I feel like most people I know wish they took walks more often, and are always glad when they did. And you’re always hearing about the health benefits of taking walks. As a mother, writing at home, I don’t get very much alone time, so lately I’ve been trying to take walks more often. And every time I do, I think, this is the simple key to happiness.
I bring along a little notebook and pen. I pull my sweatshirt tight against the wind, breath in the fresh air, notice primroses, tulips, a house for sale. I pant up flight after flight of stairs that cut up the hill to Twin Peaks, San Francisco’s highest point. Problems with the current thesis chapter hover in my mind like helicopters, somehow louder and clearer as I walk. Today, I realized this is reason alone to get out on walks. I’m currently inspired by how the novelist Dawn Tripp describes why she runs, in her post for Cynthia Newberry Martin’s blog Catching Days:
“I don’t run for time, speed, or distance. I don’t run to stay physically fit. I run to find a clearness of mind.”
And later in the post:
“Every morning I go out and run for this precise reason–to find my way deeper into a character’s self, some key turn of a story, to find that certain edge between intellect and free creative thought, to feel that shift in consciousness that allows me to write well. It’s not a state I can simply sit at a desk and think myself into–though many writers I know can. I have to be outside. I have to move. For me, it is that experience of the world–when I can breathe in the wind, the sun, the heat, the salt smell, the cold, and the light until the floss is stripped, and I am right there, in the pulse and life of a separate and entirely real, fictional world.”
What if I walked every day? What might happen in my writing?
Tell me, does walking (or running, or biking, or other movement) help you write?
The first week of the Unravelling course** had me photographing and paying attention to my feet. To where they go each day, and where they don’t. To how I feel about them. To how they anchor me in the world.
Mostly, the week had me circling around two questions: Where do your feet take you? Where don’t they (and why)?
The inertia of routine in daily life is something a lot of people talk about in their blogging. How hard it is to change routines. How good it feels to take a different bus line home, walk down a new street, spontaneously go the long way home and end up seeing a flock of geese rise from a pond along the way, or an especially glorious stand of daffodils in the height of spring bloom.
It seems like sometimes we choose where we go, or how we go. But more often we follow routines that take us along the same well-worn paths, where we may or may not really see the things we pass. This is true in everyday choices as well as the larger trajectory of life. Photographing and noticing my feet had me stopping to look at spots I usually would have just passed by. Noticing JJs and my feet, and the places we stand next to each other in day-to-day life. It had me crossing the Golden Gate Bridge one afternoon to explore a park, Marin Headlands, that I’ve wanted to visit for a long time. And it had me sitting in a new cafe, by myself, writing and thinking about story ideas for a children’s book.
Mostly, the first week of the course had me noticing and reflecting on my choices. Both everyday ones, and larger life ones. I know, of all the many directions one could go with a photography assignment regarding feet (and Susannah gives MANY ideas), I choose a serious, contemplative one. My willow-sitting-by-the-river nature that seems to come along with having a hippy, earthy, tree name!
So I’ve started a list of things to do this summer that get me stepping outside my usual routines. What are you hoping to do this summer that perhaps takes you outside your routine?
**For reasons that make absolute sense to me, Susannah asks us to limit what we share of the course on our own blogs. So while I will write about my experience in the course here and there over the next 8 weeks, and share some of my photos, I’ll let you discover the details of the course itself by taking it if you’re interested. It’s only been a week, but already I highly recommend it!
This week I started an e-course in photography and self-discovery led by Susannah Conway (thank you Christina!). Susannah’s 8-week course is called “Unravelling: Ways of Seeing Myself” and it’s a journey in picking up a camera and using it as a tool to unlock how we see ourselves and the world around us. Already it has me looking at my pictures in a different way, flashing back to college when I would take rolls and rolls of black and white and then spend my Saturday nights in the darkroom developing photos into something meaningful.
It’s different – I’M different – when I’m taking my pictures more seriously. Allowing for creativity and experimentation to spill through as I snap pictures, then looking through them with an eye to what they say, what they mean, how they speak in tandem with each other.
It’s thrilling to be re-encountering this creative pulse that I carry in my blood. Photography, pottery, sewing, drawing – all were hugely important to me growing up. Yet I’m realizing with ever more clarity just how thoroughly I had sidelined it from my life since those college photography classes. Not that I never did anything creative; I just did it less and less, and saw my career as needing all of me. But when I ask why I gave up these things, I don’t have an answer except the inertia of everyday life took over.
I’m excited and terrified as I open to the possibilities of this creative pulse.
And it makes me wonder. How many of us abandon more creative pursuits as we grow into adulthood? Childhood overflows with creativity; children are wellsprings of ideas and energy for stories, art, making things. Where does it all go?
Fluffy, pink, clouds of petals blanket the trees in our neighborhood right now. On windy days there’s a carpet of petals below, light pink and fluffy like cotton candy. We woke up early Saturday morning after a late night with friends, walk down to 24th Street. Bought strawberries, artichokes, fresh bread, and a fennel bulb at the Farmer’s Market. Got my favorite chips and yoghurts from the grocery store, morning buns from the neighborhood bakery. I handed the groceries to JJ, took pictures, trying to capture the candy pink, wild feeling of the trees juxtaposed against the meticulously painted Victorians, all brightly contrasted with an eggshell blue sky.
To be repeated.
No travel is quite as wonderful as visiting a dear old friend. Even when the reason for the trip is a stressful presentation (more on that in another post!). Sitting around the house, petting her cat, helping her study. Going out to breakfast, walking 10 minutes in the wet Seattle weather to a new place in their neighborhood. Talking about whatever comes to mind. Making up stories to help her remember obscure or generic psychological assessments for her upcoming exam.
In the evening we sit working and studying, and suddenly there’s a rainbow. We climb on the coffee table together to see better, watching its colors grow darker, then fade, then grow dark again. We both run to get our cameras, then go downstairs and outside, in bare feet on the wet grass, leaning to capture the full arc. “That’s our good luck” she said, thinking of her exam this week, and my presentation.
“Isn’t there supposed to be a pot of gold at the bottom of the rainbow?” I asked her. We met in kindergarten, and I remember the pictures we used to draw together, crayons pressing color into paper, imagining the treasures we would find under rainbows. “Maybe we should go down the street and see what’s there?” I teased, feeling the spark of wondrous possibility we had when we explored as kids.
Where did that idea come from anyway? Is there a fairy tale with rainbows and pots of gold in it?
A Sunday walk at the beach. Blue sky, then swooping fog. Sand dollars on sand, white dotting brown. Dogs of all kinds. Walkers in sweatshirts and coats, hoods tucked against the wind. A little girl with a red shirt and long, blond hair, climbing a sandy cliff hand over foot like a monkey. Skateboards seen from below, skidding along a roadblock at the edge of the cliff. Water cold like snow, turning toes red. Sand pipers skittering along the shoreline, feet a blur like hummingbird wings. Deep breaths of salty air. A lone tree, high on the cliff.