The Coffee Diaries: House Roots – Granada Hills, CA

Most of the coffee shops that I love are on the Westside of Los Angeles – Groundwork, Alfred’s, and Philz. 15 to 20 miles away, a taxing drive down the 405. While my neighborhood has plenty of Starbucks and Coffee Beans, I didn’t think there’d be any coffee shops around the corner that would excite, inspire, and calm me in the same way.

And then, I discovered House Roots Coffee, just a few miles away. I did not even need to leave the San Fernando Valley.

I first visited House Roots just hours before the New Year. My boyfriend and I sat in the corner on a wooden bench, cupping warm lattes in our hands, savoring those final moments of 2016. We enjoyed a murmured conversation in between sips, our drinks introducing deep, flavorful notes to our taste buds.

The shop was small and simple with bare walls except for the menu, crafted out of wooden panels. It had all of the essentials, nothing superfluous.

House Roots Coffee Sweet Latte
House Roots Coffee – Iced Sweet Latte
The baristas seemed to know everyone who walked through the door, greeting them like old friends. While many coffee shops have transformed into workspaces—laptops out, earbuds in—this cozy space served as a meeting place, a home base, a community center.

Before I drafted this blog post, I checked out their website, and I was blown away by their mission statement. Here’s the opening line:

“Born and raised in the San Fernando Valley, we are a group of community members deeply passionate about people, coffee and the place we call home, our roots.”

They donate a portion of their profits to community programs, relief efforts, and overseas projects. Plus, they host live musical performances and art shows.

“House Roots Coffee is dedicated to these three core values: coffee, cause, and community.”

I’ve since returned, and I know I’ll be back soon. House Roots’ culture is unique and refreshing – not to mention, their coffee tastes incredible. If you ever find yourself in the Valley with a caffeine craving, stop by and join the community.

A Sunday in Venice

James leaned into the counter and, over the buzzing and hissing of espresso machines and coffee shop chatter, said, “She’s going to get an iced Silken Soul Train, Philz Way.”

I would have never ordered such a sophisticated drink on my own–but this out-of-the-box coffee set the tone for the day. After nine post-grad months apart, James and I reunited for a Sunday of exploration and discovery on the west side. We began at Philz Coffee in sunny Santa Monica and then ventured to Abbot Kinney in Venice.

James and I had first met during our freshman year at a Halloween party, hosted by the creative writing club. We found ourselves in the same film and English classes quarter after quarter–and through Citizen Kane and Mrs. Dalloway, our friendship emerged. Four and a half years have passed, and he is still one of my dearest friends.

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We stopped by Erewhon, the damn prettiest grocery store that I’ve ever stepped foot in, before heading to The Butcher’s Daughter for lunch. “It’s straight out of Pinterest,” James told me. “You’ll love it.”

And I did. White brick, pale wood, and hanging plants…it was straight up mystical. We got a round of juices (tangy, acidic, fresh) to kick off the meal. I ate the Surfer’s Breakfast as we discussed our writing projects and budding careers–life after college.

Following lunch, we weaved our way around the CicLAvia Bike Festival to the Venice Canals, stopping by Pressed Juicery for vanilla froyo on the way. The conversation kept going, as it always does with James: effortless and genuine. I watched subtle ripples texture the marshy water that wrapped around the sidewalks and felt a glowing, warm energy at the realization that we were both happy and excited for the future.

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Calm. I felt calm. I was present, engaged, and content in those moments, as we strolled through the canals. Not panicked, stressed, or sleepless. Now that I am no longer a student, living and breathing deadlines and letter grades, I let myself enjoy the weekend. I allow myself to try out new coffee shops, take walks, and visit old friends.

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Before returning to the car and trekking back to the Valley, I stopped by Urbanic Paper Boutique to pick up a new journal, which I’ve been using to brainstorm ideas for this blog. I can’t wait to go on more adventures. Any recommendations? Tell me where I should go next in the comments below!

The Coffee Diaries: Highlight Coffee

I love natural lighting—that happy, pure, bright glow.

The sun radiated through the large windows of Highlight Coffee, located on the corner of Broadway and South Glendale Avenue. Once I stepped inside, I was struck by the brightness, magnified by crisp white paint and pale wood furniture. I felt awake, and I hadn’t even taken a sip of their coffee yet.

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I’ve been to my fair share of (non-Starbucks) coffee shops, and I’ve gotten accustomed to pretentious baristas who high key judge me for not knowing what a Gibraltar is. As I approached the counter, I braced myself. But the baristas, nonchalant in their tone and movements, welcomed me with kind smiles.

A shop can have the cutest, most Instagram-worthy aesthetic, but if the baristas give me unwarranted attitude, that’s what I’ll remember most. These guys (whom I captured in latte-making action below) are integral to Highlight’s relaxed atmosphere.

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Creamy, fluffy, and topped with a darling floral design—that hint of espresso was just what I needed to jumpstart the day.

Coffeeshops always have a way of lifting my spirits. During chaotic and disheartening times like these, I cherish each and every thing that gives me joy. Like sipping a little cup of caffeine on a Saturday afternoon.

I’m grateful for these moments of peace and privilege, of simple happiness.

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The Coffee Diaries document my “coffeeventures” around Los Angeles and beyond. If you have any recommendations, please comment below! 

Thoughts On Healing



I woke up this morning and the world seemed a little darker.

Somehow, my feet touched the carpeted floor, and I was up and running, going forth with my day. But I wanted so badly to stay cocooned in my covers, head to the pillow—in Dreamland, where hate never wins.

There is so much at stake, more so for some folks than others. My heart aches for everyone who feels invisible, targeted, unsafe, or abandoned.  

I deliberately surround myself with people who embrace kindness, compassion, and justice. The aftermath of the election reminded me of this, as I read countless reflections via social channels, expressing not only sorrow, but a fervent determination to enact positive change. This helped. Connecting with my community has begun to restore my belief in the potential goodness of humankind.  

Now, I must discover more ways in which I can personally reconnect with hope and positivity in the midst of terror and uncertainty. I need to, to keep my dreamer spirit bright and alive. I need to, so that I may harness that energy to fight for what I believe in, each and every day.

I’m aware that I speak from a place of privilege. However, I refuse to succumb to fragility, guilt, and defensiveness; instead, I will focus on uplifting and supporting my friends who do not live with the same systemic advantages as I do.  

I’ve begun the healing process with writing, for it is my go-to for peace, clarity, and release. Writing keeps me engaged, breathing life back into my mind whenever I feel the urge to shut down. Each word that I put to the page reminds me that thought has power, and that expression is crucial.

Whether we march through the streets of downtown or paint or pen articles or simply talk to friends–

Expression is crucial.

On Being (“Too”) Sensitive

I am an emotional person.

I am romantic. I am sentimental. I am expressive.

I can cry at almost anything–from actual tragic films to sappy commercials. (Put twinkling piano music to a mother and her newborn, and I’m gone.) Though people like the lovely Mindy Kaling have made strong cases for the sci-fi quality of romantic comedies, a part of me still believes that love can be as sweet as Adam Sandler singing over an airplane loudspeaker to Drew Barrymore or as passionate as Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet holding onto each other in the middle of the freezing ocean post-disaster.  


I save remnants of the past, like ticket stubs and letters, because throwing them away feels like erasing paragraphs of a memory. And I cannot resist the incessant urge to put the melodies of my heart strings into words. Why else would I be a writer, an artist, and a musician, if not to find some way to  articulate…all of this?

Thus, it is no surprise that some people regard me as sensitive.

Upon Googling “sensitive”–and please do excuse the cliché of providing literal dictionary definitions–I found two relevant meanings. The first (and the more preferable) is as follows:

(of a person or a person’s behavior) having or displaying a quick and delicate appreciation of others’ feelings.

Nice, right? I rather like that idea. The second, however…:

…easily offended or upset.


You see, I encounter the word “sensitive” in the form of the second definition far more often than the first. It arrives as an accusation, sour and salty.

“You’re too sensitive.”

Usually, people say this when I confess that something that they’ve said or done has hurt me. After hearing these three words again and again–you’re too sensitive–I’ve come to understand that to many people, transparent emotion equals excess. And when I think of excess, I think of overwhelming heaviness, unwanted pressure…These three words tell me that my emotions are a burden to others.

I cannot deny that there is such a thing as overreacting and that we all have to pick our battles. Sometimes, we really do express our emotions in an unhealthy way that may be harmful to others. I understand that we must build a somewhat tough skin to prevail through the rubbish that life throws our way. Regardless, I believe that it is problematic to shame someone for their emotional sensitivity.

Sociologists would probably say that I’m just a typical millennial in the age of trigger warnings and political correctness who needs to be “coddled.” But let’s take a closer look.

A: What you said really hurt me.

B: You’re just being too sensitive.

“You’re too sensitive” creates a boomerang effect. B transforms A’s feelings into a weapon, which they then shoot back: what you feel has nothing to do with me; there’s something wrong with you.

It’s a completely invalidating statement, as well as a transference of blame. I believe that people accuse others of being “too sensitive” to relinquish themselves of the immense responsibility that comes with hurting someone. We all like to think that we have good intentions, that we are doing the right thing. When we discover that we’ve taken a wrong turn at someone else’s expense…Well, that feels horrible. So we try to wipe our fingerprints off of their pain.

So, isn’t calling someone “too sensitive” also an emotional reaction?

Sensitive people are typically depicted as weaklings. The world, people say, is a cruel and scary place, and we must not take it so personally. But if we insist that insensitivity and disaffection are normal and inevitable, the world will always be a cruel and scary place, because the thought of being numb to pain, happiness, and everything in between, is indeed terrifying.

I’ve never been ashamed of being an emotional person. Yes, I feel deeply; and to me, that is a gift.  That energy rising, falling, simmering, and glowing within my chest reminds me that I am here, participating and reacting to everything around me–present. Alive.

#SelfLove Series: The Language of Confidence

I’m going to begin with a  Mean Girls reference.

Remember when Ms. Norbury (Tina Fey) stands in front of the school’s population of young women in the gym and demands, “you all have got to stop calling each other sluts and whores. It just makes it okay for guys to call you sluts and whores”?


Mean Girls is a goldmine of fantastic points, but this one is particularly valuable to me, because it speaks to a major facet of self-love and confidence.

You’ve probably heard the saying, “You get out what you put in.” So when you tell everyone that you “have no chance at getting the job” or that you’re “ugly” or that you’re “not good enough”–eventually, with enough repetition, they might start to believe it.

Or worse–you might start to believe it.

Too often, I’ve used self-deprecation to fish for compliments, for reassurance. I turn to my boyfriend, poke at bits of post-dinner pudge around my waist, and wait for him to tell me that I am beautiful. I whine to my friends that I’ll never get a job until they tell me that I will, in fact, get a job. But this sort of tactic makes me reliant on other people to determine who I am. It also–and Ms. Norbury would agree–gives license to these people to treat me as badly as I treat myself.

I’ve come to realize that the language that we use to describe ourselves and to speak to ourselves not only reflects our self-image, but shapes it.

We must not underestimate the power of our own words. I mean, have you ever read The Little Engine That Could? “I think I can; I think I can” took that train all the way up the darn hill. If we took that kind of initiative to be our own cheerleaders, who knows how far we could go?

via // Slightly creepy cinematic rendition of The Little Engine That Could. 


One of the things that I’ve learned while applying to jobs is that, in life, we must advocate for ourselves. Sometimes, we must speak up on our own behalf and make a case for why we are even “worth” other people’s time and energy. We must persuade people of our uniqueness and our strengths.  Other times, we must speak up for what we think is right, just, or else we’re just waiting for other people to change the world for us.

Though self-deprecation might get us a forced compliment here and there, and though complacency might feel safer, we can’t always depend on others to do the gritty work for us–to fuel our confidence, to motivate us, to make our decisions, or to transform our visions into realities.

Why should we wait for other people to give us the green light and tell us that we’re beautiful? Why should we wait for other people to tell us that we’re smart, talented, and promising? Sure, it’s much easier–it’s so much easier to go out into the world when we have people cheering for us on the sidelines. And yes, it’s beyond difficult to maintain this love for ourselves when mass media and mass ideologies tell us that we shouldn’t. But we’ll never get anywhere if we don’t believe in ourselves and our voices enough to take that first step. We have to give ourselves the green light; we must tell ourselves that we can, we will, and we are. By doing that, we can [re]claim the power that we’ve surrendered to others–be it the ubiquitous “media” or our family and friends–to decide who we are and who we want to be.

As with all things “confidence,” this is all much easier in theory than it is in practice. However, if our thoughts and beliefs are the foundation of our actions, then theory is a good place to start. So is language.

Now, I turn this to you. Think of five positive words that you’d use to describe yourself. Then, put them in a sentence–rather, a statement–that asserts who you are. This is mine:

JoAnna 1

This is my mantra. This is my truth.

My identity, my say.

Finding Community: A Mosaic of My College Experience

On my last night as a UCLA student, I went for a run around campus.

A group of giddy graduates gathered around the Bruin Bear, their Class of 2016 sashes gleaming blue and gold as they climbed atop the statue’s metal back to pose for pictures. A calmness hung over Bruinwalk, the area cleared of flyer-flapping, donut-selling students–open space for me to zip through with rosy cheeks and short breaths. I passed by Kerkhoff, where I’d bought many a shitty vanilla latte, and Powell Library, where I’d written some of the most crucial pages of my honors thesis. I took a left at Schoenberg–the music school, where I had my first job ever as the Front Desk Assistant in the main office. The Humanities Building, home of the English Department. Haines, the site for Westwind meetings. I saw Bunche, aka the “waffle building,” up ahead and remembered lectures on Henry James, linguistics, Asian American history, Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales…The first Writer’s Den meeting that I’d ever attended was in Bunche.

Royce glowed as majestically as ever that night, the brick golden against the night sky. I slowed to a stop and stood there, craning my neck back to take it all in. Every now and then, throughout the last four years, I’d look up at Royce in all of its collegiate glory and realize how privileged and honored I was to call myself a student at this university.

This particular moment, on my evening run–this is when it began to sink in.Wow. I traced the arches and the pillars with my eyes, drawing a picture to store in my memory. It’s over.

*   *   *

When I arrived at UCLA on move-in day, I was terrified. The campus was a foreign land, and the masses of students and parents milling up and down the hill were strangers. For the entire summer, I had been eagerly awaiting this opportunity to reinvent myself, to put the lonely and quiet years of high school behind me and reemerge a more “interesting” and “outgoing” person. But once this opportunity arose, I didn’t know what to do with it. As I trudged up to my new home, Saxon Suites, I already felt myself retreating on the inside, ready to go through the next four years with a shell over my head.

Admittedly, I spent most of my freshman year with this mentality. Despite having an amazing roommate (Danielle) with whom I bonded instantly and deeply, I spent most of my time cooped up in my room by myself, watching Dawson’s Creek and eating Rendezvous quesadillas.

Now, as a UCLA graduate, I’m happy (and relieved) to say that I found my way out of my dorm room and into a community. I began by attending meetings and socials for a creative writing club called The Writer’s Den, the island of misfit toys, where all shades of dorkiness and uniqueness were welcome. I went on to enjoy many adventures with these beautiful people, from beach days to book festivals to bonfires. I also met some of my closest friends.

Then, as a sophomore, I joined the staff of the Writing Success Program, a student-run, student-initiated project within the Community Programs Office, a department founded on the importance of community and peer support. I started as a neophyte counselor, who hopped on the team mid-year with no training and concluded three years of growth and hard work as the Assistant Director.

WSP Staff 2013-2014
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WSP Staff 2014-2015
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WSP Staff 2015-2016

(I blogged about my incredible, life-changing experience with WSP on their blog. I’ll just leave this link here and a quote below  or else I won’t be able to stop flooding this post with love for this program and all of the people involved.)

From organizing over three workshops to curating WSP’s first literary magazine–[…] I honed and embraced my ability to gather people around a common goal. I realized that a leader is not necessarily someone who distinguishes themselves from the pack; instead, she is someone who builds community by fostering collaboration.

Confidence is no longer this omnipresent but seemingly unattainable desire; rather, it is a foundational part of my identity. No longer preoccupied with self-doubt, I can now see outside of myself and focus much more of my time and energy on the team, the program, and my students. […] I am a leader. And it wasn’t until I claimed that title and believed that I deserved it that I actually became one.

I continued to find community in my short story workshops, where I met some of the most creative, talented, and compassionate students on campus. Every time I went to class, I thought to myself: these are my people. I’d found my corner of creativity at this immense research institution. In these small classes of twelve, led by two of my favorite women, Prof. Michelle Huneven and Prof. Mona Simpson, my peers and I got to know each other through our stories, our writing. I’ve always believed that the bond between storyteller and reader/listener is special and intimate, and these workshops reinforced this belief.

Short story workshop, led by Professor Simpson
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Prof. Huneven (left) & Prof. Simpson (middle)

My wonderful experiences in these classes inspired me to pursue a creative honors thesis, to tackle the task of writing a much longer work than the three-paged stories that I composed for the workshops. I didn’t expect my honors thesis to be a community-building experience. Aside from working with my advisor (Mona Simpson), it was to be, more or less, an independent project that I’d slave away on in the secluded corners of libraries and crowded coffee shops. Or so I thought.

My personal, bound copy of the novella that I wrote for my creative honors thesis.
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Me & Ruth on graduation day!

Well, my guess was partially correct: I did gravitate towards libraries and coffee shops for the actual writing process. But I did not anticipate the invaluable and impactful bond that I would form with my colleagues, Ruth Livier and Vera Burrows. Since Prof. Simpson was to advise all three of us on our projects, we decided to band together as a writing group. So, every Friday, we’d meet in a study room in Young Research Library (YRL) and read aloud our pages and offer feedback. Often we’d discuss our dilemmas and our discoveries, helping one another flesh out ideas and troubleshoot obstacles. Like gym buddies, we motivated one another to keep going, to push forward. At the end of those nine months of brainstorming and writing and rewriting and revising and editing, I had a novella. I received Highest Honors, as well as the Shirley Collier Fiction Prize for this novella–empowering accomplishments that I will never forget. These ninety-plus pages would not be what they are without the guidance and support of my colleagues, whom I now consider dear friends and inspring mentors.

*   *   *

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Layhannara & me

At the end of the year, all of us at WSP gave one another an “award.” My boss, our Project Director, granted me an award that she called “JoAnna–with a capital ‘A.‘”

“I want to recognize JoAnna for being JoAnna,” she said. For the past couple of years, she’d watched me gradually embrace and love myself. I’d finally taken ownership of who I am and who I strive to be, allowing no one but me to define who I am. While I’d already sensed this change in myself, this recognition made me that much prouder of my growth.

All of the graduation ceremonies have come to a close. I am back in my family home, in the room where I’d spent much of my adolescence, surrounded by posters that I’d tacked onto the walls ten years ago.

I don’t have my future figured out just yet.

But here are some things that I do know:

I can now say, with confidence, that I am a leader; I am a writer; and I am still a passionate dreamer. I belong to many communities that uplift me. Yet, I also know that the most consistent and significant source of love in my life is myself. I just needed the support of my communities to help me realize that.

This (self) love will carry me through fear, failure, success–and yes, even through uncertainty.

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#SelfLove Series: Curly Hair, Don’t Care

I’d just gotten back from a beach day with friends. My skin radiated with sun kisses, and sand clung to my toes and my clothes–little hitchhikers, traveling with me from Malibu to the Valley. When I stepped into the foyer of my house, flip flops flapping against the hardwood, my mom gasped.

“What?” My first thought was that my skin was flaming with a sunburn that I had yet to feel. I touched my cheeks.

Mom began to laugh in shock. “Your…hair…”

I ran to the bathroom, prepared to see seagull poop crusting on my scalp, but instead, I saw–spirals. Spirals upon spirals, floating about my head like an auburn halo.

Curly hair.

Here’s the thing: aside from a brief period of toddler curls, I had spent most of my childhood with straight hair. Glossy, soft hair that I could twist into various do’s and run my fingers through as I pleased. It wasn’t until puberty commenced (circa 4th grade) that waves began to ripple through my quaff. Then those waves transformed into frizz. A lion’s mane. Little did I know that all this time, this frizz was actually a bundle of curly-q’s, just waiting to sprout.

Like your average adolescent with underdeveloped self-confidence and the weight of Unattainable Beauty Standards sitting on her shoulders, I hated it. I wanted to rip it out, chop it off. I had convinced myself that my supposedly unorthodox hair would prevent me from ever being “pretty,” because most of the beautiful girls and women that I saw on TV and in the pages of Tiger Beat that I was (allegedly) supposed to aspire to had long, straight hair. All of the girls in school used their flat irons religiously. Not to mention, according to Tumblr, “naturally curly hair” was supposed to look like this:


So, I hid my curls.

In sixth grade, I wore my hair in a ponytail virtually all of the time, even when I slept.  I took it to the next level in seventh grade–the age of the bun, during which my mom often joked that I looked like a granny. I managed a slightly more attractive half-up, half-down look from eighth to eleventh grade, buying bedazzled clips from Claire’s in an effort to beautify the bird’s nest. (I have not included pictures of these awkward phases in order to avoid severe embarassment.) None of these were hairstyles to me. Rather, they were my attempts to control the uncontrollable, to rebel against nature’s way.

Then, my mom took me to her hairstylist.

Apparently, all of the years of ponytails and buns had caused significant damage. My hair was breaking off. I guess nature was conducting its own rebellion, each broken strand a statement against self-hate.

“You need to let it down,” the hairstylist insisted as she snip-snipped at my dead ends. “No more hair ties.”

I stared at the mirror. My curls reemerged, expanding in volume after years of restraint. “Okay,” I mumbled. At the time, it’d felt like a defeat. Soon, however, I’d realize that it was the first step towards self-acceptance.

step. Even after I let my hair down (literally), I had to learn how to love it, even when other people didn’t. When people told me that I looked unconventional, I had learn how to take it as a compliment. When boys told me that they weren’t “into” curly hair, I had to learn how to shake it off. When people claimed that my curls concealed my Japanese identity, I had to resist the urge to think of them as a biological mistake. When family members insisted that I straighten my hair for special occassions (or even permanently–yes, I’ve been offered chemical straightening “as a gift”), I had to remind myself that curly hair is a gift.

I’ll repeat that: my curly hair is a gift.

Now, I regard my hair as  a trademark of sorts. The wild spirals enhance my personality and my distinctiveness. People tell me that they can spot me from far away because of my hair, and I love that. I am identifiable–and that’s a powerful feeling.

It may seem absurd that I’ve spent the last 600+ words talking about my hair. But it’s so much more than that. I’ve learned how to love and embrace this somewhat unique part of myself, even in the face of judgment. I’ve tested the resilience of my confidence, and I’ve realized that believing in my own beauty is more important than conforming to a media standard. I’m finally comfortable with being a little different–unconventional, even–as long as that means that I’m being myself.

For some more curly hair love, read this and watch this:


Welcome to my blog!

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Hi friend! Thank you for stopping by my little corner of the Webverse.

You’d think that after finishing my senior thesis (lots of pages, lots of coffee, and not enough sleep), I’d take a break from writing to hibernate or binge-watch B movies on Netflix for at least a century. And yet, here I am, composing the first post for this blog, an idea that’s been marinating in my mind for at least two years. Having just completed a milestone and being very much caffeinated, I decided to leap into it, to do more…doing. Though, this blog will showcase a lot of my thinking. 

As you may or may not know, my name is JoAnna, capital “A” included. I am a soon-to-be university graduate, bookworm, fiction writer, violinist, and visual artist. I love coffee, guinea pigs, and romantic comedies. This is beginning to sound like an online dating profile, so I’ll stop the brief bio here. 

On this blog, I will transcribe my general musings on life, as well as geek out about writing and reading fiction. I like to talk about short stories and novels not only as an adoring (or critical) reader, but a student writer, evaluating the works for technique. As Austin Kleon said:

Your job is to collect good ideas. The more good ideas you collect, the more you can choose from to be influenced by.

That’s why my posts about fiction would more accurately be called “studies” as opposed to “reviews.” Even if I don’t like something that I’ve read, I know that, at the very least, I learned something from the experience of reading it. I’d rather not quantify my relationship with a story using a rating scale. Though, I will certainly make reading recommendations!

I will occasionally write about other forms of storytelling like film and television–perhaps I’m saying that because I’ve been in a Gilmore Girls craze lately, and I really want to talk about it. (Ditto Jane the Virgin.)

In short, this blog is a new adventure for me. I’d love for you to join me!

Till next time…