I wrote my first piece for Vela on a flight from San Francisco to New York, the first in a series of flights that would eventually deliver me to my new home, Phnom Penh.
Looking back now, it’s extremely fitting that I began my Vela career, so to speak, that way—when I was heading out, leaving home for good, for the very first time without a return ticket or a job or a car or an apartment or a life waiting. I decided to pick up and move to Cambodia on the premise of writing a book based on the research and experiences I’d had while working on my 2011 Glimpse project. The plan was to live as cheaply as possible, support myself freelancing and maaaaybe teaching ESL if I had to; to delve into the culture and write a best-selling non-fiction narrative about intergenerational trauma. Vela would be a fun little back-burner side project while I focused on the real work at hand.
I made it about two months before I was out of money and scrambling to work in what is really quite a dismal job market. Turns out freelancing is still hard, even from Cambodia. Moreover, all I was really writing about was Oakland and my youth and getting sober, things I’d never written about when they were right there in front of me. But beyond that, when I began to scratch the surface of Cambodia I started to feel like I’d go crazy. Or at least very broke.
So I picked up and left, landing on my friend’s living room in Hanoi with $400 to my name. It was 115˙ every day, with humidity, and I was shell-shocked and numb, my life in three bags again, the dream that had fueled my life for the past year—that had inspired me to dismantle everything and move to the other side of the planet—in shambles around me.
But I don’t say all this just to whine from my pity pot. Throughout this tumultuous, frightening and financially devastating process, Vela was one of the bright spots. The support and love and community (ugh, I said it) that I got from my fellow writers at Vela was invaluable. I should say that these women aren’t my homies; I’ve only met two of them in person, and I don’t know any of them well outside of their work. But in the long tangled-thread emails; in the thoughtful feedback; in the promoting of each other’s work; in the simple space to say what we want to say and write what we want to write—Vela turned out to be the best thing in my writing life in the last year. Scratch that: one of the best things of my life life in the last year. It snuck up on me, the way most good things do, and moving into the next year, I am fired up to grow this thing into something even bigger and more awesome than it already is.