12/25/20: Sweet Pain — Sound of Metal, Small Axe – Mangrove, Best Worst Thing that Ever Could Have Happened #poetry #essay

12/25/20: Sweet Pain — Sound of Metal, Small Axe – Mangrove, Best Worst Thing that Ever Could Have Happened #poetry #essay

Art asks something of you



Paul Raci is a friend of mine

I can’t say I know him that well

or know that much about him

His parents were (are?) deaf

he does theater and music

has for years

I knew him years ago

I remember him signing a show that we did for a deaf audience at Second City

one hundred years ago

He is nice and deep

He encourages my writing

appreciates it

admires it even

mutual admiration society

artists love artists

when Paul Raci first appeared on the screen as I watched “Sound of Metal”

I nearly cried

Art is perfect

Paul was perfect holding that dog

talking about Luis Aparicio and the 1959 White Sox

walking on the grass

up the wooden stairs


this was a communication of struggle, processed suffering, empathy and love

social, familial, friendly


What is teaching?

See Paul in this movie

What is acting?

Real acting — not performance

see Paul in this movie

What is it like to be impaired?

What is your impairment — we all have them —

that you may deny

if so, art makes demands

which you can ignore at your own peril

what is your impairment like?

See this movie

What is your job in life? While you chase money and fame and bullshit

while you hop on planes infected with COVID-19 because you just have to get home for the holidays

what is your job that you ignore as you careen through the world as a self-destructive homicidal maniac

making a big deal out of football games and whether you got asked to the Prom?

See Paul in this movie

He’s run his course

he runs it

he runs it well

I can only imagine what it is like to have deaf parents

what it is like to love them dearly

and be loved by them

how hard that is

hw beautiful that is

deaf parents on the south side of Chicago

deafness clashing with theater and music

discordant harmony

what it is like to have pain turn into purpose

and still be painful

Paul is being discussed for major awards

every once in awhile real value is recognized

and if you think that I am writing in any way to bask in the reflected glory of a friendly acquaintance

you have to work harder

and maybe think for a second what it is like to be me

how tortured I feel

to be misunderstood

by everyone

including me

and how I struggle

that word again

to be understood

to connect

to not be doubted

to be respected

to be accepted

it’s not deafness

it sounds petty and whiny

and it may not even be real

it may just be the twisted wood of my psyche

an unfortunate result of the collision of my sensitivity and my fate


fragile new beings crushed by cruelty

not a big deal once you get it

but you have to work your ass off to get it

Paul understands

Paul knows that the real work is about getting your head right

getting your soul right


deep deep Paul Raci

the depth learned by wrestling with deafness

and the surprising discovery of more important matters

than what you can hear

Paul writes nice little comments on some of my pieces

because he can recognize pain

and when it is transcended

transcendence is Paul’s thing

Sound of Metal is a document

It will help impaired people forever

So my friend Paul has touched eternity

and I get that beautiful joy/sad feeling

Sad for all he has gone through

Joyful with all he has done with adversity

and joyful that he recognizes and understands mine

What are you going to do with that?

I find the opening sequences of Sound of Metal almost unbearable to watch

or more precisely hear

Art should be that way sometimes

Almost unbearable

I’ve got new headphones for my TV

My honey makes a lot of noise with her cooking and grandchildren and social work and saving the world

(I don’t know why I have attracted good people around me at this point on my life — I really don’t do shit for anybody — what is most admirable about me is what I don’t do — I have integrity out the ass — and I demand excellence, demand it goddam it! —- and my understanding of what excellence is has changed a great deal over the years — sometimes I live in a choice like an election — Biden or Trump and its that easy — Paul Raci and my honey or ignorant venal hacks — an alternating current of love/admiration or disgust … oh and there is the third grouping like the guy Paul helps in Sound of Metal — the open ones who are trying)

Oh yeah — the headphones — I watch a video about my model

and this kid is talking about sound mixing in movies

how these headphones pick it up better than my TV

I just bought them to get some focus in the eye of Hurricane Paula

I never appreciated sound mixing as an art before

but whoever did sound mixing on Sound of Metal should pick up awards when Paul gets his

What’s it like to be deaf, mother fucker?

I don’t know — but I never asked myself before

Sound of Metal is a story

I’ve seen and heard just about every story by this late date I reckon

It’s the people who tell them that are new.

Small Axe — Mangrove is harrowing

British director Steve McQueen sound and sight mixes racism

and it upsets me

injustice another impairment

McQueen did “Twelve Years a Slave”

I never want to see that movie again

It changed me

I never knew what black people went through

I still don’t

I never knew what slavery and Jim Crow

I still don’t

until Mangrove I never knew what West Indian people have gone through in the UK

I still don’t

McQueen made me watch

and feel

not intellectually

not in terms of ethics and policy

but as a wound

I watch Steve McQueen movies in a pool of blood

I don’t know what black people have gone through

but McQueen has imagined a way to make me imagine it

and he called up personal memories I’d rather avoid

I see every bully that I’ve ever dealt with

and suffer the lazy meanness of the ignorant

the animal people who never matriculated to humanity

the ones who live in their stomachs and genitals

and never make the ascent to their hearts and minds

the will to power destroying sand castles

the ones who don’t understand that how we treat each other is more important than what we get or what we do

We’ve all been treated unfairly

We are all haunted

by the ghosts

the ghosts

we aren’t born human

we have to nurture our humanity

our humanity

in ourselves and others

Art asks so much of you

We are all impaired

The disabilities of our souls

the limitations of our bodies

the obstructions of our own ignorance

the courage in our struggles

our perseverance

Lonny Price’s Best Worst Thing That Ever Happened

is a documentary about people who made a play

about people struggling

that word again

struggling to make art and make careers and make lives

some succeed some fail all get hurt some learn some learn more than others

the play was Harold Prince and Stephen Sondheim’s “Merrily We Roll Along”

the play was a flop when it opened

it ended Prince and Sondheim’s creative marriage

and sent Sondheim into exile from the Broadway theater community that

“rewarded making money or being a starving artist, but couldn’t accept both”

Everyone failed, some triumphed

everyone learned

or died an early death

the walking dead

Art asks something of you

you have to leave your fucking fairy tales

about how indestructible your hearing is

about how everyone will be fair to you

and nice

about how you can chase your dreams

buffeted by a gentle breeze of warm applause

oohs and ahs

Life hurts

do something with it

Success is a side dish

achievement is something else again

and it always involves

the transformation of pain

into art

which is nothing less

than the redemption of oneself and the others who hear you.

A play isn’t deafness or racial violence

but it is something

and it asks something of you

there is gold far beneath the surface

more gold the farther down you go

the journey is an ordeal

major surgery

ending in healing, consciousness, enlightenment and love

only to start all over again.

Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

Merry Christmas.

Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s