Thursday, May 26, 2011

How Cool Is Grand Rapids?

The world record for biggest lip dub was set right here in Grand Rapids, Michigan, this past weekend. At the helm of over 3,000 people was Rob Bliss, a young man known for staging large scale group events, such as massive pillow fights and choreographed paper airplane takeoffs from tall buildings, here in the city. Back when I worked for Inner Compass, I suggested a show on Bliss, and played roles as director and editor on parts of the episode. Since then, Bliss has done even bigger and greater things, one of which you can watch here:

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

...And After

I counted; there are no less than 24 bottles of hair care product in my WC. And yet I somehow manage--daily, consistently, without fail--to look like a Before picture.


"Are you 40 yet?" the woman asked.
"My friends and I call the 40s the effit years."
"The what?"
"The effit years. You know, 'Eff it, I'm wearing what I want,' or, 'Eff it--I want to eat that.'"

Fair enough. Except it's only been in my late 30s, early 40s, that I've paid any attention to what I wear or eat. Just last month I figured out that if I wear these undies with those pants, an unsightly pantyline will ensue. If I eat that, I'll walk around with it between my teeth unless I brush. Yesterday, for example, I drank a protein shake during a staff meeting, and a seed took up permanent residence between my front teeth. But at least I knew it.

So the effit years, not so much. It's more like the "ohshit" decade...there aren't enough years left.

In her essay Fighting Time, champion Australian boxer Mischa Merz writes about older female boxers she's met:
What an extraordinary way to play out the narrative of female ageing in this society. The standard options are to sink into a torpor over what you have lost, lamenting some illusory power that came with your attractiveness to men. Or else you can reclaim that lost allure with plastic surgery and turn yourself into a Cougar. Or just vanish. Become a soccer mom and retreat to the sidelines.

What defiance, then, to transgress the conventions of both gender and age and remake yourself as a warrior, demanding attention and standing alone. Here was a group of women heading in a new direction entirely, finding means of exerting power and expressing themselves that seemed to be more sustaining than whatever might be gained from the ability to make men drool. In the era of the middle-age sexual predator, the ‘glam-ma’ now were some genuinely courageous individuals who, as women, didn’t want to go over the same old ground, didn’t want to bat eyelash extensions at busboys or buy enhanced cleavage.

Although I've recently chosen this warrior's way, I still do some lamenting over what's lost; it's not such the bad thing Merz makes it out to be, as would wanting a body worth its weight in drool. She's right--the path is unconventional for women my age, but I'd like to think this is not a separate path; rather, the fight is part of a larger battle on all fronts, instead. For me, it's not an either/or situation--I box because I've given up my looks, or I'm going to work on my looks and not risk a broken nose. It's "Eff it--I'm doing what I want" with a touch of "What I want is good for me." The confidence and athletic prowess gained from boxing can produce an attractiveness the Cougars can't buy.

So I'll continue to spend about five total minutes on my hair each morning, and slowly work my way through those 24 bottles. But if none of them helps me step out of the Before photo, I might just buy some more.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Friday, May 20, 2011

Doubt v. Possibility

Thursday morning at jury duty--or, rather, jury selection, during which I was selected for not one, but two cases--I sat watching the judge. Cool woman, I thought. Friendly but firm. Jokes but keeps control. I'm a lot like that; I could be a judge.

Then came some attorneys. "When your name was called, ma'am, you hesitated. Why is that?" asked the one, of a woman who would admit she'd rather be at work. Wow, I thought, that would be something--asking direct, pointed questions to take matters where you want them to go. I could do that.

By the end of the four and a half hours, my what I want to be when I grow up list grew by several options. Never mind that each would take years of study and training; my world had expanded. I now see why Take Your Kid To Work Day exists. And why fifth graders trek to that same courthouse for field trips. To discover I could do that.

By the time I arrived at the boxing gym that same night, the sense of omnipotence had faded. For two months I've shown up regularly, and for what? Why start a new sport at age 40, one that takes hours upon hours of practice at muscle memory?

I slogged away at the bags half-heartedly through the first hour and a half. With a short time left to spare, I sucked up some self-esteem and asked if someone would work mitts with me.

The trainers looked to each other and I cracked a joke, worried that maybe nobody wanted the old lady at the end of a long night: "I know I'm intimidating."

They laughed. Then one said to the other, "You laugh, but Amy here has potential."

Ah. I had hoped for as much, and I sure needed to hear it tonight, especially from a guy who doesn't effuse praise easily. But potential--it's a word commonly reserved for those with a whole lifetime ahead of them, like the young man, a fellow boxer, who would work mitts in the end.

"You want to work out, or you wanna learn," was the first thing he said.
"Learn," I answered. "I can get my workout elsewhere."

We began. The pop was strong and crisp off the mitts. His snap equaled my punches. He was young and he kept me out there, stringing endless double jabs at the end of a long night. I jabbed 'til I yelped. Second round, I knew no one was watching the clock. "Is this five minutes?" I managed to say. He smiled and kept calling out the punches. I kept up until lactic acid and exhaustion prevailed; he was still smiling, looking as pleased as I felt.

"She's in better shape than us!" he yelled to someone down below. The she and us are warranted; my age, gender and race keep me from blending in here. But they were watching, I could feel it, and these minutes may have bridged the divide.

"That was really good," he said, almost surprised. "Really good."

A young man of maybe 17, his is the face I've seen regularly each week. He's dedicated to the sport, has given years of time and will continue to work hard every chance he's given.

"You stretch good tonight, all right?" he called to me as I was leaving.

And then he added, "Ask me for mitts any time," knowing he'll be there again next week, and so will I.

Top Ten SIde Effects From Prescription Drug Ads

10. a rash on your cheeks or other parts of the body
9. red scaly patches or raised bumps that are filled with pus
8. yellow skin
7. feeling "high"
6. suicidal thoughts or actions
5. increased sweating
4. dark urine
3. clay-colored bowel movements
2. tuberculosis
1. burping

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

I Like What

It came to my attention that I use the word "what" in post titles quite a bit.

There's The What If, a recent post about an obese woman who found a supportive community just in time. It's a story I can't get out of my head.

There's What's Left, in which I manage to tie together being hit in the head and having a son with diabetes. I like this one. Go read it.

And then, just for balance, read What's Right as well, for an honest glimpse at bitterness bumping against charity in my hard heart. I like this one a lot, too.

Sunday, May 15, 2011


For the past four years, I've been working on this story. If you'd like to read sample chapters, let me know in the comments.

a picture of death, drugs and forgiveness
by 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 toddler. 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, draw in 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.”

When Kevin would later make plans to remarry, he encountered a new set of difficulties. 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.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Can't Think Straight

Earliest memory: I'm four, sitting in a small, windowless, wood-paneled room. A box is pushed across a large desk. "Sort the shapes," a voice says. I look in the box: triangles, squares. Circles. Really? I look to the grown-up in charge of my fate, searching for clues. Can it be true I'll be deemed smart enough for kindergarten, if not old enough, based on such a test as this?

At no point does relief cross my mind; there's no celebration that the prize is in the bag. No, what I think to myself is this: there's something I'm missing. What's in front of me is too obvious, too easy. I've got to look at this in some other way.

At four, and still at forty, my perspective has always been this: the obvious is too obvious. Let me think around, behind and through, instead.

Which is why boxing is so refreshing. There's strategy and technique to be learned, but in the end, all you have to think about is this one person in front of you. That's it.


double jab

double jab cross

one two
one two
one two duck

one two duck
one two three

one two three with a right behind

one two three step

one two three step
try it again nice

My trainer checked his watch. "A four-minute round!" I grabbed my side: a cramp.Where was it a moment ago? Because that's what happens when you're paying attention to just the one thing, facing it straight on; you push past where you ever thought you could go.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

The What If

I write a newsletter for my Y. I interview members, weave their stories into my own. The purpose is to highlight the community in constant formation at our small branch; very few newsy items make it onto those pages. Mostly stories.

I'm writing one now about a woman who swims every day. She's "always been heavy," as she puts it, and for the past three or four years, planned her day around what's on TV. Depression had kept her inside the house, and "the more you don't move, the more you can't move," she told me. Carrying that weight around, even just to walk, was too much effort--she'd have to stop every few feet to catch her breath.

Once she made the decision to become a member, anxiety hit again. She didn't show up. A staff member called, encouraged her, and now this woman's life has completely changed.

This is the story I'll write. It's a marvelous one, which highlights everything I love about the Y: the communal ties, the ripple effect of health and wellness.

But I can't stop thinking about what could have been. Here's this sweet, friendly woman, who now has a circle of lively friends looking forward to seeing her each day. And just a few months ago she sat in her house alone, watching soap operas, thinking she'd always be judged for her weight. Had she not stepped into the Y--after much effort, and aided by a cane--and had the staff member not reached out, she'd still be in front of the television.

"I had to buy an alarm clock," she said, grinning. I couldn't immediately follow how this purchase related to our conversation, and then I realized: She never needed one before. She had no drive to wake early, except maybe to watch The Today Show. But now she's got to get to the pool. The cane stays home.

This woman sat in her house with no idea of what was to come. No hope. No idea that her life would, or could, turn into something worth waking for.

My God. What a close call.

We live, not comprehending what a phone call can do
We move with the cloud's shadow, not knowing the light shines just a step away
We walk, labored, choosing one path and not the next, and that decision determines everything

Saturday, May 7, 2011

The Race To Save The World

It's not a contest, I know. But it's natural to want to weigh my professions against each other, see which one tackles the world's problems best.

Last month, some of the people I taught at an applied theatre conference committed themselves to using the art form to help communities here and abroad. I'm so glad of that.

And I've written extensively here on using theatre in a local homeless shelter to good ends. Like this time, and others.

So it was surprising yesterday to receive a letter in the mail announcing that a group of women from the shelter are training for a 5K. Weekly, they attend classes on nutrition and fitness, and they run or walk. Which happens to be the kind of thing I teach now.

I saw in the picture a woman who had spent most of the time I worked there with one foot bandaged and raised, and here she is training for a run. She looks happy.

This could be the ticket. The arts are helpful and good, but this--this could fight the battle on several fronts at once. By starting with the body.

We have a body before we have a name, said Augusto Boal, the founder of Theatre of the Oppressed.

When a new woman comes to the shelter, a staff member interviews her. At the top of the back side of the intake form was the question: Have you experienced sexual abuse?

I'd flip through the binder of forms and see Yes; yes; yes; yes; yes; yes and my father; my father; my father until I couldn't read anything more.

Have you experienced physical abuse? One woman turned to show the hand prints on her neck. Have you worked as a prostitute? Yes.

The body.

The babies of these bodies are somewhere else, not allowed in the shelter. These bodies, required to be cleaned before they may stay. These bodies that sleep on the floor.

The theatre, happening between the showers and the sleeping, often emphasized the body. Image Theatre, the branch of Theatre of the Oppressed I focus on, relies on physical imagery and nonverbal communication to get at deeper issues. And it works.

As does training for a 5K. I'm resisting the urge to push one of my professions past the finish line first, in the race to save the world.

Reveling, instead, that the women experience both. Cheering them on as they move closer and closer to the tape.

Read more about them here or donate to the cause here.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011


According to The Dream Well,

New rooms in a house can relate to areas in our lives where we are discovering new skills, abilities or strengths within ourselves. ... Dreams of new rooms invite us to look at what we thought were our limitations, and to recognise that we can move beyond them. ... Our feelings and reactions to this new room, or the series of new rooms will give us important clues as to how this relates to our lives. Do you feel awe inspired, excited and amazed? Do you feel a sense of nervousness and trepidation? Or do you simply not want to know, and decide to lock the door and keep this room hidden, a secret?

I often dream I've found new rooms in my house. Usually, I'm thrilled at the chance for more space, and typically these rooms are quite tastefully done, filled with furniture I didn't know I had.

Last night, I found some new rooms. And I could only be bothered to think, "Damn: another bathroom to clean."

No Tears

At the start of the Insanity: The Asylum DVDs, a disclaimer rolls up the screen, something along the lines of this:

You should not exercise at a level beyond which you feel comfortable.
If at any time you feel you are exercising beyond your current fitness capabilities, discontinue the exercise immediately, and reconsider your use of this routine in particular.

And I think to myself: But isn't that the point?

They need those warnings in place to avoid getting sued. But the whole point of the workout I did yesterday was to push the limits of comfort, both physical and mental. Had I followed the disclaimer, I'd have been on the couch at minute two. That's no exaggeration; I'm not one for suffering, despite my current pursuit of boxing. If you told me today I had cancer, there'd be no courageous battle with it--I'd be dead by tomorrow.

It took a day of limping around and shaking my head as I tried to tell people about The Asylum. No words came, just the shaking and the limping. I was convinced I had failed to fully perform the speed and agility workout. And then it hit me: total failure is what was asked. Doing each exercise over two, three minutes--failing, picking up again, failing. I did what was required.

Today was Strength. My strong point, as it were. Much more manageable, though a significant challenge. The arms, back and glutes are burning. But no tears today.

After day one, my husband sympathized, and suggested I start back at P90x. To which I replied: Who says I'm quitting?

Monday, May 2, 2011

Maybe I Don't Want To Be An Elite Athlete Anymore

Yesterday I announced I was to begin Insanity/The Asylum. Today I discovered The Asylum is not for humans.

Have I cried during a workout before? Right when you're ready to shut off the DVD (or pause it again, in my case), Shaun T says something along the lines of, "We're still in the warm up," or, "Now for the power round." Even the Marine behind him falters.

Did I mention I'm 40?

In other news, popular blogger Lisa Creech Bledsoe kindly solicited my advice on her crash from a boxing high. Read about it at her blog, The Glowing Edge, or at Women Talk Sports.

And while I shake my head at the thought that I, a once and still backward bookworm, am quoted on anything to do with athleticism, I also regret that I have the experience to qualify for an appearance on D-Mom Blog, for moms of children with diabetes. Read my interview from December here.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Jumping On The Bandwagon for 30 Days

Everybody's doing P90x. Or maybe Insanity. So where did I choose to begin? Part 3: Insanity/The Asylum. Arrived in the mailbox yesterday.

Though I'd been mixing up my workout routines, I was still putting a lot of focus on strength, with the occasional shoulder conditioning for boxing. Asylum promises to turn me into an agile athlete.

I'll miss a month of working out at the Y, but I'll see my people when I'm on the clock there, thankfully. And do my sweating at home.

If the "athletic performance assessment" is any indication, I'll be doing a lot of that. Sweating. (And when you're sore mid-workout instead of 2 days after, you know you're in trouble.) I can't bear to post a video I made right after, so this will have to do:

Buy beachbody products, including P90x and Insanity, from my friend Mindy.