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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Tabs Currently Open in Safari on My Phone

Kalitta Air – Wikipedia

Because my sister and I drove past an airport while driving from Philadelphia to the Maryland Coast and saw this airplane take off, and it seemed like a secret government thing and maybe the idea of an awesome novel or something. It’s a cargo airline by the way.

ashmolean museum – Google Search

Because on that same trip, my sister mentioned this museum in Oxford to me, and I really want to go. Just in case I can actually make it in the next ten years, this tab is open on my phone so I don’t forget about it.

Table 19 (2017) – IMDb

Because I was surprised that I hadn’t heard of this movie when I heard it about it the year it came out. And I can never think of movies to watch when I want to sit down and watch a movie. Still haven’t watched it 10 months later.

explorers movie – Google Search

Because remember that movie with those ridiculous aliens? It suddenly came to mind, and I want to watch it again if I can find it somewhere. When I watched it as a kid, I thought I’d be like those kids when I grew up.

cat’s cradle – google search.

Because at 30 I did not know what a cat’s cradle is. Seroiusly.

lightning and thunder song – google search.

Because I heard a song on the radio that made me feel pumped up, and I thought it would be a good soundtrack for writing so I don’t fall into self-loathing despair.

Is Peter Van Houten’s ‘Imperial Affliction’ a Real Book? – Bustle

Because, obviously, I was reading The Fault in Our Stars.

bonnie raitt songs – Google Search

Because I was in a bar in Tokyo where the sixty-year-old Japanese artist/bar owner was talking to another woman from San Francisco about how much they both loved Bonnie Raitt, and I wanted to make sure I’d listen to some of her songs. I still haven’t five months later.

toyota alphard – Google Search

Because have you ever heard of a Toyota Alphard? The Uber driver that picked us up from our AirBnB in Tokyo to go the train station was driving this bizarre-looking car that I had never heard of, and I felt like I had come across secret information I did not want to forgot. This tab is supposed to be an enlightened daily reminder of all the things I don’t know that exist in other countries.

anton chekhov – google search

Because he is one of the many classic writers I need to read, and this tab is my near-daily passive aggressive reminder of my failure as a sophisticated reader and worldly, educated person.

508 canal street – Google Search

Because while sitting on a Bolt Bus in lower Manhattan, I saw this sign at a stop light and caught a glimpse of some kind of history I wanted to look up. I immediately opened a tab and typed it in so I wouldn’t forget to look into it. I still haven’t read the search results, ten months later.

whisky gogo – Google Search

Because Whisky a Go Go is apparently a historic music spot in LA that I should check really out one day.

standing split – Google Search

Because I aspire to be able to do a standing split in 2018 and having this tab open will get me closer to that.

Bio of a literary agent

Because one day I’ll get around to querying my next book proposal, and what if this random person I came across is “the one.”

Gmail

Because I pretend not to use email on my phone and refuse to download the app on principle, but really can’t go a day without checking email on my phone.