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

If not now, when? 

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

If there is a next life, I pray that I am a white male math wunderkind in Wall Street.

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

 

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

Whose shit is this shit?

Dad saw a husky owner who didn’t pick up the dog shit. He called after the guy before he was led away by his dog.

“Sir, forgetting something here?” Dad pointed at the hot mess. Nerves on his temple bulging.

“You lost your marbles? Mind your own fucking business.” The man barked back and refused flatly.

Dad asked the Residential Committee to even things out. Its office is right beside where the shit show happened, fortunately.  And yet, not a single soul came out.

A staffer hiding behind her desk replied sheepishly, “[Dog poop] is NOT our job.” 

The man snickered at my dad, “See? It’s not their job. So what’s the fuss here? You’re a CPC member or what?” [Translation: CPC Member = Boy Scout with a twist.]

It was not until my dad threatened to call the police that the man dared to taint “the good name of CPC” that the man finally gave in and picked up the shit and apologized.

Dad told the story during dinner and added, “That’s why I warn you not to mind these monkey business. It does you no good.”

“But now we have one less shit to worry about, eh?  So who’s job is it when it comes to… dog shit?”

Dad didn’t have an answer. I don’t either. 

Truth is, you can’t expect every dog owner to remember pick their puppies’ shit up. Maybe another law will suffice?

Or maybe more folks like dad who is getting discouraged when he did the right thing.  Sometimes, if you meet people whose last layer of dignity is gone, there is nothing left for you to do. 

Did I mention that every person working in the Residential Committee is a party member? Yep, here comes the twist. Go figure.

 

Yours truly,
YZ