Been a nostalgic week for some reason. Who knows where these recollections come from, how they are triggered, but there it is… the Sixties.
Although I faked it whenever it suited my purpose, I never was a flower child… you know? 1968… I’d already been to Vietnam and back, tried acting like I’d never been there, since nobody really cared… just wanted to blend in and start all over from scratch. Did I ever tell you what I wanted to do when I got back from the war? Don’t laugh, but I was hot to be and really tried to become a photo-journalist… tried going back over there to Vietnam because life back home… life Stateside… was like a vacuum, a round hole and I was utterly square-shaped with very hard edges that simply seemed never to quite fit into place, though God knows I tried.
No… I guess I never told you about that, since I never had the chance. I left Norfolk shortly after I heard you got married. Nothing to keep me there, so I left. Moved across the river to Newport News. I know you knew I’d been back, but… who knows?
Me? James the Recently Returned? He wanted something exciting, something dangerous, something different in his life… but all he got was the sporting goods department at Sears & Roebuck and they fired him… long story. Not worth telling.
I bought cameras, took pictures… got pretty good at it. Sent letters to newspapers all over the country, told them I’d be willing to work for them as a photojournalist overseas… in Vietnam or Israel, wherever there was a war because… I don’t know… adrenaline? Told them I’d work cheap, but nobody offered me a job and after Sears fired me, I pawned all my cameras and guns… and my television set, my stereo. Took a four-month sabbatical and tried to write a novel.
When the money ran out, I got hungry… so I went to work for the shipyard.
Was living in a tenement then, three-story brick buildings… right across the street from the yard. While I was living there, I went through about three lifetimes in a year… a crazy year… long story, but it was during one of those lifetimes that I tried becoming a flower child, hanging with a group of people who lived in my building, in a huge basement apartment where other people, kids mostly, down from Richmond and DC would party every weekend. The group was led by a guy from California, a guy whose name I can’t remember… some rich guy who’d been to Vietnam and was knocking around the country with another guy… from Minnesota, I think.
They were trying to start an urban commune… called themselves “the Real People.”
Long story. But I didn’t fit in there either.
Two years in Newport News… then Ohio and three or four more lifetimes in a couple of crazy years before I finally caught my breath… Readers Digest condensed versions of a life each… little novellas just waiting for an ending that never quite arrives. Lifetimes that felt a little like Purgatory, or like waiting for a bus in a Greyhound station that never, ever comes. Purgatory… Greyhound waiting rooms… they are interchangeable, I think. You meet interesting people, but you’re forever in transit, like those little eddies of current in a river, that circle and circle and circle for hours before they ever slip back into the mainstream again and get on their way downriver.
Don’t know where you went after you and what’s-his-name got married. I know you guys didn’t stay together. I don’t know why. God knows… he was a pretty good guy. I knew him pretty well, but your life was a total mystery to me, a book I’ve always looked for, but could never find.
The Sixties. I’d always imagined you’d get caught up in the whole flower-child thing… but in a good way. Not the whole drugs and sex and the Green Tambourine thing, the me-me-me culture, but something like that quintessential catcher-in-the-rye rejection of self-aggrandizement, that higher place… a role you seemed born to assume and I know you were looking, always looking… so many did. Somebody had to find it. Not many would, but I always thought that if anyone could, you’d be the one. I hope you did.
Best always… your old friend,
Letters to Virginia by James Lloyd Davis is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.
Every writer knows the truth about words… that of themselves and in their studied form… they are limiting, vague… that they can be chains that hold you back. A writer like Toni Morrison is able break the binds and strictures of language in such a way that the words become a liberating force within the reader… permitting a depth in simplicity that could never be otherwise achieved except within her flawless style. Such a writer is rendered thus immortal.
“No one ever talks about the moment you found that you were white. Or the moment you found out you were black. That’s a profound revelation. The minute you find that out, something happens. You have to renegotiate everything.”
Short answer? Absolutely.
Although it’s just an idea I’ve been kicking around for a while and never really considered it a personal priority, I’m actually getting serious and presently researching the possibilities… even looking into the actual costs involved in establishing a writers collective that would be centered around the production and publishing of a regional quarterly literary review and… possibly… an annual foray into book publishing… anthologies, perhaps, or even novels.
Logistical support for this venture would be limited, physically, to Northeast Ohio, specifically to the area in and around Cleveland and Akron, however, technology enables participation from virtually any location these days. Accordingly, if those who wish to be involved in the collective possess the necessary skill set and the equipment required, their location doesn’t really matter.
In a month or so, I will have the draft of a business plan that would summarize the scope of the project and provide an outline of the specific literary perspective for the quarterly journal.
If anyone is interested in getting involved, send me an email and I will put your name on a list to receive the prospectus when it’s ready. You need only give me your name and what manner and level of involvement you would consider (i.e. editor, columnist, essayist, writer, fiction or non-fiction, graphic arts, etc.)
I’m not looking for investors, but if you have a few million laying around and you don’t know what to do with it, you could consider underwriting the project and earn yourself the gratitude of the writers and artists who may decide to get involved and maybe even a full page dedication in the first issue, but hey… your name on page one and artistic gratitude, along with $5 might get you a fair cup of coffee and a donut… or maybe even an eclair, but not much more than that.
Anyway if you think you might be interested in getting involved with this project in any way at all… send your email to me at:
There’s no guarantee this thing will ever get off the ground, but if there is enough interest, it might be worth the effort. Of course, even if it did get underway, projects like this are a dime a dozen and they tend to fall flat more often than not, so there is that. But hey… if you believe in writing and the arts, what’s to lose?
I have always admired the character of Don Quixote. Why? Because of his marvelous blindness. He could see, yes, but only vague shapes he was forced to interpret with his fine imagination… a wonderful and singular imagination that was formed in the novels of old, novels with heroes and villains, novels from the perspective of romance, novels rife with idyllic ideals that were conceived by the minds of men like himself, men who longed for some sense of nobility in mankind, a mystical concept that was expressed in the code of the chevalier, a notion of heroics and the grandeur of chivalric valor, unwritten codes that prevailed in the novels written in the time of the Don’s creator… though not on the muddy highways, nor in the poor villages of Spain, nor in its people… nor in any other nation then or now… which notion likely never really existed at all in fact, beyond the hopeful fictions, the beautiful words that molded their illusory landscape.
Of course, neither did Don Quixote exist. The old man was a character in a book, a novel at that, an intellectual vehicle, a literary trope, the projection of someone like myself, a writer, a man or woman… in this case a man, Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra.
A writer tries to rebuild the world with a framework of words and the substance of figuration. So, by that token, in such a world, I can have dinner with Don Quixote. Perhaps a meal in my kitchen, simple fare consisting of tuna fish sandwiches on soft rye bread. Cold iced tea or maybe beer… in big chilled mugs. For dessert, maybe fresh cinnamon and raisin spice cake with sweet, thick, rich, rich, rich butter icing and coffee. Of course, the food would not really matter. It could be anything really … roast beef, chicken, lamb, pulled pork. Food is only food. The dinner is only a platform on which to build a conversation. In that conversation, perhaps I could tell a story, inject an opinion, betray confidences. Because I so love the heart of Don Quixote, perhaps I would only listen.
Cervantes is dead … though his words, his mind, and the Don live on.
I suppose that I was saddened by the fact that Cervantes wrote the books in such a way that the Don eventually died of a broken heart… but isn’t that the fate of any man or woman who aspires to an ideal and does not settle for the way things are? It’s no coincidence that the brain is the organ within us that is closest to the heavens, or that the bowels are closest to the earth. Our heart, however, lies somewhere between the two. In a way, the concept is comedic and so it is, or was, that in the cynical mind of Cervantes, Don Quixote must surely die aggrieved for his lofty and insensible perceptions.
It’s the natural consequence of truth.
The world could care less about any individual soul, man or woman, when there are so many… more than seven and a half billion last time I checked.
“Hah…” they seem to say, if not aloud… surely they’d never say it aloud, but you read the words in their tones and their eyes, “…foolish old man. Where do you get such impertinent notions? Just die, fool. We need the bed. We need the space you’re taking up, the air you’re sucking in, the food you turn to waste. Die already!”
So it is… and to say to hell with the world, I have dinner with Don Quixote. This meal we share is not unusual, I think. Maybe an early supper in a clean, noisy diner in a truck stop on the Interstate. Perhaps in Missouri or Oklahoma where the food is seasoned with pity and priceless understanding by immigrant cooks with fresh spices and hope… food meant to caress the troubled soul, quiet the restless mind, and leave the appetite sated. Meatloaf, perhaps, with mashed potatoes, peas and corn… or maybe with gravy and rich mac and cheese, a bowl on the side with sweet black-eyed peas. The meatloaf has this crispy, dark brown edge and on the top of every slice, a thin red tasty glaze of baked sweet ketchup. Lots of coffee. Pretty waitress.
The conversation? Dreams. Beautiful dreams… and maybe dark dreams as well, but dark with a twist of charity. Laughter, tears, emotions swell. I am a writer. This is what I do. This is who I am.