Went for a walk today.
It wasn’t an ordinary walk. My car’s in the shop and Natasha was in the middle of making dinner and couldn’t pick me up, so I decided to walk home from work. It’s something like two miles.
Today was cool and cloudy. I’d been restless all afternoon with a desire to make something, do something, create something–the sort of restlessness that can’t really be satisfied because the desire is not for a thing but for an idea. I made my way briskly along US 6, eventually coming to where the old factory’s been taken down across from Scott’s. Dad told me there’s a cemetery behind it, and you can see it now from the road that curves around. I decided to visit it.
It’s a strange place for a cemetery, amid all the old industrial buildings on that side of town. Past the chain across the entrance is thick green grass and old, weathered gravestones. Many of them you can’t read, but the ones you can bear dates from the mid-1800s. It’s an odd, peaceful place beneath a gray sky and I wandered about, trying to read the words with my fingers when they were too worn away for my eyes.
But I had to continue on. Supper would be ready soon. I started up Main Street, looking at the houses, imagining the pictures I might take if I had a camera and some skill with it. Not large, panoramic shots, but close-ups and slivers to isolate this shape or that form. The problem with being a fiction writer is that you work in plot and sometimes there’s beauty in stillness, not in the movement. I’m not quite a poet; I can’t quite sell the solitary moment.
I crossed the train tracks into downtown. In a small town, there are so many nooks and crannies of history you don’t notice. As I kid I biked full speed from one end of town to the next. Now I drive. When I walk, it’s with the dog or with the kids, to get a coffee or rent a movie or visit a park. Not this rambling through blocks, gazing back and forth, up windows and down steps. The mural on the first-block building says the city was established in 1863. Some of the graves in the cemetery dated earlier than that.
It occurred to me as I turned to pass my church that it would be interesting to stop by houses, randomly, and record the stories of those who lived there. (I like the idea more than I’d like the work of it.) My experiences are limited; what breadth there would be if I could walk, for a time, in another’s shoes. For instance, I saw men working on the train track as I crossed. What is that like? I’m not interested in the big, earth-shattering tales, but in the everyday lives.
I remembered, then, an idea I had when I thought I’d do more in film, little minute-long vignettes of a day in an ordinary life. Things like washing dishes, the growing pile, the drain being plugged, the water streaming in, the bubbles rising. Then the rag across the plates, into the cups, along the knives, each piece placed in the rack to dry, and just as you’re drying your hands, as you look at the empty space where the pile was but is now gone, your wife drops in a last cup with a secret smile. One more, honey.
I approach my house. The dog starts barking, the kids start screaming–Daddy’s home. Dinner is nearly done, there’s a creation to see in the living room, words are tumbling out of my kids’ mouth so fast they can’t finish a sentence.
I’ll have my car back soon. It’s efficient. I get home sooner; I can stay longer in the morning. But speed often diminishes depth. The slow way has its own advantages.
So, yeah, I walked home today.