In Which I Discuss the Relationships Happening in THE CAMINO CLUB

I often grapple with this treacherous feeling that the stuff I write isn’t gay enough, isn’t teen enough, isn’t ________ enough. I don’t know why I do this to myself. I guess I’m constantly comparing my work to the other LGBTQ YA Lit out there…the stuff I endlessly consume between my own writings.

I wrote my GAY TEEN ISSUES book already (PRIDE MUST BE A PLACE). When I was done with that book, I swore that, moving forward, I would only have incidentally gay teens in my books. Why should all LGBTQ teen literature focus only on the turmoil, the suffering, the struggles? I mean, we all know LGBTQ youth are rejected at home, rejected at school, rejected at church, rejected on the street and in the buses and in the subways and at the mall and restaurants. We ALL KNOW THIS ALREADY. And yes…I love a good redemption story where the main characters manage to find a place for themselves where nary a place was available to them prior to the insurmountable mountains they had to climb to carve that place out for themselves. Like, yeah…give me that story where LGBTQ teens conquer the impassible monumental odds against them. I’ll read it. Yes! That story is still needed.

But I’ll not write it again. I already have, in writing PRIDE. My struggle story is done. It’s exhausting to start your characters out in that place. I won’t do it again. Fuck the narrative that says an LGBTQ story should be fraught with identity struggle and finding a place to be welcome in a world that doesn’t want to welcome you. I’ll leave those books for others to write. And write it, they should.

I totally had that mindset when I set out to write The Camino Club. Even with that goal in mind, though, I did slip a bit into the LGBTQ teen struggle. Alas, it’s a bit inevitable. But I assure you I did not dwell there.

The Camino Club is an ensemble novel. It has probably no fewer than 8 main characters, if I’m being honest. At the very beginning I started to tell the story from 3 points of view and it just expanded from there the way un-planned novels tend to do.

So here’s a little re-cap of some of the main relationships in The Camino Club, for those who haven’t yet read it.

Diego and Shania – two of my three narrators. They hate each other a bit, but forge ahead knowing they’re in this together. They have to walk across Spain together, so they might as well find a way to tolerate each other. CIS/HET relationship.

Diego and Bastien – an old man comes along on the path and helps one of the teen lead characters out of a precarious predicament and then continues on with the group. Patriarch-Mentor/Child-Student relationship.

Troy and Kei – Troy is one of the three narrators. He’s a gay teen and his particular backstory is where I drag the GAY STRUGGLE into this story. Each of the teens have committed offenses that have landed them in the rehabilitation program they’re on the Camino to participate in. Troy’s crime was that he just couldn’t take the homophobia any more. Troy has a meet-cute moment while the group is stopped at a water fountain during a particularly grueling mountainous day on the Camino. Kei strikes his eye and his fancy. Gay Romance Relationship.

Claire and Zoe – The other gay representation in this book is Claire, one of the other 6 main teen characters walking the Camino in the program designed to push them to their limits and send them onto a path of redemption. Off the Page Lesbian Relationship.

Often, after writing a novel, I get this dread that I didn’t include enough LGBTQ content for it to be considered an LGBTQ book. But then I consider the source of my sliding scale content policing…it’s essentially the industry itself. Expectation is widely interpret-able. Some books just scream gay because of the nature of the content. My first LGBTQ book (referenced and linked above) was one of them. The original cover had a bright rainbow colored cover and there was no question that it was LGBTQ. In fact, if the reader was in the closet…it would be one of those covers that they would potentially feel awkward bandying about.

As I mentioned, though, I feel as though I have moved on from issue books. We deserve better…more. We deserve our stories to be focused on something other than JUST sexuality and the issues and luggage that come with that. After all, surely we are more than our sexuality.

I sometimes feel like I’m skating on a razor’s edge…attempting to incorporate just enough content to appease non-LGBTQ readers while intentionally making the story about LGBTQ life. It’s a struggle. It’s a nuisance.

The Camino Club has a gay sex scene. It is, after all, about teens falling in love. But it also explores multiple different kinds of relationships. I wrote it to reflect life…and more specifically, life on the Camino. The way characters walk in and out of your life and become SO IMPORTANT for days or hours at a time…and then move on or stay with you and form a lifelong bond. That’s what the Camino is about. And there’s room on the Camino for every single sexuality, every single gender, every single race…every single everything. I wanted to capture it all, but still have enough LGBTQ content for the novel to be considered as such.

Forgive me for leaving out the heavy issues, or for merely skating past them. We read to escape the tyranny we face…not always to explore it under a microscope. We need ALL KINDS OF LGBTQ STORIES. ALL KINDS. We live everyday lives and we live extraordinary lives. We were not put here merely for struggle. I for one have moved past the struggle stories. I’m not saying the struggle is over…FAR FROM IT. I’m saying a meet-cute romance doesn’t hurt. Feel Good is also a thing that LGBTQ folx can appreciate.

Do you want to read a novel about 6 teens who are pushed to their limits and set on a path of redemption? Pick up THE CAMINO CLUB today! It’s an LGBTQ book. It also isn’t. I believe so much in this story. I wrote it from a place of appreciation for one of my favourite places in the world. The Camino de Santiago is a transformative wonderland and it was something I was desperate to share with others. So…I wrote a book!

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Our Holy Year Camino on an Almost Unprecedented Extended Holy Year!

With all the ups and downs of the pandemic over the past 2 years, we rearranged many of our travel plans. They’ve been canceled, shifted, changed, shifted again in a dizzying array of uncertainty, confusion, and frustration. I know our travel plans, in the grand scheme of the horrors that are happening during said pandemic, are small and insignificant. But I really feel like I was just getting into the travelling groove as the pandemic hit.

The Holy Door in the Cathedral in Santiago de Compostela. Although I was able to snap a photo of the Holy Door in 2019, it was not open. It only opens on Holy Years. (Off to the bottom right, you can see signs of the internal restoration of the cathedral that was taking place while we were there.)

Although I’m an atheist, I was really looking forward to the possibility of walking the Camino de Santiago on a designated Holy Year. With the pandemic rearrangement of all of our plans, it was looking like this was not going to be the case. Then the Pope (of all people) made my day! Under a very special dispensation, the Pope has extended the Holy Year to include 2021-2022. This is only the second extension of Holy Year in 900 years of Jacobean Holy Years. The first being in 1937-38 because of the Spanish Civil War.

First, let’s back up a bit. I need to explain what the Holy Year is. It happens when St. James Day (July 25th) falls on a Sunday. That’s it in a nutshell (though for the devout Catholics there is more to it than that). There are more celebrations on the Camino during Holy Years. There are festivals, parties, concerts, art exhibitions and numerous other events that take place for the celebration of the Holy Year. There are only 14 Holy Years in every century. The reason for this 2nd ever Holy Year extension is, essentially, down to the pandemic. There are just so many pilgrims walking the Camino de Santiago these days, that they thought it best to spread the Holy Year out because it fell during the pandemic. After spending 20 Million Euros on an impossibly massive restoration of the Cathedral in Santiago de Compostela in preparation for the Holy Year, it makes sense that they would want to extend it to accommodate all the pilgrims who want to take advantage of seeing the Cathedral in all its renewed shining glory.

Me, hugging the apostle. Close to the Holy Door, you will find the little alcove you enter to step up behind the bust of St. James behind the altar of the cathedral. Pilgrims wait in line to walk into this little alcove and HUG THE APOSTLE. They wrap their arms around the bust, hugging the apostle from behind. Those out in the pews can see arms continually wrapping around the beleaguered saint all the live long day!

When I walked the Camino in spring of 2014, the entire front of the cathedral was covered in scaffolding. They even took the quasi-cartoonish step of having the cathedral spires drawn onto the sheets draping the scaffolding for some strange reason. Anyway, that gives you an idea of how much of a restoration it truly was. The entire outside of the building was worked on. Also, when we went back in 2019 for a fall pilgrimage, most of the inside of the cathedral was off limits as they had moved the restoration process to the inside of the building. So when we return next year it will be the first time I see the cathedral without shrouds of sheets and scaffolding and construction. This atheist is excited to see the world famous cathedral in all its shining new glory.

Our new intention–and I will frame it like that as almost anything can happen between now and then–is to walk the Caminho Português (Portuguese Way) from Porto, Portugal, to the Cathedral in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, in September of 2022. We will walk the Coastal Route along the Atlantic Ocean. I don’t know how wise it is to walk along the Atlantic Ocean in September, but I suppose we shall find out.

I guess I should add here the benefits of the Holy Year for Catholic pilgrims. But first a little on the magic little opening ceremony of the door, which involves the Archbishop of Compostela and a hammer.

The Holy Door is an important symbol of the Holy Year. All pilgrims look forward to arriving at the cathedral at the end of the 800 mile journey of the French Way (or any of the other camino ways or partial ways). For us non-religious types, it’s akin to Dorothy arriving at the palace in Emerald City to see the Wizard after her arduous journey on the Yellow Brick Road. (In fact, the pilgrims follow yellow arrows and there are many similarities to be found between this secular fictitious journey and this holy journey. Although, don’t expect talking lions…it won’t happen.) This moment of arrival and entry into the cathedral is made extra special with the opening of the Holy Door on Holy Year. It’s a back door that goes almost directly to the huggable apostle and the (SUPPOSED) tomb of the apostle St. James. (The possibility of the bones in that tomb being those of St. James is so far-fetched it’s almost laughable, but that’s another story. BLIND Faith is needed and I suppose a lot of Catholics may have that in abundance.)

The Holy Door is the Catholic version of the GET OUT OF JAIL FREE card in Monopoly. It basically grants those who walk through it plenary indulgence, or…the absolution of all of their sins. It’s a threshold to cleanse sinners of all of their sins. BAM! Sinbegone.

To be honest, walking through the door isn’t all the sinners are on the hook for. They also have to partake of confession, receive Holy Communion, pray for the Pope, recite the Creed and pray for their intentions. And spinning three times in a circle while whistling Ave Maria probably wouldn’t hurt either (I added that last part myself).

Performing the above mentioned ablutions spares the repentant sinner from spending any time in purgatory. Herein lies the comparison to the GET OUT OF JAIL FREE card.

The Archbishop of Compostela performs a ritual at the door at the beginning of Holy Year. This ritual includes banging on a bunch of slabs placed before the door with a hammer. (Picture the Don’t Break the Ice game with an Archbishop in a big hat being the only one with the little hammer.)

I’m sorry. I couldn’t resist. I do love the Camino, I do. Whenever it delves into the religiosity of it, however, the sarcasm comes out in me. Blame it on my strict Catholic upbringing. Ex-Catholics are the worst.

Anyway...the Archbishop strikes at the wall of rock slabs 3 times with a silver hammer, then cleans the debris around the door with holy water and olive branches. He is the first to walk through the threshold. The Archbishop performs this absurd little play on the last day of the year prior to the holy year. In this case, December 31st, 2020.

The facade of the Cathedral in Santiago de Compostela. The palace in Emerald City at the end of the yellow brick road.

NOW…the door is open. Anyone walking the Camino between January 1st, 2021 and December 31st, 2022 (don’t quote me on the end date, but I believe it goes right to the end of the year) can enter the cathedral through this special doorway.

Enjoying a break at the end of the journey.

We are looking forward to the extra pomp that will be on display during our 2022 extended Holy Year. Religion aside, it’s a great time to be on the Camino. The excitement is higher, the celebration is greater. It’s all good…for Christians, all the other religions, atheists, and agnostics alike. It’s a celebration not to be missed, I have heard.

The botafumeiro (Galician for Smoke Expeller). This massive incense burner swings the width of the cathedral, spewing incense smoke as it sways back and forth. Apparently, it swings more frequently during Holy Years. It’s not always guaranteed that pilgrims will see this captivating performance. It’s worth being present to see it occur…pure magic.

Let’s go, 2022! Be the year we escape the pandemic clutches that has the world on standstill. I wanna walk again…

Looking at O Cebreiro, a Gem on the Camino…

When you finally arrive at the top of the climb in O Cebreiro, Spain, you feel a great sense of accomplishment. There’s such a beautiful statue of a lovely lady waiting to greet you. You feel like you have arrived when you get there, like you HAVE ARRIVED.

There’s nothing quite like it. It’s a moment of exhilaration on the Camino de Santiago. O Cebreiro is just after the boundary marker for the Galicia Region. Once you hit that marker, you know O Cebreiro is not far.

In reality, if you blink you’ll miss O Cebreiro. But if you arrive with your eyes wide open, you’ll realize how this tiny little village on the Camino de Santiago is such an immensely integral stop along the route to Santiago de Compostela.

The town has the traditional circular palloza homes, with their granite and stone walls and gorgeous thatched roofs.

Also in O Cebreiro sits a small church with a big story. It awaits your arrival. Santa María la Real. Whether you’re religious or not, it’s a must see stop. It is said that a miracle happened in this church back in the 13th Century. A priest had lost his faith and was going through the motions of performing the Eucharist to an empty church during a tumultuous snowstorm. A man from a distant village enters the church, after walking through the impossible storm, to receive communion. The wine transforms to blood, and the wafer to flesh…restoring the priest’s faith on the spot. A nearby statue of the Blessed Virgin is said to have turned its head to witness the miracle.

I wrote about the church and its miracle in my latest YA novel, The Camino Club. I couldn’t not. The wizened sage who befriends my little group of misfits tells the tale to the kids as they visit the church. It had to be one of the stops along the way. There was a modern day priest in O Cebreiro who did SO MUCH for the Camino that his legacy can never be forgotten.

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Don Elías Valiña Sampedro (Born in Sarria, Spain on February 2, 1929 and died December 11, 1989) restored and revitalized O Cebreiro. But not only that, he’s integral to the Camino de Santiago’s recent revival. He was the creator of the YELLOW ARROWS that now mark the way for hundreds of thousands of Camino pilgrims every year. In his love of the Camino and its importance, Don Elías Valiña Sampedro has made O Cebreiro a treasure on the historic route.

If you want to immerse yourself into a fictional story that takes place with the Camino de Santiago as its backdrop, check out my recently released novel THE CAMINO CLUB. Here’s a LinkTree to buy options and reviews on Goodreads: https://linktr.ee/Kevintcraig

When you reach O Cebreiro, your journey to Santiago is far from over. The mile markers will tell you so. But have faith, it gets easier…

159.69KM to go to Santiago de Compostela…

Caminho Portuguese – Beyond the Way Season 2…

So, every once in a while I like to feature a great Camino series I find on my Youtube Camino wanderings. Every once in a while I stumble upon one and I don’t know why I didn’t find it sooner. Youtube’s search function always baffles me.

Found another Golden Ticket!

BEYOND THE WAY – SEASON ONE has been on Youtube since 2015…but in all my YEARS of watching Camino-ing Youtubers I have not found this one until now when Season 2 was recently kicking off.

Season 2 happens to be set on the Camino pilgrimage path we are planning to walk next! The Caminho Porguguese! Season 2 is being released during this time of Covid and it’s so nice to get our metaphorical feet back onto the Camino!

Join Andrew Suzuki as he walks and talks on the Camino de Santiago. If you check out his Youtube profile, there are several Camino related playlists. You will walk away with a newfound love for the pilgrimage path, if you didn’t already have one. He’s a great narrator and has some interesting discussions with pilgrims from all over the world. These videos are wildly entertaining and will also help you to prepare for your own journey.

Here’s the link to the beginning of Season 2 – The Caminho Portuguese!

Beyond the Way is also on Facebook and Twitter.

Buen Camino!

A Hug for the Camino -Laurie Dennett Appearance at St. Thomas Church in Toronto on December 7, 2019

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After recently reading A HUG FOR THE APOSTLE and attending an informative talk by Laurie Dennett at St. James Cathedral in Toronto, I’m excited for this next appearance by the author who walked the Camino de Santiago in 1986 as a fundraising effort for MS research. In her last talk, Ms. Dennett focused on the late parish priest of O Cebreiro, Don Elías Valiña Sampedro, who made it his life’s mission to reinvigorate the famous pilgrimage route that weaves its way through France and Spain to the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela and beyond to Finisterre at the end of the world.

Laurie Dennett will make her way from St. James Church up to St Thomas’s Church for her next speaking engagement. This talk will be more informal, with readings from her book as well as discussion on the Camino itself. A Q and A with audience members will be included, as well as discussion with members of the Canadian Company of Pilgrims regarding the ways the pilgrimage route has changed–and stayed the same–over the years.

If the Camino is sneaking its way into your life, as it is wont to do, you should make your way to St. Thomas Church on December 7th. They say that once you hear about the Camino, it grows in you until you answer its call. You may not know this, but your pilgrimage has already begun. What better way to ignite it and urge it on than through an afternoon of lively Camino conversation with fellow peregrinos (pilgrims)?! The event is put on by the TORONTO CHAPTER OF THE CANADIAN COMPANY OF PILGRIMS. Admission is $15. Tickets are available online HERE through this link or at the door.

Ms. Dennett’s book, A HUG FOR THE APOSTLE, will be available for purchase at the event. She will happily to sign it for either yourself or a lucky reader on your Christmas gift-list. It’s a wonderful read, filled with history, the camaraderie of the pilgrim lifestyle, humour, and the trials and tribulations of the adventures Ms. Dennett faced out on the road during her pilgrimage to Santiago.

Symbols, Symbolisms, Signs, Statuary and Sights Along the Camino

Tomorrow marks the 2 month mark from the moment we first touched down on the Camino this year. We began our mini-pilgrimage in Astorga on September 13th (My 53rd birthday). It’s hard to believe so much time has gone by since then.

As I mentioned in a previous post, my young adult novel set on the Camino was picked up by Interlude Press’s Duet Books. As the release date is scheduled for sometime in October, 2020, the preparations are beginning to ramp up. This week, I’ll be talking with the cover designer and boy is my head spinning. The publisher usually has the last word on cover, but often the author is consulted and a discussion goes on behind the scenes prior to mock-ups. The problem I’m having this week is not what do I want on the cover of THE CAMINO CLUB. My problem is what do I not want. I want everything CAMINO. It would be impossible for me to distill my wants down to a manageable number.

All I have been thinking about is the symbols of the Camino. I thought I would gather them here and see what I come up with.

Everyone on the Camino carries a few things in common. One of those things–though they may look different depending on where you come from or where you picked yours up–is a CREDENCIAL. This is the little passport book we all carry to collect stamps from various places along the Camino (Hotels, Albergues, Hostels, Restaurants, Cafes, etc). There is one stipulation with the credential—a pilgrim must collect at least two a day from the 100km mark to the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela. It’s up to the pilgrim to decide how few or how many they collect for the rest of the pilgrimage. Though not your typical ‘symbol’ per se, the credential is definitely a symbol to the pilgrim. Watching the stamps collect are such a part of the daily experience. It’s always thrill to add another stamp, turn another page…

THE CREDENCIAL

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As for the symbols one sees while walking? They are many…

THE YELLOW ARROW

The yellow arrow is EVERYWHERE. It’s how a pilgrim finds their way. They can be painted on the road, on houses, on trees, on fences, on everything.

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Follow not the white rabbit, for he will take you in the wrong direction. Look only for the yellow arrows. They’re not the most iconic symbols of the Camino de Santiago, but arguably the most important. They’ll take you there…

Sometimes the arrows aren’t yellow, but you know they still represent the way…

Even the yellow ones come in a variety of different ways…

THE ROUTE MARKER

Aw, the glorious route marker! How the heart sings when one worries that they have strayed and they finally come upon this symbol that tells them all is well, they’re on their way!

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They assure the pilgrim they are not lost, just as they let them know how far they have left to go before they reach the cathedral. This iconic symbol is everything to the pilgrim.

Quite often, there will be offerings left on these route markers…from stones to seashells to shoes…

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SIGNAGE

The Camino signage varies depending on where you are. If the arrows and the route markers are not enough to comfort the pilgrim, they’ll be reassured by the postage signage along the way…

ARTWORK AND STATUARY ABOUND

There is ALWAYS something to see on the Camino…whether it is something left behind by fellow pilgrims or something commissioned for the pilgrimage route. There’s as many statues as there is graffiti, as many messages as there is art installations. Statues and crosses and St. James representations…

REMEMBRANCES

One thing you don’t really think about until you see your first one? Remembrances. A lot of pilgrims don’t make it. There are markers where people have passed while attempting their pilgrimage. And remembrances for loved ones back home, as well.

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THE CATHEDRAL AND THE COMPOSTELA

It’s all for one thing…to reach the cathedral at the end of the yellow brick road. Whether you are religious or not, by the time you reach the goal you had set your sights on so many days before, it’s a huge thrill to walk into the plaza at the end of the Camino and see the monolithic cathedral standing before you…

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And also a thrill to pick up that certificate once you arrive…the compostela that serves as proof of the journey…

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SOooooooo…yep! I’m having an extremely difficult time imagining what will make it to the cover of my book. The iconic seashell maybe? A yellow arrow? St. James? A route marker? You see my problem? Too many things! It remains to be seen…

 

The Camino de Santiago Part II is Coming!

When we first decided that we would walk the Camino de Santiago in September of 2019, the month and year seemed so impossibly far away. The little number in the corner of today’s date on my desktop calendar tells me the divide between then and our departure date has somehow become so much smaller! Practically insignificant in comparison. The excitement grows every day. Once you walk the Camino, it scratches at your thoughts like a lost home that keeps calling you back. It’s almost as if the Camino aches for you as much as you ache for the Camino…and it keeps reminding you. “I am here. I am here. I am here.”

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This is a small clock tower that leads to a piazza in Ponferrada, Spain. I have arranged it so that Michael and I will be staying right inside that piazza during our September, 2019 Camino pilgrimage. We will need to walk through the small corridor beneath this clock in order to get to our rest stop for that particular night. (I snapped this shot during my 2014 Camino)

September 10th is when we fly to Spain. 54 days from now.

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One of the biggest thrills of my 2014 Camino was when I discovered the murals on the walls of the Monastery of San Xulián de Samos in Samos, Spain. I mean, it took my breath away. I think about it still with some kind of loving devotion that makes no sense to this heretical atheist. I can’t wait to see these murals again. The murals depict scenes from the life of St. Benedict. Shortly before SAMOS, SPAIN, there is a fork in the CAMINO ROAD. One way goes to Samos, and one way bypasses the beautiful town to save a couple miles. TAKE THE ROAD THAT WILL TAKE YOU TO THESE MURALS! It’s worth the extra miles.

We will not be doing the full Camino Frances, but that is no matter. The Camino is not about that, as much as some people who don’t fully get it would have you believe. We will be flying into Madrid, and then travelling from Madrid to Astorga. Once there, we will begin our Camino de Santiago adventure from that beautiful town…from the shadow of the gorgeous cathedral there.

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The vistas you come upon on the Camino will steal your heart and hold it captive. This shot was taken during my 2014 pilgrimage. This is a typical scene in the GALICIA REGION of SPAIN. It’s big sky and big universe country. It will stay with you forever, but it will also demand that you one day return.

I will be taking notes this time. I’ve already decided. I’m not finished writing about the Camino. It has decided to become a greater part of my story, and I have decided to keep listening, to keep reflecting, to keep projecting. So stay tuned, OR BE FOREWARNED. There will be more to come.

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I wrote a novel upon my first return from Spain. One day I hope it finds a way to the light of day. This time? I think I’m going to write about our journey. That’s the plan, anyway. But what happens on the Camino happens…there is no way to predict your journey. We shall see. I will be looking for a sign…and I hope to write about it later. I know one thing for certain. We will be putting one foot in front of the other.

You never will get where you’re going
If you never get up on your feet
Come on, there’s a good tail wind blowing
A fast walking man is hard to beat
Put one foot in front of the other
And soon you’ll be walking ‘cross the floor
Put one foot in front of the other
And soon you’ll be walking out the door
If you want to change your direction
If your time of life is at hand
Well don’t be the rule, be the exception
A good way to start is to stand
Put one foot in front of the other
And soon you’ll be walking ‘cross the floor