Friday, December 31, 2010

Creating new habits

I needed a bit of inspiration this morning. This week has been rough -- saw the reality of aging parents and the stupidity of hospital systems seemingly absent of both heart and mind plus got the news that my streak of being great at relationship building continues. The man I dated for a couple of years is now engaged. Since the last man I dated became engaged after we were a couple I'm thinking I may need to get the word out that if a man wants to marry he should date me first. I'm guaranteed gold in the "ring-on-someone-else's-finger" department. That way I would have a few dates and marriage stats would go up significantly.

My problem is that I couldn't quite figure how to launch a new blog entry that didn't sound like a bitter woman making light of her romantic woes. I'm not bitter but readers can't see me smiling as I type. I'm actually quite happy for the new couple. They are both getting what they wanted. And, since I didn't want to get married again, so am I.

That's why I went exploring. I googled "best blogs of 2010" and found Time's list. That took me to I think I'm going to like this one. I had to laugh though when I saw that while the writer emphasizes minimalism he still wrote that his blog had "helped the minimalist movement grow by leaps and bounds." Does anyone else see the humor? Wouldn't a "growing minimalist movement" be an oxymoron?

I checked out a few others on the list and discovered everything from tech toys to failures has a blog about it. Since I'm streamlining my purchases and giving up the daily paper, I bookmarked several options to check out.

Encouraging creativity in others is easy for me. I am passionate about creating and love to help others do so. Sometimes, though, I get stuck. Since I've been feeling a bit mired in the last year, I'm glad to be shedding baggage, looking around, and staying alert while waiting for the next big thing.

Perhaps I'll pick up a few zen habits of my own to blog about.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010


My stepfather spent many decades as the town doctor. He was known for his ability to diagnose a problem. He also was recognized as one who would refer a patient elsewhere if he thought he lacked the needed expertise. I came into the world in the operating room of the four-bed clinic where my mother usually served as his nurse. After his wife died of cancer, they married and will celebrate a silver anniversary in 2011.

At least I hope they will.

Doc has been on dialysis for three years. He claimed 86 years of life on Christmas Eve but he wasn't celebrating much. He's got heart problems, prostate cancer, something's been wrong with his esophagus for years, his blood is thin and he's constantly "leaking" somewhere so that frequent transfusions are necessary.

Today as we struggled with getting him ready for a visit to the ER after a night of vomiting and diarrhea I was reminded of the portrait of Dorian Grey. Instead of age and past sins being visited upon a painting of himself, I visualized that all the diagnoses that he was famous for were somehow now manifesting themselves in his body.

I didn't cry then though. Nor did I at the thought of the indignities the sick and aging must endure such as Doc giving up a penchant for always wearing dress slacks and suspenders because sweats would make it easier to get to the bathroom. Or the independence ... like when, over expressed objections, others tell you that no matter what you have to go to the hospital to restore the fluids you lost.

Watching him moan in the van beside me as I drove he and my mother to the ER, seeing him clutch the bucket in his good hand in case he felt nauseous once again, wheeling him into the waiting area in a wheel chair ... these didn't prompt the flood gates.

It was walking away. After he was moved to a larger hospital, secured in ICU, color returning, and complaining about the order that would net him no food until the morning, I began to feel the weight of it all. As I exited the building with my mother safely tucked away in the family waiting/sleeping lounge and him monitored to the hilt, I cried.

Being the long-distance daughter has never been an issue for me or my mother. I think she reveled in my freedom and celebrated all my unorthodox choices as small victories of her own. But tonight when I hugged her small frame goodbye, I felt the magnitude of those miles. While tomorrow I will board a plane and return to Houston, she will be there, beside him, and still in the midst of his continuing and daily transformation from doctor to patient. In that hug, I traded places with her. I wasn't the little girl any more and she felt frail. She was tiny in my arms and the forces engulfing us both were so beyond our control that while I felt larger than life holding on to her, I knew we were too weak to stop the inevitable.

As soon as my eyes welled up, I walked away and reached out to friends and family. Thanking God for them, I updated each on Doc's status and asked for prayers. Of course, they quickly came.

Now, I'm waiting for life to go back to "normal." Yet, I know I passed through that door at the beginning of this trip. Those days of "normal" will never again exist because I've seen up close what day to day "life" is for Mom and Doc.

I'm sure I'll be back this way very soon.

Feliz Navidad and Other Airport Adventures

When the news reported the security delays, weather delays, and holiday delays for flights, I determined that I would lessen my stress by getting to the airport in plenty of time. I figured that if I allowed an hour or more to make the 45 min trip to IAH, an hour to get through ticketing and security, I'd still have 90 min or more to grab a bite and read a book before boarding.

The drive took only 30 minutes. I got my bag checked and was through security in less than 10 minutes. When I was on the "other side" and finished with all my responsibilities, I was three hours early. One half-cooked personal deep dish pizza later, I was 2 hours and 45 minutes early.

So rather than bury myself in my book, I thought I'd see what living in the moment would net me.

Settling in a seat near my future gate, I watched the crowd. Parents were desperately trying to subdue children under the influence of Christmas candy and visions of Santa dancing in their heads. Weary souls seemed desperate to become under the influence with the next drink or two. Santa hats were askew. Teenagers were texting, listening to Ipods, and chatting live and in person all at the same time.

Soon a nice looking white haired man a few years my senior and casually well dressed motioned to the seat beside me. Attempting to not only let him know that it was available but also that I was not opposed to conversation, I nodded and replied, "Sure but I hope your pizza is better than the one I just had ..."

Before I completely finished the thought, he interrupted, "No English."

Hmmmm ... thinking that this revelation would test my in-the-moment-making skills, I asked, "Lingua?"

"Italiano or spana," he replied.

"Lo siento, me espanol is muy mal," I apologized for my lack of vast knowledge of his second language and indicated that I knew nothing of his first.

Then he told me in Spanish that I was doing fine, he was going to visit his daughter, his son lives in Chicago, and would I like a slice of pizza?

I asked in very broken Spanish if he was an abuelo (grandfather) and he feigned great shock that I would think so and declared this to be a complete falsehood. We laughed and chatted just a bit more about where I learned Spanish and whether he was on time and in the right location for his flight.

I assured him he had at least 20 minutes and then two minutes later they began a rush boarding of his plane.

"Ahora!" I pointed at the line and began to help him gather his things. He struggled with closing the pizza box and then stood searching the area and looking as though he thought he were forgetting something.

Suddenly, he looked at me, bent down, exclaimed, "Ciao!" and planted a kiss on me with more gusto than I've experienced in a while.

"Feliz Navidad!" I said with a smile.

"Feliz Navidad!" he shouted and was off.

And so goes the story of my Christmas kiss.

Enflamed by the sweetness of his gesture, I determined that I should reach out to a few other folks who by virtue of a recent loss could possibly be dreading the holidays. I called each one and either left a message or had an incredibly sweet conversation with each. One chat lasted 45 minutes! When it was all said and done my experiment of "the moment" had totaled several great conversations, touching texts, and numerous smiles as I determinedly walked the concourse with a grin and made the effort to actually make eye contact with my fellow travelers.

Now that's a secure way to beat the holiday stress blues!

Feliz Navidad indeed!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Shy Moon and a Heat Wave on the Winter Solstice

Never one to embrace "normal", Texas maintains its independent spirit on this first day of winter. The forecast suggests we're heading for a frosty 82 degrees today. Brrr ... may need to take a coverup for my swimsuit today as we "study" hydrotherapy at massage school.

A quick review of Facebook updates reveals that our perspective on the lunar eclipse last night was stymied by clouds. However, a few patient and sleep-deprived souls did report capturing a glimpse of the real thing.

I was playing hostess to Stan and Roger with a "cleaning-out-the-fridge-before-traveling" meal when the two community college instructors determined that with no school today they would head out of the city lights in order to catch a better view of the lunar activity. Passing, due to the actual strain a day of reading a textbook aloud can create, I packed up to-go bags and sent them on their way.

When I discovered the fact that their efforts may have been hindered, I was sad. I was counting on living vicariously through their playfulness today.

Educationally speaking, the presentation of the curriculum for my massage class is less than stimulating. I'm trying to hold on to as many story threads as I can so that I can entertain myself during the agonizing ordeal of poor teaching practices.

Today I'm going to ponder a shy dark moon, a balmy winter day, and friends over 50 who still have the spirit of adventure.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

REK -- Another Texas Phenom

I know of Robert Earl Keen's persona more than I know his music. Poet/storyteller backed by a steel guitar and a steady beat, he's a Texas singer/songwriter. And with a couple of decades in the business, he more than earned the right to move beyond beer soaked stages at dimly lit honky tonks to the likes of the Verizon Theater in downtown Houston where I saw him last night with a few hundred of his closest friends.

'Course after an evening of hearing his work up close and personal, I wondered if he's not just as comfortable in some New Mexican cantina than in the well-lit venue (save for the shadow falling on his face due to the large cowboy hat) with the great sound. After he used the signage of a Idaho motel to pen one of his numbers and with topics ranging from the ghostly visitations of Hank Williams to a dysfunctional family Christmas, I was fairly convinced he didn't care where he was as long as he got to recreate his musical characters on a regular basis.

The crowd knew his music by heart. I relied on the good sound system and leaning toward my friend and one of the legion of his fans to ask, "What did he say?" But one line was crystal clear and took my breath with its purity and clarity:

"Feels so good feeling good again . . . "


I'm not sure if such a statement is wasted on the young. They may simply equate it with the day after the morning after. But for me and mine, the line holds the truth behind letting go of years of stress and strain, of releasing one's worries about what other people think, of living in the simple reality that everything isn't necessary and enough is truly enough.

Listening to an artist practicing his craft is just one more means of my own "feeling good again." So glad I did.

Thursday, December 16, 2010


I probably should have seen The Heidi Chronicles by now. As a woman sometimes called a "feminist", I find it hard to believe I haven't. I know that I at least thought about seeing it when the playwright Wendy Wasserstein died in 2006. But good intentions didn't purchase the ticket so I have been ignorant lo these many years.

Until tonight.

One of the smaller but nevertheless very substantial theaters in town is presenting it. Roger invited me to go and, never one to turn down a free night at the theater, I said yes.

As we journeyed back in time with this product of the 50s whose consciousness was raised in the 60s and who began to wonder about her choices in the 70s only to realize her unhappiness in the 80s I alternated between feeling somewhat cheated to great relief and finally deep satisfaction.

When I heard the dialogue between the women who were discovering their voices and shouting with great passion and solidarity at the obstacles in their path, I wanted to have been there, to have participated in something other than a small town's attempt at disco fever as I did in my formative years. But when the conversations of "what if" turned into "what else" and a whining quality crept in, I was pleased to have skipped that level of angst. Finally, when our heroine discovers that she may be living into the heroine of the 21st century as she coos at her newly adopted daughter, I found my ahhhhh.

For I truly am satisfied. I don't live in regret. I celebrate who I am and am ok with not having done what was socially prescribed for a woman of my age during the various decades of my evolution. Choices -- both those that were thoughtful and based in compassion as well as those that were selfish and could have caused pain -- have made me ... well, me. And I hold no sadness that I am somehow not what I set out to be. Having never had the capacity to dream bigger than my reality, I'm thrilled with what's happened to me thus far and anticipate what's next with almost a giddiness.

Seeing it with my dear friend made the play that much more meaningful. Heidi has her doctor and I have my Roger. When we exited the theater, I told him I would have to wait a few moments to say something because I knew when I started to speak I'd cry (as I had done numerous times in the play) and didn't want to be seen sobbing as we walked to the car. I finally found my words when I told him, "Seeing plays like this -- it's a play from the 80s, so someone has to have AIDS -- reminds me that I am so fortunate to have encountered the gay world after the decade that took so many. I am selfish and I can't imagine losing any of 'my boys.'" Having just heard one friend speak of that time as he told of going from six parties in one week to going to six funerals in one week, I hold close the fact that while some friends are positive (though actually very few) and deal with medications that are sometimes horrific, they are still here. They are alive and bring life to my world.

Also, seeing it with Roger was significant in that as I have reflected of late on my lack of a love life, I could honestly tell him that because of him, Stan, Geary, Jerry, Shane, and others I know I will never be lonely. I may be alone, but not lonely.

So now I'm glad to say I have seen The Heidi Chronicles but not lived it. My march may lack some of their fury but it is no less significant. And while I am grateful for the doors they broke down, the ceilings they crashed through, and the paths they forged, I am no slouch. I revel in being present with young women today, answering their questions when they arise, sharing a story or two when appropriate and listening.

The Karen Chronicles continue...

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Let's Talk About Men

I used to offer a workshop on how men and women communicate differently. Given that I worked for a woman's organization with over a million members and most of them worked with pastors, the majority of which were male, that made for a popular topic. Rather than use the pop take of the time that "men were from Mars and women from Venus", I pulled from Deborah Tannen's linguistic studies about communication differences between genders.

For instance, her research showed an inordinate use of the phrase "I'm sorry" when females were speaking. The key is that while women sometimes used the phrase as a filler as in ... "I'm sorry. Since you were late we started without you but you can catch up during the break" was often consider a sign of weakness on the part of a female leader of a meeting. The speaker may not have felt any responsibility at all for her choice to move forward, in fact, usually didn't. The apologetic greeting was simply a way of softening the blow of what could have been seen as a reprimand. However, men often heard weakness rather than control and strength.

I'll never forget the time I taught the workshop and a woman well past 70 years of age walked up to me and said, "Thank you." Thinking I'd given her the key to work with her pastor, I said, "I hoped it helped." She responded, "Oh my, yes, after 55 years of marriage I finally get my husband!"

I bring this male/female difference to your attention because as I think about the men in my life I truly am sorry. I'm sorry that I have sometimes chosen men who I thought accepted me for me -- when in fact they accepted me for the moment. When "me" showed up with all my loyalties, passions, and diverse viewpoints, they ran. I'm sorry that I settle when it comes to male companionship. And most of all, I'm sorry that I don't always know how to reveal how much I appreciate the men who stick by me, no matter what.

"No matter what" can mean a lot of things. Divorce is probably the furtherest end of the spectrum. And yet, my ex-husband recently and absolutely showed why I had good taste in men once upon a time. He, who is from Houston and now lives in my home state of Tennessee, drove 2.5 hours with his preschooler son to visit my mother and ailing stepfather in Greenfield. He did so because he had learned of Doc's illness and wanted to check in on them. After asking me in brief emails as to whether it would be ok and receiving the needed contact info, he made the journey.

My mother fell in love. I have no idea what she and my ex may have discussed but after checking in with her I can tell you in detail what she and the curious but respectful preschooler did for the length of the visit. She went on and on about his enthusiasm for her Christmas Village (wall to wall display cases filled with replicas of the perfect little snow-covered wonderland), his gratitude for the books she gave him, and his desire to stay with "Miss Margarett" when his father said it was time to go.

I'm not writing this piece with any kind of regret. I know that my ex is in a better place as the result of the fact that he's with a woman who can be who he needs her to be in ways I could not. I also know that I am in a place of wonderment and excitement that probably wouldn't have been possible had we tried to endure. But I am absolutely filled to the brim and possibly running over with gratitude that this man was part of my life, helped to shape me into who I am, and is proving to be the minister he always wanted to be.

I know in one long car ride he proved it to me. Ministry isn't about sermons, graveside prayers, and great programs. Ministry is reaching out to people who need you and providing at least a moment's relief.

I get that on a regular basis from the male friends in my life who check in with me, have dinner with me, make sure I get out to as many fun events as we can endure, and overall provide me with a male perspective that a single woman could sometimes lack. And this week I also got it from my ex.

I thank God for the men in my life.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Another Day in the Life of a Food Truck

The roads were rough ... the higher than average number of potholes suggested that pull with the city wasn't something anyone really pursued in this area of town. The failing economy was also evident as many of the warehouses were obviously unused and tagged with graffiti. Once upon a time, the number of wandering homeless folks and street corner deals going down would have been enough to turn the VW around and head for home.

But I was on a mission!

A local non-profit wanted and received a donated beginning to what they hoped would be an income-generating enterprise for the impoverished area of Houston they serve. In their dreams, a former high school concession stand would be transformed into a taqueria or food truck and women from the neighborhood would learn good business practices and earn cash for their families. While the dream became reality in the initial gift of the trailer, the transformation process was taking a while as the non-profit's staff was consumed with their ongoing activities that reach more than 80,000 annually.

Enter me.

After discovering that I was looking for additional income while going to massage school, the director contacted me about serving as a project manager. The gig sounded interesting and I love it when handouts are put aside in lieu of hand ups. So I committed to learning what I could about city requirements, food services, and refurbishing.

Since food trucks are an emerging trend in Houston, I was able to connect to some of my network and discover one of the best and most reliable groups working on transforming old U-hauls and buses into restaurants on wheels. Hence my journey into the land of the not-so-easy-to-find.

As soon as I pulled up in front of the building my concerns about locale vanished. Yes, the street number was haphazardly spray painted on the wall of the metal warehouse. Yes, there were numerous large trucks parked on the street and in front of the only entrance I could find. But there was also a vibe. I heard the radio blaring music from Mexico. I saw three young men on top of a truck working with more enthusiasm and fervor than anyone I'd witnessed in a while. As soon as they saw me, smiles broke out, then words of welcome and offers of help. When I asked for Daniel, they ensured he was on his way.

Daniel is originally from Mexico and came to Houston by way of California. He's the better English speaker of the two brothers who run the shop. Inside the warehouse that day were as many as 9 or 10 trucks in process. The place was orderly and running with the smoothness of a fine automobile. Added to the men on top of the first truck were guys working in one area with sheet metal and men in the back dealing with plans. Efficiency and cleanliness were evident at every turn.

As I drove Daniel to the location where the trailer is currently parked, I explained the non-profit's dream and what we'd done to date. He said little except to inform or correct me about city ordinances. When we arrived at the Center ten minutes later, he quickly set to the task of assessing our situation.

A few minutes passed with him using his measuring tape and crawling under cabinets and then he emerged with a bid at least one fourth less than the first quote I received. He acknowledged that it was only his best guess and vowed to get to work as soon as possible on a pen to paper version.

I dove him back to his facility and along the way was impressed with not only his knowledge but his respect for the non-profit's plans. He knew the value of giving people an opportunity.

I want to call the truck Salud! but since it's a word used for toasts and the non-profit is a religious group, I'm doubting we'll go there. But I think it's fitting. Daniel and his brother have found and offer opportunities for financial health regularly. We want this truck to offer good Mexican (not fatty TexMex) options and we want the staff to enjoy such monetary gain as well. Even if we don't name it "to your health," in my heart I'll know that's it's true identity.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Coaching Beyond the Finish Line

To inspire others, to live with such authenticity that people trust without question your words and seek your guidance, to move people beyond perceived limits ... these traits of a leader are personified in an amazing story populating headlines and newscasts last week.

Some stories get me teary. Some make me sob. Guess which response this prompted ...

Monday, December 06, 2010

Moaners, Groaners, Boners and Stoners

We've got quite a cast of characters in this theater of the absurd known as massage. I've mentioned before that the intern massage room is a large space divided into smaller ones with a series of curtains on rings. The two most frequent sounds I hear are the rattle of the rings (sort of like a massive zipper effect) as someone enters their space and the wretched wrenching of plastic when a face guard isn't functioning properly.

But plenty of other sounds abound!

Moaners are those clients that -- once the effleurage has begun -- forget they are in public or simply don't care. They express their pleasure with sometimes muted (and sometimes not) "mmmmmmm"s and "yessssss, yessss". Usually they make me smile.

Groaners are hurting. We have a 64-year-old accupressurist from China in our class. His pressure is now legendary and his space tends to be the source of most of the groaners. I tell my clients that it's supposed to "hurt so good, not hurt like hell." He tends to get the ones who are game for hell. Groaners walking out of there are often heard sniffling as well.

Boners are not exactly a sound category unless you note the eery silence. I've had one guy (out of 95 client hours thus far) who didn't say a word but left me evidence of his pleasure on the massage table sheets. Since this is a bodily function that's just a fact of life, I tend not to be too concerned. Now the guy who asked me, after I had completed what to him felt like a tortuous range of motion/stretching sequence, "Are handcuffs next?" is another matter.

And finally, the stoners who, again aren't that much about the sounds, but rather the smell. Seems that lots of folks like to have a toke or a drink or maybe even several pills before they come for a nice, double-your-pleasure-massage. Problem is, they don't realize that whatever you have in excess in your system is going to come out of your pores. In the case of two of our clients the smell of weed was so prevalent that other clients were wondering if the therapists weren't off in a corner chilling. That prompted management to intervene and the sounds I heard were the swishing of the rings, the robotic "My instructor has advised me to terminate the session immediately. Please get dressed" and the pattering of feet as a troop of authority figures rushed the two downstairs for a refund and an escorted exit. In my own client base, I have a pill popper who gives off a metallic aroma that can't be masked any more than her constant fidgeting and lengthy tongue tied explanations of how a wreck a year ago continues to cause her constant pain.

One of the hesitancies I had when considering a massage license years ago was the fact that you often don't get to choose your clients and the concern that I would get one that would just be too difficult to deal with. "Hairy backs" said with a shudder was my punchline then. Funny. Now that I'm introduced daily to a new set of characters, I'm strangely intrigued. Like a theatrical experience without the stage and lights, clients mesmerize me as I walk them to the massage room door, discover more about their roles through touch and attention to sights and sounds, and then see the storyline resolved in 60 to 90 minutes.

To all our Moaners, Groaners, Boners and Stoners ... Bravo!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Just Another Day in Paradise

- One therapist worked an entire hour on his client's foot. (Not "feet", "foot".)
- Another spent an hour on one knot in a runner's calf.
- And yet another had a guy who wanted a two hour massage but couldn't handle any more pressure than what you might apply when squeezing a new tube of toothpaste. My friend said it was like petting a cat for a couple of hours!

Those are but a few of the more "out there" experiences of a massage school intern. Mine haven't measured up to that degree of oddity. But I certainly have stories to tell.

One day three women came for the beginning a "girls' day out." What made them interesting to me is that they were obviously from a Pentecostal background -- long hair, no makeup, skirts rather than pants. My client was the mom and said she'd had a massage before. I'm learning that doesn't always mean what you think it means. Some have had a chair massage in a mall or airport. Some have had a friend rub their shoulders. But not all who say it mean they've gotten naked on a table and had someone apply the pressure!

Mom was apparently suffering from some bad knees and warned me to be careful. I could see her discomfort as she walked down the hallway and I explained what she needed to do to get ready on the table. I used my standard instructions, "Please disrobe to your comfort level and then lie on your back, face up under the covers."

When I got back into the space, I saw she had followed the instructions perfectly. However, her level of comfort was to keep her RED bra on and put the covers under her arms. So the first sight I saw wasn't something I was expecting from someone so conservative in their outer attire.

I smiled when I did the first bit of pressure on her neck and she ahhed with such abandon. When she added, "You have a nice warm, firm touch" I knew she was going to enjoy the experience so much more if I could relieve her of a bit more clothing. I suggested she pull down the bra strap and she quickly complied.

As I continued, I prayed. Everyone on my table gets a blessing of some kind. Some times I focus on their needs outside our "walls" throughout the entire experience. Some times I wait until the end and wait for a word to pray into them. On this Mom, I prayed throughout. So when I made it to her knees I was only partially surprised to feel a heat coming out of my hands and into her aching joints. I don't know if she felt it but it was a real phenomena. By the time I completed her front and was rolling her over, she was pretty much under the spell of total relaxation. So when I mentioned that the back massage would be that much better with the bra strap un-buc ... she had it off before I finished my whispered suggestion.

The smile on her face when she was restored to her conservative attire was a sweet reminder that our work goes beyond the physical.

A second out of the norm experience came when a woman came in as a walk-in and my friend and I were in the reception area at the time. My friend looked at me and held up her little finger. The reason was because the woman was not much bigger than that. Seriously, she may have weighed 80 pounds. My friend whispered, "I'm afraid I'd break her." In a few moments, I learned that the woman who shared my height but was less than half my weight would be my client.

I tried not to stare as I asked about her concerns. She didn't want anything done to her scalp, face, or feet. AND she wanted a light touch.

Without being able to demonstrate on you, I'll just have to say that imagine you are trying to find a lost contact on a tile floor. You don't press very hard, right? That's the degree of pressure she wanted. I had to ask three times to make sure I got it right.

My thumb and forefinger would wrap around her upper arm with room to spare. Her calves only required one hand to be completely engulfed. Her thigh fit into my cupped palm.

When I got to her back it was a bumpy road -- literally. Her ribs protruded so much that there was no true way to do effleurage because there was no way for a long, smooth stroke.

I wear a bandana around my head because I usually have to worry about dripping sweat on folks. This time I worried that if I kept tearing up I'd be dropping those. I fought - with limited success - the worried and stressful responses her appearance generated because I believe that my emotions can be felt through my hands. And I prayed like never before.

I had no idea how she liked it. She only acknowledged at one point that her arm was tender because of "so many needles". Otherwise she said nothing and never explained why she was the way she is.

At the end of the 50 minutes I felt a real sense of urging. So I bent down and whispered, "I have a crazy question. Have you ever had your ears done?"


"They say it's like a full body massage and I know you don't want your scalp done but I thought you might like it. It's kind of Eastern!"

She agreed.

Halfway during the ears (and I did it the way my mentor taught me) I realized why I had felt the urging to do it.

That was the only time in the entire massage she got to be treated as normal. Her ears could handle the "normal" amount of pressure with no problem.

Afterwards, as we rode down in the elevator, she said that part of the massage was the most amazing.

That's when I saw it -- a jeweled pink ribbon pin on her lapel.

If cancer was indeed what had gotten her to that state, the massage should never have happened. Massage increases circulation so the cancer cells have that much more speed in moving around the body. The only time massage isn't contraindicated is when the patient is already terminal. But my client didn't check the box on the intake form asking if there were any medical conditions to keep her from receiving a massage, so I gave her what she wanted.

When I showed one of our receptionists the small amount of pressure she had required, the rather expressive woman declared, "That's not a massage! Why did she come here?"

"To be touched," I replied and, in that moment, the rightness of it all seemed absolutely clear.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Hurry Up and Wait -- The Details

I've been slow to post many details about massage school. In the first weeks of class, we were told of the need to respect client privacy and not even acknowledge a client when out shopping unless they said hello first. But stories keep landing on my table -- inspirational, humorous, and curious ones. So, while I haven't settled on how much I can and cannot say, and of course, names are out of the question, as a storyteller, I am compelled to say something.

Today, I'm tackling the subject of "hurry up and wait."

Our course is divided into three sections. First we hit the books. Next, (and where we are now) are our official days of internship with 50 "hands-on" hours required and most of us adding another 70 due to the need to cut costs of tuition. Lastly, we will go back to the books and practice tests so that we can pass what the state puts before us.

Most of my cohorts and I have heard similar comments about massage:

"How do you deal with the nastiness of feet?"
"What do you do about the big guys?"
"What's it like when you roll them over and see a hairy back?"
"What if a guy ... you know ... gets aroused?

The reason I know my cohorts have heard the same questions is that we have lots of time to talk. When more than 25 people are available for massages and you're depending on walk-ins to get the hours, we spend a great deal of time chatting. Supposedly, we are to wait in a small 10 x 10 room until the front desk calls to say we have an appointment. But (refer again to the above note on how many of us are in this program at this point) and you can easily deduce that space might be limited in what is known as the "intern room." Since you will rarely see me on a crowded elevator or on the escalator at a huge sporting or concert event, I take my slightly claustophobic self down to the cafe and set up a make shift office.

With my Mac, wireless access to email (but, curiously, not Facebook or YouTube), and a discount that ensures I'll have something to drink throughout the day, I'm good to go. I'm trying to keep my bills paid, so the time for freelancing is of great value.

However, I've learned not to count on long spurts of productivity. Inevitably, if I arrive at 8:45 a.m. and am set up by 9:15 -- with both my massage table and makeshift office ready for action -- I've got a visitor by 9:30. That small intern room starts overflowing downstairs to the cafe fairly quickly. That's when the storytelling and laughter begins.

We compare how many hours of actual massage we've accumulated. We wait to see who had the biggest surprise -- "I worked one hour on only a calf." "My young client moaned the whole time." "I got 'shooshed' by one of the instructors because my tapotement (tapping) was too loud." And we keep waiting for the receptionist to peek around the corner and call one of us away for an actual appointment.

Some adjusted their hours as soon as we realized 9 to 5 wasn't going to net us many massages. Though our class schedule is set, our massage schedule is adjustable. I now go in at ten and stay until 7 or 8 p.m. Mon-Thurs and add Sunday afternoon for good measure. Saturday is THE day to be there but my freelancing and volunteering usually have me booked. Plus, back to back (get the massage humor?) massages are hard on me now that I appear to be dealing with a pinched nerve.

When we do get a client, we're off! We make our way to the reception area where we are given the intake form. That's the source for finding out any issues, what degree of pressure is desired, and whether we are giving a 30, 60, 90 min or 2 hour massage. HINT: 90 min is perfect. Two hours means the intern is trying to fill the time. 60 min means you're going to miss out on something and especially if you have an issue. After 50 hours thus far, I can tell you, everyone has issues!

We then greet the client and have the time it takes to walk 50 feet to the elevator, ride up one floor, and walk another 50 feet or so to find out more about their needs, explain where they can take a restroom break, tell them to turn off their cell, and go over the procedure so they aren't too alarmed when we start working on their forehead the minute we get into the mostly quiet massage room.

"Mostly quiet" refers to the fact that there are only curtains surrounding each table, those curtains are on rings, those rings make noise every time you open the entrance to your space or hit the "wall" with your hip. Also we've got "soothing" music (if you don't count the track that is mostly static), men snoring, therapists whispering instructions, and plastic bags of laundry being collected and new bags being opened (you know that sound).

We take the client to the space, explain where to put clothes and that we need them to get "under the covers and face up" and then leave to let them get comfy. Those few minutes of waiting are usually filled with getting some info down on their intake form and adding them to our collective list of clients so that our hours are accounted for. I have the additional pleasure of getting my bandana tied. You see, I'm a sweat-er and if not properly attired I will drip.

Then, hoping my client has already closed his/her eyes, I enter Ninja-like and begin with breathing together and the face. By the time I've done the neck and shoulders, I've got my stride. Arms, legs, and back follow. We conclude with the scalp.

If I've done my job well, the client has a drugged look on his/her face when emerging from our curtained habitat, clothed and ready to evaluate me. I walk the same path back down to the reception area, leave them with the evaluation paper, and thank them.

Then I'm back up to the second floor to change the sheets on the table, check to see if any laundry needs to go to the collection area downstairs, and finally back at my makeshift office in the cafe.

And it's hurry up and wait all over again.

More on those round the table conversations in the next post . . .

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Celebrate Good Times, C'mon

For the last three days, we've been celebrating my friend's birthday. On the actual day of her birth -- Thursday -- the plan had been to make beef bourguignon, a dish we'd done together before and had enjoyed the effort of trying to follow Julia Child's instructions.

I took the cast iron dutch oven and a cake pan by her house before heading to massage school. She was also doing her mother's chocolate cake recipe (an enterprise that another friend and I had attempted once, and only once, for her and one, we now agreed, for which we would always offer our support but never again attempt its complexity). The idea was that she would get off work a bit early and I'd meet her at our girlfriend's house as soon as I completed my last massage of the day.

When I walked in, something hit me. I wasn't sure what it was but I knew the situation wasn't what it should be. I dove into the fray and added fresh rosemary to my chopped potatoes and since they were going to need to roast at a higher temperature than the beef, I asked what the timing on Julia's recipe was going to be.

"I don't know," she said. "I haven't taken a look yet. Let me see."

Reading aloud, she got to the source of my concern. "3 to 4 hours."

"We'll be doing takeout tonight," I replied.

Fortunately, we are all quite affable in the kitchen so in the middle of the laughter we found the Thai takeout menu and ultimately enjoyed some spicy delights while smells of beef broth, wine, luscious beef and vegs wafting throughout the dining area. I didn't stay for the unveiling of only the first step Chef Child's French cuisine. I had an early start to my Friday but I did get to taste it on Saturday evening.

Friday we enjoyed a taco bar back at our favorite kitchen with games following. Friends around the table laughing at each other's foibles with dominoes and Rummy tiles emit sounds that energize my soul.

After a half day on Saturday in a board meeting, I ran a few errands and then met the birthday girl at my house. We had a sleepover planned. First we'd finish the beef dish, then we'd hook up with a massage school friend, attend an art show and finally, she'd be treated to a birthday massage.

All went off like clockwork.

At the end of the night, as I said goodbye to the massage therapist who had been deemed "unbelievable," I realized that even the reality of few funds can't keep creative women from a good time.

Celebrate? You betcha! Wonder what we'll come up with for the holidays?

Saturday, October 23, 2010

I May Not Be an Iron Chef, But I Rock the Hospice Kitchen

We don't usually have opportunities to connect with the residents of the AIDS hospice. Many come to us too late. With only weeks to live, they have no time or energy for sharing their stories or the steps of their journey to this quiet 8-bed haven for their final days. Usually most of the residents are from the streets and are at or very near the "actively dying" stage. So as volunteers, we concentrate primarily on food, clean sheets, and mopped floors.

Today was different.

Most of the 8 residents were eaters. Two were very alert. Two would have been even more communicative if only I'd known their heart languages. So today I started my shift as a short order cook. Betty even wrote down the orders so we could keep the oatmeal/boiled eggs separate from the fried egg with toast! The first hour or so we were boiling, flipping, scrambling, and buttering fast enough to impress Houston's The Breakfast Klub.

And like most family cooks, as soon as breakfast dishes were in the sink, I was searching for what lunch would be. Omega House does an incredible job of making the most of all donations. I can't begin to list all the reasons I'm impressed with Sandy and her leadership of that place. Still somedays I'm just not inspired with what I find in the fridge and freezer. I know better cooks than me could have manifested a feast out of what I found there, but I didn't see it. So I announced to my fellow vol that I was heading to the supermarket. As per her character, she gave me cash to split the bill.

Consulting with her by cell from the aisles of the store and after I discovered a special on chicken, we agreed a King Ranch Casserole was in order. Back at the kitchen counter, I overheard our trainee discussing life with one of the residents. Soon we were all engaged in hearing about histories, desires, and even funeral plans. No one tried to "shush" him. No one tried to pretend that we weren't sitting in a hospice for the dying. We all just shared information about what we knew regarding the end days. And even our youngest vol had knowledge of that.

When the buzzer rang from Bed D, I had just sat down for a cup of coffee (ok and a doughnut ... but really those things are always there and I just couldn't let them go to waste!). I rose and discovered that one of our only two female residents was awake and wondering where her husband had gone. After a brief look around, I suggested to her that he might have taken a walk.

"Ok," she said. "I just go in and out so much I had wanted to tell him something while I was awake."

Clearly, she cherished the moments when the drugs didn't take her away. So I asked a question. She responded. I asked another and her story grew longer. That's when I sat down and let the journey unfold. I left a few twists and turns later to get her a salad and grateful for the opportunity to put a story to the woman in Bed D.

Back in the kitchen, the timer went off and we pulled the brown and bubbling (as all casserole directions suggest they should be) concoction from the oven. Cheesy goodness topped chicken, chiles, sour cream and tortillas to a calorie-laden delight. Since everyone had been smelling the sauteed onions and baked goodness for almost an hour, I had a line of folks ready to test it.

Our most talkative resident proclaimed it "heavenly" and it received good reviews from vols and our favorite nurse as well. But the best moment came when our French-speaking African agreed to a taste after I pulled the word for "chicken" from the recesses of my limited French vocabulary. After one bite, he smiled up at me and said, "Yes, more."

Somedays the length of the conversation doesn't matter. Merely a connection will do.

For the Art Lover in All of Us

I marvel at beauty. This week has been a masterpiece in the making.

My massage internship resulted in views of intricate tattoos, athleticism and grace unhampered by the years, mother/daughter bonds celebrating risk, and the generosity of friends. Like a first time visitor to the Museum of Fine Arts, my jaw sometimes dropped in awe.

While some might dismiss my assessment, I know without doubt that this week my hands were instruments of good, sometimes offering restoration beyond what "cross friction for better circulation could provide" and going straight to the mystical, spiritual realm.

I know there are massage therapists who will be able to go deeper than me, endure longer than me, and ascertain causes and solutions for stress and strain better than me. But I'm not swayed. Because my newfound "ministry" isn't about being the best. I know that I give rest to the weary, comfort to the tired, and blessings to each body on my table.

I am 49 years old. I am an instrument of good. And, because of that, I am my own work of art. I thank God for the inspiration.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Campaigning for a New Way

If I had to make my living by phone banking every day, I'd call it quits.

If my livelihood depended upon me blockwalking on a regular basis, I'd take steps to make a change.

Oh ... wait a minute ... I did.

Life on the campaign trail is difficult. The work is never done. More lists are always popping up -- calls to make, doors to knock on, funds to raise, mailers to design with just the right message that help folks know a candidate ... in three paragraphs or less.

After one season, I knew the grueling pace would never be a race I could master. While my current studies keep me busy, I have found a degree of balance between fun and facts, between what I want to do and what I have to do. In the last two weeks, I've attended a few campaign events (because I wanted to, not because I had to) and standing at a distance I've had my decision confirmed.

I wonder if the public would agree that a new way is viable, that they would be willing to be educated on choices without calls, mailers, and a knock on the door on a Saturday morning. While I hear plenty of complaints about the process, the gurus bring out stats each time a naysayer suggests cutting back on campaign communications that dispel the idea that those complaints have any merit. They easily convince the campaign planners that disconnecting from phone banks or closing the door on blockwalking would shut down a successful campaign.

And what do I know? Maybe they're right.

But as for me and my ears, feet, and heart . . . we'll be going in new directions.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

"Live Like You Were Dying" Has Implications

I must admit to tearing up a bit at every hearing of Tim McGraw's popular country song that includes a "bucket list" of activities ranging from sky diving to bull riding to sweet talking and forgiveness. I get emotional when I think people might not realize the value of each day, that unaccustomed to sudden lost, they might assume that every day is a given.

Because I learned at a very early age that nothing is guaranteed, and had that theory reinforced when I hit my mid-30s, I have attempted to cherish the moments, to accept most challenges that come my way, to embrace the unknown and try to learn what I can.

As a result, days can be packed.

Last weekend I spent all day Friday helping artists load in to a downtown festival that happens only because the a festival staff of three, the city, and countless volunteers make it happen. For 13 hours, I ensured that I answered as many questions as possible, smiled at the weary (artists come from across the country), and took a moment every now and then to appreciate the orchestration that makes this celebration of art benefitting local charities possible.

On Saturday, I went from one side of the Houston area to the other dressed in rodeo clown attire. You haven't seen surprise and smiles until you've pulled into a drive thru in between rodeo gigs. On this day, I held on tight as a pygmy goat kept me going in rapid circles, blew tons of bubbles that little boys seemed thrilled to burst (a metaphor for my love life?) and tasted chili from 26 different cook-off teams to judge which was the best. A couple of hours later and sans the red cheeks and fake freckles of Cornbread (my clown name) I attended a benefit for a group that supports persons living with AIDS and then spent some time with a friend who has recently experienced loss and wanted to get out for a while.

Sunday I was back at the arts festival. More questions, more volunteers, and support of artists by way of water, sodas, crackers and cookies filled the afternoon hours until we finally were ready to assist with load out. Once again, I marveled at the willingness of individuals donating time and energy so that others might enjoy a great day.

When the weekend concluded I was wiped. At least I thought I was. Then I got word that my stepfather was not doing well. In ICU with complications to infirmities to numerous to list, I wondered if he would make it through the week. And due to my "to the walls" attitude all weekend, I was physically and emotionally drained.

A tear fell after a phone update from my mother. That's when the angels swooped in. Except, they were "angels unaware." The young man in massage class who was bored as we waited for our next instructions on a routine isn't usually the touchy-feely type. Yet, out of the boredom, he said, he wanted to rub my feet. One woman who knew what was happening with my family kept checking with me and took care of my back. Another lit a candle and said a prayer. And another classmate closed us off from the rest of the class so that she could practice her routine and I got quiet and a full massage before leaving.

The day served as a great reminder. I'm going to continue to remember that living has no contract, no guarantees. But I'm also going to ramp up the gratitude and be aware that others are living . . . and literally dying all around me. A pair of feet, shoulders, or maybe even a needed prayer could be around the next corner. Wonder if there's a pair of wings in my size?

Monday, October 04, 2010

Definitely Tired. Definitely.

Class all day. Prepare a dinner that doesn't reek of "I'm single and don't merit anything beyond microwave frozen diet meals." Spend time on freelance projects. Do the laundry so that clean sheets and scrubs are available tomorrow. Check in on the sick and afflicted in my family. Bed time.

I'm sure that for a few months I can do this. But "sure" is definitely not a definitive response to "definitely tired."

Friday, October 01, 2010

Massage Lessons ... I'm Learning

As when anything you want to be good -- preparation sets the tone.

The sheets are clean. The lights are low. The music is on but not overwhelming. Just a few simple acts so that the unspoken declaration is clear, "Welcome."

When you are on the table, grounding can begin. My fingers are lightly on your shoulders and then with a few deep breaths -- breathe in and out . . . in and out . . .

The transformative power of touch is underway.

In classes, I'm being shown the methods by which I can glide, compress, strip, and friction at least some of your stress away. What I can't do is wipe away the cause of the pain. The more I connect via massage, the more I wish it could be true.

How incredible to offer you the ability to identify your trigger point -- that place that's the source of pain but of which you are unaware -- and go deep enough and for long enough so that relief occurs. Not just physically but mentally and emotionally. While I can offer a temporary, physical nod in the right direction, I can't do the same with your mind.

For now I'll leave that to different kinds of therapists. But if you can't yet find the words, my table and touch are ready. You are most definitely welcome.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Networking by any other name . . .

While reading a story about how the creation of social network content has hit a plateau, I realized some of the language seemed very familiar. The church -- a social network of its own and one in which I spent much of my career -- would identify with the classifications of participants:


The study's findings reveal that in the past year, no measurable growth has appeared in the Creators category and in the U.S. that group (of those creating social content) has actually declined. Social networking is still on the rise, however. But this study suggests that the average user "feels most at home taking more passive actions."

If I were still in the church consulting business, I'd have a workshop outlined in a matter of minutes after digesting this one!

Just When I Thought I Couldn't Go On . . .

The temps dropped below 90!

Now I remember what a cool breeze feels like.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Amazed and marveling ...

I've had a lasagna-making, Omega House-mopping, party-hopping, rodeo-clowning, slow-cooking kinda of weekend and it's not over yet.

I'm marveling at the kind of life I lead ...
-bottling mead at one party for friends who own a Renaissance Faire,
-singing "For He's a Grumpy Old Man" to a friend younger than me -- with all his friends and family dressed in old man attire at a cafeteria,
-cooking for friends, people with AIDS, and more friends,
-and filling in at the last minute at a rodeo event that's helping to raise awareness and funds to "beat the hell out of melanoma."

In less than two days, I've done that and more. When leadership gurus used to tell me to envision my future and write it down I always said I couldn't imagine a future that exceeded my reality. I still can't. Rather than setting a course and moving toward a status/objective/goal, I have chosen to cherish each moment as best I can and take every opportunity to milk the life out of every experience.

So far, so very, very, very good.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A time to live and a time to . . .

Before E was born, his father walked out on E's mother and her then eleven children. E, the baby, never knew him and, in some ways, always sought that relationship.

Yesterday when my friend visited E, E was already in a coma. My friend knew the implications of his condition should he survive. He told E, "It's ok to sleep. And when you wake up, you will be in the arms of a Father who will never leave you and always love you."

Last night E died . . . surrounded by his family and my friend.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Peace that Passes Understanding

My friend's friend is quite possibly dying. E contracted a parasite of some kind several weeks ago. He's in his mid-30s, adventurous (especially when it comes to street taco stands), in great shape and then suddenly he's unable to keep anything down and is losing weight rapidly. Three weeks were required before doctors could identify what the problem was and attack it. Antibiotics -- two rounds -- were thought to help but in his weakened state he got slightly better only to get a lot worse. Last week the thought was that he might be rebounding. This week he's in ICU and the doctors say he's added meningitis and possibly pneumonia to his problems and the first batch of parasites have been replaced by something else.

His mother arrived from Mexico on Friday.

My friend is assisting as best he can, trying to be there for E, and at the same time trying to stay out of the way of the family. Since E has 11 brothers and a sister and they are all Spanish-speaking while my friend is not, that's not the easiest thing to do. Still he is there. He steps in when possible and, in the meantime, stands and waits for his turn to see the shadow of his lover.

E hasn't hidden any aspect of his life from his family. They've known since his youth that he plays hard. But in the last few years, he's traded much of his life on the edge for the pursuit of something longer-lasting. He's earned his GED, started work towards a college degree and held down a demanding position as the go-to guy with a catering company. All the while, he cajoles, jokes, and debates his way through conversations and relationships with a laugh that will make anyone forgive his unbridled fervor and, soon enough, applaud his desire to constantly be learning.

Extremely attractive and proud of it, E has retreated as the pounds and muscles fell away. Only family were allowed to care for him. He pulled away from my friend in a vain attempt to shield him from the sight of his deterioration. My friend took the retreat in stride, knowing that when E is determined, there's no option but to oblige him.

E gave his power of attorney to his brother this week. That's the last conscious act he's verbalized.

The brother now serves as gatekeeper to the ICU visits, hearer of the doctors' dire updates, and translator for family members and friends. Since our little chosen family focused on our friend the night before, praying with him, laughing with him, eliciting stories and tears, and then distracting him when he wanted, I decided the brother was my focus yesterday.

Tall, robust, long dark curls framing his face, the brother's obvious strength and love for E was evident from the first hello. Wrapped in a blanket from the night's vigil at his mother's side as she wept over her baby, he was holding on to the edges of both the material and his courageous facade. "I schedule time for crying," he said. "I'm the one my brother wanted to take care of things. Call me silly, but, I can't let them see me cry. That's my time. Last night, I didn't get it because I stayed with my mother. I'm in great need of tears at the moment."

I looked at those arms, the blanket, and eyes that implored the Universe to make this better somehow while every word indicated his resignation to what was to come. I knew in an instance what I wanted to do.

"Hon, I'm a little strange. I know you just met me. But I want to massage your hands. Do you like massage? Do you mind?"

"Are you kidding? Of course. Oh, you are incredible! Yes, yes."

We sat. We chatted. Then we talked, really talked. Mixed between the stories was laughter that sometimes surprised the other visitors in the waiting room. I looked up once to see a woman watching with what looked to be envy and a smile in her eyes. I envisioned that she wanted what we were sharing -- the freedom to just be, to not pretend to hope for things when our hopes are detrimental to the good of the one we love, to accept, to stare down expectations and social mores and just do. I worked his forearms and heard of how E came to be not just his brother but his friend and confidante. On his metacarpals and carpals I got the story of E's youth. Turning the pages of time and my massage attention to toward the fleshy parts surrounding his thumb I got the lowdown on family dynamics. And by the time I was working his fingers we had declared our love for one another.

When Mama came away from the morning visit with E she was ready to go home so I took her lead and exited as well. But I also took the morning's moments with me throughout the day. Later in the evening, when I stood backstage at a fundraising gala for the AIDS hospice where I volunteer, I heard the music with a new poignancy, the speeches with a keen alertness to the myriad of emotions that comes when you minister to the dying and those they love. I was amazed at how my one day underscored the connectedness that a person of faith feels when faced with friendships, struggle, love, aspirations, frustrations, and more. I held no answers but I embraced peace.

And then . . .

Feet announcing with every throb they were ready to head home, secure in the knowledge that once again the power of volunteers had produced an enjoyable experience for supporters and a profitable one for the organization, I stood ready to make a quick departure after the traditional toasts and desserts with cast and audience. I greeted one of the organizational staffers and her husband who I had met briefly earlier in the afternoon. We did a checklist of how everything went and then she walked away for a glass of water.

I turned to her husband. "So as I recall, your beautiful wife told me that you were in marketing as well. Is that right?"

"Well, yes, in a way. I work in communications for the Mexican consulate here in Houston."

Gasp. Hand to chest in disbelief. Was it really only hours ago that I sat with E's brother discussing what we thought was needed to help others of his siblings to cross the border and see E? And here was the man who might have those answers.

I regurgitated what I hope was a concise version of the story. He nodded in understanding, letting me know that indeed he'd heard similar stories before. Then he outlined the steps needed, gave me his card and said the most beautiful words a woman blessed with the ability to connect the dots can hear, "Have the brother call me."

Facing disease and perhaps death is never easy, pleasant, wanted, or any other positive term I can come up with. But with love, touch, patience, grace, and an openness to allow for each person involved to be who they are and how they need to be, peace can come.

I thank God that I don't just get to see this happen, but am an active participant. For that and so much more, I thank God.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Twists in the Conversation

"History shapes generations and generations shape history." That's a line I've borrowed from Strauss and Howe and used many times standing before leaders who are desperate to cross the generational barriers they often see rising up in their organizations.

My massage therapy class is no different. This week I started singing "I'm a little bit country . . ." and my generational cohort completed the line a la Marie Osmond (pre-Dancing with the Stars and Nutrisystem commercials) and one of our younger brethren in the class said, "I remember that. They did it on South Park."

Next up was talk of movies like X-Men and Mystique's body paint compared to the gold paint of Goldfinger. More of the youthful brigade had joined us and acknowledged that while they hadn't see the 007 flick, they knew the reference because of Goldmember in Austin Powers.

And so it goes, seems that history also shapes parody. My youth is being recycled.

So I'm glad to have my cohort in the classroom. T is an incredible artist via knitting, embroidery and some things that one does with needles that I'm not too familiar with but look beautiful! She's smart, witty, and savvy on events past and present so that we have shared more than one look of "been there, done that" when classroom conversations have taken any number of the twists and turns.

That's why when she asked to speak to me -- and had a rather serious tone in her voice -- I quickly wrapped up what I was doing to see what she wanted.

"Do you go straight?" she queried.

Now, I've been very up front about who I am and what I do with various non-profits, political organizations, and my friends. While my instructor has labeled me a liberal and playfully gives me grief on a regular basis, T has struck me as a woman who takes things as they come, doesn't jump to judgement and while possibly disagreeing with someone, doesn't feel the need to preach or lambast them for the differences. So I was somewhat shocked that she went from conversations that had primarily been about pop culture, good web reads, family life, and cooking shows to what my sexual orientation is.

"Uh, what?" I asked in return.

"Do you go straight?" she said again. But the repetition was a tad bit slower since it was obvious that I was confused.

I didn't want to be defensive and yet, I still couldn't believe we were having this conversation in the hallway.

"Straight? Yes, I'm straight," I said while also ensuring that I didn't indicate I thought there was anything wrong with the alternative. At least, I hoped I was doing that. Mostly I had a very confused look on my face. So I added, "Are you asking me if I am straight?"

"No!" she declared emphatically and also gave Seinfield's now famous "not that there's anything wrong with that" look before she really slowed down to say, "Do you GHOST WRITE?"

"Why, yes, yes on both counts. What do you need?"

Lessons learned this week: Massage and laughter are both great stress relievers.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Alone Doesn't Mean Lonely

Reminders that I live alone come every day:

- When I have to apply a Icy Hot patch to my sore back and can't quite get it right the first, second or third try.
- When I see something on the floor and know that no one else is going to pick it up but me.
- When I cook a recipe as written and eat on it for days because they usually feed 4-6 people.
- When bills have to be paid, even if I don't have a regular income at the moment.

Reminders that I'm rarely lonely are fairly frequent as well:

- When a friend agrees to spraying for bugs in my kitchen while I'm away for a few days.
- When another friend texts that she admires the path I'm on and the steps I'm taking to care for myself and others.
- When any number of individuals from the various non-profits with whom I work comment on my energy level and networking skills.
- When I'm driving in my car and tempted to make an unhealthy choice and instead call any one of the speed dial numbers programmed in my phone.

Loneliness creeps in during dark days or at night and waits in the shadows until I invite it to get a bit closer. That choice is usually because there's a tearjerker of a movie on or some memory just got the best of me. Ironically, when loneliness hits, it only takes minutes and I'm not alone. Friend/family are always there. And for this and soooooooo much more, I'm grateful.

Observations from a Massage School Newbie

1. The student nightmare that usually occurs before the presentation is due -- that you are making the presentation and then look down to realize you're naked -- is fact, not fiction, in massage school. Your fellow students will see you naked. You'll be draped. But you will be naked.
2. Massage school is one of the few learning institutions where homework means remembering to shave your legs.
3. During the first weeks of "hands-on learning" bruises happen. Lots of bruises. I sort of wear them like battle scars. I may soon suggest a game of trying to identify shapes, kinda like what you do on a sunny day with white puffy clouds. The best I can do right now is that the one on my forearm (anterior view) looks like an eggplant. Unfortunately, the one on my forearm (posterior) is directly beside an age spot and is blending in way too well. The ones on my thighs? Well, let's just say it looks like I've been having more fun than I really have.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

This Southern Girl Doesn't Glow -- She Sweats

Yesterday was so intensely hot that sane people were indoors with air conditioning.

Sanity is not my strong suit.

By 9 a.m. I had donned three layers of clothing and was searching for shade at a Special Rodeo. Eleven other clowns and I were among the entertainment for a half day of fun for children with special needs. We were photographed with them. We danced with them. We cheered at their karaoke. Some did rope tricks (note that that wouldn't be me). And all of us sweated.

At one point, I found a way to stand with my arm around Confetti for a photo (we all have rodeo clown names) without touching her wet shirt. She had a leather patch on the back of her suspenders. When Valentine or Geranium stood close to me, I cringed each time a hand would press into my back because I knew visions of wet rags had to be dancing in their heads. One hour in and there wasn't a dry hair on my head. Thankfully the cowboy hat disguised that fact somewhat. But I did fear that some of the smaller kids in wheelchairs and strollers might truly be afraid of the deranged looking woman in crazy makeup, suspenders, bright yellow shirt and wearing leggings. I would have (if it hadn't been me!).

The kids were incredible. Some were inspiring. One girl of probably 9 or 10 but looked to be the size of a 5-year-old and who needed a walker, belted out "God Bless America" with the fervor of an American Idol. Several teenagers dominated the dance floor. One girl could do cartwheels. Her friend happily thought she could too as she bent at the waist and motioned with her hands toward the floor. One young man caught all of our attention as he did a rapid fire reading of the words to "Take this Job and Shove It" occasionally allowing the music to catch up.

The "regularness" of their lives was never more evident as they helped each other, as siblings were jealous of attention paid to the others, as Moms giggled at their antics, as a grandfather helped his acrobatic grandson jump high in the air . . . over and over and over again. They were simply kids having a great time on horses, in wagons; playing with rabbits and laughing at the prickliness of a hedgehogs; and turning their lips blue with cotton candy and snow cones.

My heart was warmed as well as my body!

I had just enough time to drive home, shower (ahhhhhh), and load up the car. Why? Because I'm not content to do one event per day. Noooooooo. Crazy woman books a rodeo event and an Equality Texas gig in one day. In defense of what little grip on reality I have, the rodeo event was purely volunteering. ET was paying me to serve as the event coordinator. And in these lean days, that meant saying yes to them even though I already had something on the calendar.

Minutes after drying my hair, the sweat started pouring once again. I had to drive to the store to pick up ice and lemons. More sweat. I loaded my friend's car with supplies I'd been storing at my house. More wetness. We drove separately to the Heights (about 20 minutes away) and my persnickety AC in my car kicked in about ten minutes into the drive. Yet more moisture. We unpacked at this incredible house that was once a flop house but was now the location of many a gala. With a wraparound porch, huge backyard, art throughout, and both a state-of-the-art kitchen and wine cellar, it's truly the bones of a great event.

I had enlisted friends to make this event one of the great ones. They came through as always. We arranged, rearranged, set up the bar, set up the food, and traversed the emotional landscape of a host with one party in the evening and a Sunday brunch scheduled for the following day.

We transformed ourselves into party-goers with quick changes. My hair was still not dry. And served, photographed and mingled well. Just when I thought that I might not look as though someone threw a bottle of water in my face, the crowd grew to such a level that the AC couldn't keep up. Donation cards became fans. The host felt sorry for me and showed me the one vent in the kitchen I could stand over for immediate relief. I'd almost dried off when it was time to clean up, load the cars and enjoy the convection oven that I now know as my Beetle with the bad compressor.

And yet, when people commented on my performance at the party, I most often heard "energetic." Now when you are a year shy of 50, you've dripped in front of strangers in a strange land, and you still get remarks like that, it's not a bad feeling. A smile is a wonderful form of makeup. Sincere interest in what another is saying adds light to the eyes and complexion. What I lack in physical composure, I make up for with attitude.

A day like yesterday was all about attitude. I learned from the young. I shared with the advocates. And I took a shower when I got home.

Life is still very good ... a little warm, but very good.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Facing Fears and the Table

For some anxiety-ridden students facing the return to classes, the nightmare of standing before your classmates and realizing you're naked is a familiar one. The relief of waking up is sweet.

My nightmare has no such ending. I'm in massage therapy class. I won't be waking up. I will be naked.

Even before I hit the one-year-to-the-big-50 mark, I wasn't that comfortable with my body. I've always been aware of the extra pounds and now, of course, there's the reality of aging skin. I'm not convinced that I'm some crone but I'm also not that excited about a swimsuit.

So joining a class that requires you to shed clothing and jump on a table so that 20-somethings who cycle, play in rock bands, and bartend can beat on you makes total sense, right?

I can't say that I was surprised when we were told this week that we'd need our lotion. That was the cue that our clothes would be coming off. We've been practicing with scrubs on, learning to drape the sheet so that some degree of modesty is maintained. But with the introduction of strokes, we had to be moving to the big day.

What did surprise me was my reaction. Suddenly, I saw myself in such a negative light. Every pound on me seemed heavier, every blemish got darker, every wrinkle looser. And when we were told on the second day on "hands-on lab work" that we had to have a male partner if we hadn't already had one . . . well, gulp, I had to face the fear.

I looked around the room and there was the one guy in the younger set (yes, we've somewhat self-organized by age) who actually laughs at my jokes. He caught my eye, we did the raised eyebrow dance of inquiry and both nodded that we would proceed.

I worked on him first. He's the cyclist and may weigh as much as my two thighs. He's never had a professional massage. On this issue, I definitely had the upper hand.

I followed the class procedure of strokes, got the instructor to use him as a model so that my new young friend could have an incredible glute experience, and got some good response for my degree of pressure.

Then we closed the curtains and I stripped.

When he came back to the table, we had to practice the turn. If he does the draping correctly, he can't see but the move requires a rollover in which the client's breasts are potentially exposed. I rolled and positioned myself and took a deep breath. In that moment, I realized the truth of the words I uttered more than once during his practice of strokes and in response to his effusive apologies for getting some part of the practice wrong. "We are students. We are here to learn. We'll make mistakes but if we can't learn on each other, we can't learn."

My fears were faced by reframing. On that table, I am not a middle-aged woman with "issues" about her physical contours and sagging skin. I am an object lesson, a means to greater understanding. In learning mode, the experience made sense and, in fact, was essential.

Massage really does help relieve stress.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Let the Good Times Roll

We started talking about the trip about a month ago. Our new friend -- who had only recently joined our cooking crew of Wednesday nights -- has a condo in the French Quarter. The long Labor Day weekend afforded all of us -- two unemployed (but I am a student) and two employed but with limited vacation time and equally limited funding -- the chance to pool our resources. With some cooking in and wisely chosen dining out options, we could make a dream vacation happen.

We did it!

Driving over on Thursday night, I asked each person to make a wish and I, the official fairy duster, would help to ensure their realization via my positive energy (and a flourish as I waved my arm in lieu of a wand).

"I want to order the right thing. I always wish I'd tried something else."

"I want to meet someone new."

"We need to be safe and have fun."

"I want to see myself in a positive light."

"I want to survive health care reform."

The last one came from our insurance salesman and we agreed that might be out of the purview of my wish granting abilities.

Every other wish came true. We dined well on Cajun and Creole delights. We met tons of new people at parties and even on the streets. We laughed until we teared. We made up ratings games for the time we spent on the balcony watching the crowds who took one street over (ours) to avoid Bourban. We had scales for intoxication ... 0 for he's a glass or two to 10 for "soon he'll be praying to the porcelain god." And another for "that's unfortunate" fashion statements.

We were five adults who hadn't seen their 20s in a while who were wise enough to say "when" and go off on our own as needed and pitch in and make whatever should happen happen when that was required.

Driving home we knew that wishes and dreams were still within our reach. And we all smiled.

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.

Monday, July 26, 2010


I've been interviewed seven times in the last few weeks. I've written twice as many cover letters -- all customized for the audience. I've made a daily ritual of checking the non-profit job boards.

I'm not fretful about having to job hunt. I'm fretful that I'm getting in too good of a groove!

To date, I've had to refrain from smiling at least once in each interview . . .
-when the exec said for the third time how much he thought of me but that he wasn't sure if the organization could look outside the box enough to hire someone with my limited qualifications in fundraising,
-when the staff was asked if they had questions for me, and they didn't
-when the board member asked if, in the chance that I didn't get the job, would I still volunteer my time (something I've been doing for 15 years!)
-when the two introverts and I were alone in a warm, white office with nothing but a few pieces of paper, a table, and the quiet between us
-when the young man with a list of questions he must have collected from his interview days asked me what my long term career objectives were (at which point I thought about my response to the older man who interviewed me for my first post-college position and said, "You know we only pay minimum wage, and you're getting your masters." To which I replied, "You know I'd like to eat.")
-when the gum-smacking admissions counselor apologized for the gum -- not for the smacking but for not offering me a piece

And the list could easily go on.

How interesting to be on this side of the desk. Reminds me of the many artists, editors and editorial assistants I interviewed through the years. I hope I always left them feeling heard and affirmed in some way. For the most part, that's certainly been true of my experiences this go around.

I've yet to try what one man pulled with me. He explained that I had to hire him because God had revealed it unto him. One of us was obviously not listening to the same God channel. He was pious, yes. He was NOT a good artist.

I am a good interview. I'm an even better employee. And someday soon, I'll be employed again. Until then, I'm still smiling.