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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!


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 »

A video with my initial thoughts on a topic that I feel will become a vast area of exploration and focus in my work.

For part two of the video, visit this link.

And for a written expansion on the ideas in this video, see my blog post at this link.

There’s a certain exhaustion with going against the grain. I am feeling that sensation at my core right now, and trying to find the way to float along with the current. I keep asking, “What am I fighting?” It’s not like I”m trying to fight anything. But the idea that there is “something wrong” with me, my life, my past, my future…it keeps me in a perpetual state of hovering. I shouldn’t say “perpetual” since I’ve felt this way for only a few moments. I like to overdramatize.

This is not an unfamiliar feeling. It feels like I’ve always felt. Going against the grain. Others I’ve known who have worn their against-the-grain-ness on their sleeves in the form of different-colored hair, pierced body parts, tattoos, or “alterna-clothing” — and I’m talking about the high school sense of the word “different” — manage to have at least the appearance of fitting in. They wear the signature look of someone who is going against the grain. Funny that it’s a very identifiable style that says, “I’m not one of the “in” crowd.” In other words, it signifies belonging to another crowd – the non-conformers. Read the rest of this entry »

When I was in medical school, “drug of choice” was a term used to refer to the most widely accepted medicine (pill, injection, whatever) for a particular condition. There were usually alternatives if patients were allergic or the drug of choice was not available. As a medical student, you were golden if you could immediately name the drug of choice for a given situation when quizzed by one of the doctors.

I now realize that for most of my life I’ve been high on my drug of choice – the drug of approval. It’s been an easy drug to become dependent on without even knowing it. There are plenty of systems in our society that are set up to get us hooked on the smiles and impressed looks on Other People’s faces when we do something that they approve of. It starts as soon as we are born. Our parents and other caretakers are our first encounter with what it takes to get approval. Then, when we’re handed off to the next big system of socialization – school – we quickly learn exactly what we need to do to earn approval. It comes in various forms – attention from the teacher, gold stars, stickers on our hands, nice comments written at the top of our homework, maybe a “Student of the Year” prize at the end-of-the-year assembly, or a row of “A”s on our report card. We adapt our behavior to this system. Some, like me, find that getting all the approval from the system is much easier than expressing what’s real. Starting in first grade, the reality was that I felt like an outsider in almost every way. Not just the fact that I was the only ethnic minority in my entire elementary school class for many years. Or the fact that I felt embarrassed that I couldn’t say in English the names of the things I had eaten for dinner most nights, when I was asked the next day at school. Or the fact that sometimes my mom would pick me up from school and say things to me in Chinese in front of my friends, which further highlighted the gaps between what I experienced at home and what was being presented to me in the great system of American socialization – public school. I just felt both an incredible longing to fit in, as well as a deep knowledge that I never would. Read the rest of this entry »

I caught myself with a major case of the “should”s today. Last night I was notified that I was accepted to speak at Ignite Bay Area on March 2, 2010, in San Francisco. (Yes, it’s open to the public and you can get tickets here.)

I was so excited! I felt it was the universe telling me, “This is YOUR time!” Of course I always love a stage and an audience, so that got my juices flowing too.

Then I got up this morning and the “should”s started flowing.

“I should make a plan for the month of February to market this.”

“I should blast this across my network so everyone I know will come.”

“I should write a blog post on my main website to convince more people to come to my Music Improvisation class.”

What a way to kill the creative flow. Falling back on old thinking, I kept my butt planted on my chair in front of my computer, trying to prove to myself that I was “working”, typing away at a draft of some lame blog article based on a “Top Ten Reasons…” format that just wasn’t working. It took me all day to finally ask, “Why am I forcing things with ‘should’ thinking? What happened to my clarity today?”

I realized that today’s case of the “should”s was wrapped up in a sense of some constant need to produce something that makes me look good. It’s what I’ve been taught to do. We are all taught this lesson starting from an early age. We are taught systematically to please everyone from parents and teachers to older siblings and the popular crowd at school. And those of us who were handsomely rewarded for our accomplishments – whether it be gold stars, good grades, leadership roles, or high-paying jobs – tend to stick to those well-worn strategies. It feels so safe and familiar to fall back on the same praise that brought you from the cradle to this point, wherever that may be. And as we grow older, it gets scarier to think of letting go of everything we thought we once knew to be true. Read the rest of this entry »


Listening to the 5PM class recording right now. I actually get to hear BRIDGETTE talking in strings of more than one sentence at a time! It just occurred to me that perhaps this is a demographic difference between people who are employed during the day, and people who are free at 10AM on a Monday. People who “work from home” or are “half paralyzed and home with a new puppy” or are stay-at-home moms usually fall into the latter category. Others who can only fit this in after 5PM Pacific Time are probably working, functioning people.

She has to actually ASK the group for feedback, and wait for silence on this call! Unbelievable!

It’s now 25 minutes and counting, without a single interruption. One person, when there was a silence, asked where to find Martha’s videos on the site, and Bridgette walked her through it. Once. In less than a minute. She found it, and said, “Thank you.” They moved on.

Bridgette’s voice sounds much more relaxed. She has a chance to breathe. She is going through her notes, at a pace that is natural for her.

Now listening to the introductions. Many corporate people who describe themselves as “miserable” in their jobs. They each shared a little story about their backgrounds, and Bridgette was able to interact with them, sharing some words of encouragement with each. Read the rest of this entry »

The first bit of laughter I had today was just now. I hit “send” on my first Forum post to the Martha Beck site. To be frank, I was sick and tired of everyone posting the same things about being so happy, so excited, so peaceful, so everything flowery about “starting this journey together”.

I was ready to dive in and do some work. I guess I’ve had little patience for the platitudes of welcoming circles, in which there always seems to be one person who monopolizes the time, treating it like a personal session instead of being conscious of the presence of others. This did not happen at Silvia’s class, and I’m studying why. Maybe it was because she started with experience. She opened with chanting and vocalizing, which required both listening and synchronous participation. There was no opportunity for anyone to monopolize, except for perhaps my neighbor Todd’s attempts to make his voice louder than anyone else’s. But the attempt failed, because the collective sound was still greater than his single voice.

But today was a conference call. It’s an inherently more challenging medium to work in, because you can’t see anyone, and in order to ask a question, you just have to butt right in. This plays to the strengths of certain types of people – namely, chatters. You know the kind. Even if they are sitting in a large auditorium, they feel like the speaker on the stage is only there to interact with them. It’s a personal coaching session, or a conversation in their living room. No one else in the room exists. So when they ask questions, they are personal. Relevant only to their situation. Usually directed at solving their very specific, very detailed, very personal problem. And then, when the speaker – sensing the impending danger of sliding down the slippery slope of a too-personal interaction held in front of a bored and impatient group of too-nice-to-say-anything-rude-to-the-person-asking audience members – tries to put an end to the talk track by summarizing, or directing the person politely to speak to them afterwards, it’s only a cue for that person to say more. When all we want that person to do is shut their trap. Listen more, speak less.

The thing about these kinds of people is that they don’t understand the number of people who are politely listening to them as they go on and on about all of their problems. “I got a babysitter for my puppy that I purchased last week. I’m half paralyzed, so I wondered if I could do it, but I decided I could. And then I couldn’t figure out the call-waiting, and it was taking so long, so I just said to myself, Call already!” Read the rest of this entry »

I was like a child going to my first day of school today at CIIS. I packed a lunch, a snack, my bag full of books, new notebooks, new pens, and a new folder with dividers to hold all of the new handouts.

The syllabus said that today we would have Trungpa Rinpoche as our guest lecturer. Turned out we had a native American drummer named Dennis, who was very spiritually connected with his indigo blue “poncho”-like shirt, his shoulder-length hair, blondish gray mustache and beard, and his royal blue Sigg water bottle. He played two earthenware jugs, balanced slightly askew in saucers, and called “udu” drums from Nigeria.

We sat on meditation cushions on the floor, and a single row of chairs with foldable desks formed a ring around the room.

First exercise – 20 minutes of chanting which lasted over an hour

The demographics of the class: 43 students, 5 of which were men. I was the only Asian person. One black woman from LA. The rest white. Most from San Francisco, but one from Modesto, one other from Menlo Park, two others from Palo Alto and Mountain View. The girl next to me was from Belgium, who arrived in this country last September to complete her bachelor’s degree in Creative Movement Therapy at Tamalpais Institute. Also a weird concentration of certain first names – 3 Elise’s, 2 Alisa’s, 2 Lisa’s, 3 Mary’s, 2 Monica’s, 2 Monique’s, 2 Maria’s.

Guy to my left – Todd – was a massage therapist and guitarist from some Hot Sprng area an hour north of San Francisco. I was amazed by the commutes, and a little ashamed of my inner whining about the distance from Menlo Park. I still wondered how I was going to make it from my studio, where I officially finished teaching at 4:45 on Tuesdays, to CIIS, in the heart of the Mission, by 6:15. But I’d make do.

The number of women with dred locks was 3. All 3 had colored dred locks, meaning fabrics or dyes woven into their “hair”. They all had tattoos also. Read the rest of this entry »

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