Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Do Not Bend, Fold or Mutilate ... Ok, Maybe Sometimes

This week we're focusing on draping. Massage therapy classes thus far have consisted of reading about anatomy, ensuring that we have all our -ology's straight, and integrating the terminology of the Swedish massage into our around-the-table discussions. Draping is the first hands-on (get it? massage therapy . . . hands-on) experience.

To fully appreciate how happy this makes me, one must know that I'm a visual or experiential learner. For the better part of five days, we've read the text aloud, stopping only to be told what portions to highlight because they are important "testically" speaking. (Even spellcheck notes how wrong this word is, but it's the instructor's, not mine.) Any chance we get to stand up (away from the massage tables doing double duty as our desktops), stretch and start applying what we've learned is one I gladly embrace.

This week it's how to wrap a sheet around a client so that comfort, warmth, and modesty can be maintained. I fully accepted that I'm a massage nerd when I almost giggled with joy over now being able to secure the sheet in such a way as to actually get at the thigh. My informal training and three years of massaging friends for birthdays, etc. had never had me travel more than a few inches up the thigh. I was always too nervous that my buddies would be nervous.

Well, now, I've got you covered. Really.

Seems it's all about the folds and tucks of that all-important sheet.

Glute work ... here I come.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Eureka! Euphoria!


Not something that's a daily occurrence for me. Typically happy, I usually land just shy of "a feeling of great happiness or well-being." Something is usually nagging at me -- an upcoming bill, a concern about a loved one, a conversation not-yet-had. But yesterday I crossed the line and lingered in the land of euphoria.

Funny thing is that there was no particular reason for it. Here's the day in a nutshell:

1. Finished a story on a ministry to prisoners for which I will be paid and I was praised.
2. Had coffee with a new mom and her baby. She needed a shoulder and he did too.
3. Lunch with an acquaintance who wanted to celebrate my birthday and treated.
4. Phone chats with two friends with whom I do a bit of coaching. Both had questions, and I had answers.
5. Meeting with a non-profit exec who wants my services and is eager to find a way to pay for them.
6. Exercise.
7. Volunteering as an usher for a fun musical about girl groups called The Marvelous Wonderettes, tearing tickets and making it my mission to make sure everyone who entered the theater did so with a smile.
8. Late night supper with friends.

See? Nothing unusual (at least not for me). But in the middle of laughing around the table and just before midnight, I realized it.

I'm giddy. I don't know exactly how I'm going to pay my bills. My distant family is recovering from illness but is recovering. I'm surrounded by people who love me. And in this moment, on this day, I have known euphoria.

Monday, August 23, 2010

First Day of School and I Packed My Own Lunch

Today I started massage therapy school. Dressed in my hunter green scrubs -- neatly pressed the evening before -- I swiped my id card through the meter and the gate lifted for me to park at the spa and school that will be the site of my newfound education for the next five months. I had chased away the nightmare equivalent of standing before the class naked. In my version it was "what if I'm the only one who wears scrubs the first day?" And I was feeling fairly confident with my backpack and lunch bag over my shoulder.

The class has 24 students but we are divided into two groups. One instructor laid out the rules in an almost militaristic fashion, referring to the on campus labyrinth as something "you moonbeam people" might be interested in. Didn't surprise me when I learned he was Army. The other instructor acknowledged privately to me that he was indeed one of the "moonbeam" types. Guess which one is my instructor?

He's not that bad though. And he has a wealth of knowledge to share. I'm going to learn something from him. If I don't take him out in a two out of three cage match first. Did I mention that to cover the material we are supposed to cover and not have to read at home we are reading the chapters aloud? Yep. That would be me. The trainer who loves to experience learning hands-on, reading from Chapter 1. I'm just counting on the fact that most of the course is an internship. That's hands-on to the max!

I tried not to stand out with this guy. But when we were telling what we had done, why we were there and what we wanted to do, I mentioned that I had worked in politics and now wanted to supplement an income that I hope to generate in working with non-profits. He wanted to know what politician, what party, etc. I could tell by the way he asked the question which side he was on. I said, "I prefer not to offer details at this time since I'm assuming you're the one who'll be grading me." He laughed and then said, "Democrat" as though the syllables might stick in his throat. I told him I knew how to keep my opinions to myself if he did too.

The class went fine and I've already learned something so I'm not going to fault him. He seems dedicated to making us good therapists -- just not the moonbeam kind.

And oh yea, he called out to me when I left class at 5 tonight, "See you Liberal." When I repeated that we really didn't have to go there, he said, "But I like a good debate."

After two failed relationships with guys who started off smiling at my views and wanting to debate, I'm thinking politics is definitely not going to be on my class syllabus!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Looking forward to the Movie

Eat, Love, Pray was a pivotal book in my life. Just not in the way everyone assumed it would be. After 23 years of employment within the Southern Baptist denomination, I determined that I could no longer sit across from pastors who knew I believed exactly as they did when, in fact, I did not. With no plan but to walk away from one of the best teams I will ever work with, do some traveling, volunteering, and lots of learning, the book made an excellent “here’s-to-your-new-adventure” gift.

I hated it.

Well-conceived, written, and marketed, the tale of one woman’s attempt to redefine her life through food, a spiritual quest and new experiences should have inspired me. Instead, I knew the ugly truth (several if you really want a critique of the book). With its release, anything I had hoped to write chronicling my yearlong pursuit of a new life would be considered derivative. So for me, what was supposed to be inspirational was a buzz kill.

Did I laugh at her accounts of carbing her way around Italy? Sure. Did I resonate with her attempts at clearing her mind for meditation? Absolutely. Did I celebrate with her discovery of love on an island? Absolutely not.

I mean,, really. I had already released any hope of pitching my search for truth on $2000 a month to a publisher because she’d cornered the market on women on a quest. But as I turned the final page, I was livid. We began her journey with the realization that a man wasn’t going to be her answer. We ended her journey with her smiling in the arms of a man.


So now I had to confront the fact that IF I had a book in me, it was going to be turned down because another female writer was savvy enough to tell a tale which contradicted itself.

Consistency be damned.

Almost three years later, the movie trailers are cleverly appearing on every female-oriented network I watch. Julia Roberts’ smiling face consuming pizza interrupts my weekly obsession with the Iron Chef. Javier Bardem in his pre-Penelope Cruz unattached state declaring that she doesn’t “need a man, she needs a champion” eases the guilt of having spent another hour with real housewives on Bravo. But with each commercial break, I am confronted yet again with what I didn’t do.

My year – carefully crafted to include open ended experiences for learning and growth yet not so defined as to fill like another trap – became three. The three years ended with me at least 30 pounds heavier – from stress eating and not freshly made Italian pasta – and fighting the sense that as a lover of options, I had none. Not exactly the makings of an inspirational story guaranteed to feed the need of women everywhere who want to believe there’s something outside the mundane 7 to 11 work day (cause really, who’s work is ever 9 to 5?).

Sure, I launched my journey with a hot air balloon ride, studied and taught English as a Second language in one of the most diverse cities in the U.S., drove with friends along Route 66 in a VW Beetle convertible, wrote erotica, relished in the kindness of strangers and friends, volunteered in Africa, and ran the field work of a state representative campaigning for reelection. But Tanzania to Texas politics proved to be a beginning of the end of sorts and not the celebratory and revelatory final chapter that would launch my new career. In fact, those preachers began to look rather alluring by the time I concluded that I was once again trapped.

Of course, I’m completely aware that the corner I’d carefully crafted for myself was one of my own making. When the campaign was over and my commitment to my friend, the campaign manager, complete, I could have walked away. The fact that we were in the beginning days of a recession suggested the adage about the bird in the hand was worth noting. I can’t help but wonder what might have been if I’d only looked at the bush! Instead, I signed on for the legislative session – 140 days of Texas shenanigans up close and personal. Ignoring the months of micro-managing I’d already endured, I convinced myself that learning how the state governs would be beneficial to my intentions to return to the non-profit arena. And, hey, religion, academia, politics, why not try them all?

Now that I know the rest of the story, I’ve discovered soooooo many responses to that question.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Welcome Home

The conversation around the table was deep and wide. Religion/spirituality/church work -- check. Human rights/individual rights/denial of rights -- check. Family/growing up/yet to be born -- check. Stupid jokes/lengthy anecdotes/updates in incomplete sentences because not all nouns need verbs -- check.

We enjoyed the kind of night that old friends who feel like family can enjoy. After months spent apart, put food in front of us and let the overlapping voices, laughter, and empathy begin.

No one would say our gathering was without its share of quirky participants -- a former minister-turned-videographer with progressive politics but a growing sense that government may know too much about us, a current minister too young to be sending a child to college and yet in the city for that very reason, the student who vacillates between girlish giggles and trying on the role of wise woman, her childhood friend who quietly absorbs the character-driven conversation, a teacher just back from vacationing on the West coast and weary from a day of playing catch up in his office, a decorator/real estate agent/minister who in his mid-60s is ramping up his career options, and me, formerly in the ministry, then politics, and now heading for new lessons around a massage table and through networking with non-profits worldwide.

If I hadn't been included, I would have wanted to be!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Sensuality . . . A Must for Good Strategy?

Read a review of a new release called Chastened. Described as a mix of "memoir with history, sociology and biology for a heady cocktail that feels anything but virginal", the book chronicles a year in the life of a British journalist in which she gives up sex. I share this background only to give context for the line in the review/interview that caught my eye. The implied question is posed:

"For a book with no sex in it, this was a pretty racy read."

The author's response:

"You don't have to be having sex for the world to be a sensual place."

You know, I somehow sensed that.

In fact, prior to reading the Sunday paper where the review appeared, I had just described what I would consider the ultimate job for me -- and it included an emphasis on sensuality. Clients would come to me for a day of finding leverage. We would look at their passion and purpose and find the points of high leverage in the long term and short term. Interspersed in the day would be a break for a massage and a meal. These breaks would be to remember that within the senses is life. Leadership without remembering that is lacking.

Obviously, the quote hit home.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

New Adventure - Week 2

Read my third book since beginning the new beginning. One inspired me to try my hand at writing. While I loved the author's focus on living the life of a sensualist in the kitchen, her overuse of simile was like really getting on my nerves. If she can find a publisher ... Another was evidence of the fact that if you have a following, people will publish you. Julia Childs knew how to make a cookbook zing. Stories told by her when she was in her end years about her first years in Paris were less than compelling. And one was authored by a friend of a friend. Story well told. Not too complicated. Walked away thinking I could do that.

So ... last Saturday I woke up and wrote the prologue for what might be the next chapter and the next.

Did an event for free, sweating in the overwhelming heat but all went well. Finished a gig for pay without physically harming anyone and since it wound up being for less than minimum wage, I put it in the "Lesson Learned" category. Secured a position with a group as their official storyteller. Won't give me any more money but will open a few doors. Hosted lots of friends at my place.

Life is still very good.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

New Adventure 2010 - Week 1

The "first day of my new life" included so much potential and possibilities that I found myself smiling throughout. Coolest thing is that it began and ended with me "listening and guiding" rather than "wanting and needing." On the docket this week -- meet with existing clients, reach out to potential clients, make the massage therapy classes a reality, continue to see emotional and physical balance.

Day 2 -- Signed the paperwork to start classes. Did a little coaching on the side. All I needed were some pompoms and a zit and I'd be in a repeat of 1979. 'Course I'm a far distance from that frightened, faith-in-a-box freshman who was seeking to make the grade rather than gain wisdom. In leadership workshops that I now teach I sometimes ask the participants, "What would your teen self have to say about your current self?" I'm fairly sure my 17-year-old version would be saying a prayer for me . . . while quietly envying the freedom.

Today's 'what ifs' included -- What if I joined with my entrepreneurial/missional friend Shannon to write a book about her adventures with social enterprise? What if I could make a go of freelancing and not have to take Eric up on his generous offer to hire me at The Chocolate Bar? While I'm not "too good" to work the counter, I'm wondering if that would feel like wasted time at a lower hourly wage -- time that I could be researching grant writing and gaining clients.

Day 3 -7 -- Added two new freelance gigs. Felt confirmed in my creativity, an experience that has not been mine in some months. Enjoyed time with girlfriends. Headed to Louisiana for time sitting by the lake, jumping in the lake, being pulled to the point of bruises in a innertube, laughing and loving with a great family.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Aspiring to Such Plain-ness

Leonard Pitts is a plain speaking writer. Ok, that reads weird but it's true. When he offers up his weekly commentary (I happen to read it in the Houston Chronicle but he's out of Florida) I "get" him. Sometimes I agree. Sometimes I don't. But I always understand what he's saying.

For instance, this week he dares to suggest that teachers should be accountable and teacher unions should encourage rather than obstruct such accountability. Check it out. I'm sure there are lengthy arguments to contradict what he's stated so simply here but when you get past all the words, doesn't it make sense that those who give them should have to make the grade?

Monday, August 02, 2010

Precious Memories

Mother walked toward me with her hands cupped. If I were 6 and her white hair only peppered with salt, she would be clutching a doll or cookie. Since we were celebrating her 80th birthday, I was fairly sure toys and sugar were not what she was hiding.

With the mischievous grin she usually donned for her grandkids, she said, "For you" and revealed her gift.

The framed photo I had taken more than 20 years ago when she and her then new husband Doc walked hand in hand in front of me on a rainy day as we climbed a hill in the Smoky Mountains made me cry out. "Really?" was what I uttered but my own grin revealed the extent of my pleasure.

"You were always so proud of this picture and I want you to have it," she said.

I must admit I wondered if the gesture was some kind of eery foreshadowing -- like maybe she was disposing of prized possessions, knowing that there wouldn't be another opportunity. But I let got of that morbid thought fairly quickly and hugged her.

Mother was always proud of my creative side but, since she only picked up reading late in life, my writing wasn't something she kept up with. The fact that she too had valued this attempt at art on my part always made it even more precious to me.

Now, sitting in its place of honor in my Texas home, it is priceless.