I’m Walking Here
In this series of letters for the new year, we asked some of our collaborators to answer the question, “What’s the opposite of burnout for you?” Here, Toronto-based radio/podcast producer and artist Aliya Pabani writes about the surprising power of performativity in everyday life.
Text & photos—Aliya Pabani
There’s an image I keep coming back to. My dad’s driving down the highway, and I’m in the back seat. He makes a sound like “Oh!” and when I look up, I see an adult deer sprinting down the highway between the two lanes of traffic. We whip past, and I watch it recede through the back window. Even though there are many times it could escape to either side, it keeps sprinting right down the middle until it disappears from view. I don’t know whether this is a false memory, but I come back to it when it feels like I’ve been running in a straight line for too long.
I used to think of ritual as something that you had to learn how to do. Now I imagine it more as a filter on my life that I can choose to accentuate. Ritualizing the ordinary events of my day lends them a narrative weight that can lure my mind out of autopilot.
I’ve become someone who finds it hard to cook the kind of meal that would make sense as a recipe when I know I’m the only one eating it. It’s not that I feel undeserving, more that I usually start thinking about making something to eat about 15 minutes before I want to be eating it. That is, unless I decide to make dinner as though I’m a chef hosting a late-1990s cooking show.
I place ingredients on the counter, carefully naming each one aloud in the soothing manner of daytime television. I hold forth on the difference between cilantro and coriander. Instead of simply hating peeling garlic, I say, “If you’re like me, you absolutely haaate peeling garlic, but there’s this great trick that was a total game changer for me.” I cut a tomato dutifully because I know it’s possible the camera’s shooting it in close-up. I arrange all the prepped elements in neat piles or in small bowls before I even consider turning the stove on. Feeding myself becomes an act of devotion.
After exhausting all possibilities for neighbourhood walks to nowhere, I wondered whether bringing in a similar kind of performativity could enliven the experience of walking too. So I decided to create an audio walk about walking itself.
I round the corner of my street, where I’m instructed by my own recorded voice to scrutinize my usual walk. What are you doing with your arms? Where are you looking? If you had paint on your shoes, what would your tracks look like? A prompt to walk as though I just left a café where I’d had an emotionally fraught conversation with a friend makes my eyes well up before I’m able to pin the feeling on a particular memory. I walk like I’m in a rush while pretending not to be, inducing a slight panic state that takes a couple of minutes to wear off.
It ends with four minutes of meditative walking, which involves taking 12 slow steps in one direction, turning around, then taking 12 slow steps in the other direction. I resist the urge to pretend I’m looking for something on the ground just to satisfy onlookers. The world gradually narrows to encompass only the softness of my foot pressing down into the hard stone. I am doing something. I’m walking here.