Only a Mental Trek

Let’s talk about the intersection of physicality and the written word. For one thing, it’s obviously present in Robert Macfarlane’s The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot, which I finished last night, happy to have encountered such a beautiful piece of writing, slightly sad to have reached the end, with no more of the man’s work at hand to keep me in such a dreamily haunted, yet clearheaded, emotional space. As Macfarlane treks across a variety of landscapes, the im/prints he notices and joins up with tell stories in ways that words can’t convey, but which also challenge those words to stretch themselves to new capacities in the attempt. A central purpose of his journeying is to connect to the poet Edward Thomas, himself an inveterate walker. In the process, Macfarlane says, “This, I thought, had been the real discovery: not a ghostly retrieval of Thomas, but an understanding of how, for him, as for so many other people, the mind was a landscape of a kind and walking a means of crossing it.”*

As I said, brilliant.

But can you imagine how doubly frustrating it is to a stymied writer to be reading such apparently effortless prose– when that blocked writer is also a fitness addict and walking nut who’s been thrown on the mercy of ice, elevation, anti-inflammatories, and a whole lot of patience, just to keep her presently non-functional foot from flaring up into indignant pain? Even the sliver of a hypothetical, such as “Maybe I can put pressure on it tomorrow” has my ligaments turning into an unjustly taunted Hulk, responding with, “ANKLE ANGRY!!” And so there I lie, puffy left toes peering down from their above-the-heart resting place, yearning for the simple ability to walk down the hall and subjecting myself to this author’s days-and-nights-long wanderings among beautiful places and the inspirations they provide.

It’s also somehow appropriate that I’ve moved on to a collection of short stories by S.Y. Agnon; although not very far into it yet, the odder of his tales are somehow speaking to the absurd and self-involved state in which I’m currently mired, and his economical prose, so different from Macfarlane’s, is leaving me no wiggle room to loll around in.

If there’s a point to this post, I suppose it’s to coax out some thankfulness; at least while cooped up, I’ve got a nice selection of books to keep me going.


* Robert Macfarlane, The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot (New York: Penguin, 2012), 326.


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