Category: Personal (Page 2 of 46)

My favorite books of 2017

You lose a lot of reading time when you’re taking care of a baby — or at least I did. I read fewer than 10 books in 2017. I did read tons of articles, and several short stories, but still. It’s a little bit sad.

I think not reading as much also has a noticeable impact on my writing. Less input, less output. So lately I’ve trying to make reading more of a priority, even if it’s just for a few minutes before bed each night.

Anyway, these were my favorite books in 2017, in order of when I read them:

   

I talked a bit about the three YA titles over at We Heart YA. Here, I want to share a few lines from HOMEGOING, a book that grabbed hold of me and wouldn’t let go. I loved the characters, the themes, the back and forth “twin” structure. It’s brilliant and beautiful, powerful and moving. (I actually doubled over in agony at one point!) My top favorite of last year, no question.

It had created an impossible situation, and those who had been determined to stay on the fence found themselves without a fence at all.

Among other things, this line reminded me of the 2016 presidential election.

She was staring at the bark on the palm trees, the rounded diamonds crisscrossing against each other. Each one different; each one the same.

I love the simplicity of this image, and the beauty and truth of the observation.

“There should be no room in your life for regret. If in the moment of doing you felt clarity, you felt certainty, then why feel regret later?”

That is something I really struggle with. I agonize over decisions, even dumb little ones sometimes, and if I later find out that a different choice would have been better, I have a hard time letting it go. What a useless way to spend my time and energy. And worse: it’s me undermining myself.

I’ve been working on it, though, and I think I’m getting better.

The word hit her like a memory. Though she had never been there, she could sense its presence in her life. A premonition. A forward memory.

love that phrase, “a forward memory.” I have had that feeling before, but never had a name for it. Such a strange and beautiful thing.

(Early in my relationship with Andy, we broke up. I remember so clearly this feeling in my gut that it wasn’t The End, that it couldn’t be. I just knew in my bones that there was supposed to be more to us, as if I had already seen it, already lived it. Happily, it turns out I was right.)

Evil begets evil. It grows. It transmutes, so that sometimes you cannot see that the evil in your world began as the evil in your own home.

Such a smart, important, and difficult truth.

“Just because somebody sees or hears or feels something other folks can’t, doesn’t mean they’re crazy. My grandmother used to say, ‘A blind man don’t call us crazy for seeing.'”

I never really thought of it that way, but it’s a good comparison. A good reminder of how and why to respect other people’s perceptions.


For previous years’ favorite books, click here.

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LANDLINE by Rainbow Rowell

I first read LANDLINE back in 2014, shortly before my wedding. This was intentional, as I knew the book focused on marriage — what it’s like and what it means. Not that I was totally clueless about those things. Andy and I had been together for 9 years already, and living together for the vast majority of that time. For us, the wedding was sort of a formality, albeit a joyful one.

Last year I re-read LANDLINE (the audiobook version this time) and found myself drawn to many of the same insights about love and commitment and building a life together.

She hadn’t gotten to say “I love you” — Georgie always said “I love you,” and Neal always said it back, no matter how perfunctory it was. It was a safety check, proof that they were both still in this thing.

Andy says “I love you” to me every morning before he leaves for work. In some ways, it’s perfunctory. In same ways, it isn’t at all.

Georgie never thought she’d be old enough to talk about life in big decade-long chunks like this.

It’s not that she’d thought she was going to die before now — she just never imagined it would feel this way. The heaviness of the proportions. Twenty years with the same dream. Seventeen with the same man.

Pretty soon she’d have been with Neal longer than she’d been without him. She’d know herself as his wife better than she’d ever known herself as anyone else.

It felt like too much. Not too much to have, just too much to contemplate. Commitments like boulders that were too heavy to carry.

It astounds me that Andy and I have already spent about a third of our lives together. Before long, it will be half. And then more than half…

Neal was where Georgie plugged in, and synced up, and started fresh every day. He was the only one who knew her exactly as she was.

I actually think Andy feels even more this way about me than I do about him?

“Just because you love someone,” she said, “that doesn’t mean your lives will fit together.”

“Nobody’s lives just fit together,” Neal said. “Fitting together is something you work at. It’s something you make happen — because you love each other.”

“I’m not saying that everything will magically work out if people love each other enough… I’m just saying,” he went on, “maybe there’s no such thing as enough.”

Even though Andy and I have a pretty healthy and functional relationship, I try not to take it for granted. I try to remember that, as natural and “easy” as it feels now, getting to this point did take some work, and staying the course will too.

OK, I’m going to present the rest of these excerpts without my commentary. I think Rainbow’s words capture and convey everything all on their own anyway.

You don’t know when you’re twenty-three.

You don’t know what it really means to crawl into someone else’s life and stay there. You can’t see all the ways you’re going to get tangled, how you’re going to bond skin to skin. How the idea of separating will feel in five years, in ten — in fifteen. When Georgie thought about divorce now, she imagined lying side by side with Neal on two operating tables while a team of doctors tried to unthread their vascular systems.

She didn’t know at twenty-three.

“How’d you know he was the one?”

“I didn’t know. I don’t think either of us knew.”

Heather rolled her eyes. “Neal knew — he proposed to you.”

“It’s not like that,” Georgie said. “You’ll see. It’s more like you meet someone, and you fall in love, and you hope that that person is the one — and then at some point, you have to put down your chips. You just have to make a commitment and hope that you’re right.”

“No one else describes it that way.” Heather frowned. “Maybe you’re doing it wrong.”

Obviously I’m doing it wrong,” Georgie said. “But I still think love feels that way for most people.”

“So you think most people bet everything, their whole lives, on hope. Just hoping that what they’re feeling is real.”

“Real isn’t relevant,” Georgie said, turning completely to face Heather. “It’s like… you’re tossing a ball between you, and you’re just hoping you can keep it in the air. And it has nothing to do with whether you love each other or not. If you didn’t love each other, you wouldn’t be playing this stupid game with the ball. you love each other — and you just hope you can keep the ball in play.”

“What’s the ball a metaphor for?”

“I’m not sure,” Georgie said. “The relationship. Marriage.”

“I take for granted that you’ll be there when I’m done doing whatever it is I’m doing. I take for granted that you’ll love me no matter what.”

“You do?”

“Yes. Neal, I’m so sorry.”

“Don’t be sorry,” he said. “I want you to take that for granted. I will love you no matter what.”

Georgie felt herself sliding out of control again. “Don’t say that. Take it back.”

“No.”

“Take it back.”

“You’re crazy,” he said. “No.”

“If you say that, it’s like you’re telling me that all the insensitive things I do are okay. It’s like you’re just handing me ‘no matter what.’ You’re pre-pardoning me.”

“That’s what love is, Georgie. Accidental damage protection.”

The future was going to happen, even if he wasn’t ready for it. Even if he was never ready for it.

At least he could make sure he was with the right person.

Wasn’t that the point of life? To find someone to share it with?

And if you got that part right, how far wrong could you go? If you were standing next to the person you loved more than everything else, wasn’t everything else just scenery?

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Thankful

I am grateful for so many things, just a few of which I shall list here.

  • Another wonderful year on this planet, and my first entirely as a mother.
  • The privilege to pursue my dreams, no matter how slowly I seem to be moving toward them.
  • An amazing and diverse set of friends, from all different times and spheres of my life.
  • My family, both chosen and created.

I’ve had so much less time for the internet lately, especially social media. I’m not sure if it’s a result of parenthood, or maturity, or discipline, or just a natural ebb and flow. Regardless of the reason, I think it’s a good thing.

That said, I want to be more present here, in this space I’ve created for myself. I want to share more about what I’m reading, writing, and experiencing. For my own memory, if nothing else.

My friend T.S. has been using a monthly recap format that I quite enjoy. I may need to try something like that…

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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.

IB Houston continued 012

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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