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


No-labor days

September 4th, 2023

Contrary to personal type, I did pretty much nothing all Labor Day weekend. Well, no work of any kind anyway. Didn’t even work on the play I’m writing (decided to do some submissions instead).

I did see the excellent production of the excellent play “Heroes of the Fourth Turning,” at Rogue Machine Theatre. It runs until October 2, and gets a “highly, highly, highly recommended” from me. A play that drops us into the deeply intellectual and passionately expressed arguments of conservative Catholic evangelicals during the Trump presidency, it’s brilliantly written and unnervingly well-acted. Yes, there will be walkouts (there were two behind me); go see it and don’t be one of them.

And I did things like go to the gym, cook a mean Irish lamb stew, read comic books, take my dogs for walks, pine after my girlfriend (still on a family vacation in Europe) and… watch several episodes of “Star Trek: Strange New Worlds.”

If you ever doubted the importance of William Shatner in helping to launch the Star Trek phenomenon, this current show will convince you. Say what you will about Shatner, he fills every moment with something unpredictable. The lead in the new show, Anson Mount, is no comparison. Granted, Mount is saddled with playing Captain Pike, an anodyne character without a hint of flavor or spice, so dull that he is referred to by his own crew as “The Boy Scout.” But one could argue that the episodes where Mount is freed from this charmless character do even more to reveal his limitations as an actor, as in a truly childish episode where the crew is magically transformed into characters in a fairytale setting; tasked with playing a cowering quisling, Mount dives right into the cliched. In other episodes, you’ll see the setup for a reaction that he never quite brings. When one can remember Captain Kirk’s derring-do, his bet-it-all gambits, watching Pike shrug and smile wanly just doesn’t carry the day. “Star Trek: Discovery” at least had one strong season before sliding into juvenile concerns. Nine episodes in, “Strange New Worlds” starts off dull, then gets duller. When you’re reduced to doing a show that weakly rips off the movie “Alien” 44 years later but with far less suspense, isn’t it past time to try something new?

If Quentin Tarantino isn’t going to be allowed to rescue this franchise, can we find some other audacious brat somewhere to do it?

Coincidence or premonition?

August 31st, 2023

Nightmare the other night:

It’s approaching midnight and I’m in the dining area of my house, just inside the front door, speaking with my sister Lorie, who is apparently visiting from New Jersey and cleaning up after our late dinner. There’s a loud knocking at the closed door and Lorie and I look at each other; we aren’t expecting anyone. Neither of us moves. It stops. Then it starts again, so I steel myself and open the door and look out, but there’s no one there, just my porch, followed by endless pitch blackness. Lorie says, “They want you to go out and see.” But I don’t move.

Then I woke up.

Two days later, I’m alone in my company office recording a podcast episode over the internet. There’s a loud knocking at the office door. I tell the podcast producers and our guest that I need 30 seconds. I go over to the office door and open it and look out into the foyer. But there’s no one there. 

Sleep talk

August 29th, 2023

The other night, in a brief conversation with my girlfriend’s son, I volunteered that I had a polyphasic sleep pattern. Charitably, this means I sleep more than twice per day. Uncharitably, it means I wake up constantly.

Last night was typical.

Although completely wiped out from a very active day, including a full-on gym workout, I went to bed early for me (11 p.m.) and fell asleep even earlier than usual:  11:30. But then, of course, I woke up at midnight on the dot.


To play the damn New York Times Spelling Bee game, of course.

This game invites you to make as many words of four letters or more as you can from the seven letters they’ve chosen, making sure that you use the central letter at least once. Example:  Today’s letters were F,E,I,X,A,D and the must-use letter of T. From that, you can spell “Fixated,” and “diet” and “dieted” and on and on. If you score enough points, you achieve “Genius” level.

Whoever invented this has done me wrong, because I’m addicted to it. After all, it involves words and spelling, vocabulary and reading, i.e., just my principal interests in life. But now the problem is that I’m so excited about this game that my brain wakes up at midnight every night to play it instantly upon its release. When the letters offered are as common as, well, F,E,I,X,A,D and the must-use letter of T, I can finish it in about 20 minutes and go back to sleep. But when the letters are something like G,L,X,S,P,T, and Z it can take me 90 minutes or so.

To be fair, I had a polyphasic sleep pattern even before the diabolical New York Times Spelling Bee. At one point 10 or 15 years ago, I was waking up every 46 minutes for no good reason. What corrected that? A hypnotherapist who told me that while she couldn’t erase the behavior, given my brain’s need to know what’s going on at all times, she could reduce it to just once per evening. And she did! I’d go to sleep, wake up 46 minutes later, check my phone for the time, weather, and news, and go blissfully back to sleep. Given that eventually hypnotherapy wears off, she even programmed me to return after five years for a tune-up, which I did. When I called to book a return visit, you cannot imagine how eerie it was to hear her say, “Well… you’re right on schedule.”

Unfortunately, during the pandemic she moved out of state and I haven’t found another hypnotherapist for in-person sessions. (Yet.) Other attempted solutions, like THC oil, drugs and sleep aids, extra-heavy-duty gym workouts, and just lying there refusing to get up, have done nothing. Last night I awoke at midnight, 2 a.m., 3 a.m., 6 a.m., and then very rudely at 7:30 due to my alarm when I was actually well and good asleep, dammit.

Which also means that I was asleep from 11:30 to midnight, from 12:30 to 2, from 2:10 to 3, from 3:10 to 6, and from 6 to 7:30. Just to put a more positive spin on it. Also noted:  I got nine minutes’ sleep on my office floor in the middle of the day when I was so momentarily tired that I couldn’t think straight. Nine minutes may not sound like a lot, but it recharged me enough to make it to the gym at 6:30.

What’s the solution to this? I don’t know, and I’ve been searching for one most of my life. But part of me thinks I don’t really want to fix it. I feel terrific. I’m very happy in the relationship I’m in and with how my kids are doing, I’m getting loads and loads of good writing work out at my company, and I’m making great progress on my new play. Do I really want to tamper with that? 

Don’t know.

Maybe I’ll sleep on it.

Bound for glory

August 28th, 2023

My friend Adrian is shedding books. Not all of them, just some.

About 10 years ago, my friend Doug, on the other hand, got rid of all of his books. He now has a Kindle. But when he’s come to visit, he has stood and reviewed and admired my bookcases crammed full of books — and I don’t foresee my ever standing back and admiring whatever books he’s read on his Kindle.

The opposite example is provided by post-punk legend Tom Verlaine, of Television fame, who died some months ago and left 50,000 books. The brilliantly inventive singer and guitar-slinger seems never to have let a book escape his grasp. I might be willing to say that that’s overkill, having 50,000 books, but for my jealousy. My son tells me it’s accepted wisdom that if you have 1,000 books “you have a library.” I went and counted and although I’m drawing closer, I’ve just missed the mark. But I’ll never reach the heights of Verlaine, dammit.

My whole life, books have been my friends. Although I’ve argued with them at times, they’ve never argued with me. They’ve gone away for weekends with me, and had dinner with me, have gone camping with me, and have even climbed into bed with me. They are endlessly loyal and interesting.

Moreover, I’ve made friends through books. I met Doug of the Kindle 22 years ago this October when we were both at a conference and bonded over a book we’d both read. (And, yes, some whiskey.) Since discussing David McCullough’s biography of John Adams, Doug and I have talked about books for months and years, in California and in London, over the Internet and in person over bourbon and cigars. But through it all, I’ve been unable to keep myself from wondering where his books went, and where they live now….

A couple of years ago, when I was in England and stayed over at the house of Adrian and his lovely and smart wife Kathy, I knew I was in the right place when I saw the guest room: not just stuffed with books, but well-equipped with smart books, safe for me to say because it was mostly books I’d read, tastefully chosen to be sure, and the ones I hadn’t read I’d wanted to read but hadn’t gotten to yet. And on the nightstand? A book that Adrian was gifting to me, a book I hadn’t heard of, a great big thick wallop of a book, seemingly several thousand pages, which I found completely unputdownable. Adrian not only knows books, he seems to know me.

Thomas Jefferson so loved books that he shipped barrels of them back to Virginia from France. In fact, he so loved them that he died indebted — but some wise graybeard of the time had the brilliant idea of bailing out his estate by having the nascent U.S. government buy them, thus creating The Library of Congress. Or: Did Jefferson brilliantly plan that all along anyway, costs be damned? If you’ve been to the Library of Congress, you’ll note a much-deserved bust of Jefferson right at the entryway; this is why. No books? No Republic.

Even the thought of getting rid of books pains me. I know that times change. Case in point: So far as I know, no one is emptying their chamber pots into the street any more. So maybe we should be trading in our bound books for digital versions, so much more easily stored, so environmentally responsible. Maybe it’s a good idea for a good future. I just know that the one time I parted with books, when I was a penniless college student and sold my books back to the college bookstore, two things happened:

  1. My favorite professor happened by at precisely that moment as I was exchanging my hard-earned books for pennies on the dollar and looked at me sorrowfully and said quietly, “Monsieur Wochner, you are selling your books…???” Quel dommage, I was.
  2. I missed them so much that later I wound up buying the fucking things again, and at retail again.

I don’t want to judge my friends. If you have to prune, I get it. Doug went on an around-the-world motorcycle trip and couldn’t exactly have dragged hundreds of books around behind himself in a cart while traversing sub-Saharan Africa. Adrian is donating books to a good cause, keeping armsful, and will no doubt be stocking back up. As for Tom Verlaine, well, like Tom Jefferson, he died, so his books should go to someone else.

And, no doubt, when in 2025 I probably vacate the house I’m living in, it’ll be me trimming and purging. If I can bear it.

Unraveling quickly

July 8th, 2023

I signed up for Threads on its first day. Partly to check it out, and partly because since Elon took over Twitter, every new follower I get is a scantily clad sex worker with a linked porn site. Hey ladies, take it elsewhere — I’m already doing far better than you.

Day 1 on Threads was filled with messages of welcoming! Welcome to a new place, far better than the old place. Phew! We’re glad to be out of that place, with the jackboots in the street! We’re cheering on its demise! 

Day 2 found me unfollowing all sorts of people I never followed. Except there’s no way to unfollow them. So I started muting them. They may still be talking to me, but at least now I can’t hear them. The very first ones I muted had the last names Kardashian and Jenner. I am not kidding. At least in the previous place I’d never had to see these names or come across whatever they were pressing on us in service of peddling their empty fame.

Day 3 saw the beginning emergence of the radical grifters we’d been running away from, and also entreaties by people to try to keep this the sort of place we were hoping for on Day 1. Political strategist Mike Madrid of the Lincoln Project shared a thread reminding people not to interact with these mercenary mouthpieces because your engagement is precisely how they build their audience on new platforms. Someone else asked, Can we be nice here, at least? 

And I posted, “It took Threads all of 10 seconds to get overrun by celebrities and also discussions of a certain ex-president. What a refreshing change from that other platform!”

Barfday gifts

July 7th, 2023

My birthday is a week away, so it’s time for marketers who have my personal information to leap into action!

Quick poll. Which is better?

  • The restaurant that emails me a “happy birthday” with no coupon or offer of free dessert on my birthday or anything; or
  • Best Buy emailing me a $5 coupon which will buy… nothing… at Best Buy.

Both are marketing efforts trying to disguise themselves as birthday wishes.

The latter one is more transparent — and stupid. (And from a restaurant I’ve enjoyed.)

The first one is thoughtless — and useless. (And from a company I’ve always admired.)

For-never holding peace

July 5th, 2023

Yesterday, I posted about the ultimate dissolution of my longtime marriage to a very good woman. Truly. It just wasn’t working any more, and although I know that “we really don’t belong together any more” (her words months and months ago, and she was right), that hasn’t quelled my thinking about it, and never will. Again, I’m just glad that it ended amicably and that we’re still friends, with daily interactions through a game we play on our phones, and frequent texts, and sharing photos and memories, and the occasional phone call. She’s a good woman, a good person, a terrific mother, and someone who has brought me a lot of joy in my life.

Last night / this morning, during my usual “what time is it now?” bout of insomnia, I came across the piece below in the New York Times. This is the story of a 20-year marriage that ended very differently. I urge you to read it. The writer, an accomplished attorney and a notable figure (especially now that her story has been widely reported and widely discussed), doesn’t recognize the man she married and can’t figure out if she ever knew him.

Here’s the link, which thanks to the wonders of my paid subscription, will take you past the paywall.

She doesn’t know what to make of this seemingly harmless man with whom she had two daughters — daughters that, with her, he chose to abandon overnight and with whom he no longer wants any contact.

She doesn’t know what to make of him, but I do.

He is what we call a sociopath.

Sociopaths don’t care for others or their feelings; in fact, the feelings of others never enter their orbit. Sociopaths are concerned utterly with themselves. We’ve had at least one former president of the United States who’s evinced this behavior (and I submit probably at least one more), so you’ll recognize it. Her husband is, was, and will be a sociopath. How she doesn’t recognize it I don’t know, except perhaps as a self-protection that allows her to believe that he’s changed, and not that she married a deeply damaged person while never realizing it.

While I’m on about this marriage/divorce/separation topic, let me add the odd subject of Bill de Blasio and Chirlane McCray’s separation. Relationships go bust, as we’ve noted, and interracial relationships can be even more fraught; I’ve lived a bit of it, having been in more than one during my separation and ultimate divorce. You’re not quite sure if you’re being treated “a certain way” because it’s an interracial situation, or if it’s your imagination:

  • The head of the hospital addresses the white guy at the hospital holiday party first because he assumes this is the doctor who works for him, rather than the highly educated and highly compensated African woman with him.
  • Internal thought: Did that woman look at us funny because of the couple we are, or are we imagining it?
  • People assume that your significant other is descended from people of one continent, when actually she is descended from people of an utterly different continent halfway around the globe, and then make unspoken assumptions about who she is and how she’ll be.
  • Quiet discussion: Are we being served last because they don’t like us?
  • and so on.

I don’t have any insight into the de Blasio / McCray situation per se, except I find the terms of their “separation,” such as it is, peculiar (peculiar to me, at least):

“They are not planning to divorce, they said, but will date other people. They will continue to share the Park Slope townhouse where they raised their two children, now in their 20s…”

This is their business, and not mine. But I will say that it’s my experience that you’re either in, or you’re out. (And that applies to most things in life.) Staying married and dating other people might work for them — and it certainly works for others — but staying together in the same place they’ve lived for decades and where they raised their children, and dating other people, with all their other complications?

Marriage when it’s simpler than that is still pretty complicated.

My Independence Day

July 4th, 2023

Birth of the nation, yes. But today may be an historic day for another reason. It may be the day I snapped out of it.

Snapped out of the pandemic. Snapped out of economic concerns. Snapped out of my divorce.

It might’ve happened last month, the snapping-out-of. Or even earlier this week. But at some point recently it happened, because as I devoted some time this morning to cleaning out my writing room, which had become overrun on every flat surface and every square inch of carpeted floor, I came across all sorts of things from 2020 and 2021 and 2022, and asked myself, “When did this happen?”

As in:

  • “Oh! That’s right! I wrote this play and it was produced. Completely forgot about it.”
  • “This LP is a one-of-a-kind test pressing of the remaster of the album that introduced me to Pere Ubu almost 40 years ago! HOW DID I GET THIS?”
  • “Oh wow. My Twitter music buddy in Nashville sent me this package. Did I even open it? What is it?”
  • “This is an unused gift certificate to my local comics shop from my sons – from two years ago!”
  • “These 15 pages that I wrote, dated and printed out and paper-clipped together, are called ‘Blink.’ Is this a short story? A play? A monologue piece? What is this?”

These are just some of the things I found sloshing around in stacks and piles in a room I’d let overgrow like kudzu the past two years.  Plays or parts of plays that I’d written, some pieces of fiction, rehearsal notes, correspondence from friends across the U.S. and the U.K., disks from musicians I revere in Ohio and California and Brighton, England, and ephemera of my travels and sightings: ticket stubs, theatre programs, pins, postcards.

Throughout these two years, I’ve felt healthy and well. And I’ve sure been active. But it was bizarre to look at so much archaeological evidence from those two years and not recognize the tribe responsible — which was I, myself.

Thirty-one years ago, when my father was dying, a friend of the time told me that it takes two years to get over trauma. Specifically, he said it takes two years to get over the death of a parent. He said that when his mother died, he went on a kibbutz (even though he isn’t Jewish) and acted strangely all around and then realized in retrospect two years later how oddly he’d been behaving. He was kindly advising me that I was going to lose my mind for a couple of years after my father died, that the death of your parent was like mortality knocking on your own door. As he nicely related this to me, trying to do me a service, I thought, “Yes, but I’m stronger than you. That’s not going to happen to me.” And then that August of 1992, my father died, and then in 1994 while on a mountain top in Arkansas on a fellowship at a playwriting retreat for a month I realized that I’d been a complete asshole for two years, so I called my wife and apologized, and then came back to town and apologized to other people too.

So maybe the past two years have been like that. Except instead of the death of my father, it was the death of my marriage.

I never expected my father to die — he wasn’t supposed to do that — and I don’t expect to die, not really, and I certainly didn’t expect my marriage to die.

But it’s been okay. It’s a cliché to say we’ve both changed, my ex-wife and I, but it’s true; we just don’t belong together any more, not as life partners. I’m glad that she and I are still friends. I care about her, I truly do. Thirty-eight years of almost entirely positive memories — of romance, of childrearing, of vacations with and without kids, of raucous laughter with friends, of adventures out on rivers and in woods and in cities and with family — are worth safekeeping. Precisely when each of our three beautiful children was conceived; that’s worth treasuring. These are precious memories, to be treated with respect and care. When I told my divorce attorney that I wanted the parting to be amicable, she said, “Everyone says that.” And then when the court issued the final divorce decree, a day that my now ex-wife and I both met with a wrenching sadness, the same attorney said with surprise, “Congratulations. It really was amicable,” which was a testament to the determination my wife and I had both made, to keep talking, to talk it through, to keep it friendly, to preserve the good feelings and the good memories as part of the heritage for ourselves and our children.

Since July of 2021, when the pandemic was in full swing and the marriage was flatlining, I’ve been busy building the next phase of my life, connecting with friends on a deeper level, bearing down on my business and lifting it up, immersing myself in the music that suffuses me with the thrill of discovery, and re-entering the dating world so I can find a new partner to share adventures with. And, evidently, writing all sorts of things, some of them half-remembered.

I never stopped working on any of that, but today I feel like I have a fuller awareness.

It’s my Independence Day.


June 28th, 2023

In the Buster Keaton universe, Buster is frequently an inept fool who at some point falls asleep and then awakens with superhuman abilities. You see this in SHERLOCK, JR., in THE NAVIGATOR and many other instances.

In my own universe, I’m an inept fool who at some point remembers to have some fucking COFFEE, and then gains pretty-much-human abilities.

(I’m also someone who just found a way to compare himself in some way with the brilliant Buster Keaton, so I’m taking that as a win.)

My morning show

April 28th, 2023

Hey, everybody, I’m on this theatre show LIVE tomorrow morning at the highly untheatrical time of 7:15 a.m. Pacific Time. Hope you can join us!

Here’s the info:

Dear Friends & Viewers, Saturday 9am: new DAVE’S GONE BY with writer-director Lee Wochner! Featuring: Rabbi Sol Solomon chats with veteran playwright and theatrical director Lee Wochner. Plus: Today/Yesterday Trivia Quiz, Greeley Crimes & Old Times, and a Colorado Limerick of the Damned (Aetna Estates).Watch the 892nd episode of Dave’s Gone By LIVE, Saturday morning, April 29, 9am-noon(ET):

http://www.facebook.com/davesgoneby. Says Rabbi Sol about this week’s show, “This was a shock to me, but apparently they have live theater out in California. I wish to learn more about this, particularly what percentage of shows might be in Yiddish. Or Hebrew. Or have naked actresses. Honestly, if it has the third, shtup the other two.” *Since 2002, Dave’s Gone By has been blending humor, culture, and interviews in a one-of-a-kind way. Host Dave Lefkowitz is an award-winning playwright and arts journalist. His current hobbies include theater, music, and stocking up on diapers for whoever becomes the next US President.

Enjoy all the archives at davesgoneby-dot-com.#davesgoneby,@radiodave2https://www.facebook.com/david.sheward.7