Last person on earth

I would still write. Even though it hurts like a motherfucker.

Have you ever felt like your own thoughts are choking the life out of you?
Have you ever felt like no one else would ever care about you apart from your parents?
Have you ever felt like chasing a dream is something that you’re so NOT entitled to?
Have you ever felt invisible to most people you’ve encountered in life?

Before, during and since the Chinese New Year, I’ve been doing much the bare minimum of social networking. I called off a coffee with a former colleague and friend whom I haven’t seen in three years just because I wasn’t in the mood. I cancelled another meeting today mostly because I wasn’t ready to get fucked in the eyes of all the Valentine decor.  And I lied in both occasions. 

Have I become a hypocrite, a hermit, a pest? Have I lost the basic faith in most folks… and most importantly, myself? Since my other project fell through the holes, I’ve been fishing around. That’s when I realized how much I hated it when I don’t hear back from people. Those emails don’t write themselves, bitch. Moreover, I hated it even more when I checked mails first thing in the morning and then constantly during the day just so I could land the next thing I can talk about… I desperately needed a win. Big or small. Preferably big. I’m only human. Vanity is my vice. It has taken a toll on my physique and my psyche. My neck is tense. My breath is shallow. My belly is tight. My jaw hurts. 

I couldn’t remember when was the last time I jumped off bed to embrace the day. I was in the sour mood. All. The. Time. All I wanted was to stay in bed. But my other self would drag me out. It’s almost Spring and I feel like it’s deep in the winter. It’s already two months into the new year. I’ve already slumped back into my old comfy self.

What if I’ve become the person I hate and I can’t fight it?

So I picked up my Bible The War of Art again. I desperately need Pressfield’s wisdom and strength.  I need it to clear my heart and cleanse my soul.

I forgot what all THIS — writing and the pursuit of my dream — was all about. And here are some quotes that I’ve highlighted, which comes in timely and dearly. 

  • The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death.
  • If you didn’t love the project that is terrifying you, you wouldn’t feel anything.  The opposite of love isn’t hate; it’s indifference.
  • I’m keenly aware of the Principle of Priority, which states (a) you must know the difference between what is urgent and what is important, and (b) you must do what’s important first. 
  • Pros: We show up every day.  We show up no matter what.  We stay on the job all day.  We are committed over the long haul.  The stakes for us are high and real.  We accept remuneration for our labor. We do not over identify with our jobs. We master the technique of our jobs.  We have a sense of humor about our jobs.  We receive praise or blame in the real world.
  • So you’re taking a few blows. Thats’ the price for being in the arena and not on the sidelines.  Stop complaining and be grateful.
  • I had not yet had a success. But I had had a real failure.
  • The professional arms himself with patience, not only to give the stars time to align his career, but to keep himself from flaming out in each individual work. He knows that any job takes twice as long as he thinks and costs twice as much.  He accepts that. He recognizes it as reality.
  • The professional self-validates. She is tough-minded.  In the face of indifference or adulation, she assesses her stuff coldly and objectively… She’ll work harder. She’ll be back tomorrow.
  • You, Inc.: You-the-writer get a swelled head, but you-the-boss remember how to take yourself down a peg.
  • That moment when I first hit the keys to spell out THE END was epochal. I remember rolling the last page out and adding it to the stack that was the finished manuscript.  Nobody knew that I was done.  Nobody cared.  But I knew.  I felt like a dragon I’d been fighting all my life had just dropped dead at my feet and gasped out its last sulfuric breath.  Rest in peace, motherfucker.  Next morning I went over to Paul’s for coffee and told him that I had finished.  “Good for you,” he said without looking up. “Start the next one today.”
  • Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it.  Boldness has genius, magic and power in it.  Begin it now. — W. H. Murray
  • The Ego hates artists because they are the pathfinders and bearers of the future, because each one dares, in James Joyce’s phrase, to “forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race.”
  • In the hierarchy, the artist faces outward.  Meeting someone new he asks himself, What can this person do for me? How can this person advance my standing?  In the hierarchy, the artist looks up and looks down.  The one place he can’t look is that place he must: within.
  • If we were the last person on earth, would we still show up at the studio, the rehearsal hall, the laboratory?
  • Do it or don’t do it… If you were meant to cure cancer or write a symphony or crack cold fusion and you don’t do it, you not only hurt yourself, even destroy yourself.  You hurt your children.  You hurt me.  You hurt the planet.  You shame the angels who watch over you and you spite the Almighty, who created you and only you with your unique gifts, for the sole purpose of nudging the human race one millimeter farther along its path back to God.
  • Creative work is not a selfish act or a bid for attention on the part of the actor.  It’s a gift to the world and every being in it.  Don’t cheat us of your contribution.  Give us what you’ve got. 

Artist to artist, I see you. I hear you. I feel you.  You know, at the end of the day, I can honestly say that I don’t do it for others. I do it to have peace of mind.  

And if I were left alone on earth, I would still write.  So write I shall.

Even though it hurts like a motherfucker.

 

Yours truly,
YZ

This life I chose

If there is a next life, I pray that I am a white male math wunderkind in Wall Street.

My nose is running. My throat is inflamed. My head is foggy. I fell sick three days ago. The third time since I got back to Shanghai, living in my parents’ rent-free spacious apartment, eating my dad’s thoughtful cooking and never need to do my own laundry. What a non-starter. Only it isn’t.

The person I knew who did everything on her own has begun to fade in my sleep-deprived memory. Did she really exist at all?

Did I really live in LA for three years on my own?

The past starts to blur not in years, but as fast as months.

My insomnia has now worsened to a point where I had to order melatonin to claim that I had failed at another foolproof task: getting myself to sleep.

Today I turned in the last draft of a short film. Thus far, four short scripts have come to an end. I will wait till May for the directors to come up with the finished films.  

On a side note, I got dropped from the animation feature project weeks after I turned in the movie treatment — the skeleton of the movie which took me weeks to write. It was a hard pill to swallow. I graciously told the director that it was okay when his boss asked for a more well-known American screenwriter to tackle this Chinese tale as old as time. Intellectually, I understood. Sure, I knew that I can do it. But viscerally, the sucker punch has a lingering side effect called depression. 

I also realized that why you shouldn’t announce it until you nail it in writing. What we have here is a stupid girl compounded with a rookie mistake. 

If this’s not enough, just read on. 

I still have problems with people who’re all talk and no walk. A former colleague made me a promise for some Chinese connections and projects before I left LA. I wrote the dude a letter on the new year to catch up on what he has promised. He replied with typical Hollywood flair: no response. I swept it under the screw-you rug and moved on. 

Yesterday, a friend who has got her O-1 visa warned me not to set the return date as early as spring 2020.  I don’t have much of a life in Shanghai with most of my old acquaintances either estranged or evaporated.  And my life in LA got upended and put on hold. Now you’re telling me with the speed that I’m running,  I might have to wait just as long as everybody else?

Yes. Get in line. Unless you’re the Naomi Osaka of screenwriting.

But that’s not all of it.

My thoughtful father sat me down a few days ago and told me that I need to think about “relationship.” Are we having this conversation, like right now? What about the times you cut me out when I had my first crush on some boy that I met at the night school? You sat me down and told me that I need to focus on schoolwork? I love my father so I bit my tongue and said I would think about after I get myself back to LA.  What about men over here? First of all, I don’t have stamina for Finding Nemo right now. Secondly, Chinese men and yours truly are 99.99% incompatible. I just don’t have time to scour that 0.01% right now. 

Today, I vented at my best friend in LA who at one point said, “Sometime I get a bit weary because you’re just very good at turning your friends into enemies.” I started apologizing profusely just as my alter ego began snickering at my level of immaturity for a thirty-something.

I hate February. Not only it’s the shortest. But also it hides my birthday, reminding me that I’m older, poorer, and nowhere near closer to anything that I set out to do.

I need a miracle. I need strength. I need unconditional love. I need to patch up my trust in people. And most of all, I just don’t want to turn into a cynical cat lady who’s gonna die alone and won’t be discovered until her neighbor’s Labrador smells something funny.

In one of the meditation exercises, I was told to make a list of people and things that I feel grateful for, to be the glass-half-full gurl for a change. I found myself struggling in my lonely heart in the dark night while my coward hot tears rolled down from my cheeks. 

Out of everything in the world that I could choose from, I chose writing. Because I want to be remembered after I’m gone. 

But if there is a next life, I pray that I am a white male math wunderkind in Wall Street who loves stocks and being filthy rich — or whatever prototype that is the most sought-after on God’s creating list. 

 

Yours truly,
YZ

PS. God, if you’re listening, please destroy the pattern you used to make me.

The sure thing

No such thing as a sure thing in creativity.

Everyone starts somewhere.

Except for the extremely fortunate ones like Theodore Roosevelt, and the extremely unfortunately ones like Abraham Lincoln, most of us begin life simply average.

What it comes down to is what course of life we choose for ourselves.

Most decide without having to decide that they would play the game run by the house. The house’s rules are their bread and butter. That’s how they fit in, to feel safe and secure. What it also implies is that the society demands that they strive to go to the best of the best since kindergarten, so they are ahead at every single step. They even have to have the best burial plot.

Usually this is a particular crop of exceptional test-takers, overachievers, IQ lottery winners. Statistically speaking, they are still the minority. They won because it’s in their factory default mode.

The prospect for the rest of us seems gloomier than ever. We’re unhappy, unsatisfied, uninspired. Because we are never going to be able to reach the shiny object that seems just a tad out of reach. 

That leaves us to the last thing we can control: what we choose for our career. The sure-thing careers are lawyer and doctor. If you happen to love these jobs, then hooray!  If you graduate with a student loan, once you are in practice, your future immediately becomes a sure-thing even if your work ethics is just moderate.

Now, what if you are like me, who dreams to be a writer, not in your next life, but right here right now in your current body?

What I can say from my own experience is that graduating from Francis Coppola’s UCLA Film School doesn’t guarantee you the sure thing. Getting picked by a top-notch Hollywood producer when I was still in film school doesn’t get you to your end goal.

The truth is, if you get into the film industry to feel secure, you should get the hell out before you set your foot in.  The film industry is the last industry that would give you that. You have to earn it for yourself.  Word by word. Script by script. Day after day. Night after night…

But if you do enjoy and admire a good story, maybe you would appreciate working above-the-line in the film industry. 

Don’t tell me, surprise me.

 

Yours truly,
YZ

Two kinds of exhaustion

I finally turned in the second draft of the live-action feature rewrite. Adrenaline’s pumping. If my brain is in the stove, it’s now close to well-done. Tomorrow, I’ll spend the day doing a third draft on the second short script project.

I can’t remember a day that I’m not tired since I go down this creative path.  

In what feels like a parallel universe, I remember the lonely chilly nights I dragged my body back home at two o’clock in the morning when I used to work for the paycheck, the title… In that universe, I was not only exhausted, I was burned out.

We all get tired at the end of a work day. Doesn’t it feel so much better knowing we are doing the work we’re proud of?

 

Yours truly,
YZ

 

A writer’s life

I’m proud to say that I’m now a working screenwriter. I’m for the moment out of my “between job” phase. 

After getting in bed (Hollywood uses it as a catchy phrase… so bear with me here) with some eight directors and counting for a number of feature and short projects, I’ve found the G-spots that are sure-fire turn-offs. 

Here comes the list:

  1. Comment that begins and ends with “The feel is not right” phrase. Then give no follow-up explanations, leaving the writer in the dark trying desperately – in all kinds of positions – to please the director who’s likely impotent. 
  2. Got the script from a writer who turned in at some strange hours but never ever say, “Thank you.” As a writer, I start hypnotizing myself that, “Now now, remember you got paid for this. It’s a blessing to earn money doing this. Just suck it up.”
    – But is good manners this hard?
    – Did someone just say ‘hard?’
    – My bad.
    – Come here, bad girl.
  3. The no-reply no-payment treatment till you beg for a response. Then the other side would simply say “Oh gee I forgot. I was so busy with XXX.”
    Or, give you the shrug plus the guaranteed eye-rolling in your back. Probably with the O.S. “The fucking nerve!”

I’ve never tried prostitution. But given the abundant resources out there, sex workers and writers share more than a few resemblances. More often than not, they get fucked in the ass for less than what they do to deserve.

But sometimes, you hit the jack pot too. Say, for a recent project even before I turn in the second and final draft, I got the rest of the payment in my bank account.  I stared at the incoming wire and couldn’t believe my good fortune. Alas, the gratitude is fleeting because you have other customers to please

Like Susie’s advice to Mrs. Maisel before baring her soul to the audience: 

Tits up!

 

Yours truly,
YZ

 

Happy New Year!

The power lies right within us if we dare to summon it, tirelessly, lovingly. 

Happy 2019!

And she’s back.

Yes!

I still have a few pressing writing deadlines at my hand. But I’ve decided to log back onto the blog I’ve been turning to since around my major Rock Bottom last summer.

2019 may very well foresee my film career officially taking off. My first feature movie will premiere at the end of 2019 amongst other things. It all sounds surreal, but getting back to LA won’t be for too long after all.

For 2019, a few things will be my priority:

  1. Fear less. Worry less. We shall see how my Mrs. Bennet-esque poor nerves would serve me in 2019.
  2. Just do it. I think, strike that, I know I can. (My guilt pleasure is still to binge-watch Frasier whenever life or circumstances spit on me. I’m currently on Season 3 Episode 22…)
  3. Spend quality time with my parents. (I will take my folks to Japan for a week in the fall if I finish everythething I should finish by April*.)
  4. Be a friend indeed to my friends in need. (Say yes if I can help it.)
  5. Get up early. Exercise daily. Eat healthy. (Well, I just ordered a large pack of MyLikes, aka. Chinese Maltesers…)

After the months crawl out of the shitty place, all I can say is this:

The power lies right within us if we dare to summon it, tirelessly, lovingly. 

Or as Sir Winston Churchill eloquently put it:

Never, never, never give up.

 

Yours truly,
YZ

PS. Here is my first four months to-do list:

  • Animation feature script – done
  • Feature script polish – done
  • Paper – first draft
  • New feature script on spec – first draft
  • New short script – first draft
  • The class plans for the spring semester (I’m teaching two screenwriting classes at a Shanghai college)

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