‘I stared at a blank page ... and it became very clear — I cannot do this alone’

Lee Sung Jin sits in a large massage chair.
Lee Sung Jin creator of the Netflix series “Beef,” didn’t mind his characters seeming imbalanced.
(Philip Cheung / For The Times)
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They say write what you know …

So, what did I know while writing “Beef”?

I knew I got into a road rage incident.

I knew that Steven Yeun is the best actor of our generation.

I knew Ali Wong can make the darkest of material relatable and funny.

I knew the Home Depot near me is a confluence of clashing socioeconomic statuses.

I knew the Korean church.

I knew the expectations of immigrant parents.

I knew how tiring this all can be.

I knew I’ve Googled “the least painful way to kill yourself.”

I knew that left to myself, I couldn’t see the point of doing anything, much less writing.

I stared at a blank page with all this knowing, and it became very clear — I cannot do this alone.

Ravi and Alli. Jinny and Irene. The cast, the crew. The writers, the editors. Grace and Helen. Jake and Larkin.

I began to know them, and they began to know me.

No longer did I have to know alone.

We could know together, and we knew a lot of things.

We knew the craft of filmmaking.

We knew the joy of collaboration.

We knew the magic in happy accidents.

And we knew we had one another.

Something incredible happens when we accept each other as we are.

We breathe easier. We relax. We explore the corners of our minds we had pretended don’t exist.


We can finally be ourselves, free of judgment or shame, as we were when we were kids.

The feeling of separateness fades away and, suddenly, you’re no longer an island.

You’re this massive, interconnected web of continents, brimming with unbridled imagination.

You’re ready to play.

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There are words on the page now.

The characters have names. They have pasts and traumas. They have wants and desires.

The show starts to look like the things we know, and we know a lot of things.

So, what did I know while writing “Beef”?

I knew some amazing people, and that’s all there is to it at the end of the day.

“No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less. As well as if a promontory were. As well as if a manor of thine own or of thy friend’s were: any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.”

— John Donne

Editor’s note: This essay was submitted before the writers’ strike.

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