Finally, finally, at long last, it’s here!
This piece was a fucking beast. And it changed me. Aside from being the most emotionally difficult, creatively challenging and ultimately rewarding editorial process of my life (university and writing workshops included), the piece humbled me. Through writing it, I realized just how complex and deep the issues I was attempting to grapple with were, how you can’t just waltz in and expect to write about the long-term, inter-generational effects of trauma in, oh say, three months.
When I got the feedback from the first draft, I cried. I was sitting in the room of a cheap wooden guesthouse along the Thai border, where I’d gone to find what was left of the refugee camp my friends’ parents were in, where one of my friends was born.
I was having a righteous little pity party amid the colorful tapestries and elephant-themed decor when Jacob popped up on my Gmail chat. He asked me how it was going and I got honest: it was fucking crummy. We’d all like to hear that we’re brilliant all the time, and even though I knew that expectation was ridiculous, even though Sarah’s comments were professional and polite and—most unsettling—spot-on, it still stung.
Jacob’s a fellow writer who’s been through the editorial wringer as well, and also just a fucking nice guy, so it was good to be able to vent to him. But it was his response that really struck a cord (and I’m paraphrasing here):
It’s hard, you know, to have access, especially for what you’re trying to write about. You’re not Cambodian and you’re not a professor or researcher. So why should people trust you? To do what you’re trying to do would take a long time, way more than a few months.
The statement kind of reset me. It could have been utterly defeating, reason to throw in the towel. But it made me realize that this stuff was far more difficult than I’d given it credit for, and that if I was gonna do it, and do it right, I’d need time. And for my own well-being, need to go slow.
Looking back, that moment was when the seed was planted. I’ve been home for a little over two months now, and I’ve decided that I’m gonna do it—I’m gonna do the project right, gonna give it the time it needs, I’m gonna go back.
I’m packing up, selling my shit, going all in. I’m moving to Phnom Penh.
But in the moment, of course, I didn’t know that that was where any of this was leading. I just knew that, reading my friend’s comments, something shifted in me. I felt a kind of solidity and certainty, a calmness.
I got up off my pity pot, stuffed my ego and started to rewrite the piece. It took several more drafts, but it eventually led to what you’ve got before you now. Enjoy.