Below, the winning respondent to February’s Writers Club prompt: What’s your favorite commitment?
When I first decided to walk—not out of necessity, but as a hobby—I was as discreet as an adulterer. Long hours of absence were explained away by “errands.” Newly acquired knowledge of local bars and restaurants attributed to recommendations from friends. Showers taken shortly after walking in the door blamed on an overheated office. In the beginning, I told no one. After all, how exactly does one describe walking as a legitimate hobby? What’s next, breathing? Bathing?
I first learned of the art of walking—not to be confused with the act of walking—in high school. In his 1862 essay Walking, Henry David Thoreau waxed poetic about communing with nature, but made scant reference to women, save for the suggestion that most didn’t indulge in the experience. Understandably, it didn’t exactly resonate with me. As an adult I discovered the French concept of a flâneuse, a female stroller or saunterer who observes urban life. She was a city-dweller, like me, a curious and intrepid wayfarer. And so I committed myself to becoming one, first in New York City, then Washington DC, and now in London.
Walking can be an act of rebellion. As an African-American, I am subjected to confused stares as I navigate the side streets of Eastern European capitals on vacation. As a woman, I dodge sidelong glances during my late-night commutes home. As an American in England, I announce myself as loudly as “The Star-Spangled Banner” in my college sweater and sorority baseball cap. There is a quiet subversiveness to it all.
I walk to escape, literally and figuratively. The sight of me lacing up my trainers is a cue to my colleagues that my work day is coming to a close. Braving chub rub and rain storms, impervious to street harassment and traffic jams, I go where I want, when I want. I consult my own schedule, devise my own timetable, re-route my own path.
I also multitask. Walking presents the perfect opportunity to tackle my mental to-do list. I rehash arguments and win this time around. I practico my high school Italiano, and revisite my college Français. I call my grandma. And by the time I reach my destination, I’ve concluded a journey that is both physical and mental.
My commitment to walking is a commitment to myself. And to my adopted city of London. I’m not European enough to cycle, not agile enough to run, and too much of a hypochondriac to hike, but walking represents an opportunity to engage with my environs on my own terms. It is my daily devotional: an hour in the morning as the city slowly awakens, an hour in the evening when London truly comes to life.
And thus my love is reignited each step of the way.
Graphic by Lorenza Centi.