Category: Personal (Page 1 of 45)

My dreams, and her dreams

Earlier this summer I was watching the auditions for So You Think You Can Dance, and one of the contestants said this after getting cut from the show:

“Dancers get told no all the time. You just have to keep going.”

Simple, full of grace, and true. I found myself nodding, thinking about how much this applies to writing/publishing too. I’ve faced hundreds of no’s already; I’ll face hundreds more.

Then I realized, I spend a lot of time thinking about my own dreams and ambitions, but now I have to be a steward for my daughter’s dreams and ambitions too. It’s intimidating, but also a privilege.

I probably won’t know what her dreams are for many years to come. Big or small, I hope she reaches them all.

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When I was younger, it felt very important to me that my writing career be established before I started a family. I wanted to be an author first, a wife and mother second. But that isn’t how things happened.

I would be lying if I said it didn’t bother me sometimes, my inability to achieve that goal. But at the same time, I wouldn’t change any of the decisions that led me to this place. I wouldn’t trade Andy or IB for any amount of professional success.

Fortunately, my dream of being an author is never out of reach. There’s no expiration date on good storytelling or writing.

And I know dozens of writers, either personally or by reputation, and some of them are parents, some of them aren’t. Either way, it has no impact on the quality of their work or the trajectory of their career.

As for achieving X before age Y… I get why people care about that sort of thing, but really, it’s just a number. The words on the page don’t know whether you’re 19 or 49. Just write them.

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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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Mothers and daughters

Dear IB,

Today especially — my first Mother’s Day — I have been thinking about my Ama. All the little memories that I have of her. All the things that my mother has told me. The small details that paint a larger picture. The stories that become legend.

You will hear about my tiny hands reaching for her as she boarded a plane back to Taiwan. The way we traded “wo ai ni”s over crackly long-distance phone calls. The disappointment on her face when I didn’t do as she asked. The crinkle of her eyes, and the softness of her cheeks.

I don’t really pray, but when I was pregnant with you, I spoke to my Ama a lot. She was a midwife for many years, and in my broken Mandarin, I asked her to help me through this, to keep you safe. I believe that she heard me. I believe that her spirit walked with ours.

Today I have also been thinking about your Ama. Everything she has done and continues to do for me, and now for you too. All the memories you will have of her. All the stories I will tell.

You will hear about her hand squeezing mine like Morse code, and me repeating the pattern back. The time she she tried to make Velveeta mac and cheese, but substituted mayonnaise for sour cream. Her exceedingly high expectations, and her unwavering support for my writing. Her love of Dairy Queen, Ralph Lauren clothing, and baby oil. Her laugh. Her art.

Part of the reason I feel that my Ama was watching over us is that your Ama happened to be visiting when I went into labor with you. Your father was away on a business trip, so without her there, I would have been alone for most of it. Instead, I had her by my side the whole time. She held my hand and fed me ice chips. She was there when you were born, and she wasn’t even mad that you stole her birthday. She said that you were beautiful.

And of course, I have been thinking about what you might one day tell your children about me. It’s hard for me to imagine you fully grown, me old and gray. But I look forward to it. I look forward to everything with you, the good and the bad. I hope you’ll have many fond memories and interesting stories of me. I’ve already got so many of you.

Love,
Your mother

And even though I taught my daughter the opposite, still she came out the same way! Maybe it is because she was born to me and she was born a girl. And I was born to my mother and I was born a girl. All of us are like stairs, one step after another, going up and down, but all going the same way.

The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan

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Six months, a lifetime

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My little IB is 6 months old today. I don’t know where the time went.

Or maybe I do. It’s weird how time works now, at least in regards to my daughter. She is always and everything.

She is always going to be the little wiggleworm I carried inside me for nine months. She is always going to be the sillywill that chomps on our knuckles and smiles at everybody. She is always going to be the girl who asks me to French braid her hair and snuggles with us while watching football. She is always going to be the middle schooler who does homework at the kitchen counter while her dad cooks dinner. She is always going to be the teenager who I drive to soccer games and movies with her friends. She is always going to be the college student who texts instead of calls, and brings her boyfriend home for the holidays.

She is then and now and someday. Every moment all at once. Everything that has already happened, and everything that is still possible.

I didn’t know it would be like this.

It’s funny how normal, and how miraculous, this is.

 

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Little steps

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For the past two nights, my little girl has slept the whole night in her crib in her nursery by herself. It wasn’t exactly planned, but we knew it was on the horizon. She is getting too long for the bassinet we keep by our bed, plus she has become a pretty good sleeper, and I was starting to feel (or at least wonder if) we were disturbing her more often than the other way around.

Part of me is wistful about the change. Even though we had to keep a light on and a fan running, it was nice to have her next to me. I could just peek over at her sweet face anytime I wanted.

But a bigger part of me knows that this is best for her, and that’s what’s most important. That’s what growing up is. Little steps toward independence.

Luckily we’ve still got a long way to go.

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