Rejected by the world!

I've adventured and gotten writing gigs and fallen in love with cities, but failure dogs me! Can I just go home?

Published June 3, 2009 10:20AM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

I am stuck.

Two years after I graduated with a master's in literature, I took off. I am an American citizen but I grew up abroad and could not wait to see the world.  I decided to take a huge backpacking trip. I fell in love with a city and ended up moving there. I was pursuing my dreams of becoming a writer. I had a lot to learn but I was making progress. It wasn't easy, but I felt alive.

After a year, I unwisely decided to quit my job, thinking that the few gigs I got would be enough and that my free time would allow me to write more. I was wrong on both counts. Offers dried up and so did my inspiration. My visa was only going to be valid for another month, I couldn't find another job and my boyfriend was moving to another country because of a scholarship. I tried to follow, thinking I could get a teaching job, but unfortunately I did not fit the image of American language trainers (i.e., blond, blue-eyed) that they were looking for.

Thus, with only a month left with the apartment and the visa, I went home. It was a tough decision because I told myself I'd only go back once I was a success. I tried to comfort myself, thinking that in two months I'd be back to my old independent self.

Half a year later, I'm still here. I feel like shit and an old eating disorder has once again reared its ugly head.

It's not that I haven't had some small successes, getting a few gigs here and there, but I'm still broke, my visa is going to run out again (my home is outside America) and I'm stranded. I earned enough to get me a plane ticket if I need to, but nothing more. I got this very big and legitimate gig to write a book: a textbook for high school students about literature. But I messed it up. I missed the deadline and the editor never responded to the half I already submitted (though in my defense, I was only given one month to complete study guide compilation for 100 works of literature, averaging two to three pages each plus guide questions, that's a lot!). I lost time and my sanity. Now, I find myself procrastinating in the most insane manner (for example, opting to stay up the whole night playing solitaire instead of writing). The hole I am in feels inescapable, growing darker and deeper every day.

Each time I try to think of a way out (applying to creative writing programs, job applications, etc.) obstacles pop up in my mind.

I am trapped. I can't work in my current country legally. I'm afraid to go back to the U.S. because I'm scared that I won't find a job or I'll end up flipping burgers (my family was ashamed enough when I worked in a sandwich shop). I want to go back to the city I lived in, but there are no jobs for me (they are very strict with immigration).

I was very close to suicide a few months ago. But the fear would always just make me shake and cry.

I hate who I have become: cowardly, afraid, pathetic. I'm angry all the time. I have flashbacks of the stupid things I've done, and remembering the good times makes me want to cry, mourning the loss of a former life. The passion and drive that I once had is gone. Worst of all, I've lost the ability to dream. I know it seems ridiculous to say for someone still quite young, but I feel like I peaked and it's all downhill from here. And I can't really talk to anyone about it. My friends don't see me this way; I'm the funny advice-giving buddy. That's my image, but as I laugh with them, inside I feel empty and hollow.

Thank you for reading this. I would appreciate any advice or directions to a ladder out of this hole I dug for myself.

Backpacker Without a Backpack

Dear Backpacker,

I would simply say that you have overdone it. You have pushed yourself too hard, you have exceeded your capacity, you have proven yourself human and it is time to retrench. There is no shame in this. You must recover.

So go home to your family, wherever they are, and spend some time in bed. Will they feed you even if you are not on the tenure track? Are they so glory-fixated that they cannot take in their daughter and let her nurse herself back to health? Will they shame you mercilessly if you admit that you did not conquer the whole world on your first try? I doubt that. I know there is a place where you are loved and accepted. Go there. Let yourself heal. Get some breathing time. Leave the world alone for now. It will take care of itself.

My guess is that being an American you were taught to go forth and beat the world into submission, bend it to your whimsy, make it your pet and drag it home as an ornament. So you set out to conquer the world with a master's degree and a backpack. Your mentors did not tell you that the world is muscular with dislike of us. The world does not wish to be remade. It resists us. We are baffled by its resistance. It seems to rebuke your very soul, your sense of who you are.

Your regular method, when you meet resistance, is to power through, scheme, conjure.

I suggest you try something different. Before you go back to America, spend a week in one museum. Contemplate one sculpture and think how long it took. Those who made great things had to stay in one place a long time. Their options were few. That is still the case. The plodders are still at it, invisibly making things we will briefly admire. Learn from them. Contemplate what it takes to make one halfway decent thing.

Slow down. Get healthy. Take some time off. Catch your breath. Make a plan. You can sally forth again when you are strong enough.

What? This old book ad again? Yeah, I guess so. It's a pretty good book, though! You could buy one and find out!

Makes a great gift. Can be personalized for the giftee of your choice. Signed first editions on sale now.

What? You want more advice?


By Cary Tennis

MORE FROM Cary Tennis

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Since You Asked Writers And Writing