Last person on earth

I would still write. Even though it hurts like a motherfucker.

Have you ever felt like your own thoughts are choking the life out of you?
Have you ever felt like no one else would ever care about you apart from your parents?
Have you ever felt like chasing a dream is something that you’re so NOT entitled to?
Have you ever felt invisible to most people you’ve encountered in life?

Before, during and since the Chinese New Year, I’ve been doing much the bare minimum of social networking. I called off a coffee with a former colleague and friend whom I haven’t seen in three years just because I wasn’t in the mood. I cancelled another meeting today mostly because I wasn’t ready to get fucked in the eyes of all the Valentine decor.  And I lied in both occasions. 

Have I become a hypocrite, a hermit, a pest? Have I lost the basic faith in most folks… and most importantly, myself? Since my other project fell through the holes, I’ve been fishing around. That’s when I realized how much I hated it when I don’t hear back from people. Those emails don’t write themselves, bitch. Moreover, I hated it even more when I checked mails first thing in the morning and then constantly during the day just so I could land the next thing I can talk about… I desperately needed a win. Big or small. Preferably big. I’m only human. Vanity is my vice. It has taken a toll on my physique and my psyche. My neck is tense. My breath is shallow. My belly is tight. My jaw hurts. 

I couldn’t remember when was the last time I jumped off bed to embrace the day. I was in the sour mood. All. The. Time. All I wanted was to stay in bed. But my other self would drag me out. It’s almost Spring and I feel like it’s deep in the winter. It’s already two months into the new year. I’ve already slumped back into my old comfy self.

What if I’ve become the person I hate and I can’t fight it?

So I picked up my Bible The War of Art again. I desperately need Pressfield’s wisdom and strength.  I need it to clear my heart and cleanse my soul.

I forgot what all THIS — writing and the pursuit of my dream — was all about. And here are some quotes that I’ve highlighted, which comes in timely and dearly. 

  • The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death.
  • If you didn’t love the project that is terrifying you, you wouldn’t feel anything.  The opposite of love isn’t hate; it’s indifference.
  • I’m keenly aware of the Principle of Priority, which states (a) you must know the difference between what is urgent and what is important, and (b) you must do what’s important first. 
  • Pros: We show up every day.  We show up no matter what.  We stay on the job all day.  We are committed over the long haul.  The stakes for us are high and real.  We accept remuneration for our labor. We do not over identify with our jobs. We master the technique of our jobs.  We have a sense of humor about our jobs.  We receive praise or blame in the real world.
  • So you’re taking a few blows. Thats’ the price for being in the arena and not on the sidelines.  Stop complaining and be grateful.
  • I had not yet had a success. But I had had a real failure.
  • The professional arms himself with patience, not only to give the stars time to align his career, but to keep himself from flaming out in each individual work. He knows that any job takes twice as long as he thinks and costs twice as much.  He accepts that. He recognizes it as reality.
  • The professional self-validates. She is tough-minded.  In the face of indifference or adulation, she assesses her stuff coldly and objectively… She’ll work harder. She’ll be back tomorrow.
  • You, Inc.: You-the-writer get a swelled head, but you-the-boss remember how to take yourself down a peg.
  • That moment when I first hit the keys to spell out THE END was epochal. I remember rolling the last page out and adding it to the stack that was the finished manuscript.  Nobody knew that I was done.  Nobody cared.  But I knew.  I felt like a dragon I’d been fighting all my life had just dropped dead at my feet and gasped out its last sulfuric breath.  Rest in peace, motherfucker.  Next morning I went over to Paul’s for coffee and told him that I had finished.  “Good for you,” he said without looking up. “Start the next one today.”
  • Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it.  Boldness has genius, magic and power in it.  Begin it now. — W. H. Murray
  • The Ego hates artists because they are the pathfinders and bearers of the future, because each one dares, in James Joyce’s phrase, to “forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race.”
  • In the hierarchy, the artist faces outward.  Meeting someone new he asks himself, What can this person do for me? How can this person advance my standing?  In the hierarchy, the artist looks up and looks down.  The one place he can’t look is that place he must: within.
  • If we were the last person on earth, would we still show up at the studio, the rehearsal hall, the laboratory?
  • Do it or don’t do it… If you were meant to cure cancer or write a symphony or crack cold fusion and you don’t do it, you not only hurt yourself, even destroy yourself.  You hurt your children.  You hurt me.  You hurt the planet.  You shame the angels who watch over you and you spite the Almighty, who created you and only you with your unique gifts, for the sole purpose of nudging the human race one millimeter farther along its path back to God.
  • Creative work is not a selfish act or a bid for attention on the part of the actor.  It’s a gift to the world and every being in it.  Don’t cheat us of your contribution.  Give us what you’ve got. 

Artist to artist, I see you. I hear you. I feel you.  You know, at the end of the day, I can honestly say that I don’t do it for others. I do it to have peace of mind.  

And if I were left alone on earth, I would still write.  So write I shall.

Even though it hurts like a motherfucker.

 

Yours truly,
YZ

Work ethics

It’s easier said than done, and that’s why it’s rare.

It’s something that has become a rare commodity as the younger generation replaces the old.

So what is work ethics and what makes it so rare these days? Work ethics to me is whether a person delivers what he’s promised. If the stake is low for you to deliver something, maybe you would postpone doing it, or you might never do it after all. 

My dad is one of the few people I know holding an impossible bar for himself. He’s not only punctual, he’s at least thirty mins early. He’s not just experienced, he reads the roads like the back of his hands. He retired two years ago. The company was supposed to have nothing to do with him, but they wanted him back. Today, he went to a dinner his former boss threw on his behalf. Some two dozens of company officials attended. During the fine wine and dine, his former bosses complained to him the newer drivers too often get lost, get fined, get into serious accidents that almost get people killed… They gave him gifts and asked a former colleague dropped him off after the dinner.

Too often we can’t wait to brag about our accomplishment through social media. For my dad’s generation, their action is their brand. It takes years to build the kind of reputation that my dad now has. And it takes only a couple of slips to wreck the name. 

It’s about doing what one’s required, surpassing it and repeating it days after days. Years after years. Until it’s in our bones, our second nature.

It’s easier said than done, and that’s why it’s rare.

 

Yours truly,
YZ

 

How do you spend the day

“A day passes by so fast. I don’t even know what I’ve done and then day has turned into night.”

Is how you going to spend your life.

This quote often sends chills down to my spine especially when I’ve not been productive, or when I’ve squandered the day not accompolishing something meaningful.

When I was on the phone with a dear friend in LA the other day, friend asked whether I had gone to movies, dined with friends, had fun and what not apart from working.

I suddenly grew sheepish, because I hadn’t watched a single movie in the theatre lately. I blamed the lame movies that got imported. I hadn’t met many friends either except the ones I really wanted to meet because the deadlines had been hovering above my head since I got well from pneumonia.

It was as if everything I do, or plan to do, I had to give it some kind of meaning. Otherwise, it was not worthy of my time. It even haunted me in my dreams.

When dad asked me to help him to fix a phone app, I spent almost half an hour on it due to the app’s stupid user interface. Dad later apologized for wasting my time, for interrupting my writing. At the time, I did complain a little, explaining that it takes a person 30 mins to actually get into the groove to do anything creative.

Later, Dad, the busiest and earliest bee of the family, said without any context, “you know, a day passes by so fast. I don’t even know what I’ve done and then day has turned into night.” At the time, I was winding down watching Frasier. I looked up from my laptop and said, “Yes. I feel the same way.” Suddenly it struck a chord and made me meloncholy.

As of now, I am close with my loving parents, my needy cat who has to nap on my lap. Sometimes I admit I feel a bit overwhelmed. But soon, maybe a year or so, I will pack up my things up and leave again. This time, I will bid farewell and try to make my own home in LA, again.

You see, before we know it, our parents will be older. So are we. We dash through days, months, years, brushing shoulders with people zipping in and out of our lives.

By now, I don’t have a single junior or senior high school friend that I’m still in touch with. By uprooting my career some four years ago, I’ve made myself obselete in most of my old Chinese acqauintances’ memory drive while trying to squeeze into my American friends’ life, who may already have one friend too many… Such is a pickle of hard fact that I must chew and digest.

I only hope that when I take my last breath in this lifetime, I can say that I have had a brave life. I’ve done whatever I can to become the best version of myself with whatever resources that are available to me. I’m a good daughter, a sincere friend, a fun companion. And most important, I stay true to my heart.

 

Yours truly,
YZ

What shall I major

“If I want to go abroad to get a master’s degree?”

A girl from the class I lectured today asked.

I know that question. I’ve asked that question when I was her age, when I started working, and when I felt my soul was being ripped apart by the work I did.

“Most of us aren’t Steve Jobs, aren’t Bill Gates, we don’t know how to answer questions like this from the get go.” I said, “It’s more a process. I remember I read Man’s Search for Meaning, The Alchemist, when I was your age. I read memoirs, biographies ferociously because I thought I could find some pattern, some shortcut there from the lives already lived and proved. But in the end, you can’t calculate your 100th step when you barely have your step. Sure you will make mistakes, but that’s part life, part living, part growing. Media advocates overnight success, but we both know that it takes years to be an overnight sensation. And even if you thought that you found what you wanted to do for the rest of your life, sometimes you still get lost, get confused, get frustrated, wondering whether it was the right path that you took given the growing sunk cost…”

Some students drifted away already. Only a handful were still with me. I said that I didn’t know what to do with my expensive education for a while, whether I should ditch it and start something else… But I’m glad I didn’t quit. It’s only the dip.

Later I told my professor friend who invited me to her college that the students might be able to understand what we discussed today years later, or maybe not. But maybe it may benefit them. There is a huge chasm between knowledge and practice.

Just like when I disappeared for the last two days from my daily blog to finish the third short film in time, I realized that no matter how much I wanted to impress the director, I had to give him something to begin our polishing process.

And by now, I have a fourth short film to finish by end of tomorrow which I haven’t started yet, because I was out all day today in Songjiang, because I didn’t arrive home until 11 pm, and because the fourth director and I didn’t confirm until this morning.

Right after the fourth short film, I will immediately start working on the animation feature as well as preparing the notes for another feature rewrite which I already did the first pass.

“It takes 10,000 hours to become a master in anything.” I quoted Malcolm Gladwell as I kept on going with my answer. I told them how lucky they are to choose this path at this age. If they persist, by the time they are my age, they’d experts.

I used to get frustrated when I read Wiki entry of a famous person whose work I admired and who started early.  Now, after the emotional move back to Shanghai, I’ve learned that everyone has her own time.

Like when Mulan’s dad pointed to his daughter, ‘The flower that blooms in adversity is the most rare and beautiful of all.

I would like to think that I’m one of those late bloomers.

 

Yours truly,
YZ

Choice

Maybe two months later when I read this blog entry, my future self may have a better idea.

I was born and bred in Shanghai, the most expensive and exciting cosmopolitan city in China. Via my dad’s calculation, its food and beverages are even more expensive that those in LA – although I would defend that Shanghai’s rent is much cheaper than that in LA. 

The Chinese people (other than folks born in Beijing) seem to make Shanghai her goal as “making it.” But I never feel like I belong here. Shanghai is all about money and efficiency. It’s not a place for writers, or artists in general. 

Today, my cab driver told me that he just couldn’t stop but work in Shanghai. He can’t afford to rest because of its high living expense for his family of three. I listened and felt grateful that right now I’m rent-free.

So this evening, I went to downtown Shanghai, at a place where Chinese and expats mingle for a dinner with a friend who runs her own company. This friend came from a family of businessmen and women. It was only natural when she set up her own shop in her early 30s. After several rounds of wine and beer on her part, she tried to reason with me why moving back to the US sounds like an unwise idea. “You’re Chinese. You would never feel like you belong there.” She then gave me a cautionary tale of her friend; she listed her resources that we could exchange to do something big and interesting together; she told me tricks of how to set up my own  studio (aka. gong zuo shi) so I could charge much larger fees when I negotiated with brands and firms, creating an illusion that I ran an army instead of working as a freelancer. 

This was all new to me. The artist side of me resisted and rebelled. But the pragmatic side of me wanted to learn more. After all, who doesn’t want financial freedom and more flexible working hours plus having extra to take care of the parents?

I told my friend that I would like to explore those notions going forward. I promised that I will pop at an event she hosts on Monday so she can start to introduce me to her acquaintances.  I’m not a star sign believer, but I do relate to and adore her Pisces-ness – flexible, creative, and resourceful. 

“God, things we could’ve done.” John Sculley told Steve Jobs when they met again more than a decade later when Jobs was hired back to Apple. Steve replied, “Things we could’ve done.” 

Of course, this moment, this line were all created by Aaron Sorkin who wrote the award-winning script for Danny Boyle to shoot. But to me, it’s also a reminder in moments like this. I don’t want to be another person to confess to my potential ally that why the he’ll we didn’t end up working together when we can?

For the past three years, I closed myself off opportunities that are not film related. I think I need to think different. There must to ways to utilize my talent… on a bigger scale, stage-wise and pay-wise.  

And this morning, a fourth student director came to me to fix her script. I was flattered albeit overwhelmed.  Every day I feel and think more like a screenwriter. But I’m not happy with its power limitation in filmmaking. Or, maybe two months later when I read this blog entry, my future self may have a better idea.

 

Yours truly,
YZ

The big rock

I did tackle the big rock before romancing the other stones.

Overwhelmed by my to-do list this week, I wasn’t at all productive for the last two days. Nor was my sleep. 

I called my friend and mentor and spilled out my concerns.

“I feel like everything is so important that I can’t drop any ball I’m juggling right now.”

“Tell me what you have on your plate.”

“A new short film project. My weekly podcast. The dissertation outline that I’m collaborating with a Chinese screenwriting professor. The beat sheet of the animation project. And notes preparation for the three-hour lecture next Tuesday.”

“Here is a big jar and laying in front of you are the big rocks, the small pebbles and a pile of sand. How do you fill them all in without neglecting any?” 

He knew that I got the answer but kept going for my own benefit, “The big rock is your most important, most urgent task. Right now it is the short film that you need to turn in by end of tomorrow. How about you focus on that for the rest of the day and get it done, so you can have time to finish editing your podcast tomorrow?”

I couldn’t help thinking, “Why does it sound so much less messy when it comes out of my friend’s mouth?”

“You just can’t do everything at the same time.” 

True. ”But what if I am too tired too frazzled that I just watch YouTube?” I tried to hide behind the what-if, which is actually the reality I’m wrestling whenever the pressure gets the better of me.

“Well, then you just have some grow up to do. There are things you don’t like, but you are obligated to do it. Pace yourself and complete the task before those all-nighters compromise your health yet again.”

After the pneumonia-bad cold double whammy, I should know better. 

Several hours after our conversation, I now have a rough first draft of the short film. But I need to take a couple of more revisions first thing tomorrow morning before sending it back to the director. 

But hey, at the end of the day, I did tackle the big rock before romancing the other stones.

 

Yours truly,
YZ

The funding

When the money trickles down to the people at the bottom of the food chain, they get peanuts and jackshit. 

“How did it go?” I asked my soon-to-be writing partner after our new feature project meeting. She also teaches screenwriting at this well-off art school. Over the past week, she has been trying to get funding for her students’ short film projects.

“They gave me a flat-out no.”
“Based on what?”
“a) it’s the end of the year. There is zilch budget left; b) even if they do put in some fund, it has to go through competition so everyone gets a fair shot; c) they might reward the students once their short films won some serious awards.”

And one more thing, in the history of the school, students always fund their own projects. Why do they suddenly need the money now?

I was angry but least surprised. Here is a college that spends money on swans, willows, and moving two ancient buildings from another province to the campus. Now they admit they don’t have any budget?

I believe them. Now, you need to understand how things work here. If there is 100 dollars. The top dog snags 80 dollars as his income, and hands over 20 to his subordinates. The underlings copy their boss. So when the money trickles down to the people at the bottom of the food chain, they get peanuts and jackshit.

Just how driven are these students to get their movies made? I don’t know. Because it now comes down to on how much money their parents would invest/waste and how resourceful the students are.

No wonder when artists here finally get recognized, they thank their family, their loving and understanding parents, their mentors. But they may never mention the schools they graduated from, the system in which they were raised.

Why would we blow your horn when you are here just for yourself?

And to continue the Thanksgiving spirit:

I vow that I would not forget the wonderful people who have helped me along the way.

I vow that I would do so for the younger generations who are talented and dedicated but need the support because the system won’t.

 

Yours truly,
YZ