It's a done deal. I'm in this summer's songwriting workshop at Berklee!
After weeks of waiting around to see if they were accepting my application, I finally got a call from a staff member there who said, "You're in."
It's not like they're really picky about who takes these summer workshops or anything (you just have to be over 15 and have had one year of formal training on your principal instrument), but still, I'm thrilled to be a part of this program. Look forward to it big time.
I've already written a few songs already this summer and see how they fare among all the other aspiring (be it young) songwriters out there.
I did a Google.com on the words "conservative parents" and was surprised that nothing gave me new insight. All I can ever find on the Internet are rants about people calling conversative parents "stupid" and "mindless" and "evil." That's not very constructive.
Google usually is my best friend when it comes to providing page upon page of insights into the most obscure questions I have. And I always have tons.
But this time there was nothing.
So I called Kavita for her insights, but she wasn't around, so I left her a message.
What do you do when the choices you make cross very sacred lines in the minds of the people who gave their entire lives for you?
I remember an angry phone call from my dad one night while I was at Brew Moon. He said, "I hear you're at a drinking place. I'm disappointed. I didn't raise you that way. I hear noise in the background. I don't know what they're doing." He said I was "carousing" and brought up a bunch of other disappointments, such as my choice months ago to explore other churches with liberal or middle-of-the-road theology. And to top it all off, I heard my mother wailing, most likely in tears, in the background.
It was tough to explain what was happening since no answer would quite cut it.
By most people's accounts, I'm very, very conservative in the way I approach living. I don't sleep around. I've never smoked a joint or done illegal drugs. I've never gotten drunk. I'm not carrying out an affair. I pay my taxes. I don't money launder.
But that's simply not enough to please parents who deep in their souls want to honor God and want their children to honor God, too. Any deviation from the teachings of my youth are considered to them a slap in their face, a dishonor to them, and most profoundly, a dishonor to God.
So these days, I live with a great degree of discretion. If I do something that I know would disappoint my parents, I simply never mention it. But sometimes, I feel a little sad - and even dishonest. All of this ducking and discretion makes my stomach curl.
About a year and a half ago, I tried my best to discuss my differences with my family, but it always turned into an emotional mess, and they always ended up feeling sorry for my waywardness. I hated feeling like a disappointment in their eyes. It's demoralizing. It really is, and I know they don't mean it to be that way.
After awhile, I sort of learned that I cannot convince them to understand where I'm coming from. All my explanations and deepness of breath were fruitless, thus a waste of energy. So I just sort of listened and didn't talk much when it came to issues of contention. However, my nonverbal cues and lack of participation sort of communicated my ideas nonetheless.
To be truthful, I don't blame my family for their actions one bit, since they are doing what they wholeheartedly believe. I cannot fault people for the sincerity with which they carry a belief. And, I know they deeply love me and want to rescue me. I know they love me and have the best intentions for me. Though I don't agree with them many times, I still want them to be happy believing whatever they believe. I want them to own their thoughts and be proud of them. In some ways, that's counterproductive to my personal comfort, yet I know how precious one's belief is, and I want to offer my respect the best I know how.
So, there is this battle that I carry around in my mind all the time. Today, my mom asked me "how was church?" The answer came easy, since I went to a fairly conservative church they would've loved if they attended. She seemed happy (or at least satisfied) and suggested that I go to Sunday School and network with other people my age.
But I won't be able to answer the same question the same way for the next few Sundays. I won't even be in church, or near a church. I can't get into great detail here, but the real plans would truly disappoint my family. They call me every week or almost every day to check up on me while I'm here in Boston. I appreciate their caring but sometimes resent how it encroaches on me, since I want freedom and the ability to happily choose where I am and the company I keep.
This situation makes me a little sad, since part of my journey to Boston was a personal search to feel liberation. I'm on the other side of the country, yet the stifled feeling still exists. And I know much of it has to do with how I've been managing the situation. Physical distance is not the cure-all. It's a personal choice to live how you want to live without apologizing.
I want it all, somehow. I want to keep a bridge to my family, feel a certain amount of intimacy and closeness. Yet, I want to keep being who I am. And, at the moment who I am saddens them.
I've decided that feeding them changes slowly makes the most sense. I've already fed them some of the more "dealable" differences. Their adjustment to those were very difficult for them and me. But things seem calm now, for the most part. And I do know that some things are simply better left unsaid, if they're minor enough. But there are some things I simply cannot hide, over the long haul anyway, and I'm certain those things will break their hearts.
God, why am I so porous? Why when feelings come my way, they don't just breeze in, but gush through the many holes inside of me?
With fewer distractions and responsibilities here in Boston, I realize this part of me oh too well.
Perhaps this is a feature of being alone. Sometimes I see beggars in Harvard and Porter squares wearing strange clothes, and they watch me with lots of intensity in their eyes. Their faces are oily and they hold Au Bon Pain paper cups and rattle them for change. They sit sometimes dazed, sometimes longingly. Intelligent people, I can tell. Just such need. And parts of me tell them telepathically that "I'm not very different from you, you know."
The difference between me and them is just a few more abandonments. That's all. Abandonment is when someone or a group of people decided your lack of value to them. Whatever funny or interesting thing you could offer up suddenly rings hollow and irrelevant.
Sometimes I scream silently that "I refuse to be taken for granted!" But people are fickle, and I'm no different. We all live a fragile existence.
I make little accomplishments here and there. I sang last night and had a bunch of random superficial conversations after the show. Talked to a few musicians then bantered with the Greek sales clerks in the late-night coffee shop nearby. "Are you a 24-hour coffee shop?" I asked, to which one guy said, "For you, I can keep the store open 24 hours." They were amused to guess that I am Japanese.
At a deeper level, the triumphs I gush over are reserved for the mouthpiece of my handsfree Voicestream cellphone. And AIM. Yet, this long-distance amusement can never replace a pair of eyes and the ability to see someone breathe, someone you love and care about.
I checked Berklee's site, and the songwriting workshop is now fully enrolled. I applied a good month ago, and the bill is supposed to arrive in the mail sometime this week. Not certain what will happen, or if they even took me into the program. But if I'm in, it's something I look forward to.
Whatever is entrusted to you for any portion in life, care for it with great abandon. Only then will you have no regrets.
I say that to myself every once in awhile, knowing that life and the gifts therein are vapor.
Today, Joel and Nancy drove me all the way to the southern part of Massachussetts to hear an afternoon concert by a musician friend, Paul. The art hall in Marion is a hidden secret, and from what Paul told us, the residents there want to keep it that way. It's country living. Big yards, narrow roads, modest homes. And trees or fields to decorate every part of your view.
Life there seems detached from the world. Slower, calmer. The world is simply accepted. No fighting with it. Just a look out over the lake and a day in the yard will satify today. And tomorrow, too.
Most of the people at the concert were senior citizens dressed in beyond their Sunday best. The orchestra included accomplished musicians from around the country. The program included:
I don't know what it is about orchestral music. Every time I go into a concert hall and the lights dim and the strings resonate through space, I suddenly shed many layers of consciousness. I'm not certain if it's the types of vibrations the music makes or the actual content of the music itself, but I always feel so raw in the middle of a concert. All rational thinking sheds from my existence and gives way to what's left - pure feelings. It is then that I feel great happiness, then great sadness, then great anger, and the range in between. They are feelings I've accumulated through the years, hidden somewhere.
I am naked in the dark. I am wildly sensitive to who I really am.
The concert ends and hall lights hit my skin once more, followed by lobby chatter and parking lot motors.
I remember perhaps four years ago, I said an unusual prayer. I asked God to lock me in a wooden chamber, somewhere beneath a castle and to give me a lamp, some paper and a pen.
I wanted to become a slave to song. And from that room would come glorious music.
What drama. I don't know where I get these crazy ideas that have nothing to do with reality.
But I can make do with what I have. I realize I have one more week of silence before my time in Boston gets truly busy.
This Malden apartment building is certainly no castle, but it is on the bottom floor - garden level. And I am alone, as if in a chamber. So, this week, I may be in the place I need to be. I really do have to cram. I have to hold back on the fun and get some work done.
Off to doing (1) work stuff and (2) writing.
Today was the first time in years that I actually sat down at the piano and drew notes - circles and stems - onto paper. I went to Harvard Square and walked over to the New School of Music and played the old Steinway piano for a good 3 and a half hours. But it was as if time flew by in seconds. I was so involved in finishing this work.
It wasn't an original, but an exercise for piano lessons to reharmonize a song called "Just Friends." It's rather simple and short, but the work is painstaking. When I was finished, I actually stopped in my tracks and realized that I just got through doing something that takes discipline, yet I really enjoyed. I wish I could do this more often. I think I'm on to something here. My brain was completely fried when I was through, and I realized that I don't do enough "brain-frying" in my music. I think this will become a requirement from here on out.
I then went to a cafe called. ... I can't remember. It's "Green"-something. Its near Harvard Coop and Origins and Au Bon Pain and has a green door and awnings. Whoever reads this - don't go there.
The sign read: "Please seat yourself at a clean table." So I did. I took a booth near the window. I realize I was alone, but there were a decent number of open seats and the small tables were back in the corner.
So this waiter (perhaps a manager) comes up to me and asks, "How many in your party? Is it just you?" I say, "Yes."
"Yeah," he says in an utterly cocky tone. "Small table, please." I was floored. Then he just walks away.
I was appalled, so I walked out.
I realize the need to fill a restaurant and service as many people as possible. But I was in the cafe at 3:45 p.m., there were a fair number of empty seats and I thought it would be OK. I wasn't just going to put myself in the corner and eat their grub while having no ambience. Besides, I was just doing what the sign said to do. If they are so concerned about where people sit, they should have someone host the guests to the right tables.
Honestly, if it was a big concern, if he asked me politely to change seats, I would've done so without question. I understand these things. Perhaps most people wouldn't, but I'm a fairly flexible person.
Anyway, I'll try to take down the name of the restaurant for future reference, if anyone's interested. And after doing so, I will post heavily on a variety of restaurant review Web sites so as many people possible don't experience the same crap I went through. This guy has *no* idea who he just offended. I'll probably have to write a letter to their management, but I sense they won't really care.
So, I voted with my dollar again, and went back to the Thai Restaurant on Newbury Street. Good services pays.
Last night I went to Glauster (more than an hour north) to hear my piano teacher's Latin band. He, another band member and I caught a commuter train, and it was quite a beautiful ride. Glauster is a fishing town that is quintessential New England. Very quaint and a crisp breeze. Modest homes with pointed roofs line the road that winds down to the harbor.
When you get to the harbor, there are many small funky galleries painted in pink or yellow with potted plants hanging from the ceilings and racks that sport artists' wares. Then there are several restaurants that are jutting out from the harbor to make you feel like you're right on the water. It was a most beautiful restaurant, and I ordered a lobster bisque (as opposed to "soup").
I had to admit that when I got there, I told myself, "What the hell am I doing?" Here I was with Martin (pronounced MarTEEN) and his all-male Latino band (check them out at http://www.grupofantasia.com). It was more testosterone than I was used to, and I barely know Martin. And what's worse is I didn't know what they were saying half the time since they were speaking Spanish to each other.
But I got into the groove. Martin's group packed the place out, and people were in such a party mood, easily taking the floor for some salsa dancing. I didn't dance for the first set of songs. But during the break, with CD music piping through the speakers, Martin pulled me onto the dance floor, and we did the simplest of dances, the meringue. So I was loosened up, and suddenly, another young man asked me to dance (I say "young" since he couldn't have been older than 20). It was fun. But the second set was over and I had all the dancing I needed for the night. So I retreated to the back of the bar area to watch and listen. It was a great experience. The guitarist, Julio, drove us back to Boston. They were driving in circles trying to find Malden (coming from the north). I told them they could use my map, but of course they wanted to figure it out themselves. I finally arrived home safely. Martin and the gang seem to be good-natured, well-rooted guys with strong family values and lots of loyalty. It somehow struck me that way. I'm leaning toward not going next week, partly because there is too much disparity between my lack of desire to dance and everyone else's desire to do just the opposite. This disparity made me feel somewhat uncomfortable. And I don't like to be in the position of making the host see or feel my discomfort, which was probably what happened last night.
I look at myself and realize this is not the same person who was so sheepish back in 1996 in Atlanta. I would've never ventured alone this way and hang out with people I barely knew. I'm glad things change.
Hot 'n' Spicy
Today I craved Panang curry, the kind I always order at Phuket Thai in the McCully Shopping Center. I found Thai Basil on Newbury Street, which is the most upscale part of the city. It was 4 p.m., and of course I was the only person in the lavishly furnished restaurant. The waiter doubted my request for "spicy," so I had to repeatedly say I wanted "spicy." When the food came, it was spicy enough, but he also brought more garishes to make it spicier, if I so chose to. I did. Overall, it was a wonderful dining experience, and I would go there again, even if they didn't have the requisite sticky rice.
Voices 'Round Midnight in Malden
OK. So it's midnight. And outside my window right now is this strange lady whose voice resembles that of a proverbial witch. I don't know what she's saying to someone else. Sounds like she's rummaging through something and frustrated about something and complaining and somewhat frantic about something. I'm scared since as I type this, it's just a wall and eight feet that separate us. What makes this even a bit eerier is that this is a garden-level apartment, meaning the bottom half is sunken below street-level, and my windows sill is the same level as the street.
But I sense she's gone now.
Malden, Massachussetts. The encounters here are a mixed bag, sometimes a nice surprise, but other times just an annoyance. Like earlier on the train, a guy was hitting on me before I had to set things straight that I had a boyfriend. And several times on the street, guys were trying to call my attention with, "Hey, excuse me!" or "Can I talk to you?"
Malden is a working-class town in a diverse city. I see lots of raggedy T-shirts and jeans here and men who don't shave quite as often as their office-working counterparts.
When I wait at the subway stations or sit inside trains, I hear many languages that are not English. Certainly Hawaii is quite a diverse city, but here, there are many more first-generation immigrants. And Malden seems to be the settling place for such people searching for opportunity.
So far, people have asked me if I could ever live in Boston, and based on my experience so far, I would have to say "Yes." For as little contact as I've already had with people here, I've enjoyed the city immensely. I can't imagine how much more I'd enjoy it if I were actually more plugged in via a job or school environment.
The plan is to return to Hawaii, though. I have lots to look forward to at home.
Three nights in a row, I've gone to venues here in Boston that feature singer-songwriter types - two open-mic nights (marathon songfests) at Club Passim and one at a place near Inman Square (a complete dive with really cheap beer - the kind of dark and smoky bar you see on TV).
I've seen more guitars over the past few days than I've seen in my life.
Last night, there were 42 singers who took the stage at Club Passim, of which I was one. I sang a song I wrote called "Wandering." I think I did well, since so many people came up to me afterward and congratulated me. One of the staffers asked if I was coming back next week. I will.
Perhaps the biggest impression I have so far of the music in Boston is that there is more room for a wider range of talent. I had to drop my jaws at how difficult it was to be in the club tonight, listening to some pretty brash guitar playing and incessant wailing and yelling. And the singer actually has a CD and will tour the West Coast next week.
With as many guitar playing as I've heard over the past few days, I will say that the great percentage of players have a rather brash touch. Very percussive and unvaried in pressure.
It made me think about all the guitar playing I grew up with in Waianae, in church groups, Waikiki streets and at the beach parks. I may be biased, but I can't imagine that I'm terribly so. It's just that the guitarists here don't seem to have the musical sensitivity my ears were so used to hearing for so many years growing up in Hawaii. It seems that with the force of the message guitarists here want to deliver also comes a forcefulness on the guitar. Maybe some people prefer hearing it that way, but it's not my preference. Of course, I realize that I'm making this assessment based on a very limited view.
But if anything, I realize that Hawaii people are extremely talented in music and it seems to come so very naturally to them. But many Hawaii people are humble or shy about their talent, so they'd never think of hauling their equipment to some street corner and "bless" the passersby. And, the people I know in Waianae would probably shy away from an open mic. Here in Boston, there are tons of open mic places, and they get booked out. Last night I stayed at Club Passim from 7 p.m. until 11:45 p.m. to see each act. Sharing music in the performance context in Hawaii may be counter to a certain kind of culture. Hawaii people may actually be more willing to sit in a circle on the beach and play for a small group, without even a thought of becoming a star.
This is quite the opposite of a guy I met last night named Sammy. He was the biggest prima donna I have met to date. "I want to become a household name," he told me. "I know I'm good, and I know my stuff." He wore a black T-shirt, black jeans, black boots and a black suit. He gelled his hair to a James Dean shape and sported light-blue specs. He was also very bony, with a facial structure that resembled Ric Ocasek, the main singer of The Cars.
He slid back in the chair next to me and slumped in a "too-cool-to-be-here" way and spouted off all kinds of wonderful things about himself - how he's classically trained and how well he knows his jazz reharmonizations and how Atlantic Records was interested in his work (though "they weren't signing anyone right now").
When the first singer started strumming his guitar and singing a 400-year-old folk song, Sammy told me, "I can't take this sh*t." He looked at his watch and said, "I'll be back in an hour." That's about the time he was scheduled to take the mic. He was planning to bless everyone there with his heavenly talent upon his return.
I was so disgusted. How can expect people to support him when he can't even support others? Well, when got on stage, he in a dramatic sweeping motion threw down his jacket and strode over to the keyboard. How did he do? My short answer: Sammy who? He's quite a great lyricist and had a nice chord progression. He also had a nice touch on the piano. But his melody line was not very memorable and his voice was nasal. He also threw in a few misplaced jazz chops.
I realize more than ever that music and performance are not the equal. You can perform but have no music. True music is very spiritual, and the emotion shared between the artist and the listener must be intimate. Such is the case every time I go to Jackie Ward's Rafters in Kaimuki. The music flows so freely and you can feel the energy of the people who love and embrace the music, and the artists, too, return that. Perhaps there are many people in this world who want to be "performed to," but if Sammy is a true performer, than no performances for me.
T with A
That's "A" for Attitude.
Since January 21, 2001, I've been really wanting to create a baby T-shirt that contains the following:
FRONT: There is a god
BACK: Dear Lord, Thank you for saving me from my lame-ass ex-boyfriends.
And, after seeing Cheyne's blog (thanks Cheyne!), I saw that there was a company that manufactures products with designs submitted over the Web.
So, here it is: The Break-up T.
It was loads of fun making this product. You know, it would make a great break-up gift.
I sat at Club Passim tonight among an intimate and non-alcoholic crowd of about 125 people who came to hear Rockwell Church.
What I heard tonight is why I came to Boston.
Chris, Nur and another couple and their daughter joined us. Michelle left a message and said she had to go back to Connecticut on an emergency.
The place was packed, and Rockwell Church was just so moving. I was reminded why I like this duo more than I do most folk artists. They're understated, intellegent and willing to be completely vulnerable in front of so many people. Yet, they don't take themselves too seriously. No whining, but so much introspection. Not bratty or angry. To top it off, their voices are unintrusive and pleasant and their virtuosity on the guitar mesmerizing.
I remembered exactly how I felt after hearing each song tonight. They all made me look inward. The song, "Everyday," for example, speaks of regret over a love he lost. He blames himself and calls to her, saying, "I know you forget me every day." The song ended, and I immediately understood what it was like to reach for something you lost by your own doing.
Then there was "Dream," from the first album, Inches from the Ground. The song is fast-paced with an acoustic groove in minor key, told through the mind of a struggling working class man who is speaking to his wife about his "civil strife." They have trouble making ends meet, so no money for fancy magazines or buying diamonds, but he tells his wife, "you find them in my dream - of a better place, better life, while coping with my civil strife, it cuts you like a knife, fix the dryer and the squeaky door, kinda makes you wonder - wonder what you're working for, babe I don't wanna run no more from you." This song made me feel angst and insecurity, but then it let me rest in certain strains as I was taken away to a pleasant - though temporary - place, which was his daydreams. It made me understand the truth of what hope is. When all circumstances fail you, one at least has her dreams.
I have to read their lyrics again, to be inspired again. Lots of folk musicians don't "do it" for me, but Rockwell Church grabs a hold of you like no other.
I ended up meeting Joti, who sang with Will in his days at Haverford. Joti said Will's arrangement of "Something About You" was the most complex of the tunes they did. I liked how casual both Joti and Nathan seemed.
I then caught a ride back home, with Chris behind the wheel of his Subarul, Nur in the passenger seat, Zachary, Sharon, their daugher and me in the backseat. And we were trying to read a Boston city map to get us home. What a scene. Chris was so gracious in wanting to take us home, and like a true gentleman, he walked me to the door. I didn't ask for this, but with the scare that I went through earlier, this was simply nice.
Someone may have just as well scribbled in the streets of Boston. There are so many little side streets and cut-offs and tricky turns. "A map is so necessary in Boston," I told Chris. Not quite the case in Hawaii. Not nearly the case in Hawaii.
I'm alone in Boston now, and that's the bigger adventure.
Last week was tons of fun with Kavita, her cousin Anjali and a bunch of new friends. They were great guides to this city. Thanks to their help, I'm feeling quite comfortable with the transportation system here and have explored downtown, the Berklee College of Music and parts of Harvard and Harvard Square.
I stopped by a community music school to look into getting jazz piano and voice lessons while I'm here. So far, I've been doing tons and tons of walking already and feel as if I'm losing weight, which was necessary at the time of my Hawaii departure.
To accommodate for this walking, I bought these two pairs of shoes from the Walking Co. that seem a bit granola, but I cannot tell you how they have saved my feet. In the balance of how walking shoes could look, though, they were probably the most stylish of the lot. It's sort of funny, but one travel guide described Bostonians as "not very fashion-conscious" and that if you see someone dressed in all black, that person is either from New York or Europe. I see this is true. People here dress like an LL Bean catalog, and the look gets quite Bohemic and haphazard when you hit Harvard Square. It's as if people are competing to look haphazard. I was trying to shop for summer dresses and found so many of them rather shapeless.
I had one safety scare, and if my parents found out, they'd beg my return. I went jogging in broad daylight, and this guy followed me in his car into a restaurant parking lot and later to an auto mechanic shop, where I was hiding from him. He eventually gave up, but I was shaken, so I called Kavita then her friend, who's a cop in town. I notice that I don't look like everyone else, which is why I get a lot of "where you from?" or stupid things like "Ni hau ma! You Chinese?" Not certain about how who reads my journal, but whoever's out there, I'd really love if you said a prayer for me for my safety.
My impression of Boston's people is that they are not the cold-hearted type they are stereotypically known for. I think that given the need to protect oneself from crime or being "had" by people out to make a buck, Boston people tend to have a cold outer shell that belies the same core we have in Hawaii. I've experienced good customer service here, and to a certain degree, it's even better than Hawaii's. There is definitely no Aloha spirit, but people are almost relieved when I show a bit of kindness and vulnerability. It's almost a breath of fresh air, and definitely not something that is trampled upon or left unappreciated.
I struggled to wake up and get ready for the 11 a.m. service at the Old South Church. I ended up leaving the house at about 10:50 a.m. The subway stop leads right to the church, so I ended up getting seated in the sanctuary at 11:25 a.m. The interior of the building is a dark, rich wood. I wish I knew what kind of wood, but it was sturdy and beautiful - the walls, the pews, the rail for the choir, the pulpit. The pipes for the organ line the walls near the stage.
I sat in the last row and was immediately smothered by a kind of warmth that felt like someone had put a sweater on me despite tropic-like heat. I looked
among the mostly blond-headed congregation in front of me and saw a flurry of programs waving.
When I arrived, the minister had already started reading her sermon. She seemed a bit younger and most likely educated at a prestigious divinity school. The topic related to the whole "under God" issue, which is being discussed on the Hawaiistories.com site. Using very scholarly language and tone, she presented her message as if it were a valedictory address or a political essay.
Her whole point was that "under God" we should be inclusive and protect liberty for all people and shun injustice. She pointed to a passage in Galatians
saying that in Christ "there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female, for all of you are one in Christ Jesus."
The Old South Church is a United Church of Christ congregation, which is known for its liberal stances on political issues. I looked forward to attending this service, but was a little disappointed over the repressed emotional state of the service. Felt somber and over-intellectualized. Hardly something anyone could put their body and soul into. I will say, however, that the music was excellent, and if you put yourself in a little cove, you could experience a certain getaway of your own kind.
Kavita and Anjali are now gone for the summer. So the upcoming weeks will be lonely for me. I have no "adult" responsibilities and no requirement to be in an office at specific times. But the true - and more difficult - responsiblity I have is the commitment I make to myself: Learn music, hear music, do music, grow, tap my creativity. Norman tells me this is my one opportunity to obey my creativity, since when I'm in a professional work environment, I cannot just go to the keyboard and band out a song.
I'm calling the piano teacher soon, and I hope it turns out to be a good thing for me.