March 24, 2012

Home Massage

Other massage therapists, when they find out I do in-home massage, often ask, “how do you like that?” They ask gingerly. A delicate question. Some of them maybe are thinking: “can't the poor guy get work in a regular office?” They're inviting me to share my sorrows with them.

“I love it!” I say, and they're a little startled by my exuberance. It's true, I have to schlepp my table, which is a nice solid custom Robert Hunter, not a lightweight aluminum job. No hydrocollator for wet heat, and no spa goodies: just the table warmer, the linens, and a bolster. A few pillows if its going to be sidelying. It's a minimal kit, and occasionally I have to improvise, to borrow another blanket or pillow from my client. My array of lubricants is four narrow bottles: two scented oils, one unscented oil, and an unscented lotion. Rapid improvisation is the name of the game. Some people are too ill or fragile to climb on and off the table. I've worked on people in beds, in recliner chairs, in wheelchairs. I've worked in spaces so tiny that my table had to be against a wall, and I had to do the whole massage from one side.

I love it. Just the materials at hand and the will to make it work. Figuring out how to deploy in a new space is often the first thing a client and I figure out together, and it's a model for how I work. This isn't about a lofty health care provider dispensing treatments on his own terms. This is about how things work for you, in your own tiny apartment or your mansion on the hill. This is about something that makes sense in your life, in your world, not in a standardized florescent-lighted hospital room, and not in a vaguely Asian shrine which looks serene because nobody ever actually lives in it. This is about relaxing in the home you really live in, and in the body you really live in.

I'm honored by people admitting me to their homes. I learn so much about them. I meet their kids and their pets. I see the stuff on their walls. Some people are tidy and some are not: some seem in control of their space and some seem overwhelmed by it. Some are frou-frou and some austere. Some share their space easily and some don't. Most people apologize to me about something, the way something looks or smells or sounds, which to them seems not quite right. Every new house I go to is a new world, with its own laws and culture. Every one is fascinating. By the time I've set up, and washed my hands in a new kitchen or bathroom, I understand more about my client than I could have learned in hours of intake interviews.

Every home is wonderful to me. Human beings make homes like spiders make spiderwebs: there's common structures and purposes to all of them, but all contain surprising and enchanting adaptations. There's no such thing as an ordinary one. In that way, they're like bodies: accumulations of love and distress, made sacred by being inhabited.

This is, after all, why I wanted to do massage in the first place: because I wanted to meet people as they really are and where they really live. Not as they think they should be. Not as they have to present themselves to the working world, buttoned up and held together. I've always prefered the backstage world, raw and messy and slapdash though it is, to sitting out with the general audience seeing how it's supposed to look.


  1. I love the way you write about homes and bodies. <3

  2. Thank you Rachel! The same backatcha :-)

  3. "This is about relaxing in the home you really live in, and in the body you really live in."

    Love it...

  4. Came over to see your Other Side. Or perhaps a facet, one of many. Very interesting. My father was ill with PSP for a decade, and so I saw an awful lot of visitors in his home. I always thought it was touching and even beautiful to see home health or some other visitor help him stretch and open his clenched hands and so on. Even though I wasn't in-state much of the time, I got to know a great circle of people who cared for him, and who became important to us all. It's a great way to work and feel part of the human family.