You Don’t Have To Try


About three months ago, I was driving along in my car and flipping between NPR and a local pop radio station.  It was still morning, and I wasn’t expecting to hear much outside of the news and the same set of pop songs on rotation.  Well, I was wrong.  The radio dj introduced the newest song from Colbie Caillat called “Try”, and to be honest, I really loved it.

It didn’t have the heavy beats or the vocal gymnastics that seem to be a prerequisite to get on the radio these days.  Don’t get me wrong, I like those kinds of things when they are done well, but it was refreshing to find a song that seemed to be built completely around its message.  Caillat doesn’t over-sing or over-sell this song either.  It just floats gently along with very little drama, all the while not losing an ounce of its effectiveness.

To me, the best part of this song is its message.  I’ve been thinking about it a whole lot ever since I heard it three months ago on the radio.

We live in a time when we are encouraged and expected to try our hardest at just about anything, to do our best, to BE our best.  Women are pressured to look and dress as beautifully as possible.  Men are pressured to be fit and macho.  We are all pressured to be successful and smart with all kinds of other things.

This particularly strikes home with me since I have always been the kind of person to do my best and try extra super hard to accomplish or be something.  I’ve come to learn that my successes had little bearing upon how I actually felt about myself.  Achievement and a poor self-image can co-exist just as much as failure and a poor self-image can.  I know this all too well.

The problem is that we let these pressures, goals, and expectations get mixed up with how we view ourselves.  Ultimately, whatever the outcome of our efforts, we, every single one of us, are worthwhile, lovable, and amazing in our own ways.  Whether we succeed or fail, have makeup on or not, have huge muscles or not, have the best clothes or not, we need to see, protect, and celebrate the beauty and tremendous self-worth that we inherently have regardless of any of those actions and possessions.

In the end, we don’t have to try to be anything.  We can just be.  Be who we are.  Be who we want to be.  And this is enough.  This is plenty.  This is everything.

On the day each of us was born, we were all cute, valuable, lovable, and adorable just as we were.  At what point did this change?

What if how we saw ourselves directly affected what we did with our lives?  If we loved and believed in ourselves, what if that prompted us to do great things and effect positive change within our own lives?

So, if you haven’t heard it already, here is the video for the song I’m raving about.  (I’ve also included the lyric video.)  Thankfully, the song and video focus on women’s self-image, but I really believe that the message is far more universal.

Underneath all of those things that make you look gorgeous or more likable and popular, there is someone who is already pretty damn amazing.

It’s true.  We don’t have to try so hard.  The value that we see in ourselves is only as good as we make it.

The next time you are by yourself.  Take off that shiny jacket and those cool shoes.  Let your hair down.  Wipe off your makeup.  Peel off every layer.

Then ask yourself if you like who you see.

If you don’t, that’s ok, for now.

Just know that the only answer that truly matters is the one you give to yourself.


My Favorite Break-up Songs, Like Ever

I guess I’m not your garden variety hopeless romantic because I really love break-up songs.  There is generally nothing fun about them, but they are so rich with heartache and emotion.  Anyone who has ever been in love and given their heart and soul into a relationship only to have it end can surely sympathize.

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I wanted to share with you, my lovely WPR readers, some of my favorite break-up songs, and in my book, they generally fall in three categories:

1. Defiance
2. Loss and Regret
3. Bittersweet

I love all three, and in this post, I will Asianly (yes, that’s a word) explain what each category entails.

1.  First of all , there are the defiant break-up songs that contain an underlying sadness but with a shiny and thick layer of resilience drizzled on top.  The juxtaposition of all these things together makes for a formidable and surefooted statement–often one in which someone is called out for their misbehavior or dishonesty.

In this category, a beloved song by Madonna comes to mind.  It is one of my all-time favorites from her.  The production of this song is very minimal but effective.  It starts off quietly with a Spanish guitar and builds dramatically with pounding drums, moody electric guitar, and soaring vocals by the Queen of Pop.  The title says it all.

You’ll See .  .  . 

Another defiant break-up song worth sharing holds a special distinction for me.  It also happens to be my favorite piano ballad OF ALL TIME!!  Yeah, that’s a tall order, but this song seriously delivers on EVERY level.  The piano, with notable key and time changes, ebbs and flows continuously through the song as strings accentuate every nuance of the melody.  What brings this song home are Fiona Apple’s vocals.  Her delivery shifts between soft and lilting to brazen and accusatory, and by the song’s end, a gentle, fragile falsetto closes it out onto a heavy-handed and heavy-hearted piano outro.   To top it off, the lyrics of this song are incredibly poignant and devastating.  This song is perfection.  It is defiance, and it is OH.SO.BEAUTIFUL.

Never Is a Promise .  .  .

2.  The break-up songs that deal with loss and regret are often the most haunting.  These are the songs I personally have a tougher time listening to.  I’ve had my share of missteps and losses in matters of the heart.  These kinds of experiences never really leave you.  Sometimes, they never stop hurting.  You cannot change the decisions you made in the past.  That’s what makes these kinds of songs so daunting.

One song that comes to mind is by Vienna Teng.  The production is appropriately sparse because it’s the lyrics that paint the picture.  Teng creates a sprawling sense of desolation in this song, signaling the end of what was struggled for and ultimately lost.  This was a break-up that started at regret but grew to encompass so much more.

Kansas .  .  .

And then, there was Bruno.  Bruno Mars that is.  This funky and phenomenal pop star created one of the most heartbreaking break-up songs of recent years.  This song slays me every time I hear it.  It slays me over and over and over again.  The words say it all.

When I Was Your Man .  .  .

3.  Perhaps the best break-up songs are the bittersweet ones.   There’s no denying the sadness of a break-up, but when it also becomes transformative, that is the finest, the richest, of what we could hope for at the end of it all.  To survive the break-up and come out of it genuinely wishing the other party well, that is the stuff right there.  It’s an experience when love, even though lost, still lives on somewhere in the hearts of those who held it.

A recent and fine example of this is a song by Adele.  I remember the first time I heard this song on the radio.  I had to stop the car because it hit home in so many ways.  The part where she sings “I wish nothing but the best for you .  .  .” takes this song to a different place.  It’s not a scorned lover or an angry one.  It’s the sound of someone who has laid everything to rest, even though it still hurts.   A soft spoken hopefulness carries every word.

Someone Like You .  .  .

And finally, the MUFASA of bittersweet break-up songs.  It pretty much TOWERS over all the others in this category.  It tells the story of someone stepping away from a hopeful place, but not begrudgingly.  It tells the story of someone who holds on to the feelings that made the experience magical to begin with, and by so doing, is not destroyed in the process.  It tells the story of how sometimes loving someone means letting them go. This song was originally written by Dolly Parton.  It wasn’t until it fell into the hands of one of the greatest pop vocalists of all time that it reached its fullest potential.  Made no less bittersweet by the passing of Whitney Houston herself, this is the most hopeful break-up song you could ever hope to hear.  Therein lies its beauty.

I Will Always Love You .  .  .

There are other break-up songs out there that are quite notable, but these select few stand out to me personally.  It’s no accident that most of these are piano ballads.  Naturally, those tend to be the saddest.  I hope you enjoyed this little foray into something that I kind of geek out on.

As a musician, there’s nothing like a song that hits you where you hurt the most.  Isn’t that the point of it all?  To FEEL something?  To EXPERIENCE something?  To KNOW something?

To me, that is the best kind of song there is.




My Minimalist Life

simple_easyI cannot say just yet that I live a completely minimalist life, but I am gradually working my way towards that end.  It is something that is slowly taking over every aspect of who I am and how I live from the inside out.

When you glance outside in this fall weather, you see the leaves of trees changing.  Different colors and hues emerge in places they did not inhabit before, and all the trees collectively create an entirely new landscape.  Essentially, this is not just a cosmetic change.  It is the makings of a renewal that flows from the inside out.  This is how my life is changing, one subtle hue at a time, and I am deeply grateful for this.

A major turning point in becoming a minimalist in my life was when I stopped watching television regularly.  It’s been years since I’ve had monthly cable service, and I have to say that I LOVE not watching regular television.  I found that a lot of it, especially the relentless advertising, just cluttered my brain with all these suggested ideas .  .  .




I couldn’t take it anymore.  All of it, in my mind, is geared towards being addictive, especially tv shows that need ratings to satiate their advertisers and their high production values.

If you turn off the tv, you’re not gonna need to know what honeybooboo did or the latest sandwich special at Subway.  It’s not that  important.

It’s really not that important.

(Of course, I do watch Netflix.  It is free of advertising, and I limit my viewing to one night a week of watching whatever I want.  There are some quality tv shows and films out there.  I’m just not willing to sit through the advertising to appreciate them.)

Shutting off regular television was a giant cosmic shove towards my minimalist journey, and here are the other regular practices that I carry out every week:

1.  For every item that I purchase, I get rid of or donate another object I already have.  This applies to clothes, decorative items, and any other possession.  If I kept EVERYTHING that I have, I would totally be a hoarder living with too much stuff.  Doing this keeps clutter from growing in my home.

2.  I’ve gone digital with all my media.  It is rare for me to buy an actual CD of music these days.  I have an Ipod classic with 160 gigabytes of storage, and so far, I’ve only used up about 5 gigs.  I still have room for THOUSANDS of songs in a small machine that fits in the palm of my hand.  For books, I have a kindle.  These days, I mostly read e-books, unless I’m given a book as a gift to read instead.  As with my music, I have access to an entire library of books in the palm of my hand.  With the ipod and the kindle, I can take all my media anywhere, and I save a TON of physical space.

3.  In every room of my home, I make sure that there is at least one wide open, uncluttered space.  My living room has artwork bunched together in little vignettes in between sizable blank spaces.  The furniture I have is similarly arranged in every room.  For me, creating a sense of openness in a home makes it more relaxing and expansive.  Of course, I don’t want to be so minimal that I feel like I live in a zen monastery.  I just want to create a peaceful balance between visual interest and blank space.  My home feels bigger than the just over 1000 square feet it inhabits.

4.  I take items out of my car every time I step out of it.  I love my car, and I drive it a whole lot.  All of the seating, storage, and leg room encompasses a very small amount of physical space.  As such, it is too easy to clutter it up and make it feel cramped.  For a lot of folks, it is a repository for old fast food bags and cups, shopping bags and receipts, coins, pens, condom packs, etc.  If you take out items consistently, you won’t have to sit within a growing pile of trash in a space the size of a closet.  For me, driving in a clean and trash-free car is incredibly relaxing.  I also take the time to shine the interior and brush out the rugs.  Dust and dirt take up space too.  Who knows, you might even notice how beautiful your car is.  I know I do.

5.  I regularly purge items from my home.  Since last summer, I’ve been taking stuff to Goodwill every couple of weeks or so.  Sometimes it’s just a small bag of stuff while other times, it’s been a whole box full.  I also return things that I borrow, like my mom’s tupperware that I took home full of her delicious leftover cooking.  Getting rid of stuff is strangely liberating.   I wind up creating more open space and make room for new things.

6.  I meditate.  Sure, I might sit on the floor with legs crossed on occasion, but I meditate in all kinds of scenarios when I am out and about.  In my (clean) car, I usually take a couple of minutes to meditate if I arrive early at an appointment.  When I get home after a long day out, I might sit on my couch for a few minutes or longer.  If I’m waiting in line for something, I’ll quietly meditate and block everything else out.  Essentially, I take the time to clear my head of clutter.  I can easily run over to-do-lists in my head, or think about a movie I watched or a conversation I had or a project I need to finish or an item I want to buy or something a friend posted on facebook or the floor I need to vacuum or the phone call I want to make or the new Wendy’s burger I want to devour and on and on and on and on and on and on.  Our minds, and my mind in particular, can veer out into numerous directions at any given time.  When I take the time to clear my head or even just focus on one thing (and nothing else), I feel much more calm and aware throughout the day.  To me, this is what meditation does.  It gives your brain an intentional break, often much needed but rarely given.

As you can see, I am growing into a more minimalist life.  A life that has balance and works towards keeping things pure and true to their essence.   This may not work for everyone, and that’s totally cool.  For me, minimalism is a way to embrace all of the ideas and sensibilities that are deeply native to who I am and who I want to be as a human being and an artist.

I do not know where this journey will take me in the future, but I love where I have been so far.

Simple is easy.  Easy is awesome.



I Love to Recycle

Every other weekend, usually on a Saturday morning, I load up my Toyota Scion xD with a couple of bags’ worth of materials for recycling.  About 5 minutes from my home, there is a recycling station containing large metallic bins in which anyone can leave various household materials.


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Each Recycling Station can only take certain things. Find out what is possible in your area.


Why do I do this?

1.  I wind up throwing away at least 50% less trash every week when I recycle.  This means that I don’t use as many trash bags and make even fewer trips out to the dumpster to get rid of the smelly stuff.  This means money, time, and energy saved.

2.  I get to do right by this planet I live on.  Waste is inevitable, but if there is a way I can minimize it, then why not?  If we all did this, our landfills would not take up so much physical space.  There would be fewer toxins from our waste that would pollute our oceans, soil, and water supply.

3.  I want to invest in our future.  Daily practices centered around recycling and energy conservation are active ways that we can invest in a better quality of life for many years to come.  I have nieces and nephews who deserve to live fulfilling, bright, and beautiful lives.  All of our children do.  I cannot imagine a world that is so polluted and ruined that it is practically uninhabitable.  A rising sea level, drastic climate changes, clean water shortages, polluted lakes/rivers/oceans–all of these situations, in smaller degrees, already exist today.  Imagine if they got worse.  This would be a terrible legacy to leave for our children and future generations.  Every minute and every object that we carelessly waste has a consequence attached to it.  Someone somewhere at some time will feel that consequence by no fault of there own.

Lets invest in a better future.


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Put a bag next to your trash for recycling and let it fill up.


Here is a list of everyday items that generally can be recycled.  Items may vary depending on what is possible in your area:

Paper (magazines, junk mail, newspapers, paper bags, etc.)
Cardboard (boxes and any kind of packaging)
Aluminum cans (soda cans, food cans)
Plastic (water bottles, containers)
Plastic shopping bags

Here in Nashville, there is a small kiosk in front of Kroger supermarkets where you can put that ever-growing pile of plastic shopping bags in for recycling.  Wal-Mart and Target stores also have recycling bins for anyone to unload their items in.


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Recycle plastic bags here in front of any Kroger


Some municipalities will actually pick up recycling from your home for a marginal fee, while others, like here in Music City, have recycling stations in different areas in which anyone can drop off their items at any time.


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Lots of places accept glass for recycling. Just handle glass items with care.


In my household, which includes myself (a piano ninja) and a super adorable cat, the total amount of recycling we submit within a year would easily fill up an entire room of my house from floor to ceiling.  That’s a lot of re-usable crap.  If you live in a larger household with lots of hungry people, that amount is substantially more.


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Large Metal Recycle Bins at the Recycling Station


I hope I have given you some food for thought.  Maybe you could try it out for a month.  You can even start off small.  Leave a bag next to your trash can and just put paper and cardboard in there for recycling.  Drop it off once a week or once a month whenever it’s convenient.  Take your kids and treat them to ice cream afterwards.  Make it fun.

Those same kids and their children may someday be very thankful for it.


Being Grateful on my Birthday

Today, August 28, 2014, is my birthday.  I want to start a new tradition here on WPR and make an Annual Birthday Gratefulness List.  It’s very easy, particularly if you are really busy or stressed out, to take many things for granted, covet what other people possess, or complain about the things you do not have.  The truth is we often have much more than we realize, a wealth of goodness staring us in the face, and we are too caught up in our own emotions and personal drama to see it for what it is.

I try to be thankful for at least one thing every day.  Our material belongings, experiences, or accomplishments mean nothing if they are not appreciated and recognized.

So, here is my list.  If some of these items seem strange, it’s because I’m a weirdo.

1.  I am grateful for my family.  They provide lots of love, laughs, delicious food, and many sweet memories.

2.  I have a very diverse combination of friends from various walks of life.  They are all things kookie, fun, and amazing.  If you are my friend, I am eternally yours in return.  Thank you.

3.  I get to live with THE MOST AWESOME CAT EVERRRRR!!!!  I am so thankful for my cat Steinway.

4.  I am grateful for spinach.  Seriously, it’s so versatile and super healthy.  I like to cook it in butter with onions.  Yum.

5.  Thank you to everyone who has ever built and designed pianos.  Your cumulative efforts have improved this instrument into its current magnificent state.  The Steinways, Bosendorfers, Yamahas, Pleyels, and Chickerings of the world are my saving grace.  Sitting at a piano and performing is still the most transformative experience in my life.


6.  Penises are awesome.  I’ll just leave it that.  #hallelujah #praisejesus  #herculeshercules

7.  Eating dark chocolate is like devouring a warm, comforting hug.  Yes, DEVOURING.  Sigh.

8.  I love my little two bedroom apartment, and I am so stoked that I get to live there.   It affords me the physical space to pursue several creative endeavors.  It’s got big windows, lots of storage space, and a super cool turret in which I play my music.  It is my castle where a majestic cat and his lowly Asian servant boy pleasantly live.  (-:

9.  I am grateful for hazelnut coffee.  Delish.

10.  As an early birthday present, my Mom and her husband Jim got me a beautiful new dining set.  It’s a four-seater built with dark wood and a mid century/modern/contemporary design.  This combination is a rare find, and I plan on having many meals with family and friends at this table for a long time to come.  I LOVE IT!!

11.  I am thankful that I have the ability to sing.  I sang in lots of choirs and every day in high school when I was a kid.  All of that experience paid off since I learned not only how to stay on key, but I also learned how to create different harmony parts.  A developed ear is worth its weight in gold.

12.  Last year, I took the plunge and traded my car in for a newer one when I bought my little red Toyota Scion xD.  Every time I walk towards my car in a parking lot, I just smile all over.  It is beautifully designed and gets fantastic gas mileage.  I can take up to four passengers or fold the seating down when I want to lug my music gear out to a show.  It fits in any size parking space and has a manual transmission.  I always feel like I won the jackpot when I start driving.  I named the car “Dragon”.  He’s a beaut.

13.   I am super grateful for my passion for visual art.  It pretty much permeates through every aspect of my life.  I design all of my websites, decorate my home and workspaces, photograph pretty things, draw objects that inspire me, mix and match my wardrobe, and take creative selfies.  A discerning and creative eye is worth its value in platinum.

14.  I am grateful to be able to recycle the paper, plastic, and aluminum cans that I use.  Taking care of our planet and sustainability in all facets of life are huge concerns of mine.  If we are careless, then we deserve all the bad that will ensue.  I am thankful that I care.

15.  I am grateful for EVERY hug I have ever gotten in my entire life.  I love hugs.  Seriously, I really love hugs.  Thank you for all the hugs to come.  BRING THEM ON!!

16.  I am grateful for Madonna.  Some people have Superman, Batman, Barack Obama, Spiderman, Sarah Palin (?), or Optimus Prime.  I have Madonna.   She is a living badass in every conceivable way.  She is a visual artist of the highest order with an evolving ear for creating satisfying pop music.  She has carried me through many highs and lows.  Forever and ever, I will always hail the Queen of Pop.

17.  I am grateful for my friend Steven M. who is my tech guru and helps me through all kinds of technical issues with my phone.  He introduced me to the world of Nokia Lumia Camera Phones, and in the next year, I hope to use mine to great effect.  Thank you for always being there for me.

18.  I am thankful for NPR.  I love the Marketplace Morning Report, Here and Now, David BRAAANCACIO!!!!, This American Life, and pretty much everything else.  It’s the best alternative to hearing the same pop songs over and over again.

19.  I am grateful for Christmas.  It’s basically my favorite time of year.  The lights and pretty Christmas trees, the spirit of generosity, and all of its spiritual significance make it so special.  I can’t wait for Christmas!!!!

20.  Lastly, I am thankful for sleep.  I take naps all the time and can take them anywhere.  Maybe I was a narcoleptic in another life.  In any case, my body is always better after it rests.

So there, HAPPY BIRTHDAY to ME!!!

I am blessed and have a wealth of wonderful people and experiences in my life.

As I said at #6, #hallelujah. ;)