an online showcase curated by Maya Kóvskaya


by Ian Haight



March 20th I logged into Facebook after work. The first message was that Okla Elliott had died. The message was from a credible source, but I still couldn’t believe it. After checking Okla’s page and seeing the posts there I had to accept that the absolutely unthinkable had happened: Okla Elliott, a man in his late 30’s, had died in his sleep.

As it began to sink in, I was a little surprised to note my response. Tears. I was actually crying over the death of a man I had never met in person. And it happened again later. And another time, when I was talking to my wife at dinner. I still can feel an emotional tug, almost a month to the day of his passing. What gives?

I’ve been thinking about this question ever since those first tears. An articulate answer worth sharing grew more urgent when I was asked to write this remembrance of Okla. I believe I have finally found the words.

Okla reminded me of the best of me, and when he died, it was, in some ways, as if the possibility of the best of me had also died. He was an everyperson, accessible to everyone. He led with his beliefs. He worked tirelessly, but, besides ambition, was also motivated and driven by compassion. I think compassion was the bigger drive. Ambition isn’t really the right word either; self-actualization seems closer. What could a person do as a writer and as a human being? What different genres, publishing venues, people, skills, could a person explore relationships with so as to grow, to thrive with the awareness of traveling the unknown, the interconnectedness of reality? When I think of Okla, I think of someone who wanted to connect with everything. I believe it made him feel more alive and in service to the world. How many writers, or even people, do I know like that?

I saw him attacked by Facebook mobs several times. Always he was trying to help people understand the victim or perhaps defend an unpopular point of view. One time in particular I remember there was a person with mental health issues saying misogynistic things on Facebook. Okla wanted people to understand this person had been or was institutionalized and should be treated accordingly. The Facebook mob would have none of it, and of course, attacked Okla. I talked with him about how much it hurt. On a different occasion, after he had been physically beat up and robbed, bloodied to the point of having damage to his teeth, I urged him to draw some boundaries between himself and other people, including communities he might be vulnerable in. Not everyone in the world leads with love and compassion. Not everyone in the world is going to look upon you as you look upon them: with the best of intentions, and as an “intrinsically good” human being.

When Okla and I connected as writers, I felt a kindred spirit. We were going to do a book tour together. I’d sent him questions for an interview we were doing; I was supposed to get his answers on the 19th or he owed me a veggie taco dinner. I’d just sent him peer review comments on his next book of poetry, Adrift in Arcadia. He liked the comments so much he was going to do a close reading on my second book—an unpublished poetry manuscript—later that summer. There were other things. We had decades ahead of us. I was happy to know him, and he gave me faith in myself as a writer.

But I have to draw it to a close. Miss you Okla. It’s selfish, I know, but I wish you were here.



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