Little You

Rainbows and dinosaurs. Snowstorms and recess and ice cream parties. Saturday morning cartoons and pizza for lunch and staying up late and no homework. Hide and seek and playing chutes and ladders and swinging until the sunset and walking on the fall leaves just to hear those crunchy sounds.

Little things. All of these were little things you used to love, search for, crave, and absolutely wait for to happen. These were the things that you loved – all the things that brought you anywhere from one smile of satisfaction to tons of laughter for your tummy, sometimes even more.

Little You was so simple. Little You just wanted to be happy, and happiness was evoked in the simplicity of these things.

Fast forward twenty or so years. Here you are, an “adult” who has finally come of age to bypass any rule of a curfew and can spend money to buy ice cream whenever desired. You can google a picture of a rainbow in a split second and pizza for lunch is just the cheap option close to work. You dread staying up late because you are always so tired, and homework is just work that you take home – or the home you create at work because you never leave work. Chutes and ladders is now in the form of figuring out which staircases have faster moving people in the subway, and snowstorms mean your commute will take twice as long. The last time you saw a dinosaur was on a meme, recess means going to the gym to work on your body. Unswept leaves are in your way as you shuffle on in the streets, and the sunset? Well, what sunset? You didn’t see it today, yesterday, or the last year.

Suddenly, Big You can do all the things that Little You loved to do, at any moment. But instead, every moment of those once desired things is much more depressing than you would like for any of them to be.

Now, why is that? Why is it that as we grow older, the things we loved as kids suddenly become ordinary things that we take for granted?

Simply put, we discover other things. Somewhere along our life paths, whether it is through education, the media, or the people we are surrounded with, we become limited by the scope of “important” reality without any room for imagination. We discover the “importance” of money, status, practicality and adhering to the status quo. Suddenly, happiness is measured by these new terms, and we give no regard to the simple things that we grew up loving. All adults are guilty of this. ALL.

So then I ask, would Little You be proud of Big You? Big You knows that it is practically impossible to live without working, without thinking about the bills, without making important connections, without making the bosses happy. Big You knows that supporting yourself, let alone your family, is much more difficult than previously imagined, and Big You is doing everything you can to make it happen and still have a social life. Big You is also willing to sacrifice a lot for that social life.

Little You WANTS to be proud of Big You. Big You reasons that everything you do in life is so that you can survive. But Little You survived too – without thinking about all these things. What kept Little You going?

DREAMS. Little You had dreams of growing up and being the best YOU possible. Little You could not wait to be Big You to achieve all these childhood goals, and also to tiptoe onto the rascal side every once in a while. Little You wanted to help the world, to change it for the better, to give your friends clouds in the skies that looked like them so you could all be cloud friends. Little You wrote handwritten apology letters when things went wrong. Little You got mad when you weren’t picked by the teacher, but Little You was told that sharing was important and became the bigger person by sharing the toy with your classmate – or your little brother. Little You loved birthday balloons, and Little You loved getting older because each plus one meant one year closer to making your dreams real.

Think about your childhood dreams. Are you living them? Are you being the best Big You possible? If Little You met Big You today, would both of them rejoice in the success of your life as it continues?

Don’t dismiss those “silly thoughts” Little You may have had. Little You was innocent and may have believed that the raindrops were always racing down the car window, but these were the thoughts that Little You had that made you happy. Little You believed in You – both Little You and Big You. 

Little Me wrote some life advice for future me in the autograph book I rediscovered tonight. She reminded me to “never give up, never” and that “u can do it!” (because using “u” instead of “you” was/is the coolest thing).

Little Me had dreams and knew what was best for future me. She still does today.

Childhood

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Sailing Friendships

Today, my Aim for my kids is

What is a choir?

Now my students sing every time they are in music with me, and they sang together on stage, and it may be a bit late in the year to explain the word “choir,” but my main reason for teaching the word choir NOW? I’m trying to reestablish the importance of teamwork and how it starts with someone as the individual first. Maybe what a lot of people don’t know is that aside from explaining, teaching and preaching music, I try to instill real-life applicable, core values: sharing, working together as a team, supporting one another, helping your friend, and the list goes on – but it all starts with YOU.

I think about my own friends and I wonder sometimes: do we actually work as a team? Friendships are two-sided (or more) but I feel that we all take friendships for granted. We all have the friends we reach out to first when we have some free time to hang out, and then we have the second layer and then the third layer of friends. We have so many Facebook friend lists: “Close Friends,” “College friends,”  “High School Friends,” the “Family friends we don’t really know,” the “Friends who went AWOL,” the “Far Away” friends.

I’ll stick to “Close Friends” list though. I, for example, am always the planner. Yes, I may pride myself on how excellent my plans are (no shame)… but I have literally played the planner role since elementary school birthday parties. For the most part, I would say my close friends just go along with the plan and show up. I almost never get appreciation for planning; I don’t necessarily seek appreciation, but saying a simple “thank you for planning” never hurt anyone.

Going back to my students, I currently MAKE them say “thank you,” apologize to each other when they have done something wrong, communicate with each other and confront any problems which may arise, and listen to as well as explain their own feelings. Hold on, why don’t we do this as adults? So much of “friendship drama” occur from lack of appreciation or apologies, miscommunication, and the unwillingness to compromise or directly problem solve. Here the problem is that I don’t always communicate to my friends my annoyance or frustration. There have been phases where I have refused to plan and therefore my friends either did not meet up, or met up in small groups themselves. So did I always have to plan? DO I always still have to plan?

Perhaps it is partially a refusal to let go of control on my part, but why do we not share responsibilities in making our friendships work? Just like in a romantic relationship, friendships are about the little things too – the “hey I want to plan something this time for our friends,” the “I really appreciate the fact that you always plan,” the “thank you for being my friend.” We should each take responsibilities for making our friendships work, and I think in an ideal world, everyone would take turns playing the different roles of planner, follower, bill calculator, reminder, to name a few. I also know it’s not in everyone’s comfort zone to plan something and have flakers or those nonresponders, but why should we be okay with taking on our roles of comfort in our society? No, it’s not okay to let someone’s energies go wasted and unnoticed. No, it’s not okay to keep ASSUMING someone will just plan and just “oh well” if you don’t see that friend until he or she reaches out to you. I’m speaking on behalf of planners everywhere when I say that I’d like for YOU, my friend, to plan, to initiate, to create, to make something from the simplest cup of tea together to the most extravagant trip abroad. Sure, you may get rejections and not everyone will respond all at once (in fact please let me know if everyone actually DOES respond immediately) and you will have to nag a lot of people, but it’s a process. We, as planners, definitely do not feel supported or cared for when we put so much work into one group brunch and no one cares to show appreciation, let alone if the friends show up late and disregards the time we spent creating that get-together.

I’m asking you to ask yourself:

When did I last plan an event for my friends to hang out? Even if it was just planning a simple dinner?

When did I last truly thank someone for organizing?

When did I last reach out to that friend who has been trying to hang out with me for the longest time but I never make time for?

When did I last show true appreciation for someone?

When did I last make an effort to step up and help a friend?

When did I last consider the time that friend spent looking up activities, figuring out timelines, mapping out itineraries and alerting us of subway problems just to make sure I COULD literally just show up?

When did I last play a different role on my team – my friends?

Something from How I Met Your Mother that really hit me this week:

“You will be shocked, kids, how easy it is in life to part ways with people forever. That’s why when you find someone you want to keep around, you do something about it.” – Ted Mosby

I know I talked rather specifically about planning, showing appreciation, and being a part of a team – in this case, your group of friends. But just think about time. The time that it takes someone to plan something, is THEIR time. Their time spent to create shared time. Shared time is precious, and if you want that shared time, you would think like Ted Mosby – and then DO SOMETHING about it. Trust me, your friends – from the planners to the other followers in your group, will appreciate it.

Choir and Chorus are synonyms. Choir has an I, and Chorus has US – and only together, as synonyms, will the Choir/Chorus sing beautifully. The same goes for friendships. Make sure the ships keep sailing by giving your captain a break. Aye Aye?

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An Open Letter

Dearest You,

Last week we celebrated our 3-year anniversary and you were hoping that I would blog about it. I told you I would, but I am now reconsidering that promise. No, I don’t think I could just blog about you like I blog about other things in my life.

Where would I begin? Would I start with all your perfect imperfections? How you always wear the most compelling of outfits pieced together with a dimpled smile I can never resist, but take much longer than me to get ready, even for our anniversary? Or should I start with how you relish in my anxiety of being late as you take your sweet time because you are amused by hysterically anal me, something that hasn’t changed since day one of us being together?

Would I continue with our travels in the past year to 5 new cities where we explored new sights and shared new moments in the great big (and small) world? Maybe I will tell the fact that you planned every last detail of the trips and how much I appreciated and continue to appreciate your initiative to plan? Should I mention that you looked at each destination’s restaurant menus to make sure there were more options on the dessert menu because of my allergies even if that meant you didn’t get to try your desserts of choice? Could I say that you took snapshots of me when I wasn’t looking and thought I didn’t know even though I did and I thought it was the sweetest – maybe even as sweet as those desserts you didn’t try?

Should I actually reveal how relieved I felt once the long distance was over and how hard it was for me sometimes to know you were chasing your career and doing your thing, but so far away from me? Can I talk about how happy I was to tell you what trivial happenings occurred in New York while you were 6 hours ahead in time because I loved, and continue to love, to tell you every single thought that crossed my mind? Would it be silly if I personally attested to the idea that whatever I did during the day didn’t seem important until I told you? Could I even add to that and say that it really didn’t ever matter what we did but more so that we did it together and shared both wonderful wanderlust experiences and terrific typical Tuesdays watching TV?

Could I write about how smitten I always am when you come over and spend time with my family, and even though there’s a language barrier you still treat them with such respect it makes me feel so loved? Would it be too daring of me to say that you inspire me to be the best person I can ever be and that you always push me to achieve greater things? Should I share how grateful I am of the millions of talks regarding my career, family, and friends and how you always tell me that we are a team? Can I say that you have the best comebacks without you having the comeback “what can I say” that you haven’t said in the longest time because I always fill in your blanks now when you speak?

May I explain how endearing you are to the best of my abilities? How you look me deep in my eyes and reach into my soul like no one else does? How you support and comfort me every night before it is time to dream? How you joke with me just as much as you are serious about making our relationship work? How amazing it is when you surprise me because I like to believe I’m difficult to surprise? How loving you are to me no matter what? How even after 3 years you still make my heart skip beats and feel its heartstrings tugged at?

You see, I could never just blog about you. I could never describe you, or our relationship, perfectly. Instead, here’s a letter of everything I would have written about. By the way, there’s no ending.

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No Beginning / No Ending 2011

The Power of Music

Some “amazing” (I like to think they’re amazing anyway) things happened in my music classroom this week. During the Adele Dazeem climb in Let It Go, one of my quiet, sweet Kindergarteners broke out into full Idina mode and sang the solo “the past is in the past” in the most empowering voice ever. Twice. My Pre-Kindergarteners managed to make their classroom teacher cry happy tears when they sang for her.

But on March 6, 2014, the power of music managed to make my entire class of 2nd graders cry. Together.

I know, I know. Everyone’s initial reaction is “Oh my goodness Alice what the heck did you do to them?!” Trust me, that’s what all my fellow teachers asked me, too. So here’s what happened (I’m also totally gearing up for the How I Met Your Mother finale):

I decided that for the school’s Spring Arts Festival, all my students (aka the whole school) should sing “I Believe I Can Fly” as the final number. Empowering, all about dreaming big, and just a great song and message for everyone. On the board was Aim: What does believe mean? – and I was excited to engage my students in a discussion about what it means to believe something and what it takes to go from believe to ACHIEVE in life.

Kindergarteners and 1st Graders received the song really well, and some of them had heard it before – even better! I was extremely excited to welcome my 2nd Graders into class to really delve deep into the topic of the day. I told them I was about to play a song that some of them may have heard before, and I wanted them to close their eyes and really think about what it meant when R. Kelly sang the word believe.

The song started playing and I closed my eyes as well. But as I took peeks throughout various moments in the song to make sure my kids’ eyes were closed, I started seeing one or two my students cry. When we reached the end of the song, I opened my eyes to see four of my students crying. Immediately I thought, wow, it must have really moved them! I asked in a gentle voice, “would you like to share what this song is making you feel?” I could hardly believe what I was about to hear.

One by one, each of the four students told me stories about how they last heard this song at a relative’s funeral. For one it was a close uncle. For the others, their grandparents. I immediately responded, “it is completely okay to feel this way and let your emotions out like this,” and we started talking about what it meant to lose someone. The room was so quiet but the cries so deafening as I heard my students truly cry out for those they have lost in life. I then started to talk about how music can help us let these emotions out and allow us to express ourselves. I personally shared that I had not met three of my grandparents and how I feel loss and resonate with them. I even said that those who are no longer with us want to see us happy and doing the right thing and enjoying school and life.

But the more I talked about the situation, the more students started crying. I can only imagine that more and more students started identifying with their friends and/or with me and envisioned those they missed in their lives or family members they had never met. In a matter of minutes, my entire class of 2nd graders were crying – some hysterically and some quietly with the kids they sat next to.

I didn’t know what to do. First, I had us all take deep breaths. It didn’t work. Then I had us sing Let It Go to literally try to let go of our burdens and sadness that now weighed so heavily upon all their little shoulders. But my kids were literally inconsolable. I don’t even know if you can really imagine this. A room full of melancholy sobs and sorrowful cries so loud that the classroom down the hall could hear them. It was time for lunch and my kids were in two lines, crying and crying and crying.

But I didn’t stop it. I let it continue. We walked down the stairs and at each landing I would look back at my heavy-hearted, grief-stricken students. We walked into the lunch room with stares from all the other kids in the school wondering what the heck I had just done to this class. They continued to sob on the lunch line, and even after they sat back down with their lunch.

One of the initial 2nd graders who started crying asked me,

“Why did you HAVE to play that song, Miss Alice? Why?!”

“Well, do you think I would have played that song if I knew it was played at your Uncle’s funeral?”

“No…”

“I’m really sorry, A. I never meant to make you upset, just know that it’s okay to feel this way.”

I really didn’t mean to unleash all these emotions. After all, I had no idea this was a popular funeral song!

I took a few moments for myself after I left the lunchroom just walking through the hallways and reflecting on what I had just experienced. In Her, one of the most powerful quotes that really struck me was,

“Sometimes I think I have felt everything I’m ever gonna feel. And from here on out, I’m not gonna feel anything new. Just lesser versions of what I’ve already felt.”

It’s an interesting idea, what this quote says, especially since I often feel that I have already experienced a lot of what music has to offer me personally. But what I experienced proves this quote wrong at an extraordinary level. Never could I imagine that one song could elicit such a reaction from ALL of my students.

What a powerful experience that was. In those moments together with my students, we all felt loss, pain, hurt, so low-spirited. We mourned together, and as crazy the hysterical cries must have been – it brought us closer. We shared those moments together. And it’s because the power of music allowed us to

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I mean, I really shouldn’t be surprised. I did manage to make a fellow teacher cry happy tears because her Pre-K students sang so beautifully for her. But there’s something about the other end of the spectrum of somber crying that is so deep and indescribable when we confront it. The kind that happens at funerals when you’re missing the one who had passed. But this happened in my music classroom. Because we listened to one song. And that one song made us each think of people we missed. People, nonetheless – but different people.

It was much more than just a music lesson. But it was the most powerful kind of music lesson I could have ever imagined. It’s certainly something I will never forget for the rest of my life.

I wonder if my kids will remember it when they grow up.

Whim in Creativity

I am obsessed with working hard and planning. I think I literally spend most of my time either thinking about one of the two, or doing both simultaneously. I just always want to be prepared – perhaps as a form of self defense against the harsh realities of the world.

Last time I wrote why one should focus on what they want to do. I’m about to tell you why I also believe the complete opposite.

While I know that piano playing is my absolute number one love in life, I have been struggling with the notion that it is okay to give myself a break and not always do work to focus on this passion. I want every moment to be productive, and any moment not spent working towards my “dream” is something I have always considered a waste. We all know life is short; I should not waste my time on frivolous things. And I don’t just mean Facebook and watching TV – I also mean taking a long time to eat, showering for longer than I should just because it feels good, going for a walk on a sunny day, showering for longer just because it feels good. Even writing this post instead of practicing makes me wonder if I’m making the right choice right now.

I did an interview for friend and fantastic photographer Ben Dumond‘s “Of The Hour” series where he asked me where I find inspiration. My instant answer was “everything around me” – the people, New York City, and just the environment I am in. Ironically, something I often forget in my determination in becoming a better pianist every day is that the journey is not only about effort but also about creativity. Music is an art – simple, I know, but forgettable because I sometimes focus way too much on the technical.

Many times in my piano career and just overall in life, I was offered the advice to just Let It Go (#Frozen sorry couldn’t resist) and stop thinking about all the notes and phrases and technique I have trained my fingers to be able to do. MUSIC IS MUSIC: meant to be created literally from my fingertips through a physical connection, mental application and emotional understanding of what’s within. But really who cares about the physical or the mental? “You need to move your audience,” my piano teacher would tell me, then point to his heart and say “right here.”

What good is focus on the physical and mental if I can’t make my audience react to my music? Especially as a classical pianist, I feel such an incredible amount of responsibility of bringing the classical music to 2014, somehow make it my own, and then hope that my listeners feel something upon the performances. Well first things first: how do I feel something from what I play?

I recently learned that I am a very visual player – meaning I rely heavily on my sight when I play because when I see what notes I play I can control what’s going on and I know what is the right note versus what is the wrong note. I need to be blind. A musician is a listener, and a performer listens to the music that he or she will create before it’s created in order to produce sounds in such a way that what I imagine is translated to my audience. To imagine, is to be free of restrictions then. There are no boundaries. To imagine is make something out of nothing, and to create is to bring imagination into existence.

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I think what we all forget to do is be children more often than we think we should now as adults. When I was a child I truly believed the moon was following me any time I was in a car ride. I would swear there was a chimney in my apartment where Santa Claus would come in to bring my presents even though I could not see the chimney, and I also firmly believed I would be a famous piano player one day. While I have some different views on fame and Santa Claus today, I want that kind of belief I had back then. That undying, would get into arguments just to say that I was positively sure kind of belief that children have when they are so steadfast on what is inside their minds. Somewhere in their minds, they created their own truths by imagining them.

The creative process will always take time. Just as much time is spent on hard technical practicing, there needs to be that kind of time spent on creativity. Except, it’s even trickier with the creative process. I can’t always sit down and say “okay, Alice, now you’re going to create. You have x amount of time. Go.” Whatever x is, this is a foolish plan because the creative process is not a timed test. Creativity comes from imagination, and that comes from experiencing all kinds of things in life – including the “frivolous.” Long showers are where great thoughts happen and maybe the Jingle Bells songs I used to love singing would provide the same chord structures I find in Chopin and lead me to a greater understanding of what the music I play now is all about. There is no reason I should not take that walk outside right now (except it’s dark and too cold at the moment). I, for one, believe the creative process will come when it will. Sure, I can write as many comparison charts and make random links between the things in my daily life as I want. But we all somehow know the best ideas hit when we least expect them to (among other things). So this is really just a letter to me telling myself that it’s okay not to always be focused because that time spent not focusing will let me focus even more later on. When I’m on the verge of creativity and then I finally hit it, I’ll need it to sink in – just like I need a good night’s sleep for what I practiced during the day to sink in. Then, maybe I’ll come out tomorrow a better person, better interpreter of classical music, and better performer. Through creativity, my audience will listen to my music and think of their own stories. Now THAT, is my hope.

Please lose yourself in the whim of creativity. It’s murky, or maybe opaque. It was only then that I believed in Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84. But through it you’ll find clarity and focus. For me, the moon will always follow me.

“The moon in the sky is no paper moon.”

– 1Q84