Choice

Maybe two months later when I read this blog entry, my future self may have a better idea.

I was born and bred in Shanghai, the most expensive and exciting cosmopolitan city in China. Via my dad’s calculation, its food and beverages are even more expensive that those in LA – although I would defend that Shanghai’s rent is much cheaper than that in LA. 

The Chinese people (other than folks born in Beijing) seem to make Shanghai her goal as “making it.” But I never feel like I belong here. Shanghai is all about money and efficiency. It’s not a place for writers, or artists in general. 

Today, my cab driver told me that he just couldn’t stop but work in Shanghai. He can’t afford to rest because of its high living expense for his family of three. I listened and felt grateful that right now I’m rent-free.

So this evening, I went to downtown Shanghai, at a place where Chinese and expats mingle for a dinner with a friend who runs her own company. This friend came from a family of businessmen and women. It was only natural when she set up her own shop in her early 30s. After several rounds of wine and beer on her part, she tried to reason with me why moving back to the US sounds like an unwise idea. “You’re Chinese. You would never feel like you belong there.” She then gave me a cautionary tale of her friend; she listed her resources that we could exchange to do something big and interesting together; she told me tricks of how to set up my own  studio (aka. gong zuo shi) so I could charge much larger fees when I negotiated with brands and firms, creating an illusion that I ran an army instead of working as a freelancer. 

This was all new to me. The artist side of me resisted and rebelled. But the pragmatic side of me wanted to learn more. After all, who doesn’t want financial freedom and more flexible working hours plus having extra to take care of the parents?

I told my friend that I would like to explore those notions going forward. I promised that I will pop at an event she hosts on Monday so she can start to introduce me to her acquaintances.  I’m not a star sign believer, but I do relate to and adore her Pisces-ness – flexible, creative, and resourceful. 

“God, things we could’ve done.” John Sculley told Steve Jobs when they met again more than a decade later when Jobs was hired back to Apple. Steve replied, “Things we could’ve done.” 

Of course, this moment, this line were all created by Aaron Sorkin who wrote the award-winning script for Danny Boyle to shoot. But to me, it’s also a reminder in moments like this. I don’t want to be another person to confess to my potential ally that why the he’ll we didn’t end up working together when we can?

For the past three years, I closed myself off opportunities that are not film related. I think I need to think different. There must to ways to utilize my talent… on a bigger scale, stage-wise and pay-wise.  

And this morning, a fourth student director came to me to fix her script. I was flattered albeit overwhelmed.  Every day I feel and think more like a screenwriter. But I’m not happy with its power limitation in filmmaking. Or, maybe two months later when I read this blog entry, my future self may have a better idea.

 

Yours truly,
YZ

Get it done

I turned in my first major feature project a couple of hours ago.

In the midst of all kinds of interruptions from pneumonia, bad cold, friend’s visit, to other side projects, I got it done.

That “You can’t do it” voice in my head, so loud at times, finally quiets down a little.

I’m grateful for the people I’m working with. They were patient, and understanding.

That’s empowering.

And there is an obvious lesson re-learned:

How to get things done?

Drip by drip. Word by word.

I will catch some sleep. Because I have a new project to take on tomorrow, from scratch.

 

Yours truly,
YZ

Five Insurances & One Fund

Some are better off with a job. Some are not. Knowing which one you are is the key.

When you negotiate benefit package as you find employment in China, you ask if the benefits include “Five Insurances & one fund,” meaning:

  • The Endowment Insurance;
  • The Maternity Insurance;
  • The Medical Insurance;
  • The Employment Injury Insurance;
  • The Unemployment Insurance;
  • And the Housing fund.

Before I left for the US in 2015, I was well-compensated in my old job at the ad agency. I used my Housing Fund and my Supplementary Provident Fund to elevate my parents burden when we bought the new apartment.

You see, before I was a screenwriter, I functioned on the basis of what kind of benefits I could get down to “I’m not gonna pay for my Uni-ball pens or my 3M scotch tapes and stickers.”

It’s been five weeks since I moved back. I’ve not been looking for another 9-to-6 job that would put me back on the “Five Insurances & one fund” track.

  • I like that my stomach won’t feel tight every Sunday evening.
  • I like that I don’t have to pretend I’m busy when I’ve finished the tasks at hand.
  • I like that I won’t feel guilty when I browse websites that are not work related.
  • I like that I don’t waste time commute, crushed by the rush-hour man- sardines.

Most of all, I love taking an afternoon stroll with dad in the new neighborhood park. I love giving mum fashion and beauty tips. I love the occasional distractions from my cat when he scratches against my door. I love being able to have all three meals with my folks and just hear them bicker and complain about each other.

I love taking control of my time. Knowing that those benefits, insurances, funds, staplers we get “for free” are never free. It’s our time, our experience they are paying.

Some are better off with a job. Some are not. Knowing which one you are is the key.

A decade and six jobs later, I got the answer. True, right now, it seems that I’m sacrificing pay cuts. But in the long run, it would pay off as my own brand grows. But it can never happen if a) I don’t start to nurture it; or b) I stop nurturing it.

And lastly, just how many people around you are doing what they love and get paid to do it?

I’m proud to say that I am.  It’s still at the early stage before the dawn of my hopefully future glory days.  It’s hard right now, just like any new operation, new business.  But it’s worth it. Like a proud new mother seeing her baby wobbling the first steps. You know she would fall, and fail.  You’ve heard about the Terrible Two, the Horrible Teen, But you won’t put her to adoption right here right now because of those obstacles, would you?

Exactly.

Yours truly,
YZ

Thick skin

For the pride, the ego and the bully

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

 

Validation

Picture Credit

Validate:

Recognize or affirm the validity or worth of (a person or their feelings or opinions); 
Cause (a person) to feel valued or worthwhile.

via Oxford Dictionary


We all want validation of some sort.

  • A salesperson wants his sale pitch turn into green notes, so he can claim that he’s a ‘good’ salesperson. Otherwise, he has failed.
  • A parent wants his kids to shine at school, so he can say he’s a ‘good’ parent. Otherwise, he has failed.
  • A friend wants to know if she is being helpful, so she can keep feeling connected and fulfilled. Otherwise, she begins to question if the friend reciprocates her time and endeavor.
  • But a writer, a writer just wants to hear any feedback you have for her story when you ask to read it. Otherwise, why bother?

I email-pitched a feature writing class for the coming Spring Quarter. Then the roster came out, my name wasn’t there, again. Surprise? Nope, I was not. It was not the first “Ouch Moment” since I got into the program. Was I hurt? A teeny bit.

But now I can shrug it off and move on. Just another pinch of salt throws onto my open wound. Now I am so much more thick-skinned, I feel I can take another blow. Why not? Punch me. Punch me hard. Let me see if that’s all you’ve got.

I want to keep getting better. I want to be so damn good, so damn big like an elephant, so the next time you see me, you can’t ignore me. Because you really have to address “The elephant in the room.”


Picture Credit: Zootopia

“I will never let anyone see that they get to me.”


No, I don’t have a chip on my shoulder, literally or figuratively.

I just want to be the best. That’s all.

Joy as A Writer

“I see your joy as a writer.”

 

It came from my writing instructor’s voice critique on my screenplay. All-positive notes.

Listening to her showering praise on me was surreal. To me, that moment was like winning an Oscar for Best Screenplay.

My Winter Quarter began as a thriller-drama. I pitched four teachers and was on none of their roosters.

Before anybody gave me an explanation and a solution, my thoughts took me to the darkest alley I’d ever known. You know, that you don’t belong, that you’re a foreigner… kind of self-debasing crap.

Then the nurturing instructor let me in. Sitting for the first time alongside the second and third-year screenwriters in the writing workshops, I bled the most. Sometimes six of my ten or twelve pages were tossed out of the window, or sank without a trace. I worried, not just as small as whether my humor came through on the page writing a comedy about Chinese girls in Liverpool. I worried if I had what I took. As if she saw me through, she always said after another brutal session —

Be patient with yourself.

So I tried.

She got back on Sunday with the voice critique I mentioned at the beginning of this note— it was the most marvelous note I ever received. “YZ, I have zero note for you to change. This is a strong first draft. And you know I will say it if I spot a problem… You have a strong voice as a writer. It is what the industry is looking for, not the mechanics.” As a China-born screenwriter at the English writing session with the native speakers, I felt relieved.

“I see your joy as a writer.”

There she said it. It got me hard. I bawled and quivered at my writer’s desk. Outside, the Californian sun fluttered through the curtained window. I thought it would have been more fitting if I were in England — like my characters. The English drizzle would serve best as I sobbed. But another thought, the sun is better for compare and contrast.

Knowing when to let go is my latest learning as I finished the first feature-length script at the film school. Tweaking here and there, losing sleep and gaining weight, had been the theme of my life for the past two weeks as I wrote and rewrote. But at some point, I had to let it go, and let it be. I had to let other people see my Frankenstein. I had to bear the critiques which may sound harsh, professionally and personally. The two-quarters writing workshops have significantly thickened and toughened my skins. I learn to take the punches with enough seriousness and with a grain of salt.

Giving notes can be surprisingly rewarding.

Knowing that my notes were helpful always gives me immense pleasure. We are competitors for the department showcase. But I am here for the long haul to partner with writers and join the writing community. Because everyone’s story is unique, and it certainly is not a zero-sum game for writers as it is for salesmen, writers should celebrate each other’s work and success. When my cohort said my notes were one of a kind that made him think in a way nobody pointed out before, I was proud. That comment came from my more experienced former English teacher All-American cohort. How cool is that?

Which draft is going to be “The Final Draft”?

My answer is, the draft before the deadline, not that I’ve been procrastinating. On the contrary, I’ve been procrastinating so much less. I did script exchange with three fellow cohorts — giving notes to each other’s script as we arrive at the crop season. With their notes, I made changes till the last second.

As I hit sent and slept on it, I received and read the new round of critiques based on this “Final Draft”. It was from one of the three cohorts. He’s very adamant about structure and pacing, especially when mine is a comedy. His notes gave me a lot more to think about rather than just getting content with and stop becoming better. I much appreciate people who can push me to become better. This particular cohort is one of them. Right away, I sent my feature writing instructor about the issues. I won’t stop tweaking it till I find a good solution for my story.

As I sent my baby away and await feedback, I want to shout at the top of my lungs that I love my script. I love the world I created. I love my characters. I even envy them having the friendships I crave.

Last Monday, I bumped into my original N0.1 choice writing instructor. He said I was on the very top of his list, but he assumed somebody else removed me from his list. He wasn’t happy about it. He even suggested that I only pitched him next winter — the only time he taught in LA. Now I think I can have a good laugh about “my darkest episode” at the film school with a light heart.

After these first two brutal quarters, I feel so much less anxious, and so much more at ease. Sure I will keep struggling with my stories, but the past failures and struggles lent me a new light seeing things — sort of like I have an older self time-travels to me and pat me on the back during my struggles and said, “Trust me, it will be just fine.” It could be a darn cliche line in any other context. But now — I simply know better.

Because I am better. And I will become even better. I won’t stop trying. I just won’t.

We proceed without fear of failure or hope of success.

— Mahatma Gandhi

 

Yours truly,
YZ

A Writer’s Priority

Photo Credit

I have classmates who take two writing classes (Feature — 100 pages; Spec — 30–60 pages), directing and producing and TA for four days a week. When I expressed my admiration, the girl, who’s a second-year student, said that she felt like she’s been here for 20 years. And yes, she would graduate this Spring.

As an afterthought, she said —

Well, good that you finished your script. I haven’t finished mine yet.

I would love to be a multi-tasker, but would I want it at the cost of not finishing my scripts? No. This is what I am here for — to start with.

I made it very clear to myself that these first two quarters (if not the first year) are going to be about writing. Some of my classmates already have a leg up due to their previous involvement in the film business or writing scripts or novels. I don’t.

If I compared myself to them, I would never be happy — being a happy writing writer is almost a mission impossible.

Look, that person’s work is already out there. 
See, that person just landed a big gig.

For me, I have to stay low and just focus on my craft — for now. Because I don’t want to go to those networking events telling everybody I write screenplays, but when they ask what I “have written,” I can only give them my perfect first act, which is what, 30 pages. No. I want to have some works ready before I approach people. Or I can’t even fake the confidence which has no ground.

When it comes to writing, it’s never going to “Fake it till you make it,” but this —

Write it till you make it.

So shut up and write.