All in a Day's Walk

A month-long slow food walking performance

Wild sleeping

Hounds sleeping

You know when you should have a day off walking when… yesterday the path in front you looked like an appealing place to lie down and sleep. (A couple of years ago on a sunny August morning in the middle of a ten month bout of insomnia, I stopped on a journey from Hereford to Bristol and walked up May Hill looking for somewhere to sleep. In my sleep-deprived madness, I wondered if I could write a lavishly-illustrated coffee-table book on Wild Sleeping to add to the glut of wild swimming and cool camping ones…)

Today I’m tired: the sudden arrival of starchy carbohydrates (oats) in my diet has replaced hunger with a heavy, profound tiredness. The sudden arrival of clouds, cool weather and a breeze has replaced the artificially energising effects of sunlight and revealed an exhaustion I didn’t know was lurking.

So we’re sleeping (me and hounds) and I’m writing. By which I mean blogging retrospectively.

I’m not very disciplined when it comes to writing: not doing it at all, and then doing too much. As my supervisor says, I write like I talk, wanting to say it all – everything about everything – all at the same time (parentheses within parentheses) interrupting the flow in the process.

I find documenting walking through writing (as in this blog) is incredibly counterintuitive. While I know that writing and walking are both forms of thinking (writing is the best form of thinking, my supervisor tells me; walking is the best form of thinking argues Robert Macfarlane; walking and writing are compatible forms, with walking providing a reflective space to contemplate one’s writing, balances Tony Williams) to me they are mutually exclusive. Perhaps this is because they both take my energy in different ways.

Walking stimulates thought but ultimately brings me to a quiet stillness. It’s a linear, directional, space-eatingly satisfying, multi-sensorial engagement with the world. It gives me energy at the same time as it exhausts me.

Writing is an attempt to tether and order that thought, but it agitates me in the process. It’s a non-linear chaos of words in my head emerging through the dam of my fingers, the sluice gate of the pen or keyboard, as a tamed stream of communication. It makes me restless at the same time as it saps my energy.

They tire me in different ways but equally, so I can only do one or the other. I don’t have the energy for both.

It’s an imaginative leap over the stream of poetic license, but as I’m always going on about dichotomy and disconnectedness as lying at the root of our inability to do more about impending climate doom, I wonder if maybe this writing/walking conundrum is representative of those fundamental dichotomies. And that they are more deeply scored in all of us and harder to reconcile than we think.

1 Comment»

  Bruno De Wachter wrote @

Interesting thoughts, Jess. I happen to have just read the essay ‘How Tracy Austin broke my heart’ by David Foster Wallace. He wonders why sport heroes (like former tennis player Tracy Austin) are generally so inept with words (in interviews, autobiographies etc.). ‘It is not an accident that great athletes are often called “natural” because they can, in performance, be totally present: they can proceed on instinct and muscle-memory and autonomic will such that agent and action are one. […] The real, many-veiled answer to the question of just what goes through a great player’s mind as he stands at the center of a hostile crowd-noise and lines up the free-throw that will decide the game might well be: nothing at all. […] This is for me the real mystery – whether such a person is an idiot or a mystic or both and/or neither. The only certainty seems to be that such a person does not produce a very good prose memoir.’


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