How do you spend the day

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

Leap of faith

I had insomnia last night. It’s been this way for a few weeks now. I would force myself to bed around or a little before midnight and tossed and turned till probably past one-thirty or like yesterday two-thirty. 

I plugged in my iPhone and kept listening to Michelle Obama’s new book Becoming. By now, Michelle had left her high-pay law firm job and became an assistant at the Chicago City Hall. Her salary got cut from 120K to 60K. 

Michelle described in detail how she realized her two Ivy League degrees (Princeton B.A. and Harvard Law J.D.) didn’t bring her happiness or fulfillment. And worst of all, she realized that she didn’t even want to be a lawyer to begin with.

She was faced with an age-old economy challenge: sunk cost.

  • Do I keep on staying to pay off my staggering student loan and maximizing the ROI of these expensive degrees and the years of hard-work?
  • Or do I stop the bleed right now and pivot even it means I may suffer financially and lose face in front of my friends and relatives?

 

I faced an eerily similar challenge four years ago. I was the youngest department head leading my own team at a prestigious ad agency. I remember walking past its building as a fresh college graduate fantasizing what it would be like to work there… Three year later, my dream came true fast and furious. I was earning good yuan, helping my family with the mortgage, helping myself with a wardrobe of designer clothes, never giving a thought about dining at fancy restaurants because now I had my own expense account… Most of all, I enjoy the look of my peers when I told them about the firm I worked for and the title I held there. In short, I understand why men buy Porsche. This job was my Porsche.

And yet, slowly, I felt hollow and shallow… I was dying inside.

The inciting event for Michelle Obama (then Michelle Robinson) to change was the sudden deaths of her father of 52 years old and her college roommate Suzanne of 26 years old; plus her ideal boyfriend Barack Obama’s constant questions about her being, her status quo. 

Though much less traumatic, my hinge moment was the call from my firm asking me to visit Sichuan two months after the earthquake. Apart from giving out relief goods, I saw kids using fly and maggot -infested ditches and holes the way we use toilet. My heart broke when I saw they couldn’t take naps lying down because their little beds were in crumbles.

I then flew back to my perfect cosmopolitan life in Shanghai with a mission. I launched a fundraise to buy safe table, chairs and mats for these kids. I was asking for 200,000 RMB, roughly 36,000 USD. The campaign took two months of my free time. But I did it.

I celebrated by calling my dad after the meeting. “Dad, guess what. You are wrong.”

“Tell me more.”

“The kids will have safe equipment within a month.”

He was proud and elated, but he simply replied, “Good.”

I then added, “Dad, I just realized that I can do anything if I put my mind to it.”

“Now don’t get cocky.”

But he knew what I meant.

When I quit my ad agency job to apply for film school, he and mum didn’t stand in the way. 

When I decided to come back to Shanghai to prepare for my artist visa, they welcomed me back with open arms. 

I don’t recall they ever say “We told you so” or “Have you considered something less risky?”

My parents saw something in me when I pulled off my first stunt. That is, getting hired by Wimbledon Tennis and finding a friend of a friend who let me stay at their place in Southfields, London for free, and snagged an interview by Shanghai Sports Channel when I was merely an exchange student to Liverpool John Moores University as a junior in college.

You see, everyone has moments of truth and dare. But more often than not, it became moments of shame and chicken-out. But honestly, how would you know if you never give yourself a chance?

Now, here is another new realization: four years ago after I submitted my application to UCLA Film School, I then asked myself just how realistic and practical this pivot was.

I became so scared that I developed stomach cramps. My fear grew even more severe when I landed LA. Facing a group of already-professional writers, I cringed at my writing, at my stories, at myself. I turned into my own enemy. It was a single-looping tune of “You will never ever belong. Period.”

And yet, right now, less than two months after I got back in Shanghai, I’m already stacking my writer portfolio. If I count the hatched and soon-to-be hatched eggs in my basket, I have four short film credits, two feature credits, several honors as visiting professor and lecture. And counting. 

I add “And counting” because I know Snowball Effect conceptually and practically. Once your stuff is out there, you will get more momentum. More momentum means more opportunity.  Sure, I’ve had and still have people doubt my worth and my value. But unlike my Old Self, I now focus on the lovely people who gave me their leap of faith when I was at the point of ‘0 to 1.’

And since I had let my ambition cloud my judgement and common sense before, I know that this time, I need to listen to my heart to produce good work, which will turn into good karma. 

And because of the lovely people whom I handpick to surround and buttress me, I can keep having my faith, for the next big leap… 

Even when I fall, I know they will catch me. 

 

Yours truly,
YZ

Peacemaker

If you ask me to use movie titles to describle my folks, my dad would be Fast and Furious. My mum would be Hot Fuzz.

When Mr. Fast and Furious meets Mz. Hot Fuzz… I tell ya, it’s The End of the Fxxking World minus the cuddling bits.

When dad was away today, I tried to talk to mum about her unfair opinion of dad. Before I could launch myself, my mum cut me off.

“I knew you love your dad more than me.  Oh well, all those years of love for nothing. I’ll be gone before you know it.”

“But ma, let’s not get ahead of ourselves too soon.”

“How could I not?” She is sizzling.

“Maybe try to focus on yourself when we are discussing your end of the bargain?”

“You dad–”

“You sounds exactly like Trump. Every time people try to point out something at him, he would start and finish with either Clinton or Obama, instead of trying to fix or focus on the big picture.”

“But your dad has problems.” She won’t listen or give up.

“Look, I will talk to him. But arguing with him about his faults will never get you what you want. Agreed?”

She nods.

“Do we want peace or not?”

“Okay, now finish your porridge.”

By the end of our breakfast, mum started to smile. She seemed happy. I guess Hot Fuzz just feels that she needs to be heard or she’ll get real fuzzy.

Now all I need to do, is to catch dad before he gets too fast too furious to get his sequal cooked.

 

Yours truly,
YZ

RBYZ: Every day is a gift (#012)

Your little sister died before you could celebrate her second birthday. Your innocent father was indicted on criminal charges for nine years. And you were a teenager busy figuring out who you are…

Tune in and find out about this screenwriter’s origin story before her Hollywood adventure, which is coming up next week.

Thank you for listening and happy Thanksgiving!

What you’ll hear:

  • When her little sister passed away, what did the ten-year-old her feel? How did she remember her parents cope with the tragedy?
  • During the nine-year FDA indictment, what did she learn, from the judicial system to press credibilty?
  • How did she deal with dyslexia as a kid?
  • Even though she was natural with numbers, why was attracted to theatre when she didn’t want to be noticed?

The world is curved, you won’t know what’s ahead of you until you arrive.

The thing about depression is that, it’s about an ordinary person with an extraordinary situation.

Anyone can have a wedding, but marriage is a whole other thing.

You go back and finish your study.

Links from the episode:

Listen and subscribe to Rock Bottom with YZ:
A weekly podcast for and about anyone and everyone who has spiraled downward and doesn’t know which end is up.

Listen to Rock Bottom with YZ on RadioPublic

Yours truly,
YZ

PS. Click here to see ways to help #RBYZ to grow.

Lottery of birth

It usually means you were born into the Kadashians, the Gates, the Ellisons, the Bransons.

I realized that I won that lottery of birth too.

My parents let me pursue creative writing when neither of them is in this trade while both understand what a long shot this is.

“I just want you to keep a healty state of mind while you are at it. Don’t compare yourself to others, like why someone else got the visa but you didn’t; or someone else is making more money.  Just do your thing if that brings you joy.”

My dad revealed to me this morning while we were sipping coffee. I nodded.

Later in the day, he asked: “When are you going to sort out your tourist visa?”

“Maybe soon. I don’t know yet.”

“Get it done so you can fly back to LA whenever you want to. Shanghai winter is too brutal. Spend the winter there and write.”

“What about the Chinese New Year gatherings?”

“I already told your grandpa that you would be travelling.”

“Really?”

“Don’t worry about it. Go.” My mum chimed in.

You can’t choose your parents, but if you have parents who are willing to let go and trust your choice even though it sounds crazy? Isn’t it the definition of jackpot?

I confess that I still want to make a lot of money. Because I want to show them the world as I see it.

 

Yours truly,
YZ

PS. I knocked out the second draft of the short film and the assignment for a company. I feel pretty good. Tomorrow, I will start the feature rewrite after I ship this weeks’ podcast.

 

 

Revelations

My dear friend Barbara taught me the term “extreme self-care” recently.

I was going to her Farewell Party. But I got sick three days before the scheduled date. Then we tried to reschedule for a few times until it was too close to her departure of November 4, which is tomorrow…

I could have dropped by her place as I stopped my eight-day IV treatment on Thursday. But she suggested that I listened to my body.

She was right. I was still weak. Plus, I was having a huge reaction to the medication that I was drowsy and depressed.

“In times like this, we need to exercise extreme self-care.”

That means that Oct 17 was the last time I saw her before her final departure…

I wish I didn’t stay up late every night for the last month I was in LA. I wish I rested more when I was on the plane. I wish I didn’t get up at 1:30 the first night I was back…  But I was too distraught to feel or act otherwise.

How many times do we ignore the signals from our body before we get struck down hard? My latest pneumonia episode should be a cautionary tale.

Like the world’s worst coach, we demand our body to go the extra mile for us when it’s at the verge of collapse.

“Where there is a will, there is a way” has been my mantra as long as I can remember before my health gets in the way…

Is it worth it? Is it faster to dash and get sick in the middle, or go steady and rest?

One of my biggest regrets is that I didn’t fully enjoy LA until it was time for me to leave. Am I going to do the same for Shanghai when I leave yet again later?

I told dad this evening when we strolled in the neighborhood park that I wanted to exercise with him every dawn as I recover. I shared with him my fears, my anxieties – just like the way we talked via WeChat when I was in LA.

I vowed that I would be more patient with mum regardless of her hoarding pet peeve or her poor sense of fashion…

Honestly, how many more moments do we get to spend with our parents 24/7 as we become adults?

Enjoy while you can.

 

Yours truly,
YZ

Dear parents

Since I moved back to China, I’ve moved into my parents’ apartment, which for the record, I played a big role in paying off our mortgage before I left for LA three years ago.

Excuse my ego, it finds it crucial to point this out. But no matter how much I want to spin this, I’m living with my parents as a fully functioning adult.

It is also crucial to point out that in the Chinese culture, especially in big cities like Shanghai and Beijing that ‘kids’ don’t move out until they get married due to a) strong family tradition; b) devoted parents who are terrible at calculating their ROIs; c) the wacky housing market and unpredictable species called landlords.

Since I’ve had my fair share of landlord sagas (from negotiation to small claims court), I find it almost therapeutic to not to worry about rent and lease and among other things.

And yet, mum and dad can sometimes love me a little too much to my likings. Mostly, my mum…

“Go to bed. It’s almost 10.”

“Finish your rice. We ain’t rich.”

“Why are you throwing away this bag when it’s in perfect condition? Are you out of your mind?

“Why don’t you take a shower now? So you don’t wipe your greasy hair onto my floral pillowcase?”

“Why isn’t my phone working? I’ve done absolutely nothing.”

In some portions of my dreams back when I was in LA, I begged hearing those lines from my parents. “If only I could be there with you in person. I will never get bored.” I remembered crying myself to sleep on that Chinese New Year’s Eve.

Well, as it turns out, be careful what you wish for.

 

Yours truly,
YZ