Walk is a book I picked up for work as in it was self-assigned professional development reading. Unlike the vast vast majority of the books I read for work this one wasn’t about my work. It wasn’t ” The Literature” (i.e., scholarship, reference texts, manuals/ guides) or professional learning text. It’s a general reader book. A popular title. That’s the way the royal “we” would refer to it. It’s a book I read for work because it’s a book other people read and talk about. It’s a book I could use to connect with other people. I could talk about this book with nearly anyone, probably. It’s a book that distills The Knowledge, maybe, in an accessible way. This kind of reading is centered on its usefulness in my work context so neither entertainment nor enjoyment play a factor in whether I find it worthwhile or not. I read a lot of books that I enjoy in the sense that I find them fulfilling or satisfying intellectually or professionally but that I wouldn’t necessarily read or have “enjoyed” had I picked them up for my own leisure. They’re not entertaining, maybe. Maybe that’s what doesn’t really matter in a work-reading-context. In any case, Walk is a book that I picked up not because I necessarily had to but I because I felt I should. For work, you understand. My work is awesome and cool, but it’s still work. I don’t do it for free.
I think this isn’t really the kind of book that I pick up to read for personal impact. In other words, this book seems like a book that should make an impact on a reader’s life. On behaviors. On ideas. On self-esteem. Activate reflection. Stimulate change. Or something. It could be a book – or it seems like a book – that someone would pick up wanting “help.” Self-help. I hate those books. I’m not opposed to reading for self-improvement. I do it all the time. I kinda, though, hate the “pick up these new habits” and “what you don’t know about your brain” and “fifteen easy steps to being better” books. I definitely-not-kinda-but-definitely-and-with-my-whole-chest loathe the “shortcut to riches” and “shortcut to heaven” and “dirty feet, big heart” books. I’m mentioning all of that because maybe Walk could be one of those books. Good thing it’s not.
I first heard about Pedestrian Dignity at a summit. Three people – not Jonathon Stalls – presented on the issue of accessibility (and lack thereof) in public transit and concerning pedestrian movement paths. As they were presenting, I decided “I’m following these guys. I can’t do a walk and roll because of my own invisible disabilities, but I will amplify their work and their mission beyond even what they know.” Doing that started with following @pedestriandignity on Instagram. That led to me discovering that Pedestrian Dignity is connected to Intrinsic Paths , which led me to discovering that Jonathon Stalls is a person that exists. Cut to a few months later, I can’t escape Jonathon’s name because he’s written a book and he’s on book tour at libraries, bookstores, and farmers markets. He’s not only on book tour at all those places, he’s on book tour at all those places in walking distance from my house. Then the US Surgeon General says that loneliness is a public health epidemic. Goddammit, now it’s my job to do something about it and now I have to read about loneliness and combatting social isolation though – and I cannot stress this enough – I took that off of my to-do list because, Dear Reader, I’m busy with other things. But this guy, right, this guy Jonathon Stalls has this book and “connect” is in the subtitle and it keeps showing up in my newstream whether it’s my personal Me Time Life or it’s my professional Work Time Life. Might as well pick it up.
And that’s the story of how and why I ended up reading a five-star book about walking and rolling as a praxis for combatting social isolation and radical kindness and community. Jonathon Stalls has created a work that is evidence of his praxis of radicalism by way of inclusivity, centered on community and care, and the fallacy of zero sum. He’s just talking about walking. This book is a few things: It’s a biography of sorts told through the lens of a single experience or a biography that kind of starts through that single experience, one of walking cross country. It’s also a treatise on walking as praxis to connect with ones own humanity and the collective experience of humanity as well as with the surrounding environment (natural and manufactured). It’s a call to action of the creation, cultivation, and care of accessible and public spaces for people of all identities and dispositions but especially and explicitly for individuals with disabled bodies, queer people, Black folx, and other minoritized and historically excluded from comfort, care, community, and dignity. It’s also a manual for intentional movement. It’s a lot of things. What I like most about it is that Jonathon is the author and he uses first person narrative voice but it’s never really only him and about him. He includes the words of others and their stories. The experiences he centers aren’t actually his own. He’s always shifting the focus. He’s always amplifying the concerns of others. He’s presents his story and his ideas with humility, intellectually and spiritually.
It’s kinda hippy dippy sometimes. I’m not a hippy dippy kinda gal. I goddamn love it.
My copy of this book is underlined to shit and filled with notes in the margins. I have doggy-eared pages that I will refer to as I craft programs and look to contact people I can work with and invite to share their stories. Like Jonathon I’m walking well-worn tracks left by others and hoping that I can do them the honor of giving them space to share the work they’re already doing and have already done with others. I feel like, maybe, this book was a book I picked up for work but probably will change my life. That’s not hyperbole. That’s real.
There are a lot of things I can pull from the book to get you a sense of what you’ll encounter if you pick it up. I flipped to a random page. Here’s just one thing that I underlined on it:
It can also just help us just be with what is. Sometimes we just need to move without anything new or fantastic or especially revealing.
That’s just as good as any to quote for you. I am not hippy dippy and I am not trekking across the country, let alone my own town anytime soon. Not for praxis and not for enjoyment. I don’t think Jonathon would mind either way so long as I advocate for inclusive, accessible spaces. I’ll tell him all this probably. One day soon he’ll do a stroll at a library and I’ll decide to visit that library that day. And maybe I’ll tell him he kinda changed my life. Oh and, also, he kinda made me better at my job. Which is weird and kind of hilarious.