I knew that I should keep things simple with this next evolution of the game, to allow free range in any possible direction. But I also knew that I would have to begin from somewhere. So I went back to basics: I would start with walking. This addressed my impatience to get back out into the world, and it answered a deeper need as well — a need that other ways of moving through the world did not fulfil. In fact it was the same need that was compelling me to make this game.
For as I had discovered during my first crisis of early adulthood (and would continue to forget and rediscover through the years), it is possible to walk one’s way into the liminal. The creek haunts, the badge drifts, the starlight of the solstice. There is a certain kind of magic to a certain kind of walking. This magic is referenced by the psychogeography of the Situationists and the Surrealists, and by many other writers, artists and thinkers throughout history (Basho 2000; Coverly 2012; O’Rourke 2016; Smith & Persighetti 2012; Solnit 2001; Thoreau 1862). Two writers in particular have bracketed this project, with reflections on the liminality of walking that have influenced or illuminated my own thinking.
As the first winter of my candidature closed in I had turned from wandering to reading, and found in the work of landscape historian John R. Stilgoe echoes of that graffitied, concreted creek that had kept me company through autumn. ‘The whole concatenation of wild and artificial things, the natural ecosystem as modified by people over the centuries, the built environment layered over layers, the eerie mix of sounds and smells and glimpses neither natural nor crafted — all of it is free for the taking, for the taking in,’ writes Stilgoe. ‘Take it, take it in, take in more every weekend, every day, and quickly it becomes the theater that intrigues, relaxes, fascinates, seduces, and above all expands any mind focused on it. Outside lies utterly ordinary space open to any casual explorer willing to find the extraordinary. Outside lies unprogrammed awareness that at times becomes directed serendipity. Outside lies magic’ (1998, p. 2).
The notion of directed serendipity greatly influenced my labyrinthine idea of windows and questions, in which I attempted to construct a minimalist frame for walking deeper into awareness of the subtle city. Stilgoe acknowledges this curious place that is hiding in plain sight, and suggests that walking offers ‘unique entry’ (ibid. p. 10) into the exploration of its nuances:
‘Landscape, the built environment, ordinary space that surrounds the adult explorer, is something not meant to be interpreted, to be read, to be understood. It is neither a museum gallery nor a television show. Unlike almost everything else to which adults turn their attention, the concatenation of natural and built form surrounding the explorer is fundamentally mysterious and often maddeningly complex. Exploring it first awakens the dormant resiliency of youth, the easy willingness to admit to making a wrong turn and going back a block, the comfortable understanding that some explorations take more than an afternoon, the certain knowledge that lots of things in the wide world just down the street make no immediate sense’ (ibid. pp. 10-11).
And as I pedalled deeper into the woods, there came the glint of something strange.
Winter is for reading, so it seems. Two years later I escaped the cold to celebrate my 40th birthday in the tropics, and I brought a novel with me. It was a break from all things PhD. By the time I finished reading I had found a new favourite author, in British writer of speculative fiction Graham Joyce. This was the second of his books that I had read, each inhabiting the liminal with a strangeness that was utterly unique. When I returned to Melbourne I researched Joyce, intrigued by the imagination that had brought these worlds to life. He had died of cancer 11 months before. I was heartbroken; I felt as if I had lost a friend. This feeling was amplified when I discovered his blog, aptly titled Readers Are Not Strangers, which he maintained even through his year-long battle with lymphoma.
Joyce’s blog posts struck a familiar chord: here was a kindred spirit who also saw the wondrous in the everyday. In a post written less than six months before his death, Joyce ruminated at length on the importance of walking to his magical world view.
‘It’s the way in which Nature can transmute into symbol or take on the luminosity of dreaming that I’m referring to. Walking for any distance becomes a kind of a meditation. After twenty minutes of changed breathing and repetitive movement the rhythms of the brain change. Alpha waves start to take over from the beta waves of general alertness …
And when that happens a heron flies up … Or a kingfisher moves like an electric pulse along the length of the canal.
… The heron or the kingfisher, of course, are there whether you are present or not. They haven’t mysteriously appeared just because you have some figuring out to do. But the act of figuring them out has made you notice them in quite a different way to that which you would have done in a non-meditative state of mind. By walking without a specific destination or purpose, by walking at leisure, you have walked yourself into a corridor that exists somewhere between waking and dreaming. In that corridor the feathers of the kingfisher are a more vibrant blue, and the kingfisher himself has a more vivid meaning.
… Without you even knowing about it, the alpha waves have generated the rainbow bridge between your conscious creative mind and your unconscious creative mind’ (Joyce 2014 paras. 10-17). T1
T1:The Australian artist Lesley Duxbury also talks about walking as a meditative practice that is able to create resonance between different realms of experiencing. ‘The rhythm of the act of walking over extended days generates a kind of rhythm of thinking,’ Duxbury writes, ‘and the traverse through a landscape echoes or stimulates a series of thoughts, which in turn creates an odd consonance between my internalised and externalised worlds’ (2011, p. 39).
I met Joyce through his work but outside the bounds of mine, and yet it seemed that outside the bounds was most often where this game was being played. The creek walks, the synchronicities and shadows of the badge drifts, that first matchstick, a long walk home under a new moon.
Without you even knowing about it …