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.

Cry me a river

For now, let me just lie down on my back and cry some more. 

Three years ago, I told myself I would not look back and try to make it—

  • In Hollywood;
  • As a legit screenwriter;
  • Livin’ an American dream.

Then 2016 happened… To look beyond my personal low after I discovered my landlady’s scamming scheme—

  • Obama left.
  • Hilary lost.
  • Trump became the POTUS.
  • My former mentor, whom I’ve estranged since, once told me Trump doesn’t look crazy at all in person. That wise man, out of anybody, was considering taking a job on the Hill should the opportunity presented itself.

I witnessed the student potests on the UCLA campus. I bantered with a policeofficer and I shrugged off.

I was just an outsider. At least I thought I was. It was none of my business, just the way I was taught growing up how to react to the P word. [Translation: Politics.]

I didn’t know the impact of Trump’s shitshow to me, a total bystander, until I did.

What to do apart from screaming WTF?

I started to follow news commentators like Rachel Maddow. I realized that nobody is in anything alone. I would know how to talk about the P word more intensively next time after I’m back. And I’ll be back.

For now, let me just lie down on my back and cry some more.

 

Yours truly,
YZ

PS. Latest #RBYZ episode out now. I’m my own guest. This time, I talk about how I feel about leaving LA head-on.

WARNING: It’s pretty raw.

RBYZ: I have a voice (#003)

I want to give the world something I can be proud of.

Your host YZ, a stutterer-turned-storyteller, talks about writing, podcasting, her own Rock Bottoms, and her latest situation.

My guest today is myself.

Truth be told, I’ve been wanting someone to interview me for sometime now. I know I’m good. Since I’m not quite there yet, those interview invitations have taken a tad longer than I thought to hit my inbox. 

So fuck it. I had my friend from UCLA interview me after we packed three boxes of books for Goodwill.

What you’ll hear:

  • What was the first few weeks/months like after she landed in LA?
  • How difficult was it for her, a foreigner who doesn’t use English as her first language to survive one of the toughest screenwriting MFA program in the world?
  • Where does the podcast idea come from?
  • What does Rock Bottom mean to her?
  • What does it take to be a writer, a podcaster?
  • What skills can she apply to writing from podcasting?
  • How did she conquer discomfort in the early stages of her writing and podcasting?
  • How to unlearn the stuff we pick up from our culture?
  • How does she deal with rejection these days?
  • How did she learn English?
  • How did she cure her stammering?
  • What’s the goal for the podcast a year from now?

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.

Opt out

But I’ll be back, in my own way, on my own terms.

Definition: to choose not to participate in or carry on with something.

But when foreign students in the US talk about opt (out), they mean something else.

According to USCISC (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services):
OPT (Optional Practical Training) is temporary employment that is directly related to an F-1 student’s major area of study.
[Translation: banking or waitressing is off limits if, say, you major in journalism.]

  • Eligible students can apply to receive up to 12 months of OPT employment authorization before completing their academic studies (pre-completion) and/or after completing their academic studies (post-completion).
    [Translation: 12 months, 365 days, is all you have.]
  • All periods of pre-completion OPT will be deducted from the available period of post-completion OPT.
    [Translation: What to do next? a) go back to where you come from; b) get someone to sponsor your work visa; c) become a genius/master/guru in whatever you do in 12 months.]
  • If you have earned a degree in certain science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields, you may apply for a 24-month extension of your post-completion OPT employment authorization.
    [Translation: non-STEM art folks, you are not needed in the U.S.  Switch major before it’s too late.]
  • If you transfer to another school or begin studies at another educational level (for example, you completed a bachelor’s degree and are starting a master’s program), your authorization to engage in OPT employment will automatically terminate. SEVP will inform USCIS of the termination date, and USCIS will terminate your EAD accordingly.
    [Translation: there is no such species as a foreign student who works full-time at the same time to pay off her tuition. Work or study, pick one.  Save sufficient dinero, or be born Crazy Rich/Smart.]

 

With that in mind, let’s eavesdrop into a conversation:

“I just realized I can’t get another OPT just by doing UCLA Extension.” My friend from Egypt texted me. “Thought you should know too.”

“I just booked my one-way ticket back to China yesterday.”

“I think I may need to do the same thing!”

My friend and I will meet this Thursday for our opt-out gathering.

“The POTUS may stay for four more years because the people who would vote for him vote for the Party. It’s where their interest lies.” A friend quoted her political science professor when we dined at my writer friend’s for her farewell dinner yesterday.  I sure don’t need that to be the last straw to break my back.

I may have to opt out this time
but I won’t check out
I’ll close the door on my way out.

But I’ll be back, in my own way, on my own terms.

 

Yours truly,
YZ

Next time

I’d be honored to work with you again some day.

I can’t remember the last time I snapped any photo of LA.

Maybe I had grown complacent…

Maybe I had gotten used to the expat experience…

Truth is, I just wanted to fit in, so desperately, that I never called myself one.

Now deadlocked with my inescapable fate, I had to reacquaint myself with this term I so vehemently rejected…

We had a beautiful dusk here yesterday. I snapped a photo with my eyes and stored it my memory drive.

I was strolling with my dear friend, who helped me move when I first got here, whom would be the first featured guest on my podcast, premiering next Tuesday, August 28.

 

I would be angry.

Was the first thing he said when he came up to my studio apartment.

“Why?”

“That you can’t stay here when you clearly wanted to.”

“Trust me, I was pretty frustrated last year. I couldn’t write.”

We talked about anything and everything. I asked him to record an answer for me, which has become the #RBYZ Trademarked question.

Then we talked some more as we walked the neighborhood.

He didn’t need to probe or ask how I was holding up.

I’ve become quite an expert in opening up. I’m rockin’ this podcast about those would-be shameful hours, and blogging makes me shame-free, almost.

“I remember thinking about taking a pill or something so I didn’t have to deal with the mess the next day. I’m just so freaking exhausted.”

He simply listened.

And that’s all I need.

I thought I was a warrior, but it dawned on me that I was picking the wrong battles for the last three years straight:

  • Moving four times within the first months I landed in LAX;
  • Filing a lawsuit against my former landlady, the quintessence of a cunt;
  • Vexed by my former ungrateful roommates who did nothing to contribute other than to complain. When I got our money back, I couldn’t recall a proper ‘thank you’ from the spoiled little brats;
  • Begging for just a five-minute meeting with my billionaire former boss when I didn’t get the work visa lottery…
  • If I knew my ex-boss would let me go a month later, I might not have paid 2.5 G to renew my student status awaiting him to grace me with his presence while not getting not a dime since June 1 because of my visa*;
  • *Thanks to the US immigration laws, foreign students aren’t allowed to work or get paid on paper. They can’t even land free internships…
  • By the way, do you know just how hard it is to get an artist visa as a writer fresh off film school?
  • But even if I did get to stay, what about dinero? How else would I survive the California Dreamin’?

God forbid I’m not a Crazy Rich Asian.

So when my current landlord decided to oust me for his little scheme last Thursday, I was bone-tired. I didn’t have an ounce of energy left. I was depleted.

My lawyer friend looked at the contract and got me a 60-day notice instead of the landlord’s original 30-days.

But I’d already decided to return to China, thanks to the wise words of my psychologist friend, Barbara Kiao.  And without the lovely Angels I’ve befriended in LA, maybe I might have ended up in the Cuckoo’s Nest already…

 

As I finished editing the pilot episode late last night, I texted my friend, thanking for dropping by.  At the time, he was at his friend’s birthday party.  Surprisingly, he texted back:

Don’t forget: you’re a funny, kind, and beautiful person. You have tons of adventures ahead of you and I’d be honored to work with you again some day.

The warmth coursed through my artery and pumped into my heart, my weary wrinkled heart.

“Not someday. Soon. I wish you said it in my face though.” I reprimanded.

He promised he would next time.

Until next time then.

 

Yours truly,
YZ

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