Price v. Worth

The lecture I gave yesterday was a blast.

But something bothered me.

When a ‘friend’ approached me asking if I knew any UCLA professor who could do a lecture on storytelling for some Chinese students (aged 14 to 16).  I volunteered, “What about me? I’ve TA-ed screenwriting at UCLA, giving a 10-week lecture series for the undergrads. I work at a Hollywood producer’s production company. Just a while ago, some Shanghai newspaper interviewed me about my Hollywood journey.”

Oftentimes I listed those things to make up for my lack of real writing credits. She agreed and added that they would pay for my service.

So I started working on the keynote deck. I mentioned in passing to my Chinese writer friend about this gig. She said, “Have you talked about how much exactly they would pay you?” I shrugged. “Then you need to ask her now. Better get it cleared now than later.”

My friend was right.
I was afraid to lose the gig if I seemed too ‘greedy.’

There the haggling began. It was unpleasant. She gave me a bunch of reasons just so she could avoid bringing it up to her boss.

In the end, she replied:

“$$$ is the max we can offer. Otherwise, we will have to ask the colleague of ours who graduated from Harvard to do it instead.”

I was pissed. If you just want to pay chicken shit, why bother asking in the first place? Because your staff, Harvard or not, can do it for free.

The word ‘Harvard’ got on my nerves, too.
As if you spend four years in Harvard, you come out invincible and incredible.
As if you get a free pass for life.
As if you understand any subject and can solve every problem on the face of the Earth.

What troubled me most was the woman held a Ph.D in Education. That’s what they taught you at USC? That’s what education means to you? Harvard or nothing?

Then and there, I decided to deliver a kick-ass keynote to show them why I was worth $$$$ for the two-hour lecture.

I think I made my point yesterday when the big boss approached me, giving me his card, asking, “You’re really good at giving lectures. How long have you been doing this? Let’s grab dinner soon!” He then gave me the envelop that contained my fee.

$$$. No more, no less.

I left and went on about my own business. The woman didn’t contact me for our unfinished business. By 5pm, I texted her regarding my Lyft ride in the morning—stuff we’d confirmed during the haggling phase. Tucking away my ego, I sent her the screenshot of the receipt. She PayPaled me back $6.17. The lecture boosted my self-worth. But this act chipped some bits away. I felt like a beggar. But every cent counts for my current situation—unemployed foreign student. And she knew it.

Maybe that’s the experience being a freelancer. Until you’re red hot in demand, there is always a gap between what you’re worth and what you get paid. You’ll have to remind them to reimburse your next six bucks and convince yourself that it does nothing to your dignity and it doesn’t mean they don’t respect your service, and you.

This is what I’ve learned and what I’ve internalized:
I just have to keep at it till I can call my own shots.
And I will outlast ’em all.

 

Yours truly,
YZ

PS. Imagine if I did recommend my screenwriting professor to them. What damage would that do to my relationship with my professor?

Tired, but not exhausted

It’s been a long day. A little too long.

The brainstorming meeting at the Chinese director’s place was truly fruitful. The only downside was, I didn’t come home until after 11:30 yesterday.  Then I started working on the Podcast Fellowship project. I’ve promised myself to show up every day. So I had to, no matter how late.

I wanted to go to bed. But I have an early lecture the next morning at 9. I wanted to run through the notes a few times before I felt I could have a good handle on the things I was going to share.

I had insomnia. I didn’t fall asleep until after 2:30 am. It was just a little lecture for some junior high school kids from China. But it was also my first public keynote in a long time.

I dragged myself up again at 5:40. Meditated for 10 mins. And started working on the slides sequence. New ideas rushed towards me. I kept tweaking until 7:15 am. I had to leave in about an hour. I gotta get ready.

By the time I got to the Rolfe Hall at UCLA, it was 8:40. Still ahead of time. I got the props I asked the team to prepare. Then suggested we rearranged the tables and the chairs to get the normally reticent Chinese students.

My lecture to the Chinese students from Beijing was well-received. I felt a wave of acknowledgement that had abandoned me when I was so focused to be a writer. I think that was also why I started working on my podcast. I craved to be under the spotlight. I knew I captivated my Gen-Y audience who’s famous for their 8-seconds attention span. Most important, they seemed to be really listening and learning. It felt great.

Then the Chinese filmmaker couple picked me up. We drove far past San Gabriel to the law firm regarding my current visa situation, maybe what the lawyer proposed was my best and ideal choice. In a few weeks, I may need to make a decision.

After the Chinese couple sent their car to the dealer, we Lyfted back to UCLA. Them for their daughter’s summer camp presentation. I went to get my thermos I forgot in the classroom.

But there was one last stop. The bank. The couple needed me to be their interpreter. It was a simple case. But took a long time to get the details right. When they processed the last few steps, I deposited my lecture fee.

By the time we got to their place for dinner, I had eaten nothing for 18 hours. Probably my longest strike I could remember. Strangely, I feel alive. I come to know that I’m on the right path, even though the going gets tougher. Since October 31, 2016, the day my former landlady decided to break her promise and keep my rent and security deposit, I felt cursed. I was depressed. The chip on my shoulder was chipping away my soul. But today, today I started to feel light and fine after almost two years of tedious struggle, rebel without a cause.

Maybe the cliché is true after all. There is a will, there is a way.

 

Yours truly,
YZ