8/12/20: Dissent re: my Alma Mater Notre Dame’s Re-opening Collection #Poetry #essay #PoeticEssay


8/12/20: Dissent re: my Alma Mater Notre Dame’s Re-opening Collection #Poetry #essay #PoeticEssay

I am a Notre Dame alumnus morally opposed to Notre Dame’s re-opening. I’ve written a few segments about this and I share them here.




I’ll also include these admittedly harshly angry pieces from early 2017 (remember the common rage of those early days of the Trump disaster?), before re-opening was an issue, but addressing related problems.



8/9/20: God, Man and Business #poetry #essay #PoeticEssay #UniversityReopenings

8/9/20: God, Man and Business #poetry #essay #PoeticEssay #UniversityReopenings

I don’t take the car out much in the plague

Paula had an appointment in Wilmette and we got ice cream

I noticed that I needed air in my tires

Not flat but low from lack of use

I pull into the Just Tires at Broadway and Lawrence

Can I get air in my tires?

The guy was busy

an immigrant

Pull it up here

Drops what he is doing, grabs a hose, starts filling me up

No process, no pleasantries, no questions, no waiting, no up-sell, no sell

Matter of fact

I take out my wallet

I have to give the guy something

All twenties

I don’t want to give him that much

I look at Paula

What can you do?

I take out a twenty

He is finishing up

Hey buddy …

I put down my window and hand him the money

He takes it

Fine that I gave it

Fine If I wouldn’t have

No a-thousand-thank-yous-kind-sir

No big smile

People help each other

People appreciate it

Just another day in a decent world

No big deal

Why was Jesus a carpenter?

Why was he poor?

Why was he executed as a criminal?

Why the contrast?

Why the divinity and the low status?

Being There

My first job was in the installment loan department of the Lincoln Rochester Bank in Rochester, New York

Jesuit high school summer

I did the job for several summers into college time

Notre Dame summers

God at the edges of banking

Lincoln Rochester was bought out by Chase Manhattan Bank while I was there

and everything became colder

From George Bailey to the Hudsucker Proxy between Junior Year of High School and Junior Year of College

I saw the twilight of banking

Community became corporation

When I was at McQuaid Jesuit and Notre Dame in the 1970s

I never felt that people didn’t care about me

The teachers and staff wanted to educate me

They wanted me to be safe and happy

When I was a freshman at Notre Dame we used to go to Polka Bar up Route 31 into Michigan, where the drinking age was 18


A kid in my dorm got killed hitchhiking back from that bar one night

It was a big deal

I remember a big presence of


tending to us

trying to fix the root causes of what happened


Many years later

in the early 2000s I think

a student manager of the football team went up on a scaffold overlooking practice

making a training video in a windstorm

He was blown off the slight structure

and fell several stories to his death

I remember a big presence of lawyers this time

not pastors

concern for students was replaced by concern with legal liability

by this time

The cathedral steeple used to be the tallest structure in any town

before skyscrapers were invented

Corvias is a capital investment firm

that “partners” with universities

financing, developing and managing student housing

Notre Dame


and Wayne State

are all Corvias partners

All have reopened their campuses this Fall 2020 semester

in the midst of the pandemic

Corvias does not even consider not reopening

as any concerned pastor would do

and these ivory tower institutions

have lost all self-determination

their values are necessarily compromised to the values of their


The tentacles of business wrap around us all

quite literally choking us

we die for business

as we rush to the casinos and motels and water parks and car dealerships

that they instruct us to buy from

we need the collegiate experience

how neatly our desires serve business’ revenue streams

Notre Dame markets the teachings of the Catholic Church

for tuition, room and board

a tidy sum

you get to be successful

have fun

and here’s the kicker — be a really good Christian

someone who does good

Why wasn’t Jesus an investment banker?

Or a dean?

Things were better in the seventies

I’m not being nostalgic

They weren’t better because I was young

They were better because business hadn’t bought everything yet

There was just as much greed and exploitation

just as much blood money

but business wasn’t as good at being business

It was still learning

It didn’t learn how to control data

it hadn’t figured out how to commodify everything

I knew drunk, tormented priests when I was a kid

who thought about theology and philosophy all the time

Now students are customers

and the clergy is a customer service career

Nancy Pelosi is an 80 year-old Catholic grandmother among other things

She remembers what it was like better than I do

of how it was before business took over

Even she has said

of her $ 3.4 trillion necessary Heroes Act

“It’s a lot of money”

the irony is

that money

and more like it

is needed to save business itself

the economy

besides the people

but business will now implode

its credo

never give

only take

never be honest


use use use

control control control

be larger than life

supersede life

will now create a genocide

and pull business down too

Business has always been a thief and a murderer

and now it has come for itself

Why was Jesus betrayed for thirty pieces of silver?

Of what earthly good is business?

We write In God We Trust on our money

but we have foolishly put our trust in the money itself

and it has betrayed us

Business needs ego and show and public relations and awards

to cover up how unimportant it is

The priest-President of Notre Dame was recently photographed partying with non-socially distant students

promoting and selling back-to-school in a viral cesspool

desperately trying to gin up enthusiasm for the local “townies” who are sure to get sick and die so Corvias gets its money

(In the seventies we used to go see movies like The China Syndrome and we’d believe it, take it as a warning — now with all of the sophistication and idealism that’s out there — somehow the puzzle is still confusing to most people — because the reality is so

God awful)

The priest dances an Irish jig

to sell his corporation that spews deadly toxic waste into the air

as wanton and murderous

as any criminal chemical company creating cancer clusters in the neighborhoods adjacent to its facilities

The priest-President later apologizes for not keeping socially distant

I made a mistake

he says with a boyish smile

Oh father — you are so charming

how can anyone stay mad at you for long

Your such a good salesman

Your product is to die for

I wish I was as good as the guy who put air in my tires

that will never be

but I am glad that I have always been such a lousy businessman

that has saved me

It is so odd to watch the people who have been anointed as pillars of the community

run around so desperately and maniacally

Their institutions

so rich and high-minded and holy

turn from the seven sacraments to an infomercial

from the nation’s foremost Catholic university

to Jonestown, Guyana

How many people will business kill before it dies?

Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas


















8/8/20: From 8/8/14 — The Rick Blog Mission Statement #writing #poetry #essay #PoeticEssay #personal

From 2014 — still The Rick Blog mission statement —- only now evolved to humorous or not —- simply writing —- if true, writing will always have humor either on the page or in the cheerful serenity of the writer’s heart — that is probably the greatest personal gift that writing gives me, the good fortune of a peaceful heart, in the midst of good, bad and outrageous fortune —- the antidote to anxiety, rage and confusion and the subtle transformations of the understandings of the human heart. As the individual changes, so does the world.
Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas

6 Years Ago

August 8, 2014

Shared with Public

Mark Twain: “The humorous writer aspires to awaken and direct your love, your pity, your kindness–your scorn for untruth, pretension, imposture–your tenderness for the weak, the poor, the unhappy…he comments on all the ordinary actions and passions of life about. He takes upon himself to be the weekday preacher.”
In the face of a multitude of inner and outer lousy worlds nothing has more edge, grit, toughness and balls than truth, kindness and brains.
Copyright 2014 Richard Thomas

8/6/20: Art as a Rick Blog “term of art” defined, a little #poetry #art #PoeticEssay

8/6/20: Art as a Rick Blog “term of art” defined, a little #poetry #art #PoeticEssay

I use the word “art” a lot in my writing and I think I should explain a bit what I mean

One of those “improv” people got highly insulted and offended when I said that schlock was nothing that resembled art

and I got offended that he didn’t know what I mean — (laugh out loud)

I do not mean in the sense that you often hear the word

“recording artists”

“comedy artists”

No and no

I’ve written quite a bit about the difference between entertainment and art

I do not mean art as a matter of aesthetics

Art has much to do with beauty and nothing to do with prettiness

So what can I say positively to define art

not only what it is not?

Art is an elite experience

Everyone is not an artist

I once went to a poetry open mike

The host said that all the poems were equal and that all of the poets were worthy

That’s nonsense

Everyone can’t do art

Everyone can’t learn how to make art

You can’t learn how to make art

An artist is actually a rare being

There aren’t many of us

A merely creative manager or salesman or entertainer or anything else

is not an artist

Art is something more than creativity

Artists are born not made

all born artists don’t make art

These people tend to be relentlessly frustrated and unhappy

An active artist is frustrated and unhappy most of the time

but has great joy as the grit of alienation is changed through work into the pearl of truth and beauty

I got to thinking about doing this piece when reflecting on watching Chris Cuomo host his show on CNN

(and that is a clue into an insight in my art … the response of an ordinary person to the intimate and distant affairs of the world is important — that’s the view of the Rick Blog — that’s the Rick Blog’s view of life itself — it could be viewed as an act of demented hubris to write down one’s responses to every internal and external stimuli that affects you — and report your findings with great authority while lacking any actual authority to influence other people’s lives and attitudes beyond your self-proclaimed status as a writer — but that’s what writers do — artists see things consciously that their audiences see unconsciously — artists use words or paint or whatever medium that they work in to communicate their insights — and what are those insights? I read somewhere that priests communicate from the people to God, and artists communicate from God to the people — that sounds right — back to Chris Cuomo … )

Chris Cuomo was born an artist

He doesn’t practice art, but he was born an artist

Chosen by God or nature

a person with a connection to the eternal

(I have no idea if Chris Cuomo was born an artist — I don’t know him — so I project upon him, turn him into a fictional character to describe my own experience — my own experience which I never leave in the realm of the personal but connect to the universal — I never just talk about myself — my life is a field where I explore the nature of the essences of reality — it is not egoistic at all — I don’t choose the subjects of my art — I was surprised that Chris Cuomo became significant today — but here is how art works — your soul is in constant transformation and so is the world external to your soul — and the inner and outer changes are congruent — God constantly whispers to the artist in the forms of involuntary personal impulses and in people, places, things and ideas in the outside world that command the artist’s attention like colorized figures in the composition of an otherwise black and white movie —- the inner impulse and external fascination provoke a spontaneous response from the artist which is either simultaneously or subsequently shaped (depending on how the artist works) by critical thinking and reason)

the sculptor stands before the block of marble, the soul and stone alchemize into art, the frontier of creation, God is always in process, the artist is God’s hands fashioning new elements and species

The artist is not of society

or anti- or asocial either

The artist is extra-social

Society is co-dependent

The artist is independent

The Social Person (most people) has co-dependent relationships —- marriages, friendships, jobs — alliances

and in these ways advances

Matriculating up ladders

Gaining status and security by serving the group

The independent artist makes no such deals

His or her job is to speak of God’s goals and purposes to the Social Person

The artist does not further society’s ambitions

Some Social Persons of Good Will

want to hear the artist

so that they can change the aims of society and their own lives to conform more closely to the will of God

Obviously, an artist can have no worldly power

An artist with worldly power is a fascist

An artist can only be an influence and a suggestion

Sometimes an inspiration

If an artist concretizes his art

and imposes its conclusions upon others in a rigid way

turning metaphors into laws and rules

Art becomes an evil thing

If an artist is not social and therefore gets no status or security from society

how is the artist secure and recognized?

The independent artist is inter-dependent with individuals in the world

and discovers his places and people of support in the same way he discovers his subject matter

The artist’s life itself is a work of art

guided by God

God provides for the artist

not society

The artist can’t be beholden to society

no boss, person or group

If he or she is beholden

they are compromised in their ability to tell the truth

An artist is open to all sources of money

and would never change a brush stroke or a word for that money

Sometimes the life of an artist seems like a tremendous mess

artists get lost


make crazy mistakes

go crazy

look like big fools and failures under the harsh glare of social expectations

but it is all for a reason

God sends artists on wild goose chases

so that the artists can see the world

not as tourists

not ladling the soup in the soup kitchen

but as a homeless guest

not visiting the mentally ill friend

but struggling in the cracker factory

An artist without suffering isn’t an artist at all

He or she

is just a doodler

a dilletante

Oh yeah, Chris Cuomo

fictional Chris Cuomo

He was born an artist

but hasn’t started working as an artist yet

and may never

He has money and fame

and an artist can get out from under all of that

but they make it tough to do so

Chris became a lawyer

but didn’t want to practice law

Law is not an art

It’s a trade

Antonin Scalia was no Philip Roth

Chris practiced a little

and bailed out

His brother the future governor said, “What now?”


A journalist isn’t an artist

Art is more than the dissemination of information

Art is more than commentary

(it drives me nuts when people think I am just offering opinions in my writing — it happens less and less … )

Chris found success in journalism

Major success

On the cusp of his 50th birthday

he was infected by COVID-19

It affected him


He was always in great physical shape, and now he felt mortal and weak

But he also felt something that he was in him before adversity hit

Something that runs in his family

As regular readers know, I had a nervous breakdown when I was 34

(tomorrow is my 65th birthday)

I wrote a poem while I was recuperating and sent it to Chris’ dad, then -New York Governor Mario Cuomo

I wish I still had that poem

more as an artifact than a good piece of work

I don’t remember the poem

with the exception of one phrase

“Bush the Mean”

I was criticizing then – President George H. W. Bush

and I’m sure working my ubiquitous themes of stupidity and meanness

which have become quite obvious now

what is stupid and mean in society is destroying us

and inspiring us to want something more

artists are important always

but especially in times like today

when many Social Persons are happy to hear from God

as society devastates their lives

welching on all promises of recognition and security

Anyway, Mario Cuomo answered my letter with the poem personally

Again, I wish I had saved his response

I can’t recall what the Governor said

(it shows what I thought of myself in those days — I held onto nothing — nothing related to me could have been of any importance — I was an artist and dd not know it, I just knew that I was failed Social Person, rejected and dismissed)

Mario Cuomo answered my letter

I do remember how he made me feel


He made me feel good

He didn’t respond as a governor

or as a politician looking for a vote

He was kind

He acknowledged my writing

He empathized with my pain

and he gave me a glimpse of a life that could be much happier

I remember that he did that

In 1985, a few years earlier, I did an one man show at the West Bank Cafe in New York

I invited the governor to come see the show

as a gag

And I got a form letter from his office wishing me “a successful event”

I read the letter to the audience and got good laughs

which was my intention

So with that history

the receipt of the personal note a few years later

was all the more moving

Well, Chris is his father’s son

Mario spoke of “the poetry of campaigning and the prose of governing”

Chris is the poet, and Andrew is the governor

Chris isn’t a good poet right now

He has a lot of impediments to doing good work

His name is shown in lights in front of his show

Just like Judy Garland

He spends most of his show pleading with Social Persons

to “be better”

Better policing

Better health care

Better economics

But when he goes beyond commentary

and ends the show with “Life Lessons”

he stumbles

He doesn’t have the time to reflect enough

or alchemize beyond his personal experience into something universal

He doesn’t have the support

He says his “big shot” producer told him

“So you’re just saying life sucks and then you die?”

Crude, facile and dismissive

When I was 50, I hadn’t matured fully into my artistic nature either

I’ve been lucky

consistently disappointing society

and failing upward

supported by the hands of God

that look a lot like other people

My art has gathered a lot of momentum

All time that seemed wasted is actually quite profitable

Social wounds are fountains of God’s intentions

for myself and the world

For quite awhile after I turned 50

I straddled art and society

Poetically campaigning and prosaically governing

Now I am released to my true nature

the poetry

the prose still lives in me

not as legal trials and course syllabi

but as essay

my form — the Poetic Essay

and I wish Chris Cuomo the best

artists are like sperm

from testicles with low sperm counts

very few to begin with

and very few actually impregnate the ovum of the world

It isn’t a question of achievement

It’s a question of fate

and God’s mysterious purposes

Few are called and fewer are chosen

and somehow, some way

here I am.

Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas

























8/2/20: “Disrespect is worse than hate” and Creative Autonomy #poetry

8/2/20: “Disrespect is worse than hate” and Creative Autonomy #poetry

“Disrespect is worse than hate”

Representative James Clyburn, the Civil Rights Leader and South Carolina congressman said that

I paraphrase:

At least with hate, there is a sense of equality

Disrespect puts you in a position of “less than”

Now, I expand on the congressman’s insights with some of my own:

Hate is a fight with a sibling

A white nationalist might fill you with rage

you might wish them dead

and they will feel the same about you

but they don’t stop you in your tracks

and paralyze you

like a condescending person does

Disrespect is easily internalized

a good practitioner of disrespect can be really destructive

they can make you believe that you can’t do anything

that you are not worth anything

that the essence of your being is of lesser inherent value

the goal of a disrespectful person is to make you into your own oppressor

to break your spirit

Hate just makes you mad

Provokes you to conflict

Distracts you from the creative arc of your life

consumes you

moves you from an orientation of love to one of power

instigates crimes of passion

tempts your humanity to its worst aspects

but it doesn’t demean and discount your humanity in the way that disrespect does

Disrespect is like a forced injection of an addictive drug

It puts you in a state of dependence to something that isn’t good for you

You accept the condescension of the disrespectful person because you think you need them to survive

Disrespect sends you to a place of arrested development

back to when you were a little kid

and your parents told you that you couldn’t do something

and that you weren’t capable of deciding

and they were right then of course

you were just a little kid

If you were lucky enough to have good parents

they took care of you

did the thing for you

made the wise decision

and then tried to teach you why

and over time you assumed control

guided by the experience of having your parents determine your life’s course

until you were ready

The disrespectful person is a surrogate parent with bad intentions

They tell you to obey them

they tell you that they will determine what is good and bad for you

right and wrong

what you should value and what you should not value

They will assess your work product, creativity and direction

They decide what you deserve

they judge you in a kangaroo court

not to educate and guide and protect you

(even as they trip some pathway in your brain that can deceive you as to their intentions)

They usurp control from you to pursue their own agendas

to exploit you

to steal from you

to beat you in a competition before it begins

or probably the most common motivation

(and the other motivations are plenty common)

they diminish you to feel better about themselves

They humiliate you

for a petty and superficial sensation of feeling superior to you

but that is their own pathology

Almost always

the disrespectful person actually fears you

They envy you

and perhaps they distrust you

You are a big six foot eight athlete

so they put their knee on your neck in order to claim superiority in terms of physical strength and power

and slowly murder you

for example


which is often misdirected toward people who aren’t the real source of the hate

comes from some buried legitimate complaint

The white nationalist has been consistently abased and abused — lower class, uneducated, impoverished

by other white people

but the nationalist has also internalized the disrespect

Instead of confronting his oppressors

he turns on black people

who those who disrespect him  have told him are fair game

He doesn’t know it

but the white nationalist strangely confronts the black person as an equal

Donald Trump disrespects black people

he doesn’t hate them

they can box and sing at his casinos

they can dance in entrepreneurial minstrel shows

businessmen and preachers selling on commission for him

getting crumbs from the table

dying at his rallies

9 – 9 – 9 !!!!

It’s worse than hate

He, and the thousands like him in the here and now and for many generations — mid-century  manipulators, get white nationalists to hate black people

as a way to keep both groups down

The Disrespectful don’t treat you as a threat

They objectify you

they treat you as their property

You exist in their construct

as a thing to be used to get them


could be money

could be just an air of superiority

or a good laugh

The African – American experience with hatred and disrespect is highly instructive because it is such an extreme example of abuse and injustice

but it is only the leading example

America (which may be changing, thank God) is a culture of disrespect

Mike Nichols said that Paul Sills was the only person that he ever knew

who didn’t “rank” people when he met them

I had that experience with Paul too

It is a primary reason that I loved him

He treated everyone with respect — he was blind to social status of any kind

he did not assess people from perspectives of money or fame or power

Another primary reason that I loved Paul

was that he recognized me

he recognized the quality of my work

He recognized my essence as a person

It wasn’t that he completely understood me or my work

but he looked intensely at me and it

and supported me with love and respect

a respect that was deserved by sheer dint of my humanity

and specific related to my particular gifts

Paul had a different ranking system’

how true was something

how much love was in it

how much of it would develop individuals and community

Paul was not parental

He treated me as an equal

My memories of Paul have nothing to do with him as an improvisation teacher and director

He was mentor to me

He showed me what an artist is

and that I was one

I don’t think I ever remember Paul using the word “art”

but that’s what he was

and God introduced Paul into my life so that I could not only be what I am

but also see what I am

So that I could more effective

and life could be less painful

So that I wasn’t confused about what was important

and so that I could be constantly attentive to the instructive voice God put inside me

and give that voice ultimate authority, supreme to any rule, group or person — including myself and my own ego and desires

I honor something within me that is much more than me

Paul didn’t tell me any of this

I created a constellation of spirit and growth based on my interactions with Paul

I CREATED something

Knowing Paul introduced me to the idea of “creative autonomy”

(I use that phrase here — Paul didn’t speak of such things, he just did them — or at least impressed me that such possibility was inside him, if unrealized …. Paul was kind of like Moses — one sensed that he could point others to the Promised Land but somehow could never get there himself …. he was a “teacher” …. he spoke of improvisation as “the family business” … such limiting ideas … and yet he saw greatness for me … I was Lenny Bruce and Thoreau … I did “the greatest piece of American theater in 25 years” … he relegated himself to service … I made him happy because I was one of the few talented people that he worked with who shared his values … he celebrated his actors’ successes in show business but he knew it wasn’t good enough … all of the founders of Second City with the exception of David Shepherd had a conflict between art and commerce — and the commerce side cheapened everything and led to a frustration … Paul knew what art was and never really figured out how to do it, and he left it to me. To my knowledge I am the only artist that Second City ever produced — there are many more people who are just as or more talented than I am — But I am the only one that I know of that has the insight into what art is … I got to the Promised Land … I just don’t care about the prisons that the others are trapped in … )

So … Paul didn’t teach me about creative autonomy

he saw it in me

and just regarded me as having it

which I do (chuckle)

It took me years to understand my interaction with Paul Sills

So simple

He just saw who I was and regarded me as an equal

and had a loving appreciation for the best of my character and actions

Paul was a major artist of the twentieth century

in spite of himself

and we are all artists in spite of ourselves

if we artists

(I pinch myself to think that God gave me the opportunity to know someone like that — in a real way)

His major artistic achievement in my view

(which was unconsciously arrived at

as all artistic achievement is)

is that he didn’t participate in the American culture of disrespect

He provided an alternative

It took me years to internalize Paul Sills’ respect for me and turn it into full blown self-respect

the prerequisite for creative autonomy

When I was very young I came at life guns-a-blazing, full of mirth and talk and ideas

I was born with a charismatic and dynamic nature

and then, naturally, I was slapped down

who did I think I was

I had to be disabused of my notions of equality and outspoken freedom

I internalized the waves of disrespect that washed over me

and subsequently lacked a certain confidence

Then I tried to please those who would limit and dismiss me

Maybe they were right, I thought

I’d do as they say

and “succeed”

They broke all of their promises of reward

refused to recognize that I had fulfilled all of their requirements

and either mocked me, unfairly punished me, slandered me, treated me harshly

or simply ignored me

banished me to go sit in a corner

and forgot me there

Then I went into years of anger

not hate exactly

I never even imagined myself hurting anyone

It isn’t in my nature to want vengeance

But I began to demand equality

I didn’t take any shit from anybody

I actually made progress with this stance

Ironically it was this defiance

that got me societal respect in some quarters

as a lawyer, a professor and a writer

I took all the unrecognized work from my years in the cold

and turned it into something

but this societal respect was not of the same high quality of the respect that I received from Paul Sills

who was beyond society

the respect that is the prerequisite for creative autonomy

Now I give that respect to myself

I determine what is meaningful for me

I assess the quality of my work

I am not dependent on the recognition of the world

I am immune to it

I am too preoccupied working on this writing

trying to make some expression of my personal truth

than to ultimately care what you think of it

This does not make me alienated from the world and society as one might expect

The opposite is true

We live in a terrible and exciting time

Huge social forces are demanding a world of respect

in contest with entrenched but failing forces who want to hold fast to their condescending control

I want the $600 unemployment relief

and universal health care

and economic justice

and good and fair housing, food security and education

a righteous criminal justice system

I want people to have the fundaments of life secured

so that they can grow into their creative autonomies

I don’t have the time or energy to argue with anyone over my worthiness anymore

I’m worthy — get over it

Fate can be unkind

but if you know what is right fortune will never desert you

The chronology that I gave of my development to a state of creative autonomy is a little misleading

because it is a chronology

actually all of these moments swirl around each other in one moment

more Jackson Pollock than Diego Rivera

Nothing linear about these matters

Each state of being —- respect, disrespect, hate, creative autonomy and all the others are separate colors

dripped and splattered on the canvas of my individual and our collective lives

Psychology, sociology, political science, philosophy, history, theology all darting avoiding and colliding into each other

ethics and morality shot into a particle accelerator

the physical properties of the soul

what is simply is

it is the level of our consciousness that is the complex challenge.

Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas


















8/1/20: Overture #poetry

8/1/20: Overture #poetry

I levitate out of Hades

Ragged leprous arms reach for my ankles

Flames lap at my feet

the sound of moaning becomes more and more distant

Memory has been processed enough

Essence is known

a feeling not a plan

Disease and depression and rage and fear and ignorance has ravaged the land

everything that I ever participated in is destroyed

Good riddance

the butter has exploded in the microwave

a tiny disaster that becomes an opportunity

to clear out all other dirt and mess

the oven is a tiny proscenium stage

an empty space

an opportunity to enter

without an idea

or a perspective

as innocent as Adam or Eve

Paradise found

nothing but a nap sack

filled with people

and songs

and movies and books

ice cream

the little “unimportant” moments

that people recall on their deathbeds


that have the most meaning


and universal base income


and health care for all

the music of Frank Loesser

and the acceptance of a friend

The music of Lerner and Lowe

“Where am I going I don’t know

how will I get there I’m not certain

all I know is I am on my way”

After World War II it was time for Sid Caesar and Danny Kaye

and Rodgers and Hammerstein

songs and racial justice

an awareness of the Holocaust

and the choice for something else

in politics

in art

in human relationships

no not a choice — what was next

“Got a dream boy, got a song

paint your wagon and come along”

I am thrilled to not know what is next

I have the music

the words will come later

Musical comedy world

transcending pain and death and injustice

free from the burden of memory

no longer misshapen

biochemical  anxiety

becomes delighted anticipation

the overture begins

creation is abundant

our fear is what is small

not us

we are the world

eternally young and new

negative is positive

adversity is opportunity

wounds expose our potential for joy

our endings are beginnings

our new existence will be glorious

in stark contrast to the misery of the old

I’m glad that I don’t know what is next

It’s a great surprise present

Tomorrow is for sorrow and death

today is for the thrill of the life that is upon us

a lot of life

Tomorrow is for the alchemy of the pain of memory into empathy

and demands for justice

and encouragement of the oppressed

and the removal of obstacles

and the mourning of life

Today is for a glimpse

of how it will feel

when all is what it should be

Life can be lovely you know

lovelier even than the best times that you can remember

“with a song in my heart … ”

Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas










7/31/20: The Folly of Planning #poetry

7/31/20: The Folly of Planning #poetry

It’s an old and common sentiment

planning is a fool’s errand

Reader’s Digest

John Lennon

Al Roker!

Robert Burns

my father

the guy next door probably

it doesn’t take a genius

or a poet

to see it

Life is beyond our control

Roker gives the sunny Today version

Life is a matter of being open to opportunity

My father was a contradiction

His example was improvisational

but he had plans for me

He wanted me to be a certain type of person

and so did most of the people around me

who were small town mediocrities in Rochester, New York

people whose entire constructs of their communal and individual lives

have disappeared

Kodak factory, sports, the Church. Italian-American social clubs

the primacy of doctors and lawyers and businessmen

the underclass of insecure and resentful worker bees


with the pose of moral certainty

All gone now

swept away by progress, revolution and death

The best laid plans of mice and men, beautiful boy

I close my eyes and I see the Great Flood

Nothing matters but what I think

The only thing possible is what is possible

Dad had a friend that he knew from playing and coaching soccer

A Scottish guy named Andy McKay

He saw that my father was making a mistake with me

Dad said I was a dreamer, and lazy

Andy said I was a hard worker

I come from working class people

Andy wasn’t highly educated

But he saw that I was a writer

and he gave me a collection of poems by Robert Burns

I didn’t even realize this act of empathy and kindness

until this morning

about fifty-five years later

Andy is long gone

and so is my father

Did my father love me?

I’m not sure

It doesn’t matter now

I think he did

but not enough

from my limited point of view

I planned for my father to be an endless source of wisdom and love

unconcerned for his needs and psychology

I needed love that went beyond his plans

I needed him to put me first

to be there for me

not to have his own conflicts and frustrations

not for him to be in exile from his true self

not for him to be a sensitive kid burdened by other people’s plans

(he was fun and he did what he wanted and he was creative and funny and he could be very nice and he wasn’t serious and he disrespected social status in a wise and strong way … he was charismatic … he praised me as often as he criticized me, often for things that I didn’t think were important — you’re good looking ! —- but he was very concerned about all that was best and most important in me — he had plans — I was smart — I was supposed to become a rich lawyer — two things that I had no interest in — wealth or practicing law — he terrorized me as a kid — I was afraid all of the time — he was an orphan — abandoned by his mother and sent to a fascist school — I was my mother’s favorite and a whole psychological struggle was going on here too — I was a fat kid and he challenged me to a foot race — he was a jock and he beat me in the race  — I was supposed to fail for him and then get abused by him for failing — of course I succeeded a lot at the things that I was good at it, and those things were dismissed as unimportant — I loved him and got involved with a lot of people like him who weren’t the best choices for me — I still love him — I think he did the best that he could and I believe he really loved me too — but I am not him and I never wanted his plans for me — I think that bothered him the most — he would say —- Your brother always listens, you do what you please … you have all of the answers …. He never controlled me … I never felt that I had to obey him — it was unplanned, but my relationship with my father made autonomy and equality natural things for me … My father had a sentimentality about his mother, America, the American Dream, “winning” that I just didn’t share … I am smarter than my father was, but I am not deeper — I’m pretty deep and I get that from him … He was very active and very reflective … he was sexually abused as a child by fascist priests and he was never abusive to anyone — but remained sentimental about the Church to honor his mother who sent him to the school where the priests molested him — and I guess I had to follow his legacy and seek out such undeserved pain …. my father and I are one — I am my father — shaped by the unintended consequences of misguided plans)

and his own strategy for survival

which unconsciously directed his being

not his bullshit ideas about how a man should be or how the world was

not by his wrong headed conclusions about the nature of reality

his love of power and recognition

neither of which he received in great quantities

I’m not angry at the memory

or even hurt

I can’t plan out who my father was

God didn’t give me what I needed in my father

God gave it to me in Andy McKay

It didn’t take a long relationship

Just assisting Andy with some work project in our basement

and getting a surprise gift of a book of poetry

Really a perfect gift

A personal expression of the giver — Scottish pride

with an understanding of the recipient — a writer

Years later I went out with a woman who worked in my agent’s office

She was the daughter of a college professor from Winnipeg, Canada

She gave me a copy of Moby Dick

She saw that I wasn’t meant for the auditions that she was sending me on

But I had plans

I followed a map

and I got lost


Plans about who I was

Plans about what a man was that my father “taught” me

Plans with confidence in the fairness and morality and possibilities of the world

that Rochester, New York was so stupidly sure of

Battered by the world

and the criticism of my father and his surrogates

and the unplanned truth of my soul

that perceptive kind people saw

like Andy and the agent’s assistant

My plans took me away from a world of kindness and creativity

and into a world of commerce and competition

for which I was wholly unequipped

Truth, beauty, words

ethics, kindness

this was the unplanned core

A former student asks me for a letter of recommendation

why I wonder

who needs schools

schools have been swept away in the tsunami

I never learned anything in schools

Just live

follow what interests you

take what comes and be where you like

If you want to do something apprentice with someone who does it

If you want to learn something read about it

Once you know how to read and write and think

You don’t need schools and all that bullshit

I went to lots of schools

It was all planned

It’s the reason I am a lawyer

But I learned about law when I prepared for the bar exam

and then worked at it

I never had a teacher or even a mentor in the law

I figured it out on my own

I taught in schools

that’s over now

Good riddance

I did a good job

but it was just a job

Anything I did for my students that meant anything was more like Andy McKay than a college professor

I did all sorts of improvisational acting workshops

as a student and teacher

didn’t learn a damn thing

I look at the Facebook page where all of the improv “teachers” market their classes

the teachers and their classes all look childish to me

and I mean all — no exceptions

not much different than being a recreation director on a cruise ship

My life has been a life of executing misbegotten plans

Listening to people who had their heads up their asses

and missing the kind whispers of people who cared for me and had some insight as to who I am

… and the true nature of the world of man which is a lot less wonderful than they thought in Rochester

You might think I am filled with regret

The opposite is true

The folly of planning was my opportunity

It gave me a chance to feel the world

It hurt

not just see the world

that’s art class shit

just seeing

Plans lead to the unplanned thing


I doubt that I am different than you

We have all of these vectors of our being

The first is who we really are

a unique soul

and then there is the force of the illusions of the people that we are close to

and finally is the burden of our plans

which lead us to all forms of disappointments

we pursue happiness and find something else

Eventually we reflect

and after a lot of hard work

our disappointments become understanding

we learn by living

about ourselves and the world

and how we and the world get in the way

of our understanding of what is

Once in a while

there is a congruence between our hearts, our understanding and the true opportunities that the world presents

and in those moments we are fulfilled

and we know it

But we are always fulfilled

whether we know it or not

There is no escaping

who we are

or the influences that fate has impressed upon us

or the reality of the world

Plan what will be?


Discover what is

and let it take you where it takes you.

Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas












7/28/20: An inventory of recent pieces at the end of something on the brink of something new … #poetry #essay #PoeticEssay #improvisation

#poetry #essay #PoeticEssay #improvisation

The Rick Blog

7/28/20: An inventory of recent pieces at the end of something on the brink of something new … #poetry #essay #PoeticEssay #improvisation

What is improvisation? What is poetry? What is essay? For me, I guess they are whatever I say that they are.

The journey of the artist transcends rules, expectations, forms and groups …

Choice has nothing to do with it …

Art is a process of fulfillment …

Universal life expressed in my specific voice …

something to be followed …

I write what I don’t know …

reason comes in later and makes sense of what happened

a serene eye in the middle of a swirl of anxious pain and confusion

faith in a clarity

unknown to my mortality

whispering, shouting and singing to my immortality

Society is an absurd Rube Goldberg contraption

Natural life is something else

Without my art, I’d have no life at all

View original post 329 more words

7/28/20: An inventory of recent pieces at the end of something on the brink of something new … #poetry #essay #PoeticEssay #improvisation

7/28/20: An inventory of recent pieces at the end of something on the brink of something new … #poetry #essay #PoeticEssay #improvisation

What is improvisation? What is poetry? What is essay? For me, I guess they are whatever I say that they are.

The journey of the artist transcends rules, expectations, forms and groups …

Choice has nothing to do with it …

Art is a process of fulfillment …

Universal life expressed in my specific voice …

something to be followed …

I write what I don’t know …

reason comes in later and makes sense of what happened

a serene eye in the middle of a swirl of anxious pain and confusion

faith in a clarity

unknown to my mortality

whispering, shouting and singing to my immortality

Society is an absurd Rube Goldberg contraption

Natural life is something else

Without my art, I’d have no life at all

My essence would be usurped by submission and rebellion to false masters

conning and bullying me to consider the unimportant

to be crucial

The new thing?

A major change is near

what is it?

It won’t announce itself

I’ll just  say or do something

that I will later understand to be quite major and important

Success, recognition are not remotely the thing

they are secondary

What is primary

is the thing

the joyful

complex images

perceived with innocent simplicity



and persistent

I am open and ready and prepared

not for mere inspiration

but for natural life

The experience of a lifetime

becomes the experience of telling its story

all communities and formats


and separate from old impurities

more than unique

more than original

Simply true

If there is any encouragement

that I can give the reader

to apply to their own lives

And what use is art if you can’t make those applications?

I write tonight especially for those who are nearly ready

to go their own way


by bosses

and peers

and teachers

and audiences

Releasing themselves

from how you go about it

how you do it

Sick of being told as to what matters to them

Hurt by a rejection that they don’t understand

Naive to the aims and ideas of other people

Rebellious against anyone else’s definitions of who they are

and what the world is

Restless and alone

Filled with desire for I-don’t-know-what

Strenuously pushing planks and boulders

off of their chests and legs

Choking on dirt and dust

Gestating and going into labor

Uncertain of what they delivered

and ultimately crying tears of delight

totally in love

awed and afraid

worrying about their creation’s fate

nurturing it

defending it

being exasperated by it

fighting it

giving yourself to its development

and ultimately letting it go

allowing it its freedom

accepting and loving whatever it becomes.

Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas

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7/27/20: Life of Art and Other Things #poetry #essay #PoeticEssay #RobertAltman


7/27/20: Life of Art and Other Things #poetry #essay #PoeticEssay  #RobertAltman

Saw Ron Mann’s documentary, Altman, for the second time last Saturday

The first time I saw the movie it was on a double bill in Santa Monica

I was attempting to revive a career as a theatrical improviser

The documentary was on a double bill with Altman’s great film, Nashville

Christoph Waltz was sitting in our row, all alone

I was teaching at UIC at the time

and I was trying to reconnect with old friends and colleagues from my days at Second City

I went to a workshop — the leader said that I was a novice and a “lawyer” — an amateur who was just visiting

He criticized my constant talk of “art”

He said improvisation was a “craft”

He saw his work as a job

And he wasn’t very successful at it

He talked endlessly about how he regretted that he never auditioned for a job as a clown on a local TV children’s show

I always was so attentive to my own voice

that I didn’t understand what was going on around me

who I was with

what motivated them

I am a perpetual innocent

always having to figure things out

Sometimes it takes years to really know

It is painful and then joyful — every time

I’m a lot like Robert Altman

that’s why I watched the movie again

this time in my quarantine stance

no Santa Monica

just me and Paula and the recliner

In the quiet of the outer reaches of Hyde Park

the various regions of art

sunny and gray

months in a pandemic

two days in Santa Monica …

A participant in the workshop who was a show runner for a successful and awful situation comedy

about a crude and boorish father and his dim-witted family

criticized a piece that I had written for having “too many big words”

I once was attracted to a woman who wore Mickey Mouse decals on her jeans

but it was just lust

That piece Art Has Its Day in L. A. was the first emergence of my transformed more mature voice

The voice of the old improviser and blocked artist and telemarketer and mental patient and trial lawyer and professor

a voice uninterested in simple answers

a voice with eyes that looks and says what it sees

Altman looked and told people what he saw

Dissatisfied with episodic TV

because it wasn’t true

Sometimes I write something that hits the zeitgeist in some way

matches some general mood

and more people read it than usual

Sometimes I write something controversial

and more people read it than usual

The constant is what interests me

The voice that reconciles what was new and old in me

Understanding myself and coming to terms with the world

Each lost friend and field of activity is replaced by a new one

The doubt about money or popularity was important for a time

a turning of attention from one’s voice to other things

the creation of wounds to suture and heal

and transfigure into art

beyond clowns, sitcoms and cartoons

Blake, Melville, Altman, Me — acclaim …

and print shops, customs houses, obscure theaters, pandemic apartments

Art Has Its Day in L. A. (from Spring 2015)

Paula and I had an art filled day in Los Angeles yesterday. We saw the Turner exhibit at the Getty Museum and we saw Robert Altman’s masterpiece movie from the mid-70’s Nashville at the Aero revival house in Santa Monica.

L.A. is a city of grandiose intentions betrayed. It sprawls in unfinished disrepair. If a hoarder’s house became an urban landscape it would be Los Angeles. One seedy building of past or imagined grandeur after another passed by us as we drove the crowded, impatient and  uncivil streets and boulevards. Every edifice screamed I CAN MAKE A BUCK HERE! I CAN MAKE A BUCK HERE! L.A. is a sprawling drunk who believes he is sober. Its attempts at dignity are pathetic and comical. I really like it. Oh, the humanity!

And then there is the Getty. We park our hulking rent-a-car, a mid-size SUV. The fifteen dollars is all that we will need to spend for our entire time at the museum. This one’s on J. Paul Getty.

The Getty is located on a hill top. Visitors take a monorail from a valley to the pavilions. The hill is meticulously landscaped. The rail cars are spotless. The large crowd in our car is calm with happy and quiet anticipation. Evolved life reigns. Undenied animal natures gratefully subordinate themselves to the gods within. Not one shallow or restless breath is exhaled. The air and all minds present are clear. A community rises above its avarice and fear. The possible happens.  A first moment of sobriety.

Art need not be an escape—the cathedral that you are tossed to from the gritty sand storm battle of what is called living. But it is just that because we make it that way. We are all Angelinos. Philanthropy is civic-minded “charity” that bequeaths us momentary glimpses of our birthrights. Our moments of peace are gifts to us from the men like J. Paul Getty who fouled our air in the first place. We have turned essential life into a beggar. Education, health care, art, culture has a pledge drive. The idea is that market forces will create wealth and men of profit will build all the infrastructure we need to sustain it. Our human needs will be met indirectly once we attain our desire for profit. But many stretches of Los Angeles look as worn-out and deteriorated as the streets of the newly liberated republics of the former Communist bloc countries of Eastern Europe in the late 1980’s. Turner and Nashville know that the denial of life is motivated by something less obvious and simplistic than political and economic ideology. Ideologies are sideshow distractions from the essential nature of us all—useful tools in our continuing effort to avoid real thought.

We arrive at the top. Turner on loan from the Tate in London shows us how to be more effectively human. We have so much potential. Turner defies classification. Turner makes no accommodation for our acceptance or rejection. His paintings show a world with few boundaries—where one thing…a man, a whale, a mast of a ship…it doesn’t really matter…one thing at a time stands out in defined relief. The voice on the iPod guide quotes Henry David Thoreau. It doesn’t matter what you look at; what matters is what you see. Our world is as wise and clear and kind and good as we want to make it—our only limitation is the depth of our perception.

Nashville, a satire created in the 1970’s is timeless—with a message for any place and moment. Depth perception. The film’s central comment: authoritarianism is chaotic, ironically. The despotic promise of order from political leaders brings disorder. The narcissism of self-involvement is exploited by those who crave power. Almost no character listens. Almost every talks a lot most often when other characters are talking. Almost everyone is either onstage looking to be pleased by the audience’s approval or in the audience looking to be pleased by the performer’s flattery. The mass cruelly hurts itself in the ignorant pursuit of a non-existent power while the cunning manipulates it from a detached vantage point and dictates all its action. The mass is unaware of its lack of freedom until after a trauma near the end of the movie when it chooses the comfort of a life of denial of reality and a surrender of freedom and even self-interest for the delusion of non-existent pleasure and a good time. Nashville is Los Angeles is Chicago is America is us. The Getty shows us what real life could be attached to the lie that it can only come to us as a gift from the cunning detached voice of real power in Nashville. Turner shows us what freedom looks like for ourselves as individuals and by extension our communities. He looks where he pleases and really sees. As does Robert Altman and company in Nashville.

Art is mysticism plus craft. What do you see and what do you make of it? A painting? A movie? A monorail? A city? A world?

Copyright 2015 Richard Thomas

Gore Vidal is most interested with the essay

So am I

Rosemary Harris, the actress, wore her own clothes in her mature career

and applied her own make-up

Same here — no costumes

no characters

no fictions

just essay

and poetry

the poetic essay

Robert Altman was told when he was a young man

that he was a good writer

He wrote a screenplay

It went nowhere

He decided to leave L.A. and go work in the New York Theater

He stopped in his hometown Kansas City

and stayed for a while

He got a job making industrial films

He learned a lot of craft

He eventually became an episodic TV director

and he subsequently became disenchanted and rebellious

He wanted the shows to be more real

He did great work

and got praised and fired for it

That’s how it goes

You do something well

and get thrown out of the tribe

and drawn into a new tribe

Altman got fired from directing a movie called Countdown 

because he wanted the actors to talk at the same time

Overlapping lines

The producer thought he was an amateur

Others admired the technique

He was offered the movie M*A*S*H

It was a smash hit

at a time when studios were giving creative control to the artists — the writers, directors and actors

Altman’s success with M*A*S*H led to several great art films

including McCabe and Mrs. Miller and Nashville

Frank Sinatra singing That’s Life

a puppet, a pauper, a pirate, a poet, a pawn and a king 

The world turned a little

The studios shifted in their attitude toward artists

and Altman was as innocent as I was during my weekend in Santa Monica

He made Popeye

Altman did his usual art

some things worked in the movie

some things were experiments which would lead to better work later

all was process

all was worthy

Popeye lost a lot of money

the opposite of what was expected

Altman was a failure

a has been

a cautionary tale


so he did little plays

some of which he changed into little independent movies

He kept going

A maverick

expressing his art

supporting his family

Many years later

a producer thought the maverick Altman would be a perfect choice to direct a scathing satire of Hollywood, The Player

Altman was on top again

Short Cuts, Gosford Park, The Prairie Home Companion


I’m like Altman

All artists are like Altman

7/26/20: The Different Ways to Talk #poetry #writing #entertainment #sales #thelaw #teaching #art

#entertainment — make them feel good

#sales — persuade them to do something

#thelaw — argue and advocate for or against them

#teaching — make them think

#art — the audience is not objectified. No “them”. The artist doesn’t perform, pretend, argue, advocate or persuade — not really, even if it sounds that way. The artist is pursuing …

I just write about what interests me — or more precisely what comes up. I don’t choose what I write about it. It chooses me. I don’t think about what interests the audience. I don’t care. I figure the people that want to read it will read it and those who don’t won’t. I also think you can go deeper on any topic and say something worthwhile. I try to never just comment on the level of a cable TV pundit. I am looking for connections, metaphors, trends … if I label something #commentary I might get a little more toward opinion — but I am going for more than opinion — I am stating my truth. The process involves more than stating a rational point of view. It’s much more personal and experiential than that.

An “art” audience and an “entertainment”,  “sales”, “law” or “teaching” audience are obtained in different ways. I’ve done all of these modes of talking, and they all share elements of craft. The differences are based on the orientation — the goal.

Art has an objectivity to it — the truth — limited of course by the artist’s personal point of view which is subjective. We are all the center of the universe and no one can stand simultaneously in the same place as someone else at the same time. Art is objective, but not absolute in its findings. It resembles science in that way. There is always more to find out, another angle to explore …

Entertainers market to get audiences, sales people call on prospects and leads, lawyers sue or defend when sued, and teachers recruit and admit students. An artist’s audience finds him. It is a mystery how true art engages the world, and how the world finds and engages true art. 

I know the world and art find each other … I’ve seen it happen, but I am not as clear on the process as I am on the other less evolved forms of talk.

I’ll keep you posted.

Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas

See — I’m like Altman … all artists are like Altman …

artists move and communicate and succeed and fail and it doesn’t matter

it doesn’t matter

Santa Monica dreaming

or reclusive in a pandemic

on a blog

or at the Oscars

In Altman’s acceptance speech for his honorary Oscar

he sounds a lot like a guy who makes industrial films in Kansas City

The heart can reveal itself in settings humble or grand

It hardly matters

Each rejection is the start of an embrace

The heart is an explorer

In art the persistent work is what matters

award winner or pariah

celebrated or reviled

pleasing the boss or enraging him

are other things …

Choosing that indescribable thing

that essence

and sticking with it

it always works out

and it always doesn’t.

Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas