Sunday, June 28, 2009


Sitting at my desk with the ceiling fan on the highest setting, my mind wandered as I read Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks. This book satisfied much better than This Is You Brain On Music, which gave a bunch of examples of bands I could not identify with and explained things on a superficial level. Musicophilia discusses how music has influenced the lives of everyone, and in some extreme cases triggered seizures and hallucinations to curing the symptoms of neurological disorders.

I was also offended by something Steven Pinker said, quoted in both books. Pinker, a well renowned cognitive scientist, claims that music is dispensible, something we can evolutionarily live without. Which leads me to think, it must take a lot of guts and patience for scientists to express their beliefs, often opposing, amongst their colleagues.

This is why I like science. Nothing is certain. What is fact? What is truth? What is absolute? Well, absolutely nothing. I may have a very naive view towards politics and the like, but black-and-white, two opposing theories, endless debating without successful rebuttal is fruitless. It does not have to be either X or Y. It can be Z or even VQ.

On page 34 of Musicophilia, I came to the realization that I'm not very special. I call myself a musician and I have a lot of passion and pride, but I do not have the talent. So what are we really meant to do? There is always the struggle between our dreams and "what we have to do." Ideally, we would all be rich with happy families and our dream job or no job at all, but life just doesn't seem to play out that way. However, I was very inspired by Randy Pausch and his determination to live out his dreams, those he had thirty years ago. I also realize, that to achieve childhood dreams, you had to have had a childhood at one point, right? Here's where I'm at a loss.

I started playing piano at age 7. Of course sitting down and going through scales and theory and boring 2 liners that your teacher demands perfection from is unbearable. I also hated being on stage, something my sociable extroverted mother could not understand. Years after the first time I sounded out "Happy Birthday to You" on my Baldwin upright, I remember being in the University of Central Oklahoma's Jazz Lab for a piano recital. My legs shook as they reached for the pedal, the notes in my mind scrambled for cover, and I was left with blank white empty frustration as my fingers met the keys. What's the use of playing music if you're not good at it?

I also blame my parents for not wanting me to succeed, spending so much money and effort forcing me to attend lessons, never allowing me to quit when I wanted to be outside in the sun, playing sports, reading useless novels, socializing. They wanted me to have what they did not, but I always thought that they were just making me compete with their friends' children.

My mother recently asked me, if I could go back to when I was 7, and relive the moment. Would I want to take piano lessons given the choice? I said no. I didn't want to feel the pain of losing again. But I did. I was forced to stop music in high school so I could focus on studying, preparing for college, getting a real job. Since I was 5, my parents both started calling me, "Future Doctor Chen." Now I attend university, taking pre-med courses, ready to become a future saver of lives. But is this the path chosen for me or a choice I made on my own? I realized during my first year that I have stubbornly ignored other options. At one point, I wanted to become an architect but I didn't like math. I wanted to be a laywer, but I didn't have enough background. So I chose to follow my father's footsteps. I thought I was so passionate about hearing. I was so fascinated by reading medical texts.

I think I still truly want to be a doctor, but question my motivation. I just seem too lazy and inactive these days. I probably can't list 5 important things I've done in the two months I've been on vacation.

For 19 years, I have been making excuses. I think and ponder so much, but don't do anything about it. In junior high it was funny to label it "procrastination" and move on with playing games and chatting online, but now I feel exceptionally guilty when I'm not enriching my mind, but so bored when I am. Ambition and naivety can be very powerful weapons, but also the seeds of downfall. Oftentimes in my life, when I have no standard of comparison, I find myself succeeding with blind confidence. I taught myself the viola after taking years of violin lessons and have much more vigour and self-esteem when playing the former. I took a senior-level course in my first semester at college and passed with one of the highest grades in the class. Some may call it blind luck, but I will label it freedom. Freedom from what competitive people tend to do, freedom from "Oh no, I can't," freedom from the whole world telling me I can't.

Because I can.

It's all in the mindset. It's all a game. Life is a big, complex but not truly complicated game with no boundaries to the playing board.

So even if I can't name 5 different things that are so-called "important," I have had long-delayed epiphanies.

Life is too short to "I'll do that tomorrow."
Just do it.

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