This Letter From The Editor was originally printed in the latest issue of Literary Orphans on June 10, 2015. It’s my debut as editor-in-chief of the journal, finally coming out of the shadows and getting a little more hands-on with LO. If you follow me and haven’t checked it out, I’d heavily recommend it. Not just because I’m involved. If you read the letter, you’ll see that I intend for it to be something greater than myself, something greater than all of us.
I’ve decided to reprint the letter on my personal site because of all the outpouring of support I’ve gotten for it. I was worried it wouldn’t fly, but people love it. One commentator even said it was reminiscent of Thomas Paine. The comparison made me blush.
Dear Orphans & Orphanettes,
When Executive Director Mike Joyce asked me to steer the Literary Orphans ship, I’ll admit, a sense of worry washed over me. Apocalyptic visions of cities crumbling to their foundations rattled me. I had memories of movies I had seen where all that stood of civilization was a weathered Big Ben jutting out of a pile of rubble. Mike was doing a great job, and the last thing I wanted to do was come in like a bumbling lab assistant and mix up the formula.
So I dipped into the LO ether. I revisited our earliest notes three years ago, back when LO was a mere thought, and imbibed those ambitions. I poured through old “Letters From The Editor,” starting with the very first one in Literary Orphans Issue 1: Babe. At times, my journey felt like being reintroduced to an old friend, and at other times, it felt like I had seen a ghost, as if I were viewing stills of a past incarnation no longer with us. It’s true that LO has gone through changes, many of which were cosmetic, but the same heart still beats at its core. It just looks different. The journal has grown into new clothes.
In my many notes I passed back and forth with Mike, one of the constants was this idea of Literary Orphans as a media identity. What were we? Were we a counterculture outfit? Were we a haven for the disenfranchised? Were we the explorers that sailed against the winds?
There’s a world, an advertised world, we see every single day. Big media outlets, corporations and governments join together to encourage us to believe this world exists. It’s the kind of fictional world where someone working a lowly desk worker’s salary can support his/her entire family, live in what looks like a mansion, fill the garage with two Fords, and rock a working class ethos on the weekends, slinging back a Budweiser while flipping burgers on the weber. It’s the kind of world where Kim Kardashian is important, and nationwide surveillance is yesterday’s news. It’s the kind of world where the man in his 30’s who still buys action figures is a model citizen, while the bold or daring are footnotes for the history books, figures for an imperfect age, who died out long ago.
And this utopia they would have us believe is only getting worse, growing more and more generic by the minute, and infecting us at every turn. We get reminders at the grocery store. Little videos taunt us at the gas station, harassing us with unending streams of Elvis impersonators singing the State Farm jingle. The walls close in, and before we know it, we’re drowning in a current that wants us to live our lives a certain way. The invisible hand of control is choking us.
Literary Orphans is one of the outlets serving as a lighthouse in the storm. It’s a manifestation of a dream, a source of media that reminds us that there are other worlds out there, that reality is fluid, and that important voices don’t have to be properly vetted by big name brands.
At LO, we stand against propaganda. We stand counter to the great delusion, serving as a collective of indie artists, of orphans, clumping together to up our chances of survival.
Because the orphan who stands alone gets killed. Sometimes it’s a quiet killing, a tidal wave of advertising steamrolling over a singular voice. Other times, it’s televised for all to witness — the public execution of someone or something just a little bit different. An example is made, so others will step right back in line. In rare instances, this silencing of an orphan is done for mere entertainment — filmed, printed, sold, and ultimately submitted to the Library of Congress to be memorialized for all time.
Which brings me to the title of this issue.
Issue 19 of Literary Orphans is named after an Asian elephant. This elephant, Topsy, was one of many taken from her homeland and used for show. She spent 26 years entertaining audiences, touring the United States for many of those years with Forepaugh’s Circus. Over time, she gained a reputation as being a difficult elephant, one that even killed people. An angry elephant wasn’t anything new. What made Topsy unique, however, was where she wound up.
In 1903, at a Coney Island amusement attraction called Luna Park, Topsy was fed poison, electrocuted, and hanged. Thomas Edison’s film company was present to capture the scene, and the short film strip would be packaged and sold for use inside Kinetoscopes, which were coin-operated machines that played short films. For a nickel, viewers could watch a 74-second strip simply titled,Electrocuting an Elephant. For copyright purposes, Electrocuting an Elephant was submitted to the Library of Congress, which secured its place in history.
It’s a sad film, and it’s one we can still watch today. The silence that accompanies Electrocution of an Elephant only amplifies its sadness.
When I last saw the film, I thought of the loneliness of Topsy. I saw her as an orphan, a creature subjugated to a life of entertainment in a strange land. All day, every day, strange men told her what to do and how to do it while dopey-eyed children looked onward. And when Topsy served her usefulness, she was executed in front of the camera and immortalized forever, so a whole new generation of dopey-eyed children could witness the power of modern technological marvels with leftover lunch money.
This orphan had no community. She had no lighthouse in the storm. The whole of the world around her, the one telling her what to do, swallowed her up.
The tale of Topsy is important at Literary Orphans. It serves as a reminder that in this great, big world of ours, it behooves us to build a community. Together we stand. Divided we fall.
And with that, I implore you to open up the pages of ISSUE 19 and bask in some of the indie lit community’s finest. Read their stories. Indulge in their poems. Share, grow, and build. Together, we can look past the advertised world that surrounds us and peel the real one free.
We’re all in this together,