Adventure, André, New Orleans, Spotlight, The Great Adventure, The Heroic Life

The Crawfish Chronicles

This is an excerpt from the Wandering Dragon.

Picture by Wandering Dragon.

After having been in association with this guy for over four years, I can honestly say that he is the most cunning, determined, and foolhardy person I know… I have come to New Orleans to see him and symbolically “send him on his way” across a vast unknown that most of us would fear to tread.

He questions religion, belief, even experience, and yet sees the need and the usefulness for things like magic, ritual, and community, and does his best to ensure they reach those who need them. It’s like he wants you to believe in what you believe because you really believe it, and not for any other reason or self-serving excuse.

In his article Of Crawfish Boils, Magic Spells and Revelations, my friend and brother the Wandering Dragon (Mauricio) goes on to paint a picture of me as traveling philosopher that is at once embarrassingly accurate, and touchingly astute. This article was published weeks ago, and I hesitated to share it: would it be too self-serving? But he knows me (and my ideals) better than just about any human alive, and what he wrote keeps strumming chords in me.

If you want to get a look at what I do, and why I live, from the inside out—I don’t believe anyone has ever captured it this well.

Wandering Dragon is a blog of many topics, and you never quite know what you’ll find next. But I hope you’ll take a look at Of Crawfish Boils, Magic Spells and Revelations and leave Mau a comment or a question—tell him what you think, and dig for a little more.

Thanks brother. And thanks to all who follow me on this crazy adventure.

Adventure, The Heroic Life

Sometimes you stand alone

Photo credit: “Venture” by orangeacid

Adventure is a way of life. It is putting your ideas ahead of your abilities, and your dreams ahead of your fears.

Before you begin to adventure you are mocked, judged, criticized: that will never work! But once you take your first step the whole world is rooting for you, the people you meet are amazed, they want you to succeed.

Not every single one of them, but enough.

Along your way you’ll find the lowest times, the deepest pains, fears in your soul that you did not know you harbored. You will look around, gasping, for anyone to blame—and there will only be yourself.

At these times you must pull forward, one hand over one hand, until you can walk again. You will want to give up, but adventure has its own siren call, and you will perhaps keep going. First you must forgive yourself.

You will meet companions. Some whom you trust, some whom you don’t; some likable and some grotesque; you will learn to check your judgment, to silence it, and not to mock others as you were once mocked. Sometimes the people least like yourself will be the ones you love the most.

You will enjoy nights of fatal bliss, nights beside a friend you will never see again: one you understand perfectly, and who understands you. You will speak in hushed tones like two thieves planning conquest. And you will know that, no matter where you go, you will always find your kin.

And when you kiss! When you kiss, it will never be halfway. You will grab them and possess each other.

Then you will learn to talk to storms, winds, streams, and wooded glens: the world will become an old chum, a well-known companion in her own right. You will learn her temperaments, and speak to her not as shaman but as lover. Her rhythms will beat warm against your skin, her temperaments endearing.

The world has both good and bad. When others run in fear, you will walk peacefully toward the wind.

And your fearlessness comes in. Not rashness but a knowing smile. You pull the arrow from your side and tend your sewing kit. You give shelter to those who shrink, you forgive those who run. Sometimes you stand alone, sometimes you are creatures of legend.

This is a simple process. It is not elusive. Adventure gives you hardship, victory, and unshakable peace. It is the practice of heroes.

Can anyone adventure? Yes but—no one will ask you. Every force will hold you back except your heart. If your heart aches for it, the door is open. Adventure is open.

It is the practice of heroes.


You might also enjoy my essay The day I had nothing left.

Spotlight, The Heroic Life, Travel

I told a friend I would never be happy

Used without permission from Jodi Ettenberg.

This is an excerpt from an essay by Jodi Ettenberg.

A long time ago, I told a friend that I would never be happy in life. That my brain was too whirry and too busy thinking of all the things I could/should/will be doing and never able to focus on the present. How can someone be happy if they’re thinking of something else all the time? In the last few years, however, I came to accept the fact that this overarching, fuzzy idea of happiness couldn’t be my goal. It was unrealistic, and I felt that I was failing  - people were writing to say “oh, you’re living the dream!” — but internally I was struggling with what I was doing and why I was doing it.

What I was feeling made sense given that I got here by accident (as in, I didn’t quit my job to be a travel writer or seek happiness), but I still needed to parse through my thoughts and also take stock of who I had become after many years of travel.

* * *

I use the term “building a life” a lot lately. It’s become my preferred expression to discuss my choices because there is such weighted agency in it – I, Jodi Ettenberg, chose this path. It has been a fallback to say I got here by accident — factually accurate, no less — but relying on kismet or coincidence also lets me off the hook for the hard and very damaging decisions I made in leaving New York. I left a place and people I loved, and a career that was going well for me.  It’s true that I didn’t do this to “be” happy or because I was burned out. But regardless, I did it because I wanted to see the world, and the pull of that otherness – not just to see it on a short vacation, but to live it and get my hands dirty – it drew me in. It became bigger than me, a restlessness that corroded. It grew and it grew until I had to act on it; ignoring it was just hurting people around me and myself.

When I left for what I thought would be a year, I found that the restlessness dissipated. I wasn’t looking to travel around the world indefinitely. That’s never been an aim. However, the restlessness was replaced by an extraordinary curiosity for just about everything I saw. I wanted to build a life around that curiosity. All of the work I do – the consulting, the food writing, the blog – is to facilitate that, and to enable me to see and experience more of the little things in life. In acknowledging this shift away from restlessness and toward learning, I came a long way to accepting more of where I am today. I’m making choices only for me, which is not something everyone has available to them.

Jodi is different than other travel bloggers. She speaks about her own experience and doesn’t try to sell you on anything. Here, she really inspires me by showing that travel really does work as a practice—one that helps you find your purpose and live by your values. And that means it also works as a lifestyle. 

This is one of my favorite articles about travel. I hope you will read the rest and share your thoughts. 


In the last year you have helped me launch an adventure, complete a novella (currently in editing) and fund a community atelier of magic. You are the best readers in the world. Thank you. 

Adventure, Meditation, Religion, The Great Adventure, The Heroic Life, Travel

I’ll keep dancing

“Red Boat” by Odilon Redon

I’m going to keep on dancing.

I have been dancing for a long time. A lot of people watch. Some smile. They like the way I dance.

Others think I look stupid.

Sometimes people get very upset. There is no dancing here! I am going to keep on dancing, sir.

I’m on display, but that is not why I dance.

Because this isn’t exhibition: this is practice. I am testing the idea that travel is itself a spiritual exercise, one as profound as meditation, as meaningful as prayer, as worthy as the study of myth—perhaps more direct than any of these.

The premise of my journey is that we can meet the gods, therefore let’s go out and find them. This is a practice open to anyone, an alchemy of the soul wrought with sun, wind and rain.

I will keep dancing, I will dance forever. I will dance alone while others stare from afar. But as I dance I smile. I enjoy the dance. The dance is fun; it is good. Perhaps others wish to feel the same joy that I feel. Then run out beside me, dance too—dance your own way, differently from me. I am here, and I will keep dancing.

Adventure, New Orleans, The Great Adventure, The Heroic Life

The view from her window is just like Vietnam

I’ve never been to Vietnam. But I see from her window. Layers of tropic plants bright as noon with a cloud-stained sky. Past the trees, the white porch of a French mansion. The French were here, once; the French were there, once.

She has no curtains. Any French colonel could see us nude. But the colonel is away. He has not been home in some time.

This street is forgotten. It’s the last road to the Zone, the place where the sidewalk ends. Only memories live here, and ghouls, santurists and painters.

This one is a painter.

Strange noises break the hum. A squeak, the clash of a shutter. Once this was a swamp. Then came the wealthy. We feast on their leavings, like the rats who never left.

I look at her in that sunlight. It’s a cold white light, a half-spring half-rain light. Her den smells like linseed. She has 80 grand of furniture, made by her own hands. She’s not selling.

She looks at me and smiles. I know you, I think.

I can’t say the words. What if they’re a lie? I would never lie to a woman but I do lie to myself. What if the words, the dreams are wrong?

I lean back on the bed. In June she goes north; in June I go south. As with all good romance, we are under the threat of destruction. But one doesn’t promise the other.

She mumbles. Maybe “I know you.” I didn’t hear. I hold her hand and I breathe, sweetly drumming, sweetly drumming. One day we’ll be too old for ghost mansions. She’ll have kids and a more reliable man. I’ll have stories and an empty bed. Her great-grandkids will forget her name. Stories get forgotten, too.

Every wave recedes to the ocean, even the Flood, even the Flood.

It all goes to the ocean in the end.

Adventure, The Great Adventure, The Heroic Life, Travel

To Wander Is the Purpose

Photo by Matso

I’m in a house. One place for six months, but I’m not settled down. My house feels strange, alien, sometimes uncomfortable. Why have I signed a contract that says I must be in one place? Why have I stopped for six months, when the windy road in the morning is all that calls to me?

Renunciation. I never loved that word, not as such, but I gave up my home, my belongings, and my job. I even gave up my temple. A higher path called to me, and these things are no ladder to reach it. As any backpacker knows, the first thing you do is chuck stuff. You packed too much, the bag’s too heavy. A journey of the spirit begins the same way.

But I saw this chucking as pragmatic. It’s not that I didn’t want a house; I just couldn’t afford to keep one and travel. The road says otherwise. It turns out, New Orleans teaches me, I don’t want a house at all.

Religion, too, I’ve renounced. Not denied—I will always abide my vows. But the path of the repeat customer, the path of the teacher-and-student, the path of community celebration, these are not going to take me up the river. I adore them; they are fine tools. I do not, will not mock religion. But when I see the man who still uses these tools, I see a man with a different face, on a different road with unsimilar hopes.

Some days I don’t seek the divine at all, but I won’t pretend I found it.

In the morning my creed catches in my throat. I make sacrifice, I sit before my god—what do I say? What is the oath, the mission I will swear today?

I am on a mission, but I don’t know what it is. I don’t know the purpose of my journey, or why I move on. So I’m a wanderer. A dirty, aimless wanderer.

On Esplanade there are kids in brown pants and dirty coats. They’re travelers. Not one of them states a purpose. They tell jokes and ask for money. People spit on them.

So spit on me.

I wear a nice shirt, I wear a designer wool jacket. These kids ask me for money. I’m not their colleague. But I am the outsider just like them. My feet need sand, just like them.

Is it wrong to wander without purpose? Of course: it means you do nothing for Society, and that makes society frown. If you’re not trying to get somewhere, you might not work too hard to get there. A wanderer is next to a freeloader. That’s a sin.

No one loves a sinner except rock songs and reverends. So when I declared my journey I declared a purpose. Purpose is poetry, purpose is soul. I said: meet the gods. 

I hope to. But this is not something you plan. There are no steps to take toward it. When you get up in the morning and make a little list, what do you write: meet the gods? Go the gods’ house? Set up a god call?

There is no bridge to where I’m going. I can’t have faith in any path. So my faith is in the journey.

The most selfish journey leads to enlightenment.

To wander is to see the invisible. It is to place yourself instantly out of the social order, out of normal life. The tourist, at least, fills a recognizable role; but the perpetual traveler departs the prescription of security and stability that society preaches.

From this vantage, the pain and the joy of human life come into tremendous focus. We value kindness more, and become kinder ourselves; we lose more, and learn to live with loss. If I had to design a seminary, I would say it’s this: travel. If I had to design an art school, I would say it’s this: travel.

How do you find the gods? You find yourself.

How do you find yourself? Run.

Religion, The Heroic Life

I Abandon Refuge in the Dharma

Photo by Miss Cartier

I abandon refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha.

I exit the temple door. There is nowhere to spend three jewels, no beggar to receive them.

Merit earned by chanting cannot be given to those who do not chant.

I abandon refuge in the Buddha:

To exist is not to suffer,

It is to struggle, and that’s different.

I abandon refuge in the Dharma:

To quiet your desire cannot save you,

because desire is not the enemy.

I abandon refuge in the Sangha:

Their ship is built to sail a thousand lifetimes,

but the shoal will hit in 60 years.

There is no soul in this frame,

It is only earth and blood.

It hungers and I feed it,

It lusts and I turn to another.

I take risks for love, I walk across the world.

With blistered feet I sing joyful songs.

I abandon refuge,

I exit the temple door.

Let no man want what he already has.

Adventure, The Heroic Life, Travel

How You Can Share the Heroic Life

To chase the Heroic Life is to adventure. To live free, travel as you wish, pursue your art, gleefully face challenges and—always—carry your ideals above you.

This may be a solitary life.

It has been for me. I have a vision of changing that. Seekers, first two or three, then six or eight, then dozens, who travel in loose bands to seek out challenge and choose their fates.

And what will these brave, questioning, wanderlust souls need?


The Heroic Life is not the only way. For every itinerant adventurer there must be a thousand happy householders. The myth of my generation is that everyone wants to travel, everyone wants to adventure. But they don’t. For some it’s not practical, it holds no appeal.

But everyone can share in the Heroic Life. Wandering or settled, errant or rooted, daring or careful: everyone is part of the story.

Sharing What We Have

One conceit of the Heroic Faith is that travel is a spiritual practice. It changes the course of lives, teaches what nothing else will teach, and leads the wanderer to a sense of purpose.

I believe that. I live it.

And I learned that my travels don’t just change me—they can change the people around me.

I came into towns sweaty, tired, feeling broken and ready to sleep. I didn’t feel inspiring. I was grateful for what people gave me, and for what basic comforts I could bring with me.

In the morning I was told: We will never forget you.

In some way that I can’t plan or understand, the very fact of what I’m doing affects people.

I experienced the other side of this, too. In St. Louis and Vicksburg I stayed with other travelers. One, a brilliant photographer, had quit her job to travel around the United States taking pictures. In some ways her story is so similar to mine, in other ways so different (she’s a better planner, for one). But just meeting her and knowing that she was on her quest inspired me, filled me with ideas and hopes.

Travelers have momentum. And we share.

An Even Exchange

If you are not inclined, able, or ready to drop your lifestyle and travel, here is how you can share the Heroic Life: help a traveler.

When you help a traveler, two things happen.

First, you make an immediate and dramatic impact in a human life. Travelers of all kinds, wealthy and boot-strapped alike, have uncertainty in their lives. No amount of money makes up for the freak storm, the broken axel, the missed connection. And no grand hotel can promise that most basic sustenance, human contact.

Helping a traveler reminds them that they are not alone in the world.

At the same time, the traveler has a chance to share with you something they couldn’t share with anyone else. There is no connection as profound as an evening with someone on a different path. When I stayed with a fierce conservative, I felt no hatred for his politics: only a deep sympathy for the loss of his wife. He taught me lessons about love, grief, and the bravery to carry on.

When you first open your door to a traveler, they will be hesitant. They want to make sure they don’t overstep, want to check that you don’t feel obligated.

When they see that the offer is made with love, the traveler will feel a sense of refuge. Something as simple as a shower or a beer can be a poignant reminder of the goodness in the world.

And as they replenish they will begin to share with you, and learn eagerly what you have to share.

We carry our gods with us, but where do we find them? In the voices and actions of the people who treat us with love.

There are many ways to help a traveler. Pull over on the roadside when you see a breakdown. Talk to backpackers, bicyclists and hobos when you see them. Register with and offer your floor or couch or spare bed for a night.

In the end, no one is a hero. But we can always choose to help each other. That is the great strength of our species, and the reason I love humanity.

Has anyone ever helped you when you didn’t expect it?