Walking as Writing

As I said in a previous post, I don’t write everyday. Unfortunately, I took that ‘schedule’ to an extreme recently. I was grading papers, editing manuscripts, etc.. I kept telling myself not to worry, that when some time cleared, I’d get back to my writing. But time wasn’t clearing and I was getting anxious; when I don’t write, I start to feel jittery, cranky, doomed. So, I put some of my work aside and sat down to write. You can guess what happened: nothing. I took out one story that needed revision, wrote a few flat sentences and realized I wasn’t interested enough in that story to put the work into it. I took out another story; that one was going nowhere, too. My body started reacting: cortisol squirted into my stomach; my heartbeat quickened. I could only take in wisps of air. Panic. The fight or flight response. I’m no hero. I wasn’t staying around for this fight. I put on my sneakers and walked quickly away, putting a safe distance between my so-called writing and me.

Walking has always been restorative for me, especially if I’m walking in an area where there are trees. After only a few blocks, I began to notice the softness of the evening–the light, the fragrance, the birdsongs–and soon, my breathing. When I walked past someone’s backyard and heard the children shouting and the adults murmuring, I thought of what a wistful memory that evening would be for those kids–the safety and freedom of their backyard; the adults’ voices in the background, pleasant and welcome because they weren’t directed at the children; the just-perceptible chill, the last of the sunlight in the far corner. I don’t have those kinds of memories because I grew up in an apartment. But then I started thinking about co-opting such a memory, claiming it just because I wanted it. For the rest of the walk, I thought about a character who might do such a thing. By the time I returned home, I had a story going in my head.

As important as it is to sit in the chair and open the computer or pick up a pen, for me, it’s equally important to know when to get out of the chair. When I walk, my mind softens, in the way that day softened into evening. I become open and hopeful. The anxiety dissipates; the writing is no longer the threatening beast that chases me from my desk. It is a restorative walk on a spring evening.