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