I’ve had a serious case of blogging writer’s block. Even writing this blog post has lead me to extreme distraction and procrastination. I am now currently pan frying some brussels sprouts, because A. I was craving vegetables, B. That Kerry Gold butter we splurged on isn’t going to eat itself, and C. Cooking is not blogging. To be fair however, at least I feel like writing again. Though I have written a good amount in the past year, it’s all primarily been a reflection of how lousy things have been since November. So coming out of my eight-month anxiety cocoon is a welcomed feeling–the wedding I had a huge role in planning has passed, the film I partially produced is all set, and my non-career-related job that I’ve held down for two and a half years is in its final days. And most importantly, a trip I’ve planned/saved for/talked about for nearly seven years is three weeks away.
Just before leaving the house this morning, I flipped open a book by Pema Chodron that I’ve been slowly reading. I specify slowly because it’s a breakdown of an eighth-century text called The Way of the Bodhisattva by the Buddhist sage Shantideva, and most of it takes some time to process. I usually have to be in either a very concentrated or spiritually depleted mood to focus on the densely packed text–and then take a bit and walk around with it throughout the day.
Well, this morning, I was the latter of those two–spiritually (and in this case, physically) depleted. As I hoped, the book’s message was exactly what I needed to read in that moment. Not only did Shantideva talk about the damaging and purposeless effects of self-resentment, but I was also reminded of Pema’s tonglen meditation method–or, the process of breathing in someone else’s vices, and breathing out peace. In this practice, you are fully experiencing someone else’s anger, hatred, confusion; recognizing it in your self; and breathing out peace for both parties. It got me thinking about a dilemma I’ve had during this rough time.
Amidst the absolute madness of the past several weeks, I received an early light at the end of the tunnel in the form of an email from Dan Mullins. Dan hosts a podcast based in Australia that interviews pilgrims from the Camino, and he found my xoJane article from last year on the experience.
I’ll be honest, I haven’t had the guts to listen to the full episode yet because the sound of my own voice makes me want to hide under a rock, but I’m making progress! Dan did such a beautiful job with the interview, and the experience itself was not only a bucket list item, but also generally exhilarating. After I finished the interview, I may have jumped up and down around my house and couldn’t go to sleep for a while. Wine helped though.
My main hope is that the episode will inspire more people to go on the trek themselves. Buen Camino, all! And if you’ve found your way to my blog via the podcast or Camino forum, WELCOME! And thank you so much for visiting!
Also, a huge thank you to John DeSilvestri for selling me his excellent mic that saved the day!
Feel free to have a listen, and definitely go check out Dan’s past episodes on Facebook!
I’ve always had travel anxiety. I dream about going on trips, and save up for years for these types of things, just to feel horribly anxious before I actually leave. And the moment I decided on a date to return to the Camino de Santiago, I knew that this happy/terrified anticipation would begin even earlier than it did the last time.
Because this time around, I know exactly what I’m getting into. I know how hard it will be on my muscles and joints, I know how long the days can feel, and I know how hard it is to let go of the dependable day-to-day life that you’ve been used to for the past several years. But I also know that this is the whole reason I’m going. My brain is like a dusty closet, filled more and more everyday by the little, persistent needs of my house, my job, my career. With too much dust, I forget what it’s like to sit down and think clearly for more than a few minutes at a time. Even when I take a break in the middle of the day or go on a weekend trip, I see the impending end to that break on the horizon. And this is exactly why I did not choose to go on a traditional vacation with my saved pennies. This is why I need to spend this time moving as slowly as possible across a great distance. I haven’t found anything else that breaks up the cobwebs in my head like a challenge of this sort.
So with my building anxiety–and the countdown dwindling–I want to use this blog as a place to write where I stand, literally and mentally leading up to my second pilgrimage. So I’m writing for three purposes:
- Help people who are considering/leaving soon for the Camino themselves.
- Vent about my feelings and pre-trip anxieties to make myself feel better.
- Prepare for the writing I hope to do on the trip itself.
So here’s where I stand…
Hiking during San Fermin. Yikes.
Logistically, I have learned that hiking the Camino overtop of the running of the bull is a bit of a nightmare. Pamplona, the fourth-or-so town on the Camino Frances (when starting in St. Jean Pied de Port), fills up for a week with revelers for the San Fermin festival. So here comes a vegetarian and a girl that fears large crowds hiking right in the middle of the bull run. Yeesh. The hardest part is finding a hostel in or around Pamplona. I know there are ways around the city, but I am worried these roads will not be well marked, and the last thing I want to do is get lost. Luckily, this morning we booked a room. It was about four times the amount we will normally pay for a hostel, but alas, better than getting lost in the hillsides of Spain. Hit me up in the contact section if you need suggestions of where to stay, we saw a few additional options in our journeys.
I’m losing patience with emails
My work email has a little notification feature that pops up on the top right part of my screen whenever a new message comes in. As someone who needs to get into a zone when they work, I have been less immune to frustration as each one pops up. I’m having real-world senioritis. One of the best things about the Camino is a disconnect from technology, from usual rhythms and patterns of your day, and from a constantly shifting focus. I feel the most resentful when I am pulled in several directions and incapable of finishing one specific task because of it. I realize these are all “first-world” problems, and one of my whole purposes for returning to the hike is to reorganize my brain and not become instantly frustrated when several people need things from me at once.
A Week of Happy Crying
I have a suspicion that I’m going to happy-cry my way through the first few days of this trip. Yes, I know I’m anxious as all hell now, but once I get my butt on the airplane and fall asleep, I will actually be able to say that I can truly rest. It’s strange to think that walking for five weeks is “truly resting,” but this is my sort of freedom. I look forward to days and days of being out in the sun, opposed to looking at it through an office window. And I look forward to a community of people that find little reason to fall into the trap of negativity–a great listen for my own brain. All that matters on the Camino is safely getting from one place to the next while looking out for the people around you.
So much support!
As I mentioned in one of my past posts, I’ve had such a different reaction to my trip announcement this time around. In 2009, the Camino was not as well known and the world was simply in a different mindset. I said that I wanted to drop everything and disappear for a few weeks, and everyone assumed I was doing a drunken jaunt through Europe to be wild and crazy. I was also told that it was too dangerous for a young woman to take on. This time though–nothing but positive thoughts from everyone. I’ve even received a whole bunch of phone calls and emails from people asking about how to plan their own trips. The world may feel like shit right now on the whole, but I applaud everyone’s newly opened mind to the idea of personal and spiritual pilgrimages. You don’t get a big golden award at the end or some giant recognition on the news. You do it for you, and you go home. The fact that something of this sort if gaining popularity is a good sign for society.
We’re at 61 days. And counting.
When I was a junior in high school, my English teacher asked us to describe the first time we processed the idea of death. As was the case with most of my high school papers, I came up with a much better description of this childhood moment years after writing the paper; the assignment has stuck with me for years. If I wrote the paper today, I would talk about my paternal grandfather’s passing when I was ten years old. I understood the idea of death, but I didn’t yet fully comprehended the human confusion that succeeded someone’s passing, especially when the person lost was one of those “big energies,” one of those people that changed the energy of a room, who drove the conversation and led a community in subtle ways that no one truly notices until the person is gone.
In my limited memories of him, this was my grandfather–a “big energy” kind of guy. At the funeral, my dad–who up until this point I had never seen get emotional or speak in public–told a story (Dad, I’m sorry, I’m probably going to butcher this). As he was driving out to Pennsylvania for the funeral, trying to process what he was going to say in the eulogy, he stared out into the river alongside route 80. Though most of the water was frozen, there was one circle of clean, melted water right in the center of the river. And in that hole of water, was a swan–just sitting, in his own little area of peaceful space, lit up by some sunlight. This serendipitous sight sparked a memory of when my dad and his family first walked back into their Wilkesbarre home after the flood which followed Hurricane Agnes in 1972. He recounted that the house was nearly ruined, the living room and furniture caked in a foot of mud. But across the kitchen, my grandfather was clearing off a space on the counter, furiously cleaning a few square feet of space. My dad, wondering if his dad had lost his head, asked why he was cleaning off such a specific space when he was surrounded by rooms of mud–what good could that one spot possibly do? And my grandfather turned around and explained that all day, no matter how overwhelming things seemed, he would have that one clean space amidst all the mud. It was a space for the swan in the frozen river. Whether it was a well-read coincidence or a sign from my grandfather, the world reminded him of his wise energy and profound lessons, even after he was gone.
On my drive to work this morning, an old Barbie Dream House had been left out on their curb for bulk trash day. And of course, it’s raining, so it was a wildly depressing sight. But the size of the thing! That dollhouse, now crumbling and filling with water, must have been up to my hip and as wide as my car door. I started to think about a reoccurring memory from childhood–sitting in my school friend’s bedroom, “playing” with that massive Playmobil mansion (I could have sworn it was Lego, but the internet tells me otherwise). It seemed like everyone got the same gift for Christmas that year. We were barely allowed to change around any of the pieces, so I use the term “play” loosely. The massive toy house had several floors, an epic front yard, a full cleaning staff, and all of these little lego flowers that you could “plant” around the garden. I thought about how my cats would probably eat these lego-like pieces in a heartbeat if I had it at home. To me, sitting there, staring at this untouchable dollhouse, was a rare, mature moment of clarity in elementary school when I thought, “I do not need this bougie dollhouse in my life.”
Back in college, my friends and I invented a day of the week known as Twunesday. Twunesday fell between Tuesday and Wednesday, and all events that didn’t fit within the constraints of our seven-day week were scheduled on this day. When will I write that paper? On Twunesday! How about taking a nap? Twunesday is an excellent day for naps!
Nowadays I find myself filling up my Twunesday schedule with all the artistic endeavors only doable on days when I have a clear schedule, void of responsibilities. I daydream about a clean, cleared-off desk with an artsy looking planter full of succulents, a steaming coffee cup, and a little framed motivational quote about the sun and new ideas, or some other baloney. This desk does not exist is my house, most of my writing is done at the dining room table with a cat laying half off my keyboard, usually cutting off the use of everything from caps lock to the space bar. A pile of papers containing theatre mailers, tax documents, and notepads with my husband’s play notes are held down by a copy of Marie Kondo’s The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, of which I have read half.
When I walked into school this morning, a flying-v of geese headed north overhead, presumably returning early from the winter. “February Thaw,” as one of my friends recently told me this strange stretch of weather is called, is confusing to me. Everything since November has felt like a reason to worry, this unseasonably warm weather included. And yet I can’t help but feel that we have desperately needed a little relief from the elements recently. I haven’t been able to craft a blog post in my head, but I did want to write for the sake of writing. I miss it, and I’ve become so busy this month that my writing brain keeps getting pushed to the back of the shelf.
So first I just want to send out a general cheer of gratitude to everyone in my community, both online and in real life. I’ve watched actor friends set their art aside (or redirect its purpose) to stand up for human rights or protect the parts of the earth they are inspired to fight for. I will look back on this time as both terrifying and humbling. I always knew the people I am graced to know in some way or another are genuine, hardworking people. But these past few months have left me speechless. The women’s bathroom at my job is covered in motivational quotes and instructions on how and where to march and protest. My Facebook feed is packed with persistent protesters, people suddenly running for local office, and those simply standing up day after day, even though so often they’re told it isn’t worth standing. And so, I tip my hat to you this morning.
Right after the election, a meme was making the rounds, predicting that Hillary would come out on stage before the inauguration to sing “Last Midnight,” from Into the Woods. If you’re unfamiliar with the musical, this may have looked like a jab to Hillary’s character, since after all, the song is sung by the witch. In the song, the witch denounces the actions of everyone on stage, dooming them all, before disappearing in a puff of smoke and returning to her “uglier,” previously cursed self. But if you do know the show well, you know that the witch is one of the strongest, most complex and powerful characters of the show.
I happen to know the show backwards and forwards because of the lucky fact that I was an introverted musical theatre child of the 90s and staged an imaginary production of this show in my living room. Nowadays, whenever I see theatre festival notices that state, “If chosen, play must be fully produced prior to the festival,” I think about how I’ll always have the production of Into the Woods in my back pocket, the audience just won’t be able to see my cast of imaginary actors.
Anyway, to put it in a nutshell, Into the Woods sets a bunch of familiar fairy tale characters in one town, all in pursuit of their personal dream. The Witch is one of the story’s common threads. She has a rough past–a history of cursing the baker’s family into sterility (after being robbed by them), and oh yes, trapping her daughter in a tower. But as the play progresses, we hear each character’s side of the story and watch them either grow into empathetic people, fall into a life of crime, or a combination of both. And as an audience, you start to question: who is justified in their quest?
When I was twelve, I played Anne Frank in a local theatre production up in the mountains of North Jersey. It was in one of those performance spaces that makes you miss the community theatre scene–a sturdy, 19th-century chapel in the center of town, with original wooden pews, a lady bug infestation, and the smell of books and old coffee.
The timing of this show was a major comfort for me and my family, it was just over two years since we had moved from Plainfield, a town that had become so dangerous that we purposely “disappeared” with as little a trace as possible. These were the days before the internet, and so all you needed to do was select being “unlisted” in the White Pages, and bam, you were off the grid. Studying Anne brought such solace to me in a time when I felt that I had also up and left my friends without a mailing address. The door simply closed on that old life. Unlike Anne though, I started a new one. I was welcomed by a chance to play in the woods, to ride my bike until the sun went down, to meet new friends, and through that, work with new theatre companies.
I had a pretty lucky theatre ‘career’ as a kid, I probably worked more then than I have as an adult so far. But up until that point, I hadn’t dealt with a role with such a massive line-load as Anne. I also spend 99% of the show on stage, only stepping behind a flat to change during the second act; and of course, I did not come in the final scene, when Otto Frank returns without his family.
But my primary focus was on my lines, of the logistics of staying on stage that long, of the ins and outs of imitating and embodying a historical figure I had already looked up to for years. You can learn a lot about someone’s energy and enthusiasm for life through their writing voice, and perhaps this is why we’re all so drawn to this girl. I studied the way she viewed the crumbling world around her, how she always maintained empathy and a belief in others’ goodness, even when she got angry and frustrated and panicked. I connected with the fact that she had terrifying nightmares that woke her up mid-scream (at least this is how its depicted in the show). I grew up with nightmares, and still either sleep walk or wake up gasping for breath from time to time. But most of all, I remember obsessively retraining myself on how to hold my pen–sometimes the two front fingers connected to the pencil, my thumb on the other side, and sometimes the pencil between the fore and middle finger, something that took a good deal of practice. I still catch myself doing these from time to time.
And so I learned to sit like her, to speak in a rhythm I believed she would have used, and to sink into the small world of the annex; as in real life, I played with the ladybugs and stared out the church window at a similar chestnut tree she describes in her diary. In the end, as with all roles, I am still me, and so we slowly became one, walking and talking in tandem. In the early days of living in a new town, she was a friend.