Writing Comedy and etc.

I couldn’t sleep. 
I slept too much. 
I fell asleep too easily. 
I was officially immune to coffee.
My jaw hurt waking up from a night of incessent teeth-grinding.
My head was at the verge of explosion while asleep. 
I stress ate. 
I did everything to avoid The Very Task I was supposed to do.

WRITE.

Picture Credit: feedyoursoul.com

I still haven’t finished the first draft yet. Yes, I promised myself to do so weeks ago. But every week before the class, I had to go back to the pages and polish until it was presentable. The pressure. The excuse…

My record was horrendous. One time I brought ten pages, half were killed on the spot. (*Cause: Activity vs. Event; Events move the story forward.) Another time — six weeks into the quarter, my structure was suffering, which made it irrelevant to discuss the pages. (*Cause: The story was about a competition, but the rules were vague.) It sank without a trace.

Last week, the teacher stayed late to critique my work while most of the classmates left. She offered some amazing directions. I wanted to make her proud so badly. But when I was home, I panicked.

Can I really pull it off?

Because I chose comedy, no laugh meant no go. But one shouldn’t do his piece just for the sake of jokes. I kept reminding myself. At the library the next day, a new character came to me and hit me hard. He, was a Scot.

At the reading yesterday, I chose two scenes around my new Scot character — the beginning of Act II A (Page 30) and the Mid Point (Page 60). Not having heard my characters speak for weeks made me antsy.

When it came to an end, I realized that I got more than a few laughs. The forever nurturing instructor said, “These are good pages.” I hadn’t heard that comment on me after the second week, now it was Week 8. “You are writing a comedy of the Chinese girls traveling to England and we as the Americans are the audience. Culture and comedy don’t normally blend. But your story and the jokes came through.”

I was emotional. I could have cried. But I knew my beloved instructor wouldn’t like it. “Why haven’t you cried yet?” is her “How do you do?” I fought the tears to the back of my head. Then I confessed, “It is hard.” She nodded and confirmed, “No doubt about it.”

I could live on those compliments eating nothing else for days. No wonder writers without constant validation tend to go loco.

Another classmate was fighting against a seemingly obvious notion. The instructor paused the clock and took time with her. She even chided the impatient classmates who tried to be smartasses.

I was really touched. That to me is what a great Teacher/Shifu/Sensei is. I texted her after the class to thank her again, knowing that under her tutelage, we were in a safe domain being insecure writers — to be who we are, and unapologetically.

Yeah, I am a lucky bastard. I know it now. And I know it better.


Act II on Acting

At the acting class yesterday, we had the Sensory Practice.

 

After the relaxation meditation, the instructor asked us to imagine an apple on our palm and interact with it. Probably because I love apple (and Apple with a capital A), and I just had two the day before, I was able to recall every detail about an apple. Enough to make my mouth water.

Then the instructor critiqued on everyone’s performance. Some need to relax and let go. Some hadn’t been specific enough. When it was my turn, he commented, “Intense concentration you had there. It brought out the vivid details and I saw it.”

I couldn’t believe it. I just received a phenomenal comment at an acting class for screenwriters.

Truth is, I feel like an underdog every day. Being the only Chinese in the screenwriting program makes me nauseated at times. Most locals have their previous chapter writing. Me? Next to nothing. But I don’t feel that ‘excluded’ anymore as I get along with my cohort. When the instructor made this comment about me, I suddenly felt a surge of confidence, which I hadn’t experienced for a long time.

Focus, concentration, whatever you call it, is a huge advantage for a writer. And now I am ‘certified’ to be pretty good at it — better than the locals. Such knowledge will help me to travel further, I think and I hope it will.

Some other things we discussed yesterday —

How to stage pain. Surprisingly, if you have actual pain somewhere over the body, don’t centralize your attention there. Move to elsewhere. Or it would jeopardize the moment as you create the feeling, because the pain would catch up with you and overtake your attention from staying in character.

How to stage hotness. Think about a particular spot that is hot. It can be armpit. It can be the tip of your lips. Because they are real, as you act upon it, it won’t look unreal.

When you want to be seen onstage as you find yourself in an awkward position having your back against the audience, you need to upstage your scene partner.

The last part of yesterday’s class was presenting another scene with a group of four people — two actors, one writer and one director.

This time I was the actor. When the four of us were onstage for critique after the performance, I noticed that nobody commented anything on my performance. The teacher merely said matter-of-factly that “You always know your goal onstage.” He asked everyone else on the team how they felt. But not me.

You see, I put hours of work on it. It is only natural that I wanted to hear something, anything. When they clapped and were ready to move on, I added how my own experience helped me in this role. This was the first and only time I felt compelled to say something. I just wasn’t confident or big enough to let it slide by. I felt the urge to be heard. But nobody seemed to notice or care. I panicked.

Whenever the acting class was over, I felt like I need to be alone. I just wanted to get out, fast. I felt like I could slap someone. I felt worthless, again. If that was my day as a wannabe actor, I couldn’t imagine what a real actor’s day was like before she “makes it.”

As I biked home, I was hot in the chest. I was even a bit angry. I felt I was giving thoughtful comments on everybody’s performance, but they almost never gave me anything. Why are you people so stingy with words when it comes to me? I felt like a Goddamned drama queen.

Then I snapped out of my own world — Acting really is hard. You want validation. You want to hear (good) things about your performances. You don’t want to hear criticism. Then when you get nothing, you want to hear anything, even criticism. You also feel you don’t have the right to give any critique. And yet, when someone gives constructive feedbacks, she earns my respect.

But please, please, give me something. Not the cold shoulder. Por favor.

A friend once said, “Well, it’s not always about you.”

Okay, fine.

 

Yours truly,
YZ

Stand for Something

The Internet exploded as Leonardo DiCaprio finally won the Oscar for Best Actor last night.

I watched his speech. He was as calm as a cucumber about the win. Or so it seemed. Apart from the film, he touched upon the topic on environmental protection. What a beautiful and thoughtful soul. I thought to myself. He used the stage to address an issue he deeply cares about. It is the key ingredient of a memorable speech.

Granted, you don’t have to seek after the ‘loftiness’ just for the sake of it. But you do need to ask yourself what you care about, apart from what defines you in your day job. In DiCaprio’s case, it was environment. In Blancett’s case, it was being a woman in Hollywood. In Clooney’s case, it was politics. They stand for something larger than life. And yet, what they care about is deeply grounded.

Their names worth billions of dollars in the box office. But still, they know they have a purpose, apart from acting, apart from the vertigo of fame and fortune. They haven’t forgotten who they are as a human being —

To be connected, and to touch a soul.


Picture credit: PA

Transcript of Leonardo DiCaprio’s Oscars Acceptance Speech

Thank you all so very much. Thank you to the Academy, thank you to all of you in this room. I have to congratulate the other incredible nominees this year. ‘The Revenant’ was the product of the tireless efforts of an unbelievable cast and crew. First off, to my brother in this endeavor, Mr. Tom Hardy. Tom, your talent on screen can only be surpassed by your friendship off screen… thank you for creating a transcendent cinematic experience. Thank you to everybody at Fox and New Regency…my entire team. I have to thank everyone from the very onset of my career… To my parents, none of this would be possible without you. And to my friends, I love you dearly, you know who you are.

And lastly I just want to say this: Making ‘The Revenant’ was about man’s relationship to the natural world. A world that we collectively felt in 2015 as the hottest year in recorded history. Our production needed to move to the southern tip of this planet just to be able to find snow. Climate change is real, it is happening right now. It is the most urgent threat facing our entire species, and we need to work collectively together and stop procrastinating. We need to support leaders around the world who do not speak for the big polluters, but who speak for all of humanity, for the indigenous people of the world, for the billions and billions of underprivileged people out there who would be most affected by this. For our children’s children, and for those people out there whose voices have been drowned out by the politics of greed. I thank you all for this amazing award tonight. Let us not take this planet for granted. I do not take tonight for granted. Thank you so very much.

Again? Again.

Let me begin with a brilliant quote from JK Rowling —

Humans have a knack of choosing precisely those things that are worst for them. 
via Albus Dumbledore

I don’t know why people make the same mistake again and again. But I just caught myself repeating the same stupid mistake recently. Worst of all, I don’t even regret it, or think it is ‘stupid’ or a ‘mistake.’ To me at the time, it was a conscious choice.

Oy.

You see it coming. You know the consequences. But still, you do absolutely nothing to prevent it from happening. You just let it happen. You even encourage it to happen.

But why? I was tempted. I didn’t try to fight it. I felt good even — at least for a while. I promised myself that I wouldn’t do it ever again. But if circumstances allow, it may happen again. I don’t trust my judgement. I need to call upon my stronger will, my higher self to interfere.

In most cases, if you don’t stop it now, the collateral damage may be too much to cope with later. That I know.

Matthieu Ricard, Buddhist monk, the happiest man in the world says —

Happiness is not the pursuit of an endless succession of experiences. That’s a recipe for exhaustion more than happiness. 
Happiness is a way of being
The challenge is to let that way of being overtake all other emotional states.

I will try. I will try.

This time, I mean business.


I will end this note with another quote from JK Rowling —

We’ve all got both light and dark inside us. 
What matters is the part we choose to act on
That’s who we really are. 
via Sirius Black

Fighters Fight

Three nights ago, I submitted a scholarship application. The next morning I received a note which goes, “Based on the financial information you have provided your request for scholarship consideration cannot be considered.”

I was flabbergasted. I spent months on the application. That they demanded four recommenders was pretty remarkable — when I applied for grad school, it asked for three. I visited the graduate student writing center with my personal statement materials for six consecutive weeks. And now that was it? I told myself as I submitted the application that I did my best; if for some reason I was not granted anything, it was fine really. C’est la vie. But not like this! If I were not in a financial rut, would I spend hours of my life pondering on “what I can contribute to the world peace” when I can work on my screenplay?

After I calmed myself down, I emailed back stating the fact that the budget policy they mentioned in the previous email was never written on their website. And I certainly was not planning to drop out of school. All I did was being honest about my financial status — You wouldn’t possibly know what grants you are awarded, what waivers you receive, and whether or not you would get TAship months from now, would you? Do I look like a fortune teller to you, darling?

Thankfully, I kept the sarcasm to myself, and begged them for a second chance to send an amended budget.

They did.

I sent back the thought-through new budget yesterday after grilling them with detailed questions.

— We have now sent your application onto the Trustees. Good luck!

Hallelujah!

Then, sheer exhaustion overtook me.


Why do I have to fight for every bloody thing in my life?

I screamed at the top of my lungs — in my head. My brain raced. It took me back to January — Early in the Winter Quarter, I pitched four feature writing instructors. When the rooster was released that Friday, my name was on none of them. I emailed. I texted. I walked about in my room like a caged beast waiting for an explanation. In that darkest hour, my thought led me to the most desperate corner my head could possibly reach — My being accepted was a mistake. I was the mistake. I was Chinese. I was a joke. My story was worthless shit. Nobody liked me. Nobody wanted me here after all. Why the fuck was I wasting so much money moving over here and struggling alone? I cried and moaned for my pathetic status quo. It was only when a beloved instructor texted back having me in her session did it stop me from doing anything stupid.

Talking through what had transpired to my flatmate and to my parents via WeChat, I cried again, uncontrollably.

I never felt this vulnerable. Why do I have to fight for everything in my life? Why can’t I just sit there for things to happen, every once in a while? Why the worst-case scenario always happens to me? Why everyone else can lay back and focus on their work while I have to spend more energy than I wanted on things that are not even about writing? It is not even my fault…

I get it, life is not fair. But when shits happen, they exhaust me. I know there are a lot of things in life that are beyond our control. But I don’t have much memory about me getting lucky, ever. Getting accepted into the Screenwriting MFA program here is the luckiest strike that has ever happened to me. Period. But still, I planned a year and a half ahead working hard toward the goal.

Oh, by the way, have I told you that I haven’t yet had a guy confess his affection to me? And that I have never been in a serious relationship yet? I am 28 years old as we speak. I’ve tried chasing after guys. Guess what, it has never worked. Not for me.

— Am I trying too hard?

— I don’t have the foggiset idea.

A sage mentor says —

There are people born with resources. They take things for granted. They can. You know what’s the most important gift one can be given? Drive. People who are content and have everything won’t have that. Of course, life is hard. You, not anybody else choose the path you are now. You already know it’s not easy. You already are being resourceful solving the problems. When done, move on and focus on things you should be focus on rather than lingering on feelings and things you can’t change. Cliche as it sounds, we can only control our attitude towards what happen to us. People who have a chip on their shoulder think in a way that the universe is against them. Most of their energy is about life being unfair and people are vicious to them. You don’t want to be around those people, do you? Because the energy around them is off.

Granted, you are not born with resources. There are many people who are like you. But when they make it, they are able to say they made it from scratch. It’s exactly because you don’t have much in your stock, you have nothing to lose. But you have to keep fighting. You can’t stay stale and wait for things to happen. It doesn’t work that way.

You have to fight. Because that’s how you gain momentum. Because that’s how you earn attention. Because that’s how chances go your way.

If you don’t, even God can’t help you.

Because you, and only you are responsible for this life you lead.



Randy Pausch (1960–2008), an American professor of computer science, human–computer interaction, and design at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He’s known for his inspirational “The Last Lecture: Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams.”


To be, or not to be

Lust is easy. Love is not.

I thought about the million possibilities of asking him out, and another million not to. Then I did — a simple text inviting him for lunch after the group rehearsal on Saturday. He simply replied, “Sure.”

What’s new? My therapist asked me the second I walked into her office.

Well, I am (sort of) seeing this new guy. Then I wanted it to stop because he said he wasn’t looking for anything serious. I told myself to stop, then I did. I moved on. But he began texting random things like how my week went etc. Well dude, I thought we were just having fun? I was not happy. I was passive aggressive. All this time he made all the initiatives.

I don’t want having-fun kinda guy in my life right now. I even give some thoughts about shaving off my hair to be so unattractive that no one would want to date me. So guys can just leave me the hell alone, save me endless trouble and headaches. And thenI can do nothing but write. How great is that!

I see your exhaustion analyzing all the possibilities. She replied. From the histories you described, I am coming to see this pattern — You never say the guy is not interested. So they are. But you always move faster than they do. When you are already up there (she made a hand gesture), they are still down here (and lower the other hand). You interpret it as “they are not interested.” What do you do then?

I deleted their contacts and moved on. I shrugged.

Does it occur to you it could be the reason why you haven’t been in serious relationships yet?

Okay. I see your point. I said.

How do you deal with friendship?

Hmm, I do have a tendency to cut off when I see things are “beyond repair.” Once I wrote a break-up letter to a girl friend who not only did not back me up but humiliated me along with the others. It was junior high. But still, it says a lot about my character.

How long does it take you to move on?

A week. Or less. I stated matter-of-factly. I do tend to get back on horse much faster than most people.

Your decisiveness is a great asset when dealing with chaos in work. But relationship is something different. It takes two to make it work. As you realize that it takes less time for you to commit and to start a relationship, it may also dawn on you that it take a bit more time for others. While they are still weighing the situation, you think they are not interested and cut them off. I want you to think about this for the following weeks before we meet again—Try to go with the flow. Try not to seek for answers too soon.

Try to balance your decisiveness with a willingness to explore possibilities.

But what if it’s just me again? I can’t invest in something that has zilch return-on-investment. I have to protect my energy and well-being. I defended.

I can’t answer that. But also know this, you plant a seed into the soil, you give it sun and water. Then you wait, for weeks maybe. Nothing is there yet on the surface. You grow impatient. Would you just pluck it out and plant something new? Give it time.

What about the guy?

Well, I’d suggest you try. Try hanging out without pressing the other to commit. Be in the moment. Enjoy his company. And decide from there.

I did. I took out my phone. Found his number in the email (already deleted it in the contact). I debated with myself for half an hour. Then finally, I sent a lunch invite. He immediately replied yes.

Simple it seems. But I wish it could be simpler.

Sometimes people do and say things that is not what their real intentions. My therapist said before our session ended.

Inhale. Exhale. Try not to overthink. I’ll try.

 

Yours truly,
YZ

Postscript:
The guy is just looking for fun. It’s an official.
You see, you can make someone lust after you, but you cannot make someone love you.
Lust is easy. Love is not. #LessonLearnt

 

 

Writers Write

The Quote I received at the First-Quarter Screenwriter Commencement

For weeks I was tormented by the infamous you-know-who — the Writer’s Block.

The story that I so passionately believed in wasn’t going anywhere. I dreaded writing every day I got up. I even doubted why the fuck I was still in the program. Shouldn’t I just go pack my bags and piss off already?

Then I reread the piece I published here after getting accepted last April. Miraculous, I felt grounded again.

Blinking into the empty blog space with which I originally had so many plans, I felt the urge to reopen shop — no matter how busy I claimed I was.

So this was the promise I made a few days back—

Write and publish something every day here.

For the past ten days, I am coming to realize what a great asset blogging is to get me into the writing zone. It’s like warm up before the real exercise. I feel less tense, and more connected to my words. The bitch in my head gets remarkably quieter after the warm up.

Over time I will get faster articulating my thoughts and feel more comfortable with my words. It all comes down to one thing — persistence. After all —

Writers write.

Here I include some quotes from the great Ray Bradbury to keep me going. A classmate (ye lucky bastard) got one of his quotes (the one on top) at our first-quarter screenwriter commencement. (*Mine is the one above from James Joyce.)

You must write every single day of your life… You must lurk in libraries and climb the stacks like ladders to sniff books like perfumes and wear books like hats upon your crazy heads… may you be in love every day for the next 20,000 days. And out of that love, remake a world.

Don’t think. Thinking is the enemy of creativity. It’s self-conscious, and anything self-conscious is lousy. You can’t try to do things. You simply must do things.

Love. Fall in love and stay in love. Write only what you love, and love what you write. The key word is love. You have to get up in the morning and write something you love, something to live for.

We should not look down on work nor look down on the forty-five out of fifty-two stories written in our first year as failures. To fail is to give up. But you are in the midst of a moving process. Nothing fails then. All goes on. Work is done. If good, you learn from it. If bad, you learn even more. Work done and behind you is a lesson to be studied. There is no failure unless one stops. Not to work is to cease, tighten up, become nervous and therefore destructive of the creative process.

Raymond Douglas Bradbury (August 22, 1920 — June 5, 2012), American author best known for his dystopian novel Fahrenheit 451 (1953)

 

Yours truly,
YZ