How to Return

The past two nights, I’ve stumbled through NYC pretending that I fit in, ignoring–or hiding–that I still feel like an outsider.  I stop extra long at busy intersections–at one point so long that a feisty West Village pedestrian smacks into the back of me without a word of “Oops” or apology.  I’m in the way.  But I can’t explain to them that I recently spent five weeks with traffic as one of my biggest contenders.  Before you leave, you avoid telling your parents or husband that car accidents are the biggest–and pretty frequent–cause of pilgrim injuries, or worse (Hi dad!).  I scuttered across a few too many highways with a heavy backpack because the yellow arrows told me to.  But alas, here I am, a safer New Yorker.

I am also used to being the “other” in a city. I see women walking toward me with makeup and fashionable clothing, and my brain still tells me that I am an outsider in hand-washed hiking pants, a faded blue shirt, and a nylon headband covering the heat rash on my neck.  I know I’m not, I’m one of the normals now.  But that’s the issue, I don’t feel like it.  I don’t feel like them and I know I’m not like them.

The true issue is figuring out what the hell you do with this confused energy right after you get back from a trip of this sort.  This happened to me last time as well, and honestly, I thought it had to do more with life events at the time, and not a pilgrim-reintegration syndrome, an issue I just made up all on my own.

But don’t get me wrong, I’m not a total mess by any means. In reality, I’m sitting at my new homemade desk (because I now write from home for a living, yay!)–with some calming folk music, a hot mug of freshly made coffee, and even a small oil diffuser that calmly changes colors every few seconds.  I could not be in more of a comfortable, introvert-friendly, privileged scenario than right now.  So why am I such an emotionally stunted grouch half the day?

Continue reading

Advertisements

The Camino List!

I woke up this morning with a new sense of hope. It is the first time I’ve slept soundly through the night since last weekend, and I’m sure it was partially due to the fact that I was finally able to eat somewhat normally yesterday.  I’m still unable to get back to hiking training, but I feel less like the room is spinning every time I exert myself.

I am also beginning to fully process that I indeed only have two more weeks in a full-time, traditional office setting.  I’ve been counting down my return to the trail for nearly six years, and more recently, obsessively counting down the months and weeks.  This trip represents far more than a career change and “vacation.” It is the end of a three-year push to pay off a mountain of debt, to figure out a new lucrative, freelance career and lifestyle, and most importantly–to learn how speak up for decisions and ideas that truly make me a better, more complete person.

But with joy and realization, comes the inevitable travel anticipation–the total “holy crap moment” that accompanies leaving your comfortable bubble and doing something rather terrifying.

And so to both celebrate this morning’s new-found sense of hope, and to recognize my underlying terror of returning to this physical undertaking of hiking 500 miles, I have begun mentally making the “Camino List of Awesome Stuff”–a list that will keep me going through my final 15 days.

Things I’m looking forward to on the Camino

Continue reading

Solvitur Ambulando

Mid-Camino-Training Walk

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.

Continue reading

You Are My Starfish–A Camino Story

Photo via Unsplash

Photo via Unsplash

Despite the past several days throwing us some curve balls (I fell down the steps this morning–no broken bones but some pretty impressive cuts and bruises), I woke up feeling generally okay. Sure, the heat in our apartment still doesn’t work because our boiler almost blew us up last week. And sure, every day, the news reminds us that the country is crumbling.  And yet, as I tried to express in last week’s post, good things are still happening.  Maybe that’s why I can handle wiping out on my back steps, spitting toothpaste all over the room and nearly breaking my elbow.  I can take that.  Because on the bright side, I still don’t have to live through another November 8th, 2016.

After that terrible week, I felt paralyzed.  I felt that no matter what I did, nothing could fight this national disaster.  But as the days passed, and our clouds of fear slowly parted, many of us started finding very small, very subtle ways of trying to improve the days of those around us.  A coworker approached me about a Secret Santa for local low-income seniors, another friend arranged us to volunteer at a homeless shelter.  While I was there, I bumped into another friend, totally unrelated to the first arrangement, who had come just to volunteer with her husband.  Because she knew she had to do something.  Because of these, and some other random opportunities for acts of kindness, this was one of the most fulfilling holiday seasons I’ve ever experienced.

The country has seen this too.  A record-breaking donation season, a huge increase of women running for local offices, people stepping up to defend strangers, just to name a few.

But I’m not here to pat myself on the back.  I’m actually here to talk about a Camino story (surprise!).

The Camino of Animals

12916914_907223569729_3805495048724830339_o

Ben and I were chatting about this phenomenon last night–people’s call to action after the election.  It’s easy to feel that small acts are too insubstantial when the headlines tell you that no matter what you do, an unstoppable sentiment of hate and intolerance has been reawakened in our country.  It’s hard to feel that leaving a larger tip on someone’s bill, or going out of your way to say something friendly to a stranger really matters at all.  Why donate one place, when there are so many groups that need our attention?

Continue reading

Day 27: A Story for Joe

For the final 30 days of my twenties, I am writing one personal narrative a day that has impacted my life until now.  To read more about my challenge, feel free to check out the first post.  

Also, this 30 Day challenge is also to support a wonderful charity, Zara Aina.  Please check out my fundraiser here and if you’re able, please consider throwing a few dollars toward this amazing cause.  It would mean the world!

12973038_907226264329_543046037248261603_o

Looking back, it’s fascinating to think that my in-person relationship with Joe Patenaude was actually quite brief.  We first met when I was ten, in the height of the Plainfield saga.  He was one of those people that bridges the two worlds for me–I met him when I was still living in my old life, and then he returned in a bigger way, in my new life, many years later.

My mom had a play produced at Drew in 1996, a poster I’d always look for at our annual end-of-the-year theatre party, a reminder that I actually stood in my future-college cafeteria, many years before college was even a thought.  I remember very little, other than the fact that the show went up with a David Ives one-act, and during the little party afterwards, I shook his hand and remember thinking that he had rather large eyebrows.  That’s now all I can think of when I come across David Ives plays.  Tall man (because I was very little at the time), big eyebrows.  As my eyebrows started to get bushier in my teen years, I genuinely believed that I was getting some sort of Karmic punishment for making fun of David Ives’ eyebrows in my head.  But I digress…

To my knowledge, Joe was there that day as well.  Again, I was little and barely remember which adults were which. Nevertheless, I had a great time that afternoon and went on my merry way, livin’ my life.  When senior year crept up, and I seemed to be the only one among my friends who was completely lost when it came to choosing a college, my mom reminded me that Joe could be a deciding factor.  She reminded me I met him as a kid, that I would already had a familiar base of people there, and that she approved of him as a teacher.  My mom knew a lot of wacky 70s acting teachers that had their own bizarre ways of teaching performance, and she passionately steered me away from these guys.  For Joe, however, she gave the stamp of approval.  So this was not to be taken lightly. Continue reading

Day 25: The Night I Slept in the Attic of a Bar

For the final 30 days of my twenties, I am writing one personal narrative a day that has impacted my life until now.  To read more about my challenge, feel free to check out the first post.  

Also, this 30 Day challenge is also to support a wonderful charity, Zara Aina.  Please check out my fundraiser here and if you’re able, please consider throwing a few dollars toward this amazing cause.  It would mean the world!

11145016_907224178509_8292082373070529376_o

I’m running out of days, and appropriately, running out of Camino stories.  And although the following began as an insignificant day in the scheme of the hike, I look back on this evening as the moment I first realized how beautiful this pilgrimage truly is–and how much I’d long to go again someday.

It was only the fourth day of hiking, but day one had taken such a toll on our bodies that early physical ailments were beginning to rear their heads.  Courtney was particularly suffering.  Due to the positioning of her shoes as we hiked over the Pyrenees, she had bruised a bone on the top of her foot–a painful ailment only curable with rest, the one thing we didn’t have.  But we were newbies to the journey, and stopping this early in the game went against our schedules.

Continue reading

Day 20: The Day I Became a Catholic Buddhist

For the final 30 days of my twenties, I am writing one personal narrative a day that has impacted my life until now.  To read more about my challenge, feel free to check out the first post.  

Also, this 30 Day challenge is also to support a wonderful charity, Zara Aina.  Please check out my fundraiser here and if you’re able, please consider throwing a few dollars toward this amazing cause.  It would mean the world!

12967992_907226818219_1766165424591321834_o

Traditionally, I was raised in a rather predictable Catholic fashion.  Until we moved in 1998, I went to Catholic school, memorized the textbooks, participated in the school’s morning group prayers, and went to church with my family on most Sundays.  I didn’t understand that there was an option to believe anything otherwise.  Every Catholic kid from our church was introduced to the religion in the best possible way, through a caring man named Father Charles Hudson.  He told stories in a conversational, calming tone, he spoke to the whole audience, he preached kindly and collaboratively about other religions, he invited other spiritual groups to Mass–he was an open-minded, inspirational dude that left the world quite suddenly at the age of 61 after a heart attack.  He was known for his extensive list of humanitarian work, founding a hospice center, and creating inspiration tapes for the ill.  My mom said that you couldn’t get near the church for the funeral, it was so packed that people spilled out into the parking lot.

I was lucky that when all the anger brewed up in me later in life, when the broken politics of the church sent me running from Christianity, I had people like Father Hudson (and awesome Catholics like my grandmother) to remind me it wasn’t all bad, there were those that rose above the ulterior motives of the outdated system.  However, I took a sharp left turn in high school, when the community surrounding my hometown church went against any teachings of the religion.  To me, this group of parents acted like a special club for those with outwardly “perfect” lives, and only those that followed the rules were welcome to socialize with the grade-A Catholics of the town.

And so, after a fateful trip to a bookstore one afternoon, I found Buddhism instead.  I was at that age when everyone seemed to be finding Eastern religion, but the snooty comments thrown my way about being a part of a “typical and predictable” trend, only pushed me father away from what felt like a bitter Western tradition that was losing members by the day.  Buddhism simply made the world seem clearer.  Instead of focusing of accruing good deeds to be given good fortune, you are encouraged to revel in the discomfort of pain and confusion–these were the challenges that helped you grow into a more caring person.  Fear and sadness were nothing to blame yourself for, they were emotions recognized as passing clouds that, in the meantime, could bring you closer to understanding someone else’s suffering. Continue reading

Day 15: The Last Day of the Camino

For the final 30 days of my twenties, I am writing one personal narrative a day that has impacted my life until now.  To read more about my challenge, feel free to check out the first post.  

Also, this 30 Day challenge is also to support a wonderful charity, Zara Aina.  Please check out my fundraiser here and if you’re able, please consider throwing a few dollars toward this amazing cause.  It would mean the world!

12983920_907227856139_8291559202571188212_o

The last town eefore our final trek to Santiago de Compostela was relatively anti-climatic.  At this point, we were beyond hoping to be romanced by Spanish villages or magnificent churches, and mainly longed to return to hot showers the and luxury of shaving your legs (something I never thought I’d say). But the morning’s weather was stunning, and the group launched their packs onto their bodies with extra vigor and hope.

On one hand, we were returning to the real world.  I had lost touch with my boyfriend about a week prior, a situation that was significantly stressing me out, and I also had a ton of loose ends to tie up with the job waiting for me back home.  As much as I wanted to be in the moment, five weeks away from responsibility was starting to take its toll.  On the other hand, we were returning the real world. Traffic jams, email, days of sedentary life.  Not to mention the pressure that the Camino itself hangs over your head–that you will have worked through all your demons by the end of the hike, returning to the old world as a newly enlightened super-being.  Physically, I had changed, my ankles and calves were tree trunks at this point, and I was so suntanned that I looked like one of the mothers from my childhood lake community that lathered themselves in coconut tanning oil.  Psychologically, I fussed less, and I know that sounds little, but for someone with life-controlling anxiety, this was huge.  One of my hiking mates mentioned that I talked way less about money stress, and I just generally had a freer mind to think about other things.  But as far as my life-altering breakthrough, nothing yet.

Continue reading

Day 6! A Short Camino Story by the Fire

For the final 30 days of my twenties, I am writing one personal narrative a day that has impacted my life until now.  To read more about my challenge, feel free to check out the first post.  Today’s theme is, “Enough is enough.”  Whatever that means to you, feel free to comment, link your blog, or repost online with any stories of your own.  Thanks for reading!

Also, this 30 Day challenge is also to support a wonderful charity, Zara Aina.  Please check out my fundraiser here and if you’re able, please consider throwing a few dollars toward this amazing cause.  It would mean the world!

12976859_907227072709_6394334881463048669_o

With the interest of returning to hike the Camino again, I’ve been reading several forums about how much things have changed since 2009.  When we hiked, there were no smartphones, no apps to guide our path, and no way to check social media without putting a Euro in a router at a hostel.  It was also pre-The Way, a beautiful movie that helped spread the Camino’s tradition, and apparently significantly boost its popularity.  Understandably, technology and popularity brings along as much bad as it does the good.  I’ve read countless posts about the overcrowding of hostels, squabbles over wifi speed, and a commercialization of the hike.

Continue reading

Day 2: The Farther You Go…or, That Time I Rapped with Nuns in Spain

For the final 30 days of my twenties, I am writing one personal narrative a day that has impacted my life until now.  To read more about my challenge, feel free to check out the first post.  Today’s theme is, “The farther you go.”  Whatever that means to you, feel free to comment, link your blog, or repost online with any stories of your own.  Thanks for reading!

Also, this 30 Day challenge is also to support a wonderful charity, Zara Aina.  Please check out my fundraiser here and if you’re able, please consider throwing a few dollars toward this amazing cause.  It would mean the world!

Day 2: The Farther You Go…or, That Time I Rapped with Nuns in Spain

Although I attended six years of Catholic school, I wouldn’t say I came out of it much of a Catholic—at least not in the traditional sense.  I developed a strong resentment toward my patronizing and judgmental school experience, full of plaid jumpers and a brutal social caste system, and then totally cut the cord in high school when my church yelled at my family for not sending me to CCD even though my mom was going through serious chemo.  As usual, people not following the teachings of the church scare away its followers.

12973534_907226543769_6311921339945343143_o

But when the Camino de Santiago fell into my lap during a program in college, I reconsidered the role religion had played in my life up until then.  To put this story in a nutshell, I studied the Camino that year and then decided to walk the whole kit and caboodle with my friend Claire after we graduated in 2009.  It was a turning point in my life, as well as a turning point for how I viewed organized religion.  I wouldn’t say I ever had a “come to Jesus” moment—if anything, Buddha became even more of my jam, but I did leave with a greater inner peace about the original intentions of the Catholic traditions.  I left with a new belief in humanity, and new hope that community can triumph over a broken system, no matter which tradition is followed.

Continue reading