walking life

I’ve never been big on cars. So, before I was a cyclist–for the majority of my student life–I was a walker. In Columbia, this was easy because residences within a 30 minute walk of downtown and campus were plentiful and affordable. I enjoyed the opportunities for exercise and contemplation that my commutes to class and social activities provided me, so I was in no hurry to find a more expedient means of transportation. But after graduation, I began the 40 hour work week, and that’s when I evolved into a cyclist.

I’ve never really thought about it before, but I suppose my days as a walker contributed to my development as a long distance cycist. Once I fell into the habit of riding a bicycle, I sought the extended contemplation and exercise of my walking days within my new mode of transportation. So, there you have it: I rode my bicycle to Washington DC. I doubt it ever would have occured to me to walk to Washington DC.

Now that I’m here, I’ve become a walker again. I walk, each morning, heading east along the lettered streets, and south along the numbered, to the museums. And each afternoon, I head back–north and east–using this schema. Sometimes I go diagonal, following a state-named street on its course.

For each trip, I follow a different combination of letters and numbers and states, and each street reveals itself to me as I walk. I am picking up on the familiar landmarks, but I have yet to aproach any of them from the same direction twice. I see a lot of cyclists as I walk, and I can imagine getting around here on the Truck, but I’m not ready for that yet.

There is so much to see here: buildings, signs, people! And I feel as though I have no filter for any of it. I walk along, twisting my head from one direction to another, looking at everything. I think I may be making a spectacle of myself by my incessant gawking, but I don’t want to mollify my interest for the sake of saving face.

Most of the time, I walk around hungry. I eat regular meals, but my appetite has not yet shrunk with the decline in my caloric needs.

This circumstance provides a unique opportunity for taking in the city and its museums. I once read a study that suggested that our memory improves as a response to hunger. If that’s true, then my access to a frame of reference–my memories of experiences and information gleaned from the myriad sources I’ve been exposed to in the course of my life–is particularly acute as I attempt to locate myself here. My days are rich in sight, sound, color, character, contemplation, and sensation. I am thoroughly enjoying DC.

But the big question remains… Do I want to stay here?

I am doing my best to stay self-aware amid the stimulation. The museum visits provide a frame of reference that facilitate a consistent sense of self. As a participant in and observer of art, I do not feel very far removed from where I was when I spent those two days at the St. Louis Art Museum. So, even though I am encountering new works in new museums, I bring a very similar knowledge base and set of predilections to what I brought to the works in St. Louis. This allows me to establish a link to who I was when I left Missouri. I feel that this is important because, in the narrative of my life, my travel days were so full that it seems like I left there a very long time ago, and I do not want to get caught up in the new social situation that I find myself in and immediately start to manufacture a new sense of self in response to that.

All of this is kind of “out there,” but it’s been kind of a big deal to quit my job of two and a half years, break up with my girlfriend of three and a half years, and ride my bike halfway across the country. Not to mention that this is the longest I’ve been away from home at a stretch, and I’m not even sure what I’ve got to call “home” left.

Please understand that I’m not complaining. I don’t think that I am in a negative situation. It’s a unique moment in my life and it’s a lot to process. It’s like the chorus to Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone”:

How does it feel?

Frightening, fantastic, and awesome. But who am I now that I’m no longer surrounded by all of the things I left behind? Who am I now that I’ve seen and am seeing all of these new things?

Is it a nice place to visit, or do I want to stay here? Right now, I’m just walking around, trying to figure that out.

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