Author Archives: Mj

About Mj

MSW, Music Therapist, Author, Adoptee

elevate adoptee voices

photos-by-lanty-597554-unsplashSince last November, I’ve had the privilege of connecting to many other adult international adoptees around the U.S. via a podcast I hosted called Global Adoptee Talk. Some participated in my podcast and others did not. Nevertheless, just to hear and share stories was incredibly validating, and I appreciate the supportive community that we’re a part of. Unfortunately, I had to let go of my podcast before it even had a real chance to get off the ground due to increasing demands at work and the lack of time and energy I had to keep up with editing/interviewing. I am always inspired, grieved, saddened, angered, and motivated by the many adoptees stories I hear – motivated primarily to elevate adoptee voices in whatever shape or form that may take. It’s always important to be mindful of the fact that though an adoptee may have had a positive adoption experience, there is still undoubtedly loss, trauma, and frequently a longing to connect to his/her cultural roots. That may mean searching for one’s birthparents or birth family or traveling to one’s country of origin, learning the language, and/or connecting to other’s who have similar backgrounds and experiences. It doesn’t go away – it may ebb and flow across the span of an adoptee’s life, but it’s a part of our makeup, it’s part of our DNA and hard-wired into our brains, literally. I don’t have time to go into how separation from birth mother is trauma, but suffice it to say, there is research that supports it. Acknowledging that adoptees have a vital role in the future of how adoption occurs and are given a voice is crucial.

I work in foster care and adoption, and it’s not always easy as an adopted person. Whenever there is an adoption, it’s very difficult for me to celebrate knowing that first there was loss – loss for the first mother and child. When reunification occurs with the child and birth family, my heart makes a little leap, as reunifications are rarer. When they do occur, it is a celebration.

Despite the challenges of working in foster care and adoption, I have the opportunity to work with some resource or foster families that get it to the extent possible in their circumstances- the trauma, the loss, the necessity of keeping birth connections in the child’s life. Families are trained in TBRI, and we talk about loss, trauma, and attachment from the very first clinical interview. I don’t want to villainize every foster/adoptive family out there, as I know some foster/adoptive parents who attempt to understand the loss and trauma adoptees experience. Even so, I dare say that it’s difficult to grasp the magnitude of what being in foster care or being adopted means if you have not experienced it first hand. I observe things through the lens of an adopted person, not as an adoptive parent or case manager or supervisor, and my thoughts and opinions sometimes differ from those I work with. This work gives me an opportunity to educate foster/resource/adoptive parents. Not every family who comes through gets approved to continue the process for multiple reasons, and that’s a good thing.

All in all, I’m sad to let go of my podcast, but I have hopes of one day picking it back up, as time allows. I miss that connection to other adoptees. There are plenty of super podcasts out there. Right now, I’m digging a couple of podcasts related to intuitive eating, health, and nutrition. One is called Food Heaven, and the other is Food Psych. Two of my favorite adoptee podcasts are Adoptees On and Adapted. The Rambler was also a favorite, but the show closed earlier this year. All of these podcasts are available on iTunes – listen in – it’s totally worth it.

I sure learned a lot while producing my podcast and am super grateful for those international/transracial adoptees that I had the opportunity to connect with. Adoptee voices are truly making their way to the forefront of discussions on adoption, as they should. Let us continue to build a strong and vibrant community, inclusive and respectful of all adoptees and their unique stories.

by Photos by Lanty on Unsplash

Past episodes of Global Adoptee Talk are available on iTunes


a crazy little story

jared-rice-388260-unsplash“Oriental Express.” The words leapt out at me in dark green letters as I tore away at the wrapping paper. There was some “oriental-like” design in the background in pink, yellow, and purple. I stared at the license plate in my hands in horror. It was Christmas morning, 1980. Across the way, my dad sat in his favorite recliner, a broad smile lit the corners of his whiskered face. He was clearly pleased with himself. I was a high school freshman. I don’t recall what exactly I said in response to the gift, but I distinctly remember the embarrassment and confusion of it all. The pained expression on my face, I’m sure made it just as confusing for my dad. He thought that the personalized license plate specially ordered just for me was something his adopted daughter would love and appreciate, but just the opposite occurred. It was like a punch to my gut, a painful reminder of my differentness. There was no way in hell I was putting that on my car. All I truly wanted was to be and look like everyone else around me. Neither my dad nor mom understood the internal struggle that tore me up inside – a conflicted self, confused, shamed by my appearance, but even further, a suffocating separateness that was like a heavy cloak. They had never heard of the terms, “adoption trauma,” “cultural identity,” or “birth heritage,” and really, back in the day, what adoptive parent had? Clearly, no one understood the implications of trauma and separation and loss on the development of an internationally adopted child. The license plate sat on my dresser collecting dust for a little while, but eventually I hid it. Who knows where it ended up or where it is now.

I am fifty-one years old, and yet this event is still so vividly etched in my mind. My struggle with identity has lessened dramatically since that time, yet at my core, I still struggle occasionally with those same misplaced feelings of inferiority. I’m just better at identifying them now and managing them in a healthier way. I tend to be an overachiever and perfectionist, which is exhausting. I think other adoptees have this same tendency to one degree or another. I feel and sense things more acutely than maybe the average person, say for example, rejection. As a result, I’m a people pleaser. I go out of my way to win people over, which is good and bad. I tend not to deal well with strong emotions like anger or conflict. It stirs up those same feelings of fear, insecurity, and distrust. In my work, I am constantly placed in those types of situations. Yet, I can pinpoint those uncomfortable feelings now and am not paralyzed by them. Though I still don’t like the presence of such strong emotions, I can sit with them when confronted. It’s not easy, and it takes me awhile to process them. It takes time to let any negative emotions go…I am not good at letting go…but I try, and I try to learn from the process so that I can grow.

Feeling grounded is super important to me. After dealing with conflict, I’m always off-balance and have to work at getting back into a more positive state of grounded-ness. Music, art journaling, and writing help tremendously as does yoga. The practice of yoga is so centering and helps me focus on connecting to my body. I highly recommend it. Perhaps I’m writing about this now because work over the last month has been especially challenging, and I am growing my clinical skills. Dealing with our line of work is “not for the faint of heart” as one of our directors shared.

I have grown to embrace my cultural heritage and identity, yet the struggle is never really over. I continue to work on accepting me just the way I am – making peace with myself, my appearance, my professional aspirations, right here in the moment. That’s probably why I love yoga so much. The practice promotes acceptance, which is truly not an easy task. I continue to struggle with perfectionism and overachieving in almost everything I do. I’m not great at self-care, or perhaps I just need more of it! Why can’t there be 3-day weekends?! And I’m constantly working on gratitude. My experiences have made me who I am, just like everybody else, and I accept that my parents were not able to help me with the things I struggled with the most. I have many regrets about our relationship and wish that I could have been more involved in their lives as they aged. Time is short. But I was still working on my own internal struggles. It was really selfish as I look back, but I didn’t know any better. My parents did the best they knew how. One thing they did do well was model generosity and care. And that is a tremendous gift. I can’t undo the past, yet in the future, I hope to get better at being okay with it. And I hope to get better at practicing generosity and care towards myself and others. It’s not for the faint of heart.

Photo by Jared Rice on Unsplash



author event

IMG_2882Happy Lunar New Year! 2018 is the year of the Yang Earth Dog. According to Chinese astrology, there will be a strong masculine energy in 2018; however, the element of Earth and the sign of the Dog is going to temper this to help create a gentle, fun-loving vibe throughout the year. Right on. I could use a little gentle and fun-lovingness this year!

How has your 2018 been so far? I’m referring back to the Gregorian calendar now. Mine has been incredibly busy! My caseload at work has doubled since last July, which is actually not a bad thing. It just means I have a working lunch at my desk, and I’m more tired than I’d like to be. On the downside, I don’t get to the gym as often as I’d like because I’m too tired 😦 Anybody else have that annoying problem?? My commute to work is about an hour, so by the time I get home, I’m exhausted and hungry! Then all I want to do after a typically unhealthy dinner is binge on TV (because I’m too lazy to cook). I  watched the entire Grimm series in about a month and a half. I do miss that show! This morning, I made it to Vinyasa yoga and ate a healthy breakfast, thanks to the holiday off. Three days to the gym in a row is a miracle! I also bought some new blended essential oils, now brand Cheer Up Buttercup! and Peace, Love & Flowers at Sprouts. I have one of them diffusing as I write this post. A little self-care goes a long way.

Besides life at the job, I’ve also been producing a monthly podcast, Global Adoptee Talk. My weekends are spent interviewing other adoptees, then editing the recordings, which takes several weekends. GAT is a podcast about the experiences of international and transracial adoptees. I interview adoptees, and we discuss topics such as identity, loss, and blood ties. I just posted my fourth episode where I interviewed a fellow Taiwanese adoptee. Cheers! I love listening to podcasts on my way into work and typically tune into Adoptees On hosted by adoptee, Haley Radke, in Canada. It’s an amazing podcast! I especially love her Healing Series episodes. You should really check it out. I continue to learn a lot about podcasting and could certainly tell you what NOT to do! It’s a labor of love, and though it’s a lot of work, the best part of it is talking to other international adoptees and hearing their stories. There is nothing like the support of another adoptee who just gets it. In coming months, I’ll be talking to a couple of international adoptees who are also psychotherapists and will share their expertise on specific topics. Looking forward to some really great learning and growing opportunities!

On other fronts, I’m heading to Arizona on Friday for an author event where I’ll have the opportunity to discuss my book, Beyond Two Worlds: A Taiwanese-Adoptee’s Memoir & Search for Identity. The event will be held on Saturday, February 24th, at the Downtown branch of Chandler Public Library.  My book is featured among three other books and female authors in a series called “Women’s Voices.”Kneaders Bakery and Cafe in Chandler will be providing light refreshments. A big shout out and thank you to Ted Liebler, a librarian at the Downtown branch, for making this series possible! I’m so excited to visit Arizona! It’ll be my first trip back since we moved to California in November 2016. Can’t wait to go to Peixoto Coffee and Pomegranate Cafe. If you’re in the area, please stop by the library to say hello on Saturday!

Folks, I’m wishing you all a great week. If you have the day off, enjoy, and thanks for reading my post! I’m going to kick back and binge on some more TV. I just starting watching Humans on Amazon. It’s just a shame that we don’t have every Monday off!



friday five

mark-adriane-259950Hello folks. It’s Friday, December 15th, exactly 10 days away from Christmas. Are you ready? I’m getting there. Actually this year, I’m ahead of the game – we have a tree. This time last year, we were living in temporary housing. There was no tree, no Christmas decorations, and I was having a super hard time adjusting to the empty nester way of life. And it was freezing in California! Not so this year – we’ve been experiencing 80 degree temps, and sadly, many have lost their homes due to uncontrollable fires northwest of Los Angeles, near Ventura and Santa Barbara. Last night, we heard the news of a fire engineer from San Diego who was killed while battling the Thomas fire. Evacuations continue as fire teams struggle to contain the blaze. My heart goes out to Cory Iverson’s wife and family during this difficult time. I don’t think things could get any worse than losing a loved one during the holidays.

It seems that there is news everywhere that’s downright depressing. Friends, family, and people I’ve never met going through hard times. How do you cope when things look grey? I, in no way, am comparing my life to those who are experiencing truly heartbreaking circumstances, but I definitely feel sorrow when I hear of other’s suffering. I work in a profession that day after day is troubling. The way I look at things is frequently skewered due to my own conflicts and personal life experiences. Here are five things I’ve been doing lately to help me keep from feeling discouraged:

  1. Listen to music
  2. Listen to podcasts
  3. Pray
  4. Read
  5. Movie therapy

Music is the cure for everything. Spotify is like my best friend. Absolutely no conversations needed that might end up making you feel even worse in the end! It’s free, or you can upgrade, which I highly recommend, so that you can listen to the songs you want to hear, any time. I created multiple playlists and follow dozens of others. Lately, I’ve been stuck in the 80’s, so my Classic Rock playlist has been my go to. It’s an upbeat playlist, and I never get tired of listening to classic rock. But I’ve also been into Show Tunes, ALT, Acoustic, and She and Him Christmas. Zoey Deschanel rocks. This is my Acoustic playlist. It has an introspective, self-reflective kinda vibe and is the kind of music that, for me, inspires creativity.

Listen to podcasts. Three months ago, I didn’t know what the heck a podcast was. Clearly, I was behind the times, as podcasts are particularly popular these days. There are a handful of adoptee-centric podcasts that I really dig: Adoptees on, hosted by adoptee, Haley Radke; The Rambler, hosted by Korean adoptee, Mike McDonald; Out of the Fog, hosted by Ethiopian adoptee, Kassaye MacDonald and Pascal Huynh; and Adapted, hosted by Korean adoptee, Kaomi Goetz. Please stop by my Resources Page to get the links to these awesome podcasts. I also listen to Second Wave, hosted by Thanh Tan. Second Wave is a new podcast from KUOW Public Radio and PRX where Tan talks about how the Vietnam War is still affecting the Vietnamese community. She just wrapped up Season One. I also like the The Actor’s Diet podcast, hosted by Taiwanese actress, Lynn Chen. If you’re a foodie, you might like this podcast. Chen struggled with an eating disorder in the past, as did I, so I can totally relate to her obsession with food. Others I enjoy are NPR: Fresh Air and Books and Boba, a bookclub dedicated to books written by authors of Asian and Pacific Islander descent. You can subscribe to all of these podcasts on iTunes. I recently started my own podcast, Global Adoptee Talk, and will be posting episode 2 soon. I was inspired by Haley’s, Adoptee’s On and Mike’s, The Rambler. This podcast is seriously a work in progress – podcasting is like a full-time job, and I already have one of those.

Pray. Well, I’d like to say that I feel like prayer always works, but I frequently feel as though I’m praying into a deep well. I’m sure that I don’t spend enough time praying, and I certainly could work on patience, definitely not one of my strong suits. That’s all I’ll say about prayer for now and will come back to it in another post.

Read. I used to be a complete bookworm, but I’ve slowed down a bit, mostly because I’m so exhausted at the end of the day that I can’t stay awake to read. And furthermore, when you get to be my age, reading in dim light is no longer an easy task, even with progressive lenses. That being said, I’m dabbling in a few books at the moment: The Colour of Time, an adoptee anthology published by International Adoption Service Australia; Fish Heads & Folktales, a memoir written by Korean adoptee, Peter M. Moran; Don’t                , or You’ll look Puerto Rican!, a work of fiction written by one of my besties, Ruth Lucas; and Parenting as Adoptees by Adam Chau and ed. by Kevin Ost-Vollmers. My favorite genre is fiction, specifically magical realism. Just haven’t had time to get to the library.

Movie Therapy. Okay, this is an actual therapy, folks. It involves the ‘therapist-directed’ viewing of movies for therapeutic purposes. Apparently, the combination of thematic elements, such as music, dialogue, lighting, and images, has potential to evoke deep feelings in viewers, allowing for personal reflection and providing new perspective on external events ( There you go. I’m not seeing a therapist at the moment, but I definitely see how catching the latest installment of Star Wars is therapeutic. I’ve got a list of movies I’m prescribing myself to see during the holiday break – The Disaster Artist, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, The Shape of Water, Justice League, Blade Runner. I’m not even sure if some of them are still in theatres.

Anyway, I hope this holiday season you take care of yourself and your loved ones. Consider getting a little ‘movie therapy’ in, or listen to a new podcast, or read a new book. Do something that makes you happy, and share it with others. Happy holidays everyone and stay safe.

Photo by MARK ADRIANE on Unsplash


new podcast

Hsiao_Ling_H-Logo-Final-3000x3000It’s rare that I write two posts in a row these days! I wanted to share with you a new podcast I’m launching soon called Global Adoptee Talk, a podcast about the experiences of international and transracial adoptees around the globe. The podcast will feature 1:1 interviews with other international/transracial adoptees, and we’ll discuss topics related to international adoption, race/culture/identity, search and reunion, and mental health. Please stop by to visit my new site,

And, please share the podcast with your adoption community! I’m off to work now…Thank you so much for visiting Global Adoptee Talk!


You know, words often fail to give the deepest of meaning to our emotions. That’s probably why I connected so strongly to music when I was a kid and still do today. I was unable to put words to my feelings. It was too scary, and I just didn’t have the vocabulary. Music became my refuge. It let me feel what I could not say, and it was safe. If we could just sing or play a song to express our deepest fears, joys, struggles, anger, what a different world we might live in.

Lately, I’ve been listening to a lot of ‘throwback’ tunes – tunes that I grew up listening to as a teenager. I’m a little bias, but the 80’s really did rock the best music ever. My first music concert was RUSH at the Shreveport Coliseum in Louisiana. They were one of my favorite bands along with ACDC, The Eagles, April Wine, Night Ranger, The Police, Genesis/Phil Collins, Fleetwood Mac, The Scorpions, Journey, Van Halen, Pat Benatar – well the list goes on and on. And then there was the British pop wave – Duran Duran, (who else was in love with Nick Taylor?), Thompson Twins, Pet Shop Boys, Human League, etc. I digress…

A couple of years ago I attended an Adoption Conference at St. John’s Univeristy in NJ. Social worker, Robert L. O’Connor, gave the keynote address. I can’t remember exactly what he spoke about, but I do remember him talking about having an ‘adoption song.’ He adopted a song that gave meaning to his personal adoption experience. As a musician I thought, ‘why hadn’t I thought of that?’ So on my commute to work today, I was listening to a favorite song, ‘Landslide,’ by Fleetwood Mac, sung by the lovely Stevie Nicks. ‘That’s my song!’ I thought. It describes much of what I feel as an adoptee. If you love music from the 80’s as much as I do, you’re probably familiar with ‘Landslide.’ Here are some of the lyrics:

I took my love, I took it down

I climbed a mountain and I turned around

And I saw my reflection in the snow-covered hills

‘Till the landslide brought me down.

Oh, mirror in the sky, what is love?

Can the child within my heart rise above?

Can I sail through the changing ocean tides?

Can I handle the seasons of my life?

Well, I’ve been afraid of changing

‘Cause I’ve built my life around you

But time makes you bolder

Even children get older

And I’m getting older too…

Obviously, the song can be interpreted in many different ways. But I see so many metaphors and parallels to my adopted self. Growing up I didn’t like the reflection I saw in the mirror – as I’ve said many times, I had a a real struggle with identity. And, a feeling of uprootedness haunted me. I look back and see what a deeply insecure, lost child I was, detached. It was a fearful time in my life. Sometimes, I regress and feel as though I’m that insecure lost kid again despite the fact that I’m 51 and have worked hard to overcome a lot across the years. It’s almost paralyzing. It typically occurs when I feel fearful of a situation or a person, but has certainly decreased as I’ve gotten older and gained a greater sense of self.

I think in a poetic and meaningful way, the lyrics to ‘Landslide’ describe the seasons of one’s life and how difficult they are to navigate at times. Until well into my thirties, I still had so little self-awareness and just could not express what I was feeling. It was like I was numb. I think the numbness was a mask for feelings of fear. It was frustrating for others in my life. And, it wasn’t until I found my lost adoption papers that I slowly began to ‘come out of the fog’ and realize that there was a whole part of myself that I’d disengaged from in an attempt to blend in with those around me. ‘Landslide’ reminds me of the self-loathing, denial, fear, anger, lostness, loneliness, and disappointment that I once felt and hid. But with life experience, maturity, and coming to terms with who I am, those emotions have slowly evolved into compassion, forgiveness, determination, and self-acceptance. Every once in awhile, that insecure, lost child resurfaces and things turn kinda grey. There will always be loss in my life as a result of adoption. It’s complicated. But music brings peace and tenderness. All you have to do is listen in perfect silence. And then I’m reminded of how much I’ve learned and accomplished as a result of the hard things I’ve experienced. If you could choose a song to give voice to your adoption experience, what would it be???

Photo by Mayur Gala




Lee Min-ho, City Hunter

Hey folks! It is October and the beginning of Fall. Except, it sure doesn’t feel like it here in Southern California. We’re getting 90 degree weather, and the Santa Ana winds are blowing hot and heavy. Seriously? It almost feels like someplace else I used to live…Anyway, how many of you are hooked on Hallmark? I mean – the Hallmark channel. With Fall and the holiday season approaching, Hallmark is on a roll. Practically every other movie has the descriptive word, “Harvest,” in its title, and tonight they’re featuring a Christmas sneak peek at all 21 world-premiere original movies to be aired during the holidays. I know, like me, you are greatly anticipating this hour-long preview.

Now before you get all judgy, there was a time when I couldn’t stand Hallmark movies. I get it – they’re incredibly sappy, overly romantic, and let’s be honest, utterly unrealistic.  Oh, I forgot to throw in ridiculous. If you’re a guy, you probably have no patience for such nonsense. My husband the other day remarked, “You just love watching white people fall in love.” Hmm. I wasn’t quite sure, initially, how to process that comment. Was it funny, was it an insult, sarcastic for sure, and I had to admit, there was some truth to it. I confess, I love mindless, romantic, fluff that has a happy ending and no one gets killed. Don’t get me wrong, I love me some Law & Order SVU, This Is Us, and The Gifted, but sometimes, I just need a break from reality. Yea, that’s what I’ll call it – Hallmark is a break from reality. The fact that a lot of white people act in most, okay, all of the network’s movies hasn’t really bothered me – that much?

I mean, let’s face it, I think like a white person, talk like a white person, act like a white person. What does that mean exactly? If I didn’t look Asian, you’d probably never know the difference. When people meet me for the first time, they sometimes say, “Wow, you don’t have any accent. You’re English is so good.” Well, I grew up in a white family, surrounded by white people in a mostly white community. And get this, when I lived in the South, I actually had a southern accent. I learned in subtle and not so subtle ways, that white was privileged. I was fine with that for many years. I wanted to be white so bad, I lied about where I was born to my peers, I dyed my hair so that I looked less Asian, and yet I never quite felt white enough. Well, duh. I hated the fact that my eyelids were so small compared to my beautiful, white girlfriends. And then one day, much, much later in my life, I started to come out of the fog – if you’re an adoptee, you get what I mean. I realised that the Asian self I loathed needed some love and nurture. It took a really long time and a lot of digging down deep into my core, but I began to slowly embrace the me I always loathed. I searched for my birth family in Taiwan and eventually reunited with them. I learned about Taiwan’s history and clung to the little I learned about my birth parents. I went back to my country of origin and walked the streets of the city of my birth. It was freeing, healing, exhilarating – I could add a million more “ing” words to describe what that connect was like. And yet, because I was uprooted from my birth country, I will never fully embody its culture, customs, language.  I’m not Asian enough in some communities, too white. And in others, I’m not white enough.

So being a Taiwanese-American adoptee is a dichotomy. I’m Taiwanese, yet have a very hard time connecting to my roots here in the U.S., much to my dismay. Recently, I started listening to Pimsleur CDs on my way to work to learn Mandarin. I’m not a very strong auditory learner, however. I was concentrating so hard on pronunciation and remembering what was just spoken that I got a pretty intense headache. And I nearly rear ended the guy in front of me.  I’ll have to listen and learn in a less distracting environment. What I’m trying to say is, my husband’s comment struck an   uncomfortable chord. I know that Hallmark is about as white, American, apple pie as it gets. It’s a struggle to manage being of two vastly different cultures at times – and unfortunately, connecting to one more than the other – and not of my own choosing or doing. As much as I want to connect more deeply to my Taiwanese roots, there are so many barriers.

So, what are ways that you connect to your culture of origin? Is it as maddening for you as it is for me? I’d love to hear your thoughts. In the meantime, I’m going to return to watching Hallmark. It’s easy; it’s comfortable; it’s mindless. And Lord knows, we have enough complicated in our lives as adoptees to last a lifetime, so give me a break. And btw, I do love Korean and Taiwanese dramas. If you have any good recommendations, do send – my favourites are Boys Over Flowers and City Hunter. Yea, I know, I’m justifying my addiction to watching Hallmark…Shameless.



RecitalMrs. Guinn placed the clunky brown headphones snuggly over my head, the giant earpieces squeezed my temples. A long, coiled cord reached across the way to a stereo where she now stood, ready to drop the needle. I had no idea what I was in store for. Mrs. Guinn had never offered to play music for me at any of my other piano lessons. Mandi, my friend next door, and I took weekly lessons at Mrs. Guinn’s house. I loved going to Mrs. Guinn’s for my piano lessons and looked forward to them every week. She lived in a quiet neighborhood in Shady Grove and was probably 30-something in age. She was married to an officer in the Air Force and had a pretty face and gentle demeanor. She reminded me of Toni Tennille of Captain and Tenille. The front living room where Mrs. Guinn taught held an upright piano on one wall and an organ against another, a large window overlooked the street. Her house was always meticulously clean and inviting. “I have something I want you to listen to today,” she said as she guided me into the family room. The headphones felt heavy against my ears as she adjusted them. I sat silently and settled into Mrs. Guinn’s plush black couch, waiting for the music to begin playing.

“Da-da-da-DUM.” “Da-da-da-DUM!” Those first four minor pitches of Beethoven’s all too famous Fifth Symphony bellowed in my ears. The music escalated, and I became completely enraptured, magically swept away. With every pulse of the bass, my heart quickened. I was only 9-years old at the time, and yet that was such a defining moment in my life. The rest of the world fell away in those brief eight minutes or so of that first movement. I was an extremely shy, introverted kid, but at my lesson the following week, I mustered the courage to ask Mrs. Guinn if I could listen to that recording again. Of course, she obliged. Little did Mrs. Guinn know how much that recording influenced me musically. One of the other things I enjoyed while taking lessons from Mrs. Guin was the monthly gatherings she held at her home where all her students performed for each other. The best part was when she performed for us on her organ. I loved watching her feet fly across the pedals.

Mrs. Guinn was a member of the National Federation of Music and entered me into my first music festival where students performed and were adjudicated. I received a superior + and was selected to perform in the Honors Recital with many other students. Kabelevsky’s, The Clown, Op. 39, No. 2, was my first performance piece ever. As I climbed the stairs the night of the recital towards the concert grand piano, it felt as though I were having an out of body experience. Somehow, I got through my piece without any fumbles and took my bow to the applause of the audience. I would perform in many other recitals, each one causing more anxiety than the last. It was something I continuously struggled with.

Mrs. Guinn moved within a year or two. I was deeply saddened when she told me her husband had received a military transfer to Texas, as I had become quite attached to her. I eventually studied with Mr. Robert Buckner during my high school years. Mr. Buckner lived in Shreveport and was quite a character. He had a piano studio behind his house, and a dachsund named Angie. I began every lesson with major and/or minor scales as a warm-up, or Hanon exercises. I felt comfortable with his teaching style and sense of humor. I decided to major in music and attended Centenary College of Louisiana where I studied piano performance, primarily because it meant I didn’t have to take a single math class. I was beyond horrible in math or anything that had to do with numbers. Initially, I felt terribly inadequate compared to my peers who seemed to have much better training musically than I did. I struggled with ear training and theory, but loved composition and piano literature. I studied with Constance Knox Carroll and absolutely adored her. She was an inspiring teacher and incredible pianist. I’m sure, however, that I was one of her least favorite students, as I was not very disciplined and did not practice as I should have, especially during my senior year. I got distracted with theatre and dance and remember her scolding me at one particular lesson for my lack of practice. She had every right to because my senior recital loomed ahead, and I hadn’t memorized all of my pieces. She remarked that it seemed like I liked theatre and dance better, and she was right. What did I know at that age? Not a whole lot. I sat there silently, not knowing what to say.

I wasn’t exactly lazy, but discipline was not my strong suit. Practicing was such an isolating endeavor, and yet in those days, I didn’t always mind it. I typically hit the practice room for four hours a day, sometimes six on the rare occasion that I was super inspired. There were times when it was such a rewarding experience to sit at the keyboard and just play without anyone listening. Those were the times when I performed the best. But in front of an audience, I lost all sense of composure. Performance anxiety plagued me. I could not control my hands; they became leaden, nor the adrenaline racing through me, and memory slips haunted me. On one occasion, several students were to perform with the Shreveport Symphony in a special recital. I was going to perform the first movement of Mozart’s Piano Concerto in A, K414. I can’t describe how exhilarating it was to perform with an orchestra, with other musicians. It was like flying, but without the motion sickness. Unfortunately, performance anxiety got the best of me, and my memory lapsed somewhere during the development. The orchestra continued to play as if nothing happened while I sat frozen. Eventually, I wove my way back in, but the damage had been done. I barely made it through the cadenza.

After graduating college, I taught piano for a brief time at St. Mark’s Episcopal in Shreveport and another Christian school before moving to Florida. I didn’t touch a keyboard for nearly 20 years after that. One day, my mom asked if I wanted my baby grand piano, the one they bought me when I first started taking piano lessons. Of course I did, and a couple of months later, my baby grand arrived to our tiny condo in California. It took up an entire room. I started teaching piano thereafter at a Christian elementary school in Mission Viejo, CA, and eventually taught privately on and off until 2013. My piano skills were more than a little rusty, and I lamented the loss. I attempted to take piano lessons a couple of different times, but just didn’t have the time to commit to practicing with family responsibilities and work. I stopped teaching altogether in 2013 when I went back to school to pursue a Master’s degree in Social Work.

I’ve now had my baby grand since 1999. It has moved with us many different times in the last several years. It’s sitting in our family room in need of a little TLC – or a lot actually. Every once in awhile, I sit down to play,  but most of my time is spent at work these days. Recently, I felt moved to find Mrs. Guinn and searched for her via Google. Amazingly, I found her, and she wrote back to me immediately. She continues to teach, perform at churches, and accompany choirs in Nebraska. Although she only vaguely remembered me, she said that she looked up old recital programs and located one dated May 23, 1976, that I performed in. She said I played a Schaum arrangement of Yankee Doodle as a solo and again in a trio performance with Mandi, my friend, and another student named Kelly Scott. I was so happy to hear from Mrs. Guinn and that she continues to teach and play.

I feel truly blessed to have been trained in piano for so many years. I wish that I’d held onto it, but I think there was a part of me that felt incredibly inadequate as a pianist, so I shut it out of my life for a spell. When I studied to become a board-certified music therapist in 2006, that passion for music came back to life. And now, I long for my piano to be more than just a pretty conversation piece in my living room. One of these days, and hopefully not too long from now, I will get back to playing, perhaps a little at a time. It’s hard to play as I compare my skills now to those days when I was playing everyday for long hours. People tend to tell me, “you should just play for yourself.” Well, it’s easier said than done. Nevertheless, music is truly part of my fabric. I can’t think of anything more powerful and transformative than music.

So, for your listening pleasure, here is one of my favorite pianists, Murrah Perahia, at the keyboard performing Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 12 in A, K. 414. To Mrs. Carroll, who inspired me to be a better pianist: