Category Archives: memory and movement

>Movement and Memory January 2010


 A year of walks and poems

Chapter One January: Makes One Little Room an Everywhere

 This is the year I turn 60. I want to give an overview of the reasoning behind my Movement and Memory Project. I want to find a way to move more and to use my brain. I want to pursue adventures, which are difficult for me, meaning out of my comfort zone either psychologically or skills wise. And so I have chosen to learn to plod a path, slowily walking and memorizing a different poem each month.


My fantasy is that at the end of the year I will weigh less in my expanding body, but my brain will be more massive having engorged itself with the words, and rhythms of John Donne or Emily Dickenson, Langston Hughes, Adrienne Rich or e.e.cummings and I will have remembered how to input tiny bits, learning bit by bit, line by line.


I will be patient with me as I push to challenge myself. That in itself would be treat enough, but the thought that my jeans might also be a tad looser and my tongue able to incant a poem or / twelve is also a wonderful goad to movement and memory.


And now a little back-story.

 I am currently at 59,  BMI challenged, having gained 3 to five pounds a year for the last decade. Oh it was a glorious ten years; I was married to the love of my life and he seems to love me thin, chubby or full out tubby. Our family endured the terrorist attack on our neighbors the World Trade Towers and yes food was my drug of choice to weather that storm. In the aftermath of  911 we lost the bulk of our income to a faltering economy. Our pockets were then more deeply scarred by the ensuing stock market crashes of 1999 and 2008. And here we still are.


So I ate happy, scared or sad.


On a further note, we have no health insurance, as we canceled our policy in deference to paying college tuition for our kids. We are not unique or heroes, but rather parents who can parse a cost benefit analysis. We are .   .  . touch wood, rarely sick and it was costing nearly $13,000 per year for insurance. We needed that money for college. We got scholarships and pitched in the savings from the insurance premiums and this year our second, and our youngest kid graduates, with honors, if you please, from an excellent college. Why did I tell you this? Because without insurance,  I needed to find a way to get some doctoring into our lives and as the World Trade Center Health Clinic offered us a yearly check up if we would participate in their study. So I signed us all up.


This January I went for my second visit and I was told in short everything is great in my burgeoning body save that I am desperately chubby. I weigh  . . . oh really it doesn’t matter, but it is more than I weighed at the end of pregnancy. I go to Pilates, I take yoga, I ride my bike everywhere, but I don’t get enough aerobic exercise and the doctor told me I have to walk. I have to carry my own heft around with me. Not bikiing, swimming, or kayaking , you get it. My stubby legs need to move me in order for me to slim down.


I hate to walk.


I hate to walk because it is so so so so so so slow. I am used to the speed of the bike. I zoom from one meeting to another with no sweat, no waiting at the corner for taxis or buses; I just peddle and glide. Please note that Manhattan is only 12 miles long from stem to stern and not a hilly town, so it is perfect for biking. I know this provides some exercise, and as the doc said, my blood pressure, lung, kidney and liver functions wouldn’t be so super without the biking, but my body is used to this and I need to shake things up.


I live right by the Hudson River, I work as a consultant and I have time to walk. I hate it. I fight it. I don’t get it. All it makes me want to do is make phone calls, hail a cab or return home and get my bike so I can be productive.


I am unsettled in my own head when I go slowly; hence walking make me very nervous. So nervous that I want to eat grilled cheese or pasta carbinara or cream of chicken soup. You see where this goes; walking made me want to sedate myself with rich food. All I thought about when I walked was: what I could cook or eat, when the walk would be over. I argued, why did I have to do this ? And what a loser I was for being unable to perform the function of a biped, a simple postprandial or prepandial walk.


This was how it was last year when I made this resolution on my birthday and on any other day when one observes their life and vows to fix things. Then became disheartened, because I would fail again and again. But this year I made a different vow, one to better my brain and my body simultaneously.


I promised I would learn poems. Learn them by heart, as we said in elementary school. I can still spout some of Hiawatha, Edmund Lear, If, and Invictus. The poems were my 25-year-old daughter’s idea. She wanted to commit poems to memory as a way to entertain herself on her long trudge to the subway. I think there may also be a whiff of romance in her endeavor. Imagine reeling off a lovely poem to a sweetheart as the ski lift climbs, or the lights dim in a train traveling north. So I bought her a selection of poems to memorize and was captivated with the notion for myself as well.


The book I liked best, I bought four, was Poem in Your Pocket. It flips open like a notebook and every poem is perforated, so it literally can be removed and tucked into your pocket. I read though and found The Good Morrow by John Donne. It moved me and it made me think of romantic, filial and parental love. I wanted to own it in the pocket of my mind. And so I set about on January 1 to learn it.



On first blush I thought oh three stanzas, six lines each, a snap. But no sooner did I attempt to memorize that I found myself  paraphrasing the poem. Not reciting but doing a retelling of what it meant, what it intended. I kept changing and rearranging the words to be mine. I made it more modern, more edgy and less beautiful every time. And so I slowed down to a crawl where I could see myself typing the words, slowly in my mind, one line after another. And it began to stick.


When I couldn’t fall asleep I began typing,

I wonder, by my troth, what thou and I

Did, till we loved? Were we not weaned till then?

And these two lines took me days. I flubbed them and re read and retyped in my moving, oh so fast modern brain and finally they were mine. And I crawled on to the next.

But sucked on country pleasures, childishly?

Or, snorted we in the Seven Sleepers’ den?

 The rhythms were so anathema to any that I wrote or uttered on a regular basis, that every time I said them out loud, or murmured in my brain Or, snorted we  .  .   .

I was calmed and beguiled. Who knew the change would be so immediate? A different set of words, set in different rhythms removed my modern ennui and any immediate malaise brought on by the fact that everything in my 21st Century electronic life was not fast enough to satisfy me. And I imagine the host of other netters, bloggers, overnight shoppers, texters, net workers and instant movie watchers across the globe, nodding in agreement. Faster, more connectivity, was what I craved, and then I bumped into poetry from the late 1500’s; ballast to my blasting brain.


The languid pace and the lush language was a balm to my soul. And so I kept on memorizing. But this had not solved my crisis of chubby. I needed to walk to address that. Then I hit on the idea of learning the poem whilst walking. Sorry I had to write whilst.  And today I began.




January 12, 2010

Walking along the Hudson River today speaking aloud, John Donne’s words filling the air as I internalized another three or four lines. Lines running in my head, restated back to forth and the river runs to the West in my vision. I walk looser legs and lighter mind. I walk south and north and home before I know it. No desire for a high calorie treat the words fill me.


January 20, 2010

At  my pottery  class I recited the first two stanzas after attempting to tell my classmates what my project was. It was an incredible sensation. The room was all whirling and chatting and I began. And after three lines the hubbub ceased it was tomb quiet and I saw the power of difficult, musical language to engage even an unwitting audience.


It was a night when I wanted to move quickly, glaze thrown work, slop on colors or trim the bottom of a large bowl with a clumsy foot, rather than an artful, elegant one which would set it apart and allow it to soar. What I saw was that I can have patience; if I want to. The slow slivers of semi-dried clay were no different being sliced off the bottom of the pot than the way the words of the poem spin slowly into my conscious mind. Word by word they form sentences and coherent ideas. And thin slices of red clay piled up on my worktable until my bowl possessed an elegant curve, which echoed inside and out.


“Patience, can be anyone’s, but they need to want it and value it.”

Thus spoke Margaret the wise ceramic guru, and she was right, at least that night.



January 21 2010

 An interminable press conference at the Italian Cultural Council

And I wrote the first two stanzas from memory as I struggled to stay awake after the first hour of tough Italian and boring translation in a dark room.  A working brain is more likely not to shut down.





January 24, 2010

Sunday in the country

I had words with my loving husband. Why do we say that?  All conversation is words, but these words were harsh. It doesn’t matter what my feelings are, I often manage to blurt them in a way, which alienates the listener. The exact opposite of what I want. What I desire is to have my man do things outside his comfort zone, which seems to be sports and a warm house, lots of vacuuming, all the grocer shopping and paying most of the bills. Now please say OH SHUT UP you ungrateful wretch! And you would be right, but I want someone who has ideas and invites me to foreign films or wants to hear the poem I have been attempting to memorize, in my memory and movement project.  It is silly because the project was begun as a meditation or a way to increase patience and now it looks as if I want some notice, at least from him.


We were going to take  a walk together, but I got my dander up so much that I needed to take a breather and calm down. I decided to walk up the hill to what I call my office, on Hog Trough Road. I refer it this site as my office because I actually get cell phone reception there. Too often I drive up the hill, it is less than a mile so the admission that I drive is embarrassing and very country. In the city I walk or bike everywhere, but car culture is a swift, pervasive infection. I need to fight it. And so I walked up the hill, walking west and turning north. The opposite of the lines I am attempting to capture.
Where can we find two better hemispheres?

Without sharp North, without declining West?


As I say the lines I see myself turning and reversing the directions in the poem and the words gell. I walk in winter gray, but yet mild. My legs are moving freely as if my jeans were larger. All of me waves in the slight breeze. Up the hill I go reviewing the first stanza and as I turn onto Hog Trough Road I see a small animal dead in the road about 25 yards ahead. I know I have to walk by it, and I dread this. I always cringe and stare at road kill. I get closer and can tell it is a mammal, not a snake or bird. I approach, muttering the lines of the poem, and I see the head resembles a round rubber ball, with long ears, a bunny with a profusion of fresh red guts spilling out. Long thick, round strands; intestines are registered. And at that instant I turn to aggressively look at the other side of the road as if a show had begun there. In that moment, a crow flies past me landing on a bittersweet vine and I wonder, “ How do all those guts get so neatly packed inside one tiny creature? How does it stay inside, because when it is laid next to the rabbit, it bewilderingly looks as if it could never be repacked? I wonder what fits inside of me?  And I keep walking up the road; now turning west to the cloud obscured Catskill Mountains. They lurk shrouded and unseen, but there they are in my persistent memory. I increase my pace and attempt to focus on the lines, which are eluding me.

My face in thine eye, thine in mine appears.

I can see this line, I see my face in my daughter’s eye, I see myself looking into only one eye and the line concretizes in my brain, but the next one with is fraught with convoluted 16th century language and syntax. And true plain hearts do in the faces rest;


 As I type this I see I have captured the rhythm and it is nearly in my memory, but only because I repeat it like a nursery school child with a spider song. I do not see it as clearly as the reflecting eyes.


I speed up attempting to ward off pounds and I pass the free-range cattle. The bull and his cows all lowing loudly, rooting for winter silage. They are huge, always a shock as they roam close to the road with neither wooden fence, nor electric device. They are held in an orbit by the notion that home is the place we all want to return to because the hay is sweet and the barn cossets us from the wind. I wonder how much life is coiled inside of them? I turn and take my poem back down the hill, carefully, anticipating the dead rabbit and looking to the east where the crow has flown.





Tuesday 25 January 2010

I had a meeting today with the director of the OP ED project, basically  an initiative to teach women to write op ed pieces and be thought leaders. The founder/leader of the project mentioned in passing about a professor at NYU doing work on movement and memory so I was charged up about my memorization and movement project and want to find this scientiist.


As the day wound down, lots of sitting , phoning, long boring adult time, I yeared to walk more, to put new words in my head as I charged along the Hudson River. So in late afternoon I called Rachel, a Scottish transplant and mother to my godchild Holly, to ask if we could have a river walk. I met them in the lobby of their apartment, just as Holly’s bitsy baby sister Pippa melted down howling from the wind. I left Rachel with just one tot to sooth and Holly and I set out bravely. She with a pink scooter and me afoot.


I had been reciting the poem on my walk over and realized that although I have 80% memorized I can still mix up the verses, words, stanzas. I made a random, hip-hop sampling of John Donne’s work as I briskly moved along the Hudson. At one point I realized I was lost and stopped to reboot and install the words in their correct order. It was the rhythm, which alerted me.


I am still on the final stanza


My face in thine eye, thine in mine appears,

And true plain hearts do in the faces rest:

Where can we find two better hemispheres?

Without sharp North, without declining West ?

Whatever dies was not mixed equally’

If our two loves be one, or thou and I

Love so alike that none do slacken, none can die.


This is tough When I walk I can see my face reflected in the eye of another. I get that, but then the rhythms get old fashion and I am lost. I make my own tiny, incorrect adjustments conspiring in such a way that they either tumble out in melodic phrases or I jumble them making them sound modern and harsh.


 After I deposit Holly for supper I rush home to dusky dark. I love coming back north along the river singing the parts I know and, because I didn’t bring glasses I can’t refer to the actual poem in my pocket. I back and fill in my mind, a false start and it seems as if it takes no time at all. I am at my door and I didn’t fret or think about butter not for one second.


January 28, 2010 Thursday

As I make coffee I incant the final stanza while reading it and then recite the first two by heart. The water boils as if by magic, because no time passes when my memory is so deeply engaged. Coffee appears as the poem finishes.


January 31, 2010 Sunday

The last day of the month and I will move on to another poem, and I have to be finished. As I make a salad for supper and the Grammies blare in the background I roll the entire poem over in my mouth silently.


The Good-Morrow

John Donne 1572-163


I wonder, by my troth, what thou and I

Did till we loved? were we not weaned til then?

But sucked on country pleasures childishly?

Or snorted we in the Seven-Sleepers’ Den?

‘Twas so: but this, all pleasures fancies be.

If ever any beauty I did see,

Which I desired and got,’twas but a dream of thee.


And now good-morrow to our walking souls,

Which watch not one and other out of fear;

For love, all love of other sights controls,

And makes one little room an everywhere.

Let sea-discoverers to new worlds have gone.

Let maps to others, worlds on worlds have shown.

Let us possess our world, each hath one, and is one.


My face in thine eye, thine in mine appears,

And true plain hearts do in the faces rest:

Where can we find two better hemispheres,

Without sharp North, without declining West?

Whatever dies was not mixed equally,

If our two loves be one, or thou and I

Love so alike that none do slacken, none can die.