I am on the road

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And will be back soon with many, many posts.

For now, there’s this.

Happy Friday, friends.


I’m a Lyrical Gangsta


I love karaoke.

But that’s not much of a surprise. A Filipino saying she loves karaoke is like a white dude saying he loves, uh, never mind. Let’s just say it’s pretty common.

It’s so common the fam and I would gather ‘round for karaoke during the holidays while I still had most of my baby teeth.

We sang so much that when we immigrated to the US to join our mom in the Bronx (It’s a long story, but long story short, my mom was an overseas worker), she introduced us to her friends through song.

Seriously. At parties, my sister and I wore our Swan Lake tutus and pranced around while my mom sang “From A Distance.” We sang something Smokey Mountain. My brother did a rendition of this. It was so very von Trapp, but with coconuts.

Yes, there are videos. No, you can’t see them.

Soon enough, puberty hit. And soon enough, we got too big for our tutus and too cool to hang with mom and her friends. We preferred the Fugees. Sitting on stoops. Abusing our unlimited internet time on AOL.

In short, we became assholes. Baggy pants-, oversized flannel-shirt wearing assholes.

The family time stopped, and so did the singing. At least in public.

Inside, oh how the fire burned.

To my tape recorder, I sang Jewel. The shower was my concert. For years my illustrious music career languished. I was a writer, I decided. A serious writer with no time for such frivolous pursuits.

And then came the jingle.

In grad school, though the term grad school is dubious for the kind of stuff we actually do, we had to write a jingle. And not just write it, we had to perform it. We could use no accompaniments, no instruments. No clapping was allowed.

I hadn’t sung alone in front of a crowd, at least the kind of singing that didn’t come with alcohol and a numerical score at the end, since I was, like, 12.

I was terrified.

I refused to volunteer. I watched my classmates go one by one execution style until it was my turn.

I walked to the front, barely looked up, and sang.

I like coffee, lots of coffee.

I like coffee on the train and in a cup.

In a cup

In a cup

I like coffee on the train and in a cup

It was bad. My voice was shaky. I messed up a crucial part.

I should have blacked out.

But you know what? I lived to tell you about it.

I decided if I could badly sing my jingle to a roomful of my peers, I could badly sing anything to anybody. But not just sing — oh no, Karen is never satisfied with the sensical. Once summer started, I vowed to sing while playing a musical instrument.

Not that I knew how, but I figured I’d learn.

And why not? If my stellar Rock Band and Guitar Hero career of consistently racking up 100% on the guitar on medium was any indication, surely the ukulele couldn’t be too different.

That turned out to be false, but a certain level of naivete is sometimes necessary.

Since getting the uke for my birthday, I’ve learned one song a week. I have callouses, and I like it. I like it a lot.

Unlike writing, it doesn’t have to be perfect. The joy is in learning a new song. The Asian tiger mom in me often makes me play things over and over again, but the later, more polished ones tend to be more joyless than the flawed early versions.

Which is why I chose to show you this one.

This was about the fifth time I ever played it. I messed up the lyrics. I messed up some notes. I made up some strums.

But I had fun.

I’m going on tour.

Love and Life and Writing

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People are like creative work.

You have to go through a lot of mediocre ones, bad ones even, to end up with something good. Even then, it doesn’t mean it will always be good.

Nothing is linear.

You learn which ones you want to spend time with and how you want to spend that time. You know not to waste any on fruitless pursuits, and you know not to settle for what’s good enough.

You search for it. You work for it. You suffer for it.

You open yourself up to ridicule, criticism and ignorance because of it.

And it’s worth it. Because good stuff begets more good stuff. Where you find awesome people you’ll likely find more awesome people. Maybe not right away, but at some point.

It’s what fuels my writing and my relationships.

When I started dating a new boy, it was a bigger deal than I thought it would be. Correction: a bigger deal to everyone else than I thought it would be. It was certainly a big deal to me.

At first, I spent a lot of time trying not to piss anyone off. And anytime you do that, with people, with work, with anything, you’re done.

You’ve let fear get the best of you. Sometimes it’s a valid fear, like when doing something might result in your and your loved ones’ exile from the modern world.

But compared to that, everything else doesn’t seem so life and death.

Because it isn’t.

I looked at who had been with me at my best and my roughest, and who would be with me beyond that.

I looked at myself. How my personal self affected my writing self. How I could push for good work and surround myself with good work but not push for the same thing in my physical world.

I couldn’t.

What happened next was painful and terrible, but also kind of great. On one hand, I had people I hadn’t talked to in ages telling me all about my horrible life decisions. On the other, I found someone I could talk to about anything and everything, with much self-deprecation and humor.

It wasn’t as simple as that — nothing is — but it was simple in truth. You can’t achieve anything great without risking anything great.

It’s a truth we’re all familiar with, but one that needs repeating when we most need it. Like when we’re about to take the last shred of toilet paper without replacing it. Or quit a job to pursue something completely different. Or do something that makes our lives great fodder for a telenovela.

I had to let go of parts of myself and people I’d loved so I could be more like who I was becoming.

How people responded to that, I decided, didn’t matter. At least the ones who didn’t matter to me. There were plenty of moments when I thought: How dare they? They don’t know me and what I’ve been through!

And that’s just it. They don’t. They probably never will.

In life, whether we do something great or terrible or just okay, everyone will have an opinion. We’d all like them to be informed and educated and smart opinions, but that doesn’t always happen.

What has happened is the big players are still big players. The minor ones have faded into the background, like I thought they would.

And it didn’t hurt. Too much.

If I had to do it all over again, with the power of hindsight, I would.

Because if good begets good and bad begets bad, then strength must also beget strength.