Goal Oriented In The Time Of Covid

  Download-1 My goals right now are not lofty. In fact they verge on the ridiculous. Possibly they are not even real. But still, I persist.

    First - disclaimer. The entire country is falling apart. Our political situation is terrifying.  Innocent men are murdered on the streets. There's real work to do. I get that and want to be part of it.

    BUT Anxiety Girl needs to calm herself during these stressful times. She often does this by setting goals. (Evidently she sometimes does this by referring to herself in the third person. Sorry. )

    Goal One: Street Walking. No, not that kind. Mike and I, having gotten incredibly tired of walking our own neighborhood, are now committed to walking every single street in Chappaqua. We found an old street map during the great Covid Basement Clean Out, and every day, Mike takes a light blue highlighter and marks the streets we've covered. Download-3

    Does this count as a real goal? It's completely made up and in what way is it an accomplishment? Yet, it's oddly satisfying. We have a purpose! It's more than getting fresh air and exercise. We're on a mission.

    Goal Two is far worse: my pursuit of gold trophies in the online word game "Word Streak." I think I've written about this addiction before. Every weekend I play strangers in a tournament. Results are revealed at 11 pm on Sunday night. (Not that anyone would be playing games on their iPad in bed at that hour, frantically searching for words as the minutes tick down.) Once, months ago, I came in first. For the last three weeks, I've come in seventh. Download

    It's not even a real gold trophy. It's an electronic image of a gold trophy. I doesn't even have my real name on it. My game nom de plume is ...well, best not to mention it here. And yet I spend hours, waste hours, pursuing this completely ephemeral award.

    What's wrong with me?






CoVET 19

VetNew York refers to its shutdown as "Pause." This story is about New York's "Paws."

Humans have telemedicine, but what to do when your pet is sick or injured? 

Our two kittens are now adolescents - 7 months old. We call them "The Wrecking Crew" because between the two of them, they create a lot of chaos in this household. (Several photos of their "work" are embedded.)  Earlier this week, Van Gogh - known at the shelter as "Crazy Cat" - broke through a screen window to get outside.  WC1

The day Van Gogh made his break (he returned within an hour or two), his sister Lily was no where to be found. We assumed she'd also gotten out and was lost, frightened, up a tree or worse. It turned out though she'd been in hiding in the house.

Cat owners know that when a cat is sick or injured, they bring "sheltering in place" to a new level. Lily was finally discovered wrapped in a tight ball in the back of our closet, behind some shoes and hanging sweaters. She winced when we pet her and hadn't eaten all day.

WC2We texted the vet and she told us to bring Lily in the next morning.

Here's what vet care looks like in the age of Covid: The office is locked. The vet, in a mask, meets me at the backdoor, takes Lily in her carrier, and closes the door. She tells me to go to the side of the building, where I can watch the exam and talk to her through the window.

The photo at the top was taken through the screen. The first thing the vet did was to spray Lily with disinfectant - a diluted bleach solution. Fortunately, as you can see, she is already blonde. After the exam - Lily's back is injured, there are no bite wounds, nothing is broken but she is clearly in pain - she gave Lily two shots (for pain and for inflammation) and then disinfected her again, disinfected her carrier, wiped down the handle again, and met me at the back door to return the cat.

Have I mentioned I love my vet? When her office is open in normal times, it's a menagerie of wandering animals - half blind cats, a dog missing a leg, a turtle whose beak is broken, a weird Siamese with some kind of skin problem. These aren't patients - just animals the vet has taken in. They wander around; occasionally the cats hang out on the desk. 

There has never been a time this vet wasn't available to us, and when it was time to put our last cat down, she came to our house to do it. Maddy was put to sleep while she was lying in Mike's lap. Our vet carried her away in her favorite cat bed. ("Why should her last moments be in a place that is stressful for her?" the vet said, about her house call.)

To me, our vet is another health care hero. I'm so grateful to her. 

That said, Lily is still cowering under the bed. I think we need to give her time. Which we have.

Los dos gatos




IMG_0660This morning I texted my sister at 6 am. I was up. The problem is, she was up too. And she lives in California. Which means it was 3 am her time. This was not her "personal worst" but that's all you need to know. (Hi Sis!)

No one I know is sleeping normally anymore. They fall asleep and wake up two hours later. They can't fall asleep. They can't stay asleep. They wake up sweating or shaking or with the sheets in a knot.

Here are some Covid sleep tips. NONE Of them work:

-Don't look at the news right before bedtime and limit your exposure to the news. 

-Limit screen time before bed.

-Develop a sleep routine.

-Don't drink alcohol.

-Get fresh air and exercise.


-Try a warm bath before bed.

Repeat: None of these work. Coronasomnia is resistant to all these methods. 

Here's what works: Accepting that right now, there are some bad nights. You're just not going to sleep. The level of anxiety about the world is of the break-through variety. This is the way it is. The next day you'll be tired. And you might feel better the day after that. Or not. Chances are coronavirus will be here either way. 

Inside Story

Download-1A bit of positive news which makes me feel happy, or if not happy, at least a little proud and a little less helpless.

This week I was asked to draw up guidelines for a program in which incarcerated men and women could start keeping Coronavirus journals. The project, of course, is a remote one, and in a world that does not have Zoom, or Internet for that matter,  we try to connect the old fashion way - through (security vetted) paper.

Writing in a journal is something I feel strongly about. I started keeping a diary when I was 8-years-old.  Even as a little girl I felt a significant disconnect between what I was being told and what I actually saw happening. There was a general sense of "I better write this down."

Looking back, I think I was profoundly lonely and wanted to talk to someone. It was also a way of sorting out my confused emotions, not to mention to develop trust in my own perceptions. Those diaries were lifesavers for me, piling up over the years, with their cloth flower covers, or in my teenage years, black, no-nonsense sketch books.  Of course, prisoners won't have actual journals, but they can write down their thoughts and experiences on whatever paper that may be available to them.

So I was thrilled when asked to do this project. For inmates, keeping a journal right now is important for a couple of reasons. First, I hope it will be therapeutic for them in the same way it's always been for me. They can channel their anxiety, focus their thoughts, and hopefully better manage their stress. Second, they have an important story to tell. Only people who are locked up can tell the story of what it's like to experience the pandemic behind bars, with little way of protecting themselves. Someday the history of Covid-19 will be told. And this will be part of it. Download

There's one other thing I feel VERY strongly about. These men and women will be writing in journals.
They will NOT be "journaling." Journal is not a verb. It is a noun. For instance, we do not say we are  "diary-ing." We keep diaries or we write in them. 

Clearly all these years of writing has turned me into a curmudgeon. But standards must be upheld, even in a pandemic.

Here Comes The Sun

At my local hospital, when someone survives Covid-19 and is able to leave the hospital, they play "Here Comes The Sun" over the public address system. The medical staff lines the halls and sings along, sometimes through their masks. I have always loved this song (who doesn't?) and I nominate it as the official anthem to mark when this horrible pandemic is finally over. 



Every Day Losses

2019-05-ce-social-isolation_tcm7-255721_w1024_n"At least he lived a long life."

"At least you weren't diagnosed with a fatal disease."

"At least you have a home."

"At least you don't have to line up at the food pantry."

Brene Brown, a professor of social work who has spent years studying empathy, once said, "Rarely, if ever, does an empathetic statement begin with 'at least.'"

I've been "at least"-ing myself for a month. And my privilege is no small thing. At least I live in an area where I can take walks outside. At least I have a house. At least I can afford food. 

These are not the kind of things I would ever say to someone else, but I say them to myself constantly. And let me add, as someone who teaches in a prison, at least I'm free to protect myself from cornavirus as best I can. At least I'm free, period.

But it's important, too, to acknowledge our losses, big and small. Big - deaths of people we love from Covid-19. Inability to hold a funeral, or be with people you love who are also mourning, and to wrap your arms around them in comfort.

But Lord, the other less dramatic losses add up. Canceled weddings. Canceled trips. Canceled...every day life. I miss my (grown) children most of all - I was trying to conjure up their smell and the feel of their arms around me, and it's growing dim. I miss my friends, my work, the gym, hiking, traveling, going to the movies, restaurants, getting hair cuts, blah blah blah. 

Many of the ways that I cope with sadness and stress are also off limits  now. 

At least it's not worse. And that's true.

But it's really, really hard. 

Ghostly Google Calendar

Download-3As every day life has gotten more surreal with Covid-19, a ghost has taken residence in my computer. It hangs out in my Google calendar and makes things disappear. That mother/daughter trip to Seattle? Gone. The trip to California to see my son and daughter-in-law? Gone. Next three memoir classes to teach in prison? Disappeared. The in-person interviews scheduled with elderly folks? Not there anymore. Non-urgent doctor appointment. Vanished.

Will the April calendar, so full of plans, soon be wiped clean too? Who knows? Download

I am NOT complaining. I'm fully aware of how lucky I am to have a warm home for sheltering, a husband to be with, access to a 3 month supply of medication (covered by insurance, no less), and two kittens to cuddle. And there's always FaceTime for friends and family.

But don't you feel like time is beginning to warp? Working from home is disorienting, not going to the gym is disorienting, not keeping up my regular social contacts is disorienting. And the least said about the empty shelves in the store, the better. There must be a grocery ghost too.

Hamlet, Anxiety-Girl Style

Jane Austen to the Rescue

Download-2I just came across something I wrote after the 2016 presidential election.  It began like this:

"I’ve been riding shot gun with Jane Eyre. Everywhere I drive, she comes with me. Her voice, Gentle Reader, is a far better companion than the news of the day."

Evidently that was as far as I got. But today I realized that  among all my coping measures for these terrible times, Jane Austen has been my best comfort and my muse. Download-3Though I have read all her books multiple times, listening to them as audios as I drive, make the bed, cook, or whatever, is another experience entirely. Just last week, I finished listening to "Sense and Sensibility." If Eleanor Dashwood - smart, composed, restrained - was running for president, she'd have my vote. (But at this point even the loathsome Willoughby would do.)

This afternoon I played hooky and went with my friend and fellow Austen devotee Joanne to go see the new "Emma." Delicious movie - funny, beautiful to look at, and oh, that Austen insight.

Images-3I'd say this was an old (okay older) lady thing, but my daughter and daughter-in-law are both huge Austen fans. 

Why do we need Austen now? With all the raging and ranting and sensory overload of today's world,  Austen is  the calm voice of reason.  People rise above their baser instincts. They learn lessons. They control themselves. They have sense. And sensibility.

Okay, maybe I'm hiding in the mid-19th century. But it's a lovely place to be.

Is This Weird?

DownloadThis morning I got a Facebook friend request from the waitress who served us dinner at a local restaurant last night. She was very friendly, and when she told me her name, I said, "Hi, I'm Kate."

But....did she look at my husband's credit card and then find me? Or was it because the table was wobbly, and I carelessly pulled some paper out of my purse to stick under the table leg to steady it? The paper, I later realized, was a receipt from Lens Crafters, and probably had personal information. I'd meant to pick it back up, but forgot.

Like most women, I get a stream of strange men sending FB friend requests, which I promptly delete. And of course, people from every phase of my life pop up - most recently my camp counselor from 1968. (That was a delight.) But this just seemed a little off.

My love/hate relationship with the app continues.





It's Super Bowl Weekend and I'm Breaking up with Football

DownloadWhen I got married, I converted. Not to a religion but to a team. My husband his family were so crazy about Washington's professional football team, that resistance seemed pointless. I didn't care that much about football at the time, so didn't feel bad about abandoning the New York teams.

You notice I wrote "Washington's professional football team" and not the name of the NFL franchise. That's because the team bears a controversial name that many find derogatory. I'm not using it.

Over the decades of my marriage, I learned the game. And I got to enjoy it. It was thrilling to watch the skill, the speed and the strategy. Team spirit and low-level trash-talk seemed like harmless fun.  But now I've had enough. And my problem with football is not just semantics. It's cultural. And it's multi-level.

First, the brain injury problem. Watching the hard hits, hearing the sound of heads smashed together, Images
seeing players fall - it feels like I'm watching violent porn. I use to think the injuries were okay, because the players would generally get back up and hobble to the sideline. Sometimes they left on a stretcher, which use to mean (this is shameful) - oh good, I can go get a snack, because they need to go to commercial break.

But how can you ignore the retired players with dementia, and the ones who kill themselves in despair? The science isn't inconclusive. It's clear. Concussions mean long-term damage.

Download-2Then there's the sexist culture, with the Barbie-doll cheerleaders (who get paid crap, by the way)  and the annoying advertisements with roaring trucks and huge cyborgs selling some dated, hyped-up version of masculinity.

Finally, there's the military jingoism. I love my country, but I don't like watching the way football has teamed up with the military - the flyovers, the huge American flags, the reference to "our heroes" and the inevitable video feed from some military base in the desert, where service men and women are watching the game. What's with this marriage? 


When did football turn into such a vicious gladiator sport?

Goodbye, Football. 

Love, A Former Fan

I'm "Fine"!

SadEarlier this week I wrote a post about how I'm not sad because my kittens perk me up. Before that it was how I can't stop crying, even though I'm not depressed.

Who am I trying to convince? I am down - can't concentrate, just want to disengage and hide under the covers. All day and much of the night I have a low-level feeling of dread. 

I'm not saying this because I want your attention or concern, or even because I'm worried about myself or think I'm in trouble. What interests me is how hard I work to convince everyone around me that I'm just fine.

And by the way - I'm just fine. Really. This will pass. Being sad sometimes is the human condition.  Anxiety Girl's more troubling condition is the feeling that these emotions are self-inflicted, self-indulgent, unacceptable and a moral failing. Sigh.


DownloadLachrymose: adjective. Tearful or given to weeping.

Heavens, I've been lachrymose this week, quite given to shedding tears. Today I finally saw "Little Women" and I didn't just weep when Beth died, I wept through a good chunk of the film. Earlier this week, I saw the play "The Inheritance" and tears were coursing down my cheeks at some point during every single act. And that's a long play with a lot of acts. 

I got tearful hearing about a friend's daughter's problems. I started thinking about my Dad, who I lost more than two years ago, and got choked up just from missing him. You may well ask, in my current state, why I have been listening to an audiobook that is an oral history of 9/11?. Got me. Yes, I was the woman in the red Suburu, bawling at the traffic light.

When I was younger, I cried easily, but I haven't been that way for years. Now, suddenly the waterworks are back.  I don't feel depressed and I don't think it's hormones. Why?

When Media Knows You Want To Turn Away

Download While looking at the inevitable "year in review" stories, not to mention the "decade in review" stories, I was shocked to see The New York Times offering a filter to turn off political stories. Check this out:

"Below are the most-read stories we published in 2019. Want a break from politics? Click “no politics.” Want to settle in for some deeply reported stories? Click “long reads.” Or explore them all."

The underlining is mine. Wow. Just wow. I mean who doesn't want a break from politics? I've written  a number of times about limiting my exposure to political news in the name of mental health. But what does this same about our Democracy and the coming election season? Not good. Not good at all.  



In Times of Trouble....Kittens!

KitiesMeet Lily and Van Gogh. They are sister and brother, 2 pounds and 6 ounces, rescues, and the latest addition to our family.

These two are not following the impeachment. They don't stress out over partisan politics. Frankly, they seem to have no interest in the news at all.

However - a shoe lace drives them to distraction. A dangling feather is a source of incredible joy. The world is a wonder. They've only been in the house a week (as of today) and among the places I have found one or the other of them are in my husband's slipper, in the dishwasher (it was open, don't worry), and peeking out of a small trash can. They love to cuddle, though their favorite resting place seems to be smack in the middle of my laptop keyboard. 

In short, they are goofballs and a source of great joy. And a perfect antidote to today's world.

Outsider Art

Yesterday I visited Creedmoor, a state psychiatric hospital in Queens, N.Y. My friend Paul volunteers at "The Living Museum" there, which provides both inpatients and outpatients studio space to create paintings, prints, and sculpture.

This was a difficult trip for me. My late little brother had been an inpatient at several psychiatric hospitals. The last time I saw him alive he was on a hospital psych ward, covered with bruises after yet another involuntary commitment.

My grandmother, who I never met, died in a psych hospital. It was early days, before meds, before much understanding at all of mental illness. When the institution she was in closed down, I was able to get her medical records. Her chart notes were gothic in their horror, and I never told my father what I'd discovered about his mother's time locked up there. Download

But I wanted to support my friend Paul, so yesterday I went down to Queens. Much of the art was good. And I so admired the program, because it's not traditional art therapy, but just space for a creative outlet.

Of course, a lot of what Paul and his colleagues do at Creedmoor reminded me of the work that I do teaching memoir in prison. Soon after arriving, I was corrected after using the word "patient." "We refer to them as 'clients,'" Paul said gently. Of course. In my prison program, we are supposed to say "residents" instead of "inmates."

The creative work that come out of these massive institutions are referred to as "outsider art." I'm told that this term just means the person did not have formal training at art school. But the irony is that many of these artists are very much inside a system that can be pretty dehumanizing.

I'm glad I went. But let's not sugar coat this. Some of the work was very disturbing, reflecting the minds of the creators. So is some of my "residents" writing.

I appreciate my freedom to walk out those doors. Every. Single. Time.


Thank Your Lucky Stars Dept.

Download'Tis the season to feel grateful, and there's nothing like renewing your health insurance to remember how fortunate you are.

I am insured through the state exchange, and number one - I'm grateful I can get health coverage as an individual. But as you go through the process of comparing plans and seeing what they cover, you come across stuff like this:

"20% co-insurance after deductible on 1 external prosthetic device per limb per lifetime with coverage for repairs and replacements." 

And this: "$1100 after deductible for transplants determined to be non-experimental and non-investigational. Covered transplants include but are not limited to: kidney, corneal, liver, heart, and heart/lung transplants; and bone marrow transplants for aplastic anemia, leukemia, and severe combined immunodeficiency disease." Images

So instead of whining about my premium- or the medical issues I do have to cope with - I am feeling grateful that I don't have to file multiple claims for prosthetic legs, arms, hands or feet, or for receiving someone else's body parts, many of whom have passed away and - in the act of ultimate generosity - donated their bodies so others can live. 

Seriously - be grateful for your health. Every. Single. Day.


Car Clocks and Language Warning

There are many reasons to dislike Daylight Savings Time - not the least that by 5 pm it's dark and I'm ready for bed. But now there's a new challenge. Last year, I bought a new Suburu. I love Suburus -they are safe, comfortable and not wildly expensive. But setting the clock in the new car...OMG. 

Like the guy in this video, I can do a lot of things, and to brag for a moment, I've published more than 1000 articles in the NYT, AND I can make an excellent cheese souffle. But I CAN NOT program my car clock. Warning: this guy has a potty mouth - do not view if bad language offends you. Do view if your appliances have now become smarter than you are.




From the Curmudgeon Desk....

Video conference I had a conference call scheduled today - with 8 of us dialing in. About 15 minutes before the call, I was struck by a horrible thought. Was this a video chat? I checked. It was.

There was just enough time to throw on a modicum of makeup  (I wasn't going for a glamour look; simply trying for a didn't-just-rise-from-the-crypt effect). Plus I changed from a wrinkled, comfy plaid shirt to a more presentable top. The worn out, velour/sweat pants and slippers stayed on, because no one would see my bottom half.

Video chats. Ugh. Not only do you have to think about how you look, but also you can't be checking your email, answering your texts, or organizing any papers during the call, because the camera is always on you. When the call went on for more than an hour, I certainly couldn't get up and stretch  because I didn't want the damn velour pants on display. 

Not all progress is good - just sayin'....



Dreaming of My College Comeback

Download-1Like many, many people, I have the classic it's-the-day-of-the-final-exam-and-I've-never-been-to-class anxiety dream. There are variations - can't find the classroom, don't know my schedule, did none of the reading, etc. 

But lately I have a new version. In this dream, I'm back on campus for another four years. But at my current age. I'm thrilled - I can't believe I was accepted and I am really excited to go through college again. Sometimes in the dream, I debate joining the school newspaper, and wonder if it's fair, given my 30+ year career in journalism.

In real life, i.e. my waking hours, I volunteer to write our class alumni notes. Recently I asked my classmates if they have this dream. A surprising amount do. And it's a happy dream - everyone is delighted to be back and marvels at the beauty of campus.

That's not to say that the anxiety dream isn't still prevalent. I heard from doctors who dream they forgot to take biology, a former basketball star who dreams he missed every practice, and one guy who reports dreams of wandering aimlessly around New England, trying to find the college.

I'm wondering if at this stage of life, many of us want a do-over. Not of our whole lives, but of some of those earlier times.

How about we have two years of college when we are 18 and the final two when we are 60? Don't you think we'd get a lot more out of it? 


DownloadI came across the term "bibliotherapy" for the first time this week. Not surprisingly, it refers to the use of literature for mental healing. Therapy through reading. 

The concept is not new - Psychology Today reports that Egyptian King Rames II had a special chamber for books, with the words "House of Healing for the Soul" over the door. Evidently Sigmund Freud also used literature in psychoanalysis, and other doctors have "prescribed" books for their patients. Apparently now it's a thing, and some psychologists train in it.

To me, bibliotherapy seems like another one of those intuitive and obvious things that has now been turned into an industry. It reminds me of Forest Bathing, an entire science devoted to the shocking notion that spending time outside is good for you. Download-1

To be clear, bibliotherapy does not refer to self-help books. We're talking about novels which portray the human condition.

As soon as I learned to read, I stayed up late at night, under the covers with a flashlight, spending hours on adventures with Doctor Doolittle, devouring stories about families and orphans  - The Little Princess was big for me - and on and on. As my reading abilities and sophistication increased, so did the depth of my book choices. Books have always served as both an escape and a way of understanding the world. 

It makes sense that being a good reader helps develop empathy in a person, but apparently it can help with depression, anxiety and other human conditions. Who knew? Most readers. 


The "Medicine Cabinet"

Download-3Until three years ago, I took no prescription medication. But now all medical hell has broken loose, and the pill boxes are piling up. (Don't ask - it's a mess of issues.) 

As in many homes, my bathroom has medicine cabinets. The mirrors over the sink open to lovely glass shelves, many of which are now jammed with prescription bottles. On top of that, I have resorted to those little plastic Monday-Sunday pill organizers, which also live with the bottles.

That all seemed fine, though humiliating, until I realized that every medicine I take says "do not store in bathroom."  According to pharmacists, medicines degrade in light, humidity and moisture. Well sheez. Why are they called "medicine cabinets" and where am I supposed to put all these bottles instead?

I don't want them in the kitchen, which I might add also has moisture and heat. Besides, medications are private - you don't want people coming upon them. I guess I have to stick them somewhere in a drawer in the bedroom, but that begs another question. How will I remember they are there and that I need to take them? 

Getting older sucks.


Immersed in the Past

ImagesRecently I bought a Groupon to have our old family videos converted to digital. Our VCR has long since broken down and I hadn't seen any of these films in years.

Back in the 1980s, we rented a video camera - a heavy, complicated behemoth of a thing - so we could document our new baby girl. By the 1990s we actually invested in one ourselves. It was very expensive. 

All this, of course, was long before cell phones or the Internet for that matter. 

Anyway the first batch of conversions has arrived and I am absolutely riveted. Who is this young family? Those beautiful children? My husband, with a huge mop of jet-black hair? And was I ever that young myself?! I was in my twenties when my daughter was born. And there I am pregnant with my son, clutching the hand of my three-year-old girl. She is in a pink bathing suit with a little skirt, mine is a navy blue maternity suit that I borrowed from my friend Missy. 

In one way, it's reassuring to watch these old movies. Sure, we were on our best behavior when the camera rolled, but I can see I was a calm and loving mother. (Somehow I'd remembered myself as an emotional wreck, but in the films I look competent and relaxed.) 

But these images also fill me with longing and sadness. That newborn blinking up at that mobile in his crib? He's moving across the country with his wife at the end of the month. That little toddler with the mass of blonde hair singing to herself? She already lives thousands of miles away.

How did this all happen so soon? 



Two New Ways To Worry

Download-1Anxiety Girl wants to have it both ways with antibiotics. I've been sick quite a lot this summer, with everything from acute bronchitis to an infection of .... well, let's skip the details. The point is, I've been on a lot of different antibiotics.

On the one hand, I'm so grateful that these medications exist. To finally stop coughing, burning, whatever - and know you are on the mend.  I promise I never take these meds for colds or any other viral ailment - only confirmed bacterial infections.

Anxiety Girl thinks of all the times she would have been dead, but for the existence of antibiotics. I'd certainly never had made it to this summer. Before the discovery of penicillin, average life expectancy from birth was 47 years. 

But I worry about antibiotic resistance. Already I've had a few infections that did not respond to the first antibiotic tried. Meanwhile, I faithfully pop a pro-biotic in my mouth every morning, to try to keep my stomach from complete rebellion. 

So I worry if I do, and I worry if I don't. Fortunately, (or is it unfortunately?) anxiety can NOT be treated by antibiotics.





Advice, please.....

DownloadThis week I interviewed a very charming, very smart and pretty famous man for a magazine profile I am writing. From my research, I also knew he could be ruthless in his work and inspired fear in those who opposed him.

Back in the day, this sort of thing made me nervous, but one advantage of being older and experienced is that much of that anxiety has dissipated. My subject was brilliant and accomplished, but in the end, a fellow human being.

Before we settled down, his flack (publicity person) had been chatting about a safari that Famous Man had taken, his wife's many accomplishments,  and also pointing out various awards and photos in his office.  We all sat, and I started my two recordings (I may not be anxious during interviews, but I'm compulsive about having technological backups) and the flack set up hers.

Suddenly and before I asked my first question, Famous Man said, "I want to show you something." He took out his iPad and showed me a photo of himself standing behind an absolutely huge African tortoise. 

"Isn't that great?" he asked. 

I responded with my usual articulateness: "Wow. That's big."

Here's what I need advice about: I keep wondering why he showed me that photo. He didn't show me any others. Although the safari had come up earlier, so had many other things. Don't you think that tortoise is a metaphor - and a message? It seemed really clear when he handed over his iPad, but now I'm struggling. A metaphor of what? Was he letting me know I will never know the true him, because he is so well protected? He'll only show me a very tiny bit of who he actually is? He has armor on his back? He's a survivor?

Or maybe I'm just pushing it. But please feel free to weigh in if you can think of any useful interpretations. Thanks!

Meditation on Meditation

Download-2Generally, I'm about 20 years behind trends, so I only just started a meditation practice this winter. Much of my adult life, I've been told by well-meaning people - or passive aggressive people, or both - that I needed to meditate. This Anxiety Girl is high strung, of course, and it shows.

In my book, telling an anxious person to relax is akin to telling a depressed person to cheer up. Do they think I enjoy anxiety? Do they believe I don't aspire to a less frightened, worrisome, thoughts racing, disaster-imagining mind? See? I'm getting worked up again.

Anyway, what finally inspired me to meditate was my doctor. I was worried about becoming forgetful, (okay, Anxiety Girl thought she was losing her mind) and the doc had two main suggestions. One - stop taking Tylenol PM to sleep. The "PM" is basically antihistamine, and can screw up your memory over time. Two - try meditation. Because she is a physician I respect, I did not roll my eyes in front of her.

I tend to be a compliant little thing, so I dutifully downloaded a meditation app. (I also weaned myself Download-3off the Tylenol PM but that's another story.) Much to my shock, I am really, really enjoying the practice. I've done some basic series, a series on balance, a series on anxiety and just finished a series on appreciation. It really does calm me and make me feel better and more clear-headed.

Of course, I'm the opposite of a natural. There's a point during each session when the kind voice on the app says to let your mind just do what it wants for a minute - don't worry about focusing on the breath or the subject. By that point, chances are that my mind was no longer focused on the breath anyway. But each time, I get this image of my brain neurons suddenly getting permission to  party and race around, squealing and jumping up and down. Then the mellow voice tells me to gently bring my attention back to the breath.

In out. In out. In out. 








Love and Hate

DownloadStill struggling with integrating disparate worlds. The Pittsburgh synagogue murders break my heart. I cry whenever I read about it. I hadn't even finished reading about the bombs sent to 14 people before this slaughter happened.

Our country is in deep trouble. Every day it gets worse. 

And then there's my family. Last weekend we spent my son's 30th birthday in upstate New York. My husband and me, our daughter, our son and his wife. I wanted to freeze frame just about every minute - the hikes (all of us in ridiculous matching bright orange wool caps, which I insisted we wear because it's deer hunting season), the laughter, the games, the meals, listening to my daughter and my daughter-in-law compare notes on political canvassing, watching the tender relationship between my son and his wife, watching my husband quietly take care of stoking the fire to keep us warm....

Sheesh - I'm teaching tonight at the place-that-shall-not-be-named, and I was going to focus on run-on sentences. Doctor, heal thyself.

Anyway, I know I am privileged to be able to put some distance between my family and the political nightmare that is our country. Many people, especially those living in war ravaged countries, cannot. And yes, most of us are doing what we can to repair this broken, broken world.

But I'm scared. And you can only hide out in the mountains for so long.



Anxiety Girl Returns

DownloadJust last night I was thinking I'd become too calm and relaxed. My own daughter described me as "mellow." That is SO not me, though she may have meant that I was relatively mellow. I'd began to worry that I had lost my edge, my ambition - just my overall drive.

Leave it to Anxiety Girl to worry about not being worried. Fear not - I'm back to my usual heart galloping, stomach-aching, hand-shaking self. Sigh.

Too much going on - including a now-delayed flight this afternoon. Was dreading the flight, but now am anxious being late too.  I need to get to a wake and a funeral.

Also stressing out over a volunteer commitment that I am not allowed to discuss on social media. Let's just say it involves a great deal of clearance and security and hoop-jumping. All for good reason, but incredibly time-consuming and being shoe-horned into a handful of days. 

And then there's Congress. 

Well, I guess I can take being too calm off my worry list. Lists.