Fuck. I’m the 31-year-old who will clock in early to sleep whilst friends party in the early hours of the next day but dresses her best to run errands. Fuck. I’m the dietary abstinent who gets dressed in the early morning to cheat when she is all alone, sitting in the empty garden house, midday Saturday afternoon at the Graduate Hotel, laughing at punters and children flirting with swans. I get off to cheat with a cognac cold brew cocktail dashed with orange & honey, a duck liver pâté spread on chicory, finishing off with chocolate ice cream lathered in olive oil and sea salt. I eat and read about the Eastern and Western Christian Schism. I delight in the achievement of finally completing the goal of becoming an Introvert. And think to oneself: Fuck. I’m happy. How could this not be good?
photo credit: Jordan Whitfield
"Casalmaggiore Festival Summer 2007
Masterworks Festival Summer 2010,"
so it used to say on my resumé. I had decorated it with every distinguished institution, teacher, and festival I could find in my past, even though I knew labels never show the whole story.
The summer of Masterworks was far from the experience of education I was expecting. I went thinking I would have a jump start on my junior piano recital repertoire and impress a few graduate school professors. The daily routine was practicing, lessons, masterclasses, and recitals. The goal at these residencies was usually to achieve as much as possible, in hopes that you would be rewarded with more instruction from prestigious experts or opportunities to perform.
Instead, I was going back and forth with my resident assistant on whether or not I had bed bugs crawling in my mattress, or whether or not my eczema was just out of control without a clue of its trigger. She was sweet, and I could see that she was doing everything in her power to calm my anxieties. I probably should have gone home. But I wasn’t going to waste daddy’s money or my precious access to a wonderful learning environment because my skin was doing what it was so accustomed to doing — crumbling under the weight of stress and new environments.
“Are you still awake?” my roommate groggily asked. The darkness that surrounded us only heighten the sounds of my fingers grating on my skin.
“I’m itching, but that’s normal. Don’t worry about me. Sorry if it disturbed your sleep.” I withheld my breath as if that would add less noise. I could smell the blood on my fingers.
Unable to admit defeat before summer had really started, I gave myself no option to leave. It was either hope or desperation that made me stay. Sophomore year of college was solidly the slump that everyone had predicted, but I wasn’t recovering. Throughout that whole year, tears were streaming down my face as I tried to repeat passages with my fingers. What came from them disgusted my ears.
One thing Masterworks was not was slave-driving. Teachers, mentors, and colleagues were kind, compassionate, humble, yet eager and diligent. There was no cut-throat competition, though neither was it flattering. It was a healthy place for growth — a rare classical music environment to find. While this should have been instantly consoling, kindness only added salt to my wounds. I could only see pity in their eyes.
Dr. Lori and I worked together on Prokofiev Sonata No. 3: a frantic and percussive 20th-century piece. Its madness began from the very first note and I was winded every time I played it.
“We’re going to slow you down. If you keep up this tension, you’re going to injure yourself.” Her head dipped as she looked darkly at me through her glasses. Then her smile quickly returned, as we began the first page again at half the speed.
I sank my fingers until I contacted the wood at the bottom of the keys. The gesture was floppy, but it needed to be to achieve complete relaxation. We stopped almost every phrase to check if my shoulders had scrunched to my ears, my back had hunched over, or my forearms had begun flexing.
I was no stranger to slow practice, but this was elementary.
“Don’t forget to breathe when you play,” she prescribed.
Later that week, I watched my colleague’s fingers dazzle at Chopin’s Butterfly etude for a masterclass with Eastman’s Nelita True, when it came to me: I was never going to be like her. It was then that I decided it was time to seek the festival counselor. I was usually suspect of counselors, but I knew it wouldn’t hurt talking out my pain or my confusion. Clearly another lesson wasn’t going to get me the direction I needed.
Maria emanated patience right from our first greeting. Her eyes were in a perpetual squint as if always in contemplation. I started off talking about the scales falling from my leathery outside. She herself was no stranger to physical pain, which put me at ease. I hated describing the nature of my condition to people who lived pain-free lives. Their faces would only become squeamish or awkwardly silent. We discussed how my body was trying to communicate to me. Even knowing this, I couldn’t decipher its code. Whatever its message was, it only ever seemed to scream it.
Having reached a dead-end on the topic, we moved onto the lack of progress in my studies. I suggested that perhaps I was in the wrong field altogether until she suggested, “What if music hasn’t left you? What if it’s redefining into something else? Have you ever thought about music healing you and others?”
To think of music as a source for healing had never sincerely crossed my mind. Never ever.
“Oh yea, I mean people have talked about music therapy and such. Not sure I wanna go into that.”
“I didn’t mean that. Just simply when you play, it brings healing to those around you. You just mentioned your father was a doctor, so I just wondered if some of that heart had been passed on to you.”
The thought was missionary-like, hippie, fluffy, maybe laughable, even perplexing. If I’m suffering in my own body, how would I ever be a healer? Or perhaps, I had indeed inherited a noble endeavor. I stared at the flowers around me.
I just want to make beautiful things.
Maria and I continued walking until we arrived at a practice room and cozied ourselves inside. An aching sensation pulled at my chest and my hands started tingling as they skimmed over the ivory keys like it was the first time. The instrument had once been an intimate friend, but now it seemed like a stranger.
“You said that you felt the piano had become an obsession, and thus you needed to emotionally detach. What if you’re ready to have it back now?”
Through the tears welling in my eyes, I stared doubtfully at my marred fingers.
To be continued...
Photo credit: @nathan_dumlao
It happened for the second time.
I stared dumbfounded at the giant Daily Harvest box as I wiped it down with a Clorox wipe — fully stocked with 26 smoothies and soups. No one should complain about getting food, but I wasn’t ready to pay for another shipment. I also didn’t have endless freezer space to share. It should’ve been canceled in light of my last flawed order.
My last shipment was completely filled with nut items. Every smoothie had some sort of hazelnut or almond, and I was allergic to them all.
I double-checked my order receipts and confirmed that I myself had made no egregious errors. Once the anxiety and shame lifted, I wondered whether the food was meant for someone else. Anyway, it was impossible to return freezer food.
I quickly ruled out passing highly perishable and high-maintenance food to a food bank, so I texted my friend group asking if anyone was interested. Almost everyone replied that they welcomed free food and seeing my face outside Zoom from a safe distance. Quarantine had been difficult for us all. A little package of healthy tasty goodies wasn’t going to hurt. Besides, showing friends what I was cooking for myself through a screen was only making the hospitality itch stronger.
Before I could think about the possibility of charging my friends for the items, my stomach churned. It would’ve been justified, but I knew somehow that I needed to trust that I was gonna get full refunds, despite the fact that I reasoned that it would be hopeless with all the quarantine hassle and my absence of a haggling bone. However, a few days later, I was paid back in full, without any kind of fight (a testament to their good customer service). I squinted at the text in disbelief from Brendan, the guy on the other line. It was so polite, simple, and apologetic. I almost cried.
In no way did I think that situation would reoccur and yet when it did, I still believed it was no more than a fluke. Shipments have been crazy anyways with the influx of them.
But I heard a voice say, “You are meant to give it away. I’ve given it to you to bless your loved ones.”
Just the week before, my brother and sister-in-law reported being unemployed and furloughed. With both being parents, eldest children of immigrant families, and engineers by trade, I only imagined that such a disposition, particularly with so many unpredictable variables, wouldn’t be easy. With that thought, I knew the box was theirs — a sign of hope.
The next day, my brother picked it up from our house steps, and peeking out from above his face mask were his furrowed brows and eyes of gratitude.
And two days after that, I was fully refunded, with no more than three texts to customer service.
I do not pretend like I have ended world hunger. Nor will I pretend like I do not benefit from systems that disadvantage some and not others. In fact, it bothers me that while I have a fridge, freezer, and pantry that could last my family for a few weeks post-air-raid, many others don’t have the means for simple essentials (see below for a link).
This global crisis has humbled me to understand that I need to live ever more consciously for the neighbors around me.
Faith without deeds is dead.
Or, to rephrase it:
What is the use of good intentions if there isn’t a life that reflects it?
I don't know if I have the faith or ability to end poverty. What I do know is that for these two events, I did what was asked of me. I believe this is only the beginning of free boxes showing up at my door — pieces of abundance from heaven to earth.
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