Walk Like a Dog
I am in a swarm of family and work this summer and even forgot to do my post on Wednesday, which dear Therese forgave. I still had no time to write a new post, thanks to conferences and family and a new book out, but here is an offering–my very first post at Writer Unboxed, dated April 23, 2008.
Almost every word is still the same. Different dogs, longer walks, but still the same actions.
“If you are seeking creative ideas, go out walking. Angels whisper to a man when he goes for a walk.” ~Raymond Inmon
I am a great believer in walking. Not speed walking or to win some contest; not to conquer or prove anything (although competition, too, can be good for the soul). Just plain old walking. Walking to shake out the tight spots in a body. Walking to fire up the imagination, to cure the blues, to nourish the spirit.
I especially believe in writers walking. Sitting at a keyboard for unending hours is hardly a healthy act for the body, and sitting in a single room, all by yourself with only a cup of coffee and your iPod for company hardly does a thing for refilling the well. Walking takes no special clothing, and almost everyone can do it. You don’t have to walk fast to get the benefit, or even go anywhere special. Walk out your front door and walk along your street or lane or alley or field. Walk like a dog, imbued with curiosity and pleasure in the moment itself: right now, walking!
Every day around 8:30, my chow mix patters into my office and sits down with a heavy sigh. I ignore him at first, usually, since My Writing Is Important and dogs can be walked at any point during the day. Jack disagrees. After ten minutes, he creeps closer to my chair and breathes on my side. Just that hot, hopeful breath, unbelievably annoying. Still, I can often ignore it a little longer.
At which point, he will raise his glittery gold-red paw and put it lightly on my leg. Please? Which he knows I cannot resist.
So I gather up leashes and harnesses and treats and poo bags and off we go, into the neighborhood, on a single 1.5 mile loop around the suburban park system between houses. Every day, the same walk, though we sometimes switch direction. Every day, the dogs—there is a terrier mix, too—can barely restrain their joy at getting out the door, into the world. The world! The great big amazing world! They snuffle the same bushes with fresh curiosity every day, stick their noses in the same prairie dog holes hoping this time to snare some tidbit of baby rodent. They prance along the same routes to lift their legs, offering their comments on the neighborhood dog blog.
It takes roughly a half hour. While the dogs are doing dog things, my writer brain is inevitably unknotting some little issue with the work, whether it is a sentence or a plot, a character issue or a connection. Some days I am tired and don’t want to think at all; often it is those days, when I’m yawning while the dogs snuffle over the juniper bush, that I notice something I haven’t seen. A landscape drawn in colored chalk, perhaps by a knot of teenagers who cheerily waved at me not too long ago at dusk, hoping their friendliness would distract me from the scent of burning cannibis in the air. Or perhaps I notice the border collie on the corner is sticking his nose over the fence and it reminds me of a dog I once loved, who would be a perfect addition to the character who is so flat. If I am walking like my dogs, I see the grove of aspens anew each day, and the sky, and the mountains, changing every hour.
Walking every morning this way shakes out my limbs, gets some sunshine on my face, opens the shutters of my brain and lets a freshening wind blow through. I collect images—that old leaf, that smell of pine needles, spicy and wet, the curtains hanging askew in an upstairs bedroom—and music, of birds, of traffic, of the echoey, lost sound of children playing in the distance, out of sight. When I return to the keyboard, the usual stiffness of a long-time writer is shaken out. My spine is straighter, my oxygen-enriched brain a much more efficient organ, and the work much better, and I’ve worked out some knot of tension in my body, and in the work.
Do you like to walk? Is there a time of day you like best?
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