Image: Eric Reads the Week, #55

Hi! It's R. Eric Thomas. From the internet?

This week: SO. MUCH. OPRAH. Plus, commentary on hope and shit, Black Panther tickets, and Obama's dance moves.

I don't want to do that Google Arts and Culture App thing where it matches your picture to a famous portrait because I'm pretty sure I'll feel insulted by the results and I'll have to lodge a complaint with Google headquarters and I don't have time to go to Paolo Alta with my protest sign today. I'm not trying to play myself. You know this app? I guess you upload a selfie and they use facial recognition to find a famous old world painting you look like. Frankly, the only famous old painting I want to be told I look like is the Warhol Marilyn Monroe. Or this one:

This is very me and if you don't see it, I don't know what to tell you. I look just like this.

It's odd, but in this age of constant image-capturing, I find that I don't really know what I look like. I once got my eyebrows done and I'd read that you're supposed to bring a photograph of what you're looking for so they know what to do. So, I brought a photograph of The Rock, because I thought he had nice eyebrows, but it's sort of hard to figure out what The Rock's eyebrows will look like on your face. Like, ultimately, I want eyebrows that look like my eyebrows on a face that looks like my face. But better. All of it better.

Anyway, the aesthetician was very insulted by the whole thing. She took the photo, threw it in the trash, and said "Don't ever do this again." To this day, I don't know whether she was annoyed about having her artistic skill questioned or insulted that I thought I could look like The Rock, or, more specifically, the top of The Rock's head. A 10% sliver of The Rock's head.

Anyway, I ended up with Halle Berry's eyebrows and never went back. I don't have the wigs to support that kind of look.

This week I had to do a photoshoot to accompany an article that's running in TimeOut Philadelphia. It's in promotion of my play Mrs. Harrison, which is being produced by Azuka Theater in May. I got to work with Neal Santos, a photographer whom I enjoy immensely. His work is so great, he's so warm and giving, he's very funny, and he's so interesting. He and his husband run a flower farm and an urban farm! They won a contest to get married on a special train! I've only come in contact with Neal a half dozen times in person but each time it feels like he's in the middle of a really wonderful sequel to a wildly popular romantic comedy.

Anyway, he was taking my picture and telling me about Filipino food and generally making my day great. He asked me where I thought would be an evocative and interesting space for photographs. Since Mrs. Harrison takes place in a fancy bathroom, I suggested that we find an interesting-looking bathroom for my photoshoot. Immediately, part of my brain was like "You parents didn't work their fingers to the bone to put you through school and support your flights of fancy, so you could grow up to have your picture in a magazine with your head in a urinal. You need to get your life together." In all fairness, I was imagining some sort of Vanity Fair-style thing, like Jennifer Aniston in a wedding dress sitting on a toilet, which is maybe not an actual photograph but something close has definitely been captured.

I am not Jennifer Aniston. Neal, however, is magic and was able to capture some great shots of me interacting with myself in the mirror and never once asked me to sit on a toilet so I guess the universe does bend toward justice.

Photoshoots are just the most awkward thing, even when you really enjoy the company of the photographer, because I always have the awareness that I am supposed to be acting like myself and failing at that pursuit. There are so many mirror photos where I'm staring back at myself with an expression that can best be described as "Not what we were looking for, actually."

It is always a hilarious surprise to me that I don't portray myself well. When I play myself, I play myself. During the Philadelphia production of Time Is On Our Side, one of the actors dropped out before rehearsals began. He was set to play Curtis, a character who is kind of a Me Avatar (though Curtis also does something I would never do because, apparently, plays are built on conflict. Who knew?) I told Jarrod, my good friend and the director, that I would just play Curtis because he was basically me and the friendship he has with the lead character Annie, is based on the friendship I have with Kristen, who was playing Annie. "It's perfect!" I said.

"Don't ever call here again," Jarrod said. Jarrod had previously directed my autobiographical solo show so he knew what a chore it is to get me to 1) say lines, 2) play myself. Carl Clemons-Hopkins was cast as Curtis in Philly and he is a wonder. He was simply magnificent. He's now in Hamilton in Chicago, also playing me. Time Is On Our Side is also playing in Chicago in the Spring (tickets went on sale this week! Link at the bottom.) Rashaad Hall will be playing Curtis and can't wait to see what he does in this part that I would have never played very well but loved every second of writing.

If my book becomes a television show, I am fully aware that I will not get called into play myself. That's fine, as long as I can be on set and eat the free food and meet Kerry Washington. I would hope to write for the show. Because I like writing and I like creating images of life that looks like reality as I understand it. And also because I could sneakily write a guest role for myself as "Eric's Fabulous Friend, Carl, quick with the quip, sings like a dream, in town for the touring production of Obama: The Musical, doing a two-episode guest arc full of drama, intrigue, praise breaks, musical interludes, dream sequences, eyebrows, and Jenifer Lewis."

No one will be able to stop me.

This week's columns were all about images of reality, many of them funhouse reflections--distorted, grotesque, outsized. From Oprah's vision for our future, to a ticket to Wakanda, to Obama and Prince in a musical reverie. But first, serious rumination on hope.

I wrestled with this essay for hours. I started it right after the Washington Post story broke and then messaged my editor to say "Nah, I can't." Then I went back and tried again, then quit. I woke the next morning before the sun was up, sat outside, watching the light transform the world, and let myself be until I could find the words to write. I want to write about hope as a revolutionary act. Hope as an tool of my outrage. I wanted to remind myself that I am more than the news.

I am really proud of this piece. It was very hard to write but it speaks to who I am and where I believe we are.

What are We Supposed to Do With This Shit?

On Trump, His Racism, and Finding Hope for the Future

We see it in ourselves, the gradual moving of the line of decency, the daily confirmation that we are in the Bad Place, the gaslighting, the loss of hope. And then, the disappearance. These news events happen, they take over the cycle, they nick us in our souls, and then they vanish. And we’re left with our damage and our rage and the sneaking suspicion that there’s something wrong with us because we’re angry all the time, we see racism and misogyny in places where others blithely don’t, we find it harder and harder to “get over it.”

There is little virtue in being shocked about reality. There is nothing to be gained in declaring “This is not my country!” It is your country; it always has been. The recourse, as I see it, is to declare “I am not taking this with me into the future.” Not as a denial, but as an intention. We must choose what will shape us; if we don’t, we will find ourselves changed, broken, and have no idea why. [READ THE FULL ESSAY]

Oprah's Speech Was the Most Public Declaration of Hope We've Seen in Over a Year

Her speech is a masterpiece of storytelling, myth making, and hope. It moves like music, her voice rising like she was standing in a pulpit on Sunday morning. She drew tears and cheers in equal measure; she surpassed the occasion. Leave it to Oprah to be given a prestigious award and to elevate that award just by accepting it. [READ THE FULL COLUMN]

Barack Obama, Cool Dad, Reveals the Secret to His Dad Moves

What's remarkable about this clip is that it is undeniably cool despite the fact that the subject is how uncool he is. Obama is telling Letterman about his "dad dancing" strategy, something that literally anybody else should never do. I don't care how cool your dad is, if he gets interviewed by David Letterman and starts talking about this "dancing strategy," rush the stage and tackle him. [READ THE FULL COLUMN]

I'm Pleased to Announce That I Have Purchased Every Black Panther Ticket

Honey, I clicked purchase so hard that my mouse disintegrated. No regrets. The smashed bits of computer parts reformed themselves on my desk to spell out "Yes gawd!" They understand. [READ THE FULL COLUMN]

Big Mistake, Huge: Arbitrary Rankings from The Bachelor Ep. 2

On one-on-one date number one (say that five times fast), Arie whisked Becca away on the back of a motorcycle to a picturesque Malibu mansion and proceeds to try to impress her with food and gifts almost as if he has a sneaking suspicion that his charms alone won't beguile her. We'll get to the gifts in a second but when they walk in the house there is a massive seafood buffet. Like, truly outrageous. Definitely more than two people could eat. We're talking a seafood buffet for a late spring brunch wedding with 70 guests. And a chocolate fountain! Who is eating all of this seafood? You can't put it in Tupperware and take it back to the ranch with you. It won't keep. This heat? You're asking for trouble. This is all very concerning. [READ THE FULL COLUMN]

Dancing Photoshoot Oprah Is Exactly What You Need

Hi, how is your soul right now?! Weirdies? Middlin'? Meh-tastic? Watch this super brief video of Oprah dancing at a photo shoot for the February cover of O, The Oprah Magazine and be revived. [READ THE FULL COLUMN]

Random thing from the internet...

Because of my recent experience with photography, this article comparing authors' jacket photo from their first books to their most recent photos really spoke to/terrified me.


Let's hang out in Chicago March 1 through April 7! Purchase tickets.

Let's hang out in Philadelphia in May! Tickets are pay-what-you-decide after the show! Reserve here.

Don't play yourself!