Q: What do wellness and self care mean to you?
A: For me, self care means being protective of my mind and my body so that I am in good shape to be creative. Practically, it’s about maintenance, the everyday upkeep. I’m kind of an all-in or all-out kind of person. When I don’t practice that sort of stuff, such as taking vitamins or doing my skin-care routine or working out, suddenly I’m sick and my skin is completely dried out. I’m like, “What happened?” It’s like, “Oh, because I stopped completely.”
Q: You achieved fame as a writer before the movie came out, but I wonder how the film's massive popularity has affected how you care for yourself.
A: I think part of being protective of my mind, and also my body, is being really careful about what I agree to do. You can’t say yes to everything, even though you might want to. In the storm of all the media attention, I was getting a lot of requests, and I felt really overwhelmed. I came up with a decision-making metric. I ask myself three questions: Is it fun, is it easy, and is it worth it? If the request is none of the above, then it’s an easy no. Three out of three is a no-brainer, but it’s an extremely rare situation. If it’s two out of three, I usually say yes but not always. You’d be surprised how easy it is to rule things out once you ask yourself those questions.
Q: Baking and food are prominent in the TATB movie and books. Is baking part of your self-care routine?
A: Baking is definitely what I do when I feel stressed out. There’s something very methodical and satisfying about measuring out your ingredients and then having those ingredients turn into something tangible and delicious. It also allows you to make something that nourishes yourself and others. I think when you’re feeling stressed out, doing something for someone else can help you come out of your stress in a way.
I don’t really eat what I bake, because I don’t have a big sweet tooth. I’ll very happily have a bite of something and feel satisfied. If it’s a choice between a steak or a piece of cake, I’ll pick a steak.
Q: Beyond baking, what do you do to deal with stress?
A: For me, creating lists and being able to check small items off the list can feel really productive. Even just visually crossing through the task makes me feel less stressed out. If I have something specific going on, I’ll go to therapy and talk about it with my therapist and figure out productive ways to combat that stress.
I try to avoid Twitter when I’m really stressed out. I think [the Twitter feedback loop] can be difficult when you’re a creative person. Because you’re thinking, “I want people to like this,” or, “They’re not going to like that.” That makes it really hard to feel free to create something new and to take a wild swing at something. I think it’s important to be protective of that creative space and try to write first to please yourself before you think about pleasing other people.
Q: Where does fitness fit in?
A: I have a trainer that I see twice a week when I’m in New York. We do strength training and cardio with a Bosu ball and an agility ladder. I started going because I broke my ankle twice and had to have surgery on it. Working out with my trainer has really helped me work on my balance and get the strength back in my ankles.
Q: How do you keep it up when you travel?
A: The biggest bane of my existence is figuring out how to travel and still keep up with healthy routines. I travel a lot for work. I always pack my agility ladder and my sneakers, but then it’s so hard to motivate yourself to work out.
Q: What do you like to eat when you're at home? Do you like to cook?
A: I like to make slow scrambled eggs, so they’re really custardy. I put it over a bowl of rice or on a piece of toast or I do that with some avocado. That feels decadent to me but still relatively healthy. I also like to do cooked salmon and a rice bowl. I like fresh-squeezed juice; that’s my biggest treat.
Korean food makes me feel really grounded, healthy and secure. That would be a bowl of rice and some kind of soup. And banchan, which are like little Korean sides that are usually vegetables. That feels nourishing and clean. It feels like home; it feels like grandma.
Q: Is there anything else from your upbringing that you incorporate into your routine?
A: Using Korean beauty products reminds me of home in Richmond. Going to the Korean spa (a jimjilbang) and getting a scrub reminds me of my grandmother giving me baths and scrubbing my skin so hard on Sundays. I used to pretend to be sleeping because I didn’t want to do it, and now I go pay to have someone do it for me. It feels just like home. I walk out literally feeling like a new person. Shedding skin makes me feel lighter, more hopeful.
An important element of self care to me is some sort of feeling of ceremony and luxury, otherwise I don’t really feel like doing it. If it feels like a treat, then I really enjoy it. If I take my time to prepare my food for the week on Sunday night, that feels decadent in a way. By putting it into nice little Bento boxes, you just feel very satisfied with the work that you’ve done. My skin-care routine feels like a treat because it feels meditative and deliberate, as if I’m taking care of myself and taking time for myself. I cleanse, tone and use serums that hydrate, plump and clarify, then I moisturize. Sometimes I put on a sheet mask if I really want to go all out, or I do the 24K gold under-eye patches.
Q: You co-wrote a series of books with Siobhan Vivian. Do you like to write with others?
A: A big element of my self care is writing retreats. I plan a lot of them, and they’re a really good balance of work and community and treating myself. I pick a house that has a pool or some sort of a hot tub situation. I invite friends and we work all day. We set goals at the beginning of the retreat. I try to go on a retreat several times a year. It helps me when I see other people being so productive.
I set up a lot of writing dates with writer friends. I’ll go to the Wing [an all-women co-working space], where I’m a member, or I’ll go to Soho House [a members-only club for creatives] or to a friend’s house. For me, it helps to be around that energy and people working and being creative.
Q: What's your physical setup when you're writing?
A: I usually sit on the couch where I can rest my head. Or I’ll sit in a comfy chair. There’s always people on retreats who sit at the table the whole time, but I’m usually one of the ones on the couch or an armchair. I tend to write on paper first because I think there’s something exciting about a blank page in a blank notebook. A blank Word document can feel more intimidating and stressful, but I’m excited to fill the pages of a notebook.
Q: As a YA author, do you feel a responsibility to look out for your young audience emotionally?
A: The only real responsibility I feel is to tell the truth and to aim for honesty in my stories. It’s not really about teaching lessons but more to be truthful and also to offer hope. I think there’s always hope.