Q&A With Hayanna Kim a.k.a. @herpickings on Instagram

@herpickings is beloved page for book lovers on Instagram. I came across the account in the early days of “bookstagram” (a hashtag that now has over 19 million posts) and have been a fan for around three years. I was happy to meet the person behind it, Hayanna Kim, in Manhattan Beach this spring to talk books and what it means “to live deliberately.” 

Hayanna started working young. Through high school and college at Syracuse she worked with a mentor on start ups in event planning, tech, and food. Then after college, she was planning on going to law school. She was studying for the L-SATs and interning at a firm in downtown Los Angeles. However, life intervened. She got into a fatal car accident. Its trauma and repercussions revealed that she had Lupus, an autoimmune disease. After having to take a break for a couple of years, she is now looking for her next step and working on her own writing. 

 

How did @herpickings begin? What made you want to share the books you were reading and write about what you’ve read?

I’d just been running since I very young, trying to figure out what I want to do. I was working and then studying and had no time to rest.

I got really sick. I had to quit everything. My symptoms got aggravated after my car accident. My body just crashed. Even though I wanted to work, I couldn’t. If I started something, I would be sick right away. It would be unfair to the employer and to me. I’d have to quit in the middle of it. So I took two years off, maybe even three. I did side stuff, but not a full time job. I took a break. Pretty much didn’t have a choice because I really couldn’t get out of bed for a while. Just being so tired and fatigued and my body was too weak. That’s when I had a lot of time to read.

I was home by myself when I was sick. Then you feel lonely. I couldn’t go out with my friends. Because I got sick in my early 20s, everyone was doing their own thing. I felt isolated. I needed community. I was just looking and found the first book people on Instagram. I was like, ‘that’s fun,’ and we were reading the same books. People ask me, ‘how did you grow it?’ My intention was never to grow the account. It was more for me.

At first, reading would be escapism. And then after a while, reading would be a daily routine. I would have anxiety and panic attacks, and if I didn’t read even a couple of pages a day, I would feel like I couldn’t calm myself down. It was kind of a coping mechanism for me for a couple of years.

It was one thing that kept me going. Waking up every morning early, at the same time. It’s something that helped me heal. Go to a coffee shop, just sit there, read. And do what I love. And it became a routine for me. Which helped me get out of my depression. Because when you’re sick you’re always home, and you get depressed.

That’s why when I did posts, it kind of helped me work through certain things in my life– being able to share and having other people relate to it as well.

A lot of the books I read helped me face my reality.

I’m working on a book of essays now, and that’s one of the reasons I especially like your posts, because they seem to be about books of essays. Did you start reading essays when you got sick?

No I always did read essays, but think I read more. It was easier to read. If I didn’t want to or couldn’t read a whole book, I would dive in, and then I’d dive in and out.

Also, I like essay writing. It’s interesting how it can change over the years, and how personal it can be too. It was the form of writing that I did most. But also sometimes, I want to read books depending on what I’m going through at the time. People ask, how do you pick  the books you want to read? I just pick whatever I feel at that time. It’s more emotional.

What does it mean to you to live deliberately?  Can you share what you’ve found through your readings and from the perspective of your illness? 

Reading helped me heal every day. Whenever I read, there are bits and parts that speak to me. Whether it’s a sentence or a passage. It triggers something in me, and me trying to unlearn what society has taught me.

Unlearn at first and then re-learn that I don’t have to follow what society tells me. Because growing up I thought I have to go to college, get a job right away. I always thought you have to follow A-B-C, but because I got sick on the way, I had to take a break, take a step away, to see what can I do in my life. First of all, how can I stay happy, but also make a living without getting myself to this very sickest point again. Finding balance. Finding what’s my normal, not other people’s normal. Because I have to back off certain things in my live in order to do one thing just because of my energy levels, because I can’t go out every weekend like my friends would, or else I couldn’t work all week because I’d be too tired. There are things I have to sacrifice, like throughout my day, I need to pick and choose what’s important to me to go through the day, get through the day, and then wake up the next day and do that again.

 

So, I had to figure out, what is my goal? Do I want a lot of money? Is that really worth it for me. Because making money means working like a dog again. For me, it just wasn’t worth it. So I had to let go of my ideal of what I had in the past. I had to rethink everything of what I thought I knew.

So you start with your health and body, and then go from there?

Yes. Becacuse without my health, I can’t do anything else or help anyone else to begin with. Also just job wise, I don’t want to do something just for the money, like of course you need a living, but I want to do something more meaningful in the end. If I think 10 years from now, would I have helped inspire at least one person, instead of just living day-by-day. I want to do something a little more, and I think that changed from before when I was sick.

Even though I got better, there are still things I can’t do. And I’ve accepted that. I have physical limitations. There are people who stay at work until 10pm, and then do their own stuff afterwards. And I know physically I cant do that, or I’ll go back into the cycle of being sick.

Do you look at people and say, if only you know that you need to just work two hours less and take care of yourself?

Yes. And my friends, when they see me, they realize that. And right now there are so many autoimmune diseases, there are so many people I know personally that have it. It’s really interesting to see. I know older people that have been working their whole lives, and they get really sick and they don’t know why. They quit their jobs and stress less, and they’re better.

Can you recommend two books you think people should read to live deliberate lives?

I like reading journal, diary entries, like Sylvia Plath, Susan Sontag, Franz Kafka, Albert Camus.

 

Those journals I always go back to because, it’s about their struggles with writing, and they write about their struggles getting through their days. For me, I like reading journal entries that aren’t too edited. And it shows that you’re not alone. When I don’t feel like reading anything else, I go back to journal entries.

If anything I would recommend Rebecca Solnit’s, The Field Guide to Getting Lost. That’s something I feel that, everyone, no matter what they’re going through, can pick up that book when they’re feeling lost and know that being lost is OK. Because no one really knows. I talk to people older, younger, way older, and no one really figures it out. We’re just living trying to figure it out who we are. It’s really interesting to know that you don’t have to know everything now. And you might not find everything ever, either. It’s the search.

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Do All the “Small” Things

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It’s three weeks into the new year, and I’ve settled on my three main resolutions:

  1. Keep doing all the good things you’ve been doing.

I don’t know why resolutions seem to imply that we’re doing things wrong and need to change everything about ourselves. It always feels like the beginning of the new year isn’t the time for reflection and growth that it should be, but a time for thinking about what isn’t good enough in your life. I wholeheartedly disagree with that. I’m happy with a lot of the things I’ve been working on, from being devoted to loved ones to going to the gym regularly.

So why don’t we ever stop at the new year and say, “Hey. Well done. Keep it up!” That’s definitely how I feel in a lot of areas.

2. Get a book deal.

However, there is always room for growth. And for me, one spot with huge potential for growth is my writing career. This year, I have a very clear and conrete goal to finally, finally get a book deal. Wish me luck!

3. My third resolution is also somewhat work-related, but I’m keeping that one private 🙂

But I do have sub-resolution that I’ve been having a lot of fun with lately that I really want to share, and that is to:

Do All the “Small” Things.

You know, those things. The things we often put off because we’re too busy (but could usually find time for if we really want to, plan ahead just a bit, or are more efficient).

Andie Mitchell Eating in the Middle Recipe Michelle Chahine Sinno

For example, over the last few weeks, I finally tried out a recipe from a great cookbook that’s all about balance, Eating in the Middle by Andie Mitchell. Ever since I flipped through the book last summer, I’ve wanted to try the Baked Banana Bread Doughnuts. I finally made the effort to buy the doughnut pan (and a cooling rack!), get the ingredients, and MAKE them. I’m not exaggerating when I say the whole thing took 30 minutes. It was so easy and simple, and I enjoyed them so much. These instances really make me wonder why I put off so many things… that in my mind they require effort and “time that I don’t have.” When all it takes is 30 minutes. (And it was a rainy LA day as well. Perfect).

Inspired by baking my own healthier version of doughnuts, I tried this recipe for blueberry muffins the following week. Also so easy, yummy, and satisfying.

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What I love most about baking is that you can see the exact ingredients you’re putting into things. Can someone please explain to me why so many baked goods nowadays have “soy lecithin” in them. Since when did that become a staple of baking? Just curious.

I’m also happy to report that after four and a half years of living in Los Angeles, I finally, FINALLY, took Minjay for a long walk in Griffith Park. When I first moved here, I was looking up good places to walk dogs, and I came across this collection of good trails. I’ve been to different areas of the huge park in the middle of Los Angeles, but I never got around to taking Minjay for a nature walk there. It was definitely my loss, since the collection of trails is lined with beautiful, tall trees. I had been craving more “forest-y” walks while living in LA, and it had been accessible to me all along.

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Beautiful post-rain muddy walk. Minjay loved all the fresh nature smells. You can see the dew drops on his face 🙂

In the midst of these trails is a great coffee shop called “The Trails.” (I love this review, which describes it as the place John Muir and Julia Childs would meet for lunch).

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I’ve wanted to go to Trails literally since I moved here in 2012. But I haven’t. Why? Well it does take about 30 minutes to drive there, at the right time of day (without traffic). So it does take a little bit of effort. But there have been 53 weekends a year for the past 4 years to make it happen. Why didn’t I?

A few days after getting back to Los Angeles from Lebanon, where we spent Christmas break with family and old friends, I decided I was going to start the new year by being active: I was going to take Minjay to Trails. The whole endeavor took 2 hours total, and it was wonderful (both the freshly-made food and our walk in nature). Since then, I’ve been 2 more times, and plan to go back often.

Doesn’t it always turn out that it actually takes relatively minimal effort to open up new, great things in our life? These “small” things add so much variety and happiness to each week. And yet we put them off under the pretense of busyness and a lack of time. Really, all it takes is being more proactive about how we do want to spend our time.

Morning walks with Minjay in Griffith Park.
Morning walks with Minjay in Griffith Park.

I should note here that “doing all the small things” also does include necessary chores and errands we put off. Like changing car tires when they need to be changed. We’ve been putting this off since November, and yesterday my tire finally burst. Definitely learned my lesson to do things when they need to get done– because putting them off usually means they will take twice as long to deal with in the end.

 


P.S. I love, love the photo on the top of this blog post. I took it yesterday morning in Griffith Park, after several rainy days here in Los Angeles. The photo is unaltered in any way, and was taken on my iPhone. It really was just this beautiful yesterday morning.