What We Don’t Know, Week 45 in the Time of Coronavirus

I have to admit that I wasn’t sure that the judge I watched numerous times on Law and Order was Fran Lebowitz.  It looked like her, but was she a doppelganger, or was she, in fact, the writer?  After watching “Pretend it’s a City,” Martin Scorsese’s excellent (in my opinion) docu-series of Fran Lebowitz, I was happy to learn that, yes, it was her as Judge Janice Goldberg in the original Law & Order. 

The short series on Netflix was a delightful, laughter-filled escape from current events this past week.  I learned a lot, evaluated my own thinking, and admired FL’s ability to speak her personal truths, thoughts I often have, but don’t share aloud.  Somehow the cable show also had me pondering on the wonder of all I don’t know.  I’m not even sure how I arrived at that thought trend, but once there, my mind wandered endlessly to all that is yet to be explored.  I’m not speaking of subjects that vaguely interest me, but not enough to occupy my time, like physics or economics.  I’ll leave that to the experts. Then I’ll simply read their selective theories.  I’m more thinking about what curiosities I can discover in a day, or in a new place, or with those who think differently than myself.  Am I willing to let go enough to be in awe of the newness of an experience, much like a young child?  I’m willing to try.  I’ll see how it goes.  If nothing else, I’ll learn more about my curiosity or lack thereof.  

I can’t say I was in child-like wonderment whilst I tried to learn two new computer programs today.  It was more like initial confusion followed by adult frustration.  My curiosity quickly morphed into baffled exasperation.   Though I wasn’t as open as I would have liked, I was able to marvel at my reaction, and my limited ability to take in perplexing information.  I will try again briefly today, but it appears I need more time and energy to learn these programs.  May I say that the tutorials for both wrongly claim the ease in which one can get them up and running.  What I didn’t fully appreciate before is that I cannot rely on old knowledge to magically create aptitude for new skills.

It helped to admit that I couldn’t figure out how to launch the programs. Though I was hoping not being able to master the first program, I could figure out the second one.  Not having the bandwidth to take in anything new happens more now in the pandemic.  And, if that’s not enough, even old facts leave me with limited mental access.  If I once knew something but can’t recall it at a particular time, I’m more embarrassed than if I never knew it at all.  Or, if I am familiar with a topic, but know no specifics about said topic, I’ve been reluctant to admit that.  I am happy to eschew that behavior by proudly admitting all I don’t know.  I certainly don’t know how this will go, but I’m curious to find out.  In the meantime, I’ll reread Fran Lebowitz’s essays.

  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Admit that you don’t know something. It’s better to learn by not knowing than to be uncertain of what you might know.  
  • Make room for making mistakes, it’s bound to happen, and it helps us grow.  
  • Shape recommendations or suggestions to accommodate your life rather than shaping your world to acclimate to specific advice. 
  • Watch Netflix’s “Pretend it’s a City,” or something else true to your sense of humor.  
  • Place a light fragrance on your wrist, sniff it periodically, to get you through tough times. 

Boy, Oh, Boy, Week 44 in the Time of Coronavirus

Yesterday I hit the wall.  Before I lost all steam, I had lofty plans.  I had research to do.  There is always cleaning and organizing.  I was behind on my writing.  Yet, by the time I was three fourths of the way through a walk in Central Park, I felt as if I was dragging my leaden legs on the southern arc of the Reservoir.  When I finally reached home, I couldn’t get my sweats on fast enough.  Then Lucy had to go out.  I love her, and also dearly wished there was someone else who would have taken her out.  I was able to speak with a friend from the other coast, and that gave me a pleasurable energy shot.  Though life in California is as fraught as it is in New York and throughout the world. 

This past week brought to the forefront the negative results of anger and hate.  Those are human experiences, but when those feelings are unchecked, then further fueled, they become destructive.  I hope we can learn from this, rather than take sides with defensive righteousness.  I certainly see how my own unexamined anger hurts Larry, Alex and probably others.  Once I see that I’ve hurt them, I have to consider what changes I can make so that we share joy rather than pain.  It’s an ongoing process of patience and kindness mixed with tools to calm my agitated soul.  

Was it possible that I had no energy to calm myself after Wednesday’s attack on the Capitol?  That played a part in my exhaustion, nonetheless, having witnessed it from afar, it’s not the only reason.  From what I’ve heard I am not alone in running out of steam in this time of Coronavirus.  We are all frayed.  We have been faced with challenges that have pushed us beyond our known limits, while still having to conduct our lives on a daily basis.  

I imagine yesterday’s pause was essential.  It meant I missed attending my first Zoom party.  It was only this morning that I even remembered that it was last night.  I think of my friends and family daily.  I so appreciate what they are doing to brighten others’ lives.  Though it’s an internal reflection since I rarely reach out these days, I am grateful that they are in the world and in my thoughts.  

Here we go into another week.  What will it bring?  We’ll see.   For me, I plan to get more rest.  I’m hopeful that will make room for added patience and kindness. 

Self-Care

  • Light a candle.  Whether it’s a small birthday candle or a luxurious scented candle, light a candle to brighten these dark winter nights.  
  • Compliment someone.  It’s easy to think nice thoughts, but it’s invaluable for someone to hear that you noticed.  
  • Look up.  Sometimes we see things we would have otherwise missed. 
  • Go for a walk, short or long, it can be an essential calming tool
  • Pause.  Check your breath and survey your body.  Coming back to ourselves, even 30 seconds at a time, is another way of acquiring calm. 

So Long 2020, Week 42 in the Time of Coronavirus

Before the end of this week we will welcome in a new year.  Never will there have been a greater collective sigh throughout the globe than at the rotating midnight hour of 1/1/2021.  We all faced many challenges throughout the year.  And we all learned essential truths about ourselves.  I learned that doing less was a relief.  I learned that patience is not an end point, but an ongoing process.  I learned to use my crankier tendences as a reflection on what vulnerabilities I am attempting to protect.  I learned that I still have a lot to learn in asking for help.  Plus, I learned that 2020 gave us endless opportunities to learn.  I also learned that even with the possibility of learning, sometimes learning to relax was the best option.   

            Having to slow down gave me a chance to see the best in others.  Family, friends and others shared their kindness and generosity of spirit again and again.  Courage rose exponentially as we faced multiple traumas.  There was the courage to get through a single day.  And there was the courage to recreate ourselves in the face of endless hardships.  

            I’m uncertain what the future brings.  I long to travel, but don’t want to go anywhere until we’re all safe.  I yearn live theater, however, I can’t say what that might look like post-pandemic.  January 1st will look pretty much the same as the other days these past months.  Nevertheless, I feel tremendous hope for our near future. Nature will continue to bring special moments, as long as we show respect to our natural world.  Thanks to acts of goodness and kindness, both apparent and unseen, we will continue to make it through this time of Coronavirus.  Personally, I thank you for reading these blog posts.  By giving your time and attention, you have been invaluable to me.  

Self-care Tips:

  • Rather than looking for happiness, try working on feeling deeply satisfied.
  • Instead of New Year’s resolutions, think of what you’d like to let go of at the end of this year.
  • Sleep, laugh and cry.  Not necessarily altogether, but each provides relief and release.  
  • Review this past year and acknowledge all you accomplished, both large and small wins.
  • Review this past year and celebrate the inner strengths you never knew you had.   

The Desire for Instant Gratification, Week 38 in the Time of Coronavirus

We made it through a very different Thanksgiving.  Then on black Friday I received so many emails advertising the “best” sales of the year.  I was intrigued.  I opened up small business and non-profit websites.  I purchased a few things that I unquestionably don’t need.  Now after the sale I’m not even certain if they’ll make good gifts.  What I do know is that there was something compelling about the immediate gratification at a time when so little is happening.  For a few brief hours I’d take breaks to peruse websites while making a couple of impulsive purchases.  Call it clearance therapy.  

It felt like a small liberation to acquire a few seemingly needless items.  The bargains were incredible.  And it felt strange to engage in such a frivolous action.  I understand that I’m privileged to buy stuff during this time of widespread unemployment.  Perhaps I chose small businesses as an unconscious compensation.  I like supporting solo endeavors, small businesses and non-profit organizations.  I grew up the daughter of a small business owner.  Sale season was always a boon for his shoe store.  The income from pre-holiday sales supported our family of six for the leaner times in the subsequent months.  When I started working as a cashier at 14, I’d go to the mall and spend my earnings on the best sale offers I could find.  

Perhaps it’s part yearning for times past, and part needing something special we get to choose now.   It’s true that so many of us crave instant gratification during this long stretch.  I got it Friday and will have another quick high when the packages arrive.  During this pandemic most of my immediate gratifications came while walking.  I’d see a beautiful light in the sky.  Or the flowers would catch my eye.  Actually, it was less immediate gratification than moments of grace.  And, having had my clearance therapy on Friday, I was able to get back to walking, and my slow running, enjoying the last colors of the season.  

We’re about to embark on living through the final month of 2020.  We employed a tremendous amount of patience to get this far.  And we’re being asked to wait even longer before we’ll be able to recognize certain aspects of pre-2020.  I guess a few transgressions along the way are a small price to pay for getting through this time of the Coronavirus.  

Self-care Tips:

  • Take in a poem.  It helps us to imagine differently. 
  • Wear cozy socks.  There’s nothing like warm, comfortable socks as the weather gets cold.  Try some with grips on the bottom to wear without shoes while indoors.
  • Warm beverages can be so soothing.  A favorite tea, hot cocoa, heated cider, or a warm adult beverage can all be enjoyed this season.  
  • Think of a personal quality that you judge unfavorably.  Now think of a way in which that specific characteristic can be a strength under certain circumstances.  
  • Try adding a new color to your life.  Whether you choose a different color for your mask, or you choose a vegetable that adds color to a meal, take pleasure in something different.  

Dropping, Spilling & Breaking; Week 33 in the Time of Coronavirus

Today while making chili, beans spread out in the sink while I was draining them. Usually I’m not so lucky to have a contained spatter. Just two weeks ago glass shattered in all directions. I put on my shoes and cleaned up the shards that extended into two rooms. I’ve certainly seen an uptick in drops, breakage and absent-mindedness. It seems to have increased in these last few weeks. Yes, I can be clumsy, but I usually don’t have to clean up a spill every day. Well, I can’t say that anymore.

The amount of energy it takes to get through our days when we’ve been limited to external outlets is trying. There’s bound to be some fallout. For me one fallout is the inevitable dropping of at least one ball up in the air. Have any of us had to juggle so much while those around us are simultaneously juggling their own load? I doubt it. It’s my first time on such a long haul.

The good enough news is that I am better prepared to clean it up. Though I’m more careful on the outset, it has not prevented me from spilling my coffee, or dropping a jar of herbs. In the past I’ve cursed and resented having to interrupt my flow to wipe up the mess. Now I see it as part of the process. Albeit, a slow, dirty, frustrating process, but very much a part of this bumpy road we’re on. We now can expect the unexpected. It might come in the form of a broken vase or a wet counter. Or, sadly, it might be in the form of a broken heart, an interrupted life. Sometimes a rag can do the trick. Other times a box of tissues is not enough to catch the tears we’re shedding.

Let’s have patience with ourselves and each other. There may not be a solution for what we’re going through, but a kind word, a caring gesture can make all the difference in this messy era.

Self-Care Tips

  • When you drop something, take a breath.  Give yourself a moment, then clean it up.  Let the clean-up be its own activity.  
  • It’s soup weather.  Enjoy a new recipe.  Rely on an old favorite.  Or go out and purchase soup to warm up.  
  • Repeat this mantra for these times: “It’s not what I wanted, but it’s what I got.”  
  • Go old school and create a collage.  It can be a vision board, a creative venture, or make up your own theme.  
  • Find blue light glasses for your screen time 

I Was Wrong; Week 32 in the Time of Coronavirus

Last week I made acorn squash with essence of orange and maple syrup.  I asked Larry to bring a spoon, as I thought that might be easier than a fork.  He proudly came back with a grapefruit spoon.  Silently I was annoyed.  Didn’t I just ask him for a spoon?  A regular spoon?  I begrudgingly took it from him.  I was tired and rather than open up with vulnerability, I found myself closing down with negativity.  When I tried the spoon, which has unobtrusive serrating, it turned out to be an excellent choice for the squash.  Larry likes to find the perfect tool for the job, and I was wrong to not trust him.  In the past I wouldn’t have even tried the utensil. I would have marched into the kitchen to get a regular spoon.  Yes, I have been known to be that petty.  Yet in this instance, being open allowed for a better culinary experience.  

For years as a defense mechanism I have needed to be right.  I would even sacrifice a better experience than admit I was wrong. Or, I’d say I was wrong, but secretly think I was right.   It’s hard to become a better person when I can’t be open to all that is unknown.  There’s nothing like a pandemic to test the limitations of being right.  So many of us thought this would be a short stint of sacrifice followed by triumph.  It is anything but that.  

I am faced with my foibles as I go through my days in a pandemic.  For those of us who are parents, we see the cracks in our seemingly strong facades on a regular basis.  As a therapist, I’m faced with the benefits and constraints of talk therapy.  We have no answers now.  We can talk about and work on making changes on how we deal with our current circumstances, but we cannot immediately change the national and global ills.  Personally and professionally I believe speaking about our hardships with the intention of growing is invaluable. If you prefer something more active, vote.  Also, we can deliberately make changes to the seemingly mundane.  We just have to be open to doing something differently.  Perhaps we’ll get it right if we admit we were wrong.  It’s working for me.  Thank you, Larry.  

Self-Care Tools

  • Try using a grapefruit spoon for grapefruits, squash and anything else you deem applicable.  
  • Find a course or article online on art, music, dance or theater history.  It’s great to dig a little deeper into an artform you appreciate.  
  • Change the way you put on your shoes, or other daily habit.  If you’re a sock, shoe, sock shoe person, put both socks on first.  If you always start with your right foot, start with your left.  See how it feels to switch up an ingrained habit.  
  • If you are incorrect about something, see if you can admit to being wrong.  It might feel like a lovely release.  
  • Do what you can.  These can be challenging times, do what you can, appreciating you’re doing your best under the circumstances.  

Weeds in Context; Week 29 in the Time of Coronavirus

As a young girl, how I loved to blow the puff of a dandelion while I made a wish.  And the bright yellow flowers were so nice sprinkled about the lawn when I was growing up.  I remember being told I shouldn’t like dandelions because they were weeds.  And, though I secretly enjoyed the seed carrying wisps and the bright yellow blooms, I did not share this with lawn lovers in my neighborhood.  

But in a pandemic, in a concrete jungle, flowers of any kind can brighten my walks.  So, as I was spending a work break by walking on the East River esplanade, I smiled when I came across some dandelions.  I have a deep appreciation for dandelions in this pandemic.  Seeing them is a bright spot during these difficult days.  Not only do they bring me back to my childhood, but they also connect me to the present.   

Dandelions remind me that the value of an experience is based on context.  In the context of the Coronavirus, a flash of color is a small gift.  In the context of suburban lawns of the 60s, that same weed was a scourge on manicured properties.  Context really matters these days.  When we think of caring for ourselves, and perhaps those we love, getting through a pandemic may present new pathways to our well-being.  We may have hit our saturation point of plowing through.  Now we have to embrace the weeds of the past, both literal and metaphorical, as we wind our way on the twisted Covid-19 road.  Where once I might have called myself lazy for taking a day to rest with so much to get done, these days, indulging in a respite is a loving act I can give to myself.  

Let’s bring out the weeds. Make a bouquet of them.  We owe it to ourselves to enjoy the wild flowering plants in these turbulent times. 

Self Care Tips:

  • Make a wish.  If you’re not able to wish on a dandelion puff, write your wish down and put it in a secret place where you might forget about it for a while.  
  • Actively listen.  See if you can listen from a place of curiosity.  Instead of adding what you know to the conversation, see if you can learn something new from the person speaking.
  • Be willing to be wrong.  We open up and grow if we are not attached to being right.  
  • Make one small change that leads to a larger change.  That could mean taking out your yoga mat so that you might stretch someday soon, or it could mean you open up a new document so that you can write something you’ve been meaning to write.  Or, you buy an ingredient for a recipe you’ve been wanting to try.  
  • Whether you need inspiration or a short break, go to YouTube and search for someone who makes you smile and watch a brief video of their words, song, dance, or other offerings.  

Outdoor Musings; Week 27 in the Time of Coronavirus

It’s such an odd experience to go for a walk and find myself, again and again, a focus of various restaurant patrons on the streets of New York.  I realize they’ve been starved of social interactions.  And, people watching has taken on a new importance.  Pedestrians have become the dinner entertainment for the open tables’ clientele.  So if I walk uptown or downtown on the avenues, I become a subject for diners’ eyes.  Conversely, I look to see how to walk around so I’m not too close while they’re eating their meals mask free.  

It may be that I provide much needed amusement with my firecracker ponytail, my loose tee-shirts and touristy fanny pack.  I don’t care.  I’m at an age where I believe other people’s opinion of me is none of my business.  It gives me more head space to enjoy my daily walks.  

The character of the city has taken on its own pandemic configuration.  For instance, I was so looking forward to this past Labor Day Weekend.  In previous years, the city empties out and we can roam freely, the streets void of residents.  Not so last weekend.  If anything, it felt more like neighbors had prematurely returned from second homes or vacation dwellings. 

 I love the East River Promenade.  Yet, I’m not so fond of it during the pandemic.  This summer the river-facing benches are like chaise lounges at resorts, people have to get there early and stake out their territory.  Should I identify a rare empty bench, I would have to race walk to claim it as mine.  And, forget it when said bench is shaded.  

When I’m out with Lucy I get the distinct impression that she is confused that her park is no longer all hers.  We walk to areas she loves to sniff only to come across sun worshippers or picnickers who are located in the exact spot she wants to examine.  So we move on trying to forge a path around these interlopers. 

The city is, in turns, emptier, and more crowded.  The indoor places are a quarter full at most, while outdoor spaces seem to be at capacity.  This weekend brought even more people outdoors with cooler temperatures and Labor Day behind us.  I’m looking forward to the future when travel is a safer option.  My plan is to stay in the city as it empties out.   Lucy and I will sit on a readily available bench.  And, if they want, the runners by the river can enjoy Lucy’s mellow aura and whatever quirky yet casual get-up I’ll be sporting.  

Self-Care Tips

  • Set an alarm on your daily calendar to acknowledge yourself for small accomplishments. 
  • These times are so difficult.  Write down or share with others something for which you are proud.  
  • Set a timer for complaints.   This way you can acknowledge all the things that you find annoying, but it’s framed within limits.  
  • One-minute stretch brakes help come back to yourself, physically and emotionally.  
  • People watch when you’re outdoors.  You never know who you might find amusing.  

Masked Strangers; Week 26 in the Time of Coronavirus

I’m not being rude, I just don’t know who you are.  Though it seems ill-mannered, I rarely recognize anyone I see.  While walking about, I hear my name but have no idea who is summoning me.  Even after you tell me how we know each other, I have difficulty placing you.  Thus is the dilemma of mask wearing.  

Sometimes I recognize the voice.  Yesterday my name was called behind me.  And, though I couldn’t pinpoint who she was, ultimately her voice gave her away.  She’s our upstairs neighbor for about eighteen years.  It’s as if I have face blindness, a malady made well-known by the late, great Oliver Sacks.  

I used to recognize everyone, even those who had no clue who I was.  I’m not great with names, but I remember faces, shared experiences, and my personal impressions.  But now that we’re wearing masks, and, for my part, I prefer you wear one than not, I can rarely identify neighbors, acquaintances, friends, and colleagues.  It adds to the many moments in which I am caught without a clue during this time of the Coronavirus.  My mind is not as sharp now as it was in January.  Are any of us as focused or attentive as last year?  From what I hear, no.  

What I do recognize is modern dance on the bridle path with the reservoir as a backdrop.  A man was doing amazing moves as I slowly ran the path.  And I can identify a small ballet class on the East River promenade.  They were quite advanced.  It was pure joy passing them by as they strongly and gracefully leapt in the wind. 

A Saachi stock photo image from an online search

I also recognize the dogs I know.  They remain maskless for now.  And in that way, I know the identity of the owner.   I also recognize bees, butterflies, turtles and horses.  Most importantly, I can recognize smiling eyes.  They say the soul can be seen in the eyes.  And, the beautiful creases that adorn perfect strangers is a welcomed reprieve from the stress of the pandemic.  It connects us even when I don’t know if I know you.  

Self-Care Tips

-Buy 2 masks, give one away. 

-Shake things up, try a new hot sauce.

-Whatever you forget, whatever mistakes you make, whatever embarrassing moment you. might have now, remind yourself you’re living through a global pandemic. 

-Smile at a masked stranger.

-Dance indoors or out, bringing joy to yourself and perhaps others.  

Inner Resources; Week 24 in the Time of Coronavirus

Monday I arrived home from a week in the country.  It’s great to be home in my familiar surroundings, working from my office. And, now that I’m home, I happily go to my closet for my clothes rather than reaching into a suitcase. The pastoral setting on vacation was restorative. Yet the familiarity of our apartment and the city is comforting in its own way.  

Ever since we began to feel the impact of the Coronavirus by social distancing, public spaces closing, or our everyday lives being turned upside down, we’ve had to confront so many losses, and cull our resilience to get through our days.   While we used to have so much to look forward to on our time off, we’ve hunkered down, finding small pleasures during these stressful times.  Our vacations are altered, while our time at home is unique to this unprecedented year. 

We found a reprieve by going away for a week.  But the true challenge is finding pleasure in the here and now.  One thing I do is make my own frappuccino at home.  My coffee goes in the blender with ice, stevia and almond milk.  It’s easy, and it cools down the summer mornings.  Though it’s a simple pleasure, I know I can start my day having given myself this small treat.  Then throughout the day I stretch, breath, go for walks when on a break. Today I went to the park for a short run.  I do what I can.  We all do. 

But what happens we’re feeling vulnerable?  We may not have an effortless way to comfort ourselves.  Sometimes we are left bereft of stamina, of internal reserves.  Maybe we’re having difficulty sleeping.  Or, we’re too foggy-brained to attend to daily activities.  Whatever makes us vulnerable can temporarily rob us of access to our inner resources.  In those moments even having patience is a stretch.  

The idea that “this too shall pass” can be comforting.  But we also feel the frustration of not knowing when this will end.  So, we lurch forward on this crooked road.  We endure the troubling times and embrace the small wins.  We drink homemade frozen lattes, and double down on meditation.  We soothe ourselves when we can.  And, we comfort our friends and family, because we all need support now.  Because, after all, we’re living through a pandemic. 

Self-Care Tips

  • Send a love letter via email to yourself.  For example:  “Dear Janet, You are loved.”  Or, “I matter.”  It’s as simple as that.  Of course, it can be more like a diary or journal entry.  It’s your email, you decide.  
  • Take a mindfulness walk. It can be 5 to 10 minutes.  Simply walk feeling your body move indoors or out. 
  • Make a very small domestic change.  It can be throwing out a kitchen tool that no longer serves you. Or it could be dusting the top of the picture frames.  It’s just something easy that is outside your usual routine.    
  • Do one thing fully focused, no distractions.  We are so used to multi-tasking without thinking.  Instead: Try eating a snack, sitting down, conscious of the flavors and the sensation of chewing and swallowing.  No TV on, or phone in your hand.  Or, just focus on a phone call, listening without doing anything else.  
  • Save.  If you feel that you’re stuck, see if there is a way to crack a window on saving.  Find one thing that is doable, then do it.  For instance, if there is something you want, but the money just isn’t there, start by saving some change, or a dollar at a time. It may take some time, but you get to create a way to obtain something you want.