My new cover was designed by Vila Design. The same service also offered ebook formatting. I’m waiting for my book to be formatted now and as I’ve been waiting, I’ve gotten cold feet about publishing Serendipity Road. It’s not because I don’t think I’ll sell many copies: I’m prepared for that. It’s because of some of the things I write about in the book.
Originally, the book wasn’t going to be about me. It was going to be about my Cambodian wife’s life “inside tree.” She lived alone in the jungle when she was a little girl. Unfortunately, her story covered two chapters at best. I guess I can blame my Sihanoukville writing group for expanding my memoir. They encouraged me to add more stories about my life. I enjoyed the writing group, so every week I wrote a chapter. Usually I wrote an outline by hand at a coffee shop. Then I expanded it when I typed it out.
Why I got cold feet about publishing Serendipity Road
In the end, I had a rambling memoir in no particular order. I rearranged the chapters so they made sense. It’s not entirely chronological because it’s based on flashbacks I had in Cambodia. One chapter might be set in 2006 or 2007 and the next takes me back to 1971 or 1972. In Chapter Seven, Taking the Leap, I arrive in Ho Chi Minh City and end up going to a brothel. I don’t particularly like to admit that, but it’s a true story.
In Chapter Ten, Heart of Darkness, I smoke marijuana in a bar in Phnom Penh. That leads me to a girlie bar, where I hope to get directions back to my hotel. That doesn’t work out quite as planned, but fortunately a tuk-tuk driver told me I was about a block away from my hotel. There I met a bona fide sex tourist, who took me on a tour of Phnom Penh’s girlie bars.
It seems like I have to do stupid things three times to figure out they’re not what I’m looking for. It’s not until Chapter 28 that I mention it, though. This is what I wrote:
Somewhere in the recesses of my unconscious mind, I knew what I was looking for back in 2006 when I hatched my plan to travel through Southeast Asia. That’s why all the readily available sex didn’t excite me. That’s why living on Don Det smoking weed and rocking in a hammock didn’t appeal to me. That’s why the thought of spending a year sightseeing made me yawn. I was looking for a life, not a diversion, and I found it in the place my unconscious mind knew existed, but was consciously unaware of: at a desk in a fifties-style house that faces a “soccer” field that sounds like “soaka” – the Sokha Resort.
The last sentence is a reference to a psychic workshop I attended. A fellow amateur psychic “saw” my Sihanoukville home three years before I built it. He also saw me hunkered over my computer. Luckily, I wrote down what he saw after the workshop, so I know I’m not making it up to fit the story.
My original cover looks like this. I almost used it because a couple of good friends from my writing workshop went out of their way to help me make it. We spend half a day looking for the perfect path and one of my friends is a good graphic designer. The photo of an old man towards the end of his journey didn’t speak to me, though. I finally decided to have a retro cover made because those years were the years that changed my life. I let fate be my guide then. I became more practical later, but when my well-constructed world fell apart in 2004, I went to a tarot card reader in Bali. This is what she told me:
The first card she focused on showed a young man dancing on the edge of a precipice. “This is the Fool,” she told me. “He can play an important part in your life if you let him.” The card nearest the Fool, the Four of Pentacles, showed a picture of a man hoarding his wealth. He reflected the part of my personality that wanted to cling to its old life. From those two cards, the rest of the cards fanned out in opposite directions, like two paths I had the choice of following. Proceeding through the cards nearest the Four of Pentacles, she concluded that following his path might not be disastrous, but wouldn’t be materially or spiritually rewarding. If I followed the Fool’s lead and set my hopes, fears and prejudices aside, my future looked bright.
After I saw her, I went to a Balinese healer. I’d passed his shop about 10 times before, but stepped inside on that day because the Fool told me to give him a try. His assistant healed my back and a few days later, I agreed to a spiritual healing. To my surprise, it worked. The hollow feeling in my stomach and the anger I tried to fill it with vanished. I felt cleansed and ready to start over again.
Why I’m not going to let cold feet stop me
My subtitle, “between heaven and hell” says it all. I have had many extraordinary spiritual experiences and observed others, but I haven’t been a particularly exemplary person. I do think those spiritual highs have prevented me from falling into the trap I’ve seen too many other expats fall into. I’m not addicted to alcohol, drugs or sex. As I write in Chapter 27, The Dark Side of the Moon:
If I hadn’t learned how to tap into the Happy, I might be another disgruntled drunk on the Hill. Why I remain so dense and easily knocked off course after having had so many extraordinary experiences and met so many amazing people is a mystery. It’s a mystery, but I’m beyond grateful for the grace that seems to have lifted me up every time I’ve stumbled throughout my life. If not for that, I might be another deathpat looking for release from the whispers of the dark side of the moon.
The “Happy” is a word the wisest and kindest person I’ve ever known, Penny Sisto, used to describe experiences that lift us out of our mundane existence and see a higher purpose. The Happy is “happy” all on its own and doesn’t require things we think we need to be happy: things like money, sex or recognition. The Happy is self-sustaining. If I hadn’t learned to meditate or spent time in India, I may never have discovered the Happy. Fortunately, she and I have been corresponding since I moved to Cambodia. She plays a prominent part in my book and helps me get back on track when something throws me. You can see some of her quilt art on her website gallery. The Carnegie Center has also produced half a dozen videos about her on YouTube.
Penny thinks I should publish Serendipity Road. That’s one reason why I’m not going to let cold feet stop me. The other reason is more personal. Too many books about spirituality don’t mention the dark side of our natures. Most of us are caught between heaven and hell. Even Penny once told me, “none of us gets out of this life unscathed.”
I became determined to publish after an online argument with an old friend. He posted a cartoon of a man looking into a mirror. “You’re fired!” he tells his ego, as if that’s all there is to it. Actually, spirituality is a step-by-step process. We take two steps forward and one step back, but we move forward or at least don’t go backwards. I may be embarrassed, but at least I’ve told the truth.