On a new year

Throughout the holidays, new year’s celebrations and through my birthday three days ago, I’ve reflected a lot on who I have been, what I’ve accomplished thus far and the unknown of what’s to come. While I’m someone who can get trapped or lost in my thoughts for hours on end, I really do believe that taking the time to think about yourself is important for self growth.

With that said, here are some New Year’s/Birthday Resolutions I have for this year:

Be more fearless. I have some pretty irrational fears (heights, roller coasters, and any sort of thrill really) that I feel only developed as I got older and just more “scared” of things I don’t have control over. But why should I be? That’s not to say that I am suddenly going to want to ride Kingda Ka (though for the record I did ride it once), but to be more open to adventure. I recently took my first aerial yoga class where my instructor ended by asking all of us to reflect on how we felt when we were trying some of the new things today, and if that feeling we had is how we want to navigate the world. I won’t be absolutely fearless right now, but I’ll be more fearless than before.

Commit to calmness. In our busy lifestyles, we really do need to set aside time for calm and inwards soul-searching. For some people that may be daily reflection (I know I can think endlessly), and for others it may just be at the end of each month. Regardless, I believe that it is essential to set aside time specifically for purposeful reflection and calming ourselves down with deep breaths. It sounds simple – so we should simply do it!

Have serious fun. I’m stealing this one from a workshop I attended, where I had fun engaging with the material but also knew that it was serious work. I try to embed this into my teaching in my students, but I also need to remind myself this as well. Life is hard… but it is also FUN! The pursuit of my passion shouldn’t always be so serious and uptight, but a fun and enjoyable journey as well. I want to celebrate more of the little wins, in both my teaching and my playing, and in all the other things I want to do as well. I will have serious fun!

Be youthful. I’m not sure why people my age are always saying “I’m getting old” and whining about it. Being in our mid-twenties is such an exciting time! We are no longer bound by college; we are working and earning money or continuing to pursue or studies (or both), and we are able to explore the world. While we have the responsibilities of bills as all adults do, we are still such YOUNG adults with so much uncharted territory – for us to waste or to make the most of. We are the present and the future, and we need to step out of the routine and climb that mountain as fast as we can. The kid in me is still here – time to bring her out to play!

Treasure loved ones. Last but not least. It goes without saying you think, but I really need to appreciate everyone more than I do right now. A few years ago I experienced a moment where I felt like I was on the top of the world, but the people I wished were there to share that with me were not. If I ever experience such a moment again, I want to be surrounded by the people I love – but that requires me to first give so much more. I give a lot to my students everyday, but I need to give my love to my friends and family even more. And that’s not to say I want to give to get, but I want to give – to give only. Teaching has made me understand humility at a level I would have never otherwise, and in being humble and giving I hope that I can help the loved ones in my life understand how much they mean to me. Always.

Fearlessness. Calmness. Serious Fun. Youth. Love.

NOW.
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Minds Deserve Better, Hardships Should Be Harder

A few weeks ago I went to see Aziz Ansari perform live at Madison Square Garden. Opening for Aziz was another comedian whose name I don’t remember. It took roughly 3.25 minutes until this man went for the stereotypical, crude and racist jokes. While the audience laughed at most of the cheap shots he made, I sat there in silent fury. I couldn’t believe that this comedian who was having his “moment” in Madison Square Garden in New York City, was making these jokes for his debut! I was also in shock with the audience who just cracked up at each low blow. I’m no angel and while a few bits did make me smile, I could only feel guilty with my own reflexes at condoning it all. Immediately after his set I turned to my boyfriend and asked very adamantly:

Don’t we deserve better? Don’t our MINDS DESERVE BETTER?!

My peace-loving boyfriend didn’t have much to say in response, though I figure most of the audience would not have a response to my demanding question… So alright then. I had paid hard-earned money for the seat I was in but this comedian surely set Aziz up for failure and I was just have to deal with another 1+ hour of shameful comedy.

Boy/Girl, was I quick to judge! Aziz hit home on so many topics, and in a thoughtful way. My favorite bit was when Aziz talked a lot about his immigrant parents – especially about how they truly worked hard and sacrificed loads for his upbringing, because my parents did too. I’m no comedian, but I’m sure Aziz could have easily defaulted to the “model minority” myth in the form of jokes with his routine. He didn’t though. We should reject humor that jabs negatively at race. It is outdated and offensive, and no one’s skin color alone should be the subject to gain a few laughs. As a society, we need to reverse the norm that racial jokes are okay. They are not.


Aziz kept his standup current and humorously made commentary on our “first world problems” today. “But what hardships would I have to share with my children?” Aziz asked himself. Aziz then went on to imagine telling a story of how his iPad died on an airplane from NYC to LA but luckily there was on-flight entertainment, though he would still have to endure the twenty minutes total of takeoff and landing time when he couldn’t use any electronics. What. A. Problem. We, the audience, were all cracking up so hard – knowing that that is so real and probably will be a pitiful “hardship” of ours to share with the future generation.

Aziz made me ask the same question to myself. Some of my students don’t have homes or enough food to eat or money to spend on extraneous things, but what really do I have to go through? While I supposed I lead a relatively luxurious life when it comes to the things I own, the food I eat and the devices I use, my current generation suffers from selfie obsessive compulsive disorder and definitely misses living in the moment in order to capture it instead, often for the purposes of sharing with others and showing off our lives. That, is our generational hardship. Simply living in the moment.

As for me? Hmm… I’m still trying to define the word hardship in terms of my own life. But isn’t it a bit ridiculous? That I have to think so hard about a hardship in my life? A true hardship should just come to mind immediately, and I almost feel like nothing I’ve endured is a “real” hardship. My hardships should be harder – and maybe that in itself is my hardship.

Recalibrate and Reset

Last week I started my second year of official full-time teaching. After a fun and restful summer, I was excited to get back into the swing of things and especially to see my returning students as well as meet 160+ new students I would be teaching this year.

I started off teaching this song called “Unlimited,” an absolutely fantastic back to school song. The first verse goes like this:

First day back
Here we go, here we go
I’ve got this new backpack
And this little part of me that wants to know
What am I gonna be?
What am I gonna do?
And will I fit inside this puzzle I’m about to walk into?
Am I gonna be alright?
Can I take a deep breath instead of only listening to the hundred million questions in my head?
First day back
Here we go… here we go…

Aside from literally talking about the first day back (to school, specifically), I thought about how appropriate it is for the month of September for everyone. When the hazy summer days start to drift away and instead comes the crisp autumn air and cool breezes, I feel like I, and many others I know, reset. It’s also an anxious time of starting anew with school, work, family – as marked by the changing season and environment.

With only four months left in the year it’s a great time to recalibrate one’s priorities and reconsider our usage of time. We often complain that we do not have enough time to do all that we want, but let’s take a moment to figure out how we can make time for everything we want to do. (Let’s not forget that time is human-made, malleable and only a marker of the day.) It’s a time to put a halt to all doubts getting in the way of success. It’s a season of “let’s do this” and committing to whatever “this” is. It’s a final push to accomplish anything that will satisfy the questions “Did I do my best this year?” and “Did I make the most of everything on my pathway to achieve?” It’s a chance to concentrate that inner drive and channel it into all that you do for yourself and for others, without any limitations. I taught my kids that being unlimited means that you can do ANYTHING.


I’m reaching up through the top of the sky today
I’m changing things till I finally find my place
Wanna go and get it
I’m gonna be unlimited
Turn up the sun let me see what it’s all about
Light up the stas till they dream away all the doubt
We’re just beginning
I’m gonna be unlimited

My kids will, too. Will you?

Magical

This past week I was finally able to vacation off to Orlando to end the summer. Why Orlando? I simply have been dying to go to Disneyworld since I was a kid, Seaworld to meet the dolphins, and, most recently, … Continue reading

Self-fulfillment

Today marks the last day of my “summer vacation” as I head back to work tomorrow for professional development before embarking on my 2nd year of teaching. As I’m reflecting on my summer, I am reminded by my own advice that I gave last night.

Humility
Teaching a full school year has given me a whole new understanding of humility. I am so lucky to have grown up without ever having to worry about food, shelter and love. My parents have worked so hard to make that all of those realities for my brother and I, and for those things alone I have the utmost gratitude for them.

Experiencing education in a high-need, low income school really put things into perspective for me. Some of my students would only be able to eat a guaranteed meal during breakfast and lunch in the school cafeteria. Other kids went home to shelters and never brought backpacks to school because they couldn’t afford them.

Finally, most of my students had never seen an instrument in real life before. I realize this is the case for a lot of kids, high-need or not, especially in elementary school. But people I meet often ask me what it is that drives me to host fundraisers and keep getting more and more instruments for my kids. Knowing that I am the first “real” music teacher they have in life is a blessing that holds a lot of responsibility. Those of you readers who know me definitely can attest to my seriousness to my craft of music-making. But what’s even crazier for me to think and realize is the fact that through me, my students will get their first exposures to instruments. It is through me that they know the sound of the piano, violin, trumpet to name a few instruments. I can’t even describe how humbling the experience of being able to share the moment when they first see and hear an instrument and that sparkle in their eyes as well as their excitement in their voices genuinely is, when each of them are anxious to touch what had just produced the magical sound! I would venture to say that, alongside most of my peers, I don’t even remember what it is like to NOT know what an instrument looks or sounds like! This leads me to…

Greed
I am greedy. I am greedy for nothing less than the best. For. Real. Just as greedy as my students are to produce a beautiful sound once they have figured out the basics of something seemingly simple like playing the recorder, as I am to provide those resources for my kids to be able to explore music to the fullest extent possible.

But let me sidestep from my teaching for a moment. More than any summer before, I have realized how greedy and hungry I am for self-fulfillment. I want SO bad to be musically happy – and for me, that means expressing myself through different ways that push creativity in new directions. I am more thankful than ever before for being able to teach at a summer music camp where I am surrounded by young aspiring musicians looking up to me, KNOWING that they want to be musicians for their entire lives. These wonderful teenage musicians were such serious practitioners of their music that they only made me want to do more.

For the past few weeks I’ve been working on proposals for many creative projects involving stepping over the boundaries of music to more cross-art collaborations with myself and with others. It’s exciting for me to start embarking on this new journey I have somewhat paved for myself, because for the first time in what seems like a while I feel an incredible creative energy burst that is dying to erupt onto some sort of a stage for an audience.

But my greed for accomplishment, and accomplishment in my own eyes, cannot be possible without…

Gratefulness
Aside from being grateful for my family, I am so very grateful to be surrounded by loving, caring role models of society. I whole-heartedly mean that. My teacher colleagues and specifically my music educator peers are all doing incredible things for the kids – selflessly. Teaching is not a profession of praise but just thinking about what we each do to make sure the next generation can access what they need to in order to be successful is straight up mind-boggling and out of this world.

I can never say thank you quite enough to my friends, but am pleasantly shocked and reminded by them when I look out to the audience during a performance. Your thumbs up and praise of what I do is plentiful and abundant, and perhaps even excessive, but I hope that I can at least inspire you to be moved by my mission to make a difference. I’d also like you all to know how inspiring it is to be surrounded by such driven friends who speak passionately about their careers, or for those who are in limbo at the moment, are carefully constructing maps to success. I am grateful for all of you sharing your time and thoughts with me.

 

I’m often asked how I juggle everything I do in my life, or reprimanded to take a break for once. Don’t worry, my body often tells me I’m doing just a bit too much when I get sick (which is way too often than I’d like to admit). But I just think to myself about what I am to this world.

I am one of over 7 billion people on this Earth, a pretty small part of the population trying to make their way through the daily trenches of life. But I firmly believe that I am meant to do great things. My piano teacher once told me that I have to believe that my music is important – that amongst all the music there is out their in the world, what I create is important.

Not only is what I create important though. I am important. I think we all are meant to achieve incredible things, and I certainly believe hard work can get you, me, or anyone there. Whatever these “incredible things” may be, they change throughout our lives. But to me, what’s important is making sure that you are making a commitment to self-fulfillment. Personally, that involves practicing humility, greed and gratefulness.

Cheers to making sure that you, whoever you are, are also on your path to self-fulfillment and, ultimately, GREATNESS. I don’t settle for any less. Neither should you.

Autograph

At NYCAASC 2014, a conference on Asian American issues and culture, I led a breakout discussion group entitled “Piano Lessons: Why 99% Quit.” I had been thinking about this a lot recently, especially having recently finished Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother (a must-read!) in which Amy Chua talked quite a bit about raising her kids with music lessons (piano and violin, as being the two most popular instruments for Asians to pursue). 

I mentioned that most piano teachers taught us (us being the Asian American community) classical piano, and we were not exposed to other musical genres of jazz, pop, and of course not the forbidden fruits of hip hop or rap. I would venture to say that the beyond overwhelming majority of us did not even think about improvising or connecting our thoughts and emotions to our music. Teachers just didn’t introduce us to it, nor did they initiate a curiosity within us to even explore other ideas in music. And, unfortunately, we didn’t know better.

Anyway, that was just one part of my presentation that I hope resonated with my audience of college students and former piano lesson-takers. At the end, one guy come up to me and asked for my autograph.

This was the first autograph I ever really signed – and for speaking. I was shocked. Had what I said really resonated that my signature suddenly become of “worth”? Did sharing my thoughts suggest that I may be someone of importance? It felt a bit silly, to be honest, signing my name as I do when I am at a restaurant – but it held more weight now… or did it?


The headliner for NYCAASC was MC Jin. In Asian American music, he is a legend – the first Asian American who rapped for OUR culture. The ABC (American Born Chinese) culture that is, with his famous chorus (translated):

ABC that’s me that’s me 
No matter how you look at it, that’s me
That’s right, that’s right
ABC that’s me that’s me
(You know that’s me)

He continues with the constant “struggle” of “not Chinese enough” and “not American enough”:

An ABC has to look carefully in the mirror
They want to know how I speak Chinese so well

 

Don’t worry about where I was born
A birth certificate is only a sheet of paper

I ask you, “What’s so bad about being an ABC?”
Even if I am, don’t take me as an idiot

 

You say I’m not officially Chinese, “Who are you?”
In the eyes of foreigners I am “yellow skinned,” just like you
Even though we come from two different worlds
But it’s pretty much the same, so don’t treat me otherwise (literally translated, “don’t step on me”)

I identify so much with these lyrics. He came onto the stage and prior to performing, things “got real deep” (straight up quoting him). Commenting on Asian American cultural preaching beforehand, MC Jin stated,

“It’s a fine line to walk between [representing] our Asian American culture and breaking out of that same box.”

 

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(From Lost Laowai)

I struggle with this everyday – playing and thinking with cultural sensitivity versus doing “my own thing” and trying to figure out what that even means. We embrace our culture and should be proud of who we are, but we are also  WAY more than just that. It is difficult to have that happy balance of both, and I think everyone can relate to that. But it was incredible to hear someone I listened to as a kid tell me my own thoughts out loud in the spotlight. 

I waited in line for his autograph and overheard so many conversations talking about how amazing MC Jin was in his performance and what he said. When it was finally my turn I told him how I am a pianist and I really identified with what he had to say. He thanked me, and kept telling all of us how inspirational we were. After MC Jin autographed my program, I thought about the autograph I myself signed earlier.

No two people have the same signature – there’s no box for it. So why should we even have a box for culture? 

SEE YA BOX, here’s a swan song for you:

You may not know me, but I know you.”

(P.S. MC Jin, if you’re reading, can we collaborate? Seriously.)

 

A Notion’s Drawer of Ideas

On a typical day, I think about 926,836,017,827,523 things. Yesterday, for example, I thought about how I haven’t been practicing and need to get back into it, planning for my next big DonorsChoose project for my kids, what I would be playing for my upcoming gigs at the NY Memory Center and DYNAMICSS, what next video I should edit and upload on my YouTube, how I can get more involved in the Asian American community, what I would write for this blog, how I should plan a recital for my private piano students, starting a newsletter of classical piano tips and events, planning get togethers for my friends I haven’t seen in a while, what haikus I want to write since it’s Poetry Month, my summer plans to perform, becoming more involved in making children’s music with other musicians, what ditty (just recently learned this funky word) I should teach the grown ups at the “Arts Night – All Grown Up” later this week, what lines to work on for diction in the songs for the Spring Arts Festival, how to acquire more donations for my music program, the program of the Keyboard Club performance, what next date to plan with my boyfriend, submitting a song for the OneReasonRecordings album, what kind of breakout group I should lead at NYCAASC, what kind of recital or piano salon I would personally like to give later this Spring/Summer, where I should travel to next, my plans for productivity during Spring Break next week (at long last), what next Yelp reviews to pen, how I feel about the How I Met Your Mother Series Finale… to name a few.

I have to admit – after writing all of that down it is kind of scary how many things are on my mind and how quickly I shuffle through these thoughts. But is it crazy to believe that I am more productive when I have more than a full plate (of things to do, never food)?!  Most people I know talk about how they need “me” time, and quite a bit of it, to get through daily life. But I feel that I don’t need more than just a little me time during the week because I am just so much happier thinking about all these things and striving towards achieving ALL of them. People tell me that I do too much, and that I’m stretching myself too thin. But I’m not. I frankly believe that I am not. I truly feel strongly about ALL the things I think about. Is it a crime to have that many interests and “too many” goals in life?

Perhaps I don’t fit the stereotype of the usual musician who practices eight hours a day with the black monster (whom I love). But I find that the happiest and most creative pianists do not actually practice that long and usually have a multitude of other projects they are pursuing – both related and not related to music. In other words, they LIVE. Fruitfully. Likewise, I want to draw inspiration from everything to feed into the creation of my profession and my music, but most importantly, the continued development of myself.

Here is a spiraling transcript of my streaming thoughts as I visited an incredible exhibit, Doug Wheeler’s “rotational horizontal work” at the David Zwirner Gallery:

I am in infinite space. Where is that glow coming from? How is that I cannot see the ceiling, or the walls, or the ends? Am I standing on the edge of the Earth? Is this what the horizon truly looks like? I feel like I am in a boundless place where time does not matter… Time is completely man-made and this lack thereof is calming, peaceful. There is tranquility in the light. I only hear my footsteps and those of the others inside this space with me. The rests, absence of pitches in sound… what if this is real? The experience, in itself, IS real. (Moments of silence taking the atmosphere in).

No transcendental etude like Liszt’s will be produced, but I now want to compose or improvise drawing inspiration from this artistic experience. Can I? Nothing is stopping me. Maybe all my thoughts are ludicrous and my creative process is, well, out there. Had I not been insistent on going though, I would never have this idea. And I want to keep funneling ideas into my soul, through music, and reflect it back into the world’s soundscapes. Everything experienced has musical potential and merit. want to be the one who realizes that for the audience of listeners.

Is that a good idea? I guess I won’t know until such a project comes to fruition. I also may think it’s a good idea now and won’t think so an hour after I post this entry. Regardless, it is important to me that this idea matters at this moment in time and I am growing from it. We all brainstorm ways to put things together from not following the directions booklet for assembling a bed frame to arranging our thoughts into different compartments in the various parts of our brain without us consciously monitoring that activity. In fact, there can never be too many goals, interests, or IDEAS. It does not matter if we classify them as “good” or not. And we should not fear ideas that may fail in the future nor those which have failed us in the past nor those which did not have an appropriate category to belong to.  And not everything HAS to relate directly to our “ONE” passion; after all, randomness is amazing in itself as we never know what can come of it.  

There is no such thing as doing too much. We are all trying to find that “perfect mixture” of daily activities sprinkled with momentary feats that allow us to feel truly satisfied and fulfilled in our lives. It may work today and it might not work anymore tomorrow, or vice versa, but there should never be any fear or dismay in having too many thoughts. It is only a crime to have a lack of thoughts, a lack of pursuit, a lack of passion. Instead, keep thinking of ideas and IDEA ON.


A week ago, I had the privilege of listening to the composers of “Frozen,” Robert and Kristen Anderson Lopez, talk about the movie, their creative process, and their history together as a couple and as artists. Robert Lopez said that for each new project, the two of them come up with a “notion’s drawer of ideas,” and then figure out which combination of ideas works well together.

Ideas in Images

“Ideas in Images” by Paulo Zerbato

I’ll end with my first haiku in a long time inspired by this cloudy Monday:

Earl grey tea, gray skies
Find the right combination
Stir and let’s begin.

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