The Rick Blog Book Draft Chapter Fifty-Four

The Rick Blog Book Draft Chapter Fifty-Four

3/21/22: my stream of consciousness while listening to “David Chase — An Interview with Peter Bogdonavich” #poetry

From my correspondence with my friend the morning of this viewing … the stream started before I happened upon this video. The day had a predetermined lesson plan unbeknownst to me:

I enjoy your reservations with the show (‘Mrs. Maisel’), all of which I agree with so far. I don’t think it’s uproariously funny either. It’s ‘cute’ like the book of a traditional musical to me.

That’s a good question about whether Amy S P consciously made an archetype.

Her biography doesn’t suggest an interest in Jungian psychology even in a derivative way like Campbell’s, but who knows. Her father Don Sherman was a comic who opened for Johnny Mathis … I suspect she mixed her own emotional experience with facts related to her father’s life as observed by her and other personal sources.

Like David Chase, the art of this series is a surprise. I don’t see anything in “Northern Exposure” (Chase) or “Gilmore Girls” (Amy of course) which would predict the artistry of these shows. 

I , maybe self-servingly, compare those early shows to my time as a marketer, then unemployed, then a lawyer. Something was growing in me. I think they were earning a living and then got or made their chance.

Even when someone knows about archetypes, I don’t think they know when they make them. It’s the collective “unconscious”. Making art occurs when one hooks into that. My writing is like that I think. I’m just writing, figuring things out, and then every once in awhile a poem (or more accurately, something poetic) breaks out.

I like your description of the other characters as paths she could have taken, but would be wrong for her. She has to be who she is.

I faced those challenges. I was good at several related things. I was a good lawyer, professor, comedian, marketer … but my sweet spot is writing. Midge’s self knowledge on this crucial point may be her greatest quality. She is this thing and she gamely meets all of the challenges she faces.

I don’t think Amy was like her. She had to work. She established herself in TV writing and had no options. It was her living. And she was an artist and eventually made it where she had settled … it meaning art. Gilmore Girls and the rest made her years earlier in business.

I think all art is made unselfconsciously. That’s my opinion. I never know where my writing, or life for that matter, are going.

My friend responded brilliantly, and then I wrote this:

Well, that’s exactly right. My two formative experiences were improvisation and the law. One all Id and the other all super ego. The spontaneous … the jazz … and the classical … rational and ordered. There is a constant discussion between the two. I started writing (this iteration) in 2014 to integrate the two. And do both at once. I write and rewrite simultaneously, And my initiation to write starts with the collective unconscious nagging at me with a thought or feeling, and then my rational mind trying to understand it.

I was taken by the Catholic catechism which says that emotions are neutral and we are tasked with understanding these messages from God.

Would you grant me that Joyce used the archetypal journey consciously, but that the inspiration came from the collective ( or individual) unconscious? The inspiration to take a Homeric myth and set the protagonist in Dublin … to repeat the tale and go beyond it, and all the inspirations that resulted from the initial one came from the unconscious.

When people say someone is in his or her head, I think they misread rationality. Rationality is misguided when it doesn’t serve intuitive inspiration. We fall in love, and then later at least partly understand why, for example.

It starts with the unconscious. Greatness is in being both. 

I guess we really agree here. Mastery involves consciously understanding and framing one’s unconscious initiations. Making the invisible visible. Art. 

The depth of your insight into my process is thrilling, and gives me a hint of yours. You really look, and really see. Your actors are so fortunate.

Then I stumbled on the video and emailed this:

Spooky. I’m watching a YouTube vid … Bogdonavich interviews Chase. Chase makes the point about letting unconscious speak and then figuring it out … and that before Sopranos, he wanted to be artist like Bogdonavich but he was locked into making a good living with TV development deals. Life always checks my work. Good grades here.

OK, what else is here that I didn’t already sense before I turned the interview on …

Andy Warhol hid and my impulse is to put everything on the table, but I think each approach is enigmatic. My work is an artistic representation of my stream of consciousness. Consciousness and unconsciousness speak so personally and so complexly, that it is impossible to paint a realistic portrait. So the audience gets impressions … and you have to fill in the blanks …

Chase, like me, doesn’t see genre. He writes about how things are. Sometimes funny, sometimes tragic, sometimes surreal, sometimes painfully and immediately real …

David Chase didn’t know what he was doing. He followed his inspirations and let the artwork tell him where it wanted him to go. He did not plan out the first two seasons of “The Sopranos”. He had a premise. He thought he would kill off Nancy Marchand’s character earlier, but the actor was too good. So the story told him what to do. She got a reprieve.

His initial concept for the series was thirteen lines on a board. This is a parable! Be open and be comfortable not knowing where things are going. Hah! Because you have no idea! If you follow what you are given, everything works out!. Fox turned the show down and Chase was much better off at HBO! Life and art follow the same natural laws! (The exclamations are mine! As are many of these insights … I’m not just transcribing what Chase says! I’m responding!)

Chase wanted to make a movie every week. Each piece was connected in a serial. (Chase didn’t want this, but it was a fact. HBO wanted that.) But he wanted each episode to stand on its own alone as well as be part of the whole. This is what I want for my writing. I can’t see how that wouldn’t be true. I am the built in constant. And each day is different, even if just slightly. So each entry is a piece, and the whole is mega-piece.

Chase’s source material for his inspirations from “The Sopranos” was similar to Amy S P’s for “Maisel”. Stories from his boyhood in New Jersey … often never more personal than what he read in the paper. Amy took from her father’s life … observed with the distance of a child who can’t be a full participant. Also similar to my distant stance as a viewer. But then the personal intervenes … the interesting subject matter mediated by the interesting perspective of the artist … My friend likes that I movie from a movie show to my personal memory to broader mythic or I’ll add existential considerations … elements of art …

To get a sense of this video you have to watch it. This reading just gives a whiff of my experience listening to it.

Casting is important, says Chase. He got the actors he needed. Life has to be cast too. I have the right wife, friend, other friends, brother and readers that I need.

James Gandolfini’s acting, and discussion with Chase about scenes helped Chase write Tony Soprano. You need people like that. No one works alone. Gandolfini “through his actor process” showed or reminded Chase of the extent of Tony Soprano’s capacity for violence … which is so important to the character and the series, the intelligent, charming and charismatic man who was capable of psychotic and murderous violence.

Openness and listening …

Orson Welles: “A director is a person who presides over accidents.”

Thomas: “So is a writer. So is an artist. So is anyone fully alive.”

Years ago when I taught improvisation, I had a line. “Improvisation is the art of not knowing what you are doing.”

Today, I will revise my statement. “Art is the art of not knowing what you are doing.” Improvisation is just an aspect of art. It’s not the whole thing. Openness and flexibility in writing is different than improvising. Improvisation starts with nothing and finds truth in the moment. Inspirations lead you to do things more thought out, but you can never be rigid about what you go into the page or scene or day in the life with … You have to have a plan and a facility to change course … You can’t rig your experiments … you try things and the findings may be very different than you thought going in … or maybe perfectly correct … people get scared but it is all actually fun and interesting this way …

Things are murky in the beginning, and become clear and you make progress and then come the surprises …

Orson Welles: “Movies are a ribbon of dreams.”

That’s the ticket … to dream and be awake at the same time … interpreting life’s weird logic … and surfing in its wake …

Chase is humble … he seems to know that is he is the steward of something great …

I think we are all species unto ourselves … species aren’t arrogant about their place in creation, they just play their role … I identify with him, he is an ordinary guy … my writing is much more impressive than I am …

We artists catch lightning in a bottle …

I read my pieces often, and when time passes, even a little time, they seem like I never laid eyes on them previously. Chase seems like that. He’s working … accomplishing all of the prosaic tasks of poetry.

Chase never had “The Sopranos” completely figured out … and that is why it is so great. We’re never finished. There is always another mystery waiting beneath our every revelation.

Chase suffers from criticism from the Italian Anti-Defamation League. He’s an ordinary guy! The artist tells the truth, and the man is hurt because of it. Art stings, and artists leave out all memberships and affiliations. So he makes political statements and tries to explain … but the show speaks for itself. It’s clearly not discriminatory. It describes something real … a small but real element in the Italian-American character, and in mankind as a whole. The artist doesn’t recoil from light or dark.

Copyright 2022 Richard Thomas

3/23/22: Ketanji Brown Jackson and the Idiots and A**holes #poetry

You have to hand it to the Republicans. They never let your feet leave the ground. Every time when you dream about democracy and fairness and gender and racial equality … every time you are warmed by the presence of a civil and decent person of excellence in public life, who is immensely talented and has worked so hard in the service of genuine values … they remind you that you can’t go anywhere without the insults and slanders and disgusting behavior of people like them. They behave just like the idiots and assholes in my ordinary life who attacked me in a sick room, and tried to decry my accomplishments when I am so clearly more accomplished than they are. They Republicans had the same agenda today as my Second City Alumni Association attackers did on another ever more distant day. They wanted to convince dumb people that I was of lower character, ability and real achievement than I am. They also wanted to stop me from being me, stop me from loving and enjoying my life — a life that was a gift to me from God and that I have developed to its full potential. Toxic is the common word for their behavior. They wanted me to stop writing and stop coming around to see their sick friend. They wanted stage time at a funeral, I guess. Just like the GOP.

The poor Republicans, and my idiots and asshole antagonists are the same. Much bigger national stage, tiny and obscure theater clique … but the same human dynamic. Both of the illicit gangs are pathetic. They know how to get power and status as kings and queens of their ignorant tribes … cunning regarding minor events, but clueless about the greater world. They are too stupid to do anything constructive with whatever useful gains they have made, so they furiously and jealously try to maintain and expand their position without doing a goddam thing for anybody.

I felt affirmed by Ketanji Brown Jackson. She did in the large world what I do in my standard sized life. She did not hide her light under a bushel. She showed the world how smart and talented she is, the idiot and asshole Republicans constant attempts to demean her notwithstanding. She didn’t hide her disgust with their trashy behavior. And she didn’t take their shit.

The Republicans accomplished something what my detractors did. They got some uneducated people to believe that she was a criminal and pervert. It’s preposterous, and maddening if you allow it to be. But everyone else of at least average intelligence, and a sense of basic human decency, can see that the Republicans are idiots and assholes, and that Ketanji Brown Jackson is exceptional in her mind, heart and soul.

The idiots and assholes cheat the fools who follow them. They do nothing to Judge Jackson or me and the people smart and fair enough to see who we are.

I feel nothing when I see idiots and assholes now. My interest in them is academic and not emotional. It was a painstaking process that got me to this point.

If you are dealing with idiots and assholes currently you can save some time, and maybe heartache, if you watch vids of how Ketanji Brown Jackson handled herself with the Republicans.

Putin is doing the same thing as the Republicans in Ukraine. That is the logical conclusion to idiot and asshole behavior. Putin is trash and he is jealous of the Ukrainians who are superior to him in every way. He has leverage (nukes) so he wants to use it to bully them. The result is that the war won’t end well for him. The world despises him, only the people susceptible to his propaganda believe in him … he wants to be the boss, but doesn’t know how to do anything but bully … so his army sucks and he makes idiotic mistakes and he will wind up the big loser after he causes a lot of harm.

My detractors aren’t particularly successful. They aren’t rich or famous. They don’t live well. They have created a little worthless world that they control. And the wider world doesn’t think much of them, when it thinks of them at all.

Judge Jackson and I show the way … the macro exemplar and the micro … Don’t take their shit, call them out before the world, don’t let them deflect you from their focus, and live your destiny.

No one can make you feel bad if you don’t let them …

What other people say and do is just what they say do … your freedom and your truth is what matters …

You will be seen by the people who matter to your destiny …

So live that destiny and realize the idiots and assholes come with the territory in the beginning, but you will end up somewhere like the Supreme Court where they can’t get at you …

and all this homely advice applies if you resemble little old me, or if you are an historic figure who will impact the lives of every person in the world …

Copyright 2022 Richard Thomas

3/26/22: The Celebration that Followed My Rejection by the Improv Community

3/26/22: The illustration is from a show that I did, that was an audition as it turned out for me to be readmitted into the improvisation community. I was not accepted. I don’t think the show was that polished, or even very good … but I do think that it was talented and interesting. I was trying to find stages to develop my work and that work has changed quite a bit since I did this show in, I want to say 2016. I am going to include a video of that show, and then a video of a show that I independently produced (in a manner of speaking) in December of 2017, and then a link to some of my favorite writing of the last seven years, and finally a link to my blog as a whole. I see tremendous progress, and it never would have happened if I wasn’t rejected by the improvisation community.

Copyright 2022 Richard Thomas

3/28/22: The Horrible Oscars of 2022 #poetry

They had to mention the invasion of Ukraine. They decided to censor all mention of compassion for mass suffering that almost everyone in the world is aware of, and to censor moral outrage for the people who caused the tragedy. It was as if Putin attended the production meetings.

An Oscars that censored compassion and moral outrage … they broadcast an art card that offered their condolences to the victims of mass genocidal violence. They made compassion and moral outrage dirty. “We can’t show human decency to the kids, but we will allude to it for adults who can read fast.”

The producers wanted a televised party with the not subtle message … the pandemic is over, the movies are fun, fun, fun … so get your ass back into the theaters.

The owners wanted to reignite the box office. The managers wanted to score by pleasing the owners with a great industrial show that marketed the crap out of the industry. . And the workers … the actors and others who won awards and presented and performed comedy or music shamed themselves — they exposed themselves as shallow fools, total tools with no creative impulses of their own … just used to sell shit, and as


One host, who was funny, but so what … rushed a line about the Ukraine tragedy near the end of the show — a lame moment of conscience that was the exception that proved the rule.

A Ukrainian-American actress uncomfortably spoke vaguely about the human condition, censored from crying out for her people … and she followed orders …

The Best Actor winner suffered some sort of psychological breakdown responding to the general lack of humanity that has infected that most influential of all businesses … a terrible and terribly successful comedian who walks onstage with an arrogant smarm, and uses character assassination as a wit substitute attacked the Best Actor’s wife … and the actor couldn’t take it any more. The actor came up on stage and play acted beating the comedian up in an attempt to defend his wife’s honor … then in his acceptance speech melt down before the world … but as it often happens in times of psychological stress said one true thing …

He said his business required him to take all kinds of disrespect and smile like he likes it.

I could never do that. If I have to eat shit to be part of something, I’m out.

I can’t believe that I ever wanted to be an entertainer when I was young. This is basically what it is. Play acting sentiment in order to sell shit. It isn’t an activity that appeals to good people. It is hard hearted, completely self-involved and totally phony.

I am sick of hearing entertainers call themselves artists. They tell stories and make images, but the similarity ends there. Artists are concerned with truth in order to further the depth and breadth of the consciousness of humanity. Artists don’t ever elevate their own ambition and success above the concerns of the soul of men, women and mankind.

Some people make art in the entertainment industry. They weren’t at the Oscars last night.

I got even more insight into the vicious, stupid and cowardly attack that I suffered at the hands of members of the Second City Alumni Association a few years back. I am over it — so free of it, but it keeps returning as a topic. The pain involved has turned into a gift that keeps on giving to my writing. The people who went after me are entertainers, and I was just exposed to the general way of being in their industry. My attackers live with what Will Smith described … all of the required shit eating, and they thought they had more power than me in a situation so they treated me the way that they are treated. The difference between me and them is that I am an artist and they are slavish whorish hacks … they are so twisted that they believe that the slick entertainment elements of the Oscar show are ‘good’ and what I do “isn’t great’. (Read that line with a moronic and condescending look on your face …now that would be worthy acting!)

I passed on the shit sandwich.

“Read the room!” one of them shouted at me derisively. No, dear, my mantra is “Tell the truth!” They read the room to manipulate … why? to look good and to please their overseers and owners in order to push around the fools who love a mirage so the owners make money and the managers get promoted and the ‘talent’s’ vanity gets a hand job …

Hooray for fucking Hollywood… I thought that I was returning to improvisational art as part of my progress as a writer, and I stumbled into this quicksand …

Boy how pathetic these mediocre actors are, sacrificing all dignity for a little fleeting positive attention …

A real actor, Sir Anthony Hopkins was there, a bit lost and embarrassed to be part of the shit show

The producers and talent were good show men and show women , the 2022 Oscars ‘worked’ as an entertainment special and failed as a moment of humanity or decency …

The decision to ignore Ukraine hangs over everything related to the 2022 Oscars. Any sincerity the Best Actor and Actress may actually have (there might be a little) is diminished to nothing. Talk of love and defending loved ones and people being abused … and nothing about Ukraine? This is empathy as good vibrations and not as human necessity for our survival and any of our reasons to want to survive. A host crams in one rushed line about Ukraine. The people who ran this show disgraced themselves tonight. The performers exposed themselves to be weak and foolish. Their vanity and superficiality was apparent going in.

All the post mortems about gowns and speeches and performances will seem obscene.

I can’t just say what is wrong. I’m an artist. I have to offer the alternative. So immediately below is the piece that I wrote about last year’s Oscar show which was artistic, and roundly criticized for its lack of show biz pizzazz, a criticism that I am sure was the genesis of this year’s fast paced, slick, often crowd pleasing and morally bankrupt spectacle …

4/26/21: The 93rd Academy Awards — The Oscars We Needed, a Review #poetry

Show business was missing at the Oscars last night. Thank God. When people are in trouble, the artists step in, and the salesmen disappear. When people need inspiration, direction and hope, poetry takes over and entertainment takes a walk. We need truth right now, and escapism could destroy us.

This was the most serious Academy Awards show, probably, of all time. It certainly was the most serious Oscar show that I’ve ever seen. We always need serious, and we need serious now, probably, more than ever.

The pandemic made the proceedings intimate and small. There weren’t any loud comedians and musical numbers roaring like plane engines over a cavernous auditorium. Instead we had at least the appearance of a community of artists celebrating its good work in a venue built on a human scale. Smiles were the result of warm human interactions, not crafted jokes.

There was a non – performative aspect of the entire show. Good film making is oddly technical and non – performative. The theatricality of the typical Oscar telecast puts film professionals strangely out of their element. Film is projected by machinery. That automation spares artists the trouble of having to project themselves. Engineers make sure that faces are seen and words are heard. In filmmaking, artists can just concentrate on shaping their images, free of worries about amplification. Even the loudest effects of filmmakers are created with quiet, delicate precision. Los Angeles’ Union Station replaced the Dolby Theater as the site of the Oscars for one year, for pandemic reasons. The change liberated the nominees and the presenters. There was seemingly little of the usual showing off, or the usual subtext of competition. What was celebrated was not the best of the best, but rather the inclusion — and potential for real human connection — of everyone.

Deaf people, black people, Arab people, Asian people, European people, old people, beginners, women … I am sure I am missing more groups … all given equal time, all given their due. The winner for Best Live Action Short Film was honored with the same intensity as the winner for Best Picture.

The show itself not only brought diverse equity to the lists of nominees and winners — the presentation itself was different. This was an Oscars for a nation and world that senses that it has to change. There were no apologies for speaking simply and clearly about social justice. There was no self-consciousness in handing the microphone repeatedly to people who previously had been rarely heard, if at all.

This was not an evening of make believe. Paul Raci, a child of deaf parents, and a rock musician, was nominated for a movie that was about, among other things, deafness and rock music. Black actors represented several movies advocating justice for their people in America, while the nation faces a great reckoning about the killing of African-Americans through inequities related to policing, public health, the labor market and other aspects of a systemically racist social system.

The Best Actor winner, 83 year-old Anthony Hopkins, didn’t show up to accept his award for “The Father”, a story about an elderly man’s descent into dementia. Hopkins visited his father’s grave in Wales instead, and tweeted a video reading from the gravesite of Dylan Thomas’ “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night”. This unseen moment was truly poetic and unsentimental. There was nothing self – serving about it. We are lucky in this moment to have a 78 year-old President who is beyond the time of life when personal ambition is important. These old men and their respective seas, Biden and Hopkins, are out applying their mastery in an attempt to heal the world. The Oscars are old too — 93, and they looked it — warm-hearted, slow, downsized and wise …

The Oscars theme was to make the show look like a movie … this movie said that if we listen to each other, and take care of one another, and honor what is best in us — our kindness, our intelligence, our seriousness, and enjoy each other, celebrating our differences and recognizing our commonality — we will be more than all right.

The 93rd Academy Awards showed us what authentic community looks like. Let’s see if we can pull it off in the rest of the world.

Artists are on a frontier, not reforming the present, but rather creating incomparable values for the future.

Copyright 2021 Richard Thomas

Copyright 2022 Richard Thomas

3/30/22: Proud to say that I never ate s**t #poetry

Will Smith said one true thing at the Oscars

He said that in his business, he had to endure all kinds of disrespect, and then act like he liked it

His business is all businesses

I am proud to say that I never ate shit

And I never will

I never bowed to the condescensions of the shit eaters

Who rose on worthless ladders

Doing the bidding of more established shit eaters

Getting leverage over markets

and never accomplishing a goddam thing

When I did comedy I did comedy … I didn’t sell shit and angle how to get in with the in crowd

When I did law I worked for the client and not the Babbittry and pretensions of the managing partners

When I taught college I focused on my subject matter and my students, not the box checking bureaucrats in school administration

When I was insulted I acted like it

And because I had this attitude

which the timid called radical

I really accomplished something

I was funny as hell and great in the hearing room and aided the transformations of the students who wanted to transform

And I haven’t changed

You can’t be a writer if you don’t know that you are the equal of the world

Hell, you can’t live a decent day

The shit eaters don’t do anything

They pretend to be comedians and lawyers and teachers

But they are just enforcers of the status quo

They are gifted celebrity that eventually is forgotten

and money that is wasted on worthless status symbol crap

and they never elicit an honest laugh or promote any justice or bring any students to greater knowledge and awareness or create an image that suggests the breath of God

The shit eaters facilitate the tyranny of fear

They subjugate the uninitiated into the fear of the owners

And the smug owners insanely believe that they have cheated death

while at night they toss and turn with night terrors

Most shit eaters just sit and watch

and a few get positions policing the regime of shit

But I never was either one of those classes of fecal gourmands

To review

I never bowed

I never ate shit

and I accomplished a lot

I never will bow

I will never eat shit

And you ain’t seen nothing yet.

Copyright 2022 Richard Thomas

3/30/22 Classless Superficial Douche #poetry

Chris Rock shit all over Elia Kazan when he got a lifetime achievement award at the Oscars several years ago. Kazan was in his nineties. Rock likes to ruin the big moments of old people and ladies with medical conditions. A lot of people defended him as a great guy and great comedian. I think he’s a hack and a douche. He is exactly the type of classless and superficial asshole that they hire to be a big man in trash productions like this year’s Oscar show.

Copyright 2022 Richard Thomas

3/30/22: Boundaries.

What people who portray Chris Rock as blameless in the Oscar confrontation don’t see or honor is boundaries. A person can say most anything. That’s more than free speech. It’s a human right. I’m not for political correctness or any censorship.

But Rock’s cheering section fails to understand is that words, like actions have consequences. Other people have a right to not like your words. And they can push back against them as much as you can say them. And your words can provoke and contribute to problems.

It’s two way street.

Rock should have apologized. Will Smith did. Rock should have said he didn’t intend to be personally offensive, and that he could have done better with the joke.

Will Smith should have answered Rock with something other than hitting and yelling.

We are all human. We say mean stupid things sometimes, and we react with unprocessed rage when we hear mean and stupid things sometimes.

We should try harder to be better intentioned and smarter.

This “it’s just a joke “ nonsense discounts completely the feelings of the person who feels abused. And it demeans the person who makes the joke. The great comedians, like great people in any human endeavor, take great pride in what they do.

A lot of people are exhausted by this trashy mocking culture which in many instances has replaced wit, comedy and satire … and even daily conversation. The bad comedy is having a bad influence on our entire culture. A lot of people are sick of our shows being ruined and our parties and shopping trips and walks through the neighborhood and seemingly everything else we do and place we go. You can’t go anywhere without hearing a barrage of ignorant insults. Many people are sick of it.

I no longer have to be sick of it because I defend myself without fists or slaps or any violence. My offenders either apologize and change their behavior or go away. I also write about it. The germ of much of my writing is the impulse to work out hurt feelings. I savage the savages.

When you stay silent in the face of attempted humiliation and insult, you internalize the demeaning that you received.

When you stay silent when someone else is humiliated, you diminish the creative and humane prospects of mankind.

No one can force cultural change of the type that I am saying is necessary. You have to be the change yourself.

It doesn’t matter if you think it was “just a joke”. If a person is hurt, you should honor their emotional or psychological pain in the same way you would honor physical pain. This doesn’t mean that you should acquiesce if you believe your words and behavior are righteous but you must give the person your attention and regard.

Respect doesn’t mean agreement . But disrespect dictates to another person whether something should bother them or not.

If you bugged someone you bugged them. It’s a reality not to be denied. Often people don’t like what I write. Most of the time I don’t change a word. But I always recognize their right to be offended.

Sometimes they claim that they are offended when in fact they are attacking me. I defend myself and keep writing.

The best defense is finding your way to people and places where you are respected and well treated; and wearing your armor to deal with everyone else; and working to educate and create art which will influence the world to its higher potentialities.

It’s a cheap power thing to ridicule vulnerable people.

It’s been wisely pointed out that comedy is ridicule. That’s true. So what makes a good joke? I have my definition … a joke is something funny that deflates that which is too high and elevates that which is too low.

A comedian should be low status. That’s funny. The great comic characters are low status … from Chaplin and Keaton forward.

In the 70s comedians became rock stars. John Belushi and Steve Martin had power. The personna that says something and it becomes sexy or charismatic … Eddie Murphy … it becomes something else …

This devolved to shock jocks and cruel comics and reached its high point with Trump. Just a joke? Comedians are the drivers of much of our culture. Laughing at sick people is a fascist thing to do. I’m not saying Chris Rock is a fascist , but I am saying his insensitivity is a building block of fascism.

It’s bad enough you want to enjoy this crude, mean spirited ignorant and insensitive garbage, but you want to cry out that you are a victim when your verbal chickens come home to roost.

Say what you want, but take responsibility for it. Apologize when you go too far. And work on being artful for what you say.

I got a haircut this week, and the stylist started complaining, unprompted by me, about how mean people are in general and that it keeps getting worse.

Things have to change. I would never want any censorship. I talk and write too much to want that. “Shut up” is the biggest insult for me. But I try really hard to craft my words. I work at it. I try to be sensitive to people. And when I make a mistake I say I am sorry.

It’s terrible that violence happened in a performance venue like the Oscars. But it will be the logical conclusion more and more if performers don’t get their act together. And other hardships will come too. You should listen to me to avoid worse repercussions … not from me, I come in peace.

Because people are getting really sick of what you think is so harmless , and they aren’t going to stand for it anymore.

Copyright 2022 Richard Thomas

3/31/22: Why I Have Been So Interested in the Chris Rock/Will Smith Oscar Kerfuffle #poetry

I wonder why I am fixated by this. I hate being censored. Maybe the biggest insult for me is “Shut up”.

But I hate eating shit and my life got much better when I got pissed off at insults.

So I guess I want Rock to talk better, and I admire that Smith didn’t eat shit … while completely disapproving by how he did it.

That’s who I am.

I’ve always done each of those things everywhere I’ve been. I’ve been outspoken and not taken shit.

My writing is similar to stand up, which I once did, in that it is in my voice and is about my relationship to the world.

So I am projecting I guess. I admit it. But it is a constructive projection. I want more artful expression from Rock (Rick archetype one) and cleaner more effective integrity from Smith (Rick archetype two).

I want to make great art with total dignity.

I think this whole thing is a fiction anyway. It’s just competing marketing strategies. Smith apologizes for legal and business reasons. Rock milks the conflict to sell out his tour. The Academy is delighted for the publicity and disciplines Smith for public relations.

So it’s all about me, as usual.

I watch this like I watch the movies that I view — to find about about me.

Those two things can coexist free, frank and at times brutal expression, and a high sense of sensitivity and dignity. As a matter of fact, if you want to make art, or be a decent human being you have both. Thomas Mann said that the artist kills his subjects with arrows dipped in love. Rock is no artist, but I recognize art by viewing him in the negative. He didn’t shoot a sharp precise arrow, and love had nothing to do with his comments. Smith may have been self-serving and insincere. But that line in his acceptance speech … the one about his business requiring him to accept disrespect and act like he liked it … that is what set me down this path. He was having something like a nervous breakdown, but he captured the zeitgeist of the entire evening. The whole Oscars show was something disrespectful that everybody pretended to like. Rock showed his disrespect by his sloppy unprepared performance. Smith oddly, showed that he wasn’t having a good time even while receiving his industry’s highest honor — because he knew that he was just being used. He got an Oscar because he’s made a lot of people a lot of money and they want to keep the cash cow relevant.

Honesty. Courage. Free Speech. Dignity. Purity in Thought and Deed. Competence. The yearning for something real. I found all of these positive things by seeing their negative polarities in the Rock/Smith imbroglio. I have oddly enjoyed all of this.

I’d like to thank the academy for this wonderful chance for reflection and my three children (fictional) who are home stealing macadamia nuts from my swag bag.

Copyright 2022 Richard Thomas

4/1/22: Sometimes you have to defend your body of work — PROUD! #poetry

I had to post this on Facebook today:

4/1/22: Still Another Necessary Self-Defense Piece #poetry

Writing about Rock and Smith at the Oscars was interesting. It pulled me into the flow of Facebook in ways I normally avoid. I usually just post pieces of writing and people find them, and a few friends engage me in discussion. I self-publish on WordPress and post on Facebook and other social media platforms as my method to develop my writing.

Some readers of the Rock Smith pieces, which were controversial, challenged the legitimacy of my writing. One person said that I hate Chris Rock. One said that I was never a professional comedian and had no standing to address the issue. One said that I was an old anonymous white guy and no one cares what I think.

I could tell all of these people to go fuck themselves. I think I will. Go fuck yourselves.

But I want to answer their attacks for reasons that you know if you have been reading my writing lately. Check out the piece about eating shit.

Everybody has a right to an opinion, but what I do is several cuts above the standard Facebook fare of “I had a bagel at the Denver airport’ and I like Chris Rock and ‘hate” Will Smith or vice versa.

What are my credentials? You can view them in detail on my website:

I am a Second City alumnus. (This is often denied and I am often slandered as a novice even though some people think that I am one of the best improvisers alive, but I’ve defended myself against the libels of some Second City alumni previously.)

I am alumnus of the West Bank Cafe Theater Bar. These are relevant credentials for my writing in general and the specific topic of Rock and Smith.

I did not pursue a career in show business because I don’t like show business. But I was pretty damn good at Second City and the West Bank when I was at those places. I have more than a little understanding of what Rock and Smith do.

I became a lawyer. My area was ethics. This is a level of understanding that I would argue is greater than someone who simply did acting or comedy professionally. It also should explain to you why I would take offense at anyone saying that I hate anyone else. I am actually trained in maintaining good character. I prosecuted cases related to attorneys not showing character and fitness in the professional practice. I led lawyers in matters of civility and decorum. I think I am looking at the events at the Oscar show with more than a layman’s perspective.

Later I became a college Professor. My subject matter was Professional Presence and Professional Responsibility. Again very relevant.

I’ve done other things too. For the last seven years I have been developing my writing on my blog. It has gotten good in my estimation and in the estimation of people that I respect. The last tab on my website is my blog. You can look at the writing and judge for yourself. You can fairly like or dislike my writing. You can’t say fairly that it doesn’t evidence a lot of work and it isn’t the product of serious commitment.

You may not know that I have done all of this, but the fact is I have. I require that I am treated with the respect that I have earned. If you say I am a loser or a blowhard because you think I’m just another asshole with nothing to do spouting opinions on Facebook, that’s one thing. But now you know. Know also that I will proceed expecting treatment commensurate with what I have earned.

I have no right to tell you to like me, admire me, or agree with me.

But I do deserve your respect for two reasons. All humans deserve basic respect, and because I am a very talented and intelligent person who has worked his ass off and has created an extensive body of work and is still at it.

I am certified by many agencies and experiences, but I also certify myself.

You have no right to diminish me .

And I won’t stand for it.

I don’t like having to write this type thing but there you have it. You have to stand up for yourself because there are people who want to tear you down because they don’t know what else to do.

Copyright 2022 Richard Thomas

4/2/22: Ricky Gervais, Chris Rock and Celebrities #poetry

It’s all about intent. When somebody says something to and/or about you, your emotional reaction is not to what they say. It is to why, or your perception of why, they said it.

There are light years between Ricky Gervais’ and Chris Rock’s intent when they roast celebrities onstage.

Ricky Gervais has a point of view when he hosts The Golden Globes show. His thesis for all jokes is basically this: People are sick of celebrities. They are overly paid and pampered, not very bright and not very accomplished … they do nothing of value. Their honored position in society is reflective of a screwed up society. Worse than their dim superficiality, they are corrupt … genuflecting to the likes of Harvey Weinstein like Russian oligarchs serve Putin, pals with perverts like Jeffrey Epstein, and they are weaklings posing as heroes … drunks and drug addicts and garden variety ignorant bigots. But Gervais isn’t done. He slyly inserts himself into the equation. He hosts with a beer in his hand. “I might as well say it, I’m never coming back here.” His comic character is leaving the business and can say whatever he pleases. He shills his own projects from the stage … holding up DVDs (in the past) and announcing streaming service release dates. Gervais reminds me of Andy Warhol who viciously critiques the thing by being part of it.

Of course all of this is different than Rock who has none of this art or complexity behind his comedy. He insults like a friend of mine who asserts his dominance in our social group with put downs that no one is supposed to challenge. “It’s just a joke,” but it stings.

Gervais differs from Rock in another important way. He talks to the celebrities directly. He’s in relation to them. He wants the pushback and creates an atmosphere of good humor in the room. Gervais is never mean. He said recently that the Oscars were great. Every group of people was represented except poor people. Now that’s funny. He is lifting up the people who are down, not jealously competing with other people who are up. Gervais really savaged Mel Gibson at the Golden Globes and when Gibson presented award, Gervais set him up to have equal time, and greatly enjoyed Gibson’s jokes at his expense.

I see no comparison between Ricky Gervais and Chris Rock.

It seems that a week after the incident, celebrities are mostly lining up behind Rock. (Of course Will Smith was wrong, violence is awful. It was a stupid and even criminal response. I’ve learned that you can’t criticize Rock without that caveat. ) But not Ricky Gervais. He said that he will have nothing to say against Will Smith. Of course he did, because he is for the people who are down, and right now, in this context, Will Smith is down … and … he believes in equality. Everyone is entitled to equal time.

If the Smiths didn’t like what Rock said they had a right to say so, they just didn’t do it the right way. And Chris Rock had a right to say what he wanted as well, but to respect what he says doesn’t do humanity or the near art of comedy any favors.

Copyright 2022 Richard Thomas

(Gervais eventually criticized Smith, but I stand by my comparison.)

Copyright 2023 Richard Thomas

The Rick Blog Book Draft Chapter Fifty-Three

The Rick Blog Book Draft Chapter Fifty-Three

3/14/22: my stream of consciousness while watching “Greater” (2016) — ‘God’ is the most poetic word #poetry

‘God’ is the most poetic word. It’s also the most controversial word. Skeptics tell me, “I don’t believe in God,” and then doubt my credibility when I mention God.

I don’t believe in God either. I don’t have to believe. I see God. I experience the presence of God every day. Skeptics say the world is random. No one created it. Scientists, cosmologists, see the outer edges of mankind’s perception of the universe, and then pause reverently after they uncover new mysteries, catch their breath, and begin to look again.

And even if it is so that the extraordinary complexity of the universe … the intricacy of the human eye, expanding galaxies, the human brain and stars, the fact that everything is not chaotic — cars don’t collide into each other on highways, accidents are the exceptions that prove the rule … even if all of this occurred randomly because matter keeps churning and forming, and trillions of permutations of these chaotic occurrences will combine into something that seems coherent and orderly every ten trillionth time or so … the question still remains who or what set up this system of forming the world and life?

I don’t think that God is a muscular old white man with long white hair and a white beard, but I don’t disrespect the image either. Children and simple folk need stories, something to take in at the level of their natural capacity to understand.

“Greater” asks the age old question “why do bad things happen to good people?” and by extension, “if God is so great why does his world have no meaning?” The skeptical farmer asks why does the inspirational high character guy twenty-two year old football player die the day before he is to sign his NFL contract, and the genocidal Cambodian dictator Pol Pot gets to live to age seventy-two?

There is a creative intelligence that constantly makes the world. That intelligence made human beings the part of its creation that creates meaning. God doesn’t tell us what life and the world means. We get to decide. That is an extraordinary gift. If we couldn’t be free to take the gift of our individual life and make it what our specific soul wants it to be, we wouldn’t be fully alive.

God isn’t a person. God is something more than a person. God is something bigger than an individual. Greater, as the movie says.

This movie addresses the common and understandable hang-up many people have about life and death. Forms die, but essences remain. If we are trapped in ego, concerned about our individuality then we fear death. But if we embrace our form in the here and now and sense how we are part of everything past, present and future, then we can live simultaneously on two planes … in our current form, and as essence in the stream of all being.

Woody Allen has thought about these existential problems in his writing. He has a great line, “If men lived forever, could you imagine what meat prices would be?”

We should be concerned with our individuality while we are alive and it still exists. We have a role to play. We are co-creators of the universe. So we participate in society, and love who we love and make art and do jobs … and all that we do influences everything else … for good and ill … Present understanding changes the past, gives it a different meaning and creates a foundation for future human progress.

God can live within us if we let it, and in that we conquer death … because death is just an idea … it is only the ending of concept because our consciousness ceases to exist … but we have done that every moment of our lives … I am a different being than I was when I was an infant, and a different being than I was yesterday. Everything and everyone always changes. My mother and father are gone but their influence remains with me and my family, just their parents’ influence remained with them after my grandparents’ died and so on …

I believe that God writes these words that I transcribe. God made me a certain way, and that way propelled me on to a life of experiences and influences, and I turned them into meaning because that’s what people do, and then I type them out and share them with you because it gives me some kind of release, and you read me because you were brought to me by the way that you are that propelled you on to a life of experiences and influences that includes my writing, and then you take the experience that you had reading my writing, and a gazillion other things and it seeps into your words and actions and those are connected to other people …. people eons and worlds apart … people that we will never know personally but that we commune with in our common humanity …

No God! … what are you nuts? Or blind maybe?

“You’re a spiritual person. I’m not.” Wrong. The spirit is in the material. It’s not floating somewhere apart from matter.

The universe consumes itself to survive … that’s what it does … so eat when it is your turn to eat and die when its your turn to die. The movie wonders about God’s purpose. God’ purpose is clear. We wonder about it only from the perspective of our ego, but everything is the way it is supposed to be.

I love writing because I write to understand. We are gifted with consciousness because we are the wild cards of the universe … the beings who can actually expand the world.

I like Jesus because he was a popular artist. He spoke about profound things using homely, ordinary and humble imagery. This movie, “Greater”, Woody Allen’s line, this piece that I am writing are all in the Jesus idiom. I like Einstein because he saw things inaccessible to almost everyone and wrote in that rarified air, but later talked about them in down to earth accessible ways. Einstein is a figure of the popular imagination not because of his genius in physics, but because of his spiritual and pop philosophical writing. He expanded the knowledge of mankind —science, and then he expanded the consciousness of men — poetry.

I use the hash tag poetry because I think poetry is the most down to earth thing in the world. Poetry is about seeing God in the ordinary. A poet participates in time and in eternity simultaneously.

This piece may sound like I am trying to convince you that God exists. I’m not. I don’t give a shit if you think God exists or not. I actually don’t care about what you think unless it helps me find what’s true. I’m just telling what I see and how I feel about it. Every day I am in the presence of God. And to hear people say that there is no God kind of rubs me the way “Trump knew what he was doing and Biden is a fool” or “Bob Oedenkirk is a good actor” rubs me. I mean, both statements are patently ridiculous. I see Trump and Biden … I see Oedenkirk … I can distinguish Pol Pot from football players that die before their time …

When you know God, your life changes just by that acknowledgement … Awareness of the presence of God makes you a better person and improves the quality of your work … You see that you are very minute and finite part of the whole and that your authentic self has tremendous importance in the creation of the whole …

There are great people who say they don’t think God exists, but they know God, they just don’t know that they do …

And there are hypocrites and snake oil salesmen who say that they know God, but actually they are killers, just putting one over on the suckers …

If you don’t believe in God, you are lacking in self-esteem … God is in you and you have limitless potential.

If you don’t believe in God, you’ll tolerate any bullshit …

you’ll feel no shame when you do wrong …

and strangely feel shame when you do right …

You’ll have no deep perspective on anything …

Not believing in God might be the defintion of narcissism … you just care how you look to other people in order to execute your misunderstanding of what it means to survive and be clueless about what really is …

All of the conflict in the world is the fight between acknowledging the God right in front of us, and asserting that we know better and that we have no responsibility to the creation of the world, and that we will never die …

Idiots and assholes say, “There is no God because life has no meaning. Nothing matters.” Idiots die unnaturally because they believe this bullshit. Assholes, addicted to destructive power do idiots a favor and kill them, and then take all of the idiots food. Then eventually the assholes kill themselves … the most unnatural type of death.

Life has meaning. We are the part of creation that creates it. A great intelligence endowed us with an intelligence to further what it created. We are the frontier of being. We are the hands of God.

The second most controversial word is ‘love’ … because love is life in service of God’s will.

God gave us Paradise. We invented hell. It gave us an infinitely diverse ever expanding universe that is constantly transforming. Our fate is to reinvent the wheel and make great leaps of innovation with our lives.

God gave us the capacity to say yes and no. We can commit to pursuing truth or swallowing bullshit.

God is great. It gave us the chance to create our own destinies.

It is pre-determined that we possess the power of self-determination, and the fate of the whole world is in our hands.

God is so great, that it generously gave us the opportunity to think and feel like it does … not as a person but as something greater than a person …

Copyright 2022 Richard Thomas

3/16/22: “You are angry and you are not at peace” Translated #poetry


When you are doing something real, you are the subject of a lot of gossip. The best thing to do with gossip in most instances is ignore it. I am happy to say that I have reached a time of life when I don’t give a damn what people say.

But I take a literary interest in a particular piece of gossip about me that got back to me (as intended of course).

My brother was talking to a person who I know both from Second City and the practice of law. He is a nice enough guy, never consciously malicious in my interactions with him.

But he is very different from me in two major ways. He follows authority and is deferential in hierarchies and pecking orders. And it is important to him to be well regarded by the group, be it the legal community or the Second City Alumni Association.

He asked my brother how I was, and added, “I hope he can become less angry and find some kind of peace.” I think he is sincere and cares about me, but he is under the influence of the targeted gossip of the bosses and the group. Bosses and cliques say that you have behavioral problems when you don’t let them push you around.

Here’s the deal … a person can’t get really good at anything, and can’t develop to his or her full personal potential if he or she does what he or she is told or is pressured to do by his or her peers. Like frustration results if the person gets stuck in a cycle of rebellion against the boss or the collective.

No one is more liable to be criticized than the person who is independent and engages the world as an equal.

My brother was astonished by the question from the misguided man. “Rick’s very happy, happily married, likes what he is doing …”

People who love you know and care about how you are doing. Gossip is a power play. Gossip doesn’t understand boundaries. So the would be powers who think they be attempt to interfere with the relationships between brothers, and potential friends, and job opportunities, and audiences, and book authors or anyone else who might give you credit or recognition, and visitations to the sick, and heckle you with their self-serving condemnations while you are at a party or out to dinner or at a lecture or seminar … All of these things have happened to me … I wear the attacks as a badge of honor …

Authoritarians and conformist groups are always wrong on the facts, and unethical and immoral in their actions. There is a gradation to their behavior from bullying in a school lunch room to genocide.

If you don’t accept their condescension, and your place within their unofficial and unwritten organizational chart, they attempt to punish you.

But I am certainly not angry or not at peace. Because I know they can’t do anything to me. I can be free and equal and authentic. No one can stop that.

And I know that there are many people that are not bosses or jockeying for some in crowd. I think there are more of these people than the fearful ones who crave the law and order of a major domo and groupthink. These people are sometimes quiet, but free and strong. Their independence when openly expressed, or even when it isn’t, is seen as insubordination by the people who live by the nervous lie that power is stronger than integrity, real creativity, honesty and love.

But that independence is so appreciated by everyone else.

And then all of the independent people get together and create — together — everything that is worth a damn in the world. People of excellence lead … they don’t coerce.

So I am happier than ever … because I got the number of the dictatorial boss and the gang mentality of the professional and social clique. They can’t ruin my day.

They put me down by saying that I am angry and lack peace. Translation — I don’t care what they think, and I won’t do what they say — and that frustrates them, but more importantly makes them afraid … because if my example went unmitigated into the world, there is a good chance that they would lose power …

It’s really funny that they are concerned about losing power because their power is so pathetic. They have their little law firms and schools and theaters … tiny things not worthy to be jealous of …

Their petty puny power is nothing compared to the power of being a good writer and a good person.

Copyright 2022 Richard Thomas

Note: A period lacking recognition is essential in the development of an artist. When the boss and the clique forces you into exile, you become the sole authority of your art and your life. And then you have the opportunity to be in real COMMUNITY by virtue of that authenticity with like-minded people who really care about you, and have real interest in your work, or in some circumstances even really want to work with you.

As a person, I don’t care about the gossip. As a writer, I have to talk about it. It’s my job to take all that I experience and turn it into writing.

Copyright 2022 Richard Thomas

3/17 -3/19/22: my stream of consciousness while watching “The Andy Warhol Diaries,” Episodes 1-6, with Paul Sills digression #poetry

The Andy Warhol Diaries key art CR: Netflix

3/17/22: my stream of consciousness while watching “The Andy Warhol Diaries” (2022) Episode 1 #poetry

All artists are actors.

Warhol created a myth of distance. But all artists are always talking about themselves.

Warhol made art contemplating externals and kept a personal diary. I combine the two.

Warhol wanted to hide. I want to be seen.

Warhol like all artists look at the ordinary and see hidden dimensions.

The cliche is true. Artists see things differently and point people to their perspective.

Warhol wanted to be ‘normal’ … handsome, prosperous, straight. He created a costume that made him if not handsome at least desirable. He was a hugely successful business man, the winner in New York who transcended his ethnic Pittsburgh beginnings. He was gay in a way that was accepted by straights.

And he did it on his own. Like all artists, he was rejected by established artists, and he created his own ‘Factory’. He replaced those artists who dismissed him.

His art was not just painting. It was performance.

My life and my art are not separated in any way. Warhol seemed to have that separation, but the artificiality of the disguise was the point.

“The Factory” … an ambiguous name, that satirizes capitalism and fully participates in at the same time. Warhol revolutionized the New York art scene in part by bringing the influence of the Pittsburgh steel mills to town.

Warhol pretending to be asexual so that he could consider homosexuality in his work without gossip about his personal life getting in the way. Eventually he couldn’t maintain the ruse, but by that time, at least for his audience, being homosexual wasn’t scandalous or even an issue. There is assuredly more to this. With sexuality there always is.

I don’t relate to Warhol’s occupation with sex, drugs and fame (rock ‘n roll in all of its forms). And money … rich people …he is intrigued by what often turns me off … but I am drawn to his art about that world …

John Waters: “You have to take what society uses against you and turn it into a style.” Wow. Is he talking about art or business? Both?

Andy (I’m writing about the personal)found intimacy late in life. That must be the story for many artists.

Hard working

Willed himself to live after he was shot.


And ready for love …

Stay tuned for Episode 2 ….

Copyright 2022 Richard Thomas

3/17/22: my stream of consciousness while watching “The Andy Warhol Diaries” (2022) Episode 2 #poetry

Andy suffered the trauma of a fire … why do I not remember the traumas of my life … like mothers with many children that can’t recall the pain of labor?

Interview magazine became the new version of The Factory. And The Rick Blog became the new version of my stage performances. Art is now democratized. You don’t need the business acumen of Andy Warhol.

“He was a brilliant promoter, salesman, confidante.” I lack the first two qualities. Can I learn? Should I? I don’t want to. No, I guess.

Andy Warhol: “Being good at business is the most fascinating kind of art.” I have met some highly creative and dynamic business people. I need to spend more time with such people. I suspect this aspect of Andy Warhol. And I suspect my suspicion.

If art is successful as a business, is it necessarily commercial?

Was Andy Warhol an artist at all, or was he a creative businessman?

Did he promote a shallow celebrity culture? Or did he look at it with real insight?

” … he was a confused person who turned his confusion into an art that reflected the greater confusion of the country.”

I make art and view art for answers, not confusion. An artist shouldn’t be a mirror. He or she should be the future. Stars capture the zeitgeist. Artists capture eternity.

Julian Schnabel defends Warhol. He implies it is a superficial viewing of Warhol to see his work as superficial.

Andy wouldn’t defend himself against his critics. Is there some great wisdom in that?

I offer some confused art on this outing — but I don’t think it matches the general public. I don’t see much ambivalence about fame, money and power out there.

Steve Rubell (Studio 54) introduced Warhol to Roy Cohn, and I suspect darkness.

I would never be involved with Studio 54 or Roy Cohn. I don’t think I’d stop throwing up.

I think celebrity culture is corrosive. Even good people and real artists are damaged by it.

Andy is being damaged in this episode.


Why do we take wrong turns? We make mistakes that we need to make to further the creative project of our lives. Warhol needed the more extroverted aspects of participating in celebrity culture in order to come out as a homosexual. He needed show business to have a form where he couldn’t be and wasn’t shy. He wanted to be personally flamboyant. As flamboyant as Studio 54 and Roy Cohn.

The lure of the dark.

Per usual sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll destroyed what was infinitely more important. Andy’s true love marriage came to an end. His partner wanted marriage while he collected photos of male genitalia and ravaged New York like a gay art titan Caligula …

Andy resolves to love again …

Stay tuned for Episode 3 …

Copyright Richard Thomas 2022

Paul Sills in 1986

3/18/22: Paul Sills Wanted Me to Get What I Deserve #poetry

In the 1980s, Paul Sills wanted me to get what I deserve. He thought the world of my talent, and he liked me as a person. He told other people that I was a special talent, and the greatest of all the performers that came out of improvisation. He told me that he thought a show that I did at the West Bank Cafe in New York was “the greatest piece of theater in 25 years.” He said that I was like Lenny Bruce. We took walks around the city and he compared me to Thoreau.

As you might imagine, this praise was one of the most overwhelming and formative experiences of my life.

I also frustrated him. He pointed out the success of other people that he thought were good, and periodically asked me if I was ‘in hiding’. Once I ran into him while I was wearing a suit walking down Broadway on the Upper West Side. He looked at me quizzically and disapprovingly. I asked him about taking classes at his New Actor’s Workshop and he got annoyed. “That’s not for you!” He knew that I didn’t understand the depth and breadth of my talent. I didn’t know what I knew. He would hint that I was getting older. He described Second City as ‘a perpetual youth movement’. He thought I was youngish but not young. I wasn’t moving on to a next phase, not only of career, but of adulthood. I think he saw a fully formed artist with real genius, stumbling around like a twelve year old when not engaged in art. I certainly felt awkward every where I went in those days, my early 30s far from being a kid, except when I was writing or talking about art or on stage.

I think Paul loved me because he was a great artist and knew value when he saw it, but also because he identified with me on the human level. Paul never got what he deserved. He was one of the largest figures in the 20th Century theater. He never got the recognition or money that approached his artistic achievement.

The Lenny Bruce character on “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” advises Midge to forsake art for art’s sake. “It’s a business … keep working … you make too much of me … you put me on pedestal … I’m a comic … I want to make people laugh … yeah, think a little but make them laugh … if you blow this opportunity, you’ll break my heart …”

I think I broke Paul Sills’ heart.

But I’m not Lenny Bruce. Oh, I used to get a thrill making an audience laugh. But it’s not what animates me. What makes me tick is saying what I want to say, doing what I want to do, being who I want to be. My wants aren’t frivolous. They are inspired by something way down deep inside of me.

So … I think I have gotten what I deserve. For one thing, I got the extraordinary experience of briefly and eternally being friends with Paul Sills.

I was never motivated by success. The story of my life is a wandering. I go from place to place searching for where I can breathe. Some places work for awhile. Then I change and move on. That’s usually painful either inside of me or from conflict on the outside. Some people are places where I stay forever.

William Blake, Popes, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Martin Buber … the Constitution … New England Transcendentalism, Brecht all came along on my walks with Paul. This man listening and talking, dressed like a sincere 1930s American socialist (“I hate the rich!” he’d growl ) … from another time … a man whose life was a poem … he spent a lifetime looking into empty spaces and seeing what was invisibly present there … he liked and respected me. I got what I deserve.

There is a part of my writing and life which is art … pure poetry, and there is part where I am figuring out how to live. I put it all in there together.

My friend reminded me of Paul Sills yesterday, and I got very emotional. I don’t think of him much because it is too painful to recall intense love for people no longer here. But also because I always wonder if I blew it. I never got what I deserved in Paul’s eyes, and he knew it was not because of some external injustice. It was because of me. I believe he felt that about himself. He was like a father, admiring all of his qualities that he sees in his son, and suffering with all of the son’s inherited limitations.

But Paul, Dad, I didn’t want it. I wanted to be like you, not like the people who get the laurels for marketable mediocrity.

You can’t want success and art at the same time. The best the real artist can hope for are places to breathe.

I love writing and spoken word and teaching — my arts. I can’t stand the disrespect and superficiality of show business and academic politics.

I revisit this memory of Paul periodically every time I’m wondering what to do next. I love self-publishing on this blog, but I think my writing needs to take another step forward. I don’t know where that is. But I do know that it is somewhere that I can breathe.

I told my friend that he is a greater artist and friend than Paul Sills was, and he balked. But it’s true, and that is no disrespect to Paul. My friend is the result of seeds planted by Paul and other people like him. Our understanding of everything gets better over time. Sometimes it happens in the life of one person, and sometimes it takes a couple of generations. Look at Joe Biden. He was OK since the 1970s. He’s magnificent now. All the experience, all of thought takes us forward, forward …

Paul Sills took the preciousness out of acting and writing … he democratized it … he took ordinary people and put them onstage, and he made an immediate theater that responded to people’s lives … and people like me and my friend took it further … brought it beyond its original venue. My friend works in the entertainment business. He likes it, it works for him and he is 100% artist … nothing false or disrespectful in his being. He breathes in the industry. He takes Paul’s improvisation and merges it with a thousand other worthy influences and comes up with Paul’s vision PLUS … on steroids … I do my own thing this writing … idiosyncratic … nothing like it … tough to find its place … a weirdo … something strange …

All of this is what Paul would have wanted. He wasn’t teaching a ‘method’. He was liberating people to be their own method. And he was overjoyed at my achievement of being emphatically myself.

Paul said that “there are a lot of talented people in New York, but not like Rick. He’s a special talent.”

Exactly. The many talented people might become stars — what Paul wanted for me on one level. But the special talent is something more than a star.

Elia Kazan was a great director, one that I think was Paul’s artistic peer. Kazan had much more acclaim than Paul ever received. But I would argue that Paul changed the world more, because as much as he wanted me to be a success, he was suspicious of success. He believed that you could unlock the creativity of an ordinary person and release all kinds of joy and healing into the world.

That’s what Second City was. It was these neurotic kids releasing the glory of humanity onstage. It was later marketed to be a cradle to the stars.

Lee Strasberg was a great acting teacher, but Paul changed how things are more than Strasberg ever did. Both men were great artists, but Paul was such a democrat. He included everybody. Mike Nichols said that Paul was the only person he ever knew that didn’t see social status. It took a person like Paul to see how good I am, because most people are so influenced by reputation. Strasberg changed acting. Paul changed everything.

I got what I deserved.

The Lenny Bruce character on ‘Maisel’ says, “If they see you open for Tony Bennett they think you DESERVE to be there …”

Paul wanted me to open for Tony Bennett. Sigh. No, Paul, I don’t care what they think I deserve. What do they know? What someone like you Paul, thinks that I deserve … that matters. But the people who just choose art based on what a consumer reporter wrote in a newspaper (it’s time travel to a conversation that never happened in 1986) who cares?

Often the Tony Bennett opening crowd, as make believe Lenny would predict, disrespects me. My response is not to try to win them over and succeed. My impulse is to get pissed off and demand respect as a human right. I have no patience for the crowd. It isn’t only self-defense. They are shortchanging themselves.

What was great about Lenny Bruce was his poetry and moralism … like me. I am not going to let them kill me like they killed him with his cooperation.

Paul and I talked about William Blake sometimes. I come back to this image in my writing periodically. Blake was great and obscure. When Blake reached middle age he halted all self promotion. He had an income from his print shop and he did his drawing and poems. He wrote, “I go to my death singing”.

Shaming about career has always made me feel bad. I never cared about career.

Do you think I am a genius? Do you think my work should be seen by more people, that it would encourage them and inspire and educate them … and transport them to the stars? Then make it happen. Get my work out there. Get me money and fame and recognition. I won’t stop you.

But I’m quite busy doing my work. How I use my time and energy is everything to me.

Sure, I want it; but getting it for me isn’t my job. It’s yours.

Paul did everything in his power to support me and my work. So does my friend and my wife. Do the same. None of those people that I mentioned are business people, so if you know how to make my un-compromised art work as a business, be my guest …

I got what I deserve … the respect of a person deserving of my immense respect, and the love of wonderful people … if I deserve something else that you feel I am lacking … give it to me.

We ask too much of our artists. Paul was getting worn out when I knew him. He was often agitated and angry. He had to fight to serve people. He should have been greeted with rose petals and hosannahs whenever he showed up for work.

I bust my ass and I have to beg you to think I’m good? That doesn’t compute for me.

It’s up to society to give the artist what he or she deserves. It’s not up to the artist to work for the recognition. The art is the work.

It’s not art for art’s sake. It’s art for people’s sake.

Paul used to say, “They reject the artist and then he comes back to save their ass.”

Winston Churchill got his Nobel Prize for Literature in 1953. He sat on the back benches in Parliament in the 1930s denouncing Hitler. He was ridiculed and discounted … until the shit hit the fan …

Society recognizes artists when it wakes up and sees what the artist is saying is what they need to hear.

Artists get what they deserve when people know what they need.

I’m not going to feel bad, less or lacking about this ever again.

Art can be about reflecting the zeitgeist like Andy Warhol, but I come to art for answers.

Copyright 2022 Richard Thomas

3/18/22: my stream of consciousness while watching “The Andy Warhol Diaries” (2022) Episode 3 #poetry

Andy Warhol WAS America in the 1980s … spoofing what it was and taking it seriously at the same time … pursuing his own shallow preoccupations … taking them seriously too, and not making fun of them, but considering them with humor … no moralizing or comment … just showing it and himself for what it and he is … looking with honesty and compassion … that’s art … his art was as tacky as an immigrant kid trying to assimilate as an American success and making it … all the cheap sex and fast money …

A commentator says that Warhol was the avatar of the 1960s. I think he was the 1980s. He was a materialistic star fucker, but he was conscious of it. He was like lawyers I knew who fucked people over but looked sad and remorseful while they did it.

I can’t do it without a comment. I’m not wired that way. Andy Warhol just said, “Look … this is what we are.” I like what he did, but I could never do it that way.

I don’t just want compassion. I want justice. I think things can change consciously. We can progress by different forces than simply naturally. For example, we age and change. But we can also make choices. Andy Warhol accepted himself emphatically and that causes change. But commitment to values and to be something higher than the prevailing atmosphere makes change too.

Does Andy Warhol show the darkness that is in the DNA of the ordinary American? If he doesn’t, he missed something. He loved chit chatting with Donald Trump with his new love interest. He didn’t see what that was? He missed something.

Andy fell in love with a yuppie. Of course he did. A lot of alternative culture types went for the money in the 1980s.

I am better than the mediocre crowd. There I said it. I am harsh toward the unwashed masses. They strike me as dumb and mean. I’m not one of them. I don’t make art to entertain them. My art is for superior people. People of love and excellence. Andy Warhol had affection for the idiots and assholes. He may be a more accepting person than I am, but I am not willing to concede that he was a better artist.

I love the stupid turds too, but I want them to wake up. I don’t want to celebrate them or say this is how it is, what you do is up to you. It is up to them, but I don’t approve of the bad choices. WHEN TAKEN TO ITS NATURAL CONCLUSION YOU GET PUTIN. All about power and sensation, insensitive to suffering … there is a better way …

Andy Warhol was inspired by the iconography of the saints in the Catholic Church … lives of the saints replaced by pictures of Marilyn and Mao … he got how the art worked in church… did he get the original purpose for the icons in the Church? … the wisdom of the saints, the expansion of the spirit … the part of the world that wasn’t coke and blow jobs in the bathroom of Studio 54.

Andy Warhol was too parochial, just like the 1980s. I had a great aunt who was alive at the time. She was wise and holy and generous and humble … an Italian immigrant with rough hands lined by loving daily labor, who spoke little English and personified love. She doesn’t show up in Andy’s art at all. We can only get so much onto our canvas, but the greatest canvasses point to all of it. She should have been outside of the frame.

I embraced the 1980s first, then they repulsed me, and then I imposed an exile from them upon myself. I couldn’t take it. Warhol’s world is not the whole world.

I like him when he is sweet, when he enjoys being in love and summering by the ocean. It’s a performance. He turned his life into art. That’s brilliant and admirable. He was anything but ordinary as he made his image of the ordinary … but the ordinary could be better than what he made it out to be.

I think I’m competing with Andy Warhol. My diary is better than his is.

You can’t get the full picture of something if you don’t include what could be … cautions and potentials.

Oh I’m brilliant. Andy is afraid of getting old, and smarting from lost love. And he says, “I have to get a new philosophy.” I nailed my interpretation of what was happening with Andy Warhol in this episode.

And my image of Andy Warhol. He lives and learns. he just goes through and makes pictures of it, and shit happens and pain visits him and then he gets wiser and works the new wisdom into his work. He’s great again! Like me!

Career and fame and sensational sex … they all distract from love and work … all that there is … love and work. When love isn’t available, you work. When jobs or contracts aren’t available, you work on your own.

Andy was a boss. I’ve never been a boss. It has to be hard … walking a fine line between liberator and oppressor … he wanted employees as subjects of his art … but you can’t own your subjects … I applaud him for trying …

I think he thought that he could change anything into art … business, being a boss, being an asshole … and I think he was right.

Art could be anything, but it has to point to God. Andy pointed to God.

Real love and real work point to God. And he had those.

The episode ends with Andy dancing … because when you dance no one looks at you. He is through performing! Wonderful! Someone asked me if I care about what other people think. I have to think about it.

In my next chapter I’ll make sure that I don’t.


Stay tuned for Episode 4 …

Copyright 2022 Richard Thomas

3/19/22: my stream of consciousness while watching “The Andy Warhol Diaries” (2022) Episode 4 #poetry

What’s the difference between art and fashion? When I say art is of the future, I mean of an expanded consciousness of man. Does Andy Warhol mean that? Or simply keeping up with trends?

He championed Basquiat. Basquiat was part of my future.

9/14/21: Basquiat (1996) — I like his attitude #poetry

I’m not inspired by “Basquiat”, the movie or Basquiat, the artist. The glossary of all of the movies that I’ve ever watched, the glossary that resides in my head, sent me that name unsolicited. I wrote a little poem this morning using Basquiat (the artist not the eponymous movie) as a metaphor for what I am feeling today Then, I watched a PBS American Masters in order to refresh my recollection of when I was aware of Basquiat, when I was living in New York in the eighties.

I like his attitude. I like the attitude of his curators and art dealers and collectors towards art in general — if you subtract all of the outre bullshit and condescension and drugs and premature death.

I like how Basquiat knew what was his art was worth (in more ways than cash) and how fierce he was in defending it. I like how art professionals saw his genius and didn’t fuck with him.

I like how Basquiat succeeded in a market. I don’t like how some people look at the price of his paintings as the measure of success. But I like that he got paid money for them.

Getting paid money for doing exactly what God intended you to do. I like that.

The movie was written and directed by the artist, Julian Schnabel. What does the artist think of the artist, and what of what the artist thinks of the artist intersects with me, the artist ?

The graffiti artist is unrecognized so he keeps writing anonymously …

The graffiti artist uses what’s available … syrup on a coffee shop table …

Intersections …

The artist lives in the quiet oases in New York … air pockets in the ocean sized store …

I’m old, he’s black

I’m self-taught, so is he

He’s open for connection

but cautious because of centuries of abuse …

His genius overcomes racism and all sorts of biases …

Me too? I have no false humility about my genius. Me shall overcome?

His mother told him that he was a king, and he paints a self-portrait with a crown …

like Napoleon officiating his own coronation, grabbing the crown from the hands of a Pope …

L’etat c’est moi, motherfucker …

I like his attitude, more than stubbornly uncompromising … just aware of the truth of his own nature …

Schnabel focuses on the girl … a legitimate part of the story, but I am waiting for the paint and the money … that’s what I am thinking about today … art and the business of art …

Basquiat wanted recognition, so do I …

He starts with self-recognition, so do I …

He is openly insulted by all slights, so am I …

Basquiat wanted to be famous, I don’t … I want the appropriate audience, I guess that is a limited kind of fame. I wanted to be famous when I was 20 too, but I saw how broad fame can be fucked up … it’s not enough to be known, you have to be recognized in your full integrity, your work has to get to those for whom it was intended by God … not everybody … I don’t care to be known by mouth breathers and pornographers and posers … The Rick Show is an elite experience …

I’m not a whore and I am not a puppy … you don’t get me just for money (but that’s part of it) and I don’t give myself away …

Basquiat puts it out there and he is discovered but only after he sells a painted postcard to Andy Warhol … you take a tiny step in one direction … a committed step and the world comes rushing toward you … that happened to me before …

He plays hard to get … I’m learning …

He gets a job being himself … a gallery owner gets him a studio starts buying paintings gives him a show … that’s what I need …

The social scene is a distraction … he quits the band …quits the scene … quits the group … paints! Me too …

Basquiat was a rare well considered black painter …. is a 66 year old newly discovered writer with years of unpublished great shit rare enough for you?

Basquiat won’t conform to the tastes of buyers … “Get a fucking decorator!” Ditto.


I like Basquiat … ambitious but the opposite of the Philip Roth kiss ass old boy network collusive schmoozer …


I like his fucking attitude …

But not his fucking death wish … a young man who wants to be a great artist wants to feel his mortality, but never quite realizes it and dies … I don’t need to be a daredevil to know that I am going to die and now I want to live as long as possible … I have shit to do …

I don’t like the bullshit of the 1980s art scene … all that acting cool and glamorous … the conformity of the non-conformists … aesthetics aren’t interesting … the creation of meaning … the transformation of the human soul … not the herd to the star … not that … I don’t want that … I want my writing and my audience and my business partners that organize and distribute the work properly …

I want to avoid all of the nonsense … and get the good parts …

Basquiat talks to the press … like everything else it has to be the right press … especially early … it’s not just publicity … no one gets to mediate between me and the world … someone can see more in me that I see, but I want them to be right …

Andy Warhol thought like a CEO … I guess I am in the process of teaching myself that like every other goddam thing …

Art is all natural and business is all decision … how do I get the biggest bang for my soul? I have to protect my work and figure out how to reach, or be reached by, the right people …

I was like Basquiat for a minute in New York in the eighties … doing great expressive work, the deep feeling of the youthful fool, courting death and insanity … Now I want to be like Basquiat if he had gotten old … the same determination, energy and swagger but no longer baffled by the world. His facility of expression mixed with the wisdom of one who has survived … his sense of freedom without his foolhardy belief in immortality … his art kept telling him about mortality, but it was an unconscious insight … he heard it in order to paint, but not to in order to live …

I am a tree, not a meteor …

As outwardly exotic as Basquiat was, I am outwardly ordinary … I am so much better at what I do than I was in the eighties when I was so odd … survival is the benefit of not being recognized. Immortality for one’s work, and a natural and long life, not a moment lost or wasted, is the benefit of being recognized the way everything happens, at precisely the right time, when you know yourself and the world and your work.

There is that one true thing, and there are the people who can see it and work and play and look and listen with you.

And you don’t have to commit suicide or eat garbage …

Copyright 2021 Richard Thomas

9/14/21: My Basquiat Writing Proclamation #poetry

Hang my writing in a gallery

It started as graffiti in the streets

I am self taught — at everything …

I self-identify as a writer, no one certified me

I self-identify as an artist, no one told me so

Find space for what I say

Fuck your show biz rules

Fuck your literary rules

Fuck your academic standards

Fuck your laws

I learn by looking

Fuck your edits

I know what I am saying and why and how I say it

I am proud of my life

every moment of it

Art is not just putting the words on a screen like paint on the wall

It is all the hours and years before you sat down to life

It’s my inner life, not yours

I’m in charge of nothing, except that

Don’t tell me I don’t listen

That’s all I do until I write

Then its my turn

I can be influenced but not ordered

No teachers, no editors

And my business partners

should treat me like a street artist who came inside

they should be gallery owners who found gold in the street

No time limits

No word counts

No arguments with content

It’s simple

I’m a voice

Listen and respond

But don’t fuck with me.

Copyright 2021 Richard Thomas

Warhol said, “Paintings have something to say.” And Warhol and I meet. No meaning, no art.

Ingredients of art

  • Personal experience
  • Universal perspective
  • Personal voice
  • Universal meaning

Warhol: “Everyone only does one painting, anyway.” Yes. I write the same thing over and over again.

At this point, Warhol is no longer the leading artist. He is the leader of the art world toward more meaning, like a former pro football player who reached the hall of fame and then became the general manager of a team. He didn’t try to make new artists do it like he did it in the old days. He knew the essence of what art and encouraged it as applied to new experience. And this answers another question of mine about Warhol. He worked in the medium of the eternal.

It wasn’t just about money with Warhol. He was a first rate artist.

Warhol and Basquiat were true friends. Friendship is so important for art and artists. They loved each other. Father-son, mentor-protege, lovers … no classification defined the love. They just loved one another. If you love somebody, you accept whatever it is, whatever each of you are, and whatever you are together.

There is no art without death. Art tells the truth. Artists have to look at death. AIDS lurked around the frames of all of Warhol’s paintings. Sometimes the facts of life and death provide depth to the artist’s work. The artist doesn’t have to work to achieve it.

Death, failure, struggle … all need to be on the palette. I wondered if Warhol was lacking those necessary elements. He wasn’t. It wasn’t all money and movie stars.

Andy matured to the art that I admire. When he was young he was talented. When he got older, he was an artist. I was really talented in New York in the 1980s. I’m doing something much more important now. An artist starts out with exuberance. The exuberance never goes away, but something else comes along later. Exile, failure, humiliation are necessary. All the pre-deaths … an artist has to nearly die several times. But he or she also must survive and live. To live exuberantly with the awareness that you will one day die, adds depth and importance to the artist’s work. The younger artist may have more energy and facility. This leads to the misunderstanding that art is a young person’s game. But the older person understands the meaning of their lives more fully. The art may be less exciting — true joy is not exciting — but it is more helpful.

Andy mourns his loss of cleverness now. But I like him so much more now than I did in Episode 1.

Warhol never felt the level of acceptance from the fine art world that he desired. I share that feeling of wanting recognition … as you know if you read me with regularity … but we also share the need to keep working … and that saves us.

I’ll say it again … the artist’s primary place of recognition is himself. I do not long for a place where I can go to fit in. I long for places where I am accepted and fit … There is no negotiation …

But none of that longing has anything to do with the work. I’m not affected in my writing at all by praise or criticism or acceptance. An artist has to do what he or she feels is right. Sometimes you lose the acceptance of wonderful people. But you have to do what you have to do.

This limited series is very well made.

Young artists sometimes get involved with drugs because they have to court death. It’s a mistake. Death comes looking for everybody. You don’t have to court it. No need to rush. Take your full allotment of life. You’ll get the dark tones in your art naturally. Don’t worry.

Warhol loves Basquiat and Julian Schnabel’s art. This is a mark of an artists. Real artists love all real art. Even when they compete, and some have had great rivalries to the point of hating each other, they never do anything toxic or destructive to the art. I saw Norman Mailer and Gore Vidal viciously tear into each other on The Dick Cavett Show. They were out for blood, and genuinely disgusted with one another. But they never denigrated the other man’s writing. At one point Vidal calls Mailer, ‘our greatest writer’. Larry Bird and Magic Johnson spoke of each other with reverence from the beginning, and eventually became close friends.

Artists are thrilled by excellence. We all want an excellent world. We are people of the future.

The episode ends with Andy wondering about if what he does is art or business. Does it really come out of you or is it a product? Of course, I wonder about this, and it has been a major theme in my writing recently, so I am very curious to see what Warhol decided about all of this. He wonders about this in relation to someone else’s work. He sees Basquiat turning into a business, having to do things that aren’t necessarily fun and does that change turn the art into something else. Amy Sherman Palladino has Midge Maisel on the same precipice at the end of Season 4, and Paul Sills wanted me to make the transition in the 1980s.

This is a real page turner …

Stay tuned for Episode 5 …

Copyright 2022 Richard Thomas

3/19/22: my stream of consciousness while watching “The Andy Warhol Diaries” (2022) Episode 5 #poetry

Artists are natural salesmen, and they have to resist the siren call. Andy wanted to make it as a pitch man so he didn’t have to paint. I want to write until I simply can’t. When art feels like a trap it has become something else. I always heard that the joy in writing is ‘having written’. But I love to write. Maybe because I am not producing a product.

Do artists who become businessmen make a tragically wrong turn?

I think successful people envy me. ‘How can he always seem relatively happy and proud, and always have money and what he needs?’ They celebrate my problems. ‘See!’ They make them feel better. Maybe the more I wonder about success the more I’m off – course. I think I’ve made it to the Promised Land already.

Why the pressure to prove ourselves to salesmen?

Andy’s working in show business was Andy giving up. The gay son of immigrants’ need for middle class acceptance is touching and sad and pathetic. I get it. I used to care that people saw me as successful. Now I demand that they respect me whether they think I am or not.

I blush at every moment in my life when I tried to look cute or smart or outrageous. It is such a relief to just be authentic.

It’s OK what he is doing in this episode, but I don’t want any of it. The fans, the money, the fame … are boring.

I never had Andy’s nervousness about getting older. I don’t feel challenged by another younger generation(s). Maybe because no one does what I do. Andy wavers from art to business and from art to fashion. If you just concentrate on art, you never get old.

I’ve got money, and I’ve got readers … what am I worried about? You just be yourself and take what comes … is my career theme evaporating?

Andy and Basquiat are now wounded by criticism. But it really isn’t criticism. It is mean spirited toxicity. The humans should get pissed. The artists should defend themselves in their art. The businessmen should sue for slander and libel. The citizens should push back against the malicious voices posing as serious critics, and try to strip them of their cultural, economic and political power.

Someone can criticize my work, but if they disrespect me I am going to tear them new assholes as best as I can.

You can’t let them stop you. I go after my antagonists in order to weed the garden so that I can make art. It’s part of this. I am in charge of what I am doing. No one else can steal it. They can choose not to like it, but they can’t censor it … and shame and ridicule are weapons of censorship.

I was asked if I cared what people think of me. I don’t. I care if they interfere with my art and life.


Andy’s life like anyone’s life was art, when he was conscious of his life. But like anyone else, he was often unconscious of the meaning that he was creating for his life … and the greatest art is the exploration of the part that was previously unconscious. Andy didn’t know himself completely, but there was a lot to know. Who we are is not only a product of our inner life. When Andy was shot everything changed, when AIDS spread everything changed, including his past. Art is about finding answers because art is about the truth that we didn’t see before.

I don’t think Andy faded because of his increasing age. I think it was his ever increasing wealth. Wealth is a buffer against life itself. It’s a premature and walking death. If you are rich, you don’t have to attend to the facts of life. You are free to exist in a make believe of your own creation. You are in exile from the stuff of life. The stuff of life can be adversity and struggle, but it is also the raw material of magic. If you don’t concern yourself with work and love and your perception of a world not of your own making, nothing real is left.

Wealth, power, celebrity, fame … are pale substitutes for humanity. The down to earth and the humble and ordinary is where the glory is.

Andy is saying now that he missed out on life. That is why he is an artist. An artist is not infallible. But he or she is honest. And persistent.

Andy learned that he wasn’t in touch with his pain. That is what success does. It divorces you from your pain.

An artist needs his pain. It’s as elemental as paint or a keyboard.

Stay tuned for Episode 6 …

Copyright 2022 Richard Thomas

3/19/22: my stream of consciousness while watching “The Andy Warhol Diaries” (2022) Episode 6 #poetry

The only completed story is an obituary.

My writing in this series is contradictory because it’s about Andy Warhol, and he’s about America, and he and it are contradictory and he was as great and fucked up as America, and he was something more than America too. The man wasn’t special. His art was — but the man was the art — see what I mean about contradictions? My writing is much better than I am. (But I’m not so bad either …) I’ve decided that I think he was a great artist.

Andy did a performance (one of many), playing a commercial artist and his performance made American commerce and art his subjects viewed with great complexity.

“With a great artist there are multiple interpretations.” Yes, he elicits many responses from me. He participated in his subject actively. He was of it and beyond it simultaneously. It’s amazing.

His late paintings are incredible. My friends are more interesting now that they are older. They are out of the hurlyburly, even when they are active, and have some distance and objectivity. Art flourishes in the shadow of the valley of death.

This is a quiet show, a contemplative show.

He reflected what people felt, but he had more insight than that. The insight is more easily apparent from beyond the grave.

What a person is does not become apparent until they are through.

Andy says in Episode 5, “Health is better than wealth and companionship and love and money and everything else.” He is dying of course. He doesn’t give up life easily. Like a great artist … God and man …

He loves the music of Miles Davis. Of course he wants to live. What could be better than that?

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

Andy is dead. Dead at 58. He died a Catholic. Still part of the Warhola family. A successful businessman and a great artist. The subject of a wrongful death lawsuit. Medical malpractice. Complications of botched gall bladder surgery and treatment.

Andy: “I don’t believe in death because you aren’t around to know that it happened.” He knew that was ridiculous and he believed it.

The contradiction of his art, the contradiction of our lives.

His eulogist said that he fooled the world that he was just interested in money and success. But he really was a detached angel … a spiritual being … illuminating the folly of the world and the reality of the eternal.

Oh yes.


I am constantly educated and surprised by this show.

He didn’t want to be a famous gay artist. He wanted to be a great artist. He succeeded in my book.

(Let’s liberate people so they can just be themselves … gay, sure but more, more, more too … )

I want to be as effective being direct as Andy was with being indirect.

But my directness is indirect. Everything that I write is about something else. I am not writing about this TV show or Andy Warhol. I am writing about me, but it’s not about me either.

I’m humbled by Andy Warhol. I have something to work on.

Drugs. AIDS. Medical malpractice. Plane crash. Many principals n this show died young. The meanings of our paintings are ours, and beyond our control.

Andy: “New York looked so exciting, didn’t it?” Ironic detachment, self-portrait and nihilistic and Catholic … the complex diversity of existence interpreted … his complete expression with an invitation to our contemplation … this is us, isn’t it? Is there something else.

I didn’t know much about Andy Warhol when I turned this show on. I just wanted to watch. God has a syllabus for me, and he just reveals a book at a time.


Copyright 2022 Richard Thomas

The Rick Blog Book Draft Chapter Fifty-Two

The Rick Blog Book Draft Chapter Fifty-Two

3/1/22: Ukraine on the Homefront #poetry

I was impressed in the 1980s by the actor Steve Gutenberg’s philanthropic endeavors. He did a lot for many charities. He gave a lot of money too. But a question nagged at me. Why didn’t he ever do a good movie?

Am I equating Steve Gutenberg to Vladimir Putin? Of course not. But my dim question about Gutenberg many moons ago may have been, or at least for purposes of this brief essay is, the awakening of my awareness of the existential connection between the trivial and the important, the micro and the macro. Early in the blog I wrote a lot about Trump. I was horrified by his rise to power. But Trump was a non-fiction topic, and also a metaphor for people that I knew in my own life.

I don’t see my job to be just writing about Ukraine. I write about life. Ordinary life is what is real. Ukraine is a TV show on one level, and it affects us because we know how they feel. We see Ukrainians in cities that look like ours in danger and under enormous pressure. And we relate. They are easy subjects for our empathy.

And we can feel morally superior. We aren’t like Putin. Or so we assume. But is that true?

It is interesting to me that everything that we do to other people comes right back at us. Karma is a bitch. What we did to Iraq now makes our nuclear defenses less secure. What we did to the poor stretches of our cities … the violence, the hopelessness the drugs now infect most every neighborhood.

What makes a disaster of indecency like Putin’s assault on Ukraine possible?

I hate to sound simplistic, but it is simple.

The problem is mediocrity. Mediocrity in terms of character. Mediocrity in terms of intelligence, work and expression.

The mediocre makes the unimportant important, and uses that stupidity or lie as an excuse to do a half assed job on what really matters. Steve Gutenberg was generous after he got his money and power doing shitty movies. But he had a responsibility to make better movies. We need storytellers and philosophers, not salesmen. We need moral leadership not propaganda. We need citizens not audiences and consumers.

It’s not good enough to say the world is a sad place but we can have a good time and make it a little better. That’s mediocre. It’s not good to be hard on Putin and easy on ourselves. He deserves it in spades and we have to be much, much better.

It’s not the resolution to do evil that oppresses mankind. It is mankind’s weak character and lazy intellect that the monsters exploit.

A Putin, a Trump, the current superstars of evil see everyone else’s vulnerability.

How to defeat Putin, Trump … the international fascists and our local Nazis? What can one person do?

Stand in the place where you live, mother fucker.

You are the world. If you change, the world changes.

Get smarter. We all can be smarter. This is simple too. We get smart about what we care about. We pay attention to that which concerns us. Care about other people. Stand up for them when they are bullied. It doesn’t only have to be Ukraine. It can be somebody you work with, in your social group … anybody.

Be truthful … stop being afraid to speak truth to bullshit power. That kind of fear is mediocre. Lose jobs, false friends, worthless ‘opportunities’ … go against the grain …

Work … don’t just wiggle your ass for cash and prizes … if you do a job do it as a vocation, not for shallow success or recognition … if you don’t do that all of your Facebook memes and loud outraged conversations in bars play as mere moralistic showboating and nothing like morality.

Stop being so fucking competitive. Live for passion and service, don’t try to be top of some heap … because that is precisely what Trump and Putin is about … that smallness that needs some concrete advantage to lord over other people so that insecure cyphers can lie to themselves that they are more important than other people. If you do that in your business or clique, you are supporting what Putin is.

Be kind. Factor in how your words and actions affect other people, and speak and act accordingly.

Be nice. If you can encourage or help someone do it.

Be warm. Have hospitality for others … make room for them in your lives. be your brother and sister’s keeper.

Don’t lie about other people. Recognize when you are jealous and don’t act upon it.

Work on yourself. Don’t speak and act narcissistically … for example gnashing your teeth for Ukraine while you are being abusive and cruel to a family member or friend.

Don’t bully, don’t dictate … don’t be an idiot or an asshole …

Look at courage and heroism, look at mediocrity and look at evil — and resolve to try with all of your power to be what is good and reject what what is compromised and bad — IN YOU.

Copyright 2022 Richard Thomas

3/2/22: my stream of consciousness while viewing “The Power of the Dog” (2021) #poetry

“in the belief that the two years spent earning an MFA is more than either the achievement of a credential or two years paid writing time, but rather an active, cooperative process of growth, learning, professionalization, and exploration that relies as much on mentoring as it does on individual initiative or peer-to-peer relationships. Our vision of the MFA is a holistic one, in which community, craft, experimentation, dialogue, study, reflection, and teaching all contribute to dynamic self-directed learning.”

Sounds like what I do on my own, or try to do, or aspire to do … sounds like they took the concerns and job of the writer and turned it into a program … it might be a great resource, or rather collection of resources if it truly is a place of contribution to ‘dynamic, self-directed learning’. If you get in you get a scholarship … full ride on this one … that’s what makes it legit in my mind.

Hmmm … ‘professionalization’ … I want everything that they are talking about including professionalization … but another query related to that …

Dig this quote that I have seen attributed to the Dalai Lama and/or the environmental scientist David Orr …

“The plain fact is that the planet does not need more successful people. But it does desperately need more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers, and lovers of every kind. It needs people who live well in their places. It needs people of moral courage willing to join the fight to make the world habitable and humane. And these qualities have little to do with success as we have defined it.” 

I am a storyteller and a lover. How do you professionalize that?

The free MFA program supports storytellers and healers … they describe something that sounds more like patronage than education … at least in the idealized program description on their website … would they support me in my quest for community and professionalization and the rest of it?

They only accept 5% of their applicants. They take eight or nine writers a year. Their faculty, which I envision as writers more established in the school’s world, writers on amazing killer grants — I can’t see them as better or even more experienced writers than I am, because that is just not true. They are recognized writers, but I have no idea who bestows the recognition or if the concerns of the recognizing bodies or poobahs have anything to do with me, or if I would find their interests intriguing and part of some future me. I am sure that some of the faculty could mentor me in advancing in the ‘writing life’, and some could awaken an expansion in my form of writing … if we could past all of the faculty/student bullshit … or maybe they are all assholes, I don’t know. I took a creative writing course many years ago with Russell Banks, who was a prominent fiction writer at the time, later senior partners in law firms reminded me of Russell Banks. What do I care about precedents and hierarchies? I have a one track mind … writing my truth resulting from living my ordinary life.

Is this MFA program about success or am I projecting success upon it? Is it really what it claims to be, or is it just another place where people jockey for power and the winners corner the market on meaning?

If I was not accepted (or the more likely event that I never apply) I still find, still will find, and could still find, all that the program says that it offers. A serious writer eventually finds all of those things one way or the other.

“in the belief that the two years spent earning an MFA is more than either the achievement of a credential or two years paid writing time, but rather an active, cooperative process of growth, learning, professionalization, and exploration that relies as much on mentoring as it does on individual initiative or peer-to-peer relationships. Our vision of the MFA is a holistic one, in which community, craft, experimentation, dialogue, study, reflection, and teaching all contribute to dynamic self-directed learning.”

Active … I am active … I am committed and engaged in writing and ordinary life.

Process of growth … yes, constantly … check …

Cooperative … no, not really … I would like to work together with the right people, but I like the word used later in the quote … ‘community’ better than ‘cooperate’ … I really don’t want anyone cooperating with me in my work … it’s my voice, it doesn’t come out of a committee … Community implies to me blessed interdependency … individuals appreciate and support one another, and make common cause naturally … no one has to make any changes as a result of external suggestion or demand … No one will ever teach me how to write, (writing is the teacher) they can only support me in the never ending process of my discovery of my own writing …

Professionalization … yes, see above … I want to more effectively share my writing with people who would find it useful … but not as a hack … professionalism in service of the world …

Exploration … yes, it is always exploration … through mentoring … I’m open to that … a good mentor sees who you are … they can be very helpful … but good mentors are rare … you don’t sign up for a mentor … a mentor comes to one in a mystical fashion … FDR looked at LBJ and knew that he was meeting a future President … a mentor understands you professionally the way a father understands you as a human being … he sees himself and the differences … he knows what you are feeling, how you respond to things, what you have gone through … just like a father, a mentor can fuck you up pretty good … it’s one of the reasons that I like to write … I put my truth out there, and you apply it as you will … I make no claims about who you are or how you should go about things … paid mentors … in a school … might work but it would be tough …

but not mentoring ‘as much as individual initiatives’ For me it’s all individual initiative. Even mentoring or peer to peer relationships. Yes, mentors, friends, teachers even … you can love and learn with all of them, but in the final analysis one’s art is one’s own responsibility … it feels safe to be part of a tribe, but one is always forced to honor the primacy of the group at the expense of one’s truth and that doesn’t do anyone any good at all. That personal truth is the whole point.

Friends are what a writer needs and he needs to be a friend for other writers and artists. I always rebel against programs — art, academic, professional etc — for good reasons. Or they expel me. Two sides of the same coin. I want that writing life … I don’t want to apply, to be accepted, to get assignments, to be compared with others and be held to standards which are always arbitrary. I am a free man and I want to remain that way.

This program wants to be more than ‘the achievement of a credential or two years of paid writing time’. I would like to be paid for my writing, not my writing time. That’s paid for already. A formal credential for a writer is inherently false. A writer, or any artist, credentials him or herself. So why is this an MFA program — offering credentials and money? Why isn’t it just a community where people make friends and support and encourage one another?

craft, reflection, dialogue, experimentation … I don’t need to be accepted to something to do all of that …

I also wonder if I am gun shy about being part of anything beyond personal relationships. The last group that I thought I was a member of was so awful. They were vile. They did work that I don’t respect. At first, i didn’t notice. I came to do my thing. Live and let live. But then they said that I sucked. Based on nothing except their whispered conversations in hallways. They interfered with my personal relationships and my ordinary life. They had bosses and serfs. They thought they had a right to insult me and tell me what to do. They never completely rejected me until I pushed back. They wanted me to be a nice guy who honored their power. To be less than them and bow to them and cheer their glory — a friend but not a peer. That was my reputation in that mess of a collective … nice person who wasn’t talented. I am in actuality more talented than they are — even at what they have done for years. I basically walked off the street and blew them off of the stage. And I’m much more accomplished over all. Not even close. I was the best of them — so much better that I wasn’t even one of them. I don’t do what they do. When I got involved I always turned it into something else. Something worthy. I do what the Dalai Lama or that other guy said … I’m not on the success train. When you get off that train things can get great. I watched this movie with Christoph Waltz — “Georgetown” … he’s so good at acting … he’s really told stories in some movies — art, love, healing the world … really doing something — why was he being a success in that piece of shit movie? I think he doesn’t know. He doesn’t know the difference. His talent can be used by a real storyteller like Quentin Tarantino (in fact Tarantino’s greatest gift may be using ‘success’ talent and reclaiming it, applying it to the healing of the world) but Waltz just wants to use it for fame and fortune — while he waits for the real thing? That’s the shame for actors … they are at the mercy of the writers. If they don’t get in with a good one they are fucked. Some are quite happy as long as they keep working — that’s the only standard. That’s as understandable as it is pathetic. The talent is immense, the ambition is pitiful. Maybe this is why I so misidentified the group that I thought I belonged to … some of those people have that type talent, but they use it like assholes.

They are show business hacks, occasionally useful, occasional friends … but this MFA program smells like it may be a haven for literary hacks … the same shit with a better vocabulary … higher brow with the same low motives … the certification, the money … THE PLACE IN THE WORLD … an artist is outside of the world … you can only reform something from the inside, you can’t save it …

But the MFA just smells like it … it might be better … I don’t know … I have to look at it some more … and just keep looking … exploring the writer’s life …

Oh this movie … I don’t know … this is the second time that I put it on … I can’t get into it … that doesn’t mean that it’s bad, it might just mean that its not for me.

Copyright 2022 Richard Thomas

3/3/22: my stream of consciousness while viewing “West Side Story” (2021) #poetry

The slums cleared away to make room for Lincoln Center

The slums of my past

I’m haunted by my Facebook feed

All these people living in slums that I left long ago

But a wound that turns into anxiety that turns into wonder that turns into writing that turns into anticipation that turns into another reminder of my commitment and resolve

I work like a son of a bitch

Never stop working

Hopeful … that there’s a place for us (me)

A place beyond this chair and this apartment and this blog and that TV

and even this wife and brother and friend

My soul flies through the outer reaches of my inner space

Pure and joyful

I want that in the inner reaches of my outer space

People meant for me are out there and I don’t know how to reach them

Classic tale of love versus war

Art and service versus war and success

Success … that blight upon mankind …

Putin is the pursuit of success in extremis

The Ukrainian people are ordinary …

they want family and friendship, work and home

They want to enjoy themselves and to be good

Success wants to be a Czar

The ghosts of memory are friends of mine on Facebook

and they don’t know the difference

They live unknowingly in slums

Belonging to gangs

being terrorized and terrorizing each other

Spielberg and Tony Kushner have a challenge

Making an old story new

Bringing an old story back to life

You can’t go home again

But it is human to try

Tony is singing “Something’s Coming”

That’s timeless

It describes how I feel this morning

As I pull myself away from rancid memories and anticipate the realization of my dreams

A part of me is as young as Tony

Spielberg is reserved in his direction

You get older and less is more

He’s not trying to impress us anymore

He just tells the story

And Kushner is a good influence

This show was never about race

It was about what I talked about at the beginning of this piece

Every story is about the same thing

The Ukrainians and the invading fascists

the struggle

gang wars

the tragic denial of love by outside forces

and those lucky enough to survive

Bernstein, Sondheim, Robbins. Laurents, Wise, Lehman, Spielberg, Kushner

They looked at Romeo and Juliet and social problems on Manhattan’s mid-century modern West Side

and they told us a story

the story

And I get a glimmer of an answer

All of my questions and all that I lack

will be found in my writing

Gangs are killing each other with regularity in my middle class Hyde Park neighborhood

This show is a poem

A fable

for the gang wars that many of us live through

when no one literally dies

Just like the Russia/Ukraine show on the news

Human sacrifices to be figures in our dreams

The struggle between love and war

In our hearts

This is why art is important

because our hearts shape the three dimensional world

All of our tragedies result from failures of imagination

We only escape through symbolic art

or we are actually destroyed

Tony and Maria died so that Bernstein and Sondheim could live

I love how they just tell the story

They don’t compete with the brilliance of 1961

The guy who played Tony was criticized as bland

I like him

He’s not a show off

This movie was a great choice for me today

I am filled with love’s sweet longing

— Intermission

Paused the show on HBO Max. Ate lunch. Corresponded with my dear friend.

My stream of consciousness involves thoughts of expansion of my ‘writing life’

The story … love versus war, art versus ‘success’

Here’s some relevant passages from my letters to my friend:

I don’t care about being popular. I would like to get to (ideally) all the people who would respond to my work. 

I’m thinking if I belonged to something where I fit, then my community would include publishers producers etc whose art involved disseminating art like mine.

When I returned to the Second City people now more than a few years ago, I got access to many stages and audiences. They welcomed until they saw I was doing something else. That Dec 2017 tape was the culmination of that work.

When I went to the Iowa Summer Writing Program the faculty had publications and readings.

Flannery O’Connor got known the Iowa Writing Workshop and that led to readings and publishers.

The ND MFA website wrote about the “writing life”.”

When I performed years ago I never got a job with an audition. I was picked out of a workshop for an improv group. I was picked out that group for Second City. I was recommended to the West Bank and even Heartburn by a casting director who saw me in clubs and then Second City.

I could bore you with similar takes in law and higher Ed.

I was in the world and things happened.

Here is the challenge and opportunity … in all the previous cases I was doing what the people who liked me were doing more or less.

Now I’m not trying to do improv or act or comedy etc … I am doing my own thing … I need a group where that’s what people are doing …

I was in groups and I was unconsciously really doing my art … hence pain of separation …

I’d just like to be where my thing is welcome … I’m sure it will find its audience and partners …

I did stage shows and podcasts for the first few years of the blog. I envision now my writing and doing readings where I also extemporaneously talk to the audience …

More insight on the Second City return wound … I was disappointed that group didn’t turn out to be where I can do that … I am so different now … that is very obvious but it wasn’t emotionally …

The Blog is marketing and publication and I really appreciate my readers. They show me that other people could use my writing. My writing has helped people and I want to get it to everyone it will serve. I think that’s why everything has happened and why I am so naturally motivated to write.

I do want camaraderie but I’m not lonely… I have nice relationships in my life. I don’t really need to prove anything. Wrongly or rightly I think my work is pretty great, and has been all of my life. I’m not bragging just saying how I feel about it.

I feel I want to help people and that I’ll enjoy it. Rector and MFA is a blueprint for the next movement of my life, either at ND or other places … more precisely my idealized visions of rector and MFA —- time will tell what they are in actuality , but my impulse will remain.

Interestingly … I rented the room in Dec 2017. The culmination of the Second City return work only happened after I left them. But it can’t just be me … purely independent, the blog, my podcast, the self produced shows had limited reach. The trick is to preserve the independence of that work and hook into others goals in a win/win way. I just need a community that welcomed me, then I’ll get traction … that’s my idea as of today …

From the I Ching

If a man is free of vanity he is able to conceal his abilities and keep them from attracting attention too soon; thus he can mature undisturbed … (paraphrase) if necessary he enters public life with restraint … the wise man gladly leaves fame to others … he doesn’t seek credit … he hopes to release active forces … he completes his work in such a way that they may bear fruit for the future.

Here’s relevant past pieces to today’s stream of consciousness …

The folly of success …

Past wounds …

The culmination of one period that is realized only after a painful separation with the wrong people and actualized in independent work …

Glimmers of the future, getting my bearings …

And now back to “West Side Story” …

Why did they remove Officer Krupke from the Officer Krupke number? Trying to be different for no good reason? Why do I notice the creators consciousness of the audience after I’ve had my lunch?

It’s death to think about the audience’s response when you are creating something. Just tell your truth. It’s really a simple occupation in that sense.

I think much of the choreography resembles Jerome Robbins’ original work, and I think that is good. Why be different? It was damn near perfect. When they try to compete with Robbins in a few spots, I just think that it isn’t as good as Lin Manuel Miranda. They have to keep the story on a mythic level. When they try to speak for these characters that they can never fully know, they are ineffective. When they work the characters as archetypes, they hit the sweet spot.

They introduce a minor transgender character and it seems gratuitous. Yes, there were transgender people in New York in the 1950s. But they weren’t on the West Side that only existed on Broadway and in Hollywood. Every character represents the whole of humanity. Ethnic and gender demographic influences on the storytelling detract from this story. The original creators, including Shakespeare didn’t think in those terms. The social issues in “West Side Story” are quaint compared to what we face today … the drugs, the weapons, the cultural dysfunction is all so much stronger now …

I feel sorry for Zelensky of the Ukraine. He creates an archetypal dramatic presentation to plead with the world for help and support. The act works, but the reality is much worse. Spielberg criticized Roberto Beningni’s “Life is Beautiful” because he thought the comedy trivialized the horror of the Holocaust; but every moment “West Side Story” gets ‘real’, it trivializes the terrifying breakdown of social structure that is underneath the gang crime problem or racism or hatred of trans-gender people or what society really is …

A human can suspend disbelief and be moved and maybe even spiritually transformed by a fable like “West Side Story”. A society will be unmoved by any appeals for tolerance and love for abstract classifications of human beings. I am moved by Mrs. Maisel. She resonates in my heart. I am not a woman or Jewish or a mother or a thousand other things that Mrs. Maisel is … but what are such things? … there are similar to costumes and props …

The love songs move me … the dramatic scenes bore me … the fights …

Sometimes we have to defend ourselves … war comes to find us … the Ukrainian people have to fight. The world cheered them for a week, but now they are getting exhausted …

I still fight … in my mind … I get tired sometimes …

Tony loved but he was pulled into the fight … and it ruined everything for him …

To leave the battle …

to just walk away …

Sometimes its not an option …

so you harvest the gifts of battle …

for Tony it is a cautionary tragedy … for our instruction …

for Ukraine it is a morality play leading the world not to take democracy for granted … heroic martyrs

For me it is the constant urge to touch my wound, ridiculously minor compared to Ukraine or even Tony’s

and gather wisdom and self-knowledge from it

and fashion communiques of what I learn into art …

“there’s a place for us” is poignant …

that wish beyond conflict …

I can be happy, with enough money, healthy, happily married, pleased with my writing and doing what I please …

and conflict comes to find me …

a painful reminder of a past humiliation or injustice …

“West Side Story” presents peace as a romantic dream

But I have found peace too

as much as conflict

in moments

of freedom, authenticity and understanding …

Perhaps peace is an eternal state, but not a permanent one

Maybe we need the wounds

If we can’t feel hurt we can’t feel love

The beautiful song that starts in rage …

“a boy like that he kill your brother”

ends in love … love acknowledging the harsh truth of the world …

there is no escape from suffering

but there is transcending it …

Our wounds make us lame …

they ground us

Success lies and tells us we can fly above it all

and never cry again …

But it is a beautiful thing to cry …

I read a book once called “The Wounded Healer”

I’ve never forgotten that title

“West Side Story” is art because it reminds us what we love about being alive and why being a human is hard …

The passion of the dance

The compassion of the love ballad sung as a duet … between lovers and friends …

the battle against the death wish of success …



*OK, the trans character was a tom boy in the original, so I guess that change work … it was a trans character in the original too, they just didn’t feel that they could say it …

** OK squared … the Jets did not sing directly to Officer Krupke in the 1961 original. I correct my factual error but stand by my poetic insights related to the tomboy/transgender distinction and making changes to the original Krupke scene … Tony Kushner’s choices agree with mine … so sorry, Tony, but I made some great points if you would have made those poor choices … you didn’t, but a lesser writer would have … so I retain my criticisms of that writer that doesn’t exist …

*** OK cubed … on further reflection the interpretation of Tony’s character, and much of the acting in the movie could have been more dynamic … 1961’s performances had much more energy and charisma … but I also see artistic virtue in minimalist straightforward acting … it’s a sparely and powerfully structured play …

Copyright 2022 Richard Thomas

3/4/22: my stream of consciousness while viewing “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” Season Four, Episodes 5 and 6 #poetry

Professionalization … Susie has to learn it. She is great at the art of managing talent. How does she do it professionally? I’m at the same point in my life. I’m great at writing — I don’t give a shit about your opinion of my writing … it’s my life, not yours. I’ve proven to myself that I am a good writer. Now I want to do it professionally … as in get money for it … not because I need the money, but because money somehow makes it real. I think people find my writing useful. The world pays for what it finds useful. I’ve been a professional before but never for my writing. I was a professional actor, lawyer and professor. In each case you have bosses, markets, colleagues that you have to please. This is different. Art — I please myself and it helps you. How do you do that professionally? I know it can be done because I see people do it.

Some people claim to be artists but they are hacks … idiots, assholes and hacks are three favorite Rick Blog words. A hack pretends to be an artist when he or she is actually a salesmen. A hack focuses on what people want instead of what people need. A hack has no interest in developing and sharing his or her authentic self and perspective of life. A hack is a whore only interested in what his work gets him in a material way. Hacks have no dignity and no shame. They willingly disgrace themselves and lie whenever it gives them any advantage at all. A hack wants success. I don’t care about being rich and famous. I want to connect with people who would benefit from my work.

In my past professional lives, I was never an employee. A professional is not hired to take orders. A professional is hired to share his or her expertise in application to a situation. As a lawyer, clients told me what they wanted me to accomplish. They did not tell me how to accomplish those ends. I could choose who to represent, and turn down who I didn’t wish to represent. There is dignity in being a lawyer. (Many lawyers eschew that dignity and settle for being hacks and employees, but that is their cowardice — the license qualifies them to be so much more.) The same was true with being a college professor. Administration and students didn’t tell me how to teach or what to teach. I had academic freedom and control over my courses’ subject matter. (Like lawyers many higher ed teachers are functionaries pushed around by administrators and even students, but in so doing they betray their vocation as college faculty and just settle for a relatively easy and boring job that can double as a hiding place and escape from life’s battlefield.) Performers claimed to be professional but they weren’t. They catered to peer groups and casting agents and directors and producers and club owners etc. They were cogs in someone else’s vision of what they should do. Art happens in the world of performance but under great duress … it is almost an act of martyrdom to be an artist in a collective of commercial performers.

So how do I professionalize this … what I am doing right now? Some people read with interest. How do I relate to such people professionally?

Susie is trying to learn how to run a theatrical management office. So far she has used books and mentors and experience. I want to learn how to interact with the world as a writing professional and how to expand my art … to know about new venues and learn about new potential forms … professionalism is a story of expansion … new learning, new experiences, new challenges …

It is exciting to contemplate professionalizing my writing.

Professionalism is not related to entrepreneurship. I tired that and I suck at it. Professionalism is not about marketing and building a business. A doctor is a professional. A hospital administrator is not.

Too many people refer to themselves as artists and professionals. A hack on a sitcom is not an artist. A salesman is never a professional.

A professional is available to others who can use his or her knowledge, talent, skill and experience.

My situation is similar to Susie’s and Mrs. Maisel’s. I am not a writer for hire. Tony Kushner is a fine writer, but he was hired by Spielberg to write the new “West Side Story” script. That’s a job … and even a professional job. I admire the work. But … personally I don’t take assignments. I want people who would like to read me to be aware that I am writing.

I’ve learned and been edified so often in my life by reaching for a book that I felt drawn to in a bookstore, or going to a movie that I knew little about just because it ‘felt’ interesting. My writing is for people open to it, and my professionalism somehow will involve being open to them.

A big theme of Episode 5 is the hard work of figuring it out. An artist constantly asks him or herself, “Who the fuck am I?” A professional constantly asks “How the fuck do I do this?”

Rose is a matchmaker. I am in the market. Not for a wife … happy and proud in that department. I want professional and artistic peers … community. I want friends, mentors, colleagues and audiences who will bring me camaraderie, education and inspiration.

I want smart, warm and civil. No more ignorant and crass … or condescending, timid and mediocre. I want matches who like me, like my work and like my writing. People who want to support what is good in me and encourage what can be better or more.

‘Maisel’ is wonderful. It reminds me that all of this is FUN. The joy of the struggle!

Ideas and explorations … prayers for surefooted-ness , I don’t want the misses that hurt .. deliver us from idiots, assholes and hacks …

It takes sensitivity to do art — so toughening up isn’t an option. A salesman can eat shit and develop a taste for it. Not a writer. A professional needs acumen. My collective experiences with idiots, assholes and hacks is helpful. I know what they smell like. But it is not enough. My greatest armor is my intuition. I have to hear it, and trust it, and decipher its most nuanced suggestions.

The right path is hard but it is not painful. It releases one from pain.

Midge has personal and professional integrity. So do I. No integrity … no professionalism. It’s all about doing the job, the art, the life in the right way. The creative life is an uncertain life … but integrity is the ultimate insurance that everything will be as it should be. Creativity and morality are the same thing. Writing is a responsibility.

Entertainment is not inherently immoral, but it becomes immoral if it has pretensions to art. If something is simply provided as escape and diversion, it should be labeled as such. The truth is too important. Art is not about what people like, it is about what they need.

The artist needs it too. So I write to try to understand what the fuck is going on and then I share it with you. That’s what I do for you, and that’s what I want to professionalize.

Episode 6

Midge begins to understand her enemies, and in so doing defuses them — even if she doesn’t know it yet. In art, professionalism and life, it is essential to understand the motivations of others. That’s not as simple as it sounds. They rarely tell you, they usually show you. You have to pay attention. This is the part of the work that I like the least, but it has to be done. The assholes et al rarely show you who they are in as tidy of a way as they do in a TV script, even a great Mrs. Maisel script. You have to look closely, observe fully and reflect deeply. The bastards take a lot of your time, but they perform a service. Your spine gets straighter and you gain more facility with the dark paints on your palette.

I am more complicated than Midge. When I find something out about someone else, I have to deal with all sorts of triggered mysteries about myself. Midge has great clarity about herself. She is a star. I’m not a star. I’m a writer. A writer needs to be a little clueless — especially about his or her own nature. A writer has to wander and stumble around in the dark. That’s where the material is.

Midge is not competitive. She doesn’t look left or right. She will say that another comic isn’t as funny as she is, but she isn’t making herself feel good — she’s being honest. She can’t lie. I can’t either. I’ve learned this about myself … if I lie, or worse do something that I truly don’t want to do — something that goes against the grain of my nature, I get physically (and in extreme situations) mentally ill. I’m not alone. The world is a crazy mess because of the endless pandemic of self-betrayal.

I’m a really good writer. I want to do my writing professionally. I want to make no compromises. I want to be treated well and respected. I want community in my life. I want the community to be comprised of people of high character, kind natures and artistic and professional excellence. I will associate with no one and nothing that doesn’t conform to the high standards of my desires.

I love the characters in Maisel. People don’t have to be perfect, but goddammit they should try hard to be good.

We have problems. Some are imposed on us, some of them we create for ourselves. Art, life and professionalism involve working those problems out with decency and concern for others.

Midge is a fighter. She isn’t afraid to get in people’s faces and walk away when she has to.

Anger is the basis of integrity. Pride is the fuel of destiny. Midge is incapable of self-betrayal.

Neither am I.

Transcending the past and embracing the future are achieved in the same motion.

Copyright 2022 Richard Thomas

3/6/22: Mrs. Maisel and the Power of No — ‘Yes, and’ my ass #poetry

Here we are late in Season Four, Mrs. Maisel is obscure and struggling, and gaining power by the day.

Midge says no. She won’t take money from corporate schemers, the ones who ruined Shy Baldwin’s life, the devils who buys souls … Shy got mega-stardom for the price of his authentic life …

Midge says no. She won’t take friendship from Shy Baldwin. She thought that they were friends before, but she is smarter now. For Shy, friendship is a one way street. He gets to breathe and be who he really is in his ‘friend’s’ presence, but he is too selfish and self-involved to return the favor. Mrs. Maisel isn’t falling for that one again.

Midge is in the process of saying no to the gossip columnist who attacks her reputation as an artist and as a person. Actually her no will be not to the columnist but to the people who read the column. She has decided to speak her truth and to not have bosses. There is no room in her mentality for what other people think of her. Reputation and personal character are two very different things, and it takes personal character to judge personal character.

Midge says no to Sophie Lennon. Sophie Lennon has Midge’s talent and values but she doesn’t have Midge’s integrity and guts. Midge refuses to compromise her power to make Sophie feel good. This is a matter of integrity for Midge, but it also serves Sophie. Midge refuses to cooperate with Sophie’s fear of achievement. Some people settle for success because making art is too damn difficult, lonely and hard for them. You have to be one tough monkey to be an artist.

Midge is heading towards a modified no with Lenny Bruce. At this point in the story, she idealizes Lenny. He is the artist that she wants to be. But Midge isn’t suicidal the way that Lenny is. And Midge values the other aspects of her … family, friends … as well as her art. Midge is not self-destructive. She loves Lenny and his work, but she is learning that he will never be her mentor or teacher or even give her a sense of community with other great stand-ups. A great stand-up, like a great writer, stands alone.

The improv concept of ‘yes, and’ is great for business and lousy for art and life. Go along with the crowd and the crowd will bring you down. Mrs.Maisel accepts the reality before her, but makes her own choices.

In many ways the power of no leads to a rough road. Midge needs money, suffers hurt feelings, seethes with an anger that she never had … but also becomes a better mother, daughter, friend and artist than anyone ever even imagined that she could be.

Midge Maisel is an archetype created from the raw material of Amy Sherman Paladino’s personal experience … seasoned with the collective unconscious of mankind … all of the good books and movies and paintings and myths and truly spiritual religious ritual and filtered by my own experience and perception, and perhaps finally by yours.

Everyone has an agenda, most of those agendas are trivial and destructive, and an artist has to keep his or her eyes on the prize. Midge Maisel mirrors my emotional, psychological and existential life.

Yes, and? No.

Copyright 2022 Richard Thomas

Me performing at Louder Than a Mom in 2017

3/7/22: How the Ukraine Invasion Started at Louder than a Mom Spoken Word Show (not really, but sort of) #poetry

The Second City Alum Association has many members that don’t think too much of me.

Here are the criticisms:

I returned after a long period of time and my performing is not too ‘great’. (I don’t even get the basis of comparison. I do something individual and quite different from what they do — and I’m not really a performer. I’m a writer. Also, when I am on a stage for no money … I am engaged in process. Great, good … I don’t know what they mean.)

I’m fat (okay … guilty … but I am getting healthier now. Survival has motivated me in a way vanity never did. And what’s fat got to do with it? — apologies to Tina Turner. )

I’m a novice. (This is truly ridiculous. They only consider experience working with them as experience. I did work in New York in theater and comedy, work in the practice of trial law and work in higher ed that they never saw. And whenever I worked out with them, I more than held my own.)

But the biggest criticism that I get is that I am too ‘angry’. This mean two things … I do get angry on stage and page, and my work has meaning. I say things. Look, they can not welcome me on their stages. I don’t need their stages. I get more out of writing on the venue of my blog than I did on their stages.

But their stages lack responsibility.

At Louder Than a Mom the emcees showed respect for all points of view. Trump was President. To support Trump was not a respectable point of view. Trump fucked with Ukraine. Fiona Hill the national security expert said Trump treating Zelensky as a play thing, as per Putin’s bidding, emboldened Putin. He invaded because he felt that American and European unity was fractured enough to give him a window of opportunity.

What made the disunity possible? Stupid people who supported Trump and admired Putin. Why were those people manipulated? They were poorly educated and they were fed disinformation which appealed to their prejudices. They — and the rest of us — didn’t need them to be coddled or tolerated in some pseudo-liberal self-serving way.

Self-serving? Yes … that’s show biz. Don’t offend the audience — they pay. Well, I’m an artist and I tell the truth. One of them ‘directed’ me (in a manner of speaking) later in 2017. I was trolled by white nationalists online and he suggested that I invite them to my show. Yeah, let’s all sit down and chat with the Nazis.

Look at this video. I’m not saying it’s perfect. It’s developmental … but to say that I am not good … that’s bullshit. And to say that my anger is a problem in performance is bullshit. And to say that I was brand new and making rookie mistakes is ridiculous bullshit.

I go back and forth over whether the criticisms were the result of malice or stupidity. In the final analysis, it doesn’t matter. It took a venue away from me. No big deal, I made my own. But to deny audiences voices and perspectives … that audience was engaged … and the star of the evening in the eyes of the establishment was a woman who told a story about how she gave a rock star a hand job when she was a young groupie. Really? Narcissistic banality equals great and experienced.

People need the type stuff that I do and what they do is a waste of time. What they do is a contributing cause of the Ukraine invasion.

I’m sure that some of my static came from the fact that the people wanted to feel superior because they were established in show business. The funny thing was the ones who really had good show business careers were kind and fair to me. Maybe it was hangers on who thought that I was invading their turf. But that was dumb. I wasn’t taking anything away from them.

Everything onstage doesn’t have to be about Ukraine. Hell, through most of this crisis I’ve been writing about Mrs. Maisel. But it has to be about something … it has to be about meaning. They are allergic to meaning.

And they contributed to the Ukraine crisis (not really but figure it out … wear your big boy and big girl brains …)

Copyright 2022 Richard Thomas

3/10/22: my stream of consciousness while watching “West Side Story” (1961) — Voices of the Creators #poetry

It’s better than the new one. It couldn’t be recreated, improved or reimagined. It’s not about the West Side or social issues. It’s about three men — and none of them are Steven Spielberg or Tony Kushner in 2021, or Robert Wise (co-director) or Ernest Lehman (screenwriter) in 1961.

It’s not about the actors either. Everyone involved outside of the three men, with honorable mention to Arthur Laurents who wrote the book of the 1957 Broadway stage original, are functionaries, executing conventional and prosaic tasks, relating to the art of this show like a picture frame is a necessary accessory to a masterpiece.

Jerome Robbins conceived “West Side Story”. He saw Manhattan street gangs in the late 1950s and he imagined dances. The show is about the dances not the gangs. Jerome Robbins co-directed the 1961 movie. I am certain he did all the great images in the picture. All of the murals of bodies soaring through space. All of the representations of Jerome Robbins’ soul.

Robbins is Man Number One.

Man Number Two is Leonard Bernstein. He looked at West Side of New York and heard all of his romance and conflict associated with living in New York. He had an opportunity to reveal who he was in full and he took it. That is the prerequisite of a masterpiece. Jerome Robbins gave him the suggestion, and he responded with greatness.

The third man, Man Number Three, is young Stephen Sondheim who got hired to write the lyrics. Sondheim didn’t even try to fashion lyrics consistent with the voices of the characters. He instinctively used his own more interesting voice. Sondheim was much brighter and more clever than the characters in the play (or most other people, fictional or real for that matter), and he blessed us with that excellence.

There is a purity to the moment of creation. Nothing matters but the pursuit of excellence. Spielberg and Kushner’s “West Side Story” (2021) is admirable in its sensitivity to trans-gender issues and diverse casting. It’s a necessary political act and I applaud it. But art is the superior motivation … the motivation of Robbins, Bernstein and Sondheim. Art speaks to a universality beyond society, a unity beyond our diversity. The lyrics, music and dance of “West Side Story” lift us to full participation in our humanity. Social change follows naturally after artistic enlightenment.

I misunderstood Vince Lombardi for all of these years. His famous line, “Winning isn’t everything, but it’s the only thing,” struck me as meaningless nonsense. I still don’t know what he meant. Not everything but the only thing? What? But I happened on a clip where he explained himself more fully. He said that the pursuit of excellence is more important than the object pursued. The championship trophy was not what ultimately mattered. It was the fulfillment of humanity that was achieved in its pursuit that mattered.

Vince Lombardi was beyond competition. He was an artist of the same era as Robbins, Bernstein and young Sondheim … an era that believed anything was possible and resolved to put a man on the moon.

Art is always about the people who participate in it … those who make it and those who openly accept it. It is the quest for something fine … something great, something excellent that allows us to imagine who we are as something much better than we would have thought before we encountered and accepted art.

I want something better than every place I’ve ever been. I want to be better every day. I want to turn blog posts into literature. I want an existence of civility and kindness and courage and truth. I want things as smart as they can be, and as beautiful as they can be … we live and we die … we must not squander the opportunity.

I obviously never knew Robbins, Bernstein, Sondheim or Lombardi personally. Sure, I read about them and watched biographical documentaries, but that level of removed experience can never give me more than images of what they were. I never was in the physical presence of any of them. But I know that when they danced, and played music and wrote words and coached … in the moments that they worked … they were in an ecstatic and paradisal state … a state where life is … a state you have to work hard for, committed to your inspirations and values, a state that you have to demand, a state that requires you to reject everything inferior to it … Robbins, Bernstein, Sondheim and Lombardi EXIST in their art … their art gives me more than an idea of who they were, it puts me in relation to them and I participate in who they are. I become one with them. That’s the whole point of art. It’s a communion.

You can tell the difference between what is art and what isn’t. What isn’t art is a job, a compromise, a rule, a pressure, an accommodation, repressed joy, the exhaustion of indignity … all you think that you have to do or put up with … oppressive commitment to survival … a barrage of insults … guarded eyes and bodies … misery or delusion because the misery hurts too much …

and art is “West Side Story” and the Green Bay Packers of the 1960s and everything in your life that they inspire you to do, or that they affirm that you have already done.

“West Side Story” (1961) makes me very happy, exalting all that is excellent or in pursuit of excellence, and makes me even more repulsed by all that is mediocre.

There is so much that is wonderful in the world, and so much bullshit to walk away from.

Copyright 2021 Richard Thomas

3/11/22: my stream of consciousness while viewing “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” Season Four, Episodes 7 and 8 #poetry

Up to this point my inner life and Midge’s inner life track. Is the end of Season Four where our paths diverge?

She put her art out into the world and was happy to accommodate the world when she could. She did what got her popularity and approval, but her true voice kept escaping, and it got her into trouble with the world. Then the world hurt her … revealed that it didn’t care about her and was only using her. She retreats back to friends and family and the people who love her. She resolves to do ‘art for art’s sake’. She finds a venue to make art as she sees fit, answering only to her own inner beacon. She becomes even more the natural outlaw which is part of her natural character. Strip clubs, leg breaker hoods … unsavory types and places that Susie warns her that ‘legitimate people won’t go around’. Midge thinks that ‘legitimate people’ should get the sticks out of their asses and see things for what they are instead of being so impressed by social status.

If I were a woman I would be Midge Maisel. Gender seems our only difference. (I don’t like strip clubs or gangsters, but these are musical comedy strip clubs and hoods, and I like musical comedy.)

Then Midge gets an opportunity. Lenny is booked in Carnegie Hall, and he suggests Midge as his replacement as Tony Bennett’s opening act at the Copa. It’s a big break. I haven’t gotten that break in this current season of my life, but I am sure that I will. Breaks happen. They always do.

Midge turns the great gig down. She has resolved never to be an opening act. She wasn’t going to get the Shy Baldwin treatment again. No one was going to tell her what to say or do … or (the real unspoken reason) … break her heart.

I got it! Midge and I are still the same person. Season Four ends with Midge imagining the words GO FORWARD on a billboard. I am sure in Season Five she will take the gig or something like it.

So will I.

Lenny Bruce gives her some great advice. I paraphrase Lenny here, taking huge liberties. Take jobs. Do it your way. Go forward. If they get pissed and throw you out on your ear, get another job.

I was a bit confused on this point like Midge. I thought that I wanted to be embraced for precisely being myself … and I do. But I also have to adapt to what other people need. As Lenny says, “It’s a business …” I’ll add ‘too’.

I can pour my pure essence into other people’s bottles.

I always have been doing what I do. All of my life. I can’t do anything else. Any place that I worked was just a place that I did it. When it got too big or whatever for a place and its people, I left and did it somewhere else. Everything that I ever did prepared me for the next opportunity. This writing on this blog is the prep for my next chance, and the marketing to get the next chance.

One can be in heaven and in the world at the same time. That’s a major theme of my writing. I started the blog with this conceit — I wanted to be a lawyer and a comedian in the same sentence. I didn’t want to have to separate the different parts of my personality and character. Later I became a moralist and an artist in the same paragraph … and iconoclast and scold and poet …

And now I know this … I want more of the world to mix with the paradise I find when I write. I have been in the world before, but it became progressively harder for me as I became more outwardly and emphatically myself. I resolved, like Midge, never to compromise living out loud as myself. I like it too much. I would never sacrifice a scintilla of my essence to be in the world.

But here is the fabulous epiphany — thank you Amy Sherman Palladino! … I don’t have to …

you don’t have to! Midge doesn’t have to …

I was really hurt when I was rejected by the Second City Alumni Association. These wounds have always healed in my life after I landed in the next place to be myself. But I wasn’t landing in the world this time … only in heaven … I write now from the eden of a few good friends and family and doing work that really pleases me in a very obscure setting.

There is a reason for the delay. I had to get over the hurt before the world served up my next locale. I wrote and wrote about what they did and all of their lousy qualities professionally, and as a human beings.

But then … I was hit between the eyes with the tiny silver hammer of epiphany … I saw something psychologically that I knew intellectually but had never previously internalized in my soul — and I was free …

I wrote this as part of the preface to a piece last night …

“… my critics with Second City connections, alumni, aren’t qualified to criticize me. Professions have standards for determining who is qualified to make professional assessments of their peers. That’s what lawyers do, for example. My Second City critics never did anything that would raise them to the level of my professional peer. Their major problems with me is that I have transcended sketch comedy and sitcom and TV sides banality, and that I won’t participate in the uncivil and stultifying clannish culture that they have created. Sorry to disappoint them, but there is a much bigger world than the one they wallow in. They flatter each other with Putin-esque obsequiousness instead of getting down to work and bettering themselves and what they call their art.”

I am finally at this late date freed from concern with what other people think of me. It doesn’t mean that I won’t listen to other people, but I have a process for determining whether they are qualified to be critical. Are they smart? Do they care about me and my work? Have they ever done anything that evidences that they know what they are talking about? Do they affect me with a natural resonance? Are they an idiot or asshole but still saying something true?

I decide. No one calls any shots for me. I decide whether to listen, so I don’t have to guard myself against hearing it anymore. I just got so sick of idiots and assholes. I didn’t want them in my picture at all.

But there is no life without idiots and assholes. The world is crawling with them, along with the saints and the lovers and the artists and the geniuses. The answer isn’t exile. It’s focus.

Midge was excited by the Tony Bennett opportunity but she didn’t want to admit it to herself. She had a plan — doing what she wants, no opening acts …

She had to learn to be open to everything … haha! … it’s so true, my biggest opportunities came in unexpected places …

You can’t live an idea about life, you have to live it …

and opportunities COME … you can’t make them happen … they happen … but you have to be open to them …

if you keep the door closed, no one walks through it …

I do this thing … read the pieces, look at the videos …

but for the right opportunity I’ll shape them in different ways …

I’m very flexible.

Copyright 2022 Richard Thomas

The Rick Blog is many pieces and one story …

3/13/22: Separation and Union (?) #poetry

Separation from the hacks, the ones make shit and get paid for it

Separation from the hobbyists, the ones who call it art but do it as a recreational activity

Separation from the lightweights, the ones who refer to heavy topics in lightweight ways

Separation in process from the artist in exile, the reclusive one who makes real art, but can’t bear the world

And into union with who …

Certainly not the shallow, ignorant ones who just want to feel cool and be entertained …

Where can I go where I am not alone …

I meet an individual here and and individual there …

but where is the group, the place, the entity …

does it exist?

3/13/22: My Life is Becoming a Masterpiece #poetry

My life is becoming a masterpiece. I have achieved through hard work and God’s abundance many desires and needs. My health is better than it has been in years. Ditto my mental acuity (I credit the daily writing). I have financial security — money is no longer a problem for me. I have been happily married for ten years, our love grows deeper and our intimacy closer daily. I have a few wonderful and worthy friends.

And I know what I want …

In the last seven years I have achieved mastery in my arts — writing, spoken word performance and teaching. I outgrew and transcended the venues where I practiced those arts publicly … UIC, Loyola, and the Second City Alumni Association and improvisational performances. Those venues are no longer appropriate for me.

You can get so good at something that it becomes something else.

I want places to write, do spoken word presentations and teach that are elite, as wonderful and worthy as my friends.

Copyright 2022 Richard Thomas

Copyright 2023 Richard Thomas

The Rick Blog Book Draft Chapter Fifty-One

The Rick Blog Book Draft Chapter Fifty-One

2/5/22: my stream of consciousness while viewing “Nightmare Alley” (2022) #poetry

this director likes the elements



the end of the line

freaks, show business and manual labor — the shit show

the Carnival as Hell

The ambition of the man reduced to nothing

More than survival instinct

this director likes freaks and monsters

“Folks will pay good money just to make themselves feel better … look down on this fucker ….”

Freaks, monsters and voyeurs …. show business, the ass end of everything …

Desperate people make friends quickly … or connections at least …

the things people do to feel good …

to get hope …

tarot cards and condescension …

and people at the end of the line make it their livelihood to cater to the longing …

magic (can be real, can be a con)

I sometimes watch this guy who does astrological tarot card readings online

“leo, here is your reading for February”

I don’t believe him

but I like him

He’s an artist

every reading is about him

and I don’t think he’s a leo

so art lives in the nightmare alley

where people at the end of the line don’t care ‘what you done’

out of society

vulnerable and knowing what vulnerability is when they see it

entertainers, con artists and

just plain artists

the art comes when they are being human

the con comes with ambition and fear

“you can make a living at this”

Me: Do your art and make a living and dream about when both are the same thing

The con men claim that they make a living at their ‘art’

but they don’t do art

just a facsimile

and they are liars and thieves

Ambition starts innocent …. dreams … big man in the world with your special girl …

but soon you learn about Nazi invasions and white slavery

and you start making your choices

Me: The Myth of the Extraordinary … art and ordinary life is the thing …

not the con and the false claims of art while you invade Poland and manipulate other men into being freaks for a nickel

Bradley Cooper takes his goodness and turns it into an act … and his rise and problems begin …

“let the mirror show you who you are and who you shall be”

Me: How about you audience? Do you like these flawed characters? Root for their getting together in love? Do you have a compassionate eye for their tenderness and cruelty?

I’m really smart … more than book smart …

I never bought the top of the world stuff

and I never bought you are poor and you work for me bullshit …

the pull yourself up by your own bootstraps bullshit …

You deserve a right livelihood and you deserve dignity

They want you fighting for scraps like dogs

and buying lottery tickets

the miserable fucking hustle

I like the stories about the people who know better

who make art and ordinary life …

like I do and have always done …

I’m distracting by the visual style of this movie …

is it there for a reason or is it just aesthetics?

personally, I have no time for aesthetics …

that might be a failing … an artist should be concerned about fashion

but I only like it in its ordinary nature …

I guess fashion is alright

I don’t like it because it competes with the eternal

Fashion is all about now

I’m all about now as an example of always and forever

That’s why I should care more about fashion

and that’s why I rebel when fashion asserts its primacy

Fashion is the sleight of hand that cheapens art

I have to wade through the fashion to get to the substance — the story …

entertainment makes people think they are special

art tells them the truth about how it is so

Now Bresson — I have to keep rewinding him all the time

This movie is simple

That’s good, it’s easy

Bresson is work

this movie, here?


and boredom is good

It’s open

boredom is open

when I am bored i hear everything in my brain and everything in the world around me

Bresson is so much better, but when I watch this I have to be Bresson

Actually Bresson makes me be Bresson too in a deeper way

but this movie will do …

it’s ordinary

it’s lunch at the Olive Garden

Mall art

Con artists and psychoanalysis

Not the art, myth and Christian Existentialism of Bresson

This movie is not for me

It’s for people who are fucked up in a way that I am not

I’m going to get some cereal. I’m not pausing the movie

Film noir in shades of brown instead of black and white

I don’t care

I care about meaning

I don’t want to be distracted

I don’t mind being bored

I don’t need to be entertained and I don’t like multi-tasking …

You need to focus if you want to go deep

and what do you focus on …

what is … you focus on what is …

the stream of consciousness needs something to alight upon

or else it is all just electrical currents in my brain and not the stuff of life

so this boring movie will do

I’m sure this movie is important to some people

It speaks to something important for them

It might have been important to me once

Maybe even not that long ago

But now …

I haven’t got up for that cereal

and I’m going to have to pee

I’m thinking Cate Blanchett looks older

and then she has a brilliant response when Bradley Cooper kisses her

not the cliche relief from pain

but more a tragic resignation

That one look interests me

I don’t even know where this story is going now

I can’t wait until its over

But I won’t turn it off

It’s my job

I’m hungry

This movie flopped at the box office

They say its the pandemic …

but maybe the suckers are changing and don’t want to look at the freaks anymore

These characters are looking for answers …

mind reading and tarot cards

There are answers

You just have to be brave and honest and look

It’s far from easy

but it’s not hopeless

For all its film noir genre elegance

and faux intellectualism

a “psychological thriller”

this movie is a soap opera

what is more boring than a soap opera …

following the machinations of idiots and assholes

and pretending that they are sympathetic characters

I want to look at idiots and assholes with love

but not like this

celebrating their needless pain

crying about their fall

seeing their sins played out accompanied by exciting music

playing us for suckers

titillated by the freaks

Oh yeah …. film noir descends to murder …

I want a redeemed world

not this

Maybe “Cry Macho” will be better

This director is trying too hard

Yeah, he’s a master craftsman … where’s the art?

Cate Blanchett … she did art here …

Tragedy should give hope …

real hope, not the hope of mentalists, quack psychiatrists and tarot cards …

What could have been if only …

I don’t see the ‘if only’ here

I want ‘if only’

The characters look for answers and don’t get them

Neither does the audience …

Live the questions, yes …

but if you do so, the questions yield answers and the next questions

That’s being alive

Not believing in answers and getting stuck in your limited understanding

is dying before your time.

Copyright 2022 Richard Thomas

2/5/22: my stream of consciousness while viewing “A Woman Under the Influence” (1974) #poetry

My friend took mercy on me after he saw that I viewed “Nightmare Alley” and sent me some art.

I liked the idea of “Station Eleven” when I wrote about it, but I have lost enthusiasm as I’ve watched more episodes. It’s a comic book — or ‘graphic novel’ — excuse me. The Times regrets the error.

Entertainment tries too hard.

Art is simpler than entertainment. You just try to tell the truth … no bells and whistles …

Cassavetes says he hates entertainment. So do I. That’s one reason why my friend made the suggestion.

I saw some of Cassavetes’ films years ago and I liked them, but I am sure that I like them even more now.

He reminds me of Robert Altman more stripped down, more completely existential … less of the political, social, cultural …

An actor, there is nothing that interests Cassavetes more than human behavior …

Cassavetes is fascinated by human faces and bodies … he loves them and lingers over them … not like a voyeur … like a sincere lover …

Great actors … no one acts … too busy doing the story …

There’s no set design … this movie was shot in real places … a chair in the living room is indented from someone sitting in it for years …

There are these unsolicited videos on my Facebook feed of mostly attractive women trying to look sexy … Gena Rowlands doesn’t try to look anything … she is an attractive woman who becomes extraordinarily beautiful just by existing … breathing … a beauty animated from the inside …

Cassavetes makes pictures of storms from a calm island … no judgement … people being human even when they are crazy or drunk or unfaithful … he finds that tiny human spot in all of us that we can’t avoid even when we are fuck ups or monsters …

Cassavetes makes something very close to reality, but it isn’t because he is watching so we see from his perspective ….In reality we can’t stand where another person stands in the same moment … but that is Cassavetes’ magic trick …

He is the opposite of a showy director, but I am always aware that he is there in the best way …

Cassavetes decides in the instant what he is going to do … this is true improvisation … his preparation isn’t rehearsal … it’s a lifetime experiencing, reflecting and observing how love manifests itself in the behavior of ordinary people …

He doesn’t build to the breakdown … Gena Rowlands’ character is in trouble from the very beginning …

Plot? Cassavetes doesn’t need no stinkin’ plot … set real people in motion and shit happens …

I am praised and flattered by my friend’s suggestions for me … he sends me geniuses that he knows will resonate with my spirit …

Cassavetes is a warm director … he gives hospitality to his actors and his audience … it feels good to watch his movies …

Can you tell I really like this picture?

Peter Falk brings the work crew he manages home for spaghetti … maybe ten guys …

Warmth …

People enjoying each other … how about that!

People concerned about one another … what do you say!

Unlike “Nightmare Alley” the first half of today’s double feature … this movie isn’t cynical about answers … it asks honest questions and looks for answers in observable life … no tarot cards, and sales pitches, and CGI movie monsters and manipulative movie scores …

Cassavetes really wants to help …

If my father were a movie director he’d be this guy

He coached soccer teams and played ping pong and gin the way Cassavettes makes movies …

Getting everybody together … getting the best out of everybody …

Everybody but me … but that was warm too … I was the observer … that was my job …

Somebody has to take minutes …

This is an Italian blue collar picture …

Peter Falk’s husband character loves his wife for all of her trouble … because of her trouble …

Cassavettes shows his work … he wonders in front of us …

Bresson’s films are like reading a thick book of philosophy

This movie is like auditing the world’s greatest acting class …

This movie doesn’t have meaning, it shows how meaning behaves …

I don’t even know if it is accurate to call this a movie … it’s something else …

it’s a cinematic action painting …

let’s go in the kitchen

the bar, the street

and let’s see the woman under pressure

It’s not psychological

The woman isn’t analyzed … she’s loved …

This is the experience of mental illness, not the defintion

our brains and psyches and bodies are just hardware

all our lifestyle choices and medications

all serve a bigger project

the human

John Cassavetes looks at the human person, people …

Craziness is so close to wonderful … brave, free, creative, honest …

but craziness sees all on the inside and misses so much on the outside …

society and other people are a burden …

The woman loves people back, she doesn’t just take love, but she doesn’t love them in a practical way …

Hey, John … write this down … when considering love, it’s not all love that matters … other things, other things …

I’m sorry, John … I don’t need to tell you that … that’s your theme … how does love work amid all of the other necessities and feelings … there’s work and money and jealousy and fear and God knows what else …

These intense scenes and they don’t make me feel bad at all …

Big problems but they love each other …

A close up of Peter Falk looks like a painting done with a pallet knife — rugged texture like the sides of a highway carved into a mountain … I never saw that expression on “Columbo”. Like a brown clay sculpture that face … it isn’t the cinematographer that made the visual art … it’s Cassavetes … he led Falk to the performance and he looked at him … took his time … just looked …

This is definitely not entertaining …

this is something to contemplate

it’s not a diversion …

The prolonged scene of departure for the hospital … the intervention … is very real … the mother -in-law’s anger, the doctor struggling for objectivity, the husband’s second thoughts, the woman’s fear … incredible …

Cassavetes defuses what many people fear as much as death — losing one’s mind …

Art is like the memories of an older person who has survived whole and in tact … the most traumatic events are recalled with a the faint beginnings of a tiny smile and the kindest eyes … and seen in elaborate detail

Cassavetes shows the husband’s shame at having a wife with a mental health problem, and how that shame makes him reject friendship that wants to support and help …

and the repression makes other problems

the world spins out of control …

1974 … parts of the world are more enlightened about mental illness today, but in other parts this film could have been made yesterday …

But it’s not only mental illness … it’s irrational shame in general … shame about being vulnerable … being a human being …

but we do that … we go crazy and we get ashamed and we get angry and we get out of control … and we love … we love the people that we love …

and that’s the saving grace …

for those of us who don’t give up on love anyway …

Cassavetes doesn’t concentrate on the people who quit

Friends, children, doctor, mother-in-law, acquaintances … family, community … it’s a reassuring world …

Cassavetes has a more positive view of mankind than I do … but he died in 1989 at age 59 before the shit hit the fan … we lost something since he was alive … He was a maverick who railed against corporate Hollywood … but the corporatists won a lot more people … Cassavetes’ tales of warmth and love couldn’t be created today without some cold and mean characters to deal with … another problem for love to endure and transcend … like mental illness …

She was brought to the hospital by a doctor … no cops … that doesn’t usually happen …

She got a big warm welcome home … that doesn’t usually happen …

that was out by the eighties …

things got meaner and colder by the eighties …

Hah! This is a feel good movie …

Good people under pressure beats bad people under pressure …

In 2022, you get an assortment … good and evil … some skilled at the arts of love, some with good hearts but screwed up, and some natural born killers …

My world in 1974 was like the world in this picture … it was my parents’ world … but everything has advanced … everything is more sophisticated … including effective ways to deal with mental illness and how to be a really successful asshole … how to gaslight individuals and populations and exploit working people and destroy self-esteem and self-determination in order to divide and conquer …

this picture is now quaint …

The woman didn’t just have a breakdown, she descended into madness and now the story reveals itself as a tragedy …

Love doesn’t return lost years or restore limbs lost in car accidents or conditions of schizophrenia …

Love deals with tragedies, it doesn’t erase them …

Cassavetes doesn’t have one character be an asshole — (not a failing — it was 1974 you could go many days and miles without seeing an asshole after all), but he doesn’t blink at the chasm of pain … the loss visited a woman and the people who love her by mental illness …

Look, Cassavetes says … just look … look at problems, look at love … this is what it looks like …

Hollywood says look away from your misery. Cassavetes says … look at your misery … it’s your life … now make something of it … love transcends, it doesn’t escape …

Gena Rowlands shows you how wonderful this woman is, and how she was before she got sick …

Life is loss, loss, loss … and then we stop breathing … what fills the emptiness after all the losses … love …. lost friends and lovers, dead parents or worse children, lost dreams, great things that come to an end, bad things that prevent great things from happening, missed opportunities, folly, obstructions caused by the malice of others, and every day … good or bad it ends … lost forever …

Love and death …

Cassavetes doesn’t get stuck

the tragedy is followed by kazoo music …

comedy and tragedy are too small for what happens

We fall in love with those meant for us, shit happens, good shit, bad shit and then we die …

and its wonderful if we accept it …

My friend sent me a link to a YouTube video of Cassavetes talking …

I’ll give him the last word …

Copyright 2022 Richard Thomas

2/6/22: my stream of consciousness while viewing “Opening Night” (1977) # poetry

The audience is so screwed up … rushing the star’s limo in the rain … pounding on the windows … one dies in the street … That’s Entertainment!

Cassavetes checklist — money isn’t important. Check.

I love Cassavetes’ takes on money (not important) entertainment (hates it) and corporate stupidity (stupid). I have followed Joseph Campbell —- an artist wants money but will not change a brush stroke to get it, but I am now assuming Cassavetes’ way —— money makes no difference. Period. I’m not even going to think about it related to my art anymore.

An idiot and asshole (Rick Blog terms of art) that owned a big time improv school and theater (not Second City) jeered at me once —- “you just write on Facebook”. Better to be great on Facebook than suck on NBC. 


I would have loved to be a sitcom star once, and after that the emcee of “The Masked Singer” type shit … and everyone once in awhile maybe act for a good movie director because I have some quality that they like, and I’d own two homes … one in the Pacific Palisades and one in Malibu, and a condo on the Upper West Side … but that was before I knew the corruption of the world … the people in that business are awful and the audience gets dumber and meaner every day just like the producers want … and I am so much more … a more serious and nicer person … way too good for that shit … I wanted all of that when I was a kid, but then I grew up … I learned much later that trashy tabloid comics, game show contestants and soap opera actors hate me … they really hate me … they want to kill me … consciously they feel superior … they think I am a loser who never made it … but unconsciously they know that I am everything that they can never be … everybody isn’t an artist you know, sales people aren’t artists … they manipulate people … they can’t touch them like I can … they aren’t real … they got progressively more vicious toward me … they had to … they couldn’t stand my presence … they don’t want to believe that people like me are in the world … they garner or aspire to so much money, power and prestige … they can’t admit that there is something superior to all of those things … ART … and ME …

You can imagine my frustration being condescended to by trashy mediocrities … little people that I could swat like flies … and how I stayed silent for years to protect their feelings because I didn’t want to mean, and I thought that they were OK people even if they were less than great.

But then they revealed themselves to be lousy people that had to be confronted …

And my doubts changed from whether to fight back so as not to hurt them to whether to fight back because I’d be better off just moving on …

And I would be better off moving on, but the audience wouldn’t …

And I would only be just fine, but not all that I can be … so I dissect every emotion and thought related to the dead and ugly relationships


Money comes and so do opportunities for my art. They require no thought, worry or concern.



so they air brush me out of the team photos …

They preen with their leverage

but I do a jiu jitsu

If I Ieave they have no power over me …

So I leave …

and then I have to untangle my feelings …

Another ordeal … this time alone in my room …

thanks for coming …

Cassavetes is generous. I have known too many petty people. Not now.

A big part of my story is my separation from past jobs and cliques … there are many strata and levels to the understanding of the split.


There’s the inner life … who I am … who I was in utero …

There’s the response to the whole wide world …

There’s the great moments …

There’s the people and things that I love deeply, that make life worth living …

and there are the idiots and assholes …

the passion play of my suffering with them

and the disengagement

That’s a big part of the story (reprise)

Big part

I am recalibrating my creative life.


I’m writing without emotion. Do you believe me? I don’t feel hurt or angry or insecure. I feel excited.



It ain’t over until it’s over. It hangs in as long as it has things to teach.

I am not wounded by the slights and insults. I was wounded … quite awhile ago now. But now each malicious comment is an epiphany … each insult is a world … revealing what they are and revealing what I am.

I ask myself why did I get involve with them. Couldn’t I see what they were? Why did it take me so long to find out? It just did. No one is smart about everything. What you don’t know leads to experience and becomes what you know best.

I think I went with them in order to write this, and everything else that I write on this theme. I think I wanted to see that sordid part of the world. I wanted to know the difference between art and entertainment, art and greed, meanness and kindness, excellence and mediocrity, bigness and smallness, willful ignorance and sincere naivte’.

Do you see that they no longer bother me … that they inform me? I am self-conscious about that. I want you to understand that I am a reliable narrator.

They knew I wasn’t one of them, and they hated me for it. And they knew that I thought they sucked before I knew that was what I thought. They knew I was sweet to them personally and looked down on their work. They never reached with their work like I do. That scares them. They can’t accept that I did what they have done for their whole lives and surpassed and then went on to do other much more challenging and worthwhile things. My writing is like an energy force field to them. They don’t understand it, they mock it, but they sense its power like dogs hiding from the thunder …


Cassavetes makes me think of everything that s right and everything that is wrong.

This movie has a different look than “A Woman Under the Influence”. That movie was successful, and Cassavetes had more money to work with … that’s how it happens …

THEY WOUNDED ME BUT THEY NEVER STOPPED ME. I was blessed with defiance. The more I get beat up, the stiffer my resolve.

And then when I am resolute in the face of their onslaught they see how pitiful that they are.

An artist has to have a wild hair up his ass.

Cassavetes is vulnerable. So am I.


My inner self and my future is the opposite of the miserable past …

Cassavetes checklist … he believes in warmth. I believe in warmth. He feels bad for what entertainment does to the audience for example. How pathetic they are cheering for salesmen. My past had too many mean people. Cassavetes checklist … he believes in kindness. I’m kind and I now have kind people in my life. No meanies any more.

Cassavetes checklist … he works to get at the truth in service of love. That’s what I do. The hacks who were in my life, the crude thugs and ass kissers climbing on a ladder made of craven ad men and crass producers have disappeared.

Cassavetes hates the corporate sensibility. He made independent movies. I write an independent blog. He worked with the best of the cold corporate set up … directors like Robert Aldrich and Roman Polanski and for his friend Peter Falk on Columbo. I hate the corporate sensibility. I worked with Paul Sills, Mike Nichols and at the West Bank Cafe’ … the best of the system, but I have been on my own for a long time now …

Am I communicating that I am over the break up? Way over it … that I’ve embraced the mutual rejection? What I’m trying to say is

a) I’ve come to see after all of the agony … that I don’t belong with those people … they aren’t good for me as people or as creative colleagues … we are opposites that don’t attract … we do different things … and I don’t approve of what they are …

b) see above

Audiences love it or hate it … the question is do they understand it … it’s a question for the audience, not the artist … as artists we express our truth as well as possible, as audiences we try as hard as we can to understand. …

I have barely watched this movie … I am really writing based upon the first thought that I had when I woke up this morning …

I just wanted John Cassavetes in the room with me.

Copyright 2022 Richard Thomas

2/7/22: my stream of consciousness while viewing “Faces” (1968) #poetry

The artist gets free


and then takes all of the woundedness from all the attempts to push him around

Successfully or unsuccessfully

and he turns it into material for his art

It’s not the only subject matter he looks at

far from it

but it has to be dealt with …

What does independence mean? — no bosses, no peer pressure … no performance

no approval or disapproval …

not only the truth

but the unknown

the Muse … that precious sounding word for a real thing …

To thine ownself be true, mother fucker

Cassavetes is an actor so his voice is very actor-y

I am a talker so my voice is very talk-y

I dissected the improvisers … the idiots and assholes …

But I’ve never been anywhere where that dynamic didn’t happen

You wanna get psychological?

It’s my modus operandi …

My struggle with my father …

My irrational struggle …

I wanted to do what I want and I wanted his approval

and he wanted to tell me what to do

So I am constantly disappointed when I do as I please and some authority doesn’t like it

Boss, peer group …

(not audience, I never respected their power much)

and each chapter ends with me being alienated alone

each chapter where this paradigm isn’t broken

I acknowledge this power by defying it

Revolting against it

Speaking out, always speaking out

The solutions, of course, are completely outside the paradigm

No fathers, no bosses, no peer groups

The solutions are

Art (authenticity and truth)

Marriage (equality, consideration and affection)

Friendship (equality, consideration and recognition)

Once the problem is solved what do you do with the experience of the futile war

The war of misunderstanding

The fight against false authorities that you can ignore at any time

What do you do with that?

You write about it

You try to understand it

You suffer the unnecessary slights and insults and punishments and humiliations all over again

This time not for yourself

But for the audience

Because that is the existential reason that you went up on that cross

Beyond the psychological one

You draw maps

and you are telling the audience about the road

You don’t care if they like it or don’t like it

You write it for the people it will help

And sometimes it pisses them off initially

Because people sometimes recoil at hard truths … at first

Just like you did when you were figuring it out for yourself …

When you imagine yourself in battle with antagonists you are still in the psychological phase

When you imagine yourself telling people about what happened in unblinking detail … you have entered the portal of existential art

Art moves from beginnings of agitation to climaxes of serenity

Cassavetes went to Hollywood and wanted something more

And he created independent movies

I went to improv and law and higher ed and wanted something more

And I created The Rick Blog …

Hollywood or improvisation or law or higher ed

Who gives a shit … none of them are important

Cassavetes wants …

faces …

faces are what’s important

Can you people keep your eye on the fucking ball?


Books and movies …. writing delivered to individuals … can change the world one person at a time …

I prefer books and movies to theater …

Theater speaks to the social, the body politic, the collective …

that only works if individuals have changed …

I want change goddamit!

I’ve watched three Cassavetes movies and they all look different

The acting looks the same … it’s a particular style of acting …

That’s a constant for Cassavetes

But the mise en scene … the look of the pictures … the way its shot … the way it’s lit, the way the camera moves … is different every time …

The look expresses the changes in Cassavetes

The transformations …

Cassavetes decided that he wanted to look in people in his art

But he always looked in different ways …

He couldn’t have looked at all if he did what Daddy told him

He had to look at Daddy’s face to get away from him

and Daddy became a character in his movies

Daddy has to be in art

Art has to show a juxtaposition between what is and the bullshit authorities that demand that it isn’t

The making of art is all pain and the source of relief …

Part II

In 2004 … I remember the year because Kerry was running against Bush

I was broke as usual so I got a job

I became underemployed as an inside sales rep for CCH, an outfit that sold tax and accounting publications and software

Underemployed? I was told I had low self esteem. It wasn’t psychology. It was politics and economics. The market told me to crawl on my belly in order to survive.

So I took this job … surrounded by Republicans …

I didn’t know this at first, so I spouted some anti-Bush sentiments in the break room. My coworkers despised me for it.

When I saw that I kept it up. I was compelled to keep talking. It really pissed them off.

I was only there a few months and I never even think about CCH, because I didn’t give a shit about the job or the people.

But CCH is relevant today

Because that defiant impulse to keep talking was my artist forcing itself out into the world …

They tell you that you are nothing

They tell you that you have no authority to speak

They tell you to shut up

And they attack you when you won’t

Eventually you leave

It doesn’t matter if it’s your conscious decision or if they throw you out

It’s always your decision

My commitment is to my thoughts and feelings

Not to any person or group

What happened at CCH happened with the improvisers

With the lawyers

With the academics

With my father

With the world …

Marriage came late for me but it is a real answer

“Your better half” is a true cliche’

You meet someone who knows your heart

Who knew you before you were born

And at each stop individuals liked you

and a very few of those individuals understood you

and that tiny few become your friends …

An improviser berated me

Said I sit alone in my room and hide behind my blog and write things that hurt people

“no one can get to you”


Writing broke the pattern

I don’t belong to any job or any group

I belong to my words

And I don’t want to belong

There is no conflict when you are alone … the author(ity) of your own existence

The idiots and assholes always suspected that I was trying to take over

That I was a threat

A revolutionary

I am a revolutionary

but my sphere of influence has nothing to do with their petty, puny and unimportant institutions

Cassavetes made Faces and announced that he was bigger than Hollywood

Then he said a lot of other things too

The artist leaves the campfire and goes into the woods away from the tribe

And returns with the tribe’s salvation

Artists are the true leaders of mankind

Artists are in charge

Artists dare to travel to the frontiers of humanity

The explorers

And then a few listen to the reports from the front

and the world changes

Pope John Paul II was a good writer

I care fuck all for his authority and like his writing

I think he felt that way too

Because he said “Eventually the consciousness of mankind will be so great that the Church will not be needed …”

Of course the artist gets into conflict with the powers that be

and gets beyond that conflict …

and as he goes through all of the changes

the world’s consciousness expands.

Copyright 2022 Richard Thomas

2/10/22: Praise and Chastisements #poetry

I write to decide … I chastise and praise and find my way.

Joseph Campbell said that art “burns the pain away”. I’ll put a finer point on it. Understanding is a byproduct of art, and understanding burns the pain away. The truth, decidedly, does not hurt.

Nietzsche said “say yes and no”. Yes.

I was so taken with Bresson and Cassavetes that the movies I used to watch seem small. Those guys have the integrity of scientists … they are going for truth … they worked in an uncompromised  way … no bows to anything except truth and meaning … that’s where my heart is …

I am much more like a painter who likes working things out in a studio than a guy who loves making the scene … when I was young I used to fantasize about getting the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor … funny choice … not Actor, Director or Screenplay … but now I daydream other things …

I have loved the Oscars until very recently. The movies are the world’s collective dreams. I’ve written a lot about the Oscars. I should do an Oscar inventory.

I think big money can make art. I think a lot of commercial pictures are art. 

All those great directors in the 70s Coppola, Ashby … the list is too long and it includes Spielberg and Lucas made art.

I think when my friend the acting coach prepares an actor for a commercial part, he’s making art. Art like when Jack Lemmon brought so much insight to his roles commercial vehicles … or the always amazing Cate Blanchett in the very commercial Nightmare Alley.

I’m just going through something … I write to decide … I chastise and praise and find my way.

I chastise former friends (or maybe my feeling of friendship was an illusion) who haven’t changed in over thirty years. No refinement of their sensibilities … still the same same silliness in their concerns (their work hasn’t progressed, they can’t recognize how I’ve changed … I grew when they stagnated) and the petty competitiveness, off-the rack narcissists manufacturing faux recognition and making claims of success, mediocrities who reach for nothing of value … bores … and the chastisement frees me from any pain considering what they think of me … (their criticism of me is objectively laughable) their laziness has made them dull and their point of view has no value (they are incapable of appreciating who I am or what I do) …

My pain related to my split from my former associates was their pain … the artist assumes the pain of his enemies … they want to destroy the artist because they are lack the confidence to pursue any excellence themselves, and lack the humility to acknowledge what is great in others … they are self-justification in service of no self to justify …

I chastise these ghosts of my past because their lousiness is the natural product of their fear … their ignorance is a function of their uncaring natures …

Art is empathy … we contemplate and pursue understanding when we care …

I chastise people in (so -called) creative endeavors who are insensitive …

Sensitivity is the soul of art …

People who are incapable of giving a damn about themselves, the world or other people are incapable of art …

and when they sell their self-aggrandizement as art they diminish the potential of humanity as a whole …

I chastise all those who don’t see telling a joke or a story or creating a sound or image as an endeavor requiring high moral and ethical responsibility …

The process of saying yes and no places me in a state of constant liberation … my life is my freedom and my responsibility … I assess and decide … no one else does …

My path is a river … the left bank is what inspires my admiration and love, the right bank is what disgusts me …

I have loved many coaches …

My father was a soccer coach … he founded the Italian-American Sports Club in Rochester, New York. He was a player-coach and about ten years older than his teammates. He not only helped his friends develop as soccer players, he also showed the more recent immigrants the ropes to getting along in American life.

Paul Sills was a great coach of improvisation. He ended up showing me something much more than how to improvise. He gave me the tangible experience of art. He showed me who I am. I don’t think he knew he was doing that, but he did it.

The man that I consider my best friend … let me define my term here … he is my best friend because he makes the most space for me in his life … pays the most attention … so he has great hospitality for me … and he also has the most understanding … he gets me … and I hope I do the same for him. I think I do. Because a friendship is a mutuality … so my best friend is a coach … among many other things … but coaches always can do many things … my friend is a player coach like my father … and a player coach is the best kind of coach … because playing brings a sense of equality to the coaching relationship … and no human development of any kind happens when there is no sense of equality … a coach is concerned with the furtherance of whatever human activity they are involved in, and in the development of the human beings engaged in that activity. Great coaches are delighted as they see their players blossom …

In the midst of this praise … a chastisement … Terry Bradshaw, the four time Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steeler quarterback didn’t go to his coach, Chuck Noll’s, funeral. Noll berated Bradshaw and made him “angry inside all the time” to turn him into a winner. When Bradshaw told Noll that he was retiring after their record setting partnership, Noll simply said, “Good luck”, and walked away. Bradshaw said that Noll was “so cold”. Contrast Noll with Paul Sills who was saddened by the fact that actors were in so many ways the best of humanity — the smartest, most charming, most physically appealing …and yet competed and were not “brothers and sisters on a journey”.

Terry Bradshaw had several failed marriages that make him feel bad, and still struggles with immaturity as a man of 72, although he is doing much better after being treated for clinical depression. I have had a much better life because I knew Paul Sills and my friend. Noll would not have solved all of Bradshaw’s problems, but he could have helped. Noll used Terry Bradshaw and didn’t give anything back.

I chastise all that is cold and praise all that is warm.

The improvisers that I knew are more shaped by casting directors, producers and ad men than Paul Sills. I chastise them for their failure as artists — they aren’t artists but pretend to be for the unsuspecting, but more importantly for their failure as human beings. They are mean and petty and ignorant.

My friend coaches actors who sometimes perform in mainstream commercial movies and television, and I praise my friend. He brings the “sensibilities” of art to his charges and creates oases of meaning in the stream of commerce.

In many ways, Robert Bresson and John Cassavetes are polar opposites. Bresson disdained the art of acting as false, and felt the worst thing a movie could do was resemble live theater. He used non-actors and a minimalist approach that allowed the audience to project all thought and feeling onto his cinematic images. His methods were profoundly effective. Cassavetes loved acting. His characters were sometimes written as professional actors, and were shown in proscenium plays … but even if the characters weren’t technically acting … they were always emoting and often operatic in their declamations and proclamations of pain and love.

Bresson was quite directly and obviously an intellectual … steeped in Christianity, mythology, philosophy and art. Cassavetes personified street smarts. His films come directly from his own personal experience and observation unmitigated by much formal education (though clearly informed by Shakespeare and the deep study of acting itself).

Very different men … yet each shared a similar theme … the theme of all art … how to live with love in a challenging world filled with antagonistic forces and beneficent opportunities.

I praise these artists … and I chastise the movies that don’t try as hard, and with such high mindedness and pure intentions as the films of Bresson and Cassavetes,

My chastisement of Hollywood is without rancor. This is chastisement as a tool of decision. Hollywood is a place where my best friend sometimes works, and I praise the art he grows in that rocky soil littered with cheap rhinestones. I accept Hollywood as part of the world, my chastisement impacts my value judgement of what it is. Hollywood is a dead enthusiasm for me. Just as my former (false?) friends who betrayed the actor’s journey are chastised by me.

My wife is a wonderful coach. She coaches high level academics and professionals. She is influenced by art, and in her work art and ordinary life are one.

There are two hexagrams in the I Ching. One is “The Well”. The other is “The Cauldron”. The Well nourishes society. The Cauldron nourishes superior people who nourish society.

An artist works in The Cauldron. Coaches work in The Well.

Let me now praise, artists and coaches. And let me chastise those who should be one and/or the other and are neither.

And in so doing find my way …

Copyright 2022 Richard Thomas

2/12/22: Orson Welles, The Paris Interview (1960)— my thoughts the next morning after viewing #poetry

Did God create a finite number of human beings and then keep replicating them ad infinitum … placing them in different eras and circumstances … making history a costume drama where the externals have great variety, but the essentials are quite the same?

If so, I think I may have come off the same cosmic assembly line as Orson Welles.

Here he is in 1960 … around 45 years old … “Touch of Evil” fat … smoking a big cigar … brilliant … warm … affable … sincere. My weight is going down, and my clarity and resolve about maintaining a healthy weight is increasing and I haven’t had a cigar in over two years. I remember as a young man in my early thirties, I read that Welles died at age 71. I thought how great. He ate a lot of whatever he pleased and smoked the cigars that I like and he lived to a ripe old age and led a productive life. Today at age 66, 71 doesn’t strike me as a ripe old age at all, and I understand that Welles’ lack of self care could not have helped his productiveness. He did a lot, but if he were healthier he could have done more.

All that being said … we are the same. We like cigars and we like to eat.

I’d like to think that I am brilliant. I don’t have Welles’ fame, but maybe the famous are just archetypes for qualities that many others can have too. I’ve created small pond Citizen Kanes many times over. Welles explains that he never intended to innovate. He considered the dimensions of the movie screen and just thought about how much that he could fill it with … My mind works that way too. I don’t pay any attention to “the way its done”, I just jump in and imagine how I might do it …

Welles is a warm person. He is very happy to be with the interviewer. At one point the interviewer smiles and says “Your answer ruined my next question”. Welles laughs and says … “Well, I can change the answer!” That generosity and friendliness and sense of fun … and real sense of support and affection for the man asking the questions … Welles is there for the man as much as himself …

Welles says that he finds the words “success” and “posterity” to be “vulgar”. I can do better than say that I wish I could have said that … I have said that in so many words …

Welles says that he never had a career … that he was more of an adventurer … following an impulse toward self-fulfillment instead of getting ahead … Me too …

Welles rates a couple things higher in importance than art … one is being a responsible citizen and the other is being a decent human being. His interest in the body politic was intense, but he was never disposed to engage in political activism of any kind. He says that he would cast friends in his movies instead of professionals who were better for the parts (from a professional point of view). Welles describes himself as an amateur in that regard. An amateur is someone who does something for the love of it. Welles can’t help being an artist, it is who he is to the core. And any art that isn’t in the service of the human … both in its individual and communal aspects is just not that serious or good. I am the same as Welles.

Welles is misunderstood and slandered. He defends himself. Ditto.

Welles dispels for me the myth that he had early success and couldn’t sustain it. He did what made sense to him to satisfy his authenticity and his truth. People like Welles and I suffer that dim criticism from people who can’t appreciate what animates us. But we also understand where the ridicule of the professional is coming from.

Roger Corman said that a filmmaker has to understand money the way an artist has to understand paint. Money is the stuff that movies are made with .. so Corman made his famous B movies and distributed Fellini and Bergman and fostered the careers of Bogdonavich and Nicholson and Coppola and Scorsese and De Niro and many more … Corman invented the New Hollywood …

and Welles may have invented the independent film …

Welles did schlock and day jobs … reading Shakespeare with Dean Martin and the Gold Diggers. selling no wine before its time in commercials … schlock that Welles says hurt his reputation as an artist … but he did it …

This independence, humiliation and sacrifice created “Chimes at Midnight” one of the few independent film projects that Welles ever could bring to completion … but that great film … greater than “Citizen Kane” even, in my estimation … was worth all of it …

Day jobs, derision from the ignorant and insensitive, good people who help out, people who “get” you and love you, constant devotion to process, working on the edge of poverty and in obscurity … noble fools … inspired amateurs … unconcerned with success or posterity … on fire to live the life we were born to … producing an occasional masterpiece or two … and always bringing merit to whatever we do … me and Welles …

I foolishly thought that Welles was frustrated and felt rejected by Hollywood … that he was too hip for the room … and wasted his time courting people who would never appreciate him. I was wrong. He made use of what was available. He got money where he could and when he could. He knew his aims were quixotic. His film of “Don Quixote” was fittingly never finished. But his vision of Don Quixote was realized. Welles was undeterred by slander and injustice. He kept going. The talent to create “Citizen Kane” as a young prodigy was only part of the story … an aspect to illustrate the greater art. The art was in the character of the man.

To choose … to decide … to live from a place as Joseph Campbell says “beyond achievement and success” … to dance for God … to reach for what is truly great and wonderful and to not separate art from being a citizen or most importantly a human being …

Welles talked about the “professional” artist who ruthlessly (my word) pursues art above all else, including his own humanity and in so doing furthers art but not what Welles (and I) deem as more important — being a human being … this is the one place where I diverge from Welles, but only rhetorically … I’m pretty sure he agrees with me … the professional artist furthers his career and the business of art (professional equals doing it for the money) but not art itself …

Art cannot be separated from the human …

Art is secondary in this sense … the art of Orson Welles could never have as strong a message as the fact of Orson Welles. How we live our lives influences the rest of human history, past present and future. Welles never ran for office (he was asked), and he never had the career that everyone expected but he changed the world.

The amateur artist needs money for his art, the professional artist does art for his money.

The careerist looks out for himself. The adventurer looks out for the world.

I am a thinner, nicotine free, less celebrated Orson Welles with more promising actuarial prospects.

Copyright 2022 Richard Thomas

2/13/22: my stream of consciousness while viewing “Chimes at Midnight” (1965) #poetry

The music, the movement of the camera and most of all Welles as Falstaff


Hardly the work of a frustrated loser

Any sadness is ours

For this film seems the valedictory of a great man

Gone too soon

Oh Welles lived several years more

But this film seems his capstone

What voices these actors have

Of course Welles venerates the human voice

What beautiful black and white cinematography

Of course the director of Citizen Kane would make a final great black and white masterpiece

the speeches are arias

the motions of the cameras and the motions of the actors … modern dance …

The pent up frustrations of Welles’ exile released …

That joyful energy fuels his Falstaff

and allows him to share his natural prowess

Master of so many things

The framing of every moment of this film is interesting

I’ve seen it several times and pay little attention this morning to the story

I engage with the movie

Reveling in the marvelous sight and sound of it

Welles has gifted me from his grave

with the feel of the soul of Falstaff

Welles’ spirit preserved in this film

is surely immortality

“Waves of sighing and grief, it blows a man up like a bladder”

Shakespeare and Welles acknowledge Falstaff’s pain

and the defiance in his joy

When an old man chooses a twinkle in his eye

with a sense of that history of pain …

he shall overcome

the cloak of the old fool disguises a holy hero

a saint that honors God’s Will

and a valiant knight who furthers the fortunes of man

This movie … such exacting and demanding hard work …

Welles the human sacrifice

is infused with a spirit of play

The fat old man in the dusk of his life of sorrows

knowingly creates with the virtues of the child


How silly that we call this impulse to live bravery

but that is what it is

Brave in its ridiculousness

Revelry at the Chimes of Midnight

For whom do the Chimes toll?


Falstaff is humiliated for being alive

The false seriousness of men of supposed responsibility

Kings with power

It is the warm and affectionate play of the fat foolish man

Indulging every pleasure

Loving life

that renders the important service


Welles and Falstaff do not fear death …

They make the most of the light of day

They don’t deny death either

They don’t engage in the madness of trying to defeat nature

They are sane

They love life emphatically even as it wanes


The powerful man dies

The wise fool dies
The fool loves the world

The powerful man despises it …

Welles now directs a masterful battle sequence

Who is the fool … the man who makes war

or the man who paints pictures of the terror and suffering of war

The armies go into battle with high spirits

Men die violently

And the temporarily victorious survivors leave the battle exhilarated …

Welles and Falstaff sing the song of war

the glorious and baleful verses

leaving nothing out

Imbued with empathy and joy

Who has more wisdom?

Who does more good?

The king or the knowing buffoon …

The men of the world are conflicted

Welles and Falstaff are whole …

united …

in themselves …

and with the world …

“Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown”

When we know the world is a stage

We play …

Welles achieved immortality with “Chimes at Midnight”

But his greater achievement is his mortality

“You are so fat, you can’t live long, Sir John”

“Chimes at Midnight” is a comedy played in counterpoint to moments of great drama …

To live with exuberance

while knowing that love and joy always end in loss

In the early scenes Falstaff and Prince Hal are kindred spirits

The young man and the old man are the same

Except the old man has known sorrow

When Hal learns sorrow he rejects Falstaff

He becomes Henry V


What a gift to us from Welles

The genius denied for so many years

Returned to us with such energy and joy

Undeterred by the pain of the past

and his inevitable suffering and death

If Hemingway killed himself because he couldn’t write anymore

He was nothing compared to Orson Welles

Pope John Paul II was like Welles

He knew how to live and knew how to die

When Hal embraces his father the king,

he has to reject Falstaff

“How I came by the crown may God forgive, and in thee may true peace live”

It is said that all great fortunes begin in crimes

Crimes against humanity

Falstaff, Welles and Pope John Paul come into the scenes of the crimes like sons of God

Participate but with detachment

The two King Henrys and Hemingway (if the story of hi suicide is true)

make so much noise, have such display

sound and fury signifying nothing

“how ill white hairs become a fool and jester … presume not that I am more former self”

And with that Hal became Henry V

The mature man is the fool

and the fool is the mature one

The aging good man returns to the child

as the aging man of only the world petrifies …

A child’s voice is prominent in the epilogue …

Henry remembers Hal and reintegrates Falstaff’s love and his love for Falstaff back into his heart …

and becomes a good king

Better than his father, just as his father wished

Generous Welles … generous Falstaff

determined to share their wisdom, joy and love with the world

The role of art

The roles of those

whose specialty is their humanity.

Copyright 2022 Richard Thomas

2/15/22: my stream of consciousness while viewing “Corman’s World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel” (2011) — Art and Business #poetry

Orson Welles wasn’t a careerist. He was an adventurer.

If an artist has a career, he or she isn’t an artist.

Bob Oedenkirk is featured in the New York Times. His serious ‘success’ … he transitioned from comedian to actor. Oedenkirk is not an artist. He’s a careerist.

Welles says the concept of success is vulgar. Oedenkirk is vulgar. Listen to his interviews. Watch his work. From the point of view of business he’s a great success. From the point of view of art, he stinks.

Roger Corman was a genteel, politically progressive, personally kind and sophisticated man. He made his money doing cheap campy slasher movies for the drive-ins and the grind houses. Then he took the money and distributed Bergman and Fellini and fostered the fledgling careers of young Scorsese and Nicholson and Bogdonavich and so many others.

I have readers who are wonderful visual artists. They share photos of their paintings on social media. They are frustrated in their attempts to sell their work.

They couldn’t be Oedenkirks if they tried. Thank God.

An artist has to get a source of income that doesn’t destroy their soul. It has to provide them enough to live on, and leave them enough time, space and energy to do make their art. Then they have to commit to doing their work …

and be open to opportunities for greater distribution …

I considered self-publishing on Amazon yesterday but rejected the idea. Hundreds of thousands of people do that and make no money. There are only forty self-published authors that are financially successful according to the New York Times … I don’t know how they define financial success but who cares … it must be some reasonable approximation of enough money to make effort worthwhile. If I self-published on Amazon, I’d get nothing that I don’t already have self-publishing on WordPress. I have readers now … getting on a roster of Amazon Prime subscribers is like being on the rosters of Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn … like I am now.

I read an article by one successful (vulgar) self-published author. It seems he spends a lot of time on self-promotion (like Oedenkirk). If you spend your time on self-promotion you become a master of self-promotion, not a master of your art.

It is amazing how long it takes to get good at making art. Oedenkirk gets the jobs, does them badly, sells them as good when they are not … and a large audience wastes their time on his nonsense.

I think I’ve been doing it the right way. I started in 2014 writing on my blog. It was often inconsequential writing and occasionally flashed its potential. I got a job teaching at a university which gave me the time, space and energy to write. It was a bullshit program, but I taught my own way and helped some kids in what they call “under-served communities” and I felt OK about what I was doing. I could sleep at night.

I had to go through improvisational theater and Second City to learn what from that experience served my new art as a writer, and what no longer applied to me. The performing like the teaching helped me refine my writing. I kept the adventure and tossed out the vulgarity.

I went to the Iowa Writers’ Summer Workshop and learned that my writing was an independent thing, and didn’t have a place in traditional literary circles. The school I worked at paid for that.

Then I reconnected with my best friend who is a prolific reader and he showed me a more useful and truer way to engage with other people’s writing.

Next, money became easy … savings, Social Security and a modest inheritance made it possible for me to spend my days writing … and then the writing took off artistically. I became consistently good.

I’m in my eighth year of the blog and I finally believe that I am doing excellent work. Eight years. Anything good takes time to develop. I didn’t know that I was doing a good job developing my talent but I was.

The development of one’s talent is the only thing that an artist has a right to be proud of …the talent itself is God given. An artist has an ethical and moral responsibility to develop his or her art … ethics is what you owe other people … morality is what you owe your own soul …

The temptation of vulgar success spreads toxic waste in the collective unconscious and corrodes the artist’s soul … Bob Oedenkirk’s work and person disgust me, like crude pornography. He comes across as ignorant and egotistical, and his work is an insult to art, which is an activity that is intended to expand the consciousness of mankind instead of retard and restrict it.

Joseph Campbell described an artist as doggedly doing his work in obscurity because “he knew and knew”. I know and know.

I’d like to have a manager who would get me opportunities to be published and produced in bigger venues. I would like to be in a community of artists who are appropriate to my current level of development … beyond improvisation, beyond literature … but my desires cause me no anxiety. I am confident I will get those people and things. I’d like the activities and experiences and the fun of it all. I think the new experience would be a new stage in the development of my writing … but if it doesn’t happen, I have a good life. I’m happy. I’m doing what I love to do. If people read me after I’m dead … God bless the future. But Welles said “posterity” was a vulgar word too. Those Buddhist monks who did those intricate sand paintings at the Museum of Natural History that I saw … who then took out little hand brooms and whisked their work away … my heart is with them … The I Ching says do the work without looking up to see if you are successful and everything works out …

The anxiety that artists feel about vulgar success is a fear of art itself. If you do something authentic and independent and true, of course it doesn’t fit in places that are established.

My readers, that happy little band of brothers and sisters from all over the world, like my work because it resonates with something real and true inside of them. You have to know and know.

You have to leap … take care of yourself … get your money (in the right way), eat right, drink plenty of fluids, go to the doctor, enjoy your friends, wife and family and show up every day … never say what’t the use … keep at it … everything works out … you have to be smart … you have to think about things … if you have a clear sense of mission and make all of your choices (the prosaic and poetic ones) consistent with that mission … everything works out …

Oh yeah … Roger Corman … he left the Hollywood establishment and made campy slasher movies en route to introducing great foreign directors to Americans, and providing the training ground for the New Hollywood writers, directors and actors that made all of those great movies in the 1970s.

Everything works out.

It’s an adventure!

Copyright 2022 Richard Thomas

2/16/22: my stream of consciousness while listening to “3 1/2 Hour interview with Orson Welles by Peter Bogdanovich, 1969-1972 ” #poetry

The movies died. Forms die, but essences are eternal.

Douglas Fairbanks and Buster Keaton did their own stunts.

Kelly, Astaire and Ginger Rogers were really dancing.


The suspension of disbelief is ruined when all that is left are technical tricks.

Welles was disappointed that people focused on his technical innovations instead of his way of telling a story.

The story is eternal. Technique comes and goes.

Liza Minnelli said she won an Oscar when they were “meaningful”. That’s true. Why?

John Cassavetes stopped watching other people’s movies. They were “fluff”.

All art starts in disappointment. The artist rebels from his old crowd, and becomes independent and makes something new. The eternal sends the artist into exile from the places where it is ignored.

Bogdonavich had a fall from grace in Hollywood and started to write more about the old movies that he loved. That’s one interpretation. But the movies died. And the way Bogdonavich connected to the eternal aspect of Hollywood was in writing. He continued to direct and act, and go on the road and perform a medley of anecdotes at film festivals and universities and other venues where that type thing was wanted. But those were just jobs.

I was pleasantly surprised that this audio was available on YouTube. It’s like looking over Bogdonavich’s shoulder while he worked.

There is nothing achieved by any art form that can’t be achieved by writing and talk. This isn’t to dismiss the importance of the other forms, just to praise the versatility and scope of mine.

Story is very important, even paramount, but I don’t worry about telling stories. I just directly say what I think and feel and story happens.

Welles is disappointed that many emphasize his style in filmmaking and ignore his distinctive way of telling a story. Welles was a master stylist and he never thought about style. He was a genius and his stylistic innovations were organic byproducts of the substance of what he had to say.

A friend and reader who is a visual artist sent me a quote from the Chicago artist Ed Paschke who said something to the effect that “in art expect nothing and you’ll always be ok.” My friend was affirming my last piece related to Roger Corman. But he also gives a little unconscious direction. There may come a time in the life of an artist when the time of disappointment ends.

I’ve noticed that I have no emotional response when I see Second City hacks on TV anymore — they are ubiquitous — impossible to avoid … and for years their appearances — uninvited and unannounced on my TV screen elicited a dull pain, like someone constantly reminding you of an unpleasant memory … but now I feel nothing.

I don’t follow what feels good, but I follow what feels right … and that ultimately always feels good.

Welles loved technology … please don’t misunderstand me. I do too. I do so many things related to my work using simple technology available to most everybody that I couldn’t possibly do not very long ago.

So technology killed the movies. But it made something else possible. What technology does is kill immortality, which is a much more interesting consideration. Welles talks about the director, Max Ophuls predicting that one day that film wouldn’t be in the camera anymore — we would only need the lens. Of course, this has now come to pass. Welles laughs and says that this innovation would erase Ophuls from living memory. No one would be moved by the way he exposed his film and moved his camera. No one would understand what he did.

The eternal is different than the immortal. Everything dies, and decomposes and disappears. Fame and “immortality” are the same — fleeting.

Art is not a matter of personal ambition. Welles is amazing on this tape. His focus is unfailing. He is constant in his consideration of truth and communication. After no one alive knows who Orson Welles was, what he was will endure. We are influenced by what people and natural phenomena that we have no knowledge of said and did thousands and thousands of years ago. To participate in the eternal pageant of nature … that is what art is …

To be a proper and natural influence …

Welles is so generous with Bogdonavich. He patiently answers questions about “Citizen Kane”. Welles had moved on, but Bogdonavich hadn’t, and Welles helped him.

When Welles talks about the past, he is talking about the present. There is a sense of application in his memory.

A man in his sixties that I don’t know shyly posted a snippet of short story writing that he had written when he was seventeen years old. It was very talented. I’d like to tell him something, but I don’t know him. He is a good writer. He has lost no time. He has been writing in his head for years, for all of the years when he felt that he couldn’t acknowledge his own talent. He should start writing now. It will be a constant rush of words. He has short stories and novels in his soul. He should just sit down every day and write them down. He can deliver a full body of work. Maybe he will see this paragraph or something like it and start writing in a committed way.

It is not shyness on my part that prevents me from speaking to the man directly. Art is much different than teaching with the exception of one characteristic … the student must approach the teacher, and the audience must approach the artist. An artist can’t impose himself on others.

Welles loses me when he complains about good people not getting jobs. You don’t need a job. Just create. The need of an artist to get jobs and recognition empowers people that don’t deserve it. Make art. Your audience will find you.

(You don’t need a job doing your art. If you don’t have a job doing your art, and you need money, get a job that doesn’t damage your soul and gives you the time, space and energy to do your art. I’ve written about this before and recently. William Blake, one of the greatest poets who ever lived, had a print shop and wrote. He went “to his death singing”. If somebody gives you a job and money and recognition to do your art, grab it. Why not? Enjoy. But you don’t need it. Do your art!)

Copyright 2022 Richard Thomas

2/19/22: my stream of consciousness while viewing “The Many Saints of Newark” (2021) #poetry

I have nothing more to say about “The Sopranos” in general , and nothing to say about “The Many Saints of Newark” in particular, after seeing this prequel. David Chase already told this story. This movie is just more characters and more plot reflecting on what is already understood. The themes are the same. I come for the themes. The meaning. The meaning is still there in this new movie. It’s strong and it hasn’t gone anywhere. It’s just that I heard it before.

That’s not a criticism. I don’t mind the repetition. The insights about sentimentality and empathy and existential choice bear repeating. I don’t care about the Mafia in New Jersey. I don’t even like these people. I care about working on humanity … yours, mine and ours. It is that human work that makes Chase a great artist.

I struggled with a couple of drafts of this piece. I wrote about the protagonist of ‘Saints’, Dickie Moltisanti, in the same way that I previously wrote about Tony Soprano in the series. You might say that this is Chase’s point … that murderous dysfunction is passed from generation to generation, and that it is our moral responsibility to break the pattern. But he made that precise point more artfully in “The Sopranos” series already.

So my piece on “The Many Saints of Newark” is my previous piece on “The Sopranos”. Everything that I wrote last year applies to this year’s release. Please click on the link below, and read what I say there. I am using a link instead of a cut and paste job for a specific reason. What is lost in the continuity of words on your scroll is gained in your chance to view the video of the scene where Carmela is speaking to an old psychiatrist which lays out the moral center of the entire Sopranos’ project.

Making art is hard. It takes a long time to get good … and it involves a lot of repetition. Each time out is a big risk and just another sketch working toward some elusive, never to be reached, final product. You go after it, you grab the brass ring, then it slips through your fingers then you get it again … and sometimes you play your greatest hits over and over again without even knowing it.

Some repetition is actually transformative. You look at the same thing from different angles, and you find new insights … sometimes to the point where the ‘thing’ changes into some new thing.

I don’t think David Chase was conscious of how well he communicated what Tony Soprano’s childhood was like in the original series. Tony Soprano is one of the greatest fictional characters ever created. Chase and James Gandolfini and their collaborators really made something special. We knew how Tony’s past influenced who he was. Dickie Moltisanti is basically Tony all over again.

This movie starts with a shot of a graveyard. I am guessing that the entire creative process of making this picture was shrouded in a rarely acknowledged sadness. It was a futile attempt to bring James Gandolfini back to life. Find a great actor … Alessandro Nivola fits the bill … write the tragedy again with a thinner guy and a different era …

Who can blame Chase for missing the feeling of making a masterpiece … he had that feeling of fullness every day for years … every day living on the frontier of humanity … discovering the world and educating it at the same time … who wouldn’t want that again. I hope he keeps at it … he might surpass “The Sopranos” the next time … how amazing that would be …

You keep working, you keep trying … you don’t know what you are doing … and then you know what you are doing too well … but follow your impulses and good things eventually and occasionally happen …

Bravo David Chase for doing it … hanging in there … read the link below about the series from 1999 – 2007 … please … it says everything I have to say about this new (?) movie …

Copyright 2022 Richard Thomas

2/24/22: Second City/Improvisation Inventory (Preface) #poetry

Second City’s executive producer resigned this morning. Second City used to be wonderful institution. I was part of Second City decades ago. I had interaction with the place a few years ago as an educator when I taught at UIC and our department used improvisation and hired other Second City people to teach, and when I was exploring places to share my early writing, and did a few shows on a Second City stage.

I used to be proud to be a Second City alumnus. Now I am an alumnus with an asterisk. I have nothing to do with current Second City, and I am embarrassed by its current iteration — and by what it has been for several years. My Second City no longer exists and hasn’t existed for a long time. I am uncomfortable when anyone associates me with what Second City is today. I was even out of step with Second City when I was there back in the day, but also grateful for the opportunity to be taught and mentored by fine artists like Paul Sills and David Shepherd, and to have a stage where I was free to develop my own creativity. When I was at Second City art and education happened as hack show business and advertising stealthily began destroying the place from within like an invasive species. Early Second City was a pop cultural revolution … people like Sills and Mike Nichols, Barbara Harris changed entertainment in America, and in their work elevated entertainment to art. (Wow to compare people like that to the assortment of fools and bullies that are now spawned by that dark business that stole the name Second City to give its brand a patina of class and achievement.) It is a deceit that the place that calls itself Second City usurped that name. But bastardized improv was exploited for lousy sitcoms, movies and commercials and the place became coarser and moved inexorably from net positive to net negative. Viola Spolin, the founder of improvisational theater and Paul Sills’ mother, was a serious educator. Second City ‘training’ devolved over the years into something more closely resembling cheap sales seminars than anything that Spolin envisioned.

The show biz hacks took over Second City and forced out or killed the educators and artists like me. Fortunately, I was only forced out. I have enjoyed working in the greater world. Second City, a place founded on exploration and transformation turned into a place of insularity and cliques. Over the years, the actors and many of the alumni closed themselves off from new influences and growth. Improvisation, an art form that is based on inclusivity (“Anyone can improvise,” wrote Spolin) became incestuous. The theatrical agents and producers took over the place, turning participants into commodities instead of developing their consciousness of their humanity as Sills, Shepherd, Nichols etc did with such empathy and brilliance.

The current Second City is in many ways — oh, hell, in all ways — the opposite of what I am.

The outgoing executive producer is described in the Sun-Times as an “improvisation artist”. Second City does nothing that meets my defintion of ‘improvisation’ or ‘art’. In the inventory below read the links to pieces that describe specifically some of the ways that Second City has failed art and improvisation. Throw in ‘education’ too.

There are much better people and much better institutions to associate with than Second City (or its younger sister, the misbegotten iO).

Second City has a corporate culture worthy of an insurance company instead of an arts organization.

Second City’s actors, directors, teachers and students have a community culture resembling a dysfunctional high school … dumb and rude, or often worse.

Second City alumni often get stuck … closed off from new creation … enjoying Second City as a professional school and early opportunity, but not committing to further development of the art. Of course some alumni make wonderful art, but the prerequisite of that achievement is that they have to leave. The ones who make it through are true to real Second City, and have nothing to do with the corrupt culture that has nothing in common with them beyond its fraudulently assumed name.

I want people to know that I am partly formed by what I learned when I was young at Second City, that I have transcended that learning and developed my own idiosyncratic art, and that I have nothing … absolutely nothing to do with the ignorant, hyper-commercial, anti-educational toxicity that emanates from Second City and iO.


Please see the links in the inventory below to pieces that I have written over the years about the fall of Second City.

Copyright Richard Thomas 2022

Copyright 2022 Richard Thomas

2/26/22: my stream of consciousness while viewing “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” Season Four, Episodes 3 and 4 #poetry

So you resolve to honor your artist nature, to stay true to your voice, and not bend to what other people expect of you, to say your truth, to overcome the slings and arrows of outrageous toxic attacks …

then what happens …

You go down …

you work in a strip club after a glimpse of life with superstar Shy Baldwin …

You don’t care

You like it

You stride with your plucky gait

and turn the strip club into a theater

You were humiliated with what was rich and respectable

and have dignity with what is poor, low class and disreputable

George Orwell called it going down into the kitchen

You have to go there

you have to go with the people who don’t give a fuck what you say

You have to go where you don’t care

You do your art for art’s sake

You are an artist and an artist is generous

Art really for art’s sake

It’s something different than exciting

Better than exciting

Life slows down

You aren’t on a rocket

Your loved ones become a more prominent part of YOUR story

You want them to be happy

You are closer to them

Because they stood by you when you fell from grace

You always loved them but now you are also grateful


Gratitude, the love enhancer …

Going down is wonderful

You see who and what is important

But you’re too good for the strip club

You hurt yourself there

You aren’t cautious, you don’t take care

Nothing is important except the art

Mrs. Maisel is my story

It’s the story of every artist

We all have the same story

First we think the world will greet us with open arms

It needs our voice

And then we learn the world is more concerned with selfish, stupid shit

And we are expelled

They only wanted us for some idiotic time wasting reason

And we go with the people who love us no matter what

And with the people who don’t have anything anyway …

Amy Sherman Palladino writes a serious novel in the manner of a book for a lightweight musical comedy

The difference between a comedy and a tragedy is not what happens but how you look at it …

Everything is wonderful in the ordinary world … a strip club, an apartment, a Broadway theater, a funeral home …

Wonderful …

and they are

in Maisel and in life …

and our struggles and problems

they are wonderful too

The pain, the arguments, the misunderstandings

We join in

every red face of rage

or tear stained cheek

is simultaneously immediate

and distant

we stand apart with a tiny little smile

a pleasure separate and related to our strenuous participation …

That’s art

Artists look with truth from a point of view of love …

The title of this piece is “my stream of consciousness while viewing “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” Season Four, Episodes 3 and 4 #poetry”

The piece is as much about my stream of consciousness as about ‘Maisel’

Because the artist and object viewed are manifestations of the same thing

And these shows are manifestations of what Amy Sherman Palladino has seen as she lived her life

and since we are both artists, she and I have seen the exact same thing …

Abe’s boss at the Village Voice tells him … get angry, be outraged, tell the readers exactly what you think “that’s why we hired you, that’s what we pay you for”

Abe makes no money at the Village Voice …

But that’s what readers want

Whether they know it or not

Enlightened “bosses” know … “bosses” with no money

Amazon Prime has money

They know people want art, as long as they get good looking people and sets and costumes too and some snappy, funny dialogue …

That’s where Midge is going, that’s where I am going …

Amy draws a map of how she got there

And I give you a map charted every day … charted while I go there …

The journey is what is important, grasshopper …

Keep smiling … even if the smile is an out of body experience …

Lenny Bruce mentors Midge …

a mentor doesn’t teach, coach or direct you …

a mentor sees who you are

Keeps you focused

Reminds you of your smile …

reminds what you got out of your disappointments and frustrations

and what you get from your longings


I would never want to be anything other than an artist

I wouldn’t trade one humiliation or one hardship

Admittedly they are easier to enjoy after they are over

But they are easier to enjoy as they happen the more that they happen

It’s part of the artist’s ever developing mastery


and everything becomes a discovery

and what’s more wonderful than discovery


Life is a constant state of epiphany

Multiple orgasms

I write this high minded and spirited reflection

while Ukraine is under Fascist siege

Aren’t those Ukrainians wonderful?

They are standing up to authoritarianism

And mark my word, they are going to knock it down …

Their art is changing the world

How stoic, how brave … how funny they are …

Their President is a comedian

They believe in things like freedom and democracy

They stare down the greedy, murderous bums

like Midge stared down the Shy Baldwin conspiracy against her

The way she said … I’ll go work in a fucking strip club rather than be what you want me to be …

Because what they want for Mrs. Maisel isn’t what she was created to be …

You might think it trivializes Ukrainian suffering to compare it to Mrs. Maisel

but look with your artist eyes for a second, if you have doubts

Why are you moved by both?



and the way we get it is to live it


Like Mrs. Maisel

Like Ukrainians

To fight for it

To defiantly, unapologetically be who we are

Refusing to cede control of our destinies

Destinies implanted in our soul by God

and forged by what happens to us in our interactions with the world

Facing up to our struggles and hardships and fears and doubts


with our out of body wry smiles

Mrs. Maisel and the Ukrainians value many important things more than their lives

and ironically by doing so

They have lives

The cynical never live

The people who give up never live


In strip clubs, in apartments and on Broadway and Amazon Prime

and Kyiv

Putin can bully Ukraine

But he can never possess Ukraine

That nation is A SOUL

No one can steal or kill a soul

And people can see that soul

and love it

Some will help

Some will be merely inspired and then commit to their own souls

A Ukrainian hero says that she is not a hero

She is just living her life

That’s the heroic thing … to live your life

Billions of heroes

and that’s art

Telling that same story … that one story

in your individual way …


Copyright 2022 Richard Thomas

Copyright 2023 Richard Thomas

The Rick Blog Book Draft Chapter Fifty

The Rick Blog Book Draft Chapter Fifty

1/15/22: My Stream of Consciousness While Viewing “Days of Wine and Roses” (1962) #poetry

Second viewing in two days …

I watched The Days of Wine and Roses yesterday. I was in pain the whole time. What a great performance by Lemmon —- maybe his best? No easy answers in that picture but a sobering hope at the end. Things can get better if you work at it, and make great sacrifices. He loses his wife. The movie ends with him looking at a neon bar sign wondering if she will die in the bar. He can’t be with her if she drinks. 
His psychotic break scene as he searched for a bottle of booze in a greenhouse was so real.
The movie gets melodramatic but it doesn’t matter. These people resolved to show what alcoholism was like.
I thought about Lemmon. He had a big career. He was really schmaltzy at times on talk shows … smarmy show biz. But man, on that set, he was all art.

There’s Lemmon with other good actors … Jack Albertson, Jack Klugman, Charles Bickford … Lemmon is doing something else. Something all his own.

I love Lee Remick. She was so pretty. I imagine her as looking up to people … especially men. She was a sponge. She acted with Jack Lemmon and she matched him, did what he did … perfect. She loved Stephen Sondheim and he loved her. I guess she is anachronistic , a woman who subordinates herself to men. There was pain in that. There was a roar in Lee Remick that oppression suppressed. But that makes for a great actor … that pain, that lack …

Lemmon has a line in the picture where he says that he isn’t afraid of revealing embarrassing personal things to strangers. Is that what an actor, or any artist does?

Lemmon is who Richard Nixon would have been if he were an actor. Kennedy was the ideal of who we were. Nixon simply was who we were. Greatness in art is villainy in life. Oh no villainy is too strong. Nixon was human. He was brilliant and capable of great things … and committing genocide in Cambodia. Nixon lost to his demons. Lemmon defeated them. That was the difference. Lemmon was who we were, and struggled to be better.

I love Jack Lemmon. This is a great performance in a long career full of them.

We were decent once. My parents were far from perfect and did screwed up things, but they desired the better angels of their nature. Do we care about the better angels of our nature any more?

The Lemmon of the talk shows, noodling on the piano, telling corny show biz stories was all insecurity, desperate for love and approval. It was so human. He never played a hero. Maybe in an Airport movie he did for the money. But in his real work, he played vulnerable human beings.

Did you see years ago when Affleck did that PBS genealogy show and tried to cover up that his ancestors owned slaves? These images of perfection do us a disservice … I had an uncle who loved me, but he hurt me too and misunderstood things. Doesn’t make him a bad guy. Makes him human. People starved for love deserve pictures of what it really looks like.

Aren’t we all starved for love? it’s not bad thing. Our need for love is insatiable. We have this part of us with all the aspirations for what’s right and good and clean trapped in our pathetic weak bodies … drowning in our piss, cum, shit and blood … the call to love and the call to death …

and we find that person, place or thing that ennobles us … my writing, Lemmon’s acting … we can’t stop …

we need fear to be brave

weakness to have strength

low impulses to honor high mindedness …

We should be ashamed and we have nothing to be ashamed of …

Our shame makes us want to try harder, our shameless gives us the guts to try …

Jack Lemmon plays ordinary characters, and he himself was ordinary. That’s another reason why I love him.

Imperfection, ordinary life, vulnerability, straightforward honesty, aspiration to excellence … talent is a matter of personal character …

A character in a movie, your ethics and character … creativity and morality are linked …

Old movies are simpler, and easier to track … every move in this picture is chosen to tell a story … not to sell anything, brand the artists for future work or come off like a role model … no selling … just story …

The movie is about more than alcoholism. It is about what is underneath alcoholism … sweet insecurities … the wish to lower guards and be intimate, and cruel pressures … the indignities of making a living in the professional classes … the movie is about the nightmare passages in the mid century American Dream …

As we teeter perilously close to fascism, pulled down by the rage and fanaticism of a third of our population drunk on assertive ignorance and superstition, armies of broken people manipulated by unscrupulous and shadowy figures who turn them against their own minds and bodies … the problems of Days of Wine and Roses seem almost quaint … at least we wanted to be better then … drunk and morally compromised, but not homicidal and suicidal …when did so many of us stop trying? When did so many say … oh fuck it, nothing means anything … it’s just sensation … the careening life … the alcoholic who chooses the bottle over love … when Jack Lemmon stares at the neon BAR sign and wonders if his wife would die in that bar, he might have also been wondering about America’s then distant future, a nation near murder/suicide because its people lost faith in happiness.

Where did Jack Lemmon find the pain to play his part in this movie? I think that real life story would be even better than the picture … mores subtle, even more instructive …

Jack Lemmon has a seemingly infinite bag of tricks. He makes choice after choice after choice in his acting. Each second he is on screen is packed with behavior. He repeats himself. I have watched him a lot and he has moves that he uses in every picture. But his greatness is not in the virtuosity of his dense and intricate performances. It is in the depth of his understanding of the human condition … an understanding that he expresses not in words, but with feelings. He touches me again and again. He reminds me of my personal shame and tenderness.

I am Jack Lemmon, and I often feel that am a dinosaur on the way to extinction. When I traverse my ordinary life I see so many dim, dull and unintelligent faces, and so many cruel glaring eyes, that I wonder if anyone cares about what Jack Lemmon has to say. Then I calm down and realize that many people do, but not as many (on a per capita basis) as in 1962.

I miss those days as a little boy circa 1962 when I was surrounded by fallible grown ups who wanted to be good. Now I have to sift for such people, like a prospector at Sutter’s Mill.

I think Jack Lemmon may have felt this movie was his greatest performance too. He was famous for saying “It’s magic time,” before takes on the set during his long career. It’s a line from Days of Wine and Roses. It may just be the perfect material to express what he had to say.

It’s the middle of the night and the streaming service keeps getting interrupted and I doggedly keep rebooting … not annoyed at all. The TV screen is currently black. The image will return. My headphones give me soft white noise, I look at the night through the sliding glass doors, all beautiful shades of black, white and gray … like a classic black and white movie …

A line of a song drifts across my mind … “and here’s to my parents, my uncles and aunts … “

I love dead America, and my dead family and old movies … they’re all gone … they live in us … if we dare …

I dare …

and I dare you …

Jack Lemmon’s ambition drove him in those extraordinary psychotic scenes, but then something else took over … he was more than ambitious … he wanted to earn his rewards …

My curiosity makes me Google. Jack Lemmon was an alcoholic in real life. That’s why this show is even greater than the others. It’s personal …

But Jack Lemmon was also an artist. If he were an ordinary actor he would have made something about alcoholism. But his art led him to create an existential piece about universal themes. Lemmon touches the ground of all human experience in this movie. I am not an alcoholic. I rarely drink. But I relate to Days of Wine and Roses in a very personal way. Everybody does.

My simple art just describes how I relate to it.

Jack Lemmon is all about choices.

What’s it going to be?

Copyright 2022 Richard Thomas

1/16/22: My Stream of Consciousness While Viewing “Save the Tiger” (1973) #poetry

Art touches nerves. The truth does hurt, but no pain, no gain.

Lemmon understood the connection between psychology, humanity and society … how they all work together as complimentary gears of harmony or destruction. The troubled person is troubled by the movie about being troubled. The declining American is troubled by the movie about declining America. The human being is troubled by the movie about humanity’s failing grip on our humanity.

People want the truth. They want the diagnosis. They want answers. They want to know about the pain they have ignored. They want the details. They want to know that they are sick, and know how to get better. And if they can’t get better, they want to know how to deal with it. They want reality and they want hope. They can deal with anything if they are seen and can see.

But they get scared. And they lack confidence in their innate intelligence. They wonder if peace is possible.

Enter the liars, con artists, salesmen and frauds. “Save the Tiger” is about fraud and its attendant compromises.

But the truth always … comes out. It either comes in the clarity and joy of epiphany or busts through our chests like the parasitic space monster in “Alien”.

The truth, when its call is heeded, leads us to peace on earth and good will toward men, and a serenity in the face of the most challenging circumstances. It may exact some discipline and sacrifice, but always makes us feel good when we process it and fully understand.

But when we ignore or deny the truth, its healing power reverses itself and it becomes corrosive. The neglected truth takes away our good nature, our sense of community, our minds and finally our very lives.

A psychotic break feels like a hammer beating your body from the inside.

What’s happening to America has been happening for a long time.

The siren call away from reality … the pushers promising us a good time and robbing us blind … taking everything and leaving us for dead.

We need art, not entertainment. We’ve been entertained enough. We have to escape from our escape.

We need love, not lust.

We need stewardship not greed.

We need fellowship not exploitation.

Look at all the miserable people deluded that they are having a good time.

Look at all the miserable people pursuing and maintaining success.

See how the violent aggression of business bleeds into our friendships and families.

Watch us lose the ennobling gentleness for the sick, the weak, the poor, the unhappy, and our reverence for the dying and the dead.

We live our lives in a funhouse, perceiving ourselves in distorting mirrors thinking we are making it, having fun and money and status while we occasionally feel a warm ember of a rare moment of simple kindness and love.

But our folly is unsustainable. And then it all breaks down. Lemmon plays a man unraveling in “Save the Tiger”. And the seas rise and the forests burn and little children are gunned down in kindergartens with automatic weapons.

I know why I love Lemmon. He’s another poet of the breakdown.

In the lobby of an X-rated movie theater:

Jack Gilford (plays Lemmon’s business partner): “I remember ten years ago I saw ‘Quo Vadis’ ( a religious epic of the Roman Empire) here. Now they show this crap.”

Lemmon: “It’s still the same thing, they just took the togas off.”

I love Lemmon. What a true line. Lemmon went to Hollywood and told the truth. I can’t think of a harder thing to do, or a bigger accomplishment.

Lemmon had an eye for the scripts about the breakdown, and then he became a magnet for them.

In “Save the Tiger”, Lemmon personifies America … the hero of World War II grew up to be the criminally insane character who perpetrated Watergate and Viet Nam. Lemmon shows us the micro and points to the macro. Poetry.

In 1973 people knew that we were committing suicide and tried from time to time to stop themselves. Now?

I have hope. Hope is not optimism. Hope is when you do the right thing, your very best, to try to get a positive outcome. You may win, you may lose … but you tried. It’s all you can do.

Lemmon wanders through this movie from one location to another, one person to another. Lost. He’s trying to wake the audience up.


Lemmon doesn’t perform, pretend or persuade. He wears his character lightly and tells us what he sees — our acknowledged real lives, our numbed and constant sadness.

“Save the Tiger” is a movie about the threat of extinction. It’s far superior to “Don’t Look Up”. “Don’t Look Up” is the excited rant of an adolescent. “Save the Tiger” is the quiet reflection of a man who knows the existential choice. We can’t control how long we live, but whether we live at all is a matter of our own free will.

The World War II generation came to maturity believing that they had done something wonderful and believed that anything was possible after that. Then the salesmen came in.

There was wonderful stuff too. The Brooklyn Dodgers and Bunny Berigan’s trumpet and everything and everyone else Lemmon truly loved, like I love this dead actor in an ever more old movie now.

But the salesmen came in … with the shorthand and the cliches and the tropes and fooled us … made us think we recaptured our love so that they could manipulate us to buy their products and the lifestyles that make us think that their worthless wares are useful … more than useful … needed … like junkies need their fixes.

We became addicted to the sensation of being in love, which has nothing to do with love itself.

But Lemmon’s character is deeper than that. So he does the saddest of all things. He knows what love is, but he thinks it is dead. And he resolves to burn everything down.

We are in the process of deciding whether the world will end or go on.

Lemmon isn’t afraid of unhappy endings. Because with an unhappy ending to a sad story, there is hope.

The lie is everything will work out if you don’t try. It doesn’t.

But if you try, it might.

It does, even, in the most important way.

Copyright 2022 Richard Thomas

1/17/22: Blog Follow Up … Why I Chose Art over Entertainment; Why Jack Lemmon was a Great Artist #poetry

The blog is a never ending story of separate pieces, that can be read in small bites or as a whole. I am a cartographer, charting my inner life and constantly transforming consciousness. Almost all of the pieces can be read as stand alone essays and/or poems. But if you read them as they come along, there is another dimension to them. Today’s segment addresses emerging insights related to recently published segments. I hope it still works for the reader if you just want to read this particular segment, but you would get even more out of these comments if you read what else I’ve written, say since Christmas 2021.

Below is a note that I sent to my great friend this morning. I thought my readers might find it engaging and useful too, so I share it now.

Our recent discussions have been instructive to me personally too.
I see how themes in my writing are tied to my personal choices even when I am not directly writing about my own situation. This is probably true of all writers.
I chose not to be an entertainer because I saw no difference between entertainment and sales. And I hated sales … support jobs etc.
I resented academics because of my own experience. When I came out of the wilderness at age 50 I was underestimated everywhere I went. I had to fight to get respect to do even what I was certified to do. I got a little, but hated that I had to. It was obvious that I was good or should have been. This is not a unique experience. It’s just a way the owners assert power and control. It’s how the system works. But my resentment came from the fact that I am an artist and I certify myself. I would be making art and carrying a shield to protect myself against the lousiness of how things are in marketplace America.
But … of course there are some brilliant thinkers who have positions in the academy. And I respect them. I think like everything else they are few and  far between. Excellence isn’t that common.
But the ones who are worth it, whose certifications are just a practical matter will recognize and respect the uncertified and obscure and the ones who have no position in their hierarchy. Like your friend the philosopher. His academic appointment is his job, but the study of philosophy is his vocation. Harold Bloom had a position in a university but that was just his position. He was an artist and intellectual. Is? Is he still alive?
True artists and intellectuals recognize what we are.
On another topic, Save the Tiger is a follow up to Days of Wine and Roses. In Tiger, Lemmon himself has the dark outcome, not his wife. He chooses despair instead of life, the opposite of Days.
Each movie features a psychotic break.
Each movie attributes mental illness to the pressures of being successful in business.
Each movie relates personal destruction to a lack of ethics. Both characters are bothered by moral compromises they make to get money and avoid doing actual work. In Days there is a sequence when Lemmon works on his father in law’s farm and feels great because he is doing something honest and productive. In Tiger , he ignites his tragedy when he tells Jack Gilford “You don’t want to look for a job now do you?” He had to be better than work.
In each movie, his character exploits women as sex objects for business purposes and is bothered by it. Each character feels warmth toward others and is troubled to the point of a nervous breakdown because of the meanness the system demands that he show to other people. It is this quality that makes his weak and confused characters sympathetic 
Tiger is more of a tragedy than Days. What this man could have been if he did not succumb to the madness of pursuing success instead of real love and work. Days is plenty tragic too. What that man lost because of the cruel madness, a kind of criminal insanity of the system.
I believe Lemmon was a great artist because he was an alcoholic. If he had never suffered that illness, he would have remained limited as the light comic actor he started as. Once life touches us , we can never merely entertain again. Sure Lemmon did entertainments for the money after Days and Tiger, but those were just day jobs. His work was about the dark night of the American soul.

Copyright 2022 Richard Thomas

1/20/22: my stream of consciousness while viewing — Pickpocket (1959) Art Life Life Art #poetry

I opened my text that I put together for my classes with a quote from Robert Bresson. 

The artist is someone who is unable to do things as others do them.

Robert Bresson

Otherwise, I know nothing about him. Thanks to my friend for pointing me in this direction. 

Bresson announces before the opening credits that he is not going to tell this story in the conventional style of a thriller that the material might suggest.

He says it is a story about a man’s weaknesses that lead him to folly and wrongdoing that do not suit his nature.

But that folly leads the man to close connection with an important person that is destined for him.

William Blake said that the road to wisdom is paved with excess. Bresson says a similar thing here.

The film begins and the main character says that most people wouldn’t share the details of their sins and mistakes, but that he sees value in it.

My friend, an artist, likes to denigrate the whole notion of shame. I do too. I do believe that we do shameful things, but when we shed light upon them they have value.

I do not believe that we really commit sins or make mistakes. We do what we must do to learn what we must learn. There are consequences for our misbegotten actions … that is reality; but there are also lessons … lessons which reveal ourselves to ourselves.

Art has a pedagogical function. Art, not teachers, teach us how to live.

Bresson is interested in truth, not diversion.


The comment that inspired the shock emoji was my tying my personal sexual experience to the Love that Bob, Good Neighbor Sam exchange. How I bought into those values that ultimately demeaned women until I was about 40.
I wasn’t an asshole, but I was oblivious in a cold way. I didn’t relate to them as persons in full. Behind my sweet demeanor I was just getting laid. 
I was mother bound … and dependent. So it was a good excuse to stay a boy. A lot of other aspects of my personhood blossomed because of the attitude. I was kind of a monk who had sex every now and again. I never maintained a relationship.
One woman confused me. I think I may have actually loved her at the time — not in any way as deeply as I love Paula now, but in a manner that matched my low level of maturity, but I was so overwhelmed by the sex that I never really found out.
I have no idea why this vein opened this morning.
I guess I reveal a person I no longer am for great purpose. I know how to love now because I was a fool.
I didn’t understand as a younger man how important these connections were to other people. But it was a break up (with another woman) which led to my breakdown. That woman was really cruel to me, but it was karma and just what I needed.
No shame because this misunderstanding was a portal to understanding on all sorts of topics which are sublimations of sexual love.

Love that Bob/Good Neighbor Sam Exchange discussed the demeaning of women through the supposedly harmless mid century American sex farce … where ordinary joes see women as objects of pleasure in charming boys will be boys when carried to extremes killed men like Bob Crane and destroyed the minds of women like Marilyn Monroe.

My father, who was in many ways a good man, and loved my mother, but wasn’t perfect reenforced the oppressive message of the middle class swinging sixties, or did the movies reenforce my father? — no matter.

I was in the summer between high school graduation and entry into Notre Dame. I was sitting in the bleachers of a high school football field waiting for my brother to begin kicking practice with my father. Just me and him. I told him a story about what happened to me when I went to a party at a cottage by the lake. It was gathering of people that I worked with at the bank where I had a summer job. A pretty woman who worked at the bank full time sat next to me on a couch and propositioned me. I was a virgin. She was married. I wasn’t afraid. I wanted to. But I didn’t. I kindly declined … no preaching or running away. I told her that she was beautiful but that I didn’t feel comfortable making love to her.

I told my father this story expecting his approval and praise for being a good man.

His reply? “You’re an asshole.”

What? “You’re an asshole. If you have a chance for sex with a good looking woman, you take it.”

Bresson would see, and so would I, that it was not my destiny to misunderstand the nature of love between a man or woman. Or to know what I truly wanted. But Dad, and the movies wrecked me — for a time.

And the wrecking served a good purpose. I was born knowing what love is. But I appreciate it more because I have experienced the alternative.

I am not prudish about sex. The shame was that I objectified other people. I didn’t even consider their feelings. many just wanted sex too. No harm there. But people were also hurt.

My lack of shame in telling this story redeems me — just like the Pickpocket.

And I tell it in my own way — in parallel to you. Because before you condemn me, you should make a good confession on your own. It is not only the admission of sin, it also is the embrace of the sin’s lessons that redeems.

Let he who is without sin, cast the first stone, and let he who is without sin refuse to acknowledge his shameful acts and tell the tale without shame.

I believe that I would have understood that I was an artist sooner, and rejected the mere sensation without meaning of entertainment, if my father hadn’t taught me to fuck anything that moves. But I am a better artist because he taught me that.

We can’t write or paint or sing or … actually live, until we first participate in the fallen nature of the world.

Bresson wonders about the relation between criminality and art. My father taught me something else in the bleachers. We are alone in society and the artist must transgress. If he transgresses just to get a piece of ass, he isn’t much and not approaching being an artist. But if he steals from the rich and gives it to those who needs it, if he defies immoral authority that represses and oppresses, isn’t he doing something fine?

We have to fuck before we can make love. Our spirit resides in heaven, but our nature comes from the earth. Our souls do not exist until we mix them with flesh, blood, sweat and cum. My father was so exuberant, so enthusiastic about everything. He enjoyed his life. I think he gave more to the souls of his one night stands than I gave to mine. I was warm in the act of getting laid, but distant after. My conscience was telling me that I indulged in something with frivolity that my true being felt was very important. My father had a different attitude. His big mistake was that he didn’t understand the difference between me and him. But like me, like everybody, even the people I criticize mercilessly in my writing, he was doing the best he could.

But our best falls short, and that is why we must chronicle our genius and our errors.

‘Dreams mixed with shit’ from the artist Peter Brook …

Robert Bresson and Love that Bob …

The Pickpocket is a sneak who openly tells his story … while it is happening.

That is very admirable … he doesn’t know why he does what he does … he follows a divine impulse … that is art and honest life …

God tells him to say, see, hear, steal …

He works on his craft … is driven to excellence … art …

Society shames the Pickpocket not for his thievery … no one knows at this point … their problem was in the fact that he didn’t have a job, he didn’t serve society’s lousy aims … his lack of a job was a holy thing and he was condemned for it …

I was condemned (by many including my father) for not wanting to have a job in my thirties … no one even imagined that I was in many bedrooms … I was anonymous in my exploitation of women and public in my implicit insubordination and indictment of the powers that be … My father told me another time, “If you don’t make money, no woman will want you”. Better a cocksman than a layabout.

Of course, I was a hard worker. I just didn’t work for them.

And of course, I did want love and intimacy more than getting my rocks off, but I just hadn’t sorted out the bullshit of how they wanted me to be.

The Pickpocket is alone and walks through the cityscape of Paris.

‘Be alone in the public’ — from the artist Stanislavski ….

The artist is an outlaw … always alone even when interacting with others …

The Pickpocket knows how to survive. He knows when to withdraw and when to surrender. He preserves his anonymity in the big city. He doesn’t reveal himself if there is nothing to be gained or learned from doing so.

Artists practice containment. I lived this way in New York for several years. Now, I have built up many layers of protection and I can be more open. The Pickpocket’s criminality has not yet ripened into art.

I suspect this movie is Bresson’s ‘Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man’.

The Pickpocket struggles to avoid his ailing mother who is ill and asks for him. I too had the mother bound soul of the emerging artist. It was impossible not to love her, she loved me so much. But I wanted to get away from her. My love for her was a burden that inhibited my full participation in life. I wasn’t a kid. I was in my thirties. My relationship to my father set the template for my relationship with society. My relationship with my mother set the template for my relationship with life. Both templates had to be reviewed and revised for me to mature into art. I had to develop a voice beyond that of the one that spoke to my mother and father. Psychology is crucial to the development of art and life, but art itself … and life itself are beyond psychology.

The Pickpocket lives in a dump of an apartment. I lived in several. Society saw the circumstances as shame, but the young artist sees the prison of things and rejects materialism. Every nice item is a chain of indentured servitude.

And an artist has morality. He would rather suffer personally than participate in what was wrong.

An artist is an almost saint. Thank God my father ordered me to a prick, sensitive to flesh and detached from the soul. If he hadn’t I would have been crucified, risen from the dead and ascended into heaven after forty days.

This is a movie about a special type of person and made for a special type of people.

‘Your audience finds you’. — something I liked to say as an improv teacher … nothing about ‘reading the room’ …

Bresson didn’t use professional actors. He didn’t like performing. He said his truth. You don’t have to watch his movie if you don’t want to.

The Pickpocket gets lucky and meets a mentor. His mother dies. We try and try but change comes when it might. We are not masters of our fates. We can be masters of what we do with them.

The Pickpocket has shelves filled with books in his hovel. I did that too … read and read and read surrounded by my own filth …

Dreams mixed with shit …

The Pickpocket searches for meaning. So did I.

‘Love and work’ — Freud …

I’ll take that answer …

the art and the life is in the specific application of the answer …

An artist doesn’t do things like anyone else …

“Thieves are idlers’. I used to hate them for their condemnation. Now I’ve matured as an artist and they don’t exist. They will never watch “Pickpocket”. Eventually, an artist grows beyond the outlaw phase. He earns a living and maybe gets married and seems like everyone else. But he isn’t. His accusers know nothing beyond the social illusion.

The Pickpocket goes to the cop and shows the cop what he is. This is what the artist shamelessly does. He tells the tale of seeing what the others can’t see. He embodies the future.

The cop mocks him as ‘the young writer’. They hate the artist because he threatens them. All that they hear is his implicit criticism. The Pickpocket has not learned yet that they must approach him, not the other way around. Only the person who engages art by his or her independent choice will appreciate the art and learn its lessons.

Let your audience find you.

The Pickpocket sacrifices friendship and the chance for the love of a woman, and gains audacity. It is so important for an artist to spend time as an outlaw, and to periodically return to that state of being. It is when he is an outlaw that an artist learns himself and discovers all that he can do.

I can see why filmmakers see Bresson as one of the greatest of all of the masters. I focus only on his meaning and my identification with it, but each frame has the composition of a great painting.

Viewing art is work.

The Pickpocket’s sleight of hand resembles a magician.

The artist is so anonymous, so powerful, so low. No status in the society that indicts him, a threat to the existing order, perceived as a bum.

The Pickpocket wants to get caught. He wants to get on with it. The cop wants to show him who he is. The artist hasn’t fully matriculated until he returns to society, until he loves and works like everyone else. The outlaw dimension becomes the art dimension informing what he does. The invisible dimension expresses itself wearing the clothing of that which can be seen.

My accusers were true thirty years ago and slanderers in 2018.

When I was in my thirties I defied my father and depended on my mother.

‘That’s how it is. Everything has a reason,’ says the woman who loves the Pickpocket.

She’s right.

We go through — everything.

Some of society’s fools are artists in disguise — inspiration, insight and kindness incarnate.

‘Are you all trying to drive me mad?’ says the Pickpocket.

One must lose one’s mind to get a new one.

The Pickpocket was courageous. He was frustrated with his failure to move forward in life, and wouldn’t accept the usual answers. I was the same way.

Not a hero, not a saint but someone trying to live as a human being in full …

‘Live the questions’ said the artist Rilke to the young poet.

The Pickpocket and I did.

Then we became fugitives. indulging our desires and getting laid — and we wound up flat on our asses.

And then love and work made us honest men.

Law school and the bar exam certified me as a lawyer. Being an outlaw certified me as an artist and a human being.

‘I have no regrets’ says the artist Edith Piaf.

And I have no shame. I have done shameful things but I am redeemed.

I owe much to the sweet fools who loved me during my odyssey. I have fierce eyes for the ignorant narcissists who condemn me.

No one can make art who hasn’t experienced dark and light. We all live in dark and light but it is the bold choice, the brave choice to experience it. I am proud of my intelligence and kind heart and I am proud of my sins. I didn’t just get laid just to get laid.

I did not sin to pursue power. I did it … unconsciously … to pursue truth.

The Pickpocket was tempted again, but now he knew that evil existed. He knew his evil and the evil of others. And the others locked him up.

Jesus died and came back to life for everyone’s sins. We just do it for ourselves.

The artist has to hit bottom and return.

‘He must die to the world and come to birth from within’, said the artist, Joseph Campbell.

The Pickpocket and I had to break free from family and society and find ourselves beyond outlaw opposition in order to come back to family and society …

by means of love and work …

The right yes is found after a thousand nos …

true love goes through many trials …

outer obstacles and inner complexes

all obstructing and denying …

tests and initiations

until you come home …

Michel, the Pickpocket gets the girl, Jeanne in the end …

and I got Paula …

and he understands the meaning of life

appreciating true friends and honest labor …

I have a friend and my writing …

I am Robert Bresson and the Pickpocket and they are me …

but we don’t tell our stories in the same way, or the way that anybody else does either.

Copyright Richard Thomas 2022

1/23/22: my stream of consciousness while viewing “The Trial of Joan of Arc” (1962) #poetry

The equivalency of art and martyrdom might strike some as strange, but only those not yet acquainted with the sacrifice of art and the joy of sainthood …

Robert Bresson … knew nothing and just started to look …




Existential … meaning that he is focused on the creation of meaning, he considers the realities of being alive



He’s like a scientist as all artists are

None of the entertainment bullshit

He explores the truth

He rejected acting … he felt it was phony …

He’s serious

What he does is important …

He is deep …

He is challenging …

He is self-determining …

He is free … indifferent to the opinions of the world …

He is generous … he gives us his best defintion of the world …

He works consistent with what he has discovered to be the essence of his medium, film …

In service with what he has discovered is the essence of what it is to be alive …

His material could easily descend into the merely political, psychological or sociological

but it never does …

He makes it alive and present to the viewer, for the viewer to apply to their individual life …

He’s actually not that hard to figure out once you look at him …

but you have to look.

We watched Saturday Night Live last night. Dreadful. What are these people thinking? What do they care about? They don’t care about being good … at anything. Ninety minutes of cheap attention getting. Every second … the sketch comedians, the musicians, the commercials.

Why do I watch this shit? I want to turn off my mind, I guess. But the result is always the same. It makes me tired and depressed. Bresson engages me, I have to work at his work …. it makes me tired in a different way, a good way, a clean way … and I feel stronger and more alive for the experience.

I have to make some changes. Throw all the bums out. SNL isn’t alone … so much bad TV and bad movies, so many banal social media posts … so many people who just aren’t good enough …

Joan of Arc was rejected by people who weren’t as good as she is … good deal …

Bresson takes his time … nothing is wonderful right away …

Years to raise money …

slow dense scenes ….

reverence …

The assholes put you/me/her on trial

She/i/you are defiant

(I’ll switch to ‘she’)

She cries alone and suffers

She questions the legitimacy of their authority

She refuses to fully cooperate

A voice told her to speak boldly

She does everything in service of God’s will

(Bresson took all of the dialogue from the transcripts of Joan of Arc’s trials … )

The bastards resolve to burn her at the stake before they complete their kangaroo trial

Joan of Arc fought for the real Church and the real France

The ideal is the real

Society betrays the nation and the church

The artist (like the saint) hears the voice of God and speaks to the people

And those who hold power and control the people conspire to kill her …

I take this kind of thing seriously

In this section the clerics’ tribunal makes a bunch of false accusations …

I know why they hate me … I expose them both in my very person and deeds and in my direct and spoken challenge …

The assholes want a confession … this is the juncture when shame is inappropriate …

They call her a liar …

She does not argue; she stands tall

Her accusers recognize her strength

She is dignified

She warns her accusers of their harsh fate if they murder her

God’s voice told her that her martyrdom will result in her joy in Paradise

God’s voice is her teacher

I am proud of the many times in my life that I’ve been told to shut up

I learned relatively quickly not to listen

She even sacrifices receiving God’s sacraments to honor the will of God

Her accusers are traitors to France, allied with the British enemy

She serves God before the church

God before everything … that’s where art comes from …

Worldly powers are threatened by sainthood and art

They know saints and artists are more powerful

and end all tyrannies

if they let them

What they don’t know is that it is impossible to stop saints and artists

even if they kill them, their influence always wins the day

Joan has doubt

This is the most perilous moment

more than the fire at the stake

If the saint or artist betrays themselves

they cease being saints or artists

for a time anyway … it’s part of the story …

a lot of pain in the story

Bresson may have hated acting, but the actress playing Joan gives a great performance

But i think its because she doesn’t act

She gives us a blank page to write our thoughts and feelings upon

They have to humiliate and demand that she bows

They ask her to recant her life

And she does!

(My greatest pain is from the moments that I have recanted … more than anything else … my life got better when I got pissed off …)

Of course, they respond with cruelty when she gives them what they want

Everything about them is for the assertion and maintenance of their power …

She can’t help but tell the truth when they go too far

They call her a “relapsed heretic” and in condemning her they are instruments of her redemption …

Notre Dame is not Notre Dame

Second City and improvisation aren’t either

or the Law

or UIC

or Loyola

or so many false friends

or every place anywhere and at any time that weren’t what they say they are

They burned me at the stake

time and time and time again

and I died victorious

and went to Paradise …

Writing …

I never bought into write so many pages a day stuff. My feeling is just show up. I consider my time ‘not writing’ the hours in between hitting the keys, and the years before I started in a systematic way , to BE writing , as much as the composition phase. I’ve been engaged in the act of writing my whole life.
I think you, dear reader, may have too. You can be all of the other things and be a writer. You should be actually. The stuff of your life gives you something concrete for your dreams to alight on.

Joan was concerned with God and the people, and not the powers that be.

The equivalency of art and martyrdom might strike some as strange, but only those not yet acquainted with the sacrifice of art and the joy of sainthood …

Copyright 2022 Richard Thomas

1/25/22: my stream of consciousness while viewing au hasard Balthazar (1966) #poetry

The mule is baptized

The great Bresson

The reincarnation of a great Catholic Renaissance painter

The essence of Catholicism is beautiful

Beyond the nuns with rulers and pedophile priests and self-righteous Notre Dame conservatives

Catholicism the humanist religion that welcomes its expression in art

I don’t have faith

I have experience

The essence that the word ‘God’ refers to is palpable and ever present

It isn’t a matter of religion, or even spirituality if you wish

It’s a matter of physics.

Children baptize Balthazar

They anoint him a child of God

and almost immediately he begins to be abused.

The genius of Bresson has humanity reveal itself in how it treats this mule

The Seven Deadly Sins are (with corresponding opposing virtues in parentheses): Pride (Humility) Greed (Generosity) Lust (Affection) Envy (Enthusiasm for Excellence) Gluttony (Temperance) Wrath (Patience) Sloth (Industriousness)

Godard said that this movie shows all of life in ninety minutes

Ebert said that Bresson does not include one shot that shows the mule’s point of view

I say that Bresson doesn’t anthropomorphize the mule

This isn’t a Disney nature film

The pretty girl loves the mule

The animal dully reacts when she kisses his snout

We interact with the world

for an audience of one

God sees all

God and Bresson

Bresson’s style is substance

he tells a simple deep story

like in Church when we were kids

but we are adult now

God has the answers for how we should proceed

Be good

The pretty girl’s father’s vanity gets in the way

Other characters have other failings

Bresson doesn’t get trapped in psychology or sociology

He knows everyone has a theology

whether they know it or not

It’s not about being respectable

It’s about being human

The boyfriend’s jealousy gets in the way

He is jealous because the girl loves the mule

How stupid!

How galling is the stupidity of the egoistic people consumed by envy

He sets the mule’s tail on fire

Cruelty comes easily to him

The girl’s “love” of Balthazar is her longing for a better world

But like Leda and the Swan … she wants to be raped and to escape rape

And if you read that with feminist reservations, think beyond gender

because God does …

The girl desires the purity of the mule

and is drawn to the boy’s aggressive lust

We are all like that

Every one of us

We want Paradise

and we want the Fall

The boy toots a horn after he fucks her

A conquest

Off camera, we know that she is damaged …

and satisfied

Bresson is steeped in secular art, religious text and art, and mythology

He believes in what he has worked to understand

Ingmar Bergman didn’t get this picture. The human being interested him, not the mule.

He didn’t see that Bresson felt the same way. Some artists work from the inside out and some from the outside in.

Bergman revealed a weakness looking at Balthazar. Things had to be Bergman’s way.

I am no longer an improviser.

I don’t believe that something can be wonderful right away. Wonderful comes from calm observation and reflection.

I don’t believe that creativity involves saying, ‘yes, and’. Creativity involves saying yes and no, making considered determinations of value.

I do believe in one aspect of improvisation. Improvisation is a theater of externals. We reveal ourselves in how we relate to people, and objects between us, and the space around us. Our souls are extensions beyond our persons. This aspect of improvisation is based upon theology and not facile trickery.

Bresson had Catholic dogma. Paul Sills had Martin Buber. Sills, as I’ve written before, was frustrated by improvisation. Buber was taking him further than Spolin, but business considerations never allowed him to let Spolin go. Sills was like Moses. He watched approvingly as others left improvisation behind.

Improvisation is a phase, not a destination.

Bresson’s work is thought out, and still retains its spontaneity and air of discovery … as thought always does.

The greatest music is both jazz and classical.

Bresson just shows you what happens in a scene. He never adds a comment. He let’s the scene speak for itself. The scene makes the comment. You make the comment. Bresson calls on you to be the artist … to look at life and learn.

Sin is folly.

The Seven Deadly Sins are (with corresponding opposing virtues in parentheses): Pride (Humility) Greed (Generosity) Lust (Affection) Envy (Enthusiasm for Excellence) Gluttony (Temperance) Wrath (Patience) Sloth (Industriousness)

‘Hasard’ means luck

Life happens to us

What’s up to us is what we do with what happens

An alcoholic gets an inheritance

He promptly gets drunk and dies

Balthazar has been a pet, a beast of burden, a runaway, a circus animal, worked to death … and a saint …

men said what he was

and he never renounced his essential nature

He couldn’t

He’s a mule

We choose

A character states his theology when asked if he believes in anything, “I love money. I hate death.”

His God and his Satan.

The sweet girl who loved Balthazar becomes a prostitute not for money but for warmth and kindness

and transformed the man who worshipped cash

She has a perverse awakening … a sad ending for Leda …

No … not sad … she embraces rape and Paradise …

She loves a good man as an act of will

Not passion

She chooses to accept the sinful world

and engage it with the serene acceptance of Balthazar

I don’t think that I understand everything that is happening in this movie

But I see what Bresson is doing

A priest says “You must forgive … everyone … “

Only someone who has forgiven everyone

like Bresson

can describe our sins so clearly

After the storm, the skies clear

and the painter sits at his easel

Balthazar the saint walks in a funeral procession …

the natural reverence for death

And then sin revisits him one last time

The criminal ex-boyfriend

exploits Balthazar in the commission of a crime

and then beats the mule savagely

The crime involves a gunfight

Balthazar is shot

He rests among sheep

and dies

the death of a saint

a martyr to the sins of man

who always stayed loyal to God.

Copyright 2022 Richard Thomas

1/26/22: my steam of consciousness while viewing “A Man Escaped” (1956) # poetry

Bresson is interested in telling “true stories without adornment”.

A prisoner of the Nazis in the French resistance.

Bresson was in the same circumstance as his protagonist in “real life”.

Joan of Arc

Was Bresson martyred for loyalty to God?

Without adornment

A minimalist

Where is the art?

Nothing imagined, no style which draws attention to itself

There is the style

The truth honestly and directly told

is a manner of high art.

The clarity, the serene calm, the focus on the object, the rigor of the observation, the courage, the empathy which studies every detail, the courage to speak without self-censorship, the breadth and depth of study to see every aspect of the story in the context of all human history, art, philosophy and theology

That is the stuff of art

at least the stuff I notice now

Looking at Bresson is like looking at the stars

It inspires awe and curiosity

The man wants to escape oppression

He takes great risks

He would welcome even death as the means to his freedom

Think of the Nazis

They were paid, and promoted, for their cruelty

Are they such an extreme metaphor for how things are?

Subtitle: “The Wind Blows Where It Wishes” (from the Bible)

Bresson knows that we have no control over what happens to us

and all control in how we respond

Mozart did the music

I guess I’m not the only artist who wants to surround himself with masterpieces

The Nazis demand that the man does not escape

In this circumstance a man’s raison d’etre is in his defiance

The oppressor beats and then leaves you alone





Left alone, a person can die of despair

or make art

and plot acts of resistance

A person can be imprisoned politically



Oppression is a form of attempted murder

Which can only be successful if the oppressed person cooperates with his enemy

They can even kill the body, but they can’t kill your essence

unless you let them

Oppression makes the oppressed necessarily suspicious

Wary of each other in the world

and intimately experienced in the true nature of hope

not sunny optimism (Obviously)

but aware

that life always has a chance

even in the most dire circumstances

Real risk

Trusting strangers

Freedom is a matter of life and death

New friends arrive

A sense of small victory

Ambition to get away

and win the war

It is this way for everyone

French Resistance prisoners

People with abusive bosses

Folks damaged by toxic relationships

Saintly mules abused by sinners

In art, the artist finds solidarity with other oppressed people

and those who have escaped

The process of liberation is the education of the artist

Bresson likes using narration

I feel a commonality with him in many ways

He who escapes never accepts defeat

He will never bow

Pride is not a sin in these times

The artist unconsciously prepares himself

notices everything

It is all intuitive preparation

every true moment follows a gestation period

Something directs us to what we need to know

Bresson is fearless in his honor of the truth, he never caters to the audience

but gives it precisely what it needs

I rewind and review time and time again

You can’t miss a frame

He presents a moment by moment exposure

Of what it is to be held down and away by someone else

and what it is to get away

and be free

Freedom does not involve endless possibilities

It is a matter of fulfilling the promise of one’s essential nature

The oppressor actually performs a service

In pushing back against the oppressor

The oppressed gains form and defintion to who he is

False imprisonment, like its cousin, murder, is a usurpation

It tries to deny God the accomplishment of the fulfillment of His creation


Our opportunities and inspirations come in moments of chance and idleness

A spoon becomes a chisel

The magic of the escapist

He digs through prison walls

Progress is slow

Craft is developed in response to the necessity of telling your story

and living it

The pain of the inevitable losses

fallen comrades

is overcome with work

One’s action becomes silently dedicated to the ones who didn’t make it

and the ones who might still have a chance

now and in the future

The escapist must disregard the fears of people he cares about


Luck is the unseen hands of God

God furthers all who serve his purposes

Why bother?

Bresson’s answer (and at least part of mine)

“To fight. To fight myself, to fight the walls, to fight the door.”

To exult and fight

“For the Greater Glory of God”

The Jesuits had us write that on the top of all of our papers and tests

And I guess it took

“Fight, fight for everyone else”

One man makes a spoon into a chisel, and another makes shoelaces into a noose

That is every person’s choice

Time numbs the wounds of abuse

The wounds take us to the threshold of madness

and then

Art heals them

Time dulls hate and even suffering

Art uses hate and suffering

as instruments of escape

Months of patient work opens doors

Bresson the Christian Existentialist

The plan unfolds … structure and improvisation are one

Bresson knows that we have to execute God’s plans

It would be too easy otherwise

Life is great because it is hard

Its difficulty makes masterpieces possible

Some doubt the escapist and some want to come along

When you get to the point when you forgive and forget

Your past troubles seem like they happened to someone else

Now you are making art

How dirty, small and ugly is the world our captors force upon us

how could we not escape

Bresson equates escape with the Christian idea of being born again

The artist transcends the world’s oppression

dies to the world and comes to birth from within

the truth, the will of God displaces the meanness, injustice and misery

Hope is doing the right thing even though you know you could fail, or even die

It is the very act of hope that redeems

Hope inspires others to hope

Success and failure are the provinces of the oppressor

The born again artist traffics in hope

And on the eve of his escape suffers doubt

And his peers parrot the misgivings back to him

The oppressor escalates the oppression

Prison will yield to execution

Art is made in crisis

Doubts are no longer an option

The stress makes the escapist manic and depressive

A nervous breakdown is a rebirth

Unlikely partners arrive

A window of opportunity

Arrangements are made to be sure your story is told, win or lose

And then you and your partners jump

Your meticulous plans

and your flexibility in face of surprise

Your prepared openness

and the adventure finally begins

The Escape Artist

Your virtuosity gives you


And in freedom, finally, you become Bresson in full

Nothing holds you back now

and your sufferings are those of other people

A Man or Woman Escaped

Bresson showed us the essences of the processes of life

It’s all true

It all applies to everyone

Faith isn’t a choice

You just know and trust what you know

The oppressor has to disappear

And you make it so

The final initiation is making the oppressor disappear

before the gates of


“I come not to bring peace but a sword”.

The Now Escaped Man and all like him walk free

Accompanied by Mozart.

Copyright 2022 Richard Thomas

1/27/22: my stream of consciousness while viewing “What is Cinema?” (2013) #poetry

In Robert Bresson’s “A Man Escaped” the character Orsini is described as very brave. A member of the French Resistance, Orsini was betrayed by his wife and sent to a Nazi prison. When he first arrived at the jail, he was near madness. But eventually he grew beyond hatred and even suffering. He said he still remembered what happened to him, but in a manner as if it happened to another person. Bresson is studying the process by which people get out of prisons in this film, and some prisons are within our minds.

It is fascinating that Orsini did not escape his broken mind and heart in response to his wife’s betrayal by an act of will. He transformed to a kind of enlightenment. He went through a humble spiritual process.

I thought about Orsini in relation to my own madness, hatred and suffering related to cruelties and injustices visited upon me. I have repeated Orsini’s evolution many times. Lost friendships and jobs, initially so painful, became objectified in my mind. I realized in each instance that every break with a person or persons hurt ultimately because of the loss of an illusion. I believed that love existed in situations where in fact it did not.

Orsini was better off without his wife of course. He eventually was executed. She was literally an accomplice to his murder, but that harm is not what initially hurt him so deeply. She rejected him in the cruelest fashion.

When I look at rejection objectively, I see that it is not an action that one or more persons do to an individual. I think of organ donations. If the kidney is not a match for a patient the body rejects it. There are people who we are meant to be with, and people that we are not meant to be with.

The loss of the non-friend, or loveless lover or inappropriate job or community or group is always a good thing. One’s true nature matures and reveals itself, and often has to move on.

This split is always painful at first. No level of enlightenment ever makes it easy. But one always goes on to find one’s match, or finds it is better to be alone, or dies with a sense of peace regarding what has happened.

Fellini’s “Nights of Cabiria” follows a prostitute searching for love who is rejected again and again until she learns that her acceptance of herself is her salvation.

Rejection is the breaking of codependencies. The artist, or the fully human person, must be independent and capable of entering into inter-dependent contacts if and when such opportunities arise. Love is inter-dependency. You don’t need another person to survive. You walk with them by choice. The inter-dependent reflect and support each other in their independent solitudes.

I have written extensively about my break with some members of the improvisation community. This break initially caused me great pain, and I wondered why. That very wonder was a sign that I had reached where Orsini was in his full maturity. I was starting to naturally be curious about what happened, and began to look at what formerly was my pain in an objective way.

Why was I in pain?

The improv clique rejected me. They said I wasn’t any good creatively. Why did this hurt? I never thought that they were any good creatively, not then or now. I found their work to be sloppy, cynical and dumb. So why did I care? I thought they loved me. And as I review my life, I see that they never loved me. They didn’t even like me. I was never one of them. I was too smart and serious for them. I did not pander to audiences. I tried to get to the truth. They said that they were improvisers, but they were much more influenced by commercial casting directors for entertainment and advertising projects. They actually weren’t improvisers at all. They were hacks. Commercial artists hate the real thing. I am far better off being apart from them.

The improv clique said that I always ‘came back’ and hung around. They slandered my reputation and portrayed me as a bum and hanger on, who never had money and was looking for a handout, trying to be a parasite on their venues and projects. I am a lawyer, and a college professor, and a writer with an independent income. I came back to them to try to work on my idea, not to become part of theirs. They were very toxic in their comments, but I was never deterred in my work. Why did this bother me? Well, it hurts to be slandered. It feels like a physical assault. So apart from the inappropriate nature of their hack approach to a false creativity, these people were also bad people for me to associate with at all. We all need to spend time with people who respect us and treat us well. Relationships endure anything but disrespect.

The improv clique attacked me when I was visiting, on a weekly or biweekly basis, a dying member of their cohort that I thought was my friend. I found it extraordinarily cruel that they mocked and hazed me under these circumstances. Of course that hurt too.

Can’t the painful part stop? I’m 66 years old. Certainly these splits have happened to me before in many different settings. I’m not sure, but I don’t think it gets any easier. There may be a shorter recovery time, and a greater understanding of the nature of things, but humiliation and slander and malice and envy and even ignorance directed at you hurts — no matter how often you have endured and transcended them previously, and how unsurprising they are given your experience relating to human nature.

Bresson, in “A Man Escaped”, makes an equivalency between ‘escape’ and the Christian notion of being ‘born-again’. Bresson was a Catholic filmmaker. I think we endure crucifixions — great pain, and then reflect upon and process what happens — Holy Saturday — and then we are redeemed … our sins and the sins of our oppressors are forgiven and we go forward in the fullness of humanity — creative and open to real love, discerned from illusion.

What I have written thus far is what cinema is to me. It is something to contemplate. My inner world encounters something new in my outer world, and both of those worlds change.

I look forward to what I might learn and how I might change from watching “What is Cinema?”


Cinema is something to be reflected upon. Questions not answers. Cinema is an invitation to the viewer to make art himself, at least this viewer. For that reason, it doesn’t matter if the movie is “good” or “bad”. A movie tries to tell the truth. It may hit or miss. It is a chance to reflect on the truth referred to, accurately or inaccurately.

Cinema, other forms of art, and everything that happens in my life, all have the same function for me.

This movie uses music to entertain the audience that I find distracting.

Cinema is like a dream The dream of the collective. Dreams show us in symbolic form realities about ourselves that we are unconscious of … art points the viewer to that which is unseen …

Everything I see are objects of contemplation for my art.

This movie is calling on me to fill in a lot of blanks. It ain’t Bresson.

One guy wants cinema to have story. I like when it says something. But if it doesn’t, I will. I will anyway.

This movie is for people who want to make movies. I do’t want to make movies. For me, it seems like a lot of unnecessary trouble — for me. I can say all I want to say right here on this page (or screen).

Meaning … meaning … meaning … everything else is secondary …

Hitchcock talks about style, but I think he is really talking about interpretation. All art is interpretive. When you read a piece that I write about a movie, you are really considering an image of my experience, and then you create an experience of your own. If you are an artist, you’ll make an image of your experience. If you aren’t an artist, you are a consumer of art, and perhaps that experience, like all experience will color your future.

I identify with Bresson. I feel that we are similar.

I think my notes here are more useful than this movie.

Now it’s a clip show. Is this stuff just what the director admires? What he could get? Who cares?

Bresson — ‘without transformation it isn’t art’. I’ve said that. I swear … I really relate to this guy. Bresson says art has to be a new thing. If it is art it is unlike anything else in the manner of its expression. And timeless in what it has to say (I added that).

Altman … another great one. I’ll put it in my words … art leaves a trace. Elaborate structures that disappear, but live on as a thought, a feeling, a stirring of the soul … and if it’s effective, the viewer is more consciously him or herself. All my words here in this fragmentary paragraph inspired by Altman.

Creation happens in the unknown.

I’ve said it often … art happens when you don’t know what you are doing.


This movie moved into a few profound sequences now.

A critic tells you what he thinks. An audience tells you how they feel. I make art. I don’t write or talk about movies.

The movie talks about changes in technology … digital etc … that’s not my focus. I don’t care when a movie was made. I am interested in meaning. Everything else is just tools.

Mike Leigh … another great one … independent integrity … he is pretty articulate about his process … most of them aren’t. Writing and talk are different art forms than filmmaking.

“The camera is more than a recorder. It’s a microscope.” Great line. Art is a microscope.

“Like lost children we live our unfinished adventures”. Beautiful.

“Art has to be reinvented”. Yes, always. Every time.

“We have an idea in our head, and that idea changes. And if it doesn’t, we are making the wrong film.” Wisdom.

What is cinema? Cinema is one of the objects that I look at as I make my writing. That’s my answer.

Copyright 2022 Richard Thomas

Copyright 2023 Richard Thomas

The Rick Blog Book Draft Chapter Forty-Nine

The Rick Blog Book Draft Chapter Forty-Nine

1/1/22: Watching TV on New Year’s Eve — Naturally Diverging Paths #poetry

It was common to say at the end of 2021, “Good riddance to that awful year. Here’s to a better 2022.” I get it and agree on a macro level. 2021 was a dystopian year.

But personally …

2021 was one of the best years of my life. I’ve never been happier, healthier, wealthier or more wise.

Positive transformations are not without their challenges. Our inner lives and our outer lives are in greatest harmony when they run on parallel tracks and mirror each other. But as we grow, there are necessary losses. The once good must be let go to make room for the now good.

Lewis Black was on “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee”. Jerry Seinfeld took him to Junior’s in Brooklyn. I know Lewis. He’s always been nice to me. That’s why it is hard to write about my separation from him. Generally when I chronicle such splits it is made easy by the fact that I have been hurt or pissed off by whoever I am trying to understand doesn’t belong in my social or psychological circles. For example, I saw that Dave Pasquesi got a pretty big role on the Disney Channel show “Boba Fett”. This is proof that George Lucas is a genius. What an innovation to put a live action asshole into a cartoon. After Pasquesi’s mugging of me at Michael McCarthy’s death bed, I thought he would have gotten a job heckling mourners at funerals.

But Lewis is a good guy, sweet even. But he took the road more traveled. He was telling Seinfeld about his split from the Yale School of Drama. He said that his peers were always trying to do something “important” and that was “death”. I know he was criticizing pretension and who can disagree with that. But something more subtle was said as well. He also was dismissing meaning. And that is where I find my exit ramp from Lewis Black.

People who are agnostic about whether life can have meaning, usually believe in one thing … money. Comedians are the crudest of all when they discuss money. They all do with Jerry it seems … Louis C.K., Bob Einstein … It’s their only belief and value. So Lewis plays the curmudgeon and rides atop party busses with topless dancers and rages about the weather, and never says a thing. And he could … he is smart and at heart a very good person. He chose to “make it” instead of do it.

An artist makes meaning for himself and the world. He wants as much money as he can get, just like everyone else, but he doesn’t make decisions solely to make money.

Jeff Garlin is a guy that I have nothing against, although I don’t like him as much as Lewis. He spends most of his act talking about how much money he has. Then he dips in and does what men who have “made it” love to do more than anything else it seems. He gives advice to young people. “Don’t do what you love. Do what you are good at. If you do what you love and you are not very good you will be miserable. If you do what you are good at, you will be successful and happy.” Jeff’s very presence disproves his point. He is a very successful comedian, and he is not good at doing comedy at all. He claims he knows the secret to happiness, but he comes off as resentful and insecure. His experience being fired from “The Goldbergs” reveals him to be a dinosaur. The sexist bully man of power is on his way to extinction.

Jim Belushi was a guy who thought he took me under his wing when I was very young, but even then I wasn’t that stupid. He and Dan Ackroyd were doing their Blues Brothers Act in Chicago for New Year’s Eve. They sold vodka and marijuana, “Pot is spiritual. I was a bouncer and I never broke up a fight between two guys who were high”. They tried to explain the embarrassment that their greed had them working on the ass end of show business, squeezing out a few dollars when they surely have enough. “I would rather entertain than look for entertainment on New Year’s Eve.” Well, Jim, you didn’t do either. It’s hard to believe that someone could have the practice of singing “Sweet Home Chicago” thousands of times and still be bad at it.

But the most disappointing thing for me was that Belushi was a bouncer. I respect artists and writers and doctors and scientists and intellectuals. These people that I came up with are denizens of bars … vodka and pot, really?

Lewis might think I’m being pretentious and maybe I am. But it seems to me, he made the opposite choice. He turned his back on class for crass.

My inner life demands congruence with my outer life. When someone or something doesn’t belong to my heart … it hurts. And the pain forces me to figure things out, to find out the difference. And finally I reach moments like this one … when I let go. For brief moments all the men that I criticize in this essay, and I, were in harmonious connection … the right people at the right time. But the personal paths move relentlessly along, and separation happens.

2021 was a great year for me. And 2022 will be better. I’ve changed and I’ve stayed the same. I won’t be doing or thinking about anything differently, just with and about different people and different places. Some people from my past have moved in the same direction that I have. Some have not. Some people that I don’t know yet are already my friends and partners. Some I will know to avoid like the plague.

People who dismiss meaning and just emphasize money and position end up with neither. Belushi, Garlin, Pasquesi and yes, most tragically, even Lewis, are kind of pathetic and scared … always defending yourself, always hustling, always selling … no product really … just selling … it’s a particular ring of hell.

I am grateful for my health, wealth and wisdom. The first two are not guaranteed and will not last forever. The capacity to work for wisdom is also not guaranteed. But I am also proud …

I took the road less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.

Copyright 2022 Richard Thomas

1/4/22: Our Town (1940) Good, but Compromised Art #poetry

The movie version of “Our Town”, Thornton Wilder’s classic play that won a Pulitzer Prize in 1938, is as faithful to the original as a highly monogamous spouse in love with his partner who only cheated twice. The fellow was loyal by nature, but susceptible to seduction under the right circumstances.

The main story and much of the dialogue survived the journey from New York to California with two major exceptions.

The play “Our Town” has a simplistic theme when described that was probably very powerful when witnessed during an evening of live theater. Here it is … we all live our ordinary lives. We get married and work and have children. We belong to communities. Then we die. It all seems futile, redundant, meaningless and pointless, except … we, each and every individual who has ever lived, is eternal. Our existence is spiritual and important. This idea seems to have preoccupied many people in the late thirties and early forties of the last century when the massive forces of depression and world war made every little guy’s problems seem “to not amount to a hill of beans.”

Theater is the best art form for transforming fairly simple ideas into profound experiences. Thornton Wilder wrote his play to be performed on a bare stage. The combination of fine acting and direction and poetic lighting schemes converted the setting of the play from fictional Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire to the entirety of the very real and so big as to seem abstract cosmos. The audience was led to think about their existence in the context of the universe. They were lifted up from their mundane and petty concerns and pointed in the direction of a power and glory that they participate in … lifted up in a way that churches usually only aspire to …

Hollywood could never trust itself with a setting that the audience had to leap and grab on to with an openness and courage. But Hollywood wanted to honor Wilder’s original work. So the acting, lighting, music and naturalistic set all do wonderful jobs trying to convey what was unsaid but deeply felt in those empty spaces between characters on the New York stage. William Holden, who is always advertised as a callow young actor who matured into a deep character man, is natural and sensitive in “Our Town”, one of his first pictures. It’s a beautiful performance. Holden was a great young actor when given something great to do. Martha Scott and Frank Craven (the stage manager narrator) were transplanted from Broadway into the movie, and play their roles with great understanding of the material. Aaron Copeland scored the picture and ennobled the characters … tiny finite human beings and eternal gods. William Cameron Menzies created a wonderful naturalistic set design … much more eloquent than most films of the period. Sam Wood positioned his actors perfectly. His reputation was that he was a director who was uninspired but professional … not a genius, but a competent man. For someone who was supposed to be impervious to inspiration, he proved susceptible to soaring under the influence of Thornton Wilder. Bert Glennon’s cinematography uses light to show an alternating current of mortality and eternal life. When people are aware of their capacity for love they are radiant, bathed in light. When they are struggling to understand life’s meaning while simultaneously engaged in executing its prosaic tasks and responsibilities they navigate light and shadow as if in a battle set among the stars.

Yet all that wonderful art … all that sincere talent … is still not as grand as the empty spaces on the stage on Broadway in 1938. I know this because Sam Wood could not resist spilling the beans. Martha Scott’s character has a dream near the picture’s end … and Wood uses the Broadway staging to communicate her inner vision. It’s a very brief sequence, but it is also a time machine … a glimpse of an immediate and transient flight of poetic genius in a past dead on a time line, and as eternal and immediate and current as a kiss between two true lovers this morning.

The infidelity of one who truly loves is a greater sin than that of the indifferent, and paradoxically easier to forgive. Sam Wood would have loved to make a film that resembled the stage play … actors in juxtaposition to one another on the white, black and gradations of gray on a movie screen.

Wood seduced Thornton Wilder to commit one more unfaithful act. Martha Scott’s character, Emily Webb, dies in childbirth in the play. There was no way Hollywood was going to make a movie that ends with a woman dying in childbirth in 1940 or almost any other time. Wilder acquiesced to the commercial demand with a rationalization. He said that movies brought people closer to characters, that on the stage they remained abstractions. He said it would be too cruel to the audience to have them watch Emily die. What is actually cruel is denying that people die before their time, and that offspring are left without their parents and have to learn the world alone. What made the play “Our Town” a masterpiece was that it recognized a divine purpose in all that happens … that each individual is an eternal manifestation of an Almighty All … that even the darkest tragedy is redeemed by light from a bigger perspective … That is a difficult truth for an audience to digest, but it is much more hopeful than telling them … women die in childbirth, children are orphaned, but not in our make believe story. Here for ninety minutes or so, you can escape the horrible cruelties of the feast of blood. What good does that do anybody?

“Our Town,” the play is a classic. “Our Town,” the movie is a really good picture. Compromised greatness.

“Our Town,” the movie is the best film that I’ve seen lately. The most modern. The most relevant. Art is so much better than entertainment — so much more entertaining too! Show business or any business pokes its nose in … marketing … figuring out what people want … instead of telling them the truth … all of the collaborators that made this picture told us the story of the amazing experience they had seeing the play. That’s good, but the play itself would have been better.

Many years ago, a producer told me “you are too sincere to be an actor.” I know what he meant. I’m a writer now and I say this …

An actor or writer or artist of any kind is only as good as the depths of his or her sincerity …

this beautiful story … this beautiful truth …

“Beauty is truth and truth and truth beauty — that is all ye need to know on earth, and all ye need to know.”

John Keats

Copyright 2022 Richard Thomas

1/9/22: Self-defense in service of the pursuit of value #poetry

Received another ridiculous attack . Won’t argue. Have to defend.

To review …

improviser that Paul Sills called the greatest ever in the 1980s.

Had a nervous breakdown in the 1980s and my envious enemies still use that period against me as if the last 25 years didn’t happen. I’m actually proud of the breakdown. My psychiatrist was a Navy doc who compared me to Medal of Honor winners. I have guts and I try.

I am a lawyer. I did trials. My slandering accusers never did anything that hard.

I became a college professor and taught improvisation with more depth than my predatory acquaintances are capable of.

I tried to reconnect with the improv community but was rejected as the powers that be guarded their worthless turf. Improv would have been far better off if I had an influence. I am one of the smartest people who ever did improv.

The quality of the writing on this blog shows what I have achieved. I was poor when I was sick. I now am happily married and have an independent income. My accusers are in a clique that confuse show business with improvisation. There is nothing wrong that is the way they make their living But there is certainly nothing wrong with what I have done and do either.

They go after me because I stood up for myself after they went after me in a particularly vicious way.

And I was liberated after that. I criticized them.

Nothing critical is ever written about improv. It’s all marketing and hagiography. It’s actually needed given how mean and shitty it’s become.

I’m proud of myself. I am proud of who I am as a person and proud of my body of work.

One thing they like to do is interfere with what other people think of me. I have rightly felt that I can’t lose anybody who belongs with me.

But in do doing they trash values that are really important.

I am not engaging in an argument. I don’t care what they think of me and I know that they have ulterior motives.

But when I am insulted I act that way.

And I am no threat to their positions in the little world they feel safe in.

I wish they’d just shut up. They will answer “you are the bullying, insulting one. “ But that’s a self-justifying ruse. I am doing much more in my writing than attacking them. I am doing something positive. They are just position jockeys in a green room.

And if I am such a loser why are they concerned what I think of them? I am not concerned with what they think of me. They are entitled. But they attacked my work and attempted to humiliate me, and damaged my reputation in situations where I may have made progress with what I am doing.

They could have done what I did —- never mention my reservations about their work.

I should thank them. They pushed me to stand up to them and now no one is confused that I am one of them, or worse that I accept the low position in the world that they would like to assign me.

They resent that I went away and “came back”. I never went away. I kept working in my own way based on what my muse told me, not by the dictates of their group which led them to mediocrity.

But more important than their mediocre work is the lousiness of their behavior. And I know what they did to me they do to other people.

In summary I am an accomplished person and still active doing my best work ever.

I’m proud and I don’t like being insulted or humiliated. None of this has anything to do with caring about what they think of me. I care about how I am treated.

I do what I like … I don’t follow their know it all rules.

They never affected what I thought of myself —- their intention. I have moved forward … obviously. Read my writing.

But when one moves forward, you have to defend yourself against unjustified attacks.

They are not —- I repeat are not going to bring me down.

Happy, healthy, wealthy and wise.

Copyright 2022 Richard Thomas

1/11/22: My Matriculating Life #poetry

I jump in both feet.

I get disappointed.

And then I graduate.

Shampoo, rinse, repeat on an endless loop.

Every place that I have ever been has been Paradise

and a bad memory.

My inner world is a freight train, an express, anticipating all of the stops until the final destination

At first each stop is perfect …

Ahhh …

but eventually becomes familiar and too small …

I think that I find my tribe

and learn time and time again that I have no tribe

The only constant is me

and the odd fellow travelers that I meet along the way

Each separation involves breaking and terror and pain

I say this, a bit embarrassed by the immodesty of the truth

But I transcend each group that I leave

I become something better


More important

Each place

Each person

is a school

I pick up craft

but my art eventually pushes past that craft

and discovers new ways of being

Each separation involves …

breaking and tearing and pain …

Adulthood is a codependency

and the ending of codependency is always a painful process

and then you graduate



and the process begins again …

Art and Ordinary Life

I am currently stopped at two sister cities on the train line to total fulfillment (and annihilation). I try not to think about Notre Dame which I perceived as excellence, but discovered to be insensitive and smug … and the practice of law where the pursuit of justice is compromised by a rigid authoritarian class structure, a tyranny of cold and indifferent rationality … improvisation, comedy and show business which I have written about and written about, the hardest town to shake because it is seemingly so close to the towns that I happily live in now, the sister cities of art and ordinary life, but in reality they exploit those sacred towns with a crass and stupid lust for money, but even more for narcissistic praise … I graduated from education as a student and a teacher when I learned that institutions of education only approximate what education is — something that must be done alone … the perpetual student (or teacher) becomes the eternal artist … the artist lives his own life and makes sense of the world … that equality between the self and the world is essential to learning about either …

A great friend of mine and I have differing points of view about my current sister cities. His are certainly as valid as mine. We all make meaning of the world. That’s why people who don’t have art in their lives as creators and consumers are shit out of luck. Science tells us how things work. Art tells us how to use those things … what to value, what to connect, what to apply.

I have graduated again and again to unlikely places … from perfect Catholic schoolboy to whiz kid with a promising (but never realized) career in show business, to performance artist, to mental patient, to shamed and depressed man lacking self esteem, to marketing executive, to lawyer, to trial lawyer, to college professor, to writer … to who knows …

I’ve been employed and unemployed, greatly respected and vilified , rich and poor … and who knows where else the train is going. I’m 66. I don’t have to work anymore. My art is the happiest it has ever been. Writing suits me. My ordinary life is compelling — reading the signs for gas prices on the interstate and observing who isn’t wearing their mask over their nose at the rest stop give me endless fascination. I have long graduated from a need to be special — I thought that was a requirement of the life of an artist, and I have long graduated from a denial of how much I love ordinary life. I glory in my new winter coat and iPhone 13. I like the breakfast at the Hampton Inn and Dunkin Donut coffee. I like seeming like everyone else. Just a retired guy on the road with his wife. I love when the hostess at The Olive Garden says, “A booth for you two?” You two. I love that. I love being married. I love that when someone asks me what I do for a living, I say, “I was a lawyer and then a professor.” I love the disguise. I had jobs. I don’t have to say “I’m a writer, and I was an actor and I self-publish on a blog, but it’s not a hobby and I’m very serious about it, and I really don’t look at the world like you do …” Which is the way it was for quite awhile! People still think I am strange. We just got back from my wife’s grandson’s bar mitzvah, and was greeted by looks of disdain and admiration just like in the old days, just like always.

I’m authentic. My heart is on my sleeve, and I got my sleeve at Kohl’s. It’s nice.

We need love. We need money. We need privacy … a containment of who we are, a protection. We need to get away from destructive attachments (which at one time may have nourished us at different points of our development) and connect with that which takes care of us. And that and those that we are called to take care of …

A Thousand Clowns*

*This movie was suggested by my great friend who has a different point of view, whose train is stopped in a different town. You should read him. You’ll find him if you keep an eye peeled. So below is my point of view about this movie — a point of view which acknowledges that what my friend says is true, but then deviates from his view of the meaning of the piece. Here’s my note to my pal about the picture. I do not identify with any of the characters, but I empathize and appreciate all of them, including the creative team that made the thing, led by George Coe. I don’t write with any business aspirations. I don’t worry about audience response. Coe didn’t give himself that luxury. I write with the faith that my words will reach the people that they are meant for. I may have to learn ways to get the words in their hands or maybe it is something that happens naturally …. I suspect that these wonderments will be addressed at the next town down the line.

Your question is focused on what I woke up thinking about. I initially thought what Handman did and still do. It isn’t a radical piece which challenges the system ultimately. And the ending was good for business …
Yes, but …
Eastern philosophy has made an impression on me , but I’m not expert in it, so I can’t make the appropriate reference here …
But … there is a concept that the highest form of enlightenment is knowing the eternal, seeing God if you will, and then returning and living the ordinary life.
Murray achieved that higher enlightenment. He committed to action that on one level made him a conforming functionary of the system, but on another was a beautiful act of love.
The “clowns” were his teachers. You pointed this out. They all knew. His brother compassionately saw Murray’s struggle and knowingly played the game himself, and ironically this seeming compromise made the brother his “best self”.
The social worker pointed out the simplistic nature of the way Murray viewed the world. “You see just heroes and villains”. 
The other social worker who became Murray’s lady friend, and the nephew simply inspired in Murray a love more important to him than his stance against the system.
The kid’s show star said something too, but I was groggy at that point (it was 3:30 am) and I have to watch it again.
Yes, they reassured the audience for the drive back to Westchester. 
But … this was an interesting piece to watch as a follow up to “Our Town” . Each piece celebrates the profundity of every day life.
I saw somewhere else that I don’t recall … “the difference between the poet and the literary man lies in the love of the every day”. Count me in as a poet.
One of the guys who wrote Damn Yankees and The Pajama Game died young, so their roll ended early. But they were doing something that to my knowledge was never done before. They made musicals about ordinary contemporary life … workers in a factory, a baseball fan. I think George Coe was doing the same thing for drama. The Golden Age of Television … meaning for the masses. That work strikes me as good art, poetry and business.

In Conclusion

This is a transitional piece. I think my separation from the improv community is finally coming to a conclusion. I spent more time with that group than America spent involved in Viet Nam. And my future … the twin cities of art and real life have been my address for years now.

I don’t even think about my time as a lawyer and a college professor, and I think I am nearing that state related to my time in improv. Oh, everything still comes up … but only in the service of art and ordinary life. The psychological burden, the wounded-ness which accompanies each matriculation eventually disappears. All that is left is what is useful — experience. Experience that informs my art. Experience that informs my ordinary life.

Copyright 2022 Richard Thomas

1/13/22: Today’s Ignition Switch, “The Tender Bar” — The Spirit of Rejection and Its Perversions #poetry

“The Tender Bar”, also known as Hillbilly Elegy Goes to Long Island, is a movie based on a memoir of a guy who says he is a writer. The only true line is when he says no one certifies anyone to write. The writer is his own licensing authority. Actually, I made his point in a much more provocative way — and I have made it myself many times before seeing this Hollywoodization of what it means to write, but of course I did, no need to bring it up.

Our hero is born into a dysfunctional immediate family (the father is the villain), and nurtured by a warm and generous extended family. The hero is also brilliant. Ben Affleck, reprising his role in “Good Will Hunting”, runs a dead ender working class bar and mentors the future great writer in the arts of being a man, a mensch and a success (in no particular order).

The genius in training gets a full scholarship to Yale, and a first job writing for The New York Times. Fuck Yale and The New York Times. His only problem in life is a pretty girl jerks him around because she likes to fuck him, but has no faith in his prospects in the world. Uncle Ben sets him straight. Don’t you get it? Your father rejected you too. The Tao of Bartending.

By the way, I am the one that noticed the girl was in it for the sex. The movie would never get that real. This is so-called writing in the service of self-aggrandizement in the service of entertaining others.

When the hero had his big epiphany — I AM A WRITER, he followed his ejaculation with, “just my luck the publishing industry is trending toward memoirs.” So he wrote this memoir. Writers always frame their words in a context the market will bear apparently.

The movie makes a big deal of the word “memoir”. Fancy, fancy! The full tile is “The Tender Bar based on the memoir of the same name”.

I never had a problem with the word memoir before, but it offends me a little in “The Tender Bar”. Here is a movie about the warmth and virtue of the lower classes, and the elite nature of genius in low places, that puts on airs talking about memory in French.

The hero sees himself as a writer. I’m glad somebody does. I take photos with my iPhone 13. It doesn’t make me a photographer. This guy just recounts what happened to him. He has no insight into why it happened. He doesn’t use his memory to explore universal truth. He finds no meaning in his life, or, more importantly life in general.

His father was an asshole. His mother’s side of the family, particularly Uncle Ben, was cool. He was really smart. He became a success in a tough field … and? I’ll have to congratulate him if I ever meet him.

Some people reject you and some don’t. Some things that you do work out, and some don’t. You don’t have to go to Yale and write a memoir to come to these conclusions.

Here’s some insight. This fiendish drive for success that consumes this guy, even thought it is not portrayed that way … the movie is sanitized of anger and ruthlessness … he just floats to the top of one competitive heap after another … just on his great ability … no kissing ass or sucking cock or stabbing friends in the back … or rejecting his sainted working class cheering section even for a minute … or breaking his mother’s heart with weird choices to pursue his art that she can’t understand …


J.D. Vance, the author of the hick “Hillbilly Elegy” version of this story set in the exurbs in “The Tender Bar” quite literally is making my ALL CAPS metaphor frighteningly real as a Trumpist Senate candidate in Ohio.

Rejection is a distraction. Proving yourself to the naysayers is a waste of life. Life isn’t in “showing them”. It’s in ignoring them and doing what you are led to do by the dictates of your heart.

I’m a writer, not this guy.

Here’s the simple process of a writer:

The world tells you to do things

or the world loves what you do

or the world hates what you do

and you just do what you think is right … every time, no exceptions.

You don’t invent what you do. You listen to yourself. And your self listens to God.

You do have to work through the people who are mean to you, and the ones who don’t believe in you. You’re human and it hurts. But at the same time, you go forward.

You don’t write memoirs because that is what the industry is looking for.

You get better at protecting yourself as you get older, and you find who and what is actually meant for you. But your main satisfaction lies in your self and your art.

I imagine George Clooney, who directed this movie, sitting bored in his director’s chair. He is a winner, and he can’t get beyond it. It’s a shame. There is something so far greater than winning. I really liked “Good Night and Good Luck”. Clooney’s father was a local TV news man and the Murrow story was personal to Clooney. He wrote about his father’s dream of integrity, and his father’s failure at reaching the biggest brass rings … never made it to network news, lost a race for a Congressional seat. Murrow lost too … his vision of TV news and television itself never sustained itself.

“Don Quixote” was the first novel ever written. That’s writing … the quixotic. Clooney’s father must have been quite a guy … filled with high mindedness and a frustrated sadness. I like Clooney’s father a lot better than the protagonist on “The Tender Bar”, but I don’t dislike the protagonist. I feel sorry for him. Success … is the lie that rejection can be overcome, that we live as defendants in a court room, and success proves our innocence. It doesn’t. Life is not a trial. It’s a painter’s easel next to a pastoral stream. Life is who we are, not what we accomplish. We were born accomplished. We just have to write it down.

Some people thought I cared what they thought about me and my work. I just didn’t like that they were mean to me and my work. We get to live our lives. We don’t have to be weighed down with all of this bullshit.

As Duane Thomas of the Dallas Cowboys said in the 1970s. “If the Super Bowl is the ultimate game, why are they playing it next year?”

The ultimate is something much more satisfying than achievement or success … and paradoxically sometimes unconsciously and unintentionally intersects with achievement and success like “Good Night and Good Luck” and decidedly unlike “The Tender Bar”.

Copyright 2022 Richard Thomas

1/14/22: Primary Reasons that I am Sometimes Misunderstood #poetry

I read years ago that an artist wants as much money as he or she can possibly get, but they will never change a word or brushstroke in their art to get it. This sentiment resonated with me greatly. I believe this attitude is the biggest difference between an artist and entertainer or any other job. I don’t change my work to accommodate any audience, prospective client or actual client, boss, social grouping, colleagues, or social expectation … Recognition for an artist is different than recognition for someone with a career in society. A worker is rewarded for fulfilling the goals of a boss, market or peer group. An artist is rewarded, when he or she is, on his or her own terms. Some people mistake the decisions and behavior of the artist to be rebellious and uncooperative. In truth, it is just different.

I am oblivious to social status. As an artist, I evaluate the world and give it meaning on my own terms. I don’t care how rich or famous a person is. I don’t care how exalted their position or certified expertise. It is my job NOT to conform to society’s view of things. I give a different perspective. Some people think I am disrespectful or radical. I am not. I am simply doing what I do, which is looking for the unseen. For an artist, all emperors have no clothes. Many people are generally scared. They get freaked out when someone doesn’t take comfort in authorities and other “special” people who supposedly protect us and bring meaning to our lives. I protect myself, and I bring meaning to my life.

Some people think that I am telling them what to do, and they resent it. People are so used to power dynamics and struggles that they believe everyone is trying to get the upper hand. I am not interested in imposing my truth on anyone else. As a matter of fact, I don’t think it is possible to impose one’s truth on anyone else. In the infinite space of the universe, every person occupies a central point. Everyone has another perspective. I can’t stand precisely where you stand. We all lead different lives … but, we all have the same universal experience of living. We are all metaphors for one another. I communicate what it is like to be me, and that object of contemplation connects you more fully into what it is like to be you.

My life choices seem irrational to some people because they don’t understand what is necessary for an artist. I don’t do business. I do art. In art, I reject what would be seen as successful when it contradicts my expression of my inner truth. In employment, I only do jobs that do not deny my soul. So, I have walked away from many so called opportunities to write and perform if I didn’t believe in the truth of the project, and I have quit or been fired from many jobs for two main reasons: the job asked me to do something that I considered unethical or destructive to other people, or I was treated with insult and disrespect. Those two conditions usually go together. In my experience, people do not compartmentalize their lives. If they abuse their employees, they abuse their clientele.

I am extraordinarily lucky and some people think that I am undeserving, that I have a silver spoon in my mouth. I don’t come from money, and I am not supported by my wife or friends. I have faith in spiritual abundance. If a person does what nature intends, nature takes care of that person. I have always got the job, or money, or break that I needed in the nick of time. And now I am 66, with an independent income. How did that happen? Material well being and security comes from another source besides employers, “connections” and markets.

I possess a double edged sword of sensitivity. Sensitivity makes me a good artist, and an empathetic lover and friend. It also makes me bruise easily. I trumpet my enthusiasms and howl my pains and complaints. I fly like Superman and bleed like a hemophiliac. Society seems to prefer stoicism, and many people don’t know the difference between condemnation and preference. They don’t tolerate difference, and when they confront me with characteristics of my personality that are neutral, I get upset. I believe in equality and have a live and let live attitude. When someone doesn’t give me what I feel is my due, I roar.

Some people, I’ll call them Salieris, appreciate art, but can’t do it themselves because everyone isn’t an artist, and attack me out of envy. I get very tired of this. It’s not easy to be an artist. It’s a lot of sacrifice and a lot of work, and mainly it’s a lot of being different. An artist’s soul aches for support, not challenge and attack. So when a Salieri comes along, I hit back hard. Some could see this as petty or getting distracted, but it is quite necessary. Some might see it as antagonistic, but it really isn’t. An artist protects his person and his art like a parent protects a child — fiercely.

As an artist, I am committed to process instead of product. Art is never finished until you die. Business wants to find what works and then stick with it. Art always wants to go deeper.

As an artist, I am inspired amateur, an eternal novice, an absolute beginner. “Amateur”, “novice”, “beginner” are words that adversaries hurl at me like epithets, but they are supreme qualities of creativity. An amateur is someone who does what they do for the love of it. Amateurs are passionate. A novice and beginner is humble. An artist needs fresh eyes. The inner life of the artist and the life of the entire world are in a state of constant transformation. An artist lives and works on the frontier of humanity. The artist travels to the future. When an artist knows what he or she is doing, he or she is finished.

Many people think that I am challenging them to be better in some way. They confuse me and their response to my art. I am not challenging anybody. You may be challenging yourself after encountering my work. Your challenge has nothing to do with me. I don’t perform, pretend, argue or persuade. I just try to sing a natural song. I am not a reformer. I’m not telling you to change your ways. They’re your ways. I want to nurture in myself incomparable values for the future. I change the world by being conscious of the changes in myself.

It is true that I believe my writing is superior to entertainment, teaching, business or the law, but that does not mean that I think I am better than you. Just more enlightened. Hah! Embrace the paradox.

Copyright 2022 Richard Thomas

Copyright 2023 Richard Thomas

The Rick Blog Book Draft Chapter Forty-Eight

The Rick Blog Book Draft Chapter Forty-Eight

12/18/21: Jeff Garlin Remembered #poetry

When 91 year old William Shatner met Jeff Bezos’ space team, he commented that he had rarely had an opportunity to “work with so many quality people”. Of course not. He’s in show business.

Fictional Midge Maisel’s tough, funny, loyal, fair-minded, intelligent and compassionate manager, Susie, was graced by “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’s” inspired writers with the observation that show business is populated by “idiots and assholes”. I was so taken with the line that “idiots and assholes” has become one of the themes of The Rick Blog.

In this segment I ask the musical question — are idiots and assholes born or made? Like most matters, I think the query, “Where do idiots and assholes come from Daddy?” has a nuanced and complex answer. Likely idiots and assholes are created by an alchemy of nature and nurture.

Jeff Garlin just lost his lucrative job acting in “The Goldbergs”, a situation comedy on ABC. Jeff was accused of being an idiot and an asshole. His accusers claimed idiocy in his politically incorrect comments, and assholery expressed his intimidation and bullying of cast and crew.

I can call Garlin “Jeff” because I know him, or rather knew him. For a couple of months in that late 80s, I was his hero.

I was doing a one man show, “The Rick Show” late night on Fridays in the Second City E.T.C. theater. It was improvised. I just walked out on stage and talked without a plan. The show was darker and more profane and funnier than what young Second City actors were used to — and they loved it.

Jeff loved it more than most. Whatever DNA connected him with Larry David and his own stand up comedy was in training when he religiously came to my show every Friday night. I am not being falsely modest when I say that Jeff’s admiration of me had nothing to do with me. He liked raw, irreverent, personal and daring. In Chicago at that time, I was the only game in town.

Raw, irreverent, personal and daring are not on the idiot or asshole continuum. I liked Jeff.

But in retrospect there was one seed of destruction. And assholiness and idiocy can grow into jungles from tiny seeds.

Jeff liked that my shows always went through dark places, but always arrived in “a positive place” at the end. He was right and that was a problem with my show. I told my truth, but in my early thirties, I didn’t believe that any chapter of my life would end in frustration or sadness or sickness or mental illness or poverty or humiliation or betrayal or death. I was a blossoming artist, just beginning — just as Jeff was a blossoming show biz professional … and neither one of us had a clue as to what either destiny was like.

Jeff gave me a copy of Louis Armstrong singing “It’s a Wonderful World” and suggested that I play it at the end of my show every week. I did. I’m touched by the memory. I wish I could have helped him in some way.

All stupidity and meanness begins with sentimentality. “I’m just a comedian being funny”. No, you are being cruel and insulting. “It’s just the way I am when I am working”. No, you are getting off on your power and hurting other people.

Show business tells people what they want to hear. It offers “escapes”. But real happiness and satisfaction comes from understanding, accepting and adroitly dealing with reality. Our good feelings can be found in our lives, not our fantasies.

I’ve never watched “The Goldbergs” but I am confident that it is garbage. Jeff made a lot of money as an expert salesman of a product that does nothing but waste people’s time. So really, it is hard to be sad that he no longer can be a part of such worthless crap.

Bob Odenkirk was one of the young comics that came to “The Rick Show”. I’m not dropping names. You couldn’t be doing anything in the Second City building at that time without being near future show business stars.

Odenkirk was less enamored of my act than Jeff. I remember a very earnest conversation with him when he questioned what I was doing. He’s a shrewd businessman. I think his greatest attribute as an actor is his ability to win parts. He saw the art in what I do before I did. And he didn’t think that art was a good thing. Odenkirk was already on his way to mastering how to make a Hollywood career. Careerists figure out the rules and execute them to a “T’. Artists don’t follow rules. They make them for themselves and they break them for themselves. Bob Odenkirk is wildly successful, and an asshole. Instead of seeing me as different, he saw me as wrong. That need to feel superior to other people’s choices, that competition, is the mark of an asshole.

I think my creative work is far superior to Odenkirk’s … I’m an artist and he is a marketing hack … I guess I’m a bit of an asshole too. I believe that I have had the better life and the better body of work than anyone who just got power by figuring out what the richest guy in the room wants and giving it to him, but I have some humility about it. I was born an artist. It’s not like I chose the path or was groomed to be one. I can’t help it. So maybe, I’m not an asshole. I just call them like I see them. I have no animus against Odenkirk. I’m just writing a piece about idiots and assholes that I knew when we were all young.

Dave Pasquesi came to “The Rick Show” too. I think that he came not because he was drawn to it in any real way like Jeff Garlin, but only because it was perceived to be a cool thing to do, and Pasquesi’s life has one theme, surely among many — he desperately wants to be an honored member of the in crowd. So as a young man, Pasquesi was clearly an idiot.

When we were older I ran into him at a dinner where my brother was being inducted into the Italian-American Hall of Fame. He networked his way up to my table and asked if I had any pull to introduce him to another honoree that evening, the actor Joe Mantegna. I laugh at this memory. I didn’t know Joe Mantegna. My parents just wanted me to go to my brother’s dinner. Pasquesi revealed himself to be a lifelong idiot in the pathetic humiliation of trying to get ahead by ingratiating himself to people that he thought were of a higher station.

But idiots can metastasize into assholes. Pasquesi has made a living in show business. He has had no where near the success of Jeff or Odenkirk, but he has done OK. He grew to be the biggest asshole of them all. Cliquish, mean spirited … he was involved in the the attempt to gang humiliate me when I was visiting the dying Michael McCarthy once or twice a week. He characterized me as a failure so that he could feel superior. He said that I “kept coming back around” like I was looking for something from my “betters” the way that he has done his entire professional life. He condescended to me in front of my friends Dan Castelleneta and Deb LaCusta when they came to Chicago and asked me and Paula to join them in seeing Pasquesi’s show, “T.J. and Dave”. He needed to feel superior, and he is too dumb to recognize my real achievements.

Assholes in the toxic improv community are incapable of

  1. Accepting that I am different than they are (see Odenkirk)
  2. Accepting that I am on a different path than show business (see Odenkirk and Pasquesi … Jeff to his credit, I am sure doesn’t care either way)
  3. Frozen in a time warp … they haven’t grown in their work or their understanding of life and they simply haven’t traveled the light years that I have flown beyond them … art is so superior to show business … sure show business makes money … but at what price … I wouldn’t trade being a lawyer and a professor and this writing for 11 years and 15 million bucks doing something like “The Goldbergs” and certainly not for small potatoes like “T.J. and Dave”
  4. Transcending cliquishness — I came back at one point willing to offer my point of view to the “improv community” and I was dismissed as a “novice” (Paul Sills called me the greatest improviser of all time in the 80s, I must know something) and really treated disrespectfully — Improv has suffered because the strange ones … the rule breakers have been purged by the assholes … it’s too bad for the young people coming up, and keeps really good people away

I’m writing with a very lighthearted feeling tonight. I have no hard feelings toward the idiots and assholes. I even feel an affection for them. I think they are sad characters. Their work isn’t very interesting, and I don’t think that they are happy at all.

And I am grateful to them because I think I have gotten a lot of material from knowing them. This is the ass end of capitalism. To love other people, and to try to be as good at something as you can be … that’s the ticket. Not being a “success” , getting pats on the head from rich people and nervously sitting in the audience yearning that your name is called for an Emmy Award … you can see how much Odenkirk wants an Emmy … he radiates that desire (definitely idiot territory), or walk around a set as the big man — I can fuck any woman here, I can push everyone around — as Jeff probably did … or worse to be so filled with self-loathing that you need to ridicule anyone that you reckon (wrongly) that you have more power than to impress some sad sack like the late Michael McCarthy. There is something pathetic about these men, and I don’t mean to disparage them. They made a big mistake about life, and following that mistake to its illogical conclusions, resulted in their full transformation into assholes. They were disposed to asshole nature and conditions existed to bring the fetid condition into full maturity.

I knew some other idiots and assholes in improv, I’m sure I’ll write about them later … Michael Gellman, Jeffrey Sweet, Pete Burns, and Tom Wolfe … I’m looking at you.

I write with love and if you don’t like it, just remember that I am a loser and a “novice” and “different” as you have been thinking and speaking of me for the last thirty-five years.

Copyright 2021 Richard Thomas

12/20/21: Sentimental Journey to Hell #poetry

Sentimentality is the root of all ignorance and evil.

I like Ringo Starr’s rendition of the song “Sentimental Journey” because he makes fun of the tune, and the very act of entertaining an audience — which is the ultimate act of sentimentality.

Sentimentality always begins in distorted memory.

I’m now going to go through the words of the song “Sentimental Journey”, music and lyrics by Satan, and tell the truth … the truth is the antidote to sentimentality, the vaccine against ignorance and cruelty, the preventive medicine that inhibits the spread of idiocy and assholery.

My words are in bold, interjected between the demonic lyrics in lighter print.

Gonna take a sentimental journey

Sentimentality is a matter of intention. It is the Original Sin.

Gonna set my heart at ease

Life is disquieting for a reason. Pain is a signal that attention must be paid. Problems, and new circumstances, must be addressed, and changes must be made — constantly. Political conservatism, for my first example, is a sentimental philosophy. It wants to hold onto a past, that as we shall see, never existed. The need to “set one’s heart at ease”, is a need to escape. Escapism is evil. “Attention must be paid” (I quote myself and Arthur Miller). Life is a constant transformation, and we deny that at our own peril. I kid about “Satan”. But just as there is a creative intelligence that informs all matter in the universe, an intelligence that some people call “God”, there is also an anti-matter, an anti-“Christ”. The universe decides whether it wants to keep existing or not — every second. Sentimentality is a wolf in sheep’s clothing that seduces men and women, mankind and ultimately the whole of creation, a siren call to personal, communal and cosmic destruction.

Gonna make a sentimental journey

To renew old memories

Example two — my friends from Notre Dame sometimes get troubled because I criticize our alma mater. Their lives are special in the fantasy of sentimentality for this place that ignored student protests when Trump was scheduled to speak at the school’s commencement after his tragic inauguration in 2017. Pence came instead as if that was better. The University’s President, Father John Jenkins, followed the loyal Vice-President to the First Fascist around campus that day with all the unconditional love of a recently housebroken puppy.

But wait … there’s more …

Notre Dame led the nation in premature COVID re-openings, in order to make money on campus dorm residential living fees, and to show support for the President whose COVID strategy included the encouragement of drinking bleach to cleanse the system.

Still more …

The Notre Dame law school gestated mean girl Supreme Court Justice, Amy Coney Barrett, she of some extreme Catholic sub-cult, who suggested that abortion was unnecessary. Women could just have the babies and drop them off at fire stations in activity similar to a plastic bottle recycling drive. Jenkins went to an unsafe celebration at the Trump House to show off the prestige that Notre Dame gained, when Barrett was appointed, with idiots and assholes everywhere. Barrett is an iconic Notre Dame personality. Technical achievement … straight A’s combined with a smug sanctimony of undeserved confidence in one’s moral superiority. Sentimentality was the gateway drug to arrogance and cruelty in this instance.

Even more …

My old classmates are diehard fans of the Notre Dame football team, that Coach Brian Kelley abandoned before season’s end for Notre Dame’s raison d’etre … money. Notre Dame sold my friends a bill of goods … God, country and Notre Dame. It’s just about money. Our Lady of Cash. My friends got annoyed when I innocently pointed out what I thought that they knew. Sentimentality is the great tool of con artists … from Notre Dame to conservative politicians to Second City and improvisation … I grew up in a conservative family, in a conservative town; I went to Catholic schools all the way including Notre Dame and Loyola Law School; I was involved with improv and Second City for years; I did trials for the Attorney Ethics Commission; I taught in several schools. Every place that I was ever part of was marketed as special. All were built on sentimental lies.

My family was a good one, but it wasn’t sepia water colored memories of the way we were.

The Catholic Church and Catholic education had good things about it, but a lot that was bad too … rigidity and hypocrisy …

Second City (and all of the improv offshoots it spawned) is a myth of a populist theater that never existed. Commercial success corrupted the beauty at institutional improvisational theater’s heart almost from the very beginning.

Jeffrey Sweet’s book, “Something Wonderful Right Away”, about the beginnings of the Compass Players and Second City, is a sentimental book. When I was a kid I had a romantic view of Second City. I thought that I became part of something wonderful, and that it happened right away. I was romantic about all sorts of things when I was a kid. But that’s not real. I grew up.

The Attorney Ethics Commission had different inequitable and unfair standards for rich and poor lawyers.

Higher ed when viewed as a whole, is more bureaucracy than education.

There are no better times to go back to …

Our loyalties shouldn’t be to these places and people that we glorify with misguided adoration … our loyalties should be to the truths and values that serve life instead of exploiting our cheap desires and fears about it.

When my sentimentality was vanquished (once again, I grew up), my love of family turned into a more complex love of the real people in my family; my love of Catholicism turned into mature spirituality; my love of Second City turned into my love of art; my love of the Law turned into a love of justice, reason and critical thinking; my love of Higher Ed turned into self-directed learning and writing.

For awhile, I felt like every place that I went was a mistake … but it was not … that doubt was placed in my heart by sentimentality … (we all are sentimental in the same way that we all are drawn to death in opposition to life at times … it is a challenge of clarity and will to tame the sentimental in us … Sentimentality is relentless … every TV station is the Hallmark Channel … every place we go social niceties require that we act like society itself is a positive thing … when there has never been a good society … that’s the brilliance of the U.S. Constitution … it places everyone as a check on everyone else because it knows society is a collective of idiots and assholes … Lincoln spoke of appealing to “the better angels of our nature” … that is truly an unsentimental sentiment … it deals with the reality of who we are … )

Got my bag, got my reservation

Sentimentality whispers there is always some place better. It says get moving. You and the world are not enough. It sings a siren song of false hope. So people like how it makes them feel. But it is a cruel drug that gives an illusion of well-being while it ravages heart, mind and soul.

Spent each dime I could afford

Sentimentality is the most effective way to sell shit. It is toxic waste upon the mind and the landscape, spoiling what is natural and beautiful with cheap and perverse sensation.

Like a child in wild anticipation

This is how sentimentality gets you … it persuades you that your childish excitement is more important than that which makes you deeply happy. The Soul speaks to us all of the time. It tells us who we are and what life is and tracks all of the changes of our inner and outer worlds. Sentimentality, the weapon of the Death Force provides static. Sentimentality confuses and distracts. Chasing rainbows is suicidal. Every moment that we live in exile from our authenticity and hallucinating in a dreamscape of illusion and delusion, we are the walking dead.

I long to hear that all aboard

Sentimentality is the seed of frustration. It always raises the specter of an unquenchable desire. It promises the impossible, and therefore never delivers. Delicious anticipation feels great, until you wake up. And if you never wake up, you are miserable without even knowing it.

Seven, that’s the time we leave, at seven

I’ll be waitin’ up for heaven

Countin’ every mile of railroad track

That takes me back

Never thought my heart could be so yearning

Why did I decide to roam?

Sentimentality wants you to doubt yourself for trying to live your life, and cunningly wants to pull you back into a life of “quiet desperation” as Thoreau says … the unexamined life is not only not worth living, it is never lived at all … real Odysseys take you to a home that you’ve never resided in before … Thomas Wolfe was wrong … you CAN go home, just not again. Sentimentality distorts the past, ruins the present and steals the future …

I gotta take this sentimental journey

“Gotta” … Sentimentality is the message of the autocrat … It pushes you around … “Master race”, “Aryan ideal”, “ethnic cleansing”, “Make America Great Again”, “The One True Church”, “Father Knows Best”, “because i said so”, “I’m the boss”, “the ‘rules’ of improv” are all sentimental ideas. They appeal. The lie is that some authority knows what’s best for us and we just have to listen to Him (it is rarely a Her, — Ken Kesey’s Nurse Ratched maybe captures feminine manifestations of this malevolent dictatorial power) … it is seductive to think that we don’t have to think and that some individual or group is going to chart our course in a surefooted manner. But life is harder than that … and better. We have the freedom and responsibility to create meaning for ourselves. We … each and every one of us gets to settle on an answer to the questions of why we and the world exist. Sentimentality takes that away from people. A cynical TV commercial for Arby’s says that philosophers say “if you want to know yourself, think for yourself … but Arby’s says that the meaning of life is to eat their disgustingly processed roast beef sandwiches … Sentimentality makes you nice and compliant so you’ll buy anything …

Sentimental journey home

Seven, that’s the time we leave, at seven

I’ll be waitin’ up for heaven

Sentimentality points to heaven so that you won’t be troublesome creating a paradise on earth … which will be possible when the consciousness of all men and women gets past sentimentality … and that expansion of consciousness is art’s great mission.

Countin’ every mile of railroad track

That takes me back

Never thought my heart could be so yearning

Why did I decide to roam?

I gotta take this sentimental journey

Sentimental journey home

Sentimental journey home

Sentimental journey home

In the end, sentimentality puts its victims on an endless loop like a maddening popular tune that you can’t get out of your head. My Notre Dame friends are currently stuck on a repetitive memory of a school that never was. Second City alumni cling to an illusion of a theater that never existed. Lawyers feel that they do a tiny bit of justice in an unjust world, their self-esteem eroding with each unnecessary compromise. Educators grow weary and process students as if they were handing out drivers’ licenses instead of diplomas …

And artists keep their eyes on reality pulling the human race, kicking and screaming, to a future based on what actually is, and that is actually worthy of genuine hope.

Copyright 2021 Richard Thomas

12/22/21: I Can Do Whatever I Want #poetry

Why am I drawn to “Sex and the City”? It’s not the designer shoes. Or the sex. Or the city. The show is about writing and the life of a writer. That’s why. The protagonist, Carrie, experiences, observes and reflects upon life and gives life, and the writing about it, meaning.

In one episode, Carrie gets what might be perceived as a big break. She gets a book deal. A publisher offers a contract, promising to produce and promote a collection of columns.

And then the insults, inanities and indignities begin. The publisher wants to sell the book with a soft core pornographic photo of Carrie on the cover. She fights that down.

Then on tour, she does a reading. She is an opening act for a dog who wrote a book. It must have been an “as told to”. Carrie doesn’t want to go on, but can’t get out of it. After she earnestly reads a passage from the book, she asks for questions from the audience.

“When is Mr. Winkles coming on?”

I don’t want Carrie’s job. She participates in the misbegotten world, and then periodically retreats to the heights of Mount Olympus, and views the tragicomic death march that thinks it’s a triumphant pageant from a perspective that she shares with the gods.

Then she returns to the world, with insight and humor and understanding … offering warmth, and encouragement. She finds nuggets of gold in the sewer and gifts them to her friends.

Carrie has an entry level position as a writer. Michael Patrick King, the show runner and head writer of “Sex and the City” has the job I want. King writes from a distance constantly, a distance that Carrie only achieves periodically.

King, like David Chase of “The Sopranos” had a creative blank check to do what he wanted, to say what he wanted. HBO saw its own success in King’s full throated voice.

Carrie wrestles with idiots and assholes, and enjoys the solace of great friends, and good and interesting lovers, and the attractions of one of the most interesting cities in the world.

Carrie works on street level. King views from the penthouse.

I just adore a penthouse view.

I don’t want to float above life. I’m up for the experience of love and death and everything in between. I don’t think King wants to be disconnected from life either.

James Joyce said, “History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.” I say, “Society is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.”

Society isn’t life. Society is anxiety, fear and lust corroding and perverting life.

Society is like a revolving door. The person behind me is pushing too hard and fast. The one in front of me is pulling too abrupt and slow. One yells at me, and the other talks really loudly on a cellphone, making it impossible for me to hear myself think. I can’t do my job and be assaulted by their bullshit at the same time.

Money and power insulate people from society. Money and power lets people just think about themselves, and not be bothered about (the other?) idiots and assholes.

The idiots and assholes maul each other in the vain pursuit of getting away from each other — and finally having the money and/or power to be left alone.

Ugh … to be stuck in the middle of that rabble …

I don’t want to fight them, and I don’t want to be with them. If I won’t fight them, I can’t get the money and power. If I can’t get the money and power, I can’t get the job on the top floor that I want. Right? Or is there another way?

King surely clawed his way up, at least a little. His characters have no problem clawing a little either. They win in part because they don’t care. Ethical irregularities trouble them a lot less than they would trouble me. They know the way things are, and they pragmatically deal with that reality. Kinder and gentler Machiavellis.

I am not like King or the characters. I am bothered by the idiots and assholes. And I would be very disturbed if I acted like the idiots and assholes and beat them at their own game.

I can’t write what I have to write if I act like them. My life has to be an example of the world’s better future. I am artist. It’s what we do. It’s who we are.

So how do I do what I do now? What’s my next iteration after my last transformation?

The answer is surprisingly simple. And open ended. I don’t have the locked up concrete specific action plan. Not today. It’s a process. I don’t set the schedule … that comes from headquarters on Olympus. But here is what I have for you at the moment …

I give myself the job. Right here. Right now. I am the show runner of The Rick Blog. I write myself a creative blank check. WordPress is the HBO of The Rick Blog.

Don’t fake it til you make it … just make it. I declare myself the boss, and I’m not lying.

I kick the idiots and assholes out of my office and out of my head … except when I use them as characters …

… and eventually someone else will want to publish and produce me exactly as I am, because they will see their own success in distributing my words. No rat race needed.

… and if eventually never comes, it doesn’t matter because I have the job already.

…. but I can’t dismiss ambition so blithely …

It’s OK to be ambitious, good even, but is equally good to recognize what you have already achieved.

Ambition is good because if I had more money and power I could reach more people who could use my words. That’s what makes ambition useful. I really don’t need approval. I don’t think I’m kidding myself. I like it when I am told something is good by someone that I respect, but the opinions of idiots and assholes hold no sway with me. Why would they? Who should care about the thoughts of the stupid and the mean?

So eventually would be nice …

…. and such opportunity would also be an opportunity for the writing to grow …

But I can’t fight for it and I won’t, because the life has changed …

I took all my lumps like Carrie. And I did it for the same reasons that she did … searching, figuring things out by trying them out … but now the search is over … I know who I am …

so how do I move forward as a reborn person …

how do I write,

how do fulfill my ambition for my art and connection to my audience to be named later …

By doing whatever I want …

Copyright 2021 Richard Thomas

12/23/21: The Definition of Success II, Success in the Context of ‘Following Your Bliss” #poetry

On 11/19/19, I wrote “The Defintion of Success”. That segment is immediately below, and is followed by “The Definition of Success, Part II”.

11/5/19: The Definition of Success

I think Del Close was an asshole. He directed me briefly at Second City when I was just hired and he was about to leave. I have a few memories of him. I saw him yell at a baby. I saw him enter the theater with vomit stains on purple corduroy pants.

He liked me initially. He gave notes to me like “you beat the other player with a stick in that scene.” He encouraged me to dominate. I wasn’t interested. His enthusiasm for me and my work waned.

I knew Close just before he reinvented himself. He was ending his codependent relationship with Second City and was about to strike out on his own. He exploited his bohemian appearance and sold himself as hip and edgy. He did drugs and had a pedigree as a beat intellectual, but he had the values and aspirations of an insurance agent. His core attitude never transcended the foolishness one hears growing up in the neighborhood. He wouldn’t let it. There’s no money in that.

It’s an artist’s job to reflect the whole world, not merely his audience.

Close was no artist.

Close’s legacy is the iO theater. I’ve never seen anything on the stage of the iO theater that I enjoyed or admired. I haven’t been there often. To me, the place has the feel of a Trump rally. It’s a crude and stupid place.

iO is a place of ignorant name-in-the-paper ambition. It rejects excellence.

iO is a museum, a wax museum. It hasn’t furthered the art of improvisation. It sells it. It’s a training ground for noisy TV commercials and insipid sitcoms.

I think “yes, and”, which has become the international mantra of improvisational theater, is bullshit. Agreement with everything that is initiated by anyone leads to denial of the real.

The classes at iO and Second City offend me as an educator. They sell a base level success. Embrace mediocrity as a means to popularity.

It may strike you that I have some ax to grind here — some personal animosity. I truly don’t. It’s my job as a writer to separate high and low. No one ever makes these criticisms. I find what is happening in these “improv factories” to be morally repellent.

I saw a Conservatory graduation show at Second City a few years back. A lady sat next to me. She was a nurse who worked for film studios. She knew Sylvester Stallone. Her son was in the show. He was awful. The show was terrible. The students lacked craft, the directors didn’t know what they were doing. Yet, the woman was convinced that her son was going to be a star, and that this improv “training” was worth his dropping out of college.

He would be a better improvisor if he went to college. What an evening with vampires. People with nothing to say shouting look at me! look at me!

There is something cultish going on in “improv” education, reminiscent of Trump and Scientology.

When I was in the resident company at Second City, sometimes people looked at me with foolish awe. “How do you learn your lines?” “Do you get nervous?” “You met Eddie Murphy?!?!” Improv training as it stands at iO and Second City exploits that innocent, stupid immature take on life, and capitalizes on it. Real education and art would transcend it.

Bernie Sahlins was my director and producer when I was at Second City long ago. He told me “you don’t want to be famous doing shit work in show business. You are an artist.” Bernie was a sophisticated man, and he gave me great advice at a formative time.

I learned my lessons more from people like William Blake and Herman Melville than from Del Close. Both writers worked in the commercial realm and then walked away from it. They knew that the market corrupts. They weren’t salesmen. They were interested in what life was saying to them, not in what people want to hear.

Close told me when Gilda Radner’s obituary was international news, “We’re bigger than the Beatles.”

What a cold morbid fucker.

My job at Second City was like a school for me, but it was actual work with people who had done accomplished work, not classes taught by people who never did accomplished work, when I worked there in my 20’s and early 30s. Like any other school, I had some good teachers, I made some good friends and I dealt with a lot of assholes.

But it was just a school.

And I graduated.

I’m not part of it anymore. I’ve created my own art — which has transcended all that I learned. Many Second City alumni have done the same thing. Others are like middle-aged and older former high school football players who are trapped in memories of a state championship game played in the last century.

One of my friends from Second City is very well-known as a commercial actor, and he has done excellent work at that trade. He also has written some very good plays and has tried to get them produced. He felt dissatisfied with his hit TV show that he also occasionally wrote. He felt limited by commercialism. His journey to get his worthy work produced led him down the road of exploitation. He found open doors, but they were the wrong doors. People wanted to exploit him. Little theaters wanted to use his name to sell tickets. Actors and directors saw him as a gravy train and flattered him and gave him false support. When push came to shove, and people had to take the next step —- take a risk, put their own skin in the game, they were nowhere to be seen.

The outer rings of success are rings of hell. Fame, money and popularity, like beauty, fades.

William Blake lived a life of joy. He supported himself running a print shop and making art. It is said he lived his life in obscurity, but that’s not true. He connected with people in a real way. Melville said “fuck struggling to get published.” (I paraphrase.) He worked as a customs inspector. The result was Moby Dick. Their successes were not within the capitalist definition of success.

Conventional wisdom says that Blake and Melville were obscure. I say that they knew the world and were more known to the world than Del Close or John Belushi with their eyes on the grosses, the ratings, the box office, their brand and other drugs.

It is moronic to calculate success by counting dollars in the bank or likes on Facebook.

An artist limits himself when he caters to his audience.

A commercial artist is like a scientist who works for a tobacco company. All of his findings are bullshit.

I was in the Second City resident company when John Belushi died. Bernie sent our company to the funeral. I was walking into some gathering related to the memorial in a line with famous people. Hundreds of people surrounded as we made our way to the entrance. They shouted at each individual who passed. “Bill Murray!” “Dan Ackroyd!” When I passed they shouted “Nobody!”

This did not hurt my feelings. I smile as I remember it. I thought then what I think now —

who could possibly give a damn about what these people think? What a burden — to restrict yourself to some lowest common denominator — what a lousy job show business is for the successful and for the strivers …

My brother is a prominent judge — considered very important  in his community. When my father died in 2009, word got out to the entirety of the Illinois Bar. A few hundred showed up for the wake and funeral. My father was buried at a lawyer’s networking event.

I didn’t like it, but to my brother’s credit, he didn’t either. He wanted to be a judge because he believed in the Law. He liked being able to spend more time with his kids than he would if he worked at some big firm. He didn’t like all the ass kissing and schmoozing — all of the using. He was in the same boat as my friend the TV star.

When my mother died it was just family and a few close friends. The death notice was posted right before the funeral, which was held on an inconvenient Monday morning. We only wanted the people who really loved her there.

We wanted meaning, not spectacle.

I consider myself very successful. I’m not rich and I’m not famous. But I was a very good improvisor, and a talented trial lawyer, and I am a very good writer and a very good  teacher. I have a good marriage, and good friends. I’m a concerned citizen. I live my life as an artist, and I’m good at it.

A teacher at iO recently challenged my claim of success. He said, “Success isn’t about what you think, it’s about what other people think.”

Au contraire.

Copyright 2019 Richard Thomas

Part II

“A teacher at iO recently challenged my claim of success. He said, ‘Success isn’t about what you think, it’s about what other people think.’

Au contraire.”

My perception of my own success is not determined by other people.

I would like to diminish Joseph Campbell as a pop mythologist who was a positive influence on my earlier development as an artist and writer, but his words still live at the bedrock of my life and art. Who knows who anyone else is, least of all a teacher and a writer? All I know is the Campbell who lives in my mind and heart.

Campbell had a way of crystallizing ideas into short phrases that leant themselves to lifetimes of contemplation.

One such phrase is “Slay the dragon ‘Thou Shalt”. For me the greatest “Thou Shalt” was to be a great success in the eyes of the world — rich and famous. The biggest reason for a large portion of the Second City/Improv Community’s antagonism toward me was that I betrayed my original allegiance to that false value. They derided me as an “amateur” when in actuality I was an artist. While I was honoring my Muse, they were plotting and battling to impress bosses and get jobs and rise higher on a ladder of prestige in the eyes of some community or another. They could include people who achieved such externally determined “success” , and they could include people who believed in such success but could never quite make it, like the iO teacher in the quote — but they could never include someone like me who clearly felt such success was unimportant and was pursuing something else. I always wondered why they hated me, and now I know.

One of them once shouted at me with rage and frustration “Stop talking about THE WORK all the time”. I was immersed in the art of what I was doing and for them what they did was unimportant. It was essentially a means to an end.

The iO teacher who told me to recant my self-esteem and accept others’ characterizations of me as a failure was Michael McCarthy. Michael was dying at the time, and he was more than a guy who had a lousy job as an iO instructor to me. I thought that he was a good friend. He never was. He had slight traces in his character of the bliss following artist, traces I think he may have only revealed to me. But in the end he had the sad soul of the hack. A hack loses even when he wins. He is a slave to the opinions of other people and therefore can never create. A hack is the opposite of self-reliant. A mouthpiece can never have a voice.

The reader may wonder why I use real names in my writing. I could fictionalize, and in 2019, I avoided mentioning Michael’s name.

Here are reasons why I do it —

Michael and the others wanted to be famous and recognized by the community. I am recognizing them in my own way. As in everything else, I could care less about community standards.

Michael and the others were quite outspoken to me and other people about what they think of me. I am their equal, so I return serve.

It is liberating to say what I think about what happened. There is nothing defamatory about anything that I say. These are the parts that these people play in the narrative of my life. I make no claim that I tell their entire story.

It is disorienting to realize that you made a mistake in the choice of a friend at the moment that the man is dying, but the fact of the death is irrelevant. Friendships are not made. They either exist or they do not. Michael was not capable of being my friend. His defintion of success, and mine, precluded that.

It is not often noted that Campbell wrote about “SACRIFICE and bliss”. He did not only say that one should follow “not what merely excites you, but what makes you deeply happy” but also that the pursuit of “bliss” requires suffering, sacrifice. Most of the suffering of my life stems from the sacrifice of my illusion that my bliss, my art, would necessarily be recognized and celebrated as “what other people think”.

Campbell wrote a primer for artists. His innovation was in using the psychology of art to teach non-artists as well. One of his books is called “Reflections on the Art of Living”.

So how does an artist live, and how does a non-artist live life as an art?

Basically the same way.

A person, artist or not, listens to not what merely excites them but what makes them deeply happy, and …

sometimes acts in ways that seem irrational to the heretics of external success … acts on a deep impulse that often looks unproductive in the hurly-burly of the Market World

doesn’t buckle under to the orders of bosses or groups when the external authorities contradict the dictates of the creative heart

understands that the individual stands as an equal to the world and engages in conversation with the world …

The next question is … okay, Rick, you do not bow to the demands of external success in the world but many artists, writers and people that you admire have had that success without compromising their visions at all. Joseph Campbell is an immediate example. Why don’t you have that type of success?

I will answer myself in two parts. First, I do have that success. See and read the writing on this blog, I have done a lot of excellent work that has been recognized by other people.

Second, there is a different process of success for the artist, the bliss follower and for the hack. The artist really isn’t making it. Like friendship, audiences are born not made. The artist puts an influence into the world and it will resonate with who it is meant to resonate with …

So I believe that it is actually counterproductive to think about success at all. One simply does one’s art and is open to connection.

Copyright 2021 Richard Thomas

12/25/21: tick … tick … Boom! — Unseen Hands #poetry

There are no options. There is only what is.

Friends …

One is nervous but fearless, risking all to be “the future of the musical theater”. His nerves come from worries that he could wind up “a waiter with a hobby”. If this movie were only about this friend, it would be sentimental. People love stories about heroes who succeed against all odds, or about tragic romantic figures who reach for an impossible dream and fail. Avatars of hope for the happy, avatars of meaning for the unfortunate many. If this movie were only about this friend, and it is primarily about this friend, but if it only focused on the myth of success, it wouldn’t be much.

But the creators give us the context of friends …

The second friend is “an artist in the truest sense”. She doesn’t care about being reviewed in the New York Times or about the size of her audience. She keeps dancing in the affordable Berkshires, and leaves the the great Market, New York.

The third friend can’t take it anymore and gets a straight job, and a nice, clean apartment.

This movie looks down on no one.

The writer James Hillman says that there are no mistakes. We all live out our destinies.

A friend of mine is a hybrid of the pure artist, and the person in the hurly-burly of the marketplace. He comments rightly that in the marketplace you can’t avoid envy and bullying — the practices of who I call the “idiots and assholes”. . Those come around whenever money is involved. But he survives. Why?

“Unseen hands” … more Joseph Campbell. The mystical idea that as we pursue our destinies we are supported in mysterious ways. It’s a mystical notion, but it makes perfect sense. As you live out your authentic life, you emanate an influence which resonates with like-minded and like-hearted people. And you gravitate toward one another in mutual support.

The hero of “tick, tick … Boom!”, Jonathan Larson, actually was “the future of the musical theater” and he didn’t achieve his dreams because he vied with idiots and assholes. He got there resting on the unseen hands of his friends. Stephen Sondheim showed up to encourage him, for just one example. Mentors, money, jobs, friends, partners of all kinds, including loves of people’s lives … everything helps you to get where you are meant to be.

This is another debunking of the notion of “success”. There is no success. We all wind up where we are assigned to go by, I call it, God. And every moment that we wrongly define as a success or failure is necessary to learn how to navigate our way to our new world.

Life is an improvisation. Improvisations are unknown to the improviser as he or she engages in them, but they only have one valid outcome as structured as a symphony or epic poem. You learn the words and music while you play and speak your part. You simultaneously write and perform your life. And since improvisational life is an art, you don’t make it up. You get it down.

The friends of “tick, tick … Boom!” all find themselves. Every story is about finding oneself. And no story ever ends. No story is better than another. The pure artist, the guy with the good job, and the future of the musical theater are all equal in God’s, that’s what I call it, eyes. And because they love each other, they function as Unseen Hands for one another.

Jonathan Larson dies at the end of this show. That’s the universal. No matter what individual destiny we fulfill, we all die in the end. Thank God, I call it that. Death makes us capable of empathy and love. We all have the same experience inflected in billions of different ways.

I regret nothing. I fear nothing. The idiots and assholes recede into the background …. white noise and blurry shadows and Unseen Hands come downstage center.

Copyright 2021 Richard Thomas

12/30/21: My Stream of Consciousness While Viewing “Don’t Look Up” #poetry

They say a critic watches a movie and tells you what he thinks; an audience shows you what it feels. I watch and create something new.

Vacant, distracted … enter Google Password … all macOs to do something with Google account … I got a new cell phone and a winter coat today …

The sky is falling … a remake of Chicken Little … Jennifer Lawrence and Jonah Hill are at ease with comedy, I can see DiCaprio and Streep working … I really like my winter coat … I have a heavy one that I really like, but I wanted one for more mild winter days … I thought I was being quirky but the store actually separates the heavier coats from the slightly less heavy in the Men’s Department … so I am not so strange after all …

I got a good deal on my cell phone … all sorts of perks … I drove Paula to the hairdresser’s this morning, and I was waiting outside and I really had to take a shit … I went down the block to the Walgreen’s and the rest rooms were out of order. The Subway was closed, so I went to the gas station that said it had no public restrooms on the public restroom door. I went in and asked the attendant for a bathroom key anyway because i march to my own drum. She gave it to me — no questions asked. She had a ring in her nose like Jennifer Lawrence in this movie.

Leonardo DiCaprio gained weight for this part. He is playing an intellectual. I am losing weight and I get dumber by the day.

The world is going to die and we could stop it but we are too self-involved to get off our ass to deal with it. Oh cry me a river. What a great message from Hollywood. Didn’t Adam McKay fuck over his friend Will Ferrell recently? Allegedly?

I remember Chevy Chase at the Oscars. “Good evening, Hollywood phonies!”

This movie is really cool. Everybody is in it. This is hot, hot, hot … chic, chic, chic … it’s the SNL treatment — how do I get into the after party …

Is this movie going to help save the world? It’s satire … 1984, The Day of the Locust … again! If the world is going to hell in a hand basket … is Don’t Look Up the thing to do? Make it? Watch it?

Is my writing saving the world?

I wanted to dislike this movie — but at least it does one thing that I appreciate since I see a lot of movies … it’s distinctive. Adam McKay’s movie doesn’t look like other movies like other movies do. This is my second viewing. I disliked it the first time. But Paula chuckles and I like it when she is happy which is most of the time. I’m not bored by this picture …

But the premise is obvious isn’t it? I also like when a movie tells me something that I don’t know. I know what this movie is talking about.

I may know it all in a more nuanced way. Media is narcissism, social media is thought control, business is predatory, politics is vampiric … Okay, it’s too simplistic … a lot of good is happening in the world too … it’s not all idiots and assholes … the smart and sincere aren’t doomed to failure … the meek shall inherit the earth …

What’s the hope of this movie? That the idiots and assholes will see the error of their ways, repent and save the human race from destruction. Good fucking luck …

I should be doing something else right now. I shouldn’t be watching Adam McKay. I should be reading Ulysses S. Grant’s autobiography. That’s somebody who did something. He fought and he wrote. An artist embodies the future.

I am not anti-social. I don’t participate in society. I am asocial. An artist is asocial. We fight and we write. or paint. We change maps and minds.

What is Adam McKay doing? Making people feel good? Cool? Both?

The actors involved here are great whether they are great here or not. They made careers out of some … take … something that they brought … I admire that … when you take away all of the bullshit, they did that … but the bullshit ruins it … a little … for me, anyway … I’m different than they are. How?

My Google password is recovered. It’s good I forget and change them so often. It’s good to change them.

It’s a movie. The kids like it I would have loved this as a kid. It’s energetic, one image and one way cool idea after another if you don’t know much … if you haven’t seen a thousand movies … I’m pissed that I can’t be that kid anymore. I’m pissed that I am in a different crowd now. It was fun in the old crowd.

But I also anticipate something if not better, more appropriate … no better … like 60 year old Miranda on the Sex in the City reboot discovering lesbian sex. On the one hand, it’s hard to deal with being out of place for decades, on the other hand … goddam better late than never. She never got off like that before.

The movie is boring now. I couldn’t get through it without my laptop and my iPhone 13. That’s right — iPhone 13. Don’t hate me because I am beautiful.

I heard today that a cop, a professional, said that Chicago is not safe south of Foster Avenue on the far north side. He said this five years ago. The center isn’t holding. Infrastructure? It’s been plundered … human and material … The movie says that … and it’s true … obvious — to me — and true. So let’s watch a movie and have a good angry laugh?

More about the characters and not the movie’s concept. DiCaprio sells out in the movie and comes to his senses … but why … what about that character … character can’t only be an element of a story that is overwhelmed by plot or even theme …

I see the only hope is working on the inner life of the best of us. The idiots, the assholes, the timid conformists, the uninitiated and immature … the ones who aren’t ready yet … nothing can be done with them … never or not yet …

How? I’ll tell you how. Transform and talk about it. They engineered a change in the direction of the Chicago River. Artists can change the direction of the stream of consciousness.

This movie is a cry of despair. Jennifer Lawrence’s character says “fuck it we are all going to die’ and fucks her beautiful new temporary boyfriend. Adam McKay is saying the same thing. We’re all fucked, so I am going to get off making this fucking movie. I’ll entertain you. I’ll be charming and clever and we’ll all get off.

DiCaprio struggles in character with a speech where McKay says we have to stop jerking each other off and get real — because McKay didn’t give him much of a character. McKay is trapped in the prison of the doer … the achiever … the one who soars … and never has to stop and reflect because the world never told him to go sit in a corner. He sees the world … the big material expensive powerful universe … but he is exiled from his soul. The soul are where the answers that he despairs of are.

I’m touched by Adam McKay’s movie tonight. I think I see how he felt when he made it. It’s who he is … a show off, a competitor, a poet, seething with the frustration of the thinker and the neediness of the entertainer … genuinely concerned about the world, but impotent to do anything about it … he made some expressive art here, and that counts, but it is not transformative art.

I want to save the world, not mourn its suicidal passing.

Copyright 2021 Richard Thomas

2/31/21: My Stream of Consciousness While Viewing “The Super Bob Einstein Movie” #poetry

Bob Einstein was in show business and he was a great show businessman. Albert Brooks (nee Einstein, Bob’s brother) is an artist that negotiates show business and he is great in that limited lane. Show business is a drag on art. It always compromises creativity with the practical concern of making money. Jeff Garlin wants to be an artist but show business obstructs him from his desire. Jeff likes to take photos of his friends. They are good. He might have gotten interested after he produced a movie about Vivian Maier. Jeff has surprising substance.

But you can’t really be an artist if you are committed to a job. And show business is a job. Bob Einstein started in advertising, which makes sense. His brother Cliff tellingly says that Bob built a career based on his dry comic attitude.

Jerry Seinfeld has become a teacher of the craft of being funny … how to make people laugh and pay you for the experience.

Albert Brooks, the artist, wants to tell the world HIS experience of the world. It isn’t about what the audience likes. The artist hopes the audience to like it of course, but it is about sharing what you think is funny and important with the audience. The artist doesn’t make choices to try to be popular. So Albert Brooks’ movies (the ones he wrote and directed) were never big commercial successes, and he worked for other writers and directors for money. He had a show business career and an art career.

That never fully works. It’s a compromise. An artist has to be alone … like Van Gogh or Mark Twain. It doesn’t matter if you are popular or not … Twain yes, Van Gogh no. You have to be a position where you do whatever you feel is true. No bosses … ever.

An artist can’t have a boss.

Even the most powerful CEO has a boss — the market.

An artist can’t think in terms of markets.

Bob Einstein had no compromise. He was in the business of making people laugh and he was good at it.

Jeff Garlin has art in him, but … he did “The Goldbergs” for money and he facilitates Larry David’s vision on “Curb Your Enthusiasm”. You can’t be a worker bee and an artist at the same time. It’s impossible. Jeff says his act is “truth telling” … so he tells his truth on his own time. And as mentioned he has his photography.

An artist needs independent income or a job that he doesn’t give a shit about — nothing like a career. Teaching is a good day job for an artist, because it involves talking about the most basic aspects of his work with uninitiated people. That does nothing to the soul of an artist … but something as challenging as being a TV star … that’s hard. It’s hard to be a TV star; it’s hard to be an artist. No one can do both at the same time.

Jeff Garlin got a break when he was fired from “The Goldbergs”. Another break is coming as he predicts maybe only one more season of “Curb”. Then he can concentrate on being an artist.

But he is going to have another challenge to make his art. He will have to separate from his past in show business. He will have to view his time in show business as his life and not as his work.

Albert Brooks is dismissive of show business, and that helps him occasionally say something real.

The confusion of whether something is art or show business — or worse both (never happens) fucks up artists and people in show business and audiences.

All of the people speaking in this documentary are in show business. It’s pretty much an industrial film about a master of the craft of their business. Show business is kin to advertising. It sells a life style that sells other products.

Art is kin to education — superior to education but kin to it. People make and view or hear art in order to better understand and live life.

There is nothing inherently wrong with show business. I like it. To relax, smile, shed a sentimental tear to have a nice time is fine … good even … if you don’t overdo it. It’s a spectrum from appreciating a fine wine to being an alcoholic.

Art challenges. It makes you think, arouses your empathy and appreciation … it deepens and broadens your mind and spirit.

Art and show business look alike … but they are not the same thing — far from it!

Bob Einstein must have been a great guy. He loved his wife and family. He loved his brothers. His coworkers thought he was a good guy. He was funny. He had a good career. He wasn’t an artist.

Albert Brooks is an artist who is held back a little by show business.

Jeff Garlin is an artist by nature, but I am not sure if he is ever going to get there.

An artist has to have the confidence that he will survive by being exactly who he is, and expressing his personal truth. Bob Einstein was happy in show business because he followed his blissful un-awareness. He was oblivious to his talent as an actor. Steve Martin said Bob’s biggest influence was Looney Tunes cartoons. Cartoons. Bob Einstein was a good actor, but he never went to the places acting might take him. He had to do what “worked”. His brother Albert knew that there was more. And Bob never acknowledged it — he couldn’t. Some people are very prosaic and that’s more than OK. Art isn’t for everybody.

But Albert will leave us with a little dissatisfaction — that’s par for the course for artists.

Jeff? The jury is out. He may find out that he isn’t as good an artist as he was a show businessman, but he’s done with the career … time for his vocation.

Me? What do you think? I’m pleased with my condition. I have never been able to do anything that didn’t further my art — I become ill if I try. No bosses or markets … just art … supported by others who want art and the hand of God.

Copyright 2021 Richard Thomas

Correction and clarification … the character of Jeff Garlin in this piece represents a real truth, but the actual Jeff Garlin has no chance of being an artist. I am watching his Netflix stand up special and there is no art. He says that he tells the truth. That’s not accurate. He relates facts. It’s all self-promotion and celebration of his show business success. The crowd laughs the laughter of being in love, not of recognizing what is insightful and funny. Jeff trades on his celebrity. He never expands what he is saying to the universal. It is all salesmanship and no poetry.

But what I said about Jeff Garlin is true. My perception of who he is was off base, but my insight into someone who had an inner conflict of the type that I describe was spot on.

Maybe art in Jeff comes out in his photography. But I doubt that too. He probably was an audience for the art of Vivian Maier and inspired to start a hobby.

When Jeff loved me in The Rick Show in the 1980s, I think he admired the most superficial aspects of that show. Comedians loved what I was doing as it related to what they do. The actual meaning was lost on them.

Jeff Garlin does the opposite of what I do. People laugh because he is a star, but in the interval they look at him like people listening to someone monopolizing the conversation at a dinner party talking about himself. (I talk about myself — when I do — to talk about other things.)

Jeff isn’t doing anything evil. The audience isn’t stupid. I hope that neither Jeff or the audience think that they are doing anything important. That’s the danger. That mistake ruins them for art and life.

Sam Wasson wrote about the art of nightclub improvisation, and was wrong; it isn’t an art, just business. Compare Jeff’s act to “Mark Twain Tonight” and you’ll see the difference. I did the form that Jeff is doing as an art when I did The Rick Show, but I never made a dime and was exiled from the “improv” community. Thank God.

Copyright 2021 Richard Thomas

Copyright 2023 Richard Thomas

The Rick Blog Book Draft Chapter Forty-Seven

The Rick Blog Book Draft Chapter Forty-Seven

11/26/21: Reading Sondheim — A Consideration of an Artist that I Have Admired — Why? Part I — #poetry

Stephen Sondheim died today. He was 91. No cause of death was reported. He went to his friends’ home for Thanksgiving dinner and came home and died suddenly.

I always loved Stephen Sondheim’s writing. Do I still feel that way now that I have undergone some major transformation that is as unexplored as my current feelings about Sondheim?

Sondheim wrote these two large coffee table books, “Finishing the Hat” and “Look I Made a Hat”. In this series of writing segments, I am going to read those books and supplement what I read with my memories of seeing some his plays and movies, and report to you my experience and insights contemporaneously with my reading.

This writing is about me more than Sondheim. Sondheim’s death is a minor landmark in my life, and an opportunity for me to get a peek at who I am now.

Part I

Note to the Reader (from Sondheim — my note to you is above)

“I sometimes change my mind about word choices after first, or even second publication. The ones in this book can be considered definitive. Until I change my mind.”

Apparently the hat is never actually finished. Human beings are not static, and neither is the art that they produce. Sondheim wrote musical theater, but his body of work rolls merrily along just as my blog does. Art is a never ending story. Sometimes we cut off a piece of the infinite process like a hunk of fudge and put it in a box with a bow. Every inhalation and exhalation is an artist’s draft. If I just reported to you what I felt about Stephen Sondheim in the past, I’d be giving you a dead thing. What would you care about some analysis that I no longer feel or care about? Why should care about my analysis today? You shouldn’t. I appreciate that you want to spend time with me. That’s all that we are doing — having a conversation. From what I know of Sondheim, I think he appreciated his audience too. He wanted to give people something useful, helpful … and that thing was himself.


Good — I diverge from the great man. He wrote lyrics. I write something else. So his professorial rules are lost on me. There are just a few rules. It is said that the ability to distill something complex into a simple description is a sign of genius. I don’t know if that is true. I doubt that Stephen Sondheim thought about these rules when he wrote his words and music. I think genius has more to do with riding a wave that rises up inside you instead of worrying about rational prescriptions. Sondheim is teaching in the Preface, and it doesn’t become him. I think he is reliving his time as a teen age boy being mentored by Oscar Hammerstein II, and trying to pay it forward. But he has far outdistanced Oscar Hammerstein. His writing is much more deep, dense and complex. I had a similar relationship with Paul Sills. I owe him a great debt, but his work was kid stuff compared to mine. That is no disrespect to Paul or Oscar. As Sondheim and I got older, so did the world. Our influences are darker and come faster than what our mentors’ generations dealt with.

Here are Sondheim’s rules:

  1. Content Dictates Form — My rule is that form follows content. Just Tell Your Truth. Period. Forms didn’t start with the invention of structures. Someone wrote a sonnet, and someone else liked it and then said … oh I want to write something that way. Just Write, Just Live … follow an energy within and something real will happen.
  2. Less is More — why? To be concise has nothing to do with less or more. If you have a lot to say it’s more. If you just have a little, it’s less. Sondheim’s writing seems pretty more to me.
  3. God Is in the Details — Sondheim mentioned, somewhere else, Faulkner’s checklist — Observation, Experience and Imagination. I like Faulkner’s list better. Observation, Experience and Imagination — all sound like detail work to me.

Up next in Part II … The Introduction.

Miss a little, miss a lot.

Copyright 2021 Richard Thomas

11/27/21: Reading Sondheim — A Consideration of an Artist that I Have Admired — Why? Part II — #poetry

Introduction — Finishing the Hat

Sondheim begins distinguishing the form of the lyric in musical theater from that of the poem. In the first paragraph of these books I identify one reason of why I admire him as an artist.

I have taken to placing the hash tag poetry after my segments. I could just as easily place the hash tag talk. I see a natural poetry in talk. I don’t see a need to even work on the poetic aspect of the words. It’s there. The poetry is in the music within the speaker, in this case me. What makes something poetic is a wordless quality — an essence in the expression which points the listener to that which is beyond words.

My first and biggest influences were comedians and musical comedy. I exulted in the rhythm and timing of the ubiquitous comics on my parents’ TV, and the original cast albums on their stereo. I learned much about those creative forms without knowing it. Eventually, they just became part of me — again without my knowing it. Other modes of expression were absorbed as I got older.

Sondheim spends a lot of time thinking about genre and form. He fancies himself a craftsman and his observations are interesting and useful. But this “how to” concern is not a source of my particular admiration. Sondheim is a writer of great feeling, thoughtfulness and depth. Such sensitivity and probity of thinking — he is fearless in the pursuit of truth necessarily needed protection. His intellectualism is an armor which guards something much more profound and rare than intellectualism.

For me, craft is not that complicated. I feel compelled to say something. I start saying it, and the content naturally finds a way to express my feeling or thought. Sondheim is writing these books to a student who wants to write musical theater. It’s funny, because he didn’t do musical theater. He did Sondheim. All mature artists become genres unto themselves.

There is a great warmth in these books. Sondheim generously gives attention to younger and novice artists who want to do something similar to what he does. That attention is more important than any “rules” that he tells them.

My entre’ to Sondheim was as a new writer trying to learn from what he does. (He’s newly dead but his work is very much in the present tense.) But somewhere along the way that changed. I stopped studying Sondheim and just enjoyed being with him.

“Poetry doesn’t need music. Lyrics do.” Thanks, Steve. I guess I’ll keep my hash tag poetry. My music is my personal presence on the page or a stage. Poetry is a dynamism attached to every day things, in my case words. Sondheim has said that he is “an actor” when he writes lyrics. He is also an actor when he writes melody. Spirit is tangible but lacks solidity, just like music, just like the poetic aspect of prose poetry.

Sondheim says that the light and the serious differ only in style, but not in substance. Amen. I don’t try to be funny or profound. I simply take what comes.

“Bad lyrics can be either so packed that they become impenetrable or so loose that they’re uninteresting.” I was born with a natural balance between spontaneity and structure as exemplified by my experiences as a professional improviser and as a trial lawyer. (Regular readers notice that I often mention jobs I have done. This is not for reasons of self promotion. Those jobs have much to do with what I do now.) I am usually surprised by how what I have written hangs together. I have been consistently critical as to how most theatrical improvisation is meaningless, and most trial practice is either obtuse or manipulative. My writing is none of the above. I am similar to Sondheim in that we both learn a lot from what we don’t like.

Among other things, Sondheim is writing an informal history of the musical theater here. It is fascinating, but off topic from my consideration of my admiration for his writing. He dissects the intricacies of writing for a particular character, and he interests me again, but only in an academic way. I write beyond character. I am only interested in my voice. All these formal considerations strike me as a lot of unnecessary work. What matters is what I have to say, and I just tell it to you directly.

Sondheim mourns the death of live theater, but no form matters. Sondheim is eternal. Genre is temporary. Art is forever.

Sondheim is wise. He knows that by describing his personal creative process, he can help others shed light on their own. We are all different and all the same.

This has been a nice introduction to read, written by a nice, smart man. He is humble, unnecessarily apologetic (he knows he likes to ‘pontificate’) sensitive to his own and other people’s feelings, brutally honest and unfailingly kind. He gives too much credit to his teachers. Oh yes, good teachers are very encouraging and helpful and important but an artist is the product of the nature he or she was born with, and the work that he or she puts into developing that nature into something expressed and shared.

So Sondheim is a genius and an ordinary vulnerable human being. He is brilliant and insecure and incomplete.

Now that’s poetry.

These books are more dense than I anticipated, so I’ll stop for now.

Next up — “Rhyme and It’s Reasons”.

Copyright 2021 Richard Thomas

11/27/21: Reading Sondheim — A Consideration of an Artist that I Have Admired — Why? Part III — #poetry

Rhyme and Its Reasons

I don’t care about the craft of rhyming. Sondheim would think I’m lazy. “Claiming that true rhyme is the enemy of substance is the sustaining excuse of lyricists who are unable to rhyme well with any consistency.”

Steve, I don’t think rhyme is the enemy of substance. I think your sophisticated understanding of rhyming is part of your substance. It just doesn’t matter to me or my work … or any other craft prescriptions seemingly more relevant to what I do.

Sondheim’s personal voice has many tones … that of the artist, the teacher … and the professional stand out to me. He had to get to his true sound through the process of revolutionizing the musical theater. I rejected every institution that I ever was part of, until I was finally left with just my experience, other people, the world and God. Sondheim doesn’t mean to exile me from the practice of art, but that is what he would do if I listened to him here. Sondheim was the golden haired boy. I was the redheaded stepchild. Humanity can reveal itself through the medium of classical rules or it can be seen in the rejection of rules. It is important to know that the rules exist. Whether you honor them or don’t give a shit depends on who you are.

We all have different advantages. I never had recognized success as an artist. That made me make something new that pleased myself. Sondheim had recognized success and that led him to a dissatisfaction where he wanted my essential freedom. That drove him to change the world. I just went to the outer previously unexplored reaches because no one bothered with me. They didn’t care. I reinvented wheels and concocted new wheels. Art is the frontier of nature. Society writes down the laws of nature — musical theater writes down the laws of nature — but so does my heart. That’s my school. That’s my peer group, my community. Leave me alone, Steve … don’t tell me my feeling isn’t good enough, that I have to prove myself by mastering some involved structure. Jazz discovers structure. Classical discovers feeling. I’m jazzy. You broke in with Leonard Bernstein, Steve. Don’t make a competition of the two points of entry. You are so much better than that, Steve.

I don’t think that Stephen Sondheim would like what I do. That’s OK. I love what he does. Our relationship isn’t a personal one. We wouldn’t have been friends. But I can see so much in his writing. And he would have seen a lot in me as a person, if not as an artist, even if he wouldn’t have liked it.

Theater is a conservative art form, because it is so collaborative. It can only go as far as the most timid person in the group. My personality is more that of a painter, alone in my garret redefining the world.

I see a community different than what I ever saw, or participated in, in the theater.

I feel silly to write this next line. I see a world governed by love instead of rules. I see an acceptance of who everyone is, and an appreciation of things, and people, on their own terms.

Touch somebody and get there anyway that you can. Authenticity matters. Aesthetics are residual concerns.

I’m not a character in a play. I don’t write plays or novels or rhymes or reasons.

Hammerstein’s lyric …

“Fools give you reasons, wise men never try.”

Listen to your mentor, Steve. You have a blind spot here.

Form brings beauty and makes the union between the artist and the audience pleasing and not disordered or chaotic …


form is not the essential or fundamental thing …

it is an ornament …

a little thing …

Steve makes a big deal about a little thing here …

Form brings beauty, but the essential content brings meaning …

and meaning is inherently beautiful …

so I reject this fussing over form.

In the highest stage of art all ornament — form — is discarded … a point is reached where form disguises content instead of bringing out its full value …

and that is the moment when form should be discarded …

and the artist should stand naked and vulnerable before the world …

For many years, Stephen Sondheim’s technical brilliance put me off. I thought he was cold and intellectual and missing the point. What drew me in was the humanity underneath the excruciating precision. Sondheim’s shy, courageous heart, once repressed by his rejecting mother, finds the “specificity of language, a sine qua non of good writing”, more surely than all of his elite training and prodigious sweat equity.

Sondheim is concerned that his jokes “land with the audience”. Perfect rhymes assure him of that outcome.

I don’t even think about an audience when I write.

Next up, Chapter 1, Saturday Night (1954).

Copyright 2021 Richard Thomas

11/28/21: Reading Sondheim — A Consideration of an Artist that I Have Admired — Why? Part V — #poetry

2. West Side Story (1957)

Let’s start with the title. “West Side Story”? It implies a person at a bar or one place or another leaning in toward you and saying, ‘let me tell you a little story from the old neighborhood’. It’s an intimate title … intimate as a joke, or as a stand-up comic alone in front of a faux brick wall, or as a torch song from a chanteuse at a piano bar with minimalist accompaniment. The show “West Side Story” has almost nothing little about it.

“West Side Story” is an aircraft carrier of a show. It’s a ballet, and a symphony. It’s Shakespeare for the love of God. It’s bigger than social commentary. It is the West Side viewed from the point of view of outer space, our troubles mitigated by the perspective of the Galaxy. God narrates this fucking thing.

Except … there is one little thing in the show, little in a good way, an element that grounds philosophical considerations of the nature of existence into ordinary every day life … a true fanfare for the common man … and that little thing is the musical theater lyrics of Stephen Sondheim. Sondheim gas said that he would love to be a playwright but that a play is too big for him. He says he is like an actor, who can inhabit his characters and know what they think and feel, and that the musical theater song is the perfect form for his creative expression. Actors are masters of moments. The bigger arts capture the sweep of life, actors provide moving pictures of the second by second experience of the individual person transforming in the waves of time. Sondheim is our point of access to the entirety of “West Side Story”. Without him all of the huge cosmic forces in the play would be lost on us. With him we simultaneously feel empathy for our street level struggles as we look up and realize that we participate in something so immense and important as shown by the rest of what is displayed on the stage as if it were a planetarium ceiling.

I had a good doctor for my colonoscopy. She described to me in layman’s terms the sum and substance of the data and knowledge the medical community has about colon cancer, and she empathized with me. She knew that I came to her show to find out if I had cancer, and she knew the answer that I wanted.

“You had three polyps that are benign. We removed them because if left unattended they may turn cancerous. I’ll probably recommend that you come back for another colonoscopy in seven years. “

I didn’t have to say a thing. She knew what I was thinking. Is seven years enough? Shouldn’t it be three or four as I have been doing? If these things can turn to cancer shouldn’t we keep a better eye on them?

She answered the expression on my face. “You don’t have cancer,” she said firmly and kindly looking me straight in the eye.

She understood medical science, the human race’s collective experience with colorectal cancer, the philosophical implications of the reality of human mortality and my anxious feelings. She was “West Side Story” in a lab coat.

She cared enough to apply her high intelligence to understand the world, and to care about the little man on the gurney in front of her. We are all so tiny as we contemplate our death and life, and our cold fat asses hang out of those ridiculous backless gowns. She got all of it. I am pleasantly haunted by the way that she looked into my eyes. She loved me — not in a sexual way … kind of the way that I would imagine being looked at by a saint. She didn’t become a doctor for the money, and she didn’t do it for mere scientific curiosity. She wanted to look up people’s assholes to help them navigate the moment to moment transitions on the road from birth to death. She was strong enough to look at the disgusting parts and the scary parts.

Just like me. Just like Stephen Sondheim. Just like any true artist. Just like the part of Stephen Sondheim that I love. Not the Broadway Baby bullshit. The ability and commitment to look up the asshole of life with high intelligence, uncompromising honesty, empathetic kindness and love. The desire to help people understand and be at peace with their understanding. Sondheim has no sentimentality because he is an honest man and artist. My colonoscopy doc did not distract me from my fear of mortality by singing me a funny song. She acknowledged the truth of everything. No escapes, but rather the way through for optimum experience.

So far, I haven’t gotten past the words “West Side Story”. Let me read forward to see what else Stephen has to say.

Again, Sondheim writes interestingly to me, but not relevant to my project here of considering Sondheim to illuminate my own art. Sondheim was a very young artist when he made “West Side Story”. It wasn’t a chance for him to share his personal creative vision. The driving force behind “West Side Story” was Leonard Bernstein, and Sondheim worked for him. Sondheim wrote lyrics that Bernstein wanted. I never had a job like that … the kind where you establish yourself professionally and then subsequently get an opportunity to do your thing. “West Side Story” was a breakthrough in Sondheim’s career that literally set the stage for his lifetime of artistic breakthroughs. Since, I will never get a chance like “West Side Story”, it’s too late, and now I am incapable of doing any jobs … the only thing that I know how to do is my personal work … my career path has looked nothing like, and will look nothing like Stephen Sondheim’s, but our artistic paths reflect one another’s in many ways, as all artists reflect what other artists do. Art is a way of being. I am convinced it is not something that one chooses to do. Artists are a certain type of persons, and we all share a type of inner experience.

Sondheim’s approach to these volumes is very similar to my approach to this blog. He writes relatively late in life and considers his life and work from many different points of view. The shifting perspective is fascinating … personal, historic, professional, artistic. His writing is something different from a memoir or autobiography. He uses the shows that he has worked on as the benchmarks of his life. He — wait for it — breaks the rules. He doesn’t tell his life story in a conventional way. It’s this rule breaking that I admire so much. He is a man who made his way to freedom, and I am one too. Frankly — and when am I not frank? … I don’t want to listen to anyone who is not free. The conventional approaches are so boring. The world is amazing in both its universality and its variety, and we are all species unto ourselves. It’s that individuality that I want to see, that individuality that simultaneously resonates as common universal experience. The congruent connection of the love of a long lost friend, and the fascination of the exotic sights of a perfectly curated trip around the world …

Sondheim: “A true poet doesn’t say ‘azure’, a true poet says ‘blue.” Right on! I hate preciousness in writing … those hushed tones and breathy pauses at “readings” make me want to heave.

Working with Bernstein broadened Sondheim as a composer in his future shows where he handled both words and music. When Sondheim started this book he regressed back to his mentoring sessions with Oscar Hammerstein. He wrote like a kid. Now he is getting into his actual experience, and experience is the only teacher — a teacher that doesn’t teach you what to do, or how to do it, but that shows you what the choices are and how to make them. The artist, the professional, the grown-up figures things out. When we are kids our parents and teachers structure our time. When we grow up, it’s all up to us.

Sondheim writes in this section about collaboration. I should pay attention, I guess, it’s not one of my strengths, but I am not much interested. He speaks of the various lessons, joys and frustrations of working with the writer of the musical’s book, the choreographer, the producer. He gives his partners a lot of credit “without modesty or largesse”.

I’m not interested in writing a song with a sensitivity to the technical needs of the fellow artists who will stage it. What is Tony doing when he sings “Maria”? You can’t just write the love song. What is the choreographer supposed to do with it? I just want to write or talk. These moving parts make my head hurt. I don’t need a fucking choreographer. I keep going back to Van Gogh. He just needed to somebody to hang the fucking paintings and to sell them. Think the stuff is good, support me while I do it, get it into people’s ears and hands, and stay out of my fucking way. That’s what I want in a collaborator.

And I want better luck than Van Gogh.

Sondheim protests too much that he needs collaborators to make his art. He says he can’t do it alone. I don’t buy it, or maybe I am projecting. I don’t need anyone to help me with my writing. I know what I do and want to do.

The epiphany in Sondheim’s observations about collaborators came in the one area that I could really use one. “West Side Story” needed a producer. I desperation the creative partners turned to one of Stephen Sondheim’s friends, Hal Prince, who just had his first successes with “The Pajama Game” and “Damn Yankees”. The key word is “friend”.

Sondheim: “Like a good friend, I patiently listened till when he was finished and then … as good friends do, he asked how I was.”

This is my vision of friendship and collaboration which I am starting to see as synonyms. Everybody has a different role, and they work together to put something together.

I don’t want show business bullshit, or any business bullshit. We love each other, we love each other’s personal work, and we love our common project. Is that so fucking hard?

I want spectacular people in my life … like my colonoscopy doc … I want something more binding than contracts.

Next up — More “West Side Story” and beyond …

Copyright 2021 Richard Thomas

11/29/21: Reading Sondheim — A Consideration of an Artist that I Have Admired — Why? Part VI — #poetry

2. West Side Story (1957) — continued; 3. Gypsy (1959)

Sondheim would have disagreed with my observation in the last installment that his lyrics grounded “West Side Story” and made it accessible in the best sense of that word. He worked for “Lenny” Bernstein, and Lenny pushed him to make the words that the characters sung too poetic, and not attuned to the actual speaking styles of the people portrayed. Again, I think Sondheim is too rigid. He cares about how things should be when he should be accepting and even celebrating how things are. I think Bernstein’s instincts were brilliant. By insisting on poetry, he had the audacity to rewrite Shakespeare in a modern idiom. Shakespeare didn’t have the Capulets and the Montagues speak in the common argot of Verona. What was real wasn’t mode of expression, but rather the feelings expressed — and this communicated that those feelings were universal. The artist is often smarter in his work than in his critiques about his work, and I believe that is true of Sondheim here.

I think my last paragraph is related to something that I heard on TV this morning. Patti LuPone said that Sondheim was a taskmaster and could be downright insulting when he gave theatrical notes, but that his comments always made her better. Paul Sills was like that too. I’m not so sure it is the best way to be. The teacher or director wants the protege to flower in their own creativity, not remain in servitude to the vision of the great man.

I’m not much better than Sondheim, if at all. If I determine that someone is an idiot or an asshole, I will tear them a new one, in writing or talk — not for the benefit of the idiot or the asshole, but rather for the benefit of anyone else listening. I want to bring down the bad. If someone is of good heart and mind, I feel that they should be encouraged and nurtured. Matters should be discussed truthfully, but always gently and with a great tolerance for disagreement. I don’t want to be a boss. I think one aspect of who Sondheim was, is that he was a boss. He was in charge. He kept people in line to get the results that he wanted. He believed strongly in collaboration, but I don’t know if that extended to his actors and singers. I suspect that they may have been employees. Many of them have discussed that they mourned for Sondheim as if their father died.

I don’t want to be anyone’s father. My form … the written word, makes that a lot easier. Sondheim had to get shows on stages and he wanted his challenging words and music to be sung precisely right.

A friend told me recently that I “didn’t come to be polite”. I didn’t know what he meant. I think I know now. Sondheim was too committed to his art to be nice, and I have become the same way. But perhaps my difference with Sondheim is nuance. When I was younger I could be rough on my friends. I regret it. Personally I’ve learned that criticism that I receive that is offered with love — whether I agree with it or not — doesn’t hurt. Oh, sometimes I have to work to get to really hearing it, but ultimately I feel closer to the person who offered it. But criticism that comes from someone who is trying to use me or is competing with me or who hates me or is envious or coming from some other negative place — always hurts and always is destructive, even if it is right.

I want to stand naked before you. So I include here a note to a dear friend this morning and his encouraging response — and that response keeps me going. I am very grateful to him. I want to show you this because it is part of the deal. And it fits in writing focused on Sondheim, because I have always thought that stepping out on a stage and singing “There’s a Place for Us” or any other great popular song is a great metaphor for courage.

Sondheim is a perfectionist. I am not. There is something better than perfect.

Note to a dear friend:

It’s interesting that you said Tarantino wouldn’t like your work as I did with Sondheim. It’s a fierce thing to do. We look at them for other reasons than their real or imaginary approval. But of course we’d love their approval on one level, but we know that childish desire isn’t good for us or more importantly our work.
I have to gird my loins this morning. This Sondheim thing feels like my most ambitious writing project and it has some specific challenges.
First, I’m playing the long game here. My sense is that this writing will pay off artistically and maybe even otherwise, down the road.
Second, it’s a lot of work for a smaller readership than even I am used to. People traditionally haven’t stuck with these series pieces, and they won’t with this one in particular because …
Third, there is so much Sondheim material around at the moment, from people who actually knew him, critics a la New Yorker writers and fan letters. So my thing is lost, even though it’s none of the above. 
This was not intended as an exercise, but I think this writing might even develop my personal voice to a new level. 
Authenticity leads to saying new things when considering familiar subjects.
It’s a high bar and I don’t think I’ll achieve it completely but I look forward to trying.
A key … I said early on that this work is ultimately about me. That will get me there. It’s a challenge because the subject is so interesting. I think the recent Sopranos piece did this in a very subtle way. I saw in David Chase what I value.
Now I have to forget all of this and just write.

My friend’s reply (I’m sure he won’t mind.)

“…forget all this and just write.”Yes.
I, for one, am benefiting. Others are, as well. 
“If it wobbles, push it over.” -Nietzsche (I think Thus Spake Zarathustra sold seven copies of its first edition. Facebook is your first edition.)

My gratitude

Thanks a lot, pal.

Sondheim listed all the things that he wanted to do with his work, and the last thing that he said — not quite and afterthought, but close — was to “sell tickets”. I am loathe to admit it, but I want to sell tickets too, after I accomplish all of the things that I would first mention.

Okay … to the text we go … Lin Manuel Miranda opened up “Finishing the Hat” at a memorial for Sondheim in Times Square last night. It was a religious service. The hymns were Sondheim’s music, his prose was the scripture. I don’t do what Lin Manuel Miranda did or is doing. I come not to praise Sondheim, but to bury him. Not really. I think one thing that I am saying with this piece is that I am Sondheim’s equal. He doesn’t inspire me. He is a peer. I compare myself to him, not in a competitive way but as a means of self assessment. I am saying that this great artist who was a spectacular success, receiving all the attention and accolades possible for his life, work and career, has nothing on me in my obscurity. My life is as distinguished, as is the life of my colonoscopy doctor. Sondheim gave Lin Manual Miranda guidance and encouragement early in Miranda’s career. Miranda is attempting to follow in Sondheim’s footsteps. I am not. I step into my unknown into my own footsteps … with nothing to follow but my own impulses. I might as well be wearing a blind fold. Patti LuPone asks “what’s next?” now that the lion of the musical theater is gone. Who will bring the new ideas? My answer is that nothing is next. Sondheim destroyed the musical theater and replaced it with Sondheim. All that’s left of the Broadway musical is juke box shows and live action cartoons. This happens with everything. The new thing is just that — a new thing. The greatest tradition is the upending of traditions. Sondheim’s innovations put his mentor, Oscar Hammerstein’s, work into the museum. I identify with Sondheim here. I ended improvisational theater and stand up comedy. This form, which I have invented simply by creating what I was called to create transcends improv and stand up. The stand up is handcuffed by the demand to get laughs. The improviser is thwarted by the necessity of every player getting to put his two cents in, no matter how tone deaf and stupid.

Sondheim is not my teacher, or mentor, or a blueprint for my future success. He is a fellow writer and I am having a conversation with him, and with you about him.

Okay now back to the text … digression is the soul of art …

Sondheim gives a critical examination of the work of his surrogate father, Oscar Hammerstein as an aside in the “West Side Story”. It’s all very smart and technical and of no interest to me whatsoever. A lark is learning to pray? What the fuck does that mean? I can see that this persnickety attitude served Sondheim well, but I would be constipated if I took it seriously. I think a lark learning to pray is a wonderful line … a nun singing that all of creation is a hymn to God, that everything that she sees, hears and does IS a prayer … it’s not logical or rational in any way, but it is spiritual … and that spirit is what “The Sound of Music” is a metaphor for … This quibbling has nothing to do with how to write lyrics, and everything to do with how to be Sondheim. Who gives a fuck about being right? What matters is being true. That’s why I love Sondheim. Overly earnest? Redundant? That’s OK with me, Oscar. A carping little noodge pain in the ass … love you, Steve — un-ironically.

Sondheim concludes by saying that Hammerstein’s sentimentality is not what matters .. it is his “monumentality” that counts, and he compares him to Eugene O’Neill. That’s good, Steve. It’s sweet that you still love Daddy.

Sondheim regrets his lyrics for the song “Maria” which he says was diminished by the “wetness” of sentimentality and romanticism. Hammerstein loved “Maria”. I write off these comments as the frustrations of a hired hand. Sondheim, the skillful assassin of the musical theater was plotting its demise. A musical without sentimentality and romance? No, that’s something else.

Jerome Robbins was apparently brilliant, but quite the asshole during the creation of “West Side Story”. Some people have a tremendous tolerance for such personalities who do much psychic damage, but deliver such good results. Robbins clearly wounded Sondheim, but he eventually got over it. Robbins’ intended paralysis of Sondheim was always temporary. Personally, I have never known an asshole who didn’t also suck at what they do, so I don’t know how I’d handle a genius prick.

3. Gypsy (1959)

All jobs are apprenticeships, and the best jobs give the employee confidence. I gained much confidence, as a Second City actor, a trial lawyer and a professor. All of these jobs ended in conflict because the jobs invariably turned into work. Work is something that one does in service of his or her desires and values. Jobs are performed in the service of the aims and objectives of other people.

Sondheim made a seamless transition from his worker bee learning curve with “West Side Story” to being the man on “Gypsy”. Originally the producers wanted him to write the lyrics and music, but Ethel Merman didn’t want what essentially would be a first time composer. So Sondheim joined the company in a role more limited than what he desired, but as an equal. He garnered rave reviews as an associate with “West Side Story” and leaped to the position of a full and senior partner on “Gypsy”. Sondheim would continue to learn of course, but he wouldn’t be taught. No one ever anointed me a senior partner. Like Napoleon, I just grabbed the crown out of the Pope’s hands and installed myself, and flipped the finger at all who would deny me my rightful place. I don’t envy Sondheim at all. Different paths … different destinies … we reached the same psychological space as artists in very different ways.

Sondheim talks a lot in this chapter about the necessity of writing lyrics specifically for characters and for the actors that play them — in this case Mama Rose and Ethel Merman. I’m not much interested. I just write. I’m the actor and I’m the character. “Gypsy” is a great show, but I prefer even more the sound of my own voice.

“Gypsy’s” composer, Jule Styne, is far less of a presence in this chapter than Lenny Bernstein was in the previous chapter. Sondheim had passed the time of looking up to anybody.

This chapter has a lot of show biz memories in it which are fun. They show Sondheim’s willingness to be not only the high minded artist, and the rigorous professional, but also the chatty friend.

My dear friend told me that he contemplated buying these books, but he thinks he’d rather just listen to me read them to him. God knows I want him to keep listening, but when I’m through he may want to get the two volumes. The pictures are great and there is much of what Sondheim writes that is generally interesting but not related to my purpose here.

Sondheim doesn’t say so, but it is clear, just as “West Side Story” had been Bernstein’s primary vision, “Gypsy” was Sondheim’s. In spite of the fact that he was denied the right to compose the score, he had finally and quickly become an auteur.

Next up — 4. A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1962)

Copyright 2021 Richard Thomas

11/30/21: Reading Sondheim — A Consideration of an Artist that I Have Admired — Why? Part VII — #poetry

4. A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1962)

More on collaboration —

Sondheim had options. He could just write by himself. He more often made great theater. With other people? He said he collaborated but did he? He worked for Leonard Bernstein on “West Side Story”. It was Bernstein’s vision. Jule Styne worked for Sondheim on “Gypsy”. That show was Sondheim’s vision. “Forum” gave him his first opportunity to write the music as well as the lyrics. Was he the boss? Did he actually work with other people, or did they work for him? Other people can have great latitude in what they contribute to a group creative project but still work for someone else. For example, Bernstein could have never written the lyrics to “West Side Story”, but Sondheim wrote what Bernstein wanted.

I don’t like collaborating. Period. I’ve had a hard enough time, finally getting control over my own voice … it’s too hard for me to calculate where others are coming from.

I just want to write and have managers, publishers, producers … I want business people who serve my interests while also serving their own. I don’t want any creative input. This is a rare situation, but it does happen. David Chase had that type of arrangement with HBO who gave him full creative control. He had an inspired partner with James Gandolfini, but was the great actor really Chases’s collaborator? Gandlofini often offered choices that improved upon Chase’s work, and Chase accepted them, but the final decision as to what to do always resided with Chase.

I can do well artistically on my own … I don’t want any creative collaborators. The result is as good as the work of many artists. I can do everything in writing or talking on a stage that I could do with a play or movie. More actually.

Sondheim describes collaboration as a battlefield. He doesn’t call it that. He speaks of it lovingly. But the facts are as ugly as they are beautiful or even uglier. It’s a war for vision, credit … everything.

It’s important in every human interaction that there is either a pure spiritual connection, or a very clear contract, honored by all sides. Some spiritual connections last lifetimes, and some have shorter durations. Most have shorter durations.

My hypothesis at this point in my reading is that Sondheim eventually was in charge. He was the boss. That’s a different position from which to collaborate. He got his way. He got the credit. If I am wrong and he actually made these works of art in equal partnership with other artists, he is an even more amazing creative personage than I imagined when I started writing this project.

I saw a doc about Mel Brooks where a musical arranger was obviously miffed that Brooks took credit for music in “The Producers” that the arranger wrote. But he didn’t speak up because it was his job. Other social pressures can stop standing up for oneself too. But is there anything to stand up for if it’s your job? You agreed to sell your soul to the devil.

I don’t even know if I believe that creative collaboration is truly possible. That may be my shortcoming or it may be intuitive wisdom.

My guess is that sometimes John Lennon ran the Beatles, and sometimes Paul McCartney did, and occasionally the two alternating bosses threw George Harrison a bone because they needed him. Ringo was just glad to be there. That may be cynical, but it is an understanding that allowed them to get what they wanted for ten years or so. It’s not really a collaboration.

Is there really such a thing? (The question bears repeating.)

Woody Allen worked with great cinematographers who gave him exactly what he wanted. He wanted the look of their photography. But they didn’t collaborate. It was Allen’s vision.

I think this is a really interesting Sondheim theme. He praises his “collaborators” but were they really? He achieved power. Larry Gelbart wrote the book of “Forum”. Sondheim got the credit. It is Sondheim’s show, as much as Gelbart gets the credit for the TV version of M.A.S.H.

Can art ever be done by committee? The credits of a movie tell the story. The director ran the thing. Everybody else — screenplay, editor, writer, cinematographer, cast etc. worked on it, and the director decided what stayed and what was left out. Everyone knew the score going in.

When there is a myth of communal creation, collaboration, there are usually subsequent bad feelings, because there are people who are generous, talented and love to work, and there are vampires who are always quite happy to take a bow for the work that other people do.

I collaborate with my wife on our marriage. I collaborated with my brother on caring for our mother when she was old and then dying. I collaborate with my friend on our friendship. I’ve never had such spiritual connection artistically or even professionally. Maybe it exists, but I am skeptical.

I believe in love and contracts.

I just do my thing and wait for openings to keep it pure and maintain control. I want my business partners to be serving their interests by managing and marketing my art, because I know that they won’t do their jobs well if they don’t feel that way. So I believe in the win/win. The ideal situation would be that I and my business partners would love one another because then we would take care of each other and our common project as if we were caring for ourselves.

I don’t even contemplate doing something with as many moving parts as a movie or play. I am accomplishing the same thing here and it’s a lot easier to achieve and a lot less complicated.

But if your call is to a collective art …

Here’s what I think. You have a vision for your writing alone — Sondheim, the supposedly great collaborator spent most of his time alone writing , and you have a vision for what your movie and theater “collaborations” should look like . What you get out of them … how they work as practical entities … what kind of credit you want … how much say you want and need to have regarding the final result … how you want to be treated …

Keep working at both … the solitary and the communal and do it your way all the way.

If you are an artist you have to have things your way. You will never even have a chance to be satisfied if you do not.

You can organize your life in art as beautifully as you shape your art.

If you figure out what you actually have to do to get what you want in both areas it will help you decide if you want to drop one or the other and focus on one, or do both or whatever.

A big challenge of my life was how to be an artist grounded in a practical life. I make decisions when I write. That’s part of what I am doing here. I write my way to understanding what I want and considering if it’s possible, doable etc.

On to the text …

“Forum” sounds like a law firm. Sondheim ran the music department. Gelbart and Burt Shrevelove ran the book department. The partners were collegial. Sondheim didn’t feel that the music fit the story, but apparently it worked because people found both the story and the songs funny and entertaining. All the while, Sondheim was a sponge learning more about how a play with music comes together, overturning what Oscar Hammerstein taught him and what he learned with his academic theater background.

I’m not going into the weeds with Sondheim with his discussions of funny versus clever (funny is harder) and the requirements of pacing in a show (he had a hard time getting the opening number which set the tone for the evening until he wrote “Comedy Tonight” after much discussion and three tries, and the last twenty minutes of the show have no music because a farce accelerates to a conclusion and any pause ruins the laughter and threatening danger of that form) … I really don’t care. For me, substance determines form, and I am not interested in what “works” for an audience. But then again, I’m not in show business, but Sondheim was. What I find interesting is how he grows and grows at a rapid pace. He matriculates through his work, achieving one advanced degree after another.

Sondheim ends this chapter discussing how his collaboration with Gelbart and Shrevelove turned sour, only to be repaired when “Forum” scored a huge critical and commercial success. Sondheim says that the whole experience was bittersweet, and his greatest joy associated with the show involved his solitary time writing.

My hypothesis about collaboration remains in tack. Sure Sondheim praises Gelbart and Shrevelove after the fact. He doesn’t have to work with them anymore.

Next up — 5. Anyone Can Whistle (1964)

Copyright 2021 Richard Thomas

12/1/21: Reading Sondheim — A Consideration of an Artist that I Have Admired — Why? Part VIII — #poetry

5. Anyone Can Whistle (1964)

I’m just enjoying reading about this show. I don’t have much to offer in commentary. Sondheim was blossoming. It seems to me that his form, musical theater, has a requirement that the creators be concerned about selling tickets, but Sondheim protests too much. He wrote this score for the sheer pleasure of it … as an artist will do. The cast seems to be genuinely enjoying themselves in the photos, particularly the beautiful movie star, Lee Remick, who seems to be having the time of her life.

Arthur Laurents wrote the book, and directed. Laurents wrote the book for “West Side Story” and “Gypsy”. Sondheim liked him very much. The two men collaborated in a pure way on “Anyone Can Whistle”, no contracts were needed. They loved one another and their show. Predictably, the show was a box office failure — closed after 13 performances …

Equally as predictably … the show is a cult classic … dearly loved by a following as committed to the work as it is relatively small.

Sondheim frames “Anyone Can Whistle” as a triumph of passionate expression, and a failure of necessary perspective. I see it as his emergence as a full blown artist. He wasn’t aware that he had transformed from being a commercial entertainer to being a pure artist by the time 1964 rolled around, in 1964, and apparently not when he wrote “Finishing the Hat, and perhaps not even on the day he died. But that transformation is exactly what occurred. He just kept getting better and better at being Sondheim and he progressed farther than the market. The public would have to catch up with him, and he wasn’t waiting. Maybe he knew this all along, and just paid lip service to the box office so he could keep making his art.

I relate to what he Sondheim was going through. There was a moment when I was doing stand up comedy and improvisational comedy when my performance turned into something else. Two things happened … I started saying exactly what I wanted, and the audience disappeared. I could care less what they thought.

Sondheim says that “Anyone Can Whistle” failed because he and Arthur Laurents were … I paraphrase using a criticism that I often heard in my days as an emerging artist — “too smart for the room”.

Sondheim doesn’t say what I will add here. Sondheim and Laurents were too smart for the room at the Majestic Theater in New York in 1964, but were welcome guests in many other rooms transcending time and space. Making or viewing art is an eternal affair. Art makes the idea of community an infinite conception. Art helps us be what we are, not what some people want us to be. And what we are is also the heart’s desire of some other people. The artist has such an exalted and pure experience with his or her audience compared to the crummy salesmanship required of mere entertainers. An artist is naturally entertaining. A professional entertainer has to calculate and persuade. It must be exhausting.

I’m going to include here videos of two of my favorite songs, which happen to be from “Anyone Can Whistle”. The first is the title number, which Sondheim says hurts him to think about, because people think the song is autobiographical, and use it to stereotype him as a “repressed intellectual.” That gets it all wrong. There is nothing repressed about the character who sings this song, or the man who wrote it.

The artist is a supremely honest person. He or she forgoes what is near for what is far. An artist isn’t lonely, just filled with longing for the arrival of his or her partners who will allow him or her to breathe … breathe … breathe … to be true and free … love is the only acceptable state between people … everything else isn’t worth it. This song is sung and written by a person awaiting the arrival of the other who will see them, recognize them, accept them … the other in whose presence they can fully be themselves. And vice versa. Until that person arrives, an artist is a secret, holding “All of Me — a related song) within his or her heart, waiting to radiate an entire life into the world …

Anyone Can Whistle

“Everybody Says Don’t” is a great song written by Sondheim at the moment of his sudden and total commitment to the transgression of being an artist … the resolution to follow the dictates of your soul instead of society or fear or desire … and the girding of the spirit for the blowback you will surely receive … the courage to look the fool … the embrace of the dark days before the certain dawns … the understanding that miracles are co-creations of that which is believed in and the one who believes. I don’t need this song anymore, but it was a life preserver when I did.

Everybody Says Don’t

I’ll end this segment with Sondheim’s words. A critic once told me that what I thought of my work wasn’t important; what matters is what other people think. My critic was a truly dumb person, who not only had a miserable and even tragic view of life … but also death, he was dying and his friends were playacting a fantasy of a worldly success that he never achieved. Yes, a tragic death and life, the man had never lived at all, and his last thoughts would be lies. Deep down he knew that he had never made it in the eyes of his masters, and he also believed that his real impulses — the ones initiated in his soul, not by the demands of commerce, were worthless and meaningless daydreams. I don’t know if this man was an artist in his essential nature, I don’t think so. I don’t think he ever became anything. But his understanding of life, the path of people pleasing and whoring for applause is a sad and pathetic existence for any person, artist or not.

Here are the words of a healthy and successful artist — successful in the truest sense — and person, with a sense of himself and a strong connection to his authentic impulses, Stephen Sondheim. Sondheim later wrote “Being Alive” for his show “Company. He knew a lot about the topic.


“Anyone Can Whistle’ was my first commercial failure, and after reading the mostly dreadful notices, I expected to be devastated. Instead, I felt only disappointment, disappointment that the show would close immediately and therefore more people who might enjoy it would not have the chance to see it. I was buoyed by the realization that I loved writing it and that I was happy with the result … It was a laudable attempt to present something off-center to mainstream musical theater … it didn’t work.”


Bravo, Stephen … I am with you with these wonderful comments until the end. You thought that you making a laudable attempt to reform the mainstream musical theater, but you were doing something much more important … you were discovering Sondheim. You wrote something for more people, and other people, than just the clique that makes … or made … “mainstream musical theater”. And it certainly did “work”. You loved “Anyone Can Whistle” and so did, and will, many other people across the continents and the ages. You made a real thing. You can’t do better than that.

Next up — 6. Do I Hear a Waltz? (1964)

Copyright 2021 Richard Thomas

12/2/21: Reading Sondheim — A Consideration of an Artist that I Have Admired — Why? Part IX — #poetry

6. Do I Hear a Waltz? (1964); 7. Company (1970)

Sondheim wrote only the lyrics for “Waltz”. His motivation was money and honoring a promise to his now dead mentor, Oscar Hammerstein II, by collaborating with Hammerstein’s iconic partner, Richard Rodgers.

Sondheim had two commercial failures in 1964. “Anyone Can Whistle” was a labor of love. “Do I Hear a Waltz” was all business and duty. The experience of both shows taught Sondheim “that the only reason to write a show is for love — just not too much of it.” I would eliminate that last qualifying phrase for reasons that I have already described.

Sondheim speaks in this chapter about the necessity of caring about what you are doing. I emphatically agree with that simple admonition, easy to understand and sometimes, for some people, hard to do. I never write about anything, or do anything that is not important to me. As I’ve mentioned, I’m lucky. I get sick if I betray my life’s varied and detailed meaning. (This doesn’t mean that I won’t do mundane things or the necessary attentions to well, necessity, which provides the infrastructure for my work and meaning. But I can never forget the cause. I did nothing to develop this quality, and at times it hurts so badly that it doesn’t seem a blessing, but that is exactly what it is.) Sondheim is hard on Rodgers’ first lyricist-partner Lorenz Hart for not caring more about his work. It’s a case of projection. Art is never made in the act of pleasing one’s parents (including surrogates like Hammerstein) or attempting to please the boss (including the ticket buying public in the wake of a flop). It is good that Sondheim sold out once, so that he could know exactly what selling out is. I think every artist should do so. Because here’s the deal with selling out — its promised rewards and advantages never arrive as advertised. It’s good to know that. Art is more humble than hack work — the hacks get billboards and floats in parades and big cold huge windowed penthouses in buildings that sway back and forth in the sky. Art doesn’t get glory. Art is glory itself … glorious. The soul’s gifts are always better than those of the wallet and social status.

That being said … listen how great Sondheim (with Rodgers) when he’s not trying.

7. Company (1970)

Sondheim says that he was committed to experiment in the musical theater. I am just committed to doing what I want to do next. I don’t try to fit in, I just go where I fit. I often am seen as a disruptor because where I am going usually requests of (or orders) me to break the rules of where I am. None of my choices are initially conscious. I often learn the essence of a situation by offending it. Sondheim is more conservative than I am — or at least he tells himself that he is. He wants to belong to something and hold a position within it. I want my inner world to be congruent with my outer world. Sondheim thinks that he is a reformer, and I know that I am a wanderer.

Sondheim then contradicts himself in a great way. “I had no idea “Company” would be so unsettling to public and critics alike, but then I have been similarly naive about almost every musical that I have ever been connected with … I’ve been stunned by the polarized reactions of fervent admiration and ferocious rejection ..” This quote describes my experience to a “T”. I find it very reassuring. If this the range of response one receives as an artist, you must be doing something right. There is something sweet about many artists, me and Sondheim included. We think everybody can see the changes that we see. They can’t. The ones who can see it, love us. The ones who can’t want to burn us at the stake. Was always thus.

So Sondheim wanders too. The fantasy of the abstraction “musical theater” is a comfort to audiences and perhaps Sondheim himself, but in actuality he is just like me. Following his artistic impulses, immodestly named “inspirations” across a blank canvas world. That blankness fills itself not only with Sondheim’s initiations but also the responses of the rest of creation. Unplanned explosions and symphonies result, from artist and audience … call and response. Something happens that is authored by no one and everyone — even the murderers waiting for their chance to leave the shadows and get us. “Magical, mystical, miracle” … indeed.

“Company” has much that interests me. It is indifferent to plot. It is concerned with the psychological and existential transformations of the characters, particular the protagonist, Bobby — those spiritual and psychic changes are where the action is … the songs are observations and personal essays about marriage and New York City … memories, dreams and reflections.

As audience, I look for and long for these breakings of the molds … I am always looking for what is personal and different. I prefer the idiosyncratic to the predictable.

As an artist, I strip away even more … the crafts … the songs, the characterizations … the proscenium itself. Just me and you talking. There is so much to talk about, there isn’t time or energy to put on a show.

Sondheim took a cruise to travel to Bavaria during the creation of “Company”. He ‘indulged” himself. It was 1970, and much of the world that he had loved when he was growing up, including cruises and musicals, were disappearing. This honoring of one’s need for eccentric pleasures is an underrated element in an artist’s creative process.

I wonder why Sondheim had a six year break from writing shows after his two commercial setbacks in 1964, “Waltz” and “Whistle”. Mike Nichols had a similar break from making movies after the indifferent response to “Catch 22” and the first really bad reviews and commercial returns of his career with “The Fortune”. I was gone for much longer in my life as an artist. The conventional interpretation of these pauses in productivity by an artist is that his or her creativity is blocked, or that he or she is licking wounds after a defeat, or that hubris led to overreach, confidence was lost, and perspective and courage had to be rebuilt.

I think the reason for the extended breaks may be simpler and less negative than the common “wisdom”. The making of art is the last phase of the creative process. The first phase is the transformation of the human soul. The artist changes, and so does the world around the artist. These changes have to be processed — made conscious and addressed on a personal level, before the new learning and realization becomes the raw material for art to be shared and communicated with other people. Making art is a shamanic occupation. The artist takes on all of the illness and virtue of the larger community and leads first him or her self, and then everyone else, to new understanding and wholeness.

I haven’t read a word about it, but I believe that from 1964 to 1970, Sondheim was wondering about the viability of the musical theater, all of the revolutionary political and social and cultural changes around him, his own future — both in practical and professional ways, and in consideration of the nature of his own soul — who he was, what he was going to do. Oscar Hammerstein taught him about a world that no longer existed. He saw that face to face when he worked with Richard Rodgers at a time when Rodgers was more a relic of the past, than a viable creative force. And Sondheim’s own vision of a new musical theater was not accepted by critics or audiences. It was a lot to process.

“Company” is an act of courage, even more courageous than the usual brave act of any artist putting their work out for the world to see at any time. It always takes more balls to return. The first time through you are motivated by the pursuit of the sweet things. You are innocent of the bitter. And bitterness can overtake you for awhile. So, the second time through you are aware of the bitter and the sweet. And you actually acquire a taste for the bitter to accompany your innocent sweet tooth.. You see that bitterness is useful, and appropriate when applied correctly and in the right proportions, and that it heightens the flavor of the sweet parts too. In 1964, Sondheim discovered mature Sondheim. In 1970, Sondheim committed to being mature Sondheim. He decided, consciously or unconsciously, that he was going to take who he was, and the tools that he acquired in his past, and create the theater that he wanted to see. He basically didn’t look back. He may have had one pause later after “Merrily We Roll Along” in the 1980s, we’ll see if we get there … and we’ll see if he stopped making new things when he was much older near the end. I don’t identify with that fullness in some artists … they have said all that they were made to say, and pretty much call it a day and curate their past works and if popular go on decades long farewell tours accepting honors, tributes and accolades. My life rhythm is quite different. I soared early and then had an extended period of process, and now I am seven or eight years into an extended period of the delivery of one huge baby, the result of a twenty plus year gestation period …

I love the idea of “Company” … no plot … all character … songs that are personal essays about marriage and New York … now just subtract the characters and the music and the big production and you have what I do …

As I read Sondheim’s notes that he weaves in with the presentation of the lyrics of every song of every show, I smile at the effortless detail of his memory … every little step in the writing process, the actors who originally sang the numbers, the interactions, and sometimes work, with his collaborators. He reinvents the very idea of memory for me.

James Joyce said, “History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake”. Joyce was a genius and a madman. I took his view of memory. Memory was pain to be processed in order to salvage the present.

Alan Jay Lerner wrote, “Ah yes, I remember it well”, a comic line that said that love had nothing to do with memory … love was a feeling, and the lack of remembrance did not indicate an absence of love.

People like Sondheim, and the amazing William Shatner, may have come up with a home remedy for some of the milder memory loss in the aging. (Art and love are my reasons for living, but they are not substitutes for neurological science. I’m not doing brain surgery here! Of course people lose their memories and minds because of injury and disease — but otherwise healthy people might take a hint from these nonagenarians who are so sharp and snappy and aware. You don’t have to be genius or big talent to stay engaged. Of course, I’m both of those things so I stoop to help you. LOL. I’m just kidding, but I mean it too. Haha — I’m serious!) Sondheim is an artist, and Shatner is a salesman with artistic tendencies, but both men resolved to be happy and doubled down on the wisdom of “A Chorus Line” — “What I Did For Love”. Joyce was exiled from life, and occasionally returned and relived the pain. Lerner drifted a few inches over life, like Forest Gump’s feather in the breeze. Sondheim, the other genius in these words, and Shatner, the genial and charming smoothie had “good times and bad times and sometimes just pretzels and beer” and they remembered every minute of it. Happily. When you love even your struggles get happy. Tears of sadness and tears of joy become indistinguishable. Everything has a purpose and a payoff. The worst things and the best things become equally wonderful. There is something profound about the ethos of the musical. My wife is a great cook. Sometimes she will say something like, “Do you remember that produce market where they had that great spinach?” Well … no. But I love my wife. And I’m starting to remember such things. Love, like fear, makes you hypersensitive to everything. And everything stays with you. Every past moment of your life resides within you like a vast library, and you can pull up articles and volumes that can serve you in the present moment — if you love. My mother had dementia for the last several years of her life, but the people that she loved and the meals that she cooked and outfits that she wore and jobs that she had done, never left her.

Sondheim claimed that he knew nothing about marriage when he wrote the songs for “Company’, a show about marriage. So he talked to his married friend, Mary Rodgers and he used her experience. But Sondheim knew something. He knew about committed love. And in his life that committed love is life itself.

Here’s “Being Alive” from “Company”

Sondheim remembers every choice not taken and every decision made without regret. It was a brilliant way to create a life with such depth and buoyancy.

Next up — 8. Follies (1971)

Copyright 2021 Richard Thomas

12/2/21: Reading Sondheim — A Consideration of an Artist that I Have Admired — Why? Part X — #poetry

8. Follies (1971)

By 1971, and “Follies”, pure Sondheim was in full stride. Ever the artist, he was concerned with eternity and time. He turned nostalgia on its head in both the score, which was an homage to the great musical comedy composers and lyricists between the two World Wars of the last century, and in the characters, who were aging Broadway performers attending a reunion and flashing back to meaningful moments in their past. The songs were from what the characters perceived as a golden age. The characters themselves were approaching their golden years.

Sondheim has the perfect attitude for an artist, one which I share. He has a real reverence for the quality that preceded him, and a revolutionary spirit that knows that the essence of greatness must be expressed in different ways as time goes by. Sondheim unconsciously hosted an overdue memorial service for the dearly departed Broadway musical theater. Nothing remained the same after World War II, or “Do I Hear a Waltz?” for that matter … but in paradoxical counterpoint, the essence of things never changes.

“I’m Still Here” from “Follies” is an anthem to the living and dying that we do before our very eyes. The “rage against the dying of the light” … and … the presence of music, any music — good music here … reflects the eternal aspect of all existence. “Ol’ Man River, he just keeps rollin’ along … “

I’m including the next two songs from “Follies” just because I like them so much. I sang “The God-Why-Don’t-You-Love-Me-Blues” to crack up my roommates suffering the second year of coeducation at Notre Dame when outnumbered the women on campus by about eight to one. I listened to “Losing My Mind” over and over again on the original cast album after a particularly hard breakup. Sondheim accompanied some of my finest feelings — smart laughs and vulnerable human longing.

“The God-Why-Don’t-You-Love-Me-Blues”

“Losing My Mind”

Sondheim goes into great detail as to how he technically crafted all of his songs, and I recommend the books to any readers who have a greater interest than mine in those details. One thing that stands out to me is that every show that Sondheim wrote was a new thing. He always began at square one. He pulled on many resources starting with his own humanity, and pulling on his own elite training and vast knowledge. But he never rested on those laurels. He always pushed something more from his person, his knowledge and his skill, and became larger in each area. This is the thrill and the pleasure of being an artist. You are never stuck. You are always growing — becoming deeper, smarter and happier. Art is a good life, heightened and shared with other people.

This simple quote from Sondheim shows so much about who he was, and says so much about the nature of art:

“I saw no reason not to try new things.”

Next up — 9. A Little Night Music (1973)

Copyright 2021 Richard Thomas

12/4/21: Reading Sondheim — A Consideration of an Artist that I Have Admired — Why? Part XI — #poetry

9. A Little Night Music (1973); 10. The Frogs (1974, revised in 2004)

I am not much interested in “A Little Night Music”. This has nothing to do with its general worthiness. It simply doesn’t resonate me. Sondheim, and director Prince and writer Wheeler, addressed technical considerations that challenged them, and created a show that was not as adventurous as “Company” or “Follies” but was beautifully made. Since my focus here is to reflect upon why I admire Sondheim, I can report that the fine “A Little Night Music” is not one of the reasons.

10. The Frogs (1974, revised in 2004)

Sondheim describes “The Frogs” as “one of the few deeply unpleasant professional experiences” that he has had. He details amateurism, condescension, insult, ignorance and unworthy ambition in one of his collaborators and how that ruined everything. I recommend this chapter to everyone. I admire Sondheim here because he has suffered toxic misguided perversions of collaboration just like me, and lived to tell the tale.

I have written extensively about these experiences, as Sondheim has here — making silk purses out of sow’s ears, lemons into lemonade. My similar emotional experiences and it makes me feel closer to him.

12/4/21: Reading Sondheim — A Consideration of an Artist that I Have Admired — Why? Part XII — #poetry

11. Pacific Overtures (1976)

Sondheim uses this chapter to talk some more about his philosophy of writing lyrics.

He has three prescriptions (to review):

  1. Less is More
  2. Content Dictates Form
  3. The Devil is in the Details

I’m not a lyricist, so I am not interested in his rules for writing words to be accompanied by music. I am a writer, so I am interested that he thinks about an overall approach to his craft. I do too, even if I don’t always care to admit it.

Sondheim is unfailingly intelligent and fair in these volumes, so he makes certain that he makes a distinction between writing lyrics and other forms. He confirms one of my notions about writing in those other forms. The demand that “less is more” is vastly overrated (Sondheim says it is essential for writing lyrics.)


“Novelists, essayists and journalists have room to indulge themselves (in expressive and expansive writing) but lyric writers do not; lyrics are an unforgivably compact form.”

12/7/21: Reading Sondheim — A Consideration of an Artist that I Have Admired — Why? Part XIII — #poetry

12. Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Sweeney Todd is about a wrongfully accused and abused man, who is frustrated in his attempt at revenge against the judge who harmed him, and thus turns his rage upon the entire world.

As I’ve already discussed, both Sondheim and I were deeply hurt in our creative process, as all artists are from time to time. I think Sondheim was attacked and damaged far less than I have been. I think he was ironically lucky that his mother hated him, and wished that he was never born. That great wound made him want to be with people who make him feel respected and loved — and generally good. That’s a smart way to live. I’ve been thinking about the phrase “letting go” for the past couple days. I believe that I have engaged in a long protracted process of letting go over the last few years, and I am ready to close the file. I think coming to a final resolution in this area is necessary for progress in my art, and in my career and life as an artist.

I am fixated on a phrase from the I Ching. The superior man (only men were alive in ancient China apparently) conducts his life within the limitations of “loyalty and disinterestedness”. I have heard this same advice from less exalted sources. My mother told my niece, her granddaughter, when my niece was a little girl, “Don’t play with the mean ones who make you feel bad.” That was a wonderful piece of advice. When I was an outpatient after my psychotic break (over 30 years ago), a therapist advised me after I complained about how people had hurt me, “Just walk away.” Those words have animated my life for over 30 years.

I am less taken with the homely admonition to “forgive and forget”. I think forgiveness is an egoistic attitude. Who I am to forgive anyone for the way that they are? Forgiveness requires a more omniscient perspective than what I am capable of … it belongs to God or whatever words you use to point to that force that defies defintion. And I don’t want to forget about anything. I need all those experiences in order to learn things and write.

I am not much for seeking conciliation or peace either. If it happens, fine. But first off … some of the people that hurt me are dead. So no hatchets can be buried with them. Secondly, some of them are quite ignorant and unpleasant, and the last thing that I would want is a conversation or any other contact with them.

For me, understanding is the best tool of letting go. I never bought when people said, “Why do you care? Put it out of your mind.” They would say that if I had a physical wound. Mental wounds, damage done to the heart and soul, have to be tended, cleaned and dressed, and given time to heal too. I stumbled on how to understand. When I was hurt in a very destructive and personal way by some improvisors that I knew, I expressed my hurt publicly. This was a much healthier thing to do than to pretend it didn’t bother me when it hurt me deeply. Once I did that, I thought … oh fuck it … I can just say what I think about these people and their work generally, beyond how they offended me. I was very critical. Strangely this writing about their horrible classes and shows and community, helped me understand why they did what they did to me. There were many reasons, and I discussed them fully. They were insensitive, and crude and mean. But the primary reason that they mistreated was because they were stupid — deeply stupid. Their life choices inspire nothing like envy in any person of intelligence who makes the mistake of giving them attention.

And now I’m free of them. I never tell them off in my mind anymore. I want nothing to do with them — just as I wouldn’t want to go out to dinner with the ignorant checker in the super market, or join a QAnon social media chat group. What hurt me was not what they said and communicated to me in other ways. I don’t listen to what other people think of me, unless they love me and they are intelligent. What bothered me was that they said it — that I had to suffer such indignity and be humiliated and lied about in such a way.

But as my therapist told me long ago — “walk away”. I walk away and now there is room for something new.

Sondheim had one bad connection that he was naive to when he wrote these two volumes and may have died naive to for all I know. The name that comes up in connection to two toxic experiences that Sondheim had was Burt Shrevelove. Burt Shrevelove fought with Sondheim when they collaborated on “A Funny Thing Happened of the Way to the Forum”, and he introduced Sondheim to Robert Brustein and the Yale Repertory Theater, where Sondheim had the worst experience of his professional life. This is a delicate topic, because certainly disagreements sometimes happen between people who love one another and are quite good for each other. But how to identify the misbegotten and counterproductive match?

Discernment? … Well, I wish I had a formula. I think it is probably more of an intuitive thing than a rational one. My mother may have had the wisdom here. “Go with the ones who make you feel good.”

“Sweeney Todd” is about a man who doesn’t let go. Sondheim was drawn to this material, so at the very least on some unconscious level it was of interest to him, and he was surely more consciously aware of these concerns than that.

The other thing about “Sweeney Todd” that intersects with me is that Sondheim’s score was inspired by his love of movies, and music from the movies (charmingly excluding all movie musicals, save “The Wizard of Oz” Sondheim, ever the intellectual, wanted to write a film musical score in the venue and vernacular of the musical theater.) I share his love of movies. In past chapters, I placed my writing about common themes that I share with Sondheim beneath a brief discussion of our similar interests. But I have just written too much about the movies to include it here. So I suggest you just go the home page of my blog at and scroll down and pick out the pieces about the movies that interest you.

I completely and emphatically agree with Sondheim that “content dictates form”. My poetry, analysis, comedy … whatever colors my writing … is propelled by what I have to say, not how I feel like saying it. And I happily look at past writing when its style is a mishmash of tones, because most human moments … and that is what I am rendering here … have many layers, elements, complexities. This is the reason that I am resistant to the entire concept of genre. If you box yourself in to being comic or tragic, your writing will necessarily be inauthentic and incomplete.

And since content is transformational, so is form.

I believe that if you concern yourself solely with content, form takes care of itself.

I have equal emphatic agreement for Sondheim’s “rule” (I don’t like that word, but that’s probably just me), “God (and the Devil) is in the details.” In amplifying this point, Sondheim says something truly profound about choices in writing and life, “The point is that knowing exactly what you want can narrow your search, it can also make a satisfactory destination more difficult to find.”

Don’t I know it! The desire for excellence develops patience, and integrity and discernment in one’s work, one’s self, one’s colleagues, one’s friends, spouses, lovers … every relationship with persons, places, things, feelings and ideas that one may have. Oddly, the details also allow me to let go. How can I maintain hurt feelings related to others and other things because they are not excellent? What once felt like injury now feels more like my rejection of them, and not the other way around. So many of my past wounds from long ago have healed because each wound was replaced by a pleasure, much higher in creative, intellectual and spiritual value than what felt like misery before I was redeemed.

Sondheim settles scores with unfair and unethical critics in this chapter (one panned “Sweeney Todd” without attending the play) , and I love it. “Letting go” and “not taking any shit” are not mutually exclusive. In fact, one helps the other. Sondheim reports that after these slanderous reviews, he didn’t read criticism much going forward, which strikes me as wise. He read the New York Times reviews of his shows because those columns affected his box office — that was business. He had a fiduciary responsibility to know what the Times said. Somebody has to earn the right to talk to me about my work. They must love me and they must be smart. And I still may not agree with with what they say … but it doesn’t hurt.

People listen to other people tell them that they are less than what they are every day. The “critics” want to control their victims in some way … sell them something, tell them what to do, get them out of the way. Most people unconsciously accept the psychological abuse as part of the high cost of living. An artist can’t afford to … artists speak for God. The world doesn’t respect us that much. We have to require such respect, given the sacred nature of what we do. We have to struggle to cut through the manipulative and mean-spirited noise. That’s part of it … a big part. We make the invisible visible. That deserves some honor. Great Presidents like Harry Truman (maybe), or President Bartlett on “The West Wing” (it’s easier for fictional characters) demanded respect for the office of the Presidency, not for themselves. The office was an incarnation of democracy. I feel the same way about being an artist. My office (the Artist is In) is about truth, beauty and transcendent existence. I can’t be effective if I let myself be treated like a bum.

Next up — 13. Merrily We Roll Along (1981, revised in 1985)

Copyright 2021 Richard Thomas

12/8/21: Reading Sondheim — A Consideration of an Artist that I Have Admired — Why? Part XIV — #poetry

13. Merrily We Roll Along (1981, revised in 1985)

“But then I met James Lapine.” That is the tantalizing last sentence of the last chapter, “Merrily We Roll Along” of Volume One, “Finishing the Hat”. For all of Volume One, I have identified with Sondheim. His journey as an artist mirrored my own. But in Volume Two, I believe that I will be reading about my future instead of my past.

“Merrily We Roll Along” is a remake of a George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart comedy from the 1930s that examined the deleterious personal and spiritual effects of capitalist greed.

No word causes more anxiety, an uproar in the pit of my stomach, more than “success”. Sondheim has two passages in the chapter that roil my gut in a necessary and precise way.

In the first, Sondheim reflects upon why the reaction to “Merrily We Roll Along” from the critics and the theater “community” (a mythic misnomer which was ascribed to vicious Hunger Game -esque competition) was so “merciless” and “virulent”. He lays out the situation succinctly as only the greatest “less is more” lyricist of all time could do:

“Part of the reason for the virulent over-reaction, I suspect, was that at this time Hal and I were resented as having become successful despite our maverick ventures. We had done eccentric shows and yet were not living in garrets. In the commercial theater, this was not only an anomaly, it was an irritation. If we had been teaching or working at odd jobs to stave off starvation, or if we’d been getting rich sticking to formulaic musicals and thus easy targets for sniggering condescension, it might have been acceptable. But to have done shows like Follies, Pacific Overtures and Sweeney Todd and still be living well was not our best revenge, it was theirs.”

Cancerous preoccupation with success in a nutshell. The maverick can’t get what he wants. He doesn’t buckle to indentured servitude like the rest of us. Eccentricity should be punished. The artist should be an outcast. The teaching artist, or bartender, or waiter, can occasionally get a crumb of recognition, but is ultimately a non -threatening loser to be pitied, dismissed or humiliated. Similarly, the hack who hits all the right commercial notes can have the money, but is denied all respect or status by the people who claim that they matter. Sondheim and his partner, Hal Prince, were that rarity. They achieved as artists, and they did well financially. Instead of inspiring others to do the same, those others lay in wait, ready to pounce on any misstep or artistic innovation that could be falsely characterized as a misstep.

Fuck success. It is a tyranny. The maverick is reviled because he does what he wants. The artist without means is seen as a weakling and a fool. Doing something just for the money is seen as failure — selling out. And the circular firing squad attacks everyone else in the circle … all feeling unfulfilled, all needing to feel superior to the others for having solved one part of a demonic equation.

Sondheim took six or seven years off after “Do I Hear a Waltz?” He walked away from the New York critics and theater “community” again after “Merrily We Roll Along”. He left first because he wasn’t doing what he loved. He walked away the second time because his antagonists wanted to deter him from doing what he loved.

Amidst all of the attacks and viciousness, Sondheim found himself, something an artist does again and again. Making “Merrily We Roll Along” was “the most fun that I ever had on a single show. It was what I had always expected the theater to be like.” I so know how he felt. In the same moment he felt an agony and an ecstasy. The agony was his split from everyone whose approval ever meant anything to him. The ecstasy was a conscious commitment to what he was committed to all along — making art from the deepest initiations of his soul.

This initiation further into the life of art (these initiations never seem to end) is well defined by a line from Joseph Campbell. The artist “dies to the world, and comes to birth from within.” Death is scary and painful and birth is shocking and joyful, and the artist experiences all of these emotions as he emerges knowingly into his own voice.

And here is the second passage that I promised, the cliff hanger with which Sondheim ends “Finishing the Hat” and teases his Second Act, “Look I Made a Hat”:

” … when I agreed to write “Do I Hear a Waltz?” I took the job out of expedience and greed … it taught me a lesson — I never wrote anything that wasn’t for love. “Merrily We Roll Along” … was a show I adored, and a deep disappointment in its first outing, and it marked an important period in my professional life. But then I met James Lapine.”

In the last segment that focused on “Sweeney Todd”, I wrote about “letting go”. I wrote from the perspective of getting past wounds and injuries caused by toxic and abusive relationships. But this chapter is about a “letting go” of an even deeper variety. Sondheim left the theater, and became fully independent . He now did Sondheim. He belonged to no group. Now he could have a greater reach, a potential for connection that extended across the universe and beyond time. The New York musical theater “world” was too parochial for Sondheim. He had left them and they knew it before he did. His labor of love betrayed their fearful enslavement to greed and envy. They grudgingly accepted him when he achieved on their terms, but when he reached for something that they had despaired wasn’t possible, they savaged him.

It’s a big TEST for an artist. The artist has to take all the incoming criticism and attempts at humiliation and stand tough against all that would bring him low. Love rules the day … not success … success masquerades as this great thing, the reason for being … and it is actually an ugly and awful thing … success steals men and women’s souls … the successful never get what Sondheim, or I get … one of us celebrated, the other obscure … that doesn’t matter … success is a synonym for doubt … success says you don’t know what is best for you, other authorities will tell you what to do and how to do it.

Joseph Campbell wrote of an artist, “he knew and knew”.

I reject success. I don’t need other people to tell me what makes me happy, or whether my work is worthwhile.

Creation is an abundant enterprise. Love is energy, and that energy naturally gets what it needs … materially, spiritually, emotionally … audiences, friends, collaborators … you don’t have to fight for it. Kaufman and Hart wrote the original “Merrily We Roll Along” in the middle of the depression as a commentary against capitalism.

Fuck capitalism. It is not how life happens. Nothing important ever happened through competition. Everything worthwhile was made by love. Sondheim’s “Merrily We Roll Along” premiered in 1981, at the dawn of the Age of Reagan. The show intuitively captured the zeitgeist of what was to come. In the show an idealist becomes a greedy capitalist materialist and suffers a degraded existence. Of course, the group didn’t want to hear that. Sondheim didn’t fully realize what he was saying. “Merrily” was a prophetic show, and soulfulness wasn’t what the crowd was buying. Oliver Stone’s “Wall Street” came out several years later, and then some of those same people were ready to listen after they witnessed Reaganism’s destruction of so many lives.

It’s funny how what looks success at one moment, looks a lot different later on. Just more of an indication that the entire concept is bullshit.

I love what I do, I have enough money, I take care of my self, I love my wife and brother, I have some good friends, I have readers that I really appreciate, and I have dreams for the expansion of what I do, reaching more people, being recognized by people who enjoy it … and I am supposed to bow to you? I am supposed to apologize and beg your indulgence and say I’ll try harder? Fuck you. Fuck success.

I don’t even want to deal with you …

But you are only there because a little par of me hasn’t died yet … a little part that wonders if you aren’t right … that your success bullshit is important …

You won’t go away, so I will …

I just want the love … I don’t want the success static …

I may be almost ready to meet James Lapine.

Next up — on to Volume Two, “Look I Made a Hat”.

Copyright 2021 Richard Thomas

12/10/21: Reading Sondheim — A Consideration of an Artist that I Have Admired — Why? Part XV — #poetry

Volume Two, “Look I Made a Hat”, 1. Sunday in the Park with George (1984)

I read Volume One, “Finishing the Hat” to review my past. I read Volume Two to see my future.

We last left Stephen on the ground, bleeding, after being battered by the Commercial Broadway Barbarians.

I will review my corresponding experience of violent attack in a collage of the misery that ended in the interregnum between the past and the future.

Just surf over these fragments. Pursue an emotional affect instead of a rational narrative:

Watching “Moneyball” again. “The first guy through  in anything gets bloodied. They think he threatens the game, but what he threatens is their livelihood, their way of doing things.”
Might be the answer to “why me”

Clint Eastwood and Stephen Sondheim’s biggest opportunities happened by simply running into people. Someone or something else is writing this, the processed words and the in the process of being processed life.

And I work to make changes . Lost six pounds since November 15.

What I have encountered is “Full Metal Jacket” cruelty —- merciless hazing, constant slander campaigns, unfair dismissals , being treated with unjustified contempt. Really bad stuff.

My life got better when I got angry and fought back and demanded change. The change I demanded in myself was self-protection through the habit of associating with better people. I saw who Trump was clearly. Because I knew him personally. I knew the corruption and the meanness and the emotional violence.

I am still at a loss as to why I went through this ugliness several times in different sectors of life (“Moneyball”?), but I’ve concluded that God wanted me to write about it. It’s one of my themes and it’s the toughest one to write. I keep going back over to get it right.

I’m happy. I am not trapped in the old pain anymore. This is great progress for me.

I like where I am. I’m open to love. I got that back in the last ten years. The bullying has stopped. I’m smart about avoiding it and on a smoother path. I have my dignity. No flailing rages, no silent suffering, no kidding myself about the truth of what some people are. I have proud about what happened.

I don’t hate the people who attacked me. I’m kind of detached like a prosecutor.

I think there has to be an accounting. This nihilistic destruction and narcissistic ego is destroying us. What happened to me comes from the same place as school shootings, anti-vaxxing, the opioid epidemic, and the assault on democracy. It happens in people’s micro-lives as surely as it devastates the macro-headlines.

I’m very happy. They didn’t knock me down … on the contrary.

But the legal, improv and academic world would have been better off if they had honored what I had to give them instead of grabbing pitchforks and torches and pursuing me through the village.

I hope I’m not conveying self pity because I have none. But this is what is true.

I went into every situation with friendliness and good intention. I tolerated so much and tried to make it work. And they still attacked me.

Joseph Campbell used Jesus as an example and said “the difference between the artist and the mystic is that the mystic doesn’t have a craft”. That is probably what I learned. I let them see me in my authenticity and they kill that. Paul Sills smiled when he saw the Jesus in people. That’s what Mike Nichols saw as rare. I am that kind of rare.

As an artist I want the most slender craft. I want to confront them. We have to confront them.

A friend is concerned about the frankness in the writing. He sees danger in it . The dropping of my guard.

But I see something very empowering. Yes, I open myself for a punch; but I get one in myself. Mostly I punch and my opponent blessedly disappears.

If someone attacked me I stand up to them. Equality.

I stand undeterred . I go on. Dignity.

I refuse to buckle to their claims of illegitimate power. Freedom.

I claim no material damages. I don’t need them. Self-reliance.

I tell others who like what I represent … “see what they are denying you”. Liberation of others.

My life was in a deep hole when I was 49. I was flat on my ass. The lowest point of my life. It got better when I got mad. Passing the bar exam on the first try 25 years after my law school graduation was the most empowering thing that I ever did. 

I’ve been really successful. Since 50, a lawyer, trial lawyer, professor and writer. And my success came from two things —- I assess my progress and if someone said who the fuck are you to be here —- which happened a lot —- I answered fuck you.

You may wonderfully think that I am great but some people may not see it because they mistakenly think that I am too brusque and outspoken .. that I get sidetracked into conflicts that defeat the great project. You are right and they are wrong.

I’ve been John Lewis on the Edmund Pettus bridge. They weren’t going to give me equality. I had to just consciously act with equality in order to assert the truth.

Old peers from college teaching say, “You’re a radical”. It’s a compliment. They respected that I taught with a committed purity, and that I honored the theoretical idea of faculty in reality. Faculty runs schools — according to mission statements at least — not administrators. I asserted my academic freedom, and acted insulted at inappropriate indignities.

Battle stations.

Old peers from the law said, “I should have been more like you and challenged authority”. They acknowledged that a lawyer can’t do his job with the mentality of an employee.

And after all of the shade I cast on Second City and IO …

“You are a wonderful human being.”

“The same thing happened to me.”

Even one of my tormentors acknowledged that both iO and Second City were garbage fires of art and education. 

The I Ching discusses the difference between real leadership and material power. I had tremendous influence where I went.

Of course I won’t be recognized by the establishment but I am recognized by people.

Lights down.

Lights up:

And now Sondheim, the soothsayer reads my future, telling me of my fortune.


“Unexpected significant moments, moments which happen entirely by chance, keep life surprising and sometimes change its direction permanently — not events, mere moments.”

Here I stand. Healed and open. My money worries were eliminated with a bolt out of the blue. The inspirations for my writing comes from someplace outside of my head. My best friends reach out to me across states and decades. My career as an artist will go to the next level by dint of my hard work making art, not because of any hard work making a career.

Two things all great artists have in common. They don’t care if they are disliked, and they are completely receptive to nature’s messages and gifts. Nature nurtures itself. Art is the frontier of nature made from the expressions and emanations of the hearts and souls of its most sentient beings.

James Lapine, half of the partnership that saved and furthered Sondheim’s creative life, met Sondheim by chance. Surprise! Here’s another surprise. Lapine was influenced by Jungian Psychology.. So was I. Sondheim knew and loved Mike Nichols. So did I. Is it my destiny to dig into the lives and work of these men? Uh … yeah! No shit Sherlock.

Maybe I’ll take that as a pen name — “No Shit Sherlock”.

Maybe not.

More common ground between me and Sondheim …

“I’m neither aggressive or enterprising by nature”.

Sondheim had wanted to ask Lapine to write the book and direct his next musical. He did nothing about it. A few months later, Sondheim got a call from a producer asking him if he would like to meet with Lapine, who wanted to write a musical with him. “The seed had been planted”.

The I Ching again:

“You can’t lose anyone who really belongs to you”. Creation draws people, places, ideas and things together that are meant for one another.

The key is to be wide open. James Lapine, the Jung enthusiast wanted to do a play based on a piece by Nathaniel West. I loved Nathaniel West. While I had been getting taken into the back alley to have the shit kicked out of me by hordes of reactionaries, James Lapines roamed the countryside, singing about things that I like to sing about.

Sondheim was surprised that he shared so much common taste as James Lapine because he had never known anyone from “an Off-Broadway non-profit theater background”.

My home will be somewhere that I have never been. Somewhere, like the Off-Broadway non-profit theater, that encourages experimentation — where experimentation isn’t a fight.

I thought Sondheim was my doppelganger, but it may be James Lapine instead. He brought out the parts of Sondheim that I was drawn to … even the ones in the shows chronicled in Volume One. Those shows revealed Sondheim to himself and the world, but they weren’t “owned” by Sondheim, until Lapine put them to systematic work. Lapine brought precisely what Sondheim needed to complete the masterpiece of his entire body of work … intuition in conversation with the already well established structure.

I love that. My inner improvisor talks to my inner lawyer all of the time.

I was considering including videos of the songs “Finishing the Hat” and “Putting it Together” from “Sunday in the Park with George”, but I decided not to. I like both songs but they don’t feel relevant to my art at the moment. They are songs about art meeting the world, and today my art is looking forward to meeting its new life.

I’m having difficulty with this line from Sondheim:

“Having to plead for the opportunity to do what you want to do is a humiliation that occurs in higher echelons than you might expect.”

I am allergic to that type of humiliation. I want to believe that my opportunities will find me, in the same manner that James Lapine found Stephen Sondheim. I’ve pounded pavement and gave elevator speeches in my past life, and I never got squat for my trouble. Anything that I have has come from grace, not marketing.

I’m also a little put off by the premise of “Sunday in the Park with George”. The artist is so committed to his work that there is no room for the woman who loves him. She leaves because she knows the painting comes first.

I loved this show when I saw it several years ago, but the artist should just get a mate that loves him for who he is, and can live with that reality, just like everybody else. The trouble with drama is that sometimes it gets too dramatic. The idea that Seurat has to be alone as a person in order to engage in the solitude of his work strikes me as absurd. I aspire to fulfillment in every aspect of my life, thank you very much … art, love, material security, the recognition of others. It doesn’t make sense to me that one precludes the others or even one or two of the others. Life can be harmonized. My creativity got a boost when I met Paula, and a boost when I got a little money.

I love Sondheim, but when he personally takes the stage on occasions rather than artistic performances, as “The Great Man”, he seems a trifle affected, as do some of the actors who interpret his songs in his honor. “Sunday in the Park with George” didn’t strike me as affected at all when I saw it. Neither did any of his other plays.

I think Sondheim may not have had two volumes here. He had a book longer than the publisher wanted it one volume, that’s what I reckon. He seems to be stretching to say things, in the same ways that those award shows and celebrations are superfluous. His words, music and plays speak for themselves. His real commentary speaks for itself, but the publisher may be humiliating him a little by imposing upon him a format longer than necessary.

These are cautionary observations for my future. You can take the boy out of Broadway, but you can’t completely take Broadway out of the boy.

Sondheim was still easing into his future after the success of “Sunday in the Park with George”.

His last line of this chapter:

“And as I look back at it now, it reminds me of how much I wanted to write another show with James Lapine”,

Next up — 2. Into the Woods (1987)

Copyright 2021 Richard Thomas

12/11/21: Reading Sondheim — A Consideration of an Artist that I Have Admired — Why? Part XVI — #poetry

2. Into the Woods (1987)

How to make a buck?

How to make a quest musical like “The Wizard of Oz”?

Practical questions … justifiable … and bourgeois middle class man in the gray flannel suit conformist blah blah blah …

But Sondheim and Lapine can’t help it

It’s not up to them …

They are artists and that’s what they do …

Art …

Impractical art …

Art is not smart business …

Art doesn’t settle with doing it like a movie you admire …

Art doesn’t say the comfortable thing, and the first rule of dealing with the bourgeoise is make them comfortable …

So Sondheim and Lapine start fucking with their idea …

which started as a shot at getting an “annuity” with a fantasy show that would be popular when performed at schools after its Broadway run …

(They wound up with the annuity in spite of themselves)

What does it mean to not be commercial?

First you take a show about fairy tales but you don’t leave it alone …

It’s psychological and people think it is based on the writings of psychologist Bruno Bettelheim who wrote what is widely considered the seminal intellectual treatise on fairy tales and their meaning, “The Uses of Enchantment”

But wait, it gets worse …

not only are you going to do a musical about the psychological meaning of children’s stories …

but you don’t agree with Bettelheim, the only writer on the subject that a small sliver of audience would be aware of …

Bettelheim is a Freudian and you are Jungian …

So you analyze the fairy tales from Jung’s point of view …

This thing is not looking much like “The Wizard of Oz” anymore …

Then, you come up with quite a premise …

In the first act the main characters wishes are fulfilled; they get what they want … this is the first rule of popular entertainment … which is largely comprised of fairy tales … happily ever after …

But it’s not the rule of art …

and these guys are artists …

The play has a second act …

The characters deal with the consequences of what they did in order to get what they wanted

and that’s complex …

and ultimately more interesting and more satisfying than sentimental bullshit …

“Into the Woods” is a sophisticated adult show …

as sophisticated and adult as “Company” or “Follies” or “Merrily We Roll Along”

“Woods” setting isn’t woods

It’s dreams, the mind and the stories that we project personal meaning upon

It’s a dramatization of therapy employing depth psychology …

It’s also a melange of all of the ways that Sondheim and Lapine like to express themselves …

and much of what interests them as artists and people.

These guys make me smile. They get together and meet. It’s all very professional. They are making a living after all. It’s serious. And little by little it gets personal, and then they are doing what they want …

And then they are voyaging to the depths of their hearts, minds and souls …

and the collective Heart, Mind and Soul …

One of Jung’s big ideas was the collective unconscious …

and from the psychological perspective, the collective unconscious is the venue where art comes from …

So “Into the Woods” is about art, a great follow up to “Sunday in the Park with George” …

a play about where plays and other art comes from …

as well as being about ethics and human choices …

and the existential dilemma that we face that nothing is happily ever after …

and the fulfillment of an adjustment to that fact …

the true feeling of love as opposed to the cheap excitement of success …

Levels and levels and levels …

for people who like cute stories …

and for people who struggle for peace and meaning in their lives.

Soulful makes one smart. Smart serves the soul.

Sondheim was criticized as being a cold and distant and intellectual writer.

There is a kind of smart which comes from caring about people and things. When you care, you want to learn about it.

There’s another kind of smart that just can process things for the sheer mastery of the activity.

Sondheim (and Lapine) are both kinds of smart.

When someone is both kinds of smart they are a genius.

Emotional intelligence and just plain intelligence …

Sondheim is like an artist and a scientist or mathematician.

Such warm and passionate feeling paired with such breathtaking technical ability is a wonder.

Art is beautiful. Art is breathtaking. Art is the frontier of human existence.

Art is the not impossible future when everyone understands everything …

encyclopedically …

and mystically …

Next up … not sure … maybe more “Into the Woods” maybe on to the next chapter …

Here’s three wonderful songs from “Into the Woods” that should satisfy anyone who wants a sweet and dramatic fairy tale — if they don’t listen closely … and could comfort, inspire and illuminate people who wonder about their lives, and want to live them consciously …

Copyright 2021 Richard Thomas

12/12/21: Reading Sondheim — A Consideration of an Artist that I Have Admired — Why? Part XVII — #poetry

3. Assassins (1990)

This segment is a hot mess. I’m doing an incomplete inventory of my writing — (specifically about what is referred to as “politics” in the vernacular, it actually includes sub-themes like citizenship, justice, and how power operates in society), since early 2015. Sondheim wrote about political themes in “Assassins.”.

When is political writing art? “Assassins” is. I started this blog in 2014 as a place to do my writing. My art. And then in 2015, I was sidetracked by Donald Trump.’s assault on decency and democracy. I’ve written a lot of words about politics. Some of those words were educational and informative and encouraging to people who despaired for our country. They were defiant free speech, and an act of citizenship. I am happy that I wrote them. But were any of them art?

Let me spoil the suspense. The vast majority of the words were in the service of art. I don’t write op-eds (often and not that there is anything wrong with that).

The words were in art’s service, but were they expressed with an excellence that rose to level of art? I was really honest with myself in this partial review of my work. It looks better than I anticipated. Much better. I thought a lot of what of what I wrote, particularly about politics, was just opinionated blog posting. It wasn’t. Some was … but not much.

Joining Trump as distractions to the thrust of my writing, my art was teaching, marketing my professional services, comedy performances and podcasts. I was trying to be involved what was going on around me. But I kept returning to my purpose … real writing, making art.

Instead of defining art, which is another one of my themes … one that is even more obviously impossible than all of the other themes … I decided just to pick out the art writing that I’ve done thus far on this broad topic, imperfectly referred to as “politics”. It’s a lot of writing.

So one way the reader can approach this sprawling mass is to just scroll through it, and pay attention to what catches your eye. I know I am asking you to do your own editing, but you do that anyway all the time.

Maybe, I am influenced by Sondheim’s volumes. Reading his books feels like rifling through his filing cabinet. It’s amazing that this detailed and economical writer, Sondheim, is reduced to a chaotic mess when he takes the bird’s eye view to consider his life’s work. A beautiful chaotic mess, I might add.

Art needs chaos … it gives it something to do.

To add to the disarray … gremlins are attacking. Everything is hard this morning. Normally easy information technology processes that usually connect, today delay and alienate.

It’s as if the world doesn’t want me to talk about it. Fuck the world. Onward!

12/14/21: The Difference Between Me and Sondheim #poetry

The difference between me and Sondheim is that Sondheim was a professional and businessman AND an artist, but when push came to shove, he always chose art.

When I read him I am interested when he talks about his art, and when he talks about the psychology of dealing with other people.

My eyes glaze over when he talks about “the business”, “craft” and audience expectations. 

He was groomed as a Broadway pro and happened to be an artist.

I’m just an artist. This isn’t what I think. It’s what I observe about myself.

I don’t give a shit what people think of me, I care how they treat me.

I don’t feel any social duty to honor any group or societal expectations. I just want to do my thing.

I don’t care about being popular, I just want to be with people that I love and vice versa.

My career exemplar is more van Gogh than Sondheim —- minus the madness, poverty and premature death.

I want my work to be recognized by those who can. I don’t want to sell to anybody. I don’t want to adjust my work to terms and proportions that certain audiences can accept or understand. 

I want everything on my own terms.

Brando was ambivalent about acting at best, love/hate. The artist’s dissatisfaction wanted a bigger challenge, a more authentic expression. So of course, he was the greatest actor ever. He was on the frontier of acting turning it into something else.

I am past any ambivalence about improv. I hate it. The audiences and the players were anchors around my neck. I have never been happier as an artist than I am doing this writing.

My now healed hurt feelings related to the improv community is more personal psychology than anything to do with art.

I wanted to be loved for who I am. Well, I am, just not by them. 

I never felt part of them. Not really. I always felt that I was doing my independent thing. 

My trip through improv was less about getting creative experience, it was just part of my experience of how the world is.

The feeling is quite mutual with people like my former antagonist P, for example. I don’t like him or his work either. So really, our split is no big deal. Anthony Hopkins said it —- get away from people who aren’t good to you. Your hurt feelings have nothing to do with love, it’s just attachment.

Improv in general, overall has not been good to me. Look at the gift relationships like my wonderful artist friend, other good eggs, and my old mentor Paul Sills. They are much more than improvisers.

Mke Nichols, the alumnus of improvisation that I respect above all others (who also respected my work by the way) was much more than an improviser.

Brando was frustrated with just acting because there is so much more than that. He made acting something bigger than it ever was.

I did that with improv. I turned it into something else, something better.

That something is my writing.  I express so much more in my writing than I did onstage.

Not because the substance didn’t exist when I was onstage. But I had to worry about the audience and other improvisers … always dealing with their issues —- “you can’t say that”, “you can’t do it that way”. 
What a waste of time.

There is a scene in “At Eternity’s Gate” where van Gogh and Gauguin are at some meeting of artists. van Gogh is innocently out of step, Gauguin is disgusted.

They walk into the street, van Gogh is bubbling with inspirations, and Gauguin is still disgusted from the meeting. He basically says we have to get the fuck away from these people. van Gogh enthusiastically agrees without any hesitation.

Sondheim is touching in his chapter about “Passion”. He speaks of audiences mocking the unattractive female protagonist who is unappealing in many ways beyond her appearance … obsessive, hysterical — but also brilliant and passionate. They had all sorts of problems getting audiences to believe that the handsome male lead would fall in love with such a person. They kept adjusting the script.

Sondheim ruefully comments (I paraphrase) that people just want their asses kissed. They want to believe they are beautiful leading ladies and handsome leading men and their partners are preordained by a matching natural nobility, (Now I’m doing much more than paraphrasing) but the audience is really much more like the homely obsessive …

What a great story … Sondheim, and his partner Lapine, look at a stalker and make her much more noble in a true human way …

No escapes from reality … the glory of reality … the agony and the ecstasy … sacrifice and bliss … fulfillment and disappointment … love/hate …

Complexity … more difficult and more satisfying than ego and escape …

Oliver Stone and Anthony Hopkins did that with Nixon.

I want to say things like what Sondheim says, I do say them … but without the ass kissing.

And P and the other improv antagonists fade in my mind like some kids who made fun of me in grammar school … a memory that I can’t access … maybe it didn’t even happen.

Copyright 2021 Richard Thomas

12/15/21: Sondheim in Winter, Thomas in Spring #poetry

When Stephen Sondheim was near my current age, 66, he was just about done. I am just getting started. He was fulfilled. I am not.

“Passion”, in 1994, was Sondheim’s last great artistic achievement. He was 64. My great works are before me.

The rest of Sondheim’s last volume, after “Passion” is devoted to the several iterations of “Road Show”, a project which he seemed to be involved with in order to keep busy. He was deservedly indulged, and sadly patronized by younger artists who were not nearly his equal when he was in his prime. When Sondheim did “Do I Hear a Waltz?” relatively early in his career, he said the show failed because it had no reason for being except as a chance for him to please the memory of Oscar Hammerstein by working with Richard Rodgers, and for the money.

With “Road Show”, Sondheim himself played the part of Richard Rodgers. Sondheim loved playing the role of the great man of the musical theater, and, a little overwhelmed, tried to collaborate with the young and the hip, and began deferring to the new order.

As for pursuing money, by the late date of “Road Show”, Sondheim was now just going through the motions. He didn’t care anymore. He was completely done with commercial theater after he made “Passion”. His beautiful notes about that beautiful show betray an unconscious resentment against business people and audiences. Sondheim was far into the spirit world of art — or maybe even beyond art and into mysticism, and he essentially retired from show business.

So Volume Two, ends with a tortuous act of virtuosity, “Passion”, the residual and redundant business of the aborted making of “Road Show”, generous and wistful reflections about revivals and the watching of other artists’ reimagined interpretations of what once was his work, and a scrap book of miscellaneous songs and memories from many smaller projects, not normally thought of as part of the Sondheim canon.

After Volume Two was delivered to his enterprising publisher, who wanted the profits for two moderately sized books when there was naturally only one big story, Sondheim retired without admitting it (Volume Two’s last line is “Time to start another hat”. No it wasn’t, and he didn’t. )and had an apparently happy old age surrounded by the love of his husband, friends and scores of admirers.

I hope the apparent happiness was real. It is hard to be sure from afar. He certainly deserved it. Sondheim’s life and body of work were well made labors of love.

I, on the other hand, see the most productive years of my life as an artist ahead of me. I have been writing pages and pages in my head since I was a small child. I started sharing the pages in 2014. There are many more pages to set down, many more people and venues to share with.

Sondheim found his soul with his work and in the end shared it in his life. I found my soul in my life and in the end, I share it in my work.

I have an antipathy for alumni gatherings of all stripes. I don’t wax nostalgic. Memory is a more serious thing to me. I love change and the new. I don’t offer these comments to criticize old people who like to look at scrapbooks. I’m glad that they are happy. I’m just different.

Sondheim was being nice at the end of Volume Two. It just didn’t matter to him much anymore. But he cordially wanted to make the reader happy. I really knew that Sondheim gave it up when he let the director, John Doyle, rewrite his work in “Road Show” with no input from Sondheim. He would have never done that from “West Side Story” to “Passion”. I am many years away from being nice.

There is something lovely about Sondheim ceding his work to the rest of the world, like an inheritance given with great love. He wishes his heirs the best, and he doesn’t want to interfere with how they use his gift.

I guess Sondheim reminds me of my Aunt Clara, who left me a little money. Sondheim not only gave me his wonderful plays, but also his sincere books where he discussed the experience of making them. He didn’t tell me what to do with either.

I used them to reflect upon myself and my work. And some day, when I am done, all of my work will be bequeathed to anyone who cares to pay attention, to be used for whatever unknown purposes lurk in the hearts of the yet to be interested, literate, or born.

But not yet. The oddest thing … I reviewed the life and work of an artist who died recently at 91, and in the end I feel young, and like I am just getting started.

Oh the places we’ll go …

Copyright 2021 Richard Thomas

Copyright 2023 Richard Thomas

The Rick Blog Book Draft Chapter Forty-Six

The Rick Blog Book Draft Chapter Forty-Six

10/21/21: Ronald Reagan and Other Tragic Strangers to Themselves #poetry

This piece is not about politics. Power resides in poetry, not politics.

It breaks your heart.

Ronald Reagan’s mother used to read to him when he was a very little boy. He sat in her lap as she ran her finger under every word, and he figured out how to read. One of his earliest memories was sitting as a tiny tot in the living room reading the newspaper. His father walked in and thought he was cute.

“What are you reading, Ronnie?”

“The newspaper.”

Ronnie thought his father thought he was being a wiseacre.

“Oh yeah, Ronnie? Read something to me.”

Ronnie read aloud. His father was amazed, and ran out of the house and called for the neighbors to come see his genius boy.

His dad made a big fuss over Ronnie, and Ronnie loved his daddy.

Ronald Reagan’s father was an alcoholic. His mother instructed Ronnie and his brother to never blame their father for his behavior.

“Your daddy is sick, and we should be kind to him. It’s not his fault.”

Ronald Reagan went to Eureka College which was founded by abolitionists. He played on the football team. Once the team traveled through his hometown, Dixon, Illinois, on the way to an away game. The team stopped at the town hotel. The manager told Reagan and a coach that two black players couldn’t stay at the hotel.

Ronald Reagan said many decades later, “I was taught that the worst thing you could do was discriminate against anybody, and this was at a time when there was a lot of discrimination going on.” (There still is, of course, but we’ll get to that later. We are still looking at Reagan’s heart. Poetry, remember?”)

Dutch Reagan (that’s what they called him now) told the coach that he and his African-American teammates could stay at his family’s house. He naively said as a young man and again as an old President, (no lessons learned), “I told the coach just to tell the players that the hotel was full up so it doesn’t make them feel bad,” as if the men had never seen racism before, and had no idea what it was.

There was no need to call ahead. His mother welcomed the young black men warmly and with great hospitality.

Old Reagan, before his descent into Alzheimer’s disease, remembered the Depression. He sadly recalled how the government made announcements directing men to stay home and not look for jobs, because there weren’t any. He had a surprising capacity for real empathy.

Old Reagan was diplomatically asked how he could reconcile these formative memories with his cold attitudes toward the poor, and his dismissive attitudes about the hardships facing many African-Americans in the 1980s.

He didn’t really answer.

As President, Reagan would send people personal checks when they wrote him letters detailing hardships that they were going through. Those people, who he could relate to on a personal level, were his neighbors suffering during the Depression. The past lives in the present.

But the homeless, the poor and black people crying out for injustice during his administration — were distant abstractions, just like his father.

His mother taught him never to blame his father, but he did … for the lack of security — the running away from landlords, one town to the next … the inability to hold a job, and the humiliations, like laying passed out for all the neighbors to see in the snow.

Reagan never knew that he blamed his father, but he did. That seemingly minor wrinkle is the inception of our misery. His misunderstanding of himself became his misbegotten political philosophy which has ignored and harmed so many people.

Reagan was a real artist. He was a better actor than he is given credit for on the few occasions when he had good material and a decent director. His letter telling the American people that he had Alzheimer’s disease was beautiful. And he was one of three artist politicians, along with Pope John Paul II, and the Czech leader Vaclav Havel, who aided Mikhail Gorbachev in his dismantling of the Soviet Union.

Reagan had everything one needs … a vision of the grand sweep of things, and a grounded nature, that lovingly tended the little things — while meeting with Gorbachev he took care of a little boy’s goldfish in a house that he had borrowed for the occasion.

What Reagan lacked was an understanding of himself. He was ironically famous for being comfortable in his own skin, but he wasn’t even familiar with his skin. Like actors who start out with great promise, and then fade into career sustaining mediocrity … he didn’t know himself at all. He did the same thing that “worked” over and over again. When left alone and unregarded, the sensitive soul becomes hardened with a hard callous shell.

If only, Reagan knew that he was angry with his father and if only he had waded his way through it … if only he then knew that he was blaming people for being lazy when they really needed help, because he had a tendency to do that …. and if only he acknowledged how hard it is to help, but that it is something that must be done while working out all the anger and shame and guilt in the process … if only he understood that his mother’s admonition to never blame his father is not how it works … you don’t merely decide such things, you have to work on your character with great rigor, it hurts to be a good person … it is an arduous continuing task to untangle your soul from all the hurt that comes to it, if only he knew that that the enlightened life asks much more of us than being a good little Christian boy or girl … if only … then maybe American history would have been different in the last forty years … maybe Reagan would have been more like his hero, the playboy, FDR … who faced his pain of polio … admittedly a less psychologically complicated suffering than being the child of an alcoholic … and America would have been tended with the kind of love Reagan showed those goldfish.

And what is Reagan’s legacy to us today?

Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia says that he doesn’t want an “entitlement society”. How can anyone look at West Virginia, tops cut off once beautiful hills, soot filled air, people ravaged by opiates and alcohol and a pandemic exacerbated by the citizens’ ignorance, and generations of black lung disease — and not think that those people are entitled to something?

Was Joe Manchin’s father an alcoholic? What gap within him makes him so blind?

When President Reagan was 78, he strained to remember. That wasn’t his fault. His mind was failing.

President Joe Biden remembers as a healthy old man should. He loved his family and friends in Scranton. He remembers little Joey standing at the table where the men ate a big breakfast and talked about sports and politics, with his hand on his grandfather’s shoulder. Biden remembers how much he learned …. a little boy’s mind hearing all of those words … the warmth of the attention. Biden remembers his father’s struggles looking for work. He remembers his father’s shame when the family had to move because the rent money just wasn’t there.

Joe Biden knows that children need warmth and attention, that they learn when they can listen to and talk with the adults, and when there is enough money for them to go to camp in the summertime for a week, or get softball equipment. He knows that people need work for the sustenance of their body and the dignity of their souls. He knows that the air, land and water need to be clean … that sick people need to be cared for … that people suffer great sorrow and loss when a loved one dies … Biden knows that we have to take care of one another.

And he gets an argument! Over these truths that are self evident. Investment is called wasteful spending, and people having a hard time are called lazy or morally deficient in some other way.

It’s not politics. It’s poetry. Reagan never processed his rage against his father, and never made a real peace with him … not the easy kind which is simply doing what mother says … and the American people have never owned up to who we really are either. Reagan was conflict with a genial face. The America he bequeathed to us, is just conflict.

A progressive is a realist.

A conservative is in denial. “It’s a just world, and if things aren’t working out for you, it’s all your problem. How could you not do terrifically well in a world as fair and well maintained as this one?”

Conservatives participate in the injustices of the world and get rewarded, while denying that the injustices exist so that they can look themselves in the mirror.

Moderates are like the Texas school administrator who instructed her history teachers to present “both sides” in all discussions about the Holocaust — as in, “The Holocaust happened” versus “The Holocaust didn’t happen”. (It happened, and the fact that I feel the need to underline that point is part of Reagan’s legacy too.) Moderates advocate for God and Satan to engage in a Presidential debate with each side calling themselves God, and calling their opponent Satan.

For moderates all facts are opinions, and all morality is subjective. Moderates are never dumbstruck by ignorance or outraged by indecency.

Reagan’s John the Baptist, Barry Goldwater said, “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.”

But it is a vice! Liberty is important, but if other things are too … like responsibility for the welfare of others, and the prevention of violence.

So the moderate, Colin Powell, is dead because he was vaccinated but immunocompromised , and therefore put at risk by conservative people who wouldn’t get vaccinated because no one can tell them what to do and abridge their liberty. That selfish callousness is a vice.

Conservatives demand the liberties of their right to bear arms free of any regulation or restriction, and people get gunned down on the streets of Chicago, and at the movies, and in grammar schools, and in shopping centers, and driving on the highways, and in the privacy of their own homes, suicidally alone or with their hated partners and families … and everywhere else … that’s a vice.

The secret message of conservative government passivity (now thankfully rescinded by Biden) in the face of 750,000 and counting COVID deaths was “these people are old and weak, who needs them anyway?” Reagan wasn’t that bad, but it is his legacy nonetheless. Reagan’s repressed feeling about his father was the origin cell of an American cancer which has metastasized into a mass murder by neglect and the rise of a new specifically American strain of fascism.

It’s a strange magic in a democracy. The leader is a distilled version of the people. It isn’t a matter of voting. It’s a matter of poetry. Reagan’s stunted mentality has been the American character for the last 40 years … the denial of the truth, the self-interested delusion that we are a good people, the sweet sentimental grace notes and the grand vision for the biggest of things …we have been strangers to ourselves.

But an awakening has occurred … and now there is a struggle between those who believe Joe Biden is President, and all that goes with that notion … the caring and progressive realists …

and those who think that the election was stolen, the pandemic is a hoax, democracy is for suckers, and all that goes with that …

It’s a difficult time with many dangers …

but we are much better off than in the Age of Reagan, 1980 -2021 …

now the forces of denial and negation are being confronted.

I like Reagan. He arouses my compassion.

Keep digging if necessary. Unearth your truth.

Copyright 2021 Richard Thomas

10/26/21: Second City Today — The Karmic Humiliation of Bullies #poetry

I can’t believe that I am writing about Second City again. I thought I was done with the place and the topic. But my thoughts were drawn once again toward Second City in order to explore my actual focus for today’s writing … bullying.

A while back I wrote about many negative experiences that I had with the Second City and improvisation “community”. I am happy to report that what I saw before others is now apparent to the thinking world.

Second City and the improvisation “community” were quite lousy before the theater was purchased by new ownership. Bullies pushed out people and work of value in order to protect and expand their turf. But when the value is purged from anything, all that is left is worthless shit. And this is what the bullies now own. Congratulations.

My brother is a prominent lawyer and former judge who was approached to be part of a judicial comedy revue produced (for a fee) by Second City featuring advocates and jurists and the “professional’ (quotation marks in the piece are being used to communicate sarcasm) comic actors who work at Second City. Since I am an alumnus of the place (please keep that to yourself — when I was there, value was still in the building — the new version resembles Trump University more than Viola Spolin), my brother asked my advice about how to proceed with the show. My response is below:


My brother said no to being in the show as a result of my counsel.

A couple of weeks later he called me and expressed deep gratitude. “Oh my God,” he said. “They are terrible. I watched the show on Zoom. The lawyers involved were all red-faced. “

Sure, of course they didn’t provide sly humor while respecting the dignity of the legal profession — something very important to lawyers and judges. They are too dumb to even know what they were hired to do.

Second City is a sales pitch with no product.

The lawyers and judges are susceptible to marketing and Second City is a marketing masterpiece. Their latest ploy is a PBS show about Viola Spolin and the pioneers of improvisation that created a real and serious revolution in education and theater. The current pretenders identify themselves with something fine … real art … it always has been Second City’s calling card.

But present day Second City has as much to do with its forebears from the 50s and early 60s as anti – vaxxers have to do with Dr. Fauci. Second City’s history of the last 40 years or so is a lot like America’s. Ignorant narcissists wanted power and the pushed everybody with something to say out of the way, and then made a mess of everything.

Now they are pushing something called comedy studies, an unintended joke trying to intellectualize jokes. You don’t need a professor to help you watch “Seinfeld”. The real Second City tradition is for actors to bring life and intellectual and emotional experience to the stage. Read a book, get a job, get dumped by a lover … and then make a scene. Just closely watch Lucy and Desi repeatedly, and you will learn some intellectually simple rules of craft. No one can teach somebody how to be funny. You need to understand some of the world in order to have something to be funny about.

Of course, the dissenting view in the previous paragraph would never see the light of day in the meetings of current leaders at Second City. There is no exploration of an art form or a professional craft. There is only looking for the sales come on which can be monetized, exploiting naive people who don’t know good from bad on a moral, spiritual, intellectual — or any other — basis.

Consequently, Second City and the improvisation “community” are left with innocents and dullards as students, actors and audiences, and charlatans and bullies as teachers and directors. The producers don’t care about anything but the profits or lack thereof.

There is no “there” there. I’ve been an actor and improviser at Second City, and more importantly at the West Bank Cafe in New York. I’ve been a trial lawyer and a college professor. So I know excellent actors and writers, and highly intelligent lawyers and academics. The people that I know have no respect for what Second City and the improvisation “community “have become. I think they generally view them as infantile, boring and stupid.

The Chicago Sun-Times called Second City “mediocre” (no sarcasm here) in the headline of its review of Second City’s new show. Chicago papers never called Second City “mediocre” in the old days. They promoted the place like deep dish pizza and no ketchup on a hot dog. Not anymore.

Smart people who used to care are embarrassed for Second City.

As I said, this pathetic state of affairs cannot be blamed on the new owners. What happened to Second City will happen to America if we allow the mouth breathing knuckle dragging moronic bullies to prevail.

I know personally because these assholes really went after me. I took my leave from them and made my own art. But this piece is about what happened to the bullies, and what happened to people who would have enjoyed something better.

The bullies disgrace themselves. The people who would enjoy something better get cheated because they are too inexperienced to know any better. The bully tells his mark that he wants to exploit that sand is water. The poor green sucker believe the bully. The true artist who could elevate and save the worthwhile uninitiated people isn’t harmed ultimately. He just goes someplace else. But the bully has egg on his face in front of smart people.

And one thing about bullies — they know quality. That’s why they want to destroy it, because they don’t have the guts to pursue it themselves. That pursuit requires guts and work, and the bully is a lazy coward.

Laziness and cowardice are never a good look.

Second City’s emerging image of clueless idiocy is the bullies’ legacy. 30 or 40 years of their stewardship has resulted in disaster.

Viola Spolin, and the original Second City and the lessons of real improvisation live on … changed, transformed, revolutionized into new things in the works of individual artists … I’d like to think there are some traces of those influences in me …

But Second City and iO and the “improv” (back to sarcasm) “community” are dead things. The leaders of these “movements” resemble bad phys ed teachers playing office politics in order to hold onto shitty jobs. Many of the ones who never made it in show business have nothing but pass the hat wages in worthless improv classes. Many of the ones who made it in show business made it on the ass end, making money for doing nothing of value to anyone but salesmen. Of course, there are some alums who made great art off of the grid, or made important art in the entertainment industry — but they aren’t part of current Second City or the improvisation “community”.

When I was at Second City in the 1980s, it was a commercial place too. But there was room for art. There was an understanding and appreciation occasionally for something deeper than what would please an ad agency creative director or a sitcom casting director. The funny thing is that now, with art throughly persecuted and exiled … I think even ad agencies and sitcoms aren’t as happy with what they see out of Second City as they used to be.

Some “successful” Second City alumni, now in their 50s and 60s are looking like fools — one with a loss for words to discuss the current political situation on MSNBC (you’d think he would have thought of something before going on a political chat show instead of displaying his total ignorance) or another looking like a complete dilettante saying that he took on a role “to consider the human condition and so forth”, as if as an actor he only addressed “the human condition” once in awhile. (What was on his mind doing the other roles? Judging from the smug vacant performances, probably thoughts of what a big “success” that he was.)

The Second City clique of show business “success” sells promises of such success to students and audiences and preaches ambition for such “success’ to all of its actors.

I was ridiculed as a failure for being a great art improviser at one time, a trial lawyer , a college professor and a writer by the Second City/improvisation “community” bullies. Forget my hurt feelings, they are long gone. Understand my feeling of exasperation … I feel the way that Barack Obama must feel when he is criticized by Donald Trump. Really? The Constitutional Law Scholar versus the Game Show Host? Why do these idiots even think that I want any of their precious turf? Why do they even compete with me? Marjorie Taylor Greene accosted Liz Cheney on the House floor. Cheney said, “Get away from me, you’re a joke.” The University of Chicago vs, QAnon. Exactly, Liz. Right on, sistah!

What follows is the ignorant bully critique of my career. My improvisation art was a failure because it wasn’t on television. My trial law was a failure because I left it to teach. My teaching was a failure because I left it to write. My writing is a failure because I self-publish and develop it for future venues. How stupid these criticisms are — delivered by people who basically roll metaphoric “space”basketballs into “space” gyms for pick up games (they call that teaching “improv”) and act in crummy little commercials and TV shows. And if you think I am writing this in some sort of cathartic way and vicariously getting even with these fools, you are right. Guilty as charged, because I loved them once and their criticisms hurt me — and now that I don’t love them anymore I have to fight down the toxic residue of their attacks to keep moving forward. This works for me. I get the truth out … because a bully has one aspect of genius. They know that the psyche is fragile, particularly in the case of sensitive and talented people. And they know getting into a person’s head and causing self-doubt is the point of vulnerability to destroy a person. SoI I practice psychological hygiene and stave off the lies and insults of the bullies before they can take root — especially on a day like today when I feel so optimistic and hopeful and fantastic. It’s a burden, but it’s part of life and I do it.

I do take a certain petty personal satisfaction in the fact that the bullies aren’t respected by anyone who knows anything. But I also am reassured in the nature of things. Eventually what is false is seen for what it is. First only artists can see it, but eventually every person of intelligence and good will catches the drift.

I’m not making any claim that my time at Second City was spectacular. I don’t think I started to do excellent work in any of my artistic endeavors until I was part of the West Bank Cafe in New York City. That’s when I matured as an artist for the first time. Second City was more like a school. But we were Orson Welles and the Mercury Theater when I was at Second City compared to the shit that is being shoveled there today.

So this is the fate of the bully … after he destroys everything around him, he destroys himself. Evil is pure negation, and ultimately the evil doer cannibalizes his own flesh. Hooray!

Here’s an excerpt from a recent correspondence with my friend … a meditation on dealing with bullies …

My experience with blame …
Not always bad if part of a process.
I was flat on my ass. My self-esteem was zero. Then I had a thought —- “not all psychological, it’s also political”. I admitted to myself that it wasn’t my weakness all the time. People were fucking with me to get power.
Then I got angry.
Julia Cameron said that anger gives direction.She says the trick is to “act on, not act out.”
I had a tough time with this.
In my last iteration I wrote about it and separated. Acting on …
But in my ideation I sometimes wish I hit the bully back in real time.
I’ve done that and it has felt like acting out, not on but not always. 
I’m still wondering how to handle the internal telling off.
Yesterday my big thought about bullies was that I never want to see them again.
And an animating basis for my decision making is escaping and avoiding assholes.
But I still have the residue.
Maybe the telling the bullies off is just my way of silencing the bullying doubt they contaminated me with …
Is there more for me to know about this or have I dug as deep as it goes?
That’s a whole other story.

Copyright 2021 Richard Thomas

10/27/21: More on Bullies #poetry

More on bullies

Bullies are fearful, afraid of losing something that they

They hold onto … (bullies are possessive … they need the sensation of ownership … so everyone that they do not control is a threat to take something away from them)

something …

power … (bullies seek control)

position … (bullies are in charge)

reputation … (bullies are narcissists)

an idea …

Along comes the sincere and talented person …

the threat …

so the bully determines that he must neutralize the threat

and the methods of the bully are well known to you …

They mock, insult, demean, slander, cheat, humiliate, and in extreme situations assault and kill the sincere and talented person

The bully’s medium is violence — physical, psychological and spiritual …

The bully recognizes excellence

The bully sees the value of the sincere and talented person

So the bully resolves to metaphorically or actually kill that person

because the bully is an insecure person

The bully doesn’t have the confidence to excel at anything

and the bully is afraid of real work

So the bully asserts control of the situation

and claims that he has all the qualities and has achieved all of the work that the sincere and talented person has …

The bully succeeds at eliminating the sincere and talented person for a time

but therein lies a problem.

The bully then actually has to do something

and he fails

He might succeed in creating the impression that he has actually done something

for a time

but eventually it catches up to him

First it is only clear to the attentive and perceptive that the bully is a fraud

but eventually it becomes clear to just about anybody

and the bully finds that in neutralizing the sincere and talented person

that he has marginalized himself …

Now the bully is forced into a reactionary stance …

The bully defiantly asserts that he is the authentic one

and people don’t buy it

and the bully has nothing left at his disposal

except anti-social behavior and crime …

White nationalists are a great example of bullies because their example is so clear

They started out owning slaves

They claimed that they had culture and an economy

but other people built it for them

the slaves

So when they were called on their bullshit

they fought a war to continue the illusion of their superiority

by this time only to themselves

A war that they were destined to lose

In typical bully fashion they asserted that they had power that they didn’t actually possess

And they were called on their illusion

After losing the war, they did a real bully move

they went underground, hid their heads under sheets

engaged in guerilla war

and plotted their return to false superiority

Out-of-power bullies peer on sincere and talented people having their day in the sun

Stealthily plotting to bring them down

And then they find an opportunity

a vulnerability

Bullies often use a lax attitude

a lack of diligence

on the part of sincere and talented people

When the bully is out of power

the seed of his return grows

The white nationalists for example saw that opportunity

and seized power again 12 years after the war

at a moment when people were forgetting what the war was about

and they took over again

with Slavery 2.0

They are slightly more subtle

and less direct in their exploitation and they take over

But then they return to their old problem

They neutralized all the slaves that could build their new plantations

and eventually they look like fools

They look progressively more stupid and incompetent

They might get power

Trump lived in the White House

but everybody who sees what they are

which is everybody but them

sees their illegitimacy

sees who they are

Kings and Queens of White Trash

They are no longer remotely in charge

They are simply a problem to be dealt with

which brings us back to the sincere and talented person …

The sincere and talented person should see that bullies are simply problems

which is easier said than done

because the art of bullying takes the sincere and talented person’s sensitivity

and transforms into vunerability

Apparently in Toni Morrison’s novel “Beloved”

A major theme is the wish of freed people to forget slavery in order to enjoy better and happier times

But the characters find that they can’t

They have a responsibility to understand what happened to them …

The bully plays an important role in the maturation of the sincere and talented person

The bully introduces the sincere and talented person to the suffering of the world

Sincere and talented people are born as golden children

They are loved and nurtured

They are beauty and they create beauty

And fear and envy and hatred must bring them low

to show them what life is for those not as blessed

The unblessed have no access to Paradise

so the blessed can give it to them

How much beauty has come from oppressed people and people

The humor and genius of Jews

The art and athleticism of black people …

examples …

the sincere and talented person

begins with great gifts

and suffers great hardships

and creates great art

all great art is an alchemy between dark and light …

the purity of the spirit

and the shadow of the bully …

An easier thing to say …

than to really understand …

is that the bully doesn’t ever possess anything of value …

It is easy to get manipulated into competing with the bully

One of the bully’s biggest sticks is characterizing the sincere and talented person as a “loser”

But the bully just controls or strives to control illusions …

The sincere and talented person abundantly enjoys all that is real …

The sincere and talented person …

the artist

lives at the decision point of free will

will he or she live in recognition of what is true

or accept the brutish lies of the bully?

It seems like an easy choice when I put it that way

but it isn’t

because the bully lives in our minds as much as he lives in our neighborhood

The bully wants nothing more than to persuade the sincere and talented person

to give up

to give into fear

to conform

to get the bullshit title

or bullshit power

over other people

not based on anything real

but again, based on fear.

The world needs fear as a contrast to love.

If you don’t choose love

it’s not love at all

it’s just a glide

the path of least resistance

There’s a reason half the world adores the image of a wrongly accused man dying on a cross

He suffers the agony of extreme bullying

He lets go of the bully

and forgives

“Father, forgive them, they know not what they do”

And then releases the bully

and goes away to be alone

Only to return

this time in a different form

Free of the bully

and now able to act in awareness of the dynamic between sincere and talented people and bullies

Unattached to temporal power and an energy source of real power

now beyond conflict

He says his thing and leaves others quite free to take it or leave it

He influences others who do the same thing

and He dies for a second time

this time the right way

Now without conflict

Completely one with Paradise

United with all that is living and dead

without a bully to be found.

Copyright 2021 Richard Thomas

10/28/21: Anticipation of Glorious Future While Re-Opening Miserable Wounds of Past for Ultimate Positive Feelings and Service to Humanity #poetry

Greetings people of Ricktopia! (I guess that’s me and anyone who cares to listen.)

I am pleased with my present circumstances, and more hopeful for my future prospects for my life and work than I have ever been. I write a certain way, I teach a certain way, I am a certain way. My writing is documented, my teaching is documented and if you are curious about me just drop by or give me a call to say hello.

I am free of all entanglements and my daily existence involves no injustice, oppression or insult. Frustration is no longer even a small aspect my way of life.

I am therefore nearly alone. I have my writing, my small cohort of high-quality readers, and a few intimate partners with whom I share my life, and that’s it. Pared down, downsized, stripped to the essential.

I am a fetus in a birth canal waiting to be born again.

I have a standard for who I will associate with. Only the very best. I will only teach in an ideal and specific situation. I will only share my writing in a pure and specific way. If I am not destined for opportunities to do either, I am quite content to proceed in my current state until my inevitable ending.

Let’s flesh out a few of those specifics, shall we?

I know that if life does anything, it changes. And I sense a future movement to new places and new people with different attitudes than I have ever encountered except in my own heart, and with a very few close family members, friends and lovers.

I feel like writing a silly line … a man is never so popular as when he is alone. That’s a good joke actually …

A man is never so popular as when he is alone. How true. Here alone at my keyboard I am in deep love with myself. I am a great writer, a great teacher and a great guy. But there is more to the joke. Here in my solitude, I sit in anticipation for new connections with new people who feel the same way about me and my work as I do.

And this brings me, ironically, to the past. I have spent a good deal of my life in close proximity to stupid assholes. Of course, there were people who loved me and thought highly of me … but there was also a chorus, and some talented soloists, of naysayers and worse.

The assholes are a map that charts a course to my new life of nurturance, acceptance, understanding and recognition. If the assholes went north, I must look to the south … if south, to the north.

Whenever I am upset by an assault from long ago, I am asked “Why do you care?” First, the memory that offends me defines the opposite future that will delight. Second, by reliving my old pain, and living to tell the tale, I give an instructive or at least encouraging story to someone who is stuck in a similar version of that pain in their present situation or in their persistent mind. And as always people can find other answers and questions that I could never possibly know as unconscious and unintended consequences of the writing.

When the misery ends, and the days of love and laughter commence, the old pain never goes away. That’s OK. The insights to be gleaned from a wound are endless.

I was going to catalogue here the three bad memories that have haunted me for the last two days, and I can’t remember what they were.

Oh they are coming back to me. Of course they are. They always do.

I just get shadows, but focus is slowly emerging. One person was self-involved to the point of being self-destructive — a man who wrote of avoiding suicide and eventually killed himself. He was honored with a sympathetic obituary in the Chicago Tribune that overstated the importance of his work, and misrepresented him as a wonderful person. This man was so obsessed with his career and his illness, that he turned his illness into his career, and died by his own hand at 52. I knew him because he asked me to send him some writing , and then he never bothered to even acknowledge that he received the text. He was so absorbed in his problems, gazing at his misery and plotting to prove himself again as some kind of even more highly ranked hot shot, that he could not bother to reply to an email. His silence wounded me. But doesn’t this review of my hurt feelings help you and me? I don’t know how it helps you as an individual, but I strongly suspect that it might. It helps me a lot. I would never work the way this guy did. His work was senseless. It was just an exploitation of his demons, and wasn’t about the way things are anywhere beyond the ego gland. My writing is focused on something other than my career, and even when I write about myself it is not to gaze upon myself. The truth is what matters. I’m like a scientist who uses himself as a test subject. I would not have liked to know this guy better. And I return email.

Another person never did the main things that he wanted to do in his life. So he put me down, and did a newspaper interview about a project that we worked on together and cheated me out of credit. I thought he was a close friend from college, but he wasn’t. I don’t think he ever liked me that much. He was actually kind of cold all of the time. He resented that I was a dreamer who did what I wanted. He was always there to say I failed, and when I succeeded, as I did in the project discussed in the article, he was there to say it was no big deal. Once he invited me to watch him work. He was a nominally idealistic guy who worked for a non-profit. I watched him set up lecterns and pour water for the speakers at some conference with an air of false humility. Oh what a Godly servant he was! He didn’t speak himself of course. I wouldn’t be caught dead running errands for the sanctimonious assholes on that dais. When we were young he said that he wanted to be an architect. Of course, he never pursued it. He settled for mid-level management in urban planning so that he could humbly suffer. He had a younger brother who committed suicide. I’m pretty sure he gave his brother a nudge. Some get infected. Some are carriers. Suicide is a recurring theme with today’s bad memories. These “noble” men sacrificing all for others, but really they’d be better people and have more satisfaction in life, if they answered email and did what they wanted to do in the depths of their hearts. Have you learned anything in this paragraph? I think so. And I did too. I wouldn’t want to be friends with this guy. He doesn’t make the cut. I think I am too good for this guy. He can’t recognize the high quality friend, writer and teacher that I am, and it takes one to know one. Life is a series of experiments. I am not going to beat myself up for expecting more out of these guys than they had to offer. I have a few friends now that are much better than either one of these sad characters. And I wouldn’t have them if I didn’t have the space in my life vacant that the suicide squad left open for better partners.

I have plenty of vacant space now, ready for immediate occupancy.

I offered my wares to corporatists and now I reserve them for a clientele of artists and human beings. “I’m a graduate of Stanford Medical School and on the committee that offers MacArthur Genius grants.” Then she suggest that I should go work for some asshole in Milwaukee who does basic improv games with professionals — a genius grant! I still feel insulted when I remember this interaction, and its good it makes me mad. Because my work is more important then this woman’s or her protege, and she never learned anything at Stanford that would let her know good from bad or from indifferent in this regard.

Speaking of insulting doctors … my wife once took me to the Northwestern Medical School to see an event where good Broadway actors read from Eugene O’Neill’s “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” to a group of psychiatrists. The actors were excellent. Then there they had a discussion with the shrinks. The docs made opaque comments, mostly diagnosing the characters’ various types of mental illness and addiction, speaking almost exclusively in medical jargon. I spoke up … it was an open forum. I said maybe the doctors should try to learn from Eugene O’Neill rather than try to improve upon his masterpiece by converting it into an article for the New England Journal of Medicine. The actors smiled and nodded, obviously appreciating what I had to say. Theater visited to make the shrinks more human, not to make the play more clinical. The head head shrinker, my wife’s boss at the time, glared at me. Who was I to speak?

Fuck him. You know these bad memories help too. I have had enough of arrogance and petty ego. They can’t just be good doctors. They have to be better than everybody else. And the fact is, they are much worse. I’m not casting my pearls before these swine. It’s hopeless. They are incapable of hearing what I have to say.

All of the memories so far have something in common … idolatry. All of the assholes mentioned today believed in something other than humanity and art and a deep kind of divinity beyond religion. Suicide guy — social work, Cold false friend — dime store Catholicism, The doctors, well … being doctors, and one doctor believed in the MacArthur Grant — in service of art that serves the corporate mission statement, and if its really fine art, the bottom line. They all had something to preserve. And the fact that I clearly was animated by something else — and here is the main thing — and acted as their equal … well they had to put me down and out if they could.

As Jake LaMotta said in “Raging Bull” —- “You didn’t knock me down, Ray.” Everybody used to say that Jake LaMotta was an unsympathetic character in that movie, but I have a lot of sympathy and admiration for him. More than I have for the pompous mopes that are the main subjects of this piece.

So of course, it hurts to think about these negative figments of my memory. I am offended when somebody doesn’t see me as equal. But I’m afraid I’ve been pushed a step further. When I encounter someone who doesn’t think I’m equal, I take a hard look at them … a hard one because I am pissed, and I wind up determining that they are inferior to me … And they always are … because a person who feels a need to act superior is decidedly not.

My writing and teaching is for people better than all of these assholes … and Chicago Tribune obituaries and MacArthur Genius Grants and Stanford and Northwestern Med School degrees don’t mean shit to me. And adjusting these fuckers lecterns and pouring them water is definitely out of the question.

I need to see different credentials.

Well, I hope you learned something today. I did. Humanity. Equality. Art. All others need not apply.

Copyright 2021 Richard Thomas

Home, bio, CV, services, past media, blog … website created in 2019, blog writing from 2014 to present

11/8/21: Claude Fredericks — Introduction of the Unknown Influence #poetry

I don’t have influences, or rather I recognize who influenced me after the fact. I have never heard of Claude Fredericks until this evening. But I guess he influenced me. Not consciously. Not even directly. He influenced the world and the world influenced me. What is that theory where a butterfly beats its wings in South America and it affects the fate and fortune of the whole world? I think we all do that. Of course some people have more general influence than others. Freud and Darwin appeared as silent partners in so many actions and ideas of my youth, and assuredly their impact is new and vital today. But somewhere in the world someone is doing something of a particular influence to one person or another, or a select few. I think Claude Fredericks is that kind of influence for me.

Paula suggested that I read a New Yorker article recently published about Fredericks, “The Most Ambitious Diary in History” by Benjamin Anastas.

Here’s my running response to reading the article.

Excerpts from the article are in quotes.

“Fredericks extolls the journal as a special form. Because its author can reflect solely on what’s already happened, the narrative is perpetually in medias res—a “peculiar quality” in a literary work. Moreover, because the author doesn’t know while writing how his dilemmas will be resolved, the resulting narrative captures better than a novel “how complex experience actually is.”

I have always considered The Rick Blog to be a piece in total, and each segment to serve both as individual pieces and as part of the progression of the larger piece. I also believe in writing what you don’t know. I want the writing to document the work of being alive. I believe that all art is keeping a journal. What else does an artist have to work with but his immediate experience in real time? Even reflection is an immediate experience. The ethos of the journal most closely connects the shaped art to the lived life.

“Fredericks goes on, “What I’d like to propose is that . . . we now are no longer content with the conventions of fiction, that the whole idea of character and plot . . . no longer seems to be true.” Three decades before the rise of autofiction—novels that appear to hew to an author’s lived experience, largely dispensing with the artifices of fiction—Fredericks is calling for something similar.”

I have long been disinterested in character and plot. When I encounter a film or book or painting or other art, I naturally try to pierce through the artifice and consider who the artist is and what he or she is trying to say to me. Prose is poetry and vice versa. Metaphor is reality and reality is metaphor. The finite material world is infused with eternal energy — matter and energy.

I don’t think about character, plot or even story. I just think about writing. For example, I’ve heard that a good writer never writes about himself. That strikes me as nonsense and obviously many people who write about themselves including notable writers like Henry Miller and Mark Twain — and countless other examples agree. (I guess those notable writers are influences.) I write about everything. The only things that I have to work with are myself and my perceptions of the world. Why be coy?

I never heard of “autofiction” . I dismiss it as unimportant. The value of the autofiction pieces, when they have value, has nothing to do with revolutionizing the form of the novel. I don’t care about the form of the novel. Genre is a burden for me. Substance determines form. When form is influenced by genre, it becomes a little precious and phony. I like the words writing and art. I’m indifferent to the word literature.

“Fredericks … in fact, proposes dropping the illusions of fiction altogether. He makes a case for immersing readers in a subjective record of an individual’s experience, in “real time,” complete with all the errors, vagueness, lies, and mystifications that we engage in when we try to justify ourselves to ourselves.

Fredericks is very similar to me, but not precisely so. I drop the illusions of fiction altogether, but I would never advocate that others have to as well. I just want to make decisions for my own work. I have no interest in teaching others to write the way that I do, or to advocate for or lead a revolution to change literature or any other discipline. All these quasi-theological arguments and disputes in academic departments bore me. I see art as a conversation. I always look to what the artist is trying to say as I mentioned above. I appreciate their message regardless of the manor of delivery. I don’t want to write novels, but I don’t want to throw them out either. I do believe in including “”all the errors, vagueness, lies, and mystifications that we engage in” — I recently wrote that I am ‘a genius, a fool, a saint and an asshole’ and that I wanted to show all of it in my writing, but my purpose isn’t “to justify ourselves to ourselves.” My objective is to get to the truth. I said that recently too — writing is pretty simple, you just tell the truth. Now is the truth that I occasionally engage in self-justifications. Of course. But through transformation of my person and my writing, those justifications are steps to something more accurate. The truth does not hurt as advertised. The truth heals and expands. The truth is that I am always something bigger than whatever I am trying to defend and hold onto.

“A journal is a “living thing,” he says; a novel is a “taxidermist’s replica.”

I don’t think a novel is an act of taxidermy. A novel is a journal. All art is a journal. Fredericks is competitive. He sees novelists getting all of this attention and he feels his obscure work is more valid. I don’t feel a competition with other artists. I feel self-pity in some moments because of a lack of recognition. I get angry at meanness and stupidity, but my ire is never directed at fellow artists. I don’t have a literary background and I know that some with such a background would be dismissive of what I do. But they believe that they are the only ones who are certified to write. I feel for Fredericks. Cliques can be infuriating. But real artists don’t limit themselves with such memberships. The best artists are generalists. They appreciate all sorts of “journals” from eclectic sources. Anything fashioned as an expression of what a human being thinks or feels can be art. I’m inspired by all kinds of artistic expression, always with a feeling that their creators are a kind of fellow travelers, including novels.

“Beginning at the age of eight, in 1932, and lasting until a few weeks before his death, at eighty-nine, Fredericks was producing what he liked to call “one of the longest books about a single hero ever written.” All told, his journal stretches past sixty-five thousand pages. (This is an estimate made by the Claude Fredericks Foundation, a not-for-profit entity that Fredericks incorporated, in 1978, to preserve and eventually publish his journal in its entirety.) In 1990, when this epic narrative experiment was still under way, the Getty Research Institute acquired Fredericks’s papers, for an undisclosed sum. The purchase included the first part of the journal, documenting the years from 1932 to 1988.”

This reminds me of another New Yorker piece, “Joe Gould’s Secret” by Joseph Mitchell which was about, Joe Gould, who claimed that he was writing a history of everything, but didn’t write a word. Mitchell was challenged and provoked by Gould, a cousin of Melville’s “Bartleby the Scrivener” who said, ‘I prefer not to.’ After Gould died, Mitchell never wrote another word. Apparently, writers like to wring their hands about whether they are doing anything real by the act of scribbling words into sentences. I have no such ambivalence. I write because it is who I am and I like it. And I am confident that when a person does what they want to do as directed by the deepest impulses of their heart, they will be useful. Claude Frederick fascinates the New Yorker because he claims to, and probably actually, transcends writing and touches life, and Gould did the same for history.

I am intrigued by the Claude Fredericks Foundation which highly elevates the notion of self-publishing. My dream for my writing is to do what I am doing now with a higher level of prominence. It would be nice to have a Getty Research Institute to pay me to do my writing, and that had strategies to share it with those who would be interested.

“Is there not achievement in remaining so completely unpublished?” he wrote, with a touch of self-loathing, as he was nearing forty. “

I want to be published and perhaps produced, but I don’t feel bad that I am not published at age 66. Some people think it’s not really writing until it’s published. I don’t. I don’t think that the quality of the writing has anything to do with being published or unpublished. That doesn’t mean I don’t want to be published. Of course, I do. Who wouldn’t want a larger audience and money? But I don’t have a complex about it. I actually have a great ambition to be published, but I am very particular how I want the publication to be, and really have no idea how to go about it. A friend told me to keep writing and expect good things from the world. I have lacked no confidence in myself, but I have doubted the world more than I realized until he encouraged me with his advice. I’m already getting little whispers from the world drawing me out towards publication, including Paula’s suggestion that I read this article.

“Fredericks, who dropped out of Harvard in his sophomore year, wasn’t a scholar in any professional sense; he published no academic papers on the Greek, Italian, and Japanese literature that he taught for thirty years. He dedicated himself instead to a life of self-directed study, and to a relentless pursuit of love and beauty—an ambition that he connected to ideas espoused in Plato’s Symposium, which, Fredericks wrote in the early eighties, was “the only holy book I truly know.”

All artists are self-taught. The ultimate text for considering the mysteries and truth of life, is life itself. The academic back and forth is just so much static.

“The Getty catalogue estimates that the portion of the journal ending in 1988 runs to fifty thousand pages. This manuscript and Fredericks’s personal letters—some twenty thousand pages—fill twenty-seven archival boxes. The rest of the journal, covering 1989 to 2012, was acquired by the Getty in 2018, and has yet to be processed. On an inventory sheet, this section of the manuscript is described as being “many 1000s of pages.” If and when Fredericks’s journal is precisely catalogued, it may well prove to be the longest continuous record of an American life on paper—in any case, it’s certainly among the longest. “

This reminds me of a Charlie Kaufman film that I wrote about in June 2021.

6/13/21: Synecdoche, New York (2008) — Life and Death Theater #poetry

MacArthur Grants, Art Galleries, Academic Writing Programs, Couples Therapy … they all make me want to die, or at least puke.

Charlie Kaufman wrote and directed (his first directorial effort) Synecdoche, New York. It’s a surrealistic dream journal … a mish mash of his conscious and unconscious lives. The movie is a self portrait. It is not solipsistic … Kaufman uses his experience to speak to our common experience. Kaufman’s alter ego, a theater director played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, says he makes choices for his productions that are too complicated. The director’s estranged wife replies, “It’s what you do.” Kaufman is nothing if not self-aware. His more recent film, “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” is more surrealistic and dream-like and much simpler.

Kaufman considers a youngish person’s relation to mortality in this picture. The young or not far from young intellectually understand death comes for everyone, but are not touched or provoked by the cold hard facts. Youngish Charlie misses something however that only an older person could see … because we surely eventually get sick and die, there is nothing to do but accept the fact, and not get upset about all the chickenshit which is just a distraction.

A lot of the women in this movie have beautiful tits. Charlie was on the right track … nice tits are among the best dream images, and to focus on tits is to reflect on something truly important.

To do list:

have enough money (check)

commit to and develop artistic expression (check … in progress)

start maintaining health in a different way to accommodate my aging body (early check)

Make a career without MacArthur Grants, Art Galleries, Academic Writing Programs, Couples Therapy (to do)

Create a more just and compassionate society (fuck if I know)

heal the world with art (I think I’m doing it … ) ?

I had a nice day yesterday, and a lousy evening, and initially thought “Synecdoche, New York” was too ambitious a pick for today’s writing. In my first viewing of the movie my mind wandered to a petty fight and glimpses of memories of love lost years ago when I made things too complicated …

But those internal dialogues … “and then I told them!” and the masturbatory memory of girls who turned me on really aren’t anything. The emotions are like when you get pissed off when someone cuts you off in traffic. Big sensation … no staying power.

Just live and write about it, Charlie. You don’t need to try new things. Just live … life provides you with all of the new things … you don’t have to reach for them.

Life isn’t just you and it isn’t just the world … your objects of contemplation … life is both at once … you and everything beyond you … everything is in the frame …

When I saw this movie in 2008, I was amazed by it … I sat in the theater and watched it twice. I watched it twice today, but for a different reason.

I watched my parents die slowly. It’s awful. The memory of the girl with big tits who made you cum like a firehose and scared you away is not a remorseful tale of lost love … but rather a mildly mysterious premise for an aborted story … would love have grown after the romantic ardor naturally cooled off? Look for other clues besides hard cocks and wet pussies …

Sex and death, baby … get it … death and everything else … writing, cooking, driving to the mall … all sublimated … the world is in constant orgasm …

I think every thing happens the way it should happen … it is better the lovers who got away vanished … it is better that we die …

Woody Allen’s original title for “Annie Hall” was “Anhedonia” a scientific term for the inability to feel pleasure. By extension the word connotes an inability to live life to the fullest. Why bother to get laid if you are going to die?

synecdoche (/sɪˈnɛkdəki/sin-NEK-də-kee,[1] from Greek συνεκδοχή, synekdochē, ‘simultaneous understanding’)[2] is a figure of speech in which a term for a part of something refers to the whole of something or vice versa …

Charlie Kaufman named this movie for simultaneous orgasm. I like that idea very much. Life is a simultaneous orgasm. World and human become a beast with two backs grooving on the nasty.

I’ve noticed that too … you can’t be one thing without being the same thing elsewhere. You can’t write hack sitcom scripts and make art films. You can’t do stupid commercials and then deliver fine acting performances. You can’t work a day job where you are demeaned and pushed around and then be a good writer. Charlie Kaufman gained control of his own script in this first effort as a director. He simplified as he grew as a writer in subsequent films. I’ll bet his personal life became clearer for him too.

In “Synecdoche New York”, Charlie Kaufman was thinking about love and death. In later years, he started to actually love and existentially recognize his own mortality.

We all do that … everyone doesn’t have his talent and brains (or mine) but everyone can access the conscious experience through the work of the artist.

I love how naked Charlie Kaufman works. “I won’t settle for anything less than the brutal truth.” The truth is brutal. I think that makes it imperative for the artist to be gentle and kind. An artist can have temper tantrums … an artist can get upset, but an artist can’t be mean. That ruins everything.

An artist is hybrid of the world’s greatest prosecutor and the world’s greatest mother … fierce truth and unconditional love … or a dog with the mind and tongue of Gore Vidal …

Is our life what we do and say or is it what we think too?

Is a movie a dream version of a play?

We change from infant to elderly, sick and dying (if we last that long). Is there a constant indestructible kernel through it all? (of course.)

“A play about dating, birth, life, death, family … all that …” Is every work of art the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel?

Are artists like physicists looking for the essential particle?

Living life in a certain way and then describing it …

Charlie Kaufman shows the virtue of uncertainty. When you know, you’re wrong.

God, art is just sharing what you think and feel. Charlie Kaufman thinks and feels so much. It must be so difficult to be that way … I can only imagine … oh wait, I can more than imagine … I’m the same way …

Charlie Kaufman is preoccupied with loneliness. I think I am pretty solitary, but I never have felt lonely. Charlie Kaufman thinks loneliness is the human condition. Am I kidding myself or is he wrong?

Charlie Kaufman thinks that writing is hard. I think writing is enjoyable. What is hard to me is the period in between pieces when I am in the gestation period.

Do we all have a predilection to suicide? Are we programmed to think that things can be so bad, we’d rather quit? I’ve thought of ending things but never thought such things on the cusp of action.

There is a lot of worry in this movie about the remains of the day. It is a youngish concern. Old people know that love and creation at any moment and at any age redeem all that went before. I thought that I was a blocked artist for twenty years. As soon as I started to write I realized that I was working every minute of that time.

What we think is part of who we are.

The love we take is equal to the love we make.

MacArthur doesn’t anoint geniuses. Genius is elemental to life.

Charlie Kaufman is brave. He talks about how hurt he is, how hurt we all are.

No answers, just art …

No one is reading or watching, not really … they are living their lives and your movie or essay is just one of the things in their lives, and their experience of viewing or reading you is as specific to them as your experience of making the movie or the essay, and all of those specific experiences are metaphors for a universal experience that everyone has, and we warm each other in the light of one another, and loneliness is just a mistaken impression …

Copyright 2021 Richard Thomas

Back to Claude Fredericks …

“Other hypertrophied diaries exist, but those have generally gained renown as works of outsider art. Robert Shields, a minister, a high-school teacher, and a hobby poet in Dayton, Washington, documented his every activity, at five-minute intervals, for twenty-five years, leaving behind a diary estimated to contain some thirty-seven million words. Another Sunday poet, Arthur Crew Inman—a wealthy eccentric who lived as a shut-in in Boston’s Back Bay, and hired working-class “talkers” to sit for interviews in his bedroom, so that he could subject them to analysis—compiled a diary of seventeen million words.”

Where do i go to get my recognition? Who do I show my work to? Who is looking for it?

“During the past two years, I have been reading as much of the journal as I can manageably digest, from the original manuscript stored at the Getty Center, in Los Angeles, and from photocopies lent to me by the estate. At once more addictively engrossing and fatally tedious than anything else I have read, it is the strange chronicle of a “great” man whose genius is recognized almost exclusively by the chronicler himself. It is Nabokov’s “Pale Fire” but set in Vermont, with Fredericks playing the roles both of Charles Kinbote, the fawning critic on the edge of mania, and of John Shade, the eminent but mediocre poet. “I accept no authorities,” Fredericks writes, in the fifties. “And I . . . never met my equal, at least among my contemporaries.”

I can see why Paula suggested that I read this. I can relate. I too recognize my genius when few others do, and I accept no authorities. I always assumed that these attitudes are shared by all artists. If your job is to create something specific and particular to your own existence, how can anyone else be expert in what you are doing or assume authority over it?

“It (the journal) ripens into a portrait of a worldly man’s deepening solitude as he ages.”

I don’t know how worldly I am, but to whatever extent I once was my relation to the world has ripened from a battling participation in it, to a contemplative reflection of it. All art pulls the artist towards solitude. The entire notion of community becomes an eternal concept instead of a contemporary one.

“The journal sometimes overwhelms Fredericks with its outlandish scale: he expresses frustration with the responsibility of writing future entries, and he can seem demoralized by sitting down every day to confront the same life. At one point in 1982, Fredericks writes, “I’ve lost the thread again. This page, these pages, these volumes are a labyrinth I cannot find my way out of. I have wasted a life in writing them. They are without value. And yet they’ve helped keep me sane.”

I love to show all of the work. I love the vulnerability of reporting the frustration instead of editing it out. I know the feeling that all the writing stinks. I also am reminded of the daily tether my words provide for me to sanity. When I write my life is my own, as is intended. My writing has value for others because we are all metaphors of each other. My experience isn’t yours, but my pictures of it paint something similar. The acts of reading or watching or listening places the audience not only in conversation with the artist, but also in conversation with themselves. Art is the place where we meet ourselves, in the making and the consuming.

“He wanted to privilege exactly what we edit out and compress and shape as writers—the self’s own repetitiveness and falsifications.” Toward the end of Fredericks’s life, Hammer said, he came to know Fredericks well, and received a “guided tour” of the journal while conducting research for a 2015 biography of Merrill, who was a significant lover of Fredericks’s. “Claude wanted to honor the original, imperfect form,” Hammer said. “The text at its moment of creation.”

This resonates with me strongly. The editing happens within my being not within the writing. I change personallyand my writing changes naturally.

“Fredericks, who resigned from Bennington in 1993, after a male student accused him of sexual harassment, wasn’t concerned that there might be ugliness in his diary. According to his theory of the journal as a “total” work of literature, a diaristic account should be proudly un-sanitized, including the prejudices and delusions that may reveal us to be monsters in our hearts. Indeed, when Fredericks gave his chapbook lecture, he told the audience that such an exposure is inevitable, “if we are honest.”

Right. The truth. The only hope of any kind of virtuousness is to write and live with such honesty. When we play act admirable behavior we never achieve it. We can’t repress our darkness. We have to go through it carrying a lantern. The cliche is true — sunlight is the best disinfectant.

“the famed editor Maxwell Perkins suggested that she (Anais Nin) stitch selections from her diary into a manuscript, but when she did so Perkins was “disturbed” by the results, and declared that her diary “should be published in its entirety or not at all.” Nin concludes that, if her “novels are symbolic and composites, the diary must at least be intact.”

It is interesting that one of the greatest editors in history, Maxwell Perkins believed the journal form, “the diary” “must at least be intact”. The rules of writing are set by the writing itself.

“More to the point, Claude had learned how to live. He rose impatiently above boredom and unhappiness, the better to grasp what the world offered. . . . The journal he’d been keeping almost since mastering the alphabet served him as both judge and guardian angel, for even the wasted day bore fruit, once confessed to at due analytical length. During seasons of solitude and introspection Claude thought nothing of leaving a party early or a concert at the intermission; by staying on he would merely have encountered more raw experience than his journal could process without fudging.”

I have been precisely like what is described here since 2014.

Fredericks seems to obsessively document everything that happens to him. I only focus on what feels like meaning. In this typr writing nothing is never really lost. If you don”t get at some essential part of you one day when it appears, it will always show up again. There is no avoiding or ignoring who we are.

Frederick was reportedly not an inherently charismatic man but cultivated a mystique, and “cast a spell” on students and other individuals. I find this aspect of his personality to be dubious at best. I distrust all gurus and pied pipers. I want audience, not followers.

The article sometimes lowers itself to gossip. Frederick was a lonely gay man who surrounded himself with young guys in his fifties. I’m not really interested. What does his journal say about the nature of life when he writes about those personal experiences? If he was just reciting his thoughts and feelings, drowning in self-regard (and I doubt that was the case) I’m not interested.

One aspect of my writing may be that it is an extended self-portrait. A good self-portrait is not ultimately about the artist. It’s about humanity. I write because I know that the deepest level of my experience is exactly like yours … no, check that … it IS yours. Ours.

I’m driven by the truth, not self-justification or a need for adulation.

“There were students who adopted his manners and imitated his penmanship.”

Give me a fucking break. I’ve seen this phenomenon in school and in the arts. I am against it. The point of education and the arts is to liberate the student or audience into their own personalities. It is unavoidable that the teacher or the artist will be an example. It is one way in which we learn. But if the teacher or artist directly or even unconsciously encourages slavish imitation, it’s kind of pathetic.

I also don’t like my work being referred to as a “diary”. This is not just a collection of my thoughts and feelings. Frederick seems like a man who is trying to assert himself in the world — a gay man and a unique and peculiar artist of his generation … it wasn’t easy. I’m luckier, in a manner of speaking. I was raised to feel entitled. When I am disrespected, I don’t feel insecure. I feel cheated.

I want to understand myself and the world. That’s why I write. And it feels right to write. I have no ambivalence about doing and saying what I think is true for me to do and say.

Fredericks resigned his teaching position at Bennington College because of sexual activity with students. He wrote fearlessly about the scandals and with great detail about the sexual encounters. That’s courageous. The scandals are disturbing. Frederick’s loneliness and shame inspires compassion. His perversion was shaped at least in part by oppression. His arrested development — the inability to have intimacy with any person because of sociological and psychological reasons … an intimacy he obsessively longed for — is tragically sad. His abuse of the young men who bullied into sexual congress is immoral and criminal.

There is a kind of art that expresses human dysfunction exclusively. I like art that does that, but that also gives answers. Answers that cover indecipherable mysteries, but answers. Years ago, I read quite a bit about Pope John Paul II, and some of his writings. He was an artist who tried for answers. I loved him, even if I sometimes disagreed. Frederick didn’t accept unhappiness or boredom as moods. I don’t either, but I also don’t accept them as existential states.

Everyone isn’t an artist. And all artists aren’t ever at peace with themselves. Serenity is not possible for them. It must be very hard to be a congenitally unhappy artist. One layer of my drive for art is to find peace. I find it in art — not self-justification — peace. Understanding gives peace. My ignorance — and it is vast — is the source of all of my pain. Yours too, I reckon.

It’s not that my answers are always right, but they are often true, and always trying to be both. That’s not a pledge. It’s just the way that I am. I always have been.

“As an outsider to the Frederick’s cult, I sometimes took a skeptical view of his strenuously constructed persona. Mastering Dante doesn’t require a bottle of wine and Palestrina on the stereo—and such atmospherics have too often served as a way to seduce students. Yet, from the start, I took the diary project seriously. It wasn’t just that eminent writers as various as Merrill and Nin had read passages from the diary and admired them: there was something thrilling about a document whose life span was longer than that of most humans. The very idea of the journal was a titanic act of imagination.”

The author of the article sounds naive here, kind of young and weak. “Skeptical” of a “strenuously constructed persona” in a fucking “cult”? Really? I’m “disgusted” or “outraged”. “Too often” served to seduce? Look, being an artist doesn’t give you a pass to abuse people. Right, I won’t throw out the art baby out with the scandal bath water. I can see value in the art, and not condone the behavior of the artist.

Now the author says that Fredericks was a bad writer.

“With Fredericks, it appears that the practice of keeping a journal was less about cataloguing acute observations, or about capturing a milieu, or about imposing a literary sensibility on quotidian moments, than it was about the fact of having written. For such a grand and self-serious project, it is curiously slapdash. Even though Fredericks came to view the journal as “unwittingly the masterpiece I’ve been longing . . . to write,” a reader develops the sense that many of its pages came clattering out of his typewriter in a hurry.”

This guy wouldn’t think that I am a good writer. He has an opposition to writing fast. But I do a little of what he sees as valuable. I catalog acute observations. I’m not concerned with “capturing a milieu” and I’m definitely not about “imposing a literary sensibility on quotidian moments”. I love the quotidian moments, and could care less about the literary sensibility. As I say, art is the word that resonates with me, not literature. I am not even sure what literary types mean when they talk about literature. I like literature, but I don’t like being told that I have to write like the literati. I was an improviser, a stand-up comedian, a trial lawyer and a teacher. I have a technique that isn’t framed in the language of literature but probably parallels it — because truth comes in many forms but is always inherently the same.

I suspect that Fredericks was a good writer of a different type than the author accepts.

This Fredericks is a complex guy.

I don’t want to go somewhere to fit in. I want to go where I fit. It seems these writers who determine how to write and then they impress each other with how they conform to the rules.

Does the fucking thing communicate? That’s what matters to me. It’s the thinking and the feeling and the experiencing that matter and where the intensive labor is. The actual writing is easy. Just get the words down. Sure, many of Fredericks’ pages were hurried. He was doing something different than what I do. He was creating a record of his inner life. The inner life “clatters” sometimes.

I’m writing my real time response to this article. What am I supposed to do, map my words out in iambic pentameter? Come on. Let’s talk. Don’t get me wrong … I find some literary writing very beautiful. But to require a certain tone … that strikes me as precious bullshit.

“Later in 1943, after he has left Harvard and is spending the summer in Maine, teaching himself Greek, writing poetry, and falling hard for the teen-age son of his neighbors, he interrupts a breathless, scattered passage with an aside: “I can’t write English, I really don’t give a damn, do try to understand, I have to write this, I don’t care how—it must be gotten out, and quickly, and then I will do something else.” In another entry from that year, he resolves to streamline his effort on the journal: “I want to write each day in telegraphic fashion, 150 words say, and then amplify various points in paragraphs below until I am tired, thus eliminating daily detail.” At such moments, Fredericks’s theories about the narrative complexity of the journal run aground: if a diarist skims over the details of his life for the sake of efficiency, how can the resulting depiction be more truthful or meaningful than fiction?”

I don’t know if this guy gets Fredericks’ writing but he doesn’t get mine. I went years writing in my head and not knowing it. I have volumes in my head and I just put it down. Fast. If I ever published this blog as a book, I would look for repetitions and take out clumsy passages, you know, edit. But I wouldn’t make it not sound like talk because that is what it is. Talk but better.

I’m not justifying myself here. I’m explaining myself to this guy. I’m sure he’d be unconvinced, but that’s not my problem.

The author of the article spends too much time critiquing Fredericks’ writing or gossiping about the events of his life than reflecting on the transformations of the soul of the man. That’s the point of the massive project. Fredericks documented the movements of a man’s soul. What happened to the man? How did he change on an existential level?

A good artist invites the audience to be good artists. The artist invites the audience into a challenging conversation. He can’t force the audience to rise to the occasion. The audience can see tabloid headlines or apply the lessons of “The Elements of Style” if he feels like it. There’s nothing the artist can do about it.

Fredericks documented his life. I just write about what interests me. It is a major difference.

“In January of 1973, Fredericks writes, “I awoke this morning thinking perhaps that I had after all squandered my life—pursuing dreams that could not be realised, pursuing one infatuation after another. Others were famous or rich. Others had families. Had I not squandered all those extraordinary talents I had as a writer?” Self-recrimination is a familiar trope in Fredericks’s journal, but the sombre tone is new. He is middle-aged and beset by bills and debts; the seemingly effortless life of sensual indulgence that he has shared so freely with others has not come cheap. His closest friend, the wealthy and well-travelled Merrill, has been publishing steadily, with increasing recognition that he is a great poet. In earlier entries, Fredericks has remarked how strange it was to have his two closest friends, Merrill and Malamud, each win a National Book Award in 1967. He feels left behind, and a bit bored, and the journal reflects his enervation.”

For me, writing on such topics has been a way for me to expunge such self-recrimination. I believe rightly I think that such negative assessments of me and my life are incorrect and come from external sources. Fredericks’ impulse to self-recrimination comes from a similar place as my impulse to social criticism. I have always done what I wanted, said what I wanted, been what I wanted. For many years, I was surprised in my innocence that others would ridicule my choices and my true nature. My response has not been to internalize the naysaying. My response has been anger. Writing is “acting on, not acting out.” I assessed my critics and found that every dissatisfaction that they had for me was reflective of who they were and ultimately had nothing to do with me.

On the much less frequent occasions when I have encountered constructive criticism, I have heeded it (after some resistance and sorting out of validity and motives) and used it initiate real change. The dealing with useful and destructive criticism is a key part of my creative personal development and impulse for much of my creative writing.

My writing is not as much about me as Fredericks. I am just as focused on the world. And critics are my portals to engagement with much of the world.

Processing the attitudes of critics has been a source of personal expansion. Most often I have been criticized because I have naturally become too big for the people that I was associating with, and had to connect with people more appropriate for my current consciousness of my soul.

I am not motivated by criticism or praise. My life is largely about making my outer reality congruent with my inner life. I want a harmony between how I deeply feel and the external facts of my life.

I struggled with the question of recognition as Fredericks did. But I determined that I must recognize myself. I didn’t give myself my own due by mere self-affirmation. I documented everything, and continue to do so. My self-image is based on my own assessment of my life and work. I started this process with something as simple as a LinkedIn profile. The idea expanded into a website and this blog all of which can be found at

I believe my process has been more than Fredericks’ idea of writing as a means of self-justification. I try to be honest about what I have done. I think it is an excellent body of work, and that I am a good writer and a good person. I don’t just make claims. The evidence is documented for all to see. Someone might come to a different evaluation of me and my work. Their opinion is no more valid than mine, and almost always less than mine. They don’t have the deep familiarity that I do with the subject matter. At any rate, my decisions to make adjustments and changes are mine and no one else’s. I listen to other people, in the sense that what they say are part of my experience in the world, but I cede them no power in what I think, feel, do and am. My consciousness of the dictates of my soul is my freedom and my responsibility.

I am a happier and healthier person than Fredericks. I owe a debt of gratitude to him. He dared to reach to be himself at a time when that was much more difficult. He suffered so that I could be free.

I am not motivated by awards. I just want a bigger platform to share my work and my person. This is not a source of psychological turmoil. It’s just something that I am trying to do. As my friend says, ‘Keep writing and expect good things from the world’. Every authentic impulse of my inner life has a partner reflecting upon it in the outer world. Self and world gravitate toward atonement, a fusion of the Self and the All.

“Dearest, what rapturous moments those were, the macrocosm of any given moment with you, the microcosm of a lifetime, or of several, with you—separated & together & at the very last moment unexpectedly separated only to be united again, entering our destination—heaven, of course, in the allegorical reading, love, and a life together.”

This embarrassing bit of writing, written by Fredericks to a student when Fredericks was an older man evokes my pity instead of my criticism. This poor man wanted mature love more than anything, and was exiled from it. He lunges at his young student like a drowning man desperately tries to land on a life preserver … a drowning man who never learned how to swim. Fredericks hated himself because he was gay, and that is so tragic. His erudition and creative daring could not shield him from an ordinary self-loathing that so many people suffer because of the oppressive, abusive cruelties of others.

A strange irony of my writing … brutal honesty promotes kindness. We all deserve to be nurtured in who we are and what we do. This proving ourselves and winning competitions is really beneath us. I never wanted anything other than to love myself. Self-love is not self-aggrandizement. When you love yourself, you can have the life that you are meant to live. If you do what is expected rather than what is true, you are never whole. Your light becomes a shadow. Your unrequited self-love becomes a source of alienation and pain. Our selves engage in conflict with our ideas of our selves. Our ideas of our selves are never our own. They are always indoctrinated upon us by outside forces. Who really are is not something that we invent, but rather someone that we get to know. Other people’s abstractions which contradict our concrete realities are burdens which interfere with our self-knowledge and affection. Those abstractions have to be defused, and this is part of what my writing does. It clears brush and separates false impressions from true realities.

The article ends wondering about how many people will read Fredericks’ journal, and the ethics of writing about other people who are involved in one’s life. The article misses the point. Box office receipts and gossip once again. The art was preserved by the Getty Foundation. The work was so subjective it could hardly be considered injurious to any other person. The approach to writing is what is important. The quixotic quest to live authentically pursued by a man battling limitations to do so, imposed upon him by fate and circumstance.

I don’t like Fredericks’ guru tendencies. I don’t like his academic life that hypocritically rejects academia. I’m really not interested in many of the facts. But I admire his iconoclastic courage. The concept of his approach is a useful yardstick to assess my own. I probably won’t remember much about Fredericks after I finish writing this piece. He’s not important to me.

But I am grateful to Paula for sharing this article with me. I think my consciousness of my own writing was clarified a bit, and grew a little as a result of reading it.

Copyright 2021 Richard Thomas

4/21: The Art of Dealing with Criticism of Your Art #poetry

You engage in a great process for your personal development and your work of art. Everything is excellent or in the pursuit of excellence. Making a movie, a play, a poem, an essay, an acting performance, an educational experience, a painting, anything really …. even a meal or a household … involves dealing with forms that have so many moving parts; add pulling it off, all the while learning how to do it better, all in the service of , say, an unusual character study accompanied by equally well drawn supporting roles, or great existential themes … something challenging and deep and of service of the elevation of the consciousness of humanity, it is all amazing creative accomplishment. 

Someone who really knows art would see the talent and core of the piece and realize the limitations that you faced.
Anyone who didn’t say that they liked your art didn’t get as far along in the creative process as you have. They haven’t reached as far as you have in your work.

I faced this when I did a stage show of my writing from say 2015 to 2017. I always feel good about what I create. I don’t know if that’s good or a problem, but it’s how I am. On the other hand I always make changes because I’m dissatisfied with one thing or another.

I was brutalized in the process. Civilian audiences would often like what I was doing. “Professionals” often couldn’t see my intent or what I was actually doing.

In my case, and it isn’t necessarily yours … the community looking at the work wasn’t up to it and I left.

I know one thing … anyone who doesn’t see how good you are and how worthy your work is … is clueless. Sure you have to work on things … it’s work … for everyone … all the time …

Anyone who didn’t preface constructive criticism of the technical and practical issues that you all have faced from time to time … not art issues … business issues actually not art issues … without saying how good you are and how good your art is … pisses me off.

That’s why it hurts. It’s not that one tech or craft problem or another has to be addressed … as I say par for the course … but that the artist isn’t recognized and the artist is what everything else is there for … that’s what galls me.

My dental hygienist shames me but I don’t listen to her prescriptions in the context of my overall life. If I was writing or thinking or viewing movies all night and I forgot to brush, I take her technical point and apply it, but discount her shame. That’s how I’d listen to a director of photography on a movie, for example. I want them to think the lens is the main event … I think it’s character, theme etc. I want the DP’s focus on camera focus … I want that to be her world. But I have a broader and deeper perspective that I have to worry about.

For non-professionals I look at how they respond not what they think. I watch them more than listen to them. 

I get some of my lessons from non-art life. After a couple of years I stopped looking at student evaluations when I was in Higher Ed. What did they know about teaching? I’d listen to them about their lives and observed their learning styles and their personalities, That informed my teaching. I placed no value on their evaluation of my art.

When I was doing those shows a few years ago, the pros who saw it were Second City comedians. Many (most but not all — some were wonderful ) of their comments were stupid, and stupid criticism hurt. Then I looked at what the critics were doing in their own work. It sucked.

I wonder what these people who didn’t say that they liked your art do themselves? Are they any good?

The dead artists that you love make you feel good because they are your peers. 

You make me feel good because you are my peer if you have read approvingly thus far.

Only an artist of equal caliber can appreciate HOW you are doing it. Others can appreciate it without knowing why. You might make changes because YOU spot an undesired effect in non-artists, but not based on what they like or dislike. What do they know?
Years ago I saw “An Officer and a Gentleman” and “Tender Mercies” in theaters within a couple of days of each other. I thought “Mercies” was worthy and “Gentleman” sucked. Audiences cheered both. They don’t know what their soul knows from what their lying ego knows.

I think we artists are like scientists. We are going for reality. Good science has nothing to do with popularity. What matters is that the vaccine works whether the patients know why or how or not.

And art is tricky because so many people make movies or write or perform or anything else who aren’t artists. Non-artists in performance arts have no appreciation for what the artist is trying to do because they are basically salesmen. Oh no this movie is dark and the sound is bad no one will pay to go see it! Translation … this movie is in this little independent movie house, where is it going? If you screened it in an AMC theater they would have praised it just because they thought there was more money behind it.

I have a friend who made a movie that I loved. He got similar criticisms to what you all have heard about his work and his ability. Real insults. . You know who else loved it? Werner Herzog. 

The whole thing is so subtle. How to talk to an artist about their work … separating process from completion … understanding practical challenges …

For me the pain of these toxic criticisms never goes away but writing a piece like this is acting on anger with integrity that burns out the pain for awhile.

Congratulations on your latest work, and congratulations on your extraordinary body of work.

If you get what I am saying here, you possess great capacities for honesty and courage. You are an artist, and your work and life are masterpieces.

And … it is all process until you die. Sincere artists who bravely create with such sensitivity and vulnerability have to be protected, a job that ultimately they can only do for themselves.

I listen to what people are, not what they say. I’m not easy on my choices, but I am easy on myself.

The only valid critic is the elusive truth. The truth reveals itself in dribs and drabs.

One of my toxic critics told me that my opinion of my own work didn’t matter. He said what mattered was what other people thought. He was all wrong as usual. My evaluation of my work is the only one that matters because no one can understand my process better than I can. It is my responsibility. I have transformed so much in my life and creative work. I could be negative and say I spent my life correcting errors, but that is so inaccurate. There are no mistakes. Every so-called error was part of the process.

And I’m brutally honest about myself as well as others. Writing is shooting arrows dipped in love. So the better I get at loving myself, the more compassionate I feel toward the idiots and assholes. That compassion is a next frontier in my writing. When you can write without blinking about the villains in your life with tenderness or rationalization about their sins, you’ve gotten really good.

An artist doesn’t need an outsider to shame him or her or to be punished with tough love. An artist is always dissatisfied. always reaching … we don’t need to be pushed to do the right thing.

And the people who mock us because we went into art instead of sales … we need armor to stay safe. We can’t just not give a shit. They hurt us because we are called to simultaneously indict them and understand them.

Nobody said this was easy.

I learned and I am learning so much from my separation from Second City. It’s part of the constant initiations of an artist. It has to happen.

When Impressionism debuted in Paris, there were riots in the streets. Bullshit criticism is turbulence around the life of an artist. We artists threaten illusions. But our art thrives in the eye of the hurricane. If the Second City community would have accepted me, they would have had to change completely. It’s good that I was an improviser when I was young, and it is good that I had such a mixed response by that group of people when I returned much later in life. Those experiences were building blocks that are past and present in my work and person now.

Everything is beautiful. People live on various rings of Paradise and Hell. It’s important to figure out what ring that they are on when they open their mouths about you and your work.

I am proud of this writing and my whole body of work. I have a record of much of it including the writing at

I care about much more than your opinion.

Copyright 2021 Richard Thomas

11/15/21: Rick’s “The Sopranos” (1999 -2007) Meditations Part I — The Dishonestly Examined Life is Not Worth Living #poetry

A recent subject of my blog, the writer, Claude Fredericks, said that all writers write to justify themselves.

Good writers don’t.

David Chase lied professionally for years. “The Rockford Files”? “Northern Exposure”? Please. Who would expect that a man who spent a career giving people what they wanted would, when given the chance, become a Dickens for the once and future brand new millennium? Chase took the craft of serialized entertainment and elevated it to art.

Chase’s real creativity when he was a show runner for hire, was not to be found in the now largely forgotten shows that charmed millions before bed time — the masses used the escapes that he provided for a little relief. His shows made it easier for audiences to get to sleep. Then they got up the next morning for an enervating at least eight hours of groupthink slave labor, until they needed Chase again. Maybe he liked using dream scenes in “The Sopranos” because his personal pre – Soprano dreams were his true body of work, not the shows that he made. The TV shows just provided him with transferable skills to apply to his life’s purpose.

HBO gave Chase his opportunity of a lifetime. He took his lifelong preoccupations —- his mother, his time in psychotherapy, pop culture, writing itself, his Italian-American heritage, social criticism, and of course, the Mafia hoods that he grew up near in his New Jersey childhood — and he created a masterpiece.

Chase determined to tell the truth and tell it in his way.

My guess is that Chase originally conceived of “The Sopranos” as a broad comedy. He wanted Stevie Van Zandt to play Tony Soprano after he saw him mugging on a rock and roll awards show. But then he got a great actor, James Gandolfini to do the role. It was like replacing Ringo Starr with Marlon Brando.

When we decide what we want to do, the universe becomes our partner and our projects become bigger, deeper, broader and more important than we could have ever imagined when we started out.

“The Sopranos” makes the profound point that psychological therapy is not effective on the criminal personality. Therapy requires an ambition for self-understanding and awareness. Criminals turn therapy into just another con. Criminals are liars to others and to themselves. They lie to others to take from them. They lie to themselves to justify their actions. They are more effective if they have some rationalization for why they hurt other people the way that they do.

Criminality is only a matter of degree. We all commit our crimes and misdemeanors. There are plenty of nominally law abiding people who tell self-serving lies to themselves and others. They do it in therapy. They do it in their families. They do it in their jobs. They do it when they write.

David Chase doesn’t just write about his preoccupations. They are just his launching pad. He writes about our frustrated world. The pettiness, the meanness, the incessant undermining of one another, the competitive envy, the casual violence, the selfishness, the materialism and especially the fear.

Chase writes about the People of the Lie. Nature is surprisingly present in this Mafia show quietly saying “reality is right here” while Chase does an autopsy of illusion. Chase doesn’t give us a happy ending. We give that to ourselves if we get clear on what he is showing us and choose the beauty right in front, beside and inside of us.

Chase is also honest in the way he tells the story. For example, the songs on the soundtrack echo Scorsese and Coppola when appropriate as does the directorial style. He places “The Sopranos” in a canon of mob scripture. He puts the myth of the Wiseguy in ironic counterpoint to the reality of the real psychotic dysfunction of gangsters. The myth entertains us, and is used by the gangsters themselves to romanticize their perverse degraded lives to themselves. The Mafia engages in self-justification in “The Sopranos”, not Chase. Claude Fredericks has more in common with Tony Soprano than David Chase.

Tony Soprano has a seductive personality for an Italian-American guy from the Northeast of my age — overweight from inhaling great food, chomping on big Churchill cigars, driving big beautiful SUVs … charming and funny … well versed in movies, football and the Rat Pack. I could have been Tony Soprano (not really) … my father was even closer (maybe). Tony Soprano had the physical power. So did my Dad. I’ve denied mine my entire life and now it has atrophied. Shrug. I could care less. Just as I am unimpressed by the mistresses and strippers and whores that Tony Soprano consumes like trays of baked ziti. I’ve always found strip clubs etc to be depressing. The idea of having sex with a drug addled high school dropout leaves me cold.

Tony Soprano doesn’t fool me. I didn’t like him from the first scene in Episode One. I don’t think Chase did either. Coppola drafted Vito Corleone with many admirable qualities, a mixed bag embodiment of the American Dream. Scorsese drew the Goodfellas as self-obsessed psychotics. Chase created the most damning portrait. Tony Soprano is a deep human being who intelligently contemplates the meaning of life, but chooses to play out his family and societal conditioning instead of transcend it and strive for something better.

Sentimentality … about the family … about the culture … is a self-serving lie, a way to get ahead. Tony Soprano uses his sentimentality as a shield from, and as a weapon of conflict against, the truth … which he clearly sees.

One character who is the son of Mafia royalty speaks for Chase when he says that he would rather be happy than the boss. Tony Soprano pretends that he struggles against the will to power to fulfill his need for love, but it is a farce. Love never has a chance. His reason for being is domination. And he who dominates lives in constant risk of annihilation. Most everybody around Tony Soprano dies, except him. He does not survive because he is the most cunning. He wins by dint of his sheer ruthlessness. He seems quite daring and courageous, but Chase lays down the predicate of Tony’s panic attacks in the first scene. Another hood says that Tony Soprano is like a cornered animal who will fight with great energy and viciousness to survive. “The Sopranos” is 86 episodes of watching a cornered beast destroy anyone and anything that threatens him in order to lash out at another threat another day.

My favorite scene in “The Sopranos”, and I believe the heart of the entire show, is when Carmela Soprano, Tony’s wife, goes to a an older psychiatrist and tells him about her Catholic reservations about getting a divorce, but that she is considering it. She goes on to reveal, after reassuring herself about the doctor’s confidentiality, of Tony Soprano’s participation in organized crime.

The doctor tells Carmela that he has been married for 31 years and respects marriage. Then he advises her to disobey the church and leave Tony. Watch the video above. It’s a four minute quote. The doctor won’t accept payment from Carmela. It is blood money. He says that Carmela shouldn’t take the blood money either. Tony should go into a cell for seven years, read Dostoevsky’s “Crime and Punishment” and after that reflection and sacrifice, he might be able to rehabilitate himself. He says that psychiatry often gives people excuses for their behavior by focusing so much on childhood dramas. The old man is not acting as a doctor at all in this scene actually. He is a moralist.

Chase expresses the point of the entire series. Life involves existential choice. We either choose truth or seemingly self-serving lies. If we have lived a lie, we have to do penance … repent and reflect. We must not compromise with evil. We must not enable evil or abet or facilitate it.

We basically know what is right. Tony knows right from wrong. He is aware that he causes great suffering, but he keeps at it. The American Dream is an anti-ethos. He could have comfort and success by hurting other people so he does so.

Carmela knows right from wrong too, but kids herself that she is good person by superficially following her Catholicism. The doctor opens her eyes and tells her, “You can never say that no one told you.”

Coppola speaks of the tragedy of the immigrant felled by the hypocrisy of the American Dream. Scorsese celebrates honest ordinary life as opposed to the thrill of living beyond the control of the system. Chase talks about America’s actual choice. We can live in truth and decency or bring on the end of the world.

“The Sopranos” is a major and highly consequential work of art. It shows a cultural train careening out of control. The passengers know where the emergency brake is, but are divided and ambivalent about using it.

It is termed radical to not conform to the immoralities of jobs and families and social groups and our own fears and desires, and maybe it is radical. But it is also good sense. And we know that we shouldn’t murder or whore or not give a damn about the feelings of other people. We don’t need ten commandments to know these things. We are born knowing them.

That is David Chase’s gift to us with “The Sopranos”. He let’s us see what what-we-know looks like.

More on “The Sopranos” to come.

Copyright 2021 Richard Thomas

11/26/21: Happy Black Friday from the Rick Blog #poetry

I hope you are having a wonderful morning on this day which may be the eve of World Plague II.

The Rick Blog is a work of optimism and I ask you to look on the bright side of possibly being attacked by a new more virulent variant impervious to our current vaccines.

We can really build back better in the face of this potential destruction.

The pandemic has been one of the happiest times of my life. The government got bigger and I was given a perfect alibi to avoid idiots and assholes. This threat has been a boon for anti-social personalities everywhere. I am actually not anti-social. I would like to live in something other than the faux social mess we negotiate every day.

Maybe a second pandemic would kill some aspects of our collective lives that surely deserve to die.

Office buildings … time to turn these Orwellian architectural enforcers of dim and alienated conformity into monuments to a bitter past.

Sorry — I don’t mean to offend … but …

Entertainment venues that promote insensitivity and stupidity like Second City and iO — the non-artists formally known as crude, mean idiots of the Mid-West, and even, wait for it … culture vomitoriums like Steppenwolf and the Goodman and dear God — the Victory Gardens … Jesus … how mediocre … non-profit “arts” organizations which are actually businesses in partnership with overpriced pretentious restaurants adjacent to their theaters or in the immediate area. There is so much talk about how social media makes people dumb and kills empathy … and it is often true … but some critics should also look at these in-person media venues that sell themselves as temples to the truth, but that’s just branding. And the blue hairs and the high school kids sit through the boring idiotic nonsense and walk away smaller in every way.

Shopping malls — who mourns the big empty monstrosities strewn across the landscape. Maybe the new variant will kill all of the tacky pushers of consumerism.

Claims that kids have to be together in schools to learn. What are they talking about? Kids aren’t learning much. Innovate mother fuckers. You mean to tell me you teachers can’t adapt to a new reality and get your job done. What exactly do you know that makes you qualified to teach?

People who won’t get vaccinated, wear masks or maintain social distance. Make them do it at the point of a bayonet if necessary. They can cancel their stupid church services and motorcycle rallies. They will say that we are being authoritarian … but laws have always been in place to protect the public safety. If they aren’t controlled what’s next — 17 year olds going to protests and shooting people and claiming self-defense and being let off and becoming fascist media personalities?

Every event that closes down Lake Shore Drive … rock music and food festivals, marathon races, demonstrations of any kind … everything … you kids get off of my lawn!

The new phase of the pandemic will make mass distraction difficult and our connections and assemblages will be more surgical, targeted and meaningful.

Finally, the new variant could end conservatism forever. All the whining about inflation and small businesses needing slave labor will be over. You have to invest to make money assholes. Bridges have to not fall into rivers. Babies have to have food and shelter and health care. People need skills to make a living, science to stay well and art to have full and satisfying lives. And everybody gets richer as a result. Forget the obvious moral arguments that conservatives are immune to … they are hopeless, they are mean little bastards and they’ll never change … but they will understand this … YOU HAVE TO SPEND MONEY TO MAKE MONEY!

Everything that will be eliminated by the forever plague will be replaced by institutions that actually achieve the high-minded goals that they all lie about in their marketing material.

Here’s to the future!

Copyright 2021 Richard Thomas

Copyright 2023 Richard Thomas

The Rick Blog Book Draft Chapter Forty-Five

The Rick Blog Book Draft Chapter Forty-Five

10/3/21: The Frogs in Magnolia (1999) — Faith and Success #poetry

Exodus 8:2 — Hey Pharaoh … let the Hebrews go or God is going to kick your ass … frogs are going to rise from the streams and fall from the skies and fuck everything that you are doing up …

Frogs apparently have fallen from the skies. It’s an actual meteorological event. Waterspouts grab them from bodies of water and ascend them to the clouds where they hang for a bit, and then the cloud bursts and froggie comes down …

A child in the movie says, these things just happen. An adult says that these things don’t just happen. They are both right. Kids have direct access to God’s will, no big deal. Adults have to concentrate and decipher meaning.

A character in the movie says you have to forget the past. Another says that you can’t forget the past. They are both right. We must release ourselves from the past that defines us.

The cop character wants to do good but doesn’t know how. So he turns himself over to the will of God, and he gets his answers.

A film critic writes that the frogs in Magnolia tell us that we have to surrender to God’s will in order to be successful persons and people of faith.

“Successful persons” is an interesting phrase. Successful in our careers? Successful as human beings? Both?

Paul Thomas Anderson, the writer-director says that he was not conscious of Exodus 8:2 when he wrote the script. When someone pointed it out to him, he asked his art director to look for ways to put the numbers 8:2 into the sets of the movie.

God is not only a religious concept. It is a secular one too.

The frogs in Magnolia speak to evangelical Christians and Jews, people in 12 Step Programs (surrender control), Jungian psychologists (synchronicity) and …

artists …

Magnolia could only have been created by an artist.

An old adage says that priests speak for the people to God, “we pray for peace, My Lord”, and artists speak for God to the people, “Listen to God or He is going to fuck you up with a seemingly irrational rain of frogs … and if you don’t know what to do, be humble, don’t think your way out of your conundrum … listen to God, He will give you all answers”.

Magnolia is a big ensemble film where all the characters develop on the same arc. They feel their moments of despair and their epiphanies alone and simultaneously.

There is a giant creative intelligence that informs everything, and the trick is not to outsmart it or defy it, but rather to participate in it.

The macro universe and your micro concerns that “don’t amount to a hill of beans” are aspects of the same thing. You are tiny and insignificant in comparison to the infinite, immense universe, and you are an essential participant in that eternal necessary be all and end ALL.

Thanks for coming to Rick’s Cafe American.

Copyright 2021 Richard Thomas

10/4/21: More Magnolia (1999) — Success as Romantic Love #poetry

The character Donnie says, after God knocks him down and wakes him up, “I have love to give, I just don’t know where to put it.” Donnie betrayed friends, lied, cheated and stealed to get money to fix his teeth in a desperate attempt to win the affections of a guy who was essentially a prostitute. After emptying his friends’ safe, he shocked himself. “What am I doing?”

Sir Anthony Hopkins says that the hardest and most important thing to do is to disengage from people who do not respect you and treat you well. “That is not love. It is attachment.”

The cop and the home health aide want to love other people, but they want to be loved back too.

Some people are like the male prostitute who despair of the possibility of love and just do things for the money.

And some people romanticize the absence of romance and believe love is selfless and is only about service and never being served.

Jimmy Gator’s wife leaves him to die alone because she has loved him, but he has not loved her back. She accomplishes what Sir Anthony says is the most important and hardest thing. Jimmy Gator wants love, but doesn’t want to be honest enough to face the cruelty he visited upon the people that he wanted to love him. His self-image is more important to him than his beloved’s sorrow. His wife courageously tells him, “You deserve to die alone.”

The good dying man, Partridge, admits how he hurt other people and deeply regrets it, and that honesty frees himself and the ones he loved.

I’ve told this next story several times before, but I share it now in this context. When I was in my mid-fifties, I decided that I wanted to get married , something I had never done. I wasn’t lonely. I wanted to experience that intimacy. I hadn’t articulated in this way at the time, but I wanted to love and be loved.

I went on I had 80 coffee dates. Coffee dates aren’t really dates. They are explorations. I didn’t experience much rejection. Most often, I wasn’t interested in the women that I met. And many of them didn’t really want love, They weren’t ready and were afraid and liked the distance of meeting a stranger online.

I was on EHarmony for over a year, and I became discouraged. One Friday evening I went to my favorite Mexican restaurant where the waitresses were always friendly, and then walked down the street and went in the little German bar that I noticed but had never entered.

I rarely drink and I never drink alone. I just didn’t feel like facing my apartment. So I got a Diet Coke and stood at the bar. I didn’t want to talk to anybody. I just wanted to stand there.

A guy came up to me. “Why are you alone?”

“Excuse me?”

“Why are you alone? Do you have anybody?”

I have no idea why I answered him. “No.”

“Why not? You aren’t getting any younger.”

I laughed. I told him about EHarmony and my 80 coffee dates, and how I had enough. “If it happens, it happens. I can’t do this anymore.”

“You shouldn’t be on EHarmony. Those women are too conservative for you. You should go on Match.”

I did. The first coffee date that I had on Match was with my future wife, Paula. When we met each other, we each knew. I felt like I had met a female version of myself. We’ve been together 10 years and married for 9, and we each care about each other more than we care about ourselves.

I love my writing, but that is really a self-love, which is important. It is also a kind of generalized love of humanity. My writing isn’t anonymous. My audience largely is. That distance doesn’t diminish the real love between me and a reader in say, India, who likes what I write and gives it a “like” on WordPress.

But that admirable generalized “agape” love … the love of saints and martyrs … is not enough … It is that self-centered love that wants the experience of caring about someone and being cared for in return … that wants that joy, that pleasure with the smiles and sweet tears … that wants to feel someone else’s pain and have one’s pain felt by another … that connection … that determines one’s place in the world.

I want that romantic love in my working life. I’m not getting any younger.

Generalized agape love … that feeling in solitude for the entire world … provides us our places in eternal heaven.

The daughter that Jimmy Gator molested opened herself to an opportunity to love and be loved at the end of the movie. She took the next step. Her mother disengaged from the non-loving attachment. The daughter did that and then loved. The mother may get her chance.

I have experienced more pain related to the unrequited love related to my work, than any unrequited love related to personal relationships. For me work is a field of agape love, and longing for romantic love.

The cop in Magnolia says “sometimes people need to be forgiven, sometimes they need a little help …”

Romantic love isn’t easy.

Love isn’t perfection. It is about the affectionate acceptance of imperfection. Love is not possible beyond the agape level when it is unrequited. So a person has to understand how to separate from attachments, and develop faith and patience to await the opportunities for romantic love, and then once having that opportunity that surely comes, take the risk that the lover is not a mere attachment, and then give the person forgiveness and help as needed and accept same. That’s the story of, that’s the glory of love.

Jimmy Gator’s wife was not a fool or a sap for staying with him until he was on his deathbed. Her love was real. And he tried, but couldn’t get there. He asked forgiveness for all of his infidelity, but he couldn’t admit that he molested their daughter. He couldn’t ask for that forgiveness because he couldn’t bear to face the dark truth about himself. And she had to leave … it was impossible to go on.

Partridge, the good dying man, the contrast to Jimmy Gator, angrily rails against the idea of having no regrets. “Use your regrets. Use them!”

The good dying man and the bad dying man … like the good thief and bad thief getting into, and being barred from, heaven on the crosses next to Christ.

Success as romantic love is a moving target. The right people can become the wrong people. The wrong people can become the right people. Some people make it, some don’t. Some give up on the whole idea because it’s too hard. Some people get hung up looking for love in all the wrong places, looking for love in too many faces …

The greatest thing that I have learned is just to love and be loved in return …

The wisdom of popular love songs …

Success as romantic love is an epic saga … with misery and suffering and learning and finding oneself and losing oneself, and in the process being taught the nature of the world … we find ourselves alone in our rooms and then see our reflections in the faces of our significant others, significant others’ radiant faces shine in front of a tableau of pain and generalized howls of misery … we encounter paradise in front of a backdrop of the rings of hell …

“success as a person” … success in career or success as a human being? Is there a difference?

Love, love, love … that word … cheapened by Hallmark cards, referring to the most beautiful and difficult thing … the simple heart meets complicated situations … you get to know yourself and other people and learn reality, and get the chance to do great things and learn the hard limits of your capabilities …

Love does not conquer all … grab it when you get it … and let the dead bury their own dead …

the greatest success is learning how to love, on the agape and romantic level, and sticking with it, undistracted by the unreality of those who have given up, and in the company of brave souls as committed to love as you are …

I have loved in my life of work when I was not loved back, but the agape love that endured found, and will find again, partners who reciprocate my romantic feeling.

And that romantic love will be the secret of my next success.

Copyright 2021 Richard Thomas

10/5/21: My Bragging as an Overachiever #poetry

I am the Rick and I am better than you. Or at least better than some of you? Most of you? Most of you, let’s face it.

You are equal to me from the point of view of your rights … but in terms of achievement, gifts, talent, character, intelligence … please.

That guy that I met once that committed suicide, you know the one, right? That guy … well I figured out why he killed himself. It is really quite an heroic reason. He was the world’s foremost authority on school counseling. He was helped by a counselor when he was in high school, and that made him decide to be one himself. He pursued his course with great passion, and rose to the very top of his profession. In so doing, he always had to return to his pain in high school. He never transcended it. It was his super power, the energy source of all his empathy for every screwed up sophomore in the world. And it killed him. Muhammad Ali was killed by his gift. Too many blows to the champion’s head gave him Parkinson’s. My suicide guy had too many returns to his babyfaced wound. He never got to shave. He saved a lot of people who will win their struggle with their teen age years and move on. He stayed in homeroom so that they could graduate. He was kind of like Moses, staying behind so others got to the Promised Land.

Dead at 52. By his own miserable hand. A tormented martyr to every injustice that ever bullied a kid and made the kid feel bad and self-destructive. A kind of saint.

And am I better than this admirable character who made the ultimate sacrifice for other people? You bet your ass.

Because I am an artist. And art and science are the most important things that a human being can do.

The suicide guy was a professional and an academic, and in those vocations you can only do so much. Suicide guy was a great mechanic … fine tuning and fixing society’s machinery. I embody the future … speak to where life really happens — to who we really are … a school guidance office is just a theater set, a metaphor, and a counselor is just a supporting role.

Jesus was a carpenter and then he moved on.

Why do so many people hate me? Why do I annoy them so much? I thought it was jealousy, and at rare times that’s true … but you have to be near my league to be jealous of me. So many are too insensitive and afraid and stupid to recognize my greatness.

A friend tells me that it is healthy to criticize the dummies and bullies — idiots and assholes, as I am fond of saying. She says it is a way for me to separate from toxic relationships. She is right of course, but there are many other levels to my disparagements … it is not just part of my own psychological self-care. Another friend gets warmer. I get angry at “arrogant lesser minds”. The only part that I quibble with is the anger. Anger implies the hurt that my friend concerned for the health of my psyche is concerned about.

What I do is something much more exalted than petty, personal anger. I fire an atomic particle at the heart of an old world, destroy it, and create a new one.

I am so much better than all of my colleagues and all of their leaders and followers at every school, job and creative grouping that I have ever been a part of …

That’s the reason that I have to brag … the next collective has to be worthy of who I am … I was in the lesser groupings for a reason … I didn’t realize how great that I was … I felt that I had to take my seat among the others … I gave the others too much credit … I assumed that they were smarter, that they had better intentions, that they cared about big and important things … They didn’t.

Of course they hated me. As I made my masterpieces in sight of the ruins, I made some friends … others like me that were incrementally learning of our own elite natures, still torn between worlds … We met quietly and subversively off to the side …

I have such fond memories of every stop along the way … memories of what I did … so wonderful, so true … the idiots and the assholes fade … the bullies … so opposed to freedom, progress, personality … God, how they don’t matter. All zombie, no apocalypse.

I picked up knowledge at each stop on two planes … prosaic knowledge … skills, understanding of how the predominant inferior mendacious system works … and spiritual knowledge, discoveries about who I am and what it means to be a human being. Inside the machine, flowers grow and choke the violent gears … the cacophony of metal on metal cedes to music …

I have never been disrespected by anyone that I respect, I have never been denied doing anything that I think is worthwhile to do, I have never been betrayed by anyone who was close enough to betray me, I have never been ridiculed by anyone who wasn’t ridiculous themselves …


How do you like them apples?

The snipers snipe from behind the barricades of their little cliques. Sniping improvisers think their world is the most important, same with academics, lawyers, business people … (THEY THINK AND THEY DOUBT AT THE SAME TIME … THEY ARE THE ANGRY ONES … INSECURE MOTHERFUCKERS … THEIR REJECTION OF ME IS AN ACT OF DEFIANCE. THEY SHOULD LISTEN TO ME, AND THEY AND THE WORLD WOULD BE HAPPIER. BUT WHAT … AND GIVE UP THEIR DELUSIONS OF SUPERIORITY?)

The snipers are all wrong. I repeat, Art and Science are the most important things, and I am an artist. A number one, top of the heap …



I feel so good this morning … this piece is told ironically, but I really mean it too.

Copyright 2021 Richard Thomas

10/9/21: “The Artist’s Way”, Introductions — It Wasn’t Julia Cameron, It Was Me #poetry

This is the first of 13 segments on Julia Cameron’s book, “The Artist’s Way”. This segment covers the Introductions to the 25th Anniversary Edition of the book, and the 12 ‘Weeks”, or chapters, will each receive segments that follow.

Quotes from “The Artist’s Way” are in quotation marks.

What I remember of her books, and maybe everything else that I have encountered in my life, is less the things themselves, and more my inner monologue in response to them. I have never had any teachers, mentors, muses or exemplars. The artists, the Jesuits, the lawyers, the professors, the directors and fellow actors never taught me a thing. Others present to me, and I present back to them and other people.

Everything in my life resembles a theatrical improvisation based upon a suggestion, including everything in my life that happened before I knew what theatrical improvisation was. Good improvisations just use the suggestion as a point of ignition. They spin out in quite unexpected ways, sometimes not looking like they are responsive to the suggestion at all. All that matters is that the improviser inhabits his present self consciously and acknowledges the external reality before him. Emphatic acceptance of the inner and outer world leads to creation.

“Most of the time, when we are blocked in an area of our life, it is because we feel safer that way.”

This is not my experience. When I have been “blocked” it has been because of the unjust actions of other people, a lack of discernment in who I associated with, and a tendency not to walk away from inappropriate people and situations until I had deep understanding of what happened.

Actually, I never was blocked … not for a minute. I have always done what I felt deeply compelled to do, and the hardships, as well as the joys were explorations which yielded the raw material of my writing.

The implication of fear in this quote touches an old wound. I was accused of being fearful, but I wasn’t. My demeanor may have seemed fearful at times, but it really demonstrated awkwardness and frustration. I so wanted to be home, but I was a wanderer. A wanderer is always ill at ease by definition. It takes a long time to know oneself, and even longer if what you are is large and complicated.

I wonder if Julia Cameron undervalues how valuable difficult experiences are in the life and work of an artist. Probably not, but I’ll keep an eye out.

Everything isn’t psychological or spiritual, as important as those aspects of existence are. Politics, human rights, economics each play a role. I had to fight to claim my birthright as an artist. That struggle was so important. I know certain things about life which I would have never learned if I didn’t have to fight.

As previously stated, other people can “block” you too. Sometimes your obstacle is the result of their psychological or spiritual issue. In my case, many years ago, I overcame what was misnamed as my “block” when I realized that my obstructions were not my fault. I got angry and insulted and started fighting back, and complaining.

I was never afraid. I was often naive. I recently wrote that Julia Cameron seemed to know that the world was a place of great creativity and toxicity, and that life runs on that alternating current. I don’t think she says that. I’m the writer in my life who has that insight.

I really don’t even know what being “blocked” means. Everything happens for a reason. Joy, sorrow, success, failure, warm intimacy and alienation … all states of being have a purpose.

Life is what you make it. The agony and the ecstasy. Those are the states of the life of the artist and art itself.

I have no regrets. None. And I have never been afraid. I’ve never backed away from the big, seeming irrational change when it was called for. My pain has been in the invasive, improper criticism of others. They hurt me so. They never bothered me after I got a distance from them … a distance of time and space. But when it came to doing what my inner guidance directed me to do, I unfailing followed that guidance regardless of what other people said. I never internalized what they said. I raged because they had the nerve to say it. And I suffered because I wanted friends and love. I didn’t avoid true friendship and love, and those commodities are certainly plentiful … I didn’t know how to find them. (I learned.)That pain became a source of my creativity. I wrote to understand, and when I understood, I could release my pain and open myself to something better.

I never was afraid. I was just learning — self-taught.

“William Blake said, ‘ I myself do nothing. The Holy Spirit accomplishes all through me.”

I knew this when I was a small boy, long before I heard of Julia Cameron or William Blake. I recognized that there was a creative intelligence that makes all persons the way that they are, and determines the nature of the world and our lives. I never thought that I should egoistically decide what to do. I saw that I had to observe what I wanted to do — God was the author of my desire. (And God is never afraid.) God told me … you like that girl more than the others, you want that job or book or class more than the others. These people and things are important to you. Those others are not part of your destiny.

Julia Cameron apologizes for talking about God. She knows that many people hear the word “God” and think of authoritarianism. So she suggests substitute “higher power” and think of benevolent love … I used to do that type shit when I was a teacher. A teacher has to do that. It’s part of the job. The teacher has to influence the specific students in her charge — even if her students are millions of readers all over the world. My writing got better when I stopped teaching. I have some great readers and they are much more than students. I don’t have to explain myself to them. (I want more such readers and listeners.)

A great thing about writing is that a writer has no authority, except the authority of his authentic truth. That doesn’t mean the writer is the voice of God giving directions, the writer is a poem of God, giving the reader something to contemplate.

It wasn’t Julia Cameron. It was me. I don’t see Julia Cameron as an authority on creativity. I see her as a person of interest for me to contemplate to discover something about myself. And to appreciate her for who she is.

I have gratitude for knowing, or knowing of, many people and their work, but I give them no credit for my work. My work is me. I guess I don’t credit myself for the work either … that credit belongs to God. I just get credit for putting it out there.

“Accumulate pages, not judgements.”

I always knew this too. Create, that’s all. Work on it and you get better at it. I’m delighted by everything that I write. Writing is not rewriting … writing is keep writing. I notice greater facility with my writing as I go forward … I get better. I write better pieces on themes that I had considered previously. Writing evolves … I still like the old stuff too … it seems written by someone else.

You just put yourself in motion, and you transform naturally.

“As Carl Jung answered the question of belief late in his life, ‘I don’t believe, I know.”

I’ve always known this. When I was younger, I was insulted often when I showed my writing or some other creative work to someone, and they would talk about my “opinion”. I never write what I merely think. I report my experience. Or express it in real time.

I never followed the requirements of “The Artist’s Way” course. The two recurring assignments are “morning pages” and “artist’s dates”. Morning pages are just writing whatever you want to write every day. Eventually some substance emerges beyond stream of consciousness doodling. I have always done this. As I said, I just write and it takes on a life of its own. Those musings turn into ever complex forms. I look forward to what my writing will look like in the future.

Artist’s dates are just doing things that you feel like doing, and doing them alone. I do that all the time.

My whole life has basically been spent doing morning pages and artist’s dates.

Making art is a natural thing. I taught an improv class once where I just told the students to “just improvise” with no further instruction, and I then I informally charted how many exercises they naturally came upon that can be found in Viola Spolin’s “Improvisation for the Theater”. They found a lot of those exercises unprompted through their own exploration. I was teaching “creativity” I guess — I called it improvisation, in much the same way that Julia Cameron teaches her courses. I am glad that I don’t teach improvisation or anything else anymore. I’m also glad that I taught … I learned a lot, but when I learned too much I stopped being a good teacher. A great political leader or teacher can only lead people as far as their understanding can take them. A writer can lead all time.

Julia Cameron teaches and writes. That might work for her. I don’t know her non-teaching writing. My teaching was a great thing for my writing, until it wasn’t. God gave my writing ambitions greater than what was useful to my students. And my engagement with those students stopped being useful to me.

For those of you who are teaching artists, I am not offering my experience as universal truth — just what is true for me. When you read me, it’s not me, it’s you.

God, me and you having a party at Julia’s place … no check that, my place, but Julia’s here too …

How to naturally flows from who …

“Boredom is just ‘what the use’ in disguise.”

Oh no … boredom is great, it’s a sorting mechanism …. boredom tells you what you want to kick to the curb … boredom is a way of stopping ideation, and then inspiration has room to take over your internal monologue. Boredom is rest. It’s turning down the volume on your natural intensity. It’s a gestation period. We need pauses … we end up being in places that don’t belong to our life’s trajectory from time to time. Boredom can be useful.

“Filling the well, stocking the pond …”

The years of my life that might be wrongly diagnosed as being times of fear and blockage were actually — filling the well, stocking the pond. I have great resources of images and feeling to draw upon in my writing. New and present experience draws out the old experiences and the result can yield depth, insight and interesting perspective.

One of the great compliments of my writing — “you use everything.”

It was important that I had years of not pursuing a career of any kind, but always doing what made me deeply happy. It was important that I was unjustly persecuted for doing same. It is important that I pursued careers too, and was rewarded for being a good boy, and chastised for honoring my enfant terrible. Everything is important. I HAVE AND HAVE HAD A LIFE.

“Brenda Ueland said, ‘imagination needs moodling, long inefficient, happy idling, dawdling and puttering …”

I am a master of what she says here. I have always understood that we don’t ever leave childhood. We add other stages of life but the child remains within us. And I have always had a relationship with my “inner child”, a cliche that really means something. If you have, the impatience, impetuousness and stubbornness of a child … along with the wonder and curiosity and glee … you have a leg up in the writing game.

“Many of us read (or watch TV shows or movies or the news) compulsively to screen our awareness …”

I have never had this problem. I have no capacity for distraction. I can be interested in, or bored with something, but neither condition silences my inner voice.

“Blocks must be acknowledged and dislodged. Filling the well is the surest way to do this.”

I have never been blocked as an artist. I have spent my life filling the well.

End of Introductions

Next: Week 1 — Recovering a Sense of Safety

Copyright 2021 Richard Thomas

10/10/21: Fathers and Sons #poetry

Above is a photo of my late father. I should use it as a headshot.

Note: I write these pieces with a vague objective in the back of my mind that they could “work” independently, and that they are also segments of a long, and may I say immodestly, epic, piece. But these dual objectives elude me more and more and more. This piece refers to recent pieces that I have written about the movies “Magnolia” and “The Last Hurrah”. I can’t reframe here everything that I have already written about those topics. I’ll leave it you, reader, to determine if you get the meaning of this piece just by reading it in context, or want to fill in material from related observations in the previous work.

Below is an excerpt from my correspondence with my great friend …

More later … amazed at similarities… poetic sons of jock fathers …  and one of my earliest memories is Dad yelling at me for crying when I got soap in my eyes at bath time. 

Fath … such an Irish name of affection.

Your students are so fortunate to have you. 

“I love. I’m sorry. Forgive me. Thank you.” Quite a mantra.

Whatever works!

Jason Robards in “Magnolia” … “Regret is good. Use your regret.” He was so sorry that he cheated on his wife to “prove he was a man “ and abandoned his son while his wife died alone. His angry son, Tom Cruise forgives him and weeps at his deathbed. 

The good thief.

The bad thief was played by Phillip Baker Hall. He couldn’t admit that he molested his daughter … and his wife, Melinda Dillon, leaves him because he can’t say it. He dies alone.

I wonder why Ford didn’t explore Spencer Tracy’s role in raising an unserious skirt chasing fool of a son in “The Last Hurrah”. He frames it that the son wronged the father, but did the father wrong the son?

Tracy plays regret for how his son turned out. It is less clear if he felt responsibility.

Today the screenplay would have a scene where Tracy acknowledges that he was focused on his political career and was an absent father, and that he never taught his son how to be a man.

But responsibility also falls on the son. All men learn how to be men through their relationships with their fathers. Dead fathers, absent fathers, good fathers, abusive fathers, permissive fathers, autocratic fathers, cheerleading fathers, harshly critical fathers … all men have to process their relationships with their fathers … deciding what they liked about Da, and rejecting what they didn’t.

At a certain point one becomes the father … the son and the father are one.

Ron Reagan, for example is so much like his father, with major revisions. The existentials are the same. The politics polar opposite. His father, the son of an alcoholic father, lived a life of denial so Ron wouldn’t have to …

Ron speaks of his father with detachment and affection … just like his father addressed everything.

All my gifts and problems are also my father’s, and when I forgive him and give him gratitude, I forgive, and give gratitude to myself.

So much of my writing is about working to a loving acceptance of my father, my self, and in so doing redeeming my view of, and participation in, the world.

Copyright 2021 Richard Thomas

10/10/21: The Artist’s Way Week 1 — Everybody Says Don’t #poetry

There are two kinds of fear. Good fear tells you not to cross against the light on a busy street. Bad fear tells you not to do something that you are meant to do because of some perverse psychological reason.

I’m pretty brave and appropriately cautious.

I have never feared success. ( I’ve been accused of that.) I have feared inauthenticity.

When a person lives their life as an art, the life is harder. The purely competitive person, or the narcissist who wants to look like a winner, has it easy. He just figures out what he has to do get the promotion or make the big splash impression and he does it.

The person who wants to do the true thing … marry for love, make art not branding has more of a challenge.

But …

I wouldn’t have it any other way. The competitor or narcissist never lives at all. If you act only to dominate or please other people, you never get to find out who you are. If you don’t know who you are, you can’t make any sense of the world. You just do what you are told, or cheat to make it look like you did what you were told.

You never get to love anyone or anything.

And that’s what fear is — the absence of love.

All the apostles of success and winning are the ones who are really afraid. They are afraid of trusting life and living it.

You cede all of your power, if you ignore the whispering directions of your soul and conform your life to society. It doesn’t matter if the society is led by Chinese Communists or Madison Ave ad men.

When I taught, there was a lot of talk about making classrooms safe spaces to learn. I myself appreciate the teachers in the academy and the arts who encouraged me to risk, stretch and fail. That’s all great for students and kids. But the most productive risks occur when they aren’t entirely safe. You have to risk losing the job, the girlfriend, membership in the social grouping.

I’m not talking about impetuosity or foolish risk — stupid daredevil danger for danger’s sake, or trying to show people what a badass you are. But when the call comes, and you vet it with careful reflection, and you know it’s true … you have to do the hard thing, the seemingly irrational thing, the thing that makes some of the other people murmur against you with doubt.

There is an unavoidable agony associated with a life of art. The future never comes easy.

Anything done with love is a radical act.

Okay, now let me look at what Julia Cameron said on this topic. Her words are in quotes.

“One of our chief needs as creative beings is support.”

True. Artists are not part of the rises and falls of society. We follow a different life trajectory. We need the support of other creative beings — audiences, readers, collaborators, friends, lovers, business partners etc … We never form cliques for our own aggrandizement. Our work benefits everyone. We lock arms and create a new world as brothers and sisters on a journey.

“Carl Jung said, ‘Nothing has a stronger influence psychologically on their environment and especially on their children than the un-lived life of the parent.”

My parents lived their lives fully, so I was spared this truth in my family. But I encountered such stunted children and parents in my life in the world. Most people sadly have unlived lives (a true oxymoron), but happily I think more and more people have real lives in full. The consciousness arc of humanity bends towards enlightenment.

Stephen Sondheim answers this sorry/grateful state of affairs with this wonderful lyric:

>From Anyone Can Whistle
(S Sondheim)
Everybody Says Don’t
Everybody Says Don’t
Everybody Says Don’t It Isn’t Right
Don’t Is Isn’t Nice
Everybody Says Don’t
Everybody Says Don’t
Everybody Says Don’t Walk On The Grass
Don’t Disturb The Peace
Don’t Skate On The Ice
Well I Say Do I Say
Walk On The Grass It Was Meant To Feel

I Say Sail

Tilt at The Windmill
And If You Fail You Fail
Everybody Says Don’t
Everybody Says Don’t
Everybody Says Don’t

Don’t Get Out Of Line
When They Say That Then Lady That’s A Sign
Nine Times Out Of Ten
That You are Doing Just Fine

Make Just A Ripple

Come On Be Brave
This Time A Ripple

Next Time A Wave
Sometimes You Have To Start Small
Climbing The Tiniest Wall
Maybe You’re Going To Fall
But It Is Better Than Not Starting At All

Everybody Says No Stop
Musn’t Rock The Boat Musn’t Touch A Thing
Everybody Says Don’t
Everybody Says Wait
Everybody Says Can’t Fight City Hall
Can’t Upset The Court
Can’t Laugh At The King
Well I Say Try

I Say Laugh At The King Or He’ll Make You Cry
Loose Your Poise
Fall If You Have To But Lady Make A Noise

Everybody Says Don’t
Everybody Says Can’t
Everybody Says Wait Around For Miracles
That’s The Way The World Is Made

i Insist On Miracles
If You Do Them

Miracles — Nothing To Them
I Say Don’t
Don’t Be Afraid!

“Louise Bogan says, ‘I cannot believe that the inscrutable universe turns on an axis of suffering; surely the pure beauty of the world must somewhere rest on pure joy.”

Julia is barking up the wrong tree. A safe space is a clip joint if it tells artists that they will not suffer. Being an artist involves a lot of pain. We have to learn how to survive and participate in life as social animals and spiritual beings. It isn’t easy. It involves a lot of nuance and delicacy. Julia is right that suffering shouldn’t be seen as the nature of art’s fulfillment. To the contrary, art brings insight and understanding and they burn away pain. But there has never been a real artist who hasn’t suffered for internal reasons of his heart and mind, and external reasons of injustices or at least misunderstandings of the outside world.

Joseph Campbell had the true phrase — “sacrifice and bliss”.

An artist dreams, but he or she isn’t a mere dreamer.

Nothing is more practical, and the province of true realists than art.

Pain is the grit that art turns into pearls.


“Shakti Gawain says, ‘an affirmation is a strong positive statement that something is already so.”

I use affirmations. I used to do them to make progress. Now I employ them for maintenance.

Affirmations are not self-promotions. I tell the truth about myself. I don’t try to make myself look good. I don’t have to. Decades of affirmations, rigorously backed with evidence and objective assessment, have turned finally into my real and deserved confidence.

That’s all for this session, grasshopper.

“Henry David Thoreau says, ‘Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you imagined.”

That quote looks better here than on the insurance commercial.

Oh yeah … Julia doesn’t mention this — DON’T IDENTIFY WITH FAILURE. It is something that happens, it is never who you are. If you don’t fail from time to time, you aren’t trying. Failing is part of the creative process. Don’t sweat it … it’s nothing to be afraid of … even the doozies that everybody (OK, it just seems like everybody) gets on your ass about.

Coming up next — Week 2, Recovering a Sense of Identity

Copyright 2021 Richard Thomas

10/11/21: The Artist’s Way Week 2 — Life After Snipers and Crazymakers #poetry

All Julia Cameron comments are in quotes.

“Jody Hayes says, ‘Snipers are people who undermine your efforts to break unhealthy relationship patterns.”

I always go to places looking for a space to do my project. Hopefully, it’s a win/win for me and the other person, organization or entity. I give to the other and I expect the other to give to me. Often they welch on the deal. America is a land of broken promises. Many think betrayal is the normal state of things. Everybody lies, right? Only a sap thinks that the person in the catbird’s seat isn’t going to press his advantage eventually. The guy with the money calls the tune and all the promises are just … poetry.

They expect me to surrender my project to serve theirs exclusively. This is the I AM THE BOSS or PEER PRESSURE situation. Because they want to exploit me, they undermine my past achievements, present needs, and future potential. I make clear that their disrespect is inappropriate and that I remain faithful to what I have committed to do. I never agreed to servitude to them. I split from the persons and situations.

No one can undermine you without your permission. No one can tell you what to do. I have never accepted disrespectful treatment, demands for immoral behavior, or demands for work that compromises my creativity and intelligence.Snipers are people who are trying to entrap you in unhealthy relationship patterns. They want to hold onto you, and subjugate you in a diminished position. You have to be willing to break with these people. Every time I broke with a situation that was too small, I was rewarded with something bigger. Every time I gave up income or some other necessity, I’ve been provided for in a bigger and better way. In a later Week, Julia Cameron discusses the concept of “Abundance”. I am in such emphatic agreement with her about abundance. If you are doing something positive, out of love, that is true, something that nourishes your soul, and serves other people … you will always be taken care of …

But you have to leave the snipers behind. That is easier said than done. I was impressed by something the actor Alan Alda once said. He said that you have to go through emotional pain, you can’t just resolve to leave. You have to lose things … income, the illusion of friendship, social status — and you have to suffer the snipers place in your heart until you fully understand what happened … and then you have release.

I sighed when I saw that this was the next chapter because I have done so much work in the last year or so casting out snipers and bad circumstances. I have my wife, my brother, my friends, my writing, an un-compromised income … I’m free. All of the naysayers, doubters, skeptics and character assassins have disappeared. I really didn’t want to look at this topic today …

But … I am called to witness …

Even when I wasn’t free, when I bore the burden of the snipers, I was not deterred. Life hurt, but I kept going. I remained the author of my own life. I remained committed to what I thought was important … no matter how much abuse and injustice was sniped upon me.

Nelson Mandela’s unjust imprisonment preceded his glorious liberation.

I’m happy that prison phase is over, but I understand its necessity, and I am proud of how I handled it.

You make them feel bad so they want to bring you low. They hate your freedom, your joy, your talent, your conviction … they hate your success … they hate your strut … your confidence … greatness in a weak place without full social status is always persecuted. It’s a natural law. They see your excellence as insubordination.

They hold onto the recognition. They own it. They don’t want to share it. They don’t care if its good. They care who is in charge. You, of course, the artist, don’t care who is in charge. You just want to do good work, and enjoy the perks of that work … the friends, the praise … why not? But they want you dead. They look at you with fear in their eyes, and then they plot how to get rid of you. It isn’t jealousy exactly. They see you as a threat to all that they have built for themselves. You are really no threat. You don’t even really care about their thing. You wouldn’t give them or what they are doing a second thought, but now you have to because they have come after you.

The big lie that I bought into … the toughest thing for me to unpack was that the snipers made me believe that they were stealing other people from me. But the people who didn’t notice what was happening, or didn’t come to my defense, were not meant for me either.

I will repeat something that I have said often in my writing. You can’t lose what really belongs to you. A worthwhile person would never be a sniper. A worthwhile organization or social group would never tolerate snipers. The people who would triangulate you and the snipers are not true connections. Often I’ve found that individuals that I have known in toxic environments stay in touch with me away from those environments. That’s a more worthwhile connection than when I knew them at the false place.

You have to be willing to go it alone, and wait for past, present and future connections to return, manifest themselves or appear on the horizon and give you your due.

What is recognition anyway? It is just being seen. We recognize each other. The snipers want you to go away, or pipe down or helplessly crawl. I choose to go away and shout to the rooftops and walk with a fine upright posture. The snipers aren’t important. It’s their residue that you have to deal with. The school shooter is important for a second of imposition on one’s life. It is the recovery time in the hospital or in the grieving process that requires our effort and attention.

The snipers eventually disappear, and you are left with your solitude and the people who care about you, and what you do.

And this next quote from Julia Cameron affirms what I am talking about here …

“Robert Louis Stevenson said, ‘To know what you prefer instead of humbly saying Amen to what the world tells you that you ought to prefer, is to have kept your soul alive.”

My soul has always come first, not other people. I appreciate your readership, but you should know that my writing process is not calibrated in any way to please you. I just report my truth to the best of my ability. Personally, I am reassured by that orientation in a writer. And if you like my words, you are too.

My job as an artist is to fashion for you an outer representation of my soul … to reveal myself and give you something to contemplate. How could I achieve that if I followed the orders of a boss, or conformed to the tastes and mores of the community? Snipers try to wound and weaken you, so that you obey and surrender your individual nature to some always too small proscribed social role. Don’t let them.

“Shakti Gawain said, ‘Every time you don’t follow your inner guidance, you feel a loss of energy, loss of power, a sense of spiritual deadness.”

I felt what he is describing so long ago that I can barely remember it, except that I never felt spiritually dead. Two things helped me stay true to God’s call within me … illness and rage. Every time that I have let myself down, I have become seriously ill. Every time that I have sold myself short or allowed others to to do so, I have become really angry.

I actually have live closer to my spiritual existence than to the requirements of being a creature on this earth. I had a harder time honoring practical necessity than honoring the essence of how God made me.

Much of my life’s work has been about making the body and soul’s necessities congruent or even one in the same. That might be one good defintion of art.

Julia Cameron talks extensively about “crazymakers” … commonly called toxic typres that do things to sabotage your creativity. If you have issues with such people, I suggest that you read her. I have written extensively about crazymakers in my life, and I am proud of the writing. That writing had a personal benefit as being my method of releasing these gremlins from my mind. I would settle the matter of the crazymaker in my outer world, but their mischief remained seared on my brain. I don’t feel like writing about one of them this morning. I can’t even summon one up in my recall.

As artists, our vulnerability is a great asset. We can’t do our work without being sensitive. But our superpower is also our kryptonite. The crazymaker exploits the softness and labels it weakness and then shoots or stabs to kill. We survive, but we must heal our wound. And that takes time.

The deepest wounds are so fruitful. I would think that I finally understood the assault of the crazymaker and could let it go … only to find that the painful memory would return again and again. But each return of the pain yielded even deeper insight.

I think Julia Cameron might focus too much on escaping snipers and crazymakers. We definitely have to leave them, but they are such fodder for art. We should use everything that happens to us. We have to look at what happened. It wasn’t self-destruction that led us to toxic people — that type of blaming is useless. We went to the shit places to learn something about life. Our paintings need to be agile while working with light and darkness.

Every moment of my life, every person that I have ever met … even, maybe especially, the most awful ones … have furthered my art.

Excerpt from correspondence with a friend

I’ve never been able to engage something that I didn’t want to do. It’s physically painful. I’ve done tedious or demanding things of course but always because I wanted to, or because I needed to do them in order to do what I wanted to do.

I wondered about all of those things for myself except procrastination. I never had that one. For me, I concluded that all the other doubts were other people’s bullshit and I refused to internalize them.

I didn’t avoid success or failure. I just did what I deeply wanted and people said it was one or the other. I don’t care what they think. I do get pissed off when they try to take my narrative and spin it to glorify themselves.

I don’t even know what success and failure is anymore. I am proud of what I’ve done. And I’m happy. Is that success? My life is like “Catch Me if You Can” except I was legit. Great improviser, trial lawyer, college professor, writer and excellent at each … and I’m supposed to hang my head?

When I had to work I was talking to these law school deans about teaching my Ethical Presence program. I corresponded with many, heard from a few. The most interested put me down said … well it’s good but no one is that interested because you don’t have money. He was trying to take control. And that was their attitude. I had no work, I was living on savings . I walked away. This was just a couple of years ago. He just knew I wasn’t wealthy.

Fuck them. I don’t even like country clubs. I know as much or more about my area as they do about theirs. I have no bow in me.

We are taught to bow and curtsy before the boss and the group. I never was any good at that.

I think that thoughts about being lazy is internalized nonsense from assholes. I heard that forever and it was bullshit. If I’ve been so lazy why is my work product so good. I would stop working whenever I was in a situation that asked me to be morally wrong or creatively mediocre. 

My art and humanity is of such higher quality than that of the people that I once wondered about possibly endowing me with success.

The concern of wanting the recognition of others cedes so much creative power. I’ve done that. Every split with people who undervalued me led to an expansion of my art.

As to my “claims” I just write about myself like I write about anything else. I report what I see.

I never think about anyone’s reaction to my work. I just focus on expressing my truth. If this is antithetical to broader success, so be it.

But really, I just want to get this out to as many people who will like it. I don’t want to tailor it to any audience.

I think that means there is a different approach to artistic success than any models that I’ve seen … show biz, law, higher ed … it is that line of action I’m looking for …

end of excerpt

And I am sick of thinking about “success”. Roger Ebert decided when he was a student at the University of Illinois that he wanted to be published. I decided that I wanted to be a writer. It’s a different orientation. Of course, I want my work read. But Ebert is clearly not an exemplar for me. I like Roger Ebert, but he was a personality, not a writer. He did what he could to get “published”. He cheerfully agreed that his TV movie clip shows were killing serious criticism. “No one wants to tune in and hear me do a critical analysis of a film.” OK, fine. I am not playing Roger Ebert’s game. I want to share my writing with as many as would like it. I think it will find its way to the hands of people well disposed to it without any strategizing from me.

“Jackson Pollock says, ‘The truth of a painting has a life of its own. I try to let it come through.”

The fate of my writing will be revealed through my writing.

You can’t plan a creative life. You just have to be up for it.

Next — Week 3, Recovering a Sense of Power

Copyright 2021 Richard Thomas

10/12/21: The Artist’s Way, Week 3 — Gifts of Anger and Synchronicity #poetry

Julia Cameron’s words are in quotes.

I wanted three things.

I wanted to write (I have always written. I just wanted to do it more consciously. I wanted to finish the pieces that graced and haunted my brain. Words are like wine, they have to age before they are ready to drink. Writing redeems one’s entire life. Everything is useful. Everything is ascribed meaning.)

I wanted to be free of abusive and disrespectful people, and only associate with people who love me, respect me and treat me well (really, if two people in any kind of relationship — spouse, friend, family, business relationship don’t love each other — why waste your time? It doesn’t take much time to realize that you love somebody. You love each other right off the bat. Then you have your challenges and misunderstandings — but you love each other. With love anything is possible. Illness, poverty, disappointment, failure and losses of all kinds — even death. Love is the only way to go. Even a store clerk who doesn’t treat you with civility and simple human concern is an imposition upon your finite life. Love inspires mutuality. That feeling of sharing the other person’s joys and sorrows — well that is unbeatable. We aren’t wired to love everybody. Perfectly nice and fine people may not be in our field of love. Love defines us. Who are we if not who and what we love? To be separated from love is called alienation. Every loveless moment is like being dead. Love is life itself.)

I wanted to be financially secure, to stop having to worry and scramble for money all of the time, and deal with those fucking jobs (the work was fine — it was my art whether they liked it or not, it was the people who mostly sucked — mean spirited mediocrities with a few sweethearts mixed in).

I got all of those things. Julia Cameron rightly attributes such satisfaction to two processes of our biological and spiritual evolutions — biochemical anger, and soul expansive synchronicity. Anger tells you what is wrong. She wisely says that anger is a call to “act on, not act out”. Synchronicity first opens you to possibility, and then heightens your awareness and gives your dream-come-true on a silver platter.

I’ve been angry a lot in my life and it is because I change a lot … many transformations. I’ve had a lot of answered prayers because I was born into a really spiritual family — immigrants who came to an unknown country with nothing and found all that they needed and desired. Anger propelled my people from poverty and fascism. Synchronicity brought them fulfillment in what they loved to do, people they loved and freedom from want. I have felt precisely the same emotions that my father did when he escaped Fascist Italy, married my Mom, built a house in suburban Rochester, had a business and spent hours of passion engaged in sports … first soccer, then football, then golf. He died surrounded by his family, shortly after being surrounded by his friends.

We all have a right to such a life.

I am currently in a gestation period. I do not know precisely what I want next for my writing. Something is surely next. I can feel it, but I can’t see it yet. I’m not currently angry about anything, so I don’t have rage as a directional device or energy source. I can’t employ synchronicity because that requires specificity.

I love the famous quote from the poet, Rilke, “Live the questions.” This might be the most exciting time, when one is open to anything. I get that feeling in the pit of my stomach, that gets labeled as anxiety when I am nervous and upset, and is named “thrilling” when I am hopeful and happy.

I wrote recently that I was never blocked. That’s not true. I was blocked, but in this instance the untruth — (it wasn’t a lie, a lie requires intent) is what is true. I was blocked in my daily life living in imagined pain while unconsciously dancing with unacknowledged joy. My shadow acted like it was my body, and my body acted like it was my shadow.

Lately I’ve been writing with a swagger. A swagger is not what is most true. Being human is what is true, and that is a more ambiguous motion. But a life in art is a series of rebirths, and each time a membrane gets broken … not a glass ceiling … it is flesh and blood that is destroyed not architecture …

My life is as it has always been, only now it is more conscious. The awareness that makes me feel better and enables me to share something with you occurs in the same action.

The swagger is true and wonderful, only if, like anything else, one doesn’t get stuck in it.

A friend wondered if my statement that artists and scientists are doing the most important work of mankind would alienate “dentists and trash collectors who would otherwise like my words.”

I am a small “d” democrat and an elitist. First, the elitism … I don’t think everyone is an artist or scientist. I believe that they are born not made. Now the democracy … but everyone can participate in art and science. I am a new and big fan of the Bears’ young quarterback, Justin Fields. There is no way that I ever on my youngest and fittest days ever do anything approaching what Justin Fields physically. But what he does can resonate me, and subtly inspire me and even be seen as a metaphor for my writing. The dentist or trash collector can’t write like I can … they just can’t. I was born with a talent for this. No amount of work and study would make somebody without the talent write as well. But … the dentist and trash collector can live like the words, or more precisely live like what the words inspire within them. And their lives are more important than art and science. Their lives are what art and science serves. Who would care about art and science otherwise?

When I said that artists and scientists did the most important work, I didn’t mean that they were better than other people. I just meant that it their jobs to speak for God to everybody else. But everybody else can apply what God says.

I think the only people who would be bothered with the assertion that artists and scientists are on the top of the heap of the vocations of mankind, are artists and scientists that haven’t fully admitted to themselves yet that they are artists and scientists.

My friend worries about “claims” that I make about myself. They aren’t claims. They are what I see, just like anything else is what I see. I am who I say I am, and I will relate to the world based on that knowledge. This chapter of “Artist’s Way” is about power, and I don’t know what is more powerful than unapologetically and consciously being yourself in the world. That’s not dominance over other people, it’s a natural power … the power of being who you are. The disrespectful people that I mentioned at the beginning of this piece may be that way because they are afraid of being who they are, and afraid of the very idea that anyone could live their authentic life in full.

Well, I’m not afraid … and that is why I cheer Justin Fields when he is so brilliantly and excellently himself on his field.

Julia Cameron teaches me anew … and I thought this was a review! She debunks the idea of strategy and I have been growing toward this point of view. What is next for my writing will happen spontaneously, it won’t be the result of tactics and agendas.

What do I want for my writing? I want it to grow. I want the writing itself to get better and the audience to get bigger. I want to get money for it. I want it to be a means of meeting new people and getting new experiences.

My commitment to my writing is key. I keep writing and providence will provide me the opportunities for all that I desire — just as providence brought me the writing itself, and love, and financial security.

It seems you want a few things. God gives them to you as long as you are sincere in His purposes, and then He gives you a higher class of desires, and finally you matriculate your way into heaven.

Do you see William Shatner going into to space? Over ninety? And so sharp and funny? And he is a fat guy too? So healthy and doing things and worried about landing so he can do more things. Fat old guys who used to be handsome leading men are so cute aren’t they ladies? More puppy than cocksman, but I’ll take it!

Dear Santa, put getting so old and being vital on the wish list too! And to think I started this piece saying I didn’t know what I wanted for my writing. See how magical this stuff is.

Boy, this is a good chapter. She’s talking about how an artist gets shamed. I always was the truth teller as a kid, and I got punished and adored. There were recent attempts at punishments when I told the truth about UIC, and Second City. But people admired it too. Lenny Bruce must be listening somewhere.

Here’s Julia …

“The act of making art exposes society to itself.Art brings things to light. It illuminates us. It sheds light on our lingering darkness. It casts a beam into the heart of our own darkness and says, ‘See?”

It hurts to read Julia’s words about shame. They bring back memories less of events and more of feelings … some from when I was very young. But it’s a good kind of pain. It makes me grateful for the different atmosphere that I breathe in now.

My father was very critical of me. He could be a real asshole. On the other hand he was strangely not authoritarian. I never saw him as the boss. I wanted him to admire me for what I was. He couldn’t do that because I was so much like him, and he enjoyed himself in nearly constant motion and then hated himself in repose before he fell asleep. He had to work with his hands and back and had to fight through all kinds of oppressions which he strangely never resented. I had it easier, or so I thought. But he made sure I went through his every agony and struggle in my relationship with him. I never did what he wanted me to do — not out of rebellion but because I just didn’t want those things.It was a hard situation, but it taught me to fight. He was really himself, and I love him for it. But embracing him and getting free of him is the story of my life.

We are all our own best friends and our own worst enemies. When we love each other, we understand that and take care of one another.

“Albert Camus says, ‘What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger.” He must’ve known Dad.

She’s writing about poisonous criticism. Some criticism is good, but she is talking about the stupid and mean variety. She wrote and directed a movie and it was inaccurately reviewed in Washington, DC and praised at a European festival. I want no D.C. and all festivals. Is that possible? When you begin you can’t avoid the toxic shock of idiots and assholes. But can I do my thing without hearing from any people I’d rather do without? Is this a possible item for the wish list? Providence, let me know, and If it does work notify me of delivery.

Julia writes about ways of handling criticism. She makes a distinction between useful and useless criticism. It is great practical advice. I just want to not get the useless criticism at all. I’m not sure if that is the nature of things, but I’m past a lot of other circumstances that used to bother me.

She ends the chapter telling me to treat myself well. I do. I love my Keen sandals and my new iPad, my recliner and my Kia Sportage. I deserve nice things. I didn’t always think that. I prided myself that I was not materialistic but I actually was living in unearned shame.

She praises solitude. No push back from me. I love my time alone. I am very nice to myself.

Next Week 4 — Recovering a Sense of Integrity

Copyright 2021 Richard Thomas

10/13/21: The Artist’s Way Week 4 — Art/Life Balance #poetry

Julia Cameron’s words are in quotes.

“Chekhov advised, ‘If you want to work on your art, work on your life.”

My writing and my life are the same thing. Writing is not re-writing, as the popular saying goes. Writing is experiencing personal transformation, and fashioning a record of what occurred. Picasso said that all art, in any medium, is autobiographical, and he was right. What else could it be but the expression of the inner life of the artist, and his or her observations of the outer world?

The most brilliant commentary about any art considers the state of being of the artist. Genre, craft and so on are just tools, secondary and mechanical considerations — necessary support functions but not what define the essence of the endeavor.

I was taught not to write about myself, that superior writing is always in consideration of an external person, place, thing or idea. I ignored the lesson. I write about everything that I experience including my own thoughts and feelings. Who am I kidding?

I was taught that it was important to master the craft of one particular genre. I don’t care about genre. I’ll write an analysis, tell a joke, write a poem, introduce a passage of fiction (always identified), write dramatic dialogue … I just don’t care. I put my finger on the pulse of my constant change as a human being and I surf it.

When I read a book, or watch a movie or play or listen to a lecture or even watch a football game … anything that I observe … I have a conversation with the creators … they are showing me what they made of the world … it is Shakespeare talking, not Hamlet.

Art is a conversation. I write pages and pages in response to the pages and images and spoken words that talk to me every day. My responses are also my initiations for some other artists to respond to … Call and response, call and response … it never ends. The only difference between being an artist and being an audience is that an artist has the facility to fashion an artful response to the rest of the world. The audience member has feelings and thoughts obviously as human as the artist’s, they just lack the means of making a concrete response to the art in a formal way. The audience has an even more profound response than art … that response is the lives they create.

Artists help audiences by making the audience’s thoughts and feelings concrete. Art makes the unconscious conscious. The artist does this for him or herself and then shares with the audience.

When I write, I know that what is true for me on the deepest levels is true for everybody. Our humanity is our point of unity. So if I write something and it resonates — one of my favorite words — resonates in the soul of another person, I’ve done my job.

Artists make pictures of what it is to be a human being, and then audiences go out and act as more conscious human beings as a result of contemplating the pictures. So do the artists.

And the line between art and life disappears.

Of course the great masterpiece is life itself which is created by the indescribable creative intelligence which is often called something like “God”. The Bible is an artists’ rendering of the interplay between that intelligence and mankind and all animate and inanimate beings, objects and manifestations in the universe. Talk about an ambitious piece!

One of the slickest moves by this creative intelligence is that “God” lays out all of creation and gives it no meaning. Then He or She or It added mankind, a part of the creation that has the power to create meaning. A painter looks at a pear, studies how it interacts with light and other objects and uses his perception to create something else which says something profound about what it is to be a human being. This creative intelligence is really intelligent. He or She or It created everything and the last piece had the power to expand everything … into something greater than All.

It’s an honor to be a human being. Of course, we often shit all over the opportunity. That’s the brilliance of “God’s” idea, we can have it all, but only if we want to. Art is the want to …

Human history is part horror movie. Creative intelligence created a non-artificial intelligence that had the power to destroy the world. So when sci-fi writers consider dystopian stories about artificial intelligence robots exterminating mankind, they are writing about us, and their individual selves. All artists make odes and horror movies, hallelujahs and chastisements, prayers of gratitude and dire warnings.

The artist transcends blocks (that’s largely Julia’s beat — facilitating that freedom) to create. It is reality in a minor key. Human beings choose whether they want to be human or some undeveloped version of their potential. Humanity decides whether it will live in the warmth of meaning or regress into a cold and willful nihilism.

The rejection of art is the saddest thing that there is. Artists must create. Audiences must engage with meaning beyond mere sensation.

The greatest risk is to assert that existence is something beautiful and important. It’s a life or death decision. To choose not to try is to never exist at all.

This is the conflict in every soul, between all individuals, in every nation.

Every person who engages in an act of creation will tell you that making art gives them energy.

May the force be with you.

Julia Cameron writes about tantrums that we experience when our consciousness expands. Every new level of meaning that we uncover as we continue the work of creating the universe, causes pain.

Change happens but not without, Julia writes, “a kriya, a Sanskrit word meaning a spiritual emergency or surrender. (I always think of kriyas as spiritual seizures. Perhaps they should be spelled “crias” because they are cries of the soul as it is wrung through changes.)”

There was a commercial on TV this morning about a local PBS show about Viola Spolin, and even now, after all the work that I have done in separating my soul from improvisation and Second City, I still experience a kriya. I really loved that community and thought it was my place in the world. But it wasn’t. It didn’t love me back, and I am not interested in what it does creatively. I moved on. But that doesn’t change that my participation in Second City and improvisation was something quite beautiful once upon a time. And the community did love me back before I began to change. So I changed, expanded … grew … I put away childish things. I have deeper levels of meaning in my life and in my art than when I was an improviser, and certainly more than when I was young at Second City. But it is still a loss. And I feel it more deeply than any other part of my past, because I so dearly loved it. It’s funny, I feel no loss at all when I am reminded of my time at the West Bank Cafe’, the next theater that I worked at after Second City, because my soul hasn’t left the West Bank Cafe’. I look at the people on the PBS Spolin commercial, people I know and I am ashamed of them. They are whoring out Viola Spolin who was really an artist, a great artist for beginners, to sell the new Second City that is owned by the venture capitalist who makes video games and sells nutritional supplements. They sell the show business success of many alumni and ignore the art … and that’ s nothing new. It was like that when I was there in the early 1980s. Of course, my greatest anger at the past is self-directed. Second City is a cake-and-eat-it-too place. It claims that you can be an artist and be a show biz success, which is basically working in advertising, at the same time. You can’t. Second City and I rejected each other a long time ago, even if I didn’t know it. But there still was the art that happened from time to time. And there still was the occasional real human connection. The West Bank had people thinking about commercial careers too, but it was a much smarter and more sophisticated place. It believed in theater, and could enjoy art and show business, and knew the difference. I could breathe there. Breathing is impossible at Second City, and in the improvisation community in general. The sad thing about Second City is that people are open to something more than an ad copy con job. Audiences and students there are falsely told that they are receiving meaning. It’s really quite cynical. I am Second City’s competitor. I think once people see the difference between glasses filled with water and sand, they will pick the water. Second City seems to be winning the competition with me at the moment, but things aren’t what they seem. I watch the people on that commercial talk about Viola Spolin and improvisation, and I know that none of them are saying anything interesting, true or real. They are just pitching for sales. I say things true, interesting and real. I win.

“By tossing out the old and unworkable, we make way for the new and suitable.”

I used to feel badly because Second City and the improvisation community never gave me my due … and I was the best of the best. But I now know that they did me a favor, because I would not be accepted in the places that I am going if people thought I was part of what they are. (I hope this doesn’t hurt any of my sweet friends that I know from my time at Second City. This existential situation does not diminish what we had and have.)

“When the search and discard impulse seizes you, two cross-currents are at work: the old you is leaving and grieving while the new you celebrates and grows strong.”

Sometimes, my only quibble with the great Julia is that her words can take on a tone of ‘this too shall pass.” In my experience it doesn’t pass. Another Stephen Sondheim line “You’re always sorry, you’re always grateful, regretful happy.” Agonies and ecstasies — a tug of war between life and death.

Next, Week 5 — Recovering a Sense of Possibility

Copyright 2021 Richard Thomas

10/14/21: The Artist’s Way, Week 5 — Impossible Dreams are Possible #poetry

Julia Cameron’s words are in quotes.

“Eileen Caddy says, ‘ Expect your every need to be met, expect the answer to every problem, expect abundance on every level, expect to grow spiritually.”

This is my experience and expectation.

Julia knows that this sounds like a “magic wand” chapter. But then she lays out the grounded process:

” … what we are talking about seems to be a conscious process in which we work along slowly and gradually, clearing away the wreckage of our negative patterning, clarifying the vision of what we want, learning to accept small pieces of that vision from whatever source, and then one day — presto! The vision seems to suddenly be in place.”

A lot of Julia’s life went into putting together those relatively few words.

It seems that I will quote Julia more in this particular piece. I couldn’t say it better myself. Read the incredible paragraph below.

“God has lots of money. God has lots of movie ideas, novel ideas, poems, songs, paintings, acting jobs. God has a supply of loves, friends, houses that are all available to us … “

Okay, I might improve this next line …

“By listening to the creator within, we are led to our right path.”

Well, those words need unpacking. It takes practice to discern what are the desires of your ego, and what are the demands — and they are demands — of your authentic soul. The old country and western song, “Looking for love in all the wrong places” addresses this challenge. I really didn’t want to be an artist. “Let this cup, pass from my lips.” I wanted to a big star in show business, and if that didn’t work out, an affluent attorney. But I am neither of those things. I have a poetic nature. I am not a man of action in the field of time. My beat is eternity. My work is in speaking to people’s souls. It does not involve entertaining them or fulfilling their litigation needs.

It isn’t only the creator within that leads us on our paths. It is also the creator without. I wrote a line years ago for a piece in the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin. “Vocation is where the heart’s desire meets the world’s needs.” For me that is soulful art. It is an existential state where one’s inner reality and outer reality are congruent. The dialogue between oneself and the world is an exploration, a field of discovery about the nature of oneself and the world.

Julia continues, “On that path we find friends, lovers, money and meaningful work.”

Meaningful work changes.

A Poem by Richard Thomas

Notre Dame was the right place for me until it was not

I learned all that I could

and split from all that didn’t suit me

Now I just watch the football team

when they are good.

Loyola Law School was the right place for me

I made good friends

Until we grew apart

with no hard feelings

The education didn’t matter much

Improvisation and Second City were the right place to me

I thought I was pursuing a career in show business

when I was really doing my entry level training as an artist

and then Improvisation and Second City became way too small

Depression, rage and underemployment were the right place for me

I saw the darker sides of life

I deepened and grew wiser

and learned what empathy is

Until it was time to also see the light again

Being a lawyer was the right place for me

I developed as a writer

exploring structure in a way similar to when I explored limitless freedom as an improviser

I had the soul nourishing responsibility of doing trials

Until I wanted to retain the skills, but no longer pay the dues of arguments and seeking punishments and retribution

Teaching was the right place for me

As long as I could explore ideas and concepts along with the students

But when my interests became too far beyond their capacity for comprehension

It was time to come home

Writing is the right place

and it always has been

I did not become a serious writer late in life

I have always been one

You go in the direction of your dreams

and your dreams change

They always get bigger

and God provides you with everything that you can bear given your understanding

That sales come on “Think and grow rich” has some veracity to it

We get the life and the world that we imagine

The greater the vision of our mind’s eye, the more we can see

If we see a loveless world, that’s what we will get

If we see some limited definition of ourselves provided by other people, that’s who we will be

The creator within pushes us in the direction of the creator without

The ego can make some of those shoves painful … resisting reality

Then we are in conflict

with ourselves, and other people, and the nature of existence

particularly our promised and certain death …

but when we are clear …

we are in Paradise.

End of poem.

Julia goes on, “Very often, when we cannot find an adequate supply, it is because we are insisting on a particular human source of supply. We must learn to let the flow manifest itself where it will, not where we will it.”

That’s a great line. I have had the experience of banging my head against the wall with people and situations that were inappropriate, and having the shock of joy by having my dreams fulfilled out of seeming left field. This observation is related to what Julia and I wrote about the folly of planning. Columbus thought that he was going to India, but he found what he was looking for further West. (Yes, he was an imperialist oppressor. Look past that for one second. He was also an explorer. Okay, resume your path to higher consciousness and justice. This is not parenthetical irony. I hold antithetical notions in my brain.)

“Sophocles says, ‘Look and you will find it — what is unsought will go undetected.”

Yes … when you have specific intention, your answers appear. Specificity is very important. To review quickly what I wrote a few days ago regarding what I am looking for. Providence provided me with my writing itself, people who love me, and a secure income so that I can devote all of my time to writing. So I am in the flow of openness to abundance. So far so good.

My new needs are — getting paid to do my writing, more audience, and my writing facilitating meeting new people and/or reuniting with old friends and colleagues, and having new experiences.

“The desire to be worldly, sophisticated, and smart often blocks our flow. “

Right. Just listen look and write it down.

Julia alludes to something else that I think is very important. If you go this spiritual route and live your artist’s life, you won’t get any help from the Creative Intelligence, if you don’t serve HIs/Her/It’s purposes. Ethics, and more importantly, morality are so connected to making art. The better the person, the better the artist. I know what many are thinking. There have been many assholes who have been great artists. Picasso was unfaithful, cruel and abusive to his wives, lovers, children, servants —- people in general. But in his painting, he was a saint. The art doesn’t excuse any of his personal sins. But his sins don’t negate his art either.

Providence fosters what is true and destroys what is false. When we die, our virtues go to heaven, and our cruelties are sent to hell.

The “Eat, Pray, Love” lady doesn’t accept this “divine providence” stuff in full. She says, “We’re not children. I can’t tell you that if you write, you will get published; and if you are published that you will get good reviews. But I can tell you that after you write, you will know more about yourself. And that will reward all of your effort greatly.”

I get why she is skeptical. A lot of people daydream about doing art on a professional level. They just aren’t good enough. They don’t have the talent. They can write or paint the way my father played golf. He enjoyed it. He was a decent amateur, but he didn’t have the stuff to be a touring pro.

But when you know that your work is of high quality, it is completely reasonable to believe that it will be financially rewarded.

The “Eat, Pray, Love” lady may also be recognizing that masterful art is sometimes not recognized in the artist’s lifetime. Emily Dickinson and Vincent van Gogh are tow of my favorite examples, out of the scores of artists who never got their due while living. But things have changed. The world is more diverse … brimming with creativity. I have readers from Nepal and India and Syria and Israel and Great Britain and who knows where else. Artists and their audiences connect with much greater ease now. I am certain that “God” will bring me the audiences and business partners that I desire.

I have no evidence to back up the following … it’s just an impression … but I think that just as the world has never been more technologically advanced than it is today, and that technology keeps expanding exponentially, so too, the world has never been so consciously creative. Masterful innovation and expressions of the human spirit are quite literally everywhere. Sure the world is covered in strife, but there are big splashes of color and loud, beautiful music everywhere too.

Knowing who you are comes first. Then you get what you want. The more you know, the more you get.

When you trade your co-dependency in for dependence on “God”, then you are cooking with gas.

“But what we really want is to be left alone!”

Julia is funny. I have to write. If I don’t get the time and space for almost any reason, I get surly. It is the thing that you can’t bear not doing that is who you are.

I never stop writing. This is literally true. Every moment of my existence, even when I am doing something else, I am writing. I live and draw pictures of my life at the same time. I have always done this. I wish I had saved those notebooks from the womb.

I don’t know what Julia’s talk of solitude has to do with this chapter, except of course that in solitude we find clarity. We refuse other people’s phony demands on us, and do what is really important.

I never did anything motivated by wanting the approval or disapproval of others, but I have felt hurt, anger and even sorrow when I was disapproved of by some. It’s an important distinction. I’ve been true to myself, but I have suffered, sometimes greatly from perceived losses resulting from that integrity. But who and what I lost were just illusions.

I am a bit troubled about this line, ” … take a few outward steps in the direction of the dream — only to have the universe flung open an unexpected door.”

Am I taking those few outward steps? I’m not sure. Okay, Rilke, I’ll “live the question.”

The answer came fast. No, not yet. I’ve only recently clarified precisely what I want next for writing … which I will repeat again and again until I get it: money, growth as a writer, more audience, new or reconnected people, and new experiences facilitated by the writing … an expansion of my writing and an expansion of my life. Now I can add a request that Providence tells me the small steps that I can make in my desired direction.

“Erich Fromm says. ‘The specific meaning of God depends on what is the most desirable good for a person.”

I love that. “God” is my best life … the life where I give my highest excellence to my soul, my material needs and (at least indirectly) to the souls and material needs of other people. Now, that’s something I can pray to …

“Stella Terrill Mann says, ‘To accept the responsibility of being a child of God is to accept the best that life can offer you.”

The highest morality is in the pursuit of the highest potentials of our creativity.

Next, Week 6 — Recovering a Sense of Abundance

Copyright 2021 Richard Thomas

10/15/21: The Artist’s Way, Week 6 — The Joy of Money #poetry

Julia Cameron’s words are in quotes.

Julia is a radical. All people who love are radicals. This chapter is about money. It has a simple premise. “God” and honoring “God’s” will is the source of our financial security. Not shit jobs, not common sense, not betraying our authentic selves, not doing things that we hate to do, not a boss, not a client … “God”, and “God’s” will …

And “God’s” will is that we act out of love …

And acting out of love requires that we understand ourselves, and understand that our highest excellence will feed our souls, serve other people and the world, AND HONOR OUR MATERIAL NEEDS.

I have always honored my God instilled desires and values. I’ve been dedicated to my art and my values. I never did anything on any job that offended my personal morality. I never did a lick of work that did not advance, or at least was an experiment in trying to advance, my art.

Consequently, I’ve been broke on the brink of homelessness, had long periods of unemployment, and suffered mentally and physically because of my perception of financial insecurity.

I have also acted with Meryl Streep, and been a successful marketing executive, a lawyer at 50, a trial lawyer at 52, a college professor and a writer.

I have been humiliated, and been feted as a genius.

I’ve had a life.

And now at 66, I have a life sustaining income, and I’m in the early stages of a process of doing my art in the context of a career. In other words, I am pursuing writing exactly what I want, and think is morally right; and I am pursuing get paid and receiving other material advantages, hopefully handsomely, for my writing.

My father was a great example of the lessons of this chapter. He was 88 and dying. He had $8000 to his name. HIs illness was related to toxic materials that he inhaled in his auto repair business. My brother is a prominent lawyer and judge. He got my father another good lawyer. My father answered all of the lawyer’s questions, and signed all of the necessary documents on his death bed. The lawyer got my father a deserved settlement. When my father died, my mother had security for her late old age which lasted another 10 years.

My father had two sayings about money. “God will provide,” and “I’ll juggle, delay paying Peter to pay Paul.” We always had a lot of presents at Christmas. We always took nice vacations.

When my father was dying, some men, his best friends, that he coached years before on his soccer team (he founded it), The Italian-American Sports Club, came to visit him. They all said what a great coach and player that my father was, and that he helped them all so much in ways that had nothing to do with soccer. They were Italian immigrants, and he was in the US longer, he came to America in the late 1930s when he was 17. He showed his friends the ropes in a new country.

My father came to this country with nothing, except courage and strong sense of faith. He got what he wanted — abundantly — by living in a way that served his soul, other people, and took care of his material needs.

He wanted me to do things differently. He had a problem with every seemingly irrational decision that I made to follow the dictates of my soul instead of “common sense”. But his words couldn’t overturn his example.

I don’t regret a minute of my life. I have lived an amazing life. And my nascent writing career (my writing art started long ago) will be the next abundant chapter.

“If we take care of God’s business, He will take care of ours.”


My father’s example isn’t the only teacher of my spirituality of abundance. Experience is a great teacher too.

Here’s just a few instances of when God provided money (of course, God has provided a lot of other needs too … friends, loves, good advice, kindness etc … just at the right time … but this chapter is about money. Also read the previous pieces that describes the “God” concept if that the word “God” makes you roll your eyes. I’m not going to explain all of that again … )

I was down to my last $200 in New York City. A guy called me from a place where I had a temp job that I forgot about, and offered me a full time job.

I was teaching and doing one man shows around Second City for no money, and the producer Joyce Sloane started paying me (I hadn’t asked) because she thought my work was good for her actors, and because she cared about me. Joyce was a wonderful person … and wonderful people had more to do with my financial security than any employer or investment advisor.

I had been out of work for about eight months after being fired from my misbegotten job in a corporate law firm. I was searching diligently without any luck. A friend of mine from law school who I hadn’t seen for years called me and offered me a job.

After 3 years, I left legal practice because my soul told me to teach. I tried to start a business teaching classes to businesses, associations, and on limited contracts with schools. I got some work, but I am not a good entrepreneur. I supplemented my contract work with temp adjunct jobs teaching for universities. UIC called one day, and offered me an adjunct job based on an interview (again forgotten) that I had given them two years earlier. I taught at UIC as an adjunct teacher for one semester. The Obama Administration changed some policies that made it more attractive financially for them to offer me a full time position — teaching course work much like all that I had prepared for my iffy entrepreneurial venture. I became a Clinical Assistant Professor and worked at UIC for 5 years.

My contract was not renewed at UIC after I grew in a different direction from the program that I was teaching in. I tried to start a business (I now was a slightly better entrepreneur but not great — I only learned from experience, I had little talent in that area) that would pay for my needs and leave me lots of time to concentrate on my writing. I got one contract and then the pandemic hit. That one assignment qualified me for pandemic unemployment insurance. During that period of unemployment, a beloved aunt died and left me an inheritance sizable enough (not huge, but enough) to give me an independent income and allow me to concentrate on my writing exclusively.

I am grateful to God and to the people of love who delivered his abundance … Joyce Sloane, George Barber, Jim Grogan, the business manager at UIC, Barack Obama, Joe Biden and the Democrats, my Aunt Clara and my previously deceased Uncle Nello, who had worked hard to give me such a generous gift. I have a responsibility to God and his sweet people to pay it forward. I want my writing to be my deep pleasure, and to help people with whom it resonates. With each expansion of material power (also called money) I can do more good, and have more joy.

Maybe every place that I have split with was because of a conflict regarding what the true source of money is. If Joyce Sloane were still alive, I’d still be involved with Second City, for example. The cold corporate set-up is a non-starter.

“It’s only business” is a cop out. Too much money is made in dishonest, mean and immoral ways. Business is misery if you don’t believe in “God’s” abundance. Business doesn’t have to be a bad thing. It doesn’t have to be the antithesis of morality and art. Loving people can do business that is energized by their love.

“We have tried to be sensible — as though we have any proof at all that God is sensible — rather than see if the universe might not have supported some healthy extravagance.”

I am proud to say that I have never done the sensible or the selfish thing. I am not bragging. It’s a gift that has nothing to do with my effort or character. I am incapable of betraying my soul’s intent, no matter how crazy my soul seems at the time. Oh, I have sometimes buckled to the pressures to do what other people told me was wise (it never actually was), but I always subsequently failed spectacularly at being reasonable and career-oriented. Some people applauded. Some people doubted me and later said I was right. Some people never stopped thinking I am a fool. Some people actually hated me and then disappeared — ‘poof!’ behind a puff of smoke.

I’ve been a puppet, a poet, a pauper, a pirate …. la la la (whatever the song says) … a pawn and a king … Joyce Sloane liked when I sang like Frank Sinatra …

Julia agrees with me. “The creator may be our source, but He?She?It certainly is not the father/mother/teacher/friends here on earth who have instilled in us their ideas about what is sensible for us.”

That line points to a huge part of connecting with abundance. People who love you, hate you, or are just plain gossips, are always around to disapprove, show disdain, or mock your faith; and you have to understand them, protect yourself from their skepticism, and ultimately not listen to them.

Great words from Julia:

“What we really want to do is what we are really meant to do. When we do what we are meant to do, money comes to us, doors open for us, we feel useful, and the work we do feels like play to us.”


Julia writes about enjoying small luxuries.

Allowing ourselves to get pleasure from the many little gifts of life …. appreciation of beauty leads to a love of existence which leads to interest in existence which leads to art … We have to keep the channels open to see, taste and feel how wonderful Creation is. “Carl Jung says, ‘Explore daily the will of God.”

I woke up this morning with exuberance. That usually makes me think … uh oh — I usually don’t write as well when I am amped up. But no worries. It is the perfect emotional state for this material. How wonderful to think about money with joy instead of anxiety.

Julia writes about the luxury of time. I have always luxuriated in my time on earth as if I were a billionaire. The critics called me self-indulgent. Oh no! Not the great tsk tsk! I think I’ll take a bubble bath tonight. I wish I could lay there chewing on a big cigar, but my soul told me that I wanted a long life, and to enjoy those extra years with teeth in my mouth.

Dear God of abundance,

Do your thing.

Make my writing prosperous and effective.

Give me even more joy

and in service of more and more people

Give me money to enjoy

and expand your influence over the entire world.


Next up — Week 7, Recovering a Sense of Connection

Copyright 2021 Richard Thomas

10/16/21: The Artist’s Way, Week 7 —- Listening and Connecting #poetry

Julia Cameron’s words are in quotes.

“Art is not about thinking something up. It is about getting something down … instead of reaching for inventions, we are engaged in listening.”

OK, yes, I know. Not an issue for me. This part comes easy. The soul leads. The rational mind applies. I am a much wiser writer than I am a man. I often read my work as if someone else wrote it. I’m not being instructed to say much more about this topic at the moment. I am being told to keep reading.

This state of listening has become not only my way of art, but also my way of life. Forrest Gump and that fucking box of chocolates, not knowing what he is getting. The only thing wrong with Forrest Gump is the stupid part. I’m smart. Someone once saw me in a show and seriously called me an idiot savant. I’m not an idiot. I just know that everything is worthy of serious consideration and reconsideration. That’s the poetic sense. Why keep going on and on about the beauty of some fucking tree? Because our soul and the world are in constant states of transformation and we can see our selves reflected in the world and vice versa. There are infinite depths to everything.

I am a little impatient reading this chapter. This is the easy part for me. Tell me again about where money comes from and how to avoid idiots and assholes, Aunt Julia.

Wondering about listening seems to be for people who want to be artists, and not someone like me who just is one, whether I like it or not. (I like it — love it — but I had periods when I was much younger, my mid-thirties maybe, when I wished I was anything else.)

This section is another perspective on the ideas of synchronicity and abundance. Be open and you get everything that you need, for your creative work, for your life.

She’s writing about perfectionism. Not a problem for me. I’m delighted by everything that I write. That doesn’t mean I won’t edit or re-write. I just think my writing and me are both great. My mother taught me that I was the most wonderful person in the world, and I’ve never forgotten the lesson. Trying to make things perfect seems like wasted effort to me, and those perfect touches rarely seem worth the trouble. I think perfectionism is a form of people pleasing. Look, I’m thrilled if you like me, but there’s nothing that I can do about if you don’t. No, I don’t care about being perfect. I care about being true. Again, so far I don’t think this chapter is written for me. This stuff is for people trying to be artists. I don’t think you can try to be an artist. She says that anyone can learn a more creative life. But not everyone is an artist. It’s useful … the artist’s way can be applied to tother ways, but I don’t think any real artist ever thought about this stuff —- except maybe women and other oppressed people who have to go through forms of revolution and liberation to be able to do anything since they have been kept down for so long. I’m entitled. My entitlement, which I renounce socially and politically — I am repulsed by the idea of any superiority over anyone else — I crave friends and peers not followers and acolytes … but it is useful that I was programmed to think that I am great and deserve the best of everything. I can expect that without taking anything from anybody else. I wish my sense of entitlement to everybody. Babies should be spoiled, and society should fulfill every person’s material needs so that we can all make art or do whatever else is our authentic action and we can glory in each other’s beauty.

Julia is talking about willing to do something badly to get good at it. I’ve always done that. Jump in with both feet, fuck up and jump in again. You have to be willing to fail. It’s not even failing really. It’s called working.

Lawyers are anal — compulsive, fearful and nervous about every move, literary writers are precious regarding their linguistic jewels — that hushed overly enunciated oral presentation style of the academic poetry reading is one of the funniest tings on earth, and improvisers are fucking slobs. Of course I over generalize. Only 95% of each group have those characteristics. Be conscientious to detail, revere beauty in your writing and be loose — and don’t worry about it. And know if you aren’t an artist, and observe the characteristics of an artist’s talents to further develop your conscious skills.

“As blocked artists, we unrealistically expect and demand success from ourselves and recognition of that success from others.”

I have done good shit and been successful, and then have been recognized by others, or denied recognition by assholes and idiots. I recognize myself and I listen, synchronize and tap into abundance to get more recognition from good people, and more inspiration to do good shit. I have often been praised as a risk taker. I deserve it. I go back and forth on this, but I don’t think that I have ever been blocked. I’ve been oppressed when overwhelmed by mean and stupid criticism at times, but that’s all over now. That’s different than being blocked. I kept going. I did lose my faith that I could get recognition from anybody else but myself. That was my problem. It’s a big world, and there are a lot of people who want to love someone like me and what I do. I thought that was the “connection” that Julia was writing about in this chapter, but it seems to be more about connecting to the voice of God. God will lead me to the people meant for me — and gigs, publishers, producers, audiences. He’s already started. (My God is a he because I have a penis.) When you get stuck being around idiots and assholes, you can start believing those groups are all that is. When you let go of them, you let your wounds heal, and then you realize there are great people out there. Then you keep singing. Even alone in your room. And you go out into the world alone. You put yourself out there. And the good vibrations draw you to the people meant for you. That’s part of what putting my writing on a blog is … it’s a message in a bottle. Some people will actually read it. maybe even more importantly, I fill myself with consciousness of who I am and what I see in the world. And when I have an opportunity to connect with someone meant for me — I’m full and ready. They will be too. Everything will be direct, effortless and apparent.

I’m doing this piece like a homework assignment. I want to get it done as fast as possible …

“If you lose you win, if you win you win …”

Right, for example every idiot or asshole that I ever met I engaged with believing that they would be good people. In those losses, I won because I learned more about what idiots and assholes look like. The idiots and assholes taught me how to recognize good people too.

“Jealousy is a map.”

I get it. Jealousy doesn’t make me feel animosity for another person. I know a very nice man who has published 12 books. I saw that factoid and felt jealous. That has nothing to do with him, I’m happy for him. I want to be published and produced. Sometimes I have to separate whether I feel jealous because I am listening to other people regarding what I should want. But it’s not that. I want to be published and produced. I am a much different kind of writer than the nice man, so unfortunately I can’t learn anything practical from his path.

Early in this iteration of my writing life, in the early years of my blogI have shared my ambitions with “successful” assholes who ridiculed the purity of my desires. Hacks and con men. I’m ecstatic. I never have to talk to anyone like that again. I can talk to you!

“Martin Ritt says, ‘I don’t have much respect for talent. Talent is genetic. It’s what you do with it that counts.”

Yes. I take no credit. I am proud of what I have done with it, and continue to do. It’s a process. I’m not a problem to myself.

Next up — Week 8, Recovering a Sense of Strength

Copyright 2021 Richard Thomas

10/17/21: The Artist’s Way Week 8 — Strength #poetry

Julia Cameron’s words are in quotes.

When I began, I never used to criticize anybody. They started it. They criticized me.

I was shocked by their criticism. Why would they care? I was oblivious to what they were doing, but they seemed to sure notice me.

They were the ones that said that I was strange. I thought that I was very normal. I wasn’t. I thought that my attitudes were the common ones. They weren’t. But they really went after me. Normal and common meant a lot to them.

I found out that I had two antagonists — the boss and the crowd.

I guess they wanted attention from me. So they got it, diverting me from the paradise of my authentic life. I had to go sit with them and look at them. They ordered and mocked, and I gave them their due, but not in the way that they intended. They wanted to break me down and be like them, like drill sergeants demanding that I learn the Army way, and make it second nature.

I looked at who they were and what they were doing, and I said no thank you.

I fell in with some conservative Christians at one point. They were superficially more gentle in their criticisms than the usual authorities. They said that I had a “spirit of rejection”. It was an accurate name for my condition, but their definition of the diagnosis was all wrong. They meant that I was weak and sad and rebellious because I had been damaged by too many rejections by too many bosses and groups. I had been damaged in that way, but I had a healthier response than weakness and sadness and rebellion. I rejected my critics. I had a spirit of MUTUAL rejection.

The “Christians” for example were ignorant. They had a guide for life based on their interpretation of Bible verses. But they didn’t know what interpretation was. They thought that their initial superficial readings of the Biblical text, or any text, provided meaning. They read the Bible in the same way that they read the manufacturer’s instructions for maintaining their lawn mowers. They made everything in their lives supposedly about spirituality, but they never engaged in any real reflection.

It was curious how each meaning that they ascribed to Bible verses supported an expansion of their wealth and power over other people. God put them in charge.

The Christians were all ashamed of something. They were sinners, but now they were good people who had a mission to convert other sinners. Or kill them if the conversion didn’t take.

They followed Jesus but were nothing like Him. Jesus wasn’t smarmy and dim-witted with a superior attitude.

They knew how to gain material power … they were all success stories. Their Sunday services resembled sales seminars.

The people that they “helped” all seemed worse off for knowing them. A light went out of those people’s eyes. They may have been fucked up and confused before they met the Christians, but they had some sense of self-determination. They were fucking up, making one ill-advised decision after another, but at least they were alive.

The people who were turned into zombies by the Christians were weak persons, unfortunately. I was a strong one. Because I am an artist, and the ability to make art is my super power. I looked at who these “Christians” were, and rejected them and committed to my own choices for life, and my own interpretations of God.

Criticism became too small a word for what I saw in the Christians. Strength starts as a defensive stance — an exertion of an energy of containment that protects one’s personal character and art … and then it becomes art itself.

An artist gains objectivity about his accusers and can actually make them some of the subjects for his art. Defensiveness becomes attention to detail.

I live on two planes. On one plane I am just as I was when I started out. I live in Paradise. I and the world are just right and I freely do what comes naturally to me — unaware of and unconcerned about any person or situation that has the desire to obstruct me. On the other plane, I am resisted, disparaged and attacked by people who have irrationally decided that I am doing something bad, because I do what God tells me to do instead of carry out their orders. They confuse their orders with God’s.

Usually life on the second plane isn’t that bad. I just avoid the naysayers and authoritarians and do what I want. But sometimes they come looking for you. And then you have to be strong. You have to be firm in who you are, and clear about what they are. You have to say “yes” and “no”.

The biggest and hardest lesson of my life has been learning not to care what other people think. Art ultimately taught me that lesson. When you chronicle your life, you gain a certain power over it … or more precisely a greater facility at navigating a course that honors God’s will for your life.

The second biggest and hardest lesson of my life was learning how to be intolerant of disrespect, meanness and abuse. Life itself taught me that life lesson. Art must be infinitely understanding (and brutally honest). In life, an artist shouldn’t take any shit. I know those Christians, for example, have reasons why they are the way they are. They could be objects of great empathy. Maybe some of that empathy will come out in my writing some day. But I can’t let them fuck with me. I have a responsibility to my art. And I have my human right to a decent existence.

Okay, now let’s look at what Julia Cameron has to say about strength. (This is an interesting exercise. I read “The Artist’s Way” years ago when I was a much younger writer. I had an epiphany recently that the book had quite an influence on me. So I thought it would revisit it, and see what it had to say to me today. Now as I write these reflections, I realize that I have transcended Julia, but she has provided me a great service. She gave me an outline. She laid out important topics and I filled in the content. This is what a great teacher does — she activates the student. I’m no longer a student, but an aspect of strength is gratitude. Great teachers open up the space for students to transform into artists. Great teachers frame the student’s self-education. The goal of the great teacher is to become obsolete.

Here is a parenthetical gratitude list of great teachers who “turned me on” …

McQuaid High School

Mrs. Driver and Mr. Bradley — they taught me the basics of how to write and taught me that I could be good at it

University of Notre Dame


Loyola Law School


Second City

Viola Spolin (never met her, read her book, felt her influence), Paul Sills and David Shepherd — they gave me the example of what it is to be a world class artist … Second City is largely a big disappointment to me, but the unconscious reason that I went there was to know those two men … they are the only thing that Second City gave me that has anything to do about who I am and what I do … I have transcended Paul and David, but I stand on their shoulders. David affirmed my purity by being who he was. Paul affirmed my art by being who he was.

It’s a shorter list than I thought. Everywhere I’ve been, I’ve been self-taught because that’s the artist’s way. In college I was free wheeling. The professors just weren’t that interested in the students. I could have done as well just with the books, and come to think of it, that’s basically how it went. I taught myself to be a lawyer. The law professors were information sources. They never taught me anything.

End of parenthetical comment … I guess I have to look at Julia’s chapter as a device to deliver to you what I have to say this morning … )

Julia was getting no traction as a writer in Hollywood, so she went the route of independent film maker. I’m an independent artist too. I also tried to be successful in the system. Impossible. Artists by definition are not part of the system.

“When I am willing to ask ‘What is necessary next?’ I have moved ahead. Whenever I have taken no for a final answer I have stalled and gotten stuck. I have learned that the key to career resiliency is self-empowerment and choice.”

Julia writes for people like me. She didn’t make it in Hollywood but she made it in art and life. Her lack of success in the system, and my similar experience, has nothing to do with any lack of talent or hard work or luck or anything else.

We actually do a different thing than the systematic people who claim that we have failed. This insight is very instructive for my next “what’s next” which is getting my writing out to a wider audience. My material is suitable for people who want art and purity, as opposed to those who want sensation and superficiality.

It is interesting that I went through the portals of show business, just plain business, law and higher ed, to arrive at my destination of a writing art. I am not of them, and they are not of me, and vice versa.

“Elia Kazan, out of favor as a director, wrote novels.”

This is a simple prosaic point with poetic implications. An artist keeps making art. If he doesn’t have the opportunity and materials to do one thing, he does another. I am very proud of this aspect of my body of work. When I couldn’t do my art in one venue, I went somewhere else. This strength, to persist — has some crazy wonderful unconscious purpose. All of my art, done in places as disparate as comedy clubs and court rooms is of a consistent piece, and now my well-traveled heart is an asset to me as a writer.

It’s important to be proud of yourself. We search and wish for recognition from other people, but the only essential recognition is our recognition of ourselves. That self-recognition is the strength that keeps us going.

I don’t praise myself to baste my ego like a Thanksgiving turkey. I’m trying to accomplish something.

Julia talks a lot about unfair criticism from other people, and I’ve spent a lot of my life wounded by it. But actually, what does it matter? I am on a mission. I wasn’t paying attention to the critics before I knew they existed. I can ignore them now, while knowing who they are.

They criticized me because I was using my free will to do God’s will, and they used their free will to please one another for cash and prizes.

The arrogance of the dim and successful (in their worthless pursuits) is a compensation for deep insecurity. You know they’d love to live the life that they imagined once when they were little kids. When I was nine I said I wanted to be the Pope and act in “Mary Poppins”. It worked out.

An artist always uses what is available to create. Rich and famous doesn’t make you a better artist. Money and reputation might bring you real opportunities, but the art self-published on this blog is as, or more, worthy than a lot of stuff in the theaters and publishing houses.

I keep writing and I am open to getting over, and willing to work to achieve that effect. I think that is a strong and healthy stance.

You know, I write about these movies, books and other art, and I almost always think that what I am doing is better than what I am writing about — even if I admire it very much. That is kind of a clue … my art is headed from a different space than even the places of the masterpieces that I am looking at.

We are all metaphors of universal truths and we live out highly specific destinies. I honor the universal truth that I see in a work of art, and wonder how that truth manifests itself in my particular life.

“Agnes DeMille says, ‘No trumpets sound when the important decisions of our life is made. Destiny is made known silently.”

I don’t worry if it’s good. I don’t worry what people will think of it. I don’t worry about being obscure. I don’t worry if I’m another Hemingway. I get up every day. I write. I try to fashion plans. I read that thing, watch that movie, talk to that person, explore that possibility … every day. Every moment really.

I don’t want to be a writer, I am a writer.

I don’t have all of the answers. I chip away at my life like Michelangelo and over time it becomes something beautiful.

That’s strong.

Next up, Week 9, Recovering a Sense of Compassion

Copyright 2021 Richard Thomas

10/19/21: The Artist’s Way, Weeks 9, 10, 11 and 12 —Past, Present and Future #poetry

Julia Cameron’s words are in quotes.

All writing is autobiography. All artists return to the same themes over and over again. What transforms is the depth of insight.

The past, present and future reside together in eternity. Eternity is now. Pain is buried beneath our wounds, waiting to be recalled like artifacts at an archeological dig. The possibilities of the moment stand before us. The present is the meeting place of eternity and chronological time. The future lights and haunts us … spirits of hope and desire mingle with specters of death and loss.

Weeks 9 and 10

I watched a documentary featuring the 87 year old actress, Rita Moreno. She wishes to escape her past. She was raped and exploited and abused as a young woman, and thoughts of that misery never leave her alone. James Joyce said the same thing when he wrote his famous line, “History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.”

There are no abusers in my present. And I have written about the abusers of my past in great detail. To review this pain again through the lens of Julia Cameron’s writing would be redundant and counter-productive. I’m in good place at this moment, and I want to focus on that … but I also want to acknowledge that our pain never leaves us, it just escapes our attention from time to time.

Pain first shocks, then hurts, then inspires depression, then rage, then the setting of limits, then understanding, then healing, then art …

but pain never goes away. Old pain is a soreness that tethers us to the earth.

Week 11

Autonomy. Thoughts of the present and future.

More wondering about art and career … a demonstration of autonomous process …

It’s oddly a question of art more than business.

Through self observation I can more precisely determine what I want related to business for my art.

First, I never assess the value of any art based on its financial success —- my art or anyone else’s.

Second, I have transcended the wound from the insult that I committed to art instead of a career, and therefore internalized that I was a failure of some kind. I have to ask if wanting to turn my writing into a business isn’t a vestigial tail from past motivations to “show them”. I don’t think so, but I have to wonder.

Third, two of my hobby horses of preoccupation are “careerists” and “hacks”. I definitely would never compromise an iota of my creative vision for financial success and social status.

I’m not saying any of this as pontification. I am just stretching for a deeper understanding of myself, not judging others. 

I would never like to be in a position of having to maintain a brand or follow a popular formula. I love the freedom of transformation in the writing too much.

That last point makes me think that I might want a situation as opposed to business partners? I’m not sure. Even Renaissance painters struggled with the demands of their patrons. I don’t want that interference. I have to honor God’s will. I can’t serve two masters.

I see art as my spiritual vocation. It is deeply satisfying. And … I have enough money. Plus … I have the satisfaction of a few readers. 

Why do I want more? Is it real, or is it mere ego or the echo of old ego?

Campbell had a great line that always stuck with me. He said that artists want all the money that they can get, but won’t change a line or a brush stroke to get it. That’s how I feel. I’ll add a little applause and positive recognition to the wish list. That feels good. But I wouldn’t compromise for the approval of others either.

Another concern —- the work of business can never interfere with the time and energy required by the art. This is the main reason that I suck as an entrepreneur.

I’m thinking that wanting some positive attention is kind of like money. We humans need it. It’s necessary. Everyone needs love.

But what makes us break loose away from normality and into excellence is that we know that there are much more important things than money and a little warm acceptance, and the excellent always sacrifice the lower for the higher if necessary.

The point isn’t to deny ourselves. Art is not synonymous with asceticism. Bernie Sahlins once called me a martyr. I never understood why until today. He would never forgo the money and applause like I did to honor the more important thing. I think I bothered him because he knew what art was, and he chose the lesser pleasures. He envied me because he knew he would never be great, and he wanted to claim that he was.

The final frontier of talent is character. If you have all of the other essentials that comprise talent, it is your character that determines if you will truly be great.

Damn straight I appreciate money and praise when I get it, but I never chose them over truth and art. Never. Discovery through self-overhearing requires repetition.



Human needs for money, attention … commonly called success, really just necessity … some people don’t know that there is more than just that, some like Bernie know that there is more, but don’t have the guts to find out if they can do it. It’s sad … because if you have the guts your ability to do it is a fact inherent to your …

Character …

and the connection between success and service to others? If you serve God and other people, you will always eat. (See my recent piece about Abundance.)

Campbell again, “We serve the world when we follow our highest enthusiasms. “

The I Ching: “The hunt is successful when it feeds the body, honors God and serves feasting guests”
Aha! That is the next level for my art. I serve God with it, and God’s abundance takes care of my material needs and my need for human warmth —- my most devoted friends and readers, Paula, my brother … and if the writing has helped you, dear readers, then the service component is there but should expand … more feasting guests …

I Ching talks about the Well … that’s where the artist nourishes normal folk …

And the Cauldron … that’s where the artist nourishes the exceptional people …

Mind blowing morning …

So how do I go about pursuing what I want?

My tentative thought is follow the art. I shouldn’t think of business opportunities, I should think of expansions of the art …
I really don’t know how to go about this, but I think I am making a finer point of who I am and what I want.

Week 12

Faith. The Future.

When I taught improvisational acting, I had a line which I repeat in different contexts with increasing frequency, “Improvisation is the art of not knowing what you are doing.”

Let me expand this sentiment:

Writing is the art of not knowing what you are doing.

Art is the art of not knowing what you are doing.

Life is the art of not knowing what you are doing.

Everything that matters resides in the unknown.

Art is a path to mystery and when a mystery is understood a door opens to a deeper level of the mystery.

Take any good artist … Martin Scorsese comes to mind. He like any good artist makes the same movies over and over again. He makes movies about gangsters, New York City, cinema itself ,and spirituality as far as I can tell. I may be missing something. What makes Scorsese great? He revisits his subjects and themes with ever greater depth.

Pope John Paul II said that he always writes about the same thing, each time from a deeper perspective.

What does it mean to get deep?

Deeper is closer to the mystery which is at the center of all reality. You can get closer, but you can never get there. Nothing is totally understood. There is no final word on anything.

The closer that we get to the mystery the more conscious we are of what it is to be human and alive. The more conscious that we are of a greater potential for our lives.

Artists are explorers. I am an explorer. We travel to the depths of our souls and the far reaches of outer space. Our present is in constant motion, instantaneously transforming into the future. Our faith is in the creative intelligence of the universe which has designed all that there is, and executes all of the functions of all that there is.

And then we the artists put the cherry on top. We get to assign meaning to every tiny detail and grand quality of the cosmic extravaganza. But even then the creative intelligence guides us in its mysteries. We are mysteries to ourselves. Even our personal meanings must be discovered with the daring and rigor of studying new galaxies.

Now we could get scared, and dig our heels in and demand final answers, believing in final answers. We could think that we are avoiding risk. But we are taking the biggest risk of all if we don’t move from the present to the future. Finality is death, and armageddon. But nothing dies if we don’t let it … nothing … memory and big bangs and heredity and the essential elements of matter and life do not change … the past is still with us … but this time not in the form of pain, regret or loss, but rather as an aspect of the present and future …

Did you know that President John Tyler, who was inaugurated in 1841, has living grandsons? Tyler had a son late in life, and his sons had a son late in life. The grandsons are now late in life and they could theoretically have sons too.

All this talk about the Constitution and the Bible … and all the thought and life that preceding the writing of that law and that scripture, is part of all that is and ever was.

We have to surrender to what we are part of …






I honor the creative intelligence, and it takes care of my material needs, and by pursuing my highest enthusiasms I serve other people.

I didn’t quote Julia Cameron once in this piece, but that’s the artist’s way.

Autonomy and faith — as told to Richard Thomas.

Thanks, Julia for sitting with me when I was young, and being available for me to consider your book in a deeper way today. I am far beyond considering your themes on the more accessible level that you present in your book, but that is just what you wanted for me.

“The Artist’s Way” is in the past, present and future moving ever closer to mystery.

Next up … I’m not sure, but I’ll let you know.

Copyright 2021 Richard Thomas

Copyright 2023 Richard Thomas