January 24 2017
The subsequent job search would bring me across the country to a lucrative position with Microsoft. I would quit Microsoft after only 18 months to return to Vancouver to pursue a career in acting. I would quit acting after only twelve months to dedicate myself to a career in finance. Microsoft I left MIT on a high, brimming with self assuredness, and confident that the next Microsoft chapter of my life would be just as fun and fulfilling. The way Microsoft treated me certainly helped reinforce my arrogance and belief in my destiny for great things. For my interview, I was flown to Redmond to face a gauntlet of employees throughout the day. Some asked traditional questions and a few asked brain teasers. I mustered enthusiasm from my theater training to conquer my nerves and to convince them that I was smart, ready, and excited to join the team. My lunchtime interviewer was more interested in her food than in talking, so I told her to enjoy her meal while I ignored mine and gave her a 15-minute monologue on why Microsoft and I were the perfect fit. By the time afternoon rolled around, I was scoring high marks, and the end of the day turned into a meet-and-greet with a higher-up whose job was to convince me of Microsoft's desirability. My acting skills helped me ace what was known to be a difficult day, where anyone could have vetoed my progress. I joined the brand new MSN Search team, a lavishly funded effort to use Microsoft's dominance in the internet browser and operating system markets to steal a piece of Google's fast growing search engine pie. I was once again in the role of a Program Manager focused on coordinating software development by analyzing market data and creating specifications to satisfy consumer demand. Microsoft spared no expense in going after Google, the search team quickly scaled up to a few hundred strong and we had access to third-party vendors to help us probe for Google's weaknesses. I did not work on the core search product, which was an engineering and mathematics exercise. Instead, I worked on consumer facing verticals and traveled to industry conferences to demonstrate our technology. I worked on features like instant answers for weather and movie time queries, as well as on the Chinese version of the page. For the China project, I got the chance to travel to Beijing to work with the large Microsoft research center there. The work wasn't glorious, it mainly involved creating a list of blocked keywords so that MSN Search stayed within the good graces of the Chinese censors, but the travel was. I flew first-class to Beijing and stayed at the five-star Hilton next door to Tiananmen Square, the same Square that was filled with tents as my father left for Canada. This time, I was returned as a highly paid short-term expat, and I eagerly invited my third uncle and his family to come visit for the view, spacious hot shower, and hotel trinkets. As a keen volunteer for travel, I also helped staff the MSN Search booths at industry shows in Las Vegas, Time Square, and London. When not holed up in five-star hotels around the world, my treatment at headquarters was no less privileged. Microsoft gathered a few dozen new graduate recruits out of the annual class of over 700 into a talented group and groomed us for success. We were treated to team building events, leadership training, and networking with senior executives and mentors. I even traveled back to MIT to attend recruiting events and helped interview new graduates, all expenses paid, of course. The Microsoft experience made me feel very valued and distorted my sense of corporate entitlement. Home Ownership By this time, my parents had upgraded from the UBC townhouse to a run-down 1920s house on the westside of Vancouver just outside the bounds of the university campus in the residential Dunbar neighborhood. The house was so old that it was priced only for its land and was basically sold as a an unlivable tear-down. But my parents would spend a decade living there, judiciously paying off the mortgage and fully renting out the basement all the while hosting my two cousins and my maternal grandmother whom they invited to visit Canada after my grandfather had passed away. I began to contribute some of my ludicrous earnings to help my parents with their mortgage, and they encouraged me to become a homeowner in Seattle, believing it to be another essential life-skill and a better bargain in the long run, assuming that I stayed at Microsoft for three years or more. So even before the corporate transition housing expired, we looked around and purchased a $250,000 bungalow in northern Redmond, near rural farmland. As a typical first-time home-owner and young person, I had a "vision" for the bungalow and would drag my parents through an epic effort to realize it. They would drive straight from work on Friday afternoons, lugging a car full of lumber, tiles, and building materials two hundred and fifty kilometers to Redmond, renovate non-stop, and then drive early Monday morning directly back to work in Vancouver. Even today, they still marvel at how they were allowed to cross the border with an open trunk full of heavy supplies weighing down the back of the second-hand Toyota Corolla, and reminisce about the three-hour drive along the mountainous route, often through blinding rain in the pitch dark. We did the entire renovation ourselves to save money. It helped that my father, being the son of a carpenter jack-of-all-trades, was extremely handy and could do anything. We gutted the kitchen and knocked down a non-weight bearing wall to open it up to the living room. We painstakingly scraped the popcorn ceiling to smooth it out. We tore out the shaggy carpet and installed laminate flooring on our knees. We added a second bathroom to the master bedroom so I could rent out the two spare bedrooms to help with the mortgage, a herculean effort that required my father to enter the rat-feces laden crawl space to add a split into the main drainage system. We added a large wooden deck in the rectangular yard. Finally, we repainted everything and put purple theatrical curtains around a projector in the living room. The whole project took months to complete, and the product was literally born out of the blood and sweat of my parents, who poured their hearts out for their son so that I could have a comfortable start to adult life. Little did we know at the time that my Microsoft experience would not bear out even two years. Living I spent my days in an office building on the Microsoft campus in the outskirts of Seattle. Microsoft had essentially built a city in rural Redmond, including over 50 corporate buildings and conference centers and even the highway exists. A fleet of free corporate shuttles ran around the clock to ferry people among the buildings. Lunch was deeply subsidized and snacks and drinks were completely free. Microsoft was a corporate behemoth, but still a tech company at heart, so I could carry on a very loose and casual dress code of sweatpants and t-shirts. Unlike smaller start-ups where work could overtake the rest of life, Microsoft was a bluechip that truly valued work-life balance for its professional employees, I worked hard but still had to decide how to spend an abundance of free time. I approached adult life with clinical methodicalness and made a check-list of things I ought to have been able to optimize and then forget about. Top of the list were health, nutrition, and personal finance. I borrowed a beauty products bible and flipped through its hundreds of pages to identify the highest rated organic moisturizer and hair products that I would stock enough to last a year. I learned a few easy dishes from my mother that I could make and brown-bag a week worth of lunches at a time. I read heavily into personal finance management, and learned about the casino nature of the stock market and the prudence of passive ETF investing. So I quickly arranged my corporate 401k and Roth IRA retirement portfolios to be passive buy-and-holds. The leadership training afforded me by Microsoft exposed me to the big ideas in corporate and personal time management. I dug deeper and read books like The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People and put them to work, further shaving minutes off my day and gradually learning to say "no" to protect my schedule. All of these habits would serve me well into the future, and I would only get better at exercising a combination of impatience and prudence to reject superfluous commitment while becoming more tenacious in the objectives I chose to pursue and more attuned to the purposefulness of my days. I spent some of my free time initially among a close-knit group of colleagues who were also new graduates. We were all in our twenties without families, so we would explore Seattle together, spending our large paycheques eating out in Chinatown and drinking bubble-tea at the University of Washington. Soon, I filled my calendar with my regular extracurricular pursuits, joining the local hockey leagues and broadening my theater experience. On my trips to China, I visited the electronics district to load up on boxes of pirated DVDs, eventually amassing hundreds of esoteric movies that I stealthily brought back to North America. On my week-long stay in London for a Search Engine conference, I put in the minimum hours required and then disappeared to the museums and the theaters, enjoying the day-of-performance standing tickets to the National Theater's Henry VIII and an adaptation of His Dark Materials. Back in Seattle, I enrolled in acting classes, scoured the local audition boards, and performed in a Chinese opera, a Christmas pantomime, and a student short film. I even got work as a model for a stock photo shoot. I volunteered at the Seattle International Film Festival, where I saw the North American release of what would become one of my favourite movies, the South Korean revenge film of Shakespearean scope, Oldboy. I also helped to chauffeur a Chinese director from the airport to the screening of his film, and used my by-now broken Chinese to translate his responses in the Q&A session afterward. Getting and staying busy was not an antidote for a creeping sense of loneliness. I became an MIT Educational Counselor, helped interview local high-school students for admission, and attended MIT events in the area, only to feel a growing gulf between my carefree university days and the barrenness of working life. So on the weekdays, I sought refuge in nostalgia where I could, buying the latest video games but finding that I could not enjoy them as much as I had as a child without a sense of wasting my time. On the weekends, I would organize visits by my Vancouver friends or I would make regular trips to visit them, making the arduous three-hour drive across the border to sleep in my parent's cozy attic and to enjoy their presence. The one thing I could not escape from with life in Seattle were the highways. If life in Japan was an endless kaleidoscope of train stations, life in Seattle was always seen from behind the steering wheel of a car. My trips to hockey games easily took me on hundred-mile journeys to the north and south at night from one empty suburban arena to another. My rehearsals brought me from Redmond in the east to downtown Seattle in the west, through one of two floating bridges and the myriad of expressways that strangled the city. The worst were the long drives to Vancouver, an increasing necessity to make my corporate week seem worth while. The journeys were made bearable only with audiobooks of Harry Potter, Value Investing, or something else, anything else. If I was not distracted while driving, the driving would distract me. The interstate carried break-neck speeds that required constant alertness, and the myriad of clover-leafs and on-off ramps meant split second mistakes led to winding wastes of time through suburban no-where. It made Vancouver all the more endearing for having refused to let the scourge of freeways enter its city limits. But Seattle was not so, and it was an anxiety inducing part of each and everyday, much worse than than train-centric life of Japan, where one could at least periodically relax with closed eyes and some good music. I was pretty sure, probability-wise, that if my American tenure had not ended soon, my frequent road trips were going to end badly as I began to treat driving as a game to see how many cars I could pass to shave meaningless seconds off each trip. So I guess I could say that audiobooks saved me. That, and my increasing restlessness at Microsoft and Seattle. Resignation Unlike my internship at Microsoft, which by design was a short transition experience, my full-time job was supposed to be an end in itself and the start to my adult life. Despite the corporate perks, owning my house, and attempting to keep a busy schedule, something was amiss. I found that I did not have the mental fortitude and emotional stability to succeed at work. By the time I was ready to resign, I had been at Microsoft for barely a year and a half. I rationalized it in three main thrusts of narrative. First, I had lost, or I had never really possessed, passion for the work. I had convinced myself through the interviews that I wanted to bleed Microsoft like I had during my internship and to make an impact by creating products that millions of people used around the world, but my idealism faded in the face of even minor office bureaucracy. My superior treatment by Microsoft pumped my arrogance and sapped my resilience. I thought I was better than my colleagues and should have been promoted in short order. I could not withstand a slow and steady accumulation of work and life experience necessary for a meaningful career. I wanted instant gratification to match my ego and looked for visible trappings of success such as job titles and promotions, and when these were not forthcoming quickly enough, I became jaded at my circumstance and yearned for change. Secondly, my sense of justice was provoked by my status in America as I discovered that I was literally a second class citizen. My work permit at Microsoft was the H1-B visa for engineering professionals which bound me to a single employer, Microsoft, and forbade me from moonlighting at McDonalds or getting paid for acting. And if I wanted to become visa-free, I would have to earn a green card, a process which could only happen if I stayed with my current employer for upwards of a decade. The green card processing time was based on nation of birth, not nation of citizenship. Since I was born in China, my wait time would be many years, as compared to the quick process for natural-born Canadians. Differing treatment based on birth, for which one did not have a choice, rather than citizenship, for which one did have a choice, seemed to me to be the definition of discrimination, so I felt unwelcome and indignant. Finally, after numerous trips to family and friends in Vancouver through the spaghetti of highways to reach islands of sanity in a sea of road rage, I missed a sense of home that would buttress my life, and home was where my parents were. I decided two things, that I would quit Microsoft to return to Vancouver to be with my parents, and that I would pursue acting full-time. I had found that times of crises and change were great conduits for soul-searching and lucidity, and this time was no exception. Returning home to Vancouver was a no-brainer, for what my experience in Japan and Seattle had taught me was that unless I was anchored to my parents, there was always an end of the road, no matter how enticing the adventure. Family was beginning to look a lot like the ends to my means, and if I were to have the resolve to build a solid career in anything, it would have to be upon the close and concrete foundation of my family. This period of transition also gave me the chance to give my dream of acting a real shot, either to make it, or to put my mind at ease forever. My parents had just dedicated months of their lives to making a bungalow in a foreign land livable for their son, who now wanted to give up an easy salary that was already more than theirs combined to come home to be a bum actor. Their friends were aghast and told them I was making a vain mistake, my friends thought it was a joke, but my parents were steadfast. They quickly saw the silver-lining that I would be coming home rather than setting roots afar, just like my father had done years ago, abandoning America after only a one-month trial. In these past few years, I had demonstrated to them an ability to go hard and deep into new experiences and this tenacity is what they hoped would carry me forward in life. They wished my search would end in happiness and they welcomed me back into their embrace. Once our decision was made, the act of resigning was effortless. Minutes after sending an email stating my intentions to my boss, with whom I had begun butting heads, I found that my access card had been cancelled and my personal goods boxed and left with my colleague, but I did not care. I worked to quickly unwind all ties to America. I cashed out my retirement plans, exported the recently imported Toyota Corolla, and cancelled my corporate American Express, but not before using the accrued credits to buy a Panasonic digital video camera. By this time, the US housing bubble was at its peak and our bungalow was worth almost $450,000 on paper. We listed it for this asking price, only to see the subprime mortgage crisis immediately explode and freeze the market. It would be two years of renting it out before markets thawed and we were finally able sell it for exactly what we bought it at: $250,000. So my parents' endless efforts in renovations resulted in no financial gain, but it was an extreme bonding experience and it would cement our family philosophy towards home ownership. Over time, I came to see life as a exercise of elimination, of checking off the list of things I no longer wanted to do. My inner compass became better attuned to when something had crossed the invisible threshold to being a waste of my time. My resignation from my initial group at MIT was an emotional trigger that would lead to a series of quick-fire life experiments over the next few years. A turbulent period that would ultimately pay dividends as I crystalized my values and chose my own path. When I was younger, I recalled telling people that life in North America as compared to China was made difficult by the presence of too much freedom. Instead, if choice were taken out of the equation and I were to be assigned a station in life by Central Planning with no room for debate, such as that of an avocado farmer, I would certainly have become excellent at it. As my life and my many interests had borne out so far, it was apparent that I was not becoming the Einstein of avocado farming simply because I had too many other things I wanted to do. Vancouver I moved into the attic of the old Dunbar tear-down. My parents lived in one of the bedrooms on the main floor, and my maternal grandmother, who by now was my only surviving grandparent, lived in the other. She would immigrate to Canada and remain a permanent member of our family. My childhood was spent visiting her on all my holidays, and I had stayed with her for a year while my parents landed in Canada. I have nothing but fond childhood memories of the kindly old lady and being able to spend each and every day with her substantiated my decision to return home. A combined living area and small kitchen rounded out our main floor. The ground-level basement suite was continuously rented out as a mortgage helper. My father had applied his craftsmanship lovingly the 80-year old house, building the garage, a balcony, and an additional bedroom under the balcony. The neighbours were relieved the eyesore of the block that was decrepit from being a perpetual rental was finally presentable and somewhat homely with a fresh coat of yellow paint. The attic was reached by a precipitous spiral step-ladder tucked behind the cupboard. It was basically the dug-out roof of the house with exposed insulation and did not fit much beyond a mattress on scattered pieces of carpet. Even my small frame could only walk down the middle of the triangular space without banging my head on the sloped ceiling. The summers were unbearably hot as the sun seemed to burn straight through the plywood roof, while the winters were freezing as the insulation in the walls had long ago shrunken to uselessness. But we did not mind, it was our home and we treasured it. I filled the attic with my memorabilia, from Japan, MIT, Microsoft, and the hundreds of movie DVDs from China. I installed video game emulators on my laptop and used my open schedule to indulge in some childhood nostalgia. This time, in the comfortable confines of my parents' home, I found that I could really enjoy them. When inspiration struck, I even looked up recipes and made chai tea for the family. For breaks, I would rollerblade with a hockey stick to Lord Byng Secondary nearby, to hit a ball around in the tennis court. From consistent practice, I had gotten very good at juggling the hard red ball with my stick, and could even toss it high into the air and catch it with the flat side of the stick by cushioning its fall. On weekends, I would join my Transition and childhood friends for board games and poker. It was good to be home. In short order I set about living the dream. The Dream I approached the actor's life with well-practiced clinical methodicalness and was determined to live it as fully as possible. On the performance side, I continued to build my acting resume, getting professional headshots, finding agents, signing up for auditions boards, and showing up for any and all student, festival, community, and professional theater productions. I moved the purple curtains from the Seattle bungalow into the garage, set up my fancy Panasonic camera, rehearsed my audition pieces and taped my own demo reels. My resume began to expand with Vancouver credits. For an amateur play produced by a couple of idealistic twenty-something hippies, we rehearsed in their living room and a rented exercise room in sketchy Downtown Eastside, to finally perform for a few dozen people in a makeshift space at a coffee shop. I joined a theater festival showcasing local playwrights and played the lead in a short play as a mad young scientist who cracks the atom in order to get revenge on a high-school bully. For a UBC student festival, I played a statue of the philosopher Confucius come to life to preach to university students. While rehearsing for this role, I joined the feature film Night at the Museum as a background extra. The movie agent was looking for Chinese actors, and those willing to shave their heads would be paid an additional $6 per hour. I agreed to shave it, and wound up a member of a group of toy-sized pigtail wearing Chinese rice farmers tying down a giant Ben Stiller in a scene from Gulliver's Travels. I would use the shaved head for the UBC Confucius role, and won whispered plaudits from the audience for such dedication to a student production. As the performance was at the UBC Theater, my parents and grandmother even came to my performance. Once my hair grew back, I one-upped myself by going naked in an innocuous shower scene on stage in the baseball play Take Me Out, produced by a local gay group. This one was rehearsed at the director's hair salon in downtown, but at least the material was off Broadway, the other actors were respectable adults, and the performance was in a real theater. Naturally, I invited all my friends to view my craft before I made it big. By now, I had a solid repertoire of well-practiced audition pieces at my disposal. For a modern piece, I stuck with my madman scientist monologue, exuberant at discovering how to split the atom. For a more classical piece, I chose Madam Butterfly, about the cross-dressing Chinese spy who pretends to be a woman to seduce a British officer, it was as awkward as it sounds. I also had a Shakespeare piece, it might have been Hamlet, that I rehearsed to no end and became proficient, if not professional, at. I even delved deeply into one audition for a rap-artist role, studying up on the latest tunes and ending up with a decent Eminem impression and an appreciation for the lyrical craft. In addition to auditioning, rehearsing, and performing, I filled the rest of my day with related activities. I was a regular volunteer at the Vancity Theatre, the host of the Vancouver International Film Festival, where I would sell popcorn before the films and join the audience in large red plush seats for the screenings. I also donated spare time to the Pacific Cinematheque, a film buff society that celebrated classic international films and no-name auteurs like Krzysztof Kieslowski. Vancouver had a reputation as Hollywood North, as tax incentives and a vibrant local industry supported year-round feature film and TV productions in the city. I worked to get closer to the action, signing up for a film acting class and watching with envy as a classmate landed a role in a TV commercial for a local tire company. The only roles I landed was a gig jumping around like a ninja for a TV commercial peddling Naruto toys and a supporting role in a student short film as another ninja, this time a gay one. I never got closer to a substantive part than that of the shaved-head Chinese rice farmer tying up a green-screened Ben Stiller. I networked my way to the production side of the business and got consistent calls for work as a Production Assistant on location at movie shoots around the city. For my very first shift, I worked a 15-hour day in the pouring rain in Queen Elizabeth park, standing outside and directing non-existent traffic, the closest I got to seeing how the sausage was made was eating with the extras at the frequent meals in the delicious food tents. After a few more similar stints at distant locales and awkward times, I spent one shift directing pedestrian traffic at West King Edward and Granville while squatting on the ground to hide from the blistering sun with a clownish winter tuque on my bald head. I don't think I looked very happy or professional, and I wasn't called back much after that. So I turned some of my attention to the theory of storytelling. As many filmmaking how-to books and filmmaker biographies attested, being in charge with my own script was the surest way into the director's chair for making a calling-card first film to jumpstart the Hollywood career. Story Charts I borrowed books widely and read deeply into how to write stories and I was particularly influenced by Robert McKee's book Story: Style, Structure, Substance, and the Principles of Screenwriting. McKee put the narrative structure of movies under the microscope and illustrated how the different elements of a story interacted to produce meaning and elicit emotion. McKee's crisp analysis of the classic film, Casablanca, was very convincing, and the movie become another one of my all time favourites. McKee broke down Casablanca thusly. Casablanca took place in French-controlled Morocco during the Second World War, where the proprietor of a popular nightspot, Rick, had kept his business humming by staying neutral in the struggle between the resistance movement and the Nazi occupiers. Rick had once been a freedom fighter himself, but had given up that part of his life with a broken heart when the love of his live, Ilsa, abandoned him in their escape from Paris as the Nazis moved in. McKee teases apart the narrative into three interacting strands. The first plot is the struggle of the resistance movement, embodied by the attempt of the resistance leader, Victor Laslo, to escape from Casablanca to the new world. The second plot is the love story between Rick and Ilsa, as Ilsa shatters Rick's world when she shows up at his cafe with her husband, Victor Laslo. Rick had never known Ilsa was married. The third plot is Rick's patriotism, whether he would risk his own well-being to help the resistance again. McKee introduces the key idea of story values that represent the movement of these plots towards their ultimate irreversible success or failure. The plots progress through scenes containing turning points that shift story values positively or negatively. For example, Rick refusing to help Ilsa and her husband Victor was a turning point in all three plots concurrently, as Victor's chances of escape were lowered, Rick's chance to rekindle a relationship with Ilsa was dashed, and Rick flatly refused to join the cause. At the end of Casablanca, the turning points had escalated in scale and reached irreversible conclusions. Rick has permanently given up the chance to be with Ilsa (a failure in the love plot), in order to help Victor and Ilsa escape Casablanca (a success in the escape plot), while cementing his role in the resistance by shooting the Nazi officer giving chase (a success in the patriot plot). McKee pointed out that the resolution of the story illuminates its central idea, in this case, the idea that true love leads to living responsibly. The central idea of a story is a theory about a fundamental truth in human life. The story's setting and interlocking turning points are carefully chosen by the writer to prove this theory, and its successful execution would persuade the audience that given the circumstances and how convincingly it played out, yes indeed, love leads to living responsibly for Rick of Casablanca. I began to use the McKee system of thought to analyze movies. I used Adobe Illustrator to graphically put turning points on a two-dimensional graph, grouping them into their respective plots and showing their upward and downward movement as time went on towards their ultimate resolution. I joined a screenwriter's workshop where we analysed scripts-in-progress, and I would include these graphical story value charts in my discussion of the strengths of the stories. I called them Story Charts. I thought they were a very visual way of dissecting the backbone of a story to illuminate its central idea, and even wrote up a proposal for McKee's publisher in New York to write a book about it. I dropped it off at the publisher's apartment building on a trip to New York, but she did not return my calls. The screenwriting workshop introduced me to a young local producer and his director friend, neither of whom had attended university, but both determined to make it in the movie business. We teamed up to work weekly at a coffee shop for a few months and I turned one of their ideas into a feature-length movie script. The director went on to be a finalist in a Hollywood reality show for aspiring professionals and would become a legitimate director, but our script would remain unmade and I would have long since moved onto other endeavours. However, Story Charts would remain with me as a tangible gem of my adventures in acting, a true melding of my science and theater experiences. I created a website for my Story Charts and consistently updated it throughout my adult life, deepening its content and sophistication. Today, Story Charts are a living memento of my dedication to the storytelling dream for this audience of one. Actor's Equity As my Vancouver experience expanded, I became much more selective in the roles I would accept. I landed a leading role in a musical produced by a suburban community center that had a brand new performance facility, but I rejected it because it was too far and the production refused to pay a salary. Instead, I focused on more professional opportunities. I applied to Masters of Fine Arts degrees far and wide, at Yale and Juilliard on America's east coast, and at London's LAMDA. This time, my auditions and the reference letters from my university days did not get me very far. While on a family trip to China, I even visited the Beijing Film Academy and a similar institution in Shanghai, dragging my father to tour the schools and to view student productions with me. In Vancouver, I focused primarily on equity roles, meaning roles that would make me eligible for membership in the professional actor's union, the Canadian Actor's Equity Association, which came with mandated salary levels and benefits. I did not gain entry into the regular seasons of Vancouver's established commercial theaters, but I did land a leading equity role with a non-for-profit youth theater organization. The gig was a touring production about hockey, where we would visit elementary schools all over the province to perform in their gymnasiums. It was to be a 200-show season and an epic adventure as a professional actor. The show was about a my journey as a young hockey player learning life lessons through sport. Our group of four actors and one stage manager would be an all-in-one cast and crew. The theater had built a wooden skeleton of an oval ice rink that could be torn apart and stuffed in a white van, along with our group of five. Every day, we would drive the van hundreds of kilometers to put on shows at two different schools. We rehearsed in Vancouver, at the cultural heartbeat of the city at Granville Island, and performed a dress rehearsal which my family attended in an outdoor basketball court to prepare our vocal cords for the cavernous school gyms. We began the tour in the comfort of the Greater Vancouver area, where we could go home at the end of the day. We were booked by public schools, private schools, religious schools, and independent schools. We even performed at the three elementary schools I had attended as a child. Everywhere we went we would setup our oval ice rink, put on our roller blades, and wait for the hundreds of curious children to pack the gym before trying to keep their attention for an hour with our little play. It was a blast. If I was ever shy before, I certainly wasn't anymore. As the tour wore on, we would leave Vancouver on week-long trips into the remote interior of the province, travelling as far north as the Alaskan border and as far east as the Rockies near Alberta. One especially memorable performance was at a rural community school that was a single mixed facility combining students from elementary and high schools. After the 800 children packed the seating in front of us, it was clear we were going to have a hard time keeping the attention of the older teenagers. The audience sat on tiered stadium seats with good sightlines, and it felt like we could see every one of them distinctly. At the beginning of the show, we had some hockey tricks with which to try to win the their attention, I would pick up a puck on my hockey stick, and like I had done so many times before at MIT and Dunbar, I would toss it into the air, trying to catch it on my stick as it fell. This was pretty difficult and the children knew it, as the flat puck would spin and I could only catch it by luck and skill if the face of the puck was cushioned by the fat part of my stick, a fairly rare occurrence. For this performance, the gym was open and airy and had extremely high ceilings, so I tossed the puck as hard as I could, with 800 pairs of eyes following its trajectory as it flew 30 feet up into the air before falling back to earth. I caught it. There was dead silence. It was a moment of magic that garnered their attention for the duration of the show, and that instant was to be the pinnacle of my acting career. Resignation The performance mixed theater with some real hockey, and parts of the blocking saw me being frequently body checked from behind by my castmate who was a solid head taller than me. To add theatrical flair, I exaggerated the impact by throwing my weight into the check. Over time, it turned out I was giving myself whiplash and I developed concussion-like symptoms of lightheadedness, nausea, and a slight unfocus of the eyes. I would spend some afternoons after performances holed up on the floor of our shared motel rooms, recuperating. To save money, I had brought all my meals from Vancouver, consisting of vacuum-packed udon noodles, ham, and veggies which I microwaved with water for all of my lunches and dinners. I would shower and eat my noodles to try to regain my footing, but the symptoms turned chronic. By now, the constant travel, tight quarters, and paltry pay had made me increasingly unhappy. I was living the life of a professional actor and it was not satisfactory. I got lippy with the stage manager who reported me to the director back in Vancouver. After being reprimanded, I felt isolated and my concussion symptoms ignored, so I gave the director my two-week notice. They hurriedly hired a replacement actor in the short time available and I quit from the tour after 99 schools. Shortly after I left, I heard the van slipped down a snowy highway and turned over, sending the group to the hospital with light injuries and effectively ending the tour. I came home to my parents as a card-carrying professional actor, completing the goal I had set out for myself when I returned to Vancouver from Microsoft. But the experience had been bittersweet. Through a bilateral agreement with the United States, I was now technically eligible for work down south, where the industry was deeper and roles more aplenty. I did a last ditch scan for equity roles in New York and Hollywood, thought hard about whether I would truly consider leaving home to continue living the dream, and gave up. Again, once the decision was made, the execution was painless as I moved to ruthlessly sever all ties to life as an artist. I cashed out the $435 in my union retirement plan that had accrued over the 3-month tour and sold the Panasonic camera to a dreamer who had researched all of its specs just as I had, who couldn't believe the deal he was getting to jumpstart his Hollywood career. I closed all of my audition profiles, cleaned out the garage, and drew the curtains closed on my year-long experiment. I would never claim worker's compensation over my concussion symptoms, vague and ill-defined as they were real and chronic, but they would leave me with a frail head for the rest of my life. For years afterwards, even a slight, one-fingered tap on my head would immediately result in slight nausea for hours at a time. I had exercised extreme care ever since, as I would go on to pursue much more financially lucrative careers which would depend upon my intellect. Today I seem to be better, though even my toddler knows not to play with daddy's head. My parents were relieved that I was moving on from this chapter in my life, and I wonder if I would be as generous and understanding as they had been if my child ever caught the acting bug.