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Jon Cotner on Walking Through Darkness With Strangers

Jon Cotner, of the Jon Cotner-and-Claire Hamilton slideshows on this site, is also a seasoned walk-artist, and he’ll be leading a 12-hour overnight walk on New York’s Fire Island — from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. — on both August 25 and September 15. The walk, called Island Night, has eight slots per event and costs $20. Claire is official navigator. Tickets are available. [Ed. – both walks are now sold out.]

Jon, are you insane?

Only jackhammers make me insane. Printer problems used to upset me as well, but now I hardly print. I believe Island Night springs from the depths of sanity.

How and where will people go to the bathroom?

This walk is an extended improvisation. We’ll start at The Pines and travel east, probably ending in Saltaire or Kismet. Eight miles or so. Until 4 we can hit bathrooms in bars; then it’s outdoors.

What kinds of things should people bring with them? Wine camel packs? Trail mix?

Hadn’t thought about camel packs! Poet Matsuo Bashō and friends drank as they walked, after all. Though I’m not sure this reference would persuade New York cops. I recommend vegetables, fruits, a favorite snack or two — plus plenty of water.

Will you stop at any point? What will you do when you stop?

Oh sure. We’ll take breaks for dialogue, silence, and/or picnics. It’s important to me to make sure everyone feels comfortable. At the same time, however, this walk is somewhat rigorous.

Are you aware that it sounds kind of horrible? You are great, so I trust that it will actually be wonderful, but — you know, right, that it sounds like torture?

Each week there are new studies on the dangers of sitting. Sitting gives us cancer, makes us obese, bends our spines, ruins our hearts. So I expect Island Night will be more pleasant than most day jobs. Long nocturnal walks can exhilarate. We’re tossed into new, silver-hued worlds.

Will you see animals or bugs?

Deer love Fire Island. We’ll also see fireflies and crickets. Ducks and owls too, along with sneaky housecats.

Who goes on these things?

Previous interactive walks have mixed young and old. Some participants are extroverts; others are shy. At a Battery Park City event called We’re Floating, one couple celebrated their 55th anniversary. Other members included an architect, a teacher, and a bassist. Island Night is the first all-night walk I’ve done. I’m curious to see who joins.

What will the group do the next day?

If people want to keep going, we’ll find breakfast. I know a place that opens at 7. It has a table outside. Local residents will probably ask about our night together. We’ll seem to have “an edge.”

What will YOU be bringing with you?

Picnic materials (blueberries, nuts, chocolate cake). Mosquito repellents (they always go straight for Claire). Blankets and socks.

What’s a particularly good memory you have of another tour you recently led?

An Indian mom named Beauty brought her six-year-old daughter to We’re Floating. The girl, whose name is Debby, had a lot to say on the subject of ceaseless flux. Everyone listened.

On a scale of 1 to 1000, how much should people want to go on this tour with you?

Island Night will be built moment by moment. I encourage people to come along if they crave physical landscapes and human stories. The piece will develop its momentum — its memorableness — through interaction.

This same principle is at work in the Hairpin slideshows, which emerge from spontaneous dialogues. Claire and I can’t predict what people will say when we ask about maternal / paternal anecdotes, amorous nicknames, or holiday wishes. We’re always surprised. We become buoyant.

Participants shouldn’t worry if they feel “ill-prepared” for Island Night. The walk will prepare them. “The road is made by walking,” as Antonio Machado says.

You can find more info on Jon and his walks here.


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