Monday, March 24, 2014

Goodbye, Girls. Hello, Colleagues

"No!" She said, looking wildly around the stage.  "No!  It can't be done! This can't be over now!  We need to hug. We need to all hug."

One of my girls was having a hard time with the reality that her massage school experience was over.  She wrapped me and her classmates up in her long arms and held on.  We stretched it out as long as we could.  We posed for their class photo.  We waited while they brought down their small children and tried to get them to smile.  We walked around the auditorium and met their families.  

But it's over.  It ended.  I couldn't be happier.  

The two classes that graduated last Saturday were both small.  They lost a high percentage of their classmates as the program went on, and were left with a couple of tight-knit groups.  The girls were special to me, because I saw them almost drown, and they pulled themselves back up again.  They fought hard for this day, the end of it.  The actual ceremony seemed woefully short, unworthy of the depth of feeling in that room.  This is why we lingered at the end.  Just one more hug.  Just one more photograph.

When I arrived at the graduation, I saw one of the girls walking in.  She looked lovely and proud, leading in her family with her head held like a queen.  I tapped her on the shoulder to say hello, and she wrapped her arms around me, holding on like I was, indeed, the life preserver she had been looking for.  We stood there for a long time, taking comfort and joy in each other.  Saying goodbye to the intensity of school, and hello to our new relationship.  The way she held on to me -- it was like I was her mother and she was the child reluctant to go into a new place where she didn't know anyone.  I was shocked and touched by the intensity of it.  I knew we had a kind of bond, but I had no idea.  "It's all you," I told her.  "You did this."  

In the end, though, after the photos and the hugs and the frantic goodbyes, they stood together, my girls, a tight circle facing inward, celebrating what they had done.  This is right, I thought.  This is how it should be.  I quietly left the auditorium, looking forward to the next time I could talk to --not my girls -- my colleagues.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Language Close Out

My students are, in case you haven't noticed, non-traditional learners. The majority of them do not have an innate sense of "school culture," where you study and do homework in a regulated way.  Most of them have never willingly written anything longer than 144 characters. This leads to some interesting times when I hear their presentations and read their papers. Sometimes I feel like half my work is English-to-English translation.  This has gotten easier because they gradually taught me a new skill -- reading with my ears.  If I imagine a student speaking to me as I read their paper, hearing the spoken words more than seeing them written down, I get a much better sense of what they are trying to say.  And they get a much fairer grade.

Still, some of their phrases are too good to keep to myself.  Here are my favorites from last term. This is heavy on the spoken word, as is their inclination.

PART ONE: THE SPOKEN WORD (quotes from presentations)

A student was furiously scratching her scalp.  This was her response when I asked if she was alright, "Yeah. It's just my head's on too tight."

"Like a book book, you mean.  Like, The Hunger Games."

"I don't wanna say I don't like old people but . . . . . . . . . . . "

"He doesn't like pasta.  I don't know why. Pasta is amazing."

"I learned that people with Alzheimer's, you know, they're just like humans."

PART TWO: THE WRITTEN WORD (translations included)

"Fibromyalgia is diagnosed with an Emory." (MRI)

"He said that PTSD is the little hamstring in your head that never stops running." (hamster)

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Well. That was Average.

I have certain expectations about this Population Spectrum class I teach.  I expect that some people will be frustrated and bored by the lack of "real massage."  I expect that multiple people will need to leave in the middle of the lecture on Trauma.  I expect that I will be frustrated that I don't have enough time for the lecture on Cancer.  Most of all, though, I expect to be surprised and impressed by the presentations of their final project.  

They are required to find a client who has some kind of unique challenge or massage-related need, to work with that client for five sessions, and to write a paper about the experience.  Every time I have taught this class, I have been impressed by the insight people show in their presentations, and about the thought they put into their work.  This term, I am teaching two sections of this class, so this week, when their presentations are due, I was looking forward to a boost from their work.  

The first group presented a couple of days ago.  It's not that they did a bad job, because they didn't.  And it's not that they didn't change and grow from the experience, because they did.  At least some of them did.  It's just that their talks were so, well, unsurprising.  I feel like a jerk for thinking this, and an even bigger jerk for writing it down, but I am truly baffled.  This is a group that has the whole formula for surprising work.  They are a close-knit group, serious about and excited by massage therapy.  They listen well and ask challenging questions.  

I suppose I shouldn't be baffled.  In all the "schooly" work they have done (written tests and the like,) they have been pretty lackluster.  Where they come alive is when they get to do hands-on work.  I have never seen a class, especially a night class, so ready and eager to do hands-on work.  Even when they walk into class looking like they can barely stand, as soon as we set up massage tables, they come alive.  

So, it seems, my expectations are based on a flawed understanding of this group of students.  I am failing to truly see and appreciate where they excel.  I am judging them based on past classes who have been inspired with this particular project.  Tonight, I am their instructor for a different class, where they have a practical exam -- hands-on work.  I am prepared for them to come alive and blow me away.

Thursday, March 6, 2014


This morning I had coffee with the Cabal.  For years, I have teased my friend about the regular group of artists, writers, weavers and other creative types which meets at the coffee shop down the street.  They are forever planning salons, gatherings, and movie discussion nights.  They have deep roots in our local community, and they are creatures of habit --at least when it comes to morning caffeine delivery.  Truth be told, I was always a little envious of this group, and wondered if I had the creative chops to ever join them.

Today, I did.  They were the warmest, most intelligent group of people I've ever shared an early morning with.  Briefly, we talked about my upcoming reading at one of their salons.  It was so friendly, I didn't think to feel inadequate.   After they all left to go to work, I had a bit of time, so I stuck around to do some writing.  In college, I thought that this would be my life.  Meeting bright, interesting  people for coffee, planning readings, writing writing writing.

By the time I got to school, I felt restless. It's the end of term, and the students demand attention, calm, and patience.  So much patience.  But my morning with the creatives opened up the gap between Have and Want, so I found it hard to focus on their needs.  I hope I was kind and thorough, and I hope I kept my resentments for when I was alone in the faculty lounge, entering their test scores into the computer.

I love my work.  Truly, I do.  The problem is it often consumes so much of my energy that I have nothing left to feed myself.   So, I fill myself with junk, literally and metaphorically.  These potato chips are not fueling my body for a long day ahead, and yet another game of Moxie on my phone is not fueling my mind for calm awareness.

I asked a student today what she was doing for self-care to handle an emotionally difficult time.  It is time, once again, to turn that question on myself.  Luckily, I learned this morning that I have the creative resources to figure it out.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Finding It, Losing It, Found.

About a week ago, I got back from a retreat in Costa Rica.  It was life-changing, as these things often are.  I gained valuable personal insight and all that jazz. (If you want to read about it, check out my other blog.)

I worried a bit about keeping the peace alive when I got back here to yet another polar vortex, an inch-thick stack of student papers and a worryingly empty book at my practice.  For a day or two. I had it all in hand. I meditated in my living room in the morning.  I approached my classes with retreat-learned lessons from The Little Book of Talent.  I even gave an earnest speech in my anatomy class about the beauty in variations of every human body, and how you should never apologize for your body.  I was new, fearless, calm.

Then, life.  Snarled traffic that made me late to class.  The still-empty book.  Three no-shows in one week.   The protective calm layer froze away, and I was left raw, once again holding up my outward calm with inward trembling.

Today,  though, I tutored L.  L. failed her muscular anatomy test (one of the papers in that inch-high stack.) Her face showed disappointment, but with an outward calm I could see was supported by inward trembling.  We broke down the spots that tripped her up.   The difference between bilateral and unilateral actions.  How to tell which attachment is the origin and which is the insertion. What the heck the levator scapula does, other than elevate the scapula.  For over an hour, she focused intently on my questions and explanations.  Answers came slowly at first, with hesitation, but she soon got more confident, and came up with a plan to study more at home.

Then, L. just started talking to me.  She told me about how she felt embarrassed to ask questions sometimes, because other people might think she was stupid.  She talked about watching her classmates get tests back with A's while she would get an F.  She talked about wanting this, knowing that she was meant to do this work, and she would do all the work it took to get there.

Somehow, through the force of her trust and determination,  it all came back.  The calm, new, fearless person I found on retreat.  The person who knew - no, LIVED - what was important.  I felt that person drape over me, and I settled into the warmth. I found the fearless place in my heart that got opened up, and I tried to guide L. to that place on her own heart.  I saw a glimmer of it, and I trust that L. will protect that glimmer.  She gave me a hug before she left, and smiled with something like joy.

And I took my new self into the world,  ready to try again.