If there was a word for how life feels right now, I would probably choose “vibrant.” I see now with eyes more open than before, and my heart is overflowing with affection for everything around me. (I wonder if this qualifies me for a hippie.)

Dinner with K tonight, which hasn’t happened in what scientists might consider “forever and a day.” We’ve been good friends since I decided that we would be. It really was that simple. Misadventures ensued (naturally). Old friends are meant to open up parts of you that close up over time. No matter how much you fight it, you slowly forget about that silly prank you pulled, that one girl everyone talked about, or that place you all used to go. Then with a simple conversation, an array of memories explodes between you, ricocheting like glass marbles in the air. Friends are worlds within themselves that you can only visit through being with them.

“What I appreciate most about our friendship is that it has survived through so many different version of ourselves,” I told K. “It’s a true testament to how strong our friendship truly is. No matter how much we change, we still stay in each others’ lives.”

Some smiles, some tears. A warmth enveloping my heart.

I find that I can give of myself again, generously and without hesitation. I no longer see the world around me in a flurry but rather in a harmonious flow. I am happy to be part of it.

serengeti dreams

I dreamed last night of Africa, which is strange because I’ve never been to Africa. My former roommate was born and raised in Zimbabwe, and another friend of mine lives in South Africa. My visions of the continent are heavily influenced by years in front of the television watching the Discovery Channel, National Geographic, and Animal Planet as well as stories that my friends have told me. Other than that, I have no direct experience with being in any of the African countries.

Strangely enough, I had a very vivid dream about going. In the dream, I woke up to get ready for work and upon entering the garage to get into my car, I discovered that my mom had re-parked it  outside. When I looked inside the window, there were tons of camera batteries in the passenger seat. My mom had also written me a check for some money and left a note saying that she was sending me on vacation to Africa because I’d been working too hard.

In the next part of the dream, I was driving around in a plain full of umbrella trees. I was in my old black Toyota Corolla (which I no longer have). My gas tank was almost empty, and I had no idea how to get around. I stopped the car and got out. Suddenly, my friend Carole (who currently lives in South Africa) came and picked me up. She swerved and accelerated and took me through whirls of turns as I tried in vain to take pictures of the plains from the car. She finally dropped me off where I last left my car, and I thanked her.

The last thing I remember was trying to find a gas station and thinking I’d have to calculate the cost in liters instead of gallons.

When I woke up, it was 7:15am.

sunday catchup

Some days are catch-up days, and today was one of them. The first thing I did today was sleep in. This was completely necessary! The past week involved tons of work, driving, studying, planning, practicing, performing, and worrying. My mind needed the extra rest.

Off to get my car’s oil changed. My dad goes to a place in Garden Grove, which is a huge hub for the Vietnamese community here in southern California. Naturally, I followed suit and go there every time I have a car-related matter that needs tending to. It’s located close to where I used to teach piano. I can’t help but remember how many times I used to drive up to that intersection every Saturday to spend 6 hours teaching. I’ve gotten to a point in my life where being 15 years old feels far away to me. I think they call it getting old.

When I first started going to this particular auto shop for my car, my dad’s friend was the point person and business owner. Now, his son Walter is slowly taking charge of the business. (First Vietnamese Walter I’ve ever met.) He wears a navy blue jumpsuit stained with grease, oil, and food.

“You drive a lot, huh?” Walter asked, since I had only come two months before to change my oil.

I explained that I’m a musician and we had been touring for the past two months. We spoke briefly about it, and he proceeded to change the oil on my car. Our encounters never involve a whole lot of verbal exchange, but I enjoyed the company. The sun was out, so I stood in it and read my book with my sunglasses on. I was dressed very French today with a neck scarf and cardigan. I felt very chic.

After grabbing lunch and reading more from Ms. Anais Nin’s diary, I drove to the hospital to visit J. He’s on solid foods now, and he can walk around for a little while. Every time I visit, there are new balloons, flower vases, and stuffed animals lining the room’s perimeter. He says the pain is significantly less than before, and the nurses and doctor seem confident in his speedy recovery. While walking up and down the halls, I gave a cursory glance inside the rooms that we passed. Most people in the hospital were at least 20 years older than J. I was so happy to be with my friend, who is getting better every day. Then I considered other patients who may not be so lucky and felt very deeply for them and their families.

Although I fully recognize that the surgery is something that happened to J and not to me, this whole week has re-centered me and reminded me to be thankful of all the things I do have in life. I’m humbled by my visits to the hospital. While sharing the healing process with my closest friend, I feel that a lot of my own inner turmoil has also begun to heal. I’ve gained significant perspective. My soul is at peace.

4/8/11 show at Borders in Costa Mesa, CA


sufrir por el arte

Art and suffering. Suffering and art. Do they go hand in hand? Is it necessary to suffer in order to produce art worth creating?

Anais Nin reflected in her diary, volumes upon volumes which were published, that she wrote because she suffered. And that life is only known to those who have known true suffering.

Is that really true in the 21st century? We’re so conditioned to eat higher-fiber diets, practice yoga, and improve our chi to eliminate suffering from our lives. Or at least adjust our perception of what suffering really is. Do you mean to tell me that we can actually use it toward something?

At the risk of sounding too Proustian, artists have the ability to make something of their suffering and pain. I find it rather fascinating. The first thing that came to mind was a friend of mine who can turn anything into a good story. She’s been in situations that are slightly awkward to ones that are downright ridiculous. No matter what, she’ll come out of it with a good story to tell. Others I know would complain, but this particular friend of mine has a true appreciation for comedy and the finesse of fine storytelling. She taught me to value the comedy in otherwise unfortunate circumstances. This way, the creativity that went into constructing a good story would dilute any trace of tension, stress, anger, or frustration.

I remember reading that Joni Mitchell, one of my favorite songwriters, considered Blue her most honest album and that she would never be “that pure” again. While they were recording, no one was allowed inside the studio except for Joni and whomever else was involved in its production. She wrote and sang about her child born out of wedlock and put up for adoption, suicide, and lost love. These were lyrics that would wrench your heart and tug at your tears. I couldn’t help but feel as if she had to write those songs to process her emotions somehow. That she could no longer bottle up these feelings inside, and somehow these feelings pushed her to a point where she had to make something of them. (Like breakup poetry.)

Then there are those who constantly straddle that fine line between genius and insanity. Like Hart Crane, the poet who often spoke to his typewriter and threw it out his apartment window one day because it didn’t speak Spanish.

Since the dawn of time (you never know…this could actually be true instead of being a simple transition), artists have channeled their suffering into music, novels, sculpture, photography, theater, (hieroglyphics…) — the list is endless. Not to say that suffering is essential to creating art, but it does indeed feed it.

After all, I did write this last album in the middle of the biggest snow storm I had ever experienced (we called it Snowpocalypse, among many other punny names). It was January of 2010. We were completely isolated. My gas and electricity had both cut out, and the electric and gas companies were closed for the weekend. The snow had fallen so quickly that the streets were undriveable and the sidewalks unwalkable. My roommate, best friend, and I burned all the firewood we had in the house (and all the cardboard we could find too). Desperate times called for desperate measures, and we broke down some furniture as to not freeze to death during the night. Somewhere amidst trying to stay alive and nursing my splinters from breaking down our kitchen chairs, I found time to write and be with Creativity. Perhaps the freezing cold elicited music and lyrics (hallucinations, rather) that evoked images of warm weather, sandy beaches, and sunshine — a stark contrast to the landscape of white snow, howling winds, and darkness that surrounded me. My suffering inspired my craft.

It’s a magical relationship that I don’t presume to understand in full. But I don’t deem it a relationship that is necessary to completely understand in order to participate in it. With my recent writer’s block due to the momentum of life and the tour and everything else happening around me, I’ve been trying to regain that same kind of creative flow that I had with this past album. I had forgotten to consider that suffering had something to do with it. (I probably blocked out all my memories of the cold up until now.) Sometimes, what inspires you the most is what affects you most deeply. (Or, in my case last winter, what pushes you closest to the brink of death!)

I also found this article surrounding art and suffering that I thought I’d pass on:

So then what about this sticky notion that the artist must suffer? It’s long been a cliché, this supposed truism. Addictions, suicidal temperaments, promiscuity, unbalanced behavior, misanthropy…all these things have been expected of the great creators of the human race almost as a matter of course.

It’s impossible to argue against the evidence that so many renowned artists were – or are – going off the rails. But what does pain really mean? It prompts us to seek ways to soothe or heal it. If we burn our hand on a hot stove, the pain is there to tell us to yank our hand away. It is not a negative feeling; it’s a protective measure.

Suffering, then, in the life of an artist is merely the impetus to embark upon the quest. Suffering means that the status quo has become too painful, stifling or debilitating for artists – and so they must find their own way. The fruits of this search are what inspire the rest of us, their audience. Does this mean that our artists are supposed to endure physical and spiritual penury all of their lives? No! The purpose of suffering, again, is to prompt us to learn how to heal or otherwise alleviate it. Artists who die in despair never learned how to redeem themselves with their own art; in the end, they failed to be physicians for themselves in the way that they were for so many of us.

So, in answer to the eternal question “Is it necessary to suffer in order to be an artist?” I would say: “Yes – but only at the onset.” From there, the real creative path for each of us lies in finding our own personal answer, the means to fulfill ourselves without relying upon society’s prescription for reality.

Article Source:



I heard a story on NPR yesterday morning about two Pakistani girls, musicians. (Listen here: In Pakistan, choosing to be an entertainer holds negative connotations and is highly frowned upon. Regardless, their music flourishes. When asked about the content of their songs and the object of their lyrics, they say that their desire is to create music that is optimistic and reminds us that good things are around us all the time. It deeply inspired me. While they could easily use their music as a means to vent their frustrations, they simply choose not to.

“The more violence that starts taking place outside, the more sort of serene and calm our music begins to get. I think because it’s a way of creating an alternate universe…You create work that would reflect the world that you want to be in rather than the one you are in,” one of them says.

Art is about creating the world that you want to be in.

I thought of one of my favorite paintings, Van Gogh’s Starry Night. Illuminating a starlit night with his brushstrokes, he brought the world as he saw it to life on canvas to help us see things in a different way. Where one might not have considered a mundane cypress tree such a prominent part of the landscape, his mind’s eye saw it in the forefront of his work. Where we may have seen a dark velvet night sky, he saw swirls, glowing orbs, and streams of light.

It made me think about my music. Not just that — it made me think of other things I’ve created as well. My photographs. My blog. Even the way my room is arranged. It’s all a reflection of how I relate to the world. It’s an effort to construct my own space in this world the way that I would like it to be. Art has little to do with trying to fit into the world around you and much more with creating the world around you as you go.

blossom dearie

I always find myself reaching through time and space, mostly into the past, to find kindred spirits. The latest one I’ve found is darling Blossom Dearie. While sitting in a Starbucks studying German, I overheard her voice and fell in love, which only happens on very special occasions and often instantaneously. (Felipe will confirm this.)

Although even in retrospect, she is one of the most underrated jazz musicians of her time, Blossom recorded prolifically. I was happy to find that she had album after album of material, each changing in theme to reflect a particular period in her musical and personal life but never deviating from her gentle style. Unlike other famous female vocalists, Blossom also played jazz piano and accompanied herself when she performed. With an intricate understanding of jazz instrumentation, rhythm, and melody, she was able to offer more to her audience as well as her band as a performer.

It’s only appropriate that her lyrics are lighthearted and playful. That’s exactly the spirit that her music evokes. Not to mention she somehow injects more wit and intelligence into songs that have been covered many times before.  Her song choice refuses to acknowledge the existence of tragedy. Living up to her name, Blossom simply blossoms.

water under the bridge

My best friend went into surgery today for a condition that has been vexing him for over three years. If you are reading this, please do keep him in your thoughts and prayers. Let’s hope that comfort and health are both in his near future and that the worst of it is merely water under the bridge now.

Hospitals are filled with patients and patience. And impatience. I sat with J’s family while they waited for him to leave the recovery room. Twenty minutes felt like twenty hours.

I had exchanged texts with J in the morning, mostly trying to calm his nerves. I cracked a joke or two about last thoughts before going under the knife. It didn’t hit me until about 10am (when J told me he’d actually be in surgery) that I realized that someone was peering into his insides. At work, I started to feel extremely anxious and unnerved.

In the hospital room, J’s family members approached his bedside with finite caution. Half afraid to wake him and half eager to do it so that they could ask how he was feeling, they opted for silence. The vitals monitor beeped and the IV dripped. From the look on his face, I could tell he was in immeasurable pain.

“You’re the singer, right?” his stepmother asked.

“Yes, I’m the singer friend that J has,” I politely responded. “We’ve been friends for a very long time.”

“I know. We hear your name all the time.”

Growing up, I had the misfortune of visiting various family members in the hospital. My mom often took it upon herself to be the point person in the hospital when it came to looking after sick relatives. Because I was my mother’s daughter, I was called upon to stop by and help run errands, hold hands, and communicate with nurses. From this conditioning, though, I quickly became accustomed to being in a hospital environment and consequently shed all the typical discomfort that most people feel around it.

Today I tried to diffuse some of the tension by being helpful. I’ve found that in hospitals, staying proactive makes it feel like time is moving by more quickly, even if it isn’t. Stagnant, standstill time is your worst enemy. That’s when pain, self-pity, and fear have room to creep in. Constant motion becomes your ally.

Visiting again tomorrow.

Falling asleep tonight with J’s well being in my thoughts. I am thankful as ever for my health, the health of my family, and the present moment.


The world is experiencing a resurgence of the vintage! Throwback Pepsi-Cola products in grocery stores, Polaroid cameras, sock monkeys, red lipstick, and lomo photography – I’ve bought into it all. Without shame. My wardrobe consists of dresses that look like they came from the 60s. I have a collection of vinyl records that I play on a Crosley more often than I listen to CD’s or mp3’s. And my photography, although digital, often leans toward faded colors and vignettes reminiscent of photos taken by older cameras. All I can say is that I know I’m not the only one. It’s a movement, and I’m merely part of it.

I can’t help but wonder: what prompts such a technologically progressive world to take the time to look back and celebrate things past? Is it because these trends invite us to remember simpler times in our own past? Does this movement touch upon some romantic chord in us that we forgot we had all this time? As a romantic myself, I really hope so. This synergy of past and present brings out the best of ourselves, and I hope the trend continues for a long time.

Today I spent more than three hours in a cafe with Felipe while both of us read. I studied German while he read about anthropology. After a while, we both pause and fill each other in on what we were reading or engage in some silly interaction. We hold hands while immersed deeply in our books, pausing to flip to the next page. I ask him to quiz me on my German months (die Monate) and days of the week (die Wochentage), and he willingly participates, throwing a curve ball my way every once in a while. I’ve never been with someone so willing to participate in partnership and so willing to teach me about patience by his own example. I experience something much greater than satisfaction when I’m with him. I feel joy – the sense that what I have in the present moment is enough.

Dear D.H. Lawrence

You told us that the truest way to live life is to listen to what is innate in us. The intellect gets in the way of our purest desires and thus prevents us from being our true selves.

If you had ever met me, you would know (without any extensive psychoanalysis) that my intellect likes to be the center of attention. I don’t presume to say that I am exceptionally intelligent. It’s just that I never stop thinking about things sometimes. Especially lately. As far as inspiration goes, there are peaks and valleys. Right now, I feel as if in a valley. My creative self has been trumped by the side of me that excels at organizing, planning, executing, and managing…Even where there’s time for creativity, it remains elusive.

This has been my latest challenge. I sit down and start writing, then never finish. Or I try to pick up on songs that I began writing and can’t seem to move forward. It’s silly, but because of this first album’s pretense, I have acquired that silly fear that artists sometimes have that they’ll never be able to outdo themselves. Granted, there is so much farther that others have gone and so much farther that I have to go. But I can’t shake this little fear that what I produce from now onward might just be underwhelming.

Then again, I remind myself that I’ve been through valleys in the past, and they’ve always lead me to even more inspiration up ahead. Patience is the name of the game.

As always, the only thing to do is remain hopeful and proactive. If I can’t control when my creative self decides to produce, ich kann Kontrolle anderem! Doing plenty to keep me busy. I intend to be able to speak German confidently soon. Then French. Then Portuguese. And I’m trying to improve myself in a musical sense as well – learning as much as I can and staying dedicated to it.

I have faith in the universe to speak to me again, and I can only hope to do justice to my art when it does.