Dear Future Nervous Breakdown…

Dear Future Nervous Breakdown,

You suck. I know you’re coming. I tried to deny it. But it’s inevitable.  You visit once every adult decade and I know my time’s gonna be up. So I’m writing this letter to you. Oh and in case this letter isn’t enough, I also made up a Twitter account to send you messages as they come in. (twitter.com/ToMyFutureBD)

Screw YOU, Future Nervous Breakdown!

Screw YOU, Future Nervous Breakdown!

I’m preparing myself this time though.  I knew that since I started to put myself out there and write, perform and show my work more than ever that I’d get on your schedule (Fire your assistant, by the way, she has horrible phone presence. And if they still have them, get her some elocution classes).  My soul is weak sometimes.  I can only cycle through so many waves of self-doubt and blind optimism while making a living from writing and comedy until you decide that I’m so out of touch with myself you had to stop by and remind me.

I do not look forward to your visits. The first time you came I was in college and you pretty much blind-sided me. I cried every day because I realized I had that many tears to shed. I had repressed my feelings about…well..everything…so I said, I’m ACTUALLY going to tell my friends how I’m REALLY feeling. You know, I became that girl who was so committed to “emotional honesty” that whenever a friend in passing said, “Hey, Jenny! How’s it goin’?” I responded with “You know…I’m not doing so well these days. I’ve been a little depressed to be honest with you.”  Now the art of it all is knowing how to follow that up so that EVERY person you see doesn’t feel like they MUST sit down and lend a shoulder to cry on.  “Dude. How are you? We don’t need to get into it and all, I just wanted to be honest.” A couple of confused and tentative lines of small talk later, we were done.  Bumping into folks at the library does not make a good on-the-spot heart-to-heart. And even in those instances when I did end up having an impromptu chat session with someone who REALLY wanted to get into it, it was always so comforting and nice.  It wasn’t like they were taking away time I spent on studying. Oh no. That first time you came to visit, I stopped doing my schoolwork all together.  Now…how is it possible to have THREE incomplete courses for the semester when all you had were FOUR courses in total? I didn’t know how that worked until I decided to cry instead of pruning up the pages of my Constitutional Law book.

After a horrible attempt at talking to the therapist in psychological services for a month (How can a professional therapist make my session ABOUT HER?!) and three gut-wrenching poems (that will never see the light of day again) later, you left…leaving me to pick up the pieces without you. Stop doing so much at school, my advisor said. Maybe you’re busyness is your way of avoiding something you need to confront.  What I needed to confront was my own emotions and allowing myself to be vulnerable with the people who were closest to me. Aah. “Emotional honesty.”

After that, what I had to learn throughout most of my twenties was choosing the right person to trust with my emotional honesty.  It’s not like it would be SANE at ALL to be “emotionally honest” with just anyone and all the time! There are limits to the truth, especially when it comes to bus drivers, supervisors and sometimes friends.

Turns out I was really shitty at picking boyfriends because they were certainly not trustworthy of my emotions, and it actually is quite possible and grand to be honest pretty much all the time!  There are such things as tact, holding your tongue and choosing the right moment to say how you feel with difficult situations and people. If only I knew then what I know now.

Guess what?  All that emotional honesty nearly ALL the time? That’s the reason why I KNOW you are coming at this point. It’s gonna happen.  It’s all that commitment to honesty that got me into this kooky idea that I could make a living/lifestyle being a writer and comedian. That’s the exact reason for your second visit four years ago when I decided I had enough of my day job and it was time for me to find a professional that encouraged my honesty!

Instead of strategic planner and project manager, I would become comedian and writer! I will commit to professions that TRADE on honesty. The stock exchange of honesty is built on HONESTY chips of FAITH, BEING PRESENT and GUTLESS HUMILIATION (wait, that’s the stuff they trade on Wall Street, right? Chips? Or whatever). So yeah. My incentive nowadays is to be more honest than ever before. In fact, practicing the honesty muscle every single moment of every day is my life’s blood!  Telling a co-worker exactly what I think of them when they ask me directly, even if it’s in jest and in front of other co-workers means, well, I’m GONNA tell you that I don’t think much of you and in not so many words, say you are a shitty person. *shrugs* And guess what?  The world didn’t end!

((I wonder if Oprah feels this way. Does she bathe in baby’s tears because she can? I want to suckle on the teet of her eternal wisdom))

So I know. Because I’m committing myself to the craft and trade of “honesty” you My Future Nervous Breakdown is greasing the wheels of your bronze, Roman-looking chariot, just smiling at the sheen as the oil leaves the tip of your bulbous oil squeeze bottle and drizzles onto and around the axle carrying the mode of transportation that will send you blazing with blind horses atop storm clouds and flames and back into my life.

I’m about three and a half years into wearing this label of “comedian and writer”…so I’m giving it another year before you “hyah!” your way to my house. It’s a small condo. You’ll have to take my bed because surely I will be face-planted on my couch in front of my Netflix cue and the jar of peanut butter and Trader Joe’s dark chocolate-covered pretzel thins will be taking up substantial real estate.

So know this, Future Nervous Breakdown: I AM PREPARING LIKE A WARRIOR FOR YOUR ARRIVAL.  Every glazed look of a comedian boy at open mic, every non-response to fellowships and journals I submit, every shitty white person who feels like they need to educate me about my perspectives on race after a show, every heckler that says show me your titties, every voice inside my head that tells me I’m not good enough or funny enough so why am I even trying, every drunk acquaintance at happy hour who decides to ask me loudly, “tell me a joke then!” after I’m introduced as a stand-up comedian, every time I try a new idea and get no laughter…I will own it then quickly set it aside.

Every day I practice my muscle of emotional honesty I’m also practicing my skill in transforming all the associated reactions of SHAME, SELF-DOUBT, REJECTION, and INSECURITY into FIRE – FIERCE FLAMES OF MY SPIRIT THAT WILL OVERWHELM YOUR SPINELESS ASS. Because in the end, you are a coward, hiding behind your duty to bring gloom and havoc on people’s lives. You’re just a middle-level bureaucrat logging your time, clocking in and out of your day, checking off the people you need to terrorize because, to be honest, you have nothing better to do. That stupid helmet with the red brush on top looks horrible on you by the way. Talk to your people about getting a new look.  *I* did. I get to wear brightly-colored sneakers now.

Screw you,

Jenny

Dear Now-Jenny, Love Early-20s-Jenny

Early-20s-Jenny DEFinitely hung out around loud speakers more than Now-Jenny.

Early-20s-Jenny DEFinitely hung out around loud speakers more than Now-Jenny.

You really never know what you’ll find when you unearth emails from old accounts (aol.com or yahoo mail, anyone?).

I just couldn’t resist sharing this never-published gem, a little journal essay I wrote myself when I was in the throes of building my first career in public affairs and figuring it all out. This essay was written during my Coro Fellowship government sector placement at the Ronald Reagan State Building in downtown Los Angeles.

Now-Jenny, I’d like to re-introduce you to Early-20s-Jenny.

Before you read this entry, some thoughts:

  1. I finally took the advice of this supervisor MANY years later.
  2. I was not quite a “20-20-20.” Thank goodness.
  3. My statement about my personal mission still pretty much holds true.
  4. In lieu of memos, I now write stories and jokes, and I’m loving it.
  5. Did I know I’d eventually pursue comedy and writing as a career many years later?
  6. I think I need to get back in touch with that supervisor.

If you get through this, let me know what you think. Have you ever uncovered old writing you forgot about? What did it reveal about you? How’d you feel about what you read?

from the bowels of Ronald Reagan

As I sit and write, Cali’s big bad governor Gray is above my head ready to nominate a moderate brown brother to the state supreme court.  I think to myself, “why me?”  Why am I sitting amidst all the titles, cocky politics and minimalist gray walls?  Why am I sitting in the bowels of the Ronald Reagan State Building in downtown Los Angeles under the name of a Republican president in a democratic society when independence is all anyone wants?

Perhaps to see the finely greased machinery of state government churn?

Push the limits on the amount of personal emails I can blast off from my posh State office? (since most of the regular occupants spend much of their time in Sacramento)

No.  It’s so that I can be thankful for the wonderful feng shui (fohng sway) of my workspace; I can clearly see the doorway from my desk – no backs to the door here.

It’s because the Grand Central Market is just a quick weave through two short blocks of homeless vagrants and downtown dilapidation where I can quickly grab me
a 2 dollar gordita with a juicy chopped charbroiled breast of chicken, all the lettuce, tomato and cilantro fixins, and no beans please.  LAWD!  It’s a tasty treat fit for a queen! (or a downtown rat like myself)

It’s so that my supervisor can get to work at 10, and leave at 3 so that he can yell at me at 5 from his cell phone to “GO HOME!”

My new super’ Jorge, and yes you’d say it in Spanish (Hoar-Hay), imparts his half-century’s worth of wisdom on me at strange moments when we work.

“Life is not about accumulating or achieving.”

“In your lifetime, you answer to no one in the end but yourself.”

“Life is about experiencing, giving, and feeling the appreciation from others whom you have touched.”

“Don’t be a 20-20-20. (what’s that?) A 20-something year old working 20 hours a day for 20 thousand dollars a year”

I got two 20s down…and twill never be combined with 20 hour work days (so help me God).

He’s a renaissance man and free spirit with an eagle eye for understanding people quickly.  He knows more about me in two working days than some friends may
know from 10 years of friendship.

He engages in driveby life-probing.

“What do you see yourself doing in 10 years?  Really.”
(uh…-shift in seat- I guess I’ll be…)
“No.  It’s okay.  You can get back to me on that.”

I want to teach.  Educate.  Mentor.  Encourage little people with little lives to think BIG in hopes that they live BIG.

So I look back at my Dell computer screen, and blink a few times to shake off the radiation.  It’s probably time to write a Memo or something.

National Novel Writing Month: Home Stretch!

The goal is to write at least 50,000 words for a first draft of a novel during the entire month of November.  We’re almost there! I’ve fallen behind pace a bit but expect to catch up and “win” (as they call it).

The working title of the novel is “Jenny Chang: Nubian Queen.”  Asian American student activist Jenny Chang is starting Senior Year at her small liberal arts College and discovers that she must go back into the consciousness of her big public high school self to thwart space aliens living as her childhood friends by changing the social order of her school and save her life and the future of the human race.

Found this nifty meter.  Excited to finish later this week!

 

33848 / 50000 words. 68% done!

Jenny’s Mid-Year Creative Review 2012

As a natural extrovert I find that public declarations of stuff I need to do helps A LOT to keep me on track when it may feel like a daunting task.  So when I saw Kiyoung’s blog, “mid year creative review 2012,” I had to follow his lead. Brilliant idea.

Let’s try this out.

Top Creative Goals & Accomplishments for 2012

Writing

  1. Get a paid “foot-in-the-door” TV industry job – ideally something related to writing but production work also valuable.
  2. Finish my first 3 spec scripts in life ever.
  3. Write 1 pilot and 3 series pitches.
  4. Develop a series of short comedic monologues and put on a show.
  5. Write a comedic web series.
  6. Self-publish my short book idea.

Stand-up Comedy

  1. Produce and perform in a successful all female, Asian American stand-up comedy show
  2. Win a stand-up comedy competition
  3. Write and record 8 comedic songs.
  4. Perform for and rock non-Los Angeles audiences

Writing

1. Get a full-time “foot-in-the-door” TV industry job – ideally something related to writing but production work also valuable.

Done! I’ve been self-employed as a writer, comedian and organizer for the past year and a half.  And thankfully, I found myself a full-time Assistant to Line Producer job on a network sitcom!  I start very soon. This will be my first “industry” job. I hope to learn a bunch of stuff.  Wish me luck!

2. Finish my first 3 spec scripts in life ever.

Parks and Rec spec script: Done!  Phew. 2 more to go. (And quite honestly, rewrite of said Parks and Rec spec script must happen)  I’ve really been obsessed with Archer. Might I attempt their witty repartee and kooky characters?  Another candidate is Suburgatory – not the most highly-rated of the freshman shows but I LOVE it. (Now if only I can figure out a way to incorporate Battlestar Galactica into all this…hmm)

3. Write 1 pilot and 3 series pitches.

Not done.  Been marinating on a couple of ideas.  Lots of brainstorming on paper and with writing confidants.  Maybe an Asian American Freaks & Geeks based on growing up in the South Bay of Los Angeles? And then I discover this gem.  Oh well. Back to the drawing board.

4. Develop a series of short comedic monologues and put on a show.

I’ve written five, two to five minute comedic monologues for my favorite comedic actor friends.  Okay.  Really, I’ve written three and a half because some of those five monologues need a bit beefing up.  These first drafts were performed in a semi-cold read at my home for some close friends. My first time hearing other people interpret and perform my creative writing!  I know! Crazy. I’ve only written for myself to perform! How selfish of me.  This intimate reading was magical. The actors sublime.

Next steps?  My actress/writer friend was inspired to write some monologues of her own.  We decided we must hone these monologues enough to create a staged reading for the public later this year.

5. Write a comedic web series.

Not done. However, I recently found potential collaborators/producers interested in having me write for a concept I really love. Let’s see where this partnership leads.

I’ve also been doing some consulting with an upstart weekly pop culture review show based out of an established entertainment company.

6. Self-publish my short book idea.

Not done. Just gotta schedule time for it. It involves hand-writing…collaging and scanning.

Stand-up Comedy

1. Produce and perform in a successful all female, Asian American stand-up comedy show

DONE! So proud of this. We did the kickoff show of http://disorientedcomedy.com and it was sold-out and a hit! The show’s going on the roooooaaad! San Diego. November 2012.

2. Win a stand-up comedy competition

Nope. But I placed 3rd out of 90. Not bad.

3. Write and record 8 comedic songs.

Tapioca Milk Tea. One.
I Need FroYo. Two.
Cafe Sua Da. (Half Done) Three.
___________
___________
___________
___________
___________

Got me a producers/sound engineer on board whenever I’m ready. Yay, Mosaic!

4. Perform for and rock non-Los Angeles audiences

Done.  East coast tour. Well, does doing shows in 2 cities count as a tour?  Washington, DC did the fundraiser for APAICS at the Kennedy Center (What a stage!), Busboys and Poets, DC then The Creek & Cave in New York!

YELLOW.

YELLOW.
by Jenny Yang. March 13, 2012
(written for Monk Turner’s upcoming color concept album)

Yellow with an attitude.

Yellow is supposed to be mellow, but I disagree.
Yellow is much more assertive than you think.
Less butter. More sunshine.
Less autumn leaves. More highlighter.
I don’t know how we got this reputation.
Mellow Yellow?
Perhaps Yellow felt too bright when it first arrived.
The other colors didn’t know what to make of her.
Red was Fiery.
Orange was Offbeat.
Pink? Well…you know Pink.
Pink was just Above-it-all.
Yellow had to Pale in comparison.
That was the spectrally-acceptable thing to do.
You know how groups of color can be.
Follow our rules or you don’t play.
But it’s a different time now.
Yellow no longer needs to be mellow.
We can embrace the more outstanding qualities of our hue.
When we arrive. You will notice.
When we show up. You have been warned.
Don’t. Fuck. With. Yellow.
And now you know.

“I’ve been a Good Asian. And now I want to do what I love.”

Jenny Yang with many years experience of being a "Good Asian"

I've had many years of experience being a "Good Asian."

I don’t know how many times I’ve had fellow Asian American friends, acquaintances, NAY, entire strangers (or what I like to call “future friends”) say some variation on this theme to me.

They say it with this whispered tone…like we’re in some kind of Catholic confessional – but we’re totally not Catholic and I can see the desperate whites of their eyes, plain as day.

I’ve been a Good Asian. And now I want to do what I love.

This is closely related to:

  • I’m thinking of quitting my job, too, Jenny. Help!
  • I’m not happy with my job. I’ve sacrificed so much for a “practical career.”
  • I feel so stressed all the time. I feel like if I take some time to do something creative it will take away from the energy I’m putting into my job. (E.g. photography, painting, drawing, music, dance, writing, etc.)
  • I really admire what you’re doing Jenny. It’s so courageous.

That last one really gets me.

Wow. You are so brave to do stand-up comedy.

I take that as a total compliment (Don’t get me wrong).  Most Americans’ number one fear is “public speaking” even before “death.” I get it.

What I often hear as a subtext in what they are saying (most of the people) is:

I am so afraid to try and break out of what I know to be the right and responsible thing to do in life.

I was and am still that person.  I think the turning point for me was admitting this to myself and deciding I wanted more meaning and joy in my life AND that I’m willing to do the work to figure out that path.  It’s liberating, exhilarating and OH SO SCARY all at the same time.

The fear comes from never having the direct role models for entrepreneurs or creatives in my life – people who knew how to put together a lifestyle that supported art-making and consistent time for creativity and creative training.  And what I HAVE learned is that it runs the gamut.

  • My long-time theater performer/writer/educator/community organizer friend never had a full-time job.  She would get full-time work half of the year and that would subsidize the rest of the time to pursue either touring the country with her theater group for just enough pay to cover expenses or teach workshops on writing and creativity to groups of students and community leaders.  Sometimes, she’d apply for grants to fund special projects that she was inspired to pursue.  Many times she would partner with local organization who supported her teaching and art to be resident artists or teaching fellows.
  • My visual artist/musician friend learned photography in college.  Then came to Los Angeles after cutting some rap albums in Chicago and paid the bills with a full-time job as a telemarketer for belt buckles and other assorted accessories. That took a few years of his life while he painted in the time outside of work.  He delayed having a baby with his wife until he had more stable income.  While the music he made here and there didn’t pay for his life, at some point, he was building a reputation as a visual fine artist.  Now he is an international-shown fine artist of his paintings with gallery representation in New York and Los Angeles.  His paintings now go for tens of thousands or more each, and is the sole breadwinner for his little household. His baby just celebrated her third birthday.
  • Another musician friend of mine has a full-time job teaching music in Los Angeles under-served schools. He spends his free time collaborating with his friends and creating concept album after concept album.  He makes his music free for anyone to download in hopes that it allows his work to reach the broadest audience.  He also aims for his work to be licensed by people with money and a means for broadcast.  He lives a simple, low-overhead life in a studio in Los Angeles’ artist district.
  • A friend of mine is an actor who moved to Los Angeles to pursue the entertainment industry about two years ago.  He lives in a low-rent studio in a nice Westside neighborhood where he can bike and run to the beach. Keeping a low-overhead allows him to have a part-time after school program job as a teacher.  His employers are also really great with giving him some leeway when he needs a flexible schedule to get to auditions during the weekdays.  Sometimes he picks up catering jobs on the weekends.

These are just a few people who have inspired me with their own “business models” for their creative life.

And when I heard the recent news of artist David Choe’s old Facebook stock estimated to be worth millions of dollars now, I feel a little ambivalent.  David had the option at the time to get cash or shares when he did the phallic mural on the old Facebook office walls.  He didn’t even think Facebook was a good idea at the time.  And now he’s worth millions.

Does that mean David Choe was a good Asian? (Or Asian American or Korean American?)

Does it mean that he’s “Good” because he’s become EXTRA rich because of his art?

I say, to be a “Good Asian” doesn’t just mean to work in the medical field and build a practical career. Kudos to you if you have the means, drive and abilities to do so.  I also think that we have a choice to make a creative life, even if it means we keep these day jobs and squeeze in that half an hour a day to write that memoir we’ve always dreamed about.  Or give ourselves that one outing a week where we can just cruise around the city and take pictures of things that inspire us.  Or like a number of my photography and video-loving friends, be the historians for the artist friends who perform at local events.

I’d like to re-define being a “Good Asian” to INCLUDE making our lives filled with meaning, happiness, joy and creativity.  How about that?

Middle School Gifting: A Lesson in Trying Too Hard

When I was a wee, people-pleasing eight grader I over-gifted the bejeezus out of my tenuous social circle.  I was realizing that being popular was important and I was on the cusp of ingratiating myself to the cool kids.

Quick Middle School Anthropology Field Note:  My friend, Lisa and I sat a few feet away from where the popular group sat on the field during lunch.  The proximity was important. Try to look cool and laugh loud enough to show that we were having a great time without them. Then, all we needed is just one person calling to us and saying, “Hey! Why don’t you bring your lunches over here?!” and we were soooo in!

I did chores and I didn’t even make an allowance!  But I managed to convince my parents I really needed seventy five dollars to get gifts that holiday season.  I was a good girl with straight-As. I earned it.

Seventy five dollars was a lot of money in the late ’80s and went a long way in getting costume jewelry and novelty gifts sold in the local mall.  I nicely wrapped over twenty gifts to friends and somewhat-acquaintances, spending all of my free time in the run up to winter break. These somewhat-acquaintances thanked me with a look of surprise, especially since most of them did not get me a gift.

The result?

After winter vacation, I came back, ready to take on the Magruder Middle School social world! I continued to hang out with Lisa on our patch of “Popular-Adjacent” lunchtime real estate.

The Author of this Blog Post, Circa Trying-Too-Hard.

The Author of this Blog Post, Circa Trying-Too-Hard