Thursday, December 30, 2010


My many jobs: erratically chosen, it would appear, far-reaching on the scale of demands and skill requirements. But no! Let me connect them, if not for you, for me.

Gym fitness. I see a guy doing tricep push-downs and know he's putting too much stress in his back. I'm not mentally comparing him to a chart of proper form; rather, for that moment, I am him, I inhabit his body and know how it works. As a newcomer I struggle to quickly pinpoint the solution for him, i.e., "pin your elbows in." But as for the knowing, I know.

Writing. Entering a topic, stepping into someone's shoes, hearing and staying true to a voice. Allowing yourself to walk into another world or the perspective of a reader makes writing come alive. Stay there. Inhabit that place. Don't wander off for a brief journey to a joke if the mood is somber, no matter how good the joke is. Don't show off a large vocabulary where a simple line will do. Stay in the world. This is more difficult than discerning a guy's shoulder raises are being propelled by his trapezoid muscles, but well worth the effort.

Theatre. Of course an actor must inhabit a character, but I've always been on the directing and teaching side, which still requires this. On more than one occasion I've given an actor direction, stopped, and realized I hadn't a clue what lines she was speaking. None! Yet my direction, checked against the words and their meanings, was appropriate. I could sense where she needed to go if not why. The director can be more inarticulate about this than the fitness coach, and certainly moreso than the writer. "Give me more (sound effect) there," I might say, and the actor understands. You can see why I'm having a little trouble adjusting to, "Place your feet shoulder-width distance apart on the middle of the footpad, your knees at a 90-degree angle..."

There is more to each job than inhabiting, of course, but I see that this is a skill I draw on often. It links together all my work, which is helpful to know on weeks when I'm at the gym, conducting phone interviews, and prepping a script for rehearsal (this week). It's not as voodoo as I might make it seem, but instead is the essence of being human, being present to your surroundings, and, above all, to empathy.

Currently, I'm working on a staged reading with former prisoners, and at our last rehearsal, I pushed the boundaries of what was helpful to these men, in a moment much like the directing-unawares occurrences. The instinct was good and, ultimately, what was needed; the intervening struggle was, however, unnerving. What right have I to step into the shoes of an ex-con and make a judgment call? In this case, the right of the artist/coach/writer who relied on instinct, and was rewarded. A story for another time, maybe, but it's highly personal; I'm hesitant, stepping back, observing the men and wondering what is best.

Friday, December 24, 2010

What's Left

'Twas the night before Christmas, with yesterday spent boiling a mouthpad--twice, to sink those molars--and being hit, and hitting. Not your normal holiday preparations, but then again today is hardly usual for us. A sick kid is in the next room. Your average winter cold is ominous for the diabetic, and we had communicated with the on call endocrinologist twice before lunch. Next stop is the ER for IVs, he said. Merry Christmas.

The line up was such at boxing class that I'd be sparring the teacher. "Oh man," Chad exclaimed, knowing what Emily could be like. "You're in for it." I had figured I'd be up against either a smaller, older man in the class or Emily, and it's saying something that I preferred the man.

The preparation for being alone with your opponent and your wits requires people: the boxer is helpless to put on the gloves or the headgear. I stood as a fellow classmate pulled the headgear down over my face, was able to do nothing about the uneven squeeze, unable, even, to point it out, my mouthguard hindering speech.

Emily began gently, as she had done with each pair (I was last to spar, and had already endured 15 stair runs, an ab workout, and several rounds on the bags). Typically sparring shouldn't take place for many months of training, but we wanted to finish our eight weeks with a bang, if without thorough lessons in strategy.

Just your jab, she'd say, then two jabs and a cross. The other pairs negotiated, whereas I would punch Emily's gloves, as she had gone without a mouthguard in order to talk. I carefully followed directions, punched away her jabs, circled with her, and then she came after me.

If I know Emily, she was teaching me to slip and get away, to keep my guard up, but she was doing this by thumping on me. Without a clear view (I was without my glasses, and getting punched), I started swinging her way. Forget technique, was my approach, I need to put an end to this.

I had wondered how my instincts would present themselves. Take a beating? Cower? Lean into my opponent's punches like I did the first class? Proudly I can report I did no such thing. With form and power but lacking still in strategy, I deflected what I could and tried to hit where there was an opening.

Emily allowed me to go for her ribs. Two--three--four. Hooks to the body are unlike hooks to a bag. Stuff in the way! Gloves hitting back! I did my best. And then came the next beating.

The round ended with Emily asking, "Do you have anything left?" and my answer "I don't know." (George Foreman on his 1974 bout with Ali: By the seventh round, I was tired. I hit him in the stomach and he said, "Is that all you've got, George?" And I’m thinking, "Yup.")

What a question, what's the answer? I'm employed in the fitness department of a gym; I know words like endurance, conditioning, anaerobic exercise, but I don't have a way to describe what boxing does to me. Did I have anything left physically? It was hard to breathe, and all systems were starting to shut down; I felt like crying from exhaustion. And mentally? Everything in me wanted the suffering to stop. I wasn't hurting from being hit, but rather from the work it takes to throw, take, and deflect punches. You can see how boxers get to the point of asking that the gloves be cut off.

She motioned for David to remove the headgear and gloves he had put on me just a few minutes before. How long ago? Chad came up to me and said, "She made you spar longer than anyone. You were out there over five minutes." There's a reason for three-minute rounds, but Emily has this philosophy of taking people to their brink, then asking for five more seconds. In my case, this totaled out to five minutes.

After I sat in a daze for a few minutes on the floor, I was fine. In fact, I was unsatisfied with the feeling I hadn't been entirely spent, as after a typical class, so I headed down to the weights and did my back routine. And I wondered: why is easy not enough? Why is being pushed to the max attractive? The next session of this class wouldn't start for a few weeks, leaving me to wonder what I'd do without the chance to dangle over the precipice of what's left.

Easy never feels right to me. Comfortable is not comfortable. The boxing--no one's making me do it. The diabetes, however, has been forced upon us. Not easy or simple, it's an opponent without fear. Dancing round the ring, mocking, in the three-minute round that lasts a long, long time.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Use Your Brain(pad)

When it was determined that the family schedule had shifted, that my husband would now be able to attend my first sparring session, the first response was one of relief.

"Oh, good," Greg said. But almost immediately, he corrected himself. "I mean, uh, no. Why don't I let you go handle this first one yourself," he says.

"What does that mean?" I ask.

"I'm just not sure about this whole you getting hit in the head thing."

(He had forgotten I survived this.)

"I'm not going to get hit," I said. "I'm so fast that last night I turned the light switch off in my bedroom, and I was in bed before the room was dark." (I've mistaken myself for Muhammed Ali.)

Greg continues. "I have this vision of you getting punched for the first time, and just sort of stopping and saying, Hey, wait a second! That hurt!"

Apparently, this interest in boxing will be thrown in the corner once I realize it's actually about taking punches, according to Greg.

I'm wondering about this myself, I must admit. Last night, when
my instructor walloped the side of my naked head to point out, in her kind way, that my guard was down, I did sort of stop and raise my eyebrows. Whah...?

Next Thursday I'll conduct a clinical experiment: Do I really want to participate in a sport that requires a "brain-pad mouthguard"?

Monday, December 13, 2010

Christmas Wishes

As I was making lunch today, a snow day, Theo said to me, "It's amazing that you have to cook the food AND count the food."

It is, yes. I'm glad for the recognition, especially by the guy it's all for, and especially after a week when diabetes tested my will and soul.

Last weekend I found myself pretending, if that's even possible, that diabetes wasn't the elephant in the room. Casually I'd cook meals and not allow time for carb counting, though of course I had to, and of course the shot was waiting. Somehow, yes, I tried to play cool while doing my job. Maybe this was a good thing, but it felt like denial.

Sunday night, we're watching AFV, which is followed by Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. The kids always beg to watch the first part before heading off to bed, the part that gets Mom crying and Dad angry that he's been manipulated into crying.

"Sure, we can watch til the first commercial," I say.

The bus, blah blah, meet such-and-such family. The wife is visually impaired, the husband blind, both due to diabetic retinopathy.

I can see the wheels churning in Simon's head. Theo, for his part, simply remarks that it's a double bummer: diabetes and blindness.

The week continues. Monday, I'm featured as a D-Mom. Thursday, I'm called to attend a field trip; the teacher was unaware she needed to arrange with the trained personnel at school. Friday, I sneak Theo a snack in the dark of the theater, during an awful production of Alice In Wonderland.

Someone brings a birthday treat to school. It's ice cream, so Theo can't have it. He can't even take it home with him in the bags I've provided for treats. This doesn't faze him--he got to have a lollipop from the stash I fill in his classroom--but it's killing me.

Last night, there's a reception following Greg's church Christmas presentation. Theo loads his plate with cookies. "But he can't eat that, right?" person after person asked. Yes he can, I say, as I ruffle through the pages I've printed off the internet ("Carbohydrates in Cookies").

Cookies, chocolate chip, commercially prepared, reg, higher fat, enriched

Cookies, chocolate chip, commercially prepared, reg, higher fat, enriched

Cookies, chocolate chip, commercially prepared, reg, higher fat, enriched

Cookies, chocolate chip, commercially prepared, reg, higher fat, enriched

Cookies, chocolate chip, commercially prepared, reg, higher fat, enriched

Cookies, chocolate chip, commercially prepared, reg, higher fat, enriched

Cookies, chocolate chip, commercially prepared, reg, higher fat, unenriched

Cookies, chocolate chip, commercially prepared, reg, higher fat, unenriched

Cookies, chocolate chip, commercially prepared, reg, higher fat, unenriched

Cookies, chocolate chip, commercially prepared, regular, lower fat

Cookies, chocolate chip, commercially prepared, regular, lower fat

Cookies, chocolate chip, commercially prepared, soft-type

Cookies, chocolate chip, commercially prepared, soft-type

Cookies, chocolate chip, commercially prepared, special dietary

Cookies, chocolate chip, commercially prepared, special dietary

Cookies, chocolate chip, dry mix

Cookies, chocolate chip, dry mix

Five pages of this; I give up. I call it three units and give the shot while answering someone's question about something, and hoping Theo's rambunctious friend doesn't bump into him. Later he's low, but we give him a fix and check him while he sleeps. It works out. But no matter how hard I try, there's no wishing this away.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010


On March 14, 2008, Thomas Towers Sr., 56, lost his son. A young man had driven a Honda Civic off the road and smashed into the car of Thomas Jr., who completed two tours in Iraq and had returned home just six months earlier.

The driver, 19 at the time, spent four months in a coma. A blood test showed drugs in his system but no alcohol.

Towers didn't want the kid to get eight years in prison, according to an article by Lane DeGregory. That would mean he'd sit "in the air-conditioning, watching TV on the tax payers' dollars."

Instead, Towers wanted an apology. Every week.

Andrew Gaudioso, now 22, will spend 15 years on drug offender probation sending weekly postcards to Towers, 780 in all. If a postcard doesn't arrive--God bless the postal worker--Towers will call the probation officer, and Gaudioso will be hauled off to prison.

"I want him to remember, for the rest of his life, that he killed my son," Towers said.

You can understand Towers's pain. Or maybe you can't, and that's his point--he's going to make sure his grief is felt. It's not possible to keep so much inside. You can try to understand this as best you can without having walked in his shoes.

But then you can wonder what will happen in two months, five years, a decade, when grief is forced to stand when it wants to rest, when repentance cannot give way to rebirth, when hopes for the future can't be read through a smeared postmark.

For some time, I've been working on a book project based on a true story from the life of Kevin Jansma. In 2004, his wife Marilyn was killed when a man who had been up all night partying fell asleep at the wheel and crashed into her idling Honda CR-V.

Kevin could have asked for a harsh sentence. Instead, he requested an audience with the driver to read a letter he, Kevin, had written. In it, Kevin describes losing his wife, and telling his toddler son that Mommy is in heaven. Toward the end, he extends forgiveness.

Last year, I met with the driver. He runs his own car repair shop, doing what he can to help those who can't pay. At night he attends cooking school, and hopes to someday open his own restaurant. He owes his life to Kevin, he told me. He knows what could have been, and he's taking advantage of being given a second chance

Every squeal from a tire in his shop takes him back to that day, not that he needs reminders. Because although he's thankful for a life beyond what he thinks he deserves, not a day goes by when he doesn't remember what he's done.

Monday, December 6, 2010

I'm a D-Mom

D-Mom Blog Featured D-Mom

I'm today's featured D-Mom (mom of a child with type 1 diabetes) on Woohoo! Read the interview by clicking the above badge.

A special welcome to all of you who ventured over here from there. My son Theo was diagnosed this past August just before his seventh birthday, and life since then has cycled through many stages. You can read about them in my posts labeled "diabetes/type 1," which intermingle with writings on weightlifting, parenting and even boxing, because as you know, life keeps going post-diagnosis.

In fact, here's a great example of how diabetes hasn't slowed us down one bit. Theo, at least--I get tired just watching him.

Thanks for stopping by!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Ol' One-Two Hurts

First, you've got the bag burn on the right (my computer camera reverses images):

Then you've got the cut and swollen knuckles on the left.

Injury one happened on the bags, injury my bathroom. Let's just say I missed the air while doing my shadowboxing homework. Think I look bad? You should see the sink...

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Monday, November 29, 2010

10,000 Jumps

In an attempt to understand success and genius, Malcolm Gladwell writes in his book Outliers on the 10,000-Hour Rule.

Based on a study by Anders Ericsson, the 10,000-Hour Rule states that the equivalent of 20 hours a week for ten years must be put into a skill or career before real success arrives (historically speaking: Bill Gates and The Beatles are among the examples).

The 10,000-Hour Rule is just one part of Outliers, which also explores why soccer players born in certain months are more successful, why pilots from certain cultures are more prone to crash their planes, and why hard work alone won't get you to the top.

Gladwell has said, "I do think that we vastly underestimate the extent to which success happens because of things the individual has nothing to do with."

Yet the 10,000 hours--mastering a skill, repeating a task--bears a closer look, especially as I come to the end of a blog-every-day challenge.

The other day I was jumping rope in my garage, the bunny looking at me quizzically and taking a hop every minute or so, not in solidarity but out of terror. In a flash, a whish of the rope, I suddenly knew what I should be doing to jump right and better.

I'd taken to this efficient workout after determining it doesn't injure my knees and calves as running on a treadmill does (Bruce Lee reportedly claimed that ten minutes of skipping rope is equal to 30 minutes of running).

And though a spectator or bunny might not notice the changes brought on by my moment of revelation, I could feel the difference; I was moving with more grace, no longer working against the rhythm but with it.

Call me what you will for needing thousands of jumps to figure something out, or chalk it up to some things just needing time. Marriage done well. A good sauce. Exercise. I wonder sometimes why I'm doing the thousandth row, if I need to be in the gym again, but it's all adding up, like small deposits in a bank account. I like that a fit body can't be bought. In an age when many things can be had with a click, it's gratifying to know you have to work for the important stuff.

I can't say that blogging every day this month has moved me to the level of master blogger, but I trust it has been a worthwhile exercise. Take a peek back at the other entries of this month before they disappear--I mean, before they accumulate into the large body of work of which I'm very proud.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Birds and the Bees, and the Hissing Cockroaches

A continuation of a discovery made a few days ago.

SON: What's the white thing in the cockroach cage?

ME: It's called an "unfertilized egg case." It's filled with things that look like baby cockroaches but aren't.

SON: So they're dead.

ME: Well, uh, no. It's like the eggs in the frig, how they're not going to turn into baby chickens, because there were no boy chickens around.

SON: And our cockroaches are girls.

ME: Yes. One of them had this egg case, and she's hissing a lot to protect it because she thinks she had 30 babies, but she didn't, really, because, uh, they're real but not real. Sort of.

SON: I don't get it.

ME: Honestly? Neither do I.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Nice weather we're the stadium

I interviewed the meteorologist for the University of Alabama football team, winner of 13 national championships.

What's that? You didn't know sports teams hired meteorologists? Neither did I.

Click here and scroll down for proof he exists.

Friday, November 26, 2010

What's Right

Thanksgiving day, I'm reading the paper and see someone I know.

The Grand Rapids Press does a great job each year of partnering with the United Way, gathering a list of needs from around the city, and publishing it on a holiday when folks practice gratitude. Requests are grouped in categories (home repair, dental) and information is given on how readers can donate.

Some are spotlighted with photos; in one, I saw a woman from the homeless shelter where I taught theatre.

Shaquita's got her own place now, I read, but no bed. She's thankful for four walls but, with her disability, the lack of furniture is hard on her body.

Lots of faces came and went during my time at the shelter, but nobody forgets Shaquita.

Shaquita gave me grief on a regular basis. The requirement that she sit through my session was not acceptable in her sight, and she often grumbled curses under her breath and audibly, as well. She'd stir up fights that would call everything to a halt.

When I saw her picture I thought, Oh, brother. Not her.

All the other requests I'm reading with tears streaming down, but with Shaquita I'm thinking, No. Not her.

Because clearly some mental issues affect this ornery woman who gave me hell and made life a little extra difficult for the other women. And maybe people should know that before shelling out a couple hundred--heck, a thousand--for a bed and mattress and box springs. People shouldn't be crying over the words "formerly homeless," they should know the full story.

Is what passed through my mind.

Until something in me wondered how I got to the point of deciding who deserves a bed.

On Martin Luther King, Jr Day of this year, I had asked for a volunteer to read Sojourner Truth's famous speech, Ain't I A Woman.

"I'll do it," said Shaquita, "but I ain't standing up. My feet hurt."

Shaquita gave a somewhat stilted, seated performance, occasionally giving way to the preacherly rhythm of the speech. By the end, she was clearly taken with Sojourner, a woman who reportedly flexed her biceps in front of a roomful of men and asked her famous question, proving that women are strong and smart enough to have equal rights. Shaquita wanted to know more.

The notes in my lesson plan are incomplete because after we finished, I gathered up all the research I'd done, walked over to Shaquita's mat on the floor, and handed the pile to her. I'd been looking for an opportunity to get on her good side, and she seemed surprised to see me single her out, and grateful for the papers. She shuffled them on top of her blanket and looked up at me, her usual scowl now softening.

"Thank you," she said, "I'll read them."

Then: "Drive safe tonight, you hear?" Because she knew I was heading home and to bed after this evening's session, which I had titled "Stand Up For What's Right."

Thursday, November 25, 2010

We Thought They Were Both Girls: Thanksgiving Edition

Something strange appeared in the cage of the giant hissing cockroaches today. Something white, with lots of brown dots. Early internet searches indicate this could be a dead egg case, though we're open to official, scientific opinions.

Meanwhile, though we grieve alongside [Chubby][Lipstick], we're thankful that we have 2 and not 42 cockroaches.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


When I run sound in church on Sundays, and a woman at the mic appears to be talking in a tunnel, I reach for the sweepable mid. I boost the lower mid range, maybe add a little high end to brighten it up. Stop and listen, let the sound settle in my ears, adjust 'til satisfied.

When I prepare an insulin shot for my son, I count the carbs in his meal and divide them by 20. I check his blood sugar, and if it's high, I subtract that number from his target number, which is determined by the numbers of hours it's been since he last ate. I divide the result by 100 and add it to the food dose, dial up the pen, give the shot.

You start to want life to be like this, a matter of small adjustments adding up to a desired result.

But then the guitarist plays and it's too jingly, Theo's sugar runs high despite your careful counting, and you see that all of it is a cycle of maintenance, of tweaking your way through.

Attention, Those with Deficits

What I don't like about blogging every day is that posts I like quickly get buried.

So hear ye, hear ye, a list of posts you might want to view:

Monday, November 22, 2010


Insert vegetables in juicer, drink, repeat each morning. Faithfully for the past four months. Shouldn't I have superpowers by now?

Sunday, November 21, 2010


In "The Wheel of Life," Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, an early pioneer of studies on death and dying, reports interviewing tens of thousands of people, whose vital signs had stopped but later were revived.

Death, says Kubler-Ross, occurs in distinct phases. The accounts given by subjects ages 2-99 and culturally diverse were too similar to discount. The floating out of bodies, the tunnel, the light, meeting with deceased family members--she heard it all over and over again.

One woman reported floating out of her body, hearing doctors pronounce her dead, and watching them cover her with a sheet. A young resident, in his nervousness, told a joke; Mrs. Schwartz, on being revived, reported it back to him.

Those who entered what she calls Phase Four reported being "in the presence of the Highest Source. Some called it God. Others reported simply knowing they were surrounded by every bit of knowledge there was, past, present and future. It was nonjudgmental and loving."

In this phase, people reviewed every thought and action of their lives. They reported being asked the question, "What service have you rendered?"

"It demanded that people confront whether or not they had made the highest choices in life. They found out whether or not they learned the lessons they were supposed to learn, the ultimate being unconditional love."

What service have you rendered? It's a question directed out and away from the self.

It's a good question.

And today, as I turn 40, is a good time to start answering.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

I Think, Therefore I Get Hit

He was only sorting pears. Pitching the rotting ones into a can across the fruit aisle.

But when he went to throw, I ducked.

Or, rather, bobbed--to use the boxing term, because it's boxing that caused this reaction. Specifically, the punches to the ribcage I had endured the evening before.

Trainers train by punching where you're exposed, because you won't leave those elbows up for long. Whether a punch or pear is coming at you, there's no time to think; only the motions practiced thousands of times will save you.

Not thinking: not my specialty.

A barrage of punches were thrown before I determined that nothing creative was required of me, that I simply needed to freakin' get outta the way. I had been paired with the teacher to shadowbox, to theoretically take turns jabbing or weaving in air, but Emily would have none of that. I'd weave and she'd punch me in the gut. I'd jab and she'd slap my arm. No, I wasn't to move my feet. I was to stay six inches from her nose, and face what was coming.

It worked. Not thinking--reacting--kicked in. Removing my glasses helped some (knucklehead had me paranoid), my mind blurring with my vision. But mostly it was the hits that knocked the thinking out of me.

I have to say, It was kinda nice.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Thanksgiving's Back Door

Burnside Writers Collective has published another piece of mine: Thanksgiving's Back Door, an essay on last Thanksgiving at the homeless shelter where I taught theatre.

While there, check out their other offerings, as well as my two previous writings: Activist: The Origin Story and When Poodles Cry.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Found On My Camera

An entire blog could be dedicated to this.

With two boys, ages 10 and 7, sneaking the camera at their will, we're approaching a record number of pictures, mostly of our bunny. Too, I am now quite familiar with the appearance of my backside as it stands cooking dinner, or walks up stairs.

Thus, with this photo, a new series: Found On My Camera. Captions welcome.

Monday, November 15, 2010

And The Winner Is

After the twelve-round Manny Pacquiao-Antonio Margarito fight on Saturday, Pacquiao, the winner and a Filipino congressman, couldn't sign autographs, because he couldn't hold a pen. Margarito, a head taller, was hospitalized with a broken right eye socket. He's having surgery on Tuesday.

You could call this a brutal sport, or you could embrace its primal nature and wax philosophical, as boxers like to do.

"You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life," said Rocky Balboa. "But it ain't about how hard you can hit; it's about how hard you can get hit and keep movin' forward."

Theo watched some of Pacquiao's 2009 fight with the bigger Miguel Cotto, which brought Pacquiao his 7th world title. He asked, "Why do they always keep their hands up?"

Because the hits are gonna keep coming, Son. You have to be ready.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Daily Fs

As you know, I'm trying to blog every day this month, and yes, it's getting to be a bit much. Thanks for sticking with me.

There are three other things I'm trying to do daily--this month, and beyond.

F is for Flax Oil. Flax oil is good for you. Read the specifics elsewhere; in fact, google the name of anything that ails you, and I guarantee that flax oil will appear as a remedy. It's that good.

F is for Flossing. While Greg lies in his hygienist's chair, basking in the glow of the bright light and endless praise for his beautiful teeth, teeth which he steadfastly does not floss, I'm in the next room being berated. Fact is I do floss, thank you, though not often enough for close-set teeth, and not while watching television with a long minty strand adorning my neck, as my hygienist helpfully suggests. So I'm working on it. But not via the necklace method.

F is for Functional Mobility. This is a fancy way of saying I'm trying to stretch every day, which doesn't start with F. If it's a workout day, I stretch after I'm done, not before. Part of my stretches lately include shadow boxing, because my instructor has asked us to spend ten minutes a day on technique.

Come to think of it, we're supposed to do planks for five minutes a day, too. P is for planks...L is for laundry... T is for tired of all these self-imposed demands.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Thursday, November 11, 2010

On Work

When I was a little girl, I didn't want to be a princess.

Nothing against tiaras--rather, I lacked a proclivity for planning ahead, and, perhaps, the optimism that lets one dream. When I grow up... wasn't on my radar.

Later I'd say astronaut if asked, or airplane pilot, or The Incredible Hulk. The college years shook up my plans, though one could argue I'm nearing that last goal (Amy strikes most muscular pose here). After trying on an urban planning major, I graduated with a BA in theatre and a minor in communications. And although personality tests told me I should be a florist, I've tried most everything else, it seems.

As my blog description indicates, I have many interests. I'd argue they're all related on a basic cellular level, though you might question that if you caught me browsing through job ads. I head toward Social Services first, think to myself I can do that, then glance over at Construction. There's something about the phrase "must be able to lift concrete" that gets me every time.

But for a while now, if you asked me what I want to be, I'd whisper in your ear that if somebody'd let me, I'd work at the Y.

The Y is my second home, my church, my neighborhood bar, all wrapped up into one. I love the mix of people gathered in one place working toward the same goals; and because I love being right there with them, I allowed myself to dream big, and applied for a position.

On November 16, I will become a wellness coach at my local Y. I'll be in the first line of trainers that meet with new members, orienting them to the equipment and basic exercises and meeting with them regularly to keep them on task with fitness and nutrition. I'll get to walk the floor and coach and encourage the folks working out. Maybe--I'll have to check the job description--I'll even get to take to task the men who leave 45 pound plates on equipment and walk off.

I'll still write for fun and for pay, and I'll still keep with my theatre gigs, but I have a feeling I'm settling into a vocation, what I want to be now that I'm grown up but still growing.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

BENGAY, The Sequel

When we first encountered our protagonist--or, rather, antagonist antagonizing--she was disturbed by the smell of BENGAY permeating the competition gym. In part 2, the method of madness is discovered; and though the perpetrator remains at large, a threat of revenge is made (closed caption: "we'll smear it all over his car").

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

We Now Interrupt Your Regularly Scheduled Competition Video Fest

Tune in tomorrow for yet another video and yet another NaBloPoMo post; today, though, we'll pause to honor D-Blog Day, started five years ago to promote diabetes awareness.

"Six Things You Want People To Know About Diabetes" is the theme. Given that I didn't know much about diabetes on August 1, 2010, but learned a great deal starting the next day, when Theo was diagnosed, I bet I know a little of what you don't know.

Type 1 is not Type 2. You hear about type 2 in the news because it's brought on by diet and exercise and can be controlled by same. Type 1 is not brought on by one too many candy bars; instead, it's...well, they don't know exactly, but genetics and possibly viruses play into the causes. It's not contagious. As for control, we can manage the diabetes, but we can't get Theo to a point where he doesn't need insulin, until those smart people come up with a cure.

Theo can eat anything. Because type 1 is confused with type 2, people think Theo can't have sweets. He can--we just have to count the carbs and give him insulin first. Now, it's true that certain foods, such as soda, can cause his blood sugar levels to spike despite an accurate counting of carbs, due to the timing of the absorption of the shot vs the sugar kicking in. But this happens with foods like pizza, too, where the fat slows down the carb absorption.

We're always on our toes. We control the diabetes; it doesn't control us. Theo will live a productive life. Yet, when people ask me if we've settled into a "routine," it's hard to know how to answer. Sure we have, but the factors change constantly. We keep a running log of his levels, carbs eaten, and units of insulin given; we look to this to determine patterns when things start going awry. Which they do, usually after we're seeing great levels for a few days; suddenly the numbers get all funky, and we have to seek out patterns in times of day, kinds of foods eaten, amount of activity surrounding the shot. There's no relaxing.

Diabetes is all day, every day. People will ask, Oh, do you check his sugar about twice a day? We wish. Think more like six times a day, plus an insulin shot before every meal. Plus a different kind of insulin given before bed, which, so far, has meant that Greg and I have not had an evening date since July. Other daily events tie in, as well. Did you know that a warm bath just after a shot can cause insulin to absorb too quickly? We have to time out the baths to an hour after a shot, ending at least ten minutes prior to the next shot. And that one cream I like to put on his eczema after baths? Might absorb through the skin and spike his sugar up. Once we get him to bed, we have to be sure to get up around the same time next day, or his sugar could be low. No sleeping in, even if we had to check his blood sugar at 2am. It's all day, every day.

So it's sad, yes. We tire of having to carry all this stuff with us everywhere we go. We hate when the shot makes him bleed. It kills us when he's left with a bruise. And we don't go near thinking about long-term consequences. I've called it grief here before; it's a sorrow that has no long-term relief.

But we're fine. Sometimes I think I really should have a separate blog for all these very specific topics I address: a weightlifting blog, a diabetes blog, a theatre for the homeless blog. But I like them all mixing together in one place, because that's what my life is like. Bench pressing doesn't define me, and homelessness is not my only cause. I have a diabetic child, yes, but we don't sit around and weep together all day, as this makes perfectly clear. Life is filled with ups and downs, and even the downs can have an up side. Diabetes has sobered me, and I now appreciate life more than I ever thought I would.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Amy and Theo on Weightlifting, Arnold, and BENGAY

Amidst praise and adoration from my youngest son, I manage to complain--about the awful smell emanating from a lifter who applied BENGAY before the first flight. In the small gym that hosted the competition, the smell was overwhelming, and I forgot to breathe throughout the entirety of my first lift.

Don't forget to also watch the winning lift (during which I remembered to breathe)
and the footage of the huge trophy
and the other stuff I'll post this week to keep up with NaBloPoMo.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Embracing the Pause

My fellow benchers and I were surprised to learn, upon arriving at the competition, that it was of the pause at the chest variety. Sending the bar skyward after a full stop at the chest is extra difficult, and usually means you lift less than your best.

I pause-benched 120 on Saturday, which you'll witness in the video below; but using the traditional ribcage-as-trampoline method, I can bench 130. The good news is that I benched ten pounds more than I did at the last pause at the chest comp.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Not Bad For Someone Who Was Punched In The Head

To help meet the National Blog Posting Month challenge, I'm going to milk the details of my fourth bench press competition for all they're worth. Tune in this upcoming week for stats, photos, and videos. Stats! Photos! Videos! Oh my.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Hurting My Shoulder Was The Least of My Worries, as it turns out

You'd think that someone who signs up for a boxing class would expect to get hit eventually.

Maybe at the last class, which is dedicated to sparring and will involve actual sparring equipment, such as headgear and mouthguards and gloves.

But not at the first class.

By a guy.

And his bare fist.

Accidentally, and in my forehead.

Which hurt for an hour.

Oddly enough, I can't wait to go back.

And mess him up.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Slowing Down For Salsa

In the kick-off post for the NaBloPoMo daily challenge, I mentioned my initial fear of not having enough to say.

Such fear besets the very few. Blogs are so often blah-gs, filled with daily ramblings written in the manner of a Facebook status. Heck, there's a blog called What I Ate For Lunch and Why. It's been running since May of 2008. Surely it's a thrilling read, but you see my point here.

My chosen challenge month has many ready-made topics built in: my fourth bench press competition, my fortieth birthday, a foray into boxing. But drama does not always for good reading make. Don't just say something because you have something to say; first, have something to say about what you have to say. You follow?

I write long posts. I rarely include pictures. I overheard a twenty-something say she'll bypass a blog if there aren't enough pictures. We live in a visual culture, for sure, but that's no excuse for not slowing down to read.

When The New Yorker arrives in the mail, I make a pot of tea and sit to read. The magazine is filled mostly with black and white print; when there's a photo or drawing, it's top quality, as is the writing. Sitting with The New Yorker is practically a spiritual practice. Same with Leonard Pitts's columns, for me.

That's the kind of writing I strive for here: the kind that makes you want to slow down and savor. Or maybe just giggle. Either way, my intent is to be interesting--for you.

I will not tell you what I had for lunch.

Unless it was especially interesting.

Like the chicken, avocado, lettuce and salsa salad I had yesterday.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010


When I first read about National Blog Posting Month, a challenge to post every day, and which actually happens every month, not just November, I thought, Nah. Who's got that many ideas?

By the time I got out of the shower, I had to scramble, naked, for paper to record the three original, insightful--visionary, even--topics that had come to me. Here we go. You with me?

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Watch this video, and a kid in a poor country gets insulin

Three months into Theo's type 1 diagnosis, insulin shots are part of our day, like eating lunch or getting dressed or sleeping.

But Theo could sleep in or stay in pajamas all day to no great effect, whereas without insulin, he'd die.

There are kids in this world who can't get insulin simply because they're poor.

Click HERE before November 14 to watch a video, and a donation will be made in your honor toward this important cause. (I'm having trouble embedding it, unfortunately.)

For more info on about The Big Blue Test and World Diabetes Day, see and

Monday, November 1, 2010

The Moment I've Been Waiting For Has Really Bad Timing

I searched high and low for a local boxing class, and I found one! It starts Thursday.

I trained a couple of months for a local bench press competition, and I'm doing well! It's on Saturday.

That's a mere 36 hours between. Ever hit a bag full of sand? It wreaks havoc on your arms. I need my arms to bench.

The trophies are big, I hear. Maybe I'll take my gloves on Saturday, knock out the rest of my weight class, and meet both goals.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

I'm Starting With the (Wo)man in the Mirror

Sometime between the ninth Iron Man passing by and the appearance of my son, dressed as Michael Jackson but more closely resembling Weird Al dressed as Michael Jackson, I whipped my left arm out of my jacket, flexed, and said to the woman sitting next to me, "Does this look bulky to you?"

Women and their "I don't want to get too bulky."

I lift the heaviest weight I can for most exercises and am not bulky, despite what my children say. Genetics play a part in how any of us look, of course, as does the amount of fat masking the muscle. But if the fat is there, it generally will look better with a little muscle providing what is often called tone. And if the muscle is there, and you pay attention to nutrition, you'll burn the fat more easily, and fight off the effects of aging and osteoporosis and all sorts of things women worry about.

Writers are told to pare down their pitches to an "elevator speech," a brief explanation able to be eeked out between floors. This is my Elementary School Halloween Parade speech on women and weights. The science behind male and female muscle fibers is obviously more complicated than my summary here, and other knowledgeable people have addressed the bulkiness issue more thoroughly.

But after I'd finished bullying the woman into looking at my arm, I had to say something. She'd just finished telling me she exercises four times a week, but during the strength training portion of her workouts she "doesn't feel like anything is happening."

That's putting a lot of work into little results. I'm hoping that at the very least, women like my friend here are reaping the other social and psychological benefits of exercising with others. And that she'll consider making a change.

"I never see you do cardio," a women said to me the other day at the gym. "How do you stay skinny?"

I pointed to the bench where I had just been doing dumbbell presses with 45 pounds in each hand. "Did you see me over there?" I asked her, huffing and puffing. "For me, eight reps was like running a mile."

I'll often follow up talk like this with some complaints about my knees, and protestations that I jump rope at home and live on the rowing machine. I'll also point out that I lost 50 pounds by almost exclusively lifting weights.

I like efficiency. I like results. Michael Jackson put it best: Don't stop 'til you get enough.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Breathing: It's Overrated

Monday night, following heavy sets with both barbell and dumbbells on the flat bench, I had the distinct sensation that my ribs were poking through my heart, and that my lungs, in solidarity, had ceased all major operations. Greg says this is my punishment for having another man spot me on the dumbbell press, but my feeling is he shouldn't be spiteful when I'm here knocking on death's door.

Reactions have been mixed. Regular folk are alarmed upon hearing phrases such as "I can't breathe," whereas powerlifters are like, "Go stretch. You'll be fine." I must admit that stretching has done nada; only time is taking away the feeling that the 45-pound dumbbell is sitting on my chest. I figure by next Saturday's meet, I'll either be really strong from carrying this imaginary weight around, or I'll pass out from the lack of breathing.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Puppies and Kitties

Of the four bench press competitions I've been involved in, two have been held at my local Y, and the others at farther away locations.

For those far away I've had to mail in my registrations. When I do, I like to use mailing labels with puppies

and also kitties.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Good Grief

Recently I began the process of writing a 504 plan for Theo's diabetes care at school.

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 provides protection against discrimination for children with disabilities, including those with diabetes. I'm writing a comprehensive plan of care to be followed by school staff in order to keep the disease managed with as little disruption to Theo's day as possible.

My preparations include reading a brochure called "Your School and Your Rights," written by the American Diabetes Association, where I found these words:

To qualify for protection under Section 504, a child must have a physical and mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities... In making this determination, a person with diabetes is viewed as he or she would be without the help of mitigating measures such as insulin.

Without the help of mitigating measures such as insulin.
It hit me: Theo can do anything, go anywhere, be anybody, but...he can't do it without carrying medication. Something will always hold him back.

The tears came again. I've told you about the tears. I called it grief, this working through the early stages of a diagnosis for my youngest son. When I use this term, people nod their heads in agreement. Yes, you're grieving the loss of your hopes and dreams. Yes, you're in early mourning for the forecast of future complications. Yes, they nod.

But I'm not entirely convinced of this.

Certainly, these tears are for Theo. I grieve for Theo. And for Greg and me, who have mountains of paperwork and prescriptions to manage. And Simon, who is asked to curb his eating because his brother can't have seconds.

But these things are not always on my mind. So the tears...the tears are also for something more, I've come to see.

They're grateful tears for love in a time of loss.

When I tell people about moments like reading the ADA brochure, they weep with me. They ask me to tell them what they can do. Sure, some people don't know what to say. Some shrug it off like it's no big deal, and that can be refreshing at times, and annoying at others. Then there's the kid in Theo's class who announced, "I know why they call it DIE-abetes."

But most people are kind. They try to reach out, best they can. And it's this care, this nurture from friends, doctors, social workers and strangers, that can bring on the tears. And a weeping for something more: for what should be, and should always be, mitigating factors aside. In one of my first blog posts here, I wrote that I wish everybody, always, would show others such care.

This past weekend, my family and I were at a friend's 40th birthday party. People of all ages wandered around talking and eating until a loud crash brought all to the main floor. A heavy three-paneled folding wooden door had fallen flat. It had fallen just inches from a toddling baby.

We're always somewhere between love and loss. We must recognize this and speak and weep accordingly.

a poetic way to say all this

Friday, October 22, 2010


Big guy at the gym is taking four 45-pound plates off the bar at the incline chest press.

"For all I know you didn't lift that," I say, teasingly. "You put them on there to look like you did, just to impress us."

"Yeah, and I sprayed myself with water to look like I'm sweating."

I put the key in the 190-pound slot for close-grip pull-downs. "Running out of weight here," I yell.

"Sometimes we're trying to impress ourselves, right?" Big Guy says. "If you're in here, you're not satisfied. You keep topping your last weight. You keep going, because it's never enough."

"And you hope that discipline translates over to real life," I say.

"I just turned 40," he says, "It all starts quitting on you when you turn 40. You gotta push yourself, but you gotta accept what you're given, too."

"40's in a few weeks for me," I say. "I've realized that this is it--this is all I've got, and it's about half over."

"Accept it," he says, "and keep pushing."

I nod and head back over to my pulldowns. I try 200 for eight reps, which is easy. I could move up 10, 20 pounds, but there's nowhere to go after 200, so I've done all I can do.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010


About sports, friends, school and life, Simon is ambivalent.

But ask him about LEGOs.

Ask any ten-year-old boy about LEGOs. Have you ever asked a ten-year-old boy about LEGOs? Watch as unbridled prepubescent devotion is channeled into small, colorful bits of plastic. No need to ask how or why; the heart goes where it will. To there: to LEGOs.

Not long ago we were in a store browsing the LEGO section. A boy approaches. He's short, on the pudgy side, with auburn hair. He's standing at the end of the aisle listening as we wonder aloud if we should buy a particular police wagon set.

He's quivering. And then he speaks:


The words come in small bursts. It's as if his head is a balloon and someone's letting out the air every few seconds.

"Oh yeah?" I ask. "How come?"

"It's," he says, breathless. "The mini-figure...he fits in there, can close the door,'s"

I carried the boy off to a lab and asked that they bottle him. Actually, I paid for the LEGO set, took it and my kids home, and watched as Simon assembled the pieces only to announce, ""

Passion. Last night, my friend Jill and I watched the film Eat Pray Love, based on Elizabeth Gilbert's bestselling book. Gilbert had trekked the world because she had lost her zeal and passion.

"I used to have an appetite for life, but now it is gone," she says. "I want to go someplace where I can marvel at something."

This weekend, our local ToysRUs will hold its annual LEGO Bricktober event. Last year at this time, I walked the kids into the store towards large boxes filled with LEGOs, where they and a handful of other ten-year-old boys built vehicles to be raced down a nearby makeshift ramp.

When parents urged kids to finish up, the children meekly held out their creations, this borrowed bliss, back to the employees.

"Keep 'em--they're yours," said a blue-shirted ToysRUs man.

The group fell silent. Eyes grew wide, and their thought processes, I imagine, went something like this:

--If I can keep this
--I can keep anything I make
--Therefore I should make something bigger.

Suddenly, eight-wheeled cars began appearing on the racetrack. Double-decker buses. As high as you could make a car and still call it a car, these boys did it.

Right here in Grand Rapids, Michigan, far from Bali and Naples and the other scenic locations Gilbert visited, passion was born, and I marveled at the sight.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Fashion Sense and Sensibility

In my house, stuff isn't often new. It's borrowed (from the library), used (from a thrift store), or donated (from a friend). The day we gave Theo a white sheet of paper to draw on, he flipped it over and exclaimed, "There's no writing on the other side!"

When friends with good fashion sense gave us some clothes for the boys, we were grateful. Simon especially liked this shirt

...and on Sunday, wore it to church. He's a handsome boy, and he looked quite good in the shirt, what with all the hand-stitched, asymmetrically hip designs.

But sometime during the chorus of "Take Me As I Am," I looked over at his right sleeve and saw this:

Now I'm all for celebrating the body, and this mermaid's v-taper certainly is cause for a party. But seeing as the pastor had just concluded a sermon on being stewards of the inner life, I rolled up my son's sleeve and got to work on just that.


D-Mom Blog

The D-Mom blog is a great resource for parents of children with type 1 diabetes, and I'm happy to have been added to their blogroll. Now I'm thinking I need an avatar, too. Who out there can draw?

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Eight Seconds

Simon is standing. I'm behind him cutting the back of his hair. He's talking. We're laughing. "Mom?" he asks, and leans forward. Mmm, I say, holding my scissors back. The lean becomes a fall. His face hits the door frame. His head rebounds off the sink. His body crumples to the floor, eyes are open, staring upward. I'm screaming. He won't talk. I won't leave him. I have to help him. I don't know what to do; I don't know what to do.

Then: He talks. He's fine. Why is Mom asking me my name? It's not a second son with diabetes; he just fainted. After his bike ride. That's all. Just an eight-second reminder to love the ones you're with.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Man On Wire

On August 7, 1974, Philippe Petit strung 200 kilos of cable between the tops of New York's Twin Towers and walked, knelt, lain, and danced across it. He and his cohorts spent the previous night juggling the logistics of this criminal act of poetry in the sky, which lasted 45 minutes to an hour, six or eight crossings between.

Friends on the ground alerted crowds to the dancing speck in the sky. In a time before cell phones, without the means to broadcast the news to anyone not in the immediate vicinity, people looked up. A photograph shows faces angled upward, arms hanging slack, lips parting.

Police gathered on the tower roofs; Petit laughed and ran to the middle of the wire. Ran: how would they follow? When he eventually gave in, the elegant act was traded for the violence of arrest, of handcuffs and the danger of a steep stairwell. Some friends would deny they knew him, pretending instead to be journalists. The police report would accuse him of "intent to cause public inconvenience...which served no legitimate purpose."

Why did he do it? "Why? There is no why," he said, directly following his arrest. Later he'd say the towers beckoned him, that "when I see three oranges, I juggle; when I see two towers, I walk."

Don't ask him if he is a daredevil, he told reporters. He'd rather describe his "elation at reaching the clouds and surprising the sky." Not a death wish--a "life wish."

Petit's friend, actress Debra Winger, has said that would Petit host a reality show or wear a swoosh on his shirt, he'd fund his dream walk across the Grand Canyon. But selling out doesn't suit this wirewalker, magician, juggler, 18th century post and beam carpenter, bullfighter, lockpicker and author of a book on pickpocketing (in the New York precinct, he escaped his handcuffs, swiped a policeman's hat, balanced it on his nose, and recuffed himself before the laughs subsided).

In 2007 Petit told Psychology Today that poetry and rebellion are words that help comprise his self-portrait. Focus, tenacity, and passion, too. "When I talk about my life, I use the word 'fighting' very often. There is my intention to create and the world is against it."

Life is an adventure--or, if not, a life of fighting for adventure, safety net foregone.

the book.
the movie.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Giving Herself

Susan called it a midlife crisis; Robert just calls it life.

My friend Susan Matheson was the first in West Michigan to donate a kidney to a stranger. Typically, donors are family members of those who need a transplant, but Susan didn't know Robert, and wouldn't unless he wanted to meet.

He did. Here's the video of this ultimate act of philanthropy: giving life.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Something in the Air

Emma likes Nick.

So says my son Simon, age 10, who sees the two together on the playground every recess. When the group plays Star Wars, Nick is General Grievous, and Emma is General Grievous's wife, a character not previously included in George Lucas's world.


Simon's right. If that's not love, I don't know what is.

Funny how people attract each other. Maybe you're more yourself, or too much of yourself, with a certain someone; all sorts of dynamics jump around depending on who's in the room.

I had a meeting at my kids' school the other day regarding our diabetes management plan. A rompin', stompin' shout-out, it was; the other party brought out the fighter in me, and I pushed back on certain policies as politely, firmly, and loudly as I could. When the meeting finished, the ref called a tie and we bumped gloves amicably, yet there was a sense that Match No. 2 was right around the corner.

I walked out of the conference room and discussed the same topic with another person. Within minutes, we were consoling each other and wiping away tears. Same topic. Different person. Wildly different dynamics.

In the parking lot on my way out, I caught up with the mother of a girl in Simon's class. We exchanged stories about how well our kids get along: Simon's always sneaking up on Susie, tapping her on the shoulder and running away, giggling; Susie's always coming home talking about how funny Simon is, how he makes her laugh.

Susie's the kind of girl you want your boy to be attracted to, even at these early stages of noting nothing but the butterflies. Susie's sharp as a tack, sings like an angel, has a spark in her eye and a wry smile.

I'm not the picture of femininity, and I often wonder how spending Saturdays watching mom compete at the bench press will affect my boys' view of women. I approve of Susie, but I also know that the wind blows as it will, and there may be a bouncy cheerleader in our future.

Life comes down to these connections, doesn't it? In Eat Pray Love, I recall reading a story about author Elizabeth Gilbert's friend, a journalist. She'd meet with people in war-torn countries struggling to find food, housing, and safety, and all they wanted to talk about was the one who got away, a love lost in the war.

General Grievous, it turns out, was born Qymaen jai Sheelal; early on in his fighting days he became attracted to a woman with a lengthier, equally unpronounceable name, Kaleesh Ronderu lij Kummar. He'd tap her on the shoulder with his sword, which dripped with Huk blood, then run away, and she'd giggle. The Huks had enough and killed the girl, sending Sheelal into a deep state of grief. He gave himself a new, more fitting name, and has been bitter ever since.

Someone like Emma could really bring out the Sheelal in him, I bet.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Where Do You Stand

Think of someone you admire, I said to the men at the shelter, and walk silently around the room as that person. Don't mimic or imitate; find new ways to hold your body and become someone else.

In my line of theatre, this becoming is essential to personal awareness and empathy for others. And let me tell you: seeing a homeless man walk like President Obama makes you stop and think.

Tall Tom stood taller. He held his shoulders back, his head high. Look in his face and you'd see a fortitude not there a half hour before when he stood on the sidewalk to wait for breakfast.

Each time I led a similar exercise in the shelter, I came away thinking I'd found the key to personal evolution. Something so simple as good posture can build a person's self-confidence, which surely could help them begin the ascent out of life on the streets.

But later, while watching the hoopla preceding the finale of LOST, I noticed something.

The characters of LOST are stranded on an island. They must hunt and gather for their food, earning each of them strong, lean bodies. The island is tropical, lending a sheen of moisture to their sinewy muscles. Hair is tousled thanks to the stress of life lived among polar bears and black smoke.

The actors in LOST are, in short, hot. In every sense of the word. In interviews, however, these hotties were just average folk; they washed off the sheen and the appeal disappeared. Can hotness fall off in the shower, I wondered?

I decided to ask my friend Dan, an actor in NYC. Why, I asked, is the very hot Desmond not hot in real life? Why wouldn't he draw on his inner hotness? If you've got it, flaunt it...right?

After a long diatribe on corporate television, comic books, and the Bush administration--Dan's a bit distractable--he finally said this: Because it would be exhausting.

We have a default posture, as it were. We may be capable of holding ourselves otherwise, but we generally gravitate toward a certain position. Think of those folks you found on Facebook after 20 years; they still stand the same way, don't they? Head tilted to one side when they smile?

Posture, I've come to believe, includes not only the way you stand in the kitchen but how you stand in front of the calendar, as well, ready for what the day brings.

Recently a friend wrote to me after hearing of my son's diagnosis of type 1 diabetes.

Be strong. Life is full of ups and downs. Be courageous so that every problem seems to be weak in front of you, and run away from you.

I've asked for a boxing bag for my approaching 40th birthday. The primal nature of the sport appeals to something deep in me, and it's just a matter of time before I take it on.

Yet it pains me to realize that, beyond the sport, I see life like a boxing ring--either you're fighting in the center or you're sitting in the corner between rounds.

That's my default posture. I don't know that I'm convinced my friend's advice is possible without exhausting someone like me. How about you?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Choosing No. 4

I'm working on a chart. The secretaries at Theo's school need a reference page to go by when they check his blood sugar levels.

So yes, when he's 80 or over, go ahead with the lunch insulin. But wait! 78 is close to 80. Maybe I should back that 80 down to 78. Better yet, have a separate line for what to do at 75-80, and 70 to 80 with symptoms, and 70 and above without.

With type 1 diabetes, the numbers really do make a difference. Theo's target blood sugar at this age is 80 to 180, and we'll do everything we can to keep him in that range. We've been given insulin dose ratios as well as education on how and when to adjust them. For example, Theo gets 1 unit of insulin for every 24 grams of carbs he plans to consume. Some parents plan their meals down to the gram, whereas we've been figuring out what he'll eat and rounding up or down according to facts, circumstances, and gut intuition.

Numbers are everything. I've been feeling a bit guilty lately for not packing into my son's lunchbox a meal that is easily divisible by 24.

And then it hit me.

24 is not a magic number.

The doctors and doses, glucometers and CalorieKing are fallible, and we all have to do our best and hope for the best. I'm reminded of the day I asked the nurse about a strange spike in Theo's blood sugar levels despite our perfect counting; in her kind way she said, "Well you know, he does have diabetes." Meaning we've got a manageable yet unpredictable disease on our hands, and to expect the unexpected.

Doing our best despite the circumstances, the circumstances not fitting easily into one category or another. I write on this often, don't I? In the last post, and in my latest essay at Burnside. These thoughts are visited as often as I make attempts to reconcile myself with them.

Earlier today, a researcher caught me up in a phone survey on the health of Michigan residents.

"On a scale of one to five, with one being highly satisfied, two being satisfied, three being somewhat dissatisfied, four being dissatisfied, and five being highly dissatisfied, how would you rate your satisfaction with your life?"

By this point I knew I was not permitted to choose an answer lying somewhere in between his options, such as "4.5," nor was I able to have him elaborate beyond his script (they must have a section in their handbooks called How To Discourage Housewives Starving for Social Outlets).

My mind went to August 2, the day of Theo's diagnosis. To my ability to show up every day at lunch and gym to help with the insulin shot, and get an extra hug; my thankfulness for a flexible schedule, and the little tug and pull from the projects I'm neglecting. Walking my son to a class he's had to miss part of, wondering when all the missing is going to register with him.

In the end, the researcher needed a number, and the insulin pen must be dialed up to the half unit. But life can be lived on the edges of these boundaries, and even just beyond.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Arm in Arm

January 25, 2010. The sidewalk on the hill that hugs the shelter is slick, and no one is answering the intercom to buzz me in. I give up, link arms with Catherine, and penguin walk toward the front entrance. Catherine is a large, unstable woman who is often suspended from using the shelter's services; some of the women say she brings bad spirits into the place. We're finally allowed in, and I note that the offices of the director and other staff are suddenly empty. I'll learn later that a drug raid wiped out all but one of the staff, including a woman who covered for those who went back to their old ways, but for now, all I know is that I'm in trouble. When the teacher's gone the students act up, and today, I'm the sub.

The women's spirits are down. I can plainly see that no one is up for participating in my theatre class. I begin with stretches and call it exercise, which relaxes them a little, even the ones shooting me looks of death. They're easing up; they're remembering they like me. But Kay, who is clearly lit, is off to the side running a nonstop obscene rant. It's unusual behavior for her, and it's hard to ignore.

At some point a young women points her out. "I'm getting real tired of that," she says. Someone else calls out, "You old drunk." I try to keep going, but it's getting ugly. The noise from Kay is too distracting, and at one point I hear this:

"Now I love Amy. Love. Amy. But she's full of SHIT."

I make it to the final activity, when I ask the women to list their stressors, intending to lead them in a theatrical practice of finding solutions.

Weather, they say. Jobs. Money. Relationships. Homelessness (yes, it's fifth on the list). Not having my child with me. Not having my own home. Sitting around.

It's hard to recall what happened after I transcribe this list, but in my notes, next to this intimate time of sharing, I see that I've written the words "descended into chaos."

There's this "strange dynamic of them being too stressed to participate, but then doing a lot of apologizing to me for being that way," I wrote. "It's like they suddenly looked up and saw that it was me, and they know how much time I give them, and they love me, and they felt bad for possibly hurting my feelings. Even rude Quita apologized and made the gesture of asking me how the roads are, and saying, You drive safe, okay? Diane--poor, anxious Diane--made a point of saying she has trouble in groups; otherwise, she'd participate."

The night became one of my most difficult times at the shelter, yet one that proved I'd made deep bonds with the women. I wrapped up shortly after the chaos ensued, and after all the apologies a slightly sober Kay cornered me.

She confessed she'd hit the heroin again. "I get unemployment now, and it's not enough money to buy me a house but just enough for me to be stupid," she said in her friendly drawl. I always liked Kay, was flattered, even, to make an appearance in her earlier rant.

"Life's just too damn boring."

Weeks later, when Kay said she was dying, I didn't believe her. All manner of grand pronouncements are made at homeless shelters--some true, some outrageous, and a few you wish could never, ever happen. I had believed her talk of hip surgery, and watched her lower herself to sleep on a mat on the floor. But her cheerfulness contradicted thoughts of death; didn't fit, somehow.

The other day I received word that in August, Kay died from an aggressive form of cancer. A memorial service held at the shelter was packed to overflowing; extra chairs had to be brought in to the dining hall. Her family attended, as well.

In November, I saw Kay with her family. She was so happy to be spending Thanksgiving with "normal people," yet there she was in the cold weather without a coat. Happiness is rarely pure. Grief is compromised. Love and pain are forever treading arm and arm on an icy hill, waiting to be buzzed in.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Activist: The Origin Story

In a single essay, I mention Martin Luther King, Mother Theresa, Batman, and the size of my chest.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Who Are You and Where Did You Come From

Come to think of it, yes we did send our kids to school first day with talk of Hitler.

The scene was Rockwellian at its onset: I’m sitting on the couch with an arm around each boy, Greg is attentively angled in our direction from the reclining chair. We’re bantering around topics appropriate to the start of school, and in this spirit I mention I never was into history until later, as an adult.

“You have to make a personal connection,” says Greg, directing this fatherly advice at his sons. “Like the time you studied Germany, Simon—you knew that you’re German from my side, so you took an interest in it.”

I scoff. “Yes, and he can also make note that he’s of direct lineage from Hitler.”

Greg retorted: “One word, Woman: Mussolini.”

The kids chimed in: “Is it time for the bus yet?

Dropping the ancestral attacks but keeping with the theme, I mentioned an illustration used by Peter Rollins the week before at Mars Hill. He said that sometime in the 1930s a profile ran of a nice man and his well-designed home. The man was—you guessed it—Adolf, and Rollins pointed out that the feature story was probably an accurate one: Hitler may indeed have been kind to children, and all the facts mentioned were most likely true. Yet we now know the totality of his existence, and we cannot say he was a good man.

Rollins went on to relate this disparity to the way we often see ourselves, or to how we project our identities in places such as Facebook. “Your conscious self is an idealized reflection of who you really are,” he said, in my recollection. “We tell ourselves false stories.”

Rollins is a philosopher, and terms like conscious self can fog up my glasses right quick. I'm aware that calling a person good or bad gets people's panties in a bunch. But I think I understand what he’s getting at: We project our best side, but that’s only one angle of a three-dimensional creature. When Theo asked what Hitler did that was so bad, in a manner of words we told him. And we stressed the distinction between making mistakes and what makes a man.

Today I accompanied Theo’s first grade class through a hallway en route to lunch. Years of falling asleep to white noise has rendered my hearing a bit muffled, so when a sweet-faced boy pointed to the girl in front of him and mouthed something, I assumed it was one of the darndest things that kids say.

Instead, when asked to repeat himself, he motioned again to the girl and said this: “We’re mortal enemies.” The girl in pigtails nodded her agreement.

I guess you could say their conscious self idealization was more Clash of the Titans than I initially gave them credit for; I stand corrected. Meanwhile, Theo was happily skipping next to my side.

“Me like first grade,” he said. Ever since reading The Adventures of Ook and Gluk, Kung-Fu Cavemen From the Future, we speak like our primal ancestors.

“Me have fun,” he said. (To answer your questions, yes, he legitimately passed to first grade, and really does talk like this purposefully.)

Then he looked at me.

“But me cranky this morning.”

This was a nod to our head-butting before school. The kid has to be policed through every step of the morning routine, being what you’d call an extreme case of “not a morning person.” Mom and Dad have to play bad guys, mortally bad, every morning.

But here’s Theo acknowledging this side of himself and punctuating the confession with happy skipping. He knew it was safe to fess up because he knew I wouldn’t hold it against him, but maybe wanted to make sure. A little reassurance is nice, sometimes, knowing that no matter what image we project to others, we’re embraced and accepted, like an arm around the shoulders on a big, comfy couch.

Listen to Rob Bell interviewing Peter Rollins at Mars Hill here. I can't yet verify if this is the service I attended or the earlier one, in which case the quotes above may not be heard. However, I could listen to Rollins talk about breakfast cereal, and not just because of his lovely Irish brogue, so I recommend you check it out.