Keeping the Camino Alive

On a physical level, the best outcome of my pilgrimage is that after 22 years I have been able to go off anti-depressants. 

I don’t mean to judge anyone who takes SSRIs, not at all. We are all trying to figure out what our lives mean and how best to live.  

It wasn’t the Camino alone that helped me ween myself off them. I also had the help of a mind-body therapist who continues to offer suggestions for passing through anxiety and panic, the two main symptoms of the depression I have experienced off and on since childhood. 

If the medications work, then take them. But after more than two decades on various SSRIs, I had fluctuating blood pressure and strange head rushes that led to near fainting, symptoms that have now disappeared since I went off the medication. 

I attribute my peace of mind to the days and days of spending six to eight hours outdoors, walking and meditating. Even though the heat in Georgia can be unbearable, I continue to walk.

Each day is a new challenge in maintaining a balance of body, mind, and spirit. I’m tottering on a fragile tightrope of sanity, but walking and writing continue to be my medicine. 

   
    
    
    
   
Yesterday’s hike:

About 8 or 9 miles, from Burnt Hickory Road to Dallas Highway at Kennesaw Battlefield Park, then on to the visitor’s center and back to Burnt Hickory.

Creatures I noticed:

Dragonflies, ants, butterflies, various birds, including two giant vultures, a wee toad, about the size of my thumb pad, a chipmunk, many squirrels.

I stood still and listened to the cicadas in the trees and the grasshoppers in the tall grass. There was very little breeze, and the trees were still and silent, their leaves dry and weary from the heat. The noise from the highway and the passing trains at times overpowered the silence of the woods.  

It was a heavy, humid trek. I encouraged myself to keep walking by remembering the way I felt toward the end of my walks on the Camino–with sore feet and tired legs, I still managed to make it up those steep inclines. You can do this, I told myself. 

Practice

In an effort to work my way back to a daily writing practice, I’ve started sketching in my journal. It’s very relaxing because I have low expectations of the results. Drawing is a way for me to “rest on the page,” as Julia Cameron suggests in The Artist’s Way.

Another good writing book is Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg. She practices Zen meditation, and she said one of her teachers suggested that maybe writing would be her ‘practice,’ as in a meditative practice.

She describes her daily writing as a focused free-write, not stream of consciousness. I’ve come to realize that my daily writing will not necessarily result in a poem or a story, but the practice itself if important to keep myself open to the world. Even when it’s as hot as a pizza oven in my city and I only like to go out in the evening.

Philosopher told me what he learned from his poetry teacher: if you sit down to write every day your creativity will come to you.

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Literary Lists

As for writing, I came up with one new poem this week and started cobbling together a ghazal.

A friend, who I’ll call Statuesque Beauty, found a way to explain to me the art of a poetic free verse line. She suggested I write my drafts in lines, not prose. My usual process is to either write down random images and lines in my journal or my iPhone until I have enough to make a poem, or I free write for a certain length of time, usually in prose. But after my talk with Statuesque Beauty,  everything clicked! Each line of a poem is a mini poem.

Which is why I’m trying my hand at a ghazal. Each couplet stands alone as a kind of aphorism. I like Sherman Alexie’s “Powwow Ghazal.” I’m using it as a guide for the pacing and sequencing of my couplets.
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Met with Statuesque Beauty et al. for a poetry chat, and then moved on to Charis Books for the opening night of the Atlanta Queer Literary Festival. Lisa Allender hosted. Of the readers, I went especially to hear my friends, poets Dustin Brookshire and Jessica Hand–they both floored me, but tons of credit goes to all the readers. Each participant had moving poems and stories to share.

Of course they all thanked Franklin Abbott, the founder of AQLF.

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Jessica Hand’s wife, Jeanna Melilli, wrote and performed music for flute to accompany one of Jessica’s pieces. You can hear Jessica’s poem and Jeanna’s music here: “The Beaten Dust Crowds the Light,” at the Cortland Review.

Dustin Brookshire read a poem whose inspiration came vicariously through me, but the true impetus for the piece, in my opinion, is Dustin’s sass and wit.

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Earlier in the week I went to Manuel’s Tavern for a poetry critique with some GSU buddies, but we skipped the poems and went straight for the beers. Still, through telling stories of my pitfalls and foibles, I realized maybe there was an idea in one of them. Of course, Statuesque Beauty hinted I should work my mishap into a poem. Now I have to figure out what my blunders mean.

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Multi-talented writer Collin Kelley is pictured above. He’s a well-known poet, but lately he has garnered more notice for his novels, a trilogy set in Paris, London, and the U.S. His most current project is the launch of Remain in the Light, part 2 of his Conquering Venus trilogy. (This link will lead you to a free download of sample chapters).