mad in pursuit: letters from james & orpha, summer of '26

LETTERS from James & Orpha: contents

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James has apparently not gotten O's letter yet about her surgery. He is in a dreamy mood. Even though his financial situation is dire, he still can compose a beautiful myth about the "castle" he is building for them. He is creating the world he wants to live in -- the village of two, complete with their own private symbols and secrets.

Postmarked Friday 8.6.26, from James in Lynbrook NY

The letter enclosed I wrote slowly, as each thought followed along, so I must tear through this if I am to get to bed and get rested for a day of shoveling tomorrow. The letter with this I began as a whimsical cogitation on the number of the castle – 13 – and the age old superstition. I found out the number yesterday, and today we seem to have taken a poor financial break – to make it short, although $16,000 cash was held out to us this afternoon, we had to turn it down, all because a stubborn Irishman wouldn’t accept the money we owed him, plus a sizeable gift. Hence we couldn’t give title to the property, hence we have paid commission, paid back a deposit, and still own the property.
However, the castle will continue, although the unstable financial house of Zimmer will have to become a bit more unstable, and we’ll borrow a few more thousand from the bank.

Nothing to worry about, however – everything is balanced, more than balanced, by real assets. If there is ever romance in the vagaries of a financial status, you’ll find it in this family.

we seem to have taken a poor financial break

I’ll tell you the anecdote sometime. I could write through endless pages tonight, hence cannot develop anything, but of complexity I am a bit suspicious anyway – things that need a lot of explaining are in general things defective.

I ordered copper flashing and shingles today – the cellar is nearly dug. Gray asbestos shingles – I’ll explain the reason for them, sometime, too.

Having worn myself out in the train of thought of which I enclose an echo, I can only write tiredly now.
Without attempting any discussion – a satisfactory one being utterly impossible, you decide about coming – good trains from Albany leave 12:25 arr. 4:00 and a good one leaves Albany a 1:40 P.M., arriving N.Y. at 5 P.M. If you can get on the latter any day let me know, and I’ll meet you in N.Y. You need to plan only to the point of getting on the train with a ticket – come here for a little rest – don’t let the transitory rubbish of all these arrangements we supposedly have to make about dates, cards, etc. tire you – read the letter with this and you will know that rest, calm, and indifference to all the things that are mere chatter is all that matters now – read it, for this letter is of words, words, but one that will make you able to keep from tiring yourself over tinsel.


[enclosed in a separate envelope]

A tribe of Indians, living in a deplorably uncivilized state, had to be driven away so that civilized white men with guns could occupy land which they could somehow tell was rightfully theirs. And yet the Indians were no more right than the white men, and the white men were no more right than the Indians.

Both the white men and the Indians were very indignant, and said quite uncomplimentary things about each other – the white men in English which would sound funny to the boys and girls who have just learned the correct way to pronounce words, and to form sentences; and the Indians in a language of their own which would not only sound funny to the boys and girls who like to ride fast in their shiny new automobiles, but which would sound, it must be admitted, a little bit silly.

But twelve white men, each with a shiny new blunderbuss, could successfully subdue thirteen Indians, with their poor bows and arrows. And since the numbers were about the same on each side, the red men had to move on, while the white men took possession of the ground. The Indians were of a tribe known as the Sachem tribe.

In their flight, the Indians left a few traces of their occupancy of this area. The traces have long since lost their relation to the Indians. To us they are symbols, chosen at random from the storehouse of Time, signifying people which have come before, which will come after, which may have come anytime.

From the storehouse of Time we have selected three symbols of Life to use in our tenure of it – a symbol objective, a symbol subjective, and one intermediary, to separate the subjective from the objective.

And for armor, for the castle wall, for protection of the room, for our mocking smile perhaps, we have chosen the number thirteen.

For an objective symbol, to be used commonly by a small group in this civilization in which we find ourselves, we have chosen a sort of group designation – the old tribal name Sachem, which is the street upon which we will be said to live.

And for armor, for the castle wall, for protection of the room, for our mocking smile perhaps, we have chosen the number thirteen – the Indians who were driven away. Thirteen may signify a trend – a number ill-starred among men – a number avoided with fear, regarded with suspicion, or made the subject of unwieldy jest, by those who do not understand thirteen. It may signify our future in the eyes of men – a future of at best mediocre success in affairs of the world – a life which will not interest the casual wander along Sachem St.

For the number, 13, will throw a special concealment around the castle of the room.

For thirteen is a strange number – a flare of torchlight number – a number of depth and danger. What a contrast to such a number as twelve – mealy mouthed, blinking, shallow twelve, with its smug adherence to practical, sensible, every day use.

And from the storehouse of Time we have secretly taken a third symbol – the one the lost civilization placed in the storehouse of Time, there to be used as a new symbol by some future civilization. For in the storehouse of Time is everything that ever was or ever will be, and when a symbol is returned to Time, it becomes a symbol that never was. And this symbol that we have secretly taken from the storehouse of Time has become ours, and ours forever, for we have taken it and created it anew. For it was a broken symbol – a symbol that was broken when we did not understand it, even as others do not now. And so it is ours – and ours alone – for we alone understand it. For things belong to people only insofar as they understand them. And we stand alone – for we alone in the world understand the arrow – the beauty of the arrow, the meaning of the arrow. And that is greatness – to come nearer to understanding one things of beauty than anyone else in the world.

And this is the song of the arrow – the arrow which we found – which we did not understand – which we broke – and which we will create anew.

The number will protect the castle of the Flame from the street.

And the castle of the Flame will have in it the room of the arrow – the arrow of oneness – the arrow flame tipped.

The secret of that room – the secret we will know – the secret we will learn when we create anew the broken arrow – the secret which will be the simplest secret of all – the simple, naked beauty of One – the secret of life we will learn – the secret, Orpha, that will sing and sing and sing through us when the arrow flames and plunges into the flame.




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