It's been a long time...
Once again, I have let this blog go untended for another month. I assure you, I have been busy, but who isn’t these days. With the inaugural games of the NBA restart occuring last night, I figured this would be as good a time as any to do some rambling. I often ask myself, how do we as complex humans possibly expect ourselves and others to be able to boil ourselves down to a small paragraph. Depending on the context, you may get even less than that. What do we choose to disclose, what do we choose to exclude? Does the time I lost my virginity define me enough as an individual to include it in icebreakers? Anyways, if I were to distill myself down, two elements would stand out as being influential components of my maturation and development. Those two elements are piano and basketball. Both have brought me much joy and enhanced my life greatly.
I began playing piano at the age of 8 at my mother’s insistence. At the time, we lived in a modest 1 bedroom apartment and could not afford a piano. This did not deter my mother from ensuring that I have an enriched childhood as she wanted me to have opportunities that she was not afforded. And so, I began attending weekly lessons, and attending practice sessions at the local library where patrons could reserve time on the public piano there. What a grand utilization of public resources, one that I can’t even imagine being used today. I enjoyed the piano immediately as I picked up on it quite quickly and took to my teachings very well. The practice sessions were limited but before I could develop any meaningful rapport with my teacher, my family uprooted and moved to Seattle in pursuit of work. When I arrived in Seattle, it was unclear whether or not I would resume my lessons. We did not have a teacher in mind, I was not adamant we continue, but my mother, once again, insisted upon it. We bought a cheap, used piano, got it tuned by a deaf man (they are always the best), and I practiced up a bit for an audition. The audition went well and my new teacher agreed to take me in. I remained with this teacher for several years and I am not ashamed to admit that I cried several times following her lessons. She was incredibly strict, and could sniff when I did not adequately practice immediately. I would alternate weeks of diligent practicing with slacking off, this cycle was driven by her scoldings but I progressed rapidly. For a few summers, my mother even sent me to stay with her as part of a “summer school” type of activity. Practice sessions were executed to perfection with little lost time as the students were always keenly aware that she was listening. We also engaged in music theory exercises which I absolutely hated because I was just terrible at them. The one saving grace was that I began sneaking my gameboy and would just play Pokemon with the other kids. My skill progressed rapidly over those summers and soon, I began having discussions with other teachers in the hopes of advancing further technically.
At this point, I was 12 and my family moved cross-country to Boston, MA. When we arrived, I was once again faced with the option of resuming my piano lessons, or dropping it altogether. At this point, it seemed like a huge waste to drop it but at the same time, I was a teenager and wanted to do other things. The last thing I wanted to do was devote an hour a day to practice. At the end of the day, that’s what it is, hours and hours of practice to master a skill, and then hours and hours more for the rest of your life to maintain it. In that sense, it’s really no different from many other skills. Ultimately, I resumed my lessons with a very esteemed piano teacher, Li Fan. Under Li Fan, my dynamic ranged developed substantially and I became more technically proficient as well. Li Fan demanded a lot from me and despite knowing when I was not putting in the hours of diligent practice, he never raised his voice or expressed frustration. If anything, I disappointed him and he saw potential that I was ultimately unable to live up to.
When I was 17, I auditioned for the National Piano Playing Auditions. This was not the first time I had auditioned, for the past 3 years, I would attend an audition every spring, each year auditioning for the next level. What made this year special was that I was at the highest level, and was auditioning for the title of “Young Artist”
I more or less aced my audition. The report card was glowing but did identify some of my mistakes and also my love for the sustain pedal (especially as a way of masking technical insufficiencies in certain parts of the piece). I performed the following pieces:
- Liszt - Gnomen Reigen
- Schumann - Piano Concerto in A Minor, Op.54 (Allegro Affetuoso)
- Mozard - Piano Sonata No. 11 in A Major (Andante Grazioso)
- Schumann - Piano Concerto in A Minor, Op.54 (Allegro Vivace)
I’m actually not certain about the 3rd piece but here is my report card for anyone who cares
So given my relative success, why would my teacher have been disappointed? Well, for his star pupils, the route to success usually goes young artist -> anchor performance at recital -> solo recital at a concert hall, pretty much the whole nine yards. As the summer of 2006 approached, I had attained the young artist rank and anchored a recital. The final piece of the puzzle was to do a solo recital performance at a concert hall. The idea was to invite friends and family and really put on a show, maybe record a live CD and sell it after the event. While this all sounded grand, but the reality was that my teacher was not going to let me get on that stage unless I was 100% prepared and ready, by his standards. We discussed the practice plan and it involved 3 hours of practice, every day. With video taped sessions to monitor my progress, as well as two lessons a week. This would continue through the summer and fall and culminate in the recital in the winter. At least, that was the plan. The toll of the rigorous practice schedule, combined my own desire to do teenage things resulted in me having a very difficult discussion with my family and teacher. I was always taught not to quit so this was a particularly difficult decision for me to make, but ultimately, I was not ready for that level of commitment. As a consolation I did end up recording a CD. I’ve included a track below for your listening pleasure and encourage you to visit my youtube page if you want to hear more.
By winter and spring of my senior year, my CD was complete and I stopped attending lessons. My knee issues also forced me to withdraw from track and field and all of sudden, I found myself with more time than I previously had. I dedicated more time to my studies and excelled, I also spent more time reflecting on myself, my strained relationship with my girlfriend at the time, and the new friendships I was starting to make.
Ball is Life
For as long as I can remember, I was holding a basketball or dribbling one. As a kid, my dad would bring me to the playground so he could play pick-up games. Looking back, I was more or less left unattended for hours at a time at playgrounds to fend for myself while my dad schooled the youngbloods. I would sometimes watch but more often than not would go off exploring. As I got older, I began developing an interest in playing. I started playing pick-up games with the other kids but my dad never tried to coach or train me up. At the beginning of my 7th grade summer, my dad gave me a workout plan which involved push-ups, squats, running, etc… That was the one time he provided any sort of training or coaching. He dumped it on me and never followed up so naturally, I never followed through. That being said, I never stopped playing basketball.
When I was in the 8th grade, I tried out for my middle school team but I did not make it. I thought it was undeserved and that I was worthy. Sure, I didn’t have much of a left hand and my jumper was just average at the time, but I had a nasty crossover and could finish with the right hand around the rim pretty well. Alas, it was not meant to be. I ended up making the high school freshman team and played for one year before going over to indoor track. Why? I’m not sure. In retrospect, I should have stuck it out and continued to improve my game, but I was a good runner and felt I was contributing more to the track team than I could to the basketball team.
Worst injury ever
In the summer of 2013, I suffered the worst injury of my life. I went up for shot and the defender leapt at me, collided with me, and crowded my landing space. I ended up landing on his foot, off balance, and my right foot disclocated itself temporarily, rupturing many of the tendons and ligaments in my foot and ankle. The pain was excruciating and my panicked friends quickly rushed me off to the ER. I got x-rays, no fractures, so just a really really nasty sprain. I got some good drugs, some crutches, two aircasts, and was sent on my way. I ended up being on crutches for close to 3 months, even once going on an Alaskan cruise with my family while disabled. I have to say, the experience taught me that America takes care of their disabled population better than many other countries. There was also someone attending to me and making sure I was properly cared for and for that, I am grateful.
WARNING GRAPHIC IMAGES BELOW
Now for eye bleach
In the end, I spent 3 months on crutches and my right leg muscles atrophied significantly. I did 2 months of physical therapy and got most of my mobility back but before I stopped my treatment early and never ended up fulling recovering in terms of muscle balance. As a result, my left leg does a lot more work and this weakness is amplified when I play. My left was bad before but now, I can barely even get off the ground.
The coronavirus has forced the courts closed and I am not one to go running for exercise. Instead, I have focused on stretching and building basic leg strength. These are exercises I learned from physical therapy and continue to do them to this day. I have been doing this for a few months now and in conjunction with my diet, I have lost close to 10 pounds and substantially improved my muscle flexibility and strength. I can ball harder, for longer, jump higher, move quicker, finish more explosively, and most importantly, I have become less injury prone as a result. Doing push-ups and pull-ups has improved my basic strength which has resulted in more consistent jump shooting, even as fatigue sets in. I hate to say it but coronavirus has done wonders for my health, body, and game. At this point, I need it like a drug, gotta play my pick-up ball 2-3 times a week or I lose it!
The NBA is BACK!
Man, I can’t believe the NBA is finally back! I never realized how much I missed organized professional sports until it was taken away from me. I used to coast through the NBA season and only really start paying attention during the playoffs. The prospect of not having basketball at all has made me appreciate the games so much more. Tonight, my beloved Celtics are playing against the Bucks, at Disneyworld. What the NBA has done in constructing the bubble and implementing operational protocols to maximize safety and the possibility of successfully completing the season, is unparalleled. It’s clear that Adam Silver is the best commissioner in all of sports, hands-down. I think this may be one of the most memorable NBA season for a long time and I am excited to see how it plays out. I’ve rambled long enough so I think I’ll sign off. I won’t get into my app idea for organizing casual and more structured pick-up games, we’ll save that for another time.