welcome to the world of the living
September is just over. I am back to my commute walk now, a roughly 45-minute walk that takes me long the Grand Canal. To my right is a busy two-way street that is clogged with traffic at peak hours. To my left is the canal, and across it a walking path, two cycle lanes, and a narrow street for one-way car traffic. Not a bucolic place at all. The world of the living is present there, though. I was maybe five yards from this heron. There are always swans. Lots of crows, jackdaws, magpies. Seagulls. Starlings. If I moved more slowly or sat longer I know I’d see smaller birds. The variety of plant life is huge. If I knew better what to look for and how to look I’m sure I would see more insects. I have seen fish in the canal, which surprised and delighted me—I had assumed it was too dirty for fish. And there are all the humans around the canal, too: the ones who drive by, the ones who cycle by, the ones who walk, and the ones who sit by it to smoke or drink or hang out with friends because there is no private space in their houses or just sit on the benches for some quiet in the green shade. And there are the ones of us who live in tents along the canal banks.
You don’t have to go away, is what I’m saying, to see ‘nature’. It’s right here, and we are in it—we are it. The faraway nature preserve one might voyage to to spend a day in nature feels to me like a way of pretending we aren’t implicated in it, permeated by it, always with it, in fact like a way of pretending we can even say it instead of saying, more properly, we, us. Embedded in the world of the living, we live along with it, as it. When we die we become it thoroughly. When we breathe, it becomes us. But prior to any conception, it is us, we are it. It ises us, the us of all the living.
When I told some people I’d just met that I’ve walked about 1200 miles this year, nearly all of that in my neighborhood, two questions came up. Did I go out for ‘better’ walks, i.e. did I travel away to See Things, and was I doing anything with the walks. I don’t go away to see things because I am seeing things all the time. I haven’t walked the streets where I live enough to be tired of them and I don’t think I could. When I go a week without checking on the trees, flowers, brambles, gates, paths I feel a pang of regret for all the change I’ve missed. Time is fleeting. What better thing than to be a deep-space telescope of one’s most local surroundings, sending oneself image after image of the same view over time?
The question of doing something with is such a gound-in question in art life.
Such a ground-in question in the lives we live inside of capitalism.
I take these walks because I want to be related to the place I have arrived. I owe it real looking; otherwise my relation to it would be assumption on my part. I am still assuming things despite my walks—because I just can’t see, sense, understand the all of it all. I don’t want to assume, or I want to assume as little as possible. I want to be light on this place. I want to see how things are, be puzzled by them, figure some of them out over time. I want to learn to draw connections in this place. I also want to know where things are, practically: both the best place to get bread in my neighborhood and the places where blackberries are thick hanging over walls in August. My walks, though this isn’t the reason I take them, keep me aware of my nonbelonging by teaching me what it might be to belong here. I value that.
The pleasure of walking and looking is also sufficient reason for walking and looking.
We are here, the world of the living says, including us in the we. That’s what pleasure means, I think.
Walking can be a reply to the speech of the living world, because the scale of walking is on the scale of living things. By walking I mean moving at the pace of a walk. It doesn’t entail the use of one part of one’s body in a particular way. It is about tempo, not anatomy. It’s also about finitude. You can’t walk limitlessly. There has to be an end to it—because your body is tired, or because you need to eat a meal, or to go to the bathroom. Walking reminds us we are alive by insisting on the things living beings need: rest, food, water, an end.
My walks do something with me—they put me among and in. They change my eyes and my language, my sense of smell, my leg muscles. Alive and not alone. What will you do with this is not the question of the world of the living. The questions are, at least but not only, where are you? and who else is with you?
Thanks for reading. See you in a week!