Thursday, April 17, 2008

Old Favorite From November 2007

Mother won’t let epilepsy take over her son’s life
by Amy L. Cornell Community columnist |
November 8, 2007

My My son, before an epileptic seizure, receives an aura. An aura is a feeling or a premonition that a seizure is about to begin. My son’s auras take many forms: Usually a sensation washes over him, but he has also talked of a taste or a smell.

Once when I pressed him to describe what was happening in his head when he had a seizure, he said, “Sometimes, I hear them coming.” I want to know what sound he hears, but he cannot describe it to me.

If only I could share his experience and hear the seizure coming myself, I could help him by describing it for him. Naming the aura might help him master these charges which take over his whole mind and body. I read somewhere that an aura is simply the brain creating a hallucination. People with epilepsy learn to heed these warnings as if they were smoke alarms alerting them to fire in an unseen place.

When a seizure begins, his left arm bends at the elbow and he makes a kind of half backwards fist with his left hand, which stays at about shoulder level. His head and eyeballs twitch and slowly turn left as well. He often loses muscle tone and falls to the floor. The seizures last 10, 20, 30 eternal seconds. Sometimes it feels as if I am watching them in slow motion on a television screen.

Auras have brought a message of imminent seizure to my son as many as five times a day. He’s had them in school, in his sleep, at summer camp, at the dinner table, on the playground. I often think they frighten those of us around him more than they frighten him. My son has no memory of them when they are over. He often needs to take a nap.

If I am lucky enough to be near him while he is having a seizure, I talk to him. He can sometimes respond with a word or two, but he cannot control the leftward twitching. I tell him I love him, and I hold his hand through his seizures. I want him to be aware of me even though he has entered this other world. If his young misfiring brain is filled with nightmares and demons, I want him to hear one friendly voice. If he is scared in there, I want him to know I am out here holding his hand and waiting for him to come back. I am the trail of breadcrumbs.

Once upon a time, people were put in asylums or colonies when they had epilepsy. At another point in time, seizures were thought to exist in the minds of the prophet, the one who could predict the future.

Medieval churches believed people with epilepsy were possessed by demons. Napoleon, Van Gogh, Socrates: Artists, thinkers, leaders all had auras and went into this other realm.

Epilepsy is a peculiar malady, one which stops my heart every time my boy rides a bike or gets in a swimming pool. I am determined though, to allow him to live as normal a boy’s life as possible. One doctor told me, “You can’t let the disease rule your life.”

My son wears a helmet when he rides. He is always closely guarded while he is in the pool. When he turns 16, he may have trouble getting a driver’s license, if he is able to get one at all.

I am happy to report that with advances in pharmaceutical science and the diligence of an excellent pediatric neurologist, my son has been seizure-free for five months. In honor of Epilepsy Awareness Month, November, I wanted to share this small miracle.

Amy Cornell’s column appears every other Thursday in The Herald-Times. You can reach her at

Monday, April 14, 2008

Last Column April 10, 2008

Collecting unwanted items better than finding them on roadside

Amy L. Cornell Community columnist |
April 10, 2008

I spent last Saturday at the Monroe County Fairgrounds volunteering for the Monroe County Solid Waste Management District’s bulky item drop off day. In addition to enjoying the sun and answering questions as people arrived with trucks and cars loaded down, I got an excellent education on what goes into our landfills besides household trash. The district encourages people to donate items to organizations that reuse and resell them, but also offers this means of getting rid of unwanted large items.

Of all the thousands of items I saw brought into the dump site on Saturday, what amazed me most was the quantity of mattresses. I tried to figure out if there was a sensible way to reuse or recycle mattresses and could not.

A friend who volunteered thought he might have been able to start a couple of laundromats and lawn mowing services with the number of washing machines and lawn cutting devices he saw tossed. Another friend said that what struck him was the number of grills and toilets being thrown away.

No matter what, it was a humbling experience to watch so many consumer items get thrown into the dump and know that scenes like this are replicated everywhere in the U.S. Big items that with a little repair work or reupholstering could be used by someone else are thrown away every day and in every city. I threw away a broken dehumidifier.

My husband, who is knowledgeable about solid waste management issues, told me that if the district did not offer this bulky item drop off day, these items would end up thrown out of trucks on the side of the road or piling up in people’s yards.

It is better for the county to offer a safe and effective means of disposal even if it means the sad reality of watching hundreds of dumpsters full of furniture and construction waste and appliances being hauled off to the landfill.

Many people with trucks full of items turned around when they saw the long line to get to the dumpsters. A few people were stopped at 4:05 p.m. when they shut the gate and would not accept any more items.

As I drove home down my familiar stretch of Ind. 45, I could not help but notice a huge mattress, discarded by the side of the road, that had not been there that morning.

A personal note

Because this is my last community column, I wanted to say a few words of thanks to Bob Zaltsberg and The Herald-Times for giving me this unique forum. Thanks also to the many members of this community who wrote me, commented on-line, met with me or stopped me on the street to talk about a column. This bi-weekly essay has afforded me a unique opportunity to participate in a conversation with neighbors and fellow citizens that has been invaluable.

Special notes of thanks to my circle of friends: Alice, John, Nicole, Dimitri, Kim, Keith, Ellie, Vance and Mary, all of whom let me take over many dinner conversations while mining for ideas for this article. They all offered valuable editing and community expertise.

Many thanks also go to Beth and fellow writers from Women Writing for (a) Change-Bloomington. I have also written much in the company of the incarcerated women of the Monroe County Corrections Center who may one day be telling their unique stories in this forum.

Thanks to my co-workers in the Department of Communication and Culture who encouraged me and to the teachers at University Elementary School who said kind words and invited me into their classrooms.

Above all, thanks to my parents, Richard and Janet, and my sister-in-law Anoopa who read this column without fail every two weeks, and my son, who will hopefully not rebel when he grows up and begins to understand that I have been writing about him.

Last, but never least, nothing ever went to the H-T without a conversation with Geoff, my husband and best friend in this crazy life.

You can reach Amy Cornell at

Thursday, March 27, 2008

March 27, 2008

Dedicated multitasker vows to hang up while driving

by Amy L. Cornell Community columnist |
March 27, 2008

A carmaker recently ran an advertisement that touted the benefits of single-tasking. I read the ad twice. I had to think about it: single-tasking. What is single-tasking?

The car maker was encouraging consumers to once again enjoy the pleasure of driving with two hands on the steering wheel and a foot on the floor. A subtle reminder to stop doing all the extra things we do while driving, notably talking on the phone. I, like many of us, am guilty of multi-tasking while driving around town.

No one single-tasks too much any more: We drive; we talk; we e-mail; we watch TV; we cook; we talk on the phone. I often return e-mails while waiting for someone to pick up the phone. I try to squeeze as much meaningful activity into my waking hours as I can. I use drive-through services whenever possible. I avoid lines in grocery stores at all costs, and yes, I use my cell phone while driving.

I remember when we brought our new baby home from the hospital 10 years ago. We installed a car seat and strapped him in carefully; he seemed so new and fragile.

My husband and I took a vow to protect this lovely human at all costs. My husband made a proclamation that we would never use cell phones while driving. I readily agreed.

Then we got used to him. We felt comfortable loading him in and out of the car. Our baby gained strength, and the proclamation faded away. Using a cell phone while driving a car became a habit that for busy mothers and fathers is difficult to break.

The other day, as I was driving somewhere in town and using my phone, a man drove across my path, and as he was driving, turned to face me and was obviously yelling at me.

The windows were closed, but by the look on his face, he was angry and yelling obscenities. There was no mistaking that I was the object of his wrath, and in the five seconds that we shared together, about the only thing I could decide that I had done wrong was use my phone.

That sort of vitriolic anger while driving is probably not the safest way to drive either by the way, but I took his emotion to heart.

According to the Web site Drive and Stay Alive (, the Harvard University Center for Risk Analysis estimates that there are as many as 1.5 million crashes annually in the United States leading to 560,000 injuries and 2,600 deaths because of phone use in moving vehicles.

I am like many of you. I am a working parent who has much to do. One of the easiest ways for me to multitask is to pull out my cell phone on my way home from work and order dinner, return a friend’s phone call or call a repair service. I have confused appropriate times for multitasking and single-tasking. Driving should be a single-task.

So, to the angry man in the roundabout outside Renwick, and to my son who is now 10 years old and needs a better example set, and to my fellow community members who must drive on the roads with me every day, I am going to challenge myself to hang up my cell phone and focus on the task at hand — driving.

If you are a cell-phone user who has already made this decision and stuck to it, I applaud you.

If you are a cell-phone user, and like me, you routinely multitask by using your phone while driving, I would like to encourage you to join me in this project of learning how to single-task while driving.

Let’s try to make the roads in Monroe County safer without having to pass legislation to do it.

Amy Cornell’s column appears every other Thursday in The Herald-Times. You can reach her at

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Old Favorite From April 2007

Birthdays come and go, and so, sadly, do some friendships

by Amy L. Cornell Community columnist |
April 12, 2007

In college, my roommate and I shared the same birth month. Every year, as the calendar flipped from March to April, we began to plan the events that marked our collective birthday. We had parties for each other. We took out ads in the college daily, made banners to hang on the main campus sidewalk, arranged special dates for each other and made gifts. We went into the city for improv and out to dance clubs. We invited everyone we knew into our dorm room for gin and tonics. We reveled in our celebratory month. No birthday celebration before or after those giddy days in college would ever be the same.

Though I still celebrate birthdays, I no longer celebrate them with the intensity I did back then. The remembrance is bittersweet because my roommate and I — who sustained each other through exams and breakups and crushes and hangovers — ended our friendship several years after college. Like a bad marriage where every day ends in fighting, we also seemed to spend a lot of time being unhappy with each other.

Years after the ink was dry on the divorce decree of our friendship, I still don’t really understand what happened. It occurred to me as I flipped the calendar this month that I have not been friends with this person for longer than we were actually friends; yet because we were friends at a critical time, my memories of our coming of age together influence much of what I say and do, even 20 years later.

I recently read a novel where the main character ended a lifelong friendship because the friend did something truly despicable to her. Books nowadays have linked Web sites so you can interact with the author, and when you log on to the Web site for this novel, there is space to write about the true friend you made and lost. I read these stories for hours one afternoon. I discovered losing deep friendship is a universal experience.

Of course my college roommate is not the only friendship I have lost. There are dozens more people that I have known for brief periods of time that have left my life; most of those fall under the heading of “losing touch.” As everyone eventually discovers, there is not enough time in our lives to nurture every friendship, remember every birthday and still cook a nice dinner for our family. Losing touch and ending relationships is something that we all must do again and again.

Dear Abby used to write about an annual “mending fences day” in which she urged readers to pick up the phone and try to make amends with estranged friends and family. I have tried to do that once or twice with my old roommate, but the friendship has gone so long in need of maintenance that it is beyond repair. I gracefully accept that this relationship is over.

I am grateful, of course, for my many friends in Bloomington and beyond. I have a rich array of witty, caring, talented friends I am lucky to know and count as part of my extended family. I still have college mates I see now and again and with whom I exchange e-mails and phone calls. Birthdays are usually happy days spent in the company of my family and friends. The weather is generally good by April, and I can enjoy a bike ride or a tea party, but there is always this loose thread of longing running through the month. As much as I needed to end that friendship, I still miss her very much.

So join me, will you? Pull up a chair and have a gin and tonic and toast to friendships gone by. And wherever you are in this world, old roommate, know that I am thinking of you as our birthday month drifts by.

Amy Cornell’s column appears every other Thursday in The Herald-Times. You can reach her at

Thursday, March 13, 2008

March 13, 2008

Anniversary of war recalls reason not to celebrate

by Amy L. Cornell Community columnist |
March 13, 2008

March of 2003. I am in my hometown in Ohio for spring vacation, and I am in a loud neighborhood pub where I sit at the bar and become riveted by the five televisions blaring Fox News for the world to see. It is a big news day. You see, the USA is about to invade the sovereign nation of Iraq.

The bar celebrates the occasion. A handwritten sign behind the bar says free beer for anyone wearing a military uniform. The crowd is drawn to the televisions full of live action and up-to-the minute reporting. It’s hard to decide just which iteration of Fox News to watch. The garish graphics help promote the circus-like atmosphere in this bar. As Fox News announces that it is one more hour until the invasion, the crowd lifts their glasses for a cheer. Is it my imagination or did someone just brag about going and getting some “towel heads”? My head swivels back and forth between old friends in the bar and all the television screens. I am sure what I am witnessing is somehow an optical illusion. If I could just look at it properly, it would seem not so much like the carnival that it is.

I suddenly feel ill. I look backwards over my shoulder at the door wishing I could leave. I keep my anti-war opinions to myself here in this hometown of mine.

I overhear someone say, “He can’t wait until his unit is called up and he can go over there and get started.”

“Thirty minutes till invasion,” the news announcer says, “and the tanks are starting to roll.” I feel like they are rolling down the street outside this bar.

My eyes are fixated on the screens. Like a bad traffic accident, I can’t look away. The words and images are becoming jumbled in my head. Are we really sending people to war while a bar cheers? If news in this format had been around after the invasion of Pearl Harbor would this scene have happened?

I have broken into a cold sweat. I can think of absolutely nothing to say to my friends who I once knew so well. I can only look at them and then watch the alert banner which says “20 minutes till invasion” reflect in their eyeglasses.

I excuse myself and go into the bathroom and throw up. I look at myself in the mirror for a long time. This is my home I say to myself, and these are my friends. I am still somehow a part of the sour beer and the drums beating on Fox News and the buzz of patrons cheering and whispering about victory. I shudder a bit as I rinse off my face.

Back at the bar, I watch the embedded journalists describe every thought and feeling as the guns and bombs begin to fly. I debate whether to bolt and run — back to the safety of my car and my new hometown in the hills of southern Indiana. I realize sadly that this is not the only bar in the U.S. where this exact scene is playing.

Like we all remember where we were when those planes hit the World Trade Center, I will always remember where I was the night the U.S. invaded Iraq.

March 19, 2008, will mark the fifth anniversary of the Iraq invasion. May we all be mindful of our neighbors, friends and family serving the USA in the armed forces and of their families who wait for them at home. May this war and the occupation come to a swift conclusion, and may the Iraqi people know peace as well.

Amy Cornell’s column appears every other Thursday in The Herald-Times. You can reach her at

Monday, March 10, 2008

OLD FAVORITE From March 2007

Homeland insecurities rise like a kite on National Mall

by Amy L. CornellCommunity columnist |
March 29, 2007

Last spring break, my family took a trip to Washington, D.C. The post 9-11 ethos of our nation’s capitol alarmed us a bit. Park police, capitol police, armed guards with big shiny badges and holsters make up the new population of D.C.

If you enter a building anywhere on the National Mall, you are searched, wanded, metal-detected and patted down. Nail-clippers, keys, loose change and in one case a Yu-Gi-Oh key chain were checked at the door. Tour guides issued long lists of forbidden actions followed by stern warnings of imprisonment and fines for the disobedient. Our nation has a meaner, nastier capital city. All of us T-shirt-clad, camera-wielding, snack-carrying, kid-herding visitors constantly balanced coats and backpacks and cell phones to make sure we weren’t acting like terrorists in the city.

One sunny, windy day, I carried a kite with us to the National Mall. I hoped flying a kite on the most famous stretch of green space in the country would be something the kids would always remember. I led them out onto the grass and they gathered around me to break the wind and watch as I assembled the kite.

“This can’t be legal.” My husband Geoff’s voice is stern. “This can’t be allowed. Look around you. Don’t even try this.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” I said. “How can kite flying be illegal?”

“You know it will pose some kind of threat to someone,” he said. “This isn’t the beach. This is Washington, D.C. We shouldn’t take any chances. Especially not with kids around.”

Could this be true? Could we be the evening’s headline on CNN? Hoosier woman sent to Guantanamo for flying a kite on the nation’s mall.

I teased him, “You really think that flying a kite on the mall of the nation’s capital is illegal? I’d like to see someone stop me.”

Our son spoke, “Mom, we want to fly the kite.”

“Of course, we are going to fly the kite, honey. It’s not illegal to fly a kite,” I said, as a mother says to children. But in the back of my mind I think, “Or is it?”

The kids and I took the kite out to a grassy patch of mall, and Geoff endured some minutes of me showing the kids how to launch a kite.

“Let some string out,” I yelled over the rushing wind and laughter.

As the kids got the hang of it and the kite climbed higher into the sky Geoff admonished, “Not too high. Not too much string.” The kids listened and kept the kite low. Consequently, the kite crashed to the ground again and again.

Geoff paced and frowned. The sun and the playful kids and the fact the armed guards had not gunned us down did not warm his heart. “Pull it in, pull it in,” he said, again and again. “You’ll hit someone.”

Finally, my husband could endure no more, and dragged the kids away to see the Declaration of Independence at the National Archive. I was alone at last with the kite, which I allowed to sail as high as it would go. My purple kite against the blue sky and the Capitol building made a lifetime memory for me.

Tourists pointed. A father with a baby said to me as I passed his way, “My baby loves your kite.” Two young men stopped to watch and take pictures of me.

Finally, the wind changed direction and yanked my beautiful kite out of the sky. She fell hard and quick, and like a balloon losing its air, picked a man walking on the path around the mall and hit him on the head. I am happy to report to you that I did not get arrested that day.

Amy Cornell’s column appears every other Thursday in The Herald-Times. You can reach her at

Thursday, February 28, 2008

February 28, 2008

Professor extended learning from lecture hall to dining hall
Amy L. CornellCommunity columnist |
February 28, 2008

I received the news a few weeks ago of the death of an old friend and a favorite IU professor, Irving Katz. I am sad that generations of IU students will not get the pleasure of learning from this amazing man.

I met him because he sat on a search committee for a position that brought me back to IU after a few years away. I started my new job, and we agreed to have lunch every Friday in the residence dining halls where I worked.

Every week, we talked history, politics, current events and family. He loved to tell me stories of his class and how he taught freshmen to behave in a large lecture. He made them put newspapers and earphones away. He made fun of the kids who fell asleep by whispering and pointing them out to the other students. He talked often of his young life growing up on the lower east side of Manhattan, a poor Jewish kid whose parents left Poland before the Nazis rounded them up. Irving often reflected sadly that the rest of his family was killed in concentration camps in Europe during the war.

Irving appreciated undergraduate students in a way many professors at a research institution do not. At every lunch, Irving loved holding court with his students. He used the question, “Do you know what your last name means?” as an ice breaker with the residents who gathered around us, and it worked every time. He understood a lot of languages so he could often guess at the derivation of a surname.

The most amazing part of this name game was that if he did not know where a student’s name came from, he would remember to look it up in the Dictionary of Surnames in his office. The following week, when he came to lunch, he would have the meaning of that name scribbled on a piece of paper. He never forgot to follow up with a student to whom he made a promise.

In addition to his weekly meals with me, he dined regularly with the women of Forest Quad. He was known around Forest as a “Forest Friend,” a faculty member who allied himself with a floor in a residence hall. During meals, he showed students the side of a professor that wasn’t all about research and teaching. Professor Katz enjoyed the cafeteria cuisine and loved schmoozing with students. He gave students advice and offered opinions on everything from politics to fashion.

He took the women from Forest to the IU Opera. He was a donor to the IU School of Music, and as such, was allowed to sit for free in the third balcony of the Musical Arts Center during opera dress rehearsals.

According to the rules of the MAC, he was allowed to attend for free with family members. He dutifully showed up at the door to the balcony of the MAC for every dress rehearsal with as many as 20 freshman women in tow. He stated to the ushers, “these are all my nieces.”

Irving probably introduced more freshmen to IU Opera than anyone else. He loved the opera, and was happy to share his passion with students who had never seen it before.

I believe Irving is sitting at the Great Dining Hall now. He is enjoying his cafeteria roast chicken and mashed potatoes and green beans.

I can see the twinkle in his eye as he admonishes a student for answering his question with another question. He tells another student about the greatest paper in the world, the New York Times. As he was a lifelong Democrat, I hear him predicting who he thinks will win the Democratic nomination. He is telling one wide-eyed freshman about the story of “The Marriage of Figaro” in anticipation of an evening trip to the opera.

Wherever you are in the cosmos dear Irving, I hope we can dine again together someday. I miss you.

Amy Cornell’s column app ears every other Thursday in The Herald-Times. You can reach her at

Thursday, February 14, 2008

February 14, 2008

Ten years of raising child brings insight and revelation

by Amy Cornell Community columnist |
February 14, 2008

Print-friendly My husband and I celebrate an auspicious anniversary in a few days. This Sunday, we mark 10 years of raising a child on this planet. Ten years ago, they wheeled my very pregnant body into an operating room and pulled my unsuspecting child out of my belly. He wailed, and I promptly fell asleep for 24 hours.

I have acquired a store of insight on parenting, and in honor of keeping my son alive and more or less happy for these 10 years, I thought I would share with you some highlights and wisdom.

Mom’s proudest moment: Potty training. Hands down, the memory of the day the kid learned to pull down his pants and use the toilet still makes me smile.

Dad’s proudest moment: Teaching him to ride a two-wheeled bike.

Best reason to remove TV privileges: For all his skill at using the toilet, he has not mastered the art of putting the seat up and down to accommodate female users.

Hardest habit to break: I tiptoe into my son’s bedroom every night to check on him. I place my ear close to his nose to make sure he is still breathing. I cannot stop doing this.

Worst method of discipline: Throwing a glass of cold water in your toddler’s face to get him to shut up. (Don’t try it. It doesn’t work.)

Most insane behavior-tracking device at our cooperative daycare: The biting chart.

Best metaphorical invention: Mommy Jail. I invented Mommy Jail to explain everything to him that was too complicated to do otherwise. It works like this:

“Mommy, why can’t I ride on the roof of the car?”

I reply, “If I let you do that I would get sent to Mommy Jail.”

Primary reason he is going to military school when he hits puberty:

I say, “Put your coat on; it’s time to leave for school.”

He ignores me for a game he is playing in his cereal bowl.

I say, “Put your coat on; it’s time to leave for school.”

He watches the cereal bowl Olympics.

I say, with a little more volume, “Put your coat on; it’s time to leave for school.”

The bowl fascinates him.


He looks up at me calmly and says, “OK, you don’t have to yell.”

Person who is going to hell: The person who invented Po-Ke-Mon cards. As far as I can tell, there are no logical rules to this game and each set of cards sets you back further then baseball cards ever did.

Enough is enough: Cartoon movies. I hope to never see another animated frog family or talking carrot.

Best reason to reconsider purchasing a Wii: Dollar for dollar, the kid got more enjoyment out of big rolls of scotch tape and cardboard tubes from empty wrapping paper rolls.

Best family dinner ritual: Highs and lows. We all go around the table and say the best and worst parts of our day.

Worst family dinner ritual: My son says, “Mom, what’s for dinner?”

I say, “Chicken.”

My son says, “I hate chicken. I don’t want chicken.”

We have this same conversation no matter what I tell him I am making for dinner.

Most embarrassing moment: An African-American friend who came over to babysit happens to be a large and tall man. When he arrived, my son greeted him with this question, “Hey, do you want to watch Fat Albert with me?”

To the best of my knowledge, my husband and I have never forgotten to pick him up from anywhere or left him alone in a car while we watched a movie.

We’ve managed to feed him, bathe him and get him to sleep every day for 3,652 days. If that’s not cause for celebration, I don’t know what is.

Amy Cornell’s column appears every other Thursday in The Herald-Times. You can reach her at

Thursday, January 31, 2008

January 31, 2008

Finally, a church for people ready to embrace their flaws
Amy L. Cornell Community columnist |
January 31, 2008

“But my face is a gift, because my shadow side is on the outside where I have had to learn to deal with it. I know that other people are inspired by the simple fact I have learned to deal with it and that I accept myself.”
From “The Church of 80% Sincerity,” by David Roche
I was born with a spastic muscle in my right leg. I have always been rather unclear about what this means, but it was told to me often as a child, and so it became truth. When I was 7 years old, a doctor cut the tendon in my heel to end the spasticity. The operation put me in a cast for six weeks and then a leg brace for a few years. Because of this, I have always walked with a peculiar gait.
As one might imagine, my unusual walk was really only torturous during my middle school years when teenagers can’t seem to do anything but be cruel to each other. Life got easier in high school, and by college, the attention paid to my funny way of walking had been reduced to polite inquiries about why I limp.
My leg is my story. I carry it with me every day. I try to avoid telling it, but sometimes I have to. Just today, my exercise instructor came up to me before class started and asked if I was OK. When I explained that’s just the way I walk, she backed away — a tad embarrassed for asking.
I recently had the opportunity to hear motivational speaker, performance artist and one-time resident of Bloomington David Roche speak. Born with a grotesque facial deformity, Mr. Roche has had to wear his story quite literally on his face for his entire life. When in his 40s he uncovered the ability to tell the tale of his face with grace and humor, he started a one-man show called “The Church of 80% Sincerity.” On Feb. 5, Penguin books will publish his memoir titled the same.
I don’t believe in competitive suffering, but one must admit that one of the obvious flaws of the human race is that all lives are not created equal. Some of us are rich and some are poor. Some are born with disease or mental illness. Others are dealt cruel blows by random accidents, poverty or missing parents. So as I remember making my way through my teen years, getting tripped in the hall at school or being picked last for every team, I imagine what it would be like to hold your deformity like a bright neon billboard at the center of your person.
Everyone sees David’s grotesque face first and must approach him through this very real deformity. The limps of this world seem hardly noticeable. David is unable to hide from his flaws, and so, as the epigraph of this column states, he has been given an incredible gift.
For interested readers, I don’t want to spoil what I think may be one of the more profound personal narratives of the year. The memoir is not necessarily told in a linear fashion, but rather in a manner of statements of faith of the Church of 80% Sincerity. David writes of the roles that miracles, cruelties, unconditional love and prayer have played in his life, which has always been painfully examined.
According to David’s memoir, the Church of 80% Sincerity is the first post-modern church. “We have no ideals. We do not try to change people by having them conform to an ideal. We try to accept people as they are. We adjust our beliefs and practices to conform to the ideal of being human.”
It is the church for all of us defective people, both the ones who continually need to explain themselves because they wear their flaws in their size 11 shoes and, even more importantly, the ones who don’t need to explain themselves because their flaws are hidden somewhere inside.
Amy Cornell’s column appears every other Thursday in The Herald-Times. You can reach her at

Friday, January 18, 2008

January 17, 2008

Global warming has implications for backyard gardeners

by Amy L. Cornell Community columnist |
January 17, 2008

The invitation looked like a thermometer soaring to tropical temperatures. It read, “You are invited to ZONE 6 party!” Was it a welcome to a trendy new Bloomington club? No. Was it a fraternity drinking ritual? No. Would you believe it is an invitation to a party to explore new gardening possibilities — a make-the-best-of-warmer-temps upside to the future with global climate change?

The host, John G, who calls himself an urban homesteader, understands that the conditions under which he gardens are rapidly changing. Crops which formerly would not have been able to withstand the climate in Indiana are now considered at home. Since 1990, our hardiness zone here in south central Indiana has shifted from that of a zone 5 to a zone 6.

A hardiness zone is a geographic location which is capable of supporting certain plant life based on the ability to withstand extremes of low temperature. Any gardener in any zone naturally comes to know what plants will thrive and what plants will die when cultivated outdoors in his/her hardiness zone.

The invitation to this party was this gardener’s recognition of the change in parameters under which he has been growing his garden for the past few years.

I asked him what one brings to a zone 6 party. “Perhaps ideas,” he says. He is looking for new cultivars to try in his backyard garden. He has his eye on this latest nutritional fad — the pomegranate.

All over the country, farmers and gardeners are rethinking what they can and cannot grow in their patch of the sun, given new temperatures and changes in climate.

As I began to look for more information on hardiness zone changes, I found two interesting sources. At, I found an animated map that shows in which hardiness zone Bloomington was way back in 1990 and in which zone it resides now. If you click the image, it shows the trend over 18 years time. It’s a little unsettling to see the bands of orange move higher and higher.

The other source was the USDA and the National Arboretum Web site. The USDA has useful information up about planting and gardening. Their zone map is a 2003 version of the 1990 hardiness map. What is more frightening than bands of orange moving north on the Arbor Day map is that apparently there is no mention or discussion of any of the changes that have been happening to the climate over the past 18 years on the National Arboretum Web site. Does the U.S. government acknowledge the change in growing zones? I know I have noticed the change in temperatures.

When I was a kid in Ohio, snow stayed on the ground from about the first of December to the first of March. I would never have gone to school without a coat in January as my son often does now. My crocuses have been coming up in December.

I’ll admit my perusal of relevant government Web sites was sketchy, but if you know of a source that demonstrates the U.S. government’s acknowledgement that hardiness zones or even temperatures are changing, I would love to see it.

John G wants to grow pomegranates here in Indiana. He might try olives, too. Kiwi, he says, has been done so he is not as interested in that, but he wants to have a zone 6 party so that people realize that growing conditions are substantially different than they were 20 years ago and that possibilities for gardens change all the time. The party will be a little bit global crisis and some gardening imagination with a few seed catalogs thrown in. I may hold out for the zone 10 party — at which time I will finally be able to grow my avocado tree.

Amy Cornell’s column appears every other Thursday in The Herald-Times. You can reach her at

Friday, January 4, 2008

January 3, 2008

Local theater production beats Broadway in many ways
by Amy L. CornellCommunity columnist |
January 3, 2008

I hate to admit it, but I think my family and I have become the kind of theater patrons that the rest of you dread sitting in front of.

I am sure readers are familiar with this scene: You take your seat in a beautiful theater, anxious to enjoy a show and come to a slow realization that the people behind you will go to the bathroom in the middle of the entr’acte, crinkle bags of chips in your ear throughout your favorite slow ballad and argue about whether or not they can see the stage during most of the show. Oh yeah, and at some point, the mother will spill something on your coat.

In spite of my family’s bad behavior, I did actually watch and enjoy the Cardinal Stage Company’s production of “Oliver” at the Buskirk-Chumley Theater last weekend as did my family and friends who attended with me.

Readers should also know that as I write this column, I am visiting an old friend in New York City for the New Year. Last night, we attended a fabulous, much-heralded show on Broadway called “Avenue Q.” I spent about four times the money for the ticket to “Avenue Q” as I did my “Oliver” ticket, but I think that for many reasons I enjoyed the show at the Buskirk-Chumley Theater much more.

Comparing production values for both shows is difficult since one was an adult-themed puppet show and the other a family oriented musical, but to my eye, both “Avenue Q” and “Oliver” looked and felt professional, so my evaluation isn’t based on which show had better singing or dancing. At the BCT, I knew people up on stage: a girl whose diapers I used to change, a woman with whom I work at IU, a boy who was in a play with my son last summer.

When I spilled my soda on a fellow patron’s coat during intermission, I ran to the lobby to grab something to mop up the spill and ran into BCT manager Danielle McClelland who helped me to locate a towel. I know from past conversations with Danielle that she truly sees her mission for the theater as one which underscores its importance for the community and not its own bottom line. She asks herself, how can our downtown theater bring out the best in our town?

During the second act of “Oliver,” as I stewed about my unseemly actions and marveled at the quality performances, I thought what a great decision it was for Cardinal Stage Company to run this show during winter break. What family isn’t looking for something fun and a bit different for their kids during winter break? With IU closed down, it draws our attention more sharply to the offerings of the community. I also read through the list of donors to the event and noted that many of them are friends and acquaintances from throughout Monroe County.

While my choices are far more limited here in Bloomington than they are in New York City, I know the real magic is in watching the community come together to create the wonder that was “Oliver.” I’ll never see any of the performers from “Avenue Q” again. I can’t run into their mothers in the grocery store and tell them how beautiful their daughter was on stage. My son can talk about this with all the other kids in his class who probably went as well.

As we left the BCT, Danielle handed us a chocolate gold coin from Irwin Union Bank, one of the sponsors of the show. My son began to sing, “Consider yourself at home. Consider yourself part of the family.” The very gracious couple that I spilled on wished us a Merry Christmas, and now I’ve made a New Year’s resolution to never bring soda into the theater.

Amy Cornell’s column appears every other Thursday in The Herald-Times. You can reach her at