The Palmer Method

I’m learning to write.  I’m pretty sure that I spent years of grade school learning to write.  Apparently, those years didn’t accomplish the goal, or my teachers didn’t teach me well.  After an injury to my wrist on a Chicago city bus (as an aside, avoid public transit on holidays when copious amounts of alcohol will be consumed by the general public … it never ends well), I’ve spent nearly three months in a splint, and have only recently been freed from that strange sort of prison.  But now I find that this injury will be chronic and recurring if I don’t learn to do things “properly” and avoid re-injuring my wrist.  So, writing.  I’m doing it wrong.  And I’ve been doing it wrong for what may be the span of 35 years or so.  That whole old dogs/new tricks cliché has new significance for me today.

So, Beverly, my fabulous occupational therapist tried to teach me how to write yesterday, and I am to practice daily with the Palmer Method of writing.  Basically, you don’t activate the wrist or the hand.  The movement comes from the shoulder, and the hand is basically just coming along for the ride.  It is more akin to conducting an orchestra in movement.  Oddly, I’m capable of conducting an orchestra, and a complete failure at writing using this method.

The most interesting thing about this experience, for me, is the realization that I cannot relinquish control.  My hand grips with such desperation that I am concerned for its mental health.  And then I realize that my mental health is probably a factor, and not really just the actions of my hand.  It is strange to me that I need this level of control–that I hold this much tension within my wrist and hand–but that I didn’t notice it until trying to make a line of useless loops across a legal pad at an outpatient appointment. I can’t let it go.  I can’t risk it.  Even an uncontrolled and crazy-looking letter “B” that slips above the paper’s lines is too much of a risk for my body to allow.  That is a frightening and frustrating truth to be faced with, because if I can risk nothing, I will likely gain nothing.  And I’m not sure that learning to write in a fashion that lets my hand be free will be enough to break through this mental and emotional barrier.

I understand where this self-protective and hyper-controlling instinct comes from, of course.  It isn’t so much of a shock, in that regard.  I’ve been diagnosed with anxiety and depression and attention deficit disorder and addictive tendencies and borderline personality disorder over the years along the road to my true and best diagnosis of Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.  Control is not just a habit, it is a leftover instinct from all the times that my experiences were so far outside of my control that I had to dissociate and quarantine my thoughts and feelings to some yet unearthed portion of my brain. I still haven’t found years worth of memories…and in some ways I am afraid to excavate those memories anyway.  I fear that even worse things might pop out of the dark and frighten the ever-loving fuck out of me. How would I handle that?  I can’t even handle my pen properly.

What is most interesting about this experience, for me, is that the hypervigilance that I deal with everyday is more deeply ingrained within my self than I may have realized.  And, while it is a frustration to think about fighting against my instincts and learning how to write with less control, it is a good thing to have learned that I have this deep sense of protection and control.  Knowing that it is held so deeply within my body–that my nerves and muscles hold this control so tightly that my own will cannot release them–lets me “off the hook” in some manner.  It lets me stop beating myself up a little. It allows me to forgive myself for the times when I startle at something that wouldn’t startle most, or the times when I need to remind myself to breathe more like a human and less like a horse in the middle of a stressful situation, or the times that I fight back tears that have come out of nowhere for no reason and lose that fight in the middle of an interview or on a city bus, where weeping openly is regarded as insane. Knowing how deeply affecting this disorder is gives me more grace to extend toward myself. (Or it should, at least.)

I received terrible grades in Penmanship during my early years of elementary school.  I couldn’t keep inside the lines.  It is sort of funny that I now can’t let myself go outside of them.  It makes me wonder, when did the tightness and control and self-protection become a paramount concern? Was it grade 2 or grade 3, perhaps?  Or did it begin with the disappointment of those low grades in Penmanship?  Maybe all the risk and freedom and creativity started being educated out of me in Kindergarten, when they told me to keep it between the lines and control it.  Maybe I learned very early that what people wanted from me was control.  My experience or my feelings or my desire or my freedom were not as important as keeping those letters’ tops below those lines.  Control was the greatest virtue, so I did everything in my power to pretend at having control.  And now I can’t seem to let go, in even the smallest of ways.  I need to learn freedom and risk and creativity once more.  I’m not sure how that learning might happen, but maybe the Palmer Method of writing will be one of those tiniest starts that leads to great change.  I certainly hope that is the case.

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