Label Liberation: Chapter 2

Learning
to
love
the
unexpected,
no
matter
what

or

How
I
rediscover
Label Liberation

As paradoxical as it seems, what I need to do is make the whole incident with Mr. Slade no more or less significant than anything else. To do so I have to consciously digest everything and then let it all go. It is a process I have been through before.

Another few events happen around the same time of the Mark Slade assault that also require a period of adjustment. My biological parents divorce. My mother remarries, and I hear that my father is drinking himself to death. I take a night flight from California to Toronto, and share my experience of Label Liberation with him.

At first he is resistant, then he says, “My parents used to call me ‘dumb’ and ‘a nothing.’ They used to say, ‘Everything you put your hands on will fall apart,’ while telling my brother that he was ‘brilliant’ and bound to be a ‘success.'” My father’s tears of recognition tell me something has clicked. Upon my return to Los Angeles, I receive the following introduction to my book:

I AM PROUD, that I have been asked by the author of this book, to write an introduction. I have known Justin Thomas since the day he was born, and I know of all the hardships he encountered during his youth, and, as a young man, until he left the city he was born in.

I AM NOT PROUD, of the fact, that I must accept some of the responsibility for his leaving home.

I AM PROUD, of the fact, that he has overcome so many obstacles during his travels, and has come back to the city of his birth, with a wonderful knowledge and understanding of people, an unusual talent of communicating with people, and a great feeling of empathy, towards all people, including myself.

I AM PROUD, because he is my son.

Harold Wintraub

 

The introduction touches me deeply and seems to erase all the past hurt, allowing me to return to Toronto, savouring a new relationship with my father. My mother tells me she is fearful that my father might still be violently jealous of her new marriage. I assure her not to worry and, as synchronicity would have it, that evening, I introduce my father to a neighbor of his, a recent widow, whom we meet in the hall of his apartment.

Over dinner, the widow tells me how delighted she is to see how my father and I relate so openly and lovingly as friends. She confesses candidly to being fearful of her own elderly father. “The moment he clears his throat, I stand at attention, shaking like a leaf.” Narrowing her usually soft, Bambi-like eyes, she adds, “I could murder my sister. Both my parents always favored her.” I mistake the widow’s sharing as a sign of her having psychological insight. When she and my father talk of marriage, I take her expressions of affection toward me (“Sonny boy, let me give you a big hug and kiss”) as a sign that, at last, I am experiencing a “mother’s” true love.

As soon as she and my father return from their honeymoon, my new stepmother telephones me and, in a gloating tone, says, “Are you jealous that I’ve taken your father away from you?” I immediately think, Have I become a symbol of her sister, and has my father become a symbol of her father? In her mind, by “winning” my father from me, is she symbolically “winning” her father from her sister? When I ask her why she is saying such a thing, I listen to her gleeful response in disbelief. “I have the money and I have the power, and you can’t fight City Hall!”

When I am finally able to get in touch with my father, I repeat to him what has happened, he says with an old familiar contemptuous tone of voice, “If I had known that I was going to meet my wife, I wouldn’t have written that introduction to your book.” I ask him if he has now left “the state of joker” and is back in the card-game again, therefore, needing me to be a “loser,” so that he can be a “winner”? “You’re going to be the biggest loser” he shouts, and hangs up.

 


 

Feeling vulnerable by the recent series of betrayals and trying to ease the hurt that now lies heavily on my chest, I contact a lawyer, whom I will call Lawyer X. He had acted for Rabbi Feinberg when the Rabbi had requested that Lawyer X arrange for him to meet John Lennon and Yoko Ono in Montreal. As “the Peace Rabbi,” he wished to have his photo taken with the celebrities during their much publicized “bed-in for world peace.” I hope that Lawyer X will be able to help me understand how a rabbi, presumably a man of ethics, could “borrow” my research without conscience. I wonder if I have any legal recourse.

I tell Lawyer X about the hurt I am contending with after the incident with the rabbi using my research for his own ends. I also show the lawyer the bizarre letter and discuss with him the assault, as well as the verbal and written death threats, by Mr. Slade. I let Lawyer X know that something has gone very wrong with Mr. Slade and that since then I have been in distress and feeling very fearful. I then talk about the other recent turn of events related to my father and stepmother. Lawyer X tells me that he sees merit to Label Liberation and asks me to come with him to his home to continue our talk. When we arrive, he instructs me to follow him upstairs. Rather than entering a home office, as expect, I find myself in his and his wife’s bedroom. To my utter disbelief, he gets undressed, grabs and pulls me to their bed. I hear him apologize for his penis size, saying, “I wish I could give you something bigger.” My body, used to years of physical and sexual abuse, automatically goes into “abuse mode.” Paralysed and in shock, I tune out and become numb. (I have since been informed by a psychiatrist, Dr. Cornelia Wilbur, that people who are severely traumatised in childhood go into a state of shock when they are retraumatised in the present because they are unable to deal with the traumatic event when it is happening.)

ThawingAfter the traumatic experiences with my biological father, my stepmother, Mr. Slade, the rabbi and Lawyer X, the efforts my mind makes to deny what has just taken place cause me to wonder if I am going crazy. An inner voice tries to speak louder than all the other voices in my head, attempting to calm my panic:

“You asked for the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. One has to be careful about what one asks for, because wishes can come true. Now don’t give up, this could be just another barrier to truly human communication. Justin, you’ve heard of ‘the midnight of the soul’? Well… like a frozen finger, your body has numbed itself from the pain. To awaken, you must once again allow yourself to feel the agony of thawing.”

Ultimately, it is a breaking down of old ideas about myself and others. I have to re-examine naive and false assumptions and perceptions. I have learned to expect people to be either all “good” or all “bad,” with no shades of grey. I have also been taught to do that with myself, desperately attempting to be all “good” by doing everything I am told and taking the abuse I get, believing that I deserve it. It is all part of living out the role of the “fool” they have cast me in.

My identity of being a joker in the card-game, beyond all duality, is new to me. I have not yet fully embraced the capacity to love and hate. When I recognize that there are sinister aspects to these people whom I thought were simply “good,” and that they did misguided and unscrupulous things to me, my instinctual response is excruciating hurt upon hurt upon hurt. My response to this accumulated hurt is healthy, murderous rage. However, my sudden disassociation from the overwhelming emotions allows me to bury feelings I am not ready to acknowledge. I too can have, and justifiably so, “bad” thoughts and “negative” emotions in reaction to the horrendous abuses that came my way.

Since my mother had been labelled “the devil” and “a bad seed” by her mother, she is not only determined that I be totally “good,” but uses me as a sounding and pounding board to discharge her unrecognized pent-up rage. Although I feel at home with a perspective of the ying and yang in all of us, I have not fully absorbed, emotionally, each and every polarity. Suddenly stretched beyond all limits, I implode.

I have not yet learned to see others for anything but their vast and noble potential. Part of the indoctrination I had as a child was to see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil. It is a “rude”, “naughty” but necessary awakening to face genuine enemies, and acknowledge the darker aspects of who they are. It forces me to rethink and re-experience all the abuses of my past. It is even more of a stretch to acknowledge who I could become if I simply act on thoughts and feelings of retribution. I realize that I am my own experiment, and am learning a lot about the shadow side of us all that we try to ignore until faced with our own response to acts of violence from others.

It is not difficult to recognize where this naiveté of seeing only the best in others comes from. How else could I tolerate the parental violence throughout my childhood without believing that I was a genuine idiot and deserved my parents’ contempt and violence? I also recognize my parents’ potential beneath their bitterness. Knowing well what it is like to be underestimated and misjudged, I feel the emotional anguish caused by such treatment. I do not ever wish to underestimate or misjudge any other human being.

Now, I have to face my own imperfections. I have been wrong. I have made mistakes. I have misjudged others, sometimes giving them too much slack, and have neglected to construct healthy boundaries. I did blame myself at the time for not being gracious in the face of deliberate attempts to break my spirit. I got angry at myself for feeling anger. Even though I had been trying to convince others that we are all Jokers with the potential for experiencing the full spectrum of emotions, I lost my sense of balance when confronted with the intensity of my own anger at those who deliberately tried to throw me off balance.

I have avoided seeing them as they are, and I have lost my hard-won tranquillity because of that mistake. This means I have misjudged myself too. Murderous, retaliatory rage is not yet part of my concept of being a “good” person. I have forgotten that I am “in process.” Life is not static. There is always going to be someone trapped in a card game mentality who is toying, testing, provoking, undermining, comparing, competing and labelling everyone in an attempt to claw themselves above someone else.

I had identified with the state of joker in the card game, and had acknowledged that any of us can feel “down and out” or “up and in.” But I wasn’t awake enough to realize that I could still be pulled back into the card game. I did not have the wisdom to forgive myself for having tripped up.

 


 

My misjudging of others happened because I was trying so hard to be beyond pre-judgements. In doing so, I did not acknowledge people being evil, only evil acts perpetrated by individuals behaving in misguided ways. I assumed that the people who perpetrated these acts would, if given an opportunity, reassess their behaviour with some perspective, and hopefully feel genuine remorse for their actions. I was so grateful when anyone shared their knowledge or wisdom with me, that I presumed others would have the same reaction when I shared my knowledge with them. Instead, I saw people become resentful and competitive in the most bizarre ways – people such as my father, my stepmother, Mr. Slade, the rabbi and Lawyer X.

Living with a mother who was cast in a “devil” role and who lived it out with me as her audience and prey, certainly has had its effect on me. I find it difficult to see anyone behaving in an evil way as innately evil. When my mother refused to acknowledge how damaged I was after I’d been sexually assaulted by her sister’s husband when I was six, she warned me in no uncertain terms, “Don’t you ever dare let me hear you say anything bad about your uncle, again. Now, you go back into the shed and play with him, and not one more peep out of you, or I’ll kill you!” My uncle had threatened to bury me alive under the lilac tree if I told anyone how I got the bruises. From my mother I learned to deny the reality of bad things that happened.

Like my mother and my father, who were thoughtful and considerate with the people they worked with until they came home and showed me their other side, there were other aspects to the rabbi, my father’s new wife, Mr. Slade, and Lawyer X, hidden from the public images they created. Wasn’t hiding parts of themselves the same as telling lies? Wasn’t telling lies “wrong”, “bad”, something “good people” don’t do? It had been drilled and beaten into me by my mother to never tell a lie, as if the truth was the most holy reality one could ever hold on to. Even though I caught her telling lies, I clung to this teaching of my mother’s with all my might. It was the only reality she granted me. It was the truth. It was her only encouragement for me to be in the warmth of the light. I accepted her gift gladly, and, in spite of the frequent rejection and isolation, I am grateful for where telling the truth has led me. I asked for the light to teach me the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. And now I am having to learn to face it.

The role of “the retard”, which my parents had cast me in, is disintegrating. What is left is an open, boundless identity. I am creativity and “potentiality in process”, a microcosm of the universe, both “nothing” and “everything.” Instead of a swimming pool of a particular size, shape or depth, I am a river becoming Ocean.

With the openness I am feeling, now that I have cast off my armour, the emotional assaults directed at me feel as if I am being hit full force by a truck. As often happens in real life-threatening situations and other identity-shattering circumstances, such as being the victim of a crime, a marriage break-up, the death of a loved one or one’s own impending demise, I have been contending with my past, images of my whole life flashing before me. It is happening once again.

It’s not what has been done to me, but how I have perceived what was done. Today, I can acknowledge that what the Rabbi, my father and his new wife, Mr. Slade and Lawyer X did is morally and ethically wrong. I had the need to suppress the anger I felt in reaction to their behaviour. This is an old habit, one that has helped to ensure my survival.

After being challenged by extreme circumstances to step beyond all polarities and look beneath the public masks, seeing only people’s potential, I had forgotten to be on constant vigilance. In my euphoria of discovering that the label of “retard” was an identity projected onto me through the ignorance of others, who had not bothered to self-reflect, I am forced to face that the card-game mentality is more real for more people who have been taught to bluff their way through life. Choosing to relinquish power over others and moving to a more healing place for all, such as an egalitarian “state of joker,” is the exception, not the rule.

Once again, I am dog-paddling, trying not to drown in an ocean of hurtful emotions. Leaving Toronto in fear, I return to California. I know I have surmounted my initial childhood brainwashing, where I was indoctrinated by my mother to be “helpless”, “hopeless”, “worthless”, and “brainless.” This had been diligently reinforced by my father’s daily litany of “you stupid, idiot, moron, ya nitwit, ya dimwit, ya geek!”

A part of me also has a memory of having moved beyond personalizing any labels, be they positive or negative. Yet I have once again been recast into the role of a “loser,” so that others can feel “superior.” The vividness of the state of joker, which I had once experienced, now seems only a vague dream.

Navigating through betrayals by the rabbi, Mark Slade, my father and his new wife, and now Lawyer X, fills me with excruciating hurt. This haa a domino effect of reactivating layers and layers of older hurts that I thought I had laid to rest.

I wanted to get to the truth of all things, and am now reeling at this truth, and the consequences of trying to keep my eyes and heart wide open in the face of it all.

It is incomprehensible to me that Lawyer X, whom I contacted in an attempt to put into perspective the accumulation of the new traumas I was facing, compounded the traumas by turning a professional meeting into a sexual one.

My thought at the time was, “Who can I tell? Who would believe this?” Okay, someone might accept the reality of the sexual assault by Mr. Slade, but a second one? Even for me, it was not easy to accept the reality of these sexual assaults. Underlying everything was the life-long programming to feel shame and guilt and self-blame. Just as I had mistakenly believed that I was responsible for all my parents’ bitterness and violence aimed at me, now that the amnesia is over and I have more complete recall of these recent incidents, a question still persists: What did I do wrong for such a thing to happen, twice?

It is unbelievable enough to me that a senior government official working at the National Film Board would try to suppress my research, the very research that he had encouraged me to undertake. Then, as if anything could be worse, threatening to kill me if I did not submit myself to a relationship based on acquiescing to his sexual advances. My inner emotional gauge burst.

This mental, emotional and physical assault was so reprehensible that the only way for the hurt around my heart to stop was to remove it with a kind of mental surgery, called amnesia. It was nature’s way of anesthetizing and obliterating both sexual incidents from my consciousness.

It is not the fact that people of the same gender were choosing to be sexual with me, but that I was being forced to submit to autocratic demands and narcissistic expectations. Mr. Slade cavalierly discarded any integrity he might have had and trivialized the fundamental basis of his relationship with me, that of mentor and student. Simultaneously, Mr. Slade had attempted to deprive me of the right to share with others the Label Liberation research, by using intimidation that consisted of verbal and written death threats.

Looking back, the last straw was the lawyer’s actions. I had taken him into my confidence regarding Rabbi Feinberg’s use of my research and the partial memories I had of what had occurred with Mr. Slade. Lawyer X looked at Mr. Slade’s handwritten letter and the death threat note, and then proceded to re-enact what had previously been forced upon me by Mr. Slade.

It is so unbelievable to me that, just as I had obliterated the memory of Mr. Slade’s abuses, I blot out the lawyer’s actions. The key back to entering my body is to unlock all of the hurtful memories. I flee to the United States, struggling there, for over a decade to come out of my denial, and integrate my dissociated state and come to terms with the new set of flashbacks.

When I visiting Dr. Cornelia Wilbur, an expert on dissociation, in Lexington, Kentucky, she tells me, “You were perceived as vulnerable, sensitive and child-like, because of your receptivity. The fact is you were also very strong, and overwhelmed them with your creativity. They simply felt competitive and believed they were safer with power over you. So they took advantage. Your pointing to the card-game mentality, and the competitiveness that much of our society is suffering from is proven out by their behaviour. Perhaps, in a demonic way, they were testing your resiliency.”

When I finally return to Toronto in the early nineties, I telephone Lawyer X to bring closure to what I know remember took place. He invites me to lunch at a small French restaurant, but I am unable to broach the subject of what he had done to me. Instead, he discusses his impending entry into politics. He asks for the Label Liberation material, including a musical album on the topic that I had recorded and had given him a copy of years before. “Someone borrowed it from me and never returned it,” he says. I hand him an additional copy of everything related to Label Liberation. Then he inquirs about the best way to “win” over his political opponents. I emphasize how important it is for him as a politician to see everyone as a person first, and that, by putting people first, others may be inspired to do the same.

When I ask him if he can assist in disseminating the Label Liberation research, he replies, “Definitely, Label Liberation is very timely. I’ll call you as soon as this election business is over, and we’ll see how I can help you.” He has been climbing the political ladder ever since, and is now well known in federal politics. He has never called to see how he can assist Label Liberation.

 


 

In 1993, I meet with theatrical producer David Mirvish. After he shows me his art collection, we have an extensive talk about my one-person show, which I had presented back in 1971-1972 at the St. Lawrence Centre in Toronto, The Roundhouse in London, England’s, and the Theatre De Nations in Paris, France.

Mr. Mirvish suggests that I develop the play, perhaps into a full-scale musical. Because I am coping with post-traumatic stress and disassociation, I reply to him, “I’m not ready yet.”

In 1995, Mr. Mirvish and I meet again. I tell him I am ready to work on developing my one-person show. Mr. Mirvish asks me to meet the Director of Development for Mirvish Productions, Kelly Robinson. I present the play to him, which I have re-titled Driven Sane. He writes to me on October 25, 1995:

Dear Justin,

This is a fascinating, challenging and daunting work, which is most worthy of bringing to the stage…I believe this is a potentially important “niche” play which, given the proper conditions, could grow through word of mouth to create a substantial audience…

I encourage you to start small. Protect the future of the play by minimizing both production and running costs, hone the play in front of audiences, and let demand grow…

Warmly,
Kelly Robinson

I revise the play, bringing it up to date so it includes events that happened since I last performed it. In addition to adding new material that details my recovery of memories related to Mr. Slade and the rabbi, I also incorporate scenes that portray my dissociation, which involved 25 years of slipping in and out of an altered personality state. I knew that telling the truth about these events would help me to heal and bring about a more integrated state.

I did not include in the show mention of Lawyer X’s improper behaviour toward me, nor did I mention what happened with theatre producer Joseph Papp. Either I didn’t have the strength to deal with these two events, which had traumatised me even further, or I was making the decision for artistic reasons, fearful of overwhelming the audience. I wasn’t sure which was the case – perhaps both were true.

Joseph Papp had written to me after a very lengthy telephone call, in which I presented the complete cycle of the show. After that, in a letter of August 28, 1972, from the New York Shakespeare Festival, I was told:

… He [Papp] is most interested in reading your script. Do send it at your earliest convenience.

Yours very truly,
Helen Marie Jones,
Play Development.

The Los Angeles Times Calendar, on January 16, 1983, pages 3-5, wrote a feature in which they investigated rumors that Joseph Papp had plagiarised concepts from my show, and used them to develop A Chorus Line.

In 1997, after having remembered and processed enough of my memories to incorporate them as part of the autobiographical journey, once again I am prepared to go on stage to get off stage, and hopefully, once an for all, remove the public and private split.

Taking Mr. Robinson’s advice about starting small, particularly since I hadn’t presented it since 1972, I invite audiences to my home. I had remembered how Mr. Robinson had smiled, when, in response to his suggesting that I find a “small location,” I playfully suggested my apartment, and he replied, “Since your creative work invites people all the way home, you might as well invite them home, home!”

I receive permission from the residence manager of Manulife Centre Apartments, where I have lived for many years, to present the show at my residence, where I also have my art studio. The manager is delighted when I describe the synthesis of art forms – monologue, song, dance, sculpture, and my first work of art, the I’m a Person 1st – Label Liberation button, which audience members will receive.

The Manulife Centre, which comprises a residence and an entertainment and shopping complex, is owned by Manulife Financial. They once had a mandate that called for all staff to show the utmost respect for their tenants. But recently it has begun to appear that this mandate has changed and respect for tenants has since plummeted.

Prior to doing the show, and while re-writing my book, a neighbor in the building, asks if she could come to my apartment and learn about Label Liberation.

“It’s all about intergenerational scripting,” I say, passing her some spring water. “It relates to how most everyone, to some degree, is labelled, categorized, and literally hypnotized by the, pardon the pun, literal labels that are attached to us. It’s about being forced into a restrictive role, even if that role is that of a libertine. It’s about how we become robotic, and think it completely natural to copy, to mimic, to imitate one other, and to plagiarise each other’s ideas, and not give credit. It is about how we are trained from birth to pathologically compare and compete, and create artificial personas which we come to think of as real. It’s about how children are initially unmasked. They are aware, spontaneous, and have the capacity to be intimate. It’s about how often parents, out of jealousy and envy, shut such children down. It’s about dehypnotizing ourselves, coming out of the multiple trances that cultures, and families within these cultures impose on us. It’s about learning to self-reflect. It’s about how we often avoid open and creative people out of our own competitiveness, our jealousy and envy. It’s about how many of us shun what can liberate us – authenticity. It’s about how it all starts, with children who are polarized by parents, who were polarized by their parents, so that one child is put ‘up’ and another child is put ‘down.’ It’s about how much damage is done to the ‘elevated’ child as well as to the ‘demeaned’ one.”

The neighbor suddenly blurts out “I could kill my mother and my brother! My mother has always favored him and rejected me.” Realizing what she has said, she quickly rushes away, avoiding me after that. From that time on, when we pass each other, she glares at me with contempt. Hearing her, on several occasions, brag to others in the hallway that she is a mistress to a wealthy married man, I do not personalize her attitude towards me, knowing the heavy weight of the insecurity she carries beneath her bravado.

A middle-aged male resident of our building spoke to me once, gloating about how his recently deceased mother had favored him, leaving all her money to him, while viciously rejecting his sister. When I asked him if he felt there might have been a cost to being the favorite child and participating in the rejection of his sister, he never spoke to me again. I later notice him often in the company of the female neighbor who had been the rejected child. I found it fascinating that the woman who expressed the desire to kill her brother for having been favored would become friends with someone who was in the same situation as her brother, whom she detested. It was also remarkable that a man who seemed blissful at describing how envious his sister was at his relationship with their mother would cosy up to someone else’s rejected sister.

A review of my show, by Jennie Punter, appears in the Toronto Star on January 23, 1997, page G7, under the heading “Half Theatre, Half Therapy. Justin Thomas Driven Sane a unique, baring experience.” Included in the extensive review, are comments such as:

… triumphant personal epiphanies … These moments gradually lead to a profound understanding and acceptance of himself and others as “persons first,” a breaking-free that Thomas calls “label liberation,” a term he invented and first expounded upon, through theatre and in workshop environments in the early ’70s.”

…Driven Sane begins in Thomas’ youth, marked by emotional and physical abuse from parents grappling with their own demons, during the 1940s and ’50s in Toronto.

The piece then goes on to reveal Thomas’ remarkably resilient creative spirit: his desire to learn, despite the fact he was declared functionally illiterate in his 20s, having been forbidden to read as a child.
Thomas re-entered grade 1 at age 28 and, later, pursued graduate studies leading to a doctorate in psychology…

“Laurence Olivier once said the work of an actor is to teach the human heart the knowledge of itself.” Thomas continues. “And I eventually realized that just as I was stuck in the role of the idiot, and literally lived out the ‘script,’ other people were hypnotized by the same phenomenon.

“And they didn’t know how to get out of it, because they didn’t know they were in it. I realized the complicated dynamics in my family were universal, that everyone was dealing with various degrees of the same thing. That was very inspiring to me.”

The neighbor suddenly blurts out “I could kill my mother and my brother! My mother has always favored him and rejected me.” Realizing what she has said, she quickly rushes away, avoiding me after that. From that time on, when we pass each other, she glares at me with contempt. Hearing her, on several occasions, brag to others in the hallway that she is a mistress to a wealthy married man, I do not personalize her attitude towards me, knowing the heavy weight of the insecurity she carries beneath her bravado.

A middle-aged male resident of our building spoke to me once, gloating about how his recently deceased mother had favored him, leaving all her money to him, while viciously rejecting his sister. When I asked him if he felt there might have been a cost to being the favorite child and participating in the rejection of his sister, he never spoke to me again. I later notice him often in the company of the female neighbor who had been the rejected child. I found it fascinating that the woman who expressed the desire to kill her brother for having been favored would become friends with someone who was in the same situation as her brother, whom she detested. It was also remarkable that a man who seemed blissful at describing how envious his sister was at his relationship with their mother would cosy up to someone else’s rejected sister.

A review of my show, by Jennie Punter, appears in the Toronto Star on January 23, 1997, page G7, under the heading “Half Theatre, Half Therapy. Justin Thomas Driven Sane a unique, baring experience.” Included in the extensive review, are comments such as:

… triumphant personal epiphanies … These moments gradually lead to a profound understanding and acceptance of himself and others as “persons first,” a breaking-free that Thomas calls “label liberation,” a term he invented and first expounded upon, through theatre and in workshop environments in the early ’70s.”

…Driven Sane begins in Thomas’ youth, marked by emotional and physical abuse from parents grappling with their own demons, during the 1940s and ’50s in Toronto.

The piece then goes on to reveal Thomas’ remarkably resilient creative spirit: his desire to learn, despite the fact he was declared functionally illiterate in his 20s, having been forbidden to read as a child.
Thomas re-entered grade 1 at age 28 and, later, pursued graduate studies leading to a doctorate in psychology…

“Laurence Olivier once said the work of an actor is to teach the human heart the knowledge of itself.” Thomas continues. “And I eventually realized that just as I was stuck in the role of the idiot, and literally lived out the ‘script,’ other people were hypnotized by the same phenomenon.

“And they didn’t know how to get out of it, because they didn’t know they were in it. I realized the complicated dynamics in my family were universal, that everyone was dealing with various degrees of the same thing. That was very inspiring to me.”

I had stepped aside, allowing the creative process to express itself to audiences for two-and-a-half hours each night. People would stay after the show for a minimum of one hour and as much as two-and-a-half hours. They either sat in a tranquil silence or shared their own experiences and insights.

The original hurt of my childhood had been put into perspective by the time I had presented the cycle of my journey back in 1971 and 1972. Finally, 25 years later, after the hurt of the second set of betrayals healed, I am able, once more, to continue sharing the cycle of the journey.

When the female neighbor, who had developed animosity towards me, reads the review, I am told by others that she is enraged. I sense that I have become a symbol of her brother, who was favored by her mother. Any “success” she perceives me as receiving, such as enthusiastic reviews, or a wide variety of people enjoying the show, reminds her of her “failure” in not receiving her mother’s adulation, as her brother had. I have become a conduit and catalyst for all her emotional projections.

This neighbor immediately goes to a Manulife executive, more senior in position than the residence manager who had given me explicit permission to present the show. This senior executive is a woman who has always behaved in a cold and assessing manner towards me. I had observed, during meetings with management in the past, her skill, developed into an art, of giving her supervisors and colleagues in senior management at Manulife Financial the feeling that they are in charge, while, at the same time, having tremendous influence over their decision making.

This senior executive not only works in the building but she resides there too. Each time we come into contact with each other, it feels as if I am being coldly assessed. She seems frustrated at not quite being able to figure me out. My openness and candor confuse and annoy her. I feel that she is a person who does not quite know where to place me in her hierarchy of values. Since I am an enigma to her, I am a threat to the extreme difference between her public and private persona.

Her public demeanour is that of a dignified professional, always perfectly made-up and dressed in the most refined and conservative outfits. One cannot help but notice that, when away from the office and walking surreptitiously with a male “friend” who works in a coffee shop in the building, and also lives there, that her skin-tight leotards, along with a marked change of behavior, reveal a very different person than the “professional” one she makes such a great effort to display. I sense that it is this senior Manulife Financial executive who overrules the permission granted to me, by their own resident manager, to perform the show.

 


 

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