Please No Pickle Waffles

Right now I am doing a bad thing: I have three phone calls to return and I am writing instead. Both of these things are important, but not returning calls is the business equivalent to having someone knock on your window, peering into the shop, unable to get into your business because you’ve locked the door.

Now, I’ve been promising myself to get back into the blogging spirit of things for some time, so this counts toward business goals: preventing burnout by having a bit of fun. But there are slots to fill. So this, and then.

One of the biggest things that has changed for me in my nearly 15 years of practice is my system of checks and balances: personally and professionally. I need them, else I flounder. When you get lopsided — easily angry or too needy, too busy or not busy enough — what do you do? How do you get back on track?

At moments like these, I think about Gordon Ramsay.

If you aren’t familiar with this purple-faced, pompous, punitive Brit chef, perhaps if I strung together length of profanities here and brandished some cutlery…

Oh yeah. That guy.

“Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares” “Hell’s Kitchen” etc. The blond dude in the chef jacket screaming at people in the kitchen.

No he’s not nice at ALL. But behind the sensational, savage take-downs, is a passionate man. He cares: a lot: about good food. Good service. Good work ethic. (this is more obvious in his BBC programs, so don’t let his Fox persona totally alienate you: his earlier shows convey more ardor despite the persecutions. Sort of like the Zen Buddhist master who goes around smacking students with a stick while they’re meditating.)

Often (and it’s painful to see) he upbraids a well-meaning but misguided chef who’s turns out entree after entree of hopelessness, stuff they learned in school or dreamt up on their own: maraschino cherry chicken. Minced steak with lima puree. Pickle waffles.

“C’mon, mate, what the f*ck are you playing at?” he’ll roar. “Nobody’s going to eat that or want it in this town! Can you make me: a roasted chicken? Just a roasted chicken with a few nice sides?”

He has some Kitchen Rules, most of which are surprisingly adaptable to good massage therapy practice. Here’s a good article: offering “100 Curse Free Lessons from Gordon Ramsay” in building software. These are 100 points that are easily transferable to any industry one cares about: software…food…massage.

Gordon slams people around because he gives a sh*t, mate. Could you or I tolerate that? It would be hard. Maybe not necessary. But it gets me thinking.

We don’t have the Gordon Ramsay equivalent for massage therapists? (“Writing a Blue Streak” comes close and I thank and bless you Allissa.) But maybe we bloody well should, because massage is a lot closer to giving someone a cup of coffee than it is to writing a prescription.

We serve others: and when that service is poor, business dries up, or never really takes off. Like chefs, we massage therapists can get all dreamy and unrealistic about our work, sloppy in our execution and even disrespectful of the very people we say we want to please: our customers.

I like to bring up restaurant work as an apt correlative for massage therapy practices (“On Serving: Table to Table” was one such attempt) because I care about both fields. I was a server for only four measly years but did it in one of the most lauded, established restaurants in Belfast Maine: Chase’s Daily.

My worst days as a server were the ones I got too personally involved. I was really in to my own self, my own sense of fairness, and not keeping my eye on the prize: the scope of the day, and turning over tables. That was my job. Being imperceptible yet personal in my work: my job. Keeping things moving =  job.

Like a good meal, a good massage sells itself. It needs no promotion. You don’t have to pull out the words. People who like your work will be more than happy to put the words out there for you: online, in print, and that most prized possession of ANY entrepreneur (you do see yourself as an entrepreneur, right? Especially if you’re in business for yourself?) : positive word of mouth. Out there on the street. Working for you 24-7.

When you are the best practitioner on more than one person’s lips, you are an overnight success, even if it takes more than 10 years to get there.

Years of showing up, honing your craft, being there when no one is there, being there when you are tired and everyone wants something from you, returning phone calls (that reminds me), not getting distracted by ambiance or retail or modalities or minutia (ahem, self). Not being romantic about your work, or believing your own hype.

It means no new modalities until you’ve got the perfect massage in your hands. Setting boundaries and refusing to be shoved around: either by your clients or your own sense of self. It means having your customer relations schtick down pat.

It means: a nice roasted chicken with some sides. And no pickle waffles.

I’m all for continuing education, changing up your sessions, offering 1 or 2 new treatments, rethinking your client base and getting new linens (for crying out loud!) but what people really want is reliable good service. Over and over. Month after month. Year after year.

Don’t change it up on me all the time and think it’s better. Give me one simple thing and make it excellent.

Do your side work – all of it.

And don’t give up.

 

 

Love as technique

I had an alarming phenomenon visit me while I was in massage therapy school, during student clinic. In even those rigorously managed and strict environs – and I in my white monogrammed polo, khaki pants, hair pinned back and clipboard in hand – it arrived with enough frequency that I started to wonder if there was something wrong with me.

Gradually, with complete strangers from the Cambridge area, when I actually relaxed for a few brief moments, I felt love. Not a tame, generalized sensation of general bonhomie and good will towards this person who willingly let my novice, nervous hands knead their frame, but startlingly strong, unmistakeable love: breath-taking and untoward.

I remember one moment in particular when I needed to take my hands off my client and shake my head a few times, just to snap out of it, if I could. Didn’t work. I got back into my routine, bearing up under the strain, cross from being harassed, and hoping eventually it would go away.

Nearly 15 years and countless massages later, I got my wish. The stress of setting up my practice a few times, until it took; worrying about how I was going to get enough clients in this small town on the north coast of Maine, and then, once getting them, worrying how I was going to have the strength to see them all; taking the ardent work of my hands and turning it into a reliable commodity, have all worked that blazing affection right out of me. I’ll admit it. I’ve been afraid, in recent years, of burning out.

Enter continuing education: through conversation, books, workshops, social networking and good old-fashioned questioning. Where did that messy, divine, fiery tenderness go? Could I retrieve it from some shunted layer, deep within?

My last year of school, one of the faculty at the Muscular Therapy Institute – Erika Baern – had a few massages from me. I revered her, but she seemed very professional, almost to the point of being grim, so I reined in my adoration as best I could, trying to be quiet in her presence and learn from her by osmosis.

I wasn’t sure I had made any impression on her, even though I deeply wished I had. But in the final week of school I received a bound packet of articles from her in my student mailbox. “Kristen: I think you should read these. Erika.” This was the encouragement I had been looking for, and my first introduction to David Lauterstein.

David Lauterstein at a Deep Massage workshop in Oct. 2013

David Lauterstein at a Deep Massage workshop in Oct. 2013

David is a educator, practitioner, author, writer and musician. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2011, is co-founder of The Lauterstein-Conway School of Massage in Austin, Texas, and published “The Deep Massage Book” in 2012.

He has an international teaching schedule, offering Deep Massage workshops, and came out with (one of my favorite) music CDs, “Roots and Branches,” of his acoustic guitar music played live in the studio alongside massage being performed – “so we would have a music that actually arose from massage itself.” he says on the TLC site.  He also has a killer FaceBook page: Deep Massage Book.

Each one of us deserves to have teachers in our lives who by their mere presence  are instructive and nurturing; who meet us where we are, whether total newbie or tired pro; who inspire devotion through a terrific combination of deep insight, concise correction and weird humor. David has been one such for me.

The reason I locked in on his writing from the get-go is his inclusion and defense of the energetic components of massage therapy. He teaches Zero Balancing and this informs Deep Massage; I am a Reiki Master/practitioner, so our frequencies hum on the same pitch when it comes to looking at our clients through more than one lens (a prism is more like it).

It’s been a long time since student clinic, but because of reading Lauterstein’s work (I also highly – highly! – recommend his “Putting the Soul Back in the Body“) I’ve been reassured there was a place for that strong ardor, and my line of work was the perfect place to feel it.

What I’ve learned from continued study with Lauterstein (and also Tracy Walton‘s oncology massage writing and training):  that what we sense in session may be just important to what we do: that who we are as a practitioner has everything to do with how the client experiences the success (or failure) of being “met”: that while we must master techniques, understand physiology, identify pathologies and know anatomy, the openness of our heart – the tenderness and love we feel for our client – is where our true power lies.

In my next blog post I will describe my understanding of the phrase “Get behind your work,” which I got from my most recent workshop with David, and one that I see as both command and consolation.

What do we pray for?…Finally, alchemy. It is NOT up to you. I wish it was, but it’s not…the body contains all of the healing substances it needs already. The person contains all the healing substances it needs, they just don’t notice it. We are there to just help them become aware. I want people to realize they’re miraculous.
– paraphrased from David Lauterstein’s Deep Massage training at Down East School of Massage in Waldoboro, Maine.

To market, To market

I was asked in a previous blog why I haven’t written about how I market my business, and how I have accrued my client base. Honestly I only have two bits of advice and they aren’t what you think they are.

I have a successful massage therapy practice, by all standards. I work in a small rural town on the coast of Maine, the great frozen north, getting warmer all the time. In my busy season (July through early October) I see on average 15-18 clients a week. The rest of the year, I average 8-12 per week, barring blizzards, flu or everyone going on vacation all at the same time.

August/September I’m flush. March/April I’m broke. It’s a success.

I’m blessed with drive, stamina, a good head for business, and, by far the most helpful thing of all, I was an English major in college. Which means I can write killer brochures, web content, newsletters and holiday postcards.

(*note – this is the only real marketing advice I will give: IT’S IN THE WRITING. Clients test drive your work long before they ever meet you in person: GET A GOOD WEBSITE. Here’s mine. I always ask new clients “How did you find out about me?” and I get two answers “Someone in town told me about you” and/or “I found you online and I liked what I read.”)

I am my own boss, employee, janitor, marketing director, educational consultant, administrative assistant, dishwasher, community outreach director and bookkeeper. It gets schizophrenic.

Here are two of my brochures, my biz card, the cards of others I recommend, and a good luck rabbit I got in Philly a few years ago.

Here are two of my brochures – one for my massage therapy practice, the other explaining the benefits of oncology massage, my biz card, the cards of others I recommend, and a good luck rabbit.

I work when I don’t want to. I work packed, intense days where I sit down only for 2 reasons: to work someone’s head/neck/upper chest supine, or to use the john. I give myself holidays off, but I still do 10, 12 hour days on occasion.

I wanted a massage practice and after 13 years full of doubts, fears, fatigue and tears, I have it. I now want new things for my practice, but I aimed the arrow and hit a bulls-eye. Blessed be. Here’s how it happened:

If you want clients, you have to work. For me — and maybe this is because I come from a long line of glum tireless Anabaptist farmers – there is no stronger incentive than being poor to sink everything you’ve got – your whole mind, body and spirit – into your practice, and make it happen. I have a dark side. This is one of the ways it serves me.

Nothing but massaging lots of people, as much as I could, even when I didn’t think I could, over and over, with consistency and ardor every time that client came in, made things get better. That means: seeing clients. Which only happens if a) they know you exist b) they can get in touch with you c) you respond to them and d) get them scheduled.

It’s work. Massaging someone is bliss; but getting them in your office and on your table is work. For every fifteen business cards you hand out, maybe one person will contact you. Get used to disappointment. And keep putting yourself out there.

If you have other options, you’ll take them. If there isn’t anything else, then you will stick with what you’ve got. Is massage what you want to do? Don’t let anything deter you: not your spouse’s plentiful income which makes your work unnecessary, not calls from your previous employer, not your deep desire to just be left at home puttering among the flowers.

Sometimes that gets decided for you: I had nothing else: no easier career, no part-time work that really satisfied, and no one to bail me out if I failed. I was a server at a popular restaurant in Belfast, Chase’s Daily, for four years.  I needed that work bad, to help me while I built my practice, but I knew eventually I had to quit.

In the movie “Living in the Material World,”  Olivia Harrison says, “What’s the secret of a long marriage? You don’t get divorced.” This is true of long-term relationships: with another person, a creative endeavor, or a career. You show up. Even & especially when you don’t know why.

Eventually the clients come, and the money, but actually you became a smarter, humbler, hungrier, and devoted person in the process, and THAT’S what people respond to: who YOU are. That’s an irresistible magnet, and it pulls people in faster than any marketing plan.

If there’s something inside you that always says, “yeah I love this,” hang in, dig in. You’ll love it even more in a short while. Even and especially during those short contemplative moments on the john.

How Little We Know

Here we are, the “end” of summer, and some of us wax nostalgic already for the season gone by. Never mind there’s still plenty gorgeous warm days ahead: we’re longing, pining, for all that’s gone, for all we didn’t do.

If you’re not careful, you just become a waxer and a piner. As if there were some L.L. Bean catalog photo spread that we’re all subconsciously aiming for. It slowly creeps into every facet of your life: all the fresh blueberry pancakes you didn’t eat. All the hot weekends you didn’t make it to the beach. The live music you missed along the harbor. The full moons, the rising suns.

Maybe because you were working 10-hour days all during June, July and August, huh? Maybe because your mom got real sick and you needed to be with her: a lot. Maybe you adopted a puppy, and puppies need care 24/7. Maybe you just don’t like crowds. Anyway, it’s over now, and you didn’t “have it all.”

Ahhh, alas. Alack.

Bummer, dude.

But don't make it sad, Cricket. I don't feel that way.

But don’t make it sad, Cricket. I don’t feel that way.

Over the years my practice has grown and I’ve been seeing more clients. It has taken a lot for me – with all my OCD, type-A, perfectionistic tendencies – to unload the shotgun of my ambitions. There’s nothing like seeing 5, 6 clients at a crack (which I don’t recommend for the long term) to get very serious with yourself about releasing immature notions of “getting it right.”

You cannot hold a fixed standard of perfection and meet each client successfully. Perfection is not what you do to a client, or even, who you are as a practitioner, but it’s only happens when the client has arrived in the room: only available for measure and observation in the moment when the two of you are conversing, negotiating, explaining, learning. Perfection is wholly immediate: not a split second earlier, or later.

So getting ramped up for seeing people: over-analyzing their issues or what you didn’t quite do enough of last time – or if they’re a new client, being more anxious than relaxed and happy at the prospect of meeting them and finding out what you can do for them – is not a substitute for being present to them during intake, massage, and finish-out. I’ve mentioned this before in a previous blog, but it bears repeating, mostly because I need reminding: Worry is not a substitute for paying attention. Neither is being all perfectionistic-y.

Also can I just say? Which I’m entitled to saying because, here again, I need to remind my ownself: playing teacher’s pet no longer entertains or amuses as one matures (or, at least, it shouldn’t). Most of us were lauded for our overweening efforts at getting straight As, or shots on goal, or the blue ribbon, when we were young. In the big-girl world, nobody likes a smart-ass, but that doesn’t keep us from still trying reeeeeeally hard: those of us whose perfectionism hasn’t died, only gone underground.

We’re not fooling anybody. It comes leaking out around the edges as addictions, excuses, anger and peevishness, and procrastination. As waxing and pining. If we think we have to get it right – first off, right out of the gate, every time – we’ll lay down an innumerable amount of barriers to prevent ourselves from even attempting the smallest introduction to the very thing we long to embrace: a project, a piece, a person.

Get to it.

Your client doesn’t want you to get it right.

Your client wants you to pay attention to them.

And, by the way….that goes for the rest of your life too.

So – WAKE UP! Guess what. It’s almost September. Open your eyes, your heart, your schedule, and don’t miss a single. Blessed. Minute. Even if you’re lying in the bright autumn sun for hours, not moving a muscle. Listening to old love songs. Resting. Like you deserve it or something.

Perfectionists live lives of sameness, wondering why new things never come. Perfectionism is the enemy of good, and good enough. But in an elemental way, perfectionism is the galactic enemy of action itself.

Bob Sullivan

and

All people long to write (this is natural and right) – but we become timid, anxious, perfectionists…The creative power does not come from ambition. Ambition injures it and makes it a nervous strain and hard work. Writing is not a performance but a generosity. Write to enlarge the soul. Work freely and rollickingly as if you were talking to a friend who loves you.

Francisco Stork

and

Maybe it happens this way
Maybe we really belong together
But after all, how little we know

— “How Little We Know” sung by Lauren Bacall in “To Have and Have Not” by Johnny Mercer and Hoagy Carmichael 1944

What you just read is not my fault. It’s because my friend, colleague, co-conspirator and pants kicker Rowan Blaisdell talked me into it, and also, because I cannot resist a write-off: 31 Posts in 31 Days August Blog Challenge, Business Blogging School. Caution snuffed, perfectionism cast off like a smelly cloak: this is blog #22. (okay, I’ve missed a few.)

“Mise en place” – photo essay

It’s a French phrase, something I learned from Lucky Peach in their “The Cooks & Chefs Issue,” meaning “putting in place.” From professional kitchen jargon, it refers to how one sets up their space to do the prepping, baking and cooking needed during one’s shift.

In the Lucky Peach Spring 2012 edition, a chef was interviewed and asked, when are you having a good day? “When the mise en place is good,” he replied, along with a few other things.

When are you having a bad day? He replied, when the mise en place is bad, and then details.

I recently posted on my experience as a server in a local, popular restaurant. In reflecting on how being a waitress helped me become a better massage therapist, I realized I have little “mise en place” all over my office: stations of aid, that help me do my job. When these are clean, organized, well-stocked and pleasing to the eye, my work goes well.

So here are some pictures of my office “mise en place.”

The Desk

The Oils, White Sage and Crockpot…for heating towels

The Desk

The Desk

The Reiki Altar

The Reiki Altar

Hanging in the Window, in direct line of sight when I'm seated at client's head

Hanging in the Window, in direct line of sight when I’m seated at client’s head

The Client Folder

The Client Folder

The table, with summer spread. (not a work station, so much, as the place of work itself....like a gas range in a kitchen)

The table, with summer spread. (more the place of work itself, like a gas range in a kitchen)

What you just read is not my fault. It’s because my friend, colleague, co-conspirator and pants kicker Rowan Blaisdell talked me into it, and also, because I cannot resist a write-off: 31 Posts in 31 Days August Blog Challenge, Business Blogging School. Caution snuffed, perfectionism cast off like a smelly cloak: this is blog #19.

What I am is What I am

…oh dear, have I made you sing the Edie Brickell song?

I have been seeing a lot of clients this summer. Some days have been better than others. You know how it can go: super-duper massage therapy powers cascading all through the day! like an AWESOME summer movie! even when it ends, you’re still pumped!

Or, an interminable awkward comedy improv show that just can’t end soon enough.

I was having a “can I get through this” day, with two long-term clients coming in for back-to-back 90-min. therapeutic massage sessions. I was doing everything right: started my day with prayer and meditation, yoga, my perfect breakfast (two scrambled eggs, two pieces of Ezekiel bread toast with butter and raw honey on them), and I’d taken my supplements, drank water and downed a teaspoon of Restorative Root Powder. Salad and green tea for lunch. I was keeping on top of my side work.

I felt like I was going to scream or cry, one of the two, maybe both, and kind of for a long time.

There was a lot going on at home, and I knew that was contributing, but I was unable to let it go. Something else was nibbling so hard at the edges of my psyche I could hear its little teeth rasping. Finally I sat down (in the few minutes I had to spare) in the middle of my massage table, cross-legged and, keeping an eye on the parking lot for the incoming, had a little talk with myself.

What I noticed, immediately, was the fraught and trembly voice that came up inside me. Like a terrified child, who sees a big stream and cannot, will not, go across, even though there are stones to walk upon.

In the end (I will spare you all the dialogue) I realized that the very fact that these were long-term clients, with long term issues, coming in to see me for long sessions, and I wanted to fix them, once and for all. I mean I hadn’t gotten it “right” after all these years? why were they still bothering with me?

“Just be who you are.”

This came to me, above the panic. I considered it. What am I?

a strong individual
trained and educated, with a curious mind
wounded and scarred, with an open heart
with a solid protocol for practice
who brings full attention to bear in every session
the best she can.

I would say that, after realizing my essentials — bare-bones, no credentials, no aspiration, no agenda — I knew that was what I could do for my incoming. Be that which I am: slightly less than the angels, slightly more than the dead.

And you: who are you?

Be that. It is the answer you seek.

It’s the only answer your client will understand.

Many thanks to Kelli Wise for her blog “It’s OK if your clients don’t get better” as part inspiration, part peer counseling, for this post.

What you just read is not my fault. It’s because my friend, colleague, co-conspirator and pants kicker Rowan Blaisdell talked me into it, and also, because I cannot resist a write-off: 31 Posts in 31 Days August Blog Challenge, Business Blogging School. Caution snuffed, perfectionism cast off like a smelly cloak: this is blog #12.

How To: Pick Good Music: Kristen’s List

{cont. from How To: Pick: Finding} Thanks to those who have contributed some of their own favorites so far. I am really enjoying yours. Okay, here it is: my list. Big deal! Well, it does represent years of listening and winnowing. I like each of these albums a lot for different reasons, as you can see by the very subjective titles I gave each group.

DavidDarling8stringreligionSimple and Sweet

  • Anything by David Darling: superb cellist, composing heartfelt, deep, beautiful music. My absolute favorite is “8-String Religion,” but I also adore “Prayer for Compassion,” “Music for Massage,” and “Return to Desire.”
  • Garden Thyme” – North Star Music
  • Roots and Branches” – David Lauterstein (yes, the same guy who’s an educator and author of “Deep Massage”!)
  • Sounds of Acadia” – because it’s nature sounds with impressively beautiful music to go with it…and the sounds are from Acadia National Park, here in my own state of Maine.
  • Magical Child” – Michael Jones
  • Good Night” – Fridrik Karlsson
  • Quiet Heart/Spirit Wind” – Richard Warner
  • Raga Taranga” – from Siddha Yoga, meaning “wave of melodies”
  • Feng Shui: Music for Balanced Living” – Daniel May
  • Island of Bows” and “Migration” – R. Carlos Nakai (plus Peter Kater on Migration! A winning combo.)
  • Equanimity” – Ryan Stewart

TranscendentalLiquidMindspirit

  • Anything by Liquid Mind: my A+, #1, all-time favorite massage album is “Spirit.” That first track, “Warm in You,” just takes me right where I need to be, and my client along with!
  • Anything by Deuter: “Nada Himalaya 2,” “Garden of the Gods,” “Reiki Hands of Light,” “Buddha Nature” (the first track is a little jazzy, shall we say, but it’s tolerable and ends fairly quickly), “Koyasan.”
  • Auracle” – Maneki Neko
  • Spirit of Yoga” – Ben Leinbach
  • The Yearning” and “Afterglow” – Tim Wheater, Michael Hoppe
  • Compassion” – Peter Kater
  • Shamanic Dream” – Anugama
  • Spectrum Suite” – Steven Halpern
  • My Secret Heart” – Michael Whalen “romantic meditations,” but can be used successfully for massage, without being weird.
  • my new favorite: “Nature’s Enchantment” by Marina Raye

Devotional

  • Vox Clamantis – a capella choir music
  • Sacred Treasures” from Hearts of Space
  • Eternity’s Sunrise” – A Bill Douglas Collection
  • Each of the following artists, who use Sanskrit chant against music for a very devotional sound. Heavy on lyrics, yet most of them wash over you. Some of the music is upbeat and not massage appropriate, but you can make a nice mix with any of the following: Wah!, Deva Premal, Rasa, Ashana. Even some Enya fits in here, too.

HAPPY LISTENING!

What you just read is not my fault. It’s because my friend, colleague, co-conspirator and pants kicker Rowan Blaisdell talked me into it, and also, because I cannot resist a write-off: 31 Posts in 31 Days August Blog Challenge, Business Blogging School. Caution snuffed, perfectionism cast off like a smelly cloak: this is blog #11.