Tag Archives: Julie Gray

Transformative Writing

figSo often when we experience something frightening, disheartening or downright traumatic, we are left a bit speechless.

But the feelings that we have, we carry inside. Despair, rage, confusion. For many of us, whether we consider ourselves writers or not, getting it down on paper somehow lifts the burden, just a little bit and lets some light in. Even a tiny bit.

More than that, by sharing about something you have experienced, you might just help someone else who is struggling with the same thing to find some courage or inspiration themselves. They will feel less alone. Trauma is isolating. It can make your world feel very small.

As we write we discover something and that it is part of the human experience that we suffer. Suffering is not unique but it is when it happens to you. Yet you might be surprised how good it feels to get it on paper, to look at it, to share it and to in some small way, begin to move on by legitimizing how you feel and knowing that just maybe you will help someone else feel less alone too.

The Tel Aviv Writer’s Salon has submitted several essays about the current conflict in Israel and the essays range in tone and in narrative. But each is heartfelt.

If you would like to submit an essay, about this or any conflict or trauma in your life – and I do not judge, by the way, there are breakups that are traumatic, there are small things that don’t feel so small –

IMPORTANT NOTE: Submissions must be 500 words or less and perfectly formatted and proofread in order to be considered.

Read the essays here – and see if any of them help you connect to your own feelings –

A Simple Guide for Talking to Your Jewish & Israeli Friends

Here are some simple Do’s and Don’ts to help you discuss the current conflict in Israel with your Israeli or Jewish friends on social media. These suggestions are tongue-in-cheek. Except they aren’t. Because most everybody I know who lives in Israel has received one or more of these types of messages and folks – this is not helping.



Hey! I’m angry about this! Why is your A) country B) government C) army D) people committing A) genocide B) such cruelty C) racism D) apartheid?!


Hey, this is really awful, are you okay? Can you help me understand what is going on?



OMG! Be safe! Arabs are all A) terrorists B) animals C) stupid D) all of the above! You should A) get rid of them! B) hate them! C) cheer on the world to wipe them out!


Hey, this is really awful, are you okay? Can you help me understand what is going on?



I just love and support blessed Israel so much because the messiah and Jesus and stuff and bless Israel and I’m sending you a tee-shirt and our prayer group is praying for you because my agenda (aw, poor Jews) my agenda (if they’d only listened before) my personal belief system (this is so biblical!) my agenda. LOVE YOU!


Hey, this is really awful, are you okay? Can you help me understand what is going on?



Israel is totally committing human right’s abuses, dude. TOTALLY.  Oh btdubs you should totally “like” this amazing non-violence/positive thinking/rainbow/pro-peace/pro-Palestian Facebook page? Because I’m serious (pause to put down your Starbucks Mocha Frappuccino here) – if everybody just stopped and listened – this would not be happening! That’s what we did on my street in Beverwood when things got really heated about the parking permit situation. It’s like the POLICE are like Israel, right? And the people just trying to PARK are the Palestinians! It’s horrible, dude, what if YOU just wanted to PARK?! Anyway, I’m going to meditate about peace now, okay? And then I have yoga. Be safe, love you, bye!


Hey, this is really awful, are you okay? Can you help me understand what is going on?



I can’t believe you just posted that picture or video of  A) rockets and sirens B) Israelis running C) Gaza suffering D) your dog. What about the OTHER SIDE, why can’t you LOOK AT THE OTHER SIDE TOO?! How can you even POST that?!


Wow. A) that must have been frightening. B) That looks terrible. C) I like your dog. Are you okay? Can you help me understand what is going on?

Suggested responses:

Thank you for asking me how I am.
I am okay.
I am not okay.
Thank you for remembering that I live here and that makes it particularly confusing and painful for me.
I know a lot about this conflict.
I don’t know enough about this conflict.
I need a blueberry popsicle and can’t really talk about this right now, okay?

Resources to Read, Suggest and Share

*Send suggested additions to this list to or leave a comment.

Contested Land, Contested Memory by Jo Roberts: Probably the most important book I have ever read on the topic of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Highlights the need for acknowledgment of the pain and the history of each side. Thoughtfully written, thoroughly researched with copious sources.

From Beirut to Jerusalem by Thomas Friedman: a fantastic primer about the conflict, real politik and splinter groups of splinter groups in Lebanon, Israel and the Middle East in general. Complete with index and helpful timelines and maps.

Truth & Beauty in Wartime: FB page updated several times daily with diversity, personal accounts and credible sources.

From the Huffington Post: 7 Things to Consider Before Choosing Sides in the Middle East Conflict, by Ali Rizvi. A well reasoned and comprehensive article.

Be a Conscientious Objector in a Social Media War: An impassioned blog post from right here on Stories Without Borders about the massive and sometimes frightening influence of social media and how particularly during stressful times, we should use it wisely.

Learn more about Slacktivism and why it stinks. 


None of these absolutely true examples are meant to disparage anyone in particular or to intimate that the views of those outside of Israel don’t matter. They do.  You might be surprised by how an Israeli really feels about this situation (a few hints: upset. scared. defensive. confused. grieving. despairing. angry). If you truly want to have a conversation about this conflict and to learn more about it, don’t jump in with both feet and make sweeping statements or assumptions. You are entitled to your opinion but inviting a meaningful conversation of open dialogue with your friend doesn’t generally start with a sweeping statement or foggy ideals. Read up before you chime in. And if you don’t have the energy or time? Maybe just make sure your friend is okay.

FAQ about Julie Gray

Lately I have been getting a great number of emails and Facebook messages asking more about me, how I am, why I am in Israel and what I am doing when I am not talking about the current situation. I am one of those nutters who adores and makes friends with just about every human I meet and I’ve traveled quite a bit and it’s wonderful… but lately, I can’t keep up. SO HELLO WORLD, I LOVE YOU TOO :)

In particular, thank everyone who has sent me very sweet messages thanking me for a particular post that was helpful to them. I try to reply as quickly as I can. But sometimes – well, think of this as that dreaded holiday newsletter ;)

Why I am in Israel?

That’s a long story but I came here in 2012. Read much more here.

What I am doing?

I direct the Tel Aviv Writer’s Salon and have recently begun to add Transformative Writing Workshops to help people deal with the despair, fear and isolation of trauma.

I work with novelists and screenwriters to story edit and review their work to make sure it’s as perfect as can be before they submit to agents and publishers.

I work with Israeli start up companies and accelerator programs to help articulate and communicate tech innovation for presentations and meetings.

I created a Facebook Page about the current situation in Israel called Truth & Beauty in Wartime to provide a go-to source of diverse, credible information and personal accounts.

I blog for the Huffington Post, The Times of Israel and Script Magazine.

What is it like in Israel generally?


What is it like in Israel at the moment?


How do I feel about the situation in Gaza?

Heartbroken and scared. But hopeful that we can find a new way through this.

What is coming next?

I am working on a memoir about having moved from Hollywood to the Middle East. I am reading books voraciously. I am trying to find equilibrium and meaning and to stay busy. Which is not proving hard. Not that last bit, anyway. :)

When Faith Sucks

carouselAfter my brother’s suicide in 2010, as I coped with a torn reality, with bottomless grief and resultant depression and anxiety, I sought comfort through studying a variety of spiritual traditions. Ever the Californian, and ever me, I drew from many outlooks until I found a way of looking at life that brought and brings me comfort, courage and meaning.

I love the mystery of life, I love that there are creatures in the sea and in the universe that we do not yet know about. I love the mystery. I love the beauty and the grace of life. I am coming to acknowledge that after grief rained down on me, it fertilized the earth beneath my feet.

My job is primarily to help distill information into something that makes sense and that is powerful. I help stories get told in a way that is impactful, effective and as entertaining as possible. I am a writer. I write books. I write for several blogs. I am also a writing teacher, a writing facilitator and a story editor. I work with fiction writers, screenwriters, filmmakers, people needing to cope with trauma and even start up and high tech companies who need to concisely express their projects. My job, my livelihood of many years is to tell stories, to shape narratives.

And yet in my day to day life for the past 18 days, I am living in a reality that is impossible to shape into a coherent story. So many clashing narratives and emotional impulses crowd my thoughts, battling for supremacy – to make sense of the unspeakable. I am struggling to maintain an even keel but it is a very fierce battle for me.

I have discovered that my body can only handle so many rushes of adrenaline and subsequent low level dread before a spinning wheel of numbness, fatigue and general despair sets in. Imagine, wherever you are right now, as you read this, not knowing whether in the next second, a siren will blare outside your window and that you have to stop what you are doing, grab your phone and your keys and run. Any second. And when it doesn’t happen? There’s dread in that. Because it might happen – why hasn’t it? When will it come? Will you be in the shower? Asleep? On the street doing errands, as I was today? And then where do you run? It’s very hard on a body, physically. Especially over a period of approaching three weeks.

[I pause here to note that there were just three loud booms as rockets were intercepted over a town quite close to me. House shuddered.]

I can recover pretty quickly now. But the shock remains in my bones and will, I suspect, for the rest of my life.

Emotionally – the irony of teaching writers how to finesse and express stories into a narrative that is pleasing and makes sense while not being able to accomplish this in my own mind on a daily basis is taking a toll as well.

I have blogged a lot about this experience, and shared on Facebook copiously, since it helps me to cope by writing it down, and perhaps suffering from a delusion of grandeur, I have felt that by sharing what this is like from my little ol’ point of view, that maybe I can provide some visceral if pedestrian realness from those watching this conflict from so far away.

But mostly I think I am shouting into the wind.

Every day is a carousel of emotions from fear to despair to hope to faith and back again. I think that this is what courage and faith is about. To get on that carousel and try to hang onto that brass ring of one’s fundamental beliefs even when everything around you seems to challenge them in a blur. I think this is the way it is supposed to feel. Confusing, scary, transitional. I think I am in many ways extraordinarily lucky to be witnessing such times in Israel – as it happens – because this experience is showing me how much I can handle. It is teaching me that some things cannot be distilled, necessarily, into parables or easily digestible lessons with pleasing endings.

If you have endured grief, you know this. If you have struggled with cancer you know this. If you have struggled with a reality so far from what you think you can handle, you have experienced this.

I realize that I am very, very late to the Obvious Party. That until you have really, really, truly suffered through the incomprehensible, you have not really tested your faith – of whatever ilk. That it’s terrific to post neat stuff on Facebook about faith and strength and stuff but the real test of that is when you feel an absence of comfort of your belief system. When you think – REALLY?! REALLY?!

I just had a conversation with a “peace advocate” who refused to include Israeli children in her project, since she “culturally boycotts” Israel. Children. Children will be excluded. I felt livid. And then I cried. Why on earth am I putting myself in the position of reaching out to people when sometimes the result is an emotional tear in the fabric? Who needs this? Forget it! I want to scream to the sky. JUST. FORGET. IT.

It’s NOT going to be okay, you stupid California, naive, earth mama idiot!

Because some people will EXCLUDE CERTAIN CHILDREN in peace advocacy.

I felt a streak of red hot anger race throughout my body like lava. WHAT IS WRONG WITH PEOPLE?!

Oh – my heart. It hurts. This hurts more than death, to me. Because I have a hard time finding meaning in ignorance and hate. I have an impossible time finding meaning in war and cruelty. But – isn’t that the thing? The challenge? To try? Isn’t that the very essence of faith and grace?

angelMaybe it’s okay that right now I feel like am free falling into a blender that is NOT making margaritas. That I feel despair and fatigue. Maybe this is what we call in story telling, the dark night of the soul. The elixir is my love of the mystery and the grace and the unfolding wisdom and beauty of the universe – even when in certain periods of time it doesn’t look so wise or so pretty. I have to raise my eyes and let it go.

I believe in unicorns and mermaids and the Loch Ness monster and in peace and in love and glitter and bedazzlers. I believe we live many lives. And I do believe that in my next life, I would like to be a very wealthy sea slug of some sort. I need a break :)

Talking About Israel

Click here to listen to a discussion I had with Strength to Strength’s Sarri Singer and radio host Brian Jackson about the situation in Israel and the importance of narrative to influence, inform and sometimes even heal.

Discussion Link

Be a Conscientious Objector in a Social Media War

bradyWhen Mathew Brady published his photographs of the slain soldiers of the Civil War, America was shocked. Never before had we actually seen the torpid dead lying on the battlefield. Brady’s aching photographs brought war right into the living rooms of Americans and changed the face of warfare forever.

A lot has changed since Mathew Brady made war more personal. Never before have the opinions of so many been in the hands of so many – posting, sharing and disseminating opinions and inflammatory pictures and videos without taking the time to be analytic about just whose opinion we are championing or why beyond having had a knee-jerk reaction to it.

A picture is worth a thousand words. Or a video. But what picture? What words? In this age we have to ask if a picture has been doctored. Welcome to 1984. Orwell would be proud.

When social media and conflict collide, the result is a house afire. ISIS has a Twitter account. This is the age of “Performance terrorism”.

Violence. The word sounds just like what it means. Sharp but blunt, a cutting, tearing wound. And after the violence, blood, tears, trauma, pain.

There is a disturbing amount of verbal violence on Facebook about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I am discounting the absolute hate-filled nutters – left, right and center. They are not worth discussing because they represent a vitriolic but tiny minority, in actuality. We know that.

No, I am talking about really nice, intelligent, caring people who think they are helping by reposting primarily pictures and videos the sources of which are not vetted, generally not credible, and most certainly not given in context. Context, you see, is everything. The chocolate ration is five grams today.

[Real time update: I just ran to a bomb shelter for what was, conservatively, the 25th time. I shall continue.]

For the most part, these helpful sharers of “information” about the conflict in Israel live comfortably thousands (and thousands) of miles from where this particular conflict is playing out.

I on the other hand, have no doubt in my mind that an invention called The Iron Dome is why I am alive to write this. And I am lucky. Because my fellow humans – 45 miles away from where I live? They do not have this invention. No. They are open to whatever falls from the sky.

One of many marked differences between me and my cousins in Gaza? Is that I have an air conditioner and a laptop and I can write this. And I write it for them. For all of us. Because you all out there? In Facebookland? You are missing the point.

With so much confusing and frightening us today, we are now offered a whole new way to cope – social media. But let us be cautious of these online pitchforks and torches.

Whether you are posting GO Israel! Go IDF! Or “My god, look at this video of Israeli soldiers doing this awful thing!”, you are not standing up for a problem, you just became a part of it.

I find myself posting on Facebook a lot – “I just ran from another siren! This happened to me! This is happening!” It’s my way of screaming WHY?!

And you? Who live thousands of miles away from the Middle East? You want to scream too. So you post something – some video – some logo – some protest. And you say LOOK AT THIS!

Social media is a powerful way for us to communicate and to express and it is good. Until it is bad. Every time you post something that isn’t your personal experience, you have just become a part of someone else’s agenda, of someone’s bias. Most often a bias like “kittehs are cute” or “this recipe looks great” or “I also liked this film” – but what if the bias is something larger, something really relevant – something that can even incite? If you incite for anything you should incite for peace, for understanding, for context and for compassion. Pointing out the likely photoshopped or out of context atrocity which rips your heart out of your chest is likely to incite someone to HATE whomever is deemed as responsible. Incite thought. Incite analysis. Incite critical thinking.

Before you repost something about any conflict anywhere, that you are not directly involved in, ask yourself a few questions about the source.

Warning: This all requires critical thinking, something that takes a moment. Bear with me: it’s worth it.

Is this a credible source? Is the source a person you actually know? A journalist? A peace organization? Or is the source an advocacy group? What or whom do they advocate for? Use Google to find out more.

Does the source have credentials? Does this source have academic, occupational, experiential or any kind of direct involvement in this issue? What do they stand to gain by your sharing the information? With whom are they affiliated?

Is context given? What else was going on in and around that picture, video, etc.? Be critical – LOOK for an agenda. What does your gut say?

What is the intention? What is the post seeking to have you now do? Share? Send money? Be angry? – what? Is/was there any attempt to speak to the other “side” of this issue or conflict? That was reasonable sounding?

Stop right now. Question me. Question what you are reading right this very moment. I have biases. I am a woman, a mother, a Jew, an American, an Israeli, a needer of sunscreen and a pretty good cook. I am from Northern California. I am a person with a history. Of course I have a bias about many things. Google my name. Check me out.

When it comes to the conflict in Israel many are being manipulated into thinking there ARE sides, and that you should – you must – take a stand. Because damn it, from all the way in Philadelphia or London or San Diego – you CARE!

It’s lovely that you care. We all care. But what shall we care about? Empathy fatigue sets in. We must choose something to care about. Abused animals, abused children, rape culture, the war in Ukraine, the war in Syria, the war in Israel, homelessness in the US (well, that one is too commonplace to get particularly worked up about anymore, isn’t it?)

How do we choose what to care about collectively and individually as our attention grows more and more splintered and overwhelmed. We humans tend to just pick up our pitchforks and join the crowd that seems to be going in a particular direction. That is easier, we don’t have to think.

It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it. ~ Aristotle

The stories that we tell ourselves collectively and individually are powerful.

hiroshimaAs an American, I was brought up to believe that the bombing of the civilian populations in Nagasaki and Hiroshima were necessary to end a terrible war. Somewhere between 130,000 and 250,000 individuals – civilians – women and children, were vaporized in seconds. But it was necessary, right? That is the story I was told.

Let me be perfectly clear, if there were no Iron Dome, I would not be writing this. This is a fact. Why does Hamas siphon millions of dollars in aid into housing their absent leaders in luxury in other places? Why did Hamas not use millions of dollars to build shelters for their citizens? My government protects me. I am grateful. But I am not happy about what is happening – do not mistake my gratitude for condoning a war waged in a civilian population.

If you are interested in a diversity of thoughts and opinions about this particular conflict – updates that are serious, funny, sad and articles that are vetted, credible and contextualized, I suggest you like the Facebook page Truth & Beauty in Wartime.

If you’d like to do some in-depth reading and thinking about the conflict in Israel, here is a beginner’s reading list: Damascus Gate (Robert Stone) From Beirut to Jerusalem (Thomas Friedman), Contested Land, Contested Memory (Jo Roberts) The Lemon Tree (Sandy Tolan)

You feel sad and upset? Me too. You want somewhere to focus your anxiety and fear about the state of the world today? Me too. Let’s think globally, act locally and rise above the strong urge to make the conflict in Israel a simple one, with good guys and bad guys.

Criticize your country, where your problems are. Embrace non-violent communication. Exchange ideas. Put down your Facebook and put on your shoes. Go give a helping hand in your community. We don’t need any more torches or pitchforks in the Middle East, in case you may have noticed.

socialwarMost importantly, don’t be a mouthpiece for those who are really pulling the strings. Divide and conquer – when you get the populace too riled up to think straight, when they believe in this or that rhetoric – you wield great power. Just ask Nazi Germany. How could that have happened, we ask? How could ordinary Germans, Poles and Austrians have acted so inhumanely? Believe you me, if Facebook had existed preceding and during the second World War, the culture of fear and violence that blossomed into the deaths of over 12 million people would have been twice as effective in half the time.

History repeats itself. Just say no. Object to verbal violence on Facebook through your peaceful dissent of being herded into feeling MORE afraid and MORE separate from the “other”.

It’s not easy – I am telling you it’s not easy. I have a pounding heart on a daily basis. Either from running when another siren goes off, or from reading the local news in Israel, or from thinking about the suffering so very close to where I live. I feel angry! I feel heartbroken!

But the very essence, the very meaning of faith and grace and beauty, is to resist becoming a part of the ugliness, isn’t it?

I think many of us feel almost paralyzed about some of the news today. We want to help but what shall we do?

Here is what you should NOT do: parrot or repost Facebook updates that are on either “side” and that do not use any context. Even better? You can have a look around at the issues in your community and start pitching in there. It might not seem as urgent or exotic as WAR but it is what you can do from where you are.

Think before you post or repost or share the point of view of a “side”. Be part of the solution. If you are a writer – write it down. If you are an artist, paint it. If you are a musician sing a song to someone who is lonely and if you are none of the above, just put on your shoes, walk out the door and find somebody in your community who would like to be read aloud to, or who needs food donated.

Stories matter. Narrative is everything. Be a part of a better story by being a conscientious objector of irresponsible, inflammatory social media wars.

In the words of Mother Theresa:

“I was once asked why I don’t participate in anti-war demonstrations. I said that I will never do that, but as soon as you have a pro-peace rally, I’ll be there.”

The Not-So-Subtle Message in Game of Thrones and Why it Matters

When my friend Mat sent me this article, I was immediately struck by it. Mat is a gifted writer (find him on Goodreads) and long time fan of George R.R. Martin and Game of Thrones.  Perhaps it was current events like the shooting in Isla Vista and too many others, but Mat was struck by something in GoT – something that once pointed out, glares at us uncomfortably.  What is the connection between everyday sexism and media depictions of women?



I have an admission to make: in the wake of Isla Vista, as disturbed as I was by that young man’s murderous actions, I wasn’t sure what to make of the #YesEveryWoman movement. It’s not that I was against it – I wasn’t. I just wasn’t sure how to feel about it as a man. Leave it to a silly television show on Sunday night to clear my eyes.

In a Grantland article from 2013, Game of Thrones showrunner David Benioff proudly fended off any deep, thematical analysis of the popular series by quipping: “themes are for eighth grade book reports.” Perhaps he’s right, he is David Benioff after all. But that is precisely the problem.

I should probably start by saying that up until recently I’ve been a huge fan of Game of Thrones, and I am still, to this day, an admirer of George R.R. Martin. He’s a literary idol, and has a history of treating his fans with openness and respect. On top of that, his work has everything a fantasy lover could want in a series – whether the books or the show – action, romance (or at least sex), intrigue, dragons, and a touch of magic. That being said, I have, of late, run into the same problem with the show that I ran into with the books, which hit me at the end of Storm of Swords and the beginning of Feast for Crows. The grim message, written as much in black and white (and bloody red) as in subtext, deeply troubles me – to the point that I’ve lost sleep more than once. That message is this: The world is forever a shitty place – especially for all women any good men.

Before I’m ripped to shreds as one of those fools who can’t handle a solid dose of reality, or am filled with the childish need to have all my books, film, music, and TV sanitized with a septic Disney brush, that couldn’t be farther from the truth. In fact, great storytelling, in any form, must contain elements of darkness and dread, like that layer of grain over an image that makes 35 mm film look so much more like life than any digital camera can. Our eyes and our minds crave some level of dreary realism. Heroes without flaws are no more than false idols, and champions who never fail do not exist. Even the ancient storytellers in Greece knew that.

The issue is not with the idea that Westeros, meant to be a dim reflection of our own imperfect world, is a shitty place, because ours often is, but that it is a seemingly unalterable shitty place, founded on the fatalistic acceptance that “good people” must be perfect, or they will be destroyed, and that life is worse for anyone with any morals beyond survival of the fittest, and that being doubly true for anyone born a woman.

This theme is played out again and again in both the books and the series, that “the forces of good” – those fighting for freedom, justice, peace, or honor, do not simply learn or suffer for their mistakes, they are gruesomely and finally savaged for them, punished to a degree beyond edification, to ultimate destruction. Ned Stark gave in and admitted false guilt to treason, and was beheaded. Robb Stark married for love and broke a promise, and was forced to watch his wife’s pregnant belly stabbed repeatedly before being killed by the host who had sworn his safety. Catelyn Stark released Jamie Lannister against her son’s orders, and then watched that son die before having her own throat cut. Prince Oberin, lusty and arrogant though he was, is portrayed as a tolerant, just man, judging not on sexuality or dwarfism, in love with his paramour, willing to champion the weak, has his head crushed in while the Mountain gloats about raping Oberin’s sister, killing her children, and crushing her head as well, all for a brief lapse of hubris.

The wicked, meanwhile, Tywin Lannister, Cersei, Walder Frey, Roose Bolton, and his bastard, Ramsay, seem capable of living free of tactical error, or of somehow overcoming mistakes or strokes of bad luck with even more unbelievably good luck. Their help shows up at the right time, their enemies falter at the finish, and their lies and plans are as impenetrable as midnight. Perhaps there is some truth in this, as individuals with no moral compass, or a very shaky one at best, will so ruthlessly fight for their own survival at the expense of others that they have a better chance of winning it. But luck or fortune, if it really is luck or fortune, is an even coin toss – just not in Westeros.

But worse than even this grim theme, is the disturbing acceptance that women are destined to endure sexual violence at some point in their lives, and that the only power they will ever have in this world is sexual power. This was never clearer than in Sansa Stark’s story, so visibly apparent in the fourth season of the TV series. After enduring all manner of shame at the hands of Joffrey, Sansa finally emerges from the cocoon of childhood an “empowered” woman – baring the ample cleavage and knowing gaze to show it. She has grasped Littlefinger’s desire for her body with both hands and is finally ready to use it as weapon to her advantage. But even for Daenerys Stormborn, perhaps the most successful of the story’s heroes or heroines, her first battles were lost and later won on the bed of Khal Drago, and in her eventual victory, she uses the power of her beauty to command one of her loyal warriors strip and perform for her before sending him off to battle. We see little of Daenerys’s tactical or political ability beyond her possession of dragons – as the mother of dragons, her sons giving her the true power.

Does any of this even matter? I mean, it’s just entertainment right? And I’m probably beginning to sound like some street preacher bemoaning the evils of Hollywood. But as David Benioff said, themes are for eighth grade book reports – precisely because themes and messages, consciously or subconsciously, inform the audience of a worldview, and more easily so in the impressionable minds of the young. And this worldview posits that survival is easier (and perhaps even more rewarding) for the wicked than the good, and that mistakes for good people are infinitely more costly than for the evil, and that women must either take up their sexuality as a weapon or suffer at the other end of it. There is seemingly no hope in this message that the world can become a different place – a better place. And that is where I believe the message has gone wrong.

Admittedly, women do suffer violent acts more than men in this world, and a good heart and good intentions do not shield anyone from bad luck, misfortune, or death. And when change comes, it comes at an agonizingly slow pace, still leaving this world far from a perfect place it its wake. But here is the crux of the matter: change at a personal and world scale is possible – and our history, the history upon which Westeros is supposedly based, proves it. If we traveled back in time and asked any slave in any country one thousand years ago if ever would come a day when the civilized world, as one, would outlaw the construct of one human owning another, surely he would have laughed sadly in your face. If you would have asked a same-sex couple, even only fifty years ago, if ever they could marry under the law, and live openly, they would surely have doubted – but they would have been wrong, and growing more wrong by the vote. All these changes happened because good people did not give up, they fought on – and they won.

Yes, we need grit in our storytelling, and yes, we all need a dose of reality from time to time, and yes, there are no perfect people in the world, not even among the heroes, but if we’re going to change the real world, which is unbelievably hard to do, we should probably start in our fictional ones, which is so much easier. We cannot accept the idea, or teach our young women and our young men to accept the idea, that women are either and only sexual victims or dominatrices, or that this world is so unbelievably hopeless that we promote a “can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em mentality.

So what am I asking for? Just this: the story isn’t written yet, in either Westeros or on Earth, so why not add at least a little light? I don’t believe pioneers, scientists, or explorers took the first footsteps into a new world. Rather, those first steps were taken in the imagination; by eighth graders writing their book reports, and it is storytellers and their themes that led the way.

Sorry it took me so long. But I know how I feel now. #YesAllWomen

Find out more about James Matlack Raney on his website. 


From Hollywood to Israel, it’s a Funny Ol’ World

If I had a nickel for every time somebody asks me why on earth I moved to Israel from Los Angeles, I’d be very rich by now.  And I realized something odd – I write all the time, I have written much about living in Israel, but I have never really told the story of just what got me here and what keeps me here. Sometimes, a bit flippantly (and cryptically) I say that “death brought me to Israel”. Ever the story teller, I like to see a whetted appetite. And – it’s true. Death did bring me to this part of the world. But nothing is quite as simple as that, is it? hollywood

I had been living in LA for about 7 years or so, and I was really energized by it and had thrown myself into my life and my business there. I was experiencing a rapid climb in becoming known around town and in the screenwriting world, as this “guru” and I had an office on a studio lot. I hobnobbed with a lot of well known writers and was really flying high. I didn’t know it, but even then, there were things coming at me that would turn my world upside down.

A really talented and good friend of mine had taken a six month animation job at a company in Jerusalem and she invited me many times to come visit while she was there. Though I am Jewish, I had ZERO interest in going. All I could picture in my mind was a hot, dangerous, rocky place. Why the HELL would I go there?! I had nary a Zionist bone in my body and I like to think my bus will not explode. Call me crazy. She’d be home soon enough, we’d visit then. Besides, I was busy. So busy.

Then one day, Blake Snyder, of Save the Cat died. He just got up one morning and died. He was about 57, I think. I had just seen him about two months prior. I won’t pretend we were friends, but we’d spent some time together and he had mentored me, for which I will always be grateful. His death was very shocking to me in its suddenness. Blake just – died one day. It really scared me, the fragility of life. If it could happen to Blake, it could happen to anyone. I had just seen him. He looked fine.

I contacted my friend in Jerusalem and said okay I’m coming. I’m just coming. It’s the last place I want to go but I was just so shaken up, I decided it was stupid to miss an opportunity like this. So I went to Israel for about two weeks, including a few days in Egypt. Like most things that completely change your life, I didn’t recognize that something enormous had just happened. jeru

Egypt was chaotic and amazing but Israel – wow – the minute I arrived, I felt something deep within me, a very deep connection. I spent most of my time in Jerusalem  – the holy city. I’m not in the least bit religious but there is something in the air in Jerusalem that is inexplicable. A faint scent of oil and incense and flowers. The Jerusalem stone is dun colored and warm. Laundry flutters from windows and the streets are both crowded and quiet. I went back to Los Angeles, and I cried all the way home. I couldn’t figure out why. I thought it was a really bad case of jet lag. But I just couldn’t get Israel – and the way I felt when I was there – out of my mind.

I returned to my hyper-busy, life being the “script guru” in Hollywood, staying up too late and drinking too much and thinking myself all that, far beyond what I or what was going on around me really was. I was losing perspective inside of a bell jar of my own making.

Then a few things began to happen at once – I had no idea how they would gather to become the perfect storm, I really didn’t see the changes coming.

My friend Lynn began to die of breast cancer. She was fifty-three. Lynn had been ill for a long time but she began to decline sharply and it was clear she had only months to live. I visited and knitted at her side and brought her treats to make her feel better but she was dying and there was no use denying it. At the same time, my brother was experiencing a serious depression and struggling very much in his life. My family and I cycled in and out of helplessness, frustration and growing alarm.

At the time, one of my best, closest friends was the writer of a very famous comedy film that you know and love. And he had a drug problem and I knew it and it was no secret – he spoke of it openly, but I was so enamored of his fame and his wit that I naively figured it would be okay, that it didn’t matter, and we began seriously discussing starting a production company together. This idea was going to change my life forever and it was all quite heady. Then I went to England and taught and lapped up all of that recognition and came home having hired a new business consultant that I’d only just met there in London. He was tall, dark, handsome, smart as hell and I was sure he was what I needed to take my business to the next level. Things were happening really fast.

My brother was getting worse and worse and Lynn was confined to her bed. But I was moving at the speed of light and was traveling, teaching and feeling myself quite important. I went back to Israel to spend about 3 weeks in Jerusalem in a rented flat, to work on my screenwriting book. It was a welcome respite, so much more quiet than Hollywood and I shopped and cooked and hung out my laundry and felt a world apart from the hurly burly my life had become. I would go to the King David hotel and sip expensive coffee and write my book and look out on the Old City in awe. When the plane left the tarmac of Ben Gurion and headed toward Europe, I felt a great loss, a sadness that I could not fathom or understand. I wanted to stay in Israel more than I didn’t want to return to LA. I felt I was headed in the opposite direction of home.

I had returned to LA for about a week when I went to see Lynn. She had moved from her home in Santa Monica to a hotel by the beach so she could look at the sea while she died. She was only semi-conscious when I got there. So frail. She instructed me to sit precisely as I always did and to knit. She wanted me to knit because I always did when we visited. I was shaky and tearful – I had never been in such close proximity to death – I could feel its presence in the room – but I picked up my yarn and needles and sort of pretended for her sake. What I held in my hands was a ball of knots. Every few minutes I excused myself, went into the other room and sobbed for a couple of minutes, blew my nose and came back. I didn’t want her to see that.

Tell me about Israel, Lynn said, in her barely audible voice. She couldn’t even open her eyes. It seemed a terrible thing to me, to talk about a vacation while my friend lay dying. I protested that no, this time should be about her. But she was firm. She wanted to hear about my trip. She knew I’d gone to the Red Sea and she began to weakly, slowly, fill in the gaps – was it warm, she said? What did it feel like? `It took me a moment to realize how important this was to Lynn, this story, she wanted to be transported away from her death bed. So I told her all about it, in great detail. I told her about the Red Sea and how you can see the hills of the Saudi Kingdom from there. I told her about the creamy hummus with golden olive oil. I told her of the call of the muezzin over Arab villages. I felt like Sheherezade.

Lynn listened in near silence, she was barely able to speak.  Then, one tear slowly slid down her cheek and she whispered – it’s so ancient, so ancient. Those were the last words she said to me. Three days later, she died.

The man I’d hired as a business consultant, the one living in London, began to act more and more strangely. He missed Skype meetings, he texted me sometimes unintelligibly, he said that someone had broken into his home and he was looking over hours of CCTV footage to find the culprit.  He didn’t make sense. I got scared.

I talked it over with my lawyer and she said do you have an actual contract with this guy? Anything on paper? This is a frightening situation, Julie. So I took a deep breath, called him and cheerfully said, hey let’s get our agreement on paper, okay? What he said next still sends chills down my spine; he went from a growl to a scream: who have you been TALKING TO?! And he hung up. Now I was scared. This guy had every password, every bit of information about my company, he had the keys to the kingdom. And something was seriously wrong with him. What was I going to do?!

My brother continued his downward slide. According to my parents, he had lost a lot of weight. When I spoke to him which was several times a week, he went in circles and was agitated and anxious. Over the months I had sent him books, and affirmations and tapes and anything – anything to help him out of his slide. I called doctors and hospitals in his area, with his insurance information and looked for programs where he could stay for a few weeks and get better. He was going on and off medications like a merry go round, totally unsupervised. He was in danger. I found a hospital that was about an hour’s drive away but he couldn’t drive because of his condition and it was outpatient, he’d have to go four times a week – back and forth. It wouldn’t work.

I never really had the time to mourn for Lynn. But she was gone. One day, while in the shower, I felt Lynn – I felt her presence right over my head, and she said SMILE, Julie. SMILE, I am okay. grief

But the crazy guy in England has totally gone off the rails. He calls me late at night and threatens me. He asks me to send several thousand dollars immediately, or he will “ruin” me. He sends me emails detailing how he will “crawl through blood and broken glass” to get me. I am really scared. He calls the famous writer I was about to work with and tells him that I am telling everybody he has a drug problem. It’s not true –  of course I had not said anything to anybody – except to this increasingly frightening person, and only then lightly, that I had concerns. But my friend, probably scared that I was in fact telling everyone in Hollywood what they already knew, called me up, ended our friendship and canceled our business deal. The lost opportunity was not the worst of it. It was the lost friendship. That still hurts.

It was during this time that I thought more and more of Israel. Compared to hell I was going through – a death I didn’t even have time to mourn, a business partner who was spiraling into madness, my brother’s alarming slide into depression – all I could think was that I wanted to be in that warm country and just be quiet. I wanted to go away. But I couldn’t. I had to deal with what was in front of me.

On May 13th, 2010, at about 5:20pm my mother called me. She was hysterical. The sheriff had just been there – Pete had shot himself. No, I said. Put dad on the phone, thinking my mother had gone insane. My father confirmed it. I must have screamed or something – all I remember is slamming my hands down on my desk and saying - NO. One of my rings, that I had bought in Israel, is still bent where it made impact.

I think I was wailing or something, because people came running up the hall there on the lot – What? What? What? I had to be driven home, unable to stand.

It was true. Three days later, I was at my brother’s funeral. I hadn’t been able to help him. Nobody had. Why didn’t he call me that day? Why hadn’t I called him? It was too late. He was 48 years old. He shot himself in front of a bathroom mirror covered with post-its with affirmations.

My life changed forever.

None of this slowed down the crazy guy in England. My lawyer staunchly said no, we do not send money before we have a contract, we do not yield to blackmail and threats! So the guy went crazy. He sent out emails to all my clients saying I had cheated them and put my cell phone number in the email. He began to call other colleagues and telling them all sorts of stuff – he just made it up. And the sad part – the part that ultimately made me leave Hollywood – people were perfectly willing to believe a perfect stranger with an English accent, who said vague things, rather than ask me what was going on. The fact that he’d made the calls was enough for most people. There was no fact checking, there were no questions asked. People began to disassociate themselves from me. My book editor took her payment of several thousand dollars and then quit not having done her job. The guy had called her too. I don’t know what he said to her, she never told me. My assistant received an email from him. She quit too.  I’ll never forget, a very famous producer of a very famous movie called me up and told me we’d not associate with one another again because a “private detective from England” had called him with some serious allegations – Gary, I said, listen – this is a crazy guy who is threatening me! He’s nuts! But no, Gary was done. No questions asked. Nobody wants the stink of a scandal – even a completely fabricated one – anywhere near them. My business began to collapse.

My friend had died, three weeks later my brother had committed suicide, and my business was collapsing under my feet because of a crazy person in England who happened to have a nice accent. My legal fees were enormous. I carried on, best I could, which wasn’t very well – and a few months later, I took my brother’s ashes to Israel. jaffa

On a stormy day over the Mediterranean, I hired a drunk skipper (the only one willing to go out in the storm) to take me a kilometer or so off of Jaffa so I could scatter his ashes. My brother had never traveled in his life. Now you’ve traveled, you son of a bitch! – was all I could think of saying as I scattered his ashes into the same sea the Phoenicians, Romans, Ottomans and Egyptians had sailed. When the boat chugged back to the pier, a bride and groom where braving the rising wind to take photos.

My life in LA was in tatters and nobody was interested in the aftermath, of how the FBI had opened a case file on the guy in England and barred him from entering the US because of his threats. Nobody was interested in the few people in England who came out of the woodwork and told me of similar behavior of his in the past. Turns out this very genteel, intelligent man was in fact a sociopath with a long history of freak outs and business ruining. But that was not of interest to anybody. So I mopped up the mess and tried to carry on, but I wasn’t able to.

I just wanted to go to Israel and heal. That was all I wanted to do. I knew it was a tough place and a dangerous place. I knew I couldn’t speak Hebrew at all, I knew these things would be tough. But I also knew, at least for awhile, I couldn’t go anywhere. My parents were hurting too much. My family was torn asunder. So I stuck it out for a couple more years, as my business evaporated and grief overtook me. I visited my parents at every opportunity and we’d sit in lawn chairs on the patio and listen to the wind in the trees.  empty

Finally I said, I’ve got to go. I have to go on living. So I sold everything I own – I mean – everything, my car, my furniture, I sold everything and came to Israel with three suitcases and a citizenship. I had little money on me, I didn’t speak the language and it was HOT. Hot, hot hot. Tel Aviv in the summer is something to reckon with. I got a little studio flat on a busy central street and just dived in. I was scared to go outside because people might speak to me and I couldn’t speak back.  I didn’t know how much a shekel was worth compared to a dollar, I had no idea where the sea was from my flat. I was totally lost.

Over time, I began to meet people, and took the state required language lessons and began to fit in a tiny bit. Not really though. Tel Aviv is a very urban, dense, chaotic city compared to Los Angeles. And my grief over all of it – my brother, Lynn, my business and reputation – it all weighed on me like a stone. You can’t outrun these feelings, I learned. But I had to cope. There I was. I had to learn the language, I had to hang out my laundry just like everybody else, I had to figure out the busses which was no mean feat for a life long car owner and one who didn’t know how to ask “where is bus number five” to save her life.

I began to make a life here. And oddly, improbably, the heat, the underlying tension, the intensity of Israel distracted me from the pain I had run from. One day I met an American girl with a dog on a leash and a floppy sunhat. Darcy had been living in Israel for a couple of years already. We became best friends. She was the polar opposite of everything I’d gone through – she heard my story, it was good enough for her, and she took me into her family and that was that. I think she is the best friend I have ever had in my life.

There is a saying about Israelis, that they will run you over with their car, back up and take you to the hospital. It’s true. Once an Israeli is your friend, once you have earned that? That’s it. Whereas, in my experience in Los Angeles, with a few exceptions to be sure, everyone is your friend – until that is no longer advantageous to them. Then – chick chack, as we’d say in Israel – you’re done. Don’t get me wrong; there are still a select few friends I have in LA who were there for me, who I cherish and always will. They believed in me, they tried to support me when I couldn’t stand on my own. But they couldn’t do much to help. This was my experience alone and that was never more plain to anybody than to me.

Nora, Theresa, Margaux, my darling Keith, Steve, Angela, Andrea Bari, Christine, David and Raven Sarnoff – these are amazing humans. And here and now, my beloved Darcy, the amazing Dahlia Lithwick, Lee Zahavi Jessup, Asaf and Yuval, Adi and Gil – so many Israelis who who never, ever pity me, but rather welcome me and make me know I am home now.

But during that terrible time, most of the other people I thought were friends –  were gone with the wind the minute I began to suffer to so much that I seemed contagious to them.  They just didn’t know what to do. I can’t really blame them.

The anniversary of my brother’s death comes and goes. I cry about it sometimes, wrenchingly. But here I am living on the razor’s edge, and Israelis don’t have time for crying. These are tough people and you have to be tough to earn their respect. This is not an easy place to live. Every single day is a struggle. The economy in Israel is good but is focused in one or two areas only. Start up being one of them. Outside of that, the middle class in Israel is several rungs lower than the middle class in the US, disappearing as it is. Here, outright poverty is much more common than in the US. For a country with the Iron Dome and Start Up Nation, the bureaucracy is something from a third world country. Israel is a strange place. A tiny, feisty, chaotic country, wedged between the sea and the desert, surrounded by enemies.  Israelis are like a big, quarreling family. Oh the arguments – sometimes I just….And there are millions of people living on the other side of a wall and they are angry. It is an untenable situation. But here we are. What will happen? I don’t know.

From the moment I first came here, I felt connected to this place. There is something I am here to do – something that matters. To show people that you can in fact traverse hell and come out alive? To give voice to writers who otherwise don’t have one? Does that sound self-important, to think that the universe is guiding you in something? Or deluded? I don’t know.  All I know is that I am here.

I started the Tel Aviv Writer’s Salon and that makes me proud, and I’m slowly getting my writing program for Palestinian women off the ground (although, faced with a mountain of bureaucratic and security issues, this really will take some time) and I live with very little now.  No car, no fancy office, no weekly housekeeper, no spacious, 1920s LA apartment. It’s just me now. And Pete is still gone and Lynn is still gone and all I have is what I have.

But what I have could be worth something – I have the ability to get people to tell stories, and to tell them well. I am a teacher, I get people to talk. And that strikes me as something that is valuable in this place, where there are so many stories.  I miss my parents, they are grieving and aging back in the US. But I can’t do them any good there. I can’t help them no matter what I do, nothing will heal that gaping hole. So I have to think that I can help somebody else, somehow, someway.

I went back to LA about nine months after I moved to Israel. It seemed such a strange place to me. Sprawling and glittering and somehow, empty for me. I visited with friends still hell bent on breaking in to the entertainment business, with varying levels of success, and while I love and miss them, I could no longer connect with their ambitions. There had just been in Israel, a relatively minor conflict – Hamas had fired 1,500 missiles into Israel, it was the Operation Pillar of Defense. It was the first time in my life that I had heard the wail of sirens and had to run to a shelter and wait for the explosions. It was terrifying. This was not on TV. This was happening. It is an experience that one cannot fully explain or fathom until one has been in it, counting the seconds between the sirens and the explosions. You just keep thinking – this is real, this is happening right now – and your blood turns to ice in your veins and your heart pounds. For days later, the wail of a motorcycle at just the rich pitch makes you panic – is that the siren? Should I run? The Americans send warships to the Mediterranean and tell Americans they can leave if they wish. The Embassy sends out a dire warning. Your family begs you to come home. But, you realize, in what is surely the most extraordinary moment of you life – you are home. And one month later, I am in Los Angeles, having very expensive sushi, sitting with friends and speaking of this experience in ways that were utterly inadequate to describe it.

Oh my god – crazy! My friends say. And you feel yourself being that person – that insufferable person, thinking things like the traffic on the 405? Really? These are your worries?! But these were your worries too, in the Before Times. You are no better now, you just have a different set of worries. How can you live in such a dangerous place, people wanted to know, as we ordered another round of sake. The 405, random shootings, shifting friendships and ambitions, the fragility of life. Pick your poison. But I didn’t say that.

A well known colleague came to Israel from Los Angeles to speak at an event. Of course we met for coffee. You can take the girl out of LA but you can’t take the networker out of the girl. Her teeth were so white was the first thing I noticed. She was enthusiastic about Israel, having never been here before. She was bubbly and spoke, as Americans tend to do, much more loudly than anyone around. I felt slightly embarrassed for her and I didn’t know why. Hadn’t I been just like her? With bleached teeth and a bubbly attitude? I felt jealous as she mentioned this person and that event. That used to be my life. I looked down at my dusty sandals and distinctly unpedicured feet and then at her perfectly manicured hands, feet and outfit. What had I done?

My colleague was ebullient about how FUN Israel is and how GREAT it is and suddenly I heard myself reminding her that Gaza is about 60 kilometers away from where we were sitting. And that it’s not so fun there.wall

Suddenly, I felt somehow superior to this woman. Had she NO idea where she really was? But I couldn’t forget that not so long ago, before the death and the hurt and the pain, I had been just like her. Ambitious, single-minded and living in Los Angeles, the only town you can die of encouragement.

Hollywood is good and exciting and wonderful – but it’s only one way a writer might find satisfaction and reward in their writing. Just one way and one that in no way, shape or form can be attained through any consultant anywhere. The friends that I do have who have “made it” have done it by sheer perseverance. Years of focus and discipline and talent. You can’t really package that into a book or a talk. My colleague looked at her smart phone, made a frowny face of regret, then brightly announced that she had an important networking event at her Hilton and had to go. They have the BEST hummus there, she said. Unbelievable. I love Israel. We got the check and I was never so relieved in my life.

From the frying pan to the fire, I sometimes say. From Hollywood to Israel. I live in a place that has asked a lot of me and I have proven that I can do it. I can learn a language, I can live with the tensions and compartmentalize that like everybody else here does, I can go toe-to-toe with any Israeli (probably my proudest accomplishment) and I can heal from grief, wherever I am. I like the Mediterranean lifestyle here, I like the heat and the groups of old men who sit and sip tea in the heat of the day, in the shade, I like that nobody here gives a good god damn about Hollywood, I love the bath water warm Mediterranean Sea, I love that Israelis put a huge amount of stock in loyalty and good food. There’s no time here for pretense. You either walk the walk or you aren’t here. So different from Los Angeles – not better – just different. Why a person would go from pain and loss TO a place as intense as Israel is totally counter-intuitive, right? I should have moved to a farm in Nebraska. Having endured more than I thought I could possibly endure – I set myself up to go through even more challenges. There has to be a reason. People often tell me I am “brave” – but I am not brave. I am coping. I just cope in odd ways. Like moving to the Middle East.

I learned that you cannot outrun grief, that you cannot expect people to feel sorry for you in a cutthroat business, as glamorous as it seems, and I have learned that I don’t really care about the tinsel hamster wheel that Hollywood is. It isn’t for me. I only care now about truth – real truth. Truth via stories. And any writer anywhere who wants to express, that is a person after the truth. I happen to be good at sussing it out and at teaching how to write and most importantly, how to get writers to feel good about the story they are telling – about their very impulse to do it – and when you get a writer feeling GOOD, then they begin to tell the truth through their writing. And if they want to get famous doing that, okay, if they want to work in Hollywood doing that okay, but underlying all of that is only one true thing: to tell our stories, to write them down – is to curate the human experience as we see it.

My experience – and it continues – has given me a deep well of empathy, a toughness, an intellectual honesty that I had been lacking before. And I think that honesty, of having lived and suffered and still not suffered a fraction as much as so many others, gives me a certain obligation to help others tell their stories, whether via a novel, a blog or a feature film script. I feel obligated to repay the universe for the lessons I have learned about love and loss, about humility, starting over, authenticity and truth. If I could paint, I would paint this story, if I could weave, I would weave this story. But I am a writer, so that is what I do. JulieGrayBW

You want to write about loss? I have experienced loss. You want to write about joy? I have experienced joy. You want to write about failure – oh, have I failed.  You want to be brave – I’m right there with you, trying to be  brave too.


My book, I am Not Myself: A Year Grieving Suicide, is available as an ebook on Amazon.

Just Effing Entertain Me: A Screenwriter’s Atlas, is available on Lulu.

If you need help dealing with the pain, loss and transition around grief, please seek the help that you need. You can’t do this alone.


Screenwriting Video Tutorial: Jumping in Late

What exactly does “jumping in late” mean in your script?

It means get to the point already! It’s easy to think that if a man walks into the kitchen, to get coffee, that we must literally show his every move. We don’t. Movies don’t work with normal time. We can jump in to the scene to get to the meat of what happens.

See if this video tutorial helps make that clearer for you.