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.