Showing posts from January, 2011


Sloths sleep most of the day. They eat what's within reach, mostly, and because pickings are slim when you're upside down in a tree, they conserve energy rather than go hunt down more grub. After digesting this vegetation, they wait for a rainstorm to disguise the release of waste products, as any attention by predators would leave them and their limited muscle mass helpless. If a week has gone by dry, they slowly make their way down the tree and dispose of about two pounds of feces, about a fifth of their body weight. Then, they make their way back up to sleep off the journey. Today I helped research and sew a sloth for a shoebox diorama. Yesterday, I received a rejection letter for an essay on zeal. This rejection was passionate, let me tell you. Full of zest. Good thing it was from a Christian publication, or they might have just outrightly said, "You suck. Give it up now." One of the criticisms at my attempt to address zeal was that saying we ought to have fervor


Thursday nights, my ten-year old son does tae kwon do, and I go to boxing. Simon quotes his teacher as saying, "You learn these moves so you never have to use them." I questioned that line of thinking, being the one who pays for the class. Practice something for nothing? Come on. At this point I should quote a martial arts authority on the spirit of the warrior and preserving peace and all that, but as I said, I've got boxing tonight, and that's what's on my mind. In boxing, you hit and get hit. You try not to get hit, but in order to hit, you have to come within range of your opponent, and you will get hit. If you stay away, you'll never accumulate the points needed to win. You practice both offense and defense--how to punch, and how to parry a punch. You have to enter the fight, bring the fight in, and do your best to dominate. When Simon read the family Christmas letter I wrote last month, he turned bright red. I was sure this was due to my mentioning his h

Spare Change

In a recent column, Leonard Pitts writes about Ted Williams , the homeless former announcer who had several days of fame when his golden voice was discovered. After a few days of goodwill and celebrity status, Williams was detained for a violent argument with his daughter. Soon after, he enters rehab. Pitts is not surprised. He writes, You don’t get to where Ted Williams got in his life unless you have some serious, as they say, issues — questions of character, dependency and emotional health. It is naive to believe those things can be fixed — for Williams or anyone who faces similar challenges — in a single lightning strike of overnight sensation. The viewing audience hoped that Williams had been saved from his former life, his slate wiped clean by Jimmy Fallon and hosts of The Today Show. But reality is different from reality TV: what Williams needed was to go slow and steady. This theory of approaching change slowly is reflected in popular diets: cheat days are built in

What We Do With What's Inside

Former middleweight champion Jake LaMotta, in his autobiography Raging Bull , says he was successful in the ring because he didn't care if he was killed. For eleven years he mistakenly believed he had murdered a man in a robbery, and unconfessed, yet guilty, wanting to be punished, LaMotta threw himself into boxing as much to be hurt as to hurt. --Joyce Carol Oates, On Boxing When I first transcribed this quote, I typed "waiting" instead of "wanting to be punished." Oh, I thought, his impending criminal conviction depressed him; knowing what was coming, he lost the will to live. But no: boxing was the conviction, each punch the gavel coming down, and death, if it came, would be the cell he'd never leave. Yesterday, my son told a lie. When called on it, he was immediately repentant, and Greg and I told him we forgave him, people make mistakes, that it was over and done. But all the love we lavished could not erase what clearly tormented him. He buried himself

Activist: The Origin Story

Today is Martin Luther King, Jr, Day, a good day to read my essay over at Burnside Writers Collective . In it, I manage to mention King, Mother Teresa, Batman, and the size of my chest. Go see how it's done.

Opposes/Is Hostile To/Interferes With/ Struggles Against

Currently I'm studying anatomy and Greek tragedy--separately, and independently. (To answer your question: Because I'm like that.) You read the post on Heraclitis, on transformation coming about through war, specifically a fight inside the thing trying to change. Stability is an illusion. An internal opposing faction challenges the status quo until it becomes what it is not. What it is now is, possibly, neutral, and what it becomes is simply different, not necessarily better, or bad. All that is sure is that change is taking place, that the antagonist cannot rest until its efforts are rewarded. There's an antagonist involved in anatomy, as well. The prime mover in a movement is called the agonist--the one that gets top billing in names of exercises. But almost always there's another muscle involved that serves to slow down the movement, and this is the antagonist. This braking protects the joints from unnecessary and potentially harmful stress. Throw a ball, and your t

Parenting: The Remix

Sometimes, I have to wonder. Like today, in the library, when I'm browsing the stacks and come across some parenting book with a title like "The Fragility of Childhood." I wondered, and not for the first time, I'm really messing them up, aren't I? My boys have spent Saturdays watching me stand in line with large tattooed men in order to grunt under a heavy bar. They've attended my plays with real men announcing their real crimes. They listened as I pointed out one of them as a relation to George Foreman, "you know, the guy who fought Ali in Zaire," and knew exactly who I'm talking about. When I first became a mom ten years ago, I read all the books. But it just so happened that my first son didn't go by the book at all--he talked late, he created his own sign language, he refused roleplay and sorted all his belongings by color and place of origin. At some point, I had to ditch the advice and go with my gut. I regret to say it took me several

Beneath the Floorboards

In his song J ohn Wayne Gacy, Jr. , Sufjan Stevens tells the true story of a serial killer who, during the period of 1972 to 1978, dressed as a clown and raped 33 teenage boys before killing them. Stevens' response--"oh my God"--is the only thing left to say. But after all that--"he took off all their clothes for them"--he sings this: But in my best behavior I am really just like him Look beneath the floorboards for the secrets I have hid Your temptation, vice, sin, whatever you call it: it strangles you. Is it illegal? Does it hurt others? Imagine that you were caught. Think if you made a fatal error in judgment and landed in prison. Yesterday, five former prisoners performed a play . Their vulnerability was on display, a sign to all of us to stop before we judge. What was their crime? Was it as bad as Gacy's atrocities? Or your secret?

This Sunday

This Sunday at 6pm, a group of ex-prisoners will present a reading at Church of the Servant here in Grand Rapids, MI. Try to make it if you're in town. I had three meetings with the men. In the first, I asked for their stories. For the second, I wrote a script, which they read and discussed. The last, we went over how to sit, stand, and present the thing. Normally, I'd like more time, but this will come out just fine. The theme given us was hope . Not something easily defined, but for men who spent anywhere from three to 21 years locked up, it's a feeling they know a little about. Mentally, I had grouped this work in the same category as my theatre with homeless people. Certainly, these, too, are people who don't typically get to experience the arts firsthand (though there's quite a movement behind bars to stage plays). But these are men; they don't appear to suffer from the mental instabilities I saw in the women; they've necessarily kicked any substance ab

January's Enthusiasm, continued

The ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus believed that the only sure thing is that nothing stays the same. "No man ever steps in the same river twice," he claimed, "for it's not the same river and he's not the same man. " Change is the constant, and anything appearing otherwise is illusion. But this change comes from within, he seemed to say. The catalyst for change is to be found within the thing itself, fighting it all the way for the transformation that must take place. "War is the mother of all things... all that happens, only happens because there is struggle."

January's Enthusiasm

Yesterday was the first Monday of the year. Yesterday, the treadmills at the gym were in use. All of them. We pride ourselves in our small branch with its cozy, friendly ambience. Everybody knows everybody. No crowds, no wait for equipment. Then comes January. My co-workers just smiled. "It'll be like this 'til beginning of February, maybe the middle," one said. "Then they'll drop like flies." Part of my new job as a wellness coach is to help identify what keeps people motivated. Find something they like, and maybe they'll come in more often. They'll stay healthy. Good deal all around. This time of year, new year's resolutions kick in, and only time will tell which you put a ring on and which just want to be friends. I made a call to a 79-year-old new member the other day. "I'm in the pool Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays," she said. "Oh, so you like to swim," I offered. "Not really," she said, "but I kn

Reflections On An Afternoon At the Mall

Small bras, we will soon learn, hang from the top rack at eye level. Sizes increase as they near the floor, and the most pendulous among us must work for their goods, being careful not to topple as the strains of Josh Groban play with clarity. His near constant vibrato is a bee in the ear while one is squatting low, looking for her size, finding those at floor level to be useful as earmuffs, nothing more. Considering the effort made in the finding of the size, it is only fair that the saleswoman should remain courteous when handling the small bra, refraining from an exclamation one would pronounce when encountering a miniature chihuahua, such as, for example (a phrase out of the blue), "It's so cute !"

The Year In Books

22 in 2010. I'm up two books from last year. These must be non-fiction--just 10 of the 22 are novels. In fact, looks like I read only memoir since August. Could this be true? Some fiction in there was stopped and started, for sure, due either to lack of interest or the library calling. Some favorites from this year: memoir These books deal in extremes, I see now: a car accident, the holocaust, the afterlife, walking a tightrope, getting punched. Even the sweet-spirited Coop , on chickens and child-rearing, has a heart-rending section on the drowning of a young boy. Half A Life , by Darin Strauss The Gloves , by Robert Anasi The Wheel of Life , by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross To Reach The Clouds , by Philippe Petit Coop , by Michael Perry Night , by Elie Wiesel fiction Lately I've been noticing that what novelists do is capture what us ordinary folk think but are unable to express. When you read and say, Ah, yes, exactly , and your soul is stirred, you know it's good fiction. From