2/10/23: Notes on Incomplete Improv, Work vs. Jobs, and How I Learned to Write #poetry

2/10/23: Notes on Incomplete Improv, Work vs. Jobs, and How I Learned to Write #poetry

Improv is just a rough draft. It is just part of the creative process, not a full fledged art on its own. Good improvisers easily access their spontaneous freedom, but any creative person does that, right? We’ve talked about this before, the dialogue between spontaneity and logic and structure. Both are required. Some start with reason, some start with impulse, but all who create reconcile the two. 

I feel like my process has gotten to the point where I use both simultaneously. I credit improv and law as where I learned the two functions, but I think I would have gotten here no matter what I did. 

I always felt pulled down by all but a few improv partners. I just wanted my own voice.  I never cared about any other aspect of it. I was often aggravated and bored by their lame initiations, or tired of elevating the proceedings, and then getting a kick in the ass afterwards for my trouble. 

I always started jobs with great energy and commitment. They all taught me something. But I always outgrew them. Writing is the only thing big enough for me. 

Beyond exhausting the creative possibilities of a job, there were two other factors that ended them. 

I always thought I was going to work on the side of the angels, but each job revealed itself to be corrupt. I never did the immoral thing requested. It’s not in me.

My first law job wanted me to work as a lowly associate in support of a representation of the insurance company of a for profit blood bank that gave people AIDS tainted blood. They were trying to screw widows and orphans out of their wrongful death insurance money. I couldn’t do it. That was that.

The Gang Crime Prevention Center wanted me to lobby the state legislature for a law that heavily fined the parents of truant high school students. I told my boss that I couldn’t do it. It was a war against poor people . He demanded that I to do so. I answered that was “like ordering a Catholic doctor to perform an abortion”. I was predictably fired. 

At the Attorney Disciplinary Commission the director wanted me to punish a schizophrenic attorney who acted out in a court room. I told him that the woman.was sick. He was in charge of the disposition of the cases. I wouldn’t budge. I quit soon thereafter. 

I have integrity. I never did something that someone ordered me to do that would interfere with my ability to sleep at night. 

There were other compromises that I resisted in every field I was ever part of. In higher ed they pushed students on a conveyer belt and didn’t really teach. If I did what they wanted it would have been like working at the DMV. Just certifying ignorant people to prepare them for immoral jobs. 

Marketing of course is a joke. As soon as I saw that I was manipulating people to do what I artfully suggested, and obstructing them from exercising their self-evident rights to self determination, I was out. It was a creepy job, encouraging uncritical thinking and weakness in people. I couldn’t do it.

In entertainment I always got push back for being smart — and decent — and always felt held back, like in improv.

The second element in my job odyssey was the refusal to accept the insults and disrespect that I found in every workplace, without exception. I wouldn’t put up with it, and that ended jobs.

For years I thought that these conflicts were my problem, but now I see them as systemic. 

I thought if I found the right field and the right people, I’d finally be home.

But now I think the immorality and lack of civility and respect is universal. 

I read an essay by Vaclav Havel about post-totalitarian society. The Czechs were in this condition as the Soviets were losing power and starting to recede. As I read, I thought he could just as well be talking about America. He was talking about my experience. 

We made great progressive strides in America but the ghosts of exploitation and inequality dog us everywhere. 

I learned that you can’t find what I was looking for in society. It has to be within you. 

My critics think I was frustrated and couldn’t stick with jobs. The opposite was true. I held on too long. I dreamed an impossible dream. 

But the ultimate result was perfect. I often get to these points where I think I should have regrets, and I always on reflection feel grateful and proud. 

My jobs journey taught me about life —- forced me to experience what is going on. One writer worked as a waitress to write about wage slavery. But she had a book deal waiting. I worked wage slave jobs, ate in soup kitchens, lived the life of an attorney and professor and even brushed with stardom. I didn’t know I was writing a book, and I didn’t have a book deal. I think it’s much better this way. 

My journey developed my craft as a writer. It was better to learn writing through improvisation and the law (and in many other ways) than in a writing program or in apprenticeship in a professional writing situation, as useful as those things could potentially be. 

Critics mistakenly saw me as a lost soul, or an unambitious child just playing around, or a bum, or a leech, or a fool … critics from my many walks of life. What they have in common is a tolerance for meanness in and around them, and a capacity to endure personal humiliation, that I don’t share.

My jobs weren’t distractions. They were necessary. If I didn’t have my hard road, I think my writing would be trivial. I have seen people I knew decades ago in recent years. They are, for the most part, sadly the same. They have the same values and same level of understanding about life that they had when we were young. Doing what you are told for years stunts your growth. Your soul and reason calcify into stagnation. They did well. or are disappointed that they didn’t do well, at activities not worth doing. They don’t have a clue as to what is worth doing. If someone they granted power tells them that they are a success or a failure, they dimly and meekly accept it.

I wouldn’t change a thing. I have cared too much what people think, but I’ve never let their barbs stop me. Their ignorance serves me. They wound me, and the pain forces me to pursue deeper understanding. I viscerally know they are wrong, and then I discover the words to describe why. Writing is thinking only better. (David McCullough).

One criticism of me was that I reinvent wheels. Not true. I make new wheels. I was born the authority of my own life. I’m lucky. I get physically ill doing anything that is against my own deep impulse. This has caused me a lot of good trouble. The people who have shouted orders at me about how to do it, aren’t going to be lowered into my grave with me. I’ll do it my way. 

Even on the jobs I decided what I’d do. I always did what I agreed to do. When they broke their word and changed the job description the split was set in motion. 

I’m a writer because I’m a person with a story to tell. 

A person’s jobs is not their work. I have been very committed and dedicated to my work since high school. 

I am blessed. I feel compassion for my critics and I love my past, present and future life. I don’t know why nature chose me for this charmed life, but I know it wants me to continue to struggle to sustain what’s important … not for only myself …

But for all creation. 

Copyright 2023 Richard Thomas


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