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!