A Gift That Keeps Giving

A gift that keeps giving

Hi friends, I’ve returned to school for a few months this year.

We only need 60 days to pick up a new habit, so here’s to the process of learning something new. I’d rather not sit in a lecture, but if I have to, I might as well tell you stories about it. Shouldn’t we be constantly learning, anyways?


We are sitting in lecture, and the professor is explaining a software concept that’s not particularly interesting, speaking quickly in a soft voice.

“This section of the memory is shared—”

A male student sitting in front of me slaps himself in the face.

The professor proceeds with the lecture.

The student keeps slapping himself and making loud noises. Someone behind me is chomping on chips. I am trying not to laugh, but I could be jiggling the entire row of seats.

My laughter subsides but returns in waves when the guy slaps himself again. He is huffing loudly. I don’t know who’s more distracting to the class: the guy slapping himself, the girl giggling behind him, or the guy chomping away on chips behind us.


I recently read a study that found that people lose friends each year they age past 25, and also that half our friends probably don’t even think of us as friends.

People who are out of school often tell me, “I miss making friends easily in school.” A friend who is a venture capitalist in his forties says his closest business partners are his frat brothers from McGill back in the day.

So I tried to maximize my friendship quota while in school, and I stopped by my first and last fraternity party last month.

“We’re going to try to find business partners?” Megz asks, before changing for the frat party.

“I don’t know what a frat party is like,” I say. “But maybe we could.”

“I’m socially awkward.”

“So am I.”

The party turns out to be a lot of people jammed into a house with loud music and alcohol and we didn’t find any business partners. We did find that we are awkward at frat parties and that a lot of people look so young and thin that I wonder where they get their IDs from, because the government sure isn’t dumb enough to give a proper ID to a 14 year old.

I look at my mother, who, despite the extraverted demeanour, keeps mostly to herself during non-work hours, and I think that when I am her age, I would probably have more friends than her because I am more forgiving in people’s shortcomings.

But, who am I kidding? Maybe by the time I am her age, I will be just as unamused with society’s niceties.


“Can you play the beginning of Home Sweet Home?” A friend texts me.

He sends me a Youtube video with a piano intro.

I consider it for a few seconds, then walk over to my piano in the next room. It’s a repetitive pattern moving downwards with the melody in the left hand. Easy.

I play something with the approximate chords and rhythm and send it back. “Something like this?”

“Almost, but not quite.”

“It’s the rhythm, I think.” I’m rhythm-dyslexic.

I change it and send it back; now I’m determined to get a gold star.

“No.” He says. “I’ve heard it live five times and the recording hundreds of times. That’s not it.”

I add a flat in my playing. I listen to the recording over and over again.

“Don’t give up on me,” I say. “I will get it.”

“I’m in the car now, so I’ll listen to it later,” he says. “I think you’re close. I’m happy you got this far.”

My piano teachers didn’t let the whisper of a slurred note sneak past, and here this musical peasant is telling me that “almost” good playing is good enough. He shouldn’t have played with the can of worms if he didn’t want them slithering on his hands and ears.


Sometime after hearing Home Sweet Home for the fiftieth time, I realize that I haven’t been so determined to perfect a piece in years.

For people who are past the point of needing a piano teacher sitting beside us, maybe we don’t need guidance on piano technique itself, but instead, we need someone to point out what sounds displeasing. Someone to set the standards and tell us to work harder. Practice. Because I haven’t had motivation to practice, lately. (Don’t kid me, we all have time to practice. Fifteen minutes is sufficient practice time and you can’t tell me you don’t have fifteen minutes in your life. Here is how to practice fast. Just brush your teeth faster or something.)

Once, I heard, “The best critiques reveal the problems, but don’t attempt to generate the solutions.”

And to that end, music is universal, so we don’t need someone with a fancy music degree to point out what sounds pleasing, do we?

In case you’d like a gift idea, why don’t you ask someone, “I will play any song for you. What do you want to hear?” The most unique gifts require effort and you don’t necessarily give them during holidays or birthdays.

Then you will be held accountable for practicing, even if you are not studying with a music teacher.


P.S. Here’s what I ended up with. In case you’re interested, I found the Home Sweet Home piano sheet music just now and if you play it, you can tell me how far off from the original piece I was.


Photo by Alan Wu

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