Walk on the Wild Side

IMG_1614I have never been a great devotee of exercise. Maybe it was because I was always picked last for playground teams. Though I have gone through occasional paroxysms of gym-going and developed surprising muscles here and there, I would rather read a book.

My grandfather claimed to have been quite athletic as a young man and, to demonstrate his prowess, at sixty years old, kicked my soccer ball over the house and into the neighbouring bullock paddock, never to be seen again. Though he never went to the gym after graduating from the gymnasium (as secondary school is called in Germany), he was a doctor and, except for the smoking pipes, cigars and cigarettes, had a healthy and balanced diet throughout his life, (lots of veg, not much meat, etc).His one exercise regimen I remember is that he walked for half an hour every day and always took a post-lunch nap. It seemed to have worked — he lived to be 98.

The one form of exercise I actually like is walking. In New York, I used to work to my office and back each day, rain or shine, forty minutes or so each way. I don’t know how much it qualified as exercise —despite all those feeble studies that say mowing a lawn or brushing a dachshund or lifting an especially thick paperback is all the exercise the normal adult needs.

I walked as much as I did for other reasons. Taxis make me car sick and cost too much. Buses are painfully slow. I don’t own and wouldn’t drive a car in the City. The subway will do when it rains but there still a lot of walking needed to and from stations, so why not walk the whole way and save $2.50?  Bicycles get stolen and can get you killed. And it’s really hard to find  a decent rickshaw any more these days.

But the biggest reason: walking gives me ideas.

I have written huge chunks of all my books while walking the street of New York. I have written commercials, had life-changing ideas, worked out seemingly insoluble problems, and all while strolling through my favorite city in the world (sorry, LA!).

I’m not alone apparently. Researchers at Stanford University put people on treadmills and found that they were far more creative when they were walking. And even after taking a walk, they came up with a lot more ideas than before, up to sixty percent more! The researchers can only surmise why this is — perhaps it’s because when we walk, we feel good, and when we are optimistic, ideas flow. It could be because when you are diverting energy to walking, it’s not as available to the monkey, and right-brainish restrictions are relaxed. Your mind is simply freer, swinging its arms and whistling a happy tune.

Since coming to LA, I’m tempted to drive everywhere. But I walk my dogs for half an hour each afternoon and I try to walk to the grocery store a few blocks away rather than take the truck.  And even walking on a treadmill at the gym works and almost as well as strolling through a sylvan park.

How do I write while I walk? Well, I used to pull the journal out of my pocket and scrawl down thoughts in pen. But now, I use my phone. I am addicted to Evernote — I just launch the app, and the amazingly accurate speech recognition software turns my murmured thoughts into text which I can then refine when I get to where I’m going. If speech reco isn’t working well for some reason, I just make a little recording on my phone and listen to it later.

Amazingly, most of these ideas float up out of nowhere and, later on when I look at them, they seem magical. I don’t even remember having most of them. Getting those ideas down right away is key. If I clutch them in my mind, trying not to forget, my creativity freezes. The idea needs to be jotted down, stored and moved off stage for new ideas to show up.

Okay, see you later. I’m off to take a walk.