August 22, 2013
The other day I was looking for my car keys. Well, every day I’m looking for my car keys, but in this particular case other people were waiting for me to find them so we could go to lunch, so the search had a slightly more urgent tone that usual. One of those people commented that she has a particular pocket in her purse where she always puts her keys, and a hook on the wall next to the door where she always hangs them at home, so she knows right where to find them.
Excellent suggestions, I’m sure, but with two basic flaws. First is the assumption that you know where you put the purse your keys are in. Second is the assumption that, at the time you put your keys down, your brain was actually aware of what your hands were doing.
I don’t know about the rest of you, but my hands seem to spend a large percentage of their time operating without any input from or feedback to my brain. How else to explain those days when you find the cereal in the refrigerator and the milk in the cupboard?
There-in lies the problem with going around with your body on autopilot while your brain is busy taking care of the important stuff, like how cool would it be if that rich guy in California could really build an air tube transit system so we could shoot people from Los Angeles to San Francisco in a couple of minutes, just like the bank shoots me my deposit slip at the drive up. And if they do manage to clone John Lennon, would the baby be Julian’s brother, or his father?
Anyway, the problem is, my body tends to overlook minor details, which can be annoying at best, and downright dangerous at worst. For example, when I’ve been driving the pickup for a few days and then I go to get in my Jeep and almost dislocate my shoulder because my thumb forgot you have to push a button on those door handles, not just give ’em a good yank. And don’t try to tell me I’m the only one who’s bruised their nose since the drugstore in my home town turned their door around so it swings the opposite direction.
Muscle memory is a beautiful thing. It allows us to walk and yes, even chew bubble gum at the same time without thinking, “Okay, lift leg, swing forward, toe up, lock that knee when your heel hits the ground…” Muscle memory allows Lebron James to sink a turn-around jumper from the three point line without stopping to take aim, and Peyton Manning to throw a football fifty yards and know it’s going to land right in the arms of a wide receiver who’s running flat out into the end zone. It’s why I can go skiing once a year and not have to start off on the bunny hill every time, although a couple of practice runs to remember how to get on and off the lift never hurt.
So yes, most of my ingrained habits are pretty darn helpful. I don’t have that much brain power to spare, so it’s nice not to have to waste any reminding my fingers how unscrew the top on the toothpaste tube. But it’s been two months since the wiring blew in the barn. At some point, you’d think I’d quit flipping that light switch as I walk in the door. And if my body is so eager to follow the same old routines, why can’t I train it to turn off my cell phone every night when I get home, so the low battery alarm doesn’t start beeping at three a.m. because it ran itself down searching in vain for a signal out here in the boonies?
And maybe while I’m at it, train my hands not to put my car keys on the shelf in the medicine cabinet where the new tube of toothpaste was supposed to go.
Kari Lynn Dell – Montana for Real