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


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Monday, not Sunday

Monday, February 20th, 2017

While in the past I’ve been happy to celebrate Washington’s birthday, or Lincoln’s birthday, I’ve never wanted to celebrate President’s Day, for the simple reason that I don’t celebrate all of them. I didn’t like it when George W. Bush was the president, I don’t recall liking it before that, and I certainly don’t like it now.

In addition to not-celebrating the holiday, another reason I had a hard time just a minute ago remembering that it’s Monday and not Sunday is that I spent the morning eating a leisurely breakfast with strong coffee, horsing around on my iPhone playing far too many rounds of Drop7, and making mental lists of things I should do today but probably won’t. In other words: Sunday activities. I was especially confused when the newspaper was even slimmer than usual — pretty slim for a Sunday! … Oh.

Yesterday, on what felt like Saturday but was actually Sunday, I took my daughter to LACMA to see the exhibit of German art of the Renaissance. My forebears were torn between two factions (in this case, the Catholics and the Protestants), an awful conflict that gave rise to some great art and some very snotty illustrations that reminded me of the underground comix o the 1960s. (Good thing nothing like this is happening these days.) The work was deeply beautiful and generally disturbing — very warlike, with representations of the chosen arbiters (Martin Luther or the Pope) swinging between deific and demonic, and with much heraldry, spilled blood, and tortured Christs. The portraiture of the one-percenters (who, of course, could afford portraits of themselves), was necessarily flattering. Hats off, then, to Albrecht Durer, who had the audacity to depict one such Burgermeister as a thin-lipped, cold-eyed coot. I can only wonder what this person thought of his portrait.

While we were there, we paid extra to see the exhibit showcasing the work of Diego Rivera and Pablo Picasso. I’d never thought of the two together, associating the former with a sort of socialist-peasant art and the latter with modernism, and I wasn’t aware of their friendship, but now I’ve been educated. I was especially interested to see how informed Rivera’s work was by Mayan art, with its simple uninflected portrayals of people, and also to see Picasso’s elementary illustrations of a translation of Ovid; it’s astounding how much he could convey with just a simple fluid line.

My friend and former playwriting workshop member Tira Palmquist is having quite a year or two or three. She’s been racking up productions all over the place, and just broke through the LORT curtain with her play “Two Degrees,” which is currently running at Denver Center for the Performing Arts. She says a number of smart and useful things in this interview, and is even so kind as to give me a shoutout. In with all the other wise things she says here, I particularly recommend this advice: “Write as much as possible. Set difficult goals.”

Go to the gym. Do the grocery shopping. Write as much as possible. That’s my to-do list for today.

That’s entertainment

Sunday, February 12th, 2017

One night last week, after another full day of Trump, I decided to take my wife to see the touring production of “Motown the Musical” at the Pantages in Hollywood. I’m not generally much for musicals, but I love Motown (who doesn’t?), and I thought it’d be a fun evening out, and a welcome distraction from everything going on in the news:  protests, police actions, presidents breaking the law, and more.

The show was everything I was hoping for:  great songs well-sung, interspersed with some storytelling as we moved chronologically through the history of Motown. If a glance at the program left me wondering just how on Earth the show was going to get through more than sixty hits from the Motown catalog, the show soon clarified it:  while occasionally you’d get the full song, or most of it, for the most part you’d get about three bars, which is the musical equivalent of a nod in the direction of a song you know. Which was frustrating. You’d get keyed up to hear a song you love, and just when you recognized it, it was over. Imagine hearing, say, a “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” — but then having it cut off at “Ain’t No–.” It was kinda like that; like ain’t no song finishin’ no how.

That said, the performers were terrific, especially a little boy who completely channeled the pre-adolescent Michael Jackson, and a beautiful honey-voiced young woman who, in an extended sequence that replicated Diana Ross’s solo debut in Las Vegas, reminded everyone present just why Ross was a huge star.

The show also reminded everyone about something else.

As the history moved further and further into the 1960s and later, the backdrop turned to Vietnam and Watergate… and protests, police actions, and presidents breaking the law.

My wife turned to me and said, “Wow. Nothing ever changes, does it?”

Mapping out our past (and our future?)

Wednesday, February 8th, 2017

diversemap

Here’s a map from 1940 showing just how diverse the United States of America has always been. (And an explainer, here.) Just as a reminder to some.

Actual, not alternative, fact

Tuesday, February 7th, 2017

Clearly, California is falling apart. How else to explain that it just surpassed France as the world’s 6th largest economy, even though it’s only one out of 50 states? Sad.

 

No shame

Friday, February 3rd, 2017

There’s an awful lot of reprehensible behavior in the world.

But targeting the parents of a murdered little boy represents a subterranean low. Even for the friends and allies of our president.

What to say?

Sunday, January 29th, 2017

What is there to say about the past eight days that hasn’t already been said elsewhere and better? Nothing, except to say that I’m honestly terrified — by what has already happened to my country, and what the immediate future undoubtedly holds.

Every day I’ve been taking some sort of action in opposition. I marched in the women’s march (and, yes, there were 750,000 of us crammed into downtown Los Angeles in a remarkably friendly, peaceful, thoughtful, considerate protest). I’ve been doing emails and phone calls (and we’ll see if they have any impact). I agreed to help out with the endorsement meeting for Congressman Xavier Becerra’s replacement next Sunday. (Becerra is our new state attorney general, so there’s an opening.) I signed up to help swing a district near me from red to blue.

And, importantly, every day I’m looking for some comfort that, maybe, the reign of terror won’t be permanent. Here are some that I’ve found:

  • On Thursday, I went to a local Democratic club meeting. Normally, it’s hard to get eight people out for this thing. Thirty-eight people showed up — the vast majority of them new to political engagement, and eager to take on Trump.
  • I have many Republican friends — conservative, patriotic, Republican friends who consider Trump a radical and not a conservative, and also a traitor. Some of my well-connected Republican friends have reassured me that we haven’t lost the Republic (yet?) and that we’ll bounce back from this. This piece in The Atlantic, from an actual conservative Republican, supports this line of thought.
  • The ACLU won some victories against the immigration ban.
  • Three million people showed up to march against Trump last Saturday. That’s a lot of people. Assuming that we have elections in two years, that could make quite a difference.
  • Finally, even Dick Cheney says Trump’s immigration ban is un-American: “Well, I think this whole notion that somehow we can just say no more Muslims, just ban a whole religion, goes against everything we stand for and believe in. I mean, religious freedom has been a very important part of our history and where we came from.”

I have no idea what’s going to happen with all this, and neither does anyone else. Except I’m sure it’s going to get worse. In the meantime, we need to do our best to enjoy the day, be grateful for what we’ve got, and fight for what we believe in.

Advice for today and every day

Friday, January 20th, 2017

FondFarewell

Don’t hope for the best.

Work for the best.

Where Obama is going in retirement

Thursday, January 19th, 2017

It’s not where you think.

Party politics

Saturday, January 14th, 2017

I went to a party tonight co-hosted by an actress friend who I’ve been doing theatre with for almost 15 years now. She’s been in a few of my plays, we actually acted in a play together (yes, I’ve acted in two plays in the past 30 years), she’s done readings from my workshop and the private dramaturgy I do sometimes, and she’s my friend. (None of that is in order of importance. I think I’d put “friend” first.) Incredibly, over that 15 years she’s somehow gotten more youthful and even more beautiful. How that’s possible I don’t know, but she should bottle it and sell it.

She makes her living in acting-related work:  production work and video and so forth.

Her boyfriend — a great guy who is an audiophile — is a partner in a start-up company that offers test prepping.

I also saw a friend who is a voiceover actress who I’m not sure I ever actually met before — neither of us was sure — but we know each other through Facebook.

I saw the husband and wife who run a long-running (20 years!) improv troupe.

And my adored good friend who is a nurse. And her new husband who is a teacher.

And others.

And I went there not — not — wanting to discuss politics or the horror that faces us starting next Friday — but it was there instantly. I was the second guest to arrive, and immediately the discussion veered onto Trump. Donald J. Trump. Soon to be President Donald J. Trump.

This is a low moment for America. Or perhaps the nadir. And maybe the sunset, or the total eclipse.

The discussion went on for hours, and no matter where someone tried to steer it — it came back to Trump. Which I know would just make him more gleeful. He loves being discussed, and part of him even loves being attacked. To quote Oscar Wilde, “There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.” Trump personifies this ideal. The majority of we who voted aren’t upset because we “lost” an election; we’re upset because a knave and a scoundrel, a person who personifies the lowest of the low, a person completely devoid of integrity or character, is now going to be occupying our highest office and representing us to the nation and the world.

Let me point out that while everyone admitted and agreed that we couldn’t personally relate to the economic plight of unemployed or underemployed people in Ohio, or Minnesota, or Pennsylvania — we’re all nevertheless middle class. No one at the party was in the 1%, or the 1/10 of 1% — nobody, in other words, would have been eligible for service in the Trump cabinet — but we were appalled, outraged, saddened by the idea that this mendacious sociopath is going to become the president of the United States next Friday.

In the face of this, there was really nothing else to talk about. The reality of it was like the dead body in the room. In the Ionesco play “Amédée, or How to Get Rid of It,” a married couple  try to ignore  a continually growing corpse in the other room. Finally, as it sprouts mushrooms and begins to exhaust their living space (Act Two begins with just two giant legs thrust onstage, the corpse having grown to Brobdignagian size), they resolve to deal with it. This giant dead body, like the presence of death, has taken over their lives — much like the looming threat of Trump is occupying all the space around us.

Much as I didn’t want to address politics — much, in fact, as I hadn’t wanted to address it this same morning in my playwriting workshop — it’s everywhere. It’s unavoidable. It keeps coming up because it’s always there. Somehow we’ve awoken in the banana republic predicted by Wallace Shawn in “The Dedicated Mourner” — a scenario I’d previously rejected as too outlandish, but which now seems all too possible. (One hallmark of banana republics:  the installation of near relatives in senior positions — as we’re seeing with Trump’s two sons, his daughter, and his son-in-law.) I find myself wondering if I’m witnessing the death of America.

Faced with the nightmare of an incalculably ill-suited president elected partly through the ministrations of a foreign government, I’ve done a little something every day to register my opposition and arm my fellows. After a two-decade lapse, I’ve rejoined the ACLU. At least, my thinking goes, maybe they can tie some of this up in court. I’ve participated in very local elections that resulted in whole skeins of activist youth joining the state Democratic Party. On Thursday, I’ll be participating with my theatre company Moving Arts in The Ghostlight Poject, a national event where theatre artists publicly commit themselves to what most of us would recognize as the ideals of the nation. And given that I’ve spent the last 12 years volunteering, serving as a delegate, knocking on doors, raising money, making calls, and canvassing in-state and out-of state, I’m sure I’ll be doing even more with my anger and my upset. Because I’ll have to, or I’ll feel complicit by default.

But what felt best tonight, and this morning, was being surrounded with people who share in my alarm, and just getting to vent my very real fears and voice my desperate uncertainty about how we’ve lost our nation, and so suddenly, and how we might be able to get it back.

Exit, stage-left

Wednesday, January 11th, 2017

One benefit of safe, secure service in academia is that it removes you from any accountability, while enabling you to pursue your career in the game of entertainment outrage. Hence Cornel West (and Newt Gingrich) and hence West’s latest ludicrous tissue of fabrication, which you can find here. What we have here is, once again, West’s litany of unhappiness with Obama, newly stapled onto the baseless accusation that Obama’s faults led to Trump’s election. To many of us, this would more properly serve as a reminder of Hillary Clinton’s faults, but that wouldn’t serve West’s prevailing need to debase and deny Obama, as he has done for nine years now.

Now that Obama has said farewell, I wonder what new target West will find to stay in the news. It can’t be Trump — that’s too obvious, given that everybody else in West’s camp is already aiming there.