6/17/20: Why I Never Went For It #poetry

6/17/20: Why I Never Went For It #poetry

No offense, but I don’t owe you an explanation

I don’t write, or teach for that matter, to explain anything to anybody

I write to understand

I overhear myself and I invite you to overhear too

Your presence here makes me feel useful

But I hate the idea of owing other people explanations

I hate how the black families who lost loved ones to police violence

feel pressured to perform their grief in front of television cameras

I used to think that I wrote in order to justify myself

that notion bothered me

but I never did

I wrote and write to understand myself.

I never went for it

I never wanted to part of it

Then I would think that there was something wrong with me

Because peers who went for it

told me I was weak for not going for it

They called me “effete”

and “poetic”

When they felt kindly toward me they compared me to St. Francis Assisi

and Henry David Thoreau

They called me an artist

I lived on those kind evaluations

Held onto them like life preservers

never fully understanding who I was

One of the first good things that I wrote provoked anger from a would-be mentor


I didn’t want to

I didn’t know why

I didn’t know how to

I still don’t

I don’t live in the world

“Build relationships with critics,” well – meaning friends advised me

They were sad for me

They had some success and they wanted me to enjoy what they enjoyed

For awhile, I was ashamed of myself

I thought that I was jealous of those friends

But I wasn’t jealous at all

I enjoyed watching their performances

I was happy that they were happy

I guess I thought that I should be jealous

I guess I thought that there was something wrong with me

I felt like I was being physically beaten by criticism

People saw the intelligence and character

but they saw me as a coward

and they told me so

Even people who thought very highly of me

said that I was hiding

I heard an actor say on TV that the best actors that he knew never made it

They were too sensitive for the business

And I was and am certainly that

People well-disposed to me and indifferent or worse

always went to the weakness track

They never saw the pain

and I do hurt more deeply than they do

not because I am more of a human being

but because I am an artist

and everybody doesn’t make art

It’s an occupational hazard

My father who knew me better in some ways than all the personalities of society, that big father substitute

heard me deciding whether or not to regret a past decision

I didn’t pursue an opportunity to write for a big TV show

and wondered whether that was a great error

at a later moment when I was at loose ends and didn’t know what to do

My father told me

“Maybe you didn’t want to do it.”

Dad was right

I didn’t want to do it.

I didn’t and don’t want to do any of it.

I live in a parallel universe

where people don’t “get” publishers

and ingratiate themselves to favorable critics

and compromise their work to give the bosses what they want

Artists quietly do their work

and get support




side jobs

Somehow one gets by

supported by an abundance that isn’t driven by the laws of business

Life and spirit become one

I don’t enjoy my old friends’ movies and TV shows anymore

I only liked those things before I understood who I was

My old friends do “near art”

I just coined the phrase

Their work has elements of the truth

but they can’t go all the way

They worry about how their words get over

You can’t really write until you don’t care about “success”

Art has nothing to do with popularity

Other things that I heard from professionals

“You are too sincere to be an actor” — well-meaning

“You are an amateur” — dismissive

I am sincere

and I am an amateur

I can’t claim to be the voice of truth

I’m not arrogant

but I don’t lie

I am not even tempted to lie

and I won’t lie for your applause or money

and I guess that makes me an amateur

All artists — real not near — are amateurs

we’ll take needed money wherever we can find it

but we would never change a word of our work for money

I hear “successful” people

on TV and in social media

discuss how the economy must re-open

they say, “yes, the pandemic is dangerous”

“but we have to take risks”

the most direct of them acknowledge that hundreds of thousands of Americans are dying and will die

They don’t get more granular in their observations

Granularity meaning — old people in nursing homes, prison inmates, poor people in “essential” jobs and a few unlucky younger, whiter more affluent people

will die

These people will die

so that small businesses


so that upper middle-class young people

“have optimal educational experiences”

So that deans won’t have their schools pursue more modest growth agendas

so that shareholders get their dividends

so that rich people get richer

The pursuit of American success

is violent

To “make it” is to have blood on one’s hands

I never wanted any part of that

I didn’t know why

but I knew it was wrong

Mass murder to maintain our water parks

I’m no St. Francis of Assisi

I understand myself at age 64


He got it when he was very young

Thoreau was ready to write his words when he was in his 30’s

I wasn’t ready until I was 60

I felt conflict about all of this until this morning

and who knows if there isn’t deeper to go

It is still

and will always be mysterious to me

how Thoreau and St. Francis

and van Gogh

and all of the others …

“got over”

not for their own sake

but for effectiveness

to further the purposes of art …

People read me

things happen

practical opportunities arise

You simply keep working and move forward

Just self-overhearing this morning

thanks for listening in …

Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas










2 thoughts on “6/17/20: Why I Never Went For It #poetry

  1. Reblogged this on The Rick Blog and commented:

    11/12/20: This is what I would have written this morning if I hadn’t already written it. A good companion to yesterday’s piece, https://richardsteventhomas.wordpress.com/2020/11/11/11-11-20-not-a-thanksgiving-person-poetry/. Acceptance of one’s freedom, integrity and autonomy is not only a matter of decision. It is also a matter of repetitive practice. I have to maintain a boundary with the world in order to remain in relation to it. Co-dependence yearns for independence. Independence wants interdependence. Interdependence leads eventually to atonement — God, Man, World become One.
    Co-dependence is petty adulthood, work on unimportant concerns. Independence is a process of re-tiling a well. Most people get stuck in one or the other of these phases. Interdependence is real friendship, marriage and work in community — real work, not the narcissistic competition. Atonement is spiritual attainment beyond our individual experience — our specific personhood ends — the final lesson learned, we die. We can’t navigate the phases of life and death. We can chart our understanding of them. We change as we change. We reflect, and eventually we understand. And sometimes we go over it again. So I re-publish this piece this morning.


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