We’re All In This Together

I watched Jim Jeffries new Netflix special. He was talking about a bit he had done about why parents christened babies, pointing out the hypocrisy of religion. 

That made me think of a person who used to be my best friend, who is mentioned in my bio. He'd gone to Isreal, worked in a kibbutz, and converted to Judaism. Despite my loathing for organized religion, I do not ever tell people not to be a part of it. It's their life. Their participation doesn't affect mine as long as they don't try and recruit me. It won't be a good experience. For them.

My friend moved back to the Bay Area, but he found it difficult living here. He called himself a modern Orthodox Jew. I call myself a human. To each their own. A modern Orthodox Jew is a person who observes the traditional ways of Judaism, but doesn't go as far as wear traditional Jewish clothes, keep their hair as they wish, and avoids iPhones. OK...Orthodox Jews use iPhones. I think.

His newfound faith made it difficult for us to hang out on weekends because of Shabbat. There weren't many places that served kosher food. Particular to the Bay, there weren't many female modern Orthodox Jews. He wanted to marry one and make modern Orthodox Jewish babies. So he moved to New York where the Jewish population had been more prevalent. He found a wife. Had two kids.


An example of this traditional way of life showed itself when I met his wife. I greeted my friend with a hug. When he introduced me to her, I leaned in to hug her. She stood as still as a marble statue. Reading the cue from many first kiss failed attempts, I leaned back. Lean back. A betrothed wife cannot touch another man not her husband. A husband cannot touch a woman not chained to his ankle. I’m sure their own siblings are fine. Hey. I didn’t make the rules.

They eventually moved to Florida where he lives in a frum community. That was the end of our twenty-year friendship.

Though, I had seen the signs of the end. Outside of his faith, his life was changing with a full blown family. Me. I was still living the single life, free of tending to children born from my loins. Actually, that would have been from my wife's loins.

The thing that gets me is that he wanted to live in a frum community. That somehow the rest of the world wasn't good enough for him and his family. In the twenty years that we've been friends, he'd never mentioned isolating himself in a religious community.

How do I know he doesn't want anything to do with the non-frum world? Several of us had wished him a happy birthday on Facebook. We all wrote heartfelt greetings. And none of us received a thank you. Or any acknowledgement. That was last year.

Now, I'm not sure if that's the religion talking or not. But the fact that most religions require that you convert otherwise you can expect Hell to be your forever home in the afterlife is stupid. The big three—Christianity, Catholicism, Muslim—all state they are the one true religion.


If that is true, then the people belonging to the other two will meet Satan and be his housemate. Forever. And ever! Buahahahaa.

So when I watched Jeffries' bit about dead babies, I was delighted. Not because of the dead babies. But it showed the hypocrisy of religion.

In a world where tribalism runs rampant, we are all humans. As far as we know, there are no other species of humans. Yes, we're all different. I mean, no one would mistake a chihuahua for a mastiff. Still. They dawgs, bruh. They want the same things. To be loved. To hump legs. To sniff butts. To sleep on comfy mats. That's the thing a lot of people don't realize. We all want those things. Love. Pleasure. Community. Security.

I'm not saying we need to get rid of tribalism. But if we can peek through the curtain and see past the superficial differences, we'll all come to the same conclusion. We're all in this together.

Mary Sue: Storytelling Gone Wild

I wrote a post about Star Wars The Last Jedi. It was an exploration into Why Sequels SuckThen I followed up with another post on how sequels don't have to suck.

Then I saw a Forbes' post that talked about why The Last Jedi had so much controversyHe had two points that might have contributed to the hate toward the movie: the main character, Rey is a Mary Sue, and she's a girl. Being a storyteller, I’d like to talk about Mary Sue first.

Who is this mysterious woman? Is she on Tinder? Coffee Meets Bagel? Grinder?


That's for dudes, dude. Ooh. My bad. To put it lightly, Mary Sue is a female character that can do anything and do no wrong.

The male version is called a Marty Stu. The author pointed at James Bond and Indiana Jones as well known examples because "...both are superhuman soldiers, seducers, and puzzle-solvers, flawless individuals who are the subject of intense admiration from everyone they meet...". He shouldn't have chosen them because these two have well defined setups.

James Bond is an intelligence officer in MI6, who served in the Royal Navy. So before any James Bond book/movie begins, this history exists. Meaning, he's had training and experience.

Indy is a tenured professor of archeology in Princeton. Because of his father Indy has had extensive experience in adventuring and treasure hunting. Just like Bond, Indy has a history—the setup—that allows the audience to suspend their disbeliefs. When these two characters accomplish amazing things, we believe it because people with their kind of experience are more capable than people who have no training whatsoever.


Rey. What's her setup? Per Wikipedia, she's stubborn, headstrong, brave, optimistic, and loyal. Oh, and she's highly sensitive to the Force. That's cool. But so was Luke Skywalker. Back to him later. In The Force Awakens, I can't recall if she had made any big mistakes or did anything wrong. In fact, she was able to use the Force against Kylo Ren, who was well versed enough to stop a laser projectile in mid-air. Kinda like catching a bullet with your teeth, I’m imagining. Also, Rey didn't know she was powerful with the Force because she was surprised when she found out. In other words, she had no history with it. Kylo had training. So either she's so talented that training is not necessary, or the training Kylo had received sucked. If that was the case, he should get his money back.

The Forbes' post goes on to say that Luke and Rey have very similar setups. Both orphans, did manual labor, left their desert homes in the Millennium Falcon, and are strong with the Force. So why all the hate toward Rey? She's female. That's why. The post then says, "The most substantial difference is that Rey hasn’t experienced the emotional torture Luke has, seeing as Luke’s foster parents were murdered and his father turned out to be space-Hitler."

Well...there's this little film called Empire Strikes Back. Many critics consider this to be the best film within the original trilogy. I agree. Within the first fifteen minutes, we find Luke on the precipice of death on the ice planet Hoth. Obi-Wan Kenobi appears right in front of Luke from the netherworld (how often does this happen?) and tells him, "You's gots ta go ta Dagobah and train with my bruh, Jedi Grand Master Y. Woot woo!" I know. I'm paraphrasing here. And half the movie is dedicated to Yoda training Luke. I mean, they spend a lot of time together. Alone time.


At the end of the movie Luke duels his father, Darth Vader, and Luke loses his masturbatory hand, effectively losing the fight. As he should. Cause that Vader is a bad mofo.

To be fair, in The Last Jedi, Rey does find Luke. But there's very little training going on. Luke says he'll give her three lessons, but my memory barely recalls two. If there was a third lesson, then I missed it. Part of storytelling is showing the important stuff. Especially where logic is concerned. Otherwise people will be pulled out of the story, wondering how such and such happened. As a storyteller, I don't want that to happen.

Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; truth isn't. -Mark Twain

Could some of the hate come from the fact that Rey is a female character. Sure. But that's not the reason why Star Wars fans hate Rey. It's bad storytelling. Throughout the Star Wars’ cinematic universe, the idea of training someone in the ways of the Force has been hammered into the audience. Rey has received none to little of it. However, if fans did hate Rey for being female, then they would have hated Jyn. Dude. No one hates a fine glass of gin.


Serious? Come on! I'm talking about Jyn Erso, the lead character from the film, Rogue One. She's female. She's a rogue. She's tough. She takes no shit from no one, sistah. And that works well here. Not only did she witness her mother's murder, but she's had to hide from the Empire and survive life under that regime. By the time we see her as a young adult, she has chutzpah.

I know she has been received well because the actress, Felicity Jones, hasn't had to deactivate her Instagram account like Daisy Ridley, who plays Rey, had done.

All of this is to say that storytelling done right, done well will be received in that same light. So, Jimmy, how do you explain Fitty Shades?

That ain't a real book. But...the world is big enough to have Michelin-starred restaurants and fast food establishments.

Happiness vs Joy

I don't go on Facebook very often. Maybe once a day. I'm pretty busy and am not interested in my friends’ minute-to-minute going ons. I prefer conversation. I'm old fashioned, I guess.

One of my close friends was disgusted by a couple’s posts on how to have a great marriage. She didn't like their advice because they don’t have children. According to her their ignorance can skew their advice. The couple had launched a life coaching business where they focus on health, wealth, and relationships. I know them. But they've stopped talking to me because I'm a bit silly. And I have a potty mouth.


I tried talking to them about deeper things, but I felt they were closed to my ideas.

I decide to wade through the couple's posts and see what they have to offer. One video shows the wife saying something to the effect of "Nobody likes to be yelled at in public." I think she’s talking about respect and how to communicate with your partner. I'm not the best example, since all of my relationships have failed. However, failure is the nature of relationships. The first thing that comes to mind is that no one likes to be yelled at. Period. Unless they're in the throes of ecstasy. Then yelling can excite the activity. Or frighten little children.

They also have a video series on happiness. That peaks my interest. After hearing the advice that nobody likes to be yelled at in public, I am not too hopeful. The series talks about being grateful, having passions, having someone to love and love you back to increase your happiness. In my view, this isn't happiness. It's joy.

Joy is the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires. So if I get a big raise, I'll feel joy. If I sleep with a hot woman, I’ll feel a lot of joy. A lot. Buying stuff can evoke joy. Hence America's problem with credit card debt.

Happiness is the constant. Humans are inherently happy. Young children are evidence of this. For the most part, they're a content group of people. It may not seem like it, due to the yelling, screaming, and bad behavior. However, that's the nature of children.

Their imaginations can be captured so easily. How often do little girls have tea parties with inanimate objects? Or boys running around fighting imaginary monsters. Remember the Floor is Lava game?


Happiness is contentment. As humans, we don't need much. Food. Water. Shelter. Health. We're good. Having only those things may not bring joy, the experiences that fill the dullness of life. But the issue is that we cover that contentment with shit like I'm a loserfeeling that thought instead.

Going back to the couple. Their videos focus on rearranging the outside world to fit what they think it should look like, fulfilling an expectation that can bring joy, which can feel like happiness. But it's not. Imagine rearranging the furniture on the Titanic. That ain't gonna stop the ship from sinking. You have to look within yourself for happiness.

The minute we NEED things like an awesome car, the perfect job, and a guy that checks off the long list of requirements is when we can become discontent with life. Wanting those things, knowing we don’t need them, allows us to enjoy the luxuries of life for what they are. Experiences. 

What about being grateful? That’ll make us happy. Right, Jimmy? It depends on what they mean by being grateful. If they require that you have to say "Thank you for this blah, blah, blah...", or have a notebook full of gratefulness, then no, it's not correct. You simply are grateful or you take some things for granted. Both happen on a daily basis without us even noticing. I'm not saying don't be thankful. Keep a notebook of gratefulness if you want. I'm just saying the act of being grateful isn't necessary to be content. Saying I love you to someone that you detest isn't going to make you love them.

The couple does hit on something that I agree with. Status. A lot of people go into credit card debt keeping up with the Joneses, which is an act of rearranging the furniture on the Titanic. So materialistic endeavors don't contribute to happiness, but that doesn't mean you can't derive joy from it. I ride a motorcycle because I enjoy riding. It surprised me how much I love it. But I don't use it as a status symbol.

The only issue that I have with the couple stating that status shouldn't matter is that their Facebook posts are filled with materialistic luxuries. From the few that I have seen, they seem to have the top of the line stuff. Again. I'm not against this. But why post it for everyone to see? Why not just enjoy what you have?

What they're practicing isn't aligning with what they’re saying. Action speaks louder than words.

Happiness comes from within. It’s our natural state. That doesn’t mean we can’t cry or have bad moments. But if we clear our minds, we come back to that natural state of contentment. 

Cobra Kai

In my last post I talked about why sequels can suck. When a character moves through their arch, they start from who they are, having a trait such as not believing in oneself. The plot will continually challenge that notion until the character realizes what it means to truly have faith in themself. And if the writer is good, then the story will test the staying power of that new trait.

Therein lies the problem for sequels that I discussed in my last post: The character has become the person they should be. So how does a writer continue that character's story in a sequel, while still having an arch to traverse?


One of my favorite movies from my childhood is The Karate Kid. On the surface, Daniel, the main character, seems to be confident in himself. Right after moving across the country with his mother, he makes a new friend who invites him to a beach party. There he sees a girl that he likes and doesn't have a problem charming her. Her ex-boyfriend, Johnny, spots them, and he tries to force a conversation with her. Daniel stands up to Johnny and receives a beating for his efforts.

As a character, Daniel has attitude, confidence, and is unenlightened. How can someone have confidence and lack enlightenment? That's what so intriguing about Daniel.

Confidence is the trust in one's own ability. The plot shows us this. Robert Mark Kamen, the original screenwriter, knew what he was doing. Daniel's ability to make a new friend, to charm a girl and stand up for himself are signs of confidence. Confidence, however, doesn't guarantee success. So when Daniel fails by losing that new friend, the fight, and the ability to show his vulnerability to the girl, doubt seeps inside and eats at him. So what does he do? He tries to learn Karate from a book and checks out a Karate school called the Cobra Kai. He's trying to shore up his doubt by out-Karateing Johnny.


Mistah Miyagi is Spiderman.

Mr. Miyagi has made a deal with the Cobra Kai that Daniel and Johnny will settle their differences at the All Valley Karate Tournament. Months of training fly by as Miyagi instructs Daniel. Daniel confesses that he doesn't feel like he's learned enough Karate. With a knowing smile, Miyagi says to trust in the quality of the training, not the quantity. This is important because the solution to Daniel's problems isn't to know more Karate. Nor is it to be stronger. Nor be faster.

Miyagi has always taught from a place of truth. That one must be fully committed to the task. Hard work done well is important. Balance in life is essential. Miyagi is an enlightened individual. He's detached from silly things like winning and losing. His only concern is that Daniel knows himself. That his truth lies within.

Sweep the leg.

Daniel does well in the tournament and makes it to the finals. This is where the plot tests how well he's learned his lessons. The Cobra Kai sensei instructs Johnny to cheat, so he sweeps the leg, forcing Daniel to forfeit the bout due to injury. Will he be satisfied with the current outcome? Or will he choose to fight injured?

This is a movie goddammit! So he chooses to fight injured.

Miyagi looks at his wounded student. "No need fight anymore. You prove point."

"What, that I can take a beating?" Daniel says. "Every time I see those guys, they'll know they got the best of me. I'll never have balance that way, not with them, not with Ali...not with me."

Not with me. And here we find out that Daniel is enlightened.

Now. How does a writer create a character arch who is enlightened?

Thirty-four years later, Cobra Kai.


I was concerned that the YouTube Red series, Cobra Kai, was gonna suck ass. So much of the promotional commercials show Johnny as the sympathetic/protagonist and Daniel as a douche. That would be like doing something ghastly, taking a totally optimistic character and making him completely pessimistic—ahem—Luke Skywalker—cough. Thank baby Jesus that didn't happen—sneeze—sarcasm.

The writers for Cobra Kai continued the mythology of Daniel and Johnny. Their core character traits are still intact.

Daniel has become a car salesman. He owns a chain of car dealerships. The writers showed that that level of comfort has softened Daniel. His focus is on the good life: riches, providing for his family. What he didn't have himself: A loving father and material wealth.

Johnny's still an asshole, but from what I gather, he hasn't had a lot of opportunities throughout the past 34 years to grow into the person he should be. He started on that path when he congratulated Daniel for beating him in the '84 All Valley Tournament. The life of wealth that Johnny had came with severe costs—a stepfather who hated him.

What I love about these two characters is the gray area they venture in and out of. Both of them make good and bad choices. So my mind is always trying to categorize who the good and bad guy is. This is mirrored in the young cast of characters. The writing plays with my sense of expectations. Sometimes the story fulfills it. Other times it switches things around.

The biggest point is that Daniel and Johnny felt real because their core character traits have remained true. The nostalgia, the incredible storytelling and good acting made this series a joy to watch. Often times I forgot that I was a writer and was pulled into the story. That's a good sign. Because when I'm critiquing a story that I'm reading or watching for entertainment, it means the writing hasn't done the job of pulling me in.

Why Sequels Suck

In storytelling character traits are very important in giving dimension to characters. The rule of thumb is that a character should have three to five traits. Having too few will leave it feeling one dimensional. Having too many can convolute the character, making it a nightmare to write.

One of the character traits is usually bad, dysfunctional. Greed, unfaithfulness and hate are a few examples. Moving this bad trait to a good one is called an arc. Scrooge is a textbook example of character arch. He only thought of himself and was selfish and ungiving. These are not three traits because on paper they look very similar to each other when shown. By the end of the story, Scrooge learned that the world was bigger than him, that love was important, and giving to others in need filled the soul. He has become the person he should be.


To write the sequel to Scrooge would be difficult. The writer would have to come up with another bad trait for Scrooge to have and then show how that happened. This would allow him to traverse another arc, allowing him to become the person he should be. Again.

In movie sequels this is often done. That's why they often feel false and forced. That's why a lot of sequels suck ass. This brings us to The Last Jedi.

In my humble opinion, Rian Johnson, the writer and director, had gone straight down the garbage compactor. He had taken an iconic and loved character, Luke, and destroyed all of the work the initial Star Wars trilogy had accomplished.

The first two movies taught us that Vader is the baddest fucking dude in the galaxy. He kills and tortures people like a psychopath, destroys his daughter's home planet, and doesn't shy away from freezing people in carbonite. His own son picks a fight with him. But instead of giving him a slap on the hand, Vader chops it off. The masturbatory one!


Despite all of that, Luke wonders whether he can rescue his father from the dark side. He converses with his old quirky teacher, Yoda, who states, "Once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny." In other words: Yo pops...he gone, bruh.

That was Yoda. Grand Master Jay. Short for Jedi grandmaster. And still, Luke be like, "Yo. He mah pops, sucka. I see da good in him, bruh. I'm out. Peace."

By the end of the third film, Luke rescues his father's soul, drags his body into his ship as the new Death Star falls apart all around them, and gives him a proper burial. Respect. Luke is a dude that sees past the worst of you and says, "Ya aite."

Down the garbage compacter we go.

In The Last Jedi, Luke had taken his nephew, Ben, under his wings and taught him the ways of the force. To Luke's dismay, the dark side was strong with Ben. So what does an uncle do? Kill him. Ben finds out about Luke's plan, which sends him farther down the dark path.

For Luke to look at his nephew and have no hope betrays one of his core character traits. It would be one thing if Luke found out that Vader had no good within him. Then, attributing that to Ben would make complete sense. But when Anakin shares a father/son moment right before the Death Star blew up, and said, "Tell your sister that you kissed in the mouth in Empire Strikes Back that you were right. You were right."

Johnson's version of Luke was so off putting that even actor Mark Hamill, who plays Luke, couldn't help himself but have a dead stare.

I'm not sure if Johnson wanted to give Luke an arch to travel, so he had to force a bad trait on the character. But Johnson didn't have to because there are other characters. Not everyone has to have an arch. Maybe Johnson didn't know that. Given how he torpedoed The Last Jedi, I wouldn't be surprised of his ignorance.

Story Time

Minutemen. Women don't appreciate them. Maybe hookers do. Turn over is money. Hey. Sometimes men have a dry spell and...oops. Did I do that?

This past weekend I was working with my writing group where we critique each other’s pages. Commercial break: Listen to a hilarious podcast where we talked about our group dynamics and workshopping our books.

One of our authors is writing an urban fantasy. I read an action sequence that took place in the main character's apartment. She's fending for her life and is losing badly. Using her telepathy, she calls for help. Her friend responds, telling her to hold on, and that she was almost at the apartment. For me the tension of that action sequence lost it's hard on. Or maybe I lost my hard on.

And, no. I'm not a minuteman.

During our workshop, I suggested to the author that he remove the telepathic dialogue because it deflates the tension. He said that the main character's friend had already told her that she was coming by at the beginning of the scene. That’s right. He had a really good point.


Still, I was bothered because my reaction was so visceral. I wasn't looking at it from a structural point of view. I racked my head. I literally put my head down on the pool table and put the triangle thingy over it. OK. No, I didn't.

A day or two later I came across an article titled: A Quiet Place: Who Are The Monsters? Such a great movie. And the writing kicks ass. Figuratively. Can't see how it would literally. 

The producers of the film discussed at length when to reveal the monster. They feared that they might have shown it too soon. In reality the film doesn't show the alien in full view until the last seven minutes. They wanted to delay showing the monster for as long as they could. Eureka! There was my answer. I figured out why my hard on had deflated. Not during the movie. Nor did I have one in the theater. That would be weird while watching a horror flick. I'm referring to my hard on figuratively.

In the pages that I had read, the character who is coming over was on the way before the action sequence happened. The main character is getting ready in her apartment when her attacker knocks on her door. She opens it, thinking it's her friend. The attacker pounces, and she fights for her life. Even though we know her friend is on the way, we don't know how far away she is. We know her pace wouldn't be urgent because she doesn't know how dire things have become. We don't know how long it'll take for her to arrive. Even if the main character calls for help telepathically, having the rescuer not respond can increase the tension in the reader. We're left wondering: What's happened? Where is her friend? What's taking so long?

Time is such a great tool. Delaying things can extend and heighten tension. Delaying pleasure can make the reader anxious. People love story because of the rollercoaster ride of life, even if we wouldn't want it literally.

Messy People

I finished watching Seven Seconds on Netflix. I Netflixed and chilled by myself, which is pretty sad. And messy. That's one of the things I loved about Seven Seconds. It's very messy. Napkin please. For my tears.

Veena Sud is the series creator and is known from her series The Killing. The Killing was amazing because of the mood it creates. It doesn't resort to bloody grotesque images to shock the viewers because that isn't the goal. The surprising realization for me was that most of the show followed the two lead detectives who were tasked to solve Rosie's murder. Well...duh. Stay with me.

The reason I was surprised was that I felt this sense of dread and darkness throughout the whole series. This came when the rest of the onscreen time was spent focused on the mother and father's reaction to this unimaginable hole that murder leaves. Powerful storytelling. But what punched me in the gut emotionally was how messy their relationship was with their daughter and with each other before Rosie was murdered. This creates complexities because the parents can't resolve old wounds with their dead daughter. So the question becomes can they heal from their albatrosses? Can they heal their relationship with each other?

So why not aim the cameras solely on the victim's friends and family? Wouldn't that make it more powerful? More engaging? Short answer, no.


Too much darkness and dread can be too intense. Most viewers would be put off by this. Pretty quickly too. Which is why the show centers around the detectives. And the fact that the show asked "Who killed Rosie Larsen?" gave the audience a mystery to solve, something for their minds to chew on.

Whew! All this is to say that more often than not we see characters, especially supporting ones, that have no backstory. Even if they do, they're bland. Disney stories are like this. Most of the character building is focused on the main players. And that's understandable. Time constraints may limit that. But good characters had lives before showing up to the reader or viewer.

However, with a ten-episode series, a writer can delve into the messy lives and bask in the dreaded details. We resonate with that because all of our lives are messy. This is where Sud shines. She creates characters that have had lives before we see them. They're revealed in a way that helps create plot and arcs to be traversed.


In Seven Seconds Clare-Hope Ashitey dives into the role of KJ Harper, the lawyer responsible for the case that encompasses the series. It's not enough to have her be an alcoholic. That's cliche. What isn't is how it affects KJ's choices socially and professionally. There's a couple of suggestions that she sleeps with whoever is available. A guy at a karaoke bar. Her detective counterpart. There are many times alcohol threatens her case. She either misses her court appointments, or delves into the deepest darkest part of her so she gives up on the case (and herself, essentially).

The detective, her partner in crime, not only has to deal with her messiness, but he has a messy past of his own, which resulted in a resentful daughter, revealing his emotional character arc. And this is something that isn't made very clear in a lot of the writing classes that I've taken. Creating messiness for a character is easy. But having it linked so his character arc must resolve it to me is pretty basic. But to know how to do this the writer must know the character traits. How it was taught to me is that a character trait shapes how she sees the world. For example if she's a workaholic, then her whole world revolves around that life. When a guy asks her out on a date, she'll likely deny him in some way, despite the fact that she may be hard up.

So working backward in creating scenes for your character is one way to approach this messiness. Having a character trait, workaholic, that allows you to move her toward the person she should be, appreciating the moment (smellin' da roses), will make it easier on the writer to create scenes. Because the scenes have to push the question: What's more important? Work life? Or life with people, nature, real experiences that changes her soul? I can tell you, living in the San Francisco Bay Area that real experiences are a luxury. In my opinion, that's unfortunate.