Muscle Memory


So much of what our bodies do every day requires muscle memory.  Driving a car, typing on a keyboard, climbing stairs, all things that our muscles have grown accustomed to over time.   Our Hearts are muscles too, and just like other muscles, rely on muscle memory to accomplish tasks.  Unfortunately, this often means living with hearts that have become hardened and hold us back  instead of helping us grow.  Being a Yoga student I see the heart shakra as the place of  compassion and equilibrium.

But most importantly, it governs unconditional love for self.

Part of my new job as a college advisor is to help seniors in high school develop their college essay.  I recently helped a young woman with an  essay that started off intending on following one train of thought, but carried the seeds of a entirely different essay.  She had a line in there about never believing in horoscopes or fortune cookies because she doesn’t put stock in anything that attempts to define her, limit her, or bind her abilities… upon further conversations it turned out that being a first generation college applicant, her parents immigrated from Cambodia.  It  turns out that  her mother, the eldest of three sisters, was not allowed to go to secondary school because she had to take care of younger siblings. Her mother was bound to her fate, and could not complete her schooling till much later in life..her future was in danger of becoming the product of social and cultural exceptions…The more we spoke about her mother, the more I could tell  the student’s disdain for fortune cookies was a case of muscle memory.

For me, it goes beyond muscle memory developed during our lives but goes into genetic memory–a spillover from collective unconscious–a pretty powerful thing.      Especially for those of us who have endured several generations of collective trauma and limitations– This concept has come up in literature as well.  Toni Morrison created a character in her novel Beloved that represents this concept-The story is about the return of Beloved, a  haunting young woman who embodies the collective experience of the Middle Passage and slavery.  It takes the collective efforts of the community to heal and move passed the trauma.

Our dialogue about her essay raised some important questions for me, like what is my biggest fear?  What am I carrying in my genetic memory?

For me this includes my fear of not having control over my life, of being told what to do, who to be…

I always found this odd seeing as though my mother wasn’t strict and being raised without a father in an Arab household was actually very freeing…as a result of this fear, I avoided controlled substances and lived a pretty straightedge adolescence despite being surrounded by drugs and alcohol in the middle of suburbia… I was absolutely petrified  by the concept that something or someone could dictate my life, my actions, my feelings…

I still remember the few times we got calls from would be mother-in-laws or men from overseas to Arrange-A-Marriage.   Although my mother respectfully declined the offers while making it clear to me that she wouldn’t do me in like that…  I would still stay up nights planning ahead for my escape…just in case.

oo yes. check out my Escape Plan.

I can attribute my fear to genetic memory, my heart’s muscle memory from generations passed.   For example, my grandmother is a writer but she lived in a place and time where a woman’s place was the home.  So she stacked up her notebooks, hid them away in dark closets and barely mentioned her work.

As a result my path to my writing was a difficult one, even though I wrote stories and kept a journal my entire life, I never took myself or my writing seriously enough…the few times I mustered the courage to acknowledge writing as my desired path… I was swiftly shut down.

“What kind of life is that for a woman?”

“Where’s the money in that? Just teach, you can use your summers to write.”

“You have to be really lucky to make it writing.”

and it goes on and on….

After I graduated college I broke out of my fear long enough to start researching MFA programs.  Even as a 9th grade teacher, I never let go of the idea that I was working towards a different goal and started resurrecting old story ideas.

One of my turning points (because there were several: death, birth,unemployment… ) Was when I started saying…aloud:  I. AM. A. Writer.

I knew that in order to break down the wall between me and my art, my heart muscles needed a new workout, a new routine…



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s