Am I even good enough to keep playing?

This past week, I bravely decided to take on a challenge and sign up for a violin audition in February, which was a difficult decision to make… Let me elaborate:

In case you don’t know, I have a long and complicated history with the violin that dates back to when I was 4 and 3/4.

my first violin recital! I got to demonstrate my bow hold.

When I was 4 and 3/4, I felt like violin was my calling, so I begged my parents for lessons. I was determined to sound awesome and play the violin forever.

holding up my bow

The thing was, violin was more difficult than I thought it would be. All the people who played the violin on television made it seem so easy! I wanted to sound like them, but when I practiced, I sounded much, much worse.

The thing was, violin was more difficult than I thought it would be.

By the time I was six, I was determined to be that good. And being good requires a fair number of practice hours. Needless to say, getting small child Alex to practice for more than an hour a day was extremely difficult, if not diabolical.

My last time playing before I quit- in a Suzuki festival at Carnegie hall

I quit at age eight, and vowed never to pick up the violin again.

I had decided that I wasn’t good enough and that I wasn’t willing to put in the practice time anyhow. But secretly, even though I wouldn’t admit it to myself, I still wanted to play.

But secretly, even though I wouldn’t admit it to myself, I still wanted to play.

And so one day in middle school, I decided to join the orchestra, where I discovered that I wasn’t half as bad as I thought I was. In fact, I got to play at Disneyland with my orchestra and got an A on all of my three-octave scale tests (even F major… eek!) in eighth grade.

But even throughout high school, I still felt like I wasn’t good enough to continue playing and practicing. Even when the 2nd violin section leader complimented me on my playing my freshman year, even when I finally stopped working out of the stupid Suzuki books and started working on more difficult pieces like Kreisler’s Praeludium and Allegro my sophomore year, and even when I got a solo part at the winter concert in my senior year, I felt wholly inadequate.

But even throughout high school, I still felt like I wasn’t good enough to continue playing and practicing.

I won’t lie. I still feel that I am a mediocre violin student. I still feel like I will never be that good. And I definitely still prefer to evade the camera man whenever possible at church for the fear that he’ll catch me messing up when I play.

A small piece of me is still that 4-year-old though- a small piece of me still wants to be that good. By signing up and preparing for this violin audition, I feel that I am challenging myself to be better at violin than I think I am.

Secretly, even if I can’t admit it to myself yet, maybe I am beginning to accept that I am good enough to keep playing.

What I’m Reading No. 1

Hi friends! Here are some books that I’ve been reading the past few weeks of my gap year (and that I think you should read too).


I had only read an essay or two of David Sedaris’ until I picked up Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls. Sedaris conveys his earnest, dry sense of humor and singular voice with ease in every essay. I found myself laughing a lot, particularly as he recounts ending a book tour at Costco, picking up litter in the English countryside, the trip to a taxidermist, and his transcendent colonoscopy experience.
sedaris-owls


Thank you to the moon and back for sending me some lovely comics, Boom Studios! Adventure Time was rad, but I found Giant Days relatable and relevant. Giant Days follows three roommates, each impeccably fleshed out into very believable and distinct characters, who have just started their first year at university.giant-days


Mary Oliver’s crisp, well-written Poetry Handbook is a quick but crucial read for both writers and readers of poetry. I loved the chapter on sound, where she presents us with a Frost poem. I don’t know how to explain it, but this book, and the chapter on sound in particular, opened my ears and my imagination to reading and understanding poems at a much deeper level, and in a more emotionally-intellectually cohesive way.a-poetry-handbook-oliver


I seriously love poet/farmer Wendell Berry’s poetry. It is accessible and engaging. It can be loud and argumentative, but it can be emotive and pastoral too. This Day is a collection of poems that Berry wrote on Sundays at his farm. I always leave this book with lingering questions and lines of poetry that refuse to leave my head.this-day-wendell-berry


The Best American Essays of the Century really does contain some of the best. I most recently read James Baldwin’s essay Notes of a Native Son, where Baldwin seeks to reconcile his feelings for his dead father with whom he did not have a positive relationship. I love the way that Baldwin attempts to make sense of his father-son narrative by exploring both his and his father’s places in society.best-american-essays-oates


and finally… Neal Shusterman’s National Book Award-winner Challenger Deep now sits high up on my list of favorite YA titles (next to The Book Thief). Shusterman deftly utilizes a unique plot structure that helps the reader empathize with and understand protagonist Caden’s relationship to his mental illness. Definitely an important read.challenger-deep-shusterman

What I remembered in Winter

just after singing in church, about to go visit the old folks' home
just after singing in church, about to go visit the old folks’ home

I wanted to quit playing and send my violin up in flames after I messed up my song at the warm old folks’ home of forgetting.

fullsizerender-copy-29My mom tells me not to beat myself up over the imperfections and mistakes, which she insists, were entirely unnoticeable. She insists, instead, that they clapped louder than for anyone else and tapped their feet; she insists that I made them feel whatever warmth and comfort that I sought to convey in Vivaldi’s second movement of Winter. She insists that I helped them remember.

I’m not immune to forgetting, I realize, and playing for the old folks reminded me of this:

Sometimes I forget that I am no longer underwater and need not hold my breath. Sometimes I forget that mistakes aren’t fatal.

I try to create a tone that reminds me of warm tea.
As I play the first part of the mvt, I try to create a tone that reminds me of warm tea.

And now I remember. I remember being small and teaching myself the “happy song”. As I played hopscotch with the notes, I would close my eyes and imagine skipping out from each square, each measure, into the next, imperfect but vivaciously childish and joyful; temporarily blind to forced technicality; improvised and animated.

As I play the second half of the mvt, I create a tone that reminds me of a hearty vegetable soup.

I remember that I can feel what had once been forgotten. As I remember this, I find myself back in the old folks’ home from the other day: I realize that in spite of all my errors, the piano plunks out rain and my violin blazes in a fiery spirit. My eyes close, fleetingly content to hear the warmth of the sound.

lines from a sonnet written to correspond to Vivaldi's 2nd movement of Winter
lines from the sonnet written to correspond to Vivaldi’s 2nd movement of Winter

 

You can listen to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons here

 

 

a day at track practice

I start at the back of the pack during warm-up.

And then comes the last lap.

Coach blows the whistle, and then I morph into a bird flying fastest. I speed up, and up some more, until I am flying down the back straightaway catching the boys. I swoop in around the curve.fullsizerender-copy-15

I feel my legs burning up with the heat of work. More force, more distance, more work.

But I do not slow down.

More work, more focus. I speed up and catch the boys at the finish.

 


During drills I keep my arms placid at ninety and stay up on my toes.

I spell p-a-t-i-e-n-c-e while doing skips to the rhythm of lift-up-down-lift-up-down. lift-up-down, my legs work. lift-up-down, lift-up-down– to every drill, a different rhythm.


Then come the strides.

I leave stillness for another day and step forward fast and far, but with smoothness, each step a silent sound.


During the workout, I run within myself; I am my own timekeeper.

With each repetition, I forget more and more that there are people running next to me, and I begin counting in my head when I get tired.

With each repetition, I feel more and more tired. I sweat and I smell.

With each repetition, I push harder and harder, and I keep a steady rhythm going so I know my pace.

With each repetition, I try to focus more on my form. Arms at ninety, up on my toes, I pretend that I am a seabird- nimble, resilient. And so I imagine flying above the waves of an ocean, for miles and miles on salt, water, and air.


As I cool down, I imagine that the wind is still salty and that I am swooping down onto the shore, back to the track.

My feet hum from the tiredness of my work, and I am reminded that I am human, and that the bird is a fantastical illusion I had momentarily fled to in my concentration at a transient tempo, a time whilst running that I have never been able to define.

p-a-t-i-e-n-c-e, I whisper. I will fly again tomorrow, and then maybe, maybe, I will become the timekeeper once again.

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It’s cool to be confident (and to be a land fish)!

I am a confident person and I am cool.

But I wasn’t always very confident, particularly in high school. Or, at least if I was in the teeniest bit, I didn’t like to be.

I loved to hide out in my room and never say anything in class and let people tell me that I could never run fast, that I could never succeed in taking a heavy course load because (apparently) I am on the autism spectrum and would be overwhelmed. I let the haters hate and the blabbermouths blabber. And I let this negative tape play in my mind day after day when I couldn’t concentrate or think and felt like an air-breathing fish stuck in the water, over, and over, and over, in my head. I tried to justify my hiding.

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I told myself that I was different, I told myself that I could not do anything I put my mind to, I told myself that the untruthful, dishonest words were right.

Each day became a battle for air in an ocean ten miles high with fish and more fish with too many mouths. Too many mouths, too many words, I let the words anchor me down in my place as different. I was different; I was incorrigible; I was wrong; all the words they told me were right.

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a⋅self-ful⋅fill⋅ing⋅proph⋅e⋅cy (n)– a fish with air gills is submerged in an ocean of water ten miles high and ten miles deep. exasperated, it tries to reach for air, only to be told that, “well, you’re a fish, you don’t need air,” and that if the fish did, then they weren’t going to get any of it. because the others reason from their own experiences, that a fish has to stay in the sea and live life at whatever depth they belong. “fish belong in water and nowhere else,” they trumpet. so the fish stays in the water, and is unhappy, and cannot swim very far until they are deemed asthmatic and dysfunctional.

For a long while the self-fulfilling prophecy held true- I was an unhappy, air-breathing fish stuck in an ocean of all the swim swam swum people who loved the water. I stayed quiet and kept to myself and stopped being fantabulously floppy and air-breathing.

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This was, until, the tree of wishes appeared one very fine day at the great big swim swam swum fishes celebration. And one of the blabbermouths asked me, “say, have you written your wish yet for the tree?”

Weary of the water, I wrote my wish:

my wish for the tree
my wish for the tree

I wished that it was okay to be different, I wished that I could be different, I wished that I could be all of myself, and that in being all of myself, I would be accepted, and I would be able to change how the world saw all fish- air-breathing, water-breathing, rainbow-scaled, gray-scaled, all fish the same. I wished to tell the world that a⋅self-ful⋅fill⋅ing⋅proph⋅e⋅cy (n) could be erased from the great big ocean’s lexicon all together.

wish (n)– something fish want to change or do, but don’t know how to go about changing or doing it.

I had a wish, and I had no idea how to grant it and make it true.

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Until I did.

On a horrible, horrible, no good, very bad day, I granted it.

I spoke to some swim swam swum keeper fish of the great ocean.

I told them that I would no longer stand for my quiet, and that I would no longer breathe in the water that hurt my lungs and left me more and more hungry for acceptance (and air).

I decided that I would prove them wrong.

And for once, in their gibberish, they were quiet. And they left in a great wave of frustration and intolerance for air-breathing fish.

I was left standing. I was left breathing, gulping in air.

The noise in my head was gone, the negative tape was frayed and irreparable.

I was free to be a land fish. I was free to be all of myself.

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I had dared to be me: I told the blabbermouths that my words, though different, were honest and truthful and right. I had stood up to the mumbled jumbled jargon and spoken for myself.

And I thought I had no idea how to speak like me, I thought that it was impossible for me to find a place to belong as this air-breathing fish that is me.

Until tonight, until I sat down to write in this great big world full of water and air, I did not realize that I was truly different simply because I had dared to seek my wish; I had dared to fight all the noise and the static still heaviness of the ocean; I had dared myself to be cool and confident in a way that I could only be for myself, and that the swum swam swimmers told me I could never be.

It is fantabulous to be confident and cool.

I am confident and cool.

Now I can breathe,

and I am free

to be all of me.

 

 

Awesome learning parties and piñatas (or, why I decided to take a gap year)

It was the end of July, and I was apprehensive about leaving for college. Between fretting over my schedule, fumbling through the audition excerpts for the symphony orchestra, and figuring out how I would balance my focus between running and academics, I felt completely overwhelmed.

I wasn’t sure I would be able to have a successful freshman year of college. For one thing, I had so far managed to avoid practicing the violin audition excerpts (and most practicing in general). And that definitely meant that my seat in the orchestra and any chance I had of getting a slot for lessons each week was null. Coupled with my shoddy time management skills (not much improved since senior year), and ambitious running goals, I felt like I was already ruining the beautiful, most perfect piñata (full of goals met and good grades and… candy) that I envisioned to be my freshman year.

I was in panic mode.

There was no way my freshman year of college was going to come anywhere close to a wonderful learning party (with streamers and good music and ice cream). And that was kind of sad. I was really looking forward to tasty sandwiches, and I didn’t know if I was ready for another pb and jam situation (that I had already created for myself this time around).

And unfortunately, since I was the creator of this ultimate party plan, I could not escape its sub-optimal-ness. I could not escape the impending piñata nightmare (that I was definitely not ready to take down with a convincing whack). So I decided to ditch the piñata and the original party plan.

I was going to find a new way to make sure that my freshman year was an awesome learning party.

So I went back to the drawing board.

an early outline of goals and phases for my gap year
an early outline of goals and phases for my gap year
I decided to take a gap year

for the reason that it would give me time, and that time would allow me to get the time management skills and confidence that I needed in order to enjoy the awesomeness of my college learning party. And most importantly, I could re-discover my passion for nonsensical questions and all things academic that I had lost in high school.

Gap years are their own learning parties. Taking a gap year meant that I could get some practice at planning and managing my time, AND still get to rock out to the learning song. EXCEPT, I wouldn’t have to risk ruining my freshman year party piñata. In fact, I would be more ready to whack it and meet my goals (woot! woot!).

And just like my freshman year learning party required some planning and goal setting, my gap year would too. I needed to figure out what was going to make my gap year totally rad and give me opportunities to re-discover my confidence and inquisitiveness.

Unconventionally, it would not include any sort of travel (at least, not for now, and not as a focus). Instead, I came up with a short list of goals and decided to structure my year around meeting those goals in three phases.

The goals are my recipes for having fun and make sure that my gap year is an epic learning party 100% of the time. The phases are the actual fun part- they’re the things that I do at different points throughout the year to make sure that I have a fantastic learning party*.

So, the gap year party found me in a spontaneous, sudden sort of way. And I’m glad. I get to learn new things about myself and revive the parts of me that I hid in high school. And I know that I’ll definitely be ready to take a good, confident whack at the piñata of met goals and good grades my freshman year.

*more on this later

Celebrating my sister's b-day
Celebrating my sister’s b-day! Yay for gap year parties!

 

ways to tell a story

So far on my gap year, aside from running, reading, and playing violin, I have been working on my writing.

I love exploring different ways to tell stories (whether it be in the form of a blackout poem, play, or personal narrative, and so on). Here is one from a few years ago that I’ve told using visual narrative:img_0658img_0659img_0660fullsizerender-copy-2fullsizerender-copy-3fullsizerender-copy-4fullsizerender-copy-5fullsizerender-copy-7fullsizerender-copy-6fullsizerender-copy-8fullsizerender-copy-9