Thursday, June 30, 2011

Dealing In The Tangible

Bach and My Father by Paul Zimmer

Six days a week my father sold shoes
To support our family through depression and war,
Nursed his wife through years of Parkinson's,
Loved nominal cigars, manhattans, long jokes,
Never kissed me, but always shook my hand.

Once he came to visit me when a Brandenburg
Was on the stereo. He listened with care--
Brisk melodies, symmetry, civility, and passion.
When it finished, he asked to hear it again,
Moving his right hand in time. He would have
Risen to dance if he had known how.

"Beautiful," he said when it was done,
My father, who'd never heard a Brandenburg.
Eighty years old, bent, and scuffed all over,
Just in time he said, "That's beautiful."

"Bach and My Father" by Paul Zimmer, from Crossing to Sunlight Revisited. (c) The University of Georgia Press, 2007. Found in The Writer's Almanac, June 28.

I thought it might happen, and people who know me figured it would.

Here I am in the fitness business. So rarely does the impostor syndrome hit that I sometimes push myself to the edge of doubt: What do you think you're doing here, leading an exercise class? Who are you to try and solve that lady's back problems? I pass my own test every time; I know what I know.

When I come home from work, my husband asks, Changing lives again today? Because this business of the body is directly connected to everything else, as I've often written. I can't tell you how many times I've had a client cry during a session over something highly personal--the body business brings it all out. Too, the mere regular proximity of these sweating bodies and the familiar and kindred spirits they contain bring out the personal. You haven't seen me awhile because I've been depressed. My girlfriend left me. My husband--same old stuff. I work with the whole person, not just the muscles and bones.

But what has happened, predictably, is this: the work is so tangible I have lost sight of the thin places, as the Irish call them, those areas that can't be pinned down by the location of the knee above the foot or a right balance of fat, carbs and protein. I'm so busy figuring out things for people that I've all but forgotten there are things that are beyond us. Things we can't see. Artists address these in poems, in music. But we all sit in these places, whether or not we have the language to address them, or the ability to dance. I've forgotten that, and am becoming dull. Sad, even.

In the manner of the prescriptions I dole out, I am changing my diet: more poetry, more beauty, more contemplation of what cannot be contained in a diagram. Just in time. Won't you join me?

Wednesday, June 29, 2011


I need to get a blogroll going so you can see where I like to go out there in the vast internet. Meanwhile, here's a shout out to some interesting women.

Girlboxing. Malissa does a great job keeping us current on the state of women's boxing. And she keeps up her end of the sport at Gleason's, where I plan to meet her next month.

Creative Urges. I met Carol yesterday and bought a bunch of cool leather bracelets. I instantly liked Carol, not just because her first words to me were "So what's your story?" but because she's competing in The Warrior Dash next month (I never wanted to do a 5K, but now I definitely will). Go see and buy her stuff at her online store.

Mosaic Language Group. It was at Jill's house that I met Carol. Jill has lots of great ideas in her interesting head, and she's now following one of those dreams by starting Spanish language classes for families. If you're here in Grand Rapids, consider this.

The Glowing Edge. I don't know how Lisa does it, but she manages to make a variety of topics equally interesting. So even if you're not yet a fan of boxing, or bands, or foodie food, you'll love her blog.

D-Mom Blog: the sweet life with a diabetic child. Thanks to Leighann for highlighting my post The Last Lunch, and for all the quality work she does for the type 1 community. Click here to get there:

D-Mom Blog Type 1 Tuesday

Monday, June 27, 2011

Comparing My Hobbies: How Live Boxing Differs From Live Theatre

You can call out instructions to the performer, and he might do them.

You can drink beer.

The person behind you, who is related to one of the performers, can yell the name of the performer in a loud voice continually over the course of the time said performer is visible.

When a performer leaves the stage, people will stop him and list what he did wrong, and all the ways he can go about things differently next time.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Flying Monkeys and Me

There's a video wrap-up of the Applied Theatre Conference I taught at a few months back. If you're wondering what I'm saying during my little segment, know that I am, too; that's the day, as I recall, I walked around claiming to see flying monkeys. The exhaustion was worth it; it was a great conference. The large group of people waving their arms around was the last exercise I conducted. 80 some people doing Theatre of the Oppressed. Mighty cool.

Monday, June 20, 2011

The View From The Asylum

May 16, 2011

I've done just 7 days of Insanity: The Asylum, spread out over the course of two weeks. A few things got in the way--boxing, recovering from boxing, and an exercise class I help lead on Saturdays.

And then there's the fact that I couldn't put any weight on my right leg for the past two days. It's a little better today.

Let's not blame The Asylum. I've built a complicated defense for the program that turned me into an action figure, at least before the whole leg thing. Doing these extreme moves really had my body working the way it should. I felt like a well-oiled machine. A few pounds dropped away almost immediately, which had the effect of turning my muscular look into more of an athletic one. Then I ate that entire bag of chips. Anyway.

The leg problem, I believe, arrived after a series of events. The second time through Speed and Agility, which I believe to be the toughest of the workouts, I went barefoot. Blisters immediately formed on my toes, and in trying to avoid pain, my proprioception was thrown off, which is a fancy way of saying I walked funny. Other muscles in my legs compensated. By the time I got to my Saturday class, one wrong move and my knee was done.

The injury happened two days after the last Asylum workout; that fact, coupled with the results I've seen, makes me place the blame otherwise.

But considering I can't jump right now, I'm out of The Asylum until I can.

June 20, 2011

Every 5 minutes, a body part of Amy's gives up the ghost.

After recovering from the May knee injury, I tried fitting Asylum in again among the boxing and such. But doggone it, something's always tight, something always hurts. Yesterday, I swear the injuries played hide and seek--one minute it'd be my left knee, next my right elbow, then this little pain on the right side of my lower back.

I'm listening to these complaints and adjusting my physical exertion accordingly. I'm also nudging back that familiar voice that whispers, This is it. You're old. Give it up.

But I must admit that once I realized that The Asylum is impossible, I didn't give it everything. The Asylum is impossible, in that the exercises last incredible lengths and keep on coming. When you can bring yourself to look up at the screen, what you'll see through the dripping sweat is that the ex-Marine behind Shaun T has paused to catch his breath and shake off the pain, and that one of the women is actually miming half the stuff rather than using the resistance band you're about to take the scissors to.

That's the point--pushing yourself. Telling your central nervous system that you actually want to teeter toward the edge of cardiac arrest. But it had the reverse effect on me--I give up. I can tell myself all sorts of motivational mumbo jumbo, but the rest of me knows the truth: Shaun T will shut up when I hit "Eject."

With the priority being boxing and not jumping as high as Shaun T, I'm favoring what's required there--getting everything loose and agile in time for my day at the gym. Asylum has contributed to that, but I need a break from it. I'll dabble in it occasionally--I like the one mile race sequence at the start of Game Day, and the Fitness Assessment is in itself a nice workout.

I like looking back at the workouts I've thought were tough in the the past, because what I see is progress. BodyCombat, which had me heaving a few years back, would be cake now. My first fitness boxing attempt, which was awful, would be doable. My second fitness boxing class, which was like the first except ramped up and nonstop, would be a nice workout rather than an impossible one.

And now The Asylum. A year ago I would have crumpled to the ground in the first minute of any of the DVDs. So there's that. But I'm still unhappy with my reaction to pressure. I desire the challenge, yet I fall prostrate before it. Because why make life any harder than it already is? Your advice is welcome.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011


It being summer and all, I'm often outside when the paper is delivered, which reminds me of this post from February.


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?

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The Last Lunch

Today I wrote the last note of the school year. No more pencils, no more books, no more notes counting out each carb my boy will eat at lunch. No more waiting for a phone call at 12:05 on a high blood sugar requiring some calculations.

"I'm mad at diabetes," Theo said the other day, and also a few days before that. Diabetes is getting in the way, and although we've done all we can to keep life normal, he knows it. Some days it's just what we do; other days, we're mad. And that's okay. You need to sit in the mad, sometimes.

Because for the past nine months, packing a lunch has surprised me with its stress factor. I must pack a lunch that's healthy. That comes from the items on hand. That's not too substantial and can be finished in a short period of time. The carb count should range in the 40s to 80s, with no items too high in the glycemic index, or I'll get another call at 2pm. And finally, one I'm not embarrassed of--peanut butter and jelly again?--because a secretary in the office will see it every day.

So I'm mad.

I'm mad. I'm mad that this disease takes so much of our lives. I'm mad that we have to time Theo's baths with his shots. I'm mad that he can't sleep in. That he can't eat seconds. That if he's stuck in a tornado drill, as we were a month back, and is without food, he could fall into a coma.

That people tell me about grandma losing her leg. That I'm supposed to check his feet every night. That I have to keep these prescriptions filled and not forget anything. That people say "at least it's a manageable disease." That they have no idea how much managing there is.

The last supper Jesus had with his disciples had everything to do with food, body and blood; these elements have come to the forefront for us this past year, and have culminated, briefly, in this last lunch.

“My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow,” he said to them.

Sunday, June 5, 2011


Down the street from our apartment in Tallahassee, and just off the lovely Lake Ella, sat the offices for an Alzheimer's nonprofit. They placed an ad in my church's bulletin calling for volunteers to sit with a person with Alzheimer's while his caregiver took some time for herself.

I had a grandfather with Alzheimer's (listen to my spoken word piece here) and, though I didn't know it then, another grandmother just shy of a diagnosis. I offered to help.

Weekly I'd drive to the small home and greet Mabel before she left for her hair appointment. Mabel was from Alabama, and her mouthful of marble talk made communication tricky. I sensed she wanted me for herself, was lonely for the company, but needed her hair set. I waved her off and sat with her husband, John, who was only slightly easier to understand (he had Parkinson's, not Alzheimer's).

The shades were drawn most of the time I was there, and occasionally I'd suggest letting in a little light, but both John and I knew Mabel liked her surroundings a certain way. He had a wit about him that the disease couldn't fully take away, and would joke while demonstrating his new recliner's ability to lift him to a standing position.

Though I liked John, those were long hours. I comforted myself in the fact that I was helping Mabel and providing John with a welcome distraction. But I also couldn't wait to be done; the room was dark, the silences long, and I'm not naturally at ease with the elderly. It didn't help that our two years in Florida were already a long stretch of uncomfortable events, culminating, finally, in a move to Iowa.

There's helping people, and there's thriving as yourself. When the two can meet, the approach is holistic, better, best. After sitting with John I still made some wrong moves in my efforts to help others--teaching a cooking class to young city kids comes to mind first--but I started looking for ways my talents and abilities could mesh with others' needs, rather than make that common mistake: thinking that helping had to hurt, had to be a sacrifice.

Last week I began as a volunteer mentor at my boxing gym. Not all the kids stay to box and neither do most of the mentors, as it's a separate program. But I like that it's housed there, and that I can give back to the place that has welcomed me and taught me so much. The nine-year-old girl I'm paired up with is a sweetie, but there are some tough kids in the mentoring program, some still without a mentor. I felt like I was adopting when J ran to me upon the announcement; she'd been waiting a while.

After we finished, I changed clothes and wrapped my hands. Some of the tougher girls, I saw, were watching me with new eyes: no longer was I just some white woman smiling her way through a volunteer session; I was here to sweat it out alongside the others (and punch one of the other mentors).

Mentoring is just an hour one day a week, and it's a lot easier than my work in the homeless shelter. But finally, a comfortable fit, a match. Surely, as with all volunteering, J will give back as much as I give her; but for starters, I can give thanks that all is in order on my end.

Even more organic a match is the scene four nights a week at the boxing gym: a group of mostly African-American men guiding a group of mostly African-American boys. Eight hours or more a week. Their devotion to boxing meets the boys right where they are, and allows them a natural mentoring role. This isn't part of the mentoring program I mentioned above, and I'd guess most of these men are unpaid. I love catching moments between them that have everything to do with boxing and nothing at all.

These men are in their corner because they want to be, and the young guys know it. That's how it should be.