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.
The purpose and the spark of a humane and civilizing influence is some ineffable quality for which we strive… and its existence serves as foundation for all of our religions, our liberating philosophies, our governing documents, our laws, our visions and our dreams. We labor above all to attain first, but thereafter to retain that quality in our culture, in our lives, if not for ourselves, then for our children. Call it innocence… call it grace… call it joy… it springs from a desire for peace and safety. It thrives in love and it is the goal of every good gesture, every act of courage and every evolving, intelligent impulse within our social constructs, a product we will call… for the sake of definition, an observable innocence of mind.
Innocence is a delicate and a finite resource, however, difficult and… at times… impossible to regenerate once it has been destroyed. It can be mimicked, but only at the cost of what is true, since every time we produce some false sense of security in safety, it requires the dismantling of innocence in proportions dictated by some unwritten metaphysical law.
The “right to bear arms” in the twenty-first century is the perfect example.
One of many justifications used to oppose the regulation of firearms in America is the manufactured illusion that an armed citizenry creates a safe and secure society, requires the same sort of delusion, though on a global scale, that drove the arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union in the decades following World War II, each nation arming itself to the degree that each could destroy its rival and the entire population of the world many times over and in so brief a period of time, the very notion of this competition was called a “balance of power” through the capability of “mutual destruction.” The cost of this tenuous purchase of national security was a generational nihilism that essentially destroyed the innocence of its participant nations and robbed all neutral parties of their own safety and security and the incessant ignition of small proxy wars in the Third World.
Let’s put that horrendous example into the perspectives that have evolved through the auspices of the National Rifle Association and their benefactor, the gun manufacturers of America. Based upon a premise within the vague wording of the Second Amendment of the Constitution of the United States and fueled by money supplied to them by gun manufacturers, the NRA has become one of the most powerful propaganda agencies, marketing influences, and political lobbies in the entire free world, convincing a huge swath of the American population that they need to live like their pioneer forebearers, who, at least in popular fiction, were surrounded by hostile populations of men and beasts… a dark force in a lawless frontier that perpetually threatened not only their fortune, but their lives.
In the name of this… heritage… they have convinced Americans and bribed their politicians to vindicate the notion that our freedom, our “heritage” and our personal safety demands that every American has the right to bear arms without regulation, license, or constraint. The result? One hundred Americans die on any given day by way of gun violence. Think about that… one hundred people… human beings, men, women, children.
What does that look like? One hundred people.
X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X
X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X
X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X
Every one of the Xs above represents a human being murdered by a gun… one hundred Xs, a fair representation of the sum of any one day’s average slaughter by guns in America. However, it is not a fair representation of the victims themselves, nor the broad expanse of grief, hardship and loss that each death implies. These Xs stand for people… individuals with lives that affect others. They represent mothers fathers, husbands, wives, sons, daughters all… baby girls, baby boys, sweethearts, friends, lovers, the innocent and the not so innocent, but each one of the was a living human being one moment and a nameless cipher in the news a day later.
X = Charlie
He died, according to a police report, on 06/25/1991. His death caused by ”… a single gunshot wound to his head while sleeping.” Charlie was the youngest of four siblings. He was my brother. He was 35 years old and apparently on the upswing after hard times. Hopeful. His parents, my mother and father, were forced to do that which any parent shudders to imagine… to bury one of their children. He was loved by many people, and by everyone in his family, each one devastated and unalterably affected by his sudden and violent death. But it’s one thing to bury your brother after the devastating effects of some disease… quite another in the wake of a senseless murder by person or persons unknown, a random crime with no apparent motive, no witnesses, no suspects.
One hundred violent deaths every day of every week of every month of every year in America causes a rippling effect touches the lives of others, such that each single death must surely effect at least a hundred others, friends, families… a hundred times one hundred lives affected in the wake of a death by gunshot.
What does that look like?
I won’t waste the space just to give you a visual representation of 10,000 Xs, but I think you can imagine page after page after page… and I’m willing to wager that most people in America have lost someone to gun violence in their lifetime, but how many more who are wounded, physically and mentally traumatized. The numbers reach incomprehensible proportions.
Today? Mass shootings are becoming more frequent and occur in places where none would expect… classrooms, movie theaters, concerts, festivals, churches, synagogues, mosques, temples… anywhere people collect and expect to be safe from harm.
America is a war zone.
How did that happen?
It would take volumes to describe the perfect storm that has culminated in this age of violence and insecurity, where no parent can be certain that their child will not be killed on any given day in a classroom… where no one can be certain that their prayers in any church, any synagogue, any mosque, any temple, any sacred place of worship will not be suddenly and violently interrupted by the sound of gunfire.
When do we say, “Enough.”
Not this time… apparently. Here it is, but mere days following the murder of 22 people and the injury of 24 more in a Wal-Mart in El Paso by a lone gunman armed with a military assault rifle and, the news cycle changes, the outrage takes a back seat to the suicide of a storied, sex trafficking billionaire, whose life has launched a hundred rumors… and whose death has launched a hundred more.
And so it goes.
No one will long remember El Paso. Who’s fault is that… if not yours and mine?
Night Letters to America by James Lloyd Davis is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.
I hope you will become a regular reader and I heartily invite you to comment below. I love your feedback, even when it’s criticism. It makes all the trouble worthwhile and it keeps me honest.
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?