‘To my dear daughter’, a video created on smartphone at Stephen’s House & Gardens in January 2019, appeared in two conferences this summer; ‘Evolving the Forest’ at Dartington Hall in June, as part of their film programme, and ‘Inside Out’, autistic girls, identities and creativity, in July.
The video was made whilst walking a series of 360 degree turns, virtually on the same spot. With each turn completed, I became aware that my careful movement of walking and turning slowly, was changing into something beyond walking, almost like a kind of dance. The ground beneath my feet was icy cold and there was a light covering of snow. Shifting my body weight from one foot to the other, ever so gently, so as not to shake the phone, I began to experience my body as one with my surroundings. I became a part of the rhythm, swaying between the trees and the arboretum, and the birds going back and forth in their branches. Preferring not to mention religion here, I am reminded of a piece of writing in the book ‘ways to wander’ (Qualmann, Hind 2015), ‘Going in Circles’, by Alexander ‘Twig’ Champion, in which Champion describes the spiritual practice of circumambulation; the practice of walking around an object, and how a profound connection is created between the circumambulator and the object of focus, with a fixed gaze and a continuous turning, the mind goes through many states of ambiguity, of knowing and not knowing, until a meditative state is achieved. In many ways the art making process is like this, and it is I think what makes the art making process therapeutic. The artist focuses upon an object/abject/subject, and as they turn the object over in their thoughts, they pass through the same kind of state, going round in circles, to achieve a kind of unthinking.
Is all walking playful? For me it dissipates the hyper-focus and the over-thinking that comes with being neurodivergent, because it brings me to a place outside over-thinking, and over-thinking is not mind-wandering, it is a downward spiral of thought into a kind of stagnation that feels like trying to move through wet concrete, whereas mind-wandering suggests a horizon of possibilities, that over-thinking could never produce. Walking as an activity for thinking, takes my mind somewhere else, changes my perspective and my environment just by putting one foot in front of the other, it clears the eternal edit. In Rebecca Solnit’s book Wanderlust: A History of Walking, she talks about how walking the same route again can be like thinking the same thoughts again. I often visualise repetitive thinking or hyper-focus as a concertina of ideas building up and building up into a massive structure of folds, and the activity of walking becomes a promise in which these folds of thought will be gently patted down to become a smooth soft surface over which thought can freely flow.
Leaving the house to wander on foot, anywhere, feels like a nomadic act, in the hunter gatherer category; a solitary act, and non-convivial, because in company I am too distracted; I need to walk. And I am still wandering whether my solitary walks could be considered psychogeographical, if I am alone, without witness or smartphone to alert social media that I am out walking, how will my act become remembered or known as playful; surely it is all about #sharing?
When I step outside the front door, without direction, without knowing whether I will go left or right, my risk-taking self presents itself to me, leave home, don’t come back; what if I never go back? My privilege of having a place to call home, I know is a privilege. An architectural space that I have the right to live in and call home, I am privileged and I do reflect on that as a blessing, but sometimes it weighs heavy too as I consider my age and the desire to keep going; I need to walk. I could become like my homeless friend, who lives outside, and carries his home in a rucksack, he sleeps rent free on someone else’s land. We pass each other sometimes on our solitary walks, he likes his arrangement of not having a home, and we will acknowledge each other with a nod or I’ll find the courage to say “alright…?” each of us knowing that no answer is required. I say courage because I am slightly frightened of being too intrusive, of knowing too much, like ‘how to’ leave home.