Days I’ve Watched Myself Move
It’s a Saturday afternoon around 3:15 pm. I had arrived promptly at 2:45 to begin my nine-hour shift at the restaurant. Table 24 looks at me; it’s apparent they’re ready to order, which would make sense since they’ve likely been waiting for their hungover brunch for two hours now. I waddle sheepishly toward the young pair, who are accordingly outfitted in last night’s trousers and bundled from naval to throat in fleece armor. The female’s hair rests atop her head in perfect asymmetry between coordinates A and B: two glossy pearl earrings. I am forced to bear witness to this same sort of disheveled beauty that plagued my teenage interactions and left me handicapped and shrunken at the sight of starry-eyed softball players in sweatpants. Still, she speaks sweetly, her bumbling beau the less attentive of the two. I speak softly and calculated: but my speech, as usual, is delayed. I am leaning to the right then fidgeting with my hands behind my back, yet also tucking my hair behind my ear. But maybe—maybe I should move back to center. “For our brunch special today we have—“ I can’t seem to say the word “eggs,” mostly because they’re both staring into my eyes and I’m just sort of blinking and turning away in response. Sometimes when I do get the words out—“How would you like your eggs cooked?” They happen like this: “owwoo lie eggs?” They stare in confusion, I’m just happy I said anything, and I have time to recover with a smart-sounding excuse like “sorry, the acoustics in here are sometimes a bit screwy.” They believe me and each let out a sympathy laugh that is more like a grumble and I walk away with the left foot first: step, together, step, together. Hands hang at my sides, until I decide I can’t have them just hang there, so I clasp them tightly behind my back—fingers laced, or maybe just hands cupped…
My hands are the least and most awkward part of me because I can make them do the most and occupy them often, yet I am also forced to deal with them when there is nothing there to hold, touch, move, or place. I must make them mean something when they are not performing their regulatory tasks. I suppose when not in use, they still engage in the most menial of nerve responses. For instance, my fingers touch each other when they’re nervous, which is often because I’m not good in my body. What I mean by not good is I feel intensely uncomfortable with the idea of being inside this body that I’m supposed to control and move with grace, appendices in tow, immediate frame moving subtly and communicating presence, womanhood, sexual prowess. Despite the ways in which my hands deter from my executing elegance in movement, I can still engage them more than any other part of myself, contorting them in all sort of ways without incurrence of stress fractures or muscular wreckage or even mere humiliation at my inability to pose, exact perfect stationary position or flawless inertia.
My whole body is not unlike my hands. I fine that I am often viewing my stance and positioning as awkward when I am ultra aware of my actions. The questions stands, though, as to whether my heightened sense of consciousness actually limits or expands and increases my ability to enact intentional self-oriented movement. It is seemingly a silly question, and even as a religious critical thinker and dissector, the question of calculated and rehearsed movement only came to the fore of my mind when the superficial functions of my job as a restaurant sever seemed to come down to me moving and others watching my movements. I started thinking more about my movements, signs, signals, and motions once I’d moved to DC in June. Increased time spent alone, which is exactly what happened to me as I started work at a restaurant and friends started work that revolved more so around a daily grind—the typical metro riding, morning grogginess, late afternoon angst—sort of schedule. All of it gave me time to saunter slowly down busy streets and those more quiet and examine all the physical nuances of my walk—the curves of my hips, how much I chose to allow my arms to swing—the way in which the wind blew my hair and whether I shirked back, viciously forced my hair to remain tucked behind my ear, or spread my arms delicately in an attempt to just exist, to just be with the wind. I’d start thinking about my decision to stunt cognition, disallowing my hair from its involuntary movement through employing a well-calculated transaction of hand reaching into air and grasping onto something that was moving at no one’s will, really.
In Carl Ginsberg’s essay, “Body Movement, Image and Consciousness,” the thinker and subscriber to the Feldenkrais method of awareness through movement discusses the development of movement and awareness working in tandem with one another to create a seamless sort of cura personalis in which persons can nourish themselves simply by injecting critical thought and deduction into menial motion. C. Ginsberg writes:
When I erect myself in gravity, I normally direct myself to do so. I might on the other hand be in a somnambulistic state. […] I can stand up without paying mind to my action and act habitually and probably inefficiently. On the other hand I can develop my awareness in such a way that my experience of my acting is rich with knowing my self-orientation, my relation to space and gravity, my sense of timing, and I will stand elegantly using a minimum of muscular effort.
As someone who undertook several trial runs of popular childhood sports and recreational activities (and ultimately, failed), I can faintly remember early experiences of learning and adapting to the inevitable marriage of cognition and movement in a less oblique sense than the harmonious cause-and-effect relationship of head and hand which I now experience while walking, standing or sitting still. In sport, the relationship seemed more elementary, more within grasp. For instance, I’d cradle my lacrosse stick, amplifying my capabilities, in a desperate unspoken plea of capability, then, all at once I’d say to myself: I will now, in one fell swoop, slow my pace, turn my net to face my partner, throw-catch, throw-catch, and the ball will sail briskly through the milky autumn sky. Now I have applied the banal, yet fruitful lessons of adolescence to daily activity, which I, by my own will, have hoped to convert from arbitrary to intentional: I will now, in one fell swoop, swing my backpack over my achy right shoulder, furrow my brow, and not just clomp my boots, but really stomp them, out of this small café, because not only do I use their internet, but I use their floors to make sounds and noises that make me feel like one authoritative bitch.
I can either spin my awareness as intentionality or dangerous hyperconsciousness. When aware of the way in which I fold my hands behind my back when walking briskly by flocks of gluttonous tourists I am almost crippled by my attention to every subtle twitch and turn of my inelegant body. But, when I decide that my steps, the way I open my eyes, the way I motion for a taxi are not just mere means, but are rather standalone, substantial acts and proclamations, I have injected my perceptively miniscule actions with meaning and direction. Suddenly, I’m walking and motioning with grace and poise, and not really because it even appears as poised movement, but because I believe it to be beautiful, and so it is.
Recently, I discovered the redemptive qualities, despite the overuse of cellular data, of listening to podcasts while transporting myself around DC. As my mind has felt unusually malnourished as of late, it helps to be able to learn about an interesting topic or two while moving myself from here to there. I’ve become particularly interested in NPR’s new Ted Radio Hour show, in which the host, Guy Rozz, plays segments of several TED Talks, which culminate under a selective umbrella topic. Rozz, takes a moment to sit with each speaker for a personal interview, in which he instigates a bit deeper into the promoting factors for and their desire to give each respective talk. As I have possessed a longstanding interest in language and communication, I downloaded the Ted Radio Hour podcast entitled “Spoken and Unspoken” on a whim and found myself beguiled by each speaker’s very personalized and well-crafted hypothesis on everything from alienation and unity through language, foreign dialects, texting, and even a real life application of the subjunctive mood. And then—the very last speaker’s talk almost serendipitously emphasized the “unspoken” component of language.
Amy Cuddy’s talk, “Does Body Language Shape Who You Are?” may at first seem to accentuate the ideals reaped from overpriced group therapy sessions or freshman year orientation. But, throughout my second, third, and fourth times listening to Rozz’s interview with Cuddy, I’ve kept my interest in conscious movement at the forefront of my thoughts and it has proven to allow me to intake Cuddy’s thesis on body language and evocation of self.
Rozz introduced Cuddy and her talk: Up until this point the kind of communication we’ve been hearing about is language […], basically things we have near complete control over, but the thing is you don’t have complete control over how you communicate because a big part of it happens unconsciously.
Rozz continues, discussing how Cuddy studies nonverbal communication. Quite literally, this woman received her Ph.D. in the scrutiny of that which makes me cringe at my own existence. Cuddy was listed Number One on Time Magazine’s list of Game Changers. She studies body language in regards to something she calls “power poses,” discovering that after two minutes of high power posing (ie: standing like wonder woman or a reclining CEO), testosterone levels actually go up in individuals assuming self-assured stances. Ultimately Cuddy, though a psychologist, is a modern day Philosopher and student of the Feldenkrais method: a savant and pioneer of conscious movement and attentiveness to the body.
I’d imagine, though the pressure is more overt when one is placed in an occupation in which her or she is constantly being watched, that being conscious of one’s movements is more difficult when sitting desk-side, in a barometric pressured nightmare of an office, where no one can see you. There is no accountability for slouching; there is no one to even silently penalize you when you’ve become a lidless, typing machine. To be watchful when alone is wholly learned: half beautiful, half rigorous.
I often find my consciousness especially heightened when I perceive my own movement in congruence with that of others. My obsession with synchronization is further realized whenever I walk behind or beside a pair of feet audibly hitting the ground on the offbeat of my own personal metronomic steps. I am currently on the last hours of a week and a half spent in my hometown right outside of Philadelphia. Before my arrival, my developmentally disabled aunt had just had a traumatic fall and suffered several compression fractures of the spine, and since she was essentially confined to the living room sofa for the course of her holiday season visit (which, incidentally began on my mother’s birthday), I felt inclined to sweetly and desperately plea, at the very last minute, for a transient stay at my childhood home and a heftier-than-usual time-off request from work.
There’s also a slight chance that I impulsively ran from my unfulfilled life in Washington, DC to seek temporary refuge in a place where I could maybe just feed my mind with a some familiar food, perhaps something that tasted, even the tiniest bit, like a pure and untainted version of myself—a self that really wanted something, something with which I’d been terribly out of touch. My last night was a Sunday night is tonight, December 29th. I’d already taken the Amtrak just two days ago from DC and back in a single day for an interview for a position with a nonprofit for which the impending victim, I mean “fellow,” was to be paid a stipend that amounted to not even three quarters of the poverty line minimum salary. I have an interview with a staffing firm on the 31st and am heading back for that and of course, get back to work again; but most of all, I need to start reconciling myself with the present condition of things and keep moving.
Anyways—synchronization of movement.
My last day home is today, a Sunday. The weather was both persistent and static all day, robbing every bit of color from our immediate stratosphere. It had, instead, affixed a perfect penumbra of elusive liquid casting itself into an arc-like pocket within the mostly hazy horizon. My mother and I had gone to the movies to see Dame Judy Dench, as she gave voice to Philomena Lee, an elderly Irish woman searching for her son who’d been stolen from her while she was forced to perform expiation for her sin, which was plainly and simply, having sex out of wedlock, via performing chores, ruthlessly inflicted by nuns of the Rosecrea Abbey, for years of her young adult life. Following the film, we fled through the marathon of mist to the grocery store in the pouring rain, where we acquired various ingredients for dinner. My mom and I indulged in our regular bickering. I, at my own confession, muttering endless provocations in the form of short, snippy insults akin to her various habits (ballooned, at my will, to a superlative degree), such as the briskness of her step, the sharpness of her speech, or inability to, in the manner of a mesmerized child, listen to one of my twice-told tales.
You see, my mother and I bear uncanny resemblance in regards to our strong-witted mentalities, superficially standoffish attitudes, marrow-deep care for our loved ones and those unknown to us, and our general way of being able to be picked up and set off, stretched between emotional and mental polarities at even the most minutely questionable stare or remark. At the end of the grocery belt sat the paper bag filled with delicate components to my mother’s rainy day stew. I lifted it, my hands still rain-sprinkled, my mind still fixed on Philomena and her rigorous journey, wrought on wholly by love, wonder, innocence. Her movements, intensely intentional, wholly self conscious—each stride in the name of an unproved presence.
I wipe my right hand against my camel, swing coat, which, expectedly, is also wet. Self-consciously I continue to stroke my hand against my coat while my mother grasps her receipt and folds it into unpretty fourths. I spread my fingers, and I can’t help but notice how a finger fits in between each finger. I want to fold my hands now, like I would at the restaurant, whenever I am awkwardly empty handed and blubberishly pleading “How is everything so far???” Nodding and nodding, with lack of any genuinely interested-sounding response. My fingertips curl beneath the brown paper handle and wrap around to meet the base of my palm, immediately above the tip of the palm’s triangle. Scalene, I believe, it is. The triangle of my own hand contains a right angle and two other angles of unequal measurements. There is correctness and exactness of my hand, and there is also misalignment and incongruence. I am enveloped in the 180 degree centerpiece of my least and most awkward appendage as I trudge, head down, un-power-posed, in the grey water parade.
I watch my mother’s feet, the audible clomp of a stylish boot echoes through a parking lot of Honda CRVs and eager Sunday shoppers. There is wild dissonance. I watch my feet, as I take three steps then allow the fourth to soar ungracefully over each sidewalk crack. Still watching our feet: 1. My mother’s first step, 2. Then my first, 3. Mother, 4. Mine. I am uncomfortable with our disallowance of space and silence. I come to a halt. And our walk, then, even unbeknownst to my mother, becomes so much more. The synchronization of movement is the unalloyed incarnation of Amy Cuddy’s thesis that the prevalence of unconscious communication near parallels the ultimacy of speech. The synchronization of movement is the verbally unstated physical overstatement of desired togetherness, association, and communion.
This is my left foot. It will now step, I will hear the sound of my boot—the small wooden heel—hitting the ground. And the sound will not be alone. I am swinging my left arm, and my right arm lays beside me, yet at elbow begins to hang several inches from my hip and thigh, hand holds bag handle firmly, as fingertips meet the crevices of my palm, angles alike and unalike. This is my right foot. It will musically join my mother’s in a fell swoop of sidewalk thrashing—music. I am besotted with movement, with saying things I’m too afraid to forcibly shimmy from larynx to mouth, a mouth I can’t even move right. I am bewitched by the communion formed by a step or stare. I am entirely taken with the sublimity of my and your own ability to verbalize through our precious nonverbals. Because not only do I walk just to walk; I walk to say a few things. I walk to move.