Part One is recommended reading prior to Part Two. Annotations may be fewer in Part Two as real writing emerges and its impediments recede.
From January 18, 2018:
1/18/18, The Long Haul
There are Trump supporters — everyday citizens that we live near and work with — that are more intelligent than the knuckle dragging mouth breathers of Trump rallies. They look and sound a lot like Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan and the congregation of non-denominational “Christian” churches. They call themselves “Republicans.”
These Trump supporters have bothered the rest of us for a long time, and we have been arguing with them politically since 1980 when Reagan courted the “religious” right.
But our difference with these people is deeper than politics.
The Republican Party has died. They should be renamed the New American Fascists. Some people of good will still call themselves Republicans — a few — but these people are naive and misinformed. They remain in the Party either because of family tradition or a belief that the Party still represents ideas and values that many of its leaders held in the 1960s and 1970s.
Republican Senate Minority Leader Everett Dirksen of Illinois was instrumental in the passing of the Civil Rights Act in 1964. He believed in bi-partisan compromise and the equal rights guaranteed by the fourteenth amendment of the Constitution. Richard Nixon established the E.P.A. He believed in some government regulation of business. Clean air. Safe planes. Uncontaminated cans of tuna. He wanted to curtail the growth of government regulation in domestic affairs, not dismantle it. He, like Dwight Eisenhower in the 1950s had no desire to repeal the New Deal. Senator Barry Goldwater told Richard Nixon that he would not support Nixon after he was impeached and subsequently tried in the Senate. Nixon of course resigned before Goldwater had to follow through on his warning. Goldwater believed in checks and balances, and in Congress’ responsibility for oversight of the Executive Branch. Every Republican Supreme Court Justice voted that Richard Nixon could not claim executive privilege and that he must surrender the White House tapes. They believed in the rule of law and that the judiciary was a co-equal branch of government.
Republicans (and the conservative Democrats of the time who were essentially Republican and became Republican — Nixon made their membership official with his “Southern Strategy” and “Silent Majority” messaging) have always been wrong in my view. They were the people who consistently opposed necessary change, and then grudgingly went along with the changes in the aftermath of the compromises, decisions and commitments to do so by everyone else. Republicans respected the choices made by us all in our democratic system, and accepted the smaller victories that they achieved as a minority.
Now Trump demands that Democrats capitulate to everything that Republicans want in the government shutdown showdown. He doesn’t believe in compromise. The Republican persons on the street admire his bullying, which they call “toughness.”
They don’t believe in compromise. That makes it impossible for us to compromise.
Republicans were almost always a minority in America after the onset of the Great Depression. They are a minority today in terms of votes even as they control all three branches of the Federal Government and a majority of state governments. The biggest group was and is the irresponsible, the ignorant and the apathetic — the lazy citizens who only thought about the governance of the country between Labor Day and Election Day in Presidential Election years or didn’t or don’t bother to vote at all. The second largest group was and is the Democrats who wanted peace, prosperity for all and a social safety net. And then there was and is the Republicans bringing up the rear — loving money, thinking business had the answer for everything, loving the military and police as the tough enforcers of order. Republicans generally lacked empathy — and their views had authoritarian tendencies.
The seeds of autocracy which grew in the Republican garden are now full-grown poisonous plants. Republican autocracy has now overwhelmed all the standards of democracy, adherence to the Constitution and human decency that once existed in the Republican Party.
Republicans used to be foot dragging, misguided pains in the ass, but they were still Americans — albeit in the remedial class who didn’t fully understand what being an American meant. America is a collection of values and ideas. The Republicans never fully understood those concepts, but they knew enough that it was possible for us deal with them. Drunk Uncle is still part of the family. You don’t throw him out of Thanksgiving dinner.
But Drunk Uncle has left on his own.
Trump is often compared to Archie Bunker. But that 70s sitcom character was a much better American and human being than Donald Trump — and the people who support Trump. At times, Archie Bunker demonstrated empathy in spite of his ignorance and resentment. Archie Bunker loved. He loved his wife and daughter. He supported — grudgingly — his son-in-law’s education. He argued with “Meathead,” he didn’t try to dominate him. He liked to think he knew everything, but he didn’t grab power to impose his ignorance on everyone else.
Republicans today are happy with a bully, Trump, who will destroy our democracy and culture, and the lives of vulnerable people — from undocumented aliens to the sick, and every other person of no or limited power in between in order to WIN. Pure and simple. Everything has to be their way. They aren’t Americans anymore. They don’t think like we do.
America, like all great things, is a beautiful failure. We accepted slavery at the time we declared independence. We committed genocide against native-Americans. We stole nearly half the country at the time of the Mexican-American War. The Spanish-American War. Viet Nam. Apartheid after Reconstruction. Oppression of women. Abuse of labor. Just a few examples. A history of injustice.
America never escaped the struggle between good and evil that is the fate of mankind. But we have lived in a system and in a culture that has given voice to what Lincoln called “the better angels of our nature.” We tried to be good, and we often made progress.
American exceptionalism is not because we are better than anyone else. It is because we have tried. America is like a deeply flawed person who has a conscience.
Republicans no longer have that conscience. Victory at all costs. Like fascists. Like Nazis. They are fascists. They are Nazis.
War is what happens when politics fail, and we are now, finally at war.
We can’t let them take America from us. There is no compromise with these people. There is only capitulation. Or VICTORY.
We have no choice but to be as tough in service of the good as they are in service of evil.
This problem will not be solved merely with the election of Democrats and the removal and punishment of Trump.
We took down the Confederacy at one time. We have to end the Republican Party and the influence of people from Washington, D.C. to Wall St. to Main St. to the radical “churches” that distort religion and America, and preach anti-Americanism.
Being an American is now a fight that we will be engaged in for the foreseeable future.
This is not an argument to espouse. It is an existential threat greater than terrorism or Communism ever was. It took about 45 years for the Soviet-Union to fall. This fight against this internal threat will most probably take at least that long.
Our war will be fought on many fronts.
For fair elections.
For the rule of law.
For freedom of speech and the press.
For decency towards the vulnerable.
For regulation of the excesses of the greed of business.
For decent wages and dignity in work.
For many other things.
Basically, we need to be uncompromising Americans, never surrendering our impossible dream to have good triumph over evil in all situations.
We must even suffer and die if it comes to that for our American destiny to keep failing upward.
Copyright 2018 Richard Thomas
From January 19, 2018:
1/19/18, “No Fault of Their Own”
Every time I hear a TV talking head say “the DACA kids” came to America “through no fault of their own,” I cringe.
I also cringe at the phrase “they came here legally” as applied to other immigrants.
The comments invariably come from someone who empathizes with the “dreamers” and immigrants in general as I do. But I also hear in the phrases a condemnation of other undocumented aliens and a suggestion of criminality.
FACT: Immigration Law is not Criminal Law. Immigration cases are heard in separate Immigration Courts from other civil matters, but they are CIVIL courts. Immigration Courts are Administrative Courts which are Civil Courts. I did trials for an administrative agency that regulated attorneys and often suspended or disbarred them. We used the civil rules of evidence and procedure not the criminal rules. When an alien is detained it is NOT the same legal action as detaining a criminal suspect, for further example.
Undocumented aliens are NOT criminals even if they are treated that way.
Words matter. They reflect what we think. What we think becomes what we do.
Propaganda is inarticulate. And brief. It appeals to the shallow and ignorant. And it seeps into the minds of people who should know better.
I remember reading a news article during the Bill Clinton administration. A factory in Iowa employed undocumented aliens. The place was raided by the INS. The factory went out of business. The white people who had the jobs that paid good wages in the front office lost their jobs that depended on the cheap labor of the undocumented aliens. The INS subsequently became less strict in its enforcement.
Whose fault was that?
In civil matters, like divorces and car accidents and contract disputes, the interests of all parties are asserted. Who suffered damage and injury? Who is responsible for the damages and injury? Often one side takes all the blame and faces judgment. But often both sides take partial responsibility such as in a car accident when both parties share some fault in a case decided under the law of contributory negligence.
Immigration Law is Civil Law.
In a situation where a poor oppressed person comes to America for “a better life” or mere survival, and never gets documentation to live here, AND rich or middle class people exploit the poor person’s labor in order to live the “American Dream” —- who has contributed more to the oppressed person’s lack of documentation?
The scapegoating of undocumented aliens in America is part of the historic persecution of poor people by the rich and middle-class of America.
The shame, the crime, the sin is being poor. Of course you will find no crime for being poor in the law books, or similar sin in the Bible.
So the rich and the middle class pervert both law and faith in order to feel superior and steal all they can …
“Through all fault of their own.”
Copyright 2018 Richard Thomas
Real writing, if a bit chatty.
From January 20, 2018:
1/20/18, The Ricky Awards Honoring the Best in Motion Pictures
I already wrote an article about the general mediocrity of the movies that I saw this Oscar year with the exception of Downsizing and Lady Bird. I include that article beneath this one.
But then I saw Phantom Thread and it blew me away. It is an amazing movie about what artists and their spouses are like. Paul Thomas Anderson made a very personal movie set in the world of dressmaking in England in the 1950s of all places. Through that fiction he told the story of his own marriage. The film is insightful about the emotional life of an artist, and the emotional life of the spouse of an artist — which is an art in and of it itself. Paula and I saw it together. It is also our story.
Perhaps the general audience will enjoy this picture on the level of fine period romance. Married artists, or artists in deep committed relationships will find that the film resonates on another, and deeper level.
Art is sly. It is always about something or things unseen. Phantom Thread is about a dressmaker in love, and a woman of extraordinary humanity who loves him too. It is about Paul Thomas Anderson and his wife Maya Rudolph. It is about me and Paula. It is about any couple who experiences the dual sacrifice and bliss of a life in art, and the gifts of love, and intimate understanding of one another.
Phantom Thread and its subject matter filled me with gratitude and wonder.
How often does anything do that?
Phantom Thread goes on my list as one of my favorite movies of all time.
Awards are meaningless. Award shows are insufferable — the ego, the hypocrisy, and the frequent celebration of mediocrity. Sandra Bullock? Matthew McConaughey? Crash? Give me a break.
I enjoy those shows anyway (am I a masochist?)— a guilty pleasure. So in this piece, I have a little fun and maybe do something worthwhile.
The Ricky Awards are meaningless fun, but the discerned excellence “honored” has great meaning.
And the Rickys go to …
Honorable Mention: Downsizing (see below)
Paul Thomas Anderson, Phantom Thread
Honorable Mention: Great Gerwig, Lady Bird (see below)
Daniel Day Lewis, Phantom Thread
Every moment of Daniel Day Lewis’ performance reveals a truth about what it is to be a human being. He defines the art of acting. No actor matches Daniel Day Lewis’ craft. Each performance obliterates his last. He’s a different person in Phantom Thread than who he was in Lincoln or Nine or There Will Be Blood or Gangs of New York or anything else that he has done. He has no ego in his performance — nothing showy. His portraits equal those of Rembrandt. He is the greatest actor that I have ever seen (better than Brando who was showy, who wasn’t as intelligent and insightful as Daniel Day Lewis, and whose powerful and raw immediacy is equaled by Day Lewis’ intensity — which is more compelling, and more compellingly true. Day Lewis explores more deeply into the nature of reality than Brando ever did. And Brando, of course was a genius.) and in Phantom Thread he gives a typical virtuoso performance — just one more of his contributions to the greatest performances of all time.
BEST ACTRESS (TIE)
Sally Hawkins, The Shape of Water
Vicky Krieps, Phantom Thread
Sally Hawkins is an extraordinary actress — she has never failed to move me in any film that she has appeared — who turned a character in a comic book into an insightful and moving character in a novel.
Vicky Krieps matched and equaled the performance of her partner, Daniel Day Lewis. That’s an equally extraordinary achievement.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
No award. A couple of pros delivered once again, but the Rickys are reserved for the transcendent. Richard Jenkins did his reliable solid work in The Shape of Water. Christoph Waltz did his usual good job as a man with a philosophy in Downsizing. No one does the part of a man, hero or villain, who walks the walk of what he believes better than Waltz. See Inglorious Basterds as his best example of this gift. He is great at articulating a world view in the context of a story. He does it again in Downsizing.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Hong Chau, Downsizing
I’m not sure if this was perfect casting or great acting — I have never seen Hong Chau act before. But what difference does it make? An important part played with excellence.
BEST SCREENPLAY (TIE)
Phantom Thread, Paul Thomas Anderson
Downsizing, Alexander Payne
Art — from a personal point of view and from a global point of view. Humanity seen in the intimacy of a marriage, and humanity seen in any individual’s relationship with the world. Love expressed in romance. Love expressed in global citizenship. Quite a double feature.
Copyright 2018 Richard Thomas
Here’s my other movie essay about 2016 releases:
1/8/18 Movies! Meh.
I usually write about the movies this time of year. I like the movies. This year I am underwhelmed. I don’t know if that says more about me than the movies. I’m 62 and have been an avid moviegoer my whole life, and they just don’t surprise me too often with anything new. Then every once in awhile I see a picture that really resonates with me, and I get more interested again. That didn’t happen for me this year with only two exceptions.
I didn’t see all of the prestige movies this year, but I saw a few of them.
The Post: Great messages about a free press, and woman, and human, empowerment. A needed public service. The audience cheered at the end and are better for seeing it. But just an average movie. The characters aren’t very well drawn — functionaries of the plot — moving the noble arguments along. The direction doesn’t have the usual Spielberg vision — the show is pretty conventionally shot. It’s a professional job, not the usual inspired treatment you get from Spielberg. This is not an artistically ambitious film like Lincoln where each line of dialogue, each composition of the screen, each nuanced interpretation from the actors was revelatory. I read that Spielberg rushed this film out to make a statement about our current crisis. I’m glad he did. I’m glad that I saw it. But the film itself is ordinary.
Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri: Talk about plot driven. A lot of fantastical plot developments to make several obvious points about being human. I don’t care for movies like this. I’d rather see really good acting and writing about events that might or did actually happen in real life. I think that kind of writing more effectively addresses human values than a graphic novel treatment. I like movies that trust audiences more, and don’t feel that they have to sensationalize everything every few minutes. Good actors save writers’ asses in movies like this. They have the tough job of making hype relatable.
The Shape of Water: Exquisite acting, direction and art direction. Touching and moving. It doesn’t say anything new or surprising, but it says some basic truths in a very beautiful way. Very good, just short of transcendent. A Jungian comic book.
I, Tonya: A tabloid treatment of a tabloid story. The concept is about the humanity of the lower class, but the movie just exploits them the way just about everyone else does.
Darkest Times: A hagiography about Churchill at the dawn of World War II. Great propaganda that spoke to my subjective politics and beliefs about what it takes to beat oppression. An excellent treatment of the greatness of Churchill that ignores everything else about him. The movie ignores the darkness inside every hero, and only concentrates on the doubt and fear that proceed meeting the great moment. I loved it, but as an entertainment and not as art. Art is something more sober and complex.
Ladybird: This is an excellent character-driven movie. The events of the film are small crises that all human beings face. Greta Gerwig shares a personal reflection about the transformations of very good, if imperfect, people who get better. An affirmation of the process of being human.
Downsizing: Long, slow, boring in stretches. I wouldn’t want to sit through it again. A masterpiece. Alexander Payne has long been a poet of goodness and human achievement being the real purpose of life instead of driving to the lie of success. It is a truth that is not held by audiences in general, and this picture has been largely ignored by potential audiences. What Payne does in this great film is extend the theme of Sideways and Election. The pursuit of true human goodness and real achievement instead of shallow “making it” is now described by Payne as a necessity for the survival of the world. The concept of the film needed a director with more of a visual sense. Payne is a writer who directs, not the other way around. But, oh boy. This is the rare movie that gives a complete answer, not just a feel good message.
In Hollywood, the grit of commerce generates the occasional pearl. This year the pearl harvest was smaller than what is usually delivered.
Copyright Richard Thomas 2018
Real writing, for what it is not … not selling, not performing, not teaching, not blogging, not merely talking, not brainstorming, not defending myself from toxic criticism … taking thought and words and fashioning a new thing. I am beginning a period here where I break from the teaching and performance communities that I was participating in and I blossom. This is not an extraordinary piece, but it is the beginning, the hint of a certain consistency. I am starting to simply write close to all the time.
From January 25, 2018:
1/24/18, Shutdown Aftermath; The Relentless Mueller
Senator Schumer didn’t fold in the government shutdown fight. He wasn’t rolled by Mitch McConnell. Democracy didn’t suffer a setback. Schumer just lost, and lives to fight again.
The polls said that while a sizable of the public wanted DACA recipients not be deported, a significant majority felt it was also more important that the government remain open.
Schumer started the shutdown fight with the support of four Republican senators and several Democratic senators from red states. He lost that support. He could have forced the shutdown with only blue state Democratic senators, but to what purpose? The fight changed when he lost Republican senators and conservative Democrats. The shutdown’s continuance would just hurt the Democrats politically and do nothing to save the dreamers. He had no leverage to force the Republicans’ hand on anything.
Schumer did the right thing.
In other news, the media has been emphasizing recent developments in the obstruction of justice track of Mueller’s investigation. I heard one talking head discuss these developments as if that was all Mueller was doing, but the potential obstruction of justice charges are the least of Trump and his co-conspirators’ problems.
Mueller has Flynn, Popadapoulous as cooperating witnesses, and Paul Manafort’s business partner Rick Gates may be close to flipping. Others may flip. Mueller has a mass of documentary evidence from Deutschebank and other sources. Cases are built with testimony made credible with bank records and email and other documents. There is a mountain of verifiable intelligence that will help bring the Trump gang down. These men, and documentary road maps, know and show where bodies are buried that have nothing to do with obstruction of justice and everything to do with a criminal conspiracy against the United States, and maybe even treason. Mueller has been making moves that prosecutors have made when they’ve taken down big criminal organizations like the Mafia.
The “conservative” media and some Joe McCarthy types in Congress are trying to destroy Mueller and the FBI, and by extension the rule of law in America in order to politicize the prosecution of criminals and usurp power from the people.
This organized slander demonstrates a great danger to our democratic republic.
It also demonstrates desperation.
When was the last time that you heard one of Trump or his co-conspirators’ lawyers indicate anything resembling a legal advantage for their clients in the case?
Trump and his gang are making a lot of trouble.
They’re in a lot of trouble too.
Copyright 2018 Richard Thomas
On a consistent roll.
From February 1, 2018:
The explanation, even in “progressive” media for the Republican Congress’ complicity with the Trump criminal conspiracy is often Republican fear of the “Trump base.”
Bullshit. The real reason is that the Republican Party works for its donor class. It offers policies, and now the subversion of the Mueller investigations and prosecutions, because they are ordered to do so by their donors.
And their donors are just a few families and individuals. The Mercers. The Koch Brothers. Sheldon Adelson. The Amways. (Ha ha.) A few more. The donors basically want economic injustice that favors them. Deregulation. No taxes —- for them. They also get a few side issues because they are the bosses—- like Adelson’s right wing attitudes about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or the Mercers fight for institutional racism or Betsy DeVos’ war on public schools, or Koch Brother libertarian bullshit that demeans anyone who works for a living.
Now I realize why the Congressional Republicans do everything that they do. They are well taken care of by their bosses in a myriad of ways.
The plot against America got rolling with the Citizens United decision. Antonin Scalia said that money is speech, and that the rich should have more say because they are smarter than the rest of us. A perfect pseudo-intellectual justification to hand all power to these weird perverts and power mad lunatics. Citizens United was the end of checks and balances and democracy. The Trump-led criminal conspiracy was the rich freaks’ opportunity to take over. Steal the government in a phony election. Execute policies that steal everything else. Come up with bullshit propaganda to cover up crimes and decisions that fuck the rest of us over in every aspect of our lives.
Curiously, when Citizens United was argued the fear was that corporations would take over, and that our democracy would become a corporate state. Floyd Abrams, the First Amendment lawyer who sold out the First Amendment by representing Mitch McConnell, crowed recently in the Wall Street Journal that the corporate takeover never happened. Scumbag.
The takeover happened by individuals and families that amassed private wealth made by privately held companies. Amway cultists. Robert Mercer, the racist weirdo. Casino owners. Koch Brother libertarianism mixed in with fundamentalist religious bullshit.
They are the way they look. Lincoln said that a person has earned their face by the time that they are 40. Look at these people. How strange and ugly they are. And how strange and ugly are their employees in the government. Even the best looking of them, Melania Trump, has a face like a jungle cat formed by sneers in soft porn photo shoots.
Sheldon Adelson looks like a troll under a bridge.
Tom Cotton looks like Norman Bates if Norman Bates were ugly.
Mitch McConnell looks like he is melting.
Paul Ryan looks like a good looking guy made in a laboratory except the experiment went horribly wrong.
Trump looks like a trans-sexual in denial.
Pence looks like a mummified body in Pompei — frozen in an expression of phony earnestness.
Do you have any insecurities about your looks? Too fat? Too short? Weak chin? No. You are beautiful. These creeps are what ugliness looks like.
I finally figured out what motivates these Republican assholes.
And why each day is an outrage.
Our country is being re-made in the image and likeness of these freaks.
Copyright 2018 Richard Thomas
Nice piece — explores the difference between blogging and writing. Turned the exploration into art.
From February 12, 2018:
I publish on my blog.
This isn’t my writing. These are just my opinions.
1. I have come to hate Facebook. I don’t like all of the company’s interference with all that I say and who reads it. The only plus of Facebook is that I know many folks that I like that read here. But many other people that turn up here are stupid, trivial, narcissistic and mean-spirited. Going through my “newsfeed” is like walking through a dense crowd of ordinary people mixed in with a sizable minority of rude, drunk and stupid people. I hate walking through crowds.
2. Fuck Rachel Brand. None of her excuses for leaving DOJ make any sense. As a lawyer she took an oath to defend the Constitution. Instead she is interested in her career or her reputation, or she doesn’t care if our democracy ends. Typical conservative who doesn’t think critically about what happens in America —- her action shows that she is not aware of the great danger that we face. For a piece of shit company like WalMart! Of course, she’s a Republican so the exploitation of labor doesn’t bother her.
3. Hey everybody who told me I was wrong about John Kelly —- I disliked him from the first day I heard of him —- you want to acknowledge that you were wrong? Of course not. You just want to pose about knowing what you don’t know. Who did you think this guy was when he accepted his first job for Trump at DHS —- which enforced Trump’s fascist immigration policy. Of course Kelly is a bigot and friend to wife beaters everywhere. He is a fucking bully like everyone else around Trump. Oh —- he’s a general, he’ll protect our democracy. Fuck you —- he’s a thug.
4. Women are gaining political power, and of course I am for all oppressed people taking their rightful power —- especially women —- half the world! But I am disgusted by one group of women. Trump’s approval ratings have gone down with women since the White House has gained more mainstream attention as being a nest of wife-beaters. What did these women who liked Trump before the wife-beating revelations think before? When they saw the violence toward immigrants, as just one prominent example, they were OK with that? Women can be lousy people too. Men are more biologically wired to be no good, but women can pull it off too. There is one conservative piece of garbage who is running for governor in Illinois who is a woman and a piece of shit. She is such a pig (not about her physical appearance, but about her soul) that she should be awarded a dick, because she is as equipped to rape vulnerable people as any man.
5. Speaking of the governor’s race —- I’m for Kennedy. Pritzker is a corporate Democrat, of course preferable to any Republican, but Kennedy is the true Progressive. We need progressive officials that are going to push harder.
6. Our democracy is in deep trouble. Trump and the trash around him keep getting their way in matters large and small. The threat to the Department of Justice and the rule of law is a grave threat to our freedom. We —- the American people —- should be in the streets —- on a general strike —- shutting down the economy —- demanding that the rule of law be preserved and that Trump and the scum around him are brought to justice. But that won’t happen —- because Americans are most often ignorant and self-involved —- and democracy and freedom are ceasing to be social realities and are becoming individual points of view —- mere opinions. No more values —- just subjectivity remains.
7. In the Celebrity Big Brother clip featuring Omarosa that has recently gotten attention on the news, some comedian who I am vaguely aware of desperately implores Omarosa “Please tell us everything is OK! We are so scared. Tell us it is all going to be OK!” I have gotten that question on the Rick Blog. My response —- grow up you fucking overgrown children. People in your 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s —- fucking ninnies, weak, stupid —— unwilling to surrender your trivial pursuits even when we face annihilation.
8. The moment has left Bill Maher in the dust. He is done. Read my piece, Stand Up Comedy is Dead. The writer David Frum confronted Anthony Scaramucci on Maher’s show Real Time. Maher had introduced Scaramucci as the “Mooch” and the audience cheered him as if he were a hot comedy act. Scaramucci typically talked out of both sides of his mouth —- favoring the left side —- and got laughs and cheers from the audience. Frum would have none of it. He asked Scaramucci about an unethical business deal. He asked him how he could support a President who is doing so much harm. He challenged Scaramucci —- “this isn’t a “performance”! Our country is in danger!”
Maher unsuccessfully tried to silence Frum. I have laughed at Maher’s shtick for years, but he has revealed who he is. He has pimped controversial opinions, left, right and fascist for years. He doesn’t try to educate —- he simply roils. He saw the entertainment value in strong opinions expressed with vehemence and humor. But we are in a battle for truth now. And peddling lies as entertainment and using the manipulation to grab power and money is exactly what Trumpism is.
The most worthless comments that I have received about my writing has been from entertainers —- too angry, too many big words. Trivial people —- people pleasers incapable of art —- the search for truth, or patriotism —- the truth’s preservation.
Copyright 2018 Richard Thomas
I was wrong. This is my writing. This makes the blog.
Next came a detour into defending myself against an unfair criticism. my repetitious co-dependent call for social revolution, an opinionated blog post, marketing for a non-existent better job in higher ed (I thought I could find a better teaching situation when teaching itself was the problem), a piece that mixed some real writing with blogging and self-defense (not good enough to include), a couple more opinionated blog posts, …
Real writing didn’t appear again until October 12, 2018, and it was real writing of a transitional type — I was working things out for myself and making art out of it. I was still coughing the water of teaching and performing out of my lungs, particularly teaching. Performance largely receded earlier. It was only an idea at this point; I wasn’t actively pursuing it any more. I didn’t write much in 2018. I put almost all of my creative energy into teaching in what wound up being my last semester at UIC, and as a full time teacher. I’m glad I did that. I gave my last hurrah of teaching (with the exception of a brief adjunct assignment at Loyola in 2020) in the Spring semester of 2018. I did my best. I knew that my dissatisfaction was based upon teaching itself, and not upon my not giving it a fair hearing.
As an interesting side note, I was no longer psychologically revering Paul Sills. He is no longer discussed as a hero or mentor. I discuss him as a positive figure from my past.
From October 12, 2018:
There is no teaching. There is only breathing. No teacher ever taught me anything. I was friends with Paul Sills, the original improvisational acting teacher and director, briefly in the 1980s. I took classes with him too. But it wasn’t the classes that resonated. It was Paul himself. There was a partial similarity in the way we each experienced the world, a similarity that transcended biography, generation, or any demographic identity. He terrified me because I was terrified of myself, or at least the part of myself that he embodied in the world. In some moments my fear of Paul disappeared. Let’s call that grace, and I was alive. In those moments we knew each other.
I believe Paul was a writer who was trapped by teaching. And theater for that matter. Perhaps I am projecting, but I think I’m right. I know that I was trapped by teaching, and for a time by the theater too. Teaching and theater require a flexibility that Paul admirably lacked. I read a line by Joseph Campbell around the time that I knew Paul that said that an artist, or in my case a writer, does his art, and then teaches as his job — a low grade version of his art in order to make a living. I followed that line until last Monday. My classes were compromised art, to call what I did teaching was false advertising for a false endeavor pursued for real money. Art in the inappropriate venue of the classroom is partially obstructed by the limitations of the classroom’s audience — Students: desperate for someone to admire, to tell them what to do, to guide them on the road to the nonsense of success, to rebel against, to replace their absentee father, to encourage them, to conform to their superficial notions, to see as a vision of their future selves, to calm their fears, to give them hope, to tell them they are wonderful, to give them an A. Excellent students are burdened by the mediocrities around them. They’d be much better off going out on their own.
Campbell wrote that a teacher must modify his message to terms and proportions that can be understood by his audience. Good for Campbell. That is how he got over. I say that a teacher can only be an instrument of reform of the human soul. A teacher can never implement a revolution of the soul, and that is what is necessary. Revolution can only be done by the solitary person. Community occurs when transformed hearts harmonize together. Collective action then happens naturally — you don’t need technique to achieve it.
Paul occasionally would shout at me in his workshops “The Collective!” I wouldn’t cooperate with him. The people around me were bumbling their way to finding their voice. I wanted to speak and if they weren’t capable of it yet, I didn’t want to be held back. Every once in a while, I did a scene with someone else who knew how to speak, who was on fire to speak. Paul was very pleased with those scenes. Real community can’t be manufactured.
If you teach you can never reach your full potential as a writer. When I taught improvisational acting years ago, I had a line: “your audience finds you.” I was talking to myself. I should have listened more carefully. I have no idea if any of the students heard or understood and I have never cared if they did, then or now. You can’t spend your life longing for connection. You can only be open to it. If there is a hint of that neediness, even the neediness to serve, in your writing, you are doomed. Hospitality, yes. Compromise, no. Teaching is needy. I did it because I needed money. I still do. Back to the drawing board.
I never saw Paul as a teacher. I saw him as a friend. I think that is why he liked me. It is why I liked him. He was frustrated by my struggles with timidity, but he appreciated the moments when I overcame my frights and came home. We each were born believing in equality. We each were born believing in truth. We each were appalled by the lies of society which murdered people in their sleep walking. We were each frustrated that we couldn’t do anything about it.
We had a lot in common.
I never learned a thing from Paul Sills.
When I knew Paul in New York City he was doing an Off-Broadway show called “Sills and Company.” There was a publicity still of Paul with the cast. He had a phony smile in the photo. It makes me sad to think of it because my friend was suffering that unconscious suffering of pain denied. He was trying to fit in and make some money. He wasn’t good at that. Neither am I (but hope springs eternal). He was at his best when we took long walks around Manhattan. Paul was a genius at being Paul when he had the opportunity.
Paul invited me to join the cast of the show. (I still thought that I was a performer back in the 1980s. I am not. I didn’t figure that out until December 2017. I rented a rehearsal space and read some of my work. Friends came to see me. The only thing that I cared about were the words. The rest of the work — the performing — felt like an imposition — a waste of my time and energy. Christophe Waltz was on TV recently. He said that writing is a creative art, and acting is a craft. He said that a good actor gives a good performance in a good script and a bad performance in a bad script. He said it is all about the writing. He expressed what I feel. I admire actors, but it is writers who resonate with me. I enjoy watching bad movies. A writer can’t help but reveal him or herself even when they make dreck. I saw this terrible movie last weekend, “Night School.” It was stupid, but I liked the writers — as people. They were sincerely rooting for the human race. Writing, good or bad, can’t help but reveal who a writer is. Writing is one of the most honest things a person can do. Once when Paula and I were visiting L.A. we saw Christophe Waltz sitting by himself at a screening of “Nashville” at a revival house in Santa Monica. We were in the same row. He wasn’t self-conscious. He was spending an evening studying his craft. Not a teacher in sight, and an Austrian heart resonating to good writing.)
The cast of “Sills and Company” hated being on the same stage with me. They were accomplished improvisational actors, immersed in the craft of that school of acting. I, on the other hand, saw being onstage as an opportunity to express what I think and feel. Every time that I have ever improvised I was writing. Every time that I have ever had a conversation I have been writing. Every time that I have ever taught I was writing. Every time that I engaged in any of those activities I was a bit off center, an impulse struggling to find the right form. I may have been good at times, but I was never right.
Paul never followed up with me regarding “Sills and Company.” I waited a few weeks. I called him. My calls weren’t returned. Finally, I called his producer. The producer said, “Didn’t he tell you? He decided not to use you.”
I had an unusual reaction to the news. I wasn’t hurt. I wasn’t angry. I really didn’t understand what happened, but I didn’t care. I am extremely sensitive to slights, but this didn’t bother me. It wasn’t a slight. It just was what was. I called Paul again. He answered. We resumed our walks around New York.
Paul is dead and, of course, many other people and experiences have influenced me for good and ill since I knew him. Knowing him was educational. Everything is educational.
Paul didn’t teach me a damn thing.
We weren’t interested in using each other.
We were interested in breathing.
Copyright 2018 Richard Thomas
Real writing … processed experience …
From October 15, 2018:
10/15/18 Beyond Smallness
My mother’s body is small. It has always been small, Now it is smaller than ever. She said she had to go to the bathroom. The aide said she doesn’t get up to go to the bathroom anymore. The aide asked her to turn on her side. My mother’s anus is stained brown. It isn’t dirty. It’s faded and discolored like the finish of an ancient car. The aide soothed Mom with an ointment. Mom accepted the help without pleasure or appreciation.
One of Picasso’s last paintings is of his harlequin persona fading away. Old soldiers die and they fade away. MacArthur and Picasso died. Of the two, only Picasso knew what he was doing.
I once saw Buddhist monks complete an intricate sand painting the size of a small dining room floor at the Museum of Natural History in New York. As soon as they completed the last intricate detail, they pulled little brooms out of cloth bags and swept the colored sand away.
Man you are dust and to dust you shall return. Humility is the last station before heaven at the end of the line.
My mother hallucinates. Her hallucinations are grand. She celebrates beautiful babies and serves holiday feasts. She does not suffer fools gladly. She tells off the mean.
Her body is too small now. Soon it won’t be able to hold her. A grilled cheese sandwich cut in precise quarters by some kind soul sits cold and uneaten on her tray table. Mom is starving her useless body into nothingness. Soon only an empty bed will remain.
Mom wears an ironically permanent cast protecting her broken leg which will never heal. The doctor wrapped her feet to make her comfortable. She looks at the movie, “Titanic” on TV and sees scenes from the grand romance of her life and of the dreams of her life. She no longer knows from Winslet or DiCaprio.
I held her hand for two hours. I stroked her hair and patted her arm and shoulder. She put calm energy into being consciously alive for two hours on Saturday, October 13, 2018. These two hours were worth it to her. This was her current paradise — her son, and a glimpse of her future of pure love minus the suffering that is only needed on this plane. She has always fiercely lived in time and joyfully lived in eternity. She has courageously paid all of her dues, and has accepted all of love’s rewards. The dues are nearly paid in full. Her biggest dividends are near.
Sacrifice and bliss. Mom never feared death or failure. She has always reached for the stars, and she is about to touch them. The broken legs and hearts from whenever she missed the mark are irrelevant. They just come with the program.
P got his Masters in Accounting from the University of Illinois in the 1980s. He joined a firm. He quit the firm after one year.
P then took improv classes and briefly escaped accounting.
P thought that improvisation was a way to transcend his introversion. P was ashamed of his introversion.
P mis-diagnosed himself. There is nothing wrong with being introverted. P’s problem isn’t his personality. It is his character.
P is a coward.
P became an accounting lecturer at a university. He was, and is, tall, nice-looking and athletic. He was well-liked by his students. He told himself that he didn’t want to pursue his PhD in accounting. He told himself that he was happy to remain a lecturer. He said that he just wanted an income so that he could pursue survivalist training in the woods every summer.
P has lived a life preoccupied with survival.
P self-medicated with sentimentality. His favorite movie is “Dead Poets Society.” (He should have contemplated “The Remains of the Day.”) He reassured himself: sure, he was disrespected by his colleagues who got their doctorates and tenure, but he inspired his students. The others could do their research. He would teach and live what he thought was freely. Young minds and the beauty of nature. P should also check out “Election.”
Late in P’s career, he got an idea. He would use his limited understanding of the art of improvisational acting as a technique to conquer introversion.
His class became popular with the students and with the administrators. His class became a program. P got an office down the hall from the dean. The dean saw money in P’s approach. Fun with the veneer of human development. Judy Garland sings “That’s Education!”
An assistant dean introduced me to P.
I liked P when I first met him. I was teaching improv workshops for lawyers. My faulty idea was that I would teach a low grade version of an art that I knew so that I could make a living and support my improvisational acting and my writing. I got a job as an adjunct instructor at P’s school. Improv for Lawyers wasn’t going that well. (That’s OK. A lot of rockets blew up before we got to the moon. I saw “First Man” yesterday.)
I met with P several times. We talked about progressive politics. We talked about improvisation, teaching and art. I married for the first time late in life, and so did he. We talked about that.
I knew that I was smarter and more experienced than P. I had studied with the first and best teachers of improvisation. I worked on the main stage at Second City. I finished my education and got a law degree, a juris doctorate. I had been a trial lawyer. I succeeded, I failed and I finished what I started. P spent his life in hiding. He committed to a job reciting to students ideas found in textbooks written by other people.
I wasn’t judgmental about P’s fearful nature. Who knew what had happened to him? I had moments of withdrawal when I had been particular beaten up by bullies and failure.
But I always got back out there eventually. Sometimes it took me a little longer than others.
P gave up, as do all people do who decide that work means making money for other people. First he hid, then he saw himself as a success. He took pathetic pride in the praise of administrators who were using him and shortchanging the customers, the student body. Selling out is often caricatured as en evil thing. It is actually sad. P should take a look at “The Founder.”
P is sad.
In year one of our five-year association, I told him that seminal work in the use of improvisation in education was done by Viola Spolin, the great acting teacher, and Neva Boyd, a sociologist at Hull House, which is on the campus of his university. He used my line of conversation as a line in a speech he used as a marketing pitch for his stolen vision of making his program an empire. (His insight was to sell introductory level Second City Training Center classes for the cost of a few college credits. He never aspired to know more about improvisation than what was involved in these classes. I observed his classes. In my day his “exercises” were known as “warm ups.”) He later told me with a deluded look in his eye that the Hull House line was his line.
I thought I knew what he was doing. It didn’t bother me. He wasn’t interfering with what I was doing in my classroom, and that was all that I cared about. Today, his lifting of the Hull House observation still doesn’t bother me personally, but it arouses my pity for P. I didn’t say the Hull House line because I read it in a book. I said it because I worked with Paul Sills, Spolin’s son, and others who applied the lessons of Hull House to the theater, and they referenced the fact occasionally.
I don’t mention Spolin and Sills here to name drop. The point is that I lived. If I have been interested in anything in life, I have gone as deeply into as I could. I was interested in improvisation and I made it my lack of business to go to meet them and work with them. It was me, not P, who disappointed my parents and left the protection of the middle class village, and went knocking around the forest of being broke and often ridiculed. Talk about survivalist training. Improvisation didn’t bring me glory, but it was part of my life and I lived it.
Sacrifice and bliss.
P never went all the way. He had a comforting experience when he was young, and decades later he figured out a way to parlay it into some “Design Within Reach” furniture. I’m not saying this to be mean. P must be in a lot of misdirected pain — the wrong kind of pain. Regrets, I’ve had a few, but then again too few to mention.
For P, life and regret are synonyms.
In year three of my association with P, he told me that people who improvise on stage for a living were different than him and me who just apply it in the mundane world. (I paraphrase. We don’t talk alike.) I looked at him incredulously, but I said nothing. He was leaving me alone in the classroom. That was all that mattered. I wasn’t too concerned about much that he said. By this time, I had lost respect for him, but I didn’t notice that I did.
In year four, P became aware of my blog and my stage show, and some improvisational work that I did with fellow Second City alumni. These activities were liberating and often agonizing processes that have led to simply clarifying that writing was what I had to do. P knew nothing of the sacrifice involved with what I was doing. He didn’t know the sacrifice involved to committing to who you really are.
He was threatened by what I was doing. I was no longer a person to P. I was the personification of life, the state that P has been avoiding for as long as I have known him.
I once told a businessman that successful lawyers envied me. I was fat, broke and out of work at the time. He snorted, “What do they have to envy you for?” Well, it wasn’t a conscious envy, sir. It expressed itself in condescension. But in their dreams those lawyers knew that when my coffin was lowered into the ground, my body would have known the earth that it was being returned to. (I didn’t actually say this to the businessman. The denial of life makes such a person mentally inert.)
In year five, P told me to shut up every time that I saw him. He expressed his demand before I barely said hello. “Shut up” is the “drop dead” of non-violent people. P told me that I knew nothing about Trump or the Mueller investigation. He knew that I had done a three year project of writing and stage shows exploring Trump as a way of reflecting on the American character. He told me to “stop being philosophical.” If we weren’t teachers he might have added the derogatory epithet “college boy.” Finally, he politicked with the dean, and made sure that my contract was not renewed.
When you don’t hate someone and they hate your guts it can be disquieting.
At first I was hurt and angry about what P had done. And about how he spoke to me. I told P off in mind a thousand times. The thought of P felt like a physical wound.
But the pain disappeared over time and with the required effort. Time alone does not heal wounds of this kind. I had the discipline to go through the pain to the end instead of denying it. That’s what you have to do. I gradually came to the realization that I didn’t want to teach, and that I would only write. Life is the only teacher. Life gives the right assignments to lead to all the relevant answers. It breaks your legs and wears out your stained anus. It humbles you and makes you small.
And then rewards you with what is large inside you and the vast universe itself.
I love you, Mom. Congratulations and thank you.
Thank you too, P. Watch “It’s a Wonderful Life.” And try to identify with Jimmy Stewart instead of Lionel Barrymore. I hope you find peace.
It’s not too late.
Copyright 2018 Richard Thomas
Real writing … I was still working on the concept of friendship, it doesn’t matter much to me now.
From October 17. 2018:
10/17/18 Friends and Non – Friends
In times of transition a peculiar cavalry arrives. No horses or rifles are involved. They make no arguments on my behalf. They confront no enemies.
They offer simple affirmation.
My wife, Paula, goes to Milwaukee to see friends. One friend, a young woman with an Ivy League pedigree tells Paula, “I know Rick is not working.” Unbeknownst to me, this friend reads my blog. That’s how she knew. “He’s such a good writer. He should just write.”
Paula strongly agrees. My wife is my greatest friend and her support means everything.
Several Facebook friends like my writing. Thumbs up icons. Hearts. They make positive comments. “Wow.” “A fine writer.” “Does anyone know a publisher?” “This should be in Rolling Stone.” “I love this!” The Facebook friends share my writing on their pages and in groups. They show me that my work has meaning to others, not just me. Their approval is not what counts. What matters is that they are there. They are not the broader audience for which my work is ultimately intended. They are more than that. They are the prophets who tell me that my audience exists.
An old dear friend, who I have known since my Second City days in the 1980s, invites me to join a small business networking app. She provides me with a tool of independence, but more importantly she tells me in that simple action that I deserve that independence.
When I was working as a lawyer in the Prudential Building, I went to the coffee place in the basement one day. I ran into two non-friends from Second City who also know my old dear friend. The non-friends work in advertising. They ridiculed me for working for a living. They ridiculed me for being a lawyer. They later ridiculed me for being an academic. I am certain that they would ridicule me for writing, particularly writing of this kind, now. They ridicule the transformations of my life, a life of growth that rejects ladders.
Friendship is not found in membership in the Second City, or any other kind, of alumni association. The memory of the non-friends’ ridicule, a competitive social transaction that I am sure the non-friends have long forgotten —I’m sure that they have several such interactions every day — lives on in my hippocampus — in a minor key not as severe as the attempted rape of Dr. Blasey-Ford. The non-friends wanted to create doubt, and they succeeded in a limited way. They did not paralyze me. They only gave me difficult moments — a harassing feeling to contemplate and overcome when things were up in the air. Their goal was to make things harder for me and to make me feel alone. Their cunning was to exploit my naive belief that they were my friends. Their cunning reveals their fear. They are smart men, maybe among the smartest. They saw what was strong in me and wished to conquer it. They wanted to win some contest in a league that I never joined.
Smart fearful men conspire to lay low the greatness available to all of us who live with loving and earnest openness and innocence. We are vulnerable to hurt and disappointment to honor the potential for joy.
The joy of friendship.
Winning is an illusion. The winner believes he has conquered fear, but as Dallas Cowboy Duane Thomas said in the 1970s, “If the Super Bowl is the ultimate game, why are they going to play it next year?”
Love is what conquers all.
Judas was the smartest apostle. Salieri saw Mozart’s greatness with greater insight than any of Mozart’s other contemporaries. Betrayal is not reserved to be inflicted upon men and women of genius, and upon the divine. We are all people of genius and we all have god within us. Our choice to accept that reality or not determines what we create or destroy in our finite lives and in eternity.
A great mistake would be to respond to non-friends’ competitive violence with violence. My dear old friend redeems me from this old recurring pain and temptation with an invitation to a networking app. She saves me from the hell of retribution — if only in a theater of arguments in my mind. I focus on her love, and the non-friends disappear. They transform into something else — sad people worthy of compassion while in a hell — or purgatory, it’s up to them — incapable of friendship. Not people to be saved. People to be understood.
My dear old friend healed my wound of doubt. And she has never even known about the ridicule in the coffee shop. That’s how it works. Friendship is the field of unintended miracles.
The non-friends would laugh at my sensitivity here. They continue to live their lives like a pick-up basketball game. I get it now.
In 2018, millions of non-friends are agitated. They panic. This is true at any time, at any point in history. 2018 is one of the moments when the crisis of non-friendship is apparent to just about everybody. Non-friendship is in a heightened and extreme state. The addiction to success forces armies of non-friend junkies to commit acts of escalating malevolence.
Millions of non-friends live in this state of fierce and spiritually constipated animation. They believe that war, the most unforgiving competition, leads to accomplishment. They assess their lives quantitatively — body counts, delight in the suffering of others. The qualitative, love, is ignored. “I live. You die. I win.”
Their toughness denies them friendship and meaning. Their toughness denies them their vulnerability. Their toughness denies them life itself.
Other millions live in friendship. The capacity to give and accept friendship is a gift. In Catholic school it would be called a manifestation of God’s grace. The friends bear witness to their divine gift. That witness drives the non-friends to exaggerated and ever-greater degrees of manic lunacy. The non-friends fear love, because love acknowledges death. Love respects reality.
Non-friendship is a severe mental illness. The craziest people aren’t in asylums. Life is short and eternal. Make it count. Non-friends can’t handle that truth. So they play act a murderous fairy tale.
Fear meets love whether either “side” likes it or not. Fear is driven to dominate. Love rejects cliques, so the subjugation of the fearful is out of the question. All men are created equal. Condescension and oppression are perverse.
The current American conflict is superficially described as “tribal.” It is not tribal. It is a moral struggle. We are all Jesus, Mozart and Trump in differing degrees and in a myriad of good and bad personal qualities. Even something in Trump himself knows right from wrong. We are all born with a conscience, and a desire to love and be loved. Non-friends heavy on the Trump can’t be persuaded. Trying to convince them is a fool’s errand. When lousiness is so prevalent, friends are confronted with a challenge and an opportunity. If we can accentuate the Jesus and Mozart, and eliminate as much of the Trump within ourselves as humanly possible, and don’t mess with Mr. In-Between, the external world will more perfectly mirror the beauty in our hearts.
Two friends, and a child of a friend, have cancer. Another friend struggles during the months before a hip replacement. All three friends have bestowed on me their warmth and generosity for many years. Their suffering and hope is also mine. Friendship is an honor. Friendship has no burden. The heaviest of things make us light.
Years ago I suffered through a period of my life when I couldn’t see the good in the world. I could only see hardheartedness, bad intentions and disease. I knew that friends emerged in times of illness and disaster, but I saw no role for friendship in the simple struggle of living life — my struggle then and now. I was a person trapped in an illusion of loneliness and isolation. Your parents help you when you are dependent, if you are lucky enough to have loving parents. Who is there for you when you don’t need help — when your task is life, something that you must figure out and execute alone?
No one can make a life for you. This is life’s challenge and it is its greatness. But as you create meaning — not by manufacturing reasons but rather by honoring impulses divinely imprinted in your soul — friends arrive. People that you know and people that you had not yet met.
Friendship is one of the greatest wonders of the world — much more impressive than the Grand Canyon.
Friends who say, “I see you and I love you.”
Friends who say, “I am different than you and I am the same. What is imprinted upon your heart also lives in mine.”
Friendship, not its sentimental yearning expressed in Hallmark cards, but an existential reality. The paradox of specific individuality and the connection of community.
Friendship is beyond society. Society is formed out of fear. Society is a pact of mutual protection.
Friendship is born in adventure. Beating cancer. Living and dying. Starting out as a professional writer. Restoring a democracy.
Nothing in human history was ever accomplished by society. Everything great was accomplished by friendship and other forms of love.
Cable TV pundits opine on how to respond to fascism. Websites give direction on how to counter bullies. Vocational counselors advise ways to deal with bad bosses and unforgiving markets. Varieties of non-friendship.
Friends know what to do by virtue of who and what they are:
-work to understand your own soul
-affirm the souls of others doing that same work
-follow the demands of your authenticity with integrity
-never compromise your soul to the demands of your enemies, but
-love your enemies, and
-don’t fight your enemies using their methods
-know that whether you win or lose is not what matters
-what matters is being true, and
-loving what is true in others.
The power of the powerless.
Copyright 2018 Richard Thomas
From October 19, 2018:
I saw the movie, “The Old Man and the Gun” with Robert Redford yesterday morning. There’s this old guy who wears the same hat that he wore as a young guy in “The Sting.” He likes to rob banks. It’s his passion. It’s his “bliss” in the Joseph Campbell sense, if you don’t understand Joseph Campbell. If this what Joseph Campbell meant, then to hell with Joseph Campbell.
Campbell wrote that if you really want to help the world, you should pursue your highest enthusiasm. I always liked that. I think it is a better mantra than the idea of “service.” “Giving back to the community” is a phrase of obligation. “Pursuing your highest enthusiasm” is a phrase of love.
The Old Man “loves” robbing banks. And being chased by the police. And escaping from prison and running the whole cycle over and over again. Since he is old he only has a few laps left around the only apparently endless loop.
There is courage and wisdom in going for it, in doing what you love when you are older and you know that you are going to die. Smaller losses that mount over time prepare an older person’s imagination to envision the final loss. When you are young you know that you are going to die. When you are old, you understand that you are going to die.
It hurts to have it all and lose it, and that is what people do when they don’t quit as the lights start to dim.
It hurts and they do it anyway.
Sacrifice and bliss.
The Old Man is “happy”. He is described as “a gentleman” and “polite” by the bank managers and tellers that he terrorizes with his gun. The filmmakers betray “bliss” with this phony plot point. They ruin their story when they expect me to believe that Robert Redford’s charm is so great — and Robert Redford is quite charming — that I would enjoy having a chance to spend a few moments with him even if he stuck a gun in my face.
The Old Man has never fired his weapon. I’m supposed to admire him for this. He just threatened to kill people, he didn’t actually do it.
Kavanaugh only made young Christine Blasey think that she was going to be raped. He didn’t actually rape her.
He was too drunk and just putting on a show for his equally drunk friend.
The Old Man was just living his dream. He wouldn’t actually hurt anybody. He was just drunk on thrills that he stupidly chose to be his life’s meaning.
Campbell wrote that your bliss is not what excites you, but rather what makes you deeply happy.
I like that.
The first audiences who saw Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho” had the crap scared out of them.
But the early “Psycho” audiences knew they were in a movie theater. The Old Man’s victims knew they were in a bank and not a murderous amusement park, even if they weren’t written up that way in the lousy screenplay.
“Fans” at a Trump rally think they are watching a “reality TV show” (has any genre ever been so wrongly named?), as they aid and abet the destruction of the world.
A nihilistic escape.
No, I don’t admire The Old Man’s charming menace.
Terrorism is not The Old Man’s only cruelty. He meets Sissy Spacek. He charms her and she falls for him. He promises to change his ways and retire from bank robbing. He promises to settle down with her and pursue a new type of bliss — a real bliss — a life of quiet intimacy.
The Old Man reneges on his promise to the soul of another person and leaves her so that he can rob a few more banks.
The Old Man is really mean.
I am now asked to admire this heartless son of a bitch for being true to his nature. How authentically he runs the race of life!
The movie asks me to admire a lot — to suspend my disbelief , embrace this bullshit, to see villains as heroes, and to think I am happy in a world of misery. The movie wants me to be a battered wife who defends her abuser to the grave that he puts her in.
The romanticization of victimhood. The movie promotes the idea that we are to be just supporting players — spectators who cheer for the fools who bring us pain. Like drug addicts high on suffering perceived as joy, in service of a pharmaceutical company’s bottom line. Or like living props yucking it up behind Trump at a rally — identifying with the fraudulent “wins” of a “special” person at the expense of their own well-being.
I choose not to.
The Old Man never pursued bliss. The Old Man is a coward. He never even got to the point of wondering what his bliss was. He says that he wasn’t interested in making a living from his robberies. He says that he is simply interested in being alive.
That’s what he says. He really is only interested in a false feeling of being alive. He’s high on life. It isn’t society that The Old Man is trying to transcend. It is reality. We live and die no matter what fantasy preoccupies us for the short duration.
I am finally supposed to admire that The Old Man executes his denial with dashing derring-do instead of bitter withdrawal, the way that most sad old people do it.
I don’t. Cranky old people are better than “The Old Man and the Gun.” They know the score. They just don’t like it. And that fierce ember of displeasure keeps an ember of creative potential burning, even if most don’t ignite a raging fire.
The Old Man is afraid of fire.
A small town police chief from Vermont was on the news this morning. He has written a column regarding the opioid epidemic demonstrating great understanding and compassion. He and his deputy have Harvard educations. They both began their careers in New York City. The deputy made a lot of money there. They decided that money and Manhattan success weren’t important.
The chief and the deputy do not serve and protect. They love. They are moved by the attractive and unattractive people who are brutalized and murdered by addiction. They are smart enough to understand how the plague began. They do what they can to create a new world.
They aren’t the typical cops.
They aren’t the typical Ivy League graduates.
They wear the uniforms of society, but they are not of society.
The Old Man is a character of escapist entertainment. The Vermont police officers are real people.
They run with authenticity toward life and death.
Not away from it.
The Right People
Two weeks or so ago, I committed to writing professionally. I had no idea how to go about it.
A recruiter for a company that reps freelance writers contacted me. She asked me to take a grammar test. I didn’t. She wanted me to scan my diplomas and professional certifications and send them to her. I didn’t. She asked for a list of subject areas that I could write about. I did not provide that list.
I am not interested in writing commercially. I am not interested in using my skills and talents to further other people’s money making schemes.
My impossible dream is to write in the spirit that I write today without compromise and to get paid for it.
Who is in that position? Who has done what I want to do?
No one that I can think of — certainly not the writer of “The Old Man and the Gun.” His aim is box office receipts, not the truth. Give the suckers what they want — even if it kills them. Thoreau’s writing gave an alternative to men’s “lives of quiet desperation.” “The Old Man and the Gun” gives a daydream, a brief respite from the despair of the remains of the un-lived day.
T. S. Eliot worked in a bank. Wallace Stevens was an insurance executive. William Carlos Williams was a doctor. George Orwell worked as a propagandist for the British war effort before living on the money from his writing for a few brief years before he died. F. Scott Fitzgerald drank himself to death in Hollywood.
Joseph Campbell worked as a teacher. He got a job at Sarah Lawrence College in the 1930s, decades before higher education turned into a job placement service. There is a clue here.
Somewhere — some place small — there is a school that is still committed to real education — real connections and exchanges between friends, and not the fulfillment of requirements proscribed by authoritarian usurpers of the fields of life degraded into sterile corporate departments — a school like a small Vermont police department that rejects big city bureaucracy, addiction to money, serving tyrannical hierarchies instead of people and the truth, and meaningless prestige bestowed on those who bring wealth to the few and sorrow to the many.
Right livelihood 2018.
The Right People.
A friend suggested Catholic schools. But this longing is not for people with specific stated values. This search does not involve what people believe. This search involves who people are.
An existential search as deep as the soul and as wide as the human race.
No one can accomplish anything alone.
I’m hopeful. It’s a big world.
I feel secure. I have left society with the faith that others have done the same.
And that we will work together.
It is an easy time to make this leap of faith. Society no longer even provides the protection it once promised. Our business and political leaders have told us to fend for ourselves. They have rejected us, and ironically that rejection has given us freedom. We owe them nothing. Every portion of our souls that we have surrendered to them in order to feel safe can now be reclaimed.
We can ignore them now and create something new.
A friend wisely commented, “What you look for looks for you.” May I add that clarity in the imagined object of one’s search is essential. This is a purpose of my writing today.
And what of publication? I have a small audience through self-publication now. I believe others similar to my current friends would benefit from my writing.
The Atlantic published an article about the democratization of poetry yesterday. The article said that poets are being published and selling their work on Instagram.
I was intrigued until the Atlantic article discussed a “poet” who sold 150,000 books, and ran an online gift shop offering coffee mugs inspired by her writing that featured slogans such as “You are Love.”
This is not poetry. This is something that used to be in the comics section of the newspaper — a man and a woman without genitals handing each other flowers.
This successful “poet” is merely controlling the means of production. I’ve been a sad entertainer, and I’ve worked unhappily in sales and marketing. The Instagram business “poets” just exchanged poorly paid corporate whoring for more lucrative entrepreneurial whoring.
Also from the comics: “I have met the enemy and he is us.”
You can’t have it both ways.
I need a publisher that resembles a small Vermont police department.
No business plans. No compromises.
Copyright 2018 Richard Thomas
From October 21 and 22, 2018:
10/21/18: The Crown
We are all potential kings and queens.
We are born as princelings and princesses in the royal house of God’s family of man.
Our regrets are illusions.
Some want a life of fun.
Some want a family and calm, warm domesticity.
Some want power and domination over other women and men.
Some want the satisfactions of a career, the chance to exercise talents and feel useful.
Some want to rest and be ignored by the crowd.
Some are afraid and want nothing more than to secure their own survival.
Some want to live in bitter resentment in the wake of real or imagined injustices.
Some want romantic passion, the ardor of sexual love.
Some want to be of service, the pride of duty.
Some want the physical thrill of competition on the athletic field and other fields of battle.
Some merely want to preoccupy their dangerously restless minds with hobbies.
Most want many or all of these things at one time or another.
We are growing and aging royal children when we pursue our desires — performing for an audience of parents and surrogate parents, present or absent. We feel that we have natures defined only in relation to the people whose love for us ensures our survival, or whose lack of love threatens our lives and freedom. We are limited by these perceived natures in the way that animals are limited by the boundaries of their species.
But we are something more.
We are monarchs by divine right. The kings and queens that we tried to obey and please or aggravate through the bearing of the burden of our dreams die or abdicate. The crown is passed to us by God. We are the ones now embodying the nature of man.
If we accept the crown.
It is strange that at the moment of our elevation we lose all freedom to direct our own lives. We are now instruments of God, called to embody his will on the earth — to show in word and deed man’s realized potential, that which differentiates us from the animals.
If we accept the crown.
The crown is not accepted in a sacrament of coronation. The acceptance cannot be executed with mere ritual and ceremony. The crown is accepted when we transcend all of the conflicts of our desires and fears. We cannot do this willfully. God leads us to peace in his own time. He uses all of our struggles as initiations to prepare us to bear the crown.
At the moment of grace, peace, we die to all of fights and arguments with the nature of the world and our family, and come to a second birth from within.
We are not born again when we listen to any teachings of any church. God created us with conscious and specific demands for the path of our new lives.
He speaks to us individually and directly, not through priests, ministers or any other intermediaries.
Sometimes God asks us to perform tasks that delight us and others. Sometimes he calls us to do difficult and painful acts of sacrifice. Sometimes those acts lead to the condemnation of the usurping crowd that believes that the animal life is all that there is.
We are indifferent to the hurt or the pleasure of those instances. We know that the world is God’s world and not our own.
If we accept the crown.
We are not king or queen of the world when we yell it from the bow of a boat or in an Oscar acceptance speech. We reign when we sacrifice our lives in the icy waters of the Atlantic for who and what we love.
The Divine Right of Fools for Love.
I used to wonder about the purpose of art. The artist separates him or herself from the crowd. Is art just a pompous escape? A refusal of responsibilities? But the artist doesn’t simply disengage, sit back and indulge or criticize. The artist works to understand, not by listening to teachers and books or ultimately not even from his or her experience.
The artist listens to the directions of God imprinted by God onto his or her own soul.
And reports what he or she has been told to the rest of the royal family.
Art is the final preparation for the crown.
Copyright 2018 Richard Thomas
10/21/18: The Crown, Part II — Queen Elizabeth, C’est Moi
I’ve spent a good part of this weekend binge-watching the Netflix series, “The Crown” interrupted only by a few hours enduring the Bears loss to New England. One yard short. Two hobbled stars. So close and not that far. No Bears fan should abandon the noble 2018 Chicago Bears. They are good. Perseverance and the dogged struggle for excellence count for more than the final score.
Which brings us to Queen Elizabeth II and the British Royal Family inspiring my interest and empathy through the writing of Peter Morgan who finds so much truth in his point of view as he studies with heart and precision the details of history.
Accuracy, compassion and insight.
As I fell into the series’ spell, I wondered why I was so interested in the Windsors’ story. I have never been interested in the Royal Family. I dismissed them as inbred idiots and fools, wealthy layabouts who served no purpose. I disliked the royals with little intensity. I never felt that they were important enough to get too worked up about. Complain about the royals? Trivial. What would be next? Picketing Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum?
Then I realized that the show was about me and you — two subjects of my intense interest.
Queen Elizabeth II is a very ordinary person of modest intelligence and gifts. Her passions include auto mechanics, breeding horses and gardening. In one episode she turns to the Bible salesman Billy Graham for spiritual guidance. She never wanted to be queen. Her vocational aspirations never reached beyond being a housewife and a mother — noble pursuits, yes — but as ordinary as a football game in October.
In the series and history, the Queen is called upon to be a goddess upon the death of her father. A monarch is a god. We are called to divinity as well.
A Christian is not called to be Christ-like. He or she is called to participate in the very existence of God.
The Mystical Body of Christ.
The Queen’s conflicts, and the conflicts of every member of her family, lie in the tension between the mundane concerns of our daily lives and the demands of eternity —an awareness that lies most often dormant when we do the dishes, pay the bills, and have a little fun, or engage with who or what we like, dislike or hate; and awakens when life reminds us of its importance.
The death of a loved one.
Falling in love.
Deciding to marry.
Supporting a troubled friend.
Watching birds fly in spontaneous formation over a highway.
There is something inside of us that offers something more than even moral and ethical impulses — a realization of our existential unity with the all.
Elizabeth’s father, George VI, the hero of World War II who refused to leave England in the wake of the Battle of Dunkirk, the darkest moment of the war, and escape to safe exile, is the saint of the Royal Family. He sacrificed his run-of-the-mill desires and embraced his divine responsibilities. George VI was something more than a good man or a great man, those two ordinary states of being. He was a holy man, an example, an ideal to be emulated by all with the wherewithal to see things through to the end. He faced many challenges: his shyness, his stutter, his reticence to power, his aversion to public attention. He overcame each challenge. He unfailingly chose the side of the divine in God’s contest with our preference for the small.
Elizabeth’s uncle, the Duke of Windsor, briefly reigned as King Edward VIII. His abdication put George VI and Elizabeth II in the line of succession. The Duke of Windsor is the most intelligent character in the piece, even smarter than the great mortal Winston Churchill.
The Duke of Windsor is evil. His great claim was that he sacrificed the throne “for the woman he loved.”
That woman, Wallace Warfield Simpson had divorced before she met Edward VIII. The rules of the Church of England forbade that a royal marry a divorced person. Those rules are not divine.
But the rules provided Edward VIII with a great excuse. Wallace Simpson was a Nazi. So was Edward VIII. After his abdication, the Duke of Windsor met with Hitler. He had dreams of reclaiming the crown in a Nazi-occupied England. He favored the murderous London blitz to bring his homeland to peace.
The Duke of Windsor’s poetic paeans of romantic love were a cunning self-justification — a useful delusion. He was urbane and sophisticated in his pursuit of lies and hate. He was never a true King ordained by God.
We live in a world of false kings and queens. Pedophile priests and teachers. Trump who snatched the Presidency under false pretenses and uses it to harm the American people rather than further their well-being. The bad boss who betrays his organization’s idealistic mission statement to accrue personal wealth and power. The greedy designers of the Wall Street crash of 2008 or the dismissal of a good employee by a cunning mid-level manager for personal gain.
Just a few examples.
Using one’s divine role to obtain selfish objectives.
Mortal sin occurs when one offends God knowingly. The Duke of Windsor, Trump and Joe Paterno, those famous examples, knew that they were doing wrong.
Fallen angels who claimed to know better than God. For a moment of power.
All with cunning arguments disputing God’s will.
“All that matters is winning.”
“For the woman I love.”
Two types of people offend God and harm the rest of us: the aforementioned mortal sinners,
and venial sinners.
Venial sinners are people who refuse to transcend their ordinary desires to serve God. Mortal sinners are arrogant. Venial sinners are afraid.
Jesus said on the cross, “Father forgive them they know not what they do.” It is easier to forgive a venial sinner than a mortal sinner. When a person answers to the divine, it scares his fellow travelers on the plane of petty concerns. There is no expansion of the divine that is not accompanied by breaking and tearing and pain in the measured field of time. Every expansion of consciousness receives harsh reaction from one’s former peers. When an alcoholic stops drinking his terrified friends from the bar curse him, and try to drag him back to the bottle.
“Everyone does it,” is the venial sinner’s motto. The venial sinner is not trying to offend God. The venial sinner is ignorant of a better way as opposed to the mortal sinner who knows God’s way and envies it, and feels he can do better.
Elizabeth II’s desire was to be supportive of her sister, Princess Margaret’s marriage to a divorced man. But as queen she could not honor the desire. Elizabeth saw that her role as queen transcended her duty as a sister. Margaret hated Elizabeth for choosing God over sisterly and romantic love.
The Church of England’s old prohibition against royals marrying divorced people was nonsense. But that was not the point. To support Margaret’s love would be to exonerate the Duke of Windsor, and that action would send England itself into mortal sin and hell. The British people did not need to believe that life is exclusively pure; but they needed to know that purity can exist in the world. The people needed to see that purity was an attainable aspiration.
Abraham took his son Isaac to the brink of death on a sacrificial altar. God stayed the execution, but asked Abraham to sacrifice what he held most dear to honor God’s will.
As a child, I thought who could worship such a cruel God. But God did not destroy Isaac. He only destroyed Abraham’s illusion that he knew what was most important.
Unquestioned obedience to the will of other men is subservience. Unquestioned obedience to God is destiny. Firemen are kings and queens who abandon their own children for the good of the All as they run into burning buildings and die in attempts to save other people’s babies every day. The firemen intuitively understand that they are part of something far greater than that which is nearest and dearest to them — something larger than petty time and insignificant place. The firemen sacrifice their individuality in the flames of God.
We are called to do more than what is right. God wants us to do what is forever true.
Jimmy Carter’s 1976 campaign biography was titled “Why Not the Best?” Carter was not a perfect man, but he was a brief antidote to Nixon, and a timeless antidote to Trump and all future Trumps.
Carter was ridiculed for speaking truth to the American people. He said in a nationally televised address that there was an American “malaise” that was destroying the nation. Carter was referring to a solipsistic self-regard that was permeating the American people. An academic coined a phrase describing the phenomenon, “The Culture of Narcissism.” John F. Kennedy said, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” Carter, in so many words said that the American people had rejected that call to something greater. Carter said that if we did not return to that virtue of having greater concerns than our own small lives, we would lose those lives and the country in which they had flourished.
The speech was one of the major reasons that Carter lost his bid for re-election.
And America started its descent to the nadir that we live in now. Carter, a religious man, never mentioned God in his speech. But God’s hand touched every word.
I am not a religious man, and for that reason I speak of God freely here.
Our connection to the divine will do what it has done many times before in history — heal us.
A friend read the first piece on the Crown that I published today, and said, “I am an atheist artist, I guess I am shit out of luck.”
I answered, “Metaphor.”
I do not believe in God. I see God.
Feel free to call what I see whatever you please. I don’t write fantasy. I see God in my atheist friend, among other people, places and things.
There are no atheists in foxholes, only non-believers.
The British crown is a metaphor play-acted by mortals. It is something to be contemplated and applied to our daily lives in the scope of all history, and in the one blink of an eye eternal moment in which all history transpires.
The institution of the British Crown is criticized as a waste of money. Putting a man on the moon was similarly condemned.
Man does not live by bread alone. The adventure of reaching the depths of our inner and outer worlds is a higher priority than necessary social work.
Churchill said that as a man of government he facilitated life. And that art gave people something to live for, the reason that government should exist.
Why do we nurture our children and mourn our dead?
What in our soul points us toward suffering and joy?
You wouldn’t be bothering to read these words if you did not realize that there was something more.
And that you wanted to contemplate that what else.
And what of divine forgiveness practiced by humans for mortal sinners? At their extremes things turn to their opposites. The arrogance of intellect when carried to extremes becomes rank stupidity.
Such stupidity is something to be pitied.
Ultimately, the evil know not what they do.
Forgiveness of evil redeems us from the wounds of injustice.
And renders the evil to be insignificant.
The evil play their supporting roles in the drama that unites ordinary mortals with God.
And time with eternity.
The evil destroy themselves. They live in negation.
Forgiveness is not naive. We name evil and refuse to participate in it. Evil is a reality that God calls us to deal with in a certain way.
Forgiveness turns us toward God and away from evil.
Deliver us from evil.
To err is human,
to forgive divine.
No matter who wins the upcoming election, we can still rule the nation under the divine guidance of God — even from a prison cell like Nelson Mandela. The evil can only control the government. The nation belongs to God.
American history is a contest between a pure nation and evil people of power and voters seduced by evil who at times dominate the government.
Life is not pure, but purity exists in the world.
Our government will catch up with our pure nation eventually. Our sufferings at the hands of evil can only deprive us in time, not eternity. We are the only ones who can make those dimensions congruent.
With the help of, and in alliance with, a forgiving God.
God save the Queen!
Copyright 2018 Richard Thomas
I seem to be on a streak of real writing. I’ll just copy and paste this writing here. When annotations are needed, I’ll break in.
10/22/18: American Oblivion in the Streets of Hyde Park
Paula and I moved to the Hyde Park neighborhood in Chicago a few months ago. Hyde Park is the most noble and interesting area in the city in my opinion. Hyde Park is the birthplace of many progressive social innovations. This forward thinking tradition dates to even before the founding of the University of Chicago. That university exists in the midst of the general community. No walls or checkpoints separate the U of C from those of us live near by. The University of Chicago is, of course, one of the best schools in the world. Its faculty has numbered and numbers many Nobel Prize winners.
Hyde Park architecture generally reflects the collegiate, intelligent and progressive energy of the neighborhood. Hyde Park Boulevard is lined with stately old apartment buildings that seem to simultaneously revere the classics and here and now progressivism.
Simple transactions at the bank or drugstore or produce market at Kimbark Plaza, an incongruous strip mall on East 53rd Street, probably built in the 1960s — most of the town seems to have been developed from the 1930s to 1959 or so, or is brand new on the edges, the product of a recent boom of capitalist expansion —- are polite, cordial and intelligent.
On the surface, Hyde Park is a place of genial equality. Working people and intellectuals interact shoulder to shoulder in a social experiment that is so established that no one finds it remarkable.
The streets of Hyde Park are dangerous however. The threat isn’t crime.
It is oblivion of a particular strain.
American Oblivion. The darkness of mass obsession with personal concerns to the exclusion of responsibility to the collective.
When individualism is the exclusive and unconscious philosophy of a person’s life, a kind of madness sets in. When individualism is the driving force of many people in a congested, densely populated area like Hyde Park, chaos ensues. With laser focus people pursue their daily agenda — passing a test, getting a grant, completing a research project, delivering a package, making a submarine sandwich, playing with friends on bicycles. Hyde Park residents are invisible to one another when they are in motion from point to point to the finish line of their day.
Such selfishness is more suited to North Dakota. Another person’s obsessions don’t bother others when individuals and families are separated by miles of cold desolate flat land that resembles moonscape. The sterile distance enforces a solitary lack of confinement, a people so far apart that they are not really together.
The North Dakotans certainly feel no connection to those of us who live in Hyde Park since they don’t even connect with their nominal neighbors who live twenty minutes away. They bear us no ill will, but they hurt us anyway. The places where Dakotan solipsism hurts the rest of us are in U.S. Senatorial elections and the Electoral College. To be in the same voting public as North Dakotans is like entrusting part of your fate to settlers of distant planets — everyone gets their own planet in North Dakota just like the Mormons — who are only vaguely aware that fellow members of their race live on the blue star in the far-off reaches of their sky.
Driving on the narrow streets of Hyde Park is a harrowing experience. A delivery man swings open his truck door in front of your moving car. A bicycle darts in front of you. A professor lost in thought wanders against the light into the middle of the street. Cars are parked illegally blocking drivers’ vision when they try to make a right turn. Cars rush to business and pleasure straddling their own lanes and lanes dedicated to the opposite direction.
The pedestrians, drivers and bicyclists of Hyde Park know emphatically where they are going, and have no idea where they are.
They might as well be in North Dakota. They move in space that doesn’t exist — in that sense Hyde Park travelers are even crazier than the oil men and ranchers of the Northern Plains.
Hitler was popular in Germany, and initially was admired internationally because he solved the German unemployment problem.
Hitler was only recently a hyperbolic cliche. He is on my mind and in my writing far more than I would prefer. But new fascists from a parallel universe are emerging from their bizarro world South American exiles to fulfill their dream of re-establishing the Reich. Only this time they are calling the Reich “The United States.”
This coup proceeds as the people of Hyde Park rush to their next appointment.
In 2018, Trump and his Republican Party rise in the polls on the eve of a midterm election because the economy is viewed as “good.”
The Democrats brand themselves as providing health care and generally avoid talk of impeachment, the baby concentration camps on the border, voter suppression, the bullying and murder of journalists and the phony investigation of a stooge Supreme Court Justice. They choose this weak if legitimate tea because 45% like Trump’s fascism if it will put a dollar in their pocket, and another 10% just doesn’t care.
A minuscule fraction of that 10% also make driving in Hyde Park an encounter with terror.
The focus on little individual lives more ominously ignores the building tsunami of murderous oppression which will stop all individual ambitions forever if it goes unchecked.
Millions are aware.
Millions are oblivious.
The absent-minded professor ignores the reality that traffic could end his research forever when he is hit by the truck of a harried delivery driver pressured to empty his load on time. A deer in the headlights is more conscious.
Paula and I live in a converted hospital. (I told her that we would wind up in the old hospital.) The complex was originally built around the year 2000. The outgoing condo board President is a yoga instructor. She did a wonderful job for the association, beautifying the park in our courtyard, selling a vacant lot owned by the condo association to reduce the monthlies, and hiring a friendly and competent new property manager. In her valedictory speech she said that her work would help all of us, including herself. She has raised our property values and made a nice place to live even nicer. She also indicated that she didn’t want to do it anymore. She is soon to be married and wanted to turn her attention to more personal matters. Her balance of pursuing the one while understanding her membership in the all is an example of the way out of this mess.
To pursue our personal lives we have to tend to our collective freedom and security so that we can have personal lives. Obviously. And impossible when people who should know better aren’t even acquainted with the concepts of collective freedom and security.
Most young people are oblivious to Republican designs on shredding social security and Medicare. They generally don’t know of the cruel plans, and if they do, they don’t think that the attack has anything to do with them, when it is the security of their old age or future illness that is being compromised.
Young people have an excuse for living in oblivion. They are, well, young. If they are in good health they know little of vulnerability. They have met any problems and challenges of their lives with a natural vitality and resilience.
Educated white people older than age 34 have been sheltered by a just and generous system. They are children with gray hair. They attended endowed universities. Their rights of self-determination in personal and career matters has generally been assumed and protected. They have benefitted from lives built upon the crumbling infrastructure of the New Deal, a past progressive and intelligent shaping of a society that began in 1933 with the inauguration of Franklin Roosevelt, and ended in 1981 with the inauguration of Ronald Reagan.
Barbarians entered the gate in 1981 and have systematically dismantled much of what remained from that infrastructure in the ensuing years. When Trump was elected, the Huns determined to finish the job.
The New Deal should be expanded, not destroyed. That is not a political statement. It is a statement of common sense and decency.
The invading horde wants every dollar and all control. Nothing is sacred to them, least of all human life, health and happiness.
The Huns have encountered a disorganized resistance from the people first to feel the results of their oppression: people of color, women, immigrants, the poor. Each group speaks eloquently against the injustice that they suffer, but a unified coalition has not been formed. The oppression that threatens us transcends demography. We are being attacked by people that think they are superior to everybody.
Soylent Green is people!
Equal opportunity hate.
The oppressed and vocal groups are canaries in the coal mine.
Privileged whites will be the last to board the train, but the boxcars are waiting.
Blind death waits for us, and has already arrived for the most exposed among us.
My memory returns to a comment that I made in a speech at my Jesuit high school graduation: “Vince Lombardi said that ‘winning isn’t everything, it is the only thing. I respectfully disagree with Mr. Lombardi.” If I were seventeen today I would omit the word respectfully. The obsession to achieve one’s personal goals without consideration of your responsibility to everyone else leads to collective and self-destruction.
I had another line in that youthful speech that I have no need to edit: “G.K. Chesterton (the British Catholic philosopher) once said, ‘Of all the sins, indifference is by far the worst.”
Hyde Park might not be next in line, but the line is moving quickly.
Copyright 2018 Richard Thomas
Real writing … as subsequent writing will demonstrate my assessment of Del Close as brilliant changed dramatically.
10/24/18: Repetitive Refugee
I’ve lived my adult life as a repetitive refugee seeking asylum. A flame of dissatisfaction flickers and tricks me into thinking that it has been extinguished and I have found my home, only to ignite again.
Adult life for me began when I entered law school. My yearning for something more began before the end of my first semester. Law school was not what I thought it would be. I was being trained to be a manipulator of abstraction and fact. The degree that I was pursuing was called a “juris doctorate” which is nominally the equivalent of a PhD. If I am a doctor of philosophy to any degree, it has nothing to do with my degree. Law school taught me nothing about understanding the law or the world. There is nothing intellectual about being a lawyer. In the area of law, Brett Kavanaugh passes as an intellectual. Higher ed is called an ivory tower, a place where men and women are better than the hurlyburly of the market, and further what is best in the nature of mankind. In the area of law, Brett Kavanaugh, and even someone like his predecessor William Kennedy, is considered a sage. Shrewd politicians masquerade as elders on the Supreme Court or representing a workers’ comp claim. Why practice law? For money, I guess.
People rich and poor need lawyers. People rich and poor need plumbers when toilets are clogged. Plumbing is more honest work. Plumbers have no need to market themselves as false gods enveloped with wisdom. I have never met more pompous mediocrities than I did when I worked as a lawyer. Check that, college professors and administrators are up there too. Higher ed is called an ivory tower. It could be more accurately described as a golden jail. Most academics don’t make that much money, but it’s enough. They gain a comfortable existence condescending to students who are actually trying to live their lives in a world that they think is eager to reward their efforts. The undeservedly bitter professors do nothing more than sneer at the students’ young innocence. They don’t try to lead the students out of their ignorance towards happiness and real fulfillment. That would take real work. It is easier for the professors to “assess” the students as successes and failures in their apprenticeships in dishonestly presented fields of study called disciplines. Academics obstruct learning and life. They thin the herd, caring little if excellence or mediocrity is destroyed, as long as they meet their numbers.
Do I unfairly generalize about lawyers and academics? No. They are merely cogs in failed systems designed to destroy souls, or sitting idly by as souls die, play acting trivial bits of business. They are doctors of great concerns of human life — the law, English, biology — guilty of malpractice.
I remember a conversation with some of my law school classmates about the death penalty. In that discussion there were no thoughts exchanged as to the effects of that area of the law on individuals and society at large. The only consideration was preparation for answering a possible question on a blue book exam. Most of us would never even work on a capital punishment case.
My peers and I were preparing to be auto mechanics unconcerned with carbon emissions or the safety of our roads. Our focus was only on getting a job fixing car engines. The question of whether the engines were instruments of good or harm that had to be managed with wisdom and competence was not considered. Those questions were to be adjudicated by a system of advocacy before judges and juries. The judges were just fellow lawyers as morally unprepared as I was. The juries were even more ignorant than the legal brahmins. (Elementary and secondary schools where people are supposed to learn to think and be good people have failed too.)
I endured my first three months of law school with persistent feelings of discomfort and boredom. Something had to be done. I made my first trek to a perceived land of freedom with contradictory hope and desperation.
That mixture of hope and young despair led me to compromise. I took a leave of absence from law school and got a job. I had worked summers as a bill collector in a bank when I was in college. I went to work in the same role for the Mercantile Bank in Union Station as a new adult. When I first collected on debts at age seventeen before my freshman year of college, I was the best collector in the department. I had never paid a bill in my life and was incapable of the empathy that I needed as a human being. I was perfect for my job however. I harangued and badgered sick people, people with troubled marriages, people who skipped a payment because they wanted to take a vacation. By the time of my summer before starting law school, bill collecting bored and depressed me. I was a venial sinner, engaged in immorality that I did not recognize. My body knew that I was off the track, but I did not.
I took the job at the Mercantile Bank because it was the only job that I could think of that I could get. I sacrificed my soul to pursue my soul, never a good idea. Obviously. Now anyway. But most people do just that. I have always sensed that there was more and better, and one day I just might crack it. If you read this paragraph smugly believing that you have figured this out, I will concede that may be true. Please forgive my doubts however. I have thought that I had it figured out several times, only to discover otherwise. I tearfully buried my illusions and moved on eventually to the next draft. Picasso said that he never finished a painting. Dissatisfaction led him through his famous periods. Maybe no one succeeds at perfecting their authenticity. Maybe all lives are unfinished paintings.
I was making a living at the Mercantile Bank. My living itself was the pursuit of a dream.
The first seemingly free country that I asked to let me in was improvisational acting. I was let through customs. It was January 1978. I began my immersion into improvisational acting classes. Most of the founders of that art form, which began its modern age in the 1950s, were offering classes in Chicago at that time. I studied with all of them. They thrilled and disappointed me.
Del Close was brilliant and morbid, a sage and a drug addict, a nurturer of genius that never answered the problems of man, but only displayed the talent to do so. Del loved fame. The pursuit of popularity cannot coexist with the pursuit of truth. He was teaching an limitation — reflect the unacknowledged desires of the audience back to them, don’t pursue something better. Wisdom is an elite experience. “Common sense” is nonsense. “Common sense” is compromise. I struggled like a rope in a tug of war between common sense and wisdom. An artist leads the public. An entertainer exploits their appetites. Del was an entertainer and not an artist.
It took me decades to understand that. I say that with no shame. Any wisdom that I have has been obtained through work, it does not come naturally to me. Malcolm X went through many transformations. Thief. Prisoner. Obedient follower. Violent revolutionary. Saint. Martyr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was born and raised with the ability to do the right thing. I live in the Malcolm X wing.
There are two types of artists. There are aesthetic artists who reflect the world. They are not entertainers. They don’t fashion images with the goal of being liked. They look for the truth with the rigor of scientists. The second strain of art is transformative. Transformative artists are holy fools who naively, enthusiastically and emphatically commit to a version of reality, discover and challenge their illusions, suffer great pain as they face the insecurity of creating the world anew — over and over again — and always begin again in a more limited field of potential reality bordered by that which they have found to be false. The transformative artist uses honesty to acquire wisdom. I am a transformative artist. It has taken me to age 63 to realize the folly of compromise. Any chapter of my life is not worth much, but I take some pride in all of the chapters in sequence. I am currently at a moment when the slate has been wiped clean again. I am scarred and fearless, happy and anticipatory of what is to come. What new joy will become an oppressive regime that I must leave again to find freedom?
I never met an artist in the world of improvisation until I worked with Paul Sills and David Shepherd in the 1980s. But that is getting ahead of my story.
While working with Del Close in my introduction to improvisation, I also studied with Jo Forsberg, Sheldon Patinkin, Danny Breen and Tom Tully, and in one beautiful class session, Barbara Harris.
Jo Forsberg was pure. Her real concern was what is now called, with corporate sterility, human development. I liked Jo very much. I admired her, but I was already too advanced for her classes. She famously created children’s theater. Her classes were like going to Mass. I liked going to Mass when I was a child. By the time I had reached adulthood, I had no need of childish lessons. A goal of art is to teach simple lessons and apply them to the complexities of life. Christ said, “Look and be simple.” The simplicity can be accessed in our hearts. The looking at the mess of the world is what is complicated. Mass and Jo Forsberg’s classes just focused on the simplicity.
Sheldon Patinkin was a master craftsman. His technical lessons were invaluable. He was a classroom extension of Bernie Sahlins who I later worked for as a director and producer at Second City. He was a warm and lovely man. He and Jo gave me a sense of being in a family. They were wonderful to me and just about everybody. But I didn’t need that love either, even if I enjoyed it. I had come from a loving family and at that time I was trying to escape the familial orbit and fly off on my own trajectory. I came late to the desire for independence because my dependence was so rewarding. At times I blamed my parents for smothering me, but the truth was that I was addicted to their adoration. If being loved with great intensity as a child is one of your problems, you’ve been dealt a pretty good hand. I have suffered at times from the meanness of people who were never loved when they were young, people who felt that they had to fight for love and win it by hurting others. I have aged into understanding the pain that haunts those enemies.
Sheldon was a craftsman and craft was his business. I once unfairly called him “the artist with the suede briefcase.” Sheldon was not an artist. His job was to prepare talented people for successful careers in show business. Sheldon was a successful businessman. Paul Sills called his work in improvisation “the family business.” Paul was an awful businessman, and a great artist. He gave Second City away to partners that he grew to despise in a fit of pique. He never got the money or recognition that he deserved. Van Gogh’s acclaim, and the wealth generated by his work, was enjoyed by people who had little to do with it too. What Paul did successfully was both look and be simple. Paul soared when he could cast talented people who could engage his vision, and was frustrated by the students that he taught to earn a modest income. Those students were his compromise, a compromise to mediocrity that my next chapter will hopefully transcend.
Barbara Harris was perfect sensitivity, the greatest improvisational actor of the Sills school. Judy Garland went mad, a martyr to show business sentimentality — dead at 48. Barbara Harris lived much longer, a martyr to sensitivity. Garland stubbornly refused to surrender her attempt to use an ethereal rainbow as an impossible bridge. Barbara Harris courageously refused to compromise her vulnerability in a world that requires a bullet-proof vest. That world destroyed her. In my early 30s, I was performing in New York City. I foolishly thought that my attempts at pure art would win acclaim. Paul Sills called a performance of my show “the best evening of theater in 25 years — as good as Lenny Bruce.” I was unsurprisingly brutalized as Bruce was before me, and before I achieved any of the body of work that Bruce created. I had a nervous breakdown. It was much better than Bruce’s slow suicide. That breakdown saved my life. After the breakdown, I spent a year on a bed in my childhood bedroom in my parents’ house. The depression and anger and bitterness saved my life again. When I got up, I got jobs in marketing and unemployment until I was 50. I moved back to New York City. I wandered the streets alone, visiting bookstores, seeing plays, going to the movies and museums. I explored my soul — a self-taught art class — and contemplated ways of surviving as a productive artist in the world.
In December 2017, I gave my last performance. It took me that long to realize that the theater would murder me. By this time, I was just performing in front of friends, but I was still in danger. A stage show is an imposition. I was holding people captive. If they were bored or angered by what I was saying, they couldn’t just leave. Since each of them are going through their own transformative processes, they would sometimes attack me with anger, resentment and betrayal. These were all unnecessary wounds that I would suffer. I would have to spend time treating the injuries and recovering.
A reader can put a book down when it isn’t satisfying. They aren’t forced to take a detour from the path of their life the way a theatergoer who got the wrong ticket has to. Woody Allen said that his screenplays seem perfect to him. His films disappoint him. I decided to just write. The writing is the accurate expression. A performance is never what is written. It is an interaction between the writing and the world. I do not want the world as a collaborator.
I want to live in truth with the world without the world killing me. I want to be free of the politics of survival — compromise.
I have gone from one purportedly free country to the next, looking for a twin external reality that mirrors my soul.
There is no such place. The search is over. My home is my laptop. My community is not defined by a neighborhood, a job, an audience or a company of actors. My community is comprised of friends and readers who are free to come and go as they please. I used to encounter other writers, dead and alive, as sages who had the answers, the best teachers. Now I see them as friends, serious about their humanity and possessing the generosity and skill to share what they can see at a moment that they represent in words at a point in the arc of their mortality.
Danny Breen and Tom Tully taught an improvisation class at the Victory Gardens Theater during my improv immersion. They were funny. Their joy in making people laugh, teaching people how to make people laugh, and laughing themselves was infectious. They thought that I was funny. They got me into improv groups that performed in nightclubs, and eventually got me a full-time job at Second City. Danny and Tom were mentors who became friends. They lived exemplary professional lives. They just weren’t my example.
One night in the early eighties, when I was in the resident company at Second City, I was taking suggestions for the improvisation set. An audience member shouted at me, “Lech Walensa licks pussy!” I became enraged and harangued the ignorant fool. I hated the uneducated pre-fascist who was mocking me as I struggled to find meaning in my humor. I hated his smug anti-intellectualism. I hadn’t mentioned the Polish fight for freedom, but I had demonstrated that I was conscious. The narcissist was ordering me to exclusively refer to his petty, pathetic and puny frame of reference. Caring about other people was for suckers. Seeing their struggle as your own in a different key was poverty-inducing navel gazing. I didn’t want to spar with the predatory thug, or lead him to a higher consciousness through satire. I wanted him to go away and get him out of my way. This was five years before my breakdown, but the blessed unraveling started that night. I had to endure five more years of beatings from people who thought that the thug made some good points. It was the age of Reagan. The thug was ascending, and my still young life was entering a period of decline.
On another occasion, I spoke to two Harvard Business School grads at the outer bar after the performance of a Second City show. They told me of their research into “the optimum laugh.” They were going to use data to determine how they could keep an audience engaged in movies and TV shows. I didn’t know it at the time, but at that moment the career that I was preparing for at Second City in film and TV was doomed. The world belonged to the Harvard grads, not me.
I only withdrew from law school for a semester. I returned and finished my degree with an academic record that could be charitably described as mediocre. I didn’t take the bar exam. I wasn’t interested. By this time, I was in the Second City touring company and naively saw a life of wealth, health and happiness laid out before me. After that miscalculation, my career in show business ended. The ending wasn’t abrupt. It ravaged me like an undiagnosed and terminal illness.
My life of art began with the show that Paul Sills loved. I then had my nervous breakdown, and my subsequent dark night on the bed of my soul. During the dark night, the word “art” nagged at me. I had no idea of hard it was and would be. Good thing or I might have been afraid.
When I was finally back on my feet I moved back to New York. I lived with underemployed modesty. I generally spent my days wondering what art was — my job took no thought at all. I explored New York City in search of art in many forms. It was a wonderful apprenticeship to myself. I enjoyed evaluating the world in solitude — unbothered by teachers, audiences, family, friends or colleagues; and only mildly bothered by my lousy jobs that gave me no societal respect or existential meaning.
The mild bother grew into an unyielding frustration. I wanted a job that didn’t crush my spirit and make me feel like an unfairly accused suspect of a crime wherever I’d go.
By this time, I was fifty. I passed the bar exam when I took it for the first time ever at age 50. The world deferred to me after I received my law license with the exception of a few friends who still feared that I would die a “loser,” and a few enemies who hoped that I would.
Working in a law office is the same as working in a telemarketing boiler room or anywhere else. There are some decent people just trying to get by and retain some humanity, and some assholes. The threat of unemployment hangs in the air. If you make one move that honors the dictates of your heart, the threat is realized.
The law morphed into the aforementioned teaching in colleges. Working at a university was another repetition. The only positive was that I had time to develop my writing to the point it is on this day.
Now I need more time than that.
The world and all of its nations have died. The last places of asylum are in my own soul.
I am thankful that my journeys of transformation have been solely through the fields of employment and art. The most important things came easily. I married for the first time at age 58, and I made my choice of bride with the sure-footedness of Martin Luther King. I have old friends who love me with a love that doesn’t care about what I am doing. They just wish me happiness and health as I do them. My parents have passed on. My father into death, my mother into dementia. They both left knowing that I loved them.
I look at my yet-to-be-fulfilled life with self-admiration. The admiration isn’t narcissistic because I know that my self was not created by me. My task is just to create meaning from what I have been given — the choices that I make with that I did not choose. For all my life’s fits and stops, I do not compare myself to those who knew themselves early on. Those people just have a different set of challenges, problems and potentialities, that’s all.
I’ve worked hard to honor the requirements of who I am. I have done the best that I could at that job. In the end that work is who I am.
I don’t know where my writing is going in terms of content or readership. I don’t know where the money is going to come from in this finite moment of saved security.
But I am serene in the certainty that God will provide. He may lead me using the tools of more pain and confusion if I suffer from another unacknowledged illusion. Or he may grant me my great opus supporting me with the abundance that He grants all projects that serve his creation.
That support may have already begun.
I love my life and look forward without anxiety to its coming phases of aging and death, creativity and redemption.
This is not a passing mood. It is a change of heart.
I have found my next asylum.
Copyright 2018 Richard Thomas
Real writing … performing and teaching are officially ended, and the Rick Blog is declared reborn in October 2018.
10/26/18: The Rick Blog Redux: The Threat of Authoritarianism and Our Marriage to the World
I started writing The Rick Blog in March, 2014. It began as a trickle of posts related to my work as a teacher. I was teaching professional presence. The course combined my backgrounds in improvisation, the presence, and as an ethics attorney, the professionalism.
The Blog has always had a life of its own. Life transforms, morphing from one phase to another. From mere professional concerns, the blog became a process of personal integration. I began to explore my personal voice once more. I began to write every day. I had been an improviser, a comedian, an actor, a writer of sorts, a lawyer and many other things. I sensed that what was true for me was true for everyone. I wanted a place where I was free to be all that I am: funny, analytical, poetic … in one place. I wanted to be freed of the boundaries of occupation or genre.
Liberated from self or societal categorization, I discovered what I have always suspected. I am a writer. My occupation cannot be summarized with checked boxes related to professional skills on LinkedIn.What I do cannot be summed up as “poet,” “comedy writer,” or “essayist”. I simply write in my own way. There are no academic programs where I can develop my art. There are no job postings searching for people who do my art. There is no community of artists who also practice my art.
Like Stanislavsky, I am alone in the public. Unlike Stanislavsky, I am not the founder of a method in search of followers. My method is peculiar to me.
My solitude is not loneliness. I am not of the world but alienated from it, despairing that no one travels with me. I am in relation to the world. I am equal to all existence. All existence is equal to me.
The world and I are lovers. I am married to the world. So are you whether you know it or not. We unite. We set boundaries and respect each other’s space, we engage in lovemaking again. Coming together. Then rolling over to dream our independent dreams. We contemplate each others’ mysteries and miraculously discover aspects of ourselves that we never knew. Intimacy is a miracle. The closer that we get to the other, the closer we get to ourselves.
The world and I are perfect. Our only imperfections are found in the depth of our understanding, not in the being to be understood. We endure in constancy in change.
I write my blog with a “bold and persistent experimentation,” inspired by the approach that Franklin Roosevelt employed when confronted by the Great Depression. I emphatically assert each level of my understanding, racing ahead of that understanding as it evaporates and is replaced by a deeper meaning.
I illustrated my blog posts with stock photos and pictures from Google images. I stopped doing that. I only care about the words.
I translated my blog posts to stage shows. I stopped doing that. I only care about the words.
I read my blog posts in podcasts. I stopped doing that. I only care about the words.
I sometimes used the blog as a marketing tool. I stopped doing that. I only care about the words.
I wrote jokes on the blog, and enjoyed the attention. I collected laugh emojis. I stopped doing that. I only care about the words.
In January 2018, I stopped writing the blog all together. I thought I was doing so in order to get my misinterpreted dream job of teaching at a university that I saw as prestigious. I didn’t get that job. The purpose of that nine month period was gestation.
The Rick Blog was reborn in October 2018.
In the summer of 2015, Trump and the world took his ominous escalator ride downward. Trump’s descent to power. I watched in amused horror. I knew something horrible was happening.
Shortly thereafter, I saw a 61 year-old woman protester who used an oxygen tank be carried out of a Trump rally on a stretcher. I heard Trump cunningly incite violence that night. His aim was murder without his fingerprints. He played the darkness of his audience with virtuosity. I knew on that C-Span evening that America, and by extension all of mankind, was facing an attempted fascist takeover — a new challenge in my marriage to the world.
It still is. Nazi Germany wasn’t built in a day. The brain-numbing chaotic outrages continue to accumulate by the hour, and are now well-known to everyone, the decent and the Nazis alike. Everyone sees what I saw in the summer of 2015.
As I write today, Cesar Sayoc, Jr. has been arrested in connection to the attempted mail bombing of prominent Trump critics.
Trump is responsible for Sayoc’s terrorist actions, no matter what Sayoc’s motivations were. A twisted action perversely executed to either help or hurt Trump is useful to Trump. Madman, criminal, extreme radical — left or right — doesn’t matter. Trump wants fear and confusion from any quarter. Trump masterfully manipulates fear and confusion to possess people and things. Satan is not a sinner. Satan provokes others to sin.
After Trump emerged as a threat, The Rick Blog explained what was happening. The Rick Blog also attempted to advise ordinary people like me as to what to think, say and do in response to Trump’s life threatening toxicity.
The Rick Blog also saw Trump as an opportunity to talk about America and the nature of man. Trump is not one man. He is the personification of the nihilism that exists in the human heart.
Trump is now, as I write, taking a bow before cheering supporters in the White House and taking credit for Sayoc’s apprehension by law enforcement. He is condemning political violence as if he hasn’t promoted it, seducing people to self-destruction.
We have free will. Our choice is between life and self-induced death. Love is the energy of life. Death is negation.
Trump’s supporters and antagonists alike are moths to his suicidal flame.
The Rick Blog, from Trump’s announcement of his candidacy at times responded to the first days of the Trumpian locust with anger and shaming. I chastised Trump supporters, non-voters, Green Party voters and others who were facilitating Trump’s seizure of the instruments of power. I do not regret a word.
We sometimes argue with those that we love. I was never seeking power. I did not compete with hate. My anger was hopeful. I had a responsibility to chastise those that I love.
My chastisements were never offered with the illusion of victory. My purpose was not to say, I am right and you are wrong. Or to join a league of the self-righteous, smug in its moral superiority.
I was trying to encourage my wife the world to its higher consciousness of freedom and decency.
I knew that the world changes in obscure places. Fame and power are not required. The history of the world is not only concerned with the likes of Lincoln and Hitler. History is also written in blogs with tiny readerships.
But now I, The Rick Blog, and the world have entered a new period.
The Rick Blog was always proactive and never reactive. I am the authority of my own life. I am not the world’s slave or its rebel.
I am the world’s lover.
Lovers lead one another. The only real power is the power of influence. Married couples change not by coercion but by influence. We fall in love with the person who will draw us more fully to who we actually are.
We are all married to the world.
When our lover is confused we first argue with them. Then we don’t try to control them if the words don’t work. We go our own way with clarity and hope that they will grow in virtue because of our example. Sometimes they don’t. We stick with them because we love them — for better or worse, rich or poor, sickness and health.
If we are lucky, as I am with Paula, we are spared the pain of love with someone possessed by partial ignorance. We get an easy path. The arguments are minor and few; the loving consciousness is high.
We are not lucky with the world, but also luckier than at other times. We live in a time of appalling meanness and stupidity, and blessed wisdom and decency. Profane hate and sacred compassion passionately implore Atlas as his knees buckle with the weight of the the planet and eternity.
I am unsurprisingly going to vote a straight Democratic ticket. I passionately want the Democrats to win. But the real arena that will end the Trump phenomena will not be political. Authoritarianism in all of its tactics and manifestations will not be stopped with material victory.
Authoritarianism is an existential problem. We may be in a difficult marriage with the world, or it might turn out to be an easy path like my marriage to Paula.
I hope that the Democrats don’t go low or high. I hope they talk about how to work to be good human beings, and govern as an example that mirrors their words.
My writing with its tiny readership, and my obscure life will try to do the same.
My focus is no longer the threat of Trumpism and its effects.
My focus is now the enormous potential of the awe-inspiring opportunity to be a human being, and my relation of equality with the ugly beauty of my wife, the world.
My life is an enormous white page anticipating yet to be discovered words.
Love reveals its purpose after the fact.
Copyright 2018 Richard Thomas
10/26/18: Patrons and Non-Patrons
In the late 1980s, I did an improvised one-man show. It had a simple premise. I would walk onto the stage with no ideas. I took no suggestions from the audience. I started with who I was at that moment, what I was thinking and feeling, and fashioned a show from that.
The show ran one hour and ten minutes. That was not by design. It just happened every week.
I performed the show after the second Second City show on Friday nights in the ETC theater.
The producer, Joyce Sloane gave me the stage at that time. The show became popular with people working as improvisers in Chicago. I spent the rest of my 166 hours and fifty minutes of each week collecting my thoughts and feelings, many of which found their way into my show. I had no other job. I had no money. The show was free.
One day I received a check of $150 from Second City. I continued to receive the same amount every week that I did the show until I left Chicago and moved to New York City. It wasn’t a lot but it was enough.
Joyce paid me to be myself.
She never said a word. I was so oblivious to practical reality in the late 1980s that years passed before I understood that it was Joyce who gave me the money. When I finally thanked her, she vaguely remembered her kindness. She obviously did this kind of thing all the time. “Oh you’re a good guy,” she said matter-of-factly. On to the next case, some other golden lost soul who needed a hand.
When I started teaching at UIC, I was assured that I could teach as I please with no interference from anybody. UIC kept its word for four and a half years. In my last semester there, that changed. The director of the program resented that he had to do the administrative duties (that he had chosen) while I worked with independence, creativity and freedom. He was married to a dancer who lost her job as a teacher. She kept dancing. The director began treating me with disrespect in an attempt to make me quit. He finally found other means to get rid of me.
Joyce Sloane had the capacity to be a patron of the arts. The director of my program did not. He fell in love with a dancer, and I was collateral damage. Early on, he told me that he wanted to facilitate my “dream job.” I’m sure he said the same thing to his wife.
That’s not really what he wanted, just what he thought that he wanted. The purpose of false desire is to lead us to the real thing. We can only accept that lead if we are brave and honest with ourselves. Sometimes what we call practicality is passivity in a prison cell. Don’t quit quitting your day job. A safety net waits for you. It is someone else’s day job to take care of you. It’s tough to pay the bills, and do all the grunt work to get the money. But its not thankless if its real.
I have wondered why the hurt of the loss of the UIC job has haunted me. It was just a job, after all. I was happy to leave. I was elated when I didn’t have to show up on the first day of Fall Semester 2018. My art had gone as far as it could there. My mental preoccupation with the loss of the job was not really about the job it all. I thought that I was mourning, and at times raging against the past — an unproductive and fearful thing to do. But that wasn’t what was happening. I was mourning the loss of a friend. What I thought was bitterness is actually compassion. The director isn’t a bad guy. He is blocked from his own creativity. He wants to dance not run the box office. He made poor choices for himself and he doesn’t know it. He hired me and married his wife to find friends who could help lead him to his artistic heart. Instead he became a boss, and a resentful husband.
The director didn’t want to become a patron.
Resentment is misdirected unidentified desire.
Joyce Sloane found her soul in the nurturing of artists. She was a practical person who expressed her love by finding jobs and dinners and spouses for actors and writers who rebelled against gravity and were in danger of floating away.
Joyce was a wonderful patron.
A patron is a particular type of friend. She not only loves the artist. She loves the world. She facilitates the artist’s sharing with the world things of value that the world is not generally smart enough to pay for.
Joyce was rewarded by much love from her artist-friends, and from the general public that appreciated her philanthropy.
People donate to public television stations. They don’t do it “in order to keep seeing programs like these” as they are told during pledge drives. They do it because they love the people who make the programs, and the community that benefits from those shows — education through channel surfing.
I should have given Joyce a tote bag.
Anyone who gives a human being money or a job, an opportunity to be themselves, free from exploitation, who sees personal sincerity as a valuable service to the world, who sees people as nature’s work of art and not as tools of profit-driven schemes, is doing God’s work.
But God’s work that is not intended for you becomes a burden, an obstruction to God’s true intention.
Thank you, Joyce and Herr Director.
Nature’s work of art, and not a tool.
Two way street.
Copyright 2018 Richard Thomas
11/1/18: Extreme Improvisation and the Tree of Life
Improvisation starts with nothing. A human being stands on the edge of a cliff staring into a black hole. The terrain the human has traveled to reach the edge has disappeared. The human has no choice but to jump. The human has to wait for the right time.
The only choice for the human is whether to accept his fate with joy or fear.
Improvisation is the field of moral development.
The aging process often destroys memory and improves vision. A preparation for The Great Beyond.
James Joyce wrote, “History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.” James Joyce reinvented writing. His children went mad.
All of the oppressive injustices and unfair criticisms that led to the present moment dissipate — water vapor merging with the rest of the air. When treated unfairly, the trick is to not focus on what was said and done, but rather to look closely at who said and done it. Was the negative other possessed by fear, envy, pride or misguided and ignorant love?
The human improviser can’t jump until he gains objectivity and humble perspective.
If the human jumps in fear, he becomes merely a murderous extremist as opposed to an extreme improviser.
The extreme improviser has no audience. He is an example to the world.
Surrender to waiting for the call, and the leap of faith itself makes the improviser deeply happy. The struggle for understanding is over. The black hole before him will explode into a universe. He knows his fate with an intuitive certainty. The leap of faith ends all pain related to oneself and gladly accepts the burdens of the sorrows of the world.
A quiet self-contained joy inhabits the improviser as he stands on the precarious ledge. He now loves the world that he once fought in now forgotten ways.
The improviser’s joy is his gift to the world. The world changes for the better with each redeemed soul.
Love and understanding.
How pathetic Trump is. The extreme improviser weeps for Trump, all of his losses poorly disguised by his boasts of winning. He crashes funerals in Pittsburgh. No public official greets him at the airport. Citizens march in the streets in what is inaccurately called a protest. It is not a protest. It is a quiet call to God from people of many faiths and humanists, all blessed with the gift of extreme improvisation.
My slowly dying old mother is an extreme improviser. Her memory is dead. She sees with the precision of a jeweler and the clarity of a sharpshooter. Every movement in her bed, every look and word spoken is true — a loving acceptance of what is. Her final leap into the endless void will be an unassuming step of graceful serenity.
The Jewish people faced the ultimate oppression and took that suffering as a call to love and help refugees like themselves. Trump incites hate for refugees and their friends the Jewish people. There is a tiny speck of humanity in Trump. He didn’t plan for these sweet innocent people to be collateral damage. He was just ad libbing in his anti-improvisational hate, the destruction of others so that he can win.
Ignorant Trump thought his trip to Pittsburgh would make him look good. The anti-improviser has an audience. Instead, he was humiliated.
Trump leaped into the black hole long ago. The improviser sails into the black hole, steady and straight like a great parachutist without a parachute. Trump flails in panic, fearful of smashing into the jagged rocks that surround him or crashing into a floor that doesn’t exist on a bottom that doesn’t exist.
Murder is a crazed attempt at personal survival — self defense against that and who is not threatening the murderer.
The people of Pittsburgh and the innocent murdered Jews become Trump’s enemies. They are making him look bad because they are extreme improvisers.
The Jewish mystic Martin Buber wrote of “I and Thou.” By dying to history and achieving understanding the improviser becomes free. The Holocaust is forgotten and understood. The quiet, beautiful and courageous people of the Tree of Life synagogue have forgotten all bitterness and understand the world. They are not naive to Trump and those like him, but they choose to be innocent. They use their sorrow as a means to their joy. They use their sorrow to create warmth and not alienation. They love each other, and love, and are loved by their non-Jewish neighbors in their Squirrel Hill neighborhood. They love and help refugees of all faiths and ethnicities.
The Tree of Life congregation knows how to live and die in extreme improvisation.
God through history has made Jews apart from and a part of every nation that they have ever lived in. A truly chosen people, for this is what we all should be. Our purpose should not be to fit in the world. It should be to be in relation to it. The Tree of Life took the worst of the world last week, and responded with the best of themselves.
Jews aren’t shocked by man’s inhumanity to man. They know that America has given them an opportunity to be the people God made mostly without interference. They also know that there is a dark underground in America that wants to kill them. They know that all nations are the same. Different country, same tune. American exceptionalism only exists when Americans are exceptional.
Trump has lifted the man hole and let anti-Semitic murder out. Trump says that Jews are “others” with the money and brains to help other others, immigrants and refugees, invade our country. Bigoted stereotyping gets the anti-improviser out of the uncertain occupation of improvising.
Everyone is an other to everyone else. If one is secure in who he is — security comes from love, understanding and faith, the qualities of the gentle and innocent Jews of The Tree of Life — he is not afraid of the other.
Donald Trump and his supporters are cowards. They can’t tend to their souls and face the world as it is. That would take work. They can’t work because they are too concerned about making money.
A farmer says he is voting Democratic because Trump’s tariffs have destroyed his profits from his soy bean crop. I wish he had another motivation. Until he does, we aren’t through with Trump even after Trump leaves forever.
A young mother said that she was formerly a Republican, but her son’s pre-existing condition has changed her into “a health care voter.” The little boy saw another child disappear from the hospital and became aware of his own mortality. The little boy said nothing about his dead acquaintance or that child’s crying family. His mother has taught her son selfishness. People were dying without health insurance when she was worried about her 401K. She was unmoved. Now sickness visits her. “If they don’t vote for health care, I won’t vote for them.” We will never be free until we transcend the quid pro quo.
College students say that they are bored by questions of immigration and health care, but are motivated to vote by issues of school violence and the environment.
Me is a word of oblivion.
There is only the understanding of what happened on the journey to the cliff’s edge, and the moral development of the leap into the abyss. Paradoxically, the deeper that we fall the more fully we merge with the world. We are not conquerors of the world, or conquered by it. Two others meet one another and transform each other in beautiful and unintended ways — if one other is an extreme improviser.
Pittsburgh and Tree of Life did not confront Trump. They confronted themselves. They took the challenge of Trump and truly decided to “Be Best,” in a profound way, not merely mouthing the words of an ungrammatical slogan. Trump and his wife, Melania “be bested” for a shallow couple of hours attempting to lie to themselves and others that they were reverent and good. No one bought it, especially the less than first couple. The fact that Trump’s lies no longer even worked on Trump himself, sent him into a manic tailspin — attacking the Constitution — “birthright citizenship,” threatening to send 15,000 troops to protect America from a phantom menace supposedly crawling toward our southern border, slandering a wealthy, liberal Holocaust survivor who just suffered a death threat last week and by extension endangering all American Jews, delivering racist taunts to a black candidate for governor in Florida — crazily spinning around in a chaotic bar fight in his mind, taking shallow breaths, yelling at the top of his lungs.
The Tree of Life showed the way in this moment. The Methodist minister who shouted the Beatitudes at Jeff Sessions called out Sessions’ religious hypocrisy as he directs a bureaucratic persecution of immigrants. The minister was checking to see if Sessions wasn’t too far gone. Sessions is too far gone. We can only be angry with our friends.
Mere protest doesn’t accept the world as it is. The extreme improviser accepts the world and refuses to conform to it. He brings to the world himself as he plays a transforming scene with the world. Not on a stage. Not with an audience. Never a game. Something much more profound. The extreme improviser has put away childish things.
Trump had a seeming opportunity at repentance and warm forgiveness. But he is too far gone, so it was no opportunity at all.
The extreme improviser has to deal with an extremist like Trump. Trump is part of the world that the improviser loves without compromise.
The rabbi at Tree of Life welcomed Trump. Trump is a refugee too, migrating in the wrong direction. Trump runs and lashes out, refusing to accept the reality of human mortality and vulnerability — especially his own. Trump has attempted to escape through fame, through money, through power. Each foray has created more apprehension. No one is more terrified than a terrorist. Yet, the rabbi greeted this dangerous accessory to mass murder with hospitality and love. Because that is what you do as you sail in God’s void.
The rabbi did not honor Trump, however. The rabbi is an honest man. He stood next to Trump with kindness. He patiently explained the Jewish ritual of placing stones on the tombstones of the sacred dead. The rabbi stood compassionately next to a confused man. He embodied reverence for life and death while in the presence of a man who by nature and nurture and free will has no reverence for anything of real value. He showed no deference to a false President. The rabbi’s deference was to the truth.
No, the rabbi, the civic leaders and the people of Pittsburgh did not honor Trump. They honored existence itself, and Trump was exposed in the contrast.
Father forgive them, they know not what they do.
Poor Trump. What profit a man if he gains the world and loses his soul.
Extreme improvisation is a call to the process of creating compassion for the murderous ignorance of the world.
The good thief repents. The bad thief is possessed by fear and hardened in his wickedness. The extreme improviser knows that he cannot control the world.
We have arrived at a moment when social status has been rendered meaningless. Money, power and fame are false gods. Intelligent people see through position and can see the emperor in his new clothes. Intelligent people can see the holy virtues of the extreme improviser. It is that example that changes the world, not 15,000 troops on the Southern border.
Trump is only left with the cheers of people that he doesn’t respect.
And the instruments of war.
The extreme improviser does not work on the crafts of influencing others. The extreme improviser works on his own moral development and interacts with the world.
Acceptance without compromise.
Copyright 2018 Richard Thomas
Somewhere in November 2018, I did a marketing post and some blogging. Since they aren’t relevant to my writing, I don’t include them here. This next piece is transitional. It takes defensive blogging (in some spots) and turns it into writing. I don’t necessarily still agree with all of this, especially but it’s worthy. I may have a different view of my marriage and Orson Welles with more reflection for example. I was engaged in the process of real writing here, now this may be re-written or deleted — still deciding …
11/6/2018: The Cautionary Tale of Orson Welles and the Election of 2018
I start where I am and I use what is available.
Paula and I live in a lovely new condo in Hyde Park. Paula earned the place from a lifetime of compassionate and intelligent work within the system of higher education. I married Barack Obama. I met Paula eight years ago tomorrow. In July of this year, we will celebrate our seventh wedding anniversary. So my contribution to building this pleasant nest has been minor and in a supporting role.
Paula is still in the process of domesticating me. I married for the first time when I was 58. My compassionate and intelligent work has not been within the system. I am an artist, a creator and destroyer of worlds. Try putting that on a tax return.
Paula found me this glorious reclining chair at a wholesale furniture place. It was a floor model — $800 for a $2000 item. I managed to pay for it from my earnings at UIC — a little of over $60,000 a year, a modest pension and health care. Paula bought a big TV. The new condo is very quiet. We overlook a courtyard and live on the most serene block in Hyde Park, an oasis of calm in a tempest of confusion.
Paula and I are the couple from “Fargo”. She is the sheriff, and I design postage stamps that feature ducks. I was smart enough to marry a generous and decent person. Paula is kind and good enough to understand the relation of the work of an artist to the practical demands of communal life in the world.
Paula brings people together. I tell them what time it is. It’s a great partnership.
You use what is available. Today I use my computer in its word processing capacity, my recliner, and Netflix and MSNBC. Paula asks me if I appreciate that I am working next to a plant that removes toxins from the air. I do now. Before she mentioned it, I was barely aware of the plant.
Netflix features a new documentary about Orson Welles, “They Will Love Me When I am Dead.” Welles, as you know, was a great filmmaker. For years, “Citizen Kane” was considered, by the public shorthand that spares people the pain of reflection, “the greatest movie ever made”. It is great, but it isn’t even the best movie that I have ever seen by Orson Welles. That film is “Chimes at Midnight”, Welles’ treatment of the character Falstaff as he appears in several Shakespearean plays. “Chimes” is a story of betrayal and failure.
The common wisdom about Welles is that he was a spectacular failure who made “Citizen Kane” when he was 25, and never subsequently lived up to that promise. The Netflix documentary focuses on betrayal and failure as the major themes of Welles’ life. That makes sense to me. The doc says that Welles never recovered from when the studio fired him from his second picture, “The Magnificent Ambersons” because the executives thought the picture was not “upbeat” enough. Another man edited the rough cut of the film that Welles created. Netflix does not report an important fact. The editor who performed the hatchet job on “Ambersons”, and turned a work of art into a lie, was Robert Wise. Wise won a Best Director Oscar years later for “The Sound of Music.” That should tell you all you need to know about Welles’ take on Falstaff. Prince Hal rejects his great friend Falstaff when Hal is crowned as Henry V. Welles is Falstaff and Hollywood is Hal. All art is autobiographical. What else could it be?
Welles is a tragic figure. “Chimes” was one of the first independent films. Storytelling and glory didn’t use to go together when there were only three or four TV stations and a few movie studios that distributed “the product.” Welles was in the low wage business of art. Hollywood was in the big money game of bullshit.
Therein lies the caution. Welles, handcuffed by his era and his personal psychology, went looking for love in all the wrong places. When Welles received an American Film Institute Lifetime Achievement Award, he didn’t see that Hollywood was promoting itself by falsely claiming that he was one of their own. Welles was a genius and they were hacks spinning lies for a mansion and a pool. Welles went to the con men who were using him and asked for money for his last film project, “The Other Side of the Wind.” He didn’t get a dime. “Wind” ironically is a film that starts off intending to be a satire of Hollywood and turns into something much more, an unfailingly accurate reflection of Hollywood’s chaotic venal triviality.
Welles made a lot of personal mistakes. I say that without judgement. If he were born later it might have been easier. Nevertheless, Welles ruined himself for his love for that bitch, Hollywood. Welles true love was filmmaking. He should have told Hollywood to go fuck itself. Welles’ example and changes in technology and the nature of markets allowed succeeding generations to blow off Hollywood and do their thing.
Hollywood abased and humiliated Welles in a thousand ways. His cinematographer shot porno movies to pay the rent. Welles directed the pornos sometimes to speed things up and get the cameraman back to the art set. When Welles died, that cameraman kept his ashes in the trunk of a car until they found a place to bury him. Welles sold wine on TV and hosted a network show called “The Kopycats” that featured impressionists. Hollywood had Welles so mixed up that he thought Rich Little could act and cast him in a movie. (Welles came to his senses later and fired Little.)
Welles was great friends with John Huston. Huston was a great director too, but of a different type. Huston didn’t love Hollywood. Huston loved storytelling and used Hollywood as a means to do it. Welles didn’t have that kind of acumen. Welles couldn’t see beyond Hollywood’s pretty face. Huston saw Hollywood for the cunning whore that she was and paid her off. She got what was important to her, and Huston got his. Huston was smarter than Hollywood. I sometimes wish that I was. Maybe soon? All writing is autobiography.
Netflix inaccurately states that maybe Welles was a failure “because he found it more interesting than success.” More bullshit. Hollywood abuses Welles even in the grave. Welles was a failure to the extent that he couldn’t leave Hollywood. Hollywood told him that he was a failure, and he listened. His promise wasn’t realized because his wife didn’t want him to fulfill it.
To add a note of perspective, Welles’ failed promise was better than most artists’ success. And infinitely better than his tormentors in “the biz” who tried for nothing more than cash and fun, and put toxins in the air of the collective unconscious.
What would Welles have done if he had the chance? What would Welles have done if he saw Hollywood for what it was and transcended his naive romanticism?
Today is Election Day 2018 — the day when Good America begins its attempt to rebuild after the Trump Disaster of 2016. Good America was fired when Trump was elected. Good America is an Orson Welles movie. Trump America is a porn version of “The Sound of Music”, murder, greed and sickening sentimentality.
It’s 5:13 am, and Good America is slowly waking up with hope and trepidation.
For two years, Good America did the right thing. It did not plunge into rash action after catastrophe. It held back. It continued itself from pursuing half-assed tangible results. The Founding Fathers wisely enforced this pause upon us. We spent the time reflecting on what we took for granted and making distinctions. We came to a deeper understanding of what right and wrong looks like.
Good America has been patient in difficult circumstances. It has worked on its own moral development. Two years of farce and tragedy has taught us that we took what is best in us for granted, and engaged with jackals. We learned that there is no compromise with the unworthy. We now know that whores will only lead us to a grave of indignity.
We know that we must create a new situation as a community. No one person is strong enough to do it alone.
Today is the first day in our battle with indecency. All of us must vote. We must end the tyranny of Republican gerrymandering. We must demand equality, decency, democracy and compassion. We must use this election as the first step in a struggle to create a new world more congruent with the world in our hearts, and destroy the old world of ignorant mean superficialities. We may win or lose today. Either way, we will ultimately win if we keep fighting.
When victory is won our new circumstances will be glorious in contrast with our present ones. All of our doubts will be overcome. Our success will have justified our deeds.
After victory, our work will have just begun. We can’t be intoxicated with our triumph and return to corruption and violence and immortality, bad old wine in new bottles.
I started writing this looking for continuing concrete direction in the aftermath of the murder of my teaching career by UIC. Here’s the scorecard: I’m Welles and Good America. I want the savvy of John Huston, if for maybe a higher purpose. A third way? UIC (and the higher ed establishment in general) is Hollywood and Trump.
Copyright 2018 Richard Thomas
11/9/18: The Third Way
What is a person of excellence to do? A person of mind, heart and soul? A human aware of the possibilities?
The expectation of recognition of excellence or even security and the means of survival from society is for naïve romantics. Society, any society anywhere in the world, is an arena where mediocrities or worse compete for material power, dominance over objectified people, and possession of concrete things. Dominate and possess. The excellent suckers look up to the winners, or cheer for the long shot coming up on the rail. A sucker with talent and something real to say, something real to do, thinks the winners will find him useful and take care of him. The sucker hopes or prays for a break. The actual odds of such luck are less than those of winning the mega-jackpot lottery.
Realists on the cusp of excellence see society for the unregulated brawl that it is. The realists devise ways to give the winners the stuff that they think justifies their insecure, stunted and tiny souls, and take the remittance from the winners to finance their art. There is a problem with this second way, however. The second way dims the realists’ potential for excellence. Realists are lower watt bulbs than suckers. Excellence needs innocence. If you give society what it wants, you can’t avoid being part of it. You want to excel, not merely survive. (Refrain) A realist says that excellence can be pointed to, but never fully achieved. The realist of excellence settles for a life of comfort and longing.
Realism is limited truth. Realism is the truth that society is willing to hear.
The person of complete excellence wants more.
You want to excel, not merely survive. (Refrain) You need to survive in order to excel. You have discovered your reason for living. Now how do you live?
There is a third way, a way separate and apart from the crazed societal battle fought by combatants who are blind to the abundance of the world.
The young have an easier access to the third way, but they don’t know its power and squander its possibility. The third way can only be found when one has not been socialized. It can only be maintained if one resists socialization.
The young men who eventually formed Monty Python were not socialized in the beginning. They had each individually found their excellence, first in school and then further in their first jobs in the comedy marketplace. They went to see the satiric review, “Beyond the Fringe.” After the show, each man had the same sentence simultaneously appear in his mind. “There are people out there like us.”
That bestowed insight gave the men a confidence that would last for a perfectly brief moment. The BBC hired Monty Python. They were given a small budget and unlimited freedom.
The purity of Monty Python’s excellence was then challenged by socialization. The combatants of show business society saw gold. The combatants of conservative society attacked using the weapons of censorship. Eric Idle joined show business. John Cleese became afraid of the pain involved in expressing his genius and banished himself to mediocrity. Terry Gilliam tilted at windmills and went the way of Orson Welles.
I have tried each way, save Chapman’s. I am 63 now, and I have the great good fortune to be starting out in the evening. The innocence of excellence still burns with me, and I know the pitfalls of socialization — all of its attempts to maim and murder what is best inside of me. I have found peace. The conflict between life and survival is over.
I don’t have to see “Beyond the Fringe” to know that “there are people out there like” — me.
I was sitting in a movie theater and something that was not a thought crossed my mind: “It’s writing.” I woke up the next morning and something else that was not a thought crossed my mind: “It doesn’t matter if the money comes from writing or teaching. The teaching will just be part of the job of writing.” Our consciousness spirals around and into our souls, to new levels of truth in the old and even ancient ground.
Creation has an abundance that frightened society can’t see.
It is snowing for the first time of the season today. I had misplaced my winter hats in our recent move. Paula found them. Paula said, “You see. You get what you need precisely when you need it.” Paula speaks the truth. This is not a matter of faith or wishful thinking.
It is a matter of natural law. We find our excellence. We learn and suffer through all of society’s attacks intended to kill us, or trivialize or exploit our excellence until it disappears. We learn to defend ourselves until we don’t need to defend ourselves anymore. We can finally live and survive — aware of what is best in us and secure in nature’s abundance.
I have awoken from the societal nightmare, a wise old man and a young upstart.
Til death do us part.
Copyright 2018 Richard Thomas
11/14/18: “Big Law Killed My Husband”
I read an article on LinkedIn written by the widow of a junior partner at Sidley and Austin who committed suicide, “Big Law Killed My Husband.”
Big Law did not kill her husband. He killed himself.
The dead lawyer was a bankruptcy attorney who apparently messed up the big American Mattress bankruptcy matter. There were extenuating circumstances. His supervising partner left the firm. A senior associate whose help he heavily relied upon also left. The dead lawyer was overwhelmed.
The widow says that her husband greatly feared failure. He apparently would rather be dead than live with that shame.
Big Law did not kill her husband. He killed himself. He should have talked to me. I would have told him that he had already failed by wasting his life working on the American Mattress bankruptcy matter. The widow says he was a very kind and intelligent man. I believe it. A kind and intelligent man shouldn’t waste his time working for and with assholes.
Some rich pricks didn’t get the money that they wanted. Who gives a shit? That’s failure? I think the dead lawyer subconsciously wanted to “fail” his masters, and his deep lack of confidence that also mastered him. He wanted out.
Sidley and Austin held a memorial event for the dead lawyer. Few of the Sidley attorneys attended. Greed makes people sub-human. The need to revere the dead is ignored. The insane desire to display the trappings of what is only thought to be “success” by ignorant people creates a destruction of personhood.
The dead lawyer was a human being in an inhuman situation. He didn’t need to kill himself. He needed to get another job.
Most of the attendees at the dead lawyer’s memorial were staff employees. They said that he was the only lawyer in the firm who was nice to them. That is the tragedy here. The dead lawyer could have been somebody.
I have committed suicide several times in my life. The trick with failure is to not identify with it. Every time that I have failed, I have grown. Failure isn’t pleasant — growing pains.
When I was 49 years old, I was flat on my ass. I existed in a tiny apartment in the Uptown neighborhood in Chicago before it began to be gentrified. I was out of work and went on one humiliating job interview after another. Friends and family shamed me mercilessly. Thankfully, I responded angrily to their criticism. I wasn’t free enough not to be conflicted, but I was strong enough to know that their way wasn’t mine.
I had one asset, a law degree that I received 25 years earlier. I never wanted to be a lawyer. I went to law school to please my parents. When I was in my 30s I burned my law diploma in my parents’ backyard.
They were right, however. I needed something to fall back on. I had never sat for the bar after my law school graduation in 1981. As a last resort, I took the bar in 2005.
I passed. I scored in the 88th percentile on the practice exam before the test. (The Bar Examiners don’t tell you your score on the actual test.) I knew that I passed. I liked it. I was good at it.
I got a job at a corporate law firm — a couple of tiers below the prestige of Sidley and Austin. Some of the lawyers at that firm were great people and lawyers. I admire good lawyers. They really are people of fine practical intelligence who serve important values of justice, equality and democracy. I am not really one of them. I am by nature a writer and a teacher. A writer and a teacher should do a lot of things, have a lot of jobs — explore the world. I am glad that I met these good lawyers.
The corporate firm also had assholes worthy of Sidley and Austin. I’m glad that I met them too. Then there was another tier of half-humans who struggled between pleasing the assholes and being a person. This group was less successful. If you want to make it as an asshole, you really have to commit.
I hated that job, lost it and was out of work again for a while. I eventually got a job in government service. I failed up. This job was better, but not right. I got to do administrative trials and learned a lot that I later applied to my teaching. The physical office of the agency was clean and functional without the ostentation of the corporate firm which was preoccupied with presenting a good impression of the ignorant vision of success. The salaries were just that too, not an opportunity for wealth. There were many good lawyers working at the agency.
But there was also a pettiness, and a bureaucratic smallness about the place. Bean counting led to small injustices. Many people there were insecure, and insecurity leads to a disrespectful toxicity in human relationships. I had the experience of working with free and creative people when I was young, and I just couldn’t stomach the opposite atmosphere.
So I quit. I started teaching and writing. My contract wasn’t renewed at UIC, as I have written about previously in great detail. Then I looked for a job in a better school that would be more supportive of the methods that I developed at UIC, I became way too hip for that room. I got that job only to have it fall through with a change of management.
And here I am. Trying to figure out how to look for something that you can’t search for.
The widow is wrong to blame Sidley and Austin. We are all wrong to blame anybody. The fault lies not within the stars but in ourselves.
Thank God for our faults. If we didn’t fuck up, we would never grow up. I don’t write because I am a wise man. I write because I am not wise.
There is no such thing as success. There is no such thing as security. There is only oneself and the world — two mysteries to be engaged in and be contemplated.
You build a foundation from one failure to prepare you for the next.
This blog has had periods, just like Picasso’s — that’s not grandiose, he never fully knew what he was doing either.
I started the blog with the idea of integrating all the aspects of my personality: the lawyer, the teacher, the comedian and whatever else. I didn’t want to act in a limited way the way I did in every job that I ever had. I wanted to be analytical in one paragraph and silly in the next.
Then Trump took his escalator ride to hell and I presciently wrote about that. I was an American Studies major in college and that background, plus my law experience and my experience as a social satirist emerged.
In December 2017, my Trump period ended. I said what I had to say. Everyone sees what the Trump version of America is now. Enough said. There is a lot more that I have to say about America in general. Later.
In October 2018, I began my period of processing what happened at UIC, (and by extension what happened at all of my jobs). Each experience taught me something about my life before painfully ending. The jobs died, not me.
On November 9, 2018, that processing period ended. The Trump period was an outward one. I did stage shows and talked to a lot of people. The processing period was inward.
Now I turn outward again.
There is a promotional video selling the University of Notre Dame, my alma mater, that they show during the televised football games. The video says that Notre Dame does three things: shows you who you are, what you can do and where you belong. That’s a false marketing claim. Notre Dame does no such thing. I have to do it for myself.
I know who I am — what makes me deeply happy, what pisses me off. I know what I am good at. I’m a good writer and teacher. I have always been where I belonged, until I wasn’t. I have to figure out how to look for that again — money, honor to my spirit and service to others.
I don’t know how to classify this current blog period yet. The titles don’t arrive until the period is over.
I feel bad for the youngish couple who never saw life beyond Big Law. Fear of failure, suicide and blame are not the way to go.
Learning how to look.
Copyright 2018 Richard Thomas
11/16/18: Ageism and False Marketing
I had a marketing job once for a company that provided expert witness services. I got lists of the names of personal injury and employment attorneys that might need the type of experts that the company provided and contacted them. I explained the company’s approach to analysis of issues. I discussed the experience and credentials of the experts. I asked the lawyers to meet with an expert. I knew a trial lawyer would have to see the person who might testify to determine if he or she would be an effective witness. I saw the obvious. I knew that a lawyer would not hire an expert until he or she needed one for a specific case. So I told my employers to be patient. Actual engagements would not occur over night. I would check in with lawyers who had met with experts a couple of times a year, just to make sure they didn’t forget about the company’s services.
I knew that lawyers aren’t stupid, so I never tried to sell them anything. I documented every statement about the experts, their experience and approach. I relied upon volume. I knew that if I contacted every prospect in the finite market that I was exploring, jobs would come in.
My boss fired me because he grew impatient with my approach. I later contacted him because the Character and Fitness process related to my admission to the Bar required that I do so. The boss told me that he never made more money from a marketing approach than the one I employed.
The other marketers that worked for the company ordered coffee cups and pens. They set up booths at conventions. They schmoozed, they pandered, they kissed ass, they lied. Their manipulations didn’t work, but they looked busy.
Know who you are. Know who the other is.
You can communicate about complex things with simplicity.
Jesus was the content guy. St. Paul did the marketing. Marketing is just a sub-set of the set of communicating. Jesus said, “Look and be simple.” We look at a world of vast complexity with pure innocence. In that way we connect to the essence of our consideration, and the essence of the people that we are talking to.
If we market with any kind of mastery …
People lie, pander and engage in other corrupt practices that demean themselves and others because of ignorant incompetence. They are insecure. Integrity is a prerequisite of excellence.
I ran into an old friend yesterday, a lawyer who also teaches. He expressed his doubt about connecting with “the younger people” in the classroom and in jury selection.
Later in the day, I went to a movie that I had no interest in seeing. I had to kill some time between visiting my mother with advanced dementia and picking up my wife from her night class teaching job. I saw “Fantastic Beasts and the Something Something Bullshit Bullshit Grindewald Something Oh Fuck This Is a Complicated Title” at the Tinseltown Theater in North Aurora, Illinois because it started at 5 pm. The ticket was cheap. The staff was nice. The projector needed a new bulb.
The hero of “Fantastic Beasts” is told that he is a perfect opponent of evil because he has no concern for power and popularity, and unfailingly wants to do the right thing. That’s a good line. The movie dedicates every other second of its running time to betraying that line.
The movie is marketed to young people, the most coveted demographic. The crowd was bored and conned into thinking that they were interested. The Fantastic Beasts were these deformed and crazy CGI animals that were akin to the banjo playing inbred in “Deliverance.” The creatures were ugly and disquieting beings presented as mystical wonders. “Deliverance” showed the tragedy and brilliance of the developmentally disabled savant. “Beasts” denied all suffering. “Beasts” was false marketing aimed at destroying its audience for a quick buck. The world is a freak show for your enjoyment kids. Gawk at the fatal car crash on the side of the road. Have fun, eight dollars please. Ugliness is fantastic.
Watching “Beasts” was brain-numbing, unpleasant and disgusting. The movie was a clinical and voyeuristic exposition of human pain, empathy not included. It pawned itself off as life lesson/amusement park ride combo. Have fun and perceive yourself a better person, while you become colder and dumber from the experience.
This is what sells to “the young crowd.”
What I teach and write about is timeless. It has nothing to do with some corporate notion of “demographics”. I can look at a current trend in a simple way and connect to its essence. Be it the law, technology, culture or popular culture, things change but are always the same.
When I work, I have to know myself, know who I am talking to and know the substance of the subject matter that I am exploring. I do not have to know any market research about what appeals to people that I love. I don’t owe them entertainment, coddling or the stroking of their egos. I don’t have to make them like me. If I engage in such unworthy practices, I am not dealing with students and readers. I am dealing with marks.
There is a struggle in America today between con artists and true artists and professionals. People need to be led and educated, not sold shit.
Age is irrelevant. We all are born, grow, get older and die. When I walk into a classroom, I don’t see young people. I see people.
Older men who dye their hair and drink the current drinks as they dance the current dances in pick up bars are pathetic. Employers who fire productive employees because of their age are craven and unjust. Older people who can’t learn from younger people are stupid and vice-versa.
All the limitations that we feel are imposed upon us by age when we are physically and mentally capable were created by marketers who want to get us when we are young to create brand loyalty. Our culture has been poisoned by salesmen.
Life is not a marketplace. I love the line that I heard when I was a little kid: “We are created in the image and likeness of God.” Now there is a complex thing to contemplate with simplicity. I’ll take creation over focus groups.
Truth and lies are always the same.
There is nothing new under the sun, and everything old is new again.
Copyright 2018 Richard Thomas
11/18/18: The Moral Man’s Guide to Losing a Bad Job
I am an expert at losing bad jobs. I look at my consistent employment and subsequent unemployment history with pride and not regret.
I got a job with the Illinois Attorney General’s Gang Crime Prevention Office shortly after 9/11/2001. The job was a line in an oft-repeated speech by then Attorney General Jim Ryan. He was very committed to addressing the gang crime problem — in speeches. The office had less than a million-dollar budget. It engaged in tokenism — a few conferences, a couple of halfway houses. All official functions praised the moral righteousness of the middle class and shamed the poor.
My boss was a former State’s Attorney from Kane County who openly stated that he pursued death penalty cases because “it’s what the people want.” So it is. The Republican Party is an immoral entity. Republican voters are insecure people who want to feel superior to others and practice schadenfreude — pleasure at seeing their named inferiors suffer. I would never vote for a Republican, no matter how many good qualities he or she would possess. The very membership of a person in the Republican Party, as candidate or voter is an immoral act. Republicans favor the death penalty because they abhor violence. I don’t have to state the obvious inconsistency and hypocrisy of the position. Republicans hate the lazy as they obstruct people’s ability to get meaningful work that offers a living wage. Republicans decry irresponsibility and never question themselves as to how they might contribute to a social problem. There is a perversion about Republicans. Once my boss showed me a picture of a bare-breasted woman that he carried around in his wallet. I think he is a judge now, God help us.
One day my Republican boss told me that he wanted me to go to the capital in Springfield and get the ball rolling on a disgusting piece of legislation. It was an attempt to persecute poor people. He wanted me to convince legislators to impose a $500 fine upon any parent whose child was truant from school more than three times. I suggested that it would be better to do something attempting to make schools worth going to, create meaningful employment opportunities that might encourage the truant students not to join gangs to get some money, initiate studies as to why students were choosing gangs over schools and address those reasons. He told me, “Why don’t you run for office if you have so many great thoughts?” I told him that I didn’t need political power to have a brain or a conscience. I am a citizen and a professional. That’s enough. The boss ordered me to go to Springfield and do what he demanded. I said no. I said, “If I were a Catholic doctor, and you ordered me to perform an abortion, there is no way you could force me to do so. You have no right to force me to do that which is unconscionable to me. This is a war against the poor that you are waging. Your idea has nothing to do with solving the gang crime problem.”
I was fired a few months later. My colleagues were increasingly abusive to me because I wouldn’t knuckle under. On the day that I had enough I told them to go fuck themselves. Police escorted me from the office. I was given the choice to cooperate and leave or go to jail — for no apparent reason. Fascism did not begin with Trump. It has been in the Republican Party and the American character for a long time. It was in my life in 2002. I went home. I didn’t go to jail. What was the point?
Bernie Sahlins was a lovely man and my boss at Second City when I was in the resident company where I improvised and wrote my own material. Near the end of my time there, he called me into his office. He told me, “At Second City, we have a floor of quality. We play at the top of our intelligence, but you are going too far. It is alienating the audience. You also have a moral indignation that the audience doesn’t share. Tone it down.” Bernie never fired me. His humanity trumped his business sense in these type circumstances. I quit about a year later — a defiant and lost soul. Bernie ran into me at Nookie’s coffee shop down the street from Second City’s theater. He told me, “You don’t want to do crap work for money. You don’t belong in show business. You are an artist.” It was one of the kindest and wisest things that anyone has ever said to me.
I taught professional presence — a hybrid course about improvisation (presence) and professionalism at the UIC College of Business Administration for 5 years that ended in June, 2018. My bosses told me that I talked too much and should shut up. They said my talk was unprofessional. I answered, “Oh that’s interesting. Where in “Improvisation for the Theater”, Viola Spolin’s bible of improvisational instruction, do we find the “Shut Up” exercise? Improvisation is about confidence, freedom and collaboration. I practiced as a professionalism attorney at the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission. Professional Responsibility does not involve following orders. A doctor, a lawyer or a teacher does not believe the customer is always right. They give their best advice, and if it does not please their client, they withdraw from the representation. Your view of professional presence is one of pleasing bosses, not doing the right thing based on one’s own professional judgement. It’s not professional presence at all.” They didn’t renew my contract, but the feeling was clearly mutual.
I was recently self-critical, feeling that I have been looking for love in all the wrong places. I no longer feel that way. An artist has to earn a living. I have excelled at every job that I have ever had. I’ve been well-liked, only disliked by the jealous, the stupid, and — the immoral.
I don’t have the time or the inclination to be an entrepreneur. I hate sales. I have to write.
I do want to break this pattern, however. I am sure that some employer who has the compassion and wisdom of Bernie Sahlins exists. I am sure that an employer who has a higher purpose than Bernie Sahlins exists too — something more than commercial success.
I hope it is you.
Copyright 2018 Richard Thomas
11/20/18: The Meanness Epidemic and Paradise
Depression is the realization that one has been depending on an unreliable illusion.
Anger and frustration are vital signs. They set boundaries and give direction.
Fear is capitulation to the belief that the only security can be found in dependence on the support of the ignorant and the mean. Courage is the simple choice of truth and reality over that illusion.
Reflection sheds light on darkness. Reflection exposes evil for what it is.
God (see definition below) created an abundant world which nourishes and supports those who serve his purposes.
Revolution is a rejection of the old and the introduction of the new.
Freedom begins with independence.
Love is found in the interdependence of equals.
Community, friendship, marriage and related committed couplings of individuals, and real work — work that expands the universe and stewards what has already been made — always is an expression of love.
When we love we live in truth. When we fear we live in subjugation to the people of the lie.
Our love, expressed in our creativity, burns out the pain of the misery of illusion.
I have a dear friend. She is disabled. She is an energetic middle-aged woman brimming with ideas and follow through. She is brilliant and kind. She wants and needs to work. She took a job at a prestigious university about a year ago. The job was at a lower pay grade and status than she had previously achieved. She wanted to work fewer hours in order to pursue personal interests. For her working fewer hours is what most people consider a full- time job.
My friend had her yearly performance review yesterday. Her job was threatened. She had asked some colleagues who rest imperiously on higher rungs of the organizational flow chart to meet with her in her office instead of theirs, which was across campus, in order to accommodate her disability. Her request was characterized as being unprofessional and talking about herself instead of doing her job.
My friend’s “superiors” resent her experience, her friendliness, her sense of joy, her generosity and her humanity. They hate her for her age and her infirmity. They don’t want to be reminded of their own human vulnerability. They want to dominate life, and not actually live it. They have achieved petty power and think that their abuse of someone in a weaker position in the trivial world of higher ed office politics will be their salvation. They think they will never be sick, never get older and never be less than in charge.
The “superiors” aren’t Republicans or Trump supporters. They are liberal intellectuals. They get multi-million-dollar grants to do the scientific research that we believe in.
The world is more than science. My friend excels at her job. She brings something added to the tasks that she more than competently performs. She brings humanity.
She will have to leave her “superiors”. They have rejected the challenge of her leadership as to what is truly important. She knows the reason that they do what they do. They have no idea.
The most useful things become useless without the proper intent.
You can lead a horse to water … The time has come for my friend to knock the dust off of her shoes and move on.
Fighting the mean is futile. Free will is a glory of existence. Everyone must choose. The world is not redeemed by an argument. It is redeemed by the embrace of life itself. Let the dead bury their own dead.
Every act of humanity expands the consciousness of mankind. Make love not war.
Stacey Abrams gave a speech saying that she sees no legal path to a victory in her race to be Georgia’s governor, but she is not conceding. She will keep counting the votes, fighting for the human sanctity of each voter. Not the votes as an end — but the voters. Stacey Abrams has many supporters. Her opponent has the upper hand in one unjust election, but Stacey Abrams has won.
God is that within us that is most human.
I put my trust in God.
Nothing of any value has ever been achieved without God.
The process of becoming human is a painful one. Meanness batters us and makes us choose, and in so doing makes us conscious of the infinite possibility of who we are.
We don’t have to live in the prison that meanness tries to unjustly hold us in.
Paradise, California was destroyed by the meanness of the ignorant desecration of our climate, but Paradise remains intact in the brave kindness of the aftermath.
My friend is young, and still has much to give and receive. And she will.
We are nearing the moment that something wonderful is about to happen, in stark contrast to the old ways that we settled for when we didn’t know any better.
That which was merely material was destroyed by mean fire transformed to Pentecostal glory.
Copyright 2018 Richard Thomas
This is a streak of journal writing elevating itself to real writing. The concerns that I write about are past but the value of the writing remains — and the improvement in my process. I now have readers, not friends or colleagues.
11/24/18: Know What You Want; Do What You Do; Embrace Change; Cultivate Wisdom
Please forgive the self-help tone of the title. I don’t believe in tips for living. There is no one size fits all approach to the field of human decision. Today, I am writing to myself. You are free to overhear if you feel like it.
What follows are not new realizations for me about myself. They are just reflections of a moment of organized clarity. Writing sometimes has a magical quality. When I commit an idea to words, I own it. The words are symbols of the acts of my life.
Years ago, I made a decision that every creative person faces. Does one sell out and use their talents and skills for money and fame, or does one pursue truth? I chose the pursuit of truth a long time ago. If you choose this path, the only recognition for your work that can matter is your own. People pay you money if you make them money. People grant you fame if you make them feel good.
Becoming rich and famous is hard work, but it is not admirable work. The path of the artist is not a path of infallibility. It is not a path of sitting on the sidelines and merely criticizing. The path of the artist is the impossible attempt of being something different than the common mediocrity.
The struggle to make it, the struggle that the artist rejects, is very hard. The struggle to be it, the struggle the artist embraces, is even harder.
Perhaps the road to stardom or the road to truth is not a choice at all. Everyone is not an artist. Most people are born to pay the bills, fret about their social status and have a little fun. A few people in a thousand touch the ground of being, see a dimension that is unseen to the rest, and are gifted with some mode of expression that makes that which is invisible clear to the others.
The artist is not wiser or better than anyone else. Art is a job, that’s all. Artists are human beings who see and express an aspect of life that would go unnoticed without them.
As a matter of fact, artists aren’t wise at all. They are born naïve. They see a wonderful world from the moment that they open their infant eyes. The artist’s interaction with people who only see a vale of tears batters and brutalizes him or her. Everyone suffers. The artist transcends suffering, finds the alternative to suffering, and shares what he or she finds.
Wisdom must be cultivated, and it is found in the artist’s emphatic experience of life as an unceasing process of transformation. Each major transformation brings on breaking and tearing and pain. The materialist who chases success accepts the constant pain and calls it the nature of things. The artist is defiant in the face of suffering, and uses the pain as energy to reclaim the world’s wonder.
Regular readers must be tired of my contemplation of the end of my job at UIC last June. All who thought, “Jesus, Rick, get on with it” are forgiven. The sentiment is understandable, if misguided. The artist must study the lock of any prison.
I induced a necessary nausea in the reader by exploring whether the managers of my fate at the UIC Business College were jealous or stupid or mean. Why did the event of my dismissal happen?
I have my final answer regarding what happened. It took five years for UIC and me to get to know each other. I have different feelings and ideas about teaching, ethics, professionalism, improvisation, public speaking, writing, civility, work, the nature of authority, the existence of the unseen, and life itself than UIC. I don’t belong at UIC, and UIC doesn’t belong with me. Each party thought there was common ground between us until we saw the fact of the matter.
Paula was not surprised when my contract was not renewed. I wasn’t shocked, but I did not fully see the situation. My lack of clarity indicated that I had to learn something. All the exploration of what happened at UIC, which was a moment of limited material significance, was an attempt to uncover an aspect of reality of which I was naïve. That is the process of making art. Along the way, I learned some other things too, and made some refinements in my writing, my mode of expression. Those processes are the processes of art.
Art is a deepening. UIC was once sketch comedy for me. It was once improvisational acting. It was once directing. It was once literature. It was once adjunct teaching. It was once trial law. It was once telemarketing. It was once wandering the streets of New York. It was once searching the world.
The artist doesn’t have to look for a place in the world. Art is a place in the world. The artist stands as an equal to everyone and everything else and says “look — there is more than meets the eye.” Some people listen, and they determine how to change based on the new information. The artist doesn’t tell them what to do or how to do it.
What I Do
I write and I teach. I don’t currently have a publisher, so I self-publish on the pages of this blog. I will now teach independently. I’ll be back to you with the details of how I will teach in my particular way in the coming days. I will determine all the learning objectives of my classes. I will make all assessments of whether those objectives are achieved. If a school shares my values and honors my necessary autonomy, I will work there. If not, I will continue to do it on my own.
My beat is the beat of all artists: an attempt to expand the consciousness of the world through the process of expanding my own.
The world is a beautiful mystery that reveals itself in small part repeatedly through the events of life.
It is a great set-up that blesses us with ignorant pain and turmoil, and rewards us with humility and wonder in the grandeur of tiny epiphanies. A final understanding is elusive and impossible. But our small victories give us joy, compassion and peace.
Today’s clarity makes months of frustration worthwhile. Tomorrow’s frustration is a grand opportunity to learn something new.
Our consciousness of the world expands in the depths.
People that I know have suggested that I write under a pen name. I have said profane, condemnatory and controversial things. They believe my writing is worthwhile, but will limit my opportunities to teach. I will continue to write under my own name, even if I considered their well-meaning objections. When considered as a whole, my writing is an attempt to understand.
Who can reasonably object to that? Watch the process, not the transient observations misunderstood as conclusions. Men are praised for knowing themselves. That praise is a hymn to ignorance. I will be a different man tomorrow.
The process of freeing oneself from the perception of enemies does not happen through easy Hallmark card sentimentality. Only by facing the reality of our perceptions do we clarify them. There are no enemies. There is only what is.
And what we do about it.
Copyright 2018 Richard Thomas
11/28/18: Career/Life Journaling: No Pen Names or Pseudonyms for Me; No Sound Bites or Dumbing Down for Money; I Require Respect from Those that I Associate With — and That’s Not Ego
I teach career/life journaling as part of my course. The assignment is to regularly write about yourself, the world, and any internal or external obstructions between yourself and the world. The uninitiated see obstructions as negatives. Obstructions are opportunities, useful directional arrows. I don’t know how anyone exists without periodically making a career/life journal. Life is an art form. You can be Picasso or paint “Dogs Playing Poker.” This phase of The Rick Blog which started in October 2018 is a career/life journal. I see that this morning. I didn’t set out go down this path. I don’t control what I write, I follow my soul and the world.
(I looked at my blog as a whole this morning. I don’t know why I did that. I’m glad that I did. I am very happy with it. In its totality it is a fine piece of work. www.richardsteventhomas.wordpress.com.)
In my last entry, I wrote that I was going to teach independently and continue to self-publish on the blog. I said that I would teach at a school or other entity, and get a publisher that shared my values and respected my autonomy. If no such people and organizations exist, I’d keep working on my own.
No one really works on their own, even if they are freelance independents. Realizing that I reached out to an old friend who offers training to attorneys. I love this guy. I trust him. My meeting with him was very helpful. He gave me a great name for my course. He made some suggestions which led me edit the text book that I have written for the course and to systematize my lesson plans. My course and the text book are improved because I spoke with him. He also spoke to me with a friend’s love. It is always a gift to be in the presence of someone who cares about you.
I make my own decisions however, and there are three suggestions that he made that I cannot act upon. I am pretty sure that he will be critical of my choices. I accept that. When you chart a course that goes against more conventional wisdom, you set yourself up for criticism.
I am sure that my friend will think that my choices make me unemployable. I know that he is wrong. His three suggestions would set me up for failure. I know that because I have made similar errors in the past. I also am not critical that his suggestions reflect choices that he has made. In work and life, one size does not fit all.
Suggestion 1: Write your blog under an assumed name. My friend fears that law firm management would never hire me because of the political and social comments that I make on my blog. That may very well be true. If that is the case, my course will not be offered under the aegis of law firm management.
This morning MSNBC reported that the Trump Administration has discontinued FBI background checks for workers in detention camps for refugee children. The entire refugee and immigrant policy at our southern border is immoral and inhumane. Family separation is child abuse. Trump is ruining these children’s lives through his abuse. Now, the danger of other child abusers being hired to “care” for these children is adding a high risk of physical and sexual abuse to be added to the psychological abuse that is already devastating these children.
If my opposition to this grotesque Presidency offends some major domo at a Big Law firm, so be it. I emphatically associate my name to every word that I have said about Trump.
I am not a prominent man, but one thing that the 2016 and 2018 elections show is that we are a democracy. What every person believes matters. I believe in the power of citizenship. I believe that we have a moral obligation to stand up for right against wrong everywhere, particularly where we work — even when our work is looking for work.
Trump is the zenith of a political, social and cultural degradation that has been building in our country since the first settlers came to North America.
So I also sign my name, Richard Thomas to every other word that I have written spelling out the truth about other immoral aspects of our society that have nothing to do with Trump.
I do not arrogantly say that I am right about everything that I have written in my blog. But I proudly say that I have pursued the truth and will continue to do. I am a writer and a teacher and that is my job.
Which leads me to the second rejected suggestion …
Suggestion 2: Go to iO and see if they will accept the idea for my course. Let iO promote the course and work out some kind of 60/40 or 70/30 split with the tuition money. This suggestion is a harder one to write about. I have friends that teach at iO, and they are certainly not immoral people. The same is true of the Second City Training Center. I would never want to work in association with either place however.
I think “improv” training in Chicago is superficial. “Classes” are like cooking classes or wine tasting where people go to find dates, spouses and lovers. Or to go forward into careers in show business, a pursuit that I think is an unworthy one. Art is about the pursuit of truth. Entertainment is a sub-division of sales. We need more artists and fewer salespeople. I don’t do what iO or Second City does.
Professionals go to the Second City Training Center and iO to get better interpersonal and communication skills to apply to their work. I have written a lot about the superficiality of the program I used to work alongside at UIC (I never participated in UIC’s approach — in that sense I was never in the program). Apply all that I have written about UIC to SC and iO. These “improv” classes are selling professionals a bill of goods.
I know what real improvisation is, and I know what real professionalism is. I will not betray the truth.
Which leads me to the third rejected suggestion …
Suggestion 3: My friend tells me that my text book and course has too much content. He was very nice about it. He says that I am trying to save people. I am not. I’m trying to tell the truth.
My friend thinks that most people do not want the depth that I go into in my teaching. I think he is right. I know that some people do want that depth. Those are the people that I will teach.
I have no interest in playing party games with people and conning them that they learned something. The learning process is messy and painful — frustration leading to growth. I want my students to be truly satisfied, not distracted. My classes have the objectives of having the students and the world reach their full potential. Art is about the expansion of the consciousness of individuals and society. That may sound grandiose and Pollyannish. It is not. It’s the truth.
My friend also misnames my artistic process as undisciplined, unedited and disorganized. Art’s first step comes in the chaos of the moment. Editing and organization come later. Discipline means seeing things through to the end. It does not mean settling for a quick and inaccurate fix and rigidly conforming to it because it is profitable.
Some additional comments:
I have worked on what I do my whole life. I lost my job last June, but I never stopped working. I require respect from those that I work with. This is not the howl of a fragile ego. It is a necessity of protecting the integrity of my work. I am not deferential to anyone who has more money than me. They are insecure and are keeping score on a scorecard that I have never signed on to. Big law firms for example have to have their egos punctured in order to truly improvise and truly be professional. Ethics and creativity are the same thing looked at from different points of reference.
If everyone took my course, we would save the world. That’s not going to happen, so I do what I can. What sounds self-aggrandizing here is not. This is what we all should be doing in our own ways.
Character is what matters.
All men are created equal.
Real work brings livelihood, honors the soul and serves others.
One last thing:
I have written extensively about my love of Paul Sills and David Shepherd. I had the great good fortune of knowing two of the great artists of the Twentieth Century. Their example has served as a lodestar for me.
To a point.
But my art is my own.
I have created and am creating a new thing.
Copyright 2018 Richard Thomas
12/18/18: Paul and David (RIP David Shepherd)
I was in a Paul Sills workshop in New York in the 80s and David Shepherd walked in. Paul turned to me and said reverently, “That’s David Shepherd.” As usual, Paul was teaching me what was important.
No teachers ever touched me as deeply as David and Paul. David was a great visionary with a real social consciousness that was all the more powerful in its relative obscurity. He changed the world from a humble vantage point —- one that he chose unconsciously. He died long ago to the world and was reborn from within. His influence is far greater than those whose names shine in lights.
David and I really liked each other. I saw him at many different times set apart by many years.
At the Second City 40th anniversary, there was a panel featuring the founders. Paul didn’t show up. David was there and wasn’t invited to participate. I spoke with him after on the bench in the front lobby. He was very hurt and upset.
It was disgraceful that David wasn’t included in that discussion. More than that, it was a lie. David’s vision was a theater of non-actors. None of the precious actor bullshit. That vision ironically created a lot of great actors.
David wanted an immediate theater that ordinary people created from their dreams mixed with the shit of their lives. A lot of people made money, careers and art from that vision.
Paul was so right when he revered David.
Even by the time of the 40th Anniversary, Second City was far from what Paul and David did at the Compass. That’s OK, I guess, but it would be better if it were closer to the original it never improved upon.
And that’s too much to ask. Everyone isn’t a genius. Everyone isn’t an artist. Everyone doesn’t change the world. Everything good gets sullied by commerce, like an aria on a car commercial.
David and Paul were geniuses, artists and world redeemers. None of that is changed by being left off of a fucking dais.
Paul and David ruined me. They taught me to put humanity first. They were frustrated by the injustice of the world — Paul more angry, David more sad. But they never gave in —- even when they tried to do so.
Paul said that he made theater companies out of whoever was around. All David needed was a lawn or a video camera and a few lost souls.
If any of this sounds romantic, that’s my fault. Paul and David loved the world as it is, with all of its grit. They knew the world was populated with saints and fascists, and ordinary folks eager to learn the difference.
There isn’t a building, a dollar or a brand name that will last as long as what Paul and David participated in.
Eternity. They aren’t the only ones who touched eternity and revealed it to the poor shlubs who usually only see linear time.
They were just the ones that I was graced to know. Two giants who mightily changed the American character, and never got the credit for it —- even within their own tribe.
Character is the key word in the last paragraph. Acting, onstage but particularly offstage, comes down to that. Real action comes with an awareness of the eternal. That awareness brings joy and responsibility. David and Paul explored and heightened every moment of life, and led others to that glory.
You’ve got to give a little, take a little, and make a poor heart break a little.
That’s the story of, that’s the glory of, love.
Copyright 2018 Richard Thomas
This piece marks a change from journalling about my life experience to directing my attention to other subjects.
12/25/18: The Point of Distraction : Jerry Seinfeld, Ellen Degeneres, Norman Lear, Joseph Campbell and “The Favourite”
I was waiting for the Bears game to come on, a West Coast away affair with a 3 o’clock start. I live in a waiting room in an old hospital, a mortal in a good health phase.
It was the Sunday before Christmas, and even Trump needs a breather from Trump. For me, every day is the Sunday before Christmas. Who wants to do anything? Once you’ve done one thing, you’ve done them all. When my Uncle Fred died in the 1980s, his last words were about ice cream.
Nothing was on TV. MSNBC featured 24 hours of This Year in the Apocalypse in Review. HGTV broadcast it’s one show with different hosts discussing open floor plans and mid-century modern furniture.
Boredom is a gift. It beats the hell out of terror, resentment, imprisonment and rage.
The shopping, the laundry and the dishes were done. The escape routes of mundane necessity were closed.
Netflix is a library of things to watch when bored, a last resort. I studied the virtual shelves of shows in a virtual coma. Ecclesiastes personified, nothing is new seemingly under the sun.
I came upon, after several minutes of restless searching, “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee,” three things that still mildly arouse something in me resembling interest. The star of the show is Jerry Seinfeld who did the show about nothing. Seinfeld’s guest is the comedian, Brian Regan. Seinfeld has matured since he did the show about nothing. He is now bored with shows and talking about nothing.
Seinfeld turned to Regan and laid out the theme of the show that they were doing now that disinterested him.
“People talk to each other all the time. All they do is get together and talk. And then, they turn on TV and watch other people talk to each other. Why? What’s the point?”
Seinfeld’s question would be provocative if anyone gave a shit, but no one does. Fittingly, Seinfeld and Regan didn’t bother to explore the question further. They just had a conversation and I watched it. Samuel Beckett has nothing on Jerry Seinfeld.
When someone tells me to shut up, I hear them say drop dead. I talk therefore I am.
Freud said that when nothing is going on, everything is going on. If he was right, and I think he was, I was bathing in the font of human history on the Sunday before Christmas.
Action and activity are not synonyms.
Earlier in the day — in the middle of the night at that time when it could be Saturday or it could be Sunday — I watched another Netflix show about nothing “Just Another Version of You” — an almost honest look at Norman Lear, told mostly in his own words.
What makes the talk of distraction good? The listener.
The truth of the matter is what matters. Lear wants to justify his life, and there is a lot of evidence to put up a good defense. “All in the Family” was great popular art on early 1970s commercial television. That is a powerful Exhibit A. He was a good storyteller. I’m a fan of Norman Lear. But he said his marriage failed because he worked too hard and neglected his family. He said his first wife wound up in a mental hospital because she was a manic depressive. I’m no psychiatrist, but I know that other people drive people crazy. too
Sometimes people break their legs because they have osteoporosis. Sometimes they are run over by distracted drivers. And sometimes they are intentionally tripped.
Was Lear a womanizer? A bully? A control freak? A sweet man who lost sight of something important? An exile from the home of a mad wife? How would I know? He spends a lot of time talking about workplace politics on the set of “Good Times” and rushes past the one paragraph most tantalizingly potentially revealing about what kind of man he might be.
Jill Soloway told Ari Melber that the artist’s transparency is an act of self-hatred. Only someone who hates herself would tell all. That’s not my experience. Pain leads to the best art, but isn’t the art itself. Art burns the pain away.
I’ve never been burdened by secrets however. I’m a naïve person who lays it all out there to whoever is around. Sometimes I am rewarded, but most often I am punished. I usually retreat into a period of convalescence from the wounds of my intimate folly with untrustworthy partners, and emerge a little less naïve and more discerning of with whom I share my next boring distraction.
I’m a sinner like everyone else, but I haven’t lived a life of sin. I’ve hurt people, but never as much as I have hurt myself. I have had the good fortune of being loved, so I have never seen myself as unlovable — particularly by myself.
I am outraged when someone doesn’t love me, since like a puppy I am all too willing to love them. Art makes me feel like incorrigible fool — an idiot really — but I don’t hate fools or morons.
I think the whole process is kind of noble.
Love is a choice. Anger is not a hateful feeling. The hateful feeling is indifference.
The world is not boring because there is nothing new under the sun. Ecclesiastes was wrong.
The old world is boring at times because new worlds arrive after periods of gestation.
I wondered whether to write about my boredom at all. But now I see the point. Boredom is interesting. I write about that which I don’t know, and in so doing I come to know it.
Boredom is the time of grace when injury is explained. Lear provides tears and regret that belie a decent guilt of some kind. Is he blaming himself or is he to blame? My enquiring mind wants to know because that might resonate within me and hint toward the purpose of the boredom of this moment of my life.
But the question ultimately leads to the resonance. The answers won’t come from Lear, they only come from my contemplation of Lear. It is up to me to find meaning for me in an experience, even the viewing of a mediocre video memoir.
And you thought I was writing about Norman Lear!
And I thought you read my words because you were interested in me!
You selfish human bastards!
Boredom gives the illusion that there is no past or future. It also heightens the reality that there is no past or future. A paradox! The past buried or denied is not past at all. In boredom we distract ourselves with ourselves. The people that we listen to on TV or across the dining room table are mirrors that reflect upon our own souls. If the truth of the matter is not fully expressed in that which we view, we can still go to deeper realms in the manner in which we view it.
At least I can.
Lear is just another version of me, I just can see more of both versions than he is willing or able to talk about.
Paula suggested that we watch the Ellen Degeneres Netflix special “Relatable.”
I was surprised how much I related. She gets pissed off at bad drivers in exactly the same way that I do!
Ellen says that feels trapped by being nice. I gave up being nice a long time ago. She made a fortune being nice. Oh how the gilded caged bird sings! She says that she started out writing journals and poetry. Then she had the epiphany that she would be the first woman comic that Johnny Carson would invite to talk to him on the couch. She quit the journalling. She shows the “Tonight” show first appearance clip in “Relatable.” She presents her success with Carson as the peak moment of her life. I can relate except I chose the poetry and the journals to be the peak, and never aspired to be more than an audience with Johnny Carson.
Is Jill Soloway condemned to self-hatred because audiences like to gawk at car wrecks? Is Ellen Degeneres constrained from telling all because people applaud what is nice? I have no idea. I just know that I would feel those ways if I were them.
My reward for my choices is self-satisfaction, occasional sincere connection, self-love, a world that often seems skeptical of me (at best) and obscurity.
(I am breaking my exclamation point record in a piece about boredom!)
I used to admire Joseph Campbell. So I re-watched some of the old “Power of Myth” show with Bill Moyers on Netflix too. When I read most of what Campbell wrote in the 80s, I read for answers. In my boredom in 2018, I could see that Campbell was just a writer telling his personal story. He swoons at the Cathedral at Chartres, not me. Campbell says that we are all heroes living out the same quest in different ways. He says we just need to understand the thread that will lead us to a full and conscious experience of life. He says, in so many words, that he is a cartographer that provides a map of the way. He even calls one of his books, or maybe it’s a collection of books, an “atlas.”
I now think that Campbell is right about a universality of human experience. Of course, the way is the same for everyone but inflected by our individuality. Connection with another human being wouldn’t be possible if that wasn’t true.
But I don’t personally believe in Campbell’s maps, true as they may be. I think you have to write your own myths. The whole process is blown if you know where you are going. If you don’t figure it out yourself, you can never bring the “boon” back to the world that Campbell says that all heroes provide.
We are comedians in cars getting coffee. Experiencing life and telling one another our monologues. We are really intelligent dogs sitting next to our masters, and masters sitting next to our dogs. Different species living solitary and mysterious existences enjoying the companionship of one another in our waking hours, and thrown down into our particular dreams when we sleep.
Once someone told me to shut up. I kept talking. He fired me. His last words to me were, “You’ve been heard.”
Which brings me to the last talk that filled the inert boredom of the holiday weekend.
This porridge was just right.
I went to the movies on the morning of Friday, December 21, 2018. I saw “The Favourite.”
Queen Anne was pathetic, clinically depressed — she had 17 babies either miscarry or die shortly after birth, obese, suffering from chronic gout, insecure, prone to temper tantrums and totally and covertly in charge. Anne possessed people in a sick way without them knowing it. She used people while they mistakenly believed that they were using her.
Lady Sarah was Anne’s lover. Sarah was a serious person interested in affairs of state. She cared for Anne, and also used her relationship with the Queen to exert power and influence.
Abigail was a former lady who fell on hard times. She was beaten down by the world and resolved to kill rather than be killed. She cared for no one but herself. Abigail wanted privilege rather than power and influence. Sarah, who was Abigail’s cousin, naively got Abigail a job in service to the Queen. Abigail became Anne’s lover.
A great line in the movie is delivered by Anne to Sarah as she coldly sends her away: “I like it when she (Abigail) puts her tongue in me.”
Abigail lies to Anne about Sarah and Anne banishes Sarah from the court for good. Before Abigail “wins” the power struggle, Sarah warns Anne about Abigail’s true nature. Anne doesn’t believe Sarah. Abigail, on the other hand, provides Anne falsified evidence when she gets rid of her rival.
Abigail flaunts her victory over Sarah, and Sarah replies, “You think you’ve won? We were not competing for the same thing.”
Anne keeps 17 rabbits in her chamber. They represent her dead children. One day she sees Abigail torturing a bunny with the heel of her shoe. In that moment she realizes that Sarah was right about Abigail. Anne sees Abigail’s meanness once and for all. Anne commands Abigail to come and have sex with her in an uncomfortable position.
Anne likes Abigail’s tongue in her after all.
A friend recently made this observation about competitive betrayal in petty power struggles: “The ‘winners’ get to lie in their own bed.”
I didn’t understand what he meant until I saw”The Favourite.”
The house always really wins.
I’d rather be in Sarah’s shoes than Abigail’s. Sarah could start over based upon who she was, not what happened. Abigail was stuck.
Sarah’s mistake was in thinking she could win her game with the house as her patron. Sarah learned. Abigail’s mistake was thinking that the favor of the house would bring freedom when in fact it made her a concubine.
Anne’s mistake was in self-hatred and giving up on love, and replacing love with exploitative possessiveness.
I think I just came upon a theory as to the motive of the mass murderer who killed so many people in Las Vegas this summer. No one has been able to figure out why he did it. He was a financially successful man. He was a successful gambler.
Maybe his problem was that he won, but he was still in Vegas. He had to put his tongue in Vegas whenever Vegas beckoned him whether he felt like it or not.
He wanted to kill Vegas in a murder-suicide, and damn near pulled it off.
Maybe he should have just moved somewhere more boring.
Copyright 2018 Richard Thomas
I don’t know why I ever thought that I wanted to be an actor.
I love Amy Adams. She is beautiful. I like her nose. She can play a Disney princess or Lady Macbeth.
I’ll just say it. She never went to college and she is waiting for someone else to tell her what to think. Or if she has a mind of her own, it has limited scope and she is happy to serve someone else’s idea if they are a nice person or the money is good.
It’s so silly that such a big deal is made of Academy Awards because acting is such a powerless occupation.
Amy Adams was at the service of Adam McKay in his movie, “Vice” which is like working for a high school history teacher with flair.
Vice does not reveal one journalistic fact that I didn’t already know. I don’t go to the movies to get my journalistic facts. I go to the movies to get insight, to get some better understanding of what it is to be a human being.
Or (most often) I go for the popcorn and a dark place where I can think my uninterrupted thoughts.
Amy Adams serves Adam McKay’s vision by making it seem wise and plausible.
She makes Vice look like a serious piece of work. It isn’t.
McKay is not a real writer. He is a great showman. He makes things interesting — Vice moves, it’s not a boring movie. It lags a little at the end because showmanship only takes one so far.
McKay never explores what the essence of Dick Cheney is, and since he doesn’t, I wonder what the fuck was I doing there.
Oh yeah. The popcorn and the thoughts.
I’m not really a critic. A critic looks at an external object with detachment. A critical tone is all about the object. With me, it’s all about me. All me, all the time. The world and me are on an even par. I write about my experience of the world. Most of the time, that experience isn’t too dramatic. But my responses are. I’m alive and everything interests me, even boredom as I discussed in my last entry.
I’m no Amy Adams. I’m the one who makes the vision of my world. I don’t serve someone else’s point of view.
I am a decision maker. Or an explorer of the decisions made for me by some divine source that ordained that I am the way I am.
I don’t want to be critical of Adam McKay per se. I am sure he works very hard and he is making good money. A lot of people enjoy his work. Hell, I enjoyed it. I looked forward to going to see Vice, and I am glad that I went.
I just think that Adam McKay’s vision is not nearly as mature as mine. I don’t think McKay understands Dick Cheney as well as I do. McKay gets distracted by how Cheney does what Cheney does. Mckay doesn’t bother himself with why.
That makes sense too. McKay is an engineer. He has done a lot of stuff. He learned how to direct a movie. That must be hard. He navigated a career and amassed a fair amount of power in his field, just like Cheney did in government. That is hard. A lot of brains. A lot of effort.
McKay opens the movie saying that Cheney didn’t talk much. He listened and never revealed his thoughts. Cheney patiently and stealthily amassed power.
I knew that already. Cheney wanted power and was cunning. He was a master of manipulation of bureaucracy.
Again, my question is why. McKay recites commonly known facts about Cheney: he flunked out of Yale, he got DUIs, his wife gave him direction and purpose.
After reviewing the facts as presented me by McKay in his engaging review of what is known, I conclude — not McKay ‘s conclusion, he really doesn’t have one— that Cheney has lived a life of sublimated despair. The source of evil is negation. Cheney’s intention was to throw his life away as a dropout and a drunk. His wife read him the riot act, and then he threw his life away as a powerful politician and business executive.
I saw Cheney discuss the surgical insertion of a stent into his heart on TV one time. His entire focus was on the procedure. He tellingly did not discuss the emotional or spiritual aspect of facing his mortality. Cheney was born without a soul. He wasn’t a man. He was a monkey wrench.
McKay has a scene in Vice where Lynne and Dick Cheney speak to each other in iambic pentameter. McKay would have been better off trying to be like Shakespeare instead of just making the shallow claim that the Cheney story is Shakespearean.
Check that, let’s leave Shakespeare out of it. There is no comedy or tragedy about Cheney. Nothing human is there.
Cheney was nothing masquerading as a lot. That’s what has been running America for the last forty years. The real story is the nascent life force that is pushing from under a pile of dead bodies to reclaim the world. And that story has nothing to do with Cheney.
I can see why McKay was drawn to Cheney. McKay likes the technical for its own sake too. McKay uses a waiter to explain the Unitary Executive Theory and other abstractions the way he used Margot Robbie in a bathtub to explain concepts of high finance in The Big Short.
Cheney and McKay are both materialists. They admire the thing for its own sake. Making war, making movies.
But if meaning is not given to the thing, the thing is no thing.
“Why ?”is the most practical question.
Cheney hit bottom when his wife told him to stop drinking and make something of himself or she was out of there. That was the turning point of his life. He could have gone inward and found a real purpose. Or he could be distracted by power. He didn’t even consider the possibility of meaning. He wasn’t equipped to do so. Power for 23 million, Alex.
And the rest is history.
McKay gave himself a very tough assignment. How do you make a story about a nullity, a void?
I was criticized by some for my anger when my writing focused on Trump. I am not angry now, but I am proud that I was. Anger was a phase of death, before acceptance. The death was not my own. Trump, and his supporters, and those that can’t be bothered about Trump, are dead. I was trying to jolt their hearts with paddles and bring them back to life. That was noble in its futility. I had to learn that they were dead already.
Let the dead bury their own dead.
McKay doesn’t want to argue with “conservatives.” He wants to talk with them. He is learning that you can’t get to them. I was the type kid who would stick it in my father’s eye. I never accepted the idea of his authority. McKay was the type kid who liked to please his father. That’s why McKay’s work gets money, power and awards.
And why he walks on eggshells instead of getting to the point.
I fought the dead. McKay romances the dead.
I’m now free.
Freedom is better than money, power and awards.
I am not being competitive.
I used to envy people like McKay, a long time ago.
I used to rage at people like Cheney, a lot more recently.
I have learned that the powers that be only reward what serves their morbid concrete ends.
And the answer to Cheney, Trump and the Boss in all of his forms, is to live in the real world not the worlds of their escapist visions because their egos think God’s creation isn’t good enough.
And that the ultimate reward one bestows upon oneself — the right to life — life as an important thing to care for and participate in, not to use and destroy because you stupidly think life’s not worth it.
Hollywood and The Unitary Executive Theory are abstractions and distractions. Life is the stuff of poetry, and poetry in its broadest sense is what gives meaning to my life.
I live my life with meaning and I tell you about it.
I’ve come to a humble place. And all the grand places that I thought were so important are pathetic.
You see Dick Cheney, and Adam McKay and Amy Adams, and me, of course, the dramatic personae of this little exercise are all me, of course. And I thank God for my frustration.
I escaped the prison of being an actor, whoring (sorry Amy) my gifts for others’ worthless schemes; I escaped the prison of power — amassing money and power through the exploitation and manufacture of suffering; I’ve escaped the prison of commercial art, restricting my depth of feeling to the outer edges of popularity, sacrificing my meaning to the sensation of technical mastery for its own sake.
On the local PBS show, “Check Please,” people from all walks of life get to be food critics. They review Chicago restaurants.
I’d rather hear the story of what happened at the restaurant, the alchemy of the person and the world. I don’t care about what those people like or dislike.
But then again, they are real estate agents and such. I’m the writer. So I do that part.
The alchemy, I mean.
The real writer.
Copyright 2018 Richard Thomas
I started the New Year with some letters, blog posts and a bad ranting poem, warming up after the holidays.
I didn’t write anything resembling real writing until February 25, 2019, and it was a rough outing.
2/25/19: The Reflective Oscars of 2019
This year’s Oscars didn’t have a comedian serve as master of ceremonies. The prosaic reason is that the host who originally got the job sent out some homophobic tweets several years ago. The real reason, the reflective reason, the reason vibrating on a lower layer of our collective unconscious is that stand-up comedy is dead. https://richardsteventhomas.wordpress.com/2018/01/04/1-4-17-stand-up-comedy-is-dead/
Olivia Colman “upset” Glenn Close for the Best Actress award. The real reason, the reflective reason, the reason vibrating on a lower level of our collective unconscious is that melodrama is passe, and a new complex, rawer, more authentic type of acting that makes no distinction between improvisation and working with a script, or comedy and tragedy, has emerged. Colman’s acceptance speech was a bravura example of the new acting, the new improvisation, the new comedy — funnier, more touching, more thought-provoking and more real than Close’s labored exertions in her drama “The Wife” or the scripted arch ironies of the comics who tried to be funny in other introductions.
Happily, the superficial and dishonest “Vice” just received a deserved award for makeup and hair. The real reason for the pseudo-satire’s poor showing, the reflective reason, the reason vibrating on a lower layer of our collective unconscious is that evil is becoming less and less mysterious, and that rationalizations for striving for power and wealth over the dead bodies of other human beings is no longer tolerated, even by rich, fat old white men unconsciously self-destructing on their way out of human trafficking ring massage parlors. Cheney didn’t see terrorism as something to save us from by any means necessary. He saw it as an opportunity to expand his own power and wealth. And everybody knows it, even those who would deny it. Even the makers of Vice, who tried to make a war criminal a bridge figure to contemplate in what they saw as an ideological political argument, but what is actually a pretty clear and simple issue of right and wrong. “Vice” was a film made by creators who had not finished their own moral education. The film that resulted was a C minus paper that should be assigned again to be re-written.
The Oscars show began with a medley from Queen, a simple anthem to self-acceptance, and true community where diversity of all types of people divided into any demographic category that you can imagine, and all individuals of any personality and character that you can imagine, is embraced. Real community is not found in corporate conformity. There is nothing particularly sophisticated about this sentiment, but it is profound. The collective unconscious inspired the decision to open the show with Queen. Their sentiment was the sentiment of most of the evening that followed.
It is interesting that the Queen renaissance was initiated by Bryan Singer, the director who was not seen or spoken about at the ceremony. Singer is accused of engaging in dark acts of sexual oppression that directly contradict Queen’s gospel.
The unconscious never gives us all light without darkness. Richard Rodgers who wrote so many sweet, romantic songs with Lorenz Hart and Oscar Hammerstein was known to be something of a perv. Those incongruous facts remain facts. Rodgers misconduct doesn’t make his music any less beautiful; his music doesn’t make his conduct any less disgusting. The unconscious wants us to be aware of it all. The unconscious wants us to know it is a process.
The Best Picture winner, “Green Book,” is seen as sentimental and tone deaf by many African-Americans. Its director flashed his penis on set for laughs. One of its screenwriters made anti-Muslim tweets. White clods with their hearts in the right place got the big prize, but everyone knows that “Green Book” wasn’t the best picture. A political view would say that the old white patriarchy held on another year and got an award it didn’t deserve again.
But the collective unconscious says that “Green Book” should be Best Picture, because white people, particularly men, are the ones that have to change.
Trump’s racist, anti-immigrant, misogynistic anti-human mentality was answered by the major movies of 2018 — sometimes consciously, but often unconsciously.
“Roma” celebrated Mexican and indigenous people. “Black Panther” celebrated African-American empowerment. “BlackKlansman” was a realist Tarantino movie. The oppressors are defeated in a restrained and legal way. The fight continues.
“The Favourite” is about universal human behavior — the universality beneath the diversity.
“If Beale Street Could Talk” is about poetry, race and humanity.
“At Eternity’s Gate” is about art.
Humanity is oppressed by ignorance. Ignorance forces men and women back upon themselves. They reflect. Some of those reflections become movies. Movies embody the dreams of a nation, the dreams of all nations.
Our world is as big and beautiful or small and ugly as we imagine it. We must work to make our dreams real.
But we must dream them first. And jot those dreams down in a dream journal that we keep on the nightstand.
The 2019 Oscar Show was aspirational and real. For an industry mocked as escapism, Hollywood is very focused upon what is real. A big, diverse, young world bursting with potential facing hard truths head on and thinking big.
The American Dream has grown. Its expansion is fueled by the energy of people who have just recently been freed and allowed to dream. It is ready to battle the forces of oppression and wrestle with its own darkness.
The 2019 Oscars Ceremony was a mural of the world, seen and unseen.
There is good reason to feel hopeful and determined.
Copyright 2019 Richard Thomas
3/3/19: Dirty Deeds
Living is humbling, if you don’t ignore it. Writing doesn’t ignore life. Writing a long form endless serial like a blog is like having an inscrutable mentor who requires that you make all of your mistakes so that they become “teachable moments” that provide valuable lessons learned. The mentor never yells, “Watch out!”
When I was younger, like, say, I don’t know —- last Wednesday? — I thought that all of the lessons that I learned became wisdom which would make my life easier, and help others on their way.
This morning, I’m not believing much in wisdom. Do the fundamental things apply as time goes by? I don’t know. I do know that everything changes. I’m not who I was last Wednesday and neither are you. America is a different place too, as is the world.
God is a constant — I don’t say that as an article of faith — I can see her standing right over there. Yes, God stands constantly on a shifting point. The universe is an artful contraption with an infinite number of gears that constantly fly apart and reconfigure themselves in new designs.
Nothing is new under the sun; everything is new under the sun.
The Age of Trump has been a tragedy or a farce depending on where you are standing.
I started writing about Trump because I saw him as a personification of all of the darkness in the American character striding brazenly into the light. Trump is the end of American shame. Once shame is eliminated, hypocrisy, and a more’ to at least seem like a decent person at times, disappears too.
I was right as I began observing the Devil’s shapeshifting into the guise of a crude stand-up comedian who happened to temporarily be the most powerful person in the world.
But I became distracted. I believed the Trump catastrophe was a political matter, and one of law. I thought it had something to do with ethics.
Trump is an improvisational concern.
Trump is a loud beat in the grand, centuries long improvisation called America, an improvisation played out in this country and the world.
I like to say when I coach improvisers that the person with the highest degree of consciousness in a particular moment has responsibility for the direction of the scene in that moment.
Trump took control of the scene before he rode down the escalator and demonized Mexicans and ran for President.
Trump’s birther-ism recognized that millions of white Americans are racists.
His Trump University saw that millions of mediocre Americans want to be rich, famous and powerful without developing the required talent or intelligence or doing the required hard work.
Trump’s calls for rough treatment of criminals, protesters, asylum seekers, workers — really his general attitude encouraging abusive treatment of anyone in weak circumstances — recognized that millions of Americans are bullies.
I saw “The Favourite” again last Friday. It’s a masterpiece. Early in the film, a minor character, a servant in the Queen’s kitchen, directs a just-arrived Emma Stone, the new low girl on the totem pole in the galley to put her hands in a tub filled with lye. The servant watches Emma Stone react with great inevitable pain, and then suggests that she put on gloves. Very late in the film, Emma Stone has ascended in the castle hierarchy to the right hand of the Queen. She tortures a rabbit, placing her stiletto heel with pressure on the base of its neck. The Queen, who has suffered greatly and loves the rabbit dearly, see’s Emma Stone’s character’s cruelty. She summons Stone and steps on Stone’s neck for the rest of their natural days.
Ah, the circle of life.
“The Favourite,” a British movie directed by a Greek and based on British history, is about a virulent strain in diseased America, currently called Trump, but here from the time the first Europeans set foot on the North American continent.
Michael Cohen’s appearance before the House Oversight Committee was inconsequential as a legal or political event.
It was an interesting and crucial new beat in the American Improvisation.
And a real takedown for the faulty improvisational concept, “Yes, And.”
The Republicans on the House Oversight Committee were saying “yes, and” to Trump. They explored and heightened his shamelessness. They double-downed on his racism, his meanness, his lack of respect and civility, his mindless ambition and worship of “winning,” his unapologetic ignorance and incompetence, and his red-assed narcissism that will brook no criticism of himself or his useful minions — no matter how obvious and true.
In the 1950s, Joseph Welch confronted Senator Joseph McCarthy and said, “Have you no decency, sir? At long last … ”
At that moment in the American Improvisation, innocence still existed. There was a climax to the drama of the scene and McCarthy went away. America felt that decency prevailed — that was our image of our character. And the many who saw decency as weakness went underground and hid in their basements.
House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings plaintively appealed to America last week, “We’re better than this!”
No, we are not. We aren’t all ready to shout, “I’m Spartacus!” We should shout, “I’m Senator Joseph McCarthy.”
We aren’t Edward R. Murrow. We are “The Beverly Hillbillies.”
Something’s wrong. Toxic waste floats in the stream of our consciousness.
Nixon was the Dark America’s John the Baptist who acknowledged the “Silent Majority” but never really spoke for them.
Trump gave American villainy its voice.
Michael Cohen is the next iteration of Joseph Welch. A Joseph Welch Festivus for the rest of us. Welch was a respected lawyer. Cohen was just disbarred and never had a reputation of being even a competent attorney. Welch was a liberal lion who had dedicated himself to the American Civil Religion. Cohen, by his own description, was a fool who got caught up in a Trump cult to satisfy his own greed and ambition.
Oh beautiful for lust and greed, for mayhem and for rage, for lies to get publicity and blood upon the stage, America, America God truly fears for thee, exploit the weak and mock the meek from sea to boiling sea …
Cohen was part of what Trump is, and he came to Congress and sounded a warning.
A human warning:
Stop “yes anding” this evil or you will meet my fate.
I waited for years for the smoking gun which will bring down Trump. There will be no smoking gun moment as when Joseph McCarthy or Nixon went away. Even after Trump the person is gone, the reality that he unapologetically brought to light will remain.
I have to tell you, I think I am better than most people. I think I am smarter and more high-minded than most people. I think I have more concern for others. I think I value excellence and humanity in my life and work. I am stubborn and contrary, and those traits inoculate me from many soul diseases like Trumpism.
But today I am on a cross for Cohen’s sins. And yours. And my own sins that I couldn’t avoid even from my sacrificial position as an outsider.
I will say “we” here, even though I resent having to do so — and resentment is one of my big sins.
We care about the wrong things. We neglect what is important. We are mean to each other. We accept indecency as the way things are, and will be indecent in an attempt to survive. And in so doing, we are committing suicide.
Michael Cohen’s hearing happened where you work, in your home, at the store and in your head. You have to change all that.
Copyright 2019 Richard Thomas
3/25/19: No Provable Conspiracy? Yes. No Collusion — Not So Fast.
The Mueller Report’s mandate was to get to the bottom of Russian interference in the 2016 Presidential Election. That included investigating whether any Americans “colluded” with the Russians in that interference*.
*Also to determine if Trump obstructed justice in attempts to subvert that investigation. This blog entry focuses only on collusion. A.G. Barr said in his spin document that supposedly summarized the Mueller report for Congressional leaders that Mueller came to no conclusion regarding the obstruction of justice questions. Barr then arbitrarily determined there was no obstruction himself! Not a bad weekend’s work. Suffice it to say, I think obstruction of justice is part of a constellation of bad conduct, criminal and/or otherwise that will be found in the evidence Mueller has assembled. I also think that collusion issues and obstruction issues are a unity in a more accurately named category, coined by Michael Cohen, Mr. Trump’s Dirty Deeds.
Barr said, most likely accurately, that Mueller concluded that the evidence related to the “collusion” did not rise to a provable legal case of conspiracy against the United States by necessary evidentiary standards.
Mueller did not conclude that there was no collusion, regardless of the manipulative impression that Barr was trying to achieve with his letter to our Article I representatives. In Trump world distinctions between law and public relations are made in invisible ink.
The Barr Letter is a political broadside that deftly asserts that Trump and his closest associates didn’t commit any crimes of conspiracy with the Russians.
This is not true. Mueller did not find enough evidence to convict. It doesn’t mean that Trump and his associates didn’t commit the crimes.
Al Capone was famously brought down for tax evasion, a side hustle to the more serious crimes that he got away with for years. (And tax evasion is pretty serious.)
My inner lawyer says OK, Trump got off on conspiracy allegations.
My inner writer knows that he is guilty as hell.
It’s really important that the Mueller Report be made public because there is much more to this story besides whether Trump could be indicted for treason — or treason-adjacent crimes.
And Mueller was tasked with getting to that story — not merely making and declining to make indictments.
Impeachment isn’t the solution at this point. Rigorous Congressional oversight is. A true narrative is what is essential. When the facts are shared with the American people, Trump will be convicted in the 2020 Election instead of the Republican Senate. Then deeper changes than Trump’s removal can ensue only after we see what happened and can address what went wrong. This will work if enough Americans are left who care about facts, the law and basic fairness.
And Citizen Trump, denied the shields of money, fame or particularly stolen power, should be punished a la Capone — on the horns of an oversight that led to a serious provable crime that is less than the elusive conviction for treason.
The law is a tool. It is not the ultimate solution of anything.
Our job is to “get” Trump. Our job is to transform America. Evil has taken hold.
World War II is a better historical analogy for us than Watergate. We win battles — the 2018 Election. We lose battles — the Barr Public Relations Letter.
To mix metaphors, we must keep our eyes on the prize.
Now comes the power struggle, which is a matter of politics.
Politics isn’t a dirty word. Politics is the collective conscience. Usually it’s lazy and compromised — just like most people’s individual consciences. But in times of crisis, it becomes the arena of spiritual transformation.
Ironically, Trump’s temporary legal victory has led the resistance to a more mature and sophisticated place.
We are learning how things work, and how to fix what has gone wrong.
It’s a hard and important job.
Note to self — heroism is misplaced when ascribed to any individual.
Obama betrayed Flint. Mueller, at the end of the day was just a lawyer, not a liberator.
Everyone is part of the problem and part of the solution. Heroism is the force within us that pushes toward what is good.
It doesn’t reside in any one person.
Copyright 2019 Richard Thomas
3/31/19: Harmony Korine: Hedonist, Dirtbag, Artist
Saw “The Beach Bum.”
Matthew McConaughey has never been better. He is perfectly cast in this movie. McConaughey has a big portion of facile philosopher in his personna. Usually this tone is best suited to car commercials. But in “The Beach Bum” he gets to say the words of a more intelligent facile philosopher, Harmony Korine.
Korine believes that life has no meaning. Copy that. I agree. We bring meaning to life. That’s the beauty of it. We get to create.
Korine believes that suicide is an error, because life gives so many opportunities for pleasure. And pain —which has its own sensual satisfactions. So Korine gets high and drunk and fucks and loves. That is life. There is only the moment, and the moment is defined by how it makes you feel.
This is a piss poor chosen meaning for life, if you ask me. You didn’t, but part of my personally created meaning of life is saying what I think whether you like it or not, whether you care or not.
Korine is amoral. He’ll steal, betray, be violent or be kind, compassionate —whatever it takes to get maximum feeling from the moment.
In spite of this seagull on a trash heap orientation to the universe, Korine receives a redemption that he doesn’t believe in — or at least never admits that he believes in.
Korine is a talented artist. He believes in his art. It brings him a deeper satisfaction than mere feeling. He lives his profane life and periodically leaves it to go to the sacred space of communicating his experience to other people.
His self-centered life is lived in service to his ultimate generosity. His art.
Korine’s life is lived without shame. There is a lot of that going around.
His art is infused with affection for the world as it is.
Filled with discernment, devoid of moral judgment and animated by a divine gift for choosing the perfect or near-perfect image and word.
I take my art where I find it.
Copyright 2019 Richard Thomas
Poetry begins consciously and in earnest.
4/3/19 fade out
drops in my eyes
the world is blurry
not from speed
but from evaporation
my tiny mother on her tiny bed
how is she, nurse?
I don’t know what to say. She’s older.
Benjamin Button. I never respected the story or the movie, but the baby before death makes sense when you see it in 3D
through fading eyes
old friends disappear
no drama, no dying
they just blow away on an almost imperceptible breeze
no bitterness, no sorrow
i went to the museum of natural history once
with a friend i no longer have
I don’t wonder what happened to him
Buddhist monks were there sweeping up their sand painting
an intricate design the size of a ballroom
they had these little brooms
and small burlap sacks
be a be be dee that’s all folks
the movie surprised me
it was good
it ends with the beach bum setting fire to his $50 million inheritance
stacks of currency on palettes on a boat
ashes and dust
Copyright 2019 Richard Thomas
4/8/19: No Arguing With Evil
The Rick Blog has regarded the Trump phenomena as a moral abomination, and not merely a political one, ever since the authoritarian rode down the escalator and called Mexicans “rapists and murderers and I assume some good people.” He told us who he was when he said that some of the white nationalists and Nazis who terrorized Charlottesville were good people. He showed us in an indirect way when he mocked the people of Puerto Rico and callously let many of them die in the aftermath of a hurricane because of his government’s inattention.
But nothing, nothing, nothing makes the cancerous and spreading evil that America is suffering RIGHT NOW more clearly and obviously a moral crisis than Trump’s actions on the Southern border.
America is closed to immigrants. Turn the Statue Of Liberty into a casino.
A Homeland Security Secretary who separated families in a real life version of Sophie’s Choice 2019 has been forced to resign because she is too “moderate”.
Trump speaks of immigrants as vermin — screams about an “infestation” — lies about children who died in his administration’s care — encourages his people to dump bottled water left for refugees crossing deserts to gain asylum.
This is all clearly evil on an ever-widening scale. It all is descended from slavery, the genocide of Native-Americans, ethnic cleansing in the Balkans, the Holocaust and any other historical incident of proactive, violent, murderous, organized and governmentally sanctioned racism.
From the beginning of the Rick Blog, I have said that Trump supporters have to be defeated — not reasoned with.
To be open to Trump supporters would be like debating a murderer on the point of whether he has the right to kill you.
We have to use cultural shame, the law, politics — whatever is possible within the bounds of moral action to defeat these people.
There is no excuse for any person to support Trump at this point.
It’s not Fox News manipulation.
There are no arguments for business, or libertarianism or legitimate grievances or criticisms of the deep state that are relevant.
This, as I have said many times before — is clearly wrong.
I hear people say that Trump shouldn’t go to jail.
He belongs in jail.
I hear people say Trump shouldn’t be impeached.
He should be impeached and convicted today.
I hear people say none of what Trump is doing is new.
They are wrong. Awful things have happened in America. But there has always been a pushback — a check and a balance.
No one ever successfully defined us as a slaveholding nation. That is why we had the Civil War.
No one has ever successfully defined us as a white nation. That is why we have the Civil Rights movement.
No one ever defined us as a purely capitalist nation with no rights for ordinary people and workers. That is why we had the New Deal.
Trump is trying to change who we are.
That is evil.
No excuses — no intellectual arguments — no libertarian screeds, no defenses of capitalism, no criticism of the Democrats …
No more bullshit. Look at what Trump and his followers say and do. Anyone — and I mean anyone, we are born with a basic sense of right and wrong, we feel shame when we do bad things as babies, dogs feel shame for shit’s sake — anyone knows what Trump and his people say and do is WRONG.
It is wrong not be against it.
Jeff Sessions went to the Museum of the American Indian (that’s the name, I’m not being politically incorrect or disrespectful) after he was fired from his Attorney General job. He contemplated his life as a racist as he looked at the exhibits.
Let them change their hearts after they lose power.
We cannot give them power — even the power that they have stolen.
Ethics are applied morality. They are difficult. It is hard to figure out how to act morally in a complicated world.
I have never seen an easier ethical problem in my lifetime than the question of what to feel about Trump.
He’s engaged in evil. Period.
We have to stop him without being evil ourselves.
But shame and punishment and dissent.
Obviously wrong! No doubts! No compromises! No extenuating circumstances!
Copyright 2019 Richard Thomas
4/10/19: I Think You’re Wrong and I’ve Stopped Listening
This is the National Week of Conversation. It’s purpose is to encourage listening to people who you disagree with — particularly about political matters. Some young earnest red state Trumpists are on TV pleading for respect and understanding. They are also selling a book, “I Think You’re Wrong but I’m Listening.”
Fascists are people too! I see the world often through the lens of my high school history textbooks. We stopped listening to the Nazis. We stopped listening to the Confederacy.
These young Trumpists see the world through the immoral lenses of Trumpist politics and Elmer Gantry religion as sales seminar AND the lens of pop psychological blather about always getting along and respecting one another.
One of the young Trumpists said, “We might have to have a conversation about what it means to be a citizen.”
Sorry, dear — see how I showed empathetic love and affection here — I think being a citizen is a matter of democracy. It has nothing to do with authoritarianism or theocratic rule. It’s not up for discussion.
I use a pop psychological lens to view the world sometimes. I believe in “boundaries.” It’s not up to these young Trumpists to interfere with my relationship to my freedom in a democracy, my morals and my values system, my relationship with God.
In my attitudes about life, they have complete latitude to think and do as they like — as long as it doesn’t interfere with what I think and do.
Remember when Sarah Palin was debating Joe Biden in 2008? (More high school history.) She shook his hand and asked in a needy tone, “Can I call you, Joe?”
They want our attention. They feel insecure and inferior. They envy us and look up to us at the same time. They want us to acknowledge their equality — which we do as a matter of their humanity, but can’t as a matter of their intelligence, ideas or real achievements.
I can’t listen respectfully to stupid people. I can’t listen to lazy people. I can’t listen to disrespectful people. I can’t listen to bullies. I can’t listen to people who want the money and titles and status associated with different jobs who can’t do those jobs competently, ethically and with human decency.
I don’t hate them. Many of us used to get scared of these people. But as they have had their moment for the last few years — dominating our attention —- when you take off their Darth Vader helmet, they are less than Vader was. He was an undeveloped man. They are undeveloped children. Whining, throwing tantrums, demanding that we say they are making sense when they are talking nonsense.
I love getting along with people. I love spirited discussions where differing points of view are respected, minds are stretched, new ideas are learned — mind and heart challenged. I think that’s fun.
But I get stuck with the dirty work. Often, I just have to tell people that they are full of shit.
Such is the fate of “the Rick.”
I know about a comedian who is supposedly highly intelligent — who knows? that is all relative to who you hang out with, I guess. He said no one likes people who are smarter than they are, so he decided to play a stupid character so that people would like him.
But his act was most often just stupid. When he appeared on Letterman he was very funny because he thought Letterman was smart, and was able to be himself.
So now the Trumpists want me to respect them. They say the fact that I don’t respect them is my problem.
I don’t want to listen to them. I don’t like them. And I could care less whether they liked me.
I would make a suggestion to them if they were listening — but they just want to be listened to — I would tell them to just do and say what they please and don’t give a fuck about whether anyone else likes it or not. That’s what I do.
That was the process that got me the wife I want, the friends I want, and the work I want.
In the new movie “inspired by a true story”, “The Best of Enemies”, a black power advocate and a Klansman find common ground. She empathizes with his human problems as a father. That leads him to abandon his racism and become a good man. She did NOT for one minute tolerate his evil. But she did not hate him. She regarded the rest of what he was — his humanity.
That’s where we are at.
Young Trumpists — I am not listening to your bullshit. I do not respect your stupidity. I do not respect your indecency. When you act like a human being — when you are hurting, I am there for you. And I am not going to lower my shoulders and act smaller than who I am for a second to make you like me.
I wish you the best. Stop acting like stupid assholes.
Kumbaya my ass.
Copyright 2019 Richard Thomas
4/10/19: Good Day for the Death Star; May The Force Be With You
And now the news and a tired but apt metaphor. I am in such a good mood on what should be a lousy day for America. Because the Force is with me.
And as promised, the news:
Oh, what should lead?
Attorney General William Barr has revealed himself as a hack for King Donald the Usurper.
AG Barr wants to investigate those who had the temerity to investigate the great Trump. What’s a purge without a show trial?
A nominee to be Deputy Attorney General, a position that covers Civil Rights litigation, refuses to say that Brown v Board of Education is settled law. In other words, we can’t assume that apartheid is un-American.
Treasury Secretary Minnie Mnuchin, he knocks off at 5 so he and his wife can make hootchie -cootchin’ , refuses to the IRS give Trump’s tax returns to the House Ways and Means Committee, something it clearly has to do because of an unambiguous law.
“Wonderful person,” according to Trump, Steven Miller is consolidating power in the White House. Trump is showing he is still the excellent judge of character who spoke to the nation after Charlottesville.
Trump wants to get tougher on the Southern border, because he thinks Sophie’s Choice is a musical.
Many of these issues could end up before the Supreme Court which has been stacked with right-wingers by Mitch McConnell and Vladimir Putin.
And yet, I’m a happy guy.
We have the House.
We have the 2020 election.
We have the real press.
We still have a lot of the courts.
But most of all, we have ourselves.
We see what is going on. I’m not scared, are you?
The Empire has no clothes. See what I did there?
We’re on to them.
Stop thinking and follow the force.
Check that — stop fearfully thinking so you can creatively figure out what to do. I always thought that was a weakness in Star Wars. Thinking is a good thing when its arrows are pointed in the right directions.
Worry is useless.
Fear is useless.
A lack of confidence is worthless.
Move forward joyfully with hope. When you are confused, hang in there — you can figure it out.
Someone said that I was like a football coach. What’s wrong with that? I think that I have many more colors than motivator mode — but motivator mode hurts no one, and helps some.
When men or regimes get more authoritarian and extreme — they betray desperation.
They are bastards because their days are cornered and numbered. It’s the climax of Scarface, movie fans.
We’re going to win.
I just know it.
Copyright 2019 Richard Thomas
4/10/19: Life is About Exploring Mystery and Figuring Out a Little
I had to figure out a way of putting this magnificent photo on my blog. Don’t get distracted by I can’t or they did. That’s life in inner space and outer space, outdoors and indoors, home and away.
Poetry is about knowing that life’s essence can’t be captured, and trying anyway.
Einstein was proven right today, and he is smiling somewhere in the eye of the hurricane of time.
Copyright 2019 Richard Thomas
Some mere blog posts came next.
Poetry meets commentary.
4/18/19: Scarface 2019
For Democrats in Congress
First you get the report
Then you get Mueller to testify (PUBLICLY)
Then you open the impeachment inquiry
Then you get the Mueller’s evidence
Then you get the PUBLIC testimony
Then you draft the Articles of Impeachment
Then you Impeach the Motherfucker
Then you wait for Mitch McConnell to block conviction in the Senate
Then you run for 2020
Then you campaign by connecting the evil Republican kill America to make a buck public policies with the corrupt evil sleazy scumbag criminal that they enable in order steal victories and destroy democracy
And then you convict Trump in the election!
because if you don’t
Then Trump will go after YOU and send you to jail
And win in 2020 and American democracy will be over
And then Trump will treat all of us like poor babies on the Rio Grande
And America will look like George Bailey never lived.
A 900 year old cathedral burned this week.
It could happen easily to a 242 year old republic
If Democrats get too political
Right now the right move is the right thing
AND repeal the right wing agenda
WALK AND CHEW GUM AT THE SAME TIME
(CAVEAT: because if you don’t more people will stay home than these people you are afraid that you will lose if you impeach because they will be so discouraged and disgusted and will give up on freedom)
And then WE win
Copyright 2019 Richard Thomas
4/19/19: William Barr Revisited Again
When I was a “young lawyer” (I was 50, but in my first year as a member of the bar. “Young lawyer” is a term of art.),I worked in a corporate law firm. I knew somebody and it was the only place where I could find a job.
One day, a partner came into my office and gave me an assignment. I was to do “document review”, a grunt job that is given to young lawyers. The partner was representing the insurer of a commercial blood bank that was a defendant in a class action wrongful death action. The blood bank killed several of its clients by giving them transfusions of AIDS tainted blood.
The partner wanted me to help him screw widows and orphans out of their insurance money.
I refused and I was soon unemployed again.
This is the third time that William Barr makes an appearance in the Rick Blog.
The first time I said that he seemed a hard right winger, but also an excellent lawyer and institutionalist. I thought he would do well for the American people in matters related to the Mueller probe.
Ouch! That was as wrong as I have ever been on this blog.
The next time I wrote this:
4/10/19: William Barr Revisited
Regular readers of The Rick Blog know that I am seldom wrong and believe that I am wrong even less frequently. I wrote hopefully when William Barr was nominated to be Attorney General. I thought that he was a hard right conservative, but also a good lawyer and a Justice Department institutionalist.
Well, the mysterious Mr. Barr has revealed himself. He may have been a great corporate lawyer at one point, but those days have passed. Some of the pissing contests that he has engaged in with supposedly mortal attorneys on Congressional committees are embarrassing.
Barr is not saving the institution of the DOJ. He has disgracefully politicized Justice in a way that we haven’t seen since Nixon’s AG, John Mitchell.
Barr is an old right-winger who still thinks that Nixon got a raw deal.
Barr is an authoritarian who believes in Executive Power. His world is one of bosses and underlings.
It is his and Trump’s world and we are just living in it.
He is a retread from 30 years ago.
Grandpa is challenging us to one last fight. He will lose.
The sweep of history and their own mortality will bring Barr and Trump down.
Lawyer of diminished skills.
Far-right ideologue whack job with a reasoned demeanor if you are not paying attention.
Old man stumbling in an ill-fated last hurrah.
Trump toady who believes he is saving the power structure — the real institution that he believes in, not the DOJ.
The Times regrets the error.
Copyright 2019 Richard Thomas
Now that was right. But after seeing Barr’s ridiculously mendacious pro- Trump performance in his public relations roll-out of the Mueller Report, I’d like to add something else to my Barr character sketch.
Barr is the guy who tried to get me to screw widows and orphans. He is a liar — he will do it in the argot of the lawyering class — or in a ham fisted way like the rich corporate thugs (not all corporate leaders are thugs, but thuggishness describes a sizable sub-set) that he represents.
Barr said that Trump lashed out at being investigated because he was “frustrated.” Barr knows that frustration isn’t a defense or a mitigating factor. Lie.
Barr said that the report showed Trump didn’t collude. The report has dozens of pages proving collusion.
Barr said the report said that Trump didn’t obstruct justice. The report said the opposite.
Barr is doing all he can to help Trump execute his immoral fascist policies on the Southern border that are devastating children and other vulnerable and innocent people.
Barr did this his entire career. He did it for Poppy Bush to help him use illegal methods to get Panama’s Manuel Noriega. He did it when he engineered Poppy’s unjust pardons of several Iran-Contra figures on the last Christmas Eve of Bush’s Presidency, a few weeks before Poppy left office. I’m sure he did it as a corporate lawyer in private practice.
My father was an auto body and fender man. He had a little shop. My father was an Italian-American. One day, some mob guys came into Dad’s shop and asked him to do something for them. They would pay pretty well, and he needed the money. Business wasn’t good. Dad politely said no.
I was my father when I refused to cheat the families of victims of incompetent and reckless business practices.
I traded a corporate law job for a familiar spot on the unemployment line.
The only thing I like about Barr is the brevity of his name. It’s easy to type. Beats Papadopoulos. (I’m sure that’s misspelled. I don’t care.) Barr has exposed himself as a lousy lawyer and as a lousy man.
But then again, that is not what he has ever cared about.
In the process of writing this blog, I’ve been surprised interacting with more than a few people who really don’t care about morality at all. I used to think that people engaged in immorality, but then lied to themselves about it in order to justify taking what they wanted. I’ve been finding that more people than I thought just don’t care about what is right and wrong. I think Barr is in that category. He only believes in power.
I wonder what Barr’s strategy was at the press conference yesterday. He could be disbarred for what he did. A lawyer isn’t supposed to engage in fraud, deceit or misrepresentation. He sure did. He could be impeached himself.
I guess he thinks that he will keep getting rich and powerful by not even functioning as a consigliere for corporate criminals, but simply by being their hitman.
Well, that worked for him for about 70 years. I think his time is coming to an end.
Sometimes one’s greatest success lies in what one doesn’t do.
I am so proud of what I haven’t done in my life.
Copyright 2019 Richard Thomas
4/29/19: Movie Review — Avengers Endgame, the Demented Truth
Avengers Endgame doesn’t end. I don’t mean that it lasts so long that it seems that it doesn’t end. It actually doesn’t end. It doesn’t start either. And there is no middle.
Avengers Endgame transcends linear time, which it reveals to be an illusion. There is no chronology to existence. Chronology was developed to bring order to the chaos of being alive, but it ultimately terrifies us. I DON’T WANT TO DIE — we scream into the void. Or we yell WHEN AM I GOING TO DIE if we don’t like how things are going.
Avengers Endgame is a fabulous escape from our fantasy constructed by the conditioning of a society that we fear and desire that we created individually and in a group out of the fears and desires of the society that doesn’t really exist except in our heads and our insane mutual agreements. We call conforming to our mass suicide pact — sanity. We could live anywhere that we choose and we picked Jonestown, Guyana. We escape from our escape into the true reality that we don’t acknowledge.
What inspired this film’s tremendous breakthrough at the box office and the time/space continuum?
The business acumen that figured out a way to kill off characters, and metaphorically the stars who play them, while always maintaining the option to bring them back if the price becomes right and/or the market reheats — again.
The Tao of Commerce.
Avengers Endgame is an (unintentionally?) ironic title. No one dies. No actor gets fired. No story ever reaches its end.
I haven’t even talked about space in the movie and reality yet. That doesn’t exist either. If you don’t like where you are, you can go somewhere else in no time at all. Blink your eyes and click your ruby slippers together. There is no place like home or whatever planet is the site where the fate of the universe is decided.
There are no limits to the universe. How can there be boundaries to a single place and a solitary moment? That is where we are at.
Avengers Endgame feels that it has to patronize we, the audience who desire life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. All of the superheroes of the Avengers are gods — not just Thor.
And yet they struggle with how their dad treated them, the loss of someone that they loved, growing up, getting older and freeing themselves from the at first comforting and then terrifying illusions of chronological time.
This is our universal Jesus Christ Superstar approach. It isn’t enough that Christ is God and man. He also had to have the struggles of Freddie Mercury or Johnny Cash or Ray Charles or Elton John — or you pick the pop star biopic.
We love our illusions, don’t we — hatched in our own minds, and school, and in our peer groups —- but mostly by the manipulations of the advertising/entertainment complex which steps into the imagined void and finds meaning — money.
We make that money thing necessary because Eden is terrifying.
Avengers Endgame disguises Eden. Its makers rightly determine that the unvarnished truth doesn’t sell. Art disguises unvarnished truth. I hide it with a torrent of words. I speak about the unspeakable and happily fail — every day
(which really don’t exist — days, I mean.)
Days are an abstract invention of the Romans or the Arabs
or some other civilization that turned to dust
because of Thanos or Trump
or some other misunderstood,
as unadulterated good or evil by different audiences,
and his minions — don’t forget the minions.
No super without daydreamin’
Super villains and subservient ordinaries
who live to negate time and space,
and with a natural and authentic cruelty
in order to destroy the fears and desires of the ignorant gods
who think that they are mortal
(most of the human race)
and get reanimated
every, well —-
Hitler was a man of purpose.
He destroyed a world.
Those who avenged his actions,
created a world more just, peaceful (in some places) and prosperous
than all the worlds that went before.
And now new versions of the eternal force that animated Hitler
destroys our world.
And await our a-vengeance.
The end of bigotry?
A universal base income?
How will we be more conscious of our godly nature after this Infinity War is over?
Commerce hides the unvarnished truth with popular and sentimental lies.
Flimsy, see-through lies.
Not evil lies.
Lies made by people who like us.
They want to entertain us.
The heroes that rhyme with swindlers.
They want the laughs of the nightclub, a good meal , an exciting love affair …
They don’t want to hurt anybody.
But they do want our money.
The give us the lies we need to get through the day
the day, which we have established is an abstraction that doesn’t actually exist.
Avengers Endgame asks you to identify with these cartoon gods and only faintly implies that you are a god already.
But if you pay attention …
to the Avengers Endgame, or anything else —
You are a god.
Not a cartoon.
That will be twelve dollars. Visit the snack bar.
Escape and reality reverse themselves in the wormholes of existence …
Avengers Endgame ultimately does not hide the ball. Time and space have no order. There is only chaos.
My mother is in the late stages of advanced dementia. She is far from dead and will soon die. She is simultaneously in every place that has ever resonated in her heart, at every moment that has ever had meaning to her.
The world and your life is chaos. (See the singular. Not poor grammar, copy editor, Paula.) The Avengers never age or die. None of their choices matter. They can always redo them.
The Avengers exist in a world of immortality and infinite possibilities. They live at the one moment of the universe — the moment when it begins.
My mother only had one bad day in all of my weekly visits of the last several years (forgive my usage of the fantasy words of time)
She has lived blissfully in the demented dream dimension where the Avengers live too, although she has never met them.
But not two weeks ago.
All pain is on the coordinates of time.
I DON’T WANT TO DIE,
Mom cried out after fifteen minutes of existential angst that resembled very painful constipation.
She was scared.
I held her hand and patted her shoulder as it lay against her pillow — on the bed where I have found her for the past few years.
“You won’t die, Mom. You’re fine. Eat a little.”
She calmed down eventually, and ate some of her Happy Meal.
We sat holding hands for awhile.
“The doctor says that I am fine.”
“Yes, Mom, you are doing great.”
Mom had spoken more, and in a more apparently grounded way, in her journey through terror than she had in the past blissful years of my visits.
I write to get to the place beyond language.
Bliss then returned to Mom with a finality.
In our strained sophistication, we laugh at peace as a delusion.
But Life is Eternal, if not infinite.
Mom dozed off with a smile on her face. She closed her eyes and went to a party with my father and the rest of young us. She made a big dinner and wore some nice clothes — she likes to dress nicely for all occasions, and make feasts. Mom lives in an opera — everything is beautiful and over the top and fun.
My parents more than love me. They adore me. They took the chaos and turned it into love for me — and other people and things.
But they really love me. I saw this as a burden, and a pressure once.
But I went back to that time and changed my choices.
And the universe began again.
The aide had combed Mom’s hair nicely that day. She wore a cloth flower in her hair.
All the nice outfits that she ever wore were hanging on the folds of that cloth flower in her hair.
I blew her a kiss that she couldn’t see. She was at the party.
It was time for me to go.
And be at the party at the same time.
I walked out of the room with a feeling that wasn’t sad or happy.
and anticipating new life
that will come from deep within me.
My mind started writing on the blank canvas of chaos, creating my own meaning of the single moment and the one place.
A meaning different from my mother’s and every other person’s.
And fundamentally the same.
Free from fear and desire — an addict who threw the monkey of chronology off his back.
Inspired by my mother.
And reenforced later by that accident of unintended art, physics, philosophy, cosmology and intended show business — The Avengers Endgame.
No one knows anything.
But we stumble to important discoveries when we let go of all of our misconceptions
and go back innocently to square one.
The only square that there is.
Necessity is the MOTHER
The Purpose Driven Life is Driven by a Mystery.
Copyright 2019 Richard Thomas
5/1/19: William Barr Inside the Actor’s Studio
I have heard a few great actors tell James Lipton “Inside the Actor’s Studio” —
Digression One: (Is that show still on? I stopped watching after Lipton interviewed Billy Joel. Before that I pretty much enjoyed it. I like listening to actors talk about acting — usually more than I like watching them act. Actors — good ones — are part practical philosophers. Freed from all the abstraction, they are experts on how and why people behave. I like it when they drop the artifice of “creating a character “, and they just talk about character. Lipton is, Digression Two: was? is he dead? retired? still in business? My life is just one moment —a flurry of passing moments rolled into one — usually I’m a retiring Emily Dickinson living a resonant life of observing small and distant things like a talk show hosted by an acting teacher — sometimes I perform acts of great heroism on the edge of danger — defiance, fierce independence — moments of power and failure, ecstatic joy, rage and frustration, sometimes moments of listening to Barr on MSNBC while doing quiet, tedious, necessary and uncertain work unrelated, or is it Minor Digression Two Point Five: )
I have heard a few great actors tell James Lipton “Inside the Actor’s Studio” that they never play villains as villains. “Villains don’t think they are villains. They think they are good people doing right.”
I wrote this in a piece about Barr recently:
In the process of writing this blog, I’ve been surprised interacting with more than a few people who really don’t care about morality at all. I used to think that people engaged in immorality, but then lied to themselves about it in order to justify taking what they wanted. I’ve been finding that more people than I thought just don’t care about what is right and wrong. I think Barr is in that category. He only believes in power.
I still think that. But I also believe that people lie to themselves to justify their dirty deeds.
I contradict myself. I am a multitude.
Lipton: Mr. Barr, how did you find the motivation to play Trump’s Attorney General, a lawyer who hates the rule of law, a Constitutional officer who hates the Constitution, a politician who hates the voters, a man of words who misuses words and distorts their meaning, an advocate who hates discussion and favors tyranny, a Catholic who disdains the Church’s teachings on social justice, a proud man who debases himself to be the lackey of a man who is his intellectual inferior, a man of good reputation who chooses infamy?
Barr: Silence. Cleared throat. Um, well — when I was a young lawyer, my father, a patrician Republican academic and writer who was with the OSS (the precursor to the CIA) during WW II, got me a job as an attorney for the CIA in the mid-seventies. It was after Nixon was unfairly run out of the White House. I was supposed to be a lawyer for the owners — special, better than others. It was my birthright. But when I got to the CIA, we couldn’t do anything without getting permission from Congress. The country was being run by people who didn’t have a right to run it. All of this frustrated and enraged me.
Lipton: Your character showed annoyance at times, and was condescending, but you always seemed in control. Rage didn’t seem to be in your repertoire.
Barr: Oh no. Demonstrated rage is not in my repertoire. Visible rage is too transparent. It makes one vulnerable. Patience, stealth — these are the virtues of vengeance.
Lipton: That sounds so difficult.
Barr: It is very hard to do. But that’s my job.
Lipton: But what was your motivation? I want to know even more since it took so much effort.
Barr. Nixon with David Frost.
Barr: Yes. Gosh, James, you’re good. You are making me reveal my secrets.
Lipton: Oh don’t stop now.
Barr. (Pause). OK. Nixon told Frost, “It’s not a crime if the President does it.”
Barr: That was the answer. It was my mission in life to be a savior of bad Presidents, and the life and class that my father created for me to be an important person in. I would not be a President — I would save the bad ones. That would save my tribe’s control of the world. I’m a different type of white nationalist. Nothing crude like Charlottesville. I would do the real damage — not with Tiki torches — but in the corridors of power.
Lipton: You felt justified?
Barr: Oh yes. Being Trump’s Attorney General was the role of a lifetime.
Lipton: You hate the rule of law?
Barr: Oh yes. We are bigger than the law.
Lipton: You hate the Constitution?
Barr: I hate people.
Lipton: How can you misuse words and distort their meaning? Your father was a writer. You are a lawyer.
Barr: I am poet of vengeance. I use words to fight a war of obfuscation for myself and my people.
Lipton: You see yourself as a hero? A patriot of sorts?
Barr: Those are your words. I am a humble lawyer. You want me on that wall. You need me on that wall.
Lipton: You abandon your Church’s teachings? You disdain social justice?
Barr: Justice or chaos? — democracy, religion — simple things for simple people. We built the pyramids.
Lipton: What does that mean?
Barr gives a patronizing grin and stares at Lipton.
Lipton, changing the subject: How do you prostitute yourself to Trump, a man who is your intellectual inferior?
Barr: At first I thought he was an idiot, and that I would get my way in many things. But he prevailed. And I grew to admire him. Kind of like in “Team of Rivals.”
Lipton: You compare him to Lincoln?
Barr: He emancipated our power. There is no virtue in shame. Life is war, and he was a great general.
Lipton: OK, now it is time for our questionnaire, originated on French television by the great Bernard Pivot:
What is your favorite word?
Barr: It’s two words actually — no collusion.
Lipton: What is your least favorite word?
Lipton: What turns you on?
Barr: A daydream of Margaret Thatcher in a nightie.
Lipton: What turns you off?
Barr: The minimum wage.
Lipton: What sound or noise do you love?
Barr: A threatening mob chanting “Lock her up!”
Lipton: What sound or noise do you hate?
Lipton: What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
Lipton: Isn’t that what you do?
Barr: You got me, I guess.
Lipton: What’s your favorite curse word?
Lipton: What profession would you not like to do?
Barr: Public servant.
Lipton: If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say to you at the pearly gates?
Barr: I’m betting it doesn’t exist.
Lipton: And now we will turn to our students here at the Actors’ Studio for a question and answer session.
But by this time all of the students who were in the audience have left.
Copyright 2019 Richard Thomas
My poetry deepens and matures.
5/14/19: Darkest Mood in Decades
I was born an optimist.
I have died.
I know that there are wonderful people and places in the world and in my soul.
But I can’t access them.
I am in exile
Can anyone give me a sign?
A reason for hope?
Things outwardly aren’t that bad in my little world or the great big one.
But faith is a gift.
And it doesn’t come every day.
The ancient frustration is back
The eternal moment of feeling wronged
The sense of injustice
I demand it.
I shout it at the walls.
And no one comes.
They walk away.
An astronaut untethered from the mother ship
Life is impossible
death doesn’t matter
and especially yours
Nothing makes sense
All this chaos
Brought on by nothing
So I reach for old pain
And resurrect it
Just to have words
All I have are words
That represent nothing
I’ll get over it
the optimist rises
The sun’ll come up tomorrow
sang the girl drawn without eyeballs
I talk and sing and chatter
Just to know that I am here
A spirit guide suggests silence
But that is too excruciating
Maybe you could tell me that you feel this way sometimes too?
So I know that I’m still human?
Friends, family, work
Just the way it is
Even those who cover it up as I often do
Does the world resist me or do I resist myself?
I don’t want to be kind tonight
I don’t want to think of the sick or the abused or the cheated
Tonight I sit with the side of humanity that is within us all
I embrace my self-pity.
I luxuriate in it.
I indulge my rage.
It feels lousy but its a little something
I feel a little better.
Nothing distracts me
Words on a screen
I wrote a poem tonight.
At least I can do that.
Maybe tomorrow I can teach and write and stand up for democracy
or whatever silly things I like to think that I do that make me think I am conscious and
Maybe tomorrow I can serve you with the best of me.
Or at least tell myself that is what I am doing.
But tonight I scream
Copyright 2019 Richard Thomas
… the sublime was followed by a blog post … oh, well …
Poetry comes right back in a different mood …
5/17/19: Gratitude and Exuberance
I promise you, I’m not manic.
My mother had a photo of me
It’s still around somewhere.
I’m about three years old.
In a horizontal striped short sleeve shirt
and short pants.
Thick wavy hair.
Smiling mouth wide open.
Hand extended high in the air
A maestro at the crescendo
In love with sound of my own voice.
The acorn that grew into this ancient oak.
The Essential Rick
Rick un – Redacted
I became an actor,
but I don’t want to pretend.
I became a lawyer,
but I don’t want to argue.
I just want to talk.
I still have the kernel of the baby even younger than the little boy
Delighted with making sounds.
Thrilled when they become vowels.
of indefatigable innocence.
Life celebrates and assaults purity
The toddler saw the world as an infinitely accepting mother.
The world would never be displeased with me
and I would never be displeased with the world.
My innocence has never been lost after all of these years.
Only repeatedly assaulted.
And this evening I feel
Gratitude and Exuberance.
I am grateful for the loving friends
Who coddle me as their own flesh and blood
Who love me because they see we are made of the same stuff
the same DNA
of a family who just wants to
to breathe with one another
And listen to each other’s gibberish symphonies.
See that self-portrait of Rembrandt?
That’s no toddler.
Laughter in the shadows
I am also grateful to the toxic turds
Who challenge my voice
The Purveyors of Negation
Into something more interesting
Than an adorable little boy.
Something that transcends nature
That leads to
It’s easy to be happy when you don’t know what death is
When you haven’t seen failure
When you don’t know what “meanness” means.
America is under attack.
You may be under attack.
Be your baby photo
This time aware of the shadows.
Copyright 2019 Richard Thomas
… then a couple of blog posts … sigh …
and then another poem! About my mom …
5/25/19: My Mother’s Romantic Heart
People I know are sick and dying
Some are close to me
Some used to be
Some I like
Some I bore grudges
That no longer matter
And never did
Some lived great big lives
And some pissed it all away with trivia
Some feared more than they loved
And vice versa
I loved some of them
And some weren’t part of my destiny
Some aren’t meant for you
They are just there
They were born to resonate in others’ hearts
One is my mother
The natural resonant.
Some are my age
Some are older
Some are suffering
My world expands
from the turnover.
I like obituaries
I have mourned my mother’s death pretty much in full
She is still alive
But she fades away
Her world is a bed
And her memories of her dreams.
My mind wandered to Mom’s eulogy
That may not be delivered for years
while I was watching an old fashioned movie magazine
on Amazon Prime
and Michael Caine.
Mom’s frame of reference.
My mother surprised me that day
She was in her late 80s at the time
What do you think of Jack Nicholson, Mom?
Oh I like him.
I could tell she found him very attractive
Mom’s favorite movie was “Gone with the Wind”
I never figured her for “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”
I didn’t see her enjoying seeing a man tell a waitress to put a sandwich between her knees
I was so focused on those aspects of Jack Nicholson
That I was oblivious to the fact
That a woman would find him attractive
or liked the way that he looked and listened to women
Especially my Mom
But Mom is surprising
She worked in a bank
She called Sunday “Family Day”
I never figured her for liking rebels
But my father was one
A warm and raging devil who caused commotions
And looked at her with sweet and innocent deer eyes
From time to time
I thought my mother initiated all the generosity toward me
And I often needed it
But my father did too
Out of a love for her
but her first
and him first
the natural order — our greatest love is reserved for the mate that doesn’t carry our DNA — the love of a child is the love of oneself — the cause of the tragedy of the many unloved children in the world)
To make her happy
I was part of them
And outside of them
the dissolving point of the triangle
Get out don’t leave stay get out for your good for us
It was all very natural
and was confusing
Real understanding comes with leaving
They call dementia
the long goodbye
But there are many goodbyes.
People like me were raised to live in an ocean of love
We don’t love you — we adore you!
My parents screamed in unison
Artists need to have swum in an ocean of love
or in their fantasies
In order to rebel against the cesspool side of life
And adore what matters
My family’s life in Italy was an opera
Inaudible to the prosaic ear
In America it was a Hollywood movie
Invisible to literal eye
I often forget that many people have never lived in an ocean of love
Never had anyone look at them like Mom looked at Jack Nicholson
Times a thousand
Never had parents who loved each other
While screaming and laughing at the top of their lungs.
Mom looked at Alison Rosati, a local Chicago TV newsreader
And said with simple insight
That made me laugh
Was she just stating a fact
Or wondering about a road not taken?
Mom looked at Trump on TV, a year or two ago;
(She was well into her dementia by then
Her brain scan looking like a book page from Rand McNally’s
Road Atlas of Strokes.)
She doesn’t know who Trump is anymore.
That man doesn’t know how to change his underpants.
When Clinton was President
She looked at Robert Reich and Donna Shalala
Two short people who had jobs in the Cabinet
And she said,
Clinton is a good man
(This isn’t about Clinton or Trump. It’s about what my mom saw — not an exhaustive analysis
just like this poem)
He doesn’t care what people look like.
Mom is short
She never got her due
At the bank
She was praised
high school graduate
She trained frat boys
To be Vice-Presidents
No one ever told her you could do anything
She was told to be sure that her excellence
Never got bigger than her place.
When I was in the fourth or fifth grade I did an art project
On thick paper
And photos I cut out of magazines
My title “The Romantic Heart”
But it wasn’t about love
Cops and firemen
Mothers and fathers
People who took care of other people
It was about
Plain old love
The love of the working people
who go to the movies
who resonate and are ignored.
Mom could have made the project herself.
But the chances were meant to belong to me
According to the rules she only sub-consciously rebelled against
Or sub-consciously attracted her in a man.
The chances belonged to:
The formally educated
She taught me to how to make it
With a thousand Italian cries of
And as many pounds of rigatoni
She held onto my baby art work well into her eighties
After a certain point a person loses everything
(Except the wound and the joy
In the ground of one’s being
Mom had a sophisticated understanding of
Taking care of everything
Nurturing hell raisers with kind eyes
Turning everyday life into a Hollywood
Knowing what makes someone truly good-looking
Wounded from never getting her due
A pain that she knew that she had
But never fully understood
Who cares why?
the shock jock says that we only change through psychoanalysis
Mom changed through art
A plain ordinary every day art
Using the stuff of her life
a ladies club
a pound of rigatoni
Fools give you reasons
Blessedly simple men
Mom’s favorite word was resilient
Like her favorite character, Scarlett O’Hara
Vowing to rebuild after every fire
Resolving never to be hungry again
Creating a world
In spite of the pain.
To spite the pain.
To burn out the pain.
Copyright 2019 Richard Thomas
Ignore the marketing at the end, and this next one is a worthwhile piece …
5/30/19: The Two Roberts: Mueller and De Niro Quotients
The news justified my life and my life’s work yesterday. I’m a lawyer and an actor, or a lawyer and an actor, depending on the situation.
All writing is autobiography. What else could it be?
Robert De Niro implored Robert Mueller to “get out of his comfort zone” and to speak to the American people about his report. De Niro rightly pointed out that Mueller’s report was written for lawyers and legislators. In so many words, De Niro said the technical language of the report had to be popularized for the uninitiated population that has to make a democratic determination about the fate of the Trump Presidency. When impeachment is described as a political process, pundits are just saying that it is up to the American people. The American people have to understand what happened related to the Russian interference in the 2016 election, and most of them aren’t “lawyers and legislators.”
Mueller is nothing if not a diligent worker. De Niro informed him that he was ignoring part of his job. Mueller has to connect his work to the people that he wrote it for. Like many professionals of his generation, Mueller discounts the human touch in their work. Some of those older professionals see the arts as the toy department, and undignified. They also think that “communication strategies” are manipulations that sully the non-political and objective basis of their work.
The old school professionals have good reason for their skepticism of the arts.
Most ad men and politicians use the crafts developed by writers, actors, singers, visual artists etc. to sell. Professionals like Mueller (and all professionals should be like Mueller — dedicated to the truth and the meticulous execution of the respective tasks of their professions) are not salesmen. They aren’t trying to get you to buy something. They are trying to reveal a situation to you, and perhaps suggest next steps or solutions.
Mueller wrote his report with the spirit of a lawyer consulting with his client. He had no motivation to make the client’s decisions for him. He just wants the client to know the full extent of what she is facing, and the full range of her options.
Sometimes a lawyer will advise a course of action to a client after interviewing the client and discovering her needs. In Mueller’s case, the law restricted him from offering such opinions. So he simply told Congress that further options in the prosecution of a matter involving Trump and Russia belong to them. But Mueller never really spoke to his ultimate client, the American people.
What De Niro is asking Mueller to do is very difficult. It’s an ethical minefield. There is always a danger of diluting the intrinsic value of substantive material by what is charitably referred to as “humanizing” and what is more coldly and often accurately described as “dumbing down.”
Actors need more Mueller too. The best actors, in my estimation, are the ones who also have, and have had, lives away from the theater — actors who study other things, work other jobs, pursue other interests, and have a commitment to personal relationships away from their work with all of the attendant joys and problems …
Actors who only know the theater really don’t know anything. The theater is like life. It has no meaning. The artists bring meaning to the stage. The theater is famously called “the empty space.” It remains empty when populated by empty people, and is filled when people come to it full — full of human experience served by technical stagecraft, and that is never merely in service to that craft.
Here are some applications of De Niro/Mueller analysis using some people in a frame of reference most of us know.
Recent Presidents De Niro and Mueller Quotients
John F. Kennedy was a writer and historian. His wife, Jackie understood literature, art and culture. An elevating wit and intelligence was a hallmark of White House press conferences. Kennedy gets a very high De Niro quotient. His understanding of writing and the arts informed his way of communicating with the American people. He didn’t talk down to us. His arc of idealism was expressed in his substantive agenda — racial justice, a man on the moon, ending the arms race … His presidency was tragically and abruptly ended and we are denied the record to see the execution of the tasks of his dreams, so Kennedy gets an incomplete Mueller quotient, but trending high.
Lyndon Baines Johnson has one of the highest Mueller quotients of all of our Presidents, with demerits for lack of honesty and integrity offset by off-the-chart marks for technical skill. He was very well trained for the work of the Presidency from his entire life biography — most notably his time as Senate Majority Leader. LBJ passed huge pieces of legislation — the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, Medicare and much, much more. He was a master of the substance of the job. His great Achilles heel, the disastrous war in Viet Nam, was in part due to LBJ’s weak De Niro quotient. LBJ was seen as a liar by many Americans. This happened because he lied to them about what he was doing in Viet Nam, and about its human costs. Kennedy during the Cuban Missile Crisis used his high De Niro quotient to identify with the fear of the American people and overruled the cold technical substance of the generals of the military industrial complex. LBJ sided with the pros — “the best and the brightest” and betrayed his own biography and heart and his sympathies for ordinary Americans. Strangely, Johnson, a man who came from very humble beginnings, didn’t know how to talk to “folks” about war. He could only relate to the generals, men of “accomplishment” that now look less distinguished later in the arc of history. Johnson’s tragedy was that he loved the people — and his domestic policy achievements show great action showing that love, but he couldn’t talk to them because he ultimately didn’t trust them. A politician’s weakness is demonstrated by how much he lies. A great politician, for example, “Honest Abe” Lincoln can talk truthfully to the people about complex and tough topics. So can great actors. The great are blessed with the experience of knowing men’s higher angels. Mueller is scrupulously honest. He is a Shakespearean character. Professionals need more than integrity. They need to be able to communicate the products of that integrity. They don’t need to only be Shakespearean characters of rectitude. They also need to be Shakespeare himself — understanding their own and other people’s motivations, the effects of the pursuit of those motives, and how to tell stories that explain reality and lead to higher consciousness and more effective action. Professionals have to know that higher consciousness in themselves, their clients and society in general is not only possible, but that the raising of that consciousness is their ultimate job and purpose.
Nixon scores very high on Mueller substantive skill, — he was very intelligent and competent lawyer and public official, scores abysmally on Mueller character skills, and was tortured and inept on all De Niro skills. Nixon played sentimental piano and spit out vulgarities when frustrated and behind closed doors. In other words, he was a typically mid-Century middle-class white American bourgeoise man, and a lousy artist. He was a good advertising executive, however. (Advertising sucks.) Nixon’s dishonest manipulative communication style affected the quality of his substantive work, and ultimately ended that work. “Cover up” is a synonym for “lie.” The De Niro quotient is ultimately simple to understand if not to achieve. Be honest and connect. Mueller’s integrity is not required only for the substantive side of work. It is the essence of the De Niro side as well.
Carter had extremely high Mueller and De Niro quotients — a nuclear engineer, poet and politician. Of course, he was punished for it politically. But my work here is not to teach success, if success is defined by popularity. Great leaders play the long game. Carter has led a life of substantive achievement in public affairs, and transforming consciousness through his writing and biography. Carter has not lived a life in art. Carter’s life is art. Sometimes it’s the audience that fails. When Carter gave a truthful speech to the American people, telling them that they were depressed, self-involved and suffering from a “malaise,” his chances of re-election ended. The crowd chose escapism and entertainment … they chose …
Reagan was a better actor, when given the right script and director, than he is often given credit for. And his letter telling the people of his descent into Alzheimer’s is quite beautiful and poetic. He also was better substantively at the tasks of government than he is often given credit for. He was intelligently engaged on the issues as governor of California, and the subsequent period before he was President, and up to the day he was shot. He was an intelligent man (that I disagreed with). He was famously “The Great Communicator.” I would give Reagan high marks on both the De Niro and Mueller scales, but for one major blind spot. Reagan was the son of an alcoholic father. On one painful occasion, he had to help his father who had passed out in the snow in front of their house for all the neighbors to see. Reagan was sunny and optimistic by nature, and possessed by a genial ambition. The way Reagan learned to deal with darkness at a very young age was to deny its existence. That helped him possess a handsome, light quality that won him jobs as a minor league radio play-by-play man, and a Hollywood male ingenue contract player. It also helped him possess a callous quality that denied the existence of homelessness, the profiteering of the military-industrial complex, the hardships of poverty, the suffering of drug addiction, the scourge of AIDS, and the brutality of unregulated markets. Reagan was a proud promoter of American virtues — virtues that by the end of his administration had practically disappeared.
George H. W. Bush
Poppy Bush was the President who culturally most resembled Mueller, but did not share Mueller’s integrity. Bush’s fatal flaw was his need to win. It led him to use the Willie Horton ad in the 1988 campaign which lacked De Niro’s integrity and stoked a racism that Bush didn’t personally feel but was willing to use to get votes. Bush hired men like Cheney and Barr who have high substantive Mueller scores, zero Mueller integrity and zero De Niro scores, and operate to enrich the powerful with cold indifference to the welfare of the rest of us. Bush thought De Niro concerns were beneath him. He knew he lacked integrity in order to gain power, and pathetically tried to compensate for that by writing nice thank you notes.
A potentially great artist who settled for a career in sales. A man of tremendous substantive Mueller ability —- and Mueller integrity as related to a drive to be highly competent —- who denigrated it all by chasing after immature and superficial things. Great potential that devolved into mediocrity because of his shallow desires. Very high in both Mueller and De Niro ability, Clinton threw way too much of it away.
George W. Bush
A disaster. Failing grades on both the Mueller and De Niro scales. He didn’t win the office. He was there as a legacy, a byproduct of family ties and big money. Tough to evaluate from the point of view of professionalism or democracy because neither was operative during his Presidency.
Obama scores high on both the Mueller and De Niro scales. He was a lot like Kennedy in many ways, but represented a cultural de-evolution since Kennedy. He could inspire great personal growth in others, and effectuate substantive change, but in a corporate way that never reached the level of poetry. The greatest De Niro leaders — the Lincolns and Kennedys — raise the people up in an existential way. Obama didn’t do that. Obama was sometimes handled by his team and backers, and it led to awful results — i. e. his horrible trip to Flint in response to the water crisis. He wasn’t really the transformational leader that he promised to be. But he did faithfully execute the laws of the United States, and honored our national values in word and many of his deeds. Obama executed politics, the art of the possible, but too often assessed possibility to be more limited than it is.
I am not reviewing Trump here. He is not legitimately the President. He is the type major problem that Muellers and De Niros deal with.
I did not write this piece for marketing purposes. But I want to share here the link to my website. It describes my work in great detail. I work at the point where Mueller and De Niro intersect.
Check out all of the tabs for the whole story. Everyone can work to develop their Mueller and De Niro quotients (my term of art in this piece — I generally call it Ethical Presence TM — which is a trademarked phrase.)
Copyright 2019 Richard Thomas
Blog posts s tart morphing into poetry …
5/30/19: Short Attention Span Theater
Mueller is criticized as naive
“He expects us to read a 400 page report?
Has he met us?”
America is being killed
By the intellectually lazy
First we fell behind in math and science
Next came the arts
and paying attention
If Mueller is old fashioned
Call me old school
I always felt a little guilt
when I got pissed off at stupid people
The rage seemed justified
But stupidity gets my unrepentant ire now too
Stupid people are killing us
Only an idiot would listen to Sean Hannity and believe him
Only an idiot would buy Trump’s bullshit
Or waste an hour watching
“The Biggest Loser”
The word “concise” is irritating
It is so often stupidly misused
Used as a weapon against
the demand for engagement
the call to work
Ciphering is hard
America is Jethro Bodine
And if you don’t get the old school reference — look it the fuck up
You are on your fucking computer
Open a window and Google it
I gave you the fucking spelling
You miserable lazy ass anti-intellectual
with your easy excuses that anything hard to figure out is bullshit
Students spend less time studying every year
And schools and teachers adjust because they need the business
Less time studying — so better keep it short
Why assign Shakespeare when you can assign a haiku?
Or a tweet.
Skip school and study improv
Then you can make up scenes on the spot
That have no meaning whatsoever
And you’ll laugh and laugh
Like a baby laughing at an ornament on a Christmas Tree
Mueller is concise
In the true meaning of that word
He doesn’t waste a word in his report
Heavy thought and reflection went into every word of his report
They were all painstakingly chosen
Concise does not mean keep it short
It doesn’t mean keep it
(I intentionally repeated short — it’s a poem — repetition is a device in poetry
Thank you for your patience, douchebag)
Crafted to entertain
To make money
Kiss the audience’s ass
(does the similarity of those two lines irritate you? I’m sorry to keep you from twitter feed or your bong or the Bachelorette or whatever else you are wasting your life on — you are so busy — jerking off is time-consuming)
Every group is an audience to
em what they wanna hear
Does it flatter them?
Does it make them hard?
Does it cause a chemical rush?
Does it sell?
Is it fast?
They are busy
They are rushing to some other sensation.
Tell ’em they’re right
Tell ’em they are better than everyone else
Tell ’em it’s easy
Tell ’em its simple
Make ’em want to fuck something
or eat something
And make it fast
If America can’t process the contents of a 400 page report
America doesn’t deserve a democracy
Or anything else that’s worth a damn.
LET US DARE TO THINK READ SPEAK AND WRITE !!!!!!
The Rick Blog mantra
a quote from John Adams
Copyright 2019 Richard Thomas
6/1/19: Serenely Agitated
I ease into bliss this morning
I brew myself a delicious pot of coffee
A fresh breeze gently enters the apartment
My entire life makes sense this morning
I have died to the world and come to birth from within
Freed from achievement and success
Desire and fear
I gratefully inhabit what is
I write therefore I am
I teach therefore I am
I love my wife therefore I am
I love my friends, known and unknown to me, therefore I am
I regard them with intense interest
We don’t control one another
I know good
And I know evil
Good doesn’t excite me
Evil doesn’t scare me
I accept the way it is
And play my role within it
I know death
And the potential of life
I know suffering
I know a point where compassion and joy merge
I encounter petty problems
Not with annoyance and pique
But with sanguinity
A big word dissipates the pettiness
I figure out where to park the car
When they replace the membrane in the garage
I figure out the nuances of marketing my business
I figure everything out
I’ll figure everything out
Including my own descent into dementia or cancer or whatever awaits
But it’s easy for me to be brave this morning
I’m still young
Young and old
Beginning and finishing at the same time
Miles to go before the steep decline
I am in the midst of the greatest clarity of my life
I know who I am and what I am meant to do
I enjoy the limitations of my life
I love its calm
I love its
I revel in not being
If I were any of those things I couldn’t do my art
An art of simply painting pictures of my
I am not excited
I’m serenely happy
Satisfied with who I am
And what fate offers me
And then a salesman invites me to connect to him on LinkedIn
I don’t want to
I click on an X
And LinkedIn connects me to the seagull who mistakes me for some spoiled meat on a garbage dump
And I get pissed off
The world invades
some of the raw material
of the next blissful moment
The bliss isn’t the point
The good feeling
Copyright 2019 Richard Thomas
I used to write to achieve self-justification. I needed it. The world mocked me
condemned me as a villain
no not villain
I knew the world was wrong.
I knew the world was taking neutral aspects of my being
aspects neither good
I lived with a burden of grievance
Buckling beneath a yoke of injustice
on my shoulders.
In my writing I was liberated.
I became victorious.
I was brave
and always got the last word.
I was outspoken in life too
but never got the last word
I wrote to quiet my awful rage
and to assert my being
Conformity is genocide
Each person is a species unto him or her
If every person lived in a full conscious authenticity
and I believe that is possible
I really do
a Pope said that the day would come when the Church is unnecessary
when everyone would exist in the mystical body of Christ and not have to talk about it
I believe that
in a non-religious sectarian way
I really do
The famous writer says he devised an alter ego so that he could use his own life in his writing and also invent what is necessary to tell his stories
And I think
we all live the events of our lives and invent the rest
we all are characters of fiction and non-fiction
we are dealt a hand of existence
and given an imagination to turn it into something
to bring some order to this incoherent mess
that coalesces into beauty with a seeming intelligence
and paradoxical randomness
that we are part of
only separated by our need to perceive
the obstacle and opportunity of our finite
and the motor of self-justification shifts gears
and goes into low
down into the ground
Understanding is beyond justice
It cares nothing for the opinions of others
In understanding there is no victory
There is no last word
There is only
A teacher and a writer
They are all I’ve ever wanted to be
They are all that I ever was
Since before I was born
I was not meant for the battle
The movie director says that he makes movies about injustice
That he is no activist
That art has never changed a thing
The novelist says that his job is not to solve problems
It is to identify them
As I get older the taunts subside
St. Francis of Assisi being beaten by his merchant father
is a scene that no longer has relevance for me
In days of confusion the shock jock battled the “effete poetic type”
as I was called by a merchant father
who was not my father
My real father
the one assigned me by nature
to be who I am
To do whatever I do without shame
and do it with
I have largely done that I reckon
while wounded by a sclerotic condition
introduced to me like a drug
by pushers of despair
Self-justification keeps the wolves at bay
and sets the table
for a feast of understanding
a moment of epiphany
until the chaos and confusion start again
The pointless point
of the whole exercise.
What is it
Copyright 2019 Richard Thomas
6/9/17: A Writer’s Prayer
Da idea ain’t to get published
Da idea is to get good
And wot you need to get good?
You done need a place
a room of one’s own
(I done got me dat)
A homeless artist be a ghost
a specter of could be
the unrecognized pain of not knowing what you be missin
A beautiful baby left dying in a garbage can
But what else da artist gunna need?
heshe need nurturing
Nurturing dat give dem space
Not too many rules
None of dat dis da way we do it shit
And no one do anything alone
Da most solitary voice is a chorus
da artist need a home for weirdos and oddballs
da artist need freedom
or a school of art
artist need mamas and papas for every phase of der writing
artist need magic
artist need people who do out of love
Who ain’t got no angles
artist need to find money in da streets
Paid by people
who have da honor to support artist
not because of artist
but because dey know what art is
and how people
can’t breathe witout it
Nuthin worth a damn was ever done for a dollar
It was all done for
Da worker keep da lights on
and da heat
da doctor keeps you alive
Makes sure you don’t die before your time
Da artist reminds you why you want to take the trouble
for da lights and da heat and your healthy ass
Da artist take you to dreamland
and dumps you back in da unfinished world
And you got to take care of da artist
Make him or her a good artist
Give em a chance
Stop sucking da businessman’s dick
and bleaching your hair to be white as you can be
listen to da artist sing
and give him or her
a supper for their fuckin song
And honor da nurturers of artists
Da mamas and da papas
Not as philanthropists
But as world redeemers
Artists don’t do a goddam needed thing
But without dem you can’t either
Dey touch da ground of being
And bring it back to you
God picks em
It ain’t a career choice
And when dey don’t get their space and supper
Da touch of God becomes a curse
And dey die a painful death
over da rainbow
Dis is a writer’s prayer
And who I be praying to
God ain’t nuthin witout
Copyright 2019 Richard Thomas
We get what we deserve
First there is the big layer
a big horizontal zone at the bottom of the mural
teeming with dead bodies
animated by indifference
wandering in a haze of smoke and alcohol and fast food and big box stores and football games
Oblivious to the sun the moon the grass on the median of the interstate
Going to jail war rehab an early grave a painful life
Too dumb to know that they are suffering.
The next ring of hell people
know that they are hurting
and aspire to be oppressors themselves
They look for someone weaker and attack
their own in the privacy of their own home
immigrant babies school kids sick kids and juvenile criminals
in their party platforms.
The next altitude makes money exploiting the people beneath them
con men politicians lawyers corporations “experts”
full of ideas covered by lies
Nefarious goals and manipulations
Shell games that make billions for a few.
Now the amphibian emerges crawling from the muck
warm blood is introduced
But the lower regions still offer an irrational siren’s call
who would want anything of the lower layers?
We call them moderates.
“It’s a horrible world, but we can be a little nicer
we can tell each other comforting stories
and cry when people are abused
we can help a little and call it charity
Maybe some day … ”
are those of the awakened mind and heart
with mammalian eyes and hearts
and a heightened sense of touch
walking erect now
in the lower regions
knowing that a new world is possible
that it is more than possible
that it is here if we can only see
This highest level is initiated in frustration
and escapes into feelings of false superiority
and then the great pain of loving
and even the exploitative criminals who live in the sub-human regions,
Those on high suffer
some are lost to cynicism fatalism nihilism
they travel as ghosts back to the lower regions
and helplessly look on
and sometimes criticize
A few carry on
they walk on the coals of experience and become swamis
They achieve their highest being as individuals
their presence elevates the community just a little.
Lincoln FDR MLK are highlights in a mural
Streaks of light across a muddy palette
Twain Emerson me my mom
the day of your life for which you are most proud
a flicker of the healthy person that briefly appears on the person of a decrepit person with dementia
but not hopeless
an individual can achieve greatness
a nation can only grab moments and glimpses of what should be
and that will have to do.
Some are too ignorant
some choose evil
some are too weak and get discouraged too easily
some achieve man’s highest potential in their individual lives
a special few — very few — are born to teach and lead
and awaken the nascent potential in all who are willing
and capable of hearing.
Life is often miserable
and always a problem
are works in progress
trying to figure out the most basic things
anchored by the work of developing
but what else do we have to do.
We get what we deserve.
Copyright 2019 Richard Thomas
6/11/19: Hello Young Lovers
The unleashed poet walked into the old Chinese restaurant
in the old Chicago suburb
The 1950s are not the past
A 21st Century milk maid
Absorbs the boy seated next to her
Like a beautiful amoeba consuming a morsel of food
that she deems delicious
He seems smaller than she is
at the moment
Although objectively that ‘s not the case.
He is tall and lanky
a minute ago.
He is now just chum
Devoured by desire.
Sure, why not.
They have recently had sex.
She saw the moon, the stars and all the galaxies.
He performed a service.
It was his pleasure.
He enjoyed it and forgot about it.
He doesn’t remember what he had for breakfast
or his last trip to the bathroom
or the sweat he sweat at work that day.
He accepts her passion.
He’s OK with it.
He’s OK with everything.
He accepts the world in a manner that only the incurious can.
Ignorance is temporary bliss.
(BTW — I didn’t stare at them. Their lives passed before my eyes when I glimpsed at their table on the way to my solitary booth. I glanced and I had the picture. An unobtrusive photographer who got it on the first shot. They have no idea that I looked at them.
When I was young, I would have stared and not written down a word. I would sit and look and think. I would sit there, composing a poem that I wouldn’t write down.
I spent my young life not knowing that I loved something that was right in front of me that I could not see. But my blindness had its purpose. I was writing this poem when I was young. I finish it tonight. )
His parents sit across from the fated pair.
They are too exhausted to react to the romantic tragicomedy before them.
Not only don’t they react
They barely notice.
The girl will make the boy realize what self-determination is
and that he has never exercised it
he has just floated along
a thought (less) balloon in the breeze.
She will teach him to want things.
He will teach her the limits of romance
that the man of her dreams
is only a dream.
She will wake up one morning
and just see a guy next to her.
“As well him as another”
if she’s lucky.
Passion will begin to feel more like resignation
and might grow into affection and empathy
if they’re lucky.
She will learn that her feelings are real
But they are not external things
he is just a vessel
at least at first.
Who knows where love will take us?
Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.
They will both learn that feelings have consequences
that we make choices whether we know it or not
that jobs are hard to get and do and keep
that children are intense people in your life
that love is
that reaches out to
and anxious trepidation
and forms alliances.
Love is a furnace that will forge their unlined faces
Into creased maps of life
valleys of shadow
where all was smooth and rosy before.
The smooth and rosy remains
but now it has company.
Happiness and satisfaction only are earned
after learning the nature of the world
and accepting it all
the learning and the acceptance are decades away
from the young lovers.
They will have great joy
and massive disappointment
in one another.
Life is a mess
that at first masquerades as something 100%
Life is a trickster
We enter unconscious
it gets on top of us
its warm body rubs against us
its arms hug us
its breathing synchronizes our heartbeats
its whispers seduce us,
it slaps us
and fucks us
and punishes us
and wakes us up.
Life taunts us with a mocking challenge.
It offends us
If we let it.
The girl’s expectation of joy
Affection and orgasms
The boy’s glide path
will be fulfilled
and give them something even better
than her dreams
and his noble savage-hood
romance and natural innocence end.
I represent their future
(Unfortunately I am the best a small old Chinese restaurant has to offer them on a Tuesday night. They can’t see me tonight of course. I am not a factor in their foreplay.)
I represent their future
if they make it.
If they do better
than the inert parents staring at their plates.
They will grow old
and grow free
(both if they are lucky)
and be unleashed.
They won’t allow anyone to shame them for
No one will shame her for committing to her love
and following it to parts unknown.
No one will shame him from taking life as it comes
and taking the gift horse without really looking at it,
easily and un-self-consciously sliding in and out of home
until it becomes hard and self-conscious.
An animal will die
and a man will be born.
A girl’s romance will become a woman’s love
with maturity’s mandatory wisdom
a useful and necessary love
the earthy practicality of mother earth.
Or they could both give up
like his parents
falsely secure in their anti-existential anesthesia
the pain will come anyway.
I’d tell them they are going to die
and time is precious.
But they are deaf and they like it that way.
Their funerals won’t be sacraments.
They will be processes.
The file is closed.
I had an uncle who lived in fear. Near the end he called me from far away. He found his courage late. I was busy and never got back to him. He died. It was the most natural and worse thing that I have ever done.
A young fool.
My sin’s lessons may make me worth something to you.
Farce and tragedy.
of what is.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
We have nothing to fear but fear itself.
Copyright 2019 Richard Thomas
6/16/19: Founded in White Supremacy
My father was an outsider
He wasn’t born here
He came to America when he was seventeen
He spoke with an accent
A Franco-Italian concoction
Really a voice all his own
Born in Paris
In an Italian ghetto
a street urchin of the Pigalle
I took him to see a movie about Edith Piaf a few years before he died
For him it was a home movie
He vividly recalled his life
as a very little boy
in the noisy dirty beautiful Parisian streets.
My own memories of early childhood are few
A blank page gift
bequeathed by my early security and privilege
the New Deal
the Fair Deal
and Harry S Truman.
by Dwight David Eisenhower
in the 1950s
and especially on D-Day.
Fear is the great memorizer
and pain too.
Old panic made my father’s recollections
My father was a movie extra in the tumult of Europe
The end of institutions
The rise of government by gangster
My father was
Shipped to Mussolini’s Italy,
(Italy belonged to Mussolini for a time—
Fascists steal nations)
when he was seven
the youngest of nine
named after an older sibling who died —
my father was named for a dead boy
and renamed for every country he lived in
forced to be restless by the world
there was no choice here
too often politics is mistaken for psychology
mistaken by the naive
a mistake used tactically by oppressors
to keep people insecure
keep them feeling that THEY are the reason that their lives are
far from even pursuing happiness
always searching for security
It is THEIR inferiority
imposed upon them
Some refugees internalize the toxic message of inferiority
and believe it is their own mind’s reasoned words
Some vacillate between the poles of inferiority
and a pull to dignity.
Some generally ignore the whole thing
accept the falsely superior beings’ claims
and enjoy themselves anyway.
(my father was often one of these)
My grandfather died from gas poisoning in WW I.
My grandmother was saintly
That word again
My father worshipped my grandmother
I love her
I differ with my father
only in this:
when not leavened by cunning
Is a limited virtue.
She did what she could
what she knew to do
She abandoned her young children to fascists
Believing in the black shirted thugs
and the Blessed Trinity.
My mother loved her mother-in-law
but never understood her choice
even under the circumstances.
I can hardly speak to it.
I never was in such desperate circumstances.
My father said
and truly believed that he had no ill will toward his mother.
And he didn’t
But he had a rage inside of him.
a rage with no object
and he bequeathed that rage to me.
It wasn’t grandma’s fault. She did the best she could. She did all that she was equipped to do.
But the objective result of her choices
I can’t say what grandma’s obligations were.
But this many generations later
we have an obligation to understand.
Referring the decisions of our fate to others
and tolerating what is intolerable
to play the role of abused children well into our maturity
to be fools
was excusable for my grandmother
and inexcusable for us.
My father never understood injustice
I am much smarter than he ever was
(partly because of what he learned before me and the opportunities that he gave me to develop my mind and vision)
He resented what I grew up to be because it threatened his understanding of the way things are
and a perspective of denial
which helped him survive and thrive.
My father lived in a modified “Sophie’s Choice”
where no one got killed
and the family was eventually reunited
but no one also
really came to terms with what Mussolini was
even after the fact —
he just was,
a moment like any other
a neutral condition
that one made the most of …
Grandma became a Catholic Democrat when she came to the US
Without even sensing a contradiction
with her then recent past.
My mother’s people used to listen to Mussolini’s speeches
on a wireless
They swallowed the bait and switch.
Their masters told them to
identify with the masters glory
to be happy with that
and subservient fans of the champions
who were never personally allowed on the field.
They bought it.
Like all people who deem themselves ordinary buy it.
Suspicious of would-be leaders encouraging
equality and democracy
(whether those “leaders” were or weren’t)
My people took
the bread (small amounts)
and circuses (endless).
My mother eventually knew the economic/cultural/political/psychological score.
My father never did.
He ridiculed “professors”
and found his joy in physical activity
preferring games to work,
not afraid of either.
The Italian Fascist schools were run by priests
They would crawl into my father’s bed
Italy could have been Alabama
a few years ago
The molestation was just a footnote
for my father.
He told me about once in passing.
He didn’t see it as shaping his life
which it surely and partially did.
For him, abuse just came with the territory.
I was the one who was concerned about what was fair.
My father hated that about me. He thought I was weak and whining.
My father’s insensitivity to my demands for justice made me disrespect him.
Not fighting for justice
figuring out a way to get yours
in spite of the fascists and pedophiles
not saying the truth about them
To me — that was weak.
“You can’t be mad at the world all the time,” he told me.
“You can’t change the world.”
It was our disagreement.
He wanted me to conquer the world as it is. To join the white supremacists.
He busted his ass to give me a shot to
I wanted to tell the truth.
and live it.
I would define success for myself.
and tell off the world.
My dad suffered more than I ever could.
But I have more guts
than he knew were possible.
We can change the world if we change ourselves.
If we accept tyranny
then every pedophile’s molestation
and every gangster’s murder
is a black mark on our souls.
My father and grandmother had excuses.
You and I don’t.
We know right and wrong
and we know what is possible.
What happens to us is of no consequence.
What we are is
My father was the youngest
and he was tough on me
he yelled at me a lot
I received distant second hand smoke
was an Italian-American Babe Ruth
Powerfully kicked soccer goals instead of home runs
Larger than life
Devoted to experience
bored by explanations
A love junkie
Finding it with my mom
and juicing on the contaminated street trash
of his old newspaper clippings
Eight goals in one game!
Needing to be ratified as a winner
in others’ eyes
but forgetting about all of it
when it was time to sleep on the couch
with a golf tournament on TV
in the family room.
Dad was a weird a mixture of
“I did it!”
“I coulda been a contender,”
Rage at me
and passionate pride and admiration in me
From moment to moment
all equally authentic
He was a good man in spite of everything.
Emphasis on good
Emphasis on man
He scarred me
and gave me so much to be grateful for
He was the best of fathers
he was the worst of fathers
The Blessed Trinity beat the Fascists in overtime.
Dad’s name was
when he was inducted into
the American Army
no longer Tomasso
(I’m glad of the change. Dad was an Italian-American. I’m an American. That’s what he wanted. That’s what I am. My people were from Italy — with a brief stop in France. I’m from here. Dad never wanted to go back to see Italy. Why would he? I am only mildly interested. I’d go as a tourist — not in the search for roots. FDR is mine, not the Roman Emperors. Twain not Dante. Sinatra not Pavarotti. New York City not Rome. My father was an inventor. He invented me.)
The myth of World War II says
that because we defeated the Nazis
we are somehow better than them.
A black pundit on TV says that America was
founded on White Supremacy
and argued for reparations
Damages in a huge class action suit.
Ty Cobb called Babe Ruth a “nigger”
(I hope the quotation marks communicate my revulsion)
Because Babe Ruth was eclipsing Cobb
Putting an end to his
My father was an Italian-American Babe Ruth.
Dad wasn’t a “nigger’
Dad was just called a “nigger”
Just like the Babe
Just like anything lively
that comes in the peripheral vision
of the jerks
who want to be on top
now and always
“The Ownership Society”
Dad revered America
He bought the myth of the shining city on the hill
although he never read it.
He yelled at me when I “criticized my country”
Which I started to do in my twenties
But I saw by that time
How America disappointed my father’s dream of it
He didn’t understand
that his masters didn’t share his innocent childish heart
The masters would never admire the humor
and creative talent
of the African-Americans
who lived in the poor Rochester, New York neighborhood
where my father had his small-time body and fender shop
like my father did
in politically incorrect expressions of imperfect love,
like his love for me.
Dad didn’t understand that the bullies only saw other people in relation to themselves
or marks to be
I didn’t understand for a time
That my father was not a bully
He was never intentionally mean to me
(although he did hate me sometimes — my existence made him feel bad. He wasn’t capable of understanding what I was all about. He felt more than he thought, and he felt that I was the impending destruction of his illusions about the world. He was right.)
He wanted to toughen me up
He yelled at me when I cried as a toddler when shampoo got in my eyes
But he didn’t understand that I didn’t want to beat the bullies at their game
He didn’t see them as bullies.
He saw them as the reigning champs
ready to be knocked off.
We would never see eye to eye.
I wanted a new game
One great gift that my father gave to me
in spite of both of us
Was his example
He ignored the oppressors
and had his fun anyway
(this had nothing to do with what he thought
it had all to do with who he was
which was where his genius lie
his being far exceeded
Like the Negro Baseball League
Dad was founded and shaped by
Equal parts oppression
and everywhere else’s
such as it is
has always come from
supremacists among them
Founded in White Supremacy
Forged in defiance and self-determination
and warm pleas for forgiveness
and figuring it out
the Blessed Trinity
Not letting the self-proclaimed
Ruin our fun.
Copyright 2019 Richard Thomas
I thought Mia Farrow dated Philip Roth to get back at Woody Allen.
Novel trumps screenplay;
literature trumps movie;
National Book Award trumps Oscar.
I was wrong and confused
wandering in search of something more worthy
when stories were all I needed.
Stories to hear and tell.
Mia loved movies when she was young, but maturing
so she loved Woody Allen.
Mia wanted to read when she got old
so she loved Philip Roth.
Now that’s a story.
It’s not a very good one
a little thin
not enough content
But it’s a story
or a start of one
I learned everything I needed about what a story is in my first improvisation classes
a simple koan
to be contemplated upon
to ever greater depths
a story is a thing that belongs to all human beings
it is something we all do
tell and listen to stories
stories are biochemical
from the collective unconscious
our individual dreams
as natural as eating
or making love
or taking a shit
it can be Saul Bellow
or the guy ahead of you in the checkout line at Walgreens
it can be Studs Terkel and his oral histories
Viola Spolin’s exhortations — ANYONE CAN IMPROVISE
It can be intellectual
or a dirty joke
a folk song
a TV commercial
a politician’s line
or a blog post
Every story has what Viola Spolin said that they have: who, what, and where
And the piece that Nichols and May added: a comment
that piece is forgotten too often
it’s the piece that gives meaning
that makes a story more than mere entertainment
or a sop to loneliness
the comment makes the story nutritious
more than just
the satisfaction of a hunger
here’s a who
Mia, Woody, Roth
here’s a what
Mia’s creative life
here’s a where
Mia’s mind, heart and soul
and here’s a comment
Mia’s narcissism informed her love. Her attractions were based on her own personal development. A more developed capacity for love would start with such an attraction but then would become affection and concern for another, another soul with dreams and interests and conflicts and problems that never occurred to the attracted person, in this case, Mia. Attraction is nature’s trick that pulls us into connection with the world, in the person of another person — and connection with the world brings suffering if you love the world. We all end up on one or more cross. Mia escaped all of this by voluntarily consigning herself to a prison of attraction. Her free will chose a stunted soul.
OK, well, I added content, (COMMENT!) but the story is still thin. What the hell do I know about Mia Farrow? Do I have an insight? Maybe. Would this story be better as a fiction? Well it is a fiction. If you are reading me for dirt on Mia Farrow, you need to work on your critical thinking skills.
I was in the same room with her once. I had a small part in “Radio Days” that got cut from the movie.
I was in the vicinity of Woody Allen and Mia Farrow for a day —I met him a few times post Mia as well. I spent most of that day speaking with Chris Elliot who was a very nice guy. I was a tourist that day, a wanderer. I was with Woody Allen, Mia Farrow and Chris Elliot one day when I was searching for where I belong. I wasn’t that far from home.
Allen, Farrow and Elliot are people who trade in stories.
But I am not like them.
I got the sense that Woody Allen liked me, but didn’t think I was much of an actor. He saw something interesting in me. Or maybe I just saw that in Woody Allen, because it helps me be who I am.
Woody Allen can size up a person quickly. He saw that I had the talent to be an interesting storyteller. He also had an inkling — I don’t think he cared enough to think this all the way through — that I was born to tell my own stories, not to work or interpret for someone else.
That’s what I got out of my day on “Radio Days.”
Woody Allen taught me something.
But everyone teaches me something. Everything too.
I was also born to be accepted — not to fit in.
Spolin wrote about acceptance. That is something to contemplate for a lifetime or longer.
Was I talking about Mia or me?
Neither — my story is about the world really. If it is inaccurate about Mia — “Mia” — I speak about her as if I know her — I don’t even want to know her — but if I missed on her specifically, I hit on something that humans do …
So let’s call this whole thing fiction if it makes you feel better
Except it happened
So it’s about me
So the who is me
And the where is my mind
And the whole wide world
So it’s about the whole wide world
And the comments
Well the comments are all over the place
And are about me and the world
I’m good at comments
And they are not opinions
Oh, and Mia? She is a tabloid figure that I am trying to breathe life into
Tabloid stories are empty calories because they pander to the comments of the filthy masses, the rabble, the crowd, the mob
They distract from loneliness
And they push us into despair
What interests me about Woody Allen is how he does what he does more than what he actually does. I find his concerns about his mortality and his fascination with romance to be kind of adolescent. I think adult love and making one’s peace with the facts of mortality comes with work on life’s purpose. Woody Allen, for all of his activity, seems to be searching for life’s purpose. His search is very entertaining. I think it disappoints him.
So of course, I met Woody Allen when I was searching.
Woody Allen fell in love with his little sister, Letty who was eight years younger than he was. His mother admired his affection for Letty and criticized him about most other things.
Does this explain Allen’s lifelong infatuation with young women? A fascination that won him praise when he made “Manhattan” and gained him infamy when he left Mia for Soon Yi Previn?
I don’t know. It might be crude and ignorant pseudo-psychoanalyzing on my part. But it is also the start of a good story.
A story that goes further than me too or defending the indefensible or claims that artists have different moral requirements
A story not an indictment
Or a defense
Not a political screed
Or an explanation
That could look at the weaknesses and passions
And beauties and ugliness of humankind
With an attempt to understanding
The storyteller is an archer that murders the world
With arrows dipped in love
A ruthless pursuit of truth
Married to good will
A Quixotic attempt
The storyteller dies to the world
And comes to birth from within
And the world is also
Copyright 2019 Richard Thomas
6/20/19: Concentration Camps
con·cen·tra·tion camp/ˌkänsənˈtrāSHən ˈˌkamp/noun
- a place where large numbers of people, especially political prisoners or members of persecuted minorities, are deliberately imprisoned in a relatively small area with inadequate facilities, sometimes to provide forced labor or to await mass execution. The term is most strongly associated with the several hundred camps established by the Nazis in Germany and occupied Europe in 1933–45, among the most infamous being Dachau, Belsen, and Auschwitz.
The young politician
is accused of insensitivity
for comparing the concentration camps on our Southern border
with the concentration camps of Nazi Germany
In other words for calling concentration camps
Hitler didn’t just wave a magic wand
load up the trains
and fill the gas chambers
first he identified an other
and screamed into a microphone
about how a group of people were sub-human
then he threatened and hassled them relentlessly
then he rounded them up
and then he put them on trains
and placed them in crowded inhumane conditions
then he milked them for all the political and economic advantage that he could
and then he started killing them en masse
of course many had died individually along the way
The young politician told the truth about the American concentration camps
targeting the oppressed people of Central America
and there was nothing anti-Semitic about it
she was honoring the Jews who were murdered by the millions
but remained indestructible as a race
She was honoring the Jewish religious tradition of caring for immigrants and refugees
She was honoring the Jewish ethos of hospitality for newcomers
born as a loving response to the ugly hatred that Jews have endured
Today Central American refugees are Jews
And you and I should be Jews
The spirit of the Nazis lives in America today
And any facile epithets about socialism or radicalism
can’t erase the moral abomination of the border
Trump did not happen over night either
When I was at UIC I had many students who were immigrants
Most of them were Latinos or Hispanic
many had harrowing stories of what their families endured while trying to navigate and survive the US immigration system
Stories of deportations
living in fear
being threatened in the streets
and these stories were told
during the OBAMA administration
The resistance to calling an American concentration camp
a concentration camp
is part of the great American whitewash
of our history
a history with long dark chapters
The spirits of the Jews at Auschwitz haunt our Southern border
and the Chinese and Irish who died while building the American railroads
and the young boys who died for stupidity and greed in Viet Nam and Iraq
and the Native American tribes who were wiped clean off the continent and the earth
and the African-American slaves who were beaten raped murdered worked to death humiliated deprived their human destiny
General James Garfield described liberating slave plantations in the same manner as American GIs described liberating the Nazi death camps
An old politician talked about working with white supremacists
“to get things done”
but the young politician knew
that the time had come to fight
The young politician was surrounded by the spirits of the abolitionists
and the young GIs who fought World War II
The old politician was called to be Lincoln
But he wound up being possessed by Stephen A. Douglas
He’s a good man
He’ll be loyal to the cause later
After he gets out of the way
But he’s not a great man
The young politician plays her role
She isn’t artful or diplomatic or nuanced in her expressions
She is a siren
screaming that the house is on fire
More has to be defeated than Trump
Trump is a minor consideration ultimately
the whole constellation of dark stars
that haunt American and world history
have to be defeated
An impossible dream
the battle for that dream must be fought
In order to stop the descent into
We are late
the descent has begun
the alarm has sounded
the Battle of Britain has begun
The old politician talks of compromise “to get things done”
The young politician talks of intolerable moral compromise
Calling concentration camps
and defying the voices
that prattle about “socialism”
and get oh so offended by anyone who doesn’t bow to a fairy tale about American Virtue
Those horrible things on the border
wherever refugees and immigrants are shipped and persecuted are
Copyright 2019 Richard Thomas
6/21/19: Why Trump Should Be in Jail
Criminals deserve our sympathy
all crime begins with some justified complaint
abusers were once abused
those who do injustice were once treated unjustly
What possible wrong could have been done to Richie Rich
who had millions of dollars in his own name by the time he was four
I’m trying to understand Trump
Not for his sake
But for my own
I’m not as outraged as I once was
Of course that could be attributed to the passage of time
both in history
and in my own life
I have mellowed toward the death of my illusions
that I live in a free country
Jesus said, “love your enemies”
If you boiled Jesus’ message down to a tweet
that would be it
what does it mean to love Trump
I’m finally ready to ask why he is the way that he is
I’m finally beyond howling FUCK TRUMP
at the moon
What pain visited Donald
that led him to inflict such pain on us
and unleash the vengeance of millions of other criminals
who take their revenge upon us
for ignoring the ways that they were mistreated
in the past
the seeds of harm
that grew into the Satanic rituals of Trump rallies
and the real policies
that multiply the harm
Trump’s biggest sin is also his greatest service
He removed the varnish of hypocrisy
the rationalizations of morality
from the half-baked
conservative American white middle class
a sub-set of humanity so smug in its beliefs
that it is good
when it is really none of the above
addicted to success
concerned only about money
personal power and authority
what do we do about these people
the rich and the not-so-rich and the poor among them
we can’t put them all in jail
Take me to their leader
the human winning lottery ticket
who acts out every conservative white middle class American’s dream
to have so much money
that you can tell everyone else in the world to go fuck themselves
on a pretty much constant basis
Trump must atone for all of White America’s sins
Since he came down from heaven to his people
riding a golden escalator
Donald Trump was born in a log cabin in Queens
to the bride of Frankenstein and her husband, the Kaiser
His father was a KKK enthusiast
And a gangster
who cornered a big chunk of the outer borough housing market
Trump’s parents admired all the wrong things
They thought he was pretty
their assessment was a demented view born in their own narcissism
They sent him to military school
but that was the weak tea
in a mixed message
they wanted a lack of discipline
a wild boar
rampaging the golf courses and the titty clubs
they loved boorishness
which they ignorantly saw as charm
their billions could never buy good taste
so they raised an ordinary looking guy
of limited intelligence
to fear work
and to believe that real achievement was impossible
love was impossible
“and everybody knows it”
Freud famously said that what matters is
“love and work”
Trump was taught that both things were illusions
Trump is human of course
and we are all born with a map
a user’s manual
a soul if you will
that tells us right and wrong
and tells what is true
we know on some level what should be
our emotions are flashing lights
that can guide us to reality
unfortunately our perceptions can get warped
hate has to be taught
Trump was raised to be a con artist
a liar (his perpetual campaign)
a murderer (Puerto Rico hurricane)
a child abuser (family separation at the border)
do I have to recite all the counts of his indictment
Let me say it succinctly
Trump is guilty of all the sins ever committed in the history of white America
he is far from the only defendant on the docket
but he is the culmination
(I’m getting too hopeful here)
(wrong connotation since we are descending to the bottom)
the alpha and the omega
the mythic perfection
of middle-American white conservative bullshit
He is everything that is wrong with the most dangerous people in the world
Terrorists in Bermuda shorts
Raping and pillaging hordes
seething in office cubicles and malls
the 4 H Club
Dale Carnegies with hand grenades
wildly and blindly attacking
always a shove
an unkind word
or a sentimental song
lullabys for grown-ups
nurturance replaced by molestation
perverted power asserting itself against all that is naturally weaker
taking innocent and trusting pleas for care
and sadistically causing distress
Cackling with demented glee
at the suffering of others
Protected by tons of money
bloodthirsty jingoism that they call love of country
and a defiant rejection of God himself
with distorted prayers extolling evil
purported to be to God
but in fact rejecting Him
Jail is the place for the anti-social
We have to say that what Trump is and represents is not part of our society
He should be treated humanely
how do you discipline millions of people
You do it symbolically
It’s bad practice to put political opponents in jail
I am not chanting “lock him up”
But Trump is much more than a political opponent
He must be imprisoned for our sins
I am not a white middle-class conservative American
Their sins are not mine
But I have lived a life
first trusting them
then disliking them but being oblivious to their harm
then knowing how much suffering they created but being frustrated and impotent in the face of it
then hating them and having no understanding of why they were the way they are
then being exhausted by them and retreating into my own world
then accepting my lot in life and doing what I can
we are all drops in an ocean
do the right thing
do the right thing
do the right thing
They must be held accountable
Some will be rehabilitated
some will be too fearful to live
to embrace love and work
and will remain in their self-imposed prisons
that were built on tragic abuse
but maintained with free will
the normal people
must cast them out of society
and require that they be different
before we let them back in
and we must use them as a negative example
and behave accordingly
If we act out of revenge we are doomed
we must act from love
Trump should go to jail
for his own good
for the good of his disciples
for the good of society
for the good of us all
hospitality to the rehabilitated
compassion for the recalcitrant
There is a silver lining to this difficult chapter in our story
we have an opportunity to be really wonderful people
to make a just and loving society
to focus on the right thing
to get beyond rancor
face our problems squarely
and create great things
instead of be stymied and dragged down
Maybe it’s not our opportunity
Maybe it’s just mine.
We (I) do what
we (I) can.
Copyright 2019 Richard Thomas
6/22/19: Go Confidently in the Direction of Your Dreams (with Caveats)
“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. You will be supported by unseen hands on your journey. The Universe is abundant and lavishes its bounty on those who serve the will of God which is revealed to them by the earnest desires of their own souls.”
From assorted New Age texts frequented by creative types of a certain age — Joseph Campbell, Julia Cameron, Sam Keen, Robert Bly yadda yadda yadda
I read these writers religiously as I worked part-time at easy jobs (for me) underemployed — my days in the various offices were a tax paid to death for the privilege of being alive the rest of the time. I wandered the streets of New York alternately searching or exploring for my soul, my heart, doing self-psychoanalysis in the same manner as a man who cuts his own hair. New York was the world. I traveled the world — like Jack London or some writer from another time and all time — on the tramp steamer of the New York City Subway system.
I was in repair from the cruelty that was visited upon me by my confident march into the direction of my dreams. The world had beaten me like a well-dressed man with a fat wallet holding one hundred dollars in his hand in a bad neighborhood at two a.m. on a Saturday night.
It seemed that Carl Jung was an accomplice in all the crimes against me.
But now, twenty years later, I think that Jung and his latter day Jungians (the yadda yadda yaddas) were generally right with several caveats …
Caveat 1: No writer, teacher or leader can figure anything out for you. There is no one size fits all. Emerson had the idea — self reliance. The problem with this New Age life coaching is that it is too generalized. Joseph Campbell wrote of “sacrifice and bliss”. The sacrifice was often ignored by the legions who chanted “follow your bliss.”
Caveat 2: A 60 Minutes correspondent once said that he was following his bliss when he listened to jazz music. He did a show segment about jazz. That’s not it. That’s an infomercial yelling in the middle of the night that you can make money from your hobbies.
Caveat 3: You will suffer as you go in the directions of your dreams. The path into that unknown is a path of learning, and the field of learning is a field of agony. The false security of all of your illusions gets revealed, and each revelation is terrifying.
Caveat 4: If your dream merely excites you, and if it doesn’t give you a deep satisfaction beyond that excitement — a satisfaction beyond emotion and sensation — and if that dream doesn’t feed your soul, serve other people and pay your rent — ground you in ordinary and practical life …
it’s bullshit, and you have more work to do in clarifying your dream.
Caveat 5: It is very reassuring to believe that the universe supports your particular authentic role in it, and it does; but the universe is very cruel from our puny perspective. The universe allows John Huston to direct James Joyce’s “The Dead” from behind an oxygen mask at age 80, his last film, completing an incredible career in art with near perfect symmetry.
The universe also allows a drunk driver to kill a high school valedictorian with a scholarship to Harvard, a prodigy on track to make breakthroughs in medical research, a beautiful kid adored by her parents and siblings and classmates and the elderly people at the assisted living facility where she volunteered.
The New Age writers didn’t emphasize this enough. The courage to pursue your dreams is the strength to move forward in spite of their fragility. They don’t always work out. Sometimes you die before they get off the ground.
The point is not realizing your dreams. The point is pursuing them.
There is no reason why. The reason is who.
To realize who you are, and to live it consciously. The universe has its purposes. Wisdom is seeing yourself as a self-evident being.
The poet writes about a bird in a tree. He doesn’t explain the bird. He honors it and sees his own destiny in it.
Caveat 6: Most readers of the New Age clergy believed that the achievement of their dreams would be accompanied by the applause of others. Joseph Campbell wrote of a point of spiritual development that was “beyond achievement and success.”
That was a good line. The pursuit of dreams is the pursuit of love — learning how to love. Love is its own reward.
The pursuit of dreams has nothing to do with careers.
An artist is a person who does not have a career.
“If you want to serve the world pursue your highest enthusiasm.”
That is another good Campbell line.
People don’t pay you to pursue your enthusiasm.
But you have to eat.
Campbell advised to teach as your job, lead others in a low grade version of your art and to do your art as your work. I took that advice.
I don’t love teaching per se, but I love it as part of my life in writing, in my art.
Caveat 7: There is no escaping nature. Yes, the universe will support you. But it will destroy you too. But poachers kill lions. Pollution destroys sources of food and water. All life dies. Evil triumphs at times. You ultimately get nothing from the pursuit of your dreams except your free and conscious life —- as long or short as it might be.
Caveat 8: Campbell wrote that making one’s art burns out the pain. That is true as far is it goes. But the pain always returns and it plays a role. There is an old airport novel about Michelangelo, old melodramatic movie too — “The Agony and the Ecstasy” — that is a good title.
Caveat 9: Learning is hard. It hurts. It has its satisfactions — the universe knows it must give us some pleasure or we wouldn’t go on, but ultimately we exist for the universe’s purposes not the other way around. We are imprinted with dreams which give us our marching orders to fulfill the destinies the universe intends for us. We don’t know what will happen — that is what is scary, that is what is hard.
And yet, there really is no alternative. If we don’t follow our dreams we never live at all. We are followed by ghosts moaning in unacknowledged pain behind our backs and over our shoulders. We can’t escape our dreams or our pain.
We will experience them positively or negatively. We can live in acceptance or denial.
Caveat 10: The New Age writers were writing for people denying their dreams and pain, but beginning to awake — people who wanted to escape the negative and embrace life’s positive potential — it’s agony and ecstasy.
We transit from hell to purgatory (reading the New Age writers for example) to paradise and back again and again.
We take the trip alone facing the universe.
We write our own spiritual philosophies whether we know it or not.
“If you build it they will come” to quote another old movie — New Age movie not Renaissance movie.
Something else found in the Field Of Dreams:
They will come
showering you with gifts
making you stink with second hand smoke
pelting you with rotten tomatoes
and running you over intoxicated in a car
but they don’t matter
and neither do you
it’s the universe baby
its everything outside of you
and inside of you
and you play your bit part
and the major lead
for a brief time
a blink of history
a speck in the infinite expanse
the center of everything
and at the far reaches from the center
and for eternity
all time and every time
it only takes a moment
it only is a moment
eternity brings peace
the universe in all its agony
Copyright 2019 Richard Thomas
7/2/19: A Melancholy Poem About LBJ
He graduated from Southwestern Texas State Teachers’ College
and got a job teaching poor Mexican-American kids
He did everything that he could for them
He hated poverty
He hated injustice
He had a big heart
He was ambitious
He compromised and cheated all the way to the top
He hated being Vice-President
Kennedy kept him down
He barked in Jack’s ear about Civil Rights every chance that he got
And ate and drank and smoked too much the rest of the time
He was miserable
When fate made him President
an official from the NAACP told Martin Luther King
“We can work with this man
You’d be surprised”
LBJ wanted justice and freedom and democracy
He set about finishing what FDR started
and helping MLK get things started
He gave the credit to his rival Kennedy
That was needed to get the job done.
Kennedy understood the generals better
Kennedy saw through the military-industrial complex
For Johnson that complex was opaque
He sent tens of thousands of American boys to their deaths
the poor ones
and the people of color
that he felt such great compassion for;
and he killed countless Vietnamese farmers
not so different from the poor Texas farmers
who stirred the great man in him.
A greatness aborted
by Viet Nam (conventional observation)
and by the way things are (why this is a poem.)
LBJ was dead five years after leaving the Presidency.
was a story of
could have been
like all of our stories
we all have a genius about us
something we just
an object that stirs a constellation of
our thought and feeling
the thing we were born to do to see to work on
our civil rights movement
our war on poverty;
and we all have a blind spot
that circumstances force us to deal with
our Viet Nams,
so we eat and drink and smoke ourselves to death
because the pain is too unbearable.
and if you are thinking
“speak for yourself
I’m on the rocket to stardom
I can figure it all out
I’m a winner
I’m a success”
You are kidding yourself.
No one escapes the human.
I love the humanities
I love the sadness
A song of love is a sad song
Hi Lily Hi Lily Hi Lo.
Elizabeth Warren says that people are suffering from economic injustice
in concrete ways
in constant fear of losing the roof over the head
or not having gas in the car
or food in the kitchen,
so they took the hate with Trump’s phony pipe dream of something better
and Nuremberg rallies.
Warren makes a very nuanced political statement here.
She is not excusing the immorality of supporting Trump
“They took the hate”
But she also offers the solution
give them the compassion and justice
and they’ll hold the hate on the side
keep it in abeyance
lousiness in remission.
We won’t get everything. I just know it.
It’s a good moment to think about LBJ
a moment of utopian possibility
dancing with dystopian destruction
in a world with no heroes
only heroic impulses
weak well-meaning humans
face to face
hate and nihilism
The migrants at the border
are the canaries in the coal mine
we could have universal healthcare
be told to drink out of toilets as we pee on metal blankets or a concrete floor
maybe be somewhere in between
but the extremes seem most likely
Make America Great Again?
America is a failure
Just like everyone
We dream about what could be
work for it
struggle with hate
the impulse to assassinate us all
get it right and wrong
great and foolish
then go back to the ranch
for our scotch
and rich food
and to die.
I like men and women better than myths
LBJ is not my hero
a hero ain’t nothing but a sandwich
but I love him all the same.
Kamala Harris is a killer
She got Kavanaugh
She got Biden
She’d get Trump
if he’s dumb enough to debate her
which I doubt that he is
Harris is a show horse
She seduces her competitors
and puts them down
So she can work with them again
this time with her on top
a master of jiu jitsu
she uses their girth against them
Warren is a work horse
and more pure
she can defeat Trump too
but it will be closer than with Harris
Warren does not rely on winning
She teaches the people and leads them to reality
The sexy warrior
or the fierce professor
the professor would change the world
Xena would just have our side win for a while.
If only we could have had Kennedy and Johnson at the same time.
Jack would handle the generals
Lyndon would handle everything else.
But that isn’t how life is
If your heart isn’t broken you don’t have one
always a step away from the Promised Land or Hell.
Copyright 2019 Richard Thomas
7/6/19: Halls of Mirrors, Halls of Power
in his private jet
in New Jersey
and was arrested
by the FBI
for sexually molesting
His friends included
Donald J. Trump
William Jefferson Clinton
and Prince Andrew, the Duke of York.
sadistic guards at migrant detention camps on the border.
Gangbangers spraying bullets and murdering babies sleeping in cribs
innocently placed under windows.
All I want is a room somewhere
far away from the cold night air
and one enormous chair
oh wouldn’t it be loverly.
Sweet men live in shame
fretting that they are losers
The meek inherit the ridicule of the earth
The foul smokestacks mock them
the noisy roads threaten them
the cold steel and glass skyscrapers ridicule their
take candy from a baby
spare no rods
leave all children spoiled
You must publish they implore
You must promote yourself
Capitalize on what you have
I just do what I do out of love
and let it take me where it leads
The pursuit of power makes me nervous
If you want me to have it go get it and give it to me
Deliver it in a tightly closed container
for sanitary reasons
I see what the great men do
corrupt their natures
and leave great monuments
a kind of immortality
but graveyards are eventually destroyed
to make way for sub-divisions
and office parks
makes men lust for babies
the perversions of violence
the persecution of the weak
the coming perdition of the strong
nature held up to a funhouse mirror
Thank you for reading my writing
you make me very happy
The powerful make so much noise
a cacophony of sadness
and beyond them
in quiet and obscure places
plays the sweet
of the spheres
whatever that means
The Disney movie ends with the pure hero
winning the girl
and a million dollars
as Epstein is handcuffed at the airport
and the pure crowd cheers and applauds
the pure hero
The meek will inherit the earth?
don’t bet on it
but we get something
whether we see it
Copyright 2019 Richard Thomas
7/6/19: Sexual Evolution
Megan Rapinoe just scored on a penalty kick
And I got all squishy inside
like for a daughter
When I was ten or eleven my family went to a drive-in
and saw a movie called “The Night They Raided Minsky’s”
The movie was about burlesque
In the film’s climax
A woman takes off her blouse
It was the first time that I had ever seen a picture of a woman’s bare breasts
I put my hands over my eyes
And my father pulled my hands down and hollered
I felt ashamed
My father identified my chastity for fear
And the mixed messages began
When I was in high school, my theology teacher, a Jesuit priest
told the class
that when the movies show sex scenes
“they never show the clean up afterward”
To this day, I have no idea what he meant
Another theology teacher, this time a Carmelite
expressed his disgust for Playboy magazine
spitting the words
“they refer to women as MEAT’
I don’t think Playboy actually did that
but his general point made an impression on me
Then I went to Notre Dame
Old enough to know a sexual revolution was going on
But somehow seeing it all through a thick glass door
That seemed locked
Looking at women in tight dresses in car ads
Misdiagnosing my confusion for fear
Paralyzed by lack of opportunity
I went to a strip club in Florida on spring break
ridiculed the sad emcee
who told bad horny jokes
in a sad weary manner
I felt embarrassed
for the fat unattractive women
who made asides to the audience
about their children
and high school equivalency courses
begging for dollars for their g-strings
I remember her name
Had an act
She put talcum powder up her ass
And farted and blew out candles
Or squirted lotion across the stage
with the same technique
I thought she was great
and still do
blowing the lid off of nooky
mocking everyone who saw her as meat
into a joke.
I lost my virginity relatively late
my Catholic upbringing assured that
Despite my father’s weak infrequent arguments
He saw sex as an expression of a man’s vitality
It wasn’t just about families and children and the church
and it wasn’t just about love
A man got laid when he could
that was Dad’s message
his mother — a saint
my mother — a person to be respected and revered
and objects to be used in a man’s testing ground
like the soccer balls that brought him so much pleasure
My twenties were spent on that testing ground
I’m not going to go into detail
I ran in the fields of lust
but mostly I tried to please my father
Everything that I did in those years was to make him proud
By the time I reached my 30s I wanted love.
No influence could obstruct this natural and spiritual impulse.
But I had no idea how to love a woman
or how a woman would love me.
I was deeply hurt by a breakup that shouldn’t have bothered me much at all
and I withdrew from the field.
I was not asexual
but my sexual urges were sublimated.
I abandoned the law and comedy too
and wandered the streets, bookstores and movie houses and theaters of New York City.
I saw Fellini’s “The Nights of Cabiria” at a revival house
And I identified with the heroine
who looked for love
and found self-acceptance
A Catholic boy
with a father, a brother, and a mother
first saw a woman as a person
not a saint, a revered matriarch or an object
in a movie
when he was no longer a boy
but in his early 40s
I remained alienated in my 40s
but the cause was frustration related to my fulfillment in work
and that preoccupied me
My father told me that a man could never get a woman until he was settled with a good and firm income
He really wasn’t a bad father, you know
I know it sounds that way
He just was limited
he didn’t understand the world
and he didn’t see me
He did me a favor actually
because he put me in a position where I had to figure things out for myself.
I knew some women in my 40s
but we were all on the outside looking in
not clear about love and work
not clear about their prerequisites
or lack thereof.
I am so happy about societal changes regarding
attitudes towards sex, love and work.
And I have no regrets about any past agonies
education is agony.
I married when I was 57
for the first time
young to get married I know
but the right time
the inner work
allowed the outer opportunity
And teaching made me love young women
like the daughters that I never had
(the young men felt like sons)
Transsexuals worked at the coffee counter in University Hall at UIC
Some were very nice
Some were cold and distracted
All were people
And every political screed against them
every phony controversy about transgender bathrooms
pissed me off
Stop hassling my kids!
And now I see my surrogate daughter
has just won the World Cup
not a saint
not to be revered
not anyone’s object
that inspires familial feelings within me.
When pundits describe a male politician
and say he is an older white man
he is set in his ways and views
he can’t change
He might not change
but he can.
I love change
I have loved my life of change
and look forward to more changes.
people of color
they are pleading with older white men to change.
It’s not because they need us.
and they have much more wisdom.
It’s because they love us.
These magnificent young women.
Copyright 2019 Richard Thomas
7/10/19: Beautiful Profanity
Megan Rapinoe continues to captivate The Rick Blog.
The conquering Team USA Soccer Team returned to New York City and got a ticker tape parade.
Little girls — ten or eleven years old — chanted EQUAL PAY! EQUAL PAY!
Right on, moppets!
Their leader and role model Megan Rapinoe gave a speech at the end of the parade route.
It was the usual sports figure dedicated to social justice treatment. LeBron James or Muhammad Ali could have delivered it. Talk about a fairer society; teamwork, attitude and commitment to excellence in athletics used as a metaphor for more serious and universal pursuits.
Then — the shocker … Rapinoe concluded with a jubilant, defiant shout:
TEAM USA MOTHER FUCKERS !!!!!!!!!!!!
I didn’t see that coming.
I was stunned.
Then I laughed.
Then I thought — this plays into the hands of her critics. All they’ll talk about is the mother fucking and they will ignore her broader message.
Then I thought more — fuck her critics.
Why should she censor her exuberance or resistance to accommodate them?
Donald Barr, William Barr’s father, hired 20 year-old Jeffrey Epstein as a teacher at the Dalton School in the 1970s. Donald Barr was the authoritarian headmaster of that prep school for the children of the plutocracy. Donald Barr was a veteran of the OSS, the precursor of the CIA.
Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta was a US Attorney who gave Epstein a free pass after serial conduct of rape and sex trafficking. When Acosta was interviewed about the matter when being considered for his current position, he said the decision was made “above his pay grade.” He continued that he was told that Epstein needed leniency because he was important for U.S. Intelligence efforts.
The source of Epstein’s wealth isn’t generally known and is being investigated by reporters and presumably the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York.
Donald Trump hosted a party in the early 1990s with a guest list that consisted of Trump, Epstein, and 28 models.
Trump has been credibly accused of sexual misconduct, including rape, by over twenty women.
Bill Clinton was friends with Epstein, and flew on Epstein’s private jet several times.
William Barr has an extremist legal theory which makes the power of the executive branch limitless and beyond challenge or oversight.
If these people, and everyone of their class, aren’t motherfuckers, I don’t know who is.
They are also
physical and psychological abusers
in need of an exorcism
believing that they are superior
they get the money
they get the power
they can beat us
do whatever they want.
Democracy is a new idea in America.
We still don’t have it.
The Electoral College, Russia, the Mercer Family, Sheldon Adelson etc.
yadda yadda yadda — rich perverted pricks from home and abroad
imposed Trump upon us
imposed the Republican Party upon us.
They don’t like the bad words.
They use them against us.
They cunningly accuse us:
“See, they can’t govern themselves.”
See there is something wrong with them —- they are bad people.”
Fuck their self-serving fallacious arguments.
Bad words are assertions of freedom and power.
*Like always context means everything.
An unfunny comedian saying “fuck” in order to elicit some noise from a crowd he has numbed isn’t interesting.
Or doing anything important.
But Lenny Bruce is.
Properly employed, bad words are terms of morality.
Megan Rapinoe said “mother fuckers” in front of little girls.
The little girls unfortunately have to learn about mother fuckers while Jeffrey Epstein is getting away with everything.
They also have to learn about the power of self-esteem through the development of personal presence and excellence
as opposed to the pursuit of domination over other people
which is rooted in personal insecurity instead of genuine esteem.
Megan Rapinoe mocked the insecure bullying mother fuckers —-
Relationships can endure anything but disrespect
The mother fuckers are incapable of respecting anyone
They don’t know what respect is.
The indictment of Alderman Ed Burke
and the resulting election of Lori Lightfoot
was a revolution
the death knells are sounding for the Chicago Democratic Machine
which was a cultural travesty
grounded in the same zeitgeist as Epstein, the Barrs, Acosta, Trump, Bill Clinton, the Republican Party, the “moderate” Democrats
nothing in Chicago was ever built without someone stealing money they didn’t deserve
Ed Burke had his ring kissed
like a cardinal
for no discernible reason
for being thief of the year?
excellence in intimidation?
Fuck you, Ed Burke
fuck your stolen wealth
fuck your phony status
You’re a fucking joke.
Megan Rapinoe’s cry of “mother fuckers”
is a shout of revolution
Enough is enough of this bullshit.
They only have power over us if we let them
and Megan will have none of it.
YOU MOTHER FUCKERS !!!!!!!!!!!
Copyright 2019 Richard Thomas
7/15/19: The Trouble with Downton Abbey
If the Rick Blog had an editor (besides me), she would probably discourage me from investing time writing thought pieces about TV shows, however popular, that went off the air in 2015 — even if they have a theatrical release installment of the series coming out later in the year.
But the Rick Blog has never been about popularity, often to the great distress of Rick.
The Rick Blog is about Rick’s life which is a boring and uneventful subject determined by design and also by Rick’s nature. Rick prefers to place his attention only on what interests him, and what interests him always comes down to research for deciding what he will think, say, write and do.
Rick believes in writing what he doesn’t know, to turn the old truism topsy-turvy. Rick is an eternal innocent, always looking at a blank canvas, possessing no immovable knowledge or wisdom at all. So Rick always has to figure everything out for himself. It can be exhausting for those who love and care about him.
Rick is an artist — it took him years to figure that one out — so he really doesn’t do anything. He is ill-suited to the worlds of commerce and politics — they upset him.
He loved acting, but that art form is too communal. His impulses were always limited by the impulses of the people around him — impulses that included art, but more often involved commerce and politics — even if only social politics.
People Rick knew in the theater wanted to be rich and popular. The friends Rick made in the theater, who are many and dear always respected and desired art.
Now what is art in The Rick Blog context? Let’s start with the Blog itself. Why would anyone care about Rick’s obscure and largely unnoticed life — a life where Rick doesn’t really do much — and processes his thoughts and feelings about what he observes?
Well, Rick’s conceit is that his experience is a human one and that his experience is universal. He is not knowledgable or wise — and those are advantages for his art. He is fairly intelligent, but not monstrously so. He isn’t so smart it is a problem, not so smart that his genius can act as a defense from his feelings, and his sense of wonder. He is not so smart as to be tempted to exploit his intellectual gifts in order to soar above ordinary life —- office on the fortieth floor, home in a penthouse.
No, Rick is grounded by his ordinary intelligence, endlessly pre-occupied with navigating the plain and humble necessities and opportunities of living from cradle to grave.
Rick is deeper than most people, a favorite word. He doesn’t make his decisions using “common sense”. He really wants to understand the essence of something.
The drive for the essence and the rooted ordinariness of his existence gives Rick’s writing a poetic quality, although he wouldn’t call it poetry. It is “Rick writing”, that’s all.
“Rick writing” is a problematic genre from a commercial point of view. Commerce seeks markets — it needs to fit in.
Art simply goes where it belongs. When it is paid for, people want it as is — it can’t be compromised to suit people’s desired alterations.
Art is not about escape. Art is not decorative. Art deals with what is, and finds the beauty in that.
Downton Abbey played a trick on me. I thought I was learning something. I thought I was experiencing art. And then it pulled the tablecloth from under the elaborate place settings in the dining room, and all that was left standing was cynical, pathetic show biz shit.
Paula wanted to watch Downton Abbey on Amazon Prime. She has a habit of searching out series, new or old, and bingeing them. I happily come along. I love the escape. (I’m not immune to entertainment — I indulge myself with it constantly — it’s just not what I do.) Sometimes, I am surprised by the art that I find in the long-form serials — at least artistic aspects that bleed through from those commercial and communal enterprises.
But I wonder (wonder -the stuff of the Rick Blog) if it is possible to be a little bit art in a project dedicated to fame and money. I don’t think so.
I have friends who have been very successful in show business and have graced that marketplace with an artistic sensibility. They now write their own works. Their time in show business was a good living, and an apprenticeship for what they are doing now.
Art stands outside of the hurly burly for money and power. It is not competitive in any way.
How does an artist survive? The cliche “starving artist” didn’t come out of no where.
He or she survives on faith. An artist believes that life is abundant and provides for all necessities to support that which is natural. An artist is part of the ecosystem, not the economy.
You don’t always get what you want, but you get what you need — materially and creatively — whatever is needed next for your creative development.
An artist is fearless.
I cast a superior eye at the first two episodes of Downton Abbey. I mocked it as an afternoon soap opera “General Hospital” set in the post – World War I British class system. Better sets, costumes, actors and dialogue — but the same old bullshit — who is fucking who, who is going mad, who is going broke, who is envious — oh God.
The soap opera is gossip for lonely people who don’t know anyone to dish about or anyone to dish with if they did have real information.
I have always hated gossip — even when I was a little kind. I hated the look on people’s faces when they gossiped. So bored, too impotent to be mean — just a distraction, an avoidance of their own essence — who they were …
gossip is a fart in a Gothic cathedral
graffiti in an art gallery
disinterest in what is beautiful and fine
a choice of the trivial
But by episode three, Downton Abbey hooked me. I transformed from a man placating his wife’s TV time (balance is needed — I watch a lot of MSNBC and Bears season is on the horizon), to an artist eagerly taking in each moment, thinking he might learn something.
Downton Abbey is so well-crafted. What acting! What dialogue! And that gorgeous craft offers many pithy observations about life.
I thought I was watching a masterwork of popular art. How did they do this? How did they make art in a commercial and communal sphere?
Well, they didn’t.
Julian Fellowes, the credited writer of every episode and the show runner obviously is very well-schooled in English literature. (I purposely didn’t do much research into Fellowes — I wanted the thing of Downton Abbey to speak for itself.) He based his structure of the series on structures he had learned in British novels.
In so doing, he laid out themes — largely about the ending of the British class system in its waning days, and even more grandly the end of the British Empire, the end of agrarian economies, the rise of democracy and the rise of socialism. Fellowes beautifully explored these themes in the entwined stories of the various characters of the piece — peers, middle-class professionals and servants alike.
Fellowes did what the Rick Blog tries to do — talk about large historic, social and existential transformations from the perspective of everyday individual life.
But something happened to Fellowes during the production of the show which ruined him and all of his exquisite effort.
Fellowes is a Conservative member of the House of Lords. He had been a productive and prolific professional writer for a long time before he created Downton Abbey. He had even won an Oscar for his screenplay “Gosford Park.”
Downton Abbey changed Fellowes from a worker-bee to an owner. That was a whole different thing. He killed off a popular character at the end of an early season. It was the right thing to do. It emulated his teachers, the great British novelists. If you want to show the beauty of life, you have to show its pain and tragedy. The beauty is in how people use and respond to sacrifice and pain.
Not in the avoidance of that pain.
Fellowes was experimenting with death in commerce. Downton Abbey was popular. He could do what he wanted. People would follow him. They would accept his leadership as an artist.
The fans wanted their soap opera. The characters of Downton Abbey were, with a few minor exceptions, sympathetic figures. The fans wanted the characters to find love, get the job, overcome illness and false accusations. The fans wanted struggle that always ended in triumph.
Fellowes, now no longer a potential artist, but a really successful merchant, gave the fans what they wanted.
In the series finale, every character’s storyline ends with that character getting exactly what they wanted. No one was defeated. No one died. No tragedy. No lessons learned. They knew what they wanted and they got it — through sure-footed action, the loving support of their community — and ridiculous good luck.
And what happened to the great novelistic themes that Fellowes so artfully laid out in the early seasons? They were just ignored. Dropped.
Literature and history lost out to soap opera.
Advertisers steal from art — they can use art’s evocative sounds and images to sell shit.
In the end, that is what Fellowes did. Downton Abbey was a great piece of marketing. Even if it was on PBS.
And that says something about PBS.
For me, Downton Abbey is a cautionary tale.
It’s a damn shame, really, how commerce has overrun everything.
But art — real conscious art — will still survive and thrive …
made by artists
and enjoyed by audiences
who have faith
and aren’t afraid
and have the discipline and strength of character
to not be seduced by
and meaningless popularity
out of ignorance
Copyright 2019 Richard Thomas
7/17/19: Treasure Hunt
Spoonfuls of sugar
Life is a treasure hunt
You’re getting warmer
you can see
but you are all turned around
Your nature is to giggle with glee
the whole thing is fun
or meant to be
It’s fun not to know
to have to figure it out
In that way your life is yours
and no one else’s
Natural suffering and the opportunity for compassion
Yes you die at the end of the game
and you never know when
tag you are out
yes life brings pain
real and manufactured
and mental health outpatient facilities
and skilled nursing facilities for the elderly
are also places of exquisite beauty
where big strong women of very modest means
wipe raw rectums
stained brown from persistent untamable shit
from demented brains
and bodies otherwise in agony.
a hospice social worker
approaches a lonely man at his father’s funeral
and hugs the unknown mourner
and says the exact right words to evoke healing tears
Mysterious physical suffering
and the pain of loss
The wisdom gained from losing what you love — sweet pain
The greatest football player who ever lived
an example sent from God
of joy and excellence
showed what life could be
its paths run
gleefully eluding every obstacle
rain or shine
win or lose
working so hard
to play so hard
making the most of every gift that God gave him
and giving it back
suddenly for those of us who stopped watching after he retired from the game
of bile duct cancer
We weren’t there to see his long withdrawal from the field
first he gave up his pads and jersey
and then he faced his precipitous drop from life itself
the body extracted from him
leaving only the indomitable spirit
the eternal part of the game
is the inspiration
The Treasure Hunt is a thousand rides
Including the haunted house attraction
where ghouls and goblins attempt to scare you
The obese Latino woman sits with her merely overweight friend
in the waiting room
of the auto dealership service department
For white men who deny the poetry inside them
she is inconsequential
there is no money
opportunity with her
She is just an indication
of the lack of glamour
of waiting on old fake leather furniture
cracked and stained
like hospital rectums
inert with boredom
praying that an oil change be finished
and no money and time would have to be invested in air filters
far from any element of
But if the poetry is activated in the man
the obese Latino woman becomes a thrilling parade
the existential wait
becomes pregnant with possibility
Boredom is a case of unhysterical blindness
the world is a fascinating riddle
a Rubik’s Cube
a treasure hunt.
no longer described here as obese
what an irrelevant detail
watches the TV droning near the wall
the orange monster show which is never off the air
goes on and on
the monster tells her to go back where she came from
that she got a used Kia and the chance to sit for hours on this old worn furniture
and all she does is complain
The woman says softly but firmly
“I’m so sick of him. He killed those babies at the border.”
Strength expressed in exhaustion.
The boogeyman’s words have no effect
they distort nothing that she knows.
It just makes her sad
that for the vulnerable people imprisoned and abused on our border,
brave people risk everything for what is called “a better life”
but what is actually life itself,
the boogeyman is
bile duct cancer.
The boy is playing gin
and his father, an old player
looks over the boy’s shoulder with great interest
That’s not the card you play here
The father has a lot of rules
The boy has some different ideas about how to play the game
The father gets abusive
How could you play that card? What a stupid move!
The boy gets confused
Is his play innovation
He seemed to be learning the game just by playing it
now he is all mixed-up
The father is
and envious that he will soon be too old to play himself
and bored because he never created meaning for himself after
the soccer ball
and even the golf clubs
will no longer be his instruments of living.
Such great pain of the past
a child’s difficulties with his father
is remembered decades later with a detachment
and with a smug competitive smile
I found my game as my body wanes, Dad
Pushing words together
Your time of decline
is my time of ascendance
How do you like those apples?
years from now
I just know it
I sense a long run
I will lose the ability to write and talk
but unlike Hemingway
I will not commit suicide
God can blow the final whistle
I’ll find a new game
I learned that from my father
who went from
to gin rummy
When you are leaving them they know it
and they attack you
out of love
out of self-justification
the clues for the hunt
come from the inside
and synchronize with the outside
and growth involves breaking and tearing and pain
all joy involves human sacrifice
old friendships are burned on an altar
a period of mourning for all that is lost
and gestation of the new life which is to come.
And then it arrives
the treasure is found.
A split second later
the game begins again.
Copyright 2019 Richard Thomas
7/19/19: In Their Hearts They Know They’re Wrong
Trump doesn’t bother me much anymore
Hasn’t for awhile
Every once in a while
He makes me feel rage or fear or frustration
He does something
that reminds me of some bully
in a largely forgotten personal past
He rubs salt and reopens my old wounds
But the difficult emotion passes quickly
Today it is replaced with nervous anticipation
What I call “good anxiety”
They — Trump and my personal oppressors
are beneath me
and conforming to them would bring me nothing good.
Bullies are cowards
so the saying goes
and what are they afraid of …
they fear what I am
One of the best things that I ever did was write this blog
I got in the habit of saying what I think
in a somewhat organized fashion
Knowing myself isn’t about knowing what I think
It’s about feeling what it feels like to say what I think
And do what I think
Unfettered by money
My oppressors hated me
I made them feel bad
They never did an honest thing in their lives
Everything was a manipulation
to get the victory
They measured themselves in competition with others
Their lives created not by what aroused their heart’s desire
provoked their conscience
set their brain on fire
ignited their pity, their compassion
their scorn for untruth, pretension, imposture
They were too busy
going for the gold
assaulting the leaderboard.
Initiated on boys’ playing fields
they descended to murder,
assuming a haughty and condescending air,
in the face of all that they knew was better
than they are
Including and particularly me.
In their hearts they know they are wrong.
They are too scared to repent
so they huff and puff
and kill some more.
Father, forgive them, they know not what they do
Their ignorance is not of their sin
They know that they participate in evil.
What they don’t know
is the alternative.
That is why
and the many that I personally have known like him
are possessed of that curious hybrid combination of ignorance and cunning.
I pity them
as they burn in the hell I see
with a final glance over my shoulder
as I float toward the stars
with butterflies in my stomach.
Copyright 2019 Richard Thomas
7/20/19: We Need a New American Dream
We’re in Knoxville, Tennessee
visiting Paula’s friends and family
I like the drivers of Knoxville
They’re not in a hurry
I’ve never seen one be rude
Not like on the thunder domes of Chicago, St. Louis, L.A.
the ladies of Knoxville smile at me as I smile at babies
Grandpa at the Chautauqua
the Shakespeare festival at Stratford, Ontario
The Music Man
Take Me Along
Any gazebo you choose
free music in the square
A sweet summer world
a world without entrepreneurs
People start businesses to share their needed talents with their friends
No winning and losing
Only doing well
by one another
with each other
A warm and largely unspoken hospitality
No one putting on airs
No one making a fuss
except on the radio
The radio sells dissatisfaction
Orders people to enter the race
To risk everything
and come up a winner
or lose in shame
to be harsh and strident
that the nice are weak
and the world belongs to those who grab it
the meek are suckers.
Entrepreneurs are victimized
according to the radio
by those who call for the meek
to be fed
to be sheltered
to be cared for when they are sick
to be visited and treated kindly in jail
to be well-educated
to be welcomed when foreign
to be guaranteed equality in all things.
These demands suck the blood from the entrepreneurs
the demands interrupt the entrepreneurs quest
to subjugate the living world.
The New Testament,
particularly the Beatitudes,
is fake news.
The people of Knoxville
in their natural state
are the seeds of the new American dream
following their bodies as the move through the deep linear valley
is an invisible shadow
only heard on the radio.
I sit in a Starbuck’s writing.
A group of friends chats over coffee.
The eccentric outlier
a heavyset woman in an old blouse and jeans
with a slightly agitated look in her eye
she’s the supposedly “crazy” one
she sees the invisible shadow
the static of natural living
the radio station that plays even when the radio isn’t turned on
“He’s a racist!”
she says breathlessly
“She has every right to criticize her country!”
“It’s un-American to tell her to go back where she came from!”
“This is her country.”
Her coffee mates calmly listen to her.
One tall casual young man with black hair answers her softly.
“He’s not a racist.”
The young man is peaceful
with a kindly manner
and totally insane.
Enough of this oppression of “making it”
“the pursuit of happiness”
let’s take care of each other
and then we can pursue whatever we damn please.
A young nurse practitioner in Knoxville has to turn away patients
or other means
from receiving needed treatments,
human sacrifices so bigger profits go to the man who pays a payroll,
a payroll paid with less than a living wage,
families are destroyed due to money worries
all to subsidize the man who pays the payroll’s entrepreneurial success.
The New American Dream:
everybody has shelter
everybody is taken care of when they are sick
everyone is equal
everybody gets a say
everybody gets an education
no one has to worry about Darwinian survival issues
we will be evolved beyond the sensibilities of wild animals
we will be nurtured and protected by each other
we will take care of our needs collectively
so then individually we can dream whatever we damn please
entrepreneur, artist, athlete
Business can be a part of life
adjunct to life
but it isn’t life itself
and life must come first.
The people of Knoxville have this dream and insight already
but they forget it when they wake up
and hear the radio.
Copyright 2019 Richard Thomas
The battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton.
Oh, bullshit — blow it out your ass.
Often when something related to work or reputation is unsettled, I wake up in the middle of night wondering if I am a pussy — a scared little failure who never achieved a goddam thing because he took his ball and went home instead of testing his mettle against the other boys.
Excuse the politically incorrect language, but it is good writing to say “pussy” here, ladies and sensitive gentlemen, because my thought about being deficient was a chip implanted into me by that evil veterinarian, society, who wants to keep track of all its dogs and always be able to fetch them and bring them home.
My father and brother were athletes. I am not an athlete. They loved me, and I adored them as a little boy and beyond. They competed with me at gin, at foosball — never at anything important. They rooted for me as I cheered for them. They did that thing that a lot of jocks do — the mind games, mocking, taunting — whenever we played. They were older than me, and better at sports and games. I was smarter than them and more sensitive. So I fought back in my own way too — who I am I kidding.
But when they razzed me in our games, it really hurt my feelings. They were gods to me, and my kid psyche took it all to heart. I lost confidence when I played those games with the men in my family.
I am not getting all Freudian here. My recurring doubt about competing is not something I blame on harm done by Dad and Bro. On the contrary, I think it is the map for my relationship to competing, or lack thereof.
For me, competition is
-A childish thing — games, fun, an entertainment, nothing important, unrelated to mature achievement
-Something I did with my father and brother. What I remember are not the games per se — but the love, the spending time together, the physical proximity to them — I loved being with them. This passage is kind of like the sentimental stories that you hear on talk shows, or ESPN classic — people like Billy Crystal tell these stories — about how they bonded with their distant fathers at Yankee games …
except that my father and brother weren’t distant — as I got older, not even that old, I was the one who pulled away — I was bored by the golf course and thought that many of the guys that they played their more serious games with were dumb.
-also I learned another difference from Dad and bro — I wasn’t a competitor, I was a more serious person destined for more serious things.
My family, by natural design, was an entity where people with wildly different personalities and different ideas were condemned to loving one another. I couldn’t pick the family that I was born into, and I couldn’t escape the love and adoration that I felt for them. I think that passion came with my first breath.
I wonder if my brother or father ever woke up in the middle of the night wondering if they were deficient because they weren’t smarter or more sensitive —
The pain I felt from the card game taunts of Dad and bro — taunts in retrospect that they weren’t very good at when I think of what I heard once I was out of the family room and out in the world — real violence and meanness — Dad and bro weren’t capable of that — they were enjoying themselves …
no, it was a little darker than that — they knew they were hurting me — it wasn’t that they didn’t care — they thought that I should toughen up — that I was too soft — they wanted to teach me to win
my father once yelled at me when I was about eight years old because I was crying in the bathtub from the sting of shampoo in my eyes
he was a sensitive kid and he hated himself for it
when I writing a speech that I was to give at my high school graduation, I told my brother that a teacher suggested that I make it funny — I was known for performing comedy at school assemblies — my brother got upset. He told me they just wanted the jokes and no one would respect me for it.
my brother was always overly concerned with what people thought. The opinion of the crowd mattered to him
mattered too much.
My brother and father loved me, but they wanted me to be someone else — the way a man was supposed to be — rules that they thought were universal.
For my part, as I got older, Dad and bro came off of their pedestals. I became increasingly critical of them. I thought that they should be different too.
So the big love, and childish competition became an argument.
Eventually, my father died.
And my brother and I naturally separated into our independent lives.
The love never went away. I was with my father at the end. He was dissatisfied with me on the second last day of his life, he told my brother so. It hurt at first, but I quickly realized that he was dissatisfied with himself. My father and I are very much alike, and I think it has taken two lifetimes to resolve some of our ignorances about existing in the world.
What Dad hated in us is what is best in us.
I am still close to my brother, but not involved with his work or friends as I had been in the past. My mother pushed me towards his life — I played the role of lost boy in the family for a period of my adulthood — and Mom thought my answers lie with my brother who was married and had a successful career. We had to work through that well-meaning catastrophe and I know bro was relieved when I disengaged.
I was filled with rage in that period, and he was filled with resentment
all that darkness evaporated
all was forgiven
I’ll be damned if I can remember all the details of that story
I’m sure they’ll come to mind in other contexts
They just don’t seem relevant here
I can say that these difficulties did not just pop away
in a sitcom resolution
it was a lot of effort
on both of our parts
In the end
I became a writer
and he became a nicer guy.
Competition is a diversion
a pass time.
I was sad when the Bears’ Cody Parkey missed the field goal that would have beaten Philadelphia in the playoffs last year.
I am a big Bears fan.
My Sunday fun has roots in resonant memory.
My brother played for the team as a placekicker.
I was interested in his friends when he played on that level.
High-performance athletes are often ironically un-competitive.
Some play the kid stuff head games that my father and bro used on me in foosball and gin rummy — the great competitor, Michael Jordan comes to mind
but let’s face it, Michael Jordan was an asshole
could care less about social justice
didn’t share his money and success to help many people
nothing like my preference LeBron James
family and community meant zero to Jordan
lives on golf courses
and in gaudy houses
My brother adopted two children
became a judge
was very involved in his church
a right-wing church that I highly disapprove of
(but my approval or disapproval doesn’t matter here
it’s the existential thing — what the church means to him — the person
not the thing
the who not the what)
My brother is committed to community
and helping others
My brother is not an asshole
And neither were the guys that he played with in the 1970s and early 1980s
when he was with the Bears
Those guys were nice to me
This was years after my high school graduation speech
my brother now invited me to tell jokes at sports banquets and Bears’ training camp
we had a lot of fun
Supporting each other
Cheering each other on
(Artists, athletes and human beings need support — we should boost each other in our authentic roles — who God made us, what God made us to do
in the end, it is the love of and for others, and for the actions of our lives that matter
not the wins and losses)
The Bears players of that era
were trying to survive
not get cut
not get injured
and trying to excel at what they did
they respected the other team
they supported each other
as teammates and as individuals
They were not competitive
it had nothing to do with besting another person
it had to do with being a good person
and being good at what you do.
I have lived my life like them
I have nothing to be ashamed of.
I now avoid competitive people like the plague
Increasingly not with anger, fear or bitterness
although some of that still remains
(no sitcom resolutions)
I avoid them because between the people that I love
and the work that I love
there is just no time
Be Best, y’all.
Copyright 2019 Richard Thomas
7/26/19: The Government Officially Announced this Week that Democracy in America is Dead
On Wednesday, a Congresswoman asked the Special Prosecutor who investigated Russian interference in the 2016 Presidential election if she would be indicted, convicted and incarcerated “for a long time” if she had committed the several acts of obstruction of justice that President Trump has committed that are documented in the Special Prosecutor’s report.
The Special Prosecutor, Robert Mueller was known, prior to Wednesday, as a guardian of the rule of law in our free and democratic society.
But Mueller’s brief and succinct answer officially revealed that “freedom”, “democracy” and “the rule of law”, and Mueller’s reputation as a guardian of “the Constitution and American norms and values” are public relations tropes used to mollify and control the masses — get them to fight stupid wars, work meaningless jobs, and endure relentless assaults on their freedom to live as they see fit — brainwashed with an illusion of personal dignity.
The announcement was only notable by dint of its official nature. Many Americans knew of the oppressive state of affairs. This group is largely represented by the people who don’t vote, and otherwise drop out of societal participation, endeavoring to be invisible in order to avoid societal demands as much as possible. These anonymous souls haunt the national landscape with an insubordinate passivity and abandoned potential. Men and women live lives of quiet desperation for existential reasons. Mueller’s answer to the congresswoman only spoke to the government’s role in this mass suicide.
Many other Americans don’t reflect upon freedom and democracy at all. They are thoroughly socialized. They do horrible and immoral things because they are expected to do so as they work at their jobs. They do the tedious chores of necessity required by their material lives, and spend the rest of their time escaping into sensations that they find pleasurable — an all encompassing concept of leisure called “fun.” These people aren’t quietly desperate. They do what they are told. They enjoy the perks and accept the sorrows of doing what they are told. They call this bondage “life.” When consideration of other possibilities are proposed to them, they become fearful and agitated. Members of this group often self-identify as Republicans and Moderate Democrats.
Some Americans took the public relations tropes of American freedom, democracy and rule of law very much to heart. They believed the propaganda and sentimental hokum. They had a romantic view of this country, because of its beautiful stated values. They saw America as a nation committed to those values — failing at times and far less than perfect, but always noble in its pursuit.
They won’t believe any of that anymore after Mueller’s answer, and they will become revolutionaries.
A few Americans have been such revolutionaries for a long time. They knew America has never been a democracy and have worked in many different ways to try to change it into one.
A few Americans have looked cynically upon the power structure, the nobodies, the worker bees, the saps and the do-gooders and their various levels of understanding and concern about democracy. These Americans are called criminals, and they ironically often control the power structure that they disdain themselves.
Success in the power structure is simply and obviously dependent on ability to obtain power. Criminals are clearly good that.
The ruthless pursuit of power merely for the sensation of having it is a narcissistic endeavor that serves nothing but the ego of the pursuer. Everyone not engaged in that pursuit suffers abuse, injustice and dissatisfaction.
That’s America today.
Mueller never was a defender of the rule of law and our constitutional system. Mueller has always been, from his time in combat in Viet Nam — a defender of the power structure. Mueller is not the oppressor himself.
Mueller is the oppressor’s employee.
Mueller’s answer to the congresswoman revealed it all. Would she go to jail if she did what Trump did? Well, Mueller replied with a faint smile of resignation, most people would — but you are a member of Congress.
“No man is above the law”. My ass.
Position, money — they matter. Tears for the rich and powerful when they break the law, the federal death penalty reinstated this week for everyone else.
Mueller was my pride in being a lawyer for the last two years. Yes, most lawyers are merely mechanics fixing and exploiting systems that serve the ends of our masters. But a lawyer could stand for our rights and equality under the law.
I believed in Mueller.
Atticus Finch is just a character in a book. That book is important because it fills us with a dissatisfaction with the incongruity between what we are born knowing in our hearts, and the reality of how we live.
It may seem discouraging to some that we are still on that first step confronting the dissonance between harsh reality and what we know to be true.
Trump has gotten away with it. He won’t be impeached. He won’t ever go to jail.
Trump isn’t an aberration. He is nothing new — just more obvious.
The legal establishment announced on Wednesday that the law comes in second place to money and power.
The leading Democratic candidate for 2020 says that everything was great in 2015 before Trump. The Iraq War, the 2008 Crash, the criminal justice system, the criminalized immigration system …
Obama going to Flint and saying that no one should be prosecuted, and that the water was clean
All of that was fine and dandy …
The question, as always, is what to do?
There are all sorts of revolutions.
Start one or two — right where you are.
Don’t just take it
hide from it
escape from it into sensations to ease the pain
how do you work
how do you love
how do you live
All societies are evil
American evil has come out of the closet
Grifters, murderers, fascists and pedophiles run the show
and Christian marines
who became lawyers
and lived and worked with pristine white knight reputations
with quavering old man voices
that is just the way it is
How can you be part of all that?
You must be something different.
You can’t look for Mueller
or Harper Lee, for that matter,
to do it for you.
No one is coming to save you.
The world sucks and always has sucked
But that To Kill a Mockingbird thing in your soul is part of the world too
What are you going to do
with that To Kill a Mockingbird thing?
Copyright 2019 Richard Thomas
7/29/19: Indifference, Revenge Fantasies, Revolution, Choices, Free Speech, End of Rule of Law, Art is Last Hope to Save the Day
Quite a weekend
Life follows the structure of a Tarantino movie
A simple story
with characters observed in loving detail
affection for them unrepressed
their flaws not ignored
places regarded in the same manner
the complex image compositions of
the continuous running shot
of my eyes
cameras rolling through the world
from location to location
all relevant to the tale
and the surreal compositions
of my mind
the mind’s eye
which add a comment to it all
AND A COMMENT
It is the comment which gives the meaning
So what to do with a weekend
so rich in observations
leading to personal and universal insights
feeling like coherence
but epic and novelistic in scope
So many strands
in the process of being weaved into a tapestry
but they must be written down
in some fashion
a complete piece of the moment
and a rough draft of the future
not even a draft
the weekend can be memorialized
the life a work in progress
following a story arc
yet to be completed.
I usually write from memory
The memory is accompanied by feeling
The writing turns the random disjointed events of my life into a story
and I get to make my comments
through the story
and move on
Many past events stay in my memory for only a brief time
They are not relevant to the story
or the relevance is in the fact they are ignored
I saw an old friend from Second City
One of my closest
He is a historian of sorts of that institution
and improvisation in general
and he remembered a time
maybe ten years ago
when he and I visited Second City
and were invited to do the set
with the then- current company
as alumni often are
I remembered that we did that set
I remembered that I did something in the set on the topic of pedophilia
I remembered a vague feeling that I didn’t like that company
or as artists
I thought that they were dull
the feeling wasn’t strong enough to be retained in my memory
For my friend the memory was more detailed and vivid
It made his Tarantino movie
as opposed to my cutting room floor
He told me that the cast
made me a pedophile in an improvisation
and he refreshed my recollection
They did so
because I am not a famous actor
a goal that I never chose to pursue
a lawyer a writer a teacher an artist a man
I was always oblivious to what was around me
at Second City
and anywhere else
My story has a point of view
I really don’t care about what matters to other people
when it comes to the choices and values of my life
and I don’t care about their choices either
to each his own
but this particular group
(and probably not all of them — I can’t recall)
now that my pal brings it up
is a pack of assholes
lacking the intelligence and sensitivity
to create a real character
or make a satiric observation
not alone in the history of Second City
a lot of assholes have worked at Second City
But they aren’t the people that I choose to remember
I remember a beautiful mirror exercise that I did with Barbara Harris
and the way that Paul Sills made me feel that I was special and an artist
and I feel the connective tissue of memory
that has gone beyond scenes and words
that acts as an adhesive with the many friends that I made when I was performing at Second City in the years when I was active there and not an alum
and I remember the pain I felt when people that I thought were friends
turned out to be in Second City’s asshole tradition
and not in the Barbara Harris/Paul Sills wing
My friend tells me that I triumphed that night of the pedophile set
I fully accepted and embraced my role as pedophile
I stepped down to the edge of the stage
and made the audience attendees at a pedophile convention
and a lyrical song emerged from me
a poem about crime and perversion and outcasts and shame and the possibilities of rehabilitation or not
the pain and destruction visited upon vulnerable people by evil
the audience laughed and was engaged
it probably was the first time in awhile that particular stage had some theater take place upon it
My friend said the would be bullies snuck off stage
when my true improvisation began to prevail
It reminded me of another time when I wasn’t victorious
when they embarrassed me in front of my nephews
but that time didn’t hurt any more
it had been edited clean away
with the thousand of other interactions that I had in my life that were not on the trajectory of my life’s meaning
My friend was still processing these untoward events
They have a different meaning in his story
all together different
It is up to him to tell that story
I said to him on Saturday
Don’t you think those people are kind of stupid and mean, they don’t do anything that resembles what we do and that it’s not worth wasting our time with them?
Anyway — that’s what I’ve done with them’
there only appearance here is as an explained edit
A man can wander around in the swampy lowlands
and if he tarries there
all of his good qualities will go to waste
he will not become evil himself
but will be inconsequential chum for the evil leviathan that consumes him
The people that I have known from Second City
that are mean and envious and competitive
unfailingly are not good at what they do
they may or may not succeed at it commercially
but they universally suck
and I hesitate to write this
because I know from history that many great artists were pricks
and that no one is perfect
but maybe this present moment in time
My friend invited me to speak with his group at Bughouse Square
It was the only group with an open soapbox
Anyone could share their voice
At this summer festival celebrating
in the park outside of the Newberry Library
Other groups had soapboxes
with entrance requirements
some could speak
and others must listen
The main group held a free speech competition
judged by a culture critic from the Chicago Tribune
None of the other soapboxes
and particularly the main one
does not involve
“The marketplace of ideas”
is a metaphor
to put the emphasis on the individual speaking
declaring winners and losers
diminishes the message
turning democracy and art
into show business
Even at the open soapbox where I spoke there was a time limit for speeches
five minutes each
I understand the practical necessity of the time limit
and such restrictions can actually further art
boundaries that shape that message
but I must say I love
could care less about time limits
his movies sprawl
and yet are economical
I saw his movie twice
Once on Thursday night
and once on Sunday afternoon
On Thursday night I felt it dragged a bit
On Sunday I saw that each second of screen time was purposeful
I saw that the limitations of Thursday night
I had a long drive from Nashville to Chicago that day
I had over-eaten for a week on vacation and was bloated
and the show’s running time was the span of three bathroom breaks and I held it the whole time
It took me til the second viewing on Sunday to shake off the cobwebs of all the bad movies that I had seen lately
Movies that asked nothing of me
that actually coddled me with what they thought I’d like
that played bland corporate elevator music
and turned the theater into my air-conditioned waiting room
as I hoped that something might soon happen
in my life
not the film
A vivid contrast
to the powerful and distinctive voice
a man who doesn’t compromise what he says or how he says to reach me
I have to meet him half way
He is popular
but not for everyone
and there are levels of understanding
what he is saying
that is art
giving as much fodder for contemplation
as life itself
Tarantino juxtaposes that which he loves the most with that which hates what he loves the most and tries to destroy it
He affectionately portrays the objects of his affection
charmed by all of their imperfections
which he refuses to ignore
and does the same for what hates his lovers
and then has the objects of affection destroy the haters in surreal stylistically and unrealistically violent revenge fantasies
his object is more than catharsis
although he certainly achieves that
This is good
This is bad
This should survive and flourish
This should die
End of Rule of Law, Art is Last Hope to Save the Day
The Supreme Court is tainted with illegitimately appointed judges
The rich and powerful are beyond the arm of the law
The Justice Department is at war with the people
Two of the last four Presidents were unelected usurpers
Two of the last four Presidents
talked a good game and served economic royalists
It was just as bad before those four
but not as sophisticated in its evil
There are no checks and balances
It is the time of the strong man
Strong men laugh at Bughouse Square
Losers amuse themselves with their impotent words
Friends are exhausted
They want to look away
and ignore the problem
What good does it do
to be drawn down into the ugliness
They want to make choices
They want to forget
the present nightmare
like I forgot the mean and stupid Second City actors
My friend doesn’t forget them because he hasn’t left them
He is still part of their community
I am not
I keep my friends and discard the rest
the assholes don’t interest me
I can’t do that with America
The lawyers and the politicians can’t save us
democracy or not
can survive without the consent of the governed
and the Rick Blog
The violence is only the mind
Yes and no.
and live it.
No lawyer or politician can save you
And you can’t save yourself
unless you take
the stream of unconsciousness of your life
all the random
and process them through the lens of your feeling
alchemizing the concoction of events and feeling
telling your story
and committing to it.
LIVE THE STORY.
Numbness and discouragement
I love the biographies of artists, as much as their art.
Life as art
Art as life
Everything happening on the national stage
in the pornographic epic that the media reports to us every walking moment
has happened in my life
the places that I have frequented and still frequent’
There is an answer
You just have to write it down
and apply it as you go along
collectively and individually
begins on an open soapbox
There is no competition in real art or life.
7/29/19: Indifference, Revenge Fantasies, Revolution, Choices, Free Speech, End of Rule of Law, Art is Last Hope to Save the Day
Copyright 2019 Richard Thomas
7/31/19: What Courage Looks Like In These Times
Courage, on July 31, 2019 looks like a cheesy movie from 1979 based on an airport novel represented by a poster selling a melodramatic morality play as sex farce, and with soundtrack music that doesn’t know the difference between comedy and drama, and a contemporaneous rival film, 1977’s Semi-Tough, which was actually a comedy but had a much better title for the movie I’m discussing here, the one about courage, the one that spoke to me, the movie that became important to me this morning, even if it isn’t Shakespeare, North Dallas Forty.
Especially because it isn’t Shakespeare
North Dallas Forty looks like courage in 2019
It comes in unrecognized places
places without polish and pedigree
populated by individuals
sick of the bullshit
who care fuck all for recognition
and receiving knighthoods from kings that they don’t respect and can’t stand.
In the 1970s this anti-establishment stance was cool
Today its the mark of a loser
But Jesus was a loser too
And North Dallas Forty
based on a novel by Peter Gent
that I think I read on a bus
and the toilet
probably breaks one thousand rules of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop
but it tells a timeless story nonetheless
The value of a story is
its ability to transcend its time and place and touch on the universal
a supermarket checkout potboiler
as relevant today as when I was young
and being shaped by this type crapola
lucky enough in this instance
to come across a show that was written by an honest man.
In the movie, Nick Nolte is a veteran wide receiver for a football team that resembles the Dallas Cowboys
In the 1970s the Dallas Cowboys were sex appeal
The best of the NFL
the best of the best
Harvard prestige, baby
Everyone was impressed by the Dallas Cowboys
Respect and fame are two very different things
respect is something real
and fame is a sensation
the news instead of a novel
fame is a hard on
and respect is love
fame — making a name for yourself
is a fight
and the men handing out the name tags
in North Dallas Forty
in a wordless fashion
but his bosses get the point
He knows that the team’s owners and coaches own him
He says yes, sir, no, sir
in a compromise
to get to play the game
not for the worthless fame
or even the respect of anyone else
but for excellence
the source of his self-respect
the bosses aren’t stupid
they know that he is better than they are
so they try to control him
it’s a routine I’ve lived out several times
they make a fuss over you
you get the job
you do something in a smarter, more talented, more effective way
than they ever could
but it’s not what they want you to do
because they are management and they are the ones who made the name to make the decisions
it’s not about being good, it’s about pleasing them — you dig?
so they hassle you
lie that you are a novice in need of their direction
and you say
yes, sir, no, sir
because you get a chance to do what you love to do and get paid for it
then they toy with you
they make promises that they have no intention of keeping
in order to dominate you
you try to ignore them
and just do your thing
you come through for them in the clutch
and then they call you into their office
with some sort of manufactured complaint
based on trivial chickenshit nonsense
they try to shame you as a bad person
and they tell you that you are not a team player
because when they have spoken bullshit to you over the years
they can see that you don’t buy it
and still worse for them
and better for you
you aren’t there to be used by them
you are the master of your own life
and you are serving your own agenda
this is not the selfishness that they claim
and they know it
it is the source of all genius
That’s what happened to Nick Nolte
and me — several times
and higher ed
An initiation on an endless loop
boys of the seventies
learning a lesson of the ages
circling around art and freedom
trying to catch those brass rings
on the merry-go-round of commerce
The bosses tell Nolte he is a bad man
Nolte the man who saves women from steroid-crazed predators at a team orgy
(his quarterback tells him not to bother and think about the game — he needs the rapists to block for him on Sunday)
and shows deep concern for a player, a nominal young competitor for his job on the team
when the coaches shoot the player up with painkillers
and destroy his leg and career
(the coach demands that he does not bother and think solely about the game — the young player is just useless broken goods and Nolte is the replacement part)
They caught Nolte smoking a marijuana cigarette
and wanted to strictly discipline him
in cliched 1970s villainy
but representative of real villainy nonetheless
we’re looking past the joints, bellbottoms and sideburns and fu manchus here
1979 and 2019 are the same moment
Art transcends fashion
The bosses wanted to suspend Nolte without pay
The bosses wanted to see him weak
The bosses wanted him to acknowledge that he couldn’t survive without them
Nolte tells them
I don’t need your fucking money
He didn’t need the thing that kept him in his unholy contract with those who would exploit him
He didn’t need the bosses
to be excellent
The compromise was no longer sustainable
Nolte walks out of the office building into the sunshine
The quarterback reminisces with him
and tosses him a football
which he refuses to catch.
Final credits roll.
I want to know what happens next.
How does Nolte support himself without the football money?
Does he pursue excellence again?
He was a great wide receiver.
1970s movies were good at those endings
but where does the hero drop out to?
Not knowing and dropping anyway
a Tarot card Fool
focused as a wide receiver going for the ball over the middle in heavy traffic
and jock brio
What Courage Looks Like In These Times
Copyright 2019 Richard Thomas
8/1/19: The 2nd Democratic Debates — 2 Days of the Locust
A Nathaniel West phantasmagoria
Truly representative government
Our leaders are just us
To see them as far or distant or special
is just a cop out
a way of escaping responsibility
the two days of Democratic debates
reflects my outer experience
what I have seen of this American life
what I have seen as I’ve crawled like an ant across the vast American tableau
and reflects my inner experience
which is a ball of confusion
not certain of what I am
or more precisely how to exist as what I am
a practical matter
not a spiritual one
only clear about what I am not
I hate being an entrepreneur
which works because I decidedly am not one
All the selling and self-promotion
I could never be on the political stage
I am too weak and sensitive for that chaotic scrum
I’m of no use to anyone
After I spoke at the Bughouse Square Open Soapbox
People thanked me
and I wondered why
I think I may understand
An artist is no genius
An artist is an innocent naive human
a little baby
who somehow finds the courage to go outside
and take the blows
and hugs and kisses
and is blessed
and it is a blessing
it is not something worked for, earned or developed
it is a matter of grace
(and a curse from a practical point of view — how I wish I were an accountant or a hack writer on a dumbass TV show)
not everyone can be an artist
everyone has the first prerequisite, human experience
but not everyone has the gift of communicating what they’ve learned
and that is what art
communicating what one has learned from human experience to other people
So the people at Bughouse Square thanked me
Because I was there equal
no better or worse
and I talked to them
about what we are going through
it may have instructed them
helped them make sense of things
but more so it comforted them
they felt the warmth of being perceived and talked to
above the cacophony of business
A Nathaniel West phantasmagoria
A Where’s Waldo mural illustrated by R. Crumb
An orgy of sex, race and blood
the early July 2019 Democratic debates
A country, a party, a group of rivals
Trying to figure who they are
and that’s art
but they are not artists
They should listen to artists
but they are too busy
You should listen to artists
but you are too busy.
An old refusing to let go
because the world has changed
and they relate only to a memory
the craziness of the old
dementedly listening to music that most people aren’t aware of anymore
insisting that the past is present
supposedly front running
ridiculously atop a human pyramid
smiling and giving orders
that are impossible to fulfill.
Idealouges who have have a “world view”
which gives them acute powers of critique
but also limits them to rigid solutions
that don’t adapt to reality,
their point of view is not reality
which is ever in a state of reconfiguration on an eternal ground.
A woman of color struggles to own her ambition
and fiercely and unapologetically fight for her moment in the sun
alternately shining and stumbling
still emerging in the personal recovery just begun
modeling herself on white men and politicians who wanted a certain kind of rancid power.
A brittle woman seeking revenge on men who have abused her
and failing to get it
just as she unconsciously wants it
masochistically applying pressure to her delicious wound.
A cult member
An entrepreneur who believes that modern business will save him and us
a business that understands technology
and changes in the economy
a guy who gets the numbers
a guy who clearly sees many of the pieces
but doesn’t get the whole thing
but not leadership.
A popular apostle of self-help spirituality
who understands love and the darkness of its absence
but is compromised by commercial entertainment
and is a gadfly
not a serious alternative
because her mysticism is not grounded in any worldly and concrete ability
not a lawyer
not a teacher
not a business person
and not a writer or an artist
with a good heart
and a facility to make money
and get over,
not horrible, not enough.
Faceless white men at Progressive Karaoke night
On a lark
trying stuff out
a person of full coherent purpose
who knows herself
and knows the world
her own and the world’s constant transformation
constancy in change
the Tao of Politics
and the technology
and the personal
who has spent a lifetime exploring herself and the world
and is ready and confident
the one with the plan
and the understanding of what it will take to make it a reality
She knows the change that the soul of America is struggling with at the moment
it’s real dangers
and extraordinary opportunities.
It remains to be seen if her cream will rise to the top
all of the other candidates are aspects of the rich paradoxical and contradictory American mind
they are natural
but the artist has the major task
of understanding it all
and finding meaning
and then sharing what he found with others
not as a guru
or with tips for their success
but as something for them to look at
and reflect upon and review
and allow to resonate
and not resonate
and to feel that which is universal
and apply to the shifting point of their own transforming lives.
I had a dream about Elizabeth Warren the other night.
She was walking up the steps of a campaign bus
and a tall South Asian man
with a handlebar mustache
came up behind her
and placed his hands on hips
and told her that he loved her
and she reacted more as Kate McKinnon impression of her
than as herself
she was goofy
and I enjoyed myself as I dreamed
I felt the ease of unselfconscious life in motion
and I understand what the dream means this morning
for America and me
Beyond the chaos
of the panic,
jealous clutching at methods and attitudes
to feel safe,
and the folly of proving
proving to others
proving to self,
the performing, pretending, persuading
beyond all of that is
The Big Bang Theory
The Dawn of Man
Emerging from the filth and the muck below
the melee of America
the riot of my mind
within the mobs of real people
and Jungian archetypes
is a prophet
who will build an ark
and save me and America
from the flood.
People like to romanticize the creative process.
They like to think of the idyllic contemplation
of Emily Dickinson
the hermit with her quills
the man of action with his paints and easel.
But the creative process is a bloody mess
hours of agonizingly painful separation
and finally new life and joy.
And through it all nothing is guaranteed
and sometimes everybody dies.
Hope is not optimism.
Hope is courageously working toward to make what is best in you real
with full knowledge that you may not survive.
I choose joy and love
as an undercurrent of the moments of fear and anxiety
humble before the process of life
a process over which I have no control
but this morning even that level of positivity was touch and go.
and the world
can’t change our nature
even if we wanted to
and we don’t want to …
It is our nature to make a big fucking mess for ourselves and then try to work our way out of it
Daredevil escape artists
Cheating death a thousand times
Ultimately and inevitably
Losing in the end
Still worth it.
Copyright 2019 Richard Thomas
8/2/19: Friends Don’t Care
And now for a few words about your professional development
Which is really just your human development
if you are still human …
Friends don’t care
friends don’t give a flying fuck
about your title
or the size of your fucking office
or if you gained weight (unless they are concerned about your health)
or if your fly is open
or if you got published
or whether you were listed best of something in a city magazine
They care if that makes you happy
but they don’t care otherwise
Friends could give a rat’s ass
about the plaque you got at some boring dinner
surrounded by stuffed shirts with sticks up their ass
Friends are agnostic regarding the consideration of your position in the world
Friends girl watch with you on the River Walk
or boy and girl watch with you in the Mall
when you are out of town
and have two hours to kill before you have dinner with your family
or have a sales call
Friends talk about sports with you
are fascinated by your work
and indifferent to your career
the only concern they have with your money is that you have enough to be happy
Friends worry about you
Listen to you when you are nervous
Laugh hard at your bad jokes
because it is you that bring them joy
your joke isn’t a product
it’s a hug and a kiss
a slap on the back
Friends happy to see you look at you with smiling eyes
Their voices lilt upwards when they see you and say hello
When they run into you
they ejaculate with pleasant surprise
and they shake their heads
and roll their eyes
because you just said ejaculate
They know your dirty joke isn’t a dirty joke
They know it’s play
They know the profane has a sacred context
They know the joke is an expression of freedom
an expression of trust
an exhale of relaxation
a gesture of confidence
that you can say anything
and talk as much as you like
and your friends will still be standing beside you.
I recently started a business
I got no business doing business
I don’t need customers
I need my friends
I need “who you are to me”
not “what I can do for you”
Friends support each other
they don’t exploit each other.
Friends feel sad when your mother dies
Friends don’t think less of you when you fail
Friends accept you as you are
They love you, you stupid asshole
They care about you
They don’t get pissed when you haven’t seen them for thirty years
They get it
They know you were living your life
And now the contrast
Why would you ever want to be with anyone who isn’t a friend
is it even possible to breathe in the presence of people who aren’t friends?
Eleanor Rigby and Father McKenzie aren’t the only types of lonely people
Look at the modern architecture of Chicago
The skyscrapers on the side of the river
the river of life
versus the cliffs of death
wearing stiff white shirts
and shiny ties
perfectly pressed blue suits
gleaming white capped teeth
silver money clips in their pockets
This is not a flower power poem
saying drop out
and join the
Age of Aquarius
I started out talking about your professional development, asshole
Fuck careerism, you dig
Think about your work
not the success
not the credentials
go with the people
who care about you
rich or poor
doesn’t make a goddam difference
and who care about what you do
and who you serve
you and your work
love and work — all there is
calling Doctor Freud
You can’t do anything for the miserable lonely assholes
climbing floor to floor
in the Chicago towers of negation
the poor bastards
they have to bottom out
let the rat race destroy them
as it always does
you have to leave them alone
because that’s what friends do too
they let you chase stupidity
and fuck up your life
and when you get the dumbass out of your system they welcome you back with open arms
Nothing really good was ever done by people who weren’t friends
From the note to self section of Rick Thomas’ imaginary desk
with the fear that it is too sentimental
a Hallmark card
a comic strip panel with that couple that doesn’t have balls or a vagina
I felt so bad for so many years about not being successful
even when I was
but you are never successful enough
isn’t that the point
Sisyphus going for the brass ring
I felt bad but I was actually happy
I just caught a virus
from the fame money power fuckers
who are so miserable
and I feared them
and I envied them
and I hated them because they act like assholes, of course
unfailingly condescending and mean
but they are pathetic
throwing away a life of friendship
for a trophy
and I write today
with a smile toward the past
and a confident look to the future
which is as unknown
as it always is.
Your professional presence is simply your human presence.
And if there is any separation between the professional and the human
you are making a serious mistake.
Everything is possible with friends
friends you’ve known forever
and friends brand new.
towers of steel, stone and glass
stories atop stories
heavy and real
concrete lives not based on poetic abstractions
are raging demented hallucinations
of dying men
and increasingly women
whose last words will be
I made a mistake.
Copyright 2019 Richard Thomas
In this next post, I shared the link to my website, which tells the details of story of my working life.
8/5/19: The Big Picture
not a friend that I see every day
or hang out with
just someone that I have felt affection for
a good guy
a positive person
not a mean bone in his body, as they say
a sophisticated man
a business executive with a sense of corporate social responsibility
as they say
younger than me
he created a nice life for himself
a beautiful family
a kind and decent wife
who always had time for a friend in need
to give support
unspeakable pain really
and there is nothing to say
not by me
nothing that can make it better
all I can do is stand beside him
maybe thousands have
he’s well connected
he has no shortage of friends like me
cultivated by a lifetime of being a good guy
and a smart executive.
His pain has no silver linings
no life lessons to be gleaned
it was not caused by Donald Trump, the Republican Party or global warming
there is no one to blame.
The pain sure as hell is not my friend’s fault.
He did nothing to deserve it
committed no offense
made no mistake.
His pain was caused simply by the brutal nature
We have done a good job of creating a sense of safety and security in our daily existence
even those of us who are very vulnerable exposed and insecure
death even comes as a surprise to a refugee crossing a desert
or a family tending an old man with leukemia in hospice
and death is hard because we have so many unreasonable expectations of life
and good for us
our lunacy makes life greater than it is
and makes death
in many instances
so hard to bear.
I can’t stop thinking about my friend
feeling for him
as if I could share his pain
which I can’t.
I am not troubled by my helplessness
I accept it.
I used to think that God had a plan for our suffering
that suffering inspired our love for each other
and this was worth it
but it is not worth it
there is no upside to the death of a child
and if God has a plan it is intended to be a mystery
not something to be explained
something to be honored
and looked upon with awe.
When I close the door softly
on the room where my friend resides
in the mansion of my mind
I see the wide surreal mural
of the reality we make
people soaring in the prime of life
young of body
old of mind
some young poets living existential questions
tortured by the sweet agony of their thoughts and feelings
voluntary shut-ins keeping the world at bay
because it is too mean and hurts too much
drones doing what they are told
only following orders
men and women of service who tend to life
the chronically ill
the elderly demented
the young demented
and surly clerks
and insecure mopes
from life and death
living life with great intensity in denial of its impermanence
or avoiding it all together in fear of its potential.
I have problems, issues, unresolved questions, practical challenges
that I will not say do not amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world
because they do
people love me
people don’t like me
people could give a damn about me
people have yet to meet me but will
some people will
I believe in justice
nature could give a damn about justice
but it’s natural to believe in it.
I have known love
given it and received it
nature could give a damn about love
but it’s open to it.
Copyright 2019 Richard Thomas
8/5/19: Intolerable and Unacceptable
The only thing to do with fascists is defeat them.
If you impeach them, and they block their conviction in the Senate, run against them.
If they keep the Presidency and/or keep the Senate
defy them as an illegitimate government.
Go to the streets
have a general strike.
Never cooperate with them
always oppose them
battle after battle after battle.
Be insulted when they insult you
stand up for weaker people that they bully
speak out against them
lose jobs, friends, money, comfort, opportunity
rather than compromise with them in any way.
be everything that they are not
support everything that they do not
But there is no peace without justice
and there is no negotiating with terrorists.
Surrender schemes for personal ambition and success
climbing the ladder of a social structure that no longer exists.
Churchill had Hitler’s number
he knew that there were not good people on both sides
he knew evil must be stopped
even to the point of war
The Good War
and Churchill was far from perfect
but he wasn’t genocidal
and when he saw the opportunity to fight
the complete distillation of evil
he ushered in the possibility of a new era
national health insurance in Britain
a softening of the British class system
an era of prosperity and achievement for many
and the possibility of the birth of liberation movements for oppressed peoples.
This entry is repetitious of many I wrote in 2016
when Trump’s evil was apparent
to many but not enough
but now we have had years of Trump
and we see the dystopia of a cancerous minority in America
the wheel of fortune of the world drama turns round and round and back again
and it has turned now to the same moment
that Churchill found himself in
in the 1930s when his Cassandra warnings were starting to be heard
Churchill was ignored until Hitler’s evil became obvious to everyone
and Trump and the Republicans evil
is obvious to everyone
or should be
and the Moderate Democrats measured responses
are woefully inadequate
selfish calculations related to personal career ambitions
maneuvers for political power
or misguided strategies to win within a system that no longer exists
are woefully in error.
We can lose elections and all sorts of battles
personal and public
we simply have to keep fighting
losing to fascism is not an option
our only regret should be that we only have one life to give to our
our human race
Churchill and Britain’s darkest hour was easier
as battle lines and troop concentrations on a map
Our darkest hour is ethereal
venom in a word cloud
that turns to real blood and shrieks of pain
in the Walmarts and detention camps of our Southern border
the schools prisons workplaces markets homes of our entire nation
north of the border
that embodies us all
men, women and children
there is no one else
universals of cruelty, suffering, sorrow and indignation
moans and wailing
old people without medicine
children being bullied
homeless people doused in gasoline and set on fire
big Pharma poisons tens of thousands
for smug money
masters of a master race
demented distorted minds and faces
taking pleasure in the pain of others
Culture of masochism.
Families have no security
jobs are mean places
disposing of people
inhumane jails run for a profit
affluent people hide behind walls
hear and see nothing
the poor and exposed escape into their minds
living a delusion of denied terror
blood neglect chaos lies
all bow to the man with the money.
baby boomers lived on an infrastructure
that aspired to democracy
and believed in the well-being of the many
That infrastructure is all but gone now
It’s construction began with the recognition that we must defeat tyranny
and the determination to be something far better than that tyranny in the aftermath of the war
it eroded over time
as Churchill and his immediate successors
and their work
and what they went through
how hard it was
We are at the moment
when it is time to recall our history again
when we recognize that we face existential peril
and that we are capable of meeting the threat
and ultimately thriving.
We have no choice
we must fight now
undiscouraged by our defeats in battle
committed to victory to the point of our extinction
because our defeat would mean our extinction.
This is our darkest hour.
Give us liberty or give us death
because they are the only two options on the menu.
fat old drunk imperialist cigar chomping
spoiled whining aristocratic baby forgotten ignored left-out laughed at old man loser past his prime has-been outsider crank
saved the world
with the assistance of a few million other people.
He saw the rise of evil first
and even he saw it at the last minute.
He was a big enough prick to fight back
and enough of a writer and painter to see human potential
and what it needed to be nurtured and flourish.
We can do this.
I can do this.
Greatness has nothing to do perfection
blind spots aren’t fatal.
the unwillingness to be pushed around
and a reverence for what is worthy
and scorn for all that is not
I do not aspire to greatness
and it hasn’t been thrust upon me.
I just want to survive as a free and decent human being.
Time for America to really be great again.
Copyright 2019 Richard Thomas
I then spent a few days doing videos reading some recent pieces with very low performance values.
8/9/19: Fascism, Art, Work and Education
It’s a moral outrage
Of course it is
Media and politicians not allied with the regime headline:
THIS IS NOT WHO WE ARE
Yes, with qualifications
but it is who we will be
we will be rounded up
have our children left abandoned
shamed and criminalized
for doing nothing wrong.
Our opposiiton to Trump
should not only be based upon the energy of our moral outrage
It also should be motivated by our fear
because everything he has done to the undocumented immigrants
he will do to us
in a heartbeat
He has shown us the way that he
which is actually just a strategy of destruction
born of a streak of nihilism
fueled by self-hatred
too stupid to be Shakespearean
more on the level of
but even lower than that
we are living in the zeitgeist
of a lousy comic book proposal
too dumb to be accepted by the DC editors
where the blood
are very real
not pen and ink drawings.
No, Trump is not the tragic one
he’s simply too low.
We are the tragic ones.
All of this started long before Trump.
We are the frog
in the pot
who ignored the slow boil
now desperate to leap to safety
in the moment before our annihilation.
After Viet Nam and Watergate and the 1960s Civil Rights Movement
in the shadow of the defeat of Hitler
and the exposure and punishment of Joseph McCarthy
democracy emerged for a brief moment in America
The press was uncensored in Viet Nam
Students protested an immoral war
and were listened to
African-Americans demanded human rights
and got some of them
declared a war on poverty
the next step of FDR
and advocated in word and program
economic justice in America
a concrete version of human rights
Congress conducted oversight
and ended Nixon’s criminal administration …
slowly but surely
the Empire struck back
An emblem of that was the movie industry
where a brief period in the 1970s that was director-centric
was succeeded by a conservative power structure
with studios run by lawyers and accountants
Corporate public relations strategies emerged
and free speech suffered
happy talk local news
hair blown dry
phony laughs and bonhomie
Murrow long dead
Cronkite past his prime
The Democratic Party went corporate
taxes and less regulation were nearly all that was discussed
not many words about what government could do for you
FDR and Johnson dead
the only things good in the manner that we were governed
were infrastructure that remained from what they built
the fossil fuel industry began to kill us slowly
the planet is the frog in the pot
Big Pharma murdered us with prescription drugs
Trade deals honored investors
ignored our labor
and environmental health
Every group that gained rights
in an expansion of African-American Civil Rights gains
to other groups
faced an ugly counter-reaction
white power movements
major political parties
arrayed against young and vulnerable freedom
an alliance of rich man greed
and poor man envy and ignorance
attacking people who just wanted to live work and love
And your everyday life has been horrible
you strategized for how to position yourselves
in places of safety and kindness
from mass shootings
to petty insults
day to day life made you hard and deaf
the sensitivity of your skin diminished
your five senses were muted
no health care
no job security
hunters and gatherers
and a smile
Competing against each other
not brothers and sisters on a journey
afraid to speak
unable to feel
empathy in short or no supply
all of us
you and me
in an illusion of democracy, possibility
an illusion of an imperfect society arcing toward the good
eyes purposefully closed to our descent
and the fragility of our democracy and possibility
in the first place.
And then comes Trump
the unvarnished id
who made all the evil that was unconscious
and out front
the veneer of hypocritical mouthing
of the ideals of freedom democracy and concern for our fellow citizens
and the other people of the world
is dispensed with
and replaced with full-throated fascist ranting
And the yelling wakes us up.
The ICE raids in Mississippi are from the last steps before we rise again
those people are canaries in the coal mine
fascists feed on the weak and grow stronger
and focus on ever stronger prey
until they self-destruct
arrogantly going after someone stronger than they are
and coming to their end
leaving piles of dead bodies
and ruined lives in their wake
Your moral outrage
should be your survival instinct
For once let us see the fascist rise relatively early
I saw it when he announced his candidacy
I wasn’t alone, but I was in a small minority
look it up
it is only now that a consensus grows that Trump is a fascist
not merely an incompetent narcissist
or a man in over his head who might somehow rise a little to the job
only now it is recognized that Trump is a fascist executing a program of cruelty
for once prophets should be listened to
for one the screaming warning sirens should be heeded
this is a morally illegitimate government
it should be treated that way
we all should be shooting victims in an El Paso hospital who refuse to meet with the son of a bitch
who incited their destruction
it is not enough to ask for kindness and civility
and still tolerate what is wrong about
“it is the way it is”
It is the way we make it
I went on my last marketing call yesterday
I’m an art teacher
I teach ways of working on one’s humanity
to create one’s presence
I crazily and naively thought that this work could be done in businesses and law firms
and that I could make good money at it
but this guy who said he believed in the importance of humanity in the professional workplace
and eagerly agreed to meet with me
used our coffee time as an opportunity to cry about the death of his father that occurred decades ago
a sign of stunted human development
a solipsistic self-pity
that stood out particularly on this day
when I had attended a memorial for a family that had just lost a seventeen year-old daughter days before
the trim aging man
in a tailored checkered sports jacket
worn in celebration for his day of freedom in Chicago
away from the constraints of his golden cell in his big office in the skies of K Street
in the nation’s capital
told me my wares as a teacher had to be sold
A teacher can’t sell
A teacher who sells is a salesman
A teacher is a person who works for the furtherance of civilization
Of course a teacher is an endangered species now
I like simple
a video made on my laptop
people reflecting together in a room
and figuring out ways to apply what they learned in the world
to let it color their actions
that’s all education is
It’s the hard work of conscientious humanity
It is work that has nothing to do with money
a teacher just needs to be supported
by people who are honored to have a chance to work on their human development
I don’t blame him
this was my mistake
business is not a source of right livelihood for me
like I said I am a teacher
My wife’s friend
from a different sort of meeting
a social dinner
says tsk tsk
a medical doctor
on a committee for MacArthur Fellowships
says tsk tsk
a doctor, liberal, committee member
knows nothing of art or fascism
She, like the weeping legal executive
a well-paid slave in an air-conditioned nightmare
knows nothing of fascism or art
thinks the entirety of existence is defined
by the drudgery that they endure
for a certain social recognition by certain people
it’s not even the money
they serve the system
but the system is rotten
and now the rottenness has reached a crescendo
and the old ways don’t even work partially anymore.
I told the executive that a teacher can’t sell
and I thank him for that
he gave me the space for my self-overhearing
as he has never learned how to process loss
and see it all in some broader context
and bring it back to the service of other people
I have never learned how to make money in an uncompromising way
in order to truly serve other people
I am living on savings from my five years of work at UIC
a place where I developed many ideas and processes
not by dint of their support
but rather because of their incompetence and inattention
so now this guy
and these people
tell me that if I want any of their money I better be able to sell it to them
and I told him that a teacher can’t really sell what he is teaching
as soon as you are selling you are’t teaching
He didn’t agree
and then added the suggestion
that big firm lawyers would never spend the time working on their humanity that I said it required
It does require work
he suggested that a few of them might give it an hour a week
they of course are too busy making money.
If they don’t want to prioritize being a human being
and want some superficial rah-rah session to make them think they can be or are happy
given the obscene trajectory of their lives
running errands to execute the cruel demands of people with money
selling to the naive and uninitiated
doing maintenance work for the fascist alliance of rich and envious poor
let the dead bury their own dead.
He and the doctor are in prisons of their own making and I can do nothing to help them be free.
If you are wondering what these career
check that — livelihood
have to do with this piece that started looking at ICE raids in Mississippi
they are very relevant.
and the exposure
of the illusion of
is not only some general history of a nation
it also is the story of our lives
I’ve encountered fascism
and the honored ideal of America
on a business networking coffee meetings
and E-harmony coffee dates
in the classrooms of universities
and the administrative offices at those schools
on theatrical stages
and assisted living and managed care facilities
and on the road
the American ideal is my heart
and fascism is the challenges to my heart’s desires
that make it stronger.
Fear is a prerequisite to courage
We should be afraid of what Trump might do to us
and fully committed to its holy alternative
uncertain of answers
filled with right questions
passionately engaged in creation
hearts and minds
and ready to fiercely defend
this pursuit of true happiness
come what may
from enemies foreign and domestic
and patient with the confusion of people who are stuck
burdened with the wrong kind of fear
not the fear which alerts us
but the fear of a hopelessness
that accepts lives of quiet desperation
bereft of faith that there could be a better way
lacking confidence in imagination
and bedeviled by a persistent dull confusing pain
you are more
this is not enough.
Copyright 2019 Richard Thomas
I continued doing videos occasionally, but this time performance (in the most minimal sense of that word) did not interfere with writing …
8/10/19: A Series of Thrilling Failures
Big law firms and law schools and businesses and corporations and executive education programs say that they want their professionals and students to be more human. They say they want their people to be happy and ethical and to be of service. They say that they want to be positive forces in society.
But they don’t mean it.
Becoming human is a lot of work. That should be obvious to anyone who is human or is trying to be.
big law firms and law schools and businesses and corporations and executive education programs don’t want to put in the time.
The time to work on human development takes away from the time to take on business development and immediate profit making activities.
The decision makers for …
big law firms and law schools and businesses and corporations and executive education programs like to feel that they know about art, know about civility, know what it would take to humanize the workplace …
but they don’t …
or if I am less charitable, just want to check off a box for “human development” on their corporate social responsibility checklist, and get back to the business of making more money, and pleasing their bosses that are pressuring them to make more money …
and then go back to wringing their hands about the lack of humanity in the workplace, and wistfully believing that they know the answers to a better world, if only it were a better world …
so they request
and they mistakenly think that I might be the person who could give that to them
but they don’t know me
and they may be smart
but they aren’t wise.
They want me to make it brief.
They say they might be able to give this work on human development an hour a week.
They want speeches that are humorous and engaging that deliver a few takeaways
motivation, hope and ass kissing
a big jerk off
I’m an artist.
I’m a teacher.
I’m a serious person.
I am not going to sell out my whole life and all I know is important to be a sideshow for these people.
And speaking of sales …
they want me to sell them
wine them and dine them
recognize their phony glory
wait for their basic responses to simple questions for weeks
pursue them like the prettiest girl in school playing hard to get
when I was younger my pride would be hurt by all of this
and I couldn’t participate in it.
Now I simply can’t do it because it is so false
I am consciously writing about “they” and “them” in this piece
and not in specifics
because it is all of them
oh, some individuals are sincere
they really would like to do what is necessary
but they are powerless and sad
overwhelmed by what has happened.
Jeffrey Epstein apparently killed himself this morning
(it was suicide even if it was at someone else’s hand or by their plotting — it is clear now there was no other possible ending for his story, even as it leaves so many mysteries for the rest of us)
He did it all for the masters
made them money
got their dicks sucked
sometimes by children
did all sorts of awful things
involving wallets and genitals
just like the big law firms and law schools and businesses and corporations and executive education programs.
You can’t serve two masters.
The choices are art or suicide.
The big law firms and law schools and businesses and corporations and executive education programs
reminiscent of the Roman Empire
well-educated highly credentialed people
reclining in marble tubs
holding chalices filled with fine wine
slitting their wrists
and letting the warm salty blood
mix with the clear warm water
human sacrifices to
sins of omission
a denial of the work of humanity
for a dollar
a blow job
and bows of meaningless respect.
Am I wrong to compare these decision makers of
the big law firms and law schools and businesses and corporations and executive education programs
to Jeffrey Epstein?
Am I angry or unkind?
As a matter of fact, I feel bad for them
my failures always lead to my progress
I never make mistakes that end my life
or lose my soul
I will die a natural death
satisfied that I honored the nature that God assigned to me
because I was blessed by God to have a nature that does just that
God assigned me a nature incapable of not trying to speak to him
a mouthpiece of humanity
talking loudly to God
so that other people can overhear
no genius that’s for sure
but a sincere person
connected to God’s world
and blind and deaf to the lousy facsimile
created by men
who want to make claims that they know better
but naive enough
even childish enough
to interact with man’s world
with people and entities such as
big law firms and law schools and businesses and corporations and executive education programs
and learning God’s glory in the negative
and learning man’s myriad failures in detail
and regarding them with love,
in other words, an artist
not by choice
anymore than a sparrow chose being a bird
a natural creation
whose creator was supernatural
straddling heaven and earth
my groin perpendicular to purgatory
purgatory is the place where you figure things out
you always see that heaven is the right choice
and the discomfort that is unpleasant but short of agony
turns to joy
I betrayed myself once
I was about forty years old
I never betrayed myself before that
I think I betrayed myself just to see what it felt like
it was so painful that I never did it again
It is not my nature to betray myself
but these poor bastards
Kings and Queens Midas
Was I foolish to think that I could teach these people?
but it was a noble foolishness
I did my duty
by offering my services
they can never say that they weren’t told
but they have chosen their demise
or maybe born condemned to it?
why do they doggedly hold onto something so worthless
dumb as a dog
refusing to surrender a rag held in clenched teeth
as if the filthy cloth was the definition of its entire being
These people are so impressed
by what they call work
they sigh and wish for their easy chair
They get up every day and devote themselves to something that makes them feel like shit
They distract themselves with objects of comfort and status
They have advisors suggest their vacations
they don’t know what they like
they don’t even know where they would like to go!
They are consumed with calculations
how can they honor their masters
and best their rivals
smug in their ignorance
strutting unnatural struts
or with servile
Carrying sacks of unprocessed feeling
exiled from their true selves
alienated from that they could possibly love
the luckiest of them will suffer career disasters
and find there is a whole world
beyond the maze of ladders
beyond the rat race
a whole world
the real world.
What I thought was marketing was research
and my personal human development.
Let the dead bury their own dead.
art is where human development happens
all the derivative things written by lawyers and business people
about diversity, personal satisfaction, service, blah blah blah …
are pale incorrect copies of work that artists do independently.
Art is hard work
you can’t do it for an hour a week
or listen to a PowerPoint
and know anything about it
you can’t make your life about getting rich
or serving the rich
and make art or be human
it just doesn’t work that way.
Art needs equality
looking down on people is not artistic
hierarchies are not artistic.
The lack of humanity in professionals and business people
their greed and lust and condescension
is destroying the world
and there is nothing that I can give these people but the truth
I certainly can’t work with them or take their money.
Professionalism has nothing to do with business
a professional, by definition
serves his or her client
in the context of general service to the community
think of a good doctor
or a good lawyer
or a good teacher
or police officer
serving us all
and in contrast think of Jeffrey Epstein or William Barr
who manipulate and distort systems to serve their clients
and steal for themselves
committed to personal wealth and power
(by insipid unctuous catering to, and cheating, those with more wealth and power, leveraging their intelligence and knowledge to …
get to the top and then jump off the building?)
instead of personal and communal well being.
Examples like Barr and Epstein are not extreme
I am sure the people of
big law firms and law schools and businesses and corporations and executive education programs
will be offended to be compared to Barr, and particularly Epstein
some defend them
some fashion abstract arguments defending the obvious evils
by ignoring the natural world that they never see
in the mendacious structures that they build
until they disappear
they are the system
the suicide is executed long before the wrists are slit
their bodies and souls absorbed into
a radioactive cloud
seeping across the earth
murdering innocents in its wake
They stopped being human
or potentially human
and became the end of the world
Part of corporate Manson families
hypnotized cult members
with post-graduate degrees
killing and being killed
Phony culture of
What happens on Wall Street and in Washington, D.C.
happens on LaSalle Street in Chicago
and Main Street in Dubuque.
My last marketing meeting was at LaSalle and Wacker
Beehive of creatures thoughtlessly doing what they are programmed to do
some pausing for coffee and quiche
oblivious to their own impending exposure to danger
and the suffering of others
Purposefully avoiding meaning — “small talk”
Purposefully avoiding action — “keeping busy”
Purposefully avoiding self-determination — “working”
Purposefully avoiding the vulnerability and fragility of human life
interacting with each other with cold and pleasant indifference
and calling it “normal”
A theme park that people are paid to go to
their salaries dependent on their acting like they are having a good time
when they hate it
and by destroying their consciences
so doubt or shame will never be expressed to their masters.
An interesting visit to a ring of hell
that I didn’t have to stay in.
Truisms of improvisational study like “yes, and”
and “play the scene that you are in”
are corporate bromides
that distill something deep and broad
into something facile and superficial,
using such maxims
is like prescribing a throat lozenge
for esophageal cancer.
If someone wants to learn what I have to teach
they better be ready to give it the time and effort that I do
and honor it with the seriousness it demands.
One is never rejected by who or what belongs to him or her
one never fails at what one is meant to do.
All this sadness and failure around me this morning
and yet I am happy
even thrillingly so
because I am free.
Copyright 2019 Richard Thomas
Teaching fades out. A year later it was gone. The rest of the piece is current.
8/17/19: Real Writing
I am not good at much
My body is only an acquaintance to me
Inanimate objects are out to get to me
Numbers and geometrical shapes are hieroglyphics
I got my drivers’ license two years late
The socialization processes of elementary and high school never fully took with me
I’m perpetually confused
always falling back upon myself
I rarely fit in within a group a situation
Conformity on even the lightest level feels like self-betrayal
The only things that I can do, persist at, get good at and excel at
talking and writing.
There are all kinds of settings to talk and write in
I’ve tried just about all of them
There is only one real way
the other ways are just jobs.
I talked and wrote to entertain
that’s not real
It’s OK, I guess, but it’s not real.
Entertainment doesn’t involve truth
You just give people a diversion
People are tired
they want an escape.
I talked and wrote to sell shit
Businesses want to sell shit
people want to buy shit
and many don’t know what they want
so they need someone to manipulate them
and con them into action.
As far from real as it gets
as a means to buy, or steal real food.
I talked and wrote as a lawyer
because people like to argue
and fight to grab or keep stuff
An argument is never real
winning isn’t the way to get the truth
sometimes you can find the truth with real writing
and then fight for it to be honored in a limited material way through the law
but the law never settles anything really
it advances toward the truth and recedes away from it
a rear guard action in the progress and regression of human development
the law works for and against real writing
A real writer is an explorer who discovers new worlds
a lawyer is a mechanic
sailing the globe
or moving to its doom over the last horizon of a flat earth.
I studied how to talk and write in a literary way
that was all about aesthetics
how to make things beautiful
the form is of prime importance at writing workshops
unimportant rules and standards
removing art from life
a lie of order
neat and tidy
layers of polish distorting substance and purpose
until it disappears
little time devoted to consideration of life and living
most time devoted to technique
to no real end
an arcane game
people sitting in a circle constantly comparing themselves to each other
naming winners and losers
exerting a cliquish control over each other
high school kids in middle age
obsessed with sex and power
and not getting any
words not as life’s reflection
but as life’s substitute
a hide out
people being assholes
because they are so frustrated
too scared to engage in the hurly burly of life
too scared to really create
filling their hours with trivial word games
gracefulness trumps everything
meaning and transformation are cynically dismissed
the unreal writing workshops are every bit as cold as the green room, the sales office or the legal suite
still a thing to do, a place to go
to amass wealth and awards
and evade the issue.
I talk and write as a teacher
or I try to
I’m looking for teaching jobs at the moment
which is an unreal activity
for teaching to have any chance of having any value
a student should seek the teacher out
but in responding in the affirmative the teacher is supporting a false choice
an adult student should not seek out a teacher at all
or refer to himself as a student
what he should seek out is real writing
and if he is a writer to write himself
teaching is only meaningful with children
once a person reaches the age of self-reliance
he should stop searching for his education in older “experts”
and cast his fate to real writing
I teach adults, I don’t teach children
so my teaching is something perceived as useful which is totally useless
teaching seems the least soul-destroying of real talking and writing
it is the dues the world requires the real writer to pay in order to eat
the world only gives the teacher a little
but only a little piece of the real writer’s soul is eliminated
people want teachers because they don’t feel confident that they can learn for themselves
they are afraid of living on their own
they want safe places to fail
with the false promise that they will learn in school and then not fail in the
then they get out of school and find that they learned nothing in school and they are back to square one
they know school is bullshit
but they are there to get a pass to make money somewhere else
and they disrespect the teacher as a jackass and obstruction
kissing the teacher’s ass for the “A”
laughing at him on the way out of the commencement ceremony
that teacher/student relationship sears a bit more of the teacher’s soul away
but not much
if he regards the opportunistic students with a reciprocal cynicism that matches their own
and just steals the money
not caring much
banking his time and energy for his writing
the sincere students want people who they grant with a mantle of experience, skill and knowledge
to show them experience skill and knowledge
a teacher can be friendly with these types
happy in a minor support role
that isn’t too taxing
no great exertions
a good teacher doesn’t really do anything
he knows no one can teach anyone anything
he just is there
trying to give a little direction
a human sop
to the cruel truth
that we are born alone
we die alone
life has no meaning
and we have to create one for ourselves
by figuring out who we are
and what the world is
and we are certain to fail at our essential existential questioning
never getting final answers
in our individual persons
and the world at large
are unbearably huge and complex
overwhelmingly impossible to comprehend
The whole endeavor of life is scary
to an awesome degree
and a teacher lies
and says hang in there
keep at it
here’s something to look at if you are totally confused
here’s an example — me
I’m going to look at you
try to understand you
make you my world
and share with you what I find
teaching is the final, most benign approach
of false talking and writing
Real talking and writing works this way:
you want to burn the pain away
so you talk and write
to get an image of yourself and the world
so that you can function and maybe enjoy yourself a little
and if you stop here, you are merely in therapy
engaged in real talking and writing
but only talking and writing to yourself
but if you have the gift and the burden of being able to talk and write to others
a talent that everyone does not have
you can reach a certain detachment
and see in your pain and understanding
a level of the pain and understanding of all mankind
you are able to see
that what is true for you is true for everyone
and you have a facility to communicate that truth
and your audience
people transcending the same rings of hell that you are
appreciate what you do
because you put into words
what they can’t
You aren’t any smarter
or more sensitive than your audience
You are just the one tasked with writing it down
That’s what real writing is
It’s beyond empathy
it’s an atonement
with your audience.
then you die
it is scary
and people can be mean
you are naked and vulnerable
and the world is a bully
constantly reminding you how small you are
your puny brain
your ridiculous short lifespan
and yet and yet and yet and yet
you are equal to it all
within the painful chaotic mess
is the opportunity to be eternal
The real writer finds paradise
and tells his friends
who find it too
he just draws the map.
does not divert and entertain
or argue and fight
or seek to impress others with it’s aesthetic brilliance
or pretend it is more experienced and knowledgable and skillful than its insecure students.
Real writing has a formula
plus inevitable pain
plus the courage to face that pain
plus the talent to closely approximate what you see into words
plus the persistent development of that talent
plus putting your words in front of your friends
without regard to their response
trusting that your words will resonate with those at a parallel point in their human development
plus a willingness to be alone in your local world
realizing that your true community exists across the ages
plus a rejection of all that is unreal writing
serene in your understanding that all that is for you primary
and in some places totally unimportant to the world
but that is the world’s arrogance
it is not the be all and end all
there is also you
traveled to and reached
in real writing.
Copyright 2019 Richard Thomas
8/25/19: Doubt and Envy, or I Know Why the Rainforest Burns
The MacArthur Genius Grant
That’s what Cate Blanchett’s character, Bernadette, got
the character from the book that won the such and such award
It must’ve right?
Directed by the director who got the Oscar
He must’ve right?
with other characters including Nobel Laureates
Innovators who sold big ideas to Microsoft
and people who get funding to design and build
laboratories and apartment buildings
on the South Pole
and Bernadette was part of all of that when she was young
and was rewarded by the MacArthur Foundation
was listed with Frank Lloyd Wright as one of the most inspiring
before she was thirty
and then she failed
a big design that she made had problems
and she lived in repetitious tragedy
she had many miscarriages
(persistence wasn’t her problem)
She lost faith in herself and the world
She spent most of her time ranting
about how lousy the design “world” was in Seattle
The band starts playing “Hello Dolly”
‘Oh, I went away from the lights of Fourteenth Street
and into my personal haze’
Her mentor from the old days come to town
at a moment when her husband — who loves her
is contemplating locking her up in the mental hospital
The mentor patiently listens to her anguish
and tells her that she is a creative person
and that creative people have to
or else they become a menace to themselves and others
“Get off your ass and get to work,” the mentor says kindly
he knows the problem isn’t laziness
and it isn’t fear
he thinks the problem is
She subsequently retreats from doubt
as far away as she can get —
the South Pole
and gets a commission
to design buildings there
a commission from
the most powerful
the most honored
on the face of the earth
The band resumes
‘But now that I’m back in the lights of Fourteenth Street
Tomorrow will be brighter than the good old days … ‘
I almost lived this movie
My star burned brightly when I was young
then I failed
and suffered frustrating adversity
I lost faith in myself
and faith in the world
I almost lived this movie
But I live in life,
not in an idea of life
not the combination of a Hallmark card, menu from a 5 Star restaurant and a porno that you usually get at the movies
not a life of fear and desire dictated to me by Madison Avenue
not a life organized by checklists handed to me by Human Resources
no boss, teacher, doctor or priest tells me what the world is
who I am
and how to feel about either
No, I don’t perceive my life through the imaginations or manipulations of the people around me
down the block or on the screens at the multiplex
Yes, I perceive my life through the medium of my life itself.
Why do movies always have mentor characters
wise men infinitely patient and wise
who can size up the situation over a cup of coffee
and say exactly the right thing
hit you between the eyes sharply with a little silver hammer
and destroy all of the obstructions between you and your heart’s desire;
and why do the loved ones — in the movies — who want to take care of you in ways that seem intended to punish — because they are intended to punish — always relent
and stick around
and realize that they should have been nurturing your art
instead of criticizing and worrying about you
and apologize to you because they didn’t understand;
in the movies
is the moment your heart’s desire identifies what your next creative project is going to be
after being out of circulation for twenty-five years
also the moment when an opportunity arises to fulfill that desire;
in the movies
is that opportunity attended
by all the
and personal fulfillment
that you ever wanted
more of all of those things actually
than you ever wanted;
and why is your achievement always ratified in film
by an adoring audience giving a round of applause
to the enduring monument that have created on your first try back
because creative failure and disappointment are in your rear view mirror?
Bernadette says that her time in the wilderness prepared her for the creative work that she was doing upon her return
that was a good line
Bernadette didn’t suffer nearly as much as I did
or the many other creative people like me
in spite of her several miscarriages
which are only a plot device in the film
a reference point so that the audience can insert their pain
for a brief moment to move things along
Bernadette’s agony was eased by other people
she was alienated but she had friends
and they helped her enormously
it doesn’t work that way
There was a picture in books they gave us at our church when I was a kid during Holy Week
It was a picture of Christ on his knees
The Agony in the Garden
I periodically gain and lose a lot of weight
I’m nearing the end of a gaining phase now
and the weight is my agony
I gain when I think
what do I care how I look
I’m not anti-social
I’m not welcome in society, I reckon
and I don’t want to go anywhere that I am not welcome
I’ve had kind mentors and friends say exactly the right things from time to time
But those good words don’t do the trick
The prelude to the return happens in the scene with just you and God
and you are doing all of the talking
You do art alone
The movie looked like almost every other movie
pretty people, places and things
the process of making art and being an artist looks like several miscarriages
and the occasional beautiful child
it’s a flight through a hurricane with occasional passes through the eye
it’s breaking and tearing and pain
shrieks of anguish and terror
on the way to joy
which is on the way
as JFK said
“We will go to the moon
and do the other things
not because they are easy
but because they are hard … “
Many failures and tragedies, losers and martyrs are necessary
to make one small step for an artist
and one giant leap for us all
The movie pays lip service to what I just said
but it is advertising after all
and not art
and it betrays it’s message
Art has nothing to do with the fucking MacArthur Genius Grant
Anyone who needs validation from a corporate/academic institution is not an artist
Other people don’t make you an artist
William Blake abandoned his career and worked happily in a print shop
writing poems and making visual art for God
and men still learn from and appreciate what he has done
His great work was not the work that was recognized in his early career
It was the work that he did when he was free
An artist is like a scientist
His work should only yield an honest result
If he adjusts it for his audience
he isn’t a scientist at all
but rather a propagandist working for a tobacco company
The Bernadette movie could have really been about the human sacrifice
that accompanies artistic
“following your bliss”
and it’s rewards
but almost nothing in the commercial sphere
doesn’t push the “success narrative”
rich and famous, baby
is why the rainforest burns
the world is destroyed
by people addicted to manufactured desire
pushed upon them by things like this movie
established as important people
in some tiny inconsequential clique or in the world at large
“you can have it all”
or destroy the world trying
you can call yourself “the chosen one”
when you’re job is to actually speak to the real chosen one
who manifests himself in the rainforest
and in the faces of other people
Van Gogh spent his time when he was working which was almost all of his time thinking about shapes, color and light
not the MacArthur Genius Grant
When an artist thinks about the MacArthur Genius Grant
THAT IS WHEN THE ARTIST BECOMES A MENACE, MOVIE MENTOR PLAYED BY LAURENCE FISHBURNE
When an artist is failing and suffering through tragedy he is doing his art
It is part of the process
Bernadette is right
Pain prepares the artist
or more precisely initiates the art-making
Art is the opposite of escape
When a man who was an artist is preoccupied with success
he burns down the world
Competition is envy
How many times I have been envied for my excellence
especially because it exists unrewarded with money or recognition
and yet I keep doing it
So the envious feel that if they amass more money and reputation they will be better than me
at what I do
but they never will be better
because they don’t do what I do
They do a pale copy
poorly masking their real activity which is making and executing strategies to ascend a pecking order
and I resist all temptation to vie with them
because as seductive as wealth and popularity are
“it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven”
wealth and popularity aren’t life
they are the opposite
Climate deniers ridicule science
Hack writers ridicule art
the need to be special
the need to be ” the chosen one”
a granted MacArthur genius
gaining the meaningless virtual rewards the abstraction of society mockingly bestows upon you
while destroying the real world …
the careerist is an addict thrilled by the sensations of his junk
while he and all around him decays.
Copyright 2019 Richard Thomas
Several more videos — this time I improvised off of the written copy. These aren’t relevant to this collection which focuses on my writing.
9/21/19: Something More
The highly successful actor
one of the most celebrated alumni of Second City
was asked what he thought of his little brother becoming an actor
“I always thought he would do something more … ”
A director was trying to identify an actor’s particular genius
He saw the actor onstage in a one man show
and compared him to Lenny Bruce
He walked with the actor through Central Park
and compared him to Thoreau
The successful actor and writer
elder brother still to the first two actors mentioned
but not the third
who was no relation
not by blood anyway
but related in Catholicism
and Catholic Prep Schools
and old-school Democratic Party politics
and Second City
but not strongly so
strong family ties
the eldest brother of the three brothers who saw the show of the actor not related to them
and said wistfully
that’s what it should be all the time
what a lovely man
caught in a trap of adulthood
aware of how making a success of things
diminishes them all
Another actor got rich doing good commercial work
smarter and more responsible than most
but went off on his own
and did obscure plays
for his greatest joy
Other actors became teachers of their “craft”
Afraid and clinging to little cliques and little institutions
teaching stupid classes
producing stupid shows
One actor became a great teacher
and taught his craft as an art
he couldn’t help himself
he was an artist
but he relied on his connection to the actors trapped in prisons
of something less
The hugely successful actor was wistful
when he mused that he thought his little brother could have a better life
and do work that means something
First actors are delighted that they get the attention
thrilled that they are popular and that people laugh
then they have the thrill of getting power
being a hit and making a name
then they make their name their brand
they go into business
and get the satisfaction of making money
then with all the money they could ever want or need
they wish for something more
but by this time they can’t access it
they spent their lives making it
and they lost the capacity to make art
now they could only be audience
noble audience in some cases
Moses prohibited from entry to the promised land
the actor who the director compared to Lenny Bruce and Thoreau
was chastised by his middle class father for not pursuing business and law and riches
and compared by his sister-in-law to St. Francis of Assisi
St. Francis was chastised by his merchant father
and also of course
To be something more is to live with the ridicule and cruelty of prisoners
who mistake their tiny cells for the whole of existence
and to encounter the sadness of those smart enough to know that they had been conned and trapped
matriculating up a worthless ladder
of praise and riches
… and emptiness
Living compromised lives
Each separation from each ring of hell hurts
each lost illusion feels like death
Something more requires the courage to be alone
and then God’s abundance touches one
there are the people of something more
People who respect you and treat you well
Who don’t lavish you with praise, wealth or honors
but allow you to do your work
the work that they do as well
the work of something more
The actor who was compared to Lenny Bruce and Thoreau
was in the process of leaving show business
and entering the world of real education and art
the world of something more.
Copyright 2019 Richard Thomas
Teaching still lives — it hasn’t left my psyche yet, and my separation from all that I am not or no longer is not yet complete; but the writing is mature now and describes it. I am now pretty consistently making something — a new thing out of what I see. In the next volume, the vision itself will even more greatly improve. The Rick Blog is many things, not the least of which is a story of the transformation of a writer, his writing and his world.
10/5/19: Message in a Bottle
The comedians make a dark movie
The anger of comedy amplified
to mental illness and dystopia
abuse begets nihilism
a world shrieks and burns
not a cure
other comedians make another movie
comedy as explanation
a political statement
like bad teachers they pander to their student audience
prideful that they can keep it interesting
trying to show off their diminishing, unreliable skills
to find something relevant in performance
Writing and teaching belong on the edge
considering what is unknown
journey to the center of the earth
the inner reaches of outer space
beyond fear and desire
The hacks celebrate themselves
constantly claiming that they get it
but some are not condemned to suicidal/homicidal rage
and the delusion of knowing it all
pandering for the applause of fools
and positive evaluations
Your success is defined by other people the poor things ridiculously bray
as they disappear
necessarily they disappear
to make room
for peace and joy
It’s one of those moments that I know exactly what to do
I bought a cigar to celebrate
I wonder about the reality
of my soul and the world around me
and it’s beautiful
Illusion is superfluous
Life and death
Notre Dame scores again
separating itself from an inferior team
the opposition doesn’t matter
they play to get better
each player in solitude
paradoxically united with
Copyright 2019 Richard Thomas