What am I doing with my Soul? Part IV

Howdy folks,

Continuing the discussion over the Emperor’s words, here’s the final installment (the final bit I wrote in class last week) where I do exactly what I ask of my troops.

Enjoy.

Continue reading “What am I doing with my Soul? Part IV”

What am I doing with my Soul? Part III

Howdy folks,

As promised, the third installment of the What am I doing with my Soul? series courtesy of Marcus Aurelius, the Philosopher-Emperor of Rome. If you’re just now joining us, well, flip back to Part I and Part II for the meat and potatoes. Otherwise:

Context – I make my English classes write and write often. This week they’re writing me three essays (over the course of three days; I’m not a sadist) over various AP materials, but last week – oh, last week! – they penned a response to the Emperor’s question posited in Book IV of his Meditations: what am I doing with my Soul? Since I use plenty of philosophical material in the classroom (to induce critical thinking), it was little wonder the Emperor would make his way to our collective desktops. But, as Sun Tzu and LTC Agor taught me, if you ask your soldiers to do something, be prepared to do it yourself.

And so, as my young charges penned responses to the Emperor, I too took to the challenge for each class period, writing in cramped, yet calm, script as I shared my thoughts with the page.

And now, dear reader (and student?), I share them here with you. Continue reading “What am I doing with my Soul? Part III”

What am I doing with my Soul? Part II

Howdy folks,

Building off of the last post, here’s the second part. Here we are attempting to answer the Emperor’s question: what am I doing with my Soul? I had all of my English classes write a response, the better able to understand themselves via self-reflection. But, like a good captain, I will bivouac in the same muck as my troops.

Enjoy. Continue reading “What am I doing with my Soul? Part II”

What am I doing with my Soul? Part I

Howdy folks,

I could give you a veritable litany of excuses, but I fear none shall suffice for my failure to write. I just – haven’t felt it, ya know? And I ain’t about forcing shit down peoples’ throats if it ain’t something worth writing. Damndest thing, I know, but my Bukowski has made his impact upon me.

On the obverse, however, I did write a slew of things in class on Friday. If the Army taught me anything it was to suffer alongside your troops.

Context: I make the little fuckers write all the time. Writing is expression; it allows one to understand themselves. I’ve been harassing my charges for months now on their AP writing, and over the course of the previous week, I had them study philosophy and ethics (gentlemen, you’ll thank me after you successfully use pathos, logos, and ethos on that date). I’ve been reading Meditations by the Emperor – the Marcus Aurelius – and I was gobsmacked by a question he posited:

What am I doing with my Soul?

I lay awake in bed mulling the question over before I decided that this – this – would be the essay topic for the week. I had my charges write a response to the Emperor’s question whilst I penned my own, one for each period, before transcribing them below.

For my charges who wished for a Free Write, well, here ya go:

Continue reading “What am I doing with my Soul? Part I”

On Writing (Or: Vulgar Advice for Teens)

I can’t force myself to write – it always seems lacking in humanity. That fresh-with-blood, slick-as-a-wound kind of humanity that draws a reader in by the throat, holds them in a death grapple while simultaneously banging their head against the wall and forcing them to sing.

Fuck; now that’s an image.

But the writing process, comrades, is one I’ve yet to master. Oh, sure, all the little old ladies at church think my writing is “beautiful” and “poetic” but I think they’re overlooking the amount of fuck’s and dick jokes I make when penning absurdity. It’s shit; it always is.

And yet. Yet I continue to do it.

Continue reading “On Writing (Or: Vulgar Advice for Teens)”

Camino Frances: Another Fortunate Misfortune

Another overcast day, a distant rain slowly encroaching upon us as the Galician sun seems nonexistent in this wet wonderland. The buildings of the area are new – post-Franco – but they lack the charm the rest of the Spanish countryside has held to her captive audience. Pre-fabricated and painted in obnoxious colors, they contrast with the verdant countryside just beyond the city borders.

I exhale a cloud of smoke, a Spanish brand, and its unctuous fumes waft back over me like a freighter steaming along past its own flatulence. My coffee sin leche sits on the damp table, a colorful parade of ponchoed pilgrims mustering past like students on their way to Hogwarts. They march because they must. They are all robed in these strange plastic garments, looking bedraggled and low-spirited, their energy matching the gloomy atmosphere of Mother Nature.

Fuckin’ tourists, I think to myself between puffs of cancer and caffeine. The previous day saw an explosion of pilgrims upon the Camino as the 100km mark proves an enticing starting point for many people seeking absolution (and that magical piece of paper that proves you visited the holy city). Despite my desire to remain non-judgmental, I find it a taxing task as hordes of Spanish teenagers – as loud and obnoxious as Americans – trundle along the path without packs, accompanied by their overweight parents who bustle and huff under the strain of their burgeoning wallets and empty day packs. That is not Camino, I think. There is no suffering.

My coffee finished, my cigarette burning my fingertips and near singeing my pathetic travel mustache, I groan along with my aching body as I saddle myself once more to join the march of pilgrims. I must top off on water and find a fountain adjacent to the cafe, dropping my freshly saddled pack onto the wet cement, and snag my two bottles. The button gives way easily enough; it isn’t near rusted shut like in the smaller villages.

With fresh water, I resupply my pack and replace the plastic rain cover. It snaps, then tears, in my soaked hands.

Fuck, I think aloud.

The clouds seem to threaten to burst that very instant as I look dumbfounded at my latest misfortune. First the boots splitting near two weeks into my adventure. Then my leg giving out shortly after. A rain jacket that doesn’t stop rain. And now a quite useless pack cover on a very rainy morn.

I laugh aloud to the fountain, startling an old woman walking her mutt along the main street and waking a bum who slept under a nearby awning. It can’t be repaired and no one around here uses duct tape for some strange reason. But I recall a pilgrim shop nearby that could carry new supplies; with curses and praise for my misfortune upon my breath, I stomp back up the hill.

The shop doesn’t open until 9 and I’ve two hours to kill afore then.

I return to the cafe, order another coffee, and light up another cigarette. I sit once more in my freshly dampened seat, admire the pilgrims who, though seem to be suffering, continue their journey in their colorful carcinogens as I wait impotently along the sidelines.

It is not wrong, I breathe. It is not right, I exhale, that familiar cloud canvassing me like a warm embrace, a much needed comfort on this rather bleak start to a day.

It is Camino.

Camino Frances: I’mma Spank that Mass

It’s near about 6 and I’ve been walking for close to 10 hours. The heat gave way long ago to the overcast clouds of Galicia, which in turn opened up as if it was Noah’s flood. In the uphill struggle of this rugged, mountainous country, I find myself laughing – shaking a friendly fist to the heavens – as I become drenched to the bone in mere moments after walking out from under the tree coverage.

The fantastic views of O Cebreiro – where one can see for hundreds of kilometers in unmolested beauty – were soon replaced by the valleys of the countryside. Resplendent stone villages appear periodically throughout the spotted, near-uninhabited landscape, but they offer few services. Many of the villagers sit there looking at me, that noxious smoke permeating the air, like a cat might ponder its food before crassly murdering it without so much as a second thought. I am a novelty – entertainment for these villagers lost to time. The Visigoths. The Arabs. The Hapsburgs. Napoleon. I’m just another out-of-place foreigner on his inevitable way.

The rain continues to fall, yet I remained determined to make my way to the small village of Samos, home to a splendid monastery renowned for its history of pilgrim hospitality. It is the feast day of Saint James – 25 July – and I intend on making the Pilgrim’s Mass in honor of the saint who bids me e’er onward to his near-mythical burial ground. It is a near 40km walk, but I am resolute.

The pain in my left leg is amplified by the cold rain, the tightened leather boot, and the rough road, but I find myself able to plant my staff into the damp ground, push forward, and grit my teeth through each bitter step. To think, my ancestors once made this walk in ages past – when witchcraft was a thing and possession by the Devil was the go-to explanation for every malady.

And here I was bitchin’ about a sore ankle.

The kind bartender at the last village said Samos was near 10km away; she deceptively smirked when I shook my head in resignation. That pilgrim’s resignation of accepting his miserable fate: if it is 10km, then I walk 10km. She poured me another beer, politely declined my gratitude, and bid me buen camino as I marched out the door and into the wilderness of Galicia.

The rain has been falling for what seems hours and I curse the gentleman in Medina who sold me this lemon of a rain jacket. It stops the water in the same manner the Maginot Line stopped the Germans at the onset of World War II: a great idea but a very poor execution. Within minutes of tramping the waterlogged paths, I am soaked to the bone, the jacket proving little more than a colorful addition to my pilgrim ensemble. No matter, I think, for those who trod this path before faired far worse. My staff digs deep into the mud, and I plod onward to Samos.

My right foot feels different than the left, and under the somewhat cover of an elderly oak, I find the seams have split once again. I curse my misfortune – a waterlogged boot on this Biblical day – but I again remind myself it is part of Camino. “Shit happens,” as we say in English, and after resting for a few moments, I begin my uphill, soaking trudge once again.

The tourist demands; the pilgrim accepts.

After what seems hours – long after what should have happened in 10km – I finally glimpse a sign: Samos .5KM. At last! Civilization within sight. I cross under a bridge and meet two fellow pilgrims, who, rather than experience the torrential downpour, have decided to camp underneath until the storm calms. We laugh at our situation, exchange cigarettes and stories, and I eventually continue on my journey. It is late in the day, I find myself utterly fatigued, and I desperately need a bed for the evening. The pain in my left leg prevents me from stopping too long: if I stop, I fear I cannot start again.

Bidding them farewell, I walk into the maelstrom and soon find myself within the limits of the ancient village of Samos. Sadly, no black-robed monks are there to greet me as I enter the town. In fact, most of the villagers look at me rather quizzically: who is this quixotic figure tramping through God’s watery fury?

With joy, having glimpsed the monastery from the top of the hill entering the village, I whistle my way through the desolate town square. A few Spaniards sit under eaves smoking their noxious cigarettes, tapping their canes and gesturing at my absurdity, but I remain undaunted as I limp into the church. A group of tourists stand agape at my entrance, perturbed by this soaked rat of a man who, in happy misery, whistled and waltzed his way into a sacred place.

An Irish tourist takes pity on me as the Spanish brothers go about their preparations: this was the entrance to the guided tour. The albergue was around the monastery, near 200m from where I had dropped my pack. Undaunted, and rather cheerful, I thank the woman, resaddle myself, and truly limp the last distance into the albergue.

I spot his green hat before he recognizes me.

“And where have you been,” he asks in his comforting Londoner accent?

“Brian! Comrade!” I shout in response, giving him a hug as I enter the dry tranquility of the monastery’s dormitory.

He returns my hug in the British sense – rather awkwardly – and gestures toward the dorms. “This man has been asking about you for several days.”

It is Francisco, the Spaniard from Astorga, with whom I have shared many meals, rooms, drinks, and smokes.

He waves as one does to a long-lost friend. “Hola Bruno!” he shouts. “Permisso un cigarette?” he gestures, making the universal sign for needing a smoke.

I laugh – soaked to the bone – and shake my head no.

I haven’t seen these guys in days and they immediately want to celebrate.