Why You Should Go On Long, Meandering Walks

For most of us, life leaves little room for rest or renewal.  Most days, we’re racing from home to work to our daughter’s elementary school.  Rather than concentrate on completing one thing at a time, each hour of the day, until the day is over, we carelessly rush from one task to another— or worse— attempt to do two things at the same time.  In a pandemic that requires us to spend the majority of our waking hours in front of the hypnotic blue light of the computer, it has only become more difficult to be mindful.  How can we possibly focus on one thing when— with a single click— we can skim the headlines, take Buzzfeed’s “What Disney Princess Are You?” quiz, and watch another hilarious but ultimately pointless cat video?  The high-speed twenty first century is a circus of jugging clowns and acrobats in sparkly costumes.

If— as Rebecca Solnit so poetically phrased— “the mind, like the feet, works at about three miles an hour,” the frantic pace of modern life is too fast for thought.  Hurried and haphazard, we can’t penetrate anything beyond the surface, let alone appreciate the glory and grandeur all around us.   Rarely do we marvel at the miracle that we even exist (the probability that any of us will be born, after all, is only 1 in 400 trillion), that despite car crashes and earthquakes and forest fires and meteors and stage three breast cancer and diabetes and heart disease and serial killers, we’re still here.  Too often, we neglect the “little joys”: the smell of french toast and coffee in the morning, the laugh of a child, the dappled autumn sunlight.

long, meandering walks

A daily walk, however, can help us slow down and notice what we usually overlook.  When we stroll, we soak up the scenery: the flower beds of red geraniums, the brick house covered in ivy, the old-fashioned Victorian home on the corner with a magical tree house in the backyard and a red 1967 Mustang in the driveway.  With nowhere to get to and nothing pressing to do, we pause for a moment to leaf through the local street library only to find a pack of Tarot cards and a rare first edition of Anais Nin’s first diary.

In our accelerated lives, things usually whiz by in a black-and-white blur, but on a solitary stroll, the world bursts into vivid technicolor.  At a slower pace, we can actually see the sky: clear or cloudy, robin’s egg or carefree Renoir blue.  The instruments of nature– the breeze blowing through bare branches, the patter of rain against the pavement, the foreboding sound of an approaching storm, the reposeful chirp of crickets at dusk, the drowsy buzz of bees in the sweltering summer sun– form the soundtrack to our saunter.  We may have walked these streets countless times, but today we see things we never noticed before: a corgi across the street, two bushy-tailed squirrels chasing each other.  We start to see the humanity of our neighbors.  There’s the liberal-minded lesbian couple with Black Lives Matter signs in their front yard, the beautiful German woman who wears impossibly chic sun hats and spends her Saturdays tending her garden.  “With the utmost love and attention the man who walks must study and observe every smallest living thing, be it a child, a dog, a fly, a butterfly, a sparrow, a worm, a flower, a man, a house, a tree, a hedge, a snail, a mouse, a cloud, a hill, a leaf,” observed Robert Walser.

Experts agree that something as simple as walking can do wonders for our mental and physical health.  Not only does walking daily support a healthy immune system, boost your metabolism, and help you burn calories and lose weight, it lowers blood pressure and reduces the risk of stroke, heart disease and diabetes.  Walking increases self-esteem, improves overall sleep quality, and reduces stress and anxiety.  Studies have even found that a brisk 30 minute walk 3x a week is just as effective as anti-depressants.  So this year, swap another sedentary hour on the coach for a spirited saunter.

I Was A Sandy Girl

good sandy vs. bad sandy

I was a Sandy girl.  And not bad Sandy, the sultry sex kitten with big hair and red lips who sashays on screen at Grease’s end.  No, no I always preferred good Sandy, the prim goody too-shoes who was just a little too perfect.

Most girls idolized bad Sandy— her effortless, cool girl demeanor, the way she self-assuredly cocked her head and said, “Tell me about it, stud”— not me.  Though I loved her tight 50s style hot pants, her bad girl act held little allure.  To me, her heavy blue eye shadow was trashy, not sexy, and her red platforms shoes screamed uniform staple of a street walker.

bad sandy

For how much I loved Grease, I’ve always detested the end.  Even before Judith Butler and Women’s Studies 101, I possessed a profound sense that the moral of the story was backwards: Shouldn’t the person you love accept you unconditionally?  Isn’t love based on mutual respect?  Change yourself” was the disturbing message that seemed to underlie Grease’s light-hearted exterior.  Rather than finally stand up to his tough guy friends and date the “good girl,” Danny only accepts Sandy when she metamorphoses into his male fantasy of her.  For me, Sandy’s transformation from demure, prudish good girl to tantalizing male play thing always represented a kind of loss: instead of affirm her own identity, Sandy— in conventional fashion—rejects her selfhood to please a man, a major defeat for feminism.  All the hallmarks of bad Sandy— the smoky, charcoal eyes, the volumized, over-the-top tousled hair— became tragic symbols of the ways in which women found themselves wanting…and worked to modify themselves.

danny & sandy

Like Sandy, I— too— had a hard time accepting my inner good girl.  I can remember when my 7th grade science teacher Mr. Thompson would display our grades on the projector.  While most kids shuddered at having their mediocre C-s projected on the screen, I dreaded the moment my A+ would be laid out for all to see.  

“100%,” I remember Kenton, the class cool boy, saying sarcastically, “sexy.”  

In that moment, I had a devastating realization: being a good girl wasn’t attractive.  Getting good grades, earning student of the month 8 years in a row: these badges of a good girl were actually telltale signs of a dork.  Once I understood scholarly excellence and rule-following as roads to mockery instead of sources of pride, I became ashamed of my As.  I was embarrassed when the teacher doted on me in class.  Slowly, surely, I became more quiet and reserved.  My being a good girl left me alarmingly insecure with myself.

Like most good girls, I eventually rejected my straight-laced nature and experimented with being a “bad girl”: I drank and smoke profusely; I snorted coke in park bathrooms; I swore; and though I didn’t own a pair of 50s style hot pants, I revolted through the skinny jeans I wore.

By 2005, I was a completely different person.

Gone were the days of pristinely copied homework and neat hand-written notes.  If I did turn in my homework (which was rare), it was crumpled and torn.  Gone were the days of naive optimism and blind obedience.  By early high school, I was already wearing the aloof cynicism of much later adolescence.  Gone were the days of conservatism and mild manners.  Sophomore year had me listening to Led Zeppelin and cheering on my guitarist boyfriend.  Good Sandy was dead.  And I loved it…or so I thought.  

Despite the exhilaration of dispensing with social norms and experimenting with alternate lifestyles, my adolescent years as bad Sandy were a time when I felt profoundly lost.  A relentlessly driven, type-A sort of personality by nature, I felt disoriented without a set of rules.   Good Sandy wanted things: to be a cheerleader, to get good grades.  Bad Sandy had nothing to strive for.

Being a bad Sandy girl, I realized, was nothing but a negation, an anti-thesis of sorts.  Her only identity was as a converse; she was good Sandy’s opposite— no identity at all.  At the end of Grease, she feels sexy, perhaps, as she flies away with the hunky man of her dreams but she never realizes any of her own ambitions.

Today, I still harbor a secret admiration for bad Sandy girls, those women who are so liberated and carefree, who quite simply don’t give a shit but, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve accepted I’m just not one of them.  I love my planners and cardigans.