Their first duty is to connect

Did I fall away from time, or did I merely become more aware of the time that has passed? It’s morning, then mid-day, then evening. Then suddenly, it’s too late at night, and then it’s morning again. A rhythm of beats as fleeting as breathing.

At 7pm it’s already dark outside here in Ho Chi Minh City, in the South of Vietnam. And it’s silent. O for a muse did I miss the silence. I didn’t know how much I missed the silence until suddenly, at the first day of the total lockdown some weeks ago – or was it months? – I heard the sound of the the wind, and the night resting on the land. In  my mind I heard the absence of daylight, the absence of car horns, of reckless driving, of speeding, of broken mufflers on motorbikes; the absence of the sound people make when they hustle to earn a living at all costs, grinding, grinding.


Then usually some reading. „Paths are the habits of a landscape. They are acts of consensual making. It’s hard to create a footpath on your own. The artist Richard Long did it once, treading a dead-straight line into desert sand by turning and turning about dozens of times. But this was a footmark not a footpath: it led nowhere except to its own end, and by walking it Long became a tiger pacing its cage or a swimmer doing lengths. With no promise of extension, his line was to a path what a snapped twig is to a tree. Paths connect. This is their first duty and their chief reason for being.” I read in Robert Macfarlane’s „The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot”.

I set the book aside. While reading about the caged-up tiger and the Icknield Way, old routes criss-crossing the British landscapes and waters, I started to think about Kegels and pelvic floor exercises. Isometric contractions of muscles that span from bone to bone without a joint in between. I recalled a short Youtube clip with Arnold Schwarzenegger, where he let his pecs dance on their own, one by one. Isometric contractions. His audience was laughing, he was laughing.

„Before my first [swimming] practice, I put swimming in the same category as walking and riding a bike: things one did to get from place to place. I never thought of how well I was doing them.” I read in David Sedaris’ book „Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls”, in a story called „Memory Laps.”

These days most of my walking is comprised by walking from the kitchen counter to the kitchen table, or from the kitchen table to the bathroom, or all the way from the kitchen to the living room area. These stations of my small, one bedroom apartment probably do not compare to Inns and B&B’s in the Great Plains or Scottish Highlands, but I still consider my walking as functional. Meaningful walking, real footpaths. But my walking is not long enough, not outdoors enough, to get much of anything from it.

Therefore I think of what’s available to me: my lower arm and my upper arm. They connect over what we call the elbow. A noun. To elbow. A verb. The elbow is not a thing on its own. It’s not a bone, not a muscle. It’s something that is created by using it, through its function: it’s a joint. The elbow joint. It starts to exist when we move the upper arm and lower arm in relation to each other. We also can lean on it.

There’s a big muscle, the Musculus Brachialis. That’s an old name. It’s from Latin, bracchium, and means just „arm” in modern English. So it’s the arm muscle. Interestingly the arm muscle doesn’t own the entire arm: it spans from the middle half of the upper arm down to the beginning of the lower arm, the outside bone of the lower arm to be more specific, the ulna. The arm muscle „is the prime mover of elbow flexion”, says Wikipedia, up to fifty percent more dedicated to elbow flexion than its prominent upstairs neighbours, the biceps.

„The (metaphysical) elbow joint springs into being only when we move through pathways that include arm flexion and extension”, I write, I can see a point, I think, „I’m listening, go on…”

I go on: there must be a whole lot of things in this world that only come into being through movement, through walking meaningful pathways. Friendship, love, like-mindedness come to mind. „It’s hard to create a footpath on your own”, I read Robert Macfarlane one more time. In this sense, for example, it’s hard to create kindness on your own. The possibility for kindness might exist just like a physical elbow might exist, but it must be exercised to actually spring into being. Kindness is only created by being kind—to someone else, or at least, to oneself.

I used to step out of the house at 9am and to walk over to one of the coffee shops that I discovered as my writing places. Mondays through Sundays. And I would return some time after noon, either when my writing was done or when I was feeling hungry, whichever turned up first. Now this rhythm, these pathways, are lost. But as long as I keep moving between places, no matter how close or far apart, new pathways are created. What will they be?

Thank you for reading, my dear.