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, judging by how it's jutting against the inside of my ribcage. The weight: 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.