Sunday, May 4, 2014

Walking boosts creativity? My memory is jogged.

First day of kindergarten, before
textbooks and notebooks,
and one of the very few days
ever got a ride to school from Her.

When I was growing up almost everyone walked to school, even if school was miles away. Decades later, I'd discover that I'd only trudged less than a mile, but it always felt onerously longer. Especially when it was snowing.

Personal computers, let alone lightweight sleek tablets, hadn't yet been invented; backpacks hadn't yet been embraced by civilians. Instead, I wrapped my arms around a pile of dense textbooks and a bulky three-ring notebook.

To relieve my pain, I'd occasionally divide the stack and sling each half under opposing armpits. That maneuver lasted maybe a block; less if a pile of leaves was on the sidewalk. And that's just about the only time I walked. For decades.

My family didn't walk and we sure as hell did not hike.

Enduring family joke has my father of blessed memory revving up the Corvair to retrieve The New York Times from its landing spot at the end of the driveway. I have a theory about this, one anchored in the Jungian notion of the collective unconscious. I'm pretty sure that we were still recuperating from 40 years of wandering the desert after escaping Egypt or, in the case of my father's family, fleeing Cossacks during pogroms.

By my mid-30s, I'd discovered  and embraced the salutary benefits of walking. My stamina and breathing improved; so did my mood. For years, I started and ended days with a long walk. It wasn't only exercise, it was also prayer time. It became even more than that -- to the extent that creativity and prayer can be separated.

I discovered that walking enhanced my ability to conjure up stories, to transform thoughts and feelings into language, so I added midday and late night walks, especially after staring at flickering computer cursors for hours. It didn't seem to matter whether I stumbled around a nature preserve or did my New York City-type walking thing in lesser cities, walking worked wonders with words.

And so it came as no big whoop surprise to see my lived experience validated by research reported last month in the Journal of Experimental Psychology ("Give your ideas some legs: The positive effect of walking on creative thinking.") Among the details The New York Times blogger Gretchen Reynolds provides in her post ("Want To Be More Creative? Take a Walk") is a significant one about how it doesn't seem to matter where the walking happens, could be on a treadmill.

Really? Hunger trumps creativity whenever I walk on a treadmill. Oh, wait. At Stanford University the treadmill "faced a blank wall," not a Food Network episode of "Chopped" on one of five monitors at the gym.