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Podcast: Stick and Move

Sarah Deming on The Virtual Memories Show

Virtual Memories – season 4 episode 11 – Stick and Move

“Claressa Shields was the first boxer who showed me that women can be artists in the ring, like men. It was kind of like the first time I read Virginia Woolf.”

Essayist, boxer, novelist, chef and more, Sarah Deming joins The Virtual Memories Show to talk about yoga’s role as a gateway drug into boxing, winning a Golden Gloves tournament, the joys of watching a great fighter, her literary idols, the miracle of Bernard Hopkins’ longevity, and how she found her soul.

“I really like the people who write about boxing with empathy. There’s a lot of subtly disrespectful boxing writing. I think it’s essentially because of the threat the intellectual feels from the athlete, and I think racism underlies it, too.”

We also talk about the spiteful inspiration for her first novel, the thread connecting boxers and adult film stars, the magic in the mundane, and why it’s almost impossible to write something boring about sex or a fight! Give it a listen! (And check out these wonderful essays Sarah wrote about skydiving and vodka-peddling!)

Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes! Related conversations:

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About our Guest

Sarah Deming is the author of the children’s novel Iris, Messenger (Harcourt, 2007) about the Greek gods in suburbia. Her essays have appeared in the Threepenny Review, the Huffington Post, and In 2013, she won a Pushcart Prize and was listed as notable in Best American Essays. Sarah has ghostwritten two erotic novels and assisted on ultramarathoner Scott Jurek’s memoir Eat and Run. She was a writer/researcher for CNBC’s boxing coverage of the 2012 Olympics. Before becoming a writer, Sarah was a Golden Gloves boxing champion, chef, and yoga teacher. She volunteers as a strength/conditioning coach for young boxers at the Atlas Cops & Kids Gym in Brooklyn and teaches yoga at New York Health and Racquet Club.

Credits: This episode’s music is Brainy by The National. The conversation was recorded at Ms. Deming’s home on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones, feeding into a Zoom H4n recorder. The intro and outro were recorded on Blue Yeti USB Microphone. Processing was done in Audacity and Garage Band. Photo of Ms. Deming by me.

10 Years On

10 years ago today, I launched this blog. I was going to write some grandiose post about all that’s gone on during that span, but I think I’ll just celebrate this blogiversary the way they all should be celebrated: sobbing quietly in a corner.


Three years ago today, my pal Sang was found dead in his apartment of a heart attack, at the age of 43. Here’s what I wrote a few days after his death. I think of him every day.

Today’s also the ninth anniversary of the day I met my One True Love. I thank my lucky stars for her every day.

Who Am I? (party monster edition)

I’m the guy who went to a party last night and

And that’s my idea of a good time.

Who Am I?

Apparently, I’m an asshole. (To quote Denis Leary.) Here’s a screencap from my Sitemeter dashboard:

According to the IP address, this search was done by someone in my office. Yay, me!

(And go check out the Virtual Memories Show podcast!)

Years of the Nines

Holy crap, dear readers: today’s the nine-year bloggiversary of Virtual Memories! Congratulate me!

I have absolutely nothing to share with you in relation to this event, because I’m currently working on the next VM podcast! So here’s a pic of me looking suave and debonair or something!

go, big blue.

There ain’t no color in memories

My brother’s house burned down last Sunday. He and his wife and kids got out safely, but the place was a total loss. Their insurance company is saying all the right things, in terms of rebuilding and replacing everything. I mean, inasmuch as you can replace things. A lot of stuff has sentimental value. I can’t imagine that shock of seeing everything go up in flames. On Sunday morning, in the driveway of his home, I spoke with Boaz and he said, “You know how you wonder what you would save if your house was burning down’? Well, it turns out you make sure the kids safe and leave everything else.”

Their community — their congregation, the school where my brother and his wife teach, their neighbors — has mustered an incredible show of support. Here at my office in New Jersey, a thousand miles away (they live in St. Louis), I sent a company-wide e-mail on Monday to ask for donations of clothing and such, to help out the kids (they’re 12, 9, and 11 months). I was out sick Tuesday, but when I got in Wednesday, I discovered EIGHT BAGS of things for the girls, along with a stack of gift cards for Target and the like.

(Self-absorbed aside: I hate being involved in these sort of momentous conversations with people, because I feel like I’m half-assing it when I tell the same story for the 15th time. Or I think that other co-workers might happen to hear me re-telling it and uncover the tricks I employ for faking human emotion when I talk. Also, I might cry when I think about my nieces having to escape from the house without even getting their socks and shoes on, on a cold Sunday morning.

But it’s wonderful that so many people who’ve never even met my brother or his family turned out to help support them during this time. I’m really touched by it, especially because I don’t come from an extended family and have to rely on friends and human kindness in a time of need. I’m sure I’ll say this to them in a way that sounds completely insincere and glib.)

Amy & I are heading out for a visit next week. We’d booked the trip in December, so it’s not like we’re dropping everything to race out there. (Although I think I would have done that, depending on how bad the airlines would gouge us for tickets.) We’ll try to raise the kids’ spirits a little, take ‘em shopping, show ‘em some love, and otherwise try to help the family any way we can.

I’ll write or podcast more about this later. For now, I just advise you to make sure you have couple of fire-escape routes, keep off-site backups of all your important computer files, and maybe put together an emergency pack of important stuff that you can quickly grab on the way out.

For my part, I’m trying to figure out the logistics of getting two panicked 80-lb. greyhounds out of a second floor balcony, if we’re ever caught in that predicament.

To end on a cheerier note, here’s a pic of the greys in question, cuting it up:


Behind the Wire

What I learned in German class today:

  • Seven hours on trains one day after seven hours on a plane is not a recipe for a healthy back.
  • When the pre-sunrise countryside is shrouded in frost and mist, the single trees make the world look like a tilt-shift photo, or a model train set.
  • Stuttgart looks like the grayest place ever.
  • The trains don’t all run on time.
  • I can survive an hour stuck in a town named Ulm.
  • I could probably survive a lot longer in Ravensburg.
  • There’s a youth group or something called Gegen Nazis. Which, it turns out, means “Against Nazis”, but I was freaked out when I saw a teenager stomping down the sidewalk with that on his T-shirt.
  • I figured I would end up in Germany trapped behind a fence, staring up at three tiers of barbed wire, but I didn’t think it would happen in my first full day in country.

Abyss Seein’ Ya

Sorry it’s been so long since I last posted. For what it’s worth, it’s not that I wasn’t writing; I just wasn’t blogging. I’ve been spending some time trying to write a piece of fiction, because I still labor under the weird notion that I’ll be able to craft something more emotionally effective or Important if I do it under the guise of fiction.

It’s really difficult for me, because I’m too respectful of (my version of) The Facts, and also because I tend to make characters who think and react like I do. So I’m trying to get out of that.

Which brings me to Germany. I’m writing this in a cafe of Museum fur Kommunikation in Frankfurt. I’m here for a big pharma conference. Given my family history, I’m not thrilled about being here. I used to tell coworkers & friends that I’d never come here. Why now? Well, business demands it, and I goofed on my coworkers for cutting me out of this event last year, when it was held in Paris, so it wouldn’t be right for me to subsequently blow it off out of personal preference. I mean, it’s not like I’m going to attend a show in Dubai or Saudi Arabia.

But that’s not the only reason I’m here. I wanted to come because I wanted to see what it would do to me. I have no gauge of it right now. I got off the plane a couple of hours ago after an overnight flight, and my room isn’t ready yet, so I’ve just been wandering around the museum district and taking pix. I’m somewhat zonky from the flight, so I haven’t thought too deeply about Germanness. I do find it funny every time I see a word that ends with “fahrt”.

At the end of the week, I’ll visit a pharma facility in Freiburg. My dad says his dad’s family comes from Freiburg. I wonder if part of my ambivalence about this country comes from that idea that it’s part of my heritage. It’s not just nemesis, Mordor, base of evil. It’s in me.

Here’s a sheep with an old telephone for a face:

There are little kids having a birthday party here. Germans are so goddamned strange.

Look in Your Heart

I’m fine, but . . .

I spent nearly 21 hours in an emergency room from Thursday into Friday. For the past three or four weeks, I’ve been experiencing these symptoms occasionally: a fluttering in my heart, a feeling of pressure (not painful) in my chest, or pressing down in my diaphragm, an inability to get a really deep breath, like when you yawn but it’s not quite enough and you need to yawn again. The symptoms rarely occurred while I was out walking the dogs on their two-a-day 1-mile loops around our neighborhood; they were more likely to happen while I was sitting at my desk or driving.

Now, before I get into the wacky and rambling story, I will reiterate: I’m fine. the doctors and nurses did not find anything that could be causing my symptoms, and I plan on going to a cardiologist to get a more in-depth examination and see if it’s anything more than my neuroses run wild.

Now that that’s out of the way, here’s what happened.

I attributed all these symptoms to stress/anxiety from my conference and my magazine. But that ended a week ago, and they kept occurring. So, after shul yesterday (and right after I wrote The Birthday of the World post), I called my doctor to make an appointment and get it checked out. I did not have any severe episodes and there was no dramatic trigger that led me to make this decision. I was simply not feeling right and figured it was best to get this looked at since

  • I’m 40,
  • my dad required a quintuple bypass in his 60s,
  • my brother nearly died from a heart issue a few years ago,
  • one of my best pals dropped dead at 42 of a heart attack (he was a smoker and a diabetic, but still), and
  • one of my pals in Spokane died last March from heart failure (but got better).

Apparently, symptoms like that aren’t the things one goes to a doctor for. His receptionist wigged out and insisted I go to an emergency room right away. I kept telling her that I was not experiencing chest pains, nor the numbness in the arm or shoulder pain or lightheadedness or other symptoms of an impending heart attack. She wouldn’t have any of it, and kept telling me to get to a hospital immediately. She put my doctor on for a second, and he echoed that sentiment. To be fair, I understood where he was coming from; if I’d gone in to his office for an EKG, looked fine, and then dropped dead from a heart ailment a week later, he’d be facing some malpractice-y problems.

After calling my wife to tell her about my symptoms and my doctor call, I drove down to the hospital that treated my dad for his quintuple bypass in 2005. No, I hadn’t told Amy about any of this stuff previously. Mainly because I didn’t consider the symptoms to be very serious, but also for the same reason I didn’t tell anyone else about them: because, just like Shaun’s mum in Shaun of the Dead, “I didn’t want to be a bother.” She wasn’t happy to learn about things so late, but she knows it’s Not About Her and that I really am trying not to be this bad.

I parked in the daily garage and walked to the ER at 1:30 in my Rosh Hashana finery: summer-weight khaki chinos, blue sportcoat, white oxford. Once she heard “chest” in my symptoms, the triage nurse processed me quickly. Early in the process, someone wrote “chest pains” on my file, which may have facilitated my treatment, but was, I repeat, not accurate. I guess “existential void” or “vague unsettledness” weren’t categories in their system.

So I was given a bed, I gowned up, and the wait for treatment began in the carnival sideshow of the ER. I had multiple EKGs and blood-drawings to check out my enzyme levels over time. They set me up for a stress-test set the next morning, which was their way of telling me that I was not leaving the hospital that night.

I had the good fortune of having my laptop with me, since I’d planned on writing for a while after shul on Thursday. The hospital had great wifi service, allowing me to write to my family much more quickly and comprehensively than I would’ve done with my iPhone, and without any funny autocorrects. I hadn’t brought my charger, but the Air has great battery life, and Amy would come by with that stuff later in the evening, if she didn’t get lost trying to find the hospital.

Seeing that I was in for the relatively long haul, I convinced my doctor that a small coffee at 4:30 p.m. would be less deleterious to the results of the stress test than the monster who would be unleashed if I had to go 24 hours without caffeine. (I was smart enough not to have my afternoon coffee before checking in, but once I was in the gown, that kinda precluded my getting up and hitting the coffeeshop in the hospital lobby.) Plus, it was National Coffee Day, and I’d be damned if I didn’t have at least one afternoon dose of the stuff.

I took a picture of the lunch tray and posted it on Facebook, with the caption, “Hospital food: am I right? (#notnecessarilyhavingaheartattack)”. This led to dozens of messages from friends, checking to see what was going on and whether I really should have mentioned a heart attack when one wasn’t taking place. I was touched by the well-wishes and concern.

Left to my own devices, I briefly worried that the tests would find something that would require immediate surgery. And, of course, it would go wrong. I thought about the early morning before my dad’s bypass surgery, when we had a heart-to-heart conversation in his hospital room about how to reset the servers at his girlfriend’s offices. I also thought about Everyman, and how the last thing I wrote would be the post about haras olam and potential vs. being.

But I didn’t dwell on these thoughts too much, in large part because of the craziness of the ER. I was entertained by the old man (dislocated shoulder) to my left, who didn’t have his hearing aids in and was clearly trying to fake his way through any and all conversations.

The bed to my right was empty when I arrived, but was soon occupied by a 60-year-old woman who had cracked her face on a sidewalk. She had no recollection of the accident, had a blood alcohol content high enough that the nurse asked her how much she drinks every morning, wore no underwear and refused to put on a gown so they could take her out to have a CAT scan, declaring, “I’m one Puerto Rican who actually has pride!”, and peed her bed.

Also, after being told that she had multiple facial fractures and bleeding in her brain, she asked what time she’d be able to leave that night.

I give all the staff credit for not laughing, nor contradicting her severely enough to set her off. I’d be terrible at that.

For my part, I was pretty easy with the doctor, nurse and orderlies. I tried not to be very demanding or impatient, and prefaced any requests with, “I know you’ve got a ton to do, but if you have a minute . . .” I grew a little peeved when the wait for a space in the observation ward stretched on for hours, but I dealt with it and just read and wrote for a few hours.

My dad and Amy came around 9:00 p.m. She brought along all the items from the long list of overnight stuff I’d sent her:

  • Laptop charger
  • iPhone charger
  • Kindle
  • Contact lenses
  • Glasses
  • Toothbrush
  • Underwear
  • Socks
  • T-shirt
  • and my copy of The Leopard

and she even decided to pack toothpaste for me, because she’s the best. She took this picture, which got some funny comments on her Facebook page:


They stayed for an hour or so, during which time Dad complained about Michael Jackson’s doctor. This wasn’t quite on the level of sending me plane-crash jokes before one of my flights, but still involved talking about medical incompetence while his son’s in the hospital. And you wonder why I make inappropriate jokes.

Once they left the ER, I asked my nurse again about the timeframe for getting me up to the observation ward. He admitted that it probably wasn’t going to happen, and that I’d be sleeping in the brightly lit, noisy ER overnight.

“If that’s the case, then I’ll need some Xanax or Ambien. And some gin.”

“We can get you the Xanax or Ambien. What’s your poison?”

The P(ee)R lady got moved out after a second CAT scan to determine if she had an aneurysm that led to the fall, as opposed to the fall causing the intracranial bleeding. They moved in an older black lady who had lost most of her eyesight pretty rapidly. The doctors were trying to discern whether it was a visual migraine or a variety of stroke that had an awesome name I’m forgetting now. I felt like it was an episode of House, except for when the lady’s husband asked, “So she has to stay overnight? That means we can leave her here?” and split.

I lay back on the bed that I’d spent 10 hours on (minus a couple of pee-breaks, for which I had to disconnect three separate sets of wires and tubes) and finished reading The Leopard, which remains fantastic and which I’m mad you haven’t read yet.

Around 11:30, a new nurse brought me a 0.5 dose of Xanax, and I tried to sleep. It turned out to be impossible, from the light, the noise, and the fact that my blood-pressure cuff was set to take a reading every 15 minutes. I asked them to reset it for hourly readings, but the nurse decided it needed to stay at 15. So the few times I started to drift off, I was woken by a loud pumping noise and a constriction on my arm. Joy.

Around 1:45 a.m., the nurse decided to move me to another room nearby, an expasion of the ER, “because it’s quieter.”

Except when you’re put next to an 86-year old German woman who’s losing her mind and keeps insisting to the hospital aide that they call her husband right away. I covered my eyes and ears with the T-shirt Amy brought and tried to ignore her, but the aide decided that engaging her in conversation would help mellow her out. It didn’t, but I noticed that the aide only spoke to her in very limited questions that probably would have gotten him nailed as a chatbot if someone had transcribed the conversation and submitted it to a Turing panel. Which is kinda sad, considering the other person in the conversation likely had Alzheimer’s.

Anyway, I managed about half an hour of sleep, which I felt might wreak havoc on the stress-test, but I figured they account for that.

With the morning, I had a really great nurse, who turned out to live in my town. She told me that, due to HIPAA regs, she’d pretend not to know me if we bumped into each other at the farmer’s market or Stop & Shop. I told her that, because of lack of sleep and caffeine, I might not remember anything from this whole experience.

She was good and straightforward about the potential delays with getting me upstairs for a stress-test, but contended that if it went well, they’d be able to discharge me right away. A slot opened up for the exam pretty quickly, so I was shuttled upstairs with all my stuff. On the ride through the ER, I had to remind myself, “Never look to the sides.” I’m very visually inquisitive, even if that doesn’t come out in my descriptions of settings, but looking into someone’s room/space is real no-no. All those faces: pain, puzzlement, anger, impatience, pleading, dying. You can’t intrude on them like that, in those moments. Or maybe I’m just too sensitive to other people’s suffering.

Anyway, up in the room for the stress test, a tech who looked like a skanky, young Marisa Tomei shaved part of my chest, hooked up some electrodes, and told me about a Hasidic father of two who was hitting on her a few weeks ago.

Soon after, another tech and the doctor arrived. Tech #2 performed a sonogram of my heart (they keep the gel cold for guys, too), and then I got on the treadmill. I found the pace and incline ridiculously easy, and the doctor noticed that I was barely increasing my heart rate.

I told her, “I walk my dogs on 1-mile loops up and down hills twice a day, so this is pretty mild.”

She asked what sort of dogs I had, and when I told her about Ru & Otis, she was happy to find out that they were rescues. She went on to (slightly tearfully) tell me about the pregnant dog she rescued from Jamaica after a trip there in 2007. It involved all manner of machinations, and the dog gave birth to a litter of seven a mere 2 hours after landing in the U.S., but she got five of the pups adopted out and has kept two and their mom ever since. After the exam, we got our phones out and showed off doggie pictures.

The exam itself went fine. They got me to break a slight sweat eventually, then had me lie down for another sonogram. Neither that tech nor the doctor noticed anything awry. In a worst-case scenario, they’d have had to send me for an angiogram immediately. I thought back to Dad’s experience with that, when a doctor walked out of the examination to tell me and Dad’s girlfriend, “He has 100% occlusion in three major arteries, so he’s going to need bypass surgery immediately. Have a good day!”

All I got was, “You’re all good! We’ll send you downstairs and get your discharge papers going,” from Marisa. My symptoms were still coming and going, but the tests I’d undergone — multiple EKGs, blood work and a stress test — showed no signs of danger. I waited back in the ER for an hour to get processed and go.

During that time, an orderly brought me my breakfast tray. It had a small cup of oatmeal so hot that it threatened to combust, a cup of decent coffee, some juice and milk (“I only drink three things: water, black coffee and gin”), a piece of bread, and a big plate with a thermal dome over it. I figured there’d be some good breakfast under the lid; I took it off to discover . . . one scrambled egg. I ate it in three bites, drank the coffee, and left the rest.

And then I was done. My cool nurse reiterated that I need to find a cardiologist (she’s barred from making recommendations) and might be told that I have to cut out coffee. I mean, I think she said that. I was too busy covering my ears and going, “LALALAICAN’THEARYOU.”

Outside the building, walking back to my car, I realized how disoriented I was from the lack of sleep and the overall strain of the past 21 hours. It didn’t stop me from driving a 3,000-lb. car along busy NJ highways, but at least I was aware of my impairment.

So now I’m home with a glass of red wine, my laptop, my doggies, a rained-out Yankees game, and a wife who deserves to know more about the little things that I keep inside. Even though I don’t want to be a bother.


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