Spring, Keene, NH

I’ve got the itch, and I’ve got it bad.

All my posts in recent days have pointed to it. I want to cross lots, I’m recklessly in need of a disciplined schedule, I feel smothered and suffocated by greenery. My mood since we got back from visiting family in Michigan and Ohio has pointed in one single direction: anywhere but here.

I have, you see, a serious case of the itch. Wanderlust. Itchy feet. The antsy, unsettled jitters. I thought that driving 12 hours to Michigan, 3 hours to Ohio, then 12 hours back home would alleviate some of my post-dissertation restlessness, but it hasn’t. I want to go somewhere, anywhere, and I want to go now. I don’t want to wait until I’ve caught up with this week’s backlog of course-prep (a carry-over from last week’s trip home), nor do I want to wait until the bulk of my summer teaching obligations are done in July. Right now, I want to toss on some comfy sandals, grab a lightweight bag, and start walking. Like Huck Finn, I have no desire to be “sivilized” for I’ve been there before. Instead, I want to “light out for the Territories.”

Spring, Keene, NH

It doesn’t help, I’m sure, that this week I started teaching another semester of my famous American Literature of the Open Road class at Keene State College. Professors with chronic bouts of the itch should not be allowed to teach such courses. It’s Dangerous to have itchy professors reading and discussing texts such as Whitman’s “Song of the Open Road” and Thoreau’s “Walking.” Today for the second time this week, I led a discussion on Mary Austin’s short story “The Walking Woman“–first with my Monday night Women’s Lit class, and today with my Open Road students at Keene State–and this double-whammy has left me twiddling my toes with restlessness: the sun is shining, the air is warm, and I want to be on a path, sandal-clad, walking.

Reading “The Walking Woman” with my Women’s Lit class was particularly evocative. We read and discussed Austin’s story of a woman who “walked off all sense of society-made values” and was “healed at last by the large soundness of nature” alongside Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s short story “The Yellow Wall-Paper,” about a new mother who goes crazy because her physician husband prescribes the so-called “rest cure” as treatment for her postpartum depression. The difference between the two texts is suggestive. In Gilman’s story, medical science as embodied by husbands and male doctors encloses hysterical women in domestic spaces where they become increasingly helpless, weak, and deranged. In Austin’s story, one woman uses her own two feet to escape the obligations of kitchen, bedroom, and nursery, discovering in the process both physical health and a philosophical sense of life’s meaning. In her wandering, the “Walking Woman” discovers that beyond the “looking and the seeming” of lady-like behavior, contentment is a matter of embracing the experiences of life’s journey.

Spring, Keene, NH

With spring in the air and the albatross called “dissertation” off my back, I’m ready to wander. Several weeks ago I ran into a former student at the laundromat where he was washing (and packing) several loads of clothing before setting out on a roadtrip to Arizona; it took a conscious act of determination to stop myself from grabbing him by the shirt and shouting “Take me with you!” After spending ten years juggling diss-work with teaching, housework, and life-in-general, I don’t feel like doing nothing, exactly. Instead, I feel like going somewhere where my body as well as my mind can wander. Although sitting motionless in the sun on a beach sounds divine (La Boca del Cielo from “Y tu mama tambien,” itself a quintessential road-trip movie, immediately comes to mind), more alluring is the thought of going somewhere, anywhere, where I can walk, walk, walk until my legs can walk no more.

Last summer, the hill country north of San Francisco served this purpose. Over the course of five days in Marin County, I walked over 50 miles in day-trip long segments, walking each day until my legs ached and my sandal-clad feet were as brown as the earth. Every evening I’d return to the city to eat, shower, then sleep like a rock until morning when I’d repeat the process all over again. There’s nothing like a day’s worth of walking to tire your body and soul into deep, restful sleep; there’s nothing like a day’s worth of walking to bring you out of your academia-addled brain and back into your body, rooted to the earth down to your dust-covered toes. From now through the end of June, my teaching schedule keeps me here in Keene, so I’ll have to do my day-trips close to home. Tomorrow, though, I’m declaring a mental health day, a day to wander and roam until my feet at least are too tired to itch for the time being.