The Heroic Life, Travel

How do you practice for a heroic life?

I write often about the idea of pursuing the heroic life: a life lived for high ideals, with a sense of purpose, and ultimately a life that changes the world.

But a number of people have asked me if there’s a practice to the heroic life: if you decide you want to live it, what should you do?

This question always startles me, because to me there has always been one clear answer for how to live heroically: go on a journey.

If you want to lead a heroic life, travel.

This is not the only way. There are many, many ways. But if you’re looking for a simple practice that will lead you to that sense of purpose, the answer is a journey.

Photo by José Cuervo Elorza

Tales of heroism are always tales of journeys, and there’s a reason for this. It’s because inner strength can’t just be given to you; it has to be learned through trials and experience. And a journey is the surest way to get continuous, long term, unpredictable human experiences that will challenge you and change you.

In stories, the hero must always go on a journey to develop the qualities needed to save the day. If they didn’t need that experience, then they could just meet a wise man early in the story who told them everything they need to know. The entire middle part of the story, where they try and fail and learn and grow, could just be deleted. They’d listen to the wise person and go directly to saving everyone. Then on to happily ever after.

But that isn’t how inner strength is discovered in literature or real life. And it’s also why the heroic life cannot be taught in schools, colleges, churches or temples: a lecture cannot replace the hands on experience of a challenging journey. A journey takes you outside of familiar surroundings and becomes instantly more immersive and thus more transformative.

No matter where I go, there’s a certain percentage of people who yearn for a life full of meaning. They’re uncomfortable because they’re stuck in a workaday life that compromises either their ideals or their sense of purpose. Unfortunately, many of them tell me they feel lost and unsure of how to start. In many cases that’s because they’re looking for their life to change without actually striking out toward something new. If you don’t change your surroundings, it’s very difficult to change anything else.

From the beginning I’ve written that there are four tenets to the heroic life. They are: to accept that you have a purpose in life, which you yourself must create; to choose your ideals and put them before all else; to pursue your purpose and your art with passion, until you can do amazing things; and to travel.

If you don’t know your purpose, your ideals, or your art: go on a journey. A journey will lead you to discover these truths about yourself, and how to live them, with an incredible rate of success.

There are many benefits to the practice of a journey:

  • You learn to make friends easily.
  • You become self reliant, overcoming obstacles far from your support network of familiar faces.
  • You learn firsthand that there is good in people everywhere you go. You learn to trust intelligently, and to be generous and open to strangers.
  • You develop a better instinct about who to trust and who not to.
  • You overcome prejudices and misconceptions. You start to see what unites all of us.
  • You learn new skills constantly, and you get better at learning.
  • Things that once seemed impossible now start to look merely like a matter of practice.
  • You get good at making quick, smart decisions in challenging circumstances.
  • You learn who you truly are and who you want to be.

A journey can take many forms. It can be a short journey, of 50 or 100 miles. It can be done by car, bus or plane. It can be around the world and last years, or it can be a road trip that lasts weeks. You can go entirely by foot, like Nate Damm; or refuse to fly like Niall Doherty. You might choose a destination or you might just wander.

It doesn’t matter what form your journey takes. Everyone’s journey is as good as everyone else’s. As long as you leave your familiar surroundings and face some element of the unknown, you are on a true journey.

Ultimately that journey will force you to change. Parts of you will dissolve away, and the parts that remain will become stronger. That’s why a journey always reveals your ideals and your purpose: because they are the one part of you that stays constant when everything else is changing.

If you want to journey together, I have 120 miles left in Texas and I welcome companions. We can bicycle together for a few days. It will happen this summer or fall. Leave a comment or email me at andre@roguepriest.net and we’ll start to plan. This is an experience that anyone can have and I’m happy to share it with you.

But it doesn’t matter if you come with me or do it some other way. Just journey. Journey and you will find yourself.

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My book Lúnasa Days is available in paperback and on Kindle. Get your copy here.

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Mexico, Photographs, Travel

Mi Perro Favorito (Photo of the Week)

This week I have several photos, but the first one is the winner.

Perro! Photo by André.

This dog lives several doors down from our house in San Luis Potosí. He’s always outside. He barks angrily at everyone who goes past, but I made him into a friend and now he’s nice to me. As I approach he hops up so I can pet him through the fence. Sometimes I bring treats.

I don’t know his name, so I just call him mi perro favorito.

Often when I walk past him I’m on my way to Tequis, short for Tequisquiapam, the local park:

Jardín Tequisquiapam. Photo by André.

The park is only 3 blocks from our house and it has some of the best street food in the evening. The monument is of a woman with two niños and the inscription reads, Homage to the Being Most Beloved, so you can guess who it’s of.

I’m not sure why the park is Tequisquiapam and not Tequisquiapan, which is how most Nahuatl place names end. But I’ve seen it spelled the other way in places, so it may simply be regional.

The monument was built by the Lion’s Club. At the edge of the park is the Centro Educativo de Montessori—a Montessori school—and two coffee shops. So to all the people who say “Mexico is dangerous,” I present Exhibit A.

(It’s not so much that we’re in a bougie area, although that’s true; it’s that half of the entire city is about this upscale. San Luis Potosí is a peaceful town, a state capital, with affluent citizens, lots of young professionals and a police force that basically does its job. Not every city in Mexico is like this—but it’s definitely not the only one.)

My favorite part of the park is this sign:

If I could I would! Photo by André.

The sign reads, “If I could do it I would! AND YOU—? Are you gonna do it or what?”

And this is why I don’t have a dog of my own.

Taking these photos has proved to be a challenge; it’s just not my instinct to whip out a camera everywhere I go. And you need to take a lot of pictures to get a few good ones. However, I have learned that the camera allows me to talk to strangers, asking them if I can take their picture and then making small talk. That gives me more Spanish practice, and more photo opportunities, so for now at least I’ll keep it up.

What questions do you have about San Luis Potosí? Let me know and I’ll do my best to answer!

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My book Lúnasa Days is available in paperback and on Kindle. Get your copy here.

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Adventure, Bicycling, The Great Adventure, The Heroic Life, Travel

This is what I’m doing, here’s why I’m doing it, and I want you to join me

I’ve always believed in heroism. By heroism I mean the idea that a small group of people can have a tremendous effect on the world, that we can do great things and that the world is better when we do them.

More than that, I believe in adventure. I believe that you can go on a real journey and discover, in the process, not only yourself but your calling in life, your highest beliefs, and how you fit meaningfully into the world.

And heroism often comes from an adventure like that.

Everyone has an art, a skill, a purpose in life. But most of us feel like we’re lost and wandering. The irony is that by actually wandering—by leaving behind the familiar and surrounding yourself with new people and places—you put your calling in life into much clearer focus.

All travelers feel this to some degree. It’s impossible to change your surroundings without also changing the way you think. Parts of you fall away as you’re forced to abandon your assumptions. The parts that remain become stronger. You gain a more definite sense of self, one that you’ve forged on your own, on a journey.

Journeying together. Photo by Esteban.

That’s why I started my own journey. For me, it’s a calling to South America. I’m going there slowly, bit by bit, on foot and on bike. For someone else it might be North America, or Europe, or Kamchatka. It might be by train or motorcycle. It’s not that I need South America or a bicycle to discover myself. It’s that the journey, wherever you start and wherever you go, is the great spiritual practice. To travel is to transform—it is meditation without the monastery.

Is this heroism? No. Not on its own. But it prepares you. You become more willing  to be the first to act, to stand up and speak out for your principles. On a journey like this, you are on heroism’s trail. You find its spark, and that spark is generosity, and selflessness, and sacrifice. And most of all it’s the pursuit of your own excellence, of your own potential.

As the journey remakes you, you begin to do great things.

That’s why I accept companions on my adventure. I want other people to feel firsthand how even a small leg of a journey can so powerfully transform you. Not everyone is ready to go a thousand miles or more, but I believe that joining for just a short distance has a very real effect.

So I’m inviting you to join me.

This summer or fall, I pick up where I left off in Texas and head toward the border town of Laredo. That means I’ll have about 120 miles to go by bicycle. This is completely the US side of the border, and it will be delightful. It will be my final leg in the US.

This leg could be done in as little as two days or as long as four. We can set the pace to accommodate everyone who wants to come. You don’t have to be an experienced bicyclist, and the gear you’ll need is very basic.

If you want to spend a few days trying out the heroic life with me, this will be the last chance that doesn’t require travel outside the US. It’s a good way to experience the life of adventure, travel and self-challenge that I write about.

Bicycle adventure. Photo by Esteban.

Are you interested in joining me for this leg? Leave a comment and let’s start dreaming. What do you want this trip to be like?

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My book Lúnasa Days is available in paperback and on Kindle. Get your copy here.

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Lúnasa Days, Writing

Why Won’t There Be a Sequel to Lúnasa Days?

Yesterday I detailed my writing plans for 2014, including announcing a new fiction project (with demons!). Several people have asked me if there will ever be a sequel to Lúnasa Days.

There will not be.

There are a number of reasons for this. The biggest is that Lúnasa Days was always planned as a stand-alone piece. I really don’t believe in taking a one-shot story and tacking on a sequel, even if the story is popular; I think too many bad sequels have been made that way. The finished novella would have looked very different if it was building up to a longer story arc. Instead, it ends on a purposefully open note with no implied next step for any of the characters. That was on purpose.

Another reason why I won’t create  a sequel is the nature of Lúnasa Days itself. I knew I was picking a difficult tale to tell. The main character is a polytheist on a bicycle, so I accepted that readers and critics would assume it was autobiographical no matter what. (It’s really not.) And since it’s a fairly humane, literary work I knew it would be painful to write and require many revisions. That also came true.

The result is that finishing that novella was very much a case of “art from adversity.” The book became personal and difficult to finish. I’d like to think that’s the sign of a good book, but it also means it reflects a moment in time which is now passed. Like all lost relationships, it’s best to move on.

Of course, I realize that this is little comfort to anyone who wanted more with the same characters. The only complaint I’ve heard about the book is that it leaves you wanting more. As a reader myself I can understand that pain, although for a literary work I’m not so sure that’s a bad thing.

So, as much as I like Bailey and eventually learned to like Emily, any future adventures of theirs—which would surely be separate and not together—must go unchronicled.

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If you haven’t read it yet, Lúnasa Days is available in paperback and on Kindle. Get your copy here.

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Writing

What I’m Writing These Days

Having released Lúnasa Days, a few people have asked me what I’m working on next. The answer is “several things,” but until recently I wasn’t sure which ones were priorities. A big part of my sabbatical in Mexico is focusing on my writing, and over the last few weeks I’ve not only written but assembled a clearer plan. So, while definitely still subject to change, here’s a rough idea of what you can expect next.

Fiction

While I have both fiction and nonfiction projects in the works, fiction is my first priority. I have many ideas I’d love to develop, but I had to choose one to painstakingly outline, storyboard, write and publish.

So I chose the one I’m most excited about.

The book starts with one simple question: How bad would things have to get in Medieval Europe before the Pope authorized demonic magic?

The answer delves into the lives of knights who have lost their faith, friars who renounce their vows, virgin warriors of the Church, damned tomes of ancient spells, and a supernatural enemy devouring whole kingdoms.

The first chapter wipes Portugal completely off the map. Things get worse from there.

This story will be told as a series, with each episode following the arc of one character or group of characters as world-changing events unfold. The first tale follows an underpaid soldier as he’s dropped, by the dark arts, far behind enemy lines—knowing that he’ll go straight to Hell if he’s killed before he can find a priest to confess his sins.

I don’t have a title for this series yet, but I’m wide open to suggestions. I want to finish three whole episodes before I send any to press, which I hope will happen by mid-2014.

Nonfiction

Increasingly I want to take my work in the direction of serious philosophy and the effects of real life adventure. At present that involves two projects.

1. Philosophy of Adventure

Last fall, I released a preview of my long-requested book about adventure. I received extensive reader feedback on that preview version, including dozens of responses to an online survey that closed December 31. Thanks to that robust feedback, I’m reworking and expanding the book.

Originally, the book was titled Heart of Adventure. I was never totally in love with that title. It seemed better than a troped Art of Adventure, but somehow not quite right. Now I’m leaning more toward a plain, simple The Philosophy of Adventure.

Again, I’m open to title suggestions or your votes between those options.

2. My Own Story

The other nonfiction project is autobiographical. It was pointed out to me that just the first leg of my Journey–bicycling the Mississippi River–is a huge adventure by most people’s standards, and that I have dozens of stories from those hazy months. It got me really excited about writing the story of that first leg as a standalone tale, leaving it open to sequels as I reach new milestones. I can’t wait to start outlining.

But I plan to try something new with this one. Instead of indie publishing it, for the first time I’m going to pitch a book proposal to the big names. I’m interested in getting a literary agent—nothing drains me more than handling the business end of writing myself—and I think this would be the ideal project to shop to agents. An agent would then, in turn, pitch it to big publishing houses.

The time frame for the nonfiction projects is less certain than the fiction series. I would expect the tale of my bike ride to come out if and only if someone has interest in publishing it; and the Philosophy of Adventure book to come out around the end of 2014. Both are much lower priorities than the fiction work right now.

Becoming a Professional Writer

I’ve wanted to be a professional writer since I was a kid. Slowly, that dream has been becoming real. But it’s not something I’ve accomplished on my own.

After the initial success of Lúnasa Days I wrote that much of my success was because of my readers. Early on, readers encouraged me that the idea behind Lúnasa Days was a good one. A number of readers stepped up as patrons and helped finance the creation of the book, and stood by me patiently as I dealt with numerous roadblocks. I don’t think the book would have succeeded without all of the reader support.

So, to all of you reading this: thank you.

And if you don’t have it already, feel free to snag Lúnasa Days yourself:

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Available on Kindle and in paperback. Get your copy here.

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Mexico, Photographs, Vodou

Vodou in Mexico (Photo of the Week)

As promised, here is my first ever Photo of the Week. I’d like to release one every Friday, but I’m really terrible about remembering too keep my camera with me—or use it when I do have it. After all, I’m a writer, not a photographer. But I promise to do my very best to keep these coming every week from now on.

(I also promise not to use filler pics. If I end up with a week with no good material, I’ll just be honest and skip the Photo of the Week.)

So here’s the photo that gives this post its name. I like this photo because it captures how I’m not only multi-religious, but becoming a little more multi-cultural as well. I practice two religions, Vodou and Irish polytheism, and one of my first objectives in a new home is to set up a shrine. For the Vodou side I purchased a locally made ceramic flower skull:

Photo copyright 2014 André

Photo copyright 2014 André

With it is an offering candle and the necklace I got in Haiti (lovingly repaired by my mom after it broke). The necklace is dedicated to my patron lwa.

As a bonus, this week I decided to do two pictures. This second one is just a selfie, but if I ever start a band I expect this will be the cover of my first album:

Photo copyright 2014 André

Photo copyright 2014 André

What do you think? Are these any good? And what do you want to see for next week’s Photo of the Week?

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Mexico, Texas, The Great Adventure, Travel

How I Got to Mexico and What I’m Doing Here

The morning after my kayak expedition I was a new man. When Ken had gone to bed I was shivering, unshaved, salty, soaked and smelling like expired barnacles. Now I was groomed, packed and dressed to travel.

“You’re a real quick change artist,” he said.

He made us a terrific breakfast and then dropped me at the bus station. Online, Greyhound offers a ticket from Corpus Christi, Texas all the way to the city of San Luis Potosí, Mexico. But in person at the ticket booth that line doesn’t exist. It makes me wonder what would have happened if I’d paid for the ticket on their website.

Undeterred, I just asked for a ticket as far as Brownsville, the border town. I’d already been assured by a Mexican bus company that I could pick up one of their buses the rest of the way (this would also turn out to be a lie).

Me above the Emerald Gates. Photo by André.

Me above the Emerald Gates. Photo by André.

I was in fair spirits that morning. It would have been nice to go the full distance on kayak, but I felt good about my decision. It was the best decision under the circumstances. Now I have a new mission to pick up from Riviera, Texas when I resume my self-powered adventure—either by kayak or bicycle.

And this is something that people don’t get about adventure. There’s this idea that adventure is about taking dangerous risks, the biggest risks possible. Maybe that’s true for thrill-seekers but to me adventure is about minimizing risk. You’re choosing to do something challenging and unusual that will require planning, determination and endurance—why make it even harder? It’s hard enough out of the box. An adventurer’s most important skill is risk management and risk avoidance.

When I got deep into south Texas I had to transfer buses to continue on to Brownsville. I really liked the station in Harlinged because it felt like I was already in Mexico, right down to the family vending street food inside the bus depot.

Finally I reached Brownsville. The station is a giant multiplex of different bus companies. I quickly found out that no one offered direct tickets to San Luis Potosí (or anywhere); you take one bus to cross the border and then you do your bus shopping on the other side.

Well, okay.

That went well enough. No one in this station—the Texas station—spoke English, which gave me a good preview of what to expect ahead (jokingly I wondered if that meant all the station attendants on the Mexico side would speak only English, in a kind of cultural cockblock exchange, but alas international relations have not evolved that far). I grudgingly stocked up on pesos, hating to pay exchange booth fees but not wanting to risk being penniless if there was no ATM on the other side.

And I ate a giant sub sandwich. It would be my last American food for some time, and my only food break before a very, very long bus ride.

Illegal Alien

Eventually we loaded up and went over. Crossing the border was very easy and low-key. So low key in fact that no one stamped my passport. I didn’t realize it till after we pulled away, and then it was too late. All that happened at the border station was we waited around while people said they would search our bags but, as far as I can tell, did not do so. When a guard saw my US passport (the only one in the bunch) he told me to get back on the bus.

This all felt like a weird repeat of Haiti, like I’m in a pulp series and my schtick is I never go through customs right. I’m now living as an illegal alien in Mexico, I suppose.

(I could easily get work teaching English here, meaning I’d also be stealing their jobs.)

Looking out the window at the border town of Matamoros really lifted my heart. I recognized Mexican brands like Oxxo, which flooded me with nostalgia; even better, I could see home-made things and craftsmen’s shops and street food cooked by grandmas and brightly colored cement walls everywhere I looked.

At the Matamoros bus station I quickly put my limited Spanish to work: No, no taxi, thank you. No, I don’t have a ticket. San Luis Potosí. What? Wait, what? What? Speak more slowly please. Oh, you do? How much? One please.

Several hours later I boarded an express bus which would make a single all-night run down Highway 101—the most dangerous highway in Mexico, the US Department of State assures me—with Narco country on both sides.

But at least they give you a snack on the way.

Bushwhacked

Sometime around 1 a.m. I woke up, probably because of the narwhale-like snoring of the man in front of me. Staring out the window, I admired the empty scrub desert in the dark. There are no towns out there, no light pollution. It’s pretty.

The bus stopped.

I tensed up. There was no stop sign out here, and no traffic. Not even police lights as far as I could tell. I rapidly consulted my dictionary for how to say, Take the snoring man, he is very wealthy.

Then the bus tried something I couldn’t have expected: it turned around.

Bear in mind this is a two lane highway with high embankments on either side. There’s no side road or turnabout to use. The bus just sort of ground one end into the embankment, made a rocky little pivot and zoomed back out of there.

I spent the better part of the next half hour wondering what had happened. Did the driver see something? Did he get word on the radio that there was trouble ahead? Worse, is he selling us out? And even if not—then where the heck are we going to end up?

We reached a junction with another endless two-lane highway and turned onto it. I realized, then, what had happened: the driver took a wrong turn.

Chaaaale.

Rogue Cellar

I made it to San Luis Potosí. My friend Cintain just finished building his new house, lovingly dubbed the Palace of the Emerald gates—a sort of Batcave for a Taoist Bruce Wayne. I’m renting a garden level room for April and intend to use most of the time to write.

My days are slow and pleasant. It’s hard to believe that just a few weeks ago I was burning 6,000 calories a day and paddling through squalls. But this is the rhythm my life has taken on: short periods of heart-racing adventure interspersed with weeks or months of quiet, peaceful creating.

That’s the life I’ve always wanted.

I’ll be exploring San Luis Potosí over the coming month, and doing my best to document it. What do you want to know about, or see? Is there anything about the city or my life here that you want to make sure I cover?

Also, I’m notoriously bad about taking photos when I find something interesting. Instead of reaching for a camera I just daydream about the stories I can tell (I’m a writer, not a photographer). But everybody loves photos, and honestly I do too. So this Friday I’ll post my first ever Photo of the Week… which hopefully will become a tradition every Friday from now on.

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My book Lúnasa Days is available on Kindle and in paperback. It’s about travel, adventure and magic. Get your copy here.

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