Footprints

After seven hours on the beach I return with charred skin to bone dry streets. With my burns pulsing, I lie on my floor in front of the fan. With the humidity it feels like 115 degrees outside. I feel I am becoming liquid as the sweat pools at my back. My burns are taught against my body and moving hurts so I stay still on the tile kitchen floor: the coolest place in the apartment. After a few hours of stillness I find that my digestion may be off. I have found it hard to work lately. Quitting my long time job and beginning a public life as a writer has made me ambivalent to all kinds of work. I drink a glass of water that was cooling in the freezer. 

I have become obsessed with salts and scrubs. Somehow it feels as if I exfoliate enough my true self will climb out of the flakes, especially on my feet, I scrub them down with what looks like large nail files. And it took until I was 29 to learn how to properly love my feet. Trust them when I build the courage to step away. I don’t want to say that “I’m finally growing up,” because becoming doesn’t take one step to achieve. I am not convinced that moving at all implies a fated final destination. I think it may take a lifetime of constant shifts. So this is just one transformation of many. 

Alexis Pauline Gumbs came to my graduate class in the early spring. Cherry blossoms swirled by the botanic gardens and collected in yards by the brownstones down Classon. The whole graduate in writing class formed a circle in the classroom. I don’t remember at which point she said this in the workshop, but the statement was clear and complete: we are going through breakthroughs all the time. This sounds exhausting. But the way she spoke was with a smile, with a sigh of relief. Here we are, never being the same and all the entanglements that may bring and loosen. Above all, it is not a thing to fear. 

Like an email without a heading. 

Like a story without a title. It doesn’t mean the narrative isn’t there. 

So when we are leaving we define what is left by looking back at the footprints. And footprints, like any print, require a pressing. As long as we have hands or feet, we will press with them. So language is a trace as much as weight is. Where type is the language of the voice and the head, footprints are the language of the body, footprints are also language of vast trends of people. Like signatures, the shape, the gait and movement move like a story across the ground, marking the movement of groups. Pressing implies a reproducibility and uniformity. Where script is a manual and expressive, a print is automatic. A footprint is automatic. It follows the joints and compression and set fluctuation of muscle. The automatic quality of print generally cuts away both expression and design, leaving a sense of apparent truth to the action. The uniformity of a footprint highlights trends. So only large variables are detected: a different species, or a different typeface. In the same way the effects of type on a page is generally consumed unconsciously, so too is gait. However a human body is propelled is natural to their form and rarely thought of in banal activities. The awareness of steps may produce intrigue, story. Courage literally means, to speak what is in your heart. This gesture is the point. Not out of contrarianism or rebellion. But awareness of the movement of the body the functioning of the step is the work that I charge us to.  

The term carbon footprint is batted around a lot. I became familiar with it in 2006 when climate change began to be marketed through movies like An Inconvenient Truth that described the alarming trends that were being detected in sea levels and the devastating effects of deforestation. I have some questions about the term footprint. It brings the issues of the environmental crisis down to the level of the body. While a carbon footprint follows human habits, I think that it points a punishing finger. Which is not to say that human habits are not responsible for the shifting climate. But, fundamentally, I don’t think any bodies are wrong. If anything must be fixed it is the printed word: the story must change. Because the story is what draws away from the real societal issues that create the environmental crisis. Rather than a footprint, we could say a structure, a highrise. The footprint is a system. Humans are so so good at systems, following systems, creating patterns. This might sound over simplistic, and probably quite capitalist now that I think about it. But the story needs to change. Not the story, but the perspective, like Roshamon, let’s find another perspective. It won’t be perfect, and it won’t necessarily save us. 

So we are wrapped in salty air at the beach, the sand is welcomed between toes and the sun is so hot it stings. The smell of sunscreen clouds the beach, and the umbrellas quiver like mirages in the heat. The water is so packed that we accidentally fell into people body-surfing. People find trash in the water and scream “what the fuck!” while picking up a sloppy piece of bag or foamy item and throw it a couple of feet away from them back in the water. I literally heard this several times over the beach day with regard to floating trash. 

I think about how ephemeral a footstep is. How unlike paving or planting. How it’s just pressing. After a soccer game a fielding is raw with steps leaving the story of the game marked in the land and the soil open and ready for new seedlings. Soil oozes up wet from the ground. I think of a trail, how, like an oral history, it winds through the land. It was not a car, or a plow, or a city official that collected these footprints. The logic of the trail seems to wind if looked at in a map. But its logic is deeply entwined with ancestral knowledge and understanding of the land, it deepens over time. The path requires new ways as the environment changes.

Something will grow where my feet step. Rather than the desecration left at the mark of a foot, I hope to make possibility and growth. Rather than covering over, our footprint may be a gentle farmer on the soil. I hope we can all imagine ourselves that way, as makers of beauty and potential with every step we take. And however we move forth, let it be in our bodies. Even if it is just the vibrations made from breath. That is moving. Let the moving be celebrated.