Are my subjects influences upon or confirmations of my deep feeling? At this stage in my life, and in my career as a writer, my subjects are more resonances than influences. I look at them and see myself — my excellent achievement and my reasons for circumspection and caution. Two resonances set the stage for the writing that I will next do now that this collection is completed. I admire Flannery O’Connor for writing completely according to her own standards — she was not influenced by readers, critics, publishers and editors or peers. O”Connor also knew her ill health, solitariness, loneliness, strangeness and rejection were assets in her written art. She accepted her fate and made it into something very, very fine. O’Connor was a wonderful friend to her few intimates (emotional, never physical) and a good person. Her high personal character was reflected in her writing — honest, intelligent and good natured. O’Connor was a nearly complete definition of an artist.
Stanley Kubrick demonstrates two very important things. He reinvented filmmaking each time that he did a movie. Each Kubrick film was a career unto itself. Arthur Miller is a cautionary contrast. Miller did revolutionary work early, but then kept revisiting his early success. Success is a trap. Reaching for what is next is essential in art. An artist works beyond expectations. Kubrick gifts me with a second crucial resonance. An artist must work beyond influence. Artists stand on the shoulders of past and older giants, and look at a blank white page. All the writers and artists of value write in the Great Book of Time, and then make their new and personal additions. Artists don’t do new things to be unique. They do new things because it is their job to move forward past the known boundaries of creation. I add my lines here, and will add more lines beyond here.
Copyright 2021 Richard Thomas
4/15/21: The Rick Blog Annotated Part Nine, 3/4/21 to 4/13/21, Influences, Resonances and Beyond Influence: #writing #poetry #essay
3/4/21: Miles Davis, Birth of the Cool (2019) — The Agony and The Ecstasy #poetry
Miles Davis told the musicians in his band that he didn’t want them to play what they know. He wanted them to play what they don’t know. The art is in how you deal with the new. Miles Davis wanted deep music, no bullshit — nothing phoned in — something immediate — of the moment. I identify with much in Miles Davis’ story. That isn’t a grandiose statement. I watched this well made documentary twice. I see in the film a universal story. The movie is a work of art about being an artist. So, of course I see myself in Miles Davis. I’m an artist. I see myself in all artists.
These pieces about movies that I have been writing recently are not reviews or book reports. I am communicating what I feel when I watch the movie. That’s why there is the hash tag poetry. I’m self-conscious about this. I don’t want people to misunderstand. I am not just disseminating information on a blog. I’m not just sharing my opinions. I’m making art. The theme of this piece is what an artist goes through. It’s hard. The danger for audiences is to just see the joy, and to either sentimentalize that joy or envy it. Of course, the shallow view doesn’t do justice to the artist, but it also mutes the power of the art. Art gets its meaning from the struggle of the artist. Art has its meaning in the context of the the artist’s life and life in general. If you don’t get that, you don’t get art.
Miles Davis’ inner life consisted of bitter memories, feelings of loss, and regret and obsessive ideation about music. An artist needs pain — the wounds of abuse and injustice, and failure — failure in life, love and art. Pain is the driver of the creative process. Agony compels the artist to create something different.
Art opens the creative person up — away from the racism, away from the hick town, away from envy and oppression. The creation of art is followed by a hangover. The artist crashes back to earth. The dark world is depressing, it is too harsh of a contrast to the world of intellect and beauty that the artist finds in his art. Miles Davis made friends with Picasso and Jean Paul Sartre in Paris, and then got on a plane and returned to St. Louis, and was surrounded by white trash crackers. He started shooting heroin right away.
Popular culture loves stories of victory over pain — triumph. Beat the drugs, get away from the ignorant fools and live ever after in a state of happy creativity. The artist knows all of that is fairy tale bullshit. The artist has the courage to feel life’s pain, accept his own demons and soar with his art.
Dreams mixed with shit.
Miles Davis was privileged and oppressed. This is the formula of art. Privileged — born to a wealthy family, talented and touched by genius. Oppressed — his father beat his mother, tormented by racists and racism. Privilege made solitude possible, oppression made solitude desirable. There … in his loneliness, an open space existed. Nature abhors that vacuum like all of the other vacuums, and nature filled the void with art.
The artist becomes strange, different from most others. He is really only recognized as a human being by other artists. Only another artist implicitly understands what an artist goes through — the highs and the lows. Well-meaning non -artists need the artist’s human experience explained to them, I say that without condescension. There is nothing to condescend about. I don’t understand what all sorts of people go through, so I listen to them. Artists live the same lives that you do, but in a much more intense, concentrated and complicated way. Art is not a vocational choice. A life of art (or in tragic cases, the blocked avoidance of art) is pre-determined at birth. An artist can’t help the way he or she is. If you love an artist, you should want to know.
Jazz was born partly as a reaction to the minstrel show. Jazz musicians are not entertainers, shuffling and mugging and people pleasing. “All I ever wanted to do was communicate what I feel though music,” said Miles Davis. That need to be real, and to share what you are going through with other people is the essence of an artist.
Miles Davis was angry and anti -social. These demons furthered his art. They protected him in all of his sensitivity in the world most often called “real”, and they created a need inside of him to express what he experienced so deeply. An artist doesn’t have a career. Miles Davis was influential. His art radiated beyond his alienation and brought musicians, business people and audience to him. An artist’s success is different than anyone else’s. Miles Davis didn’t try to be a star. His life and times were open to his brilliance. He was very much like Van Gogh, but with a major difference. Miles Davis was popular when he was breathing.
Miles Davis said, “If anybody wants to keep creating, you have to be about change.” Van Gogh followed the changes of his own soul and synchronized those changes with the changes of nature. Miles Davis did that too, but he also changed with society. The improvisational impulse of Miles Davis’ jazz was the ingredient that added timely relevance to his expression of eternity.
He also said that he always was the same way. Constancy in change. It’s a paradox. He always had his own way of doing things. He got himself a classical education at Juliard, and hung out at Jazz clubs on 52nd Street. Individuality, openness, exploration, the attraction to the unknown, and the almost scientific drive to understand the essence of the moment …
Jazz was serious … car accidents and depression, recording contracts, girlfriends and wives, beatings by racist cops, repetition of his father’s sins of spousal abuse … sad and dark … and all the while … Miles Davis” jazz pushed the boundaries of art … the agony and the ecstasy … hated by those afraid of natural change, the preservers of the lie of the status quo …
Miles Davis came up with a sound that was a manifestation of who he was, and when he changed, he came up with a new sound … project after project after project. Birth of the Cool was an early project, it melded classical music and jazz. Later in his life he would draw and paint. Miles Davis loved being in Paris when he was young, and loved the way he was treated. He associated with fine French artists and intellectuals who treated him as an equal. Later Miles Davis walked with equality in America as a black man who wouldn’t take any shit. Much later near the end of his life he kept reaching for a new sound, and associated with American artists like Quincy Jones and Prince.
Miles Davis said, “When God punishes you, it’s not that you don’t get everything that you want … you get everything that you want and there is no time left.” That flame of dissatisfaction … right now I am struggling with the art of connecting … do you ask, do you hold back … do you search … do you wait for opportunity and then hungrily pounce … Miles Davis connected so well … the human is a fool and the artist transforms foolishness into answers through exploration and discovery … I will figure this out, this and maybe a few or several more aspects of my art, one after another, relieving my suffering with every answer, and finally I will get all that I want … and then I will get sick and die …
Copyright 2021 Richard Thomas
3/6/21: The Trial of the Chicago 7 — Sorting Out the Mess, Sort of #poetry
The first thing that I notice is the music
Addicted to excitement
What fucking lives
1968 and the aftermath was tragic and a mother fucking rush
The ensemble is introduced
The dramatis personae
The historical action figures
Professional acting that hybrid of truth telling and comedy
Quick edits — it’s the sixties man
News footage and technicolor dreams
Bloody and sexy — infotainment
and our confused lives ….
If I had to do it over again, I’d go to NYU instead of Notre Dame
I’d go artist instead of professional
I’d go Wynn Handman and the American Place Theater instead of Second City
I’d go novels instead of comic books
I’d go poet instead of performer
Sorting it out
Life and art is about getting to know oneself
Sorting out the mess
What excites you versus what makes you deeply happy
Love instead of the blow job
The exposition of the movie ends
The fireworks music stops
and the movie becomes intentionally boring
The government lawyers enter
Government versus nation
Lawyers versus the yippies
Sasha Baron Cohen and Mark Rylance
Actors … I love them … and those two very different actors … inhabiting characters and revealing themselves … in such diffrent ways … and so much the same …
Sorting it out ….
This messy movie
hordes of extras on the courthouse steps
crowds of extras in the courthouse hallways
in the courtroom too
Principals mixing with extras
but each character and each actor
extra and star alike
implying a story
the Day of the Locust
What a feat of engineering this movie is
What a feat of engineering America is
I love these new headphones
I can really hear the sound being mixed for this story of stories
What a feat of engineering this script is
the competing biographies the competing interests
Liberal versus conservative
Old versus young
hawk versus dove
smart versus stupid
moral versus immoral
respectable versus honest
bullying versus defiance
black versus white
the Constitution versus law and order
The Portrait of the Nation as a Young Country
The Nation versus society
Nature versus nurture
What we are told to do
how we react to what we told
sometimes obey sometimes defy
muddling the clear inner voice that will guide us without error
descending into confusion
Why am I appreciating movies more on the second viewing
I was watching the Golden Globes and was reassured
Most of the nominees seemed so dumb and superficial
Almost all were awkward, at least vaguely aware of the ridiculous situation
but Sasha Baron Cohen had grace
and Aaron Sorkin seemed in charge
These guys were entertainers and businessmen making money and getting laid carrying cocaine through airports
blase spoiled brats opening swag bags in luxury hotels
and elbows out street brawlers
Subtly winning their spots
athletes of a sort
catching lightning out of one out of every hundred bottles
Our souls are mongrels
the human race is a collection fo junkyard dogs
filthy and cute as hell
Human beings are sources of my disgust and affection
I want to help them and I want to get away from them
It’s easier to look at them now
Now that I finally know myself
Aaron Sorkin has perfected his facility at what he does
for the moment
and so have I
Ah sweet commonality
I can see the world
and know it’s me
but it’s not my ego
When you look with your ego
you see illusion
When you just look
you see …
QAnon must think the Chicago 7 is sexy
Both the movie and the true story people that its based on
Another entry in our menagerie
imagining that you are something that you are not
wanting the feeling
and the applause
without the sacrifice
and the work
creating an image of yourself in a fun house mirror
playing the hero
rebels without a clue
Revolution without purpose
making the Capitol the scene of massive and deadly bar fight
Addicted to the taste of blood
No truth and naive to consequences
Oppressed by their own sense of entitlement
Driven insane by irrational fears unacknowledged to themselves
Not equipped to deal with life
Unable to think clearly
Unable to think
Brainwashed by forces
that needed pawns in a battle
who want what exactly
No one knows
to maintain their status as kings of nothing?
Sasha Baron Cohen and Abby Hoffman do and did comedy with a purpose
It doesn’t matter whether the war is ended or the movie is a hit
Win a few lose a few
What matters is the in with both feet participation
Going all the way
with all of you
face to face
with all of the world
Yes QAnon finds the Chicago 7 compelling
and a man in a mental hospital says that he is Napoleon
All these levels of consciousness
saints and popes and lawyers and yippies and actors and comedians and cops and cowed and liberated women and rogue cops and good public servants and lovers of peace and the criminally insane and men and women on the street and movie stars and public figures on the front page or the Google News aggregator
aware and confused
lustful and loving
God this movie is full
America is full
you are full
I am full
and full of shit
Fascist 1968 Chicago
Fascist 2021 Red America
every bit of you that wants to control
even as you bring bags of food to hungry children
and write your little poems
You are Richard J. Daley and Bobby Seale and Ralph Waldo Emerson
and Jesus Christ and Herod
Vader and Skywalker
You fucking dog
You are beautiful and murderous
a police state and a beloved country
an activist and an old man in a recliner
You are conflict
and you are detached peace
accepting all about your past and the world around you
calm and happy
Minds open up
after temper tantrums
Fathers let go of their sons
Equilibrium follows nervous breakdowns
There is no arc to the universe
It runs serpentine
incited by heroes and villains, noble and unholy fools, our true and dark hearts, and our inspired and perverse imaginations.
The movie ends with the temporary triumph of love and justice in the soul of the people,
and title cards about oppression exposed, wise electorates, sell -out to greed and random accidental death, and the suicide of a complex man.
Copyright 2021 Richard Thomas
3/7/21: The Theory of Everything (2014) — Disabled Genius #poetry
Genius is strange and clever, bold enough to raise the ultimate question, confident enough to attempt to explain the essence of everything.
The ordinary are a little dumb, and by virtue of their ignorance, varying degrees of cruel. Christ, that genius of the first order, asked his father to forgive the ordinary because “they know not what they do.” The cross is the disability of genius. The disabled are the sons and daughters of God.
Genius is always lame, at least lame. Lame or worse. The ordinary, and the fate that afflicts ordinary and genius alike, disable genius.
The disability of genius is the purpose of genius.
Genius always inhabits a diseased or broken body, and is always trapped in community with the ordinary.
Genius dies like everybody and everything else. Genius is bound by physical and social realities like everybody and everything else.
Genius is not an escape. There is no refuge in ivory towers or communes of brilliant fellow travelers.
Mankind is a little like an ant colony. Each human being is born with a prescribed task. Some grow things, and some make things, and some fix things, and some discover things like fire.
Genius gets to eat and defecate and procreate like everyone else. All of the pleasures and edifying challenges of life belong as much to the genius as anyone else.
Science and art are in love with each other. Nature and poetry are expressions of one another. Reason and imagination are partners. Creativity and insight are synonyms.
Genius is the frontier of clarity.
There is great challenge in genius and great joy.
If you are reading this you are probably a genius. Geniuses talk to geniuses and expand genius. The attraction between geniuses leads to something like chemical reactions, and somehow these new quasi – molecules are introduced into the body human.
Geniuses are the people, and genius is the field, that brings progress to all mankind
My local paper when I was a little kid, the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, and its evening colleague, the Rochester Times -Union, had a section. along with Business, Sports and Local, called Arts and Ideas. I always went Arts and Ideas first. It seemed like everybody else went for Sports or Business or the Front Page. I became aware that I wanted to be a genius the first day I picked “my” section of the paper.
If you want to be a genius, you are one. Most people just want to fit in. They want to be “normal” like everybody else; but a sizable minority want to be geniuses and with geniuses. This minority knows that there is so much more to know, and enjoys eccentricity.
Ignorance is a matter of character, not faulty intellect. The ignorant don’t want to know. Ignorance is the product of indifference.
Genius is a matter of good character, and proportional to ability and opportunity. If you care about someone or something, you want to know about it. That’s good character. A genius will use whatever ability or opportunity that he or she has to achieve something. If you have a massive intellect, are born into a family of intellectuals who nurture you, know of and are admitted into the studies of physics at Oxford, and are married to a woman who loves you and tends to your emotional and physical needs after you are afflicted with a disease that devastates your entire body, you can develop a theory of everything. With more modest means you can still do your part. It is the ordinary who dismiss everyday genius.
Moments of brilliance are all around us
genius sparks like fireflies
the willfully ignorant ordinary can’t see the flashing lights
but we geniuses do our duty
We recognize and catalogue
the wonders of life.
The woman with down’s syndrome has a genius for kindness and affection …
the brilliant disabled physicist is driven to communicate, to connect
in an act of empathy for the rest of us
The Generosity of Genius
Genius is Love
Genius suffers its disability
but is also carried by unseen hands
When you further God’s purposes
You are lucky
Lucky in so many ways
You live through seasons of stress and strife
Misunderstood even by those who are disposed to understand you
but faith must be tested
Faith without a test isn’t faith at all
It’s just a foregone conclusion
Genius can be lost, you have to persevere
you are awarded an abundance
your struggle ratifies your genius findings, and becomes an inspiration.
Popularizers, like the filmmakers of today’s object of cinematic meditation
Play a role
A kind of bourgeoise pandering
to coax the ordinary toward genius
Technicolor love affairs
The gossipy drama the ordinary can’t do without in their lifelong project of attempting to avoid true feeling and thought
serves a noble purpose
in introducing genius to the ordinary in an heroic light
Kind of like pictures of God as a muscular old man with a long white beard
something for children
and the childish
Genius can easily become disgusted with, and enraged at the ordinary
but this impatience and anger must be transcended
not to preserve genius
but to preserve genius’ humanity.
So this genius is dismissive of this Hollywood movie
but this genius know that the movie is not for him
It is for the ordinary
The ordinary are in a prison for their sins
Prison can be a venue of rehabilitation
The genius physicist worked very hard to learn new ways to speak
with the assistance of other geniuses
scientists and technicians and therapists
(genius the people, places and things of progress)
an education made necessary by his disability
to communicate with other geniuses
and ultimately the ordinary world.
Here’s the point of faith that every genius knows
the cosmic backdrop behind each specific and peculiar mystery that each member of the genius class explores
and each struggle with fate and the ordinary that each genius fights on the road to his or her discovery
that everything is wonderful
beyond good and bad and dark and light
and genius and ordinary,
and everything is the way it should be.
It’s all OK
It’s all alright
It’s beautiful if your perspective is from an optimal vantage point
We are born to traverse from horizon to horizon
discovering and colonizing the next region of the unending unknown
for still mysterious reasons.
And I, Genius, got caught up in the movie’s love triangle
and I’m moved by the way the genius and his genius ex -wife love their children and each other
I’m touched by the ordinary
Touched by the ordinary?
A vaccination of the ordinary virus never hurt anybody
builds antibodies against cynicism
and raises the imperfectly unremarkable
to perfectly remarkable
without ignoring or glossing over
a goddam/god blessed
Copyright 2021 Richard Thomas
3/8/21: What Happened to Kerouac? (1986) — Suicide by Performance Art #poetry
They just wanted a little attention, baby
They just wanted to get over
They were clever and beautiful boys
Who could turn a ride on a freight train
or later in a speeding car
finding romance in the amber waves of grain
and the dirty bustling ports of the new rich nation
and especially the bars and the coffee shops
where they would congregate
arousing and entertaining each other
The world was their mother’s incestuous eyes
and they returned the leer with their prose poetry
They were bums
a beaten generation
and they stumbled upon words
and became the beat generation
personifying a yearning of the academic and professional classes
the boys and girls well educated in the liberal arts
bored and frightened by the world of money
They were the denied cry for freedom of the men in the gray flannel suits
and the girls in the pearls and aprons
They were fallout from the Hiroshima and Nagasaki nuclear bombs
worshipping the moment now that Armageddon was a present possibility
so they posed
They wanted to get over
Make it as much as the squares in the skyscrapers did
Useful cultural radicals
with the souls of advertising men
Dancing in front of their approving finger snapping audiences
the ones with the disposable income
they danced like poodles with shaved asses in the circus
They took Walt Whitman and added booze and the Ivy League and General Motors and Hollywood and sex and shock
Freudian obsessions sung out loud without shame
Oh no, the shame was not for natural Oedipal and Electra complexes
The mainstreaming of dysfunction
The outspoken frankness of their poetry pumped oxygen into every room where it was spoken …
No the shame wasn’t for dysfunction
Dysfunction is sexy
People want to fuck dysfunction
The shame was for getting old (or older but for them every second made them old … they were moths dancing on air toward the flame of death … even their laughter was morbid, any ejaculation of joy was a put on, they created the illusion of life as an act of copulation, but their true state, and message was one of post -coital disappointment … Kerouac tried so hard for what he thought was impossible with the knowledge that he’d get tired of it all someday …. every expression of supposed passion was a cover for his essential despair … he was born despairing of life’s possibilities and he ran away from that very life for a brief while, becoming the voice of similarly disappointed generations … generations of excitable meteors oblivious to the stable happiness of the planets naturally adapting to the phases of their moons)
For not being infinitely interesting
For having any impulse to satisfy their own creative ambitions
for failing in any second where they didn’t give the audience what it wanted …
Audiences eat performers
Performers are roast beef and the servant at the carving station at the same time
They butcher themselves and hand out the pieces of their rare bloody flesh
to people who are just there to be diverted
Dinner and a show.
I am sure at one point
Jack Kerouac was beautiful and authentic
Charming and smart
and endlessly inventive …
but then he saw it “worked”
and he was doomed
His center was his audience’s edge
In an enlightened world the middle class paying customers would have moved toward Kerouac, and Kerouac would have moved toward the middle class paying customers
Kerouac, the bard of excited youth making love to all of the people and objects that he encountered …
especially loving every energetic erotic word
writing the words, saying the words, reading the words aloud
the pleasure the satisfaction the release of the words
Kerouac found himself in the words
but then never made the transition to living and writing the subsequent phases of life
The paying customers didn’t want that from him
They put his body and soul in formaldehyde — the morgue is the ultimate venue of arrested development
Kerouac became a cultural figure
and stopped being a writer and a man
He was dissected as a precursor of the mentality of flower children and the various revolutions of the sixties
Even his worthwhile writing from when he was actually alive
Before he joined the drunken walking dead
stopped being writing
Kerouac was the symbol of a zeitgeist
An expression of how a generation felt
A Lost Man of the Beat Generation
Kerouac lost art and surrendered himself to mysticism
He united with the All
Kerouac, the apostle of unadulterated individuality
Kerouac was a human sacrifice
He introduced one aspect to writing
an invaluable aspect
but then had to die
He courageously cut open a vein
and let the stuff of his very existence pour on the page
but couldn’t transform it
He didn’t want to get to the Promised Land
He was terrified
and when the world proved to be something other than his mother’s desirous eyes
He went home to his mother
and not so slowly died
They wanted him to die
a romantic and tragic death
The customers wanted him to give up on the world the way that they did
They wanted Kerouac to prove to them that it wasn’t possible
Life couldn’t be constant love making
Life couldn’t be a love affair …
every rock tree smokestack bar and boy or girl couldn’t be your beloved
Life couldn’t be that wonderful … oh no
down deep beatniks are the straightest people in the world
authority and social expectation are huge black shadows over their lives
leading to defiance, rebellion, capitulation and surrender
So Kerouac obliged the paying customers
He retreated to his first love at the family homestead in Lowell, Massachusetts
and drank himself to death in the shadow of his mother
The romance of his words turned into something incestuous and perverted and diseased
I never was drawn to Kerouac’s writing
I see its value
but it’s not for me
The other Beat writers were generally more my speed
They aren’t as sexy
but they are more grounded
Those other Beat writers wouldn’t have been possible without Kerouac
and it is not likely that even the very best of them matched his force of nature inspiration
but they finished the job
They didn’t give up
I don’t criticize Kerouac
I feel badly for him
All good people live and die as martyrs
We all die by our own hand
We choose what is important to us
and we give our existence to those objects of our affection
Kerouac died for some things of great value
but those things would have given him more time
It was the misunderstandings that got him
We kill moments by caring about things that don’t matter
and some of us get stuck in our wayward focus
and the moments become forever
Some of us willfully destroy our being
wishing nothing more than to disappear
and some aren’t so existential
they are just sick
The truly poet is a rock
As natural as a bird singing in a tree outside a window
Un – self – conscious
Getting what she needs
building her nest
getting her food
doing ti her own way
not giving a damn about who is watching
Not trying to enlighten or heal anybody
Not trying to get noticed
Unbothered when she is noticed
Inspiring the world by being herself
In all of her iterations
Jack Kerouac brilliantly expressed what people were feeling at a specific point in time
and said it in a way that interested them
and revolutionized writing itself
He seductively spoke to people in a way that turned them on
but then couldn’t move on
a butterfly pressed in a microscope slide.
Real influence is always unintended
Just write and live and let the world spin on its axis
You’ll meet up time and time again
always the same and always new
Thomas Wolfe foreshadowed Kerouac
Wolfe said, You Can’t Go Home Again
That’s right, you are home
Just live there
How sad it is when even a genius can’t see that
Copyright 2021 Richard Thomas
3/9/21: Inside Llewyn Davis (2013) — Love, Fame and Money #poetry
In “The Code Breaker” Walter Isaacson reprises several of his previous themes — science, genius, experiment, code, thinking different — and adds a new one …
what really makes a difference, what really changes the world …
is not motivated by the pursuit of money …
or the need to make a name for oneself … fame …
but rather is the desire for nobility …
the passion to make things better …
and I will add the words, love and excellence …
what is great, what is well done is always of service …
no not service, sorry, service isn’t a good motivation …
the drive to do something great is what creates something great …
and doing great, being great is what naturally serves the world …
( you don’t need to desire to serve … if you do you won’t serve … that’s an ego thing, to want to be a hero … and the need to view things from the perspective of your need to be helpful distorts your observations, and compromises your data, reason and imagination … )
all of the other selfish ambitions …
which boil down to two — fame and money ( service is the runt of the litter )
are at best distractions,
and most often destructive …
The movie starts …
Llewyn Davis sings a beautiful song to a smattering of applause …
He’s told “it’s only music” …
He gets physically beaten for his free and honest speech …
He inconveniences himself to protect the welfare of a cat …
He is angry, conflicted and humiliated when he accepts charity from a friend …
Llewyn Davis faces pregnancy — adult reality …
He is confused by a singer who is called “wonderful” but lacks a “higher function”
(Where is the art? Where is the love? Recognition for craft, facility, attractiveness … but where is the art? The noble lift … the love that redeems the world … until the noble person recognizes Walter Isaacson’s new theme, he or she suffers … from the confusion about who gets the money and the fame … success eludes Llewyn Davis because he doesn’t know that he is not pursuing it … it’s a hard lesson, maybe the hardest … a lot of pain … back to the narrative … )
Llewyn Davis is shamed by a former lover — why would a woman want someone like him — a failure with no visible means of support …
(so many male artists and scientists and great thinkers have been described as monks — the world is saved by those who deny it, isn’t that funny?)
Next, Llewyn Davis makes a bad business decision because of desperation and naivte’ …
Llewyn Davis settles on another couch of a new acquaintance …
(Llewyn Davis is not suffering for his art … he is suffering for his lack of success … there are options … but movies are myths about figuring things out — if they are good, if they are made out of love and not money or fame … )
Llewyn Davis discusses careerists and losers with a woman who might have wanted him if he weren’t a nobleman …
(Careerists are at first enraging and then exasperating and then they disappear — they can’t even see — recognize — noble achievement … careerists disappear because there is an ecosystem that supports and recognizes nobility … not merely in the noble person, but in the noble pursuit … )
Llewyn Davis now experiences support from the wrong people … and leaves … sorry that he hurt their feelings …
(only nobility can support nobility … not charity, not commerce, not well – meaning misunderstanding … )
Significant Reveal — Llewyn Davis’ partner committed suicide …
(no one has reached nobility without experiencing despair … )
Llewyn Davis is subtly rebuffed in an attempt at friendly connection …
(life in the time of confusion between success and nobility is a period of constant insult)
Llewyn Davis remains empathetic to the people who are rude to him …
(the noble person must distinguish between real malice and the pained expressions of the crowd … )
Llewyn Davis faces how his self – identification with failure has made him impotent to being reliable to the requirements of his own basic decency …
( a time of homelessness is a prerequisite of nobility … )
Inside Llewyn Davis is the name of Llewyn Davis’ record … the name of his art …
It’s beautiful …
( not about fame or money … )
the record is Llewyn Davis’ undistilled excellence …
The businessman doesn’t see money in what is inside Llewyn Davis either, though he clearly admires it …
The businessman suggests how Llewyn Davis could make a living with his music …
Llewyn passes …
Llewyn Davis gets a job … dues paid up, all certified …
shipping out, away from the pursuers of fame, money and suicide …
He plays a pure song for his old, sick and silent father …
The old man responds … surprisingly …
More bad luck … Llewyn’s sister threw out the papers that he needed … the certifications … diplomas, licenses and shit …
He perseveres …
this time to get away …
fame and money are oppressions …
Llewyn’s conflict is almost over …
Fame and money exhaust the noble …
Not their own lust for the filthy desires … other people’s …
( for the noble, hell is other people … welcome to Vanity Fair … the pursuit of that which is not worth having )
The cat’s name is Ulysses
(the Coen Brothers write about Odysseys)
Llewyn passes a movie poster for “The Incredible Journey”, a Disney movie featuring a cat …
Llewyn sings a a song about flying toward love …
An unknown Bob Dylan comes on and sings a song like Llewyn’s
The punishment that Llewyn received for free speech is shown to be precipitated by a past wail of frustration uttered by Llewyn when he couldn’t take it anymore …
When Llewyn’s assailant walks away
beaten and bleeding, Llewyn says “au revoir “
The movie ends …
Let me tell you what happens next …
Llewyn gets a job …
he pays his way …
he gets fired and promoted and goes through all the bullshit the noble go through with jobs …
he borrows money, he pays it back …
he stays noble …
he never really fits in, still conscious of being a stranger in a strange land …
he is constantly misunderstood, but never homeless — not this time …
He stays true to his nobility … he never betrays his excellence …
Au revoir is not goodbye …
He returns to the scene that he started in
and experiences the fame and money lust all over again
but this time he understands what is happening
An Odyssey involves more than two trips around the world …
The road to nobility is an arduous one (obviously)
The third trip has two themes …
the nobleman or woman has no worries about physical survival …
he or she is now accepted by the nobility ecosystem …
the nobility ecosystem involves other noble people and luck …
Luck takes care of those who are noble …
natural selection chooses the fittest …
the human race, more than the human race — everything that exists —- sustains what sustains it …
the noble person sustains life by virtue of his or her being … and what he or she does with it …
and nature takes care of him or her …
The noble person makes no contribution to the abstractions fame and money …
and offers everything to concrete life …
the nobleman is feted by nature with material gifts to expand his or her works …
The pursuers of fame and money take their leave …
The noble person sits alone …
continuing their work …
their work and being …
alone in a quiet and obscure room …
sends vibrations of influence into the world …
and the world steps up and comes to receive what the noble person has to offer …
particularly when the world is in trouble it becomes quite interested in
what is Inside Llewyn Davis
or Inside Richard Thomas
or maybe Inside You.
Copyright 2021 Richard Thomas
3/10/21: Bang the Drum Slowly (1973) — Work, Death and Friendship #poetry
This movie was made seven years before Reagan, when business took over the world
Competition was seen as a game in those days, not the most important thing
Winning and losing was a backdrop
The love of friendship was the thing
The movie is quaint
I went to McQuaid Jesuit High School and the University of Notre Dame
and worked at Lincoln First Bank, the Chicago Tribune and the Second City Theater
before each institution became corporate entities
I dealt with human beings not systems
I was young in an age of friendship
People liked each other just because
Bang the Drum Slowly is loaded with character actors
1973 – 1980 was a time of characters
We enjoyed each other
We had fun
The main thing wasn’t whatever we were doing
The main thing was that we were together
We were all poets
Men and women fell in love
People had best friends
People were happy
In the early 80s a young man and woman from the Wharton School of Business talked with me at the outer bar at Second City after I performed in a show
They talked about using research to determine the optimum laugh
and data to determine how to hold an audience’s attention
And I started to see
that it was over
Even what was tragic and corrupt in the 60s and 70s was …
Viet Nam and Watergate were human
before thought control and manipulation of emotion became subjects for doctoral degrees and major industries
Democracy and love had not yet been overwhelmed by marketing and sales
The will to power existed in America
but was imperfect in its execution
and the human being was undefeated
Playboys won Super Bowls
and a Civil Rights Leader was the Heavyweight Champion of the World
No one worried much about being authentic
They just were …
In 1980, the backdrop became the foreground
Winning and Losing became primary
and the love of friendship began to disappear
George Lucas talked about the phenomena in Star Wars
John Huston did too, in Prizzi’s Honor
Friendship was only alive in the camps of the revolutionaries in the mountains
Ray Romano does a comedy routine about the friends that you need at various times of life
In high school you have to make friends with the kid with the car
In your twenties you need the guy who can get you the hot tickets
In your thirties and forties you need a lawyer
In your fifties a doctor …
In your eighties you are back to needing a kid with a car …
Ha ha, very funny … just a joke …
But it is a joke for an era …
A friend was redefined after 1980 as someone who is of use to you …
Someone who could do something for you …
Or Someone who made you look good …
So -called friends gathered
who weren’t friends at all …
Just useful pawns in the game …
or cliques to make you feel important …
Even when old school friendship was there
the winning/losing static interfered
In 2020, the era of Reagan derangement ended
Libertarianism wasn’t on the ballot
This winning and losing jive has made everyone unhappy
Politically and economically the game is changing again
turning into either social democracy or fascism — we’ll see …
Either taking care of one another together or looking to a dictator to take care of us (and make us feel superior to everybody else — a surrender of even the possibility of friendship, despair with a puffed out chest) …
We could have …
No more needing to win to be loved …
That’s our opportunity now …
In 1973, in the time of Bang the Drum Slowly
human energy wasn’t wasted on unimportant things
People felt bad when friends got sick and died
People were unhappy when friends were unhappy
People were human beings then …
We have a chance
a new hope
Maybe we can get that sixties/seventies thing back again
When our fathers and mothers were close to their friends because of the camaraderie of the depression and the war
And we had friends because we raised that way
But we have a tougher task than the greatest generation
They weren’t young in a toxic culture
Their culture was unjust but they didn’t know it
and as they found out they worked to make it better
They believed that they could do anything
together with their friends
They decided to finally settle the Civil War
They failed but they got the ball rolling
They had a hard time letting go of illusions about themselves
but they did it
Friends don’t build Utopias
but they try like hell
They try for each other
That stopped in 1980
Cynicism set in …
money, fame and power were all that mattered
Everything became a business
even art and idealism
It generally sucked …
We were young when our culture became rancid
Rancid with ego
Rancid with greed
We lost our way
and we can only get back to reality by an act of decision …
I pray every day for all sorts of things …
I get what I ask for …
somebody up there likes me …
I am the luckiest man on the face of the earth …
I got an angel in my pocket …
I prayed for financial security and I got it …
I prayed for clarity about my writing and I got it …
I pray for larger venues for my writing and I am sure that they will come …
and today I pray for friends …
The Bang the Drum Slowly kind of friends
I pray for people who love each other just because they love each other
I pray for people beyond family and spouse with whom I can breathe
and be free
friends who feel good and bad for each other
not connections who exist to make them and me feel good about our own damn selves …
(Oh yeah … as I am sure you know, that fascist thing sure as fuck isn’t going to work — just a guaranteed illusion of a win as one of a mass by identifying with a winning prick — no friendship at all)
It is interesting that Bang the Drum Slowly and Brian’s Song were two movies from the seventies about friends in the midst of competition
that said that friendship was the important thing …
Both pictures were popular …
and that popularity says where our hearts are …
Dear God, send me Old School friends …
Copyright 2021 Richard Thomas
3/11/21: The Trip to Bountiful (1985) — Faith and Abundance #poetry
Everything works out
My old Italian father used to say “Dio provvedera”
God will provide
The theologian worries
If the resurrection is just a metaphor
all bets are off
But if Christ really physically rose from the dead
Everything will be OK
I don’t know what in God’s name he is talking about …
When I was a little boy, I wondered if there was a tribe somewhere in undiscovered Africa that knew Jesus but didn’t know his name
Did they have faith in God?
I answered yes
(I was just myself to myself)
and I’ve believed in luck ever since
We are lucky
We have everything we need
God (or the creative intelligence of nature or whatever concept or painting or cartoon character that you want to refer to) sustains life
and we are part of life
so we are sustained when we play our assigned part
The Trip to Bountiful is about ordinary people reaching supernatural understandings
It is a poetic piece
Eternity is in love with the productions of time
And what is deepest and most important most often lives in what is lowly, ordinary and obscure …
a man’s life changes standing with his mother in front of his boyhood home …
no person is small, no matter what they say …
John Heard’s character works and works and bounty eludes him
Carlin Glynn is filled with desire, longing and lust and is perpetually dissatisfied
Rebecca DeMornay’s role wants to believe that things will work out, and wants to do her part to allow it to happen
Geraldine Page plays a person of faith
A person of faith is undeterred
by lack of money
by risks to health
A person of faith goes toward their destiny
Deaf to the cautions of the faithless concerned
and the insults of the mean and frustrated
Geraldine Page is on an odyssey
towards a place that has disappeared
a town no longer on the bus or train lines
No one lives there anymore
A funny thing about abundance
What is most bountiful is found in an empty space
Faith, you know?
You believe in what you can’t see
When you have nothing to lose
You get it all
The people who have it all figured out
Who do everything right and please the con men who say that they provide abundant life and salvation
always end up betrayed
The journey of faith is always taken alone
And fellow travelers accompany you for part of the journey
Friends and lovers
Faith is the GPS that gets us home before we die
We are carried on unseen hands
aided by the kindness of strangers
and what seems bad fortune
turns out to be good luck
We are delayed when we leave our purse on the bus
and we are saved
We don’t take the job on the 65th floor of the World Trade Center
and we are saved
We get the class action settlement money when we are down to a few thousand dollars
and we are saved
God — the universe or whatever you want to call it — whispers and shouts to us
from a place far beyond our fears and desires
Even our deepest wounds
our psychic terrors
our greatest and most persistent hurt feelings
are labor pains
Money and politics seem so important
but they are only Amazon delivery trucks
the stuff in our packages is provided by our soul
My father wanted to die alone
He kissed my mother’s hand and said that he didn’t want to eat again
told her that he loved her and said good bye
My mother went into the next room
and he left on his own
just him and God
The most important places in our lives
are not the venues of our victories
our graduations and life successes
our red letter days
No, not our red letter days …
The most important places in our lives are the places where our souls were congruent to the world’s reality
Faith brings us to those places …
Suffering is part of faith …
doubt is part of faith …
Jesus himself thought his resurrected body might be just a metaphor …
that was his agony on Good Friday …
Myth or history?
I don’t care … truth is truth in fact and fancy …
Historical detail or figures on a dreamscape … I don’t care
Researched history or the visions of the collective unconscious … I don’t care …
Truth, reality and actuality interact on a plane of mystery
and we take our various approaches …
we are programmed to our fate by DNA and environmental factors, nature and nurture, the weight of the past knowledge of humankind, the creative imagination and the Mystical Body of Christ (or insert your local deity)
Yes, there is no faith without doubt …
No bounty without emptiness …
and no reality without metaphor and vice versa
What difference does it make if Christ physically rose from the dead, Reverend?
Or if it is just a story?
It’s still true
As true for me as it is for that metaphorical African tribe that lived in that metaphorically undiscovered part of Africa that existed in my imagination as a little boy …
I am in a bountiful place this morning …
connected to my memory …
and trusting in the unknown …
certain that I am going home …
Copyright 2021 Richard Thomas
3/12/21: No Direction Home, Bob Dylan — Anxiety and A Heart Quietly Secure, Fortified Within Itself #poetry
The heart in question is mine
I have never given a shit about Bob Dylan
I suspected that Dylan was a con artist
That wasn’t fair
He’s an artist
A much different one than I am
He never wanted to be one of a crowd
But he wanted to get over
He was a shrewd and talented performer …
That obtuse mysterious thing
Struck me as a pose
A brand …
That was unfair too …
Dylan amplified his eccentricity and wisely bet that it would sell
Dylan was creative as a CEO
I’m an artist who once taught in a business school
Shows how fucked up I was
I thought I had to do business to earn a living
and I thought that I would learn something from business that I needed to know
Learn about something that I lacked
I still worry about my phantom inadequacy
I did last night while I was sleeping
and this morning when I woke up
It’s nonsense but the psyche ain’t all rationality
Today, most of money is not from business
The heart is a magnet
My heart or Dylan’s or yours or anybody’s — even assholes hearts are magnets
And sponges too
Connecting to all sorts of attractions
and absorbing them
Did they give a Nobel Prize to Bob Dylan
or to an anthology:
of Woody Guthrie
and Minnesota Iron Range Anti – Semitism
and Dylan Thomas
and Joan Baez
and Muddy Waters
and How Much is that Doggie in the Window?
and the Beat Poets
and Hank Williams …
aesthetics and something to say …
topical songs and ones from the heart
Ordinary Bob with clever lyricism and extraordinary self – promotion
do they play Bob Dylan songs on commercials now?
still another Odyssey …
and ambiiton …
Dylan wanted the money and fame
he was un – ambivalent
a master strategist …
that’s why I never gave a shit …
I was ashamed that I didn’t have that drive
or that cunning …
and proud and superior about same …
that self -promotion
some would call it making a living
I saw, and see, it as beneath me
even clever whoring like Dylan’s
but I often wonder — less lately — if the whores were right
if I wasn’t some kind of pussy
weak and afraid
I had my night terrors about my lack of self – promotion
and moments of great elation …
Recently I have enjoyed several months, maybe two years of
A Heart Quietly Secure, Fortified Within Itself #poetry
dreams of being a crawling baby
who suddenly can’t crawl
dragging himself with great effort
down a boulevard lined with disapproving eyes
I wake up with memories of my most recent toxic experiences
and paranoid feelings that others are saying bad things about me
and denying me my rightful place in the world
whispers in the ears of everyone who would view me favorably
that turn potential friends and allies against me …
Bob Dylan’s envious contemporaries called him a traitor when he signed a record contract with Columbia
They had to face their own “impure” ambition
so they made it a moral question and attacked Dylan
I never attacked the entertainers that I’ve met on my Odyssey
I wouldn’t have attacked Dylan
The untalented ones attacked me
They sucked and they weren’t sure if I was right
and they knew they could never do what I do
they were stupid an un – inspired
they envied the Dylans in their world who got over
and kissed their asses hoping it would rub off
and they attacked me
because I threatened them in a similar way
but I was in a vulnerable position
They had the souls of assassins
They would murder the great man after his second curtain call
and the noble man in his artist’s garret
and I think of them whenever I feel anxious — at least lately
I think Bob Dylan would regard me for a split second of indifference
He wouldn’t attack
And I certainly wouldn’t attack him
I’m not even interested in Bob Dylan …
I don’t find his work provocative or moving or inspiring or revelatory or instructive
I am grateful for indifference
The world would be too big to deal with otherwise
They gave the Nobel Prize to a generation, not Bob Dylan
I don’t think the masses are that smart …
Yeah, the insecure ones went after me
because they didn’t know what they wanted …
or they couldn’t get what they wanted
it must be hard to be stupid and mean
it must be suffocating to confine your life to a tiny little niche
surrounded by other nothing people
congratulating you for nothing
and condemning anyone that is different than you …
Bob Dylan was bigger than all of that
He was cornering the market on Voice of a Generation
and his subsequent iterations
Bob Dylan was ordinary enough that he always relatable to somebody …
Bob Dylan said he wanted to be the type performer
who looked at the audience with the sub -text that he knew something that the audience didn’t know
But he wasn’t that kind of performer
He was, is, a folk singer
He wrote and sang what the audience was, is? feeling
and they loved love? him for it
and paid pay for it
I have …
(this is all about me after all)
A Heart Quietly Secure, Fortified Within Itself #poetry
I just write down what I feel and think
how the hell do I know what the response of others will be
I figure the words are just for people who will love me
just like I am myself
Those who like me are welcome too
Those who don’t can go their merry way with no trouble from me
I’m not a voice of a generation
I don’t even know if I am a poet
Sometimes my words are poetic
But the word I like most to describe what I am is “writer”
I write down what I think and feel
I use the hash tag #poetry because it is a sign to some readers online who might not see me otherwise
I think I may not get Bob Dylan
Just because I don’t love him doesn’t mean he isn’t lovable
I just picked this movie because I wanted some object to look at while I worked out my bout of anxiety
Bob Dylan knew what he wanted and he was astute
I focus on my life and work and take what comes
I want more than this blog
I want recognition, dammit
but not for what the audience wants
I want recognition for what I want to say
but then I’m ashamed of desiring such a thing
Recognition is fashion
The truth is what matters
I want to be like a scientist
who wants an honest result
not what I’d prefer
or would make me popular
but is true
I am embarrassed by this poem
Everything should be about the work
Yeah I want my writing to have a bigger footprint
So I’ll keep writing and living and figure it out
You know what you do when you are anxious
What is this project of being a writer?
I know sitting and writing
thinking of the themes
fashioning the words
but what else?
What else am I supposed to do?
Scorsese directed this movie
It isn’t only about Dylan
It’s about artists who also had a drive for careers in entertainment
an that’s OK
Part of me wishes that I was one
It would be easier
and more social
Part of me feels like this career thing is a THOU SHALT
I just want to write
It makes me feel good
It gets me clear
It does connect me to some friends and lovers
I am not an artist who pursues recognition
but I want it
Do I have it?
Some people that I love and respect say that I am really good.
I didn’t try to get their approval
They came to me and gave it to me
I gave something to them I reckon
but not intentionally
Purity sings its natural song
and those who listen listen
Goddamit — art isn’t leadership
Entertainment is leadership — a leader cannot be too far ahead of his or her following
A leader tells the follower — it’s OK, follow that impulse
An artist is a scientist, or a lawyer performing an investigation before a case is filed
A fact finder
who analyzes the findings
and makes decisions
Dylan said what every other artist at the time wanted to say, but couldn’t
I just say what I want to say
( Notice that I think I am Dylan’s equal or more than he is … I’m going with more … that’s my truth … I really think the self -promotion cheapens the art makes it less than it can be makes it too easy … the best he could do … my experience is more elite than Dylan … I am of the type of Van Gogh or Emily Dickinson and I think that is a class above Bob Dylan or Allen Ginsberg … the power quotient is higher in the classes that are lower … but what happens to a cultural moment when it is over … it isn’t that there isn’t eternity in Dylan’s poetry, there are just people who have more — including me … please don’t read this as me competing with Dylan … I’m just figuring out who I am … separating what I was told was important from what I think is important … )
When its good it’s my truth — not the absolute truth
Being honest and saying it that’s all
and letting it go where it goes …
I don’t think the source of my anxiety is resolved yet
but I believe I put it at bay.
Copyright 2021 Richard Thomas
3/13/21: No Direction Home, Bob Dylan II — Long Standing Conflict Resolved #poetry
I am not Dave Van Ronk
or Llewyn Davis
I have never … in my essence … wanted to make it like Bob Dylan
I came up in improvisational theater …
and most of my peers wanted to make it
and I thought I did …
but I never did …
and they knew that about me before I did myself …
and some of them hated me for it …
I once read that when somebody says something to you, you shouldn’t listen to what they say … you should listen for why they say it …
They said that I was “self – indulgent’ — that meant that I wasn’t pursuing a strategy to create a successful career, but rather I was experimenting with the art form
They always called me a “novice” even after I had years and years of experience … because I was trying new things …
They told me that “I should stick with the funny stuff” because they knew that I was leaving them and that scared them … improvisers watch each other closely and if they see someone going too far out of their comfort zone they freak out … I mean they would get really angry …
They did this thing where they erased me from history … they questioned if I was ever there … that was so strange …
They felt betrayed because I became a lawyer and a college professor, and now that I am a writer … they have an impression that they made of me forty years ago, and they won’t let go of it. They deny that I had success in these other fields. It’s not only that they don’t know what I’ve accomplished, it is even more that they don’t want to know. They are confined in a state of willful ignorance. Learning is an act of courage, and they are — I don’t want to be unkind, but it is the right word — cowards. I don’t think their malice is ultimately personal, or just directed at me. I think they are stuck. Improvising for forty years is like attending high school and college over and over again on an endless loop.
I practiced a kind of silent insubordination around them. They could sense I didn’t respect what they were doing. They knew I thought it was dumb and destructive. So of course they couldn’t stand me. The fact that I couldn’t see this speaks to a certain self – involvement on my part. I really started to grow up and begin to understand myself after I started writing. Before that I was a wanderer, always a little lost. That vulnerability brought out the bully in some people. They saw the strong side of me too, and the competitor in them saw a possible victory which they can’t pass up. American competition is pathological. I’m not talking about contests. The psychological competitions where people try to destroy each other. Some of the improvisers could be off the charts toxic to be around. So they hated me when I withdrew — but I wasn’t about to be pulled down into death matches.
The ones who hated me did so also because I have never had any loyalty to any group enterprise. I am driven by furthering my work — growing it. I have a one track mind. I always honored contractual obligations — I always did what I said I would, but I felt insulted and put upon when they anyone else tried to direct me in my creative process. My attitude, of which I am proud, did not make me popular for obvious reasons.
I had no deference or lack of deference for the improvisers who became successful — the stars. I liked a lot of the stars, disliked some, but I never had any use for pecking orders. I was born this way. It’s part of my nature. I really think all men are created equal. And I always have thought and think that I am pretty good and accomplished as well. This attitude infuriated them. “Success is not what you think, it is what other people think of you … ” one of them snarled at me. It infuriated them that I didn’t see myself as a failure. Well, I don’t, and I have no bow in me. That drives them nuts.
Their biggest problem with me was that I do what I want. I was impervious to their claims of authority. I don’t think it is their, or anybody else’s business to tell me what to think and feel about myself.
So what was my problem? Why have I been struggling with this idea of success in so much of my life and writing? I never wanted the success that they advertise. They can be Bob Dylan. No thank you. What bothered me — and I had to analyze why I have said things, and not what I’ve said, is that they hurt my feelings. I wondered why they didn’t like me. I’ve carried this pain for thirty – five or forty years. But now the wound is healed. I finally understand.
I have nothing against these people, and that statement wouldn’t have been true yesterday. The bitterness is gone.
In 1985 a great man told me I was the greatest improviser that ever lived. Believe me, I’m not bragging. I lived on that compliment for forty years. The fact is that I stopped being an improviser that night. I became a writer. It took me thirty – five years to figure that out. I struggled and had many experiences positive and negative which gave me a big inventory to use in my writing. I also periodically came back to my improv roots, and was always resented for it — rightly resented. I didn’t belong there any more.
The most fulfilled period in my creative life has been the last seven years at this keyboard. I don’t care about “making it” — I want opportunities to do it and to grow at it.
I’m at a point in my life where I don’t have to work, but I want to … so I want to do work that I enjoy and that serves my values. I want what I do to be an expression of who I am, not what other people think I should be.
I think the improvisers who hate me do so because they loved me once and they feel that I abandoned them. We all abandon each other … we live hundreds of lives, maybe more. Maybe we are born every time we get up in the morning and die when we go to sleep at night.
My suffering transformed from personal animosity and wounded – ness to the pain of loss. I loved being an improviser and I loved my colleagues — but that is over. They treated me like an unwanted stranger because I had become one.
What makes this whole transit more complicated is that some people from my time as an improviser still love me, and I still love them. Friendships can happen anywhere, and friendships accept and are supportive of all the changes and expansions of the other person’s soul.
I feel sorry for Bob Dylan. All that stress and strain to succeed — that hunger. The prizes and celebrity and even the money are meaningless. All that matters are the poems.
And I feel sorry for the legions of people who wanted to be Bob Dylan and didn’t make it. Feelings of inadequacy robbed their lives from them.
I never cared about making it. I took on all the anxiety and conflict of the people around me in a shamanic way. But I was a pretty lousy shaman. I suffered the tribe’s illness, but no one got cured.
Happily, I can see now that this was never a major problem. It never stopped me. It just felt bad from time to time. I’ve always thought what I wanted, felt what I wanted, said what I wanted, and did what I wanted — without exception. From toddler to senior, I’ve been a free person. I’ve been loved more than I deserve, and have only been hated and even unjustly criticized because of my own and other people’s misunderstandings.
I write tonight from a deep calm in my heart. I have no sense of excitement. I genuinely look forward to what’s new in my writing and work and friendships.
I understand a bit more about who I am tonight, and it feels good.
Copyright 2021 Richard Thomas
3/15/21: Looking at New Yorker Articles —God’s Legend In His Own Mind #poetry
He noticed that writers for The New Yorker all wrote the same
The interesting detail
Not necessarily the illuminating detail
but the anecdote or observation
the local color
the thing that stuck in people’s mind
Joan Baez thought that Dave Van Ronk had bad teeth and sang like an angel
Frank Sinatra stayed up all night with friends and hangers on because he was afraid to go home alone and go to sleep
Donald Trump showed dirty pictures to mourners sitting shiva for Alan Weisselberg’s mother and ridiculed Weisselberg’s house
Those impressionistic details
Those seemingly small things that are the bases of our evaluation of another person’s soul
While all the while we are evaluating our own
The real art in a New Yorker piece is created by the reader
The writer is a private eye conducting an investigation
a photo here
a snippet of conversation there
a little eyewitness testimony
perhaps an interview with the suspect
and backstories on all of the major players for context
Readers are voyeurs with skin in the game
They read to decide what to think and do
The reader seems passive
just passing the time of day
a detached gossip
but actually the reader is deciding who he or she is
Reading is an existential act
It’s all about the reader.
He wasn’t a New Yorker writer
and never would be
He wrote instead of read to determine who he was
He saw his life as a solid planet under an ever changing atmosphere
enduring seasons and shifts in the weather
He imbued each moment with meaning
He was a mythic figure to himself
Something constant in a paradox of constant change
He first wrote for others
anxiously wondering how they would respond
he noticed that their responses were reflections of their concerns
They liked what he wrote that affirmed their own lives
that gave them clarity or direction
They disliked what he wrote that challenged what they believed or valued
His words were Rohrschach tests for his readers
and that suited him fine
He had read several books when he was young that counseled artists to move beyond the approval or disapproval of others
A large part of his life was spent learning how to do just that
Learning to listen to people
not for their evaluations of him
but rather for what their responses said about them
Everyone in his life became a mythic dream figure
representing an aspect of his psyche
His solid planet with the ever changing active atmosphere was reflected in an infinite array of mirrors
Sometimes the mirrors were distorted when he was agitated or blue
First he wrote for the approval of others
Then he wrote for their disapproval to push them necessarily away
Next he wrote for himself
Each word chiseled self-understanding out of raw experience
Everything worked out
Everything had a purpose
But then …
even he fell away
and he was writing for God
He wrote without purpose
and without any forced manipulation
reaching for no conscious effects
He wrote down the words
and then wondered if they were good
and God usually found them to be so
and when He didn’t
He let him know
The writer began to read himself
to read his own life
to see the background story
and the illuminating anecdotes
and his own responses to movies and New Yorker articles and the like
through the eyes of God
The writer acquired a cosmic objectivity
Sometimes God let the writer sit on His throne
and see everything and everyone for what they truly were
Writing became a source of great power for the writer
Some of his readers who loved him personally used that word in association with what he did
The writer thought that the source of the power was that through writing he made his life his own
No one else had the power anymore to determine what was good or bad about his existence
The Approval/Disapproval lesson was fully learned
But it wasn’t just that
There are no ends to writing’s revelations
Writing did not ultimately make the writer’s life his own
it made the writer’s life an instrument of God
The writing became a map to the writer’s destiny
A map charted before the lands drawn were explored
A treasure map to undiscovered countries
First God seized the writer with an impulse
which the writer followed
and later God touched the writer with reason
so that he could understand what happened
We are all examples to one another
But a part of us is always alone
and in that quiet empty space
God comes to visit us.
Copyright 2021 Richard Thomas
3/15/21: Carnal Knowledge (1971) — Sex as Artifact #poetry
I was a virgin in 1971
I was 16 years old
I went to see Carnal Knowledge
a movie about a generation whose experience was not my own
about upper class people whose experience was not my own
about sexual experience of which I had none
I enjoyed the film then and now
Carnal Knowledge is about innocence
It’s the opposite of pornography
It was written and directed by nice Jewish men
and I was a nice Catholic boy
That was my point of entry
Art Garfunkel has an early line
“Having sex is like going to college. I feel pressured into it.”
That I could relate to
The wish for love
The desire to strong
Even the young woman, Candace Bergen was relatable
That was a revelation for a kid at an all boys Jesuit school
She was confused
I didn’t know it at the time
but I related to how artfully the movie is put together
Jules Feiffer writes in sophisticated cartoon bubbles
Concise staccato — Neil LaButte wishes he was this good
Mike Nichols made an art film his third time out
He took his theater experience and translated it cinematically
Faces framed in silhouette against black voids
Spaces framed between characters
Rooms and cars neatly organized
A visualization of a repressive culture
This whole movie is about mixed messages
And no one understands anything
Art Garfunkel is clueless about political ideology
Jack Nicholson reads to sound intelligent and sensitive in order to get laid
Everyone is trying to decide something
and betraying themselves and each other in the process
What a decent picture this is
Released in the middle of the sexual revolution
How we make everything a problem!
We are in conflict over the implements of life
and rarely get to what matters
We don’t live our lives really
We spend time taking detours
Chasing around our misunderstandings
I related to all of that when I was sixteen
That’s all behind me now
I’m alive now
The gestation period of the American male is fifty -five or sixty years in length
If he makes it
I made it
Because I pay great attention to things like Carnal Knowledge.
Candice Bergen has never been better than she was in this movie
Mike Nichols was a fine artist
Carnal Knowledge was when Nichols really showed up
More so than The Graduate
which is great, but this movie outdoes it …
But even he didn’t know it
he didn’t know he found his vein of gold
And then he was in the wilderness for several years
His greatness returned in the mid – eighties and remained until the end of his life
He even had a seven year stretch in there where he didn’t make any movies at all
I relate to that now
It takes a long time to be able to consistently create art
it takes a long time to consistently be human
Being intelligent doesn’t mean that you know anything
When we are young our best selves appear, and we don’t recognize them
We discover them in memory
and turn to them in near desperation
And they return to us
To mix a metaphor
we are prodigal sons to our true selves
that shower us with riches
Our lust and pride and desire and fear step aside
and satisfaction and joy attends that which is best in us
The decent play, the loving play, the noble play
is the smartest play.
Jack Nicholson wins a competition with Art Garfunkel for the submission of Candice Bergen
and then loses interest in Candice Bergen
and forfeits the prize to Art Garfunkel
Add competition to sex, power and money
Another golden calf
dumb things to make the primary things
End of Act One
College boys are now a doctor and an accountant
and the life ignorance persists
Art Garfunkel seems to know
“You can’t make fucking your life’s work”
But something isn’t right with him
He talks to Nicholson as if he were his therapist
Nicholson makes Ann -Margret in a revolving restaurant
They have sex
Sensuality and pleasure demystified
Nichols films the scene with some kind of magic
He uses all the cliches
and yet says something else
He paints portraits of faces after the bodies disengage
Showing the disappointment and anxiety
and the desire for something beyond the carnal
Impotence and fear of commitment aren’t the real issues for Jack Nicholson’s character
He fears love and unconsciously rebels against cynicism
The institutions, sex and marriage are secondary things
True love is an emphatic acceptance of the transformations of the other’s heart
All the men who have loved women and feared responsibility
babies never conceived
or brought to term
Mike Nichols plays sentimental music in the background
He slyly makes fun of it
It’s not funny
Sentimentality is the wish for something better than life
the soundtrack of restlessness …
Carnal Knowledge is a movie that shows solitary people in intimate situations
Friends don’t connect
Lovers don’t connect
Spouses don’t connect
The film depicts an alienated world
I didn’t have to understand the details when I was sixteen
I just knew it was great
Carnal Knowledge is a movie about ultimatums
Life demands our compliance
But we do have an option
Negation and death
I watched this movie when I was sixteen and I saw my life pass before my eyes
and I have the experience again this morning
What’s good is past, present and future
The boys are bored
Man’s search for meaning reduced to the quest for the world’s greatest piece of ass
Human beings reduced to evaluations for Consumer Reports in 1971
Yelp reviews in 2021
Ann -Margret wanted to canvas for Kennedy
(along with marriage and babies)
Jack Nicholson said no
So she tried suicide
The mutually assured destruction continues into the seventies
Love affairs fail by definition
Marriages, friendships and lives
die by choice
Art Garfunkel falls for an illusion of what he needs
lunging desperate longing
A prostitute aids Nicholson in achieving a narcissistic erection
an unhappy ending
which implies what happy endings
are made of.
Copyright 2021 Richard Thomas
3/17/21: The Kindergarten Teacher (2018) — Artists Don’t Have to be Martyrs #poetry
The movie starts with the Kindergarten teacher alone in her classroom
Alone on the ferry
Alone in the poetry workshop she attends
Alone at dinner with her husband
The solitude of the artist is unbearable
Is the kindergarten teacher a bad poet or just rejected by her poetry teacher and class?
The rejection doesn’t matter
it hurts her dearly
She needs to be validated
We all do
but her art was more important
her art isn’t poetry
it is nurturing art
She may or may not be able to write
but she knows what writing is good
better than her poetry teacher or class does
She recognizes that a little boy is a talented poet
and she goes all out for him
Self – destructively
The Kindergarten teacher’s husband doesn’t understand her
Her teen daughter disrespects her
The Kindergarten teacher has all of the feelings of a poet
but she lacks the gift of expression
so she does what she can
She is condemned to a selfless love — it is unreciprocated by another human being
Her comfort only can come from art or God
and she unconsciously gives herself to art and God
and everybody else slaughters her
The movie structure is the same one used for obsessive homicidal nut
but the character of the Kindergarten teacher is a saint, not a killer
She teaches the little boy to love his poetry as she does
It’s a thankless job
The little boy doesn’t like her for it
and neither does anyone else …
You don’t have to go as far as the Kindergarten teacher
I was on that trip before — minus the kidnapping …
My art is important to me
but so is my life
haters got to hate and when they do I get out of Dodge …
Tough movie … it is told in the fashion of a horror story — like “The Crush” or “The Hand that Rocks the Cradle” but it is really a story of the horrors in an artist’s mind, and soul — the painful side of creation … the hardest thing about art isn’t learning how to make the stuff … the hardest thing is learning how to live with the strange cargo that you were born with … the artist is different … and that difference leads to a lot of heartache which must be processed …
I’m writing this while the news reports a hate crime against Asian – Americans or women or whoever in Atlanta
A hate crime is a crime committed with an animus for a specific type of person
Artists are magnets for hate crimes
There are people who want to kill artists
Who wants to hear from God all the time?
if not by snuffing out their mortal lives
then by snuffing out their immortal souls
Predators of the artist include those who fear them, those who envy them and those who like to harm any vulnerable person for the sheer thrill of it all
Good people are humiliated by assholes everywhere
Betrayals and disrespect
Lies are out to murder the truth
The truth has to learn still another art besides whatever the truth practices …
The Kindergarten teacher notices that her daughter is a good photographer
She tries to encourage her
The daughter tells her to fuck off (in so many words)
A teacher has to learn
you can only teach a person who wants to hear it
that’s part of a teacher’s art
The Kindergarten teacher teaches a five year old
incapable of saying no
It’s pathetic and great at the same time
The Kindergarten teacher has so much to offer
to a closed off world
The little boy rejects her too, but in the end benefits from her instruction …
This is a painful picture …
OK, I don’t identify with the obsession … the living through other people … the looking at other people hungrily … looking for recognition from them … not love … not sharing love …
but I identify with the rejection …
to be an artist is to be rejected by some people
It’s the way it is
This is a complicated character
this Kindergarten Teacher
It shows how tough it is to have the artistic impulse
It’s very hard to deal with
and your misunderstandings about your artistic nature can really fuck you up
Artists need spirit guides
either people or experiences
It really hurts until you get it together
If you get it together …
Nobody ever talks about money
and people rarely talk about the dark side of creativity
All you hear is liberation and love …
The Kindergarten Teacher describes how art can be a wanted baby growing in your womb
but can change itself into uterine cancer
in an instant
You have to fiercely walk your path as an artist
because there is all sorts of incoming mortar fire
from other people
and from your raging obsessiveness
Solitude is wonderful
and there are mental health dangers to spending so much time alone
You have to keep your external enemies
and your inner demons
at bay …
The art of self -defense …
I’ve been told that I am “bold” lately
I wondered what that meant
I figured it out
a — If I’m good at something I recognize it myself, other people don’t assess me or my work — I do (and I can be very objective about everything — I’ll change what I don’t think is good, and I don’t do false humility)
b — I make my own decisions and honor my own values — I define the meaning of success for myself and I determine how to pursue it myself (I’m open to what other people say if it is helpful, but my life and work is my freedom and responsibility — I grant no one else that authority over me)
c — I get insulted a lot (my boundaries are fortified — don’t tread on me you motherfuckers) and I don’t take any shit from anybody, and I am not afraid to absent myself from any situation or person(s) who are destructive to me or my art
My writing has been complimented as “powerful”
I think, say and do what I want — I express who I am — that’s what power is
Power doesn’t apologize for no reason, and is quick to apologize when in error
If you are bold, your writing will be powerful
An artist’s power is not power over other people
It’s simply the power of openly
and separating your real self from your distorted self — the sick figure who was formed by the ignorance and malice of others and your own wounds
art is formed, and life is preserved
on a balance of your inspiration and reality
your genius and your mental health
You have to hear what God tells you
and figure out what to do with it
Art only survives in rational moments of life
it may emerge from fits of madness
but you won’t endure
You have a right to a life
Someone who loves you
You don’t have to go without
You don’t have to be ascetic
You don’t have to suffer indignities
You don’t have to publish or perish
Confidence is a necessary goal
confident not merely in your ability to be recognized by the world
but confident that you understand how to participate in the world
as an artist
to know your own needs
unmediated by any other authority
and to take care of them
Let them call you selfish
get what works for you
the people and places and things
To know and know
what your value is
your value when recognized by others
your value when attacked
and your value when ignored
Your value is always the same
it keeps you on the balance beam
To know and know
To know that you hear the whispers of God
(how crazy is that? You hear God’s voice … are you nuts? No — you know — God talks to some people and He wants those people to relay His messages to the world — and people in the world want to ignore God’s will — and God never speaks from a position of worldly power — so you spend your life as a baby in a manger — and God gives you virgins and carpenters and foreign kings and mules and cattle and sheep to warm you — and God knows that Herod is coming to kill you …)
It’s a lonely, scary murderous world — there is plenty to be afraid of …
including your own craziness …
everyone fears insanity for a reason
it’s a possible thing
Sometimes it’s good to go to insanity briefly to get the lay of the land
and then you don’t have to go back again
Go crazy when you are young
or you might get killed
and don’t go when you have the means to keep up the crazy
that can kill you too …
stay away from booze and drugs because then even if you kick the crazy, you got the biochemical shit to worry about …
but the artist is called not to be afraid …
People are always telling other people that they are less than they are
Writers are constantly being discouraged
Writers are constantly being told to shut up
Writers don’t take it
Writers get pissed off
Tell the assholes off
And go where they can write
An artist is fierce
(It doesn’t matter if you look fierce or not … let them underestimate you … who cares … they can heckle in your shadows but when you start writing they disappear)
This piece isn’t that much fun
I’d rather blow past it
and get on with it
But it’s part of the Odyssey
And I know it is something that I have to try to say
to the people who praise me as bold
Part of making art
is freeing yourself from all negative influences
and they never completely go away
Creativity is often compared to gardening
but it is also weeding
Importantly weeding …
I never gave a shit about the goals of the people around me
I was there to do my art
I haven’t always been bold and powerful
If someone cheated me or disrespected me I blamed myself
while they jeered “cuckold” “loser”
until finally I couldn’t take it any more
the bastards woke up a sleeping giant
and I had my first period of bold and powerful
then I got too pissed off and had a nervous breakdown
and I had to descend into humiliation for years
It was a positive experience
Bold and powerful are nitro glycerin
You have to learn how to handle it
Yes, The Kindergarten Teacher is a tough movie to watch
It is a character study of who I used to be
It focuses on all that is latently unhealthy in me …
The Kindergarten Teacher is …
the artist who plays the role of loser and cuckold
who has integrity in her work
who can only do things her own way
and who knows what is necessary to nurture genius
The unlikeable artist
ridiculed by the commercial cunts* (*I use this word in the British generic insult way, not in the denigration of women way — I wanted something harsh and off putting — I wanted an awful word for awful people — I wanted an uncompromising word — these people suck and their work sucks — when it’s all about money, it’s about nothing —outrage keeps me alive) — the worthless money grabbers
bullied by art establishment authoritarians — the possessors of ersatz power, gatekeepers of fashion and claiming it is something more (Can art be made by anyone who is not an outsider? Can art be made in a hierarchy? I don’t worry about acceptance to any art “communities” — I don’t accept them) The Kindergarten Teacher takes a poetry class in Manhattan, and the “teacher” has the nerve to evaluate her as an artist and as a person which of course she takes to heart … and that, double of course, is her problem … I became free when I realized that no one was smarter than me, and even if they were, it was still up to me to figure out my and the world’s meaning* …
*Here’s my guide —- first is reality— whatever is real and true is real and true, no matter how we think or feel about it …
Next is what I think and feel. I have the freedom and responsibility of my own life, so it’s up to me. Personally I try to be as diligently honest as possible, but we all have blind spots and misunderstandings— and solving those things is life — learning ….
Finally what other people think is only important as part of reality. Their perceptions can’t have Authority over me, but if they have insight I’d hope to be open to it, and if they are toxic I’d avoid them or defend myself …
The frustrated artist
filled with visions of Paradise
ignored by the dilettantes, dismissed by the materialists hacks
Stultified by safe passivity
A pill, a drip …
The Kindergarten Teacher discovers a five year old poetry prodigy
He doesn’t like her much either
She teaches him that he is an artist
and goes mad in the process
She winds up on a ward for the criminally insane
and the boy discovers his artistic gift at an insanely early age
The insanity was hers, not his
The Kindergarten Teacher was not a martyr to art
The filmmakers might think so
or maybe not
She was a martyr to what other people think
She needed someone to see in her what she saw in the little boy
Or needed events to show her
Or needed to go off alone in a room and work it out
Descend into all the shame and terrors
All the doubt
Feel all of the loss
and never give up
and get to the point where you is all that you have left
and then you can be bold and powerful
and re -engage the world
You don’t have to listen to them
You just do it
bold and powerful
Your critics and rivals
your inner quitter — freaked out by the enormous voltage that God touched you with
and people who would like to exploit you as fuel for their dreams
should not deter you
It’s your life
Your freedom and responsibility
when you die and they plant you in the ground
the naysayers aren’t going with you
and neither is your bruised psyche — just the soul takes that trip
Fuck ’em and forget them and get on with it …
except you can’t, so deal with them
and stay laser – focused on
Copyright 2021 Richard Thomas
3/18/21: Cross Creek (1983) — New Beginnings #poetry
Open on a one lane highway next to ocean
Forward motion and infinite possibilities
The main character is a writer on the road to maturity
(It’s a repeating phenomenon)
She has something that I need — a good editor
Someone who can see what is best in me and my writing
My road to maturity at 65
I think I’m damn good
and I have even better inside me
Writing keeps driving me to be a better man
If there was no such thing as death, I’d be the greatest man who ever lived
The writer has enough money
but wants work
She buys an orange grove
and leaves someone she loves behind
The people I love are coming with me
It’s the toxic ones that I leave behind
The right work, opportunities for my creativity — noble ambitions, and new friends
Between the little town where the orange grove is, and her editor who keeps pushing her to be better
I think she will find all three
The writer’s new town is tiny
I have a feeling this picture will show the difference between solitude and loneliness
I only feel lonely when I think of the toxic ones
When I start writing I’m surrounded by all the people who have ever been kind to me
The humble people
There is a big clue
Humility — mine and theirs
That will be the relationship with the new friends
The writer has a setback
The orange grove is in rougher shape than she thought
She’s too proud to accept any money from the life that she has left
She gets to work
on the oranges
and the writing
The friends start coming
If you want the new you have to be open to the strange
Your destiny is never where or who you think it will be
The writer is not completely like me
She thinks she can do everything
I’m enjoying this movie
I think I see what’s coming and it is comforting
This is a lot more fun to write than The Kindergarten Teacher
That picture was about an art tragedy
This movie is about art’s delights
The writer’s going to get a couple of books out of her move to Cross Creek
“The Yearling” and “Cross Creek”
This writer has done a real smart thing
You have to set up the life before you progress with the writing
She develops both — life and writing
Two sides of the same project
The writer felt stymied by her old life
So she starts out stubbornly independent
But her new friends teach her the difference between co – dependence and inter – dependence
And they have a quality that I am looking for in my new friends
Add it to the list with humble
If someone is meant for you there aren’t a lot of interviews and entrance exams
Both people know
The heart is less complicated than society
The writer has a suitor
A nice gentleman who wants to be her beau and maybe more
I am not in the market for a spouse or lover
But I sure wouldn’t mind someone who sees my qualities and values them
and wants to work with me and/or be friends
I don’t want to explore or initiate anymore
I searched and looked and experimented
And now I want to take all that work
and settle down
Connecting with other people
for any useful, noble or holy purpose
is an act of creation
The writer didn’t go to Cross Creek looking for connection
God gives us connections when we are ready for them
We don’t consciously prepare for them
or plan them
But they don’t just happen
They happen when the heart is open to them
When past frustration and misery has healed
and we are ready to move forward
The writer’s friends are poor
And that is another big clue
Materialistic people won’t make the cut for new friends list
They might have money
(it’s a different decade now and I have a different life)
But if they define themselves by their money or status
I’ll take a pass
I want better people
Love, friendship and art have nothing to with social position or career
They are about something much better
I’m having an epiphany
Art will never be supported at the places where I have been taking it
but people who find value in the art itself will further it
Not the ones who ignore what isn’t wrapped in a wad of dollar bills
The writer falls in love with her new friends
She recognizes their struggles and sorrows
She brings them cake
and they bless her with their stories
Walker Evans and James Agee did a book, “Let Us Now Praise Famous Men”
which loved all of the poor
The writer loves these poor people in particular
There is a difference between volunteering in a soup kitchen
and eating there
It’s good when a writer has to start over
A writer’s biggest assets are fresh eyes
The writer makes a friend who is going mad
escaping her poor world
The writer doesn’t quit on a friend with troubles
A writer should only quit on friends who were never friends at all
And an old writer should be a lot more discerning
and will avoid that painful situation
All of the poor aren’t as noble as the characters in this movie
These people make their way with love
There are cynical poor people too
This movie doesn’t romanticize the poor
Poverty doesn’t give one a pass
The writer found some fine humble hospitable loving poor people
That’s the best way to be
Poor even if you have money
The writer takes a risk
She sees her savings trickle away
But her security is ordained by God
Savings sacrificed to be saved
If a writer doesn’t take the lonely path
and cut off inappropriate means of support
the wrong jobs and people
He or she will never write a decent word
The writer’s poor friends teach her that money doesn’t matter
I learned that from my father who was poor
and from when I was poor
and knowing of that reality
is the primary reason that my writing and finances have progressed as nicely as they have
and have provided a platform for my New Beginning
The writer’s friends give her an opportunity to have confidence in her own way of seeing things
She sees racism and injustice
She sees harsh punishments that need to be relieved
She does something about it when asked
She sees the courage of love between people who don’t have a thing between them
She owns the decency that she has that transcends society
Writing is a human thing not a career
Life is a human thing not a career
The writer is a feminist
From a time before the word was invented
I read a book about Prophetic Feminism by Gloria Steinem years ago
It made a big impression on me
What does that make me?
The editor reappears
He recognizes the new writer
the new person
the New Beginning
the first story of the time is published
but not from her manuscripts
but from her letters to the patient editor
who saw what was excellent in her
and saw what didn’t matter — the vestigial tail of the ill fitting life
that she now left some time ago
A published story!
to guide all other people on similar journeys
which is everybody
who decides to be worth a damn.
The editor gives good counsel in writing
A poor humble friend gives good counsel in love
The New World is an Open World
Orange grove succeeds
Love blooms with the suitor
Friendships are more love blossoms
along with the writing
It’s all one thing
My writing improves in direct proportion to my life’s progress
which has been considerable
Some of the writing heals only me
and some heals the world
that’s the stuff that should be published
I chronicle every step of the way
as I watch the movies
The world is abundant
Much more so than society, that miser
Every step is guided
every need of life and writing
fulfilled in the nick of time
(sometimes in disguise)
for those who love …
The truth stuns us at first
we slam doors and yell at the neighbors
constant labor pains
of New Beginnings
good kind of pain
then we wake up slowly and steadily
like springtime soothing our dry eyes
after winter’s sleep.
Writing ten to twelve hours a day …
Generosity in all things!
Copyright 2021 Richard Thomas
3/19/21: Easy Money (1983) — F**k You and F**k You Money #poetry
Fuck you money
It’s the only reason to have money
Our handyman made his first million when he was twenty – seven
and he’s a nice guy!
Anyone who condescends about money is an asshole
and a fool
The only reason to have money is to have Fuck You Money
If you have money no one can tell you want to do
There is one other way
I lived my life with the fuck you and not the money
Somehow I always got what I needed
And when I got older, I got some money too
Because that is what I needed
I believe that God loves humble artists and humble entrepreneurs
I connected with our handyman
We both got what we wanted
The blue collar guy
The actor — underemployed intellectual — lawyer — college professor — actual and aspiring writer guy
Equality — Abundance — Spirituality
We both lived holy lives
He’s a great guy, as I mentioned
I think Republicans don’t hate the poor because of greed
I think they have a sick need to feel better than other people
And nothing is a more stupid basis for superiority or inferiority
than how much money a person has
Nobody talks about money
It’s always cloaked
by phony morality
or bromides about hard work
or debates between ideologies
Life is the thing
It is so important to be able to say fuck you
Because if other people run your life
you are quite literally dead
You need the fuck you
and at certain points you need the money
And God wants you to have the fuck you and the fuck you money
And God wants you to have inner and outer abundance
Nobody talks about money
Only class -less people
And that brings this morning’s cimematic offering
from the Rodney Dangerfield oeuvre
Early Rodney Dangerfield — the wonderfully class -less Rodney Dangerfield
We should all be class – less
Ah middle class life
Everyone earns their home
The movie’s first exploration of money
Rodney is a baby photographer
who works for the money like most people
It’s not a labor of love
It’s not being paid for what he would do for free
He has his problems and frustrations on the job
but he is human
Lovely with the little kids in his charge
Funny for us
Later in the eighties I saw Rodney Dangerfield get a hand job under the table at his comedy club at two a.m.
Success ruins people
Comedians aren’t funny when they become rock stars
The Cubs were more fun when they never won
I am not romanticizing losing
If you can stay human after you won
like our millionaire handyman
you got it licked
Rodney wasn’t enjoying the hand job
He was running still another victory lap
He could do whatever he fucking pleased
The best fuck you money isn’t ostentatious
I’m for guaranteed base income
Then everybody can have fuck you money without worrying about it
And maybe it would protect people like Rodney
who wouldn’t kill them themselves showing off their absolute freedom
Rodney got his fuck you money when he was serving God’s purposes
Making people happy
pointing out hypocrisy
Rodney’s career went down during the hand job period
Back to the movie
Rodney talks to the little kids about love and class
You need money to get love
Money to have class
Except you don’t
That’s the joke
For better or worse, for richer or poorer
Love that is financed isn’t really love
and class is bullshit
Rodney’s movie wife really loves him
She happily took the vow
Joe Pesci plays a real friend
Rodney’s got it made
The mother-in-law shows up
The boss the owner the Republican
The personification in the you in fuck you
Mean cheap unjust management
Anti – labor, anti -union, anti – poor, anti -fun
Power tripping bastards
they think the world won’t spin on its axis
Fuck them with a smile
Living well is the best revenge
Make love not war
and love is easier when you have fuck you
and even easier with fuck you money
I used to imagine myself arguing with my past oppressors
Now I just walk around them in my dreams
I’m really free
Once you have the fuck you
then you can get the money
and then you have fuck you money
and you’re really cooking with gas
( From the author of “The Yearling” to fuck you money — how’s that for range … )
Rodney has integrity
He doesn’t want a dime from his tyrant mother – in – law
And he has anger and humor to counter her insults
Survival Guide for the Fuck You Person on the Way to Fuck You Money
Rodney and Joe Pesci don’t take any shit
Anger and humor
Essential for the fuck you person without fuck you money
Do you find this piece crude?
Too many fuck yous?
and fuck you moneys?
fuck you if you don’t like it
That’s the world of the fuck you guys on the way to fuck you money
When you have fuck you money
you can avoid the profanity
and write about The Yearling
but my inner and outer slob make the sensitive writer possible
Paradise is real
but so is Earth
I need all of it
Including fallen nature
Until Adam Eve were thrown out of Eden
there was no fuck you, no money and certainly no fuck you money
But I bet they were the first things that were invented
I was born feeling entitled
It’s a gift
We’re all entitled
We all deserve what we need
and some of what we want
I was spoiled as a kid
My family wasn’t rich but they spoiled me
Consequently I have been fired from a few jobs
I was always morally right
but I didn’t have fuck you money
Just fuck you
I wouldn’t change a thing
Every time I was thrown overboard God threw me a life preserver
I honestly think that the so -called rich and powerful have no power at all
They run things because people believe the con
That they make the world go round
I acted like they had no sway over me
and they didn’t
If you serve nature
If you are natural
God takes care of you
Now I have a little fuck you money
Not a huge amount
If you asked me for any, I’d say no
I have just enough
No room for philanthropy
Just enough to finance my writing
and allow me to be selective
to take only work that I really want to do
I don’t have to fight in the mud in order to be any more
Now I fight in the heavens
I am no longer a warrior for my own authenticity
I won that war
I am now a warrior for my art
Freud said that a good psychology is motivated by love and work
And you can’t fully do either
without fuck you and fuck you money
If I was impressed by the rich, I’d use the money to look down on other people
or tell other people what to do
But I am emphatically unimpressed by the rich
and my fuck you money is exclusively reserved for saying fuck you to the rich and their jock sniffers
The only difference between just having fuck you and having fuck you money
is that you don’t have to interact with the rich anymore when you have fuck you money
and their jock sniffers
I never stole from the rich
I don’t respect that
I never broke my word to the rich
If I said I’d do something for the rich I did it
I just wouldn’t take their shit
I wouldn’t accept their insults
I’d call them on their lies
But I never fought to keep a job endangered by my moral insubordination
I always thought I could do better
and I did
Fuck you kept me alive
They pissed me off
I never conceded anything to them
The big way they maintain their con is to make people lose self – esteem
Each insult made me stronger
Even when I worked for them I never compromised my own project
I got misjudged a lot by other people
Some of them were good people who don’t see the rich for what they are
but there is an old saying that says by a certain age your character is apparent to everyone
I’d amend that to everyone of heart and intelligence
And the people who still can’t see who I am can go fuck themselves
And now that I have fuck you money I can avoid them too
There’s no time for them
Art comes from all parts of the human being
Have you ever enjoyed a good shit?
If not, maybe poetry isn’t your game
Good comedians are poets
who find what is high in the low minded
the bards of the rough and tumble
One thing about class – less people
They don’t take anything too seriously
Most of the pain in my life has come from worry about how I looked
Fortunately that was only a sporadic condition
It’s your life
and it’s only your life
no need to be so fucking precious
Everything works out
I’ve explored wounded-ness
I’m glad I did
It’s part of life
But fuck you is part of life too
and fuck you money
Rodney is singing a song
I love this shitty movie!
Now they are making love, sex and marriage funny
Magic Fingers in a cheap motel
Taylor Negron and Jennifer Jason Leigh
Next death is funny
The mother – in – law dies in a plane crash
“earns her wings”
Rodney has to practice self – discipline to get his “easy money “
No smoking, drinking, drugs, philandering
He has to lose weight
This movie covers everything!
I miss my cigars, but I want my teeth
I have to lose weight but I put it off
I’ll start when it’s safe to go outside
The rich man, the leading man make me nervous about everything I’m not
Rodney makes me accept my imperfection
and say fuck you to internal pressure
Then dissatisfaction can go into something worth a damn
Like making art …
Now the movie is like most movies
repetitious in the final act
making more jokes on its central themes
but just entertainment now
But it is art that got Rodney Dangerfield fuck you money
He touched something real in people and they loved him for it
Could that happen me for me?
Could my art bring me another load of fuck you money?
If it does, I might entertain your request for a donation…
no, it’s doubtful it will happen
and even more doubtful that I’d honor your request
but you never know …
I’m a lucky son of a bitch …
we all are if we choose to be …
if you figure it out you won’t need to ask for a donation …
get your own damn fuck you money …
It’s all On the Big Rock Candy Mountains.
Copyright 2021 Richard Thomas
3/21/21: How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (1967) — Unnatural Law of Corporations #poetry
Even though we are all part of the cold corporate set- up deep down under our skin we are all brothers (and sisters)
From this musical’s finale — Brotherhood of Man
The quoted line is written and delivered with heavy irony. How to Succeed is played for light hearted laughs, and is a tremendously popular property to this day — multiple Tony Awards, a Pulitzer Prize, the movie version was a box office and critical hit, and several revivals, tours and regional theater offerings have won cheers for decades and continue to do so. The story strikes a chord with people, but delivers its punch brightly — it’s all fun and games. The heart of darkness is presented as musical theater, and everything works out in the end. The show’s primary creator, Frank Loesser was a combination of poetic sensitivity and street smarts. Loesser was a bard and a striver. He wasn’t particularly bothered by man’s inhumanity to man, he took it as a given. He wanted to prove to his high brow family that he was a high brow composer. He failed. He was a hugely popular one. He wanted art and business acclaim. He won on the business front, and went as far in art as business would take him — which isn’t far enough. Business almost got Loesser to the Promised Land, but business always holds everything and everyone back in the end. Business is the supporting player that steals the movie. People start in business to get money to do other things — raise families, retire, travel, pursue their passions — but in the end, money always becomes the primary reason for being if you’re a businessman or woman. How to Succeed makes timeless, universal observations about life, but never goes far enough to transform anyone spiritually, including Frank Loesser. We treat each other like shit, ain’t it grand.
I worked for years in the cold corporate set – up, first with innocence —- I actually believed that people behaved in a fundamentally human way in business, and then subversively — I would do my job for the corporation, but my main focus was furthering my own project of becoming a writer. I worked in several sectors —- in marketing and sales in corporations, in corporate entertainment as an actor, improviser and writer, in corporate law firms as an attorney, and in corporate academia as a college professor. I can cheerfully report that all sectors of business that I wandered through are throughly devoid of humanity. My cheer comes from the fact that I no longer have to engage with any of them. In every corporate setting, no matter what the stated purpose of the business, which is usually pretty high – minded —- the purpose that is … the bosses uniformly lie, cheat, steal and condescend, and one’s peers and colleagues uniformly compete (never cooperate) in inhumane ways — slandering, insulting, humiliating … basically trying to destroy one another in the hopes that the other’s failure would lead to the competitor’s success.
Corporate culture is conformist culture. Corporations run on mind control. The owners want the employees to be at each other’s throats, they want the managers to be petty tyrants. They want every gender, race, ethnic or religious group, sexual preference or any other demographic grouping to struggle long and hard through tiny incremental changes to get a voice or seat at any corporate table. Worse still, all individuality — as much as they crow it as a virtue —- outside the box thinking, innovation blah, blah, blah — is severely punished. You better wear the uniform. You better dress the part, wear your hair the right way, “talk like we talk” — fit in. Corporations claim to be communities, but they are not. Communities are by defintion diverse — not only in terms of their sub -groups but in terms of the varying gifts, characters and personalities of the individuals who make up the community. Corporations are by defintion autocratic. Row in the same direction in a way the owners are comfortable with — or else.
I never worked for a corporate enterprise that produced an excellent product or provided an excellent service. Often the quality of the business’ output was purposefully compromised in order to make more money. I never worked in any corporate setting where anyone was in it for the good of the corporation. Everyone was out for themselves. How to Succeed plays this for laughs. None of the characters do any work. They spend all of their time scheming about how to get ahead and trying to get laid. That is the way it is.
You may be thinking — “oh no my corporation is very enlightened about so many of the criticisms that you mention. We have this program, and that initiative and we take it very seriously.” If you are thinking in that manner, you are a sap. A corporation will make a step toward humanity if they think it is in the corporation’s best interest — for public relations or to retain talented employees etc — but at the end of the day, all of your work to humanize the corporation will ultimately fail. For example, I worked at a school whose mission statement said that you can always do good, and always succeed financially in the process. What nonsense. You can sometimes win financially when you work for good, no question. But often good deeds require that you sacrifice money or power to achieve your noble ends. You can only have one primary goal. If your goal is excellence, then your life and work will put you on a path to excellence. You’ll get money as needed, but you will turn down a lot of money too. If your primary goal is money — you’ll be as good as you can, but when you have to abandon decency, you’ll do it for the bucks, and feel justified doing so.
Business is often credited for making America a great nation, but business has nothing to do with what makes this country great. Art, science, democracy and love are what is great about America —- business just holds us back.
Advocates of business are screaming SOCIALIST! or worse COMMUNIST! as they read this piece, but I am neither. I’m a HUMANIST. Business oriented Christians are screaming SECULAR HUMANIST but I am not that either. I see business as an offense against God —- I admit that I have a more sophisticated view of who and what God is than business oriented Christians. They think God rewards superior people with money. They think business is a morally superior activity. It’s a great con that they have pulled upon themselves — an air tight false rationalization. They get their money because they lie, cheat and steal for it., but get to believe that the cash is God’s grace delivered to them in thanks for their goodness. It makes no sense — but business is a whatever gets you through the night type of lifestyle.
Business is just a baby step away from crime. I met so many uncouth, ignorant, nasty and dangerous people in business. The only reason that business isn’t crime is lobbyists.
Why did I even participate in business? I thought that I had to do it. t was a matter of survival. I thought it was the only game in town. Writers aren’t born wise. Writers have to learn from experience, and they have a facility for communicating what they have learned. Where should I have gone? To the aforementioned art, science, democracy and love. We wouldn’t know Paradise if we didn’t suffer the Fall.
The previous paragraph is where I part ways with Frank Loesser. I want answers. He accepts things that I find unacceptable. I’ve never been a corporate man. I’ve always been true to myself. When the choice came down to me or the corporation, I won every time. No contest. Now I am in the process of fleshing out another way to live. I want to do my work in a proper community. I got married late in life. I didn’t do it because I was lonely. I wanted intimacy with another person. It’s been a very happy and productive ten years. Now I want closeness with a community. I had a teacher once who bemoaned the fact that people weren’t “brothers and sisters on a journey”. He was an old socialist. I think his socialism, and the socialism of many other people, was the product of a yearning.
I don’t think any economic ideology is the answer that I seek. I don’t think men and women are ultimately driven by economics.
Churches aren’t the answer either, because they are fundamentally corporate institutions. You don’t have community if everyone has to believe the same thing … and when you have buildings and salaries to maintain, you aren’t in the catacombs anymore … money becomes the primary focus.
Good people tend to practical realities, but don’t descend into greed and practice all of the other sins that greed leads them to …
Good people have hospitality for one another — they welcome the other into their hearts for who they are … they value the other … they don’t view the other as an instrument of use to be exploited … they don’t make demands on others that they can’t handle and condemn them to shame and failure … good people love one another …
Business shocks the conscience, so it puts its greatest effort into numbing the conscience. Corporations always put on a big show … I worked in sales and marketing, and in entertainment which is basically the same thing … and the job was to propagate a lie … the most puerile useless shit was always — and I knowingly make these generalizations — this is always true … the most puerile useless shit was packaged as having some spiritual or at least psychological benefit for the consumer. Corporate culture is based on lies … manufactured desires become manufactured needs become manufactured addictions … the goal is greed … the cover for the goal is “creating jobs” … whether the work product of those jobs is creative or destructive is never questioned.
In How to Succeed, the protagonist, J. Pierpont Finch climbs the corporate ladder and rises to the position of Chairman of the Board. In the entire Odyssey we never see what the corporation does for a living. It is quite funny. A meaningless journey to achieve meaningless success. Everyone is so engaged in the competition that no one bothers to wonder what they are doing.The corporate men and women are doing nothing, and this is the most unnatural aspect of the unnatural law of corporations.
Human beings need meaning, and we have to discover and create meaning ourselves. Corporations shelter us from being alive. We cling to the corporate skirts trading our freedom and dignity for promised security, and then we engage in psychologically violent hand to hand combat on each rung of the ladder in a constant state of anxiety … short changed of our cheap security at the price of betraying the divine impulses of a our hearts, minds and souls.
In all of my years in corporate settings, I felt that the organization was doing nothing of value, and that I was doing something wonderful. I still do. I wandered through corporate life, a stranger in a strange land … at home in myself … at sea in the workplace … writing symphonies while a soul-less battle raged around me … I found a perch when I was totally alone in my work and totally at peace … all the unpleasantness behind me with the exception of the occasional bad memory. Business scars everyone it touches. I am fortunate. I know that I am scarred. Everyone who has lived a life in business is bitter. The great success stories try to talk themselves and other people into how wonderful their experience has been, but it’s all forced. Everyone senses on some deep, often unacknowledged level that business disappointed them and abased their lives in very important ways. Fame and luxury items are piss poor justifications for a lifetime, and wind up being backdrops for boredom, hopelessness and nihilism … lives of quiet desperation in air conditioned nightmares … prostitutes servicing other prostitutes … deep down knowing what they are …
Situation wanted … position in service of the furtherance of art, science, democracy and love. Corporations need not apply.
Copyright 2021 Richard Thomas
3/22/21: Come Sunday (2018) — Listening to … #poetry
God is a synonym for the heart
Your heart beats inside of you
and radiates toward you from the world
beating in other people’s chests
Crying out from their eyes
I assumed something good happened to me because I deserved it
But memory revealed my guilt
A person for whom I lacked compassion at a crucial moment
Came back from the dead
and saved me
My smug joy and satisfaction
is now tinted with guilt and shame
Those necessary and positive feelings
that are so often dismissed and discounted,
those words in my internal monologue speak the words of my calling
Let your compassion lead you
See your path in the anguished cries of your external heart
and the tenderness inside of you
God said, “Don’t get moving … be moved …”
I sit patiently for further instructions …
Does anyone make choices about anything?
Does everyone do the best that they can?
There are people born into loving families and touched by every kind of abundance
Free from material and spiritual want
Easy people to love
Easy person to be
There are people who never get a chance
babies who die days out of the womb
Millions born into starvation and poverty
There are people who have been mistreated and abused
Deformed beyond God’s original intention
Victims of cruelty
who become cruel themselves
Harming others because it is all that they understand
There are people born to love
who are deeply hurt
by harm done to them
in the meanness of the world
and despair of love
They withdraw into deep depression
and give up
Some are disfigured by random events
who become casualties
“Father forgive them they know not what they do”
I never understood those words of the heart
Christ didn’t either until he was crucified
and that is what we are asked to do
if we are lucky enough to survive everything that can snuff us out
and the entirety of the Universe
is one heart
Individual people are sperm
only a few merge with the ovum world
and become full life
This is a blessing
None of this opportunity is our own doing
We did not choose our achievement
We are not the authors of our achievement
Everything that we enjoy individually are gifts from God
on temporary loan
Our talents, intelligence, our capacity to love
will die when we die
We are dust and to dust we shall return
All that is good in us will be returned to God
And in the meantime, we are obligated to use these gifts
with people, in places and in the manner that God prescribes for us
God tells us to go into the world
he calls us to listen to Him
All of our plans have no value
All life and all art is an improvisation
That is really what improvisation is
Emptying yourself out for God
The flavor of God is bittersweet
We survey the world and our memory and our souls
and we quietly sing “wonderful … wonderful … wonderful”
But we are not ecstatic
because we feel all of the pain in our external heart
we see the damaged eyes of the omnipresent suffering
We are called to be angry without hate
To be loving without possessiveness
and to listen to God’s direction
which often seems illogical and impractical
pushing us out of our comfort zones
Contradicting all that we thought that we knew
God — our heart
always moves us to the unknown
and tells us to do what we thought was unwise or impossible
puts on the edge
requires that we abandon what we thought was home
and move into new territory
Even our defiance of our heart
is used by God to lead us to our destiny
All of my rancor toward any person has abated
when I have changed myself
and transcended the dysfunction that me and the other were engaged in
Can all the individual healed wounds
accumulate into a release of my rancor for the world?
Now and forever?
I think it happens
But you can’t decide it
You have to go through it
You’re not ready until He says you’re ready …
How can you be certain it’s God’s voice you hear
your heart …
and not the Devil?
What is the difference between the lonely spiritual person
who acts and speaks God’s Will
and a heretic?
The process is one of confusion
agony precedes epiphany
And if that epiphany turns your life upside down
you stand on your head and walk on your hands
you have no choice
Integrity is not stubbornness in one’s position
This isn’t an opinion
This isn’t a stance
Integrity is atonement with your heart
Atonement with God
Jesus is the son of God
and you are His son or daughter
When you are clear and following the path God has drawn for you
You are God
Your heart and God are One
Divinity is your birthright
You are God on Earth in his finite manifestation
and you will return to eternity at the end of your natural life
or at the end of your enlightenment and the beginning of your next period of confusion …
This is a poem …
God, heart are just words
Those words point to something else
Most poems affix themselves onto the things of the everyday
The poet paints a picture of a tree
imbued with eternal God
This poem is an experiment
I paint here with the words of religion, spirituality and eternity
and challenge what those words will inspire in your specific linear chronological life
If this poem works it will bring you to thoughts of your own life
The protagonist of this movie comes into conflict with his Church
his position in the world
He speaks of theology
but he challenges mean ignorance
justified by a misunderstanding of Scripture
A distortion of the message of Christ
to justify intolerance and cruelty
A rigid demand to honor what is misnamed as right
a claim to follow a just God
leading to injustice
There is illegitimate power in sanctimony
I was wrong to have a hard heart against the person who ultimately saved me
A simple person who gave me everything
I was wrong to judge the dogmatic evangelicals
when I was dogmatic in my own way
We both were lacking in humanity
the evangelicals and me
Religion is a poem
big churches and congregations
as simple as a child’s crayon drawing under a refrigerator magnet
and often less inspired
I write instead of go to church
because I’ve never found a church that spoke to my experience
I don’t need my images of reality concretized
I don’t need assumptions that my life conforms with that of everyone else in the pews
The churches always spoke to God
Spoke for the people
I hear the people clearly
I want to hear from God
and I do hear when I discard all of my petitions and prayers
and just sit there
and let God speak when he feels like it
He has never let me down
I am the one who drops the call when it doesn’t come through
I see myself in the hero of this movie
and I see myself in the villains of this movie
and I see that hero and villain are inaccurate words
In every argument or war there is a piece of each opponent on all sides
I just do feel separate at the moment
I feel one with the world
immersed and merged with all of the world’s paradoxically chaotic harmony
God nature me you …
Wha … ?
Another word for conflict is change
We are catalysts for transformations in each others’ lives
We ignite one another
We split from some people
and we re -unite with others
Once you know something is false you have to leave
Once you see someone who knows what is true
You are called to create and work with them
The Will of God is another phrase for letting go
and embracing the new
Bitterness disappears when you know the whole Truth
You never lose anything of value
All of our losses are illusions
Even our deaths
at death we simply change into another thing
All ends precede beginnings
That which is cast out ushers in the new
I became a bit more gentle this morning …
I hope it lasts …
The protagonist of the movie has a blind spot
We are all partially redeemed
We are all The Hero
and The Villain
with a Thousand Faces
We all are dark and light
One with God, One with Satan and One with Confused Humanity in between
The person with the highest consciousness has the highest responsibility
We are asked to get clearer and clearer
no not asked … called
God doesn’t ask … He tells
To be asked …
Get over yourself …
that’s the problem …
we are called to seek the truth …
not opine about what it might be …
My writing is not about what I think
It’s about what I hear
Same goes for my life …
The true revolution of God has certainty without argument
As I am God’s witness …
God takes what you thought was everything
in order to give you everything
He makes you do and say all these things you’d rather not say
First you say it innocently
then the world challenges you
You wonder if they’re right
you struggle and decide they are not
Then the game’s afoot
You know that you are going to be crucified
You suffer greatly
and are born again
And this saga repeats itself in different ways for all of your life
It’s never what you planned
You are a dictionary
You are all the words
All jumbled up
You are the Bible
all jumbled up
You are every moment of your life
and everybody else’s
You are all of history
You are past, present and future
You are North South East and West
You are all genders
Every sexual preference
You are all nations
You are all religions
You are all Gods
Jesus and Shiva and Buddha and Zeus
You are all the art of the Renaissance and Nazi Propaganda
You are St. Francis
and Adolph Hitler
All that is good is your glory
All that is bad is your blame
Life is harder than theology
God is love
the part of us that loves is God
and who and what we love
is the world and people
including ourselves …
I felt that I was cheated
I felt the world did not give my due
That is the ancient anger that I held against my human savior
the man who saved me from beyond the grave
The anger left me when I recognized myself
When I finally heard what God was telling me about who I was
much simpler than me
loved me no matter how stupid I was
and now I do the same …
The man who I felt didn’t recognize who I was
gave me the opportunity to be precisely that …
None of us can help it …
we are called to love an imperfect world.
Love is perfection in a perfect world
Love of what is
changes what is and everything else …
Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, so they say
The protagonist didn’t know how to love one man who died
changed … didn’t even know that he was changing
God changed the man through the events of his life
while he was thinking of all sorts of unimportant and extraneous things
and knew how to love the next man that he cared about
He wasn’t insane
but it wasn’t easy
We create complex labyrinths for ourselves
then spend our lives deciphering and decoding
searching and exploring
stumbling and bumping into things
and all the time God is leading us by the hand
Our mistakes and disasters improve us
and eventually we make it home
before another puzzle confronts us
The tome of the protagonist’s preaching changed
He was no longer an advocate
He was a witness
Not the case
but the evidence …
Writers aren’t made by working on craft
but rather by working on their souls
following the dictates of their divine hearts.
Copyright 2021 Richard Thomas
3/23/21: Beyond Self – Help (2021) — Art! #poetry
This piece is a departure from my recent essays. I hope that all of my pieces are a departure from what preceded them,, but this one really jumps to another field. A dear friend from college days (and Rick Blog reader) emailed me the article below. The subject line of the email was “Thinking of You”. My friend said this article reminded him of me. I was very touched.
This article reminds me of me too with a couple of significant differences. When I was in my late thirties, I read a lot of material like this. Thomas Moore (the Jungian psychologist — not the saint), Joseph Campbell and Julia Cameron influenced me greatly. Eventually I started making art which is what self – help matures into. If you are in the market for self – help literature, I would recommend the author here, Robert Babirad, simply on the basis of this small sample of this writing. It is sincere, personal and wise.,
There are two major differences between me and Babirad. First, as I mentioned, I fashion art and not self – help. Second my ambitions for the future are different than Babirad’s.
Below I dialogue with Babirad’s article. My comments are in italics. I also provide links to various pieces that I have written that speak to some of the themes that Babirad elucidates here.
How I Found My Place in the World When I Felt Beaten Down by Life
“Some people are going to reject you simply because you shine too bright for them. That’s okay. Keep shining.” ~Mandy Hale
I am better than anyone who has ever rejected me. https://richardsteventhomas.wordpress.com/2021/03/21/3-21-21-how-to-succeed-in-business-without-really-trying-1967-unnatural-law-of-corporations-poetry/
After I finished school, I was excited about moving forward with life.
I thought about the career that I hoped to have, where I hoped to live, and the things that I wanted to accomplish.
I always thought that I was the master of my own life. When I was young, I naively believed that everyone felt that way about their own lives and respected that drive and imagination in others.
After starting off as a secondary high school English teacher and becoming disappointed with the ongoing changes in the public school system, I went to graduate school for law. I thought it would open up a lot of possibilities, but it did not.
I shared Babirad’s restlessness, I wasn’t as diligent or responsible as a young person as Babirad was. School was easy for me. I could get an A – in any course that I had any talent and/or aptitude for, and the further that I went in my education, I could avoid the courses that I didn’t enjoy. I drifted into law school to please my parents. I was an indifferent law student and spent my time dreaming about being a performer. I was sorely disappointed with Second City and the improvisational community. I was out of place. I am an artist and my former peers were entertainers. Being a comic improvisational actor was a phase of my self – education as a writer. I didn’t sit for and pass the bar exam (for the first and only time) until I was fifty years old. I met some impressive lawyers, but I am a writer and not a lawyer. The practice of law was another phase of my self -education as a writer. I became a college professor in the hopes that the job would facilitate my development as a writer and it did. I was ultimately — and blessedly — rejected by higher ed as well. I wandered through many jobs and careers, but always kept faith with my personal project. I was saved by anger — my anger at insult and disrespect, my anger against mediocrity.
I never had any dream of being an attorney in a courtroom. Instead, I always wanted to work in Europe or South America with people from different cultures, nationalities, and backgrounds. I wanted to make a positive difference in a humanitarian way by working with people personally to implement change and improve their lives.
I did eight trials — lawyer disciplinary administrative law hearings — and I did well at them — never lost an issue. But I never was a trial lawyer from an existential point of view. It never was my career or calling. I am writer. As such, I am glad for the experience of doing trials. A writer has to wander. A writer has to do hard things. A writer has to seek out challenges — psychologically, spiritually, emotionally, intellectually and existentially. All art is memoir. All art is autobiographical. A writer wanders in society, and plants deep roots in his home in his soul. My friend is quite right. Babirad and I are fellow travelers in this regard.
Life had something different in store for me, though. I ended up being rejected endlessly, well over a thousand times for every application that I sent out over a period of years.
I think that I probably got more jobs than this guy, and got fired, shunned, ignored, insulted and slandered more. In a sense, I was lucky that they let me in, and he was lucky that they kept him out.
Disillusionment set in. There was the feeling of “why even continue to try anymore?” As the rejections piled up, friends that I had known for years began leaving as well. Their calls and visits became less frequent. They moved on with their lives, careers, marriages, and kids.
I too have been blocked and depressed — suffered the dark night of the soul and in each incidence of rejection I had to work through an intense period of hurt. A writer has to hit bottom. Things have to hurt so much that you have to figure them out in order to relieve your pain. Writing is a transformative process. You go up on the cross, rest and reflect and then rise again — better, broader, bigger. I only envied careers — not lives, marriages and kids. Careers was devastating enough. I was very frustrated and resentful. One gift is that I always felt far superior to what the world was telling me that I was. I would argue with the bastards. Fight them. And that was a kind of art — because I told them the truth about what they were. Of course when you tell them off, the relationship is over. No connection is sustainable. I’d be criticized for my outspoken nature — I think ultimately I did these people a service. Occasionally someone from the past would show up and tell me I was right in my criticism of what happened between us. But this pattern of behavior became too small. I was getting nothing out of these misbegotten jobs and false friendships. As a writer I can speak to the general thing … and connect with audience that wants to hear it. I like a phrase — “true revolution has certainty without arguing”. I was arguing with them because I had some doubt. I thought that they might be right. I wasn’t fully free. Lately, a certain harshness is falling away from my writing. A writer speaks to root causes. He doesn’t prosecute like a lawyer, mock like a comedian or argue like a politician. Teaching is the closest thing to writing. Teaching’s limitation is that your words must adapt themselves to the individuals locally in front of you. A teacher speaks to his students. A writer speaks to the world. The audience member is left with the creative act of applying the writer’s insight to their individual lives in the world.
I felt left behind and rejected not just by jobs, but by life in general. The hurts and betrayals were leading me to lose my passion and enthusiasm. Then there were the callous remarks from friends, people in the local community, when I asked if they knew of a position, former professors who couldn’t assist in any way now that I’d graduated, college career center advisors, and even extended family members.
I have been betrayed by false friends and have been buoyed and sustained by real friends and loving family members. I have had people in my life who have loved me enough to try mightily to understand who I am and what I go through. I am truly blessed. My past rages at meanness were largely born of the fact that I have been so loved. My best friends are my oldest friends — like the guy who sent me this article. I have bemoaned society’s cold nature, but have never lost hope for the alternative. How could I? I’ve experienced the difference. https://richardsteventhomas.wordpress.com/2021/03/10/3-10-21-bang-the-drum-slowly-1973-work-death-and-friendship-poetry/
It took time, but I finally came to the realization that those who were endlessly rejecting me weren’t the ones who really mattered. I would keep shining brightly with or without them.
The ones who rejected me did so because my very presence challenged them, and they took that challenge as a threat. First, they accepted me warmly. Second, they saw that I was different than they were. Third, they would laugh at me. Fourth, they ignored me. Fifth, they fought me. And then I won. They were exposed and I moved on.This is a revelatory passage. I won!
Here are the four things that helped me to finally “reject” the non-acceptance and rejection that I was experiencing from others.
1. Realize that “there is no box.”
Our background, degrees, friends, teachers, families, and the larger culture as a whole try to get us to conform to a narrow set of parameters. If you went to school to be a teacher, you have to be a teacher. If you studied to be an auto mechanic, you have to be an auto mechanic. And you have to live in this place or this country, because that’s where your family have always lived.
Someone once told me, “there is no box.” Society tries to “box” us in and to restrict us to defining ourselves within certain narrow limits. However, I realized that there really is “no box,” and that I could apply my skills and talents in other ways and in other places.
Yes. I have had many different jobs and they all are the same job. I never didn’t fulfill the requirements of the job. I always violated the repressive, oppressive, depressive, negative culture of the work place.
I didn’t have to conform to where I was or seek the acceptance of those who were currently around me.
I never have betrayed myself in order to fit in. I’ve mistakenly thought that I fit in when I didn’t. When I was young I would get excited that I had finally found my place when I decidedly didn’t. That caused a lot of pain. I am more circumspect in my relationships now, aware that they can be wonderful or non – starters. Life is easier in this regard. Age has its benefits.
I started meeting new people and looking at other places and countries, and I stopped trying to seek the acceptance of those who had already decided that they weren’t going to accept me for who I was. The employers, institutions, and agencies told me I was “overqualified” or that that there were “many qualified candidates” and I hadn’t been considered, or they’d keep my resume on file.
I have rejected the employers, institutions, agencies etc. and I am just now at the point when it is time to meet new people. I don’t know who or where they are, but I know that I will recognize them when I see them, and recognize when I don’t.
It was as though no matter what I accomplished and no matter how hard I worked, it was never “the right skill set” or “enough” for the particular place or person that I was submitting to.
In a way, I came to accept their rejection, because I knew that the answer was getting out of my box and realizing that someone else would be more than happy to accept me for who I was.
All of the people who have rejected me have done me a favor. I’m too big for their little prison cells. There is no transformation without breaking and tearing and pain. The pain only completely disappears when you have made the transition to the next phase. The pain of my former life will disappear when I am published beyond being self -published, when my writing is shared more with the greater world. https://richardsteventhomas.wordpress.com/2021/03/18/3-18-21-cross-creek-1983-new-beginnings-poetry/
2. Let go of the need for approval by others.
Letting go of the need for approval opens up exciting new doors. We are finally free to be who we really are.
I wanted to live up to the expectations of family and society. I think that’s why it hurt so much to receive so many rejections over such a long period of time. I wanted to be “successful” according to society’s expectations. I wanted to follow the path of what everyone told me was a “regular” and “secure” life.
I’ve since realized that I get to define success for myself.
I always was beyond the need for approval, but also, for many years, was needy for approval. It was a conflict and a contradiction. I worked at — punched against it like a heavy bag. I sometimes fall back into feelings of “why don’t they love me?” but I snap out of it. Currently, this pain is like an acute pang that vexes me from time to time, and then goes away.
Success, for me, means doing what I love—teaching, reading, traveling, meeting and working with people from throughout the world, studying languages, and experiencing different cultures.
Success for me is an unrealizable moving target. I live in perpetual dissatisfaction always wanting to go deeper, broader, to overcome more pain, to be more effective. My writing always can be better. My participation in the world always can be stronger. Another point about rejection — was it rejection or did I outgrow them? I started in the same place, but I always went farther.
Everything changed for me when I decided to live my life on my terms now rather than looking for a company, agency, government institution, or some other entity to provide me with the chance or opportunity. I wasn’t going to wait for permission from someone or something else.
I’m different. I live my life on my own terms but I am looking for opportunities. Those who rejected me wanted co -dependence. I wanted and achieved independence. Now I want interdependence. I am not an entrepreneur. I want to be part of communities. Those type of communities are rare, but I know they exist. I believe in spiritual abundance and I believe that me and my future partners will be led to each other by mysterious forces and synchronicities. https://richardsteventhomas.wordpress.com/2021/02/25/2-25-21-it-takes-a-lunatic-2019-artists-are-outsiders-an-inventory-poetry/
I also realized I can use my skills in the world outside of the narrow and limited context of the jobs and people who were rejecting me.
Yes. It’s a big world. It is only small in our untreated wounds.
For example, I can teach, and I can work to help others, but it doesn’t have to be within the rigid structure of the public education system.
I am open to teaching a low grade version of my writing process, but my focus is sharing my art. I taught to support myself and my writing. I don’t need to do that anymore. But I would teach if it could help people who are worth it and bring in some extra money, and/or be a way to further the dissemination of my writing.
I can use the skills that I’ve acquired to be a global citizen and to learn and grow every day without confining myself to the parameters of one place, country, or culture. I can be an amalgamation of all of them, as I continue to grow as a person, both personally and professionally, but on my own terms, not those that are dictated to be by someone or something else.
Growth only happens on your own terms. Everything else is just socialization. Not thinking for oneself is arrested development. Not thinking for oneself infects our world at pandemic proportions.
As I let go of the need for others to approve of me, my world expanded, because now I could go after those things in life that I was passionate about rather than just trying to conform and satisfy others.
No openness without freedom.
3. Start journaling.
Journaling and connecting with our true selves, and what really brings us joy, can make us value ourselves again in spite of any opposition and rejection that we experience from the world.
All writing and art is essentially a journal amplified for use for other people as well as the creator, and yes —- writing is the most empowering thing that I have ever done. http://www.richardsteventhomas.wordpress.com
It can also help us reconnect with the things we used to love when we were younger—the passions we lost after going through years of school and trying to do what we thought we had to do in order to be successful in the eyes of society.
Journaling helped me get back to my uniqueness as a person and was what really motivated and inspired me. It helped me pay attention to what made me happy again and those things that I’d really like to do or accomplish.
I was inspired by my experiences in the world that were outside of my comfort zone and by the rich and varied cultures and experiences that were waiting out there. As I continued journaling, I also realized I’d always been inspired by the possibility of teaching and helping others, but in an international capacity.
As a result, I’ve had the opportunity to help students with autism, to teach English to students and adults internationally, and to write for a variety of places abroad that did accept and value my work. However, I would never have explored these aspects of myself if I had been accepted by those who were rejecting me. Which means really, their rejections were blessings in disguise.
4. Support those who support you.
“Your circle should want to see you win. Your circle should clap the loudest when you have good news. If they don’t, get a new circle.” ~Wesley Snipes
We can reject rejection by supporting those who support us through both the good and the more difficult times in our lives. Why support those who are only there for you when life is good?
The hard times made me realize who really was on my side. The people who stayed with me and continued to believe in me supported me through both the victories and the disappointments. There was a tremendous difference between those individuals and others who no longer answered calls or emails, except when I was “successful.”
Now, I may not have as many friends as I once did, but those that I do have are an important part of my circle and people that I can rely on.
I agree. The further you evolve, the more focused your friendships are. Art is an elite experience. It’s hard and it’s not for everybody — fellow artists are special, art’s audiences are special, friends of artists are special. It requires a lot of intelligence and heart to be my friend. It requires a lot of me to return the favor, and I’m always up for it.
Someone once told me, “Now I know who the true believers are.” I feel that way about those who have proudly celebrated my successes and have also been there for me during my darkest moments.
Love means acceptance and support of all of the changes and challenges of the beloved’s soul.
I hope you’re fortunate enough to have people in your life who genuinely support you, even if it’s only one person. If you don’t, try to open yourself up to new people, and stop giving your energy to people who accept you conditionally or regularly disappoint you. Creating a supportive circle begins with that first step of making a little room.
It wasn’t easy for me to overcome rejection and non-acceptance, and I still struggle with it at times. No one wants to feel left out or like a failure. But I’ve realized I can only fail by society’s terms if I accept them—and I don’t.
I admire this guy’s honesty.
Instead, I’ve rejected the “box” other people tried to impose on me, gotten outside my comfort zone, let go of the need for approval, started rediscovering what excites me, and shifted my focus to those people who have always supported me, regardless of what I’ve achieved. And I’m far happier for it.
Self – help is a step in the maturation of the artist. This guy is on his way.
About Robert Babirad
Robert Babirad left being a lawyer to travel the world and write about his experiences as an In-Transit Passenger. His debut non-fiction travel memoir, In-Transit Passenger: Making the Journey Matter, will be released on April 6, 2021. You can find his work on Facebook.
3/24/21: Frank Sinatra – All or Nothing at All (2015) — Me and Frank — Solitary Art and Popular Art #poetry
Sinatra and me — a comparison (I’m in parentheses)
The bard of loneliness
The powerful man of the world
The great artist for people with deep understanding of popular music
The great star for everyone else
A shy father
A bold mother
Motivated by money
Motivated by love
A child of the Depression,
A drive for excellence not fueled by competition
but rather, fueled by an instinct for survival
Louis Armstrong played, Bing Crosby sang Armstrong’s way, Sinatra started with Bing’s way
Scared and daring — dropped out of high school, young marriage …
The Genius as Everyman
The profile of the great popular artist
The Genius as Everyman
Sinatra got his first break
(I walked away from my first break
I am not a man of the world
I am more like a painter in a garret
or a writer alone in a study
I have no interest in power or popularity
The drive for popularity destroys integrity by my lights
I am not a bard of loneliness
I’m not lonely
I am a bard of solitude
I am an unpopular popular artist
I work in the vernacular of the popular artist
but the experience that I communicate is an uncommon one
I speak for the man of the street of the future
I speak for what all of us can and will be
I sing of the expanded consciousness of man
Sinatra sang of the sweet and confused souls of the men and women of here and now
I’m not for the mob connections, the fistfights, the serial marriages, the career armageddons and second comings
but I am for the immediacy in the voice, that swing, the thinking, the creative ambition — not the career ambition …
I am uninterested in doing what it takes to be rich and famous
I was spoiled and not a child of the depression
I believe that I should be cared for
and I am
Competition is for children of poverty, and other fearful people
I know God will care for me if I do his bidding
I don’t need to claw to the top)
Sinatra didn’t perform — he had presence — the greatest don’t pretend …
(I learned from Sinatra — I have that presence thing in me too — it may be as simple as being Italian)
With success, Sinatra became competitive — he amiably wanted to supplant Bing Crosby as the most popular singer
(I am competitive in my own way — I get better than everyone who tries to keep me down or criticize me, but I don’t stay and try to supplant anybody … I am not a hero, I’m a sage … I don’t build mansions — I form incomparable values for the future — it is not Sinatra’s success that makes him immortal, it is his art … the art is where I intersect with Sinatra)
(The material in this doc about Sinatra that discussed his rise to fame bore me — I like the parts about how he made the music … )
Sinatra sang many of the same songs his whole life, also always adding new ones — and always changing his interpretations — even with at least subtle changes every time he sang a number
(Pope John Paul II said that he kept writing about the same themes, just drilling deeper and deeper — finding new meaning … me too …)
Sinatra always had easy access to what he thought and how he felt
(Is it possible for anyone who is not Italian to be an artist? — Just kidding …)
Sinatra challenged himself — dancing with Gene Kelly, acting in From Here to Eternity … changing his singing style a few times … being an emotional fool … reckless love affairs … eventually he settled into a final iteration
(I never have stopped challenging myself and never will … Success, certainly success like Sinatra’s brings fulfillment and the successful person can relax … the solitary artist can never relax … the successful person is evaluated by the world … the solitary artist evaluates himself … the solitary artist ultimately has the tougher audience)
Sinatra was right and wrong politically throughout his life … he got worse as he went along … from FDR to JFK to Reagan …
so did America …
(I’m not trying to be part of anything … I just want my voice heard …)
Sinatra was a fool, among many other things
An artist has to be a fool
An artist has to be close to his darkness
For Sinatra it was his attraction to gangsters
(For me it was my attraction to entertainers — the sitcom and sketch stars, actors and writers that I knew from Second City … Sinatra never gave up his darkness … his shady friends aided him in his success — I had to go through an emotional detox and withdraw from my Second City connections — their world can’t intersect with my world .. they would hold back my art … I can only be friends with Second City people who accept me for what I am — and I think a few of them do)
Sinatra liked acting the tough guy — punching reporters and the like — he was compensating for his sensitive poetic nature
(I used to be given to rages — I was covering up how hurt I was)
(I relate to Sinatra as an artist and as part of his fan base — susceptible to his interpretation of the zeitgeist)
(God, I am moved by Sinatra’s music — Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered — the song makes my life pass before my heart — every warm feeling that I ever had … the song plays during the film’s segment about Frank and Ava Gardner — I don’t care about Frank and Ava Gardner — I am more interested in my own life … Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered is what Sinatra delivered to me from his relationship with Ava … gossip isn’t art … Sinatra’s memoir of feeling is what matters)
Sinatra failed …
an artist has to fail …
an artist has to be on the outside …
an outcast …
False friends disappear
True friends reveal themselves …
An artist has to feel despair …
the impulse to transformation feels like the call of suicide
It isn’t the body that must die
It is the artist’s ego
The old life has to go
The old friends and colleagues
The old style
The old expectations
The love affair — all passion — misnamed a marriage
had to end
The acting like an alcoholic had to end
Lessons had to be learned
Changes had to be made
I used to think optimism was a mistake — Vaclav Havel told me hope is the thing — hope thinks things can work out, but understands that they might not … but now I trust Sinatra, the optimist … if you serve life, things always work out … I really believe that … even the bad stuff happens for a reason and that is huge part of Sinatra’s life and art and mine
I’m not using parentheses here because this passage is both me and Frank …
and then he has to return …
The return always begins in the poor place, the out of the way place, the obscure place
a little club
and then Frank’s Oscar winning role in “From Here to Eternity”
What a great title
for a novel
and for Frank’s art
(and mine and anybody else’s)
Then the big success
and the great art
the new Sinatra
the confident mature man
the more sophisticated takes on songs
If an artist hasn’t had bad times
They’ve had nothing
Sinatra created something new
That’s what artists do
Sinatra used his success as an opportunity to make art
when he recorded records in the 1950s
You have to separate the art from the crap with Sinatra after that
the art always involved singing
(It took me a long time to own the fact that I am a writer — not an actor, a comic, a lawyer, a businessman, a professor — a fact I knew down deep all along … Sinatra knew he was a singer when he sang as a little boy in his mother’s bar … I always responded to content … what the thing was saying from the time I saw Mary Poppins at age nine and understood what Mr. Banks was going through … all the other things that I tried taught me how to write and gave me a life, a basis to write about … by the way … I didn’t fail at any of those other occupations, I was more than good at them — except maybe business … an artist has to be a capable person … Sinatra wasn’t a great actor, but he was a decent one … he was a decent director and producer, and a good businessman … but his art, his excellence … his way of life was singing … I write …)
Sinatra found Nelson Riddle — his arranger and conductor in the 1950s …
This was his great artistic partnership
(I long for a person or people like that … an editor, a manager, someone to produce readings — if there is such a thing)
Sinatra’s life brought him conflict in may ways while his art brought him and his audience to brief moments in paradise …
(Same here, but now my solitary art withdraws me from the conflict)
Sinatra’s confidence was achieved through hard work, he overcame insecurity
(the artist — popular, solitary or otherwise — has ordinary human experience and extraordinary ability to process that experience and communicate what he has learned)
Artist Sinatra knew how to be a good friend, and chose friends like Humphrey Bogart who deserved his friendship — Life Sinatra had affection for the mob
(learning discernment is one of the great tests of my life, and Frank’s good and bad choices are instructive)
Sinatra was never angry when he was making records …
(People say writing is agony … I say writing relieves agony …)
The popular artist speaks for the people
(The solitary artist speaks for the future)
When America wanted to celebrate in the early 1960s, Sinatra threw the party
(I don’t get to have that kind of fun … being a performer excited me, being a writer makes me quietly and sustainably happy)
Sinatra liked, and was impressed by, power — but his songs, his art, aren’t about power — they are almost exclusively about love — of women, cities, baseball, America …
(I see power as a nuisance — my writing is described sometimes as powerful — that’s the power that I care about, I’ve never been excited by mobsters and power brokers … I distrust them … I love the idealism in politicians and I am repulsed by both the necessary and nefarious machinations — I am a sage/fool, and Sinatra is a hero/villain … I just don’t like the wheeling and dealing and pushing people around …)
(The world interested Sinatra much more than it interests me … businessman, philanthropist … I don’t care … but I am as alive as Sinatra … maybe more so … my thoughts and feelings and what I see are quite enough … I make all that I want to make on this keyboard … I don’t sit back and criticize … I work to understand …)
Sinatra, Dean Martin and the Rat Pack made racist jokes — Sammy Davis Jr. was the brunt, this was incongruous with Sinatra’s past — this is what business, specifically the entertainment business can do to art — the jokes worked with the white paying customers — that’s all that mattered … Frank should have known better, and I think deep down he did know … you could tell that Dean Martin felt sorry in performance sometimes …
(the popular artist only can touch the eternity that is accessible to the general population in his own time — the solitary artist is not compromised by a requirement of popularity)
In the late 1960s, in his early fifties, Frank Sinatra was nervous about remaining relevant … he married young Mia Farrow — thirty years his junior, he sang with the Fifth Dimension — both pairings were inappropriate and a bit silly … in this period I don’t hear any deepening in his music … he was still great, but he sounded like he did in the 50’s and the Kennedy Administration … Life was overcoming art for Frank in this period … but this “stuck” art is pretty great … Sinatra can’t sing and be dishonest — even in his ridiculous outing with the Fifth Dimension (I intentionally use the present tense — this show biz legend Mafia adjacent sympathizer is present and eternal when he sings — now and forever)
(I don’t worry about relevancy)
Sinatra grew typically conservative as his generation was wont to do as he grew older — anti – Woman’s Liberation, Pro -War — he was a popular artist
(Popular art can never go far enough to suit my nature — I love Sinatra because I understand him and his context … it isn’t arrogance to say that I work in the higher form, solitary art, it’s just true …)
Sinatra retired because he felt irrelevant — felt his time had passed
(I’m 65 and feel that I am just getting started … I feel that my whole life prepared me for the art that I am making now)
For Sinatra, retirement was necessary — he had to sing his own obituary to rediscover who he was … he needed another setback and comeback … the movie says he was burned out … (but I think that artists need problems … pain and confusion … stuff to figure out and report to the audience)
Two years later a new Sinatra re – emerged … the voice, his instrument wasn’t as limber or strong … but the interpretation, the understanding of the words was not necessarily better — but different — Sinatra made his peace with aging … he married the appropriate Barbara Marx and sang the appropriate songs … he learned — that is what artists do …
As Sinatra got older the recording studio sessions ended — the recording studio was the scene of his greatest art, even more than his public performances — the public performances worked because they reminded the audience of the records …
(My sacred place is in this chair with my computer on my lap)
Pete Hamill — the poet of Sinatra’s art and life said that even as an old man Frank was still trying to understand … that’s the defintion of an artist
(when I listen to Sinatra my life is one moment, my sins have a purpose, and I learn how to do major swaths of what I do — my whole life is an instant, a time when nine year old me is sitting in a spaghetti joint with my parents and older brother, mesmerized by Frank Sinatra on the juke box, feeling that feeling that I feel when I am on the right track …)
Copyright 2021 Richard Thomas
3/25/21: Hannah And Her Sisters (1986) — Love is Romance Mixed with Shit #poetry
Romance ain’t love. This is an adolescent movie. Smart, pretty people metaphorically cumming all over Manhattan …
Given Woody Allen and Mia Farrow’s infamous and seemingly unending conflicts, this movie might be retitled “Romantic Delusions of a Dysfunctional Family”, but I want to watch it again for what it is, minus the tabloid sturm and drang. I thought of Max von Sydow’s character in this picture this morning. That’s why I picked it. von Sydow plays an alienated artist — angry, misanthropic, hyper – critical and alone, despairing of even the possibility of human connection. I was thinking about how much wiser that I am than that character. Art is an elite experience — for artists, artists’ audiences, artists’ friends and artists’ creative partners. von Sydow’s part is right that most of the world’s population are pieces of shit — but the upper echelons of humanity exist too. Artists have to find relationships of all types and purposes wherein they are respected and well – treated. Not only is the nice treatment healthy and appropriate for the artist, it also is very telling. Respectful people who treat the artist well are smart people with good hearts. Of course artists aren’t recognized by most people. Most people are stupid and mean. But excellence is out there. Healthy relationships serve the artist and everyone else — even the knuckle dragging assholes. Art serves the world by serving the best men and women. Human achievement trickles down to the rabble. I write for people like me, and the existence of people like us lift up everybody else.
This movie is a rolling sublimated orgasm, a travelogue touring everything that turns Woody Allen on — beautiful neurotic women, New York City, the Great American Songbook, accomplished architecture, rainy days, poetry, facile philosophy, comedy, low self -esteem and insecurity, pseudo – intellectualism, and on and on …
Woody Allen was smitten with Mia Farrow when he made this movie. He wrote von Sydow’s artist as a counterpoint to the main theme of the movie — that life and the world has exclusively wonderful features. von Sydow speaks for another part of Allen’s psyche. The movie is generally great sex, and von Sydow is added as a counterpoint — post -coital disappointment.
Love is romance mixed with shit. One falls in love with the world, and then realizes how fucked up it is, and then spends one’s life figuring how to live in it. It’s a mistake to quit on the world, and it’s a mistake not to see the world for what it is.
I figure the way to get through is to team up with kind people with brains. Only then can you do something worthwhile. Woody Allen has some lovely items on his favorite things list — but they all are hard won, and all come with myriad complications.
This movie was written by a guy who was in love with the feeling of being in love. I hate to be a scold — but more is required.
Copyright 2021 Richard Thomas
3/26/21: A Rainy Day in New York (2019) — Hannah And Her Grandchildren #poetry
I rented this movie for 99 cents on Amazon Prime. They had a sale on the works of disgraced filmmakers.
Woody Allen lives an ordered routine most of the time. Morning Joe, then a bowl of oatmeal and coffee, then checking the market at the opening bell and a good BM — oh wait, that’s me. Woody writes a screenplay or two every year — every once in awhile he writes a good one. He films them all. Then he goes into post – production. Then he starts all over again. I don’t begrudge him his habits, and since I can’t ever know what happened in his family, I don’t worry about it. I used to love Woody Allen. I loved that he did his own thing in his own way. I saw him as a free and autonomous artist … so surefooted … he got creative accomplishment, money, interesting women, a great career … I bought the dreamscape of his movies, the sweetness, and yes the romance (I have to admit that to myself). I moved to New York because of Woody Allen. I thought the city in his movies was a real place.
Then I grew up. Success is a trap. It protects its owner from the pain of change. Woody Allen cast much younger actresses as his love interest when he was chronologically middle aged. He married his wife’s daughter. Now he gets to be young in a second millennium. Allen hires actors in their twenties to play different aspects of him. To be twenty and have Woody Allen’s mid – century reference level. I don’t envy Woody Allen anymore. I kind of feel sorry for him.
The problem with only living one phase of life over and over again is that you repeat yourself a lot. Woody Allen doesn’t care if he bores me. He’s bored himself. Maybe that’s why he gets into trouble. His inner adult subversively plunges him into scandal so he can finally be forced to stop making this movie over and over again. The adult is frustrated however because he has remarkable capacity for focused hard work. His movie making has kept his mature life at bay for decades.
I picked this movie, a follow up to my piece written while looking at Hannah And Her Sisters, out of curiosity. I wanted to see how Woody Allen has changed since 1986. Apparently he hasn’t. Maybe I should read those Ronan Farrow articles about the scandal. But I don’t care to … I have had a bellyful of dysfunction. I am sick of perversion, exploitation, stupidity, meanness, emotional violence and abuse. I want stories about and demonstrating accomplished art. I want stories about and demonstrating accomplished life.
I don’t write to get stuck. I write to find out.
Sweet and Lowdown was a great Woody Allen movie. Sean Penn was great in it. It was about, among other things, a man who made a mistake by rejecting real down to earth love. Woody Allen gives a great narration to the movie. He is wise and detached, calm and adult. Let me look up the year of that picture … 1999. Woody Allen must have a great adult year in 1999.
This movie ends very nicely. Woody Allen reveals himself not with dialogue, but rather with a charming romantic tableau. He forgot himself for the last scene, and appreciated the appropriate romance in the young actors. He had that detachment. On the day he shot that last scene he broke through his arrested development and did something — poetic. He remembered his young love, and the memory gave him tender eyes for the young — like a sweet and lowdown grandfather. Beautiful kids, Central Park and the rain … a God’s eye view … It’s not sentimental … it’s lovely …
The composer Richard Rodgers of Rodgers and Hammerstein and Rodgers and Hart was said to be a lecher, pawing the pretty ingenues. Why can’t we be perfect? How could the writer of “Some Enchanted Evening” and “I Have Dreamed” be a dirty old man?
If we and other people were perfect, there would be nothing in we and other people to love. I guess I still love Woody Allen, but in a much different way. I don’t love him for what I want to be any more, I love him for what he could have been.
I’m sorry for his troubles — even if they are of his own making — even if he hurt other people badly. I don’t excuse any sins or crimes. Sympathy is not synonymous with injustice. But and also … MSNBC interviewed a high school classmate of the guy who recently murdered ten people in a super market in Boulder, Colorado. The classmate likes the killer. The shooter was a nice guy in the eyes of his friend. The assassin was bullied a lot, and prone to rages, but he could be very nice to be around.
We are so much better than our ideas, when we let our guard down …
Copyright 2021 Richard Thomas
3/27/21: The Elephant Man (1980) — On Being Different #poetry
David Lynch tells this story in such a strange and idiosyncratic way … how could he have done anything else?
I (and you, if you love) are odd quirks of nature confronted by a hellscape of red hot insistent metal — machines at full throttle thoughtlessly about their infernal work, and also by attendant terrifying dreams caused by the noise and gas and smoke… in other words — society
Anyone who loves is an Elephant Man … anyone who is guided by a voice within … that tells him or her what is tender and right … is an Elephant Man … anyone guided by that voice and deaf to the groupthink of the madding crowd which fashions cruel obscene choreographies that demand conformities of word, thought and deed … in order for one to be human … his or her mother must have been inseminated by an elephant …
I haven’t fit in since I was fully socialized (college graduation). My family, my oldest friends from college, my wife and some individual friends that I’ve made along the way love and understand me. I try to return the favor. But I’ve never fit in with any group, on any job … I don’t feel like I am from anywhere … I am a wanderer … that is what a writer is … everywhere I’ve wandered to it was expected that I accept a world view of one kind or another … something was always off … something was always wrong … I was supposed to have values and in my case, ambitions … that I just never had … I am the author of my own life … the world has other expectations … my art and life come easily … figuring out how to navigate everything and everyone else is harder … socialization hasn’t helped at all … I have to learn how to deal with the many headed ogre … will I ever even tame it? That would be the realization of my finest ambition … I pray these words and all my other words contribute to God’s great project, using all of us who have been touched by his gift and burden … to do His Will and humanize humanity …
God rapes unwilling mankind
He forces His divinity upon them
Mankind hates the bastard child
The kind and intelligent see Paradise in the offspring
The rest of the world jeers
the best are ignored
the most capable are underemployed
mocked and treated harshly
thrown out on their ear
cheated of their right to work
misled and used for other than God’s purposes
possessed by owners
blamed for offenses that they didn’t commit, slandered to have character traits that they don’t have, indicted with moral failings that are not their own
mercilessly bullied and teased
subjected to persistent emotional and physical violence
the Child of God.
The Child of God offends the world
because he shows them that
they are not all that is.
They want the Child of God to bow before them
to conform and be like them
but this he cannot do
because he is not like them
He is the Child of God.
The Rest, the Ordinary, the Ones with Blinders on
Need the Child of God
That’s why God raped mankind
But they resist
The Child of God understands his Father’s will quite naturally
It is mankind’s perverse, distorted self -destructive will that he must decipher
His life is not like the others
An so the Different Person goes off
but soon in partnership with
The kind and intelligent who see Paradise
God needs the love of mankind in order to exist
He send his Children to procure it
Jesus is born again and again and again
Always in different forms
An infinite menagerie of freaks
The kind and intelligent are the ones who love
They vivify God
Make him here and now
Mankind’s cruel majority is converted one by one
Men and women need God, God’s children and the kind and intelligent who see Paradise
in order to become human
The Elephant Man said, “I am not an animal, I am a man” in a shamanistic incantation
Mankind is composed of animals
They have to love the Elephant Man in order to become men and women — in order to be human
The Elephant Man is a physical manifestation of the rest’s deformities
He rapes like his Father, God did
He rapes their Ego and their Pride
There is a violence to it all
It is a mystery as to why Life involves such breaking and tearing and
But creation comes with pain
Birth is a shocking and excruciating experience
that ends with newness and fulfillment
The Child of God is understandably timid when he first confronts mankind
He is right to be afraid
The kind and the intelligent earn his trust
and nurse him to confidence for his mission and destiny
Kind and intelligent
The heart and the mind are required to understand the Child of God
One or the other is not enough
The mind alone is too cold
The heart alone is too confused
I’m an Elephant Man, a Child of God … I know what I am talking about
I’m a kind and intelligent person, I’ve tutored and nurtured myself and other freaks
I’ve been badly beaten by mankind and have survived and thrived
I know my mission
It has been hard to be apart
to feel so alone
to not fit in
But the trials are the initial phase of the mission
of Elephant Men
of Children of God
With a little love and understanding
with respect and good treatment
we Elephant Men bloom
It is essential
No one can survive a constant battle with ignorance and get anything done
Elephant Men have to be protected and contained
so that they can share their messages with those capable of accepting them
supported emotionally by the kind and intelligent
It’s OK, don’t feel bad … I like being an Elephant Man … I wouldn’t have it any other way
I like being special
My joys far outweigh any suffering at the hands of mankind’s meanness
I have the cure for all such suffering
Mankind’s lack of understanding is one of the themes of my and all writing
And the process of writing redeems me
The unwashed masses crave pornography
Elephant Men and the kind and intelligent crave real beauty
Beauty is strange
Beauty is weird
Beauty is different
Beauty is out of the ordinary
Beauty can only be recognized by a beautiful eye
Love is the atypical thing
Love is freakish
Art is love’s testimony, the communication of the experience of love
Art is odd
Art confronts the fearful world
and freaks the world out
So art must be protected and handled with care
The world wants to rape and kill and cheat and steal and lie
and love must be preserved
for God’s Second Coming
when all men and women will be Elephant Men
If you are an artist, please realize that your life is an elite experience. Don’t be destroyed by an uncomprehending majority … honor your inner voice with religious intensity … and evade retreat withdraw and otherwise remove yourself from all who would diminish you … cherish all who “get” you and care about your feeling … and commit yourself … without reservation to express your thought and feelings in your work … all of your thoughts and feelings … because they will save the world … you will never be shackled by taking your place in the hierarchy of society’s power … you are much bigger than all of that … you are God’s liaison to the soul of Man …
I never thought that they were right … I was hurt and angry by what they did … but I knew that they were wrong … and God took care of me …
God constantly sends messages steering us away from the lies of men …
Society is a miser and God showers us with riches
The boss and the group will always tell you that you are less than you are
God lets you grow and grow
The boss and the group will tell you what’s wrong with you
Take your virtues and neutral characteristics
and tell you they are failings and sins
The boss and the group are monsters
who tell you that you are monstrous
You have to learn to consider the source
how weak and stupid they are
and go your own way
They’re not for you
They envy you
even hate you for your natural freedom
You won’t want to believe it
but it’s true
You only encountered them to learn
what they are
and in that learning you will deeply explore a wound
and in the wound’s depths
discover the secrets of the universe
and you will learn about those secrets
this time without pain
Rid of society
you re -enter Paradise
Copyright 2021 Richard Thomas
3/28/21: Scoop (2006) — The Death of Entertainment #poetry
Entertainment died at 8:10 PM, Chicago time on 3/27/21. Cause of death — insight.
Last night I watched the last movie that was capable of entertaining me — Woody Allen’s Scoop from 2006. The movie ends with a scene where Allen plays a ghost doing magic tricks for other ghosts on a ship of dead souls. He has a funny line as he patronizes his audience, “Don’t be discouraged just because you are deceased, ladies and gentlemen …” I laughed … quite hard … for the last time at an entertainment.
A decent Woody Allen comedy, of which Scoop is one, is more palatable than most entertainments because Allen’s audience is a little more intelligent and sophisticated than the audiences for most entertainments. Entertainers pander — that’s what Allen’s last joke was about, and wit plays better for me than the broad, tiresome and dull mugging and pratfalls served up by a “brand new Saturday Night Live” hosted by Maya Rudolph starting at 10:30 PM Chicago time on 3/27/21.
The audience is the biggest problem in entertainment. The audience is a mass of varying sizes depending on the vehicle. Masses are inherently dim, dull and regressive. Masses are as far away from the cutting edge as is possible. The average person is far from enlightened — that’s why they are average. An entertainment, and an entertainer, can never be exceptional.
The entertainer is the second biggest problem in entertainment. The entertainer is not motivated to express his or her heart and soul — in other words, his or her personal truth. The entertainer wants to please the audience and get its applause as a means of procuring fame and fortune. Woody Allen’s audience wants a report on the state of his soul. Each of his many films is a fairly honest report of his psychological and spiritual state in a particular moment, or at least year, so Allen’s movies have a patina of art about them ….
but Allen was severely punished by audiences for two films early in his career … Interiors and Stardust Memories … punished for going too deeply into his thoughts and feelings … his own discomfort with being an entertainer in Stardust … his own wish to learn how to write drama in Interiors …
and Allen was largely ignored for releasing and exhibiting his rage at disapproval for his personal life in Deconstructing Harry, one of his most interesting movies.
So the audience wants the real Woody Allen, but not too much of him … God forbid that everyone discovered something …
Allen is an interesting entertainer to look at because he had aspirations to be an artist, and achieved art at times, but like all entertainers with such ambitions, he was ultimately held back by his audience.
Audiences want brands … they want to know what the entertainment will provide them before they choose to consume it. Entertainers create brands. It’s their job. Commercials can be amusing and diverting, but they can never be interesting.
I want to be interested. I want real communication — not sales pitches. I don’t want to escape anything. That’s a waste of time. I want to understand. I write to understand (art) and I watch to understand (art).
I stopped going to Mass because there was nothing there for me. The priests never said anything that transformed my life. They seemed to be talking to someone different than me. Someone dumber, someone weaker … someone more interested in survival than in fully living life with excellence. The other congregants were unimpressive as well. They were generally cold and bored and distant, and sometimes not even polite. The Church was supposed to toss me out of the timidity and meanness of weekday society and give me a glimpse at what was truly wonderful and possible. It didn’t.
So, the Church died for me a long time ago. And now so does entertainment.
R.I.P entertainers and their audiences and priests and their congregations …
Actually, I think entertainment died for me a long time ago too … I just didn’t know it. I stopped fashioning entertainment more than thirty years ago, and entertainment audiences disappeared forever at least four years ago … I just stopped pursuing them.
My insight last night into the death of entertainment is more than an academic one. It is life – changing in several ways. It changes my ideation — past hobby horses of resentment and grief are gone. I can’t even remember who and what was bothering me. I have rock solid and amplified clarity about places and people that I definitely want to avoid. I have closure.
Maya Rudolph paused at the beginning of a sketch last night featuring her Kamala Harris character, waiting for major laughter and applause that never arrived. It was embarrassing — a failure of Rudolph’s brand. She had misjudged her audience. Her audience has the attention span of a flea. They seemed to have forgotten who Kamala Harris was, just a few months from the election campaign when she held centerstage in the national media. Worse for Rudolph, they had already forgotten Rudolph’s Emmy winning turn as Harris in 2020 … the attention span of fleas … a flea circus where the fleas are in the audience watching the human beings …
Entertainment is an undignified thing to do. Entertainers are humiliated. I was on the main stage of Second City Theater in Chicago in the early 1980s. I was a big local hero for a time. No one remembers except a very few select friends and enemies. I stopped entertaining and my body of work as an entertainer disappeared. I’m glad for what I experienced and learned at Second City, and I am glad that no one knows about it. The value of my time there was in my own human development, and in the training that has later served my writing in certain ways.
Second City doesn’t even remember that I was there, and I am in good company. Second City doesn’t remember Paul Sills, David Shepherd, Fred Kaz, Viola Spolin, Mike Nichols, Bernie Sahlins, Joyce Sloane … and many more artists that didn’t fully know what I know now — that entertainment is dead …
Present day Second City doesn’t resemble the Second City created by those of us interred in the Tombs of the Unknown Improvisers … present day Second City is a corporation that leads party games on cruise ships and video games on Zoom …
a photo here, a commemorative video there, a plaque, a written appreciation …
but the wit, the intelligence, the warmth, the feeling, the community …
the strangeness …
the theater …
the art …
is gone …
no more idealism,
no more high mindedness,
no more eccentricity …
an American art form has been colonized by advertising and sitcoms, it’s natural resources plundered and depleted …
and destroyed …
kidnapped and murdered by businessmen …
yes, entertainment is dead,
and even worse entertainment is deadly … entertainment destroys art, in artists and audiences … entertainment destroys artists’ integrity and audiences openness to truth …
The viewer of art is different than the consumer of entertainment … the art viewer comes to learn, to change, to be moved …
The artist is different than the entertainer … the artist makes art to figure things out, to understand him or herself and to understand the world …
The viewer of art does not consume the art, he or she participates in it …
Art has many of the same elements as entertainment … humor, suspense etc … what art doesn’t have is entertainment’s nihilism and cynicism …
Entertainment’s goal is to just get one through the night … stave off the current anxiety … entertainment’s concern is the passing moment, art’s concern is eternity …
Maya Rudolph is married to Paul Thomas Anderson …
A commercial hack entertainer married to a real artist …
The Three Stooges married Phantom Thread?
Here’s Lucy married Daniel Day Lewis?
How does this couple co-exist?
Does Maya bring home the bacon, and Paul whip up the haute cuisine?
They may have it all figured out — I hope so, I wish them the best …
but Maya brought her family to the show last night,
Paul and the four kids …
Paul has to be very careful …
it is dangerous for an artist to be too close to entertainment’s toxic atmosphere.
Entertainment is a case study for me … I observe it and would never wish to be part of it — passion about entertainment is a type of necrophilia …
Copyright 2021 Richard Thomas
3/29/21: Edith Wharton, The Sense of Harmony (1998) and The Age of Innocence (1993) — The Elite and Beautiful Order of the Truth #poetry
Exquisite written and spoken words, research, images and music
A merger of art and scholarship
Fact gathering, critical thinking and imagination
An aristocracy of soul, society, intelligence, values and talent
Wharton, the writer leads the orchestra, first among equals
film directors, art directors, actors, musicians serve at Edith Wharton’s pleasure
Her words are read aloud and accompanied by everything else
Edith Wharton was born to many elites
Elite in social status
Elite in intellect
Elite in courage and other attributes of high character
Elite in friends, lovers, influences, mentors and colleagues (Influenced by Nathaniel Hawthorne, mentored by Henry James)
Elite in talent and imagination
World War I hero recognized by the government of France at her death
Author still widely published (she died in 1937)
Landscape architect whose writing about gardens and the still breathing gardens that she designed are still studied
Edith Wharton fulfilled her enormous potential …
Shared her protean gifts …
Social orders rise and fall
but natural orders stay the same
Sometimes aristocracies are true things
that organize and maintain the world
Sometimes aristocracies are false and must be overthrown
Edith Wharton honored her class and betrayed it
Sometimes in the same pen stroke
Her loyalty was always to the truth
She had exceeding ability to find the truth
and exceeding ability to describe it …
Martin Scorsese reached out across decades and classes
The bard of the New York Mafia
and the street Gangs of New York,
knew that Edith Wharton also understood the violence of tribalism in New York City
and they formed a perfect collaboration across the vale of life and death
Art is special, elite (of course) and surprising
Surfaces are only windows to artists
that they open in order to leap to new depths
Art doesn’t soar, it descends
A great rendering of outer space,
brings us down into ourselves
Daniel Day Lewis is so elegant on the surfaces of his character in The Age Of Innocence
and so rough and violent on the surfaces in Scorsese’s Gangs of New York
yet from opposite starting points arrives at a common ground of us all
Great artists are astronauts of inner space
A clear view to every level …
Scorsese steps aside in The Age of Innocence
Every directorial choice serves Edith Wharton
He used excerpts from the novel’s text as narration
He did not want to lose the interiority of the characters on the page
He wanted the movie to represent the novel
Scorsese’s The Age of Innocence is an extraordinary film adaption of a great work of literature
Scorsese and Wharton do their work with great responsibility
They want the viewers to know how things are, so that the viewers can make changes to their lives if necessary …
The elements of Wharton and Scorsese’s inspired refined and disciplined, clear and accurate renderings of the truth
mined from their perceptions in congruence with their personal experience and feelings:
the beautiful architecture and art
the tyrannical social norms
the impulses to compassion and love
the exquisite language
the feminine sensibility honored by man and woman alike
and the savagery, the cruel violence
A Sistine Chapel of modern storytelling
New York is all creation
All human possibility and self-destructiveness is cataloged ,,,
The purpose of all of this elegance and sophistication is not ultimately aesthetic
It might be easy for some to be distracted by all of this good taste
and believe that the taste is an end in itself
It is not
The human being in gestation is under constant pressure
Wharton and Scorsese are free people
Each born with many related but somewhat different advantages
humanity is something to be earned
The world must be understood
and is constantly issuing new iterations of its mysteries
The great novelist, and filmmaker are tasked with showing us the world with more accomplished eyes than our own
We are tasked with paying attention
Hilary Clinton loved this book and movie
That poor woman whose very personhood was obstructed and forged by social pressure
found instruction and solace
in this story, this tragedy of manners …
The true purposes of art are most often ignored even when the object of art is celebrated
Edith Wharton was a practical person
She fashioned gardens
and was a heroine of the French Red Cross
She taught Martin Scorsese whose Little Italy upbringing
was in the same city as Edith Wharton’s birth to genteel privilege
and intrigued me, a suburban kid from upstate
Henry James wisely told Edith Wharton to write about New York
not because she knew it
but because we are all given a world to explore
a specific experience from which we can touch the ground of being
Sometimes I feel homeless
but with Edith Wharton and Martin Scorsese
I feel as if I’ve come home.
Copyright 2021 Richard Thomas
3/29/21: The Rolling Thunder Revue (2019) — Poetry in Motion Pictures (and music) #poetry
Bob Dylan says in this movie that life is not about searching. It’s about creating yourself and creating what you do.
This is almost totally true. We have a significant role in the creation of ourselves and the world, but we have partners — God and the aforementioned world. There is a divine intelligence that imbues us with a specific character and destiny. I call that divine intelligence “God”. You don’t have to. Dylan probably believes that existence is a random thing and that we are tasked with inventing meaning upon it. He thinks the world is as limited or limitless as it can be based on how we consider its possibilities. Dylan was born Bobby Zimmerman. He read poetry and heard music and watched theater and he selected all these styles and approaches that he liked. He put them together in inventive ways and became Bob Dylan. His way is not my way. For me, self – creation is different than self -invention. Self – invention is a branding exercise focused on how you are perceived by other people, or it is a way to escape a background or past that you don’t care for. I was never unhappy about who I was. I never wanted to change my name. I was different than other people, as different in my own way as Bob Dylan, but I was never conscious of the difference. I didn’t search — Dylan is quite right about that. I quite happily and innocently pursued my interests. I have been led through my life by an internal dynamism. I have purposefully pursued people, places and activities, and quite often have found that my destiny assigned another purpose to an experience than my desired or expected one. I have pushed against the world with my authentic self and the world has pushed against me. I, in concert with my essential nature designed by God and the world and its gentle and harsh responses, have formed myself.
I think that I am a more sincere person than Bob Dylan. Dylan spins a tale in the this movie, “A Bob Dylan Story”. He conflates true details with pure fictions and dares the viewer to figure out what is real and what is fake. Scorsese calls this “magic”. Dylan wants us to to study his story and wonder “how does he do that?” I don’t find all of that particularly interesting which isn’t to say that I think it is not worthy. It seems a kind of conceptual art, which is OK.
Strangely, I don’t think that I watched this movie at all to hear Dylan’s ideas about the nature of creation, or the futility of searching or the differences between fact or fiction, or Scorsese’s ideas about the magical nature of existence.. I had a personal epiphany as I watched this film, and it occurred without any conscious intention by me, Bob Dylan or Martin Scorsese. I discovered something important to me that was not the result of searching, but rather simply the result of living honestly.
I know the nature that God put inside of me. I know how it feels. It feels serenely happy when I honor it. I get physically ill when I don’t. I do not see the world as capable of saying “no”. The world is an infinitely enormous place. It’s only possible negative is “not here” and I move to another location to express my meaning. Sometimes the world says “that’s not it” and I have to refine my understanding of who I am and what I do. Or the world says, “that worked before, but you and I have changed”.
I had an epiphany while I watched this movie , an epiphany that will likely bore you, but I will share it anyway. I think these prosaic practical details are poetic.
I have enough money to live on, but I thought I might want to teach under the right circumstances — if it helped worthwhile people and brought in extra money. It hit me as I watched this film that I unequivocally do not want to teach. Writing has become my job without my awareness or consent. It just happened. I thought I would write four hours a day, and have time to do other things. I thought those other things could even inform my writing. My thinking has nothing to do with who I actually am or what I do. I am writing all the time. I think about my writing constantly. I am more fulfilled writing than doing anything that I have ever done. I conclusively recognized this reality today. It is a very big deal for me. I don’t think that people make decisions — not really. I think life is about conforming one’s external reality to one’s internal reality. When I write, my action in the world is a seamless manifestation of the action of my soul.
Dylan describes the poet Allen Ginsberg, and I saw myself in his words. Dylan said that Ginsberg “didn’t care about political power or material things” and that he was a “King”. So I am. I was never motivated to become rich or powerful. I understood at an early age the power of creative expression. Art’s influence on the world is greater than that of business or politics. Poets lead businessmen and politicians and everyone else to deeper understandings of reality. If you help people expand their consciousness of the world, you change the world. This is not always what I wanted to do, it is what I have always done. I didn’t pick being the way that I am. It is simply the case. This epiphany is part of a rolling thunder of epiphanies that I have enjoyed for several years.
I watched film of Allen Ginsberg reading his poetry and I realized that I want to read my writing in public. I don’t want to perform it. I want to read it. My writing is in an oral tradition. I read my pieces to my wife every morning. My material is meant to be read, and also meant to be read aloud. I didn’t view Ginsberg and feel that I wanted to write like him or be like him. I simply saw an image of a man reading his writing to an audience, and I saw myself. It could have been film of any other good writer doing a reading.
Another epiphany that you won’t see as earth shattering, but answers a big creative question for me. My writing is to be published as collections. I thought that it might be part of some great mega -narrative and may need to be re -written as a novel or memoir, but it doesn’t. Creating an overarching narrative wouldn’t help my writing. It would introduce explanation and a linearity which wouldn’t add to the art of what I am doing. These pieces when considered in total tell a story … formally making them into a story would actually detract from what I say.
MY POEM ABOUT THE MOVIE — I DON’T CARE WHAT IS FACT OR FICTION, I JUST CARE WHAT IS TRUE; BOB DYLAN IS A GOOD POET AND WHAT HE DOES BEST HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH HIS IDEAS …
The bicentennial (1976) as a magical time
one person at a time
Not a shot was fired
Bob Dylan for President!
An alternative to Nixon
In 1976, America’s spirit was broken
200 million Viet Nams
200 million Watergates
No one had faith in anything
Dylan the Poet wanted to touch the inner self
The Inner Self
Not in a Me Decade way
When we create ourselves we save the world
I never “got” Dylan
I thought he was just a singer
and a fashion
I listened to Sinatra
But I get him this morning
I had some latent thing inside of me
that God and no one else put there
not family, friend, teacher or even external experience
nothing happened to me that made me say
“I am a Poet”
I just was
I didn’t know what a Poet was
Now I do
It crept up on me
I didn’t get that Dylan was a poet
that he read Whitman and Frost and learned things — like I did
I thought he was just stealing ideas to get over
Dylan was a thief
If he thought somebody did something interesting he took it …
but there was art in the way that he put it together
I didn’t get Dylan’s ambivalence about performing
it doesn’t show in this movie
in this movie, Dylan celebrates performing
He is the source of all enthusiasm
He is the sun of enthusiasm
Someone told me about a later tour in the 90s where he sat off to the side of the stage and didn’t look at the audience
That I can relate to
I don’t want to be the listeners’ teacher or entertainer
I won’t perform my words
My voice speaking those words is a thing I make
It’s not a show …
I didn’t get that Dylan’s music was just reading poems in a different way
My voice is nothing like Bob Dylan’s
well, it’s a little like it I guess
it involves words
but we don’t resemble each other in any way
But my genre is the same as Dylan’s …
plus the DNA of my other forebears
I was born into a tradition that I never knew existed
I knew the pieces but I didn’t completely see how one built on the other
Maybe it’s a tradition of my own making
and surely this is an incomplete list
(My epiphany was prosaic — how I organize my writing day, my finances, the fact that I will do readings, the fact that I see collections of my writings not long form narratives … but the poetry, the meaning … that piece that would be of primary interest to you, that has to be discovered … but let me tell you that clarity of my approach is a big deal …)
Ginsburg (what a mensch … I really relate to this guy … especially the way he read his work … he wasn’t a showman like Bob Dylan — there was a kindness about his readings — I wouldn’t be like that, he likes the audience a lot more than I do — I think he really wanted to free people and have them live happy lives … that’s fine, but I just want to tell them the truth and leave the rest up to them … but I liked a guy standing in front of people reading from a paper in his hand), Kerouac (too romantic for my taste, but I like the way he wrote — he carried it around and then put it on the page hot and fast — free … I say I want to publish in collections and not write them into one narrative but all of my pieces are a narrative — no need to edit or write explanations — if you write every day you tell your life story) and the rest of the Beat Poets (I need community, man … I need community … I know it’s not my job to form it, and I know it exists … I don’t need to search for it … I’ve searched … I know I’ll know it when I see it)
Begat the folk music scene (I worked in those clubs doing comedy before sensitive types and the shit eating public — Inside Llewyn Davis is an instructive myth useful to my life … the movies intersect with my specific past … I made myself a human sacrifice in those clubs and I reflected on what happened and revivified at the movies … the trick … the magic trick … today’s movie talks about magic … not sleight of hand … transformational magic … turning water into wine …making one’s inner life perfectly congruent to one’s outer life … that is the magic …)
and the early improvisational theater scene — Sills and Shepherd, the Compass Players and the existence of Second City ( I was there and during my career as an improviser, I learned how to create …. and the early guys — my early mentors — were concerned with what concerned me … love, honor, justice, compassion …)
and all of this begat Bob Dylan (Dylan put all of this together in a much different way than I did and do — but here is where we intersect, we both put it together: Dylan says in this movie “Life is about creating yourself and creating things” — Amen, brother …)
Dylan wrote poetry and folk music and improvised and made theater
and all of this plus film studies begat Martin Scorsese (or maybe part of Scorsese)
Dylan thought up a story mixing together fact and fancy and Scorsese directed it …
The Magical Power of Art
Art changes people
The world changes every time a person changes
Art is more powerful than the usual things that we think are powerful
What difference does fact or fiction make when the point is Truth
We are species unto ourselves
and water rushing down the river of history
and eternal beings
our moments are the same thing as
Copyright 2021 Richard Thomas
3/30/21: The Last Temptation of Christ (1988) — Love Changes Everything #poetry
Biblical times — the music is rock and roll, Christ and the Disciples are street tough New Yorkers
The man who refuses to participate in the general conflict and cruelty is beaten and spat upon
He is part of the maintenance of the status quo, a carpenter who makes crosses for the Empire’s crucifixions
… he is driven near madness by his denial of his essential nature
The pain is so great he accepts his destiny
This Christ is a man who becomes God
He is a sinner
This is not a Christ for innocents
This is a Christ for people who have done bad things
This is a Christ who redeemed other people because he had to redeem himself
This is an artist Christ
This is a Jake La Motta Christ who sublimates sexual desire for art
The art direction of this picture is theater of the absurd … Beckett – ian — existential not theological
This is a fearful artist Christ — all artists are timid — they fear the world — they recoil from participation — the world smells their vulnerability and attacks — the artist is sensitive to every blow and sensitive to his shortcomings — the weakest are called to save us all …
Art Christ re -engages the world in a different way — still apart, but now not afraid …
Art Christ speaks for God
God talks to Art Christ and Art Christ speaks to man — that’s how it works
Art Christ can’t procreate because he is called to protect creation
There was a reason for celibacy in the time before priests became businessmen who petitioned God with Man’s complaints, but didn’t have the nerve to tell people God’s side of the story
Art Christ confronts the people stoning a woman … “Who has never sinned throw the first stone” — and the game is afoot …
The woman is a person who inspires Art God’s compassionate love … love with no purpose except itself …
Art Christ smiles when he preaches … art is the place beyond the artist’s pain …
Subsequent preachers were art forgers
Jesus spoke in his own voice … Art Christ not a pale imitation …
Some follow and some reject Art Christ
The movie sets the conflict as the soul versus the flesh … but that’s not it …
You can have sex and money and be an artist
The conflict is love versus power
Judas wants to beat the Romans and free Israel
Art Christ says, listen, you’ll just replace the Romans with someone else
If you live from love you change the world …
John the Baptist, Art Man, baptizes Art Christ
It is Art Man who makes God real
God creates Man
and Man creates God
Art Man believes in Anger
Art Christ believes in Love
Love comes from Understanding
John the Baptist is the forerunner of Christ
The same actor should have played both parts
It’s so clear … Pope John Paul II said that one day the Church will be a superfluous thing … the consciousness of man will be so great no prayer will be needed
All things are possible with God
God is love
Politics and business are things we do — they will not save us … our destiny lies beneath all of that …
the intangible thing is the most practical thing …
Once Art Jesus sees that the struggle for power provides nothing, He is tempted to simply be happy … to have a woman and a family and a safe prosperous life …
but Art Jesus does the foolish thing, and makes his life about witnessing the Power of Love to the World …
not criticizing the world but describing it …
the temptations of Art Jesus
making a family the main thing
pursuing worldly power
and the last temptation …
to be only God and not man …
You can’t make art without suffering
You can’t speak of the nature of love and evil without knowing both …
The disciples are sympathetic … they try so hard with limited resources and abilities …
Art Jesus now goes to war against evil … he sees God inside of him … true
and evil outside in the World
the War of Good versus Evil?
How is it fought?
is it wise?
is it the last temptation?
Can evil be eradicated through battle with it?
Is Art Jesus learning something?
Art Jesus is like all artists
He follows God’s voices and believes that he is acting with specific purpose
but God moves him to another purpose
Jesus declared that he was the Son of God and had come to change the world
and the world crucified Him
and it was that death on the cross that saved the world
Not some earthly victory
Men have to renounce evil in their hearts
God renounced his powers to change them himself
so that Man could have dignity
and this is why artists have no power
their genuine Art can transform hearts and consciousness or not
The transformation is up to the viewer
but individuals keep choosing
and eventually the whole world will be conscious of the truth
and that will be the time of the Second Coming …
Art Jesus throws the moneychangers out of the temple and sets the stage for his crucifixion
I SPEAK FOR GOD … I AM GOD ON EARTH … YOU THINK YOU ARE SPECIAL … GOD IS NOT AN ISRAELITE … YOU DON’T MAKE DEMANDS ON GOD …
Martin Luther King died for indicating the same sentiments
and Bobby Kennedy who stopped being a politician and became a saint
and Jesus, of course …
they all knew that they were going to die …
their revolutions were insights …
they weren’t generals or Presidents or leaders of organized business or religion …
they were personifications of God … God’s Will, God’s Plan …
like all artists they got a little insight at a time … they walked with faith … God whispered to them and told them just what they needed to know …
they were human sacrifices
we all should be human sacrifices
we all should give our lives for what is important
or we will be walking dead anyway
celebrating illusions that make us miserable …
all deaths aren’t final …
Art Gods lose jobs and friends and social status
but their sacrifices make a statement
and a few people from the old job or neighborhood
change because of the art of their example …
As the movie reaches its climax …
Art Jesus becomes Mystic Jesus
Crazy – eyed
A Man crazy for God
Man Artist can contain and live
Attach his Art to a craft
Know that if he explicitly attacks their power
They will kill him
Art Jesus brought God and Man together
in His sacrifice on the cross
At – one – ment
Subsequent Art Man doesn’t have to be crucified
He can bring God and Man together in his Art
No personal claims
No threat to the powers that be
Just the truth
Jung said that suicide comes from physically identifying with the need to change only psychologically
We can have families, we can have money and power, and we can honor the God within us without dying before our natural end …
as long as we love …
we can live in eternity and live in history
Art Jesus made a movie and transformed
He didn’t have to actually die …
The ancients told simple stories
with profound implications
All of art and science re – tells their stories in different ways …
The process of making transformative art entails intuitive experience, an agony in a garden, a metaphoric death, a period of calm followed by a resurrection into a new and better life …
I hope this piece clarifies where I am coming from when I talk about God …
my divine thoughts are of an existential nature
far beyond churches … those buildings built of nursery rhymes
even beyond morality and ethics — the immediate applications of what I’m talking about …
God is the ultimate ingredient in Becoming Human …
The artist, Man or God, terrifies the powers that be, because he represents change …
The artist is treated like a criminal … love upsets the balance of power as much as violence …
Love is the most dangerous thing …
Art changes the way people think and feel
If an artist wants to live past 33
he or she must be a mystic in disguise
It’s better that they don’t know who you are
Pope John Paul II could speak of the coming age of the Mystical Body of Christ
because he was subversive …
a simple carpenter who lived in a Palace
the world said that’s OK
so have your wife and your money and position of at least marginal respect in the community
as long as you spend your time thinking exclusively about love and good and evil and God
and write it down
play the long game
God is winning
let the glory go to Him
and do your part …
This existential film …
barren sparsely populated landscapes …
Waiting for Godot
Coward transforms to holy man and learns painful lessons … sacrifices himself for God’s Will and dies in a dream
and lives his life
no longer Art God
harmony of the earth and heart, that’s the world of God
eventually man takes the cross naturally
Art Jesus suffered by not participating in life and losing what he loves
Man suffers participating in life, eventually losing all that he loves
Everything dies and everything calls us back to God
we eventually have to atone to God …
our suffering makes us divine …
even non – artists (smile)
you and I — we are called to be God eventually …
we are called to the omniscient perspective
My father and mother became God on their death beds
Is something petty dying inside of me?
My parents conquered death with a story …
not a fairy tale …
a great story by the apostle Paul about the way things are …
Paul told a story of God … he didn’t claim Godhood for himself … he learned from the experience of Jesus
The story of Jesus is one of a good/God-man whacking a hornet’s nest of ignorance and evil …
it dramatizes two ways of living … for power or love …
but you can live for love and gradually more and more people do it …
as fucked up as the world is, it is a more enlightened place than it was one hundred years ago in 1921
There were godly people in 1921, and their lives are foundational to the greater numbers of godly people today
The arc of the moral universe bends toward justice said one of our martyrs
You can martyr your life to love without being murdered
You can have God in your heart without self -identifying and being branded insane
I confidently watched this movie until the very end … Jesus renounces ordinary life and dies to save all men … the mystic is glorified, the artist humbled …
John Cleese said that he would rather be mediocre and happy that achieve high artistry … he hasn’t done anything good for years …
New Age adherents talk about “following their bliss” and ignore another Joseph Campbell phrase “sacrifice and bliss”
Learning is a painful process … that’s why students resist it …
Oh this hurts … the pain of thought …
I get it, I think, the artist creates an illusion of ordinary life but is anything but ordinary
Satan’s cunning was first to offer power as the last temptation of Christ
and then turn it to lack of power, safety
we are called to do more with our lives than enjoy them and die … changing nothing …
we are called to change the world …
I have died to the world several times in my life
and have gone to heaven
only to return to earth again
Jesus is being crucified and resurrected thousands, maybe millions of times a day
In death chambers and teachers’ lounges
Sometimes New Jesus is resurrected and retains his specific identity
Sometime he dies and comes back as someone else …
Jesus, who is, God and Man, is every man
Coward — sinner — follower of God’s will — human sacrifice that saves the world — returns to tell the story — ascends into heaven (definitively and peacefully dies) — and comes back again — in a similar or seemingly different form depending on circumstances to learn about more of God’s mysteries and tell new stories …
I’m God — how about that?
Easter came early this year.
Copyright 2021 Richard Thomas
3/31/21: Silence (2016) — Spirituality, Human Nature, and Art #poetry
I write to the themes. I was asked how I make unlikely connections. I don’t think about it. I write to the themes. I have gone on this Martin Scorsese kick lately. I don’t know why. It just happened. I can see three major themes in his work. Oh, I’ll add a fourth: spirituality, human nature, art, and how spirituality interacts with human nature. Oh, I’ll also add a fifth — how art interacts with human nature.
Spirituality and art are similar in that they run counter to the lowest impulses in human nature, and greatly appeal to the highest impulses. Artists and saints are special and different. They are the most powerful leaders of mankind.
This movie, beautiful to look at, and about the most important matters, cost a ton a money, and lost it all. A reader wonders why quality is not popular. Sometimes it is. Popularity is irrelevant to the artist and the saint.
The spiritual person listens to God and does what God tells him or her to do. The spiritual person is an outlaw when society is alienated from God, and a hero or sage when society is close to God. An artist listens to God, then relays God’s message to other men and women. When people want to hear from God the artist is popular. When they don’t, the artist is obscure or disliked.
God persistently inspires the words and deeds of a special class of men and women. That class persistently acts and speaks for God.
Silence is about missionaries. Missionaries can only be received by those who want to hear them. Missionary work was perverted when it was used as a means of expanding political and economic empires. Spiritual people and artists have to be very careful that they are not exploited by people uninterested in the aims of God. This is what happens to sincere and naive missionaries.
Sincerity, purity … and cunning … the spiritual person, and the artist have to understand the low motives of men, and defend themselves and their work. The Last Temptation of Christ is about a man learning about his spiritual nature, and learning how that spirituality can function in proper relation to his own human nature and the nature of all humanity around him.
Corruption, ignorance, cruelty … first bring suffering, and then lessons are learned and finally can be dealt with without psychological suffering. A level of enlightenment can be achieved where fear has been vanquished and replaced by understanding.
Suffering ends in death … or ends in silence. Christianity says we suffer and die, and then we are redeemed. Art says that we can be redeemed while we are still alive.
Spirituality and art begin when prayers, ideas and questions end. When we are no longer problems to ourselves, we can really get started. This is why Jesus is called “Master”. There are degrees of mastery … black belt, brown belt and so on. Christ got his black belt on the cross when he said “it is accomplished” and died.
Art holds the promise of attaining mastery before one dies.
Surrender like an alcoholic.
Surrender like a Buddha.
Buddhism isn’t a religion. I know nothing about it — except that it says that enlightenment is possible.
Life and death coexist in silence.
To sit silently is the ultimate act of faith. Faith is experienced, not believed.
Our authentic lives are acts of faith — when we live not as we or others think we should, but when we simply manifest who we are.Our essential natures are in perfect harmony with one another. Our ignorance is also harmonious — an overlay on reality. The fact that we struggle for understanding what is actual is a collection of discordant notes written into the symphony.
Everything is as it should be — past, present and future. Underneath every moment of my suffering, was the beauty, and wonder of my natural life.
Learning takes place in a field of conflict — inner torment and outer war. There is always something to learn … total enlightenment must be the realization that one is on the path to enlightenment. Our forward gaze is improvisation, our backward gaze is classical structure.
Love challenges power, and power attempts to destroy love. Know this. “Give to Caesar what is Caesar and to God what is God’s.” Sometimes, you can avoid the fight with power. You can disguise yourself in art and be invisible to harm. Sometimes life forces you to stand against injustice — to suffer physically and even die. But you can die peacefully and even joyfully if you know the score — without doubt, without psychological suffering. The martyr dies, the dude abides.
The cruel powerful do the work of God the Father, placing his spiritual and artistic sons and daughters through many trials.
God doesn’t answer our prayers. We should listen to instead of interrogate God. He doesn’t talk to us constantly. We have to be patient. Life doesn’t work. It grows.
Thomas Merton and Carl Jung merged Eastern and Western religious traditions. The truth is universal.
Religion is a cultural matter. Spirituality and art are beyond cultures.
There is an aspect to being a human being that is deeper and more elemental than society, history, ethnicity, certainly religion … and anything else that divides us.
“We find our original nature in Japan, Rodriguez. Perhaps it is what is meant by ‘finding God”.
Silence is a sequel to The Last Temptation of Christ. There need be no conflict between our spirituality and art and ordinary life.
Christ sacrificed his life to get enlightenment, and then He got it back.
Silence begins when pride ends.
“Give to Caesar what is Caesar and to God what is God’s.” Then you will be one. The artist speaks about Caesar’s world in front of a back light of Love.
We wear many uniforms in the course of a life. From heretic to true believer. God is the essential thing, beyond the word “God” — found in our silence.
Copyright 2021 Richard Thomas
4/2/21: A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese Through American Movies (1995) — Loners and Politicians #poetry
“A poet or a painter can be a loner, but a film director has to be a team player.”
We went for a drive through Chicago last night. We had an errand to run. On the way home, we took the scenic route, passing through many neighborhoods where I have lived and worked. I wouldn’t say I had bad memories or good ones. I was happy all of that was over. The people were rude and dumb in Rogers Park. The kids — and they are kids, even if in their twenties and thirties — in Old Town were shallow and mean with an addiction to being entertained. The professionals having cocktails and high end cuisine (at least in price) at the Italian Village were selfish and cunning, uninterested in the gifts and pleasure of poetry or film or anything else like them. We passed some colleges downtown but they had no impact, overwhelmed by the repurposed architecture where they had squatted — towers of commerce, retail and the law fallen on harder times, taking in lesser occupants in fitful attempts to at least stay alive if never again relevant. Professors, lawyers, bartenders, clerks, businessmen, bums … I hated not one of them, but I was peaceful in the realization that I never had to make their acquaintance again. I have no respect for what they do. A lot of sound and fury signifying nothing — and now they were running out of steam. They lived in a dead world when everything that they did was so important to them, and of no use to any of their contemporaries, and certainly no use to posterity. They did not further the human experiment. They lived like ants feasting on road kill. Now, they are just hanging on, like the skyscrapers that house the mediocre academies. Our drive through Chicago was like attending the death bed of a person who had thrown their life away.
“Every decision in movies is based upon what the money men think the audience wants.”
An African – American pundit on MSNBC said something useful. I listened for hours and hours and finally someone said words that I needed to hear. I watch cable news for the same reason that I watch movies. It’s not because I want to be a reporter or a filmmaker like the pundit or Scorsese. I make art about compromised art. Compromised art has value. A lot of value breaks through cracks in the system. Compromised art provides me with great opportunities as a writer. I can catalog the lies of society, and how humanity sometimes prevails, and sometimes dies, in spite of and because of those lies.
The black commentator summed up the strategy of addressing racism in America. Racism is often rationalized — the bigots are fearful. But our expert knows better. “Sometimes people are racist because they are afraid, but often they just are racist because they like to feel superior to other people. We can’t have any hopes of winning the racists over to our point of view. We have to defeat them. We have to avoid them, and defend ourselves from their harm — and just move forward without them.”
I avoid the zombies of the past as a man and as a writer. I consider strategies of self – defense to use if necessary against them. I ask myself, “Have you won? Have you defeated them?” My mood lightens as if I just cured a bout of constipation. Yes, yes, yes … I emphatically accept who I am and what I do, and I have nothing to do with those who don’t understand or appreciate me and my work, I avoid those who would try to repress and stop me, and I am prepared to fight to freely be myself and create if necessary.
Scorsese describes filmmakers as subversives — sneaking artistic, political and social revolution past the bosses who think they are just making popular money-making entertainments. God bless these directors. We need politicians to provide cunning to navigate our journey to be more evolved as individuals and as society.
I am decidedly not a team player. I did the bare minimum for the collective, and have always focused on my own project. I made no concessions to the bosses. When my inner path deviated from their objectives, I left.
A loner still needs to be in relation to other people. I’d like to find a movie that would help me think about how to do that. In the meantime, this fascinating movie will do. Scorsese made this film twenty years into his career, and he still describes himself as a student. He always leads with content, substance … craft is a secondary consideration. Craft is pushed by the need to express ideas and emotions.
For any artist, loner or politician … purpose leads and communication follows. Whether simply turning my life time habit of listening to complex internal monologues while I watch movies, into a technique to communicate my experience of the world, or Scorsese’s film scholarship showing the use of the mechanics of movies — camera, editing, cinematography, sound to evoke his perspective for the viewer … the how follows the what and the why.
Scorsese is interested in how spirituality and art can survive in a fallen world. It makes sense that he is a politician. I am obsessed with living spiritually and making art outside of society. I have a strong sense that support exists outside of the walking dead of Chicago and the rest of the world — money, friendship, audiences … You avoid social animals, you defend yourself against the social monsters, and you defeat the ignorant social masses. Your victory has nothing to do with changing the intolerant and rigid hearts and minds. You just know your value and the value of your work. You don’t need them.
Filmmakers like Scorsese snuck truth, beauty and art to loners and politicians in training — including me (the loner) and Scorsese (the politician — an artist’s primary student is him or herself).
I like movies better than live theater. They are cheaper. The seats are more comfortable. They are available in the neighborhood or through streaming services. They aren’t respected by society which gives them a chance to say many things simply because not too many people take them seriously. It is ironic that a celebrated filmmaker like Scorsese, and a practically anonymous self – publishing writer like me, are both obscure.
Art and spirituality are obscure. The most important things, the most practical things are invisible. Chicago is sick and ugly because the streets’ surface is the illusion and the depths of the artist responds to what is real.
You can try to perfect society, or you can try to perfect yourself. I’ll take the latter. Art and spirituality change the world much more than the productions of power and money. If you transform yourself, you transform your iinfinitesimal portion of the world, and that example and influence is the most effective thing.
Whether loner or politician, it is essential to get beyond the conflict with society. Orson Welles suffered the pain of unrequited love with Hollywood. Scorsese just keeps going. His biography of the Dalai Llama, Kundun, which got four Oscar nominations in the late 1990s, was shelved by his distributer Disney Corporation. The reason was that the material offended “the Chinese market”. Disney Chairman, Michael Eisner said, “The bad thing is that Kundun got made. The good thing is that no one saw it.” Scorsese just kept going.
I think Scorsese works the way I worked when I was a trial lawyer, and hopefully the way I work as a writer. I had a drawer full of files. Most went well. Some didn’t. It wasn’t always fair. I did my best and I just kept going.
Until you are alone, you can’t connect with anyone.
Society is irrelevant to the spiritual person or the artist. I’m concerned with humanity work, not social work. I like looking at society from a distance, not to criticize it, but to define it. It is part of the scene, but it is not the whole scene.
Society is something to be overcome so that life, love, art and soul can take over and take the lead. When you are learning, and you are in the phase of conflict with society — the push and pull of external authority versus your heart — as soon as you take your side in all arguments, you are close to coming home. When you unfailingly know when society is speaking and when your heart is speaking, when you know what to listen to and what to ignore, you are home.
Copyright 2021 Richard Thomas
4/3/21: Barry Lyndon (1975) — Vain Competitive Ambition #poetry
Redmond Barry’s father would have been a great lawyer, but he lost his life in a duel. That’s how the narrator of Barry Lyndon, William Makepeace Thackeray (Vanity Fair) begins this story. Make peace. I was competitive in my twenties, but in my thirties something happened. I stopped fighting and wanted to be treated nicely. I craved respect and good treatment. This caused me a great deal of shame and humiliation. I was outwardly bested by other men, men that I was much better than in many ways, and it bothered me. All that anguish for victories not worth having. My soul was always ahead of my mind. It took me years to notice that I was most happy when I was away from them. By years, I mean that this is a fairly recent development. If I were a hero, I’d try to make society better. I’d use my competitive impulse (something that I was taught and had no natural inclination towards) to try to do good. I’m no hero. Society is hopeless. Humanity is another matter. An unexpected benefit of growth as an artist is emotional equilibrium.
For much of my life I doubted one of the finest aspects of my character. I walk away from fights. Because of this nobility, I have suffered many furious internal monologues where I get the last word against a rival — in my mind. The mental conflict was pointless. I had unspoken arguments with capital punishment prosecutors. I would never want to argue that someone get the death penalty. The killer lawyers are welcome to their place in that immoral hierarchy. I argued with hack TV sitcom writers and actors. The dim witted and crass circus animals, showing off for bored people who lack imagination to do anything with their lives except waste them can take their place in the collective stream of consciousness, angrily spewing toxic waste on their way. The college professors don’t even inspire any dismissive words from me, since they have already dismissed themselves. I have separated from society. They have gone into hiding. It’s a big difference.
Vain competitive ambition isn’t all bad. I know that I have won every battle that I have apparently lost. I am so much smarter, and such a better person than everyone who ever challenged me. They were stupid fools. I was way out of their league. This pride is useful to me. You need a lot of confidence and courage to step outside of society and commit yourself to actually living life.
Stanley Kubrick was originally criticized for the detachment of his direction of Barry Lyndon. He followed the picture up with The Shining which was designed for more popularity — a win. Today, Barry Lyndon is considered one of the greatest films of all time. Kubrick and I were men of the 1970s. We wanted meaning and creative achievement, and we wanted to be rewarded handsomely for our efforts with the appropriate laurels that society could offer us. This confusion placed us in a state of ambivalence. Great art or great success … that was the question.
Detachment was exactly the right tone for Barry Lyndon and for everything else. What a beautiful movie this is. Kubrick painted an exquisite portrait of vain competitive ambition, free of any emotional traps. The story of an Irish climber from the 18th century naturally provided the great distance that a maturing artist needs.
Nations fight wars of vain competitive ambition with armies manned by men and women fighting personal wars of naked competitive ambition. Duels and love affairs are chaotic. One must step out of the whole ghastly show to breathe freely. Kubrick shows all of this beautifully and intuitively. I don’t think that he understood how accomplished this film was until years later. I’ve had that experience too. Reflection on the past, sometimes many years after its events, reveals the past’s true meaning, and in so doing reveals one’s essential nature.
Barry Lyndon is often misnamed as a drama, but it’s a comedy. The manners and the music are so genteel and formal. In Barry Lyndon, civilization is a costume. Everyone is out for themselves. There is no true civility. Nations’ rich owners flatter and seduce poor young men (and lately women) into dying for them in battle. Men and women enjoy friendship and even love, with a tacit understanding that one’s first loyalty is always to one’s vain competitive ambitions.
The movie was probably called a drama because it moves slowly. But the pace is exquisite. It is funnier because the follies of the characters are performed deliberately. Nothing is impulsive. Vain competitive ambition doggedly, glacially and persistently pursued in a society of violent exploitation — dreams of being king or queen of a mountain of dead and maimed bodies. It is said that a U. S. President has to be exceedingly petty and immoral in order to get the job, and exceeding generous and moral in order to do it well once he or she gets it. Getting the job is the much easier proposition. Conflict is the avoidance of action. You don’t have to win the Presidency to gift the world with generosity and morality.
Vain competitive ambition condemns those possessed by its demons to a life of longing, struggling and wandering. When vain competitive ambition is finally realized, the ambitious becomes smug, pompous, condescending and dull, only mustering something resembling passion when they jealousy guard and hold onto their ridiculous treasure. The victors hold banquets in each other’s honor, and tutor young people in the skill sets needed to pursue their awful course. They expect everyone else to bow to their success, and if they don’t get such tribute they get extremely angry. I never have been able to bow to them. I don’t see the point. The result is that they hate me for a time, finally realize that I won’t change, and leave me for dead. This suits me fine. It is ironic that I live and they — well, they ain’t living …
This movie is after my heart. It is so disrespectful of that which does not deserve respect. There is great understated humor in its sly malice. Barry Lyndon just wanted prosperity and comfort, and to be greeted with a bended knee. Don’t they all. Love, art, excellence, service — the vain competitive ambitious don’t even know what those things are. This is why people like Donald Trump, and there are so many like him, are so skilled at grabbing wealth and power, and are so stupid — deeply stupid —- about everything else.
Barry Lyndon is a masterpiece. I didn’t understand a frame of the film when I saw it in 1975 at age twenty. That’s OK, Kubrick didn’t either. He had no idea how great his achievement was. This movie says something more profound than even Kubrick knew. Visionaries often don’t know that they are visionaries until later, if at all. Barry Lyndon didn’t resonate with me, like other works that were beyond me but that I sensed were special. I thought Kubrick was a cold director and I didn’t like him much, except for Dr. Strangelove. Detachment is not a cold thing. To the contrary, detachment is the stance from which someone can really love another. Detachment does not preclude compassion. It precludes selfishness. There is no such thing as objectivity. One can’t overcome one’s own point of view. No one else can stand where you stand. But — the lens can be cleaned, the hurt and disappointment and anger can be removed. You can accept the imperfection of mankind, and then the day begins.
I love the audacity of this movie. Kubrick challenges the audience. He makes no concessions to their tastes. That made the film less than popular in 1975, and subsequently recognized by people who would know, as a great achievement. Real ambition is not competitive and it is not vain. Kubrick wasn’t engaged in an activity that invited comparison with other people. Real ambition is about consciously realizing your own unique character. Competitive ambition has the goal of amassing the most points at a meaningless game. Real ambition wants the respect and affection of superior people of excellence — not the poseurs of superiority — but the real thing. (One mark of the real superior is that they never condescend.) The play is thing with the really ambitious. True focus leaves no time for vanity.
Stanley Kubrick reached perfection and no one knew it, not even him. In Jesuit high school we used to write atop our papers — To the Greater Glory of God … Life is a mystery … all of these pecking orders and career frustrations and passing fulfillments are meaningless … a cacophony of ego ignoring a far greater reality … the passing materials of life can be just things, trophies and stuff or they can be the instrumentalities of God. I heard what those jesuits told me, and then I lost track of it, and then I got it back again.
Epilogue — rich or poor, winner or loser — the story is from the time of George III, all the characters are equal now … an amazing work of art.
Copyright 2021 Richard Thomas
4/4/21: At Eternity’s Gate (2018) — The Joy of Living #poetry
Van Gogh painted fast — deprived of community, which he craved, his constant urge to communicate needed release. He found that release on the canvas. Instead of communicating to whoever he was physically near — people who largely rejected him, he communicated to the future mankind, to the entire world, and to and for God. Van Gogh is often portrayed as a martyr, driven mad by society’s insensitivity and cruelty. This film, directed by the painter, Julian Schnabel, shows Van Gogh’s joy.
Society deprived itself of Van Gogh, the person not just the artist, when he was living. It was society’s loss not his. He was a lovely man. He would have to be to make such beautiful paintings. Van Gogh had everything that society needed. He was in touch with light and air and all of nature — sunflowers and human nature and himself — he merged with the subjects of his painting, at one with everything. He represented something beyond equality. He was unity with every person, place and thing that he encountered. Van Gogh was innocent of hierarchies and bureaucracies and money and ill will, because those are all unnatural things.
Van Gogh lived his life in awe — in awe of the world, in awe of all life, in awe of eternity. He was a very happy man when he was painting, and he was almost always painting. The stereotype of Van Gogh as a “tortured artist” is presented from society’s point of view, and gives society too much credit. It is society that is tormented, not Van Gogh. It is society that is driven insane by its own cruelty, not Van Gogh.
Van Gogh was engaged in what society viewed as a superfluous thing. Paintings feed, clothe or shelter no one … but Van Gogh did the essential thing … I don’t even know why I say it is the essential thing, but I know it’s true …
Artists have nervous breakdowns the way that athletes suffer injuries. No one says that an athlete lacks a lust for life when his body breaks down. The brain, heart and stomach are parts of the body as much as an ankle or knee. All intense work and play entails physical risk. Very few have the good fortune of never getting hurt. Van Gogh’s periodic psychotic episodes just came with the territory of the fulfillment of the potential of his constant inspiration.
Van Gogh was sometimes terrified by who he was, by what he did and could do. Have you ever been afraid before the big date, or the final exam, or the job interview or any other life event where you want to do your best out of love for the thing itself and for what your success would mean to you personally? Multiply that fear by a million. Anxiety is love and courage in embryo.
Van Gogh was not only ignored and abused by other people who misunderstood him. The contrary was true as well. He got just enough love and support to do what he had to do. Nature or God — same thing — furthers all that is dynamic and changing within it or Him — same thing.
When the world ignored Van Gogh, Gaugin knew his greatness. There are some people who can see reality beyond social recognition. Those people are the only ones that matter. The ones who see just based upon what they are told has value, can’t see at all. The artist can’t save such people from their self – imposed exile from life.
Once again the connection of art and spirituality surprises me and appears in my writing. Van Gogh, like Jesus, was falsely accused by ignorant people who did not understand who and what he was. Van Gogh, like Jesus, was conscious of his human weakness and his divine gift of perception.
From the script of the movie:
“Life is for sowing. the harvest is not here” Van Gogh speculating that God placed him in the wrong time, that he painted for future generations. (Me: All art speaks to the future. If it is too readily understood in the present, what good is it?)
“I paint with my qualities and faults.” (Me: What else could art be but a representation of the artist? Sorrows and joys … the joy of sorrow, the sorrow of joy … )
“Jesus said, turn your heart away from things visible and turn your gaze to things invisible.” (Me: Not everyone sees what the artist sees. Jesus is an obscure artist. He is not known for what He really is by most people to this day. Is the capacity to make and appreciate art a talent or gift, or is a matter of openness and generosity … a matter of personal character? Jesus said, “turn your heart”. Van Gogh’s life and work is testimony about what the Godly turning of the heart looks like. Artists and saints are brothers. Synonyms?)
Does art tell a story? Is the rendering of the meaning of a moment a story? I’m still wondering about that. I know this much … the moment is far more important than the story. The story is just paint. The moment is the eye of the artist and the whole of time and the world.
Van Gogh ecstatically raced into the fields so that he could start painting. Is that something to be pitied?
The movie speculates that Van Gogh was murdered and did not commit suicide. This makes sense to me. Van Gogh was too joyful to commit suicide, too full of purpose. Yes, he cut off his ear … but that was kin to self – flagellation … an outer manifestation of a kind of shame. He got over it. Van Gogh’s death was more of a crucifixion, but not exactly. Christ knew who he was dealing with … he worked with the people and knew that they would come for Him. He wanted them to … Van Gogh was oblivious to society … he was so involved with nature, he ignored mankind’s perversions of it. Van Gogh had a hyper – sensitivity to the truth, and was deaf to lies. Maybe that is why he cut off his ear — he just didn’t want to hear the falsehoods that men barbarically attacked him and all other purity with …
I am more like Gaugin than Van Gogh. Van Gogh at times wondered if his painting was any good when people said it wasn’t, but mainly knew that it was, particularly when he was in the act of making it. Gaugin never wondered if his painting was any good. He knew it was. Period. Gaugin was insulted by society and disdainful of its bureaucracies, and hierarchies. Gaugin could go be with people when it served his art. He knew how to defend himself.
There is a lot that goes into being an artist beyond the making of the art. Like anyone else, an artist has to live a practical life. He has to figure out a way to exist in the world with nature AND society. Or he becomes a human sacrifice … like Jesus or Van Gogh. Most of us are sacrifices to nature. We get sick, or injured and we die. We are sent back into the ground so that the entire cycle renews itself. The elements that made our existence possible are re -purposed into new life forms. Most of us don’t think about it much — we just deteriorate and die. We are too preoccupied living our social life to be conscious of our natural one. Jesus and Van Gogh had the opposite experience. They were so engaged with their natural lives and all of nature, that society was the thing regarded as unimportant … and thus society killed them. The movie hypothesizes that Van Gogh never spoke a word against the boys who did the assault that resulted in his death because he didn’t want to blame them. They were part of nature, and Van Gogh participated in nature, he never placed himself in opposition to it. Nature has no criminals.
Van Gogh suspected that his painting wouldn’t be recognized in his lifetime. I suspect that my writing will. Van Gogh had great hospitality for everyone that he met, and was always surprised when so many were cruel to him. I think that most people are lousy in intelligence and character, and I am always surprised when I meet someone who is smart and kind. Van Gogh believed that he would meet a community of artists and no longer be alone. I feel the same way. Artists don’t need community for their art — that they do that by themselves. They need community for the humanity. It is natural for us to want to be with people who recognize and understand us, and respect us and treat us well.
All art is the same — at eternity’s gate. All artists are different. Gaugin saw who Van Gogh was when almost no one else did. That achievement of humanity equaled his own art …
“Jesus said, turn your heart away from things visible and turn your gaze to things invisible.” This is what you and are called to do everyday, yes as artists (if that’s what you do), but more importantly as human beings. All morality and ethics, but even more — all the joy of living itself … depends on gazing at the invisible.
Now I have articulated why art is the essential thing (for artist and audience).
Copyright 2021 Richard Thomas
4/5/21: Dave Chappelle, The Kennedy Center Mark Twain Prize for American Humor — Almost Doing What You Want #poetry
I had forgotten the second reason for why I stopped doing stand – up comedy. The first reason was that I didn’t want to be restricted by the genre’s requirement to be funny. The second reason was that I didn’t want to be restricted to speaking about topics that were necessarily of interest to the audience. I wanted to speak to and about what interested me. An artist’s career runs a different course than the career of a stand – up comedian. I do and say what I want, and I find places where I can do and say exactly that. What I want to do and say changes, and then I need new places. For a time in my development, stand – up comedy was precisely the right place. I learned a lot about being a writer by working as a stand – up comedian.
I never have identified with a specific form. I am driven by what I want to say and do. I like calling myself a writer because the word is so generic. A writer can be someone who writes an epic poem or the warning on the side of a container of cleanser. All the iterations of my art were not created equal. I passionately loved doing stand – up comedy for a time before I started to hate it. (No, hate is not too strong a word.) Stand – up breaks my heart because it is so close to being the real thing but sells out at the last minute. Society is a prison and stand – up comedy is a prison riot. I want answers. I write to get answers. I view other people’s art to get answers. Stand – up comedy is like trial law. Society is incapable of justice, so it puts on shows that approximate justice. Everyone gets their say — laughs are verdicts, but the murder problem never stops. Art and sainthood further mankind — expand our facility for living our lives to our highest fulfillment. Stand – up comedy and trial law, two vineyards that I made vinegar in, exploit the conflict and confusion.
I always watch comedy with a tinge of sadness. It isn’t necessarily healthy to spend too much time remembering what one once loved. It isn’t pleasant to remember the the pain of splitting from the body comedic — my rebellion and the anger and derision that it met from my former admirers. But the reconsideration of my time is a stand – up is necessary from time to time, because I learned so much doing this work.
I have some things in common with Dave Chappelle. He is known as an intellectual comedian, and so was I. Chappelle dropped out for a long time, and so did I. The dropping art piece is often ignored in the matriculation of an artist. There has to be a time when you get hurt and fed up and drop out of society. Our returns have been quite different. I write an obscure blog and Dave Chappelle gets the Mark Twain Prize.
Chappelle says that it takes a great deal of courage to do what you want, especially when everyone else is telling you what you ought to do. It’s tough to argue with success, but it’s what I do. Is Dave Chappelle really doing what he wants to do? I am. Chappelle is celebrated as the comedian who embodies intelligence, courage and integrity, and the audience and the producing establishment celebrate themselves as individuals and institutions that recognize, nurture and reward such virtue.
Why did the Kennedy Center give a lifetime achievement award to a 47 year old comedian who is only mid – career? Chappelle is the best thing in comedy, now and for quite awhile, but he doesn’t do what Mark Twain did. I do. I am not saying that I am as talented as Dave Chappelle (he’s very talented and its apples and oranges) or as great a writer as Mark Twain (the comparison is ridiculous on so many levels, but writing is a great folly … I aspire to write as well as Twain, and I’m crazy enough to think that I may achieve it … why do it otherwise … I’ll never have Twain’s fame or immortality, I know that, of course … but I might write as well, maybe I already have … if you don’t feel that way about your writing, why bother? Twain may have performed for audiences, but he wasn’t a stand – up comedian. He succeeded at gaining recognition for saying and doing precisely what he wanted. I’m lousy at getting recognition, but we live in a time where it really isn’t needed. Social media gives a microphone and/or printing press to anyone who wants them. I write, people read me … I do what I do. I’m not waiting for any break. Sure, I’d like a bigger audience, and a portion of fame and fortune as a reward for being who I am — but I don’t want those things as much as I want to do and say what I want. I would do things to get fame and fortune if I got the opportunity, but never at the expense of doing and saying what I want. )
I am not being competitive with, or critical of, Dave Chappelle. I’m not thinking about him. I am thinking about what he does — it’s the limitations of the form … Chappelle says he wants to “give himself and other people good memories”. I don’t. I want to do and say what I want.
On the matter of doing and saying what I want … my desires are not invented or dreamed up by me. My desires are inspired … doing what I want is actually doing what I am told — not told by parents or bosses or social groups or just society in general, but what I am told by what I call God. We are born with a soul the size of an acorn. We all have a potential character and a destiny. We live our lives and our true natures — those acorns — take root. A tree grows. Things happen that nurture those roots, and things happen that injure them. We tend our trees or we chop them down. If we let the trees grow, we inevitably make mistakes and the trees are battered by the elements, and nourished by rain and sun. Everything that happens changes the DNA of the acorn. We are the products of the interactions of our essential natures and our experience. We have a destiny. Stand – up comedy is not the final resting place of the destinies of people like me or perhaps like Dave Chappelle.
Dave Chappelle says that every opinion is represented in a comedy club. No matter who you are, you have a comedian who is your champion. I’m not interested in opinions. I am interested in the truth of doing and saying what I want. Chappelle is still involved with society, and as long as he lives there you can’t get at the truth.
I want to hear Dave Chappelle without all the bullshit. Spare me Sarah Silverman and Jon Stewart and all the other cunning posers. They are all right, I guess. They just don’t interest me. They remind me of my high school social studies class which was fun and introduced me to critical thinking. Sarah Silverman said, “Dave Chappelle turned his critical thinking into his art.” Chappelle and the crowd oohed and aahed. Really? That comment gets an A in Mr. Ingugiatto’s social studies section, hits me as banal now. Stand – up is a writer’s starter kit. It’s great to run your thoughts before a crowd to feel how they land on other people. It’s great to merge into the writing lane from the regular person lane. But then you have to exit.
Jon Stewart tells a story of how Chappelle turned down an opportunity to deliver DVDs of his Comedy Central show to wounded warriors at Walter Reade hospital as an admirable example of how no one “cares so much, and doesn’t a fuck” … Stewart then struggles to find an anecdote about the caring part … and I’m not saying Chappelle doesn’t … I just don’t know … Stewart never tells me … and does Chappelle not give a fuck because of personal integrity or because he is a big star and the attitude reflects his power? Stewart doesn’t say that either … Stewart doesn’t seem very curious … more salesman than writer, he’s just out to make an impression. The truest thing that Stewart said was about $50 million.
Is Chappelle really doing and saying what he wants in the midst of all of this bullshit?
Some would say that Chappelle is bringing his truth to people in terms and proportions that they can understand, and showing compassionate interest in people in the world. I’ll buy that. I’ve done that as a performer and as a teacher. But that is not the final resting place of an artist’s destiny either.
I guess my big complaint is that Chappelle is held up as an example of integrity and freedom … and that there is more to both of those qualities. I think he might be on the road to those things. Or his destiny might fall short of those things. Mark Twain wrote things that were disturbing. An artist confronts society. An artist doesn’t merely participate in a debating society.
Dave Chappelle is great, as far as he goes. I have gone and want to go farther. I don’t know if Chappelle does. That’s really none of my business.
Copyright 2021 Richard Thomas
4/6/21: Lenny (1974) — Beyond Stand – Up Comedy #poetry
I watched two Dave Chappelle stand – up specials yesterday. I had just written about him and I was checking my work. He’s not as good as I thought he was. His aura of artistic integrity is just a schtick, a brand. He’s a canny show businessman. He knows there is a market for “I don’t give a fuck” honesty. So he portrays that. I basically covered that in my writing. Good for me. Part of Chappelle’s brand is that he is known as the most intelligent comedian. That might be true, I guess, but he is running on a slow track. He didn’t make me think once. His material made me laugh — a little, really not that much, but I never thought a minute longer than I do when I am watching a cable news talk show. I gave him a little too much credit when I wrote about him. I look for something more than society in my artists, and stand – up is nothing but society. Chappelle talks about being in show business and being an artist, but he is not an artist … and you can’t be both at once. Sometimes show business people transform into artists and exit harshly from the commercial stage and enter something else. Lenny Bruce started as a hack but emerged as an artist. Unfortunately, Lenny exited the commercial stage and entered his grave. Society loves martyrs — human sacrifices to its power. Society dictates conformity and murders any audacious authenticity. Society is right to be jealous of authenticity. Authenticity would destroy society and replace it with something more human. Society is a machine invented by men and women who fear nature and life. Lenny Bruce was a force of nature. Dave Chappelle is a corporation masquerading as a force of nature.
I was a stand – up comedian in New York in the mid – 1980s. I worked primarily out of the West Bank Cafe, which catered to a sophisticated theater crowd — Yale Drama School types, actors, musicians and playwrights. I had been an actor at the Second City in Chicago and then moved to New York. Paul Sills, the founding director of Second City (Note: the Second City that I worked at has nothing to do with the business that bought its name and does nothing resembling anything that I have ever done or ever wanted to do. The current Second City does not only offend me in my present state as a writer, but also offends my past incarnations as an improvisational actor and stand – up comedian. Reader, please do not associate me in any way with the current Second City. I am embarrassed that anyone would have the impression that I had anything to do with that trash. Second City is not only show business, but it is show business on the ass end … and so is the rest of the “improv” scene, the “classes” all of it … the entire world of my creative upbringing has died, but the real insult is that my creative upbringing’s world has had its identity stolen … people have stolen the creative achievement of others in order to sell shit … Paul Sills has been replaced by a hedge fund CEO who is over sixty and has less than 8% body fat … showing off six pack ads on a video is the least Second City thing that I could think of … my Second City was about humanity, not success … my peers from Second City generally went for the success, most of them would take work from the new asshole who bought their legacy if they got the chance … Second City always had show business cancer, from the beginning … but it was sometimes in remission) … Paul Sills was in New York teaching at the time. We were friendly. He came to see me at the West Bank. the producers there gave me a night. The show got a big positive response — a peak experience. The hip crowd at the West Bank loved it. Paul said it was the greatest evening of American theater in 25 years and compared me to Lenny Bruce. I was later told that Paul said that I was the greatest talent that Second City ever produced. I didn’t know it, but that night was the end of my career as a performer. I have thought about and told this true story often, but I never understood what it was about as much as I do as I write today.
Paul was blown away — he wasn’t given to the praise that he gave my show — because he was an idealistic man and he had not seen content on a comedy stage like in my show — substance, really saying something — since he saw Lenny Bruce. Like Lenny, I actually was what Dave Chappelle Inc. says it is.
Lenny Bruce died a martyr. I just ended my career. Paul knew a lot, but he did not understand the limits of show business. I intuitively got the drift. I was much younger than Paul and I was born knowing that show business is a losing proposition for a certain type of artist. I think Paul was like me too, but didn’t get it. We were too pure for this bullshit. We needed to figure out other ways to get over. We weren’t entertainers. After that show, George Manos, a respected manager of big comedic talent from the famous firm of Rollins and Joffee — they represented Woody Allen and David Letterman — George Manos told me, “That was a great show, but what are you going to do with that? I don’t think you should criticize the country the way that you did.”
It’s not like I decided to end my career. I wanted to criticize my country. I love it. What was I supposed to do, just nod along with racism and Viet Nam and the rest of it? The main reason that I wanted to be on that stage was to say what I think. I couldn’t make a business plan related to my act — check that — it wasn’t an act … it was me … talking about my relation to the world. There is no business where you can do such a thing. Some artists know how to navigate business and art. They compromise, they are savvy and they can live with the almost true results. I don’t judge. I used to wish I was that type of artist. I am not that type of artist. I now accept who I am.
I’m alive because I don’t have sexy problems like Lenny Bruce. I’ve never been into drugs. My sexual history is ordinary and relatively innocent, nothing like his daring. I had a middle class upbringing. I studied books as a kid. I didn’t hang out in burlesque houses. People like me make it past age 47. (We’re conservative in that way … its maybe the only way that we are conservative. I like my recliner. I like Netflix and MSNBC. I enjoy going for a ride and picking up a pizza. My dead blue bloated body on a bathroom floor after I overdosed on heroin never appealed to me. I never wanted to have sex with several partners at a time. It would make me anxious. I like it when a clerk is nice to me in a drug store. I like ordinary life. I’m not some exotic plant. I am not judgmental about the exotic. I love strangeness. I’m strange in a different way.) It is too dangerous to bare your soul in front of a group of strangers. Society crucifies its truth tellers.
Sills became frustrated with me once. He said that I “went into hiding.” You are damn right that I did. It just hurt too much to write in front of other people. They egged me on to give them more of what they wanted. They ridiculed me to stop me from saying what they didn’t want to hear.
For a long time, I just shut up. I went from free speech hero to timid man. I descended into a kind of shame and spent a few years being underemployed. I thought that I would get back to performing but never really did. There was a kind of seeming tragedy, or at least pathos in my touching the soul of Lenny Bruce. But it was just process. An artist has to get knocked on his ass in the transitions. It’s not enough to analyze the changes … you have to feel them. I have been crucified in my life and have risen from the dead in my writing. There’s nothing grandiose about that last line. It’s just about process. If you are an artist, you know what I mean.
Eventually, I tried to live a normal life and managed to get normal, adult jobs. But that didn’t work for me either because I am just different. Whether I am talking or not, they just go after me — with intense admiration or criticism. I did well enough for what society wanted … I had some late success in society’s terms … but God I was sick of the people around me. They either came after me like gunfighters, or rubbed against me looking for love in all the wrong places. I had my personal project and they were taking too much of my time and energy. You don’t choose to be a truth teller. You are stuck with it. I learned how to hide my nature and got some costumes during my periods of basic respect as a member of the community — which I definitely was not.
Lenny Bruce was a moralist, and so am I. He was injured by the immorality of others, and felt an admirable shame for his own sins. His project was to help humanity be more human, starting with himself. (Me too.) He didn’t set out to have social impact. It just happened. And society killed him for it, and fired me for the same reason. Fuck society. It is too much to ask people like me and Lenny to change society. It’s enough work to be different. We’re poets, not Founding Fathers. Someone else should listen to us, give us what we need, support us emotionally and apply what we find out in our hearts to the world at large.
I was able to quit the audience. (I said I was fired. Now I say that I quit. Which is it? They are the same thing. None of this was decided. It’s just the way it is.) Lenny couldn’t — maybe it was his addictive personality. (Do artists have followings? Should they give a shit whether or not they do? I like making this thing … doing this writing and then putting it out there and letting it do whatever it will do. I write for you and me, not to be a star, not to make you my disciples. We will ultimately disappoint each other that way — that’s what happens with Messiahs and disciples. Let’s just touch each other in our mutual solitudes and not depend on each other. Let’s just love each other and support each others’ growth … come and go as we please … let’s be friends bearing witness to each others’ destinies … ) Lenny was a hero. He made the world better. I just want to write. The world is not my responsibility. I have grievances with the world. I demand its respect. I know I am the world’s equal. I have the right to live the life that I was born to live. I will live that life in spite of the world’s bullshit — always the demand that I be less — less smart, less good, less happy, less comfortable.
I am willing to learn a skill set to live in the world honestly — and I have, and continue to do so. The nature of the world tells me that I can’t be myself in front of an audience without being killed or fired. So that’s out.
The nature of the world tells me that I will be attacked for being myself even when I am trying to conform to its ways.
The nature of the world tells me that I can go outside safely but only to select places, and that I can relate to individuals but only select individuals.
The nature of the world tells me that I can be precisely who I was born to be, and freely express who I am when I am alone, in my private thoughts, and when I am writing.
The nature of the world tells me that some people will like my writing and some people will dislike it. I just should live it and do it.
Being a stand up comedian is a position of power. You stand in spotlight. Your voice is amplified. Power is challenged. Stand up comedians are angry people because they live in constant conflict. Their legitimacy is always challenged by hecklers, critics, producers … stand up comedy is being yourself under pressure (when it is done as an art like Lenny and I did … it can also be a calculated exercise in marketing like Dave Chappelle ..)
Writing is a powerful thing too — but the writer is detached, contained and protected. Individual readers can anoint the writer as king or rebel against him and overthrow him. Each party lives out their destiny in the privacy of their own home.The writer doesn’t get fired, murdered or emotionally abused. The power struggle is removed.
Lenny got stuck in reaction. Heroes sacrifice themselves to society. Lenny kept pleading with society to understand things like the equality of all people and free speech — things that he already knew. He got screwed out of a lot — not the least of which was the opportunity to explore new things — to keep learning more truth through his own experience. People feel bad for great artists that aren’t recognized until after they die — but that isn’t so terrible. Society is a fucking anchor. If you remain engaged with society, society holds you back. The natural time to leave society should be after your high school graduation. You’re seventeen or eighteen. You’re socialized. Now you know how to get by and move through hostile territory as you experience life and fulfill your destiny.
Life, not society … life that is the thing. Leave show business to the businessmen and shit to the assholes… leave art to the artists …
I feel so badly for Lenny, and so personally lucky. Lenny died for my sins. Maybe I’ll live for somebody else’s. I love being a writer.
Copyright 2021 Richard Thomas
4/7/21: Malcolm X (1992) — Beyond Martyrdom #poetry
I’ve been writing a lot about martyrs lately. This has not been by design. For the last few months, I would start with a theme of personal memoir — something that I was wondering about — and look for a movie that also dealt with that theme, and then sometimes added in the reality — actual people, places, events etc that the movie addressed.
Well I wrote about Christ (who died for our sins as they say), Jesuit missionaries in a 17th century Japan engaged in a Christian genocide (this one had a twist … they avoided martyrdom but maintained their spiritual integrity — that’s the ticket!), Van Gogh (who was murdered but not martyred), Barry Lyndon (who didn’t die in the end but was destroyed for his anti -heroic assertion that all men are created equal), Dave Chappelle (who isn’t a martyr but plays one on TV) and Lenny Bruce (who died for free speech, tolerance and stood against hypocrisy).
I chose Malcolm X as my next subject because I wanted to write about the transforming life. X emphatically played many roles in his life. He always outgrew them, generally but not always for the better. I identified with the fact that X did things for a desired result and always learned something unexpected which sent him in an equally unexpected direction. X was an bright innocent young boy, a victim of white supremacist violence, exploitation, condescension, discrimination, oppression, and propaganda which taught him that he was less than white people which he internalized for a time … then X was a superficial fool who wore flashy clothes and straightened his hair and try to act as white as he could to the ridicule of racist white people and the embarrassment of serious black people … then X was a common criminal … then X was a borderline psychotic criminal … then X was in jail … then X was mentored in the Muslim faith … then X was a charismatic preacher of the Black Muslim faith … then X gained political power … then X drew envy from his peers in the movement … then X over – reached his power and made mistakes … then X made a pilgrimage to Mecca and had a deeper spiritual renewal … then X broadened his vision beyond only Black liberation but now also for the liberation of all mankind … then at the moment when X was ready to gift his people and the rest of the world with his most profound leadership, X was assassinated.
X’s story was perfect for what I wanted to write about until the final scene. I have no ambition to be a martyr. I was looking for a story where the final scene was the release from any sense of social responsibility. I saw some film on the painter Renoir once. I can’t remember where. I can’t even remember if it was in a fictional film or a documentary. Renoir quietly painted next a stream in a pastoral setting in the south of France. He sat there perfecting his humanity for all time. He wasn’t a tool of barbaric society. Every advancement of society is preceded by human sacrifice — often a notable hero like X, and always slaves and Holocausts and killing fields and babies at the border.
MLK knew that he was going to be killed. So did X. So did Jesus. Bobby Kennedy had to know. None of them died for the Voting Rights Act. They died for asserting a spiritual change for the human race. Did they have to? I haven’t been killed obviously, but I have suffered at the hands of people who hated me for talking right and doing right. I don’t want that to happen anymore. I don’t have to make a living anymore. That’s a plus. The virtue of right livelihood is a tough go when and where I come from. What good can come anymore from the fights that I have had with hack entertainers, ruthless lawyers, condescending professors and ignorant laborers. I made some money and I learned about the world. I grew in my art and I never sold out. I’m proud of myself. But I am older now. I can wander the streets without getting the stink eye. An older man walking around alone in the middle of a weekday is a very common sight. No one thinks anything of it. Let them think I am retired as I write my works of revolution.
I think Malcolm X would have given us much more if he had lived. As it is, he has left us a shining example and a kind of muddle. He is a personification of transformational life — courageous, honest and loving. The muddle is the less important part of his legacy — his political philosophy (often contrasted with the politics of MLK The main contrast dealt with using violence in revolution. X famously said yes. MLK famously said no. Who knows what X would say a year after his death? His great virtue was inconsistency. X learned. He changed. He led people through a process. It is an error to take anything that he said as his final word. He was directing us to a final word that he wasn’t aware of either). X’s strategies for dealing with white supremacy, as important as they are, aren’t what interest me about him this morning. He wasn’t a general. He was a saint. His biggest contribution was his victory over the internalized self – hatred which is caused by the sly lies of oppressors everywhere. He most clearly won for black people, but per usual in America, black people free us all. He died for a moment in time. He lived — and wrote (with the help of Alex Haley) — for all time. The great writers and other artists left us their example for all time. Christ said don’t throw your pearls before swine, and then he ignored his own good advice. I’m OK with contradictions. All these words — dense paragraphs look like an essay. This is a poem.
My strategy — and I think a writer needs one — is to keep writing, and to be very selective in who I associate with — friends and creative partners. Toxic people need not apply. Frequent writers might notice that I repeat this sentiment often. I do so because it is a matter of discipline. I’m pretty far along in this process, and I still wake up on some mornings with all the negative propaganda against who I am and what I do running through my mind. Every artist has to understand that his or her very existence threatens a lot of people. Pilate told Jesus that love was as dangerous to the Empire as violent revolution. Jesus counseled “be innocent and cunning” and that is what I advise here. “They” want you to fail. You make them feel bad. They need to feel superior for some sick reason that I don’t understand. They can’t accept that someone else wants to do things another way. They don’t want another example to take away from their power.
It’s all about how you and they think. If you don’t care how they think and just live your way — you are home free. You won’t even be alone. Kindred spirits will show up and be with you. You don’t have to get killed or even humiliated. Across all time, all the people beyond society, beyond martyrdom are forming a community that eventually will raise the consciousness of the world.
Martyrdom is a kind of suicide. All martyrs know what is coming. The great actor Denzel Washington has X show a brief almost imperceptible smile when he sees his assassins draw their guns. Literal suicide is the concretizing of an existential transformation. You don’t have to actually die. I’m going through a change … into a new phase of my life … dying once again to the world and once again to who I just was. I am accomplishing this change without quitting or being fired or having big arguments or being shamed or insulted.
My aim is not to sit back and criticize society, but rather to embody something that is better than society.
Malcolm X was a great artist. His autobiography is more important than his life. His life was spent speaking to the dying past, trying to get the pressure of a zombie’s knee off of his people’s necks. His autobiography speaks to the future.
How does one live once inner conflict is resolved?
Copyright 2021 Richard Thomas
Good Writing and Good Living — Transformative Art and Life #poetry
I’m glad good writing doesn’t have to be right. I am glad that being a good person doesn’t involve being right. If you have to be right, I don’t have a chance at the two last great ambitions of my life.
Good writing has the requirement of being honest, I reckon. Honesty solves any dilemma of the craft of a writer. The truth always finds the right words. A good person has to be sincere. If you tell the truth when you say, “I love you”, you are a good person. No one can love everyone and everything. If you mean it when you say that you love the finite number of people, places and things that your life can handle, you’ll turn out well as a human being.
If you aren’t fucking up, you’re not trying. Malcolm X didn’t fully get it right any step of the way. And yet , the whole life is so admirable, and so brilliant.
Life and art are about being true. Correct comes and goes. It’s a shifting point. The truth is a state of being. Reality is a mystery. After we achieve each new level of knowledge and understanding, we face another question.
You are a constant. You were born a certain way, and you will be that way until you die. The essential you never changes. And yet your life is one of constant transformation.
The essential you has nothing to do with where you were born or any other external factor of your life. The essential you is an intensely personal thing. It is your heart, your conscience, your personality … the essential you is the collection of every authentic desire and fear that you will ever feel. The essential you is what you are good at, and what you are bad at. The essential you is the part of you that falls in love — why you are drawn to one person, place or thing more than another. The essential you is as specific as your fingerprint. No one else has the same internal life as you. No one has the same external perspective on the world as you. No one has the same point of view as you. Two people can’t stand at the same vantage point at the same time. It’s impossible.
The essential you is always right. It is your truth. It understands half of everything everything about your destiny.
The essential you has a partner — the world. You face the world and the world faces you. Your lives are the result of that interaction.
We live two lives if we are lucky. One life I will call our history. We all get a history. It’s the chronology of the events related to our participation in the world. The other life is what can be experienced in our souls. Only a few us receive this blessing that often feels like a curse, because not all of us have souls. Maybe we are all born with souls, but most souls are soon erased by choice or circumstance. Soulless men and women become dim eyed dim witted cogs in machines. They passively suffer and cause suffering. Suffer, sin, die and have a little fun, Most homo sapiens aren’t human. I’ll call that other life biography. The biography is the more important life. The few people who have biographies are tasked with furthering the consciousness of mankind. What happens in the souls of human beings is more important than all of the chapters of our personal and collective histories. When our history conflicts with the biographies of the full fledged soul possessing human beings, well that’s injustice. History usually conflicts with those biographies. Injustice takes biography and changes it, sometimes for the worse, sometimes for the better.
Malcolm X’s natural two lives, “The Autobiography of Malcolm X”, and Spike Lee’s biopic, “Malcolm X” are all epics. They get the sweep of the years, the eras, the diasporas, the activist movements, and the even greater distances traveled by a rare man in his soul. Thoreau said that most men live “lives of quiet desperation”. I don’t think they even live. Most men do as they are told, or get confused by what they are told, and die when they are told to die. Emerson’s essay “Self Determination” (I know the title is “Self Reliance” but I like the mistake.) can only be understood by the unusual persons determined to have a self.
Pride is the engine. The living person has no tolerance for insults to the soul. Young pride leads to hubris and the soul learns some lessons. The living person sorts, often painfully, the marching orders of the world from the memories that resonate with eternal feeling. The soul speaks to the living and the world contradicts it. The living have to learn that they are not like the walking dead. The living acquire skill in order to escape history and fulfill biography. Malcolm X was born a sensitive and intelligent child. The world told him oppression and racial violence. He did a logical thing. He became a criminal. He never articulated his choice in words — to himself or anyone else. It just made sense. Why not be an outlaw in an unjust world? He had no chance if he passively played his role in history. But when criminality led to the inevitable dishonor among thieves, Malcolm X became a runaway slave from selfishness, superficiality and immorality. What now?
What now? That’s the question of transformation. A way of life serves its purpose … drops its jewel … and then? For Malcolm X it was psychosis. He gave up on the world. That was the good move. The eternal spark. He descended into self hate. That’s what the world told him to do. That was his conflict. What would he destroy? The world or himself? Malcolm X wanted to die his whole life. In his post – criminal period he wanted to die to escape the agony of his soul. When he actually died, he did so to redeem the world. Remember all the zombies — all history and no biography? They are tools facilitating both murder – suicides and the lives of the saints.
Copyright 2021 Richard Thomas
4/9/21: Compassion in Emptiness — Beyond Conflict (2010) #poetry
I don’t know anything about the Dalai Lama. In this movie, he is a benevolent world king without a throne. He lays out a political platform of decency. He is not focused here on spiritual initiation. He is modeling how spiritual leadership would talk. I think President Joe Biden is better at this type of thing. Biden has the opportunity to connect actions to his words and he has the knowledge and skill to infuse material reality with spirit.
The Dalai Lama speaks like a very nice middle class man with good values, who understands the world from a high elevation but has no responsibility or portfolio to deal with the details. He speaks like I do when I talk back to the TV as I watch cable news. I don’t want to sound critical of His Holiness. I am not dismissive of “just talk”. The world is created in our minds. It matures in talk and is completed in our lives.
It’s a little sad to me that what the Dalai Lama is saying is so extraordinary to so many people. So many distrust what is best in all of us. Of course we should be affectionate and warm. Of course we should emphasize education and ethics. Of course we should cherish democracy and the rule of law. What is revelatory about any of this?
I am not disappointed with the Dalai Lama, but this movie is not what I was looking for. I wanted to watch Martin Scorsese’s movie, Kundun today but it is not available on streaming. Kundun is about the Dalai Lama. I wanted to find a movie about a person — a person not a society — who is beyond conflict, because that is who I am today, or at least this hour.
I kind of like the Dalai Lama’s advice to find happiness in oneself and not in the outside world. I was exhausted by all of the bullshit that the world told me was supposed to be important to me. In this moment, I am beyond all of that, and hence I am serene.
But … and His Holiness might not disagree … I believe my soul exists in my person and in the world … I am the world and vice versa … and ultimate fulfillment occurs when each side is conscious of that reality …
My writing gets better and better the more that I eliminate any doubt as to my equality (and indeed my congruity) with the world as a whole and to any individual being in the world. The Dalai Lama says that everyone wants happiness. I say my happiness is a result of what I want — I want to work on my writing. My writing is a bridge between my inner experience and the experience of all that is outside of me that matches my current state of consciousness. Home is where the heart is. I have felt like a nomad at times, but the truth is that I have always been a traveler going home. That makes me happy. For me, happiness and authenticity are synonyms. Authenticity always finds its place in the world. When I am in pain I am in exile from myself and also lost — a displaced person in the world. I believe that if every person became one with their true nature, they would naturally take their true place in the world and all problems would be solved. The truth is that all of existence is in perfect harmony. Our conflicts are all matters of a lack of understanding.
This movie is not exactly what I was looking for — so I’ll continue on my own. It’s what I always do anyway. I never write about the movie that I am watching. I write about my experience while watching it. That is my place in the world.
The Dalai Lama is boring me. I thank him for that spiritual gift. He is allowing me to access a place in my own mind and heart and soul that corresponds to where he lives. In my boredom, I become the Dalai Lama. He has perfected himself as an example for all of mankind. His life, his personhood, is a wonderful work of art. He shows the world the world’s potential — actually what the world already is if it wakes up and sees. This presence is more important to me than anything that the Dalai Lama says.
I am writing my own scripture. I am my own Church, my own Pope, my own Lama. I am my own psychologist — I figure out how to get out of my own way. I stake my claim — when I say that I am a writer, I say that I can touch the ground of being — that I can embody real love, not mere sentimentality, that I can speak to the expansion of the mind of man, just like the Dalai Lama. I’m sure he fucks up too — that’s not the point. I was raised a Christian, I’m more of a Pan -Cultural spiritual person now —Christ was my first exposure to the eternal — what He is lives in many other people and places — including the Dalai Lama and Tibet — anyway, Christian means Christ – like — so that is what I am called to be — to get on with it — the great thing about art is that it has no worldly power — people can come and go to it as they please — people think it is a matter of great ego to say that your ambition is to be a spiritual example to other people, but really it is a matter of great humility. It is what everybody should do. This type of continual inner revolution is really what transforms the world more than our faith and good works. I don’t need faith — I have experienced the divine — felt it and seen it. So did Einstein or anyone else who ever had even a flash of genius — which is just about everybody. Uninitiated people need pastors and leaders and teachers. I am initiated. I have two gurus, myself and the world. I want to make my own life. Rick Lama says that the Rick and the universe reflect one another. I taught an improvisation class once where I told the students to just go into the playing space and begin. Over time they discovered many of the exercises in the textbook, Improvisation for the Theater. I think all of the answers are inside of us and outside of us. After being socialized and learning basic skills, I never learned another thing in school. I learned from teachers and leaders when I was young, but that is over now. Education, including spiritual education occurs between people. It is not transferred from one more enlightened being to another, even when one being is more enlightened.
I still need Scorsese to help me access the Dalai Lama, in the same way that he introduced me to Bob Dylan and Fran Leibowitz. When I listen to Scorsese, I’m talking with an equal. I purposely conflated listen and talk. Scorsese studied the man. I’d like to hear what he has to say. A writer is an audience of the world. A writer’s audience has an internal monologue as he or she reads the writing. All of these overlapping listenings comprise the awakening and awakened world. We are more than all connected. We are one.
I am certain, even in my ignorance, that the Dalai Lama is not jive — something very serious and real is going on here, but he doesn’t always resonate much with me at the moment. He strikes me at times as a variation on Chance the Gardener from Being There — a lot of talk of cherry trees and generalities “jealousy, fighting …” yeah okay, but … shrug …
I need stuff. Stuff. My spirit is not just in my heart and some ether behind my eyes. It is my ass and my balls and my shit and my 2018 Kia Sportage and the news and the stock quotations and holding hands with my wife and my memories and my anxiety and joys and my less frequent angers and my feelings of release from past illusions and my movie watching … my plain ordinary life and my eccentric extraordinary mind … the people that I want to see and the people that I avoid and my wonder about the meaning all of it in total and in part … everything has a meaning … everything has an invisible dimension … everything is a universe unto itself … stuff is my gateway to the mysterious and fascinating world and mysterious and fascinating me — the same thing! I’m just so tied up with writing now, you know … I get a feeling and then I fasten it to … stuff … stuff in my personal life, stuff that I observe in the world … maybe I am less evolved than the Dalai Lama … maybe much less evolved at times … maybe just as evolved at times… maybe more evolved at times… but that is where I am.
He’s saying something about negative thinking … fear and mistrust … he says those thoughts bring unhappiness. Well, thanks … I know. But if he is suggesting to overcome those emotions, I think I disagree with him. I think you have to go through things. I mine my wounds. When I finally get to the bottom of the wound, I’m healed. In the meantime, I learn a lot. Understanding brings peace — to me, and I believe to the world. You must go through it. The Dalai Lama may speak this way because he has lived as the perfection of many past generations, and that may be true of us all. But I live through many turbulent phases and iterations in this life. The Dalai Lama can dismiss negative emotions — it may be his destiny to do so. I have been called to know them intimately. Sometimes the Dalai Lama advises changing external behaviors — “don’t get too excited with small victories or too upset with small problems. Be more even in your emotions”. That is good common sense, but even if you change the outer behavior, you still are in ignorance if the deeper feeling remains. Experience, reflect, observe, apply. You have to start where you are to come to understand who you are. You don’t really change. Your awareness of who you really are changes — and then you can change your external behavior — from the sayings of the Rick Lama, or the Dalai Rick … oh, who cares …
Now the Dalai Lama is speaking about self – centeredness. He says if you think about the other person, you are happier. I think egotism — selfishness — gets you nowhere. But to understand oneself … not your invented image of yourself but who you actually are … I think that is essential. And I don’t think that all happiness is within. I think fulfillment — a state that I would define as more important than happiness (but a state that naturally makes one happy) is found when the inside mirrors the outside, when your inner being and your outer world are congruent. My wife is an outer manifestation of myself. My writing is an outer manifestation of myself. My recliner is an outer manifestation of myself. The Biden Administration is an outer manifestation of myself. The Trump Administration was not an outer manifestation of myself. My friends are me, my rivals and enemies are the negative part of me … the embodiment of my fear and selfishness. Separation from the negative part of me is essential. Trump and my enemies and rivals have disappeared from my world. When they approach me, I close the door gently. I don’t let them in. Creativity starts when conflict ends. A master may paint a picture of conflict, but he or she him or herself will be detached from the conflict. The consciousness of the world is less changed on our battlefields than in our monasteries and art studios.
Caveat — this is not a critique of the Dalai Lama. I’ll bet he has said things that are similar to what I say here in seeming contradiction to him. As in all of my pieces — the Dalai Lama is not my actual subject. My subject is my experience of watching this movie. Forgive the repetition …
My highest self … not the ego … something that I have attained in peak experiences but have never sustained (has anyone ever sustained this?) … is the parallel and the same thing as an enlightened world. We can be at peace with the idea that the world and every individual are in a constant process of attaining consciousness regarding a harmony of all persons, and a harmony of all persons and things. Humor is an understanding of this process … the comical juxtaposition of such celestial beauty with such human ineptitude.
I have been happy even when I have been miserable, although I prefer days like today when the misery is absent. Even when I am going through the stormiest times, brought on by internal ignorances or external circumstances or both, I exist on a ground of happiness. I was born knowing that it is all a process.
America should be living in a golden age — with all of our resources — material, intellectual and spiritual … our problems are all man – made … stupid jackasses smearing shit through the halls of a beautiful palace. I am at wonderful point in my life. I love my wife. I love my work. I am healthy and prosperous. I have overcome many conflicts and hang – ups from my past. I intend to appreciate my golden age and maybe that will be a good example for America.
Even in times of illness, misery and struggle, I always had so much more than I knew. I know now. All of those “bad times” subsequently were revealed to have a purpose. I even saw in my elderly parents an example of beautiful dying and death.
I hope that this clarity last, but most likely it won’t. I probably will descend into negativity about future perceived hardships, but hopefully I will re -read this piece and get back on track …
or maybe I’ve attained enlightenment … I will stumble but regain my balance immediately …
just like the Dalai Lama …
it could happen …
that’s the goal anyway …
Copyright 2021 Richard Thomas
4/11/21: Hemingway (2021) — Writer as Embodiment of America #poetry
I watched Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s six hour documentary about Ernest Hemingway.
Mark Twain understood America. Ernest Hemingway was America. I’m an outsider like Twain. My parents were immigrants. My father, in particular, never fully assimilated. He was very pro – American, but unmistakably Italian. My father’s name was Tomasso, and he changed it to Thomas. He spoke with a strong accent, and his new name was on one level laughable. Dad so wanted to be part of America, and unconsciously resented it too. His choice was never to rebel against the injustice and discrimination that he faced, but first to try to win them over, and finally to ignore them and live a life of joy. He banged away at car bodies in his body and fender shop — angry and muscular — and then he played and ate and slept and roared. I seem like I could be a Thomas and not a Tomasso, but I am as much an outsider as Dad ever was. I inherited his gifts of criticism and joy. Dad and my — and Mark Twain’s (for different reasons) —nation was and is life — not America. Life was and is our homeland. I’d rather be me than Hemingway. It was so hard to be Hemingway, and what was hard had nothing to do with his great achievement.
America is profoundly great — the most recent masterpiece in the story of mankind. It is possessed of great art. Hemingway was great in the same way — endowed by his creator not only with inalienable rights which made the expression of his talent possible, but also with an awe inspiring divine inspiration. America remade the notion of a nation. Hemingway recreated what writing was. He did it differently than anyone before him. He had a genius for insight into what it is to be a human being. America and Hemingway are exasperating because you would think that such gifts could create a Paradise on earth. It doesn’t work that way.
Hemingway and America lived and live on an alternating current — pure genius soaring periodically out of a morass of personal and national demons. This documentary, perhaps unintentionally, emphasizes the demons. It gives me snippets of Hemingway’s writing, but this show is not about his writing — it’s about his life. I’m game — so from here on in this piece will be focused mainly on Hemingway’s American demons. Hemingway’s writing comes from the same place as the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution and Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address. His life comes from the same place as the Civil War and McCarthyism. At the end of his life, Twain was bitter about America’s failure at achieving its highest potential. My father resented the same, and then devoured life undeterred by bitterness. He wasn’t going to let human frailty ruin the finite good time that he could enjoy before life ended and none of this mattered.
My father believed in the life that Hemingway was born into. His father was a doctor. His mother was an arts teacher. He grew up in prosperous Oak Park, Illinois just outside of Chicago — wide tree lined boulevards … social status, and so free of material want of the type my father suffered as a little boy in Europe. America’s wealth and abundance made it believe that it was a special place that could escape reality — escape death and illness and disappointment. Hemingway the artist was wiser than America. Hemingway the man was conflicted. Four members of his parents’ immediate family committed suicide, including Ernest Hemingway. My father couldn’t see so far under the surface as to understand that Oak Park was much different than the way it looked form the outside. I can, so consequently I have less of my father’s legacy of resentment, and less of his capacity for joy. I can’t be so happy go lucky. My true satisfaction comes from trying to understand. I am more sober and sedentary than my father. He was more full of life. The fullness of my life comes from contemplating it. That was true of Hemingway too. But he felt that he had to spend much of his time engaged in physical adventure, and he largely made a fool of himself when doing so. With Dad, the American wannabe, it was soccer and golf and ping pong and gin rummy. With Hemingway it was bullfighting and marlin fishing and big game hunting and boxing and war — he could afford more. Yet the liveliness is in the writing. The man of action is mediocre. The man of letters is a giant. A writer writes about everything. The world is processed. America’s forward movement is a constant rediscovery. A nation transforms keeping pace with its powerful imagination — and then is distracted by it’s shallow thrill seeking entertainments. Life transpires from the inside. Hemingway’s family was disposed to mental illness, which in their case was often fatal. It is amazing how much they overcame their condition, particularly illness, and tragic to think of how much more could have been if they were treated and cured.
I see Hemingway in this American moment. The country is so wonderful, progress seems to have no limits, but then … violent madness and drug and alcohol fueled despair threatens all of it — democracy, art, science and riches under constant irrational attack.
I was intimidated at first by the literary figures who provide commentary in the film. I got over it. They have many fine insights. My only disagreement with them is that they think that they own writing. Art takes on many forms. I don’t care much about their musings about modernism or their quests for perfect sentences. That’s all valid, I guess, but those are local concerns. They can measure themselves by any arbitrary standards that they choose. I see something in Hemingway’s writing when I stop listening to them. They have this preciousness in their voices when they read his writing or form their critical assessments. I see Hemingway’s clarity and directness. I see how he felt something about everything, and how Hemingway drilled down deeper and deeper to understand his human feeling. He was interested in the truth. The intellectualism belongs to the critics and the admiring authors — it’s not Hemingway’s. An artist is not an intellectual. Writing is not about what the writer thinks — it’s about what the writer sees and understands. An artist is not interested in being brilliant. Again, his primary interest is in being honest. Brilliance is a byproduct of honesty. The experts see the huge achievement and think that Hemingway’s means of achievement were intentional. They were not. Hemingway had something to say, and worked as long and as hard he could to say it effectively. Ultimately, the act of writing is as simple as that. Writing’s complexity paradoxically comes from that simplicity of process. Look and be simple.
Much of everything besides the writing about Hemingway is distasteful to me. It’s so much of what is fucked up about America … unnecessary traumatic brain injuries resulting from reckless vanity … adolescent romanticism … falling in love but not loving in a sustained way … misogyny … the rejection of ordinary life … always the need for thrills and sensation … the need to prove oneself in light of some stupid macho standard … the violent cruelty passed off as heroism … the obsession with fame … the investment in the invention of a self – image … the competition … the conflict between human decency and careerism, that usually sees careerism victorious … that need to win and be on top which brings all of the cruelty and racism and anti – semitism and all the hypocritical “need” to learn and reform in Hemingway and America’s intolerances when he and it knew they were engaged in evil all along …
Hemingway’s career was conceived like American history. In purity. Hemingway just wrote and things unfolded. America demanded freedom and independence and things unfolded. Hemingway and America’s greatness foundered at times because of misguided ambition for rewards so much less than their original concept. To be the best of all writers, whatever that means … to be the leading nation in the world, whatever that means … all the useless comparisons … demons are exciting … what is important touches a deeper calm … the calm that an artist has when writing … the calm of statesmen instead of the agitation of salesmen and politicians …
America is a drunken bully who has the ability to hear the Word of God … how many college educated men of some past generations used the myth of Hemingway to give permission to their inner pricks yearning to breathe outside and free, and ignored or just were incapable of hearing the God part? How many war mongers and libertarians selectively read Hemingway, and more closely read his press clippings, and then twisted the art and promoted the myth in order to justify horrendous crimes, foreign and domestic, blasphemously intoning Hemingway’s name? Hemingway promoted the macho bullshit himself, for his own success and self – aggrandizement, and did massive, if unintended, harm in the process. His real problem was a big American problem. He cared what other people think. The approval of the audience is paramount — but that is insane. The audience doesn’t know — the artist or the scientist knows. The whole thing is so backwards. Hemingway was a major personality of the twentieth century, and none of that matters in any positive way. The people who got something from the real work of Ernest Hemingway were the people who read him in the quiet of their solitude and grew in their humanity as a result. Papa and the beard and the barrel chest — the adventurer — is a punk. The writer is the man. America is a punk ass country, that can come up with an Ernest Hemingway writer every once in awhile.
Hemingway and America were and are so talented, so strong, so handsome, so endowed with energy, so well – positioned to live an extraordinary life … full of trust everyone else looked and look up to them … Hemingway and America could exclusively be great art and the salvation of mankind … instead they also and seemingly primarily wanted and want to be movie stars … Why would someone who found true love be susceptible to being seduced? Maybe it’s because they don’t fully understand that they found true love. Hemingway’s impatience with ordinary life killed him. We all die, but he deserved something more noble than that. Wars pause on weekends. Whole economies are made of the staving off of boredom. When Hemingway wrote he did so with something beyond mere interest. He was a full participant in life at his typewriter. Dad and I and Twain just lived and live. Hemingway, like all artists, creates to overcome pain. Life is suffering until it is transformed into meaning. Writing for Hemingway worked to ease this affliction common to all men. Reading Hemingway worked the same way for many Americans. Writing and reading worked. The booze and the safaris and the love affairs etc. didn’t. The American need to be special … to live in something better than the world … and nothing is … Hemingway pursued exotic locations, but his most vital experiences involved humbly considering the movements of the human heart.
Ironically, the most ordinary thing about Hemingway was his larger than life mythic persona. All of that compensation … sad and funny … like combovers and hair dye … the cultural pressure to personify masculine virility … which is not the way things are … we get older, we aren’t strong enough to open every jar with our bare hands … we aren’t always excited … what we do isn’t always exciting … it’s all OK. Hemingway and America are idiot savants creating perfect music while shitting their pants, the composition obscured by the flatulence and the stench.
All this nonsense about artists needing to consume the people around them in order to make their great works … like Hemingway or Picasso and their wives and lovers, or like the United States with its culture of exploitation from slavery to its ever mores subtle forms … Hemingway started out saying that he wanted to be a good writer and a good man … America started out saying that it is self – evident that all men are created equal … those initial impulses are the truth … selfishness and meanness are as superfluous to genius as drink and thrill seeking.
It is natural that a writer and a nation motivated by art and democracy would also engage in murder and suicide. Once a person or entity allows him or itself to feel, then he or its nearly first order of business is to end pain. When confidence and abilities wane the daimon of creation turns into the demon of destruction … But there is a more natural way to die … America was so young when Hemingway lived … surely contemporary America and America’s contemporary writers can learn something from his biography and its history, both as an inspiration and a cautionary tale.
Maybe I am not as much an outsider as I thought that I was when I started writing … and maybe I learned something.
Copyright 2021 Richard Thomas
4/12/21: Mark Twain (2001) — Everything happens for a reason. Everything works out. #poetry
Mark Twain worked a lot of jobs. Lived in different American places. Did stand – up comedy. He took his common American experience and his common American language and turned it into art. He thought about big things like race in America. He noticed the tiny specific details of life in America. He was a lousy businessman. He was a fearful child. He liked to swear. He loved cigars. Mark Twain could act out rages provoked by his creative frustrations at times. Those who loved him understood. Twain lived on the edge of safety and danger, but always went with the flow of the metaphoric river. Twain felt outrage against cruelty and injustice, from early on in his life to the very end. He was a compassionate person who felt other people’s sorrows in an unsentimental way. Twain failed a lot — he tried a lot. Twain didn’t seek adventure. He made his way in the world and that necessity resulted in his adventure. Twain was curious about just about everything — everything in America and everything in the rest of the world. You don’t train to be a writer. It is a destiny. Much of my biography intersects with Twain. Much of any serious writer’s biography intersects with Twain.
There is nothing academic about art. There is nothing literary about literature. Artists, including artists who work in the particular form of writing, create something that is new and native to their persons that is not neatly filed into some classification defined by “experts”. Artists are nothing like the scholars who celebrate them.
Twain’s first job was as a printer’s apprentice — pushing words and ideas around on a page. Words and ideas — on the page and in the air — from when a baby occupies herself making sounds — pre – words … a writer breathes … in an atmosphere of words and ideas …
Twain was filled with dreams and dissatisfactions …
Hemingway had bulls and marlins, Twain had steamships … I have improvisational acting and show business … the writer is drawn to some thing or things not ultimately for the things themselves but as big metaphors representing broad themes which drive the writer’s writing and life … I am spending some time getting in touch with the motivations of my inner American writer … my show business metaphor stands in for rotten society writ large, my improvisation metaphor represents the betrayal of art and what could have been … my writing metaphor represents the redemption of the world — and me … (I reserve the right to introduce more grand metaphors … for myself, and to notice more of the grand metaphors of Hemingway and Twain) …
Twain wrote humor, fiction, non – fiction, essays, memoir, travel writing … he just wrote. He was free and not confined by genre … He wrote about other people, places and things … and he wrote about himself … he lived in response to all stimuli … seen and unseen … interior and exterior … The movie summarizes Twain’s life story, but he wrote the whole thing up himself … an author gets to author his own life … to be the interpreter of his own destiny is the ultimate liberation …
Everywhere Twain went he stored up memories of scenes and places and people … Twain almost invented the kind of American writing that I do … but not really … I invented that … Twain was a strong early influence for me, but in order to write those type influences have to end … at least consciously … I depart from his example in so many happy and unhappy ways … and that is the way it should be … I watch movies about writers because at this time it is their lives that interest me more than their writing. How to live as a writer is the question that interests me now.
I am almost ashamed that I didn’t understand the difference between stand up comedy and improvisational comedy and writing for so many years. The novelist William Styron expresses a proper contempt for stand up comedy in this movie. He says Twain was depressed and that his humor understood that life was serious and sad. Styron, of course was famously depressed. I was really out of place in the world of comedy, and it was a brutal hardship. I am a serious person — I was not about the quick laugh at all after the very beginning of my detour into comedy. So I was tormented and then blocked while I was off the track — tormented by peers who hated me because I broke all of the rules of who I and we were supposed to be. Styron couldn’t stand how comedians say stupid things just to get laughs and in so doing minimize the importance of life — nihilistically implying that life has no meaning. My lack of discernment about who and what I was dealing with caused me a lot of heartache. I spent time with comedians because I was afraid of who I was. I wanted to be stopped from fulfilling my destiny as a writer. The comedians were external manifestations of my own doubt. A great difference between me and Twain is that I didn’t find myself as a writer until very late. I don’t believe in regrets. Everything happens as it has to happen. My long lost and alienated period has provided so much fodder to now use in my writing. My lost years gave me a human life to write about. Writers are born writers, but we also have to become writers. Our weaknesses are the sources of our greatest material. Writing is the art of improving humankind. A writer’s first reader is him or herself. The aim to perfect oneself in order to be an example for all mankind is the unobtainable goal that animates the work of all real artists. What is seriously comic is how the artist fails in his or her exalted quest, yet still delivers at least bits and pieces of divine boons that improve the consciousness of our species. I was always writing even when I wasn’t typing or scrawling a line. I just didn’t know it. Twain was born free. He launched early and went for it. I had a great struggle to freedom. All of that said, I am not like William Styron either — or Twain to the extent that Styron is right when he says that Twain was depressive. I write to understand … to transcend pain, not to get mired in it. Maybe nothing that bad has ever happened to me — but I don’t think that is it. I’m really sensitive and I have felt hurts deeply. I’ve lived through some very bad and wounded times related to money and health and alienated loneliness. But I have always believed that everything is as it should be, and everything works out in the end, and consequently that is how things have gone, and are going.
When I was young I was inspired by Mark Twain. Everything that he enjoyed about America and the world, I had to suffer. I have a good view of the caprices and crimes of American life, and I have hope for American life and my particular American life’s enormous potential.
Twain wrote oceans of words. That’s encouraging. I never feel blocked — I always have something more than mere reaction to say.
Twain had strategies regarding how to get over … he wanted money, fame, a literary reputation … and attained all of them … I have ambitions, but I have no idea how to go about it. Maybe that’s the biggest reason that I look at the lives of these writers.
Twain (pen name — the imagination) was the artist, Sam Clemens (real name — the need for rational practical existence) was the careerist.
I don’t want to get hurt again. I can’t waste any more time. I can’t sit with the businessmen and hacks. I trust my discernment now. How do I get with the people who can honor what I am doing?
I recoil at all the talk by scholars and writers about craft and perfect sentences that is offered in these Ken Burns shows. I say what I want to say fast. And then I edit and organize it. Twain ignored Clemens who wanted literary acclaim, and broke all of the rules when he wrote Huckleberry Finn. Twain the artist could ignore the careerist, Clemens, the careerist could never ignore the artist, to Twain’s great credit …
It’s up to the writer. It is not up to the scholars and conventional writers — who may not be writers at all. An artist wants to do things precisely according to his own vision. The careerist in an artist wants a career where that vision is celebrated.
My careerist was weak and damaged. I was suspicious of careers. Nihilist comedians and improvisers, vain attorneys, selfish near criminal businessmen … I’ve lived a life where I have seen that which has little or no value lionized and I have seen what is great beg for attention … I can only hope that my work gets to people who are worth it … my careerist is now healthy but is inexperienced and young.
I get bored as the experts tell me what Huckleberry Finn means … I like it when Hal Holbrook talks … he understood Twain … as a friend … Huckleberry Finn speaks for itself as to meaning …
Not show business and not literary academic blah blah blah … where? Is it just here? Is it just self – publishing on this little blog, writing for my small circle of readers and friends? I am an American writer in the tradition of Mark Twain … I really believe that … is this all there is? If it is, it is and I appreciate those who take the time to read me and get something out of it … but I can’t help thinking this is leading to something more. Twain was a go getter and I used to be — but that is no more …
I don’t even think about funny — Twain had the freedom to do it because his world of funny was not perverted and soiled like the one that existed by the time I came along.
Twain was successful and then lost it all. I was a failure and then I started winning. Twain failed because he wasn’t satisfied with how rich he already was. He desired to be even richer than the most successful writer in America … even he was contaminated by the Gilded Age that he indicted so brilliantly. That a man who had so much thought that it could be better — well, that would have been tragic if Twain didn’t use it so brilliantly. Everything works out. I failed because I didn’t know myself … my terror wouldn’t let me look. My failure was a great education. I started being successful when I stopped being afraid. I don’t want to be famous. I see the bullshit that gets rewarded with fame. I want to be effective. I want the people who will be touched by my words to read them. And maybe I want a world that will recognize what I am doing, or maybe find out that a part of the world is ready to do just that … Am I missing something?
A writer has too much imagination to be a careful businessman, so how does a writer conduct the business of his writing? I have an income that does not require me to have a job — so I commit myself to my writing without reservation. That’s great, but I do not want my writing to even be perceived by others as a hobby, an interesting way to pass the time.
My writing will grow with the coming as yet unknown challenges beyond my self – publication.
Mark Twain, like me, needed to fail so that he could grow as a writer. He had to go bankrupt in order to describe a level of human experience he had not yet seen. I need to succeed to learn the next thing. Refrain: Everything happens for a reason. Everything works out.
Twain’s failure sent him on a lecture tour around the world. He was sixty years old. He spoke of morals. Years earlier, a trip down the Mississippi after a twenty year absence led Twain to illuminate American racism by describing the river and the land (metaphors), and by writing the idiomatic dialogue of black and white Americans. The world inspired him even more — a global improvement of the character of mankind — his vocation. From the river to the planet … Where will my success take me?
Twain dug out of the abyss of his disastrous financial speculations by doing what he did best. Fate reserved a worse blow for him. His beloved daughter died at age 24. Twain was a man and not an adolescent. He loved his family and didn’t look for muses in stray love affairs. He irrationally blamed himself for the girl’s death, but that wasn’t the point. To be older, and suffer great and almost unnatural loss … if this is the price of being a great writer, I hope I won’t lose most of my enthusiasm for the project.
I was always most drawn to Twain’s late writings after his daughter’s death. I loved his biting social criticism. Maybe, I won’t need personal tragedy to see the darkest parts of the world that Twain couldn’t access until his double whammy of deep loss and the diminishments of aging. No one deserves such a wish granted, but maybe I’ll be lucky.
Twain never gave up, and neither have I … I’m proud of us. Even when I didn’t know I was a writer, I was writing.
Twain included himself in all his criticisms of mankind. I include myself in some of them. I believe that I have original sin as much as anybody else … but I am innocent in some of that sin’s manifestations and guilty of others, and I try to be honest about each. I told you I was afraid of my destiny as a writer when I was a comedian. That’s true. I didn’t tell you that I was a hack like the my misbegotten colleagues, because I never was a hack. I am not as angry as I used to be about the offenses of men, because I understand them more. When you have failed and have had a hard time, self – justification is not a vice. Even self – pity is OK. Those usual vices can be virtues if you were guilty of being too hard on yourself and had to construct your confidence. I really went through hell. I was doing something great in less than great places. I had to learn — but my tormentors were still lousy for who they were and the trivia that they cared about.
Writers can come at it from different directions … but the world is light and dark … and writing has to reflect it — a writer is like a cinematographer … the mastery is in the handling of light and shadow … in ourselves and in all outside of ourselves …
Twain was bitter in his writing at the end of his life … a man who was so successful was enraged that it was being taken from him … so he had to see no meaning … or the pain would be too great … the unsuccessful man, as I was, learns something else … such a man learns that poverty leads to abundance … and that loneliness leads to a great appreciation of loving and being loved … a man who has failed knows that love and success are transient things and is warmed by their memory when they are gone … he knows that life has seasons and has no expectation for a perpetual summer …
They say that Twain was a depressed personality. I never was. I experienced depression like anyone else, but I always have had hope and I have always been rewarded for my faith. I felt off track, but I always knew something worthwhile was there. I angrily fought for liberation. My anger saved me. I write to understand the present and prepare for the future. Even my saddest and most painful past moments now seem a blessing … failure and suffering and death … the material of success and happiness and life … if this sunny perspective never wins me the appreciation of the depressive writers and the intellectual scholars so be it. I’ve been liberated by the mutual repulsion between me and the hack entertainers and lawyers and businessmen …I can do without the snobs as much as I can do without the rabble.
I just want my continuing writing to get to everyone that it is intended for … my first success was accepting that I was a writer, my second success was licking the problem of keeping body and soul together, and my third success will be to reach who I am meant to reach.
I am not nearly as big a figure as Twain, but I contain his essentials in miniature. I like Twain a hell of a lot more than I like Hemingway, and he is much more accomplished than the great Lenny Bruce, my fellow angel trapped in the hell of stand up comedy. I long ago spread my angel’s wings and flown from hell to heaven … the region of creation far away from crude show business and sterile academia and establishment writing.
Twain lived a long life … felt every minute … wise, funny and profound and expanding and contracting with the vicissitudes of all of the changes of his body, his nation, his world and his circumstances … what a wonderful gift to me, an artist writer on the early steps of a career at 65.
Copyright 2021 Richard Thomas
4/13/21: Walt Disney (2015) — Art Starts Things, Business Finishes Them #poetry
Mark Twain had too much imagination to be a good businessman. Art is expansive, it sees what is possible. Business is conservative, it manages risk.
Walt Disney was more an inventor than an artist. Disney was more kin to Thomas Edison than Mark Twain.
The Mark Twain Prize of the Kennedy Center has never been awarded to anyone who did work resembling Mark Twain’s. Mark Twain was a serious artist who used humor as a means of exploring the nature of humanity. Mark Twain Prize winners are business people who captured one corner of the laughter market or another. Will Ferrell, Tina Fey, Jonathan Winters et al have nothing in common with Mark Twain. Richard Pryor, Lily Tomlin and George Carlin are closer … Pryor was on occasion the closest … they had seriousness in their work, but rarely had the expansion of Twain’s thought — the breadth and depth of his considerations of human existence.
The Mark Twain Prize should be called the Walt Disney Prize. Business can be creative and fun. It finds a way to be popular — that’s success. My father would marvel at Walt Disney, “What an imagination!” Dad was delighted and right. But Walt Disney did not have the imagination of Mark Twain. Walt Disney thought up what the people want. Mark Twain thought up what the people need. Mark Twain did much more than very well as a writer, but failed as a mogul. Walt Disney started as an artist, and soon became a mogul.
In the early days of The Walt Disney Studios, Disney courted art, in himself and in the world. Art animated all that he did. He created animation as a profession. He created the studio as an organized business. He forged a culture of innovation and excellence. He had his team study formal painting styles. He encouraged experimentation and didn’t punish noble failure. Disney and his workforce developed all kinds of technical innovations. All of the business, professional and technical advances existed to further the art.
Art has many practical applications. One of the biggest of those uses is art as ignition switch for commercial enterprise. Artists lead in the infancy of things, but then the support functions — business, professionalism and technology take charge. Disney created a corporation so that he could make “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”, the first full length cartoon, a massive artistic and commercial success. The moment after that triumph, all creative output was developed to maintain the corporation. “Snow White” touched Twain’s seriousness — it addressed what is elemental and important. Twain never left that occupation. This film said that Disney mastered art and commerce, but that cliched sentiment is a fairy tale. If a person tries to serve both those masters, he or she eventually finds that commerce overwhelms art. I can’t help but feel, and this may be highly subjective but not universally true … if an artist honors his or her commercial side too, he or she will sooner or later betray the art altogether.
Walt Disney did “Pinocchio” after “Snow White” and struggled how to make the puppet, who was an unsympathetic character in the source material, likable. Likability is a business concern, not a concern of art. A writer doesn’t get good until he or she is unconcerned with his or her audience’s response. There are no concerns of touching people or winning them over. An artist tells the truth … no manipulations. Mark Twain was popular for most of his career without trying. It just so happened that Twain’s truth was desired by the public. But when Twain, grew more directly critical of America and God and focused on the terror of death and loss near the end of his life, he didn’t blink.
Walt Disney wanted great art, awards and riches. Something had to give. As Twain was too much of an artist to be a great businessman, Disney was too much of businessman to be a great artist.
“Pinocchio”, “Bambi”, “Fantasia” … all were attempts to reproduce the success of “Snow White”. Business tries to exploit what works. Art always moves forward. Interestingly, the business aspects of the studio — technology, professionalism and organization — kept advancing.
Disney’s artistic and commercial ambitions placed the studio in financial danger. Disney and his partner, brother Roy Disney, took on investors to stay solvent. Now business was in command. The studio became a corporation — hierarchical and sterile. The old studio was designed to nurture inspiration. Now, like a factory, the new studio was designed to force sustained labor in order to survive. Disney himself was oblivious to the changes happening to what was once his shop for personal expression, perhaps out of a willful ignorance.The satisfactions of success can cozily take residence in the part of a person’s soul that was once reserved for the dissatisfactions that fuel art.
When an artist becomes a businessman, we call that person a fascist. An artist wants mastery over his or her work — his or her masterpieces. A businessman wants mastery over his employees — or slaves. The Disney Studio had a strike. Walt Disney opposed union organizing and fired a leader of the workers. The exhilaration of the power of art turns into the power struggle of the attempt to exploit and dominate other people for one’s self – aggrandizement.
Walt Disney, the fascist, saw a Communist conspiracy behind the strike. Disney was drawn to conspiracy theories for self – justification and as a tool to consolidate power — in the same way as Hitler (who started as an artist), Henry Ford (who began as a visionary improving the lot of the common man), Nixon (who was an intellectual as well as a paranoid fascist), McCarthy (nothing grand here — just an opportunist), Reagan (who was a better actor than he is often given credit for) and Trump (who would have made a fine insult comedian). Disney, who was once such an American original, was now dispiritingly conventional.
Walt Disney escaped to South America to be loved. Roy Disney resolved the strike. Roy saw unionism was a reality. The strikers got most everything that they wanted. But Walt had revealed his new true colors. Walt Disney returned and was now a boss — a boss is fascist dictator subject to realities of the market and government laws and regulations. Mark Twain, foe of racism, plutocracy, imperialism and all other betrayals of humanity, could never be a boss.
The new Walt Disney did “Song of the South”, which is the spiritual opposite of Twain’s “Huckleberry Finn”. Twain challenged racism in 1885. Disney was fine with racism in 1946. Twain wrote about the failure of Reconstruction in 1885. Disney celebrated the oppressive stereotypes of Reconstruction in 1946. Disney was advised sensitivity. He ignored it and followed his instincts. Fascists are racists. The film premiered in Atlanta. Its African – American star, James Baskett wasn’t allowed to attend. Disney was OK with it. The NAACP, the New York Times and others called out Disney for his racism. Disney, of course, saw a Communist conspiracy against him.
Disney then saw a Communist conspiracy when a rival animation studio provided strong competition. Disney saw the rise of unions in Hollywood as Communist conspiracy. He testified before the House Un -American Activities Committee and named names — accusing leaders of the 1941 strike against his studio of being Communists. Disney had no proof. The artist imagination turns dark in the boss. The impulse to power over others makes the artist want to create a world instead of images of the world. Disney’s medium was now human flesh. He ruined careers. He surely convinced himself that his cause was righteous, and his self – righteousness protected him from any reflection upon his bitter and destructive malice.
Disney was skillful at fashioning narratives. He could take some nature photography and put together an anthropomorphic story. Twain was skilled at telling stories, but never just for their own sakes, or worse, just for what they could do for the artist. For Twain the theme — the meaning — is what is important. For the businessman, the reaction is what counts. The laugh, the ovation … and the step from that mere sales pitching to propaganda is a tiny one.
The fascist is a builder. The artist is a farmer. Careers are made. Art grows. I loved Walt Disney as a little boy. I still find him charming, just like Ronald Reagan. The Devil is a charmer. Hitler’s film director Leni Riefenstahl made awe inspiring movies. The huge models of Hitler’s plan for a new Berlin were impressive. Disneyland, Disneyworld … “the happiest place on earth” … the ambition, the audacity … it’s all exciting. The artist speaks for God. The fascist competes with God. The fascist claims that he can do it better than God. Come to Disneyland where you will be delighted and you will disappear. Your time, your money, your interest … all invested in the greater glory of Disney. Fascist America exists for those who dare to be Disneys. The rest of us are extras in the epic of the exceptional person’s life. America is a crazy pseudo -religious adolescent wet dream — it’s prophet is Ayn Rand, and its most desirable saint is Walt Disney … to be young forever and powerful, to be an artist and rich, to dominate all competition and be a swell guy … that’s the big lie.
Yes, I loved Walt Disney as a little boy. Adam and Eve had the apple. I had Walt Disney. Disney had enough of what Mark Twain had to hook me, and enough of the fascist to attempt to subjugate me. Much of my life has been a struggle against that thing that animated Walt Disney.
Unlike Twain, Disney the businessman took big risks that paid off. He sold off personal assets to build Disneyland. Fascists are bold. Artists take cover in their studios and work to understand the world. Fascists go out and capture the world and take ownership of it all — land, sea, air and all plants and living creatures.The artist holds a mirror to the world and implies positive changes. The fascist controls the world and forces change upon it. The artist sees the world as God’s image — sees the invisible in the stuff of life. The fascist, no matter what religious pieties he or she may intone, sees the world as an opportunity to be shaped into the fascist’s image. The artist sees the eternal in the finite moment. The fascist wants immortality and claims upon himself the imprimatur of the Creator.
Hubris looks so admirable in its early stages. Then fascism claims to deserve Mark Twain Prizes, because after all the world is just what the fascist says it is … it doesn’t have to be real or true or fair … “the happiest place on earth” hated unions and thought African – Americans were doing just fine – zip a dee doo dah …
Walt Disney was a great entertainer and salesman … he was no Mark Twain who was neither. (Yes, Twain could be very good at entertainment but it was never his purpose, it was just his method. He was an artist.) Disney promoted a cancerous populism that was charming at first, but grew into Trumpism in its most recent iteration. Wish upon a star, and follow your heart and don’t listen to any authority … you know best. Anyone who tells you what to do is a Communist. The irony is that anti – intellectualism and the refusal to learn from the legitimate authority of people who know what they are talking about, makes you the least free, unable to make your own decisions because you are too ill – informed to take authority for your own life. The only thing that you can rely upon is your gut feeling since you have abandoned your critical thinking skills. If someone knows how to get you riled up, or how to get you to shed a sentimental tear, or feel lust for people, or feel greed for objects … then that someone owns you and can get you to do anything that they please. Entertainers and salesmen are fascists, getting people to do as they say while conning them that they, the people, the gullible marks, are the ones in charge.
Disneyland opened a month before I was born. I was supposed to grow up and live there. But somehow, it wasn’t for me. The artists who turn into businessmen may be good, but they aren’t really good. As their inner artist atrophies, they become fascists — retaining the artist’s will to power, but misplacing it over others instead of their artworks. Disneyland was an accurate image of America alright … anxious manufactured fun and phony. Disneyland is said to celebrate American ideals, but it actually celebrates America’s idealized version of itself. Twain saw America’s darkness. Disney ignored it. If you don’t see your darkness, you live in the hallucinations of a blind man. Mark Twain really had an idyllic childhood in Hannibal. Walt Disney grew up unhappily mainly in Kansas City and Chicago, so he just made up a new childhood. If you don’t like reality says the fascist, make something better in your mind and deny the rest.
I was nine years old when “Mary Poppins” was released. I made my father take me to see it four times. I have loved it my whole life. The fascist businessman reverted to art. He told a tale of an absent father who redeemed himself by discovering his children by entering the magic of their innocent imaginations. Walt Disney knew the theme well and he created something using all of the accomplished craft that he developed in business. “Mary Poppins” reminds me that art doesn’t belong to the artist. The man who spent most of his life in fascist business was God’s instrument at least twice — near his beginning with “Snow White” and near his end with “Mary Poppins”. The same applies to the Mark Twain Prize winners. Many, maybe most of them caught Twain’s lightning in a bottle once or twice, but most of what they did was mediocre business and malevolent fascism. Just like you, just like me … just like America.
Disney ended making pale imitations of his last burst of art, “Mary Poppins” and of his greatest burst of fascism, Disneyland. “Bedknobs and Broomsticks” didn’t cut it. Epcot was more of the same. The irony of the fascist is that each play that he or she makes for immortality never satisfies. What he or she really wants is that feeling of the eternal — art. Disney had the highest of human experience in his great work, and the lowest in his business.Art always fulfills, and business always disappoints. Our potential is endless when we work with God, and doomed to profound failure when we work against Him. Business is never truly successful. It creates only an illusion of success. Business claims to be magical, but its biggest trick is upon the psyche of the business person. It is impossible to escape the emptiness that is part of the human condition. Business frantically attempts to fill that void with manufactured meaning. God places us at the edge of that void and asks us to discover the real meaning that He placed there just for us.
Have mercy on Walt Disney. It isn’t easy to separate and unite, from and with what is deadly and what matters. Disney was only human after all, and aren’t we all. Sin is a real thing, and we do real harm to each other. We have a responsibility to be more than happy. We have to be good and right and true. But we are ignorant and mired with wounds and complexes. It takes a Mark Twain to sort it all out. His Prize should be reserved for those who give much more than a smile.
Copyright 2021 Richard Thomas