I guess this testimony begins last winter. In January enrolled in Gotham Writing Workshop's TV Writing class and banged out my first TV script, a spec episode of the ABC sitcom Happy Endings, in 10 weeks. (I say "banged out" because I finished the first draft more quickly than anything I had ever written before or since, but in truth it took nigh-weekly all-day sessions at Argo Tea, at least a half-dozen drafts, and two months more of tweaks and revisions before I arrived at a finished product I was satisfied with.) My teacher urged the class to work our networks and reach out to anyone we could think of with even the most tangential connection to TV/film, since the industry is that difficult to penetrate. I knew about a former SI editor who was now writing for Nikita; I asked around for Albert’s contact information and cold-emailed him for advice.
At the same time, I started looking for jobs in California. My parents had progressed to outright asking me to move, after several years of just suggesting it. Over Christmas break my dad had fainted and was hospitalized for two days. I’ll never forget the sight of him slumped against the wall, unconscious with vomit on his shirt, and just feeling an enormous sense of gratitude that my brother and I were at home with him when it happened. In January my grandmother died. Thankfully my mother had already flown back to Taiwan to be by her side in her last couple of weeks, but this was after over three decades of living in a different country, with only annual or semi-annual visits.
I also changed churches. As a pastor’s kid, this is not something I do without much prayer and consideration. I continue to support The Journey’s God-ordained vision and mission, but I felt compelled to seek fellowship elsewhere. I began attending Trinity Grace, and on my third Sunday there learned that it was starting a new small group three blocks from my apartment. I don’t like to church-hop anyway, so I immediately decided to commit to TGC. I practiced Lent for the first time. (I think it's no coincidence that my Happy Endings spec was completed during the same period in which I was reading the Bible every morning and every night.) In just ten months I’ve made friends that I feel I have known for much longer. I love my TGC brothers and sisters so much. Also, my Asian network has grown by about 400%.
In May I began submitting my Happy Endings spec to various network fellowships and screenwriting competitions. Albert kindly gave me an hour of his time on the phone and offered to forward my spec to his agent. I was pretty sure that, at best, the spec would maybe get read by an intern to a junior assistant, but you try everything you can.
One day in early summer I was egregiously late to work (as usual), but this time I had missed two separate emergency meetings that had been called that morning. SI was doing staff reduction again, and was once again asking for volunteers. I had survived three or four rounds of job cuts in my eight years there. The first two times I was terrified of losing my job; the third time (around 2009) I sort of hoped the decision would be made for me. That same day, the father of one of my co-workers passed away somewhat suddenly. The next day, my mom called with the news that my dad had collapsed once again. My brother immediately made the one-hour drive from Irvine down to be with them. My dad would be hospitalized for the weekend. (Thankfully, the doctors were finally able to find the source of his low blood pressure; an ulcer in his intestines that had been slowly leaking blood over the past year. It was an easy treatment and his blood cell count has risen since.)
I’m very much like Gideon, asking for sign after sign to confirm God’s will. Thankfully, He is patient and knows just the assurances I need (such as the timing of the TGC small group formation). I volunteered to take a buyout. It was an easy decision but a bittersweet one; I had been with Sports Illustrated for as long as high school and college combined. I had one of the most enviable jobs in the world, and it really was that wonderful—high-quality work I could be proud of, and the most talented (and generous) colleagues one could ever hope for.
In mid-June, a few weeks after I decided to leave SI (my actual end date wasn’t until the end of the summer), Albert e-mailed me and said that his agent had not only read my script, but he liked it and wanted to see an original spec (a pilot episode from an original TV show concept). This was terrifying news, as I had written exactly one TV episode, ever, but it was also an amazing reassurance that maybe, just maybe, quitting my job and moving back to California to pursue screenwriting was not entirely ludicrous. In other words, maybe I am not one of those deluded singers whose audition American Idol airs as a joke.
I spent the rest of the summer panicking about packing but mostly enjoying my city during my favorite season. A few weeks before my move date, I received a letter from the Austin Film Festival, informing me that my Happy Endings spec had finished in the second round of competition. AFF is the most writers-oriented of the film festivals, offering dozens of panels and workshops with the industry’s most respected screenwriters, and my placement meant that I could attend for a discount.
In mid-September I left my beloved New York and moved back in with my parents. My New York friends have heard all the nervous only-half-joking Grey Gardens cracks I made in advance of the move, but in truth I feel privileged to have this time. I wept in gratitude during evening prayers with my dad one night, simply thankful for the opportunity to enjoy their company and make a positive impact on their daily lives, even if it’s just cleaning the kitchen, doing their taxes or lifting “weights” (bottles of water) to restore my dad’s muscle tone. And thanks to the terms of my (confidential) severance agreement, Time Inc. is paying me to do this!
I’m writing this in Austin now, where the AFF conference has just wrapped up. Even this is a mini-testimony: my friend Sarah (a former beneficiary of SI severance herself) is graciously putting me up for the week, I used a United voucher ($250 to wait just one hour to take the next flight out of Jacksonville? Sure!) for the airfare, saved 52% on a rental car with Priceline, got upgraded to a Prius because the last economy car was already rented, and on top of it all, Time Inc. is reimbursing me for my (discounted) festival badge as part of my “retraining allowance!” And thanks to the terms of my (confidential) severance agreement, Time Inc. is STILL paying me to do this!
Although I had an incredibly blessed life in New York, over the years my birthday had become a somewhat depressing reminder of my stagnation. Because of the sports calendar, even my admittedly awesome job’s assignments were the same year after year: BCS, Super Bowl, NCAA, NBA, college football previews, World Series, BCS, Super Bowl... (Although: another Giants World Series commemorative? Fingers crossed!) Every year I would tell myself, “Maybe next year my life will be different,” but it never was.
I don’t know if my terrified 29-year-old self would have dared to believe that, in just one year, I’d be spending my next birthday in Austin, Texas, meeting and learning from career idols like Rob Thomas (Veronica Mars) and Hilary Winston (Community, Happy Endings), embracing and fully immersing myself in the identity and fellowship of the aspiring screenwriter. I’ve made new friends that I hope to see around LA when I get there. I can once again say that I am in the “low-“ of my age bracket. I still have all my teeth. And there’s still six weeks left in this magical year!
"For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord's holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge -- that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen."