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


Blog

A friend in need

January 15th, 2017

Need some writing or video production? I have an extremely talented friend who needs more work. He’s one of the best writers I know — for corporate and for creative — and has decades of experience producing corporate video. Now that he’s in his late 50’s, it looks like he has aged out of the hiring pool. (!!!) He’s been job-hunting for two years now with absolutely no luck, and his unemployment ran out a long time ago. If you need a reliable, talented, professional writer or video producer — either to hire or to contract, to work part-time, or full-time, or even on individual projects of any size — please email me and I’ll put you in touch. I completely endorse the work of this friend of mine (I have hired him many times), and I’d really like to help him out. You will be glad you hired him.

Party politics

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.

The new line of succession

January 12th, 2017

lineofsuccession

 

I would have voted for Dr. Doom. As one wag noted, he’s the only political leader here who is legitimately concerned with the well-being of his country.

Exit, stage-left

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.

Trump joke of the day

January 11th, 2017

This latest revelation lends new meaning to the term “news leak.”

Sunday

January 8th, 2017

Applying John Scalzi’s 10-point plan for getting creative work done in the age of Trump, I turned off all the daily digital upsets this afternoon to sit out back in my newly radiant back yard, freshly bedazzled by heavy rainfall that filled the coffer of our local aquifer and washed away all the gloom of the past two weeks, and work on my new play.

The story goes that Arthur Conan Doyle could write anywhere, under any circumstances. His children said that while the family was waiting for trains, he’d sit on their luggage on the platform, journal in hand, scribbling away. Sometimes, I can be like that. Today was like that. The neighbor kids, aged 7, 5, and 3, came over and romped around the back yard with my teenage daughter and our smooth-hair Fox Terrier while I sat in the near corner enjoying my scotch and an Arturo Fuente and wrote about two brutally unhappy people arguing over meaning, relationships, and the monetary value of a painting neither one likes. The gulf between what I was writing and what I was living couldn’t have been greater.

I’ve got almost 80 pages on this play, and it feels like it should be between 90 and 100. I’ve got all the scenes at least sketched out, hopping about in writing them, spending more time where it feels more right, at the moment, to work. I know I’m missing lines connecting various pieces. Most of the writers I know work the same way.

Meanwhile, my son is in the back corner of the lot trimming down some of the hundreds of pounds of branches we cut from our overwhelming front-yard tipu tree last Sunday. I took lots of photos of that adventure last Sunday, and maybe I’ll be posting them. I think when this 14-year-old goes off to college I’ll either outsource the tree-trimming or sell the house.

Now I’m off to our local Big 5 sporting goods store. I need new workout clothes — my current ensemble being completely worked out — and he needs running shoes. Maybe later tonight I’ll return to the play. I’d like to get a full finished draft by the end of this month.

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

atlanticcity1915

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?