Oncology Massage, Thoughts on the profession

It Depends

There’s this thing that gets said a lot in almost every class I teach, no matter what the subject or how (in)experienced the students: “It depends.”  Meaning: more information is needed before I make a recommendation.  Meaning: every human is different.  Meaning: never stop thinking.

I am sitting at a desk in a remote location, away from home and away from people, planning out my 2019. What are my goals for the year? What do I want to create? What do I need to let go of?

I used to do this on a fairly regular basis, but it has been a couple of years since I actually sat down and wrote out the plan for the next year. The first time I did it, the words came to me faster than I could write them down. There was so much missing from my life at that point. It seemed lots of plans and ideas wanted to rush in to fill the vacuum.

Before I started writing today, I looked at that plan. Most of it didn’t happen. Or at least it didn’t happen in a way I expected. There was one sentence though, stuffed into the middle and written when I was tired and wanted to go to bed, that happened exactly as I wrote it. It was eerie, how precisely this thing happened. This one, half-forgotten sentence that became the thing that shifted my entire life.

So, can you plan an entire year before it happens?

It depends.

To me, this writing is an exercise in continual awareness of the kind we want our students to have when we say, “It depends.” Standing rigidly with knowledge or plans or protocols limits our ability to help. And it kills our ability to find wonder in the unexpected, half-asleep moments of our lives.

We stand, in this profession, in our knowledge and our experiential learning. We are not, should never be, trapped by it. We work with humans, after all, in their infinite variety. Every one of them is different, and if we stop thinking we stop serving.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Let us not be constrained by the container of our own understanding. Instead, let’s try to flow, like cats do — adapting to the shape of the container before us, or abandoning it entirely when it doesn’t serve.

May your new year be full of awareness, critical thinking, and the magic of conditionality.

Inner World, On Writing

Which Draft Is This

We went to a show, my friend and I.  It was full of flashes of brilliance — beautiful gems that could be pulled out, polished and made into an even better show.  But it was a one-time-only experience.

It was unique, rare, and temporal.  It was deeply unsatisfying.

As we pondered these truths, imagining the new and gorgeous work of art that could happen if this section came out and that one expanded and it all had a more coherent frame structure —  we also pondered what it was that was so deeply unsatisfying.

“You know what it is?” my friend said, “They stopped at the first draft.”

And of course that was it.  We watched a first draft, knowing there was no possibility of a next draft, and still seeing the potential that a next draft could be.  Frustrating.

So, of course, I will quote that Anne Lamott line about “sh*tty first drafts.”  Here is whole quote:

“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft.”

It’s a great line, and a great sentiment.  Just get the words out.  Just work.  What happens too often, what happened in that show we saw, is that people get out the first draft and stop there.  The effort of putting forth that much feels like enough.

As Anne Lamott, or any other writer, would tell you — it isn’t enough.  There are revisions and reworkings and next drafts to go, long before something is all the way done.  Some things are never all the way done.  Construction on Sagrada Familia, Gaudi’s adjective-defying cathedral in Barcelona, began in 1882.  It is projected to be completed in 2030.  Maybe.

On a more local scale, I’ve been contemplating my professional life, and how it has shifted and changed over the years I have been a massage therapist.  I’m on, I think, my third draft at the moment.  And several people I know are still on their first draft.

I’m becoming aware that it is part of my mission as a massage educator to get people (and maybe the profession?) to move through whatever draft they are in right now.  It’s so easy to get comfortable with a limited repertoire.  Are we doing things because they are intuitively and scientifically effective, or are we doing things because we always do them?

Every new draft grows under the skin of the old draft, and when it pushes through it is often familiar enough to be recognizable.  So why are we sitting with the old drafts, afraid to move through it into the next best version?

Let’s get to the next draft.  Let’s start by making space for each other’s mistakes, blind spots, and outright incompetence.  These things are temporary, and necessary if we are to move into something new.  Just work.

Hey — Speaking of work — Did you know I host a monthly webinar series called The Interdisciplinary Clan of Mystery?  It’s where my friends at Healwell and I interview someone who is doing excellent work in health care, and we try to learn how to break out of our silos and step up our service game.  If you’re a human who has ever interacted with health care, this might be for you.  Check out the episodes here.  (And while you’re there, take a minute to look at the wonderful goodness Healwell is putting out into the world.  These people are the best, the brightest, the funniest.)
Inner World, Massage Tales

The Unarmed Opponent

I am doing battle with words and today I am the unarmed opponent.

 

It is a slow time of year for my massage practice, and I am finding myself with long stretches of unstructured time.  The perfect situation to get a little ahead on the blog posts, maybe re-write my website, dig deep into my long-term writing projects.

 

And yet today I faced down my morning pages and all that came out was blather.  Isn’t this the point of morning pages, though?  That is what I told myself, and so I closed the journal and came to the computer hoping all the detritus was out and the good stuff was rising to the surface.

 

I’m looking in the water and it’s still murky.

 

A few days ago I saw a movie with my partner — Ralph Breaks the Internet.  It was silly and goofy and had some really sophisticated moments, like this scene where one of the main characters finds herself in a room full of Disney Princesses.  The Princesses tell her that she needs to look into water and eventually she will spontaneously start singing about her deepest and most desired dream.  It’s a funny moment that pokes fun at the structure of Disney movies.  Last night, I was talking with my partner, and he joked about holding a cup of tea in front of me so I could sing about my deepest and most desired dream.

 

This morning I am here with a cup of tea, doing unarmed battle with words, about to dive into a project that is actually my dream, I think.  And yet no song is forthcoming.  I look deep into the tea cup, and all that comes to me is: “location-independent lifestyle.”

 

Dreams are terrifying.

 

I have built, am building, this massage practice, deeply rooted in the community where I live.  I chose this community after a couple of decades in Chicago, because I thought I could build a long-term life here.  I love my work.  I love my clients.  I even love the alien-looking terrariums my office mate has put all around our space.  But more and more, I am feeling the need to get back on my trampoline.

 

action air balance beach
Photo by Rafael on Pexels.com

For a little while, I had a trampoline life.  I would travel, gather experiences, challenge my comfort zone, then come back home long enough to regroup (do laundry) and then go out into the world again.  It wasn’t always a trip to an exciting international destination, but still, it was getting away to a place where all of my stuff fit into a small bag.  I got so good at packing light and gathering all of what kept me alive.

 

am doing unarmed battle with words because, among other things, I have not ventured out.  I am aware, also, that venturing out is more than physical removal from my home city.  It is taking a chance with my mind as well.  What kinds of new words can I generate if they don’t have the new thoughts to back them up?  

 

My practice is quiet these weeks, the days can be as slow as I want them to be.  I am seeking out mental and physical challenges to re-arm myself with experiences that I can then turn into words.  Eventually, I see this growing and changing into a location-independent lifestyle, happily back on the trampoline.  For now, I am taking these weeks to sharpen up and prepare.

 

I am going to make myself another cup of tea and sing about it.

Inner World, Thoughts on the profession

A Day Late

I made myself a promise a little over a year ago.  I promised that I would write a blog post every week.  Every single week.  I chose Tuesday as the day I would publish the post, and I promised not to let my internal editor sabotage everything.  I wasn’t going for great literature.  I was going for consistency, showing up, and just doing the work.

So how am I doing?

Well, I missed a week — the Tuesday of the midterm elections.  This week, I am a day late. My internal editor is as robust as ever, although slightly more likely to wait to speak until spoken to.

I am calling this a win.

I’ve heard people quote “the past is prologue,” meaning that what happened in the past predicts what the future will be. More and more, I think this is ridiculous.

The past isn’t prologue.  The past isn’t predictor.  The past is —- past.

close up of woman holding a hamster
Photo by Rudolf Jakkel on Pexels.com

Sure.  There are hints and whispers and echoes of the past everywhere.  Every time I see a mouse, for example, I have the overwhelming echo of the time my upstairs neighbor’s pet gerbil chewed through the ceiling and dropped onto my bed.  *shudder*

But, just because I hear the past whispering in my ear, doesn’t mean I need to do what it says.

See, in the past, if I dropped off a plan I made for myself, I just kept dropping until I decided the plan wasn’t that important in the first place.   I dropped back into the story of The Girl Who Does Things 3/4 of the Way.  The story of my life.

Except now I know, I am the writer.  I tell the story and I’m telling it differently.  You can hiccup and still breathe.  You can stumble and still keep walking.  I can come to this blog a day (or a week) late and still get back on track.

I’m going to attempt now to connect this back to the thing I’ve been doing while procrastinating this blog post — watching auditions from the X Factor on YouTube. I have heard, over and over, judges saying things like “natural talent,” “born performer,” or “gifted.”  I find this deceptive and slightly dangerous.

Sure, some people may be born with an affinity, but talent?  That is pure, uncomplicated, consistent, work.  Showing up, consistently, and working at it.  Being frustrated or tired or unmotivated and doing it anyway.  Missing a practice (or a deadline) and getting back into it anyway.

So, here I am, with my imperfect ideas and slightly burnt coffee just showing up.  A day late, but here.

How are you showing up for yourself today?

Inner World, Oncology Massage

Into the Rabbit Hole

I have a writing task.  A big one.  I am choosing to take the advice of The Little Book of Talent and keep the biggest plans secret.  It’s not important to know exactly what the task is, just that it is.

 

I have been a writer since second grade.  Our teacher told us to write a Halloween story, and I went to town.  I had elaborate costumes, a haunted house, multiple plots coming together, and a hero facing certain ruin by ghosts.  I also had what I later learned was a deus ex machina — an ending dropped from the sky where the hero of the story got to survive and get away all in one piece.

 

Okay, it was a ghost extinguisher.  I gave my hero a ghost extinguisher.

 

So, maybe plot-wise, it wasn’t my best effort.  But for sheer love of the process of writing, it was enough to keep me hooked for years.  I can still feel what it was like to sit at the dining room table and write that story.  How I could hardly move my pencil fast enough.

 

As many things do, writing became both easier and harder as I grew up.  I learned about plot and foreshadowing.  About the nuances of character and exposition.  I also started writing essays, nonfiction.  I practiced translating facts into a readable story.  I found that this worked best for me if I had piles of facts and supporting facts that I could pick and choose from in the process of writing.

 

I felt most comfortable drawing from a deep well.

 

close up of rabbit on field
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Which brings me to today —  my writing task, based in fact and research and looming large over my life for the next several months.  I am breaking it into smaller pieces, and finding that each piece comes with its own rabbit hole attached.  These pieces sit before me like tiny cyclones, and if I’m not careful I could get sucked into the vortex of each one, disappear for a while, and come back with not even a pair of ruby slippers to show for it.

 

Today I am perched on the edge of a rabbit hole, trying not to dive in.  If it weren’t so fascinating, if every piece of information didn’t lead to twelve others, if I could just write one crappy sentence —

 

There it is.  The thing I keep banging up against is the first sentence.  More precisely, allowing the first sentence to be crappy and moving forward anyway.  Because, as I used to tell my writing students, revision is more than half of the writing process.

 

It may help me to look at this craft the same way I look at the craft of a massage.  Prepare.  Deeply and thoroughly prepare.  Then, when the person is in front of me, empty my mind and trust that the training is there.  Right where I left it.  Just make contact and go.

 

Just write that crappy first sentence and go.  Forward.

Inner World, Lost Literary Files

Poised for Conflict

I am ready to learn, and I am ready for a fight.  It’s only because of the past, which follows me around everywhere in a lumpy, psychic bag and sometimes tries to convince me that the past can predict the future.

Let me fill you in on one of my past lives.  No, not the one where I was Cleopatra (why was EVERYONE Cleopatra??), I mean one of the careers I dove into before I settled into my life as a massage therapist who writes stuff.  Right out of college, I picked up my Lit degree and stumbled into graduate school.  The academic, writing life was my object.  To be surrounded by books and words and ideas, all day, every day.  I had my grandiose ideas and a book-length work of fiction, so I signed up for a Long Form Creative Writing class.

Have I mentioned that I lasted only through the M.A. program and no longer?

grayscale photography on concert
Photo by Thibault Trillet on Pexels.com

In that class, we were instructed to sit quietly and listen to critique of our work.  No comments, no answers to questions, no subtly suggestive noises of any kind.  When it came time for my work to be critiqued in class, I spent a couple of hours totally silent, listening to people talk.  After about thirty minutes, I started to notice that little workshop dance where everyone tries to say the next most insightful thing.  At this point, they have exhausted all the truly helpful information and have slipped into “perform for the Professor” mode.  It was not subtle.  It exhausted me.

About a week later, I had my mandatory one-on-one meeting with the Professor.  I would have been happy skipping this face time, but he insisted that everyone schedule their time or risk failing the class.  So, I scheduled the time (in between the two classes I was teaching and the mountains of reading and writing for my other classes.)  And the Professor decided to answer his phone five minutes into our time, and hold a conversation which lasted until about a minute before the end of our appointment.  All the while, he signaled me to “stay,” “just wait a moment.”  I gained nothing, but I certainly lost any remaining respect I had for the Professor as a teacher of humans.

So, my most recent experience with workshops has not been pleasant.  It has been armored, to say the least.  And this is the lumpy, psychic bag of my past that I am attempting to leave behind in July.  I am headed to Wildacres Retreat to spend a week learning and workshopping with no distractions but the gorgeous mountains of North Carolina.  Whenever I think about the retreat as a whole, I am ready to learn.  Whenever I think about sitting around a table with my fellow writers, listening to their thoughts on my work, I am ready for a fight.

I have submitted my manuscript and made all the necessary travel reservations.  My work now is unpacking the baggage and leaving “ready for a fight” behind, in the past, in that Professor’s office where it belongs.