For our latest Forces of Nature profile, we catch up with writer and journalist Mitchell Kuga. Based in Honolulu, Hawaii, Mitchell's work has appeared in The Village Voice, Esquire, T Magazine, GQ, Condé Nast Traveler, Vice, Billboard, Out and more. In this interview we discuss the balancing act of being your own boss, setting daily intentions, and the unexpected joys of Pickleball.
How do you connect to nature? What was a specific moment that reminded you that you are part of the natural world?
Like a lot of local kids growing up in Honolulu I was such a mall rat: Pearlridge Shopping Center was my beach, my favorite hike was Ala Moana. I honestly didn’t know Hawai’i was special until I moved to Syracuse for school—then it was like Ooohhh, this is why people from all over the world come here. Now that I’m back home I try not to take it for granted. I go hiking a couple times a month. I borrow my friend's paddleboard and drift back and forth at Ala Moana Beach, waving at the turtles. I try to make it to the beach once a week, even if it’s just to dip my face in the water. My sister found these goggles floating in the water last time she visited and wearing them feels like a revelation—there’s plenty of fish near the shore! Big kine too, even in Waikiki. I had no idea.
How do you find balance between the multitude of things that you do? Is there a universal theme underneath it all?
As a generalist I often struggle to talk about my writing because it feels so all over the place but I think the tent poles are queerness, place, and identity as it relates to culture at large. I’m always trying to express something true—a true feeling or experience or idea— with the hope of accessing a state of recognition in both the reader and myself. That doesn’t always happen, but that’s the goal. I am my own boss right now, so finding the balance between stagnation and burnout is a constant negotiation. Lately it feels like I’m not doing enough, in part because so much of the work in thinking through a longer book project involves reading, walking, having conversations (often with myself), and staring blankly at the sky— things that don’t make any money but I’m trying to be okay with that for now.
03. Tradition + Routine
What is a tradition you honor from your heritage? What is a new habit you're just starting, or sticking with this month?
My parents, husband and I try to visit my grandparents at the Japanese cemetery in Nu’uanu a few times a year, at least during the bigger holidays. We bring incense, flowers, fruit, water and the occasional beer to leave on their tombstones, which we brush and clean. I didn’t know most of my grandparents, but it’s a chance to honor them, to speak and to share memories and to thank them for raising my parents and by extension, me too. The older I get, the more important that feels.
Lately I’ve been trying to get into a yoga routine again. Covid kind of took that from me, as far as going to the studio is concerned because doing yoga at home is just not the same. But it’s better than nothing, and nothing has left my body feeling stiff and cranky. The goal is always to create more space.
What's challenging you right now? How are you rising to meet the challenge?
Fear is challenging me right now, particularly around remergence and what it means to enter the world again as a new person in a new but old place. I also have a lot of fear around selling and writing a collection of personal essays. What helps is reading writers I admire writing about their own hangups and interrogating the nagging insecurities that I can see never really go away but just get more manageable over time; reminding myself that we are tiny specs of flesh living on a rock floating through the vacuum of space; and weekly sessions with my therapist, who deserves a medal for putting up with my bullshit.
What gets you moving everyday? Is it physical exercise, creative expression, social engagement? Tell us about your chosen method of being active.
I have a postcard-sized print tacked above my desk by an artist named Nat Pyper that says “Am I more language or am I more body?” and that’s kind of the question I ask myself every morning. Sometimes the answer is making coffee and sitting immediately down to write, journaling if I’m in my feelings or reading something that will kickstart my day and get the words flowing. If I’m more body than that typically means doing my morning stretches— I’m old—and going to a park near my house to play pickleball with people who are mostly retired. I got into the sport through my parents, who had retired during covid and were mostly in the house all day watching television. I pushed my mom to call her old friend, who’s an enthusiast, to teach them how to play. My parents love it now and play a few times a week, but the real gag is how obsessed I became in the process. To me the sport is the perfect blend of finesse, agility and power, and I love that I get to socialize with people spanning different generations in the process, a far cry from my insular bubble in New York.
What creative media are front of mind for you right now? What’s one work you’d share from your reading list, Netflix queue, etc.?
I recently read Rolling the R’s, by R. Zamora Linmark. It’s told through a series of vignettes that follows a group of fifth graders in 1970’s Kalihi as they make sense of their various identities through the lens of American pop culture, sex, and race. It’s deeply gay and local and funny but also unflinching about what kids know and experience from a young age, especially gay kids, in a way that felt really refreshing. I wish I had read it as a teen.
If I could make one book required reading for the world it would be Pema Chodron’s When Things Fall Apart which, not to get all this book saved my life but this book saved my life, or at least walked me back from many an existential cliff. It’s deeply Buddhist but also feels agnostic in the sense that it’s infinitely wise and universal, something I come back to every year and learn something new about myself in the process.
What's your favorite product of ours?
The KuKui Nut Facial Hydrator! I love the consistency and smell and how quenched it leaves my face.