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

Chinese women + dating

When I came back to China, I thought of only one thing: how to get back to LA a’sap. For six months I rang myself in just for writing and teaching, I felt like a nun. I was a nun. Every once in a while, I missed apps like Tinder. Then I thought it must be blocked in China. Only a month ago, I found it wasn’t — much to my surprise.

So the hunting began. Sometimes I’d schedule two dates back to back. After I had seen enough men, I felt I was ready to share my findings with my single girlfriends. 

Much to my surprise, most of them weren’t taking any advantage of online dating even though all were complaining about their singleness. And most of these Western-educated financially-independent women associate Tinder with ONS (aka. One Night Stand). They didn’t have to tell me. I got the hostile vibe by studying the change in their facial expression when I mentioned I had been using Tinder and Bumble, both of which I offloaded from my phone a few weeks ago.  I think these dating apps are nice tools to discover new interesting people. That is, if you have the awareness to offload the apps once you have connected with enough candidates to be turned into potential dates. As a writer, I try to cut off unnecessary time-sucking addictive apps. Tinder and Bumble can be powerfully addictive.

And yet, you can still use the dating apps for good. It just depends on how you use it. Like many of my female friends, women tend to equate Tinder with ONS. I find the assumption too black-and-white. Truth is, if ONS happens, it means YOU let it happen. Otherwise, it’d be fucking date rape. And only if you do it and decide not to pursue any further. Hence, one NIGHT. When men and I talked about the ‘taboo’ around Tinder and ONS, their replies were unsurprisingly the same, “In the end, it’s up to the woman (to green light or not).” *Gurls, know your power.

A date even added, “I call out to all my mates’ bullshits. ‘She slept with me on our first date.’ ‘But you also slept with her on your first date. It’s NOT a one-way street, man.’ Being a man doesn’t get you the hall pass even though we live in the double standard society.” By the look on my date’s face, I felt his sincerity and I found it refreshing.  *So gurls, stop shaming yourself. Embrace your femininity. And gents, brag it when you bag a strong woman for who she is, not for how you bagged her for what you assume she is.  

Good looks is rarely enough to get me to swipe right (*But it does get me to pause. I’m only human. Can we agree on it?). The job title and education won’t be the deciding factor to a meetup. For me, a sense of humor is key. Appreciation in strong women gets a meeting. Understanding the creative process is cherry on top. 

At a friend’s insistence, I showed her a date’s photo. She stared at me in horror. “Did you somehow go blind? He’s fat, short and ugly.” I realized that the same convo must be happening when guys are discussing their female dates. Such is how we become commodities when the products are free. 

“I find him sweet, gentle and has a sense of humor.” I heard myself defending my date. My friend shook her head, “Dump him, quick. Or just don’t get serious.” Knowing that all the men that passed my screening are non-Chinese, she added, “You know, them foreigners can be fun to hang out with, but they don’t have any savings. Let alone real estate. They are not marriage material.” I did a double take at her while she continued, “I have a friend who’s seen foreigners come and go here in Shanghai. She said that their quality is decreasing over the years. Every once in a while she met someone she wants to date, then the man turns out to be out of her league…”

Wow. Wow. Wow. Zing. Zing. Zing.

I had been away from China for three years. Three years later, Chinese women still prioritize marriage-worthiness over personality compatibility even in the earliest stage of dating. When we turn ourselves into the ultimate utilitarians, what joy can we get out of life apart from pure business transactions?

Then, using my friend’s friend as an example:
Gurl, if you still don’t realize the name of the game, how will you find out what kind of people suit you — the unique you? And just how on earth would you become better at dating by strategizing sans doing?

When men ask me what I want out of this, I’d say, “I want to make new friends to have balance from my solitary writing life.  And if it leads to something, I’d be open to give it a try.” (Rule of thumb: don’t give chance to those who say they are just looking for “something casual.” Style can be casual. Human connection is for real, bruh. If men rule out that possibility from the get-go, then it’s on me if I ever try to persuade them otherwise. Just walk away. He’s not worth your time, darling.)

And here, for the majority of the Chinese single women:
Don’t wait till some White Knight checking all the boxes to begin dating.  Nobody wants to be with a salivating Pavlov’s Dog except for the sake of science.

Just be yourself. But it’s gonna be hard if you don’t know who you are yet. 

Yours truly,
YZ

On screenwriting, so far

I started working on this comedy pilot spec (which means it’s my own story, not an assignment from producer or director) about two months ago. But I started to have ideas about it around a year ago. And yet, I wasn’t in the best headspace to birth it then.

Fortunately, a year later, the storyline and the ‘Why’ of telling this story now became more salient for me. It was time to start working.

From early March to late May, I probably deleted more than 100 pages for this 30-page script. The set pieces were shifted more than a few times on my notebook, in my head, on my whiteboard. Teaching screenwriting is one thing, but writing it is a whole other story:

  • You have to be nimble and lenient with your first draft (aka. vomit draft).
  • You need to write more than it is required on the pages. Don’t think. Just type.
  • You have to feel the heat when your character gets angry.
  • You must fight back tears as your heroine breaks down crying.
  • If you cheat or cut corners or just fucking can’t sit through a difficult scene, it shows. And you know it.
  • Don’t be glamorous with your words if you can be essential.
  • The list goes on… (I will keep blogging about #screenwriting as I learn and teach it on the go.)

What’s fascinating to me about screenwriting is that it’s both left-brain and right-brain. You want to touch your audience with the emotions you’ve created. At the same time, you don’t want them to poke holes and find you ill-logic. In a word, you have to be somewhat a schizophrenic.

When you are done with your first draft, put it away for at two weeks. So when the open-heart surgery begins, you won’t quiver. Just start cutting.

At this stage of my own script, it’s ready for an initial read. I just sent it to a dear friend for a review. With that, I will know whether it’s ready to cast a wider net. Or, if it’s ready for submission.

And lastly, writers write. It’s our job. So treat it like one.
Tomorrow, I will start a new project. It’ll be a TV series in Chinese.

To quote Gertrude Stein, “To write is to write is to write is to write is to write is to write is to write is to write.”

Yours truly,
YZ