I slapped my empty suitcase onto the bed and looked at my best friend, Marilyn. “What the hell do I pack for a year? Seriously, what have I gotten myself into this time?”
Marilyn frowned, slowly shaking her head. “Couldn’t you take the geographical cure somewhere more civilized?”
The muscles in my face tightened. “Not again, please. Don’t repeat that tired old coffee-mug cliché, ‘Wherever you go, there you are.’”
“It was on a t-shirt, but never mind. I’m only asking whether it will be hard to leave everything behind.”
“No, hard would be staying.”
This is the thirty-second (but who’s counting) draft of the first few paragraphs of the book about my year of living dangerously as a United Nations volunteer in Cambodia in 1992. I started it as a memoir in 2008, finished it as a novel in 2016, and have a bound print-out from Office Depot on the bookshelf to show for my labors. The story is about as widely read as my 1980 dissertation on Supreme Court-ordered special masters for US prisons. Oh, right; my mother also had a copy, which was hidden behind the sewing basket in her closet.
Not one of those eight years was wasted. The writing process was cathartic because it crystallized my experiences, and made them understandable. The story was a road map to my imperfections and triumphs and, most important, it was a muse to the other stories in my life.