Worst case scenario

Enough good input will get some not-too-shabby output. 

I’ve always practised my life through the lens of the worst case scenario.

  • What if I would never be enough?
  • What if the shit hit the fan?
  • What if I got too broke?
  • What if I went loco?
  • What if I just didn’t have what it takes…

Well, if I’ve learned anything during my three-year LA sojourn, it is this: if you can’t be your own cheerleader as a writer, nobody else will. You can’t swallow and spit at the same time.

But how to believe that you’re good? It’s like the age-old chicken-or-egg debate. If you don’t have the talent, why even start? But if you don’t start, how else would you know that you’re pretty good actually?

Then, there is something in between. If you keep at it, you will get there. Someday. The next question is: how long is that someday? Ten months? Or ten years?

Sometimes, being a writer or any kind of artist need some level of self-hypnosis in the reality distortion field. You have to be crazy enough to want to be a writer, I think. With all the bleak future and the hard passes without even getting to the first bae, you have to convince yourself to go the extra mile, to write that extra page, to finish something else to call it your own fugly baby. And then, try to pitch it, sell it. In a way, you’re just like an entrepreneur. Time is basically your chips before it ran you out.

After days of distress, I got some good news from the two writing projects I was working on. The result was more than good. My clients were thrilled. And the revision notes would be minimum – so they say.

All my worst-case scenario drills for nothing?! Fuck it then. Going forward, I will replace it with something else: Okay. I know I’m good. What’s next?

I have a feature rewrite gig and two more short film collabs coming up in the next 30 days or so.  Of course, part of my motivation is for my visa credits. But then, it’s going to be good training for my future career as I turned pro, juggling enough projects so I didn’t starve myself to Gandhi.

Come to think of it, all I can do is just write my best as I can. Worst case scenario is nothing but ‘Thank you but it’s not good enough.’  Meaning not good enough for now if I use some reality distortion.  But I will get better tomorrow.

Writing will be then just like math. Enough good input will get some not-too-shabby output.

 

Yours truly,
YZ

PS. I learned a thing or two from my guest this week who is an eternal optimist. Tune in and find out.

Just another blow

Then I saw an update from a former professor. His 28-year-old stepson killed himself. I read his wife’s post, the note from a mother who just lost her son.  I said a prayer. For the lost soul. And for myself. 

A friend said he would resign soon. We had a chat.

“What are you trying to be?”

“Writer.”

“You’re just buying time here. You can actually write from anywhere. You’re better off in China, with your package.”

“But I don’t want to go back. Not yet.”

Why wouldn’t I stop the bleeding when I’m in critical condition?

I video-chatted with my parents, I told them that my days in America is numbered, after all. I sounded optimistic. I had to, in front of my folks.

Then my head started to spin. I reached out to a great friend on FaceTime.

“Is it about your ego?”

“No.”

“Then what? Really ask yourself. Why can’t you picture yourself back? It’s your home after all.”

I gave it a thought.

  • I can go back and teach screenwriting, storytelling.
  • I can keep working on my personal projects as a writer.
  • Is it the sunk cost I am worrying about?
  • Is it the promise to myself, from three years ago, that I don’t want to break?

Then, suddenly, I said, “I want to take a pill and be gone.”

“Are you thinking about suicide? Because I don’t want to be the one who has to identify your body.”

I pictured him, standing over my motionless cold body, dried-eyed with disgust written all over his face…

“I’m sorry that I know you.” He said. “You’re thirty. Do you know how young you are, how much potential you have?”

“Actually, I do.”

“Then why are you talking like this?” He demanded an answer. He was livid.

“You can quit. But never check out.”

Knowing when to quit. Knowing when enough is enough. Knowing when to accept things as they are…

“It’s a reality you don’t want to face. You came to the United States as if you already had a green card. But let’s face it, you’re just another foreign student on a student visa with an expiration date.”

I nodded. It was 11:40 PM. We had been talking for well over an hour.

“Because you know what, the Sun always rises the next day.”

“Yeah. But so what?”

He paused for a moment. “Here is what I’m going to do. I will reach out to some attorneys who handle artist visa for Chinese students. You don’t need to listen to me. But hear them out and see about that.”

“Thank you.”

The Sun did come out today. It’s California after all. I dragged myself up. I have a lunch meeting with a director. I can’t afford to call in sick.

Then I texted my friend: Thank you for yesterday.

My heart still aches. But I’m breathing. Later I logged onto Facebook to reach out to a friend for my podcast interview…

Then I saw an update from a former professor. His 28-year-old stepson killed himself. I read his wife’s post, the note from a mother who has just lost her son.

I said a prayer.
For the lost soul. And for myself.

 

Yours truly.
YZ

Take a deep breath

But when I meditate in the morning, the message is always something different. Today it says: When we let go of all expectation, there is peace.  So I took a deep breath. And settled in. 

I re-started meditation in May.

Today I was told that I am on a 83-day streak. My longest was 91. So eight days away to set a new record. I hope I would just keep going.

I was doing meditation even when my Chinese family of four was here from December to February.

But my auntie fell sick only six days before their trip back to China, right on my 30th birthday. Her face was so swollen that she could barely open her eyes and she was running a fever. I stayed with her in hospital for the first night trying to get to the bottom of the cause.

Long story short. Auntie’s symptoms were relieved. The family went back to China on time. My dad and I even went to the Staples Center for the LA Lakers v. Dallas Mavericks game on Friday night when auntie was discharged late that afternoon, two days before they flew back on Feb 25.

Then, the insurance coverage. I was the middleman for the Ronald Regan Hospital and the Chinese Insurance Company. Roughly a month later, the insurance company confirmed that they would cover the staggering $36,000 hospital bill. By then, I was bone tired.

  • Yesterday in the mailbox, I got a Final Notice from the hospital, staying that they still hadn’t got the rest of the money wire. I have until Aug 8 to fix it.
  • The communication gap between the insurance company and the hospital bureaucrat is appalling. As if sending me those bills, the niece of the patient can solve the problem for her. The insurance company already paid for the 1st half. Shouldn’t she keep talking to the insurance company?
  • I had to stop myself from digging into this rabbit hole, from getting worked up.

Since my family’s left, I felt a huge void.
Plus, I was anxious about the work visa (H-1B) lottery result, my work prospect with the company, whether I was a liability or an asset, and when my boss would send the office manager to break the news to me.

As of June 1, I’m not allowed to be paid anymore. My parents once again showed me just how diehard they are to keep investing in me, regardless of my poor ROI.

If I were the hero of my own movie, I feel the stakes keep rising.  I need to prove my worth to the immigration board next year to get the artist visa (O-1)…

But every morning I switch on the coffee maker, sit on my couch, and meditate, I get a different voice.

Today it says:

When we let go of all expectation, there is peace.
– Kim Eng

So I took a deep breath and settled in.

 

Yours truly,
YZ

Drip by drip

By denying me the snazzy title, the to-do list, the caring boss, the paycheck, the work visa, the relationship… everything that I want, could very likely be the best things that can ever happen to me, all at once. It’s not 20/20 hindsight yet, but I have a hunch.

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.
Anythin’!
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,
YZ

Maybe there is a better way

All this time what I have dreaded impossible is actually doable. Because I just need someone who believes in my potential. One person at a time. And then, the Snowball Effect. 

Yesterday afternoon, my colleague and good friend and I went through the storyboard for his shooting this coming Saturday. At first, he just ‘donated’ me a writing credit for the short, because it would help me with my O-1 (Artist Visa) next year. But I wanted to earn it.

Frame by frame, I gave him new angles, ideas and recommendations to play with. I saw his eyes lit up. We were on the same page the whole time. Just by sitting there talking, it rekindled my love for screenwriting.

I told him I felt like I was in a silo when I was developing these feature-length scripts. I have no one to talk to unless I’m in a workshop or when I do a script exchange. I want to be part of the creation, from script to screen. It is never meant to be done alone in the first place.

My friend then said his director buddy approached him. The director wanted to do some projects, not those assignments to pay bills, but stories that can nourish his soul. They narrow it down to this theme: immigration. My friend mentioned my name and my story.

I was flattered and humbled. I pitched him my ideas on the spot.

“Hey, hey, hey, hold your horses.  How about the three of us grab lunch next week and start hashing out the story?”

I was thrilled. Maybe, just maybe, I would be able to apply for O-1 next year after all. I will emerge from an unproduced writer to an aspiring writer with a few body of works.

All this time what I have dreaded impossible is actually doable. Because I just need someone who believes in my potential.

One person at a time.
And then, the Snowball Effect.

 

Yours truly,
YZ

To be or not to be

How to sustain your dream when you’re trying to livin’ the dream?

A voice whispered in my head: quit screenwriting.

I woke with a jolt and throbbing pain in my chest.

But this is what I set out to do when I gave up everything in Shanghai and came to the US in 2015 to pursue this dream. I argued with the voice.

The voice kept reasoning with me—
Here is thing: You’re just not good at this. You haven’t sold anything. Nobody asked you to pitch anything. You haven’t won anything big. The market is permeated with big IP sequels that only care about the box office. Do you know how expensive it is to make any movie? Any feature, the budget starts at $1m. And just what makes you think your story should be told onscreen?  Hon, shall I keep going?

I fumbled, well, I want to bridge the East and the West— exactly what I wrote in my “Statement of Purpose” when I applied to the UCLA Film School.  And it worked.

But come to think of it now, it’s not working for me anymore. The two scripts about the Chinese culture I wrote at UCLA aren’t really the ones that come from the heart. At the time, I was running short on ideas and thought they were cool subjects worthy to be known.

They can be known through books. Documentary at best, not necessarily feature film. The voice shot back relentlessly.

Quite true.

As I write this, I am writing a thriller feature. It’s an adaptation. It’s a period piece. Two weeks ago, I decided to make it contemporary. Why? It’s cheaper and more relevant. Two days ago, my screenwriting friend (who is one kick-ass screenwriter, sold tons of projects and has one movie made) agreed to collaborate with me, because she knows about my quagmire and the collaboration will get me further and faster into the game. Plus, she loves the project. I’m thrilled. I really like the story. I want to like it more. But I’m too much inexperienced to tackle something as classic as this book, like a baby alligator trying to tackle a grown hippo on Training Day #101.

I am also working on my first novel. I clock in 2,000+ words or more every day since July 10.  I am less than 27 days away to finish my rough first draft. I want to get it published, or self-published by February 2019. Why the rush? Because again, I need it to apply for my artist visa (O-1) next year. At the same time, it’s the story I’m burning and dying and all the while afraid and shying away to write.

See the difference? I can’t wait to get behind my desk to work on my book. But I’m procrastinating with my screenplays.

Here is thing: I have total ownership with the book. But screenplays? They are just blueprints for movies. Feature screenwriters get hired and fired all the time. What’s my worth to keep being a screenwriter? Shall I start generating more TV ideas?

I will ask these questions to my friend and now writing partner the next time I send her notes on our collaboration project. The most pressing one: To be, or not to be. How to sustain your dream when you’re trying to livin’ the dream?

 

Yours truly,
YZ

Current Status: Somber

I realize that this is the ‘shortcut’ I have been dodging the whole time. I thought it was too hard. But that’s life, the life I chose in 2015 to be a writer.

I had a candid convo with a Chinese director friend about my status quo and the next step.

It’s SOMBER. And I saw it coming.

Right now I’ve switched back to be a student, at UCLA Extension. Next year, if my current boss still likes it, he will enter me into another H-1B lottery. Plus the artist visa (O-1).

But working for a high-profile Hollywood producer doesn’t cut it. I need to show the immigration board just how bloody brilliant I am to deserve an artist visa. It has been what I have feared since last year. What if this, what if that?

At this point, my stress level isn’t as crazy as last year. How do I know? Because I’m typing. Because I’m not blocked. I know how cliche it sounds whenever people mention Writer’s Block. Seth Godin argues that there is no such thing as Writer’s Block. Plumber doesn’t get Plumber’s Block. So why should writers be any different? There is a lot of truth in it once I was unblocked. But for the better part of last year, I simply couldn’t sit down and type. I couldn’t bear the thought of my incapacity to become Stephen King from the get-go.

I know it takes time. But I don’t have time. I am on a 12-month journey to be brilliant. If I didn’t, I failed. So I chose to do nothing, like an ostrich in the sand, hoping the storm would abate on its own. A year later today, I’m in the center of the storm.

Because I didn’t want to know (that early on) that I just don’t have what it takes (whatever that means), I procrastinated and tried to deal with the Devil to get me into the lottery.

Of course, I didn’t get in. I later told my dad that maybe it was a good thing that I didn’t get in. Because if I did, I might stop fighting for myself, forget why I am here in the first place, and start being mediocre by feeling content reading and critiquing other people’s work.

All the time I thought if I did a good job for the producer who pulled me out of the film school, making me an offer I can’t refuse, I would start to be introduced to the folks in the industry. I would soon become the next big shot. Months into the job,  I felt I was diminished as a writer, because I was not writing. And the stuff I gave to the producers were exactly like a pin dropping into the well. I was frustrated. I wanted to prove myself. I would climb as long as they threw me a rope—with the other end tied to a tree trunk, of course. I told my screenwriting mentors that maybe I should start working on my own stuff during the office hours, because after begging for stuff to read and critique, the producers had no time for me and were always so preoccupied with their ongoing projects. “No, no, no, no, no.” They protested vehemently. I stifled myself, so willingly… “He knew people (meaning the government and what not). You would be fine.” I silenced that last thread of anxiety, trusting that the big shot producer would make my worries go away with a snap of his magical fingers.

A year later.
Now.

“You were sewing the wedding dress. But you ain’t the bride.” The director said.

But here is the thing—I don’t regret it. I don’t blame the others, or myself. I didn’t know better. But now I do. And the director is right.

“What you need to do now, is to enter tons of screenwriting competition awards and WIN. Period. Not just once. But a bunch of times so you have a long enough list of credits to showcase your artistic capacity.”

I realize that this is the ‘shortcut’ I have been dodging the whole time. I thought it was too hard. But that’s life, the life I chose in 2015 to be a writer.

 

Yours truly,
YZ