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...