mindfulness

Surrendering

Covid City has gotten ugly. I’ve tried often during these past few weeks to write about it, but I’ve been so hyper-focused on not catching the virus, on keeping my kids safe, on creating a loving home inside our apartment despite the invisible threat immediately outside of it, that I haven’t had the energy or brainpower left over to find words for the experience, much less to reflect on it in a meaningful way. But there are things inside of me that need out, and so here I am, writing and deleting and writing and deleting and finally hitting publish.

I know things now. Things I never, ever would have imagined knowing. Like what it’s like to watch EMTs in quarantine gear haul bodies out of buildings, to learn a neighbor has died because a random stranger is now walking their dog instead, to hear sirens blaring all day every day, to watch a demolition crew clean out a dead person’s third-floor apartment.

Out of everything, this last bit of knowledge haunts me the most. I don’t yet know how to describe the sound of furniture being thrown to the ground and hammered into bits, how to explain what it’s like to witness three men destroy an entire home in two hours. They hauled ass, sweating and shouting at one another through their masks as they grabbed and tossed and banged and packed. It was well coordinated, as fast as it could have been. They didn’t leave a physical scrap behind. But god, what a trail of emotional scraps.

As I sat on my balcony and watched, unable to turn away because even if I did I would still have to hear it, I kept wondering, Is there truly no one who wants this person’s things? I love that my mother’s rooster figurines, her recipes, her favorite red plates, are now mine; they help keep her alive. It seemed wrong to me that all those things could just be tossed out of a window. But later that evening, I thought about how, six years after my mom’s passing, we are still dealing with so much of her unwanted stuff. Perhaps people had already come to this apartment across the street, collected what mattered to them, then let the rest go.

My brain replayed the scene all night long, refusing to let me sleep. At around two in the morning, I thought of a new scenario: maybe there were people who wanted those things but were too afraid of catching Covid to come get them. That means they were probably also too afraid to come visit their sick loved one before she died. I wondered how many people across my city, my state, my country, were dying alone in that exact moment.

I wanted to get out of bed and break things.

CODE COMPLIANCE
That’s not to say it has all been nightmarish. There are beautiful parts, too. My family is connecting in new ways that wouldn’t have happened before. My meditative and spiritual practice is deepening. I am full of ideas for my art. I’m also exercising more often now that I’m not spending ten hours of my week on a train. And just the other day, I took part in a meeting with the Brooklyn Public Library in which 40 different professionals meditated on Zoom together.

But these small victories don’t balance out or erase the hard stuff. In fact, these little joys make the hard stuff feel even more surreal. When I look out at families eating dinner on their balconies, kids scootering on the sidewalk, drivers honking at people blocking their driveways, my brain struggles to compute how this totally normal scenario is so completely not normal. How is it even possible that the greatest city in the world has been taken down by tiny, disease-filled, death-ridden droplets?

virus droplets
Our super’s adult son, who has been helping with the work around our 60-unit building without wearing a mask, recently tested positive. Around the same time, we also discovered that a five-year-old died from a Covid-related stroke and that a hundred other kids in NYC alone were exhibiting bizarre, inflammatory symptoms linked to Covid. Just two days later, the number of infected kids in the city rose to 145; a teenager, who woke up one recent morning in heart failure, described it as “straight-up fire” in his veins. Doctors don’t yet understand why or how it happens. So much for the saving grace that kids are spared.

The good news is, we have an out: my siblings invited us to spend the summer with them and my nephews in Ohio. Four adults, four kids, two dogs, one roof. It will be crazy. But also, they have a yard and access to a pool. And most importantly, there are only 2,000 confirmed cases in Cincinnati versus 200,000 in NYC.

We are privileged in so many ways. Simply because we are white, we are far less likely to die from coronavirus than our black and brown neighbors. We have a place to flee to, a car to get us there, enough money in savings to spend our 2-week quarantine in an Air BnB surrounded by nature. My job is not on the frontlines and therefore I can continue working from any set-up. And we have supportive, loving family to welcome us on the other end of all this. I am beyond grateful that they have opened their home to us.

But it is possible to be grateful for something and extremely upset about something else at the same time. Leaving the home I made ain’t easy. I loved our little New York life. I worked hard for it, dammit. And we have no idea if we’ll be returning to resume it or to pack it up because who knows when the entertainment industry will return enough to employ my husband again (my income is not enough for NYC rent). We also have no idea what the city will be like by the end of the summer. There is still so much left to just wait and see.

I grieve for the loss of it all, sometimes to the point that I feel sick to my stomach. Yet I am also able to feel all the promise within all the darkness. Everything has changed. I’m making choices I never, ever would have considered before. There is excitement and joy in that, too.

Writer’s note added 5/28/2020: I would like to add that recognizing my privilege wasn’t and isn’t enough. I’m embarrassed that I focused so much on sharing my story and not on examining or reflecting on the ways in which BIPOC are disproportionately dying from Covid, are not being heard or helped by our medical system, and are being murdered by our police officers. I have a platform with my blog and I should be using it to improve society, not just tell my story. I posted some resources today for white people to engage in anti-racism work. It should have been included in this post.

Photo credits: The droplets image is credited to QUT: Chantal Labbe.

Covid City 13: My Gratitude List

img_4455April 3, 2020, 9:30 am

I started a new practice yesterday: every time an anxious thought intrudes into my mind, I inhale, exhale, look around, and focus in on one thing I am grateful for. Then I do it again, and again, until I feel calm.

You know what? It works.

In this current moment, I am sitting at our dining table while M eats scrambled eggs and strawberries beside me. Dave is cooking pancakes in the kitchen. L is playing games on my phone on the couch. Basil is lying on the hardwood floor at his feet. The cat is sleeping somewhere, probably in my closet. No one is asking for anything from me right now, and so I could check Twitter, scan a news article, or give in to one of the many thoughts swarming my brain.

Instead, I am grateful for:

  • Our continued good health. The facts that none of us are high risk, that COVID-19 goes easy on kids, that no one is injured or in pain right now. It’s a privilege that Dave and I have a home, that we can focus on our family’s emotional process instead of on our physical health, that we’re all able to stay here and go through this together.
  • The past version of myself who went to therapy and worked hard to manage my anxiety. Thank you, young me, for establishing practices that I still use today.
  • My union-protected job. It’s easy to get frustrated by all the bureaucracy and by the assholes abusing power, but I’m glad I have these things to get frustrated about.
  • My immediate boss. Her support, understanding, and flexibility throughout all of this has been huge.
  • Journalists, academics, politicians, and everyone else who is writing and talking about how we can repair our classist, racist, colonialist country.
  • That delicious baby. Squeezing his huge, chunky, squishy thighs is like squeezing those stress-relief balls but with the added bonus of silky baby skin.
  • My precocious preschooler’s sense of humor. He is straight-up hilarious. Not just
    goofy poop jokes but well thought-out, set-up-in-advance, actually funny pranks. Then he laughs with this full-body ripple where he throws his head back and stomps a foot and my heart explodes.
  • The way my husband hugs me.
  • Also the way my husband explains audio technology to L as they set up our at-home recording studio. And then the way L proudly over-annunciates his words when sharing this new knowledge with me.
  • How my old dog cleans baby food off the floor, except for peas.
  • Hot coffee.
  • Cat purrs.
  • The strange cacophony of sound when multiple friends laugh at the same time on Zoom.
  • Sitting on my balcony in the rain, staying dry under its roof while I listen, smell, breathe, and let myself relax a little.b6fa470c-0af0-470f-a6cc-4acfa131e5f2

 

Covid City 9: Resources for Staying Centered

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Posting quickly here today to share some resources my family has been loving as well as an excellent list of self-care and wellness sites my friend, Maria Logothetis, created. Everyone can benefit from these, not just parents!

Also, today’s morning meditation self-care goal is to take deep breaths. I am exhausted. M was up and screaming from 3 to 5 and then we all got up at 6:30 am for yet another day of making this work. It’s a good thing he’s adorable. Still, being cute doesn’t make up for being underslept. I need to come back to my breath as much as I can today, to center myself, calm myself, and remind myself that this ability to breathe with ease is a true gift, especially here in the middle of Covid City.

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Resources We’re Loving as a Family


Yoga 

  • www.downdogapp.com – Offers 5 apps for different workout methods: Yoga, Yoga for Beginners, HIIT, Barre, and 7-minute workouts.  They are offering free subscriptions until July 1 for any students, teachers or staff/administrators in K-12 & College.  All you need is a school email address. They are also offering their services free to the public until April 1st.
  • https://www.myyogaworks.com/  – Offering a 14-day free trial with a variety of classes, from beginner to prenatal to advanced. No app; website only.


Meditation/Mindfulness 

  • https://www.garrisoninstitute.org/programs-retreats/community-programs/ – Hosts mindfulness retreats and workshops of all kinds throughout the year. Currently offering Free Live Meditation sessions via Zoom on certain days.  Check out their link for details.
  • https://kripalu.org/resources  – Kripalu is a yoga and wellness center in Massachusetts.  They run retreats and workshops on a regular basis and have a list of articles and videos to help deal with stress, anxiety and the like, ranging from aromatherapy to cooking to yoga and meditation.
  • https://centerformsc.org/practice-msc/guided-meditations-and-exercises/ – The Center for Mindful Self Compassion has some online resources and guided meditations for you to explore. Self compassion is many times the first step to working with difficult emotions, especially fear and anxiety.
  • https://tricycle.org/  – This is a Buddhist online publication that has great meditation resources. They post free guided meditations from renowned meditation teachers, both Buddhist and non-sectarian, and have lots of articles for reading more on meditation and Buddhism. They also have a Daily Dharma email you can sign up for, with introspective quotes emailed to you daily.


Podcasts/Audio Talks for Mindfulness & Meditation

 
Free Meditation Apps
  • Headspace – Focused on guided meditations and tips to help you meditate. Ranges from beginner programs to advanced.  Great place to start.
  • Insight Timer – Offers great free individual guided meditations plus meditation programs – a series of meditations – you can pay for. Also tracks the time you meditate so that you can look for trends, etc.
  • Calm – User-friendly app with guided mediations.


Food for Thought

Covid City 8: Be Gentle, Please

March 23, 2020 7:30 am

My calendar tells me it’s Monday. This matters when it comes to my job, but as a parent here in Covid City where going out is not an option, there is no such thing as a weekend.

Case in point: M woke up at 6 am Saturday morning. L stumbled out of bed a couple of hours later and asked when we’d be starting circle time. After having spent the past week experimenting with various homeschool arrangements, Dave and I needed a break. “Today is a Saturday, sweetie,” I said.

“Oh right, it’s a home day,” L replied.

“Well, I guess every day is these days. But it’s up to you. Do you want homeschool today?”

L thought for a moment and decided no. But then, only minutes later, he launched into project time and from there proceeded to lead us through the full homeschool schedule: outside exercises, center time, lunch, quiet time, meditation, dance party, more project time. It actually all went very well; Dave and I were even able to get the laundry and cooking done. So what was the magic secret? Why had this day gone so much better than the others? And how could we make it happen again?

Later that night, Dave and I analyzed all the different options we had tried thus far and came to some excellent conclusions. Even though L had melted down when we’d let him take the lead earlier in the week, he seemed to love it on Saturday. Perhaps now that he had processed things a bit more, letting him lead would be the best move. We went through all the details and felt confident in our plans to replicate Saturday’s success going forward.

Sunday started out quite lovely. L led us through some project time while Dave selected a fun assortment of records. But then, out of nowhere (though it’s never truly out of nowhere), L freaked out and screamed so loudly he woke the baby up from nap. Dave reprimanded L, but I preferred a gentler approach and so interrupted him mid-sentence. This is definitely not the “united front” philosophy we have agreed upon. Dave was, of course, pissed off and left the room, which pissed me off. It took a while to calm L down, then Dave and I had to calm each other down. Meanwhile, the baby was still screaming from his crib.

And that’s when it hit me: we can plan, analyze, and schedule all night long, but the truth is, four people on lockdown in a small apartment are going to get mad at each other. We’re going to yell at each other. We’re going to laugh with each other, too. And in the end, we’re going to get through it with each other.

Homeschool with Dave = setting up a mini-recording studio in the living room.

Saturday worked because it worked. Who knows exactly why. What I do know is that I cannot make everyone happy and I cannot make every day go well even under normal conditions, much less in Covid City. Some days will be good. Others will not. That’s life, with or without the coronavirus.

Of course I’m going to try to create conditions that will foster happiness, creativity, and positivity during our days here at home together. Our child craves structure; when left to his own devices, he enforces it himself. But no matter what happens, I have to stop wasting so much of my brain space on trying to make every day as good as it can possibly be. Parenting in Covid City is weird and emotional and messy. Getting through the day is good enough.

P.S. My morning meditation self-care goal today is to drink more water. I am used to have bottle after bottle while I work in the office, but here at home, I am all discombobulated. Plus, the three of us keep leaving our glasses all over the apartment and then when the baby wakes up, we frantically stash them in weird, high-up places out of his reach, which are also out of our sight and thus out of mind. So today, I’m bringing back the water bottle.

Trusting the Process

bone girl pages
I wanted so badly to be done with my novel, to send my manuscript off to agents then try to forget about it until one day, that magical email from someone just dying to represent me popped up in my inbox.

Yet I stalled on emailing any agents. I blamed my delay on nerves and fear, told myself to push through it, finally sent out three queries. But then I stalled again, despite the spreadsheet of 20 other agents’ contact info sitting in my Google docs.

I kept telling myself to stop making excuses. It’s been five years already! Send it out, let it go.

Finally, I meditated on it and listened to my gut: “Don’t rush, Becky. This is your one chance to find an agent. Ask another reader for comments. Give this book all the time it wants.”

It turns out that my new reader not only caught a handful of errors (look at those post-it notes!) but also made a comment that led to an enormous breakthrough on a section I’ve never felt 100% about. I am now back to work, and it feels great.

Another breakthrough: The agents will be there when this book is ready, whenever that may be. And even then, no one may want it! But I believe in Bone Girl, I believe in the process, and I will see my book through to whatever end is in store for her.

To all my artist friends out there: enjoy your acts of creation, no matter how long they may take.

P.S. That glimpse of gorgeous artwork is brought to you by Letisia Cruz!

The Best, the Worst, Here.

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I’ve always held myself to impossibly high standards, standards that I don’t expect from other people. In fact, if someone else makes a mistake, I’m often the first to empathize and offer my support. But when it comes to me, well, I’m supposed to be perfect. Don’t my family, my friends, my students, the world, deserve the best from me?

In the first few months after my mom left her body, when I was so consumed by grief that everything else ceased to matter, I had a major revelation that “the best” doesn’t exist, that it’s just a construct we’ve created that keeps us disconnected from our present reality. During this period of intense grief, I would sometimes think the best choice was to go out with my friends, but then the moment I arrived at the bar, it felt all wrong. Other times it seemed best to stay at home and read, but then I’d cry and feel lonely and wish I’d gone out. Then there were times when whatever I’d chosen, whether it had felt right or wrong in the moment of choosing it, was exactly what I’d needed.

Because “the best” had become so nebulous and easily changeable in my mind, it started to seem not only unreal but also silly. Besides, the grief I was constantly grappling with overpowered everything else and made the process of analyzing if I should have gone out or stayed home feel unimportant, a waste of time.

Humans, or Americans at least, seem to despise discomfort. Even a little bit of it. We’re constantly complaining about how cold or hot the air is, how hungry or full our bellies are. We can’t seem to find that perfect situation. But instead of seeing that it doesn’t exist, we get lost in searching for it and then feel angry or sad that we continually can’t find it.

Now, four and a half years after my mother’s passing, I feel stronger, tougher, and wiser, but I’ve also fallen back into old habits of expecting “the best” then feeling guilty when I don’t achieve it. In a weird way, I miss those few months right after she died. I don’t miss the pain, but I miss the clarity it gave me, how it temporarily freed me from these constructs that I – we – have created.

But I don’t need all-encompassing grief in order to free myself again from these thought patterns. All I have to do is breathe.

 

Amazing comic by Gemma Correll.

Spreading Love

May we all live in this world happily, peacefully, joyfully, and with ease. This is what I dream for, and this is why I resist. Happy birthday and thank you, Martin Luther King Jr!

MLK Quote.jpg

 

Gratitude, A Photo Journal

I just can’t with the news this week – so much violence, anger, fear, greed. I decided that rather than focusing on how awful our world leaders are, I needed to take a break from current events and focus my energy on the little things in my day-to-day life that make me grateful. In the past, avoiding the news felt like I was being irresponsible, neglecting my duties as a citizen, but now, taking the space I need to focus on gratitude seems like the best way to resist the hatred and negativity that’s spreading through our country, our world, like a disease. It’s a lot easier for me to be kind to others and treat them with respect and compassion when I’m feeling full of gratitude, and kindness, respect, and compassion are exactly what this world needs more of right now. So whether you continue to tune into the news or not, I strongly encourage you to also tune into the grateful wavelength. It might take some reminding at first, but we are all capable of making this choice and sticking with it. Here are some photos and thoughts to hopefully get you started.

IMG_1027I very much appreciate green things growing out of rocks. I also appreciate the sound of lapping water and my silly/awesome star tattoos and the way sunshine feels on my
bare feet.

IMG_1019There is beauty everywhere if we allow ourselves to see it, even in steel and machines and concrete. I also love the fact that five different countries were represented on this single subway car; NYC is proof that people from all of the world can live together in harmony.

IMG_1024From the subway to the bay to the ocean. My commute is special. When I look out at this body of water that goes on and on until it reaches another continent where someone of a different race and a different language is, like me, staring into its depths, I feel grateful that I am so small yet also connected to something so tremendous.

IMG_1016Not everyday can be sunny. And that’s okay; I appreciate a gray sky and the smell of rain and the sound it makes as it falls against my umbrella.

Okay, I confess it’s perhaps ridiculous to have this many animals in a Brooklyn apartment, yet at the same time, it’s magical. I love my little menagerie and I love being loved by them. I greatly appreciate that we all make it work.

IMG_1059And, of course, this boy. Every day I am grateful for him; becoming a mom is the most incredible and rewarding thing I have ever done.

BeckyLewCryingAlso, the craziest. But I’m grateful for the imperfect moments, too, for the screams and the exhaustion and the ink stains on towels. I’m glad that life is complicated.

IMG_1077And I’m glad that in the midst of these complications, we find opportunities to relax and reflect. As a child I dreamed of something different than the cow farms and cul-de-sacs I grew up with, and now here I am thriving in New York City. May all people have a dream and the gumption to go for it.

IMG_1084And may all people also have the luxury of a summer afternoon with Prosecco, good friends, and a beautiful view.

Click here to learn more about the ongoing column Brain-Picking Becky.