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.

 

The Voice

 

MPW-3067.jpegThe movie Funny Girl opened in 1968. I was eight years old and in Third Grade, struggling with Mrs. Mishaw, the dower educator who wore Irish wool suits and had no patience for fools. I was a dreamy fool finding solace in movies. Barbra Streisand as Fanny Brice became my hero. Fanny Brice for celebrating her kooky self, and Barbra for singing so magnificently. She was the balm for an otherwise abrasive year.

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This past week I got to revisit the magnificence of Ms. Streisand singing “Don’t Rain on My Parade.” She brought down the Brooklyn house with her clear, luminous voice. I was enthralled then, as I am now. And, if that weren’t enough, she sang at least three Sondheim songs, my favorite composer.

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I was late to the game. I first heard about Sondheim from Paul Puccio a co-worker at Strawbridge & Clothier when I was in college. I went to see Angela Lansbury in Sweeny Todd in 1980, and have subsequently seen most productions of the shows and revivals in New York or London. So, having Barbra Streisand’s splendid voice, and Steven Sondheim’s magical lyrics and composition, was simply perfect.

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We all have moments like this, when we experience art and emotion, and feel transported. There is hope for the future, and deep satisfaction in the moment. The concert, thanks to Barbra Streisand, gave me, as well as thousands of others, that transformative moment. Life isn’t always easy. In fact, we have witnessed so much heartache and struggle in the media recently, and, for some, in our private lives. So bearing witness to art, music, theater, dance, literature, or other artistic mediums, gives us an opportunity to replenish our faith in ourselves and the world around us. It can move us deeply, and replenish our soul.

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I am still a dreamy fool late into my 50s. And, Barbra Streisand’s voice remains a balm through thick and thin.

(all images are taken from the internet)

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.

 

 

 

 

I Can’t Keep Up

I still find each day too short for all the thoughts I want to think, all the walks I want to take, all the books I want to read, and all the friends I want to see.

–John Burroughs

 

There was a time in my twenties & thirties when I did all the planning with my friends, when I sent birthday cards, and called to catch up. No more. As a working mom, trying spend time with my family, write on a semi regular basis, workout, and keep up with the day to day, I no longer have the mental dexterity to juggle anything else.

When Facebook came on the scene, I was able to be in touch with friends from around the world. My elementary school classmates created a Facebook page and eventually had a kickball reunion. It was nostalgic and great fun. And, it’s been terrific to connect to old friends, new acquaintances and others. On the advice of those supposedly in the know, I now have a twitter account, a Tumblr account and I signed up for Pinterest even though I’m not much of a photographer. I have a Linked-In account, though I’m not looking for a job, happy with my private practice as a psychotherapist.

All this seemed like a good idea at the time. Now, it’s just too much. I see the birthday reminders and the daily posts that I save, but never get to. It feels as if I’m rejecting people on five or more platforms. I just can’t keep up. The requests, good ideas, the reading, the blogs, and everything else that overloads my inbox are reminders of how behind I am.  The mixed messages we get about the importance of self-esteem are sabotaged by the daily experience of not being enough. Always having something that we haven’t read, seen or known leaves us wanting. And, although there will always be things we never get to, the trick is to find a way to find peace with that fact. Hopefully I’m finding peace by writing about it. Other ways are to be engaged in what we do at any given moment, so that we are not filled with anxiety over what we have to get to. Namely, living in the future.

But, enough about that. I’ve got to go now. I have to look at the emails, texts and phone calls I won’t be able to answer. If you read this, kudos. If not, who can blame you? Chances are you’re doing something else.

 

 

Mood Minders

Weight Watchers is known in the diet arena for their Points Plus platform. Inspired by their model, I am introducing my own points program.  It is a diet, but not of the food variety.  My points program is based on overall attitude rather than foods and exercise.  I am naming it “Mood Minders”™, an alliteration to assure successful branding. 

            Mood Minders”™ works like this.  We start out with twenty points per day, with an extra 40 points for the week to use at your discretion. You can use a portion of your weekly points daily, or you can save them up and have a full fledged tantrum at the end of the week, if you like. 

Neutral moods are zero points.  So if I’m observing a situation but not getting upset or making it personal, then it’s a zero points experience.   For instance, if I’m watching a driver parallel park on my block, and I notice they must be from the suburbs where they normally park in a lot, but I am not critical of the many maneuvers they make to come as close as 10 inches from the curb, then it’s zero points.  However, if I make a nasty comment to my husband and we banter on about our superior parking acumen as compared to the shnook in the car, then it goes from zero points to costing me four points.  Two points for being catty, two points for innocuous gossiping.  Cruel gossip can cost as much as ten points, since it’s not just a mood, but can be mean spirited. 

            We earn the most points, eight, by volunteering, random acts of kindness, and true forgiveness.  Laughter and joy earn us a hefty five.  Patience and generosity are also worth six points.  And, the good news is patience for yourself, as well as for others, is counted as well.  I was able to earn my six points when I made a mistake in my Mood Minders™ meeting by pronouncing omniscient, “omni cent.”  While being corrected by one of the self proclaimed intellectuals in the group, I felt my face flush, thanked him for correcting me, and smiled meekly.  If it weren’t for my minding my points, I might have made a pathetic excuse, while silently cursing him for saying anything.  Instead of costing me points, I gained points, forgiving myself for my error, and forgiving him for using my mistake to show off. 

            Based on my new program, my well wishing to Weight Watchers gave me three bonus points.  I can later use those points in the event I find myself being critical, like when I ask tight-lipped that my husband pick up his dirty socks, again, as I did yesterday and the day before that.  Of course, a program as rigorous as Mood Minders™ should be done with the support of a group and a group leader (me).  Note:   I do not lose any points for arrogance since I did not claim to be a great leader.  I merely stated my role within the group.

Let’s take a look to see how some of patients, I mean Mood Minders™ group members, have fared. 

Norma wasn’t quite depressed, but she was constantly comparing herself to others, whining that her life wasn’t as good. She had been known to describe herself as miserable. This always cost her four points, two for complaining, and two for burdening others with her gloom. It took the loss of many points in meetings to get Norma to finally track her points.  She as appalled and dismayed to find out that while she viewed her misery to be the fault of others, in the end she was in a points deficit herself.  She started recording, and has now created herself anew.

Then there’s middle-aged Paul.  He was a rageaholic.  If something didn’t meet his expectations he would yell, bullying others to change things so he could be appeased.  He would become virtually apoplectic when on the phone with his cable server when there was a service failure.  But once he started working the Mood Minders™ technique, he thought twice before he reacted.  He realized he had a choice about instantly becoming irate.  He learned to take a moment before reacting.  He started to think before he went into a complete frenzy. It’s not that Paul doesn’t ever get angry anymore.  But he knows he only has a certain amount of set points for his rage, so he judicially uses them when a situation is worthy of that response.   Paul can now manage to stay relatively calm when speaking with his IT manager, even when his computer is on the fritz, because he knows that being patient with him will help him get the result he wants.  He still yells at sales people from time to time.  But not always, and never in the few hours on Tuesday before he attends his Mood Minders™ meeting. 

Amy started Mood Minders™ when her anxiety was at an all time high.  She was a worrier.  Once she found out that she could earn points for laughing she had would intersperse her angst with mirth.  She stopped frowning as much, saving her countless thousands in botox injections.

Although Norma, Paul and Amy are a mere sampling of the possibilities of Mood Minders,™, there are all kinds of unhappy people. And, if you’re reading this and thinking you are above Mood Minders,™  Think twice.  Self-righteous indignation is a lonely path, and a holier-than-thou attitude will cost you a hefty 5 points.  But by following MM’s simple outline, life can be more enjoyable.  

           

 

A quick outline of Mood Minders™:

 

*You have the power to choose how you react to situations.

*You can minimize your unhappiness, and maximize pleasure

*You can still be miserable, if you like, your points are yours to use

 

Zero point moods:

Feeling your feelings without judgment, Observation, patiently waiting

One Point:  Mild annoyance, Apprehension, Slight Impatience, Boredom

Two Points: Rolling your eyes at someone’s comment; having a bit of a snide tone when speaking

Three Points:  Defensiveness, Being Judgmental

Four Points:  Mild Gossip, Self-righteous Indignation

Five Points:  Being a Naysayer, Help-Rejecter (Someone who asks for help, then when given the help they reject the offerings)

Six Points:  Quitting Because You Don’t like the Probable Outcome, Bragging at the expense of Someone Else, or Trying to Look Better than Another

Seven Points:  Scaring Another with Your Anger; Scaring Yourself by Coming Up with Worse Case Scenarios

Eight Points:  Intentional, mean-spirited gossip; Laughing At someone in public

Above Eight Points:  Taunting, Bullying, Spiraling with Fear or Anxiety, Saying hateful things to yourself

 

**Bonus Points**:

One: Refraining from Sending Superstitious Chain emails; Smiling

Two: Small forgivenesses; Being a Good Sport

Three: Giving Compliments; Writing Thank you Notes

Four: Keeping Your Judgmental Opinion to Yourself

Five:  Full-out laughter; Spreading joy

Six:  Patience; Generosity

Seven:  Good Manners; Being Gracious

Eight:  Volunteering; Random Acts of Kindness, True Forgiveness

Joyous Laughter, Glee, Volunteering, Random Acts of Kindness, Forgiveness, Complimenting others, Taking responsibility for one’s actions, Giving Anonymously to Charity, Charitable Giving (less of a bonus, but on the plus side, nonetheless)

 

 

If you want more information, or you think the Mood Minders™ itinerary is right for you, you can become a founding member of Mood Minders™ for a generous fee.  The high cost will ensure you extra weekly points since you will be contributing to the growing prosperity of this amazing program.