Next time

I can’t remember the last time I snapped any photo of LA.

Maybe I had grown complacent…

Maybe I had gotten used to the expat experience…

Truth is, I just wanted to fit in, so desperately, that I never called myself one.

Now deadlocked with my inescapable fate, I had to reacquaint myself with this term I so vehemently rejected…

We had a beautiful dusk here yesterday. I snapped a photo with my eyes and stored it my memory drive.

I was strolling with my dear friend, who helped me move when I first got here, whom would be the first featured guest on my podcast, premiering next Tuesday, August 28.

 

I would be angry.

Was the first thing he said when he came up to my studio apartment.

“Why?”

“That you can’t stay here when you clearly wanted to.”

“Trust me, I was pretty frustrated last year. I couldn’t write.”

We talked about anything and everything. I asked him to record an answer for me, which has become the #RBYZ Trademarked question.

Then we talked some more as we walked the neighborhood.

He didn’t need to probe or ask how I was holding up.

I’ve become quite an expert in opening up. I’m rockin’ this podcast about those would-be shameful hours, and blogging makes me shame-free, almost.

“I remember thinking about taking a pill or something so I didn’t have to deal with the mess the next day. I’m just so freaking exhausted.”

He simply listened.

And that’s all I need.

I thought I was a warrior, but it dawned on me that I was picking the wrong battles for the last three years straight:

  • Moving four times within the first months I landed in LAX;
  • Filing a lawsuit against my former landlady, the quintessence of a cunt;
  • Vexed by my former ungrateful roommates who did nothing to contribute other than to complain. When I got our money back, I couldn’t recall a proper ‘thank you’ from the spoiled little brats;
  • Begging for just a five-minute meeting with my billionaire former boss when I didn’t get the work visa lottery…
  • If I knew my ex-boss would let me go a month later, I might not have paid 2.5 G to renew my student status awaiting him to grace me with his presence while not getting not a dime since June 1 because of my visa*;
  • *Thanks to the US immigration laws, foreign students aren’t allowed to work or get paid on paper. They can’t even land free internships…
  • By the way, do you know just how hard it is to get an artist visa as a writer fresh off film school?
  • But even if I did get to stay, what about dinero? How else would I survive the California Dreamin’?

God forbid I’m not a Crazy Rich Asian.

So when my current landlord decided to oust me for his little scheme last Thursday, I was bone-tired. I didn’t have an ounce of energy left. I was depleted.

My lawyer friend looked at the contract and got me a 60-day notice instead of the landlord’s original 30-days.

But I’d already decided to return to China, thanks to the wise words of my psychologist friend, Barbara Kiao.  And without the lovely Angels I’ve befriended in LA, maybe I might have ended up in the Cuckoo’s Nest already…

 

As I finished editing the pilot episode late last night, I texted my friend, thanking for dropping by.  At the time, he was at his friend’s birthday party.  Surprisingly, he texted back:

Don’t forget: you’re a funny, kind, and beautiful person. You have tons of adventures ahead of you and I’d be honored to work with you again some day.

The warmth coursed through my artery and pumped into my heart, my weary wrinkled heart.

“Not someday. Soon. I wish you said it in my face though.” I reprimanded.

He promised he would next time.

Until next time then.

 

Yours truly,
YZ

Drip by drip

A friend contacted me about a gig: interpret a dozen of non-Chinese films for a Chinese movie critic who is a judge at an international film festival. I would help him to understand what those movies are about to write reviews and score them.

I definitely want the gig. Here are my rationales:

  • I’m curious about what movies get selected and the process on the whole.
  • I want to make connection with this Chinese movie critic.
  • For someone doesn’t have an income right now as a full-time foreign student, I can always use some extra bucks.

But by taking this on, I’m contending with my own projects: My scripts. My novel. My podcast.

I feel stressed.
Actually I can’t remember the last time I was ever chill.

Earlier this year, I was more than just stressed. I was depressed. I felt I was not going places. My work didn’t amount to anything. I was not valued in the office even though I was hired by the big boss when I was still in film school.

Here, Simon Sinek might say this is the typical Millennial Syndrome because the Millennials want things to happen right here, right now.

In my defense, I was asked to read scripts. I read so fast. Soon I ran out of materials. I went after books on Amazon. Then office manager told me the (outsourced) finance manager need to see the producers’ green-light notes before I could order them online. [Translation: Stop doing what you are not told to do.]

So I stopped reimbursing and used my meager salary looking for new materials for the firm. I wrote treatments. I tried pitching to the producers. But their hands were full. Their desks are loaded with more important projects. [Translation: projects that would generate revenue; projects that have higher ROI; projects that they found themselves and appeal to their own tastes.]

As this route led me nowhere, I was dejected. I grew cynical. I thought about quitting. But I had nowhere else to go. My screenwriting mentors asked me to hang on because I was right next to the Hollywood mojo.

Watch and learn, kid!

And yet, I couldn’t see the value of this 9-to-6 job.  I was utterly unfazed after the bedazzlement. I finally came to my senses: it was just like any other jobs I’d held over the years. Who said Hollywood was all dream and drama?  For a few months, the closest drama I’d got was: I was dying of boredom. (Melodrama of course…)  I wanted to create my own stuff. I knew I had ‘the Right Stuff.’  I didn’t want to disappoint. But to be frank, I was disappointed. After the recruit, my boss scarcely bestowed his wisdom like he did in the class.

I wanted to stand on the desk and scream at the top of my lungs in a place everyone was talking but nobody was listening—

Gimme somethin’, sire.
Anythin’!
And I’ll make you proud!

The dream of working for the producer came true fast. But the reality hit me, faster and furious. Finally I realized that I was both the Boy and the Emperor. I had no clothes on. At least I was honest about being naked. This was nothing but day-trading. This was bullshit.

But after getting the H-1B work visa rejection letter from the immigration board, I had an epiphany.   I, not anybody else, had to fight for my artist visa next year, to maximize my chance. Instead of half-assing my effort betting gold on others, I have to do the work and ship fast.

In those darkest days, I came up with a podcast idea called Rock Bottom with YZ. Hence the namesake of this blog. Then the machine started running again:

  • I began my first novel. 47,000 words and counting. Half way through.
  • I picked up screenwriting, after abandoning it for a year.
  • I returned to the world, after being a scared and hurt hermit.
  • I did a lecture on storytelling, mading an impression and some new contacts.
  • I joined a Chinese TV Pilot writer team, not caring who takes credits.
  • I’m about to collaborate with two artists on a short about immigration.
  • I’m going to collaborate on a book project with my Chinese writer pal.
  • ….

The list goes on.

I was stressed that I didn’t know what to do a year ago.
Now I’m stressed that I have only 24 hours a day minus 6-7 hours of sleep with all the things I want to create and collaborate.

I know I’m closer.
I know I’m getting there.
I can feel it in my gut.

I just need to take a deep breath and repeat my mantra: Drip by drip.

By denying me the snazzy title, the to-do list, the caring boss, the paycheck, the work visa, prospect of a romantic relationship… everything that I want, could very likely be the best things that can ever happen to me, all at once.

Bring it on.

It’s not 20/20 hindsight yet, but I have a hunch.

 

Yours truly,
YZ

Current Status: Somber

I had a candid convo with a Chinese director friend about my status quo and the next step.

It’s SOMBER. And I saw it coming.

Right now I’ve switched back to be a student, at UCLA Extension. Next year, if my current boss still likes it, he will enter me into another H-1B lottery. Plus the artist visa (O-1).

But working for a high-profile Hollywood producer doesn’t cut it. I need to show the immigration board just how bloody brilliant I am to deserve an artist visa. It has been what I have feared since last year. What if this, what if that?

At this point, my stress level isn’t as crazy as last year. How do I know? Because I’m typing. Because I’m not blocked. I know how cliche it sounds whenever people mention Writer’s Block. Seth Godin argues that there is no such thing as Writer’s Block. Plumber doesn’t get Plumber’s Block. So why should writers be any different? There is a lot of truth in it once I was unblocked. But for the better part of last year, I simply couldn’t sit down and type. I couldn’t bear the thought of my incapacity to become Stephen King from the get-go.

I know it takes time. But I don’t have time. I am on a 12-month journey to be brilliant. If I didn’t, I failed. So I chose to do nothing, like an ostrich in the sand, hoping the storm would abate on its own. A year later today, I’m in the center of the storm.

Because I didn’t want to know (that early on) that I just don’t have what it takes (whatever that means), I procrastinated and tried to deal with the Devil to get me into the lottery.

Of course, I didn’t get in. I later told my dad that maybe it was a good thing that I didn’t get in. Because if I did, I might stop fighting for myself, forget why I am here in the first place, and start being mediocre by feeling content reading and critiquing other people’s work.

All the time I thought if I did a good job for the producer who pulled me out of the film school, making me an offer I can’t refuse, I would start to be introduced to the folks in the industry. I would soon become the next big shot. Months into the job,  I felt I was diminished as a writer, because I was not writing. And the stuff I gave to the producers were exactly like a pin dropping into the well. I was frustrated. I wanted to prove myself. I would climb as long as they threw me a rope—with the other end tied to a tree trunk, of course. I told my screenwriting mentors that maybe I should start working on my own stuff during the office hours, because after begging for stuff to read and critique, the producers had no time for me and were always so preoccupied with their ongoing projects. “No, no, no, no, no.” They protested vehemently. I stifled myself, so willingly… “He knew people (meaning the government and what not). You would be fine.” I silenced that last thread of anxiety, trusting that the big shot producer would make my worries go away with a snap of his magical fingers.

A year later.
Now.

“You were sewing the wedding dress. But you ain’t the bride.” The director said.

But here is the thing—I don’t regret it. I don’t blame the others, or myself. I didn’t know better. But now I do. And the director is right.

“What you need to do now, is to enter tons of screenwriting competition awards and WIN. Period. Not just once. But a bunch of times so you have a long enough list of credits to showcase your artistic capacity.”

I realize that this is the ‘shortcut’ I have been dodging the whole time. I thought it was too hard. But that’s life, the life I chose in 2015 to be a writer.

 

Yours truly,
YZ

If I knew it then…

Would I still go down this road?

Sometimes this question would pop into my head during my darkest hours, alone facing the ‘consequence’ of chasing a dream.

Was it a pipe dream? For someone like me, to make it into Hollywood as a screenwriter whose first language isn’t English? Whose parents aren’t in the trade not here or back home? Who has to constantly watch how much she spends, including a visit to the Starbucks.

“It can be demoralizing.” A writer shared his underground years with us in an auditorium. I didn’t know why he used “demoralize” then. Now I know, on a visceral level.

I can also admit that I was driven by fear when I was thinking about that question. I wasn’t writing. I was the murderer on death row, waiting to be executed. And I also happened to be the person who would pull the trigger.

Because of the clause in my student visa, I am off the company’s payroll again after my OPT (Optional Practical Training) ends in June. Certainly after the work visa (H-1B) rejection letter from USCIS (United States Citizenship and Immigration Services) in July, I had to switch back to student visa in order to avoid deportation. That means another 13 grand plus LA-standard living expense.

I had pictured the ‘worst case scenario.’ Now I’m livin’ it.

I have to write now more than ever. Because I need a list of credits and wins to apply for artist visa (O-1) next year.

I know I have to face my worst fear head-on. I have nowhere else to run, or hide. I’m stripped naked, left with a dull sword to slay the dragon.

Would I get out of here alive? I don’t know. Nobody knows.

All I know is this: I will never stop writing.

And this: If I knew it then, I would still do it. I’m happier now. Because I see a forward motion.

 

Yours truly,
YZ