Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Where I'm Going, and Where I've Been

In 1995, I traveled alone to York, England, to spend a week with Riding Lights Theatre Company. I had responded to an ad. Two lines at most, tacked on to some newsletter I regularly received. A little angel sat whispering those lines, with a British accent, on my shoulder until the day I announced to my husband of two years I was headed overseas. With no website to reference, I had only my instinct, which said this: Go.

In the apple orchard of the camp's estate, on the stone roads of York, a can of Boddington's raised high, my soul, and my theatre knowledge, grew. I had left my husband tearfully at the airport gate only to call a week later and say, "You'll have to come here, because I'm not leaving." My sixth sense, which appeared and often still does as impulsive, began its good track record.

I did return home on schedule, and would come to take more trips based on good hunches. In the years after York, I traveled to theatre or writing conferences across the U.S. These trips tapered off with the birth of my children, until one day, in the early 2000s, I opened the book Games for Actors and Non-Actors, by Augusto Boal.

I'd bought the book secondhand about five years prior with a vague sense of its place in the drama canon. In the intervening time I hadn't done much theatre but had begun a new hobby: exercise.

I picked the book back up again to read while my son finished a class at the Y, and the setting couldn't have been more fitting; had I not been coming to the Y regularly, Boal's work, highly physical in nature, wouldn't have spoken to me. I was not yet ready to read that book back when I bought it.

Reading Games convinced me I had to study this man's work thoroughly. At home, after a quick search, I learned Boal would be travelling from his native Brazil to Manhattan, right around the time I'd be teaching in Philadelphia. Just a train ride away. I adjusted my travel plans and went.

For three years I travelled to the West Village for Theatre of the Oppressed workshops. The second, as it turned out, was the last that Boal would hold there; he died just before the next was to be had. I'm privileged to have met and studied with such a wonderful man, who was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Such a sweet soul who did so much good.

Again, the instincts: buying the book before I was ready for it; opening it in good time.

And a theme: the level of physical involvement began to match the intellectual. Many of those early conferences entailed sitting in a room and listening, taking a coffee break, then finding the next room in which to sit and listen.

Riding Lights had us traipsing all round a gorgeous estate (catch a glimpse of it on their postcard here), but I didn't do much acting; I focused instead on design and directing, with the great Sean Cavanagh teaching me as much in an afternoon, with a table and 3 chairs under a tree, as a semester's worth in college.

Boal's workshops were highly physical, certainly. I've written here about one of his Image Theatre games, during which my partner, not hearing the part about "flowing, gentle movements," manhandled me to the ground. That outcome, as with any TO exercise, was used to illustrate power imbalances, but all I learned was that this man had issues.

2012 sees another trip being planned, one that follows the same trajectory of instinct and physicality. I'm going boxing for three days in Brooklyn. Never have I taken a trip that will require as much from below the neck as above it.

And where does instinct fit in? I'm operating on faith in the face of some question marks on my health. But I'm ready. The opportunity to compete presents itself on the last day, and though the prospect of having my first fight streamed live over the internet is somewhat appealing, I doubt I'll take the challenge. I'm headed there to learn and enjoy a vacation. This time, though, with my head and all the rest of me.

Take a peek around Gleason's Gym here:

Sunday, March 25, 2012

On Stupid Books

Blown away as by a first love after many flings, Theo, age 8, declared Roald Dahl's Charlie and The Chocolate Factory the best book he's ever read. The best.

Dahl's writing is musical and full of delight, with notes of cynicism frequently rising above the staff. I'm currently reading Matilda aloud to the kids--you must read Matilda aloud--and in it, one finds a school principal who declares that her idea of a perfect school "is one that has no children in it at all." Miss Trunchbull is a massive woman, a former Olympic hammer thrower; one gets the sense that Mr. Dahl has endured his share of overbearing women, probably dislikes children, and yet is open to the marvels and beauty of any creature who may be deserving.

After The Chocolate Factory, Theo rushed to the sequel, Charlie and The Great Glass Elevator; alas, the magic had gone. A heartbreak for Theo.

Later, while reading another book (that's what we do around here), Theo set the thing down in his lap and declared, "I don't know why publishers publish stupid books. When an author sends them one, they should write a letter that says, 'This is a stupid book.'"

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Visitor or Intruder?

My copy of The Essential Rumi falls open to a poem that begins like this:

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows, who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

Back when I worked at the shelter, I read this poem to the homeless women before bed one night. We marveled that a man born in 1207 could speak so relevantly today, even to those --especially to those--whose house is only this human form, nothing more.

Welcome and entertain them all!

But would Rumi welcome a sports psychologist?

Athletes are taught to push past the body's built in signals designed to prevent harm, because the brain allows much less suffering than the body can actually take.

The boxer cannot allow entrance to the guests of
fear and self-doubt.

Welcome all guests until you get in the ring, the court--the courtroom, even. Is this confusing to the psyche, I wonder?

My bookmark holds the spot of another poem. In it, Rumi seems to say that guests need not be allowed a long stay.

Dance, when you're broken open.
Dance, if you've torn the bandage off.
Dance in the middle of the fighting.
Dance in your blood.
Dance, when you're perfectly free.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012


Theo skipped towards the bus stop, a rubber diabetes bracelet on one wrist, a Team Willem band on the other.

The blue and white band was acquired in support of a fellow student with a rare disease, who had spent most of the school year in the hospital. Unbenownst to us, our little absent-minded boy bought six of the bracelets at a dollar a piece, which required remembering the money and a willingness to part with it.

On Monday afternoon the email update from the school reported that Willem had been taken home for hospice. I told the kids, explaining that in some cases there's nothing left for the hospital to do. The family took him home to die.

My boys looked down at the table. Theo's pencil moved almost without him, shading over his name on a folder.

On Monday night, just after watching a favorite cartoon, Willem died, surrounded by his family. He was ten. His father is keeping a blog, which is almost unbearable to read.

The funeral is this Friday. I'm helping to cover the phones at the school office so the principal and secretaries can attend. They asked me because ours is the only child in 400 who requires specialized medical attention. He's the one with a band on each hand.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Diabetes And Gym Class

The subtitle of my blog is becoming obsolete. Do I write about writing anymore? Lifting? A little theatre here and there, but type 1 diabetes has come to the forefront.

After a year and a half of failed efforts, I've devised a system that gets my child through PE class without having a low blood sugar.

PE was held, for quite a stretch, just after lunch. I'd build in extra carbs to Theo's meal, uncovered by insulin, to give him energy to burn off without hitting a low. wasn't working. Some days okay, others down in the danger zone. I asked the teacher to tell me when he planned a tougher class, and sometimes he'd remember, sometimes not. Of course I'd need to know this info before the start of the school day in order to pack an appropriate lunch, so you can't fault the guy for forgetting this plan until it's too late.

Recently, PE moved to a good hour and a half after lunch, so I couldn't throw in those extra carbs (he'd run high for too long). Instead, I hit Costco.

Let me tell you about my first few visits to Costco. I walked around with eyebrows raised, suspicious that surely something bad was behind all these good prices. Children from a third world country were tied up in back and forced to hand craft the small cups that samples are served in; I was sure of it.

But with no evidence, I gradually relaxed, the dark chords stopped playing, and before you knew it I was there every week. (My husband, on the other hand, has been banned. How many deodorants does one man need?)

And there, at Costco, I found these:

Brothers All Natural Freeze-Dried Fruit Crisps. 20 pouches. Peach comes in at 7g of carbs; Fuji Apple and Asian Pear at 9g.

And these. 48 (48!) of these:

Stretch Island Fruit Co. Fruit Leather. Flavors run to 11-12g each strip.

These are nice numbers for fifteen minutes of activity, so I bought both products. I shoved a few fruit leathers into the larger crisp box, grabbed a Sharpie, and wrote this on the inside of the lid:

Easy: Peach
Medium: Apple or Pear
Hard: Fruit Leather

I carried said box to the school, gathered the PE teacher and my child around me, and explained the system: You will both meet at the start of each class. You'll decide what kind of day it is and take the appropriate snack. I'll keep them refilled.

So far, so good. Only one day did Mr PE misjudge, but all was caught in time. I'm proud of my new system and wanted to share it here. Or maybe I'm just looking for reasons to take another trip to the big warehouse; you be the judge.

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Why

Simon, who is 11, isn't doing particularly well in math.

The other night, we sat at the kitchen table to work on the multiplying and subtracting of mixed numerals, and what I discovered upon looking closely at his test was that Simon actually does understand fractions, for the most part. So when I say he's not doing well in math, this means, actually, that Simon is not slowing down enough to do well in math.

The theories he's got down, for the most part. The motivation to do well, he does not.

We reviewed the concepts, and then I stressed the importance of taking the time needed to do a good job. We talked about why grades are important, as faulty a system as that may be, and why he needs to try to get those grades up.

And then I brought up diabetes. Diabetes is the elephant in every room, even though the type 1 diabetic himself was elsewhere in the house. A calculator there, test strip here, vials in the frig.

With diabetes, I told Simon, we do much the same kinds of math. We deal in decimals, we divide and multiply at every meal.

The difference is this: it's not for a grade. It's a matter of life, and, unfortunately, death. When we sit down to count the carbs and determine the dosage of insulin, we want to get the math right. We need to get the math right. This is not an assignment we turn in and hope the teacher approves; the very real life of our son is affected. Too much insulin, he could slip unconscious. Too little insulin going unnoticed, the chance of long-term effects is increased.

I often perform the simplest calculation three or four times to be sure I got it right. Simon, however, is speeding through his tests, finding time even to doodle on the sides.

Similar actions, wildly different motivations.

The motive, my friend, makes all the difference.

what moves you?