Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Magnificently Fluffy

The Writer's Almanac announced that today is the birthday of Czeslaw Milosz, my favorite poet, now deceased.

Milosz wrote, "To believe you are magnificent. And gradually to discover that you are not magnificent. Enough labor for one human life."

Yes. As always, I'd like to take this opportunity to apply life lessons to weightlifting. And vice versa.

I hadn't benched over 95 pounds for two and a half months. I'm now eeking out eensy sets at 105--three, four reps. Two women who competed with me in March, who lifted less than me, kept working. They're way past my competition weight, and I'm way under it.

Gradually to discover that you are not magnificent. Milosz should have added a line addressing the consequences of this discovery. Me, I'm fine with it, happy for my friends, always rooting them on. For reasons unbenownst to me (though I could wager a few guesses) I am called "Fluffy" by my trainer, and I've proudly added a prefix to the moniker: Extra-Fluffy.

Part of my acceptance of the loss of strength comes from knowing how it happened. Five weeks of boxing exchanged some of the strength for power, speed and conditioning, and I wouldn't have it any other way. I'm happy playing the sore action figure rather than the always-injured weightlifter.

But then there's this: a competition. In August. On a beach. Who could resist such a magnificent opportunity?

And should I? Extra-Fluffy wants your advice.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Train A Child In The Way He Should Go

SIMON: At that party the other night, I was playing and some kid said to me, "That's not funny." I wasn't even trying to be funny!

AMY: You should have said, "It also won't be funny when I bust your nose."

SIMON: I wanted to say, "Maybe you don't have a sense of humor" --but I didn't think of it 'til later.

AMY: "Your mama thought it was funny."

SIMON: "Your mama is funny-looking."

Friday, June 25, 2010


The good folks at catapult magazine published my poem. I say "my poem" rather than "a poem of mine" because this is the only one I consider complete and suitable for public viewing. So go, public, and view it here. Then stick around for their rest of their summer issue.

Thursday, June 24, 2010


On the wall directly in front of my desk is a string of six photos. No frames, just six 4x6s stuck up there with the blue gummy gunk that makes for easy clean up.

They're successive shots of my final bench press of the last competition. A trainer at the Y said she knew I'd get 125 after failing on the first try, so unbeknownst to me at the time, she took these step by step action shots. Benchers must necessarily perform in a bit of an unattractive position, what with the legs splayed and whatnot; couple that with my facial expressions--comical but equally unattractive--and one might wonder why I've put these where they must be faced on a regular basis.

Because they're a reminder. Of things worth remembering, many of which sound like chapter titles for an edition of Chicken Soup For the Weightlifter's Soul. Striving to be one's best; succeeding in unlikely venues; thanking God you remembered to wear the shirt that covers your midsection.

One problem.

The fifth photo keeps falling.

The very one that demonstrates what willpower can do. Number six is success: arms fully locked out, the bar lifted. In number four, I haven't yet hit my sticking point.

Five, I'm giving it all I've got. Working really hard.

Five is falling. Dangling from a corner one day, on the floor the next.

Life feels like this much of the time, doesn't it? So close to success, then there you are, on the floor. Like walking through a labyrinth: just when you think you'll reach the center, you're rerouted onto another path. Eventually you reach your destination, but not always when you expect to do so.

So you pick yourself up, wipe away the dust bunnies, and try, try again.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Flying High Now

While driving to my last boxing class this morning, I saw people jogging. Nice folks, a leash in one hand and a coffee in another. Others walking and talking.

And I thought to myself: Why can't I exercise like normal people?

Saturday classes at the boxing gym are notorious for their intensity and difficulty. And that's saying something because the weekday classes, which are 20 minutes shorter, can really kick your butt.

Comments on last Saturday's class:
"That felt like the time I ran a 10K."
"I've been working out here for a long time, and that was the hardest class ever."
"I was sick for three days."
"I went home and laid on the floor so I wouldn't vomit."

Personally, I had broken out in a cold sweat in the hot room and nearly cried. These were not what-a-hard-workout tears, but instead an all-systems-are-shutting-down involuntary reaction.

Today was another tough Saturday, made manageable by the thought that it was the last, and by the Rocky soundtrack playing throughout. Normally we get Black Eyed Peas and other pumped up music, but there's nothing like those Rocky tunes for helping you find the will to carry on. Today was the first day I got to hit the bag filled with sand (rather than air or water), and I don't know that I could have done it without the Italian Stallion.

Greg and I tried to do a post-boxing class exit interview, but it didn't go so well.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Transformation: (In)complete

The self-imposed Transformation Challenge is nearing its end. Dreamed up early one Sunday in May around 3:32am, the time each morning when I decide whether to lie in bed for the next several hours until I fall asleep again, or head downstairs, eat large, buttered matzos and write blog posts, the Challenge had something to do with carrying me between jobs and onto a beach in a bikini.

A progress report, then, is warranted.

I read five books. Night, a memoir by Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel. Let the Great World Spin, a lovely novel by Colum McCann. Take This Bread, Sara Miles's account of her abrupt, wholly unexpected conversion to Christianity and subsequent opening of food pantries across San Francisco. And several novels by the always delightful Alexander McCall Smith.

I self-promoted. I worked at getting my writing out there, to good effect.

I boxed. Hitting the heavy bag is great fun; jumping rope will kill you. My cardiovascular endurance, in short, sucks. However, I'm keeping up with the twenty-somethings in the class, and it's no small thing that I consider the push-ups and sit-ups a welcome break. This class is the most difficult, demanding physical experience I've ever subjected myself to, and consequently a great mental challenge, as well; I'll be glad when, on Saturday, I'm done (I told Greg last night, "I don't need to be that in shape"). At that point I might as well join the Navy SEALS, as strapping on a 50-pound backpack and running along the shore would be a relief. There'd be a breeze from the ocean, whereas Frank won't even turn on a fan.

I wore that bikini. Who's to say when one's body is bikini-ready? I spent much of my bikini-wearing time sure I was forgetting something, or appreciating the greater restroom-friendliness of the wet two-piece suit over the one. Anti-climactic, that.

One must never stop evolving, and to that end I've got some new goals. Working on my book is one, as there's a respected literary agent who wants to see more. As for the continual efforts to improve upon the almost-40-year-old body, I'm dreaming up a new plan for that, too. Just you wait and see.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

A Woman's Road to Ruin

Had the writer of this 1878 list in the American Christian Review addressed the issue of women boxing and bench pressing, I'd know exactly where I stand on the road to ruin. Alas, we can only follow the downward spiral of women who dared take up... croquet.

1. A social party.
2. Social and play party.
3. Croquet party.
4. Picnic and croquet party.
5. Picnic, croquet, and dance.
6. Absence from church.
7. Imprudent or immoral conduct.
8. Exclusion from the church.
9. A runaway-match.
10. Poverty and discontent.
11. Shame and disgrace.
12. Ruin.

(as found in A People's History of Sports in the United States by Dave Zirin)

Monday, June 7, 2010

Going Ballistic

The makers of this video, "Muscles Used In Boxing," might have shaved thirty-some seconds off the length by changing the script to say just this:

"All of them."

Before my first boxing class, I was sure I'd walk into a major gun show. You can't beat an eighty-pound bag and not ripple, I figured.

And then I met Michelle.

"How long you been at this?" I asked her after class one day. No one talks during the actual class, because there's barely a second to catch your breath. If you're not punching, you're doing push-ups, or dips, or jumping rope. Or jumping lunges. Or frog walks. Or sit-ups. It's like gym class on crack.

"Five months," she said. "I love it. Don't you love how you see results right away?"

Now, I don't know Michelle's story. Perhaps five months ago Michelle weighed 200 pounds, but I doubt it; she's a spindly little thing. Twiggy little arms dangling at her sides. No apparent muscle tone beyond what's needed to lift a hand to her brow on days when Frank won't turn on the fans.

Our class is called Fitness Boxing. Only the occasional gal or guy looks as if they box on the side; most of us are there for the fitness.

And yet we do our fair share of jabs, power punches, ducks and hooks. It's a boxing gym, and as we now know thanks to the video, nearly every major muscle group is involved in boxing. Not all of these muscles will pop out past the fat, of course, yet still I wonder: Why do I see a lot of women who look like Michelle?

I can't say for sure, because while they're at the bags I'm swinging a sledge hammer onto a tractor tire. But in my peripheral vision I can see this: They're swatting the bag. They're not giving their all to their punches. They're turning a ballistic* workout [*of or relating to projectiles and their flight] into a cardio routine.

In the kickboxing class I used to attend, there was a gal I like to think of as Perky Woman. Part of our routine included pulsing--a rocking side-to-side motion that warmed up the leg joints while conserving energy for that first punch or kick. Let me say that again: You pulsed to ready yourself to really have at that first power move.

Perky Woman didn't pulse. Perky Woman did jumping jacks.

Good for her, in her mid to late forties, jumping around like that. Really: good for her. But all that jumping stole energy from her punches, and she went through the paces with good form but no power. Perky Woman was getting a great cardio workout--good for her--but reaping none of the ballistic benefits kickboxing has to offer.

Fitness is fitness, right? Anyone who can survive BodyCombat and/or Frank's boxing class is a winner, in my book.

But if you've paid the money, trust the sport. Do it right and let it lead you into the heart of its challenge, whether that be a relationship between force and velocity or the strength to pull a tractor with your teeth.

Personally, I feel like an action figure. The conditioning I get in my shoulders and legs from boxing can't be beat. Maybe I'll tell Michelle how I feel. Flip out on her in the hope that she'll go ballistic someday, too.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Craft Time with Amy

At, you'll find lots of great craft ideas for kids this summer. Party Pinwheels! Big Bright Bugs! And who can resist a Brilliant Butterfly Kite?

Me. Although I'd like to be a crafty mom, it's not in the handmade cards for me. Rotting apple puppet heads aside, I've had many disasters in this department, both while employed as a middle school drama teacher and while sitting at home being a mom. Kids cried. In both cases.

A mom's-hands-off approach works best, I'm finding. Children come up with their own craft ideas, creating one-of-a-kind items such as bookmarks decorated with hair they've chopped from one spot above their left ear. Two days before the start of second grade. As one example.

Or they invent new, necessary enterprises, such as The Honest Paint Company.

Unhappy with paint colors called such things as "Marine Reef" and "Smoldering Coals," the boys and I decided to tell it like it is. With a slogan declaring "the other stores lie!" The Honest Paint Co. turned "Tawny Bluff" into "Bathtub Ring"; "Fireside" into "Dad's Softball Injury"; and "Fruit Punch" into plain old "Pink."

Special credit to Simon, age 9, for renaming "Toasty Fireplace" as "BBQ Chicken," and to Theo, age 6, for calling a certain shade of fuchsia "Your Gums."

Impatient for the official launch of The Honest Paint Co., Theo began his own crafty business on the side, selling paper airplanes and boats.

In the five minutes between setting up his stand and a rainstorm, he turned a profit.

Nothing says summer like a driveway sale. Simon thinks we should add a few more products, such as lemonade, but that seems so ordinary. Plus, I'm not sure how well it will sell next to the bookmarks.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

These Are A Few Of My Favorite Things

I love that this guy can deadlift 700 pounds.
I love that with so many plates, there's hardly room to clip them.
The bar bending. Love it.
I love that I was in the same competition as this guy.
I'm in the right hand corner, and Theo is in front of me. I love that we're witnessing this together; we've made a pact to lift together once he hits puberty.
The little guy in red and black who keeps walking past me? He benched over 500. I love that.
And the guy frozen in the frame at the end: his goal, he told me, is to hold a raw egg between his pecs and crush it.

"Nothin' but a good time/and it don't get better than this."