I hadn’t thought of this as a book for The Bookshelf until a couple of readers said they enjoyed my ‘short book.’ A longform essay is how others refer to it. A mini book? A long read? In any case, today on the bookshelf is my own story from the week.


The Proper Weight of Fear

I don’t know why a writer wouldn’t promote their work, we want people to read it, right? If I didn’t want people to read it, I wouldn’t publish it. Writing is about connecting. Its about finding that universal aspect of my story that expands outward and connects with the universal aspect in your story. But still, it can feel awkward to be shamelessly self-promotional. And yet, I know that how essays do bears weight on future projects so…here goes.

Another invitation. I’d really love for you to read, if you haven’t already, The Proper Weight of Fear, in The Big Roundtable. Some people have spoken of it as a book, but its a mini-book. One site marked it as a 50-minute read. So grab a cup of coffee and a snuggly blanket and enjoy. It is much easier to tweet and repost a list or a cat meme but still, I’d be ever-so-grateful if you’d share this, comment on it, repost the link…donate(?!) And fellow writers, The Big Roundtable is an excellent site to consider submitting to.

Here are two questions the editors asked me to think about.

1. Why did you need to tell this story?

I never thought of myself as a fearful person so when a suicide bomb attack in Djibouti filled me with nearly paralyzing fear I was shocked.  Someone suggested the reason for my extreme reaction could stem from a forced evacuation I had experienced eleven years earlier, in Somaliland. Three people had been murdered there, one of them a neighbor, and my family fled. We carried almost nothing with us and had no chance to say goodbye, and for all we knew someone with a gun would come after us soon. I don’t remember feeling afraid but now I most certainly was. I needed to understand that fear. Why hadn’t I felt it before, or had I? Why did I feel it so acutely now? How could I move past it? My husband was in Somaliland the week after the bomb and in order to escape the fear I felt in Djibouti, I returned—for the first time—to Somaliland. That seemed crazy—to leave one dangerous place and seek peace in Somaliland. But to deal with this surprising emotion, I had to face it in Somaliland: the place that birthed the fear and the place where I would lay it to rest.

2. What did you learn about yourself as a writer?

Through the years I’ve scribbled thoughts about the evacuation and aftermath but never fully addressed it on paper, especially not the emotional impact of it. Yet writing is how I process and understand the complicated swirl of expatriate life. And, I learned through working on this particular piece, writing is also how I let go and move forward. I don’t think I could have written about the evacuation soon after it happened, or if I had, the story would have been quite different. I needed this distance of more than a decade in order to unearth the deep ways life in the Horn of Africa has affected me, to understand how much this foreign soil has become my home. As I continue to write about living in the Horn, I’m encouraged by this realization. It means I’ll keep learning and will be able to write about it, with better reflection and perspective, long after I leave.

The Proper Weight of Fear

What I’m reading this week

Next Wave: America’s New Generation of Great Literary Journalists

Still reading Next Wave from last week.




Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War





The Tiger’s Wife: A Novel
(recommended by my sister. I started it before but didn’t get far. Am trying to read more fiction)




What are you reading this week? What do you think of long reads essays?