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


Blog

Hiring in 2022

January 9th, 2022
No, this isn’t my office. We do better signage. And where the Hell can you find a payphone???

Here’s what it’s been like hiring people the past year.

At my company, we have three open positions. We locked one in on Friday (phew!), but I also had interviews over Zoom with candidates for one of the other open roles. Here’s a verbatim quote from one of those interviewees, who on paper was well-qualified:

“I can get you where you want to be. I just need a little bit of freedom. Sometimes I’ll be gone for a whole week in the month, to South America or Europe. But I’ll come back.”

Mind you, this is for a key management position: receiving payments, making payments, handling HR, operations, insurance, etc. The sort of position most of us would assume requires reliability. As in: You’ll know consistently when she’ll be around. It isn’t the sort of position where on, say, Wednesday, one might say, “Where’s Carol?” and an acceptable response would be, “Ecuador. But she said she’d come back.”

I shared this baffling interview response on my business partner, whose reply was “Uh, no.” Then I tried it on a couple of friends, one a longtime business owner and another a close friend who runs a non-profit. Just to, you know, make sure I’m not being too demanding in expecting people on the payroll and healthy to actually show up as expected. One said, “Frankly, I don’t know how didn’t start laughing hysterically.” The other said, sarcastically, “Well, she said she’d be baaaaaaack…..”

I’m calling this applicant “Carol.” That’s not her real name; I’ve struck her real name from memory. Life being short, I’ve moved on. But if they rewarded confidence with dollars, “Carol” would be a billionaire. Because: She also wanted to know in this initial interview when she should start, but first volunteered that she’d “need to come by and check out the office first” for “the vibe” and offered to do that the same day, say around 2?

I was out having lunch at 2. And here was the vibe in the office the rest of the day: just me, and whatever my vibe is. With everyone else either out with COVID or working remotely anyway.

Judging the book

January 1st, 2022

The New York Times asked readers to pick the best book of the past 125 years. Here it is.

The “best” book.

Except that’s not the best book of the past 125 years.

Here are the books the readers picked as the second- and third- and fourth-best books of the past 125 years.

Except those aren’t in the top ranks of best books either.

Because there are no best books.

Oh, there are bad books. And there are good books. Even great books. But a “best” book? Even the idea is ludicrous.

All art reflects its time — as do the sentiments of the public.

As America again, continuously, explores its fraught relationship with race, “To Kill a Mockingbird” wins here partly because, yes, it’s so moving — but also because it provides hope and nourishment. Primarily, let’s be honest, for white readers. Yes, Atticus Finch will save us. (Just don’t read its “sequel,” “Go Set a Watchman,” in which he holds extremely racist views.)
The #3 book, “1984” is a clear reflection of our growing concern over the potential loss of the republic, the increasing privacy invasion attributable to both tech and government, and the creeping dread of getting canceled by all our friends on the extreme left for saying “the wrong thing.” Another perfect book for our times.

I could go on about the other books, but let me instead restate what should be obvious:  There is NO “best book” of the past 125 years. Books come and go in flavor and fashion, and are “lost” or “discovered” or never lost or never discovered.

F. Scott Fitzgerald was almost completely forgotten until Edmund Wilson, the NY Times and other critics revived his reputation. (The same happened with the justly revered  Buster Keaton, courtesy of James Agee.)  “Beowulf” has no relevance to my life — but was incredibly important to the people for whom it was written 1400 years ago. And so on.

What’s most important about this New York Times survey, it seems to me, is this:  that it brought together hundreds of thousands of people, including us, to discuss and debate books. The underpinning of our shared humanity lies in our cultural traditions; learning from each other and sharing those traditions holds the best hope for us all.

There’s no need to rank books by popularity, or bestow false acclaim on them. Just reading them provides achievement enough.

After the flood

December 31st, 2021

For what seems like weeks, Los Angeles has had epic rainfall: nonstop, pouring, round-the-clock rainfall more than triple the average for this time of year. The ground surrounding my house, formerly parched, has been hard-pressed to take any more — which is how most of the humans have felt too.

The ground yesterday, so saturated it can absorb no more water.


But today, there’s this: beautiful, clear skies. As shown above my house.

The next day.

2021 was not the best of years for a lot of people. There was plenty of death (covid-related and not), and real economic turmoil, a worsening environmental picture, an insurrection at the Capitol that I very wrongly assumed would spell the end of Trumpism now that the malfeasants were out in the light of day, and uncertainty… about the pandemic, the future, and so much else.

Yesterday, the cloudburst may have flooded my office.

My office yesterday. When I told my business partner that this was impeding my work, she pointed out, “The plastic is clear.” Fair point.

But today, we have bright clear skies.

Note the sun peeking through. That’s the place to focus — always.

I’m grateful for that and more: my loved ones (both family and friends), good health and good cheer and good work. And the lure of the future, with travel and friends old and new and new accomplishments.

I hope the blue sky of today augurs well for your future, and for mine.

Predictions for 2022

December 24th, 2021
  • An artist or actor or thinker or celebrity you like will die and you’ll be sad.
  • You will once again believe that there is a pattern to celebrity death, and will try to decode the pattern.
  • Something alarming that we must all be alarmed about will happen and we’ll be alarmed for one day!
  • You will say something you regret. (Unless you’re Donald Trump.)
  • We will all do many of the same old things, whether we like them or not.
  • Some bad things will happen — and some good things!
  • We’ll focus on the bad things.
  • 100% of the pundits and almost all of their predictions will be wrong.
  • Except me, with this list.

The last Monkee

December 10th, 2021

Three weeks ago, a friend and I saw the surviving members of the Monkees in their final performance. However much my friend and I tried to wish it otherwise, it was a melancholy affair, given the sad state of Mike Nesmith, who died today.

Micky Dolenz, it must be said, remains a vital performer at age 76. Dolenz is one of the great unheralded pop singers of the past half century, someone with a terrific voice who is also a natural showman — he’s able to hit all the notes, still and as always, and his stage energy is miraculously undiminished. At this point I’ve seen many rock and pop performers in their 70s, and to my ear and eye, Dolenz is the best preserved. A few years ago I told a friend during a concert that this had to be the last time I’d see Brian Wilson, because I never expected Brian Wilson, of all people, to be off-key, and I didn’t want my fond memories of the Beach Boys tarnished. If you have a chance to see Micky Dolenz, who undoubtedly will continue touring, take it — he’s a wonderful performer, he’s glad to entertain you, and you’ll be glad you’re there for it.

Sadly, the same couldn’t be said of Mike Nesmith. Just three years earlier, he’d been in fine form in another performance, again with Dolenz, at the Orpheum in downtown Los Angeles — playing guitar, singing well, buoyant and happy to be there, shimmering with all the love the audience threw at him. Their duet on “Me and Magdalena,” absolutely the highlight of the Monkees’ penultimate (and transcendent) album “Good Times!” was delivered with all the keening heartfelt emotion required. But tonight, at the Greek Theatre, we were stunned to see that not only couldn’t Nesmith play guitar, or even hold one, he could barely stand. At strange moments, he would absentmindedly shuffle off-stage or simply wander around the stage in ways that had many of us in the audience worrying that he’d fall over; at other times, his expression made clear that he wasn’t sure where he was or what he was doing or even perhaps who he was. At one point, he cried awkwardly; at another, Mr. Dolenz had to call for him to return to the stage: “Nez! Nez! I need you for this song…”.

It has been a hard couple of years for many people. For Mr. Nesmith, perhaps harder. So when I learned today that he had died, I was saddened, but, given the evidence, not surprised.

It isn’t easy to say this, but here goes: He shouldn’t have been on-stage. When your audience spends a concert deeply concerned about your health, there’s something wrong with the event.

I don’t know how one could ever know when a performer should retire. One of my favorite performers, Dame Edna, retired a few years ago, still at her (his) height. While I wish I could see that act again, I recognize that that was a very high-wire act, filled with smart rapid-fire improv and audience-involved repartee that was doubtless growing more difficult for an octogenarian. When David Lee Roth hung up his tights a few weeks ago, I congratulated him on Twitter because it was quite evident that he could no longer sing, and if I had seen all the mocking videos of his recent performances, I’m sure he had as well. I wish him a happy retirement. Performers like to perform, and we like to see them do so… but we don’t want to see them when they shouldn’t be doing it any more, and I’m sure they don’t truly want to be seen in that light either.

While part of me is glad that I got to see Mike Nesmith one last time, and during his very final concert, a greater part of me wishes the last time I’d seen him was in 2018, when he was still radiant. I’ve always liked the Monkees (I’ve been seeing them in concert for 30 years), and I’ve always liked Mr. Nesmith’s singing and his songs. I’m grateful for all the music and all the good times. But the previous final tour should have been the final final tour.

When or if you have the chance and the interest, go see the last Monkee, Micky Dolenz. He’s still got it. For now.

The upside of downtime

November 4th, 2021

Last night, I woke up three times. One time I figured, well, let’s see what’s going on in the news. (Nothing good, I can assure you.) The second time I did some work:  checked the financials; cleared some emails; reviewed the latest stats on a poll I’ve been following. The third time, I may have woken up simply to check the time: 5:50 a.m. Oh:  progress.

I wish I could say this isn’t typical. It’s been going on for decades.

My son, meanwhile, a strapping 19-year-old, assures me that once he’s asleep, he stays asleep. To his credit, he sounded more factual than boastful. I told him, “Check back in with me when you’re in your 50s.” Then I destroyed him in a game of 500 Rummy. I think the last time I slept a full night through was while Jimmy Carter was in office. (Through no credit to him.)

I cleared my schedule for today so I could go get a medical procedure. It was simply a test, although they kept calling it, shudderingly, “surgery.” They asked if I’d ever had surgery before, and I said no. Not even a colonoscopy? Oh, sure, I said, I’ve had one of those. Well, evidently, that’s “surgery” as well. The things you learn. I had always associated surgery with getting cut open. Now I think surgery is whatever they decide to call it when they can charge more.

This “surgery,” in which they’d take nice bright photos of a generous portion of my insides — without, as noted, slicing me up with a knife — required knocking me out. I don’t know how long they were videoing my interior, but to me the procedure worked like this:  one moment speaking to the doctor and the nurse, and the nurse saying that, okay, the anesthesia was starting intravenously, and the next instant my awakening to the proclamation that it was all over. I stumbled my way over to the restroom — no, thank you, I don’t need a wheelchair, for chrissake! — and then after that, stumbling my way out the door of the surgery center. (And, no, dammit, I don’t need a wheelchair for this either!)

Then I took my son, who nicely drove me to this procedure and waited around while people violated my personal core, out to lunch. Well, his lunch, my breakfast, my having been on orders not to eat or drink since the previous night.

After that — a great big breakfast for me, with eggs scrambled in diced ham, an invasion-sized pancake, a huge cup of water and  two cups of glorious coffee, I went home. And crashed. Because to some degree I was still anesthetized.

I woke up hours and hours later. Feeling completely refreshed!

Oh: This must be what it feels like to feel rested.

So now I’m wondering how I might go about getting more non-surgical surgery. Clearly what is needed in my case is anesthesia.  I’ve had a sleep disorder for decades, and have tried absolutely everything — but no one told me about the wonders of anesthesia! Mind you, I don’t want any maladies that actually require surgery (duh) and I’d rather avoid the trouble of going to that surgery center all the time, and I can do without the very pretty pink photos of my insides, attractive thought they may be. But if you know someone who can come over even just twice a month and anesthetize me, please let me know.

Halloween tally

October 31st, 2021

Halloween used to be a big deal around my neighborhood. Not any more.

Last year we had zero trick-or-treaters.

This year we had four.

And that’s because, twice, I ran out the door and chased after kids who were going to skip my house.

I wish I were kidding.

Why were the parents of the first two kids fast-walking past before I lunged out the front door to accost them with my cauldron of candy bars? Might have been the (okay, somewhat abrasive) music I was playing. (15-60-75, aka The Numbers Band.) Or maybe it was my vociferous mutts. Either way, the parents seemed genuinely relieved when I appeared reasonably friendly and reassuring to little Batman and little I-have-no-idea.

At ten after nine p.m., I figured, well, that’s that, at least I had two. So I got my dogs into their harnesses for their long-delayed walk. Of course, as soon as I got out the front door with my aggravating yapping critters, a gaggle of adults with two kids in tow who’d been poised to turn up my walkway started to run the other way. “Wait, wait!” I yelled after them, throwing the dogs back inside, grabbing the candy, and charging down the cement toward them. The kids took the candy, and I considered dispatching handfuls of it to the six adults, too, when suddenly I realized: I’m kind of insane with this.

Maybe I hoped there would be more kids because I thought more kids would equal less pandemic. Because, yes, I know there’s a pandemic going on. Still.

So now I’ve got a couple dozen pieces of chocolate candy bars left. I took the dogs for a walk, fed them — they chowed it down savagely like hyenas on a carcass — then ate my own belated dinner, then while watching Succession on HBO, I opened one of the candy bars, a miniature Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, and ate it. The Hershey Company long ago having swapped out much of the chocolate for things like flavored oil, it didn’t even taste like chocolate.

Succession was pretty good, though.

Civic responsibility

October 28th, 2021

Tonight I spent four glorious evenings with six or seven friends and colleagues dedicated to the betterment of our community. We drank drinks (or not) and smoked cigars (or not) and talked about our long involvement in our community and how we could work together and with others to make it better… as we’ve already been working to do for five, or ten, or twenty years.

On Wednesday, with a different group, I got to have the same sort of conversation. (Minus the drinks and cigars. But with the same fellow-feeling.)

Today I was honored to also make a job offer to someone because I believe in her, and because I believe she’s both driven and kind. I’m impatient with the world, I told her, because I think we can do better, and that demands being both driven and kind, and I think she fits that bill.

So imagine my heartfelt joy at reading the New York Times’ Nicholas Kristof statement about why he’s stepping off the sidelines — so to speak — and entering the public arena: “I hope to convince some of you that public service in government can be a path to show responsibility for communities we love, for a country that can do better. Even if that means leaving a job I love. Farewell, readers!”

This is a Pulitzer-prize winner, at the height of his profession, with 37 years at the New York Times, who can no longer cover the atrocities overseas without doing his level best to address those he comes home to, and so he’s running for Governor of Oregon.

Because I hope it will inspire us all, I’m going to copy his entire valedictory below (against my general belief that people should pay for journalism; and, yes, I am a New York Times subscriber).

I have great, great respect for Kristof for bucking the system to mount this campaign to right wrongs in his native land — and, no doubt, against whatever electoral machinations are in place in Oregon.

But additionally, I admire and share his general outlook: that the hooligans and horrors are equally offset, or even overmatched, with unrecognized heroes — people quietly determined to do the right thing. Put another way (as Kristof acknowledges): In the press, what bleeds is what leads… but there’s a lot to encourage us that goes under-reported, and un-noted.

So: If you’re hopeful, hold onto that hope. Most people are good people, and most people want the best for everyone else. Cynicism achieves nothing. Good people will always step forward. As the case of Nicholas Kristof shows us.

Here’s his farewell, from today’s New York Times. Please read it, and take it to heart.

My life was transformed when I was 25 years old and nervously walked into a job interview in the grand office of Abe Rosenthal, the legendary and tempestuous executive editor of The New York Times. At one point, I disagreed with him, so I waited for him to explode and call security. Instead, he stuck out his hand and offered me a job.

Exhilaration washed over me: I was a kid and had found my employer for the rest of my life! I was sure that I would leave The Times only feet first.

Yet this is my last column for The Times. I am giving up a job I love to run for governor of Oregon.

It’s fair to question my judgment. When my colleague William Safire was asked if he would give up his Times column to be secretary of state, he replied, “Why take a step down?”

So why am I doing this?

I’m getting to that, but first a few lessons from my 37 years as a Times reporter, editor and columnist.

In particular, I want to make clear that while I’ve spent my career on the front lines of human suffering and depravity, covering genocide, war, poverty and injustice, I’ve emerged firmly believing that we can make real progress by summoning the political will. We are an amazing species, and we can do better.

Lesson No. 1: Side by side with the worst of humanity, you find the best.

The genocide in Darfur seared me and terrified me. To cover the slaughter there, I sneaked across borders, slipped through checkpoints, ingratiated myself with mass murderers.

In Darfur, it was hard to keep from weeping as I interviewed shellshocked children who had been shot, raped or orphaned. No one could report in Darfur and not smell the evil in the air. Yet alongside the monsters, I invariably found heroes.

There were teenagers who volunteered to use their bows and arrows to protect their villages from militiamen with automatic weapons. There were aid workers, mostly local, who risked their lives to deliver assistance. And there were ordinary Sudanese like Suad Ahmed, a then-25-year-old Darfuri woman I met in one dusty refugee camp.

Suad had been out collecting firewood with her 10-year-old sister, Halima, when they saw the janjaweed, a genocidal militia, approaching on horseback.

“Run!” Suad told her sister. “You must run and escape.”

Then Suad created a diversion so the janjaweed chased her rather than Halima. They caught Suad, brutally beat her and gang-raped her, leaving her too injured to walk.

Suad played down her heroism, telling me that even if she had fled, she might have been caught anyway. She said that her sister’s escape made the sacrifice worth it.

Even in a landscape of evil, the most memorable people aren’t the Himmlers and Eichmanns but the Anne Franks and Raoul Wallenbergs — and Suad Ahmeds — capable of exhilarating goodness in the face of nauseating evil. They are why I left the front lines not depressed but inspired.

Lesson No. 2: We largely know how to improve well-being at home and abroad. What we lack is the political will.

Good things are happening that we often don’t acknowledge, and they’re a result of a deeper understanding of what works to make a difference. That may seem surprising coming from the Gloom Columnist, who has covered starvation, atrocities and climate devastation. But just because journalists cover planes that crash, not those that land, doesn’t mean that all flights are crashing.

Consider this: Historically, almost half of humans died in childhood; now only 4 percent do. Every day in recent years, until the Covid-19 pandemic, another 170,000 people worldwide emerged from extreme poverty. Another 325,000 obtained electricity each day. Some 200,000 gained access to clean drinking water. The pandemic has been a major setback for the developing world, but the larger pattern of historic gains remains — if we apply lessons learned and redouble efforts while tackling climate policy.

Lesson No. 3: Talent is universal, even if opportunity is not.

The world’s greatest untapped resource is the vast potential of people who are not fully nurtured or educated — a reminder of how much we stand to gain if we only make better investments in human capital.

The most remarkable doctor I ever met was not a Harvard Medical School graduate. Indeed, she had never been to medical school or any school. But Mamitu Gashe, an illiterate Ethiopian woman, suffered an obstetric fistula and underwent long treatments at a hospital. While there, she began to help out.

Overworked doctors realized she was immensely smart and capable, and they began to give her more responsibilities. Eventually she began to perform fistula repairs herself, and over time she became one of the world’s most distinguished fistula surgeons. When American professors of obstetrics went to the hospital to learn how to repair fistulas, their teacher was often Mamitu.

But, of course, there are so many other Mamitus, equally extraordinary and capable, who never get the chance.

A few years ago, I learned that a homeless third grader from Nigeria had just won the New York State chess championship for his age group. I visited the boy, Tanitoluwa “Tani” Adewumi, and his family in their homeless shelter and wrote about them — and the result was more than $250,000 in donations for the Adewumis, along with a vehicle, full scholarships to private schools, job offers for the parents, pro bono legal help and free housing.

What came next was perhaps still more moving. The Adewumis accepted the housing but put the money in a foundation to help other homeless immigrants. They kept Tani in his public school out of gratitude to officials who waived chess club fees when he was a novice.

Tani has continued to rise in the chess world. Now 11, he won the North American chess championship for his age group and is a master with a U.S. Chess Federation rating of 2262.

But winning a state chess championship is not a scalable way to solve homelessness.

The dazzling generosity in response to Tani’s success is heartwarming, but it needs to be matched by a generous public policy. Kids should get housing even if they’re not chess prodigies.

We didn’t build the Interstate System of highways with bake sales and volunteers. Rigorous public investment — based on data as well as empathy — is needed to provide systemic solutions to educational failure and poverty, just as it was to create freeways.

In this country we’re often cynical about politics, sometimes rolling our eyes at the idea that democratic leaders make much of a difference. Yet for decades I’ve covered pro-democracy demonstrators in Poland, Ukraine, China, South Korea, Mongolia and elsewhere, and some of their idealism has rubbed off on me.

One Chinese friend, an accountant named Ren Wanding, spent years in prison for his activism, even writing a two-volume treatiseon democracy and human rights with the only materials he had: toilet paper and the nib of a discarded pen.

At Tiananmen Square in 1989, I watched Chinese government troops open fire with automatic weapons on pro-democracy demonstrators. And then in an extraordinary display of courage, rickshaw drivers pedaled their wagons out toward the gunfire to pick up the bodies of the young people who had been killed or injured. One burly rickshaw driver, tears streaming down his cheeks, swerved to drive by me slowly so I could bear witness — and he begged me to tell the world.

Those rickshaw drivers weren’t cynical about democracy: They were risking their lives for it. Such courage abroad makes me all the sadder to see people in this country undermining our democratic institutions. But protesters like Ren inspired me to ask if I should engage more fully in America’s democratic life.

That’s why I am leaving a job I love.

I’ve written regularly about the travails of my beloved hometown, Yamhill, Ore., which has struggled with the loss of good working-class jobs and the arrival of meth. Every day I rode to Yamhill Grade School and then Yamhill-Carlton High School on the No. 6 bus. Yet today more than one-quarter of my pals on my old bus are dead from drugs, alcohol and suicide — deaths of despair.

The political system failed them. The educational system failed them. The health system failed them. And I failed them. I was the kid on the bus who won scholarships, got the great education — and then went off to cover genocides half a world away.

While I’m proud of the attention I gave to global atrocities, it sickened me to return from humanitarian crises abroad and find one at home. Every two weeks, we lose more Americans from drugs, alcohol and suicide than in 20 years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan — and that’s a pandemic that the media hasn’t adequately covered and our leaders haven’t adequately addressed.

As I was chewing on all this, the Covid pandemic made suffering worse. One friend who had been off drugs relapsed early in the pandemic, became homeless and overdosed 17 times over the next year. I’m terrified for her and for her child.

I love journalism, but I also love my home state. I keep thinking of Theodore Roosevelt’s dictum: “It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles,” he said. “The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena.”

I’m bucking the journalistic impulse to stay on the sidelines because my heart aches at what classmates have endured and it feels like the right moment to move from covering problems to trying to fix them.

I hope to convince some of you that public service in government can be a path to show responsibility for communities we love, for a country that can do better. Even if that means leaving a job I love.

Reading through

September 28th, 2021

My house is a cornucopia of books. And like a legendary cornucopia, it is always filled to overflowing: Just as soon as I’ve finished a book, more arrive. Either I order them online, find myself while walking my dogs picking up tomes from the Little Free Libraries liberally scattered around my neighborhood, occasionally getting them gifted to me, or buying them from bookstores. Bookstores especially are Venus fly traps for me — I have to work to avoid them, even the little ones in airports and bus terminals and the like, because once I’ve stepped inside, I’m sure to be walking out with more books.

We have bookcases throughout the house, and they are all stuffed with books. I do read these books, by the way. Just not always as soon as I’ve acquired them. A friend told me that when we’d had a party here at some point, someone stood back looking at some of our bookcases and said almost to himself, “I wonder how many of these he’s actually read.” And my wife responded, “All of them.” “Really?” “Really.”

Well, yes. Because those bookcases are downstairs. Upstairs I have two bookcases of books I haven’t read yet. But plan to.

The Japanese have a word for the endless accumulating of books that you intend to read but haven’t yet and maybe never will. Whatever that word is, it applies to me. A few years ago, when I was out of town at a conference with a friend and colleague, we fell into a discussion about books because I recognized David McCullough (!) at a table next to us and thanked him for his books and then he joined us at our table. Of course, I bought McCullough’s latest book directly from him (the one about the Wright brothers, from which I learned a lot*), and had him sign it. That kickstarted the later discussion about books, in which I told my friend that I had 78 books waiting to be read. “You’ll never read them all,” he said. So, ever since, I’ve been making a concerted effort to reduce the number of unread books I have, the books waiting in the queue, even while new ones arrive. (No thanks to Julian Barnes and Jonathan Franzen, and the other living authors I follow who keep coming out with new books!)

(*including about the vagaries of fate, the development of the airplane being immediately traceable to Wilbur Wright lying bedridden for months after a hockey injury, which afforded him the time to study birds and their flight from his window.)

Today I finished The Life of Pi by Yann Martel, which I heartily endorse, and so, just before turning in for the night and after reading the requisite comic book or two, I went to get one of the unread books. I scanned the shelves to see what might interest me right now (generally, I look for a book unlike the one I’ve just read, in this case a novel set in India and the Pacific Ocean) and came across A Tale of Love and Darkness by the Israeli writer Amos Oz. This had been on my Christmas list one year, and my wife had filled the request for me, but I hadn’t read it yet. A memoir by a superb writer seemed like a great idea for right now.

I wondered how long I’d had this book.

It might’ve been four or five years since that Christmas.

Probably more like five.

I looked in the indicia to check.

2003. I’d had this new book almost eighteen years. Waiting to be read. In that timeframe, my youngest had gone from an infant to a strapping college student running an e-commerce business from my house. In that time, the book had been made into a movie — five years ago — and Amos Oz had died.

But, there’s been progress. I’m now reading the book. And remember the 78 books waiting to be read? I just did a count, and I’m happy to tell you that after five years of great effort, reading about 30 books a year, I’ve got the number of unread books down to just 94.

Double Fantasy

September 27th, 2021
K-rails

I’ve got a copy of Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams that I keep meaning to get around to, and now might be the time. Because while I can usually figure out where my dreams have come from, I have zero idea about the one I woke up from this morning.

The dream had two narrative elements. In one, I was hugging an actress I did a number of shows with back in the 90s, and I pressed myself very firmly against her, and she pressed very firmly back, and then we both knew we were off to the races. Mind you, this is a woman who stirred nothing in me at the time (and whose memory still doesn’t) and whom I’ve given absolutely no thought to in probably 25 years and whom Facebook now informs me lives outside the continental United States, so I’m unlikely to run into her. What was she doing suddenly in my dreams?

Even more baffling is the other narrative. In this one, I’m driving my car, and in the passenger seat is someone I’ve known for more than 10 years, and whom I wrote off about two years ago. I usually try to keep friendships (who doesn’t?), but at some point when I found myself deleting yet another shitty comment or retort or message to me off of social media, I had this sudden insight: “I’m friends with this person why, again?” And realized: Hey, I don’t have to be. So I unfriended and blocked her and that was that. But this morning, there she was in my dream in the passenger seat of my car; even in the dream, I couldn’t figure out why she was there, because I was done with her and happily so. Now she was in my passenger seat harping at me! Moreover, no matter which way I tried to drive, there was construction or a narrowing of roadway, or obstructions, or other things that kept me from actually getting anywhere closer to where I was trying to go. I kept doing k-turns, backing up, swerving, turning around, and otherwise making every attempt to get away and make headway on my (our) destination despite what looked like the aggravating and never-ending construction maze encircling LAX. Finally, our car got wedged in on both sides by mammoth k-rails that loomed over us and formed the tiny tip of an isosceles triangle of cement that I was now stuck in. My car, and we, were completely jammed in, our doors unable to open, and no way to turn or back out.

Without having read Freud’s treatise on dreams (yet), I believe I recollect that he’d theorized that dreams are “disguised fulfillments of repressed wishes.” If I have a repressed wish to see either of these women, it’s truly a revelation to me. Because I believe I don’t. He also wrote about manifest content, which is as it seems, and latent content, which is symbolic. If there are hidden meanings in these dreams, they are truly hidden, because I can’t figure how they relate to anything going on in my life or in my thoughts.

Which is why I’ll stick with the more recent and scientific explanation of dreams: that they result from a random reshuffling of our thoughts while we sleep, for easier retrieval later by the brain. Kind of like an automated backup system to the cloud.

In that context, I think I’ve just figured out just now while writing this where these came from.

On Friday night, I’m having a close, longtime friend over for dinner. He and I did shows with that actress, and have spent many many hours together over the past 25+ years, but during COVID I’ve seen him just once, and that was only a couple of weeks ago and briefly… which led my mind to extrapolate to the other woman, representing another friend who’d drifted out of my orbit.

Still not wish-fulfillment, though. Sorry, Dr. Freud.