10/17/18: Friends and Non-Friends


In times of transition a peculiar cavalry arrives. No horses or rifles are involved. They make no arguments on my behalf. They confront no enemies.

They offer simple affirmation.

My wife, Paula, goes to Milwaukee to see friends. One friend, a young woman with an Ivy League pedigree tells Paula, “I know Rick is not working.” Unbeknownst to me, this friend reads my blog.  That’s how she knew. “He’s such a good writer. He should just write.”

Paula strongly agrees. My wife is my greatest friend and her support means everything.


Several Facebook friends like my writing. Thumbs up icons. Hearts. They make positive comments.  “Wow.” “A fine writer.” “Does anyone know a publisher?” “This should be in Rolling Stone.” “I love this!” The Facebook friends share my writing on their pages and in groups. They show me that my work has meaning to others, not just me. Their approval is not what counts. What matters is that they are there. They are not the broader audience for which my work is ultimately intended. They are more than that. They are the prophets who tell me that my audience exists.

An old dear friend, who I have known since my Second City days in the 1980s, invites me to join a small business networking app. She provides me with a tool of independence, but more importantly she tells me in that simple action that I deserve that independence.

When I was working as a lawyer in the Prudential Building, I went to the coffee place in the basement one day. I ran into two non-friends from Second City who also know my old dear friend. The non-friends work in advertising. They ridiculed me for working for a living. They ridiculed me for being a lawyer. They later ridiculed me for being an academic. I am certain that they would ridicule me for writing, particularly writing of this kind, now. They ridicule the transformations of my life, a life of growth that rejects  ladders.

Friendship is not found in membership in the Second City, or any other kind, of alumni association. The memory of the non-friends’ ridicule, a competitive social transaction that I am sure the non-friends have long forgotten —I’m sure that they have several such interactions every day — lives on in my hippocampus — in a minor key not as severe as the attempted rape of Dr. Blasey-Ford. The non-friends wanted to create doubt, and they succeeded in a limited way. They did not paralyze me. They only gave me difficult moments — a harassing feeling to contemplate and overcome when things were up in the air. Their goal was to make things harder for me and to make me feel alone. Their cunning was to exploit my naive belief that they were my friends. Their cunning reveals their fear. They are smart men, maybe among the smartest. They saw what was strong in me and wished to conquer it. They wanted to win some contest in a league that I never joined.

Smart fearful men conspire to lay low the greatness available to all of us who live with loving and earnest openness and innocence. We are vulnerable to hurt and disappointment to honor the potential for joy.

The joy of friendship.

Winning is an illusion.  The winner believes he has conquered fear, but as Dallas Cowboy Duane Thomas said in the 1970s, “If the Super Bowl is the ultimate game, why are they going to play it next year?”

Love is what conquers all.

Judas was the smartest apostle. Salieri saw Mozart’s greatness with greater insight than any of Mozart’s other contemporaries. Betrayal is not reserved to be inflicted upon men and women of genius, and upon the divine. We are all people of genius and we all have god within us. Our choice to accept that reality or not determines what we create or destroy in our finite lives and in eternity.

A great mistake would be to respond to non-friends’ competitive violence with violence. My dear old friend redeems me from this old recurring pain and temptation with an invitation to a networking app. She saves me from the hell of retribution — if only in a theater of arguments in my mind. I focus on her love, and the non-friends disappear. They transform into something else — sad people worthy of compassion while in a hell  — or purgatory, it’s up to them — incapable of friendship. Not people to be saved. People to be understood.

My dear old friend healed my wound of doubt. And she has never even known about the ridicule in the coffee shop. That’s how it works. Friendship is the field of unintended miracles.

The non-friends would laugh at my sensitivity here. They continue to live their lives like a pick-up basketball game. I get it now.

In 2018, millions of non-friends are agitated. They panic. This is true at any time, at any point in history. 2018 is one of the moments when the crisis of non-friendship is apparent to just about everybody. Non-friendship is in a heightened and extreme state. The addiction to success forces armies of non-friend junkies to commit acts of escalating malevolence.

Millions of non-friends live in this state of fierce and spiritually constipated animation. They believe that war, the most unforgiving competition, leads to accomplishment. They assess their lives quantitatively — body counts, delight in the suffering of others. The qualitative, love, is ignored. “I live. You die. I win.”

Their toughness denies them friendship and meaning. Their toughness denies them their vulnerability. Their toughness denies them life itself.

Other millions live in friendship. The capacity to give and accept friendship is a gift. In Catholic school it would be called a manifestation of God’s grace. The friends bear witness to their divine gift. That witness drives the non-friends to exaggerated and ever-greater degrees of manic lunacy. The non-friends fear love, because love acknowledges death. Love respects reality.

Non-friendship is a severe mental illness. The craziest people aren’t in asylums. Life is short and eternal. Make it count. Non-friends can’t handle that truth. So they play act a murderous fairy tale.

Fear meets love whether either “side” likes it or not. Fear is driven to dominate. Love rejects cliques, so the subjugation of the fearful is out of the question. All men are created equal. Condescension and oppression are perverse.

The current American conflict is superficially described as “tribal.” It is not tribal. It is a moral struggle. We are all Jesus, Mozart and Trump in differing degrees and in a myriad of good and bad personal qualities. Even something in Trump himself knows right from wrong. We are all born with a conscience, and a desire to love and be loved. Non-friends heavy on the Trump can’t be persuaded. Trying to convince them is a fool’s errand. When lousiness is so prevalent, friends are confronted with a challenge and an opportunity. If we can accentuate the Jesus and Mozart, and eliminate as much of the Trump within ourselves  as humanly possible, and don’t mess with Mr. In-Between, the external world will more perfectly mirror the beauty in our hearts.

Two friends, and a child of a friend, have cancer. Another friend struggles during the months before a hip replacement. All three friends have bestowed on me their warmth and generosity for many years. Their suffering and hope is also mine. Friendship is an honor. Friendship has no burden. The heaviest of things make us light.

Years ago I suffered through a period of my life when I couldn’t see the good in the world. I could only see hardheartedness, bad intentions and disease. I knew that friends emerged in times of illness and disaster, but I saw no role for friendship in the simple struggle of living life — my struggle then and now. I was a person trapped in an illusion of loneliness and isolation. Your parents help you when you are dependent, if you are lucky enough to have loving parents. Who is there for you when you don’t need help — when your task is life, something that you must figure out and execute alone?


No one can make a life for you. This is life’s challenge and it is its greatness. But as you create meaning — not by manufacturing reasons but rather by honoring impulses divinely imprinted in your soul — friends arrive. People that you know and people that you had not yet met.


Friendship is one of the greatest wonders of the world — much more impressive than the Grand Canyon.

Friends who say, “I see you and I love you.”

Friends who say, “I am different than you and I am the same. What is imprinted upon your heart also lives in mine.”

Friendship, not its sentimental yearning expressed in Hallmark cards, but an existential reality. The paradox of specific individuality and the connection of community.

Friendship is beyond society. Society is formed out of fear. Society is a pact of mutual protection.

Friendship is born in adventure. Beating cancer. Living and dying. Starting out as a professional writer. Restoring a democracy.

Nothing in human history was ever accomplished by society. Everything great was accomplished by friendship and other forms of love.

Cable TV pundits opine on how to respond to fascism. Websites give direction on how to counter bullies. Vocational counselors advise ways to deal with bad bosses and unforgiving markets. Varieties of non-friendship.

Friends know what to do by virtue of who and what they are:

-work to understand your own soul

-affirm the souls of others doing that same work

-follow the demands of your authenticity with integrity

-never compromise your soul to the demands of your enemies, but

-love your enemies, and

-don’t fight your enemies using their methods

-know that whether you win or lose is not what matters

-what matters is being true, and

-loving what is true in others.

The power of the powerless.


Copyright 2018 Richard Thomas




10/14/18: Beyond Smallness


My mother’s body is small. It has always been small, Now it is smaller than ever. She said she had to go to the bathroom. The aide said she doesn’t get up to go to the bathroom anymore. The aide asked her to turn on her side. My mother’s anus is stained brown. It isn’t dirty. It’s faded and discolored like the finish of an ancient car. The aide soothed Mom with an ointment. Mom accepted the help without pleasure or appreciation.

One of Picasso’s last paintings is of his harlequin persona fading away. Old soldiers die and they fade away. MacArthur and Picasso died. Of the two, only Picasso knew what he was doing.

I once saw Buddhist monks complete an intricate sand painting the size of a small dining room floor at the Museum of Natural History in New York. As soon as they completed the last intricate detail, they pulled little brooms out of cloth bags and swept the colored sand away.

Man you are dust and to dust you shall return. Humility is the last station before heaven at the end of the line.

My mother hallucinates. Her hallucinations are grand. She celebrates beautiful babies and serves holiday feasts. She does not suffer fools gladly. She tells off the mean.

Her body is too small now. Soon it won’t be able to hold her. A grilled cheese sandwich cut in precise quarters by some kind soul sits cold and uneaten on her tray table. Mom is starving her useless body into nothingness. Soon only an empty bed will remain.

Mom wears an ironically permanent cast protecting her broken leg which will never heal. The doctor wrapped her feet to make her comfortable. She looks at the movie, “Titanic” on TV and sees scenes from the grand romance of her life and of the dreams of her life. She no longer knows from Winslet or DiCaprio.

I held her hand for two hours. I stroked her hair and patted her arm and shoulder. She put calm energy into being consciously alive for two hours on Saturday, October 13, 2018. These two hours were worth it to her. This was her current paradise — her son, and a glimpse of her future of pure love minus the suffering that is only needed on this plane. She has always fiercely lived in time and joyfully lived in eternity. She has courageously paid all of her dues, and has accepted all of love’s rewards. The dues are nearly paid in full. Her biggest dividends are near.

Sacrifice and bliss. Mom never feared death or failure. She has always reached for the stars, and she is about to touch them. The broken legs and hearts from whenever she missed the mark are irrelevant. They just come with the program.

P got his Masters in Accounting from the University of Illinois in the 1980s. He joined a firm. He quit the firm after one year.

P then took improv classes and briefly escaped accounting.

P thought that improvisation was a way to transcend his introversion. P was ashamed of his introversion.

P mis-diagnosed himself. There is nothing wrong with being introverted. P’s problem isn’t his personality. It is his character.

P is a coward.

P became an accounting lecturer at a university. He was, and is, tall, nice-looking and athletic. He was well-liked by his students. He told himself that he didn’t want to pursue his PhD in accounting. He told himself that he was happy to remain a lecturer. He said that he just wanted an income so that he could pursue survivalist training in the woods every summer.

P has lived a life preoccupied with survival.

P self-medicated with sentimentality. His favorite movie is “Dead Poets Society.” (He should have contemplated “The Remains of the Day.”) He reassured himself: sure, he was disrespected by his colleagues who got their doctorates and tenure, but he inspired his students. The others could do their research. He would teach and live what he thought was freely. Young minds and the beauty of nature. P should also check out “Election.”

Late in P’s career, he got an idea. He would use his limited understanding of the art of improvisational acting as a technique to conquer introversion.

His class became popular with the students and with the administrators. His class became a program. P got an office down the hall from the dean. The dean saw money in P’s approach. Fun with the veneer of human development. Judy Garland sings “That’s Education!”

An assistant dean introduced me to P.

I liked P when I first met him. I was teaching improv workshops for lawyers. My faulty idea was that I would teach a low grade version of an art that I knew so that I could make a living and support my improvisational acting and my writing. I got a job as an adjunct instructor at P’s school. Improv for Lawyers wasn’t going that well.  (That’s OK. A lot of rockets blew up before we got to the moon. I saw “First Man” yesterday.)

I met with P several times. We talked about progressive politics. We talked about improvisation, teaching and art. I married for the first time late in life, and so did he. We talked about that.

I knew that I was smarter and more experienced than P. I had studied with the first and best teachers of improvisation. I worked on the main stage at Second City. I finished my education and got a law degree, a juris doctorate. I had been a trial lawyer. I succeeded, I failed and I finished what I started. P spent his life in hiding. He committed to a job reciting to students ideas found in textbooks written by other people.

I wasn’t judgmental about P’s fearful nature. Who knew what had happened to him? I had moments of withdrawal when I had been particular beaten up by bullies and failure.

But I always got back out there eventually. Sometimes it took me a little longer than others.

P gave up, as do all people do who decide that work means making money for other people. First he hid, then he saw himself as a success. He took pathetic pride in the praise of administrators who were using him and shortchanging the customers, the student body. Selling out is often caricatured as en evil thing. It is actually sad. P should take a look at “The Founder.”

P is sad.

In year one of our five-year association, I told him that seminal work in the use of improvisation in education was done by Viola Spolin, the great acting teacher, and Neva Boyd, a sociologist at Hull House, which is on the campus of his university. He used my line of conversation as a line in a speech he used as a marketing pitch for his stolen vision of making his program an empire. (His insight was to sell introductory level Second City Training Center classes for the cost of a few college credits. He never aspired to know more about improvisation than what was involved in these classes. I observed his classes. In my day his “exercises” were known as “warm ups.”) He later told me with a deluded look in his eye that the Hull House line was his line.

I thought I knew what he was doing. It didn’t bother me. He wasn’t interfering with what I was doing in my classroom, and that was all that I cared about. Today, his lifting of the Hull House observation still doesn’t bother me personally, but it arouses my pity for P. I didn’t say the Hull House line because I read it in a book. I said it because I worked with Paul Sills, Spolin’s son, and others who applied the lessons of Hull House to the theater, and they referenced the fact occasionally.

I don’t mention Spolin and Sills here to name drop. The point is that I lived. If I have been interested in anything in life, I have gone as deeply into as I could. I was interested in improvisation and I made it my lack of business to go to meet them and work with them. It was me, not P, who disappointed my parents and left the protection of the middle class village, and went knocking around the forest of being broke and often ridiculed. Talk about survivalist training. Improvisation didn’t bring me glory, but it was part of my life and I lived it.

Sacrifice and bliss.

P never went all the way. He had a comforting experience when he was young, and decades later he figured out a way to parlay it into some “Design Within Reach” furniture. I’m not saying this to be mean. P must be in a lot of misdirected pain — the wrong kind of pain. Regrets, I’ve had a few, but then again too few to mention.

For P, life and regret are synonyms.

In year three of my association with P, he told me that people who improvise on stage for a living were different than him and me who just apply it in the mundane world. (I paraphrase. We don’t talk alike.) I looked at him incredulously, but I said nothing. He was leaving me alone in the classroom. That was all that mattered. I wasn’t too concerned about much that he said. By this time, I had lost respect for him, but I didn’t notice that I did.

In year four, P became aware of my blog and my stage show, and some improvisational work that I did with fellow Second City alumni. These activities were liberating and often agonizing processes that have led to simply clarifying that writing was what I had to do.  P knew nothing of the sacrifice involved with what I was doing. He didn’t know the sacrifice involved to committing to who you really are.

He was threatened by what I was doing. I was no longer a person to P. I was the personification of life, the state that P has been avoiding for as long as I have known him.

I once told a businessman that successful lawyers envied me. I was fat, broke and out of work at the time. He snorted, “What do they have to envy you for?” Well, it wasn’t a conscious envy, sir. It expressed itself in condescension. But in their dreams those lawyers knew that when my coffin was lowered into the ground, my body would have known the earth that it was being returned to. (I didn’t actually say this to the businessman. The denial of life makes such a person mentally inert.)

In year five, P told me to shut up every time that I saw him. He expressed his demand before I barely said hello. “Shut up” is the “drop dead” of non-violent people. P told me that I knew nothing about Trump or the Mueller investigation. He knew that I had done a three year project of writing and stage shows exploring Trump as a way of reflecting on the American character. He told me to “stop being philosophical.” If we weren’t teachers he might have added the derogatory epithet “college boy.” Finally, he politicked with the dean, and made sure that my contract was not renewed.

When you don’t hate someone and they hate your guts it can be disquieting.

At first I was hurt and angry about what P had done. And about how he spoke to me. I told P off in mind a thousand times.  The thought of P felt like a physical wound.

But the pain disappeared over time and with the required effort. Time alone does not heal wounds of this kind. I had the discipline to go through the pain to the end instead of denying it. That’s what you have to do. I gradually came to the realization that I didn’t want to teach, and that I would only write. Life is the only teacher. Life gives the right assignments to lead to all the relevant answers. It breaks your legs and wears out your stained anus. It humbles you and makes you small.

And then rewards you with what is large inside you and the vast universe itself.

I love you, Mom. Congratulations and thank you.

Thank you too, P. Watch “It’s a Wonderful Life.” And try to identify with Jimmy Stewart instead of Lionel Barrymore. I hope you find peace.

It’s not too late.

Copyright 2018 Richard Thomas









10/12/18: The Teaching Trap


There is no teaching. There is only breathing. No teacher ever taught me anything. I was friends with Paul Sills, the original improvisational acting teacher and director, briefly in the 1980s. I took classes with him too. But it wasn’t the classes that resonated. It was Paul himself. There was a partial similarity in the way we each experienced the world, a similarity that transcended biography, generation, or any demographic identity. He terrified me because I was terrified of myself, or at least the part of myself that he embodied in the world. In some moments my fear of Paul disappeared. Let’s call that grace, and I was alive. In those moments we knew each other.

I believe Paul was a writer who was trapped by teaching. And theater for that matter. Perhaps I am projecting, but I think I’m right. I know that I was trapped by teaching, and for a time by the theater too. Teaching and theater require a flexibility that Paul admirably lacked. I read a line by Joseph Campbell around the time that I knew Paul that said that an artist, or in my case a writer, does his art, and then teaches as his job — a low grade version of his art in order to make a living.  I followed that line until last Monday. My classes were compromised art, to call what I did teaching was false advertising for a false endeavor pursued for real money. Art  in the inappropriate venue of the classroom is partially obstructed by the limitations of the classroom’s audience — Students: desperate for someone to admire, to tell them what to do, to guide them on the road to the nonsense of success, to rebel against, to replace their absentee father, to encourage them, to conform to their superficial notions, to see as a vision of their future selves, to calm their fears, to give them hope, to tell them they are wonderful, to give them an A. Excellent students are burdened by the mediocrities around them. They’d be much better off going out on their own.

Campbell wrote that a teacher must modify his message to terms and proportions that can be understood by his audience. Good for Campbell. That is how he got over. I say that a teacher can only be an instrument of reform of the human soul. A teacher can never implement a revolution of the soul, and that is what is necessary. Revolution can only be done by the solitary person. Community occurs when transformed hearts harmonize together. Collective action then happens naturally — you don’t need technique to achieve it.

Paul occasionally would shout at me in his workshops “The Collective!” I wouldn’t cooperate with him. The people around me were bumbling their way to finding their voice. I wanted to speak and if they weren’t capable of it yet, I didn’t want to be held back. Every once in a while, I did a scene with someone else who knew how to speak, who was on fire to speak. Paul was very pleased with those scenes. Real community can’t be manufactured.

If you teach you can never reach your full potential as a writer. When I taught improvisational acting years ago, I had a line: “your audience finds you.” I was talking to myself. I should have listened more carefully. I have no idea if any of the students heard or understood and I have never cared if they did, then or now. You can’t spend your life longing for connection. You can only be open to it. If there is a hint of that neediness, even the neediness to serve, in your writing, you are doomed. Hospitality, yes. Compromise, no. Teaching is needy. I did it because I needed money. I still do. Back to the drawing board.

I never saw Paul as a teacher. I saw him as a friend. I think that is why he liked me. It is why I liked him.  He was frustrated by my struggles with timidity, but he appreciated the moments when I overcame my frights and came home. We each were born believing in equality. We each were born believing in truth. We each were appalled by the lies of society which murdered people in their sleep walking. We were each frustrated that we couldn’t do anything about it.

We had a lot in common.

I never learned a thing from Paul Sills.

When I knew Paul in New York City he was doing an Off-Broadway show called “Sills and Company.” There was a publicity still of Paul with the cast. He had a phony smile in the photo. It makes me sad to think of it because my friend was suffering that unconscious suffering of pain denied. He was trying to fit in and make some money. He wasn’t good at that. Neither am I (but hope springs eternal). He was at his best when we took long walks around Manhattan. Paul was a genius at being Paul when he had the opportunity.

Paul invited me to join the cast of the show. (I still thought that I was a performer back in the 1980s. I am not. I didn’t figure that out until December 2017. I rented a rehearsal space and read some of my work. Friends came to see me. The only thing that I cared about were the words. The rest of the work — the performing — felt like an imposition — a waste of my time and energy.  Christophe Waltz was on TV recently. He said that writing is a creative art, and acting is a craft. He said that a good actor gives a good performance in a good script and a bad performance in a bad script. He said it is all about the writing. He expressed what I feel. I admire actors, but it is writers who resonate with me. I enjoy watching bad movies. A writer can’t help but reveal him or herself even when they make dreck. I saw this terrible movie last weekend, “Night School.” It was stupid, but I liked the writers — as people. They were sincerely rooting for the human race. Writing, good or bad, can’t help but reveal who a writer is. Writing is one of the most honest things a person can do. Once when Paula and I were visiting L.A. we saw Christophe Waltz sitting by himself at a screening of “Nashville” at a revival house in Santa Monica. We were in the same row. He wasn’t self-conscious. He was spending an evening studying his craft. Not a teacher in sight, and an Austrian heart resonating to good writing.)

The cast of “Sills and Company” hated being on the same stage with me. They were accomplished improvisational actors, immersed in the craft of that school of acting. I, on the other hand, saw being onstage as an opportunity to express what I think and feel. Every time that I have ever improvised I was writing. Every time that I have ever had a conversation I have been writing. Every time that I have ever taught I was writing. Every time that I engaged in any of those activities I was a bit off center, an impulse struggling to find the right form. I may have been good at times, but I was never right.

Paul never followed up with me regarding “Sills and Company.” I waited a few weeks. I called him. My calls weren’t returned. Finally, I called his producer. The producer said, “Didn’t he tell you? He decided not to use you.”

I had an unusual reaction to the news. I wasn’t hurt. I wasn’t angry. I really didn’t understand what happened, but I didn’t care. I am extremely sensitive to slights, but this didn’t bother me. It wasn’t a slight. It just was what was. I called Paul again. He answered. We resumed our walks around New York.

Paul is dead and, of course, many other people and experiences have influenced me for good and ill since I knew him. Knowing him was educational. Everything is educational.

Paul didn’t teach me a damn thing.

We weren’t interested in using each other.

We were interested in breathing.

Copyright 2018 Richard Thomas

10/9/2018: Unemployment


I thought that I had what I considered to be a really good job lined up and I didn’t get it. The guy who said that he was going to hire me moved to a new position in the organization. His replacement wasn’t interested. I had been waiting to finalize the contract since August.

How did I react? I’m wise. I’m a writer. I had a fight with my wife and ate most of a small deep dish pizza. Then I made a few desperate job outreach type moves. I tried to frame my efforts in my mind to maintain some sort of lie to myself that I knew what I was doing. I followed a few “leads.” Next, I watched MSNBC until I fell asleep in my favorite chair — actually it is my only chair. I live in this chair — or at least I have lived in it since August.

I woke up at 1:30 am. I know because I checked my IPAD which is always near by — it connects me to the world but the world never calls me. I initiate all contact.

My internal monologue — which never stops, I just give you glimpses of it in my writing — served up this sentence: “I want to kill myself.”

Don’t get alarmed. I never wanted to actually kill myself. As a matter of fact the next sentence the internal monologue offered was: “Carl Jung said the impulse to suicide is not to be taken literally. It is the psyche demanding that one destroy one’s self-concept to arrive at a clearer understanding of who one actually is.”

I got up from the chair and brushed my teeth to prepare for bed. Brushing my teeth always fully wakes me up, so the transition to sleeping in bed as opposed to my chair is always an interruption in my sleep. I am most awake when I go to bed.

Paula had been in bed sleeping for hours, but I was alone. There was just me — no one and nothing else. I felt depressed. I hadn’t been depressed for a long time. I can’t remember the last time that I was depressed before last night. One thing that can put my internal monologue on pause is a strong emotion like depression. The monologue stops —- baffled and muted by the feeling. I’m more comfortable with anger. It gives direction. No! Depression is just WTF.

After a time, the monologue resumed: “Depression comes with the death of illusion. It grounds one back to reality.” Now I was starting to swim up from the depths.

I really enjoyed the weeks since I was offered the job that I didn’t get back in August. I had time-off, promise of a good income starting in January, my unemployment checks are adequate — no worries. I was a wonderful husband — better than ever. I did all sorts of chores around the house. I was a gracious host to my wife’s friends. I listened to recipes and looked at carpet samples. In my mind my new job was the culmination of years of work. It was a recognition of sorts and a launching pad to do all sorts of interesting things.


I’m a teacher, or I was — I’m not so sure anymore. I turned on MSNBC again this morning, and a reporter was interviewing college students at UC Irvine and asking them if they were going to vote. None of them were, of course. They reminded me of the students that I taught at UIC. Schools like UC Irvine and UIC aren’t really schools. Schools are, or used to be, places where people learned how to think — and how to act decently as human beings. Now what is called a school is actually employee training. Students check off boxes. When they check off enough boxes they get a ticket and “graduate”. When they graduate they put their ticket into a lottery. If they win the lottery, they get a job. If they sufficiently learned in school how to allow others to control them they keep the job. If they learned how to control others by the example of their professors in school they ascend in their lines of work — I refuse to call these jobs “professions”. The word profession suggests, among other things, independence and responsibility.  School teaches: “I follow orders” and “I was only following orders.”

The job that I got that I didn’t end up getting was at a really good “school”  — not like UIC or UC Irvine. I thought that place was different. Hence my depression.

Then I remembered the waiting room that I sat in before the interview for the job that I got that never happened. It was in this plush visitor’s center. The building was done by a successful architect. The parents were dressed in expensive clothes.The visiting kids were smart, talking non-stop, awkwardly walking, struggling with their backpacks, staring at their cellphones, oblivious to the opposite sex or the lake outside the window/ wall. The other walls of the room were covered with headshots of famous graduates of the school —TV stars and politicians mainly. The lottery tickets from this school just led to higher paying jobs than the ones from UIC and UC Irvine.

The move up that didn’t happen that I thought would happen was just about money. Nothing else. We are all trapped by this thing that offers no real satisfaction beyond the applause of the masters who call you a schmuck when you leave the room.

It has been a nice two and a half months feeling as if I was above it all. I thought that I had it made. I have fought my whole life trying to beat the system — do what I love and make enough cash to survive. It works in spurts but then I always find myself out of work again. This time the guy who wanted what I want moved on. The last job lasted for five years until they started asking for things from me that repulsed me.

What do I now?

Write and wait for answers. I’m not depressed anymore. I don’t have to think about metaphoric suicide for the moment. I know a little more about who I am.

And I wonder about the solution to an old riddle. Again. How do I be who I am and make a living? To do otherwise would be suicide.

Don’t tell me.

Copyright 2018 Richard Thomas

10/7/2018: Enough is Enough


Enough Is Enough

Kavanaugh never answered Dr. Ford’s allegations. The Republicans orchestrated a temper tantrum at the hearing and directed the FBI not to interview him.

He never answered.

An innocent person would be outraged at an accusation, and then would defend themselves if they still wanted the job.

A judge would defend himself like a lawyer. He would make a painstaking and detailed presentation looking specifically at all fact, law and ethical precept that applied in the circumstances.

We don’t have a judge, here. Not really. We don’t even have a lawyer. We have a criminal, arrogant in the commission of a crime and filled with confused defiance of the law and the social contract when called on it.

Don McGahn, the White House Counsel, isn’t a lawyer either. Being a lawyer means something beyond being admitted to the bar. A lawyer believes in something beyond power. He or she aggressively advocates for his or her client within the rule of law.

The law is often described as an imperfect system, but it really is pretty damn good. The imperfection lies with many, maybe most, of its practitioners who dishonestly manipulate it.

The Catholic Faith is a good system too. Pedophile priests and the clerics who enable them are criminals, not priests.

I’m a sucker. I was told things about God and man in Catholic school. I was taught about what America is in civics class. I was taught how to think and act like a lawyer, an officer of the court in law school. I committed to those things. I studied American Studies at Notre Dame. I deepened my spirituality working with the Second City founders (most of what passes as “improv” isn’t improvisation either). I chose to be an ethics attorney. Now I teach and write about all of the above.

If I have been a fool, I’m too old of a fool to change now.

Enough is enough.

Kavanaugh is not a legitimate Supreme Court Justice. No.

Innocent until proven guilty means not only that all are granted a presumption of innocence, but also that credible charges have to be considered in a rational and ethical way in accordance with the Law. Dr. Ford and the rest of us never got the chance to prove those charges.

We are the ones who have been denied due process.

Kavanaugh’s confirmation is offensive to me as a citizen, a lawyer and as a Christian. It is wrong.

In the 1960s, America came to a boiling point. People who were watching “Father Knows Best” just a decade earlier became conscious of applied racism and the excesses of business and the military.

In the 1960s, America had a nervous breakdown. The suckers became wise to the criminals in power and freaked out in the face of of the lies and disrespect and abuse.

We are at a similar point today. But we won’t have a nervous breakdown. We are older now. Is anyone really surprised by what is going down now? It’s really nothing new.

We’ve seen it in Washington. We’ve seen it in the places we work and live — in our ordinary lives.

A great moment in the Kavanaugh drama was when protesters demanded that Senators look them in the eye. That was a conscious assertion of equality.

I know what’s next. We will use all the institutional levers of power —- the upcoming election for example —- to fight what was on full display in the Kavanaugh caper —- something even bigger than the Court or even sexual violence. Sexual violence is one horrible violence of the existential violence being done to us by criminals.

We won’t stop with voting and what used to be called civic engagement. When necessary we will engage in revolution. Our debate among ourselves will be whether to use civil disobedience or violence.

I am on the side of civil disobedience. Less suffering. Smarter strategy. The criminals’ violence is more organized and strategic. Our violence is chaotic and self-destructive. Like the 1960s. Or a nervous breakdown.

Judges who aren’t judges, priests who aren’t priests … etc … our allegiance is to that which they defile.

The country is older now. A Chicago high school student said in reasoned tones prior to the Van Dyke guilty verdict that police needed better training. She wasn’t getting ready to riot with rage in streets. She soberly approached the problem of dealing with criminals with guns and badges that aren’t really cops. Our wisdom is not born of chronological age. It is born of history.

America is experiencing a mature revolution.

We’re suckers and we are too old to change.

Copyright 2018 Richard Thomas

Rick Thomas Kavanaugh Journal


The Hero and the Drunk

A day of psychology. A woman courageously confronted the darkness imposed on her life by bullies. An alcoholic hit bottom only to be denied the crash he needs in order to begin recovery by opportunistic enablers. An inspiring and sad day.

Kavanaugh does not have the character, temperament or legal intelligence to be a United States Supreme Court Justice. It is not a close call.

He may sit in a black cloud on the bench and ignorance and injustice may win the day. Or not.

But it is only one day.

Dr. Blasey-Ford lived Gandhi’s quote: first they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you and then you win. She won a victory in her soul and in the souls of millions of women and other oppressed people.

If we “lose” politically, we simply have to keep fighting.

When I was doing The Rick Blog I was often asked “what do we do?”

Dr. Blasey-Ford showed the way. Kavenaugh didn’t silence her. She made a great life, made herself into a great person. And when it was time to stand up for herself she did —- not for personal petty reasons, but for us all.

Kavanaugh taught us something too. I personally have no hate for Kavanaugh. I feel badly for him. He has lived a life driven by a sense of personal inadequacy. He excelled at school, said his prayers, pleased his bosses, practiced hard at sports, was nice to everyone —- and got drunk. Alcohol liberated all of his self-hatred and envy. He envied Dr. Blasey-Ford’s talent and intelligence and, most of all, her joy.


Kindness, honesty, integrity, a sense of fairness and responsibility —- living those values IS the victory. Once won everything else is just a detail —- including the composition of the Supreme Court.

We have to stand up to the Kavanaughs of the world while never forgetting their great pain.

And the very suffering which their meanness imposes upon us will transform into another type of pain —- compassion for the Kavenaughs of the world.

The best victories aren’t followed by celebrations.

Villains are too mediocre to be tragic.

And heroism happens when joy persists in the face of the mean sadness of the world.

The Kavanaughs will ultimately win when they lose to us. They’ll be forced back to self-acceptance and humanity. We have to do it for them; they are too weak. And if they win/lose a battle, it just means that we have more work to do.

Hang in there … and keep growing.

The human condition was on full display today. Heroism contesting fear —- in high school, a woman’s mind and the US Senate.

Copyright 2018 Richard Thomas


Who Is Far More Important Than What.

No government, democracy or monarchy or autocracy, can ultimately succeed without the consent of the governed. We are now clearly in a new phase. We are entering into what will be a long and protracted period of sacrifice and suffering.

It is not that our democracy has just now been stolen from us. That happened long ago. What is new is the level of our general consciousness. Our enemies have become much more bold in their subjugation of us. They have taught us their intentions. This shamelessness and arrogance will be their ultimate undoing.

But the challenge to us in the face of their hubris is great. The enemy will win many battles. We must endure.

The theaters of the current war are not only on Wall Street, and in Washington, D.C. and Hollywood. The war is where we work, where we live, in our schools, our hospitals — our lives.

The war is being fought, ultimately, not in the political arena, but rather in the realms of the moral and existential.

The war is not only with other people, but is primarily fought within our own minds, hearts and souls.

I want my writing to be about something more than the controversy of the moment — unless we view the entire sweep of all time as one moment — because that is the reality.

The persons, places, cases and controversies of the day are metaphors. They resonate with us, cheer or upset us, because they mirror our own souls. What we call abstract is what is real, and what we define ourselves by is an illusion.

The current public drama roiling the nation is a reminder of an important truth. Who we are is more important that what we achieve. To be a Supreme Court Justice or captain of the football team has no meaning if you are a rapist.

Our political trials scream a needed direction to all but the blessed best of us. We need to put our major effort into who we are, and understand that what we do are merely the tasks of life and not life itself.

Judge Kavanaugh answered accusations of sexual abuse with a recitation of his resume.

Talk about irrelevant.

He is a fool but he is a representative one.

When I was younger I was elated by my perceived successes, and frustrated and ashamed by my perceived failures. Now I spend more time regretting the moments when I have been mean or insensitive or selfish. I have found a new shame that serves my humility instead of my pride.

I teach and write and take out the garbage. Those are tasks, jobs. They do not identify me.

Who is far more important than what.

Copyright 2018 Richard Thomas


Condescension, Ridicule and Silencing an Individual Is Violence

Trump ridiculed Dr. Blasey-Ford in Mississippi tonight. She was assaulted again.

Trump and anyone who cheers him, or ignores him or apologizes for him, participates in immorality.

A pundit said today that the Trump family’s decades of tax fraud and larceny from their tenants was “an aspect of capitalism that we aren’t proud of.”

Capitalism has no aspect to be proud of. Some great writer said that all great wealth is founded on a crime.

Decent people live their lives making adjustments to the lust for money and power of others. They compromise in order to survive. They stand up to the bullies when they can no longer endure the pain. They assert their value as persons and chastise the capitalists. The capitalists make them suffer.

The most decent do not strike the mocking knuckle dragging economic royalists back. They free themselves on the cross of suffering.

And they create something new.

Dr. Blasey-Ford, a kind, brilliant woman was assaulted tonight.

Because she is winning.

Her focus is not on defeating her enemies. Rather she is engaged in creating a new world.

Humility is stronger than pride.

Humility is stronger than power.

Gentleness is stronger than violence.

Hard truths are stronger than attractive lies.

Trump and his accomplices are drowning in their swamp of sensation. They fill themselves with the rush of claims of false superiority buoyed by their ill -gotten bank accounts and licenses to rape —- or their pathetic idolatry of their greedy rapist heroes if they sit in the cheap seats.

Excellence of mind, heart and spirit are their own rewards. See the beautiful Dr. Christine Blasey-Ford.

And Trump, Kavanaugh and everyone who can’t recognize what Trump and Kavanaugh are, live in hell. They just don’t know it yet.

Evil ultimately destroys itself. And when Trump and Kavanaugh destroy themselves —- and they will —- Dr. Christine Blasey- Ford will be among the first in line to forgive and help them.

First they ignore you.

Then they laugh at you.

Then they fight you.

Then you win.

Christ on the cross.

Hitler in the bunker.

Two deaths. Different stories.

Copyright 2018 Richard Thomas


I never went along with authority

Not because I’m rebellious

Or dependent

Or jealous

Or hungry for power

I never went along with authority

Of the boss or the group

I never went along with authority

Because authority

Is not true.

Copyright 2018 Richard Thomas


Beyond Chastisement and Reason: Humility

The American Story begins a new chapter.

I have written in defense of anger as a tool in our struggle with Trump, his supporters and their embrace of anti-values which have always been a dark aspect of the American character and the nature of mankind. I realize now that I advocated and practiced a particular type of anger — the anger of chastisement.

Chastisement is a hopeful anger. It is a plea and a purposeful attempt to shock, in the hope that a person, or in this case people, would wake up to their moral nature.

Chastisement is ineffective with a person or people who have lost their ability to feel shame. We are dealing with antagonists who are beyond shame. This is clear to me now.

Conservatives who have opposed Trump until today, are now applauding Trump’s ability to get the ideological Supreme Court that they have desired for generations. Their ruthlessness in their pursuit of getting their way reveals them not to be mere political opponents. They are radicals who, whether they know it or not, are interested in subjugating our self-determination and sacrificing our lives on an altar of authoritarianism and greed. We have seen this movie before, most recently in the George W. Bush administration, and this sequel has more gruesome effects.

Ideology — not only conservative ideology — is beyond reason. It is a belief in a fantasy world view that leads to forcing that world view upon others, and not applying reason and compassion in the care of the world as it is. Ideology of any kind is rationalization for the pursuit of power over others. Ideology is the hymnal of the church of domination.

All radicals, including the conservative ideologues blighting us at the moment, are beyond persuasion. Any attempt to reason with them is futile. I knew this long before I recently realized that chastisement of our radical brothers and sisters was a non-starter.

To argue with conservatives is pointless.

“We’re a republic not a democracy.” “The Bible needs no interpretation.” “An originalist view of the Constitution.” “Rich people are smarter than people with less means. (Antonin Scalia).” These are not points of view to be debated. They are slogans of oppression.

So what now?

Kavanaugh will be confirmed. We lost another battle.

Sidebar: I paused writing to listen to Senator Susan Collins’ articulate speech that sealed the deal for Kavanaugh. The speech is illustrative of what I am saying here.

Collins proved my point re: the lack of conservative reason. The crux of her faux argument was that Kavanaugh was a good man and judge, and that the confirmation process denied him due process. She didn’t mention that Dr. Blasey-Ford was also denied due process. An artificial time limit restricted the length of the hearing so that it could only be a superficial consideration Ford’s allegation. The FBI investigation was truncated and incomplete. The confirmation process was designed to obfuscate clear consideration of Kavanaugh’s fitness to sit on the Supreme Court. That modus operandi was just extended to Dr. Ford’s sexual assault allegations.

Collins said nothing about Kavanaugh’s lack of candor and poor judicial temperament during the hearings.

She made a plea for national unity while defending Kavanaugh, who inappropriately demonstrated partisanship as a nominee.

Collins made a partisan plea against partisanship. She condemned the strong partisan bias of Democrats, and didn’t discuss the sins in the same regard of her Republican Party.

In 2018, sly electioneering passes as a profile in courage.

Kavanaugh will be a reliable vote on the Supreme Court supporting immoral right-wing causes.

Democratic Senator Hirono said that she felt Kavanaugh was a person of poor character because of his judicial decisions and policy positions. Hirono said that the callousness  of Kavanaugh’s public record made her believe that was capable of bullying rape.

Hirono is right. Her words weren’t as polished as Susan Collins’ words, but they are based on reason — whereas Collins’ words were a manipulation to justify getting her own way, perhaps even a self-manipulation. Kavanaugh attempted rape on Dr. Ford — of course I believe her — the mistaken identity argument is laughable when viewed in any informed way regarding the way human memory functions in relation to trauma — and he is actually raping us with his biases against reproductive rights and in favor of authoritarian government and unfettered greed. The dark side of our culture likes to separate our personal and public lives. It’s just business. But there is no line of demarcation between personal and public life. We only have our lives — unities. If we are mean at the office, we will be mean at a party. Dr. Ford described Kavanaugh as an arrogant, entitled bully who got pleasure from dominating a weaker person. His public record makes the same description. End of Sidebar.

Yes, we lost the Kavanaugh battle; but our defeats are useful to us if we learn from them.

What I have learned has been mentioned in previous writing, and I will expand upon that realization here.

Our survival and salvation hinges on our capacity for humility.

The Process of Humility

  1. We live our lives. We love and work. That’s what we are about. We pursue happiness and don’t want enemies. We aren’t thinking about revolution or resistance or taking power. We don’t go looking for trouble.
  2. With innocent simplicity and purity we go about our affairs and others notice and connect with us. We become part of one or more communities. The individual connects to the social.
  3. We work without concern for rewards of fame, power or glory from our society. We do positive things. We finish what we start.
  4. We don’t go into hiding however. We accept needed and natural recognition from society not because of personal ambition. Humble love and work evolves into leadership. Self-development leads to social development. We must be open to this. Recognition that results from this process doesn’t lead to it’s antithesis — self-aggrandizement. We see that we need such recognition to reach our greatest  effectiveness — our highest capacity for love and excellence.
  5. We are then, quite naturally, attacked by those who envy our effectiveness and want the trappings of our soulful power. We must chastise our opponents in order to defend our work and what we love, and avoid self-betrayal.
  6. This is where we are today: We don’t carry the process of chastisement too far. We don’t fixate on destroying our opponents. We don’t have to win all of the time. We maintain our authenticity and integrity. We accept and understand that challenges are the nature of life, and that each challenge is an opportunity to become more highly conscious of who we are. Our victory is in who we are. At times we are in charge. At other times we present the alternative when darker forces push claim sovereignty over us. We never bow. We create when we can and refuse to participate in darkness. We live in truth. We live with integrity, refusing to betray the truth. We are free of fear and desire, sadness and elation, success and failure. We freely embrace joy, and freely embrace suffering when necessary in defense of that joy. That freedom improves life for all, in all of life’s details, sometimes in the short term, and always in the long arc of history. It is fashionable to speak of the failure of our institutions, but no institution can dictate a false reality to us, including the Supreme Court. We answer to the higher authority of our heart and conscience. Our understanding will eventually save our institutions too — including the Supreme Court.

Copyright 2018 Richard Thomas






The Need for Shared Values in Employment in Dark and Hopeful Times

I was chastised at UIC for talking about Trump. I no longer work there. I taught Professional Presence and Business Ethics in the business college. Trump’s behavior is obviously relevant to that subject matter. Students have to know that Trump — the huge shadow over our entire culture is the anti-professional, has an ugly murderous presence, and of course has no ethics at all.

I had my job because of my background in improvisation and as a professional responsibility attorney.

The director of the program that I was in was an accountant and a Level B instructor in the Second City Training Center. He has superficial understanding of improvisation — no Spolin training, no understanding of transformation or the deep philosophical grounding of a true teacher of improvisation. He also has no understanding of the basic tenets of any professional code of responsibility.

I got something out of my 5 years at UIC. My teaching and writing developed greatly there. I always acted independently and never participated in the negative direction of the program.

I have no general advice as to what to do in these dark and hopeful times. I just know that in my own life I have to say yes and no. I will never associate with any job or friend or creative endeavor that does not share my values. We can disagree on many things, but not values.

Below is a generic cover letter that I adapt on my job search to different positions.

I used to have a fear about money. No more. Money does not bring security. Faith and integrity do. God provides.

How are you? My name is Rick Thomas. I recently left my position as a Clinical Assistant Professor at the University of Illinois College of Business to explore deeper professional and creative opportunities in higher education. I appreciated the opportunity to develop my work at UIC for five years, but my work has now outgrown my recent position. The program that I was in developed in a direction that did not serve my values.

I am writing to express interest in teaching at your school, and request to meet with you to discuss potential opportunities. I am qualified to teach professional responsibility, applied ethics, professional presence, and communications.

I have taught “Finding Your Teacher’s Voice” workshops to teachers working in many colleges at UIC, and doctoral candidates pursuing careers in teaching at UIC. The writing sample included in the link below gives some insight into my pedagogical approach. I also invite you to look at these brief essays which describe my approach and background in teaching. I was an arts educator teaching improvisational acting for many years. I’m an alumnus of the main stage at Second City Chicago and was trained in the arts, and teaching the arts by that theater’s founders: Paul Sills, David Shepherd, Jo Forsberg, Bernard Sahlins and Del Close. They instructed me in the art of improvisation and the teaching of that art. Note that I approach improvisation as an art and pedagogical approach, and I am not in the tradition which uses it merely to develop material in sketch comedy.

I am also open to other courses that you see as a fit. I have taught in a variety of schools and departments.

Links describing teaching values and experience:




I am certified in excellence in online teaching by Washington State University. I am certified in trial advocacy skills by the Natl Inst of Trial Advocacy. I was recognized as a master improviser by Paul Sills, founder of Second City Theater. I was a litigation counsel for the Atty Reg & Disciplinary Commission (Loyola Law Alumnus). I was recognized as a Master Teaching Scholar by the UIC Provost. I combine my teaching, critical thinking, advocacy & creativity experience and skills in my pedagogy. I teach experientially, drawing on my diverse experience myself & facilitating experiences for my students from which they can learn. I create challenging assignments for my students — requiring them to THINK and apply what they learn. I coach them toward intellectual and professional excellence.

My writing is driven by my values combining the use of reason and attention to detail that I learned as a lawyer, and the creativity and authenticity that I experienced as an improviser. As I left UIC in order to pursue opportunities in which I could further develop my teaching, and further serve my values which transformed and evolved during my time there.

As I previously mentioned, I am grateful for the opportunity that UIC gave me for growth, but now I have outgrown the creative and professional opportunities available to me in my former position.

The time came to move on and I look forward to an even deeper engagement in my work in new positions.

i am looking for new opportunities in higher ed and with other organizations where I can serve and grow.

My CV is attached. Introductory information and writing sample on link below.

Thank you for your attention.

Rick Thomas


Copyright 2018 Richard Thomas

UPDATE: Richard Thomas — College Professor, Lawyer, Actor and Writer Offering Professional Presence and Development Teaching for Long Term Career Positions, and Shorter Engagements

2014 RST Liautaud

Updated and includes writing sample.

It’s not just talk. It’s doing something.

I am looking for career positions and shorter term engagements where I can expand my already considerable footprint in my niche specialty of Professional Presence instruction.

Finding and Exploring Your Professional Voice

Richard Thomas, JD

“Presence” is about being yourself and sharing it with the world. “Professionalism” is about getting the job done. A person with “professional presence” is fully alive and human when executing the tasks of their career and its works. My teaching helps you explore who you are in the context of your work life. Why? Because you are great, just as you are — and when you own the reality of your character and personality, and fearlessly share it with other people while simultaneously performing the tasks of your career — both in managing and advocating for it, and in actually doing all substantive aspects of your job — you are most effective. You communicate and connect with colleagues and clients and prospects and peers. And communication and connection are absolute necessities when doing anything involving other people — in other words anything.

You and your colleagues are great talents — superstars of presence. You are human beings. And you are you — unique voices who sing to the world. I don’t teach you how to be “you” or how to communicate and connect who you are to other people. No one can teach you that. I just guide you to deeper discoveries of how to connect with yourself and share it with the world. That personal confidence and openness and emotional intelligence to the unique voices of other people make you more effective at anything that you do. Your “voice” in the context of my trainings has nothing to do with singing. It is about having the skill to be clearly heard by others, honoring your own truth and adapting to the voices of other people. We are happiest when we share ourselves in harmony with others. And we are most successful and productive.

I recently completed a five-year appointment at the UIC Business School as a professor in the Professional Development Program (recognized as a UIC Master Teaching Scholar) and I am a lawyer who used to do trials (my area was professionalism and ethics — I was a litigator with the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission and I am certified and experienced in the areas of ethics and professional responsibility), and I am also an alumnus actor  of the main stage of Second City’s Chicago theater, where I was also a teacher, writer and director (and where I learned improvisational acting, communication and teaching pedagogies from the founders of that renowned theater).

It’s often said that “all the world’s a stage” and I’ve spent the past several decades helping groups, large and small, find and use their voices in whatever developmental stage that they find themselves.

Scores of students have experienced my teaching and have walked away with the ability to deliver stronger and more compelling messages, do work that leaves a long-lasting impact and put their exclusive and authentic stamp on everything they do. They also have learned how to skillfully present themselves ethically and professionally, serving themselves, their employers, partners, clients, colleagues and all other stakeholders in their endeavors.

I welcome the opportunity to share more about my distinctive teaching style with you and develop a customized teaching program to best meet your needs.

I believe in the power of the human voice. I have taught hundreds of students through my hands-on keynote addresses, workshops, and personal coaching sessions.

As the creator of the “Finding Your Voice” modules (I add new ones all the time in response to students’ needs) I intertwine my varied experiences to engage and empower his students to discover and embrace their creative and professional voices.

My achievements have been recognized across a variety of professional, theatrical and academic spheres. The University of Illinois at Chicago’s  Office of the Provost also recognized me as a Master Teacher Scholar, placing me among the university’s top teachers.

I look forward to working with you and your organization on engagements of short and/or longer career duration that help you grow in the vital areas of creativity, critical thinking and professionalism.


Rick Thomas

Bio: Richard S. Thomas, J.D. received his Juris Doctorate from the School of Law at Loyola University Chicago. Thomas graduated from the University of Notre Dame with a B.A. in American Studies and Communication Arts. Professor Thomas was named a Master Teaching Scholar by the UIC Center for Teaching and Learning, one of fourteen instructors so recognized campus-wide. He is a licensed Illinois Attorney who has worked primarily as a litigator in the area of Ethics and Professional Responsibility Law, as well as an alumnus of the resident company of Chicago’s Second City Theater Company. Professor Thomas was honored to be named to the outstanding alumni cast of Second City’s 50th Anniversary Celebration Show. He studied the art of improvisation for several years with most of the theater’s founding members including the great Paul Sills. He has acted with notable actors such as  Meryl Streep and Bill Murray among many others.

Professor Thomas led the well-received Finding and Exploring Your Teacher Voice, a four-week seminar for UIC instructors campus-wide under the auspices of the UIC Center for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning; led an interactive presentation on the subject of writing and presenting effective case reports for the Association for the Advancement of Collegiate Schools of Business Redesigning the MBA Conference in Indianapolis; and participated in a panel discussion regarding the writing of effective case reports for the Forensic Expert Witness Association, an organization of business professionals who testify at trials.

Professor Thomas was also honored in 2016 for founding The New Keenan Revue, a Notre Dame campus tradition dedicated to community-building and intelligent satire.

Professor Thomas works with business, academic, not-for-profit, legal and any other professionals who want to improve their awareness of themselves and others in order to achieve their diverse and several objectives in the world of work.


  • 2013 – 2018, Clinical Assistant Professor in the Professional Development Program at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) College of Business Administration
  • 2006 – Present, Lawyer. Practiced primarily as a litigator in the field of ethics and professional responsibility at the Illinois Registration and Disciplinary Commission
  • Alumnus of the resident company of Chicago’s Second City Theater
  • Article re: Lawyer/Artist
  • Ethics professor
  • B.A. in Communication Arts from Notre Dame; J.D. from Loyola Law School (Chicago)
  • Newsweek Article re: Founding Campus 40 Year Old N.D. Campus Event
  • Certified by the National Institute of Trial Advocacy in Communication Skills
  • UIC Master Teaching Scholar Thomas Chosen UIC Master Teaching Scholar 
  • Teacher as Artist Article for UIC Provost
  • Illinois State Bar Association Master Teacher in Communications Skills
  • BAR ADMISSIONS: Illinois State Bar, Member• Northern District of Illinois Bar, Member
  • Taught improvisational acting classes at Second City, the Victory Gardens Theater and independently • Member of Second City Chicago’s resident acting company; well-reviewed by many publications’ critics including Frank Rich of The New York Times http://www.nytimes.com/1984/03/02/arts/revuew-second-city-comes-to-first-city.html  and John Simon of New York Magazine; received Obie and Joseph Jefferson Award nominations for ensemble acting; performed in Second City’s 50th Anniversary Alumni Show; co-wrote and performed in Second City Revues: Exit Pursued by a Bear, Glenna Loved It!, and Orwell that Ends Well; directed Second City’s National Touring Company developing young talent including Chris Farley, Stephen Colbert and Amy Sedaris • Film acting work for Mike Nichols http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e28Y80Er8HQ  and Woody Allen • Free-lance writer for Saturday Night Live and Sesame Street • Performance Artist and Comedian at Second City ETC Theater, New York’s Improv Comedy Club and West Bank Café; wrote and performed one man shows The Rick Show and Good Times praised by Second City Founder Paul Sills and West Bank Café’ Founder Lewis Black • Led improvisational acting workshops and performed for the Young Presidents Organization and an audience that included former President Jimmy Carter. Currently writes, performs and produces his one-person show at various venues.

Selected Class Topics

  • Improvisation to Make Your Anxiety Work for You! Steven Spielberg is nauseous every time he starts to film a new scene. Muhammad Ali was terrified in the moments before every fight he ever fought. Fear is good. It makes us intensely aware of ourselves and everything around us. Adaptation is a necessity whenever we deal with unknown factors, and when interacting with others there are always unknown factors. Improvisation is not only for comic actors. It is a tried and true method of turning anxiety into creative action for EVERYONE. Hint: anxiety becomes positive energy when one is immersed in focused action.
  • Teaching as a Professional. All professionals are called to bring their own particular skills and expertise in concert with clients and colleagues and other stakeholders. The greatest ideas can’t be added to a process if they aren’t explained and communicated. Teaching is a skill that anyone can learn — and no two people do it the same way. Teach yourself how YOU teach!
  • Public Speaking as Influence. If you can stand up in front of a group of people and communicate your ideas, you can influence others while being responsive to THEIR influence and discover amazing things about yourself.  A great topic on its own, even better when taken in tandem with Improvisation to Make Your Anxiety Work for You!
  • Connecting with Others with Empathy and Authenticity. When one’s voice harmonizes with the voices of others beautiful, creative and productive things happen. Learn the skills of emotional intelligence and see your ideas resonate with others, and be influenced by others’ ideas and feelings to create beautiful collaborative and effective outcomes.
  • Telling Stories and Making Cases. We tell stories because that is the way people connect with one another. Learn how to tell more purposeful stories. We make cases — advocate for ideas — in order to promote positive understanding and change. Learn the skills of thoroughly and clearly presenting FACTS (relevant stories in a work context), raising ISSUES AND QUESTIONS, ANALYZING those issues and questions in an INFORMED AND EDUCATED manner using CRITICAL THINKING and APPLYING HIGHER LEVEL THOUGHT demonstrating one’s knowledge and expertise in order to MAKE CREATIVE RECOMMENDATIONS AND DECISIONS in professional contexts.
  • Career Discovery and Advocacy. We are all the authors of our own careers and lives. Learn how to understand what directions your voice is directing you to take through writing and speaking about YOU, THE WORLD AND ANY OBSTRUCTIONS, internal or external that are blocking you from understanding your heart’s desire and how others wish to use your heartfelt work in order to serve clients, organizations and any other people or entities that need you.

These topics can be explored by groups and individuals independently OR in multi-day intensive workshops that explore all of these aspects of professional presence.

Why hire me to teach in your organization?

I inspire, energize, and captivate audiences with my impassioned presentation style, interactive experiential learning exercises, and deep coaching and insight. I customize my presentations to the immediate needs of your teams and blend the principles of improvisational instruction and the principles of professionalism, with traditional training tools that your team can immediately implement.

Here’s are people saying about my teaching:

I appreciate his methodical approach to examining each case study. The process of connecting the technical learning to the real-life case studies helped the class apply the technical knowledge in a practical way. I have also been able to use this same process to build a case for change within my professional organization. I appreciate that the not only the course material, but the way the material was studied was beneficial.

Laura, Regional Manager Starbuck’s

Richard’s class far exceeded my expectations. Richard has a wealth of experience to draw from and approaches the material from a unique perspective. Through a series of exercises and short lectures, he created an environment in which it was safe to take risks and learning was just plain fun. His feedback was positive, discerning, and insightful.

After taking Richard’s class, I realized that I’m much more effective in motion, writing on a white board, than I am stuck behind a podium clicking through a PowerPoint. I’m energized and confident and I’ve seen dramatic changes in engagement and responsiveness from my audience. I would recommend his courses to anyone, and I look forward to future opportunities to study with Richard.

Elizabeth, Lawyer and Entrepreneur

Richard is a man of great talent, originality, passion, and infinite integrity. It was a total joy to work with him and so exciting to watch him perform. His performances were always surprising and provocative in the finest way.

He also has to be one of the smartest guys on the planet, and also one of the most compassionate.

Jeanette, Professional Actor

Richard presentation was valuable for folks, like me, who frequently provide continuing professional education to colleagues … and do presentations for the general public. Richard also made learning “fun” – which is not a word most often associated with professional education. Thanks, Richard, great job!

Sandra, College Faculty, Attorney, Mediator

Richards presentation was innovative and exciting. Our lawyers all enjoyed participating in the Improv games and I know that we learned a great deal from his class. I believe that this exercise was not only rewarding, but was also a lot of fun for our trial lawyers.

Michael, Law Firm President

Rick is one of the most brilliant people I’ve ever known. I have seen him perform on stage numerous times; I’ve sat in on many of his classes to help me develop my own teaching skills; and I’ve read many of his writings … so my recommendations in all these areas are based on large sample sizes.

Ranjit, Actor, Musician, Arts Educator, College Faculty 

“Richard presentation was valuable for folks, like me, who frequently provide CLEs to our colleagues in the Bar and do presentation to the general public. Richard also made learning “fun” – which is not a word most often associated with lawyer CLEs. Thanks Richard, great job!”

“After taking Richard’s class, I’m energized and confident and I’ve seen dramatic changes in engagement and responsiveness from my audience. I would recommend his courses to anyone.”

“Richard’s presentation was innovative and exciting. [We] all enjoyed participating in the improv games and I know that we learned a great deal from his class.”

“The personalized coaching sessions were very informative and helpful and used real-world examples to provide a new perspective and 8strike to illustrate the lesson.”

Amanda, Lawyer and Consultant

“Through the career coaching, I was able to develop successful networking skills, and recently left a networking having made some very helpful contacts, an incredible improvement from my previous experiences in networking.

“This coaching has left me optimistic about my career and with concrete ideas of how I can improve my future job prospects.”

Henry, Seeking employment

Interested in learning more? Contact me today at (312) 285-5415 or richardsteventhomas@gmail.com to explore and develop a plan that applies my expertise in a manner that best meets your school, firm or organization’s goals.

All the best,


Richard S. Thomas, J.D.




An excerpt from my writing, Voice Lessons: Reflections on the Art of Being Professional and Authentic:

Author’s Note

The artist is someone who is unable to do things as others do them.

Robert Bresson

Author’s Note

I was teaching a group of college professors a class entitled “Finding and Exploring Your Teacher Voice.” The class considered what this book considered — consciously asserting one’s humanity in a professional role — to the benefit of oneself and others. I’m an actor (among many other things as you will see) and I made an illustrative example involving me, a white man, playing an elderly African-American woman. Many in the class were shocked.

“How could you ever do such a thing!”

“Why not? The theater has had non-traditional casting for years. Cate Blanchett played Bob Dylan in a film a few years ago. Denzel Washington and Judy Dench have played the young Danish prince Hamlet when neither were young or Danish…there are countless examples here… many, too many to mention.”

We all have our professional roles too. I have life experience which might give a little more insight on than many other people. I am or have been an actor, a comedian, an improviser, a teacher (of several subjects) a marketing executive, a writer, a college professor and a trial lawyer. At first I took on different roles because I was searching. Now I realize they are all the same things. The common denominator in all of the careers is that I showed up for work as a human being and so did all of my peers.

The pillars of professionalism are the same for everyone in every job; be competent at your task and in your field; be diligent and complete promised work; communicate; don’t lie; don’t steal and be civil.

There is an enormous diversity of types of people and work. There is also a common humanity to every type of person and job. Please read this book from the perspective of that common humanity.

I write many of the sections of this book from the perspective of one of the professions I’ve worked in. Please read the book from your perspective as a human being and apply any insights you like to yourself and what you do.

What is true for the lawyer is true for the actor is true for the teacher is true for what you do.



Many professionals (defined as teachers and other academics, lawyers and other legal professionals, doctors and other medical professionals, creative and other arts professionals, and business, government and non-profit professionals of all stripes) are unaware of the relative ineffectiveness of their presentation, leadership, and group and one-on-one communication skills. Many other professionals are aware of their deficiencies but lack confidence and are intimidated by the prospect of improving these skills.

This book asserts that being authentic in the working flow of your vocation can be approached as an art form. It can be learned and developed experientially through the process of personally creating your unique method of presentational and interactive communication.

Creating professional authenticity is a democratic artistic process. It is not only a realistic process for those who are perceived as “talented.” No two professionals communicate in the same way. This book aspires to share some of my thoughts, methods, attitudes and values in an effort to help professionals discover and explore their personal confidence, conscious authenticity and creativity in their own way.

Work on one’s voice requires a commitment to hard work and deep and considered reflection. If one approaches this work “for fun” or as a hobby, they will get the equivalent results to the lack of demand that they put on themselves.

A major interest of mine is the experiential interrelationship between logic, critical thinking, substantive knowledge AND creativity, self-assurance, awareness and communication. My background as an attorney and in the improvisational theater has taught me how rationality and structure, and spontaneity and emotion, are complimentary and equally necessary to the development of a strong professional presence.

Artists learn and then (or contemporaneously) feel compelled to share what they learn with others. The artists are then affected by the others’ response to what the artists have offered and transform (learn) again. The process repeats itself ad infinitum with greater depth and in some cases, breadth. By this definition this book is very much a work of art.

Artists such as myself have much to teach professionals when the professionals reflect on the artists’ work through the lens of their own experience as professional artists (whether or not that they acknowledge their own artistic status.)

Many professionals explore art classes (improvisational acting, creative writing etc.) in an effort to improve their authenticity and presence. Taking such classes is a positive step. This initiative would be more effective because it links the art education to actual work experience and development. It connects personal enrichment with pragmatic professional development.

Many workplaces have de facto apprenticeship programs and activities where more experienced professional expose those junior to teaching strategies and plans that have been successful for the more established leaders of the firms. These approaches are useful, but they are more content- driven than the process-driven method that I am proposing here. A professional has to have a mastery of content AND EQUALLY be personally engaged with that content AND, of course, the other stakeholders themselves. There are professional authenticity concerns beyond the obvious necessity of “knowing the material.” The “apprentice” approach doesn’t address these concerns. It might give structures for delivering information. It doesn’t help an individual discover how they personally can “reach” others. This book is a broader and deeper consideration of what it is to be professionally authentic and effective.

It bears repeating that substantial artistry and professional development can only be achieved with dedicated, committed and sustained work. It is not enough to understand this topic conceptually. It is not only about approaches that you adopt. It is about something that you yourself become, maintain and expand.

The book aspires to stimulate its audiences to discussion, thought and new creations of professional art.

Introduction to Process

Before you can be a consciously authentic professional you have to be a consciously authentic human being. (We are all at least unconsciously authentic since authenticity is a matter of existential being, not something we matriculate to.) Authenticity is not a matter of self-invention. It is who we are, whether we know it or not.

In other words before you have a professional voice you have to have a personal voice that you apply to your professional tasks. You find that voice, and the skills to call upon it in action through play — in the making of art. All art begins as a spontaneous improvisation and is shaped and structured later. Art connects you to your own personal voice. You become a more effective professional when you speak (and act) in that voice. And learned in your ways of making art you will turn your professional work into art itself.

Teachers, actors and trial lawyers are sometimes frustrated when students, audiences and juries aren’t engaged with the material being presented to them. These “others” are not engaged in every case because there is no expressed humanity infused into the dry substance placed before them. I was flipping through cable channels late one night and found a documentary where the rock star and humanitarian Bono was standing in the middle of a West African village saying that “no amount of statistics expresses the truth of this situation as the joy on these villagers’ faces.” I then turned to C-Span where a scientist was telling a Congressional committee that “only image and narrative has been offered today; we have no hard data which gives a full picture of the reality we are facing here.”

The truth is that as professionals we need hard data and/or other evidence that we view rationally in order to make competent and informed judgments AND we need to connect warmly with other people in order to share what we know. We need to be able to reason like the C-Span scientists and create image, narrative and feeling like Bono.

A professional should be exhausted after a day’s work because she is personally involved with all of the stakeholders that she interacts with. Sharing your voice is a revolutionary activity. It is a commitment to not perform, pretend or persuade or dominate or hide; but rather BE there for better or worse standing with integrity for all that you believe and all that you are. Our roles limit how much we reveal of ourselves. An authentic accountant, for example, wouldn’t show aspects of his voice to a client as he would to his spouse; but he would show all the depths of his voice that are applicable to his relationship with the client.

Having a voice is a skill. It is not an abstraction. You can’t develop one by learning and discussing theory. You have to do things. This book suggests that you do improvisational exercises to find and explore your voice in pure action. It says you should state opinions, and keep journals and be very aware of your thoughts and feelings. It says that you should work on your practical reasoning, critical thinking and argumentation skills and apply them to your fields of endeavor. It says you should study examples of public leadership in all fields, particularly ones disparate from your own and make discerning judgements as to how those public leaders do things that could be applied or avoided in your sphere.

Voice lessons are found in experiencing, observing, and reflecting; and applying the insights we gained from those three processes to real world actions with real world responsibilities and consequences.

Copyright 2018 Richard Thomas


Richard Thomas — College Professor, Lawyer, Actor and Writer Offering Professional Presence and Development Teaching for Long Term Career Positions, and Shorter Engagements

Updated and includes writing sample.

The Rick Blog

2014 RST LiautaudIt’s not just talk. It’s doing something.

I am looking for career positions and shorter term engagements where I can expand my already considerable footprint in my niche specialty of Professional Presence instruction.

Finding and Exploring Your Professional Voice

Richard Thomas, JD

“Presence” is about being yourself and sharing it with the world. “Professionalism” is about getting the job done. A person with “professional presence” is fully alive and human when executing the tasks of their career and its works. My teaching helps you explore who you are in the context of your work life. Why? Because you are great, just as you are — and when you own the reality of your character and personality, and fearlessly share it with other people while simultaneously performing the tasks of your career — both in managing and advocating for it, and in actually doing all substantive aspects of your job —…

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4/2/18 “Roseanne” Sucks

From April 2018

The Rick Blog


4/2/18 “Roseanne” Sucks

I was channel surfing the other night and I happened upon Roseanne Barr’s first stand-up appearance on the Johnny Carson show in 1981. She was brilliant. She hooked into a zeitgeist that no popular artist ever discovered before. She was the feminist voice of the working class. No one ever spoke for blue collar women before, and she spoke in way that resonated with most everyone else. Carson knew a star was born that night, but he looked baffled as to why it happened.

A few year laters Stephanie Powers of the now largely forgotten and then trivial “Hart to Hart” moaned in a TV interview that Roseanne represented the fall of TV civilization. How could a crude fat pig, white trash personified, be popular? What happened to glamorous shows that offered materialist escape? What really bothered Powers was that realism had replaced escapism in popular…

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