Wednesday, December 06, 2006

WILL SELF WALKS...And the existential Question

dowse's 2

I come from a family of walkers. When he was young, my grandfather used to walk fifteen miles to his factory job in Boston. Then at the end of the day, he walked back. When I asked him if he was tired, he laughed.

"I was young," he'd say. "Why would I be tired?

Later, when I told that story to people, they said it was impossible. They said no one could fit thirty miles of walking and an eight hour shift at a factory in one day.

I still believe my grandfather though. When he was ninety-six, he got up early every morning, put on a white shirt and tie, and walked six miles.

When I asked him why he got dressed up to take a walk, he said it made him feel good. It made him feel that even though he was retired from the job he got when he left the factory, his day still mattered.

Anyway, I got really excited when I read this piece about Will Self today. Not only is Self a fine (and frequently hilarious) novelist, it turns out he is a mad walker too.

When he came to New York to accept an award at the National Arts Club, he walked twenty-six miles to the airport in London. Then, when he arrived in New York, he hiked from Kennedy International to his hotel, checking out the neighborhoods and stopping for a burrito along the way.

Though his latest novel about a cab driver who invents a religion hadn't really struck me as my kind of book, I think I'm going to have to give it a try.

A man who wants to discover where he is by walking its streets until
he's tired is bound to have something interesting to say.

Now for the Existential Question of the Week: Where did you walk today, and what did you see?

I'll start: I walked mostly around my house. I saw things that needed to be picked up, and occasionally I did. I saw my new art supplies, but I didn't have time to use them. Not today. And I saw the inner lives of my characters. The new novel is zipping right along. My grandfather probably wouldn't think much of my travels; Will Self either, but for me it was a good day.


Anonymous said...

I ran three miles when my family was asleep, then chased my two year old around the house all day.

Anonymous said...

Amazing. I can just hope to have that attitude later in life!

Anonymous said...

great story! And today I haven't yet walked (have been doing a circuit around my house and up and down my driveway). Husband had to leave way earlier than usual so I fixed breakfast instead. With the day stretching before me, I believe I will walk to the circle across the way (about a mile - am waiting for good walking shoes in the mail) with the dog. That should make both of us happy.

Shannon Hopkins said...

I will walk the dogs on the walkway that used to be a canal behind my condo. I will see the sky turning gray from the advent of a cold dawn, snow on roofs and in yards, the black glitter of ice on the roadway. I will see quail and crows, and small children going to school. It's finals week, and this week I'm not walking in the dark at 6:30. Rather a nice change, to see light rising.

Anonymous said...

This morning I walked on the treadmill and watched a great little show on Bravo called The Writing Life. Today, North American writers spoke about how odd success feels when you're used to being alone with your book, and how writers never fully appreciate success no matter what they've already accomplished. As a writer, you live in doubt--always slightly fearful of, but irresistably lured by that next (unwritten) sentence.

It was a great walk.

Tish Cohen

Fred Garber said...

Today I walked 20 feet to my car. Then I drove to the coffee shop. Had to walk almost 50 feet to the counter to order the double espresso. Walked to the table. Walked back to my car. Drove to work. Parked the car and had to walk almost a city block to my office...I have done all of that exercise and it is not even 10 am here yet. I am worn out!

robin andrea said...

Your grandfather's story is wonderful. I like to walk everyday, if I can. Didn't get out on Wednesday, but plan to make up for that today.

The Curmudgeon said...

I loved Fred Garber's comment.

I, too, walked to the car this morning, to drive my daughter to school, 10 miles away in Wilmette. It was single digits out and still dark.

After returning, my Long Suffering Spouse dropped me off at the el. I walked across Harlem Avenue without any crosswalk -- despite the presence of an el station, there are few accommodations made for pedestrians.

Arriving downtown, I walked through the County Administration Building and the Daley Center and City Hall -- the Pedway, what's left of it, is a wonderful thing on a cold day, but then I had to venture out across LaSalle Street, through the alley, beneath the Loop el tracks and toward my office.

I retraced my steps just a little later, going back to the Daley Center for court, then to the Border's on State Street to look at books and music. Today was a music day... if you can call my triumph of finding the Barking Dogs singing Jingle Bells on CD a triumph. Or even music.

I fear my wife will not be nearly as enthused as I was.

Then I walked across the Loop to the bank and back to the office... and I realized that today was a wonderful day to put the earflaps down on the hat.

I used to walk much more. My office was almost a mile from the courthouse at one point. I used to laugh at the Yuppies talking about grabbing a cab to the East Bank Club to work out over lunch... about as far away from the Daley Center as my office was... and I was walking back and forth. Someday I will walk more again.

Anonymous said...

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floots said...

i saw a hawk sitting on a dead tree shaped like a cactus from a cartoon western
i saw a villanelle evolve - slowly
i saw a large bar of chocolate shrink - quickly

i had a good day too

Annie Jeffries said...

I walked to the cafateria and back today. Lovely crisp weather but other than to and from the parking lot, that was IT.

Annie Jeffries said...

Back again. I just read the Will Self piece. Fascinating. Thank you so much for posting the link. And the book sounds really interesting. Definitely my kind of book.

Sky said...


patry, i love your story about your grandfather. sounds like a very interesting (and healthy!) man. how long did your grandfather live?

today i walked into the courtyard and gazed out on the winter garden, seeing the plants now in their winter beds, brown leaves, branches now resting upon the mulch. i saw birds and squirrels scampering about under the feeder, eating seeds side by side. i imagined how it would all look in a few days when the christmas lights are twinkling in the cold, winter air.

rdl said...

I walked the halls where i work and listened to one more patient say, hey you do all the work. Then i walked in & out of stores in search of the holy grail it seems. That one magical item that will transform everything; all the while knowing that the more things change, the more they stay the same.
I always loved the stories about your Grandfather.

Dave said...

I wonder if your grandfather's walk was on pavement or cross-country? The former is much more exhausting. I've done 30 miles on pavement twice in my life, and it wore me out in a way that hiking the same distance on a hiking trail, with forty pounds on my back, would not. I think I did 35 miles in one day on a backpacking trip once. (It was raining - had to keep moving to avoid hypothermia.) Like your grandfather, I used to walk great distances without a second thought as a young man in my 20s, but now in my reclining years, a two-mile hike seems more than enough.

Incidentally, both modal minority and Riverside Rambles also had posts about the Will Self article. I feel as if it would anticlimatic for me if I went and read his piece now!

Anonymous said...

Your grandfather's walking is inspiring! Wonderful.

While I walked many places today where I took my walking entirely for granted, one walking adventure stands out. My son is completely over a bad cold, and we finally ventured out to a favorite park today.

As soon as we got there, he ran to a small hill and walked up and down it. I followed him, and we walked up and down the hill repeatedly, both of us giggling much of the time.

It was a walking, giggling celebration of returning to the old, loved routine after being sick.

Anonymous said...

Your grandfather was an amazing man. I remember for a few years (when I was much younger!)I would participate in the Easter Seals Walkathon, walking 20 miles, and I would just be wiped out, with blisters, sunburn and exhaustion. Of course it's a lot hotter out here, too, and obviously I wasn't in shape (nor the right shoes). But still, to walk 30 miles on top of working - wow! That is impressive.
Today I walked to and from my car several times at several different parking lots while running errands, which doesn't sound nearly as exhilirating as either your grandfather or Will Self's walks. I enjoy walking, but haven't gone for a really good walk in a week. Thanks for reminding me to take the time and look at the world around me.

Patry Francis said...

heather: A sweet path--enjoy it.

daisy: Me, too!

tammy: Dogs are both great motivators, and fine walking companions.

tarakuanyin: "Quail and crows and small children going to school"--How

tish: I would have liked to take that walk with you. Oddly, the Self article also deals rather amusingly with the writer's isolation.

sage: Thank you for sharing your train whistle and your crow. And actually, I DID have a sunny day. Maybe your wish worked?

fred: I think this could be the beginning of one of your poems.

robin: I feel as if I know your walks so well. I've seen those birds. I've looked into the canyons. I've almost breathed the air!

curmudgeon: I've never walked in Chicago before, but now, thanks to your glorious details, I feel as if I have. (I'm afraid I'm with the long suffering spouse on the Barking Dog CD though.)

floots: I'll be walking on over to check on the evolution of the villanelle later. Thank you for this--also a poem.

annieelf: thanks for sharing your walk to the cafeteria. I am enjoying--and envisioning each and every one of these walks. Glad you enjoyed the article. I've clipped it for later use--though what that use will be, I don't know.

sky: Glad to hear you are spending time in your winter garden. Wish you could post some pictures!

My grandfather was one of 12 children, nearly all of whom died young from diabetes. Though he also had the disease, he made living with it an art and a science, and lived to be 99.

r: I haven't even begun the long march through the malls. This year I 'm so busy, I plan to celebrate a minimalist holiday--long on love, short on frou frou.

dave: Interesting question. Since my grandfather was born in 1884 and was 16 and 17 when he worked in Boston, I suspect he walked on dirt roads.

When I was in college, a group of friends and I once walked ten miles
to a neighboring town, had breakfast, and then walked back. It was a long time ago, but I can still remember how tired I was.

kg: Children so often remind us how good it feels to be in a healthy body. I love your story about the hill.

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Kay Cooke said...

I walked on the street parallel - and just about as steep - to the Steepest Street In The World! Baldwin Street - believe it or not - but it's true (and I believe your grandfather - in those days time was different and the way we used it a whole paradigm-shift away from life as we know it.)

Kay Cooke said...

Sorry that link didn't work = try this Baldwin Street

Kay Cooke said...

Heck - just delete those two comments above - HERE is the linkBaldwin Street

Anonymous said...

I walked from my studio to the cafe and back. It's cold as hell here today and the streets are white with crushed salt. Clear skies, except to the east where everything is all cherry-cheese, brisk and beautiful.

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Sustenance Scout said...

Patry, what's it feel like to ask a simple question and get an avalanche of intriguing answers? I walked a ways to my trusty min-van this morning after watching my daughter play during school recess, though it's a perfect day for a much longer walk: warm sun, cool air, and a bright blue Colorado sky.

Laini Taylor said...

Walked the dogs on the usual route today and saw the usual things: the twin golden labs who stand on their hind legs side by side at their gate to greet us each day; the white car of the hospice nurse who takes care of the old man on the corner; the chickens who always get out of their yard and yes, they do cross the road; everyone's recycling, since it's that day. Dog walks have gotten a little sad for me lately: I've been walking my dog daily for about eleven years and she's aged DRAMATICALLY in the last 6 months, so we have to go really slow now. She still loves it though.

Anonymous said...

do you find that walking helps your writing? it's one of the tools that julia cameron recommends. i haven't walked much today except to the doctor's office (from the parking lot). :(

gerry rosser said...

I am a walker. Some days, in fine weather, I strap on my Camelbak (water backpack for those who don't know) and just set out. Sometimes I'm gone for hours. I take both my iPods because sometimes the battery runs out on one. I have a portable XM Satellite radio, and take that, although reception can be spotty. I have a segmented walking stick I ususally carry. I often carry my little Nikon S1 in a pocket in case I'm inspired by something.

I also ride bike for hours. Whether walking or biking, I do more of it on Cape Cod than in Florida, but I don't neglect doing it here.

Nice post, by the way.

Patry Francis said...

k: I'm so glad you asked that question because I feel so amazed and grateful for these answers, from the poetic to the hilarious to the profound.

laini: I love seeing those chickens with you and the white hospice car--I picture it parked slightly askew. My Jade will be 11 in January, and she, too, loves to walk, but can't go very far or fast. It's a sad process, and brings back memory of our old dog going through the same thing.

ruby: Oh yes! Walking definitely gets the characters in motion--thoug a lot of my writing walks take place up and down my little room.

gerry: I feel like I've been on some of those walks with you by looking at your photographs.

Anonymous said...

My husband woke up with a terrible case of vertigo. He couldn't walk without falling over, so I walked him to the bathroom. Then I walked him to our car and drove him to the ER. Then I paced a mile or two in the hospital corridor while they determined that he did not have a brain tumor or cerebellar stroke. That was about it for my walking today.

Patry Francis said...

Oh, Susan. Thank god those major fears were quickly ruled out; those endless walks in hospital corridors are the worst. Sending good thoughts to you, your husband, and all of your family.

Anonymous said...

Walking to/from the airport?! That's, well, fabulous! :) I am a walker...who hasn't been doing it...and I can feel the difference in my mood. But I come from a family of people who think walking to the car is an it's not like anyone's going to encourage me to get up off of the couch. ;)

paris parfait said...

Will Self is quite the character - he's frequently writing pieces in newspapers in London, showing up on television quiz shows or radio talk shows. His wife is also a journalist, who writes a hilarious newspaper column.

Patry Francis said...

marilyn: Apparently, a ten-hour walk for Self is not uncommon. Aside from the fatigue factor, I would never have time to write.

tara: Interesting. Of course, the walking thing is brilliant PR for a writer. Would he have been the subject of a feature article in the NYT if he hadn't walked to the event? Not that I'm saying it's the ONLY reason he does it--or that I don't admire the hell out of it, but
it's definitely good promotion. It even make me think twice about picking up his book.

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Anonymous said...

I have been out for a stroll every day here in my new neighborhood. Today I took two, the last with my room mate, and we looked at the huge gorgeous row houses and interesting littlel shops and bars and the gated park . . . It just feels so incredibly good to walk around here . . . :) By the way - I love the term you used: a mad walker. love that! :)

Patry Francis said...

kate: I've been reading about your new town, and it sounds so fabulous I'm ready to pack up.

Anonymous said...

When I was a youngster more than 50 years ago, each Christmas my Mom would decorate our Christmas tree and build a wondrous and enchanting village under the tree. With meticulous attention to detail, my Mom used cotton for snow, a mirror for a lake, and placed miniature trees, people, vehicles, and buildings under the tree so that the village would come to life. Year after year, I would stare for hours at the village and at the twinkling tree lights. On numerous occasions, I caught myself daydreaming about someday living in a village under a huge tree that would be decorated with hundreds of ornaments and thousands and thousands of lights.

Now, many years later, a similar type of village actually exists at our city square. More specifically, every year at Christmas the leaders of our city go all out and decorate the square with a Santa and his reindeers, a nativity scene, a 15-foot giant snowman, a hot air balloon with another Santa as its only passenger, numerous giant candy canes, a dozen lit arches, many ornaments, and thousands of lights. Not only this but they use Christmas lights to decorate the outside perimeter of all the buildings that surround the square: a church, a large museum, a good size gazebo, and a train depot that has probably been at the square for more than 75 years. Finally, they decorate a number of bushes and at least thirty trees (most of which are 30 to 40 feet tall) with Christmas tree lights.

Due to the fact that the square stays decorated from Thanksgiving until after New Years, there’s about a six-week period of time every year when I can go to the square and gaze at the lights and the decorations. Fortunately, I don’t live too far from the square, so numerous times every December I walk to the square and visit “my village.” Amazingly, each time I go to my village, I feel the magic and the wonder I experienced many times as a young child when I stared at our Christmas tree and at our village more than a half a century ago.

Through the years, surprisingly, not much has changed except that now the trees, buildings, and many of the decorations are so large that when I visit the square, I actually feel like I live in a village. Thankfully, some memories are so special and magical that they can be re-created many years later in life.

Where did I walk today? I walked to the square to visit “my village.”

Patry Francis said...

garden decor: What a marvelous story-- Thank you so much for sharing it here!

Tom.... said...

Hello Patry...checking in after a time off.
walking is great, and i love the story about your grandpa.
I posted a poem about Christmas on my site.
Hope you have a wonderful season.

Mary Sheehan Winn said...

Patry, I need Duane (A Painting A Day) to push me to paint everyday and I need you to get me off me arse (in front of the computer or easel) and down the street to a beach that runs several miles along our coastal neighborhood.
Also, I have never laughed so hard as when I read your stories about waiting on weddings. Your observation that people in Manola Blahniks act just as stupid as the people in their Payless footwear when they have too much to drink is still tickling my funnybone!!

Patry Francis said...

erasing spam.