Be everything

In times like this, you can’t just be a writer.
You can’t just be a producer.
You can’t just be a cinematographer.
You can’t just be a director.
You have to be everything.
You need to be a writer-director-producer-promoter ninja to get any projects made.

In a word, you have to be a genius, Superman, Wonder Woman.


Here is how it works: you start with a short and hope that short would lead you somewhere.

And after you have self-delivered your baby, you wish you have an audience to cheer you on. Of course, you go to your friends and beg them to rate your babies, ugly or not, on Amazon etc. with five-star ratings.

I told myself that I couldn’t be bothered because I made my babies out of passion, out of love. Just how many people would chime in, I don’t care. It’s pathetic. I wouldn’t allow it.

But still, I asked friends to please rate my podcast on iTunes when I launched it. Last time I checked, there are six ratings, two reviews out of some dozens messages I sent out.

Fuck, I’m a hypocrite.

Because I should just focus on my next Tuesday’s shipping deadline like I’ve promised myself:

One episode at a time. And no more.


Yours truly,

Anger, angst… fear

I was a total arse yesterday.

To cheer me up, friend bought tickets to the Walt Disney Hall, because I hadn’t been in there yet.

He called me at 10:30, “I’ll pick me up at 12:30.”

I rebutted, “Wait, so we are not having lunch?”

He paused, “We can do lunch although I won’t recommend it.”

I rolled my eyes and barked back, “I thought it was like last time when we went to Dorothy Chandler. So I haven’t yet had any breakfast.”

“Never mind. I will pick you up at 11.”

By 11, he was downstairs. He was tense. I tried small talk. But he wasn’t engaging, “I’m not a morning person. I’m not awake yet.”

We had a quick lunch. 30 minutes later, we were done, almost.

He asked, “Are you ready?”

It was barely one o’clock. The concert didn’t start until two. I snapped, “What’s the rush?”

Three minutes later, we were out of the restaurant. By the Modern Art Museum, there was a fugly fountain. Some clueless tourists were posing and taking photos.

He stopped by a group of family.

I rolled my eyes, trying to ask him why we were stopping since we were rushing.

He ignored me and turned to the family, “Would you like a group photo?”

“That would be great! Thank you!”

I zipped out and sat down on the nearest bench.

He joined me a minute later, “This is what I do when I see tourists. I take pictures for them.”

“You can at least tell me to wait.”

“Life is too short.” He said to himself.

In silence, under the perfect Californian sun, we strode towards the gleaming Disney Hall.


I was underwhelmed. The French Horn was late. The maestro lectured before every piece. The tenor popped the mic a few times. The female instrumentalists donned various colored gowns as if they were models. Constant phone lightings in the dark. People zipped in and out, during the performance!  Too out of context to appreciate the combo of music pieces, I gave up enjoying.

I knew I should just keep my mouth shut, but I complained to my poor friend during the intermission. He pointed out that it was a summer concert and it’s LA, so it’s casual.

Three hours later, we hit the road again. I asked him where we were heading.

“I’m dropping you off.”

“Wait, didn’t you say we are going to talk through my issues today over dinner?”

“I’m tired. I need to be alone, at my home.”

“You could have told me.” There I began another round of accusation.

Naturally, he gave me another round of silence treatment.

In the end, he finally said, “I’m not obligated to engage at your level of emotional immaturity. It’s like an adult trying to reason with a kindergartener who’s determined to throw a tantrum.”

The gut punch. I lowered the car seat and lay down… and breathed.

“The anger you have is towards your former boss, the way he treated you from the beginning to the end. Now you are lashing it out at me. I don’t need this, okay?”

I re-adjusted the seat and turned towards him.

“I’m sorry.” But my terse reply betrayed me.

“The good news is you are still young as you experience this thing called betrayal. You put your trust on someone and didn’t get what you were promised. I didn’t experience it until much later. It’s painful. It takes time. Your problem will still be here tomorrow. But right now, I’m too tired and you’re too angry.”

I finally realized what I was doing. I didn’t pick my battles. And it became a shitshow.

By the end of the night after half-pint of mint chip ice cream and a full box of cherries, I spoke with my psychologist friend in Shanghai.

“Come back home. Re-center yourself. You can’t make right choices when you aren’t mentally healthy. The good news is you’re still young. Not that you can’t when you’re older. A couple of months later, we can laugh about it over some wine. It’ll be okay.”

As I woke up this morning. I heeded to her advice. I repeated what she asked to say:

“I’m a spirit experiencing human experience.”

With my phone timer, I let myself be the victim, feel the pain, the loss, the betrayal for fifteen minutes and no more.

Tomorrow, I will do the same to begin again.

Now, I will start working: declutter my life and do it out of love.


Yours truly,


Not the city in Arizona. But the long-lived bird that obtains new life by arising from the ashes of its predecessor.

But how do we know we can rebirth? What if nothing comes after the ashes? What if we’re just the mere mortals as reflected in the mirror?

To succeed as an artist, I thought getting the work visa is the one and only way. I was blindsided by my otherwise strength, my laser beam focus.  I cast myself off to the island of desolation when I was convinced that it was where I could find freedom, a free pass for life.

Since yesterday, I started to disassociate myself from the place that I’ve been staying for the last three years of my 20s.  I gazed at the books,  the clothes, the craps I’ve hoarded, and pictured them neatly lied in the dark beige moving boxes, ready to be shipped to China.

What had been so hard to accept is now something I’m aching for. I’m thrilled to see my parents on a daily basis, to be stuffed by dad’s Michelin-standard cooking, to have my mum’s nagging as my soundtrack, and what’s more charming than to be awakened by kitty Michael’s morning meow?

I would see my best friends in Shanghai again, and more regularly.
I wouldn’t need to worry about the ticking bomb, the date to have to exit the country.
I would be able to [Drum rolls, please.] work again, legally!

My root is calling. I have a business idea. I want to test out my entrepreneurship. I want to be my own boss and call my own shots.

Friend asked, “Does that mean you’re a sell-out now?”

Here is the thing, before I’m a writer, I was a hustler. It’s still in me. It’s time to let the cat out of the bag.

Maybe the only way to prove I’m a Phoenix is to be one. And Phoenix the bird, or the city, would both agree with me on this one: If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.

To quote the mantra from author Reema Zaman which she revealed in the Dear Sugars podcast:

I’m the author of my life.


Yours truly,


Drip by drip

A friend contacted me about a gig: interpret a dozen of non-Chinese films for a Chinese movie critic who is a judge at an international film festival. I would help him to understand what those movies are about to write reviews and score them.

I definitely want the gig. Here are my rationales:

  • I’m curious about what movies get selected and the process on the whole.
  • I want to make connection with this Chinese movie critic.
  • For someone doesn’t have an income right now as a full-time foreign student, I can always use some extra bucks.

But by taking this on, I’m contending with my own projects: My scripts. My novel. My podcast.

I feel stressed.
Actually I can’t remember the last time I was ever chill.

Earlier this year, I was more than just stressed. I was depressed. I felt I was not going places. My work didn’t amount to anything. I was not valued in the office even though I was hired by the big boss when I was still in film school.

Here, Simon Sinek might say this is the typical Millennial Syndrome because the Millennials want things to happen right here, right now.

In my defense, I was asked to read scripts. I read so fast. Soon I ran out of materials. I went after books on Amazon. Then office manager told me the (outsourced) finance manager need to see the producers’ green-light notes before I could order them online. [Translation: Stop doing what you are not told to do.]

So I stopped reimbursing and used my meager salary looking for new materials for the firm. I wrote treatments. I tried pitching to the producers. But their hands were full. Their desks are loaded with more important projects. [Translation: projects that would generate revenue; projects that have higher ROI; projects that they found themselves and appeal to their own tastes.]

As this route led me nowhere, I was dejected. I grew cynical. I thought about quitting. But I had nowhere else to go. My screenwriting mentors asked me to hang on because I was right next to the Hollywood mojo.

Watch and learn, kid!

And yet, I couldn’t see the value of this 9-to-6 job.  I was utterly unfazed after the bedazzlement. I finally came to my senses: it was just like any other jobs I’d held over the years. Who said Hollywood was all dream and drama?  For a few months, the closest drama I’d got was: I was dying of boredom. (Melodrama of course…)  I wanted to create my own stuff. I knew I had ‘the Right Stuff.’  I didn’t want to disappoint. But to be frank, I was disappointed. After the recruit, my boss scarcely bestowed his wisdom like he did in the class.

I wanted to stand on the desk and scream at the top of my lungs in a place everyone was talking but nobody was listening—

Gimme somethin’, sire.
And I’ll make you proud!

The dream of working for the producer came true fast. But the reality hit me, faster and furious. Finally I realized that I was both the Boy and the Emperor. I had no clothes on. At least I was honest about being naked. This was nothing but day-trading. This was bullshit.

But after getting the H-1B work visa rejection letter from the immigration board, I had an epiphany.   I, not anybody else, had to fight for my artist visa next year, to maximize my chance. Instead of half-assing my effort betting gold on others, I have to do the work and ship fast.

In those darkest days, I came up with a podcast idea called Rock Bottom with YZ. Hence the namesake of this blog. Then the machine started running again:

  • I began my first novel. 47,000 words and counting. Half way through.
  • I picked up screenwriting, after abandoning it for a year.
  • I returned to the world, after being a scared and hurt hermit.
  • I did a lecture on storytelling, mading an impression and some new contacts.
  • I joined a Chinese TV Pilot writer team, not caring who takes credits.
  • I’m about to collaborate with two artists on a short about immigration.
  • I’m going to collaborate on a book project with my Chinese writer pal.
  • ….

The list goes on.

I was stressed that I didn’t know what to do a year ago.
Now I’m stressed that I have only 24 hours a day minus 6-7 hours of sleep with all the things I want to create and collaborate.

I know I’m closer.
I know I’m getting there.
I can feel it in my gut.

I just need to take a deep breath and repeat my mantra: Drip by drip.

By denying me the snazzy title, the to-do list, the caring boss, the paycheck, the work visa, prospect of a romantic relationship… everything that I want, could very likely be the best things that can ever happen to me, all at once.

Bring it on.

It’s not 20/20 hindsight yet, but I have a hunch.


Yours truly,