eternal sunshine of the spokane mind

The art of walking with nowhere to go and nothing to see, perfected.

“Want to go for a walk?” I’ve found myself asking this question more and more frequently in the past week – to my roommate, my cat, myself, anyone who will listen, really. I’m not sure what it is about it, but there is something refreshing about taking time out of a day crammed with homework, classes and other nonsense worries and just ambling about with nothing in particular to discuss and nowhere in particular to go.

It is here that I find myself, in the middle of a walk on the Centennial Trail with my housemate beside me, my hands bunched up in my pockets and my shoulders shooting up to protect my neck from the cold front. But somehow, the cold does not really matter after a couple of minutes and I find myself blissfully and slowly making my way forward, nodding at strangers, gazing into the cascading river waters and placidly discussing the oddities and singularities of life as a student, as a senior, as those who aren’t quite sure what life after May is going to look like.

Along the way, I see other people walking (usually matronly couples about 50 years my senior), more dedicated people running, either in packs or alone, businesspeople taking a lunchtime stroll, discussing strategy and office gossip, an elderly man walking an absurdly tiny dog in a pink sweater, a solo walker who appears to be lost in a daydream or else solving an impossible mathematical equation in her head. There are couples and big groups and families and people who are walking alone. Some of them smile, others just look and most keep staring at the concrete folding out in front of them.

As I’m rounding the carousel, I can’t help but think of the story that each of these people carries with them, each a swirl of humanity captured in one smile or frown or pair of averted eyes. The merry-go-round spins and echoes of screaming laughter permeate the grey quarters of Spokane in January. I look over and the laughter turns the corners of my lips up into a smile, it does the same to my housemate, a smile and a laugh joining the echoes. The man with his tiny dog smiles too. The couple with their heads together, whispering a rushed and urgent conversation, turn their heads toward the carousel and crease their foreheads at the sound.

A brief moment: a smile, a laugh and a frown. We don’t know if it means anything at all, but we spend the rest of our walk discussing the events of our walk as though it was a delicately directed scene from a film. But that was exactly the irony of it – we can find definite meaning and underlying themes in a movie scene because it is scripted, written, acted, vetted, edited and screened to an audience. And critics and audience members alike get to pick it over until there is nothing left but a clean list of themes, scenes, lines and Academy snubs.

Life, however, is exactly the opposite – a chaotic crashing of moments, stitched together to make sense of unscripted, unedited, unscreened events. Nothing happens because a director off-screen calls, “Action!” or “Cut!” Stuff happens because I decided to get out of bed this morning, put on some warm clothes and go for a walk. And it seems a lot of other people decided to do that too. And together, our decisions created the crashes, the clashes, the stitches that comprise what we call a day.

My friend and I reach the end of the loop, still pouring over the stitches of our day. We decide that we need another go around to fully make sense of it all. We have nowhere to go, nothing to do and nothing, really, to talk about, so we keep walking and walking, our minds on the lives we’re living instead of the pile of homework and unread books at home. As it should be.

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Is the magic of studying – or even being – abroad a feeling that we ourselves produce?

Last year, I got my first tattoo, cut off all my hair and gallivanted around Europe for a semester. And now I’m walking through slush. A year ago, I daresay that I would have marvelled at slush – how magical, how wonderful, how positively incredible slush is! At least when it’s in England, eh? Indeed, as forty-eight percent of Gonzaga students know, the aftereffects of returning home from time spent away from our beloved campus carries back with us quite the harrowing feeling.

Our lives, or more our Facebook feeds, were once filled with exotic locales and daring adventures. I could wake up one morning and walk beside the Thames, if I so desired. And then post it to Instagram and smile as people across the pond expressed their jealousy and wish to be where I was. And now I am that person across the Atlantic, gazing at pictures of faraway friends and wishing that I were there too. I realized soon enough that this was quite the sad picture I was painting for myself, and as I walked through the decidedly dreary Spokane slush, I began to wonder if slush was really that different a couple thousand miles away.

After many very scientific studies, my colleagues and I have concluded that slush is actually much the same no matter the location. I admit, when I first heard the results, I was aghast. Why, then, did it feel so much more satisfying to splash through the sludgy substance with glee and enthusiasm over there while I manage to bear a striking resemblance to Grumpy Cat over here?

After another slew of backbreaking research, I have come to find that because we are expected to have fun every second, minute and hour of our lives abroad, we become our own self-fulfilling prophecy. We have told ourselves in anticipation over and over again that the coming five months will be the most exciting of our lives, that it is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, that fun must be had at all times or else that opportunity is being frivolously wasted. And as a result, we end up finding joy in slush and rain and cold weather merely because we have forced ourselves to do so. Which brought up another intriguing question: why aren’t we doing that here, too?

Going abroad isn’t necessarily about the city that you’re going to, but the experience that you’re expecting to have, the things that you can learn, the people that you can meet. This might sounds crazy at first, but honestly we can do a lot of that here, as well. Shocking, I know.

To be clear, I am not discouraging going abroad – I had a hoot and a half over there – but more, I am questioning how those of us who are not currently engaging in the pleasure of gallivanting around a foreign country can see Spokane, or any city, as a place where just as much discovery, magic and enchantment can occur. This column intends to address this question throughout the semester – investigating how everyday life can turn into the same highlight reel that the folks across the pond are producing.

My initial instinct is this: to be able to view every day as one filled with magic, one must first believe that it is possible. And I’ll take my first step by eyeing the slush around my car as a splendid opportunity to test out my new rainboots. I’ll let you know how it goes.