If you want to understand why – and how – to move your body, Katy Bowman’s book Movement Matters is a great place to start. I picked it up because I’m researching how our minds and bodies work together, but I found it most valuable as a resource for examining the way I move. Plus, an explanation she made in her afterword struck me as very good advice for writers.
I also ran across a bit of serendipity. Right after I finished this book, which talks a great deal about moving your body in ordinary daily activity, not just at the gym, I ran across a huge study on physical activity and health that concluded getting exercise by “non-recreational” means did just as much for your health as engaging in formal exercise programs (assuming the same amount of activity). This study looked at 130,000 people between the ages of 35 and 70 from seventeen countries (rich and poor).
The study backs up Bowman’s approach in the book, which is to encourage people to make a point of moving every part of their body. She’s a biomechanist who teaches movement, but she’s also someone who has incorporated the idea of ongoing movement into her daily life – which includes kids.
Several points she made resonated with me. One had to do with using simple tools that required your physical effort to make them work. She suggested always using the key to open the car door, but what I thought of from my own life was grinding coffee. I use an old-fashioned hand-grinder that I found in an “antique” mall some years back. It takes more effort than holding down the button on the electric kind, but it’s a satisfactory kind of movement.
In fact, I do a lot of things in the kitchen with old-fashioned tools – an egg-beater (my sweetheart’s daughter was amused by that one), a pastry cutter, and just a plain old knife for chopping veggies. I’m not saying that’s a lot of exercise, but it does keep me moving my hands.
I know a lot of people who read this blog are knitters. That’s obviously another way of using your hands on a regular basis. I’m sure there are hundreds of them, and probably all of us should find a few to try.
Walking to do your errands whenever possible is another easy way to incorporate movement into your life. I have structured my life around this of late, since my schedule is flexible and I live in a walkable urban area. My personal solution is to be inefficient about my errands. It doesn’t hurt that I have a library book addiction and the library branch is about ten blocks away. Library holds rarely come in on the same day and books are rarely due at the same time.
But the point she made that stuck with me the most was “stacking,” which is doing several things at once but not the same as multitasking. When you “stack” your activity, the thing you are doing has multiple purposes.
For example, if I walk to the store, I not only get exercise and groceries, but I get to look at my neighbors’ yards – getting some greenery in – meet friendly dogs, talk to the occasional stranger, and breathe fresh air. It works even better if I don’t use my phone or listen to music while I’m walking.
It occurs to me that many of the activities I like to do in life involve stacking. Martial arts is a perfect example. When you go to the dojo, you get exercise, challenge your body to master new things, work on your self development, and participate in a community, all at the same time. I have always found a dojo to be more satisfying than a gym or an exercise class. I’m sure this can be true of some other activities as well.
I’m trying to incorporate stacking into other parts of my life.
Bowman’s afterword wasn’t really meant as writing advice, but I thought it made a lot of sense. Her original idea for the book was simply to collect her many blog posts on movement. But she started to find her essays disjointed. Being the person she is, she went camping, and came back with the realization that all of her pieces were about “sedentarism” – the way we don’t move enough. So instead of just collecting the essays, she revised them so that they worked together as a whole.
After more work, she found herself getting off track again (all you writers out there will find this very familiar). Fortunately, she’d planned a trip to the Southwest, which involved flying over a good chunk of the country and looking down at rivers from 30,000 feet. That led her to write the final section of the book, which ties her theories together very well. This section was not from the blog posts, but it grew from all the work she’d done.
I noticed that it was in reading the final section that I really got inspired. The extra work she did was what made the book worth reading.
The connection between getting up and moving about with figuring out what you’re really writing about is true for a lot of writers. But I also realized, as someone who has done a lot of blogging and has a lot of posts that would work together in a collection, that just collecting the blog posts isn’t enough. Using them as a starting point to build a whole, that’s what I need to do.
I suspect that’s why I often find essay collections by columnists – even ones whose work I follow avidly and admire – unsatisfying. What you say in a thousand words, give or take, can be very good, but a collection of pieces written at different times with different prompts can feel disjointed.
The best collections of blog posts and essays are probably those like the ones done by several Book View Café authors – planned series that start with a theme and an outline. But if, like me or Katy Bowman, you have a lot of related but not quite connected posts that hint at a bigger whole, you have more work to do to make a collection worthwhile.
More work to do. Ay, there’s the rub.