The Rick Blog Annotated Part Three — 10/10/19 to 7/3/20 #writing #TheRickBlog #poetry #essay #PoeticEssay #creativeprocess

Part One dealt with inception and development.

Part Two dealt with the emergence of consistent writing real writing.

Part Three deals with the transformation of the writer, his writing and his vision of the world.

This next segment deals with alienation and solitude on alternating currents.

nighthawks

10/10/19: Real Writing and the Lousiness of the Group

Real Writing

I delivered my mother’s eulogy. My brother’s friend, a doctor, stood next to me at the urinals after Mass.

“You’re really a writer. Your words ‘resonate’ (he was quoting my remarks). I’ve tried to write, but I am just not good at it.”

I told him two ways people become “real writers.”

First, it’s important to be a lost soul for several years — to wander the earth. To experience life’s variety and thus be prepared to make unlikely connections.

Next, you have to write a lot. Just write. Classes, workshops, teachers give you little or nothing. You learn what your writing is and how to go about writing it by simply writing it down. (Redundant or musical? I decide. Musical.)

I have more to say on the subject of real writing, so I’ll continue here.

You have to spend a lot of time alone. Your mind must restlessly consider any person, place, thing or abstraction that engages your interest (and what interests you is a mystery in and of itself — why one object of contemplation and not another?) from countless angles. The process is painful — it feels something like deep frustration — but then a moment comes, ironically when you are not thinking at all, when a tiny silver hammer taps you lightly between the eyes and you see as much of the big picture as is possible at the moment.

Then you write it, what you understand to be the truth, down.

A writer is always writing, whether he puts fingers to keyboard or not on a particular day.

A writer is in constant conversation with the world. And he is part of that world. So real writing is talking to oneself, and allowing the rest of the world to overhear.

The overhearing is communion with others. The real reader and writer are not escaping loneliness. They expose loneliness for the lie that it is. They recognize themselves in the words and faces of the others.

Real writing is an existential understanding that we are all one

Therefore …

A writer cannot belong to any particular group. I know. I have tried, and suffered many painful separations from various group

illusions.

A group is a lie that perpetuates lies.

It’s a myth to say that real writers are lonely and sad.

The truth is that real writers are solitary. Solitude is ironically the prerequisite of real community. Only from a basis of independent and individual spirituality, can one enjoy a real marriage, real friendship, engage in real creative collaboration with work colleagues, or connect with one’s comrades in the body politic.

A writer, through the act of writing, can engage in a community that transcends time, connecting to writers and others living, dead, and not yet born.

Real writing, even poor real writing, touches an eternal ground. As much as the nature of living changes — the cultural and technological revolutions that spin from one age to another — what it is to be human being remains the same —- and that remains a mystery as confounding in the present as it was at the dawn of time.

And yet, that mystery gives us clues and small epiphanies

the mystery whispers to us

look there

say this

do this

notice that feeling

stand here in your place

we fashion a quilt of perception

from our limited perspective

and then the seams fall away

and for a moment we glance

at the All

that’s what resonates, doctor.

Not everyone can be a writer

anymore than everyone can be a doctor

I didn’t choose to be a writer.

I couldn’t escape it.

No one can.

Some real writers refuse to write

some real readers refuse to read

and writing kills them

puts them to death

Madness is exile from reality

It is violent and fatal

Groups

all groups

are genocidal

The person seeks the protection of the tribe

and the tribe destroys them

Some die at war

Some live lives of quiet desperation

the walking dead

conforming

and numbing the anguish of their souls

with addictive escapes

ricocheting from the pain of the betrayal of life’s moment

to the existential pain beneath the pleasurable sensation of the narcotic materialistic sales pitch

empty calories for the

unavoidable

void

Ignorance is not a function of a lack of intelligence

it is born of a lack of character

the open and innocent are brave

the ignorant are cowards

looking back at Sodom and Gomorrah

instead of out at God’s

All

turning into pillars of salt

(If you don’t believe in God, you don’t believe in art — I am one of God’s stenographers — the word God itself is just a symbol and other words refer to “Him” as well — I actually don’t believe in God, I experience Him — I don’t believe in trees either, but I affirm their reality. This world would be doing a whole lot better if there was more real writing and reading figuring out what God wants instead of following these ridiculous phony groups

God doesn’t want this money, power, fame, condescension, oneupmanship bullshit

and the way it destroys our world

But he lets us choose

so don’t go blaming him for the crimes that we commit)

It is all so unhealthy

It’s the writer’s job to speak for and to the repressed souls of those who are unable to write

but who live and feel

the un-sedated life

longing for cures

not painkillers

art burns out the pain

No condescension is intended here

Everyone is not an artist

but everyone can relate to art

The writer relates to his writing in the same fashion as his readers once it is finished

The writing is not what is important

What is important is what the writing says

I write for personal freedom. Writing memorializes my perceptions and values. It enables me to be the author of my own life. The group defines reality to secure its own survival. The writer is braver. He has faith in the truth’s beauty. He is sure of the truth’s unknown rewards, rewards more bountiful than any of the achievements motivated by fear or desire.

The Lousiness of the Group

The Group is

envious

selfish

greedy

insecure and therefore condescending

needing to be special

primary

disposed to war

needing to see the other fail

immoral

sentimental

Rick Blog poll

45% of Americans are woke

and done with the Group

sick of office/neighborhood/family/government/social bullying

they get the lousiness comes up over and over again

40% of Americans are fanatics

Identified with the group

Hazing the new guy at work

mocking disabled people at rallies

persecuting immigrants

abusing children

wishing death to the Kurds

and suicide bombs to Europe

Addicted to the excitement of meanness

worshipping their money

lusting for fame and power

for themselves

or if that’s not possible

for the famous and powerful people

who have an angle

and get something out of kissing their asses

THIS IS NOT JUST ABOUT TRUMP SUPPORTERS

I said the writer wanders

I’ve seen this lousiness for years

in many places

Second City/iO actors

Illinois lawyers

Higher ed faculty

Even community theater and other tangential moments of my life

for Christ’s sakes

A critic would dismiss me as simply not getting along with people

A critic would be wrong

I won’t accept the lousiness toward my person and I won’t participate in it toward other people

and consequently I connect and will continue to connect with the first 45% in my poll

The Woke

And the remaining 15% ?

Of all the sins, indifference is by far the worst

they call themselves moderates and make compromises bartering other people’s suffering

they get a taste

they call themselves realists

they think they’ll go to Purgatory instead of Hell

but it’s worth it for some money, comfort and fun in the meantime

They will go to Hell unfortunately

Evil flourishes while good men do nothing

Hell for those who choose the Group leavened with a little kindness

instead of Real Writing.

Copyright 2019 Richard Thomas

The change in the writing is apparent.

Rain Falling over the Sea ?near Boulogne 1845 by Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851

10/12/19: Experience, Memory, Meaning and then we Disappear

Life experience is an improvisation

we huddle backstage with a premise

and then step into the world

following the focus of our minor desire

or deep impulse

we look for Mueller to save us

he doesn’t

then someone plays the whistleblower

we decide on love

and sign up for eHarmony

leave the site discouraged and disappointed

only to find joy on Match.com

Moments are like sperm

most are meaningless

they die on our frightened hand

or stain the sheets

billions of moments dead on arrival

nothing nanoseconds

of all mankind

and any individual

but some

a relative few

make a rich complex narrative

of people places and things

penetrate the ovum of memory

and love is conceived

the stuff of meaning

the important breaths

that define our existence

the old lady died

long after experience was over

she lived many years looking at photo albums

pondering her life

creating her life

fashioning a story that made sense to her

then memory began to die

it fought maniacally to stay alive

its distortions

were hallucinations

sometimes angry and violent

thrashing about her fading mind

sometimes grand baroque musicals

making life bigger than it is

and then …

the hallucinations stopped

replaced by a bland affect

Experience, Memory, Meaning and then we Disappear

her son saw her hours before she died

she recognized him

her last experience

there would be no memory or meaning

he saw her body still in a hospital gown

laid out at the funeral home

“Hi Mom”

he said sweetly

“can I kiss her?”

he asked his brother

“sure” the brother said kindly

he kissed her forehead

it was cold and waxy

and at that moment he knew she was dead

in something more than an intellectual way

he experienced his dead mother

and that experience is now memory

Experience, Memory, Meaning and then we Disappear

His brother told him, “She’s not there”

“I know” he said softly

She never fully knew who he was

No one ever fully knows someone else.

The genius thought for years that he was betrayed by people he loved

less than he loved his mother but he still loved them

but he was only misunderstood

The genius never bought Jesus’ line

“Father forgive them they know not what they do”

But he buys it now

Experience, Memory, Meaning and then we Disappear

many more than nine lives

each experience transformed in meaning and memory

leaving past loves in its wake

The granddaughter says that grandma and grandpa are now together in heaven

maybe

But I think they are mist rising from the ocean

becoming clouds

and raining upon people and animals and cities and plants

released from their egos

participating in something even greater than love.

Copyright 2019 Richard Thomas

j m w turner red

10/17/19: Blood on Hands; Atonement

The Blood*

*only quick deaths included here — nothing slow moving like addiction to initially prescribed opiates, or disease related to climate change or enforced poverty or abuses of the criminal justice

** the sudden violent deaths are only included here — not that the slow rolling homicides aren’t plenty bloody — but really how can you itemize all of the violence, loss and pain of this American Carnage

The Kurds

Bahamians

Puerto Ricans

Central American immigrants and refugees

Babies in jails

El Paso Walmart shoppers (and other incited acts of domestic terrorism — mass shootings by mentally ill people should be included after the asterisk

Rivers of blood, 

dead rotting fish floating on the surface of stagnant rivers

This American Apocalypse

The Hands

“It’s all a joke”

“I know more than the professors and generals and doctors and lawyers”

“Just win baby”

“Money and broads”

“My group is the best group”

“Sensation — yes,  feeling — no”

“Everybody does it”

“I don’t care”

“Fuck politics, ethics, morality, community, meaning”

“Everything is bullshit”

“I hate what I envy”

“I just want to be entertained”

“The salesman kisses my ass, I like it”

“I mock the truth”

Atonement

I saw what this was

I told other people

the ones who knew sat with me

we warmed each other by the dumpster fire

the others wouldn’t listen

they made me angry

they are the ones who always ruined the world

their arrogance, disrespect and condescension oppressed me

oppression is a great teacher

the whole experience aroused a desire in me to be a better man

the blood was on my hands too

most of it was pit there by other people

a little is my own doing

very little

a droplet on hands drenched in blood

I always knew that droplet was my responsibility

but

sin is the road to sainthood

My conscience is racked by things that I would not do or want to do

I am responsible for what you are

I bear no fault or blame

I feel shame

and pity

May Almighty God bless us all

the rings of hell are precincts of heaven

I long for the turmoil of the world

Maybe I will understand you more this time

You have really gone to hell without me

You rejected me

I said no to you

now I return to you

to be there with you

My personal suffering has ended

now I bear yours

I will teach you

and prosecute you

and rehabilitate and heal you

and if those avenues are denied me

I’ll stand by you

and contemplate you in silence

a man atones with mankind

our boundaries are obliterated

beyond time and space

beyond me and you

we are the world, we are the children

la la la la we’re saving our own lives

la la make the world a better place

for you and me

la la la la

Individual and universe on alternating current

the world is wonderful on the most awful night of the year

the night of the world’s psychotic break

the raging fire immolates shaman and sinner alike

the dead rise

only to be cremated

zombies and townspeople

indistinguishable

Ignorance kills

Father forgive us, we knew not what we did

even when I didn’t do it

I have to shoulder the sins of all mankind

not just my own malfeasance

and so do you

Forgiveness doesn’t tolerate evil

Forgiveness is not martyrdom at the hands of evil

Forgiveness puts evil on its back

until it nearly disappears

and the Self nearly disappears too

replaced by nearly complete peace with regard to every individual matter

Only a speck

of evil

and Self

remains

growing very slowly

until the ritual must begin again

Copyright 2019 Richard Thomas

rembrandt_artist_studio

10/19/19: Welcome to My Art Studio

When I was really young, just starting out, I cared about fame

but not really

when push came to shove I always chose to do and say what I want

and the fame chasers

were always chasing

the standing ovation

the good review

the right time to give the casting director a shoulder rub

they weren’t really creative, you know?

they were creative like ad men are creative

public relations executives

they weren’t concerned with authenticity or

their truth

they were concerned with people pleasing

people defined as people with money

they struggled to create a persona

a brand

that would get over

I was a young fool

I thought they were all like me

that they thought like I did

I didn’t understand

how different we were

I hung around them

and they tried to destroy me

that’s just what they do

they found  my sincerity to be immoral

Welcome to my art studio

or welcome back

I choose personal and intimate connection over fame

or money

I would rather do honest work for a livelihood

I teach

and say and do what I want in my art

(If you want to give me money for doing and saying what I want, I will gladly take it — but I won’t work to get it — I’m too busy working on doing and saying what I want, not from mere desire but from my own authenticity — so it’s not likely that you will give me money unless you are a patron who wants to serve the collective — and who are we kidding — do people who fit that description even exist anymore? — and as for fame — I like people, I like attention but I want real enthusiasm, you know what I mean — real connection — do I have the capacity to have a million friends — I felt real sadness when Elijah Cummings died, when John Belushi died I went to New York to go to a party … )

Why am I writing this now?

It has taken me a long time to figure this out

to unsuccessfully figure it out

but each time I get deeper into it

you know

(I believe in absolute truth — but I know its unattainable — I knew some fiction writers who were so convinced they got it — ridiculous figures, ripe targets for the comedians that I know, but that work is beyond them — the fiction writers think they know, the comedians are nihilists — in it for the money and broads — as limited as the poor dumb working stiffs who think work can only put food on the table —- comedians are materialists — they call their words ‘material” — they can never get near the truth — trapped in their form — needing to be funny — not accepting that real humor only occupies natural spaces and can’t be summoned on demand — the requirement of inducing laughter smothers their free expression — their art only goes as far as their marketing will allow — the greatest comedians outgrow comedy — I used to revere Richard Pryor and George Carlin and now I remember them fondly like good high school teachers — I am grateful for their importance to my personal development, but my interests have transcended them — am I placing myself among the greatest of comedians? Honestly, yes — I learned so much on those stages, but now I am something more — I feel good tonight …  Don’t think me arrogant — every once in awhile you have a day where your life makes sense — you see everything that you did by choice and happened to you by fate and appreciate who, what, where and how you are. I thank God that I was exiled from comedy, the exile sent me to the breadth and depth of the world, and wondering what’s next … at the skilled nursing facility the old people teach a course in “living in the moment” — all sorts of great things happen to them and then they die — maybe someday I will get money for this stuff — the old lady has a boyfriend — no one saw that coming — and they connected by simply being themselves)

to free myself from the shame

of not wanting to be rich or famous

and now

given that our recent history has exposed

the folly

even the evil

of bread and circuses

the constant appeals to fear and consumption

the darkness of the American character of my entire life

personified in a President

a comedian President

I thought I was a comedian

I wasn’t

near the end of that false occupation

I heckled the audience

I started it

I grew to hate them

I wanted them to want something more

but I wanted to say my truth

and they wanted to crucify me

I got off the cross in time

Co-dependence won’t lead to redemption

My peers in comedy found their niches

Some were real friends

but our connection had nothing to do with performance

it was based on our shared humanity

they liked my art

their hearts wanted to sing too

not sing for their supper

but even the friends didn’t do what I had to do

to separate from the other peers

the ones who became incapable of friendship

not only with me

but in general

they were distorted

mis-shaped

from their years pursuing their own commodification

they turned into bizarre reflections in fun house mirrors

cold  and shallow

jealous and scared

looking over their shoulders

like the last scene on “The Sopranos”

endlessly repeating the same old schtick

bores

transactional

I”ll be your friend

for your praise

and a referral

friendship downsized

to networking

and finally drudgery

their faux glamorous

faux roads-less-traveled-lives

were actually

spotlight as cubicle

and every show

was an industrial show.

Meanwhile

out in the wilderness

I looked at love

through a plate glass window

in a self imposed exile

and performed a painstaking surgery on myself

removing the poor fools from my soul

the pain of their mean rejection

forced me to pursue the cure of understanding

and my true vocation was born

Life is a process of separation and union

retreat from ignorance

and embrace of enlightenment.

Welcome to my art studio

I hang my paintings on this blog

people are welcome to come and go

browse

or engage with intensity

their presence warms me

and is part of what I do

I am so happy today

So satisfied

I’ve been free of marketing

and self-promotion

and longing for broad popularity for a long time

but today I am conscious of my freedom

and grateful

the old comedians who used to frustrate, anger and hurt me so

now arouse my pity

a mural of emaciated tormented naked howling people on a circus train

extending their reed scarred arms through the bars of their cages

shrieking into the desolate countryside

deluded that they are saying anything to anybody

the bitterness that I once held is theirs

their successes are pyrrhic  victories

what matter if a man gains the whole world

and loses his soul

The carnival barker-in-chief works so hard

to avoid working

real work in the arts

involves the exploration and understanding

of the inner and outer worlds

just like real work in education, the law, medicine

the bosses

seduce

mock

patronize

and punish

and their salesmen and entertainers

rabid poodles with shaved asses

doing tricks and snarling at the ringmasters’ whips

emulate the bosses

mistaking what is worthless

for precious value.

I’m not better than them

I speak with no superiority

I’m a shaman who has worked out their illness

but I am so happy that I am free

and some day

not now I’m certain

one or two of them will read these words

at the the moment when they too feel these feelings

but have not articulated them

either by lack of process or ability

and the words will help them

walk away

and to

the beautiful

real

world.

Copyright 2019 Richard Thomas

I no longer consider teaching part of my art. It is mentioned in this segment as a vestigial tail. Otherwise, some good words about transformation, separation and solitude, written from an increasingly peaceful place.

RST teaching

10/24/19: Beyond Improvisation — the Nexus of Reason, Professionalism and Art

Improvisation is only the starting point of my writing/spoken word/teaching art. Improvisation gives access to spontaneity and authenticity. My backgrounds as an improvisational artist, trial lawyer, professional responsibility attorney and college professor are all platforms for what I do and am now. The platforms complement each other. Ultimately the platforms in total transcend each individual experience. Reason gives structure, organization and coherence. Ethics gives values and the purpose for all of the work. Professionalism gives the discipline to do the work, the focus, and the persistent follow through.

I look at my life’s work with paradoxical pride and humility. I am proud because I have seen it through to this point. I am humble because what I have created has only partially been developed by my own intention. Real life improvisation is a journey to the unknown. The other platform elements make the discoveries of that journey conscious, coherent and useful.

An artist is never satisfied, always looking beyond his current position, open to the discovery of what is missing. The process delivers full satisfaction in the moment, and an enduring restlessness in linear time.

My experience has taught me that rigid identification in any of what I identify as my platforms is a state of codependence. Leaving the various tribes has always led to a state of solitary independence. That independent state has always led to inter-dependent community — the like-minded always appear. Eventually, the inter-dependent group calcifies into codependency, and the process begins again on a higher plane.

My website is a representation of what I have done, what I do, ultimately who I am, and clues to who I will become and my future creative action.

Richard Thomas JD LLC website

Copyright 2019 Richard Thomas

degas waiting

10/26/19: The Waiting Room

The interregnum

the well is not in use

while the walls are re-tiled

the Vacancy sign is lit

Boredom

Uncertainty

Unrest

In the corridors of power

in my mind

arguments about right and wrong

distractions that distract

stupid movies with big stars

hack entertainments and

masturbatory art house indulgences

two men trapped in a black and white lighthouse

in a seemingly unending storm

trying to kill and fuck each other

going mutually insane

with no hope of the sun’s re-emergence

comfort food that doesn’t comfort

pasta with chunks of meat

mashed potatoes with gravy

buckets of stale popcorn

diet soda with a metallic aftertaste

all unsatisfying

one side of the outside/inside is fed up

the other side is clueless, genuinely surprised that the other half

will no longer shake its hand

will we have a democracy?

get the job?

Find our place?

Will our angels become mortal

and our demons be held at bay?

One certain thing emerges at the moment

the demons smell of death

they are the past

history

zombies

that we loved when we were young and foolish

that we made excuses for and compromised with

but we genuinely loved them

what was important was our love

they weren’t important

we grew and they didn’t

and now we have to put a stake in their heart

in our minds

in the great out-of-the-house too

they could possibly win in the out-of-the-house

subjugate us

bring us to heel

kill us

that’s what makes it a little interesting

brings some drama to the waiting room

that’s what fuels the war in our minds

a theater of war that is doubtlessly

winnable

the fruits of our victory

will be an expansion of our understanding

of our humanity

regardless of any of the demons temporary victories

the demons can win battles

but never the war

the demons are suicidal

nihilism kills millions

Hitler

climate change

drunk drivers

condescending players unjustly denying opportunity or our due

they steal lives and years and happiness

they murder

but they don’t win.

we wait

because of them

they obstruct the life that we could be living

but they can’t end or deny it.

They teach us who they and we are

that is their bloody purpose

in the hemispheres of the earth

and our mind.

Copyright 2019 Richard Thomas

10/28/19: Embarrassed and Ashamed

I woke up lightly after a deep sleep

I cheerfully accepted the first thought of the day

The purest, most un-compromised thought

a direct message from my unconscious

unsullied by worry

or self-justification

or wishful thinking

or bias of any kind

or all of the seemingly infinite onion layers

it is my job to peel away,

My first thought of the day is a gift

the truth on a silver platter

the emotion that I felt in this particular moment of hyper-sanity

was delight …

I tell you all of this just to try to explain

that what I am about to say is not motivated by any pettiness

or grief

I’m not trying to rationalize anything

I’m not trying to make myself look like a hero

I’m not indulging the writer’s revenge

telling people off

in my imagination

I’m not speaking as a hybrid of Walter Mitty and Dirty Harry

gaining temporary relief from my tormentors

attacking them with bullets made of images

building a temporary fortress of self-acceptance;

why am I telling you at all?

well, I tell you everything

in a manner of speaking

for me privacy is just a disguise

that speaking out does give me no small measure of personal satisfaction

but I can’t have it all about me

if that were true

I’d be a vampire sucking all of your blood

and then stealing your spirit before it escaped your lifeless body

reducing you to mere audience

people who existed only as mirrors

for my narcissism

I’m not that

I’m far from that

I’m the opposite of that,

Someone thanked me the other day

“for the inspiration”

I wondered what she meant and then I saw a local bank commercial

a guy was painting his face to go to a Bears’ game

he said he was an artist

and that his job was to inspire people

the inspiration couldn’t be directed to encouraging

maintaining a checking account and cheering for a mediocre football team

it had to be about the very face painting itself

about our right to create our own individual ways to face the world

about being eccentric

like no one else

and seeing ourselves in all that we know;

this prologue is almost over

I will tell you my morning epiphany

my epiphany was a discovery

not an invention …

there is a corner of my soul which is going through the 7000 stages of death

not literal death

the death of friendships

associations

passions

illusions

most people deny or ignore hurtful memories

isn’t the present tough enough?

I mine them

drilling for God knows what

but this morning

what was gold.

OK, I’m ready —

My happy morning thought

was about people

who

insulted me

slandered me

betrayed me

ostracized me

mocked me

unjustly condemned me

distracted me with toxic comments

wished me poverty, illness and loneliness

cleverly shamed me

and forced me to spend years dis-assembling their lies

attempted to push me around

subjugate me

and use me

as a prop to further their self-importance.

I have transcended all of that

I hope that inspires you.

I woke up and saw a Facebook notification from one of them

transparently self-promoting

an infantile and idiotic show

a show that lets you know how bad it is

in its self-serving and sentimental title

and I felt …

wait for it …

I felt embarrassed

I felt embarrassed that I ever liked this person

that I ever associated with him

that I ever worked with him

that anyone would think that he and I do anything remotely resembling one another

that anyone would think that I could possibly think that there was any value to what he does

I felt embarrassed that he was part of my life at all

embarrassed at my past naivete’

embarrassed by my innocence

embarrassed by the whole process of transformative life

embarrassed for all the bad marriages

the dumb life choices

the shitty jobs

the getting-in-with-the wrong-crowds

that anyone ever engaged in the history of the world

embarrassed that I wasn’t born wise

embarrassed for all of the meaningless suffering endured

for not knowing the time of day

and the embarrassment was thrilling

a natural alchemy

that asked nothing of me but my openness

turned all of my pain to joy …

and then …

I felt ashamed

I felt ashamed of how mean and stupid he

and every other personal oppressor that I ever encountered

is and was

ashamed of him

them

and that delighted me too

because my shame for him and them

connects me to them still

estranged yes

wiser yes

on a different path yes

but I still love them

anger

hurt

regret

and resentment

have been replaced by

embarrassment and shame.

Copyright 2019 Richard Thomas

10/29/19: The Trouble with JoJo Rabbit

The greatest satire about Nazism set in Nazi Germany is Charlie Chaplin’s “The Great Dictator”

Charlie Chaplin’s childhood was dominated by poverty and injustice

His half-brother’s father was a Jew

He made the movie when 90% of the American people had no appetite for a war against Hitler

The creative energy for all of Chaplin’s work came from his love of ordinary people

He was an advocate for man’s impulse for love in opposition to man’s will to power

“The Great Dictator” was passionate and immediate

Charlie Chaplin’s art used the raw material of his own inner and outer

experience

JoJo Rabbit uses Nazism as a metaphor

It’s not the right metaphor

I watched the comic set pieces in the film

of Nazi fools

I watched Nazis portrayed as bullies a la the bullies in teen comedies

I looked at the technicolor hangings in the town square

and I thought about newsreel footage of thousands of dead emaciated bodies in the ditches of liberated concentration camps

JoJo Rabbit is well-intentioned and lame

The poet Rilke is quoted at the end of the movie

something about accepting the beauty and the terror of life

unearned by filmmakers who never lived such terror

and are just starting to explore the beauty.

I use my own life as the basis of my work

I don’t do it because I think I am so interesting

I do it because I don’t have anything else to work with

reasonably

I could care less about aesthetics

I have experienced injustice

I have experienced nothing like the Holocaust

Mel Brooks’ “The Producers” is much better than JoJo Rabbit

That movie isn’t really about Nazism

It is about how we think about it

That — specifically through the lens of show business

is what “The Producers” is about

I’ve written in the past about how deeply I was affected by the film “Twelve Years a Slave”

I understood the brutality of slavery in the abstract before I saw that movie

I understood it (a little more) emotionally after seeing

“Twelve Years”

It is no accident that the film was made by black artists

“JoJo Rabbit” sees Nazism the way I used to view slavery

There are limits to education and comedy

“JoJo” resembles a college term paper

and “Hogan’s Heroes”

Art is about more than being smart

and sketch comedy is a low form

entertainment and not art

ill-equipped to deal with what seriously matters

Life is a sacrificial right

humor is acceptance of, and perspective on

the sacrifice

making art is a lot harder

than making “JoJo Rabbit”

“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” is a great movie

It’s loaded with humor

but it is not a comedy

or a satire

it’s something more

it is Quentin Tarantino’s personal experience

made universal

that’s art

it’s not easy

what is tough about it is not the technical skill

it is the approach to living

to think and feel

The filmmakers of “JoJo Rabbit”

may not be bad people

I’ll know for sure years from now if they are dissatisfied with this film

I started out as a sketch comedian

It’s a good impulse to want to talk about important things

like the JoJo people

but you have to find your lane

and change lanes as you move forward

the drive to entertain and be popular

has to be replaced by the need to connect

life hurts

and the artist changes the pain into something else

“JoJo” is loaded with skill and craft

that is looking for something worthy to be applied to

that something is life

Postscript:

Every generation thinks it finds something new

but the real thing is timeless

not to serve the artist’s quest for immortality

no one is immortal

Do you want to see something timely about Nazism in the year 2019?

watch “The Great Dictator”

and read “The Rick Blog” for explorations of watching movies about Nazism …

I don’t do cataclysm

we all have a tough go of it

we all have plenty to say and hear

we all can warm each other with resonance

seeing our own hearts beating in very different others

but we have to tell the stories that we are meant to tell

it’s not pretend dress up

it’s not make believe

the best fiction is autobiography

every character that we imagine is ourselves

we can’t steal someone else’s

(I’m glad I can’t write about the Holocaust

but for the grace of …

the Holocaust is a story I must listen to

not tell)

when I started doing this, I had no idea as to what I was getting into

In my case I always experienced my life intensely

I discovered what to do with that experience relatively late

I started typing this blog in 2014

I started writing it on August 7, 1955

I just didn’t know that I was doing it

the hardest part about being an artist

is living with the flame of dissatisfaction

experience

observe

reflect

apply

and know when to get out of Dodge

the possibilities in a moment are greater

than I can ever imagine

and they are bestowed upon me

a boon from heaven

art steps in

beyond the limits of talent, wisdom, intelligence or education

life in all of its

beauty

and terror

is greater than

all of the above.

Copyright 2019 Richard Thomas

nancy-pelosi-donald-trump-power-equal

10/31/19: Surrogate Trump

I used to have

anger

fear

anxiety

self-doubt

frustration

boredom

daydreaming about escape

hurt feelings

questioning about man’s inhumanity to man

fight/flight ideation

internal conflict and self-questioning

and occasional despair

related to the rise of Trump, and the abusive power, corruption and betrayal of American, Christian and any other decent set of human values

evils that he did not invent

his darkness has been part of our country and our world from the beginning

but he is the personification of the hideous impulse in the dark heart of mankind

to make evil victorious

to subjugate us all

to make the myth that I was taught in my Christian religious tradition

of Satan’s murder of God

because of our own free choice

a concrete reality.

Trump made me wonder if I was weak

wonder if there was some crucial element of my character

that was missing.

Trump felt like a threat to my freedom

and therefore to my life itself.

I had all of these feelings

when I had a job

where I was lied to

and disrespected

and associating with colleagues

that were not of my moral and intellectual caliber

who were superficial and lazy

and concerned with petty fiefdoms of power

instead of excellence, fulfillment and service.

I also had good friends on that job

and great love for the work that I was doing individually.

Eventually my lesser colleagues attacked me

using the levers of money and power

and I stood up to them.

Subsequent to the confrontation

the job ended.

Meanwhile, I felt betrayed by some people

who I associated with in the sphere of my work in art

I thought they were friends

I thought they were artists

I thought they were educators

they weren’t any of those things

This whole experience was on a parallel track to my experience in employment

I also had friends in this particular arts milieu

I had work that served, satisfied me and pursued excellence

but I was too often insulted

and not given my due

by my small less-than-mediocre associates

who were motivated (again) by power and money

and their own narcissistic insecurities

jealous for their own illusions of self-importance

My participation in this false community

ended with the same finality as my job.

After these two major breaks

I spent a relatively short amount of time

at sea

at first this felt like depression

I thought I was reeling with a sense of loss

and failure

but really it was a time of wonder

a wonder that did not lead to obvious epiphanies

but was a short time that healed all wounds

my antagonists receded

not in my memory

but in my heart

they disappeared from my soul’s meaning

thoughts of them lost all power over me

they became like dead acquaintances

or answers in a trivia quiz.

What remained were the friends that I made

and my own work

which I did while with them

and continued without them.

My past conflicts were finally resolved

At last I had clarity regarding

what I thought about

myself

my work

my values

and all else that was important

without their toxic false arguments

accompanying my actions and decisions

as chatter in my head

and shadows following me down a hallway.

When I was writing mostly about Trump

I was occasionally asked

“What do I do in the face of his terror?

I am a small person. I have a job. I have a family. I live in a neighborhood. I’m not a billionaire. I’m not in Congress.”

I was never satisfied by answers like ‘write your congress person” or “go to a protest”

(although they are fine things to do if you are so disposed)

I have my answer now

Emphatically accept people who love you

Emphatically do the work that you love

Emphatically speak up for and personify your values

Emphatically reject any person or situation that insults and obstructs your values

first in your concrete reality

and then in your mind

understand that your process to freedom

is a painstaking one

that requires persistence, courage and hope.

You are the world

when you change the world changes

nature gives us villains to teach us who we are.

Trump is being impeached in a big place

because enough people

did the work of freedom in small places.

Life requires

saying yes and no

Firmly

the firmness

leads to resilience,

confidence

and joy.

The evaporation of the oppressor is the formerly oppressed’s chance to re-make the world.

History

and your story

are one.

Copyright 2019 Richard Thomas

dolphin researchers

11/4/19: Toxic Fog and Disinfectant Sunshine

Sunshine

When I was a kid, I saw a show on PBS about dolphin researchers

I had no real interest or aptitude for science

But I loved the poetry

of these passionate souls

working in harmony

with each other and nature

engaging in enthusiastic curiosity

on the outer edge of knowledge

expanding the consciousness of the world

serving and protecting the ecosystem

infused with joy

exemplars of unambiguous kindness

shamelessly nice

tanned and healthy

full participants in life

living at the intersection of creativity, ethics and reason

brothers and sisters on a journey

and having the time of their lives.

Fog

I have never been insulted, cheated or condescended to

by anyone that I was not better than

we’re all equal in our humanity

but quite unequal in terms of what we do with our humanity

a wound is a gold mine

I never “let it go”

until I get the gold

The gold I received yesterday was an even new level of confidence

I woke up yesterday remembering slights

I could make a large spreadsheet of slights

from many individuals and groups

the slights really hurt

the source of the pain was that I secretly thought

(a secret that I kept from myself)

the rejections had something to do with me

I wasn’t strong enough, I thought

(unconsciously)

I wasn’t tough enough I believed

(we are all ruled by unspoken philosophies, guided by dark, indirect voices that whisper in languages that we simultaneously can’t understand and heed)

but after a day of feeling dull, agitated and sick

and doubting those feelings

seeing them as perhaps further evidence of my weakness

weeping inside because of the disapproval of people and groups that I thought I needed

and hated simultaneously

(conflict and confusion are the same thing … near the end of my stand-up career I tried to figure out ways to tell audiences to go fuck themselves, I couldn’t stand their ignorance, their immorality, their meanness … the humiliation of standing bare in front of them and giving them the power to judge, criticize or praise the processes of my soul — and yet I wanted them to like me … that of course was crazy — my stand-up career ended with a nervous breakdown —- this was a long time ago —- I was in my 30s — my psychiatrist was a retired Navy doc who compared me to medal of honor winners — I fought a war to find excellence in stand-up comedy until my brain blew out — but like a medal of honor winner, I acted with admirable heroism in wars of no value … the fog people will never change within their systems — those systems are fog machines, invented to maintain and perpetuate the fog … people enamored with fame care fuck all for real personal connection … people motivated by money care fuck all for real work … the contestants in the rat race are rats, but the sea beckons and sustains — three quarters of the earth is covered by water — the people of the fog built a plastic world —- the real one is better )

I finally understood something my father inarticulately told me when I was young

“you should take their insults and bullying as a compliment”

they wish

I’ll say a prayer for cowards tonight

Less concerned with winning

than just looking like a winner

they’ll settle for that

because they lack the confidence

to be real

I am a dolphin researcher

I live on a boat

with friends that I work with

I have no time for competition

and jockeying for position

I spend my days looking at the sea

trying to understand it

and sharing my insights with my friends

I’m happy and useful and creative

and the fog people envied me

the hatred that I thought I felt for them, they had for me

the people of the fog were (note the past tense — they are still alive, but dead to me — they might revivify and emerge from hell, but I can’t help with that —- most are incapable of it — many are too stupid to know what they are doing, some are just lazy and following orders, the ones who betrayed me did the worst to me and have the most hope —- they know what is possible, but quiver pathetically, cowering with fear — trying to disguise it with bravado)

lawyers who counted beans with their backs turned to the sea of justice

teachers who were functionaries maintaining a bureaucracy instead of educating

improvisers who worked in sales instead of the creation of art

improvisation gurus who peddled lies about “success” —

it’s false possibility for the untalented

it’s false satisfaction for the gifted

they hated me

oh yes

my very existence made them feel bad

they weren’t as smart or good-hearted as me

and somewhere they knew it

I played Mozart to their Salieri

they had to destroy me

they are in opposition of excellence and decency

but I wouldn’t die

I wouldn’t quit

I never pledged allegiance to their groups

My commitment was to my work

and my own sense of being

and I did one other thing

I talked back

I reared on my tail

and squawked like a dolphin

asserting myself and retreating at the same time

I naturally saw my equality and never ceded them the upper hand

I got fired

I got thrown out

I was castigated and criticized

they manipulated weak minded people to first dismiss me and then attack me

but I had possession in great measure

of myself, my faraway friends, of the world itself

my presence changed their corrupt lives and compromised communities forever

I learned that the envious and mean fog people couldn’t take anything away from me

No one can steal what truly belongs to you

It is impossible to murder a soul

I never stopped working

I never stopped breathing

I never tried to overthrow the fog people

take over their lousy endeavors

lead their cliquish communities and organizations

I never wanted to be in charge

I never fought them back using their tactics

although I was tempted

the time they saved by not being creative

they invested in being violent

and they were good at it

masters of other people’s wounds

But

I was stronger than that

smarter than that

better than that

I’m still standing

still going strong

when I die I will have no regret

I am proud of who I am

proud of what I do

and now I also know

I’m not a sap

I’m not a martyr

I won without a fight

the people of the fog are gone

and I sail on a ship

challenging the horizon

with my friends

studying the sea

and the dolphins

and each other

and sharing what I’ve learned.

Copyright 2019 Richard Thomas

This next segment was the beginning of my the expression of my final and complete separation from Second City and the improvisational community on a professional, social, personal and most importantly, psychological, basis.

me and bernie

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

viola_spolin_1930s

11/10/19: The Trouble with “Yes, and”

I was recently asked, “Why do you think “yes and” is bullshit?”

Here’s my answer :

I personally believe that my understanding of the Spolin concept of “acceptance” is the best way.

I make no claims to be a teacher of Spolin improvisational practice. I teach my own approach. I do this with what I believe is the encouragement of Viola Spolin, who I never met. She wrote that the rules of improvisation should not become rigid. She is surely one of the most skilled, effective and inspired teachers of any subject that ever lived. She was not looking for disciples. She wanted to develop free people, and for those so endowed and inclined, artists.

Spolin said that there should be constant revolution in improvisation. A core value of improvisation is transformation, and that transformation extends to the art itself. I did know and work with Spolin’s son, Paul Sills. He saw a one man show that I did at the West Bank Cafe in New York in the mid-1980s. He called the show the greatest piece of theater that he had seen in twenty-five years, and compared me to Lenny Bruce. I lacked confidence at the time, I was in my early thirties. I didn’t understand my power as an artist. After Paul showered me with praise, the significance of which I didn’t fully understand until many years later, I answered with a quavering apology. “I’m not good at object work (the Spolin way of introducing tangible objects through something that resembles  mime to the uninitiated).” Paul got pissed off, and growled “who gives a shit?”

I learned that those improvisational concepts, which have far too often been commodified as rules, are only a means to an end.

I had achieved those ends in the show that Paul Sills saw, which was one of the peak experiences of my life, but I didn’t know it. I had a nervous breakdown one year after I gave that performance.

It took me fifteen years to complete the personal development that I needed to make art. I had to learn to take care of myself and make a living. My art was not going to make me a livelihood, at least not then.

I had to learn to not listen to other people.

An artist needs armor to protect himself from ignorance, arrogance and envy.

I had to grow as a person before I could even begin to do the the work of making art, and developing my potential as an artist.

Ironically, I returned to active creative work when I became a lawyer. I graduated from law school in 1981. I didn’t sit for the bar for twenty-five years.

After wandering the streets of New York as needy and lost soul in my mid-thirties, I worked in soulless telephone sales jobs for several years.

I rose in that awful profession and got a good paying job. I was fired from that job in my mid-forties.

Flat on my ass, I found my sole financial asset to be the human capital of my law degree. I took the bar in 2006 and I passed. It was really an accomplishment to pass the bar on the first try twenty-five years after my law school graduation. It was a lot of work and showed me that I had many resources of intelligence and character to apply to my life and work.

In all of my years in the wilderness, I always self-identified as an improvisor and an artist even when I was seemingly in exile. Those years also made me a writer. A writer has to be lost for a time. A writer needs to struggle in his life before he puts his life into words, to joust with inner and outer experiences, to be innocent, and therefore open, to suffer a thousand wounds, before finally realizing that his life in all of its particularity reflects the universal pain and joy of all men and women.

A lot happens when nothing is happening.

I practiced law for about six years. My bar admission eventually found its real utility. It was the credential that qualified me to be a college professor.

While I was gone, I had missed all of the “yes, and” business. I got a job at the University of Illinois at Chicago Business College teaching “Professional Presence” Improvisational acting instruction was the basis of teaching skills for business students to build self-confidence and communication and leadership skills. Other faculty at UIC, who also taught at the Second City Training Center. mentioned “yes, and.”

I was open to the idea. As a writer and teacher, I’ve never thought that I know everything. I grew to understand that the only thing that I could know is what I know.

Experience is the teacher.

So here is my experience with “yes, and.”

I read Kelly Leonard’ and Tom Yorton’ s (of Second City Works — an offshoot of Second City that teaches business people improvisational concepts to aid their personal and professional competencies and effectiveness much as I did at UIC) book Yes,and. I liked it. I thought it was a realization of David Shepherd’s (a founder with Paul Sills of the Compass Players, the forerunner of Second City) dream of using the teaching of improvisation as a means of positive impact on the lives of ordinary people who had no ambitions related to performing or any other arts. I even wrote a positive review of the book on my blog.

I applied the “yes, and” concept in my UIC classes. I wasn’t happy with the results. I also wasn’t sure if the problem was with “yes, and” or if I wasn’t teaching it properly.

Aretha Sills, Viola Spolin’s granddaughter, and the keeper of Viola’s flame, told me that “yes, and” was not a Spolin concept. She said that the idea originated with Josephine Forsberg.

One of the greatest living improvisation teachers, a friend and a person for whom I hold great respect (you’ll see why I don’t use his name here) told me that Jo Forsberg’s nephew, Martin de Maat, the founder of the Second City Training Center, stole the idea from Jo and commodified it.

To state the obvious, “yes, and” is a hugely successful commercial concept. “Yes, and” has taken over the world. Speak to almost any person who has ever taken an improvisation class in the last twenty years, and “yes, and” will be among the first words to come out of their mouths. I have talked to lawyers who discuss it …

University of Chicago intellectuals …

sales people …

and of course, actors.

“Yes, and” has become a synonym for improvisation in much of the public mind. The masses think that is all there is to it.

It, of course,  isn’t.

I stopped using “yes, and” in my UIC classes. My way was getting much better outcomes. I improvised with some old friends that I had worked with at Second City when we young. I did that my own way too. I was very pleased with my work. I was an excellent improvisor again., even better than I used to be. I applied my own way of improvising to my writing, and noted steady improvement in the writing over time.

I like my writing.

My rejection of “yes, and” was the final step in my conscious claiming of my own artistic power.

I don’t even practice the same general creative form as the people who swear by “yes, and”.

I think “yes, and” practice is a bastardization of improvisation. I don’t think it’s improvisation at all.

An improvisation, like any art form, should reflect life.

It is important to accept reality, but we don’t have to like it.

For example, if MLK followed “Yes, and” he would have agreed with racism. He accepted racism’s  reality but he didn’t agree and add to it.

In practice, “yes, and” leads to linear scenes — at least in my experience.

“Yes, and”  scenes resemble the corporate meetings they seek to enliven. With “yes, and” business has informed improvisation, not the other way around … to the detriment of improvisation.

With “yes, and” everyone gets equal weight at all times. We are all equal in our humanity, but art is an elite experience.

I use a concept where I say the person with the highest consciousness has responsibility for the scene as long as they maintain that consciousness. The job of improvisers is to find the reality in the moment. They explore and heighten the reality and create a new moment. It is harder than just agreeing and implementing whatever the other player lays on you.

“Yes, and” is easy and gives its players a feeling of accomplishment. It doesn’t challenge them to the difficult process of pursuing excellence.

True interactions are more complex than just agreeing to what you are handed.

Give and take, mirroring, status tension (Spolin and Spolinesque concepts)—- all of these are reduced if just focused on “yes, and”. Viola Spolin’s great book Improvisation for the Theater is filled with exercises that I see, when considered in total, as a complex diagram of a human moment. Spolin looks at the split second of spontaneity from many perspectives — the hands, the voice, the heart, the soul … The book is a masterpiece.

Even Spolin’s genius cannot find every aspect of “the moment”, the passing speck of time that contains eternity — because those aspects are infinite.

Good thing too, that leaves something else for the rest of us to work on.

I think “yes, and” got traction because beginners can get a feeling of accomplishment quickly when directed to do it.

Jo Forsberg famously taught children. “Yes, and” might be a nice warm up exercise for children.

“Yes, and” is a sound bite compared to Spolin’s symphony.

Or mine.

Another weakness of “yes, and”is that it is too plot driven. Improvisation isn’t about plot, it’s about who, what and where transformation. If you explore and heighten what is there it naturally transforms into something else. You don’t have to invent an “and”.

“Yes, and” doesn’t lead to real content in scenes. It is usually just one thing after another.

And finally if you agree with anything and add to it, as a rule, you can potentially further evil or crazy or otherwise lousy things. I believe we have to bring our unique voices to the stage — and decisions in life are based on yes and no.

A loud mediocre voice can ruin a “Yes, and” scene, and often does. We have to accept our differences and work with them.

“Yes, and” leads to conformity, and never transcends the collective sense of reality. Art must expand consciousness, not be limited to its current boundaries.

“Yes, and” does not serve improvisational theater, business, writing, or human development.

“Yes, and” is a powerful engine of commerce, and irrelevant to art.

Experience

Observe

Reflect

Apply.

Art is about intensely experiencing life, allowing it to transform you, and communicating what you learned to other people.

Art is hard, and complex in its detailed beauty. It can’t be reduced to a formula.

Copyright 2019 Richard Thomas

cultural-revolution

11/12/19: Beyond the Trouble with “Yes, and”

A nice reader sent me a note in response to my recent piece “The Trouble with Yes, and”. In that piece I mentioned that I knew and had worked with Paul Sills.

“I didn’t know you knew Paul. I trained with him.  I trained with him and Mike Nichols and George Morrison for two years in New York. (at the New Actors’ Workshop) Mentors all, and all gone now. I understand your point but “yes and” was to keep one out of their heads and work as an ensemble. Rather than using “but” which is shutting down what’s in the moment and going into one’s conscious not subconscious.”

I answered, “That’s interesting —- I guess I do it differently than they did —- with different artistic and social aims —- Paul, Viola are influences on my work, and I really loved Paul —- but now I’m on my own.”

She replied, “We all do. Did you know them?”

I said, “I wrote about it in the piece. I knew Paul not Viola. I met Nichols (I had a very small role in his movie “Heartburn”) and Morrison — but I wasn’t part of that school at all. I was there a few times meeting Paul. Maybe I did a workshop there. I met Paul when I was in the Second City resident company. Bernie Sahlins told me take a workshop with Paul. We hit it off. In the mid-80s I would sometimes take walks with Paul around NYC, get coffee. I had a different type relationship with him. As much as I was in Second City — I was really something different. I did one performance of Sills and Company and he didn’t ask me back. I understood. I am not by nature an ensemble player. I’m a writer.”

Now I will answer more in full.

I personally don’t believe in training in the arts. I inaccurately describe myself as a teacher, but that’s not true. I would never go into a classroom if money wasn’t involved — money for me.

I don’t teach a class. I share my art with them. I invite the students to share their art. Then we talk about all of it, and do it again.

I’d really rather just write. The classroom is a compromised place. It artificially limits art. I don’t like collaborating with my students. I’d rather just get to the truth undiluted, not diminished by the terms and proportions that whoever happens to be around can understand.

A great thing about art is you just put it out there, and it can be met at the various levels of individual audience members. When I write, I don’t have to worry about being materially useful to my students, or to entertain an audience. My entire focus is to explore reality and truth. It isn’t poetry to say that writing is always unfinished. No one ever fully understands the world or themselves. When it works, the artist surfs on the constantly changing reality of his essence, in harmony with the constantly changing world.

I have written that experience is the artist’s teacher. Experience, when viewed from fifty thousand feet, is a pretty simple affair. There is the individual —- conscious, unconscious, physical, emotional, existential, spiritual — in relation to everyone and everything else — the world. There are moments of epiphany where a hidden reality becomes visible. Each microcosm reflects each macrocosm and vice-versa.

You can say yes, and you can say no, but the fact is that reality keeps rolling on no matter what you say. You can add to reality, but if what you add isn’t real itself, part of the stuff of reality —- reality will reject your artificial invention and throw it back into your face eventually.

I don’t see why “but” would throw one into her conscious mind. If an individual is creating from her authenticity anything she might say is the truth as perceived from her perspective — whether she’s conscious or not.

The conscious mind has a great role to play in artistic creation. When engaged in my prostitution as a teacher, I call upon my experience as a writer and improvisor, and my training as a lawyer. I do believe in legal training. Training is a way of learning how to do the tasks of a job. Training is about technical skill. My website gives you a better idea as to how I present it. https://www.richardthomasjd.com/

Art is not a job. It is work. An artist is guided by his own real impulses, which do not derive from the ego. Beyond fear and desire, an artist, when engaged in real work, does and says what he must do and say. He is not a participant in a local community. He dialogues with the world. The local collective should adapt to its true artists, and over time usually does. The artist should never accommodate the local collective.

I have done many things in my life in many settings. When I worked at Second City, I began in harmony with the group. Yes, anding, although we didn’t call it that, was easy for me because my consciousness matched the consciousness of the group. But as I grew, my truth changed (my personal truth, not an understanding of some absolute truth — we all are limited by our own perspectives, no one has the vantage point to see the All.)

I outgrew Second City in stages. I the last show that I opened at Second City, I physically broke away from the rest of the cast. I did most most of my scenes downstage center, directly addressing the audience, and not relating to the other actors. The next stage was conflict — a tension between me and the group. The next stage was leaving. The next stage was Second City became part of my past. The next stage after that was my transformation into the next community that I participated in.

This cycle repeated itself in the world of business, the practice of law and teaching in higher ed.

Eventually my participation in local communities fell away in total.

An artist is completely with the world, and paradoxically outside of the world.

To identify with a group is to be in conflict. To participate in life — a state of being beyond what we merely think about life — is bliss. One exists on two planes. We choose the sides that nature has assigned us, as we simultaneously and humbly understand that each point in the universe is the center of that infinite space, including the point where we stand. From that perspective, everything is wonderful.

We live our lives in fierce opposition to the detonation of hydrogen bombs, while we appreciate their horrible beauty.

Acceptance of who we are, where we are and what we do. We play our parts in the play of existence and we are also the play itself.

We oppose fellow players or ally ourselves to them, and admire them all the same.

We live placing one foot in time and one foot beyond time. Our individual memory and our collective history, and our individual and collective futures all reside in the now. We proceed chronologically as we transcend the time/space continuum.

I have not lived my life “yes, anding.” Life is not lived when you are “yes, anding.”

We are children and follow the rules of childhood. We rebel against them and become adolescents. We mature into adulthood. Some of us become outlaws reaching for something more. Finally, we become lovers — engaging in the passions for the activities and the people that we were born to love. The individual and the world atone — become one.

Each transformation involves breaking and tearing and pain.

I think Paul Sills was frustrated. I think he wanted to be a writer. He wrote many notes when his mother, Viola, was writing Improvisation for the Theater. She didn’t use a word of them. He told me this regret. He described his work as being part of the family business. He never made the step of following his own impulses and creating from his own voice.

Paul’s interest and dedication to the collective was born of his misunderstood and misplaced loyalty to his family.

Love’s nature changes.

(By the way — I am by no means certain in my assessment of Paul Sills. What is important here is that is MY assessment. This really isn’t about him, at all. He’s not around now to clarify. It’s about me. What i see in Paul I see in myself.)

I had an easier family hand to play. I was devoted to my mother, who recently died, for the entirety of her life. I still am devoted to her. My mother was not a genius like Viola Spolin, so she was infinitely easier to transcend in the realm of my creative work. My love for my mother was a constant — not unlike my love for improvisation, the law and education, but my relationship to her and all of those things has changed more than once.

Everything changes.

I was a certain type of son until the day that I married. I married late — I was 57. I was a certain type of artist until I started this blog, at around the same time.

Marriage does not involve loving the person that you marry. It is about committing to loving all that the person will become, and fully participating in the changing dynamics of the interactions between her transformations and yours. A marriage is a creative thing. It is not an invention. It is not built. You accept your wife, and let her change you as you change her.

That, it seems to me is the natural course of life, and art. Substitute “writing” for “marriage” and “the world” for “my wife” and the previous paragraph relates to my work.

Reality is not something to be  agreed to .. . we really have no choice in the matter.

Reality is something to be understood to the best of our ability.

We don’t have to add to reality. It is impossible to add to reality.

Reality is a shifting point. We are most fully conscious when our being is congruent with that shifting point.

Change is natural. It comes whether we know it or not.

I’ve experienced change in pleasant ways and in harsh ways. Change is indifferent to my comfort or pain.

We are given the conscious mind to understand life, not direct it.

That, it seems to me is the natural course of life.

“Yes, and” shuts down both the conscious and unconscious mind when the total mind and soul is at the point of expansion. Accepting the limits of a particular group imprisons us, and denies us full participation in life.

The members of my ensemble are every person who ever, or who will ever, live. It is not constricted to six other people with whom I happen to share a stage or a faculty lounge.

Even the most well-intentioned teachers of any of the arts and their students remind me of Chairman Mao and his followers during the Red Chinese Cultural Revolution. The teachers have their little black book that delineates the teachers’ claimed wisdom, values and objectives. The students subjugate themselves to the teachers’ will.

The students become slavish cogs in an inauthentic machine of the egoistic teacher’s invention.

Acting teachers are the most unreal because they improperly tell students how to act. Roles on stage or in broader life have requirements. How to serves those requirements. But the person underneath the role’s costume … recall the old improvisation maxim “where a character as lightly as a hat or coat” … cannot be directed. The proper relation to another person is love, not control.

We have to see others and open ourselves to be seen by them.

I do more by showing myself to you in these writings than I have ever done supposedly teaching anyone. You do more by listening to me than you ever would do by performing my assignments.

We shouldn’t consciously or unconsciously act. (Easier said than done.) We just need to be with each other. The challenges are existential, not psychological. (Easier said than done squared.)

All real action comes out of our presence. We don’t create together in an ensemble, community or company. We influence one another, and the universe in total influences us all, and true action happens.

At peak moments we come to truths that are found in everything and everyone. Truths that unite us.

The world is not a choir singing in one key relying on the directions of a conductor’s baton.

The world is a harmony of infinite and diverse songs.

Copyright 2019 Richard Thomas

ford-v-ferrari

11/17/19: Ford vs. Ferrari — Corporate Hate and Envy and the True Triumph of Art

I never thought that I would identify with a macho 1960s race car driver.

But art makes strange bedfellows. I’m Ken Miles.

Henry Ford II competed with Enzo Ferrari in the 1960s. Ford envied Ferrari, but envy is too weak a word to completely describe the feeling. Ford hated Ferrari because Ferrari was everything that Ford was not. Ferrari was an artist of auto racing and design. Ford was the son of a genius who inherited a company. Ferrari held Ford in a justified, less than heroic contempt. This exacerbated Ford’s hatred.

Ford did what all mediocrities do. He couldn’t define achievement by the fruits of his applied talents, intelligence and character, so he defined it as dominance of other people. If you can’t master an art, your will to power will be satisfied with power over others. The victories of the mediocre corporate climber are pyrrhic ones.

I feel pity for the mediocre, the Salieris of the world — the men and women who are born ordinary, but are smart enough to know excellence when they see it. They are left with no option but deny artists their due within the organizations that they control but don’t really lead.

Artists lead. Mediocrities manage.

The corporatists use the true artists for a time. They need them to get actual work done.

But then they discredit and discard the artists. The credit must be theirs. They surround themselves with other mediocrities who compete for partial power in their organizations in the hopes of one day sitting on the top of nothing

— of something very big and rich that gets its immediate way — big temporary shows of power and success — that on closer inspection are revealed to be voids of negation.

Ken Miles was independent and rebellious, but initially naive about the jealous corporate haters. He was supported by other useful executives to Ford, Carroll Shelley and Lee Iacocca, who appreciated Miles’ art and who realized that nothing great is ever done by committee. Artists can collaborate, but that collaboration never involves subordination to group think. It involves each person bringing individual and personal genius to his or her role and harmonizing the music that each brings to the symphony.

Iacocca, Shelley, and ultimately Miles saw the lies and duplicity of the corporate power players as part of the price of creative admission. They dealt with it as part of their jobs. Shelley and Iacocca were able to continue from that stance.

Miles was more of a pure artist. He stopped compromising. His art couldn’t coexist with hateful mendacious green powered envy.

Miles sacrificed his life for his art. Martyrdom isn’t so rare. We all sacrifice our lives for something. Henry Ford II sacrificed it to hate and envy.

Trump smeared Ambassador Yovanovitch because he needed her out of the way. Her real anti-corruption efforts made his fake ones impossible. But he also smeared her because she was everything that he could never be. Trump hates Yovanovitch and all people like her. He’s hate me if he knew me.

Trump took Yovanovitch’s title and sullied her reputation, but she received a standing ovation of appreciation at the end of her testimony. All the money and power in the world could not destroy people’s enthusiasm for the real thing. The mediocre can mock, condescend, dismiss and slander. They can withhold official credit. They can put people in tough financial straits. They can even murder.

What is beyond their ability is the power to destroy art or artist. The artist touches eternity and people love the artist for it.

The mediocre chase success, a poor substitute for love. The artist loves and is loved, time and time again.

Love is the energy of life. The mediocre are walking suicides — exiles from life itself.

I am blessed. I matriculated through all of the corporate duplicity and now work in a metaphoric room of my own.

Ferrari disdained Ford’s power and wealth, but he still thought it was something real. He wanted to beat it. That’s a waste of time. Let the dead bury their own dead.

Shelley and Iacocca thought they needed to work within the mediocre power structure in order to make a living. They probably did. They were generous benefactors of artists.

Love is more important than art. Everyone cannot make art. Everyone can love.

It must have been tough for Henry Ford II to be the son of a genius, to inherit a name and feel pressured to live up to legacy that he was ill-equipped to follow. The job of his life was to work his way to love — to let go of competition with his father. He didn’t pull it off, and ultimately the only thing that his father passed down to him was autocracy.

I am Ken Miles.

I am almost embarrassed by how much love that I have received in my life. I never felt that I had to make a name for myself or be in charge in order to be loved. I have a name. Parents, friends, family members, audiences, colleagues, students, readers have really loved me. Bullying bosses , cunning Judases exploiting my generosity and innocence, and weak colleagues who fear and despise what I am can’t take anything real away from me.

They can only cheat me out of mirages in a universe of illusion. They deny me only the respect of hell.

Heaven, the earth and the regions of purgatory belong to me.

The kingdom of the mediocre is a dark art magic trick. It seems so big and substantial.

And absolutely nothing is there.

I was naturally endowed with many gifts that I take no credit for.

We don’t choose who we are. We grow into our essential natures, or more more precisely how to live within those natures.

No one can fundamentally alter reality — no amount of money, no powerful megaphone, no base of political support —- can change what is.

I used to wish, when I was young, that I wasn’t an artist. I wished that I was an accountant or businessman. I thought things would be so much easier — more money, fewer life disruptions.

I was a fool.

Life isn’t easy for anybody. Life bestows a gift and a responsibility. It doesn’t come with a user’s manual. It involves understanding limits and differences, joy and sacrifice.

Life in general, and my life in particular, is the seat of humbling and awesome power, and challenges that —

when accepted —

lead to an expansion of consciousness and possibility

and paradoxical participation in eternity and loss

simultaneously

we live and we die

we are nothing and we are everything

we a speck in infinity

and the center of it all

the same old story

the fight for love and glory

the case of do or die

doesn’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world

Henry Ford II is the answer to a trivia question

Ken Miles is an inspiration

Miles lived life

he didn’t try to conquer it

the Henry Ford II types got it all wrong

Christ said to forgive them, they don’t know what they do

I think they know, they are just afraid to find out the alternative

Illusions are tough things to discard

they would rather hold tightly to answers we suspect are wrong

than risk finding something better

an illusion of a bird in the hand

is better than two real birds in the bush

People aren’t naturally lazy

they fear work

we meet ourselves in our work

what if we aren’t as grand as our scam

Laziness is fear of oneself

better to bully and lie

than take on the eternal responsibility of the center of the universe

and the parallel insignificance of a dot in the ocean

better to be bigger than life

than the intense concentration of life

lived with the knowledge of our own mortality

To love persons places and things deeply

depths and depths of all encompassing loves

that we will lose one by one or in one fell swoop

as life abandons us

always abruptly

well, we’ll always have Paris

sort of

We all have jobs to accomplish to achieve our full humanity. I had to learn to embrace my essential nature as an artist, and free myself from taking the envy and hatred of the poor stymied souls who have created artificial love and excellence substitutes.

When I was young I had to learn not to lower my head and worry about whether I made the mediocre feel bad.

Then I had to learn to not be distracted by their unjust attacks.

Next I had to learn not to compromise with them.

Then I had to learn to love them, to transcend my rage over what they were and to own what my purpose is in the world.

Finally, they began to disappear.

I drove past a place that used to hold painful memories for me yesterday. I didn’t notice that I had until I travelled a few more miles.

When I was aware that I passed that place, the recollection was accompanied by no discernible feeling. I was not hurt, aggrieved at injustice, angry or numb.

I felt nothing.

My compassion for the mediocre people of envy and hatred has taken on a detached and distant quality.

There is nothing that I can do for them.

For me, Henry Ford II has died

and Ken Miles lives

My soul’s attention has turned almost completely to the joys, sorrows, problems and victories of those who love.

Eventually I’ll die too

and that will be that.

None of it will make any difference

and all of the difference in the world.

Copyright 2019 Richard Thomas

self portrait

11/22/19: Self-Portrait

What led to who I am today?

What combination of nature and nurture

the love of friends and the opposition of adversaries

the alchemy of my genius and stupidity?

Why am I free

sure of myself

imbued with self knowledge

unafraid of the unknown

my person faces the world

and wonders where are the new places, people and things

a page of one’s own

a classroom of one’s own

a stage, perhaps of one’s own

venues for my voices

written

verbal

and the voice of my very person …

Life without conflict

natural as a bird

secure in my insecurity

not knowing what is next

and unconcerned.

64 plus years

and the kernel of being bestowed upon me by God

in utero

all of my basic nature

changed by pummeling experience

yet essential the same.

I document myself

this blog shows my changes

it in and of itself, in total is my art

series of sketches hung on the walls

sometimes repetitive

sometimes misfiring

but progressing

always progressing

each piece building to certain segments of epiphany

roughly placing itself into chapters as I transform

understanding transforms not essence

this blog is an art gallery

my periods

my sequential studies

my misfires

my masterpieces

http://www.richardsteventhomas.wordpress.com

My website

http://www.richardthomasjd.com

documents my work

the experience that brought me to what I had created by 2018

a picture of that creation

constantly updated by the blog

which is a tab offered on the website

I love my selfie which accompanies this piece

I’m a lousy photographer

I’m too heavy

I’ve largely spent the last 15 months in this easy chair writing

but I feel no shame

I feel no regret

I feel something beyond pride

I am dignified

I know that I have done something worthwhile

I know I have remained true to something

that is beyond all of these words

I am certain that I have honored my talents

developed them through periods of pain and sacrifice when necessary

certain that I still have much to offer

and looking forward to the opportunities that will surely come

open to people of good will

and the authentic dictates of my heart.

Copyright 2019 Richard Thomas

Hanks Mr Rogers

11/23/19: A Surreal Day in the Neighborhood

I would have liked “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” better if it was directed by Bob Fosse or Luis Bunuel.

The film has some surrealistic touches, but it would have packed more punch if had a little hair of “The Andalusian Dog” or at least a taste of “All that Jazz.”

I start this piece with a quibble. You don’t expect exquisite fare when you go to Applebee’s, or the local multiplex.

Some might argue that hardcore surrealism has nothing to do with Mister Rogers, and that a gentle technicolor offering that looks like almost every other movie that you’ll see this year suits him fine — mainstream with a difference.

But “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” isn’t about Mister Rogers.

Mister Rogers defines his vocation in the film. His mission was to help children, and by extension adults too, deal with their feelings in positive ways.

Dealing with feelings is akin to dream interpretation, only much more common and important.

The film makes the point that it isn’t about Mr. Rogers, and in a related matter — that there are no saints or heroes.

Those are profound, if common, observations and I appreciated hearing them. My experience watching the movie was similar to having a conversation with a well meaning, insightful and somewhat boring individual. I appreciate where they direct my attention, and I am warmed by their hospitality — but I have to go further than they do in order to really learn anything.

The hero of “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” is writing. An Esquire writer who is extremely angry with his father is assigned a profile of Mr. Rogers. Mr. Rogers engages the angry not-so-young man in what at first seems a therapeutic way, but is actually more of a pastoral one.

Mr. Rogers, the writer and an invisible God share the screen. Bunuel or Fosse would have made God visible.

A writer writes to burn out pain, his own and the pain of others.

The writer is redeemed from his anger and brought to a place of forgiveness born of understanding through  writing about his connection with Mr. Rogers to work through his problems. And Mr.Rogers feels better about his anger, because as a wounded healer he uses his hospitality for troubled people to relieve his own pain and theirs simultaneously.

Dealing with one’s feelings, particularly anger and sadness, is a surreal experience.

Anger and sadness are intense — they paradoxically make all of the tiny details of a moment hyper-real, and also distort reality into an overwhelming malevolent threat to our very existence.

My mantra — cited on these pages often

Experience

Observe

Reflect

Apply.

“A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” goes through these four phases of writing, decision making and living — and I thank the filmmakers for making that available to everyone.

But there is so much more to be said on the movie’s themes.

The movie is trapped in marketing. It could have been less popular and more honest — in another universe where Adam and Eve never ate the apple, and money was never invented.

There are many kinds of anger, and the movie implies one size of anger fits all. Keeping things simple for the masses …

The Esquire writer had a father who cheated on his mother when she was dying and then abandoned his children. The writer had an understandable disgust for humanity as a result. The father seeks forgiveness before he himself will die. Mr. Rogers tells the writer we get most angry at those we love, and that the father had as much to do with what was good about the writer as the easier to love good Mom.

The writer does the right thing and they live and die happily ever after.

That is valid — and understanding and forgiveness are necessary to let go of even more horrendous pain and abuse than the writer suffered.

But the anger and sadness related to the more horrendous rages and sorrows of life are more often not resolved in death bed confessions and pleas for forgiveness.

The resolution of pain related to something like a father’s child molestation, for example, happen when the hurt party is alone. There is no celebration. There are no family Christmas photos with the old man on his deathbed surrounded by his noble and adoring family.

There are also many more shades of anger than the movie describes.

The Esquire writer has the anger of conflict. He wants to love his father. He wants his father to be better than what he was. He wants a happier history for himself. He gets his wish in the film. That’s not false — it happens.

But the story becomes dangerously sentimental when it is sold as a universal one.

There is also the anger of insult. Feeling insulted is a demand to be treated with dignity and respect. It is a good anger — a hot and clean thing. It sets a boundary. It only becomes a problem when it is not transcended. Sometimes the hurtful person is what must be “let go.”

There is the anger of feeling forced to do or say something that you don’t believe in. This anger leads to integrity. If maintained beyond separation and new direction, it leads to conflict.

All transformation involves breaking and tearing and pain. It requires leaving behind people, and ways of being, that prevent one from living out the truth of their destiny.

I was feeling quite self-actualized yesterday. I thought like I had it all together. I had let go of all toxic relationships and situations that had bedeviled me in my past lives.

I knew who I could love effectively, and who was beyond my power. I was filled with a passion to connect and expand any positive influence that I might be positioned to bring into the world.

I chart the course of my life like an explorer in my writing.

And then someone that I love very much told me a story which ostensibly had nothing to do with me. She had coffee with a former work colleague who was being forced out of his job by venal bosses who had previously abused her in the same way. She had talked to me at great length about these mean and petty people when they had tormented her.

I was very proud of how she dealt with these bastards. She got an employment lawyer and protected herself. She fought through the temptation to internalize their emotionally abusive disrespectful comments and behavior. She got another job surrounded by nice people whose work was guided by values other than greed.

I thought mention of these creeps was over. I had forgiven them. I don’t have a problem with anyone that me and those I love are not dealing with.

Let the dead bury their own dead.

I can’t do anything for these people. I only have hospitality for them if they ask for forgiveness and pursue love — like the Esquire writer’s father.

But most often that doesn’t happen.

Criminals belong in jail. Assholes deserve to be iced.

Love is a two-way street. People may not love for many reasons. I don’t judge their immortal souls — and I do believe in redemptions.

But I also believe that toxic people, places and things have to be avoided at all costs.

Nothing good comes with tolerance of toxicity.

I was with the person I love as she recounted her meeting with her suffering friend until she started analyzing his oppressors’ actions and motivations

And then I hit the roof. It was surreal.

And I’m not sorry.

I want nothing to do with the Devil’s thought processes.

Years ago, I tried to maintain working and other relationships with people like my beloved’s ex-employers.

Then I learned to tell them to fuck off and I left.

I love them like I love the angry guy talking on his cellphone three cars behind me in the rearview mirror. I hope he doesn’t get into an accident, but he most likely will — killing himself and other people.

Oh — he turned off.

Good I’m through with him.

Mister Rogers believed that there is good in everyone. I do too, but I don’t think it is always accessible.

A samurai warrior never strikes a foe in anger. He defends himself without anger. He uses evasive tactics without anger. He retreats without anger.

A samurai accepts that people sometimes choose bad, and life in the world requires dealing with it.

But I am glad I got angry with my love last night.

Because even Samurais get pissed off. I don’t care what they say.

I can be calm and enlightened now when I am writing.

But last night’s temper tantrum was a surreal moment. Fueled by fears of backsliding and distraction from my and my love’s proper course.

It was terrifying to see those grotesque people enter our lives when we are just at the moment of liberation from their abuse.

Mr. Rogers and Jesus turned the other cheek.

They loved their enemies.

But they also stood up to their enemies …

and didn’t let their enemies distract them from their holy missions.

Forgive … yes.

Love your enemies … yes

BUT

Sincerity toward disintegrating influences is dangerous.

I want to die for what is important to me

not be destroyed to satisfy the meaningless purpose of an abuser.

Copyright 2019 Richard Thomas

walter-payton-1

11/25/19: Excellent

I was in my early thirties about a year away from a nervous breakdown. I was sleeping on a succession of friends’ couches and eating in soup kitchens or begging from restaurants and bakeries. I was anonymous in New York. There was seemingly an infinite supply of nooks and crannies where I could hide out and avoid life.

There weren’t.

I secretly thought that I was afraid of life. It was a secret that I kept from myself.

I wasn’t afraid. I was on a right path/wrong path. I thought I was pursuing a career as an actor. I wasn’t pursuing any career at all.

A writer has to get lost.

Check that — be lost.

A writer has to naively wade into his soul and the world (same thing)

and let his dark illusions

about them (it)

kick the shit out of him

as the real thing tries in vain

to give him a hug

A writer has to be

lost

For a time …

only a time

until finally he is ready to settle down

and

consciously

write down

what he has been auto-typing in a blindfold

on the streets

and in the air,

in countless rooms

where he thinks he is a stranger,

focusing on imagined difficulties

perplexed

believing he doesn’t have a friend in the world

a starving man

at a free

all-you-can-eat

banquet

a pauper

in an abundant land

unknowingly climbing

the Big Rock Candy Mountain

insanely taking it

for a ring of hell

mistaking real oases

for a repetitious unreliable mirage.

The conscious writing started

many years later.

Everybody has an interesting life — even if most people don’t think that they do.

I’ve been everywhere from Notre Dame to the mental hospital. I have worked with Oscar winners and accomplished lawyers — been a pretty great performer and a pretty great teacher.

Regular writers I repeat how great I am at what I do in many pieces for a reason —

not the obvious one …

If any of this seems immodest or insecure,

come on, I just told you that I was a bum on the streets of New York.

It all makes me happy

being dragged to the emergency room

and my wedding day

collapsing with rage

and performing miracles.

I wasn’t afraid of life when I was avoiding it.

I was born with a bigger and stranger talent than I knew what to do with.

My parents didn’t know what the hell was going on with me. It’s not that I was so different than them, but my vectors were pointed in directions they knew nothing about.

I never had a teacher or mentor

who saw the whole thing

I have to figure it out

That’s the thing about my thing.

Oh yeah — back to the story that I started to tell you …

I got a call from my agent — or rather a message from my answering service which I used to check in with from pay telephones — I didn’t have a permanent residence to maintain a phone and cellular wasn’t invented.

As if I could afford a cell phone if it existed …

Anyway, I get this call. Bill Murray was directing a movie and he wanted me to audition.

I didn’t have a head shot. I had a friend take a Polaroid —

young people, that was a quickie do-it-yourself photo in the olden days—

lousy quality,

developed in twenty-five seconds or something like that.

You yanked the picture out of the phone.

You think the selfies and videos that I use on this blog are of suck-hole quality

You should have seen this Polaroid

It looked like my soul was being stolen

and I was trying to disappear

It was technically a black and white photo

but if you didn’t know better

you would believe that all color had vanished from the world

and I was evaporating

I wish I still had that photo.

I’d give it to a museum

and call it

“The Last Second of Multiplicity/Nothing”.

Of course, it was my friend’s camera.

What else?

I showed up for the audition. The casting director looked at me like I was a little nuts — which I was …

“You should have a headshot.”

An employer for some kind of teaching job in that period said the same thing to me about a checking account.

I was supposed to have that too.

I wasn’t anti-social

I was a-social.

How dare anyone see the world for me?

Tell me what is necessary!

Sigh

An artist has to be a mystic for awhile

Just awhile

Before he consciously starts writing

(refrain) The casting director looked at me like I was a little nuts — which I was …

I also was kind of a saint, you know — actor, writer, lawyer, professor, crazy person —

put saint on my resume —

jobs that I’ve tried …

Yeah, crazy like a saint …

I know what it is like to be intimate with the spirit and detached from the earth …

I floated down the streets of New York as a flame —

I saw eternity

and I couldn’t give you the time of day.

I inhabited all of the earth

and was unaware of my current location.

Bill Murray liked me because I was a recent alumnus of the Second City main stage.

But he also did the movie “The Razor’s Edge.” It was a passion project for him. Maybe he saw some of that character in me.

Anyway, he couldn’t have been more kind.

I didn’t have a Screen Actor’s Guild card.

Hell, I was lucky that I had pants. I

had done another movie a year or two before but didn’t pay my dues. I held onto nothing in those days.

I wasn’t only not materialistic. I was anti-materialist.

I hated stuff — it seemed such a burden. And I didn’t know that I was kind of unusual in this regard. This is the writer’s grace — to know nothing about himself or the world, and to let the inside and the out teach him everything.

It is crazy. It is idiotic.

It is also genius.

A life without bias, perpetually confused, cornered to the existential need of survival —

as we all are, no matter how easily we talk and buy our way out of it …

Oh yeah … Bill Murray talked to me about SAG cards with me for awhile

in a funny kind of protective way ,

and then he cast me in his movie.

He really wanted to help me.

He wanted to connect me to the world.

A week or two later, I was sitting in this big room with Bill Murray and Jason Robards and this great old Broadway actor, Philip Bosco, who did a lot of character parts in movies at that time — and some other big stars — but it was those old hands,

plus Murray’s old soul

that matter here …

They were so — nice, you know. No airs at all — the opposite. I walked for awhile with Philip Bosco after the run-through — that’s why we were there — to read the script. He said he was a working stiff and regarded me as a total equal.

Which of course, is true, you know?

I am the equal of Phil Bosco — or anyone else on the planet.

I think you are my equal

no matter how awkward and bewildered you are

I know you have good qualities

whether I can see them or not.

You’re welcome.

Gifts and trials, challenges and breaks …

genius and imbecility

Actors and jocks — when they are good

they are often humble.

The jock knows he is an injury away from it being all over.

The actor knows he could win an Oscar and not be able to get a part for the next year.

Actors and jocks live at a place where glory and hard luck coexist …

all they have is the present …

the pursued excellence of the moment.

Jason Robards was a good guy it seemed. I’m sure he was just there to keep working. This was a guy who married Lauren Bacall. I think he was a practicing alcoholic when he was young — I don’t know the whole story —

anyway he lived,

really lived

you know what I mean …

most importantly here — he was regarded as the greatest acting interpreter of Eugene O’Neill for his generation …

and his generation was right behind O’Neill’s

he was there first

those massive plays — wide and deep as the ocean

he mastered those masterpieces …

fuck talent —

yes he had prodigious talent — obviously

fuck breaks —

his talent was his break, the rest was inevitable …

Jason Robards didn’t have breaks

he had destiny

think about how much fucking work that man did

to inhabit the soul of Eugene O’Neill?

Excellence

and he was nice.

Nice nice nice nice nice nice nice nice !!!!!!!!!

He was a good guy.

He was nice

TO ME —

the St. Francis of Assisi of Hell’s Kitchen —

nice

to me …

me

a genius trapped in a fuck up …

who was brilliantly fucking up

no one understood

least of all me

but I was on to something

not only inept at the practical things that geniuses charmingly fuck up …

but inept at the genius things that geniuses do …

an exile too stupid to know that I was an exile …

who gained the experience of exile

and the point of view

that I wasn’t born with

but was born to pursue

I did everything right

when I thought I was off-track

Off-track is on-track for me

The flame of discontent

angry at the world

and creating a new one

working on a treaty with world

Equals.

Yes, Jason Robards was nice to me.

I got the idea for this piece while I was watching football on TV with Paula. Well, she wasn’t watching. She indulged me and was doing something on her laptop.

Poor Paula — she patiently listens to me as I drift off into reverie — wandering without a GPS, off route and a laser beam at the same time …

I began remembering Walter Payton. My brother played with him for several years on the Chicago Bears.

I got to know many of my brother’s Bear friends. I did comedy routines for them at camp a couple of times. They liked me.

They were nice to me too.

I count being nice to me as an aspect of excellence, okay.

I mean, look at me. What’s not to like? I don’t have a jealous bone in my body. I get thrilled by excellence — it could be football or acting or journalism — anything really — it would be organic chemistry too if I had a clue as to what that is … I mean I’ve heard of it — that’s about it …

The best of the jocks — the pros, the gold medal types — aren’t the bullying stereotype that some often think of …

The pricks are the pishers — the small fries without the talent or the character to play in the NFL or other big time competitions.

The pishers are envious and mean.

Sometimes someone who is excellent might be an asshole — but they have something wrong with them. I don’t mean being a drunk or something like that. I don’t mean seeming mean at times of stress — which most of them usually do.

Sometimes the real excellent ones don’t know it, so they are as insecure as the wannabes who will never play in the bigs.

I always knew that I was great. I never had that problem. My problem as I stated above was the conundrum — what do you do with such greatness?

I keep working it out.

I think Michael Jordan probably has something wrong with him beneath all the swagger. Clearly excellent in almost every way related to his work— but a prick with rivals, teammates, wives — never does a goddam thing for anybody else — fuck social justice, philanthropy — all about his money — huge talent, but a douchebag — something wrong with him …

selfish …

I mean Jason Robards might have been getting extra cash working on a mediocre Hollywood comedy — but at one time he gave himself to Eugene O’Neill …

sacrificed himself

the demons in those plays

only a war hero could act that shit right

a Medal of Honor winner

when I was in the mental hospital, my psychiatrist was an old Navy doc

the branch of service, not the store

He said I had the make-up of Medal of Honor winners that he treated

I tried so hard

It’s funny

I could be in total disrepair

begging

an outpatient

disheveled

and I always had the respect of good people

they admired me, you know

they saw something

they saw art in the mess of my life

I was like Dr. Richard Kimball,

the Fugitive

I didn’t kill anybody

and I was still a doctor even if I was on the lam.

I was a decency Rohrschach Test

Good people could see me

People who were only socialized

who couldn’t see beyond the expected and required surface

dismissed me

People who hated themselves hated me

and wanted to kill me

in so many words

My father straddled both points of view

He was merciless in his criticism

but would sometimes say with a bit of wonder

“There’s something special about you … ”

I felt like the kid with the banjo in “Deliverance” around him.

Michael Jordan loved playing basketball, but he didn’t love basketball, you know what I mean?

Jordan was a great basketball player

with the soul of a salesman.

I may be missing some meaningful tragedy in Jordan

even so

if that’s true

as great as “Death of a Salesman” is

It’s no “Long Day’s Journey”.

So, anyway … Bill Murray wanted to save me —

those routines that he does where he invites himself to the wedding at the hotel he is staying and parties with everybody and gives them memories for a lifetime …

I know that is real.

Bill Murray once said that If he was considering doing a business deal with someone, he would observe how they treated their server in a restaurant. He said those simple transactions revealed the prospective partner’s character.

Bill Murray has this loving thing for ordinary people.

In me, he was confronted with an ordinary genius — he wanted to help,

you get that by now?

Bill Murray fired me from his movie.

He was dissatisfied with me and Jason Robards. I think Bill Murray was learning something about directing. Jason was too cooked. He was done. The juice was for O’Neill, not Murray.

I was uncooked. I wasn’t even an actor.

Yes, I worked for years at Second City.

But I’m not an actor —

I’m not even part of Second City.

I wandered through there — thinking I was something that I am not,

most everyone else thought so too

but just because you are good at something doesn’t necessarily mean it is what you are.

Being at Second City

and everything else that I have ever done

was doing precisely what I needed to be doing

to be

and to do

what I actually am and do.

To do or not to do

Enough with the questions.

A writer is a wanderer — through his mind and heart and soul and the world …

the art of not knowing what you are doing …

any community has expectations …

a writer has no expectations …

a writer is a surfer …

I’m too big to act in someone else’s play

interpret someone else’s words

follow someone else’s directions

one’s gifts are one’s burdens too

Bill — I’ll talk as if Bill Murray is a friend of mine now, even though I never saw him again after “Quick Change”

but I know Bill treated me as a friend then — he sees millions of friends in the world — that is part of his genius —

a kind of genius too big for me for me to understand …

in this life.

My genius is my voice

I can experience life and talk about it

It is all that I know how to do

Let me finish this story about how Bill Murray was so great to me’

He called in Geena Davis and Randy Quaid

I was supposed to do a scene with the three of them

and they worked with me for two hours to try to help me to do it right

Bill really wanted to give me that part

He was doing a major motion picture

his first time directing

and he wanted to use a piece of his opportunity

to create an opportunity for me.

Isn’t that something?

Wow.

The thing that is worth enthusiasm.

It was a hopeless case

even though I initially showed some talent for the job

of course I did

I am not meant for that job

This is what I do

what you are reading right now

this peripatetic

at times poetic

digressive

writing

this blog

not “Quick Change”

rather, “Constancy in Change”.

Bill Murray redeemed me nonetheless

even though he couldn’t use me in the movie

as much as he wanted to

because he saw that I had some sort of genius (we all do)

and he wanted to help.

Generous, kind Bill Murray

I get hurt pretty easily

but I have a good sense about being hurt

I only get hurt when the person is being stupid or mean

Getting fired by Bill Murray is a warm memory.

I could tell he felt bad

he really did.

I’m sorry for that.

I hope he wasn’t frustrated

that what we thought was the right thing

was an impossible one.

A mensch!

I loved my brief interaction with Bill Murray

but I didn’t belong with him

My place is here.

Oh yeah —

before I forget

Walter Payton …

I didn’t know him

but he was nice to my father

and when my brother was cut from the Bears after ten years, and all of the other players understandably avoided him (they feared the same fate)

Walter Payton

one of the best football players who ever lived

Walter Payton

who usually ran,

but could catch

and pass

and punt

and kick

Walter Payton

who was gifted with immense talent

and worked to develop every drop of it

Walter Payton

who spent most of the off season running up steep hills of sand

who gave his life to the game as Jason Robards gave his to Eugene O’Neill

and Bill Murray gave it to seeing a world filled with friends

Walter Payton

sat down next to my brother before he cleaned out his locker

at the moment after they heard that my brother was cut from the team

and cried with him

sobbed with a sense of love and loss

It’s all so wonderful

it all hurts so good

thrilling sadness

glory and lost glory

genius and confusion

life, death

and the space between us

What do we make of that space?

Everything is exactly the way it is supposed to be

whether we know it or not

and that’s

Excellent.

Copyright 2019 Richard Thomas

Malcolm X

11/30/19: Process of Elimination

I have a friend who occasionally makes insightful comments about my writing. He understands the creative process in general, and he knows how to talk to artists.

I use the word “art” a lot to describe what I do. My friend sent me a comment the other day responding to a ‘segment” of mine that he enjoyed.

See how talented he is in viewing creative work? He didn’t call my entry a “post.” Of course not. He knows this is something different than the usual blog. He didn’t use the word that I often use — “piece” — a word I have been dissatisfied with. He knows that although what I write can be read independently as separate pieces, they are all parts of a whole.

My blog is the piece — a narrative of sorts, certainly not chronological or plot-driven, but a narrative nonetheless, that follows my progress as a person, and the progress of the world from my limited perspective — my limited, human, fallible, certainly not omniscient perspective — my limited, human, fallible, certainly not omniscient, transforming and transformational perspective.

My friend, in his comment responding to that particular segment of mine that he liked very much, provided just about as good a definition of my art and my process as I can currently imagine (he was describing the work of another writer that he thought shared some similarities with me):

“When asked if he wrote for others or wrote for himself, he responded with a quote — “To write for myself would be narcissistic. To write for others would be pandering. — and something like, I write to liberate the ideas inside me that must be born” — and I paraphrase with only vague recall. But it was jolting. Again, it was a beautiful and truthful, authentic segment. Best … “

My friend had previously bemoaned my obscurity. I use social media as a means of self-publishing. Many of my connections on social media are from my distant ill-fitting past life in show business. My friend was troubled by what he considered fewer likes for my work than what he considered inferior work.

The work of others that he perceived as more popular than mine was not only written by show business professionals, it was and is show business itself.

Show business is pandering.

(Repeat) The essence of show business is pandering — finding what “works” with the audience.

I’m not in competition with those entertainers. I do something completely different.

It took me a long time to discern the difference between me and the colleagues that I never meshed with very well anyway.

But I finally made it. I’m an artist. I don’t pander to the audience …

I write to liberate the ideas inside me that must be born.

My process is very painful. I write to burn out pain.

The pain is born in innocence, and sometimes festers with a cancerous ignorance.

My ideas are released from me like fetuses that have come to term

or cancers that must be expelled so that I must survive.

I write with the knowledge that I am not so different from anyone else, that we all have a shared human experience, inflected by our different natures and history, but all variations on a theme.

I have suffered two unexpected losses recently.

My arts are writing (and by extension spoken word, which is really just reading my writing) and teaching.

I haven’t had an income in fifteen months. It has been the most productive time of my life.

I am looking for three things in the work that I do for income, and actually in every other aspect of my life.

One, I can only do my work. I have a specific way of teaching and writing that I have developed.

In higher ed curriculum is formed by committees.

Corporate College (schools have become corporations — education comes in far behind profits and bureaucracy) have managers called deans, who check off boxes which satisfy marketing, finance, future employment training objectives — everything but the students’ human development — I’m not generalizing — I worked for five years at UIC and have interviewed and communicated with dozens of other schools since then — they are all the same. They are all initially very excited to speak with me — but eventually don’t know what to do with me. It’s my fault. I go too far. I actually educate people.

A young woman was killed at UIC. A pretty eighteen year old murdered in a parking structure at 1:30 on a Saturday morning. She was found alone in her car.

One of the courses that I taught was called “Freshman Orientation” . I hated teaching it. It was a kind of insult that they assigned it to me (see insults below). I ignored the bullshit lesson plans they pushed upon me —  for example “proper professional dress” — as if an ad agency has the same culture of dress as a law firm — it all was worthless activity — bean counting for accreditation committees.

Teaching is more a spiritual vocation than an intellectual one. I can only teach what I know how to do — think, feel and write and talk about it.

I used to give this essay assignment to the freshmen — “The Two Fears” — I asked them to write about the fear that they feel when they are facing potential danger, and the fear of failure when they are facing opportunity. I didn’t give them any tips or codes. They wrote, they gave speeches based upon what they wrote, and they talked to each other and to me about what they wrote.

Experience

Observe

Reflect

Apply

I taught my students the process of this blog — how to thoughtfully create a life.

Not narcissistic writing for oneself — the students taught each other. Each student had different gifts and insights.

I think that girl who was murdered might be still alive if she had taken my class.

We talked about their lives in my class, and their lives were often dangerous and surrounded by violence. A naive girl would have heard a little about the perils of parking structures at 1:30 am.

There is precious little of what I teach at UIC or any other school I’ve engaged with.

A school should have many learning objectives. I taught courses a little more substantive than Freshman Orientation. A school should socialize and impart complex skills and knowledge to students — but in all of its tasks it should be concerned with human development.

I wasn’t the only good teacher at UIC. But there were just a few of us — and we got, or will get, drummed out eventually.

Students aren’t the only people who need to concentrate on human development. Everyone does. So I met with this very nice guy who teaches “soft skills” to corporations, law schools, and law firms.

I had done a little of this type work — a bare beginning — before I worked at UIC. My generous friend gave me a lot of practical advice about how to start a little practice doing this type work.

I got a little bit of entrepreneurial training. I talked to a lot of firms and businesses.

Again, there was a lot of initial enthusiasm for what I had to offer. I’m well-credentialed and a good writer.

But I lost enthusiasm for these people. They never — I am not generalizing, I spent months talking to these people — they literally are all the same. They combine a belief that they know a lot more about creativity than they do (the truly creative person reveres artistic process as a mystery — have you ever wondered why so many books, movies, songs and paintings etc. are about people struggling — about people learning something or changing. These people are too smug to learn what art can teach them. A few are very artistic — but they are outliers and usually not long for their professions or stuck for years of unhappiness within them) with an unwillingness to put in the time and effort to make any progress at all.

The last “marketing call” I made to one of these professionals was a coffee meeting with the Chief Operating Officer of a major law firm with offices all over the country. He had the words “artist” and “innovator” written all over his LinkedIn page. He cried in my presence about the passing of his father who died twenty years earlier — this guy was pushing fifty, but he carried himself like a high school sophomore with gray hair — and he informed me that “art” work could be done for his partners an hour or two or three a month. They were too busy with their billable hours to work on human development. Maybe that was the reason he didn’t get around to processing his grief related to his father’s death, and could speak with any adult perspective about his Dad, but sounded like a sentimental fifties sitcom — his father always knew best.

Usually, I am empathetic — I’m glad people feel comfortable crying in front of me — but this guy left me cold.

Materialism and sentimentality are not my things.

(Refrain) One, I can only do my work. I have a specific way of teaching and writing that I have developed.

So Corporate College and business and the professions are out.

Two, I have to be respected and well-treated.

I’ve told myself and I’ve been told that I am too sensitive. I’ve been told that envy is just a part of competition, that condescension and meanness comes from the bosses on any job. You have to take some guff and eat a little shit to make a living.

But I hate the disrespect so much — I think more than most everyone does. I can’t abide it. I’ve had a suspicion which has now grown into a belief, that I hate the bullying for more than personal reasons. It’s wrong. It’s not true.

All men and women are created equal. All men and women can’t flourish without an inner sense of equality.

Once they have that they want the outer sense of equality too.

I don’t do my best work when I am being ridiculed and hassled.

Plus and ultimately, it’s my right to be respected — as a human

and specifically as an artist. I have demonstrably good work.

Disrespect is an expression of a variety of base things — arrogance, ignorance, jealousy, insecurity, malice, misguided and misdirected love, fear and the need to control …

Whatever the source of disrespect, I’m just sick of disrespectful people. I’m 64 years old and I’m quite cranky regarding this point.

There are limits, grave ones, to my compassion. I want to be happy. I can’t suffer these fools anymore.

(Refrain) Two, I have to be respected and well-treated.

Three, no more stupid punishments.

I’ve been punished too often for doing the right thing. I’ve been punished for being smarter and more effective than other people. I have to work with people who have the same level of character, talent and intelligence that I do. This is a tough requirement to meet because I’m likely in a high percentile in those categories.

But those people are out there. I know it. I know some. I need to engage people of the same caliber.

(Refrain) Three, no more stupid punishments.

(Refrain) I have suffered two unexpected losses recently.

Oh yes — the losses. Two friends that I dearly loved — one in show business, one in higher ed.

The higher ed person tells me that fifteen months is a long time not to work. (I’ve never worked harder. I just don’t have an income.

She says that I am too much of a maverick — I should just get a job and do what is assigned by the curriculum committee.

She says that I get too angry when I am disrespected and insulted.

She foolishly thinks I could conform to her prescriptions for success.

She believes that I am unrealistic and can never find what I want.

I have no idea how to “find” what I want, I suspect that I just have to be open to it and I’ll see it at the appropriate time.

She lives in a self-imposed prison — worrying about money when she is comparatively well-off, addicted to the praise of people who exploit her like a piece of office equipment, ignorant of the possibilities beyond her tiny world.

I really loved her, but destiny is more powerful than individual love. My love would turn rancid if I incarcerated myself in her air-conditioned nightmare.

The other friend is in show business.

He liked my funny writing.

He says I am unsuccessful.

He encourages me to get over instead of get to the truth.

I am not of the same occupation as my friend, and haven’t been for decades. I learned some craft as an entertainer and use it now as I do something else — art.

He can’t be friends with someone not of his occupation. It’s such a shame.

I think he has something more fine within him, and my pursuit of a similar thing threatens him.

Each of these friends unsuccessfully tried to convert me to their point of view. When they knew that they failed, they iced me.

They tried to pressure me to abandon, and violated,  my three goals:

(Refrain) One, I can only do my work. I have a specific way of teaching and writing that I have developed.

(Refrain) Two, I have to be respected and well-treated.

(Refrain) Three, no more stupid punishments.

(Refrain) I have suffered two unexpected losses recently.

I innocently didn’t expect the creative process, making art, to lead to personal losses of the type that I described, but here we are — it did.

I know from experience (this isn’t Pollyanna time) that every time the world splits in two,

it subsequently gets bigger.

Copyright 2019 Richard Thomas

1-jack-lemmon-in-the-apartment-1960--album

12/2/19: Jack Lemmon, Adam Schiff and the American Character (I’m an American)

I have a free moment. I don’t know if it is a temporary respite, or a permanent state.

I don’t care what anyone thinks of me.

I understand my past,

all transgressions against me are forgiven,

all of my life choices bringing me to this moment are clear.

I suffer no confusion.

I harbor no regrets.

I am as sensitive as I was on Thanksgiving Day,

but I no longer suffer

from the memory

of long gone

slights

and injustices.

I have let it go.

I’m not conflicted in any way.

I accept myself,

and the world,

life

and other people

as they are.

I have no illusions.

My mind is well ordered —

everything and everyone is in their proper place.

Ogres have turned into the topography of life.

They are no longer adversaries,

they are just mountains,

deserts

and raging rivers

that I have traversed

or avoided.

Ogres have a beauty this evening,

as all natural things do.

I don’t fear them,

or hate them

or need them.

Pain seems to be history

and the future a mystery

as I sail on a lovely calm moonlit evening towards an inviting horizon,

secure that the world is round.

Thanksgiving Day was a day of furor and frustration that I spent alone

in order to protect myself from imagined insult,

and to not spoil anyone’s dinner.

I don’t know why I was so upset.

My mind was a roulette wheel —

no check that — a juke box

blaring a medley of bad thematically related memories of

different times,

people,

places and things.

I roared with pain, employing mostly silent screams

as I simultaneously enjoyed a movie,

and a drive up Chicago’s north lakeshore

and a very good roast beef sandwich.

What an odd state I was in —

blissful serene pleasure listened to frustration persistently knocking on my door.

I was a very happy baby and I still am.

Conflict is a figment of my imagination.

My conflict is all nurture and no nature.

I can watch myself feel badly. It kind of interests me.

I always get upset when I am undergoing a change.

Each transformation is accompanied by an anger or frustration related to my sense of loss,

even when the out with the old and in with the new

is an improvement,

and in my case it always is.

I’m an American.

Freed from any reflection on myself,

my mind turns to …

myself

I am

America …

what other place could I be?

My immigrant parents chose this place for me.

I’ve never chosen another

and would not do so

if I had the chance.

Jack Lemmon

was such an American actor

he played

in comedies and dramas

losers struggling to succeed

conflicted

pulled by the anti-morality of the rat race

and the biological reality of the conscience

of the human race

America nobly claims to be the best hope for all humanity

with comic bravado

and tragic consequences

ordinary Joes and Josephines

willing ourselves to magnificent triumphs

and colossal disasters

the cake and eat it too country

believing we can have the rainbow

and the pot of gold.

Lemmon, that American actor

as

Ensign Pulver hiding from the authoritarian power of a petty man

finally inspired by the martyrdom of a good man

to stand up to that false power,

Jack Lemmon as

An alcoholic deciding he’s had enough

and finding

finally

the integrity to lose his equally alcoholic wife

in order to gain sanity and sobriety,

Jack Lemmon as

a man reeling from divorce

saving himself with the help of a sloppy friend

and saving the friend in the process,

Jack Lemmon as

a real estate salesman desperate for a good lead

pathetic in his inept attempts to lie to get it

begging for mercy

from an unconcerned and heartless world

personified by an angry capitalist avenger —

the manager of a sales office,

Jack Lemmon as

an entrepreneur

who like most Lemmon characters was far from pure

(who like all Americans are far from pure

our Bibles and our flags

give us false confidence …

“the greatest country in the world”

is an aspiration

never an actuality

a contest of free will

a cartoon angel on our shoulder

while a demon seduces and bullies us

modulating his volume

in our other ear)

(Repeat) Jack Lemmon as an entrepreneur,

who energetically created something of value

cutting corners along the way

but also loving what he was doing

collapsing into despair

and resorting to arson

burning down all that he built

believing that he and America died,

such hope in that bleak movie —

Save the Tiger

The director, John G. Avildsen, also did Rocky

which was about redemption

and was much more popular

but real redemption is found in our despair

not in our resolve to self-improvement

not in moral victories with Apollo Creed

but in our defeats

in the death of our illusions

not the conquering of that we couldn’t grasp before

but the embrace of something new —

a new perspective

we must die to the world and come to birth from within —

America, the most materialistic place on earth

and the most spiritual.

To be an American is to face the existential question

“What matters?”

Every day.

Jack Lemmon as

a Mid-western businessman

looking for his missing son

in a South American dictatorship

and allowing his love for that son

make him renounce his previous naive belief

in American goodness and innocence.

Jack Lemmon was the bard of the dark side of the American Dream,

a poet of the unhappiness that accompanies

the pursuit of happiness.

My current favorite of Lemmon’s characterizations

is in Billy Wilder’s 1960 film

“The Apartment”

which I watched again on the Saturday night

after my Thanksgiving furies.

A very junior man

in a large insurance

corporation

lends out the key to his apartment

to senior executives

in an absent-minded strategy to get ahead.

Again, Lemmon is far from pure,

but he doesn’t play the role as a cynical climber.

He plays a nice guy

really too nice to compete up the corporate ladder

a weak man

who by nature will accommodate other people

whether he believes what they are doing is right or not.

He

finally

choose love over success

he loses the job

and gets the girl

who was fighting the same battle.

It is to America’s credit

that Jack Lemmon was so popular.

Most people would choose love over winning

eight days a week

and most people go through similar struggles.

There are unrepentant winners

who are unmoved

unmoved

Winner and user are synonyms in America.

Users are unmoved

by the suffering of their victims

Users (winners) are the walking dead

Ill-equipped to give life meaning

cold-blooded

bored

having as little regard for themselves as they do for other people

distracted by their scorecards …

tallying their scorecards

in a region of hell

that they call

“success”.

Jack Lemmon’s performances were so often

moving

the best performances weren’t sentimental

in his best performances he was far from a hero

he was nothing maudlin like a hero

he was that much more interesting persona

a human being.

Jack Lemmon loved golf

and he lost every time.

Maybe happiness isn’t something to pursue

happiness,

rather,

might just be something to follow.

I am glad the Libertarian Cubs finally won a World Series a couple of years ago

but the lovable losers

were the superior work of art —

when fat unemployed men

watched all of the losses

in sagging lawn chairs

on yet-to-be-monetized roof tops.

Which brings us to Adam Schiff

who

precisely

artfully

and manfully

built an elegant

airtight case

to impeach a pretender President

who most likely will never be convicted

by a corrupt Senate,

America seems less important to the Senatorial winners

than the tallies on their American scorecards

and yet

and yet

Schiff stood up

for right not might

for truth not lies

for reason

not emotional manipulation

undistracted by catcalls and attacks

simply doing his duty.

We all have to get over ourselves

as Jack Lemmon’s characters have done time and time and again

and stand up for what we know is right

what we were born knowing is right

what we love

as Lemmon usually did by the final scene

and Schiff did when circumstances asked him to do so.

A friend said that I was both lucky and unlucky to be so introspective.

We should all be so lucky and unlucky.

It is called being alive

and being an American.

Our country is about being good and righteous

and making a million 1960 dollars,

it’s a contradiction and we have to choose

every day

Choose.

Introspection?

I die to the world and come to birth from within.

The answers aren’t in the world.

The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars / But in ourselves, that we are underlings.

Original sin and free will make so much sense tonight.

You may not so cynically say

“Lemmon got fame and money

Schiff got power.

How can you be so sure that they are so damn special?”

Well,

Not even Ivory Soap is 100% pure

I have no idea what kind of fathers, husbands, friends

Lemmon was

and Schiff is

but I know on the professional occasions

that I cite here

they did the right thing.

The true word must be said

at the precise moment that it must be said

The true deed must be done

at the precise moment that it must be done

these things are what we are called to do.

Lemmon and Schiff have excellent American

timing.

The American dream has haunted me

and love is my birthright.

Copyright 2019 Richard Thomas

collins karlan

This segment was not born out of pain. I usually am annoyed or angry or sad or distraught or irritated or disturbed or some other emotion which is often mischaracterized as “negative” or “dark” when I begin writing, and usually feel happy and satisfied when I finish. I felt happy all the way through on this one. I enjoy all of it — the dark and the white meat.

12/5/19: The Great and the Ignorant (I am Great.)

Forget talent. Forget intelligence.

Character is the most important thing.

Ignorance is a matter of character, not I.Q.

Unintelligent people can be great.

Talentless people can be great.

Anyone can be great.

And anyone can be ignorant.

The ranking member of the House Judiciary, Committee,

a Republican from North Georgia (his name escapes me and I am not going to bother to look it up because I don’t give a shit)

said in his opening statement

at the impeachment inquiry hearing yesterday

that the law professor witnesses who sat before him offered nothing to aid in the determination

of whether Trump (I’d like to forget his name but no one can)

should be impeached.

He said that there was no way that the professors had a chance to familiarize themselves

with the voluminous (he didn’t use that word — he can’t be bothered with high falutin’ things like vocabulary)

with the voluminous record of the impeachment inquiry

The ignorant bum said

they couldn’t possibly master the facts of the case.

This pissed off a lady law professor no end (I’m not going to use her name either. I think she is great, but she’s not a hero of mine. I don’t have heroes. I don’t look up to people. I’m great too. I chose to be great a long time ago. I’m not impressed that she is a professor at Stanford or that she is testifying before Congress. I identify with her greatness. I like her because she is like me.)

Greatness is a choice.

The pissed off lady law professor said that she was insulted by what the ranking member said. She read all of the reports. She read all of the transcripts. She said she wouldn’t speak about a matter until she had thoroughly learned all that she could know about it.

The Republican from North Georgia is (as previously mentioned) a bum. He has never worked a day in his life. Work is not running for office or marketing or making connections or building a career.

Work is passion and exertion. You care enough about something to become great at it.

Those last two sentences are news to the North Georgia bum.

He’s too busy being jealous and feeling victimized because he never got a chance to go to Stanford Law School. So he bullshitted and bullied his way to a powerful position on the House Judiciary Committee and never bothered to learn a fucking thing about the law.

None of this is about Stanford or North Georgia.

All of this talk about cultural differences, red and blue is a lot of hooey.

All of this envy and resentment is a dodge to get out of work.

The North Georgia bum is qualified to do nothing more taxing than being a heckler in a comedy club.

The bum said another notably ignorant thing. (I’ll restrict myself to what I remember of his comments — everything out of his mouth was mean and stupid — and he was the most impressive Republican on the committee — their leader.)

The bum said that no one can say what the Founding Fathers were thinking at the time of the writing of the Constitution.

That’s a large part of what Constitutional law scholars do.

It’s often not even that hard.

The founders wrote about every decision that they made. They wrote a lot. Letters. Journals. Essays.

The bum never heard of The Federalist Papers, obviously.

He didn’t know that records were kept of discussions at the Constitutional Convention.

We know a lot about what the Founding Fathers were thinking.

A fucking lot.

The Founders were writers, talkers and thinkers.

They didn’t wing it.

They knew the difference between hashing something out

arguing, brainstorming

and working to the completion of a finished product.

The Founders were great.

They knew how to work.

They were creating something big

and creating something big requires

(repeat) passion and exertion

work

Work!

They weren’t like the North Georgia bum who specializes in coming up with what ever bullshit that he can ad lib in the moment that he thinks can help him maintain the upper hand.

(Repeat) Ignorance is not a matter of talent or intelligence. It is a matter of character.

The ignorant can’t deny one thing that they fully understand

something they were born knowing

the ignorant know what greatness is.

We know what greatness is the moment we leave the womb

A large part of American history

and my life story

has been a frustrating argument

what is right versus ignorant bullshit

The great have complicity with ignorance

when we compromise with it,

which we have done far too often.

The founders wrote a constitution that originally said that a black person

was three fifths of a person.

They knew that was ignorant bum bullshit.

But they thought they had to compromise to get things started.

That compromise caused the continuation of slavery, the Civil War, and the American apartheid that followed in some ways until today after that war ended.

I went as far as I could go with the improvisation community, the law, writing communities and higher ed until I got too hip for every room and finally became a mature artist. Each place that I went was a developmental phase — and became a restricting limitation.

I am better than every group that I have ever been a part of

and I stand seemingly alone

but sure in my knowledge

that I have entered the world community of the great.

I was reborn years ago.

Now I excitedly leave home.

Anxiety has become anticipation

I am now a great writer and teacher

I have a trickle of great readers

but larger world await me

not showy places

but sustaining ones

I am congruent with the will of God

I’ve sorted mediocrity away from greatness

the die is beautifully cast

The Republicans on the Judiciary Committee said more when they sat silently —

than they said when they opened their mouths.

If I were a painter

I’d paint a mural of the Republican side of the Judiciary Committee dais.

Each face would represent

jealousy

insecurity

sheepishness (like kids who didn’t do their homework at the moment the teacher collects it)

and shame.

The ignorant know that they have sold out their lives.

They know that they are hurting other people.

They know that they are fucking everything up.

But they are cowards.

They give up

and they form little cliques

celebrating one another without justification

and demeaning and ostracizing

anyone who is great.

The ignorant hate the great

because the ignorant fear the great.

The great make the ignorant feel bad

by dint of the great’s very existence.

And it has nothing to do with Stanford or North Georgia.

There once was this woman in Chicago who was mentally challenged in the days before there was little sensitivity or awareness for people with such challenges. Her family was connected politically to the old Richard J. Daley machine.

The machine got the woman a job stapling papers together in a bank. It was a made up job tailored to her limitations.

She was great at that job. She inspired everyone around her — not in that sentimental patronizing way that people with mental or physical difficulties often are prey to —

she was a shining example.

The bank got more than its money’s worth from that great woman’s salary.

(Repeat) Everyone can be great. It’s a choice.

A part of my mind has a child-like view of God.

My child-like view of God sees almost everything.

But He (not ‘or She’ — we didn’t talk that way when I was a child)

doesn’t see money or education

he doesn’t see the difference between big national stages where everyone is watching

and quiet rooms where only one, two or a few people would know what was going on

all he sees is the ignorant and the great.

When I was a kid I had an old Italian aunt

My mother’s aunt

She spoke very little English

she made great homemade pasta

wonderful sauce

a modest home

on a busy street

so comfortable

great big over-stuffed chairs

giant dining room table

the dining room was the place she spent her money on

a great place

for her great family

so warm

so loving

My aunt was one of the greatest people that I have ever met

Her house was as beautiful as the Art Institute

Her pasta was as breathtaking

as A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. 

At every place that I have ever worked (as I mentioned earlier)

I’ve experienced greatness and dealt with ignorance.

I’ve had passion and I’ve done the work

I’m great

and I’ve had to deal with ignorant bums.

I’m done with the bums.

There has been too much tolerance of ignorant bums

in my life

and in America.

The ignorant bums have had much too much fucking say about everything

always insulting

always causing problems

always trying to stop greatness in its tracks

and then pleading for sentimental understanding

The lady law professor from Stanford is fed up with ignorant bums.

She told them off.

I’m through with phase one

the bums are expelled from my psychology.

America has to do that too.

This won’t be over when Trump leaves office.

The cowards are taking too much from us.

Phase two is ignoring the bums.

You might say, “Well Rick you are writing about them — you are hardly ignoring them.”

But it’s different

they don’t upset me

I’m doing what I do …

which is phase three

unfettered creation in spite of the bums

the bums disappear

we have to create an America

and we have to create our own lives

without them

They aren’t Americans

there is no “working with them”

in Congress or for one’s livelihood

They don’t know how to work.

They can’t be friends or social connections

They are incapable of friendship or connection.

(Repeat) If I were a painter

I’d paint a mural of the Republican side of the Judiciary Committee dais.

Each face would represent

jealousy

insecurity

sheepishness (like kids who didn’t do their homework at the moment the teacher collects it)

and shame.

“Make America Great Again” is ironically a slogan used by ignorant bums

(Ignorant bums aren’t only Republican —- many pose as being quite liberal

One needs a sophisticated ignorant bum detector

to identify ignorant bum radiation

I’ve known ignorant bum

improvisors

lawyers

academics

writers

neighbors

false friends

family members who betray the family ( I could give personal examples but I’d rather not — Here’s a public one — Dr. Blasey-Ford’s father told his country club buddy, Brett Kavanaugh’s father that he was glad “Brett got on the Court.” What kind of fucking father does that in those circumstances?)

Anywhere where envious cowards amass in a clique and attack great people

is the region of ignorant bums.

Enemies of progress

justice

excellence

and joy

clinging to their pathetic status

in a pecking order of mediocrity.

America is great

America is too good for them.

I’m great

I’m too good for them

WAAAAAAY too good for them

I’m better than ignorant bums

better person

better improvisor

better lawyer

better teacher

better writer

better at friendship

better at familial love

better citizen

BETTER BETTER BETTER

It’s an incredibly low bar.

The zeitgeist is shifting

people have enough of these fools

The biggest thing that I have done personally in the last fifteen months

is process this phenomena

I have been fated to wander through many communities

and the ignorant bum situation is everywhere that I’ve gone

but now I am possessed of blind faith

I know —

with no evidence whatsoever

but rather with a kind of spiritual certainty

that dealing with ignorant bums is not a fact of life

they don’t have to be around where I work

or engage with people in any other way.

They can live and work somewhere else.

I wish them no harm

I would never do anything to hurt them

I am just so fucking sick of them.

I want them out of my life.

I am not competing with them.

They can have whatever shitty mediocre fiefdom they carve out.

If they come after me because my greatness makes me feel bad

I’ll defend myself or walk away

whatever makes sense at the time.

It’s not that I can’t stand them

I can’t stand being around them

I just want to live in a free country

be great at my work

be treated with respect and dignity

and love my friends and family

and accept their love.

It’s not too much to ask.

The ignorant have to get their shit together

before they are worthy of having anything to do with America

or me.

Copyright 2019 Richard Thomas

maisel

12/7/19: The Unfairly Maligned Mrs. Maisel

I binged Maisel yesterday. Later, I read a couple of predictable online reviews. They said or implied that the show was dangerous escapist nostalgia, glossing over a difficult time, giving a sentimental and comforting treatment to good old days that never were.

Fashion is created to be glorified and destroyed. Last year’s perfection is this year’s dreck. Star actors and writers are made to be objects of adoration who turn into fakers and frauds in the second act. Fashion critics erect marble statues of idolatry, and mold feet of clay to attach to the idols on cue.

I don’t do criticism. I do art and I look for it anywhere and everywhere. “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” is art achieved with a seemingly blank checkbook.

A true voice can be heard on a blog or with the reach of Amazon Prime. The material dimensions don’t matter to me. The art is the thing. The voice is the thing.

I don’t know what show the fashion critics were watching.

The fashion critics say that the show is about 1960, the year rendered in Season 3. They are wrong. The show is set in a fairy tale version of 1960, but that era is not what the show is about.

The show is about, in no particular order:

racism

feminism

the Hollywood blacklist

friendship

dilettantism masquerading as left-wing politics

courage and cowardice

homophobia

the struggle between art and commerce

the tension between romance and realism

familial love

older people pursuing dormant and suppressed passions

free speech and martyrdom related to free speech

drug addiction (look very closely it’s there)

sin and redemption

and much more …

“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” is an epic video novel told with an idiosyncratic and energetic voice. It is a joyous and passionate work celebrating music and colors and actors and words that the creators love.

The fashion critics only see the surface — the costumes and the art direction of the piece and accuse the creators of the critics own superficiality.

The show is done with such skill that the shallow eye smugly says that it is just showing off.

The creators create a world — not the real world — a representation of their own perceptions

a world that celebrates what they love in the natural earth

and chastises the lies that betray what is natural.

The plucky characters of Maisel instruct and inspire the audience. They roll with the punches of exploitation and mendacity thrown at them by inferior beings, never letting the obstacles deter them from loving who and what they love.

The characters inner lives are expressed in quick brush strokes of witty one liners, and in huge set pieces in vast high ceilinged rooms or wide open spaces under cloudless and limitless skies populated by active scores of extras seen by a bold and sensitive camera capturing scope and nuance at the same time.

Maisel is not realistic, it is true. It takes the mixed bag of the world and gives it meaning.

The show says that we are responsible for own lives, and that we can do anything if we have courage within the limitations of life and death, and our natural endowments; and if we can humbly learn from what the impulses of our hearts, and the world’s responses to the impulses of our hearts can teach us.

It is only right that Midge and her family and friends deal with dumb criticisms from lesser hearts and minds in the trivial press. It gives them something else to process and transcend.

Buster Keaton’s films involved his navigating a series of obstacles and so did his life. He was the toast of Hollywood, and a jobber hanging on for dear life — doing commercials and getting favors from Charlie Chaplin.

“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’s” creators are having a moment in the sun. They have reached a zenith, and smaller people want to bring them down to size. If they stay true to the truth that they express in this wonderful show, this work of art, all that is small won’t matter.

Art serves life, and life can be great as our bold acceptance of it can make it — whether we are up or down — all the rage — or the innocent objects of the rage of the fearful.

Art uses whatever material is available. The spirit can express itself through the medium of millions of dollars, or through a stick figure drawing under a refrigerator magnet.

“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” is what art looks like when the artists have all the material in the world at their disposal.

Copyright 2019 Richard Thomas

gahan wilson playboy

12/9/17: The Right People

I am a writer and a teacher, and without plan or foresight, much of my recent writing has involved a deconstruction of my past, particularly my past related to my work and working. That recent writing is largely a story of development and elimination — my commitment and allegiance to my own voice. Each job and situation that I have been engaged with, and there are many of them, provided with me an opportunity to gain experience and skills to share my personal voice with greater clarity, and also and ultimately became confining and inappropriate venues for me to share my arts without compromise betraying my personal character and values, my intelligence, my personality, and my authenticity.

I became too hip, or too principled, or both, for every room that I was in. The story is told in great detail on this blog at http://www.richardsteventhomas.wordpress.com. I am not going to repeat it here. I couldn’t repeat it here.

Sometimes I told the story as personal quasi-memoir, sometimes I wrote about everyday passions and incidences in the world around me, but I was always writing about my personal experience. What else can I write about? Writing of this type or related types is always personal. One’s experience and perceptions are all that a writer has to work with.

My story is unique in its specificity, and quite common in its general themes. I write at the intersection of myself and the world. I know that the inner and the outer reflect each other, and change each other in the very act of their mutual contemplation of each other.

There is no such thing as “teaching”. Education happens between people. Education is a conversation between people, an endless sharing of insights and questions. A good teacher talks a lot, and so do good students.

My approach to teaching is introduced to the uninitiated and partially described at http://www.richardthomasjd.com

It is sinful to take life at face value. Without education and art, life’s potential is ignored. Life must be contemplated to understand it, or more precisely comprehend the nature of its mysteries.

Education and art, in my case writing, are not ivory tower escapes from living. They are ways of living with awareness and purpose.

Education and art are not separate from life at all. They are life.

Today’s blog segment seems, at first blush, to be a departure from my recent writing, and a transformation based on that writing. I didn’t look at my past to celebrate it. I didn’t write out of self-justification. I wrote for the future — to liberate myself from anything false that would hold me back, and to make firm all that was worthwhile that would sustain me going forward.

But perhaps all education and writing is repetitious. Pope John Paul II said that his writing was always plumbing the depths of questions that he previously considered.

Today, I consider the life question that we all face — where to find the right people to associate with — specifically in the world of work. I found the right wife, and I have found right friends, and of course I am open to finding more right friends. Family, of course, is not a matter of choice. Today’s segment is not about where I or you are from. Today’s segment concerns where we choose to go. We can form surrogate families, but we can’t transcend biology. Whether our biological families are boons to our overall happiness, or wounding forces that we must attend to in order to function as a whole person and heal (or at least adapt to whatever permanent challenges that they left us with), or the common combination of all of the above, our biological families are aspects of our destiny. We can make choices in how we relate, or not relate to our families, but we can’t honestly decide that they don’t exist. We can leave jobs behind without a trace.

We paradoxically are called to discover meaning for the world. We are the world’s mind, it has no meaning except that we assign to it. Those meanings must accept the world’s natural laws, and factor the existence of those laws into our decisions. To not do so would be ignorant, dishonest or insane.

True creativity does not deny reality. True creativity sees reality and gives it meaning. This is the relation between education and art. Education explores the world and dispels our ignorance regarding what is knowable about the world, and awakens our awe in the face of what we don’t know about the nature of the world, our curiosity about the world, and our reverence for the world’s mysteries.

Experience is the medium of all education. We learn about life by living it. Art, in my personal case, writing, is the way to give meaning to what we learned from our education, our experience. A self-determined life is the execution of decisions that we make to live with the meaning that we discover in our art.

To live a life of nihilism, devoid of meaning, is to not live at all. Zombies and body snatchers are fanciful creatures that exist only in the imagination that communicate an accurate perception of an aspect of human reality. There is a “walking dead” that conforms to what others tell them is real, unthinking, ignorant and contemptuous of education and art.

The walking dead have no interest in the truth. They have no interest in developing meaningful lives.

The walking dead are not only existentially suicidal. They are also existentially homicidal. Unconcerned with the nature of life, and uninterested in experiencing it as a thing of value, they destroy life with impunity. They pursue sensation, because they have denied the higher aspects of humanity.

The walking dead are often called “animals” but this is unfair to animals. Animals are governed by instinct. They generally don’t learn and create based upon their experience. They respond to experience in a way programmed by nature.

Man is born the most helpless animal,

and man is the animal gifted with the most freedom and potential.

The walking dead ignore the mind, the heart and the soul — the three collective aspects of the conscience.

The walking dead simply follow their urges —

lust, power, greed, violence, sentimentality —

raping, pillaging, murdering and deluding themselves with phony sentiment

concocting phony rationalizations of their betrayal of humanity

to alleviate the boredom of their emptiness.

Without education and art, life only has a rejected potential of humanity.

Without education and art, life is, quite literally, murder-suicide.

So ends my prologue to the question that animates this segment, who do I associate with now, in my work — my writing and teaching — at this stage of my development? With whom will I have the space to continue to grow, and where will I have the freedom to change as my values refine themselves again and again? Where can I expand my knowledge while engaging with others who want to expand theirs, and where can I penetrate more deeply into the mystery of my personal meaning which mirrors the meaning of all mankind?

To live fully is to serve one’s needs, feasting guests and the human spirit

and what serves most fully is the sharing of one’s highest potential.

With who and where can I share my highest potential?

I’m not a fan of Hugh Hefner, Playboy magazine, or Gahan Wilson. I don’t have anything against them either. I have no strong feelings or thoughts about them. They simply aren’t in my scope of interest. We are born to be interested in some things or persons and not others. These proclivities help shape our destinies.

What interests us in life is like a river. Much more exists beyond the river’s banks.

A model of an atom resembles a model of the solar system.

The essence of the universal exists in the microcosm of the individual.

Art, the art of my writing in particular, attempts to exist at the congruence of the universal and the individual. We communicate our experience and our processed perceptions of it, and we connect with very different individuals in the resonance of our commonality.

True communication is the resonance that connects us to the All,

our tiny finite lives participate in All that is and ever was through true communication.

Life is a conversation between two equals

the individual and the world.

Atonement is the unity of the individual and the world.

I saw a clip of Hugh Hefner discussing how he came to work with the cartoonist, Gahan Wilson.

Hefner had just started Playboy magazine. He had no idea what it might evolve into.

Hefner thought that he would like to have a group of single panel cartoonists contribute regularly to each issue. He admired the concept that he had seen in The New Yorker and other publications.

Gahan Wilson was working as a free lance cartoonist for several magazines at the time. Hefner admired Wilson’s work.

Hefner knew that Wilson’s work would evolve in unknown directions, just as Playboy would.

Hefner commented parenthetically that he “didn’t think Wilson would have survived if he didn’t find a place at Playboy.”

Hefner knew that Wilson had to eat, and he knew that art had to be nurtured. He didn’t support Wilson as a favor. He didn’t want credit for Wilson’s peculiar genius. Hefner was practicing his own art of curating what he thought was worthwhile.

Hefner was serving his readers, serving the material and creative needs of Gahan Wilson and himself.

I need schools and publishers and spoken word venues that resemble Hugh Hefner in at least this one regard,

Hefner,

a man who understood reality and its attendant necessities,

developed a sense of personal mission and meaning through his own art,

and applied it to the benefit of other artists and audiences.

Hefner and Wilson had a dignified relationship, one free of exploitation.

They honored one another working to serve shared values in their very different roles and ways.

Hefner and Wilson worked together with generosity,

generosity with one another,

and to the broader world.

Since it is my nature, I’ll end this segment with the story of another video clip which engendered a more negative response from me.

It was a more contemporary clip than the Hefner interview (which spoke of events in the 1950s) —

the more contemporary clip was probably from the early 2000s. It also involved single panel cartooning.

An editor at the New Yorker was meeting with an artist who had submitted a portfolio. The editor asked the man if he had been published. The man said that he “self-published.” The editor said dismissively, “so you haven’t been published.”

It was as if the man and his work did not exist.

Robert Altman’s film “Vincent and Theo” is about the relationship between the great painter Van Gogh and his brother Theo. Theo supported Van Gogh financially for much of his life.

Van Gogh is, of course, the prototype of the starving artist, and is often portrayed as being driven mad by the combined forces of the neglect of the world and his courageous refusal to abandon his revolutionary artistic vision.

The movie was more complex than that stereotype, but the screenplay explored Van Gogh’s isolation, poverty, financial dependency, applied genius to prolific creative work, and mental anguish.

The entire film is a fictionalized interpretation of  Van Gogh’s life until it’s brief final documentary scene.

The scene is actual footage of a Van Gogh painting being sold for $6 million dollars at an art auction.

Van Gogh was told by his contemporary world that his work had no practical value.

The world revised its opinion after Van Gogh’s death.

Van Gogh’s art has value far greater than $6 million —

value beyond material assessment.

But Van Gogh also had to eat. He died from not finding the right people.

Contrary to common belief, the world improves in many regards.

Humanity gets smarter and teaches the world.

Fatalism is wrong.

Existence is a two-way street.

Hugh Hefner showed the right people how it’s done.

Please emulate Hugh Hefner, right people.

The map has been charted. Call the auto club.

You have a responsibility to me, yourselves and the people we both are meant to serve.

Step up, right people.

The value of my work is self-evident.

I may not be within the scope of your interest, but if I am, you have a duty to seek me out and work with me, right people.

Van Gogh “self-published.” The only question the right people will have about my work is whether it is good or not …

whether it will serve our common values?

It’s good.

It does.

It is up to you to find me.

If I have to sell myself to you, you’re not the right people.

Around the same time the New Yorker editor demeaned the self-published unknown cartoonist, Tina Brown took over the magazine.

Brown changed the New Yorker’s policy toward its cover art. She wanted the cover artists to be more concerned with how the magazine looked on newsstands to prospective customers. Brown wanted the cover to sell the magazine.

A tiny sub-genre of art, the New Yorker cover, was murdered by Tina Brown. It would have been better for the New Yorker to go out of business instead of what actually happened. The old New Yorker ended and was replaced by a con game — it became a marketing broadsheet that marketed nothing but the ads for itself that it created.

The journal that shared literature and thought and art was over.

Business should only be the necessary practical aspects of sustaining things finer and more important

art and life.

Feed Van Gogh and make art.

The self-published cartoonist dodged a bullet when the editor insulted him. The New Yorker he longed to work for no longer existed, and he wouldn’t fit in a marketing position.

The cartoonist innocently was trying to connect. He wasn’t prepared to be obsequious to the condescending villain and fool, the editor. The editor didn’t give the cartoonist an opportunity to compromise himself, and that was a blessing.

When business wags the dog of art and education, the dog quickly disappears.

The right people know that.

Copyright 2019 Richard Thomas

morocco_3_dietrich

12/11/19: Flashlight Operation and Maintenance — Thoughts about the Process of Writing: an Email with a FriendThis segment is best read after reading my previous segment, “The Right People” at https://richardsteventhomas.wordpress.com/2019/12/09/12-9-17-the-right-people/On Wed, Dec 11, 2019 at 8:29 AM Robert McCaskill wrote:Enjoying your segments.Was reminded that not only did Walt Whitman self publish, he wrote his own reviews! Gave himself raves! Deserved, of course.I keep a copy of Leaves of Grass by the toilet. Open wherever you like and read a page. Helps to let go of one’s shit.

James Baldwin said the act of writing is, “Finding out what you don’t want to know, what you don’t want to find out.” He was so brave. Did you see I Am Not Your Negro? Thrilling.But writing for me is also about remembering what I’ve forgotten. That my life is a wonder, a marvel, a fabulous collaboration between me and unknown forces.It’s an improv game of Fill In The Blank. The Great Writer and I are hilarious, poignant.I like it that Hemingway used to ask bullfighters, “How’s the writing going?” Meaning life in the ring. He saw veronicas as sentences. A sequence of turns makes a paragraph.And, conversely, what we do is bullfighting. How close can you come to the horns?I like that you’re looking for the right person, people. I think they’ll find you.On Wed, Dec 11, 2019, 11:16 AM Richard Thomas wrote:

Rob, you are a mensch.Love Whitman — love your insights regarding letting go and remembering through reading and writing.I’d gladly partner with a publisher if he or she replicated my self-publishing — where I handle all of my edits and I don’t have to sell or kiss the publisher’s ass.I saw “I Am Not Your Negro” on that L.A. trip we talked about. I saw it in this little bookstore and they threw me out after the movie because I got into an argument with a Republican lady during the group discussion. It was before everyone who is sane had Trump’s number and most were still afraid. I was pissed that Baldwin was being diminished by the equal weight the Republican fool was given in the discussion of the evening. I don’t get mad in the same way anymore. it was a very inartful response, That movie made me understand the utility of writing — the real service it provides. For years I had doubt —- why wasn’t I doing something more practical or active — politics or some kind of activism. I decided it just wasn’t my nature. Yeats, I think said that poets were the unacknowledged legislators of the world. When I saw the Baldwin movie, I got what Yeats meant. I was impressed by the power of writing in a new way after seeing that movie. It is a concrete thing. Ironically the writer has little or no personal power. But his work makes the world go round.Intrigued by the line in your letter—– the Great Writer line —- I like that dialogue — if I get something close to what you are getting at — it’s a pretty deep thing, lots of levels — I hear you — when the writing process gets exciting for me I feel like a stenographer. I often have the experience of really liking something that I wrote and feeling like someone else wrote it. Oh, I see — the Great Writer did it!The Hemingway section of your letter elicits another Yes! We live, we write. Our lives influence our writing. Our writing influences our lives. The life and the writing are each as good as the extent of our courage.Courage is a great theme in your letter.I saw a documentary yesterday about Graham Greene. He’s not a big influence. I read some of his books long ago. I was just curious. The title of the film, if you haven’t seen it, is ” Graham Greene, a Dangerous Edge.”We have to be on that edge, I guess, but we can’t manufacture it. Greene, Whitman, Hemingway and the bullfighters, Baldwin, you, me — it’s simply who and what we are. I think this points back to something you said in a previous communication about not everybody being an artist. There is a destiny about all of this. We can’t help it. We can run from it which I have done a couple of times in my life, and the avoidance unleashes furies. We experience anti-joy — our greatest gift turns into pain. But even the time off-track is on track in a strange way and grist for the mill of creation.I am sheepish to ask, but courage sometimes blushes. I ask your permission to publish this email exchange as I did before. Our friendship is a triangle — the third point is our greater worlds — I’d like to let them see the sausage being made. Maybe not always — but this discussion has universal applications, not exclusively personal to us — no exhibitionism, no violations of our personal containment, no violations of privacy … a part of what we share with the world … of course If you have any reservations, they will be respected and that will be that … these letters are friendship acts and of personal value to us, but they also resemble “My Dinner with Andre” in form, except that this is an exchange between equals — equality is so important in art and education — if I remember that old movie right Wallace Shawn had a lower status, at least initially ,than Andre Gregory and that brought the drama — Shawn changed in that regard … or maybe I got that wrong. Anyway, I think an audience will get something out of our back and forth.I read your letter here on a couple of levels. First and foremost, I love hearing from an old friend. Next, I appreciate the focus on writing. It’s invaluable to talk with a generous and trusted peer about what we do. Then, it struck me that a great frustration for me when I was a nightclub improviser was the mediocrity of the audience suggestions. Your sensitive and insightful writing and the hospitality of your invitation of my response (we share that hospitality mutually) is a great suggestion. It triggers my creativity.This is a weird connection to make — but once I had a massage. The masseuse touched exactly the right spot on my back. I felt like a technicolor movie was projected from that spot. I was in blissful relief and I saw bright tigers and a luminous green rainforest. The release cleared obstructions and remembered and showed the future at the same time.That is similar to what I feel talking to you. I am certain that you are an extraordinary leader in the theater. I think you take a little silver hammer and gently tap people between the eyes and they bloom. Among other things, you are a maestro of human potential. You have such diverse and related talents, Rob, and they are sourced in the breadth and depth of your personal character.Authentic and natural.How great it is to be in touch, Rob. I look forward to our continuing conversation and in hearing all about your world.And all about one of your projects — that show.Have a great day, Rob.RickOn Wed, Dec 11, 2019 at 1:04 PM Robert McCaskill wrote:

Great corresponding with you. I enjoy your flashlight. Even when the glare is harsh. When it’s gentle…. it’s like William Daniel’s lighting Dietrich.You can post our email with my gratitude.I misread one of your sentences. When you wrote that during a massage you saw “bright tigers and a luminous green rainforest,” I first read, “bright tigers in luminous green raincoats.” Perhaps I’m holding onto a little protection. Or maybe I’m still a fan of fashion.On Wed, Dec 11, 2019, 2:41 PM Richard Thomas wrote:The gratitude is mutual, Rob. Thank you.Fashion is a nice and protection is natural, I reckon — a public service announcement from your friendly bull in a china shop. I can be brusque and presumptuous and pay too little attention to the form of fashion, but I am an upright character and you forgive me for it. You are better than me at reading the nuance of the other. I am solitary. I quietly listen to the world for hours on end and then roar my responses. I appreciate your patience and your cautious steps to total trust. You appreciate people and art on their and its own terms. I am a challenging friend — eccentric and obsessed — but you love me for it. Your generosity has bequeathed you a huge world. It gives you access to the good stuff.Rage is part of my process, often the departure point — the match that lights the fire. I often get pissed off and write to understand. (Other strong emotions get the ball rolling as well.) Writing has helped me deal with anger in my life. The better I get at writing, the less I explode. I am a much more gentle more of the time than I was when I knew you in my early 30s. But I still get mad. I think the right people will be a kind of cure. I have sometimes lived in too small a world. More is possible than I realized at those moments. I only recently have begun to consistently feel at home. In other periods I wanted to believe that I was home, told myself that I was home — and then I got upset when I found that I wasn’t. When I was younger I sometimes felt let down and betrayed by the world. Later I felt that I betrayed myself. Now I know that I am simply learning. And so is the world. Being too hard on myself and others was a limitation of my consciousness— a flaw in my swing.  I was enraged on Thanksgiving. I can’t remember why. I wrote a couple of subsequent segments after that frustrating pain — one was gentler, the Jack Lemmon segment, and one was harsh — the one about the ignorant and the great (I’m great). The segment on ignorant/great is in my estimation the least strong of my recent writing, but I still like it. I think “The Right People” is a kind of rewrite.But the harshness, as you acknowledge has its place, so I still work on how to use that color of my palette. I wrote a segment shortly before we reconnected “The Definition of Success.” The first line was “I think Del Close was an asshole.” Part of what the segment did was tear Close, iO Theater and the Second City Training Center new assholes. I really like that piece. It wasn’t bitter. It was liberating. It wasn’t expressed frustration. It was release from frustration. It was about a lot more than local theatrical politics — it hit universals.My anger is part of my power when it is processed through the alchemy of writing. My sweetness is too.I don’t do precisely what Daniels did, if I understand what he did. He turned Dietrich into an ideal. Is that fair in your view? When Maximillian Schell did his documentary about her she when she was old, she refused to be photographed. I would have taken her picture. But I want my version of Daniels’ eye for beauty as a major arrow in my quiver.Your comment about gentle light reminds me of that Thomas Mann quote. It was something like ‘a writer kills his subjects with “arrows dipped in love.”I’m working through your comment here. You’re right. A samurai never fights in anger.I can only get to that sweet spot through experience — my living and writing.Alan Alda said something like ‘don’t let go of things — go through them.’ Actually I think I said that. Alda said something like it, but I like mine better.Can anger at times be an expression of love?I think so. I think the zeitgeist of the present moment calls for it. But I also think the best way to pass an ogre is to go around him. That contradicts my Alda comment! And my assessment of the zeitgeist!You got me thinking and wondering, you bastard!To the extent my anger comes from a sense of inequality, it’s a vestigial tail. We are shaped, and we shape, the world. We aren’t life’s victims.I’ve made progress — a lot of progress in this regard, but I have further to go.Tigers in green raincoats? GET IT RIGHT GODDAMMIT!!!! Kidding, kidding, kidding!Take care, pal,RickPS — greatness isn’t complete until it learns to bear with imperfect people (including oneself). I’ll never connect with the right people until I learn how to do that with little effort. Preoccupation with past and present offenses are distractions. When one has truly left the wrong people then one can write about them with detachment and love.From that perspective harshness is a shadow on my writing — and bullfighting.Deliver us from evil.I’m getting there.The hardness and soft luster of jade.Copyright 2019 Richard Thomas.

richard jewell

12/13/19: Richard Jewell, Trump Supporters, and the Tree of Knowledge

#richardjewell #movies #Trumpsupporters #poetry #spokenword

Adam and Eve became aware of good and evil.

Cain killed Abel.

Abel killed other people because he looked up to Cain. (Biblical rewrite — “The Art of the Raw Deal”.)

The character, Richard Jewell in Clint Eastwood’s new movie was ridiculed and falsely accused by people of higher status in academia, local and federal law enforcement, and the media.

High status people shit on the fat, frustrated little guy. Elites bullied the fat, frustrated little guy, a security guard at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta.

Jewell found a bomb in Centennial Park and was accused of planting it.

The real bomber was a right-wing anti-abortion fanatic. (Inspired by the Bible rewrite.)

Jewell learned to stand up for himself. He lost his admiration for people he once saw as his superiors.

Jewell learned his equality with all men and women through his ordeal.

Once exonerated, Jewell created the life that he wanted for himself, a career in law enforcement.

Eastwood and company slandered a real-life woman reporter, portraying her trading sex for leads with no evidence that she did so.

The woman’s real name was used. The FBI agents had fictionalized names in the movie.

The FBI agents were men.

Eastwood and company followed the Bible for the men, and called in Biblical rewrite for the woman.

We all have been ridiculed and unfairly accused.

We have all been bullied.

We all have not been given our due.

We took a bite of the apple. Eve gets a bum rap. The Bible was written by men.

They were influenced by the rewrite.

We have all looked up to people who don’t deserve it. We have to learn that we are all equal.

The mistake of lacking the confidence of equality opens the door to our potential participation in evil.

Anyone can be good in the Garden of Eden.

It’s tougher when Cain is coming after you.

The Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee answered rational, legal and historic arguments

with incoherent howls of resentment.

They ranted for their constituents.

“They hate us. They can’t stand us — the ordinary people in Ohio and Missouri and Texas and Tennessee. We didn’t get to Harvard. We are hassled by the government and the educated snooty bastards who have ridiculed us and never given us our due. They get everything and we get nothing.”

A woman cries outside of the Trump rally arena in Hershey, Pennsylvania. “I can’t believe that they are doing this to our President Trump. He is doing such a good job and they hate him.”

The Republican ranking member of the Judiciary Committee doesn’t understand fundamentals of the law. He can’t believe that a law professor could master a three hundred page report and its attendant documents and depositions in a week. He is incompetent. Unable to do his work because he is ignorant of what the work is, he brays and fumes.

He ridicules and makes false accusations.

He prepares to kill Cain.

Abel is Cain.

Germany was humiliated and falsely accused by the rest of the world after World War I.

Germany prepared to kill the world.

The movie character Richard Jewell learned of his own equality. He stood up for himself. He created a life for himself.

Trump, the phony billionaire from Queens, who was ridiculed in Manhattan, uses his resentment to make the world burn. There were no false accusations. They must have happened generations earlier in his family saga. He sucked evil from his mother’s tit.

Trump’s envy, resentment and rage finds a willing audience in people ripe to embrace the biblical rewrite.

All criminality begins with a justifiable complaint.

Injustice becomes victimization becomes murder.

We all know to do the right thing. But we bit the apple, and we know evil as well.

We choose.

Jesus said, “Father forgive them they know not what they do.”

James Joyce said, “History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.”

James Joyce was trying.

They know not what they do because they choose not to know.

It isn’t easy.

Knowing is hard.

The mortal sin escape clause

mortal sin is doing evil and knowing it

Choosing evil.

But venial sin is sinning without knowing it.

Venial sin is as bad as mortal sin.

G. K. Chesterton, the British Catholic philosopher once said, “Of all the sins indifference is by far the worst.”

To err is human, to forgive divine.

Christ was divine and he forgave.

Our job is to correct our errors.

We have to try.

Richard Jewell tried.

It wasn’t easy for the character, Richard Jewell.

He endured an ordeal.

We have to choose that ordeal.

We have to transcend grievance, and understand our equality — understand the existential fact that we are equal.

We have to stand up for ourselves.

And we have to create a life for ourselves — work.

It’s either that or being Nazis, criminals and Trump supporters.

We will become Trump equivalents if we don’t do this right.

Resistance is weak tea.

Equality is the thing.

Understanding Trump Nation’s wounded nature is not enough.

To Trump and his supporters —

No.

First, impeach

next a Senate trial

next the 2020 election

If Trump takes power again

Revolt.

No.

No.

No.

Deliver us from evil.

Every wounded bully must be stood up to

and then we must create our lives.

The divine in us can forgive them

the human in us must stop the madness

in us and them.

Babies in cages

No.

An uninhabitable earth

No.

Office gossip

No.

Insults and indignity

No.

The global and petty offenses

No.

We can do it together

or do it alone.

We can do it in the streets

or in the voices of our mind.

Instead of looking up to Christ

we should try to be Him.

Of course, we won’t make it

but we have to try

to get closer

to keep getting closer

and over time

the world and Christ will be one

Christ and the world are closer to each other than they were in 1945.

Each time we make strides

Cain and Abel show up

Redemption follows a fury.

There is a great opportunity in our time.

Our furious time.

This is not a time for compromise.

There is no peace without justice.

Forgiveness can come later

or more precisely be an undercurrent

as we do harsher things to honor good

Now

we have a chance to awake from history.

Pope John Paul II said that one day the Church will not be needed.

He said the consciousness of the Mystical Body of Christ

the Body that suffered on the Tree of Life

that consciousness,

will become universal.

Adam and Eve

Cain and Abel

Jesus Christ

James Joyce

Richard Jewell

Us and the Trump Supporters, Nazis and criminals

Us.

We are called to heal the wounds of the world

and create it anew.

*Read this as poetry, not theology. I grew up Catholic and American. I was schooled on Joyce and Western history …

yes this segment is for my neighborhood

my history

my personal experience

learned and lived

But is also for Asians

and Sikhs

Native Americans

Africans

and atheists.

It applies to your nation, your job, your family, your condo association …

the planet you can see from your chair

and the four-walled room in your line of vision

This segment is to be translated.

That’s your job

Don’t get me started on the Tower of Babel.

Copyright 2019 Richard Thomas

Pokhara Nepal Acting Class

12/16/19: Letter to Nepal — Exposed and Beating Hearts in Bentwood Chairs

Hello, Nepal

You reached out to the world and the word got to me

You asked me to introduce myself

I am so ignorant of Nepal

I am an American

Americans are all ignorant

Preoccupied with our petty dreams and problems

America is a country that was young not long ago

That has recently become old

prematurely aging

hastening its decline

in need of a blood transfusion

from you.

I am an ignorant American, so I looked you up

Thank God that the internet gives me some idea of you

a thin and incomplete idea

that doesn’t do you justice

but gives me a place to begin.

I see the pictures of your beautiful land and people

I learn that you recently became a democracy

Your old king gave back to the people their sovereignty

that God gave you at the beginning of time.

I see a poster for an acting class at your theater,

An exposed and beating heart in a chair …

And I imagine you.

I imagine a sweet and sincere people

Closer to God than America is ….

Nepal

Up in the Himalayas

Too filled with hope to be burdened by trivial optimism.

Brave people

who know sorrow and triumph,

and know that neither is guaranteed.

Good, hospitable and generous people

who have suffered for freedom

And who now want to connect

With dying people old in freedom.

America’s freedom is a fading ember

a waning glow of an energetic and lively flame

that once lit a welcoming harbor.

You turn to sick, old America

to see how it is done.

You are more America than America is

with your three branches of government

and love of things more sustaining than a dollar.

You want to fill the world with art

and be more a part of the world.

You don’t wish to dominate other nations,

you wish to sit with other nations,

to befriend other nations.

Your time has come.

So you ask me to teach you about improvisation.

You want me to tell you what it is like

to be the authority of your own life.

You want me to show you how

to make your voice heard

and how to listen to the other voices of the world

with your new and growing sense of equality.

You are so lovely, and earnest.

Beautiful.

Your nation is a young and talented actor

filled with emotion and dreams,

yearning for a life of moments

in which your love is congruent with all of your actions

as is the love of everyone in the world around you.

The world will disappoint you

(that’s what the world does)

and Act II will involve your quest to regain your love in spite of it all.

If Act II is successful, you will re-engage the world and make it better

with a smile on your face

a tear in your eye

and a fortified heart

beating in steady rhythm

in harmony with what is

and what can be.

I learn online that the Buddha comes from Nepal.

The spirit is immediate in you

and the theater that you have just begun to build

is the arena where that spirit will be made manifestly apparent,

in the mundane interactions of daily life

which you will transform

into sacraments.

I would love to spend time with you.

No one teaches anyone anything.

All an artist such as myself can do

is expose others to his process

and ask them to expose their emerging processes

to him.

I was an actor on the main stage of  America’s Second City Theater in Chicago long ago

but I am no longer of Second City

My improvisation is not Second City’s improvisation

It is now my own

Just as your improvisation will not be mine

when our connection becomes a memory.

We will visit together

and experience each other

and come away from our intimate days together

transformed.

We will change

because we will have decided that being together

is meaningful.

You will bring your lives to your improvisation,

you already do.

And your lives will make improvisation a new thing.

Tradition reveres where we have come from.

Art celebrates where we are.

I admire your courage and openness and hope,

I am moved by your longing.

I am a lawyer

so my creative process includes rationality

and critical thinking

I will encourage those things in our interactions

and sit in wonder at the modalities of your thought

and your rich history,

the ways in which you think and process and decide,

so different from America

and so much the same.

I am a writer, so my process involves exploration

and the painful excavation of the depths of beating hearts …

the pain and the release of pain,

the deliverance from obstruction

that insight grants us.

I don’t know you at all

but I love you.

My love makes me curious about you.

My love makes me want to stand beside you as your friend,

support your growth,

be happy for your happiness,

and weep for your sorrows.

We unconsciously know that part of ourselves

inhabits the other.

We know that we are the same person

and we want to meet each other.

How beautiful you are

how fine your aspirations

how innocent

and pure

and new.

What a tonic your new freedom brings to the world

how enriched all mankind is by it,

how generous you are to share it.

I am a college professor

(yes I am many things and so are you)

and I communicate through constructing guided exercises

experiences

that you will do and have

and in the process

show me amazing things

and show me

your refined and noble sensibility.

It charms me that you are so unaware

of how stunning you are.

Together

me,

the old and ignorant American

and you,

so young

and so curious

standing upon mountains

of art and culture

much more than a country …

You are a nation

a nation is greater than its land

or even its people

a nation is shared ethics and ideals

a nation is its people’s potential for greatness

a greatness that paradoxically belongs to all mankind.

Your specific song of freedom

the freedom and culture particular to Nepal

and to your individual and communal lives in Nepal

is the song of freedom of the world.

Your song will change the world

by embracing me and each other

not in a cheap, superficial or sentimental way

but by sharing your gifts

and by dressing each other’s wounds

and my wounds too.

I cannot teach you

because no one can teach another anything

but we can share art and education together.

Reality exists in our solitudes

and in the space between us

a space as vast as the universe

and as small as the world.

We will traverse the space between us

and you will go to your solitude.

We will bring our solitudes to our communion.

If we don’t, we’re not there.

I already know that I can speak to you this way

I know you are poets

I know that your heart is a temple

and not a marketplace.

I now pause and sigh

and clear my throat …

Okay …

Poetry is done for this evening

and now we move to the mundane and the prosaic.

Art is dreams mixed with shit.

Our ecstasies are for eternity

our lives are lived in finite time.

Your first assignment

familiarize yourselves with my teaching website at http://www.richardthomasjd.com.

It will give you some idea of what we will be doing,

the exercises that we will engage in.

Don’t worry if they confuse you.

They will become clearer when we work together.

Your second assignment is to look at my blog where I self-publish my writing and videos

at http://www.richardsteventhomas.wordpress.com.

This will show you some of my art

the result of my process which will be our starting point when we are together.

You will work alone and in groups

Together we will experience improvisational art

and whatever other art it turns into.

Real improvisation always transforms into something else.

The only way to learn art

is by making art.

The only way to learn how to make art together

is by getting together and making it.

I hope I see you in Pokhara.

Copyright 2019 Richard Thomas

shampoo II

12/18/19: Existential Impeachment in Improvisation, Teaching, My Soul and Everything Else

Beyond Show Biz Hacks,

Beyond “Yes, and,”

Beyond Corporate Authoritarianism

Beyond the Tyranny of the Group

Beyond the “Banking System of Education” … rip open the student’s skull and pour propaganda on his brain

Beyond Calculating Political Action

Beyond personal demons

What lies beyond?

Art not show business, advertising, marketing and public relations.

Improvisation as art, not the facile pandering of “Yes, and”, not following Spolin as a religion and never pushing into new approaches and forms.

Discovering ways to survive beyond corporate conformity.

Avoidance of cliques and their soul-stunting conformity which mutes pure voices and celebrates echoes in nasty miasms of collective fear. Freedom.

True equality in education, not socialization for a dysfunctional society.

Replacing politics in government, employment, and all potentially creative and personal relationships. Engaging the world with integrity. Simply doing the right thing. The right thing is simple to ascertain. We are born with the ability to know it when we see it. What is complex is the deconstruction of all of the rationalizations that we invent or have foisted upon us when we are possessed by the fear and desire of ourselves or others.

The last personal demon to transcend is optimism. We’ve seen too many movies where the mentally ill concert pianist is finally healed after years of personal struggle. He gives a concert and receives a standing ovation. Optimism must be replaced by hope. Hope does the right and true thing with no guarantee of happily-ever-after.

We live in post-democratic America. Our minds are manipulated. Critical thinking has become a subversive act. When our authentic thought and feeling escapes through the programmed noise, we are oppressed — brought to heel, banished into exile or left on the side of a hill to die. We live in a moment where intelligence and art are frustrated. Poets, philosophers and public servants are bullied by salesmen.

America is run by casino owners. The people always lose to the house. Anyone who cracks the game and starts to win is tossed out of the hotel and roughed up in the alley.

A great movie of our time, December 2019, was released in 1975, Warren Beatty’s “Shampoo.” The characters pursue getting money, getting over and getting laid against the backdrop of the Presidential campaign that resulted in the election of Richard Nixon. The characters choose corruption in all things. They know what they were doing. Their evil choice leads to their personal destruction and the destruction of all that was good, true and holy. They descend into despair and compound the sin by calling their degradation “the pursuit of happiness.”

I write on the day that Congress impeaches Donald Trump.

America is suffering an existential breakdown.

I know the way forward.

I can only hope it works.

Below are links to many, not all, of the segments that I wrote in the last month or so.

The links are a narrative of my journey, which is a miniature of the immense mural on the floor of Congress (among other things).

Hemingway said that all true stories end in death. I don”t think so. All true stories are open-ended. Stories illuminate the present and end with the question — now what? How do we live when our illusions are dispelled?

The last sentence of this sequence of my writing, when laid out in chronological order (the form of a blog usually requires a reverse chronology), contains the words

“I hope”.

I know what to do. I can only hope that the world joins me.

The demonically possessed and ignorant world has rebuffed me at many turns. It has unintentionally taught me that I had more work to do. It’s last lesson taught me to abandon my optimism.

It will not teach me to abandon hope. I was born knowing that hope is a true thing. Hope has humility. Optimism is strangely arrogant and self-involved.

All my psychological pain derives from self-concern. Art is the process of transcending personal pain. Understanding the nature of reality is what heals. The world and I are both larger than I previously imagined. What once seemed essential seems pathetic and petty.

Art, education and freedom are what is real.

All that I am beyond was a nightmare masquerading as dream.

The impeachment isn’t about Trump. Trump is just a bad choice projected against the sky in giant relief.

Trump is a horoscope, a vague meaningless abstraction that we contemplate in order to see ourselves.

The impeachment is a fictive drama. We act in the play and are its audience.

The impeachment is a metaphor for the existential decision we all must make, whether we have the integrity to be conscious of that decision or not.

As of today, it looks like Trump won’t be convicted and removed from office. What do we do next?

I hope we continue to do the right thing, refusing to participate in all that is false in our public role as citizens, and in all of the private aspects of our lives.

Being human is a choice. I will continue to stand upright as a human being …

and I hope that others will join me, so that we can be fruitful in the accomplishment of all that matters, and free ourselves from the yokes of fear and oppression …

I live in reality

Beyond illusion

I know that I am not alone.

I hope for the hospitality of others

so that we can go forward together

and expand reality.

We can create a new world.

We can discern the actual limits of existence

and distinguish the actual limits from the hallucinations that we make so damned important.

Copyright 2019 Richard Thomas

bombshell

12/22/19: Bombshell: Fascist on Fascist Crime

Boo hoo.

In the new movie, “Bombshell” which deals with the sexual harassment scandal at Fox News Network in 2016, John Lithgow says in character as the subsequently disgraced Roger Ailes, the Fox News CEO and Chairman, “Bullies aren’t mean. Bullying is the way that the more powerful control the less powerful.”

A title card near the end of the movie informs the audience that Ailes, and fellow more powerful Fox bully, Bill O’Reilly, received much more money in severance packages than the women that they bullied received in court settlements.

Boo hoo squared.

The medium of bullying was sexual harassment.

Somewhere a baby in a cage at the Southern border is saying “Me, too.”

Or a person dying of no health insurance.

Or the millions of people oppressed by the immoral political culture that Fox News has energetically promoted and in some cases created with its cocktail of lies and propaganda for disgusting immoral anti-values and political figures, most notably Herr Trump.

I have more sympathy for prostitutes abused by their pimps than for the women degraded by their bosses at Fox.

I imagine that prostitutes are forced to that horrible lifestyle by ignorance and desperation. Prostitutes are usually born powerless — oppressed to a condition of few or no choices. Prostitutes are exploited by criminals — most usually men.

The whores of Fox News are a different story. Megyn Kelly, Gretchen Carlson and the fictional Kayla, played by Margot Robbie, wanted power as much as Roger Ailes or Bill O’Reilly.

Kelly sucked dick to get it.

Carlson was pissed off because she was demoted.

Kelly and Carlson had other motives too — better ones — they wanted to be journalists. That begs the question — what were they doing at Fox News?

Kelly and Carlson felt guilty — they cooperated with something evil and made things harder for the more innocent, but equally ambitious Kayla, and many more like her.

If “Bombshell” was more about Kelly and Carlson’s journey to repentance and redemption, and to be fair the movie alludes to that complexity — but not emphatically enough to my satisfaction — it would have been a better movie.

To be explicit and obvious — Ailes and O’Reilly were pieces of shit. What they did was an abomination and the women were victims.

But the women were not only the victims of Ailes and O’Reilly’s pathetic evil — trolls equating sex for power because they were skilled at getting the latter and incapable of getting the former without bribery and coercion.

I didn’t enjoy being in the company of these creeps of both genders for two hours at the movies. I’ve had a bellyful of them for the last forty years.

I feel superior to the women of “Bombshell.” I’ve had more than my share of bad bosses — mostly men, but a few women too. While it’s true none of my would be oppressors ever forced me to fuck them, they ATTEMPTED to demean me in other ways. I was like Kayla, an innocent on each job — thinking the places were better than they were. I was ambitious to work on the side of the angels, and like Kayla I was confronted with deformed trolls.

But …

here’s the difference …

I never took their shit …

I never compromised my dignity …

I never did the immoral shit that they tried to bully me into doing …

I never placed my ambition over my mission …

I never rationalized and said if I suck some dick I’ll get to a position of power and then things will be different …

I risked unpopularity in the workplace …

I quit …

or was fired.

I always failed up … each wrenching separation led to greater knowledge about myself and greater skill at sharing what I have to offer.

None of this makes me a hero. It makes me a human being.

It might be argued that it is different for women — that women have to work harder to be confident because of the centuries of oppression that they have endured. That is certainly true.

But the women of “Bombshell” were pretty damned confident. More confident than I have ever been.

They lost a power struggle to men who had all of the advantages.

But in the end, they were betrayed by their own mediocrity. They wanted money and fame and success and most importantly POWER …

and they wanted to be good journalists and moms and pioneers for other women.

Sorry, it doesn’t work that way.

You have to choose — humanity or bullshit.

We all make mistakes. We all can get greedy or power-hungry. We all can repent and get back on the right track.

The women of “Bombshell” aren’t heroes.

And their victimhood is a small part of the story.

The women of Fox News were useful idiots in the rise of the new American autocracy.

They liked the money and the clothes and the attention. And the very evil that they served feasted upon them.

They got multi-million dollar settlements, but not as much as Ailes and O’Reilly.

Boo hoo.

The people of Puerto Rico lost loved ones when the autocracy ignored their hurricane.

Ditto the Bahamas.

Genocide was brought to the Kurds.

Police misconduct brought violence to African-Americans.

Public schools faded,

hungry people were denied food stamps …

what am I missing …

American democracy is gasping for life …

what else …

just look at the news …

all of this suffering was aided and abetted by the sexual harassment victims of Fox News.

Talk about bombshells.

Boo hoo.

Copyright 2019 Richard Thomas

1123_hawthorne-melville-composite

12/22/19: More Sausage with Rob McCaskill: Literature, the Temporal and the Divine, Male Friendship, and Other Stories in ProgressRob McCaskill to me Sat Dec. 21 12:46 PMI’d heard of Henry Miller before ever reading his work. Not just his scandalous reputation, but reference to his achievement – his skill and talent pointed out, even by those who condemned him. When I finally picked up Capricorn and read a dozen pages, I was surprised to see it written, more or less, as Henry’s journal.Then later, reading Kerouac, I saw a similar style, a daily account. And also heard that Hemingway’s friends were shocked to see their lives portrayed exactly as they happened.These writers shaped their notes, of course, shading, arranging events into art.  But I could feel a difference, reading Gatsby, and then The Sun Also Rises. Gatsby is more of a painting, while Hemingway’s more photographic.Your segments, written or read aloud, demand to be heard as works of actual literature, cooked fast after decades of preparation, and I find that my mind does absorb them that way.Liked what you said as a teen about Protestants overhauling the church,  but leaving out the art. Too bad. The were right to dump the weight of Rome, rejecting the sale of indulgences. But then the dry parts of their minds turned poetry into reporting. What if we had a culture as deep as what we see in Tibet, but with our Western knack for innovation.Enjoyed your layout of post war American stand up. Especially the part concerning the club that commodifies with time limits. What if instead they only chose artists who could tell on their own when to stop?Me to Rob, Sun. 12/22, 12:11 PM

Rob,These are the most useful comments that I have heard regarding my writing. A few years ago I went to the Iowa Summer Writer’s Workshop for nine days — this email is more valuable than that experience in its entirety. You offer practical observations here — a template of discernment — a description of the right people.Saw something about Hawthorne “getting” Melville at a crucial time in the development of Moby Dick. I feel like we are in a Hawthorne/Melville moment.“… the part concerning the club that commodifies with time limits. What if instead they only chose artists who could tell on their own when to stop?” This insight shows genius in its simplicity, a demonstration of your producer’s art.Writer/actor/teacher/coach/director/producer — diverse and unified — I’m fascinated by guys like you so broad and deep in their talents — diverse in their work with a single focus.The actors that you coach went to the right guy. You sensitively take people and their work for who and what they are. You put them and their work into an educated and sophisticated context and in so doing say the right thing at precisely the right time — gentle and surgical direction.You are the same guy that I knew 30 years ago — same humanity and talent plus 30 years of WORK — you have developed yourself to your highest potential as an artist and a man. Congratulations. I am proud to be your friend.Excellence — here’s to excellence!I’m sure that I embarrassed you here, but you mention me in a tradition with Miller, Kerouac and Hemingway, so I guess we are even.Your enthusiasm and encouragement of what is fine in people is beautiful. Artists love art.“Your segments, written or read aloud, demand to be heard as works of actual literature, cooked fast after decades of preparation, and I find that my mind does absorb them that way. ” This is the best description of my process that I’ve heard — and a wonderful, positive and affirming understanding of deep creativity. I am so happy that my writing has value for you. Art is a two-way street. I get so much out of our dialogue.Point well taken on selling indulgences — art as baby in corrupt bath water.“What if we had a culture as deep as what we see in Tibet, but with our Western knack for innovation.”Jung wrote something about the marriage of East and West in religion — I read it years and years ago — I don’t remember the title or much about it — might be a lead … I remember Joseph Campbell — who was big on Jung — had material on how the East has closer access to the All, and the West was better at the individual — I think that is what his follow your bliss was about — moving from the universal space within us inflected by the particulars of our individual lives. I agree with your provocation — East and West should be integrated. Bloom on self-overhearing in Hamlet seemed to be getting at that. Getting to know oneself and what one is to do. Not making it up — not from ego. The ego is the defender of the true self when used properly, not the source of the true self.  Western ego when nobly applied brings Eastern participation in divinity down to earth. The Catholic Catechism says that emotions are neutral and that our rationality mediates them — understands them. Our emotions, like our dreams are messages from God. My work always starts with a feeling. It never starts with an idea. The ideas come after the inspiration. James Hillman’s acorn theory —- we don’t grow up, we grow down. We are born an embodiment of the All and then we learn how to act from that place in the creation of our individual lives. I’ve never “invented” myself — I work to be myself. My limitations are not of Self, they are limits of consciousness — the transformation from comedy to literature, for example, was not a change of the All in me — it was a growth in my understanding of what that All is. And the All aids externally — like when you show up as Hawthorne. And you say that my work helps you — so the All is at work there too — this harmony — all these individual lives spontaneously forming one thing … Blake said eternity is in love with the productions of time. Mortality needs eternity, eternity needs morality … East needs West, West needs East. We wonder about the existence of God, and God wonders about the existence of Man. God and Man each need the other to fulfill their purposes. God is the more reliable partner — but Man is more free. God just is, we say, “To be or not to be.” Real action happens when we live our lives congruent with the inspirations of God, inspirations that He gives us constantly. If we didn’t have to work on figuring out God’s messages we’d have nothing to do — and we wouldn’t be men, we’d be something else. Reality is too big for us to see in total. So living is an act of faith — an enthusiastic participation in mystery. All identifications with God substitutes — Power, Money, Fame, Sex … other “stuff” — things not necessarily bad in themselves that become destructive when worshipped — false idols that alienate us from our authenticity — are born of fear and desire — those obstructions to intimacy with the Buddha. God is simple, our road to Him is complex. Makes life interesting. This is all about something that I am guessing exists in science as well as religion. The scientists who plumb the sources of creation — energy, time and space speak of these same things. I believe art is a lot like science — reality from different access points. God wouldn’t be so miserly to require an MIT Phd. as a prerequisite to talking to Him.I was out running around yesterday, and fell asleep in my chair upon my return — apologies for the delayed response. But it worked out because I needed to reflect on your comments a bit more anyway.Have a great day, Rob.Me to Rob, Sun. 12/22, 12:30 PMRob, I want to publish this and include all of my embarrassing praise of you. I think it makes a universal point. You should be held out as an example.I wondered if it would come across as gay if shared with strangers — not that there is anything wrong with that — but it is inaccurate. But since we are talking about literature and Hawthorne and Emerson came up — this is how men wrote each other in the 1800s. Perhaps that should be restored. Men, all men, not just artists — need this type of mutual affirmation of their best creative impulses. Men are wired to make things and we can support ourselves in higher aspirations than success and competition.My writing begins as the admiration of a friend — but I want to say to the greater world — look at THAT, honor THAT, be like THAT …Rob to me Sun. Dec. 22 3:08 PM

Hey Rick,Okay by me to let folks listen in. And if people misunderstand and imagine I’m gay I’d be honored.Right now the powder of what you are saying is sifting through the words you wrote, piling into meaning.The various cultural pieces you gather combine, forming a kind of encouragement – permission to think from the more adept person within.That persona, within us each, may be the famous beloved, who poets write verse to …I’ll need to let what you’ve said explain itself to me.  Might take a sleep cycle or two.Me to Rob, Sun. 12/22, 3:11 PMOK, pal … until next time …Copyright 2019 Richard Thomas

Michelangelo_-_Creation_of_Adam_(cropped)

12/24/19: An Artist’s Prayer

Artists are 1.8% of the world’s population

I received that data in a dream

A waking dream

A constant dream

My life is a dream

on the one hand

and the other hand?

Artists speak for God

not unlike grandiose deluded crazies

But artists aren’t granted the escape of insanity

An artist stretches a hand on the Sistine Chapel

while he stands in a puddle of shit

An artist looks for love in all the wrong places

and then slams the door of all that is false and low

and retreats into seclusion

Artists are drunks and failures

they have poor personal hygiene

they alienate themselves from society

so that they can bring God’s messages to people

in relation but not conformity

connected

but not part of

but apart

Priests pray to God

Artists deliver the answers

Artists are denied prayer

they are God’s stenographers

constantly receiving his dictation

no time for one request of their own

So who does an artist pray to?

An artist

if lucky

learns to trust God

no matter what shit storm he sends them into

Not all artists have that innate confidence

But God maintains his demanding pace

pushing them anyway

The artist could live to be

91

36

or 5

The duration of their lives is of no concern to God

Nor are the artists fears

desires

or needs

“Get it down and push it out!”

God roars

“Your pathetic wishes are of no importance!”

“Be what I made you to be!”

“Your ideas are of no importance!”

The artist is a human sacrifice

Isaac

and God does not stay the hand of Abraham this time

God could care less about man’s ideas about the world

He makes clear to the artist the reality of the world that He created

and demands that the artist tells the world

God doesn’t help the artist

God created the artist to help God

So who does the artist pray to?

Who does the artist pray to

for equality

and autonomy

for independence

for freedom from the editorial committees of Man

for sustenance

for release from the wolves of material necessity

for invitations and hospitality

for opportunities to teach

and speak

and write

and fashion images

to relate God’s answers to Man’s prayers

with their messages of challenge and joy

The artist shares God’s word

humbly

always uncertain

because God did not create artists with perfect antennae

sometimes the reception is bad

for encouragement

because God has made the artist eternally unsettled

surfing on the waves

of God’s madly transforming world

for a few good friends

and loves

since artists are mortal and can’t exist alone.

God forgets

He needs none of the things the artists need

He gives artists all of heaven

and nothing of the earth

and the earth is what the artist needs

So who does the artist pray to?

You.

Copyright 2019 Richard Thomas

little women

#littlewomen #gretagerwig #poetry #popularity #commerce

12/26/19: “Little Women” — Poetry, Popularity and Commerce

A character in Greta Gerwig’s new movie adaptation of “Little Women” says that Shakespeare is our greatest writer because his poetry was delivered in popular works.

This character is wrong. Poetry can be found in highly accessible work or in dense, complex literary forms. Poetry can make millions of dollars, or leave the poet destitute. The poet uses the means available to her. Shakespeare was an actor and a man of popular theater. He enjoyed the patronage of a Queen. He lived in a moment when serious and important themes were popular. So Shakespeare enjoyed, and his work still enjoys of course, great poetic, popular and commercial achievement.

The most important of Shakespeare’s three achievements was the poetic achievement. The popular and commercial achievements obviously don’t diminish Shakespeare’s artistic accomplishment in any way. They also don’t amplify his art.

An artist uses the craft and material advantages available to her.  I recently wrote a passage comparing “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”, Moby Dick , “The Rick Blog”, the Elizabeth Warren campaign and the new movie, “Bombshell.” All are works of art, with the exception of “Bombshell” which is a work of commerce devoid of poetry.

Here’s that passage:

“I will point out that we also need art and not show business.

We need reality not escape.

We need consideration of the interconnected world not just our own problems, even when they are quite serious and real.

I favor Elizabeth Warren in the Democratic Presidential Primary because her specific plans reflect a coherent and accurate vision of what is currently happening in the world.

Caged babies at the border, income inequality, endless foreign wars and all the other social ills — including sexual harassment in the workplace — are all the result of thought manipulation and bullying by powerful forces who want to deny us freedom so that they can subjugate us and control our lives.

Warren uses every crime against us in two ways. She addresses it specifically, and points to it as a metaphor with the big picture.

That’s what art should do. The symbol of the great white whale in Moby Dick ultimately points to something beyond words —

The world is demanding that we consider the nature of existence …

Can salesmen convince us to surrender our power of self-determination? Can bosses degrade and bully us in order to exploit our very lives as raw material for their profit?

Can we survive without solidarity?

Can we survive without seeing ourselves in the suffering of a refugee baby in a concentration camp?

Can we work for the men and women who want to destroy us and call it making a living?

I am watching Season 3 of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” for a second time. Paula is home for the holiday and she hasn’t seen it.

The writers are professional comedy writers. They have come from show business. They use the craft of the sitcom, the clever patter invented by Neil Simon.

The Maisel writers use the Neil Simonesque craft of the sitcom. What makes what they do art is what they use that craft for.

Mrs. Maisel uses what they know how to do to discuss love and courage. They create something highly enjoyable, but the show is not an escape. The show is about love and courage and it resonates with people who aren’t female comics trying to make it in the 1960s.

“The Rick Blog” is an amplified journal. When I’m good, and when you are good, it is as much about you as it is me.

Maisel is as good as Moby Dick in all of the important ways. Of course Moby Dick is much more intellectual than Maisel, and the craft involved in creating the novel is infinitely more intricate and involved than Maisel. It was harder to write Moby Dick than Maisel.

But each piece is a satellite in space sending data back to earth. Each piece is a chapter in the never finished user’s manual for the operation of the human being …

so is the Warren campaign

and “The Rick Blog”.

We are at a decision point — slavery and murder-suicide or love and freedom.

My first response to “Bombshell” was that I didn’t have a response. Then I had a revulsion to the characters and I wrote about that in the first “Bombshell” segment.

Today, I focus more on the writers of “Bombshell” than its story. I am not interested in the words of people just looking for a hit. How small are the concerns of such writers? The screenplay never questions the ambitions of its characters. It shows them as pariahs, tainted by their association with Fox News, but it doesn’t question why they made the choice of Fox in the first place. They bury the lead.

The untold story beneath the corrupted script of “Bombshell” is the evil unleashed by pursuing success by achieving the ends of greedy genocidal nihilists.

The untold story of “Bombshell” continues … Fox News is a metaphor … a great white whale … that represents something beyond words … a sickness found on Main Street in every town in America … the abuser in every incestuous family (“Chinatown” was a better movie about Fox News than “Bombshell”) … Fox News is the whisper we all hear in the moments of our darkest despair … the glancing split second thought … that we dismiss … and tell ourselves that we never had … that hisses … maybe I’ll just kill myself instead of face the world today …

Maisel says live! Joy!

Moby Dick says work! Struggle! Overcome the evil whale! Love the cosmic force of the whale!

No wonder I first didn’t want to write about “Bombshell” and then did a half-assed job of it.”

Greta Gerwig opens her movie with a quote from Louisa May Alcott, “I’ve had many troubles in my life, so I prefer to write jolly stories … ” Jolly stories are popular and make money. Alcott certainly found poetry in her jolly book, Little Women which may have introduced America to the poetry of feminism.

Alcott and Gerwig’s alter-ego, the character Jo March is a feminist revolutionary who chooses to be a writer, chooses not to marry, chooses not to be supported by a husband or anyone else, but to make her own way in the world financially … Jo March is a feminist embodiment of New England’s tradition of self-reliance.

In order to achieve financial independence, Jo March compromised her poetry. A publisher tells her to rewrite her ending. The heroine must be married. Sentimentality sells. Jo agrees to the change, negotiates a good contract and opens a school in a mansion that she inherited from an aunt who told her that “no one gets by on their own.”

Jo March’s commercial success was the end of her poetic achievement. Gerwig shows Jo’s poetic struggle until the moment of her decision, but presents the decision and its aftermath without comment.

I assume, and I can only assume because Gerwig doesn’t point me in any direction, that Jo’s financial independence is meant to be seen as Jo’s feminist triumph.

My values are not the same as those of Jo March. I think an artist, a poet wants as much money and popularity as he or she can get, but he or she would never change a word or brushstroke to get it. Shakespeare or Amy Sherman – Palladino got material rewards for their poetry without compromising poetic truth. As I’ve mentioned before, Van Gogh’s great art made no money in his lifetime and he was a social outcast. Later generations appreciated his work’s value.

My recent “Rick Blog” segment, “An Artist’s Prayer”, makes the point that the financial success and popularity of an artist is the responsibility of his or her audience — not the artist.

Shakespeare’s audience at the Globe Theater applauded his insight. Romeo and Juliet don’t get married at the end of the play, and the audience loved it.

The audience has the responsibility to care about the truth, and to care about the divine unseen aspect of living. “Mrs. Maisel” is about characters striving to live in truth guided by mystical forces.

Barack Obama recently said the world would be better off with woman leaders. He said the men have screwed everything up.

I quite agree. But I believe in what Gloria Steinem called “prophetic feminism.”

I have no belief in a feminism where women participate in the materialism and competition that men have cursed us with.

Greta Gerwig’s “Little Women” ends with Jo March doing what a man, her publisher, tells her to do.

Jo March succeeds in a man’s world, and abandons her poetry. She indulges the sentimentality of her young woman readers, and denies them their liberation.

And so has Greta Gerwig.

Vaclav Havel wrote Living in Truth while living as a political prisoner in a Czech prison. His uncompromising truth led his people to freedom, and the playwright was then recognized as an important artist, and as a world leader.

The artist is sometimes greeted by the cheers of an adoring public and sometimes condemned to solitary obscurity and personal deprivation. Neither circumstance affects the artist’s work.

How the artist is personally treated is the public’s responsibility.

Copyright 2019 Richard Thomas

oscars_2020_predictions_once_upon_a_time_joker

12/28/19: Rick Blog Quickie Movie Reviews

Uncut Gems — Two hours of maniacally reckless behavior leads to a predictable conclusion.

Joker — Perfect for people who like to gawk at car accidents, painstaking consideration of a man who is mentally ill by people with no inclination to help him.

The Irishman — A remake of “Goodfellas” for the geriatric set. A prolific hitman with over twenty-five murders on his resume lives through a very long old age , and regrets the loss of his best friend who he murdered, and his favorite daughter who he repulsed. He is condemned to a friendless, loveless and interminable last chapter of his life — a sentence of chronic loneliness — not unlike countless old people who never killed anybody.

The Two Popes — an excellent and well-acted exploration of what it is like to be a sincere priest.

Marriage Story — how to deal with the ordeals of divorce and custody disputes when your only resources are an extensive support system, a residence on each coast, the income from an Emmy nominated TV series, a Broadway directing career, a prestigious academic appointment and a MacArthur Genius Grant. Noah Baumbach graduates from middle-aged people indulging in adolescent navel gazing to real world problems tormenting middle-aged people sick of navel gazing.

Dolemite is My Name — “Ed Wood” meets “Freedom Writers”, a boringly predictable underdog story superficially elevated by superficial racial consciousness.

Knives Out — “Clue” meets “El Norte”, a boringly predictable underdog story superficially elevated by superficial racial consciousness.

Jo Jo Rabbit — the cute side of Hitler; how the aftermath of the Holocaust became a dance party through the power of positive thinking.

Little Women — how to achieve woman’s liberation through a big inheritance and pursuing a career as a hack writer.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood — Quentin Tarantino’s anthology of poems inspired by his sincere love of pop culture and the people who create it well.

Judy — artist as human sacrifice.

Pain and Glory — Almodovar’s personal poems about making art, friendship, family, love and chronic physical pain.

Richard Jewell — Hey, Trump supporters, the government and the media are out to get you. Will be a good movie about brazen careerism versus humbly and generously working at a meaningful vocation — but not now.

Bombshell — Bad people being treated badly. Fascists and whores under pressure.

Hooray for you, Hollywood. You movies are so pretty and talented and smart. And every once in a great while, one of you actually says something.

Show off with soul.

I dare you.

Copyright 2019 Richard Thomas

london-west-end-theatre-district-jane-emily

#theater #poetry #friendship #spokenword

12/31/19: Rob in London — Exuberance and the Power of Our Tenderness

Rob McCaskill wrote me at 6:36 am CST on 12/31/19:

Five days, now, and six shows, three of them by Shakespeare. Asking myself about my impressions, what am I broadly aware of? Professionalism, excellence, attention paid to detail. Cleanliness of presentation, and beauty in the sets.

Maybe though the quality I want and most enlist for is exuberance. The overbrimming of passion and action, a madness. A food fight, a dance, ascension in a speech. The craft, it seems, entails delaying, finding pleasure in construction, while building to the moment when it breaks.So much of the fineness of William’s writing loses itself in abundance and pace. But phrases shimmer through, along with cleverness of argument. The goings-on constructed with relatable motives and logical moves.Time and again his plays point out our selfishness and cruelty. But planted in them as well the power of our tenderness. This central bud, it seems to me, leads his overwhelming skill to true importance.Today, The Duchess of Malfi (Webster) and, in the West End, Hamilton.I responded to Rob at 9:53 am CST on 12/31/19:

Very exciting …the limits of professionalism and craft … which is only a means to an end … when it becomes the primary objective, one wonders why … a kind of materialism that ignores what matters most … all building and no architecture … the great stuff transcends all of that …the interaction between you and the London stage … your dynamic watching …the paradox of your personal exuberance and endurance … the merger of work and play …your value of art in the service of life … the life leads …your focus on what is important …beyond talent and skillbeyond aestheticssince you are in England … the ecstatic reverie of the Declaration of Independence …you respond to what is restrictive in an old theater …honor what works in the old … you don’t throw out the Magna Carta …but take it furtherand create something new …drawing on something deeper than merely what we can do …competence and developing technique is a given …accessing the mystery of life itself …our vast potential is ultimately not something to be worked for …but to be asked for and received …you share a note with me today …which gives me much more than a description of an experience …you share with me a human being lit by the reflective light of the divine …your existence shows me what is possible in the external world …you view constructed productions …and transform them into natural things …machinery miraculously evolves …into flesh and blood.Copyright 2019 Richard Thomas

suleimani

1/4/20: A Most Clever Tyranny; Democracy is Dead Except, Maybe, in You

This is a poem

It’s not an analysis

It’s not a political screed

I just know what I see in front of me

Some innocent, powerless people  have democracy in their hearts

They see that everyone is equal

They want to follow their own hearts

They know their natural rights

They don’t want to dominate anybody

They want to make a living

get an education

feel safe and cared for when they are sick

Drive around town when they feel like it

Go to dinner and a movie once a week

Just be normal …

no problems … fewer struggles …

they love some people and things

and respect that other people love some people and things

Free to be you and me

You know what I mean

Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time

You know what I mean

Basic desires

basic rules

not that complicated

rights and responsibilities

Democracy lives in the hearts of these people

Democracy is a poetic concept

meaning it speaks to a natural truth

it’s God’s will

and a natural part of these people’s hearts

They didn’t have to think it up

they were born feeling it.

Democracy is the truth

It’s not an ideal

It’s the way it is.

The hearts of these people never completely synchs up with external reality.

Every once in awhile the outside world comes close to matching the democracy of the heart.

At this moment

democracy is far, far away

so far away that it has fled to another dimension

Democracy is hiding in heaven

It is all cyclical

and people who don’t trust democracy

and don’t give a shit about you

put all of their trust in the pursuit of power

surveying the earth with inert shark eyes

destroying every material means that you need to make your democracy real

Just yesterday

a power person who is a judge laughed at a lawful subpoena

a power person sworn to uphold the rule of law

ridiculed the rule of law

to honor the rule of the autocracy

Just yesterday

a cabal of militarists leveraged their advantage against a weakened impeached President

and started a full scale war with Iran

they didn’t have to spell it out to him

You have our support for all of your crimes, sir

but you have to give us this war, the way you gave us the judges …

The puppet complied.

Hundreds of thousands of civilians will die in the Middle East

thousands of American soldiers will die

or get their limbs blown off

their skulls crushed

their souls stolen

and the people with democracy in their hearts won’t get universal health care

or decent schools

or decent jobs.

A most clever tyrany

Only the most resistant and vulnerable will be killed

scores of others will be manipulated

the media will argue about transient considerations

studiously avoiding the essence of what is happening

Advertisers will sedate and distract

Entertainers will usurp the role of art

and moderates will legitimate the actions of the people of power

by compromising with them

secretly being people of power themselves

the Washington Generals versus the Harlem Globetrotters

the Globetrotters always win

but the Generals are in on the act

and get their cut of the gate.

Scavengers see what is happening

the feckless, weak people with democracy in their hearts

being run over by the cunning and ignorant people of power.

The scavengers want no part of either team

so they focus on themselves

their success

con men running hustles to get by

it’s all bullshit they say

I’ll commit petty larceny and have a good time …

But the power people are smarter than the scavengers

and say to the con men

“Work for us or die.”

So the scavengers always go to work for the power people

and do awful things for a nice car and room to strut

Trump is scavenger President.

Obama was a moderate.

Puppets all.

The power people who run things sit in shadowy rooms

subjugating us all.

Yes

Such a clever tyranny

90% propaganda

10% murder.

An ultimate artist

Jesus

said

Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and give to God what is God’s …

be as innocent as a lamb and as cunning as a serpent

democracy is dead in the world

and may be alive in your heart

take these riddles as clues

as to what to do in the face of

reality.

Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas

#genius

1/9/20: The Excitement of Genius

Genius is the most exciting thing in the world

Genius is not something to identify with

Genius is something to participate in

Genius is access to one’s natural essence

When you act as yourself in all purity

you participate in genius.

And it is thrilling.

Genius does not involve work.

All work involves clearing brush

removing all the obstructions to reach that pure thing.

The brush can be in your head

or in society at large.

It doesn’t matter

It’s the same process

accentuate the positive

ELIMINATE the negative

and don’t mess with Mr. In-Between.

You can’t decide to eliminate obstructions.

You have to joust and wrestle with them until you realize that you can just walk around them.

It sounds so egoistic and narcissistic to claim that you have touched genius,

but actually it is a statement of true humility.

We are all born with an essence

an essence that is mysteriously quite individual and specific to each one of us

and universal at the same time.

That true essence is there

even when it is blocked by our neuroses

and/or society’s evil foolishness.

A moment of genius is a moment of joy.

When you feel isolated

or alone

or a failure

you are clearing brush

picking up sticks

to build something with your genius later.

Every once in awhile your genius teaches your uncertain soul

that you have lived a perfect life

Everything is the way it should be

and the world is a place of abundance

It isn’t like you will never again feel pain or frustration

but you are aware that there is a place where pain and frustration are exposed for the lies that they are

It is best when genius reveals the truth to you

before you receive any material evidence

Genius will rise where you least expect it

when you get the rejection letter

on the unemployment line’

when you don’t have a date for New Year’s Eve

in jail

and on your death bed.

Up or down

popular or unpopular

understood or misunderstood

respected or un-respected

rich or poor

mansion or flop house

hero or reviled prophet

remembered or forgotten

big name or anonymous

historic or inconsequential

it doesn’t matter.

The chronological makes these distinctions

the eternal sees them for what they are

meaningless.

The truth is

that

You

and the world

are perfect

just as you and the world are.

And genius is that spot where you know it

and everything else that you ever did or thought or felt

is hard work

for which you should be commended.

Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas

1917

1/10/20: 1917, Schitt’s Creek and Joyce Carol Oates — Craft Services

I’ll pass on that old-time religion.

The world dialed up 1917, Schitt’s Creek and Joyce Carol Oates for me in the last twenty-four hours. I emerged with a feeling of not-so-smug superiority.

These people go to a lot of trouble to say what is on their minds.

1917: Sam Mendes directed this museum diorama trying to pass itself off as a movie. I am sure that Sam Mendes has a very neat apartment. I am also sure that he never stepped beyond a proscribed line.

Mendes brings a fastidious eye to the fog of war. He doesn’t do chaos. Each person place and thing in this World War One story is arranged in an aesthetically pleasing manner.

Mendes brings his mastery of scenic composition to a decomposing world.

1917 is a reassuring lie. Carnage doesn’t have to be gross after all.

World War One was a massively unnecessary tragedy, and an opportunity for Mendes to show what a technically brilliant filmmaker that he is.

True storytelling is a lot harder than mastering a craft. A real artist learns a craft or crafts and then forgets them. He or she is guided by an urge to communicate an earned truth from the artist’s perspective.

1917 is the type of movie that gets awards. It is impossible not to (momentarily) admire its complex technique. Look how beautifully Mendes arranged those dead bodies. Each limb is so expressive. Look at the stark mural of dead cattle precisely placed across the battlefield. Look at the engaging abstract geometrical forms of the bombed out city. A lonely silhouette of a tree — the only survivor of a forest that was destroyed — stretching its black limbs into a rust-colored poisoned sky.

I miss Robert Altman. He did confusion so well. His work wasn’t pretty but it was beautiful.

1917 famously features a structure of being two seemingly unedited tracking shots. I thought constantly about these feats of cinematography — war, death, man’s inhumanity to man, loss, friendship, survival, a lone man moving through an absurdist hell-scape of the dead, and dying — not so much. I once did sales for a photographer who did baby pictures. He also hung up shots in his store showing off what a good picture taker he was.

Altman just picked his shots to tell the story.

Fuck aestehtics.

Mendes said as he picked up a Golden Globe that he told the story of 1917 in the hopes that something like World War One — the most brutal war according to Mendes — would never happen again. He must have missed World War Two and hundreds of other wars. He said nothing about the potential war with Iran.

Watching 1917 is like having a conversation with a very well-spoken man who doesn’t know what he is talking about, and doesn’t much care about his subject. His goal is to inspire your oohs and ahs for his brilliant vocabulary and elocution.

I worked in a corporate law firm once that hung inoffensive visual art in its waiting area. The paintings posed as provocative art, but were really inoffensive interior decorations.

Just what we need at the moment — phony empathy.

Thank God we don’t have to suffer and struggle like the action figures of World War One. And aren’t we good people to feel sorry for them. And isn’t Sam Mendes so cute in the way he busts his ass for our approval. Now let’s go to that restaurant with the engaging atmosphere and the charming waitstaff.

Schitt’s Creek: Speaking of sentimentality, I met Eugene Levy once. He was holding court with a big group of people, talking about making money. He was very serious about every possible dollar, like the couples my parents used to play poker with when I was a kid.

Schitt’s Creek is a sitcom soap opera. I don’t enjoy sitcoms or soap operas.

Eugene Levy was on SCTV. One of that show’s famous sketches was “The Sammy Maudlin Show.”

Schitt’s Creek is just plain maudlin.

I like Eugene Levy. I’m not going to write here about his show. Schitt’s Creek is awful — let’s leave it at that. I’m going to write about Eugene Levy and his family — people that I know nothing about.

Schitt’s Creek is a family affair. Eugene Levy co-created and stars on the show with one son, a daughter acts on the show, another son produces.

Here is my imagined story of the Levy family.

Eugene Levy’s father was a businessman or wanted to be one. His mother wanted to act and played the piano at family gatherings.

Eugene Levy’s supportive wife stays in the background.

Eugene Levy has a gay son and has never been disturbed or conflicted about his son’s sexuality.

Eugene Levy worries a lot about his children’s financial security. He and his gay son created this show and employed the rest of the clan.

The entrepreneurial gamble paid off, and everyone is making a nice living.

The entire Levy family believes in hard work, friendship, finding significant others who are kind and not flashy, community and humor. The Levys are very nice middle-class Canadian people.

Since they are Canadian, the Levys’ entrepreneurial spirit is leavened with socialism and good manners.

Schitt’s Creek is the Levys’ story ruined by the crafts of sitcoms and soap operas. I’d rather just see the Levys — like the one time I met Eugene Levy. I’d rather just see the actual people. I don’t need the cliched and cloying expressions of formulaic romantic love or friendship , the broad slapstick and mugging, the stale situations — Dad put poison oak in the floral arrangements! — the couples who obviously love each other but take years to get together, the tidy morals-of-the-story at the twenty-six minute mark, the ersatz warmth awkwardly play-acted by genuinely warm people.

You don’t need to watch Schitt’s Creek. My few paragraphs here, unburdened by so much unnecessary craft is better than the whole show. But you may want to watch the show anyway to support these sweet-natured mopes who wouldn’t hurt a fly.

Joyce Carol Oates: I watched a video promoting Joyce Carol Oates’ Master Class in Short Story Writing. I was curious but not interested. I accepted taking the bar exam and being certified to be a lawyer. I am not interested in certifications in order to write.

Law is a lot easier than writing and not nearly as important. Practicing law is a defined occupation. There are basics that all practitioners need to know and accept.

Writing is something one creates oneself. You don’t learn how to write in school. You learn by living your life.

Oates says that all good writing comes from writers honestly addressing their personal taboos.

No, not all good writing.  Taboos, sometimes, sure … but I am much more diverse than that … Oates defines her work as the exploration of taboos … good even interesting … but I don’t want to burn incense in front of it … can’t she just settle for being a good writer … she sets up her students to fail — at being her!

Usually something happens to me. I wonder about it — then I get an impulse and I start writing about it.

Experience

Observe

Reflect

Apply.

That’s how I do it. Find your own way. Don’t come to me for answers when all I want to do is talk to you. Being an audience is a creative act — you have to show up and make the meaning for yourself. I write to make meaning for myself. I can’t make it for you. If you engage with my words then you have to come up with something.

Oates says that everybody has at least one story to tell.

I say that I am living a story that won’t end until I die.

Actually, stories don’t ever end. They morph into other stories.

Oates is selling seats in her class. Everybody lives a story. Not everyone can tell it.

Writers tell everyone’s stories — not just their own.

Listen, literary forms are fine. I’ve enjoyed good novels, poems and essays.

But for me personally, I like the examples of visual artists — where the nature of expression leads to more innovation of the form.

I don’t need any rules regarding craft.

I start with the thing that I am compelled to say, and I figure out the craft as I go along.

Joyce Carol Oates presents herself as an authority on writing. She’s an authority on her writing — her way has nothing to do with me.

Personally, I like to reinvent the wheel.

When today’s inspiration turns into tomorrow’s requirement, creativity dies.

Craft should know it’s place.

Art picks up craft and puts it down — sampling and selecting from a thousand paintbrushes …

craft is utility

art is God

yes, of course,

craft

but no need to be so goddamned precious about it.

Precious craft

is just

ego

weeds choking

the flower of beauty.

Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas

US-POLITICS-IMPEACHMENT

1/15/20: Pelosi and her Team — Greatness in Real Time

Today is too important for writing

too important for art

America is the Hanged Man in a Tarot card spread today

(I don’t believe in the occult — don’t pin that shit on me — but that card is a beautiful and appropriate image)

America is hanging on a cross

at a moment of great uncertainty

but like the hanged man, it is possessed with serenity and calm

because of Nancy Pelosi

and her team

At moments of intense adversity

at times when evil poses an existential threat

Greatness fills the breach

I used to doubt that reality

but Lincoln showed up

FDR showed up

MLK showed up

and we all have moments in our lower case lives

when we are saved after the darkness and before the dawn

Nancy Pelosi

and the congress people that she leads

have transcended politics

and remembered America

Pelosi moved me today

A grandmother

a junior high civics teacher

a masterful strategist and tactician

stood up

with her team

for the right thing

Atticus Finch is an Italian-American lady pol from San Francisco

Pelosi accomplished nothing in her delay of delivery of the articles impeachment to the Senate

EXCEPT

  1. Prevent Mitch McConnell from railroading a summary judgment and quick dismissal of the articles in the Senate
  2. Create the possibility of witnesses and documents in the Senate trial
  3. Allow time for significant new evidence to emerge
  4. Further the education of the American people as to Trump’s, and his thugs in the Administration and Congress, threat to our democracy, system of government and way of life
  5. Further the investigation into the nature of this criminal fake-Presidency — actually using  the continuing impeachment process, now in the Senate, to keep doggedly and relentlessly exposing the truth
  6. Exemplify the correct use of power as a means of service performed with justice, grace, dignity and integrity at a time when we desperately need it

Greatness and evil are always acknowledged after the fact.

Justice may or may not prevail.

Trump may be convicted or walk away scot free.

Trump’s marketers and criminals may secure him power again in the November election

but America will not die.

Democracy will not die.

I wrote recently that democracy in America was dead

EXCEPT

perhaps

in your heart

I wrote that Jesus, the Ultimate Artist

gave us clues for survival

Be as innocent as lambs, and as cunning as serpents

Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and give to God what is God’s …

and here comes our prominent example

the leader

this daughter of a mayor

this straight-laced Catholic

this politician

who started out wanting no more than the maintenance of her majority

her power

this pragmatist

who is always ready to compromise

who will never let perfection be the enemy of the good

this experienced professional

had the innocence to keep believing in what she learned in Civics class

the humility to master Caesar’s system

the commitment to be useful

this mother and grandmother with loving concern for the health and welfare of generations of Americans

NANCY PELOSI

GREATNESS IN REAL TIME

Nancy Pelosi

and her team

made me cry a little this morning

it was so moving

Humanity used its free will

to do what God wanted this morning.

Today is too important for writing and art.

Today is a time to hang on a tree with serenity

sanguine in anticipation

dutifully waiting

for the fulfillments and challenges

of the new world

which is sure to come.

It is important to recognize greatness and evil in real time.

Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas

Mike_Pompeo_official_photo

1/16/20: I Am the First Millennial, a Poem (I Guess)

I’m not feeling poetic.

Maybe poetry in 2020 is as simple as just spitting it out.

My wife calls me the first millennial.

She means that I am skeptical and spiritual.

I see a hypocritical society

composed of institutions

run by greedy aging people

with no interest in excellence or service

only committed to their own advancement

which is measured,

simplistically and stupidly,

by the amount of money that they amass

and the number of weaker people

whose destinies they can control.

So we millennials

a generation that I personally founded,

deal with mendacious society

in the same manner that we handle climate.

We dress properly to mitigate the excessive heat and frigidity

and live a life of freedom

in the landscape of our souls,

unburdened by materialism,

buoyed by the satisfactions of the creative life,

not reformers of the hopeless case of society,

almost full participants in the bliss of nature

while wearing necessary armor

struggling to survive.

What paradoxical creatures we millennials are,

flower children minus the naivete,

incongruously cynical  and ecstatic at the same time.

Being millennial isn’t only a generational matter

others of our same age are not millennial.

Some

from all socioeconomic backgrounds

are the dumb people.

I was wondering about Mike Pompeo,

younger than me,

older than the other millennials.

He went to West Point.

That’s a hard thing to do.

He went to Harvard Law School.

That’s a hard thing to do.

He got elected to Congress.

Ditto.

Became Secretary of State.

Same thing.

But he wasn’t pursuing a dream

he wasn’t taking the acorn of his essence

and planting it into the earth,

indulging in the pleasure

of making his mysterious and ethereal

God-given identity

a concrete reality in the world.

He wasn’t committed to living out his natural destiny.

He just wanted to win the society board game

Chutes and Ladders.

He is soooo un-millennial.

As part of my official duties as the first millennial

I celebrate Pompeo’s coming humiliation

for sacrificing all of his hard work and ability

on the altar of the Nero from Queens,

Donald Trump,

who is society’s final spasm of control

(Millennials will be triumphant — we always are — everybody gets a trophy and we deserve it — humanity is its own reward — we don’t have to earn it — we ARE entitled to it — we get to live out all of our eccentricities — our value is not something to be achieved — it is our birthright — the adoration in our parents’ eyes at the moment that we emerged from our mothers is reality and truth — society’s hassling is what is unreal and false — the only thing we owe the world is our happiness — we have nothing to prove and we demand that nothing be proven — what is, is all that matters — and it is wonderful)

where was I?

oh yes,

on the altar of the Nero from Queens,

Donald Trump,

who is society’s final spasm of control

the death rattle incarnated as farce …

We are sick of winning as Trump warned us we would be

and a new millennium is upon us

whether society is coming along or not.

Society has jumped the shark

Society’s “Happy Days” is about to be cancelled

and Fonzie Pompeo will be reduced to selling reverse mortgages.

Life ends in death

death can be noble

I love reading the obituaries of people who lived life from the heart

No regrets

the gift of life accepted

the peace and joy

of ignoring society

dealing with it

and creating that new thing that one was born to do.

The pursuit of societal success

of which Pompeo’s path is just this morning’s notable example

always ends in

failure

embarrassment

depression

and failure.

Pompeo is in the news

but he also walks in the bodies of millions

on LaSalle Street in Chicago

Wall Street in New York

Rodeo Drive

Main Street in Toledo

and a truck stop in Nebraska.

One third of America

wants to kill one third of America

while one third of America looks on with indifference.

It smells like victory.

Millennials don’t participate in the poll.

We are the x factor

like Old Man River

we just keep rolling along

naturally.

I guess I wrote a poem after all.

Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas

saint-jerome-writing-caravaggio

1/18/20: Life of the Unknown Writer

Any  resemblance between the characters in the poem below and any persons living or dead is purely coincidental.

Good writing is true but never right.

Memory is a present thing, not about the past at all. 

All writing of any kind is a collection of studies — self-portraits — arranged chronologically in a rectangular gallery, with a large open space for viewing. The writer’s understanding of his subjects, self and world, evolves and deepens. His skill of expression might improve, in some cases to a level of mastery …

but each memory is a mystery

an infinite onion endlessly peeled

yesterday’s event illustrates today’s meaning

Today’s meaning changes by tomorrow

sometimes because of epiphany or education

sometimes simply because of the progression of life

I don’t tell stories to dwell on the past

I am not much interested in past wounds or victories

I tell stories because memory

Conscious or unconscious

is the throne upon which the present person

the present moment sits

We are all the kings and queens of our own lives

We can turn what happens to us

our follies, our brilliance, our foibles, our fate

what we do and what has been done to us

into anything we please

Children are told that they can grow up to be anything

and that is quite certainly true

what is not guaranteed is the world’s responses to their choices

We hone our memory to determine our destiny

we fashion meaning with our reason and imagination

and find where we belong

Remembering is like looking at the night sky

Some nights are impenetrable

covered in clouds

Some nights are sick with pollution

The clear nights fill one with awe

The vast expanse

the brilliance of each individual star

so much to explore

so much we will never know

The story below was overheard in a coffee shop

a man was delivering a monologue to a woman

It was either a job interview or a date

The unknown and emerging writer

making his peace with his soul and the world

an endless project

which will preoccupy him until his death

and beyond.

Why bother with him?

Are you any different than he, except in the details?

Isn’t there a true blue you

that is sometimes free and sometimes frustrated?

Isn’t the meaning of your life a moving target?

Hasn’t the call and response of your soul and the world

brought you confusion at times

and great joy at others?

And haven’t you found peace, love and understanding

or at the very least are looking

and haven’t given up on it.

Man in coffee shop speaks:

“All about me

I was born in a manger

warmed by the hot breath of farm animals

Mom was a virgin

Dad was a mensch

I became a toddler

the Last Emperor in the pre-school years

my extended family

aunts, uncles, grandparents, great aunts and uncles

Came to court

to adore me

showering me in gifts and praise

My genius was obvious at a very young age

I went to school

and tyrannical nuns tried to humble me

they thought that my abundant self-love was sinful

they insulted all of my deficiencies

the lack of competence that bedevils those who had always been served

My mother, the Queen came to the school

and yelled at the nuns

and things got superficially better

but from then until very recently

I was always aware of being a stranger in a strange land

possessed of an inner confidence

delighted with myself, really

and awkward and afraid in my engagements

with the people that I was forced to be with

I was smarter than they were

I was charismatic and they were dull

I was virtuous and they were selfish.

I finally was released from grammar school

the smartest and fattest boy in the class.

I was sent to the care of Jesuits

to be educated

They adored me

I was smart and funny

deep and morally inclined

I wondered about the existence of God.

At the end of my four years in Jesuit high school

where I regained the recognition of my special nature

that I had enjoyed as a small child

I announced to my father, Bluto

who also sired St. Francis of Assisi

that I wanted to be a priest

His barrel chest swelled with rage

“You will have sex!

You will make money!

You will not be a pansy professor!”

Then my father went to church and lit a candle.

Dad wanted me to be a lawyer for money and prestige

and laughed at my jokes

big, deep laughs

that shook the world.

I left for college

in conflict

confused

a comedian or a lawyer?

for Daddy

Far away from the perfect baby in perfect harmony with a perfect world

that I once enjoyed being.

A writer has to get lost.

If a writer doesn’t get lost

he disappears in a puff of smoke

Confusion pulls him down into the shit with everyone else

It gives him concrete material for his genius to alight upon.

I regret nothing

I have done everything that I have wanted to do

especially when I failed

or fucked up

or sinned.

I went to Notre Dame

a cold place

picked up a few friends who were more like brothers

learned nothing that I didn’t already know

from high school

or picked up on my own.

I graduated

Dad mocked my favorite professor

a professor who

in retrospect

was meaningless to my life.

Most of my life has been spent waiting

waiting interrupted occasionally by moments of impact

The waiting ended when I started to write

Writing has resurrected all the lost time

and made it meaningful

Sometimes people disagree with what I write

Sometimes I disagree with what I write

But my writing is not something to be debated

I turn my soul

and the perceived world

from my unique perspective

no two people have the exact same vantage point on the world

I turn my soul and the world into words.

I became a comedian

and learned some tricks

developed some habits of creation

and became dissatisfied

I disliked show business

I rebelled against trying to be popular with audiences

I hated being evaluated and judged

What people thought of me

was none of their fucking business

What I thought of me was all that mattered

So I was the odd man out

Popular with smart and creative people

despised by the others.

I had a hard time letting go of people

and situations

mistaking towns where I briefly rested on a journey

for home.

Every transformation in my understanding of myself

hurt and made me angry

I argued with people who criticized me

all the while sculpting the differences between me and them

in the marble of existence.

I became a lawyer in these young and not-so-young adult years, 20-35

an experience that had no effect on my soul

simply a practical thing

done

like getting a driver’s license.

Young and not-so-young adulthood died hard for me

I went briefly mad

then went home to my boyhood bedroom

and stayed on my bed for a year

seething with resentment.

The aunts and uncles who worshipped me as a child

now saw me as a madman and layabout.

My primary emotions in my late thirties were

humiliation

and resentment.

I had lost all confidence

overwhelmed by the complex reality that I had to bring into the world.

Finally I got off the bed and got jobs

Once on the rocket to stardom

I sold lawn mower maintenance agreements over the phone

and one hundred other terrible jobs

and wandered through the depressed, and crazy back roads

of Reagan’s America

selfish people with money

and their bullying office managers

and dim-witted grunt laborers

who were constantly demeaned and cheated

depressed and self-destructive

identifying with their captors

and dying before their time.

I was having the time of my life

observing a world of dysfunction

seeing things that I would never have seen if I became a star

or a successful lawyer

or a writer too soon.

Eventually I rose from the degradation

of the phone boiler rooms

I was too smart and talented not to be noticed

I got a corporate marketing job

with a real salary

and proclaimed myself a success.

It was awful

life in decent hotels

eating in dull restaurants catering to people in suits

listening to people mumble about golf and wine

Disinterested.

Then I left that job

Selling wasn’t enough

and returned to Chicago to be a lawyer.

I learned a lot about writing as I practiced law.

The best lawyers were good

good at their jobs

good people

but I was better.

A writer is so much more than a lawyer

the stakes are so much higher

Lawyers just resolve a case

writers resolve the world

concerned with so much more than judgments and settlements.

Practicing law ended with the usual sturm and drang

and I landed as a teacher

a useful thing

as practical as a law degree

with a bit more nourishment for my soul.

I outgrew a place where I was teaching

and paused for a year and a half to regroup

Regrouping led to breakthroughs in my writing

and now my teaching career resumes

in a more appropriate place

and more challenging job

and my writing is on the brink

ready for a more visible place in the world.

I teach

I write

unapologetically

in my own way

open to the people and places in the world

where I and my work belongs

Clarity and participation.”

Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas

Next came some blog posts, vlogs, and some material for a course I was teaching. None of this was distracting me from my writing focus, but it was stealing valuable time.

Picking up where I left off …

1/29/20: Mom and Dad Dropped by Tonight

Feeling something

not like mourning

grateful that I’m not alone

loved by Paula right beside me

grateful that my folks went home

they ran their race

they did it well

and loved me so when I was young

and not so young

and middle-aged

and even old

I never felt myself undeserving

as many sad people often do

I always felt that people could love me

secure that someone cared

Far from perfect

with loads of baggage

passed generationally

and changed with the times

but

but

but

where would love be without imperfection

where would it be without the struggle to understand

where would love be if it were just damn easy

nowhere

that’s where love would be.

I always had a place where I could be an asshole

angry

resentful

frustrated

petty

vain and

insecure.

I always had a place where I could heal from my follies

and the blows that came from unloving parts of the world.

They never fully “got” me

my essence was beyond who they were

but that didn’t matter

they always loved me

I was their son

I was their world.

They nursed me back a thousand times

coaxed out my sweetness when it was blocked

Warmth and kindness and generosity are my inheritance

and a fierce commitment to be myself

all they ever wanted from me was me.

They never knew what I was

but they always knew who

and they reminded me of that in my darkest hours.

Their sins against me were all in my mind

they did me wrong a few times

but not on purpose

no one knows everything

people have blind spots

people make mistakes.

They taught me the difference between naivete and malice

It’s not what people say

it’s what’s underneath the words

and every word they ever said to me

translated into “I love you.”

Children live on one-way streets

two directions come with time.

Parents have to die

so the once young can take their turn caring for the young.

I didn’t give up youth without a struggle

and now I am so happy that it is gone.

The childish things have been put away

and I am calm.

I live my life

all its details

and go for days without thinking about my parents

and every once in awhile

when nothing in particular reminds me

that they are gone

and I smile

“The 64 year old orphan”

a joke I tell myself

I’m not sad

I don’t feel loss

all of that is over

I don’t need them anymore

in the flesh

their years of hugs and encouragement and concern

are part of me now

embedded in my very cells

I have no children

the world is my legacy

when I die the part of me that will remain

reverberating in people known and unknown

is the part of me that is my parents

what comes and goes

and who remains.

I don’t need to see their bodies anymore

but what makes me think of them?

Why do they move me tonight?

without a picture

or song

or taste

or smell

to bring them back to me?

I think they drop by

and drop something warm into my chest

and make me feel grateful

to them, sure

but really just in general.

They taught me

eternal well being.

Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas

the untouchables

#AdamSchiff #ImpeachmentTrial #DavidMamet #RuleofLaw #moralcharacter #authenticity

1/30/20: The Fight for the Rule of Law — Social? Anti-social? Moral Character.

I wish David Mamet was a better writer. Oh, he’s plenty entertaining and he looks at how things work. But he doesn’t go that deep. And I needed deep this morning.

Mamet’s 1980s screenplay for the movie, “The Untouchables” is about a fight for the rule of law. At the end of the picture, Kevin Costner/Eliot Ness, who has been fighting an obsessive and bloody battle against the gangster bootlegger, Robert DeNiro/Al Capone, is asked by a reporter, “What’ll you do now that it looks like Prohibition will be repealed?” Costner/Ness replies, “I think I’ll have a drink.”

It’s a memorable line. The point is protecting the law. If you don’t like it change it, but while its on the books you comply with it. Costner/Ness has another tough line to forget. “It’s nice to be married.” Costner/Ness believes in the rule of law, because he believes in society. He wants a safe, comfortable and predictable place for his wife and baby to live. He feels it his job to create and defend that place. The law is the means that he applies to his job. We will honor what society collectively requires of us, and if we want to change the requirements we can do so through the mechanisms of democracy. We get a say in how laws are made, and we agree to follow them.

(What of immoral laws? Thoreau, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Mandela, Vaclav Havel … civil disobedience … the extreme act of democracy … the necessary change agent treated as criminal in order to correct a criminal society … but Mamet doesn’t go that deeply … no characters in “The Untouchables” earnestly want to change society — the show is about the conflict between the social and the anti-social man, and the conflict between the social and the anti-social in every man —- I want to add “and woman” but this is a very male-centric movie — men are the warriors, it’s their role — and that perspective lacks depth — women are warriors, men are nurturers, testosterone and estrogen flows in every body and gender has become irrelevant — wow, I’m much deeper than Mamet —today it is the individual that matters — we reflect the universe —- masculine and feminine polarity is a fiction — I digress, but I don’t because “The Untouchables” is a story — albeit incomplete — of emerging identity — the battle between social belonging and preserving, and maturing to the full potential of one’s character … Mamet’s screenplay isn’t finished … it’s a provocation which is left to me to work on … and you …)

Costner/Ness is the social man. He gets what he wants in an ordered world, so he wars against disorder. DeNiro/Capone is the anti-social man. He thinks that Costner/Ness is a naif in a fantasy world. He is right to a certain extent. The dramatic arc of the movie involves Costner/Ness losing his naivte. DeNiro/Capone mocks the fairy tale of democracy.  He sees all men as corrupt. (He’s right about that.) The law is just a club that some men grab to have power in his estimation. No one is sincere. So DeNiro/Capone uses raw animal power — violence, brashness and cunning.

DeNiro/Capone doesn’t even consider how nice it is to be married. He has no need for society. He is the anti-social man. Society is a fake. The wife doesn’t really love you. The child would kill you if your death gave him a chance to survive or thrive.

I guess Mamet is saying that Costner/Ness, who outfoxes DeNiro/Capone in the end learns that DeNiro/Capone has a point. Society is corrupt. If you fight for the rule of law, you are fighting for a far from perfect thing. Survival is not achieved with innocent faith in law and society. Law and society are conceived in idealism, and maintained and executed in corruption.

A famous line from Sean Connery/Jimmy Malone, an older honest cop who mentors Costner/Ness in the movie: “They send one of yours to the hospital, you send one of theirs to the morgue. That’s the Chicago way.”

The question Mamet raises — if you have to use violence and cunning to defend society and the rule of law, don’t you lose society and the rule of law in the process?

I guess Mamet is a little deeper than I gave him credit for when I started writing this — but still — where is Mamet’s answer? That’s what frustrates me. Where is my answer?

Costner/Ness wasn’t just trying to win out of competitive spirit. He was fighting to defend the ideas and people that were important to him. His commitment became an obsession and his ideas transformed.

Into what?

Costner/Ness descended from innocent purity into the battle of life.

Here is where I get deeper than Mamet — but not deep enough.

Costner/Ness loved the rule of law, society and being married. His love defined him.

His love determined who his friends were, who was indifferent to him, and who hated and attacked him.

Just like you and me, just like everyone.

Costner/Ness worked with his friends.

The indifference of others set the boundaries of Costner/Ness’ life.

Just as we experience the universe in the little stream of our finite destiny.

And Costner/Ness went to war with DeNiro/Capone.

Just as we live in a constant state of war. Some people love us, some hate us, some are indifferent. The indifferent aren’t part of our destiny. The lovers are our destiny. The haters aren’t important unless they attack. Then we have to defend ourselves.

Mamet seems to be darkly — cynically? — saying that when we have to put on our armor and pick up our swords, our enemy haters drag us down. The necessary acts of defense are also acts of self-betrayal — we lose ourselves in the act of saving ourselves — we need to employ the enemies’ ways in order to defeat them.

I’ve recast “The Untouchables.”

Adam Schiff now portrays Eliot Ness

at least in this moment.

Donald Trump is Al Capone.

And yesterday we had the scenes where Schiff/Ness battles Trump/Capone’s devious henchman Frank Nitti, played by Jay Sekulow.

You could see Schiff/Ness quite properly descend into obsessive rage when engaging Nitti/Sekulow.

So far Schiff/Ness has followed the rule of law and society’s rules in pursuit of Trump/Capone.

Schiff/Ness loves society and the rule of law and being married.

Society and the rule of law’s rules aren’t getting the job done.

How will Schiff/Ness protect what he loves?

How far will he go?

How far will we go?

Will we go to war?

What will be the nature of that war?

Will it be bloody like “The Untouchables”?

Or Antietam?

Dear God, I hope not.

Mamet disappointed me because he didn’t answer that question.

I haven’t either.

Yet …

Wait … is there a third way?

Is there a resolution to the conflict of the social and anti-social man or woman?

Authenticity — our character defined by what and who we love is met with love and admiration, indifference and attack. We remain committed, we defend ourselves and we realize that we will never enjoy ultimate victory.

So, for example, in this moment where the rule of law is threatened we will fight but not lose ourselves and remain loyal to our convictions in our darkest hour.

Schiff (not Schiff/Ness) quoted Bobby Kennedy — moral courage is rarer than courage on the battlefield.

Moral courage is what we need now. It’s what we always need. Moral courage is the prerequisite of being truly alive.

Without moral courage we are just going through the motions.

Bobby Kennedy was right. Being truly alive is a rare thing.

But it is getting more common.

Moral courage was common at Dunkirk — the great British moment of World War II was a retreat — the resolution that love of the idea of England was more important than life itself.

We aren’t fully alive until we commit to that fullness.

Give me liberty or give me death.

Integrity brings us love from others.

Integrity is unconcerned with indifference.

Integrity is the ultimate defense against attack. A person of integrity will use whatever power society grants to her to defend herself. She will disobey society if necessary to stand up for her soul. And she will never get into the mud with her attacker. She will personally suffer rather than betray what matters most.

I love the America described by Adam Schiff. I am repulsed by the America described by Trump’s lawyers.

I am going to live in the America Schiff describes — come hell or high water.

I refuse to demean myself by employing Trump’s methods to defeat him.

I accept the reality that what Trump is has always been part of the world. Sometimes that part is noisier than others.

I want no part of that part of the world.

I’ll take Thoreau over ‘Jimmy Malone’s  “Chicago Way.”

Thoreau said that most men “live lives of quiet desperation.”

Integrity is the antidote to desperation.

I will stand up to them and not become them.

The point is not to defeat them.

The point is to not let them defeat you.

America is an idea, and it will live as long as you stick with it.

And so is every other true thing about you that some people love, and some people ignore while still others attack you.

Stick with it.

No one can change the nature of your existence unless you let them.

Fortunes can change, but your moral character is your fate.

Don’t worry about high or low or up or down.

The important direction is deep.

Victories, defeats (shrug)

Moral character is what endures.

Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas

2/1/20: Impeachment Silver Lining

It is really depressing

how can people be so heartless

easy to be hard

but as the dog bites

and the bee stings

and I’m feeling sad

I see decency rising

kindness

equality

democracy

We used to just go about our lives

we knew that there were mean and corrupt people out there

but we generally avoided them

then they put babies in prison

and ridiculed us

took our jobs

told us to shut up

raped us

cheated us

walked past us with a condescending air

and told us the way it was going to be

they made us feel stupid

they outmaneuvered us at every turn

because we had no idea how bad they were

and then we woke up

we stopped taking democracy and decency for granted

we started noticing the babies in cages

we saw how much racism hurt

we became better people.

Trump is a scary fascist

but people in general

ordinary people

are nicer than they have ever been

Nice people are hurt

angry

disgusted

afraid

but also

kind

smart

caring

empathetic …

beautiful.

It is not Trump or Mitch McConnell’s country

Your life doesn’t belong to the people who want to make it small

The Republican Party is going to die

Trump and his cronies will be disgraced and punished

America will have a compassion revolution

The past slaveholding, genocidal (Native American Holocaust) country

The country that demeaned my immigrant father

The maniacally consuming country

Insane for success

Violently materialistic

is changing

into a sweet country

sweet

smart

caring

a compassion revolution is coming

our anger is changing to moral outrage

our fear is changing to resolve

our hurt feelings are changing to love for those who suffer with us

our ignorance is turning into voracious passion for knowledge

our distraction is changing into the need to think

to feel

to understand

to act

America has never been worst

and America has never been better

We are at the brink

of dictatorship

or

a New Jerusalem?

It will be the New Jerusalem

Every Christ needs an anti-Christ to give him definition

This Trump/McConnell/Plutocrat oppression

has brought out the best in us

you don’t know what you got til it’s gone

we know now

and we will get it back

and cherish it

we now know what we really are

beautiful.

From the scrolls of NostraThomas.

Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas

schiff mcconnell

2/1/20: The Official Result and True Victory are Often not the Same Thing

Sometimes the less deserving person gets the job

Sometimes the guilty go free

Sometimes the fool out-polls the prophet

Sometimes a fraud is not impeached AND convicted.

Management cares about the official result.

Leaders care about true victory.

Are you a Christian?

Look at the cross.

Portrait of a loser

who won it all.

Third rate people worship the official result.

Mitch McConnell gets the trophy

but Adam Schiff is the people’s champion.

Schiff possesses the hearts of the people

even his adversaries.

McConnell possesses nary a one.

It is easy to see the difference

between raw power and real achievement

on a big stage like an impeachment trial,

but may I make a modest suggestion

trust the rhythm of your heart

in the office

the family room

and the neighborhood

when the person who won laurels and authority

is confronted by someone real.

Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas

2/1/20: We Won the Impeachment Trial

We won the Impeachment Trial. They are completely exposed. People are disgusted. No one can support them by claiming that they are anything other than what they are. The propaganda of the last 40 years — since Reagan changed the country … Citizen’s United … the descent into this bullshit — is over. They are already dead. This last fit of bullying is the death rattle. Schiff gave us two weeks of “Have you no decency, sir at long last?” The shark has been jumped. They used the last of their leverage — the ruse that they had Senators who represented the people and not a handful of corrupt donors. But not anymore. People saw it on TV and connected it to what is happening in their lives. This is the beginning of the end of the right-wing domination of our country. This isn’t optimism. It’s what is happening.

I had hope that Roberts might actively be on our side in the trial. But he made clear that he wasn’t. Then I remembered this is the guy who said racism had ended in America when he overturned the Voting Rights act.

I had hope that there was still a little decency there. The loss of that hope is the seed of victory. The slate has been wiped clean.

Lamar Alexander personifies it. He and they have lost it. They have been so self-serving and corrupt that they can’t remember what America is.

Alexander is incoherent. He’s guilty but I am voting innocent. Why, Lamar? Because it’s better for me. Good luck with that on election day.

It is clear to everyone.

They will cheat in the election — but a tsunami of voters will go to the polls and overcome all of that.

Idiots and rogues will make a lot of noise for them, many will continue to be manipulated, but the true silent majority will get the last word.

I even detect a bit of air going out of the balloon at Trump rallies.

I feel very confident about this.

Getting rid of them — politically and in your head — is like spitting out water after you nearly drowned. It comes out in spurts — sometimes furious, sometimes weakly and finally relieving.

Once you get what someone is trying to do to you, they can’t hurt you anymore. They can’t gaslight us anymore.

The problem isn’t the system. The House Managers and many of their witnesses demonstrated that the system is pretty damn good. The Constitution is pretty damn good.

They revealed that they are the problem. They betrayed America and the morality they’ve made a big show of for decades — for a buck.

It is obvious — so obvious that even people who haven’t paid attention can see it.

We will fight and we will win. I know it.

It’s our country, not theirs. America is an idea, and we have the right one.

What an odd, great feeling to be joyful and victorious at the moment they tried to make you feel inferior and small.

Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas

2/2/20: Persist Self-Righteously in the Face of Opposition and Oppression

I originally posted the segment  below, To All Things Trump: Just Say a Collective No. It is a Time to be Legitimately Self-Righteous, on December 11, 2016. It is still  true today. We will vote in record numbers and get rid of Trump and the Republicans — but this piece speaks to the post-Impeachment nine months in the interim.

I stopped writing about Trump a lot in January 2018. I had said all that I wanted and repeated several points a few times.

I don’t think of my writing about Trump as art — I take my other writing very seriously in that regard. I think of anything that I write about politics as a public service — not that I have all the answers. I just think it is worthwhile to have the thoughts of a relatively powerless ordinary citizen chronicled. The process makes me feel not alone, and I think it performs the same function for some of my readers.

The artistic writing — real writing, I call it — goes deeper than merely being an opinion in response to the news of the day.

I think there is some real writing in this piece if you extend it beyond the political question and into the existential dimension of one’s life.

You know, up until age 30 or so, my life was pretty easy. I pleased parents, teachers, bosses, audiences, peer groups — most people. But around that time who I really was began to emerge. That person was a lot less pleasing. Fatter, smarter, more argumentative.

After 30, when I stopped doing what I was told and started to do what I want, I got a lot of criticism and worse.

They told me I couldn’t do improvisation as an art form instead of in show business. I did it anyway. I went broke and nearly lost my mind, but I did it.

They told me I couldn’t become a lawyer at age 50. I did it anyway. I taught myself how to do trials and won every case I tried.

Because I’m an artist, a spiritual shark I wanted something new to do — a challenge. I decided to teach improvisation to lawyers, a fool’s errand. I got my brains kicked in, financially and emotionally — but I learned a lot which was the point.

The folly led to work as a university professor — my writing and teaching grew enormously in that period, but then my bosses tried to deny me my academic freedom and that job ended.

I lived on savings for a year and half and only recently got the first teaching work that assures me academic freedom and I need more of it.

At every turn, I followed my true artistic calling and got a lot of hassles and a lot of nos — many insults, and people to knock me off track and get me to do what they wanted.

I’m lucky. I get physically ill at the prospect of self-betrayal.

I’m 64 years old now, still working to connect with readers, audiences and students and some people say I’m too old.

I’m just getting started. I am doing better work now than I ever have, and I’ve been good all along.

For years, I was served by my anger. It was really unpleasant and at times exploded into rage (never violence) but I thank God for it. It kept me alive.

I’m not angry anymore. I don’t need the anger.

I know the truth.

I’m an improviser.

I’m a lawyer.

I’m a writer.

I’m a teacher.

Good at all of the above. The work serves my soul and other people. No one can stop me from doing that work. I’ll do it with and for people who see its value.

The naysayers have disappeared. I’ve replaced anger with a selective deafness and blindness. Stupid and mean people are free to live stupid, mean lives. I wish them no ill — they are doing a good job of ailing themselves.

By definition, I do all of these things my own way — guided not by ego but by my values and inspiration that comes from somewhere deep inside of me and somewhere far outside of me.

Now the naysayers are telling me that I am not an American. They are telling me that America is a different place than the place that I was taught it was when I was young.

Fuck them.

I hear people whining in the face of the oppression that is upon us in our current political situation.

I love many of these people, but I don’t respect where they are coming from.

I don’t respect packing it in and giving up when times are hard. I never have done so, so why should I?

I don’t want to tell anyone else what to do, but if you want to keep the real America — live in it. Today. Now. Don’t let Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump tell you where you are living.

Rebel against bosses and social groups who try to trim your sails. Rebel against your own inclination to self-betrayal to gain the praise of people’s whose opinions aren’t worth anything. Rebel against your fears about money and acceptance and survival — and do what’s right — and what’s true.

If you rebel, you will eventually learn what it took me years to learn, if you don’t know it already.

It doesn’t matter if you are up or down, the toast of the town or a pariah. Stick with who you are. All the biographies of great people in any field are about men and women who stayed true to who they are.

Be great.

I’m an American.

Fuck them.

I love the video that accompanies this piece, and I love the source of it, the movie “Nashville” . I first discovered my real writing in this stanza of my life when I wrote a piece about “Nashville.”

This clip is so perfect for this American moment. It’s about what is right — persistence — and what is wrong, the demagogue and the mob.

I think this long preface today is real writing — and now from 2016 — a public service announcement

Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas

12/11/16: To All Things Trump: Just Say a Collective No. It is a Time to be Legitimately Self-Righteous.

The incoming Trump administration, Trump supporters and the past Trump campaign is a culmination of the decline of American culture and government over the last 35-40 years. Normally a black-or-white reading of any situation is wrong-headed. Real understanding usually requires an eye for nuance and honorable agendas in conflict with one another. You usually can choose sides and maintain respect for those you disagree with.

Not at the moment. All things Trump and related to Trump are evil.

Trump is not truly in charge of his administration. He is a face-man marketing rep who lied to his followers in order to hand over our government to the people who own him. Trump’s presidency is the absurd low point of pay-to-play politics — a cynical abrogation of democracy and a complete elevation of the corporate state. Evil. His election victory is legal but it is not legitimate. CRITICIZE TRUMP EVERYWHERE. WITH YOUR FAMILY. AT WORK. ON LINE. ON STAGES. IN COFFEE SHOPS. YOU HAVE NEVER HAD A CHANCE LIKE THIS TO FEEL MORAL OUTRAGE AND EXPRESS IT EVERYWHERE. DO SO. (Note from 2020 — be unapologetically yourself in thought, word and deed. Don’t worry about offending fascists).

The people who voted for Trump knew that they were voting for evil. I will repeat what I have written before. A dog would know Trump was a bad person. Trump encouraged beatings at his rallies. This would be enough for any decent person to not vote for him. Trump is a bigot. Anyone who voted for him is a bigot too. His words about women, Mexicans, Muslims and others were disgusting. The people who voted for Trump wanted to hurt other people. DON’T REASON WITH TRUMP VOTERS. DON’T SPEND TIME CRITICIZING CLINTON. DON’T SPEND TIME UNDERSTANDING TRUMP VOTERS’ PROBLEMS OR FRUSTRATIONS. TELL THEM THEY DID SOMETHING VERY WRONG. TELL THEM THEY DID SOMETHING TO HURT YOU AND PEOPLE THAT YOU CARE ABOUT. DON’T HAVE A CONVERSATION WITH THEM. TELL THEM OFF. REFUSE TO PUT UP WITH THEIR ATTITUDE. THEY’RE WRONG. PERIOD.

Refuse to cooperate with anything that the Trump administration does. Don’t follow the lead of Democratic legislators who have a different job than you do. They will compromise to accomplish some crumbs of tangible benefit to ordinary people. Bernie Sanders said that the real opposition to Trump will happen at the grassroots. That’s us. (Note from 2020 — I’m for Elizabeth Warren).

WHEN THEY COME AFTER OUR MEDICARE AND SOCIAL SECURITY, THE MINIMUM WAGE, AND OTHER RIGHTS OF WORKERS, WE SHOULD HAVE A GENERAL STRIKE. SHUT DOWN THE WHOLE ECONOMY.
WHEN THEY START ILLEGITIMATE WARS OF AGGRESSION FOR CORPORATE PROFITS, ENLISTED SERVICE PERSONS SHOULD REFUSE TO DEPLOY. CITIZENS SHOULD REFUSE TO PAY THEIR TAXES. (note from 2020 — I’m paying my taxes — don’t be recklessly self-destructive about it).

When Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who married into Amway money, attempts to destroy public schools we should withdraw all of our children from schools and refuse to send them back until our schools are properly funded.
When President Trump continues to make unconstitutional pronouncements and receive gifts from foreign governments and individuals in clear defiance of the Constitution we should refuse to acknowledge the legitimacy of his Presidency. (2020 says amen — wasn’t legitimate then or now).

Every Cabinet appointment points to another assault on our rights, freedoms and well-being. Trump and the people behind and around him are filth. We should not cooperate with these evil people who hate us and delight in our suffering.

Bold free speech is key. In so speaking we refuse to participate in the murderous lies against us.

What is most important is saying no. Rosa Parks was told to sit in the back of the bus and she said no. It was an immoral request. And so began the liberation of a people.

We must say no collectively. They can’t send all of us to jail. Or kill us, which they surely dream of accomplishing. Millions of people are fed up. All together now — NO!

NO — to persuasion.

NO — to cooperation.

What these punks are doing is not right. If we cooperate with them we are their accomplices. In this case, collective moral action is in our collective and individual self-interest.

NO! WE DIDN’T PLAN TO LIVE WITH THIS TRASH VALUE SYSTEM!

NO! THESE PEOPLE AREN’T GOING TO RUIN OUR LIVES!

NO! IT’S THE ONLY ANSWER.

The Congressional Republicans said no in order to block President Obama for their own selfish political and economic interests. Rosa Parks said no because it was the right and dignified thing to do. This is the time for a Rosa Parks NO. (2020 says the Obama blocking in 2016 is the same phenomenon as the Impeachment Sham of 2020. Same shit different day).

NO!

Copyright 2016 Richard Thomas

Trump, Washington, USA - 02 Oct 2019

2/6/20: I Feel Sorry for Trump Tonight

#poetry

Trump is pathetic.

Every man

I can’t speak for women

faces a moment in his life

when he has to face what he is

the promiscuous man

the angry man

the drunk

the addict

the child man who won’t take responsibility

the party man

Men have to be initiated to manhood

It doesn’t come naturally

Men have to be weaned from selfishness

Most are shocked out of it

They bottom out

and straighten up

Trump never had the opportunity

He is 73 or thereabouts

and wasn’t called on his shit until a few months ago

The error of his ways was laid out to him

in excruciating detail

for the first time

I feel sorry for him

He gives the little boy’s response

to the realization that his role as mother’s darling has ended

that no one sees him as cute any more

that he has to grow up.

He doesn’t have a chance

The Republican donors

pass their money through McConnell’s spigot

They use Trump

who knew?

they laugh

who knew that this asshole would deliver us

all the riches we lust for.

I feel sorry for Trump

Everyone talks about how people fear him

He is the one who fears

He wakes up every day

in the most important job in the world

paralyzed

knowing deep down that he isn’t up to it

seeing no way out

Trump lives in a slow rolling nervous breakdown

I feel sorry for him

He melts before our eyes

Projecting his immaturity

which has grown into a cancer

upon all who really care about him

The best thing for Trump would be to surrender the Presidency

Go to jail

Show his bald gray head

and his pale skin

sit alone in a room

and become a man

I believe in redemption

but for Trump it’s possibility comes too late

his tragedy has become our own

He should have been a comedian

or a salesman

He should have used his skill to work a crowd to do no more

I feel sorry for Trump

the ersatz boss

the weak tough guy

the man who never knew love

was never taught how to love

the pawn of greed

melting before our eyes

I feel sorry for Trump

so pathetic

impotent

and sad.

Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas

picasso-guernica-1937

2/7/20: Glossary of Power

Power — all that matters
Money — the scorecard
Free Press — propaganda, public relations, mass mind control
The Law — a weapon to use against your enemies
Democracy — a con for the suckers to make them think they matter and manipulate them as an army to get what you want
The Military — the means of acquisition of resources framed in a fairy tale of “honor” to keep the suckers in line
Politics — a veneer of public relations for the suckers coating dark influence horse trading of a cunning few
Friend — someone you can leverage to get power
Enemy — a competitor for your power
History — an irrelevancy to be manipulated as a phony story useful in public relations
Truth — doesn’t exist, a tool used by sanctimonious enemies in attempts to take or gain power
Love — a pretty word signifying something that doesn’t exist
Patriotism — bullshit that is often useful in the mobilization of suckers
Knowledge — something to be used or attacked depending if it is useful in getting what you want
Ritual — a joke that no one wants to dress up for, something to be mocked
Sex — rest and recreation, the fruits of victory, a weapon to be used against competitors
Hypocrisy — who cares, consistency only matters for a minute
Existential meaning — who cares, a waste of time, power is all that matters

Trump lives by this glossary, but he is not the first. He knows the people are aware of this fact. He seethes because he is the one “who got caught.” He feels justified because he is the outer borough trash who forced his way into the party. This is the meaning of his “populism.” The establishment follows the glossary of power, and their high minded words cover up the pursuit of power that they do in genteel rooms. The Great Liar believes that he is actually the most honest man in the world. he speaks the the roughness and crudity of the working trash who have to bully and fight for every morsel that drops from the table of power. And the working trash, proud of that designation, admire him as the man who took on the establishment and won.

The great opportunity and peril of our time is the task to preserve and defend our birthright to make a more perfect union.

I personally believe all of the American ideals that I was taught as a little boy.

I believe that we can restore power to its first definition — effectiveness in achieving the dictates of love …

But then again, I’m just an aging poet in control of only my own destiny.

The call of heroism falls to you.

Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas

saint-michael-vanquishing-satan-raphael-1503-87417517

2/8/20: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” MLK

The Women’s March

Journalistic and Legal Investigations

Tax, Emoluments, Sex and other scandals

The Muslim Ban

Foreign and domestic disinformation campaigns through social media and propaganda channels masquerading as journalism

The Tax Cut for the rich

Leaving the Paris Accords, the denial of, and the exacerbation of climate change

The attack on public education and the encouragement of fraud in for-profit schools

The denial of the fact of income inequality and economic injustice in America

The end of Department Injustice prosecutions related to police misconduct, racially motivated and otherwise

The attempt to repeal Obamacare

Gorsuch and Kavanaugh (the unjust aftermath of Garland)

The Cultural Divide — some identify with the Constitution and democracy, some identify with raw power

The mainstreaming of phony legal and political philosophies asserting absolute Presidential power, unchecked by Congress or the courts (Dershowitz and Barr)

Trump’s continuing dismantling of the Obama legacy, the social safety net and government regulations — government for sale to the highest bidders

Trump’s attack on the alliances that sustain the Free World

Trump’s sympathy and collusion with dictators

Trump’s continuing attacks on U.S. diplomats, law enforcement and intelligence professionals and the integrity of the military

Trump rallies filled with invective

Trump’s incitements of violent acts

Charlottesville

Emboldened white nationalists

Cruelty towards refugees at the Southern border including infants

A pattern of criminality, indecency and incompetence

The Mueller Report

Barr’s Distortion of the Mueller Report

Criminal convictions of several close Trump associates

The House Judiciary Committee’s Unsuccessful Hearings re: the Mueller Report

The Ukraine Conspiracy

Trump’s blanket obstruction of Congressional oversight

Schiff’s investigation

Impeachment led by Pelosi

The Republican Senate Caucus’ (minus Mitt Romney) corrupt acquittal of Trump

The Republican Party’s betrayal of America in complete supplication to Trump at the behest of their donors for money and political power

Trump’s 2020 State of the Union address, a dictator’s polemic is praised in the press and Trump gets his highest approval rating of 49%

Trump attacks Pelosi, Schiff and Romney at the 2020 National Prayer breakfast

Trump outlines his agenda of revenge related to his impeachment at a White House “celebration” the day after his acquittal.

The Iowa Democratic Party screws up the Caucus vote count

The Democratic Presidential candidates give a strong collective performance at their debate four days before the New Hampshire Primary, prosecuting a case against Trump and offering positive ideas to serve the desires, needs and values of the American people

The 2020 election’s security is in question given fears of foreign interference, domestic dirty tricks, and voter suppression and repression

and God knows what evils have been covered up by darkness, depriving us of awareness of all specific information and evidence

***********************************************************

America’s Constitution, laws, ideals, culture and values have been under attack by Trump and the Republican Party.

Our laws, ideals, culture and values are always under attack, and weren’t in very good shape prior to the rise of Trump and Mitch McConnell.

Citizen’s United is one of the worst decisions of the Supreme Court, on par with the Dred Scott decision. The Trump nightmare is the whirlwind that Citizen’s United has reaped.

A cabal of rich Republican donors have achieved a hostile takeover of that party and much of America’s wealth and power.

America has always been a contest between freedom and democracy and community, and greed and authoritarianism. We have seen worse times than Trump. The Civil War and the Viet Nam era (including the struggles for even basic rights for African-Americans at that time) were worse.

The times now, however, are pretty bad — the climax of a regression toward greed and power that began with the election of Ronald Reagan.

And Democrats were not immune from applying power to the diminishment of American justice, freedom and morality.

However, I am hopeful. The arc of American history tends toward progression. Slaves were freed. Women got the vote. Immigrants participated in economic and political power.

What is good about America won’t die, unless we let it …

and we won’t let it because we never have.

Through all of the pain since Trump was elected, we have been fighting

in the courts

in Congress

even in the Executive Branch

in the streets

in the family room

at the water cooler

and online.

Eleanor Roosevelt said that no one can make you feel inferior unless you let them do so.

As long as you keep good America alive in your heart,

and assert it’s reality and defend it

without hesitation

fearlessly

and at the right time

in the moment that it is challenged

it

you

and we

will be OK.

Dark America tries to intimidate

scare

distract

and confuse.

But you know who and what they are

and who and what we are

Good America will not die.

Hang in there

we will be OK

and when this Trump thing is finally over

we’ll be better than ever

improved

and ready to eliminate the root causes

of Dark America.

Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas

I next took a hiatus from writing and respond to the political moment. My opinion-driven blog posts are more skillfully written than they were in years past, but they are not real writing, so they are not included here.

Poetry returns.

The-Messenger-3-1400x757

2/23/20: Courage #poetry

I know a young woman who comes from a very nice family — religious, conservative, hard-working and kind.

The young woman was always perceived as troubled — shy and afraid of everything.

She was diagnosed as a schizophrenic. She joined a support group.

She loves poetry.

She is “out” now as a bisexual.

She is seeing someone.

She is agnostic.

She is an individual … thousands of miles from whence she came.

The timid, fearful one has turned out to be one of the most courageous people that I have ever known.

It is time that the simple act of being herself should not require such extraordinary bravery.

We, the rest of us, have an obligation to make the world safe for democracy …

to make the world safe for her.

She is our leader.

Our greatness lies far away from our conformity

rooted in our individuality

our scars and our passions

and in inclusive community.

Ignorance is not a matter of intelligence.

It is a question of character.

God help us if we can’t be moved.

The world cries out for leaders.

They are right before our eyes.

Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas

And then political blogging roars back.

And then politics informs poetry, a simple snapshot of the onset of the pandemic.

3/8/20: What Did We Learn This Week? #poetryWe learned that women are human beings.We learned that doctors and scientists know more about pandemics than criminals and salesmen.We learn that every time we try to advance collectively we experience a powerful pushback of stupidity and lousiness.We learned that each public injustice and ignorance hurts us personally because we have spent much of our lives being adversely affected by injustice and ignorance.We learned that there is a huge disconnect between our ideas and values, and the spiritual and emotional content of our lives, and the cesspools that too many other people live in.I have tried so hard to insulate myself from stupid and selfish and mean. But there is no escape. All I wanted to do was vote for Elizabeth Warren in the Illinois Primary. I would’ve enjoyed it. I can’t because of stupid, unjust and mean.I just wanted to enjoy early Spring. I love early Spring. This year I have wear a Hazmat suit to avoid a plague.And then I have to deal with all the memories of when I’ve been personally demeaned, or treated unfairly or had my will frustrated by colossal ignorance. Every public event, every societal participation is a Passion Play. We see our inner lives and individual biographies in the big events and personalities that touch us all.The best person won’t be President, and I can’t even vote for her.I can’t enjoy Spring.Two things that cost no money — voting my values and enjoying Spring — two things that used to be givens — big and nice parts of my life — are RUINED RUINED RUINED by the stupid, the unjust and the mean.I have my wife, my writing, my teaching and my friends. They can’t ruin those things.I’d like my freedom back, but I don’t know how to get it.I tried anger — futile.I tried ignoring them and just doing my thing — but they always come around RUINING something …Their cascade of insultstheir idiotic assertionstheir cockeyed prioritiesin stark contrast to love and learning and human potential and art.I have a bad habit in my writing of always working to some sort of answer. I can’t help it.Today’s answer is in the very things that are worthwhile — focus and commitment to those things.And I guess I know that you just have to deal with the assholesit’s just that I’m sick of it.They insult us as losers in a ploy to steal our lunch money, but our real frustration is not that we fail to get what we want out of life, it’s that we can’t figure out a way to get rid of them.Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas

I started teaching my course and the writing suffered again. The writing requires my full devotion. It’s a big thing. I can’t share myself with the problems of students and the petty frustrations of institutions. The writing was really outstanding and then it was pulled down. I don’t mind the opinionated blog posts as much. I’m just being a citizen, and the digressions don’t hurt my work.

The road back …

3/13/20: Alone in Community #Poetry #social-distancing

Everything that I ever did

Everywhere I ever went

I always felt like a man or a boy or a person

apart

never one of the gang

always the outlier

surrounded by laughing people,

busy people,

focused people,

people I often liked,

some made me nervous

they seemed to hate me and I didn’t know why

some made no impression upon me at all

faceless extras in a movie in need of a good editor

I wandered from place to place

person to person

conversation to conversation

sitting in offices

chatting in cars

meeting deadlines

getting to destinations

surviving

something was missing

sometimes my lack was an insistent brae

an urgent pain

but most often it was a low grade drowsiness

like a mild cold that you can’t shake.

Now I write

an activity that I do ostensibly alone

and I am part of a community.

One of many.

Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas

3/13/20: Assholes #Trump #Plague #unneccesarydeaths #poetry

The prerequisite of intelligence is humility

I don’t know and I want to learn

is the most intelligent statement that there is

Learning is hard

It is agony

It involves sacrifice

The learned person is never arrogant

because he or she knows how much they don’t know

how hard it is to learn

how they will never master more than a tiny fraction of what there is to know

about that which they know most

The President is a fucking bum

an insecure child

overwhelmed by a tremendously hard job

that requires constant learning

dealing with new information

usually to him

sometimes to the whole world

The Presidency is not a job

for a lazy man

and a bullshit artist

It’s not a job for a con man

a liar

a phony know-it-all

Trump is an American type

his supporters and a lot of people who didn’t support him

are just like him

They ruin everything

they make life miserable with their

lies

and insults

and incompetence

they connive and get control of things

they have an advantage

the people who work to get good at something

the professionals

the scholars

the real artists (not the smarmy marketers)

are too busy working

masters at politics

office and otherwise

feckless buffoons at everything else.

Usually the way it goes

is that the assholes make life miserable

grab the money and the credit

and everyone else tries to survive

under a cloud

under the thumb

of a ruling class of criminals, bullies and dunces

but when the assholes really have a problem

the professional

the scholar

and the artist

comes in to save the day

with reason

and science

and creativity

and study

and dogged work

that word again

WORK

and they save the asses of the assholes and everybody else.

But this time they waited too long

The assholes bullied some scientists

and fired them

We needed those scientists

they were studying epidemics and pandemics

in order to predict them and defend us against them.

Without those scientists

no one was doing that important job

A pandemic started

there were steps that needed to be taken.

There was no one there to take the steps.

When it came to the time that the severity of the problem was obvious even to the assholes

We were way behind the curve

flat-footed

unprepared

The workers are starting to come back

They may save many

But many will die

when it didn’t have to be that way

ASSHOLES YOU MAKE EVERYTHING MISERABLE

BUT THIS TIME YOU HAVE REALLY DONE IT

BLOOD IS ON YOUR HANDS

BLOOD IS ON THE HANDS

OF IGNORANT, ARROGANT, INSECURE, CRIMINAL ASSHOLES

It’s not the first time assholes have killed people

It’s the story of the world

aided and abetted by the Jerks

Jerks who argue with the assholes

but never call an asshole an asshole

and never have the confidence to declare themselves equal to the assholes

Using the toxicity of the assholes’ abuse

as an excuse

not to stand up against the assholes

America is teeming with assholes and weak people

and a sliver of people who know one from the other

I wish the world was further along

but it isn’t.

I mourn for the victims of the asshole plague

before we even know who they are.

THE GREAT ASSHOLE CATASTROPHE

Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas

3/21/20: Pandemic Bright Sides #poetry #transformation

It rained virus for forty days and forty nights

or four hundred

stuck in the ark

can’t touch anybody

can’t leave a few rooms

if you are lucky two if by two

can’t work

left with nothing but your heart and mind

what are you feeling

what are you thinking about

you start reflecting on all that

(I did before the pandemic — it’s just the way I am)

There is nothing anymore

No money

No social standing

Just people off on islands

mostly equipped with walkie talkies

and libraries of all the books and songs and movies ever made

accessible in most homes

Your brain

Your heart

and the history of creativity

that’s all you got

You can’t fear anything

You’ll either die or make it

You can’t desire anything

It’s all out of reach

You don’t owe anyone any service

Society just wants you to stay home

You are free

and maybe

if you are lucky

you won’t get sick

and the government will support you for months.

When this finally ends

and we emerge from our catacombs

stiff-legged and squinting into the sunlight

everything will be different

society will be different

the nature of work will be different

the earth itself will be a little cleaner

all those parked cars and planes let out no exhaust for months

but most of all

you will be different

a new person

your freedom from all that chaotic activity

connected you to real action

you got to know yourself

the passages of your mind

the rhythms of your heart

the deep eddies of your soul

all inventoried and catalogued.

Every revolution that you ever wanted on the earth’s face

will be evident on yours.

Of course, most of you won’t do anything like that.

Some of you will get high, masturbate and play video games for months on end

Some of you will be filled with duty every day

Thrilled that you got the chance to be like the Greatest Generation

Addicted to duty in avoidance of reality

But those of you who are always dissatisfied

who chafe at orders

who wonder

wonder

wonder

wonder

wonder

wonder

The Pandemic is a time of wonder

Your self-portrait is a mural of the world.

The disgraced comedian

who sits in prison

maybe contemplating the jigsaw of his corrupted mind heart and soul

an old man wondering what happened

may find a new world.

The now-despised comic once asked

a wonder-full

question

“Noah, how long can you tread water?”

For the humans blessed by the existential opportunity of the pandemic

the answer

is crystal clear …

As long as it takes.

Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas

Separating from business …

3/22/20: How to Succeed WITHOUT Business Without Really Trying #poetry #passion #survival #love #economy

From personal experience

From recent personal experience

Let me begin with a qualifier

I have nothing against business

My later life has been financed by business schools

and what is business

when practiced by decent people

normal people

not perverse or psychotic people

not larcenous condescending mad men

not men who raise competition to social pathology

but just normal people

whose only sin is that they confuse their fearful building of homes and stocked pantries and school tuitions and health care savings accounts

as morality

as the first thing

and the only thing that they worry about

who let their responsibilities as informed citizenry atrophy

and their spiritual lives devolve into superficiality

turning their churches into social clubs with auxiliaries

raising money and playing bingo

indifferent to art

a quick tour of a museum once a year when the grandkids come to town

will suffice

or, mostly,

not at all

the sugar high of marketing

disguised as entertainment

flattering their quietly desperate lives

Paying bills

Feeling compromised

Having a little fun

Indulging in a few bad habits

living and dying

one not much different from another

Spectators

programmed to follow

what to do

what to value

how to feel about everything

proscribed in an employee handbook

delivered at birth

Dying in wars prematurely

or succumbing to early deaths

never questioning the power lines in their sub-division

Suspicious of any one who cries “injustice!”

Chastising and mocking

anyone who breaks from the herd

and charts a new independent course

occasionally romanticizing such mavericks

but disappearing when the cock crows three times

Human Sacrifices

on the Altar of Business

to the Great God Money

Subservient to the rich man

Grateful for crumbs off his table

Ecstatic when Scrooge emerges with an occasional Christmas Turkey.

You may be a bit depressed at this picture of a world imprisoned by mortal and venial sin

But I know a secret

I’ve seen it myself

It has happened to me

It is happening to me now

and always has, whether I’ve known it or not

When you love

love — the pure energy of creation

that’s what love is

it makes things

and it makes things important

it is the source of all true action

and all real meaning

when you love

God will provide

He turns the world into a field of abundance

Old friends show up to support you

New friends emerge

Your bills get paid

you can’t always get what you want

but you get what you need

God will not support your mediocre desire for fame and fortune

Business does that

and business always fails that too

The market is a big casino

God runs an art gallery

God will not support your need to escape fear

and aggrandize yourself above others

He will support your need to be you

A long ago poet owned a print shop

he fashioned poems and drawings

and taught on the side

There were holes in his bathrobe

but he never worried

he never starved

he went to his death singing

blessed not with success

but with achievement

We are God’s hands

We are not Gods

We are the front line of his Creation

born to extend His work on the edges of his universe

He cares for us as long as we do His assigned Work

He whispers to us

in our guts

our hearts

our heads

our souls

He tells us what to do

He tells us who we are

He even tells some of us to do business

and makes money their artistic medium

but he doesn’t mistake the implement for the work

Our security is not in our good or bad economies

Our security lies within our souls

GOD WILL PROVIDE

God

not business

or money

or the boss

or competition

or success

or fear

or power over others

The Source of All Abundance

overwhelms the Root of All Evil

if you let it.

Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas

Teaching plus politics equals talk and no real writing.

A rant tending toward poetry crawls out weakly from beneath the weight of teaching and blog posting. This is a period of regression for the blog. I get the thread of real writing and then life steps in — a class as an adjunct professor, an election, a pandemic … and I step away …

The real writer in me has gained resilience over time. Poetry returns as the calendar changes to April.

4/1/20: Killing Us #Poetry #Pandemic

Killing us

Narcissism is killing us

A new father wants to witness the birth of his child

He knows he has symptoms

He knows he’s been exposed

He doesn’t disclose

He infects his wife

He panics the maternity ward

He contaminates a sacred place

He compromises many lives

because he is an immature child himself

He just had to be there

and he is killing us

Trash capitalism is killing us

The office manager pushes his peons to stay in their cubicles to the bitter end

one of them that I know gets sick

what happens to the others

It’s killing us

Every person who thinks that money is more important than other people’s lives

be they Presidents, Governors, Rich, Middle-Class or Poor

Everyone who drank the kool-aid of an immoral economic system

is killing us

Everyone who ever insulted or mocked “losers”

who humiliated other people

the rapists, the thugs, the bullies

everyone who lived for greed and power and not love

is killing us

That attitude is the reason that doctors, nurses and other health care workers

go into battle without body armor or guns

Lambs to the slaughter

is killing us

Anyone who said government was a bad thing

actually argued against civilization itself

those people are killing us

Health insurance companies that made a right into a commodity

and created a culture where we accepted that people could be allowed to die if they didn’t have the means to survive

are killing us

Prisons run for profit

crowded to the rafters

breeding grounds of death

devaluing human lives

figuring out a way to make a buck off of lost people

instead of helping them

are killing us

The idea that soldiers should die not for our freedom

but rather for the profits of oil companies and contractors

is killing us

Religious fanatics said that the AIDS epidemic was God’s punishment of homosexuals

A vile violent sentiment

We are experiencing an American Holocaust

not as God’s punishment

But as the logical outcome

of all that is killing us

including religious fanaticism

A “Christian” University keeps its dorms open and creates a death cluster in its surrounding area

Killing us

A state leaves its beaches open far beyond the time they should be closed

Killing us

A mayor wants to encourage local business and goes out for a drink and visits a health club on the eve of shutting down all activity

sending a mixed message and killing us

Lemmings form large crowds at a harbor to view a hospital ship coming into port

and creating more sick people to overburden the hospitals of the city that the ship was sent to relieve

Our greed

our resentment

our stupidity

our narcissism

our selfishness

our bowing to authority

our choice of some crude definition of success as opposed to what’s right

our lack of community

OUR TOLERANCE OF ALL OF THE ABOVE

are killing us

Our choice is clear now

either we individually and collectively commit to human decency

or we won’t survive

When we get through all of this

things must be different

Germany admitted its sins after World War II

and flourished in the aftermath

Our darkness is much trickier than Nazism

Madison Avenue and Hollywood are the greatest propaganda agencies ever made

We have been brainwashed to be

selfish

materialistic

“I consume therefore I am ”

“It is worse to be poor than to be a criminal”

“Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing”

We turned our ambition into a national religion

and we disregarded what matters

What matters being unattended for forty years

is killing us

If you don’t think that a nurse is infinitely more important than a salesman

you are

killing us.

Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas

And an excellent poem, as good as anything that I have ever written, emerges …

4/4/20: Death Terrors #poetry

I’m not afraid of dying

I’m afraid of suffocating

I’m not afraid of dying alone

I know I’ll die alone

My mother died alone

I saw her the afternoon before

But she was alone

Alone in her dementia

Alone in her sleep

She didn’t want to die at first

She cried like a baby

She yelped like a puppy

She was such a little thing

Four feet long

ninety pounds

but then she changed

she accepted her death

she didn’t fight it

she mustered a smile for me

one last look of tenderness

and drifted to sleep

The next morning

early

I got the call that she was gone

My father was more stoic

He knew that he was dying

He settled his affairs

He forgave his enemies

He told everyone what he felt about them

On the night he died

as reported to me

I wasn’t there

My mother came to him and asked him to eat

He said that’s over now

He kissed her and stroked her arm

and asked her to go into the other room

They knew he was going to die that night

She did as he asked

and he died alone on his bed

We all die alone

I’m not afraid of dying

I’m not afraid of dying alone

We all die alone

I’m afraid of suffocating

My aunt just died

She lived alone

all by herself

in an independent living facility

depending on the kindness of strangers

and unlike Blanche DuBois

she found that kindness

a nurse

a neighbor

an estates attorney

a banker

and in the end an undertaker

tended to her needs

She knew she would die soon

“I’m 95 years old” she’d say with a laugh

She wasn’t afraid to die

but she was disappointed at the end

she said “I didn’t want it to be this way”

I don’t know what dissatisfied her

She was buried during the pandemic

Anonymously

like everyone else

our faces are illusions

they disappear as our breath

diminishes to nothing

My brother and I couldn’t take the trip to where she died

Death prohibits all travel

Death is a stay in place situation

Motion ends

Still blindness prevails forever

Life is an opportunity to imagine meaning

and for a time to think that our imaginings are real

then penultimately to recognize our own illusions

and then to die

The only thing that matters

the only thing

was in my mother’s weak tender look at me

on her death bed

the only thing is care and kindness

We are all alone

24/7

in life and in heaven

we live alone and die alone

We are all as solitary as a COVID-19 casualty

struggling for her last breaths in a crowded hospital hallway

we suffer and we are alone

and even those who we perceive closest to us

will ask us to leave the room when they die

we are solitudes

planets revolving about each other

and the only thing that counts

is our tenderness towards each other in our mutual solitudes

our understanding that the other lives and dies alone

and is afraid of suffocating

I’m afraid of suffocating

My aunt’s funeral was a professional affair

Her body tended by a priest, her nurse and the undertaker

That’s it

It seems a life should be noticed more when it passes

I don’t know why I feel that way

I don’t know what difference it makes

My aunt died alone like everybody else

I’m preoccupied by nature’s terrors

and man’s perverse ignorance and cruelties

and gravitate toward those who love

and try to love myself and others

belatedly

I’m not afraid of dying alone

I’m afraid of suffocating

Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas

4/6/20: Waves #poetry

It’s not nearly over

There is no end in sight

What’s natural comes in waves

ebbs and flows

crests and flattens

once something is introduced it never goes away

it seizes our attention

and fades

it only surprises us

because of our denial

we want things to be a certain way

we enjoy ideologies and fairy tales

but nothing that we believe

alters the phases of the moon

the changes of the seasons

the imperceptible evolution of day to night

people die

species die

worlds seemingly end

but life endures

rising to divine consciousness

descending to protozoan existence

Our greatest terrors and comforts

can be tracked mathematically on a heart monitor.

Constancy of change.

Only one type change is voluntary —

the change of our perception.

We can define the world as a static place

and calcify our fear;

we can falsely define a world without waves

and think we have all of the answers.

The virus will come in waves

we won’t ride out a brief hardship

and get back to normal

waves wash away what was once normal

we will never relate to each other as we once did

our politics and economy will never be the same

our relationship to life and death will never be the same

the evil and good responses to the waves of the Great Depression and World War II

the welfare state, and fascism and hyper-capitalism and social democracy

are anachronisms

the prescriptions for the ailments of an older world

which has been changed

by the waves.

The waves erode our world

and transform it

and we must adapt.

We will unite and care for each others fundamental needs,

discarding the fictional distinction of rich and poor

recognizing that we are all one

or we can turn on one another

see each other as an enemy

and compete

granting survival only to those most willing and able to kill.

There is always an argument

between recognizing waves

and denying them

between surveying the changes the waves have brought to the world

and denying those changes

between jealously holding the illusions of past realities close to our chests

and making our lives

sacraments of sacrifice

for one another.

Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas

4/7/20: Bad Dream #poetry#Trump#Pandemic#democracyI had a bad dream last night, that the country was stuck in a virus plague, and no one could go outside, and people were dying and the government made sure they didn’t get an accurate count of their numbers for propaganda reasons, and the economy stopped, and the President was an orange gorilla who did nothing about it, and did red assed insult comedy that made everyone upset while doctors, and admirals and other big shots had to stand around him and kiss his ass, and the whole world was affected by the plague but the US did the worst job of it, and there was 47% of the American people who loved the orange gorilla despite all evidence to the contrary, and evidence and facts didn’t matter any more and people just made shit up to get away with other shit, and the gorilla was really good at it, and elections were all fucked up by bad people who wanted to control the result to elect other gangsters like the orange gorilla, and everyone was scared and frustrated and trying to cope, and there was no known vaccine yet for the virus or the gorilla, and it would take a long time to get both.I’m still dreaming.Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas

4/8/20: War! #poetry #Trump #ethics #morality #law #decency

Trump and his administration and supporters caused an unmitigated plague and a depression and they are not intellectually or morally capable, and lack the necessary expertise to address the conditions of those tragedies or lead any type of recovery. They lie to protect their own interests, and plunder our treasury and resources instead of addressing our needs. They must be excised from our body politic in total. This is not tribalism. This is not ideology. This is not the natural competing interests in a democracy. This is tyranny. And it must be stopped — by us.

Who wants war?

No good person wants war

Most people don’t want to suffer

Most people don’t want to be bothered

But Trump

and what Trump represents

will not be defeated in a debate or an election

it can’t be compromised with

it can’t be tolerated in certain localities

we can’t acquiesce to it’s directives

we must stop it’s influence on our lives

in total

it has invaded our existence

in a virulent way

It must be defeated

the way slavery was defeated

the way Nazism was defeated

the Civil War and World War II are the templates for our current time of need

As in both those instances

we face enemies

who are criminals

and otherwise lawless

immoral

unconcerned with ethics

indecent

and engaged in words and deeds reprehensible and offensive to the human conscience

They observe no rules

They have no sense of fair play

Their objective is to dominate and subjugate

They care nothing for our health, welfare, security or very lives

They oppress, torment and murder the weak

and come for us

They are nihilists given over to evil

as much as any Southern slaveowner or German Nazi war profiteer was

People such as this need to be stopped, punished and rehabilitated

The Civil War and World War II are considered “good wars”

as horrible and morally confused as they were

I hold out hope for non-violent passive resistance

Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. won wars like that

Eastern European nations overthrew Soviet aggression like that

That may be a way

But one way or another

Trump, the zenith of all that is ugly and wrong in the American character

and all who support him, emulate him and further his aims

Must be forced to stand down.

There is no way that they will do it on their own.

This means war.

Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas

4/8/20: This is Easy for Me; She Suffers #poetry #love

This is easy for me

She suffers

I live in my mind

I have rejected the world

And the world has rejected me

Long ago

What matters to me is what I see

the world is my subject

and sometimes I depart my body and soul and mind

and take a look at myself

as a distant and alienated and separate thing

and I say what I feel

about me

and the world

in words

and the words become my world

It’s just the way it is

and I accept it

But she loves the world

she’s part of it

The world is not her subject

it is her partner

she smiles all the time

and says words like

“friend”

and “community”

she is thrilled to answer the telephone

genuinely excited to hear from others

she laughs warmly at pictures of babies and old ladies and young women and kind men and dogs

she misses all of them

touching them

being in proximity to them

she misses tables

and conference rooms

shared meals

and shared ideas

I have her all to myself

and at first I very much liked it

But now I am sorry she is sad

I feel her sadness as if it were my own

Damn her!

She’s made me participate in the world

But she is kind

she doesn’t demand that I stay

she knows I have a positive escape

and that makes me happy.

She wants nothing but the best for everyone

I married goodness.

Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas

van gogh eyes

4/11/20: Thanks, Coronavirus! #poetry

The air is clearing up

Combustion engines on pause

Smokestacks just stacks

Thanks, Coronavirus!

Someone on TV suggests that we should have another lockdown to end climate change

Thanks, Coronavirus!

People are starting to respect the black and brown people who work at the grocery store

Thanks, Coronavirus!

Everybody is talking straight and honest like old people who know they are going to die and don’t give a shit anymore

Thanks, Coronavirus!

Who needs this fucking economy

and its mass acquisition of useless shit

and mass anxiety about how to pay for the shit

and selfish morons in charge

and the ridiculous adulation of those ignorant assholes

The ownership society?

You own a plague, shitheads

You organized how we do things and it is inadequate

People who stock grocery store shelves are more important than you

and that line is not poetic license

Thanks, Coronavirus!

I don’t “relax” at the movies anymore

Never will again

Wasting my time

paying fifteen bucks for a sack of popcorn

and diet soda served in a vat

watching some calculated piece of marketing

diverting me from …

what exactly

inside of a drafty filthy converted warehouse

serviced by acne-faced kids who should be home tending to their learning disabilities

Thanks, Coronavirus!

The iO Theater is shut down

and so are all the other “improv” shops

The plague hit them like the asteroids hit the dinosaurs

Hopefully they will never return

and improvisation will come back in a less crude and stupid form

Thanks, Coronavirus!

Real music and real art are more important

They aren’t just background noise

People really listen

There’s nothing else to do

and people change because of it

Thanks, Coronavirus!

and all of the hack commercial shit is exposed

what was once unconsciously annoying

is five-alarm PLEASE TURN THIS SHIT OFF annoying

Thanks, Coronavirus!

And I’m more honest with myself

I’m not appropriately sad

as expected when anyone

anyone at all gets sick and dies

I don’t feel bad that Boris Johnson is sick

serves the motherfucker right

and I don’t worry about the bad karma of wishing anyone ill

I don’t wish him ill

I don’t wish him suffering

but I wouldn’t mind if he was gone

He has caused a lot of suffering

I figure I get some karma points for wanting justice

Thanks, Coronavirus!

There’s a lot of hand-wringing about whether the world will be the same when the plague is over

I fucking hope not

Who needs what America has become

Thanks, Coronavirus!

If the rich motherfuckers use their leverage to steal relief money

don’t forgive debt

and basically don’t torment the rest of us to collect to keep their shitty wealth

that does no one any good

including them

keeping money from shit we really need

to finance their condescension and boorishness

the rich have no taste

in their stick-up-the-ass clubs and restaurants

dying slow deaths from the secondhand smoke of tasteful interior design

while people who want to be educated, and healthy and human

always have a looming pressure over their heads

a gold-plated tyranny

If the rich don’t get their shit together

If the rich don’t stop being the rich as we know them

and they push us to unbearable extremes

we are going to have a revolution

Thanks, Coronavirus!

Thanks, Coronavirus!

for the re-emergence of skepticism

in ordinary people who never paid attention to the news

you kinda wanna know a proper death count

Thanks, Coronavirus!

Coronavirus is a barbaric instrument of human sacrifice

all the people worthy of life and love taken before their time

but it also is killing some evil assholes

and putting some stupid shit out of business

and giving us a chance, just a chance to do better

giving society a mulligan

We probably won’t take it

and fall back in the same worthless lines waiting for the same worthless shit

jerking off and liking it and paying $200 like boss man wants us to

So, Thanks, Coronavirus!

and fuck us.

Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas

4/11/20: I Felt Nothing #poetry #art #death

An artist goes into a wheat field

and gets lost in eternity

contemplating each grain

reproducing its image

with brush and knife

expressing the intersection of truth

between the grain and the artist

living a life foreign to most people

artists are nature’s oddities

chosen by God to speak for Him

or Her

Half human and half angel.

when the artist comes home from the field

his superpowers

or hers

recede into remission

and a feckless

quite helpless human being remains

the intense sensitivity that creates masterpieces

becomes a source of extreme pain.

The pain is delivered by minor, inconsequential and ignored figures

when the artist is in the field

who become ogres of destruction when the artist is unguarded in practical life.

Dismissive whores

hissing crowds

the artist is a frankenstein

pursued by the townsfolk

the ridicule of salesmen

the betrayal of false friends who turn on the artist as soon as they realize what he is

and hate how it challenges them

the worst are the Judases who know the artist’s worth

and hate how it reminds them of the insignificance

that they are too cowardly to discard

and perhaps not blessed with the talent to be able to

and hating the artist because of their envy for his gift.

The artist is oblivious to all this hate and ridicule and skepticism and envy

There is only he and the subject of his painting

enveloped in the eternal embrace of God

but when the artist goes home

to have dinner

and sleep

and pay the bills

and grab a little bit of entertainment

and human companionship

even God can get tiresome

art is work after all

the artist wants a break

when the artist returns to the world of only three dimensions

the toxic destructive people swarm him

or her

and he

or she

has to learn

containment

How can I take a good shit

and protect my jewel

the rare thing that God bestowed on me

how do I protect myself from the toxic cancerous creeps who approach me

who could destroy my connection to eternity

and lower me to simply a broken down failure

who can’t care for himself

or herself

and is of no use to anyone

(his or her art is of the most use — art is paradoxically the most useful thing in the world — the artist gets to live in the world)

?

Every once in a while

one of the toxic tormentors

the malevolent people that want to destroy the artist

and all of his

or her

art

dies.

They die.

And the artist doesn’t feel sorrow

and doesn’t feel relief

doesn’t feel liberated

doesn’t feel safe

doesn’t feel happy

doesn’t feel sad

doesn’t feel justified

doesn’t feel shame

doesn’t fill with memory

pleasant or bad

doesn’t reflect on lessons learned

doesn’t feel something important happened

doesn’t feel like going to the funeral

doesn’t feel upset at phony eulogies for goodness that never was.

What was subjective and painful

becomes objective and clear.

I don’t mourn some deaths

I don’t celebrate them either

at certain points all of the foes and villains in my life die

and become nothing more

than objective facts

of irrelevant

history.

Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas

4/14/20: The American Economy, a Eulogy #poetry

The house burned down

We have to build a new house

No one is going back to the movies for a long time

It’ll take more than a green light from a governor to get people to go back to a movie theater

No one is going to a ballgame of any kind

Maybe we will watch them on TV from empty stadia

No one is going to a restaurant or a bar

or the theater

forget plays

or concerts

Improv is dead

The kids who paid $5 a beer to watch those dumb shows

and paid hundreds of bucks to take those dumb classes

used to work in restaurants

They won’t have the money

even if they are stupid enough to want to go sit in the improv petrie dish for hours on end

which I fear that they are

Television production will survive — people want to be entertained

So will recorded music

So long mega-churches — where’s your Messiah now? (just kidding — but seriously — fuck off)

Comedy clubs? You died in the nineties of natural causes

I have to admit, I like seeing the toe tag put on stupid

American factories will look like medieval torture chambers for a time

or Roman slave ships

exhausted people dying beside assembly lines

their bodies tossed into refrigerated trucks or furnaces

Eventually capitalism will be overthrown

It’s on its last legs

when labor markets make human life a commodity, they’ve gone too far

they are only possible in the desperate, ignorant outer reaches of the earth

like Texas and South Dakota

Farmers who grew food for commercial buyers

like restaurants, hotels and schools

will destroy their crops to keep prices reasonably high

until the government steps in

and tells them to retool for food banks and grocery stores

another marketplace destroyed

The idea that free markets solve every problem is idiotic

I don’t care how many Nobel Prizes it received

Schools won’t reopen until we have national testing

that gets ironclad results

until we know who is infected and who is not

and exactly who is going to administer these tests?

the current Administration?

Lord Corrupt Dumb Fuck and his Ass-Licking Minions?

We gave up on government, remember?

We gave up on government

and the rights of labor

and education

and human rights

Everyone got their gun and their TV set

and alternated between blowing shit up

and zoning out

The poor died first

they always do

we didn’t notice

because at one time

this country had leaders that did a lot of the right things

They came out of the Depression and World War II

and said, we don’t want that shit again

But they eventually died of a natural causes

and their spoiled kids took over the companies

It is often said that FDR saved capitalism

by introducing regulation and a social safety net

FDR saved capitalism from itself

But nothing can save capitalism now

capitalism has disrupted the natural harmony of the world

killing the ecology

or making it filthy

and we have become prey to a virus born

in a diseased Chinese bat

our bars and restaurants and improv clubs are closely connected

to that dead bat

and now they are dead too

They are going to have to eventually forgive all of the student loans

No one is going to be able to pay them

and if people can’t pay them, they’ll have what little money they have sucked away from them

to pay the student loans partially

minimally and partially

to the point where the creditor isn’t making money, but is just proving a point

a ritualistic shaming of the sin of not being a capitalist

“we’ll give you money so that you have capital to go out and make money and then maybe someday you’ll be in the same position, but we know many of you will fail and then we will exploit you and work you to death and suck every dime out of your pathetic change purse —WE WIN! I DRINK YOUR MILKSHAKE!”*

*By the way — the wife of the guy who made that milk shake movie does shitty corporate commercials

NO ONE ESCAPES! THERE IS NO WAY OUT! WE SAIL ON A SHIP OF FOOLS! A VOYAGE OF THE DAMNED!

and THE BORROWERS won’t be able to buy anything else

let alone invest in anything ELSE

We’ll have to have universal health care

if you die, I die — get it

It’s not just a New Age poster

We are terrifyingly connected

What does an investor do exactly, Mr. Experienced Man-of-the-World who knows how everything works?

“Hurumph, hurumph —- well, young man an investor provides capital which is the economic engine that creates jobs and spawns creativity and innovation … ”

Yeah — well then where were the investors when health care workers needed masks

or ventilators

or food banks needed food …

Have you ever been flat on your ass in life?

Have you ever had to acknowledge that what you were doing wasn’t working and you had to start over?

Have you ever had to look at what you wanted and needed, and realized it wasn’t what you thought you wanted and needed before?

I’m just a poet

no one listens to me

you’ll listen to the governors and economists

you’ll evade the situation

this thinking stuff is hard! you’ll whine

you’ll dismiss all of the artists who ever lived

who knew all this rigamarole was bullshit since the dawn of time

you’ll stumble around

a bunch of necrophiliacs

trying to have sex with this corpse of an economy

people will die

people will be frustrated

marriages will end

young men will simmer with rage

young women will breed hordes of improperly cared for children

in an attempt to find meaning

schools won’t know what to teach

they had forsaken education for vocational training long ago

now there are no vocations to train for

a unlucky few will have jobs

that will kill them immediately

or destroy them slowly

in an inexorable march of time

People with post-graduate degrees will work

remotely

for a brief time

mining the last bit of relevance out of their education until there is no world to apply its wisdom to

A few artful dodgers will survive

find the safe corner

and the untainted food

untrammeled by fear or desire

they’ll create

in peace and contentment

I’m one of those

The poet is freed of all of his sorrow

so that he can assume yours

and unfortunately, you are a big fucking mess

you need to get focused

and clear out all of the dead wood

to make way for the new.

Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas

4/17/20: Stating the Obvious #poetry #government #professionalism

Are you against government?

How do you like it now, when you don’t have one?

Doctors are important

Scientists are important

Academic intellectuals are important

Public policy experts are important

Lawyers are important

Management professionals are important

Writers are important

Teachers are important

Cops are important

Nurses are important

Food supply chain workers are important

Sanitation workers are important

Skilled tradesmen are important

Artists are important

True spiritual leaders are important

People who reason, create, maintain, organize, problem solve, help, serve …

are important;

Salesmen, not so much

Bully boy bosses, not so much

Advertising executives, not so much

Public relations professionals, not so much

Hack entertainers, not so much

Moneychangers, not so much

Creditors, not so much

Parasitic corporate profiteers, not so much

Criminals, not so much

Con men, not so much

Thieves, legal and illegal, not so much

Abusers, not so much

Exploiters, not so much

Libertarian community denial fanatics, not so much

Uncredentialed false prophets (and profits) of phony churches, not so much

Bullshit artists not so much.

It is time for America to grow up

out with selfish, in with meaning

out with sensation, in with feeling

out with stupid, in with smart

out with mean, in with kind

out with exploitation, in with caring

out with superficiality, in with depth

out with trivial ego, in with love.

Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas

4/18/20: Dark Saturday #poetry

Optimism dies hard in an American

I am an American

I was taught

more than taught

forged

in a cauldron of Americanism

that “the arc of the moral universe bends towards justice”

I was shaped by Martin Luther King

even before I understood who he was

but today

I am unburdened of hopes and dreams

I am facing reality

and reality hurts

Breaking and tearing and pain

I saw a sweatshirt

worn by a helper

“look for the helpers” — Mr. Rogers

a sweatshirt with a quote from Pope Francis

an Argentinian

a country more aware of how it has disappointed God than the United States is

The quote:

The world tells us to seek success, power and money; God tells us to seek humility, service and love.

That’s the truth

creation is in constant conflict

good always contends with evil

evil with good.

No arcs

just a mess

We had to leave the house today

We saw working class people walk streets purposely

unprotected

bereft of self-esteem

exposing themselves to disease

and horrible death

with annoyed resignation

chum for the leviathan capitalism

Homeless people beg at red lights

the walking dead.

An evil Republican donor

is quoted as saying that a person’s worth is determined by how much wealth he or she creates

but the evil is more widespread than merely in obvious villains

a holocaust is occurring in nursing homes

howls of demented fear echo across the land

and let’s face it

really how many see tragedy in the pain of people with faded and broken bodies and minds

death at 96 gets a shoulder shrug

death on Medicaid — well how much care for them do you expect

what is the cost benefit analysis

they aren’t productive

they haven’t been fully alive for years

junk in human junkyards

give them up for scrap

even the newly sainted Democratic governors see it that way

the technocrats know that the junkyard nursing homes

are an irredeemable bridge too far

we could never do what needs to be done

and pay the creditors

and dividend the investors.

working class

homeless

elderly

the stupid — young and middle-aged people

with blank expressions on their faces

unaware of the moment

the context

the danger

the ramifications

idiots bumping into things and each other

on the aging streets of Chicago

and my mind

my mind

gets away from me

a pleasant ride with my wife

intruded upon by seemingly random memory

but related to all that I saw

in the once familiar neighborhoods

made strange by isolation and history

a sick feeling feeling in the pit of my stomach

of an awful memory

the toxic imps of malice

trying to disrupt

the illness of shamans

every moment of the present brings me to the past

I open a vein

and bleed

in order to awaken empathy

to learn something and then teach it

I had a friend

check that

he was never my friend

I thought that he was

but he was on one side of Pope Francis’ equation

and I am on the other

He died recently

he was sick for a long time

the last time I saw him

he shamed me

called me “unsuccessful”

and told me not to write the “serious pieces”

and “get back to the jokes”

he was dying then

and he condescended to me

he was told by friends of his and a wife

who I had rejected

as stupid, superficial and mean

they told him to condescend to me

“you’re better than that loser”

I had made my peace that these people had ruined an art form that I loved

long ago

and how they made sure that I had no place in the venues that they worked

which was fine with me

My vision

my work

was certainly more important to me than any association with them

but I thought my assumed friend was different

I thought he was kinder and deeper

he wasn’t

he chose them

and not only because he needed the wife and the extended community for his survival and comfort

he thought they were right

He had been using me

he always sort of looked up to me

but wasn’t so sure

he was torn between the two sides of Pope Francis’ sweatshirt quote

he went with the dark side

dark Saturday.

So, we were estranged when he died.

I don’t feel bad about that at all.

Our “friendship” was an illusion.

I used to go see him every week.

I brought him his favorite pastry.

I sat in his bedroom and joked.

I read his scripts and text book — they weren’t very good

I read him my writing and teaching — they were very good

My mother died when he was doing OK before his final decline

I didn’t hear a word

I was reading some of my writing the last time that I was at his house

and his wife rudely interrupted me

She teaches at 3 crude and ignorant schools that I decided to avoid long ago

I don’t feel badly that I missed his death

or of course that I will never see her again

I miss the illusion of their friendship

and I am wounded by their attack

I realize that I knew them at a stop in my unending journey to self-esteem

Self-esteem not in the pop-psychology way

Self-esteem in the existential way

For the more that one is conscious of the sides of Pope Francis’ equation

the more one knows one’s own value

and then suffers shamanic pain

on the way to wisdom to share

so here’s the wisdom:

America is fucked up

She thinks what is worthless is important

and what is precious is expendable

The evil side of the papal equation is vicious

the good side makes it feel bad

then the good side has to fight through the misplaced shame

and reaffirm the value the value the good side was born knowing

a knowledge the evil tries to destroy

and the evil side unconsciously knows its evil

but denies that knowledge

and so corrodes itself.

Eventually evil destroys itself

and a lot of innocent collateral damage

The arc of the moral universe does not bend toward justice

the moral universe is a chaotic place

evil implodes

good is martyred

good comes back to life in the brief pauses after evil is shattered

and for a time things seem OK but evil re-groups

and good lets its guard down

and suffering begins again

I don’t have much hope for the world today

America is debating human life versus money

It seems so backward

The Pope described the way things are

It is a stupid debate

I don’t have much hope for the world today

But I have a lot of hope for me

I don’t think I’ll be any better

I think I have always been good and a martyr for good

sometimes sidetracked by illusion

but I’m sadder and wiser

getting ready to be more more effective

unburdened of hopes and dreams.

Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas

4/19/20: The Rick Blog Daily BriefingIt’s so simple — what must be done to re-open America:First the government has to make a massive investment in our health care system. No one will work or consume if they are sick, dead or afraid of getting sick and/or dying.Second, the government must make a massive investment in the financial relief of the American people. No one will ever go to school, work or consume if they are wiped out and too destitute to start over.Third, the government must make a massive investment in building a much more secure social safety net — millions fell into unemployment, poverty and food and housing insecurity in a month under the former system. Universal healthcare, free higher education, forgiveness of personal debt on many levels, etc.Right now, radical capitalists are fighting to maintain control of an economy that they ruined. They will yell — who is going to pay for it!The real question who will pay for anything if we don’t take these necessary steps.You can always make money back. No one has to die of avoidable causes. No one has to be driven to such poverty that they can never recover financially. No one else benefits form the death and suffering, and the indigence — not even the radical capitalists who are desperately trying to hold on to their money which they will lose anyway. They need workers. They need people to buy the garbage that they sell. They don’t have an economic philosophy. They are criminally insane.Of course, this will be a huge ordeal — not simple at all …but the actual solutions in broad strokes is easy.Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas

4/20/20: The Catastrophe of Success; the Meaning of Excellence #poetrysuc·cess/səkˈses/noun

  1. the accomplishment of an aim or purpose.“the president had some success in restoring confidence”Similar:favorable outcomesuccessfulnessfavorable resultsuccessful outcomepositive resultvictorytriumphOpposite:failureI’m OK with this definition — almost, but really all positive action is open-ended; every outcome is simply the foundation for the next process; creativity and reason surf time; all life is in constant evolution and transformation; the core is solid and static, the force fields surrounding the core dance. There is an unreality to the idea that anything is truly settled or determined for good. Yesterday’s triumph is tomorrow’s object lesson for improvement.2.
    • the attainment of popularity or profit.“the success of his play”Similar:prosperityprosperousnesssuccessfulnessaffluencewealthrichesfortuneopulenceluxurycomfortlife of easethe good lifemilk and honeyOpposite:failurepovertyI think this is bullshit. You can get rich or popular by doing things that lack excellence or provide no service. There are many activities that lead or have lead to riches or popularity that are negative and destructive. This is the type success that is catastrophic. This is success that honors death and mocks, defiles and murders life.3.
    • a person or thing that achieves desired aims or attains prosperity.“I must make a success of my business”I think this definition is about something pathetic and insane. What a superficial, stupid and ignorant way to define oneself. And many, many people do. This definition diminishes the people who adhere to it. They are arrogant, insecure, ignorant and condescending. What a pitiful need to feel better than other people, and to be addicted to the sensation of lording your faux superiority over them. What a miserable existence to be in constant competition — always needing to be better than the other person. All envy is gestated in this definition. All bullying and meanness comes from this. All stealing. All keeping people down. All madness “I win, you lose, I live, you die!”
     

Success is a distraction and a catastrophe. Its pursuit knocks one’s off track. Life is about work and love, and work as an act of love, and love as a thing one does and works at. Success is a phony fixed point. The music of life follows a bouncing ball.

Success fucks everything up — for oneself and other people. The lovers of success will always oppose those who are excellent of mind, heart and personal character. Success is materialistic. Success has no soul. Success celebrates mediocrity, because excellence is too risky.

The lovers of excellence are alive. The lovers of success are dead.

The excellent leave the successful, who gradually disappear from their excellent lives. Occasionally the excellent have to deflect attacks from the successful. The last thing the successful want is for the excellent to endure. The successful create economic, political and psychological difficulties for the excellent.

The excellent have to learn how to be sure-footed and survive without compromise with the successful or avoid being eaten by them.

The successful provide one great service for the excellent. They initiate the excellent to the sufferings of the world. If the excellent could just exist unobstructed as a natural and supernatural being, there would be no grit from which the excellent could fashion her art.

People who look successful, might actually be excellent, or if not excellent are naturally kind and nurturing of excellence.

I’ve known successful and excellent children

students

writers

actors

visual artists

academics

skilled tradesmen

business people

lawyers

clergy

comedians

chefs

maintenance people

merchants

oh … everybody … everybody that I’ve ever known. This is the dividing line of humanity — the successful and the excellent. The successful are the source of all calamity, the excellent are the source of all service, healing and progress.

The motivation to succeed is a selfish and narcissistic one. It never leads to “a good outcome.”

The energy of excellence is love and love does not conquer all — that is the business of success …

Love gives all its meaning.

Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas

Another detour into teaching and blog posting …

4/27/20: COVID-19 Pet Peeve #poetry #commentary #advertising #entertainment

It’s not that big of a deal

or is it?

I am sick of the uplifting commercials

“better times are coming”

When?

I am sick of the uplifting well-intentioned messages from entertainers

Tony Bennett leading a group-sing-along

“I Left My Heart in San Francisco”

in San Francisco;

a mini “We are the World” star-studded line-up

singing “Tomorrow” …

Here’s the thing

when “A Nightingale Sang in Barkley Square”

buoyed the spirits of the British people in World War II,

The British people were fighting the war

The British people were being led

by Winston Churchill,

a master of the poetry of leadership

and the prose of governance

especially

War,

the British people decided to survive

and followed a clarion call of leadership;

sentiment isn’t perverse in such circumstances

not as it is in our own;

Annie sings “Tomorrow” with FDR

in the Second Act

post-Hoover —

after cold stupidity had been overthrown;

Annie didn’t sing with Trump;

The song “Tomorrow” needs FDR

Without FDR, the song “Tomorrow”

is nauseating;

Just a reminder —

FDR is dead

and nowhere to be seen at the moment;

Even the best of our leaders aren’t thinking as big as this situation requires.

Hopeful messages irritate me when they are not accompanied by action

Hopeful messages are happy talk propaganda

“The virus will magically disappear”

Jeep/Chrysler promises better days to come

in a cynical message that is only looking for better sales numbers in this Godforsaken quarter

Entertainers are in the business of making people feel good

in the right moments they can be a big help,

but platitudes about how we are all in this together

Now?

(We’re actually horribly, murderously divided)

actually do a disservice

I don’t know what we need to do

I wish I did

But I know we can’t be passive

being told what to desire

and being pacified by escapist fantasies

and unrealistic assessments of our situation

Deaths in the U.S. alone are at 55,000 and counting — officially — as of this writing

(and that surely is not the actual number which I am certain is much higher)

We are heading for a depression worse than the one in the 1930s

and we have corrupt, ignorant, incompetent, un-empathetic national leadership

that is not only not helping our circumstances

but instead

is actually working against us.

Sing that.

Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas

4/27/20: COVID-19 Pet Peeve #2 #poetry #commentary #smallbusiness

I’m sick of small business

sainted, special, brave, American with a capital fucking A small business

Save their payrolls, God forbid that their shitty little restaurants and hair salons and tattoo parlors go under

They are so hassled by the big bad government that is stepping on their freedoms

Their right to be special and superior

They are more important than everybody

teachers, cops, firemen, doctors and nurses

old people, kids

the sick, the disabled

sensitive creative types

bohemian philosophical layabouts

and especially people who work for a living

people who work for other people

Small business people are living the American Dream

They are more American than the rest of us

They are first in line!

Listen you self-centered assholes

Your pizza parlors aren’t coming back

Your eateries and shoppes and salons are going the way of the blacksmith

The world changed

We are throwing money away trying to save these bullshit dreams

Forget payroll protection

Protect people not businesses

Avoid corruption

Just send people money to live on

Direct relief

Let the businesses go

Let them die

Sorry soldiers of the “ownership society”

You lost what you owned

Go home so that you and other people don’t get sick

Collect your relief checks like everybody else

And when the coast is clear

you can get a job and start over again

It won’t kill you

You sound like spoiled children when you talk about your realized dreams

How different and unique that you are

Asshole — you sell scented candles

Snap out of it!

Every once in awhile you have to think about everybody, not just you

We need schools and hospitals and fire departments and cops

and everything that you sell

with that special flair that only you can bring

is available elsewhere

There is no going back to how things were

We can afford to take care of you

We can’t save your dead dream

How many times have I changed direction

never compromising my essence

but realizing that I had to put my old wine in new bottles

Fuck your payrolls for your losing propositions

We’ll pay your employees relief — real bill-paying relief

We’ll pay off your rent or mortgage

We’ll pay you

But you will have to start over

just like everybody else.

Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas

4/30/20: Proud #poetry

This is an experiment

Usually what I write starts with pain

I’ll be angry

or sad

or anxious

or at the very least annoyed

and then the poem

or the joke

or the commentary

gives me some clarity

and I feel more in control of the only thing that anyone can really control

my initiations and responses

For me writing starts with burning out pain

then breeds self-confidence

“Oh I get it!”

and finally is shaped in such a way as to communicate to other people

Therapy is just palliative in nature

Art is what cures

So what to do today?

I feel …

Proud

Expansive

Proud of how I’ve lived

Proud of who I am

Proud of what I’ve done

Proud of what I am capable of doing

Proud that I feel no hesitation

Proud that I use doubt productively

Certainty is idiotic

Uncertainty doesn’t have to be fear

I am proud of my family

So proud of my wife

Proud of my friends

Proud of all the artists and teachers and doctors and lawyers and cops and grocery clerks and and and and and and and and and

Proud of community

Proud of my nation

Proud of goodness

Proud of my sensitivity

Proud of my ability to feel pain

Proud of my rage at injustice

Proud of my sorrow for the suffering of others

Proud of the times that I’ve shown up

with a spotlight shining

or in quiet desperate rooms

I am so proud of myself

And I am a life form

with an easy to penetrate shell

permeated by you.

I defy illness

I defy financial insecurity

I defy malicious bullies

I defy violent tyrants

I defy all that wishes to bring me low

All that demands that I not be

Proud.

I am humble before God

and I admit that God created something pretty sensational

Me.

Living in the fullness of who we are

is the opposite of self-hating narcissism

Self-love is gratitude

Self-love is a prayer

God has given me so much

in my soul

and in the glorious world that envelopes my soul

You and I come together in a glorious sublimation of an orgasm

and separate again

I am proud when we unite

and proud when we separate for our next engagement

Proud proud proud proud proud proud

Onward!

Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas

5/5/20: Spirit and Nature #poetry #publichealth #economy

The sainted Democratic Governors are wrong

There should be no re-opening of the economy

One — the re-opening is sacrificing human life for money

They talk about a balance of public health and making money

There is no balance

The scale weighs totally toward life

Two, the American Economy is dead

It’s never coming back

in its previous form

Small businesses are dead

They can never return

Our previous way of life is dead

The way that we navigated the world in February 2020 will never return

Nature has asserted itself

The re-opening is a final act of human arrogance

Get ready for the slaughter

Survival as a part of nature

has nothing to do with the abstractions we took for realities

Economy doesn’t matter

Politics doesn’t matter

Culture doesn’t matter

Hopes and dreams don’t matter

When you are sick you stop working

When you are near danger you retreat

When your house is on fire you don’t go live in it

You go to safety

and rebuild

We have to step away

and plan

We can no longer subjugate nature

We have to get along within it

Know our place

Observe its laws

We can no longer survive if we continue to be unjust to one another

We have been living a lie

Always favoring one over the other

While reality says that we are equal

It is not sustainable to exist in an illusion of superiority and inferiority

We cannot die for the burden of men’s dreams and illusions

Finally — for today

Enough with the happy talk

Enough with optimism

Enough with the impatience

Enough with the feel-good stories

We have to observe REALITY

Natural

and

Spiritual reality

We are sacrificing our weak, old and unlucky

to our past hubris

We have to recognize that hubris

today

this second

Our ignorance gave us a moral pass

Father forgive us, we know not what we do

But now

RIGHT NOW

we have to know

and change

RIGHT NOW

or each death from this moment forward

will be murder

EVERYONE STAY HOME

TAKE THE MONEY LEFT FROM THE OLD DEAD ECONOMY

AND USE IT TO SUPPORT US

WHEN WE RE-EMERGE INTO THE GREATER WORLD

BUILD A NEW ECONOMY

in harmony with the natural and spiritual world.

Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas

mom

5/6/20: Death of our Elders #poetry

For my mother and the staff of her nursing home, the Holmstad in Batavia, Illinois

My mother died last September

I posted her picture on Facebook

A debate started in the comment section

What is death’s sell-by date?

The comments were generally heartfelt condolences

from old friends

many of whom I hadn’t seen for years

and no comments had bad intentions

but some people said or implied

“You’re old. She must have been really old. She had a long life. People die. What’s the big deal?”

I’m so glad my mother died in September 2019

at 97

from something related to her advance dementia

and didn’t struggle for air

and cry out in fear

and pass anxiously into that good night

My mother didn’t deserve a hellish death

We were lucky

She found a nursing home that was very nice

and matriculated from independent living to skilled nursing

and was kindly treated by a virtuous staff

handpicked by the Swedish Covenant Church

we’re Italian and Catholic

but my mother usually made shrewd choices

an immigrant unafraid of trying something new

Even when she descended into deep dementia

she had many emotions

easy and hard to deal with

and many memories

distorted by a dying brain

but still vivid

she was a person

a person I cared about

a person that I wanted to be happy

a person that I wanted to protect from suffering

someone I love still

I see commercials on TV for charities that care for abused and abandoned dogs

I wish that ad agency would go to nursing homes

and play the maudlin music

for the old-timers

who often aren’t cute

My mother was very cute usually

but sometimes she was like a small creature in a horror movie

sometimes it seemed like a slasher film was being projected out of her eyes

sometimes it hurt to be around her

Ho hum

all the more reason to let them die

they take up room

they don’t make money

they are pains in the ass

they are helpless

they aren’t cute like pit bull puppies

Everyone

not only Trump

are asking how much death is acceptable

to keep the world spin around

Do they still talk about standards of beauty?

Does Disney still make movie heroines from all races and ethnicities

to say thick lips are pretty, slanted eyes are pretty, kinky hair is pretty?

We have to fight for every subset of who we are to be respected

People of color are dying in greater numbers than white people in the pandemic

Just like they did before the pandemic …

What of the very old?

We all have the potential of one day being very old

We stack them in human warehouses

to be cared for by underpaid people of color

and don’t care if

or how

they or their caretakers die

My mother loved her nurses and nurses’ aides

and they loved her

the poor and the old build makeshift hospitals

clad in garbage bags

and warm each other

validate one another

affirm each other’s dignity

while the healthy, wealthy and self-involved

wonder how much dignity costs

and get misty eyed at the thought of their dog

or the theme song of a romantic movie

People should find romantic love

and cruelty to dogs is horrible

but love should extend to beings who aren’t as cuddly, sexy

and in need of Disney to market the attributes of their beauty

to people alienated from the fact that they are human beings.

Humanity forgotten

the humanity of the oppressed

the humanity in the oppressor.

I love you, Mom.

You were important to me every second of your life

you showed your love to me the day that you died

and I have such respect and gratitude

for the big women of color

who got you to eat

and put you on the toilet

and wiped your ass

and put on the TV shows you seemed to respond to

and sang you songs

and did all the dirty work

laughing and praying all the way

to maintain a place of abundant life

your nursing home.

Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas

5/7/20: The Dawning of the Era of Good People? A New Hope? #poetry

A new hope?

An epic poem?

A mural?

A resolution?

A greater understanding?

A refinement of vocation?

The aftermath of separation?

A new man?

Holy Saturday?

The interregnum between chronic pain (with occasional acute flare-ups

and

redemption?

Is this the dawning of a new era of good people?

People who mourn

People who revere life

Doctors

nurses

poets

ordinary people

who bring ice cream to isolated little girls on their birthdays

The Stages of the Era of Evil

Stealthy cunning

met with naive innocence

the good give all to the bad

out of misguided generosity

out of fear

the spinning of wicked tales

seducing the good

fooling the good

the evil take control

the evil’s guile is replaced by brazenness

the good fall into a sea of anxiety

the good worries

concerned for each step before them

and each step behind

the good sense constant danger

the enlightened

blessed with education and time

and a certain confidence

dissent against the evil

they get the evil’s number

The evil secretly feel doubt

although they don’t show it outwardly

The good have bad things happen to them

and they remember the enlightened words

Naive no more

Beyond fear

the good begin to stand up

not ultimately in anger

(anger is the emotion of a necessary phase of awareness — the loss of fairy tales and false hopes — the birth of a new awareness of the nature of reality, and new aspirations related to the meaning of life)

evil notices a new integrity in the good

and a new resolve

not demonstrated in conflict

but in a commitment to real work

work motivated by love and service

deaf to evil’s demands of fear and unrequited greed

in the good

This independence (of the good) frustrates the evil

Evil lies become more ridiculous

Evil assertions become more shrill

Evil gets meaner

more violent

more murderous

The air becomes red

the atmosphere stinks

of a fetid rotting smell

Good and evil people alike begin to die

en masse

Evil is all about negation

Evil is lazy

Evil doesn’t create

Evil doesn’t care

Evil has no sense of meaning

Evil distracts itself

from it’s own emptiness

by quantifying false standards of human value

How big

How long

How many

How high

How much

What do you OWN

OWN

not owe

the evil owe no one nothing

everyone is in debt to the evil

the evil cornered the market on survival

but the abstractions the evil created

the make-believe world that they control

begins to fall apart

the world descends into chaos

Evil is a wealthy sniper

a successful gambler

murdering people

with a high powered rifle

from a high elite floor

of a Las Vegas casino hotel

raining murder from a tower of tasteless make-believe

Negation

Negation

Negation

nothing left

nothing left

nothing left

commandos climb the tower

and shoot evil in the back

carnage complete

The evil are suicidal

their destruction of the good is indexed to their own

The evil can’t just kill themselves like ordinary severely depressed people

They have to be important

They have to take others with them

The surviving good

see the great unraveling occur before them

and roll bandages while evil goes on its murder spree

and finally when the gunfire has ceased

the surviving good

bury their dead

and look around the world

360 degrees

knowing how to be

what to do

that life means loving each other

applying their talents and skills

humble or grand

to the service of each other

being rewarded with great satisfaction and joy

and finally knowing the difference

between good and evil

which is important

because evil never completely goes away

a faint ember always remains

always ready to destroy the world in fire.

I’m wrestling with hope

I prefer reality

(I’m done with optimism and pessimism — they are both worthless)

Hope works with no assurance of victory or success

Hope does what is needed

But it still is to oriented toward outcome

This narrative of good’s overcoming of evil

is reality

It is how existence works

the dance of good and evil

our grappling with the decision to participate in creation

or arrogantly and fearfully (a paradox)

delude ourselves into being above it

The only question is whether we have the spirit and endurance to be good

What will become of us and our vast potential?

It’s up to us.

Our hope is only in our own response

Good things happen

when the good walk

openly

fearlessly

wisely

lovingly

honestly

reverently

humbly

respectfully

caringly

into the unknown

?

Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas

5/12/20: The Iron Fist in the Velvet Glove #poetry

How does one survive

as a good and intelligent person

as the author of one’s own life

the master of the interpretation of one’s existence

as an artist

as a free person

who makes decisions related to all the matters of one’s life

large and small

in the midst of a dystopia

navigating through an atmosphere

saturated with disease and ignorance?

How many times has stupid harmed me?

How many times has dull brutishness insulted me?

My sensitivity is my power

I hear more

see more

feel me

I reflect more deeply

My capacity to reflect

is the instrumentality

of my exploration of infinity

There is always more to understand

so my greatest gift is the source of my humility

I journey through the layers of a mystery

Each realization uncovers a new puzzle

My objective is not knowledge

but rather

being

harmonious participation

fulfilling my role

expressing the truth

that I was born to express

My life gives me self-contained joy

peace and solace

empathy and insight

It makes me useful in the most profound way

to myself and others

There is nothing special about it

What is most extraordinary about any one of us

is that which is most universal

Yet, yet,

we are always susceptible to exile from ourselves

Innocence can get contaminated by ignorance

Ignorance calcifies into hubris

Egoistically claiming a final understanding of the meaning of it all.

So a parallel journey takes place as we traverse the sweetness of our life

A struggling trek towards consciousness

or not

I have found that I have to be ruthless with my ignorance

I have to oppose it

shout at it

argue with it

probe the wounded nature of it

descend into it’s pain

It’s rough stuff

and at the end of such forays

I remove an obstruction before me

and return to my creative life

pain-free

Gliding

in tune

with

All

there is.

I am an old dog

but I learned a new trick

new to me

not to the wisdom of the ages

I’m a sweet man

I am generous

I encourage what is smart and kind and best in others

I say all of this with, again, humility

I am sweet because I was born to good parents

I am love’s recipient

I know what love is

I know how it is done

My parents were geniuses of loving

Masters of that most important art

Love is second nature to me

I never had to figure it out

And I am quite smart and creatively gifted

I was born with those attributes

I didn’t have to develop them

Nature and nurture granted me riches

But destiny does not come without deficiencies

that must be addressed and overcome

I was so

blessed

with love

and ability

that stupidity and ignorance

fear and meanness

careerism and greed

fame – fucking and competition

the worship of popularity and success and the indifference to real achievement

the impulse to manipulate and give orders

dishonesty and insults

the lack of civility and reverence

arrogance and condescension

the need to feel superior to others and envy

Hatred and resentment

Slander and malice

Bullying and cold indifference …

all came as a surprise to me.

I entered the world innocent

and was hurt almost immediately

I stayed silent and endured my pain

And gave credence to the words of my oppressors

This curtailed my access to my beautiful life

that never died within me

that never lost all of its potential for me

I knew something wonderful was my birthright

But I was frustrated

trying to place my enlightened round peg

into an ignorant square world.

I kept rushing the barricades of the world

Putting my sensitivity out there

being brutalized in return

with just enough reciprocal love to keep me going

Eventually things came to a head

I collapsed

I saw what was going on

My nature and nurture had met a much more complex world

with many more dark hues than I had realized

And I became angry

Angry at the opportunities lost

Incensed over the injustice

Just plain insulted

My life went on an alternating current of

the bliss of my actual destiny

and rage at the ignorant world.

We live in a plague

and I don’t want stupid people to kill me before my time

what am I to do?

If I don’t assert myself in opposition to practices of dumb asses

they might infect me.

If I get angry at them they might kill me

as a meaningless victim of the culture wars.

I have to refine my two speeds of love and anger

I have learned

something that my father knew and my mother didn’t

how to suffer fools gladly

how to stand up for myself

to avoid compromise

which in these times could be fatal

and at the same time be cordial,

friendly

I can only describe my realization in a metaphor

not original to me

The Iron Fist in the Velvet Glove.

Quite a life lesson to not arrive until I am 64

but there you have it.

My previous harshness

came from my own fear

and my own lack of confidence

I was terrified of the ignorant

I gave them a power

that only I could give to them

I thought they could destroy what I truly am

I now know they cannot.

The next mystery is forgiving their ignorance

“Father forgive them they know not what they do.”

My rational mind gets it

Not everyone was born in the arms of love as I was

Not everyone was born as smart and talented with a predisposition to good character as I have been

Even with all of my advantages, I have succumbed to ignorance

why am I so unforgiving?

They hurt me so deeply

They taught me so much

I don’t regret my ignorance

it has been my greatest teacher

it has given me authorship

it made me something far more interesting than a paradisiacal being

why can’t I accept that ignorance is part of the energy of the universe

why can’t I understand the two levels of existence

the world of battle

and the world of harmony

Can I master this grace before I die

dancing where those two worlds meet?

Do those worlds meet at

The Iron Fist and the Velvet Glove?

Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas

Still working through my relationship to the concept of friendship … it is no longer an issue for me … friendship is good when it happens, it isn’t necessary when it isn’t. There is really nothing to understand about it, with the exception of how to discern connections that might lead to destructive false friendships.

writing is a process of addition and subtraction …

5/12/20: I Coulda Been … #poetry

I coulda been a great trial lawyer …

I’m smart enough and I have presence …

but I am not competitive enough

and I don’t like arguing all the time …

I coulda been a great actor …

I’m sensitive and insightful and I have presence

I can understand and communicate …

but I don’t like pleasing audiences …

or listening to directors …

or only going as far as the people immediately around me can understand …

and the competition thing again …

and the compromising of talent to fit a niche …

(put that in the lawyer part too)

I coulda been a great academic …

I’m smart and creative enough …

but I am too peripatetic …

I can’t just concentrate on one narrow area of life …

I like to make connections between disparate things and ideas …

and I don’t trust expertise and authority …

So …

I turned out to be a writer …

and a teacher that teaches the way he writes …

as an appetizer …

and then helps the students find theirs …

I can say I coulda with certainty …

this is not a Walter Mitty daydream piece …

I actually did all of the things that I coulda done …

I learned how I fit and how I didn’t fit in all of those vocations …

I’ve led an adventurous life …

in its way …

I tried all of my professions with fallible certainty …

with romance …

like the person hungry for love …

hoping each lover was THE ONE …

It was useful folly …

I engaged in total immersion

I became each job

and found how my deep self

agreed and disagreed with what I was doing

A poet

gets lost

A poet wanders

A poet is a poet when a poet don’t know it

I traveled a world …

never as an observer

I took on each nationality

Each topographical feature

I coulda been a bum

mooching on friends’ couches

begging at bakeries

I coulda been a mental patient

seething with rage on his boyhood bed …

I coulda wandered through low wage jobs with no sense of self-esteem …

seeking out the company of people who would demean me

I coulda dined on the top of skyscrapers surrounded by rich bastards

and traded insights with lauded professors …

and told blue jokes with successful attorneys in a steak house

I coulda been friends with star actors and athletes and homeless people and maintenance men

I coulda been all of these things …

and I was and I am

I talked 100 books to anyone who would listen

driving them crazy

talking prose instead of conversation

I coulda coulda coulda

and I have no regret

because I did

I spent a lifetime

discovering what my own voice sounds like …

I learned more by emphatically doing whatever I wanted to do …

than I ever did by knowing what I was doing.

Love,

Rick

Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas

Finally realizing that I don’t give a damn about success and never did.

Love #poetry

5/14/20: Tunnel of Love #poetry

Heart murmurs

Die to the World and Come to Birth from Within

without regard to achievement or success

the end of hurt

and the periodic internal arguments

flesh and blood human beings appear

as archetypes of the psyche

a personal dream world becomes a religion

which subsequently becomes obsolete

I understand a bit more how black people have done it

Other oppressed people have done it

But I most familiar with black people

I’m an American of a certain age

I was alive for the emergence of black people

the resumption of Reconstruction

the attempt to finish the job that was aborted in 1876

I was alive when America’s Original Sin came out of the shadows

Just an interested observer

vaguely sympathizing with Black People

Still not fully aware of the depth of their pain

I still have new revelations of the variations and permutations of their sufferings

They amaze me

and fill me with admittedly romanticized admiration

but this is a dream piece

I’m writing at 3:28 am

A complex epic mural on the wall of a Depression Era Post Office

but color bleeds through

Black people

the people with Soul

a not so dark night of my own soul

Black lives and voices express something very deep and important in the universal human experience

Black people keep bringing me gifts.

I see, I think, maybe …  how they reached the existential state of certainty without arguing

For years, I couldn’t understand how black people didn’t just kill all white people in their field of vision

Why weren’t they cross-eyed with rage

why didn’t they assert and accost and demand that each and every white person understand what was done to, and being done to them …

But black people didn’t argue or lash out …

There is a point when oppression becomes surreal

It de-personalizes

It doesn’t hurt anymore

It becomes a matter to solve

no longer a point of conflict

Black people created …

Freedom, so fragile, so dearly won

was not to be squandered

MLK re-made America for all of us

He led us to a new understanding of justice and equality

He didn’t fight

He sang

Stolen from their homes

demeaned as property

murdered, raped, beaten and exploited

their first culture destroyed

their families discarded

bred like livestock

inseminated by another culture without their permission

and what did they do?

Jazz

Basketball

Vibrant religious denominations

Historically Black Colleges

The Negro Leagues …

Segregated in Commerce,

They petitioned White America for inclusion

and when finally some small progress was made

they enriched White America in every newly integrated endeavor

What exemplars of creativity

what transcendence of natural bitterness

what sureness of themselves when not recognized by any power structure

what focus.

Has this quarantine finally done it?

Is my mind finally reliably calm

or is this just a moment?

Am I on the solid human ground of being

where Black America dwells

or is that just an aspiration?

A genocide is taking place in America

The horrors that visited the poor and oppressed

have come to visit formerly privileged White Middle Class America

WE DON’T CARE IF YOU LIVE OR DIE

WE RUINED THE ENVIRONMENT AND THE ECONOMY

AND YOU ARE GOING TO PAY FOR IT

JUST LIKE MEXICO

GET OUT THERE AND WORK AND BUY

WE OWN YOU

YOU LIVE AND DIE FOR OUR PROFIT

JUST LIKE THE SLAVES OF OLD

YOU ALL HAVE THE HONOR OF BEING BLACK NOW

When the hatred and oppression and selfishness and abuse becomes so brazen and directly stated and so large in scope

when the implications are obvious

one sees the futility of arguing with the oppressor

one thinks, “how am I going to survive? The world is a dangerous place. These people are crazy. They will kill me if they think it makes them money … ”

one commits to what is right — no arguments — one is morally more clear than one has ever been …

one decides to pursue work and relations with others infused with love …

Oppression is a crucible

Pressured coal becomes diamonds

Does every time my mind descends into argument demonstrate how un-black I am? How pampered I’ve been, how privileged? How naive I am in the face of the fallen nature of the people from which I came?

No answers come from performing, pretending or persuading …

the ecstatic religious devotion expressed so artfully, joyfully and authentically in a black church

the genius and discipline of black athletes and artists

the courageous integrity of John Lewis on the Edmund Pettus Bridge

the prophetic poetry of James Baldwin

the crystalline clear leadership in the rhetoric of Martin Luther King

the soft-spoken African-American epidemiologist that I saw on TV tonight …

This poem isn’t about black people at all.

It’s about me.

Black people are my dreamscape.

When a poet observes a bird or the wind

or a painter observes a girl or a peach or a sunflower

They are seeing themselves

Making no historical claims.

Tonight, I realized that many people in my country are indifferent to whether I live or die

or how much I might suffer

I knew it before of course

but they are acting on their feelings

and talking about very loudly

in a way that I’ve never heard before …

and it made me think of black people,

and maybe I changed a little bit.

Focus.

Tunnel of love.

Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas

Finally owning my antipathy to the culture of business.

5/14/20: Small Business, Big Evil #poetry #commentary

The sainted middle class

The Main Street Pilgrims

They met a payroll

They are independent individualists

They have vision

They have balls

They have the smarts they don’t teach in college

They walk with swagger

They condescend

They are aggrieved

They are better

They are America

The rest of us are immigrants

They like the action

They like the money

They like the control

No one tells them what to do

THEY GAVE THEIR LIFE TO THIS FUCKING STORE

THIS STORE IS THE MEANING OF LIFE

NOT JUST THEIR LIVES

THEY DON’T HAVE JOBS

THEY’RE OWNERS

THIS IS THE OWNERSHIP SOCIETY

THEY ARE KING OF THE HILL

TOP OF THE HEAP

THEY AREN’T AFRAID OF A FUCKING VIRUS

THERE IS NO TIME TO SET UP PRECAUTIONS

TESTING AND TRACING?

SHUT-DOWNS?

STAY IN PLACE?

WHAT ABOUT THEM?

What about black and brown people who work in the food supply chain?

What about doctors, nurses and health care workers without needed personal protection working to exhaustion?

What about the hundreds of thousands of people dying horrible deaths?

For what?

For the burden of dreams

for self-esteem and plasma TVs

SELFISH SELFISH SELFISH

Selfish to the point of mass murder

NEWSFLASH

Small businesses are just jobs

Jobs come and go

GET THE FUCK ON RELIEF WITH THE REST OF US AND GET A NEW JOB WHEN WE GET THROUGH THIS

Poor babies

you’ve had your asses kissed by politicians and big advertising for decades

and now you are no different than Germans sincerely cheering for Hitler in the 1930s

You are so proud that you put food on the table

FULL DISCLOSURE: I NEVER LIKED YOU

There are people on the streets that are risking all of our lives

making stupid choices in a pandemic

They are ignorant, that’s all

But you are much worse

YOU KNOW THAT PEOPLE WILL DIE DIE DIE

AND SUFFER SUFFER SUFFER

YOU DON’T CARE

YOUR DREAMS, YOUR SELF-IMAGE, YOUR INDEPENDENCE IS MORE IMPORTANT

YOUR COMPETITIVE SPIRIT HAS NO BOUNDS

You are cruel, cold and indifferent

You have forgotten that your original claim to superiority was the furtherance of life

YOU MET A PAYROLL

That money fed babies and sent people to school

But of course that is all bullshit

You could care less what happens to your employees or customers

It was always all about you …

The Sainted Middle Class

Smug in their moral superiority

sitting in phony faux churches

assume the persona

of

EVIL.

Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas

5/16/20: Storytime #poetry

Tell me a story

Man’s search for meaninglessness starts early

Here’s a story, you little brat

You are nothing really

Just protoplasm

stupid matter

and you want to feel important

What’s it all about, Alfie?

No, you’re too dumb to even know what that is

It’s an old movie

I have to say “old”

so you think it is irrelevant

and then I’ll tell you a story to make it relevant

Something that keeps your interest

and entertains you

that you can internalize

and use as a blueprint for all of the decisions of your life

You don’t have it in you to come up with a story on your own

Everyone isn’t a storyteller

So you give your whole existence over to my kind

You are empty

a void

you can’t be filled

you are insatiable

First you believed in Santa

A fat old man cared about you and brought you presents

Then you believed in Jesus

A nice God/Man told you to be good

Then you believed in play

It was important to learn and have fun

and then you believed in competition

If you won you were better than the next guy

Then you believed in work

do your chores, maintain your responsibilities

Then you believed in money

the more you got the better you were

Then you believed in love

life would be fulfilled with the perfect other that God made especially for you

Then you believed in your country

It felt big, and swelled you with power and security

Then you believed in the eyes of the people around you

Everything was defined by how they saw you

Then you believed in justice

Then you believed in conscience

You committed to what was “right”

Then you believed in disappointment, resentment and rage

immolating in a bonfire of rejected stories

Then you believed in self-esteem

determining that your own evaluation of yourself was the only one that mattered

Then you settled down

and accepted objective reality

You became happy and got that all the stories were playing out simultaneously

and you adapted

without a story of your own

seeing others’ stories

skillfully avoiding war

Your expectations lowered

You began to ignore plot

and be fascinated by setting and character

liberated from narrative

Happy to survive.

Shit happens

and then we tell stories about it

to reassure ourselves that it was all for a reason

it all had a purpose

that we are noble and important.

The stories seem humane

but really they are burdens

The self-justification is painful

the being is bliss

For years I believed a line that I read

“Life has no meaning. We bring meaning to it.”

Now I believe this …

Life has a meaning and it is our destiny to meet it

All the stories of America have disintegrated

Our history has disappeared

The American Dream, charitably described, is a quaint old story

Brutally described, it is a delusion

The stories of

our economy

our democracy

our conception of success

our belief in ourselves as moral beings

our ways of connecting

are all dead.

We float

in a state of suspended animation

with no stories to explain ourselves to ourselves

there is only what is

not what we think it is

Imagination is empathy for the real

not it’s replacement

Meaning is our birthright

We don’t have to make it up.

Protoplasm plus

Brat is actually divine

Son of God

Son of Man

Same thing …

Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas

5/16/20: 2020 Virtual Commencement Speech — SURVIVE #poetry

Virtual graduates

Virtual parents

Virtual faculty

Virtual community

Congratulations

You’re still alive and most of you aren’t homeless

I am not going to preach service to you today

You should be served and not serving

I am not going to preach hard work to you right now

Get the opportunity then do the work

You’ve been fucked over by a corrupt, immoral and ignorant system

It’s a lousy society run by lousy leaders who don’t give a shit if you live or die

You want a better world?

Demand dignity

Be intolerant of all injustice

Learn quickly that insult and condescension are weapons of oppression

Don’t let any motherfucker make you feel small

Don’t take any shit

Whatever you do, don’t internalize the disrespect of thieves, bullies and killers

Stand up

Demand what is your birthright as a human being

You have a right to

food

housing

education

health care

a fair justice system

and a base income that cares for your basic needs

You can work for the rest

You don’t have to earn anyone’s respect

You get that as a human being

If someone doesn’t give it to you it’s their problem

Trust your anger

Be insulted

Don’t put up with it

Hang out with people who love you

Get far away from those who don’t

Be in charge of your own life

Accept no bosses

Don’t waste time jerking off to porn or stupid sitcoms that are just not-so-subtle commercials selling you crap you don’t want or need

Listen to yourself — you know what you want and need

don’t let anyone

politician

advertiser

army recruiter

con artist

salesman

parent

peer group …

any fucking body

tell you what to think and feel

Make your own decisions

Assume all responsibility

and accept all freedom

related to your own life.

You CAN remake the world

just know that you inherited a shit hole

There are a lot of great people

and many of them are a lot older than you are

But assholes hold a lot of sway right now

You are graduating in

THE TIME OF THE ASSHOLE

You have to get around the assholes to do your thing

You have to slay the assholes to heal the world.

Don’t do drugs or any other stupid self-destructive shit.

DON’T BE TRIVIAL

Don’t spend your time planning parties at water parks

It is actually more fun to be serious

Get good at what you are good at

and do it

Don’t get hooked on inspiration

Get hooked on commitment

OK, now think of the nicest person you ever knew

just the sweetest, the holiest

and now think of the worst person that you can imagine

Hitler or some such shit

and everything in between

Now know that is what you will face in the world

the whole range

and you are going to have to make choices

in who you associate with

who you fight

who you are going to be

A lot of dicks are going to want you to make the unimportant important and vice versa

Don’t let them

In summary

take care of yourself

PROTECT:

your health

your mental health

your dignity

your sense of justice

your right to self-determination

your ability to love

your material well-being

Ignore the world and create your own unique vision

Engage the world when it fucks with you

and stand up to it

You are equal to everybody else

and anyone who says otherwise is an asshole

You are heir to everything great in humanity

Shakespeare, Einstein yadda yadda yadda

And you are heir to every horrible shit show man ever came up with

Slavery, the Holocaust, everything murderous, ignorant and mean

Your mission

if you decide to accept it

is to further what is good

and push back against what sucks

DON’T FUCK IT UP

but of course, you will

that’s part of it

Just get back out there and start over

You know times are shitty

but they always are

It’s just all out front with this pandemic cluster fuck

But it’s always bad

In a way you are lucky

You have no reason to have illusions at a young age

All right, get out of here

I’ve got my own problems.

Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas

5/18/20: Everyone Has a Voice (Post — Apocalypse) #poetry

You are your own school

All the teachers are dead

You don’t need assignments

read what yo want

write what you want

no certifications mean anything

you don’t have to pay to claim that you know anything

You are free

and you are responsible

There are no mores

There is no law

There is just what you think and feel and see

There is just what you think is right

and what you want to do

Nobody can tell you anything

If they make you feel bad it’s because part of you agrees

and why would you do that?

There are no arguments

because there are no group decisions

You are on your own

Does anyone listen to your voice?

Does it matter if they do?

You hear it

You can’t snap your fingers and make the world change to your liking

but you can deal with the world in any way that you damn please

You stay alone in your room

When you venture out you cover your face

because the spray of your voice hangs in the air

and infects others

You keep to yourself

Impregnable

Self-contained

Is it so terrible?

You watch old movies

No new ones are being made

You re-read old books

Books aren’t written any more

You connect with others virtually

which means you don’t

blog posts and Zoom meetings

You are uninterrupted

You can’t make people sit and listen to you

They can shut off their video and still claim to be present

They read a few lines of your poem and then drift away

and still make a statistical mark on your analytics

You are happy

Your mother’s dead

Your father’s dead

The boss has abdicated all responsibility

Every club that you ever were part of seems ridiculous

No one can tell you what to do

You personify freedom

and you hold all responsibility

You can’t blame anybody

There is no one to thank

The end of the world has come and gone

And you are the last person on earth

What are you going to do?

And how are you going to go about it?

It’s not what you know

or what you do

or who you know

or where your from

or what you have

it’s who you are

all the distractions have disappeared

there is nothing but you

and you

The truth of your solitude

is the dawn of a new world.

Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas

5/18/20: Postscript to Ambition #poetry

What do you when you have nothing left to prove?

When ambition died long ago

and you just noticed it was gone?

You stopped keeping score

Money — ho hum

Fame — seems dumb

What people say — shrug

You want to go on living

It’s never been more fun

You are on the other side of stress

and the other side of confusion

You have a lot of energy

What animates you?

What motivates you?

You have no sense of duty

You are indifferent to the recognition of the tribe.

It gets so easy.

You are who you are — nothing you can do about that.

You like who you are

you surprise you

You’re pleased

and young

in a way

innocent

fresh eyes

but armored too

and a quick healer

unburdened by the cynical residue caused by past repetitive pain

Nightmares processed and forgotten

You are not at odds with nature

You accept it

Love it

You know any attempt to dominate it

is foolish

You know that you will die

That’s OK

Maybe you’ll be scared when the moment seems closer

But for now it only affects you when you see other people dying

You hold their hands and feel what they must feel

And don’t hold their hands when it is not a true thing to do

Yeah — you love some others

and hate none of the rest

in the particular and in the abstract

we are the stuff that others are made of

some anxious hands reach out from hell

and try to pull us down

but we can fly

and we elude them

our bloody ankles soothed by the cool winds of the higher altitudes

and you want to do whatever you can to help them

when you can

and evading their pain when they are incapable of doing anything but hurt you

calling on the resources of who you are

You accept other people the way that you accept nature

You know that there are rings of hell

and gates of heaven

and that every person resides in one or more of them

You take sides because that is a practical matter of being alive

We are defined by our oppositions

Without boundaries we would just be a moving point in the All

Not an individual

at All

Acceptance

of

who we are

Nature

Human Nature

Love

and our animal needs

the rent

the groceries

the car or the bus pass

Necessities

But not anxious about those either

we are not conflicted

we are sure-footed

even in a Depression

We, now more than You

You transforms to We

We just move forward

one foot in front of the other

We survive because we are in harmony with all Creation

All love exists beyond ambition

All art is made beyond ambition

All abundant life

happens

beyond ambition

Ambition is fear

Ambition is fear of death

fear of the truth

fear of ourselves

fear of our greatest joy

The pursuit of success is failure

We have success already

the unique personalized success that we were born to live

the stirrings of our soul finding the very same matter as themselves

in the world that we thought was external to us

We live alone

and we live connected to All

Each of us is

an Individual

and the Universe.

This is not something to strive for

This is something to receive

with humility and gratitude

We are not granted our intelligence to master ourselves, our destinies and the world

We are given our intelligences to understand

and to know

that every level of understanding that we reach

is the portal to a new mystery.

The following of the mystery

is deep joy …

The constipated forcing of a path of ambition

arouses my pity

and my insecure trepidation

at being infected by it

again

Ambition is a wound in me

And in you too

The temporary rush of “making it”

The great accomplishments

which always fade with time

and are only remembered for the stages of my real development that occurred when I thought I was on my way

and worse …

and better …

the “failures” that taught me so much

and exposed to violent attack

Oh … I thought that I had succeeded at transcending ambition

but we never transcend anything

The euphoria of most of this poem

well, euphoria is too strong of a word

the contentment of most of this poem

ends with a small amount of anxiety

tethering me to rest of mankind again

preparing me for the next epiphany

and the new mystery that awaits.

My guess

My hypothesis

is that the next subject

will not deal with ambition

but will focus on a particular type of service

and my wound will heal

as I tend the wounds of another.

Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas

5/19/20: The Shame of Notre Dame #poetry

I’m an alumnus of the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana

I don’t donate any money to the school

So my alumni status is much like my status as an American citizen

I can say whatever I wish

and it will be very respectfully ignored by the powers that be.

I believe in other powers than those that be

Invisible powers

I believe that there is more force

in the sincere statement

and the honest action

than there is in the billion dollar endowments

of the seemingly great universities of America.

Notre Dame announced today that they will be opening the campus for in-person enrollment for the fall semester

I left the following comment below a public relations announcement the University placed on LinkedIn:

As an alumnus, I can only express my disappointment in this immoral decision. Testing and tracing and the other mitigation strategies aren’t enough. ND employed a balancing test between money and human life. It will regret its decision. This is not consistent with Church teachings. And it is unfortunate that ND is leading the nation in this folly. Sadly our profession of values based leadership is more branding than reality in this instance. America is reaping the whirlwind of its narcissism and greed. It always infects the poor first, but a similar ethos is being used against ND students, faculty, staff and local neighbors as is employed against food supply chain workers and Indian reservations. It is a disgrace in all instances. The poor are the canaries in the coal mine. Greed comes for us all.

My words have no impact in the material world.

I know it.

I don’t go looking for trouble

and I won’t get any because I am an invisible man

to the decision makers

I coulda been one of them

I chose not to …

or rather I was destined not to …

Poetry is the art of the powerless

The meek will inherit the earth

My words are not just talk

My obscurity is testimony to what I’ve sacrificed for God

I wouldn’t trade this blog

for the Presidency of a University

and the myriad opportunities the position would give me to decide who lives and dies

I teach out of love for my students

I find them to be the opposite of expendable

There is no balance in my perception of them

They are of incomparable value

I govern the world in my writing

True none of my ideas are implemented

But that is not to say that they aren’t effective

The poet plays the long game

The poet stands for what is true and good

in opposition to contemporary delusory passions

Obscurity

and modest material circumstances

are small prices to pay

What is art for?

It can’t be for making pretty decorations

or being regarded as fashionable trendy or cool

It can’t be for extra taking bows and curtain calls

It is not a means to becoming a big shot

Art is to tell the truth of the world

How beautiful and wonderful it is

and

thus

how it shouldn’t be defiled

This insecure greedy obsession with the abstraction of the dollar

murderous

callous to suffering

made real by people who should and do know better.

My art alas is not for the powerful

it is for the people who could be powerful

but decide to be something else.

When I am alone and tired

I often wonder about why I never assumed the mantle of societal control

Why I always made the decision at the crucial moment not to pursue it

I go over and over this territory

musing if my anxiety is shame or regret

was there something deficient in me

But then something like the Notre Dame announcement happens

and I am back on track

I made another related decision today

that I won’t talk about now

A choice that involved more than words

There was a little money involved

and I did the right thing

the true thing

I always do

and it is always hard

the powerful control more than classrooms and budgets

they have access to my mind too

but it is getting easier

You are the world

Stand up

You’ll be punished and ignored

and on your way

to the reformation of the world

and your personal redemption.

Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas

5/21/20: 59% #poetry

According to a new Quinnipiac poll

59% of American white men

Think Donald Trump

is doing a good job as President

59% of American white men are assholes

There can’t be any other explanation

And I know a lot of white men

who I am sure didn’t vote for Trump

who are assholes too

So more than 59% of white American men are assholes

I’m a white man

I’m not an asshole

So it is unfair to say that all American white men are assholes?

Am I the only American white man who isn’t an asshole?

I’m a football fan

but I don’t feel good about it

traumatic head injuries for my entertainment

or my Sunday afternoon nap

remind me of weekend afternoons with my Dad

that haven’t mattered for a long time

Comfort food of domination

I like musical theater

(or at least I used to … all entertainment bores me lately … I’ve seen everything)

but I’m not gay

I’m heterosexual

a straight American white male who is a fan of the NFL, but is guilty about it, and who used to enjoy Julie Andrews but now is just bored by it all …

I’m a poet

a writer more accurately

but I’ll claim poetry

I like words

and the truth

I’m spiritual

I’m not a jock

I don’t work with my hands

I’m a man of action

but I am willing to wait

for opportunity and inspiration and clarity

I abhor all of the men of action who are always doing, doing, doing

and usually fucking things up

I hate being one of the boys

I’m not weak

I’ll fight when necessary

and sometimes when not

I have a lot of integrity

I’m overly sensitive

and perfectly sensitive

You have to be sensitive to do what I do

and fragile feelings are an occupational hazard

I am resentful

at times and always

I feel that I have been treated unjustly

but not like my fellow white men

I feel that I have been mistreated mainly by white men

and some white women who might as well be white men

who admire them

who want the same type power

who’s only beef with white men is that they hold power that these women want

That being said

there is a prophetic type woman that I admire

that I want to be like

that I think I am like

there are prophetic women and people of color and immigrants

that I admire

and think that I am like

Can I be a prophetic white man?

Certainly

must be so

because I am

I actually don’t feel that I have anything to say to my demographic peer group — white men

Except this …

stop being white men

Be human

White men suck

all the conflict

all the power

all the destruction

all the violence

all the oppression

White men suck

Because white men have been the ones with power

They like Trump because he represents their power

To them, this corrupt, perverted, murderous, lying fucking idiot

is preferable to anyone who is not a white man

That is so seriously fucked up

Human

Human

Human

Something beyond color

and gender

and language

and nationality

HUMAN

Touch the human

Human is what I am

White man is just a coat that fate says that I must wear

A coat that embarrasses me

I can never know

the totality of a woman’s experience

or the experience of a person of color

or the experience of a foreign national or an immigrant (although I am a little closer here because my parents were immigrants, but I still don’t totally get it, and I’ll never completely understand all of the variations between cultures and countries)

but I do know what it is to be human

I know what it is to be afraid

to love

to feel anxiety

to be brave

to watch a loved one die

to be hurt

I know what it is like to be with someone or people who make you feel welcomed and cared for and about

and what it is to be brutalized emotionally and physically

I know what it is like to struggle with the outer world

and wrestle with the inner world

I know confidence and doubt

I know the urge to create

and the need to be free

I know the solidity of justice

and the wound of injustice

I know what it is to internalize negative lies that would-be masters say about me

and the thrilling certainty after determining the words of their hate were wrong

I know what it is to forgive

but not too soon

I know that there is no peace without fairness.

How pathetic white men are

Don’t they see that unity

at-one-ment

is so far preferable to dominance and control?

I see God in the faces of all man(and woman)kind

I see Satan in the face of white control.

Trump is the personification of all that is wrong with America

He is the personification of white men

Please my sisters and brothers

all people of color

and people of the world

Please don’t defeat white men

and then become white men yourselves

No more of the same please

I know that as a human

because I feel that sometimes

I fantasize and see myself as a powerful white man

Of course

when push comes to shove

I choose humanity over white maleness

but I waver

that’s part of being human

Don’t admire the mother fuckers

Don’t let them rape you and colonize you again

It’s always a temptation

It’s their last victory

The world will look the way you look now

if you let it

The white men went home for two months

and the innocent animals came out of hiding

Let the world look like our hearts

59%!

What an embarrassment.

Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas

Creative gestation.

5/22/20: Purgatory #poetry

I enjoyed living on earth

Where my goals seemed important

and my diversions were pleasurable

Where my friends seemed to have intense interest in my happiness

and the government kept me safe

my neighbors wished me well

My employers expected that they’d have to pay me for efforts

and everyone said please and thank you.

Things worked

There was an order to things and I had my place in it

I enjoyed the dream of earth

But then I woke up

Consciousness is an unraveling

It all unwinded

My goals weren’t goals at all

Just failed hypotheses

worthy experimentation

discovering nothing but the process of discovery

which is something I guess

My diversions seem laughable in retrospect

The movies that I thought were so important

the books and teachers that I found so wise

I thought I found paradise

but paradise was a mirage

It was all well-meaning

and immature

Some of my “friends” turned out to not be

the others couldn’t possibly care as much as I thought

everyone has troubles of their own

and are on their own paths

There are places where one must go alone

The government didn’t care

My neighbors don’t know my name

There are no employers

Everybody works for themselves

People say please and thank you but don’t mean it

Or get sick of it

and just don’t bother

Sure there is love and kindness and friendship and appreciation on earth

but it is special and rare

It’s not the order of things

The Holy Spirit flies over in and through

a slaughterhouse.

I see hell through a thick plate glass window.

Every painful experience that I ever had plays out before me

Holograms of pain

Insults

Injustices

Cheats

Beatings

Frustrations

Doubts

Not hurt

Memories of hurt.

I sit in a waiting room

I am not afraid

I am waiting

Purgatory is a waiting room

Waiting for heaven

Waiting for the New Thing

The new idea

The new feeling

The new people

The new action

The reward for all I have learned

Earth whispers “escape, escape back into me — enjoy normality again”

Hell pounds on the window and shouts “fight me and be justified, feel alive, argue with me, wallow with me, it feels good”

No

I resolve

No

Earth I am better than your fulfillments

I am something more than normal

I can’t go back to believing in things that I’ve learned aren’t true

Hell you imposed yourself upon me

I simply turn away from you

It is harder to give up hell than earth

Earth is boring

It’s not that hard to let go

But hell hisses at me

“There’s nothing else … you have to prove yourself … you must defeat me … there is no heaven … it is your delusion … there is only fighting me … and if you beat me I’ll give you a medal”

When hell becomes as weak as earth

When hell becomes a bore

Heaven will arrive

after a period of grieving silent sorrow.

Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas

5/23/20: Could it Be? #poetry

It feels very nice

Calm and satisfied

Not ecstatic

My mind doesn’t race

I’m not excited

I feel complete

The past is past

deliverance

will it last?

Is the useless shadow gone?

It was all so dumb

Everything was perfect

just some static around the edges

that was never really there

Will I never hear the noise again?

Is it truly gone?

As gone as it feels right now?

The future crowns

a head peeking out of my vagina

as always head first

A lifetime of gestation

I protected my baby from all the abuse

Sometimes I needed bed rest

A baby comes out of me

the spitting image of the baby world before me

a smarter, kinder, more creative world …

than I ever imagined

Reality pulled me through insult and darkness

the drama of the gifted child

The last thing that the innocent soul learns

is that some others are far away from the joys of that soul

and finding the ones intimate with those joys

is an odyssey

I’ve always reckoned that this was a process

I circle and circle and circle reality

and I am blessed by moments of epiphany

But I want it to be forever

Can’t it be forever?

I’ve forgiven the ignorant part of the world

they are locked in cells of fear

I was locked in a cell of disappointment

I always expected them to be better

But I think I get it

Life is a stream

the sweet water runs through many people

the brackish water splashes up too

I get evidence that I am not alone

That’s when the ignorant specters haunt me

When I don’t think that I will ever

CONNECT

that nothing is better than the misery of the past

that’s all there is …

But I keep going

what else can I do

defiant anger keeps me moving

and personal, independent joy

I accept being alone …

and then you show up …

you always do …

and I realize that I am right

Me is right

My being is right

It’s a natural thing …

others are like me …

a universe of others …

and the more I sing

the more you appear

my audience finds me

and then they sing for me too

and then we sing forever …

Together …

I never understood when people said that people only remember the good times …

I never remember the good times

except when I am living them

then I don’t remember anything …

Sigh … I’ll have to remember again

to protect myself and keep myself alive

but maybe it will be easier

because you will be waiting for me

as always

on the other side?

Aaaargh!

Can I at least fucking remember that?!?!?!

It’s such a nice afternoon …

Peace.

Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas

5/24/20: I’m With Stupid #poetry

I’m an American

America is a chain gang

I am shackled to many people

Hundreds of millions

and many are idiots.

Cynics say that they were just born that way.

Low IQ people married for generations and now they have taken over.

I doubt that.

I have a hard time accepting the epidemic of stupidity

as insoluble.

If that is true

we are doomed.

Everyone is stupid from time to time.

My greatest stupidity in life

has been relying on the judgment of stupid people.

I’ve never been given a hard time

of any kind

by people who were smarter than me.

The evil genius is a mythic creature.

Stupidity is the source of all evil.

Even people who are otherwise brilliant

commit evil acts out of stupidity.

The first obvious observation of life:

TA DA!

everything is connected.

(bow to audience)

If you think you can dominate life

or get more out of it than other people

you are just being stupid.

We are smart when we take care of each other

stupid when we fight.

I think stupidity is a matter of personal character not IQ

(Obviously someone might be a mathematical genius etc

but as I mentioned above, a person with high IQ can be stupid)

Stupidity is arrogant

Stupidity claims that it knows what it doesn’t know

Stupidity is fearful

It lacks the confidence to believe it can understand reality and truth

Stupidity is lazy

Thinking is hard. It’s a kind of agony. Conception is exciting, delivery is painful, arrival is joyful, the process begins again.

Stupidity is narcissistic — it wants to claim that it is the one who knows

Stupidity is a death wish — there is nothing new under the sun, so let’s dig in and hold on as long as we can …

WHAT WORKS AND DOESN’T WORK IN THE STUPIDITY EPIDEMIC WHICH HAS PLAGUED AMERICA FROM THE BEGINNING OF MY COUNTRY*

*the World has been in a stupidity pandemic since the dawn of Man

First, I became a comedian because I (unconsciously) felt that making fun of the stupid would somehow help — people would decide not to be stupid, stupid people would feel ashamed …

It doesn’t work that way

I wasn’t stupid to think it would, I was learning

I am learning

The most stupid thing is to think that you know anything

You have to experiment and experience

Stupid people who listen to Trump

who refuse to wear masks and open their universities

are timid people

oh they come off all mean and strong

they yell and say they are in charge

but they are scaredy-cats

They deny pain and struggle

they never learn how to learn

how to investigate

and observe

and reason

and think critically

and apply higher level thought from smart people who have studied and written and taught in order to help them

they have no bullshit detectors

because they want to believe the bullshit

the fantasies

they want their asses kissed constantly

and they love to

PUNISH

anyone who upsets their idiotic worldview

They create these abstract power structures

and call that reality

They love authority

because authority spares them from thinking for themselves

They love to be entertained

because they hate creating, serving and working

oh how they hate work

they take no responsibility for their lives

they fuck up their lives and then blame other people.

After comedy, I with drew from the world and tried to avoid the stupid.

But that didn’t work.

I was a fugitive from a chain gang.

My fellow Americans always came calling.

Then I became a prosecutor

I figured they needed to punished.

But punishment does no good.

To the stupid, all punishment is injustice.

Punishment is just a tool for the stupid to assert power.

The stupid are cynical.

They don’t believe that justice really exists

and it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy,

they create an unjust world.

Then I said to myself,

“Duh! Teach them.”

So I became a teacher.

But I can only help smart people get smarter,

Stupid people are immune to teaching

Herd immunity

Stupid people think all teachers are full of shit

and only attend classes because their parents told them they had to do so to get a good job

They only want the “A”

whether they learned anything or not

and when they have that attitude

the answer is always

NOT

Even teaching doesn’t work,

WHAT IS A SMART PERSON WHO WANTS TO BE OF SERVICE TO DO TO PROMOTE SMART AND PUSH BACK AGAINST STUPID?

Finally?

(at least up to now)

I do two things

re: making things better

I don’t know if they work or not,

(you want answers ask a stupid person)

MY CURRENT ANSWERS

I live my life authentically

and I write about it

not with the stupid

certainly not of the stupid

but unavoidably among the stupid …

So …

you won’t find me on the Boardwalk in Ocean City, Maryland

or in an improv club

or following orders

or listening to people who attack me for not sharing their stupidities

or thinking that I know everything

or pulling any punches in my writing

or being impressed by anybody

or looking down on anybody

or actively trying to hurt anybody

or forgetting that there are a lot of stupid people out there

who want to infect me with their stupidity

or punish me for being smart.

I will constantly be open to the company of other smart people

they teach me things and keep me safe.

The stupid have not killed me

hard as they have intentionally and unintentionally tried,

they have made me stronger.

This is the gift of the stupid to the smart

they make us smarter and deeper

they lead us to our spiritual destinies

in our simple struggle to survive.

Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas

5/24/20: A Writer is a Traitor #poetry

Every writer

man or woman

had a moment when they were young

toe to toe with their father

telling him to go fuck himself about all he thought they should do with their lives.

A writer just can’t go along to get along

If he is a comedian or lawyer or doctor or architect or businessman or priest, his colleagues raise their eyebrows at the way that he proceeds

He naturally does things differently

It’s not that he refuses to conform — at first, anyway

He doesn’t know how to

If he is on the faculty, he shames the other teachers with his approaches;

He gets physically ill if called upon to lie

or ordered to do something in a way other than his own.

A writer is an

AUTHOR

the author of his life

There is no proscribed path for a writer

A writer uses a scythe and hacks a channel through the wilderness.

A writer never works to please

He writes to discover

He never gives the chieftains the flattering portraits and pretty landscapes that they commission from him before they fully understand who he is

He gives them accuracy and insight

quite willing to see all that is good

but never compromising

and omitting or covering up

what is not good.

A writer raises up that which is too low

and lowers that which is too high

He frames his pictures in a different way

showing outcomes usually held from view

A writer’s actions are not guided by his tribe’s approval or disapproval,

therefore,

A writer is always a suspect

Uninterested in power,

he terrifies the powerful.

A writer doesn’t side with his tribe

The tribe should honor him for that very reason

But instead they want to kill him.

He takes the side of the world

not the puny, pathetic, ignorant tribe

its members seem to act so certainly

they are so happy, and safe

aren’t they?

they know it all

but they are secretly anxious

they doubt themselves

they are frustrated

stuck in the prison of their own making

but they are out of touch with their feelings

and the writer is fully in touch

with both his and theirs

They hate him for his open eyes

and big mouth

They demand silence, death or exile

Usually they get exile

which the writer resents at first

he’s human after all

but grows to enjoy

The writer’s treachery ended his misery

The tribe’s condemnations

cover their own unacknowledged agony

Some in the tribe remember the writer

and when they are ready

they follow his path

to freedom.

All writers are revolutionaries

they overthrow the way things are

and explorers looking for what could be.

A writer won’t leave well enough alone

He won’t accept spin of any kind

He needs the straight truth

to get where he is going

A writer doesn’t belong to people who have a place

A writer is a bard to the homeless

The outcasts

The refugees from tyranny

the people of the endless road

The power structure people of all tribes

even those beyond his own

argue with the writer

mock him

try to shut him up and make him stop

but they can’t do it

He is beyond their power

They can punish him in their tiny worlds

but the very oppressions expose the power structure,

which is essentially the same

in all of its diverse forms and places,

for how small it actually is

A few nascent writers take note

they learn from writers from every locale

The tribes engage in new treachery

but the results are always the same

many people suffer

and the tribe disbands

The power brokers’ troubles never end

they begin again and again and again

The writer doesn’t need the tribe

The writer is self-sufficient

He makes his own culture and laws

far superior to those of entire

(rotten)

civilizations.

Any good writer has the skills to be the chief of any bad tribe

He prefers not to

(for now obvious reasons)

and that combination of skill and preference mean

the writer has the power brokers’ numbers

He knows how they think

and he calls them out every time

They laugh at him

(their nervousness masked by a harsh bravado)

“He’s a crank, he’s a loser, he’s a kook”

But they more than anyone know

that the writer is true

the writer sees them for what they are

They know their own schemes

There is such a thing as mortal sin

A writer is a traitor

he is cast out

or runs away

from his first community (a matter of biology and geography)

and lands

smack in the middle of the whole world (a matter of man’s soul and the intentions of God)

blessed with more

more

more

than he ever could have gained

by identifying with a lie.

Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas

5/25/20: Little Guy Sees the Big Picture #poetry #commentary

Dateline the halls of power — everywhere: Business leaders and politicians are shitting their pants

They are trying to save the economy

the economy is unsustainable

it hasn’t been for years

but now the disaster is heading for people who aren’t supposed to be touched by disaster

The head honchos know it

So they make a desperate gamble

which in their hearts they know won’t work

Dateline ordinary people — everywhere: they bow and bend over

the bosses tell them to go to work and consume and they do so

out of habit?

The ordinary people have listened to the bosses

because the bosses said that they provided them security and a little fun

but the bosses never really gave the security

and used the fun for crowd control

Dateline Lake Geneva, Wisconsin: the state supreme court tells people to go boating and golfing and eating and drinking and shopping and walking in big streams of people without any protection or social distancing — it is your right

The scientists say don’t do it, you are risking your lives

The people don’t listen to the judges or the scientists in any detail

They just follow authority

The go-have-fun green light has been lit

So they go

The people don’t know from rights or risk

Dateline the future: people in Wisconsin and neighboring Illinois will suffer horrible deaths resulting from the Memorial Day Fun Order

Dateline Walgreen’s 47th Street and Lake Park, Hyde Park, Chicago: I got a text that one of my prescriptions was ready

I put on my mask and gloves and went out to my car

which I run once a week to keep the battery and the brake rotors in good shape

I drive to the Drive -Thru window at Walgreen’s

They have a sign up

THE PHONE SYSTEM IS OUT OF ORDER

PLEASE COME INSIDE

There is no way that I am going inside

I call the store’s main number

That phone number is out of order too

A pharmacist shouts at me through the layers of plate glass

COME INSIDE

I yell back

I’M AT RISK (we all are)

We each repeat ourselves three times before recognizing our situation was hopeless

I’m not out of pills

I’ll try again next week

Makes me wonder

how this re-opening will ever work

That lady was a pharmacist

a healthcare professional

and she didn’t consider a solution to the phone problem

which considered options

or at the very least an apology and deferment of service

to at-risk people who shouldn’t enter the store

It’s a pharmacy!

A place you go to get healthy

What would happen with less educated people

handling simpler matters

than pharmacology

Dateline Oak Brook Shopping Center two weeks ago: Paula stops at the Pottery Barn for a curbside pick-up

I have no idea what it was, I just see boxes

This kid comes to the car

Paula is the driver

She pops the hatchback and tells the kid to put the box in the car

The kid says he can’t do that

He says he is under orders to hand the package to her personally

We tell him to just leave it on the ground, we’ll take care of it

After a long negotiation, our hostage situation is resolved

Our lives were in the hands of a high school kid working his first job

and a store manager at the Pottery Barn

Social distancing?

How far away from society can I get?

Dateline the same excursion with Paula two weeks ago at a little shop that sells refurbished Herman Miller chairs — Paula found a nice one for her office: the proprietor comes out and hollers a friendly come on in

I say (from behind my mask) Can’t you just bring it out here?

The guy — a small businessman entrepreneur — says (no mask)

“Listen I don’t just refurbish chairs. I clean offices. I have this special spray which disinfects everything. My place is totally clean. No danger.”

Um, epidemiologists on TV were saying that droplets spread airborne from individuals was thought to be the leading cause of infection, but they weren’t sure, so they advise masks to prevent spray and wiping down surfaces …

So the scientists aren’t sure

but this guy wants to decide things

He has vocational school training and has met a payroll

Dateline CNN: Notre Dame President, a priest who has had some training in giving a damn about other people, dithers and backtracks after his rushed decision to re-open the school

If we don’t have enough tests we won’t re-open

I think we have the space to quarantine

The Father blanches when the anchor mentions that the student body is sure to have COVID-19 infections

He wanted to be first to market

but his gut is telling him disaster looms

and his advisers, who think somehow that they can con people into accepting danger and loss of life so that the University makes money

tell him the con will work

Cheer Cheer for old Notre Dame

That works at first

Like at Lake Geneva this Memorial Day

or the beginning of the Viet Nam War

but nothing destroys credibility and authority

more completely

than massive casualties

and America’s Viet Nam horrific death total

will look reasonable by the time this pandemic is over

Dateline MSNBC: a bright young woman anchor, recently back from maternity leave, who never offers her own opinions

who just reports the news as objectively as she can

launches into a blistering commentary

lambasting the government for not protecting her baby

She works in Washington, D.C., a hot spot

She is an “essential worker”

She regularly is at the Capitol and White House

where political hacks won’t wear masks

and look like sissies

and flaunt social distancing

Trump recently went to the Capitol for a lunch with Republican Senators which was served as a buffet …

Leading by example

Dateline Missouri: An infected hair stylist at a Great Clips exposes hundreds to the virus

Dateline America: Forty states say dental practices can re-open

What could go wrong?

Dateline France: Two weeks after a primary school opens, seventy children test positive for COVID-19

Dateline Poor People: Dying — Navajo Nation, largely black and brown food supply chain workers, prisons — canaries in the coal mine

all misery that comes to the poor works it’s way up the social ladder

who is expendable is subject to inflation

we are in an inflationary spiral

The only problem is

when the middle class dies

or rebels

the economy loses it’s consumers

and then the middle class loses it’s jobs

no workers

no customers

the whole thing collapses

Dateline Essential Workers Dying: Doctors, nurses, transportation workers, super market workers, cops, EMTs

in densely populated areas like NYC

you don’t have to be prophet to see what will happen when everybody goes back

without the proper facilities and protection

How many people are going to die?

The numbers are already astronomical

Dateline what’s next:

The Hunger Games?

June’s death numbers will spike higher than was necessary

The government and businesses will try to lie about the numbers and say that they are too high

when actually they are greatly under-counted

The rich will try to hold onto their money

The stupid will follow their lead and argue that mass death is a reality that we have to face

Propaganda will be thick and deep

Already a news station shows a young bride crying because her big wedding was cancelled

She should be grateful that she is healthy and alive

and in love

But the puppet masters will manipulate the burden of dreams

Destination weddings

baseball

Fine dining

this year’s model car

all nonsense

Dateline what should happen:

I said it when this started

It’s even more obvious now

Our health security and our financial sustainability should be our only concerns

The details are quite difficult

The Big Picture is easy

People need to feel safe

They have to survive

Healthy people who are not bankrupt, homeless and destitute

can rebuild our economy

This economy hasn’t worked for a long time

People have been talking about health care accessibility and economic justice for years

This pandemic should be a wake-up call to get things right

Dateline Me: I’ll tell you one thing — I’m making every decision of where I go and how I go there. I’m not listening to pharmacists, Pottery Barn personnel, College Presidents, advertisers, public officials, chair refurbishing tradesmen …

Right now, it’s the Wild West

in matters of health and economic security

we’re all on our own

The official line is that we are all in this together

we should be

but it’s just not the case

oh, some of us are

but that’s not

The Big Picture

Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas

5/26/20: The Soul’s Anatomy — Failure #poetry

Failure

Why failure first?

Failure gives access to the soul

Failure of self

Failure of dreams

Failure of the world

Failure of other people

Failure scrubs the eyes

Painful temporary blindness

and removes a layer of illusion

the layers and layers of illusion

our inheritance of ignorance

pressured by the events of our lives

fossilized

Failure is an archaeological phenomenon

Getting us closer to the essence.

The fools who honor victory and success

and mock failure

are soul-less

Exiles from wisdom

rejectors of love

Failure is the gate

that opens character

It shows you

resilience

and courage

and commitment

and integrity

and talent …

Failure forces you to do things that you never knew that you can do

It makes you a reflective person

Failure throws you back upon yourself

People thoughtlessly work

and thoughtlessly marry

and thoughtlessly make friends

and thoughtlessly vote

and thoughtlessly pursue faux interests

always acting at the suggestion of others

always doing what they are told

Failure teaches

that your conception of yourself is too small

that your choices aren’t suitable

Failure is the soul’s demand

That you organize your life

in conformity to something true.

Paradise resides in wounded-ness

The soul finds itself in the pursuit of necessity

not in ambition

or even desire

G was the same man when he was humbly clerking and selling fire wood

and leading armies to moral victories

and traveling the world as a celebrated figure

and writing his memoirs as he died of throat cancer

A man of great talent and character

as much a failure as a success

We should not identify with our failure or success

They are beside the point

What matters is our soul

which is an unchanging kernel

DNA coiled within us

even before we were born

that is shot into the rest of existence

as if from a particle accelerator

causing all forms of combinations and permutations of mass and energy.

Our soul is not only within us

It is outside of us too

We create lives with self-determination

and have our destinies imposed upon us by fate

Simultaneously

No one can ever understand the complexities of life

Its variations

Its processes

Its essence

Failure teaches us to participate in life

exposing the folly of our attempts to control life

but also

if we listen carefully

the folly of believing that we ourselves can’t act upon life

A baby plays

experimenting, experimenting, experimented

seeing what works and doesn’t work

what pleases and displeases

what brings pain and pleasure

what she’s good at and what she is not

what resonates in her heart as her identity.

Moment after moment after moment,

life rolls on

most moments have no meaning

they are forgotten as soon as they pass through

but some moments —

many moments for the soulful —

have meaning

those instances are the soul’s code

and failure moments are among the most meaningful

Pride

conflict

malice

ignorance

foolhardiness

naivete’

good intentions

impractcality

missed calculations

bad luck

impediments and disabilities from past abuse

fatigue

heroism

sacrifice

choice — failing in one way in order to succeed in another

Failure gives perspective

How broadly can we look at our existence?

How many planes can we live upon at once?

I’m just curious

what lessons are there for failures as human beings

for those who fail and fail and fail

but declare victory

who make the world so difficult

How is their consciousness raised

to be in harmony of the mysterious spheres of reality

and awakened to compassion?

Somehow that happens

because history seems to speak to a kind of progress

mankind in general seems to be learning from its failures

the consciousness quotient seems to rise with each generation

evil seems more desperate and farcical

Mankind ages like an individual man or woman does

The soul emerges in some leaders every generation

and the work of the past iterations is not forgotten

but rather expanded

what starts as an elite experience becomes more accessible

prevailing ignorances gradually become fringe points of view

A person and the human race keeps failing

in its relentless quest for perfection

This is what is mythically represented in Judaeo- Christian religious traditions as

the Return of the Messiah

after we process our last failure

and finally see

we will no longer be men

We will be

Divine

What an odd response I just felt

I don’t want to be

Divine

I like being a man

I’m addicted to all of this struggle with failure

My soul says that is who I am

for now

or forever?

Maybe the last looks that I saw on my parents’ faces

was the split second before they became God

There embalmed heads in the coffins

were sculptures of their last moments of failure

I don’t want that for myself

not yet, and frankly

not ever

although I know it is coming

but only in my mind

my soul doesn’t believe it.

And that failure to comprehend reality

will be the final painful lesson from my soul

but I am sure it has many other things to teach me

in the meantime.

Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas

5/27/20: Unintended Consequences — Speak and Let Your Life Speak # poetry

I’m not into motivation

or inspiration

I’m not into entertaining

or being provocative

or cheering people up

or making people feel good

or teaching

or helping

or serving

or leading

or getting attention

or shocking

I guess I’ve spent a lot of time doing all of those things

but as you get older

and work

shit falls away

you get closer to essences

and you see that all real consequences are unintended consequences.

The only thing that I am interested in now

is the truth

Not Truth with a capital T

I’m not interested in persuading you

or coercing you

or making you see things my way

I just want to see things my way

from my perspective

and with rigor

to really look

really pay attention

and then I want to say it out aloud

and act accordingly

I’m not trying to boss you

or make the world into my image of what it should be

I don’t suffer the burden of dreams

I don’t need people to stand up when I walk into a room

I want to be respected

but we all deserve that

I don’t mind if you don’t want me around

or want to hear what I have to say

I just don’t want you interfering with me being where I and others want me to be

or trying to tell me to stop talking

I wrote a brief comment on LinkedIn criticizing my alma mater’s decision to “re-open” in Fall 2020 in the middle of the pandemic as immoral

I got the usual right trolling

and I was surrounded by Notre Dame rah rahs who have invested their life in thinking their association with that University makes them special

A young woman, a recent Notre Dame graduate, wrote me a LinkedIn note

Her father, a 1979 graduate, was diagnosed with COVID-19 in April 2020, a month ago. He almost died.

He wrote the President of Notre Dame a letter imploring him not to open the school

The daughter wanted to thank me for standing up for her father

She took note of the trolls and how so many educated people — affluent alumni — were oblivious to the pain, suffering and death and the irresponsibility of the University’s decision

I did an innocuous comment on a LinkedIn stream

expression that doesn’t rise to the level of a Letter to the Editor

or a self-published poem on my blog

and it meant something to someone else

Not the most important thing that happened to the young woman

not even that day

probably not even that hour

but it gave her some comfort, encouragement and support

unintended consequences

I just had to get it out

I can’t be silent

I have to openly state my truth

I suffer if I don’t

I suffered that way for years

But my just speaking up

I gave a little friendship to someone I don’t know

We search for our purpose

we really just have to accept who we are

and be that thing as consciously as we can

Every interaction doesn’t have a sweetness to it

I have readers who also write

and readers who don’t

Visual artists

doctors

young people

my students

older people

old friends

entertainers

lawyers and other professionals

business people

Some read me all the time

Some drop in every once in awhile

They come from all over the world

Some are lonely

Some struggle with mental or physical illness

Some are very upset at the state of the world

Some just want a little companionship

Some hold me in very high esteem

Some want to, but have reservations

Some hang back and hope they are not noticed

Some rush me with comments and praise

They all get something out of reading me

in a different way

and who knows why

in all instances

The one thing that all of my readers have in common

is that they want meaning

they are well-intentioned people

they appreciate humanity

they want to participate in it

Any good my writing does for any of my writers

is not to be my credit

and I don’t say this with false humility

I say it out of observation

I’m just being who I am

and they are just being who they are

and we get something out of

our mutual existence

From my point of view

all there is

is Me and the World

My readers bring the World to me

A part of the World which is not always in my immediate locale

I extrapolate from my current readers

my other readers who will see my words in the future

The Inner Reaches of Outer Space — Sam Keen

The Outer Reaches of Inner Space — Richard Thomas

My readers are pieces of my soul

apparitions in flesh and blood

I talk to the trees and while you are listening to me, I suddenly see them come true — Alan Jay Lerner

Speaking

Let Your Life Speak — Palmer

Not always a warm and fuzzy

but its own kind of fun

How many times I have been fired

and/or insulted

or shamed

because I say my truth

and assert the authority over my entire life

Action is saying yes and no

And how many times have I found that after I suffered all sorts of vilifications

my decisions had impact

“I didn’t think so then but you were right”

“The whole place went down after you left”

“I felt the same way and I quit shortly after you did”

“I didn’t have the guts to move on”

And my antagonists were troubled by my point of view

their hatred of me was a projected self-hatred

Cynics have it all figured out

They are sure that there is no such thing as integrity

until they meet it in the flesh

and then they enact little dramas

they want the free person

the honest person

to heel to their demands

or just go away

JUST SHUT UP AND GO AWAY

I never set out to challenge anybody

and certainly not to shame them

Sometimes good people are challenged by me

another unintended consequence

It is just natural

They being who they are

Me being who I am

People who live for power see my honest existence

as an attempt to wrest power from them

They try to make me an antagonist in their power struggles

But I could give two shits for their power

The Power of the Powerless — Havel

Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the age — Shelley

Be like the little birds — Jesus

Nothing is more powerful than Living in Truth — Havel

Look and be simple

We make the world better

by fully committing to

being ourselves

LOUDLY

the truth in solitude

is more powerful than a trillion dollar lie

I position myself for unintended consequences.

Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas

5/28/20: Grant — History is Poetry #poetry #history

For several years after Ulysses S. Grant died he was in the Pantheon

Theodore Roosevelt said that the greatest Americans were Washington, Lincoln and Grant

Mark Twain said Grant’s memoirs were a great work of American Literature

They built Grant’s Tomb

By the time of my boyhood in Rochester, New York

in the 1960s

when I studied my U. S. Presidents pencil box

and compared and contrasted their biographies in the Encyclopedia Brittanica

Lee was the great general in the Civil War

Lee was the man of tactics and sophistication,

the cultured one

Grant was the butcher

who had more men and money

and ruthlessly bludgeoned the South to death

Far from the Pantheon

Grant was one of our worst Presidents

Corrupt and disorganized

What happened?

History is a chronology

and poetry is an eternal moment

Both are complicated

They involve a jockeying between two sides

Good and evil

In history it may seem that one side or the other has the upper hand in a particular moment on the timeline

In poetry the two are always there

side by side

Poetry asks for a decision

History has decided

But the process of writing history is a poetic one

the personages of the past are ourselves

and no notion is more poetic than that

The human thing

that doesn’t change

I can’t see a difference between the Civil War and Reconstruction

and today

The same choice confronts us

The same forces divide us

We suffer the same pain for the same reasons

And our struggles

most often fought on the battlefields of politics

and politics more sedate cousin — historical interpretation, which has more influence than we know

Intellectualism unlike wealth does trickle down to the general population

we get it through secondary sources —

historians give us moral arguments as they assess which figure was “good” or “bad”

and in that way direct us in the conduct of our current affairs

One’s view of Grant is one’s view of America

and even more profoundly, one’s view of human existence.

Leonardo DiCaprio is the executive producer of a documentary about Grant on the History Channel

The best current events programming that was on last night

The poetic DiCaprio and the historians on his show are attracted to each other

Opposites attract?

Like seeks like?

Same thing.

Rick looks at Grant:

Grant was an artist

He started life with a lack of confidence

His father was a mixed bag

Hyper-critical of Grant

but an abolitionist

The father sent Grant to West Point

Grant had no vision for his own life and just went along to get along

Grant was an indifferent student

smack in the middle of things

but great at what interested him

which at the time was horsemanship

Several years later, Grant did a good job in the Mexican War

but was generally unrecognized

When you look at his photos he has a kind of blank expression

He had no instinct for self-promotion

But Grant was an artist, an artist, an artist

He had excellence in him

Grant came home and got married

His father-in-law gave him a slave as a present

which he accepted

Grant was criticized for not beating the slave

Grant was in a haze

just being told what to do

but something else was stirring inside of him

Grant sucked at business

He was not a man of business

He was a man of humanity

He was quite poor

and at that low point

he freed his slave

which was just about his only asset

He saw a man

not a thing

Grant was humble

He wasn’t ashamed when he sold fire wood for a living

He did what he had to do

He saw the art in obscurity

He may have been obscure his whole life

and how many extraordinary people are unknown

never having their chance in history

yet shining eternal in poetry?

Grant lived into his forties in the shadows of fathers

Flat on his ass, he asked his father for a job as a clerk in his tannery

thin gruel for a West Point grad

He might have died an ignored failure

but opportunity arrived in the adversity of the Civil War

Grant had been drummed out of the military

because he was lonely on a remote outpost in then-frontier California

missing his wife and children

and self-medicated with alcohol

which caused him to neglect his duties

But all trained military men were needed for the war effort

He was immensely talented

and became the star of Lincoln’s generals

eventually becoming supreme commander

and devising and executing the strategy that won the war for the Union side

Lee wasn’t superior to Grant in any way

Lee was a patrician aristocrat with bloodlines running back to the Revolutionary War

Grant was an ordinary Joe

Lee loved uniforms and took a great photo

All of that bullshit made Grant feel awkward and seemed beside the point

Lee was a great general of his time

Grant was an innovator who helped invent modern warfare

Lee was courtly and well-spoken

Grant was quiet and direct

Lee was a racist who didn’t believe in America, and claimed his greater allegiance to Virginia

Grant was color-blind, and saw America as an ideal that unified all people

Lee fought for ownership

Grant fought for freedom

The Confederacy and Nazi Germany are cousins

The romance for Robert E. Lee and the Confederacy that denigrated the memory of Ulysses S. Grant

came from a strain of evil in the American character

a fascist strain

White Nationalists march around statues of Lee

a President orders people of color to go die in meat packing plants

the lack of humanity doesn’t stop at color

old people are ordered to die for the owners

anyone unlucky

in the wrong place at the wrong time

must die for the owners

Leonardo DiCaprio’s rehabilitation of Grant

arrives at precisely the right historic

and poetic moment.

Grant was a lousy businessman

He was baffled by business

His mind was on other things

His arts:

horsemanship

warfare

public policy

and ultimately

writing.

So his Presidency and later life were hurt by poor business decisions.

His critics

pursued their agenda of advancing fascism in America

by amplifying Grant’s human frailties

and ordinary failures

as a way of distracting from his great accomplishments

accomplishments that the critics are committed to undoing

Grant believed in equality for all people

His eight years of President were committed to freedom, respect and economic opportunity for Native-Americans and African-Americans

He was right

He was good

on the major issues in American life

Race

and by extension

Ownership.

Are we to be a free people?

Or owned?

This remains our primary question

and Grant was on the right side of it.

Grant’s side only had the upper hand for brief periods in American history

The mythic figure of the late 19th century

became the butchering, drunken corrupt lucky bum of the mid 20th

Grant’s Tomb gave way to

Birth of a Nation

and Gone with the Wind

The racist owners had their way in the late 20th

but as always they over-reached

Progressive politics gained momentum in the last twenty years

and my pencil box history has been overthrown

The owners are on the run

They can be Robert E. Lee

relying on tradition and fancy clothes and all sorts of bullshit

to prop up our division and the owners control of us

and we can be Grant

scruffy

human

sensitive

but skilled

persistent

resilient

adaptive

overcoming all obstacles

within us and placed before us

grounded and passionate

slogging through the mud

against enemies and our own inertia

to justice

welfare for all

and dignity.

Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas

5/29/20:

The horrible murder in Minneapolis and the completely understandable response of the oppressed people of that city is

a gross violation

followed by a primal scream

One particular group of people

in one locale stand for us all

I stand with the abused black people of Minneapolis

They are experiencing what we all experience

in extremis

I can’t begin to understand the degree of their suffering and pain

But I know it too

I’ve seen it

I find it hard to breathe today

and enough is enough

I stand in solidarity with the protesters

Dast not shame them

Dast not!

They are not responsible for the burning buildings

Dast not thou punish them!

You can’t close all avenues of progress for them and expect a genteel response

I am shocked that black Americans are not in a constant state of violent rage

All the time

400 years of this bullshit

ENOUGH! ENOUGH! ENOUGH! ENOUGH! ENOUGH!

No one listens to them

The law doesn’t work for them

They are a captive people

They need support

and love and opportunity

A chance

Dast not thou even say tsk tsk

Dast not say that they made their own bed when you set it on fire

It’s time for the white power structure to take responsibility for the hell that it wrought.

Attention must be redirected

Money must be redirected

White supremacy

and unjust hyper-capitalism

are murder.

MURDER

ANGER AND RAGE ARE AS NATURAL AS THE BLOOD RUSHING OUT OF A DYING MAN’S NOSE

The loser white thug cop

is told by his white masters

that he is better than African-Americans

They laugh at him as he proudly leaves the room

They give him nothing but racist bullshit

and he goes and kills black people

Who are disposable

to the owners

a living example of how bad things can be

Everyone is kept in control

everyone has a boot on their throat …

It is all connected

different symptoms of the same lethal virus

Pandemic.

Economic Injustice.

Making the rule of law into a farce.

Government of thieves

Destruction of the environment.

Lack of access to health care.

Food insecurity.

The privatization of education.

Censorship of the arts.

War profiteering.

Mind control through propaganda.

Destruction of democratic processes.

Racism.

Are we owned or free?

Something has to give. A boot has been placed on the windpipe of we the people. We react with rage.

Enough is enough.

The owners have to let us go.

Revolution doesn’t have to be advocated.

It is happening

counter explosions

the owners should worry

and so should we

but we can

dare I say

hope

no, not hope — but maybe something adjacent to it

can we channel this volatile energy to something better?

It’s never been done before

but what choice is there

except to try.

Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas

5/30/20: Alone at the Grand Re-Opening #poetry

Fuck business

It’s unimportant

100,000 death toll?

What a joke

You think they are counting the deaths in prisons

or Nebraska

or nursing homes

Have you ever worked with death certificates?

The cause of death section is a creative writing assignment

You know why Trump and the Republicans don’t want to fund testing?

Because they don’t want to know

Are the dead homeless getting a precise count

as if they got a precise anything in their entire lives?

Governors and Mayors re-open

but the idea isn’t whether you are safe or not

It is simply to make sure that the hospitals don’t go beyond full capacity

100,000 plus confirmed cases?

The Rick Blog estimates the real count at 250,000

Where did I get that number?

I pulled it out of my ass

100,000 plus came out of somebody else’s ass

The dean at the last place that I worked said that the faculty and students are anxious to get back in the classroom

Really?

Did he ask them?

Are they high?

An architect spoke to us and said that we needed signage and hand sanitizer

That’ll do it

I am not making any decisions regarding my safety or ethics by committee

I was asked with other faculty to call students who were accepted to the school to send in their deposits

When I was a kid my mother got a job selling freezers to use for meat storage

You got the freezer for cheap and then were roped into a long term contract for the meat

Frosty Teddy was the name of this scam

My mother quit after a day

A Catholic University is the name of the scam that I was asked to participate in

I didn’t pick up the phone

Business, Catholic and University

all synonyms

for scam

Every place that I have ever worked it’s been the same drill

I show up thinking I have found a place to do good

I do some good

but then the bosses fuck it up

in the name of keeping the enterprise alive

they destroy it

The bosses at Our Lady of the Scam

are quite nervous

They talk in a perilous tone

Trump briefing happy talk

They have their Dr. Fauci’s

who play the game of striding the line

honoring the truth

and feeding the business beast

I can’t even listen to that anymore

JUST TELL THE FUCKING TRUTH

Please

The sales meeting cheerleading sounding from the administration of Our Lady of the Scam

sounds more manic than enthusiastic

America is having a nervous breakdown

fearful and depressed

and rambling with a bunch of crazy fucking bullshit about how great things are going to be

Of course I will be blamed for all of this

I’m self-destructive

I can’t hold a job

I have problems with authority

I am not realistic

Fuck all of that

I am the one who knows how dangerous all of this is

I am the one who is not going to lie and hurt other people

I am the one really focused on education

I am the one who doesn’t change every fucking activity of my life into sales and accounting

I am the one who is smarter, kinder, of a higher character and more sincere than all of these mother fuckers that I am supposed to bow to

I am the one who makes all decisions for my personal safety and my personal ethics

So sorry if that doesn’t make a team player on the horde of lemmings running off of the cliff

What will I do now?

Fuck if I know

I’ll tell you what I need from you

Support and opportunity

I don’t need your criticism

because if you are of such a mind

I likely don’t think much of how you go about things either

All the common sense in the world

has resulted in this piece of shit culture

we are gasping for our breath in

Trump Trump Trump

I’m sick of that asshole

The boogey man

The scammers

who seem to be almost fucking everybody

The deans and the architects and the Jesuit priests and the educators

and everybody who is supposed to be doing something smart and good

and arrange meetings where they kiss each others’ asses

and stand up for each other when they enter a room

are more dangerous than Trump

They’ll kill the world to preserve their fucking careers

They aren’t consciously evil like Trump

that motherfucker directly and maliciously hurts people

They are consciously indifferent to the whispers of their conscience

and I think that is worse …

Okay, whew … I’ve punched it out

I’ll be okay

I always figure a way through

I thought I found the answer this time

but then again I always do

I’ll learn from all of this and come up with something better

I used to think that the biggest thing that I needed to learn in life was discernment

that I was always looking for love in the wrong places

I don’t think that anymore

I know now that love is out there

but it is very hard to find.

Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas

5/30/20: Ordinary White People and the Revolution #poetry

Waiting …

The immediate present is comfortable

I love my wife who is feet away

I am comfortable in my chair

The sliding door is open

Cool fresh air is welcome

The ceilings seem 1000 feet high

I am happy

in my immediate world

Just blocks away

a revolution is starting

I wish it would start faster

I wish it won’t be a flash in the pan

I wish it becomes a sustained pressure

I wish it shakes the world’s axis

and makes the earth spin differently

in a new direction

and a better rhythm

I want angry shouts

ignored orders

broken curfews and windows

I want golf games disrupted

tables overturned in fine dining establishments

Shit smeared all over luxury cars

public urination in private gardens …

all forgiven

and understood

and the parasites who caused the frustration and rage

punished

forced to pay damages

and to give the world back to the rest of us

I want the rich to apologize

sincerely

for all of their lies

and all the suffering that they have caused

Justice in all of its forms!

First justice

we’ll get to order and clean up later

Fuck order

Injustice should be put in disarray …

Let’s have moratorium on punishing poor people

for what they aren’t responsible for …

Let’s go to the source of their problems

and if an AutoZone store or two burns to the ground

who cares

certainly not me

The rich have to come forward

and get their just desserts

after all of these years

The future stirs

the layers of time and space

distant and in the palm of my hand

justice

decency

kindness

an end to tyranny

right livelihood

health, education and welfare

You want law and order?

Make justice blind

Make the rich pay their debt to society

Make a society that deserves order

The current society is chaotic

not because of the loudest voices of those most abused

but because of the silent mendacity of the few who control it

They’ve squeezed and squeezed and squeezed

until it has become totally unbearable

A subjugated population with nothing left to lose

is a dangerous population as it should be

The past arrives

I find a YouTube video

Anthony Newley and Sammy Davis Jr. singing

a medley of Newley’s songs

written with Leslie Bricusse

I forgot that they wrote so many good songs

And they reminded me of being in my parents’ living room

Listening to records on the big expensive stereo my mother bought

that no one else in the family ever used

and was just an impressive piece of furniture

And the songs reminded me of those sweet days in the 1960s

when I was so so loved

and so sure that nothing bad would ever happen to me

My security and happiness was the meaning of the universe

Not far from that homely genteel location

was my father’s body shop

The Rochester “riots” in 1964 happened all around my father’s shop

But the violence and mayhem never touched the place

Because my father had grown up very poor

and he loved his neighbors

He saw their pain and not their race

He never condescended to his neighbors or criticized them

He never judged them and was stung when they were unfairly punished

He wasn’t a political man

or a particularly well educated one

But I am remembering something that I haven’t thought of in a very long time

If I ever thought it at all

And I love my father very much

right now

He was Italian

and you know the stereotypes

the mafia, the guidos, the greasers

but there is another Italian thing

a warmth

a sense of justice

a hospitality

a humility

I remember all of that

and I am back in the present

Ordinary white people

have to stand up for the oppressed in America

including myself!

Even if few people listen

Ordinary white people

have to appreciate and enjoy the immediate moment that God gives us

and we have to hear and feel and taste and touch

the cauldron of desire for freedom

that can save us all

Ordinary white people have to speak out and stand up for the oppressed

and against all of our rich masters

The Rochester “riots” of 1964 were one night of a recurring nightmare that started in 1619

in one way

but even started before then

when the first rich boss started bullying the person with nothing trying to survive and enjoy the gift of being alive

Have you had enough?

I sure have

All the contrast in one moment

calm and comfort

love and safety

and a burning flame of dissatisfaction

a yearning for revolution

an incendiary spreading fire

for day-to day reality

to get just a little closer to perfection.

Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas

5/31/20: Agony and Ecstasy on the Road of Freedom #poetry

Be the authority of your own life

Easier said than done

The process of liberation is a painful one

It starts with innocence and looking up

The person you most love and depend on betrays you

They push you down hard

For the fun of it

For the lust of it

For the power of it

You slowly get to your feet

dazed and confused

They laugh at your inexperience

Unsure of yourself

doubting your own perceptions

They own you

They tell you what to do

what you are capable of

and what you are worth

which they say is not much

They take everything

you get nothing

Every once in awhile they patronize you

they praise you in some way

they gift you with trinkets

and you feel a pathetic sense of pride

you feel you pleased them

and if you work hard enough you’ll be like them

You get a little confidence

and get a little positive attention from third parties

and they become jealous of you

they punish you

and shame you

They hurt you and claim that you hurt them

You innocently say something that is not in their interest

and they become enraged and censor you

They demand that you conform to rules of conduct and behavior which maintains the illusion of their control

That word — “illusion”

Something has awakened

nothing that you were taught

something inside of you

You’ve become sensitive to truth

Truth

Awareness of truth gives way to frustration

You don’t like this jail that you share with your oppressor

and then comes more confusion

“how do I escape?’

and then options slowly emerge

and then you feel fear

“what if I can’t do it?’

By this time you are in an uneasy dance with your captor

He knows that you are on to him

He knows that you will subversively work against him whenever you can

You stare at each other in mutual distrust

You won’t let the other out of your sight

This is one of the worst phases

You don’t even have your daydreams any more

and none of the minor creative activity that you’ve always managed to sneak on the side

Your life is an obsession with your jailer

and his life is an obsession with you

Imperceptibly your subversion

grows into defiance

Your master actually makes a few concessions to you

out of two things

exhaustion — he’s not enjoying himself either

and fear

He’s always been afraid of you

He doesn’t want to be exposed as a usurper of all of your potential

He cares most about how he appears

and you

in spite of yourself

because you have been denied any chance of recognition for your talents and achievements

have been growing into a person of substance

You begin to blossom

and he is terrified at the sight of the first bloom

and he violently attacks you

He takes everything

and you’ve finally had enough

you’ve nothing left to lose

and you strike at your enemy

You are no longer subjugated

You are equal

Fuck his rules

Fuck his interests

Fuck his shaming

Fuck his punishment

“This son of a bitch has been beating me for years — now I am going to kick ass on him and anyone like him”

You go to war

He tries shaming you

You are so past buying that horse shit

You demand justice from him

and you start to get it

but you are still not home

because then you are tempted to have the type power that he had over you

over other people

You fall into it

but then you can’t go through with it

every move that you make that resembles your old master

makes you sick to your stomach

now you are confused again

if you don’t go for power

what do you do

Then your memory fucks with you

every day you are reminded of your master

ways that he humiliated you

stole from you

cheated you

slandered you

and now you have to go through the whole process of liberation again

this time inside of your own head

and you have to discipline yourself

to choose freedom and happiness

to create your life on your own terms

There is something oddly seductive about misery

It is a siren call

that unfailingly arrives when you are about to sing

Your experience of oppression becomes part of the fabric of who you are

as much of the part of your essence as the kernel that you were born with

Pain never leaves you

We live our lives in chronic pain

Independence is an act of courage and transcendence

we have to constantly reclaim our faith in the knowledge that we were born with

that we are beings of value worthy of love

that we have vast potential

we are co-creators of the universe

it’s our right

we are up to the task

AND

that we are wounded

controlled by our fear of bullies in the streets

and by archetypes of our mind

We scream for justice

when it is right there inside of us

we shall overcome

and be overcome

Justice gives us wings

and injustice prevents from flying to close to the sun

So we struggle and fight and go through the stages

always trying to reach an impossible promised land

proud that we transcended innocence

and fear

and co-dependence

and stood on our two feet

as a just people

able to love and join who and what is meant for us

never forgetting the misery of the past

sometimes revisiting that horror in our minds

and gaining compassion for those who follow us a few steps behind us on the trail.

Every time we see someone suffering from injustice, we re-live our own such suffering again

Every time we are on the brink of free creation

the excitement is interrupted by the static of the memory of our past pain

“all that was lost when I could have been doing this all along”

We have to know what it is to be blocked from our creativity in order to consciously create

All children are artists

who can make art when they have been kicked in the balls repeatedly?

That’s the question

I used to think that I could just walk away from the oppressor

Put him out of my mind and be happy

But it doesn’t work that way

You have to work at it

Anger when he is close by and worrying you

becomes integrity when he gets further away

Anger explodes and sets a boundary

so that you can move forward

You assert your authenticity and defend it

You determine your own path, vigilant and on guard for your power of self-determination

Moral in the extreme

Committed to never consciously interfering with anyone else’s power over themselves

It is very demanding

You are required to intensely experience the events of your life

take them as they come

and reflect upon them and apply them to your present and future circumstances

Writing has radicalized me

It has made me the authority of my own life

My innocence my anger my frustration my commitment my creative joy my unjust shame and my just rewards

all in one moment

my blood is a tributary

running to the river of blood of the world

the binary agony of the necessity of taking sides

the orgasmic ecstasy of creation itself

Slave rebellions

and Jazz.

Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas

george floyd protester

6/1/20: Hamlet Wasn’t Crazy; He Was Upset #poetry

To be or not to be

It wasn’t a Freudian question

It was an existential one

To be is a daunting proposition

It requires the acceptance of life

in all of its manifestations

the sweet and the bitter

the difficult and the easy

the agony and the ecstasy

life and death

America is in withdrawal from its dreams

Its dream of safety

Its dream of cohesion

Its dream of abundance

Its dream of the pursuit of happiness and escaping all pain

Its dream of dominating nature

Its denial of death

The small business owner cries outside of his shop

The protesters destroyed his life’s work

he wails through bitter tears

To be or not to be?

Did he ever give a thought to the persecutions within the criminal justice system that he rarely if ever interacted with?

Did he ever think of the desperation of people without employment, capital or opportunity?

Did he ever think about how bad so many schools in America are?

What reductions in food stamp programs meant to mothers and children?

Did he ever think about how many people live their lives mostly ignored, only noticed periodically to be punished and abused?

Did he ever consider for a moment that his particular dream was not particularly important?

What a powerful delusion!

That no else matters

that you can make it on your own without help

That  human suffering is something “out there”

irrelevant to your life of industry and ingenuity

A man is intensely focused on accomplishing his goals

and is brought to his knees by a heart attack

We are part of the world

We can’t exist above or around or near it

If we ignore it

It comes looking for us

suddenly

shockingly

violently

We are not separate from nature and mankind

no matter how we wish to be

To be indeed

We have come to moment

when we have to set aside the burden of dreams

End or defer all of our plans

and tend to our collective needs

Attention must be paid!

To the sick and dying

and the poor

We must become upset

dismayed

distraught

about what has happened to us

US

Self-interest now lies with the community and the earth

Our desire to misname our alienation as autonomy has to end

To be is to be moved by the suffering of others

To be is to be awed by the infinite, multitudinous eternal ever-changing expanse of nature

and to be upset by lies and injustice

The sick and the poor save the rest of us

They announce to us OUR pain

Be! they shout

Look!

See!

You can no longer be numb to reality!

Your dreams and ambitions

Your distractions

don’t work any more

We challenge the meaning of everything!

Money — what’s that?

Your status?

No rung of the ladder matters now

The ladder is on fire

Your hobbies and entertainments are impossible to enjoy while you gasp for air

on a ventilator

or from the acrid smoke of your burning neighborhood

No one cares about what you want anymore

It’s time to take care of the world

Can you see the distinction now

between the frustration of injustice and the denial of the necessities of life

and whining about not getting the pathetic little trophies that you worked so hard for

To be or not to be

To live in truth or be one of the walking dead

zombies who feed on people consciously aware of participation in the world

Politics

and the economy

are abstractions

Constructs of “not to be”

Nature and Humanity are real

The regions of the world

and the verb

(action word)

To Be.

Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas

tenure

6/1/20: Too Good for Hollywood #poetry #movies #teaching

Yesterday’s offerings in the COVID-19 film festival were The Dresser, the highly regarded 1982 film about the relationship between the lead actor/director of a touring Shakespearean Rep Company in Britain during World War II, and his Sancho Panza homosexual dresser who keeps his body and soul together and the musty show going on;

and the 2009 straight to video effort Tenure directed by the mysterious Mike Million (his Twitter feed says that is his real name) and starring Luke Wilson as a good teacher.

Both films are also good featuring some nuanced acting and sensitive writing, and each are compromised by distractions for the sake of the commercial audience: The Dresser gets demerits for its preoccupation with plot — the lead actor dies in the end, the dresser loses the meaning and the unrequited love of his life (the lead actor was more concerned with being loved than loving). The Dresser can show us all it has to reveal without the neat “action” of the dramatic event at its conclusion. Albert Finney and Tom Courtenay are great actors who reveal the relationship between their respective characters in its complexity. Ronald Harwood is a fine writer. He doesn’t have to underline anything.

Tenure is a nice reflective character study partially buried under the requirements of a standard Hollywood loner/loser comedy. David Koechner, who is an amiable presence when comedy is called for, is more than miscast here. His character shouldn’t be in the script. Koechner drives a ridiculous sub-plot that has no basis in reality in the belief that idiotic irreverence draws audience. College professors trying to “TP” (festoon toilet paper on someone’s property) a pompous dean, but getting the wrong house — is a comedy misfire that should have been spotted early in pre-production. But the bet was that the then middle-aged Animal House generation still wanted the fantasy of doing cool fraternity pranks, at least vicariously. They didn’t. The first place that audiences encountered Tenure was Blockbuster Video.

Tenure’s writer/director doesn’t have a Wikipedia page. I have a greater internet presence than he does, and mine is definitely a quality-not-quantity affair. What happened to Mike Million? I debated with myself whether to use a question mark at the end of the title of this piece or to go without it. I decided to go without it.

I decided that Mike Million is better than Hollywood whether he knows it or not.

Ronald Harwood isn’t better than Hollywood. He is a master craftsman and does excellent work. He has written many good movies including Roman Polanski’s The Pianist, but he doesn’t aspire to something more.

If you are wondering “what could be more” please read on. If you agree with what I say, I have enlightened and/or encouraged you. If you disagree, I have spited you. Either option is a good result from my point of view.

Mike Million wants something more — more than making well-crafted entertainments or even art. Mike Million dreams of a life beyond mastery or achievement and success. His life is his ultimate art. He wants to touch the rest of mankind effortlessly with his natural sweetness and sincerity.

Tenure isn’t a great movie, but it has nice observations about the art of teaching. Million had the insights, and Luke Wilson does a subtle and perceptive job acting his character.

Tenure teaching lesson #1: A good teacher does it his own way. He brings himself to the classroom and engages his students in a real relationship. For the weeks of the course, a teacher becomes very close to his students. When the course ends, the teacher becomes obsolete. Million and Wilson excellently portray how a teacher is a temporary benevolent presence in students’ lives whose objective is to help them start something. A teacher accomplishes this, in part, by sharing himself as someone who is further along in the process. A student learns the teacher and the teacher learns the students. Million writes with such understanding about what teaching is, it’s impossible to believe that he is not a teacher himself — either in practice or in the potentialities of his soul.

Tenure teaching lesson #2: A teacher studies his students in order to engage them — he speaks to each and every one of them personally in order to direct each and every one of them personally in their particular and unique potentialities. The teacher mirrors his students and initiates transformations by emphatic acceptance of the mutual reflections.

Tenure teaching lesson #3: A teacher entices students to interest in the subject matter. This alluring aspect of teaching is something adjacent to flirtation but can never cross that line. A young co-ed has a crush on Wilson’s professor. She seductively and insecurely asks him at a party if she is “fat”. Wilson gives a perfect line reading when he kindly tells her she is not fat and is a lovely young woman. His tone is adjacent to “fatherly” not flirtation.  There is nothing creepy in his response. He understands that teacher can never exploit his students in any way. He can’t lie to them. He can’t use them. He has an almost clerical obligation to them. Any selfishness will destroy any good that the teacher achieved with them. A teacher has to love his students as students.

Tenure teaching lesson #4: Million writes lines that indicate the intensity of teaching in the present, and the body of work that all the various schools and students — people and places — that a teacher touches in the course of his career. Classes come and go, but a teacher has an anonymous legacy in his positive impact on the world.

The parts in Tenure about Wilson’s character as a son, and brother, and love interest, are quite good, since teaching is the vocation whose main qualification is experience as a human being.

That’s true of writing as well, and I wonder if Million isn’t self-publishing on a blog somewhere.

Million has his professor refuse tenure with its pressures to publish and engage in campus politics. He just wants to be in the classroom and teach.

Natural art, without self-promotion and ambition, is the most beautiful art of all.

It is better than Hollywood

and just about everything else.

Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas

6/6/20: The Owners and their Thugs #poetry

The owners look at black people

and they think

“There goes my property that was unfairly taken away from me”

The owners look at a child

and they think

“What a nuisance, I resent having to feed and clothe her and give her a little education”

The owners look at a sick person

and they think

“What a useless idle waste of money”

or

“What a captive market, we can make a killing”

The owners look at an old person

and they think

“He can’t buy anything from me, he can’t do any work for me — let him die”

The owners look at a sincere person who loves the black and the sick and the young and the old etc etc etc (immigrants, people of other colors, women … really anyone who is not an owner … sorry if your demographic wasn’t mentioned — it’s a poem, you know? Everything is representational, everything is real … )

and they think

“What a threat to my way of life! with their talk and example of morality and care, we have to kill them — figuratively or literally if it comes to that”.

The owners need someone to do their dirty work …

the owners don’t know how to work themselves …

they just know how to take control …

the owners look for the capos …

the Jews who swelled with pride when the Nazis gave them petty authority in the Concentration Camps …

the capos kept the lines to the showers straight …

Cops are modern day capos …

all of them …

even the nice ones …

the ones who would never give an old man brain injuries

or choke a dad in a gutter …

The owners aren’t stupid

and they live in fear

they know there is a teeming powerful force of the millions of people that they subjugate

and they need to put fear into the restless hordes

who threaten to rise up and wrest them from their mansions

and hang them on meat hooks in Northern Italy …

The cops are the enforcers

of the primacy of the owners’ property

they are in place to intimidate and warn.

We own a condo.

It’s very nice

we have a little balcony

and an island in the kitchen

it is very comfortable

plenty of space for the two of us

and a bit of protection.

Ownership

even in a tiny amount

affords us protection.

On the other side of our front door

is a revolution and a plague.

The police deal with the exposed

the people who don’t own a refuge

The police don’t generally deal with the likes of me

except with courtesy, and something close to respect

I’m an older white guy still capable of work

I look like I must be doing something of value to the owners.

How do the owners control someone like me?

How do they make sure that I don’t get any ideas

that I don’t represent some ethos other than making them richer and facilitating their control?

They have capos working in business, theater, higher ed, the law and every other milieu that I have ever found myself working in

Those capos are bosses and competitive peers

They mock, insult, slander and generally don’t give one his or her due

They force conformity and censor

They lie, withdraw promised raises and promotions

They love to tell people to shut up

They claim the people are frauds

They break deals and contracts

and then rage

sometimes violently

when their false “authority” isn’t valued

They tell racist jokes at country clubs

Watch child pornography

sexually harass people with less power in their organizations

These capos really don’t do a damn thing

except figure out how to amass petty power

like a good capo does

They pose in their stuffed shirts at banquets

and intone who they think is worthy and who is not

They “teach” based upon their success

either in a classroom or as an esteemed “mentor”

Their message is always the same

“This is how you please the owners”.

Of course, no one can make you feel small unless you let them;

it is the goal of the empty owners and their pathetic insecure capos to make you feel small;

and there are many more people who aren’t owners or capos than those who are;

and the owners and capos are engaged in a big phony show;

and every once in a while all of society sees that the emperor has no clothes;

but it is the option of readers and writers of poetry to see it every day.

I never went along with them.

I internalized a lot of their shit

I had to purge it from my system.

I feel rage about the repeated abuse that they rained on me every day

But I never was on their side

I am proud

so proud of what I have done and what I am doing

They have tried to tell me it is nothing

Check out my website — http://www.richardthomasjd.com

It doesn’t even tell the whole story

They mocked me

they exiled me

they stole from me

they did everything that they could to keep me down

and I fought back

I accomplished so much

not for the owners

but for who I am

and what I thought was right

And my values were usually right

Read my blog at http://www.richardsteventhomas.wordpress.com

I’ve been right on race, for just one example

I haven’t just not been racist

I have been anti-racist

But I have been on the moral side of so many other things.

The great film director told a true story.

He was on a troop train when he was in the service

and he walked to another car

and in that car he saw a bunch of soldiers

gang raping a young girl

He said that he did nothing to stop or report it,

and his inaction is the great shame of his life.

Lumet observed that he knew man could do bad things

but not that bad.

I observe that Lumet used his shame well — it led to movies like Serpico and Twelve Angry Men

Lumet is a great poet of morality

I say

without any sense of competition or superiority

that I don’t share Lumet’s shame

I never had that particular weakness

I have always spoken up:

to the lawyers who wanted to pass legislation punishing poor people for being poor

to death penalty sanctioned murder

to bullies in improv troupes

to insults and condescension in the workplace

to hacks usurping the works of artists

and in many more circumstances.

I have another shame however that I have to deal with every day.

I started out as an entertainer and I have cared too much about what other people think

I internalized all of the mendacious, malicious abuse the owners and the capos have dished out to me

At times, I was timid to defend myself

It has taken me a little too long to distinguish the real friends from the owners and the capos

I have to work on my self-esteem

and my discernment every day

But like Lumet

who turned the grit of his cowardice into the pearl called Serpico

I have turned my confusion and pain

which is born of my congenital weakness

of caring about what other people think

because let’s face it

who the fuck are they anyway

Of course, black lives matter

Bill Barr doesn’t have to sign off on that

The owners and the capos false claim

that they are the ones who recognize who and what matters

might be the last chains to break free of …

You know who doesn’t matter …

the owners and the capos

they personify a suicidal instinct inside all of us

that wants us to give up on life

we have to motivate ourselves to joy.

I’ve written myself to a bit of peace this morning …

I started this piece out with a shred of an idea …

that there is something deeper than racism

racism is a horrible symptom of some illness …

today’s poem is a start on that inquiry

but every poem is just a start

There are all kinds of revolutions.

Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas

6/7/20: United States of Murder #poetry

If you made a word cloud of my recent poems

the word “DEATH”

would be large and at the center

We have always lived in a phony nation of blood

Not a nation at all

but a conglomerate

a Big Red Money Monster terrorizes the countryside

a massive collective unconscious of Red Dripping Coagulating Sin

“Democracy” is a salesman’s come on

delivered insincerely

followed by a laugh and a sneer

when the suckers walk out of the showroom

Rivers of blood flow down our streets and highways

Blood rises from the smokestacks of our industry

a soot of blood covers our windows and cars

We breathe and taste the salt of blood

Ghosts howl through our nights

genocide, slavery, exploitation, abandoned responsibility and callous indifference

now and forever

The People are Largely

Willfully blind, deaf and dumb

Cowards

dependent on the undependable

Ignorant of the most important and obvious reality:

Dead dead dead

Generations of Red Native-Americans dead, killed off of their land

Black African-American slaves dead at the heel of their masters

Yellow Asian-Americans dead after building a railroad

Brown Latino-Americans dead in sweatshops and fields and industrial plants

Soldiers maimed and dead in wars justifiable and unnecessary

Children killed in the crossfire of gang violence

Victims of mass shootings

Casualties of domestic violence

Pedestrians and drivers at poorly engineered railroad crossings

Dead Smokers

Dead Drug addicts, prescription and otherwise …

Everybody dead

before their time

dead

young old rich poor

famous and obscure

all forgotten

who thinks about John Wayne or Dwight Eisenhower or John Coltrane

or your Grandma or Grandpa

except academics, hobbyists and sentimentalists

Where do all these dead lives go

and who cares

it’s just one thing after another

We eat each other’s lives

that’s interesting, that’s useful, that tastes good

until we get bored with other’s lives

until they aren’t useful to us anymore

Obsolete parts replaced by new ones

Bulldozers push dead emaciated bodies into wide ditches

the piles stacked miles high

Gruesome, painful, unjust, preventable deaths

lives ended

with an intent to kill

It makes one wonder if it was ever about the money?

Life is so cheap, right?

Was it always just about the killing?

Some sick get your rocks off feeling of domination

Is man a lower life form?

Just here to eat, adapt and survive?

Are we nothing more?

We’re more, but we have to choose it

we can transcend our animal natures

the question is

will we?

A lot of us like just being animals

and reject our souls …

For even more —

it’s the complicity

the aiding and abetting

of the fearful, weak and selfish populace

who just didn’t want to see it

didn’t want to talk about it

didn’t want to deal with it

hear no see no speak no evil

the populace who thought they could find a little shelf to hide on

where they could survive a good long time

and have a little fun

The populace who loved their relative safety and enjoyment

more than their children

that they dutifully sent to war

and into coal mines

and encouraged to get credit cards

and surrender their self-determination

their children were taught to sacrifice their humanity

and to become parts in the Red Machine

To be an American is to join the Mafia

Full up with phony values about honor and “our thing”

Equating our membership in the group with belonging to a ‘family”

while actually playing our assigned parts in a psychotic organization

by, for and of the homicide.

Murder is a fire

it easily gets out of control

and we have reached a point where everything is dying

with such speed

and at such enormous quantities

that we can’t avoid seeing

or hearing it any longer.

Hundreds of thousands of Americans are dying unprotected from a virus

Nursing homes are morgues

Prisons are morgues

Factories are morgues

Poor neighborhoods are morgues

Lonely one bedroom apartments are morgues

Super markets are morgues

Hospitals, planes, trains, busses

Picking up a package is a game of Russian roulette

Illusions disintegrate

Businesses evaporate

Economic systems become farcical

Rationalizations become ludicrous

Propaganda becomes laughable

Faux philosophies sound like the bad ad copy that they are — even to people who never paid attention before

Our oppressors/evil benefactors themselves begin to die

They pass

America has passed away

the contagion has reached the bunker

The foundations of society have eroded imperceptibly for years

and now they seem to suddenly collapse

but the suddenness is only experienced by the previously

complacent

complicit

and indifferent

Anyone could see what was happening if they cared to …

Our evil will hang on

doggedly

but it has already lost

It is just evil’s way to kill as much as it can on the way out

before it finally almost dies itself

leaving just the trace of a tiny seed

that will grow in one hundred years

into another Armageddon

like what we are experiencing now

Everyone who ever persecuted and murdered me or those I love

is now disgraced

because the beasts came to kill people further removed from their malevolence

Everyone hears the canaries in the coal mine sing

about the same time they smell the noxious gas

Isn’t that interesting?

Moral clarity arrives most easily when death is imminent

For a while the masses will see it is in their interests to take care of one another

and favor life and not death

but eventually they’ll think the smart money is on murder again

and the whole painful cycle will start all over again.

That reality shouldn’t make you feel bad.

Hope is not optimism.

You can take the right side.

Sometimes you’ll be on top

like right now

this is a great time for good people.

And sometimes you will be an exile

and have to suffer with the truth in silence.

But what difference does that make really?

The herd doesn’t see reality or create it.

You do.

If you have bothered to read this far

You do.

Choosing the affirmation of life seems like some big challenge

until you realize that there is really no rational alternative.

The victories of the death culture are as insubstantial

as wisps of smoke over a crematorium.

You know that there is something much greater than the culture of death.

Be that …

without confusion, doubt or reservation

Never be ashamed of your wounds

don’t worry about whether the world will ever be better

Just do whatever you can

to try to make it that way.

Create space in your heart for others

Carry a shield to protect yourself from the wilding murderers

but put down that ridiculous sword,

You can see what all of this killing has gotten them.

Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas

Good bye, Second City.

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’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 me right now.

Best,

Rick Thomas, Chicago Main Stage ’81 -84

Richard Thomas JD, LLC Ethical Presence TM Consulting

1000 E. 53rd St. Unit 405, Chicago, Illinois 60615

312-285-5415

http://www.richardthomasjd.com

6/9/20: The Sincere Improviser #poetry

We can be better than our institutions

America has had enough of entertainment and advertising

The world will have had enough

when they get all of the bilge America has to offer

That moment must be fast approaching

It isn’t cultural imperialism

It is imperialism masquerading as culture

Commerce castrates art

and cuts out art’s tongue so that it can’t sing falsetto

Don’t believe the insincere improvisers

They call themselves improvisers

but they are salesmen

who sell nothing

They just sell desire

They have contempt for their audiences

Suckers born every minute

Tell them what they want to hear and run out with the box office take through the back of the tent

America is crying out for art

America is crying out for the sincere improviser

America wants to be heard

and to listen

America needs words

and plays

and jokes

and movies

that meet the longing in our individual hearts

and in our communities

America needs places to go

to see hear and feel themselves

America wants to laugh with real joy

and weep with real grief for our losses

Individuals and groups want to go somewhere

or read somewhere

and figure things out

We need real classrooms and stages

actors

not actor-impersonators

not facsimiles of plays

that are really manipulative sales presentations

How cruel — to seduce people with claims of friendship. meaning and love

and just leaving them with a sales pitch

The world wants to be heard

and to listen

to see plays

not be played.

The human is tired of the commodity

the commodification

The human is tired of everything being merely useful

Even the practical can be sacramental

We need the sacramental

We are something more than eating, shitting and fucking

We are something more than the chemical sensations of power

We know that there is something more

We have to experience it

We need it as much as air

We aren’t alive without it

We are sick of con artists saying that they will answer our need

and then mocking us and stealing our money

Forcing us out of our rightful place in the world

Making us refugees of the spirit

In order to hold on to the real

we must be homeless

The insincere have stolen all of the buildings

But we have more of a home in our nomadic wanderings

than they will ever have in their usurped existence

They squat in our mansions

but no matter

We have inherited the earth

Art is not just a source of branding

It isn’t just a good idea to exploit — a premise, a pitch

Art is an exploration

scary and glorious

The hack will never know ecstasy

And his insensitive denial of agony

is an unconscious agony in and of itself

The hack is miserable without knowing it

Trapped in his petty meanness

always avoiding reflection

telling himself that he is such a big winner

when he really feels like shit

When art isn’t present

everything gets stupid

everything gets mean

The sincere improviser gets real laughs

not some crude cackle

which serves as an audio ID card

as membership in the Idiot In – Crowd

Sincere improvisation is inclusive

It touches the ground of being

It doesn’t keep people out

or say that they aren’t worthy

Sincere improvisation makes everybody feel good

valued

regarded

brothers and sisters on a journey

Sincere improvisation isn’t competitive

Every scene is a problem that all involved

players and audience solve together

Sincere improvisation wishes everyone the best

no pecking orders

Sincere improvisation pursues truth

not bullshit

Sincere improvisers don’t calculate

they go on quests

alone and together

Improvisation isn’t owned

Improvisation is an opportunity to turn life into art

and vice versa

I improvise on the pages of this blog

and in college classrooms

The theatrical stages are controlled by an occupying army

but life finds a way

People find ways to create

educate themselves

and connect

People find ways to discover who they and their communities are

Enough with the salesmen and the corporate managers

I’ll go sit with the artists

The occupying army makes a lot of noise

but they can’t subjugate us unless we let them

They bet on money and attention

We cast our lot with God.

KEEP WORKING

NEVER STOP

DON’T BE DISCOURAGED

(I DON’T WRITE TO ENCOURAGE YOU)

I WRITE THIS BECAUSE IT IS TRUE

WE ARE THE REAL THING

WE MADE THE RIGHT CHOICE

Pity the salesmen and hyper-competitive narcissists

They preen and insult you

but secretly

perhaps even secretly to themselves

they envy you

They know you are smarter

they know that you are more sensitive

and they know that you are freer

You drive them nuts because you don’t play by their rules

They shame you when they are the ones who bear shame

They would kill you if they could

You remind them that they are not free

But stay in place

don’t go where the virus is

always disinfect wherever they might have been

and keep your social distance

You are improvisation

and so am I

Their persons

and their “shows” and “classes”

are dumpster fires

pretending to be the coolest thing in the world

to a bunch of kids and unsophisticated people

too innocent or ignorant

to know the difference.

The sincere improviser finds moments

that are recognizable to everybody

transcending ignorance and innocence

activating human souls

to recognize what is true.

Don’t compete with the posers

They aren’t in your league.

Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas

Good bye, Notre Dame.

6/12/20: Moral Outrage on LinkedIn #poetry #re-opening #socialjustice #democracy #Churchteachings #NotreDame

Educated people

praise Notre Dame for its re-opening

in a plague

“The campus is so beautiful”

“Notre Dame is so good so professional”

ooh ooh Notre Dame is a ticket to heaven — home of national champions, great academics and the finest character building and ethics — put an ND on it and it represents God’s will — no work needed at all

This Fall Notre Dame will smugly and righteously

KILL PEOPLE

Notre Dame is taking “reasonable steps”

to “mitigate risk”

Reasonable?

Mitigate?

The job is to keep people safe

Period.

Domers know to read the fine print. Half of them are lawyers, half of them are theologians, half of them are doctors, half of them are engineers, half of them are business masterminds

The many halves are a mystery

Like the Holy Trinity

but Domers know when to ignore the fine print to

When it pumps up their bank accounts

or egos

Imperialists who live in Winnetka and Grosse Pointe and Beverly Hills

God rewards his people of great character

who eat poor people alive in fine dining establishments

Their dreams are dreamed to be realized

While their slaves die

out of sight and out of mind

If a slave dies in a forest and no one hears

was the slave ever there at all?

I NEVER LIKED THEM AND NOW I KNOW WHY

I CRITICIZED AND CHALLENGED THEM OVER DETAILS BUT I NEVER SAW HOW WRONG THEY ARE

HOW BAD THEY ARE

I’M NOT COMPLICIT

I’M NOT

I NEVER GOT THE REWARDS

BUT I WISH THAT I SAW WHO THEY WERE EARLIER

We live in an age of deconstruction

Our ideas about what matters

what is important are changing

I am free of a conflict

I never lived like these people

but today I am liberated from any shame that I felt at being not like them

THEY ARE THE FAILURES, NOT ME!

IN A MOMENT MY STORY CHANGES

In a moment, every slight and punishment becomes a badge of honor

Regular readers might think that what I am telling you is very new

You’ve heard this tome from me before

but something is different today

very different

I have broken the last bonds

I have loyalty to nothing and no own

I have no need to belong to any group

I see where I am from

who I am from

I am not angry at them

I kind of pity them

I just see them for what they are

I paint what is in front of me

I didn’t set out to paint a grotesque

Someone said that the Nazi Holocaust of the Jews was not the first murder of a race

It just was the first time the genocide was done by the race’s neighbors

I look at the Notre Dame enthusiasts

the parents and alums

so smug in their education

so wrongly confident in their goodness

looking like the prosperous Hitler-era German couple who live up the strasse

having blood on their hands

and staring at it like it was invisible ink.

I’ve written about this specific situation before

It’s worth the redundancy

It has this new idea for me

more than an idea

I am thrilled for myself

and sorrowful for humanity …

By the way,

Who are these people to decide whether other people should risk their lives?

Why doesn’t Notre Dame have any more morality and respect for human dignity than a meat processing plant?

In order to be a full human being

you have to leave all alma maters

My Notre Dame diploma is an artifact

but I have learned much more since I left that place

than I ever learned there

I believe the world is changing

The alumni and parents are relics of an old world

whose time is passing

No one cares about their false achievements

reaching positions and accomplishing tasks

that lose all meaning even years before they die

collectors of awards and other things

pleasurable experiences

avoiding all the necessary questions

they give me a faintly sick feeling

nauseated

pathetic

enraging

and disgusting

All the years that I sat with them

expecting the truth

sensing the truth

smelling the truth

but today is the epiphany

The world is getting real

Persons and nations in revolution

All is exposed

Blood on their hands

the phrase chants in my mind

BLOOD ON THEIR HANDS!!!!

We live in the ridiculous moment

evil stands naked

ALL IS EXPOSED

evil’s old disguises are at evil’s feet

around evil’s ankles

The “Ordinary People” at the country club

destroying their children

and everyone else’s children too

(along with some essential workers and some old people)

Here’s my LinkedIn comment:

I am very disappointed in these comments. People are going to die because of this decision. There is a lot of talk of risk, but people with no say in the matter are going to take on that risk. That’s immoral and unjust. Those of you who are expecting the great ND experience will soon be disappointed. The CDC says the safest strategy for higher ed is internet distance learning. That is the only moral choice. What is going to happen when the inevitable spike comes in the fall? Is everyone going to go home? Or is the suffering going to be ignored? The national ND student body brings to campus COVID-19 from the 21 states that are spiking right now. Nothing anyone mentioned in these comments justifies endangering other people’s lives. The cleaning crews and maintenance people will be infected. The parents and grandparents of students. South Bend residents who tend to the practical needs of your ND dreams. People of color. Poor people. The people who always suffer. This is so wrong. It is not Catholic and it is not consistent with American democracy. You are all highly educated. You should see this, and if you see it but don’t care shame on you.

Key words

moral

endanger

Catholic

democracy

Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas

6/13/20: The American Book of the Dead #poetry #revolution #socialjustice

I have only one life to give for my country

And what is my country exactly?

It’s not the people

I’m not dying for my brothers and sisters

It’s not ideals

My country is not freedom

or equality

or democracy

or opportunity

There is no American dream

Capital can’t dream

The Capitol in Washington, D. C. is a shrine to capital

Our scripture is not the Bible

or the Constitution

or the mythology of Washington and Lincoln and the other great men

Our scripture is the story of the worship of the golden calf

Money is the root of all things American

All money is interest

Made from the investment of human life

America sings, “How do I kill you? Let me count the ways?”

I leave you unprotected when you are born

deprived of doctors and teachers and food and housing

I don’t care for you when you need to be educated

I give you unprepared teachers

unheated buildings

no internet connections

Vulnerability to mass school shootings

Gangs in your hallways

checked by right wing enforcers from the police department

guns on their hips

guns everywhere

I tell your teachers to carry guns

Guns make lots of capital

If you die in this dangerous atmosphere

that the human child is not equipped to deal with

you are hero that has given your life for your country

You can also vape or smoke or take street drugs

You can serve by giving your life to addiction too

or you can join a street gang and kill to sell street drugs

you are heroes

you create public and private profit in the criminal justice system

and really lucrative prisons

Thank you for our service

Your boldness favors capital’s fortune

If you survive your first two opportunities to be a human sacrifice

as a small and then school-age child

You can still be of great use

You can go to college and acquire enormous debt

which you will then spend your life in servitude to

sentenced to paying it off

You must work for capital’s desires

It doesn’t matter whether they match yours or not

or whether they match your values

which they never will if you don’t believe in killing people

and if you are out of work

America will never take care of you

It will give you a little bit of unemployment money

but never enough

America wants to encourage you to get back to work

but never provides enough jobs

So if you are unlucky

and don’t get one of the jobs available

you can die

of poor nutrition

or poor health care

Oh yeah — America won’t take care of you if you are sick

If you don’t work

you don’t eat

or get medication

You will be shamed and hounded

capital demands that you serve it

Mocks you when you do

whatever you do for capital its never enough

You are supposed to be scared

all of the time

You live your life in fear

the stress shortens your life

If you go into the military

you will die

or lose your limbs

or go insane with post-traumatic stress

lied to with lullabies about honor and duty

ignored and left on your own if you come back broken

given an American flag for your coffin if you don’t come back

Your flag draped corpse is great public relations

You waste your life in front of a box that fills you with propaganda

Capital infects you with delusion

When plagues come

Capital lies about their severity

and tells you death is OK

Capital tells you that slavery was an aberration — and not so bad

The genocide of the Native Americans was an aberration — and not so bad

The murderous exploitation of many waves of American immigrants was an aberration — and not so bad

Capital tells you more — the African and Native Americans and the immigrants were the villains

They can’t govern themselves

They have to be controlled

Many of you stupidly agree

You don’t understand that capital is talking about you

You can’t govern yourself

You have to be controlled

For generations

The American Book of the Dead had  book jackets

which covered itself up

with titles like

The Shining City on the Hill

The Great Hope of Mankind

The Leader of the Free World

But open the book

and you get a thousand pages of one word

capitalcapitalcapitalcapitalcapitalcapitalcapitalcapital

But every once in a while

Capital gets bold

It gets sick of rationalizing itself

and straining to find false moral arguments

and it tells you

out loud

TIME TO DIE

CAPITAL IS WHAT IS IMPORTANT

YOU’RE OLD IN A NURSING HOME

WHO GIVES A SHIT IF YOU DIE

YOU’RE BLACK AND BROWN

GET IN THAT FACTORY AND WORK

WE WON’T WASTE MONEY ON YOUR PROTECTION

SUPPLY AND DEMAND ASSHOLES

THERE ARE PLENTY OF YOU

HEY MIDDLE CLASS WHITE PEOPLE

GET INTO THE DEATH LOTTERY

GET TO WORK

GO TO THE AMUSEMENT PARK

SOME OF YOU WILL HAVE TO DIE

To be an American is to give your life for your country

a country that sees you as an asset

Your country will praise you if that praise helps create capital

Your country will shame you if that shame helps create capital

To live with self-reliance

determining your own destiny

serving your own values

placing humanity — your humanity and the humanity of others

is a dangerous and radical act

But to serve your country

is just dying for capital.

I don’t think that the protests are going to stop

I think a long and enduring revolution has begun

Our masters made one mistake

their propaganda is really good

The Declaration of Independence

The Constitution

The Rule of Law

True Religious Teaching

Talk of freedom

and goodness

It was all that they gave us

the hope of that type of life

we want it for real this time

We want to write a new ending

to the American Book of the Dead.

Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas

6/14/20: The Artist is Brilliant; The Man is Small #poetry

The Artist is brilliant

The Man is small

The Artist hears everything

and listens to no one

clear and brave and not confused

full of wonder and as large as the universe

The man is solipsistic

hurt, doubtful, angry

burdened by petty slights

frustrated and dissatisfied

The Artist reflects

The Man obsesses

Yet let us praise small things

The Artist is glorious

The Man is admirable

The Man clears away obstacle after obstacle

so that the Artist can run free

The Artist luxuriates in solitude

The Man worries there

The Man takes care of business

and makes a thousand mistakes

The Artist is perfection

The Artist brings peace

The Man is struggle

The Artist is wise

The Man is in pain

The Man is courageous

He refuses to avoid any agony

The Artist’s canvas is the fruit of the man’s labor

The adversity of every provocation of the world

is the Man’s ordeal

and the Artist’s opportunity

The Man fails at all that he should have been

so that the Artist can proudly be what he is.

I’ve always known that everyone is not an artist.

I read it once or twice and then observed it’s true

It has taken me longer to understand that everyone is also not a man …

Not men doing what their fathers want

Not men competing with the others

Not men playing out proscribed roles

written for them by master planners

dull and dead

feelings reduced to sentimentalities

off-the rack insights

cowards, really

never tuning out the dictates of the world

in order to really perceive it

and their unique nature

Thoughtless, insensitive and cruel

animals really, these Not men

surviving or Not by dint of their fitness

winning and losing

achieving nothing

lives of quiet desperation

sound and fury signifying nothing

never taking the next step

until they are incapable of doing so

suffering from atrophy of the soul

divine impulses engender sclerotic responses

Not men feel vague occasional pangs of longing

which they ignore

and over time simply accept as their fate

and the acceptance makes it true

A Man

on the other hand

is always anxious

a flame of dissatisfaction gestates in his belly

A Man tends that flame every day

and the inspiration explodes from within him

A Man is only a host

for the divine

a most humble vessel

for the manifestation of …

For a moment a Man is sure-footed and secure

serenely aware of the stupid and unreliable structures created by the Not men

and the perfection of Life as created by …

the pantheons of gods who live furtively and sluggishly and impatiently and expectantly

inside the Man

Man’s labor transforms into God’s song

and then the cycle repeats itself

Grace and awkwardness.

Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas

6/14/20: I Write To … #poetry

I write to hear myself

to listen to what I think

to catalogue what I know

to process all of my thoughts and emotions

to make my life my own

to keep my life my own

African-Americans

my heroes

my teachers

archetypes of my psyche

dream figure victims of injustice

noble figures struggling

thrown in quicksand and left there

for dead

valiantly trying to climb to solid ground

Stunned by the violence

physical

material

spiritual

violence

trying to get beyond it all

and live in the joy of their immense potential

Sometimes purposeful

sometimes flailing

strong

with knees occasionally buckling

under the burden of white oppression …

African-Americans argue with the white power structure

asserting that they suffer and feel

they hurt

they demand justice

THEY DO NOT HAVE TO TELL US THAT THEY ARE EQUAL OR IN PAIN

THEY DO IT FOR US

IT IS AN ACT OF LOVE FOR THEM TO TELL US HOW WE MAKE THEM FEEL

WE DON’T DESERVE THAT LOVE

THEY’VE SAID IT FOR 400 YEARS

WE HAVE TO GIVE IT TO THEM NOW FOR CHRIST’S SAKE

OR THEY SHOULD JUST TELL US TO FUCK OFF

AT A CERTAIN POINT, ONE WONDERS WHY THEY EVEN WANT TO BE PART OF THIS SOCIETY

they can’t keep asking our permission to live in their God-given equality

having to ask in itself is unequal

TIME’S UP

TIME TO UNDERSTAND

AFTER 400 FUCKING YEARS

IF YOU DON’T GET IT

I DEMAND MY FUCKING RIGHTS

EVERY FUCKING LEGAL, MORAL AND NATURAL RIGHT THAT I AM ENTITLED TO

OTHER THAT GO FUCK YOURSELF

I DON’T NEED YOU

YOUR INSULTS AND LIES AND BROKEN DEALS

The bartering

the fighting

the demanding

ENOUGH IS ENOUGH

Fuck them

fuck the white power structure

you don’t need their permission for a goddam thing

you don’t have to be an entrepreneur or live any other way they tell everybody is the way to live

you don’t have to amass money

or be the new master

you can be who you are right now

the condescension doesn’t  have to bother you

Fuck them

do whatever you goddam please

know that they will kill you

rape you

steal from you

so avoid them

they aren’t worth it

not to say that you don’t fight them when you have to defend yourself

but fuck them really

You have been leading the rest of us

making concrete America

making moral America

You keep leading us to being better people

But fuck us now

Really — enough is enough

at a certain point a shitty student just isn’t worth the energy

You have loved us so much and we haven’t deserved it

get over that

we’ve exhausted you

depleted you

Some of us are complete assholes and the rest of us are dense fools

Fuck us

Do what you want

Pay us no mind

You are too good for us

First you really love somebody or group or job or thing

and you feel like they love you

then you can’t breathe

something is wrong

why? why?

You’re trying to get along

why are they like this

and the next step is that you see the truth of the assholes that you loved

and they weren’t worth it

Black people you have been denied dignity by people who don’t have any

Don’t work with them

or belong with them

Protect yourself from them

and do whatever you fucking please

and think about yourselves in any way that you fucking please

don’t let trash define you

You came to this continent as innocents

You have been abused children for 400 years

You looked up to us

You expected help from us

You loved us

We wounded you

grave wounds

we were jealous and tried to destroy all of your genius

some of you were martyrs

some of you adapted to our bullshit

and became almost one of us

but sensing that dreadful difference at all times

some of you became enraged and fought back

answered violence for violence

None of you were wrong

I write to know what I think

I process my own life

I identify with you more than I have a right to

You go somewhere

you work hard

you care

you help people

you ignore the bossy

for as long as you can

and then you finally realize that you can’t associate with the bossy anymore

You are better than the bossy

and you leave

History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake

I don’t want to care anymore

I don’t want to care about my wounds anymore

I don’t want to care about where I don’t fit in

I don’t want to care what other people think about what I am doing

I hate assessments

I hate grades

I don’t think I care about that bullshit anymore

I have never acted like I cared

I don’t think that I have ever acted like I cared

I learned at every stop

about myself

and the little shreds of connection

a person here, a person there

I honestly believe that I am better than every person, place or thing who ever said that they were better than me

I don’t think that I am rebellious

I think that I should be honored as a guest wherever I go

I never signed up to be used as a tool

I’m not a slave

I believe in mastery

and I don’t believe in masters

I think that the shaming to be doing something

the persistent hectoring

you should you should you should

is an assault

a pummeling

I have to block the punches

and dance around the ring

avoid the hassle

stay in place

don’t get infected

I don’t do

I be

I be and I do when I have the opportunity

and the opportunity comes

it always comes

if you be every day

I have no problem with suffering

I want to end this type of suffering

I don’t want power

except over my own life

and I want equality

and no one ultimately can give those things

but me

Oh they can fuck with me sometimes

but they can’t hurt me

I’m almost on to them

I’m almost there

We shall overcome.

Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas

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

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

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

I write to understand

I overhear myself and I invite you to overhear too

Your presence here makes me feel useful

But I hate the idea of owing other people explanations

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

feel pressured to perform their grief in front of television cameras

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

that notion bothered me

but I never did

I wrote and write to understand myself.

I never went for it

I never wanted to part of it

Then I would think that there was something wrong with me

Because peers who went for it

told me I was weak for not going for it

They called me “effete”

and “poetic”

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

and Henry David Thoreau

They called me an artist

I lived on those kind evaluations

Held onto them like life preservers

never fully understanding who I was

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

“WHY DON’T YOU GET A PUBLISHER AND GET IT OUT THERE?”

I didn’t want to

I didn’t know why

I didn’t know how to

I still don’t

I don’t live in the world

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

They were sad for me

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

For awhile, I was ashamed of myself

I thought that I was jealous of those friends

But I wasn’t jealous at all

I enjoyed watching their performances

I was happy that they were happy

I guess I thought that I should be jealous

I guess I thought that there was something wrong with me

I felt like I was being physically beaten by criticism

People saw the intelligence and character

but they saw me as a coward

and they told me so

Even people who thought very highly of me

said that I was hiding

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

They were too sensitive for the business

And I was and am certainly that

People well-disposed to me and indifferent or worse

always went to the weakness track

They never saw the pain

and I do hurt more deeply than they do

not because I am more of a human being

but because I am an artist

and everybody doesn’t make art

It’s an occupational hazard

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

heard me deciding whether or not to regret a past decision

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

and wondered whether that was a great error

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

My father told me

“Maybe you didn’t want to do it.”

Dad was right

I didn’t want to do it.

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

I live in a parallel universe

where people don’t “get” publishers

and ingratiate themselves to favorable critics

and compromise their work to give the bosses what they want

Artists quietly do their work

and get support

emotional

economic

support

side jobs

Somehow one gets by

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

Life and spirit become one

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

I only liked those things before I understood who I was

My old friends do “near art”

I just coined the phrase

Their work has elements of the truth

but they can’t go all the way

They worry about how their words get over

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

Art has nothing to do with popularity

Other things that I heard from professionals

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

“You are an amateur” — dismissive

I am sincere

and I am an amateur

I can’t claim to be the voice of truth

I’m not arrogant

but I don’t lie

I am not even tempted to lie

and I won’t lie for your applause or money

and I guess that makes me an amateur

All artists — real not near — are amateurs

we’ll take needed money wherever we can find it

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

I hear “successful” people

on TV and in social media

discuss how the economy must re-open

they say, “yes, the pandemic is dangerous”

“but we have to take risks”

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

They don’t get more granular in their observations

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

will die

These people will die

so that small businesses

“succeed”

so that upper middle-class young people

“have optimal educational experiences”

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

so that shareholders get their dividends

so that rich people get richer

The pursuit of American success

is violent

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

I never wanted any part of that

I didn’t know why

but I knew it was wrong

Mass murder to maintain our water parks

I’m no St. Francis of Assisi

I understand myself at age 64

Finally

He got it when he was very young

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

I wasn’t ready until I was 60

I felt conflict about all of this until this morning

and who knows if there isn’t deeper to go

It is still

and will always be mysterious to me

how Thoreau and St. Francis

and van Gogh

and all of the others …

“got over”

not for their own sake

but for effectiveness

to further the purposes of art …

People read me

things happen

practical opportunities arise

You simply keep working and move forward

Just self-overhearing this morning

thanks for listening in …

Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas

6/20/20: Institutions #poetry #iO #secondcity #lyricopera #mercurytheater

Institutions rise and institutions fall

They begin with creative innovation

and attract the talented and smart

like moths to flames

The talented and smart blossom

the institutions are the places where they grow

and then they leave and make names for themselves

Business people step in and turn the innovators’ work

and the talented and smart people’s subsequent success

into brands

As if the walls of the institutions magically made men and women

innovative, talented and smart

People pay to watch the institutions’ walls

and to learn from the institutions’ walls

suckers born every minute

But by this time the magic has left the building

the innovators are all dead

the talented and smart are off making it in larger institutions

or on their own

making it in all sorts of innovative ways

that have nothing to do with the institutions

Some talented and smart people still pass between the institutions’ walls and succeed

because that is what talented and smart people generally do

they find places to grow and water themselves

turn their faces toward the sun

take any experience

good or bad

and use it to develop the seed inside of themselves

which was placed there by God

and more powerful than any institution

charged particles in a cyclotron

destroying and creating worlds

So the brand survives.

Marketing is a powerful thing

and crowds of people visit the institutions

learning and watching

and the institutions make a lot of money

taking something less than ordinary

and packaging it as special

Then something happens from the outside

a pandemic

a revolution

a depression

all of the above

and the institutional dinosaurs become extinct

it seems sudden

but it is a natural thing

a process of evolution and demise

like when an old person’s memories die at the moment of their death

It is the innovation and talent and intelligence that matters

not the institutions’ walls

Good riddance or nostalgia

what difference does it make?

That which seemed so concrete

all the money and buildings and rooms

is what is transitory

the innovation talent and intelligence

the love that shines through the layers of trivial mediocrity

the excellence that transforms the mundane to all that truly matters

is what stays.

Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas

character film

6/22/20: Charles Grodin #poetry #successandfailure #rejection #choice

Success and failure

Acceptance and rejection

“Rich and famous” and “getting good”

“Anger and aggression” and self-esteem

Charles Grodin went back to the Neighborhood Playhouse in 2008

He had studied acting there

He didn’t have much good to say about acting teachers

“They are usually too self-important”

“If I were teaching acting I would get out of the way. Just create a place where people can get up and act in front of other people. That’s the whole point of acting class. You can’t get work so you go get some experience and the experience teaches you. If I were teaching, I’d be sure not to say anything negative. Let people do scenes again and again. They will get better with repetition — simply learning from the experience.”

Grodin was talking to Dabney Coleman, another talented actor who didn’t have Grodin’s self-esteem.

Coleman loved the Neighborhood Playhouse because he was accepted there and recognized for who he was.

Grodin didn’t really love the Neighborhood Playhouse.

He appreciated the fact that it gave him a space to get crucial experience.

Grodin didn’t need the approval of the other people. He didn’t need acceptance or to be recognized for who who he was. This attitude inoculated him from the grinding rejection of pursuing a career as a professional actor.

In a certain way, Grodin didn’t pursue a career as a professional actor. He simply “wanted to get good.”

He took each rejection and either used it as a lesson in how to get better, or trusted his own assessment of the value of his work. He never saw that a person’s position of situational authority necessarily meant that they knew what they were doing.

Grodin is a compassionate man who shares his wisdom about:

Success and failure

Acceptance and rejection

“Rich and famous” and “getting good”

“Anger and aggression” and self-esteem —

with anyone in the general public who is ready to listen.

It is no accident that some of Grodin’s first opportunities to act in challenging roles came in separate projects directed by Mike Nichols and Elaine May.

Nichols and May began with the Compass Players

whose foundational acting methodology came from the work of Viola Spolin

Spolin rejected (rejection is a two-way street, and on closer inspection almost always mutual) “success and failure”

and replaced those oppressive concepts with “play” (which in my writing I usually call “art”)

Spolin transcended “social acceptance and rejection” and wrote of getting beyond “approval and disapproval”

She did not see the group as a collective of conformity. She saw it as a collective of play.

Spolin rejected “teaching”. She wrote “No one teaches anyone anything.”

Spolin knew that experience is the only teacher

and that all authority in the person of a boss, leader or group

is false.

Self-esteem and real connection.

Spolin asserted another kind of “acceptance”

not as an antonym for “rejection”

but as an embrace of truth

Grodin and Spolin believed in achieving our individual highest potentials in loving congress with the world

There is something very profound in this play

Spolin’s son, the theater director and teacher Paul Sills, loved the philosophy of Martin Buber … I and Thou … 

this mystical interaction between the self and the world

resulting in an at-one-ment

a unity

Peter Brook, a great theater director, who never worked with any of the people previously mentioned here, I don’t believe

described theater as “dreams mixed with shit”

Grodin tried to achieve that mixture

and had moments

a few

when it came to pass

but largely he found it impossible to prevent the shit from overwhelming the dreams

He left acting

and did other things

occasionally returning

only to be freshly disappointed

This dissatisfaction is not a bad thing

We don’t care about success or failure, remember?

Certainly, most pseudo-improvisational acting is a betrayal of Spolin

paying formal lip service to exercises, games and rules

to serve the value systems of the advertising agencies and commercial film and TV studios

that are devoted to the antithesis of what Spolin was

or what Grodin is

My own experience has taught me that I feel good in the company of Grodin and Spolin

and in the company of Jesuits

who also believe in learning through experience

the blossoming of the individual in loving intercourse with the world

and a mystical contact with the All which is beyond faith

and can be accessed through exploration and reason …

I feel good there with those people

I feel bad with:

Success and failure

Acceptance and rejection

“Rich and famous” not “getting good”

“Anger and aggression” not self-esteem

Grodin writes

and so do I

The theater was never what I loved

it was that Grodin/Spolin thing

that way of living …

Another actor, Alan Alda …

(these actors know some things)

said that you can’t go around difficult emotions

you can only go through them

Grodin says that he saw through rejection

He lived another way

I still think he felt it

so did Viola Spolin

I don’t think they could have spoken and written about it so beautifully if they hadn’t

I told a now lost friend

lost before he died

that people had criticized me but I proved them wrong

I was so proud of who I am and what I have done

and he looked perplexed

The next time I saw him, he said “your value is not determined by what you think — what matters is what other people say”

It hurt me so deeply

It was irrationally painful

I couldn’t even admit to myself how painful his statement was

it seemed so stupid

I felt so vulnerable

and childish

why did I care so much?

The lessons which I learned through my own experience

that I try to communicate to you here by talking about Charles Grodin and Viola Spolin and Jesuits

They are all me

just as Grodin was Spolin before he met Nichols and May

It hurts to lose a friend

It hurts to think that you are welcome somewhere and then you are not

If you don’t feel hurt you were never there

If you get stuck in the pain you are no good to yourself or the world

If you don’t go through the pain you don’t learn anything

and have no higher consciousness to express to the world

I learned in my pain

more about what a friend is

I needed someone smarter and more secure

(I met Dabney Coleman once when we were both much younger — he was insecure then too — his classmate Grodin is more my speed)

I need someone who doesn’t believe in

Success and failure

Acceptance and rejection

“Rich and famous” instead of “getting good”

“Anger and aggression” instead of self-esteem

I teach and write

I need friends and groups where I can teach like Spolin and the Jesuits in my own unique way

and write with the same spirit as Grodin in my own unique way

This is all about me and my transforming relationship with the world

It’s not about Charles Grodin or Viola Spolin or the Jesuits or my lost friendship

The black and white film of the Neighborhood Playhouse

The “successful” old alumni coming home

The black box theater

and the dance rehearsal area

the dressing room and the lounge

the administrative offices serviced by the tiny old elevator

littered with posters and props and playbills from student productions from years gone by

the play is not the thing

it is the old actors themselves

some nervously looking for approval

igniting the flames of long-forgotten rivalries

some nostalgically wandering through the premises

clinging to a moment when they were young and loved

and Grodin detached

making the past something else

suffering and liberation

Life Lessons.

Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas

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

george floyd mural

6/27/20: Culture of Brutality #poetry #blacklivesmatter #pandemichumansacrifices #willtopower #therootoftheproblem

Of course it is racism

But its even worse

Skin color is the threshold question

once “otherness” is established

other hatreds come into play

George Floyd was killed out of envy

the huge man

was felled by an inferior rival

who could never beat him fair and square in a boxing ring

It wasn’t fear driving the killer cop

it was competition

The killer wanted to be able to cast George Floyd’s literally giant shadow

To have Floyd’s natural authority

the authority of the large, gentle man

but the killer knew that was impossible

The killer had to be certified in his authority

with a badge

and qualified immunity

There was nothing natural about it

Floyd’s existence reminded the cop of his own smallness

The cop knew his own power was just a Halloween costume

Floyd’s royal stature was an unintended indictment of the cop

The cop saw his better walking in the street every day

and he hated him

so the cop killed Floyd

Natural superiority in a place of social inferiority is dangerous

Floyd didn’t belong in the same space of that limited, petty cop

and the hazard was insurmountable

the tragedy inevitable

God did not create the noble to be subjugated by the small

Envy is murderous

“If I can’t have what you have, you can’t have it either”

Cops killing black people

like slander killing good people’s careers through office gossip

same dynamic

Grimmer results

These cops are just crude unsophisticated examples

of a lousiness in the American character

that rifles through all strata and activities of our society

from the hoi polloi to the wealthy

from the unskilled laborer to the the most brilliant academic and professional elites …

The black flower child who was killed in Colorado was another story

A poetic massage therapist

with a natural courtesy, innocence and kindness

that the cops perceived as weak

was killed for that perceived weakness

for the same reasons that bad children torture kittens

THEY KNOW THAT THEY ARE DOING WRONG

This is all mortal and not venial sin

Racism gives leverage

for the deeper problem to come to the fore

a perverse lust for the sensation of power

the need to dominate

The rapist sees that which makes a woman desirable

and chooses to hurt it rather than love it

This culture of brutality

This admiration for bullies

Stealing joy

stealing credit

stealing money

stealing self-esteem

stealing confidence

stealing possibility

STEALING LIFE

in family rooms

and schools

and social clubs

and mean streets

and fancy offices

among the barely literate

and the people with large vocabularies

Genitals on fire

hearts of stone

The Culture of Narcissism is The Culture of Brutality

George Washington knew that slavery was wrong

He “gave” his slaves their freedom in his will

What took him so long?

THE FATHER OF OUR COUNTRY KNEW THAT HE WAS WRONG

Washington was brutal to preserve his prestige

Justice and kindness would make him look like a loser

So he kept up appearances

His bad character was useful in preserving the image of his good character

Lincoln wanted reconciliation with the South

so he named Andrew Johnson his Vice-President

It was a big mistake

The Civil War should have defeated the brutality of slavery

600,000 men didn’t die for nothing

but it didn’t

You can’t reconcile with evil

You must not tolerate the intolerable

I fear Biden will repeat Lincoln’s mistake

He will make good progress on many fronts

but will be lax in ending the brutality once and for all

We have to put a dagger in brutality’s heart

with justice

without hate

aiming for rehabilitation instead of reconciliation

People of color murdered for fear, envy and need for domination

Hundreds of thousands murdered as human sacrifices to the greed of entrepreneurs, corporations and universities

We must defend human life and its natural and spiritual impulses

against brutality’s false authority

World War II had a more satisfying conclusion than the Civil War

Nazis were judged at Nuremberg

Germany owned up to its sins and repented

and taught its evil past in its schools

Redeemed by holy shame

American brutality in all of its forms

in all of its venues

in all of its permutations

in all of the myriad guises of its bullies and victims

must be punished in a humane and enlightened way

in order to end this mean foolishness once and for all

It won’t be easy

but we’ve already started

We just have to stay focused and look deeply enough to see what is animating all of our suffering.

We’ve done a great thing already

We’ve called out the brutality

We’ve repudiated its fraudulent claim of power over us

now we have to deal with it.

History will aid us in a long, complicated and arduous process

if we remain courageous

honest with others

and true to ourselves.

We were born with an innate sense of decency and justice

So were our adversaries

we must train ourselves to always listen to that innate sense

even when it seems impractical or to lack common sense

the true action

the true word

performed and uttered in a modest room

will fell empires.

We must give our lives to save our lives

As we ourselves are delivered from evil

we can’t tolerate it, or cooperate with it

or fight it on its own terms.

EVERY ONE  OF US WHO IS NOT ENGAGED IN BRUTALITY IS A BLACK LIFE THAT MATTERS

EVERY PERSON WHO IS UNJUST, INDECENT AND CRUEL IS A BRUTAL COP

THE BRUTALITY IS EVERYWHERE

AND SO IS ITS ANSWER.

Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas

Baldwin_Brando_Civil_Rights_March_1963

6/29/20: Simple Elements of Art #poetry

A biographer of James Baldwin says that Baldwin wrote with moral outrage and love

I think I do that too

I think all artists do that

Comparisons between artists are useless

Looking at what is essential to all of their work is what matters

in consideration of what is elemental in art

Moral outrage from a place of love is a simple element of any art

Art paradoxically is detached and take sides

Being detached while taking sides is a simple element of art

The artist looks at “what is” with innocent honesty

and advocates for the higher potentials inherent in what is

An artist has nothing to work with besides him or her self

and his or her perspective on the outer world

The depth and complexity of what the artist sees and feels

determines the craft and form of the art

Arts “education” that emphasizes craft and form first encourages superficiality and conformity

Aesthetics are unimportant in art

As the poet says truth is beauty

The degree of truth in art is equal to the degree of beauty

Genre is unimportant in art

Classification of forms of art is an after-the-fact academic exercise

much as an obituary defines a person after he or she is dead

Art is created by the interaction of the spontaneous and the structured

Jazz and classical music meet

Improvisation fills the space of art

rationality steps in and brings organization

Sometimes the artist starts with a blank campus and an impulse

Sometimes he or she starts with an elaborate architectural structure

Always the interaction between the two hemispheres of the human mind

leads to the final form and content

Art is more than performance

Art is more than self-expression

Art is simply the pursuit of consciousness of the nature of reality and truth

and communicating the documentation of that journey.

The artist must contain him or her self

Sequestering him or her self from all people and influences who would distract him or her from his or her artistic orientation

Art is not an opinion

Art, like science, should be revered

Art is what an artist DOES

An artist is NOT art itself

Therefore an artist actually loses him or her self in the act of creating art

Everything petty and small in the artist is transcended

when he or she creates

The artist touches the highest potentialities of mankind

like an astronaut, the artist sees and communicates about places man has never been

and then eventually returns to current circumstance with everyone else

The artist lays out the challenge

a marker

of what we can work to be

Without art, man descends to his animal nature

only concerned with survival

Ignoring the higher aspects of being alive

An individual artist can never impart the absolute truth

An individual can never have that omniscient perspective

An individual artist points to the truth

An artist points

When artists work collectively

they never work from one shared perspective

they share a common focus

not a common point of view

and then they harmonize their points of view

each artist educating his or her collaborators on their unique perspective

a costume designer opens up a new view of a character for an actor

a composer reveals new themes in a film for a director

and so on

An artist is always open to influence

An artist can’t work at all when closed off from the world

and at the same time is completely unmoved by others on questions of what is real and true

This is a very subtle distinction

an artist always listens

but never listens to

Often an artist is driven by the desire to remove the pain resulting from his or her personal ignorance

Each achieved level of enlightenment brings an easing calm

In this way, art is transformative

Everyone is not an artist

but everyone feels that pain of personal ignorance

What distinguishes an artist from his or her audience is simply the ability to research and communicate the reality and the truth

The ability to understand and experience reality and the truth belongs to all human beings

So the artist is in that sense nothing special

He or she just has a job to do

to chart what experience and nature teaches us all

if we listen and pay attention

and challenge ourselves to go further and further

not to solve mysteries

but to more fully participate in those mysteries.

When people are informed by art

they participate in work and the other activities of life in new and more complete ways

The formerly mundane takes on meaning

Art provides all that education promised to us but failed to deliver

Art liberates

and gives us direction

in our eternally new found

self-reliance

Independent particular unique reflecting and participating in the All

Atoms are solar systems

The cells of our bodies organize themselves into galaxies

Each point in an infinite field is the center

Deeper and broader

than linear time and locality allow us to see

beyond occasional glimpses of ecstatic epiphany.

The artist has to know that he or she is an artist

and then simply not worry about it.

When the artist consistently and persistently engages in the process

his or her efforts

will be necessary and worthy.

That which seems most abstract

and away from the exercise of power

is what determines the fate of the world.

Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas

Declaration of Independence.

Mount-Rushmore_Header_2_2800x900

7/3/20: Liberation from Belief and Myth #poetry

My father loved me, but he didn’t like me

He liked the parts of me that I created to please him

and had to dispense with later to honor my natural and honest reality

DON’T CRITICIZE YOUR COUNTRY

he barked at me

at an early age

He scared the shit out of me

He was an Italian immigrant

He changed his name

He “believed in America” like the character who delivers the opening monologue of “The Godfather”

That was myth number one — America

“I believe in America”

the first line of “the Godfather”

My life has been a crucifixion

on a cross

of belief and a drive to understand the truth

I’ll get back to America

the main point is even bigger

the main point is belief — not faith

but belief

Belief in something that is more authoritative and powerful

who always has your best interests in mind and would never hurt you

Like a father

but as much as a father loves you

and I was lucky, my father loved me

He still has his own agenda

he still has lies that he uses to justify his life

to rationalize his sins

to maintain his power

to give him meaning

I was taught to believe in things

(belief is different than faith)

and I was born to question

The conflict of my life

is a conflict between nature and nurture

I always enter innocently into relations with persons, places, ideas and things

in a romantic way

I always start idealizing the object of my affections

and becoming disappointed

I embraced new meanings of living

again and again

only to be disappointed

The importance of everything disappears

My dead parents are something much different to me now than they were when I was younger

Previous desires and passions seem silly

Even fundamental things

like money and society and community

seem illusory

I am a pretty smart guy

but I just learned

that Mount Rushmore was created in the same spirit as Confederate War Memorials

The sculptor was a white nationalist

the mountain was defaced

it was a natural Native-American spiritual shrine

Mount Rushmore is a myth

constructed to subjugate a conquered people

A reminder of who was in charge

My father always admired who was “in charge”

even though he was rarely was

I’m sure it drove him crazy that I would argue with him

and wouldn’t listen to him

yet also never fully broke free

You can’t leave family

even when you are totally estranged

The chains of DNA are unbreakable

I am the product of my parents

and of every myth that I ever believed in

and the un-taught, un-influenced essence of my peculiar humanity

I stand naked before the world

looking

intelligently perceiving

an eternally unknown

Deconstructing Myth

honestly

participating in reality

Deconstructing Belief

moving fearlessly with faith

discovering meaning

beyond the reach of the authorities

Here’s a list of myths

that I felt and feel driven to understand

MY FAMILY see above — real love and individual agendas.

“FRIENDSHIP” not what I thought it was, a kind of spiritual connection that can’t be invented. When souls expand or contract, friendships end. Friendships are finite, and when they end the result is a solitary state. A friend is alone when he or she meets you. A friend doesn’t have to be like you, but they have to see and support who you are — and vice versa. When the acceptance ends, so does the friendship. Any soulful connection requires surfing the transformations of the other — staying connected based on past iterations of one’s character is mere nostalgia and/or socializing.

THE CATHOLIC CHURCH like America, the beauty of its founding principles is largely betrayed by its history, and includes an endless “do the right thing” debate.

THE JESUITS really smart, too seduced by power. The movie, “The Two Popes” shows this dynamic — Pope Francis’ journey outside of the power structure after trusting it and experiencing the inevitable betrayal — but what compromises has he made today?

EDUCATION No one teaches anyone anything. Primary and secondary education socialize to belief system myths and teach basic skills — often poorly. This combination of propaganda and incompetence causes a lot of problems.

HIGHER ED Colleges brand themselves as citadels of brilliant excellence and high character but fail miserably on both counts. Witness the damnable re-openings planned for the nations’ universities which are stupid and immoral without exception. The operative word here is “brand”. Higher Ed is a cake and eat it too proposition — claiming to be high minded leaders, operating like craven exploitative business.

ENTREPRENEURSHIP Look at the pandemic. Business is asking people to go to work for it, consume for it and die in the process. People are saying no. Narcissism and selfishness marketing itself as noble, increasingly revealing itself as anything but even to people who don’t pay attention until their lives are endangered.

THE LAW One of the great ideas, betrayed by the greed and ego of the professional class that administers it. Only a few lawyers understand THE LAW’S purpose. Most manipulate THE LAW, again, to serve their own base agendas.

MOVIES Only occasionally good. For years I went for the solitude (I usually went to the movies alone) . I could sit in the dark and dream with my eyes open. I’d chew an unlit cigar after I finished my tub of popcorn. The usual mediocre movie was just pleasant color and noise — light and sound flickering over me. A good movie was a bonus — like drawing a $25 lottery ticket. Now that I wouldn’t be caught literally dead in a movie theater, I don’t miss the movies at all. Occasionally, a good movie is playing on our TV. Usually, old movies provide the same banal soothing sound and light in our living room as they did in the multiplex.  

PSYCHOLOGY At a certain age, psychology is replaced by existentialism. For example, I began this piece writing about my father. My act of writing had no emotional content for me. It would have years ago. I look at my relationship with my parents now in a detached, kind of clinical way. I do still feel psychic pain related to other relationships, and I will act out on it from time … but if some memory or current circumstance engenders rage or sadness or anxiety in me, I see that as a flashing light inviting me to reflect upon and understand what is bothering me. Emotion leads to understanding, if you let it. Feeling keeps coming up because there is always something to understand. I don’t practice therapy. I learn.

IMPROVISATION There aren’t any rules. There aren’t any heroes. Improvisation is what I say it is when I do it — just as writing is. Improvisation is a myth destroyer that is often sold as a belief system. I am improvisation. I have nothing now to do with the teachers who loved me years ago, or the hacks that nominally were nurtured in the same tradition but pursued goals antithetical to my conscience and values that I was born to pursue.

SECOND CITY I was part of this place and I identified with it. I don’t any more. It is just lines on a resume. What remains of Second City for me is how I was different than SECOND CITY. Like every other job that I ever had, my experience while working at that job  is what I take away from it. The institution makes no difference whatsoever. What I did is what matters, either with SECOND CITY’S support or in spite of what it wanted. My biography is what matters to me, not SECOND CITY’s history. I resent the conformity of the theater’s informal alumni association, and appreciate the friendship of some individuals that I met there. The moments when SECOND CITY transcended that tendency to conform, are the moments that remain important to me personally. I don’t care about the rest of it.

ART This is the word that I chose to call my freedom. Liberated from BELIEF, I take the responsibility of creating my own meaning. I take on the quixotic task of understanding myself and the world on my own terms.

SUCCESS I resent the idea. Why should anyone assess anyone else’s life? I’m proud of my life and work, but my pride just exists as a boundary-setting mechanism. When it comes to assessing who I am and what I do, I just want to be left alone. I don’t want to hear other people’s opinions about my value  — unless of course they are friends who support my soul. What good are these evaluations? All artists are battered by negative assessments of people incapable of understanding what the artist is doing. And it is a battering because making art requires a good amount of sensitivity. It’s hard. All the ignorant kibbitzing is like rattling a table while a jeweler cuts a diamond. It is VERY ANNOYING.   So I do everything that I can to avoid negative people, and when I have to I lash out at them. I used to try to be above it, and not say anything, but I have learned that I feel better when I tell them off. I don’t lay them out for their benefit, but rather for my own. I shout them down. I don’t blame them for their ignorance. I do blame them for their invasion of my privacy and freedom. They can be bothered that I reject their MYTHS. They should keep it to themselves and not mess with my freedom. And feeling better is important, because it is necessary to keep going. And keeping going is connection to PROCESS and PROCESS is what is important — not SUCCESS. I have no tolerance for discussions of SUCCESS. SUCCESS is an insult to, and imposition upon, my freedom.

WORK Real work doesn’t feel like work. I spend hours and hours on my writing and don’t resist a second of it — no discipline is required. Teaching and house cleaning and other chores require discipline and are necessary. I don’t want to call them work — how about NECESSITY? I just want to write and think now, everything else is a distraction. I have FAITH in ABUNDANCE, but not a belief in it. I feel OPTIMISM this morning, but I know that OPTIMISM is not trustworthy. HOPE accepts the feeling of OPTIMISM, in the full knowledge that things don’t always work out — but it doesn’t matter because it is all about PROCESS. PROCESS is what important. The right thing at the right moment is what matters — not the success of it. 

MONEY is now an abstraction — just a way to organize power and control which is redistributed when the powerful fuck up — which is happening at the moment. The rich are slowly realizing that they have to give much of the money that they have stolen from the rest of us back to us in order to save the economy. If they don’t surrender money they’ll lose everything. So MONEY is bullshit — it flows — no one holds it permanently —- MONEY is not the bedrock of reality that I BELIEVED it was my entire life —- MONEY was the incontrovertible fact — you had to enslave yourself to a certain extent to survive — now if MONEY wants to live, it has to support YOU — and if the rich don’t catch on — it’s all over for them too.

and AMERICA — I write in detail about all of these themes and probably more, and AMERICA is as big as any of them. For today, let’s look at Mount Rushmore — that statement of idealism as an assertion of white supremacy elevated to MYTH and converted into a BELIEF in an AMERICA that never existed — the product of a murderous nurturance in opposition to our nature, and the liberation from MYTH and BELIEF for me, is my ART, the WRITING of THE RICK BLOG.

Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas

And thus ends Part III, a new day dawning for my writing, this writer and this blog.

To be continued in Part Four…

One thought on “The Rick Blog Annotated Part Three — 10/10/19 to 7/3/20 #writing #TheRickBlog #poetry #essay #PoeticEssay #creativeprocess

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s