Okla Elliot

Very few of my close friends are on Facebook. I participate to post my blog and do the occasional round of keeping up with the two thousand plus imaginary friends I have, that I “made” in order to promote my work. Though I like the pictures of people’s children and dogs, any and all yoga stuff, the occasional plate of gorgeous food, I think we all spend too much time on line. It’s bad for the eyes, it’s bad for the ass, and I think honestly it’s even worse for the spirit.

I say this about FB with a few notable exceptions. One is my friend Andrea, whom I’m seeing in a few minutes. The other is the wonderful fiction writer Steve Yarbrough who I can honestly say is my real friend, whom I wouldn’t have met but for Facebook. I read his posts the same way I read the New York Times: religiously. Steve plays the guitar and will sometimes make a video of himself playing Bluegrass. It’s great fun. Friend him on line, if you like gentle reader, but better than that, read Steve Yarbrough’s books.

The other person whom I’ve been following (far less sedulously) was a dude named Okla Elliot who was young, taught English and religion at some obscure university and wrote a book about Bernie Saunders during the campaign. And always had a lot of lively things to say about poetry, about the books he was reading, about his life (which sounded weird, frankly), monkish with junk food seems to be the only description I can come up with.

Okla Elliot

Okla was found dead this morning. And now there are tributes to him on line. Apparently, Okla had a mild case of diabetes, one not requiring insulin, but diabetes is a known culprit in heart attacks. Probably that’s what happened to him.

I didn’t feel very much when Princess Diana died. Sure I felt sorry for her children, she was young, she was pretty, she was compelling, I suppose.  I was appalled and amazed at the orgy of mourning her dying set off, not just in England but all over the world.  I was running at the time, and the woman I used to run with, a biologist, who had a daughter, a husband and two pet rats, went on and on and had to stop to catch her breath from weeping for a solid week after the pretty princess was killed in the back seat of her limo. Another friend actually stayed up all night so she wouldn’t miss the funeral on TV. I didn’t get that then and I don’t get it now. How does a media star burn her way into your psyche?

But I deeply mourn the passing of Okla Elliot, obscure poet, obscure intellectual, earnest fellow and very very nice; you could see that reading his posts.

And I feel the sense of loss that people must have felt when that young and pretty princess died. I feel like the world has lost a prince of another kind.

Okla never had his picture splattered over any tabloid. His sartorial style resembled as far as I can make out, early Boy Scout. Still, I’m willing to bet, he will stay with me forever.

I am profoundly sorry this lovely man died young. And I will miss this virtual stranger. If I knew who his parents were, I’d write them a sympathy card. A real one, in handwriting, on plain thick vellum with a return address and the prettiest stamp I could find in the house.

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Husband Gone To The Wolves

It’s pilot season here in Los Angeles. If you are married to an editor who isn’t working on something else, that often means, he or she will be gone for seven to nine weeks seven days a week 15 hours a day (not counting the commute) and you will feel like there’s a war going on. Or the spouse has sailed off 18th Century style in a boat with fellow sailors, lime juice to prevent scurvy, and perhaps Captain Bly at the helm.

Editor 4

It’s not a pretty sight, once it gets going. My husband who has the stamina of five horses, two oxen and eight goats, loves these death marches. Me, I wouldn’t last half an hour. I visited him once years ago in one of his cutting rooms during pilot season because I hadn’t seen him in a few days. He was happily at the helm of the Avid, arms out like a concert pianist, with a frazzled writer/producer nearby, running the scene forward, backward, sideways. He hadn’t slept in a couple of days and the bags under his eyes looked like suitcases. But he was happy as a clam. (Have you ever wondered how a clam feels happiness? Let me be the first to say, this is the first time I have wondered….)

That’s the thing editors do: they run the scene (any scene, in real life or in screen time) forward, backwards, sideways, and they try different music and they jump cut. This is, for better or worse, their approach to reality.

To see a world in a grain of sand and heaven in a wildflower, is far different than viewing the world through the Avid screen. In the old days editors wore white gloves and actually handled film. But the approach was identical. You run the scene forwards, backwards, sideways. You splice this. You put that there. You sync up a little music and you show the scene to someone and then if they don’t like it, you try it another way.

It’s actually quite a lot like being a writer. But the hours are much, much worse and if you live in LA, there’s usually an awful commute.

I have mixed feelings about pilot season. On the one hand, it’s good for the husband to be working, because he loves working, but on the other hand, it’s really an ordeal. And I wonder how we are going to survive pilot season.

I only know one two-editor household, and when she wanted to have kids, she had to quit. You couldn’t possibly raise a family if both parents are editors. It’s hard enough if one of the parents is an editor. It’s hard when the kids grow up and leave home and there’s only you and editor and the Avid screen left.

It took me many years to get it. I always swallowed the cool aid: “this is just a fluke! It’s insane. I’ve never been on such a freak show.”

Gentle readers: they are all freak shows.

But I hope the footage is good.
I hope the people he is going to be living with– more or less– will be congenial. And I’m grateful that pilot season, like the Jewish holidays, is only once a year.

The great poet James Tate’s father was an actual pilot. Not a show hoping to attract a viewer-ship and syndication. When I heard my husband was doing another pilot, I reached for poetry to console me. And I remembered The Lost Pilot.

From the end of the poem:

My head cocked toward the sky,
I cannot get off the ground,
and, you, passing over again,

fast, perfect, and unwilling
to tell me that you are doing
well, or that it was mistake

that placed you in that world,
and me in this; or that misfortune
placed these worlds in us.

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