4/27/21: Nomadland (2020) — A World of Natural Abundance #poetry
I don’t have a house, but I am not homeless … a line from Nomadland
We wander through existence on an Odyssey. When we are young we misname life, “our search”. When we are older, if we are well – intentioned, wise and maybe a little lucky — or is luck better named “grace”? — we name life properly, “home”.
The world is an abundant place. Society is a Waiting for Godot wasteland. The film opens with the protagonist, Fern, peeing in scrub brush on the side of her new home, the road. Life happens somewhere off to society’s side. We put our trust in powers that just use our bodies, minds and souls as so much fuel, and we freak out when they fire us, kills us … just let us go … they tell us we are garbage, no longer of use. They do us a favor.
Society sells art as an extra, a leisurely frill. Society lies. Art is what sustains us. Art is an underground river of goodness that flows beneath the illusion of our social misery.
My father was born poor — not lower middle class — poor. He often said, “God will provide”. And God always did. The money, the job, the friend, the community, the insight, the inspiration always arrives in the nick of time for people who love … people who love other people, people who love real work …. real work is art … real work serves God, the worker’s soul and feasting guests …
No real work is done for corporations … real work is done for one’s family and/or for one’s creative and authentic and personal human impulse and/or for one’s community and/or for humanity as a whole …
Businessmen say that they should be honored because they “create jobs”. Businessmen imply that they sustain life.
We are part of nature. Nature sustains itself when society doesn’t fuck with it.
Our suffering ends when we leave co -dependent society, brave our independence and open ourselves to interdependent bliss.
Sometimes, our abundant journey wanders through employment for business. We do the man’s chores, but we work for God’s purpose.
In the early 1990s, I was flat on my ass in New York. I only had a couple of hundred dollars left. I thought that I would have to go home again to my parents’ house in humiliation and defeat. I went to a pay phone and called my answering machine. A nice guy who managed the inside sales room at the New York Law Journal had called. I had done some temp work for him a few months before. He was offering me a full time job. God provided. It wasn’t glamorous or prestigious. But it was the next thing that I needed. I had to learn how to take care of myself. And I needed to be with good people. And George Barber, the manager, was good people. He was a nice looking guy with a beard who had seven kids and drove a cab for extra money. I was a good salesman but I wasn’t an easy personality, and he was patient with me. George Barber was a wise young man who took care of things, and he knew that I was meant for more professional things. I asked him if I could come in to the office early and use the fax machine to apply for more appropriate jobs. He said sure thing. I didn’t have to lie or sneak around. (I don’t do that anyway. I get physically ill whenever I try. Part of God’s abundance is a matter of biochemistry.) Good people understand each other. They don’t have to play games. (My gag reflex at lying and manipulation is an abundance GPS device.)
Years later, I was working as a lawyer and felt finally established in both the natural and social worlds. I set out to take myself a wife. I wasn’t lonely. I wanted to experience intimacy with another person. I had never done that. I signed up for eHarmony.com. I went on around 80 coffee dates in about a year’s time. Now, a coffee date is not really a date. It’s a “relationship” interview. Dates, on the other hand, if I can recall that long ago, are fun. They aren’t goal oriented. You really want to see the movie, eat the meal, kiss the girl. No, these coffee dates are not dates, but for me, they became more than relationship interviews … they turned into research for an informal, uninformed approximation of an anthropological study. I called it “The Habits of the Middle Aged American Female (40 to 60) in the New Millennium “. My findings were inconclusive, and I lost interest.
I didn’t connect with anybody on eHarmony.com and I gave up. I went to dinner alone at Garcia’s in the Lincoln Square section of Chicago one night. I didn’t feel like going home so I stopped in at this little German bar down the street. I don’t drink very often and I rarely go to bars — and I’m never alone when I do. I got my Diet Coke and stood at the end of the bar. I had no intention to talk to anyone. I just wanted to stand or sit somewhere that wasn’t my apartment. This guy came up to me. He looked a little like George Barber. He said, “Why are you alone?” I thought, “I beg your pardon.” Thankfully, I didn’t say it. He didn’t wait for my answer, he knew. “You aren’t getting any younger, you should be with somebody.” I told him about my experience with eHarmony. “Oh that’s not for you. Those women are conservative on eHarmony. You are progressive in every way. You should go on Match.com.” I repeat — I had never seen this guy before in my life. I took his advice, and the first and only woman that I met through Match.com was Paula, who became my wife. We have been intimate for ten years and counting. God provided. Intimacy was the next thing for me, several things removed from learning how to take care of myself. Life has its prerequisites.
I had the opportunity to work and the opportunity to love. Freud says that those two things are the whole Megillah. But once those are achieved, life has its required refinements to be reckoned with. Intimacy changes, deepens and grows. We wake every morning as two new people, and marriage is like a probe into space charting maps of new galaxies. Intimacy is a commitment to all of the transformations of the two souls involved. And work is a process of atonement — a unification of all of one’s talents, inclinations, aptitudes and experiences. Each step of the way, a new transformed vocation emerges to complement the ever changing person and the ever changing natural world, a new trip that needs fresh opportunities and God provides …
the improviser begat the marketing professional that begat the corporate lawyer that begat the ethics lawyer that begat the trial lawyer that begat the professor that begat the writer … each chapter ended with doubt and fear … I had to learn every time that God provides … all the begat words are over-simplifications, and that’s why they change into something else … writer, poet, seems a big enough word to handle me, my penultimate atonement, until I am ready to simply be a human being, but that will come near journey’s end and then I will remember and say good bye, and die …
In each chapter before my current role as writer, I was certified in some way. I was trained and hired professionally as an improviser. I was hired as a marketing professional. I was licensed as a lawyer. I was granted an appointment as a professor. God provided each time, manipulating society to give me what I needed in order to do the work that he intended for me.
My new chapter has new requirements. As a writer I certify myself. I make a claim that I can write. No employer tells me that I can do it. I passed no “writing ” bar exam. I am not a freelance writer looking for a job. I am not looking for a publishing house whose overall business model I can serve. I am not submitting pieces to publications in the hope that they find my take on things suitable for their readers.
I don’t have a publishing house or relationship with some publication, but I am not homeless. I don’t trust society. I trust God. I am past the time of putting my hat in my hand and borrowing George Barber’s fax machine. That’s what God wanted then, not now. I don’t think it’s pride. Maybe it’s a little self -protection.
My opportunities to share my writing more broadly will happen naturally, like all the other great things happened to me. God is a natural thing, not a supernatural one. God is everything that is right and just and honest and kind. God feels right. Natural feels right.
We walk alone. We kid ourselves that we belong anywhere. We belong on the road. Everyone we meet is new to us, even the ones we’ve known for years.
I thought Nomadland would be an “issues picture” — something about the economy and the social safety net. It might be that on one of its lower levels. But it’s a poetic piece. It’s about the nature of existence — the existence of nature … existence in nature … the discernment of the illusion of society and the truth of nature …
God — I feel that I have to define this term because it immediately shuts some people down and immediately gives some people the wrong idea — God is the natural you (and me and everyone else) … that exists inside of you and beyond you and God is the connective tissue that hooks up your inner world with your outer world … God only lets you know what to do a step at a time … God often sends you off in directions that seem like detours, but are little abundance jogs … stops to pick up what you need …
We free ourselves from codependence and go on our way alone and then find each other as needed for whatever amount of time as needed during our mission to serve God’s purposes, and thus be nourished by His or Her natural abundance …
Our sweet memories are happy ones of people, places and things that we love … nouns that we love … memories of abundance past, prototypes for abundance future …
Our bitter memories are sour ones of people, places and things that we were merely attached to, our codependencies …
A job is for your attachments, work is for who and what you love …
The last line of the movie says
THIS MOVIE IS DEDICATED TO THOSE WHO HAD TO DEPART. WE’LL SEE YOU DOWN THE ROAD.
That line betrays Chloe Zhao and Frances McDormand, the auteurs behind this beautiful picture. They are not bleeding heart liberal interlopers observing a remote phenomena with dewy eyes. The nomads, real people, play themselves in the movie. Chloe and Frances play themselves too. Chloe and Frances could tell this story because it is their story too. Chloe and Frances didn’t merely become nomads for a short while, or play act as nomads. The nomads who live on the road are just another version of themselves.
It’s everyone’s story whether they can see it or not.
An abundant God provides us our complements in nature. Chloe Zhao shows me portraits of myself, using faces that I’ve never met and locations that I’ve never seen.
We are strangers to one another, connecting and finding love in one another’s strangeness. We see ourselves in the faces of strangers.
We all have to depart.
We wander socially distant through a landscape designed by Samuel Beckett waiting for something that’s right there with us.
All of our tangible needs are provided by what is invisible.
In the nick of time.
My writing is for all who see through society and live in God’s natural abundance, whether you know it or not. You are my friends, my readers, my publishers.
It’s easy to see through society if you stay poor, no matter what natural abundance you get to use in a particular moment. My father never forgot that.
My father died, and so will Chloe and Frances, and you and me. We will have finished our tasks in service of God’s purposes, and He will take care of us every step of the way.
If we lived forever, there would be no tenderness.
And we need that.
I’ll see you down the road.
Copyright 2021 Richard Thomas