NYC Midnight – Round Two and Me!

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The entrance stairs to my third floor flat in Paris in Rue St Louis.

I honestly can’t believe this, but I get to move forward to ROUND 2 of the NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge 2019! The first cut of this challenge is the deepest. It just went from over 4,500 writers to only 750 writers in the 2nd round. Just after midnight last night (or, I suppose, this morning) the Round 1 results were posted. Not only did I make the Top 5 in my heat, but I made FIRST PLACE. I know, I’m just as flabbergasted as you are! But after I read the results three (or four, or five) times, I decided I was reading them correctly. It’s right there in black and white, come what may…

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I have been writing short stories quite a lot lately, and they’re always set in cities that I have visited in the past few years. I decided not to stray from that theme with this one. I guess it’s working. My heat in round one had 3 stipulations. The genre had to be DRAMA, it had to involve PET-SITTING in some form or another and one of the characters had to be a FIANCEE. I wrote a story from the perspective of the apartment I actually stayed in while in Paris in 2014. I had the good fortune of being told by the hotel concierge when I arrived at my hotel on Rue St. Louis on the Island that they had a special apartment down the street. He said, “You’re a writer, no? We would like to give you the full experience!” He took me for a walk down the street and showed me a top floor flat with a view to a courtyard below. As if he was afraid I would say no and demand to be taken back to the hotel, he offered me a daily discount to stay in the incredible flat. He had me at hello. I saw the woman downstairs while I was staying in that flat. I put her in my pocket, knowing I would use her at a later date. Thanks to the NYC Midnight challenge, because the prompts called her willowy ghost back into existence.

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See those three windows at the very top? That’s where I called home when I was in Paris. They looked down into the closed circular courtyard below. And…maybe into a few of the windows below, too. (-;

I’m stunned, really…so so happy and excited too. I can’t wait for the next round, even though it terrifies me. I can work around the other stipulations, it’s the genre challenge I fear the most. I tend to stay in my lane as a reader and as a writer…which means I could definitely miss some of the subtle nuances of quite a few of the potential genres I could find myself facing. I shudder to think!

And I won’t have long to worry about the gunshot that goes off and sends a scary genre-bullet my way. THURSDAY AT MIDNIGHT—that’s when I’ll receive the 2nd round challenge. And the 750 writers still alive in this challenge will have 72 hours to submit their 2000 word stories for the next round of judging.

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Nina, a dear friend I met while in Paris for the Left Bank Writers Retreat in June 2014. We spent a lot of our free time together, exploring all of Paris on foot. This is us atop the Arc de Triomphe.

Here’s what the 2nd Round officially looks like:

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I’m so thrilled that I held on to that woman these 5 years. When I run across my potential characters in real life, they sort of haunt me relentlessly until I get them on the page. She was particularly insistent. She’s free now. And I thank her from the bottom of my heart, both for sticking around and for pinch-hitting when I needed her most. Cheers to the woman downstairs in Rue Saint-Louis en l’Île, Paris! I am eternally grateful for ‘meeting’ you.

GOOD LUCK TO MY 749 FELLOW ROUND TWO WRITERS! Full disclosure: Every July I travel up to Huntsville, Ontario for the 72hr Muskoka Novel Marathon. That’s right…I write an entire novel in 72 hours. I’m ready for this challenge! BRING IT!

It’s Friday Reads – PRIDE

During the 2016 Muskoka Novel Marathon, I wrote 1/2 of the novel PRIDE MUST BE A PLACE in 72hrs. I usually strive to write the entire first draft of a novel at the yearly novel writing marathon. Honestly, it’s where/when I do the lion’s share of my entire yearly writing output. I’m scatterbrained and forgetful. This makes for a terrible daily writing routine where one has to pick up where one left off the previous day. When I try to write in this manner, I find myself needing to go back a chapter or more just to find out where I am and what the story is about. We make do, right? We figure workarounds and MacGyvers to bypass our weaknesses. The Muskoka Novel Marathon is my workaround. I get to sit and write a novel hopefully from start to finish. Doing it this way, I don’t forget the thread… I carry it with me throughout the entire weekend and the weaving is both tighter and more sensical (as an aside here, I would like to point out that the spellcheck on this thing just told me sensical is not a word and that I should correct it to nonsensical… that is probably a sign in itself).

With PRIDE, I only got halfway through the novel during the marathon weekend. I say only but really, who gets to write half a novel in one weekend? It was a great start. I found my pace and I allowed the characters to take me on their journey. Prior to starting out on the writing journey every year, there is an almost 3 hour car trip from Toronto to Huntsville, Ontario… the heartland of the Muskokas, otherwise known as one of Ontario’s premiere cottage countries. I do this journey with the help of Tim Hortons, obviously. I am, after all, Canadian.

The difference with the year in question, 2016, is that not quite halfway to Huntsville I received a phone call while I was in the drive-thru of the aforementioned Tim Hortons. I pulled into a parking spot and answered my cell.

It was Lorraine Segato on the other end. For those who don’t know who that is, she’s the lead singer of the Parachute Club…the fabulous Canadian new wave band of the 80s that gave us the anthem song RISE UP. I had already chosen the song as the playlist for my 2016 Muskoka Novel Marathon novel. I had a playlist of one song, the title PRIDE MUST BE A PLACE, and an idea to somehow weave Ms. Segato into my story by way of reunion concert with my group of gays flocking to see the band that gave them their song of empowerment. It was going to be EPIC!

I spoke with Ms. Segato for a good 20 minutes. She told me what she liked about my ideas as I ran them by her, and she told me what she didn’t particularly stand by. She told me, most importantly, how she WOULDN’T act in certain situations I described. She gave me her authenticity and denounced one of my envisioned final scenes by clarifying that it just didn’t seem like something she would say/do.

After our conversation, I realized the very different turns my story could take. I realized I didn’t need to possibly misrepresent Ms. Segato by having her being inauthentic in the story, that I could leave her out of the story and still tell it. What I did keep in PRIDE MUST BE A PLACE was the thread of the novel’s one song playlist. RISE UP is woven throughout that novel in such a way that I sincerely hope it encourages my readers to reach for the Parachute Club and discover the power and magnitude of the anthem.

Pride did take a totally different direction than the one I envisioned for it. This is often the case when you chase a story over a short amount of time like this. You rush to keep up with the trajectory of your characters, who feel free to just explode onto the page and take the wheel. This is especially true in the wee hours of the mornings when you find you’re still writing the story but kind of in a fugue state… an auto-pilot state where writer has disappeared and only writing is left. I brought in parental characters who had their own story to tell, by way of gay parents for one of the teen characters. I brought in a gay hook-up app and age-inappropriate relations. I brought in characters unwilling to change and characters unable to do anything but change. I introduced love interests and bigots and bright-sides, all the while playing that RISE UP song… both within the pages of the story and in the earbuds connected to my short Spotify playlist. The song fueled me in the same way Ms. Segato’s conversation fueled me. With her help, I totally avoided the bad ending I envisioned for my story. She essentially wrote herself out of the story in a way that kept her presence all over it.

It’s FRIDAY today as I write this. On social media, writers and readers alike use this day to tell the world what they’re reading and suggest what others COULD be reading. So today, I’m going to make a suggestion. Bet you can’t guess what it is.

Here’s the blurb for PRIDE MUST BE A PLACE:

Ezra Caine is gay. He’s sort of out at school but not at home, where he fears the wrath of his father’s bigotry. When Ezra’s flamboyantly out friend Alex Mills takes one too many beatings from homophobic bully Will Severe, Ezra finally snaps. Fed up with the situation at school, he decides to do something about it.
With the help of his BFF, Nettie, and some unlikely allies, Ezra rallies to create their small-town school’s first gay-straight alliance. The Rainbow Alliance Club is formed. But the changes don’t come without hiccups, one of which being a messy scandal involving Alex and a gay hook-up app.
As Ezra and his friends attempt to sway their school into an alliance of tolerance and acceptance, Ezra experiences a few surprises of his own on the home-front. He also learns the hard way that friendships out of convenience aren’t always a good idea, just as some enemies might not be as bad as he originally imagined them to be.

The blurb says nothing about Gary. I honestly didn’t know Gary would strike a chord with so many people, but he has. I’ve even had emails and contacts through my site here from readers telling me how much they loved Gary…who is one of Marc’s two fathers. I don’t know where Gary came from, but I’m almost certain he was born around 2am on the Saturday of that marathon. He’s flamboyant af and when he entered the story he pretty much pranced, garden sheers in hand…demanding to be noticed. That’s one of the delights of the Muskoka Novel Marathon…unexpected characters, unexpected scenes, unexpected everything. THIS IS THE WAY TO WRITE A FIRST DRAFT. Trust me.

Today, may I suggest this little novel that I poured so many dedicated hours of work into…both at the marathon and after. Yes, we plow through first drafts at these marathons, but man do we ever work and rework these things when the weekend’s over. It took me more than a year of rewrites to get to the finished manuscript for this novel. And that was before the big edits at the publisher stage. MNM is for first drafts. It’s a magical way to produce them, too. POOF! In one weekend you have a draft or a good portion of one. And if you get stuck along the way, you’re in a room with 39 other writers doing the exact same thing. We depend on one another to bounce ideas around and help get each other through the hard bits.

I’ll be doing the Muskoka Novel Marathon again this coming July. It’ll be my 11th marathon. I’ve no idea what I’m going to write this time around. I’m almost certain I’ll have no celebrity phone calls during my long ride up to Huntsville, but I’m also certain I’ll have some ideas floating around by then. Maybe even a playlist. In the coming weeks, I’ll be asking for MONEY. Not for me, of course, but for the CAUSE. The marathon is not just an amazing way to write a first draft. Though we often forget it’s not a con or a workshop or a writing retreat…it is first and foremost a fundraiser. Every year the 40 writers who attend the marathon collect pledges prior to attending. All monies raised go to the literacy programs of the YMCA of Simcoe/Muskoka. We typically raise over $30,000.00 a year…these much needed funds keep all the vibrant literacy programs running. Keep a watch here for my donation link. I would really appreciate your support.

In the meantime, how about heading over to Amazon and picking up a copy of PRIDE MUST BE A PLACE for #FridayReads You can see just what sort of thing comes out of a 72 hour novel writing marathon. I’m making it really easy for you. JUST CLICK ON ONE OF THE TWO BOOK COVERS BELOW:

 

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AMAZON CANADA BUY LINK
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AMAZON USA BUY LINK

If you have already read PRIDE MUST BE A PLACE, I thank you for doing so. If you haven’t already, please consider leaving a review at either AMAZON or on GOODREADS. It would be very much appreciated. Us authors with small publishers rely a lot on word of mouth…Goodreads and Amazon are great ways for new readers to discover us. THANKS SO MUCH!

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CLICK ON THIS SCREENSHOT IMAGE FROM GOODREADS TO BE TAKEN DIRECTLY TO PRIDE MUST BE A PLACE ON GOODREADS.

Happy #FridayReads whatever you choose to read today!

Muskoka Novel Marathon Registration Frenzy! (40 Glass Slippers!)

Today is the day. At 7pm this evening the registration button for the 2019 Muskoka Novel Marathon Registration will go live!

The organizers think they’re extremely clever. This is what appears on the registration page at this very moment

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Yep. That’s where the magic button will appear at precisely 7pm. And if writers aren’t fast enough in clicking it and getting through the registration process, it’ll be the equivalent of having elephantine feet when the prince comes to your door to get you to try on the petite glass slipper. You see… the Muskoka Novel Marathon is an AMAZING opportunity for writers. They get to check out of the rat race for 72hrs and do nothing but write. BUT—-there’s only room for 40 writers. THAT’S ONLY 40 GLASS SLIPPERS! Everyone wants to be there. Or, at least anyone who’s already experienced the opportunity or anyone who can imagine getting that much writing time in one solid block.

Yes, the MNM is also a crucial fundraiser for area literacy programs in Muskoka and Simcoe County in Ontario, Canada…but at a time like this when the starting pistol on registration is about to go off, it’s easy to forget that part. Once all the writers have their spots nailed down, though…you can bet each and every one of them do their level best to collect the much needed funds to keep the literacy programs going. In the history of the marathon, we’ve managed to raise over $200,000.00 thus far. No small potatoes!

But today? The focus is on getting one of those coveted spots!

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The room where the yearly magic happens!

I’m not even certain I’m going to attempt to register this year. But… last year I was certain I was NOT going to go. And when 8pm came around on the registration day and I noticed that my ‘usual’ spot in the writing room was still available…I took it as a sign. I registered and I went to the marathon and I wrote. Whenever I think of NOT going, I get this feeling in my stomach. It’s a feeling of deep regret, that I am not giving my writing self this humongous gift. And then I panic and think, ‘HOW CAN I NOT GO!?’

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One of the alternative writing spaces one can use at the marathon!

We’ll see.

If you’re a writer in Ontario (or willing to travel to Ontario for a long weekend in July) you really should do yourself the great service of securing a seat for the marathon. It’s definitely changed my life getting these amazing weekends of non-stop writing in. It changed the way I approach the novel, really. I probably write more at the Muskoka Novel Marathon than I write during the other 362 days of the year. Let’s just keep that part between you and I, though… I wouldn’t want that to get out!

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Every September there’s an after-marathon wrap party where there are awards handed out for Best Novel in different categories, as well as a slew of awards that are peer nominated.

One thing is certain… if I do register and attend the marathon this year, it’ll be another year where I will be unable to attend the wrap party in September. Michael and I will be busy making our way to Santiago de Compostela in September. We’ll be walking the Camino during the wrap party. This has never stopped me from attending the marathon in the past, though. Hmmmmmm?

DO YOURSELF A FAVOUR

 

A Birthday, a Book, and Camino or Bust

Today marks what would have been the 80th birthday of my mother, Davida Cecilia (nee Creamer) Craig. Everyone called her Dee. She liked milestone birthdays and she would have loved this one. 80. I always thought there was something magical about her birth year because it was 1939. The same year as The Wizard of Oz. I always remembered that odd fact, for some reason.

A couple of weeks ago, I took out the recipe box my mother used to keep. To be honest, there was a time when we kept it together. We once began a project together of organizing that box and re-writing all the recipes on index cards. We bought the alphabetical dividers and everything. It was going to be a perfectly appointed collection to pass down. As I scrolled through the chaos of cards, pamphlets, magazines, magazine clippings and scrap pieces of paper with faded recipes scrawled on them, it became obvious that the project was a complete failure. We hadn’t even made it halfway through the reorganization process, and it seems to have declined back to chaos in the ensuing years. This recipe box is the Miss Havisham of recipe boxes. Hope lost.

But perhaps this is the way recipe collections should be, no? Fully loved and used and faded and worn and torn and in shambles. Maybe that’s the sign of a good recipe collection. Maybe our little project was where we went wrong. It was, come to think of it, my idea. Sure, Mom always said, “One day I should sit down and sort this mess out.” But I wonder now if everyone who loves to bake and cook says that occasionally when they open up their fragile elastic-reinforced recipe collections to get to work.

What I also realized as I flipped through all the beloved baking recipes from my childhood is that we must have began that project when I was no more than 10 years old. All the rewritten recipes on index cards were in my childhood eerily perfect and meticulous left-handed scrawl. I remember sitting at the kitchen table with her and going through the recipes and being cautious to the point of insanity while I carefully wrote them out. All the 1/2s and 1/4s and 1/3s had to be 100% correct. Not a single word could be omitted. Baking is, after all, an exact science.

Our most baked recipe had to be peanut butter cookies (molasses cookies would take a quick second place…but they were harder to make and took more time). That’s the recipe I looked for while I took my nostalgic dip back into the recipe box. It was only after 3 thorough trips down memory lane that I finally found the recipe in a spiral notebook. I never did find the index card. And almost nothing was filed in alphabetical order in the filing system.

The peanut butter cookie recipe that I did finally find, after much panic, was in my mother’s gorgeous swirling curlicue handwriting. I always thought she had the most magical handwriting of them all. I remember watching her make words come to life on the page, knowing I’d never be able to come close to that kind of fancy. But I followed each and every swirl when I made my first post-Mom batch of peanut butter cookies.

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What I realized when I made a batch of these cookies was that my mother was always baking for an army. The batch was ENDLESS. But, as memory serves, a batch would last no more than a day in my childhood home. Her cookies often served the purpose of pied piper in our neighbourhood.

In retrospect, maybe the bomb that went off inside the recipe box that we never quite got a handle on is an allegory for the bomb that went off between us. No matter. Things happened. They won’t take away the time we spent together, though. We had a few things together. One was definitely baking. One was photo albums. The two of us were the official curators of our family photo albums. A third was puzzles. I can’t even begin to count the hours we spent together working on puzzles at the dining room table. One picture appeared after the other, seemingly out of nowhere. We never seemed to tire of that one.

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Mom, Manny, Me, Dave, Dad. Not in this pic is baby brother George. He wasn’t quite here yet. This was early 1971…George arrived in 1972.

Rest in peace, Mom. I’m glad that all the good memories eventually came bubbling back up to the surface. They never go away, do they? Not really. I just have to close my eyes and I remember being elbows deep in batter, helping you make your own birthday cake and trying DESPERATELY not to ask you for any help…because nobody should have to make their own birthday cake. Not now, not ever. Happy Birthday.

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This pic has nothing to do with anything I’m writing today. I’m using it only as a subject divider, because I’m all over the place today. As usual. This is me following Michael on foot for the last mile or so into Nepal, from India. It was really the only way for us to cross from one country to the other in any reasonable amount of time last September.

I have a book out on submission right now and I’d probably trade all my other publications combined to see it to market. I just finished a reread. This is something I sometimes do when a book is out in the hands of publishers. It’s on my list of thing I do to second guess myself and question my abilities as a writer. I still love this book, though. I still hope it finds a home. It’s not often that I feel this good about something I wrote. So, fingers crossed. I’m kind of at a standstill at the moment, because I’m thinking so much about this novel finding a home that it stops me from diving into the next and the next. I’m sure it won’t be an excuse forever. It will either happen or it won’t.

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This subject divider makes a little more sense. This is one of soooo many shrouds to shoes one finds on the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route in Spain. Shoes literally play out their entire lives on this path. I’ll be returning there in September, but I hope to leave my shoes at home.

The countdown to the beginning of Our Camino Adventure is now 181 days. As much as I love spring and summer, I have never wished them to speed by as much as I am wishing them to do so now. On September 10th we are boarding a plane that will take us to Madrid, by way of Lisbon, and I cannot wait. The Camino de Santiago is constantly percolating in the back of my mind. I daydream about the day my feet will once again touchdown on its sacred path. Like Frank N. Furter realizing he’s about to get the opportunity to return to his home planet of Transsexual in the galaxy of Transylvania, I am beside myself with excitement.

On the day I went away, goodbye
Was all I had to say, now I
I want to come again and stay, oh my my
Smile, and that will mean I may

Cause I’ve seen oh, blue skies through the tears
In my eyes
And I realize, I’m going home

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This is the face of someone who knows they’re going home. This will be my face at the airport on Tuesday, September 10th, 2019. I may go slightly less dramatic with the eye shadow, but we shall see. I’m not promising anything.

Unlike Frank N. Furter, I’m not going to find out at the last second that I’ll be lasered to death just before take-off. At least I hope that’s not in the cards for me.

We now have our entire itinerary mapped out. We managed, through trial and error, to come up with it all by ourselves. We’re hoping we aced the journey and gave ourselves enough but not too much time for each day’s trek. It’s such a fine balance when figuring out in advance how far you’re going to walk each day. And with the throngs growing each and every year on the Camino**, we didn’t want to take our chances with not booking our nightly stays in advance. So, it’s all locked and loaded…even though we still have 181 days to go.

**In 2017 the Pilgrim’s Office in Santiago de Compostela received 301,006 pilgrims, up from 237,882 in 2014…which is the year I first walked the Camino. Last year, there was an even greater amount of pilgrims. More are expected to walk in 2019.

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Not only was my first Camino experience a mostly WET AND RAINY one, but the cathedral was also undergoing a massive exterior refurbishing. The front was covered in scaffolding. I’m told that the scaffolding is now gone. I’m excited to see the polished new exterior. Unfortunately, this means the interior is now under restoration. I’m told the Botafumeiro will not swing.

I will be attempting a BAREFOOT walk this coming Camino. I went barefoot for a few portions of my last Camino. Hopefully, I can do it all the way…only slipping into footwear to enter places that won’t allow bare feet. That’s the goal, anyway. We shall see.

THE SIX DEGREES OF SEPARATION FOR THE TOPICS OF THIS POST

Not really six degrees.

Mom’s Birthday – The Book I have on Submission Takes Place on the Camino de Santiago – I’m walking the Camino. I’m dedicating this pilgrimage to the memory of my mother. Full circle.

Anyway…a lot on my mind today. I find getting it out helps. Happy Birthday, Mom…wherever you happen to be in the universe. Imagine me baking you a cake and I’ll imagine you being impressed by my cake decorating abilities.

 

An Evening With John Brierley and Canadian Company of Pilgrims

On my first trip to the Camino de Santiago, I walked with my friend and Camino guide, Sue Kenney. As a longtime Camino guide, Sue organizes group Caminos to take pilgrims on the last 200km or so of the pilgrimage route in Spain. (Sue is doing TWO Camino tours in May, 2019…One of which is already fully booked.) The one thing Sue always makes sure her pilgrims have with them during their Camino is what I have come to understand is the Camino Bible. It’s probably the most popular guidebook ever written for the Camino de Santiago.

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Two Tickets to Paradise, Courtesy of the Canadian Company of Pilgrims

A Pilgrim’s Guide to the Camino de Santiago (Camino Francés): St. Jean – Roncesvalles – Santiago is the title of that guidebook. It’s so well organized, detailed and curated that it’s easy to forget that it’s the brainchild of one person. Everyone on the Camino carries it. I carried it. It is a wealth of knowledge. If you have a question regarding a town, a restaurant, an albergue, or anything else…you turn its pages and you find the answer. If you have traveled the Camino and you didn’t do it with the guidebook below, chances are you saw other peregrinos (pilgrims) carrying it and/or flipping through its pages.

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CLICK THIS PIC to go to AMAZON to order your copy.

Last night the Canadian Company of Pilgrims had an event in Toronto at the Yorkwoods Public Library Theatre. Sue Kenney and two other peregrinas–Mony Dojeiji and Ingrid Folkers–opened the event with a short panel discussion on their own experiences with the Camino. Then the man who wrote the Camino Bible pictured above was there. In person. John Brierley himself was there to enthrall a packed theatre audience with tales of the Camino de Santiago and the various routes leading to the now mythical cathedral in the city of Santiago de Compostela. John also brought with him a rousing message of love and connection. It turns out the man who wrote the guide walks the walk. He was as lovely as the feeling one gets from experiencing the Camino itself. He was eloquent, informative and inspiring. He talked about the Camino family that I myself have experienced and am now a part of… and he cemented in me everything I have come to believe about the Camino.

By the time John’s talk was over and he had hypnotized an entire audience of some 300 people into blowing out the tiny candle he held out to us, I was more than ready to head back out onto the sacred pilgrimage in Spain. But he also told us we were not merely blowing out the candle, but sending the flame out into the world to give light and warmth to our Camino brethren now currently walking the paths back in Spain.

And I believed it.

I imagined that flame leaving the candle and crossing the Atlantic to find the heart of every pilgrim brother and sister currently walking the various Camino pathways leading to the cathedral and beyond… to Finisterre and Muxía… to the END OF THE WORLD.

 

 

Some pics of my first Camino in May, 2014. Michael and I will be heading back in September, 2019, walking from Astorga to Santiago. I can’t stay away.

If ever you hear whispers of the Camino de Santiago, take heed. Listen up. It is both a gift and a question. And I assure you, your heart wants to know the answer. It wants the gift. With my own journey, I discovered that the Camino calls you. I heard about it in passing and it sat quietly inside me. But quietly like a river that knows a waterfall is coming in the distance. When I didn’t heed the call, it got louder… because something inside me wanted to manifest my inner journey into an outer one. When I stepped foot on the path years later, I knew that it was meant to be. The Camino won. It called, and inevitably I answered.

And I know we Camino pilgrims probably sound like members of a cult…the way we go on about the pilgrimage years after we have walked it…but it’s just that it has given us so much. It’s just a long walk, right? A walk that thousands of people have taken over thousands of years. If you listen closely while you’re out there in the wind, putting one foot in front of the other while making your way to the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela, you can hear their whispers… their inner thoughts. Lean in. They have left their mark on the path lit nightly by the magical Milky Way. Even the stars know the importance of the Camino, and it is their wont to show you the way to Santiago.

But if you don’t trust the stars to show you the way, if you’re afraid of relying on the Vía Láctea to bring you to the sacred cathedral at the end of the sacred path, trust John Brierley. He’ll take you there.

 

(Much thanks to the Canadian Company of Pilgrims for showing me the way to John Brierley.)