woke up, took my shower and came into the living room/dining area when I saw a card and gift. For the first few years of motherhood, Larry, my husband, wasn’t aware that Mother’s Day meant something to me. I could say I taught him, but it would be more accurate to say I shamed him into buying cards and gifts for this very Hallmark holiday.

Today he bought me a perfect gift, a pair of high-end earbuds from Future Sonics. As a walker, good earphones make all the difference. My only issue was that he had already given me the exact same gift this past Hanukkah. I loved them then. I was neither generous of heart nor gracious when I opened the gift. I wish I could say I had a sense of humor about it. I did not. I was petty.

It’s been difficult these past few months, and I wanted an easy day. I felt hurt, and I shared that fact. I know I’m so fortunate to have a husband who wrapped a gift and made an effort, yet I felt deprived, sad, in some unexplained way. I went for a long walk. I bought some earrings as compensation. And, yet, yet, when I came home I wanted attention. Larry was preoccupied, and I again felt as if he hadn’t apologized for the gift, nor gone out of his way to make this day special for me.

He says that whatever he does isn’t good enough. And, I say that he doesn’t really go out of his way to think about what would be meaningful to me. It’s a lose/lose for both of us. One would think we could disengage from this cycle, but we don’t. I measure his love by his gifts, and he measures my love by my approval or disapproval.

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By tonight can I see that I use him as a way not to face my own limitations. I had a beautiful day. I walked the city. And, I love New York.   I came home, and he had helped with an email issue. He did the laundry. I am working on my inclination to lean towards deprivation rather than abundance. While working on this, I will say, today I was abundantly small-minded. Maybe, just maybe, soon I will be able to say I am abundantly grateful. Until then, I will employ patience, first with myself, and then with Larry, and, Emma, our daughter.

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