Mirror, mirror

I was not irked. I was disgusted. Still, I steeled myself to nod and smile in her direction. She mirrored my movement. No more. No less. 

She wriggled towards me and dared to sit her ass down on my right as I leafed through the document, feigning my busyness, showcasing my importance being on the filmmaking competition’s final jury panel, while she was just there for make-believe photoshoots which would be used when she presents her case later for the US immigration board.

“Get the fuck out, you shameless opportunist” A voice in my head screamed at her. The truth is, since I got myself out of the 9-to-5 system, I also opted out on bullshitting and faking. I got so rusty that I could hear the squeak in between my facial muscles. Fortunately, I was ushered to a different room since I had to share my side of air with her for some 300 seconds.

But wait, why do I detest this woman in the first place? What has she done to deserve my berating?

The first time I met her, I was dragged home from my boyfriend’s just because the woman got to LA earlier than expected and her Airbnb got canceled. 

Our mutual friend gave me her keys before she went on vacation, “She’ll contact you one or two days before she’s in town.” Instead, I got a two-hour notice at best and a total of 20+ missed calls and numerous texts. 

“Shit, I had to go back.”
“What’s the matter?” My boyfriend asked. 
“This girl and her family would have nowhere to sleep if I don’t give her the keys tonight.”

“I’m here.” Finally, I got her text. It was 12:15 am. I struggled to stay awake for someone who’s not my boyfriend, whom I hadn’t even met yet. Honoring my word to my friend, I shivered downstairs in my baseball cap (LA summer evening can be brutally cold) and handed the woman a ring of keys. 

“Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.” She battered her lashes and thanked me in her husky voice from the long drive. Her Chinese relatives crouched in the back, all wide awake. None uttered a word of thank you in Mandarin back to me. 

Since then, the woman and I met at couple of group functions. I learned that she loves bar-hopping, which I had zero interest, or passion, or means, or time to do since I arrived in LA. Now with only weeks left, I wouldn’t start something I never started here in the first place, for the wrong reason, with a dubious person whom I still barely know…

From our mutual friend, I learned that the woman has a wealthy father who spoils his daughter with unlimited monthly allowance. Like, when his daughter crashed a brand new BMW, he rewarded her with an Audi… 

Meanwhile, I cleaned, ditched, wrapped, and packed things up, hugged and said goodbyes to dear friends I grew close to in the last three years.  Worst of all, I had to cut my heart open, bleeding it dry as I left my love behind when I left my LA life behind, just because I had no more left to persist without a legit visa. I ran out of time; I ran out of faith; I ran out of means. I had no other options but to come back home, or the Place of Birth as identified on my passport.

But I know I would go back to LA, again, by crawling, digging, diving, flying, whatever. I just don’t know when I’d be back. One thing I do know is, the day I left LA, I felt like I was attending my own funeral. My love was the only one present. I’d never seen him cry. Now, tears were brimming in his deep eyes. With TSA as our priest, we exchanged no rings or vows. But I would say yes to anything just so he’d ask. I grew up in a culture where crying was shameful, but loving him helped me unlearn that doctrine. Tears washed down on my cheeks. I was a total mess. I wore no makeup or disguise. I refused to and I didn’t give a fuck… My savage heartbeats reminded me that time was running out. Our lips touched for one last time. He nudged me away. Seconds later, the elevator lifted my soulless body up and away from him, the love of my life.

That day, I died.

Later I would I console my patched-up shell that now I know how to describe a soldier leaving his newly-wed behind for war. But if I could just stay in his embrace, I’d rather I keep typing shallow words just so I could un-wrinkle the lines in my weary heart.

But that woman, who’d spent all her life partying, could renew her visa indefinitely until probably she gets tired of the U.S. or she gets married to some American boy. Or her daddy buys her a green card…

Her mere existence enraged me. That I had to end with a screeching halt and she was handed a hall pass from birth… How unfair! The voice bellowed through the bounds of my skull. When I started teaching at her alma mater in Shanghai, a student who’s only a couple of years her junior commented that the woman is well-disliked by peers but well-liked by professors. So she’s a suck-up. A sneer creeped up at the corner of my lips. Probably she picked that up from her filthy rich daddy.

To prove my vicious self wrong, I texted the woman weeks ago asking when she would be in Shanghai. She replied ever so slowly, ever so apathetically, so unlike the cheeky gurl she advertised on social and only fuckable to the bunch she wants to please. 

I had a pair of sunglasses that I left in LA. I asked her for a favor. I asked her for her address and her date of departure. But she simply ignored my texts. It got me. I blacklisted her for good. 

It was hard enough for me not to roll my eyes out when I saw her coming towards me and sat down beside me. It was harder to act friendly. It was impossible to make chitchat. Hell no. I couldn’t. I’m not big enough. And I don’t care if her presence proved that I’m not big enough. I refused to engage. 

But Silly – it’s not about my sunglasses. It’s not about her. It’s not about anybody else. 

It’s about me, my love, my loss, my rage, my issues.

The presence of that woman is a sour reminder of my moment of impotence, my lack of fund, my naive dream…

But most of all, my love whom I had to let go because he has since moved on and asked me to grow where I’m planted. That was three four months ago. So do you get now why I couldn’t blog for two three months without getting any more personal?

Yours truly,
YZ


Thick skin

I don’t understand why someone would keep the same hairstyle for so long.

Well, I like my short hair.

But don’t you find it boring? Don’t you think this manly haircut is partially why you are still single.

I let it slide.

I don’t think you’re that flexible.

What do you mean?

You almost always play by the book that you forget that what you get but focus on how you get it.

Could you be more specific?

Well, that’s how people say about you.

How can I come up with another rebuttal when I’m against the ‘people’ no matter if it’s two or three people?

 

I grit my teeth to sit through the preaching of this well-meaning ‘mentor’ who seems to always have tons of issues with my traits and my core values. I was too tired and bored to get into an argument with her.

She is right about this one: I’m not able to get the O-1 visa within my three-year sojourn in LA.

I wasn’t aware how painful it is to come to terms with me coming back home in order to go back soon enough after granted the O-1 visa.

But I have to swallow my pride in a mouthful, tuck away my ego, and refrain from barking at the people who revel in pinching and pissing on my open wound.

I need extra layers of thick skin to sustain me through the bone-cold Shanghai winter and as an unknown artist who is building a name for herself and for the immigration board.

Bring it on.

 

Yours truly,
YZ

 

Take a deep breath

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

Current Status: Somber

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

If I knew it then…

Would I still go down this road?

Sometimes this question would pop into my head during my darkest hours, alone facing the ‘consequence’ of chasing a dream.

Was it a pipe dream? For someone like me, to make it into Hollywood as a screenwriter whose first language isn’t English? Whose parents aren’t in the trade not here or back home? Who has to constantly watch how much she spends, including a visit to the Starbucks.

“It can be demoralizing.” A writer shared his underground years with us in an auditorium. I didn’t know why he used “demoralize” then. Now I know, on a visceral level.

I can also admit that I was driven by fear when I was thinking about that question. I wasn’t writing. I was the murderer on death row, waiting to be executed. And I also happened to be the person who would pull the trigger.

Because of the clause in my student visa, I am off the company’s payroll again after my OPT (Optional Practical Training) ends in June. Certainly after the work visa (H-1B) rejection letter from USCIS (United States Citizenship and Immigration Services) in July, I had to switch back to student visa in order to avoid deportation. That means another 13 grand plus LA-standard living expense.

I had pictured the ‘worst case scenario.’ Now I’m livin’ it.

I have to write now more than ever. Because I need a list of credits and wins to apply for artist visa (O-1) next year.

I know I have to face my worst fear head-on. I have nowhere else to run, or hide. I’m stripped naked, left with a dull sword to slay the dragon.

Would I get out of here alive? I don’t know. Nobody knows.

All I know is this: I will never stop writing.

And this: If I knew it then, I would still do it. I’m happier now. Because I see a forward motion.

 

Yours truly,
YZ

Yours truly YZ

I was born in Shanghai, China in the late 80s with a B.A. in English. I didn’t graduate from one of those Chinese Ivy League schools. I had a chip on my shoulder, naturally. I had so much to prove. I didn’t know exactly how. I accepted a job offer to work at a joint venture firm as general manager’s assistant. The salary was competitive. I didn’t try to look somewhere else. There is a job right in front you, you take it. For a working-class kid, that was a no-brainer.

I was cutting corners. I knew I should have tried some and failed more. I didn’t like to be rejected. But who does? I reasoned with myself that it was time to collect my own paychecks and become a real adult. My dad is a driver. My mum is a homemaker-against-her-will. She was one of the numerous victims in the 1990s mass layoffs and was diagnosed with Hepatitis-B shortly after. At merely some forty years old, my mother was on expensive medication for life. It took me another decade to recognize my ever-so optimistic mother was deep in depression. To make matters worse, she had a rebellious young girl who was going through puberty.

Now, a decade later, I felt this tremendous responsibility to my family. I didn’t want to be a burden. I wanted to be an asset. I wanted them to be proud of me, their only child. I didn’t look within when I took my first job. I looked for approval from the outside – how people regarded my job, my rank, my salary. I didn’t know what to do about my life, my talent then. I just wanted to feel stable and secure for a while.

Fast forward to three years later. I completed three job hops, each with a bigger title and a larger package. I spearheaded a successful pro bono fundraising for some 1,000 kindergartners in quake-stricken Sichuan. On top of that, I was contributing articles for a bilingual magazine on the side. I was restless. I had to have a purpose. Throughout this chaotic period, I found my passion in storytelling. I had always loved films. I had always wanted to go to the US, but I detested the cliché and overpriced MBA programs.

What about screenwriting? A voice whispered in my ears.

Bingo.

In four years since my graduation from college, my salary had quadrupled. I was Head of Social Media at a prestigious ad agency. I was earning a salary that my older colleagues would kill for. But deep down, I felt hollow and shallow. I couldn’t bear the look of myself. Why can’t I just enjoy the ‘sweet smell of success?’ I couldn’t. I took the job to share the burden of my parents’ mortgage on the apartment we just purchased. But helping my folks still couldn’t shut the voice inside my head.

I was perplexed and miserable. I took two weeks off during the Chinese New Year and went to the US for the first time. I brought back memorabilia like a mini Statue of Liberty.

On my first day back at work, a coup d’etat against my department was underway. A few months ago, my supervisor, a Caucasian woman originally from Seattle, wanted to restructure my team. She asked me to deliver the news to my junior executives that she wanted to move them to another team. “Don’t ask them for opinions. Just go deliver the news.”

Of course, I wouldn’t let her have it. I asked the girls if they wanted to move to the other team. They said no. I stood up for them. The supervisor threw a tantrum. I thought she came from a free country that put people first. Or she realized early on that America wasn’t for her.

Now, two months later, my supervisor was coming back with more amo. She wanted total annihilation for Ground Zero. The Seattleite brought me along with the ass-kisser Sr. HR into the grand conference room that normally hosted 50 people, which was a case in point on how international ad agencies use resources. Clients, beware. Unless you have deep pockets.

The three of us in this posh office. Them from across the table. It was the climax, the show-down, the finale. She was the hero. I was the villain.

She started her carefully rehearsed speech, “The president has decided to regroup—”

“Sure. But before you say anything further, I want to quit.”

“Where are you going?” The HR suddenly straightened her back.

“Don’t worry. I’m apply for grad school.”

“MBA, yes? I can write you a recommendation.” The Seattleite was suddenly as cute as a Barbie Doll.

“That’s very kind. But I’m applying for film school.”

I looked over my shoulders to check if there were cameras. No, it was for real. I made it a reality.

Fast forward a year later, I got accepted into the film school that I thought I had no chance. But the euphoria was soon replaced by despair. I realized just how poorly I wrote, how huge the gap between my writing and my cohorts. I tried to ask them for coffee. But the best writers never responded, as if I were invisible. The chip on my shoulder was growing at a ferocious speed. I couldn’t and didn’t let it stop.

A year into the program, I got the feedback from the latest school-wide Screenwriter’s Showcase. I got 0 out of 10 from one judge, who said verbatim, “There is not one single aspect of this screenplay that is worthy of the UCLA reputation.” The judge went on listing the aspects he referred to as if the message needed more clarification: dialogues, plot, grammar…

I was devastated. For the first time as a writer, I understood how a paper cut could feel worse than that of a machete. I had no choice but went to Trader Joe’s for some comfort food. There I bumped into my future screenwriting mentor JS. He was lining behind me. We started chatting. I told JS I was a wannabe screenwriter. He gave me a look into my soul. A pause. “I’m a screenwriter myself. Nice to meet you.”

JS said, “Everyone reads the same script differently. The person who gave you this note probably was jealous. Maybe he wanted and failed to get into UCLA Film School. Or maybe he just had a bad day. Welcome to Hollywood.”

The two of us, holding our 10 lbs grocery bags, chatted for another half an hour until his wife called. “What you need to do now, is go back and start your script. Maybe you’ve already started. If you stop writing because of that note, because of that person. Then he won. Do what you want your heroine to do when she hits ‘Rock Bottom.'”

I printed out the comment and stapled it on the wall, a shrine for rejection letters. I swore to myself that I would keep writin’ and dreamin’. Same event the following year, I won.

 

Yours truly,
YZ