Friday, January 29, 2010

Amy's Top Ten Favorite Barbie Peekaboo Petite Doll Names

1. Deirdre Diamond

2. Belinda Blue Bell

3. Courtney Carnation

4. Chocolate Crissy

5. High Heel Hillary

6. Sandal Sally

7. Open Toe Tamara

8. Evening Bag Elina

9. Shoulder Bag Sheila

and

10. Change Purse Chandra

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

I Heart Boards

New favorite exercise: board press.

For a good time, pile plates onto the bar. Strap a piece of plywood to your chest. Lower the bar to the board, pause, lift back up, and repeat. Add an additional piece of plywood, additional weight, and do it again. Add board #3 and more weight, and repeat.

It's a sight to behold, I tell ya. I'll try to film a demo so you can see for yourself.

Boards help you push through sticking points, which I've addressed before. Usually I work sticking points on a smith machine that holds the bar for you. You can let the bar land at a desired height above your chest before you push it back up again from a dead stop.

It's the dead stop part that's the killer. Momentum is everything. At the smith machine, you wait, then just attack the bar--which is on a fixed path--with everything you've got.

That's fun. But boards are fun in a different way.

With boards, there's still the dead stop and start. But when you stop, you're balancing the bar on the boards. At some point you realize, Hey, there's something really heavy on my chest, and I can't actually rest rest. I have to stop completely, but I can't relax at all or I'll be smooshed.

Another thing that happens is that you forget you're only going down to meet the board and not your chest, so you--okay, I--misjudge and crash into yourself. Which results in some yelling and bruising.

Like I said: good time had by all.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Manifesto

There's a scene in the film "Julie & Julia" where Julie, who is cooking and blogging her way through Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking, has an intense argument with her husband, Eric. He stomps out of the apartment, stopping only to turn around and yell something along the lines of "And don't put this in your blog."

Tricky, these blogs.

I spent a recent Thursday evening hanging out at the homeless shelter where I lead theatre on Mondays. While taking in the second annual talent show of poetry, dance, and song over some mouthwatering ribs and cornbread, I had a moment of Oh No.

Something about eating and talking and calling each other by our stripper names (an ongoing joke; mine is "Night Jugs") made me stop and think about the ways I reveal these women's lives in my blog.

Of course I change the names. Of course I alter sensitive circumstances. But would I write in the same way about a friend, who, say, revealed something to me over coffee?

As a writer, I go out and experience a thing, or ask a person about his or her life, then digest and articulate these findings for others. A certain degree of objectification is necessary. I try to distance myself from my own life, as well, to produce interesting observations as I write. This objectifying perhaps cushions the blow of the necessary vulnerability.

Yet I bristle when I hear homeless people objectified to the point of becoming Other. They're homeless, yes, but the final categorization is Human Being.

I've been leading theatre nearly every week since summer, and I'm getting to know these women more intimately. For the blog I must speak of them as types, but in person we are friends. Yes, I think I can safely use that term. They'd probably be flattered to know I am writing about them, and I'm waiting for the day when the cell phone videos they take of my games find their way to YouTube.

My purpose, in a nutshell, is to present a picture of homelessness and the power of art, hoping to heck I'm making a difference in the telling. In other words, I write about but not for the women themselves, and I try to balance the readers' need for details with the women's right to privacy. That's a valid cause, related yet separate from what I aim to do on Monday nights at the shelter. There I'm trying to make the world a better place, one theatre game, one homeless woman, at a time.

Writing also serves a personal need, helping me think through my experiences and better prepare for future sessions. When I wrote about our Christmas play, for example, I sat down with only the image of the teddy in mind. I had no idea what it meant or why it was significant until I started writing.

To summarize, then, I do theatre to help the women. I write to figure out what worked and why, to make me a better teacher. And I write for you, dear reader, asking you to peer with me at the fringes of society, where real people dwell.

I write because an alcoholic 57-year-old woman told me, "The incest...my sister can't believe I remember, I was three...it never goes away."

Her story is too common, as old as the hills, but you probably haven't heard it yet and that's why I need to write.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Add 40 Pounds To Your Bench Press In Just Six Weeks!

That's the claim of Shawn Phillips, whose bench press program took him from a max of 350 pounds to 405 in just six short weeks. He can do math--he knows that's a 55 pound difference--he just doesn't want to get your hopes up.

My teacher at the YMCA suggested we start this program on Monday, when class resumes. I'd been using a pyramid workout every Monday since early December and had passed to the 125 pound level (twice, as I could hardly believe it the first time); to continue it now would mean I'd be attempting 120 every week, which would get pretty tiring.

Phillips's program looks good. It emphasizes frequency instead of mere intensity. Where I'd been lifting at max in the middle of each pyramid and lifting to fail at the end, now I'll be doing low rep, low volume, high intensity sets--and benching two times a week instead of one. There are periodic rep tests, as well.

"The more frequently you can perform a lift, the smaller each increase in resistance and the more likely your body will be able to adapt," says Phillips. "Instead of trying to make large jumps every six or seven days, you make small jumps on your bench every three to four days. This makes for a much smoother and much more consistent climb."

Not to mention less chance of injury. Sounds good to me, so let's do the math: I've got 11 weeks until the bench press competition, which means I should be benching 200 in no time. It's a plan.

Friday, January 8, 2010

And Now For the Front

...or at least a description.

Had a little accident in the weight room today. A resistance band broke in two and snapped me in the face. Yes.

Looks like I'll be having matching welts under my eyes and a slightly larger nose. Crooked glasses, too.

Stick to the view of my back (previous post) while I ice the other side.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Picturing the New Year

Happiness. That's what he called it: Happiness.

I love Augusto Boal's names for his Theatre of the Oppressed exercises. English crashed into his native Portugese and resulted in names such as "How Many 'A's in One 'A'?'," "Natural and Ridiculous," and "The smell of hands" (which is exactly that). Part Two of Boal's "Legislative Theatre" is called "The No One Here Is An Ass Book."

In June of 2007, Boal ended a New York workshop with "Happiness," and introduced the game this way:

This is Theatre of the Oppressed, not the Depressed, so the goal of any and all workshops is to end with optimism. We are often good at identifying our oppression but not at identifying our dreams.

He asked us to sculpt images of happiness, of our dreams and ideals. Groups of six or more gathered, creating what was often a picture of freedom, or release from some oppression--this was a room full of activists, after all. My group, as I recall, was comprised of New York Zapatistas.

After creating the image, participants broke away to observe other groups. We then resumed our original positions, and with each clap of the facilitator, took a slow-motion step to enter another picture of happiness we found appealing.

Details of the images have since escaped me, but I remember the process of moving between them. I wanted to sit on a bench with some folks nearby, but even as I reached, slow-motion, for the friendly, outstretched hand of a man who would go on to head an MA program in Applied Theatre there in the city, I found obstacles.

A person in the way. One of my limbs still entangled in the previous picture. Finding my bliss meant, sometimes, that I had to alter my original plans. It was a group effort, this happiness. Each of us had to adjust to each other, help each other, if we were going to find any bliss at all.

This past Monday, after some warm-up exercises with the women at the homeless shelter, I asked them to write a few words summing up their experiences this past year, as well as their hopes and dreams for 2010.

For '10, I knew that many would write "apartment" and leave it at that, so I asked them to consider their personal goals and resolutions, as well. We talked about these for awhile, and then I asked for a volunteer to sculpt members of the group into two pictures: one of her 2009, and another of her dream for 2010.

Esther offered first on the condition that I help her with her English. Having come from Africa some ten years ago, Esther spent 2009 jumping around from job to job and shelter to shelter, she said, but finally "free from the government." Based on other conversations we've had, I believe that Esther spent time in prison for attempted murder. Her husband had threatened their young daughter, and Esther was willing to be "put in the ground," she told me, to protect her.

She sculpted 2009 as a central image being pulled around. Kara became Esther, standing center, and Pat and Carly pulled at her from every which way.

2010: Esther wanted to be stable, grounded. She placed Kara seated on the floor. I asked what would come of these forces pulling at her this past year, uprooting her security. One would be far away, she said, though still trying to reach her. The other, we learned, represented her daughter, who happens to be coming into town next week to stay with Esther at the shelter. Eventually, they'll move into an apartment together--Esther made it onto a waiting list.

So she placed Kara firmly, contentedly on the floor, and Pat far off, reaching. Carly she positioned somewhat near Kara but in a neutral position.

"But isn't that your daughter?" someone asked, to clarify.

Esther had mentioned her daughter multiple times already that evening, perhaps trying to prepare everyone for her arrival, and for the existence of their now strained relationship. It seemed she would need a team to help her through this family affair.

Her 2010 resolution, she had said, along with being grounded, was "for everything to work out" with her daughter.

It took some time to convince Esther that this picture of 2010 she was creating should be her idea of perfection. Happiness! It should show the new year exactly how she'd like it to be. But she was afraid to hope beyond "everything working out" with her daughter. She was afraid to dream big. Aren't we all, sometimes?

She moved Carly closer to Kara. She tentatively positioned Carly's arms for an embrace.

I then asked everyone to move back into the first position, with Kara--representing Esther--being pulled in every direction. I explained how we'd slow-motion morph from 2009 into Esther's dream for 2010.

Slowly, Pat let go of Kara's leg and moved away. Carly came closer, no longer pulling and prodding, but instead open and vulnerable to Kara. When mother and daughter embraced, Esther audibly cheered.

Yes! Yes! she cried, applauding, absolutely joyful.

The picture of happiness.