This life I chose

My nose is running. My throat is inflamed. My head is foggy. I fell sick three days ago. The third time since I got back to Shanghai, living in my parents’ rent-free spacious apartment, eating my dad’s thoughtful cooking and never need to do my own laundry. What a non-starter. Only it isn’t.

The person I knew who did everything on her own has begun to fade in my sleep-deprived memory. Did she really exist at all?

Did I really live in LA for three years on my own?

The past starts to blur not in years, but as fast as months.

My insomnia has now worsened to a point where I had to order melatonin to claim that I had failed at another foolproof task: getting myself to sleep.

Today I turned in the last draft of a short film. Thus far, four short scripts have come to an end. I will wait till May for the directors to come up with the finished films.  

On a side note, I got dropped from the animation feature project weeks after I turned in the movie treatment — the skeleton of the movie which took me weeks to write. It was a hard pill to swallow. I graciously told the director that it was okay when his boss asked for a more well-known American screenwriter to tackle this Chinese tale as old as time. Intellectually, I understood. Sure, I knew that I can do it. But viscerally, the sucker punch has a lingering side effect called depression. 

I also realized that why you shouldn’t announce it until you nail it in writing. What we have here is a stupid girl compounded with a rookie mistake. 

If this’s not enough, just read on. 

I still have problems with people who’re all talk and no walk. A former colleague made me a promise for some Chinese connections and projects before I left LA. I wrote the dude a letter on the new year to catch up on what he has promised. He replied with typical Hollywood flair: no response. I swept it under the screw-you rug and moved on. 

Yesterday, a friend who has got her O-1 visa warned me not to set the return date as early as spring 2020.  I don’t have much of a life in Shanghai with most of my old acquaintances either estranged or evaporated.  And my life in LA got upended and put on hold. Now you’re telling me with the speed that I’m running,  I might have to wait just as long as everybody else?

Yes. Get in line. Unless you’re the Naomi Osaka of screenwriting.

But that’s not all of it.

My thoughtful father sat me down a few days ago and told me that I need to think about “relationship.” Are we having this conversation, like right now? What about the times you cut me out when I had my first crush on some boy that I met at the night school? You sat me down and told me that I need to focus on schoolwork? I love my father so I bit my tongue and said I would think about after I get myself back to LA.  What about men over here? First of all, I don’t have stamina for Finding Nemo right now. Secondly, Chinese men and yours truly are 99.99% incompatible. I just don’t have time to scour that 0.01% right now. 

Today, I vented at my best friend in LA who at one point said, “Sometime I get a bit weary because you’re just very good at turning your friends into enemies.” I started apologizing profusely just as my alter ego began snickering at my level of immaturity for a thirty-something.

I hate February. Not only it’s the shortest. But also it hides my birthday, reminding me that I’m older, poorer, and nowhere near closer to anything that I set out to do.

I need a miracle. I need strength. I need unconditional love. I need to patch up my trust in people. And most of all, I just don’t want to turn into a cynical cat lady who’s gonna die alone and won’t be discovered until her neighbor’s Labrador smells something funny.

In one of the meditation exercises, I was told to make a list of people and things that I feel grateful for, to be the glass-half-full gurl for a change. I found myself struggling in my lonely heart in the dark night while my coward hot tears rolled down from my cheeks. 

Out of everything in the world that I could choose from, I chose writing. Because I want to be remembered after I’m gone. 

But if there is a next life, I pray that I am a white male math wunderkind in Wall Street who loves stocks and being filthy rich — or whatever prototype that is the most sought-after on God’s creating list. 


Yours truly,

PS. God, if you’re listening, please destroy the pattern you used to make me.

RBYZ: Braveheart (#013)

Depression and procrastination are your twin babies if you’re a creator of any kind. This comedy writer, who was featured on the show last week, shares her struggles and strategies.  Tune in and find out how she did it. Kudos to her Braveheart! What you’ll hear:
  • Cinematic immunity is real. So is jackass.
  • Why was production jobs addictive?
  • What made her put her foot down to really pursue screenwriting?
  • How does she deal with the rough winter alone in LA when her father had a stroke and her boyfriend left her?
  • How did she overcome impostor syndrome?
  • The consequence of letting a revered professor co-op the script she was writing?
  • Why did she prefer writing comedy over drama?
  • Why did choose to write at Starbucks knowing the cliche LA writer?
  • What did she learn about herself and the business of counseling through the years of therapy and changing therapists?
  • What benefits does she see going to film school even though she had tons of on-set experience?
I would keep taking jobs. because I don’t want to face my own thoughts. The job had the best hours but I had the longest days. I have a blind faith in life. “What are you gonna do next?” People ask me. Well, I don’t know. It’s gonna happen though. Things would come around.  New writers are like a new virus that Hollywood wants to get rid of. If you are lucky, you get to take hold. Then you can’t get rid of Hollywood. I hope to be that virus.
Links from the episode: Listen and subscribe to Rock Bottom with YZ: A weekly podcast for and about anyone and everyone who has spiraled downward and doesn’t know which end is up.
Listen to Rock Bottom with YZ on RadioPublic
Yours truly, YZ PS. Click here to see ways to help #RBYZ to grow.

RBYZ: Every day is a gift (#012)

Your little sister died before you could celebrate her second birthday. Your innocent father was indicted on criminal charges for nine years. And you were a teenager busy figuring out who you are…

Tune in and find out about this screenwriter’s origin story before her Hollywood adventure, which is coming up next week.

Thank you for listening and happy Thanksgiving!

What you’ll hear:

  • When her little sister passed away, what did the ten-year-old her feel? How did she remember her parents cope with the tragedy?
  • During the nine-year FDA indictment, what did she learn, from the judicial system to press credibilty?
  • How did she deal with dyslexia as a kid?
  • Even though she was natural with numbers, why was attracted to theatre when she didn’t want to be noticed?

The world is curved, you won’t know what’s ahead of you until you arrive.

The thing about depression is that, it’s about an ordinary person with an extraordinary situation.

Anyone can have a wedding, but marriage is a whole other thing.

You go back and finish your study.

Links from the episode:

Listen and subscribe to Rock Bottom with YZ:
A weekly podcast for and about anyone and everyone who has spiraled downward and doesn’t know which end is up.

Listen to Rock Bottom with YZ on RadioPublic

Yours truly,

PS. Click here to see ways to help #RBYZ to grow.

Overnight success

27 days later, I’ll be blogging from Shanghai.

48 days later, Barbara, my podcast guest this week, will land in Sydney.

Everyone moves, at some point.


I’m somewhat forced to move back. In Barbara’s case, she decides on her terms. I admire her courage and her freedom to be a world citizen, who was born in Hong Kong, studied in Canada, worked in Shanghai with her home base in Australia. She said she is blessed. Without a worry, someone introduced her first client after she got her license…


I was rather down yesterday. I had coffee with my mentor.

Whatever you touch, you do wonders.

But I’m fuckin’ broke. I’m not monetizing on my experience.

I had nothing when I was your age. You’ll be fine.


I want to be fine right here! Right now! Right away…

But I also know it’s not gonna happen in a blink of an eye. Overnight success is never overnight after all…

Drip by drip will be my tattoo if I’m ever gonna get one.


Yours truly,

PS. The latest #RBYZ episode is an interview about Barbara Kiao, the clinical counselor who practises what she preaches. “Feel the fear and do it anyways.”

The mixtape

On repeat.

Not LMM’s Hamilton Mixtape. But the most scathing comments I’ve heard… about me.

Composed by me, mostly.
Mixed by me.
Produced by me.

My brain collected them and made a mixtape just for me in times like this.

“You’re a piece of shit.”
“You don’t deserve success.”
“You’ll rot in hell.”

“Even though you can be fun to be with but you’re a nerd [Translation: straight talker] who can rub people the wrong way like the time you told me you need to focus on your schoowork [Actually suggested by my screenwriter mentor]. I knew your intention but it can be quite disastrous otherwise to the others.”
This, is a direct quote from the Chinese director the other day.

“Have you asked yourself why the landlord situation keeps happening to you over and over again?” She probed.

“Misfortune? And I did ask my more experienced friends to vet the landlord for me before I signed the lease exactly because I wanted to avoid another lawsuit.” I fought back.

“Since you came to me, I’ll be quite honest with you. I know you want to be yourself. But there is a side of you that can be quite offputting, no matter where you are, conservative China or liberal America.” The director kept on going.

It was I  who came to her with SOS flags sticking out of my hair after all.

“You can be quite a bitch.” Another dear friend said for more than a few times. I don’t blame him. I called him up at 11 p.m., knowing exactly he had some house guests from Holland, just to prove a point…


Here is the theme song from my mixtape:

Look around, look around…
Look at where you are
Look at where you started
The fact that you’re not dead is a miracle
Just stay alive, that would be enough…

To prove my point that
You don’t have what it takes.


Yours truly,

Anger, angst… fear

I was a total arse yesterday.

To cheer me up, friend bought tickets to the Walt Disney Hall, because I hadn’t been in there yet.

He called me at 10:30, “I’ll pick me up at 12:30.”

I rebutted, “Wait, so we are not having lunch?”

He paused, “We can do lunch although I won’t recommend it.”

I rolled my eyes and barked back, “I thought it was like last time when we went to Dorothy Chandler. So I haven’t yet had any breakfast.”

“Never mind. I will pick you up at 11.”

By 11, he was downstairs. He was tense. I tried small talk. But he wasn’t engaging, “I’m not a morning person. I’m not awake yet.”

We had a quick lunch. 30 minutes later, we were done, almost.

He asked, “Are you ready?”

It was barely one o’clock. The concert didn’t start until two. I snapped, “What’s the rush?”

Three minutes later, we were out of the restaurant. By the Modern Art Museum, there was a fugly fountain. Some clueless tourists were posing and taking photos.

He stopped by a group of family.

I rolled my eyes, trying to ask him why we were stopping since we were rushing.

He ignored me and turned to the family, “Would you like a group photo?”

“That would be great! Thank you!”

I zipped out and sat down on the nearest bench.

He joined me a minute later, “This is what I do when I see tourists. I take pictures for them.”

“You can at least tell me to wait.”

“Life is too short.” He said to himself.

In silence, under the perfect Californian sun, we strode towards the gleaming Disney Hall.


I was underwhelmed. The French Horn was late. The maestro lectured before every piece. The tenor popped the mic a few times. The female instrumentalists donned various colored gowns as if they were models. Constant phone lightings in the dark. People zipped in and out, during the performance!  Too out of context to appreciate the combo of music pieces, I gave up enjoying.

I knew I should just keep my mouth shut, but I complained to my poor friend during the intermission. He pointed out that it was a summer concert and it’s LA, so it’s casual.

Three hours later, we hit the road again. I asked him where we were heading.

“I’m dropping you off.”

“Wait, didn’t you say we are going to talk through my issues today over dinner?”

“I’m tired. I need to be alone, at my home.”

“You could have told me.” There I began another round of accusation.

Naturally, he gave me another round of silence treatment.

In the end, he finally said, “I’m not obligated to engage at your level of emotional immaturity. It’s like an adult trying to reason with a kindergartener who’s determined to throw a tantrum.”

The gut punch. I lowered the car seat and lay down… and breathed.

“The anger you have is towards your former boss, the way he treated you from the beginning to the end. Now you are lashing it out at me. I don’t need this, okay?”

I re-adjusted the seat and turned towards him.

“I’m sorry.” But my terse reply betrayed me.

“The good news is you are still young as you experience this thing called betrayal. You put your trust on someone and didn’t get what you were promised. I didn’t experience it until much later. It’s painful. It takes time. Your problem will still be here tomorrow. But right now, I’m too tired and you’re too angry.”

I finally realized what I was doing. I didn’t pick my battles. And it became a shitshow.

By the end of the night after half-pint of mint chip ice cream and a full box of cherries, I spoke with my psychologist friend in Shanghai.

“Come back home. Re-center yourself. You can’t make right choices when you aren’t mentally healthy. The good news is you’re still young. Not that you can’t when you’re older. A couple of months later, we can laugh about it over some wine. It’ll be okay.”

As I woke up this morning. I heeded to her advice. I repeated what she asked to say:

“I’m a spirit experiencing human experience.”

With my phone timer, I let myself be the victim, feel the pain, the loss, the betrayal for fifteen minutes and no more.

Tomorrow, I will do the same to begin again.

Now, I will start working: declutter my life and do it out of love.


Yours truly,

Just another blow

A friend said he would resign soon. We had a chat.

“What are you trying to be?”


“You’re just buying time here. You can actually write from anywhere. You’re better off in China, with your package.”

“But I don’t want to go back. Not yet.”

Why wouldn’t I stop the bleeding when I’m in critical condition?

I video-chatted with my parents, I told them that my days in America is numbered, after all. I sounded optimistic. I had to, in front of my folks.

Then my head started to spin. I reached out to a great friend on FaceTime.

“Is it about your ego?”


“Then what? Really ask yourself. Why can’t you picture yourself back? It’s your home after all.”

I gave it a thought.

  • I can go back and teach screenwriting, storytelling.
  • I can keep working on my personal projects as a writer.
  • Is it the sunk cost I am worrying about?
  • Is it the promise to myself, from three years ago, that I don’t want to break?

Then, suddenly, I said, “I want to take a pill and be gone.”

“Are you thinking about suicide? Because I don’t want to be the one who has to identify your body.”

I pictured him, standing over my motionless cold body, dried-eyed with disgust written all over his face…

“I’m sorry that I know you.” He said. “You’re thirty. Do you know how young you are, how much potential you have?”

“Actually, I do.”

“Then why are you talking like this?” He demanded an answer. He was livid.

“You can quit. But never check out.”

Knowing when to quit. Knowing when enough is enough. Knowing when to accept things as they are…

“It’s a reality you don’t want to face. You came to the United States as if you already had a green card. But let’s face it, you’re just another foreign student on a student visa with an expiration date.”

I nodded. It was 11:40 PM. We had been talking for well over an hour.

“Because you know what, the Sun always rises the next day.”

“Yeah. But so what?”

He paused for a moment. “Here is what I’m going to do. I will reach out to some attorneys who handle artist visa for Chinese students. You don’t need to listen to me. But hear them out and see about that.”

“Thank you.”

The Sun did come out today. It’s California after all. I dragged myself up. I have a lunch meeting with a director. I can’t afford to call in sick.

Then I texted my friend: Thank you for yesterday.

My heart still aches. But I’m breathing. Later I logged onto Facebook to reach out to a friend for my podcast interview…

Then I saw an update from a former professor. His 28-year-old stepson killed himself. I read his wife’s post, the note from a mother who has just lost her son.

I said a prayer.
For the lost soul. And for myself.


Yours truly.