Wednesday, December 2, 2015

The ABCs of My YMCA

Maybe not all the letters, but more than the mere four the Village People cover. Here's an homage to some people and moments of a building that's about to go away.

A is for a happenstance, a coincidence, a collision of stars. 
"I want to join the Y!" I told my husband eight years ago.

"Why?" he asked.

"I don't know, but I do."

B is for Bob.
Bob has been lending me books for years now. He knows what I like and which BBC series will hook me. Here is what I know about Bob:

1. His name is Bob.

Bob Doe lets me keep his stuff for weeks, months, doesn't worry. When I wrote a book, Bob was one of only a handful of people I lent it to, and certainly the only person whom I wouldn't actually be able to track down. I didn't see him for a long spell after that, and when I did, he was smiling. He had since bought six books and given them out to friends. This made me feel good, because here's the other thing I know about Bob:

2. He has good taste.

B is for all the other Bobs, too. 
If I want to say hello to a male member of the Y and don't remember his name, I call him "Bob." The success rate of this strategy is remarkably high.

B is for the boxing class I taught for a couple of years. 
Notably the one wherein a man stood in the hallway throwing up, and a woman tapped me on the shoulder and said, "This is Zumba, right?"

C is for the client who, when I introduced an exercise as "weird but effective," said, "I feel the same way about you."

G is for the giant hairy guy who waded through a weight room full of people and asked me for a spot.
He sat down with two 100lb dumbbells. "Just push on my elbows if I need help."

I is for the 82-year-old Italian man who said, when I asked how an exercise felt, "Like a sexy blonde is squeezing my back."

J is for Judy.
Judy has Alzheimer's disease. Judy told me this on the day she was diagnosed, back when she still knew where she was and didn't need anyone to walk her to class. Because that's what people did, of their own accord: they would come find her. They would take her to the room. They would make sure she found her ride home. Judy had been a singer. Last week, there were flowers on the front desk counter and a card from Judy's children thanking us for caring for their mother.

L is for the Locker Room Ladies. 
The Locker Room Ladies counseled me, when I turned 40, to accept the changes in my body. The Locker Room Ladies stopped me after my son was in the hospital to ask how he was; they had been praying. The Locker Room Ladies, always in various stages of undress, leave nothing undone.

M is for a man I met once.
Enforcing the rules, I asked him how old his boy was. I hadn't yet learned not to preface this question with the actual guidelines--his kid needed to be 15 for the weight room--and without blinking he said, "15." His wife came around later, and somehow it came up that the boy was just shy of his 13th birthday. The man and I looked at each other. I didn't give him up; his shame was hurting him. He was in the building a couple of hours when he approached me with a pained look.

"I am so, so sorry I lied to you," he said, his shoulders folded forward.
"I forgive you," I said.
We looked at each other. The weight had been lifted.

M is for Mary. 
After a career as a nurse, Mary hid in her house for years, struggling with depression and morbid obesity. She ordered her days according to television programs. When her doctor suggested she begin exercising, she drove to the Y, sat in the parking lot, and drove back home. Another day she parked, got out of the car, and used her cane to get to the bench just outside the front door. She caught her breath and went back home.

Then came the day she made it through the front doors. And the day when she marked 100 pounds lost. Since then, there are still days when it's difficult for her to stay motivated enough to show up. But when she comes back, the Locker Room Ladies ask where she's been, offer a recipe, drive her home. She helps out with kiddie swim lessons. She tells her story to help generate money for the Y's scholarship fund. Mary is a joy and she gives back way more than she received.

M is for Mr. Body, Mind and Soul. 
He wants to hire me as a trainer, he said, to take care of his body, mind and soul. This is his bench press, squat, and vertical jump, and here is his past three years' worth of body fat percentages. He's not ready for me right now, but he wanted to tell me, so I could prepare. He smiles knowingly now when I walk by. So do I.

R is for Robert. 
You already know Robert. Everybody does. Thank you, Robert, for playing pastor, teacher, coach, friend, and confidante. Thank you for talking to the younger guys who need a little encouragement. Thank you for a smile we can count on.

W is for the Word of the Day. 
I'm asked for one on my shift by a certain journalist type, and now, when I read, I hang on to the interesting ones for him.

W is for the woman I talk to twice a week. 
I don't know her name, and it's too late to ask. But we're beyond names, I think, and that's a profound thing.

Z is for a zigzagged path through an old building which will soon be no more. 
The Southeast YMCA spelled home for so many of us, a tight-knit community sweating alongside each other in a small, decaying facility. I found myself there.

Z marks the end. But this place, for me, was just the beginning.

Friday, October 30, 2015

On The Other End Of Interviews

I've interviewed hundreds of interesting people over the years, and now, to be on the other end of the questions, is enlightening. The story of my book is intact--how it came about, the inside scoop--and yet I'll get a comment or question occasionally that interrupts my stump speech and gets me to think.

One woman, when hearing that I had a theatre major, immediately connected the structure of my book with that of a play. Of course!

Another journalist spent the first part of the interview speaking of a past divorce and how the book brought some of that back. I, the interviewee, sat and listened.

And one asked me what I hoped my readers would take from the book. I hesitated. I have been grateful for the wide range of responses, with wide encompassing the way that the journalist could work through his divorce, and a friend who lost her father as a teen saw herself. I can simply begin to tell the tale of the book, and people will cry. But did I plan any of this? No.

I wrote it because I had to. The story asked to be told. And I wrote it in a way that would serve that imperative best, not because I wanted to make people cry. I never wanted to exploit this tragedy; indeed, I was ready to pass on the project for fear that this would happen. And I'd never manipulate my readers.

But I do want you to think. I won't tell you what to think, but I'll put things out there, frame them in such a way that will force you to confront what it is you believe.

Here are how some other writers view my latest project:

recent newspaper article on FRAMES

a church denomination's website

And if you've read the book and want to tell me what you think, please visit and like the FRAMES facebook page.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Temporary Bodyguard

The principal called yesterday.

When your kids are in elementary school, preschool, you know that building. You know the teachers' names, even the ones your kids don't have. Heck, you know the lunch helpers and that one woman on the playground who makes all the kids start the monkey bars from the same end.

But this guy, Principal Somebody, I didn't know him. I heard "principal," "high school," and "Simon," plus a bunch of other words that didn't spell out "your son is fine."

Meanwhile, he said things like, "Simon has been in my office the past 40 minutes," and I did things like commencing the process of cardiac arrest.

A boy in Simon's Culinary Arts class apparently had approached him about stealing the prescription drugs his parents presumably have. Simon deflected the kid's advances and the teacher noticed, so she asked him to explain after class. That led to questioning in the principal's office, some ratting out of others whom Simon has silently observed these past two months since starting his high school career, and a lingering suspicion that things are going to get awkward around the stove.

The approach was textbook, by Simon's recounting, the making of an anti-drug campaign commercial. The kid would pay Simon for bringing him my alleged pills, and would provide pills to replace them and ease suspicion. Because this kid clearly has a collection of various sizes of placebos, and also adults would never notice when something they take every day has shape-shifted.

Simon, who is tall and bursting with curls, drew from his silent reserve of strength and said, Nah. When pushed for his phone number, he said he couldn't remember. If I know my son, he smiled, politely declined the whole affair, and went back to chopping carrots.

We had talked on the phone right after my heart attack, and again once he came home (my recovery period was short). Listening to him, I was proud and said so. I smiled as he talked about being invited to take part in a drug deal, lamenting that I'd never been offered anything more dangerous than a bong. And I said this:

It's okay to lie. Sometimes. Tell the kid you don't own a phone. Tell him you didn't rat him out, or that others got there first. It's okay to stretch the truth for self-preservation, in situations like these.

It's not always the stranger you need to fear. I'd been taught in our YMCA child abuse prevention program that perpetrators often groom their victims, give them a test run. These folks aren't stupid enough to approach just anyone, because that person might squeal. Instead, they spend some time observing and building a friendship before launching the attack. This kid picked the wrong guy, probably thinking that Simon was too nice not to go along with him. He was wrong. Simon said to me, "You know I would never do something like that." And though I certainly hoped that was the case, his words were a real reassurance.

Always do the right thing. Simon had always felt this kid was shifty, and was not surprised at the turn of events. He willingly went along with the school's questioning, telling them everything he knew. I told him I was proud of him. I told him he did the right thing, not just to protect himself and other classmates but also, hopefully, the kid himself. Maybe, if he gets in trouble in his teen years, it will head off an addiction problem down the line. Maybe it won't. Either way, Simon did the right thing.

Doing the right thing doesn't mean all's going to get easy. This boy was not only in Simon's cooking class, but he was also the head chef of their group. Will he be suspended and absent, or did my boy walk into an awkward situation this morning? Will he know Simon spilled the beans? (Other kids fessed up, too.) Will he seek revenge?

Simon and I have had a ritual since his first day of high school. He comes home and says hello, I ask how his day was, he says great, and then I say, "Did you get beat up today?" (He is a passive young person, as was I, until I discovered boxing--and my strength--in my 40s.)

"No." He laughs.

"Shoved into a locker?"

"No." Or sometimes he'll say, "Just for a little while."

The reality is that now, since Simon did the right thing, there might be some consequences. I assured him that the school staff is on this the best they can, and that he's safe on the bus home. If the kid comes here, he has me to deal with.

"I'm your bodyguard," I said, meaning it, but knowing that there's only so much I can do.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

the ebook is here! plus other one-stop shopping links.

Lots of FRAMES links for you today.

CLICK HERE for the KINDLE version.

HERE for the PAPERBACK version.

OVER HERE for the facebook event invite for LOCAL AUTHOR NIGHT (Grand Rapids).

AND ESPECIALLY HERE if you haven't yet "liked" the FRAMES facebook page.

Don't make me angry. You wouldn't like me when I'm angry. (Visit the links already.)

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Fashion by MY MOM

THEO: Don't wear your hair in two ponytail things.
ME: Why not?
THEO: You're like a two-year-old girl whose birthday is today.

THEO: I am deeply disturbed by the holes in your sweatpants.
ME: At least I'm not like those guys who wear their pants hanging down.
THEO: But those guys aren't my mom.

THEO: Those pants make your butt look big.
ME: I want my butt to look big.
THEO: But it looks really big.
ME: I want it to look really big.
THEO: It's "all about that bass."
ME: Right.
THEO: But do you want to look like that? [points to large, elderly woman walking past]

THEO: I don't like the pink streak in your hair.
ME: Why not?
THEO: I'm not sure.
ME: Because it looks like I'm trying too hard?
THEO: Maybe.
ME: Like I think I'm 20?
THEO: Um...yeah.
ME: Like I'm a girl who spends all day at the mall?
THEO: Just... don't do it again.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Warning: You May Die


"Let me ask you something," the man on the stool said. "You understand that putting a drill bit through your hand would really suck, right?"

The boy giggled and nodded affirmatively.

"I trust you to know things like that," he said, running a hand through his salt and pepper mohawk. "I know you're smart. I'm going to train you on other important things you need to know, but other than that, I'm just here to make sure you don't die. My main job as president of this company is to make sure people don't die."

He swiveled around to face the rest of us. The seat looked like a shiny red bottle cap. "Any more questions?"

We had just completed a tour of the Geek Group, a Grand Rapids maker space with rooms full of wires, bolts, volts, and giant robots. There is a vehicle hoist for changing your oil, and a tesla coil. There's a machine shop, a woodworking shop, an electronics lab, and a high voltage lab. If you're a member, you can use any or all of this, even if you're 5, with some restrictions. The energy of the place, and of their skinny president, conducted through our group at lightning speed; by the end of the tour, even the non-science-minded among us wanted to try a hand at a 3D bust of Carl Sagan.

The president's t-shirt:

Math is hard.
So is life.
Get over it.


The unassuming trailhead, with swings for kids and people at picnics, revealed nothing of the difficulty ahead. I had found the mountain biking trail on a forum and marked it down as good for me, a beginner. A gorgeous start, with a wide path through the green woods, led me to believe I'd be on a beautiful ride with moments here and there of challenge and risk. Almost immediately, I met up with one of these: a slope down to a narrow wooden bridge, a wall of dirt to the right, and a steep dropoff to the left. Directly after that, a climb. I looked--metaphorically, peripherally--for a sign. Where's the warning? My bike had been a gift, and I had hopped on not understanding that trails could be both manageable and dangerous at the same time. Surely I wasn't the only one silly enough to miss the mountain in mountain biking. They needed a sign here, something for people like me, surely.

The trail would ease up at times into moments of glory: riding through eight-foot corn, no view beyond the nose of your bike and a narrow keyhole sighting of what was ahead. The corn suddenly opened to a view of rolling hills below, and because the path was relatively flat, you could look around as you went, a treat. For that is the beauty and terror of mountain biking: there is nothing but what is in front of you. Look to the side, compose a facebook update in your head, you'll probably go down.

I was sure I had passed through the worst of it. The corn was a break I had earned; the trail gods had built in this restful, meditative patch as my reward. There was no reason to believe any of this, and I was proven wrong. Once again, the shift from carefree to panicked was sudden; but though the treacherous patches were no longer a surprise, they ceased to appear manageable. This view, like the others, had no basis in reality, but fear had seized me, the tired amateur, and I stopped. A narrow swerve to the right needs to swing quickly back to the left, pop over large, embedded stones, climb an ascent. I sat off path and stared at this S in the road. I would dream about it that night. And yet there was no warning, not there.

About three miles in I saw it. A paper sign covered in a sheet protector, with colorful, plentiful fonts, push-pinned to a tree. I got closer and realized it was not a warning for me.

Broken glass
Protect your Pet

When the path finally opened up and the parking lot was in view, I crossed what appeared to be the finish line and saw some signs that weren't readable from my direction. I circled my bike back around for the message.

You would see this sign only if you made it, which I did.


"You can't learn this in school," the man said, tilting the microphone stand. "You need to do it in the joint. In the grease. In the greasy joint."

He gestured toward the young man with a saxophone, and the tall lanky kid standing behind the bass.

"They know what I'm saying. You get up here, you try, you mess up. It's okay. You come back next week and do it again. This right here is your classroom of jazz."

The young people who sit in on his second set each Sunday night are new to the twists and turns of jazz. No music is passed around; these musicians step onto the stage of the SpeakEZ Lounge and off a cliff. The genre is forgiving of amateurs, and yet those with a real spark can shine. The others, whose enthusiasm outweighed their talents this night, grew larger in front of us, as they soared without fear through the shadows of the room.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Sitting With The Secret Service

originally posted July 13, 2011

Seeing former first lady Rosalynn Carter at Betty Ford's funeral in the news this week reminded me that I've been near the woman myself. Here's the story.

Where we lived in the late 90s was a morning's drive from Plains, Georgia, the setting for a small, unassuming rural church with avocado green carpeting, where Jimmy Carter taught Sunday School.

I summoned a friend to accompany me there one Sunday morning with the sole task of this: securing an autograph on a photo of Carter riding through my Pennsylvania hometown. My father, who collects presidential memorabilia, took the photo and had proudly displayed it in the decades since. He was the person who had alerted me to my proximity to Jimmy's church; he was sure the genial former president would sit down with me and swap stories.

The church was not hard to find; the tour buses occupied more space than the building itself. Janet and I were ushered into what turned out to be an overflow room. He'd walk through here on his way to the sanctuary, but that, we gathered, was the best we could hope for. We'd have to take in the lesson on Blind Bartimaeus via the large screen television, whose volume was just loud enough to hear, if you leaned. I thought I made out something about no autographs after the lesson, but figured it was a way of telling people not to make a fuss during the church service. It was difficult, after all, to remember that this was a church and not a tourist site.

After the walkthrough and the lesson, we were surprised to hear that a busload had left, and room was now available in the church pews for the morning service, which Jimmy attends but does not lead. Janet and I quickly nudged into the line of elderly southern folk, eventually finding our way into a front pew next to a young woman sitting alone.

Christy was one of the few longtime church members, as would be demonstrated shortly when anyone who was not a first-time visitor was asked to rise. Only a handful, including the president and his men, would stand...right next to me. For after Janet and I met Christy, we were joined in the pew by the Carters and their Secret Service. This was their pew, it turned out; we hadn't seen the Reserved sign posted at the other end. Rosalynn slid in next to Christy, then Jimmy, then one of the Secret Service at the end. The other agent bookended the row, sitting next to Janet. When we'd reach for our large purses on the floor, he'd move with us.

Church went on, and we tried to play cool the fact that we singing hymns mere feet from a former president. When the service concluded, we were led outside and into a line, where we were told that no autographs would be given; pictures with the president only. Disappointed, I decided if I couldn't have an autograph, I'd settle for a picture of the picture--with Jimmy.

I fished the frame out of my bag and left it to the side of the line as we waited. "Ma'am," a Secret Service agent said, "Please pick that up." I did.

On our turn, we handed our cameras to a church member. I showed the Carters the picture and said, "Beaver Falls, 1980!" We flanked the couple and smiled. The camera was returned and we were immediately ushered away, at which point I heard a wife nag her husband.

"Jimmy," Rosaylnn said. "You can sign that one, can't you?"

I didn't dare look back. But moments later, I heard the Secret Service calling me again: "Ma'am?"

I turned. He asked if I was in a hurry. Not at all. He told me to play nonchalant near the rear fender of the president's limo, pen in hand. "We'll get you that autograph."

I dug in the large bag once again. Jimmy finished smiling for the rest of the line and walked with his entourage to the limo, where I stood, nervous. I handed him the pen and picture and said, "To Dave." He never looked at me or said anything. He leaned the frame on the back of the vehicle, signed it and handed everything back to me. The Secret Service opened a door and whisked him inside.

The limo windows were dark, but I like to think that had I been able to see inside, I would have caught a wink, one woman to another.

Friday, August 7, 2015

The Tooth Fairy: bitter, caustic, ready to retire

August, 2015. A boy, 11 years old, walks into a room wearing pajamas and rubbing his eyes. His mother ruffles his blond bedhead.

MOM: Did the Tooth Fairy leave money under your pillow?

BOY: Yeah, and a note. She was kind of cranky.

I have been given access to the files of The Tooth Fairy, who made multiple visits to the Scheer house over the past six years and has unofficially announced her retirement. She regularly left notes alongside the monetary reward, yet has never been spotted; it is my hope that these found artifacts will shed light on her true identity.

Let's begin with the very first letter. The content appears to indicate she had forgotten to leave money the night before, which leaves us to wonder if this was a regular occurrence necessitating, finally, written communication to express an apology. Here we see, then, the first and perhaps only evidence of vulnerability, as well as the first appearance of "Little Jimmy." There is no "Jimmy" in the Scheer family or their neighborhood, to my knowledge.

December 26, 2009

Dear Theo,

Would you believe it? My fairy mobile got caught in traffic last night. It seems fat Santa needed two lanes to travel in, and he was taking his good ol’ time flying and stopping, flying and stopping. I made it to Little Jimmy’s house to fetch his odd-shaped tooth, but I never made it to yours. So sorry.

Please accept this bonus buck with my apologies. There’s an extra dollar to share with your brother, too—it’s the giving season, after all!

Keep on brushing,

The Tooth Fairy

The next letter shows evidence of the caustic wit that will bloom and invade the tone of the correspondence over the next several years. We're laughing, but is she joking? Those exclamation points--a coverup? At this point, we still feel that The Fairy is on our side, but something tells us to watch our backs, especially when we're lying on them and she's reaching under the pillow.

March 29, 2010

Dear Simon, the Mighty Tooth Torquer,

Again? What’s next--you going to start yanking out random teeth now? Or maybe a finger? I’ll have to talk to the Finger Fairy about that.

Congrats on clearing out your mouth for the big boy teeth. I’m happy to have another reason to visit—and to help you towards your goal of filling the house with LEGO. Good thing I fly, or I’d be stubbing my toe on all those little pieces everywhere!

Keep on brushing,

The Tooth Fairy

Jumping ahead, we detect sarcasm once again in these next two letters, as extra effort was required to find said pillow, tooth, and child. "Little Jimmy" reappears, probably confusing the child, who nevertheless is surely happy for the extra cash.

August 16, 2010

Dear Simon,

Last time you people made me find you in a hotel, and now you’re up in your parents’ bedroom. You messin’ with me? Next thing I know, you and Little Jimmy will be hiding in a suspended tree house.

Here’s a buck for your efforts.

Keep on brushing,

The Tooth Fairy

November 25, 2010

Dear Simon,

You thought I wouldn’t find you in Indiana, didn’t you? It took some time to get through the cornfields and past Thanksgiving traffic, but here I am, delivering your dollar (even though you didn’t produce an actual tooth—but I’m not bitter). Good luck gobbling down turkey with one less incisor!

Keep on brushing,

The Tooth Fairy

Apparently the younger child had been worried about the state of his pillow, as found after The Fairy's visits. She is not happy about this, but tries to play it off with additional exclamation points and a chummy use of "sheesh" and "toofer."

December 9, 2010

Dear Theo,

Is your pillow all right? Should I fluff it when I’m done depositing the money?

Sheesh—I think you’re the first kid to worry about my pillow technique. I hope I passed the test. Congrats on losing another toofer!

Keep on brushing,

The Tooth Fairy

I will skip the October through December 2012 letters, which include references to the younger child misplacing the lost tooth (The Fairy questions the existence of the tooth, naturally), and also the younger child losing part of a tooth and having a dentist remove the rest. ("I thought about giving you part of a dollar, and ripping off a corner for the dentist," she writes.)

The bitterness is still evident in March of the following year. Blood is mentioned twice:

March 28, 2013

Dear Theo,

You’d think the snow would be off the ground by now, allowing me to land my FairyMobile in less mess. But no: I have to drive in the cold air and wear boots in March all because some kid lost a tooth.

Do you think there’s a connection between your toe bleeding into your boot and your bleeding tooth falling into the drain? Either way, this is the stuff of great poetry. Or at least a haiku.

Keep on brushing,

The Tooth Fairy

Even a brief mention of "Little Jimmy" would lighten the tone in that and the following letter, but she persists with themes of resentment and exhaustion.

November 20, 2013

Dear Theo,

This is the 14th letter I’ve written to your family, and to tell you the truth, I feel you’re all just a little old for this fairy business. It’s about the money, isn’t it? Money, money. My boss warned me when he hired me, but I was all like, No, there’s good kids out there, like that Theo critter. But now I’m not so sure.

Don’t mind the streaks on this paper. That’s just my tears staining the letter. I’m honestly happy for you. Really, I am. Losing a tooth is one of the many steps along the way to adulthood, where you’ll most certainly find the job of your dreams. Like I did.

Keep on brushing,

The Tooth Fairy

March 8, 2014

Dear Theo,

I go ALL THE WAY DOWNSTAIRS looking for you and the tooth, but NOOOOO, you can’t be bothered to put it under your pillow. But I bet you didn’t forget to look for the money, am I right? So here I am, hiring a tooth-sniffing dog—the ones who didn’t cut it finding drugs—to figure out where the heck your tooth is. Maybe I shoulda put your money in a different place and made YOU hunt, too. Do a little of this work for a change. Maybe I’ll go SPEND your dollar for you. Yeah.

Okay, I’m not all that bitter. It’s just that it’s been a long week of trudging through all this snow, and I don’t expect to have to trudge all the way through a house. I like to just appear where I should be, like how a tooth should be UNDER. A. PILLOW.

Keep on brushing,

The Tooth Fairy

Sept 30, 2014

Dear Theo,

I thought we were done with this a long time ago. Seriously—how many teeth could you possibly have left to lose? I believe your mother told you I’m busy. And tired. So could you perhaps consider pulling the rest out and getting this done in one fell swoop? I’ll leave a five under your pillow tonight to cover the remaining teeth. What’s that? You only found one dollar? Must be the fault of your brother. I’m sure I put it there. Despite the tiredness, the tooth fairy never forgets [insert ominous music here].

Keep on brushing,

The Tooth Fairy

And finally, what is most likely the last letter appeared this week, which I've reproduced here in its entirety:

August 4, 2015

Dear Theo,

I finally figured it out: you got that 3-D printer you always wanted, and you’ve been printing teeth. Yes, that’s got to be it, because it can’t be humanly (or fairy-ly) possible that I’ve been visiting your house and writing letters for five years. You CAN’T HAVE ANY MORE TEETH LEFT. Can you? I’ve lost count, but seriously: this is getting a bit ridiculous. Soon you’ll be, like, 30, and I’ll be using a walker, and little 3D teeth will be lying under your pillow. You will be lying on your pillow, unshaven and slovenly, awaiting the cash. Can’t a gal catch a break ever?

Enjoy this buck, because it’s sure to be the last one. Cause if there’s any more teeth, I’m retiring to Florida. See ya.

Keep on brushing,

The Tooth Fairy

It is my sincere hope that this carefully curated correspondence will benefit the children, either in the eventual writing of their memoirs, or participation in exhaustive psychotherapy. I trust that in either endeavor, they will remember me fondly.

Friday, July 17, 2015

FRAMES. It's here.

FRAMES: a picture of death, drugs, and forgiveness

as told to Amy Scheer

FRAMES is the true story of a 28-year-old woman who died when a speeding truck crashed into her idling car. It’s the story of a man addicted to cocaine and a widower who said I forgive you. FRAMES is a mosaic of shattered lives: a beautiful picture of life, death, and everything in between.

It’s memoir meets the novel. Truth as compelling as great fiction, and as spare, at times, as poetry.

FRAMES presents a real-life tragedy and its hopeful end by allowing the central characters to speak for themselves. Firsthand accounts and primary source materials stand side by side, forming an elegant, complex narrative collage that draws in the reader with highly personal revelations.

Part oral history, part elegy, FRAMES shows that the many snapshots of our lives rarely stand alone, and one picture of death, drugs and forgiveness has lessons for us all.

Buy your copy today from local and independent Chapbook Press in Grand Rapids, Michigan--in person or by visiting this link:

Check out our the FRAMES Facebook page to stay current on updates. Ebooks available soon! More info to come.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

FRAMES. It's almost here.


Some eight years have gone into this, and passed by.

We're so close now.

Here I hold, for the first time, a proof of my book. Soon, I'll be able to tell you how to get your hands on this gem. I'm very proud of how it turned out, and I think you'll like it, too.

Read more about FRAMES at my blog's book project label. An early description is here.

More info by next month. Stay tuned!

Yes, I moved a Dean Koontz novel and put my book there.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015


I'd put it at the shape of a cinder block. The weight is heavy enough to sit me down through most of the day, and start my sleeping at seven at night. It's pulling down these arms, which would lift heavy weights and now have trouble pausing midair. I am slow and far away, and this started some time around that moment when the floor buckled and the furniture swayed in the pediatric intensive care unit where my son was staying.

We encourage you to be your son's advocate, Mrs. Scheer, but we also want you to be able to rest while your child is ill, and be a mom.

Giving him a shot right now could cause cerebral hemorrhaging, so we'll need to do a drip.

HAPPY MOTHER'S DAY! Thank you Mom for holding back my hair while I vomit.

There is guilt when talking about one's self when it's the child who was sick. But he's fine, Theo is doing great, and I'm not. It could be anything, I know; but I want to say, and I want you to understand, that grief can sit inside bones and muscles, and the ribcage.

When I gave birth to my first son, the pain changed me. I did not know that such a level of suffering existed. I didn't know, and from that point, I had to find a way to live in a world where this potential exists.

Before last Wednesday, I didn't know that diabetic ketoacidosis can come on in the blink of an eye, or overnight, as Theo sleeps. I thought if we stayed on top of checking for ketones in his urine, which we do, DKA wouldn't come near us.

I didn't know. And now I have to live in this world. While Theo resumes daily life with no visible interruption, I--my body--can't cope.

When the floor buckled, Theo's nurse sat me on a stool and ordered another nurse to find a soda. She took the paper off of a small cup of peanut butter, and the cellophane off a few pairs of saltines. She found a plastic knife. Efficiently, she covered a cracker and handed it to me. I ate it and she was ready with the next. She sat with me until I felt ready to stand, or said I did.

Because the stool itself was not steady; it had wheels. The ground can never be stable with diabetes. Parenthood itself will shake you. As I stood, I saw the floor move again, but I didn't bother to say.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Top Ten Grey Shades of Exercise

I have one thing to tell you, and it's this: Life is not black and white.

This week saw declaration upon declaration from good-intentioned individuals, and I am bloody from raising my sword to each.

I'm not supposed to lift heavy.
I shouldn't do exercises that use my neck.
Tart cherry juice makes you sleep better.
This machine isn't good for you.
This equipment will make me a better runner.
I'm supposed to work my core.
This is the best exercise for your core.

Yes. Maybe. But. Can I say something?

Grey is worth looking for. Not just with this exercise stuff, by the way. But we'll start there.

Your doctor is watching out for your neck, and you should listen; she's a doctor. I'm a personal trainer; I, too, have neck problems. My neck appears older than the rest of me, and no one can explain why. My doctor asked, "Did you, like, fall out of a window?" Not that I can recall.

I'm a personal trainer, and your doctor is a doctor, for crying out loud. (This bears repeating.) If something is off limits, it's off limits. But if I could sit down with your doctor, I'd ask about the grey. I'd ask, Hey, this person with the neck? He's got issues. We need to strengthen his neck to help him out, right? And most exercises use the neck, right? You've got him frightened. You've got me nervous. Is there some middle ground here?

I think she'd listen to me.

But back to you, and the stuff you read somewhere, maybe in the checkout line or in your facebook feed. Those top ten worst machines or best exercises. Thanks for telling me about them, but now let's talk grey.

I'm a personal trainer; I'm also a writer, a human being, and someone who knows a little about a lot of things. Many times I have been hired as a writer to say something about a topic. Did I make stuff up? No. But I came up with new ways of saying what perhaps was old news. That's what writers do, for the most part. So when I hear that an article has decried the hip abduction machine or praised the plank, I take this info with a grain of salt. Yes, there's truth there. Yes, tart cherry juice is said to suppress the bladder's urges and let you rest more. But hey, are you prediabetic? Better to get up and pee than send your blood sugar to the sky.

Writers make mountains out of molehills, sometimes, stretching the truth to be a little dramatic and catch your attention. Maybe I'm doing that here, but that's because I care about you, not because of any paycheck. (I should really monetize this blog someday.)

The truth is out there, but it's shaded in grey. What's your "wheat belly" telling you about the latest diet you tried? And that plank: does it bore you? Then you probably don't do it, which cuts a whole lot into its effectiveness.

You know what else?

Going gluten-free makes me bloat. Drinking red wine helps me lose weight (it helps with dietary fat absorption). Cookies also help me lose weight, if I haven't been taking in enough calories otherwise for muscle recovery. Dumbbells bother my elbows. Pushups are bad for me, because of my neck. The Turkish get up, touted as the most complete and overall beneficial exercise because it is, hurts my neck. High reps and low weight hurt my neck more than heavy weight and low reps, which were prescribed by my physical therapist, who actually knows quite a bit about exercise. But he's not me. He doesn't live in my body, and only I know the effects that these bad for you/good for you foods/moves have.

There's a study in Secrets From the Eating Lab, by Tracl Mann, tracking twins who are overfed by 1000 calories per day.  Some gained nine pounds, some 29. "The same number of calories led some people to gain three times as much weight as other people," even those from the same gene pool. Another study she mentions details how difficult it is to get people to gain fat and keep it.

So how, my friends, can a magazine article tell you what to eat?

It is natural to want answers and solutions. Not just the quick fixes, but solid explanations for what ails us. I want to know how to live with my neck. When I feel bad, I play detective: what happened this time? And what made it better? Sure, maybe I lifted too heavy, but didn't it start to hurt after a different exercise?

It is also natural to trust experts. We need them, because much as we all want to play doctor/dietitician/political theorist, we're not that, and there's not enough time in the day to specialize so highly. The world is made up of people who are interested in different things, and that's good and helpful.

But the expert knows his/her thing. The doctor knows what she knows, but she's not a physical therapist. The writer knows what she researched, but not the whole field of study. That's too much to delve into for a self-help article. And too much for a meme.

So question everything. Read, try, observe. Be your own lab rat. Welcome advice and throw it out if, after careful thought, you see it doesn't work for you. Find what does.

Watch for grey.

Every last shade.

Friday, May 1, 2015

This Body, Broken For You

originally posted April 2, 2012

--Where you been?

--Injured. And I lost my confidence.
--Come back.

The gym is my church. I sweat alongside folks I wouldn't know otherwise, two or three times every week. At the Y, I egg another rep out of Lee on the bench press, and Sonya brings me an Indian spice I've been hunting. At the boxing gym, Shaun tells me his dream of opening a business. Our shared goals foster community.

But if the gym is church, my sanctuary is found at the fights, in the folding chair of a darkened auditorium.

Injuries had kept me out of the boxing gym for months, but when I opened the paper a few weeks back and saw the ad for Golden Gloves, I headed out. Last club show I had entered through the door for fighters and coaches, but this time, I bought a ticket and sat alone. As I watched, occasionally talking with the older man next to me (a former boxer, it's always a former boxer), I recognized familiar voices shouting in the crowd. Shari's sitting over there, I could tell; Shaun's on the bleachers to my left.

Eventually I sent a text, and, when I could pull away from the chatty old boxer, we had a reunion at the snack bar. Hugs. Where you beens. And, more importantly, Come back.

Over the past three weekends, I've caught up with these people I know only through the dance called boxing. The nights are long, and to break up the four hours I talk, sometimes make a new friend, lean against the back wall, or find a half empty row to sit alone and think. Despite the noise, despite the clinging smoke, and even with two guys swinging at each other, this is a posture of meditation for me. I'm watching the fights, evaluating technique, but I'm also not watching them, and instead sitting with my thoughts.

Among which are these: The length of my recovery back to boxing has humbled me. I am grateful for what I can do, and what I could do is behind me. I'm smarter now, if not as strong. And I'm content with the here and now.

Friday night a coach greeted me at the wall and invited me back behind the curtain with the coaches. You can't see the action from back there, but boxers are warming up on mitts, and those in queue are being built up with a litany of call and response:

Nobody said it's gonna be easy.
--Uh uh.
It is what it is.
--That's right.
You got what it takes.

I am of a different color and race than most of the people behind this curtain, and yet somehow, we fit together, and being with them has brought me back to life. A young man interrupts my thoughts, raises his taped hands to my shoulders and asks,

--Amy, where you been?
--Injured. And then I lost my confidence.
--Work it out in the gym. Come back.

The music played, and he walked to the ring with Shaun at his back. He played hard, and won. His return was greeted with accolades, fist bumps and hugs; his sweat dampened my cheek. This was an intimacy earned by showing up so many weeks of the past year, even when it was tough to do so. Or maybe it was simply a moment of grace, given freely, by water and by blood.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Off the Stage, Off the Page

"Over there," the large man said, pointing to the side of the stage. "And tell the guy in the ponytail to stop showing his butt to the crowd. You should always load from the side."

I had asked where to report for my role as plate loader, a position I volunteered for without having had any relevant experience. This was the Arnold Weightlifting Championships, and these were the Olympic lifts: the clean and jerk, the snatch. Bars were flying overhead, and walking in, the most I knew was the ideal position for my behind. I snuck around to the back of the crowd, quickly switched into the free t-shirt, and muscled my way to the stage.

Ponytail man was the first to greet me. "See the screen up there? We match the color and order of the plates to what the judges put up. Sometimes they change it in the middle of our loading, so you have to keep your eyes trained on the screen." He interrupted himself to make a quick trip onstage; as it hadn't seemed right to inaugurate our relationship with discussion of his rear end, I was glad to see he had self-corrected. Oh, and the plates. Yes, I could see what he was saying, though blue looked a lot like gray and white didn't look like white at all.

"If there's blood, roll the bar over to the front and tell the judges," another guy told me, whispering in the blue light spilling off the stage. They were folding me into their process with no question, though I was the only woman there, aside from the first aid lady. But blood and blue/gray and now... the collar. The competition collars, which hold the plates onto the bar, were unlike any I'd ever seen. There was a wrench thingy and a spinning thingy, and both of these had to be thingyed into the correct--and opposite--directions before the next person would be throwing the bar over his or her head. It needed to be right. And I had about ten seconds to learn.

Let's pause there--the bar loaded correctly, no blood yet, Amy offstage questioning colors and collars and panicking just a little. My trip to Columbus, Ohio last weekend had an objective: try something new. And in the first several minutes, I could call that done. After my morning of volunteering, I would wander around the fitness area of the Columbus Expo Center, though that's probably too calm a verb for what looked more like frantic zigzagging between heavily-muscled creatures. Orange ones, too; many men and--were those women?--had spray tanned what they hoped was as symmetrical a body as the festival's namesake, who, yes, would occasionally Terminator his way through the biggest crowd in the history of the festival.

I stopped at the Strongman competitions, which shifted my perspective like plates banging around in a yoke carry. It's humbling to watch women deadlift double what you can once (250x1), but for reps (500x8). And when you watch the 15th man of the day pull 650 ten times, you're like, Yeah, cool, seen it before. Impress me, would you please?

But watching these extreme feats of strength brought more than the wow factor. I learn some by reading, but the knowledge I know best is that gained by doing and observing. There are things I learned by watching the Strongmen that I can't articulate right now, as I took them in by osmosis and they're still deep in the subconscious; but some day, I know, they'll surface in the form of a coaching cue to a client, or a new attempt on my own.

And back to the stage: let's scoot over to the door, duck under the ropes, and head around to the warm up area. That's where I went after determining that five men could load the plates just fine without me. This wasn't rocket science by any means, but I wasn't comfortable learning on the fly and putting someone at risk.

So I made coffee. Refilled Cliff bars. Traveled across the street on an errand through the Hampton. And most importantly, talked to every athlete and coach I could. Careful not to distract from their preparations, I'd chat with those who liked to linger at my table, and ask questions of coaches standing around. When no one came by, I'd watch the athletes practice their form. Step by step they'd walk themselves through their lifts, and I couldn't have asked for a better seat to this thorough tutorial. (Olympic lifts have a very specific technique, and as I don't have access to the proper equipment on a regular basis, my training to this point has been limited mostly to videos, books, and an occasional trip to a friend's garage.)

It got me thinking about how the best learning happens off the page, and in this case, off the stage. I can point to many instances when, at the start of a relationship with a client, I tried the conventional approach expected of a personal trainer. Wanna lose weight? Let's start sweating. That works great for most people, but one client, I noticed, would find excuses not to return. It was only when I threw out what was expected and went with my gut that I got her to come back, and that move will help her hit that goal better than if I stayed in the role of drill sargent. Intuition, based on book learning, wins every time. Even at the Arnold Championships, I would hear coaches, when asked about specific technique like foot placement, say, "Do what feels right for you." Respect for an individual's biomechanics, personality, and state of digestion that day can take both of you pretty far.

I can live without attending the Arnold again--the parking situation alone is enough to keep me away--but I hope to never stop learning. I won't stop volunteering for jobs I know nothing about, and when intuition tells me to move on, you'll find me at the coffee.

After four hours, the original team of loaders was ready to be relieved. They descended on me at the coffee bar, a band of brothers, and with the same urgency that they had delivered the instructions on blood asked if I could take over. With some hesitancy I agreed, and followed them back to the side of the stage.

I sat next to ponytail man, who picked up on my internal dilemma and was gentle. He explained the steps we'd take to get me trained under pressure. First, I'd go up on stage with him a couple of times and watch. Then I'd load by myself while he stood close and made sure I had it right. When we felt I was ready, I'd go on my own.

He stopped and looked at me. By then I had debated technique with Olympians, trash-talked large men, slipped the better protein bars to women who could throw their bodyweight (and more) in bar form overhead. I could learn to work that darn collar, sure, or I could walk through the doors and see what other challenges were to be found. He saw a woman content to move on.

"Nah," he said. "You're good. You go on and have some fun."

I grabbed a cup of coffee and headed out.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Books Read in 2014

No real rhyme or reason here, though some clear categories did arise. I start many more books than I finish. I need more time to finish books. I want to find more books worth finishing. Suggestions? Please. You can see from this list what I tend toward.

Frank Lloyd Wright kick
The kick started with a spontaneous purchase at a thrift store, and evolved into a passion of sorts. By the end of the year, I'd visited three of his houses and claimed his principles as resolutions for the new year. I'm in the middle of three other books about him right now.

Loving Frank, Nancy Horan
Taliesin Diary: A Year With Frank Lloyd Wright, Priscilla Henken
The Women, T. Coraghessan Boyle
Building Taliesin , Ron McCready

Thinking Material
Each in its own way.

Wave, Sonali Deraniyagala.
The Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004 swept away Deraniyagala's husband and two young sons in a matter of minutes. One moment they're in a hotel room; the next, flushed through the city in a torrent. In December I met with a friend who lives in Japan and had helped rebuild after the 2011 wave there. I asked if he worries, if life is especially precious. He said, You just can't think about it.

Living With A Wild God: A Nonbeliever's Search for the Truth About Everything, Barbara Ehrenreich.
Ehrenreich's premise always draws me in--investigating the poor in her Nickel and Dimed, and pinning down the unexplainable here. But her tone turns me off. Her smarts are attractive, but her personality, which cuts through, is not. I wish this weren't the case.

North of Hope, Shannon Huffman Polson
The Sojourn, Andrew Krivak
A Long Retreat, Andrew Krivak
Books I wouldn't have picked up if I hadn't been asked to moderate a panel with the writers on the topic of grief and writing, at the Festival of Faith and Writing, held here at Calvin College. Their insights soaked into my skin, as I wrote here.

The First Phone Call From Heaven, Mitch Albom
I tend to stereotype Albom as a feel-good writer--nothing wrong with that--but this book stuck with me for its exploration of how the simple act of believing can change your circumstances. The validity of the object of your faith does not necessarily matter. Hmmm.

Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice On Love and Life from Dear Sugar, Cheryl Strayed
I assume Strayed is building off her popularity with Wild, and I'm glad. Here she's compiled her writing from The Rumpus as the advice columnist Dear Sugar. Adult material, to be sure, but her insights come from deep understanding and personal experience and are worth hearing out.

The Liar's Wife, Mary Gordon
Bean Trees , Road Kingsolver
The Tortilla Curtain, T. Coraghessan Boyle
These writers paint character and place like few others--place, to me, meaning a vivid atmosphere of feeling and meaning.

Mindless Fluff I Enjoyed
That's not totally fair--these aren't Harlequin romances--but this category, to me, includes books I didn't have to think too hard to enjoy. Not quite candy, but not meat, either. There's a place for such things.

Tapestry of Fortunes, Elizabeth Berg
I See You Everywhere, Julia Glass
Austenland, Shannon Hale
Jennifer, Gwyneth & Me: The Pursuit of Happiness, One Celebrity at a Time, Rachel Bertsche

Dave Eggers Medley
Dave Eggers wrote me a postcard, yes he did. Even without that, I'd be a fan. I stare at his sentences to try to find the magic, but each one is so simple; the power lies instead in the complete coming together, which is devastatingly masterful.

The Circle
What Is The What (second reading)
Your Fathers, Where Are They? And The Prophets, Do They Live Forever?

Alexander McCall Smith (of course)
If he's got a new one, I'm there, except for that 44 Scotland Street series. It's like a new album by a favorite artist; maybe you don't like all the songs, but you're sure as heck going to buy and listen.

The Forever Girl
The Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon
The Handsome Man's Deluxe Cafe

Vacation, Deb Olin Unforth
I know a guy who has to finish any book he starts, and will complain to me about Moby Dick as if he had no choice but to suffer through. I don't do that. But sometimes I will finish books that barely keep me. This was one, but it was so strange I had to see where it went.

One More Thing, BJ Novak
He's funny. I respect his many talents as writer and actor.

Raven Girl, Audrey Niffenegger
I really like her, so I picked up this haunting modern fairytale, which became a ballet at the Royal Opera House.