Wednesday, December 24, 2008


This is late getting posted because I’ve been scrounging through my many three-ring notebooks of slides and photos in search of one particular image. But my provider seems to have run into problems or else blogspot’s new scheme for posting photos has problems or maybe my computer is over-stuffed or maybe it’s the inevitable “operator error), so I haven’t been able to post images for a while anyhow.

So imagine this: the entrance to the Scriver Museum of Montana Wildlife the way it used to be in the early Sixties, antlers attached to the front, “closed” sign on the door, a huge drift of snow out front, a wandering little path cut through the snow, and at the top of the path ME! Imagine me thin in a black turtleneck sweater, jeans, and red Willie Nelson braids, looking smug and exhilarated because I think I’ve managed Total Success. After all, from now on I’ll be protected and encouraged by a powerful, successful, older man.

It didn’t work out that way, but it sure was fun while it lasted. One of the things that had seemed to have disappeared was those heavy snowfalls of the Sixties, but here we are -- come back around again. This time my neighbors from across the street helped me shovel a path to my door. What else might the cycles of Time and Irony bring back around? I had a welcome phone call last evening from an old friend and customer of Bob’s, a guy I’ve never met, and we had fun remembering things that used to be. He is sixty and surely one of the younger members of a generation that loved Charlie Russell and James Willard Schultz and understood their deep nostalgia for that exquisitely balanced time between the coming of the horse and the going of the buffalo.

He didn’t know the books of Jim Welch or Adolph Hungry Wolf. Somehow there’s a break in the heritage that needs to be mended. Blackfeet didn’t end when industrialization began. The railroad was the first big machine and maybe it was their clever advertising through Winold Reiss’s images of people on the cusp of the modern but wearing their grandparent’s garb, that made the old times so vivid. Now the machine is the computer and the Blackfeet kids take to it like ducks, the way all kids do. They’ve leapt the breach, they’re hot for the future, no one is going to hold them back. They’re ready for challenges out there that we can’t even guess.

For the first time in many years it feels as though ALL of us are at the lip of something new, that the turning point is behind us, and yet there is enormous danger ahead. I’m impatient that I’m aging. This latest cold weather has wrinkled my face. I actually skipped going to the post office one day. I go down in the crawl space and barely have the strength and ingenuity to do what needs to be done, while seeing just how improvised the whole infrastructure of pipes and wires is anyway.

Infrastructure is the watchword. We were just beginning to realize that our bridges and electrical networks and waterworks were maxing out when suddenly the financial infrastructure -- which most of us didn’t understand anyway -- evaporated worldwide. Like breaking ice around someone who has fallen through and is trying to get out, the edge breaks off farther and farther away. Who can throw us a rope?

And yet we knew this housecleaning was overdue. Things can’t go on being higher and higher and fancier and fancier forever. Even I could see that things were topping out and began to consolidate. What has hurt me personally the most, of course, is the somersaulting of the publishing industry. At first I thought it was my fault that things weren’t like the storybooks, but soon it was clear that a whole culture has disappeared: the rather English gentleman editor with pipe and insight has gone to join that battle-scarred but erect old Blackfeet man with spear and patience. The things I could write about, the way I write, were suddenly valueless. I began to consider plans for a one-room apartment, selling off most of my things. How many years are left?

Then along came this new thing, Tim Barrus and his posse of boy artists, hip but European, over-experienced, homeless, wrestling with drugs and HIV, but sponges for ideas, methods, points of view. All that old stuff that I know. And Barrus himself gives me a “kickstart” by asking me to write a kind of infrastructure around a book about who he REALLY is, which is totally unlike the media-produced demonization that was propelled by enemies and supported by publishers who wanted to get themselves off the hook by claiming they didn’t know Nasdijj was Tim.

So what do I find when I begin to research and reflect on Tim’s life? Myself. A working class family with a violent secret, a father deeply flawed. The “third psychology” techniques that pulled me through after Bob Scriver divorced me. Diggers, communes, high art, and the UN Year of the Child -- the sort of ideals that made me think the Unitarian ministry was a solution. A small, self-contained world of gay liberationists that I’ve only seen dimly through the lives of friends from college, students on this reservation and Unitarian parishioners. Yearning for impossible childhood and rather successful replacement with a new circle of people attached and loving.

It’s ideas, ideas, ideas! New ways of looking at things I’ve always known. Sure, it’s scary. But because of the very inventions that have destroyed publishing as we knew it, I’m able to look into a future that takes me to Paris without ever having to leave my house. The cat can purr on my lap while I hear about a hurricane that left Barrus’ house in Key West demolished and strewn with dead lizards, as vividly as if I were there. (“What?” The cat’s ears perk up. “Tell me more about those dead lizards. What did they taste like?”) I can watch the boys in one of those swimming pools with a window on the side, like the bar in Great Falls that features mermaids, but the boys are NOT mermaids! NOT mythological at all -- real, rowdy, rude boys. So vulnerable. What can I say to them? What did I used to say to the Blackfeet boys? They’re grandpas now. I’ll ask them.

Is Tim Barrus like Bob Scriver? Nope. He’s like me. Strangely. Unexpectedly. And sometimes NOT.

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