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Writing, Acting & Poetry: Author Richard Smith Speaks to RSR

Interview by Geno McGahee

It is refreshing to see somebody stepping away from the normalcy of living to chase a dream and create something artistic and meaningful. Richard Smith and I have worked at the same place for years, and when I needed extras for FAMILY SECRET in 2009, he agreed, and was moved to a speaking role. Through his acting ability, he has made his way into two other features in much larger roles (SCARY TALES, SICKLE) and that’s when I began to hear of “A SAILOR’S HAIKU.”

Smith wrote a book of poetry and commentary that he was publishing and is available at Ama-zon.com. I immediately picked it up, despite my lack of love for poetry, and found it quite enter-taining. Smith was able to bring a human touch that came off the pages. His approach, mixed with humor and honesty is what made this book special and made this the first book of poetry that I have been able to read all the way through.

Richard has several book signings lined up in the New England area, has been making positive strides, and is on the verge of releasing his second book: “A HOUSE OF WORDS.” Smith sat down with RSR …

GM: You just released a book of poetry and memoirs called “A Sailor’s Haiku.” How long did it take you to write it and what inspired you to write this book?

The haiku content took about ten years to write. During a visit out to Iowa, I bought a blank hard cover book, and wrote the first piece. Over those ten years, pieces made it into the book directly, or via scraps of paper, bank receipts, cocktail napkins, or anything else I could get ink to stick to. I had long since learned to write something down as soon as it entered my mind. The memoir content took about a year. I needed to weed out those haiku I felt would in inappropriate, and then compose the memoirs.

But, why did I write the book? That’s actually very simple. I started reading a series of books by medium Jane Roberts when I was a child. I reread them many times over the years. In one book, it was mentioned that she dabbled in a “haiku-like” form of poetry. The piece in the book was: The cat eats the mouse / Neither exists / Do not tell them. That piece really struck a chord.

After reading that piece again, I realized I had to write the book. I hate to sound corny, but it was almost a calling.

GM: Releasing a book, especially one that puts through genuine emotion…a window into who you are…did you find it a difficult thing to share?

Absolutely not. One of the side effects of going through therapy was finally having an accurate perspective on my life. My childhood was essentially military training. From there, I went into one of the most demanding military academic programs in the world. That led to one of the most stressful military environments known to man.

Then I started a successful career in a company only a few get into. But, here’s the kicker…it is-n’t the fact I did those things. Lots of people have, and then done even more. It’s the point I did them all while I was absolutely nuts out of my gourd! I was finally faced with the fact that con-sidering the path I had chosen, and the obstacles in that path…I did okay. My life wasn’t an em-barrassment any more. I could look at my life, not as a destructive secret, but as a series of ac-complishments I could be proud of. Writing the book was literally a life changing event.

GM: A Sailor’s Haiku, coming out in 2011, with Amazon offering create-a-space, kindle, Face-book, Twitter and more as useful free promotional tools, do you feel that you are hitting the mar-ket at the right time and have you found the tools available helpful in the marketing of the book?

Oh, yes. For one thing, self publishing as it was once known, has virtually ceased to exist. In the old days, a “self-published” author wrote a book. Then they found someone to print it. That was expensive. Then they received a box or two of their books. Then they set out on their own to attempt to market, promote, and sell their books. That was expensive, too.

Now it’s entirely different. An author can write a book. A company on the internet will publish their book…for a fee. They will professionally edit it…for a fee. They will help inexperienced authors design their covers…for a fee. They will assist in promotion and distribution…for a fee.

It sounds like the author is getting bled dry by fees. But, they’re not. A good writer can do many things themselves. A self-published author receives more from each book than a writer backed by an agent and publisher. But, the orders are smaller and slower in coming. In some ways, it’s a bit of a trade off.

Did I hit the crest of the wave? Not really. But, I got it pretty close. And, the tools at my dis-posal sped the process up.

GM: You were very honest in the book, discussing your depression from military experiences compiled with your rotating shifts for so many years taking a toll. Were you ever concerned about saying too much? With so many people losing jobs over Facebook posts and things like that, was there ever a moment writing this that you thought: “Maybe I should leave this out?”

Not really. For one thing, depression is far more common than people realize. Also, the stigma regarding treatment through anti-depressants isn’t nearly as strong as it once was. If companies were actually short sighted enough to fire those dealing with depression, they’d lose half their workforce. More than a few CEOs would be axed as well.

But, even if that were the case, I was motivated by a much stronger influence. My experiences could help others. I was in a very bad place. No matter what I did, no matter what I achieved, no matter how happy others were with me…I was trash. I was never good enough. My life meant nothing. The frustrating part was, I was the only one who knew it! It was like waiting for the other boot to drop. I was constantly waiting for someone smarter to walk up and say,
“Smith, you are such a loser!! How could we all have been fooled for so long?”

Imagine being in a place where everything you did was bad. Even the good things were bad, be-cause they weren’t good enough. People saying otherwise just didn’t see the truth. Obviously, it was only a matter of time until everyone knew how useless you were. Imagine being in that place every day. For years and years. How long would you last?

I was there. Not anymore. But, at one point I was there. I don’t want anyone to be there. I real-ized talking about it would be embarrassing. I realized it might even endanger my credibility. But, I knew there were others out there like me. It was much more important to get the word out there that there is a way out. I’m not being brave or selfless. I’m just being realistic.

GM: Haiku is a Japanese form of poetry that has certain guidelines…three characteristics it should have. Do you find it easy to stay within the guidelines or is the area so grey that the guidelines don’t matter all that much?

Wow! No easy questions today, Geno. Haiku itself has become a grey area. The opinions re-garding what constitutes a proper haiku are very diverse, even among accomplished poets. Of course, there is the whole five-seven-five format. Most people remembering their grade school experiences know about the syllable requirement for each of the three lines. Apart from that, the views differ.

Some people are so liberal that all that matters is the appeal and imagery. If it has three brief lines…good enough.

At the other end of the scale are those who say it must adhere to the 5-7-5 format, it must be about man and nature, the first line must be about man, the last line must be about nature, and the middle line must be a bridge between the two. I suspect the latter folks are the ones holding out their pinkies when they drink.

It must be the right hand, the fingernail must be trimmed and filed, the pinkie must be held at precisely a 47.6 degree angle…

Did I adhere to the syllable format? Yes. Was it difficult? Very! But, that always struck me as the one classic feature of haiku. And, it provided a very interesting challenge. I’ve written in one form or another my entire life. It was very interesting to maintain the quality, and still fit into such a small and distinct format.

GM: I know that you do photography and acting on top of your writing, but what do you find the most rewarding and why?

My first love has always been, and always will be writing. Not only has it provided a creative outlet, but over time it also became a support mechanism. Don’t forget, the general rule is: if you’re happy, you talk about it; if you’re sad, you write about it. Writing is directly associated with my survival.

GM: I have been fortunate to have you act in three of my films now (FAMILY SECRET, SCARY TALES, SICKLE) and it is something that you have done very well. Do you feel that as a writer and photographer that you have a more natural talent in the world of acting? Has it helped you in the roles that you’ve played?

Absolutely! Well, not so much the photography. But the writing aspect, definitely. Almost all of my creative fiction writing involves a process of imagining something as a movie in my head, and writing what I see. Luckily, I’m also adept at acting out what I see. Another factor is my lifelong connection with humor. Although it may not seem like it, humor has a direct link with all other emotions.

GM: You have a second book coming out. What is the title of that and can you tell the readers a little about it?

Ah, the second book. Actually, it just went into production. It’s entitled “A House Of Words.” It follows the same format as A Sailor’s Haiku. The second book might be a little more accessi-ble to a wider readership. Instead of exclusively haiku, it contains traditional verse, some ab-stract verse, and musical lyrics. I spent many years as a low class version of Bernie Taupin, the lyricist for Elton John. I provided the words, and if someone wanted to use them, the tune made no difference to me. Again, along with the verse, are the significant reflections and life events inspiring them. So far, the sentiment is if you liked the first book, the second is a shoo-in.

GM: You have a website called “Mystic Diversified Services,” a non-religious alternative for weddings, funerals and commemorations. You refer to yourself as a “spiritual advisor.” What is the purpose of your website and can you explain the difference in your opinion between spiritual and a religious spirituality since this is a non-religious service.

Now, Geno. Religion and politics! I’m joking. I developed the website for two reasons. One is to provide a venue for the sale of my books. The other was to finally put my research and ex-perience in the spiritual realm to good use. But, the meat of the question is the difference be-tween religion and spirituality.

First off, one needs to look at the nature of organized religion. There you see the purpose, and limitations of virtually every spiritual path falling into that category. Let’s concentrate on “the big three”. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. They seem to be the most visible and contentious. They all fall prey to the same limitations:

1) When dealing with ancient documents of any kind, there is no such thing as an original. There is an earliest known, but not an original. Many documents fall into this category, includ-ing religious scripture. All we know for sure is what the earliest known copy says. Religious scholars have openly admitted over the years that many religious scriptures have been edited and revised over the millennia. What did they once say? The answer is lost to time, and the motiva-tions of the editors.
2) Logic is Kryptonite to organized religion. Consider this basic line of logic:
a) There is no scientific, tangible evidence that God exists.
b) Organized religion claims to have privileged intimate knowledge of God.
c) Claiming to have privileged intimate knowledge of something one can’t prove to exist in the first place, makes no sense whatsoever.

So, why do so many people accept the premise that these leaders have this priceless knowledge? Why do they believe it when these people claim to have the only right answer? Aaah…that’s the purpose of religion. Religion is so popular, and in some cases, crucial to so many people for one simple reason. It gives them a tool, and even a weapon against the man’s ultimate enemy: THE UNKNOWN. The future. Death. The existence of an Afterlife. They’re the ultimate unknown. And…they’re not going anywhere! Humans need a way to deal with these issues. Stability is as essential a human need as food, clothing, and shelter. Regardless of religion’s original purpose, that is the purpose it serves now. Organized religion is to stability, what the supermarket is to food.

That’s Religion.

Now, what if one didn’t go to the “supermarket”? What if they didn’t like “supermarkets”? What if they found the entire experience distracting, misleading, and useless? What if they didn’t want to get into the whole debate over whether Food Mart is better than Stop&Shop?

What if, instead of going to the supermarket, they hunted their own meat, ground their own grain, and raised their own vegetables?

No more limited choices. No more middlemen. No more exhaustive debates. No more worry-ing about what was done to the food before they bought it.

That’s Spiritualism.

There are so many people out there who believe in a Divine Creator, but don’t subscribe to the “my way or the highway” attitude of individual religions. Let’s go back to the supermarket anal-ogy…they don’t like being told which line to stand in, how to pay for the food, or only getting a discount with a courtesy card.

They know they need to eat. They know they like food. And they get it…just from a different place.

But wait! That’s not the only kind of spiritualism out there. There’s another route one can take. These are the people who shop at all the supermarkets. They get their meat at the Big Y. They get their veggies at Food Mart. They get their bread at Stop&Shop. They get their toiletries at Shop Rite.

Shortly after I started working at Monsanto I met one of these people. I had a co-worker, an older man. I’ll call him Ray. I walked into our little break room, and there he was reading the Quran. I remarked offhand, “Oh, I didn’t know you were Muslim.”

He looked at me as if I had started combing his hair with a live trout! He informed me that he, in fact, wasn’t a Muslim. I told him I jumped to the conclusion after seeing him with the Quran. That was when he said the smartest thing I’ve ever heard on the subject of God.

“If you ate the same thing, let’s say canned tuna, over and over every day of your life, you would never be hungry. But you’d die of malnutrition. Your body needs a variety of foods. It needs a little bit of everything to get the nutrition it needs. Your soul is the same way. It needs a little Jesus, a little Buddha, a little Islam, all of it, to be healthy.”

Ray was a spiritual man.

So essentially, what I hope to provide is those services a religious person has access to, in a ver-sion a spiritual person will like.

GM: Do you have anything to say in closing…

Richard: Yes. But I need to be careful. Your eyes are starting to glaze over. If you want to write…write. If you want to write a book…do it. Don’t listen to those who say it’s not worth it. Don’t listen to those people saying you’ll fail, or it’s all for nothing. They say every person has one good book in them. I’m a firm believer in that. The opportunities have really opened up over the last few years. The way things are now, if I can write and sell a book, a monkey can do it! I’ve been told I’m half monkey anyway. Oh…and check out the web site. I’m looking for in-put.


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