I’m Just Trying To Help

“Just relax your shoulders, now. I’ve got it.”
“I know, I’m always trying to help.”
“Yes, I understand, I really do. But you help more by not helping.”

This is a conversation we have, you and I, when you’re supine on my table and I go to skootch under your shoulders with my hands, so I can get to your upper back muscles, and I feel you tense and lift. Or when I go to work down your arm: When your arm is stiff and your elbow locks and you hold out each finger for me when I go to massage them.

This is the little bit of conversation we do have, since there’s not a lot of talking, and when I say “just relax now” I am using what I hope is the most encouraging, friendly tone. Because I do understand. I really do.

Helping is a lovely quality, whether we’re moving our limbs around for our massage therapist, or picking up our neighbor’s newspaper for him and tucking it in his mailbox, or hoping to inspire a family member to quit drinking. Our intention is undeniably excellent. A gold star, five gold stars, for The Helper. I give myself props for it whenever I can. “Good for you, Kristen” I say to myself. “You really want to make a difference. I like that about you.”

“Helping” is what a lot of us do to ensure another’s happiness. We don’t want to put anyone out. We are scared of looking like we don’t care, or seeming selfish. We want to be the one who makes a difference.

There’s basic courtesy, mutual respect, and then there’s helping. I’ve waited tables and had customers try to help me figure out which table is going to open up first, or try to help me seat people. Pretty easy to spot how how incredibly annoying that is, right?

But when we do it, what we say to the other person is, “Well damn. I was just trying to help,” and behind that is quite a healthy dollop of indignation. Don’t get annoyed, because I was trying to help, could be the subtext. And, even farther under that, could be: you idiot.

So we help even when it hasn’t been requested. Even if we’re paying someone. And oh my goodness are we good at it. Sometimes, the better of a job we’re doing, the more annoying it is. Heated conversations — with mean words and a lot of stomping about — usually involve the phrase “just trying to help” at some point.

I’m not saying everyone who tries to help me by lifting or moving their limbs around in session is a Helper, but when I watch my clients try to help me in session it makes me consider what helping is. The sunny side of helping is: we really do want to help someone. The dark side of helping is: we don’t trust them.

For a lot of us, this is based on cold hard experience: we’ve been hurt, we’ve watched people go down the tubes, we’ve become increasingly annoyed by a bad situation and so we just start helping, just to do something to fix what is unbearable. We start anticipating more and more when help is required, then, and it becomes A Thing we do without even realizing it.

Even when the best, maybe healthiest response, is to step back. Relax. Watch things unfold. Unclench our grip.

“Not-Helping” in a massage session is a great opportunity to practice kinesthetically what might be difficult for us to manifest behaviorally. Often what we learn in the body brings simpler, more relaxed understanding to parts of ourselves that cannot and will not be nudged, budged, or unlearned by any other means.

Massage therapy is so good for so many things, not the least of which is learning when to engage, and when to let go, and you and I are both doing this during your session.

Because you know what? Sometimes I really do need your help. One of those moments where I absolutely, 100% require it? Is when it’s time for you turn over. Yep, I cannot do that for you. (interestingly enough this is one of those moments where I get the least amount of cooperation: I’ll never forget the time that, after I finished my back work with one long-term client, I gently encouraged her to roll supine. A substantial amount of time passed, and I thought she might be completely asleep. Then, in a very petulant tone, from the muffled depths of the face cradle, she said emphatically: “NO.”)

More occasions for you to help: I’m not going to put the bolster in or take the bolster out without lifted knees, please. If you could move up into the face cradle a little more that would be good.

Also? Please let me know if something isn’t working for you. This past week another long-term client finally remembered to tell me she couldn’t breathe well when lying prone. Together, with “creative bolstering” as I’ve learned it from Tracy Walton, we got her comfy.

But the rest of the session: I’ve got it. I can help your body if you don’t try to help me with the helping. When I go for your arm, let it flop into my hands like an overcooked noodle. When I go for your shoulders, let them unfurl over my fingers. If I scoop up under your lowback or knees: it’s better for us both if you just let it happen.

Speaking of knees: today I saw a client who did not want me to work with them. Not only not work with her knees: not touch her knees. She described why, and my first response was, “But massaging your knees…could…help that?”

Here is where *I* work with my five-gold-star-ness. I wanted to help her, you see. I felt that I knew better than she did about what she wanted.

I saw it, claimed it, tagged and bagged that thing, and immediately followed the question with, “…but of course I won’t even touch them. What *would* feel good for your legs?” And we came up with a plan of action for her leg massage, that did not involve me touching her knees, and in session I honored that request completely, even though everything in me wanted to Help Her Knees by massaging them.

And that’s the good news, is that when we stop helping we start listening. What would really be helpful here? What does this person need from me, truly? If I love them, if I like  them, even if I have the most basic regard for this person (like my neighbor with his sluggish paper retrieval), it might feel better — for both of us — if I’m more curious than assumptive.

 

 

 

 

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You are a Body. Not a Head.

Winter in Maine is a wonderful time to get familiar with your body: how much you use it, and when it is telling you to stop. I know most people feel themselves most fully in the summer. Well, who wouldn’t?

When we are warm and unencumbered, we struggle not against howling gales nor winch up with the mincing steps of navigating ice. When it is beneficent and redolent all around, we toil and weary but the air supports us, and besides, we are mostly barefoot.

We know our stuffs most certainly when we prevail our squishy flesh upon a few snowdrifts, for example, in below-freezing temperatures. Many things not in our favor. Except our body. Which is quite excellent, when you can feel its health.

I was thinking about it a lot today while putting in a few shifts of excavation. The Blizzard of ’15 gave us everything it promised. Today, it was a game of “Find The ___.” Find the cars – find the gas tanks – the compost pile – the woodpile. Carve paths to each. Throw snow around. Gasp and sweat.

With each heave-ho, I was aware – believe me I was aware – of all the muscle groups working together on my behalf. It is truly amazing, it really is. Do you ever catch yourself in a task and marvel at how it all works?  “Do this,” our will drives our body, and the body says, “Yes,” and it happens. (With varying degrees of success of course.)

I played with centering myself in different parts of my frame. The temptation is to just work with one side of your body – hack away at a pile relentlessly until it vanishes – but this is not an elegant approach. (Plus it just really makes everything hurt after a short period of time.) I switched arms, even for just a few shovelfuls, even though the switch felt non-instinctual and clumsy. It gave the other half of me something new to do and surprised muscles that weren’t very busy until that moment.

I also found things went a lot better if I firmed up my abs and gripped tight into my glutes. Things also went better with taking breaks and going inside for water. This was exercise!

What a gift: to be body aware, and play with what we find. My instincts have been honed by nearly fifteen years of practicing and receiving massage therapy. I have studied, contemplated, touched and been with Body. A day outside mooshing snow around is continuing education, as far as I’m concerned.

Doing massage therapy is a great way to spend your humanity: loving the warm, electrical, water-filled bags that are us. And by love I don’t mean anything more than full attention: but full attention is the most loving thing we can do. Whether we are lying on a massage table or asking the herculean of ourselves with winter labor, it is, therefore, love.

Besides being a massage therapist there is just the benefit of receiving massage, which not all professionals seem to do with the same consistency. There’s a lot of overlap between the restaurant industry and massage therapy, as I see it, and I say a massage therapist who doesn’t receive semi-regular massage is like a chef that does not go out and try other chef’s fare. It’s mostly unheard-of in the restaurant world. It should be in ours.

There are so many benefits to massage therapy, but one of the greatest, and possibly hardest to describe, is the gift it gives us of being in our own bodies and having someone else helping us affirm our existence as a body, not just a head.

I’ve written before about the seduction of our age: the supremacy of mind and inconvenience of our body, as if all we are is a pair of eyes inside a slab of jello-y meat.

Massage therapy is a subversive act. It says “hush now” to our mind, which like a spoiled child insists it’s king. Our attention, if we allow it, trickles out of the confines of mind and into the glorious vistas and uncharted waters of our frame.

We become aware of the strangest places: the underside of our upper arm. The webbing between our toes. The very top of our head. Behind our knee.

Body awareness in session gives rise to few words (thank God) but these are the top 3 phrases I’ve heard:

“I had no idea that was sore.”
“Oh my God that feels so good.”
“That’s the spot.”

To be in our bodies and notice what was quiet but aching; to be there when we’re consumed with an overwhelming sense of wellbeing; to have another person acknowledge – with their hands – what’s been bugging us for days. That. Spot. It’s been confirmed and now it’s already starting to feel better because someone who not only cares but has the knack for professional kneading is very keen on helping.

When we are aware of our bodies, we experiment with what works. We play with how we move, lift, respond. We’re more apt to listen when it’s tired, we’re more inclined to notice when we feel good.

Massage therapy gives us ground substance against which everything else is measured, and gives us refuge when we’re feeling stressed. We know how it feels to not be stressed: we’ve had massage! We can go there again, either by recreating it on our own through self care, or, hey, better yet, calling up our massage therapist and making an appointment.

We’ve tasted the good stuff. We know how to make it happen again, how useful it can be.

Even – maybe and especially – when thrusting about amid ponderous snowdrifts.

“Behind your thoughts and feelings, my brother, there is a mighty lord, an unknown sage — it is called Self; it dwells in your body, it is your body.”
David Lauterstein, quoting Nietzsche in “Thus Spake Zarathustra” on his Deep Massage Book FaceBook page

 

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.

 

 

It’s a Personal Thing

“Oh well. That’s a relief. We’re on the same page with that, too!” My new client sat back in his chair, and I thought I noticed his eyes go a little pink. I found it meaningful as well: it had taken a little time, but in under 12 minutes he and I got two very important things squared away: pressure level (firm, but not deep) and talking during session (none please).

I was happy for him, but sad. I knew this man had been getting massage for years. For years, receiving massage therapy, and no practitioners had this discussion with him?

Yes, yes, we want our clients to tell us what they need. “Just let me know,” we encourage them warmly, but the last time you had a massage how easy did you find it to communicate your needs when you’re already on the table? When I get there, I’m hesitant: I find it’s not easy.

My experience with this first-time client sharpened my already strong opinions about how to present one’s work to one’s clients. I’ve been a practitioner for 15 years, had a lot of massage myself, made regrettable mistakes but learned even more from other practitioners I’ve traded with who were good at what they did but had breathtakingly shoddy intake and outtake skills.

In brief, here it is: most clients are not interested in whatever technique you plan on using. If it requires dramatic bolstering, draping, stretching, give them a head’s up, but no need to explain constantly. Nor do they want to know about your next workshop, a meaningful experience you had with another client, or your favorite pet.

Rein it in. Err on the side of saying less, so you can hear more.

The difference – to me – between a good practitioner and an excellent one, one you can’t wait to recommend to others, is how well that practitioners listens. I’ve had plenty of massage from individuals who addressed my issues but who simply were not interested nearly enough in what I wanted, not picking up on my body language or hearing my voice. They steamrollered me with their personality. And they talked. A lot. It was not an experience I wanted to repeat.

How to get to the heart of the matter, then, even before you lay hands upon it?

I suggest getting personal.

This might seem an odd suggestion but look at what you’re doing: you’re massaging a person. For an hour. Maybe an hour and a half. They are mostly naked, strategically covered, and they are dozy. What is more personal than this? Other than bathing someone, or feeding them?

Here are some standard questions I ask. Depending on the answer I get, it invokes other questions…

Are you usually warm or cold?
(One of THE most important questions you need ask. If your client is cold at all, they will not relax. Also, if they’re sweating, they won’t relax either.)

If I use hot towels or essential oils in session, would that be alright?

What kind of pressure feels good to you? Do you know?

Do you want silence?
(I’m a non-talker and try to get that clear up front. A few exchanges is fine but I can’t concentrate if my mouth is going.)

Are there any parts of your body you don’t want me to touch?
(aside from the obvious of course) (sometimes I need to explain it anyway, for people who’ve never had a massage before and really don’t know what a professional’s parameters are.)

Be curious. It’s a fine quality in an MT. Listen. Find this person, who will soon surrender their body to your care for the next duration, utterly fascinating. Does their nose drip when prone? Tuck a tissue into one of their empty, up-turned hands. Do they have a persistent cough? Proffer a mint. Light too bright? “Would you like an eye pillow?” Is the music okay? “Maybe something more lyrical, less chant-y…”

By the way this is a good practice to get into not only with your first-time clients, but your regulars as well. Never assume you know. After 7 weeks, 7 months, 7 years, check in with them again: are they still getting what they need from the session? One of the fastest ways to breathe life into your practice is to see every client as if you’ve never seen them before. Ask them questions you haven’t in a while.

In short, take your client by the hand and lead them to the dance floor. You lead, they follow. Make yourself trustworthy: a little communication goes a long way. Notice them, the way a good server respectfully observes her customers, anticipating their every need, noticeable at key moments but most of the time, not noticeable at all.

When you have that kind of trust from your client, you might wander into the weeds and stars to that place where alchemy occurs, and where words no longer form. Just you, and the client, and the music.

On Serving: Table to Table

I’ve had food on my mind a lot lately, and not just because it’s harvest. To me, the correlation between good massage therapy and good table service is plain, so I’ve been talking about it. I did serve four years at the renowned Chase’s Daily in Belfast, Maine, and while I understand that four years is really not much at all, it did leave an indelible impression on me, and the things I learned at that wonderful, stressful job I have carried forward into my own practice.

Dining table to massage table: how does one, could one, “serve”?

Service industry work should be required for everyone at least for a half year, because if you do this your capacity for patience, humility and understanding will increase, and I believe these qualities to be admirable, and hard to come by unless cultivated.

There are, I feel, poignant overlaps between waiting tables and the massage therapy biz. I especially noticed them when I was doing both. The biggest difference being, in one capacity we’re talking food. In the other, we’re talking healthcare. However, for many, eating good food is a form of healthcare, and also a top-notch massage therapy session is not unlike a prixe fix meal, where you pay a fixed price for what the chef does best.

Okay, yes, there is another big difference. That being, for one, you go into a public place, sit down and consume. For the other, you into a private place, lie down and relax. There. Now can I get on with the analogy, thin though it may be? Hang on! I think I got it.

Sunflowers. Courtey of Gary! Every September we get these. Right outside my office window.

Sunflowers. Courtey of Gary! Every September we get these. Right outside my office window.

For lack of a better way of putting it, “customer” is equally applied to table service and massage therapy clients. It’s not ideal. My apologies for any connotations it suggests. And for how confusing the references get – I seem to interchange between being an MT and a server.

Meeting them at the door:  Customer service is a necessity in both places, and if it doesn’t exist to your level of taste (or exist at all), don’t go there again. Wandering into a restaurant (or massage office)  and not having a clue where to go or what to do is disconcerting. I don’t know about you, but when this happens to me it makes me apprehensive,  and that’s not great emotional mirepoix for a massage or meal.  “I’ll be with you in just a few minutes”  is all any reasonable person really needs to hear, to know that they’ve been seen and will be taken care of shortly. Unless you’re an entitled, pushy sort who can’t wait for the hostess, in which case, we send you to McDonald’s.

Attention to detail: Give your customer pretty things to look at – educational, expansive, beautiful, inspiring – and if you can’t, err on the side of minimalism. A picture, a candle, a color.  I once shared an office with a woman who had a fine collection of teddy bears congregated in plushy array all over the windowsills and furniture. She is a fantastic MT but the teddy bears were a visual (and dare I say psychological?) obstacle to enjoying her work. Eliminate as many obstacles as possible to someone rebooking or making another reservation.

Another aspect: how you set up your office and the stations around your massage table, much like the mise en place of a professional kitchen, or the sidework every server must do. But that’s another blog.

Establishing rapport: We’ve all been there: the server who is overly friendly and chatty, the server who is using your meal as their personal punching bag, the server who either won’t leave you alone or forgets you’re there. Same is true for our first experience with a massage therapist: too emotional, or reserved: gushy, or brusque: hapless, or know-it-all.

The gamut of “ways to be” is legion. I think of it like baby bear’s porridge: just right. As the recipient, you feel heard, understood, even intuited on a deeper level, but you also feel respected…maybe even held at arm’s length, but with a smile, and with warmth. That’s, in my mind, being professional. It is kindness incarnate. It’s a healthy blend of affection and reserve.

Checking in, or: mouth shut: There is a real art in table service. There is the outright  inquiry, “So how is everything?” but often you’re being watched, too. A good server is keeping a bead on you: judging the liquid level of your water and wine glasses, seeing how quickly you eat or if you’re shoving the food around your plate, observes your body language a lot more than you could ever imagine. Your needs just…”magically” get met.

Okay, so, same goes for massage. Yes, as the MT you do ask: “how is the pressure I’m using” or “are you comfortable” – but what else can you do? Observe. A lot of what the client needs, or might like next, is plain to see (or hear) in their body (and its noises).

In my experience: mostly 35% asking, and 65% keeping mouth shut and seeing what’s going on…and making the necessary adjustments.

Finishing up: Of course, at the end of meal, and of a session, the server or massage therapist is quite keen to know 1) if you liked your experience 2) if they made a difference for you because 3) their livelihood depends on it. In both serving tables and working as a massage therapist, I’ve come up with a standard way of inquiring, and then been prepared for whatever I got. Rebooking – and a good tip – are sometimes the only thing you need, to know you did well.

It’s good to ask if the client is happy. It’s also good to leave them alone, and maybe check in with them in a few days after they’ve come out of their “massage coma” substantially enough to give you real feedback. I do a standard email inquiry 48 hrs or more after a first-time client, very brief, inquiring if/how the work I did was helpful. (Checking in is very educational and a nice touch. Might be a blog post all its own sometime.)

Asking a client too much about the work they just received, right after they received it, isn’t very nice to them, plus you won’t get the most helpful responses necessarily, plus it smacks of insecurity on your part, and that creates awkwardness. Even if you really do feel insecure: dig deep, and hold yourself well and carefully while asking. This is where being professional comes in!

So next time you’re in a restaurant and you feel you might be in the hands of a real pro — put on your Sherlock Holmes tweedy cap and pull out your pipe. Watch what your server does: their demeanor, their care for you, when they appear, when they are gone for a while. Sleuth it out. And take what you learn into your office.

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 #20. (okay, I’ve missed a few.)

Once a Server, Always

Just now I had dinner at Chase’s Daily, Belfast Maine’s claim to culinary fame. I worked there for years, while building my massage practice. Being a server and a massage therapist is not mutually exclusive, something worthy of a blog post sometime.

Tough experiences bring you close to others who work at your side. If you can get through them together, you bond unbelievably. I know this is a small stretch, but there is a similarity between serving at a very popular restaurant in Maine in the summer, and boot camp. They are nearly equal, in terms of hours spent laboring in heat, under constant pressure, running like a madwoman, and being yelled at.

Although not from staff or owners. If I had to have a waitress experience, I was the luckiest to have it at Chase’s, for once I proved my mettle and that I wasn’t going to flake out on them, the owners (the Chase family) adopted me as one of their own. And if your employer is for you, who can be against you?

It was incredibly stressful working there in the summer. We would always get tourists who saw anything that happened there as an impediment to them having a good vacation, and they were (and are) breathtakingly rude. But I did it for four years: I did it for the Chase family, and my amazing co-workers, and the fantastic baked goods, entrees, and the art hanging on the walls (Perimeter Gallery).

I did it because I love Belfast, and Chase’s is in the center of town. You can see Alexia’s across the way, and the lights of the Colonial Theatre blazing down High Street in the dusk of evening…like tonight.

Middle Eastern salad, with yogurt dressing. All veggies from the farm.

Middle Eastern salad, with yogurt dressing. All veggies from the farm.

Every time I go into Chase’s now, I become infused with love. I can’t help it. I get hallooed and hailed and hugged by my ex-co-workers but forever pals. The owners nod and smile and inquire as to how I am. I ask kindly for a seat, but they know what I want: the end stool at the far portion of the counter where I can keep an eye on the kitchen, to harass Freddy if he looks up, and in general make audible yummy noises.

Even the littlest one, Romi, wanders out from behind the bake pan cooling racks and puts her arms around my waist. She can reach that high now: I first knew her when she was a toddler. Now in grade school and with freckles, she looks up into my face, close as can be, and says pitifully, “I waaaaved to you just now, but you didn’t seeeeeee me.”

“Well,” I said. “I see you now. Hello sweetie.” <<hug>>

Any of you who have ever waited tables know: once a server, always a server. It came over me in a crushing rush, while I sipped my red wine and sucked on warm olives: the kitchen, where I did everything, even sanded down and painted that washstand one March during their annual spring cleaning.

The cups that I organized. The coffee pots I washed, the espresso machine I cleaned. The grated cheese I refilled. I knew where every single one of those things needed to be, and where to get more of them should we run out.

And serving. I could hear that food needed to be run: could recognize server names, and translate the caller’s timbre from “urgent” to “This is VERY urgent, someone come get this food NOW.” I was so close to the pick-up window: it was everything I could do to not go over there and run a few plates out to the dining room myself.

But it wasn’t my place anymore. The urge had to remain so: just an urge. I had left two years ago, when I turned 40 and realized I was either going to go into massage therapy full time, or I wasn’t. I took the leap, but I did look back while leaping.

It was a part of my life that was over. Things come to an end, but you forget everything about it that drove you crazy. Only the love remains.

This has something to do with massage therapy, in that I have lived and worked in a small town for nearly 15 years, and while I have clients who are always discovering me, I have a significant amount in my “Inactive” file. For whatever reason, I was seeing them, and then I never saw them again.

Unless at the grocery store, or standing in line at the market, or by chance in another town. The temptation is, because I knew them so fully once, to behave as though I know them fully now. But I don’t. It’s no longer my place to inquire too vigorously, or personally.

In these encounters I know we both feel a little awkward, but it’s best to just be together in the moment, and not wait for apologies or promises. They don’t owe me a thing: their life and mine no longer intersect meaningfully: only just now, like this, looking at one another and smiling.

There is nothing else I really feel for this person: I have no agenda for them, no fear of why they left, no hope of their return to my office. Only the affection I felt for them once, and therefore always will feel, remains.

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 #18.