Decisions2Decisions challenge me. What do I want? What will the outcome be–next month, next year, 10 years from now? What can I live with here and now?

Since moving to Los Angeles, almost everything has been unclear. But recently, I realized that I have made significant decisions before, and they haven’t been disastrous.


{My first visit to Lawrence, during my senior year of high school}

When I was younger, I decided to leave California to go to a small, Midwestern liberal arts college. Having experienced anxiety since the start of adolescence, Wisconsin felt like a balm to my worried mind.

Other issues arose while I was there, of course, but my mind did calm.

It wasn’t easy, at 18, to pack up my bags and face the decision I’d made. I remember the night before I flew halfway across the country. I had cold feet akin to what I’d imagine soon-to-be-newlyweds might feel. I was sick with dread, and my parents could tell. My mom reminded me that I didn’t actually have to go.

But I did it anyway. I lugged my overstuffed Samsonite suitcase to the airport and boarded the plane.

At Lawrence University, I found heartbreak and failure, but I also found success and the soothing serenity of sleepy Appleton, Wisconsin. I found the calm that had drawn me there, as promised. And if one good thing came out of it, it was that respite from the racket in my brain. The space to open up new passions, even while grappling with new losses.

What are the most important decisions you’ve made, and how do you feel about the outcomes? How would you describe your approach to decision-making?


Bookmarked Place: Francesca Lia Block’s Manhattan

St. John the Divine

Visiting the Upper West Side’s Peace Fountain in 2012

Fiction represents places in ways that resonate or inspire, validating our own experiences or giving us new perspectives on them. For this reason, I’ve been meaning to start a series of blog posts in which I relate books to places. This is my first attempt at such a post.

Francesca Lia Block is best known for her tales of a magical Los Angeles, but her knack for capturing the spirit of a place isn’t limited to her native city. Although a seasoned New Yorker might disapprove of turning to a California author for a representation of the city, as a fellow Californian with a connection to NYC, I relate to Block’s vision of New York.

Block captures a certain fantasy of the city. It’s a distant presence in many of her books, including Weetzie Bat. The iconic Weetzie, a quirky blonde pixie of a protagonist, knows NYC through her New Yorker father, who sends her “postcards with pictures of the Empire State Building or reproductions of paintings from the Metropolitan Museum, Statue of Liberty key chains, and plastic heart jewelry.” In I Was a Teenage Fairy, main-character Barbie (named after a doll she doesn’t want to be like) imagines a symbolic New York woman:

She is always carrying bags of clothes, bouquets of roses, take-out Chinese containers, or bagels. Museum tags fill her pockets and purses, along with perfume samples and invitations to art gallery openings. When she is walking to work, to ward off bums or psychos, her face resembles the Statue of Liberty, but at home in her candlelit, dove-colored apartment, the stony look fades away and she smiles like the sterling roses she has bought for herself to make up for the fact that she is single and her feet are sore.

This image may be romanticized or stereotypical, but it demonstrates Block’s fearlessness in delving into the aesthetics and associations of place and popular culture—all of which draw me to her work.

Although I am far from a naturalized New Yorker, I did live there, once, and that period of residency was about as formative as a stint of less than three years could be. Continue reading

New England Leaves

New England 2015

Let’s rewind to the first of October . . .

K and I set out for New England, chasing that moment when the Eastern seaboard transforms into technicolor autumn. Instead, we found ourselves navigating the earliest touches of fall. The leaves teased us with bursts and patterns unpredictable, as if to say: You left, and you can’t just have everything back all at once, and only for a week. 

Still, we went apple-picking with young-couple relatives and their tots, sipped cider and marveled at how unique even the smallest humans are.

New England 2015


We visited a gothic summer cottage, scaled the White Mountains of New Hampshire in an aerial tramway, walked among miniature mountain-top trees, and watched trained bears dance. I knocked my head multiple times, and hard, against the low, slanted ceilings of our frilly bed-and-breakfast rooms, just below the attic, and felt like an overgrown Alice fumbling through a dollhouse. However, the breakfast was delicious. Later, we dined on Thanksgiving fare and I drank a glass of cranberry wine. We played old-school arcade games and drove back to Massachusetts. Continue reading

5 Tips for Staying Creative While Working

My office has been an intensely focused, deadline-driven environment lately, and it’s gotten me thinking about how to stay inspired under the circumstances. Part of what sparked this line of thinking was actually the observation of how good that intense focus feels to my brain, and how it makes me want to apply the same level of dedication to my independent pursuits. I like the stability my current job provides, and I think it leaves me in a good place to find the peace of mind to concentrate on other aspects of my life as well—that is, if I can learn to balance my creative and working lives. I’m no shining example, but I have found a few things that give me hope that I can one day finish that dreamy novel or short story collection while holding down my desk job. Here are my tips for staying inspired at work, not just about your immediate projects, but about your own creative aspirations:

  1. Jot down ideas. It’s when I’m most immersed in what I’m doing at work that the creative juices start to flow. I’ll get an idea for a story or blog post while deep into editing a technical document. That’s why I keep a small notebook with me. I take it out when inspiration hits, jot down what comes to mind, and go back to the task at hand. This often happens when I’m at my most productive, work-wise, which is why this article kind of makes sense to me. I also tend to be hit with inspiration while caffeinated, which brings me to my next tip.
  2. Have a cuppa. I’m not proud of my caffeine addiction, but I find that a well-timed cup of coffee or tea can really boost my level of inspiration (and yes, timing is crucial; consider following this advice to figure out when caffeine most benefits you). I find that late morning or afternoon is best for me; in the early morning, I like to ease into my day, and a full cup of coffee can rattle me. But later on, it sends me soaring through my work.

  3. Take a walk. Whether a lunchtime stroll or a determined walk to public transit, I find that the rhythm and elevated heart rate of walking gets me into a different state of mind. On days when I choose to walk to BART instead of taking the shuttle, I sometimes find myself so mentally energized that I stop every few blocks to take out my notepad. It’s a whole different experience than jostling on a bus.
  4. Recognize artistry. Whether you’re making pies or websites, or ringing up customers, there is an art to what you do. There is a way of interacting with people that works best, a method of organizing files or moving through tasks that gets better results and, likely, leaves you in a better mood. Recognize these moments of accomplishment, and if possible, take a moment to admire what you and your coworkers have done. You might be amazed at what you’ve created, and that boost of confidence can be carried over into other pursuits.
  5. Add art. Fill the interstices of your day with things that inspire you. Listen to music if you can (for working, I like classical).  If you work at a desk, bring in objects that you like to look at, but won’t distract you (I have a miniature snow globe that I like to turn over at moments when I need a quick dose of whimsy). During breaks, read something with the right amount of substance and escapism. In other words, make time, even if it’s just five minutes, for something you love.

So, that’s my list for the moment. What keeps you happy and inspired at work? How do you balance your work life with outside pursuits? I’d love to hear more ideas about how to tackle these daily challenges.


Ordinary Transformations: Ms. Hempel Chronicles


Living as they did, at the top of the house, Beatrice and her brother were surrounded by trees. In the summer, their rooms filled with a green light. In the winter, the fir boughs grew heavy with snow and brushed against their windowpanes. Because they lived in rooms meant only for servants, their windows were small and perfectly square, not long and grand like those in the rest of the house. But they preferred it this way; they liked living in their tiny rooms, aloft in the trees; they liked the green light falling in squares at their feet. Their rooms were almost the same, but not quite: Calvin had a fireplace in his, and Beatrice had a wall of bookshelves built into hers.

Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum, Ms. Hempel Chronicles

I’m lucky enough to have the occasional Wednesday off. Sometimes it’s used for errands or appointments, but on a recent mid-week reprieve, I woke to a quiet apartment and crawled into my new reading chair, bathed in buttery sunlight, and revisited a book I’ve read and loved before. I was struck by the passage abovethe feeling of childhood comfort and make believe in a private world up in the trees. I felt like I was stepping into my own little lofty room away up in the eaves, even though I’m really in a first-floor apartment. On that recent quiet Wednesdaywhich I reminisce about now knowing I won’t have another one for a good little chunk of timemy space was as peaceful as any hideaway.

editedfullnookHaving recently left my twenties behind and just barely entered my thirties, there was no better moment to reread this book. Beatrice Hempel is a middle school English teacher in her late twenties when we meet her, and this period of her life unifies the book, providing points of entry into her past and future. Rather than a strict chronology, the book is structured as a series of narrative glimpses into various stages of Ms. Hempel’s development. Continue reading

Sweet Sunday in Old Oakland


Timeworn beauty and a tangle of blossoms

Most Sundays, K and I walk to a nearby farmers’ market. The stretch of houses, shops, and sights between our apartment and Jack London Square has become familiar, yet I still notice new details each time.

Today, camera in tow, my eyes were opened to the fantastic murals along the way. I’ve always been enchanted by the mix of historic homes, industrial spaces, and bright splashes of color, but this time, looking for interesting backdrops for my maxi-dress ensemble, I became better acquainted with these public works of art. Continue reading

Crown & Crumpet

teacupladycollage timeforteamecollageFor my birthday, K took me to Crown & Crumpet, a tea room I learned of from the Heroine Training blog. It was pretty much exactly as I imagined: a light-filled space embellished with whimsical touches, like a clock with teacups and saucers instead of numbers.

The service was as friendly and lighthearted as the tea room itself. We ordered a large pot of Crown & Crumpet Private Blend, a proper black tea. My three-tiered Tea for One included a satisfying sampling of finger sandwiches and treats, though K’s sandwich (I think it was mozzarella chicken) was the tastiest of the savory fare.


The warm blueberry scone with lemon curd was my favorite.

Going by the numbers, I’m very much a grown-up these days, but I can still enjoy an Alice-in-Wonderland-like teatime experience. Teatime seems to be associated with make-believe and fanciful old ladies, but I think it should be a part of everyday life—and more or less fancy according to the occasion.


Copywriting, Creative Writing

Confession: I am taking a copywriting class here in San Francisco. A class about writing ads. It’s not academia as I know it, though there is definitely a workshop component to the class.

The writing produced is different from fiction in many ways, and the experience only increases my respect for the depth of artistry demanded in writing fiction. Still, copywriting is a skill of its own.

What strikes me most about the class, so far, is the dynamic between students responding to one another’s work. Maybe it’s because advertising is a collaborative field that relies on professional networks (though this could be said of many fields), but there’s a feeling that one person’s well-wrought line of copy doesn’t just benefit that person, but all of us. That line contains an idea we can all work with and be inspired by.

I owe much to the fiction-writing workshops I’ve taken over the years. But too often there is a feeling that each person is on his or her own, or that there are little teams of two or three students who adhere to the same aesthetic and don’t much care for the work of those writing in different styles.

I’ve definitely contributed to this dynamic. I’ve been overly sensitive and taken things personally. But I’m happy to say that I’m learning something new in this class, not just about working with words, but about ways of being a writer and interacting with others who write. It’s a fresh experience, and far from dulling my mind with hackneyed lines, it’s sharpened my sense of words in a way that only heightens my appreciation for literary writing.

So … what about you? Have you participated in writing workshops? Do you have copywriting experience? I’d love to hear your thoughts about what being a writer among writers means to you. BlogSig

Leaf & Sip: Chocolat / Lavender Earl Grey

“Leaf & Sip” is a new series on The Burnished Leaf. For each installment, I pair a book and tea suitable for enjoyment side by side.


Chocolat surpassed my expectations.

Chocolat hasn’t left my mind since I finished reading it. Other books have come and gone, but it’s still the one I most want to share with you.

It’s one of those rare titles (like The Virgin Suicides) with a film adaptation that I also love. I’m guessing you may have seen the movie, starring Juliette Binoche and Johnny Depp. It’s been one of my favorites for years, and I’m surprised it took me so long to read the novel that inspired it.

The plot centers on strong-willed chocolatier Vianne Rocher, who opens a shop in a provincial French village. A single mother to six-year-old Anouk and unapologetic champion of chocolate, festivities, and the pleasures they cultivate, she is at odds with the strict churchgoing culture enforced by the town curé, Francis Reynaud. As she defiantly connects with the community, a collection of characters and one Gypsy drifter form a coterie that alters her life. She and Anouk find their footing, and Vianne begins to see her heretofore-rootless existence from a new perspective.

From the beginning, the Rochers imbue their environment with a new ambiance. “We came on the wind of the carnival,” Vianne narrates, and with their arrival the wind, which carries the scents of fried foods and confetti, seems to change. Upon moving into their new abode, she tells us, “We lit a candle for every room, gold and red and white and orange. I prefer to make my own incense, but in a crisis the bought sticks were good enough for our purposes, lavender and cedar and lemongrass.”

These kinds of scents and tastes, mixed into sorcerous concoctions, characterize much of Chocolat. Eithne Farry of The Daily Mail wrote that the novel “glittered with magic, mystery and the weather, and enticed with the indulgent flavours of truffles, bitter orange cracknell and lavender brittle.” Continue reading

Home, as a Location

DSC04361DSC04380 DSC04372 DSC04388It’s strange but lovely to say I spent the first 18 years of my life in a surf town with beautiful beaches and a seaside amusement park.

On January 2, I revisited it. The same pizza, coffee, cookies, views. Since I spent most of the past decade elsewhere, it was familiar and fresh at once. It’s so very much the same, but not quite. You know?

It seems that every entry I write lately relates to the idea of home, but in this case, it takes the form of a very specific location.

After spending so many years in other regions, no one place can encompass everything that has formed me — yet it’s nice to think that the place that comes closest to fitting this description is one small, scenic city on the Monterey Bay.

What reminds you of home?