Over the last few years, I don’t think I would have made it without the internet. When I think of my reduced blueprint for living, I know it was the internet that kept me from feeling completely isolated, frustrated, and stagnant. I still did feel plenty isolated, frustrated, and stagnant, just not completely that way. I would sometimes imagine how I’d get through a pain day pre-internet. I couldn’t fathom it. Stare at the ceiling? For 12 hours? Then sleep?
The internet has lots of good things that seem bad and bad things that seem good. The latter includes the deceptive memes and tropes that keep showing up in my Twitter and Facebook feeds or email inbox. Even if I don’t need it, I tend to read it — it might help someone else.
There is one piece of advice shared incessantly, as if no one has ever thought of it, as if anyone needs to say it, as if it isn’t often the first big milestone out of the womb. The most popular antidote for absolutely everything seems to be:
Take a walk.
A cure-all. A repeating decimal of advice so oft-appearing it becomes a mantra.
Sit too much at work? Take a walk.
Stuck in that story? Take a walk.
Need inspiration? Take a walk.
Feeling depressed? Take a walk.
Keep coming up with the same advice for strangers . . . take a walk.
I’m a pedestrian. I gave up my car in 2008. Previous to that, I drove to work, which meant to set or location, and not that many other places. Living in a coastal town with great buses, I was privileged to leave my car in its spot and walk, bus, or do some combination of the two in order to accomplish most things. I had a nice little one-hour circuit that let me pay my gas, electric, and phone bills, sometimes with an extra stop at the Italian deli.
One day, coming home from walking errands, my neighbor was startled to see me. “We thought you were away.”
“I’m here,” I said.
“Your car hasn’t moved in days,” she said. To which I replied, “I walk.”
When I first visited Los Angeles from New York, I walked to the grocery store in Los Feliz and back to my friend’s apartment with two grocery bags. At least three cars stopped to ask me if I wanted a ride. I was stunned. In New York, everyone carries everything everywhere, walks, and uses public transit, with the occasional taxi when necessary. I’d been in LA five minutes and already violated some unwritten rule — there were no other pedestrians to be seen.
LA has changed a little since then: there are a few more pedestrians and some cyclists. But overall, LA, like the US as a whole, is a car town. The large expanses and storefronts that face the back can be unfriendly to pedestrians. Bus stops are about half a mile apart, even when they’re as frequent as every other block. Unless you drive somewhere like the oceanfront or Griffith Park to walk, walking can be a fairly unfriendly and unattractive activity. Sidewalks are exposed to scorching sun on large streets, and many side streets don’t have sidewalks. Drivers play chicken with pedestrians, despite the strict laws.
I find the endless concrete aesthetically vapid and depressing. With long waits at lights, nasty car exhaust, and all smokers exiled outside, it’s far from a walking town.
In theory, I love to walk. It opens up my mind to sights, sounds, and scents I don’t get in a closed room. It puts me out in the light and gets my heart pumping. It reminds me of my own rhythm and lets my brain wander at will.
In practice, walking hurts. I wish it didn’t, but it does. I used to be a fast-walking New Yorker who could wear the highest heels and carry the biggest bag and still walk six miles a day without thinking. Now, I’m careful about distance, what I’m carrying, and my shoes. I have a pre-set limit I can walk before experiencing pain that might carry over into tomorrow.
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I’m slow. I am often passed by septuagenarians. This is actually a big improvement: for a while I was being passed by octogenarians, and not the spry ones.
All of this makes me pretty unhappy. In general, I’d much rather be walking than busing or driving or sitting. I want to put my hand out and rub the rosemary for its smell, I want to discover a new back street, I want to see how the landscape has changed since I was last through this way. I want the stimulation. It just comes at too high a price now.
As I found it harder and harder to walk for long periods, I also became restless. Not walking had ramifications for my creativity, health, and well-being. To be sure, there is something to all those prescriptions for walking, but to be blunt, they’re ableist. I don’t walk not because I’m sedentary, unaware of the benefits of walking, or would rather drive; I don’t walk because it hurts.
The assumptions behind this advice are frustrating — that walking is easy for everyone, that walking is something people avoid and need to be reminded about, that walking is a cure-all. None of these are true for me; in fact, the opposite of each is true.
In my need for air and movement, I have adapted by spending quiet time outside, taking small walks, swimming when possible, and doing whatever else doesn’t cause me harm. It may not look like much to an outsider, but it works for me. Would I rather be meandering through my favorite city than sitting outside for my requisite ten minutes of sun daily? Absolutely. It’s just not an option right now.
The more I hear “take a walk” the more I feel like I don’t exist. It feels like admonishment. It feels like I’m being yelled at. This is a personal issue; not everyone has pain from walking. But I could imagine many other reasons I’d feel like “the number one thing you can do to change your life: take a walk” is an article that is going to piss me off. The tendency to preach disregards the landscape of humanity, instead seeing everyone as homogenous and just like the author.
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There are microaggressions hidden beneath these advisories: that you are lazy, that you are too sedentary, that you make no effort to be outside, that you would never run or hike or go kayaking, that you are not smart enough to have thought of this obvious solution to all of your life’s problems by yourself.
These often overzealous recommendations make me think you think that I’m stupid, lazy, and incapable of positive action. While that was all true in spurts post-injury for me, taking a walk was not going to change any of the foregoing conditions. It was just going to cause me pain.
No one is arguing that activity isn’t good. In fact, I can’t think of anyone who might not know this either intuitively or indicatively. I would just like a respite from people who don’t live in my body telling me what to do with it. Last time I checked, it was just me in here, feeling pain, feeling what makes me feel good, tasting foods and feeling nourished by some and not others, attacked by sudden drowsiness, longing to move.
I’m the driver of this particular car. I’m responsible for its upkeep. I know its every sound, I know what parts are wearing out, I know when it’s time to refuel. If I need a mechanic, I’ll call one. In the meantime, take care of your own vehicle — it’s the only one you get.
And please, stop telling me to take a walk.
[Headline Image: Photograph of a person with light skin, long dark hair, red lipstick, and wearing a sleeveless floral dress. They are sitting on a grey sofa, one arm bent on the back of the couch cushion and the other hand holding a remote. The person’s legs are crossed. They have a serious, perhaps frustrated, expression on their face.]