Author Archives: Moongirl

ivory

Mrs. Guinn placed the clunky brown headphones snuggly over my head, the giant earpieces squeezed my temples. A long, coiled cord snaked across the shaggy green carpet to a stereo where she stood, ready to drop the needle. I had no idea what I was in 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 home. 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 a white, 30-something year old woman. She had short brown hair in a long pixie style, a pretty face, and was always dressed in jeans and a nice top. Mrs. Guinn was married to an officer in the Air Force. I remember her as having a quiet and gentle demeanor. She reminded me of Toni Tennille of Captain and Tenille. The front living room where Mrs. Guinn taught had an upright piano on one wall and an organ against another, a large window overlooked the street. Her house was always meticulously clean and smelled good. “I have something I want you to listen to today,” she said as she guided me into the den. 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 notes of Beethoven’s all too famous Fifth Symphony bellowed in my ears. The music seemed to accelerate, and I became completely enraptured, magically swept away. The pulse of the bass vibrated in my chest. 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. I discovered I had a love for classical music. 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. The best part was when she performed for us on her organ. I loved watching her feet fly across the pedals. It was certainly a treat.

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. It was very hard to say goodbye, and I remember having a hard time sleeping the night before my last lesson. I probably shed a few tears, too.

My mom found a new teacher, and I began taking lessons from Mrs. Ellis, whom I didn’t like very much. The music she gave me to play was “old” and not very fun. Mrs. Ellis was older than Mrs. Guinn and had short, reddish hair and a southern drawl. I didn’t feel the same connection with her as I had with Mrs. Guinn and dreaded going to my lessons where very often, her daughter, about my age, invited me to play while I waited for the kid’s lesson before me to end. She had what seemed like a million trophies from beauty pageants stacked in her room, and I remember jumping on the trampoline with her in the backyard. I felt awkward next to her, as she seemed so accomplished for a kid our age. Eventually, I moved on and studied with Mr. Robert Buckner during my high school years. Mr. Buckner lived in Shreveport and was quite a colorful character. He had a piano studio behind his house and a dachshund named Angie. Mr. Buckner’s gray hair was always disheveled and seemed to stand on end to one side. I began every lesson with major and minor scales to warm-up, or Hanon exercises. I felt comfortable with his teaching style and sense of humor. Mr. Buckner was bit of a stout man with a laugh that welled up from his belly, which was quite infectious. A couple of times, I caught Mr. Buckner sleeping while I played. His snores always gave him away.

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, damn 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 and loathed sight singing, but loved composition and piano literature. It wasn’t that I couldn’t sing, it’s just that I had never been taught sight singing, and it terrified me, especially when made to sight sing in front of all my peers. That was a very joyless experience. 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 when it was expected to perform a solo recital of full repertoire. I got distracted with theatre and dance and remember her scolding me at one particular lesson for my lack of practice. I hadn’t memorized all of my pieces, and my recital loomed near. I just sat there unable to say a thing. No doubt, part of her concern was that a poor performance would reflect badly on her. She said that it seemed like I liked theatre and dance better. She was right. What did I know at that age? Not a whole lot, except there was much less pressure when you were having fun, for God’s sake.

I wasn’t exactly lazy, but discipline was not my strong suit. Practicing was such an isolating, arduous endeavor, and yet in those days, I didn’t always mind it. I typically hit the practice room 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. The freedom from judgment or making mistakes, the connection to the music; it was magical. 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.  Adrenaline rendered me helpless, and memory slips haunted me. On one occasion, several students were to perform with the Shreveport Symphony in a special recital. I was performing the first movement of Mozart’s Piano Concerto in A, K414. I can’t describe how exhilarating it was to perform with a live orchestra. Connection to other musicians performing together was something I had never experienced. 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, paralyzed. Eventually, I wove my way back in, but the damage had been done. I barely made it through the cadenza. Instead of enjoying such a performance, I was relieved when it was over. My legs were so shaky afterwards, I could barely stand.

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. The trauma of it all prevented me. I deeply regret that now. One day, my mom asked if I wanted my baby grand piano, the one they bought me when I first started taking lessons. Of course I did, and a couple of months later, my baby grand arrived at 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 sadly 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 have 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 when things are quiet and I can get away with it. 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 trained in piano for many, many years. I wish that I’d continued to play, but there was a part of me that felt my skills were inadequate, so I didn’t play for years. When I decided to study music therapy in 2006, that passion for music rushed back. 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. Sometimes, it’s hard to play because I inevitably begin to compare my current level of skill to that of when I played daily for very 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. It always makes me happy to listen to this beautiful piece of music. 

To Mrs. Carroll, who inspired me to be a better pianist:

Pictured above: My childhood friend, Mandi, and yep, that’s me.

My memoir!

Cover

Beyond 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.

Happy reading!

Taiwan ROCKs Seattle 2017

It’s always hard to say goodbye. My daughter and I spent a weekend in Seattle, Washington, for the annual Taiwan ROCKs event where adoptive families who have adopted children from Taiwan get together, catch up on each others’ lives, and make some fun memories. Each year, the event is held in a different city. There were about 16 families and 25 kids adopted from Taiwan, not including non-adopted siblings, and one sibling adopted from the DRC. We’re now heading back to California. It was a memorable experience, and I enjoyed connecting with so many families.

The event began on Friday night with a pizza fest at Angle Lake, a park within walking distance from our hotel. There were water features and playground equipment, and the kids looked like they were having a lot of fun. This year’s event was organized by Molly Gleason O’Brien and Kerry Murphy, two local moms. My daughter and I were welcomed, and I was pleasantly surprised when I saw Tien, the very woman who helped me find my birthfamily in Taipei, standing across the way talking to a family. Then it dawned on me that Tien lives in Seattle – I’d forgotten! Almost every family there, if not all, were connected to Tien in some way, as she helped some of the families with their adoptions. We spent the afternoon with Tien yesterday touring the city and eating lunch. It was lovely to spend time with her after our trip to Taiwan together in 2012, five years ago. I have never been able to return to Taiwan since.

On Saturday evening, I talked to the families after a BBQ dinner about my new book, “Beyond Two Worlds: A Taiwanese-American Adoptee’s Memoir & Search for Identity.” I spoke about how much international adoption has changed since the era that I and many other adult adoptees were adopted. I was struck by how many families had already taken their kids back to Taiwan, as it’s not common for adoptive parents to do so. Some adoptees had the opportunity to meet their birth mothers and extended birth family members. The trips were prompted by the kids’ curiosity about their early beginnings. It was unheard of years ago for adoptive parents to encourage their kids to explore their birth culture. I found that the parents at the event were sensitive to the importance of connecting their children to their birth culture. They appeared to understand the importance of open dialogue with their kids. I was very inspired by the support the families provide to each other and to their kids as they continue to ask questions around birth heritage. One mom told me that her daughter, age 11, wrote an essay about her adoption and birth family and loved to write. Most of the adoptees fell between the ages of 6-10. It was a pleasure to talk with these kids and learn their stories. Truly, the highlight of the trip was connecting with the young adoptees.

Taiwan ROCKs has approximately 400 families within its network. I was told that the Seattle ROCKs event was one of the smallest compared to past years. Nevertheless, I enjoyed every minute of it. Tien told me she believed that approximately 1,000 Taiwanese adoptions have occurred since the 1990’s, and most likely more, including adoptions that were private, or occurred without the assistance of an agency. Adoptions from Taiwan have declined significantly, as have international adoptions across all countries. There is a whole generation of young Taiwanese adoptees who I hope one day will support one another and perhaps even write their own memoir.

Taiwanese American film festival

Yesterday, I had the great pleasure of attending the first annual Taiwanese American Film Festival at the Downtown Independent Theatre in LA. It was super fun, and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. The purpose of the festival is to celebrate the achievements of new and rising Taiwanese American and Taiwanese international cinema artists. It was established by the Taiwanese American Professionals of Los Angeles. The event showcased film screenings by filmmakers from all over the world. It gave me a sense of pride as I reflected upon my own ever growing exploration of what it means to be Taiwanese American. The festival offered morning, day, and sunset sessions with an industry panel and a night block featuring an awards ceremony and closing feature. There was a closing party afterwards (which I didn’t attend, but am sure was loads of fun).

My friend and I arrived just in time for the Opening Shorts Block. These films ranged from stories that focused on family, culture, and the past. As audience members, we had the opportunity to vote for our favorite film afterwards. I enjoyed all eight, but one in particular really resonated with me, “My Adoption.” The director, Chuang-Chieh Liao, discovered he was adopted in his adult years, and his film explores this newfound knowledge in a conversation with his adoptive mom. Interestingly, Chuang-Chieh was adopted by a Taiwanese family in Taiwan. He wrote the film as an international student during his first quarter at DePaul University in Chicago where he was pursuing a MFA. He stated about the film, “I just wanted to face the fear that was always in my mind. I had lost part of childhood memory. Three years ago, I found out that I was adopted. That’s when the memory came back to my brain. After I came to Chicago, I decided to call my mother and ask the details about my adoption for the first time.” 

I don’t want to give too much of the film away, but the emotions behind the question that Chuang-Chieh asks his adoptive mother are quite tender, and we see how deeply he struggles to grasp at answers. Some members of his family were very conservative and opposed his adoption. As a result, he grew up without their love and support, and his adoptive parents were blamed for their inability to have a biological child. Especially poignant, we see childhood pictures of Chuang-Chieh with his adoptive parents in flashes as he converses with his mother over the phone. His parents loved him – it’s obvious, and we learn why they withheld sharing his adoption for so long. As I sat and watched this film, I was reminded that whether adoption occurs domestically in the US/abroad or through inter-country adoption, adoption is complex. But also, adoptive parents love their children. I’m not talking about abusive parents, neglectful parents, or parents who adopt for the wrong reasons. And this post doesn’t address the corruption that exists in adoption. Adoption is just complex on many different levels. It’s a tangled web of emotions and discovery across the lifespan that takes time to unravel, and it’s certainly a life-long journey for the adoptee, biological parents, and adoptive family. I”m sure that Chuang-Chieh continues to process the decision his adoptive parents made to adopt and love him despite such opposition from their own family in Taiwan. There is a social stigma that exists in Taiwan (and other Asian countries) towards adoption, especially if the child has a special need.

I wanted to know more after watching this brief, yet powerful film. It was one of the shorter films, approximately 4 minutes, and subtitled in English, as most of the films were. Unfortunately, Chuang-Chieh wasn’t present at the festival. I would have loved to talk to him about his experience and film. How cool it was to see a Taiwanese filmmaker explore his own personal experience of adoption.

My friend and I missed the Centerpiece Shorts Block, as we had lunch with some of her friends at a nearby restaurant, but some of the shorts are available to watch on Vimeo. Click here to see a listing of all the films and synopses. We did attend the Industry Panel featuring 5 actors/producers/writers: Lynn Chen (actress) of “Saving Face,” by Sony Pictures, Alan Pao (Producer) founder and CEO of Tunnel Post Production, Kai Wu (Writer), Charles Yu (Writer) and Kelvin Yu (Writer/Actor). Kai writes for the NBC TV series, “Hannibal” and CWs, “The Flash.” Charles writes for HBO’s “Westworld” and has authored multiple books. Kelvin currently writes for the Fox animated series, “Bob’s Burgers” and the Netflix comedy, “Master of None.” Very interesting and entertaining to learn how each of the panelists began their careers.

I hope that you’ll take a few minutes to watch, “My Adoption,” by Chuang-Chieh Liao. I’m linking his short here via Vimeo. Thank you, Chuang-Chieh, for making such a meaningful film that will surely resonate with other adoptees.

book launch party

If you’re in the Long Beach area or nearby locale, please stop by and visit me at Gatsby Books on July 30th for a book launch party. Event starts at 3:00 pm. If you plan to attend, kindly click Going at the Facebook RSVP link so I can plan refreshments accordingly. See ya there!

a certain slant of adoption

Hello folks! It’s Sunday morning, the skies are gray in my lovely locale. Nevertheless, I’m enjoying the weekend, despite the clouds. It couldn’t have come sooner.

Today, I wanted to talk about adoption…well, duh. I have something more specific in mind. For the past 7 years, I’ve actively searched for and read blogs, books, scholarly research, adoptee group sites, birthmother sites, and adoptive parent sites seeking connection, knowledge, resources, and validation. There are as many views on adoption out there as the colors of the rainbow. As an international and transracial adoptee, my own perspective on adoption has evolved. I don’t think it uncommon for our views to change as we experience personal growth and for lack of a better term, mature. Adoptees have strong inclinations regarding adoption rooted in their own life experiences, and multiple factors shape those attitudes. I’ve spoken with adult adoptees who are not terribly interested in connecting to their cultural roots or birth heritage, nor searching for their birthfamilies. Perhaps there’s a glint of interest, but there is not yet a compelling enough reason or desire to follow it. There are other adoptees who speak strongly against international adoption and for reasons that are quite justified. International adoption has a jaded history, and there are countless adoptees who were adopted illegally, through unethical adoption practices – in some cases both the agency and adoptive parents were plainly aware of the falsification of information. These deplorable practices still occur around the world. There is evidence, and though the U.S. attempts to keep the public aware of these dark practices, they continue.

I have several friends who are adoptive parents and have adopted children internationally from China, India, Africa, Ethiopia, and Russia. They also have very strong opinions and attitudes about international adoption. Sometimes – maybe even frequently – my friends and I do not see eye to eye; nevertheless we remain friends. I strongly believe in family preservation and the support of services to keep children with their biological families. As an adopted person, I cannot see past that. And yet, we live in a world where adoption is still thriving, although in decline internationally. I feel conflicted at times because I have my own very strong attitudes about adoption and yet I am supportive of my friends and other adoptive parents, and that will not change. I am for the welfare of children whether adopted or not.

What I particularly struggle with across the landscape of adoption is judgment and how we judge one another based on our attitudes and opinions towards international adoption. I know that I am judged by others for what I believe and support. I don’t necesarrily like being judged; the word ‘judge’ itself is so harsh. And yet I also judge – it’s inevitable. We all do because it’s human nature. I have no control over what others think and say, but I can temper my own thoughts, words, and actions. I’ve gone through the gamut of emotions related to my own adoption/identity and international adoption in general, from curiosity and awe, to self-loathing and anger, to grief and loss and depression, to acceptance. Like so many adoptees, ignorance makes me angry. It’s complex. There’s a lot of ignorance surrounding international and transracial adoption – adoptive parents experience it, too, and people can say some really dumb things. Sometimes I laugh it off, and other times I get angry and vent to a trusted friend or another adoptee who gets it. There is healing and validation in sharing our experiences.

And what about birthmothers? Of all involved in the adoption ‘triangle,’ their voices and stories are the least heard. And yet, I am certain that they have also experienced trauma, separation, grief and loss, and judgment. We know that women throughout the world have been forced to ‘give up’ their children through coercion for generations (Australia, Brazil, etc). And their children were later adopted by families/individuals from other countries. Societies often judge unwed, single pregnant women who are then stigmatized and left with few options.

What to make of all of this? I will be judged by what I say and do. That’s life, and I can accept that, as painful as it may be. There are a lot of adoptees and other folks out there with some very strong voices and opinions about how things should be. What I won’t accept is bullying by others who believe that everyone should share the same attitude and carry out the same actions. That’s just unacceptable. Adoptees do not all share the same points of view. Similarly, adoptees, adoptive parents, and birthmothers have vastly different experiences. Sometimes what we see on the outside is not what’s on the inside. I realize that we may not always agree, but we can certainly respect one another and our own personal and matchless journeys. We can look for ways to inform others who have not walked in our shoes. I’m speaking as one adoptee to another – I hope to support you wherever you are in life and wherever life takes you. I do believe that collectively, we can make a difference.