Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Your Questions Answered: The Mind Body Connect

The blogger behind Holyoke Home, a wonderful and witty place of home renovation, answered my request for writing inspiration with these words: "I am really interested in what goes on in your brain WHILE you are working people out. Where does your head take you while your body is demonstrating things physically?"

Dear Holyoke Home,

First off, let me tell you about the microphone. I won't wear the microphone while teaching fitness classes because I don't want to be like this:



So I turn the music down low. But the minute my jumping jacks match the beat, I feel like this:


It's not my natural habitat, the group exercise room. Catch me in the free weights and I'll teach you proper form, but give me an hour in a big, empty, mirror-lined room, and by golly, I've got to work to feel right. Thankfully, most of my work is as more of a coach than anything; I offer general advice to beginners and new challenges to the hardcore guys.

But you're not asking about my comfort level, are you? You want to know something about how the mind and body come together in these times for me, because you teach, too.

When I look at someone moving, I can feel what they're feeling. Where the person is straining, if the lower back is compromised--I know and can help them out. I know what I know because I've experienced these processes physically; my body remembers, and I supplement this experiential learning with books and research. But sometimes I think my body remembers better than my brain, because ask me about my theatre stuff, and I can't recall specifics if I'm not actively doing it. But ask me how to stretch your rhomboids, and I'm there.

Fitness is a fairly straightforward pursuit: do this, and health and wellness will result. None of us gets it all right all the time, but we know what's good for us and what will take us where we want to go. With the bench press competitions, I knew if I kept at it, I'd see slow but incremental increase in the weight I could lift. And my goodness, the fact that I was doing it at all after never being athletic proves my point.

Injuries may sideline us, and yet the path is straight and paved. It's a relief from all the thinking work of my other fields. All those pesky anatomical terms still remain to be learned, but otherwise fitness is comfortable work for me, aside from the occasional sweating.

With school nearly here, the other day I wondered how I would spend the hours without my kids. Boxing, I figured. I'll put in a couple extra hours a week, get to a good spot, then find some matches.

Follow that logic for a moment: do this, then this, and this will result. I'd set my mind and body to something, and win it.

Then I wondered why I didn't do this in other areas. Why not devote all my energies to finishing my book and getting it published? Put in a few more hours a day than I have been?

Because I don't believe the end is guaranteed there, to be honest. I don't fully believe that will happen, even though it's good stuff.

Why do I assume I'll win a fight but not a publisher?

To answer your question, Holyoke Home, what's going through my mind when I lead exercise is not enough. It should not be this: if I can do this, I can do anything.

Amy

Have a question or writing prompt for me? Comment here!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Empty Brain, Willing Heart

Writing prompts can be found anywhere, but I'm at a loss and turning to you, dear readers, in a time of wanting to write but having nothing that moves me.

Though teaching a fee-based fitness class yesterday had me really wondering how Miss Can't Skip (see kindergarten report card) got here. And

...coming home from that and being seriously sore had me comparing this job to other, less physical prior vocations. Then,

...being sore and cutting hair on my back deck, reminded me of when, as a teen, I once took a salon customer of my mom's while she was in the hospital, and granted him one of my very first haircuts. Also

...prepping again, among mounds of papers and supplies, to send my diabetic son to school, jars the psyche once again.

I don't know. Help me out here. I'm counting on you for inspiration. Last time, you moved me to connect celibacy with cooking. What could be next?

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Setting The Prisoner Free

If you click back through my previous posts on theatre with former prisoners, you might notice that the reading we take to churches, Even In The Darkest Place, usually has five men on the stage.

Not today.

One man went back to jail. He's out now, but has not reconciled himself back with the group, who prays for him.

I once spoke with Wally Lamb, author of Oprah pick She's Come Undone and writing teacher at a women's correctional facility. At the time I was doing theatre with homeless women, and I admitted that I envied his position: Your people have to show up, I said. They're not going anywhere!

Selfish, I know, but it's a hazard of working with any group not locked inside four walls: People get sick. They don't show. Or maybe they go to jail.

I rewrote the script for today and took out parts that were personal to this man; other lines of his (the script is comprised of their actual words put together in stylized form) were spoken for him. The charisma of the fallen man breathed through his friend, almost as if he had been with us.

It's something to sit through a church service with men who have done time. You shall not steal, the pastor read to the congregation, and to a man who had done fourteen years for just that.

You shall not kill
, he said; in front of me sat a man who had. Twenty-one years he spent in prison.

And which commandments have I broken?

The service concluded with the singing of Charles Wesley's Oh For A Thousand Tongues.

He breaks the power of canceled sin;
He sets the prisoner free.

His blood can make the foulest clean;

His blood avails for me.



Friday, August 19, 2011

Little Things Mean A Lot

Right when I broke a Ritz cracker in two, it occurred to me: Everything means something. An extra half cracker could send my son's blood sugar where it shouldn't be. This small semi-circle, now placed back into the sleeve, could elevate his blood glucose level throughout the long night, and we would sleep unaware. Diabetes brings to light what most of us don't see. Your bowl of cereal is actually two and a half portion sizes, the bread with your pasta makes the carb count soar. If you exercise, you'll feel better.

But this is not about diabetes. I only have time to write a few small sentences, which I trust will make the difference.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Ant Farm: She's Come Undone

Got an email today advertising an ant farm. (I also get emails for bed rails; marketing has missed my age bracket by a gap each way.) I have an ant farm story I tell in bars. It's better with hand gestures and under the influence of alcohol, but this attempt might almost get there.

When my kids were smaller, they received the makings for an ant farm as a gift. You mail a form, and in six weeks time a tube of live ants appears in your mailbox. This tube is to be placed into your freezer, where, in fifteen minutes, the cold will slow the ants. This is essential because your next step is to get the ants into the narrow opening at the top of their farm, which is comprised of two sheets of clear plastic held about a half inch apart; would they thrash about, they'd never make it in to rural bliss.

Before depositing the ants, the farm is to be filled with sand. You've seen the pictures; the ants will work to make interesting tunnels through this sand. They get to work on this right away, even making separate rooms, just as the instructions said they would.

"There's the kitchen!" I'd tell my kids, pointing to a small area where the ants had carried some of the bread I gave them. You're supposed to give them bread, as well as some drops of water to build some humidity. The proportion of the two I couldn't get quite right, however; the section of bread was always a little too big, even for the more industrious of the ants, and the water would puddle too much over here, with none over there.

As time passed, the balance of their little world, cheerily woven through with tunnels this way and that, was tipping. The bread in the kitchen became moldy, but of course I couldn't reach in to replace it; the ants over here were looking dry, but as I added water, it traveled elsewhere.

Let's take a moment to look at how farm renovations were accomplished. These are ants, after all, small creatures; and though they can lift a weight equivalent to a human lifting a car, their bathroom, for example, was made one grain of sand at a time.

Eventually, the ants saw the need to accommodate their changing society.

They needed to build a cemetery.

In the way that I knew the kitchen was a kitchen, by seeing the ants carry the bread there, I knew the cemetery by its first visitor: an ant carrying his friend. Subsequent visitors would carry a grain of sand to bury this first casualty.

"Isn't that touching!" I'd tell the kids.

Then another one died and was laid to rest as was the first. We watched this as well. The next one, too.

By now, the ant farm's wavy tunnels had fallen in on themselves for need of sand to bury the dead. In fact, the whole farm was now a long, 70-degree arc of a hill stretching up to the burial ground, where small bodies lay firmly packed. Those who remained spent their time making the long trek, a friend on their backs. No longer did they bother trying to break apart the too large piece of moldy bread; they knew their time would come.

"You're right, honey; those ants aren't moving. How about we read some books?" I'd say to the kids.

When the last living ant stumbled up the long hill with the last of the dead, the work of burial left solely on his shoulders, I, like the miniature society, came undone. I quietly covered the whole thing and carried it outside. Drips of water spilled out as I hoisted the shrouded farm above my head to throw it into the dumpster.

"The ant farm? I'm not sure where it is right now, dear," I said to the kids, happy that it was the God's truth.

Friday, August 5, 2011

The Right Book At The Wrong Time

Books I've read in the places I've read them.

Man's Search For Meaning
...in Chuck E Cheese

Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life
...on the periphery of Barnes and Noble's Story Hour for children

Zen and The Way of the Sword
...in the waiting room of the mammography center

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

It's Been A Whole Freakin' Year

Enough with the depressing posts lately. Instead of trying to articulate a year of living with type 1 diabetes, I thought I'd interview my charming son.



Monday, August 1, 2011

A Boxer Reads Genesis 32

So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.” But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” --Genesis 32


We take what we read and hold it up against what we know. Wrestling with God--yes, we say, I've done that, I've questioned God when life didn't go as I hoped, prayed hard, shed some tears. A story is taken as metaphor and lessons are applied as appropriate.

The story of Jacob and the angel is one that can be read that way. Or you could take it at face value.

The man saw that he could not overpower him.

It's dark, Jacob doesn't know who he's fighting, but doggone it if he's going to let go. He's a good match for whomever it is, so much so that his opponent has to resort to unorthodox tactics.

When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man.


In boxing, it's allowable to punch opponents in the shoulder, I recently learned. It'll slow them down and wear them out. There are other moves that accomplish the same ends, but they're a bit dirty. Low blows.


That's what Jacob's opponent pulled out of his hat when nothing else worked.


Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.” But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”


And all Jacob wanted was a little respect.


Boxing is violent, people say, and they're left perplexed when the guys punching each other end a sparring round with hugs. I've experienced it; in my first and only sparring session, my girl, after trying to lay me out, threw her arms around me as thanks for a good fight.


It's about the respect. And gratitude for something hard won.


Opponents test each other; they're the only ones in the world who felt what happened in that ring. Boxing, like wrestling, is one on one, and it gets very personal.


Which is why I don't like that this man, soon to be revealed as God or an angel, betrays that intimacy. He purposefully injures his opponent and begrudgingly gives him respect. Wrestle with God and get not a hug, but a torqued out hip?


Jacob limped out of there, satisfied with the blessing he procured. The Amplified Bible translates the new name he was given as "Contender with God."


He passed the test, got the respect, but his hip was never the same because once the sun came up, the rules changed.


Over our twenty years together, my husband has learned that if it ever appears I'm picking a fight, it does not necessarily follow that I'm angry. I like sparring, and I'll fight to the end to defend my point, a person, an idea. Until you beat me. Until you convince me that you're right, you're stronger, at which point I'll concede the win and cheer you on. But before then, I'll hold on for all I'm worth.


For a while there I'd offer to have a friendly go round with God, but he stopped showing up, so I left the ring. Came back to church yesterday and the preacher preached on Jacob's match. He got it all wrong.


I coulda been a contender. But there's no one fighting fair.