10/16/21: The Artist’s Way, Week 7 —- Listening and Connecting #poetry

10/16/21: The Artist’s Way, Week 7 —- Listening and Connecting #poetry

Julia Cameron’s words are in quotes.

“Art is not about thinking something up. It is about getting something down … instead of reaching for inventions, we are engaged in listening.”

OK, yes, I know. Not an issue for me. This part comes easy. The soul leads. The rational mind applies. I am a much wiser writer than I am a man. I often read my work as if someone else wrote it. I’m not being instructed to say much more about this topic at the moment. I am being told to keep reading.

This state of listening has become not only my way of art, but also my way of life. Forrest Gump and that fucking box of chocolates, not knowing what he is getting. The only thing wrong with Forrest Gump is the stupid part. I’m smart. Someone once saw me in a show and seriously called me an idiot savant. I’m not an idiot. I just know that everything is worthy of serious consideration and reconsideration. That’s the poetic sense. Why keep going on and on about the beauty of some fucking tree? Because our soul and the world are in constant states of transformation and we can see our selves reflected in the world and vice versa. There are infinite depths to everything.

I am a little impatient reading this chapter. This is the easy part for me. Tell me again about where money comes from and how to avoid idiots and assholes, Aunt Julia.

Wondering about listening seems to be for people who want to be artists, and not someone like me who just is one, whether I like it or not. (I like it — love it — but I had periods when I was much younger, my mid-thirties maybe, when I wished I was anything else.)

This section is another perspective on the ideas of synchronicity and abundance. Be open and you get everything that you need, for your creative work, for your life.

She’s writing about perfectionism. Not a problem for me. I’m delighted by everything that I write. That doesn’t mean I won’t edit or re-write. I just think my writing and me are both great. My mother taught me that I was the most wonderful person in the world, and I’ve never forgotten the lesson. Trying to make things perfect seems like wasted effort to me, and those perfect touches rarely seem worth the trouble. I think perfectionism is a form of people pleasing. Look, I’m thrilled if you like me, but there’s nothing that I can do about if you don’t. No, I don’t care about being perfect. I care about being true. Again, so far I don’t think this chapter is written for me. This stuff is for people trying to be artists. I don’t think you can try to be an artist. She says that anyone can learn a more creative life. But not everyone is an artist. It’s useful … the artist’s way can be applied to tother ways, but I don’t think any real artist ever thought about this stuff —- except maybe women and other oppressed people who have to go through forms of revolution and liberation to be able to do anything since they have been kept down for so long. I’m entitled. My entitlement, which I renounce socially and politically — I am repulsed by the idea of any superiority over anyone else — I crave friends and peers not followers and acolytes … but it is useful that I was programmed to think that I am great and deserve the best of everything. I can expect that without taking anything from anybody else. I wish my sense of entitlement to everybody. Babies should be spoiled, and society should fulfill every person’s material needs so that we can all make art or do whatever else is our authentic action and we can glory in each other’s beauty.

Julia is talking about willing to do something badly to get good at it. I’ve always done that. Jump in with both feet, fuck up and jump in again. You have to be willing to fail. It’s not even failing really. It’s called working.

Lawyers are anal — compulsive, fearful and nervous about every move, literary writers are precious regarding their linguistic jewels — that hushed overly enunciated oral presentation style of the academic poetry reading is one of the funniest tings on earth, and improvisers are fucking slobs. Of course I over generalize. Only 95% of each group have those characteristics. Be conscientious to detail, revere beauty in your writing and be loose — and don’t worry about it. And know if you aren’t an artist, and observe the characteristics of an artist’s talents to further develop your conscious skills.

“As blocked artists, we unrealistically expect and demand success from ourselves and recognition of that success from others.”

I have done good shit and been successful, and then have been recognized by others, or denied recognition by assholes and idiots. I recognize myself and I listen, synchronize and tap into abundance to get more recognition from good people, and more inspiration to do good shit. I have often been praised as a risk taker. I deserve it. I go back and forth on this, but I don’t think that I have ever been blocked. I’ve been oppressed when overwhelmed by mean and stupid criticism at times, but that’s all over now. That’s different than being blocked. I kept going. I did lose my faith that I could get recognition from anybody else but myself. That was my problem. It’s a big world, and there are a lot of people who want to love someone like me and what I do. I thought that was the “connection” that Julia was writing about in this chapter, but it seems to be more about connecting to the voice of God. God will lead me to the people meant for me — and gigs, publishers, producers, audiences. He’s already started. (My God is a he because I have a penis.) When you get stuck being around idiots and assholes, you can start believing those groups are all that is. When you let go of them, you let your wounds heal, and then you realize there are great people out there. Then you keep singing. Even alone in your room. And you go out into the world alone. You put yourself out there. And the good vibrations draw you to the people meant for you. That’s part of what putting my writing on a blog is … it’s a message in a bottle. Some people will actually read it. maybe even more importantly, I fill myself with consciousness of who I am and what I see in the world. And when I have an opportunity to connect with someone meant for me — I’m full and ready. They will be too. Everything will be direct, effortless and apparent.

I’m doing this piece like a homework assignment. I want to get it done as fast as possible …

“If you lose you win, if you win you win …”

Right, for example every idiot or asshole that I ever met I engaged with believing that they would be good people. In those losses, I won because I learned more about what idiots and assholes look like. The idiots and assholes taught me how to recognize good people too.

“Jealousy is a map.”

I get it. Jealousy doesn’t make me feel animosity for another person. I know a very nice man who has published 12 books. I saw that factoid and felt jealous. That has nothing to do with him, I’m happy for him. I want to be published and produced. Sometimes I have to separate whether I feel jealous because I am listening to other people regarding what I should want. But it’s not that. I want to be published and produced. I am a much different kind of writer than the nice man, so unfortunately I can’t learn anything practical from his path.

Early in this iteration of my writing life, in the early years of my blogI have shared my ambitions with “successful” assholes who ridiculed the purity of my desires. Hacks and con men. I’m ecstatic. I never have to talk to anyone like that again. I can talk to you!

“Martin Ritt says, ‘I don’t have much respect for talent. Talent is genetic. It’s what you do with it that counts.”

Yes. I take no credit. I am proud of what I have done with it, and continue to do. It’s a process. I’m not a problem to myself.

Next up — Week 8, Recovering a Sense of Strength

Copyright 2021 Richard Thomas

10/15/21: The Artist’s Way, Week 6 — The Joy of Money #poetry

10/15/21: The Artist’s Way, Week 6 — The Joy of Money #poetry

Julia Cameron’s words are in quotes.

Julia is a radical. All people who love are radicals. This chapter is about money. It has a simple premise. “God” and honoring “God’s” will is the source of our financial security. Not shit jobs, not common sense, not betraying our authentic selves, not doing things that we hate to do, not a boss, not a client … “God”, and “God’s” will …

And “God’s” will is that we act out of love …

And acting out of love requires that we understand ourselves, and understand that our highest excellence will feed our souls, serve other people and the world, AND HONOR OUR MATERIAL NEEDS.

I have always honored my God instilled desires and values. I’ve been dedicated to my art and my values. I never did anything on any job that offended my personal morality. I never did a lick of work that did not advance, or at least was an experiment in trying to advance, my art.

Consequently, I’ve been broke on the brink of homelessness, had long periods of unemployment, and suffered mentally and physically because of my perception of financial insecurity.

I have also acted with Meryl Streep, and been a successful marketing executive, a lawyer at 50, a trial lawyer at 52, a college professor and a writer.

I have been humiliated, and been feted as a genius.

I’ve had a life.

And now at 66, I have a life sustaining income, and I’m in the early stages of a process of doing my art in the context of a career. In other words, I am pursuing writing exactly what I want, and think is morally right; and I am pursuing get paid and receiving other material advantages, hopefully handsomely, for my writing.

My father was a great example of the lessons of this chapter. He was 88 and dying. He had $8000 to his name. HIs illness was related to toxic materials that he inhaled in his auto repair business. My brother is a prominent lawyer and judge. He got my father another good lawyer. My father answered all of the lawyer’s questions, and signed all of the necessary documents on his death bed. The lawyer got my father a deserved settlement. When my father died, my mother had security for her late old age which lasted another 10 years.

My father had two sayings about money. “God will provide,” and “I’ll juggle, delay paying Peter to pay Paul.” We always had a lot of presents at Christmas. We always took nice vacations.

When my father was dying, some men, his best friends, that he coached years before on his soccer team (he founded it), The Italian-American Sports Club, came to visit him. They all said what a great coach and player that my father was, and that he helped them all so much in ways that had nothing to do with soccer. They were Italian immigrants, and he was in the US longer, he came to America in the late 1930s when he was 17. He showed his friends the ropes in a new country.

My father came to this country with nothing, except courage and strong sense of faith. He got what he wanted — abundantly — by living in a way that served his soul, other people, and took care of his material needs.

He wanted me to do things differently. He had a problem with every seemingly irrational decision that I made to follow the dictates of my soul instead of “common sense”. But his words couldn’t overturn his example.

I don’t regret a minute of my life. I have lived an amazing life. And my nascent writing career (my writing art started long ago) will be the next abundant chapter.

“If we take care of God’s business, He will take care of ours.”


My father’s example isn’t the only teacher of my spirituality of abundance. Experience is a great teacher too.

Here’s just a few instances of when God provided money (of course, God has provided a lot of other needs too … friends, loves, good advice, kindness etc … just at the right time … but this chapter is about money. Also read the previous pieces that describes the “God” concept if that the word “God” makes you roll your eyes. I’m not going to explain all of that again … )

I was down to my last $200 in New York City. A guy called me from a place where I had a temp job that I forgot about, and offered me a full time job.

I was teaching and doing one man shows around Second City for no money, and the producer Joyce Sloane started paying me (I hadn’t asked) because she thought my work was good for her actors, and because she cared about me. Joyce was a wonderful person … and wonderful people had more to do with my financial security than any employer or investment advisor.

I had been out of work for about eight months after being fired from my misbegotten job in a corporate law firm. I was searching diligently without any luck. A friend of mine from law school who I hadn’t seen for years called me and offered me a job.

After 3 years, I left legal practice because my soul told me to teach. I tried to start a business teaching classes to businesses, associations, and on limited contracts with schools. I got some work, but I am not a good entrepreneur. I supplemented my contract work with temp adjunct jobs teaching for universities. UIC called one day, and offered me an adjunct job based on an interview (again forgotten) that I had given them two years earlier. I taught at UIC as an adjunct teacher for one semester. The Obama Administration changed some policies that made it more attractive financially for them to offer me a full time position — teaching course work much like all that I had prepared for my iffy entrepreneurial venture. I became a Clinical Assistant Professor and worked at UIC for 5 years.

My contract was not renewed at UIC after I grew in a different direction from the program that I was teaching in. I tried to start a business (I now was a slightly better entrepreneur but not great — I only learned from experience, I had little talent in that area) that would pay for my needs and leave me lots of time to concentrate on my writing. I got one contract and then the pandemic hit. That one assignment qualified me for pandemic unemployment insurance. During that period of unemployment, a beloved aunt died and left me an inheritance sizable enough (not huge, but enough) to give me an independent income and allow me to concentrate on my writing exclusively.

I am grateful to God and to the people of love who delivered his abundance … Joyce Sloane, George Barber, Jim Grogan, the business manager at UIC, Barack Obama, Joe Biden and the Democrats, my Aunt Clara and my previously deceased Uncle Nello, who had worked hard to give me such a generous gift. I have a responsibility to God and his sweet people to pay it forward. I want my writing to be my deep pleasure, and to help people with whom it resonates. With each expansion of material power (also called money) I can do more good, and have more joy.

Maybe every place that I have split with was because of a conflict regarding what the true source of money is. If Joyce Sloane were still alive, I’d still be involved with Second City, for example. The cold corporate set-up is a non-starter.

“It’s only business” is a cop out. Too much money is made in dishonest, mean and immoral ways. Business is misery if you don’t believe in “God’s” abundance. Business doesn’t have to be a bad thing. It doesn’t have to be the antithesis of morality and art. Loving people can do business that is energized by their love.

“We have tried to be sensible — as though we have any proof at all that God is sensible — rather than see if the universe might not have supported some healthy extravagance.”

I am proud to say that I have never done the sensible or the selfish thing. I am not bragging. It’s a gift that has nothing to do with my effort or character. I am incapable of betraying my soul’s intent, no matter how crazy my soul seems at the time. Oh, I have sometimes buckled to the pressures to do what other people told me was wise (it never actually was), but I always subsequently failed spectacularly at being reasonable and career-oriented. Some people applauded. Some people doubted me and later said I was right. Some people never stopped thinking I am a fool. Some people actually hated me and then disappeared — ‘poof!’ behind a puff of smoke.

I’ve been a puppet, a poet, a pauper, a pirate …. la la la (whatever the song says) … a pawn and a king … Joyce Sloane liked when I sang like Frank Sinatra …

Julia agrees with me. “The creator may be our source, but He?She?It certainly is not the father/mother/teacher/friends here on earth who have instilled in us their ideas about what is sensible for us.”

That line points to a huge part of connecting with abundance. People who love you, hate you, or are just plain gossips, are always around to disapprove, show disdain, or mock your faith; and you have to understand them, protect yourself from their skepticism, and ultimately not listen to them.

Great words from Julia:

“What we really want to do is what we are really meant to do. When we do what we are meant to do, money comes to us, doors open for us, we feel useful, and the work we do feels like play to us.”


Julia writes about enjoying small luxuries.

Allowing ourselves to get pleasure from the many little gifts of life …. appreciation of beauty leads to a love of existence which leads to interest in existence which leads to art … We have to keep the channels open to see, taste and feel how wonderful Creation is. “Carl Jung says, ‘Explore daily the will of God.”

I woke up this morning with exuberance. That usually makes me think … uh oh — I usually don’t write as well when I am amped up. But no worries. It is the perfect emotional state for this material. How wonderful to think about money with joy instead of anxiety.

Julia writes about the luxury of time. I have always luxuriated in my time on earth as if I were a billionaire. The critics called me self-indulgent. Oh no! Not the great tsk tsk! I think I’ll take a bubble bath tonight. I wish I could lay there chewing on a big cigar, but my soul told me that I wanted a long life, and to enjoy those extra years with teeth in my mouth.

Dear God of abundance,

Do your thing.

Make my writing prosperous and effective.

Give me even more joy

and in service of more and more people

Give me money to enjoy

and expand your influence over the entire world.


Next up — Week 7, Recovering a Sense of Connection

Copyright 2021 Richard Thomas

10/14/21: The Artist’s Way, Week 5 — Impossible Dreams are Possible #poetry

10/14/21: The Artist’s Way, Week 5 — Impossible Dreams are Possible #poetry

Julia Cameron’s words are in quotes.

“Eileen Caddy says, ‘ Expect your every need to be met, expect the answer to every problem, expect abundance on every level, expect to grow spiritually.”

This is my experience and expectation.

Julia knows that this sounds like a “magic wand” chapter. But then she lays out the grounded process:

” … what we are talking about seems to be a conscious process in which we work along slowly and gradually, clearing away the wreckage of our negative patterning, clarifying the vision of what we want, learning to accept small pieces of that vision from whatever source, and then one day — presto! The vision seems to suddenly be in place.”

A lot of Julia’s life went into putting together those relatively few words.

It seems that I will quote Julia more in this particular piece. I couldn’t say it better myself. Read the incredible paragraph below.

“God has lots of money. God has lots of movie ideas, novel ideas, poems, songs, paintings, acting jobs. God has a supply of loves, friends, houses that are all available to us … “

Okay, I might improve this next line …

“By listening to the creator within, we are led to our right path.”

Well, those words need unpacking. It takes practice to discern what are the desires of your ego, and what are the demands — and they are demands — of your authentic soul. The old country and western song, “Looking for love in all the wrong places” addresses this challenge. I really didn’t want to be an artist. “Let this cup, pass from my lips.” I wanted to a big star in show business, and if that didn’t work out, an affluent attorney. But I am neither of those things. I have a poetic nature. I am not a man of action in the field of time. My beat is eternity. My work is in speaking to people’s souls. It does not involve entertaining them or fulfilling their litigation needs.

It isn’t only the creator within that leads us on our paths. It is also the creator without. I wrote a line years ago for a piece in the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin. “Vocation is where the heart’s desire meets the world’s needs.” For me that is soulful art. It is an existential state where one’s inner reality and outer reality are congruent. The dialogue between oneself and the world is an exploration, a field of discovery about the nature of oneself and the world.

Julia continues, “On that path we find friends, lovers, money and meaningful work.”

Meaningful work changes.

A Poem by Richard Thomas

Notre Dame was the right place for me until it was not

I learned all that I could

and split from all that didn’t suit me

Now I just watch the football team

when they are good.

Loyola Law School was the right place for me

I made good friends

Until we grew apart

with no hard feelings

The education didn’t matter much

Improvisation and Second City were the right place to me

I thought I was pursuing a career in show business

when I was really doing my entry level training as an artist

and then Improvisation and Second City became way too small

Depression, rage and underemployment were the right place for me

I saw the darker sides of life

I deepened and grew wiser

and learned what empathy is

Until it was time to also see the light again

Being a lawyer was the right place for me

I developed as a writer

exploring structure in a way similar to when I explored limitless freedom as an improviser

I had the soul nourishing responsibility of doing trials

Until I wanted to retain the skills, but no longer pay the dues of arguments and seeking punishments and retribution

Teaching was the right place for me

As long as I could explore ideas and concepts along with the students

But when my interests became too far beyond their capacity for comprehension

It was time to come home

Writing is the right place

and it always has been

I did not become a serious writer late in life

I have always been one

You go in the direction of your dreams

and your dreams change

They always get bigger

and God provides you with everything that you can bear given your understanding

That sales come on “Think and grow rich” has some veracity to it

We get the life and the world that we imagine

The greater the vision of our mind’s eye, the more we can see

If we see a loveless world, that’s what we will get

If we see some limited definition of ourselves provided by other people, that’s who we will be

The creator within pushes us in the direction of the creator without

The ego can make some of those shoves painful … resisting reality

Then we are in conflict

with ourselves, and other people, and the nature of existence

particularly our promised and certain death …

but when we are clear …

we are in Paradise.

End of poem.

Julia goes on, “Very often, when we cannot find an adequate supply, it is because we are insisting on a particular human source of supply. We must learn to let the flow manifest itself where it will, not where we will it.”

That’s a great line. I have had the experience of banging my head against the wall with people and situations that were inappropriate, and having the shock of joy by having my dreams fulfilled out of seeming left field. This observation is related to what Julia and I wrote about the folly of planning. Columbus thought that he was going to India, but he found what he was looking for further West. (Yes, he was an imperialist oppressor. Look past that for one second. He was also an explorer. Okay, resume your path to higher consciousness and justice. This is not parenthetical irony. I hold antithetical notions in my brain.)

“Sophocles says, ‘Look and you will find it — what is unsought will go undetected.”

Yes … when you have specific intention, your answers appear. Specificity is very important. To review quickly what I wrote a few days ago regarding what I am looking for. Providence provided me with my writing itself, people who love me, and a secure income so that I can devote all of my time to writing. So I am in the flow of openness to abundance. So far so good.

My new needs are — getting paid to do my writing, more audience, and my writing facilitating meeting new people and/or reuniting with old friends and colleagues, and having new experiences.

“The desire to be worldly, sophisticated, and smart often blocks our flow. “

Right. Just listen look and write it down.

Julia alludes to something else that I think is very important. If you go this spiritual route and live your artist’s life, you won’t get any help from the Creative Intelligence, if you don’t serve HIs/Her/It’s purposes. Ethics, and more importantly, morality are so connected to making art. The better the person, the better the artist. I know what many are thinking. There have been many assholes who have been great artists. Picasso was unfaithful, cruel and abusive to his wives, lovers, children, servants —- people in general. But in his painting, he was a saint. The art doesn’t excuse any of his personal sins. But his sins don’t negate his art either.

Providence fosters what is true and destroys what is false. When we die, our virtues go to heaven, and our cruelties are sent to hell.

The “Eat, Pray, Love” lady doesn’t accept this “divine providence” stuff in full. She says, “We’re not children. I can’t tell you that if you write, you will get published; and if you are published that you will get good reviews. But I can tell you that after you write, you will know more about yourself. And that will reward all of your effort greatly.”

I get why she is skeptical. A lot of people daydream about doing art on a professional level. They just aren’t good enough. They don’t have the talent. They can write or paint the way my father played golf. He enjoyed it. He was a decent amateur, but he didn’t have the stuff to be a touring pro.

But when you know that your work is of high quality, it is completely reasonable to believe that it will be financially rewarded.

The “Eat, Pray, Love” lady may also be recognizing that masterful art is sometimes not recognized in the artist’s lifetime. Emily Dickinson and Vincent van Gogh are tow of my favorite examples, out of the scores of artists who never got their due while living. But things have changed. The world is more diverse … brimming with creativity. I have readers from Nepal and India and Syria and Israel and Great Britain and who knows where else. Artists and their audiences connect with much greater ease now. I am certain that “God” will bring me the audiences and business partners that I desire.

I have no evidence to back up the following … it’s just an impression … but I think that just as the world has never been more technologically advanced than it is today, and that technology keeps expanding exponentially, so too, the world has never been so consciously creative. Masterful innovation and expressions of the human spirit are quite literally everywhere. Sure the world is covered in strife, but there are big splashes of color and loud, beautiful music everywhere too.

Knowing who you are comes first. Then you get what you want. The more you know, the more you get.

When you trade your co-dependency in for dependence on “God”, then you are cooking with gas.

“But what we really want is to be left alone!”

Julia is funny. I have to write. If I don’t get the time and space for almost any reason, I get surly. It is the thing that you can’t bear not doing that is who you are.

I never stop writing. This is literally true. Every moment of my existence, even when I am doing something else, I am writing. I live and draw pictures of my life at the same time. I have always done this. I wish I had saved those notebooks from the womb.

I don’t know what Julia’s talk of solitude has to do with this chapter, except of course that in solitude we find clarity. We refuse other people’s phony demands on us, and do what is really important.

I never did anything motivated by wanting the approval or disapproval of others, but I have felt hurt, anger and even sorrow when I was disapproved of by some. It’s an important distinction. I’ve been true to myself, but I have suffered, sometimes greatly from perceived losses resulting from that integrity. But who and what I lost were just illusions.

I am a bit troubled about this line, ” … take a few outward steps in the direction of the dream — only to have the universe flung open an unexpected door.”

Am I taking those few outward steps? I’m not sure. Okay, Rilke, I’ll “live the question.”

The answer came fast. No, not yet. I’ve only recently clarified precisely what I want next for writing … which I will repeat again and again until I get it: money, growth as a writer, more audience, new or reconnected people, and new experiences facilitated by the writing … an expansion of my writing and an expansion of my life. Now I can add a request that Providence tells me the small steps that I can make in my desired direction.

“Erich Fromm says. ‘The specific meaning of God depends on what is the most desirable good for a person.”

I love that. “God” is my best life … the life where I give my highest excellence to my soul, my material needs and (at least indirectly) to the souls and material needs of other people. Now, that’s something I can pray to …

“Stella Terrill Mann says, ‘To accept the responsibility of being a child of God is to accept the best that life can offer you.”

The highest morality is in the pursuit of the highest potentials of our creativity.

Next, Week 6 — Recovering a Sense of Abundance

Copyright 2021 Richard Thomas

10/13/21: The Artist’s Way Week 4 — Art/Life Balance #poetry

10/13/21: The Artist’s Way Week 4 — Art/Life Balance #poetry

Julia Cameron’s words are in quotes.

“Chekhov advised, ‘If you want to work on your art, work on your life.”

My writing and my life are the same thing. Writing is not re-writing, as the popular saying goes. Writing is experiencing personal transformation, and fashioning a record of what occurred. Picasso said that all art, in any medium, is autobiographical, and he was right. What else could it be but the expression of the inner life of the artist, and his or her observations of the outer world?

The most brilliant commentary about any art considers the state of being of the artist. Genre, craft and so on are just tools, secondary and mechanical considerations — necessary support functions but not what define the essence of the endeavor.

I was taught not to write about myself, that superior writing is always in consideration of an external person, place, thing or idea. I ignored the lesson. I write about everything that I experience including my own thoughts and feelings. Who am I kidding?

I was taught that it was important to master the craft of one particular genre. I don’t care about genre. I’ll write an analysis, tell a joke, write a poem, introduce a passage of fiction (always identified), write dramatic dialogue … I just don’t care. I put my finger on the pulse of my constant change as a human being and I surf it.

When I read a book, or watch a movie or play or listen to a lecture or even watch a football game … anything that I observe … I have a conversation with the creators … they are showing me what they made of the world … it is Shakespeare talking, not Hamlet.

Art is a conversation. I write pages and pages in response to the pages and images and spoken words that talk to me every day. My responses are also my initiations for some other artists to respond to … Call and response, call and response … it never ends. The only difference between being an artist and being an audience is that an artist has the facility to fashion an artful response to the rest of the world. The audience member has feelings and thoughts obviously as human as the artist’s, they just lack the means of making a concrete response to the art in a formal way. The audience has an even more profound response than art … that response is the lives they create.

Artists help audiences by making the audience’s thoughts and feelings concrete. Art makes the unconscious conscious. The artist does this for him or herself and then shares with the audience.

When I write, I know that what is true for me on the deepest levels is true for everybody. Our humanity is our point of unity. So if I write something and it resonates — one of my favorite words — resonates in the soul of another person, I’ve done my job.

Artists make pictures of what it is to be a human being, and then audiences go out and act as more conscious human beings as a result of contemplating the pictures. So do the artists.

And the line between art and life disappears.

Of course the great masterpiece is life itself which is created by the indescribable creative intelligence which is often called something like “God”. The Bible is an artists’ rendering of the interplay between that intelligence and mankind and all animate and inanimate beings, objects and manifestations in the universe. Talk about an ambitious piece!

One of the slickest moves by this creative intelligence is that “God” lays out all of creation and gives it no meaning. Then He or She or It added mankind, a part of the creation that has the power to create meaning. A painter looks at a pear, studies how it interacts with light and other objects and uses his perception to create something else which says something profound about what it is to be a human being. This creative intelligence is really intelligent. He or She or It created everything and the last piece had the power to expand everything … into something greater than All.

It’s an honor to be a human being. Of course, we often shit all over the opportunity. That’s the brilliance of “God’s” idea, we can have it all, but only if we want to. Art is the want to …

Human history is part horror movie. Creative intelligence created a non-artificial intelligence that had the power to destroy the world. So when sci-fi writers consider dystopian stories about artificial intelligence robots exterminating mankind, they are writing about us, and their individual selves. All artists make odes and horror movies, hallelujahs and chastisements, prayers of gratitude and dire warnings.

The artist transcends blocks (that’s largely Julia’s beat — facilitating that freedom) to create. It is reality in a minor key. Human beings choose whether they want to be human or some undeveloped version of their potential. Humanity decides whether it will live in the warmth of meaning or regress into a cold and willful nihilism.

The rejection of art is the saddest thing that there is. Artists must create. Audiences must engage with meaning beyond mere sensation.

The greatest risk is to assert that existence is something beautiful and important. It’s a life or death decision. To choose not to try is to never exist at all.

This is the conflict in every soul, between all individuals, in every nation.

Every person who engages in an act of creation will tell you that making art gives them energy.

May the force be with you.

Julia Cameron writes about tantrums that we experience when our consciousness expands. Every new level of meaning that we uncover as we continue the work of creating the universe, causes pain.

Change happens but not without, Julia writes, “a kriya, a Sanskrit word meaning a spiritual emergency or surrender. (I always think of kriyas as spiritual seizures. Perhaps they should be spelled “crias” because they are cries of the soul as it is wrung through changes.)”

There was a commercial on TV this morning about a local PBS show about Viola Spolin, and even now, after all the work that I have done in separating my soul from improvisation and Second City, I still experience a kriya. I really loved that community and thought it was my place in the world. But it wasn’t. It didn’t love me back, and I am not interested in what it does creatively. I moved on. But that doesn’t change that my participation in Second City and improvisation was something quite beautiful once upon a time. And the community did love me back before I began to change. So I changed, expanded … grew … I put away childish things. I have deeper levels of meaning in my life and in my art than when I was an improviser, and certainly more than when I was young at Second City. But it is still a loss. And I feel it more deeply than any other part of my past, because I so dearly loved it. It’s funny, I feel no loss at all when I am reminded of my time at the West Bank Cafe’, the next theater that I worked at after Second City, because my soul hasn’t left the West Bank Cafe’. I look at the people on the PBS Spolin commercial, people I know and I am ashamed of them. They are whoring out Viola Spolin who was really an artist, a great artist for beginners, to sell the new Second City that is owned by the venture capitalist who makes video games and sells nutritional supplements. They sell the show business success of many alumni and ignore the art … and that’ s nothing new. It was like that when I was there in the early 1980s. Of course, my greatest anger at the past is self-directed. Second City is a cake-and-eat-it-too place. It claims that you can be an artist and be a show biz success, which is basically working in advertising, at the same time. You can’t. Second City and I rejected each other a long time ago, even if I didn’t know it. But there still was the art that happened from time to time. And there still was the occasional real human connection. The West Bank had people thinking about commercial careers too, but it was a much smarter and more sophisticated place. It believed in theater, and could enjoy art and show business, and knew the difference. I could breathe there. Breathing is impossible at Second City, and in the improvisation community in general. The sad thing about Second City is that people are open to something more than an ad copy con job. Audiences and students there are falsely told that they are receiving meaning. It’s really quite cynical. I am Second City’s competitor. I think once people see the difference between glasses filled with water and sand, they will pick the water. Second City seems to be winning the competition with me at the moment, but things aren’t what they seem. I watch the people on that commercial talk about Viola Spolin and improvisation, and I know that none of them are saying anything interesting, true or real. They are just pitching for sales. I say things true, interesting and real. I win.

“By tossing out the old and unworkable, we make way for the new and suitable.”

I used to feel badly because Second City and the improvisation community never gave me my due … and I was the best of the best. But I now know that they did me a favor, because I would not be accepted in the places that I am going if people thought I was part of what they are. (I hope this doesn’t hurt any of my sweet friends that I know from my time at Second City. This existential situation does not diminish what we had and have.)

“When the search and discard impulse seizes you, two cross-currents are at work: the old you is leaving and grieving while the new you celebrates and grows strong.”

Sometimes, my only quibble with the great Julia is that her words can take on a tone of ‘this too shall pass.” In my experience it doesn’t pass. Another Stephen Sondheim line “You’re always sorry, you’re always grateful, regretful happy.” Agonies and ecstasies — a tug of war between life and death.

Next, Week 5 — Recovering a Sense of Possibility

Copyright 2021 Richard Thomas

10/12/21: The Artist’s Way, Week 3 — Gifts of Anger and Synchronicity #poetry

10/12/21: The Artist’s Way, Week 3 — Gifts of Anger and Synchronicity #poetry

Julia Cameron’s words are in quotes.

I wanted three things.

I wanted to write (I have always written. I just wanted to do it more consciously. I wanted to finish the pieces that graced and haunted my brain. Words are like wine, they have to age before they are ready to drink. Writing redeems one’s entire life. Everything is useful. Everything is ascribed meaning.)

I wanted to be free of abusive and disrespectful people, and only associate with people who love me, respect me and treat me well (really, if two people in any kind of relationship — spouse, friend, family, business relationship don’t love each other — why waste your time? It doesn’t take much time to realize that you love somebody. You love each other right off the bat. Then you have your challenges and misunderstandings — but you love each other. With love anything is possible. Illness, poverty, disappointment, failure and losses of all kinds — even death. Love is the only way to go. Even a store clerk who doesn’t treat you with civility and simple human concern is an imposition upon your finite life. Love inspires mutuality. That feeling of sharing the other person’s joys and sorrows — well that is unbeatable. We aren’t wired to love everybody. Perfectly nice and fine people may not be in our field of love. Love defines us. Who are we if not who and what we love? To be separated from love is called alienation. Every loveless moment is like being dead. Love is life itself.)

I wanted to be financially secure, to stop having to worry and scramble for money all of the time, and deal with those fucking jobs (the work was fine — it was my art whether they liked it or not, it was the people who mostly sucked — mean spirited mediocrities with a few sweethearts mixed in).

I got all of those things. Julia Cameron rightly attributes such satisfaction to two processes of our biological and spiritual evolutions — biochemical anger, and soul expansive synchronicity. Anger tells you what is wrong. She wisely says that anger is a call to “act on, not act out”. Synchronicity first opens you to possibility, and then heightens your awareness and gives your dream-come-true on a silver platter.

I’ve been angry a lot in my life and it is because I change a lot … many transformations. I’ve had a lot of answered prayers because I was born into a really spiritual family — immigrants who came to an unknown country with nothing and found all that they needed and desired. Anger propelled my people from poverty and fascism. Synchronicity brought them fulfillment in what they loved to do, people they loved and freedom from want. I have felt precisely the same emotions that my father did when he escaped Fascist Italy, married my Mom, built a house in suburban Rochester, had a business and spent hours of passion engaged in sports … first soccer, then football, then golf. He died surrounded by his family, shortly after being surrounded by his friends.

We all have a right to such a life.

I am currently in a gestation period. I do not know precisely what I want next for my writing. Something is surely next. I can feel it, but I can’t see it yet. I’m not currently angry about anything, so I don’t have rage as a directional device or energy source. I can’t employ synchronicity because that requires specificity.

I love the famous quote from the poet, Rilke, “Live the questions.” This might be the most exciting time, when one is open to anything. I get that feeling in the pit of my stomach, that gets labeled as anxiety when I am nervous and upset, and is named “thrilling” when I am hopeful and happy.

I wrote recently that I was never blocked. That’s not true. I was blocked, but in this instance the untruth — (it wasn’t a lie, a lie requires intent) is what is true. I was blocked in my daily life living in imagined pain while unconsciously dancing with unacknowledged joy. My shadow acted like it was my body, and my body acted like it was my shadow.

Lately I’ve been writing with a swagger. A swagger is not what is most true. Being human is what is true, and that is a more ambiguous motion. But a life in art is a series of rebirths, and each time a membrane gets broken … not a glass ceiling … it is flesh and blood that is destroyed not architecture …

My life is as it has always been, only now it is more conscious. The awareness that makes me feel better and enables me to share something with you occurs in the same action.

The swagger is true and wonderful, only if, like anything else, one doesn’t get stuck in it.

A friend wondered if my statement that artists and scientists are doing the most important work of mankind would alienate “dentists and trash collectors who would otherwise like my words.”

I am a small “d” democrat and an elitist. First, the elitism … I don’t think everyone is an artist or scientist. I believe that they are born not made. Now the democracy … but everyone can participate in art and science. I am a new and big fan of the Bears’ young quarterback, Justin Fields. There is no way that I ever on my youngest and fittest days ever do anything approaching what Justin Fields physically. But what he does can resonate me, and subtly inspire me and even be seen as a metaphor for my writing. The dentist or trash collector can’t write like I can … they just can’t. I was born with a talent for this. No amount of work and study would make somebody without the talent write as well. But … the dentist and trash collector can live like the words, or more precisely live like what the words inspire within them. And their lives are more important than art and science. Their lives are what art and science serves. Who would care about art and science otherwise?

When I said that artists and scientists did the most important work, I didn’t mean that they were better than other people. I just meant that it their jobs to speak for God to everybody else. But everybody else can apply what God says.

I think the only people who would be bothered with the assertion that artists and scientists are on the top of the heap of the vocations of mankind, are artists and scientists that haven’t fully admitted to themselves yet that they are artists and scientists.

My friend worries about “claims” that I make about myself. They aren’t claims. They are what I see, just like anything else is what I see. I am who I say I am, and I will relate to the world based on that knowledge. This chapter of “Artist’s Way” is about power, and I don’t know what is more powerful than unapologetically and consciously being yourself in the world. That’s not dominance over other people, it’s a natural power … the power of being who you are. The disrespectful people that I mentioned at the beginning of this piece may be that way because they are afraid of being who they are, and afraid of the very idea that anyone could live their authentic life in full.

Well, I’m not afraid … and that is why I cheer Justin Fields when he is so brilliantly and excellently himself on his field.

Julia Cameron teaches me anew … and I thought this was a review! She debunks the idea of strategy and I have been growing toward this point of view. What is next for my writing will happen spontaneously, it won’t be the result of tactics and agendas.

What do I want for my writing? I want it to grow. I want the writing itself to get better and the audience to get bigger. I want to get money for it. I want it to be a means of meeting new people and getting new experiences.

My commitment to my writing is key. I keep writing and providence will provide me the opportunities for all that I desire — just as providence brought me the writing itself, and love, and financial security.

It seems you want a few things. God gives them to you as long as you are sincere in His purposes, and then He gives you a higher class of desires, and finally you matriculate your way into heaven.

Do you see William Shatner going into to space? Over ninety? And so sharp and funny? And he is a fat guy too? So healthy and doing things and worried about landing so he can do more things. Fat old guys who used to be handsome leading men are so cute aren’t they ladies? More puppy than cocksman, but I’ll take it!

Dear Santa, put getting so old and being vital on the wish list too! And to think I started this piece saying I didn’t know what I wanted for my writing. See how magical this stuff is.

Boy, this is a good chapter. She’s talking about how an artist gets shamed. I always was the truth teller as a kid, and I got punished and adored. There were recent attempts at punishments when I told the truth about UIC, and Second City. But people admired it too. Lenny Bruce must be listening somewhere.

Here’s Julia …

“The act of making art exposes society to itself.Art brings things to light. It illuminates us. It sheds light on our lingering darkness. It casts a beam into the heart of our own darkness and says, ‘See?”

It hurts to read Julia’s words about shame. They bring back memories less of events and more of feelings … some from when I was very young. But it’s a good kind of pain. It makes me grateful for the different atmosphere that I breathe in now.

My father was very critical of me. He could be a real asshole. On the other hand he was strangely not authoritarian. I never saw him as the boss. I wanted him to admire me for what I was. He couldn’t do that because I was so much like him, and he enjoyed himself in nearly constant motion and then hated himself in repose before he fell asleep. He had to work with his hands and back and had to fight through all kinds of oppressions which he strangely never resented. I had it easier, or so I thought. But he made sure I went through his every agony and struggle in my relationship with him. I never did what he wanted me to do — not out of rebellion but because I just didn’t want those things.It was a hard situation, but it taught me to fight. He was really himself, and I love him for it. But embracing him and getting free of him is the story of my life.

We are all our own best friends and our own worst enemies. When we love each other, we understand that and take care of one another.

“Albert Camus says, ‘What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger.” He must’ve known Dad.

She’s writing about poisonous criticism. Some criticism is good, but she is talking about the stupid and mean variety. She wrote and directed a movie and it was inaccurately reviewed in Washington, DC and praised at a European festival. I want no D.C. and all festivals. Is that possible? When you begin you can’t avoid the toxic shock of idiots and assholes. But can I do my thing without hearing from any people I’d rather do without? Is this a possible item for the wish list? Providence, let me know, and If it does work notify me of delivery.

Julia writes about ways of handling criticism. She makes a distinction between useful and useless criticism. It is great practical advice. I just want to not get the useless criticism at all. I’m not sure if that is the nature of things, but I’m past a lot of other circumstances that used to bother me.

She ends the chapter telling me to treat myself well. I do. I love my Keen sandals and my new iPad, my recliner and my Kia Sportage. I deserve nice things. I didn’t always think that. I prided myself that I was not materialistic but I actually was living in unearned shame.

She praises solitude. No push back from me. I love my time alone. I am very nice to myself.

Next Week 4 — Recovering a Sense of Integrity

Copyright 2021 Richard Thomas

10/11/21: The Artist’s Way Week 2 — Life After Snipers and Crazymakers #poetry

10/11/21: The Artist’s Way Week 2 — Life After Snipers and Crazymakers #poetry

All Julia Cameron comments are in quotes.

“Jody Hayes says, ‘Snipers are people who undermine your efforts to break unhealthy relationship patterns.”

I always go to places looking for a space to do my project. Hopefully, it’s a win/win for me and the other person, organization or entity. I give to the other and I expect the other to give to me. Often they welch on the deal. America is a land of broken promises. Many think betrayal is the normal state of things. Everybody lies, right? Only a sap thinks that the person in the catbird’s seat isn’t going to press his advantage eventually. The guy with the money calls the tune and all the promises are just … poetry.

They expect me to surrender my project to serve theirs exclusively. This is the I AM THE BOSS or PEER PRESSURE situation. Because they want to exploit me, they undermine my past achievements, present needs, and future potential. I make clear that their disrespect is inappropriate and that I remain faithful to what I have committed to do. I never agreed to servitude to them. I split from the persons and situations.

No one can undermine you without your permission. No one can tell you what to do. I have never accepted disrespectful treatment, demands for immoral behavior, or demands for work that compromises my creativity and intelligence.Snipers are people who are trying to entrap you in unhealthy relationship patterns. They want to hold onto you, and subjugate you in a diminished position. You have to be willing to break with these people. Every time I broke with a situation that was too small, I was rewarded with something bigger. Every time I gave up income or some other necessity, I’ve been provided for in a bigger and better way. In a later Week, Julia Cameron discusses the concept of “Abundance”. I am in such emphatic agreement with her about abundance. If you are doing something positive, out of love, that is true, something that nourishes your soul, and serves other people … you will always be taken care of …

But you have to leave the snipers behind. That is easier said than done. I was impressed by something the actor Alan Alda once said. He said that you have to go through emotional pain, you can’t just resolve to leave. You have to lose things … income, the illusion of friendship, social status — and you have to suffer the snipers place in your heart until you fully understand what happened … and then you have release.

I sighed when I saw that this was the next chapter because I have done so much work in the last year or so casting out snipers and bad circumstances. I have my wife, my brother, my friends, my writing, an un-compromised income … I’m free. All of the naysayers, doubters, skeptics and character assassins have disappeared. I really didn’t want to look at this topic today …

But … I am called to witness …

Even when I wasn’t free, when I bore the burden of the snipers, I was not deterred. Life hurt, but I kept going. I remained the author of my own life. I remained committed to what I thought was important … no matter how much abuse and injustice was sniped upon me.

Nelson Mandela’s unjust imprisonment preceded his glorious liberation.

I’m happy that prison phase is over, but I understand its necessity, and I am proud of how I handled it.

You make them feel bad so they want to bring you low. They hate your freedom, your joy, your talent, your conviction … they hate your success … they hate your strut … your confidence … greatness in a weak place without full social status is always persecuted. It’s a natural law. They see your excellence as insubordination.

They hold onto the recognition. They own it. They don’t want to share it. They don’t care if its good. They care who is in charge. You, of course, the artist, don’t care who is in charge. You just want to do good work, and enjoy the perks of that work … the friends, the praise … why not? But they want you dead. They look at you with fear in their eyes, and then they plot how to get rid of you. It isn’t jealousy exactly. They see you as a threat to all that they have built for themselves. You are really no threat. You don’t even really care about their thing. You wouldn’t give them or what they are doing a second thought, but now you have to because they have come after you.

The big lie that I bought into … the toughest thing for me to unpack was that the snipers made me believe that they were stealing other people from me. But the people who didn’t notice what was happening, or didn’t come to my defense, were not meant for me either.

I will repeat something that I have said often in my writing. You can’t lose what really belongs to you. A worthwhile person would never be a sniper. A worthwhile organization or social group would never tolerate snipers. The people who would triangulate you and the snipers are not true connections. Often I’ve found that individuals that I have known in toxic environments stay in touch with me away from those environments. That’s a more worthwhile connection than when I knew them at the false place.

You have to be willing to go it alone, and wait for past, present and future connections to return, manifest themselves or appear on the horizon and give you your due.

What is recognition anyway? It is just being seen. We recognize each other. The snipers want you to go away, or pipe down or helplessly crawl. I choose to go away and shout to the rooftops and walk with a fine upright posture. The snipers aren’t important. It’s their residue that you have to deal with. The school shooter is important for a second of imposition on one’s life. It is the recovery time in the hospital or in the grieving process that requires our effort and attention.

The snipers eventually disappear, and you are left with your solitude and the people who care about you, and what you do.

And this next quote from Julia Cameron affirms what I am talking about here …

“Robert Louis Stevenson said, ‘To know what you prefer instead of humbly saying Amen to what the world tells you that you ought to prefer, is to have kept your soul alive.”

My soul has always come first, not other people. I appreciate your readership, but you should know that my writing process is not calibrated in any way to please you. I just report my truth to the best of my ability. Personally, I am reassured by that orientation in a writer. And if you like my words, you are too.

My job as an artist is to fashion for you an outer representation of my soul … to reveal myself and give you something to contemplate. How could I achieve that if I followed the orders of a boss, or conformed to the tastes and mores of the community? Snipers try to wound and weaken you, so that you obey and surrender your individual nature to some always too small proscribed social role. Don’t let them.

“Shakti Gawain said, ‘Every time you don’t follow your inner guidance, you feel a loss of energy, loss of power, a sense of spiritual deadness.”

I felt what he is describing so long ago that I can barely remember it, except that I never felt spiritually dead. Two things helped me stay true to God’s call within me … illness and rage. Every time that I have let myself down, I have become seriously ill. Every time that I have sold myself short or allowed others to to do so, I have become really angry.

I actually have live closer to my spiritual existence than to the requirements of being a creature on this earth. I had a harder time honoring practical necessity than honoring the essence of how God made me.

Much of my life’s work has been about making the body and soul’s necessities congruent or even one in the same. That might be one good defintion of art.

Julia Cameron talks extensively about “crazymakers” … commonly called toxic typres that do things to sabotage your creativity. If you have issues with such people, I suggest that you read her. I have written extensively about crazymakers in my life, and I am proud of the writing. That writing had a personal benefit as being my method of releasing these gremlins from my mind. I would settle the matter of the crazymaker in my outer world, but their mischief remained seared on my brain. I don’t feel like writing about one of them this morning. I can’t even summon one up in my recall.

As artists, our vulnerability is a great asset. We can’t do our work without being sensitive. But our superpower is also our kryptonite. The crazymaker exploits the softness and labels it weakness and then shoots or stabs to kill. We survive, but we must heal our wound. And that takes time.

The deepest wounds are so fruitful. I would think that I finally understood the assault of the crazymaker and could let it go … only to find that the painful memory would return again and again. But each return of the pain yielded even deeper insight.

I think Julia Cameron might focus too much on escaping snipers and crazymakers. We definitely have to leave them, but they are such fodder for art. We should use everything that happens to us. We have to look at what happened. It wasn’t self-destruction that led us to toxic people — that type of blaming is useless. We went to the shit places to learn something about life. Our paintings need to be agile while working with light and darkness.

Every moment of my life, every person that I have ever met … even, maybe especially, the most awful ones … have furthered my art.

Excerpt from correspondence with a friend

I’ve never been able to engage something that I didn’t want to do. It’s physically painful. I’ve done tedious or demanding things of course but always because I wanted to, or because I needed to do them in order to do what I wanted to do.

I wondered about all of those things for myself except procrastination. I never had that one. For me, I concluded that all the other doubts were other people’s bullshit and I refused to internalize them.

I didn’t avoid success or failure. I just did what I deeply wanted and people said it was one or the other. I don’t care what they think. I do get pissed off when they try to take my narrative and spin it to glorify themselves.

I don’t even know what success and failure is anymore. I am proud of what I’ve done. And I’m happy. Is that success? My life is like “Catch Me if You Can” except I was legit. Great improviser, trial lawyer, college professor, writer and excellent at each … and I’m supposed to hang my head?

When I had to work I was talking to these law school deans about teaching my Ethical Presence program. I corresponded with many, heard from a few. The most interested put me down said … well it’s good but no one is that interested because you don’t have money. He was trying to take control. And that was their attitude. I had no work, I was living on savings . I walked away. This was just a couple of years ago. He just knew I wasn’t wealthy.

Fuck them. I don’t even like country clubs. I know as much or more about my area as they do about theirs. I have no bow in me.

We are taught to bow and curtsy before the boss and the group. I never was any good at that.

I think that thoughts about being lazy is internalized nonsense from assholes. I heard that forever and it was bullshit. If I’ve been so lazy why is my work product so good. I would stop working whenever I was in a situation that asked me to be morally wrong or creatively mediocre. 

My art and humanity is of such higher quality than that of the people that I once wondered about possibly endowing me with success.

The concern of wanting the recognition of others cedes so much creative power. I’ve done that. Every split with people who undervalued me led to an expansion of my art.

As to my “claims” I just write about myself like I write about anything else. I report what I see.

I never think about anyone’s reaction to my work. I just focus on expressing my truth. If this is antithetical to broader success, so be it.

But really, I just want to get this out to as many people who will like it. I don’t want to tailor it to any audience.

I think that means there is a different approach to artistic success than any models that I’ve seen … show biz, law, higher ed … it is that line of action I’m looking for …

end of excerpt

And I am sick of thinking about “success”. Roger Ebert decided when he was a student at the University of Illinois that he wanted to be published. I decided that I wanted to be a writer. It’s a different orientation. Of course, I want my work read. But Ebert is clearly not an exemplar for me. I like Roger Ebert, but he was a personality, not a writer. He did what he could to get “published”. He cheerfully agreed that his TV movie clip shows were killing serious criticism. “No one wants to tune in and hear me do a critical analysis of a film.” OK, fine. I am not playing Roger Ebert’s game. I want to share my writing with as many as would like it. I think it will find its way to the hands of people well disposed to it without any strategizing from me.

“Jackson Pollock says, ‘The truth of a painting has a life of its own. I try to let it come through.”

The fate of my writing will be revealed through my writing.

You can’t plan a creative life. You just have to be up for it.

Next — Week 3, Recovering a Sense of Power

Copyright 2021 Richard Thomas

10/10/21: The Artist’s Way Week 1 — Everybody Says Don’t #poetry

10/10/21: The Artist’s Way Week 1 — Everybody Says Don’t #poetry

There are two kinds of fear. Good fear tells you not to cross against the light on a busy street. Bad fear tells you not to do something that you are meant to do because of some perverse psychological reason.

I’m pretty brave and appropriately cautious.

I have never feared success. ( I’ve been accused of that.) I have feared inauthenticity.

When a person lives their life as an art, the life is harder. The purely competitive person, or the narcissist who wants to look like a winner, has it easy. He just figures out what he has to do get the promotion or make the big splash impression and he does it.

The person who wants to do the true thing … marry for love, make art not branding has more of a challenge.

But …

I wouldn’t have it any other way. The competitor or narcissist never lives at all. If you act only to dominate or please other people, you never get to find out who you are. If you don’t know who you are, you can’t make any sense of the world. You just do what you are told, or cheat to make it look like you did what you were told.

You never get to love anyone or anything.

And that’s what fear is — the absence of love.

All the apostles of success and winning are the ones who are really afraid. They are afraid of trusting life and living it.

You cede all of your power, if you ignore the whispering directions of your soul and conform your life to society. It doesn’t matter if the society is led by Chinese Communists or Madison Ave ad men.

When I taught, there was a lot of talk about making classrooms safe spaces to learn. I myself appreciate the teachers in the academy and the arts who encouraged me to risk, stretch and fail. That’s all great for students and kids. But the most productive risks occur when they aren’t entirely safe. You have to risk losing the job, the girlfriend, membership in the social grouping.

I’m not talking about impetuosity or foolish risk — stupid daredevil danger for danger’s sake, or trying to show people what a badass you are. But when the call comes, and you vet it with careful reflection, and you know it’s true … you have to do the hard thing, the seemingly irrational thing, the thing that makes some of the other people murmur against you with doubt.

There is an unavoidable agony associated with a life of art. The future never comes easy.

Anything done with love is a radical act.

Okay, now let me look at what Julia Cameron said on this topic. Her words are in quotes.

“One of our chief needs as creative beings is support.”

True. Artists are not part of the rises and falls of society. We follow a different life trajectory. We need the support of other creative beings — audiences, readers, collaborators, friends, lovers, business partners etc … We never form cliques for our own aggrandizement. Our work benefits everyone. We lock arms and create a new world as brothers and sisters on a journey.

“Carl Jung said, ‘Nothing has a stronger influence psychologically on their environment and especially on their children than the un-lived life of the parent.”

My parents lived their lives fully, so I was spared this truth in my family. But I encountered such stunted children and parents in my life in the world. Most people sadly have unlived lives (a true oxymoron), but happily I think more and more people have real lives in full. The consciousness arc of humanity bends towards enlightenment.

Stephen Sondheim answers this sorry/grateful state of affairs with this wonderful lyric:

>From Anyone Can Whistle
(S Sondheim)
Everybody Says Don’t
Everybody Says Don’t
Everybody Says Don’t It Isn’t Right
Don’t Is Isn’t Nice
Everybody Says Don’t
Everybody Says Don’t
Everybody Says Don’t Walk On The Grass
Don’t Disturb The Peace
Don’t Skate On The Ice
Well I Say Do I Say
Walk On The Grass It Was Meant To Feel

I Say Sail

Tilt at The Windmill
And If You Fail You Fail
Everybody Says Don’t
Everybody Says Don’t
Everybody Says Don’t

Don’t Get Out Of Line
When They Say That Then Lady That’s A Sign
Nine Times Out Of Ten
That You are Doing Just Fine

Make Just A Ripple

Come On Be Brave
This Time A Ripple

Next Time A Wave
Sometimes You Have To Start Small
Climbing The Tiniest Wall
Maybe You’re Going To Fall
But It Is Better Than Not Starting At All

Everybody Says No Stop
Musn’t Rock The Boat Musn’t Touch A Thing
Everybody Says Don’t
Everybody Says Wait
Everybody Says Can’t Fight City Hall
Can’t Upset The Court
Can’t Laugh At The King
Well I Say Try

I Say Laugh At The King Or He’ll Make You Cry
Loose Your Poise
Fall If You Have To But Lady Make A Noise

Everybody Says Don’t
Everybody Says Can’t
Everybody Says Wait Around For Miracles
That’s The Way The World Is Made

i Insist On Miracles
If You Do Them

Miracles — Nothing To Them
I Say Don’t
Don’t Be Afraid!

“Louise Bogan says, ‘I cannot believe that the inscrutable universe turns on an axis of suffering; surely the pure beauty of the world must somewhere rest on pure joy.”

Julia is barking up the wrong tree. A safe space is a clip joint if it tells artists that they will not suffer. Being an artist involves a lot of pain. We have to learn how to survive and participate in life as social animals and spiritual beings. It isn’t easy. It involves a lot of nuance and delicacy. Julia is right that suffering shouldn’t be seen as the nature of art’s fulfillment. To the contrary, art brings insight and understanding and they burn away pain. But there has never been a real artist who hasn’t suffered for internal reasons of his heart and mind, and external reasons of injustices or at least misunderstandings of the outside world.

Joseph Campbell had the true phrase — “sacrifice and bliss”.

An artist dreams, but he or she isn’t a mere dreamer.

Nothing is more practical, and the province of true realists than art.

Pain is the grit that art turns into pearls.


“Shakti Gawain says, ‘an affirmation is a strong positive statement that something is already so.”

I use affirmations. I used to do them to make progress. Now I employ them for maintenance.

Affirmations are not self-promotions. I tell the truth about myself. I don’t try to make myself look good. I don’t have to. Decades of affirmations, rigorously backed with evidence and objective assessment, have turned finally into my real and deserved confidence.

That’s all for this session, grasshopper.

“Henry David Thoreau says, ‘Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you imagined.”

That quote looks better here than on the insurance commercial.

Oh yeah … Julia doesn’t mention this — DON’T IDENTIFY WITH FAILURE. It is something that happens, it is never who you are. If you don’t fail from time to time, you aren’t trying. Failing is part of the creative process. Don’t sweat it … it’s nothing to be afraid of … even the doozies that everybody (OK, it just seems like everybody) gets on your ass about.

Coming up next — Week 2, Recovering a Sense of Identity

Copyright 2021 Richard Thomas

10/10/21: Fathers and Sons #poetry

10/10/21: Fathers and Sons #poetry

Above is a photo of my late father. I should use it as a headshot.

Note: I write these pieces with a vague objective in the back of my mind that they could “work” independently, and that they are also segments of a long, and may I say immodestly, epic, piece. But these dual objectives elude me more and more and more. This piece refers to recent pieces that I have written about the movies “Magnolia” and “The Last Hurrah”. I can’t reframe here everything that I have already written about those topics. I’ll leave it you, reader, to determine if you get the meaning of this piece just by reading it in context, or want to fill in material from related observations in the previous work.

Below is an excerpt from my correspondence with my great friend …

More later … amazed at similarities… poetic sons of jock fathers …  and one of my earliest memories is Dad yelling at me for crying when I got soap in my eyes at bath time. 

Fath … such an Irish name of affection.

Your students are so fortunate to have you. 

“I love. I’m sorry. Forgive me. Thank you.” Quite a mantra.

Whatever works!

Jason Robards in “Magnolia” … “Regret is good. Use your regret.” He was so sorry that he cheated on his wife to “prove he was a man “ and abandoned his son while his wife died alone. His angry son, Tom Cruise forgives him and weeps at his deathbed. 

The good thief.

The bad thief was played by Phillip Baker Hall. He couldn’t admit that he molested his daughter … and his wife, Melinda Dillon, leaves him because he can’t say it. He dies alone.

I wonder why Ford didn’t explore Spencer Tracy’s role in raising an unserious skirt chasing fool of a son in “The Last Hurrah”. He frames it that the son wronged the father, but did the father wrong the son?

Tracy plays regret for how his son turned out. It is less clear if he felt responsibility.

Today the screenplay would have a scene where Tracy acknowledges that he was focused on his political career and was an absent father, and that he never taught his son how to be a man.

But responsibility also falls on the son. All men learn how to be men through their relationships with their fathers. Dead fathers, absent fathers, good fathers, abusive fathers, permissive fathers, autocratic fathers, cheerleading fathers, harshly critical fathers … all men have to process their relationships with their fathers … deciding what they liked about Da, and rejecting what they didn’t.

At a certain point one becomes the father … the son and the father are one.

Ron Reagan, for example is so much like his father, with major revisions. The existentials are the same. The politics polar opposite. His father, the son of an alcoholic father, lived a life of denial so Ron wouldn’t have to …

Ron speaks of his father with detachment and affection … just like his father addressed everything.

All my gifts and problems are also my father’s, and when I forgive him and give him gratitude, I forgive, and give gratitude to myself.

So much of my writing is about working to a loving acceptance of my father, my self, and in so doing redeeming my view of, and participation in, the world.

Copyright 2021 Richard Thomas

10/9/21: “The Artist’s Way”, Introductions — It Wasn’t Julia Cameron, It Was Me #poetry

10/9/21: “The Artist’s Way”, Introductions — It Wasn’t Julia Cameron, It Was Me #poetry

This is the first of 13 segments on Julia Cameron’s book, “The Artist’s Way”. This segment covers the Introductions to the 25th Anniversary Edition of the book, and the 12 ‘Weeks”, or chapters, will each receive segments that follow.

Quotes from “The Artist’s Way” are in quotation marks.

What I remember of her books, and maybe everything else that I have encountered in my life, is less the things themselves, and more my inner monologue in response to them. I have never had any teachers, mentors, muses or exemplars. The artists, the Jesuits, the lawyers, the professors, the directors and fellow actors never taught me a thing. Others present to me, and I present back to them and other people.

Everything in my life resembles a theatrical improvisation based upon a suggestion, including everything in my life that happened before I knew what theatrical improvisation was. Good improvisations just use the suggestion as a point of ignition. They spin out in quite unexpected ways, sometimes not looking like they are responsive to the suggestion at all. All that matters is that the improviser inhabits his present self consciously and acknowledges the external reality before him. Emphatic acceptance of the inner and outer world leads to creation.

“Most of the time, when we are blocked in an area of our life, it is because we feel safer that way.”

This is not my experience. When I have been “blocked” it has been because of the unjust actions of other people, a lack of discernment in who I associated with, and a tendency not to walk away from inappropriate people and situations until I had deep understanding of what happened.

Actually, I never was blocked … not for a minute. I have always done what I felt deeply compelled to do, and the hardships, as well as the joys were explorations which yielded the raw material of my writing.

The implication of fear in this quote touches an old wound. I was accused of being fearful, but I wasn’t. My demeanor may have seemed fearful at times, but it really demonstrated awkwardness and frustration. I so wanted to be home, but I was a wanderer. A wanderer is always ill at ease by definition. It takes a long time to know oneself, and even longer if what you are is large and complicated.

I wonder if Julia Cameron undervalues how valuable difficult experiences are in the life and work of an artist. Probably not, but I’ll keep an eye out.

Everything isn’t psychological or spiritual, as important as those aspects of existence are. Politics, human rights, economics each play a role. I had to fight to claim my birthright as an artist. That struggle was so important. I know certain things about life which I would have never learned if I didn’t have to fight.

As previously stated, other people can “block” you too. Sometimes your obstacle is the result of their psychological or spiritual issue. In my case, many years ago, I overcame what was misnamed as my “block” when I realized that my obstructions were not my fault. I got angry and insulted and started fighting back, and complaining.

I was never afraid. I was often naive. I recently wrote that Julia Cameron seemed to know that the world was a place of great creativity and toxicity, and that life runs on that alternating current. I don’t think she says that. I’m the writer in my life who has that insight.

I really don’t even know what being “blocked” means. Everything happens for a reason. Joy, sorrow, success, failure, warm intimacy and alienation … all states of being have a purpose.

Life is what you make it. The agony and the ecstasy. Those are the states of the life of the artist and art itself.

I have no regrets. None. And I have never been afraid. I’ve never backed away from the big, seeming irrational change when it was called for. My pain has been in the invasive, improper criticism of others. They hurt me so. They never bothered me after I got a distance from them … a distance of time and space. But when it came to doing what my inner guidance directed me to do, I unfailing followed that guidance regardless of what other people said. I never internalized what they said. I raged because they had the nerve to say it. And I suffered because I wanted friends and love. I didn’t avoid true friendship and love, and those commodities are certainly plentiful … I didn’t know how to find them. (I learned.)That pain became a source of my creativity. I wrote to understand, and when I understood, I could release my pain and open myself to something better.

I never was afraid. I was just learning — self-taught.

“William Blake said, ‘ I myself do nothing. The Holy Spirit accomplishes all through me.”

I knew this when I was a small boy, long before I heard of Julia Cameron or William Blake. I recognized that there was a creative intelligence that makes all persons the way that they are, and determines the nature of the world and our lives. I never thought that I should egoistically decide what to do. I saw that I had to observe what I wanted to do — God was the author of my desire. (And God is never afraid.) God told me … you like that girl more than the others, you want that job or book or class more than the others. These people and things are important to you. Those others are not part of your destiny.

Julia Cameron apologizes for talking about God. She knows that many people hear the word “God” and think of authoritarianism. So she suggests substitute “higher power” and think of benevolent love … I used to do that type shit when I was a teacher. A teacher has to do that. It’s part of the job. The teacher has to influence the specific students in her charge — even if her students are millions of readers all over the world. My writing got better when I stopped teaching. I have some great readers and they are much more than students. I don’t have to explain myself to them. (I want more such readers and listeners.)

A great thing about writing is that a writer has no authority, except the authority of his authentic truth. That doesn’t mean the writer is the voice of God giving directions, the writer is a poem of God, giving the reader something to contemplate.

It wasn’t Julia Cameron. It was me. I don’t see Julia Cameron as an authority on creativity. I see her as a person of interest for me to contemplate to discover something about myself. And to appreciate her for who she is.

I have gratitude for knowing, or knowing of, many people and their work, but I give them no credit for my work. My work is me. I guess I don’t credit myself for the work either … that credit belongs to God. I just get credit for putting it out there.

“Accumulate pages, not judgements.”

I always knew this too. Create, that’s all. Work on it and you get better at it. I’m delighted by everything that I write. Writing is not rewriting … writing is keep writing. I notice greater facility with my writing as I go forward … I get better. I write better pieces on themes that I had considered previously. Writing evolves … I still like the old stuff too … it seems written by someone else.

You just put yourself in motion, and you transform naturally.

“As Carl Jung answered the question of belief late in his life, ‘I don’t believe, I know.”

I’ve always known this. When I was younger, I was insulted often when I showed my writing or some other creative work to someone, and they would talk about my “opinion”. I never write what I merely think. I report my experience. Or express it in real time.

I never followed the requirements of “The Artist’s Way” course. The two recurring assignments are “morning pages” and “artist’s dates”. Morning pages are just writing whatever you want to write every day. Eventually some substance emerges beyond stream of consciousness doodling. I have always done this. As I said, I just write and it takes on a life of its own. Those musings turn into ever complex forms. I look forward to what my writing will look like in the future.

Artist’s dates are just doing things that you feel like doing, and doing them alone. I do that all the time.

My whole life has basically been spent doing morning pages and artist’s dates.

Making art is a natural thing. I taught an improv class once where I just told the students to “just improvise” with no further instruction, and I then I informally charted how many exercises they naturally came upon that can be found in Viola Spolin’s “Improvisation for the Theater”. They found a lot of those exercises unprompted through their own exploration. I was teaching “creativity” I guess — I called it improvisation, in much the same way that Julia Cameron teaches her courses. I am glad that I don’t teach improvisation or anything else anymore. I’m also glad that I taught … I learned a lot, but when I learned too much I stopped being a good teacher. A great political leader or teacher can only lead people as far as their understanding can take them. A writer can lead all time.

Julia Cameron teaches and writes. That might work for her. I don’t know her non-teaching writing. My teaching was a great thing for my writing, until it wasn’t. God gave my writing ambitions greater than what was useful to my students. And my engagement with those students stopped being useful to me.

For those of you who are teaching artists, I am not offering my experience as universal truth — just what is true for me. When you read me, it’s not me, it’s you.

God, me and you having a party at Julia’s place … no check that, my place, but Julia’s here too …

How to naturally flows from who …

“Boredom is just ‘what the use’ in disguise.”

Oh no … boredom is great, it’s a sorting mechanism …. boredom tells you what you want to kick to the curb … boredom is a way of stopping ideation, and then inspiration has room to take over your internal monologue. Boredom is rest. It’s turning down the volume on your natural intensity. It’s a gestation period. We need pauses … we end up being in places that don’t belong to our life’s trajectory from time to time. Boredom can be useful.

“Filling the well, stocking the pond …”

The years of my life that might be wrongly diagnosed as being times of fear and blockage were actually — filling the well, stocking the pond. I have great resources of images and feeling to draw upon in my writing. New and present experience draws out the old experiences and the result can yield depth, insight and interesting perspective.

One of the great compliments of my writing — “you use everything.”

It was important that I had years of not pursuing a career of any kind, but always doing what made me deeply happy. It was important that I was unjustly persecuted for doing same. It is important that I pursued careers too, and was rewarded for being a good boy, and chastised for honoring my enfant terrible. Everything is important. I HAVE AND HAVE HAD A LIFE.

“Brenda Ueland said, ‘imagination needs moodling, long inefficient, happy idling, dawdling and puttering …”

I am a master of what she says here. I have always understood that we don’t ever leave childhood. We add other stages of life but the child remains within us. And I have always had a relationship with my “inner child”, a cliche that really means something. If you have, the impatience, impetuousness and stubbornness of a child … along with the wonder and curiosity and glee … you have a leg up in the writing game.

“Many of us read (or watch TV shows or movies or the news) compulsively to screen our awareness …”

I have never had this problem. I have no capacity for distraction. I can be interested in, or bored with something, but neither condition silences my inner voice.

“Blocks must be acknowledged and dislodged. Filling the well is the surest way to do this.”

I have never been blocked as an artist. I have spent my life filling the well.

End of Introductions

Next: Week 1 — Recovering a Sense of Safety

Copyright 2021 Richard Thomas

10/8/21: The Last Hurrah (1958) and Previews of Coming Attractions, Dreams Mixed with S–t #poetry

10/8/21: The Last Hurrah (1958) and Previews of Coming Attractions, Dreams Mixed with S–t #poetry

Excerpts from correspondence with a friend:

Discovering my character for the next act. I started by saying that I was going to relax and just.do what I please. It didn’t change my actions at all!

Then I reminded myself of some profound banalities. I want to go where the lovers are. 

My career exemplar is Sylvester Stallone when he was obscure and had the script of the first “Rocky” in his pocket. Not an inch of give on the story, no way he’d accept Robert Redford in the role. It was written by him, the auteur, as his part. His way or the highway.

My new role , the one after the maturation of my writing to a new level while avoiding a plague of frogs, is of man that has nothing to prove to himself. Large and in charge.

I want to do a thousand things. I don’t have to do anything.

I watched Directed by John Ford, by Peter Bogdanovich yesterday. Henry Fonda, John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart and Ford himself … serious innocents … Ford in love with Kate Hepburn, the muse for married Hollywood Catholics of the era. All involved , including Bogdanovich, possessed with a touching, embarrassing and authentic sentimentality.

Then I watched “The Last Hurrah”, Ford’s ode to himself … this time with Spencer Tracy playing the great man in winter. Boy did Ford think a lot of himself. Tracy plays a man facing one more campaign, aware that the times have passed him in a superficial way , but also that he is the real man, the one possessed of true values. Tracy/Ford is warm, funny, kind, cunning and self assured. His younger rival is a fool. His son is an asshole of the moronic variety. Young people of value love Tracy/Ford personified by the as admirable as he is handsome Jeffrey Hunter.

But there aren’t enough admirable young people to give Tracy/Ford one more opportunity and he loses.
And then he dies! But not before every friend, rival and enemy that he ever had sits in vigil outside his bedroom and comes one by one to cry at his bedside. Oh brother! The music is sickening and wonderful at the same time. I am into paradox lately.

Ford was full of shit … he spoke of an America that never really existed … led by brave, pure men like himself … who were never as pure as he claimed … the bravery was there … but he was so honest too. He didn’t dodge failure, betrayal or death. And he was aware of the sentimentality. It was real and true … he had that Irish bittersweet sorrow laced with humor and spunk that is so wonderful … He was gruff in order to play act that he wanted to hide what a sap he was —- he didn’t want to hide … how much affection that he had for people, how beautiful his wishes for the world and what a prima donna he was. A real dandy hiding behind John Wayne’s skirts. He had to express it all. I don’t want to be like John Ford, but I want to be me as well as he was him. A real poet, a proudly ordinary guy, distinguished by his ability to express what it was like to be him. The Last Hurrah had about the same response from the public that Ford did at that point in his career. He, and the film, no longer were in step with the broad public, but he proved that it was only fate that made him popular when he was younger. Much of the world moved on, but he remained true to his own voice, like always. And his voice matured. A new smaller audience, and a different artist connected.

I watched a video with Julia Cameron and the author of Eat, Pray, Love. I didn’t want anyone to see me doing it. I put my laptop in a brown paper wrapper.

I discovered how influential Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way has been on my work and life.
This is embarrassing … how self helpy it is, how New Age, how … feminine ….

Yes all of that is Julia Cameron’s voice in part … but once I get over my prejudices … her story resonates.
I also put distance between her work and mine … she writes for people who are blocked. I’m not blocked. I’m not in recovery.

But I have come to the conclusion that we all are in recovery. Another paradox … my experience of life in the world is an alternating current of creativity and toxicity … the director Peter Brook wrote of “dreams mixed with shit”.  Julia Cameron seems very aware of that reality. An artist has to navigate her holy inspirations and an equally abundant and murderous world.

I have some of her books in our storage space but they are inaccessible behind boxes and old furniture… but I refuse to be a blocked reader! Amazon will deliver new copies of Julia Cameron today. I am planning to revisit The Artist’s Way from the perspective of who I am now as opposed to when I read it originally.
I was shocked by how much I liked the Eat, Pray, Love lady. Kind of like John Ford … not who I am, but I want to be me as well as she is she. 

I read Ashbury years ago. I recall nothing except that I like it very much. I am happy for your idyllic morning . Upstate New York suits you and agrees with you. I’m still bewildered by why I scare you from time to time, but we have decades to figure that out.

Enjoy my healthy friend!

Copyright 2013 Richard Thomas