“Creation stories” is the new category of the blog. For each season of the year, I will meet a creator and record his or her story. Creating can either be the main job of our guests, one of their jobs, or just a pure hobby.
With this series of creation stories, I hope to break the clichés that widen the gap between public’s vision of creative professions and reality.
Summer guest: Diệu Lan (Ziolan) from Petites Pattounes
I was only expecting a classic interview, when I booked an appointment with Ziolan, the creator of the blog and YouTube channel Petite Pattounes.
Lan’s content is a mix between singing, DIY and a few anecdotes from everyday life. Based on standards, perhaps Lan’s YouTube channel would be considered too small (over 500 subscribers with 25 videos, since 2014).
More than 10 years ago, Lan and I have crossed paths several times, since we study in the same high school in Hanoi (Vietnam). But I only know the creative version of Lan, through the parasocial relationship.
Lan is a full-time customer relations professional. She creates as a hobby, and it often takes a few months to discover a new video or blog post on her social media. Being a viewer of her YouTube channel and a reader of her blog makes me feel special, because I am following some sort of “niche” content. Plus, I have a tiny connection in the past with this creator.
Nevertheless, that “tiny connection” is not a thing that makes her feel comfortable.
At first, I chose Lan as the summer guest, as I was seduced by the cheerfulness and cuteness filled in every line of her blog and in each one of her videos. I know a lot of people motivated to start a YouTube channel or a blog who give up after a few months, since the number of views is not up to their expectations. So I am curious to know how Lan manages to keep her authenticity, while continuing to create on the internet year after year.
The last time (and also the first time) I spoke directly to Lan was during a project where she was my client. So I could not imagine that the interview would turn into a 3-hour discussion, mixed between Vietnamese and French, filled with emotions and Lan’s frankness.
The answer to my curiosity is not simply: “She continues to create because she does not care about the number of views”. Her creative journey is intimately linked with the finding of inner peace.
In these last days of summer, let’s discover how Lan was able to keep her motivation despite a modest number of subscribers, why she only creates in French, why Lan sings well (and is aware of it) but did not become a professional singer; all the while following the story of creation accompanied by the journey of finding balance after a past trauma.
Creation begins when the personality is found
The tipping point
Tu Ha An (An): My first impression about you was in a French music competition. We were in high school at that time. The amphitheater was very small, but crowded, and even quite messy. The jury was sitting in the front row, the audience in the middle. The teams of competitors, young and older, were running around. And then you came on stage. You were alone with your keyboard, and you sang…
Diệu Lan – Ziolan (Lan): S’il suffisait d’aimer. Yes, I remember it well.
An: And at that very moment, the whole audience suddenly went silent. It was as if everything went white all at once.
Lan: It changed my life that day…
Lan: I only got the second prize. And I was not happy.
But my performance impressed one of the juries. She picked 5 participants from this competition to form a cabaret for l’Espace (note: French Institute in Hanoi).
She took us to her house to coach. At that time, my singing level was OK. But I was not yet fluent in French. I was still making pronunciation mistakes, like the time I said “croissant” (croissant viennoiserie) instead of “croisant” (crossing) when reading the lyrics of a song.
But most importantly, I had a French community in Vietnam thanks to this jury. At that time, it was the only place that gave me a sense of belonging.
I didn’t have a good experience with high school.
I was isolated by my classmates. Of course, on my own, I got into mischief too. I hurt others because I didn’t feel good about myself. And I regret it.
I was categorized as a dumb kid. At that time, I didn’t know myself yet. Unfortunately, when you’re young and you hear the same judgment all day long, you end up believing it.
The teachers weren’t neutral either. I don’t think they realized that they were hurting someone’s feelings. They were saying cruel things to me, even criticizing my physical appearance. The impact they had on me was severe.
When I was in 11th grade, I often skipped class. This gave the teachers one more reason to hate me. Instead of going to class, I would go to my cabaret. I wanted to get away from that school environment. I would say to myself, “Anywhere but here!”
The personality is only found once escaped from the old bubble
Going to study in France was not a dream
An: Did your family know about this?
Lan: I kept it from them. Anh (note: Lan’s sister) encouraged me to share with her what I was going through, and promised not to tell the parents. But I didn’t tell her.
At the time, I was following Anh in every way. Everything I had when I was 18 was picked up from Anh. If someone asked me what I liked, I could only answer by mentioning my sister’s favorites.
I didn’t have a personality. I didn’t know what I wanted to do either. I wasn’t even sure when my parents offered to send me to college in France. I thought, “I am already a loser by staying in Vietnam. The price will be 1,000 times more expensive if I am dumb in France…”
But at that time, my only goal was to escape from this unhealthy environment that seemed interminable.
An: Most Vietnamese students abroad make vlogs and write blog posts to keep their old friends and acquaintances informed of their new life. I guess this was not your case. So why did you decide to start a blog and make videos?
Lan: Because in my work domain, 5 years ago, when I was about 23, 24, being a blogger was a trend.
I wasn’t always the happy, bubbly version you see on my videos and on my blog. Coming out of college, I was still seriously defensive. I was still a little afraid that people who hated me would have access to my life through my content.
But luckily I met good people at the right time, people who knew nothing about my past. My friends I met at my old job trusted me completely. Even during the times when I was unsure of myself, they kept 100% confidence in me.
The little moments when I was funny, they were able to capture it. They would tell me over and over again to confirm who I was, that I could do better, that I could be a better version. Consistently, over 3 years, their kindness bore fruit.
If I hadn’t joined this company, maybe until now I wouldn’t be finding my personality.
It takes good soil to sow creativity
An: So you started creating thanks to your full-time job?
Lan: It wasn’t the job that made me want to do personal projects. It was my friends who made me want to be a better person. It made me realize that I had the ability, that I had the time and that I had the support to get into creative subjects.
Thanks to them, I stopped holding myself back from creating because of people who hated me.
Today, I know that I am expressing my creativity, which may not go anywhere. But at least I am putting my creativity somewhere.
Creating in French: not simply a choice of language
An: For almost 5 years, I was hesitating between creating content in Vietnamese or in French. I think this is also the issue of many bilingual creators. Did you encounter the same problem?
Lan: When I arrived in France, I realized that more than 80% of those who were in my high school class were also landing in France. At that time, all I wanted was to separate myself from the past. So I went to the extreme of denying the Vietnamese part in me.
At that time, every time someone thought I was born in France when they heard my voice without an accent, I felt satisfied. I thought it was the proof of success.
Today, I finally managed to find the balance point. I finally feel comfortable and proud to be Vietnamese.
But in reality, I create in French because, strangely enough, I feel funnier when I speak French.
At the beginning, I was also going to create bilingual French and Vietnamese content. But nobody in my audience only speaks Vietnamese. All my best friends are French. Even the Vietnamese friends I still keep in touch with can speak French.
I used to do Vietnamese subtitles on my YouTube videos for my mother to watch. But she said that I spoke too fast, that she had to pause several times to read the subtitle. So she doesn’t watch often either.
Continue with only 5 abonneys (*)
(*) Subscribers, following the way Ziolan talks in her videos
Create, to realize that the only person who pays that much attention is yourself
An: I was surprised when I learned that you run a lifestyle blog and that you make YouTube face cam videos. I never had the same experiences as you, although in my first videos, viewers could only see my hands, and not my face. I only had the courage to show myself when I was with a group of friends. How did you make the decision to make your identity public, when you went through the trauma of being isolated and hated?
Lan: When I started the project, I felt it was a bad decision, but I did it anyway; I said to myself “We’ll see how it goes”. I was sure that there would be haters, that it would be all over the place and I would have to prepare myself psychologically.
If you watch my first video on the history of France and Vietnam, you won’t recognize me. I was serious and defensive, even when I was alone in front of the camera at home. And that’s stupid! However, even though this video had a lot of views, because I shared it on UEVF (note: Union of Vietnamese students in France), I only received positive comments. Even when I made a few mistakes in the names of the different kings, the viewers only made constructive comments to help me correct it.
Then I realized that in fact, no one cares. The only person who pays that much attention is myself.
The people who hate me also have other things to do. If someone hates me enough to watch my video and then leave a comment, then that person probably has no life. We are all approaching our thirties. It’s pathetic to get stuck in this kind of gossip and childishness at their 30s.
Views & likes
An: Have your experiences from the past helped you manage the community and deal with criticism?
Lan: Haha…If you want to get critics, you have to reach a certain level of traffic and views already. I only have 5 views per video. Anyway, the person would have to like me a lot to click on the video. So, there are probably only two people left at the end of the video. I’m pretty sure that it’s Anh and Victor (note: Lan’s partner)
An: But… There’s me too! It’s strange, because several years passed between the moment I watched your videos for the first time, and our first contact. I couldn’t remember which of us put the first comment in the other’s channel.
Lan: It was you! I’m sure about that. Because I never leave comments under other people’s content. So I’m totally comfortable when no one leaves me a comment. I never say “Please subscribe” at the end of my videos. If my viewers want to subscribe, they already do it themselves, not because I told them to.
I’m not sure that I want to run a community anyway.
I still have a little bit of a blockage with people coming from that past environment. I felt like if they didn’t hate me yet, they would sooner or later.
It’s the same with you, I support you from afar.
An: So, there is a good chance that at that time, I would make the first move towards you because on the creative side, I was feeling alone.
Early in my student life, I had the opportunity to organize events and make videos. I had my friends involved in every project. We were working and having fun.
Until a moment when I didn’t want to create just for fun anymore. My processes and content became more and more serious, there was no more room for jokes. My friends were also starting their young adult lives. They could no longer accompany me. For my part, I was not good enough yet to connect with professional creators.
The trend of creating YouTube channels is coming to an end with the people around me. Like you said, doing make you realize that only people who really like you a lot are clicking on your videos.
I found myself alone on the creative path. And you were the closest person in my circle who was still making videos. Your endurance makes me feel a little less alone.
Lan: Haha…You consider that releasing a video every 6 months is the proof of endurance?
An: I’m not talking about the regularity of content coming out every week or month. The endurance lies in the fact that you are always there. Few views or many views, few likes or many likes, I know you will be back.
Lan: I used to wonder why some of my buddies wouldn’t watch or like my content. I don’t hold grudges, but I pay attention, and I used to wonder why. And then I realize that if you’re my buddy then you’re my buddy, simply. You have the right to watch what you want to watch.
Choosing joy over regularity
An: What motivates you to continue creating on the internet then?
Lan: I choose joy. I don’t choose regularity.
When I’m not in the mood, I can’t talk the way I want to talk.
Like the video where I’m talking about how you made my logo, I wanted to film on Saturday, but it was raining, so I wasn’t in the mood. So I gave up.
However, I’m very careful about the quality. The result is probably just as bad, but I know I did my best.
The singing videos also take a lot of time. There is also the time to practice the song and to practice the piano. Some videos, like the song Je t’mentirais, took me a year to make. One year for 300 views. But it doesn’t matter, because I am satisfied.
(to be continued)