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Tonight I’m attending the San Francisco launch mixer for the Harvard Asian American Alumni Summit this October 2010. Maybe it’s not brand new to have a separate Harvard Alumni Association just for Asian Americans. Somehow I’ve just heard of it now.

The truth is I’ve never felt like I’ve belonged to any organization calling themselves “Asian American”. At this point in my life, I recognize that I rarely feel a sense of belonging in any group that has a name or label. I’ve always felt most at home as a totally free, totally expressive unique concoction of my own, belonging partially to many groups but fully to none. I envy you if you’ve found a full sense of belonging somewhere in this world. Cherish it. Bask in that feeling. Be grateful for it every day that you have it. For those of you who, like me, have not yet found it, maybe it’s time to sit back and enjoy your lack of belonging!

Here’s a short video with some of my thoughts going into the event. I’ll be back here to tell you how it went!

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Ever since the movie When Harry Met Sally came out, I’ve pretty much believed that men and women can never really be “friends”. Not when one or both of them is not in a committed relationship. It’s just an unnatural state of being for both species, so why do we force it?

Facebook is a wonderful example of this. I’d prefer not to have a list of hundreds of so-called “Friends”. I know that most of the people on my list are acquaintances at best, and many of them, now that I use my Facebook account for promotional purposes, are just the product of friendly social encounters. I like them, I support them, I wish them well, but I know very little about them personally and I do not need to find out more.

Last night I had one of these friendly social encounters at a new venue I was performing at with my band. We are in a phase of doing a lot of legwork to show up at open mics, form new relationships, and scrounge up opportunities for ourselves to play for more audiences. I am in awe of the courage and talent that is showing up at these coffee shops, bistros, bars, and other locations in the community where I have never had a reason to “hang out”. Read the rest of this entry »

Tuesday night I continued my practice of saying “Yes” to life. I showed up at a Jazz Jam that someone invited me to after hearing me play at my gig last Friday with Randy Bales’ Chinese Melodrama.


I’ll always remember something said by the keyboardist who was in the group before I went on. Someone asked if he was disappointed in his performance. He answered immediately, “I’m never disappointed with a performance. I know it can always be improved, but I’m never disappointed. Especially when I get to play on a Steinway! How could that be disappointing?”

What an example of gratitude and acknowledgment of himself!

I was a little nervous showing up at something called  “Jazz Jam”, since I was carrying around the belief that “I don’t know how to play jazz”. It seemed to me to be a separate language, an insular club open only to members, and a totally separate skill set that I don’t have.

Funny how our beliefs are reflected back to us…

I sat down to watch the first group play, and Carl, the bass player who was to be in my group later in the evening sat down next to me. “So, do you play in the symphonies locally?” (He had heard that I was “classically trained”.)

“No,” I replied.

“And you’ve never played jazz before?”

“No,” I said.

“Well, I know how terrified most classical musicians are of improvising.” Read the rest of this entry »

Preparing my mind and body for my first live acoustic rock performance experience tonight as part of a trio. Beautiful warm weather here in northern California, and this morning I read these words from Iyanla Vanzant:

I have learned to look at my life as an observer. I stand back, look at what happened, and focus my attention on the place where the wound was inflicted. I do not look at who inflicted the wound or how it was inflicted. That it was inflicted is the essence of healing. Find what your wound is, where the wound is being played out in your life, and heal it. Only by doing the work on ourselves that is required to heal mental, emotional, and psychological wounds can we ever hope to be whole in our spirits. I chose to do the healing work because I didn’t want to be mad anymore. I didn’t want to cry anymore. I wanted to heal so that I would have something to celebrate – myself.

from Yesterday, I Cried by Iyanla Vanzant

I felt deep in my soul a renewed calling that I must tell my story. Not just for myself, but for others. Not just this part of the story, but my whole story. It’s all I’ve been trying to do, and now I know it needs to be done. Read the rest of this entry »

“Today I wake up empty and frightened. Don’t go to the door of the study and read a book. Instead, take down the dulcimer, let the beauty of what you love be what you do. There are a thousand ways to kneel and kiss the ground, there are a thousand ways to go home again.” – Rumi

Last night I was reminded of the importance of ritual. There is a reason that the word “practice” implies some regularity and frequency at which you revisit a set of actions repeated in order to bring you into the present moment in your body. There is a difference between “getting stuff done” and “practicing”. I prefer to practice.

I went into the recording studio after missing my usual session last week. My shoulder had been feeling tweaky and I decided to let it rest. It was a great decision, and my body thanked me for it. I was fresh and actually craving the session last night a little bit as I walked in. I could feel my body getting into the mode of listening and playing as soon as I entered the studio space. I knew where to put my violin case, my coat, my bag, my water bottle. The tracks were already queued up on the recording system. I put the headphones on.

And it flowed. It was such a joy! I wasn’t trying to DO anything. I was just grateful to be back in my practice. See, I’m remembering that practice is the stuff of life. As a violin teacher, I spent hours answering questions about “how to get someone to practice”. In that process of trying to explain what practice was, I got lost. I got steered into other people’s reward-and-punishment systems, bribery tactics, making up false promises, all in an attempt to portray “practicing” – which was perceived as a necessary “evil” – as something palatable.

The truth is that the soul craves practice. Read the rest of this entry »

I just recently stepped back into the recording studio, after being away from it for almost two years.

What I noticed is that there is a unique freedom of the first take that I’m challenging myself to recreate on each subsequent take. Here’s how the process goes: I hear the tracks (usually drums, guitar, and perhaps some vocals) once, getting a bodily feel for the groove of the song. I listen for sounds that I want to imitate or converse with. I notice repeating patterns. By the time I’m two and a half minutes into a song, I usually have several ideas of what I might play.

Then I put on headphones, get set up in front of the mikes, and I hear the same tracks played back in my ears as I play my violin. There is such a freedom on that first take, and I don’t really know why. Maybe it’s the lack of judgment. I’ve never played it before, so there’s nothing to compare myself to. I’m just PLAYING. Listening and playing. No thinking. Just trying. And so far, there has always been something (surprisingly) beautiful that comes out of the first take.

The problem is with the second, third, or fourth takes. What happens with these? Well I notice that I’m trying to “live up” to the quality of the first take. Or copy some brilliant idea from that first take, only making it “better” or “more clever’. Or I repeat exactly what I did the first time, thinking too much and making it sound canned. Sometimes, though, when I hit that wall and play about two minutes of what I consider “crap”, I’ll suddenly hear something completely different in the music and go in a totally new direction. A brand new rhythm, a countermelody, or something new in the music to converse with. But as soon as I start attaching too much – liking an idea so much I try to copy and repeat it over and over again, or congratulating myself on my own brilliance so that I start trying to “top” what I’ve just done – I lose the magic. The sound is canned. It sounds scripted. Or like it’s trying too hard. Read the rest of this entry »

I went to Wendy Nelson Tokunaga’s book reading tonight at Kepler’s Bookstore in Menlo Park. Her second novel, Love in Translation, is about an American woman who travels to Japan and falls in love. Not sure why I was drawn to this reading at first. I saw her announcement on the She Writes site. The reading was structured as two brief excerpts – read quite theatrically by the author – followed by her singing a Japanese song from the book, music arranged and performed by her husband.

When she picked up the microphone and started singing, I knew why I had been called to attend that reading. With her surfer-dude Japanese ex-pat husband manning the sake and rice cracker snack table, his music playing on a portable boom box, and the author – a middle-aged white woman wearing a slightly funky black blazer, colorful glass jeweled multi-strand necklace, and wild greyish blond hair – crooning Japanese lyrics into a microphone, I realized I was seeing someone who had become comfortable in her own skin. She was calm, unself-conscious, and very matter-of-fact in her presence. Her singing was filled with the joyful tongue-in-cheek quality of Asian karaoke love songs. Corny by design yet also filled with hope for true romantic, star-crossed love, these songs (which I love to sing in Chinese) allow us to express our childlike yearnings in an adult format.

There were just a handful of us in the audience for the reading – the subject matter of Love in Translation was probably too fun and frivolous for the serious, ambitious, upwardly mobile Atherton crowds who normally flood Kepler’s. Hint: the #1 bestseller in the store this week is Daniel Pink’s book Drive, on the psychology of motivation. Wendy’s reading was honest, straightforward, fun, and from the heart. Her singing was just as unabashedly from her own unique heart.

Rare to see someone unafraid to be a little corny, a little wacky, a little funny, and hard to categorize. I just liked it, and I don’t know why.

The night before last, I watched the evening news for the first time in several years. I rarely watch TV anymore, because if I’m that bored I’ll find a full episode of one of my favorite shows to watch online with minimal commercials, or I’ll spend some time in a yoga pose to enliven my mind.

The night before last, though, I had gotten home from yoga class at 9 o’clock, then started making the dinner I had been craving, which took me until 10 o’clock to finish eating and cleaning up. So I felt like “vegging” out a little before going to bed. I plopped myself down on the couch for some non-computer-related catatonia. Stripped down to the 12 or 14 basic channels, there isn’t that much channel surfing to do, but it’s still amazing how long even those limited choices kept me going.

At one point, it was time for the 11 o’clock local news, and all three channels were talking about the “storm of the century” (or at least of the season) that was forecasted to arrive the next day. Images of a small, bright yellow blob surrounded by a bigger, darker green blob located off the cartoon coast of a map of the Bay Area flashed on the screen. These were followed by stock footage of ocean waves crashing in a misty, foreboding dusk lighting; rock walls being pummeled by said waves, as oceanside shanties, perched precariously on wooden stilts as sandy sheerfaced cliffs dropped off beneath them, stood naively against the tumultuous wind and rain. Cut to an image of sheets of rain, being blown horizontally across a glistening blacktop parking lot.

The voices of the newscasters warned of a “dangerous morning commute” and “gale force winds by lunchtime” followed by a “treacherous rush hour ride home” the next day (which was yesterday). As if to add to the scientific accuracy and credence we were to lend to these predictions, the meteorologist clicked on the Doppler radar graphic (the one with the green and yellow blob) and measured the distance from the yellow blob to the edge of land, confirming the prediction that the storm would arrive well before daybreak in San Francisco, make its way down the Peninsula just in time to “wreak havoc on the morning commute”. Read the rest of this entry »

Lately I’ve been fascinated by how we “frame” certain situations in our minds. “Framing” refers to the storyline we create in our minds to explain something that happens to us. The thoughts we have are the basis for the emotions we feel in response to any given set of circumstances or facts.

For example, take the fact, “I am leaving my job.” This is an incontrovertible fact. Anyone observing the situation from any point of view would agree with it. However, how we feel about this fact depends on one intermediate step that few of us have the training to notice – how we feel depends on what we think about the facts in front of us.

A helpful diagram from Brooke Castillo’s Self-Coaching 101 looks like this:

Circumstance/situation:

Thought:

Feeling:

Action:

Consequence:

If I think the thought, “I will never find another job,” or “Only losers leave their jobs,” or “I must be crazy to leave my job,” then I will experience feelings of fear/hopelessness, unworthiness, and self-doubt, respectively. However, if I think the thought, “I choose to make space for work that better suits me,” or “I am caring for myself by letting go of something that drained me,” or “I gave everything I had to that job and it’s time for me to give to something else,” then I will experience feelings of empowerment/freedom, self-worth, and generosity of spirit, respectively.

Which would you rather think? Which would you rather feel? How would you rather act? And which consequences as a result of those actions would you rather have in your life? Read the rest of this entry »

This is the central question illuminated tonight during a conversation afterwards with a parent. He said that what was comforting, from a parent’s perspective, about the previous method (where I appeared to be following the model of my mentor…which was an illusion) was that it was “linear” and it was “going somewhere”. I laughed in my mind, because I thought to myself, “Where they’re going you don’t want to go. Believe me. I know the alumni. And it’s why I’m choosing to cut the cord while I still can.”

I know it all comes down to trust. They don’t know how to trust me right now because they only know the previous image of me I projected when I didn’t know what I know now. So, now that I do know better and I am trying to DO better, there’s a fair amount of concern. These people – none of us, really – are not welcoming to the important stranger called Change, especially when it comes to their children. One of these poor souls is hiding the fact that she is divorcing her husband, and has been doing so for almost two years, in order to protect their six-year-old from the truth. Poor lamb.

It really does highlight the central tension in what I’m doing (which is what any artist or entrepreneur must do). I must straddle the line between doing my art and giving people what they think they want. The problem is, people don’t really know what they want until after the fact. They have to make the decision first. And that’s scary for most people. It keeps you small, in a box, only able to associate with a certain approved list of people, places, and brand names. I now can start to see it with a sense of humor and love, without judgment of anyone as “right” or “wrong”. It is all just so interesting.

I can see that this new form of play and interaction is extremely threatening to certain people’s identities. I can see it because I was there once. I used to scoff at certain forms of music, at the way certain people dressed or groomed themselves, and it caused me to close off to interacting with them because I thought something was gravely wrong with them. I thought they would have nothing to offer me.

Gradually – mostly since I’ve been “without an industry” and on my own as a solo entrepreneur – I have been exposed to different types of people and realized that none of the above is true. I have been impressed by the work ethic and intelligence of people who dropped out of high school in order to pursue their own paths in art or music. I have been touched by the honesty and integrity of people who were once drug addicts but followed their own path to become clean, hard-working business owners focused on excellent customer service. Read the rest of this entry »

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