Friday, December 28, 2007

"Ready to go! "Fire it up!"

This morning, I entered a grocery store in Council Bluffs, Iowa feeling a little unsure and out of place. My rainbow stripy bag from Santiago felt like it was made out of carpet. Then I stood with other Americans and watched CNN coverage of Pakistan. The world felt very small, and I felt like I was just where I needed to be.

At training today, the campaign asked us not to blog about our experiences, so I'll try to send out a couple of group emails to those of you who are interested. Send me a message at my yahoo account if you want updates.

I will defy the campaign's request to say only this one little thing. Already today, on day one, I had one outstanding interaction which made it worth coming. If the rest of the week is a total disaster, I'll still feel like I had an impact.

One week until the caucus. Lots of work to be done . . .

Thursday, December 27, 2007

on the way to iowa . . .

I said goodbye to my parents at the curb at the Hartford airport, suitcases packed full of presents and leftover goodies.

Mom said, "Tell Barack he'd better win because he's taking you away from me."

Dad said, "As far as I can tell, he's taking the cookies away from me."

Lesson 1 in the American electorate--don't take away people's children or their chocolate without good cause.


I had a layover in Minneapolis, and my friend Sarah took me out to a yummy dinner. It was a wonderful visit, but it meant I didn't have time to snoop around and find Senator Craig's famous stomping grounds. When I got back to the airport, I made it a point to use a bathroom while assuming a wide stance. Nobody arrested me or offered me sexual favors.

Omaha for Obama

I arrived in Omaha, Nebraska late tonight. Rebecca and Dave met me at the airport, and we made our way to our new home--a place we have rented from a family that summers in Arizona. It's beautiful and cozy. Fortunately, it has wireless DSL, so I'll be able to record our adventures here. Tomorrow morning we will cross the Missouri River and go to Council Bluffs, Iowa to report for duty!

Rebecca's knee is giving her some trouble, but she looks so cute in a wheelchair that maybe it could help win some votes . . .

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Why Barack Obama?

There are a lot of reasons why I support Barack Obama for president, but the main reason is because the first time I heard him speak, I was inspired. Like many Americans, I met Barack Obama when he gave this speech in the summer of 2004, part 1 and part 2. At the time, I was feeling pretty hopeless about my own life and about my country. Obama was introducing Democratic candidate John Kerry to the Democratic convention, but when he finished his speech, I was crying, and I uttered aloud, "I want him for president."

I still feel that way.

That's why I'm going to spend the end of this year and the beginning of next year in Council Bluffs, Iowa encouraging voters to caucus for Senator Barack Obama. It seems like a ridiculous endeavor, even to me, but it also feels important. Bush has brought so much negativity to the country. Barack Obama is the first political candidate I can ever remember being excited about. After spending so much time being angry and ashamed of my country for the past 8 years, I want to be feel like I am a part of the movement to restore hope.

I realize I sound like one of those canned campaign commercials. So be it. I've never been to Iowa; I expect it will be a fantastic adventure. It can't be any odder than walking across a country, can it?

Saturday, December 15, 2007

a LOST cause

Where's Joseph McCarthy when you need him? I want somebody to call those damn Hollywood people over here to this coast and scare some sense into them. I cannot abide this kind of suffering.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Dear World

I just signed a petition that reads in its entirety:

Dear world,
Please ignore President Bush. He doesn't represent us.

How many times am I allowed to sign?

Sunday, December 9, 2007

God is still speaking . . .

My colleagues and I have a list of banned topics for research papers, topics we just can't bear to deal with for one reason or another. Abortion tops the list as it seems there are very few folks able to make a nuanced legal argument regarding abortion rights. I've recently added another one to my list: same-sex marriage. I just can't take it. I'm willing to talk about all kinds of controversial issues in my classes, but I am intolerant of the intolerance of homosexuality. On a good day, I find opposition to homosexuality preposterous. It makes me laugh because it is so illogical to want to allow legal limitations on relationships. Who the hell cares who anybody else sleeps with? On a bad day, though. Whoo boy. Well, bad days are another matter because I find myself so blood vessel poppingly furious that it is remotely socially acceptable to express vile hatred. I don't know what it is about this one issue that makes me incapable of listening to other views, but it gets me every single time.

So I wasn't looking forward to reading the stack of papers about same sex marriage. I made it through most of them and got to the very last one. She was supporting gay marriage, so I thought it would be less painful than reading the homophobic screeds. This student had researched Barack Obama's position on same-sex marriage. She quoted him: "In an interview with the Chicago Daily Tribune, Obama said, 'I'm a Christian. And so, although I try not to have my religious beliefs dominate or determine my political views on this issue, I do believe that tradition, and my religious beliefs say that marriage is something sanctified between a man and a woman.'"

I assumed my student got her research wrong; I hoped my student got her research wrong . . .

Oh Barack.

I can manage to overlook a stated opposition to legalizing gay marriage. It doesn't make me happy, but I can accept that as a necessary political platform for a presidential candidate. As for using a justification of Christianity for the reason to limit marriage to heterosexual relationships? Well, in most cases, I could manage to shrug it off. People twist Jesus Christ's message in a lot of ways. I don't pretend to understand all of the confusing Protestant interpretations of the Bible. If I read that quote from a Methodist or a Baptist, I would probably just shake my head and mutter something about the true meaning of Christianity.

Senator Obama, however, is not just any kind of Christian. Senator Obama doesn't belong to one of those other churches whose missions I don't understand. Nope. He is my kind of Christian, a Congregationalist. He belongs to the UCC, the same denomination that I was raised in. He belongs to a church that made a nationwide effort to support the rights of homosexuals to marry. Not only does the UCC encourage same-sex marriage within their church, but they have issued actual literature that encourages legalizing same-sex marriage at the federal level.

Unlike many people, Senator Obama didn't stumble into just any church that would take him. He searched and pondered. He chose. I've read some of his views on religion that have spoken to me personally. His thoughtful approach to religion has been one of the things I admire about him. This is reprehensible. Disagree with the legal platform if you must, Senator, but don't blame your endorsement of discrimination on the Jesus Christ my family worships. Shame on you.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

everything i needed to know

Okay. I've been trying hard not to dislike Senator Hillary Clinton during these primary months. If she wins the Democratic nomination, I will vote for her, and I will encourage other Americans to vote for her.

But this. I just can't take it.

The woman is easily the most recognized presidential candidate in the entire country. She has been in the national spotlight since I was in high school. She has served as a United States Senator. She has actually lived in the White House. She has an enormous base of supporters, many of whom donate lots of money to try to get her into office. I admire and support Barack Obama, but if Hillary Clinton keeps her nose clean, she has a really good shot.


I received a message from the Obama campaign saying that Clinton had released an expose on him for something he did in kindergarten. I rolled my eyes. "Yeah, right. No way she's that stupid. Quit exaggerating."

This thing from the Clinton website is so ridiculous. It's just low hanging fruit. The potential wisecracks overwhelm me. If I had given one dime to that campaign, I would be down at the headquarters asking for it back. To think, Barack Obama had the audacity to want to be president of the United States while he was in kindergarten! Imagine! Well. When I'm president, I will pass a Constitutional amendment barring children from having such aspirations.

So, all you Dems out there who are sitting back shaking your heads, hoping it isn't her. Allow me to tell you a secret. The winner of the U.S. presidency will not only be determined by the number of people who cast ballots next November. It will be determined by the number of people who give money. We have a democracy, a capitalist democracy. If I had my way, you'd click here and enter your credit card info. If that's not the right choice for you, then I recommend clicking here for another fine option. I was fortunate to shake both of their hands last week. Support them now.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

the growing obesity epidemic

I present you with The Pop Rocks Chocolate Bar. The finest candy available on Planet Earth.


I found this commencement speech by Samantha Power to be inspiring in so many ways. It made me admire her work. It reminded me of my responsibility to the country. It bolstered my confidence in Barack Obama.

That's not the most important part, though. As I sat alone in the Lost Dog Cafe, gnawing on pizza, I was moved to tears by her fourth lesson. In the context of all of the larger truths, Power muses on the importance of friendship. Her words reminded me of how blessed I am to know so many honorable people who are doing their teeny-weeny part to make the world a better place--and who pass the "morbid but telling test" she describes:

"During the Bosnia war, none of us could have predicted where we would end up. Nor that, twelve years later, we would still be drinking together, laughing our heads off together and nursing one another through personal disappointment and loss. Each of us in our own small way is trying to make the world a teeny-weeny bit better, but I can't think of the last time any of us has discussed war, justice or politics with one another. We discuss books, baseball and boys. We cry together when it is warranted, but mainly we laugh. My, how we laugh...

I'm not sure who among us developed what will sound like a pretty warped standard for love. But one among us asked of a man she was seeing, "If I had to become a refugee, could I do it with him?" In my friend's case, the guy flunked and was given the boot. But that question, that standard, has remained with me. If you lost your creature comforts, if Katrina struck your neighborhood, who could make you laugh, care for you, remain curious about you and retain your curiosity? Each of my family members and my closest friends passes this morbid but telling test with a resounding yes. Lesson Number Four, then, is that when it comes to fighting the good fight, there is no fuel like friendship."

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

R.I.P. Tim Spicer

This week's front page news in Washington D.C. has been all about a black man who was murdered. Over the years that I have lived here, I would venture to say that hundreds of black men have been senselessly murdered within the city limits, but I don't recall a single instance where those murders were announced by a huge banner headline. The man mourned in these headlines wasn't even killed in D.C.; he was killed in Florida. Why does his tragic death matter so much more than the others?

Because he was paid a lot of money to play football.

At least one article seemed to pay attention to the sad truth that some deaths receive more attention. City leaders call on the Redskins to use their media power to draw attention to the epidemic of violence: "Celebrities have the potential to help us reach these kids," said Rhozier Brown of the Alliance for Concerned Men. "We're the nation's capital. This might be a rallying cry to get the Redskins to the table, because we need everybody's help. The Redskins need to help. Please, Mr. [Daniel] Snyder and Mr. [Joe] Gibbs. It's halftime. We need you."

I hope the Redskins use their power to speak for all of these anonymous victims. I doubt they will.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Laugh so loud everybody in the world frowns and says, "Shhhh."

It's such a nice thing to find the just right poem. I did it today.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

bridget's secret

I am not a regular customer at Victoria's Secret, but they have recently undertaken some novel marketing techniques that seem to indicate we are a better fit for one another than I thought. Not only are the pants named for me, I even like them!

Sunday, October 28, 2007

the politics of baseball

I sat in a sports bar waiting for the volunteer meeting of Arlingtonians for Barack Obama to begin. The press had just reported that Rodham Clinton is significantly ahead in fundraising, and the mood of the gathering was a little shaky.

A huge projection of a Red Sox-Indians game loomed over us as we discussed strategies to get Obama elected. I found myself thinking that the juxtaposition of the ever hopeful, rarely successful Sox against the ever hopeful and struggling Obama, might not bode well. But now I'm starting to wonder . . .

I'm not much for baseball lore, but if Democratic nominee Obama's Cubs are in the Series in '08, I'll sabotage the game myself to keep them from winning. Underdogs are great and everything, but last time a baseball curse was broken in a Democratic hopeful's hometown in October, November was a disastrous month.

political hair

I walked into the doctor's office this week, and the receptionist looked at my hair, which is currently blonde on top with a streak of pink right in the front, and inquired, "Is that for breast cancer awareness?"

I smiled, paused, considered. "Yes. And even I wasn't aware."

Saturday, October 27, 2007

"I didn't know you were a Red Sox fan."

My status as a fan is debatable. I own a hat. If there is a game around and I am near it, I will watch it. The rules change in mid-October, though. If the Sox are still in the playoffs at that point, it's a whole new ball game.

For me, rooting for the Red Sox to win it all is a kind of ancestor worship. I have to sit still for numbing hours and consider the generations of people related to me who didn't live to see the miracle of October 2004. I think of their long years of suffering, knowing the Sox would lose, continuing to hope that they would win. My mother is from Massachusetts. I grew up learning about Salem witches, loving Hobbes's popcorn at Salem Willows, and hearing about how "next year" the Red Sox would take it all.

It's really unfortunate that the Boston franchise isn't called "Yankees" because the attitude of the team's fans reflects the true definition of the word--toiling, hopeful, New Englanders. Red Sox fans just aren't like other people. They're zealots. I watched half of this commercial before realizing it was fictional.

I sit. I watch. Admittedly, my devotion is a bit questionable. Where was I in the long hours of June (walking in Spain)? In the boring days of August (Loudoun County)? In the tense early days of October (Haiti--which is right near the Dominican Republic, which means I was pretty much attending a Red Sox game)?

Since 2004, have we become the behemoth overtalented enterprise that we despised? Are we just a big money franchise with overblown personalities? People try to pick fights with these claims. I shrug. Probably. Who cares? We're in the Series.

A friend who is a Yankees fan physically assaulted me last night and tried to confiscate my baseball cap. She's small and has a hurt knee. I wrestled her to the ground, ignoring her fake cries of pain. Others came to her aid, but I took my hat and left her lying there, whimpering. I forgot to ask what she and the other New Yorkers were doing tonight.

Yesterday someone asked me, "Do you think they're going to sweep it?"
I stared back blankly. "My Red Sox? No way."

I don't watch because I need to see them win; I watch because I feel like it's my responsibility to watch them screw it up. When it’s 11:30 at night and I have to get up at 5 and the Red Sox are up by 10 runs in the 7th inning, I can’t go to sleep. Please. That game is not over. Ten runs? Any Red Sox fan would understand how profoundly our team can implode in a mere 2.5 innings. Twenty runs is not a sufficient lead for them. Forty might be okay.

We might have won once, but we haven't lost our defining spirit of inevitable doom laced with hope. Red Sox fans know that we are not winners; it's part of our identity. We aren't exactly losers, though, not anymore. I'm not sure what the word is for us, though I'm sure the Germans have one.

Red Sox fans believe through clenched teeth, shaking our heads woefully. We believe right up until the moment when we bite it. But we doubt with the same vehemence. I think it will take generations before Red Sox fans start acting like winners. Perhaps I’ll sit a child on my knee and explain one day, “In 2004, when I was 30 years old, Nana and I sat together and cried when the Red Sox won it all . . .”

For now, it doesn't matter how much money or talent we have, we know that we'll probably crash and burn. Losing that pessimistic optimism would be like taking away a little of my childhood, like killing off Santa Claus. The Red Sox are never one out away from winning. They are one out away from fucking it all up.

As for 2007, we're bound to screw it up soon and begin breathing through our beery breath the muttered chant of New England: "Next year. Next year."

I'll be watching for you, Papa, just in case it's this year.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

liberty of the seapools

On the final night of our seven day, 22 person family cruise, I turned to my teenaged nephew Rob. "Nana said she was worried that you were the one who wouldn't have a good time." He looked at me with utter incredulity. He had the same look on his face as though I had just told him that I was unsure whether he would like it if I bought him a new Camaro for his 16th birthday. He was right; it was that good.

We surfed, boogie boarded, Scrabbled, snorkeled, air hockeyed, danced, ice skated, attended shows, swam with stingrays, drank, hot tubbed, jet skiied, rock climbed, golfed, played basketball, gambled, and ate and ate and ate and ate. It was phenomenal.

We laughed. We laughed a lot.

When my parents were making plans for the trip, they told me that they were spending our inheritance. It was a great investment.


I find it troubling that in our culture, dead soldiers are automatically, unquestionably lauded as heroes. While I don't agree that dying in a war is necessarily brave or valiant, Washington Post reporter Salih Saif Aldin, who died in the line of duty while serving as a journalist in Iraq, sounds like a hero to me. I honor him and thank him for his service.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

tell me, general pace

I began the day furious that General Pace was spewing hateful words about homosexuals. I end the day feeling a bit smug. The Senate has attached some hate crimes legislation to the defense authorization bill. In order to get money for his war, the war in which out of the closet soldiers are not permitted to fight, Bush will have to agree to protect homosexuals.

Tell me, General Pace, which morality do you care about more?

God bless America. We sure aren't a dull people.

somebody on the Hill says something

The sanest member of Congress is an 89 year old coot from West Virginia.

love and war

My classes and I have spent the past few weeks talking about war, examining perspectives and morality. It has been draining, though it has also caused me to re-examine quite a bit about what I believe and why I believe it. That blog is too long and too private and too painful to write.

This part is not: During last night's class, we talked about what it means to kill another human. We talked about how the military trains and prepares soldiers to do so. We talked about how rarely there is any real public discussion of the moral complexities of killing another human being in military combat. As long as American soliders are shooting enemies, it is justifiable to commit what would be termed murder in polite society.

Over coffee this morning, I read this article about General Peter Pace, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. In his outgoing report to Congress in the midst of three struggling wars that directly affect the lives and purses of millions of people, he found time to reflect on the morality of homosexuality. He had quite a few comments on the appropriate way to love another human being, though he didn't seem terribly contemplative on whether it was moral to kill another person.

He said, "we should respect those who want to serve the nation but not through the law of the land, condone activity that, in my upbringing, is counter to God's law." I agree entirely. I think "Thou shalt not kill" is a pretty good rule. How can we reform the military to abide by God's law about that?

The Post offers the following quote as well: "In March, the Chicago Tribune reported that Pace said in a wide-ranging interview: 'I do not believe the United States is well served by a policy that says it is OK to be immoral in any way.'" You're absolutely right, General Pace. War is a terrible policy. Let's outlaw it.

P.S. General Pace--you might wish to consider retiring to Iran. I hear it's a very free and open society that doesn't have a single homosexual.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

a man like this should run for president

Barack Obama explained why he didn't even bother to show up to cast a ballot on this ridiculous anti-moveon Senate motion, "The focus of the United States Senate should be on ending this war, not on criticizing newspaper advertisements,'' Obama said. "This amendment was a stunt designed only to score cheap political points while what we should be doing is focusing on the deadly serious challenge we face in Iraq.''

my favorite medication

Since I returned from Spain, I've been walking and walking and walking, partly because I like it, but partly because it helps me to even out my mood in a way that I have never before been able to do on my own. It's an incredible feeling to have some measure of control over the ups and downs, though I certainly can't sustain the number of hours I was walking when I was on the Camino.

It took me years to fully realize how vital exercise can be. Drugs are a much easier solution. Now, though, there is increasing medical evidence of the usefulness of exercise as a treatment. I am hopeful that my insurance company will soon be funding my pilgrimages.

Friday, September 21, 2007

dear senator webb, nincompoop

To Senator James Webb of Virginia,

I voted for you. I voted for you proudly. Today, I am ashamed to be your constituent.

After your victorious election last November, I beamed at press reports that during a beginning of session tea party at the White House, you refused to make small talk with President Bush about your son, a Marine serving in Iraq. You tried to redirect the conversation to actual issues. Others criticized you for being disrespectful. Not me. I was hopeful that, for the sake of your family and your country, you were committed to doing away with niceties and games and focusing on the real work of getting the United States out of Iraq.

Today, when I heard about the Senate bill condemning's New York Times advertisement questioning General Petraeus's credibility, I was incensed. I was certain you would reject such folly. I knew you would condemn the Bush administration's disgusting propoganda tactics meant to distract from the important dialogue about Iraq.

I was wrong.

I am sickened by your vote, Senator Webb. Shame on you. You actually devoted your time and your power, time and power that could have been devoted to crafting an exit strategy or improving benefits for veteran amputees or working to gather votes on your excellent proposal to regulate troop rotations, to casting a ballot against a silly newspaper advertisement that engaged in name calling? That makes you a nincompoop. That's right. I called you a nincompoop right there in print, Webby. I double dog dare you to pass a bill against me, too.

Maybe you're a little jealous of Petraeus? Quite a few people have accused you of betrayal over the past couple of years, but you have no Senate resolution to show for it. Even though you have deep military ties, you want the Iraq War to end. Maybe we can pass one of these little laws to honor you?

I encourage you to leave your office and walk down Pennsylvania Avenue. Have a look at those words of the First Amendment writ large on the side of the new Newseum, as I did last weekend as I read some signs about how I should burn in hell because I’m a traitor for wanting peace in Iraq. That stung a bit. Where’s the Senate bill recognizing my pain?

I don't much care what the damned New York Times advertisement said. I don't care whether it came from a liberal organization or a conservative organization. I care that you take responsibility for doing your job, for representing the American people and ending an unjust war, rather than simply playing around so that a grown man's feelings don't get hurt. Isn't he tough enough to handle criticism? He's an American general! How much tougher does it get? Apparently, you don't think he's particularly tough at all. He needs special protections, special exemptions from the right to free speech. Isn't the First Amendment one of those sacred freedoms that the military is charged with protecting?

Sticks and stones are not being hurled from the pages of the New York Times, Senator Webb. Only words. While you were working hard at protecting Petraeus from the shower of sans serif-fonted words, some American soldier or Iraqi civilian was fielding a shower of bullets.

What happened to the Senator Webb who wouldn't let President Bush draw attention away from the suffering and safety of Americans and Iraqis?

I am ashamed of you today, but we can't afford to focus on stupid mistakes, can we? I suggest that you and I, all of us, moveon. Please make me proud to be your constituent tomorrow. Get the job done. Get us out of Iraq.

Your Constituent,
Bridget Robin Pool

P.S. I've never sent a dime to before. Today, I'm sending a donation in your name.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

truth, finally

There have been quite a lot of lies associated with the Iraq War, but folks are coming clean now. Nearly as troubling as President Bush trying to rally support for the current Iraq War by drawing parallels to Vietnam is the Marine recruitment effort on campus today that attempted to attract potential soldiers by using a gigantic inflatable Marine with no legs. I suppose, at the very least, it's an example of truth in advertising.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007


It has come to my attention that Mental Illness Awareness Week takes place during the week that I will be on a cruise with 20 family members.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

next placard

Next time I attend a protest, I will carry a sign reading: Another Off-Message Free Mumia Abu-Jamal, Free the Cuban Five, Free Palestine, Anti-Globalization, Anti-Climate Change, Serif Font Hating, 9/11 Conspiracy Theorist Scatterbrained Liberal Activist Who is Purportedly Here for a Rally Relating to Something Else!

Why, why, why do liberal protests have such trouble staying on message? I despise the assumption that everyone who thinks the war should end believes that ol' Mumia should be released. I didn't show up to cheer about ending Christian fundamentalism. My right to smoke pot is not contingent on withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq. I don't think that anti-war activists need to believe in non-violent eating.

Every thinking person I know who goes to these rallies gets disenchanted by the inclusion of an array of issues that are largely unrelated to the main purpose of the event. Focus, people. Focus. Today, I was shocked at the number of people who want to re-open investigations into 9/11. I have no idea what they are hoping to find. Maybe this time around planes won't fly into buildings?

I was soft on one somewhat unrelated issue. There were many, many signs urging "IMPEACH!" though I preferred the placards that recommended going directly to indictment. I suppose that strays a bit from the central message, though it does relate directly to war crimes. I'm curious how many people would turn out for an impeachment rally. I was shocked that the movement was so strong.

"this is what dem-o-cra-cy looks like"

I marched down Pennsylvania Avenue today. Along with other anti-war protestors, I started at the White House and walked toward the Capitol building to encourage lawmakers to get the U.S. out of Iraq. I wore flag pants and held a sign reading "PATRIOTS FOR PEACE."

Counter protestors lined the sides of the parade route, the reverse inaugural parade route. One of them looked me dead in the eye and spat, "traitor."

We walked past the new Newseum building, a place dedicated to celebrating the freedom of the press. Etched in bold letters from the top to the bottom of the building are the best placard I saw today. These beautiful words are carved into the side: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances."

Today, I looked at those last 18 words in awe.

Earlier, I had turned to my Pakistani roommate and asked:
"Aliya, if you went to a protest like this in Pakistan---"
She interrupted me and smirked. "No, Bridget, no." She shook her head.

Just no. That's the answer. There’s no “if” because there is no protest like this in Pakistan. There is no situation where you stand dead in the center of the three branches of government, in the shadow of the National Archives, across from the banner of the First Amendment and hang out with a bunch of your compatriots and scream that you don’t like what the leaders are doing.

When the anti-anti-war protestors stood a few feet away from us and shouted in favor of staying in Iraq, the anti-war protestors responded even louder in attempt to drown out the opposing opinion. Feverish chants rose up from those I was walking alongside:

I looked from the peaceniks to the warmongers and laughed aloud at the ridiculousness of using those words as a means of silencing dissent. Yes. This is exactly what democracy looks like. It looks like furious, principled people screaming angrily at one another and at their leaders in a public place without fear of violence. It looks like people on both sides of the police tape who care so much about democracy that they are using its privileges to disagree with each other about how best to extend those freedoms to other people thousands of miles away.

I walked up to one of the counter protestors and shook his hand and thanked him for coming. Then I went back to narrowing my eyes at the enemy and yelling about peace.

Friday, September 14, 2007


I like to look at my dad's crinkly eyes. They accentuate his ready smile and easy laugh. After baking my skin in the Spanish sun, I've noticed that when I smile, I have some lines, too. Some wrinkles seem like the good kind of wrinkles: indelible evidence of joy.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007


I decided to fast for Ramadan. I have never fasted before, but since my housemate, some of my students, and some of my colleagues are Muslim, I thought it might be interesting to join them. After walking the Camino to gain freedom from Catholic purgatory, it seemed like I should experiment with a tradition from another religion. I was excited for the challenge.

Then my friend R. pointed out that it is a bad idea. It is a bad, bad idea. People with bipolar disorder who are trying to maintain a stable mood during the least stable month of the year ought not deny themselves food during daylight hours.

I even did a little research into Valid Reasons for Not Observing the Fast:

Being on a journey
Risk of life

Well, I'm not unconscious and haven't declared jihad, but I guess I'm otherwise disqualified. I will eat.


Today is September 11th weather. There is warm sun, perfect sky, soft breeze, the echoes of summer, and the anticipation of fall all at once. The calendar says September 12 today, but I feel the echoes of the 6th anniversary much more strongly than I did yesterday.

Six years and one day ago, I thought "How could something so horrible happen on a day that's so beautiful?" On September 11, 2001, the fighter jets zoomed over my house, the Pentagon burned before my eyes, and I wanted to get the bad guys.

I'm six years older now; I'm six years wiser. In that time, the most important thing I've learned is that I know even less than I thought I did. There used to be good days and bad guys. Not anymore. If only the categories were so simple.

It turns out that good days and bad guys are hard to come by, as are bad days and good guys. Bad things happen on good days and then the days become less good. Good people become less good, maybe a little bad. Bad guys are hard to find, but sometimes when they turn up, they would rather be good, if we let them. We can turn them bad, though, if we choose to.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

an apple pie american

As I was walking, I saw some people gathered up ahead of me. They were standing on the 66 overpass, looking at the eastbound lanes. I took off my headphones and joined them to watch a long line of motorcycles rumbling toward D.C. They came in two lines, creating a festive atmosphere. There were about 40 people looking at the highway. Kids on tiptoes peered through the fence to wave at the riders below.

"What is it for?" I asked a guy with a shaved head whose son was wearing camouflage pants.

"It's for 9/11. It's to support the troops." I tried not to bristle at that easy link between 9/11 and Iraq. I tried to just smile and wave my open palm, my Nixon peace sign.

I looked around at the assortment of neighborhood people gathered there. There were a lot of categories represented. I was confident in those categories. Some families had just left services at the nearby Catholic church. One scrubbed family looked as though they were about to go pick their own produce for the week, maybe at Farm Fresh Fields. I examined the leather wearing, tattooed riders rolling beneath the bridge overpass who honked and gave peace signs. I thought about the different definitions of peace. I thought about how weird America is.

The last motorcycle rolled by, and the emergency support vehicles brought up the rear, sounding sirens. The crowd started to disperse, chatting idly and proudly about the spectacle as it rumbled away. Patriotism feels a whole lot merrier these days than it did 6 years ago.

"Me, too!" I heard a woman call out. "Me, too! I'm an apple pie American as well! My dad was a veteran." I turned back and saw a woman with shining dark black skin, wearing a long hijab and an even longer dress in the 90 degree heat. Her 3 year old daughter, braids poking out of her head, was in a stroller.

I went back to talk to her. I didn't have anything to say, really, but it seemed like she hadn't felt included. I'm sure I had already categorized her earlier. I'm equally sure that apple pie American is not the box I put her in. I asked her about her father, asked her if she was going to go to the rally. Her daughter and I talked about yellow fire hydrants. We all walked a bit together. It turns out we're neighbors.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007


It's so easy to deride Senator Craig, particularly now that he is reconsidering his resignation. Can you do that? "Hey! I quit! Here's my resignation. Oh wait. I didn't mean it. Just kidding . . . ."

Anyhow, this article by James E. McGreevey is an eloquent and humbling reminder that we're all so human all the time. It hurts.


Sitting outside the Java Shack in the sun, grading papers, I looked over and saw the dreaded van pull up alongside Daphne F. The guy at the next table muttered, "They're not going to let you go."

I grabbed my wallet and sprinted over to the meter. "I was just inside getting quarters!" I shouted over my shoulder toward the meter people in the lurking truck.

"We saw you sitting there."

"I was! I had just put my stuff down and was coming over here!"

"No. You weren't."

Defeated, I gave up. "Okay, dude," I sassed back. I started walking away, leaving him to his ticket writing.

He beckoned me back, "Go ahead and put your quarters in."

I did.

I'm not sure why he let me go. He didn't believe my story. I should have just been straight with him. The truth was that I had simply forgotten to put money in the meter. I wasn't intentionally refusing to pay. Sometimes I leave the meter empty purposely. This time, I just plain forgot.

I spent the next hour or so feeling guilty for lying to this man. Why did I bother? Sure, it was just a white lie, but it wasn't worth it, even though I didn't get the ticket. It infuriates me when students lie to me about such minor, transparent things. Just come out with it. We all know you screwed up; at least be honest. And now here I am, lying to someone else about something silly and obvious.

Last night I stopped class when I noticed a student listening to an earbud during class. "Wow! That's a new one," I said, speaking to the whole class while staring at the student. "Wow. Actually listening to something else during class."

The kid said, "I'm listening to In Cold Blood," the assigned reading for the day.

I'm not sure if that made it worse or better. He hadn't done the work, but he was trying to do the work, but he was even too lazy to read the book subtly during class. At least he was honest, though, more than I can say for myself. Still, I mocked him openly.


[I just looked back at my previous post about bipolar news. I'm perfectly willing to lie to my doctor without any guilt. Apparently, health merits untruth.]

bipolar press

It's been a good and bad week in the bipolar press.

An MSNBC article describes hopeful information about developing treatments such as motion sickness patches. Using these patches seems an apt approach. The symptoms are roughly comparable: instability, lack of balance. The article also provides a reminder of the tremendous limitations of current treatment.

The MSNBC article states, "A study of treated patients published last year found that about 60 percent got well for at least eight weeks, but only half of that group remained well when followed for up to two years." Depending on what qualifies as "well," I am beating the odds so far, a fortunate member of the 30 % who is holding with fairly minor fluctations.

Even when stabilized on medications, though, I have the inevitable side effects. Three years after quitting Depakote, I've lost 80 pounds, but I'm still 15 pounds away from getting back to my weight before I started it. Now, I'm engaged in some Faustian arm wrestling with my current medication, Lamictal. Whenever I increase it, which will be necessary as time goes on, my skin breaks out severely. Dermatologists try to prescribe acne medication that interacts with my mood medications, or they offer hormonal birth control, which could destabilize my mood entirely. A little acne isn't the main problem, though. Whenever I have the tiniest rash, I have to fear for Stevens-Johnson Syndrome, an FDA black box side effect that was depicted in a Washington Post article this week. The article refers to an interaction with a different type of drug.

I hope I continue to be a member of that fortunate 30% for awhile, though it's likely that I have a medication switch in the reasonably near future. The FDA won't approve new treatments for a very long time, but I'm willing to get creative (and manipulative). After all, I am going on a cruise soon. Perhaps I need to see my family doctor for a seasickness patch . . .

Saturday, September 1, 2007

not my fellow citizen

While I am driving, any kind of pro-Bush propaganda plastered on a car bumper forces me to restrain myself from easing my right foot off the brake and pounding the gas pedal. After all of the ways that Bush has harmed America and the world, I find it infuriating that people are still supportive of him.

There is another type of bumper sticker that tempts me to purposefully crash into the car in front of me. Any variation of "Bush Is Not My President" makes me seethe. I despise those stickers.

I assume that drivers proclaiming "Bush is not my president" are not simply citizens of other countries who want to gloat that they have not been cursed with such a humiliating leader. "Haha! I got Angela Merkel and you got some bumbling fool from Texas!" I assume that cars with these bumper stickers are driven by Americans, other voting citizens of the United States of America who are trying to express their frustration with the current administration. I sympathize with their ire, but I abhor their attitude.

Not your president? Not your president? He is your president. You might not like what he's doing. You might think he's a vile undemocratic criminal murderer, but he is your president. He is your representative. He represents America. If you are an American, he represents you.

I have a great deal of respect for Al Gore's concession of the 2000 election to George W. Bush. In the act of conceding defeat, Gore expressed his love for America. He challenged the law, and when he had exhausted the recourse made available by the Constitution, he admitted that George W. Bush was his president--our president.

I think the reason those stickers really bother me is because I know that the other driver and I probably have fairly similar attitudes toward Bush. We're both exasperated and ashamed. We're tired of seeing the Constitution torn to shreds. The difference between me and that car ahead of me is that I think it is a patriotic duty to recognize that George W. Bush is my president. He and his gang of evildoers might not respect the Constitution, but I do. I'm an American, and I need to do whatever I can to hold him accountable to preserve, protect, and defend that Constitution.

Next time I feel tempted to punch the gas, I should get out of the car, knock on the window, and invite the driver to be my fellow citizen, explaining that if we work together, maybe we can make a change. To be my fellow American, though, requires recognizing our current president. George W. Bush is our president.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

a tiny confession

I'm admitting it publicly (pubicly, even). I have a small penis. I'm tired of responding in secret to email messages about my wee willy. I want everyone to know.

The sheer quantity of this spam has started to fascinate me recently. Day after day I am encouraged to grow my small penis. I'm beginning to feel like I should really take action, as though people can see through my dress and tell that it hardly exists at all.

"If you are in need for recommendation with respect to by which means you could accumulate a new dimension for your reproduction organ, buy the right stuff."

Do people respond to this spam? They must or else there wouldn't be so much of it. If I wanted my genitalia altered, I'm fairly certain that replying to anonymous, grammatically deficient, lewd email messages would not be my first course of action. But what would I do? What could I do? I realize that some men have small penises. I even know some of them. And I definitely know some women who have something to say about the matter. It's a problem, I suppose, but are there legitimate means of enlarging one's penis?

With a quick internet search, the most credible site I found was Wikipedia. That should give you some sense of the kind of rock solid medical evidence we're dealing with. There is terminology such as "micropenis." There is a link to a Spanish geocities site.

I think I'll keep my current size.

Monday, August 27, 2007

off the news diet

This morning, I turned on NPR. I listened to about a minute of a brief segment on Morning Edition. It was a tribute to an American kid who was killed in a helicopter crash in Iraq last week. I knew it would be sad. I braced myself. I listened to Jessy Pollard's family tell stories.

He was the oldest grandchild.
He loved to play with his cousins.
He enjoyed showing off that he had grown taller than his family members.

My immediate reaction wasn't to mourn for Jessy and his family. It wasn't their stories that moved me. It was the fact that their stories were my family's stories. I wasn't listening to a segment about Jessy. I was listening to my family talk about Rob. He's the oldest grandson in our family. He loves to play with his younger cousins, too. On 4th of July, Rob and I were sniping at each other about who was taller. He talked all kinds of trash. He said my hair made me taller. He said my walk made me shorter. We laughed and made a spectacle of going back to back to prove that I am still taller than him (admittedly, disputable).

Listening to this story, I was suddenly blindingly furious.

Not this war. Not my nephew.

Since I returned from Spain, I have done a decent job of continuing my news diet. In Europe, the people I was talking to were also unaware of what was happening in the world, but here in D.C., people are very informed. I get my news from the filtered views from others. I've felt disengaged regarding the presidential race, the war, George Will's latest musings, Paris Hilton. It's a funny feeling to have someone ask my opinion and realize I don't have one.

Every once in awhile I would hear or read something provocative, but my response was fairly brief and uninspired. I kept wondering when I would want to read the Post again, when I would want to listen to NPR. When would I feel some passion to pay attention?

I'd love to say that the remote evils of the world made me want to pay attention. I wish I could say that I suddenly was able to feel rage about genocide in Darfur or poverty in America. That's not what happened. A Missouri kid who grew taller than his grandfather made me care. I want that goddamn war to end because I plan to spend the next 50 or so years snarling at Rob for being taller than me.

I will not be that aunt interviewed on NPR. Actually, maybe I just will. Maybe I'll be the one talking about how I will not let my nephew die.

Monday, August 20, 2007


When I think of a shiny red convertible being pulled over by the police, I imagine an Italian stud zooming around in some loud, sleek sports car while blaring classic rock. Arlington County is sort of dorky, though, and apparently our law enforcement officers are, too. This morning one of them selected Daphne's boxy and awkward form, my yellowing mohawked head, and some bitchin' bluegrass to summon over to the side of the road.

"Why did you pull me over?"
"We'll get to that. Do you have your license and registration?"

I didn't have a clue why he had pulled me over. While I waited for the officer to run my background check, I sat in the car and rain began to fall. Sadly, I had to close Daphne's top for the first time since I drove her off the lot. I found a map of Virginia and passed the time by considering possible routes for next summer's walk.

"M'am, do you know what the speed limit is on this road?"
"It's 45. You were going 55. I'll only give you a warning this time, but you need to stop zooming down the road like you were doing."

Zooming. That's me. 55 in a 45 on Route 50 during rush hour. Whoo boy. Lunacy. A little bit of Turbo, and I'm an Italian stallion.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

"Road to Nowhere"

Peter, Luke, and I had a little pilgrim reunion this weekend. After only 15 minutes of eating and exchanging some stories, Luke said, "Can we walk around? I get restless sitting still." Preacher, meet choir.

So we walked a bit. We wandered and reflected and laughed and gossiped. We admired one another's clothing and cleanliness. We agreed how wonderful it is to speak American, to use contractions, idioms, and puns freely.

The night was warm and soft. What should we do next? What's the right activity for a reunion of people who have traipsed across a country together? The answer was clear to all of us.

We climbed into my new car, put down the top, turned on some Talking Heads, and took Daphne F. for her first joyride. I think we rode more than a day's worth of walking in a couple of hours. It was brilliant.

still begging al's forgiveness

A prototype of my next new car. I swear.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

"broken things"

broken things, things that have recently been broken, most of them after having recently been fixed:
credit card

things that are mostly unbroken:
legs and feet

I wouldn't trade.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

customer support

"If you are calling about problems connecting to your wireless network, press 1."


"We're experiencing a high call volume. You can access our troubleshooting techniques at www . . ."

Um . . . ummmmm.

"Let yourself go . . . "

For the two weeks since I bought my new car, I've been feeling guilty for being a hypocritical fraud. If I like walking so much, it shouldn't really matter what car I buy, right? And, if I really don't want to buy a car at all, I should just get a cheap one. Most important, if I really care about the environment, I should buy a hybrid--or at least something fuel efficient.

All true. I should be an environmentally-minded consumer. I should just get something super cheap. The creature comforts shouldn't influence what I buy. Here's the thing: I'm not; I didn't; they did.

Screw ethics. I wanted a convertible. I wanted something on wheels that would not break that would get me to work with my head in the air. Those were my requirements. Ladies and gentlemen, the 33 year old single American professional female demographic speaks out to the automotive industry. You heard it here.

I found a car. I planned to buy it. People asked questions.

"What kind of engine does it have?"
"No idea."
"Did it get good reviews?"
"Is it pretty?"
"It's okay."
"What's the gas mileage?"
"The top comes down."

I bought a new 2006 PT Cruiser, and there really were some good, practical reasons. I got a decent deal, good enough that I may feel a bit guilty next time Chrysler has layoffs. I do kind of like it. It has a great warranty, something I am particularly attuned to right now.

She's growing on me. Now that I've named her Daphne F., we're official.

She's pretty big, but big can be okay. She's an automatic, which is weird, but it is kind of fun to feel like I am constantly in a video game. Driving is so easy. She laughs at potholes and scoffs at speed bumps! She's fast! She's shiny! She tells me the names of the songs playing on Hot 99.5! She has a little glowy analog clock!

Still, the guilt. I have to turn away from images of Al Gore and whisper, "I'll leave Barack for you if you run. I'll vote for you. I'll walk for you. Forgive me, Al. Forgive me."

Daphne F., I am starting to reluctantly love your brassy, bossy, odd, slightly awkward, zooming self, but must you have a gauge to inform me precisely how much gas you are chugging down with your turbo?

Whenever I drive her, I feel like I’m having a moral crisis. Why do I have to be so spoiled? How in the world can I justify driving a car with a license plate reading TCHPAX if I’m violating Mother Earth with every mile?

This morning, Daphne F. and I drove to work for the first time. Last time I tried to go to work, Dieter passed away, so I felt a tad apprehensive. Besides, no matter how much I love my job, going back to work after a 3 month vacation is somewhat painful.

Already, on the very first day, it was one of Those mornings. Everything, everything I own that is of any material value is broken lately. (Almost everything. The laptop still functions. Pray for us.) Worse still, even after I dump time, money, and sanity into fixing the things, they break again.

I had Dieter fixed, and then he died two weeks later.

My ipod has been driving me bonkers for 3 years. After endless aggravation, lots of cash, and a new hard drive, when the unhappy face appeared on the screen last week, I threw it across the room. I have finally given up and bought a new one and a warranty that lasts from now through my forgiven purgatory.

The router ceased working a few weeks back; I spent days getting it functional. Then, this morning, there was no wireless connection available. That means, of course, that I can’t register the new ipod. The connection died as I was online trying to change the information from Dieter to Daphne F. on my Smartag account.

I stormed off to work, telling my roommate that given my current luck, I was probably going to get into a car accident on the way to work.

I climbed into Daphne F., and I put her top down. We drove away. My hair did not wave in the wind because there is far too much product in it for that to be possible, but it did feel nice on my face. Then, I sped past a Jag and laughed. I popped in the Beastie Boys “License to Ill” and screamed out the lyrics.

I have remembered exactly why I needed a convertible so badly. Driving through the warm air serenaded by the Beastie Boys can fix quite a lot of things that incompetent repair people cannot. Broken router? Defective ipod? Car malfunction? The pain of returning to work? Irrelevant. Forgotten. Momentarily cured.

Principles? I’ve traded them in along with Dieter. I loved him as much as my ideals, but sometimes it’s time to let go. Principles? Please. Let’s be honest with ourselves. I gave those up as soon as I started feeling healed when I grooved to this misogynistic crap:

"Girls - to do the dishes
Girls - to clean up my room
Girls - to do the laundry
Girls - and in the bathroom
Girls, that's all I really want is girls
Two at a time I want girls
With new wave hairdos I want girls
I ought to whip out my girls, girls, girls, girls, girls!"

Environmentalism? Feminism? Come now. Compromises.

As I finished writing this, my cellphone spontaneously turned off. No joke.

I think I need to go for a walk to center myself while listening to some sexist tunes. Actually, I should go for a drive instead since I can’t listen to the Beastie Boys while I walk until the ipod is functional. And the ipod won’t be functional until the wireless is fixed. And and and.

Here's the moral. Sometimes you have to hang up the hiking boots and the principles and put the top down. And that's okay.

"Let it flow - let yourself go
Slow and low - that is the tempo"

Saturday, August 11, 2007

summer 2008: a new pilgrimage

During nearly every summer adventure, there is a moment when I realize what I am going to do the following summer. On day 2 of a 2001 trip to the south of France to try to revive my language skills, I stood in my room in my host family’s house, looked out at the Mediterranean, realized that French was useless, and decided to devote the next summer to learning Spanish. While I was learning Spanish in Guatemala during the summer of 2002, I became fascinated by indigenous culture. That led me to Ecuador in 2003. By 2006, I was interested in Spanish, indigenous culture, and moving my body, so I found my way to Machu Picchu by way of the Inca Trail in Peru. Last year, while talking to another traveler about the Inca Trail, I learned about the Camino de Santiago in Spain.

This year, I spent a couple of months walking through Spain, struggling along in Spanish, trying to reach Jimbo's bones. I walked across a country I know nothing about, speaking a language in which I'm not fluent, devoted to a cause I don't especially believe in. I loved it. Still, I sometimes felt like a bit of a fraud when people called me a "pilgrim." Pilgrims travel in hardship and sacrifice for some cause or belief. The pursuit of a tasty chocolate croissant barely qualifies.

Next year, though, things will be different. Next year I'm going to be a real pilgrim; I'm going on a real pilgrimage. I'm going to walk in my own country, speaking English, devoted to a cause I care deeply about. I'm going to spend the summer of 2008 walking around Virginia, talking to and listening to other Virginians as we discuss how our swing state can elect a good president to the White House. I plan to paint the Commonwealth with blue arrows.

While walking in Spain, lugging around my Obama-stickered water bottle and enduring criticism of Bush from people from all over the world, I was regularly reminded how ashamed I am of my country. I was also reminded of how desperately I want to be proud of my country. I don't have much money to contribute to a presidential campaign, but I do have time, passion, two feet, and a profound faith in democracy. On the morning of November 5, 2008, no matter what the outcome, I'm going to look at myself in the mirror and know that I tried my hardest.

Flying over an ocean to speak a foreign language while walking toward a saint I don't care about struck me as a perfectly safe adventure, but it seems like absolute madness to walk out my door and talk to other Virginians in my native language about something that is deeply important to me. No more albergues, beds, paths, or yellow arrows. My new pilgrimage involves a tent, a sleeping mat, busy roads, and lots and lots of maps.

It's a whole lot easier to meander along a marked Camino and make fun of someone else's faith in Jimbo's bones than it is to create my own Way as I seek the dream of America. The very idea of doing it terrifies me. I can't wait.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Fat March

Spain? Santiago? Pilgrimage? It's all a big lie. I've been participating in the following television program and am finally back here in Washington D.C. Here are my before and after pictures. One taken in Moron Cuba in August of 04. One taken in Finisterre Spain in June of 07

Okay, so I wasn't really on the show. It takes them 10 weeks to walk 500 miles. It took me 6 and a half.

The program actually sounds pretty interesting, though they seem to encourage healthy eating while walking instead of gorging on chocolate croissants. I'm not sure that would work out for me. We'll see. Maybe next time I need to drop 80 pounds, I'll see if they'll let me be on the cast . . .

Sunday, August 5, 2007

camino greatest hits--blog and pics

44 Camino days, 500+ miles, dozens of chocolate croissants, 7-ish blisters, a free pass to heaven, a swim at the end of the world, and 180 something blog posts later, here I am.

I appreciate that many of you have followed along with some (or all) of my journey on the blog. I know I ended up writing quite a bit. Several of you who have dipped in from time to time have requested a list of highlights. Here are a few of my favorite musings or experiences. A grab bag:

These two tell the tale of the most mystical thing that happened to me on the Camino: chocolate croissant and un milagro de santiago

Others . . .

going for a long walk
Bert Likes Pigeons, and I Do, Too.
Getting to Know You
quickly going slowly
flechas amarillas--yellow arrows
mi cresta
I found God.
finding peace
Rabanal del Camino
birthday cards
the end
what i look like now
"How did you like it?"
the compostela
only a walker

Now, for the pics . It pains me to think of my photojournalist friend looking at these shots. My general approach is to just grab the camera, point the thing, push the button, and see what turns out. I'm more interested in having an image to jog my memory than I am in creating art, and it shows.

I recommend the "greatest hits" for those of you who are interested in seeing a quicker and dirtier version of my experiences on the Camino. I have written brief descriptions of each photograph in that set. (IF YOU CHOOSE TO VIEW THEM AS A SLIDESHOW: WHEN THE FIRST PHOTO APPEARS, MAKE SURE YOU CLICK ON IT ONCE SO THAT YOU CAN SEE THE TITLE AND DESCRIPTION. AFTER YOU DO THAT ONE TIME, YOU WILL BE ABLE TO SEE THE TITLES FOR THE REST OF THE SLIDESHOW. NOT SURE WHY IT DOESN'T DO IT AUTOMATICALLY.)

Those of you who have an unnatural curiousity about my experiences can look at the complete collection. I encourage you pilgrims out there to download whichever ones you want. Here's the link again to the pics . . .

Ultreia y Buen Camino a Todos . . .

Saturday, August 4, 2007


People here ask me if my faith has changed as a result of the pilgrimage. The best answer is a statement I heard somebody else say while I was walking the Camino: "I think it's all a bunch of crap, but I believe it all anyway."


Friday, August 3, 2007


There was a pilgrim named Antonio, a Spanish guy in his 30s. He had a shaved, shiny bald head and a fantastic smile, a smile and spirit that made everyone start to laugh before he said a word.

One day I found him sitting at the side of the Camino looking at his leg. He had hurt his ankle, but he was still radiant, even though he was wincing. We walked together for several kilometers. We passed "El Convento de Antonio," and he offered to sell it to me. He limped along, smiling.

Antonio had this fantastic habit of looking up at the sky with his arms outstretched and crying out "San-teeeee-ahhhhh-gooooooh!" He did it when he was asking for help. He did it when he was overwhelmed with gratitude. He did it when he was expressing frustration. He did it partly as a joke, but he did it in seriousness as well.

Santiago, Jimbo challenges us along the Way. For me, the challenge didn't really come in Spain. The challenges have been right here at home as I try to readjust. The past couple of days, as I have been deciding what to do about my broken car, I keep imagining the moment when I walked into Castrojeriz with Antonio. He was pretending to move jauntily alongside me. We saw these poppies. They were amazing, stunning. He kept trying to teach me the Spanish word, but I couldn't get it right--amapola, amapola, amapola. It sounded too much like ampolla--blister. Antonio taught me a song about amapolas and made me sing it aloud to the fields of flowers, conducting with his trekking poles as I shyly, then loudly shouted it out. I think he was actually in a good amount of pain at the time--and not just from my singing.

Pilgrims can pick a lesson out of absolutely anything. I think it is easier to find a lesson than a blister on the Camino, and that's saying something. "San-teeeee-ahhhhh-gooooooh! Why must you make me think about cars when all I want to do is think about walking? Why?"

There's a lesson in here, and I'll find it eventually. In the meantime, sing the damn song, Bridget. Sing the song, look at the pretty flowers, enjoy the good company, and keep smiling. You'll get there one way or the other. Maybe that's the lesson after all.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

oh dieter

Yesterday morning my legs walked four beautiful hours out of the woods of Spruce Knob, West Virginia. Then Dieter, my car, drove four lovely hours back to Arlington, Virginia. The balance was fantastic; it's nice to appreciate the legs and the car.

Dieter and my legs and I have been out playing quite a lot recently, and today it was time to go to work. We headed west this morning, but about a half hour into our drive, Dieter whined a little bit as he stopped at a red light. When the light turned green, and I released the clutch, he stayed stopped. He didn't go anywhere at all, though a slightly smelly smell rose from beneath the hood. I sat staring at the green light and realized quite suddenly that Dieter and I are probably going to part soon. I was sad. Not angry, just sad.

I called AAA. They agreed to send out a tow truck to bring me and Dieter to the service station. I figured I would just walk the 2 miles home from the car repair shop. By the time the truck arrived, though, I didn't feel much like walking 2 miles. I felt like walking 15 miles. I fished an old, flimsy cloth backpack out of Dieter's trunk. I took the keys to my house and the yellow arrow keychain that usually lives on my car keys. I grabbed my camera, a water bottle, my phone, and my wallet.

I waved goodbye to Dieter on the tow truck and crossed the busy street to the shopping center. I found a coffee shop, and I asked directions to the W&OD--a rails to trails path nearby. As the clerk was drawing me a map, I looked in the pastry case and saw a chocolate croissant. I bought one, and I smiled a big knowing grin as I started on my way. The first chocolate croissant I've eaten in Virginia. A happy omen.

The trail was a straight, flat, black ribbon of pavement sewn with threads of power lines. For most of the day, it was just me and the asphalt. Occasionally there were office parks or houses backing up to the trail or small ponds or soccer fields. Mostly it was just the strip of trail, foliage on either side, and the sun above me.

It was hot. Baking, mid-90's, sweltering, egg frying, pick your cliche hot. My dress was soaked through. I didn't care. My feet complained a little that I was wearing sandals instead of hiking boots. My thighs complained a little that I was wearing a cocktail dress instead of shorts. I didn't care. The temperature, the discomfort of my physical injuries, the work I hadn't done today, my impending car purchase. They didn't matter. I was walking. That's what mattered.

I ate fresh blackberries from the side of the trail. I marvelled as I walked over the Beltway. I watched cars. I watched baby deer. I watched baby bunnies. I watched the metro. I indulged in the food I had fantasized about in Spain. Chipotle! Robeks! Real ice cream! Ice water!

I've never experienced a runner's high, but I think I feel something similar while walking. It doesn't matter how hot or how rainy or how miserable it is or how uncomfortable I am, there is some magic in moving my body for long periods of time. I crave it. When I got to Arlington, 7 sweaty hours later, I could have kept walking. Now that I've started shopping for a car, I sort of wish I had.

Thursday, July 26, 2007


Since I returned from the Camino, I have been fixated on the time that I spend in a car instead of walking. I decided to try to duplicate parts of my regular day on foot instead of in the car.

Last night, I set my alarm for 3:50 a.m. I planned to walk the 8 miles to my 6 a.m. exercise class and spend an hour working out before heading back home.

This morning, I woke up at 3:50 a.m. and said "Screw that." I slept until 8 and skipped the class altogether.


My new podiatrist listened to my story about the long walk, about the weird but slowly improving sensation on my right sole. Then he looked at my feet. He cocked his head to the side and said, "Well, considering what you're working with, I think you're doing a pretty good job."

Dr. P. is a full on lunatic, the kind of character whom one is surprised to discover actually exists in real life and not merely in sitcoms. He's the kind of guy that local newspaper stories are written about. When he shook my hand, he said, "Welcome to the Funny Farm!" One eye is squinchy and the other bugs out while he tells thrilling, dramatic stories about the roles of the various footbones. He handed me a skeleton foot. He furiously drew pictures on a whiteboard as though we were in the last seconds of the Final Four. He described gory dissections that he has partaken in that contribute to his understanding of my personal issues. The word "gusto" was invented for this man.

He looked at my current inserts and shook his head in a pitying fashion.

He recommended custommade orthotics costing about 500 dollars. I did quick calculations. Yesterday I spent 600 dollars on Dieter. How much should I spend on my feet? Aren't they more important than my car? Adding together the new 170 dollar hiking boots, the 35 co-pay, and the possible new inserts, it seems that my feet are pulling ahead in that race.

As Dr. P. whirled out the door, I balked at the price of the inserts. He looked at me gravely and said, "I think we know it's time."

He started down the hall and turned back to call out: "For now, you should really try to stay off your feet." I laughed. Podiatrist and comedian all in one.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007


About 6 miles into a morning walk to D.C., I was jaunting down Virginia Ave, looking forward to visiting a friend. Cool weather, good rhythm, happy destination.

A man was walking slowly toward me on the sidewalk. He had walking sticks. On the Camino, when I saw someone with walking sticks, I automatically assumed I was looking at a pilgrim. The clacking of sticks was a perfectly normal sound in the cities of Pamplona, Burgos, Leon, and Santiago. No one found it peculiar there, but in D.C. it seems curious. I was walking stickless that morning, but it was pleasing to see someone using them.

The man was meandering along. He gave me a big smile. When we got closer, he stopped and said something to me. I didn't hear it the first time, so I asked him to repeat it. I expected him to comment on my hair; African American men seem to like my hair.

He said jovially, "Do you want to switch legs?" I looked carefully and realized his walking sticks were some kind of crutches, and his injuries seemed permanent. He told me that it looked like my legs were strong, that they could carry me far.

I felt flustered by such an enormous compliment. Part of me wanted to tell him about my recent adventure, about how much I have grown to love my shapeless, sturdy legs. I wanted to tell him that I am now constantly aware of the gift of my healthy body. I wanted to ask his story and hear about his injuries. I wanted to hear about his walking.

I don't remember what I said. Just something short and silly. We moved past one another and laughed together and kept walking.

I was right about those sticks. He's a pilgrim.

free time

I have a lot of free time right now, so walking continues to be pure joy, but I find myself wondering whether I'll keep walking once I go back to work. Walking takes time and intention. It requires slowness, patience.

I sometimes feel pre-emptive disappointment in myself for choosing to rely so heavily on my car once school starts up again. My job is far. Many of my friends are in D.C. I have more responsiblities to cram into a day. Where will the walking fit? Rather, will I choose to make it fit?

We'll see.

In the meantime, I have thrown down a couple of challenges for myself. If I'm going to walk less when I have less time, I ought to walk more when I have more time, right?

1. Soon, I will head off into the woods of W.V. with a pack on my back, one much heavier than anything I lugged across Spain. Lots of trees (including the Whispering One-Sided Spruce), lots of cold water to swim in, lots of stars, lots of fresh berries to pick, lots of pounds on my back. No beds, no fresh chocolate croissants (though you just never know when one might be delivered up to you). A friend and I did this same hike last year. It was amazing, but this time we're hoping to not have to slurp a mud puddle as a water source.

2. I have this little idea in my head that I should walk to Boot Camp one morning. It's always struck me as a bit preposterous that I drive for 40 minutes round trip in order to exercise for an hour. Of course, that would necessitate getting up at an unbelievably ungodly hour (we're looking at fewer hours than fingers on one hand). Still. Perhaps this Friday . . .

3. Here's the hardest one. Even before walking the Camino, I found it frustrating how much I rely on my car to go to work. Having a long commute is probably the thing I dislike most about my life, at least in terms of things that I have the power to change. I like my job, though, and I like where I live. I'll be making the drive for the foreseeable future. There's simply no reasonable way of maneuvering the 40ish miles round trip from my apartment to NVCC/Loudoun without a car.

Fortunately, I have no need to be reasonable right now.

I often complain that I can't walk to work. Well, I can; I'm just lazy. I've just never set out to do so. There's a rails-to-trails path behind my apartment that just happens to lead almost directly to my workplace. So, I plan to take a 3 day trip to work and back.
DAY 1: Walk to work.
DAY 2: Work.
DAY 3: Walk home from work and collapse in my bed.

This is, to be clear, a moronic undertaking in Virginia in August, particularly since I'll be walking two very long days.

Do I really want to walk, to understand what it is like to walk in my community? Well, yes, but it's far and it's hot and it's . . .

Start chewing on those Benjamins, Pool. It's time to put your money where your mouth is.

seven corners

Things are a lot closer now than they used to be. Last night it took me half an hour to walk to Target. I thought my watch was wrong. I didn't believe that it was only 2 miles from my home until google maps told me so when I got home.

I have lived in this spot for 7 years, and I have never once walked to this area called Seven Corners. It's a huge area of useful stores. Home Depot, Safeway, Target, Ross, Goodwill, Barnes and Noble, and a whole village of Asian stores. The funny thing is that I avoid going there by car because the network of roads is so confusing. (Thus, the name Seven Corners. It makes Williamsburg's so-called Confusion Corner look like a straight line.) Walking there was comparatively painless. I navigated from place to place without having to rehearse geometric traffic configurations in my head.

There's a new vegetarian restaurant in Seven Corners. There's a new Chipotle opening soon. I think it's likely I'll be walking there again.

carless, carfree

My car, Dieter, is broken. I think my beloved VW Cabrio is feeling a little jealous about this whole walking thing. He makes a flap, literally, whenever I brake. It's as though every time I slow down he thinks I'll stop and abandon him for another 2 months.

I took him to the garage. As I was leaving, they offered me a ride to the Metro. It is less than a half a mile to the Metro. I think I actually laughed aloud. No, thanks. I'll walk.

So I walked home. It was 2 miles. On the way home, an acquaintance was biking by. She recognized me, and she crossed to the other side of the road to greet me. She said, "Can I walk with you for awhile?" We walked together.

Later in the day, the garage called about Dieter. I tried to ask important questions about what is wrong with him. I tried to understand the problems, but they were complicated; my attempts were truly laughable. I decided not to bother getting upset. I heard R.'s words ring in my head, "What is money for?" and I agreed to the exorbitant repairs.

Somehow, my conversation with the nice employee leaped from brake pads to my job at NVCC to his Spanish class at NVCC to my trip across Spain, and before I knew it, I had forgotten about the frustrations of motor vehicles. I was examining my scarred feet. Rotors, I don't get. Blisters, I understand.

I'm walking over to pick up my car later today. My credit card is going to burn. When I get home, I'm going online. I'm going to pick up that scalding piece of plastic and buy a new pair of hiking boots. Dieter needs to learn to share.

Tomorrow, Dieter is taking me and my feet on a ride. This time, my feet are going into the shop. Podiatrist.

Monday, July 23, 2007

chocolate con churros

Well, I don't have all of the photos ready yet, but I do have a series from way back in Logrono, displaying my first experience with chocolate con churros. It was a happy occasion.

Saturday, July 21, 2007


It’s funny how shaving one’s hair into mohawk and dyeing it into a rainbow, then walking 500 miles seem to make a whole lot of other things that used to seem ridiculous seem, well, a whole lot less ridiculous. What inhibitions I had before the walk seem to be fading as fast as my hair dye.

Earlier tonight, I was about to drive home from my friend’s house in DC, but I realized that if I stuck around for a bit, I could buy the new Harry Potter book at midnight. Besides, it was such a nice evening that I thought I’d walk around for a bit; that’s been happening a lot recently.

While I was walking through Dupont Circle, I heard some music and saw a crowd, so I headed in that direction. A big brass band of energetic musicians was standing on the sidewalk, playing some raucous funeral marching jazz. I stood on the street at the edge of the gathering, looking on.

The hierarchy of these events is familiar to all of us. There are concentric circles. First the band itself. Then, there are the people nearest the band who gyrate and hoot and sing along. They are absorbed in the moment, oblivious to those on the outside. The people in the next ring clap when instructed to do so and rock their bodies stiffly. They are constantly looking around at the other people in the crowd, self-consciously trying to gauge who is watching them. Those on the outer edge cross their arms across their bodies and observe from a distance. Sometimes, rarely, they tap their feet. They survey the scene; they do not get involved.

I was standing beyond the dancers. While I listened, I was reminded of being 19 years old and working for The Great Connecticut Traditional Jazz Festival. I thought of how much I loved laughing and dancing with the members of the Young Olympians, young African American jazz artists from New Orleans. In nearly 20 years on the planet, it was one of the first times I had any meaningful interaction with someone who wasn’t a white New Englander.

The music in Dupont Circle wasn’t quite that caliber, but it was pretty good, and I stood primly, dutifully clapping, feeling a bit jealous of the people who were boogying near the center. Then I thought about the last time I danced. It was in Madrid a couple of weeks ago at the All Europe Gay Pride Festival. I was on the street watching the parade. A few other people were dancing. Not many. I looked at them shyly. I sort of felt like dancing, too, but I was embarrassed. Then I decided that I was being silly. I was traveling. They didn’t know me. So I flailed my arms and shuffled my feet and smiled and sweated. It’s so easy to risk foolishness when in a foreign land.

D.C. is often accused of being conservative (and not just because of who is living at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue), so it was refreshing to see people cutting loose. I watched the dancers. We always watch the dancers, don’t we? Although we listen to the music, our eyes are usually focused on the people who are publicly moving their bodies. When I am on the outside looking in, I don’t usually feel critical of the way people dance. I like watching the people with rhythm and coordination, but I like watching the others, too. If I see someone particularly graceless, I admire them. I admire them, and I pity myself for standing still.

Tonight there was a good mix of people gathered around the center. One guy was dancing soulfully while astride his bike. A Latino guy was ineptly trying to use a washboard that a band member had lent to him. I was transfixed by a girl wearing hijab who was a fantastic, sensual dancer.

I kept trying to get myself to dance, but I kept imagining different people I know coming by and spotting me. I felt uncomfortable. I did just what the other non-dancers were doing; I exchanged tight smiles with other people and scanned the crowd nervously. I don’t know why I’m concerned. Most of my friends and acquaintances wouldn’t be a bit surprised to see me near the band, swaying, oblivious to onlookers.

I suddenly realized that I was hoping to see two specific people. I was looking for Luke and Peter; I was looking for the only two pilgrims I know who live in D.C. Somehow, having them with me would have made the risk feel safer.

Just as I was getting really frustrated with myself, I saw this man walk toward the crowd. He was shortish and sixtyish. He had white hair. He wore a suit. I was sure he was going to be too serious to stop. I thought he would keep walking. But he didn’t keep walking. He stopped, smiled at me, and started to move his arms just a little. I looked right at him, and I started to dance. And he did, too. He had moves. We laughed at each other. For a little while, on the edge of the crowd, we danced together.

Soon, I wasn’t searching the crowd anymore (though I was vaguely aware of the two of us being photographed). Soon, I wasn’t even looking at him. Soon, I was just dancing—and smiling.

I walk pigeon-toed. My hair is silly. I’m an utterly graceless dancer. I might feel self-conscious when I do something new, something I’m not good at. I may very well look absurd most of the time. I might make other people uncomfortable with my choices. But those risks must be worth it because trying scary things that I'm not good at almost always make me smile.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

good snaps

Today I went to REI and ran into a clerk who had helped me before my trip. (Yes, he recognized me. Yes, this should tell you something about how much money I have spent there recently.)

"Did you take any good snaps?" he asked.
"Not really. But I kept a blog."

I do have some pics, and after I resolve The Great International Camera Battery Recharger Fiasco of 2007, I'll put them online. Still, I think the snapshots contained on the blog are a whole lot more telling than any of my photographs.

I've been very surprised at how many people have read this blog. I anticipated I would be writing an open letter to my mom. You have turned out to be an amusing and humbling assortment of readers, nearly as eclectic as the pilgrims themselves. Having your feedback and attention has made writing it a fun experience. It turned out to be one of the best parts of my trip.

In regular, non-Camino life I am perennially frustrated with myself for not devoting more time to writing. It's shameful how rarely I write. I am regularly a disappointment to myself.

Among the many, many things I learned while walking is that moving my feet encourages my brain to write. While I was in Spain, and even since I have returned, walking has made writing seem like a kind of play. It's funny that I never wrote about that while I was on the Camino, about how much of the time I spent walking was actually devoted to writing. Sometimes I was formulating ideas for this blog; sometimes I was thinking about other pieces I would write later that day. Sometimes I was gathering scraps to write about later on. I found myself shaping words and phrases and sentences and ideas as I walked through the wheat and poppies and towns. Occasionally I stopped to scribble things down, but mostly I just let my mind organize itself. One of the only things I wish I had carried with me was a cheap and light word processor. I would have been willing to shoulder a few extra pounds for the luxury of typing. Anyone who has seen my handwriting understands why.

The walking has pushed my brain to write; the blog provided an outlet for it. I hope to keep walking, and I hope to keep writing. Some of you have asked if I'll continue adding entries to the blog. Yes, I will. Even though I’m not on the Camino de Santiago anymore, I’m still a Pilgrim Sole. I’m confident I’ll find something to say even as Jimbo’s bones and that squatty lighthouse and those yellow arrows fade into the distance.

I’m not especially sure what will happen with my walking or my writing, though I have a few ideas. As Confucius says, "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." I have at least 500 miles left, though I’m on my way . . .

following the yellow arrows

Even though it's been a couple of weeks since I arrived at Finisterre, I'm still looking for those telltale signs pointing me in the right direction.

I've become a loyal customer of Shell gas stations. I appreciate the irony of choosing to fill up my gas tank with a product because it reminds me of a nice walk.

I smile every time I see a yellow arrow that has been painted for some construction purpose. Today, while I was driving around in a parking lot with fat, yellow arrows, I felt a bit of peace.

Before I left for Europe, a friend, exasperated by my endless questions about philosophy or religion or politics or whatever I was being difficult about at the time told me, "Bridget, sometimes it's okay to just follow the rules." It's not. I assured him. It's just not. What kind of a world would it be if I didn't question every little thing?

After 500 miles, I can tell you. It turns out that I can be pretty good at following the rules. I loved following those yellow arrows. For once, I loved mindlessly doing as told.

only a walker

I used to admire my backpacking friends who traipsed amongst the trees on vaguely marked trails while shouldering their whole world on their backs. They were brave and outdoorsy. They sucked marrow in the echoing wilderness. I felt inferior. I wanted to be like them.

Not anymore.

It turns out that I don't much like trees or tents or hard ground or s'mores* or pure solitude. It turns out that I prefer parks and buildings and beds and chocolate croissants and people.

Amongst the REI crowd, it's simply not cool to prefer those things. Here in the United States, it's odd to go out walking. Sure, you can go for a walk, but if you don't have a pack on, you should probably be pumping your arms and sweating. Heck, even if you are walking for exercise, you are still considered inferior and should be properly apologetic that you are not as good as the runners whizzing by. You hang your head: "Sorry. I'm only a walker."

My friend recently asked me whether I wandered amongst the woodsy trails around my childhood home when I was little. I didn't just say no; I bristled at the question. I got defensive, and it took me a little while to figure out why. In the American spirit, people are encouraged to wander in the wilderness. It's commendable to possess that pioneering spirit. It irks me to think that I'm not a creative, natural soul like the backpackers I admire, but hiking just isn't my thing.

I hate the very idea of getting lost in the buggy woods. Hiking is okay occasionally, but I prefer sidewalks and streets and rails-to-trails to faded paint blazes. I like civilization. I like to think about what I'm thinking instead of where I'm going. I like to let the rhythm of my feet guide my thoughts.

I'm finally ready to admit it: I'm only a walker.

I recently invited my 14 year old nephew to go for a walk. "I'll go for a hike with you, but I'm not going for a walk," he declared. Damn those teenagers. Just when I think I've raked in the cool points for getting a mohawk, I go and cash them in on admitting I like walking.

*Okay I do like smores, but I needed the cheap parallelism. Forgive me.

dear pictorial

To the Editor of the Pictorial Gazette:

I am concerned about the lack of sidewalks in Deep River and Essex.

I just returned from a 500 mile walk across Spain along a path called the Camino de Santiago. It wends through various small villages and large towns, but it rarely requires walkers to venture onto dangerous roads unprotected. I felt very safe. Having returned to visit my family in my hometown of Essex, I am appalled at how difficult it is to walk here. After spending 6 weeks walking every day, even I am hesitant to risk clinging to the sides of the roads as cars whiz by.

While I was walking with people from across the globe (Spain, Germany, England, Ireland, Canada, France, Italy, Korea, Brazil, Austria, Switzerland, Belgium, Mexico, South Africa, Norway, Finland, Sweden, Luxembourg, and more) they regularly asked me whether it was true that America does not value walking.

I told them about the lovely New England coastline where I grew up. I admitted that my young nephews, who live in the prosperous small community of Deep River, Connecticut, are unable to step off their property--onto any of the four major roads that intersect near their house--without being threatened by automobiles. I explained that my sisters love to walk, but they have to get into a car in order to get to a place where they can walk safely.

I was able to boast to my fellow walkers that my two little nieces are required to walk to their elementary school, but then I had to shamefully admit that the wealthy town of Essex, Connecticut, which was once named "The Best Small Town in America," will not spend the money to construct a sidewalk so that they can travel the .2 miles from their house.

I had to tell people around the world that while Americans might like to walk, America--at least the beautiful villages where I grew up--does not value walking.

Arlington, Virginia

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