Hurricane Harvey

Act 1

“I won’t tell you what to do… but I’m really worried.”

I looked at KT with big, scared eyes. He had put on his Going Out Clothes, getting ready to meet his friends at a nearby bar to watch the Mayweather vs. MacGregor fight.

He looked back at me, and then out the window. In the darkness, the rain fell lightly and steadily. Last night, the first outer bands of Hurricane Harvey had hit our part of Houston, flooding the streets but draining away by sunrise. It seemed like any of the other storms that would frequently, uneventfully pass through our city. In the morning, the skies had looked clear enough that we even ventured outside to take a look at Buffalo Bayou, brimming with murky brown floodwater.

I wasn’t about to fall into a false sense of security, however, especially after repeatedly checking the news and seeing the same flashing headlines: the worst is yet to come… tonight!!! The days prior, we (mostly I) had stockpiled 15 gallons of water and nearly a dozen cans of food, adding rations to the complete emergency kit I’d brought with me from California. They sat in our utility closet, untouched and unneeded… for now. My neurotic self was still bracing for the true impact of Harvey.

KT sensed my tightly-wound, fried and frayed nerves, and softly relented. He changed into his pajamas.

While we settled in for a long night of video games, the flooding began.

Harvey

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love and Lovett House

It is with great sadness and overwhelming relief that I announce my separation from one of the most formative relationships I’ve had here in Houston: my house.

When I first started house hunting, I wasn’t sure if I’d be coming solo or not. After a lot of searching, both on Craigslist and in my soul, the stars aligned. I broke up with my SO and SF, signed a lease, and moved into the cutest little Craftsman fourplex in Houston.

The year and a half that followed, I counted my blessings. My two roommates and I grew close. I counseled one through a serious break-up and watched the other one build a relationship from scratch. We hosted holiday gatherings and boozy parties, had lazy brunches and countless heart-to-hearts. One night, my roommate nearly fell through my ceiling while rummaging in the attic; another night, my neighbors banded together to help cut a tree fallen atop my car.

I grew my community within the walls of Lovett House, holding weekly Bachelor-watching sessions and wine & taco nights for my friends. Other evenings, I’d invite a slew of people over for our favorite kinds of games: board games, drinking games, and pre-gaming. In between big events, I would hang out on the couch and study with the light pouring through the windows and my roommate’s dog, Dexter, at my feet. It was so nice.

It was also in Lovett House that my heart healed and I ~learnd 2 luv~ again. I can still picture it clearly… The early morning light would filter in through the palm trees outside my window, casting soft shadows in my room. I’d walk into the kitchen and open the back door to see KT standing there in a daze from his overnight shift. I’d put a bowl of food in front of him and, when he was ready, we’d lay down and talk about how absolutely lost we were in our training programs. The two of us, from opposite sides of the country, spent countless sleepy afternoons trying to figure out our place on the Gulf Coast.

I made so many sweet memories in Lovett House… but it wasn’t always easy. I learned a few hard lessons, challenging my faith in humanity.

One night, my house was broken into while we were sleeping inside. At 3 am on a summer night, KT and I were startled awake by a light floating in the darkness. It immediately went dark when KT called out, prompting me to jump to the most obvious conclusion: the house was haunted. (Duh.)

As it turned out, an intruder had snuck into the house (!!!), removing his shoes to move more quietly across our creaky wood floors. He’d opened the door to my bedroom, shining his phone light into the room a few times. When we woke up, he ran out of the house and left his Vans behind. We called the police, notified the landlord, and had our locks changed immediately. I can only hope it was a crime of opportunity, given that the dude hadn’t taken a single thing in a house of three young women.

Notably, however, the greatest threat to the house came from within.

My roommate P and I went to the Beyonce concert together, hosted joint birthday parties, and bonded over our love for bike rides and boys… until she decided to AirBnB our apartment. When we called her out on breaking the ground rules we’d set, she refused to cancel the rental. After many cinematic screaming matches, my other roommate E went to the landlord. Shit hit the fan. P began harassing E: kicking her off the internet, parking in her space, telling her to get off of her couch, even getting her boyfriend in on the verbal abuse — to the point that E moved out and started paying two rents. I took refuge elsewhere until we could find people to take over the lease, after which point I kindly and clearly cut ties with P. I’d seen a dark side of her, and I wasn’t interested in being friends with such a mean and irrational person. Her response? An avalanche of nitpicking texts, capped by this email: “You might tell me I was wrong and petty and you might be right, but friends stick together… It’s insane and I don’t really get it but oh welllllll”. Right.

And so…

My time at Lovett House drew to an abrupt, but necessary, close. I thought I’d spend more time there than I did — but (as I have learned repeatedly, being in my 20s), things don’t always work out as expected. Still, I am grateful for all that I’ve experienced in our little duplex of three girls and a dog. Lovett House was lovely while it lasted.

Y2

I’m done with my second year of graduate school.

It’s insane to think how quickly time is flying by (and how poorly I am documenting all of this). Some neat things I’ve done:

I successfully proposed my master’s thesis, and am hopefully going to be able to defend it (and obtain two new letters after my name!) in the fall.

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politics

Two weeks ago, I proudly marched into my local polling station, handed over my voter’s ballot — and then realized that I’d forgotten my government ID. … Thirty minutes later, having returned home to grab my passport (just in case my California ID didn’t fit the bill in Texas), I cast my ballot.

I began writing this post early on election day, optimistically. I wanted to write about how meaningful it was for me to be part of the electorate, especially at this point in time. Up until now, I’d largely taken for granted my right to vote in this country; I didn’t think twice when I turned eighteen and sent in my voter registration form. This year, however, the privilege felt indescribably important.

Moments after leaving the polling station, I called my mom and asked her if she considered herself an immigrant or refugee. “Refugee,” my mom responded matter-of-factly, without a moment’s hesitation. I barely held back tears. My parents had fled a war-torn country, faced immeasurable danger on the open seas, and struggled to establish themselves in a foreign land, so that their children could grow up in a safe, privileged, democratic nation. They persevered so that I could, in a devastatingly effortless fashion, walk across the street and punch a few buttons into a polling machine.

In the weeks leading up to the election, waves of emotion would spontaneously overcome me. What an honor to play my part in electing, in 2008, our first black president — and now our first female head of state. I will be able to look back and say that I helped, in my infinitesimally small way, move our nation towards progress. I can advocate for my people (women, people of color, immigrants) and for those I love from marginalized communities.  Perhaps it was self-congratulatory and self-inflated, but I felt sincerely proud — not necessarily of myself, but of my family and my country (truly, my country) for empowering me, for making all of this possible.

Let’s be clear, though. Even if I felt positively about my heritage and my role in this democratic process, this was still a dirty, demoralizing race. It called into question many aspects of the political machine in DC and bred polarizing hatred in the constituency. On election night, having done my part, I was more than ready to disconnect and put this whole ugly mess behind me. I ran a bath, put on calming music, and was all set to decompress — when my phone started going off with distressed texts. I was taken aback by what my friends were saying, but tried to put it out of my mind as I soaked. There was always the West Coast, right?

As we know by now, things never got better.

Later that night, I laid limp in bed; in the morning, I woke up and felt, for the first time, that I was living in a nightmare. I walked to work and looked at all the strange, blurred faces on the street. I wondered: who had voted against the rights of my loved ones? who didn’t consider themselves a racist or misogynist, yet put a cruel man in the Oval Office? who had prioritized their pocketbooks or prayers over their sense of humanity? I felt traumatized, as though my personhood, my legitimate membership in this society, had been directly attacked.

(I’ve thought a lot about writing about my ideology. I can try to feign political neutrality, but it’d be almost insulting to one’s intelligence: I am too much a bleeding heart liberal. I never mean to be offensive or accusatory, but I’d be doing myself a disservice if I was dishonest about my beliefs. I want to be diplomatic without being disingenuous. People much less emotional than me were also powerfully moved by this election. So much was at stake.)

Incredibly, life has gone on. I went to class, sobbing while watching Hillary’s concession speech with my beloved professors and classmates. I conducted research, commiserating with interviewees before starting the session. I went to parties, donating money to nonprofits in honor of the birthday hosts. In short: I’ve talked this election to death, taken action, grieved and processed it the best I could. And now, I memorialize this moment in time — so pivotal in my life and others’ — so that I can make sense of, and make peace with, it.

Finally: I don’t think I’ll ever regain that sense of pride and patriotism (and naivete?) I felt on election day… but I do take some comfort in knowing that I have my community. Now, more than ever, I am so grateful to be surrounded by like-minded, compassionate, and radically fierce people. This Thanksgiving, I do give thanks.

2015: a retrospective

We are nearly finished with the first month of 2016, and only now am I getting around to  posting my reflection on 2015. It’s cliche to say, but it really has been a whirlwind. I can’t believe how drastically my life has changed in one semester, let alone an entire year.

I spent the last few weeks of 2015 all over the map, both emotionally and geographically. After clawing my way out of statistics hell via 100-page final, I immediately dove into writing a 40,000-word textbook chapter. Fortunately, I was able to do so in my beautiful home state — in Orange County, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. Strikingly, however, I couldn’t wait to return to Texas by the end of break: to the new home I’ve built in a new place with new people. Life is full of surprises, y’all.

This year also marks the 10th (!!!) year in a row that I’ve completed the same survey. Without further ado… Continue reading

XO from TX

James Turrell’s SkySpace, an art installation on the Rice campus. You can gaze at the color-changing canvas from two decks.

Every now and then, driving around the pot-holed streets of Texas, I’ll catch my reflection in the rear-view mirror and think: Whoa. This is me/my life now.

I mean, I look the same (+ 12 unfortunate pounds of stress weight). I act mostly the same (+ the occasional hangover). Behind these sleep-deprived eyes, though, there’s been a sea change in my soul – in the deep well of emotions that dwells within me. A week ago, I would’ve told you that graduate school was everything I wanted it to be. I spent 45% of my time drinking Topo Chico at the grad-student-run bar, 23% working out, 15% thinking about my grant proposal, and 38% failing to understand statistics. It was luxurious. Now, though, shit is getting real. Deadlines, projects, exams, fears of failure, are piling up.

Before I completely get sucked into the abyss, however, here’s what I have learned in my first month of living in Houston.

My building on campus borders beautiful outdoor spaces and houses the art gallery.

Pros

  • My ‘hood. My house. My roomies. Everything about my living situation is lovely. I’m located in the hip “gayborhood” of Houston, which, compared to the SF Bay Area, is pretty tame — but it’s still got lovely little pockets of counterculture, trendy stuff, shady shit, etc. It reminds me a lot of Long Beach. My apartment, too, reminds me of the craftsman home I rented in Berkeley: creaky hardwood floors, floods of natural light, and lots of character. My roommates are like-minded and kind… and we’ve got the sweetest pup in the house.
  • My program. My cohort. My friends. They say the people make the place. Fortunately, I’ve very quickly found my community at Rice. They’re my family here. (I have actual family here, too, which is nice — but they’re not the ones putting up with my stressed-out shit on a daily basis like my labmates!)
  • The weather. Some may hate the humidity, but it’s been pretty manageable for me. Then again, I’m the kind of person who likes to sit in a warm car like a cat sunbathing in a windowsill. Anyway, I get to wear sundresses and sandals all the time, which has been doing great things for my psyche and wardrobe (less so for my wallet).
  • Tacos and Tex-Mex. I now understand the difference between Baja Californian cuisine and… Mexican food that is not that. I’ll never forsake El Chavito or Alerto’s back home, but there’s something to be said for the artery-clogging hybridization of Texan and Mexican food here.
  • Valhalla. My friends and I basically congregate at this aforementioned on-campus bar every week. Nothing is nicer than sitting underneath the willow trees with a drink after a long day at lab.
  • The social scene. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that I no longer have a significant other (a story for another day, or maybe never?). This has drastically changed my lifestyle. Since being here, I’ve been so, so social. I’ve “crashed” a Taylor Swift concert, walked late nights along the Buffalo Bayou, went dancing super-drunk, hosted wine and taco dinners (a far cry from my elaborate SF parties, might I add), closed down coffee shops, and loitered at countless bars. In other words: I’ve had a lot of freedom and fun.

Houston sunsets can be pretty magical. Also: please ignore the fact that I totally took this picture while driving.

Cons

  • The weather. Again, though I can put up with the heat, this does result in a few unfortunate side effects. I thought I was impervious to mosquito bites but, um, definitely not. It also means that I can’t really enjoy the surprising number of green spaces in Houston. Outdoors isn’t really a “thing” until winter. (This is fine, however, considering that my options leaving California were the arctic Midwest, untenably expensive East Coast, or Texas. I’d still pick the latter, even now.)
  • Transportation. This is no San Francisco. I definitely miss walkability and consequent accessibility. Luckily, I’m enjoying driving more than I thought I would (especially after 5+ years of biking and taking MUNI/BART). Blasting hoodrat music while swerving around the streets makes me feel 17 again/like a true Houstonian. However, when I’m not driving, I have to Uber — and, embarrassingly, I’ve had to call for one whenever I’ve had one too many beers (which is, um, exactly one beer).
  • Urban planning. Houston is the wild west. Warehouses can pop up next to houses next to restaurants with abandon. It’s a jumble of glitter and grit: Pottery Barn blocks away from the projects. The streets that thread through these areas are pockmarked with potholes and brushed over with faded lane dividers. It’s workable, but pretty shabby if you compare it to the charismatic beauty of my previous location.
  • The social scene. Though grad school has helped me find my tribe, Houston still has a pretty different demographic from my West Coast roots. Every time I find out someone is from California (and especially from OC or SF), I feel an automatic, unbreakable closeness with them. I’ve become intensely aware of how strongly I identify with my home state — how much it has shaped me. As they say, you never know what you’ve got until it’s gone.
  • School. Oh, right. That’s why I’m here.
  • Time management. I hardly have time to eat food, let alone cook/document my meals and write about them here. Which brings me to an important point…

My favorite place to study on campus: a glass-walled cafe.

I’m guessing that the format of this blog is going to change quite a bit. I’ve even considered putting yoursjulie to rest — it is so entrenched in a life that is no longer mine. I look through the posts and feel like I’m looking into someone else’s experiences. There’s a deep disconnect between the girl who spent entire weekends baking cookies and the bedraggled grad student who furiously codes on her laptop at a picnic social.

All the same, this blog has been such an outlet for me. I can’t abandon it. I will obviously not be posting as often, and definitely not about elaborate days-long baking projects, but I’ll still be here.

I can promise you, too, that despite the radio silence, I am doing just fine. Sure, I am a homesick Californian. Yes, I am a poor graduate student. Yup, I’ve got barely any time and even less money. However, there are countless moments when my heart brims with gratitude and contentment. When I walk out of my lab after an afternoon shower and see the trees dripping with rain, the sun lighting up each translucent leaf. When I roll into my lab late with a (not basic at all) chai latte in hand, having had the entire morning to myself. When I grab last-minute late-night milkshakes with my friends, so delirious and happy I forget about the impending stomachache. Even, amazingly, when I stay five hours after class to work on stats, because I’m trading snacks and stories with my lively and lovely cohort the entire time. As my adviser likes to say, I’m working hard and playing hard. Somewhere along the way, Houston has started to feel like home.

My food photog skills remain A+.

P.S. The one food photo I’ve managed to snap: kolaches, a beloved Houstonian treat, are a Czech pastry that come filled with sweet or savory ingredients. This here is a boudain (Creole sausage) version from Mornings Kolaches. Dangerously good.

hi, again.

Hi. I’m alive… I think (??).

I’ve obviously completely forgotten to update this blog since I’ve been back. When you have an international trip and cross-country move on your mind, these things tend to fall on the wayside. I’ve been trying to think of the best way to summarize my past few weeks, and I believe I’ve hit upon it.

Places I’ve Cried in Public

Chiang Mai, Thailand. I’d said goodbye and was walking through the security check, turning around every few often to see a slowly-diminishing figure through a blur of tears. I walked around confusedly sobbing before mustering up enough energy to buy a cup of noodles from an airport cafe. I was actually pretty impressed at my ability to function/eat. It sounds melodramatic in hindsight, but it broke my heart.

Ha Long Bay, Vietnam. We were sailing through craggy, mossy islets at sunset. I watched the sky turn unimaginable shades of warm pastel, throwing the silhouettes of local fishermen into sharp relief. The air was warm and the waters calm. I wanted, more than anything, to turn to someone and exclaim, “God, this is beautiful, isn’t it?” — but I was alone on the deck of our junk boat. Intense sadness and happiness, in equal measure, spread through me as I accepted that this moment was, really and truly, all my own.

San Francisco, California. I sat on the bus headed for my parents’ home, watching familiar landmarks pass by: my friends’ apartments, my old neighborhood, the gently sloping hills and glimpses of ocean. This is the last I’ll see of SF in a while, I thought to myself. I imagined my loved ones, only a few miles away in their homes. I yearned to wrap them all up, and the entire city itself, in one big, all-encompassing, eternal hug. I then put in my headphones and listen to the below song on repeat, feeling so truly that I belong to you, California.

Tucson, Arizona. On our road trip to Texas, I’d planned a stop at the famed Pizzeria Bianco. My mom balked at ordering more than one pizza, which somehow initiated a total meltdown of the sitting-there-and-silently-tearing-up variety. So many hormones and so many mixed-up feelings: grief, at leaving California; anxiety, at moving to Texas; irritability, at how much my mom reminded me of myself; and lost-ness, at the state of my entire life. My poor family sat uncomfortably as I dabbed at my eyes with a napkin. Eventually recovered enough to eat a bunch of pizza.

Houston, Texas. Once again, I found myself at the airport — this time, to drop off my gurlz. I clung to my mom, so teeny-tiny in the circle of my arms, before my sister came over and wrapped us up in an extra-big hug. I tried not to lose my shit and squeaked by with a reasonable amount of tears. I got back into my car, attempting to watch them walk through the doors, but it was futile. I drove off into the literal thunderstorm of my new city and ~into my new life~.

So, um… A lot has happened. The good news is that, beyond these experiences, I’ve been mostly even-keeled and self-aware during these past few months. In the thick of the most radical change I’ve ever undergone, I have somehow managed to assume the pose of a zen master. This was even true last weekend, when I found out that I’d had $600 stolen from me in debit card fraud & that someone had mistakenly served me a court summons in San Francisco. I’m cool, y’all.

An update on my Actual Life in Texas to follow. Good news: I kind of love it so far.

realness.

If we’re being perfectly honest, it’s been a little hard for me to find the time or emotional capacity to write here lately.

I’ve never wanted this blog to be some meticulously curated, rose-colored vision of life. I’ve struggled with representing myself here genuinely — between providing consistent content (light-hearted anecdotes, poorly-photographed recipes) and capturing the true breadth and depth of my experiences. Most of the time, I’m happy to keep my inner life private: to selectively share the cheerful, on-topic bits while holding tightly onto the dimmer and sadder parts. Lately, however, I’ve felt it difficult to continue the charade, so to speak.

Every day, I wake up and question what I’ve done and how I’m feeling. Why am I giving up everything (my home, my relationships, my happinesses) in pursuit of my PhD? Is this truly what I want? Am I fixing what’s not broken? This entire process has exposed my vulnerabilities, neuroses, and fears. Now more than ever before, I am afraid… of the unknown, of failure, of loneliness. Lately, these three demons follow me every step I take, whispering worries into my ear even as I sleep.

One year ago, my life was bright and full of contented attachments: date nights, dinner parties, workouts, Whole30s, CSAs and cooking. Simple, fun, and only a little bit unfulfilling. I had been living in the Bay Area for nearly five years. I’d built communities with whom I could watch The Bachelor, escape to Russian River, hike on the weekends, wait in line for brunch. I’d built a comfortable home with my partner, who anchored and grounded me. I’d come to know and love San Francisco, sinking my roots into my surroundings and drawing strength from the rich, wet earth.

And yet? I found myself wanting more. I’d stare despondently out of my office window, watching the omnipresent gray mists of Land’s End, and wonder what I was truly doing with my time. My existence was happy, yes… but I wanted to be more than just happy. I wanted it to be whole and meaningful. I needed to challenge myself and achieve meaningful goals. At first, I struggled with this desire, trying to neatly compartmentalize it, afraid of disrupting my idyllic lifestyle. Soon enough, though, I stopped fighting it; I let my dream expand and take shape. I respected my ambitions, knowing I’d regret never acting upon them. I gathered as much information as I could, applied to graduate school, made an informed decision. I am now poised to begin that journey to self-actualization.

I should be excited. Is this not exactly what I wanted?

Standing at the edge of the precipice, I need to remind myself of a few important things. California, my beautiful home state, isn’t going anywhere. My people, those beautiful beings who I love and who love me back, will always be there for me. I can always cut my fall short. I have a safety net, now and always.

Now: to jump.

Dispatches from the Grad Apps Egress

Dear friends,

It’s nice to see you again. I’ve been lost in a fugue these past two months. My birthday came and went with hardly any fanfare, save for a quiet dinner and one fabulous ice cream cake. For weeks, I’d have a slice each night before checking my email for the thousandth time, despondently getting into bed and pulling the covers over my head. Only yesterday, I crawled out of that dark, dimly-lit metaphorical tunnel to stumble into the blinding light of day.

I did it. I officially accepted an offer from my top choice program. Come fall, I will formally begin my studies at William Marsh Rice University… and, one day, god willing, I’ll become Yours Julie, Ph.D. (at which point you will all be expected to refer to me as Dr. J).

😭

You (or rather, I) might be asking: what does this decision mean?

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