When politics was boring

I don’t know what it feels like to be American right now. I can ask my American friends to find out. Sadly, I’ve lost my only Republican friend or I could have asked him what it feels like to live in DC right now. Last time I heard, he was made partner at his all-white law firm.

For what the Mueller investigation looks like, it could be much bigger than Watergate with Michael Cohen’s pleading guilty for lying in Congress. 

I have to make a memo of what’s been scooped out on a daily basis to keep up with the American politics… It’s anything but boring.

Just a few days ago, I started reading Michelle Obama’s memoir Becoming. It dawned on me that Obama was still president when I arrived in the US in 2015. Because of him, my parents benefited from the ten-year tourist visa, which was unprecedented before or after his administration… And I didn’t recall once the urge to check MSNBC or Colbert or SNL… 

Everyone was just busy living. I was busy making my dream a reality. Now it’s impossible not to talk about politics. It’s almost offensive to just watch Ellen or Fallon. 

The news hasn’t cheered me up since I began following it religiously after the fall of my work visa. I’m seeing a world where the privileged has gotten to get away with crimes. They can lie about it and still get bravos by their diehard believers. Case in point: Trump.

Then why do you still want to go back to the States when things sound so bad? I hear you ask. Because I want the truth, even though sometimes it gets ugly, offensive, hurtful, mind-boggling. But having the press, independent from the executive officer, believe in people’s good judgement, is priceless. 

Because you have to know the truth before you can ask: what can we do to change?

Otherwise, you only raise a herd of people who care nothing more than their paychecks, watch nothing but their soap operas. When you ask them about social affairs, they’d say, “Why should I care?” Why should they when the media never gives you the full picture?

 

 Yours truly,
YZ

The funding

“How did it go?” I asked my soon-to-be writing partner after our new feature project meeting. She also teaches screenwriting at this well-off art school. Over the past week, she has been trying to get funding for her students’ short film projects.

“They gave me a flat-out no.”
“Based on what?”
“a) it’s the end of the year. There is zilch budget left; b) even if they do put in some fund, it has to go through competition so everyone gets a fair shot; c) they might reward the students once their short films won some serious awards.”

And one more thing, in the history of the school, students always fund their own projects. Why do they suddenly need the money now?

I was angry but least surprised. Here is a college that spends money on swans, willows, and moving two ancient buildings from another province to the campus. Now they admit they don’t have any budget?

I believe them. Now, you need to understand how things work here. If there is 100 dollars. The top dog snags 80 dollars as his income, and hands over 20 to his subordinates. The underlings copy their boss. So when the money trickles down to the people at the bottom of the food chain, they get peanuts and jackshit.

Just how driven are these students to get their movies made? I don’t know. Because it now comes down to on how much money their parents would invest/waste and how resourceful the students are.

No wonder when artists here finally get recognized, they thank their family, their loving and understanding parents, their mentors. But they may never mention the schools they graduated from, the system in which they were raised.

Why would we blow your horn when you are here just for yourself?

And to continue the Thanksgiving spirit:

I vow that I would not forget the wonderful people who have helped me along the way.

I vow that I would do so for the younger generations who are talented and dedicated but need the support because the system won’t.

 

Yours truly,
YZ

 

To live and let live

In China, we don’t have animal control bureau running around capturing stray cats and dogs. Naturally, people form opions around these little creatures who are in the grey areas of the law.

Some retirees would feed the neighborhood cats on a daily basis. My mum became one of them four years ago when I told her my observations of these fascinating little creatures as I did my morning walk.

It soon became our daily routine to cat-watch and cat-call. Overtime, mum got acquainted with other retirees, mostly women, who have a monthly budget to feed the cats. They even have a walking routine of “fantastic cats and where to find them.”

Our family cat Michael used to be one of those stray cats before mum and I took him home when he was thirsty by the neighborhood fountain.

Now, on the other side of the aisle, quite much like the Republicans, you have, mostly men and some portion of women, who just hate these furry little things. Some even throw decorative pebble stones at them, not unlike what Trump would do and boy do they feel righteous abou their action.

“They are so filthy. They make the hallway smell. You should stop and let them be (die).”

My dad, who usually let people mind their own business, couldn’t take it no more when he was with mum one day:

“If the earth has only human in it, it won’t be long before we face our own extinction.”

Like the Trump supporters, when you bump into those people in the neighborhood, there is no way you can win the argument. For people who see the world as a zero-sum game, how can you try to talk to them and stay sane?

Hands down, I admire the Democrats on the Hill.

 

Yours truly,
YZ

RBYZ: Braveheart (#013)

Depression and procrastination are your twin babies if you’re a creator of any kind. This comedy writer, who was featured on the show last week, shares her struggles and strategies.  Tune in and find out how she did it. Kudos to her Braveheart! What you’ll hear:
  • Cinematic immunity is real. So is jackass.
  • Why was production jobs addictive?
  • What made her put her foot down to really pursue screenwriting?
  • How does she deal with the rough winter alone in LA when her father had a stroke and her boyfriend left her?
  • How did she overcome impostor syndrome?
  • The consequence of letting a revered professor co-op the script she was writing?
  • Why did she prefer writing comedy over drama?
  • Why did choose to write at Starbucks knowing the cliche LA writer?
  • What did she learn about herself and the business of counseling through the years of therapy and changing therapists?
  • What benefits does she see going to film school even though she had tons of on-set experience?
I would keep taking jobs. because I don’t want to face my own thoughts. The job had the best hours but I had the longest days. I have a blind faith in life. “What are you gonna do next?” People ask me. Well, I don’t know. It’s gonna happen though. Things would come around.  New writers are like a new virus that Hollywood wants to get rid of. If you are lucky, you get to take hold. Then you can’t get rid of Hollywood. I hope to be that virus.
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.

Imperfect

Ever since I was a kid, I loved reading biographies, from entreprenuers like Steve Jobs to great poets like Su Shi from ancient China’s Song Dynasty. I read David McCullough like the Bible, from his recount on the creator and builder of the Brooklyn Bridge to the 1000-page books on John Adams and Harry Truman…

I studied the successs patterns. I tried to find out exactly what made those people great. And I wanted to “fake it till I was great, too.”

Then, I found the cultural differences between the Chinese and the English versions on the same subject, say Newton or Einstein.  In the Chinese version,  they were almost always so damn perfect.  It was in the English version that I realized that, “Oh, they did have a sense of humor. Oh, they were kids once too.” You might be able to imagine how shocked I was when I read Walter Isaacson‘s Steve Job biography…

To err is human. And yet, it was hard to get that message reading the biographies in Chinese… So, as a teenager, a young adult, I tried hard to get rid of my little foibles, my big shortcomings. It worked for a while, then there was always counterattack.

As I took up writing, it dawned on me that what made characters relatable is exactly their freckles, their imperfections.

When I chose Eddie the Eagle (2015) for my movie buff dad to watch tonight, I ended up watching it with him.

Eddie didn’t look like a pro; he didn’t have the Olympian presence as per the snobbish British Olympic Committee.  But Eddie tried, he failed and fell. He came as last but people fell in love with him and what he stood for – He is our guy. He is the guy who doesn’t care to be perfect. He can’t. He was 22 when he was 16 years too old to begin ski jumping according to the pros.  He can’t change people’s minds, but he sure defied gravity and elevated the founding principle of the Olympic Games:

“The most important thing is not winning but taking part; the essential thing in life is not conquering but fighting well.”

– Baron Pierre de Coubertin

Most of us aren’t going to be Mozart, maybe not even Salieri. But I’d say this, something plastic surgeons never say, if you are able to feel okay your imperfection in public, I think you’re closer to be the person you dream to be.

 

Yours truly,
YZ

PS. Speaking of imperfection, we might be the last few generations who are imperfect. Now those gene-edited babies are among us…

Five Insurances & One Fund

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 on commute, getting crushed into a tube of man-sardines in the rush-hour metro.

Most of all, I love taking an afternoon stroll with dad in the new neighborhood park. I love giving mum fashion and beauty tips for her reunion parties. I love the occasional distractions from my cat when he scratches against my door trying to get in. 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 that 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 nurturing 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, and any 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

The cat-like trust

My cat lies on the floor, his eyes gazing into me and my soul.

I put my foot over his soft furry belly and rub him.

He purrs.

This little creature’s trust towards me and my family never fails to amaze me.
He knows that I won’t harm or hurt him.
He gives me his whole body when he allows me to touch him.

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When was the last time we gave our whole to someone else?

Here, this is me and my soul. I trust you and here you are.

It feels good. It feels complete.

 

Yours truly,
YZ

PS. On the flip side though, any violation of trust can be devastating.

My 2018’s 20/20

I remember dreading whether I could be do screenwriting again when I started working at a high-profile production company. In my sometimes ten-hour workday at the office in Beverly Hills, I was either reading or writing about the stuff I just read. When I ran out of materials, I asked people to send me more stuff to read. 

With the 20/20 I have now, it’s pretty easy to see what drove me then.  Fear.  

Fear of not fitting in.
Fear of getting caught as a fraud.
Fear of losing the job.
Fear of writing.
Fear of sending people my specs.
Fear of having written something that isn’t good. That might never get better.
Fear of getting kicked out of the country and losing everything.

As a result, I didn’t write a word for eight months on end. I was preparing for my small claims lawsuit against a former landlady. I was entertaining my family. My aunt fell sick. There was always a new hedgehog popping its head out for my dirt cheap undivided attention.

I believed my writer’s block was earned. It felt real and got more so by the day, by the hour that I postponed, procrastinated from: merely start. 

By August this year, almost all my worst fears came true. My visa fell through. I was let go. I didn’t have more or better samples to show when I took meetings.  I had to physically uproot and wholesale what I’d built in LA and leave the country within two months.

Tick tock. Tick tock.

It was more than just a hard pill to swallow. It was a cocktail of my bruised ego, my crushed pride, mixed with a triple-shot of wrath soaked in broken promises, trust and hope.

Friends urged me to look at the brighter side of things, greater design of the scheme.

You don’t have to tell the whole truth.  Control your narrative so you won’t be mocked or pitied. Have faith in your ability. 

Easier said than done.

At the time, I couldn’t. I was sulking and moping. I couldn’t seem to hurlde even the first stage of grieving. I was in total denial. 

I think what got me through are basically two things:

  • First, take one step at a time; and live one day at a time.
  • Second, rage and regret steal your energy, not your enemies’.

My psychologist friend Barbara said, “As long as we are human, we have ego.” So yes, if you’re wondering, I still have a chip on my shoulder. I learn to live with it. But I don’t plan to indulge on it further.

I’ll end on this note to whomever it may concern: My future success is the best “Fuck you very much.”

 

Yours truly,
YZ

Those commercial stuff

I just watched The Spy Who Dumped Me. I chose NOT to see it when it premiered. I remembered passing by the billboard when a friend drove us somewhere for dinner.

“The Spy Who Dumped Me.”

“What?”

“A new movie. Looks stupid.”

And that was the end of the conversation. When I smell something too commercial to my taste, I shoot it down, fast. I frown upon cheap spy movies, car chase movies, action movies. Because it’s almost always all adrenaline, no brain, no real emotion or substance. When I was still in film school,  I detested and resisted from writing commerical stuff. I even drew a hard line between artists and those sellouts.

I even take my coffee pure black, no milk, no sweetener or other weird stuff. I like to taste it real, with no disguise. And yet, a friend reacted, “Com’on, life is hard enough. Let’s make it sweeter.”

Interesting. Then I keep on drinking my esspresso, black.

Now here comes the plot twist. I took on a commercial feature project recently. Watching The Skp Who Dumped Me tonight gave me so much inspiration. I was with Kate and Mila all the way through on their wacky journey. I was laughing so hard that my chest still sores when I try to take a deeper breath.

So when I accused those feminist nazis, I became one myself. Can’t commercial do good too? Why does everything have to have a ‘point?’ Doesn’t make people laugh a lofty goal already?

Thanks to this commercial “stuff,” I just got an extra doze of motivation and drive to strive to make my own project sizzling fun.

 

Yours truly,
YZ

Whisper v. Scream

I recently started testing and uploading my podcast to a Chinese podcast platform called: XimalayaFM.

Everything I know about listening to podcasts and podcasting is all done on iTunes Podcast. 

When I wanted to play my album on XimalayaFM, it took me more a few clicks. As you launch the app, you will be greeted by a 5-second full-screen ad before you can hit “Skip.” Once you are inside, you are bombarded with banner ads from campaigns like VO Competition to trending playlists. 

I feel like I’m walking down on Nanjing Road Shopping District with my non-Chinese friends. One second we start walking, vendors storm over like wasps yelling in pretty impressive English, “Chanel? Louis Vuitton? Rolex?”  The more we shake our heads and respond, “Bu Yao” (meaning ‘Don’t want’ in Chinese), the more those vendors feel the responsibility to engage and explain, sometimes for a couple of blocks.

It’s exactly how I feel about using XimalayaFM. Since I upload my content there for free while I pay for the audio hosting fee on the US site simplecast.com, XimalayaFM automatically feels entitled to replace my cover art to their low-res cheaply cropped banner ads, or disgust me with its screen poop rain ad, or voiceover ad before people can hear a syllable of my show. 

Like Taobao (Chinese Amazon), it rewards you with virtual coins by how many days in a row you check in, by how long you listen on a daily basis. What can you do with those not-real coins? You can purchase content on the platform.  You can even pay them per impression (just like Facebook Page promo) to promote your content. And it will tease or appease your ego if you want to know just how many more subscribers you gain on a daily basis, how many new listens you get and down to how many people actually finish listening before clicking on. 

By the time I get to my own voice, I was so nauseated, overwhelmed, and mind-fucked. 

In contrast, on Apple Podcast, the sponsorship message, if any, comes strictly from the podcast itself. The user interface is so pristine that I feel calm and centered. I actually want to browse and explore the great shows out there even though it feels as sparse as LA. I can finally lower my elbows and start jogging. 

Or compare Google and its Chinese cousin Baidu on any given Sunday… or just any day.  Baidu, like our dear Mrs. Bennet, tries to shove you whichever you-couldn’t-care-less celebrity is in deep shit again. “Oh, you don’t know who that celebrity is? Here is the link. And you’re so very welcome, darling.”  

I’m no expert in UX UI design, but as a writer, I know a thing or two about restrain. It’s easy to come up with a funny screaming scene (Think August Osage County), but so much harder to come up with a powerful silent moment (Think The Bridges of Madison County). 

Like my UCLA screenwriting professor always says, “Get that exclamation point out of my sight and let the actors do their job.”

Now, at this time of the year, I want to thank you for being with me during my most tumultuous summer of my life, so far.  

Happy Thanksgiving.  Doesn’t feel right though without the rowdy exclamation points!!!

 

Yours truly,
YZ