Michael is an award-winning filmmaker who has authored fifteen nonfiction books on filmmaking and post-production technology. He is perhaps most well known as one of the original designers of Apple’s Emmy award-winning software Final Cut Pro, and he taught film editing for eight years at UCLA’s School of Film & TV.
In Herschel’s Wake is about Michael’s charismatic and irresponsible father named Herschel who was a twice-divorced astrologer, a pharmacology professor, a failed novelist, an on-the-lam drug-runner, a manual typewriter thief, an Aikido white belt, a possible communist, and a temporary resident of the little-known island of Statia.
When Herschel died unexpectedly just before his 71st birthday, Michael had to travel four thousand miles and overcome four decades of resentment to pick up his father’s pieces. Along the way, he reconnected with his forgotten half-brother, reconciled with his overeducated, underachieving sister, and even reckoned with his ambivalence about religion.
IN THIS EPISODE, YOU’LL HEAR ABOUT THINGS LIKE:
- How Michael’s relationship with his father evolved and soured before his father’s death.
- The lurid and upsetting secret Michael discovered upon his arrival in Statia.
- Michael’s sister’s need to follow Judaic custom for the burial and the effect that had on Michael.
- The unique grieving process that comes with the death of a difficult parent.
SOME QUESTIONS IRENE ASKS MICHAEL:
- Why did you and your siblings decide to bury your father yourselves?
- How did you finally come around to accepting and forgiving your father?
- How has forgiving your father changed your life?
Watch the episode here
Listen to the podcast here
Michael Wohl: His Darkly Funny and Insightful Memoir Examines Faith, Funerals, Family, F*cked Up Fathers and Forgiveness
I hope this finds each of you so very well. I’m speaking to you from my studio in West Orange, New Jersey. I’m delighted to have this opportunity to interview Michael Wohl who will be speaking to us from Los Angeles. To say that Michael is a very gifted and multifaceted man is an understatement. He is an award-winning filmmaker who has authored fifteen nonfiction books on filmmaking and post-production technology.
He’s the Founder of Bread Heals, a culinary curation club in Los Angeles, and the principal baker of the delivery-only bakery called Burlesque Buns. He is perhaps most well-known as one of the original designers of Apple’s Emmy award-winning software, Final Cut Pro. He taught film editing for eight years at the UCLA School of Film and TV. All of this is for starters.
Michael has added an introspective, honest, and darkly humorous memoir about grief, forgiveness, and the complexities of human relationships to his many credits. In Herschel’s Wake is about Michael’s charismatic and irresponsible father named Herschel who was a twice-divorced astrologer, a pharmacology professor, a failed novelist, an on-the-lam drug runner, a manual typewriter thief, an aikido white belt, a possible communist, and a temporary resident of the little-known island of Statia.
When Herschel died unexpectedly before his 71st birthday, Michael had to travel 4,000 miles and overcome four decades of resentment to pick up his father’s pieces. Along the way, he reconnected with his forgotten half-brother, reconciled with his overeducated underachieving sister, and even reckoned with his ambivalence about religion. Because the tiny island of Statia had no modern funerary services available, the three estranged siblings were left to bury their enigmatic father by themselves and by hand.
I’m looking forward to interviewing Michael about how this forced them to confront their complicated relationships, not only with their eccentric father but also, and perhaps most importantly, with each other and the unique grieving process that comes with the death of an absent parent parental figure. Also, one of Michael’s darkly funny and entertaining anecdotes about burying his father, how Michael finally came around to forgiving his father, and more for what is sure to be a thought-provoking and highly engaging interview.
Michael, a warm and heartfelt welcome to the show.
Thank you. I’m excited to be here. I didn’t realize until I heard your introduction that you’re in West Orange. I grew up in West Orange.
There are no accidents. How many years have you been out of West Orange?
Thirty-plus, a long time. It’s the vast majority of my life at this point.
It gave you some of the seeds of who you are now. It’s close to the city too. Now we’re going to get to know you a little bit. Let’s introduce everybody to Michael, your experiences, and how this developed with your dad. Could you tell us about your mostly absent father and how your relationship with him evolved from West Orange to Statia and soured before his death?
My father as you said in the introduction was a bit of an enigma. He was very charismatic, engaging, and loving when he was available or when he was around but he also was troubled and didn’t know how to fit into the world. He was searching most of his life for something that I never understood. He left our family when I was maybe 4 or 5. We were living in North Caldwell at that time. He left, went to the city and got a flat in the East Village with his secretary. He left my mom who was completely unprepared and ill-prepared to raise two kids by herself and left us to fend for ourselves.
He wasn’t entirely absent in my youth. I would visit him, and we would go to my sister who was four years older than me. She and I would go to the city most weekends, at least for a while. This is in the ‘70s. We would take the bus to Port Authority and take the subway downtown by ourselves, me at 5, 6, or 7 years old, not thinking anything weird about that.
In those days, it was a little safer.
Maybe. I was mugged a couple of times along the way but he wanted to be my playmate. He wanted to be a kid. He thought of himself as a kid. When I was a teenager, that was great. I loved having this playmate who would get high, tell me about philosophy, and take me to cool things in the city as long as they were free. He was very entertaining, except he set no boundaries. He didn’t have any interest in being a father or a parent. As I grew up and as I got into my 20s and 30s, I started recognizing how that lack of boundary impacted me and screwed me up in a lot of ways. My mom had her issues that contributed to me being screwed up as well, not insignificantly because of the divorce and what it left her with.
I increasingly became frustrated with his inability and unwillingness to get a job. He had a PhD in Pharmacology. He was using and earning great money before he left our family and dropped out but refused to ever get a straight job again. He was doing odd jobs and living off of his girlfriend and then second wife eventually. He would take advantage of everybody around him, including us, the kids. While he was caring and loved to share interesting insights with us, most importantly the reverence for art and writing, which was his guiding light, he didn’t have any interest in much more than that. He would like to tell us things but didn’t have all that much interest in what we had to say.
His life fell apart. His second wife left eventually after she had a baby that she talked him into. By the time my half-brother was 3 or 4, they split. She left and took him to New Jersey. My dad stayed in the city and became increasingly broke, desperate, and struggled. I tried to find common ground with him but I held such resentment for the way I was raised that it was hard for me. He was never willing to give an inch of forgiveness or acceptance or responsibility for what had happened. To finish the story briefly, when I was about 40 and he was almost 71, he had been living on this remote Caribbean island because he was on the lam from the law and had to get out of the United States.
The details of that story are in the book. They’re entertaining if not a little scary. He died suddenly. He had an infection. We believe it was something that would have been fully treatable with antibiotics but he didn’t have access to them. This island is very small. They didn’t have good medical care. He died. My sister who was then living in Austin, Texas while I was in Los Angeles, and my half-brother who was then in Westchester, the three of us found each other through email, “What do we do about this? We need to go down there. What does that even mean?” We find out that he had requested a proper Jewish burial.
It’s all about him.
You die how you live. He was not non-religious. He was vehemently anti-religious throughout his life. He was passionately critical of anything organized and anything accepted by society. Judaism fell in that category. To hear that he wanted this proper Jewish burial was anathema to everything we understood about who he was. It turned out that would be just the beginning. That was the tip of the iceberg of what we would find out. The three of us went down to this remote island. When we got there, we found that this is an island of about 3,000 to 4,000 people at that time. There was no tourist industry. This is not a place where people come for vacation and there were no resources whatsoever.
I love your whole description of how arduous was even getting there.
It was quite a journey to get there. There were four planes, each one getting smaller and smaller. We had to figure it out and do the whole funeral by hand. We had to build a coffin. We were like, “Where can we buy a coffin?” They were like, “You would have to order one from another island. It will take weeks. You will have to ship it over. It’s going to be very expensive.” We were like, “How do we do that?” We wound up building a coffin with help of some people on the island, building a coffin by hand, digging a hole in the ground by hand, and cleaning and preparing the body ourselves.
This guy threw all this stuff for what?
Meanwhile, having to be with each other with the three of us siblings who barely knew each other. My sister and I were not estranged but we weren’t close. We didn’t know our brother at all. We had never seen him since he was three years old.
It’s amazing that he came.
In retrospect, it’s an incredible gift. We don’t live in the same area but we’re very close and loving. It’s the same with my sister. This experience of going to the island completely reshaped my family.
How many people get to bond in Statia? What amazed me from reading your story is how much you have achieved in your life with the screwed-up relationship with your father and your mom in certain ways. You are very self-determined. It’s amazing what you were able to do. Other people would either be crippled in therapy or trying to work it out in therapy for the rest of their lives. Your father has gone on with his life. He couldn’t have had the greatest background from his parents but I was amazed by you because you had no structure. You had some philosophy guiding you and look at what you’ve achieved in your life.
I appreciate that perspective. I have accomplished a number of things although it has been largely lurching from one thing to another.
You’re bright and creative. Look at what you were able to do.
Thank you. I’m very fortunate. I feel like largely my father’s irresponsibility and over-responsibility spurred in me to find a way to succeed, make things, and do things combined with a passion for art and this reverence for how important art is in our lives. I’ve always tried to keep track of that. It’s a lot of luck and being in the right place at the right time.
I feel like largely my father's irresponsibility and over-responsibility spurred me on to find a way to succeed, make things, and do things, combined with a passion for art and this reverence for how important art is in our lives. Click To Tweet
That’s admirable. There’s a lurid and upsetting secret you discovered upon your arrival in Statia that you felt compelled to hide from your siblings. Instead, you picked fights with them. Unconsciously, you maintained the exact dynamic with your father that you were trying most to overcome. Do you want to talk to us about that?
The way my relationship with my father worked was I was the one that would keep his secrets. When he got in trouble with the law, when he screwed over a friend of his, or when he did anything wrong, he would brag about it to me in this way that I felt included. I got to know the secret. Especially as a young person in my teens and early twenties, I was lured in by this. It was a great tactic. I don’t know how deliberately he was doing that but he pulled me in to keep his secrets. He would tell me an elaborate story and say, “Keep that from your sister. She doesn’t need to know about that.”
Part of the nature of my relationship with him was I was his secret holder. For example, the secret of why he wound up on this island was something that only I knew. My siblings didn’t know about it. When I was going through his computer, I’m desperately looking for a goodbye note or some message to me and my siblings, “Let me explain my life to you. Let me make sense of why I’ve been such an a****** for your entire life.” I was like, “There has to be something. At least he could say goodbye.” He didn’t know he was dying for a week or so. He was sick but there were no notes at all.
While searching for these notes, I come across his pornography collection, which is a horrible problem with the digital world. I wish that for no one to discover their parents’ pornography. It’s disturbing and weird. Even worse was I found these sexual stories that he had written about my sister and these fantasies. I can’t even remember exactly what it was. It was so intense and overwhelming when I experienced it. I immediately deleted the whole thing. The memory of it is very vague.
There were pictures. They were not pornographic pictures but images from the internet of young girls, not pre-pubescent but pubescent girls in the margins of this writing. He had written it. My dad was a novelist. He spent his entire life writing. At first, I was like, “Is this part of his novel? This can’t be part of his novel. It was too lurid and poorly written. It was terrible.” There was my sister’s name and even the name of one of her best friends from high school who I remembered. I was terrified and overwhelmed. The first thing I did is I deleted it, hid it, denied it, and pretended it didn’t exist.
Another secret was kept.
I followed the path. That was what I was trained to do. Hide the secret. Don’t tell anybody, especially not my siblings. Over the course of the next few days, I was holding this thing that I was nauseated by. I didn’t know who I could talk to about it and express it until finally, it slipped out without me wanting it to. I told my sister about it. Her reaction was, “Of course.” It’s not that she knew that there were stories but she certainly knew that he had some sexual fantasy.
He had never molested her. According to her, there was never anything acted on it but she was aware of his interest. She was not pleased about me finding these stories by any means but she was much less bothered by it because she had been dealing with this her whole life. It was continuing something that she knew. That was this very intense experience or transformative point for me to be able to express that to her.
What a healing thing to be able to share that with your sister. For the first time, the secret was out. You found out that you could discuss it. That was another piece of the legacy that you were ending. You’ve got a great anecdote in your book about finding the materials to build your father’s coffin and the deeper meaning of encasing him for eternity in those materials. How about sharing that with us?
My father as this literary person had an incredible library of thousands of books, mostly decrepit paperbacks. They were books he read. It was not a pristine library. It was a very well-worn and used library. From the time I was a kid, I knew his library was sacred. It lined the walls of his apartment in New York. He moved a number of times. When he moved, he managed to keep this library of books intact. He put them in storage, and then he had the storage shipped them down to Statia after he was there.
He had reconstructed this entire library in his little cabin where he was living. It was a little bungalow. He had these bookshelves made for him to house this ridiculous library of books. The books were in terrible shape to transport, especially after the age of the internet when you could search and find any detail you want easily. The physical books were important to him. He had this massive wall-long bookcase built to hold all the books. We were trying to figure out how to build a coffin when we realized that we couldn’t buy one anywhere in any timely way.
His body was refrigerated somewhere.
There is a hospital on this little island. They had a morgue although calling it a morgue makes you think of what you see on TV shows where there’s a giant room with metal. This was a tiny 8×8 room with a big morgue refrigerator in it. If you’re in a municipal world, you can buy that thing. It holds three bodies, and that was it. He was in the morgue. There’s a guy who we’re recommended to talk to who might be able to help us build the coffin. It’s the guy who built these bookcases for my father. His name is Reggie. He is also my dad’s pot dealer on the island.
That’s a very important connection.
They have a loving relationship. I haven’t gotten into this but one of the weird things about getting to the island was that everybody knew my father. Everybody loved him. He was adored. He was very charismatic, fun, and entertaining.
He didn’t have to take care of any of them. He entertained them. That was his thing.
He probably owed most of them money but seemingly, they were okay with that. We asked Reggie to help us build a coffin. He was like, “I would be happy and honored to build the coffin but I don’t have any wood.” We went, “We could go to the other island, take the boat over to Saint Kitts, get some wood, and bring it back,” but that was complicated and we didn’t even know if we could pull it off. All the while, we’re trying to keep in this three-day window. Jewish law says you’re supposed to bury the deceased within three days. We didn’t arrive there until the second day. We’re trying everything we can to do this quickly. We’re already on the third day at this point when we’re talking to him.
The clock is ticking. We’re like, “How are we going to get through this?” At some point, we realized, “We have wood. There’s a lot of wood. It’s panels that you would prefer to use for a coffin but they would probably work in these bookshelves.” We take all these books off the shelves, disassemble the bookshelves, and bring the wood to Reggie. He assembles or creates a coffin from this. We effectively buried him in his bookshelf, which as someone who revered his books above all, was somehow fitting.
When your sister tried to follow Judaic custom for your father’s funeral, how did this affect you and the way you felt? You’re going to all this trouble for the three-day limit. You have to wrap him this way and say these prayers. How did you feel about that?
I was very frustrated and resentful of that. I was not religious at all. I had followed my father’s perspective that religion is for suckers. It’s a way to take advantage of people. I didn’t see any value in organized religion. I only saw the negatives. Keep in mind that this is over the time that the Catholic church has been exposed to all this terrible behavior. I’m not interested in religion. It is futile but my sister had found Judaism as a way of coping with our screwed-up childhood. She had found a community.
She liked the structure and community.
She respected it and loved it. She didn’t give me a hard time. She certainly didn’t try to proselytize me in any way but my father asked for it. She understood what needed to be done but it became this source of obstacle between us because I was like, “We need to get through this. We need to do the minimum to get out of here and leave.” She was like, “There are things that we need to do. You need to follow these rules.” It was very challenging.
In retrospect, after all was said and done, and even during the moment of the funeral, for the first time in my life, suddenly thrust upon me was this understanding of the purpose of religion. You are in a time of life when you don’t know what to do. You’re overwhelmed with the details of somebody’s death, becoming an adult, and joining a marriage where you have this unknown ahead of you. These moments are bigger than any individual. Having a structure to lean on is incredibly comforting. Being connected to this history or this past for Jews 5,000 or almost 6,000 years of history provides support. It turns out there’s value. I still have mixed feelings about Judaism in some ways.
My six-year-old daughter started Hebrew school. I learned through this experience the value of having a community, a religious community, in particular, and especially the rituals for death. During the experience, I was so frustrated with it but in retrospect, I see tremendous beauty, love, and connection between the family. These rituals are for the family. They’re not for the dead. The dead are oblivious. The deceased is dead. They’re not thinking about it. It’s for the family. I found tremendous value in that after the fact.
I hear you. We could talk about that. I’m very much along the same lines as you. I also had a very difficult and mostly absent father. What would you like to say about the unique grieving process that comes with the death of a difficult and mostly absent parental feeling? How did you feel about that? You’re finally, “So long, dad. This is it.”
There are two things that come to mind when you say that. One is you joked in the pre-interview that there’s a great sense of relief. There’s truth to that. I had been fighting against him unconsciously but for my whole life, in everything I did, I was aware of how he would judge it, not judge it, or approve it. I wouldn’t say every decision I made, every thought, and everything was about trying to please him.
His voice was in your head.
To be relieved of that was an incredible gift and relief. I had been struggling with a screenplay and trying to work as a screenwriter during the years before he died. After he died, I quit screenwriting and started painting, and found such incredible relief. I was like, “I’ve been writing these screenplays for him. I’ve been trying to write to meet his expectations, not my own.” I did eventually go back to screenwriting but for that moment, that sense of, “I don’t have to live for him anymore,” was an incredible relief.
On the other hand, I thought I was done arguing with him and being angry at him. Suddenly, he died. I was like, “I’m not done with you. I have more to say.” I never got relief. I never got the acknowledgment of his part in our screwed-up relationship. I never got that acceptance or whatever it is. I never got something that I had wanted from him that I didn’t know. Suddenly, I was so aware that I would never get it.
You’ve never resolved that. That still sits with you.
A little bit. Writing this book was an effort to resolve that. In a lot of ways, I have moved past that certainly.
I want to know about the art that you do because I love art. Are you doing oils or watercolors? What are you doing?
I was doing mostly acrylic paintings. As soon as I started getting pretty good, I stopped because it suddenly became too much pressure. I live in a community of artistic people. As soon as I was starting to get pretty good, everyone was like, “You should pursue this.” I was like, “I need to do it right. I need to learn.” I still have done a little bit now and then but I’m not doing it that much. I have moved more to write for creativity.
You’re doing a good job with that. Your memoir is great. Tell us about Anais before your father’s death and how both your life and your relationship with her transformed after your dad’s death.
I’ve always felt like my sister was unsure of how to fit into the world, similar to my father in some ways. She was very academically minded. She spent many years learning in the academic world. When that finally ended, she found herself left without a clear path of how to move forward. Despite having all these degrees, she never knew how to get a job. I was constantly impatient with her. In the years leading up to my father’s death, she and I were pretty estranged. We would talk once or twice a year on birthdays but that was it. There was no hostility but there wasn’t a lot of warmth. I felt disappointed in her. I felt like she was irresponsible, which was the one thing that my father did that I rebelled against.
We then had this experience on the island. She’s very spiritual. She’s involved in Judaism but she’s also involved in shamanism and herbalism. She’s a self-trained herbalist. My father was an avid astrologer. We haven’t talked about that piece of his personality but it was a big deal. Her herbalism to me mimicked his astrology, which I found intolerable. I have a lot of hostility towards her. She’s also impractical. She’s not interested in how you accomplish the simple task in front of you. She’s interested in the implications spiritually and how it will affect everybody. In this situation where we’re trying to bury my father, I could not bear it or deal with her spirituality. That sounds very critical.
It doesn’t. I relate to what you’re saying. It was annoying.
I was talking about my reckoning with Judaism. When it came time for the ceremony, I was suddenly done with all the physical tasks of getting the body into the box, getting the body to the grave site, and getting the hole dug to put the body in. There was nothing left to do. We’re standing there with nothing left between us and the reality that our father is dead. She came to light. All of her skills were perfectly suited for that moment. She did a very simple and beautiful service. She connected me, my brother, and herself in this beautiful way that forever gave me renewed understanding and appreciation. I still get impatient with her sometimes but I learned a new appreciation.
Since his death, in a lot of ways, she found herself. In some of the same ways that I spent so much of my time fighting against him unknowingly, she was doing the same thing in her way. Without him looking over our shoulders and speaking in our minds, both of us were able to move on with our lives in good ways. Things aren’t perfect. No life is that simple but there was a real market change after this event.
You’re both free in a lot of ways to reframe your relationship as best you can. Tell me about Tobias because I felt your love for him and your sadness that you didn’t connect with him more when he was growing up.
He’s fifteen years younger than me. I was fifteen when he was born. When I was eighteen, I went off to college. My dad and his second wife divorced, and she took him away. I understand in retrospect how as an eighteen-year-old, my life got so self-centered. I lost track of him and he was not in my life. I never had a chance to see him but then we reconnect 25 years later. I am struck by how much I can’t believe I wasn’t there for him as he grew up. I reenacted this same absence that my father did to me. I did it to my kid brother.
I felt tremendous sadness and disappointment with myself, and also the reality of, “Here’s this 25-year-old guy that I don’t know at all.” As I say in the book, we shared the most intimate of things. We shared a father and not just any father. That was in both of our lives. For better and worse, that has made a bond for us that we now carry. There is a familiarity as we go through good things, bad things, challenges, and triumphs that we can share together in a way. I still wish we were closer. He’s still in Westchester and I’m still in California. He has two young kids and I have two young kids so we went to visit them. I have tremendous love and warmth for him, yet it is tempered with it. Our relationship will forever be defined by this f***ed-up guy that was the triangle that connects us. That’s challenging.
I can relate. Would you say you’ve forgiven your father? I know that you found freedom. Forgiving comes with acceptance. What would you say about that? I know it has changed your life in a lot of ways. You’re married. You have a family. You’re reframing things but a lot of people ask about forgiveness.
I wrote the memoir while my wife was pregnant with our first kid. It was in 2016. My daughter will be seven this 2023. In the three months before my daughter was coming out, I suddenly felt this overwhelming urge to get this story out and write it, and I did. It was the easiest writing I’ve ever done. It poured out of me. I convinced myself in trying to understand why I felt this urge should do it that it was an effort to forgive my father to release myself of his energy. It was true to a degree but I put the book down. I started focusing on a screenplay version of the book, which was much more fictionalized and great fun.
That movie hopefully will someday get made. I put the book down and forgot about it for a little bit. During the pandemic, the movie project fell apart. Whatever momentum I had built up leading up to that fell apart. I was like, “How am I going to keep this story alive?” A friend of mine was like, “Didn’t you write a book of this thing? Maybe if you publish the book, that will rekindle some momentum for the movie.” I went back to the book, started sending it out, and eventually found a publisher.
The editor I worked with at the publisher gave me some simple notes, not a lot of line edits but a few big, “What about this?” In the rewrite in 2022, I found forgiveness. Part of the experience of writing and rewriting this book is reliving all these memories and this experience, not just of the funeral. The book is peppered throughout with all these anecdotes and stories from my childhood and my relationship with my father. All the specific stories are the ones that always brought me the most tsuris or the things that I was so frustrated with.
If you don’t know that word, tsuris is heartache.
It’s agita. What’s the Italian version? Heartache. It wasn’t until I was editing the book that I had written years before that I had adapted into a screenplay that I had been talking about this story for the last decade. Suddenly, in this rewrite, I was like, “He was in such pain. Much of his struggle was born of his discomfort and pain.” He was self-centered. He took advantage of people, including me and my siblings. It’s unconscionable to take advantage of your children. He had this awful sexual predilection for my sister, which is disgusting and hard to accept. I don’t feel like I accept that as much as I compartmentalize it but I was brought attention to the amount of pain he lived in and the way he spent his whole life running from his father and his struggles.
He was exorcising himself from that pain too.
A lot of it is also about Judaism. He was born in ‘37. He was a young child during the Holocaust. He’s aware of it but unsure of his connection to it. He wasn’t denying his Judaism but he was pushing it away. In the end, he found it and said, “Maybe I need to embrace that.” I was filled with this sense of appreciation for where it came from. Do I wish he had been a different father? Yes, but I am not angry at him in the way I was for so much of my life.
You came to some peace with it.
Is that forgiveness? I hope so.
I can understand that because when I look back and think about my father’s life and then what led to this person that led to this person, I start to understand more. You have an idea. When I was reading about you, you say that you believe that we choose our moods. When we’re in a sour mood, we’re the ones who suffer the most. That fascinated me. In spiritual terms, you can choose your thoughts, and your thoughts affect your reality and all. I would like to hear the Michael Wohl version of that.
It’s not fully fleshed out. At the time that I was expressing that, I was watching my six-year-old ruin everybody’s day because she was in a bad mood. I caught her playing by herself for a moment completely fine. She saw that I was watching. All of a sudden, she got mad. She had to remember she was in a bad mood. The beautiful thing about children is how transparent they are sometimes and how one can see that they are reflecting what we all do. I realize how much I can do the same thing.
If I’m in an upset mood, I decide to stay mad at the driver who cut me off or whatever injustice there may be at the moment. There’s sadly no shortage of injustices but it’s a choice. We make a choice to hold that energy. When we do, nobody else knows or cares. It’s yourself. You’re the one who is suffering, holding your energy in, giving yourself a neck ache, or not sleeping at night, which I suffer from too much. It’s all self-inflicted. Much of finding relief is choosing to find relief. There’s a piece of graffiti somewhere near my house that says, “We’re all about as happy as we decide to be.”
That’s pretty wise.
I find that particularly. Some days, I’m like, “Why can’t I choose to be happier?”
You’re becoming conscious, Michael. They would say in my world, “You’re becoming conscious and becoming aware.” Most people who are in lousy moods beating everybody up with their lousy mood are not aware that they even have a choice and that it could be different. They could get on the website. There are tons of ways you can heal that stuff and loads of people eager to help you. Why do you feel it’s important for healing and relief to be an inside job instead of being sourced from the outside?
I don’t know if I would say it’s important as much as it’s the only option. I don’t think it works from the outside. There is such a giant industry of self-help books and things. I’ve got these young kids. My wife and I buy every parenting book we come across. We’re constantly like, “There’s the answer. If only I buy that book.” We barely read them. We buy them, stick them on the shelf, and think, “I’ll understand this struggle.” All growth happens from the inside. The only external forces that create change are so big and overwhelming that they are generally awful like the death of a spouse, being caught up in a hurricane, being stuck in some terrible war or some environment, or being abused. Horrible situations can change us from the outside but that’s not the way anybody would prefer to do it.
Please explain how focusing on gratitude and appreciation and avoiding social media leads to lasting healing and joy. Here you are on social media plugging your book, and here I am.
Here’s a quick anecdote about social media. I have avoided social media for many years. Years ago, I realized that every time I was using social media, it was because I was either depressed or it would make me depressed. There was no good coming from it. I shut it out of my life. I wrote this book, and my publisher was like, “You need to publicize the book. Social media is the world. You can’t avoid it.”
I hired this publicist, and the publicist had a social media person. They have been running my social media accounts. Thank God they’re stopping at the end of this month. It’s over now that the book is out. I wrote a blog about my feelings about social media, which is on my Medium page. It expresses the contradiction of how we have to communicate with other people but communicating with other people, especially in the ways that social media manifests, is very destructive.
It can be very negative. Instead of us focusing on social media, you’re focusing on gratitude and appreciation these days.
It’s the only choice. It’s not something like a great choice. I saw this Amy Schumer skit about gratitude where these people are raging at each other and saying, “I’m so grateful.” It’s a struggle every day to remember to be grateful but I have incredible blessings. I have a family that’s healthy, alive, and together. I have a beautiful home and the resources to do the things I want to do. Every day when I focus, I appreciate those things and think about how blessed and fortunate I am, I’m able to go through the day with happiness and joy.
Every time I catch myself being jealous or frustrated, or wanting something else that I don’t have, or thinking somebody else has something that I should have, all of that is the same thing. That’s when I find myself in a bad mood. I have the choice to decide to focus on that or stop, look around, and say, “Whatever little thing that you can be appreciative of will set you on the path toward a better mood.”
That’s so true. I agree. In Herschel’s Wake is not only an insightful and delightful read. I loved it. It is also an honest and poignant portrayal of complicated relationships, complicated feelings, and forgiveness. Thank you from my heart for this engaging, thought-provoking, and uplifting interview. Make sure to follow us and like us on social media at @IreneSWeinberg on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. If you’re watching on YouTube, be sure to click subscribe below, so you will never miss an episode. As I like to say, many blessings. Thank you so much. To be continued.
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About Michael Wohl
Michael Wohl tells stories: as an award-winning filmmaker; as an author of more than a dozen nonfiction books about filmmaking; and through curated culinary experiences that reveal the unifying magic of breaking bread.
Michael has long been fascinated by the necessary challenge of embracing those with whom we disagree. In Herschel’s Wake explores this theme in the most personal context imaginable: his relationship with his father. Michael lives with his family in Los Angeles.