Uterga to Villatuerta

I am still one day behind after splitting up the Pyrenees day, but I will find a chance to catch up soon.

We left Uterga before the sun came up, buying a few snacks and a small cup of surprisingly acceptable coffee from a machine outside the albergue. I nostalgically nodded goodbye to the memory-packed hostel, somehow feeling like it wouldn’t be the last time I’d sit at those beloved patio tables.

There’s something sacred about hitting a stride after such a challenging beginning. The body and the brain adjust to a shift in living; little changes eventually build up to an unspoken system. We wake up to the sound of a low-toned cell phone alarm, slowly remember where we are, and wiggle and stretch the all necessary muscles to see how things held up from the day before. The first steps onto the albergue floor are the hardest, pins and needles shooting through to your ankles, sensitive from weeks without rest.

After switching from my pajama pants to my hiking pants (I often switched my shirts at the end of every hike), and slipping on my socks, I shuffle to the bathroom, pop in my contact lenses and brush my teeth. Silently, I gather my things, delicately fold my sleeping back into my arms and take it all into the hallway as to not to wake anyone still in bed.

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St. Jean to Roncesvalles: Part 2

Part 1 can be found here.


Toward the middle of every Camino hiking day, you hit a silent, steady stride. With so much land behind you and so much ahead, there isn’t much to think about other than the current trail. The forest eventually returned, reminding us how much easier it is to breathe when protected by a thick canopy of trees.

I distinctly remember passing a giant stone that read “España” on my first trip. Either we missed it in the haze of the day, or it never existed in the first place. Either way, you do simply walk into Spain. They stamp your passport at the albergue when you arrive and that’s it. No ceremony, no checkpoint.


The heat, humidity and knee pain really began to wear on me in the final several hours. Once you know the end is near, it requires much more discipline not to fall apart. As we crested one of what felt like a hundred hills, we spotted a path of pilgrims way up ahead, ascending yet another incline. How could we possibly still be going up?

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Do Not Let Me Entertain You


This is in response to today’s Daily Post, entitled “Invitation.”

If you go to the theatre, turn on a movie, stand in front of a work of art, switch on the radio–do not let me entertain you.  If you do, you are being tricked, you are missing the point, you are closing off a part of you due to fear, misunderstanding, the anxiety of truly looking at yourself.  Each piece of art–from the loud, frivolous musical to the subtle, abstract painting–evokes something in you that wasn’t there before, it creates.  It creates joy, nostalgia, anger, confusion, wonder, and perhaps even inspiration to change.  And whether the art pleases or angers you, it makes no difference.  What matters is that you went from feeling nothing–from moving along in a neutral day, from following the rhythm of the world, to distracting yourself by your own inner world—to stopping, to looking at the mirror that art provides for one moment, and challenging yourself to listen, to look.

With all the confusing anger around Meryl Streep’s speech and Hamilton providing a “safe space” and other misrepresentations of my field, I see the opportunity not to quiet these incorrect views of art, but to challenge them.  If these people, the ones who believe that art and artists are literally only meant to delight them, to make them feel more comfortable in their already comfortable states, well then I say, great!  I dare to you come to something truly challenging and try to leave simply, “entertained.”  I dare you to listen to an artist’s “unwelcome” opinion and walk around with it for one day before responding.

I keep reading,  “We go to see theatre for an escape, do your job.” But I ask you, if you only see art as an escape, what are you escaping?  Even asking yourself that question means that art has proved your thesis as incorrect.

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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


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?

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Day 28: The Keeping Your Sh*t Together Award

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!


As the final day of this writing challenge approaches, I wanted to write a story focusing on gratitude–especially for those who go out of their way to commit small acts of kindness.  Many of these, especially for people in vulnerable situations, rarely go forgotten.  This is dedicated to my junior high principal–

It was the end of my 8th grade year, and yet again, I found myself sitting in on a sticky plastic seat staring at the rafters of the gym ceiling.  One of the teachers was at the mic, giving a presentation of awards for students that had volunteered to save puppies or build houses for the homeless, or something else genuinely admirable.  If I had had the time to do such things, I’m sure I also would have appreciated a piece of shiny paper with my name on it.

But for me, assemblies like this required a special type of self care and mental armor, and luckily I had plenty of time to build this up.  I was always a decent student–it really wasn’t until I got to 6th or 7th grade that I got anything lower than an A.  But that’s about as far as my in-school achievements took me.  Theatre was the real world in my mind, for not only did it define who I was, but it was my true escape from the family issues we had been working through since I was about eight years old.  I didn’t get awards, and didn’t expect them.  “What do you do with them anyway?” I always thought.  Still, year after year of blending in with the scenery during these meetings was a dreaded moment of the year.

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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!


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 18: The Day I Freed the Horses

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!


I have to begin this story by telling you that I am eating one of the best breakfast wraps of my life.  A deli in Upper Montclair has gluten-free wraps, and so my painful hiatus away from savory, cheesy, Jersey-worthy breakfast combinations can finally come to a close.  The other reason it’s so delicious is because I’m in a pretty good mood today.  At several times in my life, I’ve found that after a long stretch of bad luck or extreme battles with anxiety, I emerge into a period of great gratitude and peace.  It’s like that feeling when you are so exhausted but can’t sleep for days, and then you finally take an amazing unexpected nap and wake up with a new lease on life.  Because of this, my chorizo, egg white, spinach, and cheese wrap is one of my favorite meals so far this month.

The fall weather this morning, and this general feeling of serenity, reminds me of a very odd time during my teenage years when my family’s struggles from my childhood began to truly set in.  We had only been living in Vernon for a few years, and the threatening presence of our past life in Plainfield still left a trail of destruction in our daily lives.  But I was finally getting to an age where I was mature enough to realize how close we came to never moving at all, and how lucky I was to be standing in the beautiful countryside of Sussex county–safe, with friends, with a clear head.  Unfortunately, gratitude for making it through a different experience is often not enough to erase the physical and psychological aftermath that inevitably follows.  And in a way, during high school, I knew that a storm was not far off, that at some point soon I would have to begin working through the stress it caused all of us.

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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!


The last town before 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.

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Day 13: Thirty Lessons Learned Between 20 and 30

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!

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Thirty Lessons Learned Between 20 and 30

  1. How to haggle with a NYC hot dog vendor
  2. How to stand on the right side of the subway platform so you get off on the right side of your stop
  3. Always tip extra
  4. Always double-read a lease before signing it, and for heaven’s sake, keep a copy
  5. There is no way to decide on all your life goals at 21
  6. Gratitude is not the sole answer to anxiety, but it is a gentle start
  7. The third drink is the window between two drinks and six drinks
  8. A lot of famous people are regular, nice human beings
  9. And on that note…there is no magical separation between the Broadway/Hollywood world and the rest of us
  10. I don’t need to try and monetize all my skills/hobbies
  11. A stalled train is not actually the end of the world
  12. Always carry chocolate
  13. Your body is capable of way more that you give it credit for
  14. We have the option to eat a lot of crap or eat food that fuels our body
  15. Sometimes you need to spend a little money to get over your fear of being broke
  16. At times, it’s better to go to bed instead of saying what’s your mind, other times it isn’t, the trick is knowing the difference
  17. Days of rest lead to days of productivity, and you never get a badge of honor for claiming otherwise
  18. You have no control over your audience’s reaction, only over your level of preparation and honesty
  19. Time heals all wounds, if we give ourselves the space and forgiveness to allow it to pass
  20. Nothing good every comes from being snippy to a waiter–or any business you interact with
  21. Living a life without barriers from pursuing your art or passion is the greatest privilege, and one worth fighting for, even if it’s never attained
  22. Go for a walk
  23. The more money involved, the more you need to fight for the project’s genuine, original purpose
  24. Telling someone to “choose happiness” is a lack of awareness of your privilege of stable mental health
  25. You have no reason to feel guilty for taking care of yourself
  26. Hard work does pay off, but it is not rewarded evenly
  27. An arts career is a long-distanced run, not a sprint
  28. How to educate myself during a mind-numbing, dead-end job
  29. Kindness is always the answer, is any situation you can imagine, no matter how many people label you as weak for believing so
  30. Nobody owes you shit

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How Diane Lane Narrating My Life Became This Blog

Little Thoughts on Finding Your Writing Voice

I’ve been in career mode recently.  I love when my brain lets me go there.  I have these occasional waves of motivation, usually timed with the changing of the seasons.  Fall is a big one for me.  I want to fill my house with pumpkin smells, wrap up in a blanket, and make large claims about writing a novel.  I even recently took an awesome rocking chair from someone’s curb on bulk garbage day and arranged this handy-dandy writing nook.  For the time being, it’s really helping–yet I have absolutely accepted that it may turn into a cat cuddle space/storage area.


I’ve had several people ask me about how I decided to begin blogging and how I grew this voice over the years.  So here is my personal experience, with advice that may be up your alley as well.

The other night, I was sitting in my new rocker and started to pick through a section of our book shelf that just holds our endless collection of diaries and journals from over the years.  If there’s one action that proves how much my husband and I trust each other, it’s by openly leaving out approximately ten years of feelings on a bookcase in the middle of the apartment.

Anyway, I found my Camino notebook–the oneI used during my first hike across Spain.  The back of it is filled with panicked budgeting and addresses for everyone on my postcard list.  Though I’ve been a diary writer for as long as I can remember, this notebook was the most similar to my future blog.  But making the leap to online writing primarily developed when I was left alone with  my thoughts while walking for approximately eight hours a day in a desert/mountain/middle-of-nowhere Spanish village.  You have a lot of time to think, talk, sing, write songs, rhyme silly words with one another, zone out, count flowers, and sometimes even try to translate as much of The Wizard of Oz lyrics into Spanish.  You get the idea, you have a lot of time.

Well, amidst all this, my journal writing began to reflect the persistent narrator inside my head.  My fellow hikers would occasionally check in to see who my current mental voice sounded like this week (I have tons of respect to everyone for not thinking I was totally losing my mind).  Some days, it was Diane Lane from Under the Tuscan Sun.  In case you’re unfamiliar with what I’m talking about:


Under The Tuscan Sun Clip

Other days it was Forrest Gump.


I didn’t think anything of this, I’ve had narrator in my head since I was little.  Too many movies with a dramatic, James Horner-backed narrative during my childhood I guess.  But I learned throughout the hike that this is how I compartmentalize my experiences and how I process important moments of my life.

Slowly but surely, these voices were reflected in my journal writing.  Brain to paper was a huge step, and not an immediate one.  Now, I have never been a diary writer that reports the day’s activities.  I don’t like to report what happened–I already know what happened.  I mainly like to get all the angsty thoughts on paper before I spew them at someone else–it’s a moment of mental detox.  But as my mind’s observant voice developed, the more it began making its jump to the page.  My writing began to balance out between ranting and experience–and hence, the blog voice was born.

Blog Post Structure

The leap between my journal and blog writing came when I began to latch onto really nice ideas that my mental voice chose to say during that given week.  If I had a particularly poignant moment–whether big or small–I learned to bookmark the wording that came to mind and write it down for later.  If it really strikes me, then I see if there are larger themes going on in my life that could be related.  This post is a good example.  Often in life, images and feelings tend to repeat themselves within a short period of time.  It’s like when you keep spotting the same word over and over and realize it’s a super-weird coincidence. This happens with fluffy feelings and motivational blog posts as well.

The more experience I had with morphing a moment into a story/lesson, the more aware of these moments I became.  I could even drag them up from the past.  The issue I still struggle with is how to create ideas when you need to write, especially when you haven’t have a light bulb moment in several months and your blog is getting dusty.

Writing for an Audience

In my early days, I wasn’t that concerned with audience.  I just wanted to write something and post it without passing out from fear.  If one person read it, that was enough for me.  In the beginning, I was very lucky to see this new venture as a side-project just for me–not for money or attention.  Creatively, this is how I really managed to grow as a writer.

As the years went on, and this became more my jam, audience became way more important.  I can break up my current writing voices into several categories:

Personal Blog:

I do whatever the hell I please.  This began as a public way to develop my writing, so whether my post is 400 words or 1500 words, it doesn’t matter.  It will be nice for some people, and not great for others.

Outside blogs:

Get to the point while keeping your voice intact.  My biggest jump from online journal writing was keeping everything within a word limit while still telling a story with soul and personality.  But this is the skill worth developing.  Too long a story and your reader is lost.  Too succinct and you’re writing a book report.  When a story strikes you as important, how do you put someone in your shoes without banging the story over their heads?

Essay writing: 

This is my new jam. I picked up Creative Nonfiction’s book about three years ago, and it opened my eyes to this genre.  Apparently first-person memoir essays are a thing that you can write for money!  And people want to read them!  And they’re so much longer and more poetic than blog posts.  So when writing these, and I’ve only submitted to a few contests so far, I let all pistons fire at once.  I get lofty, I write on and on, I make comparisons to birds and trees and rainstorms.  The privacy of it–the chance that it might be published on paper opposed to the internet–for some reason allows me the freedom to tell darker secrets and elaborate where blog platforms often fall short.

Ways to keep growing:

After I while, I recognized I was falling into the same traps.  I wrote (and still often write) on the same subjects and tend to come to the same conclusions about art and careers and such.  What was missing was a teacher.  And so I began to obsessively read.  My final bit of advice is to seek out which authors spark your urge to write.  Their form of narrative should have such a strong power over you that you put down the book and race off to your notebook or laptop.  For me, these ladies are Nora Ephron, Anne Lamott, and one of the first narrative writers who inspired me, Dominique Browning.

Just get started:

For those of you who have approached me in the past several years about starting a blog, I will generally tell you this (but am clearly happy to elaborate): find a platform that’s free and easy to use–I highly recommend WordPress.com–and write as if you have nothing to gain or lose from hitting the publish button.  What inspires you will inspire someone else.  What bores you will bore others.  Start with your own needs and the people who you connect with will find you.  Then share, share away on Facebook and Twitter!  That’s how I get 90% of my traffic.  The other 10% or so is from exploring the wonderful WordPress community and reading other’s blogs on topics I enjoy.

Your voice will only continue to develop with time, as I hope mine does as well.  You will never–at any point in your career–be able to predict how an audience will respond to a post you love.  So you might as well write it if it makes you happy.  When in doubt, go on a hunt for a voice similar to your own and let them lead the way.