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Interview with Louisa Choi

Louisa Choi is a 19 year old Korean-American poet and writer who has grown up in Hong Kong and is currently living in New York City, studying psychology. Hong Kong’s very own contemporary Sylvia Plath, her work is centred around mental health and childhood. She has worked with 'All My Friends Zine', and some notable works that she has published include: ‘Yes, I Am the Poet’, and more recently ‘A Farewell to Childhood’.


How did you initially get interested in writing?

I first started writing when I was around eleven years old. I was very inspired by Taylor Swift and other writers like her. As a young child, I had a lot of emotions that I could not express openly within my household, and my life in general. But I feel like I was still a very emotional person so I connected to singer-songwriters for that reason, and as a way to escape. Being inspired by them, I started writing. Initially, I was meant to be writing songs, but I discovered that that was not my forte, and I moved towards writing poetry. It really just started as a way to express my emotions, better understand myself, and discover things that I was never meant to be sharing with others (clearly, this has changed). Since then, I have continued doing it and it has been wonderful.

I first remember seeing your account spring up during COVID lockdowns and online school. How would you describe your experience with the pandemic and do you think it has influenced your work today?

I was experiencing the height of the COVID-19 pandemic when I was a teenager (in high school). I remember feeling really bored, like how I would go to zoom classes, but not feeling the same way as I usually do when I go to in-person classes, and feeling disconnected from other things in my life. I started doing what activity I could do within the confines of my home, and one of those things was doing a lot of art. So while I had been continually writing since I was eleven, I had also done art classes when I was younger, however, I never really pursued art seriously. I started making random art pieces, and, at this point I already had a photography account (which was what my account started out as). I felt that the world was going through a lot of change. I was kind of having a moment, so I thought I might as well post those stuff online, since it will probably not turn into anything major, also, no one cares, that was my mindset (I’m sure that was the mindset of many others too) after the pandemic started. I was just really bored, above all, I would say that I was just very bored, and I wanted something to work on. I had many friends encouraging me to do it, so I guess I would not have started posting online if not for the boredom which I had been experiencing.

I frequently see your work linked to mentions of mental health. How would you say your experience with mental health struggles have influenced your artwork?

Immensely. I write almost only about my mental health struggles. Obviously I dip into other stuff here and there but one of my strongest and most difficult battles that I have experienced and am still experiencing in my life have been mental health. My work will always reflect what is going on in my life, so for that reason they go hand-in-hand. I get questions sometimes, for example, do you rely too much on your mental health struggles for inspiration, but I don’t think it is about being sad to produce good writing. I understand that some people make that assumption that I have that going through my head, but it is more because I am just like any other human being who goes through ups-and-downs too, and I write about those as honestly as possible. For me, it just coincidentally ended up being about mental health, it was never ever supposed to be just like ‘I have mental health issues, so I am going to write about them’. When I was eleven and I started writing, I had no idea what mental health was. It just naturally became that. Will it always stay that way? I have no idea, but for now, it is where my writing is most therapeutic, most helpful to me, so it will stay that way for awhile.

What do you think you would be doing if you were unable to create art?

That is a good question. I actually don’t have much idea about this. Art has been so important to me throughout my life. I come from a very creative family (me and my sister, we both love doing some form of music or art, creating or writing). I genuinely think that art is something I return to whenever I am feeling uninspired or down. I feel so lucky that I am able to explore that part of me. I would say that art is not my only coping mechanism. I have other things, like going on walks, music, hanging out with my friends, but art is the most comfortable place that I feel while exploring or expressing myself. Without art, I would have to make do with other activities which I am less comfortable or happy doing. In other areas of my life (career and academically wise), I am more focused on psychology and studying. Even if I don’t post art online, it would still be a great way for me to process my emotions.

I also remember seeing you create a lot of videos early in your Instagram career (my favourite one is probably the one with the fish), how did you get interested in videography and would you say that interest still holds true right now?

I think that my older sister is really the reason why I initially started getting interested in film. She studied film and she would always make little films. I was really inspired by that, and when I got to secondary school, film was always an option that I could take as a class, so I have been taking film since Year 9. That was awesome, it introduced me to the world of theoretical film, film creation, and what the different components of films means. Honestly speaking, film is where my heart lives. Career-wise, I have always wanted to be a filmmaker, but due to the industry, I don’t think I will ever enter that industry, it is just too much for me. I actually took film in IB as well, which was where my love for film blossomed, and I really worked hard in terms of creating and writing the essays. I loved every second of it, nevertheless, it was very challenging for me, because, artistically, and creatively, that is a huge source of validation in my heart. It was difficult to separate my identity from the films themselves. For example, if I got a grade I was unhappy with, or negative reviews, that was hard for me to go through. For that reason, I distanced myself from making film a career or academic path. I know that I have a special connection with film, but that is enough for me. Still, I miss making films, working with other people, and studying film. But for where I am now in life, as an adult, it is just not the path which I want to go down. In saying that though, I always talk about how I want to return to film someday by making films on my own time, or by taking film classes (although that will be difficult). Film is the art medium which I feel the most professional in. I have never taken an art or writing class in adulthood, but with film, I know what I am doing.

What is your creative process like? Where is your favourite place to write?

So like I was saying, I actually have no professional training in writing. I plan to try to take a poetry class in university next semester. My creative process is not really a thing. I simply write. I open my notes app, and I sit and write. My favourite place to write is the MTR. I love sitting on the subway, pull up my phone, and writing the saddest stuff I ever write.There is something about the juxtaposition of doing something so mundane while also doing something so dramatic, but it is only me, and only I know what I am doing. So, I would say my favorite place to write is on the subway, and that my creative process is just word vomit. I write the best when I am at my most weird and unfiltered with my writing. I like to use conventional words in an unconventional way. That is my favourite type of writing, so I just try to be weird but true to myself when possible,

If you had to sit on a long MTR ride with someone (they can be dead or alive, famous or not), who would it be and why?

I mean, of course I would say Taylor Swift. I would die (metaphorically) if I met her, because she has been my inspiration for my whole life. That is the expected answer of me, so if I was to give a different, slightly less expected answer, the first thing that comes to mind would be one of my friends, my mother, or people who are close to me in my life. I would love to spend time with them and that is a really meaningful thing to me. I don’t fantasise about meeting any celebrity aside from Taylor Swift, so either just her, or my close friends.

Who or what would you say are your main inspirations at the moment? Google says Sylvia Plath, Taylor Swift, Pablo Neruda, Osamu Dazai.

Those are probably my main inspirations. Sylvia Plath and Taylor Swift are out there for me. I read Pablo Neruda in Year 7 and I was fascinated by his use of words. Nowadays, I have been struggling with inspiration, which I think happens to any creative person. You kind of just go through ruts, but I have also really been inspired by artists on Instagram. There are so many talented people in our generation who are using social media to showcase their talent. I am proud that I can be part of that online community, and this has been super inspiring to me to create more. Those writers are my main inspirations, and so many other artists and singer-songwriters. I love Paramore, Gracie Abrams, and so many people that I am currently blanking on. Music has been a huge inspiration for me.

Taylor Swift is an interesting one, I feel like some more highbrow literary critic people would say that pop music does not count as a form of ‘art’, what are your thoughts on this?

I think that is stupid. Art is art. You can’t say that a piece of art isn’t art because it is popular. If that is the case, then Van Gogh and Picasso would not be artists. I think that anything, even what a three-year-old might create with a bit of paint and a paintbrush is art. Art is very subjective, and the critics that say that popular music is not art are just critical of their own insecurities. But I also think that popularity does not make art better or worse. I say that to myself because I know that I have a large following on Instagram. That does not make me better or worse than any writer, I just think that that makes me more socially popular. Being popular does not mean the art is good, it is just being circulated more. And I understand, to a certain extend, why people think that pop music is not art, because they use formulas and certain melodies they know are popular, and it gets monetized, but I think that, if you make a song only to go viral, it would not do well. In that case, you could say that that is less artistic. But who is to say that creating formulas counts as not being ‘artistic’? That could be an art in itself, so I think that people can have their preferences, but to go to extends to claim that a piece is ‘not art’, is a statement beyond our control.

I also grew up reading Sylvia Plath and I really love her work - do you have a specific piece of hers that particularly speaks to you? Furthermore, I know that she has had struggles with mental health in the past as well. Is there any way you think that her work has resonated with you?

For sure. Sylvia Plath speaks such honest truths, especially for the time period for which she was alive, which is super inspiring to me. In high school, I studied her collection of poetry, ‘Ariel’, and the poem ‘Daddy’ was one of my favourite poems ever. I think it is a genius poem. It is relatable to me for my own interpretation, but likely not Plath’s own interpretation of it. I do think that my own interpretation is more relatable for myself. I think that Plath is such an impressive woman. She housed so much pain in her mind and body and we are privileged to learn about that through her writing. Obviously, me and Plath have very different lives, but I do relate to her in the sense that she has that inner turmoil and struggle that she feels she can only express through her writing.

How has your experience been being a “Social Media Influencer”? In terms of your successes and struggles, etc.

Would I call myself an influencer? Probably not; Would I call myself not-an-influencer? Also no, because I understand where it comes from. I think I have been lucky that, so far, it has been nothing but joy. It has been extremely rewarding and so wonderful to create a community. I never take it too seriously which helps. I would not say that I will never do this, but I also think that I will likely not turn it into something where I am doing sponsorships all the time. Who knows, maybe one day I will, but at the moment, it is really not what I am here for. I do have a lot of privilege in saying this, because I know many people have to make social media their job in order to make a living, which I totally get, but I think I am just taking it easy, and taking it easy makes it a lot easier on yourself. If it were to be something to do with finances it would be a lot more stressful and I understand that, but for me, it is just for expressing my art. Followers and likes do affect me, but I try my hardest to detach myself from them because, you know, of all the cliche reasons (you should not value yourself based on your social media account, etc)

What would you say is your favourite piece of artwork of yours right now?

I have a book coming out which I am very proud of. My fourth book is coming out soon, not exactly sure when, I still need to work on that, but I believe that my writing in that collection has become my most visceral and most honest.

Being a Korean-American artist that has grown up in Hong Kong, what would you define as home and where would you say is your home?

I would definitely say Hong Kong. It is where I was raised and I grew up. I know the lay of the land there, the places, and that goes a long way. As I get older, and I move to different cities, that might change, I might have more than one home, but Hong Kong will always hold a special place in my heart.

With the onset of academic pressures as well as what could be seen as a claustrophobic city setting - how would you describe your experience growing up in Hong Kong? And do you think that there are parts of your hometown that you have outgrown?

For sure, I think that I have outgrown everything at this point. Whenever I go back, it is an interesting experience for me. It is like a trip down memory lane, while also scary and weird. I mean, I have so much love for Hong Kong in my heart, but that I only developed that love after leaving. I did struggle for much of the time I was there. I never really associated with the city itself. It will always mean something to me, and there are a lot of good memories, which I associate with Hong Kong. I think that there is a lot of good, a lot of bad in Hong Kong. For example, yes it can be such a wonderful place, but there are also a lot of weird inner workings of Hong Kong, especially socially, but I look back with appreciation now, because I would not be who I am without that experience.

This one is a bit of a tricky one: do you think that growing out of things and places is an inevitable part of growing up?

From my personal experience, yes, I do think that I have inevitably grown out of things and relationships. I do think that it happens, that things change and happen. I understand people who might disagree with that, because some people may be more resistant to change. At this point in my life, I do think that it is an inevitable thing.

Ideally, if money and societal expectations were not an issue - how would the next 5 years of your life pan out?

It is a dream of mine to get my degree, my bachelor’s degree, which you know, sounds a bit weird to say, because that has always been seen as a guaranteed thing for me, but due to my mental health struggles, it may be harder for me to get through to bachelor’s. Though I hope to get that degree, I also hope to continue writing and publishing, and with each book, grow bigger and more enthusiastic with it. I would love to continue posting art, to continue sharing my stories, but also to continue my personal growth, like continuing to make new friends, old friends, and exploring new things. And lastly, to continue this journey I have taken on to know myself better and become more grounded within myself.

To wrap this up, our last question is: do you have any words of wisdom to leave behind for aspiring young writers or creators?

Just write, write, write, create, create, create. Don’t stop yourself because of expectations or fear. That is what I did up here, and somehow I ended up here. Just know that your voice is worth something, and that it is there for a reason. Even if everyone hates what you do, it doesn’t really matter as long as you are enjoying it and that you are proud of it. The sky's the limit when it comes to creativity and how you can grow as a creator. Connect to other creatives as well. In this day and age, there can be a lot of competition, especially in the realm of creativity, but you are not online to have competition with other people, you are there to learn from each other and bond.


To find out more about Louisa Choi, you can find her on Instagram @louisareneechoi. You can find the full interview recording on our Spotify podcast as well.

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