Some people are better suited to certain lives than others. I know because I failed at the one I thought I had.
And before you say something cheesy along the lines of “everybody is unique and there are never losers” — you’re wrong. I don’t believe in those sayings anymore. Somehow, I messed up on universal-scale rulebooks… and this is coming from the guy who won the “Honestly Actually Going to Become Famous” award every graduation year.
Who would’ve thunk.
I began piano lessons at age ten. Nothing formal, nothing fancy, just a good extracurricular diligence activity for a boy whose hands seemed simultaneously occupied yet empty at the same time. (You know, the way only an elementary school student can be bored.) Already at the double digits, the instruction was “already too late”, taking into account so-and-so’s little natural and so-and-so’s young prodigy. Of course, there wasn’t too much to lose at the time, as even if I proved inapt as a pianist… well, as my father had initially put it, there was always violin!
I remember being a subconsciously lazy little prince who expected things to come easily. Looking back, mini-me wholly believed he could have all he wanted at his beck and call! My parents were both Asian-American immigrants who always wanted the best for their son, and my upbringing was something to be jealous of. At the time, practically the entire community’s youngsters were trained to be musically literate, and so the parental unit figured, why not give it a try?
I began actively practicing by my own motivation a year or two afterwards. The breakthrough period was rough, I’ll readily admit. A typical dramatic routine: scene one, I am at the old upright, playing my pieces over, before shrugging and attempting to return to the addictive computer screen; enter my mom, who begs me to play and sits next to me, even as my focus wanes with each new chord; eventually we both have enough; repeat. Yes, the whole dramatic walkthroughs, but by some means this strapping young lad began to make his way over to the piano himself, willfully, mind you…
I confess that it wasn’t magic — it took blood, sweat, and tears before I took a liking to piano — especially from my mother’s part. She not only paid for and shuttled me back and forth from lessons, but took me to professional masterclasses, brought me to internationally acclaimed concerts, and sat by me when she could. Well, no intent to sound at all “life-quote-y”, but her hard work paid off, and kudos to a parent who can actually make their picky eater love spinach!
I began to enjoy myself soon after, nonetheless. Age fourteen and counting, and yours truly was by far the best pianist in the grade — of those who were still left. A reshuffling of teachers and new instruments later, plus regular performances, and people were beginning to take notice. One time, a retired cellist told me I had the aptitude for Juilliard, as the prestigious school was “looking for that kind of musicality from youngsters these days.” In those moments, I was beaming, dreaming that I would’ve become a successful artist, but my parents, who despite still attending every one of my performances without fail, seemed more reserved in their praise.
I suppose it was a one-of-a-kind experience to spend my summers constantly next to a keyboard. My teacher was a stickler for immersion. I was even told to avoid basketball matches and volleyball games to take care of my hands, for it would be complicated if I scraped some skin or — god forbid — broke a bone.
I began a piano-centric lifestyle as a teenager. Not going to lie, but this ordeal was wholly addictive. Looking back, I’d say it was (somehow) almost like drugs — I just needed that little bit to get me hooked, and BAM! “You reckon he’ll continue like that? All the way to Carnegie?” other parents whispered conspiratorially, if a little curious. However, there was no denying I had definite talent, and nobody could turn a deaf ear to gorgeous arpeggios and effortless trills from a nearby keyboard, if I do say so myself. I was so sure my parents were proud. So much effort trying to have a musical genius for a son and it finally paid off. My social life was put on hold, but so what? I felt like I was on fire!
I didn’t realize myself that it was becoming a dangerous path. My hands felt numb if a night’s worth of homework led me to abandon a practice session. I unconsciously drilled tabletops through AP Psychology, then Biology. My father genuinely wondered if there were therapy support sessions for overdosed-on-hobbies teen boys.
I began “spiralling out of control” junior year, according to everybody I met. Countless date offers were rejected (although, note to self: apparently musical expertise was something girls found attractive!); the latest game crazes remained on pause; pre-SAT scores took the brunt of the attack. I don’t say any of this proudly, mind you. Up until then just about everything was going smoothly, and nobody truly expected anything less than perfection. I didn’t either, being the perfectionist I am, but here I was, stuck in a black and white piano addiction out of anything! And it felt all so very fulfilling!
One weekend, my parents sat me down at the formal dining table, an infinitesimal settling of dust upon a stauch-white cloth, and outright told me to think about my future. I mean, we’ve had numerous conversations like this before, pre-college life decision talks, but this time they cut right to the chase. “Well you need a proper job, you see? We just can’t have you pursuing a career like music. It’s always been our dream to send you to one of the best schools, with one of the best resumes, to become one of the best doctors.”
It was that feeling when an elevator suddenly drops nineteen stories — right after the door shuts — that moment of zero gravity when you fall past disbelief, hope, and then minimalist wishful thinking all in one thrilling loss of altitude. My eyes blurred over, and after an unforeseen surge of nervous adrenaline, I left the back door open as I blindly stumbled outside, not knowing where to go, not particularly caring.
I did not know what all the point was, not only in my case, but for all parents who implored their children to continue extensive private music lessons just to expect a doctor by the end of their education. Was this something about our society or our generation then? Why was it so prevalent nowadays and almost a bucket list requirement, it seemed, for success? Life, for me, would be dictated by me, I then decided. I was a storybook, damn it, not a resume!
My emotions are what makes my piano playing so fiercely impassioned; as an artist I am quick to be poignant, otherwise rather tense. But then I reeked reckless frustration, and on the spur of the moment, begin to hit the wall, once, twice, several more times.
You know, I had become ambidextrous over all those years of two-handed piano practice, and had spent so much effort protecting my hands, yet the irony seemed a practical joke as I unknowingly fractured my left fist — initially my dominant hand as well.
According to the doctor’s diagnosis, there was a “broken fourth metacarpal bone” or “Boxer’s Fracture”. With what I remember from Biology, translated into in layman’s terms, I snapped my ring finger by hitting a hard object using improper punching technique (not that I’d know any). A broken hand, a broken dream.
People say to never act on impulse. Would it, for me, have been for better or for worse? What would have been classified as better then? I’m no life counselor, but I know this much: it’s not a black and white world — most things are left up to improv cadenzas. I wouldn’t attribute this to any pre-destined Fate, but after all, in a way, isn’t everybody unique only because they just jazzed up a little bit?
And then, what of my parents? They only ever had the best intentions for their only son, and it seems the only reason I played piano was for another footnote, not the entrance theme.
So now here I am.
Working towards what will hopefully be a career in analytical education, trying to solve the infinitely complex parenting paradox: when the child doesn’t like something, they are pushed to do it, but when they develop a passion for it, they are held back from such a career! The attempted artificial upbringing stitches only a complicated Catch-22, when high expectations yield unexpected consequences.
With a new purpose in life, I’m working harder than ever.
Well, at least I might be able to prevent a few Boxer’s Fractures for other aspiring students. Perhaps more importantly, I shall certainly prevent those broken dreams.