She’s trying to work a knot out from my back, and it hurts — the kind of hurt that, curiously, makes me want to laugh instead of cry.
“Is that normal?” I ask her. “That I want to laugh? Is that normal?”
I’ve rarely visited a massage therapist — only three times — so I don’t know what normal is here, with my face pressed down into the head-rest of a massage table. In this position, I see only one bare foot with pink-painted toes.
“Yes,” she reassures. “Totally normal to laugh.” She kneads my back. The muscle protests. I have permission to laugh now, so I do.
She says the knots speak a language of their own. She can read bodies like I read books and newspapers. I know authors without looking at bylines, because I can hear individual voices in the way a person strings together words. And this woman with the pink toenails? She reads a sort of internal body language.
“I can tell you sit at a desk a lot,” she says, kneading a stubborn knot above my right shoulder-blade, “because of this muscle right here.”
” And I can tell you’re left-handed, because of this one over here.”
I tell her I’m a college journalism instructor and a writer, with three pressing deadlines. I’ve been at the desk a lot lately, with my back to the world. (And yes, I’m left-handed.)
“Maybe this will help your writing,” she says, trying to extract this tension between my shoulder blades.
It seems obvious … that extracting tension would produce better writing, that kneading loose the knots might help me live a little better. So why don’t I do this more? Why don’t I step away?
Maybe it’s because I’m scared to “switch realities,” as L.L. Barkat calls it. Maybe I’m scared to push back the desk chair. How can I make my deadlines if fingers aren’t tapping keys?
I know this much about myself: I am focused, task-oriented, high-achieving, people-pleasing. I don’t just want to MEET deadlines. I want to beat them.
Confession Number Two: I don’t want my work to be mediocre. I want someone to think it’s great. Under that kind of pressure, new knots form.
I think of L.L. Barkat’s words in her new book, Rumors of Water: Thoughts on Creativity & Writing. I remember how L.L. writes that “we’ve let our bodies get frozen into position, and our brains are not as likely to fire with creativity…”
If we step away and switch realities, we can “take time with a real seashell or a real creek,” L.L. writes.
We can take time with someone who will help us untangle knots.
“There,” says the woman with the pink-painted toenails. “You feel that?”
Finally, it is gone. No more knot.
And then — only when the pain is gone — do I finally feel a single tear fall.
How about you? Have you identified the knots?
How has “switching realities” worked out the kinks?
Work cited: Rumors of Water. Five-star recommendation for this new book by L.L. Barkat.
Writing in community today with L.L. Barkat and Laura Boggess: