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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Q&A With Senior Editor for Los Angeles Review of Books, Journalist & Filmmaker Janice Rhoshalle Littlejohn

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Janice Rhoshalle Littlejohn is currently working on the feature film Lovers in Their Right Mind, the documentary film …But Can She Play? Blowin’ the Roof off Women Horn Players and Jazz (about contemporary women horn players in jazz that arose from work she did as a USC graduate student inspired by an unsung female jazz trumpeter in the 1940s), and is a senior editor for the Los Angeles Review of Books. She’s the co-author of Swirling: How to Date, Mate, and Relate Mixing Race, Culture, and Creed, is a former columnist for the Associated Press, and has been a journalist for over 30 years covering entertainment.

I met her this past summer when we were both on a panel about avoiding burnout in a mobile-connected world. I wanted to hear more about her thoughts on work-life balance, especially since she is a writer working on so many different projects. We met at Cafe Brazil in Culver City to chat over fresh passionfruit juice and herbal tea.

  • How did you identify your passions and follow your dreams?

Essentially, when I was in college, I was studying fashion merchandising in hopes of becoming the president of Nordstrom. That’s the trajectory I was on. That’s what I thought I wanted to do. About my second year in school, I realized that I hated my accounting and marketing classes, and I took a fashion writing class with the fashion editor of the LA Herald Examiner, back when we had 2 papers in this city. She was black, she was smart, she was funny, she dressed well… she was who I wanted to be.

I had always written, but I never thought of it is a field. She encouraged my writing and felt my work was viable. And she helped me get an internship at Women’s Wear Daily. That internship changed my life because they let their interns write.

I loved the work. I loved that I could tell people things and introduce them to things they didn’t know. I felt smart [laughs]. And it piqued my curiosity: I always want to know about things that are happening.

So that’s where my writing career began… When I got out of school, one of the first jobs I got was at a syndicated radio show that covered urban enternmaint news. That’s when I  started covering junkets and going to the Oscars…  I was in my 20s, and feeling very special, because there were few, if any, young black people, and no women. It was great. I got to tell people about the films and TV shows and books that were coming out. And I had won a couple of awards about reports that I had done about black voting and adoptions. I felt like I was accomplishing something and contributing to this world.

  • What does the term “work-life balance” mean to you?

I think it’s a funny term for me, because my work is my life. My brother often teases me and says, “Do you ever shut it down? Everything you look at is a story.” We’ll be having a conversation and I’ll be like, “That would make a really good story.”

I have a writing life. But I enjoy what I do. I love sitting down, fiddling with words, trying to find the best words and trying to find the right angle for a story. It’s who I am.

For me, balance is making sure I take myself out of the minutiae of the business part of that writing life, to make time for walking in the morning and getting a good night’s sleep, taking time off even if I’m not going anywhere, and being cognizant to spend time with my friends and family.

My writing life includes time for self-care: To do those things that I need to do to make the work better… I set those things in place, and I’m a very serious list person. I try to adhere to my lists and make time.

At this fall's AIDS Walk: Los Angeles with Team APLA Health where Janice serves as a board member.
At this fall’s AIDS Walk: Los Angeles with Team APLA Health where Janice serves as a board member.

Janice and I met just before election, and she discussed wanting to make time to volunteer for Hillary Clinton’s campaign, which inspired me to ask her about how people being perpetually overworked affects communities and the country as a whole:

Do you feel that we’ve become as a nation overworked and overstressed, to a point that we don’t participate in our country, communities and politics like we should? Does that have a negative effect? 

I don’t know if I can answer that. I think we prioritize what’s important to us. And for some, government and activisim is only important once every few years.

I grew up in an environment of service. The church I attended growing up was all about service. I serve on several boards, because I feel that is a part of what I do. Because it’s a priority for me. It’s not a priority for everybody else. And maybe if we made it a priority and a part of our lives, things could be different.

It’s about what we prioritize…. Find what works for you. Everybody doesn’t have to do the same thing. But there is something we all can do.

What do you wish you do differently in how you manage your day and time?

Facebook is my greatest time suck, and Netflix is as well. But I do put a timer on now. I set my alarm. I give myself whatever I feel I reasonably can and stick to the time I should stop.

I think I am good at balancing because I work for myself. I learned that distractions are detrimental to my bottom line.

What do you feel you don’t have enough time for, or wish you could tackle better?

Cleaning. I mean my house isn’t dirty, but my office needs to be reorganized. I don’t even work in my office that much anymore because it’s like, “I’ll come back to this later.”

And the other thing I wish I had more time for, which is both a product of their schedule and mine, is to spend more time with my nieces and nephews.

I remember, my neice told me, “You know, we didn’t go to the beach this year.”

Awww…

That’s exactly what I thought! Because I was working on a rewrite. So I wish I had a schedule that was a bit more flexible to make it more conducive to hang out with them more.

After an hour-long yoga practice at Santa Monica Pier this summer.
After an hour-long yoga practice at Santa Monica Pier this summer.

Do you have advice for someone starting a new endeavor and grappling with issues of following their passions, doing meaningful work and making a difference, while managing their time to so they can find their “balance”?

1. Figure out who you want to be when you grow up.

I think one of the greatest thing I did in the past couple of years was to go to a goal-orienting work shop that the Journalism and Women Symposium put on. And I think beyond setting goals, it’s about getting a picture of what I want my life to look like. That includes my personal goals as much as my professional goals. I want to be the kind of person who is engaged with her community and friends and family. I want to be the kind of person who works passionately on her craft. It’s up to each person… Look at who you want to be in 5 years. Who do you want to be by the end of this year? What would you like your bio for the year to say about you, the things you have accomplished? The lives you have touched?

One of the exercises in setting goals is writing a bio. If I get hit by a bus tomorrow, what do I want my bio to have said, and what from that have I accomplished?

The short answer is: Figure out who you want to be, and start working towards that and what is required for that.

2. Embrace the Shifts

The one thing that I will add is to understand that work-life balance shifts. My work-life balance is very different today than it was last year, or 5 years ago. And if we recognize that that shift may happen when we get married, when we have children, or even if it’s just year-to-year when we get a new job, we should embrace the change, and be flexible with ourselves and with it, and work within the shift.

 


Connect with Janice on Twitter and Instagram.

Edited for length and clarity.