First Amendment

I thought in America, there is a thing called First Amendment. And it’s quite a big deal.

The script that I wrote for a student director got some attention after their chair praised it. Two more students got in touch with me today to work on their stories. It was good news, because I need as many credits as I can get for my artist visa application.

Then, I was on the phone with them, separately, for a total of three hours… Okay, I know if I were a lawyer, I’d a) never made partner; b) got out of business before I had one.  But, seeing it through the twisted lens of a screenwriter, it was actually not unrewarding.

First off, I see myself in them as a fresh film student taking on a mission impossible.

Then, I realized that these two new ‘potential clients,’ especially the latter, hadn’t thought out her story yet. I told her to speak with as many people as possible to get as many ideas as she could to understand her story better. And most important, what kind of ending she wants, what type of feeling she wants to provoke.

With the other slightly more advanced soon-to-be-client, I told her to transfer more stuff into words instead of sending me ‘mood shots’ because I’m not her cinematographer.

With my current client, she shared with me something revealing. Our story’s ending goes against the #MeToo movement. It seems that all men dig it, and all women hate it so much that they almost started a riot. The instructor pitched my client a sanitized version where the heroine rode the high way in the end.

I saw it coming. Hashtag Feminist Saves the Day.

Here is the thing, what do you call a writer who writes off her characters’ own intentions just because her own political viewpoints are just too fucking important?

What about… tyrant writer?

When you have all the setups towards the ending that shall run its course, but you choose get something else totally out of character because “it feels politically correct.”

  • As the audience, you won’t yell: holy shit, I didn’t see it coming.
  • You’ll be more like: this is total BS. Then throw your TV/laptop/iPad etc. off the window like Bradley Cooper in Silver Linings Playbook.  Because that’s how mad you are.  I get it.

If I have one thing to be grateful of my UCLA Film School experience, it is that no instructor tells the students what’s more right to write about according to the current political climate, or what character you should be writing because according the instructor’s monologue, she is lonely and she wants you to create more imaginary friends so they can have tea with her and her 15 cats.

But I’m a pro, so I promised my client to write the ending that would please her instructor. Plus, she would show both to the chair…

I thought in America, there is a thing called First Amendment. And it’s quite a big deal.

Okay, these students are from China. But they paid their tuition in full, not on some sketchy loans.  So treat them accordingly, okay?

 

Yours truly,
YZ

 

 

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.

Fear less, fear no more

How many 3-0 do we have in a lifetime? 

The good news of being back is that I’m now burning RMB instead of USD. Roughly at the current ratio, seven RMB equals one USD.

But still, I’m burning my time at the same rate like everyone else.  Some of my college, high school friends are officially 31, married with kids, richer than ever.  In less than four months, I will be too, their age sans the man or the kid.

For the better part of my 3-0, I had lived in fear and dread.

  • I feared that I might not get the work visa.
  • I feared that I might be let go from my work.
  • I feared that I might have to pack everything and move back to China.
  • All the above.

By mid-October, all my worst fears became reality.

Am I in the fucking hell?  Hell, no. I’m back in Shanghai. I’m still alive even though tortured by pneumonia to no ends right now…

After living through my worst fear (thus far), wasting away dollars on bullshits like moving, customs courtesy, and doctor bills, I’m still able to keep my hope alive somehow.

Fear has not destroyed me, or twisted me. But it did change me… to be an optimist.

True, my heart got lacerated the day I left LA. I miss my LA friends dearly. I miss LA terribly for its weather, food, water, air… all the basics that I once shrugged and ignored.

Most of all, I feared that my drive was lost during the move. And yet, out in the desert, a new kind of drive is sprouting out, strong and steady.

I have taken on three writing projects at the moment.

  • One short film.
  • One feature rewrite.
  • One writeup for a company.

And a couple of others I’m developing for my artist visa.

Because of my recent readjustment back into my hometown, I have put my novel on hold. But I have been thinking about the story beats while I was doing the IV infusion.

By losing this much, I finally begin to focus on what’s absolutely necessary.

This time, I have no financial emergency, no landlord final notice, no impending fate to be decided.

This time, I’m racing against no one but time. How many 3-0 do we have in a lifetime, eh?

And yo, folks in LA, don’t you forget me too fast and furious, okay?

 

Yours truly,
YZ

 

RBYZ: On my terms (#004)

Meet Barbara Kiao, the therapist who practises what she preaches.

“Feel the fear and do it anyways.”

Says our guest this week. She had been a successful hospitality manager until she decided to study psychology when she was two decades too old. That is, according to the norm.

Seven years later, after getting her degree and license, she walked away from the broken marriage, accepting her own Rock Bottom.

Meet Barbara Kiao, the therapist who practises what she preaches.

What you’ll hear:

  • Can one really switch from hospitality to psychology?
  • Is there such a thing as “too old to learn?”
  • What does age have to do with… anything?
  • What does a calling feel like?
  • How to stop the stigma around counseling?
  • What does a clinical counselor’s day-to-day practice look like?
  • How does a psychology pro deal with crises and rock bottoms?
  • And much more!

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.

If no one is watching

Would you still be doing exactly what you’re doing now?

Something I thought I had internalized, but I’m far from mastering it since I started this blog and podcast—

I don’t need to feel bad about how many people who have not responded to my art.

Since I’m competitive and comparing to the real influencers, my stats are pitiful,  I’ve tried to sell my stuff to the folks who haven’t seen it, shared it, who may find my art interesting and become my evangelists.

I have a group of podcasting friends whom I’ve met at the Podcast Fellowship. I try to be fair.

Here is my definition of fairness: if someone see my stuff and comment on it, I’ll reciprocate. On the other hand, I get frustrated if I comment on others’ stuff and don’t get the same treatment.

That desire of garnering every “You too, hon!” comes from a needy place.

My psychologist friend Barbara Kiao, who will be featured on my podcast next week pointed out to me.

Here is the thing—

If nobody is watching, would you still be doing exactly what you’re doing now?

Does it matter, at the end of the day, how many people see it, like it, share it?

Of course it helps me to spread the word. But it’s not my drive. Nor my purpose.

Plus, people won’t shut up about the art if it’s truly remarkable.
[Translation: Am I going to make a remark about it?]

But first and foremost, I do it for me.
Then, to those who show up for my art, on any given day.

What an honor.
I thank you.

 

Yours truly,
YZ

PS. I’m my own guest for this week’s podcast.
You may find it interesting if you’re also contemplating these things:
a) study abroad;
b) go to film school;
c) become a writer;
d) start podcasting;
e) all the above;
f) fear of the things above.

I hear you. I’ve been there. I’m still working on it.

 

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.

Two writings on the wall

The messages I got used to
That became invisible…
Until now

My last week in this apartment
I took down
The last two writings on the wall
Against the now-gone writing desk
Sold last Saturday

Here I share with you my mantra
The writings I forgot
That were there
The messages I got used to
That became invisible…

Until now
As I took them down
Read with my heart
For one last time
Before I tossed them
Two pieces of paper
Into the trash.

So here you go—

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate,
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented,
    and fabulous—
Actually, who are you not to be?

You are a child of God.
Your playing small doesn’t serve the world.
there is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other
    people
Won’t feel insecure around you.
We were born to make manifest the glory of God within us.
It is not just in some of us: it is in everyone,
And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously
Give other people permission to do the same. 

—Nelson Mandela

 

Yours truly,
YZ