Single source

When you buy one package of cow’s milk you don’t get to drink the milk of one cow only. It’s not as if you went through the factory hall and noticed, „Oh, this cow has beautiful eye-lashes, I want to drink her milk!” or „Hey, I found one without udder infection, can I have milk from this one?” That’s not how it works. You always get to drink a mix from dozens, if not hundreds of cows.

That was an odd start for this blog post. I wonder if the following story would have made a better choice:

When I was in my single digit years my father’s career looked pretty good. We moved to a better neighbourhood. The type of housing development where every family has their own two-story house with a big garden, next to hills with forests, yet close enough to the city. 

All of the neighbours were doing well. One row above us lived the guy who wrote our Austrian president’s presidential speeches, and he did the same for some of our ministers. My mom said that’s his job. For two decades I didn’t know what that meant, but this man was for sure dressed very well, better than everyone else. Later, when I first heard Obama on Youtube, I was like, „Wow, Obama can speak pretty well”. I thought Obama’s speech writer Jon Favreau did a splendid job matching his writing to Obama’s natural style of speaking. And when I read some of Trump’s tweets on Twitter, I imagined his Twitter account manager and tweet-writer must have been a character like F. Tony Scarapiducci from Netflix’s Space Force.

„A congressman randomly hugs General Naird before a budget meeting and F. Tony urges him to just go with it. General Naird goes on to awkwardly hug a congresswoman he had never met before and she’s not comfortable with it at all. General Naird and Dr. Mallory get mad at F. Tony for his suggestion and F. Tony mumbles to himself: Why Am I In Trouble Because Boomers Are Weird Around Women?”– from Space Force Fandom Wiki

Wow, that was even worse. 

I shouldn’t touch on politics. A friend once advised me, strongly: Never write about religion or politics, especially with your limited knowledge about these topics.” Maybe the following paragraph would have been a better choice? Whom can I ask, who will choose for me? Ok, I chose. Here it is:

We don’t know which words in Raymond Carver’s essays have actually been written by Raymond Carver, the famous American short-story writer and poet. 

Sometimes „Gordon Lish’s edits improve minimally, give shape to what’s there, or alter a phrase. But at other times the feeling is very different – the characters can be more brutal, for instance, and less is made of the women. Many stories are cut by 50% to 70%.” writes The Guardian, and goes on by reporting, „Tess Gallagher has written by hand her suggestion for the last paragraph [of the essay „Errand”]. If you compare this page to the story as it was eventually published, you’ll find that the very last words of Carver’s very last story were Gallagher’s.”

The Guardian’s continues (I quote loosely): „More than 20 years after Raymond Carver’s death, Tess Gallagher, with the help of the Carver scholars William L Stull and Maureen P Carroll, is bringing out the manuscript of Beginners. She describes the process as a restoration, and says it has taken 12 years for Carver’s words to be exhumed from under Lish’s hand, so extensive were his marks. In this sense she is offering up Beginners as an item of interest rather than a finished piece of work – a bootleg if you will.”

My Feldenkrais Book also underwent the taming – as well as inspiring – choices and suggestions of a human editor (the talented Heidi Woehrle). However, in this blog all posts are original, single sourced, „bootlegged” if you will. You can witness me changing, from blog post to blog post. My learning process becomes more obvious than with edited, published writing. More „authentic”, in the sense of „unaltered”, „unedited”, „not shaped to match a certain personality, spirit, or character”. And maybe, nowadays, this is something people are interesting in seeing.

It’s also one of my favourite things in my movement classes. I can see the process of learning and exploration and development in students. Their authentic selves become visible. And it’s ok. I love that.

Hip joints

Some scientists say that there’s as many causes for back pain as there are people. But in my experience there’s patterns and similarities, people make similar mistakes. Bending the lower back when you could have used your hip joints instead, is such a mistake. Give it enough time and repetitions, and there’s your lower back troubles.

One healthy looking human

It was in a railway station, five levels below the Earth’s surface, in Vienna, Austria. The train was crowded. Slowed down, stopped. The doors opened. People pushed each other. There were no smiles. It was winter. Cold, dark, damp Austrian weather. We matched our clothes to the weather. I moved along with the crowd, small steps. I felt uncomfortable. Like a stranger in my own hometown. I felt the unhappiness and the emotional distance all around me. I was like everyone else. I stepped out of the train onto the crowded, narrow platform. That’s when I saw the guy.

I can’t say if he was good looking, or handsome. That wouldn’t be the point anyways. But he had long, thick, fair, blonde hair. Not particularly well groomed. Can’t say he looked freshly showered either. But the color of his hair was stunningly vivid.  And he had absolutely healthy looking skin. Radiant. An unusually upright, yet relaxed posture. Lightly dressed in just a pressed shirt, no jacket. Long trousers, light footwear. He was tall. His age? Maybe in his late twenties. Or mid thirties. Can’t really say. His steps had a smooth spring in them, his walking looked effortless, almost like as if he would be floating.

I couldn’t help but to stare at this guy. I stared at him like any sane person would stare at a brand new Aston Martin DBS or Maserati GranTurismo Sport, if it came into sight right in front of them, suddenly. I don’t know what it was. He looked… healthy. Like, really, really healthy.

He had a little bit of panic in his eyes. That’s when I noticed: everyone, I mean literally, EVERYONE, was staring at him. The whole sad, slow moving crowd had one visual target. As if he was an extra interesting TV commercial, or something.

Back then there were no face masks. I could see the puzzled faces all around. People knew they were staring. In Austria staring at strangers is considered being offensive. I could see that conflict in their faces. But they couldn’t help it either. It seemed like everybody knew that they were staring at that guy, but nobody knew why they were staring at him. The whole scene felt like straight out of the movie „Inception” (the one with Leonardo di Caprio, where people in his dreams would turn and stare at him).

For a day or two I was wondering if I could ever achieve this level of healthiness myself. Then I discarded the thought. There’s just no way. Ever since, I’ve not seen a similarly radiant, healthy looking person again. I’ve probably passed-by half a million people in my life. Maybe more. But so far it was a one-of-a-kind sighting.

I told this story numerous times, right after it happened.

I was taught not to use absolutes. But nobody took my account at face value. People would discard this experience as exaggerated. „Well he was the only one not dressed in black, probably was on a stop over from Italy or Spain.” Quick to jump in with an explanation. Some would even throw me an offended look after hearing this story. Or would not listen at all. What an odd story.

I stopped telling this story. Haven’t told it to anyone for almost 20 years.

What does it take for a first lesson

You will need to come to lie down onto the floor. And as I see it, most places may not be cut out for this. There might be no good default place to lie down onto the floor. The narrow strip on the cold bedroom floor seems uninviting, and even the best interior designers pack the living room carpet with as many sofas, chairs, coffee tables, end tables, and flower pots as they possibly can. The things I’ve seen. 

The floor has been neglected, feared even, to such extended that the Chinese invented several movement methods where you touch the floor strictly with your feet; in socks and shoes. This includes, probably, most variants of Tai Chi and Chi Gong. The floor is lava.

But we need the floor. Lying down is liberating. It liberates us from many burdens gravity bestows on us; it enables us to have a fresh look at age old movement habits, and to let go of rigid postures. There’s no need to hold balance, and no fear of falling – because we’re already lying on the floor. Lying down on a firm surface, not too hard and not too soft, is a gateway to introspection.

Students tell stories to other students, and Moshé Feldenkrais is said to have asked: „What was the greatest contribution of Sigmund Freud to Psychology?”, and his answer is told to surprise: „He asked people to lie down. Freud himself was sitting behind his clients, letting them rest reclined and experience themselves, without feeling observed, controlled, or manipulated. From all the great many things Sigmund Freud has discovered, this was by far his most important discovery, and also the one most overlooked and least understood.” So it is told.

You will root for the floor too, soon.

Yoga on Youtube, the COVID lockdowns, and Apple Fitness+ have already helped a lot in this regard. Clear yourself some space. But don’t limit yourself to a six by two feet (180 x 60 cm) hard plastic mat. Spread out a big, snuggly blanket and line up all the pillows and towels you could possibly need. Claim your big, cozy, warm, safe space on the floor. The space should promise an enjoyable experience. Without draft wind coming from under the door or window. It should be spacious enough for you to be able to fully stretch yourself out. „Yourself”, this includes your arms, out to the sides. Wide enough so that you could roll to your left and your right, maybe even all the way onto your belly. You shouldn’t run danger to hit your head, and shouldn’t have to stick your feet under a chair or a bed or a side-board. And when your nephew comes running in, the swinging door blades shouldn’t leave bruises on your legs.

So you have your space.

Then please come to lie down on your side. 

And they will tell you which side to choose. But I’m telling you: your two sides are not equal. In fact they might be as different as with two different people.

A bag of mixed nuts

You need to think of a word, a very important one. As if time machines existed. But they cannot send entire people traveling through time, only their words. And only one word at a time, to your past or future self.

The word you need to think of should have this kind of weight. And it should allow for all the other words and ideas and pictograms and drawings and scribbles to attach to it, emerge from it, and grow from thereon forth. This is the word you need to write in the center of a blank sheet of paper, and draw a circle around it.

I think that’s how a „Mind map” is started. Popularised by Tony Buzan, or at least I learned it from a book of his. I’m not a fan of it, although spider diagrams do have their use cases. For example, it would be great for today’s blog post. Bubbles, lines, arrows, keywords, comments. Instead, I have to make a list and write out the keywords in full sentences (I committed this blog to text only):

  • More than a decade ago I saw an interview where Louis CK confessed that he has no idea what is funny and what isn’t. He said he needs a live audience to test his ideas. The audience is a vital part of his creation process.
  • Last week I read an article where David Sedaris said the same thing: he has no idea what works in his essays and what doesn’t. He also needs a live audience to test his ideas.

Okay, two points, that was a rather short list. Good that I didn’t waste that sheet of paper.

„American author and humorist David Sedaris, author of books such as Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls, says the COVID-19 pandemic has robbed him of a key part of his creative process: the laughter and feedback of a live audience. The pandemic has meant the author can’t use live audience reaction to hone his stories. »Let’s say I write something like eight or nine times,« said Sedaris, »I go on tour and I read it out loud and I think, Wow, that is actually not funny at all, or, Boy, that went over better than I thought!« Sedaris uses that live feedback — what audiences like and don’t like — to rewrite these unpublished stories as the tour progresses. When it ends, he sends the final versions to his editor. »And my editor will sometimes say: Oh, I think we can cut this — and I love being able to say that’s actually the biggest laugh in the entire essay.«” – quoted from CBC Radio, December 08, 2020

It’s exactly the same for me, live audience feedback is the key. Before I film a movement sequence I test it on myself, and on my students. This can be any group or number of students, online or in class, as long as they are real people. With real reactions. It’s not about laughs though; it’s about learning, insight, feeling better. I need to see that students benefit. Only then I dare to film and upload.

When I read David Sedaris, in the end it’s not that different – people find their lives improved. At least that’s the way I see it.

Let me add more building blocks to my list:

  • „Although several of my stories had been Xeroxed and stapled, none of them had ever been published in the traditional sense of the word.” Quoted from David Sedaris, „Me Talk Pretty One Day”.
  • David Sedaris knows how to pet and groom the hand that feeds him, „If you read an essay in Esquire and don’t like it, there could be something wrong with the essay. If it’s in The New Yorker, on the other hand, and you don’t like it, there’s something wrong with you.” Quoted from David Sedaris, „The Best Of Me”.
  • The New Yorker seemed to be a vital component in David Sedaris’s career. Being featured in The New Yorker means exposure to millions of eyes and hearts, creating momentum, finding audience. But it also is a step towards longterm financial security.

One more quote:

  • „To get better at writing you need to read more.” – David Sedaris, interviewed by Neil Pasricha on Youtube

I grew up on the countryside, a beautiful stretch of land in the west of Austria, sharing a border with the uber clean landscape of Switzerland. The place sits on the foot of a mountain, next to a lake. I was one of 2,600 people in my town, at that time. The state capital had 82,000 inhabitants, the next town less than 3,000 and so forth. It was not just countryside, but a place of industry and wealth. Back then there were many millionaires, some of them now billionaires. These are the people who own most of the land, most of the buildings, sit in politics, and have a say in about anything that happens – or doesn’t happen – there.

It was a place where a whole lot of people practiced self-reliance, physically as well as spiritually. They didn’t like the trends that came from the big cities. They didn’t like foreign brands. Actually, they didn’t like foreigners altogether, or anyone that was not from their particular town. But then, they didn’t like their neighbours either. Very particular folks. Maybe it was part of their very strict, multi-layered, time-consuming trust-gaining process, because if you earned their trust and respect they were the most loyal and true friends you could think of.

They believed in hard work. In family, solitude in nature, and in drinking, and in going to church twice a year (Easter Sunday and/or Corpus Christi, Christmas Eve). Being able to speak the local accent of the particular town you were living in was vital to gain social respect. I never bothered. I preferred my accent-free, standard Austrian German I picked up on TV.

  • The last three paragraphs were actually just branches in this post’s missing „Mind map”, three points when transposed to a list.
  • They are just floating there, part of my flow of thoughts. Either to be used later, or enveloped, stamped, posted to a good Psychologist for further analysis. Untried by a live audience.

Here’s a genuine (albeit unproven) assertion of mine:

  • Movement is like language.

Here’s three last, loose quotes by psycholinguists Frank Smith and educational researcher Stephen Krashen:

  • We improve writing through reading.
  • We improve speaking through reading.
  • We improve primary as well as secondary language acquisition through reading.

How do we improve movement then?

I think it’s time I started working on a movement sequence, on a read-able but also do-able movement inducing essay worthy of the The New Yorker. „Turn your head to the left, but your eyes to the right.” Could be a new genre. What you say?

Playing favourites

When you google something and pick Wikipedia, as it was the first link on the results page, and then click on one of those references at the bottom of that Wikipedia page, and from there go to YouTube to see an interview with the guy who wrote the paper that was referenced, and then google something you have read in the comments of that video, a week later you might be hard pressed to pinpoint the location of a particular sentence in all the things you’ve seen and all the pages you’ve been.

I asked Google to explain to me why, at least in my supermarket, Heinz ketchup in glass bottles is cheaper than the same Heinz ketchup in plastic bottles. What I really wanted to know, however, is why they didn’t include long necked spoons with the glass bottles –  but I figured being born in continental Europe and having been exposed solely to ketchup in plastic bottles as a child, I’m in no position to ask Google such culturally sensitive questions, and proceeded by condensing my question about pricing into the search box.

20 minutes later I still didn’t have any answers concerning Kraft Heinz Company’s ketchup bottle pricing strategy, but I learned that salt systems in swimming pools are actually chlorine generators, using a process called electrolysis, and thus are not chlorine free. I also learned that McDonalds’s burger patties are guaranteed 100 % beef since 2011 – before that they might have contained something know as „pink slime”, and that „barley”, the grain, is called „Đại mạch” in Vietnamese language.

Somewhere in between finding those vital bits of information, I stumbled over the class notes of an art student. He quoted his beloved teacher like this: „The first 5000 paintings you’re going to make are just to flush out your system, to get all the bad stuff out of you. Only after that you will produce real art.”

There’s no way I could find that story again to quote it properly, but that’s the gist of it. It sounded a bit similar to the »10,000 hours of practice« rule that made Malcom Gladwell’s bestseller „Outliers” the most quoted book at the time, and stood in stark contrast with any proud parent delighted over their child’s first drawings. But then again this quote resonated with a childhood memory by David Sedaris, reflecting on how parenting was done 50 years ago: „Our artwork did not hang on the refrigerator or anywhere near it, because our parents recognized it for what it was: crap. They did not live in a child’s house, we lived in theirs.”

What I really want to say is, „I don’t know if these blog posts I’m writing, one every day, are any good.”

Nevertheless, for me they are the means and measure of an interesting improvement process: I am writing something every day. That alone is an achievement. I have the feeling, or at least I have the idea (which probably is the lesser version of a feeling), that with every blog post I’m getting better at writing. I’m getting better at the craft itself. And all of this in English, my second language. One day, maybe when I have done 180 days, I will re-read the whole thing, and see how I’ve done.

180 days! strikes me as a huge streak right now, unattainable almost, but I figure it will take a serious commitment to not only substantially improve my writing skills, but also to upgrade my endurance, output volume, and most importantly, my skills for telling apart good from bad writing.

I assume writing can’t be that different from movement. We need to improve all: the ability to observe, to feel, to sense, to recognise, and to put labels and names on movements, and on movement qualities, in order to improve the way we move – and ultimately: the way we act.

Meanwhile, as much as I love writing these blog posts, I should, I need to, I have to! also attend to my other projects and client appointments. While blogging is just for my own development and learning, my other projects feed me, pay the rent, and actually help people. Yet at the moment they definitely see a lot less progress and a lot less dedication.

Why do I favour blogging?

27 years to go until species extinction

„I taught for thirty years in some of the worst schools in Manhattan, and in some of the best, and during that time I became an expert in boredom. Boredom was everywhere in my world, and if you asked the kids, as I often did, why they felt so bored, they always gave me the same answers: They said the work was stupid, that it made no sense, that they already knew it. They said they wanted to be doing something real, not just sitting around. They said teachers didn’t seem to know much about their subjects and clearly weren’t interested in learning more. And the kids were right: their teachers were every bit as bored as they were.” – John Taylor Gatto, Weapons of Mass Instruction

K. Deutschländer states in his medical compendium „Orthopädisches Schulturnen”, Leipzig 1929, „The bare figures show that not even three-tenths of our adolescents are endowed with a normal posture.”

Almost 40 years later, 1967, Karel Lewit testifies in his book „Manuelle Medizin”, Elsevier Germany, 85 percent of children enter preschool with good posture and a normal spine shape. This figure is down to 34 percent for children in elementary school. In some modern studies (e.g. „Spinal Deformities with Students in Classroom Teaching in Urban and Rural Areas”, 2018) this figure of structurally healthy children is down to 2 percent.

Figures may vary, however, the majority of very recent studies find that around 50 percent of children acquired poor posture and spine deformities while in elementary school.

What is happening in our highly acclaimed Prussian education system? Isn’t it designed to produce good soldiers and strong, albeit replaceable, office and factory workers? Is it failing in every aspect now, even at its original purpose?

And more importantly: these are merely the visible, measurable, physical damages and deformities.

How many children suffered severe mental and emotional damages, crippling deformities in motivation, participation, contribution, creative expression, in and from school? Damages and deformities that will impede and haunt them all their lives? Is anyone even questioning schools on this?

The apocalypse has a new date, 2048 (Worm B., Science, Nov. 3, 2006; vol 314: pp 787-790). That’s when scientists predict that the Marine ecosystems are finally collapsing due to overfishing. And when the Marine ecosystems collapse most natural ecosystems will collapse with them. And despite our best phantasies, unlike cockroaches, humans can survive in underground bunkers only that long.

That’s just one example, one random out of many examples, to which I could ask:

Should we all sit in silence, just like we learned to do in school?

Should we, woefully or cheerfully, participate in whatever is happening around us, just like it is expected from the good school children, and the good teachers, and the good school management alike?

Or could I ask: how would I move, what would I do in life, if I hadn’t been streamlined, normalised and injured in school? Or, at least, if I hadn’t suffered that much; what if I would be able to recover from it? How would I feel, think, and act?

What kind of person would I be, if I hadn’t planned a life that needed the certificates, if I had escaped school a bit earlier?