An Inside Walk
In January of 2012, I was starting my last semester of graduate school at VCU. I was about to try and wrap up my past three semesters of investigations into a coherent Thesis. I was looking for a teaching position, and doing a lot of travel to conferences. I had spent a lot of time working and thinking, and it was about to come to an end in a few short months. I also weighed more than I ever have — at that time, I topped out at about 303 pounds. I have never been a small person, but 303 was too much. I felt unhealthy. I was uncomfortable. Sitting in a plane was more of an ordeal than it needed to be, and buying clothes was something less than fun.
It was enough, and it was time to take more control. I started doing exactly two things differently. First, I stopped eating late at night. The last thing I ate was dinner, and even then I ate early, as 5PM was my preferred meal time. I went to sleep with my stomach growling, having not eaten anything after dinner. Second, I started taking walks with my wife almost every day. I had seen a short video called “23 and 1/2 hours”, that explained how walking was one of the best things you could do for yourself. We would walk for about 30 minutes a day, only missing a day a couple of times a month.
We did not race, and after finding a few routes that took about 30 minutes to complete, we did not time ourselves. We took a comfortable, almost leisurely pace; on most walks I did not even work up a sweat. In about a year I had lost close to 75 pounds from doing these two things. I have maintained my weight at around 230 since then — not “ideal” according to my doctor, but much lighter than I had been in years. I am almost 6 feet tall, and 230 gives me what I think is a consistent panda-bear shape. These two habits remain — I still walk almost every day, and I still go to bed hungry.
But, this is not an essay about losing weight.
This is an essay about gaining weight.
Often, I did not feel like walking. Often, I would get home and think “that was a waste of time.” Often, I would think “why bother.” Over time — and it took a year — I began to see benefits. The weight came off. I felt better. I could buy clothes easier. Air travel was slightly less hellish. The walk was irrelevant on a daily basis, but (combined with going to bed hungry) it had a dramatic cumulative effect. It was also virtually stress-free. My wife and and I did not race. We did not try and beat our last time around the route. We did not worry too much if we skipped a day here and there. We did not log our miles in a book. We just walked. We let the walking be simply about walking, and nothing else.
We have started to do another walk, what I call an “inside walk.” We sit down together, almost every day, and make stuff for about 30 minutes. Having spent years unintentionally gathering boxes full of art supplies, we have plenty of materials to cull from and make things with. Paints, papers, inks, pencils, collage, clay, woods, metals, and so on. Anything and everything. We do not try to make things well. We do not try to make things that are interesting. We do not try to make things that are finished or complete. We do not try to make things that will be used in other work. We do not have an assignment, or a brief, or a goal in mind.
We just make things. We just take a walk.
The idea is to get in the habit of making, and not thinking. There is no pressure, no analysis, no worry about how useful our work is. Sister Corita Kent said “don’t try to create and analyze at the same time,” and we are keeping that it mind by not trying to evaluate what we did each day. We are holding on to everything we make, and are putting an archive of our work online at walking.designcrit.com, so I can see what we created as a whole. At graduate school, I found that putting all my work together online helped me see relationships I was not aware of at the time. I also know from experience that inquiry — of any kind — almost always leads somewhere unexpected, and almost always somewhere interesting.
The same way the habit of our outside walk had a benefit for me physically, I believe that the habit of our inside walk will have a benefit for me creatively. With the Internet, it has been far too easy to not make things under the guise of “research” or “learning” or “dialog.” The habit of making physical work has gotten more and more difficult. It has become so easy to be wrapped up inside my own head that it has become harder to get outside of it. I do not want my practice to stagnate, (or possibly even regress), therefore making to make becomes a useful device for exploration and stimulation.
I am talking an inside walk to gain weight — the weight of making, the weight of artifacts, and the weight of curiosity.