Rae Dinh

Content & Community at Unusual Ventures. Based in SF. Writing about writing and other things I know.

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I love my country

I love my country. Tonight, I’m feeling cautiously optimistic about the future.

We’re still wearing masks and eating under heat lamps, making the most of stationary life indoors.

The air is turning colder and the days shorter, but I’m cautiously optimistic about our future.

I can imagine

The swelling of hearts around the country, the impervious gooseflesh and puckered skin of revelers leaping in fountains.

The trumpets perched out of windows and honking filling in the streets.

It’s intoxicating to feel united again.

We love our country. And tonight, we are feeling cautiously optimistic about the future.

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For the past month, I’ve been a part of On Deck’s inaugural Writers Fellowship. There’s a lot to admire about the way they’ve executed the program, but the one thing I think they’ve done better than anyone else is growing an organic online community. I’ve half-way through the 8 weeks of formal programming but so far, I’ve seen:

1) Organic community events hosted by the fellows on their own
2) Constant Q&A on the Slack…no crickets or cold start issues
3) A Gratitude channel where community members regularly give kudos to other fellows

All these are positive signs of the community’s health and reinforce the value fellows derive from being a part of it.

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Joan Didion’s Reading List

I think I would like to write the story of this whole valley, of all the little towns and all the farms and the ranches in the wilder hills. I can see how I would like to do it so that it would be the valley of the world.
—John Steinbeck

With much more time on my hands, I’ve been making my way through Joan Didion’s favorite books, handwritten by Joan herself below:


  1. A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
  2. Victory by Joseph Conrad
  3. Guerrillas by V.S. Naipaul
  4. Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell
  5. Wonderland by Joyce Carol Oates
  6. Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë*
  7. The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford
  8. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Márquez*
  9. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky*
  10. Appointment in Samarra by John O’Hara
  11. The Executioner’s Song by Norman Mailer
  12. The Novels of Henry James by Renata Adler
  13. Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin
  14. Notes of a Native...

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Brownie tip

This is hardly earth-shattering, but in the spirit of the internet, which has guided me through many baking and cooking quandaries, allow me to answer this question:

Can you use coconut oil instead of regular vegetable oil in a boxed brownie mix?

Yes, you can. Melt it so it is liquid. You might also consider adding a teaspoon or two of vanilla. The coconut flavor isn’t overwhelming, and you might not even be able to identify it, but it creates a much richer, more complex taste than a boxed mix usually does.

I made brownies last night using a Ghirardelli mix, which I think are the best of the mixes commonly available in most stores. I used melted coconut oil and a splash of vanilla along with the water and egg called for by the instructions. Cheers for dressing up a boxed brownie recipe during strange times.

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A pause

I woke to a text from my roommate (sheltering afar with his parents in Texas) saying the neighbors heard men’s voices and moving furniture around 2am last night.

and bolted over.

False alarm. There wasn’t a break in, relief, but it did feel surreal to Uber down from the Marina to my empty apartment and scan for signs of burglary. Nothing. Just my half-made bed and the drying rack left out to rust when we packed and left in a hurry.

I messaged my dentist about coming in and to my surprise, he offered me a 10am slot. The receptionist and I peered at each other like aliens, emphasizing our social niceties and commenting on the weather. A mundane trip to the dentist felt like pure luxury.

The sun is returning to the Spring Equinox and ancestral dreams of preparing the seeds for planting along the rio. Will the rains come?

In these days, I find myself responding to friends worried about...

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Soulful Simplicity

I’ve suddenly found myself with more time to read.


I recently picked up Wabi-Sabi by Beth Kempton, which delves into the origin and dimensions of the Japanese philosophy of wabi sabi. In one of the earlier chapters, Kempton dissects Japanese beauty into four pillars:

Hade - Showy, gaudy, liberal. A bright kimono, bejeweled nails, high-color manga characters. The colors can be anything from primaries to neons.

Iki - Chic, stylish, worldly, and sophisticated. The appearance of being effortlessly cool (although it may have taken some effort); sharp suits and sophisticated officewear, confident use of color. Iki is not overly refined, pretentious, or complicated. Tasteful sensuality can be iki. (It shares the same root as the words for “pure” and “unadultered”.) Iki carries a connotation of having an appetite for life.

Shibui - Sometimes translated as austere, subdued, subtle, or...

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Writing like Ray Bradbury

“When I started writing seriously, I made the major discovery of my life—that I am right and everybody else is wrong if they disagree with me. What a great thing to learn: Don’t listen to anyone else, and always go your own way.” -Ray Bradbury

I recently visited my friend’s apartment in NYC and stumbled across his floor covered wall to wall in index cards. We all have a novel kicking around in our head. His just happened to be outlined on the floor. Blue and green for major characters, pink for flashpoints in the plot.

“Here is where the novel will end, with the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak,” he said, proudly pointing to the bubblegum pink notecard by his radiator.

It made me feel sheepish. Had I been lackadaisical about my own writing process this entire time?

Later that evening, I holed up in a cafe and found myself returning to the timeless advice I’ve collected over the...

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New site built on Svbtle

I recently ported over my personal website from Heroku to the Svbtle network. I looked at a few platforms including Webflow, Squarespace, and Wordpress, but ultimately gravitated to Svbtle for its beautiful writing experience and clean feel.

Thanks for stopping by, more from me soon… ✨

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