Tag Archives: Walking

Inspiration Monday: Commuting

I’ve written already about the wisdom of walking for the creative life.

No reason why I shouldn’t repeat myself, of course.  Especially now we are in a new year, with new Intentions and new opportunities.  I have promised myself I will walk more this year.  Sometimes, this is not an easy promise to fulfil.  There are appointments to be met, after all; there is the filthy English weather (and believe me, filthy is what it is at present), and then there are my physical limitations.

Yet, in spite of the mud and the commitments and my low energy levels, I am trying to get out most days.

And there are so many things to see.  Some of the best walks I’ve ever had have been the repetitive ones to and from work, or school, the continual plodding on the pavements that sets up a meditative rhythm.  This time of year, walking home in twilight is especially evocative.  Not only can you see into other people’s houses as you pass, because many people don’t draw their curtains too early, but the landscape changes when industrial lights are switched on.

As a teenager, my walk home from our nearest bus stop was a route that skirted fields and woods.  Behind those woods, though, lay a huge industrial area, lit by massive floodlights in the dark hours.  The entire night sky glowed with this statement of manmade power over the environment.  To me, it looked uncannily like one of those landing pads on strange planets from the Star Wars films, and it fuelled my imagination continually.

Walking is not the only way to travel home from work, of course.  Sitting on a bus is great for inspiration too.  You can see so much more from the height of a bus seat, and not just into people’s windows, and thus into little vignettes of their lives.  Tableaux of office workers frozen in time as you pass their workplaces will catch your eye: someone handing over a file as the recipient reaches out to take it over a low  desk partition;  a group of besuited workers sitting around a conference table working out details of a deal; a pile of files teetering in an in-tray.  What are they talking about, these people who are so busy?  Whose lives will be changed by the outcome of that meeting, for better or worse?  What details, sinister or otherwise, are contained in those files – the potential for a fraud conviction, or the much-cherished hope of an adopted baby?

On a train, disparate people gather together and ignore one another.  They listen to hissing music on iPods and phones, tap at laptops or iPads, read books and newspapers, stare out of the window or fall asleep.  Each one has a story.  Can you be Sherlock Holmes and deduce their tale?

Viriginia Woolf, my heroine of writers, snatched up just such an opportunity in her short story, ‘An Unwritten Novel’, in which the narrator sits on a train and tries to guess the tale of a woman sitting in her compartment.  If you have never read it, I enthusiastically recommend it, not only as an example of how you can take a moment from your everyday life and make a work of art from it, but also for its fine stream-of-consciousness style and its sheer wit.  People’s occupations on trains may have changed since it was written, but the way we react to them, I should hazard, probably has not.

Creative Exercise:

How do you travel to your daily occupation?  Do you take the bus, train or Tube?  Do you cycle or walk?  Whichever you do, you may view it as a necessary evil, a time to catch up on your email, or some extra sleep.

What about reframing that view?

What if your daily commute to work, college or school became a special time set aside for creativity?

You could take a sketchbook and a biro and draw portraits of your fellow commuters.  This might develop into a whole series of painted portraits that depict your daily travels and those who accompany you on your journey.

You could compose a story about them in your head, and use it as the basis of a short story or novel, as Woolf did.

You could even go all ‘Brief Encounter’ and come up with a passionate love story between two of your fellow travellers!

(Probably best not to do this so much if you drive.  A vehicle is a life-threatening weapon, so you need to be alert and aware when you are in charge of it.  But maybe at traffic lights, you could look into other people’s cars and see what they are up to – applying mascara, fiddling with the radio, texting or picking their noses!)

What do you see as you travel?  What landscapes or buildings do you pass?  What could be going on inside that floodlit brick bunker that looks like a government establishment?  What story is being lived out on each floor of that block of flats you stomp past every morning? (I recommend Alaa Al Aswany’s superb novel, The Yakoubian Building’, for an example of this.)

Take your writers notebook and make notes of the ideas that come to you.  Make this time a time for your imagination to be unleashed.  Make a chore, a daily misery, into the highlight of your working life.

Happy creating,

EF

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Inspiration Monday: On Walking

Footprints Ardnave 1Many great writers have also been great walkers.  Imagine Jane Austen striding across the Hampshire countryside around Chawton, her home village, the hem of her white muslin gown getting stained with mud, or Virginia Woolf stomping over the Sussex Downs, hands buried deep in her pockets, muttering sentences and paragraphs for her current work under her hat brim.  The Romantic poets were famous for striding around the Lake District, soaking up the epic scenery and composing all the while.

There is something meditative about walking, a rhythm that comes with stomping feet, the steady repetition of step after step over the ground.  The act of walking induces a kind of trance, a change in consciousness that opens up our minds.  When I am able to walk, I can exorcize even the foulest of moods, and I always come home with an idea, an image, a sentence at the very least.

Walking gets us close to our environment in a way that travelling by other means can’t.  You cannot see details from a car the way you can on foot.  A cat lazing on a sunny windowsill.  The colour of a starling’s wing.  A family gathered around the kitchen table, enjoying a late sunday lunch together as you pass.  On foot, you can surreptitiously peer in through windows, or linger to observe a view, a cloud or a flower.  We can even listen in to conversations we might miss otherwise:

‘Andrew, did you put the blood and bone tub back in the shed last week, because I can’t find it?’

Walking allows us to observe the world whilst being part of it.  It brings us into Flow, a place where our thoughts smoothe into a creative stream.  We can walk ourselves out of being stuck on a project, and we can walk ourselves into a new one.  Plus, it burns calories and keeps you fit and, well, and who doesn’t love that?

Creative Exercise:

Put a notebook or sketchbook and a pencil in the pocket of your jacket.  You could even take a camera.  Put on a sturdy pair of shoes and go for a walk around your neighbourhood.  Take twenty minutes, more if you have it.  Try to walk with a steady motion, a regular rhythm.  Drum out a beat with your soles. Open your mind to whatever thoughts come up.

Look around you.  What little details, or big stories to you witness?  You can scribble things down on your way, or you can stop, if you have the time, to take notes, draw a sketch or two, snap a few photographs.  You don’t have to photograph people, remember –  a wonky chimney stack or a graffitied sign might spark your interest, perhaps even an interesting pattern made by litter in the gutter.  Take the time to witness and observe.  Combine this with the meditative beat of footsteps.  A treasure trove is outside your door.  Even if you only walk and see, do that much.  When you get home, note down what you have seen for use later, and enjoy feeling refreshed.

Walk twice a week for preference, daily if you can.  Get to know your locale.  Push yourself by walking in new places.  Extend and vary your routes.  Walk whether you feel like it or not.  Especially when not.  Putting one foot in front of another gets your mind to a new place that is always worth exploring.