Hi! It's R. Eric Thomas. From the internet?
I don't have any tattoos. I've thought about it on and off for years but I'm not a very aesthetically-aware person so I don't trust myself to pick a tattoo that is actually not terrible. I think I know what looks good for you. But for me? I am not cognizant of my own corporeal form and I'd like to keep it that way. I don't even know where I'd get one. Like, what if I got it on my arm but then I got really jacked and it suddenly looked all misshapen and weird? Accidental hotness could strike at any time. Can't risk it.
People have suggested that I take pictures of various body parts like I'm doing an autopsy and then Photoshop tattoos on to them to see what I think. Look, babe, is there anything about me that suggests that I would be good at Photoshop? Let's be serious here. Let's talk solutions.
There was a while I wanted a tattoo of a pile of papers sitting on a desk near a window, some of the papers would be flying out the window and a few would have landed in a puddle in the gutter. So it was, like, an inside and outside scene? Where was the wall? Unclear. I was very adamant about this tattoo for some reason. I think I was depressed about my writing career lol. Like, this is not a tattoo, it's a cry for help. I am so glad that I literally could not think of a single body part and that I literally had zero dollars to my name for about a decade because those two things kept me from toting around a large ink piece that bears the message "soon I will benefit from some therapy."
While I was getting OT on my arm this summer, they used the kinesio tape on me that had, I guess, "tribal markings". Like a tattoo of a guy on Jersey Shore. I felt like I was appropriating a culture but I couldn't tell you whose. Pauly D's? As uncomfortable as I was walking around with skin-colored tape (for once the actual color of my skin) with jagged black fake tats, it did give me the experience of seeing what my arm might look like with a sleeve of problematic images. I kind of liked it, problematicness aside. I told David I wanted to get a full arm tattoo! He asked me of what? Well, that stumped me. Foiled again.
Maybe some dry piece of paper? A closed window? I'm spiraling here.
My most long-standing tattoo idea is, unfortunately, the most deranged. I think it started out as a joke but, as with most things in my life, I really committed to it and then started thinking it was a hilarious but good idea. For years in my 20s I would tell people that I wanted a tattoo of two pink embossed rifles on my clavicle. WHY? I have never even held a gun, let alone two. I think that's why, actually. I thought it would be completely absurd and therefore amazing. Next to one of those guns, I wanted an asterisk. And then, on another part of my body I wanted another asterisk and the words "Bang bang". In writing this, I realize that all my tattoo ideas were a cry for help in one way or another.
I think I told this to someone at a party because I was bored and trying to think of the craziest thing I could say to amuse myself but it quickly took on a life of its own. Even now there's still a small, deeply unwell part of me that thinks maybe it's a good idea. Or at least visually interesting.
I was so serious about that gun tattoo but I never followed through with it because I was waiting to develop pecs. I never did any working out so I don't know how I thought this was going to occur. But I guess that's a problem for the tattoo artist to figure out.
Anyway, years went by, I got some help, and I stopped telling people about the Bang, Bang guns. Until last spring.
One of the things that happens when you're in the writer's room for a TV show is you end up telling all kinds of random stories about yourself and the people you've encountered as a way of pushing the conversation forward so that we can find the story we're trying to tell. All content is useful. Even in the Dickinson room, where our subject was the life and times of Emily Dickinson, we found ourself talking about everything from Ziwe's upcoming guests to Lynn Nottage's vacation to how exactly Apple made money, and it all added to the richness of the show.
On Better Things, which I wrote for last year this time, the process is even more organic. Pamela Adlon, the showrunner, director, and star, would bring in things that had happened to her that morning and we'd chew on how to work them into the show. It was amazing. And it empowered us to bring in parts of ourselves to add to the crazy quilt.
Which is how I got to talking about the Bang, Bang guns. I told the whole story and the Zoom windows all stared back at me like I was truly crazy and Pamela cracked up and said "Oh, that's going in."
Cut to a year later: a thing that I said mostly joking at a party as a deranged 23-year-old ended up airing on FX last Monday, almost two decades after it first came tumbling out of my addled brain. Who says the arc of history doesn't bend toward justice?
My Bang Bang guns live on as a small plot point in the episode "Family Meeting" which I cowrote with Judy Gold and Pamela Adlon. I love this episode a lot. Judy and I worked really hard to shape it and revise it and there's some really lovely moments that I'm extremely proud of. And the directing and editing of this episode just blew me away; there's a lot going on and it's all stitched together with such life and warmth.
This is my second episode of Better Things to air, with my third, cowritten with my beloved Cree Summer, airing tomorrow and streaming on Hulu the day after. And it still hasn't gotten old seeing my name on screen. I don't think it ever will. And while it's a thrill to hear lines that came from my brain said by actors on screen, it's perhaps even more thrilling to hear a line and know that it came somewhere in the middle of a collective creative session. To think maybe I thought of the first part and Judy thought of the second, or maybe Pamela told us what to write and we figured out how to put it in. Or the whole room as a group created this moment, these words. It's extraordinary.
But those guns, those are all me, for better or for worse. And I have to say: the performer did a phenomenal job and the make-up team created something gorgeous and weird. But now that I look at it, I'm like "I don't think I should get this tattoo..." So, back to the drawing board.
Plays on Television
Even more deranged things from my brain on your screen
Thank you to everyone who streamed The Folks at Home! I got such great feedback about the technology and the experience of sitting at home watching a play. I'm so grateful that you've all supported my work and so thrilled that so many of you loved the play. I'm hoping that you'll be able to see other productions of it soon!
Backing Track starts streaming tomorrow VOD and Crying on Television, my new farcical play about making friends as adults, streams from June 26 to July 10 (live performances May 31 through June 25). Tickets to both are on sale now!
Look at this wonderful Kirkus review of Kings of B'more!
If you preorder from Charm City Books, they'll send you a custom mug!
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