Lee Wochner: Writer. Director. Writing instructor. Thinker about things.


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Calm down (but don’t relax), Part 2

Sunday, February 16th, 2020

Josh Marshall on why President Molotov can indeed be beaten:  He’s historically unpopular because he’s consistently unpopular.

So: Be wary of the curve in the road — but it’s no reason to stop driving.

Calm down (but don’t relax)

Sunday, February 16th, 2020

Robin Abcarian, as they say, speaks my mind when she says, “Stop pulling our your hair. You CAN beat Trump.” And offers examples from recent history.

Or, as I’m constantly chiding friends on Facebook, “Stop being pre-defeated! Predefeatism leads to defeat.”

Election results

Wednesday, February 5th, 2020

OK, the Iowa Caucus vote count is now 96% complete — and I got just as many delegates as billionaire Tom Steyer and without spending one penny of my own money. Sweet!

Action over despair

Friday, January 31st, 2020

I try my best to be a Stoic.

No one is a true Stoic, at least not as outlined in the Enchiridion of Epictetus. Being a true, complete, Stoic would be to renounce joy and happiness (in addition to the more negative emotions), which would also mean rejecting everything, outside work, that makes life meaningful and enjoyable. Even when I first read the Enchiridion, decades ago, I realized this… and realized that Stoicism is best employed as a practice, and not as a goal.

That practice, which has brought me great relief throughout my life, is summed up best as this:  “There are things within your control, and things outside your control. Things within your control, you may exert your power over. Things outside your control, you should let go.” Applied well, this can be awfully soothing. Plus, productive. It counsels correct action, and relieves frustration.

After a glorious 18 days off — from any kind of work, from even thinking about anything troubling, as I went to Spain to see the world’s actual greatest rock band and also to New Jersey (twice) to visit my birth family, and even from writing anything in any form — this week I found myself clenching my jaw and my shoulder muscles as I bore witness to the presidential impeachment “trial” unfolding. So far, the result isn’t any different from what I thought it’d be, but its lack of suspense doesn’t drain me of my dread and outrage; a country in which, evidently, anything a sitting president might do to ensure his own re-election is permissible surely isn’t the country the Founders conceived, nor is it the one I thought I lived in. Tonight, after the Senate voted 51-49 not to hear from witnesses (and after more than one of the GOP Senators voting against witnesses said they believed that the Democratic House managers had proved their case — but they still didn’t care), I decided to come home, grill a big steak, drink an entire bottle of red wine, and watch something distracting on Netflix. Because what they had done was infuriating, but it was outside my control.

That’s what Stoicism does for you — it helps you question what you can affect, and what you can’t, and constantly raises for you the question of what, if anything, you could do.

I grilled my ginormous tomahawk steak (freshly purchased from Ralph’s on a WooHoo! deal) outside, cracked open a bottle of Spanish red wine, and sat out there enjoying both, while occasionally throwing a piece of the steak to my two dogs and petting them to our mutual satisfaction. It was pretty good.

Except — I was still seething.

So I went on ActBlue and donated a shit ton of money against those GOP assholes in the Senate running for re-election, and against Mitch McConnell in particular, because y’know what? It may not seem very Stoic, but  THAT was within my control.

So now I’m thinking: Just watch what the 58% of us who hate all this are going to get up to in the next 10 months. There are millions of us. And that action is within our control, too.

A real nightmare

Friday, December 13th, 2019

I refer not just to the British election, which I watched with real interest before going to bed.

Oh no, I thought:  What’s this portend for my friends in the (soon-to-be former) United Kingdom but also for the rest of the world, for the global economy, and for our own elections in November?

So, of course, I had a dream — some would say nightmare — where at the last minute I ran for city council here in my town on a whim, and showed up to make my announcement speech at a city hall gathering barefoot and wearing shorts, going on about collapsing infrastructure and moral turpitude.

Some time ago, I read that dreams result from your brain’s nighttime filing of memories and thoughts from the day for easier later retrieval, and that in that filing process bits get shuffled around into strange new combinations. Running on a platform of infrastructure, for example, comes from a call I’d had earlier in the day with someone in the Silicon Valley area with a replacement scheme for our power shutdowns.

But what to make of finding in my dream that my former friend Jack, whom I cut ties with in 2005 because he’d disappointed me one times too many, was firmly ensconced on my city council already and that I’d need his help to get elected?

I woke up from this an hour ago, and since then have been reading the wailings of my friends in the U.K. over their election results. Doesn’t feel good.

What leads to mass shootings (and what doesn’t)

Sunday, August 4th, 2019

What are the 4 things all the mass shooters have in common? The people who run the Violence Project helpfully tell us in this piece in the Los Angeles Times. I have lots of friends on Facebook who are ready to blame Donald Trump — and, look, I can’t stand the guy either — but his name isn’t on the list of causes.

Con-viviality

Monday, July 29th, 2019

Comic-Con was only four days — July 17th through the 21st — but it was even more excitingly overpowering, so much so that I took a week off blogging just to recuperate. Sure, I had plans to post things here during the Con, but I’m not sure how I would have done that. The event was stuffed — overstuffed! — with things competing for my attention (which isn’t unusual, even though this was the 50th anniversary celebration), so finding the time would have been challenge enough. Add in the fact that, as tracked by my phone, I walked seven to eight miles a day and did it on five or six hours of sleep each night, and you get a frenetic pace that fully required some recovery time.

(Plus, I was pretty busy when I got back.)

A few highlights:

  • Finding many excellent Silver Age and Bronze Age comics at reader’s prices. What qualifies to me as a “reader’s price”? Under the current cover price of (gasp) $3.99. I found lots of great old comics in $2 bins, half-price bins, and even, sometimes, for a buck each. Awesome sauce!
  • Seeing “Shazam!” the first night we got there. It was loads of fun and laugh-out-loud funny, Zachary Levi’s enthusiasm in the role was catchy, and it rather faithfully built on the source material while in plot points and in tone. A real joy.
  • Catching the documentary “Closer Than We Think,” about futurist artist and industrial designer Arthur Radebaugh. I’d never heard of Radebaugh, whose sleek designs and stunning artwork of the 1930s and 1940s made me jump online to buy a book of it… only to discover that no book of his work exists. Somebody:  Go collect this stuff into a book! In the meantime, you can see some of it here.
  • Getting to talk with Eddie Campbell, a comics writer and artist I follow (From Hell; The Playwright; Bacchus) and picking up his new book
  • Hearing comics great Jim Steranko take an hour to share three anecdotes — but one of them was pure brilliance, from his years as an escape artist, when he came up with what promised to be his greatest stunt:  escaping from a moving ferris wheel. Let’s just say that when he was rotated to the top, 80 feet up in the air, he got out of the coiled ropes a little early. “And what happened?” someone asked. “I fell,” he said. Luckily, one of the bucket cars on the wheel caught him after about 15 feet, purely by chance.

I got to see lots of other great things — Scott Shaw!’s “Oddball Comics” slideshow, which never disappoints; the “Quick Draw” live sketch event; lots of clever costumes; and the sheer amazement of my 15-year-old great nephew at his first Comic-Con experience, both at the excitement in the convention center and the near-pandemonium spilling onto all the streets of San Diego for about a square mile — but here, bar none, was my favorite bit of Comic-Con this year:

David Rosing (NASA JPL Mars Sample Return system engineer), Shonte J. Tucker (JPL thermal engineer), Kobie Boykins (JPL Mechatronics Engineer), and Laura Kerber (NASA JPL Mars research scientist) discuss how they go boldly where there’s no one around to fix it. Hear stories from the trenches of the heartbreaks, close calls, and adventures of real-life solar system exploration on the 50th anniversary of the moon landing. Q&A session following.

Yeah… no. That in no way conveys what the panel really was. Here’s what the panel really was:  government-funded scientists giddy with excitement about all the cool stuff they’re working on for the moon, Mars, and beyond, and what those new discoveries and possibilities might mean for us, all of it positive.

I cannot tell you how thrilled I was to hear government-funded scientists beside themselves with glee about science and what we’re learning every day, and about their hope for the future.

So I decided to get up and tell them that.

I got to the microphone and said, “I can’t tell you how glad I am to be here in a room with scientists who are so excited about the future. Usually it’s not you guys in the headlines — instead it’s the anti-science guys from the government. So:  thank you. I’m really glad you’re here!”

That elicited big cheers and applause from the room, which was packed with about 200 people feeling exactly the way I did about it. We were all cheering the scientists.

Then Dr. Rosing noted what a good investment science is, and how careful they are with how they spend taxpayer money.

“Oh, I’m happy to have you get my tax money,” I said. “It’s the other guys I don’t want to fund!”

More cheers and applause from the crowd for that.

As much as I loved the comic-book part of it, and all the costumes, and the great time with family and friends, hearing Dr. Laura Kerber excitedly pitch just how much we’re going to learn when she finally gets to launch her project exploring the deepest part of the moon in a crater so vast it’s wider than a football field and deep enough to accommodate Big Ben… well… that’s something I’m going to remember. If it’ll help, I’ll gladly send her $20 to help with Project: Crater Diver.

Sunday and Monday

Monday, May 27th, 2019
  • Having decided — again — that the play I was working on had been best served in its one-act version, i.e., that it should not become a full-length version, this decision being made after many months and endless pages of struggle to turn it into said full-length version, a version that I was having trouble believing one bit of, I turned back to a play I started this time last year, in the hopes that it would become my new full-length play. Fingers crossed.
  • Had some friends over last night from eight until midnight for drinks and cigars and snacks. Two of them are playwrights, one is an editor of TV shows and videos, and one is this universe’s foremost expert on “Star Trek.” We talked a lot about comic books and, naturally, “Stark Trek,” and a bit about theatre, and a surprising amount about Nancy Pelosi (impeachment now, yes or no?). I guess we’re all exhausted of talking about you-know-who in the White House.
    • When the subject of the race for the Democratic presidential nomination came up, I said that now that I’d watched all eight seasons of “Game of Thrones,” I had a new outlook. “Almost nothing that happened in the first seven seasons mattered in the end,” I said, “and the Democratic nomination is like that. I don’t need to tune in until next June.” One of the playwright friends said, “Yeah, backing one of the candidates now is like being all-in for Robb Stark.”
  • Started reading The Terror last night after midnight (okay, this morning). This is why I mostly don’t see movies or TV shows on books I’ve read or am going to read — it’s impossible to get the actors out of your head. I didn’t see the film version of “Anna Karenina,” but nevertheless Alfred Molina is now connected in my mind with that book, which was the most compelling novel I’ve ever read. Same with The Terror; even five pages in, it was difficult not to “see” Jared Harris on the page.
    • I also had an extremely sinister and upsetting dream — one in which I manage to evade some sort of creatures in a post-apocalyptic setting, but wind up running into a real-life person from my real life, someone I have studiously avoided for a long time now, and was forced to work with that person. Compared to my nightmares — in this case, the nightmare of being forced to work with this person again — no horror novel can compete.
  • This morning when I woke up I vowed to finally do something about the ever-running toilet in the master bathroom that had to be manually jiggered in order to stop running water. So I went and bought the part at  DoIt Center (yes, yes, it’s been renamed D.I.Y. Center, but in my household it’s still called “doit,” pronounced to rhyme with the first part of “soitently!”). Back home, it took about 20 minutes to fix. Well worth the eight weeks I put that off.
  • My son left for an overnight camping trip, and our other two children are already out of the house, and my wife works nights, so at one point the two dogs and I looked at each other like the last survivors on a life raft. They mostly prefer the other people and weren’t sure what to make of it being just us.
    • But given that they know I can still open the refrigerator door, they remain hopeful and attentive.
  • I was cautious in announcing any triumph in fixing that toilet, lest I get assigned any further duties. Proud of my strategy in delaying so long!
  • Washed some dishes. Not all of them from last night! — not the cocktail glasses or the rocks glasses or half of the snack bowls and plates — but enough to be seen doing it. Should get me through for now.
  • Now I’m sitting out back surrounded by loudly chirping birds oblivious to all the bad news in this morning’s paper, and I’m prepping another cigar, with hope in the air regarding this new play, a play based on an obscure, rarely named and somewhat disreputable philosophical condition. Fingers still crossed. I’ve cleverly entitled it “New Play.” (Might change that later.)

A period of transition

Sunday, March 31st, 2019

I was just searching for something in my Evernote file and found this:

We’re in a period of permanent transition. Nothing will settle.
It’s not an age of reading — it’s an age of looking. Looking at print or looking at screens — some of the print is interactive with sound and motion.

The old forms needn’t die. People are still buying tickets to the theatre, which has been dying for thousands of years.

I wrote that on July 25, 2014 (at Comic-Con in San Diego), no doubt as a jumping-off point for something I didn’t wind up writing. Since then, the permanent transition has continued, and nothing has settled.

By happenstance, I went to WonderCon today. I spent half of my time in the exhibit hall searching for just where comic books might be, then discovered that I was in Hall C of the Exhibit Hall — an area mostly devoted to independent artists and people lumbering around in gigantic bulky clumsy costumes representing things I didn’t recognize — and that comic books were in a small quadrant in a corner of Hall A. I’m now calling that one of the sections where “old forms needn’t die.”

I’ve been going to comics conventions for 54 years, and can remember when the exhibit hall was a smorgasbord. You’d have a comic-book dealer next to a science fiction dealer next to somebody selling Tribbles and around the corner from somebody hawking his own new board game. That’s how you’d come across new things you never knew about or thought about. Now we’ve got redlining:  comics way over there; whatever Funko Pops are and similar novelties in a separate hall, gaming stuff way back there, and so forth. At a time when the people of the U.S. seem more divided than ever (almost; we haven’t hauled out any cannons yet), someone has now split fandom down into its constituent elements too.

I remember being warned about this in the 2000s:  that, increasingly, we’d get served only the news we wanted, and blithely ignore the things that didn’t pertain to us, that we didn’t select. Take a look at Twitter or Facebook and tell me that that isn’t exactly what’s happening. And who is the perfect avatar of this dynamic? The guy who lobs one distracting new “emergency” after another into the chattersphere. It’s aggravating how much oxygen and attention he consumes.

Still, the old forms needn’t die. We’ve carved everything and everyone into smaller and smaller niches, just as the Alvin and Heidi Toffler predicted in “The Third Wave.” It’s all still here, just smaller and discrete. Which is fine in many ways. A lot of the mass market didn’t serve a lot of people, including me. Television was very bad when I was a kid; ironically, there’s so much great television now that no one could possibly watch all of it and most of it looks bland. Turn on your TV (or device) and there are so many high-quality choices that none of them seems compelling. A lone diamond sparkles against velvet, but looks lost inside a gem mine.

Now we search, in a time when everything is findable. Nothing need go out of print (or “print”) any more, and no market is too small for some attention. At the convention, I picked up a newly published book called “Comic Book Implosion:  An Oral History of DC Comics Circa 1978.” The book relates the story of DC Comics announcing a big “DC Explosion!” of new titles in 1978 — and then canceling the entire effort two months later. Not exactly “The Story of Civilization,” right? Pretty arcane — but, still, there’s some interest in the topic somewhere (like, here — with me), so it exists. I also would assume that the topic exists on Wikipedia, and it does. In 2001, I attended a speech by Thomas Friedman wherein he talked about what he called the “Evernet” — being ever-available, ever-on, because of the cellphone and the internet.

That was six years before the iPhone, which solidified the Evernet, increased immediate access to information, and also increased the immediate sharability of information — as well as disinformation. Since then, the permanent transition has continued abated. And now, thanks to speed and availability, fluctuations will increase (economic; sociopolitical; cultural) and nothing will settle.

47 months

Sunday, March 10th, 2019

I do not like Paul Manafort.

I do not like his kind or sort.

I do not like himself or his’n,

I would not like him out of prison.

 

Paul Manafort is a bad actor,

which the judge failed to factor.

I think his sentence far too light,

And think that on this I’m quite right:

that he should spend his days in jail

and never live to tell the tale.