Waiting for things to heat up in our foundry can sometimes inspire body language that suggests ancient geometries, or architectural edifices. photo by Nancy Fewkes
I have always believed in the power of body language to transmit information back to one’s self. I have heard historians say the open hand gesture, or waving, is endemic to every culture, originally showing a person is not holding a weapon. I think it is more likely our ancestors were holding their hands high, saying to themselves, “Dang, that’s a nice looking arm holding up my hand! I hope they are seeing this!”
In the course of a day, body motion, divided into its myriad parts, includes the movement of our limbs, down to the flow of blood and the undulations of our colon. Sensitivity is the key… stimuli from the environment will sometimes cause involuntary movement, making things known first to one’s self, then, in some cases, to others. The collected parts of a single body, in a single day, moves on average 1,100 miles. That’s a lot of information for someone to think about, and out of that comes the complex patterns of new languages.
I used to marvel at my dad’s body language when he hit his thumb with a hammer. I would imitate his spontaneous dance. I didn’t immediately understand he wasn’t dancing for me. Reading the language of his face for a few seconds, I knew I had triggered an anger response. Being young and inexperienced, I took this as a sign to dance harder, clinching my eyes shut. Then I felt the force of his body language across the back of my head…
Thinking about sensitivity the other day, I remembered an ancient fairy tale where some princess could not sleep because there was a pea under a bunch of mattresses. It was some kind of test of her sensitivity. This seemed barely plausible to me, especially when most peas were not refrigerated before the 20th century and it would have squished flat under all those heavy horsehair mattresses.
I think it was probably pee, not a pea…I have tried to sleep on a mattress with pee on it. Believe me, it’s nearly impossible. Regardless, that’s something to think about…sharing similar body language experience with a princess…now I understand…powerful stuff...
Some examples of Early 20th Century Body Language...
This young man realizes, at the moment the photographer takes this photo, that his choice of attire (taken on a dare) might not be the right way to be remembered for posterity in his college portrait.
Historically, people have used unusual props as an important component of their body language. This picture seems to shout, “Man! I have a massive headache. I hope the photographer is getting this."
A shorter version of this piece originally appeared in The Basement