Saturday, December 29, 2012

Books I Read This Year (2012)

Twenty-nine altogether, which is not bad for me. Instead of making a complete list as in years past, I'd like to highlight those that stood out for one reason or another. Let me state up front that my memory is faulty, and I don't have the luxury of extra time to research details of the book. The following, my friends, is what stayed with me from the books, and that's got to count for something.


Books I Liked But Can't Figure Out Why
A Hologram For The King, Dave Eggers. Travelling back to the world of the book, I see a tent somewhere in the Middle East. Much of the action--and inaction--happens there, or in a mystery building, or that one scene in the sea. And yet I couldn't put it down. Let me mention that this year, I received a postcard from Eggers written to little ol' me (because of this), so I'll be a fan no matter what, but it helps he's such a good writer.

Several by Maira Kalman. You'll find her illustrations in The New Yorker and a retired NY Times column. Her books are crazy renderings of world history mixed with her own, and I love that she refers to her paintings and drawings as the real thing ("Here is Lincoln's hat"). While taking in And the Pursuit of Happiness and The Principles of Uncertainty, I felt...happy. Thank you, Maira.


Books I Read A Long Time Ago and Decided To Read Again To Determine How I Changed In The Intervening Years
This was a project that didn't last too long, but I will say I once again enjoyed Prodigal Summer and The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver, and that finally, finally, I get Life of Pi.


Interesting In Their Own Right Books
The Happiest Man In The World, Alec Wilkinson. Unconventional people will always have a place in my heart, and Poppa Neutrino won me over not only for all his interests, but because his football play has won games--supporting my belief that nonspecialists have a lot to add to fields that are not their own.

Post-It Note Diaries, Arthur Jones. True stories spelled out like a comic strip but with panels confined to the space of a yellow sticky note, a structure that is at turns stark and profound, and never confining.


Books I Read But Don't Remember At All
Coral Glynn, Peter Cameron, finished on 4/15
The Sense of An Ending, Julian Barnes, finished on 8/25


Really Foul, Hilarious, Well-Done Books
Fight, Eugene Robinson
Bossypants, Tina Fey


Notable Nonfiction
Listening Is An Act of Love, StoryCorps. My husband claims I'm hard to buy for, and that he was taking a chance with this one. Lottery won, mister! I love true stories told in their original voices, and whereas sometimes they can get tedious (sorry, Studs Terkel, RIP), these StoryCorps originals, told in pairs with one person interviewing the other in a booth, are compulsively good. Us "real" writers need not hoard storytelling to ourselves; there is power in narrative, no matter who tells it.

The Glass Castle,  Jeannette Walls. Let's just say my parenting looked just peachy in comparison.


And finally, the annual Alexander McCall Smith category (he needs to become even more prolific, if I've only got three):
The Forgotten Affairs Of Youth
Limpopo Academy Of Private Detection
The Uncommon Appeal of Clouds



Tuesday, December 25, 2012

And God Said, I'll Go There Myself (audio version)

'Tis a little late in the day, but I'd like to offer a gift of one of my favorite holiday memories: the time I led a short Christmas play in a homeless shelter. I've posted the text of this story here before; last year Greg and I recorded it, and then I probably decided I didn't like hearing my own voice or something like that. 

This year, though, I was missing the story, and upon a second listen thought it ready to share. I hope you have a couple six minutes to listen and let me know what you think. Thanks to Greg for his audio handiwork.




Thursday, December 13, 2012

You Never Know

The mom of a classmate of Theo's stopped me the other day.

"All I hear about is your son. Theo, Theo, Theo," she said.

Turns out Theo has been sitting on the bus with the classmate's younger brother and making quite an impression. Theo's just nine himself, but his behavior toward this kid--even just the act of sitting with him--makes him tell his mom, "Theo takes care of me."

I was surprised by this because I usually already know of the major relationships in my children's lives. They talk to me, which I love. But it turns out that Theo hadn't thought much of it; he'd simply done what was called for in the situation--be nice.

And what an effect it had. "He's always talking about Theo," the classmate told me.

In the play I'm doing with former prisoners, there is a man that has one line. I hadn't known he'd take part when I wrote the script, so I ended up giving him a short line that typically I would say from the wings during a performance.

He'd show up to each and every rehearsal--on time, script ready, even having bought some special clothes at a thrift shop. It broke my heart to see those little plastic tabs sticking out of the slightly stained polo shirt and khaki pants, and to tell him he wouldn't actually be seen during the play.

But I spent time with him on that one line. What it should sound like, how he should feel. Coached him on its importance, because it happened to be key to the meaning of the play.

After the first performance, the man interrupted a discussion with the audience to suggest they applaud me for my work. He was so grateful for that one line. Just four words.

Sometimes it doesn't take much to make a difference.


Monday, December 3, 2012

Belated Diabetes Thanksgiving

No, people who googled diabetes and thanksgiving, I am not about to provide carb counts for your pumpkin pie. (Sorry.) Rather, I'd like to take a moment to give thanks for the couple bright spots in the diabetic life--some meager, some more meaningful than others, but all reasons to be grateful.








1. OXO FOOD SCALE. After living with our son's type 1 diabetes for over two years, we finally purchased this scale, and I believe I have praised it aloud with nearly every use. It switches from ounces to grams! It zeroes out! Thank you, OXO, for making our lives a little easier.


2. WATER ON SPOON. On to the accidental discovery of water + tablespoon equals easier life. Measuring peanut butter, anyone? Try this: rinse the measuring spoon with warm water. Dip into jar. Voila! Peanut butter slides off spoon (mostly). I have not yet determined a way to coax the remaining 1/4 spoonful off unmessily, and yet this little trick makes me very happy. (A smarter mother might spray the spoon with cooking spray, but that mother should be concerning herself with her desecration of the peanut butter's taste. Water mostly works.)


3. THE INTERNET. When it comes to major diseases, the internet is both a help and a hindrance. I recall my very first search of diabetes, which turned up enough scary words to make me finally call the doctor and get Theo checked out. After his diagnosis, though, I quickly learned to stay away from this abundance of information and opinions; better to stay tuned in to our good doctor and his advice.

But later, as I branched out, I found an online T1 community of thoughtful folks who are trying to make their way, just as we are. Some are crafty, too; Shannon over at neurotic city was both creative and kind enough to send this postcard along in honor of World Diabetes Day postcard exchange, which I manage to miss every year. Shannon knows of my interest in boxing, and she tied this into our continual battles with diabetes. She's awesome.















4. ALMOND MILK. The unsweetened kind. Makes certain that Theo can occasionally indulge in cereal without a humongous shot. See, he needs more insulin at breakfast time, and cereal isn't much bang for the carbohydrate buck. Enter almond milk. At 1 carb per cup, he can have his cereal and eat it, too.


5. NICE SCHOOL STAFF. It's this time of year when I lament not having married a doctor, or having become one myself, only because (don't worry, Greg) I'd like bucketloads of money to treat the school secretaries to the world's most amazing Christmas gift. But what could I possibly give them as thanks for their nonstop, nurturing care for my son? We're on the phone at least three times a week, and they're spending time with him at least three times a school day. They do all this with a smile and, when necessary, sympathetic tears. I can't say enough about these women. Thank you just doesn't completely capture how I feel, and yet words are all I've got. And maybe a nice fruit basket.

Friday, November 23, 2012

What Happens When A Theatre Major Studies Anatomy

A page of notes per page of text. More on that later--first, a picture of the last class I taught:

Jenny, a woman in her 60s, is performing forearm strikes on the heavy bag. These are a substitute for punches, which she can't do with her bad wrists. She also has ankle issues, and marched in place instead of jumping rope.

Others are hitting and sweating away at their own bags. Janet, who is shortening her punches and generally not hitting from her core, is complaining that the class isn't sufficiently wearing her out.

(The entire class, yes, was comprised of people whose names started with J. Including Jerry, who has stepped out into the hall. And Jenny, you remember her--she's peering out the window.)

"He's puking," she says.

I've got Janet who is not getting the workout she'd like, and I've got Jerry, who got more than he bargained for. Everybody else was smiling--except the staffer from the front desk who came to clean up.

This microcosm of my gym, or any gym, shows the range of abilities that walks through the door. It's my job to accomodate them all. Suggesting an MMA move to an older lady probably isn't in any book, but it's my job to know enough about everything so that I'm ready with ideas. Jerry, well, he needed to chill out. He overdid everything, and I tried to tell him. So even though I've been lauded for making someone throw up in my class, it really wasn't me--it was him. Because even when I do my job, these individuals are ultimately responsible for themselves, and I can only control so much.

I'm currently studying a heavy textbook to pass the certification exam. Not only have I not studied this hard for some time, I've not studied straight-up science hardly ever. My brain has a hard time with black and white facts. While I'm fascinated by the many components of the human body, I'm having trouble memorizing them.

Moreover, this is not a novel to be unpeeled, layer by layer, for deeper meaning. It's such straight highway that my brain has given up looking for that fun little jog on a country road.

Why do this, then? Because the practice of it requires much intuition and creativity. The class picture above demonstrates that in a real way, while also proving the validity of learning the textbook's content.

So it's a challenge, but a good one. When I'm certified, I'll work with a person who will never fit a textbook example. In fact, I know my first client; he's a man who encouraged me to finally get this done.

"I want you to kick my butt," he said.

I can do that. I think.





Saturday, November 10, 2012

Beware the Specialists. Sometimes.

On the eve of my husband's first foot race, I confessed a long-held bias: I dislike runners.

The snooty kind, you know. The ones heading up your local shoe shop, pushing the vibrams and chewing the chia seeds.

"Dude," I want to say, "I hit people in the head. You are not better than me because you have a 26.2 sticker on the rear of your minivan."

Of course, all bias is born of insecurity. I can't run--or, I should say, can't bring myself to do it. Can't do tedium. Can't (attempt) to run a mile. I could tell myself I'd win a thousand dollars or save my child's life if I just jog to this point, but no amount of psychological coaching can get me around the block.

And yet the runners' superiority bothers me for reasons other than my own failings. It's the exclusivity of their club: they run. That's their main thing. Whereas I like sampling a bunch of sports, which you can call fear of commitment or, preferably, cross-training.

We need specialists. We need doctors to study their anatomy books and answer our questions accurately. Plumbers to devote a great number of their brain cells to understanding our toilets. And yet if all they talk about is toilets, well, a dull man they make.

Our pediatric endocrinologist, who attends to the intricacies of our son's type 1 diabetes, spent the final ten minutes of our recent appointment telling us about Vikings. Ivar The Boneless, to be precise. My 9-year-old, in turn, shared a fact he had just read in a book regarding the impressive size of Viking excrement (8" x 2", to be precise).

I really like that we talk about Viking poop. The doc is set to retire in April, but doggone it if I won't let him.

I like people who aren't set in their one way, who are open to learning. And yet I am about to specialize.

Three hundred and fifty dollars worth of books arrived today to prepare me for the exam for a personal training certification. I will polish up and add to what I know in order to grow and learn and continue helping others on their health journey.

Also today I directed a play. I've got a degree in theatre.

And I gave three haircuts. No formal training there, but I get the job done.

I hope to never settle.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Problem With Pants

The pants I'm wearing today have a large hole above and to the left of the right rear pocket. The front right pocket is starting to pull from the seam, creating another rip. Because I am aware of these problems, and because I hate to sew, I wear a long shirt. Had I not told you, you wouldn't have known.

Two weeks ago I dressed for church, and at the last minute turned to check the rear view. Though I am 41 years old, it has taken me until recently to learn to look for underwear lines, food between my teeth, etc. At this check it was discovered that two seams in the seat had pulled apart. Another seam, in a more private location, had completely ripped. I changed.

And back a couple of summers ago, while wearing a favorite pair of comfy pants, I met a new neighbor outside for the first time. Our conversation was heavy: she had recently recovered from brain surgery. As she relayed the story in great detail, I noticed her eyes glancing down quite frequently.

Must be a side effect of the surgery, I thought. Or she's admiring my pants, which are pretty unique--baggy with a drawstring at the top, a different colored fabric accenting the bellbottoms.

And then I looked down. The drawstring had given way, and because of the bagginess of the pants, I hadn't noticed.

My pants had all but fallen down.

Interestingly, two of the three pairs of pants described above came from the same store. It's a place that features eco apparel, in fabrics like soy and hemp. Their buzz word is "sustainable," not only to describe the clothing itself but also in terms of the greater good.

I think I proved otherwise.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Second Chances

There's a theme of forgiveness running through my current projects. My play, crafted from the words of former prisoners and performed by them, asks the audience to face their feelings on who deserves a second chance. Are you more worthy than they? And my book shows that an act of forgiveness can turn one life around even after another has been lost.

Forgiveness does not come cheaply in either case. The men have been given another shot at life, and though many have made restitution with their victims and tried to become productive members of society, they find their options limited. Some may say they deserve no more, but what is a sentence that can never be completed? (An alternate subtitle for the play had been "Serving a Life Sentence After Prison.")

And though Kevin forgave the driver who killed his wife, the two men would not become friends, and Marilyn could not be brought back.

There are times when I ask myself if I should be siding with the former criminals. But this world will always be filled with people inclined to do wrong, or the genes to become an addict, or stumbling into a mistake that will follow them the rest of their lives. It is then I decide there is no better person to help than a reformed child molester.

My play features two men who have stabbed and killed. One CSC; a property offender; and another I've never asked. We worked hard at our rehearsal today. We laughed. We poked fun. They practiced a script full of hope, but one that ends sharply in despair. I wrote this because I felt I must, to properly reflect reality. And yet it sickened me to rehearse it.

Second chances is an idealistic phrase; the reality is more complex.

In Grand Rapids? Visit Church of the Servant next Sunday at 6pm for the premiere of "How Long, Lord? A Post-Prison Lament."

My book is finished. Join the mailing list for updates by contacting me at amyATgregscheerDOTcom.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

How To Choose A Halloween Costume (in my house)


First, put something like this near the toilet.




Next, sort through the suggestions.




Decide suggestions are too complex. Settle on Sonny Crockett.



And throwing random accessories onto older son.


Prepare speech on 80s television for third graders. 
Attempt to defend using a mask from a deviant NYC play as your 
sixth grader's costume.

Call it good for another year.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Diary of A Rickety Adult

day 1
Goes to doctor. Hears "fraying," "fluid," and "rest." Learns should have rested elbow long time ago. Should not have flipped tires while injured. Hears "hand surgeon" and "splint." "Soon as possible."

Looks in the mirror. Waves. "Bye, bye, muscle."

day 2
Is heartened by idea of strengthening lower body while rehabbing elbow. Begins regimen.

day 3
Throws out knee.

day 4
Decides needs power over body in some fashion. Starts diet. Feels like skinny self of yore; is reassured that identity is not wrapped up in size of muscles.

Is introduced by young man to his young friend as "badass" for being his favorite spotter. Admits can't actually spot bench press today, nor tomorrow. Is sorry not to live up to "badass" description. Worries will never again be referred to as "badass." Makes bargain with God: Will give up boxing if healed up, will join convent right after dominating old people's division on the deadlift. Will stop saying "badass."

day 5
Rejoins water fitness class. Notices a return to class every fall. Wonders why injuries always occur in fall, when allergies have subsided and can actually breathe and do cardio if not injured.

Finds exercises that can be done with 2-pound dumbbells. Pretends is bodybuilder "cutting" weight.

day 6
Passes through stages of grief:
Anger: Is convinced everyone in gym is exercising out of spite. Reassures self does not need muscle, is smarter/better educated/does not have weak chin.
Acceptance: Realizes error of ways and feels urge to save all souls from same elbow fate. Preaches end-time warnings ("Woe to you who bend wrists during curls!").

day 7
Joins older ladies in pool again. Hears worse troubles of others; feels bad to despair over elbow. Trivial, meaningless elbow. Becomes all Buddhist about injuries. They were meant to be.

day 8
Crawls out of bed and can't put weight on knee. Spends day in stage of Despair. Wants chips. Reminds self self is "cutting." Decides to "cut" tomorrow.

day 9
Is convinced same condition is occurring in good elbow. Wonders why specialist has not called back. Is determined to be own physical therapist. With one hand, begins to google "pt certification."

Remembers is more artsy than science-minded. Writes on blog instead.



Monday, October 15, 2012

Wherever You Go, There You Be

While teaching the boxing demo, I
• mentioned the words "naked" and "beer" at least twice
• ridiculed participants in jest (sort of)
• broke out in a dance


While directing the former prisoners, I
• mentioned "booger" three times
• ridiculed participants in jest (sort of)
• broke out in a dance


Saturday, October 13, 2012

In The Desert

I read on my chiropractor's blog that he'll be riding 100 miles on his bike in Death Valley to raise funds for JDRF and diabetes research.

Conscious thought #1: Wow, how great that he's raising money for research.

Then,

Really hot there. Major commitment.

Subconsciously on the radar: Lots of fundraisers this week. I tend to give money to those that are more socially conscious, not science-based. More immediate impact, it feels like.

And to the forefront again: But obviously we've got a personal tie here.

Just as suddenly: Oh.

This is a fundraiser for my son
People are riding bikes in the desert for my son. 
My son needs people riding bikes for him. This research is for him.

The language used to convince people to give--this could be breast cancer, or heart disease, and one would nod their head in sympathy. But these complications they list, they're talking about--

A shutting down. Then, I should give money.

And finally,

What amount could possibly be enough?

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Identity Whiplash

So I'm driving to work really tired after the book-writing extravaganza of the previous week, and I hear a song. This song: it's perfect. For the play I'm writing. For former prisoners. I make a mental note to do something with it as I carry my boxing gear into the Y.

I teach a boxing demo. One guy hits a little hard, and of course there's no way I'm going to stop him, but now my ribs are a bit sore. There's a welt on my arm. Afterwards he asks me to teach him a few new exercises for his quads. I know he's a former wrestler, MMA enthusiast, and recent strongman competitor, so I tailor my suggestions accordingly. This is right up my alley.

We're doing what looks a lot like praying on our knees when another guy says, Hey, it's like that nun in the Saturday Night Live skit. You know, with your pigtails.

I'm like, Yeah, thanks a lot, and he says, No, it's a compliment: she's funny, like you.

Funny writing boxing girl. In pigtails. That's me.

-----------------------

I didn't want to get back on Facebook. Frankly, I did it just for my book--apparently, authors need "platforms," which is a fancy way of saying I have access to many people.

I didn't want access to many people. I was happy in my quiet. Now: "like" this, comment that, by people from all parts of my life, as well as some I barely know.

Who's my writing audience? My audience here, on this blog, I feel I know: I can tell you what's on my heart--maybe curse a little, too--and all's good.

Facebook: Who am I speaking with, please? How do I post a thought that is relevant to my friends, my neighbor, the guys at my boxing gym and my mother?

No need to overthink it, you say. It's just for fun.

My mind doesn't work that way. I need to know who YOU are before I can write to you.

Speaking of which...who are you? Who's out there?

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Weird Stuff I Said To My Kids This Week

I won't even bother giving the context. Or a defense. Here goes...

1. "Please make a sign for the laundry basket that says, 'Wear pants more than once.'"

2. "Remember our conversation about the communists?"

and

3. "I'm not actually an alcoholic."

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Up Close And Personal, Part 2

Maybe because I myself was asking for money this week, I noticed a lot of other folks were, too. All good causes. I try, generally, to help causes I have a connection to; as I tell the leukemia society when they call, there are many great and worthy organizations out there, but I can't give to all of them. I try to carefully allot our limited funds where they may make the greatest, or at least most personal, impact.

(The fraternal order of police is an exception. No personal connection there, but I give to them. It's hard not to hand over money when a cop asks you.)

The sister of a female boxer I met at Gleason's was gunned down and killed last week. They need money for the funeral; you can donate here.

BuildABridge International, who hires me in the summers to teach at their arts institute in Philly, is holding a fundraiser. I know exactly where the money will go; I've seen and experienced firsthand how any money given to BAB is truly paying it forward--here, in Haiti, and in many other tough places around the world.

Over the past couple of weeks, I, too, asked friends and family to support a cause. I participated in a fundraiser for 826michigan, a nonprofit that provides free tutoring and writing workshops to kids in the Ann Arbor area. My part was writing for three days last week, which I did. By the end of Friday you could find me exhausted, but with a book in hand. And a finished proposal. And--this is news to some of you--an industry contact. It was a good handful of days.

More important to me, however, was that personal contact. Here I've been working on a book alone in my house for five years and now that word has spread, particularly to those who knew the people involved in this true story, I see that the community is much wider than the circle around my laptop. People who knew Marilyn before she died, people who know Kevin and Kelly, are related to them, were writing to me to support the making of this book. And even though the money was going to 826, the encouragement was all mine. I felt very honored and privileged.

The process begins a new phase now as I look for a publisher; I have no qualms, as I'm confident it's a great book. I cry every time I pick it up. I have met some of the people in the story, so there is a personal connection for me, but the book moves even those who don't know the Jansmas. Through the story, the reader can be drawn into community, just as I was writing it.

Speaking of connections, I recently joined Facebook. Look for Amy Scheer of Grand Rapids.






Thursday, October 4, 2012

Up Close And Personal

In the middle of day 2 of The Great Write-Off, I once again find myself dazzled by the up close and personal look I'm allowed into my subjects' lives.

I explore the journals of a thoughtful, prolific young woman, now deceased. When she ponders why bad things happen to good people--and concludes "Why shouldn't they? Bad things happen to everyone"--my heart is heavy.

For the play I just wrote for the ex-prisoners, I find myself emailing questions like, "So did you finish the fifth of gin before you stabbed him?"

And this is how I prefer life to be, by the way. We should, all of us, enter into each others' lives as we can and see fit.

(Only one day left to donate to the cause. If I secure a couple hundred more dollars by tomorrow afternoon, I win a private meeting with one of my favorite authors, Dave Eggers. On my husband's birthday weekend. He's cool with it, though, so please help if you can.)

Monday, October 1, 2012

The Power of a Not-So-Happy Ending

My two current writing projects deal in real people and their grief--both, even, in crimes committed and what happens next. And though I allow my characters in both instances to speak for themselves, how and where I put the words makes all the difference.

It's how you tell a story that counts. It's all in how the story is told.

For my book, which you know about because you've donated here, or read this nice write-up, I've settled on a quiet story as an ending, one whose power belies its simple telling. While not the happiest detail of the book nor the highest point of redemption, it shows the transformational possibilities that one man's act of forgiveness can germinate. We're left in the quiet calm after grief's storm, and we see that the soil is drinking in the rain; the afterword is where the reader will learn of new babies born, new joys.

My latest play for the former prisoners has much the same tone. Hopeful, positive, but a lament nonetheless.

While working with the men to gather material for the script, I've increasingly become aware that I can't leave them after the telling of their crimes; for some, just saying the words out loud is clearly troubling, especially as these are men who have worked hard at turning their lives around.

I try to end these times with them speaking something hopeful, whether it be an example of how different they've become, or an affirmation of their gifts.

The play, however, needs to stay a lament. These are men whose past will always follow them, no matter how much they change.

We read through the script for the first time yesterday, and I found I was uncomfortable with such vulnerability. I'm not a big fan of happy endings, but this one--that I wrote--was quite down.

They liked it. It works. I knew that, but my conscience was kicking in as it should, probably as representative of what the audience will feel, which will hopefully move them to act.

Sometimes we need to sit in the sad.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Welcome.

Welcome, all those coming over from 826 Michigan's facebook page or their blog, and all the rest of youse, too!

 I'm so glad you're here.

Browse around a bit and leave some fingerprints. There's something for everyone, I think--

stuff about boxing, mostly memoir pieces like this one

theatre in a homeless shelter, its power demonstrated

theatre with prisoners and theatre of the oppressed

powerlifting competitions, of which I took part, oddly enough

type 1 diabetes, handled with humor (sometimes)

parenting, subversive style

my funniest story ever


My blog is where my writing ideas, which once went into a tablet to die, get fleshed out into small essays. I like it that way. Visit again soon.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Rules of Sustenance

This past week I bought a kitchen mat; a new shower caddy; two blankets for the kids' beds. The cold is coming, and I'm settling. It's a good time to remember those without this luxury; for them, I reprint here an essay of mine published by The Other Journal, recounting a night at the homeless shelter.


She’s standing in front of me, pulling her sweatshirt up to reveal a pale, heavy belly. “I think it’s pretty obvious,” she says in response to the pregnancy question on the intake sheet.
Kelsey had been driven to the shelter by her father, who held out a twenty, patted her back, and said, “You’re doing what your mother couldn’t.” Leaving a man who beats her.
Kelsey was needy. Could she have a locker? Well, no, they’re for long-timers. Could her bag be locked up in my office? If I did that for everyone, it’d get pretty crowded in here. How about some paper and pens? And then: “I’m hungry.”
Pregnant, hungry, homeless girl. Of the many scenarios I encounter on my five-hour shift at the homeless shelter, this ranks among the toughest. No food is allowed except what we provide, and tonight, we’re nearly out of our usual snack: granola bars, vanilla yogurt flavor, the Best By date long past.
On my first night working at the shelter, I gave a green mat, which has about an inch more padding than a black mat, to a woman who was in so much pain she couldn’t make it up the steps alone. The next night, three women had valid reasons why they, too, needed green mats. Soon everyone was demanding a green mat. I learned my lesson: digest the relevant rule and be tough. Distribute the mats in the order in which they are piled. Find a woman with Fritos, make her throw them away. Tough, yet fair.
And then: “I’m hungry.”
Snacktime is soon, but I shouldn’t offer a granola bar to Kelsey if I don’t have enough for everyone. But Kelsey is hungry. And Kelsey is pregnant. As I think through the implications of giving Kelsey a granola bar, another woman, Anne, grabs one and heads toward Kelsey.
Anne needs to know I saw her at the fridge—another unlawful act. The other women need the security of knowing I enforce the rules. “No,” I tell her.
“She’s pregnant and she’s hungry,” Anne says, not kindly. I don’t know her well, and I get the impression she could cause me a lot of trouble.
“I’ll help her after we’re done with our meeting,” I say, but Anne isn’t convinced of anything except my callousness. She takes her seat.
Today’s group time is structured around an autobiographical piece written by a female prisoner. I read the short essay aloud and ask about its themes of anger, love, and religion. How anger can start in childhood and flare in adulthood. How religion offered in love is more convincing than threats of hellfire and damnation. Love over legalism.
Anne perks up. I see intelligence in her eyes, not anger; a thoughtfulness sated, finally, after long days of walking the streets and biding time.
I usually end our sessions with a blessing, as it’s the last time the group is assembled before bed. This time I choose something from Psalm 3, and by the end, I have a plan.
“There are not enough granola bars for everyone, I’m sorry to say. Here’s the deal: I’m going to hand one to the pregnant girl in our midst (I throw her one) and hope that the rest are like the loaves and fishes. You know that story? Good. I’m going to put them right here and trust that only those of you who are hungry will take one. And I’m going to trust that they will multiply.”
Another rule broken: Don’t leave a pile of anything up for grabs. Write HOUSE in black permanent marker on a bottle of lotion and it’s gone in a day. Put a pile of food out and handfuls are shoved into pockets.
I set the box on the floor. There are maybe ten, twelve granola bars in there, and twenty-two women at last count. I make like I’m not paying attention, and soon enough I’m distracted by other tasks. And by Anne. She’s off by herself, reading. I wander near her, hoping to feed off that connection I felt during the discussion.
“I’m looking at that psalm you read,” Anne says. “It’s good.” I nod and happen to glance over at the snack box as she talks. Four granola bars, I see. Not exactly multiplication, but everyone who wanted one got one. Good thing they weren’t hungry tonight, I think to myself.
I reach for the remainders and Anne says quietly, “If everyone else had theirs, I wouldn’t mind one.”
Then Jenny says, “Me too—if there’s enough.”
Two more women sheepishly ask, as well. They’ve held back, for the good of all.
Later, as the women sleep on their mats, green and otherwise, I look at the psalm again. A phrase I hadn’t noticed before catches my eye, like a fish waiting at the bottom of a basket among leftover loaves or a granola bar in a box that should be empty.
“I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the Lord sustains me.”

Friday, September 21, 2012

I'm Humbled. And Honored.

Wow.

To keep that air of mystery established a few posts ago, I'm going to make you click through to here to see what I'm up to, and to witness the overwhelming support I've been given.

There's a deadline Monday at noon--the team member who solicits the most individual donations gets a featured spot on the 826 Twitter and Facebook pages. I'm in a good place, but if you've been meaning to give, now might be the time.

Thanks.


Wednesday, September 19, 2012

good to be back.

After a long, self-imposed, not entirely voluntary hiatus from boxing, I returned to the gym last week.

After a good year of going to the gym only when I felt top-notch, up to the task, I stepped foot in there on an off-day, content to accept rusty pivots, hesitant shots.

In some ways, boxing felt like riding a bike; knowing how to move was with me all along. Even on an off-day, even with a faulty elbow. For fun, I joined in on a lesson one boxer was giving a beginner, and was questioned by the teacher.

"I figure there's always something to learn," I told him.

"Naw, Amy, you already a beast."

I like that. Namely because I do consider myself a beast, and because I also know he knows my experience is limited. I took it more as "you have the potential to be a beast."


Overall the place felt empty; there'd been a robbery a few nights before. Someone took all those sweaty gloves, God knows for what. The bags and computer you understand, but the gloves were well worn and infused with a deep, musty stink. Now the new kids wandering in have nothing.

The loss hung in the air, with trainers scrambling to find gloves for a boy who was showing potential and was ready for padwork.

"Change angles, Amy."

Yeah, I needed that. You forget to move, sometimes. I recall my first days in the gym, when it seemed all I heard was what I was doing wrong. For good reason, I realized soon enough, but it's a jolt to step into a boxing gym and have your every move analyzed. In the rest of life, you slip up and move on; someone's not there coaching the play by play. It's humbling, but you get used to it. Become grateful for it, even.

Because in those moments, when you're beating yourself up, something reminds you that you were there when that guy shadowboxing in the corner lost a bout. You were there, at the Golden Gloves, when the boxer on the speed bag today slipped and fell in the ring. You saw when the guy sparring forgot his mouthguard and the ref had to halt the round, but how he won it in the end. We've all slipped up, we know that, and we accept each other for both our strengths and our faults.

There's no such thing as an off day. Only show up and keep moving.

Monday, September 17, 2012

I'm Going To Crush It October 3-5

Writing.
Me.
Robots.

What's it all got to do with each other?

Read about my new challenge here.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Recreation = Exercise


My readers know the efforts I put out to get my family moving.

I am happy to report that this summer, we, the Scheers, did move.

Even after eating this,





at the famous Pat's of Philly,

we ran down (and back up) the Rocky steps,



and, a couple months later, ran through mud.




In between photos, my kids invented the Backyard Olympics and held contests with the neighbors.

I didn't do a whole lot of this



but instead pushed cars, kayaked, carried my younger son on my back for a half hour, and worked on my 1RM in the deadlift.

This is exercise, and recreation. It's nice when the two coincide.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

The Camera, The Film, And The Movie On The Way Home

Let me tell you the story of Simon's camera.

Usually, for birthdays, we buy a big LEGO set, supplemented by equally desirable books and toys priced a bit less. The kids enjoy this.

I wanted more for Simon this year as he turned 12. He'd been showing a real interest and skill in filmmaking, borrowing the camera previously ruled untouchable for the kids and eventually becoming, basically, Simon's camera.

That he'd talk about a hobby other than LEGO showed a spark of something I wanted to encourage. That he'd plan out shots for the movie version of a favorite book...that was something new.

Funds were limited, but I found a video camera online within our range and asked Simon if he'd mind a present equally big but not LEGO this year. The conversation took a windy road, dead ending when I asked if he wanted to know my idea before agreeing to it. He did. I let him read the specs online. "Waterproof up to 8 feet" did the trick.

Now he has a video camera. We're still working out the computer software aspect, but meanwhile he's gotten some nice footage, and is dreaming of what to splice where.

A couple of days ago, we were at the school open house and a friend filmed Simon with an iPod. Seconds later, he showed Simon the clip, which ended with a giant boulder landing on him. No splicing, no hunting down footage, no wait, just an amazing looking boulder with perfect comic timing.

Special effects app. Boom, just like that.

Now, let me tell you the story of seeing Spider-Man.

Normally we're cautious around PG-13 movies. We won't see The Hunger Games despite Simon's devotion to the books, but The Avengers we saw twice, as its wit lightens the violent aspects of the film.

Spider-Man we thought we'd see before it left the theater. Simon and I went today. In the end, it wasn't his favorite--he's not used to dramas--but seeing it was a big deal, and he is able to zero in on some key filmmaking devices. Too, the origin story--nerdy smart kid overcomes, fights for justice, faces the consequences that a conviction brings--was an important one for a kid Simon's age.

Overall I was thinking this was a key step for him to grow as a person and, potentially, an artist. What I'm saying is there was some thought and planning to taking him there.

And then I saw all the other (too young) kids in the theater, and thought about all the classmates who had probably seen this months ago.

And the knee-high kid who said to his mom as credits rolled, "Can we watch a movie in the car?"

Let me tell you, I see how you can swallow shovelfuls of food without chewing and shit it straight out, or you can savor each bite.

And yet I was honestly saddened by the falling boulder. "Sorry, Simon," I said. "Sorry his camera is cooler than yours."

He laughed. He got the joke; he wasn't jealous. Maybe that kind of kid is the best present of all.


Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Diabetes And School: I Managed To Work In The Paula Deen Joke

Theo and I worked on our little scene we'll perform for his third grade class at the start of school (as explained here), to educate them on his type 1 diabetes. It's going pretty well so far. Here's the beginning.


Hi Theo.
Hi Mom.
So.
So.
Let’s talk about diabetes.
Okay.
You ate too many cookies, and that’s how you got diabetes, right?
No!
You played tag with some diabetic kid and you caught it from him, right?
No!
You were a bad boy, and the Easter Bunny put diabetes in your basket?
No!
Then how did you get it?
I got struck by lightning.
No!
Those little bugs on my eyelashes squirted out diabetes juice.
No!
I ate one of Paula Deen’s burgers on a Krispy Kreme donut bun.
Well, I can believe that one.

(to be continued)

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Diabetes and School: The Part-Time Job

The other day I bumped into a teacher from Theo's school, one I don't know very well but whose face is familiar. As we tried to determine who each other was, she says, "You're a sub, right? I see you a lot in school."

No, not a sub: a mom in an unpaid, voluntary but not volunteer part-time position. I didn't sign up for this, but I'll gladly do what it takes.

Especially during these elementary school years, and especially since we're not yet on the pump, diabetes in school requires a lot of my time and presence. I don't volunteer as much as I used to simply because I'm already there so much; however, I try to double up the time when possible, such as helping out with a classroom party while I'm there to give a shot, or chaperoning a field trip I need to go on anyway.

It's nice to have the extra time with my second-born. And he still wants me there, which is all the better.

With two school years and a camp week behind me, I'm not as stressed about the daily charts I need to churn up a week hence. They're still labor-intensive and can't be replicated directly from the previous year, and yet part of me knows everything will be okay.

If it's not, they'll call me, and I'll change the charts. A work-in-progress.

(I should admit that though the stress level has gone down, I continue to stand amazed at all the steps diabetes adds to our lives. Here's a new one: when I go to the pharmacy to pick up the prescription for test strips, I have to turn in two weeks worth of our logkeeping. So I have to remember the binder, pull out pages, have them make photocopies. Love it.)

Part of the prep I'm looking forward to is the meeting with Theo's class. Every year, I get 15 minutes of fame in front of children who say things like, "I had diabetes once," and straighten them out.

The first year, Theo and I read from the book they hand out at diagnosis. The illustrations are awful and the information somewhat outdated, however, so we wrote and drew our own slightly sarcastic book to read the following year.

This year, as the class is moving on from picture books somewhat, we're going to create a dialogue to perform in front of them. It, too, will have funny bits, just as soon as I get around to writing it. Maybe a joke or two about Paula Deen's burger recipe that calls for a glazed donut for a bun. Really play to that third grade foodie contingent.


Sunday, August 26, 2012

Life of Pi/Amy

The film version of Life of Pi comes out on my birthday this year, so I thought I'd read the novel again. But just when I sat down with my tea and the book, it hit me: I should be doing about a hundred other things. A hundred. Or at least a couple dozen. Oh, the projects on my desk.

A guy at my gym likes to tell me that a portion of his family's budget has been set aside for him to train with me. "If you'd just go and take the test already," he says. I tell him I have too many interests to settle down into personal training.

"What are you up to now--caribou hunting in the sub-Saharan desert?" he asked. (Later he acknowledged not being quite sure where caribou are found.)

Sure, why not. After I get through the current list. It's good to write out your interests and involvements, if a bit anxiety-inducing. Here goes mine:

--writing a book.
--writing a play for former prisoners to perform this fall.
--starting and leading an exercise program at a homeless shelter.
--writing for a college magazine.
--working part-time at the Y.
--keeping up with my fitness goals.
--running a household.

Lots of primary activity didn't make the list, like parenting, wifery and diabetes management. And see how housework appears only at the bottom? That's a big problem of mine: thinking laundry is something in the way of all the other projects. It doesn't contribute to my sense of accomplishment for the day, when it should--it's one of my main jobs.

Otherwise, I've found a peace about pursuing different interests, none of them exhaustively. It keeps me interested and (I hope) interesting. But it wouldn't hurt to make some extra cash off of some of these pursuits, which is where the PT certification would come in handy.

Maybe by the time Life of Pi is out, when I'm older and wiser, I'll have this figured out. Or, at the very least, a new and different list.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

My Day On The River And At The Cage Fight

Friday was a day of two wildly different firsts.

In the morning: a two-hour kayak trip, alone, on the Rogue River in Rockford, Michigan. A pair of chain-smoking women in their fifties strapped the kayak behind an old mini school bus, whose NO TOBACCO USE OF ANY KIND sticker had the NO ripped off, and said, "Sign this paper that says we gave you all the proper safety equipment." They helped me into the river and pushed me off. "Don't get hurt."

It was lovely. Turtles and ducks were in abundance, and I met up with turkeys, two swans, a white egret and one curious deer. About an hour and a half in I realized the ladies had told me to always keep right and that I had an hour left after the fourth bridge, but not where they'd pick me up. I blew the nature moment by retrieving the cell and calling my husband to check the website for my final destination. Sure enough, I was almost there.

Ah, nature.



That night, I headed out to meet up with very different wildlife.


My first time at a pro boxing event. With cage fighting, too.

The fighting sports are violent. I knew that. A matchup of evenly-skilled players, however, makes for good, tough sport that's exciting to watch. That's what I paid my money to see. Instead, I got this guy in his swimming trunks.



He's up against a two-time winner of the Golden Gloves Nationals, who was an Olympic trial hopeful. The belly you can see; let me also point out the man had zero muscle tone in his arms. After he was finished, I heard one of his friends say, gleefully, "At least you got $500!"

Yep.

You don't believe it 'til you see it, this paying people off the streets to get a win for new pro fighters.

When the fighters entered the ring, the people standing behind me and my friend would decide who was the boxer and who came off the street. My litmus test was this: if your shoulder blades wing out, you don't box.

Boxers need to be in tip top shape, disciplined in their training, lifestyle and nutrition. One particular young man stood out for his lack of health; he looked strung out, just out of the bar, which he might have been. And yet there was a disturbing smile he held on to even while being hit, his black mouthguard accenting the blood in his teeth.

Maybe he was thinking of the money.

As I walked around, the picture became more clear. I passed by a young man from the first cage fight, who was skilled when he had his opponent on the ground but too small to handle the fists and kicks coming at his face while standing. He took too many. His opponent lifted him upside down and dropped him on his neck.

And here he was, with his friends. They were lower middle class at best, and my guess is that the $500 made in such a short period of time was quite a waterfall.

The non-boxers all came out swinging; from there, the techniques varied. Some got cocky, taunting in place to conserve energy. Some swung wildly. The opponent of a guy in my gym kept falling to one knee and grimacing dramatically. Soon, though, the lack of conditioning and skill would end the match and bring on the paycheck.

The audience generally didn't seem to mind.

"Ready to see someone get knocked the hell out?" the announcer asked, to applause.

The calculation of unskilled opponent equals win was not without its risks for the actual boxer. The street fighters were unpredictable, beyond their lack of boxing knowledge. Even if a dangerous hit was caught and penalized, the deed was done.

Among the crowd were more than a few men with battered faces. A fair number were grotesquely obese. Many of the white people were low income. Most of the women were scantily dressed, and not just the ring girls. Boxers' families were there, down to the small children.

I stood next to a guy from my gym who is planning to go pro in a year and said, "Take up accounting."

Last thing I heard that night was "At least you got $500!", ending a day that had started very differently. Nature and human nature: I was quite surprised by both.


photos from TheRockfordNetwork.com and mlive.com

Saturday, August 11, 2012

The Intent To Push The Car

"Fear comes from uncertainty. When we are absolutely certain, whether of our worth or our worthlessness, we are almost impervious to fear." --Bruce Lee

It never occurred to me that I wouldn't be able to push a car.

Even while driving to find an empty lot, my children asking why and who's pushing what, I didn't question the act much, except once to wonder if it all might be over in a matter of moments, me unable to push the car, everybody getting back in.

Of course I could push the car, farther when the 172 pounds of my children finally got out, farther still when they helped. We all took turns, and doggone if it wasn't fun. Conveniently, a cemetery was located behind the lot, and we jogged there after to look for frogs in their pond.

Science backs the idea that intent in exercise might be just as effective as accomplishment, i.e., I tried to push the car, and that is enough. Indeed, when the whole family was in it, I worked awfully hard to move it a foot or two, only gaining a couple inches past the natural give of the wheels. But that counts for something, as do all those times I tried to bench 130 pounds and failed (minus the once I didn't).

That's nice to know. What I know for sure is that a few minutes of this activity was intense enough to fry my shoulders and back and almost make me throw up.

The act would have completed my week's worth of strange physical ailments brought on by even stranger activity. On Monday, I took my kids to something called a "jumping pillow." Picture a bouncy house without the roof and walls; now picture a sizzling egg in a pan. See, the sun had heated up the pillow, which then burned our toes. So not only did our calves ache from all the jumping, we couldn't walk for the blisters on our feet. I have one that's about an inch and a half and maroon red. To boot, walking funny for a few days does nothing for old knees, let me tell you.

A few days later, I wanted some weights for shadowboxing, so I grabbed the small ones designed to wrap around ankles. In my concentration, I did not notice that on each return of the fist to the face, the velcro scratched my cheeks, over and over again.

Finally, yesterday: all was well until I decided to hold a handstand pose, aided by Greg. Apparently I held it long enough to break a few blood vessels, as next time I looked in the mirror, there were red lines and splotches under both eyes. Pretty.

The effects of pushing a car remain to be seen. But this idea of the importance of intent is staying with me; effort is rewarded! After the jumping/burning pillow disaster, I had lamented to my kids that I had driven them there because I knew how much they enjoyed it the first time we tried it (in fall, with socks on). I wanted the time to be special; I wanted to make their day.

Somehow, despite the fact that Simon and I were in real pain (Theo was okay; I gave him my socks right away, as a diabetic's skin and feet need special care), the intent was enough. "I tried, I really did," I kept saying, and the kids were mature enough to understand. It even became a joke, us hobbling around in our bandages and aloe vera.

I've written before that boxing has taught me great humility, and though there was a time when intent would not satisfy me, now it does. I can live without reward and resolution, for the most part. I can thrive in process, mostly.

Because until we're in that cemetery near the pond, intent is what moves us, inch by inch, to where we need to be.



Friday, August 10, 2012

If It Feels Good, Do It

My couple year bench-pressing career began with a need; having experienced the dumbbell chest press, I simply needed to do it again. I think I may have actually purchased a gym membership just to again experience that sensation, a very tactile desire I had to fulfill.

I thought of this the other day when out on a kayak, which is the new object of my tactile desires. A friend asked if I really did just wake up one day and decide I needed to steer a kayak, and my answer was pretty much a yes. Though I had done it once before, many years back, there was a day recently when I knew I needed to kayak, and soon. Since then I've headed out on my own a few times, and I can say that being alone on the water is now one of my favorite places to be. As a side note, it's helping rehab my long-running tennis elbow. It's excellent exercise, and soothing to the soul.

And then there was the day, a couple months back, when the idea occurred to me that I should run up a hill. Not much more to it than that; it sounded like a good idea. The family and I went in search of a hill, ran up it a few times, and that was that. Once again, great exercise, and a lot of fun for all.

What's next? I need to push a car. Why? I read it somewhere--"try pushing a car as far as you can"--and I knew I had to try. If the rain lets up this weekend, the family and I will go in search of an empty lot, put that thing in neutral, and see where it takes us next.


Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Diabetes and Camp: The Counselor Letter

I'm putting in the hours this week to ensure some free time the next. The kids are going to camp! The YMCA I work for has a camp, and this camp, we learned, accommodates kids with diabetes. We are so grateful.

Many notes and charts will be drawn up for the nurse and health officer, but I was also asked to write a general letter to his counselor, who will accompany him throughout each day 'til he returns at suppertime. I provide it here as a blueprint for others; feel free to adapt it for sitters, schools or anyone who needs a general rundown of what diabetes management looks like.



Dear Camp Staff,

When our family attended the camp open house this spring, we never expected that our son would be able to attend. We figured we’d check the place out and call it a day, assuming that Theo’s medical needs are too much to accommodate.

We can’t tell you how wonderful it is to know that Theo can go to camp, and how reassuring it is to know you have careful structures in place to manage diabetes. We’ve heard so many good things from other parents in the same boat!

That said, we can’t help but worry when sending our son away from us. So here are a few really basic pointers about Theo and his diabetes to help all of us next week.

People with type 1 diabetes don’t make their own insulin, or enough of it, to help their bodies use food for energy. Theo needs a shot of insulin for anything he eats that is more than 5 carbs. We count all the carbs in Theo’s meal before he eats, and then do some heavy math to determine the dose of the shot. There is lots more to it, but it’s important to know that unless his blood sugar is low, he can’t eat without a shot. And he has to eat everything that’s been accounted for; no sharing! Other than needing a shot, there are no restrictions on Theo’s eating beyond what’s healthy for anyone.

Eating too many sweets does not cause Type 1 diabetes. It’s not contagious. And unlike type 2 diabetes, which makes the news a lot, it’s not curable. Yet.

Diabetes must be managed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Blood sugar levels can drop or spike without warning, and low blood sugar levels can be life threatening. Food, exercise, and insulin all are factors in the management of diabetes; because camp is new to Theo, we will have to watch him carefully to see how his blood sugar reacts to all the fun activities and the different meal times.

Theo usually can feel a low blood sugar. At those times, he can check himself with the meter and supplies, and you can reference the chart and call us. He should not be left alone when he’s feeling low. An adult should accompany him until the low is remedied by a fast-acting sugar.

Though it’s never happened before, there’s a chance he could pass out before recognizing a low. Because of this, never assume that Theo is just slouching in a corner because he’s tired from play. Please check on him.

Any cuts must be cared for immediately, as diabetics have a greater chance of infection.

We will send all supplies in a cooler, as the sun and heat can ruin the medications. Please be sure to keep the supplies in the cooler and out of the sun. If the cooler doesn’t seem to be keeping things cool enough, let us know right away.

Call Amy or Greg any time, but especially if he has low blood sugar or vomits even just once.

Big brother is attending camp the same week, too, and he’s very familiar with procedures and very helpful. Feel free to ask his assistance. Theo, too, is quite open about all this and happy to talk about it. Sometimes it makes him sad, especially when he has to miss out on food or opportunities, but he’s a good-spirited kid.

Thanks again for everything. We appreciate you very much.

Greg and Amy Scheer
xxx-xxx-xxxx

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Life After 40: Don't Listen To The Naked Ladies

Naked ladies sat to my right and left, nodding sagely.

"Yep," said the one, drying her arm down its length, and sliding back up and under its dangling folds. "That's about when it happened to me, too: 41."

"Me, too," said another, lying down on the sauna's bench, a breast falling to either side. "It was downhill from there."

"You bloat and it stays."

After swimming class, I had posed the question of why I had been gaining weight for no particular reason, and this led to a torrent of yays and amens. Nearly every older woman there could identify, and offered her own version of the story, which, though individual, always ended in resignation and an expanded waistline.

I left there that day thinking life was over after 40, at least in terms of the body's proportions and aesthetics. But a few days later I found a book on Ayurveda, got cooking, and my weight slowly found its way back to normal.

This is not me recommending Ayurveda; I didn't follow the system religiously, but instead took the basic principles into my lifestyle to good effect.

This is me saying stop giving in and giving up. The aging process demands a certain number of concessions, for sure, but there's always higher ground for climbing. In terms of fitness, I've adapted my routine significantly--lessened, even--and yet I'm looking and functioning as well as I ever have. Probably because it's exactly what I need to do now; had I kept stressing my body more than it could take, though the workload is greater, the results wouldn't be as great.

Don't give in to the paunch. Or anything else, for that matter; you're not dead yet, so keep going. I love the Buddhist saying that everyone should help people, and that if they are unable to do that, they should make sure to do no harm. To me, this means you're always capable of something--causing good or causing harm. So make the right choice, because there's always one in front of you.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Diabetes Anniversary #2

730 days with diabetes
3016 shots given, more or less
about 131,400 carbs counted
maybe 3172 pricks to the finger
countless nighttime checks
occasional tears
endless math


We have this terrible tradition of eating junk food on the anniversaries. The day he was diagnosed, we had been headed to our favorite pizza joint. Pizza is one of the hardest foods for diabetics to handle, but it had been such a difficult and long day that the doctor said to just go. Since then, we do--sometimes pizza, and today, those massive hot pretzels at the mall that are a couple hundred carbs each. More or less.

Friday, July 27, 2012

For Everything There Is A Season, or a day

There was a time when Theo joined a church camp class, I gave the diabetes talk to the teacher, and she made a joke. I had wanted sympathy; she needed to make light of it.

There was another time when we were passing through an exhibit hall near the Liberty Bell and saw that the American Diabetes Association was holding a conference there. I had been wanting to learn more about the organization, so Theo and I stopped by the welcome desk. I explained our interest to the woman, and immediately she looked down at Theo, her eyes welled up with tears, and she said how sorry she was that such a young, beautiful boy had to deal with such a difficult disease. Her sympathy was too much, and I pulled Theo away before she could say what would surely come next, that her grandma/aunt/sister had lost a leg or gone blind from diabetes.

What we need can change. It doesn't mean we don't need one or the other, just maybe not now, or today.

This week and next, we're taking care of the 11-year-old twin daughters of friends of ours. We knew Carlos and Susan back when we all lived in Tallahassee; the Scheers moved to Iowa just before our first son was born, and, unbenownst to us, when the twins were already on their way.

Susan died one month ago. She had what was supposed to be the "good" kind of lymphoma.

Some days we talk about mom, some we don't. Sometimes we cry with Carlos, who is attending a seminar during the day, and sometimes we just enjoy a regular day.

Some days after dropping off the girls my instinct is to email Susan and let her know what a great time we had together. How well I get along with her girls, and how much they remind me of her.

And then I remember that I can't. It's then that I'm immensely sad and joyful, both.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Amazing Video

I just stumbled onto this video featuring Christa, one of the women I've written about here often (under different names).

She was always one of my favorite women at the homeless shelter, a perfect example of a person struggling to do what's right, tripping up often, righting herself again. It's hard for her as an alcoholic. It's important to hear her story and see that not all homeless people are squeezing the system dry; some need help so desperately, though they may just fall away again. Like the rest of us.

Christa's the one I told you about--Degage bought her a massage table so she could resume her vocation. Degage is awesome. Christa is pretty amazing, too.


Degage 2011 from Chuck Peterson on Vimeo.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Theatre of the Oppressed: It Works

I learned Theatre of the Oppressed from the socialists. Hippie commies, with shared bathroom duties and mate mugs, in the West Village overlooking the Hudson. We were earnest, we fully dove into each theatre game, and we sat at the feet at Augusto Boal, beloved founder of TO. We cried together. Some even bled; whole dissertations, books even, could be written on the game called "Fainting at Frejus."

The consensus building, some years, would become too much; when you've paid for a three-day clinic with a man who was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, you want time to learn from him, and I recall one year pleading, on the afternoon of the last day, that we stop debating and voting twice per person and actually let the man who invented the technique we paid to learn teach it to us. I recall lying down onto the floor and maybe even writhing a bit while saying this.

We would go home to use TO with varying populations. Those times were learning for the sake of learning, but also with an eye to teaching, which colors your participation somewhat. You're thinking how to use this with your group.

My group, next, would be homeless women. Often my preparation would lead me to sneaky warm ups that just might get them woken up at 9 at night, just enough to build enthusiasm and a willingness to participate. Always, I think I can safely say, we'd gain momentum and build to something meaningful. TO always works its magic in some form or another, and yet in the shelter it was a bit of work for me to get to that point.

Following these experiences I would teach other adults how to lead TO. This would always involve a mix of "let's do this game" and also "here are some other ways you can do this game, now that you experienced it this way" with a touch of "I said this to you as a coaching aside, but sometimes it's helpful to say something more like this." Again, the participation is not unadulterated, but it's still effective.

Now I'm with former felons. And they eat this up. I appreciate now the effectiveness of TO in new ways; TO has always been meant for homogenous groups who share the same concerns, and as these guys encounter a whole set of issues very particular to the fact that they once did time, they benefit not only from their own participation in the games but also simply watching another's.

Yesterday I led a Rainbow of Desire scene, which is a recreation of a true story involving conflict and some hope for success. One man shared his frustration at being denied an apartment, despite having the same job and income as at least two other residents. He was sure the manager's decision was based on his record.

When he reenacted this scene, this large man made himself small, with hands folded in front of him, shoulders bowed. He was defeated before he began. Too, the manager hadn't asked him to sit, so he was the child standing before the principal's desk, shamed.

A few people mirrored his posture for him, as he was unaware that his timidity was showing physically as well as verbally. They stepped into his role for him, performing the scene while holding an exaggerated posture and allowing it to color the content of the original scene.

One woman played it frightened, moving back and away. Another man, a former prisoner who now hosts ex-offenders in houses he buys and fixes up, played the role with his head down to the floor the whole time, so full of elegant, resigned shame I could have wept. (He mentioned later that even playing this role brought back a host of memories of his own similar experiences.)


When faced with these representations of his backing down, the man gave an explanation of why he did this, as if this was the only option in the situation. I mentioned that some people would react differently--with anger, or perhaps steadfast confidence. The head-down man said that had he been off parole, he might have hit the guy. It's an option.


I had him talk to these versions of himself, tell them why they're that way and give them some advice.


"I've got a job, I'm doing things, but this dude holds the future to my living in this place. I feel on top of the world, but why is this thing going on in me, this backing down. It's just...I'm not at the top of the world no more. I'm still 187436. That scares me."


Talk right to them, I said.


"Don't give up," he told himself. "Keep fighting."

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Not Sure What To Make Of This: Summer Edition

My husband and his friend went for a run.

During said run, the two men discussed many topics, among which was the question of whose biceps were bigger.

The kind of thing men talk about when they get together, you're thinking, partly in jest but maybe with a hint of envy, or of pride.

Except in this case they were not discussing their arms, but mine. A contest between the biceps of the friend, who is well over six feet, and mine.*

****************

A discussion of salaries, what people make doing which jobs. Simon, age 11, chimes in with the information that in a classroom project, he had chosen the career of movie director, which would earn him $4000 per year, according to someone's disgruntled calculations.

I explained that 4K would not be enough to live on. Simon says, "That's okay--I chose a wife who works full time."

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Night At The Homeless Shelter

The script had been written.

Scheer family enters shelter. They host a bingo night, making connections with various individuals--some dirty, some struggling to stand straight, but all friendly and with twinkles in their eyes. Amy and Greg choke back tears as their children meet the homeless people, who speak profound words of wisdom. Cut to boys grown up, serving in nonprofits, making a difference in their communities.

And yet last night was a little less than inspiring.

The boys and I had shopped Wal-Mart for the best deals on toiletries, and we took these to the shelter to use as bingo prizes. The supervisor gave us the bingo supplies, handed us the microphone and said, "Just don't set this down, or we'll never see it again."

We ran bingo. A man in the corner hugged his knees and cried. Another man yelled at us to slow down. A woman tried to start a fight.

In the end, 27 people were given toothpaste, soap, lotions. Not much more to it than that.

The occasional joke shared, a fist bump or two as we left.

Is it enough? It didn't feel like enough.

Life is messy. Shelters are especially messy, and we need to thank those who work in them daily for doing what needs to be done.

We also need to be content to know that when an effort is made, the effects will ripple out, sometimes unseen, or a long time after the chips have fallen.


Friday, July 6, 2012

My Cousin, The Major League Baseball Pitcher





The Chicago White Sox just added my cousin Brian Omogrosso as a relief pitcher. I remember him when he was yay big...and now he's 6'4". And 230 pounds. And throws a ball at 99 miles per hour.

Way to go, Brian!

He is not here

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