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! 

What Post-Grad Life is Actually Like

…when you are unemployed and not going to grad school in the fall.

Sure, graduating from college is exhilirating and surreal–a dream come true. And we departing seniors go to great lengths to show everyone how exciting it is…like paying people to photograph us frolicking around campus with our Class of 2016 sashes and bursting champagne bottles.

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PC: Terri Shih // Apologies to the shrub that I ripped these flowers from.

On the other hand,  graduating from college is also terrifying. Within a two-hour commencement ceremony, I went from being a driven UCLA student and Assistant Director at a wonderful writing program, to an unemployed adult. After all of the graduation festivities and moving back home, it all sunk in: now, I must completely reconfigure my identity, my lifestyle…my entire sense of self.

Surely, this is a great opportunity to reconnect with myself. I can finally pick up the violin again and whip out the Prismacolor pastels. I can drop by the Y.A. section of Barnes & Noble and reunite with some old friends. I also look forward to generating new goals and finally pursuing my passions in the “real world.”

But then there’s that Catch-22.

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Let me be 100% honest: the job search is absolutely soul-crushing.

Now is the time to get real-world experience, but everyone expects applicants to already have a whole lifetime of experience under their belts. We recent graduates have to be Olympian professionals before we even set foot off campus, fluent in every computer program and foreign language known to man. Nevermind if I have great social media chops by 1) being a millenial and 2) cultivating an online presence of my own–skills that I can develop to a higher level. In order to secure an entry-level social media management position, I should have already worked social media for a major brand for at least three years. Oh, and I essentially need to be a graphic designer, computer programmer, and videographer.

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Every time I see “preferred” and “a plus” // via monstermoviaitalia.com

I spend most of my post-grad days writing letters to faceless individuals, demanding that they see how qualified I am, how I deserve their time and consideration. It’s an exhausting, never-ending process of trying to prove my worth.

Yet, my determination to launch my career pushes me to persevere and apply, apply, apply.

Truth be told, I am still figuring out what this ultimate career goal is, exactly. Whenever people ask me what I want to do with my B.A. in English and Creative Writing…

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There are a lot of things that I want to do (i.e., social media management, writing/editing, arts administration, filmmaking). But I can’t seem to package all of those aspirations into one short, sweet, and specific answer. I wouldn’t call this indecision, but my struggle to articulate my professional goals with precision (“therapist,” “doctor,” “lawyer,” “accountant”) makes it even more difficult to convince skeptics of the Humanities that I can transform my English degree into a fantastic career.

Throughout all of this, I must remind myself to not compare myself to others. Whenever I see a peer of mine post an update on LinkedIn or Facebook about landing their dream job or internship at Google, Adobe, or Disney, I need to take a step back and tell myself: everyone moves at their own pace. Everyone has a unique path. Everything will fall into place. 

I must deliver the same pep talk while watching my friends go off to prestigious graduate programs. I remind myself, again and again, that I decided against pursuing that path right now for a reason. Though I long for the security of knowing what to expect next, where I will be and what I’ll be doing for the next few years, I did not want to jump right into another school before understanding who I am in the working world. Who am I, apart from being a student?

But this, I’ve found, is the most important thing to remember as I navigate post-grad life:

There is not one version of success.

Sure, working for a well-known company like Disney would be amazing. But so would working for a non-profit that supports the arts. Whether I go into copyediting, screenwriting, or administration–it is ultimately more important for me to be happy, to love what I do, than to impress people. Sometimes, I forget this. I will make it a goal to remember: I decide what my version of success is, and only I can bring it into fruition.

 

Shameless plug: connect with me on LinkedIn

#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:

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Lies.

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:

 

How I Fell in Love with Writing: From Middle School Mania to Life-Long Passion

I think that YA books proved to me that my voice and my stories were valid and worth putting on the page.

Most English majors or writers that you meet will tell you how 1) they were avid readers in their youth, with their noses perpetually dipped in books; 2) their reading capabilities far exceeded that expected of their grade level; and 3) they identified with Harry Potter houses in the same way that some people live by their astrological signs.

Confession: as a kid, I didn’t meet that description.

When I was in elementary school, you’d be more likely to find me directing soap operas with my Barbie dolls, watching Jackie Chan Adventures, or reenacting scenes from Peter Pan by myself in the backyard than reading a book. I journaled often and enjoyed writing in school–I even asked my fifth grade teacher if she could assign more essays. I loved creating characters and stories, but with the exception of Lemony Snicket’s The Series of Unfortunate Events, I didn’t have that zealous obsession with literature that a lot of writers had as children.

That is, until middle school, when a relative gave me a Borders gift card for Christmas. (Moment of silence for Borders’s demise.)

I found the Young Adult (YA) section on the second floor. The book spines burst with color–rainbow patterns that stretched across the shelves, drawing me in. I pulled some books out to read the synopses, pleasantly surprised to find that these were stories about people my age, or just a few years older, and in the contemporary world. That warm, glowing, glittering feeling of connection sprouted within me.

Among the wide selection, I came across a familiar title: Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen by Dyan Sheldon. I’d seen the movie with Lindsay Lohan. What would that story be like on the page? I wondered. This book was my first purchase at Borders, and the first YA book that I’d ever read. Though I found the narrator of Confessions to be, well, a bratty drama queen (should’ve expected that), the book instantly hooked me to the genre.

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It wasn’t long before I discovered Meg Cabot and Sarah Dessen and…well. Eventually, my bookshelf looked like this:

My relationship with books became much more crucial when I was in ninth grade, when I, like the archetypical coming-of-age novel protagonist, underwent a loner period. Books (and the characters in them) became my dearest friends, my safe haven.

Around this time, I began to really delve into creative writing  on my own, totally inspired by all of the books that I read. I think that these YA books proved to me that my voice and my stories were valid and worth putting on the page. So, when I wasn’t practicing the violin or doing homework, I’d write teen dramas inspired by television shows that I watched, like One Tree Hill. Eventually, I started to write semi-autobiographical works in which all of the things that I wished happened to me…happened.

And that’s the kind of self-indulging motivation that led me to write my first full-length YA novel.

You see, in middle school, as I developed a love for reading, I also cultivated an obsession with Fall Out Boy and their bassist/lyricist, Pete Wentz (or as I used to call him, Peter Lewis Kingston Wentz III, because I was a creepily fanatical and newly hormonal twelve-year-old with Internet access). I memorized lyrics, collected posters, learned the band member’s biographies, joined their fan club–what the Beatles were to girls in the sixties, Fall Out Boy was to me.

So, one day, when I was in seventh grade, I got out a purple spiral notebook and decided that I was going to write a story about it. I transformed myself into thirteen-year-old protagonist Grace Parker and recreated Pete Wentz as Pete Wenston (very clever, right?), the new boy in school and love interest who happens to be in a rock band. Everyone in my actual middle school manifested as background characters in my novel in one way or another. As I wrote more and more, I ditched the notebook and shifted to the computer, writing everyday until I finished at 293 single-spaced pages.

The novel, as you can imagine, was painfully cheesy and amateurishly written, exploding with clichés, mispellings, and narrative inconsistencies. I didn’t write it with the intention of showing anyone (though, some friends pried it out of my hands, so to speak) and that’s probably why it was so easy and fun to write. I wasn’t overly critical of myself as I am now, because I wrote it purely for the pleasure of writing.

And I didn’t stop there. Within the next year, I wrote a  sequel in which all of the characters are in college (talk about a time-jump) and two more lengthy novels; one was about a garage band that gets a record deal and the other was about the shenanigans that went down at a music camp. I guess you could say that by fourteen, I was already prolific. 

Once I decided that I wanted to “be a writer,” it all became significantly more difficult. I wrote less, even avoided the blank page altogether, my creative faculities shut down by self-doubt and self-inflicted pressure. It took me a long while to realize that a New York Times best-selling title didn’t make you a real writer. Writing makes you a writer. With that epiphany,  I found my voice again.

I went on to attend a creative writing program during the summer before my senior year of high school as part of the California State Summer School for the Arts (CSSSA). This experience–four of the best weeks of my life that I will undoubtedly cover in another blog post–solidified my passion for storytelling, validated my abilities, and showed me that I existed within a community. Writing, I realized once again, connects me to people, places, and things–it is my way of making sense of the world and finding my place in it.

In college, I enrolled in short story workshops and, just last week, I completed a senior thesis. A novella, the longest work that I’ve written since middle school. I can say that I have matured dramatically as a writer over the last few years in terms of style, subject matter, and technique. I’ve somewhat departed from YA in terms of both reading and writing, but I will never lose my appreciation for the genre and its significance in my own narrative.

I’m excited to see what will come next in the saga of my writing career. Who knows? Maybe, someday, I will actually achieve that New York Times best-selling title. Regardless, one thing is certain: I’ll keep on writing.