Take Your Time

I had a revelation yesterday.

Tuesday this quarter is the feature writing workshop. I dreaded it before it happened. I enjoyed it when it happened. Then I loved it after it did happen.

I had too many pages so was put at the last to be read. Then we ran out of time. I was a bit anxious. It was Week 8 and I just revamped my story. I really need to hear the critique then and there. Last week was a mess. Three weeks ago my stuff wasn’t read during the class. I thought I was losing my story trajectory and the voice of my characters. Thinking about it almost put me in tears. Then the nurturing instructor said if I was not in a rush, she was willing to stay behind and get my pages critiqued. My eyes screamed “I love you” at her. Almost everybody else just left the room because they had more important things to do. And I understand and respect that. Here is a good place to meditate not to take things personally. I think I am coping better now.

Then my pages were again full of red. The others were just given minor editing notes, mine was torn apart — every single time. I know that I shouldn’t compare with other people. Because everybody is in different phase when it comes to writing. I need to focus on myself, and myself only. If I am better than yesterday, that’s all that counts. But at times, I forget. That’s where my vulnerability gets me — bad.

My beloved instructor tells me to “take time with yourself, and with your writing.” “I see the improvement,” she often says. But it’s so hard to see it when we are this close to thyself. We lose sight of what’s important. We lose focus.

A third-year writer friend and I have a ritual to meet an hour before the workshop so we chat and share. She said, “a year from now, you will be so much better.” I was incredulous, “Real… really?” “Really.” She shared how insecure she felt a year ago now. How frustrated when she noticed herself lagging behind when everybody else was several blocks ahead. “You will get there, eventually.” She reassured me. “Even for those million bucks screenwriters, they are still insecure writers at heart. When you make it once, you would be haunted by the notion whether you are going to repeat or even surpass your previous success.”

When we make art, there’s always a THERE ahead of us. Because artists are never content and they shouldn’t.

So here is what I try to do — to make peace with that insecurity.

And relax.


An afterthought — 
It’s counterintuitive at first to try to relax when I have a crazy amount of work to do. But now I find being able to relax is extremely helpful to regain my focus and productivity.

Well, here is to my revelation.

Finish

To finish is harder than I imagined.

I promised myself a first draft before I fell asleep (yes, I fell) yesterday. Now I am up and the story is still not quite there yet.

My instructor asked me to be patient with myself as a writer. But seeing everyone else already sprinting away from you, I need more than just patience. I need my sanity.

I don’t usually compare myself with others. I know it’s useless, and pointless. But sometimes in the dark corner of my head, I just can’t help it.

I have friends juggling four courses in our 10-week packed schedule while still finding time to socialize, to go to movies, to Facebook (I shut down mine at the beginning of 2016), to intern, to work part-time, to finish a 100-page first-draft script by Week 5, to complete a 20-page paper within two days. How the fuck is that even possible? “Well, I want to do as much as I can on a single day.” Duh, I do too.

You see, now I don’t envy people with talent. I am jealous of those who use their time so freaking well that it seems God is so generous with them that he gives them 48 hours a day and still have them function like the rest of us who needs some 7–8 hours sleeping time. I try to drink coffee and stay alert. But by 12 o’clock, I climbed to bed like a zombie. Actually, I told myself that I was going to “nap for 15 mins.” I then did another 15. The rest is history. I woke up with the morning alarm. It’s 5 o’clock in the morning. Cue the T-Pain song.

Fuck — was the first word I uttered as I got up this morning. What a fashion to start the day.

Now back to my script. F — . Strike that. I meant Finish.

Just keep swimming

I have this discussion with my cohort all the time.

Being a writer for life is hard. The rejection, the humiliation, the “you will never ever get there” self-doubt, the looming red in your finance chart.

I have a LA Lakers #8 Kobe Bryant jersey hanging on the rack. It’s the shrine of my daily faith and inspiration.

How did he get there? 
How did he become who he is today? Well, he wasn’t born this way. 
Where did he get this monstrous GRIT that all the great masters have? 
How did he overcome the physical pain day in and day out for the better part of his life? 
How did he challenge doubt when he failed?

Those might be the questions I want to grill him if I have the chance to meet him. I think I may have the answer already as everybody else does way before you read this rambling post.

You probably know it already when you watched Finding Nemo —

Just keep swimming.

So at the beginning of another gorgeous day in LA, I will breathe in and breathe out.

And write on.



A Chip on Her Shoulder

It was me.

I thought the world owed me. And I had every right to manifest that rage. I had few friends then. I never wondered why. I took it as a sign that I was simply too good to be in league with mediocrity.

In truth, I was just jealous; jealous of people who were born with good looks, good fortune, good family… In a word, the whole package. What they had was what I had been trying so hard to fight for. Maybe a Mulberry bag. I would calculate how many meals I should skip until I got it. I was hangry the whole time. I let stuff define me.

But what am I really?

Does owning [X number] of Balenciaga bags make me a better person, a happy person, a person of meaning and weight? No.

You see, I live with two younger gals who can afford expensive cars and luxurious cosmetics and clothes. They dine often at posh restaurants. Every day there are packages at our doorstep to be signed. The old me could get easily jealous toward them. Now I don’t.

Because I don’t, I see beyond those materials and see who they really are. They have great manners. One gal had her parents stay over during the Chinese New Year. Her parents always cleaned up the mess after they cooked. They even bought me a new bottle of olive oil since they used “quite a bit” during their stay here. They closed the door when doing the laundry. They kept quiet when in the common area. They invited me to dine with them on Chinese New Year’s Eve. Now I see where she inherited her well-groomed manners. The other gal’s only “vice” is her loving and enjoying the best things in the world. But she also possesses the best of the heart. We share an amazingly great deal of outlooks toward life. We can talk for hours non-stop on random things.

Now, if I were the old me — the gal with a chip on her shoulder, could I have made friends with those two beautiful souls? Absolutely not.

Be open. People surprise you, always.

All I did was loosen up. The world hasn’t changed. Just my attitude. That is all.

La vie aux Amérique

It’s easy to get laid en Amérique. Not that I am a sexpert, but the environment here seems so much more tolerant. The pressure back in China about women wanting to relax and have fun is mind-boggling. Plus, you almost live right around the corner to, if not at, your parents’… An immediate turn-off.

I haven’t yet found my way around Chinese men. Or maybe it’s simply because I’m not their cuppa tea. All the guys I’ve been with are non-Chinese. So I really won’t know what the Chinese fellas are thinking. I find guys in America won’t judge you (or so I assume) if you two are just having fun. But, there is a price to pay. It hurts when the guy doesn’t contact you as often, or at all, after you’ve been this sizzling close. I try to be cool about it now. If dudes can handle it, I can too. Or so I think.

I was seeing a guy. We had a good time. I then came to realize that I did not dig him that much after all. His attitude towards love is the biggest bummer — He was dumped thrice comparing to the five times as the ‘dumper.’ That three times he claimed that he was in love. It took him the longest to recover, and it hurt (Duh). He now decides that no more love for him, ever. He’s only 27; I just turned 28, and I barely started — See that? The gap between China and the United States. Then and there my crush on him was squashed. And poof! It evaporated without a trace. I just can’t be with a love cynic.

Most girls get men in bed because they (sort of) like them and probably want the men in question to like (aka. love?) them back. On the other hand, guys often get women in between sheets just for fun and nothing else. I find this particular sport a good tool to observe the true quality in a man — whether he’s generous, whether he’s tender, whether he’s thoughtful, whether he’s creative, whether he’s energetic, whether he’s bold, whether he’s seasoned, whether he likes to be dominant, whether he knows about women, whether he’s a good listener, whether he’s patient, whether he’s a good communicator, whether he really exercises as much as he claims he does, whether he’s sans judgement with his partner’s kinks and etc.

Those intel could take girls a much longer time to gather if they persist to just observe their men’s table manners.

At the end of it, you will know if the man is a good fit to start a relationship, or you should just get it over with and get on with your marvelous life. I delete and shred their contacts once my guts tell me that they’re not the boyfriend material. Women, observe cats. They are our role models.

Having fun is one thing; hanging around is another.

After all, life is too short to dance with wrong guys.

 

Yours truly,
YZ

Happy Birthday to Me

XX. Yes, I have lived and survived in this world for XX years now.

It could have sounded like a huge deal in ancient times.

Okay. A pat on the back.

I tend to feel melancholy and cranky on days like Valentine’s Day (when I don’t have a Valentine, which I never do), New Year’s Day and of course, my birthday. It is an unbashful reminder of how single I am — XX bloody years, and haven’t dated once. If I died today, I couldn’t even cross off the item that says “Boyfriend.” Because I never had one. Ouch.

But I confess that I fall in love frequently. But the person that I am in love with never seem to respond positively or continuously. A clue maybe? A hint maybe? They simply vanish in my life without a trace. At least tell me what I have done to piss you off so I can score better next time? Maybe, just maybe. I will always remember you, your kindness and your grace.

So, apart from my pathetic love life (or do I really have one?), what have I done (a more posh word: achieved) in this XX years?

I revamped my life last year. Now I am in LA studying screenwriting. It’s a tough business. I am enjoying it even though I am a rookie knowing nobody in the business, and most of the time an underdog.

I used to dream about being rich and famous. I don’t think about the odds too much now. You see, to me now, happiness and doing what I believe is great work is what’s more important.

Now I am officially XX, what I should do to make me a better version of me?

I need to take more risks. I will push myself more out of my comfort zone. My finance is in red. I will start looking for jobs after the Winter Quarter. Most of all, I will spend most of my time writing, not whining about writing, or thinking about writing, but to really write like a professional writer.

I admit that I am not THAT gifted. Nor do I have great story ideas. But I know I have something. Or the school wouldn’t have admitted a Chinese in its screenwriting program that writes in English. I know that seeing my work gets rejected hurts. But now I know better the pain of “what if” will haunt me even more if I don’t give it my best shot, every single time I try. At least I can say, man, I tried; not the “I could’ve, would’ve, should’ve” crap that I used to deceive myself into.

I also learned that comparing with other people only give me more headaches and make me loathing myself more. Why would I do that? The single thing that I care most about now (apart from my lovely parents and my kitty Michael), is —

Whether I am learning, improving every day, and living a fulfilled life.

One can only have so much control in life. Although I consider myself a bit of a control (freak?), now I know that what I can control is my attitude and my reaction to what has happened. And most of all —

how hard I put and push myself to work.

Everything else is secondary. So write on.

Happy xxth birthday.

 

Yours truly,
YZ

The Steve Jobs We Should’ve Known (Better)

The Crazy Ones Apple Poster

Becoming Steve Jobs by Brent Schlender and Rick Tetzeli

Whenever I think, talk or write about Steve Jobs post-2011, I never want to use past tense. So did John Lasseter and Tim Cook as I learnt in Becoming Steve Jobs. They wouldn’t delete Steve’s number from the phone when both men gathered and remembered their friend at Laurene’s 50th birthday in 2013.

From the moment I encountered his Stanford commencement speech at a college English class in 2007, I became mesmerized by the man who thinks like a geek while converses in prose.

As I read books and articles about Jobs, I stumbled upon his meticulously-prepared MacWorld keynotes. Being a math idiot (though I’m Chinese), numbers wear me down. But when Steve presents those sales figures and financial statements, I find myself glued to the seat soaking them all in which all make sense to me and seem insanely sexy. If the Cupertino company didn’t turn around, I think Jobs can always do a great job teaching math — giving America a chance to beat the Chinese kids on the math playground once and for all.

If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking.
Don’t settle.

Over the years after college looking for the passion of my life, I’ve probably listened to his commencement speech for about hundreds, if not thousands, of times. But the more I listen, the more I feel nonplused —

Why a man of such empathy and humanity can also be such a jerk
as Jobs is notoriously labeled in more than a few high-profile reports?

I couldn’t understand. I would rationalize that maybe he is kinda crazy, or he is indeed binary, or it has something to do with his being adopted from birth, as they say… I sometimes wish I could just pick up the phone and call him up, like he did calling Bill Hewlett for a job at thirteen.

When the most anticipated one and only book authorized by Steve, authored by the renowned biographer Walter Isaacson came out, I finished it in days. But still, it seemed to rest the case on him being half genius, half jerk.

But,
is that really it?

As the world evolves after Steve’s death, I fear that we would put up the “Business as Usual” sign as if he never mattered — Apple keeps shipping popular products and extraordinary financial results under Tim Cook’s precise operation and Sir Jony Ive’s savvy designs.

When I heard there was this new book about Steve, I was curious, albeit suspicious. After spending days staying up reading, I found myself too reluctant to race through to the last page. I lingered, I pondered, I devoured and weighed every word. I just didn’t want it to end. I echo with what Jim Collins says about Steve Jobs —

I wish I could have seen Steve Jobs 3.0.
Seeing him from age fifty-five to seventy-five
would have been fascinating.

Nonetheless as I close the book, I find this really is the best and only book capturing the Steve Jobs, bar none.

The two authors care enough to print out the full text of the Think Different ad copy, the fifteen-minute long 2005 Stanford commencement, and Laurene’s poignant remarks at Steve’s memorial service.

For the first time, I understand why I was drawn to this extraordinary human being from the very beginning. He won me, and the countless others, over not with his glibness, or his so-called RDF (Reality Distortion Field), but his beautiful soul and his relentless faith in humanity.

A few years back where there was nil Apple Store in China, I would advocate Apple products to my friends like an evangelist. Most of them would say the price was way out of their league. If the book came out earlier, I could have rebutted —

Look, you don’t have to buy its latest products to feel the Apple experience.
Read this book will do.

In every Pixar animation, the Good always overcomes the Evil in the end. For the first time, this good book doesn’t quote Steve swearing without offering its readers a fuller context and the authors’ perceptions; this good book doesn’t simplify Steve’s Shakespearean character by referring to the he’s-just-being-an-asshole cliché. Like Steve who cares deeply about his consumers — “we’re stupid if they can’t use these devices,” the authors empathize with Steve’s tremendous layers in return.

Avatar (2009)

With the help of the thoughtful authors,
for the very first time,
I
see the man as his closest friends and confidants see him.
I always know he’s
special,
now I know
why, and how come.
It’s not his second act that fascinates us,
it’s his
evolution over the decades
becoming the
Steve Jobs we come to admire.


The man who set out to “put a dent in the universe” and ultimately did change the world to “a planet with better designers.”

Steve’s is a growth story. But the truth is, we all are.

Postscript —

I probably should burn the stark pale Isaacson version on my bookshelf which Tim Cook and Jony Ivy have vocally disapproved.

Apart from the disservice the book has done to the man, I never feel anything in the lines except the matter-of-factly tone. It seems to me a mere thrust-to-me task to rush to finish against Mr. Jobs’s drastic deterioration in health. Isaacson didn’t bother enough to dig out the ‘why’ behind Steve’s brash and boorish behaviors but simply linking them to his being an abandoned child from birth.

I adore Becoming Steve Jobs. I feel the fervor oozing out of the words. I find the writers care enough to list facts and guide us to see what they see, to conduct thorough interviews with Steve’s colleagues and frenemies, and to feed readers with intimate anecdotes they have with him personally over the decades of reporting, which, eventually, helped to complete the dauntingly complex jigsaws.

Kudos to Mr. Brent Schlender and Mr. Rick Tetzeli.

And one more thing —

Toy Story (1995)

Mr. Steve Jobs,
you’ve got a friend in all of us.