Day 360

OK, I’m confused. I started this walk on October 1, 2009 and planned to finish up the year on October 1, 2010. But by  my own calculations I’m on day 360….and it’s only September 20th.

Clearly something’s gone wrong!?

On the one hand I’d really like to attribute this error to my aging mind. You  know, over 50 and all. But I know people who are really old — say, 56 or even 57 —  who can balance their checkbooks, mentally tally the bar tab, and  keep track of the tennis score while we’re playing while they’re beating me and so  I’m pretty sure my incorrect calculations are not due to the ravages of time and age.

Luckily I’m a creative writer and therefore at no loss for an explanation.   In a world where anything is possible I’ve truly managed to log 360 days of walking in 355 days: I’d call that the James-Frey-memoir style of walking. Then there’s the magical realism explanation: I have walked 360 days in 355 calendar days because my reality and your reality are not necessarily the same. I’d call that the  Carlos Castaneda way of things only without the mushrooms. Or, if you prefer, the Wittgenstein version of truth as I understand it: in this room 2+2=5 because numbers are language and language is a construct and so if I say 350 + 4 = 360 who are you to differ?

Perhaps numbers don’t matter at all? Or  wishful thinking erased five days from this calendar year? Or Einstein was right and imagination really is more important than knowledge.

Wait wait, I know.

I just messed up.

Walking  toned my thighs. But it didn’t do a damn thing for my math skills.

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Day 355

I love the first day of school.  Nervous butterflies, new notebooks,  stiff shoes, the smell of autumn in the air all add up to a new beginning, a feeling that anything can happen now.  This morning I drove my son to high school and then walked around town. Everywhere I looked there were little kids jumping up and down in their new sneakers and backpacks and parents bending to tuck away stray pieces of hair and snap photos.

First day of kindergarten, first grade, second grade…before you know it’s middle school, high school, and then you’re driving your baby off to a dorm room in another state or, in our case, another country.

I haven’t been a student for a long time, but I still feel like autumn brings new beginnings, new dreams, new starts, and new perspective on just about everything. Summer is gone and like it or not we let go of the melancholy that August brings and give in to the excitement of September.

We don’t leave summer behind as much as we bring it up to the present of today — the dreams and projects we started then, or imagined we might begin, don’t have to be left behind. And we don’t have to stand on the corner watching the school buses go by wishing for a new start of our own. The new beginning, or potential for a new beginning even for things that seem dormant, is always within us. It’s here right now.

Day 353

The path from my front door.

If you’ve been walking with me from the beginning you may remember the infinity route — walking in a large figure eight through town,  etching the infinity symbol into the earth, tracing the path with your body.

I walked an infinity route with Pam a few times, and with Toni a number of times. My favorite infinity walk goes through one park in a circle, cuts across a few streets and then loops through another park. It takes me past the train station, along the railroad tracks, by my old yoga instructor’s home, into the park where the fountains sometimes dance along and sometimes spring up in what my pal Just-so John once called the ‘Drama of the Fountains.’

Now that the year’s gone by I’ve been walking more on my own, thinking about the people I’ve walked with and gotten to know better along the way. Since getting to know people is one of the best things in life — yes, there’s sex love and laughter, passion and process,  family and food and yoga and tennis and the beach and let’s not forget vodka wine and travel GOD let’s not forget TRAVEL! — I’m finding that what I’m thinking about along the way are the people I’ve met along the way.

When we say life’s a journey and not a destination, I think that’s one of the most important things of all: life is the people you meet along the way. Some you learn from, some you learn to love, some you teach, some hurt you, some help you, some you hurt and some you help.  The best friends are the ones who bring all that to the equation in both directions: helping one another, teaching one another, loving one another. I’ve made some new friends this year who I’m pretty sure will be in my life for a long time.  That’s been the best part of MyBigWalk, Year One. And I think that’s why I’m walking the infinity loop again and again. To remind myself that what’s good in life keeps coming back again and again. Even on the days when you think it’s gone.

Day 351

It was a holiday weekend. I hope you all had a wonderful time.

Me? I was lucky enough to be with my family — sister and nephews included — in a cabin along the Hudson River. We were overlooking a marina. At night we heard the gentle music of the rocking boats and clanging halyards, and saw a tapestry of constellations in the deep summer sky.

Sunday morning Frank and I went out for our big walk along the craggy riverbank. It was absolutely peaceful and quiet. The hawks were circling the treetops in the distance, and the river current appeared to be running north toward the river’s origin even though we knew that all rivers pour toward the equator. Frank and I came to a bend in the Hudson where we could see in both directions. A monastery was nestled on the opposite shore but otherwise there was nothing on the horizon.

We’d already been walking for some time. I had my camera on my shoulder. We stopped on a windswept ledge above a tree that had grown strong and beautiful as it reached toward the sun even as it clung to the shore. I took a deep breath. Everything felt perfect — in motion, and at rest. Rugged, and beautiful.

“Don’t you wish you could stand here forever and forget everything that’s ever happened to you?” I asked. “Forget everything good, everything sad, everything that you’ve ever felt. Don’t you wish you could just be here and not think about anything?”

Frank looked down at the river. He looked at the twisted branch. He looked at me.

“Not really,” he said.

“No?”

I looked down at the ground where we were standing. It seemed like we’d found a lovely pocket of beauty and solitude. A place where we could stand in one place and be happy about it.

“Forget everything — like  who am I? where am I? How’d I get here, where am I going next?”

I was starting to see his point.

“No thanks,” Frank said. “I’ve had a concussion like that, and it wasn’t any fun.”

We laughed together, and he took my hand, and he led me from the windswept ledge. By the time we got back to our camp the coffee was ready. And I was damn glad to have it.

Day 347

I walked into my local town hall in a press capacity for the first time in ten years today.

Ten years ago — the year I turned 40 — I was a reporter for our local newspaper and spent many afternoon and evening hours in that very building covering government matters and town meetings. I started out nervous that year and grew into  the job  with the help of seasoned reporters and editors who gave their patience, their guidance, and sometimes their frustration to me.

I thought fondly of our younger selves  this morning as I parked my car and walked through the parking lot toward the double glass doors.   It’s not often that we get to retrace our own steps and remember how much has happened in our lives and in ourselves since we last walked the same path. And here’s what I was thinking  — it’s not really  the same path as it was ten years ago. It looks the same, but it’s been trod by many people, with many hopes and dreams and fears. And it’s not the same walk, because I’m not the same person. We’re never the same people we were when we last crossed even the most familiar threshold. Every day, every year, experience changes us: some things make us stronger, others weaker; some richer, others poorer. But everything pours into the same place — the richness that make up the fabric of our lives and of our selves.

Are we always the same, or are we never the same? I say both. This morning and yesterday morning, last year and this year, a decade ago, and myself at 50: I had the same name, the same heart, the same soul.  But they’ve been repaved, worn down, built up, broken, cared for, made fun of, and loved.

That’s an awful lot to think about when you’re on your way to take a photograph of school crossing guards being sworn in. But that’s the kind of thing I think about — so that you guys can peek in here from time to time and think to yourselves either — “Man, she’s nuts,” or “Thank god somebody else can articulate how I feel living in the gray area I call my own life.”

Probably, hopefully, you think and you feel both ways. As I do.

Day 345

What is it about back to school shopping that makes a boy want to buy crazy things? Today MyBigWalk took me to Target in search of a desk and bookshelf for my son. I understand why a young man might need new jeans and t-shirts and plaid button downs from Aeropastale. Or why he might even need a new pair of $100 sneakers.

We got those things. And then we went shopping for a desk and a bookshelf. Because, you know, it’s his JUNIOR year and if he’s going to be studying that huge SAT book all year and taking A.P. Chemistry and A.P. History he’s going to need a neat new setup. The fact that he does all his homework laying on his bed or sprawled in front of the T.V. in the den (surrounded by empty soda cans) is not the point: just the idea that there’s a brand new clean Target surface in his room for his books and pens electronic devices will help him focus and succeed and get into the college of his dreams.

The only thing standing between my son and an Ivy League School, it seems, is a new desk.

It was a very long hour in Target today.

“It’s OK,” I kept telling myself. “It’s okay if I’m walking around and around in Target discussing the merit of rosewood or deep ebony wood veneer. Because this is my BIG walk for today.”

One drawer or none? Keyboard shelf or not? Faux Arts and Crafts, or sleek modern? I was pretty calm about the whole thing. I was timing myself — up the bookshelf aisle, down the notebook aisle. One binder, two binder, three binder, four. Add a pack of pens, and then a few more.

“I’d rather just order it online,” John said after a while. “The desk, I mean. And the backpack, too.”

As I made my way to the cash register with my new blow dryer (an essential September item), John made a bee-line for the coffee machines. Before I knew it I had a $49 Mr. Coffee Espresso and Cappuccino machine in my basket, and I was swiping my credit card.

“What’s more important than a good start in the morning?” he asked cheerfully.

What, indeed? At least I’d done my walk on the last hot day of August in Target’s air-conditioned aisles. There was nothing for me to do but go home and have a homemade latte. Which I did.

Day 337

MyBigWalk Takes on Branch Brook Park

Last week I walked in Branch Brook Park in Newark — the scene of three deaths in as many years — for my debut on our local news e-zine,  BARISTANET. “Is it Safe to Walk in Branch Brook Park?” drew 47 comments, many of them snarky, angry, and downright insulting. A few were kind and insightful, but they were overshadowed  by the mockery!

My piece began earnestly enough….

Is it Safe to Walk in Branch Brook Park? When I posed this question to my friends I’d been out of the country for three weeks. I’d missed the Dean Gaymon tragedy in Newark, and the ensuing stories about sex-trolling and other illicit activity in this 360-acre Essex County Park.  But a walker must walk – and so I set out at 11 a.m. on Friday the 13th with a map, my big dog, and my son John – a 16-year-old black belt who’s ripped, and knows it…

…but the Baristanet comments took aim from the get-go. Here are two of my favorites:

from scottaleh: “What a God-awful post! Is the premise supposed to be that, because Dean Gaymon was shot by police, anybody walking in Branch Brook Park is in danger of the same? Is the premise supposed to be that this beautiful park is dangerous to anyone walking at 11am on a summer day because it’s in Newark? And what the heck is the relevance of Route 280 and the Basilica being nearby? BTW, anyone who really wants to see drug paraphenalia (and therefore, “debauched nightlife,” I guess) can find it in Andersen Park, our local source for drugs. Yeesh.”

From croiagusanam: “But I know that the park is safe. I walked there every day after my month-long sojourn in Katmandu, accompanied only by my pedigreed Lithuanian bloodhound and my 16 year old daughter, who is SMOKIN’ HOT and knows it. We encountered actual people, doing actual things. I was flabbergasted. I asked Sheriff Lynch if he thought the place was safe. He couldn’t stop staring at my daughter. What a letch! Anyway, I’ll be posting every week now, so you can follow my adventures and those of my daughter (I’ll include some pix as well!).”

——–

Never one to be daunted by a few crass remarks or unkind words, I returned to BARISTAVILLE last week, taking a few friends to the uber-suburban borough of Essex Fells and making as much noise as we could. Is Essex Fells safer than Newark? Is it more fun to walk in a dicey Newark park or a quiet-as-a-cemetary suburban enclave?

You can check out the original post, and YESTERDAY’S RESPONSE on Baristanet. And don’t be afraid to leave a comment there — God knows, everybody else felt absolutely fine about it!