David Sloma

writer

Category: In Memory

Harlan Ellison – Memories and Lessons

Harlan Ellison was one of the first professional writers I ever met.

It was in the 80’s, during one of Harlan’s lecture tour stops. I was a wide-eyed teen, voracious reader (especially of fantasy and sci-fi), and also a beginning/aspiring writer. His talk to the large crowd was wild and entertaining, filled with outrageous stories – here was a real celebrity writer in our midst! His admonitions on the hardships of the writing life were not enough to deter me, but they did shock me at the time (I found out years later he was mostly right).

The highlight of the show was when he read one of his new stories! That put me in awe, not just because I got to hear a wonderful story from a master writer in his own voice, but he said afterward that it was “just how it came out of the typewriter.” No rewriting! He explained that he was able to do this after being a writer for over 25 years. I thought he might have been embellishing about his skill slightly, as some of his tales seemed a little far-fetched, but now I’m not so sure. I’ve learned from him and other long-term writers that this sort of thing is possible; I’ve even had my own experiences with it.

After the show, I lined up to get a book signed by Harlan and also got his infamous barbed wit/temper directed at me! Seems I was being a little too much the acolyte writer as I hung around at his elbow after getting my book signed, wanting to bask in his presence and collect any pearls of writing wisdom he might choose to bestow on those crowding around him. So he shooed me away like a fly! I believe he even said “Go away, shoo!” I can chuckle about it now, but at the time I was a bit miffed. Ah, Harlan!

Harlan Ellison gave me someone to emulate, showing that the dream I had, to also be a writer, was possible. For that I’m thankful, and also for the many stories of his I enjoyed and dreamed on.

RIP Carrie Fisher

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For those who’ve been there from the start in 1977, you’ll recognize this card.

I’m saddened out today.

Leonard Cohen’s Change of Cosmic Address

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Thank you, Leonard Cohen, from the mourning lovers you consoled with sympathy, the iced hearts you warmed with tears; thank you for the hope you gave to those lost, for showing the way to something more, out of the darkness.

Thank you from your fans (I count myself as one) for your beautiful, truthful music and words, the inspiration you gave to other artists to follow their paths at their heart’s urgings, and to spiritual seekers to follow their soul’s longings. Thank you for the kindness you shared with those lucky enough to cross your path.

I crossed your path, in a way, when I received a personal letter from you many years ago, in response to a book of my poetry I had sent you. That gesture of yours told me a lot about your depth of character and respect for other artists. That you, such an esteemed writer, took the time and effort to respond to me meant a great deal to the young writer I was at the time. And it still does.

I hope you are able to read this now, Leonard, and that you are happy and in a better place. We can play your music and read your words when we miss you, but nothing will ever replace you.

Thank you again for all you gave, and see you around.

-Dave Sloma

 

Lewis Vella’s Change of Cosmic Address

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Lewis Vella’s Change of Cosmic Address

By David Sloma

June 21, 2016

 

I just found out that Lewis Vella died. Over two years later.

I was just thinking about him the other day. Now, I find that he’s another local writer who died suddenly at a young age, another friend passed on.

I prefer to say Lewis has passed on, or changed his cosmic address…those terms seem more fitting for his artistic soul, and I don’t think it’s the end when our soul departs from this plane, anyway.

The terms we use to describe what has happened to him are not that important. A friend, and an inspiration has moved on from this life, leaving us missing him. It was a shock to me to learn he was gone.

I’m glad that some of his family and friends have left messages on his on Facebook page (which is how I found out), talking about their memories of him, and even still wishing him a happy birthday years after he’s gone—some of them are even now departed themselves. If that’s not love, and missing someone, I don’t know what is!

Here’s something of my memory of him.

I saw an orange VW bus the other evening parked in downtown Toronto while walking with a friend, enjoying the warm June weather, and it made me think of Lewis Vella. I wondered if it was his bus. I had lost touch with him over the last couple of years, and he had often crossed my mind, certainly every time I saw a similar bus.

I had remarked to my friend that the VW looked like one a writer I knew had, and I recounted how Lewis would sell his own books out of his camper at the side of the street. That we were walking around some of the neighbourhoods that Lewis used to frequent made his memory in my mind even more vivid.

I hoped that I would run into Lewis again now that the summer weather was here; a good time for sitting in the VW with the door open, his books on display, talking to who might pass by and dispensing his unique perspectives on life that were like medicine for a world gone insane in many ways.

I first met Lewis in the Annex many years back, when he was sitting in his VW parked by the side of Bloor Street outside Lee’s Palace. I was intrigued by this character and his books, and by his spirit. I got the feeling of artistic and life freedom from him, this unique soul in his bus with his books, going where the winds of inspiration would take him next, then writing it down for us to ponder later.

I got some of his books and enjoyed them (Mutant Migrant is a favourite, and with a title like that you can’t go wrong!), and it was a great thing to be able to buy them right from the author in his bus and get them signed! Where does that happen? Back then, as an aspiring writer myself looking for a way to get published, Lewis was a revelation and an inspiration. We had interesting conversations, both on the bus and in local cafes, about writing and everything under the sun.

I listened to his tales about how he had left the advertising world behind because his heart was no longer in it, to live his life on his own terms and to be a writer. That he self-published and sold his work himself sent a clear message to me that there was another way to artistic fulfillment than begging on the doorsteps of the traditional publishing industry with my manuscripts in hand, hoping to win their lottery.

I admired his freedom, attained by following his own path and having control over how his writing was published and distributed. Nowadays, self-publishing is not nearly the dirty word it was back then, but back then he was one of the few writers I had met who had the guts to put out their own work. It was also way before the rise of ebooks and the Internet sites to sell them on, so then it was either go the traditional publishing route (and hope) or do-it-yourself and spend the money to do so; it was not easy.

But here was someone self-publishing and making a go of it! It was possible! And right in front of my eyes. In short order I began self-publishing my own writing, placing it for sale in local bookstores (it sold!), and inspired by Lewis, no doubt, even taking a spin at selling my books on the street—and I even sold some there, too! (I’ve yet to get a VW bus, but you never know…)

Lewis Vella was one-of-a-kind in the best sense. He had wisdom about life and art that was gained by hard experience. He shared that wisdom freely when you asked for it. His thoughts will live on in his writing, and I’m glad we have his art.

Thank you, Lewis, for being an inspiration and a friend. I wish I could have seen you again and spent more time talking with you. I guess I’ll see you around, eh? Because we’re still in this big, wild, universe together, whatever form we’re in…so I’m sure I’ll see you again. Maybe you’ll even get to read my writing. Tell me what you think? Do you like what those writers Forrest Ackerman and Phil Dick are doing, sending messages from the Other Side? Maybe you’ll do the same one day? (See the books An Atheist In Heaven, and Philip K. Dick: The Dream Connection.)

Perhaps it’s fitting that I found out about Lewis’s change of cosmic address today, one day after the Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year, as now the days are getting shorter again, and we are going back into the dark time of the year. But when I thought of Lewis the other evening, after spotting that orange VW bus, the days were still growing longer and filling with more and more light—I’d like to remember him that way.

I was blessed to have met Lewis and to have read his books, bought right from him and autographed in his bus. You can still read his work and be blessed too, by his wit, insight, life-lessons, and heart.

For the last few years whenever I’ve seen an orange VW bus I’ve thought of Lewis Vella, and I know I’ll continue to do so.

Goodbye Lewis, see you around.

 

-David Sloma

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