Saturday, February 26, 2011

Small Deaths

That last post: sorry about the teaser. I was unable to write more because

(a) I had recently been hit in the head a bunch of times
(b) I had trouble accepting the fact that being hit is part and parcel of my newly-chosen sport
(c) I didn't know what to make of a particular three-minute round.

The context: a 7-week boxing class culminating in Fight Night--a reward, of sorts, for having learned our basic punches the previous weeks. Yes, you read that right: we learned how to punch, but nary a defensive move was taught. We punched affable heavy bags or mitts, inanimate objects with no intention of fighting back. The first time I took the class, Fight Night consisted of some light jabs and punches thrown under strict supervision. A very controlled environment. I figured Thursday would be the same.

The first round saw a class regular matched up against his brother, a Golden Gloves boxer in his day. They knew what they were doing. A nice, solid three-minute round.

Next up: my young friend Phil against another young guy. Phil used to get picked on a lot, and his street fighting experience served him well here. He did a fine job; the other guy, with no skill set to speak of, just held his own and tried to make it through the three minutes.

Then Emily points at me and curls her finger. Here we go. Mouthguard in; someone puts the headgear on, fixes my ponytail. Gloves on. GG Guy watches the clock. We're going for three minutes, and as I'll soon find out, this is nothing like last time.

We face each other. Someone has to throw a punch, so I go for it, and this is all part of the plan. Emily takes a few, and as she'll tell me later, she's watching to see what I do. Apparently I drop my guard slightly after throwing my jab--at chin level instead of above it. And Emily, who I hear has won the GG a few times, saw the opening and took it. Right hook to my head. Hard. I punch back and she does it again. Hard. Damnit.

I try different things--again, I have no real resources to draw from, but I'm being hit, and that's motivation right there. I parry the punches coming directly at me. I see she's giving me some openings; I get a couple right hooks to her body.

But let me stop right here and explain how difficult that is to do. You've got someone in front of you whose gloves are probably up in front of her face. Gloves are big bulky things, and in order to get around to her head or body, you have to reach far. When you do, you leave yourself momentarily off balance and open. There are moves you learn to help you while in this position, but like I say, I don't know them yet.

And as the minutes pass, I take more hard hooks to the head and ribs. Last time, Emily banged me up a bit, but as a formality; this time, she was throwing real punches, or at least the hardest hits I've ever felt. I'm taking them--not falling over--but I'm not happy about it, and the thinking kicks in. She's right there, but what do I do? I face her and I know she's going to get me, so I stop making the first move. I also try to avoid the trap of standing there and taking a bunch of punches, so I attempt to get out of the way, but I'm not hitting back during the escape. "Jab out!" someone yells, so I try that. Eventually, though you think it never will, time runs out.

After my round, Emily matched herself against the other woman in the class. Tap, tap. Easy does it. There you go.

I'm spooked by what was a controlled but essentially unfair situation, though I know I did respectably well given that I didn't know anything about anything. My endurance held up for three minutes, and that alone is worthy of celebration. I took some hard hits and did something a lot of people wouldn't. That's all I know for sure.

What really knocked the wind out of me was something that happened earlier in the day. My son had brought home a donut from school; kids are always bringing in birthday treats, and Theo brings his home so that we can calculate his insulin dose. Rather than take a trip to the office for a shot and miss the birthday celebration in its entirety, he has a lollipop in class while others eat special treats. A shame, but he's fine with it.

He brings the donut home and sets it on the kitchen counter. I'm at the table searching CalorieKing for Krispy Kreme. Chocolate glazed, chocolate iced glazed? I look over at Theo. He's been turning the donut around, comically acting as if this sugar-filled experience will be the highlight of his life, when some icing gets on his fingers.

He brings a finger to his mouth and stops. He remembers his diabetes.

I read in a blog once that when one woman learned her daughter had diabetes, the thought that they couldn't taste the cookie dough together while baking cookies bothered her a great deal. (An insulin pump will make moments like these more manageable, but we're not there yet.)

I couldn't fully understand the woman's concern until Thursday. That moment was harder to take than any hook to the head. It caught my breath worse than the blows my body would take that evening.

When life deals blows like these, you'd think we wouldn't go looking for more elsewhere. Yet there's an element of Thursday night that has me thinking if I can take punches like that and keep standing, I can handle anything that comes this way.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Body, mind, spirit and all that

This morning, a workout for the brain.

In between everything else around here, I'm prepping for a conference next month. The act of writing a lecture and sessions surprised me with its little post-planning buzz. I think and read and write all the time; especially with a new job in a new field, there's no lack of intellectual stimulation. Yet having my hands solidly in material I enjoy brought on the sculptor's delight. Ah, theatre of the oppressed, sweet Augusto, I've missed you.

For you, what brings on the buzz?

Sunday, February 20, 2011


Lunch while reading

Tea while trying to finish

No food at all, for this is a big book belonging to someone else

Waiting for this in the mail

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Lemme Explain

Marty brought up boxing again today. Word had gotten around the gym that this was my new sport, and yesterday, Marty, whom I keep dragging out of the Nautilus room to put weights in his hands, wanted to know something.

"You mean you're willing to get hit?" he asked.

"Well yes," I said. "Of course."

He shook his head and that, I figured, was that. Until today, when he popped his head around the corner and asked, "You ever see Million Dollar Baby?"

I figured he was just making conversation around the topic, so I began a diatribe on the writing and lighting of the film, as well as some faux pas I had picked up on. I recommended another, tougher, female boxing film (Girlfight). But it turned out he was more interested in the plotline involving a hospital.

"I think what the training does for a boxer's body is fantastic," he said. "But I'm completely against the sport. I think it's brutal and violent."

"Yes, um," I said, or something equally articulate. "You, uh...have to understand that some of us need...that."

"To hurt people?" he countered.

"Why don't we call it contact sports?" I suggested.

"Head injuries are real, Amy," he said. "Just be careful, is all."

That finished us for today; but Marty is a regular, and this will come up again, I know. Seeing how much I've read for and against boxing, I was surprised at how I couldn't explain my motivation, even this early in the game. Of course, it remains to be seen how far I pursue this hitting business, but for now, it's absolutely the thing to do. But why? What was the "some of us need that?" getting at?

This will either be a very long or very short blog post. I could tell you why I started bench pressing and how that got boring, and then how boxing crept in there, flattered not only my strength but my intellect, too, and the affair began. About my shoulders, how they're more conditioned now and looking better, as well. My core, which is stronger and keeping my knees in line. How I used to huff the second I picked up a rope, and now I can jump for nine minutes (and counting).

And what it feels like to throw a solid, power-packed punch--the extension of the back, the engaging of the core, the POW.

I don't know that any of that will convince Marty. I'm too new at this to say for sure, but it seems you've got to have a certain something in you, some spitfire, to want to box; and if you don't have it, you might never quite understand.

Even now, the sweat still wet on my clothes, I can't tell you exactly why I subject myself to what ESPN has announced is the toughest sport in the world. I especially like one of the categories used to rank the 60 sports: nerve ("the ability to overcome fear").

Any ideas on building my defense?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

You: Beautiful

I had to stop the guy. He's young, sporting a perfect v-taper, and going on about needing to cycle his carbs and exercise this and that. "Dude," I said. "You look awesome. Chill out."

The woman talking with us--40, gorgeous and doesn't know it--kept grabbing at the fat that necessarily accumulates at the midsection when one sits (otherwise, there wouldn't be any give for standing up). "Meg, you look beautiful," I said. "Relax and keep on keepin' on."

That's my new thing: telling people they're beautiful. Because if I've learned anything from working in the fitness field, it's that the body isn't separate from the mind or spirit, and a little encouragement can go a long way--straight from the abs to the psyche.

Personal training has the P word in there for a reason. Get someone talking about how they treat their bodies, and the trainer becomes therapist. Have someone adjust their clothing for measurements, and the trainer is entrusted caretaker. Touch the muscle group to be worked and it's highly personal--your muscles are you, and you are a bundle of ideas, memories, worries and fears. It all comes out in the gym.

An important clarification: I don't walk around telling everyone they're awesome. In fact, I found the movement a while back to celebrate large figures somewhat disturbing. Celebrating all body types and self-confidence yes, but what I was hearing was an acceptance of unhealthy lifestyles. Keep telling yourself that it's okay to be a big girl, and you won't have too much trouble fulfilling your destiny by finishing off that bag of chips.

The two people I mentioned at the start were indeed beautiful in the basic sense of the word. But I could sense that they either didn't realize it, or couldn't rest in that fact; their bodies worried them, and my words were more reassurance than compliment, if you get me. Someone else might need to be reassured of other qualities--yes, you are smart, articulate, interesting. But at the gym, the body, on display, becomes the starting point.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Ode to Greg

"Maybe I shouldn't have blogged about the paperboy the day before Valentine's Day," I mused aloud.

"Yup," said Greg.

"Not the current one," I protested.

"I know which one you meant."

"How do you know?"

"The one you had a thing for," he said, not bothering to look up from the paper, which had been delivered right to our door.

"Thing" being a general term, Greg's not worried. We've been together since the day in July 1991 he told me he liked me. Greg knows pretty much every thing going through my busy brain, and yet he sticks around.

He wakes up early to herd the kids off to school, because he knows I can't function if I don't sleep past 7. He listens at night when I'm talkative and he's tired. He works hard and makes time for the kids. His music is smart and his jokes are funny. He gets a big grin on his face when we're able to have the rare date.

He encourages me to follow the paths I should. When those make me too busy to keep up with the housework, he says, "Let it go."

He's my valentine.

Ode to The Paperboy

He's finding his way through the snow, the orange stripe of his heavy bag crisscrossing his chest. He's carrying the news. He's a

You see men delivering the news in my part of town nowadays, not boys. I have to make this clarification when declaring my crush on the guy who used to pull up in his dented white Ford. The world would move in slow-motion the moment his door opened and his blue eyes lit on mine; somewhere in my garage, Take My Breath Away would begin to play, and I would find myself saying things before completely thinking through the implications. On the day he pulled in while my kids and I waited for their playdate to arrive, I told him why we were there and added, "But you can stay and play."

And you wonder why my husband is happier when I stay indoors.

But my efforts paid off: the paper appeared right on our doorstep without fail. No trudging out in the cold for us! Then one day, a beat-up Cadillac pulled near the base of our driveway and tossed the paper a few feet, managing to throw it in the exact path our tires travel. Every day I'd smoosh the paper until Greg finally asked him about it.

"Where would you like it?" the large man bellowed.

"Near the front door," Greg said.

"HA! I bet you would!" he said.

We had little hopes of ever reading a paper without tire tracks again, but Cadillac Man came through. To stay on his good side, we made him a plate of chocolate chip cookies at Christmas.

He sent a thank you note with our next paper. It began with this sentence:
"Mmmmmm cookies."

It also included a business card for real estate.

So we're good. It's probably best that Blue Eyes is gone; I can focus my attention elsewhere.

Because have you seen the mailman?

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Women Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus

SHE: What can I do to work on my grip? I feel like the barbell is slipping out of my hands.

ME: You could trim your nails.

SHE: I'll tell her to go a little shorter next time.

ME: Try lifting without those gloves. See if you get a little more traction.

SHE: I don't like calluses.

ME: My kids hold my hands during church and count mine.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

One Year Later

It's coming on a year since I left work at the homeless shelter. As I read the notes from my time there (in preparation for this), I see names of women I haven't thought of for awhile. Mostly I remember what I wrote about here in this blog, but through my notes I'm reminded of other times.
Pat--Pat!--asking if we could play a CD of hers when we were done with our theatre games. Poison's "Ain't Nothin' But A Good Time" had everybody on their feet.

"New woman with no teeth, keeps talking about gravity. Hesitate to call on her, but she wants to participate and does pretty well."

Arriving to find a worker lying spread-eagle on the ground. She was acting out a crime scene; the sister of another worker was found murdered earlier that morning.

Calling it off when attendance was low, only to have Kim have a fit on me. Kim, who never missed, and who never, ever participated. "But you came all this way!" she said, fuming.
Good work was done there. But when staff changes made me feel unsafe, I had to leave. The mentally unstable can love you one minute and turn on you in another, and I had to know my family was protected. I faced a lot of personal demons at that place--mine, and others.

Everything was tough going there. The stories were extreme, love was fierce, the anger was fiery. That's how I like it, but it became too difficult to maintain that intensity. My memories now are tinged with melancholy. Sometimes love can be true and plans genuine, but they're not meant to be sustained for the long haul. I guess.

Today I led a strength training class and I was right where I should be, though it's a much different place than the shelter. As for charitable work, a new plan is hatching in another unlikely place, where new love will form, demons will rear their ugly heads, and my heart will be broken again, over and over.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Help Wanted

Last week, West Michigan experienced what a local meteorologist called one of the top storms in our history. 6.1 inches of snow fell on Tuesday, 11.1 on Wednesday. My kids had both days off of school, plus a two-hour delay on Thursday.

By Friday, I was outta here, opting to work by laptop at Panera rather than stay home. At a table nearby sat a mom of one of Theo's classmates.

"Can you believe this week?" she asked.

"I know," I said.

"And tomorrow's Saturday," she said, rolling her eyes. "Another full day."

"I know."

Though we love our children, we need time away. Or rather, I need time away, and it was nice to have confirmation that I'm not crazy. Just that little commiserating gave me the boost I needed to get back on the mom track. It's why there are message boards, internet forums, Facebook pages devoted to any known cause. We need to know we're not alone. And yet.

Diabetes. Lots o' stuff to read on the internet, as you can imagine. I'm frequently asked if I've joined a support group for parents of children with diabetes--the in-person kind or internet--and I've learned to shorten a long, wandering response to "I'm not ready yet."

The shots, the filling prescriptions, the tasks we do at home are part of life now--time-consuming, yes, and inconvenient, as was seen Sunday when I burned both the eggs and the hash browns to the same hue while checking blood sugar levels. But the diabetes management is built in, and we're handling it.

On Fridays I go to Theo's school to refill supplies, switch out their insulin pen for ours, change their lancet, perform a control test on both glucose monitors, record their numbers into my log. This taxes me emotionally, but I can't say why. Most likely it's the responsibility these actions represent, though much of the hard work is behind me. The beginning of the school year saw me making charts and educating the secretaries before and during each new scenario that would arise; now, a fairly robust system is in place. And yet we still field an average of 4 calls per week to make decisions off the page, as diabetes is too complex for any one chart.

You'd think, then, with all this emotional upheaval, I'd seek comfort from other parents of kids with diabetes. And I do, some, but I get what I need, give a little, and get outta there. Though I appreciate all you d-moms, I can't linger at your sites; it drains me to read too much about diabetes. Don't call it denial, because I learn what I need to know and act where necessary. Lean over to the table nearby for a chat, then position my head back in front of my computer to work. Because life goes on; dwell too much on my son's diabetes, and the rest of life gets too heavy.

But that's me, and I've never been a joiner. Have you turned to support groups for encouragement? How was the experience?

Thursday, February 3, 2011

And You Thought I Couldn't Connect Celibacy With Cooking

An invitation to teach at The Institute for Arts in Transformation in Philadelphia came my way recently; I turned it down, but was reminded of the time before last that I taught for them, when the institute was held in a building that was half dormitory, half nunnery.

The event kicked off with a welcome from Sister Something or Other, an austere woman not unlike the nuns who taught me 1st through 6th grade. Her stern, unsmiling greeting was more rules than reassurance, a stark contrast from the artsy types that had gathered. Her henchwomen were no different; find yourself late for lunch, as I did one day, and turn the corner to find a nun blocking the hallway before you.

Aren't you supposed to be somewhere right now?
she asked.

Yessister, came my deeply-ingrained reply.

Lunch, unfortunately, was not something to rush off to. God-awful food lined the nuns' buffet. Aesthetically-displeasing lumps that left us guessing, Jell-O salads made with pairings more ill-matched than a duet at the Grammys. The first day, we politely made our way through meals. By the next, many of us begrudgingly decided to diet.

Fortunately, I had my friends Hank and April in nearby New Jersey to rescue me. We made plans to meet up on the campus of the convent.

There was a good chance they would be delayed that evening, so I visited the nuns' library for some reading material. Partly to get away with something without their knowing, and partly because I was interested in a particular author, I swiped a book.

And there I waited, under a tree, in sleeveless shirt and mini-skirt, reading a Henri Nouwen book on celibacy.

Whatcha reading about? Hank yelled out the window as they drove up.

Celibacy, I answered.

Uh huh, Hank said.

Hank is a large Italian man very much in touch with his senses, especially when it comes to food. At their house one evening, as April scrambled to prepare the family for their daughter's church concert in just a few hours, Hank whisked me to the car, drove me to a gourmet food store, and led me right to the dessert counter where, he knew, the angels were singing.

Pulling out of the campus now, I warned them to drive fast, because the nuns might be after me. Stolen book. Night on the town. Woman doomed for hell.

But the celibacy book, I said. It's interesting.

Uh huh. Long weekend, Amy?

No, really; they're supposed to pour all that desire into their devotion for God.

Hank was too distracted to engage in conversation; he was set on finding a certain Brazilian grill. Not one of those chain places but the real thing, the kind of place where you bring your own wine and communicate with the waiter via hand gestures.

Vibrant music played in the tiny, packed place. We squeezed into our table, touching backs with the happy family behind us. Servers came by with skewers of juicy red meat and vivid yellow grilled pineapple. Yes, yes! We ate, we laughed, we drank.

Then they drove me back. The book in one hand, I hugged my dear friends goodbye, smelling the black beans in April's mass of gorgeous black curls.

The conference attendees could smell it on me, too. I fessed up as to where I'd been, and they were devastated. They insisted I tell them how to get there, and they'd find a way. I wrote down what I remembered.

Then I walked down the hall, tipsy, slipped into the library, and put the book exactly back in its place.

and you thought I couldn't connect celibacy and cooking.

Just For A Time

Could you please knock me off my feet for a while? asks Beth Orton in her song, Galaxy of Emptiness.

It's some kind of romantic reference, I assume, though a melancholic one, and tempered by the please and for a while. But immediately I connected it to boxing, and then back to romance, and here we are.

Because that's what we want, isn't it, to be blown away, knocked down and out of the daily routine. For a while.

The other day, a man who had endured a grueling workout with a trainer I shadowed said to me later, Thanks for kicking my butt. Some days I head out the door on what should be a day of rest for my muscles, yelling over my shoulder that I need to get to the gym to have my butt kicked.

Where else can you sweat, yell and grunt in public? Sports and fitness allow us this acceptable form of release, among their other benefits.

And where else are you allowed--required, even--to punch someone? Yet that's not the primary draw, hopefully, for most boxers; instead, it's what Joyce Carol Oates calls "an absolute experience, a public accounting of the outermost limits of their beings."

"They will know, as few of us can know of ourselves, what physical and psychic power they possess--of how much, or how little, they are capable."

An absolute experience, yes. That's what we want. After that, the standing won't be so hard to do.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Just In Time For Valentine's Day

Now that I've tackled the mating habits of sloths, it's time to move on--slowly--to other equally inspiring topics. Here are some that have come to mind recently.

--Romance and Boxing
--"Nakedness, like death, is democratic"
--Cooking and Celibacy

Vote on your favorite, and cupid will take a stab at the winner.