What is sharing?

I love to share things. I love to share food, I love to share time with others, and most of all I love to share what I love with others. That was the impetus for this blog- I wanted to share the things that influence and inspire me, those things which, once discovered, changed me artistically; sometimes, it even feels, molecularly. 

I remember my first year at Rice, I was having a hard time transitioning and the only thing I could do that made me happy was to stay up until 2 or 3 AM just obsessing! Over late Beethoven quartets, and I didn’t know how to express what I was feeling and thinking or who would even want to listen! so I started writing it all down into what would become this blog. I started writing haikus when, I had tea with Amanda in undergrad, still one of the most nourishing and generous friends I’ve ever had, and that night, I went home and posted a haiku about how full my heart and bladder were. I was inspired by my Mysticism and Literature class where I encountered Japanese Haiku, as well as a Beat Lit class where I studied American Haiku. I wrote a few more my first year at Rice. And then Cassie, one of the absolute loves and blessings in my life decided she would drunk Facebook stalk me with her roommate and I got this wasted voicemail message from them the next day wailing whyyyyy did you staaaahp! So I started writing them daily for her. It was a really fun thing, and when other people started enjoying them, I was so happy! It generally makes me so happy to try and bring any positivity to anyone who could benefit from it.

I’m not one of those people who generally has issues with social media…but it started to feel really heavy. This year with the election, I started to dread going on social media. And I started dreading the need to have clear opinions and to be a part of the dialogue that seemed increasingly futile  and hideously awry though it is clearly necessary. What we share now so easily becomes a kind of stand-in for who we are and as a result, how we are seen and judged…And now that there are so many mediums and platforms to share on, it becomes difficult to know where/how to begin to actually connect with people. We confuse visibility and desirability.

I realized, and this was hard and one of the ugliest things I’ve had to admit to myself….that there was someone in particular that I was posting everything for. I wanted to appeal to them in every post, I wanted them to know where I was, what I was doing, how cool I am; basically, I wanted them to care about me and at first, the idea that they didn’t drove me crazy. But then, I started to feel crazy for different reasons- I felt dishonest…it felt like a kind of abuse to be inflicting my desire to be seen on the world…I felt like I was losing my integrity and getting farther away from the kind of sharing and freedom that mattered to me. 

So I took a break for a week from all social media and shared things I cared about in greater detail with people who I know care about me, and in that way, connected more with them and more with myself. I wrote more, I thought more, and I connected more meaningfully with the close friends I am lucky to have in my life. In that vein, the first 5 days of the break were amazing…I felt so liberated and happy, being able to devote my time fully to family and friends- not checking my phone every few minutes to see if I was loved yet, not thinking about anything except the moment I was in. And then on the 6th day, intense anxiety kicked in, and I realized how lonely and how unloved I had been feeling, for who even knows how long! and I realized that somewhere along the way, my initial intentions for sharing had deviated- even before this one person I was trying to impress, I had started sharing things because I wanted to be loved, acknowledged, known. And of course, that’s ok…maybe even normal. But it was not personally a happy or fulfilling way for me to live and I had to have that breakthrough, had to sit in a place of loneliness in order to resurface a little less dependent. The valuable things I learned last week?

1) There is no replacement for loving, acknowledging, and knowing yourself.

2) Empathy, as well as sharing have boundaries which make all parties more free and more safe.

3) It is sometimes better to be free, than to be loved, or at least, real love shouldn’t mean an end to freedom.

4) Acknowledge, adore, and sustain the love you already have. 

I came back to social media after the week and I was immediately inundated by the beautiful thoughts, pictures, and experiences of friends.

That made me so joyful.

Ling Ling

it’s our time of month(s)

Today is the first day of Women’s History Month 2017, and I wanted to share some treasures from the amazing women I’ve been reading.

I’ve loved women authors my whole life. My favorite writer of all time is Virginia Woolf. I don’t think another person has clarified the human experience’s unclarity more than she has…her books are, as Rebecca Solnit wrote…”compasses by which to get lost.” I’ve always thought the first paragraph of Woolf’s The Waves is the most succinct, complex, and forgiving definition of what it is to be alive in this world. Marisha Pessl and Donna Tartt have both left me howling in tears, and Zadie Smith has left me howling in laughter. I learned morality, ethics, and the various gradations of them from Ayn Rand, the poetry of Adrienne Rich and Anne Carson feed my soul, Annie Dillard is my (dream) spirit animal, and recently, so many more women have written their way into my heart- Lucia Berlin, Carrie Brownstein, Carol Shields, and Elena Ferrante.

I started the year with Ferrante’s Neopolitan Novels, and I drank those books deep into my blood. People would ask me what the books were about, and I’d stammer and say something deep along the lines of…”um? It’s about two friends? The sociopolitical history of Italy in the 20th century? It’s really good!” I felt absurd trying to reduce the experience of these books into a few sentences…because these books changed me in ways I’m only beginning to understand. I started seeing the world around me so differently; for example I started having trouble with men in my life…their very presence. I hadn’t realized before how much even the presence of men changes the alchemy of women, tightens the freedoms of women. It was a bizarre moment in my life. For the first time, I began to notice and question things I’ve taken for granted (why is the majority of music I play composed by males? why are the majority of conductors I’ve worked with males?) All because I followed the very complex relationship between two unabridged women for decades. I read an interview with Elena Ferrante recently, and they’re pretty hard to come by since Elena Ferrante is her pseudonym and no one knows who she is. And I want to share verbatim, quotes she said in the interview (Spring and Summer 2016 issue of the gentlewoman) which are, I think, core ideals of hers which permeate her fiction, and which have permeated my reality.

When asked about the two main characters of the Neopolitan Novels, she says, “The structure of the narrative is such that neither Lila or Elena can ever be definitively locked within a formula that makes one the opposite of the other.”

I think this quote is why the people in the novels are so complex and full-bodied. To reduce anything to duality, to reduce anyone to the opposite of another is exactly that; reduction of human experience and limitation of self. Women have been locked into these “formulas” of opposition, and we now do it to ourselves constantly. We compare ourselves with other women and because of how strong these formulas are, basic insecurities arise. We see a beautiful/smart/whathaveyou woman, or we hear someone talking about a beautiful/smart/whathaveyou woman and because of the sheer fact that we are not them, we decide that we are opposite, and thus must not be beautiful/s/why. Am I alone in this? It took me a long, long time to notice and overcome these insecurities myself and to accept the complexities of myself and others.

The interviewer asks, “Do you aim to speak primarily to women in your writing?”

Elena, “One writes for all human beings. But I am happy that my readers are first and foremost women. We, all of us, need to build a genealogy of our own, one that will embolden us, define us, allow us to see ourselves outside the tradition through which men have viewed, represented, evaluated and catalogued us- for millennia. Theirs is a potent tradition, rich with splendid works, but one that has excluded much, too much, of what is ours.
Even if we think we have left behind the culture and language of patriarchal society once and for all, we just have to look at the world in its entirety to understand that the conflict is far from over and that everything we have gained can still be lost. First of all, we must never forget there are vast areas of the planet where women live in the most terrible conditions. But even in those areas where many of our rights are safe, it’s still hard to be a woman in a way that runs counter to how even the most cultured and forward-thinking men represent us.
We vacillate between rooted adhesion to male expectations and the new ways of being female. Although we are free and combative, we accept that our need for fulfillment in this or that field should be ratified by men in authority, who co-opt us only after having evaluated whether we have sufficiently absorbed the male tradition and are able to become its dignified interpreters, free of female issues and weaknesses.
Instead, we must continue fighting to bring about profound change. This will be possibly only if we build a grand female tradition that men are forced to measure themselves against. It’s going to be a long battle, centers on women’s industry in every field, on the excellence of female thought and action. Only when a man publicly recognizes his debt to a woman’s work without the condescending kindliness typical of those who feel themselves superior will things really start to change.”

She explores some of what she mentions above in the novels. Elena, an intellectual is constantly studying and trying to be “good enough” by male standards and she very slowly realizes that she much be “ratified by men in authority, who co-opt us only after having evaluated whether we have sufficiently absorbed the male tradition and are able to become its dignified interpreters, free of female issues and weaknesses.” Reading about Elena’s experiences of never being good enough (because she’s inherently the’lesser’ sex and constantly molding herself after another gender) and reading through her voice of insecurity which slowly grows bolder was an incredible experience. Through her feminist awakening, I had shudders of my own.

“We must continue fighting to bring about profound change.” I think classical music is as guilty of excluding too much of women’s history. We have started to, and must continue to build our own grand female tradition as composers, performers, conductors, etc. We must advocate for our female peers and their works and create opportunities for them. We can no longer view other women as opposition. When I can choose, I will work on the music of women composers. When I can choose, I will collaborate with women. I’ve read 8 books this year, only one was by a male. We have to choose each other because preference is the only way we can even begin to approach equality.

Another book I recently read was the very slim Poetry and Commitment by Adrienne Rich. It is specifically about the arts and activism and the role of the artist in activism. Being a part of the Women’s March and seeing the whole world come together on that day was indescribably moving. I felt a hope that dimmed the loneliness which constantly claws at me. This volume was important to me because there was a time when I was not sure if music was what I wanted to do. I’ve always had a strong inclination to help people and it never felt like music could be enough. I took sociology classes at one point and seriously considered becoming a social worker. In our current time, it can be especially difficult for those in the arts to know what to do, so I wanted to share some quotes I found helpful which clarify the kind of art which Rich thinks is relevant and necessary.

Rich starts the essay with a poem by Hugh MacDiarmid called, “The Kind of Poetry I Want.” Essentially, he wants poetry “founded on difficult knowledge”…”a manifesto of desire for a new and conscious organization” and describes the poet as a nurse during an operation. “Energy quiet and contained and fearfully alert.”
She then takes it all the way back to Shelley in 1821…his quote being ” Poets and philosophers are the unacknowledged legislators in the world.”
Rich says, “He did NOT say poets are the unacknowledged interior decorators of the world. What’s at stake here is the recognition of poetry as what James Scully calls “social practice.” He distinguishes between “protest poetry” and “dissident poetry.”
Protest poetry is “conceptually shallow,” “reactive,” predictable in its means, too often a handwringing from the sidelines.
Dissident poetry, however, does not respect boundaries between private and public self and other. In breaking boundaries, it breaks silence, speaking for, or, at best, with, the silenced; opening poetry up, putting it into the middle of life…It is a poetry that talks back, that would act as a part of the world , not simply as a mirror of it.”

I have to say, most of the things I see on social media…these echo chambers we create, feels like the description of protest poetry listed above. Maybe what we needed more of during this horrifyingly divisive election was art that broke boundaries, broke the silences and walls we have invisibly built against those we would call Other. Social media in a sense, doesn’t really participate in the world, it just “mirrors” and more often than not, aggravates pre-existing issues.

I can’t recommend highly enough this little essay by Adrienne Rich.
She discusses so many travesties of the time, which are still issues now, such as the “punitive and cynical anti-immigration bill passed by the House.”
She responds to the accusation of poetry being complicit in the violent realities of power because of its aestheticizing of collective punishment, torture, and rape by saying, “to aestheticize” is to glide across brutality and cruelty, treat them merely as dramatic occasions for the artist rather than structures of power to be revealed and dismantled. Opportunism isn’t the same as committed attention. There is a tradition of those who have written against the silences of their time and location. Without it, in poetry as in politics, our world is unintelligible.”
She quotes Muriel Rukeyser’s idea of poetry as”an exchange of energy, which in changing consciousness, can effect change in existing conditions.”

And Mark Doty in his afterword says of Adrienne Rich,
“Her restless empathy for those not in positions of power is the ethical basis of her art.”

May we all have a restless empathy,

Ling Ling

2016: My Year in Books

I love reading and do it whenever I can, though it competes for my time with my other loves- music, movies, and TV. This year in particular, literature saw me and understood me through some weird times I haven’t been able to vocalize fully (and probably shouldn’t online!) so instead of my usual “odds, ends” end of the year post, I thought I would review my year through the books I read, giving only small glimpses of what they carried me through, and hopefully showing literature’s strength and ability to sustain us.

Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy:

Started the year reading this with Dorothy and while I sincerely enjoyed the book, it mostly meant a lot to share that experience with her since reading is usually a solitary activity for me. I don’t usually read as a way of escaping, but it became so pleasurable to escape into the older language, concerns (so many things go wrong with sheep all the time!?) and time period of this book. I’ve rarely come across something as beautiful as the end of this book; my heart started to pound and slow and it’s a testament to real love’s ability to wear us (and our false ideas of love) down.

Purity by Jonathan Franzen:

This wasn’t my favorite Franzen…for me, it did not even come close to anything else of his I’ve read. I count him among my favorite authors and The Corrections and Farther Away are among my favorite books so this was disappointing. That said, I appreciated the questions it raised of how to be good and/or pure in a world that increasingly makes it more complex to even know where to begin. Purity and goodness are words and concepts that are now extremely convoluted and this novel grappled with that bewilderment. I was impressed with his ability to write extensively from a female perspective, and especially impressed with some of the complex female relationships in the book that I’ve always thought only females could fully understand and thus articulate. The mother-daughter dynamic, the tricky female friendships fraught with jealousy and genuine love, and the erratic behavior and decision making in response to a terrifyingly nonsensical world; all are situations and relationships I resonated with.

Yes Please by Amy Poehler:

I gained so much (more) respect for Amy Poehler after reading this book. What mostly sticks with me from this book is her openness…not just the openness necessitated by her career and the openness to anything that may come her way, but her openness to having been wrong…to learning and taking responsibility for her actions when that very openness led to a naiveté which hurt others. She writes about some very intimate things, making us privy to mistakes and amends that take a lot of bravery to share. I was in a negative headspace and taking myself and other things too seriously and I picked out this book hoping it would help me out of that place…her desire to have a good time and be a decent human being was uplifting and made me think that maybe life should just be that “simple.”

The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann:

What a warped ride this was…such a unique and taut tone, a too-tight smile beginning to slide. It was mentally exhausting at certain points because it was often unbearably philosophical and the overly detailed pettiness, tawdriness for 700+ pages often left me grinding my teeth…What amazed me about it was its’ darker presentation of inevitability, of fate…we are all part of some purpose-cogs in a machine, boys in an army, paramecium in some cosmic beast’s stomach…This book was the first to present to me the idea that we may be part of something bigger, but not necessarily better.

A Personal Matter by Kenzaburō Ōe:

One of the most unrelentingly dark novels I’ve ever read. Honestly oppressive and agonizing to read and one of the most unlikable protagonists I’ve ever met. The selfishness, self-destruction, self-pitying Bird represents all that is awful in humanity. Made me really think about what I would do faced with the same situation of having a brain-damaged baby on the way. A thoroughly uncomfortable, depraved, and fascinating experience. My only fear is that if someone can write about someone like this, someone like this may exist.

Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit:

Everyone should read this. Educational and empowering, I plan to reread often as a reminder of how much work needs to be done. Since reading this, I feel like I have become more conscious of the silencing, ignoring, and distorting of myself and other females I encounter. We don’t realize how much our minds have been conditioned by the patriarchy, this book is a good way to realize more of it. Also, one of the most memorable sentences for me came from this book- on Virginia Woolf’s writing…”a compass by which to get lost.”

The Man who Loved Only Numbers: The Story of Paul Erdös and the Search for Mathematical Truth by Paul Hoffman:

One of the most inspiring people and stories I’ve ever encountered! Nicole and I swapped books- she gave me this and I gave her the Solnit above and I don’t think it’s a book I would have ever read had she not introduced it to me. I’m not very good at math and I have a tendency to feel stupid when I’ve tried to read things with a math slant, but the inclusiveness I felt and the enthusiasm with which I breezed through this book is exactly what those who knew and worked with Erdös probably felt. This gentle genius traveled the world to work on math papers with different mathematicians creating a community which defies many of the ideas we have of geniuses having to be lonely or outcast. He didn’t have a home, had only his love of math and a suitcase, depending on the kindnesses and curiosities of other math-lovers. I was left incredibly inspired by the warmth he had and gave, for his ability to bring people together in what could be a lonely or competitive field. This made me feel closer to my fellow musicians and to realize even more the importance of supporting and invigorating them if I can. I wish I felt as passionately for anything as he felt for math and reading about his dedication inspired me to try.

1Q84 by Harris Murakami:

I read this at a really confusing time of my year. Aomame and Tengo, the main characters in 1Q84 are drawn into a parallel world which is only subtly different from the one we are all in. I felt like the same thing was happening to me. Suddenly, people and structures I knew were askew, irrevocably different and I thought I was going crazy. This book is on the longer side…1000+ pages or so, but for me, it almost wasn’t long enough. This book became the only safe place for me- Murakami’s language the only familiar graspable thing in a place where my own world seemed too different from the one I had known a month earlier. The heft of the book, the solidity of being able to return to one story whenever I needed, these things kept me sane. One of my favorite books is Murakami’s Wind Up Bird Chronicles…in it, the main character often descends into a well…I’ve begun to feel that way whenever I read him. Here is an impenetrable place where you can be, where you can confront and experience things on your own terms. A memorable sentence in this book which has alternately made me despair and exult- blood would not lose its way.

The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz:

I read this book based on ancient Toltec wisdom on a 3-hour flight to Wyoming an emerged there feeling like a different person. The four “agreements” are simple enough, but often, the simple things are the most powerful, especially when presented so clearly. Just thinking about it makes me realize how much I need to re-read it and how I haven’t been mindful of the agreements for months. It won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, especially since it’s maybe more spiritual/self-help but during that difficult time in my life, it gave me peace and liberated me from a lot of fear and expectation.

The Days of Abandonment by Elena Ferrante:

One of the most vivid writers and books I’ve read in recent memory. I’m not sure I should have read it when I did…the desperation, grief, and rage of the protagonist was too close to me. I literally trembled with emotion reading most of this book. It understood me and recognized my feelings in a way I rarely experience with literature…this feeling of recognition is a large part of why I read anything. The visceral quality of her writing flies off the page like a strong stench. I’m not sure if it’s the best or worst thing I could have read at the time, but I know it’s one of the best things I’ve ever read.

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard:

Speaking of best things I’ve ever read. This book was wild and lonely, a moving meditation on nature, humanity, and solitude. I read this in the mountains of Wyoming, steeping in the nature around me through her unique vision. I learned so much about nature, its’ beauty and terrors. So many unforgettable moments of turbulence and melancholy, written in such precise language, this book creeps up in your soul and explodes like kudzu, catching in your throat.

H is for Hawk by Helen MacDonald

I didn’t enjoy this as much as I hoped, though I think almost anything would be disappointing after the Dillard. The writing was startlingly modern and familiar compared to the Dillard; something I usually enjoy, but not so much this time. While the subject matter and journey of the book were intimate, I felt distanced from the speaker and unable to fully experience and empathize with her most of the time. When I did feel fully let in, it was an incredible rush, and part of me wondered if the distancing and subsequent revelatory closeness were some kind of purposeful reenactment of her experience training her hawk. I chose this because I really wanted more female memoir/nature after Dillard and I was intrigued by the story of a girl who deals with the grief of losing her father by training a goshawk. (Also, I’ve never encountered the genre “memoir/falconry” and found it the combination fascinating.) I admired her patience with her companion and learned more than I ever imagined I would know about hawks and the author T.H. White. Overall, an interesting reflection on how grief manifests and how we seek to tame our grief, in this case literally the thing with feathers, and understand death and our relationship with it.

The Face: A Time Code by Ruth Ozeki:

I’ve always been fascinated with Ozeki who is an author as well as a Zen Buddhist priest. I thoroughly enjoyed her novel “A Tale for The Time Being” and when I saw this (very slim) memoir, I had to pick it up. I learned so much about different zen rituals in this book which proved to be a great jumping off point for more research in these traditional ceremonies and I felt a kinship to her in her search for relating to both American and Asian parts of herself. The book is full of mini-meditations on her life, culture, and family which she has while conducting an experiment (both Asian and American) inspired by the Zen koan- what does your face look like before your parents are born? (before you know any duality) and the art history/architecture professor Jennifer Roberts’ assignment for her Harvard students of looking at a single work of art for 3 hours. This changed my relationship to my face for awhile after reading, as well as my relationship with my instrument, which I talk about in the video blog of my last post.

The Girl on The Train by Paula Hawkins:

I tend to try and read books before movies come out because I’m really fascinated with the concept of adaptation. Most of the time though, I end up forgetting to see the movie, which is exactly what happened this time as well. This was a fun, well-paced and fast read that definitely made me more paranoid about males in my life. Reminded me of the importance of trying to see situations and people clearly without any expectations or past ideas about them. In the book, that isn’t only toxic, it’s lethal.

Hunger Makes Me A Modern Girl by Carrie Brownstein:

One of the best memoirs I’ve read. I was so struck by how Brownstein writes about herself, past and present. With so much understanding, truth, and not seeking attention, love, or any specific emotion from the reader, just telling how things were and are. Never self-aggrandizing, self-pitying, or self-victimizing, which I imagine, are very difficult things to avoid when writing a memoir if you’ve been a person. She knows herself and doesn’t seek to represent/misrepresent herself and she has the utmost respect for truth, her own and the truths of those she knew or mentioned. I was so inspired by this book I wanted to tattoo whole sections and words onto my body (because yes, the writing as well as the life was incredible) so I wouldn’t forget them. She has a beautiful rib cage tattoo that says “dig me out” and the circumstances of those words meant so much to me in relation to many of the situations in this last semester when I felt helplessly trapped. She gave me the courage to dig myself out of unhappiness. I finished the book ugly crying into a pillow euphoric from having been on such a rewarding journey.

A Manual for Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin:

More like a manual for living authentically. So incredibly and simply rendered, this book of short stories really made me realize the artificiality of my daily life. The frailty and helplessness with which we face all things- our deaths, our addictions, the deaths and addictions of those we love is shown with so much love, we can empathize with characters we wouldn’t be able to empathize with in another hand. She writes the most complex situations in a way that our response can only be love or understanding- never manipulating our emotions, but transforming us into empathetic beings. I never knew how privileged I was…never fully understood (and still don’t) the things I have which are ordinary to me, which would be luxuries to others…like the ability to converse in this language, to even read and search for a job if I needed. This book made me want to go be someone comfortable without the comforts I think I need because I learned how much I don’t need the way others need. This book is written by someone who is an “outsider” and encounters so many people who are impoverished, criminal, on the fringe of what society would be comfortable with. I connected with this voice so strongly, and it made me realize how much I feel like an “other” in most places in my life. I wept for the people in these stories, and yet I also envied them their living. These experiences in fiction felt at many times more potent, and closer to the meaning of life than my real life.

2015 ->2016

It has become a tradition for me to write a post every new year (or end of the year) that shares a little of what the last year has been like and what I hope the new year will hold. Every year, the new year means a little less to me. It seems to me that the days that are important make themselves known, and carve out a place in our history stronger than the ones we are told are meaningful. But there is so much to be thankful for in 2015, it’s not a surprise that I’m reluctant to welcome a new year. I’m grateful for millions of little things, as well as the big things; the health and happiness of my loved ones, the marriage and appointment of my brother as the concertmaster in NY, another year doing what I love, my friendships which truly sustain me in difficult times and inspire me/ make me laugh in others, and the relationship that has brought me a joy, balance, and simplicity that I had not previously imagined was possible.

I’m not one much for resolutions, (not since so many in my teens and early 20’s started only to fail spectacularly) but I’m dedicated to changing in ways that will benefit myself and others. Most of these changes aren’t things I come up with; they’re inspired by great conversations with the insightful people I’m lucky to have in my life, as well as things I come across, see on television, and read. For the last few years, I just had a list of words I wanted to focus on or think about throughout the year…I think one of the years, there was just one…”look”…but I’ve read such great things lately, I thought I would share some of the quotes that have motivated change in me recently.

“She saw that the people of this world moved about in an armor of egotism, drunk with self-gazing, athirst for compliments, hearing little of what was said to them, unmoved by the accidents that befell their closest friends, in dread of all appeals that might interrupt their long communion with their own desires.” – The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder

Obviously, I don’t want to have the armor of egotism, be thirsting for compliments all the time (especially in our like-dependent social media-driven world) etc ..but the one that really stands out for me is the last. I think that too often, I prioritize what I’m doing or thinking over the needs or desires of those around me and this is something I really hope to change.

“but in love our very mistakes don’t seem to be able to last long?” -another from The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder

In context this question, to me, is about forgiving yourself. I don’t like how I treat some of the people who love me…maybe I’m hangry or sleepy…maybe I don’t understand their actions (even though I understand they are doing it out of love)…and I end up being really disappointed in myself. This quote and the passage it’s from was liberating for me to read. My irritability can have no lasting effect on the much greater power of love, so instead of feeling guilt or self-loathing, I can focus on trying to be better.

“No doubt all of this is not true remembrance but the ruinous work of nostalgia, which obliterates the past, and no doubt, as usual, I have exaggerated everything. – The Mysteries of Pittsburgh by Michael Chabon

The new year is a time for me, and I’m sure others, fraught with reflection. Rereading this quote again reminds me of the ‘ruinous work of nostalgia’…I have a tendency to think back on times with something akin to a mood or emotional Instagram filter…I know that in those moments I remember, I didn’t feel the way I feel now, having saturated them with historical importance or meaning in my life. I hope to stop thinking about the past as much…at least in a way that is untrue, or too nostalgic. That has been especially dangerous for me since I have a feeling my memories are treacherously self-absorbed. There’s a great Radiolab episode about memory where I learned that, neurologically, remembering is creating…the ways that we remember the past alter the past.

And I couldn’t pick just one quote from this next book- The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy. I found it to be so impressive and moving, seamlessly incorporating the personal and the political. The titular “God” of small things is constantly changing meaning and identity in the book, but the interpretation I keep coming back to after reading is the idea that the “God” of small things are the things we value, the things we give authority to in our lives…not necessarily a god, but a belief in one…a belief in anything. These beliefs shape the small things we do, personally and societally, and shape the world in millions of little ways, ways we can’t foresee, help, or control…often with devastating consequences.

I was talking to someone I love and respect very much recently. And he told me that sometimes, he gets the sense that I put what I think of as moral or decent above things like understanding, family, and friends. That I would, in essence, always choose to see things in black and white instead of with empathy.

He’s right. I was a little surprised at first, but it took all of 2 minutes of thinking about it to realize how right he is. I have an intolerance for cruelty and untruth that borders on…well, cruelty. I’m dogmatic, maybe even tyrannical about the things I believe. No matter how “right”, socially acceptable, or even noble my beliefs are…to become despotic and oppressive with them makes me as intolerable as the things I have an intolerance for. So I’m going to try to let these morals, ideas, beliefs…these gods of small things in my life go. I’m going to try to stay human in situations where I too easily become cerebral and lose empathy, just because I’m afraid of feeling.

I guess that’s the main resolution I have, not just for this year…but all my life, I hope to stay human- messy, complex, and full of feeling–

many thanks for reading-
happiness, love, and great health to you all!
Ling Ling


Smitten with Britten part 4: influences

Many pieces and events as well as his own life influence Britten’s violin concerto but in my approach to the piece, the musical influence I studied the most was Beethoven, largely because of the following excerpt from the Cambridge Companion to Benjamin Britten:

“The strongest influence up to the middle of 1926, however, was Beethoven. Later diary entries show the extent of Britten’s admiration for him. On 13 November 1928 he declared Beethoven to be ‘First…in my list of Composers…and I think will always be’, while on 24 June 1929, after, hearing Kreisler’s recording of the Violin Concerto, he enthused, ‘Oh! Beethoven, thou art immortal; has anything ever been written like the pathos of the 1st & 2nd movements, and the joy of the last?”

Before my performance of the Britten with the Shepherd Symphony, I wanted to work on the Beethoven Concerto and see for myself how Britten was influenced and how the pieces might be linked. Beethoven is my favorite composer (I know we aren’t supposed to have favorites…) and I’m in the middle of my own project of doing all of the Beethoven Sonatas in recital but I took a break from just sonatas last semester and did a recital with Beethoven’s 7th sonata as well as his concerto, mimicking the Beethoven/Britten album of one of my own musical influences Janine Jansen, who’s recording of Britten was the first time I heard the piece many years ago. Here’s an excerpt of the second movement from my recital last semester…the audio is slightly muted for the first few seconds for whatever reason…

Odds and Ends of the year

It always feels a little odd to me to block off time in years. After all, important personal, emotional, and political events do not seem to adhere to any sense of time in terms of years. To be sure, I could use a fresh start, but the start to a new year doesn’t carry the same optimism now as it did for me growing up. I’m used to demarcating things in years, but so much happens in a year, at the end what could I want but a new beginning for certain things and the end of others? I dispensed with resolutions last year and instead, focused on a few words I wanted to live, think about, or get closer to in the next year. 

These words were fragility, resilience, absurdity, and transparency.

I think reflecting on these words has changed me a lot. I wanted to live a life that wasn’t afraid to embrace these qualities and it led to a lot of mistakes. But mistakes and unhappinesses I created, chose, or can accept responsibility for, have value to me.
In a way, these words became a mantra for me and I thought about them when I was presented with choices. More often than not, they pushed me out of my comfort zone and challenged me to be fragile, transparent about that fragility, to love and not question the nonsensical, and to test the limits of my emotional endurance. In the coming year, I want to keep thinking about what it would look like for me to be good and to do good in my immediate community. I have also picked a few new words and I hope that they will be equally challenging. 

Throughout every year and every life, certain days, situations, and people have ways of making themselves important or memorable, some in great ways and some in sad ways. So I like resolutions. We can have so little choice in the external things that can impact our lives and making resolutions is a great way to remember and celebrate our choices, as long as they’re really ours, as long as we ask ourselves what it is that we want, apart from external forces.

Here’s to another year…one I hope will be a continuation of mistakes, exploration, and living. 

Health and happiness to you all,
Ling Ling


Odds, Ends

I can’t believe it is December already! I’m so excited that break has started and there are so many things I want to do that being in school doesn’t allow: 1) get enough sleep 2) not get enough sleep 3) read not for class and cook, and take walks and go biking and running outside. Soon, I will be in Cleveland seeing people I love, going to my favorite hangs like algebra teahouse, cleveland orchestra, moca, cinemateque, guilford house, cedar lee theatre, cia, museum, Susan McClary’s classroom…it’s going to be amazing. I really need to find more places to hang out here in Houston that isn’t just other people’s rooms in RVA.

Just some odds and ends today making a shorter and possibly readable post.

-Not quite done with my obsession of the second movement of 127, it turns out. There’s a moment in the music I’ve been trying to understand because it makes me so happy- staggeringly so. Measure 87 to be exact. It’s kind of in the middle of the movement (haha there’s 127 measures in this movement of 127!) So not the middle okay- but a little after…the self-conscious figure of the quarter-eighth which I go on at length about in the previous entry is suddenly reversed, coupled with a surprising half-step rising motion. It sounds like this time around the theme has gained a kind of confidence- because the harmony is jarring and painful at first it feels desperate in a way…especially on the shorter value of the eighth. But it also feels at last free, stumbling and blurting and suddenly growing into this wonderfully warm consciousness. Okay, I tried…but I’m still nowhere close to really understanding how he’s doing this…I guess all I can do is describe how it makes me feel…the surprising harmony and blatant reversal of gesture reads to me as charmingly irreverent. I feel like a youth who has deliberately done something deliciously indulgent as the most sincere and genuine expression of myself. Haha there it is whether or not it makes sense to anyone else…

-finally reading again after not finishing a single book since the beginning of the semester. Since I’ve only been reading McClary “Desire and Pleasure in 17th Century Music”, her “Modal Subjectivities” and Amy Goodman’s “The Silenced Majority” it now feels very indulgent to think about reading fiction even though it is my first love. But it’s break right? Started my first Franzen- The Corrections.

-trills are such a weird animal to me. I can’t figure them out…I had this lesson where Mr. Kantor and I discussed trills and how they are used to intensify things. While I agree, I just think it is such a strange way to intensify something. You oscillate between pitches which obscures them. The rapidity of movement and sustaining of said trill intensify, but it still seems like a dichotomy that something that is in essence an obscuring is meant to bring something it out. And trills are also sometimes written to be hazy and vague. It’s like sunglasses and how they end up being for anonymity and/or recognition. Are trills the sunglasses of music?

-Some McClary that has been making me think recently…from her Modal Subjectivities. “Even as Monteverdi was delivering “ah, dolente partita” to the publisher, he and his colleagues were embarking on a style that brought music into the arena of dramatic spectacle we now call opera. The realistic performance of individual subjects afforded by the stile recitativo made opera the dominant genre of musical representation for the next three hundred years. But we often forget that recitative accomplished its coup at the cost of harnessing music to the linear imperatives of language: as music attaches itself to the exigencies of rhetorical declamation, it finds itself restricted to speeches limitations.”

This quote was an amazing find for me because I’ve been thinking about narrative and music and the connections between both. Reading it makes me feel sad though, I see this part of history like a Garcia Marquez novel. I just imagine the Florentine Camerata being all nooo nooooo! to the madrigals and pretending they knew what the music of ancient Greece was like and imposing that on the music of their times. Don’t get me wrong, I love opera…but I can’t help wondering what would have happened if music hadn’t been necessarily “harnessed to the linear imperatives of language.” Because now we have people in audiences who don’t necessarily understand classical music. (I know, I know…should all music be understood? does that have to be a purpose? that’s another discussion I guess) Because there are no words. Even though they really want to. Would everyone who hasn’t had classical music training understand music had music not been restricted to speeches limitations back in the day? I really have no idea…it is just interesting to think about. I also just love being all ugh Florentine Camerata! You thought you were awesome but you tragi-hilariously screwed us over.

It seems I’m doing well on the not getting enough sleep front. :D