The Little Prince

Now that finals are starting and classes are over, I have time to sit down with a book, read, and write. My friend recommended The Little Prince, a book many say should be read at least three times – once when you are young, again when you are an adult, and finally when you are old.

One of the first themes the story hits you with is the loss of (seemingly innocent) creativity and imagination as you grow old. In college, I am seeing this pattern unfold right in front of me, even happening within myself.

I know a planet where there is a certain red-faced gentleman. He has never smelled a flower. He has never looked at a star. He has never loved any one. He has never done anything in his life but add up figures. And all day he says over and over, just like you: ‘I am busy with matters of consequence!’ And that makes him swell up with pride. But he is not a man–he is a mushroom!

“Sorry I can’t spend time with you, I have to study!” It feels that the older I get, the faster time passes. I remember when I used to think that the 4 years of high school lasted an eternity. Now 1 year of college has gone by like a breeze. It seems that competitive schools are a pipeline into the rat race for more money and status, things that allow us to put on a face of pride. But the loss of creativity the story presents isn’t the only thing adults lose as they grow older. What’s important isn’t some ability to arbitrarily imagine that this hat looking drawing is actually a boa that has swallowed an elephant (or something crazy like seeing dead people in a blotch of spilled ink.


The sad reality is growing up and getting preoccupied with what we think are “matters of consequence.” Regardless of whatever these matters of consequence are: going to college so that you can make more money, befriending this person so you can get professional connections, reading a book so you can get something out of it, I think the problem lies in the very consequences you see in whatever activity you are getting yourself into. This actually relates a lot to the practice of zazen meditation in Buddhism. If you sit with the intention of getting enlightened, you will in fact never get enlightened. As we grow older, we stop doing things for what they areEverything becomes a matter of consequence.

The story’s idea of taming stuck with me because of how intimately it describes love and beauty.

“You are not at all like my rose,” he said. “As yet you are nothing. No one has tamed you, and you have tamed no one. You are like my fox when I first knew him. He was only a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes. But I have made him my friend, and now he is unique in all the world.”
“You are beautiful, but you are empty,” he went on. “One could not die for you. To be sure, an ordinary passerby would think that my rose looked just like you–the rose that belongs to me. But in herself alone she is more important than all the hundreds of you other roses: because it is she that I have watered; because it is she that I have put under the glass globe; because it is she that I have sheltered behind the screen; because it is for her that I have killed the caterpillars (except the two or three that we saved to become butterflies); because it is she that I have listened to, when she grumbled, or boasted, or ever sometimes when she said nothing.
Because she is my rose.
“Only the children know what they are looking for,” said the little prince. “They waste their time over a rag doll and it becomes very important to them; and if anybody takes it away from them, they cry . . .”
Taming the fox, having patience and spending time with him, is what distinguishes him from all the other foxes in the world. It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.

It is difficult to put in words a review (if you suppose) of this book because there are still many metaphors and messages I don’t understand. For instance, why the snake speaks in riddles in Chapter 17:

“You move me to pity–you are so weak on this Earth made of granite,” the snake said. “I can help you, some day, if you grow too homesick for your own planet. I can–” “Oh! I understand you very well,” said the little prince. “But why do you always speak in riddles?” “I solve them all,” said the snake. And they were both silent.

This book was originally in French, and the English translation is written beautifully. Reading this story has left me with many questions — questions I know will unfold as I grow older. The Little Prince is worth reading, it’s also fairly short and would take 1-2 hours to read, so you should go check it out! Here’s a link to a free pdf.


Contributing to the world, as myself

What would not get done if you were not here?

Over the past few months, I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be myself, to actually have things that I stand for and believe in. I fell upon this question while reading Improv Wisdom this morning, and was wondering that if I were asked this question in high school, I wouldn’t have had an answer. I think this is an important question to think about too, so you should take some time right now to think about it! If I was not in high school, people would have continued prepping for standardized test, doing extracurriculars, etc. I think that I can now pinpoint this to a specific thing – competition. Competition is a rat race, if somebody drops out, that’s just one less person to worry about, right? So let’s go back to the question, when you are competing in something (college admissions, interviewing for internships, etc.) you’re not really adding anything unique.

Consider your unique vantage point, your talents, your loves, what you have been given to do. What are you here to do?

Competition is a zero sum game. Not many people remember the losers, which sucks. For myself, I think that if I continued competing, climbing some corporate ladder for my whole life, I would never be able to answer the question: what would not get done if I were not here? But I do have answers to that now. For one, this blog. If I were not here, nobody would be writing this blog. To show my unique vantage point, talent, passions, loves, my purpose, I have to create. In my philosophy seminar this semester, although everybody was reading the same texts everybody would contribute different and unique perspectives every class. Depending on how we were raised, what environment we put ourselves in, different things are more apparent to us. So by participating in a class discussion, posting your thoughts on the internet, filming YouTube videos, making a movie, or whatever creative medium you choose, you are doing something that nobody else could do.

So here’s my idea: Don’t compete, create.

I’m going to adapt this from an answer I read on Quora. Let’s say that 100 people spend 100 units of energy each competing for some award. In the end, there is only winner, so only 100 units of energy (out of 10,000 units) are recognized. If everybody decided to go out on their own and try to create something, they could’ve each spent the 100 units of energy making something unique. That’s an overall win win, adding 10,000 units to the world. The effort that you put in will still count for something, even if you don’t win. Furthermore, since everybody was raised differently, everybody has value to add to the world. 

So this is a challenge for myself next year. To spend more time creating, spend more time writing content for my readers because that is something unique to me. And I’ve been practicing a lot of piano improv lately, so I might start uploading my improvisations onto YouTube to I guess make my dent in this world. Writing this, I’m starting to realize I’m mainly using the internet to publicize myself, which might change or grow in the future. Also another big thing I will plan to do is not search and compete for any jobs this coming summer. This is a pretty big jump for me, since I would love to land a nice internship so I can more easily find a job in the future. But I think creating something by myself, making something I can be truly proud of of is more important to me right now than spending time competing for an internship.

So you know what, I’ll go with it. With this mindset, I’m interested to see what kind of future I can pave .

Through the Lens of Music: Engineering Creativity

I thought that creativity was one of those things people were born with, something I didn’t have. Everything cool was either already thought of, or somebody would think of it before me. Is it even possible to think of new things? Everything seems like it’s been thought of before. It’s not just me though, many times I hear people saying “Why didn’t I think of this before?” after something has been invented. Especially now, as creativity is seen as a valuable commodity for certain jobs, many people might feel the pressure to try to become more creative. That’s why there are tons of articles floating around listing “10 things creative people do differently”, etc.

I’ve always seen creativity as something nebulous, something that happens when somebody is staring into space — then click… a new idea is formed!

Can creativity be engineered?

Can it be broken down so that people can build their creativity? After getting my feet wet in the world of musical improv, I’ve grown to see how creativity can in fact be created. My curiosity in musical improv began with this video: it’s a video of Kyle Landry playing the piano, improvising on top of Canon in D – Pachelbel. My first reaction was — WTF? I know how to play that song, but I could never imagine myself playing it like that. No sheet music or anything for the improvised parts. Just like with jazz, I was always awestruck by people that could come up with cool solos off the top of their heads.

My next question was — How can I do that?

I searched YouTube for tutorials, and found that almost all tutorials were based on chords and scales: pentatonic, major, aeolian, blues, etc. I practiced iterating over simple chord progressions: D Major > B Major > G minor. I could play the chords in my left hand, and I was slowly experimenting ways to play the melody in the treble clef. In the beginning I couldn’t think of things to play on my left hand. I could only make one note melodies: go up and down a scale, I even felt frustrated because with over 10+ years of piano experience, I couldn’t do more then walk up and down a scale or play triads. It was also somewhat embarrassing playing what I thought sounded cool in my head out loud, voicing it out to the world. But usually after about 20 minutes of getting into my groove, I would loosen up and get into state of “musical drunkness”. I was more confident in my ability to create rhythms and melodies, but what is interesting is that every phrase I was playing was part of a particular piece of music that I had listened to or played before.

My favorite pieces by Chopin and Liszt were recurring tropes within my improvisations. But after studying chord progressions and learning the technicalities of consonance and dissonance, I began to grasp the freedom I could have within these pieces. I started to play with the structure of a peaceful song like Yiruma’s “River flows in You” to make it more march-y and violent like a waterfall crashing down. What perhaps was more interesting was testing the freedom that I couldn’t have. Trying to mash sounds together that weren’t socially “harmonious.” Something like a G major > C# minor.

Creativity really comes into play here: experimenting to see what you can make by mashing two things together: Listening to what happens when you thread a rubato filled romantic melody with the demanding technicalities of a baroque bass.

Something cool that Kyle Landry does as well, can be seen in this video, is that he has a big variety in his “improvisation arsenal.” He has a background playing classical, romantic, jazz, disney, and video game music. And throughout his improvisations, he can call upon the tropes in those genres of music to convey different things. The cool part is that different sounds resonate with unique emotions for different people. For example, I see a jazzy chromatic progression as kind of rebellious and sassy way to say something. In a way, listening to somebody write music is experiencing their past with them, experiencing the memories they grew to associate with certain sounds.

Everything starts from something before it. Improvisation cannot happen without exposure to other music. Only then you can draw on specific elements from separate genres, songs, phrases, even scaling down to as small as rubato patterns and the sound of 2 notes played together.

So how can you get more creative?

Expose yourself to every form of music. I’ve never been into jazz in the past, but after listening to it more and more, I’m starting to grow a liking towards it. What is most important though, is that you don’t see this exposure to other fields of music as a stepping stone.

It is imperative that you live and experience the time you are spending inside a genre, as forming those resonant, emotional links with the music is what’s going to be added to your “improvisation arsenal.” It’s not just about the breadth of exposure, it’s also important (and fun!) to go in depth into the nuances, finer details, and ornaments from each era: rubato in romantic, chordal structure in pop, swing in jazz, chromatic progressions in jazz and contemporary, etc. An exercise that I find really helps is trying to imagine a song you already know in a different genre. Like in this video. Scott plays Twinkle Twinkle Little Star across different eras in music: waltz, reggae, jazz, rock, and even dubstep.

Taking off the lens
This post was actually a way for me to experiment talking about a concept that’s been on my mind but through a different perspective: music. Like Scott playing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star in ragtime, thinking about topics in a variety of lenses like this could build our creativity.