In September I will be doing St Cuthbert’s Way with my sister (http://stcuthbertsway.info/) This 100Km walk moves from Melrose in the borders of Scotland across the Cheviots into Northumberland and finishes on the magical island of Lindisfarne. I am fifty-one years old. I am in relatively good health, though have recurrent menopause-induced migraines and over-heats (not good if they happen in the middle of the Cheviots). I do swim, walk and cycle regularly (though not long distances). St Cuthbert’s Way will be a challenge for me both physically and psychologically.
I am a writer. It’s what I do. Writing is as evident to me as breathing. So, of course, I am writing about this experience. I do not know where this writing will lead me, perhaps to something coherent which I will want to share with others. For the moment, I have disparate notions which tenuously link together. I present them here as a kind of mind-map and invite your comments and responses.
For most of my life, I thought of writing as a mind/hand activity. Ironically, it was a breakdown in my mind, a period of severe depression, which brought me to an understanding that I am both body and mind and both work in concert for me to be creative and write. I became interested in embodied writing.
What do I mean by embodied writing? Using all my physical senses to enrich my descriptions is an obvious place to start. However, there is more. How do emotions and thoughts manifest themselves physically? What does focusing on a part of my body, especially a part which is troubling me, bring forth? How do I physically feel as I am writing? What does this tell me about the words I am setting down?
In addition, there is being more aware of how I am sitting and holding myself when I write, in order to avoid shoulder, back or wrist aches. Then there is the rhythm of writing: the need to take breaks, to move, to return into my body after spending time in the worlds I am creating in my narratives. This I find especially invigorating for my writing. I grind to a halt, I get up, I move – usually walk or swim – paying particular attention to being very present to what is around me, and suddenly all sorts of ideas and ways forwards begin to occur to me. The movement of my body has shaken free the words I need (see blog post: http://goo.gl/88bMMY).
So there are many aspects to embodied writing. Now, with St Cuthbert’s Way firmly in my thoughts (a reality now, not just a vague possibility), I am becoming more intrigued by writing and the act of walking. There are many examples of writers who were walkers. Poets, for example John Clare, and prose writers such as Charles Dickens and Laurie Lee.
There are walks which appear in literature. In Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility the devastated Marianne took walks to the most distant parts of the cultivated park, ‘where there was something more of wildness than in the rest’. Or we could go to the Brontës, who put on their walking boots both in their real lives and fictional works. In thinking about this, I have wondered about more contemporary works which include a significant walk. Are there any?
Of course, humans walked much more in centuries gone by than they do now (especially, I should add, in Europe and the US). They walked out of necessity, they walked for survival. And many still do, from Africa, from Asia, from South America, from war-torn countries, I think of those who walk and walk towards what they hope will be a more peaceful, more secure life.
In comparison, my 100km walk will be stroll in the park. The path is well-marked, my sister and I will have a good meal and a comfortable bed to end each day and our luggage is being transported for us. Luxury. Even so, I know there will be times when I will doubt my capacity to keep going, when my body will protest, when I will rue the day I agreed to this crazy scheme. It will be a case of one step in front of the other. Just as, with my writing, there are some days when I force myself to put one word after another, trusting that, though I may no know where I am going with this, I will get there (or somewhere) in the end.
Kate C. here – I just wanted to let everyone know that I will reblog Kate Evans’s recap of her trip so we can all marvel her amazing feat and share in any tips she has for us!