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.   

My Super Power

 

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When I was in the fifth grade I had a recurrent dream that I could fly.  I was elated that I could soar past the bullies and the teasers.  I loved that they had to look up to me in my dream.  I soared in the air down Haral Place past the mailbox on my way to Stafford School.  I held onto that dream.  It gave me a sense of being special when I felt anything but special.

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But the teasing got worse in junior high.  Patty Craven howled at me as if I were a dog.  She bribed a classmate to ask me out so they could laugh at me.  She was cruel, but I took it.  I found small ways to be unkind to others, somehow justified in my low social ranking.  I wasn’t proud of my behavior.  I got myself, and an accomplice, in trouble by confessing to a teacher.  I couldn’t live with my guilt.

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It was then that I longed to be invisible so I could hear what the popular girls said about me, but they wouldn’t know I was there.  I could disappear so that I wouldn’t be inclined to emulate the bullies.  I just wanted to blend in, so that my frizzy hair and my bad complexion wouldn’t make a statement.  Or I didn’t want to be seen at all.  But, that was not to be. Once in a while I would still dream of flying, but during the day I was an obvious target.

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Being invisible seemed like the coolest super power.  Casper was a friendly ghost and he was invisible.  It was a nice power.  Samantha and her relatives could become invisible on Bewitched.  And, Jeannie from I Dream of Jeannie could vanish after some mishap.  Boy, would I have loved that in school and at home before my mother punished me.

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Nonetheless, like all the mortals I’ve known, I could not make myself invisible, until now.  Forty-six year later, at the precipice of my 60thbirthday my wish has come true.  I walk down the street and must quickly side step the person coming towards me. I look at the businessman leering at the woman in front of me while unaware of my presence.  Tada, meet invisible me.

 

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On the sidewalk I’ve had gadget-frenzied individuals run into me, shocked when they hit a person who was unseen moments prior.  I can hear inappropriate conversations in ride shares because the other passengers aren’t aware that this particular unobserved person can hear their banter.  I am reading my emails on the bus when two loud friends sit next to me and continue in their outside voices, as if I am not there.

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These are the minor inconveniences.  More than anything, being invisible has its advantages.  I am no longer concerned on the days I go around with unkempt hair. My shoes are comfortable because I’m okay with someone seeing me with my walk-friendly athletic wear, understanding that most people won’t be looking at all.  There’s a delightful freedom in that.  Not only can I face the world with abandon, I observe the quirks of others in private.  So I embrace my invisibility.  Though it serves a different purpose from the wish of my 13-year-old self, I am relishing the magic of post-mid-life invisibility in the present.

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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The Fluctuating Value of Sleep

 

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When I was ten-years-old I was going to sleep-away camp for the first time. I was leaving for 2 weeks at a bare-bones Y camp in Medford, New Jersey. The night before I left I was atwitter with anticipation. What should I wear? I want a low key, yet cool look. In 1970 that meant hot pants and a tight colorful tee. I’d save my red hot pants for a dressy camp night. And, while awake, going over my list of flashlights and swimwear, I decided I’d arrive wearing denim shorts with my tie-dye t-shirt. It wasn’t snug, but it was cool enough to appear nonchalant.

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That decided, I stayed up all night nervous about the friends I’d make, and wanting to have a good experience. I was happy to go off on my own. Even at ten I had an independent streak. I didn’t mind losing any sleep. I wasn’t tired in the morning. Getting little sleep just heightened my excitement. My parents couldn’t get ready fast enough, even though we couldn’t arrive until after 1 PM.

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Camp was great. I could eat all I wanted. We were allowed foods never offered at home, fried chicken, camp-made blueberry pie, pancakes, and bacon. Every day was an adventure. And, it wasn’t just that we were in the woods, but we learned to row and canoe. I learned and loved archery, group activities, theater and songs. They were all pleausrable. I slept well after fun-filled days. I didn’t think twice about how much sleep I was getting.

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And, when college came, I got great enjoyment in staying up all night going from one disco to another, until I came home to change so I could get the train to school. Even though I might have had to force my eyes open throughout the day, I took pride in the fact that I stayed up all night. Later, in my twenties, getting little sleep was a semi-regular event. I’d work all day, take an acting class, go to rehearsal for one showcase or another, go out with friends, and crawl home between 1 and 3 AM. With 5 hours or less sleep, I’d get up for work thinking about how to learn my lines for the showcase, while offering professional level customer service during the day.

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This summer of 2017, I am not so happy when I lose sleep. And, I do not have the same get up and go as I did in my first 30 years. Now when I can’t sleep I feel like I’m losing something, rather than simply adding hours to my day. Not getting enough sleep has become a regular event. Once losing sleep was the cheap price I paid for a good time. Now, a coveted commodity, sleep is worth its weight in gold. Having a good time is predicated on a good night’s sleep. I can only enjoy dinner with friends or family, or a night at the theater, if I slept well. This might even include a precious nap. I no longer stay up thinking about what I’ll wear out. Comfortable sleepwear is more my concern. Soft fabrics keep me cool and woozy. These days I no longer measure my strength in how many hours I can keep going. These days I measure my sleep, happy when I sleep in past 8 AM.

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.

Grief Shaming

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Last week on Facebook I had changed my profile picture to one with a transparent French Flag on top of my face. When I was in college I had gone to school in Paris one summer studying Art History and French. The art history stayed with me, the French, not so much. It was a seminal summer for me. Memories surged after the bombings and I responded based on my relationship to my past and those in my present. Yet, shortly after that, so many people started writing pieces or making comments about how wrong it was to change our profile pictures when so many more had been tortured and killed in Damascus, Beirut, Jerusalem, Sierra Leone….. And the shaming began.

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I would much rather see a way in which we can educate and inform rather than tell one another that what has moved us isn’t good enough, or is racist or wrong. We’re all served well to learn more. But nothing is accomplished when we’re shamed into feeling bad about what matters to us.

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The irony is that often it’s in an attempt to create tolerance. Instead it creates a rift. “My way of seeing the problem is better than what you’re doing,” is the implication. And, though we see it online, we also hear it in our lives. There are so many times that clients will tell me that they’ve been criticized for the manner in which they’ve mourned a loss. If someone is relieved that a parent has died, they are considered cold-hearted. Alternatively, people who mourn for a year or two are asked when they’ll get over it. If someone loses a dear pet, eyes roll.   Why are we so dismissive of how others handle loss? And, what have we lost as a result of that?

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