I’ve always liked to walk.
Well, not always. I was born with ill-formed hip sockets and had to wear braces on my legs until I was one and a half. And I had flat feet, so I had to wear correctional shoes until I was five. That year, I wore them into a mud puddle that I had created for the purpose of destroying them. Maybe that was the first moment when I decided walking was for me.
Ever since, I’ve been walking. I’m sort of a slower version of Forrest Gump.
Yes, slower than Forrest Gump.
When I was a kid, I often walked to Southlake Mall and back, a twenty mile round trip. In college, I walked home from Valpo, about twenty-five miles, twice. I also walked across Wales. As a young married man, I walked my wife to whatever park we could reach, walked my dog to Leach Beach to chase hundreds of Canada Geese from the sand, and walked my kids in a wagon up and down the hills of Bohner’s Lake.
These days, I walk a mile and a half to work (dropping my son at school halfway there) every morning and walk a mile and a half back every evening.
I’m not a health nut. If you saw a picture of me, you’d say, “Why walk when you could roll on that tire around your waist? And put out the cigar. Nobody speedwalks with a cigar.”
I do. And I walk for other reasons, too.
For me, walking is meditation. There’s something about the rhythm of feet on sidewalk and blacktop and grass that is like a heartbeat. Regular. Certain. If my heart’s beating, I’m still alive. If I’m walking, I’m not dead yet.
Walking also gives me time. It’s those feet again–tick, tick, tick–getting me where I’m going. No one has time anymore, but I’ve got time. My feet are the pendulum on the clock. They go whatever speed I want. And even at regular speed, I have a half hour in the morning and a half hour at night that is full of nothing but walking.
And talking. In the morning, I spend twenty minutes having amazing conversations with my amazing eleven-year-old son and his amazing twelve-year-old friend, both of whom are aspiring writers. We have twenty minutes each morning to talk, and we talk about everything, but most of all about writing.
And speaking of writers, think C. S. Lewis, who used to take walking tours through England. He was lucky. His country was set up for walkers, with a village every half-day walk away, so you could walk to one village and have lunch and to another and have supper and a room and keep walking the next morning.
Curse the car. Our villages do not care how far apart they are.
And what of Socrates, an inveterate walker? A peripatetic. That’s a fancy word for a guy who walks around and thinks. And that’s what I do. Sometimes, the walking leads the thinking, untangling the knot of my mind and spooling it smoothly. Sometimes the thinking leads the walking, and I come up with a new Doctor Who script between Edward and State, or a new song between Rt 36 and Rt 11, or a new novel at Dyer Intermediate School. More than once, a character has joined me there and will not leave until I write his or her story.
So, next time I put out a novel (in this case, September, when The Angel of Death in Chicago comes out from Angry Robot), don’t run–walk to get it. You’ll get connected, get inspired, and get exercised, all before you buy my new book.
Then, of course, run home to read it.March 24th, 2009
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