Jaime C Vaca

Patterns and Habits: What do you notice about the ways you choose to move through the world? How do these versions vary based on a given context (i.e., difference between work & home, childhood & adulthood)?

I had seen this reflection on movement sometime earlier in the week, but the daily drudgery forced me to put it aside. Imagine the irony, where reflecting on movement became victim to the forced movement of a day. Besides, what could I really add to the idea of movement?

I never stopped to notice how much of my life is movement. Sometimes linear, sometimes cyclical, and more often than not neither of these. Thoughts move. Emotions move. I move. And so I retrace my daily steps. An early morning barefoot walk on a cold wooden floor before anyone is awake just to serve myself some coffee and make my children breakfast and lunch. My day commences with movement.

I don’t just move at home. I move at work. It’s a slow painful walk from the parking lot into the building where I’ll punch some numbers to let the world know I’ve arrived. Sometimes this walk is accentuated by a student waving. Then there’s more steps in the cold into a classroom that has become a home of sorts. It is here, underground, in a school cafeteria where most of my movement will take place during the day.

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I find it difficult to distinguish between the movement of my thoughts and the movement of my body. Do my thoughts move at the pace of my body? Or does my body move at the pace of my thoughts? At times, it seems like my thoughts and my body move at different speeds. Doing one thing, maybe something physical, can mean that the body moves fast while thoughts lag behind. Other times thoughts far outpace my body, now a symptom of age.

Too much to think about and the students are here. They move. Some days we are nomads; a class without a defined classroom space. And we move dragging our feet from the cafeteria to whatever place is available. Wherever we land, I know I will have to move frantically because I must try to be in as many heads as possible. I can only move here, at school. Outside I am an introvert. I will try to walk down the aisles of stores and crowded city streets with the specific intent of going unperceived by strangers.

I think about movement in my past. My formative years were a continuous movement. At the insistence of my parents, I moved forty-two miles daily. This was a round trip from my neighborhood to a school in a different neighborhood, which could theoretically afford me a better educational opportunity. Days seamlessly blurred into nights, which would in turn quickly become mornings. In retrospect, these were the days that taught me I didn’t need to see the sun to know it was there.

Perhaps the most exciting form of movement occurs when we travel. Travel, whatever the reason, is the ultimate form of movement. Think of the audacity, humans, these relatively insignificant specks in space, daring to move great distances in short amounts of time. This movement is also in the past. All that exists of this movement is the nostalgia, the happiness of being home in Mexico. Money, or lack thereof, serves as an impediment for this movement, but nostalgia affords me the opportunity to travel in thought.

Tell us a personal movement story that has stuck with you. What clues does it offer you about who you are/were/strive to be?

A few days ago, my boss asked me if I would like to move out of the cafeteria and I declined. The one thing that being in the cafeteria affords us is the opportunity to move. There will be distractions in both, but classrooms are a confined space. Down in the cafeteria we can move.

The importance of this was reaffirmed just yesterday. A student was working on an independent task. While reading, he asked if he could move, meaning walk around, so he could think. In my students, I also see this connection between body and brain. They have to pace to digest information. I think of how often we’ve forced students to stop their own movement for compliance. How erroneous we’ve acted.

Reflecting on this, to move is to feel alive. Forced stagnation, whether of body or of thoughts, feels like death.

Barriers and challenges: What are some barriers or challenges you face or have faced that have impacted your access to a movement of choice? How have these influenced your thinking about your body in the world and the role of movement in your life?

Numerous barriers impede my movement. There is the lack of money that forces me to prioritize necessary movement over travel. Age and lack of energy can, at times, become another barrier. And then there are the social barriers that serve to remind me that I am an outsider in most situations. I think especially of those formative years where I really felt like I didn’t belong. I still feel like this outsider in many social situations.

Undoubtedly, the greatest impediment to my movement is fear. Fear is the great paralyzer. I live with the constant fear that I am not good enough. Not good enough to teach and not good enough to be loved. I think of how something that I thoroughly enjoy can be limited by fears. For a few months, I have been fearful to load a barbell with heavy weights, mostly because of an injury that occurred over the summer. Fear stopped this movement, just like it stops the more important movements in my life.

Connections: Physical movement can be a useful metaphor for any number of things. How and in what ways do you use your movement choices and experiences to make meaning in other areas of your life?

I hate running, but nothing releases endorphins like a run. Running is the metaphor I use for how I approach challenges.

Often times, anxiety and fear cripple me. This is the direct result of my brain’s instance that I focus on everything that could go wrong. It’s this macro view that forces me to see things as a series of scary what-ifs. What if this goes wrong? What if I make a mistake?

Running destroys that lie. Running doesn’t allow me to see the destination. It forces my attention on the first step. And then the next one. Once the run is complete, I look back with gratitude at my accomplishment. Running changes my perspective from a fearful existence considering a never ending list of what-ifs, to a more realistic vision and appreciation of the what is. When life gets difficult, I run one step at a time until I reach my destination.

Sara Rezvi

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When I was younger, I wanted to move like a dancer, like a poet, like the kind of tree that sheds those helicopter leaves always twirling in centripetal chaos. This was before my body changed into womanhood. Before curves filled the safety of my flatness. Instead of dancing in the streets I learned to hide from the heavy gaze of men. I learned to come home before dark rather than play in the sparkling twilight of city lights and children’s laughter ~

I learned to shrink rather than expand into the core of me. If I could not move my body, I learned to move my mind. And so I am here. sedately typing this on my phone, legs crossed in perfect femininity, eyes averted lest I make the mistake of smiling inadvertently at a stranger and reap the consequences of that fleeting eye contact.

I learned that good Pakistani girls serve tea such that their hands never make contact with non-family men. Handle facing him while I carefully held the saucer – so careful, always so careful. I did not know then that care is needed when handling the power men violently wish I did not possess.

I learned what was proper for hands, for breasts to be covered fully by a dupatta. I learned control. I learned sabr (patience) and izzat (respect). These are both required for restricting the movements of women.

Later, I learned that this restriction was not unique to my experience. That there is a history to this, a strategy, a plan. Women’s bodies have power. So do their words, especially in the naming of things. Patriarchy, toxic masculinity, heteronormativity, docile bodies, misogyny, intersectionality – these are but a few that have restored movement in my body, in my breath, in my being. I know now what is happening so now I know how to move back to my center. To restore balance that has been so strategically destabilized.

I choose how to move now – eyes once shyly averted now state intentions boldly back to say “do not try me today. I will burn you smoldering where you stand.” Though there remains shrinking from unwanted contact, there is now movement in the tongue, so full of simmering rage, it smokes on its way out.

These days, I am working on becoming the helicopter leaf blowing joyously in the wind – it will take time but on days like today I hear the shimmer of its promise, waiting for me to dance twirling towards the sky. I will only ever choose to float up.

* This was written in honor of Ruth George, a young woman killed on my campus at UIC three days ago for ignoring the catcalls of a man who then followed her into the parking garage and raped and murdered her. I am still processing that fury, so the call for posts was really appreciated in trying to get this out.

Clare Thomson

Perpetual motion

Photo by Jon Davey on Unsplashhttps://unsplash.com/photos/0jbFVXVOlwk

Kicking, kicking, kicking

Twenty-four/seven

Working, walking

A torturous, late entrance

Perpetual motion unabated

Screaming at stillness

Exhaustion overwhelming

More kicking, kicking, kicking

Working, juggling

A smooth, early entrance

A false sense of ease

Flaccid, limp; stomach curdling terror

No kicking on life support

Invisible strength – fighting

Never sitting, always moving

One up all night long

The other rising at dawn

Perpetual motion jars against exhaustion

Full time work, outputs stack up

Clinging on, the precipice so near

Caffeine a lifeline drug

Year on year; surviving, existing

Perpetual motion never easing

Walking to appease

Angry toddlerhood slides into energetic childhood

Career stymied; people, systems

Exhaustion winning; nerves breaking

Thoughts hissing

More kicking, kicking, kicking

From bed to office, the greatest achievement

Working, infinite juggling

Exhaustion fuels stubbornness 

Perpetual motion my enemy 

Voices crash on top of chaos

New goals set; heels dug in

Reclaiming control; my journey, my terms

Perpetual motion will not triumph

Networks, connections, support

Accomplishments accrue 

Unbroken sleep a fact

Nerves jangling less

Walking for care

Arley Cruthers

Patterns and Habits: What do you notice about the ways you choose to move through the world? How do these versions vary based on a given context (i.e., difference between work & home, childhood & adulthood)?

I started my life technically able-bodied, but awkward. By 2, I was taller than the average 4-year-old. My body was always trying to catch up with itself. I became disabled at 11, and over the decades my body twisted to the new hip. I walked using fore arm crutches; my gait was like a Monty Python sketch. I could turn my foot completely backwards as a party trick. When I got a new hip at 26, my body didn’t know what to with it. My muscles weren’t set up for being able-bodied. I lost the ability to walk altogether. Your gait is fixed in the mind during puberty, so for a whole year I retrained my body slowly. Everywhere I went, I’d say heel toe, heel toe, heel toe. Trying to teach myself what should have come naturally. And I had a few years where I could hike and walk without having to think at all. Now, all these gaits are within me, overlaid on top of one another like a badly developed photograph. There’s a fuzziness to my movements. My muscles tug in multiple directions at once.

Tell us a personal movement story that has stuck with you. What clues does it offer you about who you are/were/strive to be?

I should probably tell a story about the Paralympics, but my mind returns to when my mom signed me up for dance lessons when I was maybe eight. These were community centre dance lessons, nothing fancy. No tutus in sight. But I was so tall and uncoordinated that the dance instructor felt I could not dance in the final recital. Instead, they dressed me up as a giant neon foam rubber dinosaur. (It was the early 90s, so everything had to be neon). My job was to roar (but not too loudly!) and move on the sidelines (but not too much movement!) while all the petite girls danced in unison. Unfortunately, the costume wasn’t finished until the last minute, so I didn’t do any rehearsals with the dinosaur costume. I kept tripping girls with my long tail because I was apparently very committed to embodying my dinosaur character.

I used to use this story when I gave talks to schools about my wheelchair basketball career to illustrate the point that disability is a social construct. My height, which was a benefit in wheelchair basketball, made me horrible at dance. I’ve also received a lot more shit for being a tall woman than I have ever had for being disabled. But I also chose this story because it illustrates an apart-ness that I have always associated with my body, even before its difference had a name.

Barriers and challenges: What are some barriers or challenges you face or have faced that have impacted your access to a movement of choice? How have these influenced your thinking about your body in the world and the role of movement in your life?

In my life, I’ve used a wheelchair, crutches, a cane, and I’ve walked independently. But I was also an elite athlete and I have a lot of privilege because I’m white, educated and come from a fairly well-off family. I didn’t think about systemic ableism until I started passing as able-bodied. I stopped using my cane and it was as if I’d been cast in some Cinderella production. My life really changed overnight. Dating was easy. Finding a job was easy. No one said anything to me on the street. For decades, I’d felt that if I just put in more effort — to be more charming, more charismatic, more confident, to take this course or read that book — I would get the things I wanted. I was all about personal responsibility and self improvement. But it was never about me. It was about my disability. Which, in a sense, is more terrifying. When you blame yourself, you at least have the hope that you can overcome your problem with enough effort. When you realize the problem was actually systemic, now you have to try to change the system.

Connections: Physical movement can be a useful metaphor for any number of things. How and in what ways do you use your movement choices and experiences to make meaning in other areas of your life?

I can’t forget my body because I’m in pain every day. Pain is so central to my daily experience that when I had an imaging procedure where they put anesthetic into my hip and back, and I stood up without the experience of pain, I fainted. But, pain grounds me to my body. My writing has a lot of physicality because I can’t forget my body.

But, I’ve also learned that a lot of the metaphors I used to try to translate my pain into meaning were damaging. My motto has been: I am comfortable with being uncomfortable. But, for many years, that somehow morphed into “I am only comfortable when I am uncomfortable.” Which morphed into “I will try to make my life as difficult as possible.” I am trying to find metaphors in my body — especially since becoming a mother — that are less about overcoming and more about care.

Becoming a parent has also taught me a new metaphor about my body. For years, I would push myself and then crash. But, you can’t crash when you have a toddler. I can’t work out — which breaks my heart, because working out is my favourite thing — because it causes too much pain and weakness. I have to be able to hold my daughter. I have to spend my energy to bend to put on her clothes or bathe her or lift her into her high chair. I have been really struck by the discovery that children leave bits of DNA in their mothers’ body and brain. It’s drawn my attention to how connected we are.

All images courtesy of Arley Cruthers.

Autumm Caines

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The Dance:

There is a drop 

in the beat 

with the rhythm 

Some say math 

is a language 

I suspect

this must be 

How it is spoken

And though 

I don’t speak

Somehow 

my body knows this

Anticipates

Patterns and habits

And it is like 

I am not here 

Yet, I am more 

Than ever

The Motor City: 

What does it mean to move? To move a body through space at a pace? In a place? 

What does it mean to move? To move a thought through and watch it grow? Become a new thing?

Can movement of bodies and movements of thoughts be related?

Once upon a time there was a man who was good at solving complicated problems. One day he came around and made a new town. (Nevermind that there already was one)

What does it mean to move? To move from one standing, status, condition to another? 

What does it mean to move on?

What does it mean to move back again?

Freedom:

The story goes that she never learned how to drive as that was not something that women were supposed to do. The story goes that he hid her shoes as leaving the house was something to eschew. 

Manifest Reinvent:

A recent recurring theme is how. These lovely little theories come along tickling the backs of my synapses and yet something seems off and not quite right. So I pause and think, question, deduce, analyze and turn it over again and do the same on the other side. And time and time again it comes down to how. Tricky tricky how, throwing everything off. Now Sherri asks me how I make meaning out of movement as a metaphor. I suppose this memoir is a reflection. I do it through poetry. I do it through questioning. I do it through remembering. I do it through looking at myself and trying to be better next time.

Bonnie Stewart

I keep imagining I will start walking. I keep not starting.

I am not a person given to movement, by nature. I *can* walk, to be clear: there is no physical logic behind my indolence. I like to walk, when the circumstances are right. But I can list one one hand the athletic endeavours I’ve ever taken to. I ran most of a 5k once. Once. I tried rugby in college but ran in the wrong direction – WITH THE BALL – the one time I caught it during a game. Twice a year I tend to show up at a spurt of yoga classes. I did Crossfit a few years back but the urge to light a cigarette in the corner and blow smoke at everyone never left me. 

Every now and then I take this great secret pleasure in lifting one leg high until my hip pops and I envision myself like a ballerina at a barre…though once I caught a glimpse of myself reflected in a window with my leg hauled up sideways. The look was less elegant than I’d hoped.

I have a Fitbit that mostly serves to shame me. Unless I’m teaching, when my expressively-flapping hands stack my step count.

There were two windows in my life when I walked all the time…and a period where I was repeatedly confined to bedrest for months on end. All three of those lives were perhaps better suited to me than the one I am in, this one in which walking is from a parking garage to class, or from my house to my children’s school on a rare afternoon. This one in which I teach six classes and raise two children and try to make that math work with the 24 hours available to me and my visceral loathing of leaving my bed in the morning. This life in which am writing these words on my couch after midnight.

It’s a very very lucky life. Full stop. But I have not figured out how to live it in a way that centres movement when I feel like I never stop moving from thing to thing.

There used to be fewer things. For me, movement is less a necessity than a practicality among other practicalities. 

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The first summer I came home from college, my mother had moved to an apartment on the outskirts of our town. She did not have a car, that year. To work my summer job, I walked the half hour into the city centre in the mornings, and back. My legs developed definition, and I liked that. I began to walk at night, too, with my yellow Sony Walkman and my Cowboy Junkies and Velvet Underground tapes. I was restless in a small, unfamiliar apartment, where my friends no longer lived. I walked because it felt like freedom, the steps a way to pretend I was going somewhere. It seemed practical to give myself to movement and music, when those were the only things I controlled. I wore army boots and spiked my keys between my fingers and I told myself it was safe. By the end of the summer I could even cut through the cemetery at night without being afraid. 

I doubt it was as safe as I thought…the streets, not the cemetery. But I was lucky.

Almost ten years later, I left the country and a marriage all in the same year – no kids – and took a teaching contract at a university in Asia because I wanted to see the world. The contract was year-round, but I was only required during term, so January and February and July and August, I roamed. It was practical: I did not have to pay rent. I travelled cheaply, often alone. And I walked. I walked to get lost, in cities all over Asia and Europe: Osaka, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Istanbul, Prague, Amsterdam. I had never heard of a flâneur, the connoisseur of the 19th century Paris streets whom Walter Benjamin later made an emblem of urban, modern experience. I walked because I was too small-town to be particularly adept at figuring out public transit in unfamiliar languages. I walked because the cities enthralled me, in all their messy humanity and their lights and smells and hawkers and catcalls. Walking makes you – momentarily, at least – a creature of the city, part of the throng of bodies sharing space and navigating each other. I stood out more than a proper flâneur should, of course, in some places. But even when Other, whiteness has its protective factors. I walked mostly unbothered and thought it was my bold stride. I wore army boots and spiked my keys. And I rambled on: observing, oblivious, lucky.

I stopped walking when they airlifted me five years later, from the town I’d recently returned home to, to another with a bigger neonatal centre. I was 24 weeks pregnant. I had retired the army boots. The doctors stopped my labour, put me in a bed, in isolation. I entertained myself by pretending I was on a beach. I did not believe it – the hospital food was a recurring giveaway – but it seemed practical to give myself to stillness. After two weeks, they could not stop labour and it went badly and the baby died in my arms eleven hours after his birth. Fast forward three years and I had spent a full nine months on maternity bedrest, spread over three pregnancies. I walked out of the hospital twice with wasted legs and living children…and the realization that lucky isn’t always what you think it is.

Then everything became a practicality among practicalities. Sleep when you can, eat what you find, walk when the colicky baby needs walking. Walk the children to school. Hustle to balance work, to grow a career, to foster healthy playdates and habits. 

I began to write, when I had to stop walking. I wrote my way through all of it, the grief, the joy and exhaustion of early parenthood, the isolation of being alone with infants. I wrote a voice into being, and I put it on the internet, and I found other voices walking similar paths, and so we walked together for a time, and I came to think of myself as a writer. I was so lucky. And it made me smile to realize the voice was the same one I’d scribbled into hardbound journals in cafes on the streets of cities far away, years before: turns out there is much to observe in the human condition when you are up close and have the opportunity to pay attention, no matter the circumstances. Then I did a Ph.D and the writing ended, too…tailed off into a chore, a thing to choke out on schedule and submit to Reviewer #2. Practical.

The eldest is thirteen now. I imagine I will start walking, just for me. But it’s cold out. Or hot. Or I have to drive the kids to karate too many nights a week. And so movement still takes a back seat to all the moving parts.

I tell myself life comes in seasons, and I will walk again soon. I tell myself I am lucky my body has weathered my taking it for granted. I tell myself the army boots are in the basement. 

For now, I write this, as a promise that all things can come back around.