Electronic mail users, hello. It’s Michael and this is Leeway, a “newsletter about creative permission” that I’ve been using to psychologically manipulate myself to make stuff. Tell me how you are.
First, some housekeeping. I’ve run low on those little what have you carved away? bios at the bottom of these letters. If you haven’t submitted one (a few sentences is best, just reply to this email), please consider doing so. It’s been an unexpected joy to receive and share them.
On to today’s letter:
It’s been a dizzying six weeks. After almost a year in Tel Aviv, I left Israel in March. I’ve since hopped to Paris, dashed to Berlin, and trained to Bordeaux to see friends I haven’t in years. It’s bittersweet to have the people in your life globally distributed. An atomized heart, tiny pieces scattered ‘round. But! A reason to go places.
This type of “fast travel” drains me. But it’s the response to a conclusion. I went to Israel wondering how a baseless Jewish identity wedded to a bizarro law of return might converge in a country of such historical significance. But Israel, despite these hopeful intentions and the necessary rigor applied to evaluating immigration, did not shake out as the place. I was discouraged, it’s true. But I tried. And that feels like something. So, I thought it might be time to take a good, long walk. And the last month was a bridge of buddies and logistics as I prepared.
I began walking the northern route of the Camino de Santiago ten days ago. Familiar? It’s part of a network of ancient pilgrimage paths to the city of Santiago de Compostela, in the northwest corner of Spain. I started in Irun, a small town at the “elbow pit” of the Bay of Biscay, where Spain’s forearm and France’s bicep meet.
Thus far, I have been mostly arrested by beauty and turned into a pintxo. The vast coastline is haunted by the infinitude of the Cantabrian mountain ranges. And the rain, while stubborn to loosen its grip on the weather forecast, has produced the awe-inspiring verdant, proliferating flora that typify the Basque country this time of year. I’m writing from a quirky beach town called Laredo in Cantabria, Basque’s bordering province to the west, where I’ve already walked some 225 kilometers.
I’m in my happy place, it’s true, but I’ve been mainly using this time to run some tests for a project I'd like to share with you.
Starting next week, I’ll be running a daily pop-up newsletter called Pilgrim Road as I walk the Francés route of the Camino de Santiago, some 800 kilometers across the north of Spain.
As we walk, we’ll encounter the life and times of the Camino: pilgrims of every age and walk of life, the hospitaleros who run the network of pilgrim-only accommodations, and the sprawling infinitude of mountain paths, mid-sized cities, remote farms and vineyards, cathedrals, flat plains, and tiny “pueblos” dotted along the undulating topography of Spain’s four northern provinces. It is a huge and life-defining journey, in and out.
The idea for this project is to open small “windows” into life on pilgrimage. And so here’s how it will work: Each day you’ll receive a dispatch from me. A “field note” with a photograph or two. It’s designed to be a lightweight and undemanding blip in your inbox. An intimate thing you’ll be happy (I think?) to peek at.
Keeping things this size and scope will also, in theory, allow me to remain in the walk. Meaning: I want to be there. Mooring myself to a daily publishing schedule could put me in a position to disrespect the experience.
I walked this same route in 2017 and went completely offline for more than a month. Radically protecting my attention in this way put me in unbroken conversation with what was right in front of me, step by step. And there are innumerable ways my experience would have been “corrupted” had I been vulnerable to the distraction factory of the internet or the hustle culture of communication born of these tools. Presence is a banal but key word. And all I’ll say, for now (because there is so much to say), is that this was the most meaningful experience of my life.
I'll be honoring these same self-imposed constraints this time around, except publishing one-way. Any responses I get from you will be waiting for me afterward.
Throughout each day, I’ll be photographing, recording ambient sounds 1, tracking trail data, and dictating audio-to-text as notes from the conversations I have and fleeting moments I witness, any historical or cultural points, and extractions from the pure, dopey stream-of-consciousness I’ll be floating down to Santiago. Ultimately, the things I’ll want to share with you at the end of each day. Is there anything you want to see? Reply to this letter, I would love for even just a piece of you to walk with me.
It’s worth noting this is a non-trivial amount of work — being “on” all day and then distilling notes, importing, culling and editing photographs, writing and editing the day’s missive, backing everything up, and publishing to Pilgrim Road. All on top of the rote procedure of checking in, unpacking, showering, doing laundry, mingling, and eating after the body and mind put up 25+ kilometer days in succession.
That said, I’m approaching this as an experiment, a test, and so it might have “bugs”. Either way, I’m thrilled and we’ll do the damn thing together. As Leeway members, you’re already signed up. And so nothing for you to do.
I’ve been thinking of almost nothing but this for weeks. Beyond what comes through each day’s newsletter, it’s going to be extremely generative in the background for future work. I’m hoping this is the start of something wonderful.
See you on the road,
 Ever hear “binaural” audio? It’s something like a virtual reality massage for your ears. I’ll be recording this type of audio with slick microphones each day to capture ambient sounds of the Camino in various contexts. Birds a-chirpin’, shoes a-walkin’, a crackling fireplace, a choir chanting something holy, laughing, crying. We’re likely to hear it all, and more. And with a pair of decent headphones, you’ll hear what I heard, as if you were there. Tiny meditations, that’s the genesis and gist of it. More on that this summer.↵
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