Two Years In: On Consistency, Community & Carefully Placed Stones

For awhile there, when people asked “How’s the clinic going?” I’d answer “It is definitely not failing! It’s actually doing really well!” The answer to that question, I realise, has recently evolved. GCA is just over two years old. Last month was our busiest month ever, averaging over 100 treatments per week. Not only is it not-failing, not only is it doing well, it is also definitely not a one-punk show anymore.

Last week I got a cold. I called Stef, and she was happy to take my shift. Pretty ordinary, right? But utterly extraordinary, in my world: there is someone else here who can do my job, and do it well. I don’t have to cancel an entire shift in order to take a long weekend and get over a headcold in record time.

It has been said that “Managing employees is a m*****f**king pain in the ass.” I’m sure that it can be. I know some people have nightmare experiences with their employees. I might too, someday. But for now, despite the fact that I have to learn stuff like payroll, and put a ton of energy into the initial training & mentoring, hiring has meant less stress & a lot more joy for me. (In fact, I get to find out who I am when I’m not fairly stressed about the clinic, all. The. Time. I am genuinely curious about this!)  It also means that the clinic is changing really fast – more staff, more volunteers, a LOT more patients. In April we’ll be hiring Sophie, one of our longterm POCA volunteers. as the volunteer coordinator & office maven. More big changes, more un-shouldering of the load on my part.

Let us notice that un-shouldering of the load also means Relinquishing Control. A month or so ago I was having a treatment in a full room on Stef’s shift and my goddamn brain would not switch off. “Did she notice that J just dragged her recliner out from the wall unnecessarily? I did explain slidey recliners, right? … Does L need to get up? … She does need to get up. Why hasn't she cleared her throat? Should I clear my throat and let Stef know that L needs to get up? Oh — Stef's quietly high-fiving a regular who's brought in her dad for the first time. OH…That's so, so nice. Oh I love it here … *sniff* … Oh the phone's ringing – damn, that's loud, did I show them how to turn the volume down? Did I tell the new receptionist about how to deal with receipt questions on the 5 for $75 special? Shit, I should get up and help.”

One of the best things about opening GCA is how much it’s deepened my relationship with POCA. Quite a few of you have heard me howl & carry on about how much I miss my old punking job at Poke Community Acupuncture, how I NEVER WANTED TO BE A BUSINESS OWNER. None of this has changed, but it’s probably worth mentioning it has actually also been a blessing to take on a job so huge that I needed a ton of help from so many people. It has actually been good for me to get regularly totally overwhelmed and need to reach out again and again for the solid support and warm friendships I’ve found within POCA. POCA has become a major part of my life, and this is a beautiful thing. 

Of course a lot of employee punks are totally central to POCA, and you don’t need to apply for a micro-loan and start up a new clinic in order to deeply connect here. But for me, I don’t know that I would have gotten this involved if I hadn’t left my Poke family and ended up kinda adrift & starting from scratch in southwestern Ontario.

So naturally after the less-than-perfectly-restful treatment described above, I asked a few other punks who’ve been clinic owners for a lot longer than I have about how to tame the control freakery. Right away Alexa pointed out the importance of consistency, offering a suggestion that I think of myself not as a control freak, but as a consistency freak.

“The only way your clinic will weather growth is with consistency. When you’re a solo punk you don’t have to think too much about consistency because you’re the only one doing things. More people means less consistency, and the potential for more chaos … People come for community acupuncture because it’s predictable. So we need to do things the same way, over & over.”

Then Melissa riffed on a parallel of the care and attention to detail needed to build dry stone walls:

“… I guess I am just wanting to say maybe it's ok to give yourself a pass on the detail stuff in the service of building something well-crafted and lasting and, not just btw, heart- shatteringly, soul-restoringly rebel fucking beautiful.

It made me think of this stone wall I saw the other day. (photo attached) I had a day off on the last day of the year, and was taking a drive by the beach and turned the car around to go back and check out this wall. I have this thing about masonry, it truly makes me swoon. A dry stack wall like this one, to me, it's the most beautiful example of surrendering to the medium to co-create utility and beauty.

… I love this wall's shape, the wide base that is seriously locked in, solid for a long time to come. I love its soft curve over land, low against it. I urge you to feast on the beautiful endcap–the serious love details going on there.

Building more a shelter than a wall, I like to think we are taking some time and attention and synthesizing the shape and history of each stone as it rests into the place of solid connection with the others around it. Of course the details matter to us because people can feel them and it makes them want to come and stay and spin around until they fit just right, and rest in the well-built strength and peace of the place. Them being solid makes space for the next layers to pile on.

… I feel like we're still pretty far down in the base of the wall. We're still moving the big stones into place and it’s a lot to be doing. Of course we're tired and sometimes let our attention occasionally get stuck on one stone at a time. But it's good that we're paying attention. It's all part of the overall beauty.”

Here’s the photo she sent me. As beautiful, and as storied, as a full treatment room. I’m getting a print of it made to hang here in the clinic – a reminder be as detail-focused as this place needs, and also a reminder about how much better & easier it is, being one of many stones.

Lisa B.
Author: Lisa B.

Lisa prefers fireflies to fireworks, reverts to bluntness in stressful moments, would happily wear legwarmers year-round, and probably wants to be your friend.

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  1. Congratulations on your second year and your clinic expansion. Here is to more years of “building something well-crafted and lasting and, not just btw, heart- shatteringly, soul-restoringly rebel fucking beautiful.”

  2. How beautiful! Thank you Lisa…. we are indeed moving the big stones into place. Surrendering to the medium… Loving this food for thought today!

  3. Congratulations on 2 years and 100+ per week!

    One of the things I love about wandering through the woods in New England are the stone walls and family plots with worn and broken headstones sometimes also falling down, back toward the earth they were born from. I like to wonder about who these people laying in the woods were, what their lives were like and how the structures they built from stone served them and generations afterwards. I feel quite hopeful that all we are building here will serve form many years and generations to come.