Start again

While I’m waiting for a few days before getting back to my other project‘s rewrite, I’ve been working on another new story. That’s the idea I’ve been having for over a year now. 

After a handful of dropped projects, I now have more free time on my own hands apart from the teaching and two other collaboration projects (one short, one paper).  I dug out my own unfinished, never-begun projects, because I’m officially running out of excuses… And I can still feel the itch.  That’s crucial for me to start anything.

Immediately I feel how damn hard it is to begin something from scratch. In my case, to parse out what I meant in those notes that I typed out a year ago and make some senses out of it. 

It’s going to be challenging, because I haven’t done any TV Comedy before. But in the end, it’s all just storytelling. If I give it enough time and care, I think I can see to its blossom. 

Just take a deep breath. Word by word. Drip by drip.

 

Yours truly,
YZ

First day as adjunct

I got up at 4:50 this morning to catch the school bus in DTSH. I got there around 6:15. The shuttle was supposed to drive out by 6:50. I’ve got plenty of time. Wrong. It took me exactly 25 mins to find out exactly where the shuttle should be. One bus after another, I tried to locate the right one by asking the drivers. None of them were what I was looking for. I tried to call the driver, who can’t pick up, of course… By 6:46, I gave up. I panicked. I imagined I got fired even before I got on-site. I couldn’t reach anybody else from the college. It’s too damn early otherwise.  But lo and behold, exactly one minute later, my shuttle arrived…

By the time the school bus arrives at the building I teach. My phone reads 8:10.  I checked with one student and she pointed me the one. I’ve got exactly five minutes to dash up three floors in my medium block heels. And I did it in two. But it was the North Side. My class was on the South Side… Time was lenient on me. I got into the other side. And was still one minute before the class started. But I gotta pee. A class of students already packed the room… 

I began to work my way in… Some helper sent in the adapter for my MacBook. Then the sound didn’t work… I called IT… Then he had to pull out the desks on the first row… Then I realized that I ran out of water but I was too thirsty…  Then I realized that my body started to tremble because I decided to dress for the occasion instead of the weather. I assumed that the AC would be hot enough for my kind of LA winter wear… But no, the AC was not on and the class faces north. The sun doesn’t get a chance to sneak in…  Because of the constant chaos, I didn’t give the class any breaks. By the time the class was over, my hands were stone cold.  As for the evening class, I ran into a similar but lesser technical difficulty. But since I got my shares earlier, I developed a better coping mechanism already. These are hardly complaints, because I can’t remember being upset. I accepted the fact and tried to resolve the issue… (Maybe the meditation is working its magic dissolving my Wrath tendency.)

So what about the classes? What are the college freshmen like nowadays? We are more than a decade apart! That’s wild to think about. 

The first class: meh. The students took the class because they were told to and they have to. And they are from other departments. This is just an elective. A student even texted me that he stayed in another classroom for three hours and just realized that it was the wrong classroom. I tried to give him the benefit of the doubt earlier but I didn’t give him a easy pass earlier. But now come to think of it, the guy’s too much of a smartass in this day and age with smartphones.  And here’s the thing, even though 80% of the class wasn’t listening. They were playing with their phones during the whole time. I still had a good time with those 20%. I focus on them. I don’t waste my time on the 80%. Like a standup comic stepping into a room full of drunkards, I’m there to entertain the few sober patrons and the bartenders. And it’s a great exercise for my ego too. 

The second class: yeah! The students are there to learn because it’s part of their majors (even though China doesn’t have Screenwriting MFA so to speak). I’m getting used to the silent treatment by the Chinese students. But when asked, they engage. And now, my students (wow, how important-sounding it feels…) are starting to speak up. Bit by bit. Step by step. Apart from the screenwriting basics I shared, two things I felt struck a cord with them as I saw they nod almost in unison. a) Don’t do your homework for me. It’s for you. It’s for the benefit of your future. b) Write less. Not more. Chinese teachers are famous to assign homework that begin with “no less than xxx words.” — so that they have no more words to hide behind. 

I could have ended the class earlier but I didn’t. I remember Jiro, the sushi master’s example. So I didn’t cut my own slacks. I’ve prepared this much and I would go the distance. I asked my students not to cut corners. So I would set my own example. 

We finished right on time at 9 PM. The student applauded enthusiastically for my class. I guess I blushed a little. A sense of recognition I didn’t see it coming.  They shared and compared notes in the WeChat group voluntarily.  I confess that I underestimated these young folks enthusiasm for screenwriting. 

I got home way past 11 PM. And I still feel buoyant. I didn’t know that teaching can be therapeutic… 

 

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

Something’s gotta give

Feels all of a sudden like a privilege

I just submitted a short script to another student director…

Within a month, I worked on four short scripts (10 – 12 pages per piece), did the first pass on a feature rewrite (110 pages), gave two lectures (2 hours each), and landed my first Chinese animation feature project. Plus, I will work on a dissertation with my screenwriting professor friend. Next March, I will do a screenwriting class at SIVA with the freshmen.

And yet, I haven’t shipped a single podcast in two weeks now. When the third student director came to me with his project, I knew I can’t get everything done on time.

I was losing sleep over my podcast project. Am I dropping the ball now? Where can I find more time to do this?

I don’t have an answer yet. The beginning of anything is hard. You are underpaid, overworked, and sleep-deprived. If you stop right here, you get devalued by being stationary. Moving is your only option.

Right now, to be able to juggle many balls, it feels all of a sudden like a privilege comparing to my last 9-to-6 job. Something’s gotta give means I have more than a thing on my plate. Yes, sure, I give a thing or two if my plate is full. Keep my mind from wandering…

 

Yours truly,
YZ

What shall I major

“If I want to go abroad to get a master’s degree?”

A girl from the class I lectured today asked.

I know that question. I’ve asked that question when I was her age, when I started working, and when I felt my soul was being ripped apart by the work I did.

“Most of us aren’t Steve Jobs, aren’t Bill Gates, we don’t know how to answer questions like this from the get go.” I said, “It’s more a process. I remember I read Man’s Search for Meaning, The Alchemist, when I was your age. I read memoirs, biographies ferociously because I thought I could find some pattern, some shortcut there from the lives already lived and proved. But in the end, you can’t calculate your 100th step when you barely have your step. Sure you will make mistakes, but that’s part life, part living, part growing. Media advocates overnight success, but we both know that it takes years to be an overnight sensation. And even if you thought that you found what you wanted to do for the rest of your life, sometimes you still get lost, get confused, get frustrated, wondering whether it was the right path that you took given the growing sunk cost…”

Some students drifted away already. Only a handful were still with me. I said that I didn’t know what to do with my expensive education for a while, whether I should ditch it and start something else… But I’m glad I didn’t quit. It’s only the dip.

Later I told my professor friend who invited me to her college that the students might be able to understand what we discussed today years later, or maybe not. But maybe it may benefit them. There is a huge chasm between knowledge and practice.

Just like when I disappeared for the last two days from my daily blog to finish the third short film in time, I realized that no matter how much I wanted to impress the director, I had to give him something to begin our polishing process.

And by now, I have a fourth short film to finish by end of tomorrow which I haven’t started yet, because I was out all day today in Songjiang, because I didn’t arrive home until 11 pm, and because the fourth director and I didn’t confirm until this morning.

Right after the fourth short film, I will immediately start working on the animation feature as well as preparing the notes for another feature rewrite which I already did the first pass.

“It takes 10,000 hours to become a master in anything.” I quoted Malcolm Gladwell as I kept on going with my answer. I told them how lucky they are to choose this path at this age. If they persist, by the time they are my age, they’d experts.

I used to get frustrated when I read Wiki entry of a famous person whose work I admired and who started early.  Now, after the emotional move back to Shanghai, I’ve learned that everyone has her own time.

Like when Mulan’s dad pointed to his daughter, ‘The flower that blooms in adversity is the most rare and beautiful of all.

I would like to think that I’m one of those late bloomers.

 

Yours truly,
YZ

RBYZ: Attention, Millennials (#011)

Listen before your next interview

Here comes the second part of my conversation with serial entrepreneur and eternal optimist Christopher Li.

He shares observation and insight dealing with teenagers and young adults.  As CEO, what talents does he value the most in building his startup? What are the pitfalls us millennials can avoid in job interviews?

What you’ll hear:

  • The importance of EQ if you are to take corporate route, but relatively less so if you want to be your own boss;
  • How to balance your strength and your weakness;
  • What did he learn most from working at the management consulting firm?
  • What makes or breaks a ‘Professional?’
  • What’s his take on grit? Is it nature or nurture?
  • What does he think of the Millennial generation?
  • What did he see first-hand interacting with teenagers from China?
  • How did he convince people to join his startup? What’s his vision?
  • what kind of talents that Chris think would fit into his current startup?
  • What’s the most important aspect in building the startup?

There is no substitute for work.

Sometimes it takes a long time to get things done right. 

I don’t put out things with the quality that I don’t believe in.

You either move up, or you move out.

If we build it right, people would come.

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.

PPS. Click here for the first part of my convo with Christopher.

Keep grinding

We’re better off when our plates are full so our minds don’t wander.

I’ve been grinding my teeth a lot lately. I know it because I have trouble moving my jaw without hearing it pop.

Our body usually gives us the red flag before things go awry. I discovered I had TMJ (Temporomandibular joint) pain while I was at UCLA. It wasn’t serious enough to put me into surgery but annoy enough to strip the fun off food. But I like chewing gum and eating in general. I binge and stress eat.

I was taking a producing class at the film school, the instructor invited a friend of his and called him a “grinder.” [No, not Grindr. See dictionary definition here.] “I’ve met and worked with a lot of people in Hollywood. Grinders outlast the rest and get things done. It’s how you succeed in the show biz.” The wise instructor ended on this note.

When I heard this remark, I thought I was a grinder. Not only I grind my teeth, but I would always  follow though on projects and get things done whatever it takes. For a while after I graduated from UCLA, I thought if I could do one thing well, I can find an opening and pivot. Well, the rest is history. I ended up back where I come from, my hometown. It was a hard pill to swallow but necessary for me to see the big picture.

Since I got back recovering from pneumonia, I’ve been doing podcasting, working on short films, rewriting two feature scripts, preparing lectures for the coming weekend and next Tuesday… soon to start a book collaboration, and maybe two other feature assignments. Knock on the wood. And then of course, I will finish my novel before it’s 2019!

That’s a long way of saying we’re better off when our plates are full so our minds don’t wander. But don’t grind on things you don’t enjoy or benefit from, say rocks. You don’t need a dentist to tell you it’s not good for your teeth.

 

Yours truly,
YZ