A Series of Escalating Dares, Part 1

a-series-of-escalating-dares

This may come as a surprise to those of you who knew me in college and/or high school, but over a year ago I developed something of a phobia of performing.

(I’m imagining that, upon reading that, your eyes widened in shock and you uttered a little scream and you had to reach for your smelling salts. I’m also imagining that you have smelling salts.)

It was a development that surprised me more than anyone. Despite being painfully shy in anything remotely resembling a social situation my whole life, I’ve always been a little bit of quite a show-off when it came to the piano. If a store or mall had a piano, I’d run to it and start showing off with the flashiest piece in my repertoire. Sometimes my mom would open the front door to let the sun warm up the living room; when that happened I’d head to the keys to grace the neighborhood with my musical presence. One time, when I was very young and my parents were hosting a party, I hopped out of bed, flew downstairs to the piano in my pajamas and promptly started playing for the guests, all of whom were adults I was normally too timid to talk to. In my mind, the people of the world were my adoring audience and I was always ready to impress.

(This might all sound very cute but I really had quite the ego all the way through the end of college, which in hindsight was sometimes a very ugly quality. I share the cuter anecdotes so you’re not completely turned off by my conceitedness.)

Well anyway, some time into my post-college studies I became painfully self-conscious of my shortcomings as a musician, which was both a good thing and a bad thing. It was good because it spurred me to work on becoming better, and bad because I developed the aforementioned phobia of performing.

After more than a year of not performing and my sudden stage fright not showing any sign of quietly melting away, I’ve decided that I just need to suck it up and make myself get out there. But I’m not going to schedule one little recital and get it over with and let myself off the hook that easily.

Nope, I’ve dared myself to give recitals in as many places as people will let me. I have to make up for quite a lot of not-performing after all, and I have to keep forcing myself to do the thing that scares me until it doesn’t scare me anymore.

Or until I die. Whichever comes first.

So, people of the Bay Area, if you have a piano, and you’re tickled by the idea of hosting a private concert in your house like an old-timey fancy person in the next coming months, email me at “sharon [at] sharonsu [dot] com” with the subject line “House Recital.” The recital will be free of admission, you can invite anyone you want (relatives? friends? romantic interest you’d like to impress?) and I will bring you a little thank-you gift. Outside of the thank-you gift, I’m not making any promises; this could be wonderful, or it could be terrible, but we’re all going to come out of it alive.*

*barring any sudden natural disasters. California’s been overdue for The Big One for a while now.

A very heartfelt thank you to all the people who have already answered my original call on Facebook and offered me their homes or workplaces. I’ve been very touched (and a little scared) by your responses.

And hey, if this turns out to be a good experience (which I genuinely think it will) I might start doing this on a regular basis.

Stay tuned for the eventual blog post in which I announce dates and locations. (Out of privacy concerns, only cities will be publicly posted and addresses will be messaged to people who inquire about going.)

Continue Reading

The Autograph Scam

Update June 2017 (really?): I’m just going to ruin the punchline for you here: this post ends with the conclusion that random unspecific autograph requests are not a scam. I keep getting angry messages from autograph collectors telling me off for calling them scammers. (Also a lot of you seem to be angry at me for “calling myself an expert” when I never said any such thing and in fact admitted in this post that I’m pretty clueless about this stuff.)

Please work on your reading comprehension, guys, you’re making me sad for humanity.

—————————————————————

As a not-yet-famous person, I get mistaken for being a celebrity about 99% more than I am actually recognized for being myself. A salesguy once mistook me for a famous YouTuber and once on a flight a girl my age kept glancing over at me until she finally approached me and shyly asked, “Excuse me…are you someone famous?”

These people are always mistaken, though it is, admittedly, flattering that people at least think I look like someone who would be famous. These encounters always end in me being totally awkward and saying that no, unless they keep track of extremely obscure classical pianists, there’s no way they know me for anything.

So I was kind of bemused when, several months ago, I received an email out of the blue from someone claiming that they were a huge fan and wanted my autograph:

Autograph scam

Now, I’m a child of the internet. I grew up at a time when the internet was more of the Wild West and less like the insanely networked, Google-able TMI cesspool it is today—my point being that I am automatically suspicious of everything I see online.

So my inner Scam Alarm went off when I got that email. I barely have any web presence—a website and a few YouTube videos, but that’s it—nothing for anyone to be a “big fan” of for “years.” And this Hubert Zbikowski never said anything specific about me in his email. I’ve gotten tweets and comments from people saying things like “I love the way you play Prokofiev’s Gavotte!” and you’d think someone who was such a big fan would say something to that extent.

So I responded to Mr. Hubert Zbikowski’s email, telling him it was so nice to hear from a fan, and could he tell me his favorite piece that I’ve performed?

No reply.

Several months later, I got this email, from one Terry Lindsey:

autograph scam

Again with the ultra-flattering, wide-eyed, yet totally unspecific fan request. I also thought it was odd that there were so many spaces before my name, as if someone was copy-pasting my name into a pre-written message.

So I wondered, what is the deal here? My first thought was that maybe these people were phishing for my signature (and maybe my return address) for the sake of identity theft—yet that seemed highly unlikely and, well, not very smart. A person’s autograph is not likely to be the same signature that they use on official documents, and giving your victim your address (or any address that can be linked to other people) just leaves a trail for people to track you down.

So I did some Googling. First, I Googled our friend Terry Robert Lindsey’s email address, pam13tj@gmail.com…

Autograph scam

 

…and found that he has left the exact same message on the guestbooks of countless other obscure (no offense) classical musicians…

Autograph scam Autograph scam

 

…and that some people actually did follow through and send him something:

autograph scam

 

I figured if one person was spamming people this much, there must be more, and there must be other people having this problem. So I Googled “autograph scam”…

…and found that a lot of barely-famous people have gotten similar messages.

In fact, reading the resulting posts and their comments, I noticed a curious phenomenon. These scammers (for lack of a better term) seem to operate in cliques-by-subject that target different types of people. There’s one set of scammers that focuses on obscure writers, one that spams models, one that goes after indie bands, and of course a group (one that our friend Terry is part of) that follows obscure classical musicians.

But why are they doing this?

In most of the posts and comments I read, people couldn’t really come up with a motive for all the autograph request spamming. The most likely reason I found, though, comes from Arnold Zwicky’s blog:

At first, some of [the commenters on one of the blog posts] considered the possibility that this was part of an identity theft scheme, but the consensus was (I think correctly) that the collectors were assembling banks of autographs from people who might some day become famous enough that their autographs could be sold or traded. [The blog author] and I (and others who reported similar experiences) are maybe C- or D- list celebrities, so we’re easily flattered.

Here’s autograph hounding in one of its more traditional forms, as described by pornstar Jack Wrangler in his (auto)biography The Jack Wrangler Story, p. 130:

A few quick notes about autograph seekers, now that I’ve become a jaded recipient of that kind of flattery: They’re always the same people. They always hit the current hit shows, and they seem to have no discernible means of support. They always hand you a three-by-five card to sign–just your name, no message. Because, you see, they trade them, and I guess in some instances sell them. These people are not necessarily fans. Often they don’t have any idea who the hell you are. You know you’ve been spotted; you smile warmly; they rush up to you breathlessly. Your hand is poised and ready. Then they hit you with “Are you anybody?” Pop goes the balloon. Their singular aim in life is to build the biggest autograph collection in the world, so they keep coming back with their damned three-by-five cards, which they use for leverage: “I’ll give you ten Jack Wranglers for one John Travolta.” 

For you TLDR people: it seems these autograph scammers/spammers are simply collecting as many autographs as they can from people who are not (yet) extremely famous, in the hopes that some of their marks will become famous later.

It’s like the worst insurance scheme ever.

Continue Reading

Adventures in Letterpress Printing/You can buy me on Etsy

4 small

Um, how terrible am I at blogging in a timely manner? Remember how, 11 months ago, I promised that I would write a blog post about the amazing Christmas present that Bryce got me? Well…psych! It’s been almost a whole year and I never wrote that post.

So I’ll just tell you guys. Bryce got me a printing press. A real-deal spiffed-up antique Baltimore tabletop letterpress. (It’s like a tiny version of the press from this post.) AND he got me a whole set of type and ink and everything you need to print things.

In other news, Bryce is the most perfect boyfriend ever and no, you can’t have him.

1 small

Anyway, I recently started making real things with my letterpress (before I was just printing gibberish and swear words, because I am ten years old) and since I know I’m not the only person who loves letterpress stuff, I put my stuff on Etsy!

6 small

 

5
The difference between everyone else’s letterpress stuff and mine is that my letterpress stuff has what I think of as an irreverent je ne sais quoi, and what other people might think of as immaturity. Tomato, tomahto.

3

2

Anyway, go read my amusing copy, and admire my stuff, and maybe buy my stuff? Yeah?

 

Continue Reading