Muscle memory can sneak up on you. It’s been raining off and on all morning, so I headed out to my usual coffee shop with our big umbrella, tapping it on the ground as I walked. Halfway through my trip, I caught myself hitting the umbrella on the grass beside the sidewalk instead of the concrete.
This is a Camino habit of mine. On my second trip, I walked with a wooden hiking stick that I bought in the town before crossing the Pyrenees. After several weeks of “thwack, thwack, thwack” for six hours a day, I started naturally moving the metal spike at the bottom of the pole to anything other than the hard trail. If I didn’t have that option, I lifted it off the ground behind me.
I love when these little signs of my alternate self pop up at home. I know that my personality and priorities significantly changed after both trips, but seeing these hints of my other persona are somehow just as comforting. I miss that “me.” As much as I tried to bring her back from Spain, there’s only so much you can hold onto when you return to normal life.
There is no question the Camino shaped my writing career. Even without a finished manuscript, attempting to write something developed into the full-time work I now do every day. My Camino self is kept alive through my writing, which is both a blessing and a curse.
On my second hike, I was convinced that this Camino would make me a better actor — not just on stage but in the auditioning and marketing side of things as well. The hike makes you more resilient to emotional and physical pain, it puts small issues in perspective, it helps you connect with other people in ways you’ve never been able to.
Unfortunately, it had the opposite effect. Walking the Camino made me less likely to put up with a lot of the demeaning crap related to building a career in the theatre. Perhaps if I hadn’t gone, I could have fallen in line and become the #actor I’m supposed to be. Maybe I could have closed off that part of my brain that grew tired of rejections, became worn down by the financial instability or could ignore the unfair body standards.
From the outside, the answer seems easy, right? Stop acting. Why do I keep putting myself through this after years of not getting anywhere? I assume that many of the artists reading this know the problem. It’s never that logical or straightforward. I know there is another side to all this. I know the joy balances out the pain eventually.
In yet another attempt to not throw in the towel, I’ve been trying to give the actor side of me some love lately. Ben and I are moving back to NYC in the fall, partly because moving to the suburbs seemed to be the final nail in the coffin to my career, something I hate to admit. I’ve started dancing again. As luck would have it, I seem to have a tap instructor that understands I’m focusing on getting back on my feet, not trying to out-dance the rest of the class.
But most importantly, I’ve been trying to catch the parts of myself — the muscle memories you could say — that pop up whenever I reopen that part of me that used to see myself as an actor:
- Camino Ginny likes her beastly muscular legs that could probably kick a door down if she didn’t have such bad knees.
- Actor Ginny thinks they look too big in photos.
- Camino Ginny knows that so much of my day is out of my control, that the winds can change at any moment.
- Actor Ginny feels like everything should be within my control, and that I’m never doing enough to make things just line up.
- Camino Ginny knows that it’s about the slow journey (as cliche as it is).
- Actor Ginny is tired of never feeling like she’s arrived.
I studied Joseph Campbell in high school. Apparently it’s a big fancy thing to quote him in the film world now, but I like to pat myself for struggling through poorly written term papers on the guy since 10th grade. In Campbell’s Hero’s Journey, the Master of the Two Worlds stage is when the traveler returns home and has to find a balance between her home and the world of her adventure. The hero must make peace with both her inner and outer self.
In a bit more detail, Master of the Two Worlds is the:
Freedom to pass back and forth across the world division, from the perspective of the apparitions of time to that of the causal deep and back—not contaminating the principles of the one with those of the other, yet permitting the mind to know the one by virtue of the other—is the talent of the master. –The Hero with a Thousand Faces
On my last hike, my walking buddy Christina and I brought up the hero’s journey stages to help us through the inevitable “I don’t want to do this anymore” panic that seems to pop up around the second week of walking. I knew that the Master of the Two Worlds would be the hardest one when I got home. Even when my brain is trying to be someone who can adapt to this world, my arm is still tapping my umbrella on the grass next to the sidewalk.
I have to admit that on some days, I just want to run off to Spain with Ben, buy an old building and open an albergue and live out the rest of our days hosting pilgrims. I’d prepare a homemade meal for hikers every night, put out plenty of clothing lines and laundry buckets and even invest in wooden bunk beds. I’d leave out a basket of corn muffins at 5am for the early risers and a coffee machine ready to go. But the grass is always greener, right? I know I’d miss the me that lives here with this wonderful life.
This summer is about finding the balance between the two worlds of my life: the strong hiker and the actor that no longer wants to just be the girl waiting for her friend in the theatre lobby. I have no idea how to make this happen. Perhaps the answer in back in the city I left seven years ago, or maybe it’s back on the Camino where I’m headed this fall. Wherever it is, I hope the asking is a good place to start.