Mirror, mirror

I was not irked. I was disgusted. Still, I steeled myself to nod and smile in her direction. She mirrored my movement. No more. No less. 

She wriggled towards me and dared to sit her ass down on my right as I leafed through the document, feigning my busyness, showcasing my importance being on the filmmaking competition’s final jury panel, while she was just there for make-believe photoshoots which would be used when she presents her case later for the US immigration board.

“Get the fuck out, you shameless opportunist” A voice in my head screamed at her. The truth is, since I got myself out of the 9-to-5 system, I also opted out on bullshitting and faking. I got so rusty that I could hear the squeak in between my facial muscles. Fortunately, I was ushered to a different room since I had to share my side of air with her for some 300 seconds.

But wait, why do I detest this woman in the first place? What has she done to deserve my berating?

The first time I met her, I was dragged home from my boyfriend’s just because the woman got to LA earlier than expected and her Airbnb got canceled. 

Our mutual friend gave me her keys before she went on vacation, “She’ll contact you one or two days before she’s in town.” Instead, I got a two-hour notice at best and a total of 20+ missed calls and numerous texts. 

“Shit, I had to go back.”
“What’s the matter?” My boyfriend asked. 
“This girl and her family would have nowhere to sleep if I don’t give her the keys tonight.”

“I’m here.” Finally, I got her text. It was 12:15 am. I struggled to stay awake for someone who’s not my boyfriend, whom I hadn’t even met yet. Honoring my word to my friend, I shivered downstairs in my baseball cap (LA summer evening can be brutally cold) and handed the woman a ring of keys. 

“Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.” She battered her lashes and thanked me in her husky voice from the long drive. Her Chinese relatives crouched in the back, all wide awake. None uttered a word of thank you in Mandarin back to me. 

Since then, the woman and I met at couple of group functions. I learned that she loves bar-hopping, which I had zero interest, or passion, or means, or time to do since I arrived in LA. Now with only weeks left, I wouldn’t start something I never started here in the first place, for the wrong reason, with a dubious person whom I still barely know…

From our mutual friend, I learned that the woman has a wealthy father who spoils his daughter with unlimited monthly allowance. Like, when his daughter crashed a brand new BMW, he rewarded her with an Audi… 

Meanwhile, I cleaned, ditched, wrapped, and packed things up, hugged and said goodbyes to dear friends I grew close to in the last three years.  Worst of all, I had to cut my heart open, bleeding it dry as I left my love behind when I left my LA life behind, just because I had no more left to persist without a legit visa. I ran out of time; I ran out of faith; I ran out of means. I had no other options but to come back home, or the Place of Birth as identified on my passport.

But I know I would go back to LA, again, by crawling, digging, diving, flying, whatever. I just don’t know when I’d be back. One thing I do know is, the day I left LA, I felt like I was attending my own funeral. My love was the only one present. I’d never seen him cry. Now, tears were brimming in his deep eyes. With TSA as our priest, we exchanged no rings or vows. But I would say yes to anything just so he’d ask. I grew up in a culture where crying was shameful, but loving him helped me unlearn that doctrine. Tears washed down on my cheeks. I was a total mess. I wore no makeup or disguise. I refused to and I didn’t give a fuck… My savage heartbeats reminded me that time was running out. Our lips touched for one last time. He nudged me away. Seconds later, the elevator lifted my soulless body up and away from him, the love of my life.

That day, I died.

Later I would I console my patched-up shell that now I know how to describe a soldier leaving his newly-wed behind for war. But if I could just stay in his embrace, I’d rather I keep typing shallow words just so I could un-wrinkle the lines in my weary heart.

But that woman, who’d spent all her life partying, could renew her visa indefinitely until probably she gets tired of the U.S. or she gets married to some American boy. Or her daddy buys her a green card…

Her mere existence enraged me. That I had to end with a screeching halt and she was handed a hall pass from birth… How unfair! The voice bellowed through the bounds of my skull. When I started teaching at her alma mater in Shanghai, a student who’s only a couple of years her junior commented that the woman is well-disliked by peers but well-liked by professors. So she’s a suck-up. A sneer creeped up at the corner of my lips. Probably she picked that up from her filthy rich daddy.

To prove my vicious self wrong, I texted the woman weeks ago asking when she would be in Shanghai. She replied ever so slowly, ever so apathetically, so unlike the cheeky gurl she advertised on social and only fuckable to the bunch she wants to please. 

I had a pair of sunglasses that I left in LA. I asked her for a favor. I asked her for her address and her date of departure. But she simply ignored my texts. It got me. I blacklisted her for good. 

It was hard enough for me not to roll my eyes out when I saw her coming towards me and sat down beside me. It was harder to act friendly. It was impossible to make chitchat. Hell no. I couldn’t. I’m not big enough. And I don’t care if her presence proved that I’m not big enough. I refused to engage. 

But Silly – it’s not about my sunglasses. It’s not about her. It’s not about anybody else. 

It’s about me, my love, my loss, my rage, my issues.

The presence of that woman is a sour reminder of my moment of impotence, my lack of fund, my naive dream…

But most of all, my love whom I had to let go because he has since moved on and asked me to grow where I’m planted. That was three four months ago. So do you get now why I couldn’t blog for two three months without getting any more personal?

Yours truly,
YZ


And… she’s back

Hi guys,

I’m back, stronger, healthier, and more balanced.

For awhile I couldn’t see myself back. When I was at my lowest, I didn’t see the point of coming back, ever again. That voice was taking hold: You don’t matter. Nor does your voice. So shut up and piss off.

So I did. For two months.

During the period of my cock blocking my own blog, a dear friend asked when I would update again. I said I was busy. Truth is, I was. But I still found time to watch Colbert, follow the US politics shitshow, and binge HBO’s Barry and Insecure, Hulu’s PEN15 and Ramy… so what kind of lame excuse was that, right?

A few things to update here:

  1. One of the films I wrote just won Best of Fest, first of hopefully many awards during the festival season;
  2. I’ve almost finished my first ever comedy spec pilot script after tons of rewrite… I’m already nervous AF about the feedbacks.
  3. My teaching at the arts college has been going well. My students seem to like my class and I have a steady stream of followers who sit in for my class;
  4. Because of this teaching gig, I would very likely land another teaching gig for the fall semester at an institute whose values I share. Things would likely to unfold in a matter of a fortnight;
  5. I’m now collaborating with three people on three separate creative projects. It’s a lovely change for someone who used to work alone;
  6. My negotiation skills are now officially next level:
    a) I set boundaries with a bloodsucker (*see definition in the footnote) by upholding my dignity, telling him to fuck off without actually dropping the F-bomb.
    b) When a wannabe writer asked me for rewrite service, I told her my fees, which in turn shocked her the shitless. “I didn’t know screenwriting can cost this much.” My OS: Well, bitch, now you know. You don’t question the lawyer when she charges you by the hour.  Or your therapist.  Or your dentist.  Just because you vomitted 100 pages doesn’t make them un-stink… It went on like this for a bit in my own head.  I was caught off guard by my epic animosity towards this stranger who I had never met and possibly would never meet.  I took a Sorkin-esque walk-and-talk.  Then something hit me: when someone doesn’t see the value I provide, I get frustrated. My ego screams, “They don’t see what I see, and thus I don’t value what I think I’m worth.” It was all fear talking…  Sure in the end, I scared away a potential client, but I got in touch with my own psyche.
  7. I threw myself back into the dating pool. Quite a cliche move ‘cuz I felt I was in a rut with my writing projects. Now I wanted to seek validation from elsewhere. Bingo: men.  Regardless of all the debates why I should focus on my work and my work alone, my strongest inner voice fought on, “Bitch , I need to live. I need to feel like an actual natural woman. I need to feel that I’ve got game. Just fuckin’ do it already!” Without getting into too much detail, I’m pleased to report that I’m doing quite okay. I’ve learned that I’m beautiful just the way I am (Yo, Bruno Mars).   And here’s the list of key findings from my dating adventure:
    a) I’m a good listener.
    b) I’m a fun conversationalist.
    c) I’m told that I’m a pair of bossy fancy pants – which 99% of the Chinese men don’t dig but fine by me. #theirloss
    d) Could flirtation actually be my mother tongue? Hmm…
    e) Even though I’m a feminist who doesn’t wear it on her sleeves, I enjoy being pampered and seeing men pick up the tabs without making it weird or a big fucking deal.
    f) Trial and error also works in dating. Gurls and gents, don’t quit on your first unsuccessful date. Assess why it didn’t go well and charge the fuck on.
    g) More often than I’d like to admit, I sometimes have out of body experience that I would start writing scenes at an imaginary desk. Beware, #pervertwriter aboard…
    h) I’ll have to save more for later for now.

After two fucking months of blog drought, I’ll close this post with something my dear friend Barbara shared in our recent Zoom call:

Nobody else is the source of ​change​ to our destiny.  The bread actually sits right on our heads, but most of us look everywhere else just for crumbs…  Don’t ever minimize the purpose of your life.  

We get to live just once. So live it well. Make it count.

That’s it for today.  #illbebacktmr

Yours truly,
YZ

*Bloodsucker: one powerful individual who wants to pick your brains and suck your blood dry but doesn’t value or respect your time.  Let alone consider the $$$$$ it fucking entails.

*A reader of my blog reached out asking for some English writing advice. I was touched by the sincerity between the lines.  To rw: Thank you for getting in touch. You’re a Messenger sent by Higher Power who commands my presence in the blog sphere.  Thank you, dear.

The order of things

I sometimes wonder if I’m living my life too black and white, too one thing or the other kind of gal.  When I chose to be a writer, I said to myself, “I’m going to dedicate my waking hours to this craft. I just don’t have time for anything else until I get there.” 

Years gone by, I’m still on my way and I’m still single. Sometimes, especially days when I feel lonely, I do wonder the alternatives.  I watched Princess Bride again today. That “As you wish” through line brought me to tears. I wish someday there’s someone I can say as you wish to and vice versa. But until then, the saga must go on.

 

Yours truly,
YZ

 

The next generation

By the time I came back, my niece and my nephew are four years older than when I saw them last in 2015.

The adults don’t change that much. Just more wrinkles, more white hair and a few more pounds here and there. But for kids, the change is huge. My niece is now 13. My nephew is 15. The two of them can’t be more different.

  • Niece: working-class; public school free-style education.
  • Nephew: middle-class; private school; tiger-mom education.

Within our household, we prefer the girl. She is just a bundle of joy, like Olive in Miss Little Sunshine. My nephew? He is a straight-A student, so shy and neurotic that he still hides behind his mom in public.

I wonder how they would be like in ten years, in twenty years. When they are real adults, what kind of career paths they would choose, what kind of life they would choose for themselves.

I imagine my niece would visit me in LA after I’m back. I would show her around my second home, take her to a Lakers game, and count the stars on Hollywood Walk of Fame…

When her family visited us this afternoon, my niece asked, “auntie (I still have trouble recognizing that term…), how do you give a good improv speech in public?”  I wish I had more time with her to tell her what I told my students, the opening, the twists and turns, the punchline, and the ending. But I can’t. I had to go back and work on my next week’s notes. And their visit was cut short.

Witnessing the next generation in the making is a blessing. Being able to shape them in any small way is a privilege.

 

Yours truly,
YZ

Growing pains

There’re too many good habits I’d like to have, like running, like getting up before dawn, like intense writing for three hours daily on average. And yet, other things get in the way. The things that feel so important at the time. The loud, the cute, the shiny…

Here’s my pattern: when I don’t get up at the hour I’ve promised myself, I start cutting myself short for the rest of the day. When I was in LA, I didn’t pay for training once a week, I might not even go to the gym that much even when I lived in Southern California for three years…  I throw in the towel way too early before I hear the whistle blows. 

I’d admit that what feels good at the time never really feels right later, or even right in the moment…  Life gets in the way as it always manages to. For the past two years, I would use my pending visa status as my perfect excuse.  “I can’t sit still for meditation today. I ain’t gonna write because I just don’t feel right.”

My other voice goes: When will you grow the fuck up? When will you evolve to be that person that you set out to be?  And its answer is more urgent than I wanted (“Thanks, but no thanks. Not now.”).

If we have to feel right to do anything, the human race would have gotten zero stuff done.  It takes a committed leader to claim independence against Great Britain; a single mom of three kids to rise early even when she’s just had three hours of sleep; a tennis champion to start practising her strokes again after she just won the Wimbledon Grand Slam the day before… 

To me, the ‘ruthless’ professionals are like an entirely different species, whom I’ve admired all my life.  It probably explained why I bawled my eyes out watching Jiro: Dreams of Sushi some five years ago at a time when I grilled myself every night about the meaning of my own existence. 

CUT TO: Five years later. Now. I’m living the dream as a working writer. And yet, the residue of my old self lingers in my veins like that of a recovering addict. I can’t seem to drain it out of my system just yet without serious upshots.

I want to be a world-class pro to earn that R.E.S.P.E.C.T.  It’s how Rocky became the Rocky we cheer for. And it’s why people eulogize Lagerfeld when he passed away at the age of 85 yesterday.

Maybe secretly I still fear of missing out on my wannabe-queen-bee social life. Maybe I still want to be loud now just because it feels good to hear people notice that you exist… I know those cravings are fading, but they’re still lurking in the darkness of my subconsciousness. 

To quote that line which is on the brink of becoming a cliche: If not now, when?
So yeah, what the fuck am I waiting for? My own death?

I’ve got the bullet.
Time to pull the trigger.

 

Yours truly,
YZ

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,
YZ

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

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