Where are you from?
I was born and raised on an Israeli kibbutz (Nachshon, near Jerusalem).
Who are your favorite writers?
I can't quite do the 'favorite' thing. That seems to be an American preoccupation I neither understand nor share, like baseball and hamburgers. And I don't read much fiction. I prefer to read magazines, newspapers and online commentary (The New Yorker; NYT; Slate), psychological books and articles (Freud, Vygotsky, and current research) and poetry (Mark Strand, Milosz). I read in Hebrew a lot and like many Israeli writers (David Fogel, who wrote some of the most beautiful lines ever written in the Hebrew language; the enigmatic Yoel Hoffman, and the canonical poet Yehudah Amichai, who had an unparalleled gift for metaphor). Blue Mountain by Meir Shalev was immensely enjoyable for me. Amos Oz's The Same Sea I thought was strange and touching. The book, Moskva-Petushky (in English: ‚ÄòMoscow Circles') by Venedict Erofeev has had a most powerful, if not entirely explainable, hold on me. I love it. In English, I like the writing of my good friend Robert Cohen (The Varieties of Romantic Experience). J. M. Coetzee's Disgrace left a huge impression, and it contains the best opening line I've ever seen. Michael Chabon's The Yiddish Policemen Union was a playful beach read. Recently I read, Exit Ghost by Phillip Roth, and thought it potent. The book Is This Man? by Primo Levi has been influential. I don't think anybody writes, or can write—or should hope to write—like Primo Levi.
Which book/books have had the biggest influence on your writing?
My writing is not influenced that much by books. It's more influenced by music (Dylan, Miles Davis), movies (Amarcord; In the Mood for Love; Lilya 4-ever; old Spaghetti Westerns), and art (Hopper, Rothko, Henry Moore). When I write I hear the words as music—voice, rhythm, flow, and tone.
What are your hobbies and outside interests?
Listening to and playing music; watching and playing sports; appreciating art, particularly painting, sculpture and photography; reading about culture, politics and science; solitude, silence, and contemplation; and travel (preferably with my girlfriend; preferably in Italy).
What is the single best piece of advice anyone ever gave you?
I don't think advice shapes lives. I think experience does. Generally, what the people in your life do is more important than what they say. So I don't remember any really influential piece of advice. My father used to say: "It's OK to be stupid, but don't be a stupid idiot." I don't think he meant it as advice, but nevertheless I tried to adhere, with limited success. Also, years ago when I was installing solar panels on rich people's homes in San Francisco, one homeowner struck up a conversation with me. He was a well-dressed middle-aged black man. I was a young, foreign, unskilled laborer with a strange accent and very dirty overalls, who had just emerged from the crawl space under the house. I must have looked grim. He asked me about my future plans. I told him I was going to get a Ph.D. and become a clinical psychologist. He said he was a psychologist, and then he advised me to, "Take it a day at a time." That whole scene stuck with me. He would have been plenty justified to dismiss me and my nattering. But he didn't. I thought that was graceful.
What is your favorite quote?
I have many; and many are added and forgotten all the time. It all depends on the context and the mood. I like some of the quotes I put in the book. "If you dream of a muffin, you have a dream, not a muffin." That's from the great Israeli writer SY Agnon, I believe. Wittgenstein's "everything that can be said can be said clearly" is also in the book; I think it's factually wrong, but aspirationally right. Nietzsche once said something to the effect that, "when you look into the abyss, the abyss also looks into you." That's vivid. The Yiddish writer Isaac Bashevis-Singer was once asked, "What would you do if all the world leaders came to your door and asked for your advice?" He said: "let them come and ask; then we'll see." That's old Jewish wisdom, distilled. My eccentric graduate school advisor, Ted Wachs, trying his best to be encouraging after a therapy session early in my clinical training, once told me: "I don't think you have permanently harmed the client." Now that's praise you can believe in. My father is fond of saying: "it's better to be healthy and rich than sick and poor." That's not easily contradicted.
What is the question most commonly asked by your readers? What is the answer?
Have you written other things? Where can I find them? Yes. You probably can't.