Archives for posts with tag: work

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted anything here. Part of that has been because of work: I’ve been helping to create a textbook! The work alternates between incredibly fascinating and overwhelmingly tedious, and both aspects have taught me a lot. And while it’s true that you can’t judge a book by its cover, from this day forward I will always judge a book by its bibliography. I’ve become quite the citation snob!

But this isn’t to say that I haven’t been doing any creative writing. It’s just taken on a bit of a change of format.

I’ve been speaking.

It’s odd, when I tell people about it. They want to know what my hobbies are, and my answer is one of the biggest fears many people have. Writing and giving speeches for fun? Heck no.

And yet, it makes sense to me. It’s a bit like writing. It’s a bit like performing. It’s a bit of poetry and logic and theater, all mashed up. And it’s social. The immediate connection between speaker and audience is addictive, and the friendships formed are genuine. We release our hearts into the world and find them welcomed, flawed and growing as they are.

And I’m improving! There’s nothing like seeing yourself get better at something that’s a little bit scary. New challenges, new adventures. Who knows? Maybe I’ll even get really brave and post a video or two. 😉


I don’t usually talk much about my professional life here, because I have another blog for that. But there are times when certain aspects of my career push me into musings that are a bit too rambling and philosophical for that setting. This is one of them.

There’s a bit of a schism in the massage therapy profession. Really, in the complementary care community as a whole, but what I know best is the massage world. It has different names: materialists vs. spiritualists. Science vs. Woo. Whatever. And I find myself oddly placed in it.

On one hand, I’m solidly on the science side. My massage education emphasized basic science education. Our instructors had PhDs in Anatomy. I do not perform energy work or other techniques for which there is no evidence. I’m not a “healer.” I don’t “detoxify” my clients. My bosses have been physicians and physical therapists, not yoga teachers or New Age gurus.

But I am also a person of deep religious convictions. I pray daily. I believe in God, and an afterlife, and nonphysical reality. So why don’t I incorporate these things into my work? Is it not hypocritical of me to compartmentalize my life and seal off a huge part of me daily experience from my faith? Am I wronging my clients by failing to offer them all of the tools for health and wellbeing at my disposal? Is it dishonesty to offer clients exclusively materialist assistance when I am not myself a materialist by belief?

I don’t believe so.

In fact, I don’t believe that I have removed my faith from my practice. Do I pray for my clients? Of course I do. In private. Just as I pray for all the people I care about. I choose to work in a way that exemplifies the teachings of my faith: with compassion, trustworthiness, and a profound sense of gratitude. Another tenet of my faith is truthfulness, which is why I cannot claim to offer spirit-based healing. I cannot in good conscience claim to understand or control such things. Accepting payment for them would be akin to accepting money for making the weather pleasant, or for a meteor shower. It isn’t right.

Beautiful, isn't it? That'll be $20.

Basic lovely weather package is $50, but only $10 extra gets you blooming flowers too.

It’s easy to get caught up in the sense of control science offers us. If I let the ball go, I can make it fall to the ground! If I angle this glass correctly, I can bend light! If I split an atom, I can create an explosion! Truly, it’s a lot of fun. Babies adore it. So do adults. We’re wired to control things like this in order to survive.

But if you believe in the Divine, you can’t approach it with a microscope or telescope. Revelation in one form or another might give you guidelines for how all this spiritual stuff works, but the thing about being the creation is that you don’t get to order the Creator around. Making up rules about what God must or must not do based on your personal desires is ridiculous. It’s effing the ineffable. And it makes you look foolish not only to people of science, but people of faith.

I’m not saying there are no services that faith can offer to others. I would be an awful hypocrite if I thought that. Absolutely pray for people. Lay your hands on them if that’s your thing. Anoint them with oils or chant or draw symbols on their skin or just hold them in your heart and love them. There’s nothing wrong with seeking spiritual aid on a suffering person’s behalf. But don’t take money for it. That’s like being baptized in a church and then next week receiving a water bill. 

Do I think people have things to gain spiritually from massage therapy? Sure. Being cared for with respect and compassion by another human being touches far more than skin and muscle. But it’s not my place to tell my clients that, and it’s not my job to try and make it happen. The ineffable doesn’t need my chatter to do its work. I wouldn’t believe in it otherwise.

photo credit: code poet via photopin cc

letter h

My father tells his students that “hope is a four-letter word.” He means this in the sense that when hope replaces action, it’s useless. “Hoping” that your grades, your job, your relationships, or your skills will improve doesn’t accomplish much of anything.

On the other hand, hope is a necessary prerequisite for action. Why work hard to improve when the situation is hopeless? You can always use a different motivator in place of hope, but as people who work in dead-end jobs with only a paycheck to motivate them show, there’s a difference in quality.

If you believe that no child is incorrigible, then there’s hope.

If you believe that the state of the world reflects a distortion of the human spirit and not its essential nature, then there’s hope.

If you believe in … anything, at all. People. Nature. God. Change. Any brand of goodness, really, take your pick. If you believe that there is or can be a force for good, from whatever source, then there’s hope.

Just be sure to take the next step. Action, practice, movement, service: none of these are four letter words, so don’t hesitate to make them your own.

photo credit: chrisinplymouth via photopin cc

aids ribbon

Today is World AIDS Day.

When I was in high school, I was one of only two members of the AIDS Awareness Club. The two of us were also in the Drama Club together, and on the editorial team for our school’s literary magazine, and best friends besides. Because of this, everyone decided we were a lesbian couple. Not sure how lesbianism follows AIDS, as they’re the least likely group to contract HIV, but that’s high school for you.

In college, I became an HIV Prevention Peer Educator. Basically, I taught sex ed to college students. As a student who wasn’t having sex, this was a particularly hilarious position. (Someone once called me the Virgin Sex Goddess. Best nickname ever.) My teaching partner was known for being a bit promiscuous, and he and I made a great team. Once a student complained that her boyfriend refused to wear condoms. I asked her why she’d waste her time on a guy who didn’t respect her health. My partner showed her how to put a condom on another person with her mouth. His method was probably more effective.

For my biology class, I decided to research the specific ways various HIV drugs worked on the cellular level. I spent a lot of time talking to the only other kid in the class who was really passionate about his project. (It was about mushroom farming, which is very cool.) Nobody else knew what to do with us.

When I lived in Malawi, around 15% of the population was HIV+. In the afternoons I’d sometimes walk to a nearby orphanage and play with the babies there. Some of them had not been tested yet. Some had. It was surreal, realizing how differently the futures of those babies would go, all based on one tiny virus.

In massage school, I completed my internship at a local nonprofit, working with HIV+ clients (and sometimes their stressed-out social workers). I was amazed at the diversity I saw. For some, being HIV+ was their entire identity. When they said “we,” they didn’t mean people in general, or the two of us, or even gay men. They meant people carrying the virus. But others nearly exploded over with the joy of being alive. I couldn’t dream of being so healthy, or living so fully.

Now, I work in a tiny, not-for-profit clinic where around 1/3 of our clients have HIV. I’m lucky to understand the side effects of their medications (peripheral neuropathy is particularly unpleasant) and to have enough knowledge to be sensible, compassionate, and unafraid.

I when I was 16 and hanging posters in my school’s hallways, I didn’t know I was building a career. I just knew that I was a teen who cared, and that care followed me around for a decade until I found a place for it in my professional life. If you’d asked me then what I would do when I grew up, I couldn’t have predicted any of it, and the question wouldn’t have helped me at all. But if you asked me, “What will matter to you?” I’d have given you a short, decisive list. It’s the same list now.

Maybe that’s a better way to prepare young people for the world they will inherit. Build the skills around caring, rather than trying to convince people that they ought to care more about their skills.

photo credit: Mister F. via photopin cc

Empowered Souls met yesterday. We’re on Lesson 3 in Breezes of Confirmation, where Musonda tells her cousin Rose that she’d like to be a nurse someday so that she could help people. What a great conversation starter! We talked about what everyone in the group thought they might want to do for a career when they grew up, and most importantly, why.

Most had dream careers based on their natural inclinations and talents, ranging from chemist to journalist to taking over her father’s real estate business. And I loved seeing how they didn’t feel pressured to have goals that were similar to each other, or based exclusively on money or prestige.

After that, we played a game. Everybody wrote down a different job on a piece of paper. Then everybody took turns drawing one, and explaining how someone in that position could be of service to others … in under 10 seconds. They did a great job with it, but I noticed an interesting trend.

This particular group of 11-12 year old girls, many of whom are involved in community service through their schools, tend to see “service” as a separate, stand-alone activity. For example, they recognized immediately that a singer could hold a benefit concert to raise money for charity, or visit people in the hospital and sing for them, but they didn’t mention the fact that singing could simply make people who heard them happier on an everyday basis. There’s definitely an event-oriented, rather than process-oriented culture surrounding them. This is the sort of thing it’ll be good to keep in mind as we continue forward in study and service as a group.

After that, we played charades with the occupations (watching people trying to mime “meteorologist” and “chiropractor” is pretty hilarious!), and then went outside to run around. We ended up inventing a meandering game with a soccer ball and a volleyball called volleyboccer, which inspired me to teach the girls about Calvinball. Yes, I played Calvinball with my junior youth group. Such a proud moment!

This group is such a great mix of deep and silly. Sometimes they seem very adult, and at other times they’re very, well, twelve. I can’t wait to see how they grow over the next three years.

Scintilla prompt: Talk about a memory triggered by a particular song.

It was fall of 2001. I had just graduated from high school in June, but instead of going to college like most of my friends, I was beginning training for my year of service with City Year Cleveland. We didn’t have our uniforms yet, and the Beloved Community Center (aka office) on W. 9th would soon be taken over by some other business when CYC moved to Euclid Ave. I remember sitting close to the front, and seeing the recruitment video about what was in store for us. That video featured this song:


Whenever I hear You Gotta Be, I think of that year. The red jacket ceremony. Putting Idealism to Work (bing!). The children I helped to learn to read in English when No Child Left Behind slashed funding for qualified ESL tutors. Giving my first speech in front of 1,000+ people. Giving my second speech in front of 1,00o+ people. The day we were painting a map of Africa on a playground when our team leader asked us to circle up, and told us that the World Trade Center had been hit by an airplane. Working two shifts on the disaster relief hotline at the Red Cross the next day. Leading PT on Public Square every morning at 8:10, come rain, snow, or shine. It was an amazing year.

The 2nd grade students I tutored that year should be graduating from high school in a couple of months. I never returned to City Year, although I always intended to. Now I’m on a different career path, and I know it will never happen. But there’s a part of me that’s deeply rooted in that experience. I’m proud, incredibly proud to have served as a City Year Corps Member. And whenever I have a feeling like I can’t make a difference in the world, I listen to Des’ree, because she brings back the “Spirit, Discipline, Purpose, and Pride” I felt everyday.

City Year taught me how it is possible to truly embody an ideal.

If you want to create a change, it’s not enough to do. You gotta be.

I’m in that place where so many things happen it’s difficult to reflect on them, much less write about them. I hate “here’s a list of stuff I’ve been up to” posts, but what can you do?

  • I went to the CD release party of two of my junior youth. One of the unexpected bonuses of animating a junior youth group is seeing a shy middle school girl rap about the Civil Rights Movement in front of dozens of people. So proud!
  • I finished all my yearly dealings with the BMV with minimal drama, despite forgetting that Cuyahoga County requires an e-check, unlike Hamilton County.
  • Jef gave me a ukulele for my birthday, and I’m busy learning songs on it that I can share with my children’s class. “We Are Drops” is only three chords, thank goodness!
  • I started a new part-time job in a physical therapy clinic. It’s totally different from any environment I’ve ever worked in before, and I’m receiving no training. I just showed up, introduced myself, and was given my first patient! I actually had to ask where I could wash my hands.
  • I’ve become the official blogger of the Baha’i community of Greater Cleveland. It’s great to be able to use my writing habit in service to my spiritual family.
  • I’m preparing a series of home visits, an open house/informational meeting, an animator gathering, a cluster reflection meeting, a new teacher training, and a cookie baking party. And somehow I need to get the kitchen clean!

I often feel like I’m going to explode from the things I want to accomplish, but I haven’t exploded yet! Here’s hoping I continue the non-explosive trend into the new year.

Last year (or rather, December 2010), there was a writing prompt to describe the theme of both the past and future year in one word.

The word for 2010 was “learn.” I was in school to study a new field, living in a new city, working at a new job, and part of a new family. I learned every day, and worked hard at it.

The word for 2011 was “move.” We moved from Cincinnati to Cleveland. I also began walking every morning, going contradancing more often, practicing Shiva Nata on a regular basis, and made a commitment to moving my body. I got moving on beginning my massage practice. I traveled to Portland (Oregon), Chicago, Toronto, and a few other special places besides.

I think the theme for 2012 is going to be “strength.” In addition to starting a strength training program for my body (I can do six pull ups and 18 push-ups now!), I want to be financially strong, build a strong community around me, create a strong massage practice and a strong writing practice, be strong in my convictions and my commitments. I want my family to be even stronger. I want to make my life one that can be relied on.

Here’s to strength in 2012. What’s your word?

Why do teachers seem so diagnosis-happy these days?

Because it’s absolution from the horrible thought, “I don’t know how to help this child.”

Teachers, parents, grown-ups of all sorts: it’s okay.  You don’t have to know how to help every child.  You don’t have to be able to solve every child’s problems.  It doesn’t mean that, because you’ve exhausted your entire bag of tricks, that you’re a failed teacher, a bad parent, a worthless mentor.  It’s okay to ask for help.  It’s okay to try.

You don’t need a diagnosis to stop feeling guilty about your own inability to help a child improve.  You can stop feeling guilty all on your own.  Get what help you can.  If a diagnosis and treatment is needed, it’ll come. 

In the meantime, let’s quit pathologizing what we can’t understand.  Please.

Two children, almost precisely 1 year apart in age, sit at a table and work on two, nearly identical 12-piece puzzles.

The younger child quickly begins looking for easy pairs, then adding individual pieces on.  He rotates pieces to try them out from different angles, then sets them aside for later if they don’t seem to fit the space he’s working on, quickly moving onto the next piece.  He is happy and engrossed, finishing the puzzle many times, saying “Yay!” and immediately dumping the puzzle out onto the table to try it again.

The older child begs “Help!  Help!”  He puts a piece where he believes it should go, then bangs on it and cries when it doesn’t fit.  He is frustrated and unhappy, unwilling to try new tactics, but also unwilling to let the puzzle go unfinished.

How would you judge these children?

What kind of capacity would you see in them?

What would you imagine their futures hold in store?

The younger child and the teacher begin helping the older child.  At first they put a couple of pieces in place for him, in response to his cries for help.  After that calms him down, they start coaching him.  The younger child sees that a piece the older child holds needs to be reoriented.  “Turn, turn,” he says.  The teacher asks, “Do you see a piece of the cow on that piece?  Where is the rest of the cow?”  The older child puts the piece into place and his face lights up: “Did it!”  He grabs another piece, and completes much of the puzzle on his own.

By lunchtime, both boys complete the puzzles with equal skill, focus, and excitement.

One only needed access to the puzzle.  The other needed help learning the process of spatial problem solving and a boost in confidence.

Both of them got what they needed: empowerment.

Some would have called the younger child intelligent, well-adjusted, self-motivated, productive.  Some would have called the older child needy, easily frustrated, melodramatic, or even ADHD.  But to see them only half an hour later, you couldn’t tell one puzzle-builder from the other.

Why do we judge children based on a few needs in their earliest years?  Why is it shameful to require human, rather than simply material, assistance in order to blossom into productivity and flow?

If one child’s mind is so wired that completing a puzzle is easy, let’s celebrate that.  And if another child has the capacity to accept the help of others in learning to complete a task that once appeared impossible, let’s celebrate that, too.

Together, these boys could make a fantastic team.  I fear the judgments that will soon be placed on them, and that surely have been already.  But in the meantime, I will give them everything I can.  I want so desperately for their lives to be full of that ecstatic expression upon sliding the final puzzle piece into place.  The look of pride, of competence, of independence, of sheer and unadulterated joy.