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Thursday, June 30, 2016

Health Matters: Interview w/ Massage Therapist Marilyn Fumagalli

Background: I’ve had back problems since I was in my 20’s, an inheritance from my father’s side of the family. Over the years I’ve sought relief via doctors and chiropractors, pain patches and daily stretches. Then in my early 50’s I discovered massage therapy—and my massage therapist, Marilyn Fumagalli.

I’ve been going to her ever since, both as a preventative measure, and, more urgently, after one of my several bike accidents and especially after that one horrible car crash in Los Angeles in 2005.

Marilyn’s massages are one of my not-so-secret ways of remaining healthy as I age.  And so I’d like to introduce you to her and to what she has to say about massage.


1. What is your professional title and training? 
Massage Therapist and Bellanina Facelift Massage Specialist.

I attended both the Chicago School of Massage Therapy, completing a certification program in Massage Therapy in 1989, and also the Bellanina Institue in Ann Arbor, MI, where I completed a teacher certification program in the Bellanina Facelift Massage in 2006.

2. What is your current position? 
I am in private practice as a massage therapist in Chicago's Andersonville neighborhood.

3. What drew you to your work as a massage therapist?
I read “Diet for a Small Planet” as a high-schooler when it was first published in 1971, and Adelle Davis’s, “Let’s Eat Right to Keep Fit” and  “Let’s Get Well,” both published in 1965. The idea of “environmental vegetarianism” introduced me to the alternative health lifestyle and affected my life journey from then onward.

After college, I took a mini-class in massage therapy at the Chicago School of Massage Therapy in Chicago, IL in preparation for attending the Chicago College of Naprapathy. (Naprapathy is a system of treating disease that employs no medications, but uses manipulation of muscles, joints, ligaments, etc., to stimulate the natural healing process.).

But when I went to submit my application, the College had closed, in response to legal challenges from the traditional medical establishment. (Note: The College reopened in the late ‘80s, having received licensing approval from the State of Illinois.)

So in 1988, I enrolled in the 14-month program at the Chicago School of Massage Therapy, the only massage school in the Midwest at the time, to see if I was comfortable working on the bodies of strangers.

During my studies at CSMT, there was emphasis on the scientific study of anatomy and physiology, which formed our approach to working on the body’s musculature. We became “soft tissue specialists” and I saw first hand the efficacy of massage therapy.

For example, Sports Massage gave athletes an “edge” towards their personal best and decreased recovery time post-event. Deep Tissue Massage addressed substantial change in holding patterns in the physiology directly affecting a client's health and wellness.  Very often debilitating injuries were successfully managed for some of those who tried massage therapy as a method of pain management.

As a student, I completed clinic hours as a volunteer at the White Crane Senior Center in Chicago. Again, I saw first hand how the reach of massage therapy eased breathing and anxiety in an elderly man who climbed onto the massage table wheezing.  For those seniors who are often isolated and seldom experience positive touch, the impact of massage therapy was evident in the smiling faces from techniques that helped them relax, have an overall sense of ease, and sleep better.

4. How many of your current clients are 50 years or older? How long has that percentage been a part of your practice?
My practice includes clients who began with me in 1990, with about 60% being 50 years of age and older.  Joint pain and stiffness is the major chronic health problem in this aging population — much of it coming from decades of active lifestyles that have taken a toll on their body. Even so, many of them are much healthier, more agile, more physically confident, have less falls, are on less medications, and look younger than their peers. All of them attest that edge as a result of consistent massage therapy over many years.

5. In your work with older clients, what are the major chronic health problems you see in this population? Especially those you think are related to lifestyle? 
Falls cause the major shift from being active to suddenly being physically restricted. Because of this, I emphasize to my clients that physiologically massage therapy is considered exercise. Muscles are toned, circulation is improved, neuromuscular fascination is enhanced, and the body gains flexibility and balance. All of this helps prevent falling.

There is much documentation supporting massage therapy and its direct impact on the immune system and skin health. It does so by increasing blood flow and delivering vital nutrients to the physical structure of the body, including organ function and nerve response. When clients feel confident in their physicality, they are able to remain active in their later years and this active lifestyle supports muscle strength.

As clients continue to age, my approach to their massage therapy often changes. These clients enjoy a slower pace with less pressure and more emphasis on comfort. I proudly accept the title “Queen of Comfort” given to me by one client who, in addition to others, have benefitted from how I support their position on my table with bolster pillows, blankets, thermal adjustments, and a clean, safe environment.

I do see clients who are physically restricted because of an accident or illness. Some of these clients have advanced terminal disease and come for massage therapy as beneficial end-of-life respite from medical treatments in clinical settings. When the inevitable happens and I attend my client’s funeral, family members tell me that massage therapy was a blessing to their loved-one as the only relief from stress and pain.

6. If readers unfamiliar with massage therapy want to know more about it, what books, articles, or websites might you recommend?
There is good reading material on clinical research and the benefits of massage therapy on the American Massage Therapy Association website at this link: 

I am a fan of a series of books by Robin McKenzie on simple techniques you can do at home to ease pain. A good one to start with is “7 Steps to a Pain-Free Life: How to Rapidly Relieve Back, Neck and Should Pain”. There is information on my web site about specific modalities.


I want to thank Marilyn for participating in this interview process, and add just one more thing: One evening, after one of my Marilyn massages, she and I went for a beer afterwards, something we enjoy doing once or twice a year.  Later, as we hugged good-bye, I could feel in her slightest touch the full weight of her “healing hands”--even outside of the massage room.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

From Manual to MacBook

At my all-girls Catholic high school in the '50s, you had to choose early on to pursue either a college prep or vocational track. Having no idea why, I selected the former, though my mother suggested I cross over to the vocational just once—to learn how to type.

It was good advice at a time when the three top professions open to women were teaching, nursing, and secretarial. Also, if I decided to do something really far fetched like go to college, I’d be able to type my own papers.

And though I did go to college, it took me 10 years from start to finish to finally get my B.A. Along the way, I earned my keep as a secretary, thankful to my mother for being able to do so. At those jobs, I would type on the manual typewriters I’d learned on back in high school

Then in the late ‘70s/early ‘80s—now quite comfortable using the fancy selectric typewriter with the rotating ball—I learned how to word process. This was when I was working as a temp—having recently been through a bit of job hopping—so I really had no choice: If I wanted to pay that month’s rent, I had to figure a way around my first computer, an intimidating and awkwardly large and grey ugly thing.

From there, it was a slippery slope to an IBM Displaywriter. which I was also forced to learn, again on the job.  In 1982, I was hired as the official campaign word processor on Adlai Stevenson III’s run for Illinois governor. Less ugly and more reasonably-sized, it was the kind with the floppy disks and the more essential 1-800 help line.

From there, I kept marching forward on the computer front, though I still consider myself a functioning Luddite. I truly don’t want to do much more on this sleek piece of hardware I’m now typing on than write, email, post on Facebook, and scroll through the various online news sites I subscribe to.

I still print out everything I need or want to read—including my many drafts—staple the pages together, then sit down comfortably with a yellow highlighter in one hand, a pen in the other, and read (vs. scan) the text. Just as I did all through graduate school with those piles of well-worn books and class handouts.

I fully realized the distance I’d come, technologically speaking, when reading this recent piece in the New Republic by Josephine Livingston, “How Literature Became Word Perfect.” It’s a very fun read, especially as her emphasis is on how writers did or did not enter willingly into the processing of their own words.

Click here and enjoy:

Thursday, June 16, 2016

A B&B Brief: “Old Age: A Beginner’s Guide”

Phillip Lopate, one of my favorite writers/essayists, reviews this book by Michael Kinsley in the April 24 issue of the New York Times.

I cannot improve on Lopate’s introductory remarks:

Longevity breeds literature. As people (including writers) live longer thanks to medical advances, we can expect many more books contemplating the vicissitudes of aging, illness and dying. These topics, previously thought uncommercial, not to mention unsexy, have been eloquently explored recently by Diana Athill (“Somewhere Towards the End”), Roger Angell (“This Old Man”) and Christopher Hitchens (“Mortality”), among others. Now that the baby boom generation, defined as those born between 1946 and 1964, “enter life’s last chapter,” Michael Kinsley writes, “there is going to be a tsunami of books about health issues by every boomer journalist who has any, which ultimately will be all of them.” Hoping to scoop the others, he has written “Old Age,” a short, witty “beginner’s guide,” with an appropriate blend of sincerity and opportunism.

I placed a hold on the book at the library exactly one month ago, and am advised as of today that I’m one of 22 patrons on 8 copies.  Lots of boomers and beyonders out there eager to read it, I guess. And perhaps more for fellowship than any real bit of guidance.

Read the full book review here:

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Seeking Purpose

In preparing for my memoir writing workshop at this Saturday’s Printers Row Lit Fest, I’ve been thinking about what writing prompts would generate the most interest among the participants.

Should I select a couple from the 167 in my book? Should I make up new ones? Maybe a combo of the two?

What helps—as it always does—is ruminating on all the stuff I’ve been reading this past week, both online and in print, none of which was specifically focused on writing. Well, except for this one article, printed in the Business Section of last Sunday’s New York Times.

“No Passion? Don’t Panic,” is written by Angela Duckworth, the author of Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. I was drawn to the article’s subtitle—“Finding a satisfying career path takes time, hard work and a little soul-searching”—especially as it took me quite a bit of time to stumble onto my path.

And so I was curious to see what she had to say about perhaps arriving there earlier. Of her three suggestions, what I found interesting was her second one, “Seek purpose.”

Once you’ve thought of what or whom you care about most, write it down. Psychologists have found that asking people to reflect in writing on their core values has miraculous effects on motivation. Because these are often the values you will be remembered for — what David Brooks calls “eulogy virtues” — you might consider writing a paragraph about what you would like people to say about you after you’ve drawn your last breath. It sounds grim, but perhaps the perspective will help you figure out what to do while you have the time to do it.

One of the reasons this stood out for me—Duckworth’s urging college graduates just barely into their twenties to essentially write their own eulogy—is that Boomers are often encouraged to do the same. Check for yourself, just google “write your own eulogy + boomers” as I just did. 

Now, while Duckworth notes that this exercise for the young might seem “grim,” it's likely that Boomers & Beyonders are meant to be inspired by it, a reminder that, Hello, the clock really is ticking, how do you want to live--or continue to live--a purposeful life?

As for Saturday’s workshop, I’m not sure I’ll include a eulogy writing exercise.  But I’d like you, my readers, to consider giving it a try. You can either follow Duckworth’s broad instruction above or try the more specific ones that begin on page 76 of my book, the exercise headed “Self Portrait.”

I hope doing so really will inspire you.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

A B&B Brief: When We Are Positively Aging

I have extreme examples of aging in my parents—my mother died at 50, my father at 95—which may account for my keen interest in the process. Well, that and the fact that I myself am old-ish. 

My father’s main attitude about his aging self was one of gratitude. It took him a while to get there. But by his 80’s, he was finally giving up his attachment to anxiety, trying harder to appreciate all that was blessed about his life.

That “attitude of gratitude” served both of us well while he was alive, and serves me still.  And that is partly what drew me to this program on NPR. Because, really, what if it was my father’s attitude that at least partly accounts for how damn long he lived?


And as promised in a previous blogpost, here is the complete schedule of this year's Printers Row Lit Fest, with the theme “What’s Your Story?” Once on the link, click on "schedule" for all the details.

 My workshop--Finding Your Voice, Telling Your Stories--takes place on Saturday, June 11, 3:30 - 5 pm. It's free and no tickets are required. Any questions, please email me.