Lessons Learned From My First Short Film

The Reel Asian Film Festival announced a See Yourself Here short film contest, asking people to send in one minute videos posted over Instagram. Since I have a horrible habit of wanting to do more than I am capable of, I thought I would give it a shot!

My film “Great Grandma & Me” can be watched in the link below. Please “like” to vote for me for this competition!

Lessons learned from this endeavor:

  1. Stabilizing the camera is important. Duh! Well, it was really hard to capture my son who was running around but someone told me they have a weighted tripod stick which you can carry while running around and it should help. So better equipment for next time…
  2. Extra footage, always. Certain shots were useless because they were too shaky or the light wasn’t right when it was made. Having lots of footage means you can toss stuff out and keep the good stuff.
  3. Light, light, light. I shot during the day with window curtains open so there was lots of natural light. The Samsung S9+ phone I used to shoot with was pretty good and had special features to “light up” the shot even in a dark room. It has a rear 12MP camera which isn’t industrial grade, but until I do more film stuff, it will do the job for now.
  4. Use good video editing software. For this film I used FilmoraGo on my phone. There is a Filmora desktop version, but the only time I had was travelling between places so I needed a mobile solution to fit in work for this project. Editing was a breeze. The software isn’t perfect, but much faster than using Windows Movie Maker. Quik by GoPro is a good option too, but the themes they had for videos were not what I wanted. I have a new mac now, will try iMovie next.
  5. Check licences on music. I chose Happy Ukulele by Scott Holmes, which I found on the Free Music Archive. This song can only be used for specific scenarios and Scott indicates you have to email him to ask for permission. He was kind enough to grant it, but do check before using music to make any videos!
  6. Be patient with “the talent.” This refers to my grandmother who was saying I was stupid the whole time and my son who refused to follow directions most of the time. They have to be in a good mood, so I had to pamper them a bit before I got some good shots. It’s too easy to become frustrated and give up, so lots of patience is needed. Chocolate as bribes helped a lot in my case…

Making this short film was a lot of fun and I hope people enjoy it!

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Business over Hot Pot

Last week I had a business meeting with The Artist Blueprint Company‘s President (let’s call him K) and we really like to eat while talking. We went out for Taiwanese hot pot buffet and we cooked a lot of raw food (beef, lamb, chicken, pork, quail eggs, vegetables, noodles, etc) in a boiling cauldron of soup. The Artist Blueprint is another publishing company based in Toronto that specializes in diverse stories. We have done very different things as Dark Helix is broadening its horizons on subject matters (we got a lot of criticism from the Asian community about our Trump book) and exploring magazine publishing while Artist Blueprint is looking to create more merchandise creation beyond their current e-books. We are always looking for opportunities for collaborate and it’s good to brainstorm together.

Alas that night was my husband’s “night out” so I needed to bring my 3 year old son to my meeting. He’s ok once Paw Patrol is on the iPad (I admit I feel guilty for having judged other parents for doing this before I had my son) since he falls into zombie mode and I can talk without interruption. I’ve been asking for permission to bring my son along to informal meetings because it makes my life easier. K is a really cool guy and he has no problems. In another meeting my husband had a work emergency and I had to bring my son because I couldn’t find a last minute babysitter. The person I met with was male and he was questioning me on my motives (meeting was for planning a literary conference). He said I should focus on being a mother and to drop my volunteer work for conference planning. I told him that all my work is to make a better future/world for my son…On the flip side, in a meeting with ladies on creating a seminar series for writers, they said they wanted me to bring my son so they could play with him!

On Twitter today, a business reporter, Sheera Frenkel (@sheeraf) shared her story about how hard it was to get to a tv station to do reporting on behalf of the New York Times because of child constraints. She talked about how hard it would have been to book a nanny for 7am on the day of before rushing to the tv station and that she gave up many opportunities because of her child. The trolls came out, both males and females. Males told her that she made journalists seem lazy because they couldn’t do their job properly. Females said that sacrifice was inevitable and to stop complaining. Both sexes went on about how their jobs were worse and how they can handle life better.

At a recent conference, someone told me that they were surprised that I had a child. I don’t try to hide this, but I don’t bring it up either unless asked. I am very aware there is stigma from some against people with children because it is deemed to be a weakness. That children are the ultimate excuse when deadlines are missed, the reason why parents can’t do more social events, etc. For those who are balancing trying to keep a social life, work and be a good parent, it would be nice to see more encouragement rather than beat downs on Twitter. For every one nice comment there are thirty comments about how weak the parent is and how stupid they are. Why can’t people just be nice to each other?! We all have our own struggles and in helping each other we can all do a little bit to make the world a better place.

 

 

The Year Christmas Got Cancelled

This was written for the Renaissance Press Holiday Blog Roll 2017!

One year, a fake auntie (not blood related) gave my sister and I a real Barbie doll to share. We never had a real Barbie before because they cost too much. We only got the Bargain Harold’s or Woolco generic dolls. I remember not wanting to play with Barbie anyways because I would rather play with Transformers, which was more interesting. 

A few days before Christmas, a blood curdling scream went through the house. My seven year old sister and I were doing extra Kumon math exercises without any joy. We shrugged and continued our grueling work. Mom screamed a lot; she could be either yelling on the phone at someone or mad about something on tv. Our tiny bodies tensed when she appeared in the doorway of the living room, holding a severed Barbie head by its long blonde hair.

“Who did this?” Mom demanded in her loud voice in Cantonese. Her giant afro perm bobbed up and down, as she stormed into the room and flickered a severed Barbie head by it’s long blonde hair in our faces. She was a tiny woman, but had enough power to topple over any mountain or rip apart any savage animal in our eyes.

Being the wiser ten year old, I shook my head and spoke calmly. “I don’t know mommy.”

My sister was frozen with fear, but after a few seconds of silence, parroted me in a squeaky voice, “I don’t know!”

Both of us looked around for our younger brother who was five. He was nowhere to be seen, but it didn’t matter, he was the golden child and could do no wrong.

“Christmas is cancelled! No more presents! You are naughty children and presents should go to good children!” My mother was livid that no one was owning up to destroying an expensive doll. We rarely got any toys from our parents because there was no extra money in an immigrant family home in which chocolate milk was considered a luxury. 

I sighed and tried not to roll my eyes. A few years ago my mother had suddenly told me that Santa didn’t exist, but my cynical seven year old self was already aware of this. I was more upset then that my shrine to Jesus had been ignored by everyone and became an atheist soon after. As the first child, I was continuously being experimented on by my parents.

“But we don’t get presents from you anyways,” my sister smirked.

“I’m talking about all presents! Even from other people! You are all bad children!”

“No, mommy! I want presents from the uncles and aunties and Santa!” My sister started wailing and crying.

Mother looked happy that one child had reacted to her stern lecturing. “There is no Santa! Hahaha! Now who took apart this Barbie?”

“I don’t know,” I said in an exasperated tone.

My mother shot daggers in my direction as she glared at me.

“It wasn’t me!” My sister sobbed, her chubby cheeks becoming red and streaked with tears.

“No one is confessing? No more Christmas!” My mother stormed off to dispose of the doll head.

“What do we do now? What did she mean that there’s no Santa?” My sister asked me.

I shrugged. “It’s ok, she’ll calm down and change her mind. I’m sorry, the whole Santa thing was really mom and dad all along.”

“Oh,” my sister said as she wiped her tears. “No wonder Santa always gave us such crappy presents.”

As with many things, I was wrong about mom changing her mind about un-cancelling Christmas. I also never found out who tore off the doll head. In the following years, any presents given to us were never seen by us. It’s presumed that they were re-gifted to another child who deserved presents. 

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Although we didn’t get presents at Christmas, we still got red pockets (cash) at Chinese New Year, birthdays and whenever we passed any big tests. Admittedly all the red pockets went into our bank account which we later learned was paying for household expenses. 

There is a Chinese idiom about daughters: “Daughters are water poured out of the family after they get married.”

After I started dating a Caucasian Canadian guy in university, my Christmases were spent with his family. We eventually married as well and he was relieved that there were no fights about splitting up the Christmas holidays since my family didn’t celebrate it.

My sister and I have children now and they have great Christmases compared to our childhoods. Maybe we are trying too hard to compensate for the fact that we didn’t celebrate it or have any toys and want our kids to have everything. I hope that the kids don’t end up being spoiled brats! They will sigh as I tell them this story about Christmas being cancelled and probably won’t believe me since grandma always brings them presents!

If You Care, Delete The Email!

The other day I didn’t sleep and managed to finish the first Dark Helix Press newsletter which contained pictures of the Anime North 2017 conference and some news about book projects.

During the conference I had collected about 100 emails and wanted to start an email list because I will lose momentum (perhaps even misplace the signup sheets) and my book promo dates were running out. Along with con goers, I also looked through my personal email and built a second list of friends and family who I thought would be interested in receiving news about my projects.

Whenever a small business person you know (such as real estate or financial adviser, etc) adds you to their list of newsletters or mass emails, you probably think it’s spam. Why are they sending me stuff? My name isn’t on it!

Well, they are sending you information about their services because they think that you are a kind, wonderful person who will support them in their goals. Running a business is hard work and back breaking. If they thought about you enough to add you to their email list, it means you are important to them. They think that you are a person who will ask them about their business next time you meet them and that you will pass on the information to anyone who is interested.

This is why I was so hurt when I received an email from someone who told me to piss off because I was wasting their time. This person was the most quiet, gentlest, nicest being. I thought for a while about why I was feeling this way. Obviously CBT is working here, normally I would just spiral into depression!

It’s a small thing for someone to ask you to remove them from a mailing list. I thought about it for a long time and concluded that they: 1) do not support what I’m doing and 2) they are very busy and I shouldn’t bother them because I am not worth any of their time.

They could be struggling with something and lashing out, I don’t know. I emailed them a confirmation that they were off the list. I still felt really bad, so I tried calling them to apologize and to see what was going on, but they hung up on my “hello, how are you?” Maybe I’ll try again tomorrow, but perhaps I should focus on my more positive friends with my limited time on Earth. As all business people know, we don’t like burning bridges.

Friends and family knew I had been really hurting last year from my dad’s death and had fallen into a deep, deep depression. The fact that I pulled up the straps of my boots, managed to even attend a conference (it was such a struggle to “turn on” my game face) and make a newsletter meant I was feeling better.

Usually newsletters and mass emails are not personal to makes it easier to pass onto the next person. Also, the small business person does not have time to write messages on thousands of emails. They barely have time to eat dinner…

Newsletters and mass emails are not sent out forever and ever. One day the business or the author will die and no more will be created. Receiving some news is better than silence if you care about the person.  Delete if you don’t want to read but know they are well and alive. You are a good person if you receive any!

I hope I put newsletters and other emails you get from your small business owner friends in a new light!

World Building On A Road To Hell

The following are some thoughts which I will be sharing at Anime North on May 27/17 at the World Building for Authors panel.

Recently I was looking up some ideas on what to talk about at this world building when it suddenly occurred to me that I have been doing it every day for almost a year now. Last June, after my father died, I got into a huge fight with my family.

Elderly relatives (especially one over 100) was not allowed to know that he died. People believed that they would die from shock from hearing the news. I was the outlier and eventually caved because of a group vote.

In Asian culture, one is not supposed to share bad news. I am the one banana (yellow on outside, white on inside) who feels that bringing out the truth is the best so solutions can be discussed. Well, in case of death, there is a stigma against any discussion, usually people just don’t talk about it. When an aunt died of cancer last year, I wasn’t allowed to attend the funeral either because I was on maternity leave and weak, therefore, spirits from beyond could harm me. During her time of illness, no one in the extended family knew. She wanted to die in secret and didn’t even want a funeral. When I fought to let people know my father died, I was fighting not just family, but the Asian culture as well.

Anyhow, my father was a devoted family man and visited these elderly relatives every day. After work he would drop by to cut up grapes or prepare other snacks for the ones in nursing homes. For immobile relatives in wheelchairs, he would take the time to drive them out for dim sum and groceries every weekend. Now that he has gone I haven’t been able to fulfill even half of what he did for these people while he was alive.

Since he disappeared, I have been asked questions everyday:

Where is your father? they would ask. Sick, not feeling well, I would say. Why isn’t he visiting? He hurt his leg. What is he eating? I’m cooking and freezing meals (technically true as I was dropping them off at the house to feed mom). Why didn’t he come to my birthday party? He was busy.

Indeed, the road to hell is paved with good intentions!

In the beginning I felt a lot of pain whenever I spoke to them because I felt guilty about lying. I had many breakdowns during the first few months and would start crying after I left the nursing home. None of these elderly people have dementia and their memories are better than mine.

Over time I started to construct a world for them and me in which dad was still alive, but just sick and in bed. We do have relatives that get sick and disappear for twenty years, so this was the most plausible explanation. No one talks about it, pretending that it’s normal, but I suspect it must be due to chronic depression. After I explained that dad is probably experiencing the same thing as the “other relatives” there were less questions.

When an author builds a world for their readers, they have to think about many things. There are physical rules, society structures, the characteristics of their environments, food, clothing, relationships, etc. All the things which we adhere by and use on a daily basis. I have written fantasy and science fiction with such worlds I built for readers. I have edited stories and criticized other authors for breaking their own rules or writing nonsensical science.

Nothing however, compares to the world building I have to do now. It is a fragile world I have constructed because I am not the only author. I have siblings, aunts, cousins and other relatives that have the ability to destroy this world if they say the wrong thing. They usually run from questions asked about my dad and I told them that this is unacceptable. If you all agreed to keep the truth from her, at least keep your end of the bargain with me on speaking about dad as if he was alive.

I can speak all I want, but I know I can not control other people and can only do my part as best as I can. Many people have stopped visiting the nursing home for fear they will say the wrong thing, which is very sad. The only thing I can do is keep up with this mirage the best I can until it breaks.

PTO project live and I’m angry

My latest project is the Pessimist to Semi-Optimist (PTO) Project which battles depression by addressing one negative thought a week throughout 2017 with thinking exercises. While launching this I was working with the editor of Ricepaper magazine to publish an article of lessons learned from deaths in my family entitled Save a Life, Stop Being Asian.

I’ve received lots of positive feedback from friends and family, which is great, but then the trolls among my friends and family came to visit. The internet is the wild west and comments from strangers don’t hurt as much as people whom you interact with daily or have known for many years.

So far I’ve been accused of:

  1. Hating the Asian culture – not true. I am merely pointing out that strengths in our culture become weaknesses during a healthcare crisis. For example, being stoic and protecting face (reputation) at all costs when help is needed. I can not tell you how much energy was wasted fighting face instead of getting medical help.
  2. Victim blaming – not true. When people are really sick sometimes they don’t recognize that they need help (due to mental illness) or refuse (being stubborn), which makes it really hard to help someone when you know the consequences.
  3. Pretending to be a medical professional – not true. I work in the healthcare sector, but I am not a doctor and I don’t claim to be one. The PTO project is my journey on depression which I’m sharing in hopes of helping other people struggling through the same thing. When you are down and flat on your back, believe me, any little thing that can prop you up helps.

Other than anger, I feel deep disappointment. The same people criticizing me now and telling me to stop writing are the same people who were not there when crap went down. They are such busy people, they didn’t even attend the funerals as well. They also grill me about religious values, tolerance and acceptance of others – yet they are not being empathetic or helpful at all. Feeling stupid for believing that people should practice what they preach. Good grief, how can I not be a pessimist!

I know everyone is struggling with something, but please don’t beat other people up when they are already down to make yourself feel better. Really read or listen to what I’m saying before you go bat-shit on me.

Apologies for my rant. Will forgive everyone tomorrow, will be angry today only because I know I have to let go of anger or else it will destroy me. I’m trying to harness this energy for good by writing and will chose which friends and family to allow into my life from now on. A grief counselor told me quite frankly that “with friends and family like these, you don’t need enemies!”

If you are going through something similar in your life, know you can only control yourself and your reactions. If avoiding someone isn’t possible, you will have to make the best of it by changing your own behavior and choosing to share only selective things from your life with them. Running away does help, but only works for a little while because the main problem still remains.

Thank you for reading, have a good day and let’s all try to be slightly positive among the rubbles of life!

 

Thomas The Train Party on a Budget

There has been enough doom and gloom lately to make me depressed for a lifetime, so my husband decided that we should do something fun and plan a kid’s birthday party instead of thinking about death all the time.

Since my offsping is into Thomas the Train, I thought a Thomas themed party would be great. I looked up some parties and thought that this kid Max’s party was the gold standard! You can click on the picture to check out the other fabulous treats served at this party.

I’m going to admit this feels like the time I was just watching exercise videos on the couch with a friend and us commenting on how much work it seems to exercise as we ate chips!

Here are collages of my hack party (certain Max’s party had a higher budget!) which ended up to being lots of fun due to the crazy kids running around the room! The younger kids were more interested in playing with the wrapping paper than the presents. Meanwhile, the older kids asked to open presents and acted like wild animals attacking something as they ripped apart wrapping paper with fury…then yelling “eww” when the presents were clothes instead of toys!

The Thomas cake was ordered from Metro supermarket and had a chantilly cream filling with blueberries. The blue/red dyes were really strong and stained a lot of hands!

thomas-party-v3a

The adults were civilized, of course, drinking and eating munchies while having polite conversations. Grandma was a bit bored since she doesn’t speak English, but there were a few people who could speak to her and entertain her while I played hostess. We were really grateful for all the wonderful toys given to us as presents! Much more fancy than the toys I had while I was growing up (bootleg Cabbage Patch Kid dolls?)!

The kids I babysat that night (yes, I had to babysit even after the party) wrote on the notepad which I was using to keep track of presents for thank you notes. The word “poo” seemed to render them into hysterics for some reason. I wish I could let loose like that sometimes and not worry so much!

thomas-party-toys

A lot of free resources are available which makes it handy for those who have color printers. To make life easier, I used a 2″ puncher to cut out cupcake toppers which I used to decorate packaged oatmeal cookies.

Here are the links to Thomas party resources  for someone else wants to plan a similar event!

Doodle Bug Designs Thomas “Happy Birthday” banner (free)

halegrafx.com has Thomas Cupcake toppers, water bottle wrappers, invites, thank you cards (free)

Official PBS website has free coloring pages and activity sheets (free)

Passion for Savings has “Happy Birthday” banner, cupcake toppers, food labels, water bottle labels, loot bag labels (free)

Thomas cake purchased from Metro grocery store ($)

Partycity stores had Thomas decorations, loot bags and assorted party supplies ($)