Texas Pride Takes on Harvey

Last Sunday, I wrote about Hurricane Harvey and what it felt like, watching that beast steer toward my hometown, family, friends… so much of what I treasure most.

A week later, I can’t help reiterating my gratitude. Every one I love is alive, safe. Their homes are (mostly) intact. Even as I hear about the damage done to the Port Aransas house my father inherited from my grandmother, and the many spots of which I have fond memories that have been devastated, I cannot help bowing in humble gratitude. Yes, part of the roof was ripped off the Port A house and thrown to the ground. Yes, the ground floor storage unit beneath the house (many houses in this area are built on stilts in case of hurricanes) was flooded with roughly 4 feet of water, ruining everything. Yes, the electrical loop was ripped off the house, the siding shredded.

But nobody died. And the house still stands. So many other Texans have lost infinitely, heart-breakingly more.

Continue reading “Texas Pride Takes on Harvey”

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Hurricane Harvey: Sorrow & Joy

As I’ve mentioned a time or two, I’m a Texan, born and bred on the Gulf Coast. In Corpus Christi, to be specific. A huge hunk of my heart is still there, tied to both the place and the people (all my immediate family, and many treasured friends and their families).

As those of you following the weather can imagine, the latter half of this week has been a surreal, tempestuous time. Harvey, a weather formation that began as a mere tropical storm (life-long Gulf Coasters tend to shrug at these) morphed into a monster storm almost overnight. Almost out of nowhere, a category 3 hurricane was barreling down–predicted to make landfall–on almost everything dearest to me.

Thousands of miles away in South America, I was obviously well out of danger. But it was sickening being so far away. I desperately wanted to be there to help my family prepare and evacuate–buy water and generators, board up windows, gather precious photos and important documents, offer a positive word, a hug, a hand on the shoulder and a prayer.

Continue reading “Hurricane Harvey: Sorrow & Joy”

Craving Those Comfort Reads

No doubt about it: I have Book Lust Syndrome. I already have far too many books on my “to-read” list. But that doesn’t keep me from adding new ones to my shelf when something catches my eye, or a trusted friend makes a reading recommendation (talking about you, Courtney!) In short, I’m a textbook (pun intended) victim of this adage:

 

Leona, 7, poses inside a labyrinth installation made up of 250,000 books titled "aMAZEme" at the Royal Festival Hall in central London
Photo credit: Olivia Harris/Reuters.

But as giddy as I get over cracking a new book’s spine and exploring the possibility contained within, there are times when a familiar read offers much-needed comfort. These comfort books aren’t always the most refined or revolutionary. But there’s something in their familiarity, in their resonance of a simpler time, that is soothing.

Life at this moment is definitely making me want to hide in some well-worn pages. The deadline for my massive, months-long work project is approaching with terrifying rapidity. I’m still juggling my writing and my full-time “real” job at the Embassy, along with all my other responsibilities, my relationships. It’s all I can do to get in my lap-swimming sessions. I haven’t picked up a paintbrush in months and that makes me sad.

Continue reading “Craving Those Comfort Reads”

Key West: Hangin’ with Hemingway

In my last post, I mentioned that I was recently in Key West, soaking up the sea and much longed-for time with family. I got to swim in turquoise waters, stuff myself silly with seafood, and wander streets lined with tropical trees and homes that, to my untrained eye, blended the beach architecture of my childhood with southern-Victorian and Spanish styles.

But of course, no writer’s visit to Key West would be complete without a stop at one house in particular: The Hemingway Home and Museum.

I’m always a bit embarrassed to admit this–after all, I have a Masters in English and American literature–but I haven’t actually read all that much Hemingway. I did read his “Hills like White Elephants,” a short story that exemplifies Hemingway’s Iceberg Theory (the concept of writing around a particular subject–here abortion–without ever explicitly naming it). But my research emphasis in my degree was Romantic, Victorian, and Post-Colonial British literature, and Early American and 19th-century literature. Chronologically-speaking, Hemingway came a little too late for me.

But a few years ago, I picked up Paula McLain’s historical, Hemingway-themed novel, The Paris Wife. Obviously, this book is A) fiction (and therefore, a not-necessarily-rigidly-factual interpretation of history) and B) more focused on Hemingway’s first wife, Hadley Richardson, than Hemingway himself.

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Characters & Complexity

Recently, I had a bizarre moment. A person (we’ll call them Person #1) who has largely been kind to me–even going out of their way to be so–was portrayed by someone else (Person #2) as having a completely different, far less amenable side.

The tricky part of this was that I totally buy Person #2’s take. I trust their opinion, believing them when they say they’ve had this bad experience. But I also don’t think the kindness shown me by Person #1 is totally fabricated.

So it was throwing me for a bit of a loop, trying to square Person #1’s very-opposed-but-apparently-equally-genuine qualities. I kept thinking: “How can they be like this to me, then turn around and act like that to others?”

Here’s the truth, though: People are complicated, complex, mysterious creatures with shades of motivation, perception, and desire that can be difficult to impossible to untangle. Sure, some universals exist (at least among those not tormented by serious psychoses): We’re all selfish. We all want to love and be loved. We’re all afraid of something. We all see ourselves as the hero of our own story. But we can never entirely know what it’s like to inhabit another person’s shoes, because each pair of shoes is so marvelously unique. What to me looked like dissonance within Person #1’s character made perfect, logical sense to them.

I sometimes feel badly because I’m prone to the writerly habit of seeing the living, breathing people around me in character-terms. I pick up this person’s quirky gesture. I crib that guy’s unique cadence of speech. I tuck people into categories: courteous southern gentleman. Friendly, fun-loving party girl. Brash, bullying Type A father. Continue reading “Characters & Complexity”

10 Years of Romance & Writing… & a Whole Lot More

This week marks the 10th year of my husband and me as a couple–of him and me, being “us.”

Obviously, there are lots of couples out there who can claim much lengthier track records. My wonderful parents and my lovely in-laws both have 30ish years of marriage under their respective belts. There are couples of our own, late-twenties generation who’ve been together longer, as well: couples who were high school rather than college sweethearts like my husband and me.

But for me, this 10 year mark offers a moment for reflection–reflection and an overwhelming sense of my own good fortune. (Of course, this could also be the biproduct of all the Thanksgiving-y vibes in the air.)

In some ways, it seems almost impossible that so much time could’ve passed. As a teenager, I had this notion that life after marriage was, well, a bit dull. Sure, dating was exciting. Engagement was probably pretty thrilling, too. But once you were married, weren’t you just a bit “settled?” Boring? Static, perhaps? Didn’t it just get a little mundane? Continue reading “10 Years of Romance & Writing… & a Whole Lot More”

Coincidence & Writing Cultivation

Now that a certain conference is over, I can breathe a sigh of relief and finally, officially break the happy news I alluded to last week….

No, I haven’t scored that long lusted-after novel contract.

Nope, Foreign Service friends, we haven’t discovered that our onward assignment is to be my dream post of Dublin. Or Belfast. Or Prague.

And no, despite my pleading, husband couldn’t be coaxed into getting me a penguin for my birthday last weekend.

But yes: I can now say I have an award-winning book on my authorial résumé. Continue reading “Coincidence & Writing Cultivation”