Welcome to another Reader of the Month post, where I turn the spotlight onto some members of the awesome Zen Pencils community. This month, we have two very interesting stories. First up is Sylvie, an aspiring writer from France, currently living in Taiwan.

sy01My name is Sylvie and I’m a real fan of your art and website. I’m 25 and currently living in Taipei, Taiwan. I was born in France in a traditional working class Asian family. When I was young I wanted to be a writer and remember spending hours passionately writing every night. My parents were wondering why I was so into my own little world and they really didn’t understand it. Yet, they let me write as long as I was doing fine at school. One summer, we went to Australia to see my family. I brought all my notebooks because I wanted to keep writing. I told my whole family that I wanted to be a writer but the reactions I got, were: “Are you sure? Why? How are you going to make money? No no, it’s not good, you shouldn’t be a writer. It’s not for you”. Something broke inside me but I kept writing.

Back in France, I had to choose a major for high school. I wanted to choose Literature but my parents were pushing me to choose Business. I remember arguing with my mum. She told me, “Your French isn’t good enough, you were not born in a family of writers or artists! Asian people work hard in companies, they don’t become writers!”. She was against my dream, thinking that she was teaching what was right. And after being influenced by family for years, you start to forget what is your own truth and confuse it with the noise coming from other people. So I followed what they said. They told me you can always write as a hobby.

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I got into a business school and excelled. One year after my graduation I got a job in Taipei to be a product manager for a big French pharmaceutical company. Even though I was writing less and less, I thought I was on the right track. That I had found “happiness”. Sometimes, my heart was whispering to me that I could do something else but I did not listen to it. Everybody seemed very happy for me. I even thought “My life isn’t that bad, no need to be a writer or do something artistic.”

Soon though, I started to get really depressed and lonely. I worked hard and long hours everyday, with difficult co-workers who told me I wasn’t reaching their expectations. I didn’t want to complain because so many people I knew wanted my job. I was the lucky one! I could earn good money, eat good food, have a nice home. But I couldn’t help but cry every night. “Why am I such a weak person? Why don’t I understand that to fulfil your dreams you need to go through pain first?”. I had a lot of questions, doubted a lot, lost all the confidence in myself I once had. I was failing and falling, down and down. I was afraid that people were going to start to be tired of my attitude so I tried to hide it by closing myself off, going out less and less. I wanted to go back home but it was painful to think about myself as a failure.

That’s when I found your website.

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I started to read one, two, three cartoons and I kept going. I laughed, I smiled, I cried a lot. And then I saw it. The Stephen Fry Ultimate Self Help comic. “Stop feeling sorry for yourself and you will be happy.” Something started to slowly move inside me. Not long after, I started a Facebook page called Humans of Taiwan, inspired by Humans of New York. I wanted to talk to people, to see more than my own internal self. I loved it. After receiving so much positivity in such a short time through Zen Pencils and Humans of New York, I wanted to spread some positivity in return. So I kept sharing stories through my little camera even though I am still a beginner in photography.

I wanted to make something for you, Gavin, in return for all your comics, so I made a movie based on your Stephen Fry cartoon. It is my first short movie so it is not very professional.

I have once again found my love for art. Today, I am very happy. I left my job, I keep working hard on my projects, I am writing the script for my second short movie and I even found the love of my life, who I met photographing for my Humans of Taiwan page!

Wow, I love that story, thanks for sharing Sylvie and thanks for making the short film, great job! Next up, it’s actor and stuntman Tyler:

typicMy name is Tyler Buckingham. I’m an actor, model, and stuntman, living in Atlanta, Georgia. Growing up I was always active and involved with family. I assumed when I went to college that I would become a teacher like my parents, and also play college football and basketball.

However, in my first year of college I suffered a career-ending injury during basketball: a broken ischial tuberosity, torn hamstring, and herniated disk in my back (L4-L5 vertebrae). Now what? I wasn’t happy at school, wasn’t happy with myself, and wasn’t happy with life. My entire life I’d been playing sports and that was all gone. I don’t know that I’d ever felt worse.

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About two months after my injury I was looking to fill a theatre class and found something called “Stage Combat.” Needless to say, I was intrigued. There were people who actually got paid to fight on stage and in movies??? Sign me up. Of course I had to be careful with my body, but doing the stunts never bothered me – it was as if my body was saying, “Yes. Keep doing this. Keep following this path.” And so I did. I fell in love with acting and continued to do stage combat. After finishing my second year of college I decided to move 12 hours away from home to Chattanooga, Tennessee, where I attended a Professional Actor Training Program (2-year intensive). I won’t lie – it was difficult. Not only the training, the distance, and the money, but when you’re on your own…you find out a lot about yourself. Some things are great, but I didn’t like a lot about myself.

Luckily my family and my grandmother were there for me. My grandmother was so happy for me to be off on my own and would send me hand-written cards all the time even if it was just to say, “Hi Tyler, I love you!” She also shared with me the poem “It couldn’t be done.” I have always enjoyed inspirational quotes or motivational posters, but the way that she said it had so much more meaning behind it. She truly believed that I could do anything as long as I “didn’t say no ’til I tried.”

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And at that same time I first found out about Zen Pencils and began to notice the comics more and more. There are so many comics that stand out for me but Someday was one that really stuck with me. If you want something in life you have to go after it and continue to knock on the door until it opens. I was chasing my dream and pursuing what I loved – I didn’t wait for the perfect conditions, I just did it. Looking back on it all now makes me realise that the best thing for me was my injury. As awful as it was, I needed it. Just like I needed Gavin and Zen Pencils to make me look at quotes differently and realize that they are more than just words – they are stories.

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That’s what my grandmother was trying to tell me – a story. Unfortunately, last Thanksgiving she passed away. I couldn’t be with her and my family and I never had any closure on her passing until Gavin made his comic version of It couldn’t be done. As soon as I saw the comic I broke down crying because I knew she was still watching over me and encouraging me to keep doing what I loved no matter what anyone else was saying. I was lucky enough to film a commercial and become a trained stuntman before her passing. My journey is still going, but her memory lives on and I will always have those memories with her. Thank you, Gavin!

You’re welcome Tyler! All the best with your acting/getting-set-on-fire career 🙂