Happy 100th Birthday, Tip Top Cafe!

Whenever my friends ask me for a restaurant recommendation for Kauai, the first place I suggest is always the Tip Top Cafe. Yes, you can bring your kids.  Yes, it’s authentic.  Yes, it’s local.  The cops eat there.  The aunties.  The uncles.  All of the cousins.  Eat.  Eat.  Eat.  Everyone is welcome.  Except on Mondays.


Today was Monday.  I had to run an errand in Lihue, but my beloved Tip Top Cafe was closed, as it is every Monday.  So, I ate lunch at Hamura’s Saimin instead.  They have very informal counter style seating, three U-shapes.  I ended up meeting and eating with Ray and Shirley Miyamoto.  Her grandfather started Tip Top Cafe – 100 years ago today.  They are on Kauai for the private family celebration tonight.


“Well, Tip Top is closed for lunch today, so we came here,” Shirley said.


See, the sign on the left says they are closed for a private party tonight!
See, the sign on the left says they are closed for a private party tonight!


Bingo!  My thoughts exactly.


“What’s your favorite thing to eat there?” she asked.


“I love their breakfast — fried rice with two eggs over easy and a side of Portuguese sausage, plus one piece of their banana pancake,” I said.


This is what I order for breakfast at the Tip Top Cafe
This is what I order for breakfast at the Tip Top Cafe
It says “piece” on the menu because, really, what they serve is a flat, round cake.  Bring a friend because you have to split it.


Eat this pancake!
Eat these pancakes!


“But then again, I like their saimin,” I said, “And, well, their teriyaki sandwich is yummy.  And, their plate lunch is good too.  My boyfriend says they make the best loco moco.”

Yes, I have had so many happy meals with friends and family at the Tip Top Cafe.

We ate our won ton saimin, laughed, and just talk story — about our families both on Kauai and in Los Angeles (where I live), how we’re all visiting Kauai, how Ray and Shirley met in seventh grade but never dated until their junior year in college, about how I write poetry, about that time that Frank Sinatra ate at the Tip Top Cafe, and the origin of some pidgin words.  (THAT is a story for another blog post!)  But they had to walk back and the gray skies looked full, so they were on their way.

I sat and wrote for a little while.  Hamura Saimin was empty – the lunch crowd gone. The server never came by so I walked up to the register and she asked if I needed anything.

“I’d like to pay for my lunch,” I said.

She wiped her hands on her apron, looked at me a little puzzled.

“Oh, the couple, they paid for it.  The woman said to pay for everyone’s lunch.  I figured you knew them.”

I gave the server a tip and walked into the humid afternoon.  Yes, it was going to rain soon but this was yet another moment I’ve had on Kauai where perfect strangers like the Miyamotos have been so kind to me and that’s some of the sunshine I carry with me wherever I go.


Happy 100th Birthday, Tip Top Cafe!
Happy 100th Birthday, Tip Top Cafe!


365 Days of Writing

365 days in 18 journals
365 days in 18 journals

I re-read my journal entry from a year ago today.  There was nothing auspicious, no grand proclamation, not even a quiet prayer of hope for my year of writing ahead.  Instead, I was enduring a bad cold and had just returned from holiday celebrations in Las Vegas.  Clearly, I didn’t know that was the first day of this journey.

I didn’t note it after a week or even after a month but after six months when friends would ask what I was up to, I’d tell them that I write every day.

“How did you do that?” or “I’d love to do that!” are the typical responses.

It wasn’t easy but it was simple.  Every day, open journal to blank page, pick up pencil, and write.

I have been writing for a long time but even during my MFA program, I never wrote every day.  Even while writing this blog, I didn’t advocate for a daily practice.  All of my writing years prior, I told myself that I didn’t have the time.  In the last year, I have learned a lot about what’s really true about my writing practice and what isn’t.

Some of my friends are writers asking me about the mechanics of writing every day.  A creative life does take stamina, but what everyone, writer or not, is truly asking is how to find something we are passionate about, how to get over ourselves and our habits, and how to keep going in this new direction.

The best way, the only way, I know how is simply to start.  To begin.  And tomorrow and the next day, begin yet again.  It is practice that creates the momentum.

Q&A: How did you decide on your daily dedicated writing time?

My friend and fellow writer, @deedottiedot, contacted me yesterday via Twitter and asked, “How did you decide on your dedicated (daily) writing time? I NEED to do this.

For those of you who are new to my blog, I have been writing (as of this morning) for 119 consecutive days.  Aside from writing, I am also a citizen social scientist who studies human performance.  Most recently, I have been closely examining the finer points of habits and rituals.

Before I chose a time, I asked myself two questions starting with, “What specific outcomes did I want for my writing that I can only attain by writing every single day?”  There are many reasons to write daily, the key is finding your reason, your need — preferably one that doesn’t use the word “should.”  Second, I had been writing for years, so I asked myself, “Why is daily writing important now?”  I also noted what I was willing to give up to get the gains.

Writing had to become a habit.  Today, here’s what it looks like.  If I haven’t written by lunch, I feel weird and have assure myself that I indeed made special arrangements to write later in the day.  There are extremely successful writers who write at 3, 4, or 5 in the morning.  I can write in the early morning but the truth is, I could also sleep through easily.  I needed to a choose a time of day where I would see that appointment approaching, make the conscious choice to put whatever I was doing aside, and make my writing the priority.  My big constraint here was to find a time that was early enough in the day so I still had enough mental and emotional energy to be productive.

I often discuss the writing process with many of my creative friends and colleagues.  (And on this blog.)  And once again, I turned to a friend who wanted to make daily writing a part of her life too.  We looked at our calendars and chose a mutually convenient time.  Every day – birthdays, holidays, weekends, weekdays – we check in just before our appointment via text.  She sets the timer and we write.  We live in different cities and time zones but this still works.  After we’re done, we evaluate, celebrate, and commiserate via a brief exchange of text messages.  Did we finish what we set out to do?  Some sessions are better than others.  Then we go on with our respective days.

My measurement of progress and success varies.   For the days when I’m working simultaneously with my writing partner, I give myself a win for showing up and writing without being distracted for the whole time.  For the days when we are writing separately but still checking in — I give myself a win either on my amount of distraction-free writing time or the number of pages written.  It really depends what I’m working on at the time, but you get the gist.  On the days that I travel then referee a roller derby game, my schedule is kind of weird, and I measure my progress strictly by page count.

Ultimately, in spite of my life, I get something creative done every day.

What I Learned from Keri Putnam’s Conversation with Gina Prince-Blythewood at BinderCon

Keri Putnam (@KPutnam) and Gina Prince-Bythewood (@GPBMadeIt) in conversation at BinderCon LA, March 28 2015
Keri Putnam (@KPutnam) and Gina Prince-Bythewood (@GPBMadeIt) in conversation at BinderCon LA, March 28 2015
Photo Credit: Sherilyn Lee

Keri Putnam, Executive Director of the Sundance Institute, opened this talk with a comment about her own experience, “Some combination of luck and will — have helped me beat the odds in Hollywood.”

This is exactly why hundreds of women attended BinderCon this weekend and tuned in deeply to these talks.  We want to beat the odds too.

Gina Prince-Blythewood attributed much of what makes her a successful director today to being an athlete.  She grew up playing sports in boys leagues because they didn’t have teams for girls.  On the days she came home discouraged, her parents would say, “Keep playing, you deserve to be there.”

I nodded as she listed how sports has strengthened her to take on the studio system like, “leave it on the floor,” “working with a team in a heightened environment.”  When she said that sports gave her swagger, that word ricocheted off of round tables covered with white tablecloths, onto Twitter feeds, into future discussions that weekend.  And it wasn’t bravado, she reinforced later, by saying how to use “swagger as authenticity.”  Yes, to truly be the Wonder Woman reaching out from Prince-Blythewood’s Converse high tops, to embody Prince-Blythwood’s own mantra, “Overcome the noes.”  Most of her stories included the phrase, “I had pitched this to every studio in town and they had all said no.”

“There is a shock to the system when you realize how hard it [the studio system] is,” said Prince-Blythewood.

And she still found a way.

Putnam identified how Prince-Blythewood overcame this because the vision of what she wants is always so clear.

“Always be clear of your vision and what you want to put into the world because someone will want to make changes, have opinions,” said Prince-Blythewood.

Prince-Blythewood acknowledged that writing is very difficult, awful for her but she does it so she can protect her work. She surrounds herself with the best readers who are great writers and are brutally honest in their feedback.  Regarding choices of topics, she says that it’s easy to fall into writing what will sell the easiest and says that when we do that, it never works because we are listening to other voices, not our own.  When we do work we aren’t passionate about, we can’t overcome the noes.


Writing from Boxing Day to the First Day of Spring

For me, writing is drafted by hand, pressing a sharpened yellow #2 Dixon Ticonderoga pencil into a page, and swirling from left to right. My computer is mostly for revisions and I log many hours there too. But when I count my writing for myself, it’s the work I’ve done by hand. I have written every single day for the last 85 days.

Journals lead the way to my office
The stairs to my office, the journals since Boxing Day

Here’s what I’ve noticed so far…

1. I’m learning to resist my smartphone.
I use it as a writing timer. But it will also buzz, ring, and I wonder if that email response came, so I could just pick it up and take a peek. Right? Nope. What about researching that one thing on the Internet?  Nope. The answer is no. Put it down. Or better yet, don’t even pick it up. I am missing out on nothing. The coolest thing in the world is happening right in front of me.  Every time I don’t pick it up, it’s a small victory.

2. I miss it when I don’t write.
Usually, I write in the mornings but sometimes life happens. Since the morning has become so ingrained as my writing time, when I realize that I haven’t written, I panic for a beat then remember that I scheduled a writing appointment for later in the day.  Writing has become a habit that I feel.

3. Is writing once a day enough?
Not too long ago, daily writing seemed impossible.  Now sometimes I open my journal and wonder if I need to add another session in the day.  As my friend, Kim Rogers, says, “The more I write, the more I write.” I can’t, other things need to get done. But it’s been better to come to the blank page full, rather than empty.

This all started quietly and simply. I never declared a challenge or proclaimed my intention, I just started showing up. And now, onward to summer.  Happy Spring!

Raising My Hand

In “The Lean In Generation Have Become Addicted to Work – It has to Stop,” Natalie Campbell describes the double day that involved parents live — rush off to work, come home to start the second shift of taking care of their family, then just a few more emails, and then bedtime.  Then she writes, “It’s not that dissimilar for women without kids. Maybe the kids have been replaced by hours at the gym or dinner with friends while still sending emails.”


Wait, what?  What does she mean by maybe?  Campbell didn’t have to oversimplify.  She could have asked.  Women without children who work are plentiful.  I would have told her about the choices I made willingly and how my mileage varied.  I would have told her about all of those nights, weekends, and holidays I continued to work in the office long after my co-workers went home to their families and that I wasn’t at the gym.  I’d tell her about the time I stood in front of a refrigerated section at a grocery store looking for some food to grab, in a hurry to get to work, but then tears formed because I was so tired of eating out of a package.  I would tell her that when I was younger, my co-workers made hurtful assumptions like I was always available since I didn’t have kids, as if I weren’t a part of my own life.  I would have told her about the many celebrations I missed and that the only vacation I had in a two year period was to attend my grandmother’s funeral.  She might have asked about the treasure trove of frequent flier miles and I’d admit that it was exciting being a bi-coastal road warrior, but it had to be else the loneliness would have crushed me.  We could have had a great conversation about work, its effects on our personal lives and our society, and compared scars.


Campbell asked the women readers with children to raise their hands.  Everyone counts.  Even though I’m childless by choice and she didn’t ask, I’m raising my hand too.

#DearMe – 10 Things I’d Tell My Younger Self

Today is International Women’s Day and #DearMe is a campaign for women writers to write to their younger selves as a way to reach out to young women today to offer them wisdom and encouragement.  Here’s my offering to this worldwide discussion.


1. Love is a verb and usually that verb is “forgive.”  Mistakes made while trying aren’t a problem.  Being paralyzed with fear and never doing anything is.  Forgive yourself, forgive others – forgiveness is for you, not for them, it makes your heart lighter, helps to open it.  Hard hearts shatter, pliable ones heal (scars are sexy) and are quite strong.
2. Want something.  So few people in the world really strive for anything.  Want something so badly that you jump out of bed in the morning – you go and get it.


3. Let it go. Feelings, lovers, clothes that no longer work, other people’s expectations, jobs.  If you want to travel far, travel light and this also means listening to yourself, making hard choices, and respecting them.


4. Become good at something.  Don’t know what that is?  Doesn’t matter, start right here.  Be professional and practice excellence, be curious – the something will show up.


5. We teach people how to treat us. Do no harm, take absolutely no crap. Zero.  This includes taking crap from yourself – not one more negative syllable of self-talk.


6. Become your own woman — intellectually, emotionally, financially, physically — the faster you do this, the cleaner your relationships will be.  The day that I decided to no longer feel bad about my body, in fact, I was going to love it no matter what anyone else said – that was a game changer.


7. And let people know how they can help you. They will tell you that you put out such an independent vibe that as much as they love you and are excited about you, they can’t find a space for themselves in your life and it will frustrate them.  Let the good ones love you – when they ask, open up, find room for them.


8. Call your parents and grandparents every Sunday.
9. The greatest gift you can ever give someone is the permission to be their authentic selves.  People waste a lot of time and energy posturing and it gets exhausting.  Be real  and give the people in your life the permission to do so too.  Love them entirely.


10. You can’t have courage unless you’re afraid, so develop the courage to live the life you want.

Make a Wish

Oooh!  Look!  A shooting star!
Oooh! Look! A shooting star!

I was talking to my friend, Kim, the other day about how to make a daily writing practice feel like a lot less work. It’s okay, you can laugh. We both did. But you’ve read this far, so you’ve wondered about this too.

Writers always have homework. I willingly choose this and for the most part, embrace it. And sometimes, especially after completing many weeks of small, but key tasks, I’m tired.

“Well, ” said Kim, “For me, it’s important to focus on something that is aspirational. That’s what motivates me, keeps me feeling good.”

Kim knows what she’s talking about. She writes about nature and the environment. As an observer of her work, I’ve seen that some days are beautiful, uplifting and others are heartbreaking.  She also offered that aspiration could be in terms of one’s own writing career. My lesson from our call was a reminder to write through with purpose.

Today, I invite you to take a break, step away from the to-do list, the to-don’t list, ask yourself what you want for yourself, for your writing. Just listen for a few quiet moments. Maybe this will take several tries. Don’t give up. Keep listening, ear-to-heart and when it whispers – make a wish.


Image by Ralph Arvesen via flickr Creative Commons

This is Day 20 of 20 of BlogHer’s NaNoBloPo Challenge for February 2015.  This month’s challenge is “Make,” check out all of my posts here.


Make a Big Deal

You have no idea how long I have put off writing this post. This is something I struggle with. From the very beginning of this themed series on “make,” I knew I would include this topic. Yet one of the perils of being a planner and a list maker who is not a multi-tasker is that my downtime between projects is brief. Like, non-existent. Okay, I hop right to the next thing.

Years ago, about two weeks before graduation, Grant and I were walking in town. I stopped on the sidewalk in front of the Radio Shack, turned to him and said, “Hey, the last two years, they are going to give me a master’s degree for this.”

It had just occurred to me that all of the classes and study were going to add up to something — a piece of paper, three more letters after my name. I worked full-time while in graduate school, so this had been quite an effort.

“Yes, yes they are,” he nodded. Grant believed in my dream, happy that it was almost here.

And that was the extent of my thoughts about this. Perhaps because graduate school was a step on a longer journey – I was ready to go on to my next thing.

Come on, CELEBRATE already!

I had never visualized what it would be like to bask in the moment until Grant insisted on gifts, dinners, until my parents threw a graduation luncheon in my honor, until my relatives adorned me with lei after lei until they were up to my ears. Don’t get me wrong. I love to celebrate, to gather, and to acknowledge — someone else. But I am in a hurry to get to my next thing – my next project, my next list. I feel the pull.

What I can tell you is that their way is definitely more fun. It was great to sit at a table filled with my beautiful friends and family. After the photos, I had so much fun removing a lei from my neck and adorning someone else. And these are things I would never have done for myself on my own. But looking back now, I know I want to do them more often. This is something I haven’t figured out yet and maybe you have.  How do you celebrate the big and small in writing, in life?


Image by Matt Reinbold via flickr Creative Commons

This is Day 19 of 20 of BlogHer’s NaNoBloPo Challenge for February 2015.  This month’s challenge is “Make,” check out all of my posts here.

Make Good Time

“There’s nothing like a deadline,” said almost every writer I know.  If they haven’t said it, for sure, they’ve thought it. Else, every word would sit and wait on hard drives and in notebooks simply because any piece of writing could stand yet just one more read-through, one more revision. Deadlines create urgency.

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become.

Everything else is secondary.

– Steve Jobs

But urgency isn’t enough.  The work that writers do is often self-guided, self-motivated.  And this is where Jobs’ advice comes in.  Making good time isn’t just about working at a fast clip, it’s also about using this time towards making the brave and difficult choices to put my writing on its correct path. This hasn’t been easy and has taken me several tries (and it will probably take several more) and to do so requires being an authority of one’s work despite the lack of proof when we’re first starting out. Take a stand just to listen to the truth in your head and in your heart, but don’t stand still for too long, get moving, your life’s work is waiting.


This is Day 18 of 20 of BlogHer’s NaNoBloPo Challenge for February 2015.  This month’s challenge is “Make,” check out all of my posts here.

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