Tag Archives: Cameron Miller

90 Sneak Peek Steam Room

Sneek-PeekIM90-steam1Chapter One
By Cameron Miller

Lumbini and the Steam Room

My mother calls me, “The Priest Who Couldn’t Keep It In His Pants.” She wasn’t at all surprised, she tells her friends, because she knew her son wasn’t up for the job. Then she laughs hysterically every time. I’m thinking about saving my therapy bills this year, putting them in a box, and wrapping it elegantly for Christmas. She won’t laugh, I assure you.

That is not where I wanted to begin this story. I intended to begin with God, not my mother, though in the shadowed voices of my psyche they often get confused.

What comes with the collar does not disappear when the little white piece of plastic is stripped away; it is not something you are one day and not the next. There is something that lives in the lining of your stomach and shapes you from the inside out. You don’t look any different, and most of the time you don’t feel any different, although when it happens the map of your inscape changes. But there I go again, beginning the story with me when it wasn’t what I meant to do. Let me start over.

There is no such thing as a successful search for the holy, no hunting it down with specially trained bloodhounds of the soul chasing its scent over the landscape of time. Go looking for the holy and it won’t be found. Don’t look for it, stay open to it, and then, sometimes there it is.

Most people look for God in sanctuaries sculpted by human imagination, or in the magnificence of natural beauty. Clichés abound when it comes to God but most of them are bullshit. If it sounds too good to be true it probably isn’t.

I know a brainiac who went off to M.I.T., an atheist, and says he found God studying mathematics. That’s weird, but he would say encountering God in a steam room is bizarre. Even so, the steam room I frequent is a gods spot. It’s not so much an encounter with God as it is a prickling on the back of the neck whispering that some holy thing was here a moment ago and the air still tingles with mystic mojo.

A sacred place is anywhere God has left tracks in the mud of human experience; still there is no guarantee a seeker will catch up and peer into divine mystery by following them. Standing at the edge of Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania, where the crust of the earth is broken open and the inside of the loaf crumbles out, paleontologists stumbled upon the grandmother bones of our humanoid ancestry and the place is thick with sacredness. The rolling battlefield of the Little Big Horn, its deep dry gulches and lonely cemetery hill, is crisscrossed and tangled with tracks running into and out of the sacred. At Lumbini, in the Himalayan foothills of Nepal, dangling toes in the placid pool of the peeling temple of Maya Devi, knowing that this was the very place where the Buddha was born, the tracks are so fresh and deep a pilgrim can almost put a hand into them. In the little white steam room in the basement of the Robert L. Cohen Fitness Center in Buffalo, New York, you find fresh tracks of the holy left daily, just as you can see the newly pressed prints of deer and raccoon at the edge of a lake each morning.

The small rectangular steam room is floor to ceiling alabaster white tile, scrubbed in the merciless light of a single whining florescent fixture. It could, if you were on the edge of sanity, scream at you. There is nothing on its face to imply sacredness. It is, in fact, old and tired and in need of repair. But any place through which God routinely passes, a sacred space, requires neither beauty nor magnificence.

 I visit the steam room almost every day, not so much to look for God as to reward myself for doing what I loathe. Ten more minutes on this freak’n Stairmaster, then I can have an extra five minutes in the steam room. As irrational as it is to promise a reward you can give yourself anyway, the enticement usually works.

The steam room is twelve feet long and six feet wide, easily measured by counting the tile. The only splotch of color is the worn sleeve of a five-foot length of ragged green garden hose attached to a faucet. The timer is broken so you have to spray the thermostat sensor above the door. If you put your finger over the nozzle it produces enough pressure to sustain a spray that will reach the sensor. If you hold it there long enough, sometimes up to a full sixty seconds, the pipes, which are imprisoned in a casing of cedar slats, begin a slow deep gurgle. The gurgles grow into tapping, and the tapping becomes a shhh-shhh swishing, and finally thick clouds of steam escape from between the slats of cedar. In seconds the small white cell is filled with such a concentration of steam that your skin cries out. I have witnessed grown men yelp like puppies and leap for the door.

An L-shaped ledge rims half the room, providing a small space to host rigorously sweating bodies. I am told women can tolerate less body space than men, but it is an observable phenomenon in the steam room that postures stiffen when too many naked males are required to sit too close to one another. I have felt my own body squeeze itself into a smaller size to gain distance from another male body as it enters my space, usurping the peace I created within my own frontiers.

The steam room is most therapeutic when I am by myself and able to lean back against the short wall, legs extended out fully along the tile ledge. Yet it only reveals its sacred nature when two or more are gathered in the midst of steam.

One other man sharing the steam room is most tolerable, so long as he does not shave or perform exercises. There are such offenders. One of the regulars is Frodo, a meticulous middle-aged man who seems far too concerned with keeping his body youthful and elegant. When I open the door of the steam room and through the clouds can make out the silhouette of Frodo doing naked sit-ups on the ledge, I am overcome with despair. Equally disturbing is when I am under the covers of hot vapor and Estefan enters. His lush white mustache curves upward in a smile as the cheap metal from a disposable blue razor makes the irksome noise of scraping whiskers to the moist fungal floor. Perhaps in their respective spheres, Frodo and Estefan are fine human beings, but in the steam room they are unwelcome vermin.

Wilson is a different story.

Monday and Wednesday I gleefully shared the steam room with Wilson who brought a small beaker of Eucalyptus oil to pour liberally between the slats of cedar. Few others (apart from Wilson and me) could tolerate the pungent, sinus liquefying intensity of the plant. Wilson was a rapper who said the oil compensated for the cigars he smoked when he was in Atlanta or NYC cutting music deals.

The steam room is an endangered habitat.

Even as you read these smuggled stories whispered from the walls of a sacred place, a major renovation is underway at the Robert L. Cohen Center, fondly known by members as “The COE”. It is unclear what will happen to the steam room. Will it be restored or eliminated? Or if it is simply torn apart and put back together, will its sacred magic seep out and leave behind an ordinary steam room? A damp chilling fog of anxiety has crept into my heart for which this steam room chronicle is my therapy.


((Read the Interview!!))

You can purchase the novel at: http://tumbleweedbooks.ca/2015/11/05/now-available-the-steam-room-diaries/

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90 Cameron Miller Interview

IM90-miller2An interview with Cameron Miller

By Doug Owen

Cameron Miller is a gentle giant whose outlook on life has taken him on a wonderful journey. I can say my life is enriched by the simple communications I’ve had with this man. Instead of telling you, let’s look through the steam to catch a small glimpse of what powers this highly-caring and giving individual.

IM: Tell us a little bit about yourself.

CM: I grew up at the edge of a college campus in a rustbelt city in Indiana, the American heartland, squeezed between progressive and conservative ideas and values, in a family that cherished education, reading, and history. All of that propelled me forward as I left home, majoring in philosophy at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York. After graduation, I spent time doing odd jobs in Boston, and then working as a therapy aid in a mental health unit back in Saratoga. On suicide watch with an adolescent patient one evening, I realized if I were a minister instead of a therapist—which was the direction I had been thinking about—that instead of knowing that kid in my office one hour a week, I would likely know his whole family and see them in a variety of social contexts. It motivated me to explore seminary— although I entered The Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts with great hesitation and the expectation it wouldn’t turn out well. But more than three decades later, after serving congregations in Indiana, Ohio, New York, and Vermont, it has turned out very well.

In 2013, I left fulltime parish ministry to spend time writing about what I have learned and finding creative ways to share it. While writing novels and poetry, I also published a website devoted to what I call “religion-less Christianity,” and it seems to have struck a chord with a lot of people around the world.

IM: Why did you start writing?

IM90-miller1CM: Some people hear music in their head and they compose songs. I have stories in my head and they want to get out. I am a preacher by training (although my colleagues prefer the more refined title of “reverend”) and I would catch myself writing sermons in such a way that I could tell a story. I decided it would be good to find another outlet.

IM: When did you start writing?

CM: I had a sabbatical about twenty years ago and decided to write a book. I found a little office not too far from my house that I could bike to, and planned to write each morning until about noon. It was as if I fell into a magic spell and never wanted to come out. Mid-day would arrive and the next thing I knew, it was four or five in the afternoon. It turned out to be a pretty awful book, but the experience planted a niggling little whisper in my brain: “Are you a preacher that writes or a writer that preaches?”

IM: What was your original book called? What was it about?

CM: The Hunger that Nourishes. I still like that title a lot and in some ways, The Steam Room Diaries ventures into the same subject area as that first effort, only with fiction and through stories. It was about learning from our dark angels and the wisdom resident in our woundedness.

IM: What do you usually write?

CM: I’ve probably written three thousand sermons. I write them out because, if I didn’t use a text, there is no telling what would come out of my mouth—honest, that would be a high-risk proposition. In addition to drawing on stories, I use poetry and am a lover of contemporary poetry. In the last couple of years, I have been writing poetry for publication as well, with six poems published this year.

IM: The Steam Room Diaries: how did you come to write this novel?

IM90-miller3CM: You would not believe the intimate stories I have heard from perfect strangers. I don’t know what it is about my demeanor, but people just start talking to me, and often unsolicited. I decided to write about some of those stories when suddenly, unintentionally, what I was writing wanted to be fiction. Literally, I found myself writing a novel in spite of myself and grudgingly ‘let go’ to see what would happen. I had never written fiction before and hadn’t planned to, but Steam Room insisted on a life of its own.

IM: What was your inspiration?

CM: Imagine if you had a friend who had wrestled with all the personal struggles you keep secret, and was willing to tell you what he or she learned from them? Steam Room Diaries is full of stories that give the reader a new lens to suddenly see the corners of their life in a whole new light—and that was my hope all along.

IM: Is there any truth to the stories?

CM: Who said, “I don’t know if it really happened or not, but I do know it is true”? What I would say is every story in Steam Room Diaries is true, even if it didn’t actually happen and even though the characters are purely fictional.

IM: Will you be writing another book soon?

CM: I’m deep into it right now, and again, the doggone thing has taken off and is leading me by the nose. I’m curious to see where it is taking me.

IM: What advice would you give to a younger you who was thinking about writing?

IM90-miller4CM: Do it earlier, write every day, and keep writing. Even if it is only for half an hour, find a way to carve out time and make it happen. I wish I had taken a more traditional route to writing, like getting an MFA and participating in summer workshops, etc.

IM: Any regrets about your first publication?

CM: Not yet! Oh, well, maybe that I hadn’t done this fifteen years ago and already written several more.

IM: Tell us how you felt when the work was accepted for publication.



CM: Absolutely giddy. You know what the process is like, sending out your baby to strangers and never hearing back from some and stacking up the rejections from others. Although I received a number of positive responses from publishers who took the time to give me feedback and affirm the MSS even though not for their collection, it was still an arduous and gruelling process. Everything writers say about it is true.

IM: What has been the best and worst part of the publishing experience?

CM: So far, the worst is the search for a publisher, It is such a lonely and uncertain process after the utter privilege and joy of having time to write a novel. Even the editing—which is not my idea of a good time—was at least interesting and a valuable learning for my current writing projects. I think the best part has been the real excitement of people who have known me professionally and personally, and their desire to read it.


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