It’s Back

Pam’s Pictorama Post: I’m realizing that one of the signs of being back in the office and our hall more often is my aching back. Immediately preceding lockdown in March of ’20 I was routinely seeing an acupuncturist to relieve the lower back pain which was climbing down my leg and I was attributing to long hours in concert hall seats, airplanes and office chairs.

Over time at home, with a lousy “temporary” office, the back pain grew worse until I finally analyzed my computer set up and chair, added an external keyboard and a lift to the monitor as well as a carefully chosen chair, which I purchased after much reading and consideration. In addition, instead of my weight lifting regime as my only exercise, I began running and that made a dramatic difference too.

Cookie taking advantage of a light warmed space on my home desk.

My father’s back pain was a part of family life so I am no stranger to the concept. Dad was about 6’4″ and his career as a news cameraman meant he spent hours with heavy equipment on his shoulder (one ending up considerably lower than the other later in life) and straining his back. In addition, he drove for hours on end for domestic stories, and of course airplane travel when they went that route wasn’t much kinder. As a result my father’s mercurial back would go out reaching for a salt shaker at dinner or even sneezing, leaving him in bed or on one dreadful occasion, on the bedroom floor.

According to Blackie, the home desk is good for napping too.

There was the summer he was on the rigging of a tall ship in Newport for work (perhaps in 1976 as part of the Bicentennial) when his back went out. It was evidently a painful and prolonged trip getting both him and his equipment down in one piece. His colleagues then packed him in a car with pillows all around to enable him to drive the straight five hours or so back home in New Jersey. He spent the rest of the summer recovering, mostly in an ancient rocker which now sits in my apartment. At the time it seemed like the longest period he had ever been home with us which was probably true.

So I am no stranger to back pain, although I suppose if it came right down to it mine is a bit different than his which seemed to have been linked to discs that were being crushed by weight slowly over time. I have touched on my own psoriatic arthritis and exercise (a post can be found here) and at least some of my back pain is attributable to the inexorable advance of that disease, which expressed itself first in my lower back. And a recent hiccup with my longstanding meds (no one needs to hear an insurance company rant from me) has also exacerbated the problem again.

Cookie on the old desk chair which was killing my back. She still enjoys it however.

But one of the culprits is a byproduct of our return to the office (hybrid, three days a week) and sitting in lousy chairs. I realize now that my desk set up there is also a bit jerry-rigged, the chair (even with a back cushion added) is less than desirable and my feet at an odd angle. Add to that conference room chairs which seem to be down a notch from the one in my office and we have the recipe for worsening if not instigating said back pain. A long Board meeting on Zoom from there on Wednesday seems to have pushed me over the edge this week. Ironically now the home office is the better set up.

There’s always a certain amount of fighting over the new desk chair, regardless of whether I am in it or not…

I have always felt that the weird part of back pain is that there is a subconscious preference for maintaining the postures that in reality make it worse and perhaps helped to cause it. Back pain does not make me want to be at a standing desk for example. It makes me want to sit on my couch or curl up on the bed – neither exactly great for back pain. It makes me want to not move, when exercise and movement is the best thing to alleviate it.

So I will start to fight back today. It is a sunny crisp fall morning and I will be out for a run shortly and perhaps that and stretching before and after will start me on the path to recovery. (The stiffness and pain has dampened my desire to run this week, although I was out on Monday.) Meanwhile, I will see what I can do about improving my work office with some implements to arrange me in a better position. Not much I can do about the conference room or concert hall seats, but I will hope that this combined with a resolution around my meds and that issue, will tip the scales back in my favor. I will let you know.

Viral

Pam’s Pictorama Post: So in the week that was, Deitch Studio finally fell prey to Covid. Not surprisingly, despite being an avid mask wearer and careful in general, I of course was the one who brought it home. Our return to office has had me in most days in the prior week or so, traveling on the subway and all – although in reality I have been matriculating through the world for a long time for work. The office, our club for dinner, breakfast meetings, lunches with donors.

Mom had it a few weeks back despite our extraordinary efforts to protect her. With her existing health problems that was very scary. She was sick and sicker at various times and I am grateful that she pulled through and now even her cough has receded. I am also deeply grateful to her caretakers who stayed throughout despite personal risk to them and their families.

Anyway, when we least expected it I woke up with full-on symptoms after a day in the office and an evening out for work. I tested negative, but began isolating. I was six days from a dinner for 85 people, our first of its kind since January of ’20. Of course in a one-room apartment there really isn’t much isolating to do, let’s be honest.

We’ve all heard varying levels of sickness from friends and family. I would say for me day one was more or less like being hit by a two by four. Blinding headache, sore throat, laryngitis and a deep rattling cough developed nicely through Day One. I didn’t test positive until the evening of Day Three. As others have said, it was strange to see a positive test after literally years of negative ones. It was definitive too, not a wishy washy second line but a dark one.

The good news is that I progressed rapidly toward better daily. That Friday night I missed the last concert of our season and the festive closing receptions which my staff executed nicely. They sent photos.

This machine beeped loudly the whole time I was there. Battery seemed to be dying.

On Monday morning, Day Four, I called both my GP and my rheumatologist (I have written a bit about my psoriatic arthritis and exercising in spite of it and that post can be found here) and true to form, the rheumatologist got back to me within the hour. He had me off to the ER for a monoclonal infusion immediately. (My GP was to get back to me around 5:30 PM. Not sure she agreed with the decision of the other doc, but seemed to have the sense to realize that arguing about it now was too late.)

I ate something and grabbed an extra layer of clothing despite the heat. We all know that any trip to the ER is not fast and once in their clutches you stay and will wait what seems to be endlessly before being spit back out. (And they keep it freezing cold – is that really to kill germs as someone suggested?) I was there almost exactly a year ago when I broke two fingers running. (A post about that misadventure can be found here.) Kim walked me over the ten or so blocks; I felt up to it and figured even with a mask on and an open window no one had it coming to them to have me in their cab.

As expected, folks keep a healthy distance from you in a hospital when you tell them you are Covid positive. (The admitting guard put on gloves to take my paperwork from me.) However, the doc who saw me cheerfully informed me that he had just gotten over it so feared my germs not. I was quickly approved for the infusion and sent to wait in a closet room which was at least twice as big as the tiny one I sat in for four hours with my hand, but they were storing furniture in this one. Kim went off to work some once I was ingested by the bowels of Lenox Hill Hospital.

My room doubled as storage. If the bed had been a tad more tempting I might have napped a bit but ick.

I sat with a port in my arm, waiting, while sitting in on two seating meetings for the dinner and helping to make some plans for it to happen without me, while I continued to sit in my closet. Some of you have read of my staffing woes and in addition to an entirely depleted staff those on the job are entirely new and have never seen an event in our hall. (A post can be found here.) There was no question about going to the dinner, even if I was better I would still be contagious. Other guests were dropping out, staff too, as the virus eddied around; my boss went down with it within days of me.

While I was sick and working from home I read an article in the NYT discussing how the sick day has disappeared and also how stupid it is to keep working while you are sick. I had time to ponder that, but I was leaving my colleagues in enough of a lurch by not being able to be there for this dinner. The least I could do is what I could manage from home, the seating and all the preliminary work could be done. (In addition my beloved Executive Assistant fell and broke her kneecap this week! Definitely worse.) Eventually my meetings ended, read my e-book for awhile, I got the infusion, was observed for another hour and eventually sent home.

I continued to improve over the next days although there was no dramatic change from the infusion that I could tell. By Wednesday I might have gone to the dinner if it wasn’t Covid, although that probably would have been a mistake, but I was feeling that much better. The dinner went off without a hitch and thanks to the miracle of cell phones and real time video it was almost like being there, even allowing me to double check seating and sight lines for our guests.

On of the snaps of the set up for the dinner last Wednesday. We used Facetime and stand-ins to do last minute seating.

Thursday allowed me to collapse a bit, although I tuned in for some follow up from the evening before, sent some emails to guests who had texted or emailed their well wishes for my recovery. I sent love and thanks to my colleagues for carrying it all off so brilliantly.

I had lost much of my sense of taste and smell by then. Then Kim began coughing and round two began. He had the good sense to test positive immediately. We spent yesterday trying to reach his doc even though he also seemed to improve. In the absence of his doctor getting back to him and it being Saturday we are wandering over to Urgent Care later today.

I am eyeing the good weather and wondering if I might try my first run as well. New running shoes showed up yesterday.

Tempting, right?

There is a lot of divisiveness around this illness, the vaccines etc. I can only say both that I was extremely grateful during the worst of this that I had gotten vaccinated and gotten the booster. (I wouldn’t have gotten the booster if it hadn’t been required for work to be really honest.) Man, I don’t want to think about this being that much worse than it was. The first wave of it must have been truly horrifying, but for me it wasn’t reduced to a few days of a common cold either.

Weirdly there is a lot of guilt attached to Covid. Who gave it to me? Who did I end up giving it to during a contagious period without symptoms? Just plain disappointment at getting it after avoiding it so long. It’s all wrong headed, but I still felt that way. Also, I found it oddly depressing as well. I almost wonder if it is a chemical aspect of the illness, an overwhelming sort of hopelessness and despair in the first few days. Others have agreed. I mention it in case others experience it.

For now that is our tale of illness and hopefully now recovery. With any luck, this will be the last you hear about it and we can be back to photos, toys or maybe a nice new jewelry acquisition starting tomorrow.

Autumn in New York and Running

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Suddenly there is a nip in the air on my early morning runs and I find that I have added a cotton layer to my togs and my running shorts have been put away. Sunrise is later and later these mornings and up to this point I have resisted going out before the sun is poking up onto the scene – I remind myself that this is still New York City and running alone in the dark is perhaps not the best idea nor indeed safe.

I am hitting the one year mark since I started running and thus far I have persevered through summer heat and two broken fingers. (Earlier running posts, and the broken finger story, can be found here and here.) I try to run most mornings, short of having to be in midtown for an in-person meeting before 9:00 which I increasingly often do for work. On those days I walk the three miles to (and often also back from) Columbus Circle instead. Those mornings I cut the city catty corner and walk through Central Park which certainly has its own early morning charm. I cannot help but compare and contrast these mornings to mine spent in our little east side enclave.

At the one year mark I run about three miles. I run a slow, gentle jog. Despite being exclusively on concrete I try to land softly, mid-foot, and to keep my joints loose. My right hip and the muscles reaching down tend to complain a bit, less so if I am rigorous in my warm up, which I try to be. I have psoriatic arthritis and I know that eventually it will all catch up with me, but I have taken the use it or lose it approach to my joints as I will ultimately be a great candidate for a hip replacement regardless. I have chosen to take the using them up approach to my joints. (A post devoted specifically to my workout as someone with arthritis can be found here.)

Sunrise is a bit later and later each day now.

I began running because I was spending so much time in our tiny apartment sitting in a chair, no longer able to go to the gym, that I realized I needed to do something. Walking (which took too much time and didn’t seem to raise my heart rate at all) quickly gave way to running. Although I like working out, especially lifting weights, I have never aspired to run so this was a strange turn of events, however it solved the cardio problem and also helped address the pandemic pounds I needed to shed.

At first my body resisted this turn of events, but with the help of my trainer I stretched and cajoled it into compliance. I have, over the year, lost close to 40 pounds (most of those put on in the first six months of the pandemic – read some of my baking recipes here and here at your own peril), although I warn anyone entering into this endeavor that it is very easy to feed a workout and gain weight instead of losing it. Losing weight, for me anyway, is tied to a careful (merciless really) counting of calories and thoughtful food choices in conjunction with exercise. Running has also largely eliminated nagging lower back pain I had acquired even before the pandemic from too much sitting, long hours of airplane travel and concert hall seats.

I commented to Kim this morning that running has changed my body in an interesting and far more overall way than I expected. Of course you expect more muscle in your legs, but it has changed my upper body too. Something about my posture and even the way I move is different. Far more than lifting and my former (devoted and beloved) gym routine the total impact is more significant it seems to me.

Carl Schurz Park near Gracie Mansion.

I run slower than most of my morning compatriots and speed just isn’t something I am competitive about, my competition is only with myself and is generally more about distance and consistency. I set myself at a comfortable pace and mostly only alter it to go around folks or if dogs get too inquisitive – in a nippy way. Some days are peppier than others, but regardless I take time to note the denizens of the Esplanade and those of you who follow my Instagram account know that I will take time to snap some photos. (My running adventures are documented more or less daily in my stories here.) I try to take a kindly attitude toward my middle aged body which is, after all, answering my call to this kind of exercise. I remember that it is serving me well and I should not be critical of its efforts on my behalf.

FDR on recent morning run – complete with fire trucks stuck trying to get somewhere.

I used to listen to books but while running I replaced those with music – at least to the degree I can cajole my iPhone to play it while running while still snapping the occasional photo. I tend to like to listen to the same thing over and over, and then switching to something else. Wynton Marsalis’s Swing Symphony accompanied me on many a run, second maybe only to Beethoven’s Seventh. I have wandered through some classical – YoYo Ma playing solo concertos, Moonlight Sonata – popular music of my teen years (think Bruce Springsteen) and most recently Billie Holiday which is a bit of surprise. I usually like something more upbeat. However, I was taking a tour of Autumn in New York this week, hence the name of this post. (A few choice versions can be found on Youtube here, here and here, Sinatra, Holiday and Sarah Vaughn respectively – at least available at the time of writing this.)

Dogs romping and being walked probably deserve their own post. They sometimes take great interest in me – sometimes offense too!

I pass the qi gong and tai chi practitioners, some stationary, others in a sort of walking-moving meditation. Folks are taking boxing lessons (I would like to try this some day, broken fingers notwithstanding), others working out with someone instructing them via their phone, yoga gatherings and a series of trainers who are set up along the river just beyond the park’s environs – Juliet and Darryl are among the trainers who watch me run by everyday, their white boards with contact info and declaring their names. They have stopped offering their cards, but I watch their instruction with some interest daily. The gorgeous view of the river is great for this (and meditation and yoga which is also all around me) and I find the time near the water restorative. I am nicer and kinder in general on the days I run. I often think that if I worked for me I would make sure Pam was out there every day!

On my route there is one camp I always note, set up by a gentleman in a choice spot over the river in a little cul de sac above some sort of Con Ed semi-deserted building. Recently he has added house plants, an interesting framed print and most poignantly a Fischer Price type child’s toy of a house. I don’t see the resident often, although occasionally I see him communing with some sea gulls who seem to know him. He disappeared for awhile and it seemed that someone was packing up the area but he came back and it seems to have rolled back to where it was.

Pigeons congregate in this spot early every morning. They barely move for me and only dogs will make them rise en masse.

Among the permanent residents, Collage Woman is either sleeping or working on gluing things from catalogues into her books. Writing Guy, if he is there, has nodded out on his bench and over his notebook. Then there is a steady stream of people, virtually all men, who I suspect have only recently joined the ranks of the homeless. Often they are using a roller suitcase for their possessions, although sometimes a back pack with frame and a sleep mat. One day I ran behind one very large man using a table leg and a Fresh Direct bag as a bindle. This group fared poorly during the harsh storms and hurricanes that battered us a month or so back (our tales of flooding and leaking can be found here and here), but I worry about all of them as the colder weather approaches. This group seems especially and terrifyingly ill-prepared for it.

The East River Esplanade, running along the river and along with Carl Schurz Park, waking slowly into being our Yorkville town square these days as I wrap an early run at the north end. The morning traffic along the FDR drive runs less scenically along one side of me. As I head up back from 91st Street I look at it and always have a moment being grateful that I am not commuting in one of those cars today.

Beloved and dependable Bagel Bob’s.

I loop back through the park and stretch some more. At this hour we runners and early bird walkers are slowly outnumbered by commuters are lining up for an early ferry, the dog walkers who have multiplied, school kids making their way to their destinations, as well as people heading to work on bikes, motorized scooters and of course walking – this group replacing those of us in work out wear with office attire. In my mind I run through an unconscious rule of thumb which is: vehicles should give way to runners, runners give way to walkers and we all find our way around those who, for various reasons but usually involve dogs, are standing still in the path. Not everyone follows this rule and we try not to be run down by the various newly motorized bikes and scooters, not to mention regular bicycles, sometimes in the hands of a nascent rider. I worry about those because they usually do not sport a helmet either.

The Mansion Diner in full Halloween regalia recently.

I smell the coffee and breakfast sandwiches of those who are parked on the benches, just enjoying the sunrise or communing with their phone. It wakes my empty stomach up with an inquiring growl and I remind tummy that reward in the form of coffee and breakfast awaits us too, but after the run. These days I split my breakfast acquisition between Bagel Bob and The Mansion Diner. Bagel Bob became my pandemic go-to in the neighborhood and a couple of eggs on a whole wheat wrap is my order there. I stand in a line of bagel buyers and folks on their way to work or school. Although it has re-opened its few tables it isn’t really a sit down sort of place. People at Bagel Bob’s are on the go.

Interior of The Mansion Diner.

The Mansion Diner, another neighborhood stronghold, is more of a sit down affair and now offers a broad range of seating both in and out. It is frequented by our local policemen taking a break on the job, but also folks who have the time to savor a proper breakfast, or maybe having take-out like me, or supplying the ongoing delivery business which seems to employ a small army of men. (Who orders breakfast delivery in the morning? I have long wondered about this. Doormen? Is it a version of breakfast in bed for the UES clan?) I wait for my single egg on an English muffin here, listening to a rather consistently fine loop of Frank Sinatra blasting inside (this invariably makes me think of college Sunday brunch) and out while checking my email, or occasionally heading back outside to finish my stretching on neighboring stairs, while my breakfast is being prepared.

Unlike Bagel Bob’s, The Mansion stays open to cater to a dinner crowd, even in these nebulous post-pandemic (can we say we are post I can’t help but wonder?) times. At one time it would have been mostly elderly people and some with young children, but now that we all eat earlier (six o’clock is the new eight o’clock here) and as it is very local it is a broader sampling of the neighborhood.

Ferry recently on an early morning commuter run to Queens.

I am starting to eye warmer socks online, also running caps as my baseball cap will seem insufficient soon. (Yes, the dreaded moths have eaten all my wool hats I ran in last season.) I am giving reflective garb a sideways look too – if for no other reason than when I run at my mom’s house in New Jersey where cars are a bigger issue. (Running there has been documented in a recent post here.) I am somewhat confused by the idea of putting screws in the soles of old sneakers for snow and ice traction. But my cotton baseball shirt will give way to a proper sweatshirt and it will take more willpower to get out the door in the morning. I know autumn will quickly turn to winter here, but I do plan to be out there even on those frosty and snowy mornings.

Running Slowly

Pam’s Pictorama Post: I am starting this post about six weeks into my jogging experiment. I have never run. Until my mid-forties I had never worked out in a gym either, but I became addicted to weight lifting and my time at the gym is one of the things I miss most in these pandemic times, although I lift at home now with an ever-growing pile of hand weights. (A previous post on my quarantine time work out, can be found here.) However, I have never enjoyed, only endured, cardio – stuffing a good audio book in my ears and taking my medicine, working my way up to 20-30 minutes of increasingly difficult cardio on an elliptical machine over time like medicine. It seems to me that although when left to its own devices, my breathing is just fine, but once I start to fuss with it – be it to meditate or exert – it becomes resentful and turns recalcitrant.

While I continued to lift weights and work out with my trainer (shout out to Harris Cowan @livestrongernyc) via Facetime and Zoom throughout the pandemic, the first quarantine foray of walking to my office in Columbus Circle from 86th Street and York Avenue made it very clear that I had lost both my wind and my strength – albeit a long walk, one I used to do it without thinking.

Walking has always been my strong suit and life in New York City usually provides for enough unscheduled walking in our daily lives that I have never had to think about it, but now long workdays in our studio apartment often resulted in my not leaving my desk (sometimes it has seemed my chair!) for 12 hour stints. No trips across Columbus Circle to the hall or even a few blocks down for a lunch hour errand or to pick up food. Evidently stretching and lifting (and the occasional trip up sixteen flights of stairs) quite simply were not cutting it. Regretfully and doubtfully, I began a program of walking, just as it started to turn cold of course.

An impressive congregation of pigeons seen on one of my first ventures. They are there each morning and own that portion of the esplanade.

I have nothing against walking, in fact I have always been fond of it and have also enjoyed hiking when it was available to me, but it wasn’t really raising my heart rate which was one of the primary goals and sufficient distance to make a difference was just taking too much time, my work out time being constricted by my work hours. It wasn’t long before I realized that there was no reasonable solution, but to pick up the pace and see if I could jog a bit.

However, another issue that has long prevented me from impact exercise is that I have a form of arthritis, Psoriatic Arthritis, that impacts both my large and my small joints. (Lady Gaga is the most famous person I know of who has this disease, diagnosed about the same age as I was, early 20’s. There was also The Singing Detective who was fictional and the doppelganger of his creator Dennis Potter who alarmingly actually died from it.)

Since my diagnosis, now decades ago, I have taken an increasingly large number of pills which generally keep things going mostly unimpeded, but I have always been a bit ginger and thoughtful about introducing new exercise. A Pilates class taken without supervision or hopping on a new machine at the gym without proper guidance has landed me in stew of inflamed and swollen joints for days. My hands will sometimes even rebel and swell against weights lifted improperly or gripped too enthusiastically. I sometimes wonder how it compares to the soreness of anyone trying something new, but of course as we are trapped in our own bodies it is hard to guess or know. I have been warned that running will speed the need for joints that want replacing or repair.

Nevertheless, I am nothing if not stubborn and one morning in late October I started the process of jogging. I had read up about it and done some HIIT (high intensity interval training) to know that I could start by alternating between running and walking. At first I ran about a block for another two or three walked. Surprisingly my wind picked up first, within the first weeks, and my body memory for that kicked in better than I would have expected. Unfortunately my legs, my hips, knees and feet (okay, everything below my waist) have balked mightily at the experiment.

Instagram followers already had a chuckle with me over my discovery of mismatched sneakers when I went to stretch the other day – early mornings! I have already been pestering those IG folks with my outdoor work out all along! A thank you to them for helping to keep me honest.

Simultaneously and for better or worse, I figured I might as well resume some of my former workout our one room is too intimate for and so I added into these sessions with bands around my legs, deep squats, and lunges – I hop up from park benches and step up onto deserted pallets along the river’s edge or stone steps at the entrance to the park, turning it into an hour or more for the full regime. Before you start to think this is really admirable let me assure you that getting myself away from my toasty warm morning desk routine dosed with copious coffee and instead out into the park in the cold has been a sheer test of will. I deeply suspect that I am writing this so I will be ashamed to stop once I have told you all about it.

I also have no doubt that (and assuming anyone cares, although I am pretty sure these days they don’t) I look like an absolute fool – an overweight middle aged woman, in brightly printed leggings (I’ve always had a weakness for bright workout clothes) showing every inch I need to lose before we resume our post-pandemic lives, and a top layer piled on for warm. However, that is of course the beauty of the now time rather than the before time – everyone in that park is there for their own kind of escape. People reading, smoking, on their phones, staring off into space – a few young couples canoodling, but not so often early in the morning. I often think there are probably all sorts of life’s dramas unfolding, secretly around me there each day.

Carl Schurz Park on New Year’s Day morning.

And of course, there are other people working out. There is a group that boxes and I must say that looks like great fun and is sort of tempting to try one day. (Yes, my aforementioned arthritic hands balk at the idea.) A variety of trainers have taken to the park, with its benches, fences and even some handy scaffolding along the waterfront to train individuals. Groups gather in the basketball court for a work out to blaring music. As I say, these days everyone is there to do their own thing and no one is giving me a second look – except dogs fascinated by my workout with the band (not sure why but they want to investigate) and the occasional trainer sizing me up to see if they can add me to their roster. Luckily for me I am not deeply troubled by embarrassing myself in public in this particular way anyway.

Like going to a gym, familiar faces and characters emerge to populate the ongoing drama of the park. In addition to the boxers and the trainers there is the elderly woman volunteer who picks up garbage each day and makes sure the storm drains are clear of garbage and leaves, the other nascent runners, an elderly woman in a down jacket who I always think is looking at me like I’m nuts. (Masks mean that normal cordial attempts to smile at someone is impossible so unless one wants to shout a hearty greeting – which I’ve started doing to the volunteer – we all largely pass without acknowledgment.)

As to the running, we should call it jogging really, it has been a slog. I reached a pinnacle of pain about two weeks ago and thought I would have to stop. However, I reduced the number of days I do the outdoor workout (now generally 3) rotating with the other days to do my indoor regime of lifting and apartment friendly exercise, or off to rest muscles. With the advice of my trainer (yay Harris!) I added more stretching on the front end (roller on the most offended leg muscles and joints before I leave the house), have pushed the non-running portion of my workout to the beginning to give myself a maximum warm up and have reduced some of that as well – step ups are on hold for awhile, and my post-workout stretching is more fulsome. It is not perfect, but it seems to be working well enough to keep me in the game.

I now jog with only short a few short periods of walking. I look on with frank envy at people of all ages and both sexes who appear to do this so much better than me, appearing effortless as they pass me by. However, I am determined to continue to just push that bit further each time – setting a new goal by at least mere yards beyond where I thought I could go. I tell myself that I should not criticize my body for what it is not doing well, but to be grateful for what it is able to accomplish. Patience and kindness works better and will be part of the ongoing lesson. No, I have not reached the fabled endorphin producing stage – I’ll let you know about that. Meanwhile, I have switched from listening to books to music that encourages swifter movement, as does the morning chill. I am always warm when I finish.

A jolly tug that could be out of a children’s book.

One unexpected pleasure has been seeing the East River in all its moods. As Pictorama readers know, I grew up on the Shrewsbury River in New Jersey and while the East River is technically visible from our apartment, I have been largely removed from the nuanced shifts in it. Now I am always surprised by the strength of the current and some days small, curled waves are even lapping at the bulkhead along the path. On stormy or very windy days it threatens to overtake the esplanade, gurgling up from storm drains below, which I know from experience it does, ultimately flooding the adjoining FDR drive. It brings my childhood watching of the water and the way it was a part of daily life back to me though. The river is home to a surprising amount of boat traffic, largely tugs, freighters and ferries this time of the year – some creating a ferocious wake in their path.

I try to remember, as I grumble and leave the toasty warm apartment, that I am generally happy to be outside once I get there and always feel better for having done the workout than not; that and a daily dollop of determination get me out the door more often than not. Busy workdays might mean only a part of the workout gets accomplished, but better some than none I remind myself and I try not to engage in work email or texts while on my breaks between sets.

I have recently adopted an oversized sweatshirt from my alma mater (Connecticut College – go Camels) the first I have ever owned. Seemed to me though that the college might as well get my money as anyone else and if I am to have some logo emblazoned on me, further adding to the ridiculousness of my appearance, why not at least one legitimately own. I commend the sweatshirt for being roomy and warm and exactly what was wanted, logo not withstanding.

Outside the Big Dog Run in Carl Schurz Park.

The sun rising over the park and the water, the various guises of the clouds and water, have an allure – even when they turn dark and threatening. I would say I am at least well on my way to walking to Columbus Circle unimpeded when the time comes. I can honestly say I do not know how far my ambition and grit will take me. I guess it is a New Year’s resolution come early and we’ll see if I can stick with it through the coldest, and then ultimately the hottest, days of the New Year ahead.

Early morning walk to the park in November, sun rising over the East River.

Working It Out

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Deitch Studio followers may already know that Kim is well-documented for his commitment to a daily work out routine. On the other hand, I think I have only touched lightly at best on my own devotion to a work out regime which I am reflecting on a bit today.

Let me start by stating that my interest in anything athletic was desultory at best growing up. If I swam, it was never laps; I might hit a tennis ball around with someone, but rarely really played a game; I would walk to get somewhere, but never was a runner. Like many little girls in the suburbs, I took ballet lessons when little, but while interested was not promising in this area and my parents deftly moved me on from it.

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Loren’s rugby trophies from Princeton.

 

Was it because I grew up in the shadow of my older sister who was captain of every team, winning a myriad of varsity letters? Loren did it all – swim team, tennis, and track in particular, but the only thing that precluded her from joining a team was another that took place at the same time. She was a restless bundle of energy and needed to blow off steam daily and it was a rare day when she didn’t have workouts of one kind or another morning and evening. (I wrote about her rugby adventures here.)

In my early twenties I was diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis and I began a program of yoga, developed specifically for me, that was a daily constant in my life for many years. It did a fairly good job at keeping my joints functioning. (My workout was designed by a brilliant man named Allen Bateman who appears to have disappeared entirely off the face of the earth, Google cannot find him.) I turned Kim onto it and he incorporated some of it into his workout, some things that he continues with today. There came a time however when some of the practice was getting a little risky with the advance of the arthritis and gradually I fell away from it. A few years later a sore shoulder which blew up into a frozen shoulder lead me ultimately to Pilates. I loved Pilates and it always makes me feel good about myself and my body.

However, at some point I wanted more exercise than I could afford via Pilates and the instructor of that studio sent me to Harris Cowan, personal trainer (@livestrongernyc), who I have seen pretty much every single week of my life (a few work trips notwithstanding) for the past 9 years. I have followed him to a myriad of private gym spaces – some nice, some just not – over the years. In many ways, I would have considered myself the least likely person to enlist the help of a personal trainer, but the arthritis meant certain concerns if not actual limitations, and as I had never walked into a gym in my life I wouldn’t have known what the heck to do. I joined what passed for an inexpensive gym in Manhattan and set a commitment to myself of a minimum of three days a week in addition to seeing Harris on a fourth.

Harris probably deserves his own future post as a regular and important feature in my life, but for now I will just say that he has always been superb at pushing me just beyond comfort. I am rarely actually sore the next day, yet progress is achieved. He is sensitive to the issues my body has, but generally has a can do no nonsense approach. When setbacks (such as foot surgery) occur he has helped me reset and again we build and move forward. He slowly restored first one shoulder, and then eventually the other, to full usability.

No one could be more surprised than me that it turns out I love lifting weights. Left to my own devices it is all I would ever do in a gym, eschewing cardio (back in the pre-quarantine days when I actually did some), and tedious but necessary things like squats. Actually, I adore the gym. I relax immediately upon walking into a gym. I find that if you are going to hold weights over your head you had better focus your mind on that and nothing else which means it is a method to clear my mind of the constant demanding chatter of work and life.

When I traveled for work it was always the most centering thing I can do. No matter where I am in the country or the world, if I can drag myself out of bed early and to the gym I am the better for it. The first thing I check about every hotel in advance and when I check in is the gym.

I happily stuff earphones with a bit of contemporary fiction via Audible playing in my ears and I am in a blissfully focused, quiet place for 60 to 90 minutes. Exercise does as much (if not more) for my mental state as for my physical one. (Strangely, passages of those novels replayed, bring me right back to where I heard them first, either my own gym here on the east side of Manhattan, or a hotel in San Francisco where I traveled down the block to use a gym for a workout, back when I was still at the Met.) I have a mental image of hotel gyms across the world (they are lousy in most of Europe) and the country – some that were quite nice and others a bit less so. Some crowded, many (most) fairly empty.

My first gym was a small local chain of a few gyms. I went from feeling like an alien there to slowly becoming a fixture there, among a small devoted clutch of folks who were there upwards of four days every week. In the first years of working out I often found myself there six days a week. Because I often only found time to work out before going to the office, I kept a locker at the gym and would shower and get ready for work there. I considered a locker essential as not only did it mean that I could carry less on those mornings, but it also meant I could leave clothes and sneakers there, enabling me to stop by for a workout I had not planned. When the gym eventually did away with lockers as part of a renovation, I somewhat regretfully moved a few blocks up to the more upscale Equinox.

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In Manhattan Equinox is somewhat in the upper echelon of gym chains. While I had enjoyed the decidedly low rent aspect of my first gym, I ultimately felt that for someone who spent as much time at the gym as I did I probably could pay more and I sunk happily into the relative luxury of it, although I admittedly missed some of the regulars at my old establishment.

Not that I ever much spoke to them. In my mind I had names for them such as Man Who Reads the Paper on the Bike, but Never Pedals or Woman With Red Hair Who Runs. I never felt the need to really talk to people, although after a few years some of us might nod at each other. One day I ran into one of these folks on the crosstown bus and we actually had a conversation. We commented on how strange it was to see each other fully clothed, ours was a locker room acquaintance and I’m sure the other passengers thought we were very odd. One of them (Thin Man Who Lifts While Biking) turned up at Equinox and we had a happy nod hello to acknowledge the reacquaintance.

Starting three years ago my job at Jazz at Lincoln Center took a ferocious bite out of my time and it has been harder to make it to the gym on weekdays in the past few years. My six and seven day habit became more of a three and four day one with work being a starting very early and ending very late sort of thing. I was still very relieved to get there and let everything else fall away.

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My view of Cookie from the floor while working out the other day.

 

So, of course, living our quarantine lives has meant no gym and I miss it very much. (So much that I dreamed about working out on machines last night – probably the inspiration for this post.) Even the gym in our building (which I also belong to in order to grab more workouts on the fly, yes, I belong to two gyms) is closed by order of state law, unable to open until some future post-phase 4 re-opening. (I occasionally fantasize about breaking into the one in the basement and making off with a few weights and the Bosu ball.) Gyms in New York are in a suspended state in much the same state as our concert hall, awaiting such a time as it is safe for us to return.

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Cookie looking a bit critical during a recent workout, perched on Kim’s work chair.

 

On the other hand, exercise continues at Deitch Studio as a daily ritual. Like so many people these days my new work wardrobe consists primarily of workout clothes – mine starting to get a bit ragged from the constant rotation. Kim and I vie early each morning for time on our 10’x 4′ (or so) space on yoga mats, our designated work out area in front of the flat files and blocking the entrance to the bedroom.

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Yep, gym equipment piled up next to DVD stacks and some of Kim’s comics reading.

 

I have slowly accumulated a variety of weights (luckily I had some from a former period of at home rehab which was a good thing because there was a shortage of them and price gauging online if you could get them at all), a ball, some bands, a foam roller. Cookie in particular is interested in this daily ritual (she is wildly fond of a paint pole we use for shoulder exercises and also comes running if I am using the green band). Blackie, ham that he is, only shows up to say hello to Harris during my Facetime workout however. (Blackie has discovered his inner actor and extrovert tendencies as a video call cat star during these work at home days.)

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Yummy corn muffins in progress last weekend.

 

Harris appears on my iPad weekly, where he watches some random portion of me visible to him, and I work out to his instruction. Not ideal, but it works. And despite missing the gym and a broad variety of equipment there, the good news is that I am back up to five or more workouts a week, biceps gaining ground and abs attempting to keep up with my renewed interest in cooking. (See prior posts herehere and here.) As mentioned above, cardio is a bit of disaster despite the occasional trip up the 16 flights of stairs here; I find myself huffing and puffing when I attempt to walk more than a mile. I am slowly adding in daily walks to offset this until such time that more walking and even elliptical machines are a part of my life again.

However, I often joke that I will emerge from the bunker days with a prison pallor, oddly buff, but a bit puffy and overweight – perhaps sporting a Deitch designed cat tats on each bicep. Perhaps I will work some of that good cooking weight off biking to work in the coming new post-Covid world. I will let you know.