“I know God will not give me anything I can’t handle. I just wish he didn’t trust me so much.”-Mother Teresa
I get up and walk across my hotel room to peek through the curtains and watch the rain fall across Hue. It’s rainy season in central Vietnam at the moment, which had been a slight annoyance all week, but suddenly feels fitting.
After reading through the first part of Mike’s email I just don’t see how I could ever come back from this. He is the one person that I put all of my faith and trust into, kind of like when a stray dog finally gets rescued by a new loving owner that lives on a sprawling 60-acre farm. I’ve been relying on him for food, shelter, warmth and room to roam and just when I thought I was becoming man’s best friend, he takes me outside and puts me down because I’m not good enough.
I return to my computer and keep reading Mike’s email. I can’t believe I’m reading this right. This email can’t be for me, can it?
My bushy black eyebrows scrunch together as I go back and re-read the last two lines aloud.
I suggest having a serious think about whether you want to be publishing your writing on your website at all. Your writing looks flaky.
Huh? What? Why?
I’d suggest writing up the rest of your journey in private and not sharing it anymore. For that reason, I think we should draw the line after this chapter, and you should find yourself an editor that’s up to the job because I quit.
My heart sinks like I’m in the midst of another bad breakup. I can’t believe Mike’s saying all of this.
Some of the things you’ve written in your draft of chapter 25 lack generosity of spirit. If I was a visitor to your site and I was someone in a day-job who was looking for some inspiration, I’d be put off by you. I’d feel condescended to, talked-down to. It’s one thing to try to push and prod and lift people up to help them achieve something better, and another to be dismissive, even contemptuous, of people who haven’t taken the leap yet. This isn’t the first time it’s come out of your writing.
I actually don’t know what Mike’s talking about. He’s never talked to me in this tone before and everything he’s saying has come directly out of left field. Just a week ago he told me the last chapter I wrote was one of my best and now all of a sudden he’s telling me everything that is wrong with my writing and he’s quitting on me.
I’m so confused.
I take a sip of water and try to compose myself, but no dice. My writing matters so much to me that my hands are shaking and I can feel the pain start to seep across my chest. I never expected to hear such harsh words from anyone, let alone my one and only ally in the writing world.
Mike had just taken his first look at my rough draft of Chapter 25 and aside from quitting on me, he’s sending back his thoughts about the chapter. The draft he’s commenting on was a really big one for me. It felt like the real life version of that dream that everyone has at least once in their life where they show up to school without their pants on. I felt so vulnerable sending it to him because I really put myself out there with it. Not only did I say that I spoke to God in that chapter, but that God himself spoke through me and to me in my very own voice. Yeah, I know, it was pretty intense stuff.
Now as you already know I have zero experience when it comes to writing, which has been well documented (by me).
I was a below average student who especially struggled in all of my English classes as a kid. I was so confused at times that every Tuesday and Thursday after school my Mom would shuttle me down route 309 to Sylvan Learning Center for extra help. I went kicking and screaming the whole way.
The tutors there worked with me on my spelling, grammar, reading comprehension and punctuation and if I did well they would give me these tokens, these stupid Sylvan Learning Center tokens. I could then use those stupid tokens to buy the thing I hated most at the time…..books. Why on earth would I want more books if I didn’t understand the ones that I had in the first place?
So for me to write these chapters as I try to make my way around the world literally takes every ounce of my soul and self-belief that I can muster. I’m constantly fighting an uphill battle against a past that loves to spring out from behind the bushes and tell me I’m not good enough and that I simply have no business even trying to write.
I still to this day, have never ever called myself a writer because I just don’t feel worthy of such a title.
Since I started writing the chapters that are on my website I’ve had two people helping me with my writing. The first was the girl I was traveling with back in Africa. She’s a great writer and she did all of the editing for chapters 1-5, but then she decided that she couldn’t take my writing any further and she suggested that I seek more intensive help.
So through a friend of a friend I was put in touch with Mike, a professional writing coach, and in short, he has been an absolute blessing in my life. Our typical routine is as follows: I send him my rough draft, he looks it over, makes some notes, helps reorganize the arc of the story, and he cleans up the grammar and punctuation mistakes I’ve made. Sometimes he’ll even change my vocabulary in a few spots or rewrite a sentence or two; basically he adds the icing to the cake. At the end of each month he sends me a bill for his time and I pay him accordingly.
To this day I still don’t know the difference between there, their and they’re, or understand the difference between a colon and a semicolon. Mike has seen all of my embarrassing mistakes in the flesh, but he’s always been kind, gentle and non-judgmental, that is, until now…
He goes on to say that that the things I write are not valid and that when I write about going through tough times that I’m suffering needlessly and that my writing strategy is broken beyond repair.
The deeper I get into his email the faster and faster my heart sinks until I can’t take it anymore.
He says that my stories are disparaging and even insulting to my audience. At one point he even questions if my aim is to actually piss people off with my writing. I slam the lid of my laptop shut.
That’s it, I’m done writing, I quit. Mike’s right, my writing sucks, it has always sucked! I’m just that idiot kid that had to go to Sylvain Learning Center and I’ll always be that idiot kid no matter what I do.
I sit at my computer and try to understand this. I can’t think of what I’ve written in this most recent chapter that brought about such a strong reaction from him. He’s read every single line I’ve ever written, several times there over, and for him to call my writing “flaky” feels like the word itself has leapt off my computer screen and come to life in my hotel room. It’s quietly snuck up behind me as I sit here and lament, jamming its jagged five letters right in the small of my back.
I get up and hobble over to the mini bar holding my side like I’ve actually been stabbed and I survey the choices. I’ve never once had a sip of alcohol to drown my sorrows, but as I crack open a Vietnamese beer I say to myself, “There’s always a first time for everything.”
As I chug down beer number one, all the creative courage I’ve built up over the past three years is gone just like that. I’ve always been so vulnerable when it comes to my writing that even the slightest criticism from a stranger can shut me down for weeks. So Mike’s words have truly destroyed me.
The really sad part about all this is that it’s happening on the back of that amazing time I had in Ha Long Bay. I finally felt like I had gotten over the hardship hump and that things were going to start coming together for me and then this happens.
I grab another two beers out of the mini fridge and go back to finish Mike’s soul-corroding letter. He goes on and on and on about what’s wrong with my writing, but offers no solutions. He says more hurtful things too, like that I clearly don’t have a plan for my writing or my website. He even goes far beyond criticizing my writing and even attacks my dream saying that I don’t even know what my dream is.
He ends by going in for the kill when he says that he sees no way that I’ll ever earn any money as a travel writer and that I’ll just end up going back to my old corporate life one day.
I’m a big man and I have broad shoulders, but they’re not that broad. The last line about going back to my old corporate life really gets me. I’m not saying that he doesn’t have some valid points, because I’m the first one to say that I want to raise the standard of my writing, which is the whole reason I hired a writing coach in the first place, but come on man, that was a low blow.
I go back over to the minibar for another beer, but they’re all gone. The only thing left is a few little bottles of whisky. I hate whisky, but since that’s all there is I mix the whisky and soda together in a wine glass and I take it down in big gulps.
I know I can’t afford the prices of the minibar, but I’ve already decided that I’m going to drink until I can’t feel a thing.
I’m not sure how much time passes, but eventually I check the clock and realize that its time for me to go. I have a two-day train to Saigon that leaves later tonight. As the whisky and beer mixes together I come up with a plan that only whisky and beer mixed together could come up with.
I run all the empty beer cans and whisky bottles over to the bathroom sink and I fill them back up water and then I try to reseal them. Then I delicately place them back in the mini fridge hoping that no one will notice until I’m long gone.
By the time I make it down to reception I’m already slurring my words. I check out and when I’m asked if I took anything from the mini bar I keep my head down and confidently slur, “noooooooope.”
I come to find out that the hotel manager was so happy with the photos I turned out for them this week that he organized a complimentary ride to the train station for me in the hotel’s plush Mercedes-Benz SUV. I officially feel like the scum of the earth. By the time I get to the train station I’m so disgusted with myself that when I walk by my reflection I can’t even look at it.
All I care about is getting my hands on some more alcohol in hopes that it will take away this pain. I’ve been giving every ounce of myself to this journey and to my writing and if I can’t write, well, then I don’t see the point in continuing on.
I flag down a woman selling drinks on the platform and I buy two beers from her for 100,000 Vietnamese Dong.
I sit alone by the tracks and wait for my train as the rain hammers down. I sip on my beer as my head drops, like it really drops for the first time ever. I’ve been down before, but never like this. My head gets so heavy that I can’t lift it up no matter how hard I try. All I can do is pull the hood of my sweatshirt up and over my head as I begin to sob.