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.
Haven’t written in a while, but I thought about you today.
I’m reading again that novel we both read in high school, though I can’t remember whether I bought it first and you wanted it because I had it… or whether I saw you reading it and went out that weekend and bought it myself, so I could flash it at study hall and you’d notice… and we could talk about it together in a corner because… I looked for excuses back then, reasons for us to talk about things for which you had such a passionate interest… just for the pleasure of hearing the fire in your voice.
It was an old book then, old and somewhat obscure. I remember the jacket said it was a very big deal in Russia, in Europe… everywhere. Millions and millions and millions of copies sold.
The Gadfly… remember? A novel first published in the late 1890s by Ethel Voynich, not well known any more, but for some reason it experienced a brief resurgence in the early 1960s, so that anyone with half a brain for books… anyone with a capacity for intense intellectual notions had to read it… tried to read it, tried to understand why people said it was important, meaningful, even timely, though it wasn’t really timely… not yet, though it would be soon enough… in the latter years of that decade, in fact.
It was about revolution, a thing we did not yet ever think about, except for the thrill of the concepts surrounding rebellion… like the Victor Hugo book… the Paris Commune, the barricades, the red flags, the romance and the fire of a time we could only imagine… as it was historic, a prop, alien then, at least to us.
Eight years later, you must have felt it as I did, the possibility, the passion in the air, the word itself tossed around like so much excess… excess of guile… an excess of promise unfulfilled… revolution this and revolution that, until the word itself lost all meaning, ended up cynical and droll.
The revolution that was televised, commercialized, marketized, costumed and produced, packaged and seduced, but… before we knew it? They won. The revolution? Our revolution? It went right into reruns.
So… The Gadfly… I’m reading it now… again… because I need to remember what it was like to be hopeful and passionate… and I’ll admit it… I remember so little about it now, and I wonder if I ever really finished reading it. My head was already full of notions then. I’d read so much… more than I had the capacity to grasp, but tried anyway… Dostoevski, Tolstoi, Steinbeck, Hemingway, Voltaire, and I’d just started Don Quixote when I saw you carrying The Gadfly and knew I had to be reading it as well.
So there… I remember now… you had it first, didn’t you?
You had it, so I had to have it as well
God, but we were young.
We went off in totally different directions, didn’t we?
Really lost track.
I hope you’re well.
So damn many times over the past decades… years in which I’ve not seen or heard from you… or even known where you’ve gone, I think about you often, unable to imagine how life might have received you… rewarded you for the visions you had so long ago. I’ve wondered how you fared, if you were happy, if you found the things you wanted, the things you wished for…
Most of all, I miss the things we shared.
So maybe that’s why I’m reading that book again
And thinking about you.
Your old friend,
James the Least
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?
From the Merriam Webster Dictionary online…
night letter (n): a telegram sent at night at a reduced rate for delivery the following morning
Back in the days when Western Union telegrams were a common method of communication across great distances, much of what needed to be said took more than the few words condensed and clipped into phrases that were applied to the text in order to save the sender money. The sender paid for the service at a rate of so many cents per word with a minimum, usually of nine to twelve words. These telegrams would be sent immediately and delivered by phone or by hand. When a customer wanted to send more than just a line or two, they could pay a cheaper rate per word, with a minimum of about 25 words. These longer, less expensive telegram were called Night Letters. They would be held overnight to be sent the following morning in the early hours when traffic on the wire was light and were delivered the following day.
Before I began writing full time and while I was working in the daytime, I wrote whenever I could, usually when my wife and children were sleeping, sometimes long into the night. It was difficult to write something like a novel and sometimes, when I was forced to work long hours in harsh physical conditions, I was too tired to take on a large project and wrote what could be called vignettes, short pieces that were complete and not reliant on sequential, periodic progression, not unlike the pieces we call flash or micro fiction today… vignettes that I sometimes referred to as night letters.
They kept me going, progressing as a writer, developing perspectives and a style that I would have lost had I entirely abandoned the idea of writing… the hope of becoming a writer… which is itself, these days, an abstract notion in terms of a profession. More of a calling now, than a career, since few can make a living at it, commercial success being no great measure of quality in literature, but of value beyond its artistic appeal. The art has taken a back seat to the value of writing as either a tool of influence in the marketing or political arena… or as one of many inputs to a cinematic product. Even literature for the sake of literature as art is ordered and licensed in a rigid, somewhat cloistered academic construct.
To be sure, I am glad that I kept the practice going throughout my life and, eventually, I enjoyed some small success in publishing shorter works in literary magazines worldwide and, today, in addition to ongoing efforts to succeed as a novelist, I have written many essays, composed in those hours while others are sleeping… night letters.
Beginning next week, I will attempt to produce one serious essay per week and post them on my web page. I’m calling them, Night Letters to America and invite you to read them and comment, as your feedback is helpful to me always. I will announce on both Facebook and Twitter when the series begins and whenever there is a new posting.
Night Letters to America by James Lloyd Davis is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.
If you’ve been reading here, you know that I have been writing a series of essays, titled Socialism, American Style, essays that are more of a voyage of discovery for me,,, an attempt to find a uniquely American approach to the concept of socialism. Although I’ve put the essays temporarily on hold, I have continued to work on the concept. last week, while doing some research and writing down my thoughts, I had an idea, something a little different, which may or may not be one of those big ideas you just happen to stumble upon like someone groping their way through the dark… a flash of light, maybe, a serendipitous thought that starts with a question…
In the United States, certain trends in the political realm have resulted in what can only be called a conservative bias in both political parties, marked by corporatism and autocratic tendencies, the result of influences that are subtle, even invisible to the electorate, but which lead to an untenable condition of economic and social inequality that feels as though we are going backwards, not forward into any recognizable semblance of a better world.
For instance, a firm cultural bias toward specialists, so-called “experts” has become increasingly evident in government. Technocrats, we call them, or we did at one time. Today? Their role is less visible, but their influence? More profound.
Both parties love them and employ them regularly in roles that often usurp those which our Constitution reserves to our elected representatives. They save legislators time and effort by providing their “expertise” in writing legislation, so our Senators and Representatives don’t have to do the work of research and needn’t try to understand the complexities involved. Unfortunately, these technocrats also bring their predilection for satisfying their industry’s own special interests and their corresponding professional biases to the task as well. The common welfare of the American people will always and thus be of little… if any… consideration for cause in the drafting of legislation or the writing of policies affecting the corresponding commercial interests of their unelected authors.
“What’s good for Goldman Sachs is good for America.”
Accordingly, we have people from the insurance industry composing legislation like the Affordable Care Act… lobbyists from the pharmaceutical industry composing the language and provisions for Medicare Part D… or “experts” from the alumni of Goldman Sachs and other financial organization recruited by the Executive branch to write the policies by which the same institutions will be regulated.
Fox in the henhouse metaphors, if you will, are entirely relevant here.
So… if both political parties are thus corrupted, determined to serve the interests of commerce and corporations over the common welfare of the average American… and we, the people, are limited by tradition to only two relevant political parties… both of which are dominated by wealthy families, corporate donors, lobbyists and special interests, what is the answer to our dilemma?
Third parties have seldom been successful in modern times and efforts to reform both parties from within only seem to further advance the creep of autocracy in the inevitable reactionary blow-back. And the public is further frustrated in attempts at reform by very subtle campaigns of genetically modified “populist” movements influenced from abroad and from within… and, again, by profoundly powerful special interest groups with buckets of cash and opportunistic, amoral leadership. Witness the Tea Party.
So… here is the question I posed to myself last week:
If not a Third Party… what’s the answer?
Now? I think I have it… the answer. A new idea. A way forward where there seems… at least to me… to be none. A totally different approach and maybe even a unique solution. Now all I have to do is find a way to adequately communicate its construct. So… for now? I’m suspending the essays and working on what will probably be a project the size of a book that will attempt to offer a solution to our very present and frustrating political impasse.
Watch this space.