I do it. Lots of people do it. When you are scrolling through your gallery of photos, you decide to post the most flattering photo or the one that lets you show off a little on Facebook or Instagram.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with this, but what if we did the reverse? What does that mean? What if we posted the most unflattering photo? Or what if we were not so selective about what we chose to share?
What would that look like?
Perhaps its not so much about the image itself and more about our perceptions of the ways it would be received. Perhaps it is our reluctance against being so vulnerable on such a public forum.
There are many valid reasons for only showing the good and beautiful stuff on social media. Maybe you have a brand for an online business that you are cultivating. On some level, maybe it is a way to maintain a sense of privacy and personal safety–where the edge of what is presentable becomes the border at which you need to feel more protected and contained.
That is okay.
What I am suggesting is a willingness to be more real. Amid all of the fun vacation photos taken in exotic locales, the food and party pics, adorable baby pictures, and the scenic vistas of our hometowns, what if we could think about how we can be more honest and authentic about presenting who we are?
In the greatest likelihood, this would not be easy for the bulk of us who are not independently wealthy or do not look like a statuesque supermodel or live in a spacious, camera-ready mansion. Why should we only do things because they are easy? Sometimes, exploring our own discomfort can expand the possibilities of what we can do in our lives.
The benefit of authenticity is the personal strength you gain in your willingness to be vulnerable.
Vulnerability is power, even though it may not feel that way. That’s exactly what it is. When you are willing to be honest about your life, you are demanding that the world accept you for who you are and not for who they want you to be. There is immense power in this.
Yesterday, my post on social media was a step toward being more authentic to everyone who sees my feed. This is what it said:
“I’ve always been short and almost always in the minority in a group or a crowd. I’ve had problems with acne and the scars to prove it. I have an underbite and a slightly lazy eye (if you look closely). My left leg is slightly longer than my right. I have compared the color of my eyes and skin to the color of poop. (Not my shining moment.) I have many excuses for thinking that I’m not wholesome, beautiful, or good enough for anything, but I’m getting to a place in which I don’t believe any of it. I’m just going to focus on being actively kind to myself and to as many people as possible. I’m going to focus on doing creative work that is meaningful to me. I’m going to let the inside out because therein lies the true value of what I have to give. As for what’s on the outside? Well, I understand that I have no control over the way people judge me based on how I look. I will let go of that as much as my insecurities will let me, and I’ll be just fine.”
After I published this, nothing terrible happened. In fact, I received some lovely and affirming responses. My world did not implode. My arm did not acquire leprosy and fall off. I feel fine.
Maybe that’s the point. Quite possibly, the greatest challenge involved in being more authentic and vulnerable is the fear we harbor inside ourselves.
So, just think about it. You can still post all that is beautiful and sweet and blissful about your life, but don’t be afraid to share the less wholesome or less acceptable parts too–at least once in a while. There may be tremendous value in what you learn by doing so.
I move forward now with being more authentic on social media in the ways that I am authentic when people see me as I am in real life and in real time.
Ultimately, the truth of who I am is the most beautiful part of it all.
Sometimes, I find myself asking the darnedest questions, such as . . .
Why in the world did I go back to college?
Why in tarnation did I decide to major in video and film production when I already have a strong set of writing and musical skills to build upon?
Why in the world did I leave a cute apartment in a great location in Nashville to live in a cold hollow in the middle of the Tennessee woods?
Well generally, there are no simple answers to these queries, but they all point to one word.
I have always been an incredibly curious person. This is the reason and circumstance behind why and how I became an active musician and pianist. Originally, I did not know that I could develop my skills to the extent that I have. One night, I was sitting in my apartment writing a poem, as one does, and the thought occurred to me that this particular poem would sound great as a song. So, I dusted off my old keyboard synthesizer, and with the poem written on a sheet of paper in front of me, I started fiddling around with a melody.
About an hour later, I had the basic musical framework of a song. Each step along this process was lead by the words “What if . . .”
What if I tried this chord?
What if I added a line to the end of each verse?
What if I sustained this note or that vocal phrase?
Each “What if” led to another one. This flowing stream of curiosity led me to discover skills that I never used in tandem. I integrated my singing experience (of having sung harmonies in numerous church choirs growing up), my writing ability (that involved a love of writing poems, short stories, and essays), and my musical ability of being able to remember anything that I play and to play by ear. Fast forward to many years later, and I have enjoyed the life of an active musician. There is a certain satisfaction in trying out a new skill only to find out that you can actually be good at it, but you never know until you try.
What if there is something more I want to learn?
What if I find opportunities I never knew existed?
What if I found true love?
In my life, pursuing my curiosity has meant having the willingness to take a chance at an opportunity even if you are uncertain about the outcome. It has also meant having the willingness to be vulnerable.
I will not stop being curious any time soon. Here are some of the more recent darnedest questions I’ve asked myself lately . . .
What if I directed a documentary about a topic I feel strongly about?
What if I stopped being so meek and started to speak out much more?
What if I dared to pursue some of my biggest dreams and ideas?
Cultivating your curiosity allows you to cultivate a sense of possibility.
Every accomplishment in life had to start somewhere, right?
Over the last two weeks, President Trump made two very big revelations related to his domestic agenda.
A White House memo was supposedly leaked to clearly define male and female genders in a way that effectively eliminates considerations for transgender people.
He wants to revoke citizenship from children born in the US whose parents are illegal aliens.
I do not think it is a coincidence that these intentions were revealed during the early voting time frame just before the midterm elections on Nov. 6. He’s rallying his base of conservative voters. This is what he does. He makes a few inflammatory claims that tip the balance in the minds of voters whose biases are easily impressionable.
This is the model for political rhetoric in the age of Trump. It has nothing to do with civil discourse, or civility for that matter. Divisiveness is now the name of the game. Trump’s modus operandi is to be so extreme that he’ll capture enough of the conservative vote to make a difference. It seems like a crazy strategy, but this is exactly what won Trump the presidency in the first place.
To make matters worse, this is the kind of behavior that gets higher ratings on tv and radio and more attention overall. News channels eat this up to gain stronger viewership numbers, but this magnified coverage only serves to spread Trump’s agenda and grant him the attention he wants.
The media is ultimately playing into his hands, and millions of their viewers get exposed to Trump’s agenda.
I’ll be the first to admit that perhaps I might be oversimplifying all of this, but needless to say, the state of American politics feels like it is steadily sinking into a murky, smelly, and precarious place.
I know that there is no use in complaining, and so, I have some suggestions on how we can proceed during any and all highly contentious election periods.
Understand how Trump operates. He makes divisive claims to help Republicans gain votes in order to retain his power in the US House of Representatives and the Senate.
Claim responsibility. We all did this. Maybe we did not vote or pay attention enough. Maybe we did not speak as loud as we could. If we can recognize what we could have done in the past, we have a better idea of what more we can do moving forward.
Modify how we consume news. The news media and its 24-hour news cycles have become part of the problem. There is so much commentary and propaganda going around that it is harder to make sense of it all. I propose that we all become more intentional about taking breaks from our news consumption. On a regular basis and for brief periods, turn off the radio or tv if the name Trump is mentioned. Take a mental break to gain some perspective. You have to quiet all of the other voices in order to truly hear your own.
I have said this before, and I will say it again. Diversify your news sources. Between NPR, The New York Times, Fox News, CNN, MSNBC, CBS, and a whole slew of others, do not rely on only one perspective to get your news. Expose yourself to opposing viewpoints. Do the work to find multiple perspectives.
Register to vote, and then vote AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE. If you are dissatisfied with the state of your municipality and community, it is important to note that it may be the result of years of electing ineffective leaders and politicians who are out of touch. Keep your registration current and plan on voting regularly and often. One election cycle with your preferred leadership winning may not be enough to start making significant changes. Think about electing a team of local and state leaders who share your sensibilities and priorities over the long haul. There can be numerous elected positions to vote for in your area such as city council members, sheriff, mayor, governor, and a whole slew of others. This is not easy to do, but there is no harm in trying.
More than anything, do everything you can to think for yourself and to cultivate your own opinions and viewpoints. Find your own voice among all of the grandstanding and hype and use it.
Do this with an awareness of the political climate we have evolved into.
If you know where you stand and you have actively educated yourself, no amount of intimidation, extremism, and propaganda can lead you astray.
Earlier this month, I took a flight to Las Vegas, Nevada, to meet up with some friends from high school. I’ve visited there at different times before as a child, a teenager, and as an adult for my father’s passing around 6 years ago. This visit, however, was the first time I got the chance to truly observe the culture that exists in Sin City. It was eye-opening to me in terms of the blatant and unapologetic way that money is the lifeblood and compass of this corner of America.
I spent the bulk of my Vegas weekend hanging out with my classmates. We got to catch up and make up for loss time over the last several years. As a group we went out to eat at a buffet at one of the hotel casinos, and we toured the strip and the old strip.
After our buffet lunch, I tried my hand at a roulette table and lost $22.00. I gave up after that. During my last night, I stayed at a hotel, and after some persuasive encouragement, I tried my hand at some slot machines. After losing or breaking even on a couple of different machines, I won $150.
I stopped after that, and I’m glad I did.
As I walked the strip and through some casinos, I made some observations that were a bit unnerving.
At least in the casinos, there were cameras EVERYWHERE. Tons of them. Hundreds? Maybe thousands? They were all encased in these little black globes that popped out of ceilings and corners. I understand that casinos want to catch people who cheat at gambling, but it’s all a little too big brother for me. I imagine that no cough, sneeze, or conversation goes unnoticed. That’s creepy.
Every hotel has a casino. Every casino has a huge buffet. All casinos give their patrons free drinks. It seems to me that this is the perfect equation to seduce people into staying for a long while. People are almost hypnotized and satiated into a comfortable environment that is conducive to gambling your money away with reckless abandon.
Smoking is allowed in every casino. It certainly seemed that way. The smell of nicotine wafted in the air and lingered as I walked through. For the employees and patrons who have to be in this environment all of the time, this cannot be healthy for their lungs and their bodies. In most places everywhere else in the country, smoking takes place outdoors as it should so that non-smokers are not unfairly subjected to the smoke. The people in Las Vegas do not seem to mind.
Casinos operate 24 hours a day. People gamble or play at slot machines literally all of the time and any time. If you want to play black jack at 4 AM, you can do so in multiple places!
Gamblers seemed like zombies. I observed many people with drinks in hand intently pressing buttons and lulled into a relaxed state.
All of the slot machines are now digital. At what point did everyone decide that this was okay? Could it be possible that each machine is now more rigged than they were before? Couldn’t they now operate under some sort of algorithm that manages people’s wins and losses? To me, this seemed like bullshit and a total scam. Miraculously, I won my $150, but I can’t help but wonder if this was a way to induce me into playing more. Algorithms and technology can be powerful entities.
There are slot machines in the airport. Enough said.
Clearly, money and the hunger for it is what drives this city. This hunger is its ultimate commodity, and there is a design that feeds this hunger in perpetuity. The allure of winning lots of money is palpable. If you are desperate for cash, this is where you can feed that desire.
Of course, it’s not all bad. Las Vegas is a spectacle in and of itself. If I return to Sin City, I may spend more time taking in the shows than the casinos. They offer entertainment value and lots of beautiful creativity that I can geek out on. If you are a foodie, those massive buffets will make you happy.
Well, without further ado, here are some photos from my trip:
The experience of visiting Las Vegas felt surreal. The gambling culture and the hoards of tourists made it a bit jarring for me, but the whole experience was saved by the presence of some great friends from high school.
Maybe that’s the gist of it all. If you have to go Vegas, go with good friends. If anything, the human connections you make can overshadow the industry of money in this city. That would make the experience truly worthwhile.
This month, I wanted to write about how I work, both from an ideological perspective and a practical one. Work, in my mind, can be loosely defined as carrying out a series of tasks in order to accomplish a desired goal. Under this definition, many circumstances apply–from cooking a meal for your family to selling a car or building a cell phone app. Work is work. It can be thrilling and inspiring or tedious and soul-crushing. Either way, most of us have to work for different reasons.
In my life at the moment, I am primarily a college student, among various other roles. As such, I have figured out a lot about what works for me in terms of maximizing my learning and getting assignments done well.
Every week, I like to read a section of posts from lifehacker.com called How I Work. It includes interviews from a working professional that asks questions about how they get their work done. They’ve had corporate CEO’s, writers, filmmakers, chefs, and people engaged in all walks of life answer a specific set of questions. I thoroughly enjoy reading these interviews, and this week, I am going to answer the same questions myself. So, here goes . . .
Location: Liberty, TN Current Gig: College Student at Middle Tennessee State University Current mobile device:LG Stylo 3 Plus Current computer: 13″ Macbook Pro One word that best describes how you work: Obsessively
First of all, tell us a little about your background and how you got to where you are today.
I am a musician and singer/songwriter, and I spent the last few years as a performer in Nashville, TN. I was also employed in the non-profit sector when I lived in Charlotte, NC, directing programs for an LGBT youth support and advocacy organization called Time Out Youth. In Nashville, I worked for the Metro Public Health Department developing a program called Welcome Baby in which families with high-risk newborn infants were given information and assistance to help their babies thrive.
In 2016, I was needing a change. I relocated to a rural town southeast of Nashville, TN to live with my partner, and I went back to college to finish my degree. I am majoring in Video and Film Production at Middle Tennessee State University and will be graduating some time in 2019.
Take us through a recent workday.
My school days are by far my busiest. I usually get up by 6:00 AM. I do a morning meditation at my electric piano/keyboard. This is usually just a few minutes of fingering dexterity exercises and a small bit of noodling around. Playing the piano relaxes and grounds me. When I focus on the physical act of playing, I achieve a sense of calm and comfort that few other activities in my life provide.
Then, I shower, eat breakfast, and gather all of my materials (books, paperwork, laptop, DSLR camera, etc.) that I need for the day. I obsessively make sure that I have everything. Forgetting even one important element makes me mad. Sigh.
Between 7:45am and 8am, I am in my car and heading out of my really long driveway. My commute to school is 35 minutes. I rarely hit any traffic and the route I take is quite scenic. I get to campus at by 8:30am, and this arrival time assures me a good spot at the parking deck. Any later than this gets me a parking spot a quarter of a mile away on a gravel lot on the outskirts of campus.
I have an hour before class to review notes for a quiz or test, work on an assignment, or message classmates about group projects. My first class starts at 9:40am. From there, I have a midday break in which I drink more coffee, eat lunch, take a long walk, and do school work. I have another break in the late afternoon for more school work and a possible nap. My last class is done by 9:00pm at the latest. I drive the 35 minutes back home after that. I cuddle with my cat, and I finally go back to bed.
What apps, gadgets, or tools can’t you live without?
This year, I decided to cut myself off from the google/gmail universe. Giving one entity that much access and power over my life felt too unsettling. I do not need a corporate big brother’s grubby hands all over my stuff. I use a secure service called Proton Mail for all of my personal email needs as well as for creative projects. My LG Stylus 3 is not the fanciest cell phone in the world, but I use it for the basic functionality it offers. I can text and call family and friends via wifi, post on instagram, and stay in contact with my class work groups. I do not need more from a cell phone than this.
I am relatively new to the Apple universe. I switched to a Macbook Pro from a regular PC because my coursework demanded it. I was not a fan of the price tag, but honestly, my Macbook is incredibly robust. The built-in functionality and interface are smooth, simple, and oh so elegantly designed. I may be a Mac user for life.
The camera I use for filming and photography is a Nikon D5600 DSLR. It is super easy to use and offers the capabilities I need for my courses. I will upgrade to something more grandiose someday, but this machine checks all the boxes for now.
What’s your workspace set-up like?
At home, I connected two desks to make a large L-shaped desk that allows me to spread out my work. I have a large flat screen tv that I connect to my Macbook through an HDMI cable. This makes video editing work so much better. I have a power strip on my desk to make charging my laptop, cell phone, and camera batteries more convenient. I also light up my space with multiple lamps so that I get sufficient light for reading. I must have good light.
What’s your best shortcut or life hack?
I give myself earlier deadlines. For school assignments, for example, I have a rule that I get them completely done and turned in by the day before it is due, if not sooner. My life is so much less stressful when I am not facing a dire last-minute scenario. This also gives me time to face any technology snaffoos that can occur. Extra time for downloads, uploads, and back-ups is a good idea for any and all gadgets and online portals. Early deadlines are essential to all of my work.
Take us through an interesting, unusual, or finicky process you have in place at work.
Working in groups with other college students can be quite challenging. No two students are alike, and we are all super busy. Some folks handle their time and workload better than others. What I do is to always make sure that everyone has an easy way to stay in contact, and that everyone is aware of upcoming deadlines. Strong lines of communication are vital.
Who are the people who help you get things done, and how do you rely on them?
As a student, I absolutely rely on myself, but otherwise, my partner MaxZine is incredibly helpful. Despite my school life, our pets, garden, and household still need much tender loving care. He cooks delicious meals for me every day and is a champion on the home front.
How do you keep track of what you have to do?
I use a paper calendar for school-related deadlines. After trying out every to-do-list app ever invented, I decided to go with Trello for my school work. It lets me make separate lists for each class, and the interface is easy and intuitive. I can access it on my laptop and phone. I’ll be using this for multiple projects from now on.
How do you recharge or take a break?
Playing piano never feels like work to me. That recharges me more than anything. I love taking naps, but otherwise, I read lots of books that are not school-related. I love to take walks and cuddle with my cat.
What’s your favorite side project?
I actually have lots of side projects, but the one that gives me the giggles is Where Pianos Roam. I’m on a break from it right now, but it is basically a photography project in which I follow the exploits of a traveling miniature grand piano and her rowdy bench. I migrated the project from a blog format to Instagram. It’s a lot of fun.
What are your own reading habits like? What are you currently reading, or what do you recommend?
Ever since I became a student again, I am much more of a voracious reader. It is the distraction from school work that I fight against the most. I like to read to give myself a break from studying. I generally love to read in bed (especially on rainy days). Falling asleep to a book and waking up to one are the best bookends. I mostly read through the kindle app on my mac, cell phone, or Kindle e-reader; however, I still read actual books too whenever possible.
There are so many wonderful books out there. This morning, I just finished reading Daily Rituals by Mason Currey. It chronicles the daily work habits of some of the most important creative people in history such as Einstein, Matisse, Beethoven, and many more. The book is broken up into small chapters that discuss each person. The information is well researched and well written. I’m bummed that I finished it. I would highly recommend this book for anyone who is deeply engrossed in creative work and interested in personalizing their own work habits.
I am also reading The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck for my book club.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Follow your intuition. This is advice I’ve been given from multiple people, and it took several times of not following my inner voice to learn the value of this practice. There are intangible and inexplicable aspects of life that connect more with impressions, feelings, and varying sensibilities. These require paying attention beyond the constraints of language and traditional logic. When you practice following your intuition and go with your gut, you get better at it. It means that you are intentionally heading in the direction that you deeply desire the most and is fully aligned with your values and goals. This degree of honestly with oneself is vital to our personal well being and success.
What’s a problem you’re still trying to solve?
I am becoming progressively obsessed with plastic. It is a massive problem created by humans that threatens our natural environment. It bothers me, and there are no easy solutions. At least, not yet.
When you grow up on a tropical island surrounded by the vast Pacific Ocean, there is a part of you that will always live there no matter how far you go and how different your life becomes. I used to spend hours sitting on the beach, lost in my thoughts as waves crashed onto the shore.
When I left the island, I left my ocean-the place where I went so seek solace, comfort, and joy. I boarded a Hawaiian Airlines flight when I was 17 years old with my tear-stained face. I said goodbye, begrudgingly and willingly. I knew that my whole life was about to change.
For a long time, I walked this earth without my ocean. I did not have a place where I felt grounded and safe, where I could feel calm and at peace.
Looking back, it was this emptiness I felt that drew me to the piano.
The piano became my ocean.
At an old church building where I once worked in Charlotte, NC, there was an upright Yamaha piano in the sanctuary that I discovered when I was wondering around on my break one day. Upon inquiring, the folks who ran that church told me that I was welcome to play it whenever I wanted as long as there wasn’t anyone using it to prepare for a service. I took their permission and ran with it.
I must have spent hundreds of hours–late nights, early mornings, late afternoons, evenings, and all points in between–playing that piano. I felt so safe sitting there, and it inspired me to play my own music. I composed the bulk of my first album “Seahorses” at that very spot.
From a sonic perspective, the piano can be as thunderous and as gentle as the ocean. There can be so much power with the touch of every finger. I could lose myself in its undulating rhythms and feel every bit of the emotion I poured into it coming back to me.
I found the piano at a time when I needed it, and at a time when I was in a dark place in my life.
I heard its crashing waves, and it heard my loneliness.
This instrument became my guiding force, my sense of safety, and my private haven from everything in my life that was going so wrong.
The piano continues to be all of these things and more.
I still miss the ocean, but thankfully, through the highs and lows in my life, I found something just as mighty and meaningful that sustains my spirit.
I sit at a piano, and I feel greater than and better than who I was before. I sit there for hours dreaming my dreams and lost in my thoughts. All of this crashes into me every time, and the air and space around me gets filled with sound.
There is one word that sums up the vast majority of my time as a pianist.
Yes, lots and lots and lots of practice.
There is more practice than the time spent actually composing music, writing lyrics, being creative, and performing. It is time spent getting a fingering sequence to sound effortless on the piano, hours learning a new piece by playing it over and over again until it sounds and feels right, and fingering exercises to maintain and enhance the flow and dexterity of movement on the piano.
This is the part of being a musician that most people would find dull and uninteresting. The constant repetition of music and singing during practice would drive most people insane. It’s also not particularly glamorous. I actually like to practice in my pajamas and under the most mundane and comfortable conditions possible. If I am practicing a new finished piece that I am excited about, I will sit there for HOURS meticulously working on several details until I am playing it just right.
It is ironic that I put so much time into practicing now when it was the repetition of nursery songs when I was young that pushed me away from learning how to play. The difference was that, in time, I grew more patient, and I eventually recognized the deep value of practice.
Sure, practice makes perfect, as the cliché goes, but it’s actually about more than just getting better at playing. Over the years, I have found that those rare moments of inspiration-those lightning bolts of a new song that light a fire under you-they would not happen without the tedium and persistence of practice. The repetition and memorization buys you the physical space and time to seek out musical textures and understand them. You build this understanding into a personal catalogue in your musical brain.
It’s also like going to the gym for your fingers. You build muscles and muscle memory every time you repeat something. Your hands get stronger. Your body grows to know the rhythms, ebbs, flows, highs, and lows. Your ear grows more refined and selective.
Practice is the act of growing what you know, of cultivating an instinctual and multi-sensory language that only you can understand.
I practice every day, and I have done so for many years. If I do not manage to play on a piano for some reason, I try to play another instrument. My ukulele and cello enrich me as much as my first love.
For those of you who might be wondering, my piano practice is built on a foundation of fingering exercises from the book, Hanon: The Virtuoso Pianist in 60 Exercises for the Piano. I have a vintage, old, and worn-out copy that I have used forever and a new one that I lend out to aspiring new pianists or for travel. I have done these exercises so much that they feel more like meditation to me. I focus on the flow of movement of my fingers and the rest of the world fades out into the background.
I love to practice on the piano just as much as I love performing on it. Along with writing, it has served as the deeper infrastructure for all of my creative work.
I do it as constantly, vigilantly, and lovingly as possible.
Ok. Not really. But I do dream of what he represents.
Pure, unbridled showmanship. The man was a star!!!
Flashy. Daring. Unabashed. Not to mention his outstanding musicianship!
When I first started performing (like in public and on a stage), I was certainly no Liberace. For my first time at an open mic, I played and sang the first song I ever wrote on my own. Of course, this was months after I actually started writing it. I practiced playing it like crazy. When I finally got on stage, the shy version of me took over, and it was over before it began . . .
I started by saying, “Hi, umm, I’m just gonna play a little song for you tonight. And stuff? I hope you like it?”
Ugh. I did that annoying thing where everything I said sounded like a question. I did not own that stage and claim it for myself. Instead, I took out a loan with a high interest rate and rented it for five minutes.
Maybe it wasn’t as bad as I remember. But somehow, I think it was.
Now, in hindsight, it’s okay that my first time playing on a stage made me look incontinent. It’s actually part of what made me who I am. That first time was at a venue called The Evening Muse in Charlotte, NC, where I once lived. I would go to many more open mics on that stage later on. Eventually, I would move to Nashville, TN and start doing open mics at places like Cafe Coco and Douglas Corner Cafe. Then, I would play my own shows at places like 3rd and Lindsley, the Exit/In, and BB Kings Blues Bar.
If I didn’t let that shy little Asian take that stage for the first time and feebly go where I was terrified of going, I would not be where I am now.
An important part of my journey as a performing pianist was my willingness to keep going and keep trying. If there is one thing I have learned from history and in life, it’s that deep, substantive change does not happen overnight. It takes its own time across many years to happen.
I wasn’t always going to be that shy little person on stage, and I’m very happy about that. Sometimes, I like to imagine that the shy version of myself now sits in the audience staring back at me as I play. (Looking like he did a prim and proper #2 at the appropriate facilities, no less.)
This post is the first instalment of a series of remembrances.
I have been wanting to document my journey as a pianist and a musician for posterity. People ask me all the time how long I’ve been playing, and I always give the same answer. Well, this time, I want to go into a little more detail about how I evolved as a performing musician. There will be places and faces named and information on how I developed (and continue to develop) my technique. Someone once told me that I should write about what I know.
Performing at the piano is what I know.
I remember being 7 years old. My parents enrolled me in a small piano school on the island of American Samoa where I grew up. I was ushered into a room that had several desk stalls, and each stall had a small electronic keyboard. There were what I felt at the time to be oppressively dull lessons in which I had to press the keys down in a continual motion OVER and OVER again. Looking back, I can understand the formative value of what I was doing, but it was incredibly boring nonetheless.
In time, I progressed into simple children’s songs like “Mary Had a Little Lamb”, but we had to play these songs OVER and OVER again. By this point, a few months into the lessons, I was OVER IT! I begged my Mom to stop taking me. I remember the look of disappointment on her face when this happened. As a child in a small village in the Philippines, she did not have the opportunity to learn how to play such a glorious instrument, and she relished the notion that her own children could hone such a gift. This was not to be the case. My older sister Lette was also enrolled to take lessons, but she was bored out of her mind as well. We wanted to be kids running free, playing games, and getting dirty. We lived on a gorgeous tropical island for goodness sake! It was always more fun to be outside.
It is interesting how my home environment as a child inadvertently prepared me to become a musician. My parents loved playing their cassette tapes and vinyl LP’s. My dad was always keen to have a top of the line stereo system that came with large speakers. He often played the Beatles while my Mom played lots of Elvis. Abba, Frank Sinatra, and Englebert Humperdinck were also on continuous rotation.
There was ALWAYS music playing. It was part of the fabric of our every day lives.
Being the third child out of four also meant that I was subjected to the musical tastes of my older siblings. My brother, in his teenage years, LOVED 80’s heavy metal. I shared a bedroom with him growing up, and he was always blasting music from bands like Def Leppard, Metallica, Megadeth, and Guns N’ Roses. My sister was all about the boys. New Kids on the Block and Boys to Men were some of her staples. There was plenty of R&B and pop music blaring all the time.
My own musical tastes basically revolved around catchy pop music. Culture Club’s album “Color By Numbers” was the first album I begged my Mom to buy for me. Wham (and later George Michael’s solo work) and Michael Jackson were also big favorites. Sting’s solo album “. . . Nothing Like the Sun” and The Cure’s “Disintegration” were also on heavy rotation on my own stereo.
Clearly, all kinds of sounds, styles, and textures hovered around me across my childhood and adolescence. My family unknowingly cultivated a deep appreciation for the art of song in my life. The simple act of listening intently to music and the daily practice/enjoyment of it made such a profound difference to me. This would help me develop my own ear for melody, rhyming, tonality, and rhythm.
The rest, with some curious stops, starts, turns, and pivots, would unravel from there . . .
This week, I thought I would share some of the more interesting writings that I have discovered online from a few of my favorite bloggers. I am always on the lookout for insightful information that can give me either a fresh perspective or practical information that improves some process or practice that I am curious about.
For starters, I recently shared my thoughts about social media and the challenges it creates against living a more present and less distracted life. One of my favorite writers is a blogger by the name of Cal Newport. He is currently a computer science professor at Georgetown University and has long been a lone voice against the pitfalls and dangers that are inherent in social media engagement. His most recent post looks at the growing awareness against the power of social media companies like Facebook and Twitter. Part of the truth, as I see it, is that we should not wait until social media becomes a much bigger systemic problem before we take action and make substantial changes. Here is the link to the post:
Up next is a post from someone who I have followed for a long time. He is the creator of the blog zenhabits.net. In this post, he writes about how to be mindful ALL OF THE TIME–yup, for as much as possible and as long as possible every day. This is no easy feat, but it is a worthwhile pursuit for those of you who long to live a more meaningful life that is completely aligned with your values and goals. A life of mindfulness is a life of intention, and he gives us a simple tutorial on how to make this happen.
Up next is a recommendation that came from Josh Spector’s For the Interested E-mail Newsletter, which is a carefully curated newsletter I subscribe to that includes informative readings about balanced productivity and creativity. This is a post from author and blogger André Chaperon. It discusses the underlying process behind what it means to truly learn something new. Check it out:
There are numerous other articles I could recommend, but these three are good for starters. If you know of a well-written and thoughtful article online that I might enjoy, please let me know in the comments. I geek out on this kind of stuff.