Friday, February 26, 2010

Worth A Thousand Words

Theo's 100th Day of Kindergarten project, his idea. "If I had $100, I would give it to a poor family."

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Public (Roach) Relations

The store where we bought our giant hissing cockroaches just posted a pic of Theo holding two of them. Dora and Chubby are featured again at the bottom of the page.

Bench Bias

There's a scene in Len Cella's low-budget Moron Movies during which Len sits at a typewriter, his hair sculpted into a fin and a cardboard set of teeth taped to his mouth. "I can type 90 words a minute, but nobody will hire me just because I'm a shark," he says. The scene, which I've just described in its entirety, is called "Shark Prejudice."

I've been running into Bench Press Prejudice lately, myself.

From my reading I knew that men on benches were generally a source of mockery, ignoring as they do most all other exercises in order to prove themselves while horizontal. But I didn't think the rules would apply to me, being a woman and all. Until a conversation I had yesterday with a non-powerlifting trainer.

Not all exercise people are the same, I'm coming to learn, and they stand by the merits of their chosen path. Fitness experts know how to order and pace a set of exercises to produce maximum weight loss. Sports-specific people stick to the demands of a particular sport. There are the functional strength people who have little patience for extraneous muscle fullness, preferring instead that you perform activities they've deemed essential to life. And powerlifters want power, power, and more power; you know them by their tree trunk core, barrel chests, and short, dangling flippers.

Because I respect this particular trainer, I asked her a question related to a recurring injury.

"Does it happen on the bench?" she asked.
"No. Usually the other exercises, like X,Y, and Z."
"That's some pretty heavy weight I see you lifting in there. I wouldn't discount that the injury isn't originating on the bench."

And then she gave me the look. The look that says both "you're strong," and, "you're stupid."

Bench Prejudice: Amy sits on a bench with huge cardboard biceps taped to her arms. "I'm strong but no one will take me seriously because all I do is bench press." End of scene.

She meant me no harm. Still, I hadn't realized until this point that the other trainers at the Y might be watching this whole bench press program with a smirk. Not that they're vindictively waiting for a repetitive use injury to settle in, but that when it does, they think to themselves of course it did.

I saw the need to explain why I show up four times a week.

"I know it's hard on the body.'s the one sport I can do, and it's the one sport I enjoy. I like having a goal. I love being strong and pushing my limits. It's"

There I am, my arms and chest gorilla-like with post-workout pump, and I sound like a kindergartner. "It's fun," I say. No further justification necessary. Strength-training is great for heading off osteoporosis, depression, obesity, and the worst parts of menopause, but she knew all that. In that moment, I just needed to put out there that this is something I enjoy, I'm going to keep doing it, and nobody can stop me.

She understood. Because guess what? She's a softball pitcher. Recurring repetitive use injury in her shoulder. She keeps pushing herself a little too far, too, and as we talked, the beginnings of a smirk were replaced with a knowing smile.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Today, in the manner of Alexander McCall Smith

It's a great exercise to try to write in the style of an author you know well. I'm currently reading Smith's La's Orchestra Saves the World, and with his tone in my head, I thought I'd write about a little moment today as he would see it. This draft came to be in about 20 minutes and I like that there's a lot going on, though not polished as yet; feel free to offer literary critique to improve upon it.

She entered the room containing the treadmills, stationary bikes, and other such mock transport, their users frantic in motion while remaining in place. Like much of life, she thought, as with the act of transferring a shirt from washing machine to dryer, to bare back and back again. It’s the action and not the journey that matters sometimes.

Only the recumbent bike spared her knee from further duress, but today three elderly ladies perched on the gym’s three machines. One had just taken her post, and would surely not be releasing her turn soon; the woman next to her, wrapped in conversation with the first, would not acknowledge passing the allowed time limit. She blinked rapidly and looked from her friend to the floor when Amy asked how long she’d be. Older women came to the gym for the health benefits of socializing, with the exercise a conduit, a ritual, a thing you do. Their half-hearted half repetitions between coffee breaks told the story. Too, a sense of territoriality surrounded even exercises done poorly; this second lady probably used this bike every day at this time, and as one grows older, one needs consistency, Amy thought, and not disparagingly. To ride in the same spot and know you’d not move an inch is a comfort.

The final lady looked up from her book. “I’ll be about two minutes,” she said. “I need to get to two miles.” Amy thanked her and checked her assumptions: here was a woman with goals. Two miles is about all she’d do today, as well. She stepped away as to not hover, into the vicinity of four televisions broadcasting three separate programs. A show on makeovers caught her eye; already several before and after views of average-looking women had been shown, and this rushing through the story helped when one had but a short time to take it in. Most shows like this build a long narrative of why a woman deserved a do-over, whether she battled cancer, or regularly herded her four young children and had no time to herself, no time to shop for anything but sweatpants. But here we saw the women bundled in winter gear on a city street one moment and strutting into the studio the next, their hair a new shade, thighs girdled up, makeup as for nighttime glamour.

None of the women Amy saw looked improved upon. They simply looked like average women wearing heavy makeup. Some people can wear makeup and be transformed; others cannot. Similarly, there were men and women in this gym with nice bodies who somehow weren’t attractive. People were here to improve on themselves—their health and appearance—but there’s no manufacturing beauty, in the end.

The woman popped her head over to where Amy stood, neck craned toward the TVs. She said nothing, only gestured toward the bike. Amy sat in the still warm seat and looked at the screen of the machine, which thought the first woman was still there but lollygagging a bit. It read, “Pedal faster.”

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Bad Shopper. BAD. SHOPPER.

"Greg," I said.

"The situation is getting serious."

"I need clothes. Yes, yes, I know we don't have any money, but I don't have anything to wear. To church, and places like that. Places where you need to be somewhat respectable. I really need new clothes."

He agrees. I go shopping. I come home with this

and this:

Now all I need to do is find a church for punk flappers, and I'm good to go.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Scenes from a Shelter

1. You are not an accident.

TASHA: I found the most amazing tampon machine today. Seriously! It kept giving the quarter back. There was a time when I would have cleaned the thing out, but I swear I only took what I needed. I swear! A couple of pads, too. I used the quarter for a cup of coffee downstairs.

2. Even at the moment of your conception, out of many possibilities only certain cells combined, survived, grew to be you.

JILL: This? I got stabbed in the hand. This woman I know, she's into drugs and all that, she thought I stole something from her. She stabbed me in the hand and smeared the blood all over my face. There was a razor blade in her mouth. Thank you. I'll be okay. Just keep me in your prayers.

3. You are unique.

AMY: We're going to do an exercise called "I Am." You'll come to this chair, close your eyes and tell us who you are. What makes you you.

JAN: I am an analyst. I observe people. I like to give advice and help. Anybody need anything?

KARLA: I am an alcoholic, but I really want to change. I want to get my life back on track. That's it.

TRACY: I am a mother of a nine-year-old girl who can't stay here because of the rules. I don't usually participate in these games because I don't want to make a damn fool of myself. I am one of seven children. I was adopted because of some things my father did to me and my sister. Thank you.

4. You were created for a purpose.

JILL: I'm cold tonight. No, not usually--maybe it's because of my hand. I just want to stretch out on the mat and wrap myself under the blanket. Mmmmm.

5. God loves you.

AMY: I want to finish with a Celtic blessing I found. It fits well with what we've been doing tonight. Let me read it to you.

You are not an accident.
Even at the moment of your conception,
out of many possibilities
only certain cells combined,
survived, grew to be you.
You are unique.
You were created for a purpose.
God loves you.

(Phrases echo, overlap: You are unique--My father did some things to me--for a purpose, not an accident--I was stabbed--Only certain cells combined, grew to be--An alcoholic--I took only what I need--God loves you--Smeared the blood over my face--For a purpose. Wrap myself in the blanket, my only blanket.)

AMY: And all the people said--
ALL: Amen.

Lights out.

Monday, February 15, 2010

What's 415 Pounds Between Friends?

My new wristwraps and a brochure for the bench press competition arrived within a day of each other.

I guess it's a go.

March 12 is the cut-off for early registration. I'll want to meet this deadline in order to receive a T-shirt and giftbag--one of my fondest memories from last year's competition involves me, the giftbag, and a man who benched enough weight to bend the bar.

Flights of lifters are organized according to bar weight, which means that the person lifting the most is immediately followed by the person lifting the lightest weight. That put me in line after Gideon, who benched 525 pounds. In my memory Gideon is wearing a singlet and a swirly mustache, and he's walking around with a barbell labelled "10,000" at each end. In reality he was an average, if large, man, and his mustache, if not swirly, did stand out as the only hair on his head.

Gideon, who hadn't registered early, sat bemused as I ruffled through the contents of my giftbag. I looked over at this large man and taunted him.

"You know you want this," I said, waving a sunscreen sample. "It's got a 'light peach scent.'"

"I could put it on my head," Gideon said, running a hand over his cleanly-shaven skull.

"Actually, I think this one will suit you better," I said, holding out a new packet. "'Lemon Skin Brightening Serum for Day and Night.' Here, take it. It's on me."

We went on like this for some time, interrupted occasionally by vicious shouting. I've never fully understood this shout-method of coaching, especially for the bench press. Some poor chap is under a heavy bar and he's got several large men barking in his face as he tries to push it up. I can understand a sustained yell, maybe. But bursts of shouting? Scary. I'd definitely be dropping something.

Beyond the thrill of teasing a large, animal-like creature, I learned some things from Gideon. We first met directly following the 525 lift. He walked past me, I congratulated him, and said, "So."

AMY: You failed at your attempt at 500.
AMY: So why did you declare 525 for your next lift? And how did you get it?

This progression of events had caught my eye; a jump of 25 pounds for Gideon is like 5 or 10 for me, and I was intimately familiar with the difference a mere 5 pounds on the bar can make. Gideon explained that he knew his wrists weren't wrapped correctly on the lift at 500, which set him up for a bad start. He was confident he could get 525, and he did (with much shouting).

So there we were: the person who lifted the least amount of weight and the one who lifted the most, talking about the mechanics of what we just did, which was the same thing. "My shoulder hurts here," I told Gideon. "Mine, too!" he said. The 415 pound difference aside, we could commiserate.

This year, my goal is to be a little further down the flight list. But I'll be sure to catch a seat next to Gideon anyway, if only to lean over and take in a faint whiff of peaches.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Foiled Again

I don't plan to do these things. Really I don't.

In all innocence I wrote to Pixie Mate to ask about brewing techniques. The National Sales Manager and I struck up an e-mail dialogue, wherein I said intelligent things like, "What's the word for the lingering taste at the end?" and he wrote, "I think the word you're looking for is 'finish.'"

But I couldn't stop there. I suggested that if I enjoy the free samples he's sending me, and if I win my upcoming bench press competition, perhaps I could help market the tea. You know, "High in Antioxidants, Good for the Triceps," I said. Yes I did.

He wrote that they'd already thought of the muscle theme, and sent me this image:

The good news is I stopped just short of offering to tattoo their logo on my biceps, a gesture I made last year at this time to Charlie's Soap. See, I had contacted them about their products, too, and, well, there was a competition upcoming then, as well, so... They thought I was joking. I'm not sure why.

Now that I think of it, I've been doing this sort of thing for some time. While other children called each other for playdates, I called Procter & Gamble. Toll-free numbers fascinated me. The phone held endless mystery. Put the two together and you get a ten-year-old girl discussing, with a slightly bemused telephone operator, the merits of Pert Plus.

All that aside, I think I would be an excellent candidate for corporate sponsorship. I won't hit on cocktail waitresses, and there are no golf clubs around for Greg to smash in our car windows. Above all, I'd look great in a T-shirt from [your company's name here]. Applications being taken

Monday, February 8, 2010

I Heart Boards Part 2

Here's me fulfilling my promise to show you a demo of the board press, which I went on about a few posts ago.

Let me reiterate that it's the pause that kills you, as it's a bit trickier to push the thing up from a dead stop than if you've got momentum going. This video shows my 5th set with boards, and my tenth work set of the evening. The bar is loaded to 100lbs, which may seem meager unless you know that I'd just been doing sets at 105, 110, and 115 on the flat bench. I did one more set after this video, with 6 reps at 105. Am I bragging? Absolutely. With my various aches and pains, I hadn't expected to accomplish much this evening. So celebrate with me:

Thursday, February 4, 2010

A Shameless Act of Self Promotion

Here's the synopsis from a book proposal I recently submitted for review. It's turning out to be quite a beautiful book, and I'm proud to have my hand in it. If you have publishing connections and would like to see sample chapters or marketing information, e-mail me at amyATgregscheerDOTcom.


a picture of death, drugs and forgiveness

Amy Scheer

On August 21, 2004, at 4:45pm, Marilyn Jansma slowed her Honda CR-V into line to pay toll on a Chicago highway. Kevin Jansma, home in Iowa, played blocks with their son, Trey. A Chicago car mechanic, tired from a raucous all-night birthday celebration, left work and fell asleep at the wheel.

The crash that resulted killed Marilyn, shattering the lives of all who knew this spirited church leader and budding clinical psychologist. And it forever changed the man who took her life.

Frames presents a picture of this real-life tragedy and its hopeful end by letting the central characters speak for themselves. First-hand accounts stand side by side, forming an elegant and complex narrative collage. Interviews with the young widower and driver, as well as excerpts from Marilyn’s journals and other primary source materials, engage the reader with their highly personal revelations.

Part oral history, part elegy, Frames displays moments in poignant pairings. Tales of a church group awaiting news of the accident and faithfully reciting the Lord’s Prayer sit alongside a recounting of the meeting of Kevin and the driver—which began with the same prayer and ended with Kevin saying, “I forgive you.”

As Kevin later made plans to remarry, he encountered a new set of difficulties when friends and family proved unwilling to allow him to move on. His mother, overwhelmed in her grief, became preoccupied with the space on her mantelpiece. If there will be a second wedding, what should she do with the first framed bride and groom?

Her question becomes a metaphor for Frames, showing that the many snapshots of our lives rarely stand alone, and one picture of death, drugs and forgiveness has lessons for us all.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

2.125 Inches

Just when I was sure my right arm was going to fall off, or at least break apart at the joints, I noticed my wrist.

Little tiny thing, it is. I even measured it: two inches and 1/8 across. I'm asking these poor little couple of inches to support heavy weight, and in return, I hear complaining.

That's why I'm buying these wristwraps. No, it doesn't bother me that they're called "Convict Pro." The other option was "The Strangulator."

Another option would be to stop trying to lift heavy stuff. I've considered cashing it all in, as I do about every 3 weeks when I'm sure something is going to go snap. In fact, ever since I entered my 4oth year this past November, lots of parts have indeed rebelled. I periodically come home from the weight room and offer my last will and testament to my family: If anything happens, I say, know I was doing what I love.

Then the violins cease their soaring, I grab an ice pack, and settle in until I can get back to the gym.

Cockroaches Know the Power of the Dark Side