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


Annus joyous

December 31st, 2016

Evidently for almost everyone else, 2016 was the annus horribilis. And why? If you read all the posts and listen to what you hear around you, it was a terrible year because of… celebrity deaths. “Fuck you, 2016!” became the mantra of a people too obsessed by far with fame.

Yes, there was an election that most of us in the U.S. (and elsewhere!) are pretty steamed about. But mostly the slur on 2016 is because the grandma on “Everybody Loves Raymond,” among others, died. At age 81. Other ages among those celebrity deaths:  80, 82, 84, 90. Abe Vigoda was 94. Too soon!

For me, the annus horribilis was 2015. A close friend of 25 years died after a long, painful, valiant fight against cancer. I had all sorts of family and professional turmoil that — and I’m being honest here — would have sent some people to a psychiatrist’s office or to heavy drinking. I spent at least a day a week for months in one oral surgeon’s chair or another having some very complicated and painful dental and surgical maneuvers done, to the tune of $8,000 out-of-pocket, above the insurance coverage. (I vividly remember driving to San Diego late one evening pulling wad after blood-soaked wad of gauze out of my mouth and pitching them onto the Golden State Freeway.) And to cap it off, just before Christmas, my beloved dog of 17 years had a massive stroke that rendered her insensate near dusk on an afternoon… and then she lingered all night while we waited for the vet’s office to open so she could finally die.

2016, on the other hand, has been a sheer delight. Seriously.

I saw some great concerts (including one of the best concerts of my life, by Modern English at the Echoplex, a night of ecstatic unexpected joy in a small club, where I got to stand close and see a band of friends of 30 years rip through their set like they were still 25 years old); finally got to hear Satie’s “Trois Gymnopedies” played live (thank you, Pasadena Symphony); I’m 72 pages into writing a new play that I actually still like; my professional life is sound and very fulfilling; everyone around me seems fit and healthy; and I’m at the gym every other day. And we got a new dog, a smooth-hair fox terrier, who is enormous energetic fun.

No complaints about 2016.

(Except David Bowie dying — please ignore what I said about celebrities above. Plus that election thing.)

Now, as I finish editing this, the fireworks have started outside and it’s 2017. I couldn’t be happier that the new year has arrived as I’m writing something. I’m greatly concerned about the country (and the world), and anyone who follows the news will know why. But I can’t do anything (large) about most of that. To paraphrase the handbook of the Stoics, There are things within your power and things outside your power; the things within your power you control, and the things outside your power you let go.”

2016 was so much better than 2015 partly because I planned it that way. Barring a meteor strike in your life — as when I could have been killed in a major car accident five years ago — you can accomplish a lot with planning. I studied 2015 and set out to learn the lesson; we all make mistakes, and I’ll make new ones, I thought, but let’s not let these things happen again.

I’ve drafted a plan for 2017 as well. Some of it is on paper (well, on-screen) and some of it’s in my head. I’m going to continue supporting what I support, and doing what I do, and other things… other things, I’m going to let go.

Choc it up to Dali

December 29th, 2016

I’ve watched this about a dozen times since coming across it. It’s Salvador Dali, in 1968, hawking Lanvin chocolate. Clearly, Dali was a man of taste.

The good old days

December 28th, 2016


A friend emailed me photos of glorious U.S. cityscapes from 100 years ago. The photo above is of my old stomping grounds of Atlantic City, in 1915.

The architecture is stunning, but the living seems problematic. In our haste to glorify the past, we seldom stop to think about the implications.

Put another way:  I’d like to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there.

  • Little or no indoor plumbing.
  • Unreliable transportation.
  • Unpaved streets (I had enough of that growing up where I did).
  • No penicillin.
  • Few clothes. (All those beautiful clothes in the photos comprise about 1/3 of those people’s wardrobes.)
  • Low wages, and little chance for upward mobility.
  • Poor entertainment choices — no movies or recorded music or video gaming or virtual reality. In fact, no Monopoly yet either.
  • Human flight not invented yet.
  • No space travel or space exploration.
  • Greatly reduced lifespan. (Average life expectancy for a male in California now: 78.33 years. In 1910: 48.4 years) Ouch!
  • And — you’ll appreciate where I’m coming from here — no Internet.
Still, I enjoyed looking at the photos! So I thanked him for sending them.

I wouldn’t want to live in Narnia, either. But the illustrations can be just as fantastic.

100% certain prediction for 2017

December 27th, 2016

Putting on my prognosticator’s hat, and scrying from my crystal ball, I can confidently predict that in 2017 many more people will die — including celebrities. Somehow, their celebrity does not translate into immunity.

Shocking, no?

X’ing out the Xmas gifts

December 19th, 2016

There’s no cheer in getting crap you don’t want for Christmas.

Now that I’m at a point in my life where I don’t want anything, except time, this is more apparent than ever.

Yesterday in our house, we wrote our Christmas letters to “Santa.” (I dutifully make copies for further examination before mailing them to “Santa,” whose address stunningly matches my own.) On my Christmas letter, I wrote down four books. I want them. I want to read them. And then I want to walk past them, for decades I hope, as they gather dust on my bookcases, openly visible to guests who can then see that I’ve read them. But beyond that, I don’t want anything. Except more time to live, and enough time alone to write.

Today, as we were spending far too much on good Christmas gifts for the people we’ve created over the years, my wife said, “Is that all you want? Really? Just the four books? Nothing else?”

I said, “Tell me what else I need.”

She then tried making a list drawn from two categories:  things I actually need but should buy myself (and, you guessed it, those things are socks and underwear), and things that we just bought for the house but that for some reason she thinks would otherwise have fallen onto my Christmas list, like a 13-piece furniture set for the living room. Because really, what man other than Liberace wouldn’t put that on his Christmas list? But, since we’d already bought that, she said with resignation, “I guess you really don’t need anything.”

It was about five years ago, I think, that we decided not to buy any more crap for ourselves or the other people who live with us, and to make it explicit to others who might give gifts, “Thanks, but we don’t want any crap.” Given the choice between receiving nothing, and receiving cute/fun/zany/useless gifts, we’d rather have nothing. And if it’s something we needed, we probably already bought it ourselves.

Lately, I’m on a mission to get rid of things. Things that are broken, things that no longer have any function (if they ever did), and all the clutter that accumulates like dead skin in the air of a busy, populated house. However, I do my best to check with my wife before just tossing something because otherwise, when at some point she realizes that something is missing, no matter how useless, bent, broken, shabby, pointless or dilapidated it might be, she turns into something from a Korean horror movie. (And if you’ve seen those, you know that the horror never forgets or stops pursuit.) Tonight I was looking for something in a cluttery drawer and pulled out a much-chewed faded orange sippy cup that my 18-year-old daughter attests was hers when she was 2. Before throwing it away, I asked, “Do you think your mother will miss this?” She said, “Probably.”

Last Christmas, my wife received a copy of “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” by Marie Kondo. She frowned when opening it, rightly suspecting that it was a gift from me, but she and I both wound up reading the book and quoting from it. Despite the obvious insanity of the author, who advises that you wish a personal farewell to each item that you get rid of, the book has made a real impact on us (as I mentioned here). If something doesn’t “spark joy in my life,” I thank it and wish it away into the trash or a donation pile. I have a recurring fantasy of jacking my house up to an extreme tilt, and having all the contents tumble into the bed of an enormous truck that would just cart it all away (my having first removed the books and comic books, naturally). Some day, I hope, my house will be so empty that I can make my own Ingmar Bergman films in it.

Given this desire to purge, and to not replenish by receiving, say, the Groot car charger, for Christmas, I was delighted to learn today that 100 years ago there was an actual movement that honored the same values at which I’ve arrived. Oh, how I wish to join The Society for the Prevention of Useless Giving.

Free comic cheer

December 19th, 2016

On a day when Donald J. Trump officially gets elected president of the United States, and the Russian ambassador is assassinated in Turkey, I think we all need to look at the 50 comic books that are going to be available to you for free on Free Comic Book Day next May 6.

So here they are. Enjoy.

Season’s greeting

December 10th, 2016

Yesterday at 5 p.m. I got a reminder on my phone to go pick up my dry cleaning. I especially needed it because I would be giving remarks at a swearing-in ceremony today and I figured I’d need one of those shirts. So I set off to drive the couple of miles to my preferred dry cleaner.

On one of the local surface streets, a two-lane affair incongruously named Whitnall Highway, I found that I was inching along behind a very slow-moving maroon SUV. So when the SUV slowed down even more in order to go over a rather unnecessary speed bump, I pulled into the left lane, passed, and left it behind me.

I kept driving for a while before I began to gather that the SUV was now following me.

When I got to a street light and turned left, it turned left.

When I got to another corner, a small side street, and made a right and it followed me onto that small side street, I was sure.

Finally, I pulled into my friendly local dry cleaner’s, a small business run by a husband and wife who, finally, were able to leave various war-torn Middle Eastern countries behind and arrive in the United States. (I asked the husband at one point where he was from, and got quite a detailed list of the wars and turmoil they’d left behind.) I got out of my car and as I was closing the door, the maroon SUV pulled up behind me on the street. I heard a voice and turned around to see a snarling, twisted-face middle-aged woman absolutely consumed with anger.

“You fucking piece of shit,” she said.

“What?” I said. I said “what” because I couldn’t figure out what else to say.

“You heard me,” she said. “You’re a fucking piece of shit.”

Whether or not that’s true isn’t best determined by me myself, so I sauntered over to learn more.

She hurled more imprecations at me, claiming that the source of her misery was my having passed her. Legally, I might add, and at the speed limit. What I am sure to be true is this:  She is the source of her own misery. If she’s unhappy because I passed her, one can only estimate how she reacts to more consequential things. Her response to this was so great, that I have to figure she exerts a planetary gravitational pull that sucks terrible things into her life. As a friend of mine said today when I told him about this incident, “This is the sort of person who, if a satellite fell out of the sky, it would land on her.”

I approached her window.  Honestly, I was so curious, all I wanted to do was figure out why she was having this response — and maybe using it in a play some day. But as I drew near, she looked alarmed and unsure what I might do. So she started to roll up her window and drive away. I shouted out the only thing that came to mind, the thing that seemed most appropriate and most sure to torment her:  “Merry Christmas!”

What I did not do — and probably should have — was that when she launched into her pointless pursuit of me, pointless because I wasn’t trying to evade her and because she accomplished nothing other than further contributing to the ruin of her own day, when she was chasing me to apparently try to teach me some lesson about passing people (?) — she had run a red light.

Deconstructing Time

December 9th, 2016


Here’s why, being more than just a photograph of the (shudder) President-elect, Time’s “Person of the Year” cover makes a subtle statement about power, conspiracy, and impending crisis.


The good people

December 5th, 2016

I wish I could find the video I saw recently where Penn Jillette said something like this:  “There are about seven billion people on the Earth… and about seven billion of them are good. They’re good people.”

I believe that too.

We shouldn’t believe the perpetual “news” story, courtesy of social media and whatever’s left of the mainstream press, that everyone is out for himself. It just isn’t true.

In that light, I share this story, which I just grabbed off a friend’s LinkedIn newsfeed, of a man who spends more than half his income saving people from jumping off a bridge, with 321 saves and counting.


Just say no?

December 5th, 2016

For eight years, since the moment President Barack Obama took office, the Republican party has just said no.

No to a health care plan based on one of their own.

No to a stimulus plan even though the economy was on the precipice of disaster.

No to education reforms that they had previously championed.

No to raising the debt ceiling, which led to a national credit downgrade, which roiled the markets and threw the economy back into jitters.

No to giving a hearing, just a hearing, to the President’s Supreme Court nominee — one they had previously liked — under the ridiculous pretense that it needed to wait until after the presidential election despite all history to the contrary, as well as something called the United States Constitution, which they had sworn to uphold.

No even to basic respect, as they challenged the President’s birthplace, refused even to be photographed him, told bald-faced lies about him, insinuated or directly stated that he’s a Muslim (which he is not — but which, it should be said, is not against the law), and even went so far as to interrupt the State of the Union with the hurled imprecation, “You lie!”

And the price they have paid for all this is… nothing.

As Politico relates in painful detail, they have been rewarded with the full monty:  the Presidency, both houses of Congress, and, soon, the Supreme Court.

Their intransigence isn’t even ideological. Many of the things they’ve objected to were proposals that they originated. No, it was 100% pure party politics. Their goal was to put their party before the country.

But saying no is easy when it isn’t your hand on every lever. Now they’re going to want to do things.

I wonder if the Democrats will say no.