by MADELEINE MYSKO
In the summer of my sixty-ninth year I’ve become a determined walker. Each morning I snap on my lightweight backpack—recently purchased for the seriousness it lends to the routine—and head out to walk at least three miles. I live in the heart of Towson, the seat of Baltimore County, Maryland, just over the Baltimore City line. The route I walk is mostly along busy streets and includes several business blocks.
Sometimes when I’m standing at the curb, waiting for a light to change, I feel exposed. Friends and neighbors have made a point of letting me know they’ve seen me out walking. “Good for you!” they say. One friend told me her daughter tries to spot me every day on her drive to work. I’m embarrassed to have become such a character. I also feel a bit like an imposter, because it’s not as though I’m some sort of fitness freak. Walking is good for my health, yes. But nowadays I walk because it’s crucial to my writing life.
The house I live in now is not far from the houses I lived in as a girl. (My parents moved us several times, but always within Towson proper.) And so each day I’m traversing sidewalks that years ago took me to and from school, and my grandmother’s house, and Immaculate Conception Church, where I went to Confession on Saturday afternoons and to Mass on Sundays.
This morning I had to step carefully across a broken square of sidewalk in East Towson. I noted then that the root of an old silver maple had split the concrete in two. I looked up at the old maple, and then glanced down the street. It hit me that almost all the other trees that once shaded that block are gone. No doubt they died of old age. I walked on, noting broad stumps of old silver maples and perfect squares of new sidewalk.
I grow old . . . I grow old. Suddenly I could hear the nasal drone of T.S. Eliot—that recording, English 101, 1973. I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.
Trousers. Back in English 101—when I was rapt over the poetry—would I have imagined slacks? Or pedal pushers, if the day outside the windows of English 101 happened to warm and the slacks appropriately styled short?
I grow old . . . When Eliot wrote the “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” he was in his twenties. That means he was younger than my grown children are right now. And that line about the bottoms of the trousers he will wear? I’ll be frank: it was really annoying this morning—how I couldn’t get it out of my head, but also couldn’t force it into a walking meter, rhyme be damned.
Dotage. Out of the blue came my mother’s voice, saying that some old person in the family was in her dotage. She meant that old person was getting feeble-minded--but doesn’t “to dote” also mean to be extraordinarily fond of someone or something?
I say that walking is crucial to my writing life. And I tell this story about sidewalks and dead trees and T.S. Eliot and trousers because that’s how it works for me. I’m a writer. I’m growing old. (Like everyone born—Is that what that brainy kid Eliot was saying?) Sometimes I get panicky about losing my grip on words, and the thing is, I’m extraordinarily fond of words. But when I’m out walking, the words—the precious names of things and the verbs to go with them—just rise up from the sidewalk, so to speak. Later, when I stop for coffee, I take pencil and paper from my nice new backpack. I get a grip. No need to panic.
Madeleine Mysko’s poetry and prose have appeared in literary journals that include Smartish Pace, The Hudson Review, Shenandoah, Little Patuxent Review, and Bellevue Literary Review. She is also the author of two novels, Bringing Vincent Home and Stone Harbor Bound (Bridle Path Press, 2015). A graduate of The Writing Seminars of The Johns Hopkins University, she has taught creative writing in the Baltimore-Washington area for many years. Presently she serves as contributing editor at American Journal of Nursing.