My favorite teachers were those men and women who treated their students like humans. Not as little sponges ready to absorb information and be able to recite it at some future date, but those educators who put themselves on our level so that we might better be able to understand and perform to their exacting standards. Those teachers who worked us like dogs, but treated us as people. Those instructors who were so knowledgeable and passionate about the subject you couldn’t help but become infected by their enthusiasm. Those beacons of Hope in the endless sea that is public education; those foundations for achieving greatness; those brilliant souls who worked tirelessly, never complained, and pushed you ever onward on the path to self-enlightenment.
I attended New Mexico Military Institute for my high school years, skipping out on my hometown, not out of malice or for discipline reasons, but for a jumpstart to something different. Here, I thought, I can achieve greatness.
I certainly didn’t achieve greatness (though I did attain a certain level of infamy in the English department for my brazen shenanigans), but I was put on the straight and narrow by a number of my instructors.
It’s been quite the spell hasn’t it? I have half a dozen veritable excuses I could use to satiate my claims of inadequacy, but in truth, none of them really matter. The fact is I’ve been neglecting my poor blog in favor of the tenuous here and now – and, shame, that just isn’t my proper style. What sort of wandering vagabond am I if I can scarcely keep a blog updated, eh?
Things have been quite tumultuous on my end, what, with the moving back to Lovington, taking up residence as a local English teacher, and trying to juggle my new work schedule, academic career, and personal Life all in one go. And here I thought I had mastered time management. Joke’s on me, because time is a fictional concept and you cannot master fiction.
Despite my faults (which exist purely because of my own machinations), I am acclimating well to things I reason. Forsooth, I heartily enjoy teaching English – that should’ve been a given considering my penchant for arguing and being a pompous ass when it comes to literature and opinions. And Lord knows if you’ve ever argued with me I don’t back down in the face of Reason too readily.
Yet my writing Life has certainly taken a most severe blow within these past few months. To be fair (which it isn’t), moving back to Lovington was a burden. But that was accomplished in little over a week (thanks, Po – you’re the best). And acclimating myself to the new teaching gig has been rather touch and go at times. Just when I feel I get the hang of things, the local Umbridge brings the thunder and I’m back to drowning in a heap of acronyms, paperwork, and children with banal questions. Yes, you put your goddamned name on every assignment; stop asking.
Even as I write this post, I am unsure of its completion. And if you’re reading this, hot damn, that means I finally finished a fucking draft for the first time in months. True, my personal journal is stained heavily in fountain pen ink (with my distinctive script), but it is indeed a far cry from keeping up with my blog. I’m paying for this damned thing, right, so I might as well write something worthy of note.
And here we are, for something has compelled me to write tonight, or rather, some people.
A couple weeks ago, a Camino Comrade of mine happened to be in the area on account of business. And by in the area I mean within two hours of me, which, as any red-or-green blooded New Mexican will attest, is close by. Despite it being a school night (still getting used to that again) and having a slew of grading, lesson plans, and my own academics to fret over, I saddled up after classes let out and made my way to the grand city of Andrews, Tejas. Despite my reluctance to ever visit that dread land of faux-Cowboys e’er again, this woman was well worth the voyage.
And so the two of us – having last met back in April in Missouri – dined over steak fingers and Cokes (no booze; damned dry city) and caught one another up on the shenanigans we’ve been up to since attending hospitalero training way back when. And I must say, how delightfully refreshing it was to simply spend a couple hours with an old friend. Truth, we had only spent about a week together in person, but Camino, as we all know, is simply like that: making eternal friends can take as little as a chance buen camino.
We sat in her car, chain smoking and bullshitting, reminiscing about this and that, and speaking of our desires to once more rejoin the Way and how we planned on achieving that. We spoke of our mutual comrades with whom we had both visited this past year, of our singular encounters with others from our hospitalero group, and the significant moments in our respective Lives from encounter the last.
She remarked upon the blog, how she really enjoyed my “sermon” to the Presbyterian flock of yesteryear, and I recall beaming with pride in the darkened vehicle, the ember of my cigarette dangling from my lip the only tell-tale sign of warmth across my face. Though my biggest critic and always downplaying praise, it touched me to know I had made an impact.
“You should write an anthology,” she said. “I think you’d be great at it.”
I’d be damned if I said my heart wasn’t aflutter at that kind suggestion.
Forsooth, comrades, there is something to be said in the mere innocence of it all. To simply sit there in plumes of smoke, watching the night sky take shape as the sun sets, and speaking from one soul to another. As I drove the hour and a half back to my new lodgings, how I wished I could merely keep driving and continue the great journey ever onward, to forever seek out such companionship and understanding, to keep the high.
Stephanie, I am eternally in your debt for shaking me awake. For reminding me that my Life isn’t meant to be forever in one place tied down to any single notion of reality. For indeed, reality is what we determine it to be.
And my reality has always been on the road.
But that moment of friendly bliss was soon swallowed whole by the new Life I had crafted about myself. Schooling is no joke – my evenings are oft dedicated to keeping ahead of my classes. My days are entirely devoted to my newfound charges – they may curse my name and workload at the present but I’ve hope for the future. And my personal Life – that damnable thing I can never quite put right – goes through the motions of ups and downs.
As a dark cloud swallows the sun in the encroaching storm, so too was my brief moment with Stephanie in danger of being eclipsed by my own machinations of realistic defeatism.
Yet Fate, comrades, had yet to abandon me completely.
Today, as my red pen flew across scores of comma splices and words in need of capitalization, my phone chirped the familiar sound of a message received. And there, though she didn’t know it at the time, came a familiar face with some much-needed words of encouragement.
We chatted for a bit – apparently, I may be considered a Subject Matter Expert on all things Grado (adding that to the resume) – about her upcoming writing responsibilities and the Gathering of Pilgrims outside Atlanta next month. Although I didn’t tell her at the time (indeed, I wasn’t quite so sure of it myself initially), her innocent comment had knocked something loose. It reminded me of my brief dinner with Stephanie, of the potential I had to actually put pen to paper and write.
To write, dammit.
That inspiration. That nugget of wisdom. The kernel of truth. Whatever euphemism you need, whatever you call it, to begin writing. And to write in earnest. And here we are now, dear reader, a full 1000 words later, writing about things that may seem trivial to the casual observer, but which mean oh so much to me and my flying fingers and racing pen.
Perhaps it’s the copious amounts of booze I’ve ingested. Maybe the plentiful amount of cigarettes smoked. Or the thought that tomorrow I could very well be hungover in a highly stressful job but without a single care to my name. Maybe the reverberating sounds of angry Finnish death metal within my addled skull. Whatever it is – whatever name we wish to call it – some cobwebs have been batted away, the dust scoured clean, and the writer once more unleashed unto himself.
Indulge me, comrades, for your Nomad has returned.
In parting, may I recite my absolute favorite bit of Passion Proof Power, a casual reminder that I am my own Fate, and that no matter what: I am fucking crazy, but I am free.
No One’s Slave
No Man or God They Have Made
Foremost I would like to thank Michael and Kathryn from the Heart, Mind & Soul Project for hosting me at lunch today here in sunny Albuquerque. These two wonderful people were passing through my beloved New Mexico – of course we had to meet as fellow writers and volunteers are wont to do! Good conversation and better company is always on the menu.
That having been said, I have about a dozen drafts flitting about the place this moment – nothing is really worthy of being published I’m afraid.
That’s what happens when you are your biggest critic. Writers, amirite?
Whilst enjoying victuals this afternoon, Michael, Kathryn, and I swapped Camino stories – the two are quite well-traveled (the best kind of company) – and I was asked about my first Camino back in 2014. Rather than relate the conversation verbatim here, might I instead, dear reader, have you enjoy the following piece I penned shortly after Camino Primaris?
I’m not certain if I wrote the following for a contest or just because, but, all the same, enjoy it, eh?
No doubt many of you are wondering – my long-time friends, family, and my newer readers – what in blazes I’m getting myself into these days. Forgive the radio silence, family and friends, trying to contact me or waiting for a call. To borrow an iconic line from President Obama, “Aaaaah, let me be clear! (hand waves about needlessly) Change is good!”
Fret not; this post has nothing to do with politics.
No, this post is a recap of my past month; a retelling of the shenanigans and string pulling your erstwhile Monkey has been getting himself into. Machinations, ahoy!
On Being a Self-Hating Catholic and Ernest Hemingwannabe
Our story continues in which our Hero is in the midst of regaling his Catholic comrades with a tale of woe and heartache, a yarn of mental deprivations and emotional turmoil, a timeless speech of impeccable rhetoric and colorful banter, this is, dear reader, Part the Second of the Limping Along series.
Yeah, it’ll be a series. Deal wid it.
For those of you first tuning in, might I recommend you give Limping Along (Part I) a read afore you turn your sights upon this. Backstory is always important, you understand.
For the rest of you lot, this next passage continues where I left off: in the midst of giving my testimony to my Focus Mission Group. It’s about as bitchin’ as it sounds.
Gentlemen, ready your canes and adjust your monocles. Maidens fair, contain thy selves and resist the vapors. In the words of Gork (and possibly Mork) ‘ere we go!
Forgive my lack of posts and updates for the bulk of my time is devoted to the pilgrims at the albergue here in Grado. Plenty of time to jot down thoughts in my journal, but bangin’ out a bitchin’ blog post is much more difficult. I’m not even mad; this gig is such a welcome chapter of my Life. And soon, my Life will change yet again for the better. I go from one happy moment to the next – yes, Life is good.
But you didn’t come here to read about how much I’m enjoying Life and brimming with excitement for Our future. If you’ll allow me, curious reader, let me tell you about being a hospitalero.
After volunteering at El Burgo Ranero for just over a week and change, I finally passed the keys to the new hospitaleros, said my farewells throughout town, and once more rejoined the Way.
But I was undecided about which way to go. To the west lay Leon, the next logical step of Camino, and to the east was the road I originated from. But after my tenure as a hospitalero, I no longer felt the need to sojourn to Santiago – the Seeker finally found what he was looking for.
Yet I had to go somewhere for I certainly couldn’t stay in the albergue anymore. Humoring Fate, I allowed her to choose for me: I set my walking staff upright and decided I would walk in the direction it fell.
Why the hell not, right?
I released Staeckli II to the wilds, and with a rousing clatter, the staff bounced upon the stones, finally laying to rest in my ordained direction. I smiled as I picked it up, adjusting my pack, and took my first steps.
Eastbound it would be then.
I would walk east for the next two days – from El Burgo Ranero to Bercianos, then once more to Moratinos – and I was met with just about every reaction possible from bewildered pilgrims.
Within my first kilometer, I was stopped by a perplexed German woman, who, upon seeing me come from the opposite direction, turned about trying to get her bearings.
“This is Camino?” she asked in frenzied English. Clearly I had upset her with my presence.
“Ja,” I replied in German – she wore a German flag pin – “heir ist Jakobsweg,” gesturing about me.
Still greatly confused, but excited about the prospect of chattering in German, she hurriedly asked me a dozen questions about what in the hell I was up to, this pompous American ass.
I explained that I was content with the west. My direction would be east for now. My German is pretty bad, and deeper concepts such as philosophy or emotions are a bit outside my conversational ability. No doubt she thought I was nuts as I explained, child-like, Santiago held nothing for me – my only course was where my feet lead me.
“You are going the wrong way,” she laughed in English.
With that, she turned towards the west and picked up her trail, mumbling to herself about the crazy American with a Swiss accent she had just bantered with.
Twice I was stopped in separate villages by overly friendly locals who absolutely insisted I was headed the wrong direction. My Spanish is much worse than my German (unless you need a llanta fixed) and there was no discernible way I could explain just what in blazes I was doing. I mean, fuck, even in English I have a difficult time explaining it.
At one point, an older gentleman armed with cane, tobacco-stained teeth, and the ubiquitous cabby hat grabbed me by the arm and, pointing towards the west, kept on about Santiago being that direction. I reckon he didn’t notice my Santiago forearm tattoo.
Well I fucking know that, I thought to myself, politely nodding as he finally released me from his tenacious grip. Santiago aqui, si. Gracias.
And I kept on eastward.
Outside Sahagun (the one with the fuckold churches), I met a lone American woman who stopped in the middle of the trail, a full 100-meters distant from me, to look about the Way in utter bewilderment. Even from a distance, I could see her face twisted in confusion. “Am I on the right path?”
“Hi,” she stammered as I approached, unperturbed. Americans – always resorting to English first…
“Howdy,” I replied, jolly as could be.
“Why are you walking this direction?” she hesitatingly asked.
I gestured westward. “There is nothing for me in that direction,” I said rather laughingly. “This,” pointing to the east, “is my new direction.” In hindsight, no wonder people think I’m nuts out here.
She realized she was dealing with a madman. “But isn’t Camino that way?” she said, pointing towards Sahagun.
“The Way is everywhere,” I said.
The look on her face, holy hell, I wish I had captured that. Total, utter confusion.
After the briefest of pauses, she wished me well and hustled away from me, westward, eager to put distance between us. Clearly my nonchalant, yet eager, attitude towards my refusal to go west had sparked a fear in her. And I do believe it’s the fear of the unknown she had just witnessed in me.
We all know what lies ahead should we go west. Santiago, familiar faces, the minutia of day-to-day Camino pilgrimage. But when met with the absurd – a fellow walking the other direction, for instance – it sets about a whole series of questions within our heads many people aren’t ready to answer.
What would happen if I turned around? you can see them asking themselves in their heads. Why am I out here in the first place? Why am I walking in this direction? Maybe this guy knows something I don’t. Comical, for me, really, to sow that seed of doubt for it is really the seed of reflection – and someone has to sow it.
I continued about my journey, completely nonplussed by the various encounters throughout the day. Here and there, I would receive a thumbs up, a pat on the back, even a “You’re fucking right,” from one younger chap. But for the bulk of my two days eastbound, most people looked at me like I was absolutely bonkers for heading the opposite direction, against the flow of pilgrims streaming westward. You are going the wrong way, you can hear in their heads, a constant cadence of doubt pounding with every step.
Hardly. There is no wrong way. There is no right way. There’s only the Way. You’re either on it or you aren’t, and whatever direction you take doesn’t matter in the slightest.
I soon found myself in Moratinos – a village I had already lodged in once – and there found the house of my latest Camino friend. They put me up for the night, and over dinner, I knew Staeckli II had fallen in the proper direction. Fate led me here, to share their table and hospitality, to meet new, inspiring souls, to be set upon the next part of my Way.
Last night was perhaps one of my favorite Camino experiences, for I shared the table with brilliance: four nationalities, four bottles of wine, two professional journalists and writers, a professional tour guide walking Camino to build a better experience for others, and a Catholic priest volunteering his time and skills to assist his beloved Way. They spoke of philosophy, music, politics, human nature, religion, books, history, everything! I sat silent for most of the dinner for I was a mere mortal amongst gods – it was an absolutely fantastic moment for me.
And all because I was walking the wrong way.
In my many travels, I have met a great amount of people who are walking away from something – some sort of past – which is completely understandable. Who isn’t trying to distance themselves from something long ago? I had an engagement that blew apart in my face like one of Kaczynski’s letter bombs. But we forget that by turning around and embracing the road already traveled, we can see so much more clearly than if we look to the fog ahead.
There’s no right way. There’s no wrong way. We just walk – in whatever direction our feet feel like – and go along with it.
As I’ve said many times afore to weary pilgrims, “We all get there in the end.” Doesn’t matter when you start, what you carry, why you walk, or where you go – we all get there in the end.