Between the last week of September and mid-March, I was a bridesmaid in three weddings. Three. It’s been an incredibly blessed, busy, beautiful, occasionally-manic, joy-filled season.
And now I’m ready for a nap.
At the most recent festivities, I was honored to be a bridesmaid to my hilarious, loving, incandescently-beautiful friend, Sarah. As so often happens, Sarah’s wedding party was cobbled together of friends from different periods of her life. We required a few rounds of introductions to get to know one another.
It wasn’t until several hours into our pre-wedding slumber party that I learned Sarah had raved to the other ladies about my novels (for which she’s been a gracious beta reader) and introduced me as a “world-renown novelist.” I blushed, rolled my eyes, and made a joke about how you had to actually publish a novel before you could become world-renowned.
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.
Warning sign on Texas highway. Corpus Christi, Tx. (Driven this road dozens of times to go surfing with my dad and brother.)
Rain and palm trees. Corpus Christi, Tx.
Truck outside hospital. Corpus Christi, Tx.
Flooded highway. Houston, Tx. (This was right before the turn-off for our house when my husband and I lived in Houston.)
Stranded cars. Houston, Tx.
NASA satellite image of Harvey.
Radar image of Harvey.
Collapsed house and flood waters. Rockport, Tx.
Submerged boat. Rockport, Tx.
Overturned airplane. Rockport, Tx.
Collapsed building. Rockport, Tx.
Downed utility poles. Taft, Tx.
Damaged but proudly enduring Texas flag. Houston, Tx.
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.
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:
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.
Note the base of this fountain: a urinal Hemingway acquired from a local Key West bar.
Hemingway’s home was one of the first in the Florida Keys to have running water.
Love these posters for the movie adaptations of Hemingway’s novels.
Cat standing guard over Hemingway’s writing room.
I’m a sucker for this sun-licked wrap-around porch.
Stairs up to Hemingway’s writing hideaway.
Hubby and me, proving we were there.
A portable typewriter, like those Hemingway might have taken on his adventures.
Entrance to Hemingway’s house.
As always, a nod to Hemingway house’s horde of feline residents.
Hemingway at the helm.
A few pieces of Hemingway’s private library. Most of his books reside in Cuba.
Hemingway’s bed, custom-made to accommodate his large size. The headboard is an antique Spanish gate.
A tribute to one of Hemingway’s favorite pursuits, discovered in Key West: sport fishing.
Another shot of Hemingway’s writing getaway. Note to nods to his passions: writing, books, fishing, and big game hunting.
Hemingway’s house is famous for its polydactyl cats. Not all of the approximately 50 cats now resident there have manifested this gene, but all are carriers.
A treatise on the Iceberg Theory.
A wall o’ the four wives. A somewhat unsettling group of portraits, perhaps.
A snapshot of Hemingway’s writing room above the carriage house (and the iron grate that protects the room from wayward tourists).
“The Snows of Kilimanjaro,” one of the stories inspired by Hemingway’s hunting expeditions.
This pool, upon completion in 1938, cost $20,000 in the currency of the day. (Or, approximately $350,000 today.) It was the only in-ground pool within 100 miles when built, and was dug out of the solid coral that comprises the island.
A movie featuring Hemingway and wife no. 3, American novelist, travel writing, and journalist Martha Gellhorn.
A tribute to Hemingway’s love for big game hunting.
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.
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.
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”→