art, change, childhood, creativity, Crystal Payton, fiction, historical fiction, history, lakes, Leland Payton, literature, memory, Osage, Quincy, writing
A while back I shared a guest post from Dean Robertson about “home” – her recollections of her childhood home, leaving it, and returning years later. Since then that meditation has returned to me on occasion as I work on my next book.
The third book that I have set in the same river valley takes place about twenty years after This Old World‘s end. Some of the characters are still there, some are gone, and new ones have arrived. I’ve been thinking about the complicated emotions we experience when we see a place – our place – occupied by someone else.
Whenever I travel to Quincy, I like to drive by our old house on North 22nd Street, the house my daughter grew up in. For a while it was an unpleasant experience, as the house fell into disrepair (seeing its occupant appear in the police report was the low point). But now it has a new owner, bright shutters, newly planted flowers. So the drive-by is a cheerful one once again.
Still, it’s not my house any more. And even the most dutiful of owners is not me. So even positive change involves loss.
These thoughts were prompted today by the folks over at Damming the Osage, who posted a poem written by a gentleman not of my acquaintance, Rod Cameron of Raytown, Mo. It’s a lovely poem, followed by a reminiscence, of himself and his neighbors losing their land to the building of a reservoir. It’s a darn fine poem. Take a read.
What can we do with loss? Loss is built into our existence. Some losses are inevitable, but others (like the loss in the poem) are not, and we fight like devils to prevent them. In G.B. Shaw’s Major Barbara, a character says, “You have learnt something. That always feels at first as if you have lost something.” Perhaps that aphorism can be reversed as well. When we lose something, we owe it to ourselves to learn from it – or at least to make it into a poem worth reading.
And so I return to the last few chapters of my novel-in-progress, thinking about my characters and their losses and their learning.
Hello, Steve. I recently wrote a blog post about the legal battle over my book, “Looking for Lydia; Looking for God,” in which I observed two things–that at times the losses seemed unbearable and that, weighing up losses and gains, I still don’t know if “we won.” And I am about to begin a review of a novel called “Longing for Home,” just featured this week on Snowflakes in a Blizzard, about what we gain and what we lose in any change, no matter its nature. Going from one thing to another inevitably involves losing a big chunk of the thing we go “from.” I don’t think there’s any way around it. And I believe that is exactly why the most exciting and life-affirming new choice always, always feels sad.
Rod Cameron said:
Steve, you say we are not acquainted, but I think maybe we are in spirit. I appreciate your comments on my poem “Dam Site.” It is true I felt loss when the river was domesticated by becoming a lake. A lot of my teenage angst was absorbed by the Osage. I sat on the bluffs overlooking it and stared for what seemed like hours at the slow moving current. I remember nights when I lay in bed on our screen porch and watched as a combine driove back an forth across the field directly across the river from us. Its lights glowing as it growled til late in the evening. I am fascinated by your reflections and look forward to reading more of your work. With luck we will cross paths at some point.
I did the same on the Black River! There was a dandy bluff a couple of miles from my house where I used to sit and take in the view of the valley. The daydreams that happened on that bluff could fill a volume. Thanks for your comment, and it’s great to meet you.