Serendipity

All it takes is ‘Hello.’

I was nursing my Bullet Proof coffee while I waited for my friend at a bistro in the French Concession. I tried to read a book, but a pair behind me was talking louder than I’d like. I couldn’t complain much, because most of the time, bistros in prime areas are in tight quarters.

It was a good book, but I simply couldn’t get in as the conversation became more intrusive. There was something odd about it. One was obviously an American guy. The other was obviously Chinese. But no, it was She. It was not some white dude trying to hit on a Chinese girl or vice versa. It was a Chinese man. Not just some Chinese man, but a man in his 70s.  They talk about deep stuff, from history to ideology. 

“Talk to them.” A voice started in my head.

“No, are you out of your mind?” I rebutted.

“The least they would do, is to ignore you. What’s the big deal?” 

Interesting. I took the bait and turned around… 

The Chinese elderly is actually 79. He started to learn English some four years ago via…

Wait for it… Siri. He set his phone to English and he takes classes here and there. He comes to the French Concession and talks to expats. As you can guess, he is loved and adored by the expats. 

Likewise, they were equally impressed by my ‘intrusion.’  All of us became fast friends within just a few minutes. 

In the cultural context here, you don’t talk to strangers. Strangers are strange and possibly dangerous. You mind your own business and live life accordingly. 

But what if you don’t? What if you try? What’s the loss and what’s the gain?

Truth is, I met two great friends back in LA via serendipity. All it takes is ‘Hello.’

 

Yours truly,
YZ

First day as adjunct

I got up at 4:50 this morning to catch the school bus in DTSH. I got there around 6:15. The shuttle was supposed to drive out by 6:50. I’ve got plenty of time. Wrong. It took me exactly 25 mins to find out exactly where the shuttle should be. One bus after another, I tried to locate the right one by asking the drivers. None of them were what I was looking for. I tried to call the driver, who can’t pick up, of course… By 6:46, I gave up. I panicked. I imagined I got fired even before I got on-site. I couldn’t reach anybody else from the college. It’s too damn early otherwise.  But lo and behold, exactly one minute later, my shuttle arrived…

By the time the school bus arrives at the building I teach. My phone reads 8:10.  I checked with one student and she pointed me the one. I’ve got exactly five minutes to dash up three floors in my medium block heels. And I did it in two. But it was the North Side. My class was on the South Side… Time was lenient on me. I got into the other side. And was still one minute before the class started. But I gotta pee. A class of students already packed the room… 

I began to work my way in… Some helper sent in the adapter for my MacBook. Then the sound didn’t work… I called IT… Then he had to pull out the desks on the first row… Then I realized that I ran out of water but I was too thirsty…  Then I realized that my body started to tremble because I decided to dress for the occasion instead of the weather. I assumed that the AC would be hot enough for my kind of LA winter wear… But no, the AC was not on and the class faces north. The sun doesn’t get a chance to sneak in…  Because of the constant chaos, I didn’t give the class any breaks. By the time the class was over, my hands were stone cold.  As for the evening class, I ran into a similar but lesser technical difficulty. But since I got my shares earlier, I developed a better coping mechanism already. These are hardly complaints, because I can’t remember being upset. I accepted the fact and tried to resolve the issue… (Maybe the meditation is working its magic dissolving my Wrath tendency.)

So what about the classes? What are the college freshmen like nowadays? We are more than a decade apart! That’s wild to think about. 

The first class: meh. The students took the class because they were told to and they have to. And they are from other departments. This is just an elective. A student even texted me that he stayed in another classroom for three hours and just realized that it was the wrong classroom. I tried to give him the benefit of the doubt earlier but I didn’t give him a easy pass earlier. But now come to think of it, the guy’s too much of a smartass in this day and age with smartphones.  And here’s the thing, even though 80% of the class wasn’t listening. They were playing with their phones during the whole time. I still had a good time with those 20%. I focus on them. I don’t waste my time on the 80%. Like a standup comic stepping into a room full of drunkards, I’m there to entertain the few sober patrons and the bartenders. And it’s a great exercise for my ego too. 

The second class: yeah! The students are there to learn because it’s part of their majors (even though China doesn’t have Screenwriting MFA so to speak). I’m getting used to the silent treatment by the Chinese students. But when asked, they engage. And now, my students (wow, how important-sounding it feels…) are starting to speak up. Bit by bit. Step by step. Apart from the screenwriting basics I shared, two things I felt struck a cord with them as I saw they nod almost in unison. a) Don’t do your homework for me. It’s for you. It’s for the benefit of your future. b) Write less. Not more. Chinese teachers are famous to assign homework that begin with “no less than xxx words.” — so that they have no more words to hide behind. 

I could have ended the class earlier but I didn’t. I remember Jiro, the sushi master’s example. So I didn’t cut my own slacks. I’ve prepared this much and I would go the distance. I asked my students not to cut corners. So I would set my own example. 

We finished right on time at 9 PM. The student applauded enthusiastically for my class. I guess I blushed a little. A sense of recognition I didn’t see it coming.  They shared and compared notes in the WeChat group voluntarily.  I confess that I underestimated these young folks enthusiasm for screenwriting. 

I got home way past 11 PM. And I still feel buoyant. I didn’t know that teaching can be therapeutic… 

 

Yours truly,
YZ

 

Two kinds of exhaustion

I finally turned in the second draft of the live-action feature rewrite. Adrenaline’s pumping. If my brain is in the stove, it’s now close to well-done. Tomorrow, I’ll spend the day doing a third draft on the second short script project.

I can’t remember a day that I’m not tired since I go down this creative path.  

In what feels like a parallel universe, I remember the lonely chilly nights I dragged my body back home at two o’clock in the morning when I used to work for the paycheck, the title… In that universe, I was not only exhausted, I was burned out.

We all get tired at the end of a work day. Doesn’t it feel so much better knowing we are doing the work we’re proud of?

 

Yours truly,
YZ

 

Maker v. Faker

You make till you make it.

Before I decided to become a screenwriter, I had dabbed in and around advertising for some three and a half years.

You see, advertising was my passion until it was not. I used to dream of working in that building where the Big Leagues like Ogilvy and JWT lived. One day, a president from a major advertising firm approached me. It seemed like an exciting opportunity. And guess what, I got to work in that building with other creative people! Three years after I graduated from college, I finally got my foot into the party.

Then came the part where it was left out in the happily-ever-after fairy tale, the level of creativity in my job was minimal at best, even though I got to have my own team.  Everything else – the title, the package, the location – were just not strong enough of reasons to keep me there.  And what should be like the Broadway stage now felt like a prison to me… And the hardest pill to swallow was: I was the one who turned myself in. All I need to do now was to watch Prison Break again and learn to break out of the cell… The rest is history. 

Today I met with the short film director. He once worked in that building too. And that was not the only thing we had in common. Unlike the most ECDs (Executive Creative Director) that I had the fortune and misfortune to meet in Shanghai, he is one of a kind! He won the best awards (from Cannes, One Show to Clio)  in advertising and ten times over. If an idea belonged to his subordinates, he would never call it his own. 

“You are a unicorn, man!” I exclaimed in the quiet restaurant.

“My work ethics is more important to me. I don’t want to cheat or brag about something that I didn’t earn. That’s all.”

He then showed me the spots he did for clients from Buick to Heineken, from Kiehl’s to Sprite. “What ad men here don’t lack is braggadocio. But most don’t have real work to support the statement, or their spines.” 

“And yet, there are more than a few of those live rather comfortably here in the city. With your calibre, you can start your own shop between the blink of an eye.” I added. 

“Yes. You’re right. I disassociate myself from the fakers, who are experts in hosting dinners and parties amongst one another so they can feed their bloated egos to keep feeling important and welcomed… in the cocoon.”

“I know exactly the kind of people that you’re talking about.” I beamed as memory flashing back, uninvited.

“I was one of the judges at an advertising festival. Then I stopped going. Because I saw the money exchanged behind the scene. I had better things to do.”

“You know, I once worked at this local advertising festival.”

“Oh, you did?”

I gave him the look. 

“You know, we call it Cabbage Award because everyone’s a happy winner of something as long as you paid to enter. Quite a spectacle to see how BIG it grew over the years, isn’t it? I always gave away my tickets.”

I didn’t tell him that just a few days ago I tried to reconnect with the founder of this local festival only to get turned down that he didn’t have time to meet after all. [Here in China, if you don’t get a yes, it’s a no.] The founder is a busy guy, because his festival is so in demand right now that everyone uses it as a crucial networking opportunity given how fluid the advertising job market is. Because I had seen how the sausage was made, I was never really impressed except for the founder’s persistence. 

So how do we measure our legacy? 

  • By how much money have we earned?
  • Or, by how many books have we sold?
  • Or, by how many people know our name?
  • Or, by how many souls have we touched?

In the end, who are you fooling if you’ve never given your best shot, never gone through and under your fear, never removed the mask you’ve tattooed on your face, because you convince yourself that the stake is just too high, now is still too early, the truth is way too embarrassing, and the road not taken is too damn hard that it hurts like a motherfucker… Don’t wait until you’ve run out of time and run into your own deathbed. That is a tragedy without a hero. 

Let them have the laugh, the stage, the floor, because if you pan up the camera, you see the puppeteer pulling the strings at them.

But you, you cut loose the strings so you can be the boss of your life. 


Yours truly,
YZ

And more thing, you don’t fake it till you make it. You make till you make it.

 

Happy New Year!

The power lies right within us if we dare to summon it, tirelessly, lovingly. 

Happy 2019!

And she’s back.

Yes!

I still have a few pressing writing deadlines at my hand. But I’ve decided to log back onto the blog I’ve been turning to since around my major Rock Bottom last summer.

2019 may very well foresee my film career officially taking off. My first feature movie will premiere at the end of 2019 amongst other things. It all sounds surreal, but getting back to LA won’t be for too long after all.

For 2019, a few things will be my priority:

  1. Fear less. Worry less. We shall see how my Mrs. Bennet-esque poor nerves would serve me in 2019.
  2. Just do it. I think, strike that, I know I can. (My guilt pleasure is still to binge-watch Frasier whenever life or circumstances spit on me. I’m currently on Season 3 Episode 22…)
  3. Spend quality time with my parents. (I will take my folks to Japan for a week in the fall if I finish everythething I should finish by April*.)
  4. Be a friend indeed to my friends in need. (Say yes if I can help it.)
  5. Get up early. Exercise daily. Eat healthy. (Well, I just ordered a large pack of MyLikes, aka. Chinese Maltesers…)

After the months crawl out of the shitty place, all I can say is this:

The power lies right within us if we dare to summon it, tirelessly, lovingly. 

Or as Sir Winston Churchill eloquently put it:

Never, never, never give up.

 

Yours truly,
YZ

PS. Here is my first four months to-do list:

  • Animation feature script – done
  • Feature script polish – done
  • Paper – first draft
  • New feature script on spec – first draft
  • New short script – first draft
  • The class plans for the spring semester (I’m teaching two screenwriting classes at a Shanghai college)

Under the moonlight

As a writer, my job is to bring what’s under the moon back to the sun.

The more people entrust in me with their stories about love, about rock bottom, about vulnerability, the more I realize that there is no such thing as a perfect life. If someone says he begs to differ, then I’d say he’s missing out on life in general.

Everyone at some point gets her heart broken if she trifles with love. Sometimes what they’ve experienced should only happen in a movie. And yet, the truth is stranger than fiction. 

As a writer, you get to see life in various shapes and colors. If you don’t have an open mind, you only capture a limited few layers of life and people. But if you are willing, willing to set aside your own judgement, your own opinion, maybe you will find that people are more alike than they’re willing to let on. 

And yet, we tend to preach the popular, go with the flow through sunlight. We only let go of our subconsciousness and desire under the moonlight.

As a writer, my job is to bring what’s under the moon back to the sun. When it’s done right, it provokes people, it makes them uneasy, angry, upset… But in the end, people see their true selves through the story. 

They won’t admit it, but they feel it. To a writer, that’s a job well done.

 

Yours truly,
YZ