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my new memoir!

CoverBeyond Two Worlds: A Taiwanese-American Adoptee’s Memoir & Search for Identity is now live! If you have not yet purchased your copy, don’t delay. I have a few books left, and signed copies can be purchased right here on my website.  Just click on Shop to order. Kindle and hardcover editions are available via my author page at Amazon, and you can also find the book at Barnes & Noble, and Indiebound.org.

If you enjoyed reading the book, please consider leaving a review on Amazon, or wherever you purchased your copy! Unfortunately, I am unable to ship internationally; however, those copies can be ordered through Amazon and Barnes & Noble online. To learn more about the book and to read an excerpt, click here, and to read reviews, click here. Thank you for supporting Beyond Two Worlds!

 

fame

MjWhen I was a little girl, I dreamed of becoming a famous actress. I had this little silver crown that my mom brought home from a New Year’s Eve party, and I’d set that atop my head, put on my little white crocheted poncho and pretend that I was being interviewed. My mom would peer into my bedroom and ask who I was talking to. I was inspired by old musicals. My favorites were The Sound of Music, Mary Poppins and An American in Paris. There was also a young girl whom I idolized, the daughter of my second piano teacher. The girl was very pretty and participated in lots of beauty pageants. I mean, this kid had a display of trophies that filled half her bedroom. I remember seeing her perform in a play with my Brownie troop and thinking, “I could do that.” I was far too shy though to really pursue acting. In college, however, I auditioned for a small part in a play called Open Admissions by Shirley Lauro. It was during my sophomore year. The role was for a a character named Kitty Shim, an 18-year old Korean college student. I was a shoe in, as I was the only Asian, female or male, in my entire college. I learned an accent by going to a local Chinese restaurant and talking to a waitress. I even recorded our conversation on cassette tape. Isn’t that funny. The student who played Ginny, one of the leads in the play, was very kind and later told me  that she thought I  had talent. She was in a number of plays performed at Centenary College’s Marjorie Lyons Playhouse. I held onto that compliment, and it opened up a whole new fascination that I wanted to explore.

“I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that it’s not the answer.” – Jim Carrey

Oaplaybillcover-originalWe took Open Admissions to Regionals that year, and I received a small, but positive review for my role. Later, I participated in a theater student’s class assignment, playing the role of Lady Roxane in a scene from Cyrano de Bergerac. It was just me and a guy in the scene. I was told that the theater department director gave me positive remarks. I remember feeling so nervous about that and relieved by the words of encouragement. I was bitten by the acting bug and eventually auditioned for other plays. Performing on stage was euphoric. Unlike a piano performance, I didn’t feel pressure to perform perfectly. Any mistakes or memory lapses at the keyboard meant failure. Perhaps that’s why to this day, I struggle with performance anxiety. I never landed any leading roles, just minor parts, I think primarily because I didn’t know anything about acting and probably wasn’t that skilled. Furthermore, I was terribly insecure, and did I mention shy? I wasn’t capable of showing very much emotion. Most of that came from deep-rooted identity issues that I was not even conscious of at the time. I hardly felt comfortable in my own skin.

After college, I taught piano for awhile in a couple of after-school programs at St. Mark’s Episcopal and a Baptist church in Shreveport. A year later, I moved to Florida where I began taking acting classes. It was such a fun, reckless period in my life. I had a college degree in music, yet was waiting tables at Friday’s. And, I was really the worst waitress ever. It’s almost embarrassing how bad I was. I auditioned for commercials, community theater and dancing roles at Disneyland. Eventually, I auditioned for a Studio Tour Guide position at Universal Studios Orlando, which was just being built at the time. There was a grand opening with lots of celebrities weeks later. I was so excited when I got the position. Then came memorizing a very large script. My peers and I spent hours performing, improvising and critiquing each other in preparation for giving studio tram tours. I was in a group of other “want-to-be” actors and became friends with many of them. We had such a blast working together. I was an idealistic, naive young woman with a lot of ambition, but not a lot of smarts. And it was a time of great freedom. I was landing roles in commercials and community theater, waiting for my “big break.” That arrived when I got a bit part in a made-for-television movie, which earned me my SAG card. No, I never saw the movie and am not sure that it ever aired. Shortly thereafter, I moved to Los Angeles to further pursue acting. I did not get very far. My priorities changed after getting involved in a church and meeting my husband. For someone Asian with little experience and few substantial acting credits, it was difficult to get a callback amidst all the competition.

Sometimes I regret spending so much time chasing a dream that was way beyond my reach. “I should have just continued to teach piano. I should have continued my music studies,” I tell myself. I’ve come to realize that the desire to act stemmed from a need to be seen and heard. On stage, people see and listen to you. You’re literally center stage. And, you get immediate feedback from the audience – that connection was like a high. To cause someone to laugh or to feel something was extremely gratifying. I also loved the camaraderie that came from being part of a cast, a not so dysfunctional family. Growing up adopted, I did not have a voice. I didn’t know how to find my voice nor did I have the ability to identify my feelings or the trauma that caused some of my insecurities. I did not know how to connect with others in a meaningful way. I believed that acting would somehow give me the voice I lacked. I craved adulation, but what I really needed was self-acceptance. It would take years to grow that and a voice.

Although I’m much more comfortable with who I am and what I’m about, I’m still haunted by my own insecurities. To this day, I struggle with anxiety, disordered thinking around food and body image and self doubt. I’m a perfectionist and an overachiever. What I’ve learned is that the very things I sought in the past – status, achievement, beauty, a bigger paycheck, are the things that bring me the least amount of joy. It’s just taken me a Very long time to figure that out, and sometimes, it’s difficult to strike a healthy balance. Like you, I’m a work in progress. Who knows, maybe one day I’ll go back and audition for some community theater 🙂

Photo by Scott Webb on Unsplash

 

 

music to my ears

One of the things I love about Saturday mornings is doing absolutely nothing. I love to start the morning slowly with no agenda. This morning I practiced yoga, had a cup of black tea and made pumpkin pancakes. Then I listened to Beethoven’s “Emperor” Piano Concerto (No. 5 in E-flat, Op. 73) performed by pianist, Maurizio Pollini, and conducted by his son, Daniele Pollini, with the Sinfónica de Galicia. It literally brought tears to my eyes – not only the beautiful performance by a much older Pollini, but to see father and son perform together. How meaningful that performance must have been for them both. How often do musical performances you listen to bring tears of pure bliss?

Piano, of course, is my favorite instrument, not that I’m biased or anything. I truly, deeply, madly regret not continuing to play the piano after I graduated college. I didn’t touch a keyboard for what must have been 15 years, maybe more. Why? I think there was a certain level of inadequacy that I felt as a pianist. My college piano teacher was very inspiring, yet because of my own issues, I never quite met her expectations. I don’t think I was capable of it at the time, as there was so much exploration that needed to take place surrounding my identity and self. I eventually began teaching piano and had my baby grand shipped out to California from Louisiana. We barely had space enough for it to fit in our tiny condo at the time. I joined the Music Teacher’s Association of CA and opened up my own studio. Still, I didn’t play very much; however, I did teach for about ten years, until I went back to grad school for social work.

Long before social work, I took classes at ASU as part of the master’s program in piano pedagogy and performance. I began studying under a doctorate student in order to get to a level where I could audition for the program. Sinjin, although nice, was not the greatest teacher. I had lost a great deal of skill as a result of not playing for so many years and was attempting to re-learn some of the pieces I’d performed in college. In hindsight, that was a huge undertaking, and as a result of over-practicing, I developed carpel tunnel syndrome in my right wrist. Cortisone shots were painful, and I was told by the doctor to stop practicing. That was not going to happen. I practiced several hours a day, as long as the cortisone provided relief.

At my lessons, Sinjin loved to change the fingering of almost every piece I was practicing in some of the more difficult passages. Weekly, as though this would help. That’s like asking someone to change the lyrics in a song repeatedly and re-memorize them over and over, only worse. It required more work, and with constant change, muscle memory was almost impossible. On top of that frustration, I sensed from Sinjin that I just wasn’t good enough to be in ASU’s master’s level program. There were many, many young, talented students, and I was very intimidated by them all, not to mention the program director, who was a bit of a snob. The snobbishness throughout the piano department irked me, so I dropped out. I did not want to spend my days practicing nine or ten hours knowing that I may or may not be selected to enter the program while, at the same time, feeling less than.  Eventually, I studied music therapy thinking that I’d rather use music as a tool for healing. Although I loved the idea of helping others through music, I had to leave that career because it just wasn’t lucrative enough, although I continue to keep my certification current.

A couple of weeks ago, I finally had my baby grand piano tuned for the first time since moving to California – that’s two years with an out of tune piano. It sounds great now. I just wish that I could play like I used to and have to admit that it’s quite disappointing to not be able to pick things back up. I try to remind myself that at least I can still read music and play simpler pieces. Interestingly, I learned that my new piano tuner is also adopted. It’s ironic to me how I randomly end up within the same orbit as other adoptees. For example, when I worked at Arizona State Hospital, I learned that my co-worker, Greg, was an adoptee from Brazil, and the psychiatrist I worked with had three internationally adopted children. I don’t know our piano tuner’s story, as my husband had a conversation with him after he came back a second time to fix a sticking key. I was, unfortunately, at a work-related event. I hope to learn more one day though.

Despite my inability to play as I once did, I still love music almost more than life itself. I remember times practicing in college getting completely, utterly lost in the music that I was playing. I honestly had a better relationship with music than with people. Kinda sad, but true. Music doesn’t judge or have expectations like people, and it’s easy to form an attachment to. I hope one day to use music therapeutically more frequently with adoptees and adoptive families. As Victor Hugo said, “Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent.” 

I’ve included below the YouTube video of the Pollini & Pollini performance of Beethoven’s “Emperor” Piano Concerto. Enjoy.

Header Photo by Adrian Swancar on Unsplash

adoptee singer-songwriter

Hello folks! How’s it going? I wanted to introduce a fellow adoptee and singer-songwriter, Ferera Swan, whose new single release, “Second Time,” will debut on February 1st.

second timeFerera Swan, is an artist, adoptee, and advocate who intends to use her musical talents to bring greater awareness around mental health, trauma, adoption, foster care, and victim abuse. Her own adoption journey inspires her songwriting and will truly resonate with other adoptees. Ferera learned that she was adopted at the age of ten, and like many adoptees, felt the ache of unanswered questions. This she channeled into songwriting.  She wrote her first song at age 12, then quickly moved on to compose her first cinematic score, “Serenity,” at age 14. “Serenity” was eventually performed by four different orchestras during her senior year in high school. Her original piece, “Lighthouse,” was featured as a soundtrack in the film documentary, Swim for the Reef, which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival (2016) in France. Ferera’s music has been featured in soundtracks, film festivals, and she has written with hit makers including Pam Sheyne (co-writer of GRAMMY award-winning Christina Aguilera’s ‘Genie In A Bottle’).

Ferera’s debut single, “Second Time,” is a deeply personal work and was written for her birth mother following their reunion. This event once again sparked feelings of great loss and woundedness. Swan says: “By allowing ourselves to be vulnerable, we inspire others to be curious about their own pain. Together, we spread the kind of love and healing this world needs.” 

To learn more about Ferera, visit her website and blog, soulnotes. Please give the sneak peak below of Ferera’s song, “Second Time,” a listen, and be sure to grab a copy or stream it on February 1, 2019!

“Oh, you’ve shown me everything I need to know about you
Now I finally understand just why I’ve been without you
How can you say you love someone you don’t even want to know?”
– “Second Time” lyrics

Connect With Ferera Swan: Website  | Facebook | Twitter | InstagramYouTube | Soundcloud

year of the pig

Top of the morning to you! Are you ready for the Year of the Earth Pig? Chinese New Year is on February 5th. Per Chinese Zodiac, the Year of the Earth Pig 2019 is supposed to be a year of joy, benevolence and relaxation…Hmmm…as it marks the end of a complete rotation cycle of the twelve signs in the Chinese zodiac. This encourages us to take a well-deserved break and evaluate the previous years. Well, I’ve definitely thought about how much I want to make this a different year than 2018. How about you?

I’ve begun the first days of 2019 practicing yoga every morning before work. I’ve failed so many times in the past two years to regularly make time for exercise, which I attribute primarily to fatigue and a lack of motivation. I’ve been told over and over again that exercise helps fight that fatigue. Well, it worked when I was in grad school; however, once I entered the professional work field, prioritizing my health went down the tube. Anyway, I’m determined this year to be fully in control of my mind, body and spirit. No more blaming work or anything else for a lack of good health, spiritually, physically and emotionally. I’m focusing on bringing more joy into my life via music, creativity, yoga and learning. 

This morning during yoga, I felt anxiety right at the center of my chest. I set an intention for clarity and creativity and to let go of judgment and self-doubt. I’m facilitating a training over the weekend with two of my co-workers, which always brings some stress and anxiety. This calls for preparation, clarity, and flexibility because things just don’t always go the way I anticipate. I feel much more confident when all of my ducks are in a nice, pretty row; however, often life calls for flexibility and to go with plan B. 

As I begin my day, I hope to keep a steady heart and peaceful mind. I hope to accomplish what is meant to be accomplished, even if it isn’t quite what I initially set out for. May you also have a day and year full of peace, clarity and joy even amidst the mess that is so often our lives.

 

letting go of 2018

Greetings from sunny La Jolla, California! I hope that you’re enjoying this holiday season, whether with family and friends, or alone, and making time to recharge. My family and I had a quiet Christmas with some close friends. We watched Die Hard after eating lots of sweet potato casserole and apple pie! Now that was a blast from the past! Lots of laughs.

It’s been refreshing to soak up the sun, get in some retail therapy and eat at some super fun restaurants in San Diego. We found this great place called Sipz Vegetarian Fusion Cafe in North Park. Great vibe and fantastic vegetarian faire. North Park city block was lined with boho boutiques and trendy restaurants. And this morning, we ate brunch at a quaint little cafe called Farmer & the Seahorse. There was an old vintage silver RV right in the middle of the restaurant. Most of all, I’ve enjoyed spending time with my daughter and having all this time off from work! I could get used to this kind of life.

As I have reflected on 2018, I’m glad to let go of a rather difficult year. Worries about loved ones and mental health challenges, people pleasing, health scares and losing our beloved dachsund, Peppermint, in November caused intermittent fears and anxiety. There are always worries about finances and relationships. I enjoy listening to podcasts about living a life with more ease, creativity, mindfulness and gratitude, but it’s not always so easy. I have much to be grateful for, and with all the terrible things that have happened in our world this year, I have nothing to complain about. Yet, fears have a way of rearing their ugly heads.

I don’t set New Year’s resolutions, but I do plan to focus on a few things in 2019 in the hopes of becoming a healthier person physically, emotionally and spiritually. I came across a quote from the Dalai Lama recently that I love,

“We are, you might say, ‘brainwashed’ into thinking that money is the source of happiness while what we really need to know is that inner peace is something that comes from within.”

Inner peace for me comes from better self care and self compassion. I did not do a good job of either in 2018. Life is short. We must make the most of everyday and live as though it were our last. I hope to glow in 2019 with peace, despite the challenges that life inevitably brings. More yoga practice, intentional self-care, creativity and mindful eating. May 2019 be your healthiest, happiest and most abundant year yet! ❤️

 

extraordinarily ordinary life

I’ve been a little under the weather this week and have been out of the office, lazing around watching Netflix and drinking lots hot tea. There is much value in slowing down, although I don’t recommend getting sick in order to do so. When I do get some down time I too seldom realize how fast life is going and that I’m spinning out of control. In those moments, I try to slow down and look for things that bring comfort. So this morning, I tuned into the NPR All Songs Considered Podcast. Wow, so soul-inspiring. The song list included: 1) John Denver: “Poems, Prayers and Promises,” 2) Tom Adams: “In Darkness,” 3) Sharon Van Etten: “Come Back Kid,” 4: SOAK: “Everybody Loves You,” 5: Miya Folick: “THingaming,” 6) Jason Lytle: “Color of Dirt,” 7) J.S. Ondara: “American Dream.” I loved all of the songs, but the song that stood out to me this morning was John Denver’s, “Poems, Prayers and Promises.” Talk about a song that just sucker punches you right in the gut.

Poems, Prayers and Promises” resonated with me deeply. Perhaps it has to do with getting older, but lately, I’ve given much thought to the days of old, reflecting on raising my daughter, going to graduate school and even further back to high school and college. Reminiscing about easier times. When my daughter was growing up, I taught piano, primarily to young kids and a few adults, so I could be home with her. I often felt pressure to get a full-time job to supplement our household income, but I’m glad I didn’t give in to it. Life was much slower back then, as being a mom was my biggest role and my most favorite role ever. My daughter is now in college, and I’m working full-time, trying to obtain clinical licensure. Ugh. The chapters related to raising a family have closed. New ones have followed. I’m not particularly enjoying the new chapters. On most days, it feels like a grind. At my age, grinding is not particularly fun.

I guess it’s taken me this long to realize that after all of the graduate school, student loans, goals and achievements, I’m pretty disillusioned and tired. And more importantly, I realize that all of the misplaced ambitions were primarily to gain a sense of self worth and significance. After a lifetime of feeling invisible, one desires nothing more than to be seen and heard. Adoptee stuff.

What I’m learning is that life is so much more valuable than achieving. It’s about enjoying every minute of it and letting go of *!@# that brings you down. I’m still working on working on that , and I wish that I could impress it upon my daughter, who is starting her life as a grown up. She is doing so well, despite many challenges in her beautiful, young life.

Motherhood taught me a lot about life and love and ease. I guess that’s why I miss it so much, not that I don’t continue to mother, it’s just different now. This is what I know: Hold the people and things you love the most close to your heart everyday. That is why I so desperately want to go back to Taiwan. To see my birth family. Alas, there are always obstacles. Yes, there is something to be said and learned from achieving and making a difference. But life is short, and you cannot go back. Do what makes you happy, and don’t let naysayers dissuade you. Surround yourself with others who support you and your dreams because God knows, life is not easy. I wish that someone had told me these things when I was a young.

One day I hope to have clinical Iicensure. I’ve worked so hard for it, yet it feels as though it’s beyond my reach. I truly hope that it has not all been in vain, as things that are most valuable do not come by way of a diploma or a degree or clinical hours. There are moments in time I wish I could redo; nevertheless, life is precious. Your life is precious. Every single minute of it.

Photo by Kenny Luo on Unsplash

world mental health day

Today is World Mental Health Day. Let’s talk about it.

It’s estimated that one in five people experience a mental illness in a given year in the U.S. That’s 43.8 million people, or 18.5% of the population. I found a catalogue of great stories, commentaries, interviews and videos that explore mental health issues across a breadth of fields globally on Culture Trip. Check out all of the stories here.

Culture Trip is a global tech startup that inspires people to explore the world’s culture and creativity through innovative technology and a global network of local content creators. It was founded in London in 2011 by former academic psychiatrist Dr Kris Naudts and was named by Forbes as one of five fast-growing UK companies to watch. Naudts says, “In my experience, mental health challenges make you more empathetic and creative, more resourceful. Mental health challenges are a strength. Talk about it.”

Among the stories, Culture Trip speaks to award-winning author Matt Haig about his experience with depression and how sharing his story helped him on the road to recovery. We investigate how hysteria still influences women’s medical treatment today and we look into the scarcity of support in the testosterone-charged world of professional football. We meet elderly birdkeepers tackling loneliness in Singapore, attend a London supper club for people experiencing disordered eating, and learn how virtual reality is revolutionising mental health treatments. I especially love the article on the best free mental health apps for anxiety, stress and depression. Check them out!

Wishing everyone good mental health today and everyday.

Free Help:

Crisis Text Line: Text Home to 741741

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: Call 1-800-273-8255

songs that saved my life

We all have that one song or songs that have helped us through tough times. This afternoon, KROQ 106.7 in Los Angeles featured songs from a special playlist called, Songs That Saved My Life. The playlist features artists performing covers of songs that helped them through a personally challenging time. This compilation benefits mental health and suicide prevention charities. Songs That Saved My Life looks to engage current artists with cover versions of those songs and share those stories with the world. Currently, this project benefits Crisis Text Line, Hope For The Day, The Trevor Project, and To Write Love On Her Arms.

This week is Mental Illness Awareness Week. In my last post, I shared research that shows adoptees are four times more likely to attempt suicide than non-adoptees. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. alone and the 3rd leading cause of death for 15-24-year olds, after accidents and homicide. If you or someone you know is struggling with depression, there is a crisis text line that offers free, 24/7 crisis support in the U.S. Text HOME to 741741, or just follow this link. You can also go to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline here, or call at 1-800-273-8255.

Visit the Songs That Saved My Life website where you can see all of the artists who contributed to this compilation. The playlist will be available for purchase on November 9th, but you preview some of the songs on iTunes, Spotify, Apple Music, and Amazon.