Now that the Chinese New Year / Spring Festival holidays are over and people are getting back to work, I have been reflecting on what they meant to me - an American - the way I spent them here myself in Beijing: alone, and far removed physically from the uncertainty and insanity consuming my own beloved country.
During the break, it’s been interesting to consider how exactly the various rituals of the celebration and the national homecoming here affected me personally, without my even taking direct part in them much this year.
It got me to thinking about Process, and how important it is for everyone to figure out for themselves what they need in order to do their best, in what context they ARE their best, and how to reconcile those personal needs with the needs of the collective, whose demands on our time don’t always sync up smoothly with our own agendas.
Speaking of that, re Chinese New Year 2017:
For me personally, on a practical level, it was great. I’m a pretty social and outward-facing guy when I need to be; maybe in another post I'll talk about how I overcame debilitating childhood shyness to become - twenty years later - very comfortable leading conversations in a professional environment or speaking to groups of people in public and private. But the flip side is that whenever I get the chance, I like to put the world on Airplane Mode and be as much of a hermit as humanly possible. At work I can play Type A with the best of them, but at home I’m all about soft lights on dimmers, reading, Chinese tea rituals, meditating with candles and incense burning in the background, etc. I basically tend towards being very very quiet unless there’s a great reason to get loud and rock out, which - as a recovering rock and roll guitar player - is always a possibility with me, too. But it’s not my default energy these days.
So the funny thing is that although I at times have a fairly big personality, naturally I'm more of an introvert than most people would probably imagine. I'm at home running a movie set or managing a high-stakes project with multiple stakeholders, but in terms of my personal, creative work, I don’t thrive in chaos. So enjoying a big, State-mandated break from all of the day-to-day craziness of Beijing and just being able to breathe - admittedly, with the help of a good air cleaner most days - and to move and live at my own pace for a hot minute was a real gift.
On a generative level it was pretty sweet also. Besides tending to the Western-facing aspects of our business here during the Eastern holidays, I got to spend a healthy chunk of brainpower working on some personal projects that needed time paid to them* (a concept I got from Carl Bressler, who I believe was likewise inspired by a friend of his) and also to catch up on some housekeeping issues like paying bills and sorting through tax records and such.
Creatively, in addition to starting this blog, I can now say that I’m in the home stretch of writing a TV pilot. I’ve had the basic premise for years and have been working on the story in one form or another for equally as long. It started as an idea for a short film, then quickly expanded to a feature once I got my head around the story better, and finally, after I’d lived with that version of it long enough I realized that it made the most sense to structure it as a series.
It’s far from done, but I think the shape of it is solid, I know my characters really well, and I have all of the scenes drafted; most of them are written to a state where I don’t want to punch the computer now, so in those aspects it's all good. Over the holidays I’ve mostly been playing with tone a lot, as I've struggled to say what I want to say in a form that I think people might enjoy and find compelling on a week to week basis. And I’m not done refining it yet but I’m also not hating where I’ve landed for now, so it's exciting to at least have the end of this iteration in sight.
Back to process:
Part of how I stay connected to my home culture while I am so far away from it is listening to podcasts. Recently the writer-producer-actor-comedian Whitney Cummings was a return guest on one of my favorites, the excellent Tim Ferriss Show, and the format of this episode was that she answered listener questions. The one she saved for last asked what was the best advice she’d ever received for achieving success. She credited actor-director-producer Peter Berg with a one-word challenge he gave her at a time when she was struggling with something profound:
Just finish. His point (as relayed by her) was that there aren’t awards given out for the best screenplay someone merely STARTED, or funding being thrown at all those great IDEAS that someone came up with but never bothered to put into a tangible, shareable, salable, FINISHED form. You have to FINISH what you start for it - and all the effort you expended creating it - to actually MEAN anything.
It reminded me of another piece of advice I got once, that for anything to even have the HOPE of becoming real, you have to fIrst WRITE IT DOWN.
It works for Berg, it's apparently worked for Whitney, and it's worked - so far anyway - for me.
So before the more cynical of you are tempted to dismiss these as trite aphorisms, please know that as simple and obvious as these ideas may seem, there is also - for some of us at least - deep truth and real power to be found in understanding them, and lasting results are only attainable by applying them. So maybe meditate on them and see for yourself, if that’s your thing. Or don’t. Either way, good luck!
On that note, off I go to do it again. More later here. :)
Cheers, and thanks for reading. Comment below if you like.