-30- Paying tribute to a late co-worker
“By John Darling”
How many times did I, how many times did you, see those three words in the newspaper? So many, I suspect, that — like most bylines — over time they just faded into the backdrop.
The name of the writer ,,, even those who have their face smack dab in front of us becomes part of what in-house we call “a piece of furniture.” It’s there out of necessity, performs its duty, but it’s not part of the story.
John — and from this point I will dispense with the journalistic formality of using surnames — found his way from the byline to the body of the story in the waning days of 2020, as family and friends gathered to show their love and support during the final stages of his cancer.
He passed Wednesday night, on the day a coup attempt breached the halls of Congress — a juxtaposition that I’d like to think would have alternately enraged and bemused a man who once made his bones as a political consultant.
“It was hard for my generation to believe in much after all that, plus Vietnam and Watergate piled on it. You turned to your own life. What consciousness and hope were in the sixties, became parenting and real estate in the seventies — and sickening profiteering in the 80s.
“But there was a moment there, several moments, when, as Bob Dylan wrote, I gazed upon the sound of freedom flashing.”
That’s John, the writer, in a 2003 essay in the Ashland Daily Tidings, putting in perspective the aftermath of the assassinations of the Kennedy brothers and The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, at the 40th anniversary of the murder of the president.
The essay is among those collected in a book “Touched by Visions: Luminaries in Conscious & Socio-Political Thought from the 60s Onward” — one of dozens of books John published over the years.
It was impossible, speaking as someone who had read and edited his contributions to the Tidings and the Mail Tribune since 1999, to separate John the writer from John the reporter from John the essayist.
He had what all those drawn to expressing thought on paper or screen seek to establish a voice.
You knew, even if your eyes had skipped beyond the byline, when you were reading something written by John Darling.
He had a style, a singular sense of story order and development. He gave those quoted room to speak in full paragraphs, for their thought process to demonstrate itself in print.
John wrote that way as well. Sometimes clear and to the point; other times meandering with offshoots and sidetracks that made it seem his sentences took more than 100 steps to get from A to Z.
Here’s John, dispensing advice and identifying the tools, in “Writing Engaging Books & Stories”:
“It’s true that the vast majority were born to get along, conform and make society work, according to its present rules.
“But writers were not born for that. They were created to bend and break those rules and give new visions of the possible.
“They’re at the edge. If you don’t liker the edge, don’t write.”
Although, in professional terms, I “knew” him for more than two decades, the relationship truthfully was not that deeply established. We’d speak on the phone when necessary, exchange emails on pieces one of us had written but in those 20 years, I can attest to perhaps a dozen times that we were in the same place at the same time.
What I can say is that, after scanning excerpts of his books over the internet this week, I was introduced to a John Darling that I hadn’t met — from his background in TV news, to his being a Marine, to his vagabond route to winding up in Oregon.
“In the Marines in California.
“Hopped a C-119 Flying Boxcar to Grosse Ile, Michigan, with overnight stop in Las Vegas, where I won 5 silver dollars from a slot machine and stopped there, retiring to drink whisky sours and read Nietzsche’s Thus Spake Zarathustra, which I bought at Acres of Books in Long Beach. I wrote inside the front cover, “God is Dead” — Nietzsche, then “Nietzsche is Dead.” — God
“Hitchiked in uniform (esy to get rides that way) from Detroit to Lansing at nite in a couple hours and walked in on the family, who didn’t know I was coming and were surprised.”
That’s John, the journal writer, as opposed to John, the journalist, in “Mad for the Road: Hitchiking America in the 60s & 70s,” which he published in 1972. The dozens of essay-filled books cover every and any topic you might think of over the past 50 years.
There are blogs and essays, posts and stories, features, history and straight news — or, rather, as straight as John could tell it — and poetry, which he cheekily describes as “easy, really”:
”Think of it as a really true paragraph, then break it into lines and indent some of them.”
Left unsaid, of course, was his understanding that it’s the “really true paragraph” part that’s the hardest.
Discussing the importance of journal writing, he quotes his very first entry, from 1961 at age 17:
“I decided to write this to develop my writing style, also because 60 years from now I want to look back and know where the hell my short life went to.”
I can’t read through this trove of writing and not wish I’d taken the time to sit over coffee with him and just discuss the putting together of words ... to know this part of John Darling.
Then again, don’t we always?
Mail Tribune news editor Robert Galvin can be reached at email@example.com