I spent about half of 2018 and most of 2019 becoming a licensed massage therapist. It turned out to be a transformative, turbulent, revealing, and healing journey that I’m still unraveling, though I don’t regret my choice to add that particular skill to my medicine bag. There is inestimable value in therapeutic touch, and I could devote an entire article to that subject alone. It is ironic that touch is now prohibited, and I wonder what the extended lack of physical contact is doing to the psyche of the world.
As I shelter at home while the pandemic known as COVID-19 rages, I’ve had plenty of time to think about my life path and all the hats I’ve worn (or tried to wear) and those I’ve discarded. Some of you are doing the same right now, I have no doubt. What is happening in the economy is making us reevaluate many aspects of our lives and how we’re showing up.
I’ve been a retail worker, a temporary office assistant, a technical writer, and a quality auditor. I’ve had many hours of training in Reiki, aromatherapy, life coaching, and now massage therapy. My degrees are in English Literature and Professional Writing, and there was a time when I wanted to be an inspirational teacher like the one Robin Williams portrayed in Dead Poets Society. I thought I could light up young minds and stoke their creative fires, just as mine had been set ablaze by the literary greats and the avant-garde. But I looked hard at the public educational system in my sophomore year of college, and something inside of me recoiled. I realized I was too much of a rebel to conform to the system’s standards, and I took the corporate route instead. A dream deferred—with every bit of the heaviness and putrefaction that Langston Hughes conveyed. I traded one cage for another that paid better, and it ate my soul for breakfast in the bargain.
Whatever I have done for a living, whether it was classified as menial work or white-collar, I never stopped writing. I didn’t call myself a writer, though. Not at first. I never owned that until some of my work was accepted by an editor and out there for public perusal. Even then, I told myself that it didn’t count, because it wasn’t a major publication, and I still didn’t have a book on the bookstore shelf along with a spot on the New York Times Bestseller list.
I kept looking for other things that seemed like legitimate occupations to me, roles I wanted to play and attractive hats I wanted to wear. That was easier somehow than just owning the fact that I’m an artist. Period.
I thought the way I earned a living had to match up to my level of education, or else I was a failure who had wasted her years in academia. Then I thought I needed to do something in the holistic healing arena that aligned with my spirituality, or else I wasn’t being true to my values. Both turned out to be false lines of reasoning that kept me going down a lot of bunny trails, because the main path, that of the artist, was scary and unpredictable. Creating art involves risking your tender, timeless soul and putting it out there, over and over again, without armor or apology. It is not for the weak, and it may or may not pay in monetary rewards. There are no guarantees, and the process isn’t linear.
As Elizabeth Gilbert says in Big Magic, “Making art does sometimes feel like you’re holding a séance, or like you’re calling out in the night for a wild animal on the prowl. What you’re doing seems impossible and even silly, but then you hear the thunder of hooves, and some beautiful beast comes rushing into the glade, searching for you just as urgently as you have been searching for it.”
Last week, as I was driving on an Alabama back road and listening to Carolyn Myss’s Essential Guide for Healers, something she said hit me so hard in the chest that I nearly stopped the car: “Our words are vessels of light.”
I remembered all the times people had thanked me for something I had expressed in a blog post or a poem—my words, my vessels of light, going out there like precious little fireflies to do their work. I ugly cried all the way home. Words have power, and they happen to be my super power. How could I have forgotten this or discounted it? Did I really need a pandemic to remind me? Apparently so. If not for the forced time-out, I’d still be off on a bunny trail.
It had not come home to me that my writing is my healing work and that this is what I am, not just what I do. What I do to earn money is irrelevant. That is a job. Writing is a calling, and so is the ability to hold a safe space for others to be vulnerable and tell their deepest truths.
At some point, hopefully in the near future, this pandemic will be over, and I pray the lessons we all learned from it will remain. I pray for us to remember who we truly are inside and what we value most, long after the toilet paper is restocked and the stadiums are full. I pray that what we turned to while we were isolated—the arts and Mother Nature—are not forgotten when state and federal governments are deciding where to allocate funds. I pray that the workers who have been unseen and unappreciated will not have to worry about paying their bills and receiving proper medical care. I envision the whole world wrapped in a medicine blanket.
May we all send more vessels of light out into the darkness.