The Good Fight

Take a leap. Really. Climb up as high as you can imagine, close your eyes and jump. Take your wax wings to the edge of the sun. You may fall but is only there that we get the view that makes the world seem truly brilliant. A thousand upon a thousand cliches describe and demand that we aim high and promise that even in our failure we will be rewarded.

Not everyone can take that path but we are all capable of benefiting from those that have. Those that love humanity more than their own image constantly leave us gifts in the form of spectacular failures that tell our story and give us hope DoubleTake, the magazine founded by Dr. Robert Coles in 1995, is one of those enriching disasters. Started with a $10 million grant from the Lyndhurst Foundation it was beautifully surmised by it’s final editor Kirk Kicklighter as, “ the most profoundly meaningful failure I’ve ever had the privilege to be a part of in my life”.

The inspiration for the magazine came from a conversation that Dr. Coles had with his former teacher at Harvard, the poet and physician, William Carlos Williams. It’s mandate was to no less lofty a goal than to assemble the best writers and photographers to tell the stories of everyday people for everyday people, elevating the mass conscious by reflecting the value of their own struggles and triumphs through art.

Every Issue is packed with stunning, evocative literature, poetry, essays, and photography rooted in the commonplace. Great artists like Joyce Carol Oates and Danny Lyon were drawn to  by Dr. Coles reputation, and the freedom offered by his grand vision for the magazine. 

They set up shop as part of the Duke University Documentary Department in 2005 and within a few years of awarding winning publishing they were separated from the balance of the original $10 million endowment for what the school deemed as irresponsible spending. They consistently paid the contributors much higher than market rate which helped them maintain superior quality. Unfortunately that dedication to quality coupled with a lack of experience in the business of running a periodical equaled a general hemorrhage of funds that lead to a split with the school and a move to Sommerville, MA where they reconfigured as an independent publishing entity. Despite reaching 85,000 subscribers and a readership of 200,000 the ship continued to sink slowly until its final demise just under ten years after its inception.

The artistic success and the ultimate financial failure rested on the shoulders of it’s founder Dr. Robert Coles. Coles was a magnetic figure, A psychiatrist and professor who’s interest and influence were wide ranging. The author of over 80 books, his ideas on the full contextual well being of children and artists ran outside the mainstream of psychiatric theory at the time. The care and depth of thought which he treated his subjects gained him many admirers and friends within the cultural zeitgeist going back to the early 1960’s. It was this reputation and these connections that the foundation of DoubleTake were built on. In many ways his approach to life was artistic, a sensibility which served the final product of the magazine well, but as is the case for many creative people, was a constant handicap in matters of business.

It is really a miracle that something like DoubleTake could have functioned for as long as it did. It is not likely that anything like it could get off the ground today let alone survive for any length of time. Happily it was produced in large enough numbers that there are plenty left floating around one can still grab copies of many issues from used book stores and the internet at fairly low cost.  It is especially fortunate for us here at Let’s Panic that its legacy exists to inspire us to push forward and upward. We leave you here with a few of the amazing images that graced its pages and finally with the very first words from from the inaugural issue; an excerpt from ” The Cure at Troy” by the great Seamus Heany:


Human beings suffer,
They torture one another,
They get hurt and get hard.
No poem or play or song
Can fully right a wrong
Inflicted and endured.
The innocent in gaols
Beat on their bars together.
A hunger-striker’s father
Stands in the graveyard dumb.
The police widow in veils
Faints at the funeral home.
History says, don’t hope
On this side of the grave.
But then, once in a lifetime
The longed-for tidal wave
Of justice can rise up,
And hope and history rhyme.
So hope for a great sea-change
On the far side of revenge.
Believe that further shore
Is reachable from here.
Believe in miracle
And cures and healing wells.
Call miracle self-healing:
The utter, self-revealing
Double-take of feeling.
If there’s fire on the mountain
Or lightning and storm
And a god speaks from the sky
That means someone is hearing
The outcry and the birth-cry
Of new life at its term.