Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Her Name Was Lauren Tank.

I just found out today that my dear friend, Lauren Tank, took her own life sometime on Monday.

I didn't know Lauren very long, but as soon as we met I wished we had. We officially first met only a few months ago at work when she recognized me in the elevator as someone who had gone to the same grade/middle school with her, albeit a year apart. It was at the end of the day on our way home, so I didn't get to really respond to her until the next day.

I sent her a message in the work chat system, and right off the bat it was easy to see that she and I had a lot in common, and that she was quite an infectiously delightful person. It also became apparent that, if a friendship were to develop, it would soon be strained by the effects of long distance.

Here is a transcript of the start of that conversation:

December 14, 2016
Matejka, Ryan [8:24 AM]:
Hey! It’s me from the elevator yesterday with the shared dark past.
Tank, Lauren [8:25 AM]:
Haha! Hello! How are you?
Matejka, Ryan [8:25 AM]:
interestingly, Matt in sales(?) was also from StMM
I had to figure out your name using LinkedIn by the way, so you’ve got a request from me there now. I’m doing pretty good though, how about yourself?
Tank, Lauren [8:26 AM]:
I’m pretty fantastic, actually! I’m actually moving to southern California in like three weeks. Sad, though, because I love working here at HBI, but awesome because it’s like 65 degrees over there right now
I guess it sounds like HBI is full of people I knew from different chapters of my life. Elizabeth was in my sorority pledge class in college, you’re here, Matt (who I don’t think I’ve ever heard of) is here, no doubt somebody from my high school is here lurking somewhere
Matejka, Ryan [8:28 AM]:
ugh jealous. Long have I fantasized about moving out west to pursue a career in screenwriting and general awesomeness
I actually have some in-laws out there
Tank, Lauren [8:29 AM]:
You should consider up and doing it someday! Work on screenplays in your spare time over the years and when the time is right, just do it.
Or find any job out there and try to work on film-related things in your spare time

We talked about movies (especially Fight Club), television shows, and how Fall Out Boy's best album is obviously Folie à Deux, no matter what everyone else says! She shared "dank memes" and advice on how to "acquire The Sims 4 from some Swedish friends with a pirate ship, if you get my drift." In return, I filled up her USB stick with episodes of the HBO show Westworld, Chuck Palahniuk e-books, and music by pop-punk band Neck Deep.

Talking to Lauren was the easiest thing in the world. She held nothing back. She made you immediately at ease.

I joined her for lunch on her last day at work. She couldn't stop talking about how excited she was that she was certain her boyfriend was going to propose to her either on Christmas or New Year's Eve. I briefly contemplated asking for a selfie with her to mark the occasion, then shook the thought away because I assumed Lauren was "too cool" for that kind of sentimental bullshit.

We kept in touch after she moved, mostly sharing Rick and Morty memes. I kept asking her if she finally listened to "December [again]" by Neck Deep - a song I was certain she would love, but she would always apologize and say she'd get around to it later.

Today, I logged onto Facebook and was just about to ask her what was up when I scrolled through my wall to find a message from one of her friends wishing that she'd rest in peace. Frantically, I checked her profile page to see that it was full of more of the same messages from friends and loved ones.

I can't describe the feeling. I was in denial. I was sad. I was angry. Even more so I was confused, because not a single post referenced what had actually happened and I'd just spoken to her a few days ago.

I looked up what was the last thing she messaged me:

March 14, 2017
Lauren Tank
I have had it with these motherfucking snakes on this motherfucking plane
Ryan Matejka
*record scratch sound* so did you ever listen to the songs I sent you?
Lauren Tank
Fuuuck I'm a bad friend. I forgot.
Ryan Matejka
If it makes you feel better I only played a little bit of Sims 4
Lauren Tank
Oh it worked for you? Good!
Ryan Matejka
Yup, and now I've been downloading shit like crazy

Well, it wasn't anything special, but at least I didn't let her end it on "I'm a bad friend," because that just wasn't true.

At this point, I still didn't know exactly what happened to her, but an idea crept into my brain; "please let it be literally anything except suicide."

I'm not a religious man, so the idea of eternal hell wasn't what worried me about suicide so much as the thought of such a bright spot in my life (and likely so many others) spending her last moments in a hopeless misery. She deserved so much better than that.

I left the building and cried. I fell against a wall, buried my head in my hands, and just cried.

No matter what happened, this is a tragedy.

"Life is short, random, and meaningless," I thought to myself. "We'd all do well to remember that and make the best of every second."

I don't believe that Lauren is "in a better place" and I'll never fully understand the mentality behind taking one's own life unless it is to avoid absolutely certain pain and suffering, but I suppose that in Lauren's mind that's what her future held. Depression is a real bitch. It numbs you to your core and prevents you from seeing the possibility of a happy future despite all evidence to that effect. I don't believe that Lauren is "in a better place," but I take a very, very small amount of solace that her suffering is over and that her death was in her own hands and not someone else's. Of course, that still does nothing to diminish the fact that this is, no matter how you slice it, a tragedy.

I'll end on a modified quote that she loved from Fight Club and one of her favorite songs from Folie à Deux.

"In Project Mayhem, we have no names.
But in death, a member of Project Mayhem has a name.
Her name was Lauren Tank."

"That’s the thing about new music - the best tracks are often hidden in albums and much ignored. For example, nobody cares about the song Tiffany Blews off Folie a Deux but it’s suuuuch a great song"
- Lauren Tank

May she rest in peace.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Character Depth in Superbad - A Movie Essay


Note: This essay is a slight revision of one I originally posted on reddit.com/r/truefilm. You can read the original essay in its entirety here.

I was 16 years old when the 2007 movie Superbad was released. At the time, I thought of it as nothing more than a really funny movie full of lines that were quotable for years to come (as evidenced years later by my friend Yuriy shouting "prepare to get fucked by the long dick of the law" as we exited my vehicle to crash a freshman party - unknowingly right in front of the mother of the kid hosting the party).

Over time though, as I read about, reflected on, and re-watched the film, it became apparent that it is much, much more.

Character Depth in Superbad


As an adult, the first thing that becomes apparent about the quality of Superbad is just how accurately it portrays the thoughts and behaviors of an otherwise hard-to-capture time in a growing boy's life; sex is a constant topic of thought and conversation, girls are magical and mysterious creatures, the best friendships feel like true love, and why can't someone just invite me to a party already?

But now, as a writer, what really astounded me upon my recent viewing of Superbad was the story structure and characters. For something that appears on the surface to be nothing more than a raunchy film about trying to get drunk and laid that was written by two stoner comedians when they were in high school, Superbad has some of the best and most layered characters of any movie, which helps to make the plot that much more intricate.

Let's look at each of the main character's motivations:


Seth (portrayed by Jonah Hill)
Seth's primary motivation is to get laid a few more times before college. The object of his desires is Jules (Emma Stone), who tells him after a fun time together in baking class that she's throwing a party. He offers to buy liquor for her party, thinking that will not only impress her but get her "drunk enough to get with him."

Seth's secondary motivation is his feeling of betrayal that his best friend Evan (Michael Cera) will be going to a different college than him and is going to be living with Seth's frequent punching bag Fogell (Christopher Mintz-Plasse). Though we have not seen their friendship prior to the events in the film (aside from a brief flashback Evan has to a prior night of hanging out), it can be assumed that this motivation is the reason for Seth's constant desperation and annoyance with Evan.

Evan (portrayed by Michael Cera)
On the surface, Evan's primary motivation seems to be the same as Seth's; to get laid. However, it is slowly revealed that he is actually much more motivated to have a meaningful romantic relationship with Becca (Martha MacIsaac), as evidenced by his repeated insistence to forget about the alcohol because he can just tell Becca how he feels instead of going with Seth's line of logic to get her drunk. Nonetheless, he promises to buy her favorite liquor for the party, which remains a goal of his throughout the film.

Evan's secondary motivation is to keep Seth happy, and specifically to keep Seth from learning about his future living arrangements with Fogell. This explains why he puts up with all of Seth's bullshit.

Sam Fogell (portrayed by Christopher Mintz-Plasse)
Fogell isn't quite as well-developed of a character and acts more as a plot device to Evan and Seth more obstacles in the way of their quest to acquire alcohol, but nonetheless his primary objective seems to be to get to the party with the booze. After getting punched in the face while trying to purchase alcohol, he spends the majority of the film with two hilarious police officers who say they'll drive him to the party (and even they have secondary motivations that inform their actions; to show Fogell that cops can be cool).

Fogell's secondary motivation is, quite ironically, very similar to Seth's primary. He wants to get laid. The object of his affection is Nicola (Aviva Baumann), whom we only see in the very beginning and end of his character arc.

How the filmmakers use this to tell a complex story:

So we've got two and a half complex and layered characters to follow. This allows for both external and internal conflict, as the three get separated and are often at odds with each other over their conflicting motivations. From strictly a story perspective, it's also brilliant how Fogell, the least developed of the three, basically exists in an entirely different type of movie from Seth and Evan that intersects first in the liquor store, then when the police hit Seth with their car, and again when Jules' party is broken up. His plot fits his depth.

But the movie's climax doesn't come about from the characters simply making it to the party, because even the two main girls have a surprising amount of depth considering their limited screen time (and the genre of the film they're in). Despite Seth's desire to drunkenly hook up with Jules, it turns out that Jules isn't the girl he thought she was because she doesn't drink and doesn't seem interested in hooking up. Similarly, despite Evan's desires to (soberly) tell Becca how he feels after her liquor bottle is smashed, she seems more convinced with the idea that she must express her feelings for Evan with drunken sex. It's almost like Seth and Evan fell for the female versions of each other...

This isn't just a twist for twist's sake, either. There is evidence of it throughout the film that my 16-year-old self was completely oblivious to. Becca repeatedly tries to express to Evan how much she's into him, yet her flirtations go over his head, and instead he focuses on the idea that he needs to bring her a bottle of Goldslick Vodka to get her attention. Similarly, Seth and Jules have such a great time together in class that Jules invites him to her party, yet he convinces himself that the only way to get her attention is to perform the grand gesture of bringing the liquor to the party.

Oh, and Fogell gets laid. Kind of. He's really the only one who gets exactly what he wants in this movie.

In the end (the mall scene, specifically), Seth and Evan learn from their mistakes and move on from each other and toward a more realistic method of pursuing a their relationships with women.

People (and writer Seth Rogen himself in a podcast interview) talk about this movie being about two things; on the surface it's about getting booze and getting laid, and the deeper story is about friends dealing with growing up and growing apart.

I'd argue that the surface-level story is even more complex than that, though; this is a story about two friends going through hell to impress girls that already like them. It's a story about the misguided perceptions of being a teenager who's still trying to figure out how the world works, and it's executed brilliantly thanks to incredibly well-developed characters and multiple plot lines and character arcs that ebb and flow and twist and turn through each other.

If you haven't seen Superbad recently or at all, I highly suggest it. It's leagues above your average teen sex comedy.


Wednesday, March 1, 2017

My Never-Ending Journey to Figure Out Who I Am As A Writer

I feel like this is a redundant statement on my blog at this point, but I've had a bit of an epiphany in my writing recently.

Perhaps that's what the story of a young writer is meant to be; a series of epiphanies that eventually lead to some profound work of art. If so, then my brilliant work of art is just around the corner, because I've been having an epiphany just about every month lately. Sorry I haven't taken the time to tell you about all of them. At this point I couldn't even tell you off the top of my head what they are, I'm just so epiphanous.

But enough tooting my own horn.

This Novel I've Been Writing For Three Years Doesn't Represent The Type Of Novels I'd Like To Write

Oh boy. I really shot myself in the foot three years ago and I didn't even notice the gaping hole until a month ago.

You see, although I started writing my current work-in-progress novel out of genuine interest and excitement, in retrospect I think I took my peers’ praise of the original short story a bit too literally. Rather than interpreting their praise and desire for more as “this was good, I want more of this story,” I wish I had heard it more like “you’ve got talent, keep it up.”

You (also) see, I distinctly remember going to my then-fiancée now-wife with this praise and struggling to make use of it. "They want more of this story," I said (verbatim - because nobody can prove otherwise). "The thing is that I don't know if I have any more to tell. Then again, I'd like to try writing a novel, so why not start with one that people already want to read?"

Yes, dear readers, I chose to write a story about a neurotic college girl in a casual sexual relationship with a married man as she begins to fall in love with his wife because I desperately wanted to be read, not because I felt the magnetic pull to get this story out of my head and onto the page. For this I am somewhat ashamed to admit, except not, because I'm an egotistical narcissist. Anyway, eventually I thought of more story to tell, so I set forth starting to write it despite it not exactly being in my wheelhouse.

The thing is that just about all of my short stories before that one were much darker in tone. They often featured emotionally-detached nihilists who were faced with an extreme and emotional situation, such as:

  • An emotionally detached nihilist gets caught cheating on his fiancée with someone else's wife by that woman's husband, who's drunk and happens to be carrying a gun because he's a cop. People die.
  • An emotionally detached nihilistic writer and his emotionally detached nihilistic female independent editor/publisher get locked in a hotel room by some supernatural force, are mildly tortured by the same unseen force, grow closer together, but then she finds evidence that he might be behind it all in some creepy effort to seduce her. She wakes up and it might have just been a nightmare, except it also might not have been.
  • An emotionally detached nihilist gets a visit from the grim reaper who tells her she's got one week to live. She becomes depressed, angry, stops caring for herself, and at the last minute manages to trick the grim reaper into taking her innocent sister's life instead of hers. That bitch.
  • An emotionally detached nihilist living in a safe zone in the post-zombie-apocalypse gets infected but retains most of her humanity. She eats a lot of people. This one's actually pretty funny.
And those are just a few of the ones I actually completed writing. I've got a huge document full of other ideas I never got around to. Can you believe none of those have been accepted into a literary magazine? Conspiracy!

Anyway, I think that darkness is a mood that I really thrive in either despite or because of my lighthearted carefree exterior. As a coworker recently told me, "sometimes you just have to have an outlet for darkness in your life."
So much darkness! He could explode at any minute!
Anyway, although the main character in Nothing But The Boots is still kind of an emotionally detached nihilist, she's pretty upbeat about it and nothing dark really happens.

What's more is that I've recently become obsessed with space. No, not the dimensions of height, depth, and width within which all things exist and move, but outer space. More specifically, I'm drawn to what I've recently learned is termed "hard science fiction," or science fiction stories that focus on scientifically plausible concepts, physics, and possibilities. This fascination started growing on me around the time that I realized that Interstellar may be one of my favorite movies of all time, and it led to me reading more science fiction and overall just being fascinated with the stuff.

The problem here is that Nothing But The Boots is an incomplete work that I've put years of work into and is not set in space. I really, really want to write something set in space. I've got about three relevant novel ideas already queued up and one of them has potential to be a series. Seriously guys, this might be my true calling.

Side-note; I used to think sci-fi was only a stupid genre for uber dorks who liked reading about green women with three boobs fighting space worms. Why didn't anybody tell me there was another way, or just sit me down and force me to watch 2001: A Space Odyssey?! I could have avoided years of self-discovery and aimless wandering!

So here's the plan. I’m still going to finish this draft of my novel, because it’s been three years and I need to prove that I can write a novel that makes sense and deliver on my promises to so many people. Then I'm going to send it out to as many publishers and agents as possible, get it published under a totally different name so as to not get anyone's hopes up when my next novel is about a group of people getting stranded on a derelict space ship and killing each other off instead of a whimsical sequel to Nothing But The Boots in which the main character finds herself in yet another wacky sexual conundrum.

Then again, this could all change in an instant, right? I'm having epiphanies on the regular now. Maybe tomorrow I'll realize that I prefer writing about emotionally-distant nihilistic sexually adventurous green women who get stranded on derelict space ships and are forced to literally eat their own parents, but until that day comes, that idea is free to anyone who wants it.

So yeah, I'm pretty much living in constant mental agony of being torn between what I feel obligated to write and what I know in my heart I need to write. It's fun.

Read some of my short stories based on writing prompts at https://www.reddit.com/r/Yackemflaber/