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On the more liberal side of the current tug-of-war over basic workers' rights, one concept that's seen some experimentation is the idea of the six-hour workday, wherein the traditional workday time is cut by a quarter. The idea is that, especially in white-collar brain-intensive jobs, studies have shown that six hours gives you the best ratio between availability and reasonable productivity, before fatigue sets in and workers start making more mistakes and/or seeing deleterious long-term health effects - so we should take advantage of that and hopefully reap savings in terms of less stressed-out workers.

Interestingly, however, over the past few weeks I've been having almost the reverse issue. Most of my workdays over that time have been only a couple of hours at most - a massage appointment here, a yoga class there, a shift at the spa a couple days a week. And yet I've been discovering the hidden cost to going for weeks without a break, even when the bulk of any given day seems like it should be fine for relaxing.

For one thing, a massage appointment isn't just a massage appointment, especially working out of my home. If someone's coming over, I need to make sure the living room, kitchen, bathroom, and hallway are clean; the furniture is moved; and the table is set up. Depending on how messy the house was before and whether Brian helps (which, dear man, he often makes himself available to do), that's often a two-to-three hour job before I even get to the appointment itself. (Although, on the upside, the house stays a lot cleaner when I have regular clients than it does otherwise.)

For another, although yoga teaching doesn't require any cleaning, there's the transportation time to consider. When I'm teaching at Uptown or Lincoln Square that's maybe ten or fifteen minutes each way on my bike or the bus; however, my regular class is at Sauganash, which is either a 35-minute bike ride or a 45-minute transit ride away, depending on my energy and the weather. For an eight- (or even six-) hour workday, an hour and a half round trip isn't a huge deal, but the proportion compared to a single two-hour shift is, unsurprisingly, much higher.

And that's not even taking into account the mental effects of going weeks without a proper day off. I constantly remind my clients that relaxation isn't what happens in between everything else you do; it's a conscious choice that requires active practice. Needless to say, it's much easier to make that choice when you're not likely to have to suddenly get up and dash - i.e. when you've got that full day off.

I'm not complaining, exactly - I made the choice to take on the workload I did, for various reasons. (Income is helpful! Practice at my trades are good. Feeling useful and productive is nice, too.) And in a lot of ways, I'm privileged - I don't have to take on less-than-ideal schedules if I don't want to, for fear of not making rent or running out of grocery money. But I cannot even articulate how relieved I am to have a couple of full, real, genuine days off on my schedule tomorrow and Wednesday. And while I understood intellectually why a yoga teacher friend of mine would occasionally cancel plans with "I'm sorry, I need to stay home and eat cheese," I grok that mindset in a much more real and immediate way now.
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"Take this paper, and write down all the regrets you have from the past year. Then we'll burn them and start with a clean slate."

My friend hands me a torn scrap of foolscap, and I pull my purple pen from my purse, considering. The other party guests banter with each other, covering up the inherent vulnerability of the moment by proposing outrageous stories or asking whether such-and-such mundane thing counts as a regret.

I write a few lines, mostly small things; slowly, they begin to imply a theme of something larger that I can't yet articulate. I write a few more, circling around the issue: I regret not taking some of the opportunities my mother offered to grow closer. I regret not reaching out to my friends when I needed emotional support. I regret letting my certainty that I already knew the answers cloud my ability to learn new things.

Finally, I've outlined the shape enough to identify what it is my brain's been hiding from me: carefully, in clear letters, I print "I regret all the times my pride has kept me from connecting with the world."

Then I circle it and underline it twice, as if to emphasize its importance to the oncoming flames.

--

"Even from the time Ambrosia was little, she knew her self-worth."

I am twelve years old, and my mother has told this story many times. Still, my back straightens a little.

"When she was a toddler, I would take her to the playpark in our neighborhood, and she would want to stay longer. So I would tell her, 'Okay, I'm going home without you,' and pretend to leave. And she would keep on swinging, or playing on the jungle gym, until I turned right back around and scooped her up."

At this age, in the nadir of middle school, I am just now beginning to be aware that my greater-than-average self-confidence has been a handicap to my social acceptance. Eight years of teasing, of ostracism both subtle and blatant, of outright violence on a few memorable occasions, are finally starting to penetrate. I am slowly realizing that, contrary to the "just be yourself!" messages of a thousand thousand afterschool specials and middle-grade novels, my defiance of social dictates - my refusal to wear 'normal' clothes, to care about my presentation, to keep my opinions to myself in class - are exacting a very real toll on my ability to get on with my classmates.

Until this point, I've taken pride in not caring about the shallow and superficial things most people in my age group care about, in marching to the beat of my own drum. But the constant shaming wears on me, as it is meant to do; we are social creatures, exquisitely attuned to the slights of others. It will be some years yet before I start to appreciate the value of building my personality through careful negotiation with social norms, of bearing superficial markers indicating belonging to a particular class or cohort. And it will be many more years of careful observation and learning - often by saying precisely the wrong thing - until I learn the subtle arts of getting along in a community, of deferring to others' knowledge even when I'm convinced of my own correctness, of influencing group opinion in small ways, of quietly building social currency against the day when my integrity will demand that I take a stand.

--

This morning, cocooned in blankets and absent any driving motivation to get out of bed early, I sank into the sort of brightly-lit, highly-detailed dream that often seems to visit me at such hours. I was visiting a mall storefront that turned out to be a beautifully decorated Jewish temple, run by a particularly Orthodox sect. For some reason I had a pressing need to wash my hands, and I remember asking a stern-browed woman if I might do so; she looked displeased at the notion, but apparently my need was great enough to overcome her reservations.

I proceeded to the back of the space, where there were several sinks, and started washing my hands at one of them, only to realize from the horrified faces of those around me that not only was I using entirely the wrong sink, but that I was trespassing upon the men's side of the temple, as well as likely violating several other rules I didn't even know. I take such pride in knowing the social tenets in any given situation, in acting carefully to ensure the comfort and approbation of others; the realization that I was in a situation where I was socially illiterate sends a wave of shame, pure and unadulterated as few non-dream emotions are, swamping my chest and my cheeks. Strong as it is, it burns indelibly into my memory the dream that might otherwise have faded in the light of day.


--

"Are you feeling inspired?" I ask my client, once she's taken a few breaths of her aromatherapy oils. We had been laughing at the silliness of naming a scent blend "Inspiration", as if achieving so notoriously elusive a state could be as simple as taking a few breaths.

"Oh, absolutely!" she answers, tongue planted firmly in cheek. "Now I can go home and finish all those half-done songs I have filling my notebooks!"

We spend a few moments bonding over the difficulties of musicianship, and the specific frustration of unfinished artistic efforts. She admits that she finishes perhaps one in ten songs that she starts; I, having not even been brave enough to start ten, feel simultaneously relieved and humbled.

I've long known that my difficulties in finishing anything artistic stem from my perfectionism; so long as a song or a story lives only as an idea in my mind, it will always be perfect, spared the trauma of birth and the inevitable marring of being shaped by imperfect hands. But, with pride much on my mind of late, I begin to consider how much of that perfectionism stems from pride. Completion means sharing, and sharing means risk - of judgment, of failure, of losing my sense of specialness. If I could let go of that need to feel special, set apart, would that help me to take artistic risks? Would it be easier to share something imperfect and true if I didn't tie my self-worth to my pride?

That last thought startles me with the truth it implies, and I almost miss a stroke in the massage.

--

"You can spend your life trying to fit yourself into a box. But you'll always be too much for some people. For others, you'll never be enough. But the great joy is that, if you let yourself, you'll always be exactly enough for you."

Something in the yoga teacher's voice catches me, which seems odd - I've been ruminating of late on how the doctrine of self-exceptionalism has been harmful in my life, and on the surface her message reads very much as a variation on the "just be yourself!" mantra.

You'll always be exactly enough for you.

It occurs to me, as my brain slowly slots the puzzle pieces together, that perhaps the problem isn't pride, per se - it's what I'm proud of. All my life I've been told that I'm talented, intelligent, exceptional; all my life I've been secretly terrified that I'm going to seriously screw up and prove everybody wrong, prove that I really am that weird girl who deserved to be bullied and ostracized, disappoint everyone who had such faith in me. I've accomplished a few things, it's true, and I'm proud of them, but I think I've been even more proud of how they reaffirmed my belief in my own exceptionalism.

And yet...in order for me to be exceptional, it logically follows that others have to be unexceptional. And I've long since rejected the idea of talent as a zero-sum game; I strongly dislike the idea that because one person doesn't measure up to another on one arbitrary scale, that means they don't have something to contribute on another axis. I wonder how much of the fear and misery I can forestall by refusing comparison, by practicing humility with regards to others, by working on being enough for me.

I wonder if, freed of its shackles of fear and embracing its gift of imperfect life, my art might someday take wing, finally able to share itself with the world, to help forge those tenuous connections we so desperately need.
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My life looks very different now as compared to a year ago.

On the whole, it's a set of changes I'm pleased with. I've made a number of friends; found a career path; found a clinic job, a couple of fill-in gigs, and a number of private clients; I've enthused about my new career to lots of people and handed out lots of business cards, and generally made a start at establishing myself as a therapist, especially in the local yoga community. I'm in the process of making my first major job change, from the clinic to a spa in a swanky hotel, working for a woman I like and respect very much, with possible future management opportunities if I want to pursue them. I'm making an effort to continue learning in my field. I'm bringing in some income again, with a lot of potential ahead for more. My social calendar is filling up and my work calendar is as well, and so far I've been pretty successful at juggling the two.

The tradeoff, perhaps unsurprisingly, has been a corresponding increase in anxiety, despite regular yoga-going. Of course, being me, I didn't realize it at first; I'm excellent at sublimating anxiety and turning it into fuel. I merely attributed the stiffness in my shoulders to unaccustomed workload and figured I was just focusing extra hard and therefore not particularly talkative, until Brian finally sat me down and said "So...you've been really moody and hard to live with lately, what's going on?" and I put two and two together, took a deep breath, and almost broke down crying.

I've been trying hard not to berate myself over it; it's perfectly reasonable that the measures I took to keep my mood issues in check for the past couple of years aren't going to be sufficient for such a dramatic lifestyle change. It's hard, though; some part of me feels like this is a failing on my part, that I should have at least seen this coming and accounted for it. Then there's the ever-present fear that it was the even-keeled-ness that was the exception, that the stress => anxiety => moodiness => depression cycle is my natural state that I'll always return to. And it certainly didn't help when, roundabout the middle of the month when things hit a nadir, I sabotaged myself by subsisting almost entirely on junk food for a week, until I put myself in the blood sugar loop-de-loops and nearly passed out at work. (Brownies. Not breakfast food. Also, my Achilles' heel.)

So I'm working on climbing up out of that trench...again. Awareness is turning out to be a big part of the equation - noticing when my focus starts to narrow, when my stride starts to get that extra spring in it, when I start having difficulty keeping the flow of a conversation going because my brain keeps circling around one particular topic. Self-care comes next; massage is helpful, as are meditative exercises (and keeping focused on the meditative aspects when at my yoga classes). Eating well, of course, which means planning out time for grocery shopping and food prep rather than letting all of that slide so that the only thing available for breakfast is a brownie. I've also invested in some bottles of Soylent, despite my dislike of the "high-tech disruptive food of the future!" cult that's sprung up around it; the fact is, it does a good job keeping my blood sugar steady on days when I don't have the time to make/eat a full breakfast, so I'm going to keep some around regularly, Brian's aesthetic objections notwithstanding. ("It tastes like watery oats and sadness!")

I may also try reiki in the future. I'd tried a couple of sessions as part of a massage trade, and they were pleasant and produced some interesting effects, but nothing I would have called "therapeutic", exactly. But yesterday I had an interesting experience. I took a yoga class taught by the woman I'd done trades with; it was an excellent class in its own right, but towards the end when we were all in savasana, she was going around doing a bit of reiki on people. Busy floating along on endorphins, I wasn't even aware of where she was; then at one point I felt a discrete tingle all through my lower torso, and I had just enough time to wonder what had caused it before her hands came down on my hips. And...well, I'm not quite sure how to describe the sensation; y'all know I'm a little distrustful of experiences that can't be quantified. But physically, I could feel myself relaxing, and emotionally...I felt like a dried-out sponge that someone had just put into a pan of water. After class, she commented, "You were seriously ready for that reiki!" and I couldn't disagree. So perhaps I'll see if she wants to do another trade or two in the future.

And then there's needing to take time for myself. I think this might be the biggest piece of the puzzle; I was looking at my schedule recently and realizing that, while I've had some downtime between shifts/appointments/social engagements, it's been a few weeks since I had a solid day or two with no commitments. Some people can function just fine being "always on"; unfortunately, I need to face the fact that I'm not one of them, and I need downtime. It's frustrating, because there's always something that needs doing, or someone I haven't seen in a while whom I'd like to hang out with, which makes it easy to feel guilty; I think letting go of that guilt over prioritizing myself is going to be key to sustaining this pace.
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Lots going on in my life of late, though none of it has struck me as being particularly of interest to the world at large, which is why I've been a bit quiet on this front.

Thanksgiving was delightful; thanks to our friend Kat, we ended up hosting a Friendsgiving, pretty evenly split between people we knew and people she knew who didn't have family plans for the holiday. It was a good crowd, full of friendly and intelligent people; thanks to Kat and Brian's cooking, the food was also excellent. In the wake of it, I've been ruminating on why I enjoy Friendsgivings more than the traditional family-oriented sort; I think it has to do with my Pacific Northwesterner roots, as well as being sort of the black-sheep offshoot of the family (the two are not unrelated - most folks in Alaska live there in part because they're not close to their extended families). Don't get me wrong, my extended family are nice enough folks, but we have basically nothing in common, and with a couple of exceptions, none of them have shown any real interest in getting to know me and my life (or, in fairness, vice versa). So I tend to think of traditionally family-oriented holidays/events (weddings, funerals, etc.) with a sense of obligation rather than joy - and after the drama bomb my aunt set off over my (non)invitation to my cousin's wedding, I feel no qualms about skipping them. But even though many of them have drama stories of their own, I'm nonetheless fascinated by and slightly jealous of my friends with large tight-knit families; it must be nice to feel actively wanted rather than merely tolerated in that context.

My massage therapy career is going well, and growing - in fits and starts, as all growth seems to happen. (The week before Thanksgiving was especially crazy; I'm not sure what happened, but between clinic and private clients I went from maybe eight hours of active hands-on work per week to twenty-five. And of course that was just after I'd promised myself I'd go to yoga more regularly. I was So Tired.) One of my coworkers who lives nearby and I have set up a standing date on Tuesdays to get together and practice new techniques, so that'll help with (informal) continuing education, which should in turn help me maintain my enthusiasm. Milestones I have hit: graduation, licensure, professional organization membership (and associated insurance), acquiring a couple of regular clients at the clinic job, acquiring second occasional fill-in gig (which took basically no effort on my part - hurrah good word of mouth!), acquiring (and rebooking!) a few private clients, averaging at this point about one a week. Milestones I have yet to hit: any kind of formal continuing education, my first Yelp review, averaging more than one private client per week, making enough from private clients to need to report the income on my taxes, heh. (IRS rules say net income has to be over $400 before you need to report it; given that I'm still firmly in the negatives even with my relatively minimal startup costs, I'm not concerned for this year.) On the docket for next year: figuring out CE requirements/opportunities, registering as an LLC, possibly finding an accountant who specializes in small business.

And that's all the news around here, pretty much. Tomorrow is Brian's work Christmas party (still to do: dye hair to match purse and boots, try on outfit to make sure it works as well as I think it will, find necklace to match bracelet), and this weekend we're hosting [livejournal.com profile] thewronghands and her posse. Here's to pleasantly-busy-but-not-overbooked times!
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Tonight Brian and I went to see Mythbusters Unleashed, which is staged (as Brian put it) rather like a science-themed traveling medicine show; for most of the segments, Adam and Jamie would take scientific principles that are relatively dry or abstract (force equalling mass times acceleration, for instance, or the power of friction) and find colorful ways to demonstrate it (having a large male volunteer try to hit a high-striker carnival bell with a gavel versus a fourth-grade girl with a sledgehammer, or hoisting Adam up nearly to the ceiling by two shuffle-paged telephone books). It was fun, in an Exploratorium Onstage kind of way.

One of the more thought-provoking moments, however, was when Adam was talking about his personal history, and how for so much of his life he had lots of different interests, but never had a focus. So he would spend some time learning a new skill or subject and get better-than-average at it, but would inevitably hit that wall where in order to have a hope of actually becoming good, he'd have to dedicate a serious chunk of his life to it. And he'd shy away, because that wasn't what he wanted, and would lament all the time he'd wasted learning that skill, when it was apparently his destiny to only ever get a step above mediocrity.

And then the day came when the studio called him and asked him if he would be interested in joining a show called Mythbusters, which turned into, well...Mythbusters. And even though they've just finished filming the final season, and for the first time in fourteen years he won't be spending huge amounts of time at it, he's discovered through the show that his calling is in science - specifically, the storytelling and communication and public outreach aspect of it. He might not have the specialized know-how to make cutting-edge discoveries or devote his life to research, but he has the intelligence and enthusiasm and charisma to explain and demonstrate basic principles and new discoveries to folks who otherwise might never even think about them; and all his many weird and varied skills help him to do that, as they give him a broad background of experiences from which to draw, which in turn helps him solve problems by thinking in new and different ways.

People who've followed my personal agonizing over my career might recognize this theme. I have so many weird and varied skills and pockets of knowledge, but for so many years, I had no real drive to develop any of them. So I'd write a bit here, and play the guitar there, and study psychological or sociological principles one day, and then read up on how they were used in marketing, and another day I'd be looking at the latest studies in neurochemistry, or learning about physiology so I could diagnose myself and avoid a doctor's bill, and now and then there'd be some yoga in there, and then a friend suggested I go to massage school.

And I suddenly felt like the savant in her element. Helping people feel better appealed to my humanistic bent; all the basic physiology/pathology I knew gave me a good foundation and kept the science courses from being overwhelming. The psychology and sociology and storytelling helped me understand how the profession is viewed and how to frame it most attractively to potential clients; the yoga (and associated knowledge of alignment/proprioception) helped with body mechanics. Even the employment-law and ethical stuff my mother used to lecture me on when I was a kid turned out to have relevance. For the first time, I had a focus, something I was enthusiastic about and not scared to devote a good chunk of my life to; and it intersected with almost everything I enjoy. (Still working on getting the music in there.)

I still worked hard in school, don't get me wrong; there's a reason I was barely available for those seven months. But having that foundation, that basic understanding of how these subjects worked and how they fit together, made all the difference; it's why I got one of the highest MBLEx scores on local record, and why I feel I really have the potential to be great in this field. In a way, I've been studying for it my whole life.

I don't know if bodywork is what I'm going to do for the rest of my life or not. But having had that experience, of finding that point of intersectionality between so many different interests and realizing that it's not necessarily a question of either/or, was a life-altering experience. I don't think I ever consciously articulated it before now, but for so much of my life I was afraid I was going to have to Pick One Thing and focus on it exclusively - that was the message I always got about acting, about writing, about any kind of career-level undertaking (at least if you wanted to excel at your career). Now I know that, even if I do decide to do something other than bodywork later on in life, I'll still have this knowledge (plus whatever else I've picked up in the interim); and chances are I'll find something else that has a high intersectionality with my interests. I'll just have to trust that my intuition will help me figure out what.
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Having grown up in the Pacific Northwest, where "fall" is basically a two-week period between "all the trees turn colors overnight" and "the first big windstorm comes along and sweeps all the leaves away", it's interesting to me how comparatively elongated the Midwest version is. Some trees are eager to be the first to show off their bright foliage; but even once they've shed their leaves and begun their winter rest, others are more demurely turning, a few leaves at a time. Even when the wind kicks up a few weeks later, only some of the trees are ready to undress, while others stubbornly cling to their coverage. "Fall" seems an inappropriately staccato word for the season; I think I've started to understand why some people prefer the term "autumn".

Getting home from Washington was a little odd, emotionally. I've been traveling so much of late - I think, of the past four months, I've spent five weeks out of town - that it didn't quite feel real, coming home to my bedroom and my bed and my home, and realizing I didn't have to have plans in place for my next trip. Frankly, my bed almost felt a little alien, like it wasn't really mine; that seems like a good indicator that it's time to let the rest of the world take care of itself, and not rush to fill my calendar with more trips, even though I have so many friends (and places!) I'd like to see.

Besides, now is when I need to be focusing on my career, on building clientele and finding continuing education and generally figuring out how to be the best massage therapist I can be. Immediate plans include getting training in pregnancy massage and finding a good opportunity to learn more in-depth myofascial work; future ideas include looking into that trauma-therapy class [livejournal.com profile] gows recommended, and keeping my eyes open for future opportunities to study physical therapy. (It seems an unlikely path at the moment, as I'd have to finish my bachelor's and then take a two-year course on top of that, none of which comes cheap time- or money-wise. But at one point I thought the same thing about massage school, and I found a way to make it work. So we'll see where my experiences take me.) Additionally, the school director has been talking to me about possibly taking over some of the science classes she's been teaching, which would be awesome experience and a nice way to earn extra money without wearing myself out physically. I can't wait to teach an anatomy class that consists entirely of having the students write a version of "I Am The Very Model of a Modern Major General" about the origins, insertions, and actions of muscles.

And frankly, I'm glad to have the time to enjoy my city; there's so much going on at any given time that I can't possibly make all of it (especially now that I have a schedule to work around), but I've managed to have some awesome experiences nonetheless. Last weekend [livejournal.com profile] gracewanderer and [livejournal.com profile] cyranocyrano came to stay, and we all went to see the closing weekend of the Chicago Shakespeare Company's The Tempest. Brian and I had already seen it at opening and were blown away, as much by the quality of the acting as by the costumes and sets (featuring a delightfully run-down Depression-era circus theme) and the music (which you could tell from basically the first chord was written by Tom Waits, and was sung and played amazingly well by a small band onstage). Plus the onstage magic sequences were just stunning (hardly surprising, as Teller co-directed). But the actors really carried the day; it was one of the few big-budget Shakespeare renditions I'd seen where you didn't awe at the big setpiece sequences...and then settle back to wait for the wordsy parts to be done so you could see the next big impressive thing. I've noticed folks are much pickier about standing ovations in Chicago than they are in the PNW, but these folks got one both times I saw them, and they well deserved it.

I think I'm going to make more of an effort to take in Chicago's amazing theatre and concert scene this winter. It can get tricky, what with working three evenings a week - I had to pass on Vanessa Carlton earlier this month, which made me sad. But I think it'll be good for me to get out of the house more as the months get colder. I'm already working on getting back to my three-plus-times-a-week yoga schedule (as my sore quadriceps attest) and the improvement in sleep quality and focus at work is pretty clear. So here's to being a little more settled -- but not sedentary! -- for the next year or so.
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I picked this book up initially because, as a massage therapist, it sounded like it would be useful information for my field.  But it turned out to be far, far more than that.

As anyone who regularly reads this journal probably has guessed, I find people fascinating: the way our genetic proclivities and life experiences combine to form a literally infinite number of personalities; the way we build mental structures upon which we can hang the barrage of sensory input the world gives us each day; the way we're all susceptible to certain modes of thinking and flaws in reasoning and yet each find our own particular ways to deal with them. And, sadly, the ways in which we hurt each other, and ourselves, despite (usually) not meaning to.

This last has been a continuing source of fascination and frustration to me. What causes the self-destructive, or other-destructive, behavior that seems so tragically common? True, a small percentage of the population are psychopathic, uncaring of the damage they inflict except as it might come back to affect them; but the vast majority of hurt is either an unintentional treading upon a sore spot, or a lashing out in response to a perceived threat.

Dr. van der Kolk elegantly articulates something I'd observed but had trouble putting into words: with a few exceptions, people who hurt others do so because they are hurting, themselves. What's more, he posits, and backs up with numerous studies, that most of that hurt is caused by unresolved trauma; either from childhood (the results of the Adverse Childhood Experience study he and his colleagues pioneered, referenced several times in this book, paint a shocking picture of exactly how prevalent childhood trauma is in our culture) or from later on in life. Unfortunately, the current drug-focused psychiatric climate can do relatively little for these people, as medication can address the symptoms but do very little to resolve the underlying causes.

This sounds like a depressing subject, and it is - although described with clinical detachment, the events that many of Dr. van der Kolk's clients have undergone range from tragic to horrific. But the book takes a hopeful and (at times) inspirational tone, describing numerous successes and advances in treatment, citing both case studies and randomized trials demonstrating their efficacy (or, at times, suggesting the need for further study of promising but largely untested methods).

Even more strongly, Dr. van der Kolk advocates for the political will to take action in stopping trauma at its source - instituting educational and social-support programs for underprivileged families, refocusing school programs from punishing difficult children towards understanding and teaching them coping strategies, making treatment available at a low cost to people from all walks of life. As he states in the epilogue:

When I give presentations on trauma and trauma treatment, participants sometimes ask me to leave out the politics and confine myself to talking about neuroscience and therapy.  I wish I could separate trauma from politics, but as long as we continue to live in denial and treat only trauma while ignoring its origins, we are bound to fail.  In today's world your ZIP code, even more than your genetic code, determines whether you will live a safe and healthy life. {...} Poverty, unemployment, inferior schools, social isolation, widespread availability of guns, and substandard housing are all breeding grounds for trauma.  Trauma breeds further trauma; hurt people hurt other people.

For so much of my life, I've tried to understand why so many people - often people very dear to me - have trouble making positive decisions for themselves.  Now, thanks to this book, I have an answer - and not just a single answer, but a holistic framework that includes familial and social factors, a range of observable responses, and treatment possibilities.  Having recently acquired my LMT, I'd been mulling over possible further career goals; thanks to the inspiration of this book, I may well look into the field of trauma treatment.

I strongly recommend this book to anyone interested in people and the ways they interact with the world; I'd go so far as to say it's a must-read for anyone in nursing, medical care, massage therapy, social work, counseling, or other socially-oriented professions where we see people in moments of vulnerability.  But honestly, I wish people everywhere could read it and take it to heart; compassion and empathy are fundamental to social connection, and given that we're wired to be social creatures, what could be more universal than learning why and how we are hurt, and how to help each other through it?  A++ with cherries on top
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--My goddaughter is here! Sophie was born last Wednesday, and (judging by the pictures) is tiny and adorable and only looks a little like a squashed potato. (Or Winston Churchill. Or Yoda. Newborns. *grins*) I can't wait to meet her in a month! And to see Donna; it's been far too long.

--The first week of my new job went well. Lots of requests for the standard fluff-and-buff, but I did get to work on one man who was right up my alley - his muscles were all knotted up from schlepping suitcases around, and some myofascial and trigger point work did wonders. The receptionist told me later that he couldn't say enough good things about me. He's not local, sadly, but his employer has an office here; I did tell him I'd love to see him again when he's in town next. We'll see. So far this upcoming week is looking pretty slow, but that's life at the bottom of the totem pole - priority for appointments is given based on the hours you were available in the previous month, which with my current schedule should put me solidly in the middle of the pack come November.

--Brian was in Dallas for work all last week...and has to go back today for another week. Boo. I don't mind the time alone, in principle - I can set the thermostat to whatever I want, or better yet, turn off the A/C completely and throw open the doors and windows! - but two weeks at a go starts to feel lonely. As independent as I fancy myself, I've lived with someone else nearly continuously for more than a decade now; that kind of time spent leaves an imprint in your life and habits. (And let's face it, he's pretty cool to have around. Half of my more clever quips I steal from him.)

--I picked up a copy of The Body Keeps The Score on an Audible Daily Deal, and it's turned out to be completely fascinating. I initially thought it would be about the ways our body reacts to trauma, a useful thing to learn about for a massage therapist; as it happens, while it touches on that subject, it's turned out to be more about the neurological effects and how they affect the body and mind of trauma victims both. Fascinating stuff, but what's really been eye-opening for me is the discussion of victims of childhood trauma - neglect, abuse, molestation. These people display a well-known constellation of symptoms - difficulty with emotional regulation, propensity toward obesity or anorexia, high likelihood of self-harm, high predisposition toward autoimmune disorders like lupus or fibromyalgia, and a significant lack of bodily awareness, among others - but the current Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (the "psychiatrist's bible") has no separate diagnosis for the condition, and the completely drug-oriented treatment framework that's sadly the norm now doesn't help either. So they'll reach a crisis point and seek help, and be diagnosed with depression, or bipolar disorder, or borderline personality disorder, or (if they have a particularly observant therapist whom they trust enough to open up to) post-traumatic stress disorder, and be given drugs to 'treat' that disorder, which won't help long-term because their problems stem from neural patterns and behaviors that were (tragically) adaptive in their earlier years.

This particular bit of knowledge slots nicely into a gap I've been wondering about for years now. I was initially a psychology major in college, but I got discouraged precisely because the field seemed to be all about figuring out which drugs treated what problems, regardless of the person's background or experiences or anything else about them. In all fairness, I know some people for whom such drugs are life-changing; however, in the years since then, I've also had a number of friends who fit exactly the profile described in the book - they've been in and out of doctors' offices for years, trying to figure out why they feel broken and nothing seems to help. Many of them have managed to have amazing lives nonetheless; now that I have some idea of why life has been so difficult for them, I'm even more in awe of their accomplishments. I'm looking forward to listening to the section on treatment strategies, as well; it's good to know there are people working on strategies that actually help these people, even when the medical establishment refuses to recognize their problem.

--I was petting Dexter the other day when I realized that he's developed several more little white furs on his face. In retrospect, this is hardly surprising - he's twelve or thirteen years old, after all - but it startled me a little that I hadn't noticed until now. We humans are so good at seeing what we expect to see, and it's sometimes a little discouraging how easily we fall prey to the assumption that life is fundmentally unchanging. Often it takes something momentous - a birth, a death, a wedding, a career change, a betrayal - to make us realize exactly how time's been passing, and things and people have been changing, despite our merry assumptions of stasis.

I don't really have any great conclusion or insight to this observation, but it's interesting to me how even though we experience time in a linear fashion, we certainly don't perceive it that way. It reinforces my conviction that it's important to take the time to really listen to each other and connect, rather than just taking each others' presence for granted.

And I should definitely spend more time petting my cat.
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Today I start my new job! I'm slightly apprehensive about it, more so than is really justified. I mean, I've worked there before (student clinic is basically an internship), so I know the procedures; I know where everything is, I know the place is well-run by high-functioning and ethical people that I like. I've even heard through the grapevine that clients have been asking after me (although we'll see if they book with me now that I'm a professional and command twice the hourly rate, heh). And I genuinely like and am good at the work. So there's no reason to be concerned.

And yet I can't help feeling just a bit anxious, more so even than the usual "starting a new venture" nerves. Now that I think about it, I wonder if it's the very perfect-seeming-ness of the position that's contributing. I mean, if this were just another office job, it'd be...well, just another office job. I've never really self-identified as "secretary" even when I was doing it full-time; it was always a stepping-stone. (I was rarely certain what it was a stepping-stone to, but I knew I wasn't going to be a secretary my whole life.) "Massage therapist" maybe wasn't my first choice on the list ten years ago, but it's been a bit of a revelation; I don't have the mental blocks about it that I do about music and writing and acting, so I can do it wholeheartedly and with clear intentions; a particular joy I've rarely experienced before and never in a career-type context.

So starting to do it as a career is a little scary. Not because I'm worried I'll fail, really, but because I'm concerned I'll lose that joy. (The phenomenon of people losing former enjoyment in an activity they're being paid to do is a well-documented bit of human nature - something in how our brains are wired seems to think we only need one reason to engage in any particular activity, and "money" replaces "genuine enjoyment" dispiritingly easily.) And because I identify so strongly with this work, if I stop enjoying it, or if some other aspect of it doesn't work out, it's a much bigger part of my identity that I'm having to reshape.

I think my challenge is going to be twofold: more immediately, figuring out how to stay focused on doing my best work in the moment; and more overarchingly, figuring out how to stay engaged and fulfilled in the field, even during the inevitable plateaus. I strongly suspect "continuing to learn new tricks and techniques" is going to be a big part of that second one; despite it being a little premature as yet, I've been eyeing local physical therapy education programs. But I don't have to worry about that now; I can take this one day at a time. So...onward!
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Happy birthday to me!

I was going to post a video I found a while back, a parody of Taylor Swift's "22" for my current age: "Uh-oh, hey! I don't know about you, but I'm feeling thirty-two/Read Fifty Shades of Grey and kinda liked it too!" Unfortunately, they appear to have taken it down, which makes me sad. There are a couple of similar parodies by other artists, but none of them feature the singer drinking wine and chowing down on a Costco-size wedge of Gouda, and thus they are clearly inferior. (Mmm. Gouda.)

Still, I can't feel too bummed out. I observed on Facebook that multiples of 16 must be lucky for me, present-wise; I've gotten more presents this year than I have since my sweet sixteen party. I have no idea what it was I did this year, but hey, I'll take it.



(Not pictured: the professional-quality blow dryer I wanted, currently on order by a longtime friend; and a significant contribution towards a professional-quality massage table from my mum.)

It's been a good year, I think. I've made a number of social connections (and lost some as well, all of which were painful but good learning experiences), I've tried and learned a number of new things, I've acquired a few new skills and embarked upon a new career path.

Now for some introspection: reading through a few of my entries from around this time a year ago, I'm seeing a lot of variations on the theme of structure vs. independence in my life. I've often prided myself on being an independent sort of person, willing to forge ahead my own way when there isn't a set path that I like. But while that's true, I've been comparing my mental state now to a year ago, when I was trying (and failing) to figure out a career path in writing and/or music. And I've come to the conclusion that, independent as I am, I need a certain amount of structure in my life to function well. At this point, I don't have a strong enough center or the self-motivation to work with no real idea if or when I'll see a payoff; I do far better when there's a clear set of expectations with (relatively) fixed rewards, which in turn gives me a sense of social identity. (This, incidentally, explains why keeping up enthusiasm for guitar was so much easier when I was busking weekly in Bisbee; I wasn't doing it for money, but the social payoffs in a small hippie town were noticeable. Moving to Chicago, however, removed a good chunk of that motivation, as it's not a particularly busking-friendly town and I don't know anyone in the local music scene yet.)

More importantly, I feel like I've decided that that's okay. I can be an independent-minded person who happens to work best in an interdependent context. It doesn't mean that I don't make valuable contributions, or that I'm not my own person, or that I'm not 'extraordinary enough'. It just means that I know what lifestyle choices fit me best at this point in my life, and points me at opportunities where I'll function at my best.

I'm thoroughly glad I decided to go to massage school; it's a path that gives me lots of options with varying levels of independence, but with a comparatively structured social role and a sense of identity I feel I can be proud of. It's a field with plenty of opportunities for continuing education, which I've found is integral to maintaining my interest. It's something that helps people feel better, which in turn helps them be excellent to each other. And it's something where I can earn a decent income of my own, enough to be financially independent if I need to. All of which, I think, are important to me in terms of finding long-term career satisfaction, as well as mental stability. (Now if the nice folks in the Illinois licensing office would get around to processing my application...)

So to celebrate, tonight is dinner with some of the local folks I've met who actually like my weird intense hyperintelligent analytical enthusiastic slightly-Zen...self. And Brian made me the most delicious chocolate layer cake with mint-chocolate-chip-buttercream frosting. Because he is the best. <3
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I said earlier this month that I love the transitional seasons, and it's true. But Life, as it tends to do, has taken me at my word. It's been a month of changes: some minor; some major, but distant enough in my social network to be relatively minor in terms of their day-to-day effects on my life; a few pretty profound.

Interestingly, the most personally profound are less changes in external status as they are in internal outlook. For one, I've reached the point in my education where I start to look at people and see them differently; in much the same way Brian looks at a new place and immediately scopes out the places where the wireless access points and cameras and other network equipment all are (or if they aren't, where they should be), I've gotten to the point where I can look at someone's movement and posture and immediately suspect what's going on with their musculature/fascial system - where they're tight, where they're inhibited, where they're probably feeling pain/discomfort. So far it's mostly just generalities, but I'm starting to see those around me way a bodyworker sees them, and it's kind of an awesome ability. Even if it occasionally makes me despair when I pass by the same woman day after day wearing the same unsupportive heels that make her entire foot collapse inward.

For another example, I'm actually genuinely excited for my friend Donna - she's the one expecting her very-much-wanted child. (Latest news - it's a girl!) After some discussion, Brian and I have volunteered to be godparents; it'll mean making an effort to visit regularly and remember birthdays and Christmas, but honestly, Donna's practically family anyway, and one of the things I remember most fondly from growing up was the variety of close friends my mother had, from whom I got to learn about many different options in terms of lifestyle and priorities. (It helped me feel less railroaded when I was a teenager, which, growing up in suburbia, felt like a time when the world is simultaneously telling me "You can be anything you want to be!" and "So long as it's going to college and getting a job and getting married and having 2.1 children and buying a house and being a good consumer!") And it feels like the right thing for me; I want to help raise the next generation, but despite my recently-reexamined views on the importance of childrearing, I still am just not feeling any particular desire to have kids of my own. But I'm thoroughly jazzed to be in the helper/supporter role, and am even kind of looking forward to when she gets older and we can take her for a week here and there and give her parents a break.

On a more external front, graduation is coming up fast. I'm definitely going to apply to work at the school clinic, but I've also come up with an idea for a target market that I could build a clientele around - they're both greatly underserved and would likely have need of my services (both in the "needs the work due to physically demanding job" sense and the more nebulous "needs a safe place where they feel cared for" sense). I'm kind of excited because it's the first solid idea I've had that feels right for me. It's still just an idea, of course, and building clientele is as much luck and perseverance as it is ideas, but I'm hopeful. And it gives me something to focus my marketing-class project on.

Less concrete but equally profound has been the continued realization that I have, somewhat unintentionally, become Part Of The Yoga Community here in Chicago. Mostly it's just little things, like meeting someone for the first time and having them comment that they've heard about me from their favorite teacher, or having someone tell me about being at a yoga-related event and having my name come up in the group. (Luckily in a flattering context, at least that time.) I guess it's not terribly surprising; I go to various CorePowers regularly and am unshy and friendly and sort of stand out...but. But.

In all honesty, it's a little bit scary for me. I don't have the greatest experience with community participation; a lot of the traits people initially find attractive about me (forthrightness, confidence, analytical ability, fearlessness in speaking up) tend to read differently in mixed-company scenarios (tactless, arrogant, judgmental, overpoweringly opinionated). In many ways, I still speak Human as a second language; it's difficult for me to read multiple people's reactions in the moment and censor myself accordingly. So I try to make the most effort to spend time with people I know understand me in one-on-one or small-group scenarios. But community links are important, and helpful in one's career as well as one's social life, so I'm making an effort to strengthen those relationships. My marketing class notes actually had an insightful suggestion on that point: "You have: two (2) eyes, two (2) ears, and one (1) mouth. Use them in that order." It's taken me upwards of three decades, but I'm slowly learning when to be quiet and listen.

And this isn't even getting into the more distal-social-network events that're happening - deaths, marriages, pregnancies. Life moves fast! And I feel eminently lucky to be living it somewhere I love that has opportunities for me, even if I'm a bit scared I'll make a hash of them. But to paraphrase Miles Vorkosigan, it's all about the momentum - keep moving, keep learning, or you might as well give up. Things move quickly - let's jump on that train! Onward!
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*surfaces* *waves* Hi everyone! I'm still here! Better than that, I'm doing wonderfully. I'm probably going to still be in limited-social-media mode for a couple of months, however, so you'd best get your photos now! Assuming this sighting is not just a prank being perpetuated by forces unknown.

Summer and winter are both wonderful, but I have to say that for my money, I particularly love spring and fall. They're the transition times: in spring, our sluggish blood starts to move faster, waking up from the long dark winter and reminding us that life is out there to be lived. And several months later, after the manic rush to experience the glorious summer weather and all the associated opportunities for community connection and celebration, autumn comes and encourages us to slow down, to contemplate where we are, where we're going, and where we'd like to be when we finally settle in for the long cold nights.

Spring here is rapidly turning into summer, however, and my calendar is filling up. Some updates, both on current events and future plans:

School: A month and a half left, and still averaging a 97.6%. Not that it really matters; no one asks about your grades in the field. But it makes me happy to know. :) I just started my Conditions class, which I'm very much enjoying; that's where I get to learn specific techniques to help people with particular muscular issues. First lesson: do not overuse your thumbs during a full day of practical classes after weeks of mostly-academic work. (Ow.) Second lesson, related: soaking your hands in cold water really works to reduce inflammation, even if you have to swear up a blue streak to do it.

Travel Plans, Concrete: I have tickets to Anchorage, July 23 to August 4, to visit my mother. Are you in the area? Are you reading this? Then chances are I'd love to see you! Let me know if that's a possibility and we'll make it work. And then later that month (August 24 through September 4), Brian and I both have tickets to Gothenberg to visit my friend Petra. Yay for facing my fear of international travel! Yay for seeing dear friends! (Also yay for built-in housesitters - when my mother-in-law heard our plans, she was all, "Okay, I'm housesitting for you." She'd never been to Chicago before visiting us last Christmas, and kept calling us during our first year here - "The news says fifteen people were shot this week! Are you guys all right?" Then when she stayed with us for a couple of weeks, she went from being clearly hesitant to leave our apartment to "You guys want to stay here? No problem, I'm going to take the bus downtown, bye!" So we're kind of cheering for her and possibly her sisters to come stay and paint Andersonville red while we're gone.)

Travel Plans, Hazy: A dear friend of mine in Washington is expecting in October; I've sent her a letter offering to be an extra pair of (massage-trained!) hands around that time. If she's interested, I'd kind of also like to stay in Seattle a couple of days; I have a few friends in the area and can probably find a couch to crash on, especially since I can pay in trade. :) It's been a while since I spent any real time there, and it's still one of my favorite cities. Plus, now that I've accomplished something that feels worthy of a tattoo to mark it, I'm thinking I might hit up one of the artists at Hidden Hand Tattoo - I've heard very good things about them, and their work is collectively pretty outstanding. But we'll see how it goes; I haven't even heard back from my friend yet, let alone worked out finances or tickets.

Future Plans, Also Hazy: People keep asking me what I'm planning to do after school, and my answer is generally "Read! And play guitar!" Since I haven't had the time to do much of either for the past six months. Career-wise, there's probably going to be a gap of a couple of months between graduating/applying for my license and receiving it; word is there's something of a backup on background checks due to various local political reasons. I'm thinking I'll apply to work at the school's associated clinic to start; it's not the highest-paid option, but they treat their employees well and there are numerous additional opportunities for related work like teaching if I want to pick up extra experience. Eventually I want to branch out into my own practice, but for now I'm okay with working for someone else, especially since I know it's a good group of folks who pull together when crises hit.

Celebrity, accidental: Thanks to a fortuitously-timed public expression of empathy, I recently was featured on a new local podcast focusing on Craigslist's "missed connections" section. It's not really fifteen minutes of fame, but I got to talk about the fascinating social tension between our desire to help others and our fear of making things worse, and also about stripping down in a convertible and incidentally making a truck driver's day. The producer did a really fun job with the Rango sound effects, too. Check it out! Mine is episode 3, "To The Girl Crying".
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Bummer start for the day:  I had to miss my cleaning shift at the yoga studio this morning.  I could've powered through, but I suspect it would've been a Bad Idea for recovery.  Even though my symptoms are mostly gone at this point (aside from a little residual congestion), my energy levels are still ridiculously low, and the last thing I want to do is relapse.  Sigh.  I'd forgotten that the longest and most frustrating aspect of flu recovery is just how ridiculously long it takes to get back up to speed.

Better start for the day:  Pathology reading is DONE!  Holy balls that was a lot of reading, even for me.  I am a veritable fount of knowledge!  Assuming I can remember any of it for the final on Thursday, anyway.

To celebrate, I put a bid on a pair of incredibly impractical, incredibly overpriced, incredibly sexy boots.  I tried them on once at Nordstrom just for the hell of it and loved them; they've been on my Amazon wishlist since, but given that they retail for $300 I wasn't surprised nobody bought them for me.  I'm not honestly expecting to win the auction, but I'm thinking of it more as a vote that someday, maybe, possibly in the very distant future, I'll feel sexy again.  And possibly even go out dancing.

And now, to study for my lower-body-anatomy final.  Practice question:  if a client wears sexy boots all day, which leg muscles would you expect to be short and tight?  Which would be lax?  What techniques would you use to help restore balance between the two groups?  How could you convince her to get you a discount at Neiman Marcus?
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Flu recovery continues; slower than I'd like, but it's progress. Amusingly enough, my annoyance at the time recovery is taking has decreased dramatically today, as the weather went from sunny and warm to "35 and snowstorming". I think this anonymous person pretty well captured the citywide reaction. I'm slightly annoyed about missing class, but it's nothing I can't make up, and I have all of tomorrow, too.

On the upside, being confined to bed/couch has done wonders for both my social media interaction and my study time. Since the former's probably of little interest to anyone but me, here are some cool things I've learned from my Pathology reading over the past couple of days:
  • Growth hormone, in addition to its eponymous function in children and adolescents, is largely responsible for tissue repair/replacement in adults - in short, healing.  It is also secreted almost entirely during stage IV sleep, the deepest level.  This fits with my own lifelong observation that most of the feeling-better recovery from illness takes place during long naps or overnight; it also explains why the people I've known with sleep apnea or other sleep difficulties tend to seem operate under a consistent sort of run-down malaise.  (And it explains many of the statistics where lack of sleep/sleep disorders increase susceptibility to any number of problems, from colds to heart failure.)
  • For all that the vast majority of fad diet advice is absolute bunk, it's completely true that the typical American diet is damn near toxic.  The number of digestive and metabolic disorders that can be reduced in risk (if not outright prevented) by limiting intake of preserved/processed foods and refined sugar/flour is staggering.  Unfortunately, despite it having been repeated by the USDA with slight variations for decades, the dietary advice of "eat whole grains, lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, and some lean meat; keep consumption of processed foods and refined sugars to a minimum" has so far failed to catch on.  Maybe someone needs to take out flashy ads?  "Prevent cancer, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes with this 1 weird trick!"
  • Be kind to your liver.  Seriously.  You likely have no idea how much it does for you, every day.  They call it a "live-r" for a reason.
  • Unlike the common cold (which is no longer contagious after three days of showing symptoms), influenza remains contagious all through (and, to a lesser degree, for a little while after) the recovery period.  Hence, I am refusing to feel guilty for staying home sick ever again.
  • My mother always thought 90s-era Barbie was antifeminist because her feet were molded to wear high heels.  Clearly she was simply suffering from a severe, untreated case of pes cavus.  New from Mattel:  Treat jammed arches and prevent bunions with Orthopedic Barbie!  (Unfortunately, her footwear is roughly five times the cost of her designer heels, because something something capitalism something big government something healthcare.  At least until she's 65 and qualifies for Medicare.)
Forty more pages to go, and then I'm done...until it's time to study for the final.  Almost there!

Also, current average grade is 97.8%.  Just throwing that out there, says the former-barely-B-average student.

Feel-good moment of the day:  pictures from India's first lesbian wedding. What a beautiful commingling of traditions.  They look so happy.

And finally, here's Homework Enforcement Cat, helpfully covering up the answers so I can quiz myself (and pet him).

Homework Enforcement Cat
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(Yes, I know that's not actually how it works. Didn't any of you play Pokèmon back in the day?)

Last Friday, I had a sore throat and one of my ears had swollen shut. Saturday it was worse and I had a fever that night. I ended up leaving class early on Monday due to fatigue, but by Wednesday I was feeling better. This is a pretty standard progression for me with colds, so Brian and I even went out and had a nice dinner to celebrate being able to enjoy the nice springtime weather again.

Thursday I felt a little tired; I blamed that on overexertion and slept most of the afternoon. Then it was Friday, and time for student clinic.

I woke up Friday with a bad case of the sniffles, which concerned me; but the student clinic schedule was full up and I didn't have time to try and find someone to cover my shift. And, in truth, I had more than a little pride going on - I could tough it out, I didn't want to make Tom (the clinic supervisor) scramble to cover for me, etc., etc. So I had a quiet morning, downed some DayQuil, and trundled off to the school.

When I got there, not only was I still sniffling and coughing, I was about on the verge of passing out just from the exertion of the train ride. Fortunately, everyone was really nice about it and they got the schedule shuffled around with a minimum of difficulty. (Side note: after experiencing several organizations full of people who were professionally apathetic, it's really great to work someplace where people are eager to help each other out when there's a crisis rather than putting up the "not my problem" barricades. I owe Tom and Dominika (who immediately volunteered to help out after she heard my croaky voice) some cookies.) So I went home and basically slept the rest of the day, hoping that I'd feel better Saturday morning.

Aaaand this morning I wake up with body aches and a mild fever. Hurrah.

My working theory is that I actually caught the seasonal flu (right at the end of the season, too - feh). I did have a flu shot, but word was it was not very effective this year.

I know it's not the end of the world - all it's cost me this weekend is $8 to exchange the tickets for The Addams Family Musical that I'd bought in a fit of optimism on Thursday. If I have to stay home from school on Monday, I can make up the tests I miss. It sucks to be missing the lovely springtime weather, but I'll survive - and there's plenty more nice weather to come.

Still, let's hope next year's flu shot is a bit more effective. Because cripes, this whole "I almost can't remember what it's like to not be sick" number is for the birds.
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Technically I have class right now, but it's my clinic-skills class, which is the precursor to entering student clinic. And since the three members of my class are all strongly ahead of the curve, and our attendance numbers plenty high for state requirements, the instructor simply had us take the final on the second day and gave us the last few classes as either practice time or time off, as we preferred. Given how rarely I get to sleep in anymore, and the fact that I've worked quite a bit at the front desk and thus already know pretty well where everything is, I picked the "time off" option. I got to sleep until 9:00 AM! It was glorious.

School continues to go well. I finished my Foundations of Massage class with full marks, so I'm officially able (if not licensed) to do a one-hour classical massage. I've been doing my best to keep learning/devising new techniques, however, both because it's good to be able to customize and because, frankly, doing the same set of moves on person after person gets old fast. I have a practice partner who's been coming over every Tuesday afternoon for a month now; yesterday, I tried some new techniques and also made a significant effort to stay present and not be mentally multitasking (which is usually my biggest liability; I'm so used to cogitating on multiple subjects at once that it's tough for me to stay in the moment). She said afterward that it was the best massage I'd given her yet, and while I'd never done badly, she could really see how I was improving. I'm pretty pleased about that. On to Massage for Specific Conditions, Further Western Techniques, and Eastern Modalities!

On the work-study side of things, I recently finished Internal Anatomy and Physiology, which was a rather poorly-designed class: we were cramming an entire semester-long intro-level class into five weeks; the textbook was aimed at high school students and thus was written in a fairly juvenile tone; the curriculum, while useful information, wasn't made particularly applicable to bodyworkers, which made a lot of the students resent how quickly we were supposed to be learning the information, especially as many of us weren't used to high-intensity academic performance. I did fine, in part because I have a bit of a background in it from my psychology courses/reading, but a lot of the other students were struggling to keep up. Because I'm me, I wrote a pretty extensive critique with some suggestions in the end-of-class course evaluation; I didn't really expect it to have an effect, but I've heard through the grapevine that once my Pathology for Bodyworkers course is done I'm going to be working with the teacher to combine the two courses and make it more applicable/accessible. I'm seriously jazzed about this; one of my biggest frustrations with postsecondary education in the past has been how the administration clearly couldn't care less about the students and their opinions, except as a source of cashflow and enrollment numbers. Admittedly, this is a much smaller (and private) school, so caring is probably easier here, but I admit I'm especially pleased they've been so on-the-ball about recognizing that I want to contribute. (This has not always been the case with organizations I've been associated with.) Maybe I'll see if they want me to stay on part-time as a teacher/administrator after I graduate.

In non-school-related news (I do still have some parts of my life that aren't school-oriented, heh), on Saturday Brian and I had a case of multi-spoon-resistant-derp - we weren't sick, exactly, but neither of us had any energy or could even really think. So we ordered Domino's and sat on the couch to watch Lucy, our Netflix rental. (Capsule review: Fun action flick, with a bit of philosophy thrown in; not as smart as it thinks it is, but eminently stylish with laudable science-forward humanistic themes, even if the premise is a bit of folk wisdom that's been repeatedly disproven.) After that was done, we were still feeling derpy, so we fired up Hulu and watched Agent Carter, which I'd been hearing good things about. Color me impressed - it's a stylish and well-shot secret-agent-noir, with some great performances, some very clever misdirection in the writing, and a refreshing lack of the usual misogynistic "action-girl" tropes. It's definitely part of the Greater Marvel Cinematic Universe (there are moments when you think you're just watching a noir but then Comic Book Trope #384 comes along and you go "oh, right"), but it does a very nice job standing on its own, and Hayley Atwell absolutely kills the lead role, with a very human mixture of determination and vulnerability. If it sounds like something you'd enjoy, check it out; I haven't heard if ABC has plans to renew it, and I'd very much like to see a full second season.

Okay, morning decadence is over. Time to get into gear and start my day. Anatomy quiz later!
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Hello, world! I'm not dead! I've just been...kind of insanely busy. As mentioned earlier, school is ramping up in intensity, and while I don't feel overwhelmed, exactly, there have definitely been some things falling off the edges of the plate. Thus, this post - part assessment, part update, so I can get a big-picture feel for how I'm doing and my friends have some idea of what to expect for the next six months or so.


Stuff that's going well! )


Stuff that's going less well. )

On the whole, I think I'm doing pretty okay. I could probably stand to de-stress a bit more; maybe a few more hot baths are in order. But for the next six months, I think I can deal. After I get my license, hopefully things will calm down a bit, especially if I'm working part-time. We'll see.
missroserose: (Default)
The exchange of money reminds me a little of sex. You can do it thoughtlessly, to fill the need of the moment. You can make it the center of your universe and be addicted to it. You can do it cynically, to get things out of people you dupe. Or you can do it with sincerity and affection, hoping to give as much to the person you're exchanging with as you receive. Our culture tends to think of earning money as prostitution, rape, or sin. But earning money can be wholesome, healing, and giving, not just to yourself but to your community.
--M.C.A. Hogarth, writing as [personal profile] haikujaguar on LiveJournal

One of the first questions I asked about this school, before I enrolled, was whether they had business courses as part of the curriculum. I'm not going into the field to expecting to become wealthy, but I value self-sufficiency, and would like to have the training to operate independently if I can't find an organization I mesh well with. I was pleased, therefore, to learn that the owner's background was originally in business; it was his and his wife's dream to open a massage clinic, but they had trouble finding therapists that met their standards for business practices.  They started the school as a way to train their own therapists before opening the clinic a few years later.

I'm coming to realize, having spent quite a bit of time in both the school and the clinic (running the front desk for work-study), that it wasn't just business education in the traditional sense that they wanted - scheduling and tax forms and accounting. It was people who understood the ethics of business, who grasped the importance of being intentional and careful and communicative, who could manage that tricky balance between self-care and self-giving. As the owner put it to me on my first day of work-study, "We need to take good care of ourselves and our business -- to make sure that we are acting in accordance with our ethics and our values -- so that we can be of service to others."  English not being his first language, I suspect it was only lack of familiarity with current buzzwords that kept him from coining the phrase "sustainable service".

* * *

"Well, you see, you have to find someone who needs something you have. And then you figure out what they have that you need. You exploit them, they exploit you, and it becomes mutually beneficial. It's simple."

And, really, it is. The Boy's description of the economics of human transaction is arguably the simplest thing I've ever heard. Also the most simplistic, the most fundamentally debasing, and the saddest things, all at once.

"Don't you think compassion has a part to play? The recognition of someone else as separate from you?" I can't help but needle him a little bit, take advantage of the status he ascribes me due to my gender (he is, essentially, a mama's boy) and my greater age. "Would you see clients who didn't respect you as a person?"

The defensive shrug. "If they paid me, sure. Wouldn't you? Money is money."

I shake my head. "No. I have too much integrity." I do my best to say it as a statement of fact, not as if I'm bragging; though when he doesn't react, I suspect I'm giving his vocabulary too much credit. "If someone doesn't respect me, I'm not going to want to see them again. It's part of why I'll probably run my own business."

"Then how are you going to find enough clients?" He's still defensive, but also genuinely puzzled.

I turn and look at him, directly, for a long moment. "Do you truly believe that there are so few people out there who are willing to recognize your common humanity?"

He turtles, overlarge shoulders coming up, the scrunching of the face I'm coming to know so well. "Well, sure. But they're all broke."

I make some politely disagreeing response - "that hasn't been my experience", or something to the same effect - but ultimately I leave it at that. It's pretty clear my experiences aren't going to be real to The Boy. Not in the mindset he's occupying at this stage of his life.

But I'm rapidly learning that, much as they push my buttons, his behaviors -- the defensiveness and inability to learn, the unwillingness to connect with others, the dismissive demeanor -- are all tied to his fundamental values.  If his entire life revolves around making himself into whatever his clients want him to be, what use has he for personal integrity?  Arguably, in his situation, a lack of personality is an asset.  Human interaction is based around sharing oneself with others; if he has no self to share, it comes off as all the more real when he makes something up for his clients.

But that brings up the corollary question.  If every worthwhile transaction is based upon mutual exploitation, why should he care about making his clients feel genuinely nurtured and cared for?  

I wonder how he ended up at this school -- heck, in this entire industry -- in the first place.  The trite answer, of course, is "Because it's exactly what he needs to learn and grow!"  But while that may be true, he also needs a willingness to reconsider his values, to examine his assumptions and where they came from.

That part of the curriculum, he's failing pretty spectacularly.
missroserose: (Masquerade)
"Where's your bottom sheet?" the instructor asks.

"Bottom sheet?" The Boy appears baffled.

"Yes. You remember when I told you to get a twin sheet set?" The instructor is far more patient than I would be in this scenario.

The Boy uses one sculpted arm to raise the flat sheet that he's draped over the bare table. "Isn't that what this is?"

"No, a sheet set has a fitted sheet, and a flat sheet, and a pillowcase. They're at Target, right in the same section as the single sheets."

"I don't know." The Boy's befuddlement is starting to be tainted by defensiveness; I note that he's hunching his overdeveloped shoulders, pulling his head down between them. "I don't buy sheets."

"When you fold laundry, then," I put in, trying to defuse his frustration and make this feel educational, rather than critical. "The fitted sheet is the one that's really tricky to fold. The one that goes on the mattress when you make the bed."

He stares at me in complete befuddlement. "I don't do laundry. My mom makes my bed."

The other three of us, all women in our early thirties, just look at him. He's like a circus exhibit: The Amazing Twenty-Three Year Old Personal Trainer Incapable Of Basic Household Chores. A mythical beast we've heard tell of but, due to its amazing powers of camouflage, had never glimpsed in the wild.

The instructor breaks the silence. "You're the youngest child, aren't you?"

* * *


"Wait, it's illegal not to pick up your dog's poop?"

"Um, yeah?" I have not yet learned of The Boy's relative maturity level, and am truly confounded that he's grown up in Chicago without learning this.

"No way. What're they going to do, arrest you?"

"They can write you a ticket, charge you a fine," one classmate puts in in her accented English. "It's much less here than it is in Germany." I secretly hope that her obvious worldly experience will penetrate The Boy's thick skull.

"That's stupid. What's it hurting?"

"Rats eat it," the instructor says. "And they spread disease."

"Plus," I point out, "it's just kind of a dick move."

The Boy gives me a look, his face all scrunched up, disbelief and dismissal all rolled up into one toxic package. "Pshh. No, it's not. Who gives?"

While I am hardly a mind-reader, I can practically see the three of us - the instructor and my other two classmates - rapidly dialing back our expectations of The Boy's intelligence.

As for me, it's been a long time since I disliked someone as much and as instantaneously as I do The Boy in this moment.

* * *


I've been working hard on becoming a less judgmental and more compassionate person. It's been a long road, but in many ways, I feel like I've made real progress.

People like The Boy, though, who are charming and well-presented but lack even very basic awareness of the other people they share a planet with, twig me on a deep and fundamental level. And, as usually happens when something presses my buttons, I've been giving a lot of thought as to why.

Some of it is abstract, and comes from my sense of social justice. In much the same way we envision abusive spouses being horrible monsters, we tend to assume that the most harmful examples of racism/sexism/discourtesy/environmental pollution all come from people who're intentionally horrible and awful, who lack conscience. But while monstrous spouses and obviously-psychopathic society members both exist, they're far from common; mostly, the people around them will realize their antisocial tendencies and cut them off, from marriage or from society. Those who do the most harm, I'd argue, are the those who, through their aggressive ignorance and obstinate refusal to recognize that their actions affect other people as well as themselves, perpetuate (and, in some cases, create) systems that benefit themselves even as they structurally disenfranchise others. No one calls them out on it, because they seem so nice; they're not malicious, they're just unaware. And yet these people depend on that indulgence, that unwillingness to break the unspoken "confrontation is impolite" rule, in order to maintain their illusions that the world is there solely for their use.

And then, of course, there's the personal side. Among my father's many faults, one of his largest and most fundamental was a refusal to move past his self-centered viewpoint. He wanted his family around when he wanted them, and the rest of the time, he wanted to be left alone; he truly and honestly didn't understand why his wife and children didn't consider this an acceptable situation. Just as he truly and honestly doesn't understand (despite my explaining it to him in the most neutral and thorough language I could) why I don't want him as part of my life; it must be an irrational personal dislike, one of those things you're helpless against, mustn't it? It can't be his fault that neither of his children want much to do with him.

And a lot of it, ultimately, is even more personal than that: that I, myself, am a privileged person in many respects, and had it not been for a cadre of adults who were careful to emphasize to me the importance of considering others' viewpoints and their right to enjoy the world on the same terms as me, I might also have ended up using "Social Justice Warrior" as a perjorative term and wondering why everyone seemed out to get me just for existing. There's no personal pet peeve so strong as the "I've gotten past that point, so why can't you?"

All of that has made for a frustrating stew of emotions when dealing with The Boy. But I've been working hard to overcome them, to not let them color my interactions with him. Because, ultimately, The Boy is still young. If I let my judgment of him curdle now, if I tell myself that he's a lost cause and treat him as such in our interactions, then it will rapidly become a self-fulfilling prophecy. After all, no one wants to listen to someone who condescends to them, even if the other person has every objective justification to do so.

But if I can find it in myself to be compassionate, to recognize that he's a human being with a difficult road ahead (all the more difficult for how relatively over-easy it's been for him up to this point, in fact), and that he's doing the best he can with what he's got, just as all of us are...he's more likely to listen to what I have to say. To observe what I (and our other classmates) do, and (hopefully) why. It's not guaranteed, of course, but it's guaranteed not to happen if I don't treat him well.

I knew all of this in the abstract, of course. But what really drove it home was seeing him interact with our ethics instructor. Said instructor is fantastic - warm and caring and compassionate and wholehearted in his interactions in the best way. And watching he and The Boy interact has been eye-opening: The Boy stops turtling his neck, stops deflecting conversation, starts truly participating and thinking for himself, even starts examining his reasoning. He responds to the instructor's genuine interest in him.

It makes me feel ashamed. I know what it's like to be judged and found wanting; I know firsthand the frustration of trying to please someone who's already determined that they will never like you. I am intimately familiar with the mindset behind that dismissive scrunching of the face; that certainty that these people will never accept you, so forget them.

But I'll be damned if reserving judgment isn't a whole lot harder than it feels like it should be.
missroserose: (Default)
Exercise: On a piece of paper, write a brief touch history of yourself. Then explain the ways your history may influence your delivery of professional touch. Make sure to consider the role of your culture, subculture, genetic predisposition, gender, age, life events, and spiritual path.

Physically, my touch history has been pretty healthy. My family was relatively unshy about expressing physical affection, I was only rarely spanked or hit, and I’ve never been molested or otherwise subjected to unwanted sexual touch. I was physically bullied a few times in school, but it never felt like a big deal; I knew an adult would come along and put a stop to it if I yelled, so I suppose it never inspired the feelings of powerlessness that make such experiences traumatic. I’m used to a relatively large amount of personal space, having grown up in a suburban town in the Pacific Northwest, but haven’t had much trouble adjusting to the more crowded conditions of Chicago. Aside from a couple of incidences of having my butt anonymously slapped (strangely, both at queer pride events), I can’t think of many negative physical touch experiences in my adult life at all, which seems unusual for a woman in her thirties. Were we going by physical touch history alone, I suspect that I would be well-prepared for a career in massage therapy – and certainly, I’m not complaining about my lack of difficulty in that arena.

But I suspect that physical touch isn’t the whole story. My issues, I fear, are entirely in the emotional-touching arena. My parents’ marriage was highly dysfunctional, and especially in its later years it involved strong elements of emotional blackmail and abuse. Although physical intimidation was unusual, I was regularly mentally and emotionally bullied in school, and that did make me feel powerless, largely because of my own social cluelessness combined with the inability/unwillingness of the adults around me to enforce their own rules. And one experience that stands out was being taken to a megachurch and hearing the pastor speak about Christ’s love and forgiveness, beautifully enough to genuinely touch me even through my teenage sullenness. It was only later that I discovered that same pastor regularly used his pulpit as a platform to advocate social and political policies I found thoroughly heinous. Is there such a thing as emotional molestation? Because that was how I felt after finding that out.

The upshot is that for many years, I have had a nearly pathological fear of being influenced or manipulated. And since forging an emotional connection with someone requires allowing them to influence me (as our textbook put it, it is impossible to touch clients without them, in turn, touching us), my default state in interacting with the world has been to wall myself off emotionally. And while this has been useful in a number of situations – unlike many women, I have very little trouble setting boundaries! – it has crippled me in my artistic pursuits, and likely stunted me socially as well.

To become an effective therapist, I’m going to have to find some way to learn how to lower my emotional guard – hopefully in a semi-controlled manner, that will allow me to maintain professionalism while still forging a genuine connection with my clients. In truth, if I can find some way to accomplish this, I will consider my time at massage therapy school well-spent regardless of my future career path.

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