Tuesday, March 13, 2018


This year, I am slated to renew my massage therapy license.  Both of them.  I am licensed in Illinois, where I lived for twenty years, and in Kentucky, my home state which I returned to last year.  When I moved back to Kentucky last year, I had a plan in mind.  I would go back to Chicago every month or so (excluding the worst winter months) and I would see whatever clients I could there, visit friends, and generally enjoy my life as a multi-city massage professional. 

It seemed like a good idea at the time, and for a time, it was a good life.  I absolutely love those liminal spaces that only exist in traveling, such as the time spent in a car going from one city to the next.  I appreciated feeling like I was still part of my friends' lives, especially as I still had more friends to find in Kentucky, where my solitude was often extended enough to become loneliness.  And while my work in Kentucky was minimal and spread out, when I went back to Chicago, I could pack my schedule with a week's worth of clients in a day or two.  I could remember what it was like to be busy and comfortably tired at the end of a day. 

Then winter came, and I put my trips to Chicago on hold for a while.  The winter up there was one of the reasons why I left.  Not the top reason, but definitely in the top ten.  During those months, I made some new contacts in Kentucky, started a more focused avenue for marketing, and generally settled more into my life here. 

And now as the redbud trees are blooming and even Chicago is starting to see little green shoots of things come up, I have a decision to make.  Do I renew my Illinois license?  Is this two-city massage life really going to work for me?  I am looking in my calendar for a few days where I could go up to Chicago and see clients, now that it is (nearly) reliably snowstorm-free there.  I am not finding the days.  Truth be told, I'm not looking all that hard. 

This morning, I took a walk in one of my favorite parks.  Today has the kind of sunshine that makes the trees outlined against the sky look fake.  It is a light so clear that my eyes can barely process it.  I have this free time in the middle of the day because things are still building in my Kentucky practice, and I don't start teaching for another couple of weeks yet.  Tomorrow, I have a full book of clients.  And the day after that?  More space to spend time preparing for the classes I'll be teaching, and to continue working on writing projects I recently re-discovered. 

All this is to say, I will let my Illinois license lapse.  I was holding on to the familiar and safe by keeping it.  Through the winter months, I have given myself the chance to absolutely trust fall into Kentucky.  It feels like home here, with people I love and a practice that is slowly picking up steam.  Even as the Ohio River Valley allergy season begins, I breathe better here, so I'm staying. 

Of course I will be visiting Chicago when I can, but I plan to focus on what's really important when I go there -- my friends.  And dancing.  Lots and lots of dancing. 

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Cross Country Drive

Last week I cleaned out the files on an old laptop, and I found a bunch of writing that I thought was lost forever.  It took me a while to remember the time, place and situation that inspired some of it, but the feeling of the poem below came back instantly.  It was written after the last day of a cross-country drive (from Chicago to L.A.) that started a year of living in California.  I was trying to capture that moment where movement -- any kind of movement -- punches through and gives you a way to express what feels inexpressible.

Movement, dance, touch, massage -- all these body-based activities can support and encourage communication.  I see that as a side effect of the work I do, which is why you will find cards and pens in my office to record any ideas that came to you during your massage.


Bed Diving

Barstow is a ghost town in training.
It rolls up after the desert 
dry concrete roads and boarded up strip malls
sun-bleached sky searing your eyes.
At the hotel, fatigue pulls away for a moment
bares the anger just behind.

We go bed-diving,
leap across the space from the door to the bed
let the springs flip and roll our bodies onto the floor.
The cross-country drive — nearly over —
coated us with fine gray dust.
We bed-dive through it,
and when we can barely breathe for laughing
we lie side-by-side, holding hands
fall asleep hard and deep, still in our sweat-stained clothes.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

What Happens If

"What happens if you speak up?" 

An acquaintance recently had reason to ask me this question.  I understood it as a rhetorical question, and I filed it away as soon as I heard it.  We moved on with a conversation about other things, with other questions that needed answers of some kind. 

But then something a little strange happened.  You know how sometimes a song gets stuck in your head, and you have no idea why?  Or maybe you realize it's because the song is connected with an emotion or a memory that requires your attention?  That started to happen with this question, now in first person. 

What happens if I speak up? 

As I was settling in for sleep, gently clearing my mind and relaxing into bed, this question came into my head.  For a few minutes I was wide awake again, trying to think of times I spoke up, and to remember what happened.  I fell asleep before I could come up with anything significant. 

What happens if I speak up?

The next day, reading a book about a completely different topic, I couldn't focus on the words any more.  I put the book aside and attended to the question.  It no longer felt rhetorical, and after a little reflection I realized why. 

Somewhere in that original conversation , my acquaintance and I had made a tacit agreement about how we were going to work together.  Upon reflection, I knew the agreement would not work for me.  In no way was I going to get what I needed from our working relationship unless I made perfectly clear what my expectations were. Unless I spoke up. 

Every time I meet a new client, I have a little spiel I give about how I want and need them to speak up if something about their session needs to change.  I try to remind everyone that this is their massage session, and they have the right and the responsibility to ask for what they want.  (I have the corresponding right and responsibility to work within my scope of practice and ethical guidelines.)  Sometimes, people do ask for changes during the session, and I change what ever I can without going outside my training.  Sometimes I read or hear later that they wanted something to change and had a not-so-great experience because they didn't get what they want. 

And now, with my acquaintance, I was about to have my own not-so-great experience -- unless I could manage to speak up.  So I did.  I'm here to tell you, it was not easy.  It almost felt easier to just let it go and accept what was.  The moment between me speaking up and my acquaintance responding contained all the possibilities of a difficult time.  Anything could have happened. 

But, what actually happens? 

Well, in this case at least, I got to feel and be understood and respected.  My experience changed for the better and more effective work is being done.  And I try to make that happen for every client when they speak up too.  If I know about it, I can change it.  Usually for the better. 

Friday, February 23, 2018

Back in the Classroom

I am thrilled to report that I will soon be teaching again in a general massage therapy program.  I've been geeking out with my brand new Pathology textbook, and making my partner smile with my enthusiastic flights about myelin.  I can't wait.

And yet --

I just completed the piles of new hire paperwork.  It was mostly the usual forms where I write the same information 10 (or more) times over.  This particular stack featured something I've never seen before, however.  In the handbook/acknowledgement of campus procedures document, there were extended instructions about what to do in case of an active shooter on campus.  I suppose I should have expected it, especially so soon after the school shooting in Florida.  Even in so-called adult education, it has become a normal part of the standard paperwork that we educate ourselves about how to behave if someone comes to campus and starts shooting.

I refuse to accept that this is anything other than deeply weird and ultimately unacceptable.  My office, and my classroom, need to be safe places where clients and students can explore and discover and learn.  My whole profession is about the opposite of bodily harm, and I resent that I have to think about and be prepared for it as a real possibility.  Because it is a real possibility.

I am watching the survivors of the shooting in Florida, and other young people across the country, speak out and try to change the world, and I am watching as the solutions they are offered only point to a more heavily armed society.  I am seeing these traumatized children ask lawmakers to protect them, to help them feel safe enough to learn, and I am seeing some lawmakers and others respond by offering them even more fear.  Arm the teachers.  Buy bulletproof backpacks.  I am having trouble finding conversations focused on creating a safe, vibrant, inclusive learning environment.

Except for the conversations generated and continued by the students in Florida and by other young people.  They seem pretty clear about what they want.  They want to learn without fearing for their lives.  They want the lawmakers of this country to value children's lives more than they value their interpretation of the second amendment.  This seems reasonable and fair to me.

I'm going to start teaching again in a few weeks, and I am thrilled, excited, ready to learn from and with students again.  And I am now aware, if I wasn't before, how deeply important it is to create a safe space for my students.  This was always important, but now -- now it's life and death.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

High Maintenance

There is a meme floating around that invites you to score how "high maintenance" you are.  It lists a number of different personal care activities and gives each one a points value.  For example: regular pedicures are something like 5 points. 

Cute, right?  Harmless fun? 

Actually, no.  When I thought about this cute little nothing test, it occurred to me that the implied value system was anything but harmless. 

Let's start with the list itself.  When you look carefully, or even more-than-glancingly, at all the items on the list, you see that they all have one very important thing in common.  they are all stereotypical "female" activities.  Not even actual female activities, like getting a pap smear.  They are socially ordained female activities.  (All except one, but I'll get to that later.) Applying makeup.  Having your nails done.  Shopping.  Wearing high heels.  There is a whole lot of forced gender normativity in that little list.  All these stereotypically female activities somehow contribute to how difficult a person you are to be around.  So, somehow, we are supposed to navigate the expectation that, as women, we must somehow want to do these things along with the sanction against being "high maintenance." 

Look at that, another Scylla and Charybdis for the ladies. 

The thing that gets me the most though, is this line: "Gets massages regularly --- 10 points."  So, one of the highest point values is assigned to massage.  Meaning, that getting regular massage is one of the most high maintenance things you can do.  Aside from this irritating me as a massage therapist, this strikes me as an extension of a dangerous assumption women are encouraged to make:  the assumption that time spent on their own care is time somehow wasted.  Or, by extension, that time for self-care takes time away from others who need this woman's time.  (Spouse, parents, children, co-workers, literally anyone) 

This is why I had this recent, far-from-unusual, client experience: a woman in her late 50s came in for her first ever massage.  She was fit, active, and engaged in her community.  She lived a good life, full of love and fulfillment.  She loved her partner, her children, her job.  And yet -- at the end of a massage, she walked out with tears in her eyes, and embraced me, crying into my shoulder.  She told me she had never felt so cared for;  she didn't know she could even experience that.  All that stuff about her wonderful life was absolutely true.  And so were her tears as this new layer of honoring herself was opened up to her. 

So, no, I don't find it cute or harmless when memes like this go around.  Not as long as any human in the world denies themselves a moment of compassion and care because of social expectations. 

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Predicting the Future

I am in the process of moving, so I have the pleasure of distracting myself by looking through my old journals.  Here is something I wrote in my business journal in August, 2014:

My Typical Day

I wake up before my 7am alarm.  I have three clients scheduled today, starting at 11am.  I go to some wooded trail or path near water and I run.  I meet my partner at some outdoor space.  We stretch together and then have leisurely coffee/breakfast.  I go to my practice and work with my clients.  I dance, either practice at home or in class.  I go to a coffee shop to write or I spend time teaching a class/workshop either about oncology massage or how to get in touch with your creativity.  I meet a friend or my partner for dinner.  We eat outdoors and enjoy a good conversation and fresh food with lots of vegetables--something we made together.  There is loving touch.  I go to sleep early in a quiet room with windows open to clean air and blinds that will let in the first bits of morning.

I wrote that paragraph in response to an exercise in Be a Free Range Human by Marianne Cantwell.  As I re-read it, I felt a growing rush of excitement.  My life now is getting ever closer to my imagined description of that day.  Until I found that paragraph this morning, I completely forgot that I had ever written it.  It probably left my mind within a week of writing it.  At that time, I was just setting up my first private practice, still managing grief from a recent divorce, and basically using the "just keep moving" approach to life. 

For a while now, I have been able to deliberately plan and direct my life.  I have had the good fortune to make decisions based on reflection and deep thought, rather than panic or fear.  Finding this paragraph feels like confirmation.  Confirmation that there is an enduring thread of intention in my life.  Sometimes I don't see it, but it is there.  When I can take the time to find quiet, and tune in to the things that feed me,  I know I am following that thread.

Of course I don't predict the future.  And there are still days when I barely experience the present.  Then I find little clues like this that remind me -- it's only chaos if I'm not paying attention. 

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Emily and the Solitary Life

It is morning, just after the sunrise.  I have washed all the dishes and cleaned the kitchen counter after a healthy breakfast.  I am sitting here with my mug of turmeric and ginger tea, watching the steam rise as it cools.  I am alone, and perfectly content.  In the quiet, I am thinking of Emily Dickinson.

Like any enduring writer's work, I come back to Emily Dickinson at different seasons and find different and new things, not because her work is different, but because I am.  I first became enamored of her work when I was a proto-adult, just entering college.  For me at that time, she represented a kind of rebellious nihilism.  I dreamt of having the strength and courage to reject conventionality the way she did.

As I matured and started to take on and understand subtlety, and the often contradictory nature of our human souls, I understood Emily more as a tortured soul, who wanted human connection and love but lacked the emotional skill to handle it.

Recently, I have come back to an active appreciation of her work after several years of benign neglect.  A growing relationship with my partner sparked the renewed interest, and now I feel like I can finally separate the poems from the life more effectively.  To understand the life that informed the poetry without letting that life overshadow the work.

As many of us do with artists we admire, I felt a little bit of a kinship with Emily Dickinson.  This woman felt deeply and possibly had limited ways to express herself in her time, so she wrote pages and pages of letters and poems.  I am entering a period of exploration and growth into the last half of my life, and I am sensing the truth of the paradox:  in order to connect more deeply with other humans, I need to guard well my solitude.

And here is where, in my more mature understanding of the life of Emily Dickinson, I can see that our paths diverge.  For me, the solitude serves to remind me what is important and necessary about human connection so that I can go out and nurture the relationships that are important and necessary.  In my solitude, I know what it is I need to bring forth, and in my relationships, I find people who help me in that task.

In my current season of Emily Dickinson, I am reading more of her letters to her sister-in-law than her poetry, and thinking about the depth of their friendship.  It is significant to me that even in her iconic solitary life, Emily cultivated and nurtured such a bond.  From a place of solitude, she still engaged in deep human connection.

The sun is all the way up now, and from where I sit, the light lays directly across my face.  I have finished my mug of tea, and nearly finished my writing for this morning.  I have clients in a couple of hours, so I know I need to get up and enter into the world of people.  And I know I can do that with grace, because of this morning's deep, satisfying solitude.