On December 16, I strapped a Fitbit onto my left wrist where—save for swimming and showers and the occasional reboot—it’s stayed ever since. I’ve always walked. I like to walk, even in cold weather, though I dislike wind and cold. I bought a Fitbit (hereinafter “Fitbit”) because I wanted to track how much I was walking and when, and how that translated into miles and calories and health.
If the scale is right, I’ve lost five pounds. I’m sleeping a lot better, too, according to Fitbit. It measures that, too. But what Fitbit doesn’t measure is mental health and how that translates into creative well-being, because I’ve noticed an uptick—no, a spike—in that.
So many writers are walkers. Wallace Stevens never learned to drive and so walked the two miles to and from his work as an insurance executive in Hartford, Connecticut. His neighbors say he would “walk differently” from night to night, even backing up to repeat his steps as he worked out the words in his head. Cheryl Strayed took a 1,000-plus mile hike and writes (famously) about it in her book Wild. Virginia Woolf and James Joyce set their respective characters on walking journeys through London and Dublin.
But what is it about walking and its link to creativity? According to Ferris Jabr, in his article for The New Yorker “Why Walking Helps Us Think”:
The answer begins with changes to our chemistry. When we go for a walk, the heart pumps faster, circulating more blood and oxygen not just to the muscles but to all the organs—including the brain. . . . The way we move our bodies further changes the nature of our thoughts, and vice versa. . . . Walking at our own pace creates an unadulterated feedback loop between the rhythm of our bodies and our mental state that we cannot experience as easily when we’re jogging at the gym, steering a car, biking, or during any other kind of locomotion. When we stroll, the pace of our feet naturally vacillates with our moods and the cadence of our inner speech; at the same time, we can actively change the pace of our thoughts by deliberately walking more briskly or by slowing down (September 3, 2104).
Because it is winter in New York, I usually walk with my head down. There is ice on the sidewalks and the roads where I walk, secret ice under the thin layer of snow that is there on early mornings. I don’t want to fall, so I walk carefully and sometimes slowly, always with my head down so I can see what’s ahead. The upside of this is the money I find, coins of all denominations usually coated with road salt or mud.
Money is money. The coins go into a red plastic pig that I’ll empty at the end of the year and count up, tangible evidence of what I’ve gained in twelve months of walking.