Sunday, August 18, 2019 -
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Muscle memory

Lenu Greco en route to Ischia in 'My Brilliant Friend' (HBO)

Lenu Greco en route to Ischia in ‘My Brilliant Friend’ (HBO)

About once a decade I go through a knitting phase. I first learned the skill in college from a friend’s mother. About 10 years later I picked it up again in Zurich. And two weeks ago I found myself reaching for my needles when my parents uncovered a load of leftover yarn and I decided to knit a scarf.

It’s amazing how the body remembers. I just went right into it, casting off and knitting row upon row. I did have to refresh my memory via YouTube about how to bind off, but it all came right back a few seconds into the tutorial.

Muscle memory is a powerful thing. Have you ever had to instruct someone else in the tasks you do daily and find that your brain has suddenly forgotten how to do them?

There is a host of skills that once learned never leave us: cycling, swimming, driving stick shift. I thought about this recently while watching a television adaptation of a series of books that plays in Naples in the immediate post-war period. “My Brilliant Friend” describes utter deprivation on every level — financial, social, educational. The main character, though in her teens and living in a coastal city, has never seen the sea! When she is afforded the opportunity she frets about not knowing how to swim. Her mother tells her that they took her to the seaside as a toddler. Lo, when Lenu gingerly steps into the Mediterranean and the water begins to wash over her, her body begins its intuitive motions. It’s a magical, transformative moment.

My scarf wasn’t quite that. But it was neat to know that my muscle memory is in good working order.

Shana Goldberg may be reached at

Copyright © 2019 by the Intermountain Jewish News

Shana Goldberg

IJN Assistant Publisher |

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