It’s taken me a while, but I’m reading Louis Owens work again – his novels, his scholarship, his careful observations about character and story and place. Since his death in 2002, I haven’t been willing to return to his writings because they amplified the absence brought by his sudden death. But, as a I embark on the fourth revision of One Man Reservation, the understanding comes that now is the time to return to his teachings, and in doing so, I’ve come to know that his mentorship can continue. He can still guide me to the truth yet unfolding in the work, if I pay careful attention.
Reading this line from The Sharpest Sight, “On the far rise a group of black angus were bunched like brushstrokes,” I am struck by the beauty of this image, of the way the words dance in our minds to marry art, livelihood, and landscape in a single sentence. After I make the necessary structural changes as well as deepen character, I will read One Man out loud, asking my ear and my eye to strive for the same kind of clarity that breathed life into Louis’ work.
Another line has taken a hold of my imagination and lingers as I move through my days, “He has managed to keep himself free of the worst evil by thinking in the oldest ways he knows.” In the context of The Sharpest Sight, this line has profound meaning for all of the characters, and for me, I can move my writing nearer to its fullest power by thinking in the oldest ways I know how. This means bringing a keener sense of the landscape into One Man. Hawk call and twilight hush, creek whisper and tree murmur are all part of the sensory inputs that make of the fiber of who I am and how I understand the world – these oldest ways of knowing will, I believe, take a well-meaning juvenile draft into a narrative that offers insight, precision, significance, and song.
Reading Louis’ work, I am reminded of his teachings about writing: he believed in my work most when I rendered the landscape with care and attention, when I tried to untangle the threads of family, identity, loss, and love, moving toward coherence by balancing the delicate lines that shape our world. Each day, I read more of his writing, taking notes and tuning in, moving toward the ways he believed in me.
I’d like to encourage you to consider reading: Write Free: Attracting the Creative Life by Jordan Rosenfeld and Becca Lawton. Exercises in this book helped lay the groundwork for the fundamental shift I’ve made from seeing Louis’ death as only tragic and paralyzing. Instead, I can see the gifts of his presence in my life, and now, with a return to his insights, I can find guidance and maybe even a little grace.