Month: August 2017

Houston, Harvey, home, heartache

Last week we had at least 5 plumbers come through our house, mostly to fix a leak under our tub. A lot of hands were needed to assess and then address the problem, but we were lucky that we caught it early, before it could do much damage. As one plumber said to me, “Water is the most powerful force on earth.”


My hometown is drowning. I can do little more than watch.

I have done a lot of watching.

Pictured above is Meyerland Plaza, a shopping center around the corner from my high school. I spent countless hours there, with my friends, my boyfriend. As sophomores, we would trek through the late afternoon heat and humidity to treat ourselves to a slice of rich chocolate torte at La Madeleine. As juniors, we would camp out in the Borders bookstore, our legs splayed out across one another’s, sometimes doing practice SAT workbooks, other times reading graphic novels. As seniors, we were allowed to leave campus for lunch, so we would drive to Chick-Fil-A or Souper Salad for a quick bite, windows rolled down, reveling in the breeze, our freedom, our maturity.

Now those streets are rivers. My memories are lost somewhere below the murky storm waters.


I can only imagine what it is like to be there right now. To sit in your home, listening to the news as things go from bad to worse, watching the water rise toward you. Wondering if it will come all the way up your driveway. Hoping it won’t make it to the front step. Praying it won’t come inside.

This storm is not a guest you have invited. It is a menace lurking outside, rattling your windows, frenzying the trees, and rumbling the skies. It will leave you guessing and stressing. It is not a friend.

Of course, it is also not an enemy. Not on purpose, anyway. It is just a fact of nature. Just a lot of wind and water. Just the most powerful force on earth.


I can imagine, and I can remember.

2001. Tropical Storm Allison. My parents and I did what we could, but when you live in a one-story house and your city is at sea level, there’s only so much to be done.

I sat at the piano, playing “Für Elise” while rain spattered against the roof, and the moon cast a dull glow through the skylights. When water began to seep in, I stopped playing. I lay back on the piano bench and stared up at the ceiling. Listening. The quiet was so loud. The hardwood floors slowly disappeared, until the ground rippled all around me. A puddle, then a pond, then a lake.

The air was strangely still, but damp. After a while, I waded through the living room, ankle-deep in dirty water. I heard a faint buzzing. We had accidentally left our sound system on. Without thinking, I reached down to turn it off and received a small jolt. My fingertip burned.

By morning, the water had receded, but in its wake was warped wood, bloated books, and the sense that something sacred had been violated. A person’s home should be a safe space, a refuge. Ours had been penetrated.

We spent the next several days sorting through our belongings, trashing what was beyond repair, laying out the rest to be dried in the sun. We broke our backs and tore our knuckles ripping out rank, soggy carpet. We tried to reclaim and recover. We tried to heal and move on.


Many years and many storms passed, but eventually our house flooded again. And then once more. Unfortunately my parents are not strangers to this process, though I’m not sure anyone ever really gets used to it.

By some miracle, their house did not flood this time, in Hurricane Harvey. Nor did their business, though it lost power for a while. They were much luckier than so many.

My inbox, phone, and Facebook feed are filled with concern. My friends and I keep checking in on each other, and our family members who still live in the storm’s path. Most are fine, thankfully, but some are enduring nightmares. The stories and images coming out of my home state are heartbreaking.

Yes, we are Houston strong — Texas strong — and I am proud of that. But I would gladly trade in my pride if it meant I could erase this tragedy.


I cannot imagine what it must be like for survivors of Hurricane Katrina who fled to Houston and rebuilt their lives, only to face this horror again.


Back in 2011, when Japan was devastated by a tsunami, I decided to donate earnings from my web serial Twenty-Somewhere to relief efforts. I thought about doing something similar now, but the truth is, Twenty-Somewhere doesn’t earn much, and I’m in a very different financial situation than I was then. I have more to spare, more to share. So I’ll be donating as much as I can to these organizations:

There are many other great organizations doing important work to help the survivors of Hurricane Harvey. These are just the ones I’ve honed in on for myself.

Also, the wonderful kid lit community has once again rallied to raise funds, both through independent donations, and through an auction of services.

The need for help is urgent right now, and I appreciate all who are answering that call. But the effects of this will linger on for a long time. Physical, financial, and emotional.


Edit: My friend Angie recommends St. Bernard Project, an organization that stays on-site for years after disasters. Through them, Angie helped to rebuild homes in the Rockaways after Hurricane Sandy.


Today I discovered another leak, this time coming from our kitchen sink. Nothing to do with Harvey, obviously, but I can’t help feeling like it’s another sign, another reminder.

Water is the most powerful force on earth. Best not to forget.

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From Afghanistan to San Francisco, with hardships and hope

Mohammad was my driver on a busy Friday night. Amid the bustle of cars coming and going, I almost missed him. He had dropped someone off ahead of me, farther down the street, but I didn’t know that and kept waiting for him to pull up. Finally I caught sight of his white Camry and got in. He said hello and started driving.

He was a large man, dark hair nearly touching the roof of the car, but he had a gentle aura, and a quiet voice to match. As we left the Mission District behind in a blur of lights, I asked where he was from. Afghanistan, he said. There, he was an orthopedic surgeon, until the Mujahideen started a civil war. Then he fled to Pakistan and worked with a Japanese NGO. His three children were all born in Pakistan, and grew up speaking Pashto, along with Mohammad’s native Persian.

As things in Pakistan became more turbulent, they moved again, this time to Canada, where his medical license no longer held meaning. After 25 years as a doctor, Mohammad had to start over. He decided to work in a research lab, and studied for a new license. Not the same, but related.

A few years later, his family relocated once more, to Sacramento. That is where Mohammad and his children call home now, although he spends many nights at his sister’s place in Fremont, so that he can drive for Lyft and Uber in San Francisco. Neither his Afghani medical license nor his Canadian research one are valid here in the United States. Another new beginning, another dead end.

I shook my head, incredulous and yet not surprised. I wanted to apologize for the way his life had been upended so many times.

Instead, I lamented about the “issues” in our country. Mohammad brushed off the criticism, and his tone changed. He had spoken about Afghanistan and his past with pride; now he spoke about the U.S. and his future with hope. His long arms seemed to embrace the car while he drove.

He told me that in many countries — one example he gave was Saudi Arabia — it was impossible for a foreigner to buy property in their own name. You could put up the money, but a native Saudi had to sign the papers. Here in America, though, what you paid for belonged to you. Like his car. It could not be taken away. It could be used to make a better life.

By this time, we were nearing my destination. In the silence that settled over us, I thought about his words. About how he carried his hardships and frustrations right alongside his gratitude and optimism. About how easily and serenely he had shared his story in a fifteen-minute conversation with a stranger. About how fortunate I was to have met him and listened.

Finally, we arrived. We thanked each other and said good night. I got out. He drove away.

His story continues.

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A good thing coming in 2018

Writing is a funny endeavor. So much of it is done alone, just you and the blank page. And yet in spite of that, or maybe because of it, there’s a strong sense of kinship between writers, a vast and supportive community.

Over the years, I’ve been very fortunate to find great friends within that community, people who inspire and encourage me. One of the best of them is celebrating a birthday today, and I’d like to use that occasion as an excuse to shout her good news from my rooftop:

Ingrid is such a wonderful person and a gifted writer. I couldn’t be happier or more proud of her success! And her book, ALL OUT OF PRETTY, is beautiful and wrenching and powerful. I can’t wait for it to be on shelves.

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