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My Characters Will Be Walking

huge_assortment_of_vintage_typewriter_keysI sit a lot. In my car. On my pink sofa. At the kitchen table. My office chair at work. Apparently, sitting will bring about my demise earlier rather than later. It sure as hell hurts my shoulder, which I injured three months ago. Numbs my left hand so I can’t separate an ‘r’ from an ‘e’ or a ‘t’ on my keyboard.

I’d rather be walking than sitting.

Lots of other folks would rather be walking, too. In a recent New Yorker article, Alec Wilkinson describes how mathematician Yitang Zhang solved the problem of “bound gaps” while walking in a friend’s backyard in Colorado, smoking a cigarette, waiting for deer to come out. In his lovely book on walking, The Old Ways, Robert Macfarlane wends among footpaths and drove-roads and sea roads. In a chapter on walking the Isle of Lewis in Scotland, Macfarlane relays his friend Finlay’s tale of Charles Darwin’s love of walking. “He [Finlay] told me once about how Darwin had constructed a sandy path which looped through the woods and fields around his house at Downe, in Kent. It was while walking this path daily that Darwin did much of his thinking, and he came to refer to it as the ‘Sandwalk’ or ‘the thinking path'” (146). One of the many places I wanted to visit in England last semester was Downe House. I’d love to walk those sandy paths and do some thinking of my own.

Soon, I’ll be traveling to the Ozarks to do some walking. I’m working on a novel, and in the final chapters, the characters walk from East St. Louis to an undisclosed (for now) location in the mountains. OHT-Syl Map 05 BarkshedIn May, I’ll be walking the paths my characters will be walking, only I’ll be trying to imagine those paths many years in the future after decades of drought and other various environmental and economic disasters. I’ll see the world in my favorite way, which is as a fiction writer. Not the world how it is, but how I imagine it to be. According to my closest friends, seeing the world in this magical way is not always a plus. Sometimes, the world just is what it is.

I listen to stories and audiobooks and music on my drive to work and back home again. Or I listen to silence so I can think. Here in Illinois, for months the sidewalks have been covered with slush and snow and pock-marked ice. Several days a week, I walk at the YMCA. On my drive to the little indoor track that floats above the basketball courts, I listen to Jimmy Cliff’s “Blessed Love” on repeat. The indoor track is very small, and I have to circle seventeen times to complete a mile. As a walking meditation, I silently repeat the number of the lap I’m on, layered over the words to Jimmy’s song. Even so, stories, characters – entire worlds even – they come to me, and I write them in my notebook when I get home. Sitting on my pink sofa. Seeing the world in the way only I can see it.