June 9, 2019

Muscle Memory

Five below is selling cat’s cradle strings. In rainbow colors, of course. When the Princess and I went to pick up a few things for our upcoming beach vacation they were at the register and, of course, I impulse purchased one. A few years ago the Princess and I tried to teach the girl scout troupe how to do Jacob’s Ladder and it didn’t work out. But, the display of bright colored strings was too hard to resist and even though I have yarn and ribbon at home, I bought one anyhow.

I can do Jacob’s Ladder in my sleep.

Catch up the string with your middle fingers. Drop this one. Cross that one. Make kitty whiskers. Over two, under one,

But, even though I can do it in my sleep, I can’t tell anyone how to do it. I have to slow down and show them and even then it becomes almost impossible. My brain isn’t an active participant in the process, it’s all muscle memory. The zip of the string and the way it snaps off of my fingers when it’s held taught isn’t something I can teach, it’s just something I can do.

When the Princess was working on clarinet pieces she found difficult, I encouraged her to practice and practice and practice some more because muscle memory would take over. When I’m singing a particularly difficult piece of music, I do the same thing until the muscles in my throat knows how each phrase should feel. In high school, when I was a soprano my final year,there was a hard note to pick out out that we had to sing to start a refrain. It was only through the way my throat felt when I sang it that we were ever able to find it.

Over the course of vacation, Littlebit carried the string around. She learned the tea cup and Eiffel Tower. Taught herself how to make a star and practiced Jacob’s ladder. The string was wet from her grabbing it with her teeth to pull out the top of the tower. In a way, that Jacob Ladder’s string was one of the OG fidget spinners, your hands could work mindlessly. I found myself settling back into that rhythm, flipping Jacob’s Ladder up and then pulling off the strings to do it again.

Sometimes it’s the right time for things you used to do and they feel good and familiar. Your hands or throat or feet or legs already know the motions.

Grab up the string with your middle fingers. Drop your thumbs. Over one under one and pull back.

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