Copyright © 1994
by Wayne Klick

First appeared in NuCity, 3/14/94

A Soul Speaks . . .
A review of Letters at 3AM: Reports on Endarkenment by Michael Ventura
Spring Publications

". . . my prayer goes like this: 'May our souls speak to us, and may we listen.' I never pray for my or anyone's health, safety or the like. Just that our souls speak, and that we listen. That way, I figure, I'm not asking the gods for permission to exert my will over my own life or anyone else's. If the soul says something we don't want to hear, that's tough. But let it speak. Let us listen."
Michael Ventura writes a column for the L.A. Weekly. This book is a collection of essays he wrote, scattered through 1989-92. In reference to the quote above, when Michael Ventura's soul speaks, he writes down what he hears, and it would do us all well to listen.

The reason everyone should read this book is not that he tells us what is wrong with American society. Most of us know that. He doesn't speak at length about solutions either. What he does speak about is where these problems are rooted: in our collective psyche. However, he does this from a very personal standpoint. Ventura speaks of many outward things, but he speaks most powerfully about himself, his life, and his experience. The harshness of his self-disclosure is startling in its content.

"The Queen of Cups" is a description of his mother and her insanity, where he tells how, though a tormented woman, she taught him many lessons lessons he now wears like scars. After reading this essay, I wanted to copy it and make every abuse survivor I know (too many to count) read it.

The series written during the Persian Gulf War, while he was driving across the country, does talk of how this was a bogus conflict, fought for money and American oil interests. But what comes through clearly is his own pain wrought by the experience of watching his native country kill many thousands of Iraqis for the sake of its own pride.

"The Odds on Anything," a section of essays about a place he loves to visit, Las Vegas, contains some amazing information about how the neon city began, and how the A-bomb tests back in the 50's were used as a tourist attraction. Needless to say, most of those tourists now lie dead of cancer.

Stevie Ray Vaughn fans will appreciate "Blues for Stevie," a work written a week after Vaughn's death. Ventura knew Stevie Ray Vaughn in Austin during his early, pre- fame-and-fortune days. He gives Vaughn admirers like myself some fascinating insights into what made the man's guitar sing like no other.

Michael Ventura's experience touches briefly on the New Age phenomenon, but he sees through that too. Again, he speaks of his own spiritual awakenings, usually occurring when on the verge of self-inflicted death, and what he learns from them. Don't worry, he never preaches.

"Light is the boundary of darkness, and darkness the boundary of light, each cups the other, and from these cups we drink."

I love this book because it speaks to my soul. The Truth in Michael Ventura's writing hits like bullets from an M-16. Letters at 3AM will change the way you look at life, society, and if you really listen, yourself.

"Therapist: 'Do you drink when you write?'
[Ventura]: 'Never. I drink when I'm done.'"

Here's to you Michael Ventura.

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