Higher Education


I doubt that there’s anyone roughly around my age who grew up in the U.S. who isn’t intimately familiar with The Wizard of Oz (the 1939 film), since it was shown on television every year.

That’s obviously an exaggeration, since I can imagine all sorts of reasons why this wouldn’t be the case, but reality has never stopped me before. I’m sticking with the intimacy.


It was a big deal for me, anyway. I liked movies, and this was a kid’s movie and I was a kid. I read the book a bunch of times, and some of the other Oz books (but only once, and not all, and I wasn’t all that interested), but the movie is what I really loved.

It still pops up, too. I don’t have a desire to see it again, but snatches of scenes and dialogue crop up occasionally, little messages from my subconscious when I’m apparently on the look-out for an easy metaphor or reference.

And this is what I hear, mostly and lately in particular: What have you learned, Dorothy?

It’s at the end of the movie, and it’s a really stupid part anyway, so forget that. I just hear the words. What have you learned? And I wonder.


Or, maybe, what have we learned is the more interesting question. I noticed the other day that a Louis CK comedy concert from a couple of years ago was just released on Netflix. Hmm, I thought. The intimidation, the abuse of power, and just the overall grossness of his behavior seemed to place him in the persona non grata category, although maybe in a murkier way than with some of the others. And he’s been out and about in the comedy world, still apparently trying to maintain a career of making people laugh.

Still, I wondered if this was a toe dipped into treacherous water, just to see if there was a reaction. And then I noticed that a bunch of Woody Allen movies just dropped on HBO. Hmm again.

Woody Allen is sort of a collateral figure in the #MeToo movement, although even murkier than Louis CK. There don’t appear to be serial accusations, for one thing. For another, I personally suspect that Mia Farrow is a wacko, with plenty of accounts (including from her “children”) backing that suspicion up. The amount of manipulation and domestic terror she apparently inflicted in her household makes everything murky.

And I might have more of an opinion if I gave a rat’s ass about Woody Allen, which I don’t. At some point, I thought he was brilliant. At some further point, I realized I thought he was overrated and eventually just boring. And creepy. Manhattan? Really?

Anyway, it got me wondering about what films I’d show my kids now, if I had little kids. I saw The Goodbye Girl in 1977 in a theater with my girlfriend when I was a sophomore in college, and somehow it got connected to my nostalgia and it became a favorite, back in the day when finding a favorite to rewatch was tricky and hard to do.

Marsha and Quinn Cummings in “The Goodbye Girl”

Marsha and Quinn Cummings in “The Goodbye Girl”

By the time I had a child, I also had a VCR, so I immediately got myself a copy of The Goodbye Girl and watched it with Beth a bunch of times. I’m not sure she remembers it all that well, and it certainly isn’t in her movie rotation; it’s more of a faint memory, of nights when her mom was gone and we build forts in the living room out of blankets, I’d made her a chocolate shake, and we’d watch Marsha Mason and Richard Dreyfuss dance around romance.

Here’s the thing: Marsha Mason’s character is not exactly a role model, not in 1977 or 1986 and not now. She’s aged out of her dream career (dancing on the stage in musicals, and really it seems like she’s just an old chorus girl, not somebody with stars in her eyes), and her only goal seems to be finding some guy who will pay the bills.

I’m not overthinking this. That’s the plot. I don’t think it adversely affected my daughter’s life. I don’t think so. Funny how I thought about it differently, though, once I took the time to think.


But What have you learned? is mostly what I’m thinking about, and hearing in my head, these days.

I’ve been through an experience. I’m still going through it, but you know what I mean. Six weeks ago this thing happened, and I’ve been immersed in it ever since. Not a day goes by that it’s not on my mind, and usually for most of the day.

And then there’s just the time involved. Next week’s calendar looks like Tim Burton designed it when he was in a mood. I don’t know when I’ll come up for air, not to mention do the things I actually need to do. Like get new glasses. And a haircut. And oh, a million other things.

So this is new, and I wonder what I’ve learned. Other than some stuff about lymphoma, and where to park at the hospital.

I’m a little desperate for socialization, I’ve learned that, but not a surprise. I’ve had a few sections of time I’ve carved out for just this, dinner with my wife, a car-ride conversation with my son, or this morning, when I had coffee with my friend Sid, just to catch up.

We’re actually pretty much caught up, thanks to me doing this sort of thing, but it was just nice to talk and not about potential diagnoses. This is important, and it was important to learn it, or at least relearn it.

Otherwise, I just wonder. I know what worries me. I know what stresses me more than other things, and what to do about that stress. I keep an inner eye on my emotional state, and I know what to watch for.

I just don’t know what’s changed, even though I suspect things have changed, that they have to.

I think I’m managing OK. I haven’t had time for much exercise, which is not good, but I’m not sitting around either. I don’t seem to have that ability at the time, in fact; if anything, I’m restless now when there’s nothing looming in the immediate future. I wash a few dishes and empty wastebaskets a lot during the day, just because I can’t not do something.

I seem to sleep OK, no insomnia issues, no disturbances I’m aware of. I always have to be aware of eating enough, but I am aware. The irritability has already been noted and apologies have been expressed when necessary.

And I know where to park the damn car. I’m an expert.

The rest? No idea. I guess it’s possible this is all reactive, I was always going to be this guy, I am this guy. I’m 60 and people stop changing so much, or I guess that’s the idea. You get what you get, and I’m it.

Don’t think so. I don’t know where this is going, but I think it has to be some place different. Maybe I’ll just look at sick people in a different way. Maybe I’ll be a better friend. Maybe I’ll be more empathetic, or more engaged, or something. I really have no clue, just a notion, and some curiosity.

I don’t know where Marsha Mason fits into this, either. That just came up somehow.

Chuck SigarsComment