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piano

What kind of lonely are you?

What kind of lonely are you?

Loneliness is “the discrepancy between actual and desired relationships,” says Dr. Perissinotto, associate chief in geriatrics clinical programs at the University of California San Francisco.

After a week in Canada, I remembered what it was like to not be lonely.

I say, “I’m going to be back in Canada next week.”

“Do you have any work to do at your job?” Kat says.

“I figured that it’s summer! I’m going camping, remember?”

People change as they age, and there are a lot of ideas about how it happens.

One of these is the disengagement theory, by social scientists Elaine Cumming and William Earle Henry, where, as people become more elderly, they withdraw from social roles that were important when they were younger. Like in American movies, being popular in high school is important.

At first I thought that I am experiencing an early onset of disengagement. But if it were true, then I wouldn’t bother going to Vancouver.

In Vancouver, I wear earplugs and ear muffs when I attend concerts. Construction ear muffs, in fact, because of the ringing in my ear. They are gigantic bright yellow earmuffs squeezing my head.

I did the math: the musician earplugs lower the sound by 24dB and the construction earmuffs by another 24dB, so if I keep both on, the sound will be 48dB lower, which is the difference between a chainsaw and a conversation. But the audio quality is poor with the earmuffs.

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How we describe our flaws is a sign of self-love

How we describe our flaws is a sign of confidence

After scrolling through a hundred therapist ads, I couldn’t tell what help I needed anymore. Pychotherapy? Art therapy? I made a spreadsheet of female therapists who had kind faces. Google says I should ask for a phone consultation, where there are 20 questions you should fire off.

The first therapist I speak with on the phone says, “What is the issue you are struggling with?”

She is a stranger that I’m supposed to open up to? But these problems are her job. It’s like, a wart is disgusting for everyone, but to a doctor, they are a job to be done.

“I just moved to the city, so it’s a big change and I feel lonely.”

“A lot of people feel this way when they first move.” But this is not my problem. My problem is not a normal problem that normal people have. She is minimizing my problem into one sentence – that I feel lonely because I’ve moved.

I tack on phrases like “a little bit” or “kind of” to soften the blow for two minutes. This is my two minute prologue for why I need help. I have to need help but not sound crazy.

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Being a pianist that people want to be around?

I analyze each social context when I am the only one confused, which causes a lot of embarrassment, partly because I am now aware that I am the only one who doesn’t understand a situation that I should be able to understand by now.

What did that look mean? What did that wink mean?

People expect me to understand, or else they wouldn’t be including me in them.

It’s like a secret language where I intercepted a few signals. Like catching the Enigma Code in the Imitation Game. I’m only more aware that I don’t understand, and each time I think about it, I’m more dismayed. So maybe I have Asperger’s.

The possibility of having Asperger’s just means that I won’t be able to understand, even if I tried very very hard to pay attention and memorize how you’re supposed to act during certain situations.

I haven’t gone through a doctor yet. Asperger’s in women is misdiagnosed so often that I could cycle through doctors until I found one who would slap the label on me. I could very well have social anxiety instead.

I baked a blueberry loaf the other day and thought I would leave a slice outside my neighbour’s door, since he wasn’t “in the mood to hang out”. It’s the neighbour who was ignoring my texts because he was having family issues.

“He might get the wrong idea,” Pan says.

“What?”

“A pretty girl wants to see you all the time and feed you. What are you supposed to think?”

“Oh,” I say. “It never occurred to me.”

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My favourite Hanon secrets

My Secrets for Playing Hanon

Not everyone understands how to play Hanon.

There are 60 exercises, but you are not meant to do them all at once. They are tools in your arsenal for each of the different areas you need to improve on.

Have you ever heard of the 80/20 rule? 80% of your results come from 20% of your efforts, and this is true for a lot of things in life, especially piano technique.

If you only had 5 minutes for technique and you’ve laid the groundwork for other fundamentals (scales/arpeggios/etc) I’d recommend spending time on Hanon.

If you don’t have the Hanon book yet, click here to get it.

In the video below, I share tips for playing Hanon:

  • If you are stiff or tense, how to move your wrist
  • How to properly press your fingers down to each key
  • Where you’re wasting energy when playing piano
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Everyone thought I looked fine.

Around this time of year, I get a lot of big thoughts. Cutting thoughts.

I’m having some of them right now.

A few days ago, I caught myself thinking about what I would do to spend even one more minute with my dad.

I caught myself thinking what-if, and those are dangerous what-ifs, so I’m not going to write them out. Those moments that I took for granted back home are so precious. Why didn’t I think to save his fuzzy voicemail clip?

It looks like I have it together, really. I decorate my home, I cook healthy food, I lounge around in the hot tub when I’m stressed. I even made a few friends in the city. I smile when I’m supposed to.

You wouldn’t have known.

That I was lonely, that I was dying inside, that nothing seemed to be working no matter how hard I tried. I dreaded going to sleep since I’d wake up in nightmares or worse, wake up in a dazed stupor fueled with caffeine.

I was alone, going home to a home that didn’t feel like home. With friends to call but none of them get me yet.

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How I picked my digital piano

In Seattle, I’ve settled into a cave with slate blue cabinets. I’ve gotten myself a mattress and a bed and a shelf.

Things have fallen into place bit by bit. I appreciate all the Artiden friends who reached out or sent a simple hello.

Here I am, sitting on a silver milk jug thinking about life in front of a plateful of cheese, in Seattle.

Every time I come to the Seattle Pike Market, I visit the handmade cheese factory. I love grilled cheese. I’ve always wanted to try crab pot, but by the time I finish my grilled cheese, I’m always too full. Pan the cheese fanatic drove down to visit me, and we were too busy eating cheese.

In music, I’ve always had a Yamaha acoustic piano, so in my mind, I was getting a Yamaha digital piano. It’s like my handmade grilled cheese. There’s no question.

I went to the music store to play most of the digital pianos they had while Pan looked like he was in pain. (Pan says I have to also say that he drove me there and back while I was asleep with my mouth wide open)

My first criteria was that I wanted the touch to feel like an acoustic. Good luck with that, Grace, most digitals don’t have real hammers inside.

The second was that I wanted it to have good sound quality and some kind of connectivity for recording.

That’s it. That’s all I asked for. If you want to see some of the research I’ve done about travel-sized digital pianos, take a look here.

I dallied at the music store and voted the Yamahas off the island right away. I am looking for THE ONE and as soon as I sat down, I knew it wasn’t a Yamaha.

I went back and forth playing a Casio and Roland, when a wannabe Beethoven started competing with me. I swear he turned up the volume on his digital piano, so I turned up mine too, since I couldn’t hear myself play.

In the end, I got a Roland FP30. It’s the closest to an acoustic in the store that’s in my budget.

Here is what I learned about shopping for pianos / starting your music studio:

  • know what you DON’T want. I used to try pianos and say “I don’t know what I think of this”.
  • watch videos where people sample different pianos and close your eyes – you’ll find that you’ll prefer one over the other, intuitively.
  • be ready to fall in love with an unexpected piano.
  • having a piano won’t motivate you to play piano. it’ll become a piece of furniture unless you’re already motivated to play. so it doesn’t matter how expensive or cheap your piano is, if you’re only looking for a new piano to “get motivated” to play more.

If you’d like to see my behind-the-scenes music / techniques and also be the first to see my music tips videos, I have a Patreon! It’s a way get perks in return for joining a membership each month. You can contribute as much or as little as you like.

While I’ve gotten back on my feet financially, this is a great way to support what I’m doing and I appreciate any amount that you’d like to contribute. I thought about starting this for a long time, and everyone has been beyond supportive.

I’ve gotten a lot of questions, so I’ll answer them below.

FAQ about joining on Patreon

I don’t want my name to be public. Can I donate anonymously?
Yes! Check out this link.

How can I donate?
Go to this link and click “Become a Patron.” Then, you can choose how much you want to donate each month, and you’ll be guided through the process. Here’s a tutorial on how to do this.

What forms of payment does it accept?
It accepts credit/debit card, Paypal, and more. Check out the full list here.

Please note: I don’t get access to your payment information, and you can cancel the membership at any time.

Here’s my Patreon page! Join here.

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Thank you for an amazing 2018.

Grace Lam

It’s customary to say “the year has been a [insert object that goes up and down, like rollercoaster]”.

Well, son, I don’t want to say it, but… the year has been like hormones. 

For me, there was the highest of highs, I felt like I was flying, when my dreams were coming true. It also brought me to the pits of the earth–I sunk so far down into myself that I turned inside out.

Slowly but surely, I saw more parts of the world than my little heart could handle, and I craved the mountains and oceans surrounding home again.

This year, I was good at pushing myself out of my box. I might’ve said that last year too, but this year, I went farther than I thought I would and could.

I started the year by writing about how I was moving for a job in the USA. I actually accepted the offer in Oct 2017, and now it’s Dec 2018, but honestly, I didn’t think many people would care about what went on in my life.

Then I got some encouraging comments and messages from Artiden, which led me to open up further.

I chopped off most of my hair and started paying more attention to myself. If I can only spend 90% of my days doing what I love, I’m intending to maximize this time.

My travels took me back to Asia, and Europe. I stumbled upon many curious events.

For example, I was in South Korea when they declared “peace” with North Korea (couldn’t see anything at the border besides fog). I was in Paris when they won the World Cup (man, they didn’t stop screaming until 5am everyday on the streets). I was in London when the entire city marched to protest against Trump (I was careful to display my Canadian tag on my backpack so I wouldn’t get punched “by accident”).

The time I almost went deaf. It was terrifying to see how poorly I function when deaf in one ear. I couldn’t even walk without tripping.

In a moment of bravery, I admitted to hundreds of thousands of people online, on Artiden, things that I only told two of my close friends. Things even my mother only found out last month. I thought it would be of help to someone out there.

All my Artiden friends were so supportive, and I’m so lucky to have found such an amazing group.

People have asked me to teach piano online, so out of curiosity, I picked a few students to teach over the internet. Would it work this time? I’d tried teaching online piano lessons four years ago when the lag and video quality were garbage.

But sometimes I forget that technology improves exponentially every few months. The video quality is really good.

I get to teach music students in different timezones so the schedules always work out, and the students get to return to their own lives right after the lesson, no driving in the rain nor waiting!

Bob (an Artiden community friendo) and Pan are two of the first people who asked me to teach, so thank you!

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