I have terrible muscle memory. Ages ago, the first several times I tried aerobics, I always went left when everyone else went right. When I rode, my biggest fear was rarely the size of the jumps — it was doing them in the wrong order. (From personal experience, I can tell you there are few more humiliating experiences then being alone in the arena and having the buzzer sound with someone yelling “OFF COURSE!” Not that that ever happened to me. Ahem.)
On the flip side, once I get that memory, I have it for years. (Seriously. Anyone want to see my step aerobics routine from the 1990s?) Writing is a bit like that, too. If I can get my butt in the seat, if I can doodle around for a 45 minutes or so, the words start to come without my thinking about them. My fingers and my brain wake up and remember what to do so long as I stay out of their way.
These days, I’m trying to instill a different kind of muscle memory. I sit by my children at night, taping together a Halloween costume, hearing them recite Spanish phrases, helping with new math. I do this not because I am so enamored of new math (which is different from the new math I had as a child, which must now be old math and is still ghastly) but because I’m hoping that I can instill in them, in their minds and their hearts and in their very muscles themselves, how much they are loved. I want them to remember without even thinking about it, to simply know it the way their lungs know how to breathe, so that when our relationship isn’t as simple, when the questions are so much harder than How do you say cold in Spanish? and What is the lowest common denominator?, their bodies will remember what their brains may not.
Does muscle memory come easily to you? When is it useful? And if you have time, check out this gorgeous video which includes footage of my riding crush David O’Connor almost going off-course at the Sydney Olympics. (It happens around minute 13, but the whole video is worth a watch.)