Back to the basics

Since the instructor asked us not to blog or tweet about his lectures, I will not out of respect for the man.

But a word on our assignments – recollection on our memories. They are more difficult than I orginally imagined. We use words to achieve a lot of things. But the thing that we forget most is to make people feel.

I always try to lay the bricks first, and then I get lost in the layers and block my own feelings. It’s hard to pepper all my emotions out onto the paper. But isn’t that the point for the writers?

Yours truly,

Back to school

After the final talk with the department head, I walked out with my head still spinning.

“So… did I get the job?” I turned to the program manager sheepishly.

“YES. YES! Do you know how relieved I am? The lack of an ideal candidate (who knows the Hollywood structure and is also fluent with the Chinese culture) had been the bane of my existence of the better part of this year.”

We haven’t yet signed the agreement, but I think it’s now safe to say that I landed the gig. The whole process is exactly like how I teach my students’ about the hero’s journey

A victory is fraud unless it’s earned. 

I earned it this time, for real. A LONG SIGH. 

In the drizzle, I lugged my suitcase and headed for the dorm they arranged for me. There I found my new roommate. The girl didn’t know there’d be someone else coming for the summer. After a moment of awkwardness, we started chatting, coordinating and cleaning. What would be a better way to start to know each other by getting manicure together. After a quick dinner, she headed back to the dorm and I headed down to the gym. My duvet is still en route to the campus. I woke up a couple of times while I was asleep, having to wrap myself in warmer clothes to battle against the night chill. 

My mushy thoughts wandered back to the time when I arrived at my college dorm with my family, meeting my three other roommates who secretly thought I was adopted because I spoke mandarin back to my family’s Shanghai dialect. And the time I arrived in Liverpool as an exchange student, shivering on my first night, sleeping on the carpet floor because the bed went missing. 

After only snoozing the alarm for once, I forced myself up. I don’t want to piss of my still asleep roommate at 5:45. Eating my breakfast in the lounge, a voice whispered in my ears: “Grow where you’re planted.”  So I am. 

Yours truly,

The job interview

“What do you want?” The HR grilled me. 

I segwayed by asking who else has been interviewing for the job and their portfolios. 

“Just curious. Why did you ask that question?” The Chinese woman switched to her accented English, as if to mock my failed attempt to conceal my purpose of the meeting. 

Truth is, I don’t want or need a full-time job. I can’t do 9-to-5. I’d rather D-I-E…

But why did I take the meeting? Out of curiosity, yes. Out of boredom, yes. Out of self-promotion, hell yes. But most importantly, I want to introduce myself to their creative/development team as a screenwriter. And thus, it made the whole meeting weird.

The HR started to poke holes in my resume:

To be honest, you’ve done a lot of different things, but with scattered focus.

I’d suggest you put in the year you graduated from college and from grad school.

So you are a thirty-something now. I’d suggest you ask yourself what exactly that you want (independent or cooperate, artist or support).

It seems to me that you are on a filmmaker track whereas we’re looking for someone who can focus on the company’s own slate.

And how dedicated would you be if you’re hired?

Would you make personal sacrifice and drop your own projects?

The knot in my stomach tightened when she came back to the “What do you (fucking) want” question over and over again with her Shanghainese passive-aggressiveness. 


“I’m a writer-producer. I want to seek ways to collaborate with your firm if there is an angle there, as writer, or as consultant. I don’t plan to waste your time, but I’m intrigued to learn about your firm for quite a while now.” 

A knowing beat.

“Okay. It does seem to me that you need a lot of control over what you do. We’ll pass your resume to our creative/development team.” 

I thanked her. But whether she’d really pass on my resume, I’d give it a grain of salt, per my own mixed reception in LA. But the animosity in the air seemed to abate a little.

As I recalled this bizarre job interview now, I’m still trying to iron out the knot in my stomach. Honesty is indeed the best policy. To be honest about what you want. And to be honest about your craft. Over and over again, I’ve come to this single conclusion: Be so fucking good so they would be morons to dare to ignore you. 

But of course, I barked at the wrong tree today. It’s an embarrassment when I was forced into the corner to reveal my true purpose. But hey, I also need to thank the HR to force me to face my own demons and desires and come to the other side, undeterred and unscathed. 

One thing I’d say is: Once you go solo, you can’t go back, almost. When the wolf pack smells your independence, you’re excluded from the club. You have to endure suffering and starvation before you can find your own edge, your own turf while the pack boos: Let’s see how truly independent you are. 

“You’re thirty-something, you’d better figure out what you want.”

“You’ve done so many different things, it shows lack of focus.”

“Why didn’t you mark the year you graduated on your resume?”

“Why did you go to grad school a few years after you graduated from college?”

“What’s the gap between this job and the time you graduated?

The HR spoke on behalf of the society, the majority, the people, the firm, the tried-and-true quote-and-unquote wisdom, except for herself, who’s downgraded to a lobotomized social programmed machine. “If you come work for us, you can’t do your own thing. I don’t think you would find time for it.” Probably. But in LA, everybody has side gigs. No, it’s Shanghai. I reminded myself while I sat in this chic space that oozes taste, that was supposed to trigger ideas and creations. 

No, there is no “to be or not to be” in my case. Only that I let my desire of meeting their creative team to muddle my judgement. I couldn’t breathe. She and her belief system tried to choke me. My ego threw me off the bus, undid what I’d tried so hard to gain…

It almost succeeded.

I was judged by a corporate specimen. And she was judged by a wild card, me. I’m the round peg in the square hole. Since the meeting, I realized one thing: there is NO turning back now. I’m an independent thinker. I’m an independent artist. I’m an independent human being. I’m responsible for my own status quo and hence, my future and my fate. And that’s the small price I’m willing to pay to be a free agent of my soul.

The good news are, I landed the coveted teaching gig for the fall semester. They like what they see and the students seem to like me a lot.

Yours truly,

PS. It was impossible to use VPN for the last couple of days. Glad to be back. Glad to have a voice. Glad to have a life.

Fair enough

I spent most of the day working on the syllabus proposal. With a few more revisions, I think it’d put me in an even better place to land the gig. 

“What do you do when you don’t know anybody?” I asked my mentor during our call today. 

“Work twice as hard, at least.” 

“Fair enough.” I nodded. 

Yesterday at the jury panel, we read some dozen scripts that got to the final round.  Three were “linked” back to some of the jurors as we were notified via texts… Unsurprisingly, those ended up as two second places and one third place. The one that won the first place was better than the rest, considering theme plays a big role here in China. The first-place script seems to have no guanxi (aka. connections). It stood firm on its own. When the other jurors were too polite to say a word, I probed, “How about this one” in order to move things forward. 

The experience reminded me of my own competition participation when I grew up. I’ve never won the first place, ever. Or second for that matter. I almost always got the third place in all those English competitions I entered. Sometimes I did wonder why that girl got ahead even though her English sounded lame. Yesterday I came out on the other side of the game, I saw how the sausage was made. It violated some of the “hygienic process,” so to speak. But if you are simply so much better than the rest, you can’t be ignored

It is twice as hard to get ahead for those with no connections. So they’d better work twice as hard to make it up. 

When things get hard, work even harder.

Yours truly,

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,

Teaching money

Today I was researching for my syllabus proposal for this institute. I came across a lot of interesting articles and got some new ideas for how to teach screenwriting to non-majors.

And then, I found this interview of Rich Dad Poor Dad‘s author Robert T. Kiyosaki by accident:

They want you to be poor

What Kiyosaki talked about reminded me of a convo I had with my date:

“School doesn’t want you to know how to make, invest and save money. Because school is run by the government. The last thing they need is more smart people outsmart the system. And the debt system would collapse on them. There would be no irrational consumerism or consumerism, period.”

My eyes widened in shock and I nodded, “It made so much sense now.” I also felt chill down my spine as I bottomed down a shot of reality.

I’m an artist, a freelancer, an educator. And I don’t have a healthy relationship with money.

I think it’s time for me to embrace that neglected and ignored relationship. I mean, who doesn’t want to make friends with money, right?

Yours truly,

No worries

It’s a catchy phrase I learned years ago when I was an exchange student in the U.K. But I never really thought about what it meant literally until probably now. 

Truth is, according to my own Big Five Traits, I’m relatively high in neuroticism, which means I’m more prone to have mood swings. Even though I look like I move fast, I also worry a lot. 

There is a study on the older people at the end of their lives, what they wish they could have done differently. Almost all said that they wish they could worry less and do more. (Nike didn’t choose its Just Do It slogan for nothing.) After all, most of our worries never really came true.

I’ve been worrying if I’d land my new teaching gig. The audition lecture went well, I was told. But there were more to do before the final evaluation: a syllabus proposal and a meeting with the big boss. It feels like none of the things I do now I can get a hall pass and get fucking paid already.

“Do your best and let it go.” 
“No worries, mate.” 

A voice whispered in my ears. But I still worry. At least, I’m aware that I am.

Yours truly,

The glass

It’s been four five years since I pivoted to screenwriting. At times, words still don’t come easy. Other rarer times, I felt I knew better now.

So I was somewhat resistant when the program manager said in order to land the fall teaching gig, I also had to do the unpaid summer writing workshop with a bunch of newer and Chinese writers. I browsed the syllabus written in English and was completely convinced that I would get nothing out of it. 

Then I sat in for the last writing workshop the institute held for its spring semester students. I couldn’t believe how reminiscent I felt about that environment: eight writers, one instructor, eight scripts to critique, nine minds to mingle. 

Right after the workshop, I texted the program manager: “Sign me up.”

Tomorrow will be my audition lecture before anything else can happen. I’ve obviously over-prepared. But nothing is an overdo if you want it bad.

The other driver for me is my own level of screenwriting. I can be helluva a kickass critic for other people’s work. But when it comes to my own stuff, I grow soft. I know I should do the opposite. But it’s too fucking hard. Just like body trainers have their own trainers. Learning from a legit Hollywood screenwriter this summer would be a great way to update my own software.

These days, I keep coming back to the glass metaphor. Make it empty, so you can add water in it. If you don’t keep refreshing it, the stale water would smell. 

It’s chemistry. It’s life.

Yours truly,


Today I finished my thirteenth week of a total six-hour-long teaching day. A thought came across my mind. Wow, four weeks later and I’d be done with the people I’d spend the last four months with. 

I thought I’d feel relieved. To some extent, I am. Six-hours teaching means times 2 to prepare. Sometimes more. It was eating up my writing time. But then, be grateful that you have a paying job to support your passion.

But something happened between me and my students over the course of the last month. I care about them, their success, their concerns. I want them to succeed in school, in life, in the future. I can almost see myself fighting back tears when I part ways with my students at the end of June. 

My students. They are mine. For a while. For now. How crazy was it that I invited my morning elective class to do a ten-minutes meditation with me today. I didn’t know if they actually did it with me. But they didn’t have their phones to play with either. (*I made sure I took care of it.) At some point, I felt that my students must think their teacher is going loco. Well, whatever. It’s the right thing to do to introduce to them some tools to cope with life. They can take it or leave it. 

Then they wrote their future dreams down on paper, folded them and put them into a bag. From the bag, I took a piece and read every of those dreams out loud, with care. We clap every time we hear a dream being uttered through me. Making lots lots of money was the most popular dream, of course. I didn’t ask them to change, but I had to urge them to consider: when you have enough money, then what? Retire? 

I haven’t quite figured that one out either. Dreaming versus Living. A fulfilled mind versus a loaded purse.  Personally, I wish the teaching environment in this college to be less hostile to adjunct as well as to its students. By hostile to adjunct, I mean mostly, pecuniary. But isn’t it the same everywhere else? 

The answer in my own experience is not quite. The institute I am going to audition (now scheduled on Thursday) has a far better policy — equal pay to Chinese and Laowai (non-Chinese). I worked my ass off to prepare for this audition lecture. I want this gig real bad. I will nail it. Once I do, I’ll start teaching there in the fall with a reasonable salary plus 40% of my current workload. The class is 1/3 the size of my current one, which means I could develop deeper connection with all the ten students.

Of course, I care about my current students. But I have to practise self-care and self-love in this case. It’s difficult but absolutely necessary. 

“I want you to take what I’ve taught you in this class and apply it to your later career, whether it’s film-related or not.” I heard myself saying to my evening class as I closed for the day, “Don’t write for anybody. Write for yourself. Don’t just write every other day. Write every day. For yourself.” 

Before they exited the room, they clapped. I blushed. 

Yours truly,

Anger Mismanagement

My crux is my anger. I knew it. But I blew it today, again, at my dear friend. 

At the time, I felt so righteous. He hasn’t yet read my script. He knew it’s important to me. And I sent it to him last Thursday. He promised he would read during the weekends. (Okay, I sound like an possessed person already…)

Of course, things happened. He got busy. But something inside me snapped. 

It wasn’t about him really. I was mad at the slow pace of other projects. The producer-wannabe-writer promised to deliver and now it’s two months later. I rolled my eyes back and forth like a yoyo. And a paper that I slaved on with another friend is still awaiting her response. There are tons of things that people just fade out on you… Like with this director, I read his script and gave him notes and had a lengthy call. I sent him meeting minutes with action plans. But I haven’t heard from him since. This reminds me to write him a followup whatup email. 

So at the time, I wanted my friend to be reliable. And he is reliable 99%.And when he doesn’t deliver what he’s promised, all my anger and frustration decimated the dam and flooded out… Of course, he ignored my angry texts and attempted calls as he should.

Hours later, I meditated twice to ease my chest pain. 

Truth be told, I’ve been going back to Pema Chödrön’s Don’t Bite the Hook audiobook as well as my daily meditation practice. But I still don’t feel that I have control over my own anger. And tomorrow morning, I will introduce meditation to my students. #irony

Off to bed now with the repercussions from an angry burst for nothing. 

Yours truly,