The Rick Blog Annotated Part Four — 7/6/20 to … to be continued #writing #TheRickBlog #poetry #essay #PoeticEssay #creativeprocess

The next phase …

larry-mathews

7/6/20: I am Richie #poetry#satire#sitcoms#CarlReinerI waited a bit to post about Carl Reiner. It was just too painful. I knew Carl very well. As many of you know, I played the character of “Richie” on “The Dick Van Dyke Show.” I was working under the stage name of Larry Matthews at the time. Carl named my character “Richie” en homage to my real name.My relationship with Carl was complicated. He never gave me credit for my ideas for the show. I begged him for a writing credit. I came up with Dick Van Dyke’s business with the ottoman — both the prat fall and the avoidance — which Dick, of course executed brilliantly. Carl just claimed the whole bit as his idea.Carl and I argued a lot. I thought “Richie” needed more screen time. He resented it I think, and he never made me the focus of an episode.I became bitter. Dick was drinking at the time and I would tag along. It became a problem for me as well as Dick.Mary Tyler Moore was a second Mom to me, in an Oedipal way.Carl never gave up on me. He kept me in the show for all of the difficulties — but what could he do — say “Richie” died in a car crash? That wouldn’t have worked comedically.Surprisingly, Carl and I kept in close touch. We were closer after the show went off the air. I introduced Carl to Steve Martin at a party. Carl didn’t know who Steve was.In later years, Carl and I worked together on political causes. We split again when I invited him to perform at a MAGA fundraiser that I was organizing.I was inspired to write this remembrance when I saw that the show runner of “Modern Family” shared his remembrance of Carl, and I had as much to do with Carl as that guy did.The “Modern Family” auteur said that he did sitcoms because of the inspiration of watching “Dick Van Dyke” reruns on WGN in Chicago when he was a kid.“Modern Family” is a professional effort. Carl Reiner had a joy and innocence and simplicity. “The Dick Van Dyke Show” was made at a time when entertainment was still a human endeavor — corporations mostly just bought what they thought they could sell — they didn’t know how to get involved in the process of making it.“The Dick Van Dyke Show” was a love child. “Modern Family” is 3-D printing.I am big. It’s the movies that got small.Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas

7/8/20: Danny Thomas is My Father #poetry#satire#sitcoms#showbusiness#confessional#hgwellswaroftheworldsIn my last segment, I informed you that I was “Richie” on “The Dick Van Dyke Show”. I am embarrassed because I didn’t tell you the whole story of why Carl Reiner gave me the job.I am “Richie” as a result of nepotism. Danny Thomas, the popular mid-century entertainer was one of the producers of the Van Dyke Show. Danny Thomas got Carl to hire me.And Danny Thomas is my father.If you don’t remember my father maybe the photo that I have provided here will refresh your memory. Dad is pictured here with my sister Marlo and some sick kid.Dad didn’t love me, and Mom was always pushing him to give me a break in show business. He refused to cast me in his sitcom “Make Room for Daddy” even as he was constantly making a fuss over Marlo. I acted out and spread false malicious gossip about actor Hans Conried who played the popular character Uncle Tonoose on “Daddy” just to cause discord on the set.Dad was livid and set me up in a cottage at the Chateau Marmont to get me out of his house and off of his set. He promised me that he would find me a job in the business.I was determined to strike out on my own and was shopping screen plays around Hollywood. The most successful script was the first treatment that eventually became cult classic “Billy Jack” in the early seventies. Not bad work for a six-year old.Dad finally was able to make good on his promise to me a few years later. My turbulent years as the star’s real life son hanging out on the set of his big time TV show were three years behind me then.I was six, and had become a different person.I had grown up a little even if Dad wouldn’t give me credit for it.Carl had high emotional intelligence and immediately recognized the competition between me and my father. He knew Dad hated my guts and that I was determined to be my own man-child.Carl made sure that Dad wasn’t around when I signed my contract. We had lunch at the Brown Derby and inked the deal.When I was cast as “Richie”, I finally felt recognized for my intrinsic value as an artist and as a man.Of course, my joy was short-lived. I was always stunted by Dad’s shadow. Dad founded The St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital just to spite me. He showed so much concern for those kids’ lives, and none for my career.Dad bored me with his old-fashioned schtick, and his Church going. I tried to catch on in the adult film industry, but I was too short at the time.Marlo married Phil Donahue, who is a big liberal douche. Holidays are insufferable.Sitcoms are still being made, libtards still get laid, and they still try to beat child cancer, but all I have are my memories.Sometimes, things aren’t as grand as they look from the outside.Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas

7/9/20: There She Is, Myth America #poetry

I’m afraid to leave the apartment

I don’t mean to go on a trip

I mean to go to the trash room

or get the mail

or pick up a package

Myth 1: We’re all in this together

Then why does no one in this building wear a fucking mask?

Myth 2: The future belongs to the bold. You have to take risks to live

I’m going to be 65 soon

I’ve never been in a serious accident

I’ve never had a major operation

I’ve never been divorced

I’ve never been even accused of committing a crime

I haven’t been trapped for years in toxic jobs, friendships or relationships

I’ve never had a problem with alcohol or drugs

Some of this is luck

but far from all of it

I don’t like danger

(in anything but art — which isn’t really danger at all)

I have successfully avoided danger most of my life

Now I feel surrounded by people who are stupid or insane or both

that have taken me hostage and forced me to ride a roller coaster that didn’t pass inspection

The impositions of the stupid and crazy

manipulated by the craven, the thoughtless, the greedy, the murderous and the mean

Delivery people

workmen showing more care for the building than the people in it

young fools

demented old people

Myth 3: We take care of our sick and elderly

I love an old lady

(not my Mom, who passed last year)

who lives in a nursing home

that has by miracle and luck

avoided being the scene of a COVID-19 outbreak

It has been a very good nursing home

Very clean and attentive to the people who live there

They announced

in a flowery, corporate quasi -religious sounding letter

That their first floor rehab unit will be opened to infected people

the overflow from other hospitals

I stopped reading

I didn’t need their bullshit reasons

Here is the reason

My old friend and her peers are expendable

Rich bastards don’t want to part with their money

so that proper temporary medical facilities can be built for the sick

Better to save the cash

and just throw the dying in with the old

the old — who were deemed by headquarters to have nothing left to live for

We don’t give a shit about the old or the sick in this awful country

Which brings me to

Myth 4: Listen to the boss

he will reward you with fun and security

Follow his orders

and eventually you will be be the boss

I have been criticized my whole life

for not “pursuing success”

for not “listening to authority”

for not “CONFORMING!”

My turn

let me criticize you

If you haven’t created a life to please yourself

and have never ceded your rights and responsibilities to another person or institution or group

for a lousy paycheck and a false sense of belonging

You are a fucking schmuck

Because the boss doesn’t give a fuck about you

You are his slave

You are his utilitarian object

He flatters you and threatens you

to steal from you

to get what he wants

You are a jackass

over the moon when he gives you an A

wounded by his disdain

internalizing all of his manipulative criticism

selling yourself out

and calling it humility

And now you see what the boss feels about you

Now when the chips are down

He feels nothing

Get out there and work

Go to school

Go consume

Get out there and die if you must

die a horrible, painful, lonely, miserable, lingering

death

Go die

The boss would step over your dead body

to pick up a quarter in the streets

Myth 5: Children are our future

America doesn’t give a fuck about its children

Children are consuming units in development

Cannon fodder

future drones on assembly lines

who are growing increasingly obsolete

props

encouraged not to think

made to obey

bribed with lollipops

taught by low-wage saps

who are ordered to wade into the viral fog

like the pawns at a meat packing plant

or the suckers carrying arms in Afghanistan

Children, teachers, staff

go die

Schools aren’t here to educate

they are a baby sitting service

so the parents

the grown-up children

can go die in the useless stupid jobs

and if the jobs are essential

the grown-up children can go do them until they die too

without the proper protection

Proper protection?

Money doesn’t grow on trees

Myth 6: Entertainment is a nice escape. People work hard and they need a diversion.

Bullshit

Entertainment is fucking mind control

Sentimentality

Ass kissing

Marketing

Sales

Lies

Lies to keep you in line

Lies to tell you what to desire

what to value

lies to keep you distracted

lies to steal your souls

to block you from your potential

to turn you into a thing

Entertainment kidnaps you

exiles you from participatory democracy

and turns you into audience

Gives you an insult comic President

Performance artist teachers

turns the law into public relations

and the Chicago Lakefront into a tacky theme park

Entertainment gives you shiny images

while you sit in squalor

Entertainment puts you into a shiny new suit

that will shrink and fall apart if you are caught in the rain

Hordes wander the streets of the city

in altered states

If no one sees reality

does it cease to exist?

Myth 7: There is no love. There is no meaning. Live fast, die young and leave a good looking corpse.

Complete nonsense

The artist (that’s me at the moment)

tells you this

You and we are so much more

than what we have been told

Open your eyes if you haven’t already

Life will be sweet

for those of us who survive

the mass human sacrifice

now in progress

Art is coming out of its furtive shadows

Nature is encountering delusion face to face

If you have an inclination toward love and what is true

Now is the time to be bold and outspoken

Now is the time to take responsibility

Now is the time to stand up for what’s right

Live and die for what matters to you

and not for the agenda

of the nihilistic will to power

naked empire

if its not too late

if they don’t kill you first

if they don’t kill me first

I feel better after writing this

but I am still wisely afraid to leave the apartment.

Be smart and careful out there.

Myth #8: Good triumphs over evil. Everything works out in the end.

Maybe for the infinite span of the cosmos

but good people die every day

at the hands of injustice

unrecognized

because they are so damn

innocent.

Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas

7/11/20: Frustration #poetry #improvisation #psychology #art

The psyche is a multitude of archetypal figures

and growth involves waiting

the soul changes in barely perceptible increments

Freedom arrives quietly

and cannot be made manifest

until all of the world that is not oneself

offers a crack

a slit

a narrow path of escape

(it’s always narrow, never wide or generous — the world is a miser who can be fooled out of his jealously guarded abundance)

And now is a time of waiting

I am primed at the gate

I have never been more confident in what I have written and more importantly what I am able to write

I know I am a transformative teacher

but I also doubt myself

it is my nature

and I was taught to do so

that somehow it is good to be humble

and I have incorporated this anxiety into my talent

doubt is a short step from wonder and curiosity

fear keeps one engaged

a frightened man in my psyche asks questions

and a heroic white knight,

Me the Artist saves Little Me …

Me the Artist tells me

“You can figure out anything

and you will survive

endure

and thrive”

And while these parts of me engage in their useful dialectic

Gremlins emerge

gremlins that will vanish

when the world gives me an opening

and my soul is fashioned beyond my body

in external reality.

My story is one of transcending people and places,

good riddance to bad rubbish,

but ghosts remain

and torment me as I wait

I may wait for days unbothered

but they always emerge

Writing helps me expel these demons

creatures far beneath me with whom I once stood in relation

Writing relieves me in that way

But I need a bit more than writing now

I need a school

and an artistic community

worthy of my gifts

I need a nation worthy of me

I need intelligent fellow citizens

of good character

I have some individuals

some readers

who both comfort me

merely because they exist

and tantalize me

there are places where people are like these people

collectively

there must be

schools

artistic communities

and nations

Only promised lands will relieve me completely of the misery of past hells

that I have mostly left

but hector me

inflammatory bacteria in the deep bases of my wounds

There is one guy who hurt me in a profound way

and he is anything but profound in his essence

What he does has nothing to do with me

His concrete reality is also a figment of my imagination

His real life and his malicious and insulting nature

is the inspiration for a suicidal cancer in my being

I am endangered by his second-hand smoke,

tormented by a self-destructiveness far beyond useful self-doubt

and the archetype of this asshole

his image in my mind represents despair and surrender

that is always fought back by my white knight creativity

but he exhausts me.

When I look at the real man

I see

nothing

a cipher

just the dark void of an asshole

the black hole above the rectum

just the shadow of the crack

not even the flesh.

A college dropout, who is rightly self-conscious of the fact

a hack improviser

who has developed a following of younger college dropouts

and unsophisticated let’s-buy-a-map-of-the-stars tourists

that is infatuated with drug humor

and is a disciple of the horrible and ridiculous Del Close

who acts as an opinion leader on Facebook recommending awful comedians and improv troupes

and has made good money doing voice work for radio advertising

(he’s really proud of that money)

and plays minor roles in some television comedies

always badly

I saw him play a dentist

on a good show

he had an arch look on his face

and acted in a way that would indicate he wouldn’t be allowed to push a broom in a dental school let alone take courses

That good show had plenty of other storylines about dentists

they never asked him back

The creator of the show finds his comedy in character

and is based in reality

He wanted something more than condescension

based on nothing but the fact that a stupid asshole wants desperately to look smart.

Normally, I wouldn’t be nasty about this asshole

But sometimes unimportant people

become important

because their lack of creative skill is compensated by a gift for destruction

that they direct at anyone or anything of excellence

that they rightly intuit as a threat

The worthy expose the frauds

by dint of their worthiness

They compete

They have to win

This asshole is a trivial representative of a great ailment of the world

and my mind

Why has this fool’s insults stayed with me?

I am insulted all of the time — by all kinds of assholes

I’ve known lawyers and teachers and neighbors like this jerk

Why has this inconsequential peon

who is not widely respected or recognized by the world at large,

this man who couldn’t fail because of his limited gifts

this man who was doomed to manipulate a tiny group of people

and play act influence and importance —

why have I chosen this pathetic tool as a rival?

That’s the real question.

I am embarrassed that my psyche has given this ineffective clown the status of being my rival.

I think I know.

He stole from me something that I foolishly wanted

(I’m the fool now)

I have transcended my roots long ago

My life as an artist started in the world of improvisation

I think that I am one of the greatest artists that ever came out of that community

Now I do something unique to me

not following rules

not playing games

not aping what older improvisers have done

and making superficial changes and claiming innovation

no — improvisation was just my school

where I discovered what was already within me

I am the greatest improviser

So great that I am no longer an improviser

I have taken improvisation and transformed myself and it into something else

No one writes like me

No one teaches like me

I am not merely talented

I am a genius

I’ve gone beyond the wonders Sills, Shepherd and Spolin

and exposed the pretender Close

I liberated “improv” from show business

and made it art

I wanted to be recognized by improvisers as such

Of course, that is not possible because I have transcended them

and while there are several  individual improvisers who can see my greatness

because they are artists themselves

or have art flickering somewhere in their depths

I will never be recognized by the community as a whole

which is mainly dedicated to bad sitcom work and advertising

and led by hacks

or nice talented people who do nice professional work

but aren’t called to the outer reaches that are my destiny.

I irrationally feel that this asshole has usurped my position in the improv community

which is nonsense (see above)

I have no position in the community

and he is a Prince of Hacks

and the place of my art in the world presently

is largely obscure

So this jerk represents nothing more in my unconscious

than my impatience

Oh if I can rid myself of his influence it will be a huge step forward!

I watched a doc about Gore Vidal

I admire much about him

But the show revealed many fawning audiences and admirers with agendas of their own

and I felt badly for him

and for the part of myself that harbored that ambition

for applause and adulation

I take comfort in the example of Van Gogh

who was consumed with the questions of paint and light

Art is best when done for oneself

the approval of others be damned

That was something that Viola Spolin taught me

and Paul Sills understood in workshops but not always on stage

That was Second City’s original sin

Paul Sills was the Thomas Jefferson of improvisation

and I am the U.S. Grant

I really believe that all men are created equal

NOW

I don’t just state it as an aspiration.

I don’t qualify equality with some belief in success, which Sills had

(EXCEPT in this little piece of my mentality that I am writing today to expel).

It takes great confidence and determination to commit to being an artist

and this is the painful lesson

(all real lessons are painful)

that I am learning right now

Even for all of that

I wouldn’t write mean things about this jerk

if he hadn’t disrespected me

Somebody has to abuse me before I decide to slice him up with my pen

(I probably should work on that too —- the world

is on fire — it needs razor sharpness

The Andalusian Dog’s eye becomes the blade)

The artist can make everything work for himself

even his own pettiness

I am petty

deliciously, wonderfully

petty

I was at an Italian-American Anti-Defamation League Awards Banquet

My brother, a judge, was one of the honorees

and this hack — my irritant —- and his wife were there

They were  Networking

Networking was their action

and is their essence

They were looking to make connections

they do Italian-themed work often

and they were pretty much alone that night

So …

They came up to me and spoke with me

desperately

I was useful

they wanted to appear to fit in

Later, when I was working as a lawyer in the Prudential Building

I ran into the asshole and another similar shallow asshole drinking coffee in a cafe in the basement

They ridiculed me as a failure

I was doing ethics trials and they were doing industrial shows,

but that was the mentality

They were bullies and I acted appropriately insulted

They should have been wannabe bullies

but I gave them too much power

But I never shook the bad feeling — for reasons that I mentioned above

I thought the last straw arrived when a mutual friend — who is quite successful in show business — dragged me and my wife to a show this ignorant creep was doing at iO

Typically he posed in a pseudo-intellectual manner

acted in a way that would only seem cool to people uninitiated to the condition

and talked about drugs

After the show, he refused to speak to me

attempting to embarrass me in front of our mutual friend

and demonstrate his dominance

again he found me useful

I more or less forgot about this transgression

But then he interfered in my relationship with a dying guy that I thought was my friend

Again saying that I was a failure and that my writing was a waste of time

blah blah blah

An artist has to expel these wet blankets who attack and insult

But it isn’t that easy

God I want that artistic community!

It’s lonely at the top

in air too rarified to be seen  by mere mortals

I AM HAPPIEST WHEN I AM BLISSFULLY ALONE

and open to the companionship of kindred souls

but not dependent on that friendship.

Today, I will be small in the hope it will make me large

I have to fight this guy who is not worth the trouble

On this page

in my mind

This cipher

this shit on the heel of my shoe

He wrote a “book”

called “Improv at the Speed of Life”

Think about that title for a second

It means nothing

which is perfect

It just sounds good

— to someone who is not listening!

It is just marketing

and has no creative value whatsoever.

I understand what he is trying to say

It’s a good phrase for those radio commercials that he is so proud of …

Now read this blog

and think about the blog

This blog is something important

This blog has meaning

This blog is soulful and intelligent and deep

This blog shows reflection and struggle

This blog works for clarity

and is committed to telling the truth

This blog is

Art

This guy’s criticism of me is in the same category as Trump’s criticism of Obama

The salesman mocks the lawyer, writer and professor

Trump can’t beat Obama

He can lie about him

and steal from him

But he can’t usurp him.

Just because they have similar jobs doesn’t mean they do the same thing.

This is the terrible process that I have to go through

in order to stay on track

and get back on track

This is what I have to do in order to keep the faith

and nurture hope.

Thank you for listening.

I feel much better.

I hope this insight sicks

I’m sick of this particular useless pain.

We’ll see.

Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas

7/14/20: Dogs Playing Poker #poetry #essay

Unity in multiplicity?

Melting pot or beautiful mosaic?

Cacophony morphing towards harmony?

Chaos emerging toward its inherent order?

Maybe it’s the pandemic

or maybe it’s the aging process

or maybe it’s just the way I’ve always been

The peculiar archetypes of my psyche come out to play

and tease out the purposes of my soul

The Writer is in charge. He deals every hand. For years he sat off to the side of the table and kibbitzed, tormenting the other players, all-knowing and impotent, never doing a thing, an incisive critic as the others haplessly tried to get something done. He was often exiled from the game, but always returned — humiliated but alive. The Writer wished he could be anything else. he didn’t want to be the way that he was, but he just could not help it. He is a force of nature, animated by one dominant characteristic — a compulsion to tell the truth. Honesty is not a virtue in the writer, it is a genetic characteristic. The other operative word in this description is “tell”. The Writer simply cannot stop talking. “I talk therefore I am.” The stream of the writer’s consciousness is a stream of fast-rushing words. Slow writers are constipated, fast writers have diarrhea. My Writer is a fast writer. My Writer’s constant processing and expulsion of toxins fertilizes the world — and relieves the Writer.

The Entertainer is the baby at the table, adorable and pathetic. The Entertainer is a romantic. He loves to love and be loved. He enters into a mutual pampering agreement with his audiences. They make sweet fusses over one another. The Entertainer always aborts his mission, however. The Writer makes sure of that. “TELL THE TRUTH YOU BIG PUSSY!” “STOP KISSING THEIR ASSES!” “JUST TALK. YOU DON’T HAVE TO CHARM OR BE CHARMED. YOU DON’T HAVE TO PERFORM MAGIC TRICKS. THE FLASH BECOMES THE MESSAGE, DON’T YOU GET IT. IT UNDERCUTS WHAT YOU WANT TO DO. HAMILTON THE BIOGRAPHY BY RON CHERNOW IS SUPERIOR TO “HAMILTON” THE MUSICAL PLAY BY LIN MANUEL MIRANDA!” The Writer can be harsh, inappropriate and mean. The Entertainer is a vestigial tail, a previous state from which the Writer evolved. But the Entertainer is also a leavening influence upon the writer. The Entertainer says, “You should be warmer, Writer, baby. Aren’t you touched when they laugh or are moved? Don’t you like it when you make them feel good? It’s kind of sexual, isn’t it? Don’t you want to be connected to the human race? Yes, what I do is immature, I admit it. But maybe there is a mystery in the human touch that you too readily dismiss. I am your impulse. We can coexist, can’t we? I respect you, Writer. I would never interfere with your truth. But aren’t I part of that truth?”

… and with that exchange, another being emerged from the Entertainer and sat beside him.

The Poet asked to be dealt in. The Poet combines the warmth and common touch of the Entertainer, with the uncompromising gaze of the Writer. The Poet sees meaning and feeling and eternity in everything. He possesses the Writer with the intensity of a demon and the agenda of an angel. The Writer sometimes becomes elated, and precariously close to mania when under the poet’s sway. The Writer is occasionally overwhelmed by poetry and must take a break and rest.

The Essayist plays his cards now just at the right time. If the Writer were under the influence of the Poet without interruption, the Writer would internally combust and explode to smithereens. The Essayist is the Observer, the Researcher, the Critical Thinker, and the Explainer — a poker game within a poker game. The Essayist calms the writer down, providing boundaries and coordinates on a map, preventing the Writer’s premature demise as an individual being. “I keep you tethered to the Earth, Writer. Your particularity will disappear into the Infinite soon enough. Live now.” The Writer has such gratitude and respect for the Essayist. The Essayist is so practical. His work is so useful. The Writer places practicality in high esteem.

The Teacher speaks up. “Writer, I can codify everything that you and the others have learned, and more importantly how you have learned it, and I can introduce it to other people. I can give them an entree into living a full life. So many of them never get the opportunity to get to know their psyche, and they want to — even if they aren’t aware that they do. It’s not so much that they will ultimately do it your way, but your example can give them ideas, point them in a more fulfilling and noble direction. It’s a service that you can bring people, and it can bring in a little money.” The Writer thinks the Teacher is dull but useful. The Writer himself has had Influences instead of teachers. Teaching seems to be an artificial pursuit to the Writer. As soon as teaching as a source of income disappears from the Writer’s possibilities, the Teacher will surely leave the game.

The Artist plays his cards in his own specific way. Self-reliant, hearing everything, listening to no one, independent, discerning all from his unique perspective, making all assessments of himself, judging each aspect of the world in accord with his personal sense of value. The Artist grounds all of the other players in the game with the gravitational pull of his integrity. The Artist reminds all who care to listen of his and their existential freedom and equality.

The Wounded Man is the inspiration of all at the table. A perpetual and constant victim of many sorts of insults and assaults — emotional, psychic, physical, financial, sufferer of many torments — the energy committed to relieving the pains, the recovery from all of the traumas, becomes the engine from which the Writer creates his worlds.

The False Leads are all of the players who didn’t belong in the game — the Businessman, the Politician etc. — all the roles for which the Writer had strong but incomplete talent. Politics and business require silence. A great politician or businessman might not necessarily have to lie, but he can’t always give away the game. This reticence is simply impossible for the Writer. The Writer is great at policy and impatient with the processes of building consensus. It is not the Writer’s place to lead to consensus. He lays bare the fact of the matter. It is up to others to take it from there.

When the boss and the peer group have died, a man’s attention turns to what he thinks is right and how he perceives the world without distraction.

My last obstruction was overcome long ago. Perhaps I was born with the obstruction overcome. I just wasn’t interested in what I was told was so important. I just wasn’t ashamed about what I was told to be ashamed of …

I have no regrets …

I am beyond pride …

beyond self-justification

I have complete self-acceptance

I write to remove static cling

irritants that attach themselves to my hull

but have nothing

absolutely nothing

to do with who I am

Once I had a tiny apartment in Astoria, Queens

I was 42 years old

I had recovered from a nervous breakdown

and rose from my childhood bed at my parents’ house after five years of self-administered rehabilitation

I got several jobs

and earned this little place — very small

on the top floor of an old Greek lady’s house

I was so proud of myself

I got more jobs in New York City

and wandered the bookstores and museums and theaters of that great city

Originally, I wanted to regain past glories that I had experienced in New York

but that desire eventually disappeared

I was thrilled to be on my own

and alive

Educating myself

Engaged with the world

I met his guy who I thought might be a friend

I bragged to him about my apartment

He came to see it and told me it was so small

He told me that I had achieved nothing

His words didn’t hurt me at all

I didn’t care what he thought

I knew the importance of that place

and my time of solitude in New York

The only words that hurt me

in later years

were from people that I knew before I changed

Before the Writer emerged

and the other Poker Playing Dogs

The Essayist has been explaining to me

what an unusual path mine has been

for someone who has come from I started

and for my generation

This morning I feel the delicious nothing that I felt when that faceless half-remembered man tried to diminish my lonely achievement in New York when I was 42

I see my critics who never got beyond the truly tiny prisons of our youth

Who never had the courage to push themselves to the point of breakdown

and emerge as a writer

I see my critics still locked in their cells

and I see the world that they created being destroyed in a deluge

all of their dollars are gone

all of their books and shows are worthless trinkets

I used to be so puzzled by them

and now they just sound dumb

I who was so awkward is now graceful

They who were so sure-footed now walk off of cliffs

I am integrated and whole

They are distorted and misshapen

My infinite mind sends light over the skulls of the pygmies

The Pygmy Skulls were at the table too

But now have been kindly asked to leave

It’s not their fault

noblesse oblige

There is no transcendence without breaking and tearing and pain

Look at me and look at them

Really

I’m finally being honest with myself

I am so much better than they are

I was given so much more to work with

and I’ve done it

I am the scorekeeper of my own victory

and I present myself the trophy

The Competitor emerges at the table, but with a difference. They wanted to beat me — I never saw it that way. I was the little brother who wanted to be loved. Then I was hurt, and felt that competing with them was beneath me. Then I tried competing with them but couldn’t go through with it because I just wasn’t into it and didn’t care. But now I win on the field of discernment. I repelled all suggestions that I had a spirit of rejection, secretly believing that they had rejected me. The reality is that I rejected them. I grew beyond what they were. We all were suffering a sense of loss. Those who I intensely loved and then nearly hated, I now pity. I was right. They should have listened to me. No one is wiser than a fool. They never even got to be who they were born to be.

I wanted the last line to be “Living well is the best revenge.”

But revenge has nothing to do with it

because they have nothing to do with it.

They are gone.

My life is playing poker with all of my dogs, and defusing the irrelevant bombs of my past made present by my memory.

Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas

7/22/20: “Why Do You Care?” #poetry #art #dignity #powerimpulse #loveimpulse #community #improvisation

It was a great question

It was “the” question

why do you care?

I got into a petty squabble with some theatrical improvisers, of all people

why?

I started out as a theatrical improviser

well actually, I started out as Catholic school boy

but theatrical improviser was the next step in my moral and intellectual development

such as it was

I had to kill my inner theatrical improviser

and I finally have on the brink of my 65th birthday

I have not murdered my inner child

I’ve murdered my inner childishness

I’ll tell you my fight with those improvisers was quite painful

a real struggle

and it had nothing to do with them at all

They were interested in applause and success

I am driven by a need to speak my truth

These are two quite different things

I didn’t know it at the time

but I became a theatrical improviser long ago to connect with my creativity

I did improvisation successfully — meaning making money at it and getting a lot of stage time

for about ten years

I am so happy that I got a chance to do that

I developed a very powerful craft to facilitate saying what I want to say

I was born with my talent

but I developed it as an improviser

No one ever taught me a thing

The experience onstage

to access what you think and feel

and say it

that is the only power that I ever wanted

Its my super power

not power over other people

It’s my “vein of gold” as the writer says

I’m great at speaking my truth

It’s what I do best

So “improv” was a stop along the way of my life

being, doing and talking me

I left improv because what I wanted to say

was not motivated in the least

by a need to please audiences

I left improv because it wasn’t that I needed attention as a person

it was that I needed to take my stand in relation to life

to be the authority of my own life

so I always was in conflict with groups and directors

and audiences

I really improvised as a way of developing my way of writing

Writing is a much better art form for me than theatrical improvisation

You just put your writing out there and whoever reads it, reads it

You don’t have to negotiate with groups and directors

and audiences

I left improvisation because I didn’t want the power that my peers wanted

which was expressed by success in show business

or control within the improvisation community

as directors and teachers and producers

So I didn’t need applause, attention or power over others

I was never a theatrical improviser

I was a writer soaking up all the act of improvising could teach me

I wish I could pose now as a wise man

It seems logical that I should have known all of this about myself decades ago

But I wasn’t aware of this aspect of my reality

until I got into a fight with some improvisers

I noticed that many other improvisers felt bullied by the improv power structure

I wasn’t bullied by it all for years

My talent was my power

And my start was at a fortuitous time

All of the founding generation of Second City were still alive

mainly in their 50s

and very active

I studied with all of them

or worked for them and was directed by them

Almost all of them weren’t bullies

I think that is what made me hold onto improvisation in my heart

even as I went on to do other things

and apply improvisation to my work as a lawyer and college professor

and to my writing of course

I was harboring under an illusion

I thought the community that I grew up in still existed

I mean I thought that two days ago!

It doesn’t

It’s gone

The more years that have passed after the founders of improvisation have passed

the less art that there has been in improvisation

and I think the time has come

I don’t exactly when

when the art has completely disappeared

This isn’t to say that the founders’ art has died

It is, like all art

eternal

It exists in other places

They live in the white spaces around the words of my writing

I had an illusion

I thought that I could return to the world of improvisation and make a contribution

I thought that I could teach and lead

and basically just mentor and support

younger artists who could make a real improvisational theater

uninfected by a need for applause, attention or power over others

a theater by, for and made up of

people pursuing their truth

individually and collectively

My improv antagonists accused me of being an elitist

and I plead emphatically

Guilty!

Art is an elite experience

It is not an elite determined by how much money you have

or where you went to school

It is an elite based upon your need to speak your truth

and your ability to communicate it

Why did I care?

I thought I cared because I wanted a restoration of something

and a place

that I loved and where I was loved

long ago

But that wasn’t it

On the cusp of 65, I am still learning about myself

that’s what artists do

and the applause loving, power grabbing, attention demanding

gremlin improvisers

have left the theater of my mind

The conflict was an internal one

The negative improviser was a dormant part of my personality

a bullying part

that taunted me quietly

so quietly that I couldn’t always hear it

and could function quite effectively in defiance of it

but it was always there

shaming me for not having power over other people — not being in charge, not taking their money

for not tactically manipulating applause

for not having the attention of everyone in the world

So it came out in the open

and exposed itself in a petty discussion

about nothing important

and now I am free

Gandhi said

First they ignore you

then they ridicule you

then they fight you

then you win

I’ve won

when I ignored my talent the world did too

when I stepped out and owned it, I was ridiculed

that hurt a great deal

when I persisted in my talent I was challenged and argued with

and most of my antagonists and oppressors were of the improvisation community

but lawyers and educators and writers got their licks in too

and I am truly grateful to everyone who has given me a hard time

they role played negative archetypes in my own mind

soul invaders

that I believe are part of the creative process

Gandhi’s observations to creating a nation

mirror mine related to creating a blog

While I was taken the required internal and external beatings

that shape an artist

I was also sustained by those who love me

and what I do

and they are all that remain now

Applause, attention and power over others

lives in another part of town

I won’t run into them anymore

As a practical matter

I can go out into the world

and not notice them

Just as I can pass a prostitute on the street

and not even be tempted to descend into that self-destructive world

or see a suicidal drug addict and not fear  a similar fate

Just as I can see Republican fools enter a country club

and dismiss them as Babbitts and villains

Just as I can see the populist ignorance of a Trump rally

and be repulsed and the opposite of seduced

I won’t feel bad that I haven’t done well by

what I reject as having no value.

I have always been happy

I just have to process bad dreams

Comes with the territory.

Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas

7/23/20: Necessary Solitude #poetry #writing #art #relating

A writer in a solitary farm house in the wintertime

surrounded by gray and white

on the Southern Tier of New York State

Clarity in the night sky

Undistracted by noise

Fashioning books

Hearing every person that he ever knew

Listening to nary a one

Susceptible only to the influence of Nature,

of God

Uncorrupted by the fraudulent inventions of man

Confronting himself

and transcending himself

Confronting the influences of the illusions of others

and transcending the dark power of those illusions

Waking each morning with anxiety

beautiful anxiety

The anxious reminder that he is not protected —

or compromised by

any person or group

By risking connections based on safety

He can create connections based on love.

Only when he is so detached can the writer write

He can consider person, place and thing

and in his sustained attentiveness regard them

in depth

Only when he is unafraid

beyond need

can he love what he sees

To regard the people, places and things of the world

attentively

nurturing depth

with sometimes brutal honesty

and paradoxically tender love …

only then …

does the writer write …

does the artist make art …

is the person in relation to the other person …

A blog is a fascinating place to self-publish

You write something

in necessary solitude

no writing partners

immediate audience

or editors …

and then you make your writing available to anyone in the world

You have no idea who reads it …

You get some indications …

a note

a “like” …

but there are many silent readers

or not …

who knows …

You write most every day

and some people follow you or drop in occasionally

but you get the sense that they are observing your life

as friends

what is a friend other than someone who sits next to you with affection

someone who accepts who and what you are …

writing is acting

it’s relating

You show up

the other shows up and you regard one another with truth and love

There is no performance

there is no attempt to persuade

and nothing is make believe

No pretense

There is only relation

Stanislavski  famously advised actors, “Be alone in the public.”

Reality is contradictory

We are alone and connected at the same time

Any art must consider the soul of the artist

and the nature of the world

Any art can only be created by people who seriously understand the need for those dual perspectives

People who are trapped in cliquish fear

competing for scraps of the infinite universe

which they ignorantly define as a field of scarcity

can only be the subjects of art

they disqualify themselves from participating

as creators or audience

The whelping of competing alpha dogs,

ploys for dominance in the pack,

or frightened squeals from the defeated

are not art.

They are the domesticated noise

unheard in the quiet winter of the Southern Tier.

Art is so often called “beautiful”

The poet says “truth is beauty”

Beauty and truth are places that one must go alone

Sometimes stand next to another who perceives the same thing

Your mutual warmth merging with reality.

Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas

7/23/20: Process of (Inner/Outer) Revolution #poetry #freedom #happiness

Happy day!

Released!

First phase — innocence. Little sibling looks up to older sibling expecting praise and guidance. Older sibling resents little sibling. Trips the little fella, tells him he’s not good.

Second phase — shame. Little sibling still hasn’t figured out that older sibling is competitive with him. Little sibling thinks that he is as weak and incapable as older sibling tells him that he is. Older sibling eats cake that was sliced for the little guy.

Third phase — the youngest goes out alone. He makes a friend or two. The friends are nice to him. They praise his natural gifts. The kid starts to believe it — a little.

Fourth phase — the kid starts to get mad. He internalizes anger that turns into rage. He doesn’t know what to do with his feelings.

Fifth phase — the younger sib is now taller than the older. The older pushes him around just like he usually does. Younger loses it — erupts. It is scary. Big bro uses it against baby boy. Parents freak out and get scared by a side that they never saw from their quiet little boy before. They call a doctor and punish little brother. Big brother now becomes the cop on the beat, keeping an eye on the erratic little one.

Sixth phase — the little fella moves away from parents and sibs. He unconsciously lives out the dynamics set with his early family — and friends — over and over again. On jobs, at schools, in clubs, with girlfriends … spouses and children for some star-crossed little guys … the rivulet of happiness delivered by friends, the adoration and rage of peers and authority figures — glimpses of full potential when Tiny is loved, conflict the rest of the time …

the whole miserable thing — society — playing out myths on an endless loop —

Freud

Lincoln

Black and white

rich and poor

men and women

Seventh phase — prison — the lad or lassie is punished — stay after school, get fired, go to jail, go sit in a corner and think about your bad self … Scarlett Letters, the stocks —- “take that you insubordinate bastard”

Eighth phase — the small thinks about bad, and starts to excise his shame — he finds himself, reacquaints himself with the person he was born as … no more false apologies …

He/she starts to see the love and malice and jealousy and competition that he/she has experienced in life … he/she starts connecting the dots … sees patterns in his/her life, gains objectivity — finally sees his/her EQUALITY with all others

starts to see how he/she was misshaped by pain and his/her reaction to it, and how the pain led him/her to something more

He/she gains OBJECTIVITY regarding the persons and events of his/her life

He/she transcends reactions and starts to make DECISIONS

including separating from people, groups, institutions and ideas that don’t work, that only were accepted by him/her when he/she was not free

Ninth phase — solitude, not enforced loneliness as a punishment but INDEPENDENCE — standing proudly ALONE with INTEGRITY

Tenth phase — WAITING — when released from who and what are no longer helpful INTERDEPENDENT help arrives, but it necessarily takes time for one’s new consciousness to become apparent to the world

Eleventh phase — the like-minded-hearted-souled arrive … real COMMUNITY, FRIENDSHIP, LOVE and ACHIEVEMENT …

the INDIVIDUAL and the COLLECTIVE do the WORK of furthering mankind

REVOLUTION transcends CONFLICT

REVOLUTION IS CERTAINTY WITHOUT ARGUING

CONDESCENSION is muted forever

AUTHENTICITY is now ambulatory

no longer lame

The Dude abides

flying over Los Angeles

REVOLUTION is not CIVIL WAR

In REVOLUTION the change has already occurred

everything else is logistics.

YOU

and

I

in our DARKEST HOUR

can have any WORLD we want

because we are THE WORLD

and the EQUAL of all we embrace

and all that opposes us.

The Three Steps of Art:

First, clear out the debris

Second, LIVE

Third, tell your friends what you found out.

Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas

7/24/20: Samurai Moments #poetry #AlexandriaOcasioCortez #yahoos #TedYoho #language #joyinbattle

A Samurai never strikes an opponent in anger

I read that somewhere

A writer kills his subjects with arrows dipped in love

I read that somewhere

Akira Kurosawa made the classic movie The Seven Samurai

Hollywood westernized the story

and called it The Magnificent Seven

The Magnificent Seven was released in 1960

I was five years old in 1960

I don’t have many memories from when I was five

but I remember Elmer Bernstein’s theme music from The Magnificent Seven

Life as a joyful fight?

No anger

no bitterness

but striking out against evil

taking risks

and having fun

with your friends

It’s not just Hollywood

it’s Hollywood based on something deeper

an art film

that regarded real culture

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

reminds me of my happiest thoughts

words

and actions

AOC reminds me of my writing at its best

she reminds me of the pure me

the free me

fierce, loving, happy and true

Confident

speaking truth

not to power

speaking truth from a position of equality

defending herself

attacking ego

Jiu jitsu moves

of self protection

and defusing bombs of injustice and aggression

The Magnificent Seven displays the sureness of the samurai without showing the necessary recovery from woundedness

the natural pre-requisite

to joy and aplomb

AOC refers to the wound …

OK, so Hollywood only gives the cream and ignores the churning

but moments are sweet too

Samurai Moments

Joy and truth and action and community

as the Pandemic rages

and the structural injustice of American society is laid bare for all to see

As the body bags are zipped up

and the hospitals choke

and the streets are roiled with the violence of authoritarians and criminals

The Magnificent Seven also rides

Not the whole movie

but one of its themes

a theme that can’t be ignored or forgotten

as fear, bitterness and anger threatens to blot out the sun

AOC wasn’t hurt because Representative Yahoo called her “a fucking bitch”

She has heard worse

She tended bar in New York City not very long ago

She wasn’t hurt at all

Representative Yahoo is a foolish dying beast

AOC drew her six-shooter

and with precise aim

attacked Yahoo’s hypocritical belief

that he was a “good man”

because he had a wife and daughter

AOC pointed out that Yahoo’s words were not against her

but all women

perhaps especially Yahoo’s wife and daughter

She mocked how Yahoo had to be on top

and how this urge was sending people into homelessness and into the morgues

She didn’t hate Yahoo

She hated the evil that possessed him

Her speech was masterful writing

a true Samurai moment

and my perception of that moment

was a Samurai moment for me

She made me so happy as she tore Yahoo a new asshole

in such an artful way

It is for Yahoo’s good too

not just mine

not just women’s

AOC would have let it go if it was just about her

But it was her chance to write a poem

and this is mine …

Post script …

something is evolving in what is proper to say, and what is not

it was so great that AOC said “fucking bitch” on the floor of the House of Representatives

In this context

defusing another bomb

the words are harmless

they meant something different when they came out of a frustrated drunk at AOC’s bar

then when they came out of Yahoo’s mouth

The drunk was just crying in pain

bemoaning his own impotence

Yahoo was committing sexual assault

attempting verbal rape

frustrated yes by the weakness of his party at the moment

but trying to win

seeing the world turning toward AOC

and futilely trying to bend the earth’s axis

Samurai moments see so much more than words

A gunfight is more than the bullets

and the conflicts are all different

they are ultimately the people involved

Samurai read the people

and gracefully move with the reality before them …

Words …

I know AOC’s antagonist’s name is Representative Ted Yoho

I am describing  him when I call him Yahoo

The term “yahoo” has come to mean “a crude, brutish or obscenely coarse person” according to the Collins English dictionary. The word was coined as the name of a race of characters in Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels.

Forgive the pedantry here — I am using it to make one last point.

Mark Twain created what is pretty universally regarded as one of the great characters of American literature when he fashioned “Nigger Jim” in Huckleberry Finn.

Twain was aware of the oppression in the word “nigger”. He created a noble character and gave him that name. “Nigger Jim” went down the river of the American Experience with Huckleberry Finn in complete equality and incomparable value. Twain was saying that black people were not only part of America, but that they made invaluable contributions to making what is best in America. Blackness is in the heart and soul of America.

Every once in awhile you see a school district or library or someone else try to censor Huckleberry Finn because it uses the word “nigger”. That is a mistake in need of the joy and grace and three dimensional sensory mechanisms of a samurai moment. The censorship is a poorly aimed bullet. The attention is to defeat racism, but the effect is to wound intelligence and nuance and art.

“Fucking bitch” wasn’t the problem. Being a yahoo was. AOC got that, and in so doing had a samurai moment and won a gunfight for all of her related causes.

Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas

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

It’s an old and common sentiment

planning is a fool’s errand

Reader’s Digest

John Lennon

Al Roker!

Robert Burns

my father

the guy next door probably

it doesn’t take a genius

or a poet

to see it

Life is beyond our control

Roker gives the sunny Today version

Life is a matter of being open to opportunity

My father was a contradiction

His example was improvisational

but he had plans for me

He wanted me to be a certain type of person

and so did most of the people around me

who were small town mediocrities in Rochester, New York

people whose entire constructs of their communal and individual lives

have disappeared

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

the primacy of doctors and lawyers and businessmen

the underclass of insecure and resentful worker bees

Conservative

with the pose of moral certainty

All gone now

swept away by progress, revolution and death

The best laid plans of mice and men, beautiful boy

I close my eyes and I see the Great Flood

Nothing matters but what I think

The only thing possible is what is possible

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

A Scottish guy named Andy McKay

He saw that my father was making a mistake with me

Dad said I was a dreamer, and lazy

Andy said I was a hard worker

I come from working class people

Andy wasn’t highly educated

But he saw that I was a writer

and he gave me a collection of poems by Robert Burns

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

until this morning

about fifty-five years later

Andy is long gone

and so is my father

Did my father love me?

I’m not sure

It doesn’t matter now

I think he did

but not enough

from my limited point of view

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

unconcerned for his needs and psychology

I needed love that went beyond his plans

I needed him to put me first

to be there for me

not to have his own conflicts and frustrations

not for him to be in exile from his true self

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

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

and his own strategy for survival

which unconsciously directed his being

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

not by his wrong headed conclusions about the nature of reality

his love of power and recognition

neither of which he received in great quantities

I’m not angry at the memory

or even hurt

I can’t plan out who my father was

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

God gave it to me in Andy McKay

It didn’t take a long relationship

Just assisting Andy with some work project in our basement

and getting a surprise gift of a book of poetry

Really a perfect gift

A personal expression of the giver — Scottish pride

with an understanding of the recipient — a writer

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

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

She gave me a copy of Moby Dick

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

But I had plans

I followed a map

and I got lost

Plans

Plans about who I was

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

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

that Rochester, New York was so stupidly sure of

Battered by the world

and the criticism of my father and his surrogates

and the unplanned truth of my soul

that perceptive kind people saw

like Andy and the agent’s assistant

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

and into a world of commerce and competition

for which I was wholly unequipped

Truth, beauty, words

ethics, kindness

this was the unplanned core

A former student asks me for a letter of recommendation

why I wonder

who needs schools

schools have been swept away in the tsunami

I never learned anything in schools

Just live

follow what interests you

take what comes and be where you like

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

If you want to learn something read about it

Once you know how to read and write and think

You don’t need schools and all that bullshit

I went to lots of schools

It was all planned

It’s the reason I am a lawyer

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

and then worked at it

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

I figured it out on my own

I taught in schools

that’s over now

Good riddance

I did a good job

but it was just a job

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

I did all sorts of improvisational acting workshops

as a student and teacher

didn’t learn a damn thing

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

the teachers and their classes all look childish to me

and I mean all — no exceptions

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

My life has been a life of executing misbegotten plans

Listening to people who had their heads up their asses

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

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

You might think I am filled with regret

The opposite is true

The folly of planning was my opportunity

It gave me a chance to feel the world

It hurt

not just see the world

that’s art class shit

just seeing

Plans lead to the unplanned thing

Writing

I doubt that I am different than you

We have all of these vectors of our being

The first is who we really are

a unique soul

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

and finally is the burden of our plans

which lead us to all forms of disappointments

we pursue happiness and find something else

Eventually we reflect

and after a lot of hard work

our disappointments become understanding

we learn by living

about ourselves and the world

and how we and the world get in the way

of our understanding of what is

Once in a while

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

and in those moments we are fulfilled

and we know it

But we are always fulfilled

whether we know it or not

There is no escaping

who we are

or the influences that fate has impressed upon us

or the reality of the world

Plan what will be?

No.

Discover what is

and let it take you where it takes you.

Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas

8/1/20: Overture #poetry

I levitate out of Hades

Ragged leprous arms reach for my ankles

Flames lap at my feet

the sound of moaning becomes more and more distant

Memory has been processed enough

Essence is known

a feeling not a plan

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

everything that I ever participated in is destroyed

Good riddance

the butter has exploded in the microwave

a tiny disaster that becomes an opportunity

to clear out all other dirt and mess

the oven is a tiny proscenium stage

an empty space

an opportunity to enter

without an idea

or a perspective

as innocent as Adam or Eve

Paradise found

nothing but a nap sack

filled with people

and songs

and movies and books

ice cream

the little “unimportant” moments

that people recall on their deathbeds

Rosebud

that have the most meaning

Sweetness

and universal base income

intelligence

and health care for all

the music of Frank Loesser

and the acceptance of a friend

The music of Lerner and Lowe

“Where am I going I don’t know

how will I get there I’m not certain

all I know is I am on my way”

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

and Rodgers and Hammerstein

songs and racial justice

an awareness of the Holocaust

and the choice for something else

in politics

in art

in human relationships

no not a choice — what was next

“Got a dream boy, got a song

paint your wagon and come along”

I am thrilled to not know what is next

I have the music

the words will come later

Musical comedy world

transcending pain and death and injustice

free from the burden of memory

no longer misshapen

biochemical  anxiety

becomes delighted anticipation

the overture begins

creation is abundant

our fear is what is small

not us

we are the world

eternally young and new

negative is positive

adversity is opportunity

wounds expose our potential for joy

our endings are beginnings

our new existence will be glorious

in stark contrast to the misery of the old

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

It’s a great surprise present

Tomorrow is for sorrow and death

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

a lot of life

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

and demands for justice

and encouragement of the oppressed

and the removal of obstacles

and the mourning of life

Today is for a glimpse

of how it will feel

when all is what it should be

Life can be lovely you know

lovelier even than the best times that you can remember

“with a song in my heart … ”

Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas

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

“Disrespect is worse than hate”

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

I paraphrase:

At least with hate, there is a sense of equality

Disrespect puts you in a position of “less than”

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

Hate is a fight with a sibling

A white nationalist might fill you with rage

you might wish them dead

and they will feel the same about you

but they don’t stop you in your tracks

and paralyze you

like a condescending person does

Disrespect is easily internalized

a good practitioner of disrespect can be really destructive

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

that you are not worth anything

that the essence of your being is of lesser inherent value

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

to break your spirit

Hate just makes you mad

Provokes you to conflict

Distracts you from the creative arc of your life

consumes you

moves you from an orientation of love to one of power

instigates crimes of passion

tempts your humanity to its worst aspects

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

Disrespect is like a forced injection of an addictive drug

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

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

Disrespect sends you to a place of arrested development

back to when you were a little kid

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

and that you weren’t capable of deciding

and they were right then of course

you were just a little kid

If you were lucky enough to have good parents

they took care of you

did the thing for you

made the wise decision

and then tried to teach you why

and over time you assumed control

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

until you were ready

The disrespectful person is a surrogate parent with bad intentions

They tell you to obey them

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

right and wrong

what you should value and what you should not value

They will assess your work product, creativity and direction

They decide what you deserve

they judge you in a kangaroo court

not to educate and guide and protect you

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

They usurp control from you to pursue their own agendas

to exploit you

to steal from you

to beat you in a competition before it begins

or probably the most common motivation

(and the other motivations are plenty common)

they diminish you to feel better about themselves

They humiliate you

for a petty and superficial sensation of feeling superior to you

but that is their own pathology

Almost always

the disrespectful person actually fears you

They envy you

and perhaps they distrust you

You are a big six foot eight athlete

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

and slowly murder you

for example

Hatred

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

comes from some buried legitimate complaint

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

by other white people

but the nationalist has also internalized the disrespect

Instead of confronting his oppressors

he turns on black people

who those who disrespect him  have told him are fair game

He doesn’t know it

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

Donald Trump disrespects black people

he doesn’t hate them

they can box and sing at his casinos

they can dance in entrepreneurial minstrel shows

businessmen and preachers selling on commission for him

getting crumbs from the table

dying at his rallies

9 – 9 – 9 !!!!

It’s worse than hate

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

as a way to keep both groups down

The Disrespectful don’t treat you as a threat

They objectify you

they treat you as their property

You exist in their construct

as a thing to be used to get them

stuff

could be money

could be just an air of superiority

or a good laugh

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

but it is only the leading example

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

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

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

I had that experience with Paul too

It is a primary reason that I loved him

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

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

Another primary reason that I loved Paul

was that he recognized me

he recognized the quality of my work

He recognized my essence as a person

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

but he looked intensely at me and it

and supported me with love and respect

a respect that was deserved by sheer dint of my humanity

and specific related to my particular gifts

Paul had a different ranking system’

how true was something

how much love was in it

how much of it would develop individuals and community

Paul was not parental

He treated me as an equal

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

He was mentor to me

He showed me what an artist is

and that I was one

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

but that’s what he was

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

but also see what I am

So that I could more effective

and life could be less painful

So that I wasn’t confused about what was important

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

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

I honor something within me that is much more than me

Paul didn’t tell me any of this

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

I CREATED something

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

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

So … Paul didn’t teach me about creative autonomy

he saw it in me

and just regarded me as having it

which I do (chuckle)

It took me years to understand my interaction with Paul Sills

So simple

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

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

Paul was a major artist of the twentieth century

in spite of himself

and we are all artists in spite of ourselves

if we artists

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

His major artistic achievement in my view

(which was unconsciously arrived at

as all artistic achievement is)

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

He provided an alternative

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

the prerequisite for creative autonomy

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

I was born with a charismatic and dynamic nature

and then, naturally, I was slapped down

who did I think I was

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

I internalized the waves of disrespect that washed over me

and subsequently lacked a certain confidence

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

Maybe they were right, I thought

I’d do as they say

and “succeed”

They broke all of their promises of reward

refused to recognize that I had fulfilled all of their requirements

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

or simply ignored me

banished me to go sit in a corner

and forgot me there

Then I went into years of anger

not hate exactly

I never even imagined myself hurting anyone

It isn’t in my nature to want vengeance

But I began to demand equality

I didn’t take any shit from anybody

I actually made progress with this stance

Ironically it was this defiance

that got me societal respect in some quarters

as a lawyer, a professor and a writer

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

and turned it into something

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

who was beyond society

the respect that is the prerequisite for creative autonomy

Now I give that respect to myself

I determine what is meaningful for me

I assess the quality of my work

I am not dependent on the recognition of the world

I am immune to it

I am too preoccupied working on this writing

trying to make some expression of my personal truth

than to ultimately care what you think of it

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

The opposite is true

We live in a terrible and exciting time

Huge social forces are demanding a world of respect

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

I want the $600 unemployment relief

and universal health care

and economic justice

and good and fair housing, food security and education

a righteous criminal justice system

I want people to have the fundaments of life secured

so that they can grow into their creative autonomies

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

I’m worthy — get over it

Fate can be unkind

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

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

because it is a chronology

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

more Jackson Pollock than Diego Rivera

Nothing linear about these matters

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

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

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

ethics and morality shot into a particle accelerator

the physical properties of the soul

what is simply is

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

Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas

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

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

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

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

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

“recording artists”

“comedy artists”

No and no

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

I do not mean art as a matter of aesthetics

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

So what can I say positively to define art

not only what it is not?

Art is an elite experience

Everyone is not an artist

I once went to a poetry open mike

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

That’s nonsense

Everyone can’t do art

Everyone can’t learn how to make art

You can’t learn how to make art

An artist is actually a rare being

There aren’t many of us

A merely creative manager or salesman or entertainer or anything else

is not an artist

Art is something more than creativity

Artists are born not made

all born artists don’t make art

These people tend to be relentlessly frustrated and unhappy

An active artist is frustrated and unhappy most of the time

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

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

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

Chris Cuomo was born an artist

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

Chosen by God or nature

a person with a connection to the eternal

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

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

The artist is not of society

or anti- or asocial either

The artist is extra-social

Society is co-dependent

The artist is independent

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

and in these ways advances

Matriculating up ladders

Gaining status and security by serving the group

The independent artist makes no such deals

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

The artist does not further society’s ambitions

Some Social Persons of Good Will

want to hear the artist

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

Obviously, an artist can have no worldly power

An artist with worldly power is a fascist

An artist can only be an influence and a suggestion

Sometimes an inspiration

If an artist concretizes his art

and imposes its conclusions upon others in a rigid way

turning metaphors into laws and rules

Art becomes an evil thing

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

how is the artist secure and recognized?

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

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

The artist’s life itself is a work of art

guided by God

God provides for the artist

not society

The artist can’t be beholden to society

no boss, person or group

If he or she is beholden

they are compromised in their ability to tell the truth

An artist is open to all sources of money

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

Sometimes the life of an artist seems like a tremendous mess

artists get lost

confused

make crazy mistakes

go crazy

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

but it is all for a reason

God sends artists on wild goose chases

so that the artists can see the world

not as tourists

not ladling the soup in the soup kitchen

but as a homeless guest

not visiting the mentally ill friend

but struggling in the cracker factory

An artist without suffering isn’t an artist at all

He or she

is just a doodler

a dilletante

Oh yeah, Chris Cuomo

fictional Chris Cuomo

He was born an artist

but hasn’t started working as an artist yet

and may never

He has money and fame

and an artist can get out from under all of that

but they make it tough to do so

Chris became a lawyer

but didn’t want to practice law

Law is not an art

It’s a trade

Antonin Scalia was no Philip Roth

Chris practiced a little

and bailed out

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

Journalism

A journalist isn’t an artist

Art is more than the dissemination of information

Art is more than commentary

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

Chris found success in journalism

Major success

On the cusp of his 50th birthday

he was infected by COVID-19

It affected him

Profoundly

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

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

Something that runs in his family

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

(tomorrow is my 65th birthday)

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

I wish I still had that poem

more as an artifact than a good piece of work

I don’t remember the poem

with the exception of one phrase

“Bush the Mean”

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

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

which have become quite obvious now

what is stupid and mean in society is destroying us

and inspiring us to want something more

artists are important always

but especially in times like today

when many Social Persons are happy to hear from God

as society devastates their lives

welching on all promises of recognition and security

Anyway, Mario Cuomo answered my letter with the poem personally

Again, I wish I had saved his response

I can’t recall what the Governor said

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

Mario Cuomo answered my letter

I do remember how he made me feel

Good

He made me feel good

He didn’t respond as a governor

or as a politician looking for a vote

He was kind

He acknowledged my writing

He empathized with my pain

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

I remember that he did that

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

I invited the governor to come see the show

as a gag

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

I read the letter to the audience and got good laughs

which was my intention

So with that history

the receipt of the personal note a few years later

was all the more moving

Well, Chris is his father’s son

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

Chris is the poet, and Andrew is the governor

Chris isn’t a good poet right now

He has a lot of impediments to doing good work

His name is shown in lights in front of his show

Just like Judy Garland

He spends most of his show pleading with Social Persons

to “be better”

Better policing

Better health care

Better economics

But when he goes beyond commentary

and ends the show with “Life Lessons”

he stumbles

He doesn’t have the time to reflect enough

or alchemize beyond his personal experience into something universal

He doesn’t have the support

He says his “big shot” producer told him

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

Crude, facile and dismissive

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

I’ve been lucky

consistently disappointing society

and failing upward

supported by the hands of God

that look a lot like other people

My art has gathered a lot of momentum

All time that seemed wasted is actually quite profitable

Social wounds are fountains of God’s intentions

for myself and the world

For quite awhile after I turned 50

I straddled art and society

Poetically campaigning and prosaically governing

Now I am released to my true nature

the poetry

the prose still lives in me

not as legal trials and course syllabi

but as essay

my form — the Poetic Essay

and I wish Chris Cuomo the best

artists are like sperm

from testicles with low sperm counts

very few to begin with

and very few actually impregnate the ovum of the world

It isn’t a question of achievement

It’s a question of fate

and God’s mysterious purposes

Few are called and fewer are chosen

and somehow, some way

here I am.

Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas

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

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

Paula had an appointment in Wilmette and we got ice cream

I noticed that I needed air in my tires

Not flat but low from lack of use

I pull into the Just Tires at Broadway and Lawrence

Can I get air in my tires?

The guy was busy

an immigrant

Pull it up here

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

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

Matter of fact

I take out my wallet

I have to give the guy something

All twenties

I don’t want to give him that much

I look at Paula

What can you do?

I take out a twenty

He is finishing up

Hey buddy …

I put down my window and hand him the money

He takes it

Fine that I gave it

Fine If I wouldn’t have

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

No big smile

People help each other

People appreciate it

Just another day in a decent world

No big deal

Why was Jesus a carpenter?

Why was he poor?

Why was he executed as a criminal?

Why the contrast?

Why the divinity and the low status?

Being There

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

Jesuit high school summer

I did the job for several summers into college time

Notre Dame summers

God at the edges of banking

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

and everything became colder

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

I saw the twilight of banking

Community became corporation

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

I never felt that people didn’t care about me

The teachers and staff wanted to educate me

They wanted me to be safe and happy

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

Kubiak’s

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

It was a big deal

I remember a big presence of

pastors

tending to us

trying to fix the root causes of what happened

concerned

Many years later

in the early 2000s I think

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

making a training video in a windstorm

He was blown off the slight structure

and fell several stories to his death

I remember a big presence of lawyers this time

not pastors

concern for students was replaced by concern with legal liability

by this time

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

before skyscrapers were invented

Corvias is a capital investment firm

that “partners” with universities

financing, developing and managing student housing

Notre Dame

Purdue

and Wayne State

are all Corvias partners

All have reopened their campuses this Fall 2020 semester

in the midst of the pandemic

Corvias does not even consider not reopening

as any concerned pastor would do

and these ivory tower institutions

have lost all self-determination

their values are necessarily compromised to the values of their

partner

The tentacles of business wrap around us all

quite literally choking us

we die for business

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

that they instruct us to buy from

we need the collegiate experience

how neatly our desires serve business’ revenue streams

Notre Dame markets the teachings of the Catholic Church

for tuition, room and board

a tidy sum

you get to be successful

have fun

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

someone who does good

Why wasn’t Jesus an investment banker?

Or a dean?

Things were better in the seventies

I’m not being nostalgic

They weren’t better because I was young

They were better because business hadn’t bought everything yet

There was just as much greed and exploitation

just as much blood money

but business wasn’t as good at being business

It was still learning

It didn’t learn how to control data

it hadn’t figured out how to commodify everything

I knew drunk, tormented priests when I was a kid

who thought about theology and philosophy all the time

Now students are customers

and the clergy is a customer service career

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

She remembers what it was like better than I do

of how it was before business took over

Even she has said

of her $ 3.4 trillion necessary Heroes Act

“It’s a lot of money”

the irony is

that money

and more like it

is needed to save business itself

the economy

besides the people

but business will now implode

its credo

never give

only take

never be honest

manipulate

use use use

control control control

be larger than life

supersede life

will now create a genocide

and pull business down too

Business has always been a thief and a murderer

and now it has come for itself

Why was Jesus betrayed for thirty pieces of silver?

Of what earthly good is business?

We write In God We Trust on our money

but we have foolishly put our trust in the money itself

and it has betrayed us

Business needs ego and show and public relations and awards

to cover up how unimportant it is

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

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

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

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

God awful)

The priest dances an Irish jig

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

as wanton and murderous

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

The priest-President later apologizes for not keeping socially distant

I made a mistake

he says with a boyish smile

Oh father — you are so charming

how can anyone stay mad at you for long

Your such a good salesman

Your product is to die for

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

that will never be

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

that has saved me

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

run around so desperately and maniacally

Their institutions

so rich and high-minded and holy

turn from the seven sacraments to an infomercial

from the nation’s foremost Catholic university

to Jonestown, Guyana

How many people will business kill before it dies?

Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas

President Franklin D. Roosevelt leaves his home at 49 East 6

UNITED STATES – SEPTEMBER 27: President Franklin D. Roosevelt leaves his home at 49 East 65th Street for a short visit to his family estate at Hyde Park, north of New York City. This photograph is unusual in that FDR’s leg braces are clearly visible. (Photo by Martin Mcevilly/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)

8/14/20: People with Toy Problems, and Other Conditions #poetry

People with toy problems

Never been sick

Never been out of work

troubles with their careers

and relationships

and finding themselves

not being asked to the prom

not making the glee club

toy problems

I had toy problems when I was much younger

the issues weren’t the objects of my frustration

the issue was me

You’re lucky if you have toy problems

they direct you back to the life that you should be living

the life that you have no say in

the acorn planted in the pit of your soul

that grows into an oak if you let it

and the first half of your life is learning to let it

You manufacture one obstruction after another

and then use Herculean effort to clear your way

only to return to the easiest thing in the world

Some people don’t have the opportunity to have toy problems

They are denied food, air, water and love

They scrape for survival

like wild animals

the strong survive

the weak ones die

The survivors earn the right to dream

but are unable to

Insomniacs

fearful or proud

they are distorted

their souls never got a chance to be considered

Men have something more than animals

That something more is indescribable

It is why poetry exists

Poetry points at it

It’s the best that you can do

Dreams are adjacent to it

so is imagination

toy problems are illusory gateways to the truth

if you let them

The luckiest get both conditions

toy problems and the fight to survive

FDR was a bon vivant

a rich kid

a mama’s boy

things came easy to him

he didn’t have to work very hard

He had setbacks in work and love

lost an election and probably a girl or two

toy problems

and then he got polio

ease was replaced by struggle

no one could help him

he either lived or died

it was up to him

He chose living

his toy problem career became a vocation

his personal ambition became

grounded

in compassion

he did not only master polio and transcend it

to fulfill his destiny as a person of action

He transcended the suffering of the polio

turned polio into his school

and saw the suffering of the world around him

FDR didn’t sacrifice any of his essential being

He still loved power

and being the center of attention

he was still was a strategist of his destiny

He still had all the personal characteristics that he had in his era of small problems

It was his consciousness of his purpose that had changed

A life well lived sees the foolishness of past preoccupations

and the importance of why they possessed you so

I used to be in awe of the “New Journalists” of the 60’s and 70’s

Especially the flamboyant theatrical ones

Gore Vidal, William F. Buckley, Norman Mailer, Truman Capote

Ken Kesey … to a lesser extent Tom Wolfe and Gay Talese …

their fathers, Dwight MacDonald and James Agee

I was in awe of their writing

and I was thrilled by the ones who went on television

witty, incisive, vulnerable, raw

they were stars in every way

merging their toy problems with the facts

infusing imagination into reality

brazenly taking their rightful positions as co-creators of the world

Now

years later

my awe is replaced by affection

they aren’t as smart as I thought

and they were hardly the gods that I thought they were

they were repetitious

as we all are

I think we are like birds

we have one call

and we sing it

that’s all

Their stardom was a blessing and a curse

it either kept them from their potential

or was where they landed because it was the outer limits of what they were capable of

I’m not sure

They were my fairy tale New York

bright people sharing fascinating ideas and starting love affairs at parties and bars

Woody Allen was gobsmacked by all of this too

Of course its all gone now

that New York

that type of writing

those talk shows

even when those writers were critical of America they were convinced of its enormous potential

The American Dream is a toy problem

FDR was replaced by JFK

feeding everybody and defeating fascism

was replaced by sex with Marilyn Monroe and a trip to the moon

We didn’t want heaven

we wanted the Garden of Eden

and then came the Fall

we’ve worked ourselves back to a place worse than the Great Depression

so that we can start all over again

We have to separate from the unimportant desires

and cope with hard cold reality

saving our endangered species

without losing our magic

placing our joy in service of what has to be done

and each other.

Churchill

painting

writing literature

cigars and scotch

and defeating Hitler

the congruence of poetry and necessary, practical life

the satisfaction of fulfilling one’s authentic individual destiny

in the bosom of the world

successes and failures

illusions and epiphanies

are not the ultimate things

they are mere tactics

executing the strategic designs of destiny

your destiny

my destiny

our destiny

the destinies of our peoples

and the destiny of the world.

Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas

8/15/20: Brands #poetry #essay #PoeticEssay

Every institution that I ever participated in

with full allegiance and passion

and most humanly

self-identification

is now

just a brand

The Catholic Church is just a brand

Jesuit education is just a brand

The University of Notre Dame is just a brand

Second City is just a brand

The practice of law is just a brand

Teaching at university is just a brand

Noble aspirations and high ideals are a distant second to the budgets and box office

Excellence doesn’t stand a chance next to public relations and sales

How good you are

as a person and

in what you do

is nothing compared to how much money you bring in

and how you are rated on customer satisfaction surveys

It doesn’t matter where you go

your supervisor is an accountant or a lawyer

usually an accountant

Our souls are commodities

Bought and sold

Nothing is rewarded

Not even the famous “hard work”

Returns are made on investments

it’s not the quality of the thing that matters

It’s the seductive strength of the illusion attached to it

Careers and life preoccupations

are sold like cars and dishwashers

the Church gives you comfort in the face of the terror of existence

and an antidote to anxiety

it tells you how to think, feel and be

and your place in the seeming chaos

The first of many opiates of the people

Jesuit education is the Church for smart people

It gives you the reassurance that you can go forward in a community of intelligent people of high character

and that your life can be something fine and noble

and all of your sacrifices,

particularly loneliness

are well worth it

The University of Notre Dame is a more pernicious lie

Now you are something special

ordained to be good and respectable and rich

you will be a leader of the world

and an anointed son of heaven

simultaneously

Smug and humble at the same time

a neat trick

God and money shaking hands

equal partners

fifty/fifty

Second City sells cool and fame mystique

to the drab and ordinary

a museum where the docents play act the roles of the people who actually did something

who are figured in the unavoidable dioramas that line the corridors

Real wit and humor only occurs there by accident

inspired by ghosts

who the current inhabitants channel and reject

again — simultaneously

A map to a future walk of fame

that’s what the customers get

that’s the brand

the branded laugh

let’s laugh whether we get it or not

whether we like it or not

See our new revue — “Pavlov’s Dogs”

A lawyer is an officer of the court

our world is governed by reason and fairness

and honesty

Put “the rule of law” in the same branding category as “hard work”

Really, dear?

You are so jejune

We are only as good as we actually are

We can’t work for a brand

or consume it as a client or “guest”

(isn’t “guest” one of the great euphemisms of branding — don’t pay at the Marriott and see how long you enjoy their “hospitality”)

Real reason is a quality of the mind

Real justice is a quality of the soul

Atticus Finch is more saint than lawyer

The world received me in a different way after I passed the bar exam

but nothing has really changed

Reality has nothing to do

with branding

My character and intellect are what they are

for better or worse

irrespective of the certifications of the Supreme Court of Illinois

Come to the university!

You can check off boxes here!

Get the pass you need to get a job (that’s the main thing)

Broaden yourself as an individual (that’s for the dreamy types)

Absorb the modalities of your accomplished professors’ thought processes (oh brother)

A big scam

a life tax

If you want to learn about something you can read about it, observe it

You don’t need a professor

If you want to learn how to do something you have to do it

Maybe with the direction and mentorship of a more experienced person or people in the beginning

If you want time off in your life to reflect

take it

The only reason that you need the collegiate middle man is

money

You get no return on investment with a do-it-yourself education

There’s a TV commercial for Audi

A tough branding problem

How do you make someone buy a luxury car

in the middle of a pandemic?

You show dogs

itching to go outside

jumping up and down at the door

Everybody loves dogs

Cut to the doors opening

and the dogs sprinting

no leashes

into a wide green expanse

with a high blue sky

(aren’t you dying to go outside — quite literally?)

Cut again

this time to the Audi

gliding on the most beautiful road in the world

Cut still again

into the cabin

the handsome male model glances at the beautiful female model sitting on the passenger’ side

You get sex in the deal too!

Cute charming dogs

freedom

and you get laid

in the middle of a pandemic

for only $75,000

I could make that commercial into a work of art in short order

Turn the branding into art

I’d just throw in some quick cuts

to cemeteries

and people being intubated

and make shift morgues

maybe a shot of George Floyd being murdered

and the recent Chicago looting.

There’s the real thing, and then there’s the brand

I really believed in all of the brands of my life

I bought in

and then again, I never did

I’ve never really felt that I belonged anywhere

I’ve felt betrayed by all of my brands

and at the same time thought, unsurprised,

“that figures”

I started out with the burden of dreams

I thought that I could be all of the things that my brands promised that they would make me

and since they are just illusions

I failed at them one by one

mourned each loss

writhed in self-doubt

only to finally be released

with a shrug

“oh well, that really didn’t matter at all”

All the shabby, ordinary imperfect realities

that were misrepresented by their brands

were places for me to live

and there was something inside of me besides the branded illusions

I loved every minute of it

Every step in my journey could excite me with romance

and hurt me deeply

prompting my descent into operatic bitterness

I had to extricate myself from each embrace

the perfect spot for a time always became too small

this is the tale of the art of living

we are spiritual sharks

we grow down into our consciousness

and we fashion our autobiographical works of art

out of the existing world

we change

our inner revolutions inspire outer ones

I could only stay in a place as long as I could believe the branding

and then I had to move on

What wonderful places I’ve seen

and wonderful people I have known

dear friends

and villains

lovers

and family

a wife

kind strangers

people who loved me and wished me all that is good

people who despised me and sneered at me with bad intentions;

and the touchstone

the constant

me

not as I had branded myself

not as I wanted to be

or as others wanted me to be

not a creation

not a feat of self-invention

but me

as I am

good at what I am good at

lacking what I lack

nothing heroic

nothing saintly

not a star

or a genius

just a guy who like to talk

and did it so much he got halfway good at it

I like to read obituaries

The final branding

Pure baloney

Advertisements for the estate sales

Thank God the world is so mysterious

one layer peeled to reveal a deeper strata

and thank God I like to talk

It’s my way of just being

and gives me something to do before I die

beyond membership

but still connected

not untethered beyond the earth’s gravitational pull

or is all that just branding?

To know oneself and the world

is not a matter of definitions

It is a matter of knowing in the biblical sense

a constant copulation with life

an exploration of our inner reality

and its expression in other things and people

we don’t have to be sold that we can be more than what we are.

that somehow we are not enough

I used to like musical comedy

not so much anymore — it’s OK, I guess — it keeps me awake when I am driving

but it still represents something essential about who I am

I like happy endings

I think getting to a place of peace, love and understanding is the goal of art

without sugar-coating any of what’s true

Perfect writing

a theoretical and unattainable action

would evidence perfect accuracy

unflinchingly truthful

and perfect compassion

without a trace of indifference or bitterness

I am strong on not being indifferent

Lacking bitterness comes and goes (this line gives me slight anxiety — potential fuel for my enemies and critics, but that’s where unflinching honesty comes in …. )

We are imperfect

love and art are what’s perfect — not us

Branding is the opposite of art (advertising)

born out of the opposite of love (fear)

Branding: you need this because without it you will never have enough money and whatever else you need

AND

without it, you are not enough.

Wrong.

You will and you are.

Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas

8/16/20: The Guru #poetry #essay #PoeticEssay #Improvisation #Teaching

Another recycled anecdote

of the dead guru

of the dead performance form

with all the secrets of success and life

primarily for actors

(they are particularly susceptible to this kind of bullshit)

but for other people too

conquer your introversion

make it in show business

let your freak flag fly

and if you do none of the above

at the very least be hip

special

too cool for school

Be a bum with a difference

All cults don’t involve God

The Guru remembered

He once acted with coleslaw  in his pants

“Is it true?” the aging acolytes of the dead Buddha giggle

Um, no

The Guru was an off and on drug addict with horrible personal hygiene

He sneered at the establishment with an insincere conspiratorial grin

a horrible actor who taught acting

every once in a while he shows up in an old movie

in small offbeat parts

he never got a good one

He was the thesp equivalent of a novelty act

When a director wanted a strange or unreal moment

or wanted to warmly remember their youth in improv class before they went off and made a living at it

The Guru was their man

He wasn’t really cut out for a profession which required access to one’s vulnerability and personal feeling

But he was a hell of a businessman

A real innovator

His insight was that you could corporatize anything

even the drug abuse and faux spiritual habits

of a bum

and the basic creativity 101 insights of a failed artist who never finished the job of developing his gifts

Afraid and lazy

like all salesmen are

If he hadn’t made himself into the King of Improv Teaching

he might have set up shop at the train station

seducing teen runaways into white slavery

He had many students who became successful entertainers

Let me tell you something about teaching

School is like Vaudeville

A lot of people go through it

They get experience

good and bad

no matter who the teacher is

and some of them use their brains and talent to figure out how to be successful

I’ve done a lot of teaching

I taught improv for several years

A lot of my students have been successful in show business

Probably a better percentage than the Guru’s

A network talk show host

Several TV writers and show runners

An Oscar-nominated actor

sitcom stars

and a lot of my students have been successful in other fields

and life in general

Here’s the thing

I HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH IT

THEY WOULD BE WHO THEY ARE IF THEY NEVER MET ME

This isn’t false modesty

I think a lot of myself

as a person and as an artist, writer

And I am a good teacher

It’s just that teaching is a gig and it’s not a big deal

teaching is just a job where you manage an environment where people can work before they have the opportunity to be paid for that work so that you can do the work that you love that no one pays you to do

Universities don’t look at teaching as the primary thing in selecting their tenured faculty

They look at the research and the writing

But the Guru was a big bum

salesmen are bums

and bums are cunning

they spot people’s weaknesses

and they exploit

I have no idea where the coleslaw story came from

But I am sure the Guru never did it

Probably he heard that someone else did it

and pounced

a homely outre’ move

turning working and middle class life

into bohemian subversion

meaningless

because that’s the nihilistic message isn’t it

it’s all bullshit

get the drug

get the attention

get the applause

there ain’t no love

love is for suckers

This is the message of the salesman

I’ll answer your need

Methadone for the soul

The first hit is for free

This con man

(who was a human being too, he had many warm moments with people — why not, gangsters and white nationalists are good to their dogs — sometimes … )

was just trying to get over

He lost his main enabler

and he figured out a way

to periodically walk into a theater

and preen in front of wide-eyed disciples

intone rambling monologues

sprinkled with occasional tidbits of useful information

while a shoe box was filled with tens and twenties

Then he would take the cash

go back to his chaotic and filthy apartment

get high

and read comic books

The crock of shit life

led to a great legacy

a theater devoted to the spirit of the Guru’s blather

Several books glorifying the Guru

written by reporters and academics who don’t understand theater or the creative process

all of which is relatively harmless

There is a lot of jerk-off material available so people can distract themselves

But one aspect of the Guru’s immortality sucks

He was the founder of a shit “improv” culture

as insensitive and disrespectful

and banal — don’t forget banal

as the Guru was himself

Circle jerk improvisation

sniggering about navel lint

or some other insignificance

a siren call to lives without purpose or excellence or value

the prison of the adolescent clique

never transcended

love. work, marriage denied

The existential equivalent of sitting on a rug cross-legged

with your ne’er do well no exit friends

sucking on a bong

The fond memories of the Guru aren’t about the Guru at all

they are nostalgic remembrances of a moment of youth

that his adherents lust to make permanent

But here’s the thing about moments

they always change into something else

and Paradise becomes Hell in a split second

if you don’t let it go

Here’s one more thing about all the students who become successful, independent agents of their own lives

The alumni winners that are the Guru’s top marketing bullet point

they aren’t really “successful”

They are in process

moving on

just like the rest of us

Here’s the thing about improvisation

How can someone teach you how to do it?

It’s about meeting the unknown, right?

The games, the rules, the forms

are false equivalencies

to the unfailingly surprising transformative instances of life

The Guru has nothing to do with that thrilling and/or terrifying reality

He just took credit for it

killed it and pressed it onto a microscope slide

The sweet people who worked with him remained sweet

The bitter, cynical pricks got a license to spread his gospel of denied despair widely

to the four corners of the earth

Impostors of importance

selling something of no more importance than fame

or even more cruelly for the less gifted and misguided masses

a dream of fame that will never come

The famous find no satiety in their prominence

the frustrated obscure are blocked from the opportunity to move on to the deeper and glorious satisfactions of life

so they light candles to honor the dead Guru

and give outsized attention to each other and compete in petty power games

in a sad

and pathetic (I use the word sorrowfully and not with meanness)

lousy

imitation of life

exiles from art

and ordinariness

The Con Artist Guru and his marks

generations of denial

and unconscious suffering.

Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas

8/26/20: Eat the Rich #poetry#essay#PoeticEssay

This photo is at least 8 years old — several weight fluctuations ago. I thought the picture read “Fuck the Rich” but I guess it is the same meaning. I offer this as a companion to my “Fuck Trump” photo portrait. I think this one gets at the root problem —the situation that made Trump possible.

Are you frustrated that Congress hasn’t passed a relief bill for your unemployment, rent, virus control, school safety etc? Fuck the rich! They don’t want you to get the money to survive beyond the disaster that they created because the government will have to print more money to save you, and that makes their money worth less. They are all for expensive tax cuts or wars — they make money on those. But every dime that goes to you is less for them.That is the ultimate debate in this country — always. The fucking rich getting more value for their money or the rest of us getting what we need and justly deserve.

The rich know that the idea that we don’t want to work is bullshit. They always blame us as a tactic in order to get their money.

Any issue in this country, any conflict, any tragedy has the rich as a silent partner.

Every issue is always doing what is right — which is usually obvious — or preserving and not lessening the value of the rich’s money.

Hundreds of thousands of people are dying in the pandemic to protect the value of the rich’s money.

Hundreds of thousands of people are suffering with chronic lifelong illness …

Millions are unemployed …

Millions are under-paid and unprotected …

The rich have already destroyed our democracy. Democracy doesn’t work for the rich. It lowers the value of their money.

We adjust our existences for their money.

We can’t go outside because of their money.

We cancel or defer our dreams because of their money.We can’t breathe because of their money.

We can’t just do normal things … make a living doing something that serves our human values and that we enjoy because of their money.

Our self-esteem is based in what we can do for their money — until we get wise and say

FUCK THE RICH!

We don’t need revenge — we just need their knees off of our necks.

We need to take back our self-determination that they have usurped from us.

Trump is the culmination. The rich impose him upon us because they make money doing so.

I guess the first step is defeating Trump.

But it’s only an early battle.

We have to FUCK THE RICH!

Fuck them first out of our minds and then do everything to take all power that they have over our lives away from them.

That’s politics, culture, personal relationships — everything will be changed.

You’re going to have some unpleasant confrontations; and you are going to lose some people that you thought were friends.

We all have friends who admire the rich, who are working to be one of the rich, who would live in squalor self-medicating on a drug of rich-love.

These former friends are the imaginary rich — they are rich in their own minds. They are not fair-minded. You only know them because they don’t actually have money. If they had money, they wouldn’t give you the time of day.

Some people — THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT — who have money are not RICH. Some people got their money not by being worried about the value of money, but being good at something, or inheriting it or getting lucky. These good people with money are also harmed by the obsessions of the rich to preserve the value of their money. These good well-off people have to live in a dystopian reality when what they want most is to enjoy life and be nice to other people.

But with that caveat to carefully identify who is friend and who is foe —

there is no choice.

You have to

FUCK THE RICH !

We can’t put their needs before our own any longer.

We won’t survive.

Look to the election

AND BEYOND …

the primacy of the rich is unsustainable.

Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas

8/28/20: America’s Attention Deficit Disorder #poetry #essay #PoeticEssay

We locked down in March

in order to flatten the curve

but then got tired and re-opened

before we were ready

and a lot of extra people died

We were outraged when George Floyd was murdered by police

Black Lives Matter!

A couple of months later

Police shoot Jacob Blake several times

in the back

Two protesters are murdered in the aftermath

another maimed

and now Black Lives Matter not so much

We can’t stay focused on root causes

We just worry that a Wendy’s got vandalized

We can’t stay away from the racism

and blame the victims

We can’t sort out the white nationalist violence

and the politicians’ who incite it

Our democracy may be dying

because we can’t pay attention

can’t stay focused

We can’t stay focused on the Constitution and the Bill of Rights

The Declaration of Independence

and the moral teachings of every religion and humanist philosophy

We need brief social media posts

We call short pieces too long

Our entertainment has to move quickly

A 30 second commercial might have hundreds of quick cut edits

Some people graduate from college without having to write an essay

The Presidential Polls usually bounce around

The famous “October Surprise”

Campaign professionals exploit the fact that we have A.D.D.

Decisions made based upon our reaction to the last thing that we heard or saw …

People who suffer have focused minds

Black basketball players speaking about what it is like to worry that their little brothers and sisters

or black coaches’ children

could get killed for no reason

or punished for merely having dignified outrage

at insult and abuse

Nurses who see communal death

day after day after day

and fear getting sick themselves

because of lack of proper protection

stay focused

They know a genocide continues in America

eliminating the unproductive old

and the unjustly persecuted people of color.

We walk through our lives unaware of their arc

Unconsciously fulfilling stories written by the rich

Happily surrendering our power of self-determination

Just existing

in our one-thing-after-another manner

In denial of death

in denial of our own misery

It’s not that we can’t see what is going on

we just can’t keep seeing it

easy pickings

for murderers and thieves.

Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas

8/29/20: The Finer Things #poetry

A writer is an eternal novice

He thinks he knows what he is doing

and then everything changes

subtly

almost imperceptibly

like a slight change in the direction of a breeze

Old personal challenges get solved

naturally

seemingly magically

It only seems that way

Epiphanies follow experiences

Aha! comes after change

Consciousness follows reality

Everything seems so easy up close

The far away is difficult

All good writing is personal

The social is just a projection

The Democrats give a poem of community

Overcoming adversity together

It is nice but distant

I want all that for the world

and more for myself

The Finer Things

The Republicans threaten

they promise the continuation of all that is wrong

and the achievement of all that can go wrong

I can’t get outraged or fearful or indignant

Been there done that

The Finer Things

The Upper West Side of Manhattan

before 9-11

before the development of the last thirty years

Independent bookstores

Writers talking in coffee shops

art house movie theaters

Off-Off Broadway plays

warm apartments

with plants on old window sills

Old furniture with thick upholstery

I walk alone

No commerce

No entertainment

No conflict

Lectures and talks at the Y

Unconnected

No love of other

Love of words and ideas and images

Not lonely at all

The Finer Things

A Sea of Tranquility

Forget schools

Forget therapy

Forget mentors

Forget conventions

Time to make the finer things oneself

To stand naked and vulnerable and expectant before an empty page

and fill it

to create an upper west side and bookstores and coffee shops and conversations and art houses and over-stuffed furniture

and in so doing

make a community that overcomes adversity

unafraid of the crass threats of barbarians

All good writing is personal

and that which inspires what is calm and warm inside of us

is who we are, what we do and everything we can be

it teaches us, cures us

and connects us to others

Conflicts transcended

the world starts anew

again and again and again.

Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas

9/4/20: The Evolution of Mistaken Criticism on the Road to Quiet Self-Contained Joy #poetry

When a person is fully living their own life

Fulfilling their destiny

Honoring their character

Creating

Fortunate enough to be born surrounded by love

Not spoiled but cherished

Endowed with a natural sense of entitlement

not in the social superior way

but in the existential respect for humanity way

grateful for the very gift of life

in awe of the vast array of possibilities associated with that gift

Possessed of self-esteem

before he or she could talk or walk

The imprint for all human interactions set as a baby

a mother’s nurturing warmth

a father’s strong admiration and protection

bestowed upon the person

not as a reward for any success, achievement or attainment

not for any beauty or intelligence or any other extraordinary attribute

but simply for the fact of his or her life

The blessed person is welcomed into the world with great hospitality

The second womb

For the first two or three years of life

the lucky fetus-like soul is cared for and grows

Then …

the happy little fellow or girl is introduced to the broader world

Teachers, friends, aunts and uncles, grandparents, kindly neighbors

initially continue to build the environment that the golden child knew at home

but sometimes slowly

and sometimes in abrupt and shocking ways

the little one is unfairly criticized

out of misguided concern

what was seen as a blessing is now characterized as a disability

out of an assertion of societal authority

the little one can’t be allowed to be and do as he or she pleases

There are rules

“Should”

The child learns a new word

“You should do this”

There is the shock of being mocked and condemned

for the very qualities that led to such love and admiration at home

Why?

Why the fall from paradise?

Most people never receive the unconditional love that our little hero or heroine got consistently and without interruption from day one

That love is necessary

and when it is denied people suffer greatly

They become misshapen

distorted

The absence of love leads to ignorance — a lack of curiosity and interest in the world, because the world is seen as a harsh and mean place to be avoided

The absence of love leads to lust and aggression — power as an ultimately inadequate love substitute

The absence of love leads to envy of those who are loved — a hate for those who have what is desperately desired and believed to be unattainable

The absence of love leads to fear and identification with societal authority to provide a facsimile of the security that love provides

The absence of love leads to criminality — life is seen as a war, a fight, a field of murder, rape and thievery

The absence of love leads to pride — armored souls mistaking their ability to survive as proof that they live lives of self-determination

The absence of love leads to greed’s golden false idols

The absence of love leads to the worship of success — the need to prove oneself in a way that is wholly unnecessary for the loved one — the loved one never had to earn his or her right to feel worthy, wanted, cared for

… of course,

our little protagonist begins his or her journey

completely unprepared to meet all the sorrow and anger and pain and stupidity of the world

and all of its assaults

At first, the loved one thinks all criticism directed toward him or her is right

and all criticism is sincere

The loved one thinks love is the nature of the world

without exception

Innocence

So the innocent listens and learns

and of course suffers

The loved one becomes exiled from his or her essence

His or her excellence

That special quality

becomes a source of shame

He or she began life as a unity

and is, at this point, divided

This might go on for several years

Self-betrayal has its rewards

Once plucky and independent

our main character now

fits in

This goes on for years

But the soul is a nag

Shame tuned into compromise and acceptance

which turned into a legitimate doubt

and legitimate guilt

something isn’t right

which turned into anger

which turned into argument

who was right? The loved or the unloved

Which turned into frustration

and resentment

and finally the unloved completely disappear

beyond being objects in an artist’s studio

still lifes

The only trace of the unloved

is the as a weakening delusional voice

in the loved one’s mind

that finally disappears

after decades of an odyssey

he or she returns back to hearth and home

quiet, peaceful and happy

this time aware of the sad storm outside …

Nothing to prove …

nothing to earn …

no one to please

love and work unite

the greatest social forces

are forces of nature.

Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas

9/5/20: Giving Us the Business #poetry #commentary

Trump’s view of people in the military as “losers” and “suckers” because they take great risks, including the ultimate risk, and get little money for their troubles is the ultimate Republican point of view.

The Republican Party — the party of business. For Republicans money is the only valid motivation for doing anything, with the exception, perhaps, of the adjunct goal of the power money gives you.

Business has been at the helm for the last four years. How’s that going? Business supported a clown authoritarian as President that is destroying our democracy. Business doesn’t want to spend the money necessary to control a pandemic, and we have the worst response to that public health crisis in the developed world. Business doesn’t want to pay labor fairly, or provide a safety net to working people adversely affected by business’ bad decisions, and thus, we are in a depression. Business believes that the person with the most money rules, and that attitude has brought on a time of great social unrest as a result of that injustice.

Business has laughably said that government is the problem. They assumed the total control of the government that they had building to for forty years in 2016. We live in chaos.

The three businessman Presidents have been Herbert Hoover, George W. Bush and Donald Trump. Other Presidents, including Democrats, have been pro-business in their policies, but those three men’s backgrounds were the actual making of business.

I’ve noticed two quirks in discussion with business people this week. They have a hard time accepting moral outrage. They believe that everyone has good intentions — always. It’s a curious stance coming from people whose whole worldview revolves around competitive selfishness. Business people also respond to the presentation of facts by saying, “we have to agree to disagree”. They see reality as a matter of argument.

The best business people — the Bill Gates, Warren Buffet types, are masters of reality. They made their money skillfully responding to real needs and desires. At one time, The Wall Street Journal had the best reporting, because wealthy business people wanted to know precisely what was going on so that they could make the best decisions. The best business people are usually something else too — professionals or artists or intellectuals who have actual expertise in some substantive subject matter, and aren’t simply focused on management, accounting and marketing.

But the populist business man, the Sinclair Lewis Babbitt types, the scions of main street have no tolerance for nuance and little skill for adaptation to the needs of others. The Main Street Moguls get visions — American dreams, and pursue them come hell or high water.

Business people remain inexplicably popular with the American people writ large. It seems almost everyone wants to be one. And everyone looks to the successful business people as sources of all jobs and security, in spite of all evidence that business people are not adept at providing either of those essential commodities.

Business people can build and destroy, but they fall down in roles of stewardship which are required of all leaders.

Fred Rogers said that in times of crisis we should “look for the helpers”, and yet we crazily keep looking for the takers — business people.

Most Americans are not successful at business, because we want to do other things.

Did you become a school teacher because you like working with kids? You’re a sap.

Do you do art for art’s sake? Loser.

Do you become a lawyer and then do some work in the public interest? How can you use that money and education that you put into that degree and get so little out of it? Fool.

Business certifies everything. If you do anything that isn’t successful in a monetary or commercial sense, it doesn’t exist.

Business hates regulation and the law because it unnecessarily gets in its way. The ultimate business is crime.

Business turned our government into a criminal enterprise.

All of the rest of our institutions — churches, schools, charities etc. now operate as businesses because business is our only barometer of success.

Business is the fuel that makes our American Rome burn.

The primacy of business must end …

or we are all going to die …

at the same time.

Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas

9/9/20: Sam Wasson’s “Improv Nation” — The Confusion of Art and Show Business #poetry #essay #PoeticEssay #improvisation #SamWasson #MikeNichols #DelClose #SecondCity

When Sam Wasson called me a few years ago to interview me as part of his research for his book on improvisation, “Improv Nation”, I was excited. He said that he wanted to write a book about improvisation as an art form. That was a topic of great interest to me.

Wasson and I have different definitions of the word “art” however. Consequently, he largely ignored what I had to say and misrepresented my views, and even my background in the form, in the slight mention that I have in the book. In fairness, my views about the art of improvisation were in an earlier developmental form than they are today. I was trying to find my place in the improvisation community, and was learning, at first painfully and then happily, that I had no place within it.

So Wasson’s confusion was similar to my waning confusion.

My confusion related to improvisation has ended. You cannot serve art and show business at the same time. They have contrary aims. Art is about truth, show business is about money, popularity and power. Some artists share their creations through the marketing mechanisms of show business, somehow making all relevant decisions regarding the work without compromise to commercial pressures. Sometimes, art does make money, popularity and power, because the truth and audiences’ need and desire for the truth happen simultaneously, maybe even miraculously. Just as often, the audience doesn’t want the truth, and prefers an “escape” into its prejudices. Show business will willingly offer either option to make box office receipts grow.

I don’t think there has been a good book written about the essence of improvisation since Viola Spolin’s “Improvisation for the Theater”. There have been decent works about the history of improvisation, but none of them really deal with the essence of the form. And most of these historical books tend to be hagiographic — written by improvisers for improvisers —a kind of “Lives of the Saints of Improv”. There has never been a really critical work about what it is to improvise since Spolin. Many amplifications of what she wrote are out there — but Spolin is the seminal work, the best consideration of what improvisation “is”.

Tellingly, Spolin’s book is interactive. You can only understand improvisation by doing it, and the depth of your understanding matches how goo you are at improvising. In the 1980s, Paul Sills said that I was a great improviser. I don’t mention this to promote myself. I say it because I have done the work at a high level that gives me a right to participate in this discussion.

I should be limited in my criticism of improv writing since I have no interest in writing such a book myself. I think these short pieces honor that limitation.

I commit myself to creating my own art which is beyond improvisation. I learned a lot about creativity as an improviser, but I have transcended the form — my art is beyond improvisation. I think improvisation’s greatest contribution has been introducing artists to the basics of group and individual creation. The artists have always matriculated to more sophisticated forms. I think improvisation’s original sin is how it has been co-opted by show business, advertising and marketing. Spolin’s tenets have been corrupted to … sell shit.

The opposite of the artist is the salesman. Sam Wasson can’t seem to distinguish one from the other.

“Improv Nation” isn’t about the art of improvisation. It’s just a current rendering of the myth of improvisation.

Spolin’s improvisational practice was at once accessible and challenging. It was democratic in that it was open to anyone who showed up. Its values demanded the best in all participants.

Spolin has been bastardized by the commercial improv “schools”. The improvisational practices are open to everyone — that’s where the money is, but the values are simply the prevailing fashions and attitudes of the greater society. Art, on the other hand, stands outside of society and reflects it, so society can see its vices and virtues and act accordingly.

The “schools” and most current teachers claim Spolin as an ancestor while ignoring her idealism and rigor.

I don’t think much of what calls itself improvisation today is improvisation at all.

And any claims to artistry in these “classes” is mere sales puffery.

As a former improviser and former student of the founding generation of improvisation — Sills, Shepherd, and to a lesser extent Sahlins, I feel no kinship with the hostile takeover of improvisation by commercial interests.

Improvisation is not only not an art form as most often practiced currently. It is actually anti-art.

Second City has teamed with the University of Chicago Business School in the application of improvisational instruction to the training of business professionals. I am tempted to rest my case. Business almost always assumes primacy in any relationship — they don’t call it the almighty dollar for nothing.

Something can be art or business. There is no possible compromise. Business might be employed in a secondary way to further art, but it can never lead.

What has happened in the history of improvisation has happened in other sectors of society, including commercial real estate. Artists move into an undeveloped area. They innovate and create interest and vibrancy. Real estate investors see opportunity. They infuse capital. They market to expand the audience for what the artists have created. The dark anti-arts of marketing corrupt the pure artistic visions. Something new is born. What is left of the art in the area are museum pieces — dead things. Actual living artistic process moves on to different neighborhoods …

much as the true artists of improvisation emerge from the improv cauldron and create with purity elsewhere.

Wasson has a commercial writer’s sense of what sells. He claims that “Improv is America’s farthest reaching indigenous art form.” He is right that Improvisation writ large has had a big impact on popular culture. He is wrong that improvisation has had a big impact as an art form in American culture.

I agree with Viola Spolin’s famous introductory line, “Anyone can improvise.” It is a wonderful first line for a teacher. But I will add a caveat — not everyone can improvise as an artist.

Art is an elite experience. Talent is required. Development of that talent in craft, but mainly in values is required.

Anyone can play football in the backyard. Few can play in the NFL.

The selling of improvisation as an art form that anyone can do leads to a lot of ignorance and arrogance around “improv’s training centers”…

and also a cruel bait and switch for naive people who think they can take classes and become movie and TV stars.

There is an Improv Nation of lost souls chasing impossible dreams of little value, dutifully paying tuition for nothing with money they don’t have.

Wasson offers a thesis for his book — improvisation is an art, but really doesn’t follow it up with any depth. He fades into the fallback position of past writers about improvisation — biographies of the stars who cut their teeth as improvisers early in their careers.

“Improv Nation” is not about the art of improvisation. It is ultimately about improvisation’s commercial success. I find that perspective to be hardly groundbreaking and of little interest. Of course, it is a great addition to the industry that lies to people and says you can be a combination of Picasso, Einstein, Bill Murray and Marilyn Monroe if you just come pay us and play some some games.

Wasson descends into who-slept-with-who gossip when discussing the early Compass and Second City eras when improvisation was actually an art leading the culture instead of calculating ways to exploit it. It is a telling distraction. If he really went into an in-depth analysis of the work of the likes of Paul Sills and Nichols and May, it would destroy his flimsy hypothesis for the book and he’d have to start over.

Mike Nichols saw limitations in the artistic potential of improvisation and Del Close thought improvisation was an art form in and of itself. I worked with Mike Nichols and Del Close and have great admiration for Nichols and no admiration for Close. I think a comparison of the two men’s bodies of work can rest my case on the false claims regarding “improv” as an art form.

A recent piece on Nichols:

6/25/20: Mike Nichols #poetry #America #movies #theater #improvisation

Some of my beats are America, movies, theater and improvisation. All of those beats are in trouble right now, and also on the brink of great opportunity. Today’s segment is a song of praise that surprised me about a man who surfed time from Hitler to Obama, adapting and thriving as a human being, artist and businessman — in that order — maintaining his core and transforming his approaches to stay timely, relevant and healing until the end.

Mike Nichols was a nice man

a good man

a man from another time

I worked for him briefly

He made me feel like I was a genius and the next big thing

He did that for most everybody

He loved actors

and writers

and audiences

He personified the best of what Second City could be

during and after

he hit a sweet spot that touched art and commerce and being a mensch

He was very smart

and very warm

I didn’t set out to praise him so today

I started with the idea that Mike Nichols’ life and work and career are already of a time gone by

never to return

Nichols tracked the arc that America followed from culture to markets

he died before our descent into fascism

but he surely saw it coming

he knew it

he saw it as a seven-year old escaping Nazi Germany

and he never forgot it

He was a hybrid American

a refugee

A paradox

The ultimate insider

deflecting all eyes

from his role as precocious outsider

That was his ultimate magic trick

a master of disguise

Therefore …

He wasn’t as innocent as most of the rest of us

He knew how dark Man could be

But also how light

He was Einstein’s cousin!

What kind of crazy strains of goodness and brilliance was at his childhood dinner table

from the lesser members of the family who shared that gene pool?

He was a bard of how psychological and sociological attitudes affected ordinary people’s behaviors

His work, to me, seems to be about always finding a route to kindness, empathy, humanity

through a field of weakness, quiet desperation and temptation

He wasn’t nice just to be nice

Like everything else about him

he knew that it was smart to be nice

He got the most out of his colleagues with the sweet attitude

and he relied on them greatly

Nichols was less a creator and more of an arranger of other people’s talents

He had remarkable taste

Like a great baseball manager he knew how to put his players in the optimal positions and situations in order to win

Working that week for Mike Nichols was a great experience for me

Very instructive

Turns out, I was just a brief visitor to his world

I don’t do what Mike Nichols did

I just tell the truth

He was more subtle

He told as much truth as the audience could hear

He listened to the audience

and like a master politician

he led them as far as they could go and never went farther than what they were ready for

It’s my job just to tell the truth

I don’t think one approach is better than the other

Both are needed

Nichols was, and I am an untrained intellectual

Our type isn’t certified to understand things

We just look

I retreated to Mike Nichols yesterday afternoon

watching old videos in my sanctuary

as America goes through its necessary unraveling

and begins to

at long last

deal with racism

and capitalism

and sexism

and all the other abstractions we attach

to our fear, ignorance, arrogance,

stupidity, meanness and cruelty

and old, dead, man of the past

Mike Nichols

was less an escape

and more of a balm to me

Nichols made a lot of money

and made a lot of art

but as I watched him get progressively older in his interviews

those material things

were revealed to be means and not the end

I liked him much more than I expected to

The man dwarfed the prodigious body of work

and the gold medal career

Mike Nichols had a special life

My week with him was a special week

Nichols saw the world’s darkness with the eyes of refugee from Hitler’s Germany

its potential delights as a golden boy who enjoyed stratospheric early success

and its moral responsibility as a spoiled boy who more than anything wanted to grow up to be loving man

When I was with Mike Nichols for a week

I was in awe and nervous for that week

Stunned by the movie stars and New York intellectuals that I sat by

He was impressed by all of that too

but never to the exclusion of what really mattered

and now I see why fate sent me into that brief close proximity to Mike Nichols

and to my distant appreciation of him in the subsequent years

culminating with my video viewing yesterday

and it has nothing to do

with Hollywood

acting

show business

money

art even!

or

careers.

Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas

Recent pieces on Close:

8/16/20: The Guru #poetry #essay #PoeticEssay #Improvisation #Teaching

Another recycled anecdote

of the dead guru

of the dead performance form

with all the secrets of success and life

primarily for actors

(they are particularly susceptible to this kind of bullshit)

but for other people too

conquer your introversion

make it in show business

let your freak flag fly

and if you do none of the above

at the very least be hip

special

too cool for school

Be a bum with a difference

All cults don’t involve God

The Guru remembered

He once acted with coleslaw  in his pants

“Is it true?” the aging acolytes of the dead Buddha giggle

Um, no

The Guru was an off and on drug addict with horrible personal hygiene

He sneered at the establishment with an insincere conspiratorial grin

a horrible actor who taught acting

every once in a while he shows up in an old movie

in small offbeat parts

he never got a good one

He was the thesp equivalent of a novelty act

When a director wanted a strange or unreal moment

or wanted to warmly remember their youth in improv class before they went off and made a living at it

The Guru was their man

He wasn’t really cut out for a profession which required access to one’s vulnerability and personal feeling

But he was a hell of a businessman

A real innovator

His insight was that you could corporatize anything

even the drug abuse and faux spiritual habits

of a bum

and the basic creativity 101 insights of a failed artist who never finished the job of developing his gifts

Afraid and lazy

like all salesmen are

If he hadn’t made himself into the King of Improv Teaching

he might have set up shop at the train station

seducing teen runaways into white slavery

He had many students who became successful entertainers

Let me tell you something about teaching

School is like Vaudeville

A lot of people go through it

They get experience

good and bad

no matter who the teacher is

and some of them use their brains and talent to figure out how to be successful

I’ve done a lot of teaching

I taught improv for several years

A lot of my students have been successful in show business

Probably a better percentage than the Guru’s

A network talk show host

Several TV writers and show runners

An Oscar-nominated actor

sitcom stars

and a lot of my students have been successful in other fields

and life in general

Here’s the thing

I HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH IT

THEY WOULD BE WHO THEY ARE IF THEY NEVER MET ME

This isn’t false modesty

I think a lot of myself

as a person and as an artist, writer

And I am a good teacher

It’s just that teaching is a gig and it’s not a big deal

teaching is just a job where you manage an environment where people can work before they have the opportunity to be paid for that work so that you can do the work that you love that no one pays you to do

Universities don’t look at teaching as the primary thing in selecting their tenured faculty

They look at the research and the writing

But the Guru was a big bum

salesmen are bums

and bums are cunning

they spot people’s weaknesses

and they exploit

I have no idea where the coleslaw story came from

But I am sure the Guru never did it

Probably he heard that someone else did it

and pounced

a homely outre’ move

turning working and middle class life

into bohemian subversion

meaningless

because that’s the nihilistic message isn’t it

it’s all bullshit

get the drug

get the attention

get the applause

there ain’t no love

love is for suckers

This is the message of the salesman

I’ll answer your need

Methadone for the soul

The first hit is for free

This con man

(who was a human being too, he had many warm moments with people — why not, gangsters and white nationalists are good to their dogs — sometimes … )

was just trying to get over

He lost his main enabler

and he figured out a way

to periodically walk into a theater

and preen in front of wide-eyed disciples

intone rambling monologues

sprinkled with occasional tidbits of useful information

while a shoe box was filled with tens and twenties

Then he would take the cash

go back to his chaotic and filthy apartment

get high

and read comic books

The crock of shit life

led to a great legacy

a theater devoted to the spirit of the Guru’s blather

Several books glorifying the Guru

written by reporters and academics who don’t understand theater or the creative process

all of which is relatively harmless

There is a lot of jerk-off material available so people can distract themselves

But one aspect of the Guru’s immortality sucks

He was the founder of a shit “improv” culture

as insensitive and disrespectful

and banal — don’t forget banal

as the Guru was himself

Circle jerk improvisation

sniggering about navel lint

or some other insignificance

a siren call to lives without purpose or excellence or value

the prison of the adolescent clique

never transcended

love. work, marriage denied

The existential equivalent of sitting on a rug cross-legged

with your ne’er do well no exit friends

sucking on a bong

The fond memories of the Guru aren’t about the Guru at all

they are nostalgic remembrances of a moment of youth

that his adherents lust to make permanent

But here’s the thing about moments

they always change into something else

and Paradise becomes Hell in a split second

if you don’t let it go

Here’s one more thing about all the students who become successful, independent agents of their own lives

The alumni winners that are the Guru’s top marketing bullet point

they aren’t really “successful”

They are in process

moving on

just like the rest of us

Here’s the thing about improvisation

How can someone teach you how to do it?

It’s about meeting the unknown, right?

The games, the rules, the forms

are false equivalencies

to the unfailingly surprising transformative instances of life

The Guru has nothing to do with that thrilling and/or terrifying reality

He just took credit for it

killed it and pressed it onto a microscope slide

The sweet people who worked with him remained sweet

The bitter, cynical pricks got a license to spread his gospel of denied despair widely

to the four corners of the earth

Impostors of importance

selling something of no more importance than fame

or even more cruelly for the less gifted and misguided masses

a dream of fame that will never come

The famous find no satiety in their prominence

the frustrated obscure are blocked from the opportunity to move on to the deeper and glorious satisfactions of life

so they light candles to honor the dead Guru

and give outsized attention to each other and compete in petty power games

in a sad

and pathetic (I use the word sorrowfully and not with meanness)

lousy

imitation of life

exiles from art

and ordinariness

The Con Artist Guru and his marks

generations of denial

and unconscious suffering.

Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas

11/5/19: The Definition of Success

I think Del Close was an asshole. He directed me briefly at Second City when I was just hired and he was about to leave. I have a few memories of him. I saw him yell at a baby. I saw him enter the theater with vomit stains on purple corduroy pants.

He liked me initially. He gave notes to me like “you beat the other player with a stick in that scene.” He encouraged me to dominate. I wasn’t interested. His enthusiasm for me and my work waned.

I knew Close just before he reinvented himself. He was ending his codependent relationship with Second City and was about to strike out on his own. He exploited his bohemian appearance and sold himself as hip and edgy. He did drugs and had a pedigree as a beat intellectual, but he had the values and aspirations of an insurance agent. His core attitude never transcended the foolishness one hears growing up in the neighborhood. He wouldn’t let it. There’s no money in that.

It’s an artist’s job to reflect the whole world, not merely his audience.

Close was no artist.

Close’s legacy is the iO theater. I’ve never seen anything on the stage of the iO theater that I enjoyed or admired. I haven’t been there often. To me, the place has the feel of a Trump rally. It’s a crude and stupid place.

iO is a place of ignorant name-in-the-paper ambition. It rejects excellence.

iO is a museum, a wax museum. It hasn’t furthered the art of improvisation. It sells it. It’s a training ground for noisy TV commercials and insipid sitcoms.

I think “yes, and”, which has become the international mantra of improvisational theater, is bullshit. Agreement with everything that is initiated by anyone leads to denial of the real.

The classes at iO and Second City offend me as an educator. They sell a base level success. Embrace mediocrity as a means to popularity.

It may strike you that I have some ax to grind here — some personal animosity. I truly don’t. It’s my job as a writer to separate high and low. No one ever makes these criticisms. I find what is happening in these “improv factories” to be morally repellent.

I saw a Conservatory graduation show at Second City a few years back. A lady sat next to me. She was a nurse who worked for film studios. She knew Sylvester Stallone. Her son was in the show. He was awful. The show was terrible. The students lacked craft, the directors didn’t know what they were doing. Yet, the woman was convinced that her son was going to be a star, and that this improv “training” was worth his dropping out of college.

He would be a better improvisor if he went to college. What an evening with vampires. People with nothing to say shouting look at me! look at me!

There is something cultish going on in “improv” education, reminiscent of Trump and Scientology.

When I was in the resident company at Second City, sometimes people looked at me with foolish awe. “How do you learn your lines?” “Do you get nervous?” “You met Eddie Murphy?!?!” Improv training as it stands at iO and Second City exploits that innocent, stupid immature take on life, and capitalizes on it. Real education and art would transcend it.

Bernie Sahlins was my director and producer when I was at Second City long ago. He told me “you don’t want to be famous doing shit work in show business. You are an artist.” Bernie was a sophisticated man, and he gave me great advice at a formative time.

I learned my lessons more from people like William Blake and Herman Melville than from Del Close. Both writers worked in the commercial realm and then walked away from it. They knew that the market corrupts. They weren’t salesmen. They were interested in what life was saying to them, not in what people want to hear.

Close told me when Gilda Radner’s obituary was international news, “We’re bigger than the Beatles.”

What a cold morbid fucker.

My job at Second City was like a school for me, but it was actual work with people who had done accomplished work, not classes taught by people who never did accomplished work, when I worked there in my 20’s and early 30s. Like any other school, I had some good teachers, I made some good friends and I dealt with a lot of assholes.

But it was just a school.

And I graduated.

I’m not part of it anymore. I’ve created my own art — which has transcended all that I learned. Many Second City alumni have done the same thing. Others are like middle-aged and older former high school football players who are trapped in memories of a state championship game played in the last century.

One of my friends from Second City is very well-known as a commercial actor, and he has done excellent work at that trade. He also has written some very good plays and has tried to get them produced. He felt dissatisfied with his hit TV show that he also occasionally wrote. He felt limited by commercialism. His journey to get his worthy work produced led him down the road of exploitation. He found open doors, but they were the wrong doors. People wanted to exploit him. Little theaters wanted to use his name to sell tickets. Actors and directors saw him as a gravy train and flattered him and gave him false support. When push came to shove, and people had to take the next step —- take a risk, put their own skin in the game, they were nowhere to be seen.

The outer rings of success are rings of hell. Fame, money and popularity, like beauty, fades.

William Blake lived a life of joy. He supported himself running a print shop and making art. It is said he lived his life in obscurity, but that’s not true. He connected with people in a real way. Melville said “fuck struggling to get published.” (I paraphrase.) He worked as a customs inspector. The result was Moby Dick. Their successes were not within the capitalist definition of success.

Conventional wisdom says that Blake and Melville were obscure. I say that they knew the world and were more known to the world than Del Close or John Belushi with their eyes on the grosses, the ratings, the box office, their brand and other drugs.

It is moronic to calculate success by counting dollars in the bank or likes on Facebook.

An artist limits himself when he caters to his audience.

A commercial artist is like a scientist who works for a tobacco company. All of his findings are bullshit.

I was in the Second City resident company when John Belushi died. Bernie sent our company to the funeral. I was walking into some gathering related to the memorial in a line with famous people. Hundreds of people surrounded as we made our way to the entrance. They shouted at each individual who passed. “Bill Murray!” “Dan Ackroyd!” When I passed they shouted “Nobody!”

This did not hurt my feelings. I smile as I remember it. I thought then what I think now —

who could possibly give a damn about what these people think? What a burden — to restrict yourself to some lowest common denominator — what a lousy job show business is for the successful and for the strivers …

My brother is a prominent judge — considered very important  in his community. When my father died in 2009, word got out to the entirety of the Illinois Bar. A few hundred showed up for the wake and funeral. My father was buried at a lawyer’s networking event.

I didn’t like it, but to my brother’s credit, he didn’t either. He wanted to be a judge because he believed in the Law. He liked being able to spend more time with his kids than he would if he worked at some big firm. He didn’t like all the ass kissing and schmoozing — all of the using. He was in the same boat as my friend the TV star.

When my mother died it was just family and a few close friends. The death notice was posted right before the funeral, which was held on an inconvenient Monday morning. We only wanted the people who really loved her there.

We wanted meaning, not spectacle.

I consider myself very successful. I’m not rich and I’m not famous. But I was a very good improvisor, and a talented trial lawyer, and I am a very good writer and a very good  teacher. I have a good marriage, and good friends. I’m a concerned citizen. I live my life as an artist, and I’m good at it.

A teacher at iO recently challenged my claim of success. He said, “Success isn’t about what you think, it’s about what other people think.”

Au contraire.

Copyright 2019 Richard Thomas

Wasson argued that Close ultimately had more influence than Nichols.

Not with me — obviously.

Art may have its day soon. The artist is usually called upon when the people are in trouble. When they feel more secure, they enjoy having their asses kissed and indulging fantasy.

Wasson calls the current long-form improv team “T. J. and Dave” as “brilliant” and exemplars of Del Close’s vision. I’ve seen the team perform three times. T. J. is a good actor, Dave not so much, and their scenes had no substantive content. For example they did a scene in which they superficially improvised some exposition related to exploring the nature of death, and then retreated into jokes about getting high in a cemetery work shed. Their audience was a group of iO improv students. The theme of the evening was “look we are making money at this”.

Exhibit B for the plaintiff in the case of Nichols vs. Close.

Wasson ignores improvisation as practiced the world over. This American “improv” is an efficient tool of cultural imperialism. There is a poetic aspect in the improvisation of other countries that Americans would be wise to learn from — and international improvisers would be well-served to have a greater skepticism about much of the improvisation they are too willing to embrace as influences from the United States.

Tina Fey claims that “improvisation will change your life.” She is wrong. Art is what changes lives …

and improvisation needs more of it …

I close with a piece that I wrote about my experiences with Second City. The piece was one of the most read and positively commented upon segments that I have ever published, and, of course, ignored by Second City …

because it is a business and not a place of art …

6/8/20: Open Letter to Anthony LeBlanc, Interim Executive Director of Second City #SecondCity #poetry #oralhistory

Anthony,

My name is Rick Thomas. I am an alumnus of the Second City – Chicago Resident Company from the early 1980s. I am also an exile from Second City. I’ve always been an outlier on the fringes of the Second City tradition. I didn’t pursue a career in show business. I am a writer, a lawyer and a college professor. Please check out my website at http://www.richardthomasjd.com and my blog at http://www.richardsteventhomas.wordpress.com. Those links will tell you more than you want or need to know about me.

I have always been interested in improvisation, acting and writing as art forms more than Second City as an institution.

I want to give you a bit of an oral history of my experience with Second City in the hopes that it might be helpful to you in your time of systemic change.

My relationship with Second City has always been mixed. I have some friends who I got to know there, good friends —- and there are people associated with Second City who have done work that I greatly admire.

But there also has been much about Second City that I have been ashamed of, and I have been hurt by Second City as well.

I am writing this as an open letter because I want anyone who is interested to know that I have never been a part of any of the institutional or onstage racism that has occurred at Second City, and that I have also been anti-racist for a long time. I have suffered within Second City culture for my values, and ultimately have had to disengage and go my own way — which has actually been good for my art and my career.

I also am going to make some pretty direct observations here, but it is not my intention to be harsh.

For example, I know and like Andrew Alexander. I think he is a very good and well-meaning guy.

My goal here isn’t to punish or chastise. It is to contribute to a conversation that hopefully leads to improvement in the future.

OK, here are some anecdotes from my personal experience at Second City:

1982 -1983: As a young improviser in the resident company, the natural development in my personal voice gravitated to discussion of social issues. I came back stage during a set and senior cast members were getting high and mocking me “Rick is getting heavy again.” This was my introduction to an anti-intellectual, anti-social justice strain in some but not all Second City performers. It seemed the idea that was encouraged was to sound smart and have “reference level” but not really to say anything. I think the reason for this was to be sure not to alienate any of the paying customers in the audience. The unspoken ethos was to be hip, but not transformative.

Also in this period, Bernie Sahlins, who was the producer/director called me into his office and said that he wanted a “floor” to our content onstage, but he didn’t want to get too far ahead of the audience. I rebelled against this, and eventually this led to me leaving the company. I think Bernie was saying that Second City was show business and not theater. I think that Second City needs to be theater.

Later, Bernie, who I loved by the way, took me to lunch at Nookie’s down the street. He told me one of the most helpful things I ever heard. He said, “You don’t want to do some stupid sitcom. You are an artist. You are better than that.” That was wonderful for me, but damning for Second City. I think Second City should be better than that. I think the world is demanding now that a theater be just that — A THEATER — and take sides. I think Second City has to do a lot better in its training and casting and direct its efforts to smarter audiences of greater quality than ignorant bus tours etc. Andrew’s great mistake was giving the conservative white exurban point of view its commercial due — if Black Lives Matters gets a benefit, cops should get half the proceeds. What the Trump administration has taught us, and what I knew in the ancient history of Chicago main stage in the 1980s is that you have to take sides. Evil has been falsely presented as a debating point. Second City has to do everything it can to speak the truth.

I had a conversation with Kelly Leonard, another person that I think very highly of, a few years ago. He had shared a “positive” review of a Touring Company show in Colorado, I believe, that praised Second City  for not taking sides. This was a satiric review that radical right wingers could enjoy. Kelly was happy about that review. He spoke about a colleague he had on the corporate side at Second City who was a Republican and had a right to his point of view. That all sounds very reasonable and liberal even, but I think Kelly was making an error. Oscar Wilde or some other great writer said, “There are some people that I wish to offend.’

SECOND CITY SHOULD TAKE SIDES.

Here’s what I think — SECOND CITY SHOULD BE A THEATER. A THEATER TAKES SIDES BOTH ONSTAGE AND OFF. SECOND CITY SHOULD NOT BE SO COMMERCIAL THAT IT CATERS TO LOWEST COMMON DENOMINATORS INSTEAD OF BEING A TRANSFORMATIVE PERSONAL AND SOCIAL FORCE.

I think Second City has done much better aiding people in personal transformation than on the social side of the ledger — but the personal work is never complete without addressing the social as well.

In my period on the main stage in the early 1980s, Bernie introduced me to Paul Sills, the founding director. Paul introduced me to David Shepherd. I loved both Paul and David very much.

Paul and David were socialists. Paul spoke to me about police misconduct at the 1968 Chicago Democratic Convention and how Second City became a refuge for demonstrators beaten during police riots. In the 1990s, I did a video workshop with David in the Hamptons on Long Island no less — that had a very diverse group of participants. David’s thing largely involved giving unheard people a voice. This constructive radicalism is a big part of Second City’s artistic and social tradition and I hope as its leader you reclaim and restore it. The current issues are not new — that’s part of the problem.

I once did a cartoonish gay character in a scene in one of Paul’s workshops. He got pissed off and growled “comic books.” I got the point —-artistically, socially and as a matter of personal development. You need teaching like that. I’m willing to teach for you, by the way — under the right circumstances. The people who founded Second City were artists and intellectuals. They had life experience. They were thinkers. I think you have to pick up your game in terms of the quality of your teachers and instruction in the Training Center. I taught with some of your Training Center faculty when I taught Professional Presence using improvisation as a pedagogy at UIC. I found my colleagues ‘approach lacking. I don’t think that they knew a thing about improvisation. The Training Center was a good business model and a lousy artistic one. Those levels, the conformity of mastering the “games’, the dumbing down and making everything fun … all is anti-improvisational and anti-creative. I was around the Training Center briefly in the early 2000s. I felt like Frankenstein being chased by the villagers. I was taunted for things like being smart or taking a stand. I had a guy lecture me on why 42nd Street Porn Peep Shows were superior to Pulitzer Prize winning plays. Faculty held their turf. Students rebelled against being challenged in workshops and demanded party games. It was an awful place — artistically and educationally. I went to teach at universities where I knew that I would be in a more serious atmosphere.

I want to say again that this is MY EXPERIENCE. I am not painting with a broad brush or saying good things weren’t going on — but I am telling you problems that are part of the organization that you have inherited.

An interesting thing about the way that Paul and David taught was that they did not want their methods to become sacred script. Improvisation, like any art form, is a process and in a state of constant revolution. I have always felt that I wanted to honor Paul and David’s values and to do improvisation, writing and teaching my own way. I think Second City should do that too. I am not an old alum saying that we did it better in the old days. In fact, we didn’t and today requires the new. I don’t like reminiscing for the sake of it. I live in the present and the future. I am writing you because I see opportunity in Second City’s current challenges. There is enough of a strong foundation to build on, and enough mistakes and sins to learn from to  make a better future.

Bernie hired Ed Greenberg as a director while I was at Second City. Ed is another nice guy, very progressive and woke — but he was wrong about one thing. I was taking suggestions from the audience one night and some young guy yelled out “Lech Walesa licks pussy!” This was at a time when Poland was fighting a non-violent war of liberation from Soviet Russia. I was repulsed by the ignorance of this drunken audience member and the insensitivity to the courage and suffering of the Polish people. He was also mocking me for being intelligent on stage. I got angry with him. I wasn’t cute or clever. I told him he was ignorant and spoiled. Ed told me that I was too angry. Ed was wrong. I was right. Ed wasn’t angry enough. John Quincy Adams knew that black lives matter. He said so. The point isn’t just to say what is right after the social change occurs. That’s just show business. The point is to be outraged now whether it is popular or not. That’s what a theater would do.

I HOPE UNDER YOUR LEADERSHIP SECOND CITY RECLAIMS ITS BIRTHRIGHT AS A THEATER, AND LOSES ITS NERVOUS PRE-OCCUPATION WITH KISSING THE ASSES OF BIGOTS AND FOOLS.

In 2017, former Second City Director Tommy Giannis, briefly directed me in a one-man show. Tommy directed the acclaimed Pinata Full of Bees. The show was based on my writing in my blog. I was trolled by some white nationalists on my blog. Anti-fascism and anti-racism have been major themes of my blog since I started it in 2014. Tommy suggested that I invite the white nationalists to my show. There was no fucking way that I was going to invite Nazis to my show. I put them in a category like pedophiles — it is necessary to shame and ostracize them and punish them — folly to engage them in a dialogue. Again, I was wrongly criticized as too angry.

SECOND CITY HAS TO LEARN THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN REACTIONARY ANGER AND VALID MORAL OUTRAGE. SECOND CITY SHOULD BE A VOICE OF SOCIAL OUTRAGE AGAINST ALL FORMS OF INJUSTICE —- BECAUSE SECOND CITY SHOULD BE A PLACE OF ART AND INJUSTICE IS REALITY AND OUTRAGE AGAINST INJUSTICE IS WHAT IS TRUE.

1990s to today:

Since my time on the main stage I have interacted with Second City and its offshoot iO from time to time. I was always treated with respect by Andrew and Kelly and some old friends. But … I have also been hurt in those interactions, and I think my personal wounds are connected to a larger problem.

I never received the respect with the overall Second City community that I deserved.

Paul Sills saw my one-man-show in the mid -1980s and said that I was the greatest improviser that he ever saw, and compared me to Lenny Bruce.

I had a nervous breakdown shortly thereafter and I had to mend myself personally.

At age 50, I became a lawyer and ultimately a professor. I developed my writing. I taught using improvisation in colleges.

I was never accepted back into the improvisation community. I was a loser because the community became so  sitcom-centric — defining the only type of success as that of fame in the world of entertainment.

Many non-entertainers — psychologists, business professionals etc. applied improvisation to their professional objectives to very good results and I applaud them.

But none of those people are as accomplished at improvisation itself as I am.

I had and have much to teach improvisers — both in classes and also in sharing my work (writing and performance) but I was not given an opportunity to do so.

Oh soME old friends included me — Jeff Michalski and Jane Morris, Dan Castelleneta and Deb LaCusta — but other than that all doors were closed.

And even in those situations, I was constantly fighting people who didn’t want me there.

This jealous guarding of turf …. this resistance to being challenged …. this resentment that somehow I had been away and therefore didn’t deserve a seat at the table anymore — and they didn’t like me anyway because I talked smart, and I talked truth — not show business kiss ass nonsense.

MY POINT HERE — SECOND CITY SHOULD BE NICER AND MORE CIVIL AND MORE INCLUSIVE; AND HAVE A BROADER VIEW OF WHAT IMPROVISATION AND THEATER CAN DO.

Of course, as an old white guy, a legitimate question to ask of me is what do I have to offer to people of color?

I have found that racism and other discriminatory oppression has been a common theme of almost all of the students that I have taught at Lewis, UIC and Loyola. I went to higher ed because my tribe rejected me. The problems are the tribe’s and not mine. And now that the tribe is recognizing its blindness — I think I may be well-positioned to help Second City get back on the right track in a big way.

My teaching uses improvisation through speech and writing to empower students by removing the internalized obstructions placed upon them by the power structure.

I am not writing you to beg for a job. My commitment is to my own work, not to fitting into some corporate scheme. But if Second City has mutual goals, I’d love to help. (I know you don’t want my help.)

I’ve been right on anti-racism and improvisation as an art form.

I AM SECOND CITY AND IMPROVISATION. MORE THAN THE TRAINING CENTER OR IO OR THE MAIN STAGE NOW OR IN THE PAST.

I’M THE REAL THING. PAUL SILLS USED TO SAY THE ARTIST IS REJECTED UNTIL THE PEOPLE GET IN TROUBLE AND CALL HIM BACK TO SAVE THEIR ASS.

I, and others like me, young and old, can save your ass now. Bernie used to talk about the tension between commerce and business. Second City has gotten into trouble because it has tilted too far to the business side. You can be the leader who charts the institution’s course back towards art.

I have worked my entire adult life to further the arts of improvisation and writing, the causes of social justice, and individuals in their human development. I don’t wear the blinders of show business. I am highly educated and broadly experienced.

You need people like me right now. I am not interested. I like to write.

Best,

Rick Thomas, Chicago Main Stage ’81 -84

9/15/20: Some Notes on Writing from Another Project That I Am Working On #poetry #essay #writing

Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Matthew McConaughey said on a commercial for Lincoln motor cars, “Don’t look for what you want to do. Find out all of the things that you don’t want to do, and you’ll find your way.” I’ll take my philosophy where I can find it. When I quote someone, I don’t do it before the fact. I do it after I have seen what they have said is true, or at least resonant with me personally, through experience.

Success is the great enemy of a writer. If a writer finds something that works, and makes him popular, he will be blocked from doing anything great. Writing is provoked by an irritant. You have to be in pain to want to bother with all of the otherwise uncompensated work of writing. Your pain is your ignorance. Your joy comes when your understanding ends that ignorance forever. Writing frees you, and then you can negotiate life in a sure-footed manner, actually looking forward to the next irritating obstruction that will provoke you to write.

Writing is not a discipline. You just do it. At first, I saw it as an aid to me, adjunct to my life. Now it is my life itself. Norman Mailer said that the professional writer is impure — constantly inducing labor and forcing the words out. He saw the artistic writer as more natural, writing only when properly inspired. This isn’t my experience. I think Mailer wrote those words when he was tired, and motivated by something other than being a writer. He had a brand to maintain, a reputation to preserve and try to expand, and probably substantial financial responsibilities. I find all of those considerations just too complicated. I simply write. Every day. All the time. I write when I am not at the keyboard. I write when I am awake and when I sleep. I am not spending my time thinking about whether something is said in an interesting way, or is beautifully expressed. Or profound or unique. I just try to understand everything. I examine my life as per Socrates. I dispose of things a la McConaughey. I write therefore I am.

I knew a fool who was an unsuccessful professional writer. He got up every morning and wrote for a specific amount of time — four hours — at his meticulously organized desk. He kept his inane and mediocre observations in big white binders. Unsurprisingly, he often didn’t do his writing. He neglected it in the same way he ignored the stationary bike that he always planned to exercise on after his (not so) daily writing.

He was a misguided hack. Writing was a means to an end for him, he didn’t love it all. If you love writing, it will reward you in all kinds of ways, but it is unwise to demand what bounty it will deliver to you.

Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas

To be continued …

One thought on “The Rick Blog Annotated Part Four — 7/6/20 to … to be continued #writing #TheRickBlog #poetry #essay #PoeticEssay #creativeprocess

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