Jan 022018
 

“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.”

Ursula K Le Guin

Pilgrimage has taught me many things and chief among them is this salutary lesson: There is no ‘there’.

Twice I’ve set on Very Long Walks – once, 900kms along El Camino, the mystical pilgrim road across Spain from the French Pyrenees to Santiago de Compostela (where – disputed fact – the head of St James is buried in the great cathedral built atop sacred pagan ground); and then, two years later, 1500kms across Italy and through the Balkans, Rome to Tirane, the then-broken (and perhaps still broken) capital of Albania.

And twice this lesson has been my saviour and my guide.

There is no ‘there’.

It is as true for the writer as it is for the walker.

There is no ‘there’.

What does this mean?

There is no destination.

There is no destination because the destination is irrelevant if you don’t pick up your foot, right here, where you are now, and put it in front of the other one. And then pick up the next foot and put it down in front of the other one. Repeat ten million million times. Or pick up your pen and write a word, then place another word directly after that one. And so on. Ten thousand thousand times.

Walking and writing are sublime journeys.

Both will transform you for this simple reality alone, the fact of putting one foot in front of the other, one word after another, over and over and over again. Both will disrupt all you think you know about life and your place in it. Both will frustrate and delight; immeasurable, colossal life in your hands.

Both will reward you will the immense satisfaction of the journey complete, a voyage of discovery well-earned and hard-won.

At which point, having marked the moment, you will set out again, your heart aflutter with frustration and delight at the unknowable unknown journey ahead, your eyes on the horizon of another ‘no there’, your heart packed and ready to roll towards the light calling you home. Again.

 

 

Stephanie DaleWritten by Stephanie Dale, author, journalist & traveling writer; founder of The Write Road and Walk and Write.

Stephanie Dale is an award-winning journalist and author with a fondness for walking and writing. She is a passionate advocate for the visibility and voices of everyday people and focuses on supporting new and unpublished writers to write and keep writing. The Write Road is dedicated to empowering people to tell their stories, their way.

 January 2, 2018  Tagged with: , , , ,  Comments Off on Lesson #4 of the pilgrim road
Sep 072017
 

Walk and Write Stephanie Dale on pilgrimage in Croatia

“The longing is the path.”

Anna Davidovich

 

There’s nothing like a long walk to get to know the voices in your head. It’s hilarious really . . . until you realise those voices are shaping every moment of every day of your life.

Some years ago, I walked across Italy and through the Balkans. I was heading to Istanbul – imagine that, walking from Rome to Istanbul (I sure did! imagine it, that is) – but the thunderstruck, snowbound mountains of Macedonia pulled the journey up short in Albania.

I was in my late 40s – 49 to be precise – and in the end I walked a day for every year of my life. That’s 49 years of being hammered and tonged through life on Earth. That’s 49 years of voices clammering for attention over 49 days.

I had 20kgs on my back, far too much for a woman of my stature and age and condition, but there was nothing wasted in that weight – hell, I wore the same clothes for 49 days! My feet were like concrete at the end of every day. My shoulders ached a good deal of the way. My physical state was nothing compared to the mental and emotional exhaustion of the clamouring voices.

49 years of incessant blah blah blah for company – other people’s opinions and judgements and stories and ideas rattling their way through my body, shaping my own opinions and judgements and stories and ideas; my own stories and judgements shaping their world in turn; our interconnected lives a riot of reaction and response.

For 49 days I buckled under the weight of the voices – because on pilgrimage, the only thing you are actually ‘doing’ is putting one foot in front of the other . . . for as long as it takes – the voices that are usually silenced, snuffled, smothered by the busy-ness of everyday life had finally found their moment to shine.

The writer, friends, is also on pilgrimage.

I was following my son’s lead, walking with him for the middle leg of his own, much longer, pilgrimage – from Canterbury to Jerusalem (I mean really, imagine that – 7000kms, 16 countries).

My son led me through countries and landscapes I would not have ventured into on my own, particularly ‘the Balkans’. Once we entered Bosnia, the voices in my head had me convinced I’d tread on a landmine and lose a limb. I peed on flat rocks to avoid treading on unturned dirt and ignored the small splashes on the legs of my trousers. As for Albania – my body was a frozen riot of death as we entered this unknown dark state.

My head was a double riot because of an email my son had received from our couchsurfing host in Albania’s capital, Tirane, an American Fulbright scholar. She had said we should stick to the highway in Albania, which is flat and straight and safer than the mountains. She had said that if we avoided the mountains, however, we may miss out on an ‘adventure’, because ‘Albanian hospitality in the northern highlands is unmatched’. She said that according to the Kanun, the ancient northern Albanian code of customs and ethics, a guest in one’s home takes the form of God and that people would treat us like royalty. Those who break the custom of hospitality would be killed, she added. My son liked the idea of being treated like God.

My mind was full of it . . . the mountains . . . Albania . . . Macedonia . . . strangers . . . fear . . . lives on the line.

And this was the moment I truly understood the power of story. And the unpower of giving credit to the riot.

The fear and anxiety were all made up, products of my head. They had zero substance outside of me. For weeks I had been entertaining made up stories. Fairy tales. I had been giving power to imaginary sagas based on . . . ? Fictions, that were living in my body, defining my life, shaping my experiences, creating what I see around me and all round doing their best to sabotage my fabulous walk from Rome to Istanbul.

In that moment I learned to ask a question: am I safe now? Errrrr, yep. Now? Ummm, yep. What about now? Sure am.

Stories.

The writer faces the same challenges.

Set out on the book writing journey and, not only will your writing lead you to and through places you’d never go on your own, the unmet voices will start up. Their demands will be simple at first: there’s dusting to do (even for women who ‘don’t dust’), the car needs washing (for the first time all year), the garden needs a water (even though it rained yesterday).

Make it to your pen and paper and the voices will begin to get nasty, usually with variations on the following themes:

* you’ve got better things to do (you’re wasting time)

* you didn’t finish school (who the hell do you think you are?)

* who’d want to read it anyway? (I am not worthy of being a writer)

* what I want to write is so bland (only special people with talent should do this).

These voices are standing between you and a deep, deep longing in your heart to write. Like a woman on pilgrimage through foreign lands, you have a choice: go nowhere, do nothing. Or face up, stare the voices down, pick up your pen and paper – and write.

Do it. Do it anyway. Dance with the voices. Invite them to dinner. Entertain them. Ask them questions. Get to know them. And learn to ignore them and get on with your heart’s desire (which, if you are reading this, is to write).

Because here’s what else: every moment of every day in every single thing you do, these voices are shaping your life. They are keeping you small. They are making sure you will never ever ever even try. To do. The one thing. You long to do. More than anything else.

Write.

And here’s another what else: step forward despite the voices to pick up that pen, and you will get brave.

Very, very brave.

 

Stephanie DaleWritten by Stephanie Dale, author, journalist & traveling writer; founder of The Write Road and Walk and Write.

Stephanie Dale is an award-winning journalist and author with a fondness for walking and writing. She is a passionate advocate for the visibility and voices of everyday people and focuses on supporting new and unpublished writers to write and keep writing. The Write Road is dedicated to empowering people to tell their stories, their way.

Walk & Write The Camino

 September 7, 2017  Tagged with: , , , ,  Comments Off on The Voices in Your Head – why writing can make you brave