Days I’ve Watched Myself Move

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.

capturing-motion-in-photography

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.

Recovery

I spend a lot of nights making horse-like sounds as I tromp up the creaky steps of my Washington, DC townhouse, my sandy leather backpack slung over one shoulder, ballooning and nearly bursting open from its contents: my server’s uniform, consisting of a crusty, browning white button-down, an ankle-length apron, splattered with ink-markings, brushed about the surface like spin art in accidental waves of black and blue, and unbearable black shoes, wreaking and stale.  It’s on these nights that I breathe heavy, sometimes I cry.  I often don’t know why, sometimes things just get leaky up there late at night.  I like to lay down and look at my ceiling because it reminds me of limits, and I like to think about limits but then also imagine—launching, movement, surging speeds escaping boundaries and gracefully expanding the skies.  Sometimes my cat licks my face, presses his paws into my sweater, and coos softly.  This is his bliss, though it may not be mine.

I do quite a bit of recovering.  I’m getting very good at it; that’s not to say I brave the storm of various traumatic events that require recovery.  There’s something in between doing and not doing, and it’s recovering.  It’s not often spoken of, but it’s a state of being.  Even when recovery is discussed in an applicable context, it is inferred as rehabilitation or moving forward, moving on before looking at the limits and envisioning the breakthrough.  I’ve watched the ceiling quite a bit, it’s where I learn the most about myself; that and this playlist on Songza called Music for a Woodland Clearing, which is essentially Van Morrison sprinkled with near miniscule flavor bursts from other woodsy artists.  Regardless of its semi prosaic musical DNA, it helps me to learn about myself, and all things considered, it evokes wild and diverse spiritedness and life, which I’m desiring more than usual today.

I’ve received a few job rejections now.  I almost have to run back into the house each morning to grab my coat of resiliency.  I’m rather calculated now as I dress myself as someone whose cares are less numerous than they are when dressed in doubt and fear.  I’m afraid to face anything that might’ve once seen me as seamlessly and conventionally successful: the buildings, the faces, the mentors.  Sometimes I sit down to write thinking maybe I could write the story of non-success, maybe I could write my own story with more grace and beauty than failure and pain.  But the words are too close and not yet far enough to become story or tale.  I think maybe one day when recovery is past, when I’m not staring at the ceiling, concocting innovations and mental revelries of my untold flight through ceiling, stars, through woodland clearing, I’ll have moved enough to write the story of untraditional success—a sort of success that occurs when nothing else does.  When I’m walking up the steps late at night…

My mother sent me an inspirational yet delightfully childlike piece about her own life told in the fairy princess and her kingdom and castle-style.  She, the fair maiden, was described as having lost control over her kingdom, then claiming ownership over a kingdom that wasn’t fully realized until she believed in her ability to rule what was hers.  I, like the princess, need to rule that which is mine: myself, my time, my late night walks up the stairs, in the dark, with tears welling up in the pit of my stomach.  I have gifts of words like paint, voice like movement and song, hands accountable for change I can feel before envisioning it.  I make decisions like paintings.  It’s not even real yet, but I know it, think it, then it is realized like the artist, like the princess who decided life: the inner the outer—it was all hers.

Anyways, my mom doesn’t like Bob Dylan, but I bet the princess would like this song that makes me think of all I can do.  It’s simple, but really I feel the message of what one can do rather than not do is tantamount

She’s got everything she needs

She’s an artist, she don’t look back

She can take the dark out of nighttime

And paint the daytime black.

Recovery is in realizing that it’s all there; it just has to be taken and held in one’s arms, wrapped up and called “my own.”

Stream of Consciousness: The Middle

It is an occasion when a diner will ask his or her server anything about herself.  Rarely, do they open a door and whistle, beckoning my humanity to come out.  Here humanity, here boy.  It is rarely fun: bearing the “can I get’s?” and the “give me’s,” but then, as if out of some discreet pocket of air, I’ll receive a “What do you do?” and the heavens split right down the middle and light befalls us—an aura covering table 23.  Somehow, someone knew to ask what I do or what I want, what my passions and dreams may happen to be.  It is so brilliant that it almost seems to cancel out the following interaction that occurred at table 44 about two and a half weeks ago.

Father and daughter talk amongst themselves…

Father: “Should we ask, I don’t know.”

Lowly server (me): “Everything alright over here.  Are you all finished?”

Father: “Yes.  May we ask you a question.”

NB: This is all occurring after the gentleman told me that I should inform management that we have to do something about the room temperature maple syrup that causes the piping hot French toast to lower in temperature when it is poured atop the texas toast-y delicacy.

 

Me: Sure

Father: Do you have another job?

Me: I freelance write, which is my passion, but this is the only job I make money doing.  Why?

Father: Because we were just talking amongst ourselves and wondering how you could possibly make enough money as a waitress to live in a city like Washington, DC.

So these things sometimes happen.  I almost rather they are outright into heir debasement of me rather than closeted, discreet, huffy breathed, and blaming me for an undercooked something or other.  That guy tipped me about 40%.  It was the worst I’d ever felt about an overtly extravagant tip.  So back to “Here humanity, here boy.”  There is something very important that comes forth from being thrown into a life state that allows for expression, only if it is stifled by the impetuous wants and needs of others.  And believe it or not, regardless of how one may read my general tone, that something important is not boundless heaps of cynicism.  No, it is an achy urge to devote one’s time and efforts to extracting and encouraging the revealing of others’ humanity.  I want to name every face, or better yet, allow every face to name itself to me.

Odd as it is that the very people who cause me grief each day have helped me to want to aid and assist others in feeling whole, it’s a backwards recipe that certainly works for me.  It was in feeling suffocated that my truest loves in life arose to the front of my mind, battling off ideas and goals that had once held precedence because perhaps they looked better or would help me to move on more swiftly to a better post graduate degree program.  It’s not that bad—the middle—the mental or even physical place in which everything is a maybe, every move is impermanent, and every waking hour comes with something unexpected, unwanted, or unplanned.  I like the middle, at least more than I thought I would.  Yes, it is in the middle that I have regular panic attacks over rent payments, bemoan my erratic work schedule, and fight with my mother on the phone, but it also here in the middle that I can take a long walk in trail of sunlight I’d otherwise not be able to bask in until it was well faded, within a clump of bustling, uniformed workers; it’s here that I can submit a poem to a journal, fingers crossed, wondering and hoping that maybe this is the middle’s end, at least before the next middle, the next time I decide to thin before I do, to consider, to stop somewhere between this and that—whatever this is, whatever that is, I don’t really know, not now.

……Therefore I am

“Why do we wake up, roll over in bed, and suddenly enact our own miniature one woman marionette show?  Why am I, like a machine at work, moving toward this table of individuals I’d usually glance over, smiling and staring doe-eyed and beginning: ‘Hi folks!  Good evening! How are you?’”

My least favorite combination of too-often employed words is: YOU THINK TOO MUCH.  If there’s one form of expression kids and even adults are taught to not do too much of, it is to think.  Even feeling is permissible in large amounts.  The other day I was at it again, outpouring too much, so really any bit of, my thoughts.

The given response: “Leah, you think too much.”  And all at once, I felt totally full of rage, my perceptions of humankind surmised to something altogether negative.  Not only have we no more “Great Thinkers” or even the tendency to employ the term, honor the individuals, but we no longer cherish, admire, or merely regard thought as essential.

I think a lot, and although, as in the “you think too much” incidents, it may be marked characteristically perilous, it is my most favored trait.  I am most fully alive when on my own—executing a mental dance, praying over supposed scenery, which really shows itself to me as just another component of myself.  Aloneness is where the dance happens.  And I am pretty good at being alone.  I did it often as a child: usually in the “running away” format (to the backyard, in the grocery store, at the mall).  I loved a lot of humanity, sure, but my truest love, from very early on, was a world with which I would forever acquaint myself, and rarely produce any clear-cut decisions.

Philosophy was an obvious program of study for me, but again, my mere interests would herald “realistic” responses and naysayer’s jabs positing the things I loved as “dead” or “dying.”  But I didn’t care.  Even absurdist philosophy was all about living and life.  It encourage rebellion in the face of a barring universe.  It encouraged intelligence in the form of action.  Even in a seminar room, I was feeling like Sysyphus—preying on my truths, aware and in admittance of a world I am consistently ceasing to conceive.

I find myself wondering when being an intellectual became pretentious.  When Camus distinguished existentialism from pretentiousness and established thought as an act of claiming one’s freedom rather than a muted, loathsome passivity he was regarded an intellectual.  So, I guess I, too, am (shamelessly) an intellectual.  As my good man said:

An intellectual? Yes. And never deny it. An intellectual is someone whose mind watches itself. I like this, because I am happy to be both halves, the watcher and the watched. “Can they be brought together?” This is a practical question. We must get down to it. “I despise intelligence” really means: “I cannot bear my doubts.

I am a thinker.  Thought is my breath.  How else is one to live?