Out from Under Myself

January 14.  I write that to keep track.  I’ve been sick for almost exactly two weeks, and in a sense I feel like I’ve missed 2012.  I’m in the city now, that singular city, Manhattan. Standing before my MacBook Air at a tall, chairless table in Le Pain Quotidien, the kind of table meant to encourage executives to quaff their coffee and tourists to eat their croissant and then to get the hell out, I begin, suddenly, at long last, to write . . .

I was so happy to get into the city again, after over two weeks away.  If I didn’t get a visual of John Travolta walking the streets to the sound of “Stayin’ Alive”, that’s about how I felt.  Sometimes I can really feel the heels of my shoes hit the sidewalk, and at about 40th Street and 7th Avenue I was having one of those moments.  When I realized my gloves were missing and turned to see my bus heading down 7th I was just starting to listen, on my iPhone, to the guitars of Jet’s blistering “Are You Gonna Be My Girl?”  What are the odds that, just when I need to sprint after a bus, on comes a soundtrack song from the Ski Dance Drive mix?

I leapt into the street, outran a taxi, and ran down the bus.  Whew!  That the gloves weren’t there (I’d left them on the first bus) hardly dampened my enthusiasm.

Afterward, I posted a photo on Facebook, of a different bus, which sparked general outrage that I would stop to take a picture of my prey before running it down.  One person suggested the gloves must have been lined with rabbit fur, but the suggestion is patently ridiculous.  They were actually lined with down harvested from a hundred virgins’ inner thighs.

As I continued my walk to the New York Public Library, I reached into my change pocket and without looking gave the contents to a sad-looking seated man who wasn’t even begging.  Outside the library I would later set up a recurring donation to Somali refugees.

And I walked east on 40th Street and soaked up the energy of the city.

Why didn’t I do this more often over the last two weeks?  Was I thatsick?

Bryant Park Grill, with the New York Public Library behind it

You might wonder – well, you probably aren’t wondering, but lately I have been so self-absorbed I can readily imagine you thinking about me almost as much as I do – you might wonder, I was saying, if I, a coach, made New Year’s resolutions this year.  In most prior years I’d have said no.  This year, I have been putting together ideas, so I have a sort of plan, but it’s not done.  It can’t be done until I figure out what the purpose of 2012 is, other than to scrawl on the wall another tally mark of years gone by.

My resolutions, that is, like me, are a work in serious progress.  Whither Cameron?  There are no yellow arrows here.  “Snap back to reality, oh, there goes gravity,” sings Eminem as I write this.  Exactly.  Back from a camino, or path, with clear markings on it, I am still on this latest quest, the kind of quest outlined in the hero’s journey of myth and cinema.

When I left Bend in August, my plan, which I’d arrived at after visiting several cities last summer, was to move to the winner, San Francisco, sometime after I got back.  That “sometime,” I suppose, holds the rub.  In August I had no idea when my house would sell, but there I was, on an October 14 morning in Galicia, three days from the end of the Camino, executing the closing documents on my house and signing most of my considerable down payment into the recessiosphere.  My wonderful Bend real estate agent, Kelly Neuman, hired movers to pack up my things and put them in storage somewhere in Bend.

At this point in telling my story, the language I overhear myself using with people is revealing:

I sold my house out from under myself.

I find it incredibly useful to watch thoughts, and to deconstruct them like a committee comprised of a literary critic, a psychoanalyst, a lawyer, and a writer (Freud was arguably all of these, the lawyer courtesy of his late 1800s Viennese Judaism).  The metaphor I used – out from under myself — told me I believed, or felt as if, I had knocked the foundations of my life out from under myself, the way you might kick away a ladder you’re standing on.

When I got back to New York on October 22, I wasn’t ready to go back to Oregon on the October 25 flight I’d scheduled.  I felt drained to contemplate it.  Besides, what would I do there?  My life, including my BMW, was in storage.  The Land “World’s Most Expensive Ski Accessory” Rover I listed for sale on Craigslist.  And if I would ever be ready to move to San Francisco, I knew it was not anytime soon.

After all the metaphorical running, running, of the past year-and-a-half, after the literal walk through Spain and jaunt through Portugal, I was, at last, without anything in particular to do.  Oh, the coaching continued, but it was the next mission, the next purposeful and deliberate search for meaning, that was not clear.  And as I tell clients, clarity is confidence, and confidence clarity.  They are really two ways of describing the same phenomenon; you’ll never have one without the other.

In hindsight, it was probably unreasonable to expect that I would attain that clarity and confidence so quickly.  Right.  So, I’ll get back from the trip and I’ll be totally done with the past and completely clear about the future and life will just sort of proceed from there.  There are measurable steps in life’s major transitions, and I was still, on all the evidence, engaged in some form of rest, recovery, recuperation, rejuvenation, perhaps even a subtle, low-grade form of mourning. Whatever it was, I was not my usually hyper-efficient, hard-charging self.

I tried not to resist this, because resisting reality always hurts.  I should be different.  I should be other than what I am.  Even though any sentence that begins with “I” and continues with “should” is almost always untrue on arrival, I “knew” I should be writing.  The following captured thought, repeated incessantly day and night, is how I knew:

I should be writing.

. . . multiplied, like horseflies and gnats and sometimes a mallet, by several thousand.

But what to write?  The camino blog felt over for me.  In title, intent, and practice, it had been a blog about Mom and the Camino and cancer:  I hesitated to make it a blog about me.  But even that was probably academic, because I didn’t know even what I might want to share with the world, or at least with the blog’s hundred-plus readers.  I can see why all the gurus write their books from the perspective of having already reached their grail, after the fact, rather than showing us the dirty confusing embarrassing spectacle of themselves floundering about, flapping about like a fish on shore and in search of oxygen.  Eckhart Tolle wrote his books after his enlightenment, and they’re fine, important books, but how do you relate to a Zen master?

Before the Camino, I had thought about keeping a blog on my journey of separation and divorce in real-time, to illustrate most pungently how a fairly normal person gets through, and to differentiate any related book from all those that show gurus dispensing wisdom in hindsight.  It seemed to me that people don’t benefit from seeing or reading someone tell of their journey once it’s over as much as they would from witnessing the journey itself.  But the Anatomy of a Divorce blog also was not to be.

I also toyed for a while with launching a blog about one of the few things I was , apparently, motivated to do while in New York, which was trying to meet women.  But that idea too has languished, for reasons that need not detain us here.

Happily, for a while in May I had felt like working on “The Novel,” by which I mean the first in a trilogy I conceived of over seven years ago.  I had worked on it peripatetically for about five years, but drifted away from it in 2009, as I spent my time being a senior executive in a start-up, being married, helping my wife run her business, and researching and co-writing a book for several publishers.  I had a brief fling with The Novel during my two weeks in Israel, in May, felt great about it – but arrived back in Bend to reality.  I also lost most of what I had written, after my new hard drive crashed.  This was discouraging, but a drop in the bucket of everything else going on at the time.

And so the writing proceeds very slowly, though it is mostly about the Camino project, which I am tentatively calling Mom and Me, along with some subtitle, perhaps relating to divorce and other cancers.  Could I finish it before the next camino season, say, by May, and get it in Kindle format so pilgrims could take it with them on the Camino?  Could I get enough word-of-mouth and other buzz to sell more than a few copies? We shall see…

In early December, I decided to go to Bend to tie up many of the loose ends that had been grating on me.  But that trip would turn out to be completely different from what I imagined.


Days on the Camino, What I Miss (Part II), and a Secret to Happiness

Typical Second Breakfast, greatest time of day ever

I’ve been thinking about it a lot, and probably what I have missed most upon my re-entry into the so-called Real World are two keys of the good life:  the simplicity of my days unfolding one day at a time, and a clear sense of purpose.  We are meaning-seeking creatures, and we don’t live by bread alone. We also live by purpose, which is another way of saying meaning.

It had been a long time since my mind was not continually gnawing over the future (or, just as unhappily, the past), but that is how I lived for a month while in Spain.  On the Camino, my mind was rarely occupied by anything farther into the future, or more complicated, than the next meal (prepared by others) and rest break (I was able to handle these on my own).  I had a very clear sense of what I was doing, and why, and I looked forward to each unfolding stage of it.

Days on the Camino

When I woke up in the mornings on the Camino, I didn’t have to sort through options about what to do – one of many types of decision-making tasks that researchers tell us are mentally and physically exhausting.  I also didn’t have to wonder what would happen that day.  I thought, if anything, about First Breakfast.

A croissant or drinkable yogurt, coffee, perhaps jam, fruit.

After First Breakfast, we would begin walking.  Where?  Easy:  just follow the yellow arrows.  As we walked, I would begin slowly to entertain fantasies about Second Breakfast.  The food was often similar to First Breakfast, or at least there was more of it (once, at 9:15a.m. I ate an entire medium pizza).  And about two hours after Second Breakfast, I was pining for First Lunch.  It sounds like a dog’s life, no?  Or a child’s.  This simplicity and living in the moment is part of what Jesus, a famous lover of food and drink and the common table, meant when he exhorted us to be like children.

Marie Anne's wonderful First Dinner in Cizur Menor. Me, Julio, Marie Anne, Carrie

During some of these walking breaks and even while walking, I would whip out my (paper) notebook and take notes, or, if we were in a café or near a boulder with good seating, I might even open my MacBook Air and start writing up notes (one of the reasons I chose my Air was that its Flash drive makes it turn on as fast as a paper notebook, or a cell phone – I just open it up and start using it – with none of the endless waiting and wailing and churning of Windows or of computers with hard drives).

Almost always after my shower in the early afternoon, I would lie on my back on whichever of the 30 beds I slept in while in France, Spain, and Portugal, my MacBook Air on my thighs, the purring of other pilgrims napping all around me, and I would begin transcribing notes from my notebook, then adding other thoughts and uploading the latest photos from our cameras to Facebook, and voila!  A blog post.

But “a blog post” doesn’t really capture what I was doing.  In fact, by writing and sharing my thoughts and adventures for an audience, however small (you know who you are!), I think I was living quite close to my purpose.  I am still refining that; I welcome your ideas.

I have missed that sense of purpose.  It was a slight purpose, getting up every morning to walk, walking, eating, observing, taking notes, reporting what I saw, but it was a very clear purpose, and it seemed, at the time, to be enough.

I miss expressing even my most mundane thoughts on a regular basis, and knowing someone is likely to read it, and almost as likely to be grateful for something in it.  I miss, that is, what people in certain circles might call a “practice”.  Flower-arranging is a practice.  Karate is a practice.  Yoga and meditation are practices.  Prayer and good works are practices.  Anything done mindfully, or with love, or both, puts us in practice of being fully human.

For me, writing must be one of my practices.  If I skip it, it’s like skipping exercise:  I can’t be fully happy.


I have missed the sense of freedom that comes with moving my body in healthy ways – freedom, say, from worries about gaining weight because I can eat as much or as little as I want to.  (My Camino pants are still quite big on me).  I’ve felt this liberation before, and I want to keep exercising so as to hold onto it.  Now:  how to do that in this urban wilderness that surrounds me?

Yesterday, I sort of stumbled on creating a day that felt a bit like the Camino:  it began when I walked over a mile to yoga.  Did yoga.  I then walked over three miles on trips to the bank, to Karma Café for an Indian lunch, and along the Jersey City waterfront walkway, reminding myself now and then to look up and appreciate that a short distance away, over the Hudson River on which Captain Sully crash-landed his plane, rose the concrete mountains of one of the greatest cities the world has ever known.  Then I stopped in a Starbucks to take notes and drink my first cold chai in six weeks, and continued to a federal building to pay the last of my 2009 and 2010 taxes.

Perceptions of Time 

After the sobbing at the tax office had subsided and I had gotten hold of myself, I saw that the next light-rail to Jersey City’s Heights left Pavonia-Newport in 24 minutes, and I did something absurd:  I decided instead to walk nearly three miles back to the apartment.  I remember Julio saying that his impression of Americans was that we would drive from the living room to the bathroom.  (Julio walks 250-300 days a year, sometimes across entire countries, or in Himalayas, and so on).  This 5K was for you, Julio!

Julio and I at, or after, First Dinner

I’m not disinclined to walk places anymore, because I’m not afraid of the discomfort of spending time so inefficiently.  That’s a big change.  It’s only partly a physical laziness that makes us drive.  Much of the reason we drive is because we are uncomfortable with the feeling we get when we do something inefficient, like walking, and then tell ourselves the following story:  I’m wasting my time.

This one story is a cause of much misery in modern life.

I was looking at Manhattan from Jersey City’s Heights the other

Under an hour, right, Julio?

morning and sized up the actual distance.  Based on my newfound experience in assessing how far away a village is and how long it will take to get there, I figured I could walk to Manhattan in under an hour, if there were a walking bridge.  It’s a shame there isn’t.  New Jerseyites are entirely denied the pleasure of walking into one of the world’s great cities.  They must either drive through a serpentine urban jungle, including underground, or dive underground with hundreds of other people in public transportation.

What I Miss, Part II

In a proof of the mathematical equation that says the grass is always greener, I offer the essay below as contrasted with what I said I missed just a few weeks ago while in rural Spain…

I miss other things.  Both of my cars are in Oregon.  One, the Land Rover, the World’s Most Expensive Ski Accessory, I want to sell.  Or to detonate, after first putting my HTC My Touch Android phone inside it.  The other, my BMW M3, I miss like my own child. I am reduced to public transportation here, or driving Adam’s Volvo, which is like driving an iceberg, or a continental shelf.

I miss a world in which a guilt-free nap is actually plausible.  Not that much has changed for me . . .  Of course, I don’t really need them anymore, since no one dares wake me up at oh-god-thirty.

I miss having feeling on two (or is it three?) of my right toes.  They still feel kind of tingly, if not entirely numb, just as they often did while walking in the Five Fingers.  And that was before I — “stubbed” doesn’t quite capture the crushing impact they made with a rock — on the trail.

I miss that on the Camino there was nothing more that could be done, with the result that I didn’t worry any part of the day about whether I could be doing more – a hallmark of the over-achiever, of the unhappy person.  Instead, for the first time in a very long time, I was doing all I could do – or all I was choosing to believe I needed to do.

In the Pyrenees

I know there is a secret recipe for happiness in that.

Walking at home…

It’s been a few days since we’ve returned. The first few days were busy with all the usual tasks. Mail sorting, bill paying, laundry, dusting, leave raking and shopping for groceries.

The day after I got home, a friend came to pick me up to drive to Grand Junction. T.V. station KREX wanted an interview with Carrie and I. Well, that was fun.

Also a reporter from the Daily Sentinel was there at the same time (click link to read). See the NBC11 News report.  It was on the news that Sunday night. KREX took some artistic license with the contents (and my name) but overall the word was out. Carrie had an interview with KKCO the next day and some more pictures of our journey were shown.

Sunday afternoon, Carrie, her mom, and her sister came, as did a few friends of mine, who wanted to meet Carrie. They wanted to hear what her impression and thoughts were. How or why it had changed her. That was a very nice afternoon, recalling and remembering our journey and as long as we get to talk about it, it hasn’t ended. My friend Carla stayed to help me write a letter to Marianne, in French.

All my friends and people I know, i.e. Post Office, grocery store, etc. tell me how well I look. They say I’m glowing. Perfect picture of health. (From their lips to God’s ear.) I feel really well. I’ve lost 5 lbs since I’m back. My body is shedding fluids. I’ve also started to take Avemar. This is a fermented wheat germ product and is to improve immune system as well as detox. I’ve seen a one-hour special, called Run from the cure“.  It’s about oil made from hemp that helps to cure or alleviate many illnesses. Smoking marijuana, on the other hand, apparently does not help in cancer cases.

Strangers called me and asked for advice for lifestyle changes, to improve their health. I told them that I’m working on getting a cooking class together and would love to show them how this can be done, making small changes and working up to the grander scale.

During those first days, I still felt displaced and out of sorts. I was missing the simple act of walking, of meeting pilgrims.  I was told when the P.E.T scan appointment was made that I was not to do straineous exercise. The long walk was the reason I had to wait 3 weeks for my body to become ‘resting’. I’ve tried. I really have, but yesterday, was a gorgeous late fall day. The special kind we have here on the Western Slope. My body was idling, revving to go. (What I did not miss, was the JAMON.)

So, I put my snazzy camino boots on and walked the path by the river. The San Juan mountains, south of me were snow covered and brilliant against the azure sky. Trees still had gold, green, yellow foliage. I could almost pretend I was walking the camino. Horses were in one pasture and then I saw a pair of foxes. Their ears came up as I passed but they stayed.

I was still thinking about some of the places I’d been, when some people walked toward me. Automatically I said ‘Buen Camino’.  They smiled and said “Good morning.” I chuckled to myself; maybe they thought I was Mexican.

I felt bad thinking about those poor people getting pounded by this freak snow storm, back East, when I was enjoying this perfect weather that we have here, oh, about 300 days out of the year.

It felt so good to just keep moving. I walked a measly 3.5 miles but felt so much better. I don’t think this will hurt anything? In any case, I’ll stop walking a few days prior to the appointment. It’ll all settle. Of course, now I’m also thinking what all these tests might show? But, I push those thoughts away. There’s no use on trying to analyze something that I don’t know. Would drive you crazy, if you allow it.

I suppose walking the camino at my age and circumstance may be a bigger deal than I thought. Or, perhaps it’s the curiosity of avoiding chemo that makes this newsworthy. Could be, because I did finish the walk. In any case, a reporter from “The Watch”, a regional newspaper called yesterday for an interview. This one is coming out Thursday and can accessed online. My 15 minutes of fame. But more so, everyone is anticipating the results of these tests. Waiting, wondering if all this walking has done something unique. I know it has, without results from tests. Meanwhile, I will enjoy the great weather and walks and even go up to the Black Canyon. I think walking there will be gorgeous right now.





Respite in Portugal

I’d stopped writing in my journal because we were so busy sight-seeing. We took a half day and went to Sintra, a lovely, picturesque town near the Atlantic Ocean. We wanted to see the Moors’ castle, on top of a big hill (yes) surrounded by a huge park. We took the bus up and it was interesting how the driver went around the curves. There were many.

When the castle came into view, it was very enchanting with the many turrets, towers and arabic influence. Like Aladdin’s fairy tale. It also reminde me, in a way of King Ludwig’s castle Neuschwanstein.

You had to go up a little, steep hill to go through the gate. Some people, younger ones as well, walked slowly due to the incline. I just took off, passing them. I was in shape. Nothing to this tiny hill. I heard Cameron calling behind me, “show off! You’re such a show off.” Made me smile.  We took a tour through the inner sanctum, where the royals lived. Exquisite furniture, priceless china and the usual pomp.

When the tour was over, we went to the bus station to go back to town. It took a long time and when we found out it would be another 25 minutes, we decided to walk. We were in the walking business, after all. Long, steep hill down, no problem. We made it in record time. Took a cab to the train station as Carrie and I really wanted to see the Ocean. We’d given up Finisterre but were determined to see some water.

                          To get there, we were told to go by trolley. A real old one. It was open on the sides and the conductor and driver were up front on a small platform. A few other tourists joined us. We were so excited to have this special treat. Then, the trolley went arounda bend and the most god-awful-screeching came alive. This was the sound we heard for over 40 minutes, going perhaps 15 mph, that this ride lasted. Every bend, every applying of the brakes, it screeched.  We covered our ears but that didn’t help a whole lot. Spoiled some of the fun of seeing nature at a slower pace. We went past beautiful villas covered in vines and flowers. Tall grasses, trees and shrubs.  The view opened up and behind some tall beach hotels, shining in the sun was the Ocean. Carrie and I took our shoes and socks off and ran ‘yohoo-ing’ and laughing down to the water’s edge. Breathing deep the tangy air and watching the waves ride in.

Cameron picked a boulder and was fast asleep after a few minutes. Carrie took her already wet shorts off, and sat in the cold water. I just sat still as my eyes wanderd over the many surface miles. Watching the sea gulls and felt the warm sun on my face. I could’ve stayed there a least another day but, we had to.

I reflected on the little time we had left and what all we had done, where we had been and I felt sad that it was over. I knew when I got back, reality would set in and I would have to deal with the ‘C’ again. Needles, tests, scans and pain.

As I turned to leave, I left one more image in the sand… with some more hope of this being so.

(I’ve forgotten our opera visit in Lisbon. When I saw a poster about ‘Don Carlo’ and date and time, I was so excited and told Cameron and Carrie that I really, really wanted to go. They did, too. We purchased the tickets and asked if our ‘dress’ was acceptable and it was because it’s not all the glitz and glamour anymore. We sat in the 3rd row, right by the orchestra pit, but it was a good view.  As soon as it started my excitement deflated. It was one of these modern interpretations. Street clothing, no set to speak of and kids running around with tennis rackets. I looked at Cameron and he just nodded his head as if saying ‘ I know but it is what it is.’ We did stay the whole 4 hours. This opera had been rewritten a few times, as had the ending. This particular ending fizzled out. The love interest of the young tenor was old enough to be his grandmother and thus not believable and the chemistry was missing.

The singing was very good though as was the music.  Next morning we had to leave early to catch the bus to the airport. Long lines and security made for a fast good bye from Cameron, as his flight was several hours later. Carrie and I didn’t get to sit together and so began the slow separation and feelings of displacement. It felt as though someone plucked me off the camino  and into the plane. At one point, tears welled up at nothing in particular. It’s been continued at home as well. Although I’m glad to be home but the camino left its mark. Nothing tangible, nothing I can grasp and hold except pictures and memories. But, subtle changes and I believe this will work its way through the future.

People asked me, ‘would you go back?’ I answered, well, not right now but perhaps at some point walk certain stages again.

Meanwhile, I saw a German movie about a Pilgrimage to Padua, Italy and I’ve been researching the ‘Jakobsweg’ they just rededicated in Austria. … Beautiful, gorgeous scenery… nice places to stay… good food. Dare I call Cameron and Carrie??