Waiting: it’s a hobby

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The seminar would be late starting, because of a technological hitch.  The famous choreographer said, “I’m good at waiting. It’s my hobby.”

This startling statement has stayed with me longer than any of his brilliant insights into dance. I decided to adopt this hobby myself. Since then every slow queue, every delayed airline, every lonesome minute in a cafe or a dentist’s lobby is an event in itself for me. I’ve got to wait anyway: why fret about something I cannot change? Waiting is not a void: it’s an event.

A friend said, “What I don’t like about waiting is the fact that nothing is happening.” But something is happening: you are waiting.

A glimpse of angry waiting

I went to Warehouse Stationery for a small urgent printing job. One machine was out of action and a staff member away sick, so there was going to be a delay. OK, can’t change that. In bustled an upset person with angry hair.

P. from K. “I’m a proofreader and I’ve just come in from Karori” (a 15 minute bus ride) “and my job will only take two minutes so can you do it straight away?”
Staff. “I’m sorry / delay / 15 minutes / machine / away / queue.”
P. from K. Repeats her speech.
Staff “Many people are waiting, that lady” (me) has been waiting a long time.” (Actually only 5 minutes so far.)
P. from K. (To me) “I’m a proofreader from Karori, etc, will you let them do my job first?”
Me. “No, that will throw everybody out.”

P. from K. then rushed off town to find another printer willing to do her job instantly. Which would have certainly taken longer than 15 minutes.

Waiting under a tree

I understood her position. I felt sorry for her. And life had handed me the gift of ten minutes to ponder on the mysteries of waiting. I sat on a bench and watched clouds racing each other across the sky. Was I witnessing celestial road rage?

  • Does angry waiting sprout from that deadly seed, a sense of entitlement? This is always puzzling to an outsider: why should a proofreader from Karori take precedence over a writer from Mt Victoria? A Hummer over a VW Golf? Storm cloud over fluffy white cloud?
  • Does angry waiting hurry things up or slow them down?

Some waits are harder than others. Waiting for test results. Waiting for news of a life-and-death nature. Waiting for news that will determine your future. You feel frightened, powerless and frustrated.

But when these life-or-death waits occur I try to at least remember that waiting can be a positive thing. To perceive waiting not as a vacuum but a state that I experience for better or for worse. To wait mindfully. Perhaps to fill my mental waiting room with small good things and thoughts and helps and hopes. I can’t change the outcome, but at least I can avoid contaminating others with the toxin of my angry waiting.

Let me remember the tree and let the clouds do what they will.

How I became a born-again walker

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A learner is sometimes the best teacher.

bootcamp2015-small 2Who am I to give advice about walking? Somebody who used to be not a human as we know it but a balloon on a string, that’s who.

I deeply appreciate the joy of walking for that very reason: for years I was virtually unconscious of my body when out for a trot. All my attention was locked inside my brain. And what an astounding machine it was too, by gum.

I was a mindless walker

Think think think. Puzzle puzzle puzzle. Imagine imagine imagine. I was a biological thinking machine, propelled forward horizontally by mysterious means. I was conscious only of my thoughts; I cared only for my thoughts.

I experienced myself as a free-floating brain sailing over footpaths and dangling something vague beneath me. That something vague was… my body. Legs? What legs?

You were right on the button, Vi!

My mother-in-law Vi used to say, often, in fact pretty much daily, “As long as you’ve got your health…” A cliché, and so true. By the time she died, she had 20 serious health conditions—19 that she knew about, plus dementia. She began suffering from arthritis in her thirties; even at that age, the idea of going for a walk for pleasure was completely alien to her.

Well, Vi, I’ve been a hell of a lot luckier than you were. And I’ll carry on walking, which is both a cause and effect of having my health, as you put it.

Walking up and down stairs. Walking to the pool on Tuesdays. Walking over Mt Vic on Fridays. Walking to town for errands and entertainment. Walking the compost bucket to the community gardens. Walking my grandson to the park on Saturdays. Walking to meet friends. And once in a while, most deliciously, walking on a beach or in a forest.

Enjoy your walk! 

You’ll have your own walking routes and reasons. Walking the dog? Hiking in the Solomon Islands, shopping for hot air balloons, touring the estate?

Enjoy your walk. It’s your very own. Your walk is your choice, your walk is you.
Enjoy your walk. Even if you are in a wheelchair or using a walker.
Enjoy your walk. That’s not just a cliché: it’s a prescription.

Image from Chiaroscuro 1910, Senior Class Yearbook, University of Montevallo, via Internet Archive Book Images. Image of cyclists taken by a friend or relative, but I forget who, sorry.

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Doing the Otago Rail Trail with friends: my 70th birthday treat and a celebration of sheer good luck so far

9 tips to self for walking young, safe and happy

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On my boot camp, the aim is to reduce suffering, not increase it

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So, how can we walk more mindfully on our everyday excursions? (Not during a formal walking meditation: that’s a different kettle of fish.) And what can we copy from the best young walkers? And what else makes a walk through town a delicious adventure?

These are tips to myself, and some may appeal to you. Some are not possible if you’re very old, or if you have certain disabilities. But if something I suggest resonates with you, why not experiment a little? Strange to say, some of these tips can be followed even in a wheelchair or a walker.

Walk young

  1. Walk fast, Rachel, at least some of the time.
  2. Bounce along. Lift your feet up.
  3. Raise your breastbone a smidgen. This will automatically improve your posture with no other effort. You will be taller!
  4. Lift up your eyes. Elevate your personal horizon a few degrees.
  5. Look around. Look at sky, trees, traffic lights, graffiti, bicycles, children, lapdogs, posters, gorillas and fuschia buds.

Walk safe

  1. Trust yourself. Be aware of trip hazards in your peripheral vision, but don’t walk along looking at the footpath or your feet. That’s no fun and can upset your balance.
  2. Don’t jaywalk, Rachel. Stop it right now! You know that’s dangerous, especially if you trip over your ball gown or a wheel comes off your shopping trolley. You know you are setting a bad example to your grandchildren. (Trying to retrain myself on this one.)

Walk happy

  1. Enjoy your body, Rachel. Be aware of one part of your body as you move along. One day, feel what’s happening in your arms. Another day, your thighs. Another time, the way your arms swing. Enjoy the warm sun on your face: what a glow! Enjoy the cold wind on your face: you’re alive!
  2. And smile at strangers. Deliberately. Often. With eye contact. This is extremely interesting, not to mention fun. Count the number of smiles you get back in return. (Ed. I know, you don’t have to tell me that.)
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Walk like a child. That’s progress!

Image from “History of the Ninth and Tenth Regiments Rhode Island Volunteers, and the Tenth Rhode Island Battery, in the Union Army in 1862” (1892) Spicer, Wm Arnold. Public domain. Painting by Lesley Evans of four little girls CC BY-NC 3.0. Lesley is my sister!  https://www.facebook.com/LesleyEvansArtist/

That sense of entitlement: an enemy of joy-writing

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What blocks you from really enjoying the act of writing? I can think of at least a dozen things that stop the joy in its tracks, and one is a sense of entitlement. It’s a killer.

I encountered this phenomenon very early in my writing life. Barely had my first book of poetry been published than I was befriended by a bunch of poets, nice people, some brilliant, all kindly disposed and helpful to this newbie writer.

But there was an under-current to our friendship that deeply puzzled me. Whenever literary awards and prizes were discussed, a grumbling and a mumbling surged up. And I found that some of these nice people were making themselves sick with envy and resentment.

After forty years of observing the processes and culture around book prizes and fellowships and scholarships and what-nots, I understand something. So hear me, all ye unhappy writers.

  • Prizes are awarded by judges. Judges have strong personal opinions. Judges may not agree. That’s the norm.
  • No prize is yours by right.
  • You slave away year after year over your books. Don’t do it in the hope of prizes. Prizes may come your way. Or not.
  • If you assume that you deserve a literary award and therefore you ought to get one, you will make yourself miserable, and nobody else will care.

There. Go forth and have a good time with your marvellous gift!

 

 

These legs were made for walking

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These legs were made for walking too, but I prefer my own.

bootcamp2015-small 2Walking. I’ve been doing it for 74 years but I never want to take this miraculous skill for granted. Many of my friends have crook knees or ankles. Some have cranky hips or ceramic hips or bad backs. Some have MS or asthma or bronchiectasis. I’m humbled by their courage and ingenuity as they continue to get around, one way or the other.

Walking is tangled up with independence and free will as well as health and fun.

Walking style provides cues about health

Walking is also linked to youthfulness. Not-walking is a fear associated with old age.

This obvious fact hit me like a ton of bricks when a friend came to stay recently. A whole bunch of odd problems had me worried. At pedestrian crossings, I had to restrain her from rushing across when the red man said Stop, because her automatic impulse was to jaywalk. She was confused about distances and directions and buses and taxis. She rushed ahead, leaning forwards at an angle, then stopped often to take a breath. I’m pretty slow on the uptake, but after a couple of days, I finally got the message: she was ill.

A few months later we learned that she had a form of motor neuron disease. A year later, she was dead.

Join the non-existent leg-appreciation society

But this blog post is not about the larger topic of my friend’s devastating illness and death. It’s about walking.

Walking is simple, natural, automatic, free, always available day or night—no trainer, gym or special equipment required. And this precious skill can be eroded by illness or accident.

After my friend’s visit, I love my legs more than ever. I plan to love them and use them and learn from them for many more years.  In fact I may start an international leg-appreciation society. When my own legs stop working quite so well one day. I will still appreciate what they used to do, decade after decade, without a job description or vision statement or instruction manual.

They have done so much more than walk. They have negotiated footpaths and steps and mountain trails and forests and beaches and farms. They have carried me up and down hills and cliffs and over ice and snow and sand. They have kept me afloat through surf and rivers and lagoons. They have crawled and skipped and skied and marched and run and kicked and danced and squatted and pranced and lunged  and planked. They have raised me safely out of chairs and baths and pot-holes.

Thank you legs!

Phone apps for walking

Breeze used to be my favourite phone app. Its daily cheerleading made me aware of how far I was walking each day. I wiped the app one day when my phone was overloaded with data. Now I want Breeze back again, but my phone tells me I have to get it through the Romanian app store. Romania? I dunno. Beats me.

With a compatible app, walking becomes a substantial component of the exercise regime instead of a means of getting from A. to B. If at first you take only 400 steps on a typical day, that’s not a tragedy, it’s an opportunity. Such satisfaction lies ahead as you notch up the steps, little by little, day by day.

P.S. I think my daily steps are usually around 7000. I think They want me to buy a Fitbit.

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Mechanical toy via Internet Archive Book Images, from Scientific American March 1903. Shadow legs a selfie by Rachel McAlpine, CC BY 3.0

Joy of dancing

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Imperfect but full of joy—that’s us, the Crows Feet Dance Collective. Forty women, average age 55, range 39–76, skilled and unskilled.

Last weekend we performed at the Tempo Dance Fest at Q Theatre in Auckland. If you are a New Zealander, you’ll understand that performing in our biggest city was rather an intimidating prospect for a community collective —and thrilling. But the organisation was excellent, the theatre a friendly space, and the audiences warm and enthusiastic. We had a marvellous time.

Read the review if you’d like to know more about our show.
Read Dr Hanna on the fascinating effects of dancing on the brain — an excerpt follows.

And go find a chance to dance if you can. Trust me, it’s never too late; for example, I joined the Crows at 66, ten years ago, and while I’m no star and I often stumble, I manage very well indeed. Enough to get the joy of dancing, and that magic performance buzz, and a cluster of truly remarkable friends.

Dancing is a language, another way of writing into life

A language is a method of conveying complex ideas and emotions. It has representations of information, and rules for how the representations can be combined. As a means of conveying ideas and emotions, with or without recourse to sound, dance language draws upon similar places and thought processes in the brain as verbal language. Dance, like verbal language, has vocabulary (locomotion and gestures in dance), grammar or syntax (rules for putting the vocabulary together and justifying how one movement can fol­low another), and semantics (meaning). Verbal language strings together sequences of words, and dance strings together sequences of movement to make phrases and sentences. Meaning may be story-telling or abstract, playing with form or chance.

Judith Lynne Hanna, PhD, is the author of “Learning to Dance: The Brain’s Cognition, Emotion, and Movement” Judith Lynne Hanna, PhD.

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Dancing friends: a few of the Crows Feet Dance Collective 2016

When it comes to exercise, less is less

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bootcamp2015-small 2Obviously, a good exercise programme was always going to be high on my boot camp list of challenges. To prepare for a happy retirement without built-in exercise would just be ridiculous, a denial of all scientific evidence on the subject of aging.

 A funny thing happens every time a new research project confirms the power of exercise to improve cognition, physical health, mental health and happiness: lifestyle journalists tend to interpret the results in terms of minimum dosage.

If you just get off your bum now and then, they say, it’ll save your life. Just get on an exercycle for 15 minutes a week. Just walk for 10 minutes a month. Just roll over in bed. They’re assuming that weall want to know how little exercise we can get away with.

Of course, they may be right about our extremely low ambitions. And it’s true that any exercise, even a few steps per day, is exponentially better than no exercise at all.

However, aiming at the minimum implies that exercise is a tedious chore or a virtual vitamin pill. “Let’s get this over and done with as fast as possible so we can get into the tasty part of the day.”

Don’t take exercise like a pill

If you take exercise like a pill, it’s no fun. And if it’s no fun, the habit is not likely to stick. I should know: I’ve been there, done that.

For about five years, an exercycle sat in a corner of my living room. Perfectly positioned for watching TV. Grudgingly, cynically, I intended to use it for just 15 minutes once or twice a week in the evenings. I figured that would not be hard. But it was. The ugly beast was as good as new when I sold it on Trademe.

Similarly, a set of weights is lurking amongst my gardening tools. For a couple of months I used them twice a week … then once a week … for just 10 minutes or so each time. They’re getting rusty now.

When it comes to exercise, less is not more: less is less. And before you know it, less becomes nothing.

So in my boot camp I decided to shoot for a happy-making programme. It’s only a small jump from exercise as a duty to exercise for pleasure. I need to be rewarded by more than a sense of righteousness: like most people I need immediate gratification too.

Your pleasure is my drudgery and vice versa

Everyone’s different! Isn’t that great? So don’t imagine I’m telling you what sort of exercise programme you should be following.

I never got any joy from a brief session by myself on the exercycle: it was not an end in itself for me—but some people get a buzz out of that.  Working the dumb bells all alone in my lounge seemed pointless—but you might just love it.

The thing is for each of us to find a programme that suits us personally, something that brings its own rewards so that we are eager to achieve.

Exercise as a pleasure

Exercise as a pill is unnatural and I suspect, counter-productive. If you enjoy tennis or golf, for example, you don’t set out to do the minimum. You don’t say to your friends, let’s just have one serve each, or let’s just play two holes. Where’s the fun in that? You play as much as you can, not as little as you can, because you are playing for pleasure.

The pleasure of companionship or at least company. The pleasure of muscles squidging, joints loosening, skin glowing, heart pumping, chest expanding, feet steadying, a good shot. The pleasure of increasing mastery. The concomitant pleasures of better sleep, better mood, better brain.

No matter what your age, the best exercise brings a quiet sense of power and freedom and satisfaction. On so many levels, it feels good!

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Image from “Cycling art, energy and locomotion: a series of remarks on the development of bicycles, tricycles, and man-motor carriages” (1889) by Scott, Robert Pittis. Internet Archive Book Images. Photo of me cycling in Tonga by Jamie Bull.