Teaching money

Today I was researching for my syllabus proposal for this institute. I came across a lot of interesting articles and got some new ideas for how to teach screenwriting to non-majors.

And then, I found this interview of Rich Dad Poor Dad‘s author Robert T. Kiyosaki by accident:

They want you to be poor

What Kiyosaki talked about reminded me of a convo I had with my date:

“School doesn’t want you to know how to make, invest and save money. Because school is run by the government. The last thing they need is more smart people outsmart the system. And the debt system would collapse on them. There would be no irrational consumerism or consumerism, period.”

My eyes widened in shock and I nodded, “It made so much sense now.” I also felt chill down my spine as I bottomed down a shot of reality.

I’m an artist, a freelancer, an educator. And I don’t have a healthy relationship with money.

I think it’s time for me to embrace that neglected and ignored relationship. I mean, who doesn’t want to make friends with money, right?

Yours truly,
YZ

No worries

It’s a catchy phrase I learned years ago when I was an exchange student in the U.K. But I never really thought about what it meant literally until probably now. 

Truth is, according to my own Big Five Traits, I’m relatively high in neuroticism, which means I’m more prone to have mood swings. Even though I look like I move fast, I also worry a lot. 

There is a study on the older people at the end of their lives, what they wish they could have done differently. Almost all said that they wish they could worry less and do more. (Nike didn’t choose its Just Do It slogan for nothing.) After all, most of our worries never really came true.

I’ve been worrying if I’d land my new teaching gig. The audition lecture went well, I was told. But there were more to do before the final evaluation: a syllabus proposal and a meeting with the big boss. It feels like none of the things I do now I can get a hall pass and get fucking paid already.

“Do your best and let it go.” 
“No worries, mate.” 

A voice whispered in my ears. But I still worry. At least, I’m aware that I am.

Yours truly,
YZ 

The glass

It’s been four five years since I pivoted to screenwriting. At times, words still don’t come easy. Other rarer times, I felt I knew better now.

So I was somewhat resistant when the program manager said in order to land the fall teaching gig, I also had to do the unpaid summer writing workshop with a bunch of newer and Chinese writers. I browsed the syllabus written in English and was completely convinced that I would get nothing out of it. 

Then I sat in for the last writing workshop the institute held for its spring semester students. I couldn’t believe how reminiscent I felt about that environment: eight writers, one instructor, eight scripts to critique, nine minds to mingle. 

Right after the workshop, I texted the program manager: “Sign me up.”

Tomorrow will be my audition lecture before anything else can happen. I’ve obviously over-prepared. But nothing is an overdo if you want it bad.

The other driver for me is my own level of screenwriting. I can be helluva a kickass critic for other people’s work. But when it comes to my own stuff, I grow soft. I know I should do the opposite. But it’s too fucking hard. Just like body trainers have their own trainers. Learning from a legit Hollywood screenwriter this summer would be a great way to update my own software.

These days, I keep coming back to the glass metaphor. Make it empty, so you can add water in it. If you don’t keep refreshing it, the stale water would smell. 

It’s chemistry. It’s life.

Yours truly,
YZ

Fulfilled

Today I finished my thirteenth week of a total six-hour-long teaching day. A thought came across my mind. Wow, four weeks later and I’d be done with the people I’d spend the last four months with. 

I thought I’d feel relieved. To some extent, I am. Six-hours teaching means times 2 to prepare. Sometimes more. It was eating up my writing time. But then, be grateful that you have a paying job to support your passion.

But something happened between me and my students over the course of the last month. I care about them, their success, their concerns. I want them to succeed in school, in life, in the future. I can almost see myself fighting back tears when I part ways with my students at the end of June. 

My students. They are mine. For a while. For now. How crazy was it that I invited my morning elective class to do a ten-minutes meditation with me today. I didn’t know if they actually did it with me. But they didn’t have their phones to play with either. (*I made sure I took care of it.) At some point, I felt that my students must think their teacher is going loco. Well, whatever. It’s the right thing to do to introduce to them some tools to cope with life. They can take it or leave it. 

Then they wrote their future dreams down on paper, folded them and put them into a bag. From the bag, I took a piece and read every of those dreams out loud, with care. We clap every time we hear a dream being uttered through me. Making lots lots of money was the most popular dream, of course. I didn’t ask them to change, but I had to urge them to consider: when you have enough money, then what? Retire? 

I haven’t quite figured that one out either. Dreaming versus Living. A fulfilled mind versus a loaded purse.  Personally, I wish the teaching environment in this college to be less hostile to adjunct as well as to its students. By hostile to adjunct, I mean mostly, pecuniary. But isn’t it the same everywhere else? 

The answer in my own experience is not quite. The institute I am going to audition (now scheduled on Thursday) has a far better policy — equal pay to Chinese and Laowai (non-Chinese). I worked my ass off to prepare for this audition lecture. I want this gig real bad. I will nail it. Once I do, I’ll start teaching there in the fall with a reasonable salary plus 40% of my current workload. The class is 1/3 the size of my current one, which means I could develop deeper connection with all the ten students.

Of course, I care about my current students. But I have to practise self-care and self-love in this case. It’s difficult but absolutely necessary. 

“I want you to take what I’ve taught you in this class and apply it to your later career, whether it’s film-related or not.” I heard myself saying to my evening class as I closed for the day, “Don’t write for anybody. Write for yourself. Don’t just write every other day. Write every day. For yourself.” 

Before they exited the room, they clapped. I blushed. 

Yours truly,
YZ

Anger Mismanagement

My crux is my anger. I knew it. But I blew it today, again, at my dear friend. 

At the time, I felt so righteous. He hasn’t yet read my script. He knew it’s important to me. And I sent it to him last Thursday. He promised he would read during the weekends. (Okay, I sound like an possessed person already…)

Of course, things happened. He got busy. But something inside me snapped. 

It wasn’t about him really. I was mad at the slow pace of other projects. The producer-wannabe-writer promised to deliver and now it’s two months later. I rolled my eyes back and forth like a yoyo. And a paper that I slaved on with another friend is still awaiting her response. There are tons of things that people just fade out on you… Like with this director, I read his script and gave him notes and had a lengthy call. I sent him meeting minutes with action plans. But I haven’t heard from him since. This reminds me to write him a followup whatup email. 

So at the time, I wanted my friend to be reliable. And he is reliable 99%.And when he doesn’t deliver what he’s promised, all my anger and frustration decimated the dam and flooded out… Of course, he ignored my angry texts and attempted calls as he should.

Hours later, I meditated twice to ease my chest pain. 

Truth be told, I’ve been going back to Pema Chödrön’s Don’t Bite the Hook audiobook as well as my daily meditation practice. But I still don’t feel that I have control over my own anger. And tomorrow morning, I will introduce meditation to my students. #irony

Off to bed now with the repercussions from an angry burst for nothing. 

Yours truly,
YZ

Chinese + Creativity

Two weeks ago, I went to a prestigious institute to sit in for its last screenwriting workshop. The program associate and I had a little chat.

“Have you thought about writing stories yourself?” I asked her.
“Me? Oh, no, no, no, no, no. It’s not my thing.” 

I pause for a bit. “You know, years ago, I felt I wasn’t the creative bunch either.” 

I forgot how the conversation ended. But her initial response was etched in my brain. 

Is creativity nothing but a snooty bitch? It shines light on the White community, obviously. Now, it expands to the Black community, fucking at last. 

And so… what about the Asians, the Yes Race? 

“Your Crazy Rich Asians did great!” Some may battle me with this fact. 

Sure, but one film doesn’t mean that day has come. An Asian actor acquaintance posted on his social, “I aim to be an Oscar winner.” My OS was like, bruh, if Asian writers don’t write Asian stories, you’d be supporting til the day you die.” Are Chinese too grounded for creative juice? Truth is, we only have enough room for one kind of God. That is, the God of Money on the fifth day of the Chinese New Year. It’s our euphemism to tell Muse to fuck off. 

I watched a few more episodes of Atlanta today after my date recommended to me. The Barbarshop episode in Season 2 was so over the top real, surreal, hilarious, and frustrating that I almost died from laughing. Stefani Robinson (now 26) was the writer for this episode and the only female writer on the show. She is so enviously young and full of live, who landed a staff writer gig at 23 after working at a talent agency right off college. And because of Atlanta, FX is now working with Robinson on her own show. Attagirl.

Never in my life will I be able to manufacture the moment that got me on Atlanta. I was just quite literally at the right place at the right time for that opportunity. The reason I was able to grasp it and to keep it going was because I was prepared. I wrote all the time. I was constantly thinking about ideas. My biggest advice is to constantly be writing, constantly be reading, and then on top of that, to be honest about what you love.

Stefani Robinson, via VICE

Some people are just meant to shine. I hear you think. True. 

You see, growing up in China, you’re told to do things that pay bills. First couple of years when I decided to pivot to screenwriting from the lucrative advertising world, my left brain was still anxious about how the fuck I could live as a writer rather than how on earth I could write a killer script. That worry developed into a nasty habit. Even right now, I’m still dealing with the jitters, the shallow breathing. It’s like after years of intoxication, your system revolts when suddenly there’s no booze in the blood. 

As I get the chance to teach the Chinese kids about screenwriting, about creative thinking, I want to make sure they don’t piss off their Muses. But most importantly, they find their voice. Not the voice in their heads. But the kind of voice that shuts the world. So everyone would listen.

My auditioning lecture at this prestigious institute is on Wednesday. Wish me luck.

Yours truly,
YZ

The spell

Ever since I was little, I was told that I was short and dark. Short is fine, but what you don’t want to be in China is a dark girl.

Here’s the thing, Chinese women have to be Size 00 skinny, as pale as ghosts in Japanese films, having eyes as big as Anne Hathaway’s, wearing a chin as chiseled as a Swiss knife, and at least five foot five to be a pretty candidate… Worse yet, nobody was my ally. My mum shrugged it off. My dad simply asked me to study hard. So I accepted those words to be my truth.

As young as ten years old, I cast myself aside as the Fugly Girl. So I had no other choice but to be smart. I don’t even recall anybody say I was pretty. I got uncomfortable when people called me that. I thought they were teasing me. I had glasses since third grade. I wore baggy clothes to hide my body in puberty. I slept on my stomach and prayed for a flat chest. I even got a crew cut just to keep out the boy problem – as if there was any. I denied my femininity flat out when it was to sprout off the ground. I stampeded on it hoping it would never see the sun. You see, people give us the bullets, but we pull the trigger.

Years later, I fell in love.
He said, you was beautiful.
I flinched, no, no, no. I was not. You like me because I’m smart.
Yeah, but you’re beautiful.
I looked at him in disbelief.
He kept on going, listen to me, you’re beautiful. You’re beautiful. Don’t let anybody else talk you into anything different. 

In the bathroom, I wiped tears away from my eyes. In the mirror, I saw her standing right in front of me. For the first time in a long time, I noticed her symmetrical face, her exquisite eyes, her refined nose… And her gentle soul. 

That day, I unlearned my habit to look away before a mirror.
That day, I learned it’s okay to appreciate her beauty without turning into a narcissist.
But most importantly, that day, I fell in love. With her.
I promised her that I would love her regardless of her relationship status, her bank statement, her level of success… because “I’d love you til the end of the Universe.” 

During our domestication, our parents and siblings gave their opinions about us without even thinking. We believed these opinions and we lived in fear over these opinions, like not being good at swimming, or sports, or writing. Someone gives an opinion and says, “Look, this girl is ugly!” The girl listens, believes she is ugly, and grows up with the idea that she is ugly. It doesn’t matter how beautiful she is; as long as she has that agreement, she will believe that she is ugly. That is the spell she is under. 

Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz

Oftentimes when we are in the thick of it, we can’t see past our own hands in the fog of the falsehood. We might need someone else to break the spell for us. Because of him, I got lucky.

I hope you get lucky too someday if not already. But if you don’t yet, it’s okay. Just ask yourself: What is my spell? And follow the yellow brick road.

Yours truly,
YZ