We just met and we are talking about trauma. More specifically, we are talking about the writing that arises from trauma, and how/when to turn that into art. We are at a week-long writing workshop and happened to sit at the same table for a meal. It is the second night of student readings. I read last night and he is reading tonight. We started with talking about the readings and, as good conversations often do, we circled around and through many topics, leaping one to another like crossing a creek by jumping on rocks.
Eventually, we started talking about trauma, loss, hardship and all the real life things that are informing the writing in our classes. Since we have landed in real life territory, he asks about my profession outside this workshop. I tell him I am a massage therapist and ask if he has ever gotten a professional massage.
He has. Once. Sometime in the middle of the massage, he says, he started to sob. He didn’t know why, and he couldn’t seem to control it. He asks me, Is this normal?
I tell him of course it’s normal. It doesn’t happen all the time, but it happens often enough that we (massage therapy educators) spend a decent amount of time talking about it with our students. I ask him, slightly dreading the answer, did he feel safe? Would he consider getting a massage again?
To my relief, he says he did feel safe. The therapist was calm and compassionate. He says he would get a massage again, it did feel good. Then he pauses. Maybe he would get a massage again. He knew the therapist so already felt comfortable with her. Maybe, he isn’t sure.
He shrugs and looks at me. It’s normal, I repeat. It happens a lot. We don’t live here, I say, pointing to my head, we live in our entire bodies, as much as we try to deny it. Sometimes our traumas and emotions appear through massage therapy, exercise, or some other embodied practice. He nods.
We talk more about that evening’s student reading, about our classes and about writing in general. After lunch, we go off to our separate spaces to write, study, and think — to enjoy the leisure of this week.
That evening, he reads a poem he wrote about a friend’s brain injury. It is simple, clear, and as powerful as a brass-knuckle punch to the gut. Filtered through writing and revision and performance, he gave us all a glimpse into a particular kind of trauma. It is a refined version of the emotions that came over him when he got his one and only massage.
I give quiet thanks for art, for good writing teachers, and for calm and compassionate massage therapists who can hold space for the raw release of unexpected emotion.