Tag: walking

Finding My Walking Groove Again

I am a walker.  I was never into sports or the gym or jogging or hiking but I can walk across a city with great enthusiasm and speed.  When I lived in San Francisco I walked everywhere.  I rode my bicycle sometimes and of course I took Muni at night or when I didn’t have time to walk to where I was going or if I was headed for a rougher neighborhood than I wanted to walk alone in.  Though there really weren’t many neighborhoods I wouldn’t walk in.

I especially like walking while listening to music on headphones.  I get to block out the noise and the world turns into a silent film with my own hand picked soundtrack.  I love to look at architecture, people, gardens, graffiti, dark alleyways, open doorways.  I love to walk through neighborhoods at dusk when lights are just turning on and the smell of dinner wafts out of windows into the evening air.  It’s such an intimate moment in people’s lives – when they’re sauteing onions and baking things – those smells reach the street and it’s like seeing inside a person’s life through those ordinary and constant daily rhythms.

(This has always been one of my favorite houses in the McDonald neighborhood)

Some cities are better for walking in than others.  Some cities offer more interest to the eye and the nose than others.  What scenery inspires you to get outside and walk is terribly personal.  If you like to walk in one city more than another it isn’t a failing on the part of the city you don’t like to walk in – it’s just not your place.  That’s how McMinnville was for me.  There are a couple of pretty neighborhoods there with cute vintage houses and there are a few interesting gardens to see – but for my tastes it was a tedious place to walk.  A huge proportion of the town was developed after the 50’s so the major building styles are low ranches or the newer developments that are trying to be modern Victorian or fresh takes on bungalows for people who really want mansions.  And most people are fixated on 1 of 3 garden styles and they pretty  much all look the same.

It was a pretty little town in its way but there wasn’t enough variety to hold my attention as a walker.  What I did love were the bulbs in the spring – I have never seen so many beautiful bulbs than I have in Northern Oregon.  The lilacs are stunning and smell wonderful.  And the peonies – which don’t do reliably well here in Northern California – are breathtaking.  I will miss all of those things as the seasons here come and go.

But Santa Rosa is one of the best cities for walking in – for me.  For one thing – there are sidewalks everywhere.  (In McMinnville there were a surprising number of streets that had no sidewalks.)  I remember when I first lived here in Santa Rosa how surprised I was that I could go walking every day and find a new garden to admire, a new hidden street I hadn’t walked through before, and a new neighborhood tucked behind a familiar one.  There are parts of Santa Rosa that are hideously ugly.  No question about that.  There are several strip malls that are like pockmarks of doom in the city.  All of Santa Rosa Avenue is one endless open-air strip mall.  There are also plenty of gross planned McMansion neighborhoods you can live in if you like that sort of thing.  But most of them are on the outskirts because the city was developed quite a long time ago and the only room for new developments were on the edges of the city, expanding it’s boundaries.

I live downtown.  So from my house I can go in any direction and hit a cool neighborhood predominantly comprised of vintage houses of the charming kind.  Whether run down or poshed up – there’s lots of variety.  I can go a long way without running into a modern planned development.  When I first came back here I was so bunched up and worn out and ragged that taking walks for exercise seemed like more effort than I could bear.  I got a gym membership at the Y and started off using it a lot.  I love the Y.  However, collecting walnuts in the neighborhood brought my feet back to earth and fresh fall air to my lungs and I’ve been working myself up to more regular walking.

The thought of going to the Y now seems tedious.  Chick needs exercise and she’s not allowed to use the treadmills at the Y.  So.  I haven’t been to the gym in weeks but I’ve been out in the fresh air with Chick.  The side benefit to this is that the gardens I see on my walk have been stirring my hunger to get back out into the dirt.  I don’t have a big area to garden here, as I’ve mentioned, since the back yard is almost all shade and filled with a huge oak tree and a big stand of bamboo.  But there’s plenty I can do with the small front and we’ve decided to build some beds in the stupidly long driveway that gets tons of light.

So I’ve been getting out into the yard between rains this week.  Just maintenance stuff like sweeping the crepe myrtle crud off the sidewalk to avoid lawsuits.  I trimmed up my potted bay trees.  I cut back the enormous salvias choking the little walkway under my office window.  Yesterday I took Chick to the McDonald neighborhood for a 45 minute vigorous walk.  It’s where all the rich people live who like old houses (as opposed to those who like to live in mansions in new developments).  Many of the streets in the McDonald neighborhood are double wide.  There are quaint little alleys between streets where service people enter. Yep.  Service people.  And that’s where the trash cans go too.  You will never see a trashcan on the actual streets there.  I used to walk that neighborhood frequently.  I love the old houses and the gardens.

I’m a happy walker again.  My hip sometimes hurts afterwards for a day or two but I’m trying not to notice.  Just keep moving… just keep moving…

The Power of Solitude

My dad doesn’t like to spend a lot of time alone.  He doesn’t enjoy solitude.  He loves companionship, sports, parties, and having fun with people he enjoys.  I think he’s not unusual in this way.  I have a friend right now who admits to not being good at self entertaining and who prefers to be in the company of others as much as possible.

I need the company of others as most humans do, but it costs as much as it pays.

I need solitude.  In an ideal world I would spend at least fifty percent of my time completely alone.  I have lived extremes.  The year I lived alone in an apartment in the upper tenderloin of San Francisco was so lonely I actually cried a lot over it and ended up talking to the cockroaches.  My main friends were three really dysfunctional men, two of whom slept with the same woman periodically and one of whom was a pot dealer and so spaced out he had to be tied to earth with a string.  We bowled a lot and drank plum wine and Anchor Steam beer which I now despise.

Now I am married, have a ten year old, and live with my mother.  I am almost never alone.  Since my kid has been mostly sick for a month and a half and has been home a lot, I have had so little time to myself I am shredding.  This summer I had to pull back from things, social media, friends, family, everything.  It helped me recenter myself.  I am now in need of recentering again but I don’t need to disconnect from social media to do it.

I need more alone time in real life.  Real life.  What a strange thing to say.  As though any part of life isn’t real.  We exist everywhere we exist and so all our actions and interactions are real, whether or not they are conducted online.

I have come to this place, again, where I’m not hearing myself first every day.  There is so much noise around me from other people it’s difficult to pick out my own voice.  There are so many people who have serious expectations of me: my son, my son’s teacher and everyone he tangles with at school, his psychologist, his Kung Fu teacher who is also mine and who expects things of me both on Max’s behalf and on my own, work, my mom, my pets who are riled up by all the change, my husband, and my works of fiction.

And then there’s me.  There’s what I expect of myself.  It’s become so tangled up with what other people expect of me that I hardly know what I’m actually asking of myself anymore.  The only thing I was asking of myself that no one else was asking of me was to get cracking on the third draft of my novel.  I am stymied.  Paralyzed.  People keep telling me I need space.  “Take a break” they say.  “Walk away for a while and let it breath” they suggest.  I fought it because I feel the fire of ambition and I’ve never been so close to achieving the thing I’ve been driving at for most of my life.

This week slammed into me with an explosion of noise, emotional torture, and crisis.

It was important for what it revealed.  A meeting with Max’s teacher, principal, special ed instructor, and a random other teacher who had a complaint about him culminated in the very clear message that everyone in an official capacity now agrees with my assessment that my son is not only different but is facing enormous challenges in his future.  It has been suggested that Max needs an IEP, a tool that can be very helpful for kids with disabilities but which officially marks them as people with legal disabilities.  I know it’s silly to know my son has serious challenges and then freak out when everyone agrees with me that this is something that needs to be addressed legally and more seriously.

I did freak out.  I cried in that meeting and I don’t care how natural it was of me to do so, I couldn’t let go of my shame for that for three days.

There is so much, so much crowding my head for explanation that it’s too much.

What it comes down to in the end, the real message for me this week is that if I don’t minimize the chaos around me and the expectations being made of me I will go down that rabbit hole of doom otherwise known as a nervous breakdown.

It all comes down to this:  I will do anything to have more time alone.  I will do anything to listen to silence.  I will do anything for the comfort and peace of solitude.

I walked the dog yesterday.  It wasn’t as peaceful as hoped because there was too much stimulus everywhere: people walking their dogs that Chick is forcefully interested in, cats that Chick is forcefully interested in, and no white noise of music to blot the world out for reasons too dull to explain.  Even so, getting away from human voices and the surroundings that feel trapping set a little part of me free.

Today I took the dog out again.  This time I had my white noise.  The air was soft and comfortable.  Chick didn’t pull on the leash, attempt to chase other dogs or cats, she fell into immediate rhythm with my pace and I stopped to stretch my calf muscles four times (still experiencing strained calf muscles) and the distance from other people, the needs of others, and the expectations that dog me was blissful.

I am taking a hiatus from Kung Fu.  It isn’t important to explain why now, but I felt lighter and coming up from the deep was my own connection with my body.  Everything needs to slow down.  I am still the same size but since taking Kung Fu my body has changed and so much progress has been made- but too fast.

I need everything to slow down to my natural pace.  I’ve made too much progress too fast, asked too much too soon, both in writing and of my muscle and bone.

Today I took the fresh air deep into my lungs as I walked and paused to stretch and I let myself feel the freedom of only answering to myself.  I may be a task master but I am always compassionate when I let myself out of my cage, when I let go of what others expect of me.  I felt my stride lengthen and my muscles warm with movement.  I took in the color of the crocuses and daffodils unfolding shyly in the gardens I passed, not on mass display yet, just white, yellow, and purple peeking out of borders and underneath trees.  I saw how the sun fell on cars and lawns and old men trimming hedges.  It felt benevolent, calm, quiet.

I crave solitude.  I crave an empty house.  Empty rooms.  Places where no voices rush through skin.  Places where the color is louder than thought.  I crave silence of mind and absence of humans.  It’s how I recharge.  Sitting in complete solitude for hours on end.  This is why I have spent so many hours fantasizing about becoming a nun or a monk.  Or taking vows of silence.   Impossible for a person so verbal, I know.  It’s my constant fantasy, to have no actual voice that isn’t paper and ink.

To be alone and hear the air moving is delicious.

To be alone and lost in the details outside of oneself is meditation.

I am taking a break from the book to recharge.  It’s ironic that the first book is now haunting me and pulling me forward.  I will not press, I will not push.  I am taking a break from my ambition and my passion, to listen.

I think this is all part of my necessary pattern.  To listen to it, to acknowledge it, to accept it is absolute.

I am aware that sometimes my distance, my choices, my absence, and my silence can be hurtful to others.  I don’t rejoice in anything I do causing pain to others but I know that if I don’t give myself what I need then it causes even greater pain to others.

Walking is powerful to me.  Solitary walking is prayer.

I will walk my dog more often to give her what she’s been missing and desperately needs.

But I will walk myself without her too.

I will walk myself until I can run because it’s the only way I can find solitude.

All the answers may be known if you are willing to be completely alone with yourself.