I’m starting to realize that my quest to revive the Lost Art of Letter Writing was actually a way of rediscovering the camaraderie that seems to have slipped between the cracks amidst the crush of High Technology. The number of people who bother to write back (of the hundreds of pieces I’ve sent out) can probably be counted on the fingers of one hand. More often than not I get an e-mail or a message on Facebook thanking me for sending them something. Sometimes with excuses for why they can’t write back. At least I’m not to blame for the extinction of letter writing and it isn’t just the lack of teaching cursive writing that has done it in. Technology has made people lazy.
So I’m going to go back in time to discover where things went horribly wrong. I won’t bother with my early childhood in England. My memory of those years is shaky at best.
Don Mills … Here are three things I remember doing with other people: (a) science experiments (we actually thought we’d discovered a new way of producing plastic at one point); (b) baseball … softball with the kids at my school and hardball with an organized team; (c) met Tony Quarrington in grade six and it wasn’t long before we were producing small magazines (in four colours sometimes … not process colours though) on his father’s Gestetner printer and pedaling them from door to door to the apartment dwellers of Don Mills. Tony mostly did the writing and I mostly made the pictures. Alas nothing has surfaced from this period. Apart from this with others we explored the Don Valley (the parkway hadn’t been built yet) and a deserted barn on Lawrence Avenue. Tony and I also entertained the neighbourhood children (including Dan Hill apparently) with puppets and our wide array of voices.
Scarborough … This suburb seemed to be just getting rolling when we arrived in 1959 or 1960. It didn’t take long to find boys to play ice and road hockey with (I was better at the latter because I was less scared of being hit with a tennis ball than with a rock hard puck … besides I wasn’t all that great as a skater having come to it at a much later age than my contemporaries. At some point the folk music period kicked in and I bought a used guitar and learned some chords … then the Beatles and Stones happened and my father took me downtown to a pawn shop where I bought my first electric guitar. Didn’t take me long to find kindred spirits and I became a bass player (never actually owned a bass) for a series of bands (Clintstones, Sunsets, A-Go Go Set) playing in basements, youth centres and strip mall dance studios. Somewhere in there I used to play war games with Robert Dick and Richard Percy (usually with plastic model ships which we’d built and painted ourselves). Was Arts & Crafts head at Camp Ogama for a couple of summers and formed a band with Myles Cohen and a couple of other senior boys. Phil Ennis and I got into all kinds of trouble though Phil probably took the cake when he brought a Nazi flag to a Jewish camp and placed it over his bed. But that’s another blog or chapter in my memoir. By 1965 I had started at the Ontario College of Art. This also coincided with my weekendly trips to Yorkville Village to catch people like Gordie Lightfoot, Phil Ochs and Tim Hardin. Met many good friends at OCA including my wife-to-be and my last year was spent working with a number of other students (including some from third year) on the school yearbook (aka The 1969 OCA Bag) which was actually a box containing a game (board, money, dice, markers, etc), some posters (including a horoscope chart), a record(!), and (a near afterthought!) a yearbook.
North Toronto … Got married and my first (post-OCA) job at McClelland and Stewart. Always felt M&S spoiled one from working anywhere else. We had too much fun. Somehow we got the annual list done despite parties, department listening sessions (Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon was a favourite) and even at least one musical session in a field (Don Fernley, David Berry and me) … and then there was the Group of Fifty Eight with its Olympic Chair Race, Simulated Motorcycle Experience and Ashley Collective. This all ground to a halt when I became Art Director with just three people working with me (the department had seven people back in 1969) — Bob, Jim and Rene. We didn’t have time to party. I started my own company in 1977 and did a ton of work for Edmonton’s Mel Hurtig which culminated in The Canadian Encyclopedia in 1985 (done with just two assistants — Harrison Shannon and Martha Staigys). Also did the Alberta Heritage Learning Resources Project for the Alberta Government in 1979. I continued to work with Hurtig Publishers until Mel sold the company to … McClelland and Stewart. In the early 1980s we started what became Don Vallee and the Parkways … a mostly seven piece band though sometimes a quartet (The Partial Parkways). We practiced much more than we ever played and one day a band member asked the leading question, “What exactly are we practicing for?” Didn’t really have an answer so the Parkways disbanded. One time we even had a three piece horn section playing in our drummer’s furnace room. Once work became few and far between I got involved with a church drama group … apart from painting sets, designing programs, tickets and posters I was usually in the plays … even played Bill Sykes in Oliver and in 2000 Clive Mason and I actually wrote a play (you’ll have to read the memoir for details). I illustrated a few books in the 90s (including astrology guides for dogs and cats).
The Internets … I wonder how much of the preceding would never have happened if we’d had access to the Internet and social media? I designed a series of textbooks all on my own in the first couple of years of the new millennium but extricated myself from that and worked on some personal projects (none of which have yet to be published). I found the camaraderie was pretty good on a couple of message boards I was on but all good things have to come to an end. Facebook. What can I say? Have met some friends who like the same kind of music that I do. Including folks from those two defunct message boards. But there are too many trolls and unsavory types waiting to pounce on you if you offer an opinion that deviates from their way of thinking. I’ve even had to block a few people … something I never came close to doing until Facebook. Instead of job offers I now get people phishing for bank information and ladies offering to send me photographs of themselves (because they liked my Facebook profile). Uh huh. I don’t think so. Enough of this blather….