Donna and I start many conversations this way now.
When I learned that “Rain” was the theme for TheMoth.org’s Los Angeles open mike StorySLAM event, Donna and I bought tickets. Once there, I put my name in the hat and was one of 10 lucky storytellers selected to go on stage and tell a 5 minute story (plus a 1 minute grace period) based on that theme.
The Moth stories must be true, told live, without notes. Three teams of three audience members judge the storyteller’s telling of the tale, based on the teller’s sticking to the five-minute time frame, sticking to the theme and having a story that has a conflict and a resolution. Winners of StorySLAMs advance to a GrandSLAM event, with a different theme and more time to tell their stories. I came in second by a fraction of a percentage point.
No big deal. Not why I was there.
You know from reading my blahg how much I like to write about the Camino de Santiago. The Moth gave me a chance to talk about it. From behind a microphone! (Deja vous all over again from my years of professional speaking.)
I’d forgotten how rewarding it is to make people laugh. Not to mention make Donna choke up just a tad at the memory.
Click the image of The Moth logo to watch the 6 minute video.
P.S. If you love listening to or telling stories, I recommend The Moth Radio Hour Podcast, available wherever you listen to podcasts.
Marcia is sitting across the card table from me as we play canasta last Fall. She mentions ever so off-handedly that she read a great “feel good” book over the summer.
“It’s called The Guncle. It’s funny and takes place here in Palm Springs.”
“The WHAT?” I ask, as I organize my cards.
“The Guncle. Stands for Gay Uncle. Or GUP—Gay Uncle Patrick. He ends up taking care of his young niece and nephew while their dad is in rehab in Rancho Mirage. Really funny and sweet,” she says as she discards a four of spades into the plastic tray.
Always looking for a good book to listen to, especially one both husband John and I can listen to together on road trips, I buy the Audible version of The Guncle. We listen to it on our drive to and from Colorado for Christmas.
Fast forward to February.
I suggest The Guncle to the two PGA West book clubs I belong to and volunteer to host at my house. So long as we do a first-ever combined meeting of the book reading minds, I add. Which gets me thinking. . .the author, Steven Rowley, lives in Palm Springs. Wouldn’t it be great if I could get him to come speak to us?
Squeals of “Oh yes!” from the Popcorn Book Club ladies make me realize I had said it aloud. I have one month to make it happen.
Or maybe not.
I visit his website, StevenRowley.com and see that all the contact information is via publicists. Three different publicists, one for each of his three novels. I learn movie rights are sold for each of them.
“Dang. This guy is big time,” I mutter to my husband and then tell him all I’ve learned.
“Good luck. You’ll never get him to come a little book club meeting,” John says.
I raise my eyes above my laptop screen, give him The Glare, and then do my best Barney Stinson imitation and shout, “Challenge accepted!” (Google it, if you didn’t watch Neil Patrick Harris in How I Met Your Mother.)
Patrick, aka GUP in the book, doesn’t do his own “sosh,” aka social media. Maybe Steven Rowley does?
LinkedIn lists 10 Steven Rowleys. None are authors. On Facebook I find the author Rowley (and a bus driver Rowley). I scroll and scroll the author’s page and agree with the eleventy-million fans who are commenting on his books. But I don’t want to approach him through a fan page.
Instagram for the win.
I scroll and scroll Insta (that’s what the cool kids call it, ya’ know). I discover a photo of Steven with ladies from the Carlsbad Book Club. Hope springs eternal.
Instagram? Hmmm. I think I have an account. Egad. Ancient history.
I better post a few pictures from this decade. Two cute pictures of Rusty, my labradoodle, because Steven is a dog lover, too. And one of the view from brunch at Ernie’s Bar and Grill, because “Brunch is awesome.” (Guncle Rule #1.)
I’m ready. I post a comment to his post about The Best Bookstore in Palm Springs. (That’s its real name.) I tell him that The Guncle is a fan favorite in PGA West and that it’s the March selection for two, count ‘em, TWO, book clubs here.
“I’m honored,” he replies a few days later.
“He replied! He replied!” I holler as I happy-dance around our island kitchen counter, taunting my husband. “He replied!”
“Is he coming to book club?” John asks skeptically.
“I haven’t asked yet. I only posted a comment. And he REPLIED!”
I not-so-calmly wait until the next morning to craft the official “ask” and share my email address via Insta. (Instagram, remember?) He replies again!
Holy cow, this might just happen. I’m trying not to hyperventilate.
I provide details of date, time, location, and format. Format being the Popcorn Book Club model in which the hostess (me) provides wine, water and popcorn. Period. After all, I add to my message, some of us consider popcorn a meal.
“I have you on my calendar,” he confirms, signing it “Team Popcorn Is a Meal.”
The RSVPs start pouring in.
On the day of the event, I haul every piece of moveable furniture I own into the living/dining room area, saving the best upholstered “throne-like” chair for Steven. Yes, I tell a couple of ladies, bring a few folding chairs, just in case more than 22 people show up.
And show up they do. Good thing I created a make-shift reserved parking sign so that Steven wouldn’t have to walk too far.
Despite being a Doubting John as to whether I could persuade Steven to come, I allow my husband to attend book club–as bartender. Which means asking what color of wine a woman wants and then pouring it. (Meetings sans authors are pretty much DIY when it comes to beverage pouring.)
As the ladies are scooping popcorn into their red and white striped boxes and claiming their seats, I am focused on the front door. I peek past the crowd, through the courtyard gate. Every 17 seconds or so. Why am I so nervous?
I confide to a few gals that my hands are shaking. Me, the Blah Blah Blah lady who hasn’t met a microphone she doesn’t love to use. This feels more like I’m an excited teenager waiting for my prom date to arrive.
Arrive Steven does. To fanfare, applause and caftans.
Now for the best part.
To get the dialogue started, I ask the “audience” to share a memorable moment from the book. Something that sticks with them, perhaps long after having read the book. A laugh, a tear, a gasp. One by one we share snippets of scenes or dialogue. (Don’t worry, no spoilers here.)
And Steven punctuates the conversation first with thanks, and then with some “behind the curtain” comments as to how and why he crafted something a certain way. His thank you is not about accepting the adulation of his readers. Well, a little bit, maybe. He also shared that it means a lot to a writer to hear what sticks.
“Being a writer is actually quite solitary work. With stand-up comedy, you know immediately when a joke lands. With a book, I can crack myself up writing a scene, but how do I know if anyone else thinks it’s funny? he says.
I ask about Grant, Patrick’s 5-year-old nephew.
“Why did you give him a lisp?” I think I know the answer—because it’s endearing, adds to the little guy’s vulnerability and sets up some humor, too. I’m right on all accounts.
But wait, there’s more “behind the curtain” to it than that.
“I knew there’d be a lot of dialogue, and I wanted a way to distinguish the kids without having to keep writing ‘he said, she said,’ over and over,” Steven explained.
Brilliant! I had not thought of that.
The bartender asks how much of the story is based on Steven’s own life experiences and family.
Steven volunteers that yes, he has nieces and nephews. Yes, he has a sister, but she’s not as mean as Clara, the sister in the book. Yes, he lost a very dear college friend to breast cancer. (Again, not a spoiler.)
“What about Patrick, the Guncle himself?” a caftaned fan asks. “How much of you, Steven, is there in Patrick?”
“Certainly some, but Patrick is richer, more famous and more handsome than me,” he teased.
Wrong on the latter, many ladies voice. And once the movie is made, wrong on the former as well.
“Someday, we’ll watch you on the red carpet and sigh, ‘We knew him when. . . .’” I predict.
The late afternoon flies by.
We hear more about the recording of the Audible version of The Guncle. Steven doesn’t just read the book, I say. He performs it, creating theater of the mind like no other, I gush, as Audible alumni ladies nod their agreement.
We know we can’t keep him much longer, so we assemble for a group photo with caftan-clad club members in the front row. Individual book signing and photos and farewells follow.
As Steven leaves, I hand him a box of popcorn for the road, hoping it truly isn’t his evening meal. When I see him drive away from the curb, and I know he can’t see me standing in the entry way, I close the door and turn my back to lean on it.
Challenge complete! And oh, so much better than going to prom.
If you’ve been keeping up with my blog posts as Donna and I walked the 500 miles of the Camino de Santiago, you may have noticed that my Mom, Patricia (Pat) Stoner, commented every time. She was often the first to do so!
Many of you have shared with me how much you enjoyed reading her comments.
Well, TODAY, Thursday, Sept. 29 is her 90th (yes, ninetieth) birthday.
She doesn’t do Facebook, and I would just love it if you could enter a comment here, wishing her, “Happy Birthday, Pat” today. I’ll make sure she sees them!
I can’t believe it has taken me more than two years to write/post this. But it did. Rather than berate myself for taking so long, I choose to think of it as answering two questions I hear frequently: 1) Tell me about that Camino thing you did, and 2) What did you do during COVID restrictions?
Abecedarian. Straightforward, simplified; in literature, a poem or essay arranged in order according to the alphabet, often written about a single topic. This blog post, for example, re: my lessons learned from walking 300 miles of the Camino de Santiago, Burgos to Santiago de Compostela, September 10-October 3, 2019.
Backpacks. We carried daypacks with our rain gear, first aid kits, snacks, water and a few clothing layers that we figured we might need to don during the day. Each pack weighed maybe eight pounds with the the built-in bladder full of water. The tour operator, www.Caminoways.com, did the heavy lifting when they moved our luggage each day. They allowed 40 pounds each, and we happily complied. However, the transporter leaves the suitcases in the “lobby,” which means we had to heave and hoist our belongs to our room, 90% of which were up a staircase or two, in lodging sans elevators. Note to self: If there’s a next time, fewer shoes.
Chant. A repeated, rhythmic phrase; to recite something in a monotonous, repetitive tone. On the Camino, chanting is to a steep ascent what LaMaze breathing is to childbirth.
Donna started chanting on Day 3. We stopped at what we thought was the top of a steep stretch, only to discover the “optical delusion” that it was a curve. I was panting, and Donna shared that she found it helpful to set a tolerable pace with a silent or whispered God-bless-so-and-so chant. After I’d covered immediate and extended family at least thrice—and I still wasn’t to the top—I changed my chant. “I can do this, if You help me, I can do this, if You help me. . . .” Can you hear the rhythm of my hiking poles tapping out the pace?
Elevation gain. We soon learned that how far we were to walk each day was only one piece of information. The critical piece was elevation gain/loss. Uphill is slow and exhausting. Downhill may be faster, but it really boils down to being out of breath, or having sore knees
FAQ. Let’s do it Jeopardy style. The answer to the most frequently asked question we get is: Usually, in a roadside bar or behind a bush. Ladies, when you gotta go, you get over pee fright fast.
Go with someone you love. (Donna wrote that. Ahhhhhh.)
Hello. Used as a greeting or to begin a phone conversation in English-speaking countries. It is rarely, if ever, said or heard on the Camino. “Buen Camino” is the universal hello, farewell, have-a-nice-day, take care, nice-to-meet-you greeting used on the Camino. I watched the Martin Sheen movie, “The Way” maybe three months after completing the Camino in 2019. When I heard the characters say, “Buen Camino,” I gasped, choked up and almost cried. I remembered it can also be used as a blessing.
In Case of Emergency. Thankfully, we never had to call the 24/7 phone number provided by Camino Ways.
Jesus Calling. One or the other of us read the day’s message aloud before we walked. (It’s a daily devotion book that is written as if Jesus called and left you a voicemail.) I remember getting goosebumps many a morning because the message was perfect for that day’s anticipated adventure. For instance, on the day we walked into Santiago, He left us this message: When the path before you looks easy and straightforward, you may be tempted to go it alone instead of relying on Me. This is when you are in the greatest danger of stumbling. Ask My Spirit to help you as you go each step of the way. Never neglect this glorious Source of strength within you.
Kilometer. A metric unit of measurement equal to 1,000 meters. Everything is measured in Ks in Spain, not to mention the rest of the world. So stop thinking in miles. Long before we left, Donna and I switched our FitBits to Ks. We walked at least 10K a day, every day, to train for the Camino and averaged 20 to 25K a day on the Camino. That’s about 12-15 miles a day, for those of you ignored the third sentence.
Lodging. The Camino Ways people booked our reservations ahead of time, so we never had to wonder where we would lay our heads at night. We always had a room with a bathroom to ourselves, and twin beds. Our favorites were the small “gatehouses” which were family-owned and often in old stone buildings or farm houses.
Manana en la manana. In Spanish, it means “tomorrow morning.” On the Camino, it came to mean, “stay present in this moment, right here, right now.” Someone asked Donna how far we’d be walking the next day, and she replied, “Don’t know. However far it is, we’ll walk it tomorrow. ” Now that we’re home, when we find ourselves getting a little agitated about something—typically something outside our control—one or the other of us will say, “Manana en la manana.” Stay present.
Now and then we questioned our sanity. Who’s idea was this, anyway? Why in the world would anyone do this more than once? Specifically, these whines were muttered the day after O’Cebreiro.
O’Cebreiro. From the Latin meaning “oh, so steep, you think you are going to die.” It was a long day to begin with (31K), with the last 6K essentially being straight up a rocky, craggy forest “trail.” Elevation gain, 3000 feet in just 6K. From my blog post that day:
When we got to the very last hamlet before the top, a hamlet called Laguna, my brain was boiling and I was stumbling and dizzy and doing all I could not to burst into tears. Donna steered me into a cafe/bar and I sat down in a chair and began taking off my clothes. I was that hot and sweaty. I stopped at the base layer of a tank top and my pants. I fanned myself with the menu. I blew cool air into my tank top. I don’t know where I threw my hat, but my hair was dripping sweat and I distributed it with my fingers through my chemo curls thinking it will just perk them up. Donna bought a Kas Limon (like sparkling lemonade) and I downed it, along with a banana. I think I scared the hostess/bartender. She brought bread (which I couldn’t eat because of the whole gluten thing) topped with salami. I told her no thank you, I can’t in Spanish, and Donna commanded in English, “Eat the salami!”
I did. Eventually I calmed. Donna stopped staring at me with worried eyes. We walked into town shortly before dark. Exhausted.
Pilgrim’s meal. Three course meal offered as “el menu del dia” in restaurants, bars and lodging. You get a starter, main and dessert. Sometimes you get a choice in each category, sometimes not. Good thing I like chicken. We ate almost every dinner at our lodging, and our Pilgrim’s Meal included either a bottle of water or bottle of wine. We chose the latter. Duh.
Quiet. Did we ever run out of things to talk about? No. Although we did choose to be silent more often toward the end of our journey.
Rain in Spain fell mainly on whatever plain we happened to be hiking on. We always carried our rain jackets and pants with us in our day packs, and our hiking shoes were waterproof, so we were never caught by surprise. Well, except that time we decided to put on our jackets. Only our jackets. Not our rain pants. After all, it was kinda warm, and our Lululemon leggings were quick drying. Biggest mistake of the trip. The rain fell hard, soaked our pants, then trickled down our legs and into our boots. Waterproof on the outside, not on the inside. New rule: when you don the jacket, you drag on the rain pants. No matter what.
Stress. A state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances. Yes, there were days with adverse conditions. Almost every day required we walk a demanding distance. We handled the physical stress with “legs up the wall” yoga pose the minute we got to our room, Salon pas and perhaps ibuprofen on occasion. Otherwise, for me, the biggest surprise on the Camino was how little emotional stress there was. We had one thing and one thing only to do every day: Walk. OK, we also had to make sure we got our Compostela stamped at least twice. Easy peasy.
Teddy Roosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” [See “W” below.]
United. Joinedtogether for a common purpose, or by common feelings. It didn’t matter why you were walking the Camino, your age, gender, pronouns, political party, race or religion. It didn’t matter whether you had reservations or carried your life on your back. You sense the unity in your soul, your heart, your head and your gut. When we arrived in Santiago, there was an energy I’d never experienced, let alone shared with so many strangers before. It was elation and exhaustion and a bit of unexplained somberness all rolled into laughing, crying, hugging and happy dancing. Donna and I both voiced the opinion that perhaps world leaders should all walk the Camino.
Vaseline saved our feet from blisters. We slathered it on every morning and then put on our dual layer Wright socks. (That’s the brand, aptly named!) The theory is that the two layers of the sock rub against each other, instead of rubbing your skin raw. Worked perfectly, except for that soggy day of slogging into Sahagun. [See “R” above.]
Walk your own Camino. That’s not a recommendation to book your own trip. It’s my revelation from the trip I took. “Walk your own Camino” means stop comparing yourself, Terri.
So what if Donna is older than you, doesn’t play tennis or do High Intensity Interval Training and seems to be casually strolling up the Oh-So-Steep cascade of rocks, pointing out flora, fauna and a stupid white horse in a pasture while you can barely breathe, let alone speak, turn your head or do anything other put one foot in front of the other? Walk your own Camino!
So what if throngs of people start their Camino in Sarria and walk “only” the last 100K? Of course they’re energized, perky and can pass you in no time wearing 40-pound backpacks. You’re having your luggage shuttled each day, remember? Walk your own Camino!
Her hiking boots are, indeed, very cute. Size 7, maybe? You’re the only one who thinks yours look like clown shoes. Walk your own camino!
Why? Because “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Thank you, Teddy Roosevelt.
X is the symbol for the unknown in algebra. Donna and I learned to look for and leave room for some of it every day. The unknown. Not algebra.
Yes, I want to do it again.
In fact I leave August 12, 2022. This time, the whole 500 miles (800K) from St. Jean Pie de Port, France, to Santiago de Compostela. With Donna, of course.
Zenith. The time at which something is most powerful or successful. For me, our arrival in Cathedral square. Which is where Ken and Rose from Canada—a couple we met night No. 1 and encountered off and on along the way—stayed an extra day in Santiago just to greet us when Donna and I walked in. We burst into tears because we thought we’d never see any of the friends we’d made along the way again. Joy, praise, laughs and love made the journey a powerful success.
At the turn of the century, after a career in public relations, marketing, advertising and branding, I started yet another business as a professional speaker. First challenge was what to name the business. Anything with “Langhans” in the name would be too difficult to remember or pronounce. (Hint: It rhymes with “bang pans.”) And my maiden name is Stoner, so ‘nuf said there.
My presentations were all about helping people make their message stand out, get results and not be boring or blah. Hence the birth of BlahBlahBlah.us and an email address that earned me the nickname of The Blah Blah Blah Lady.
I retired from speaking about six months before Covid made headlines and changed the speaking world forever. I still own the BlahBlahBlah.us url, though, and I still have a lot of anything-but-blah things to say. I mean write. Here in my Blahg. (See what it did there!)
Travels with Terri?
Yes, right now the Blahg is mostly about my three trips to Spain to walk various routes and portions of the Camino de Santiago. But I’ve made space to share other stories, thoughts and musings, too.
So stay tuned. Or better yet, subscribe back there on the Home page.