Stories by Crazy

A little crazy never hurt anyone…

Category: Non-Fiction

The Last One Before Thirty

Usually I do this every year, but last year, I can’t remember why, but I decided to put it on hold. I think it may have something to do with film school. I should probably finish that draft…

Birthdays are pretty much personal New Year’s resolutions, except all the attention is on you for the day.

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Like most birthdays, I try to keep a low profile and hold off on broadcasting the information. I like the idea of people acting normally and uncoerced, so that any gracious act they do is genuine and unsolicited. However, as per an idealistic personality, I was always disappointed at how few remember – and how many need an external push in the form of my sister posting something on Instagram or Facebook.

This year, however, as I was trying to keep my yearly routine, I decided to just tell people as subtly as possible. Surprisingly, people responded positively, and some showed that they really cared. I think they always cared, but I expected so little from a disappointing humanity, that I never gave them the opportunity.

Since last year, I think I have been giving people the benefit of the doubt more often, even that one lecturer that I refuse to see or converse with or even mention because the very thought of this person makes me want to punch something. (Okay, maybe not that one…) As I lowered expectations, it became easier to just be myself. I still had this attitude of pretentiousness that came with knowing too much about too many things, and with it comes the permanent face-palm and groans when smelling ignorance, annoyance, and other pretentious things.

Still, even with people arguing for Armenian theology or how you don’t need a script to make a movie – both of which I think are incredibly stupid when you really think about it – it’s nice to know that people are still human, and we all make mistakes. We all fall, we all don’t know the entire picture. Yet, if you truly believe in Easter, you know that we don’t just accept, but also forgive, because damn it, we’re all pretty flawed and are nowhere near perfect to have the power to condemn or pass judgment. (Note: this doesn’t mean go out and be self-indulgent under the pretense that you can’t be perfect and no one should pass judgment. That’s dumb. Also, forgive me if that’s a pretty gut-shot representation of Christianity. Everyone has to start somewhere…)

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Somebody asked how I look so young. Honestly, I don’t know. It may be genetics, diet and exercise, or a combination of both. Perhaps it’s because I don’t smile that often, or, as I told this somebody, I feed off the energy of children. In any case, I don’t feel my age, and I guess I don’t look my age – even though mentally, I feel seventy-nine.

In fact, as cynical as I may be, I like to think I’m still very open-minded (within reason) and opportunistic. I still dream of one day rebuilding a car from the chassis up – because Skynet will probably take over my car’s electronics, so I might as well go analog. I still want to learn things outside of my desired profession, which is basically everything and anything. And as a flag football coach once said, there’s always room for improvement to get a little bit better everyday.

In a sense, I feel like a kid again. The whole world is waiting with adventure. New possibilities, new experiences, new people. However, I don’t think this is just reserved for me. It’s everyone anywhere – even if it may be some hipster trip to Iceland because it’s awesome (which, in reality, it probably is) or Coachella (which I still don’t understand the appeal). This does sound a bit first-world privilege, and I don’t deny it. I lament it. If you can read this, you’re probably in the same boat to a degree.

But the fact that you wasted time to read this probably means you could be doing something else. Read a book. Go on a walk. Lift some weights. Sit on the couch watching Coachella (but don’t). Write a novel. Do something. If you’re Christian, you should be doing something – whether or not you fully know it’s purpose (but it’s probably for the glory of God).

If you’re my friend or just a passerby reading some stupid guy’s blog, fulfill my birthday wish by doing something positive for the world. Spread less hate. Be less stupid. Help a brother or sister out. Be a better friend. Plant a tree. Just do something for the betterment of every man, woman, and child instead of living for yourself. And if you can actively spread the Gospel, that’d be nice too. (Or don’t – I’m not your mom.)

Because I’ll tell you what I’ll be doing tomorrow: getting better, making things happen, and meeting people. And if I can put a smile on someone’s face by deprecating myself, you can bet your ass I’ll do that too.

D-Wars

I will try to remain civil about this, and also explain the title (which may allude to a terrible film because it analogizes well to what I’m about to recount).

I have a professor teacher that teaches the Evolution of Narrative Film. You would think by that course title, I would actually learn about how film has evolved since its first slate. However, since that first day of class, I found that notion to be terribly wrong.

His methodology is to show clips of movies instead of the entire film – because… I honestly don’t know why. He makes us stay the entire two hours and forty-five minutes for a night class, which wouldn’t be so bad if he was actually entertaining. He also throws up terminology that he made up and forces us to use – but are probably never used in the industry, and we never will either – to support his theories. Granted, an educator should have some opinion about some things, because everyone has different tastes. However, his opinions seem more like doctrine at this point (which is Week 11), and only he can lead the students into the promise land of “better filmmaking.”

Actually, it makes you a poor filmmaker - figuratively and literally.

Actually, it makes you a poor filmmaker – figuratively and literally.

Now, one of his course requirements is a midterm paper, which should be a walk in the park for a screenwriter. In the requirements, he wanted us to reiterate his fantastically fun terms and apply it to the film of his choosing. (I will say that he has incredible tenacity to pick a film for each one of the 50+ students in the class, or he’s just simply anal retentive.) He also wanted us to “Get Creative…” because “Your Original Thinking Will Get You Everywhere!!” (That is verbatim from the assignment printout.)

I got Under the Skin, which stars Scarlett Johannson… and that’s about it. Needless to say, I hated the film, but I still tried to defend it and play ball. I talked about the all the stuff he wanted to address, like what did I like, what could be improved, what changes I would make. And I added a little flavor to make it unique – since he wanted “Original Thinking.”

If you listen close, you can just make out Admiral Ackbar about to give him the bad news...

If you listen close, you can just make out Admiral Ackbar about to give him the bad news…

That was a week before it was due. Seriously, I turned it in a week early because I just wanted to be done with the class. As soon as I left, I felt a little better, knowing that I could get back to my usual hysteria of actual screenwriting – which is mostly just scouring YouTube videos – and trying to hustle to stay alive.

Then, tonight happened.

The teacher guy started off with how he graded the midterms (which wasn’t anywhere on the important form that told us exactly what he wanted from the midterm). He expressed that he was impressed by the “Original Thinking” of most of the papers. Inside, I was like, “Oh, he probably got a good ol’ chuckle from a cheeky screenwriter.”

However, things got real raw when he decided to admonish a chunk of the class for grammar mistakes he found in the essays, and subtly/passive-aggressively called out everyone who wasn’t born in the U.S. (and some who were) that they need to get themselves “tutorors” (yup, he said that) and generate “graduate level” material – because it was abhorrent to his sensibilities. He later on butchered the pronunciation of a Chinese name from a film that he assumed that all the Chinese students in the room had seen, but was appalled that almost none of them had. Someone had to tell him it was banned, to which he apologized for his actions.

Also, he may or may not have been wearing this hat.

Also, he may or may not have been wearing this hat.

Now, this is the same guy that has undermined the value of screenwriters because he feels that the progression of “cinema” is heading towards “scenario-based filmmaking” – which is just a uppercrust way of saying a Michael Bay film with a smaller budget. I’ve been letting that slide since he doesn’t actually make films – like actually operate a camera, actually sit down and edit all the footage, actually write some words on a paper.

Basically, he’s just a consultant and a critic, sitting on the sidelines and sipping Haterade. I once called him out on all the sarcasm about screenwriters (in kind) as quietly as I could in writing, to which he replied, “Don’t be so sensitive,” on my weekly think-piece-write-some-thoughts-only-to-have-it-shot-down-in-class-cause-he-can’t-write-the-questions-clearly. At that point, I realized he was just a terrible educator. The problem is that I still have to jump through his hoops.

And that has never been so evident than tonight, because when class ended and I picked up my midterm, I saw in red marker that he gave me a D.

RIP.

RIP

I laughed. I really did, because it was so absurd – in that he was so offended by my “Original Thinking” when he’s been spitting the same venom, and that this was the first time I ever failed so hard in school. I showed my screenwriting colleagues, and their reactions ranged from “oh shit” to “HOLY SHIT.” They offered advice and condolences, but the fact of the matter is that I have to let this hipster-of-an-educator know by the end of this week if I want to redo the paper – because to him, it read as “a nasty film review,” did not feel “like a sincere graduate level paper,” and was not “within the spirit of [you and] your colleagues’ work.” To that affect, I can partially agree since I was blatantly scathing about my movie requirement.

No matter how much I despise this guy as an educator, I definitely despise him more as a person. (This is the same guy that forgets people’s names, including my preference of going by something easier than my legal name. Cause, you know, so it doesn’t cause most people to crash and burn at the pronunciation.) This grade (and this class) essentially stands between me passing and graduating on time, and for most of us taking this required course (which is a mystery we’ll never solve), he’s the tollbooth operator that badly wants his dues – which might be for us to turn into mindless clones of himself.

I apologize for reminding you that this film exists.

I apologize for reminding you that this film exists.

Being Asian-American or an Asian in the U.S., this should seem like an everyday situation with an obvious choice. We’re groomed to just work hard and don’t make too many waves so that we end up successful. It’s the credo of most (or all) immigrants and their second-generation children.

But for me, if this guy is what stands in the way of my dreams because I disagree with him and he can’t take what he’s dishing, then he better be ready to go to war.

What is it good for? Absolutely nothing.

What is it good for? Absolutely nothing.

Shout out to my friend who often writes in this style.

For You, My Children

As the reality of this election sinks in, I find myself falling back into that place where I was when my first and only relationship ended. It surprises me that it was two years ago, probably since I did such a grueling job of burying what past I had in order to move forward. It was a difficult experience in my life, and it took a long time to recover, to realign my priorities, and to refocus any shortsightedness for the big picture.

A large part of that big picture is the next generation.

To me, anyone around my age has already been proven, in that their maximum potential has been realized or at least estimated to a certain extent. That is, we already know what we want to be, what we want to do, and what we are ultimately capable of doing. It is slightly sobering to think that I won’t be able to do things that I want to do (perhaps do a back-flip or other stunts), though some still chase those dreams – whether in frivolity or earnestness. More power to them.

The coming generation, however, is still yet to be realized.

I tutor fifth graders at an after-school learning center, and their lives are full of possibilities. They are sharper, smarter, more discerning – but they still retain that child-like quality that unlocks creativity, improvisation, and discovery. I like to think that they are clever, but not yet conceited. They hold the keys to the future, and maybe someday, children of my own will be in their shoes, looking up to their role models to be whatever they want to be.

And therein lies the concern. Is there going to be a fertile future for this next generation to flourish? Have we essentially scrubbed our fields so that only a few chosen can survive? What is going to happen to this next generation?

I fear for them: for their safety, well-being, sound-mindedness, empathy, sense of responsibility, civility, and the list extends onward. Their environment for development is much harder than when I was raised and educated, and it continues to complicate. Sure, technology has made it easier to learn, but it has also made it easier to ridicule or be ridiculed. Modern society has become more tolerant, but having passion that potentially upsets complacency risks making one the exposed nail. On top of it all, there are still remnants of older times that I cannot believe still exist.

I have a professor that insists on having a personality over being an effective educator. Arguing with him on his side comments has had no effect, and has made class time that much more unbearable. He also mentions that the evolution of cinema requires no screenplay, which has been a real selling point to all the screenwriters. (Sarcasm, in case you didn’t catch that.) In effect, he has taken his own personal agenda of making movies great again by puffing up his own ego and stuffing it down the students’ throats.

It is difficult, to say the least, to accept or take in his teachings, let alone like the man. However, I would argue that the students who have found his rhetoric as condescending – as well as those who have not – have become stronger as a result. Not only because this windbag has stoked a fire under our asses, but more importantly, great teachers have stood alongside and encouraged us that we can still do something great. Their kindness has made us, their next generation, better.

My hope is that I can instill the same resolve in my students and the next generation, even amidst these trying and unknowable times. In a way, it is over for my generation, but theirs is only beginning. As such, they should better themselves, but not at the expense of others. They should never give up hope or succumb to taking the cheap shot. They must fight for what is right, and regardless of outcome, do it in a manner that shows class and heart. They must be kind and ready to forgive those who do wrong to them, not perpetuate a cycle that has gone on far too long.

Most of all, they should have faith in their futures, because I have faith from God in them.

A Breather

Usually, I type up a reflection around my birthday, which I’ve been doing for the past three or four years. This year, however, I completely missed an opportunity because I decided to take on five classes (three being the regular load), and thus, I sat behind my computer, complaining about things, wishing things were easier…

But lo and behold, I finally have a moment to perform my two favorite pastimes: to collect and to dump. (I’d advise you to also get some coffee if you intend to read through all this rubbish.)

Normally, I’d remark on some pitfalls and then offer up my learnings from them, spin it with some Christian-faith-life-makes-everything-go-round; but this time, I don’t have much to say in terms of my growth. I don’t understand why, since my inner mind is a bit more systematic and theological, yet I’m drawing hardly anything out of my recollections. Perhaps I’ve become delusional because of all the writing I’ve done, but I think it’s simply:

I’m tired.

This year was tough. Very tough. (Not to the level of Andy Dufresne, but metaphorically speaking.) In a rough outline:

  • I got rejected by women,
  • I watched my church get torn apart by stuff I still can’t comprehend,
  • I had to move away from friends and community I had grown with for nine years,
  • I took on a mountain of debt to study for a job field that will probably keep me in debt for a very long time,
  • I burned a few bridges along the way,
  • and I burned myself out.

In a regular in-person prompt, I wouldn’t say all this. It’d be like hanging a dark cloud that gives a torrential monsoon that nobody likes.

Again, at the end of it all, I’m tired. Maybe aside from the first point, everything else was pretty heavy – relatively speaking. Collectively, though, and now that I can see these events sprawled out in front of me, I realize that I am alone.

Yes, I have friends in film school, and I have friends at my local church. I still have some friends back home, and I have friends from home that are conveniently nearby. I would consider my roommates my friends. (Hopefully, they return the same sentiment…) But at the end of the day, I’m alone – with my thoughts, and with whatever dual personalities I’m currently embodying for screenwriting purposes.

At this point, I’d imagine some of my friends would recount a Michael Jackson tune, which would probably boost my spirits. I’d take anything, really – as long as it’s not drugs or alcohol or medication or really weird metaphysical treatment.

Analyzing myself (as I often do on the page), I realize that I crave intimacy. Just to have that immediacy of talking to someone heart-to-heart, relinquishing problems and finding solutions, recounting the good days and looking forward to those not yet come to pass – and not get criticized for sounding cliché. (Honestly, some people just need to lighten the hell up – a little cliché never hurt anybody.)

“Oh, don’t worry. You’ll find somebody.”

I call bullshit. Really, I do. If God had wanted me to partner with a woman for the rest of my life, it would’ve happened by now or would be on the way to that. Maybe I’m not trying hard enough, or maybe my standards / tastes / preferences are too high / specified / whatever. Yet, for this last year (plus change), I’ve been realizing that maybe I’m just not going to find that one person. Sure, I can get married at 40 or 50 or settle for just anybody, but if you are thinking that, please, just shut up and listen to me.

Is it really so hard to listen? To just shut down that part of your brain that wants to hurry up and fix things, instead of realizing that this is a human in front of me with something rooting much deeper than a cut knee or a sprained ankle or a TFCC injury… Have we come to that age where people just want to move to the next thing, and leave those with anchors behind?

And here’s part of why I’m so pragmatic. People keep offering me solutions, but don’t really want to empathize. They just want to seal the crack with some duct tape instead of actually learning how to properly amend the breakage. They want to slap an applicable label on me and process accordingly. (At this point, it should be clear that I’m an INFT – for all you Myers-Briggs whores.) As a result, in my rashness, I end up doing the same out of perpetual influence.

Never once has someone just said, “Hey, let’s go for a walk.” (And to not have the pretense of catching Pokémon.) To just hear me out, not say a word, and then sit there with me in the silence – for as long as needed, maybe more. (Maybe at a park underneath stars with perfect lighting and impeccable background, but has nothing to do with the story being told…)

I think I really have lost sight of what I’m reaching. I can ingest scripture and sermon until my eyes and ears are sore, but I’m in a trench with tools that only do so much. I carry on with routine, and if the day is empty, I have to find something to do – or I feel completely useless, like I’m on the verge of being thrown away. (Maybe not that dramatic, but you get the idea.)

In philosophy, the smartest thing stated was “I don’t know.” A paradox, though, since the pretense is that Socrates did know how to solve the problem. Nonetheless, I do not know. I don’t feel any smarter by stating that. I don’t know why I feel this way – perhaps I need more Jesus in my life. I don’t know if there’ll be a Shawshank-like redemption for me at the end of wherever the tunnel ends.

All I know is the trudging plateau of hot California weather mixed with a gauntlet of never-ending, caught-in-the-middle-of-whirlwind-situations lifestyle, topped by having to drive across dried land for everything.

So yeah. That’s been my year. Hope you enjoyed your coffee.

Happy Bastille Day to all my French brethren.

Till Now

The last three months have been a complete alskdjfo awijern cioco iuerieak wnwpe rowd invm ocijarwe.

(If that made no sense, then I think I have explained my condition accurately.)

I purposely and unintentionally stopped writing here because of school, school, and questioning what to share. My head’s been spinning, trying to keep up with people and work, that I forgot to spend time on the things I enjoy the most and are most important to me (even though I would deny it all in person). Having some time with spring break, I have blown off the cobwebs to pen some thoughts on the blank pages.

***

Relationships. Are. Hard. (How hard, Dave?) Not just the ones you probably immediately assume, but friendships, familial ties, work ties, etc. They’re like consumer goods: everyone enjoys them until they go wrong, in which they try to trade up and over. But relationships aren’t commodities. They’re much more important, and I feel like the dumbest person when I iterate that.

Growing up, it was strenuous having to move all the time. (I feel like I’ve told this story already.) Every few years, I would have to leave the friends I had just started to enjoy being around, only to have to start over. Probably a nice skill to develop, except meeting people was extremely difficult for me. Most people would just blame personality type, but to be honest, I was worried what others would think about me.

I’m weird (if you haven’t deciphered). I’m not like white T-shirts or low-cut socks. I’m really really difficult to be around when I talk, and it’s worse when I start to force my opinion down your throat. I did tone it down a bit by talking less (or not talking at all), and it’s only by the grace of God that I have any friends.

I’m also notorious for burning bridges, which is ironic to the point of hypocrisy. If I don’t value a relationship enough, I’ll let it die or worse, and I’ve gotten all the backlash from those moments. You would think after the first or second time that I would learn from my mistakes, but the story never works itself out. In a sense, I think of it as a “cleansing,” removing the chaff, but it’s never that — it’s more like cutting out an organ. Only in hindsight, though. Again, grace of God that people even talk to me after the first encounter.

I think it wasn’t until recently that I realized that my friends like me for who I am regardless of what benefit it is to know me other than to know me. It breaks my heart, cause if I were in their shoes, I would cut and run away from me. The Christian would say, “He needs love. He’s just as broken as we are.” My immediate reaction would be, “GTFO.”

And yet, everyday, I’m starting to notice who my close, ride-or-die friends really are. There were many people that did the whole “don’t forget us little people when you make it big” when I left Seattle, but slowly, most of those people ended up doing the thing they asked me not to do. I don’t blame them, as life keeps us busy, but all the same, I do feel disappointment that the relationship I viewed was not the same relationship they viewed. It does stress the fact that it takes two to tango, and it takes two to make a thing go right. It’s not just their fault, but also mine. And no one’s.

***

Failing is a skill that never gets easier. If you ever listen to comedians pontificate, they often say that you’re not a real comedian/-enne until you bomb (once). It helps you learn from your mistakes, makes it easier to take rejection, and solidifies “who you are.” As Nietzsche famously said, “Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”

As a famous ex-network talk show host once rebutted, “What [Nietzsche] failed to stress is that it almost kills you.” And he’s right. Once it happens, you feel like someone just snatched the life right out of you. You may cry, you may hold it together, but you always feel broken inside. And it’s the worst when it’s something in which you hold a lot of pride.

Mine was my first ever screenplay. Anyone can write a screenplay, but like music or art, it takes a master to make it great. And I thought mine was on the way to being good enough to hopefully get in the good graces of my hard-ass professor, who would hopefully send it to an agent that could land me a job once I graduated. Bake my cake and eat it without getting a sugary stomach ache.

Instead, he tore me a new one. While there have been students that cried due to his brash criticism, I held my ground, much like someone trying to save face while taking a public whipping. Even so, it was the most incredibly embarrassing moment in my film school life to date. All eyes staring at me, watching me as my work was shredded to bits, maybe hoping to see me crack. (Note: though my professor sounds harsh, he still cares for all of his students.)

It was depressing the next few days. Could I salvage this story, or would I have to start something new and be completely behind all the other students? I wracked my brain for countless hours, and eventually, I decided to start fresh with something closer to the chest.

And it was like a breath of the freshest air from any of the peaks of Washington State entered my lungs with rejuvenation. I was technically behind, but I felt like this was it. This is a good story that I want to tell, not so much one that I want to get made into a picture to earn a ton of recognition and money. This was the one that really spoke to why I wanted to come to film school: to move and motivate people to do something better.

I’ve got a lot to catch up on work-wise, but for once in a very long time, I feel like things are going to be okay (with school). Even with all the stress, mess, headache, crying, sleepless nights, forced malnutrition, etc.

***

In everything, I cannot begin to illustrate how much Christ has done, and maybe it is serendipitous that it is Palm Sunday Passion Week as I write this. In all my problems, the solutions stood right before me, tapping on my forehead. I was just too caught up in everything else to notice.

Knowing God makes it easier to keep relationships, and knowing Christ makes it easier to fail. It’s crazy and sounds too good to be true, but it is easier. And free. And free-ing. I think less about marriage, jobs, how I’m going to pay off all this debt, and the future (although they’re still there, in my mind wasteland). It’s kind of like emptying your mind, but it is also filling it with God.

The buck’s not supposed to stop at me. As Christians, we’re called to spread the Good News to all; and yet, I still hear of stories of Christians with good intentions, but no tact or manner. It really does suck that it happens, and then other people generalize Christians as such — they make the molehill steeper every time they “profess” the Word of God.

I do want to share my faith with others, but I’ve realized that it’s not a one-and-gun deal. I hate to harp on short-term missions, but sometimes, I wonder if the impact will last and take root — most of the time, it just turns into a vacation. Not to say that they aren’t beneficial, but I’d rather get to know this person or people, walk with them, talk with them, live life with them. It might be why I don’t have the urgency to travel, or constantly looking for “a good time.”

Spreading the Gospel is work, but it shouldn’t be force-feeding scripture. It should be an lifelong, open invitation, regardless of reception. You till the ground and nurture the crops, and then hope to God something does happen. It’s a waiting game, not a baiting game.

I could throw more clichés or well-worded phrases and rhymes, but at the end of it all, it’s just a bunch of words. You would have to walk or talk with me, one-on-one, everyday for the rest of my life to see if what I spew is hypocritical or something sublime. And even then, you would have to come to the conclusion, not me.

And if that wasn’t an invitation to walk or talk with me through this crazy stupid fine thing called life, then I don’t know… but I got a good feeling.