strange fire

books. poetry. paganism. feminism. queerness. blog.

Andygrrrl, kung-fu computerized exam master! October 9, 2007

Filed under: holistic medicine,life — andygrrrl @ 2:35 pm

I just passed my national boards. I am, officially, a licensed massage therapist. I can put L.M.T. behind my name!

I’m going to sound incredibly cocky when I say this, but the exam has been the least of my worries. I’m that asshole who can sleep through class, cram for 15 minutes the day before and ace the final–a proper, essay exam. So a 160 multiple choice questions on a computer? Please. That’s almost insulting.

Which only means that I’m really good at taking tests. Always have been. Don’t get nerves, for the most part, and for whatever reason, my brain thrives on the typical exam environment (silent, prolonged concentration). It’s mostly a matter of logic, when it comes to standardized test, and an excellent vocabulary combined with a brazen bullshitting ability, for essays. Doesn’t necessarily mean I know shit. I can just fake it for the required couple of hours.

But I took that test, and I totally did know it all, so I didn’t even have to half-ass it.

Finding the testing center, now that was a challenge. I’m directionally impaired; I almost flunked the spatial ability pop quiz. 10 minutes before the exam started I was driving around in the wrong direction.

So now I’m here in Medium Sized College Town, drinking a latte at the bohemian student coffee shop, enjoying the sense of accomplishment and feeling oddly nostalgic around all the expensively rebellious undergrads.

I’m done with school (for the immediate future anyway). It’s sooooo nice.


life as the hanged man August 22, 2007

Filed under: holistic medicine,life,the body electric,witchiness — andygrrrl @ 2:46 pm


I’ve been focusing on my breath lately: inhaling slowly, fully, from the stomach. Most of us breathe shallowly, from the chest, which keeps your body in sympathetic mode, the flight-or-fight stress response. Listening to my breath, feeling how it flows through my body, feeling how it affects my mind and spirit.

This whole desert experience is, I’m realizing, about me learning to be embodied fully. Airy-fairy cerebral me has to learn to move, to listen, to ground myself. To breathe, rather than let my mind always spin its wheels endlessly. To keep my feet on the earth even if my head is in the clouds. It’s hard. Being in your body, really knowing it, means dealing with a lot of stuff you thought you’d forgot about, stuff you just want to ignore (the examined life ain’t a walk in the park, that’s for sure). Emotions and memories don’t just evaporate if you ignore them. They hang out in your body, because your body is your mind. You can comprehend intellectually the idea that the body/mind/spirit are all one, that your body is so very much more than a sophisticated biological machine designed to carry around your consciousness. The intellect can grasp that, but knowing it, experiencing it, is something else altogther. Gnosis. It’s intense. It’s supposed to be. The desert is a crucible, in my life.

Having the moon in Scorpio in my natal chart can be a real bitch. I’m learning to accept that as a Libra, balance is the focus of my life. I’m learning that balance is a dance, a dynamic relationship, not stagnation. I’m learning to have emotions, rather than letting emotions have me. I’m taking flower essences and St. John’s Wort to help me out; not to mute or numb emotions, but to give me the ability to see and understand them instead of drown in them. It’s the difference between, “Huh, I’m feeling kind of down today” and “OMIGOD EVERYTHING’S AWFUL WAAAAAAHHH!!!”

 Yoga is a big part of this, and tai chi as well. It’s incredibly freeing to find myself focused on nothing but my body, my breath, and movement. I’m learning to see opportunity instead of obstacles. Yeah, I’m unemployed, and flat broke, what a stroke of luck! Now I can meditate for 30 minutes a day if I want. I can build strength and stamina at the same time that I calm my mind and balance my energies. I’ve learned simplicity. I’m learning gratitude. I’m eliminating the words “ought” and “should” from my vocabulary, as well as their synonyms. I’m trying to practice patience, as I wait for my circumstances to adjust. I’m learning trust, and confidence, and the maturity to distinguish needs from wants. So when I do finish my schooling, and get a job, and start doing all the things I think I need to be doing, that I don’t have the money for at the moment, I’ll be stronger, centered. I feel capable. I’ve never felt capable before.  It’s nice.

Image from The Gaian Tarot


I’m very serious in this one June 20, 2007

Filed under: feminism,holistic medicine,life — andygrrrl @ 11:07 am

But this has been on my mind for a while.

So I was sitting with my friends after our yoga class one day, and I don’t know how we got on the subject of activism, but we did, and I said how I had been very active in the pro-choice movement in college. “Gee, really?” said my friend, in that “No Shit” tone of voice. Yeah, I’m That Girl, the Political One, the annoyingly opinionated. I’m used to being The Feminist (in addition to being The Dyke, and The Wiccan).

The thing is, I’ve got this reputation as an outspoken firebrand, which I don’t really think I deserve. Not any more. It’s just that openly expressing feminist opinions outside of strictly activist circles makes you stand out. I’m not badgering anyone or bringing up conflict constantly. It’s been a few years since the March for Women’s Rights in D.C. These days, I don’t do much of anything, politically.

Which is frustrating. The thing is, I’ve been witnessing a classic example of politics in personal life for the last few months; and I’ve felt pretty powerless to do anything about it.

My friend and classmate—we’ll call her Jane—got pregnant a few months ago. She’s still pregnant, and she doesn’t want to be. The system, such as it is, doesn’t make it easy for a 22 year old Native girl to get an abortion, not if she doesn’t have five or six hundred dollars ready to drop, which most of us working for minimum wage don’t. By the time she’d saved up enough money for the pill, it was too late. And now the system keeps jerking her around—drive two hours to the nearest clinic, take three days out of her life that she can’t afford to get it done with money that she doesn’t have. She told me, almost by accident, at the beginning. I mentioned that, if she was interested, I knew which herbs you could use, and where to get them. But that was it; we’re not close enough as friends for me to feel like I can do anything more, except be someone to confide in, which she doesn’t do very often.

Then Leah got pregnant; another classmate. But this a happy occasion this time; 21 years old, engaged, making wedding plans for Mexico. She may be young, but she wants to have a big family; she’s in a place where she can start one. Leah’s forbidden from getting certain types of body work and techniques done, because of her pregnancy. Jane doesn’t say anything, so I find myself working verboten Chinese meridian points on her, doing Thai massage techniques that I shouldn’t. Maybe the idea is that if we both pretend that she isn’t pregnant, she won’t be. I don’t feel like I’m in a position to say anything; Jane smiles and laughs a lot, but she keeps herself to herself.
And so I found myself sitting in the clinic office the other day, waiting for my client, and the receptionist (also a therapist) was talking on the phone. “You mean it’s not illegal??” she said, with a strange pitch to her voice.
“What’s not illegal?” I asked, curiously, when she hung up.
She looked at me a long moment, with this expression of utter fear in her eyes, and I realized I had accidentally said the wrong thing.
“That pill. You know, for when…I’m 36 years old and I’m pregnant. I feel so silly.”
“RU-486.” I said. “Yes, it’s legal here.” Whether you can get it or not is another question, I thought to myself. There’s a Planned Parenthood the next town over, but in a Red State, that really doesn’t mean a damn thing.

And then we dropped the subject and it’s never come up since. I know another therapist knows. Jane’s pregnancy is something of an open secret as well. But no one really talks about it.

It’s really incredibly frustrating to watch all these private dramas happening, and to see the connections between them, the political discourses that shape them, and feel helpless in the face of it. A young woman of color getting pregnant (out of wedlock, with a white man) is a desperate thing, shameful, discussed in hushed tones. And there’s no one to actually help her. A young white woman getting pregnant is a wonderful thing because look, her boyfriend proposed! And gave her a ring with his grandmother’s diamonds, no less. We all coo and exlaim loudly, as if to hide the fact that we’re ignoring another woman with a less certain fate. And a grown woman who doesn’t even know what her options are, and she’s not a young teenage girl raised with abstinence-only policies. She’s a member of the health care profession; and she doesn’t know that RU-486 is legal. And we all pretend like these are individual, unconnected scenarios.

It’s all very well to talk about conciousness and organizing and sisterhood and alliances. But how do we actually do it? In the face of such ignorance and silence?


the body electric February 12, 2007

Filed under: holistic medicine,nature,poetry,the body electric — andygrrrl @ 2:55 pm

I sing the body electric,
The armies of those I love engirth me and I engirth them,
They will not let me off till I go with them, respond to them,
And discorrupt them, and charge them full with the charge of the soul.

Was it doubted that those who corrupt their own bodies conceal themselves?
And if those who defile the living are as bad as they who defile the dead?
And if the body does not do fully as much as the soul? And if the body were not the soul, what is the soul?
“I Sing the Body Electric,” Walt Whitman

I think this is going to be the first in a series of rambling, disconnected posts, because I’ve been meaning to write about how my studies in massage therapy and holistic/alternative medicine have altered my thinking and perspective about the body, the sacred, the physical, the mystical, the “natural” and “unnatural.” But it’s such a huge subject–my god, look at that list I just wrote–I don’t know where to start, of course. But I’ll get started anyway. Because I think I’ll figure out what I’m begining to understand intuitively if I write it out.

The program I’m doing here in the Southwest is really a bootcamp, a crash course in Western anatomy and standards and Eastern (and Western alternative) practices: pathology and tai chi, reiki and deep tissue therapy, Traditional Chinese Medicine and Cranial-Sacral techniques. And by now I’ve been working in the student clinics several months, learning how to be a healer, essentially. It’s a tall order and I know this is only the beginning of my education.

And when I’m not daydreaming in class (hey, you’d have trouble focusing on symptoms of Thoracic Outlet Syndrome too, if you’d been working 8 hours already), I’m sitting there thinking, “Wow.” Just a simple “wow,” because I find it hard to articulate beyond that. But holy crap, the human body is an amazingly elegant…..and here’s where I’m lost for words. “Machine” is absolutely the wrong word, and I’ll get to that eventually. “Thing” is too cold and objectifying. “Creation” brings up all these Christian resonances in my head, with their notions of a distant creator god and the sins of the flesh. “Artwork,” I think is the best one I can come up with. The human body is a work of art, with all those meanings of organic symetry and balance; Beautiful with a capital B, so much beyond superfical notions of aestethics. It’s perfectly evolved.

And I’m not talking about some classical ideal here, perfect proportions carved in marble. The 60-something woman sitting across from me is a wonderful example of how the body adjusts to external pressures while maintaining a very precise internal order. That’s what I mean by beautiful: the same beauty that’s illustrated by the mathematic fractals which outline the growth of a tree branch, the Divine Proportion (1.618…) found in both Debussy’s symphonies and the curve of a seashell.

Your body really is electric, incidentally. Connective tissue called fascia spreads throughout every part, even at the cellular level; fascia is made up of collagen fibers that consist of a crystal matrix that generates its own electrical pulse. It even glows under a blacklight. This connects every area of your body to every other area so thoroughly that you can’t affect one part of the body without affecting the whole–which includes your brain and mind.

I’m not sure really where to go from here without sounding too breathless, except that now when I see someone on the street, instead of (well, to be completely honest, usually after) thinking “Wow, that’s a truly hideous shirt. Did they get dressed in the dark?” I’m starting to think “Hm, looks like he has a nasty case of Upper Crossed Syndrome. Bet his back is killing him. And his heart’s wore out from working so hard, since he can’t breathe properly with that posture. I’d hate to see his blood pressure numbers…” I’m trying to learn to see the body not as a thing to be displayed for aesthetic reasons, to see beyond social markers and cultural cues of dress and so on. It’s similar to taking an ecological view of nature, seeing it as having intrinsic worth instead of resources to be exploited. Your body has its own wisdom, it’s more than a rack for displaying your wealth and social status. And it’s kind of appalling how hard it can be to readjust your thinking along those lines. But that’s probably the subject of another post.