June 28, 2009

Walking with Thomas J.

As I've mentioned before one of my favorite blogs is The Pursuit of Happiness, by Maira Kalman, an incredible artist and writer. She posts in the NY Times at the end of each month and her June entry was about Thomas Jefferson, his life, his peers and his home, Monticello. When I lived in Maryland I visited Monticello several times and I was amazed at Jefferson's inventions, his creativity and his ability to design a home which so clearly reflected his true self. Of course, Thomas was not without his serious flaws as Kalman acknowledges, but he was also one of the most accomplished and intelligent men of his time.

One quote from Jefferson that Kalman included in her entry was about walking, a subject on my mind these days.

"The object of walking is to relax the mind. You should therefore not permit yourself to even think while you walk; but divert yourself by the objects surrounding you. Walking is the best possible exercise. "

This quote struck home with me because I am trying to become a walker...again. Not just the sort of person who enjoys a weekend stroll, but someone who wakes up each day needing to walk. I want walking to become a compulsion, a healthy addiction, an every day occurrence. A few summers ago I was a true walker, but then laziness and a faulty knee got in the way. My walking group outings provide a wonderful incentive (and an added bonus of a laugh-filled good time) but I need to fly solo, as well.

Experience has taught me that contrary to Mr. Jefferson, walking doesn't exactly relax my mind. Walking by myself does allow me to carefully observe the world that is blurred when I drive by in a car. I can also focus on things that I postpone thinking about during the regular course of a day. Yesterday as I walked along Cathedral Oaks I came to the realization that I would rather be working on a different writing project than the one I am writing now. I'm not going to give up on my short story/middle grade novel, but I'm also going to work on telling the story of Emmett, a character whose story I loved but who fell to the wayside after a few sessions of writing class critiques. (I wonder if Thomas got distracted by critiques as he wrote the Declaration of Independence? Did he ever want to throw in the towel and just let America remain under British rule?) "Emmett's" critiques weren't all negative, but they were enough to stunt the growth of his story, and wound the fragile writer's ego of his creator. Maybe now is the time to take a page from Ms. Kalman and launch the Pursuit of Emmett.

But first back to Mr. J. He obviously hadn't anticipated the advent of iPods and cellular phones when he wrote down his thoughts about walking. Most of the walkers I pass during my local jaunts are listening to something or conducting one-sided phone conversations. I have to admit I am sometimes guilty of indulging in musical distractions as well. Matching my steps to a good beat or a jazzy saxophone certainly amps up my speed. My current favorite is Van Morrison's Gloria. I thumb through the songs on my mini i-Pod, listening to the first few notes of each song, until I hear its familiar rhythmic beats. And then I repeat it. Over and over.

I can't imagine what Thomas would make of it.


Solvang Sherrie said...

One of the things I remember Mary telling me when we first met was to write with the door closed, edit with the door open. She said that critiques too early in the writing process were more hurtful than helpful. WISH is my first experience not following that advice. But so far, it hasn't been bad going this way.

Patty P said...

I agree with Sherrie; write away and don't offer it up for a critique until you're ready. I know the temptation is there where workshops or writing classes loom, but wait. Enjoy the process. Enjoy discovering who Emmett is.
Glad you got your walking shoes on again!

Maggie said...

Thanks,Ladies. I came up with a better beginning on my walk this morning, but based on the advice of some wonderful writers I'm not going to reveal a thing about it.