All my life I’ve liked to walk. Lately, destination is incidental. I get out and go nowhere. On these walks—perhaps it’s the aimless motion through the city—I’ve noticed a passive habit, a recurring pattern in my mental fabric: I see Seattle as an apparatus for skateboarding. I look at railings, ledges, embankments, stairs, and gliding apparitions take to them with tricks. My old language rises up, the silly argot: kickflip crooked grind. Backside tailslide to fakie. Nollie laser flip.

Although I spent most of my free time between the ages of 13 and 19 on a board, I’ve hardly skated in a decade. Yet this way of seeing remains as reflexive and involuntary as a sense of humor. Until the pandemic set in, and an eerie quiet fell, I hardly knew I was doing it.

It’s a visual example of how what we learn when we’re young doesn’t fade. At least not without conscious work. I’m not disposed to easy optimism, but for some years I’ve watched certain, semiconscious frameworks tremble, sometimes topple—beliefs I hardly knew I held. That my life is a narrative attached to linear time. That U.S. society, even with its manifold flaws and cruelties and inequities, is basically stable. That things trend fitfully, but ultimately, toward progress. Perhaps, intellectually, I contested these things, but it was hard to not believe them, at least on some level.

Moving through the city now, I’ve been questioning anew how I see. I was raised in a conservative, hyper-religious house. I hardly resemble my upbringing, but even if the picture has changed, I wonder how much the frame has. What do I process through old, forgotten structures? This line of inquiry is hardly new. It’s the stuff of therapy sessions and neuroplasticity research into how our young, pliant minds rigidify and how with some effort we might mollify them again. It is some of what we mean when we say “unconscious bias” and “constructed reality” and “learned behaviors.” As forms of imposed order go, imagining the city as a place to skate is innocuous. But I’ve started to regard these daydreams not only as vestiges of hours on a board, but as reminders. I can see, in an imagined body hurling itself down a set of stairs, what I project onto the world.

[1] I still count the stairs in a flight to quantify the impact of jumping down them, the pain in the knees and heels.

[2] See, for instance, “cognitive restructuring.”

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