I am a person who likes to walk. I have a car that I hate driving because I am bad at it, driving, and I invariably picture my death every time I get behind the wheel. I have a bike, but I like walking better than biking. I like walking in a city more than I like walking along a country road. I like walking through a neighborhood and seeing that someone has basically turned their entire front yard into a giant dinosaur kale plant, and someone else has put in a new free library on their lawn, and a group of neighbors has constructed a street altar with sunflowers and painted rocks to commemorate a neighbor who was, tragically, shot to death last week. I like walking past homes where windows are flung open and there’s music or a TV on, and I like letting my imagination wander — the pale blonde woman on the purple sectional is nervously clutching that glass of Chardonnay because her illicit lover’s due over, any second now — and, most of all, I like collecting stories.
This neighborhood-traipsing and story-collecting are an integral part of my creative process. (Though “process” seems so orderly. What’s the word for when your “process” is erratic fits and starts and full-throated anxiety at 3 am and 45 email drafts with snippets of overheard conversations and not writing for months on end?) When I go through periods of not-walking, I feel undeniably worse, by which I mean, the black hole that sits lodged in my chest becomes unmanageable. I need to create things, and walking is creative. Walking is writing. And often, the best ideas are the ones that occur during moments of transit. When my feet thud against the pavement, my mind clears, and an invisible sliver of space opens up. It’s my job to nurture that space as if it were a newborn, because, as corny as it sounds, that’s where the magic happens.
Sometimes I walk down South Congress, to see a movie downtown. I like ambling past the shops and the crowds and feeling separate from the chaos. Most days, though, I like walking around my neighborhood in the morning. The 8 a.m. stillness is always so lovely, everything’s green and bursting awake, my mind hasn’t been numbed or caffeinated yet. That hazy place between sleep and coffee always feels like it contains secrets – and if I stay quiet enough, I can be a vessel for these secrets, somehow.
One thing walking is not (or at least shouldn’t be) is radical. And yet it must be, because when I’m out walking someone always sees fit to remind me that I’m a woman! out! walking! This fact cannot go unremarked upon, it seems. Maybe this is because I’m not focused on making myself unobtrusive, my regular go-to when I’m around men. Instead of coiling into myself, I let my limbs get loose and swingy, and I move with agency. This is apparently enough to make people (men) feel proprietary, or at least confused.
Catcalls and jeers aren’t enough to keep me from walking, of course; it’s far too important to me for that. Walking is how I write, how I think. It’s also how I meditate. For years, I was frustrated because I couldn’t make myself sit down and breathe for minutes on end. I couldn’t meditate, or so I thought. But here’s something I’ve realized: anything that brings sweet silence into your life, anything that simultaneously slows your mind and quickens your creative synapses, is meditating. Walking — the traversing of mental landscapes while traversing actual landscapes — is meditating. Walking also doesn’t require any capitalist accouterments, like meditation cushions or $2,500 mantras. Anyone can go out and do it. It’s totally free.
As writers, as creative people, as women, as humans, one of the biggest gifts we can give ourselves is the gift of uninhibited movement paired with thought. The gift of being in our bodies and allowing our minds to roam and make connections in the world, regardless of who may find this remarkable or intimidating. The gift of taking the scenic route, with no destination in sight.