In an essay as much about disability, weather, and inheritance as it is about writing, Lucy Schiller explores learning to write while being still:
“There is a type of essay I love called a ‘walking essay’ in which the writer moves through space, allowing those things she sees and encounters to ‘jog,’ so to speak, her brain. To encounter a pear tree in an alley might mean open a digressive exploration on the taming of things. To watch a couple arguing on a street corner might prompt a few musings backwards into the emotional space of her own life. …
“In general, to be able to move physically through space prompts and justifies otherwise aerobatic leaps of the mind, and it can be a mode of resistance, to be able to amble. But it strikes me … that sometimes the mental movement that accompanies walking essays can feel a little too convenient: the way happening upon a spotted dog, then a shouting man, then an old, broken fountain might allow for a lengthy meditation.
“On days like today, and in seasons like this one, when movement is limited, of course I can’t write a walking essay. The task of ‘journeying,’ of connecting ideas, feels particularly difficult: I’ve been staring at the same things for minutes, days, years. The similes that come to mind are all movement-oriented: wading, struggling, thwacking. And yet here I am, stagnant, in my chair.”
I have nothing like the author’s health issues, and our winter weather has not been quite as severe as she describes, but I have been dealing with an injury for the last few weeks, with no clear end in sight, and walks of any length are painful. A walk amongst and between our heaps of snow is appealing, especially as the days get longer and the sky is often clear with the cold, and I wonder what I’m missing by staying indoors.
The lack of walking has probably not impacted my writing, although a few more weeks without exercise might do its own damage. But I like the idea that what you write might be something that moves as you move or remains still when you do. And the idea of an essay (or any piece of writing) not as something that must always be moving forward, but as something that might stay in one place, fixed and constant, and still be good.
The essay ends with an encouraging thought: “There are ways of sitting static, of finding meaning and even a sense of possibility without going on a walk and searching for a pear tree, an argument, a plot.” I will need those ways as spring approaches, unless I’m ready by then to take long walks again.