Each of us has a inner structure that is usually unconscious: it is the pattern of our life. Mine goes like this: everything is an idyllic state where I am protected, there is a constant small erosion of failures, flaws and fates that destroy this state, leading to explosions of rage and despair, and finally a long period of awakening that results in a separated but contented state. Of course, this is the basic pattern of growing up. If you looked at “Twelve Blackfeet Stories” to find this pattern, it might be in individual stories but it is most clearly in the sequence of all twelve: an arc of history. Did I choose that section of time because it already fit my pattern, or did I push it into my pattern?
One way to grow in flexibility and skill is to borrow someone else’s pattern. The following template is the one that Tim uses over and over. It’s his Ur-plot, his meta-narrative. His stories have more transgression and rescuers. (Mine have more jealousy and solitude.) Of course, both of us use the ancient pattern of situation/problem/rising action/sequence of trouble and recovery/turning point/resolution. It wouldn’t be a story otherwise, unless it’s one of those modern slight-shift-of-consciousness mood pieces.
Here’s Tim’s pattern:
An innocent and appealing small boy.
A terrible disaster leaves him undefended.
He is hurt, violated and abandoned.
He finds comfort in another boy and that comfort is physical.
The other boy disappears.
An older man or woman gives him some help -- a teacher, maybe, or a minister.
Disaster returns and he is nearly unhinged, catatonic, suicidal.
Somehow a little kernel comes back to life and he fights his way out of the darkness.
Here's my attempt:
Zi was smarter than most boys. All his female relatives told him so. They fixed his favorite foods and sang him to sleep, but even in his sleep he could hear their voices among themselves. Sometimes the gruff voices and loud laughter of the men would sound like thunder.
And then came war. Might have been a guerrilla war, might have just been a local skirmish, might have been between nations. Zi was too little to know. All he knew was that his village blew up around him. His home, his neighbors, and his family -- both the males and the females.
He didn’t know how it was that he survived. He was cut and bruised but his padded jacket had helped protect him when the house collapsed. He wandered and starved and had strange dreams. A pariah dog came with him part of the time. It was good at finding little pools of water or Zi might not have survived. Some of the water tasted funny.
Then men came, big men with loud voices and terrifying machinery. They surrounded him. They laughed at him and teased him. They took his clothes off and tugged at his little penis. They opened their own clothes and made him do bad things. He never would have, but they made him. Afterwards someone gave him a bowl of rice. He put his clothes back on. They shot the dog. When they went to leave, one of them grabbed the back collar of his padded jacket and hoisted him into the truck.
Later they passed by a place where there were many boys and they tossed him out the back of the truck, barely slowing down. He landed hard and another boy, slightly older, came out to see if he was hurt. He was bruised but not broken. The older boy helped him into the place which was a kind of orphanage or school or mission. The adults wiped off his face with a wet cloth and gave him hot tea. He stayed there. At night he slept tight against the older boy and held on to him because it felt safer.
A very old man was teaching them to write with a brush, beginning at the top and going down to the bottom in lines. The writing was like little pictures and Zi began to understand what they meant. He loved to sit beside the old man and lean on him a little while the old man made the tip of the brush dance down the scroll of paper. In the mornings, first thing, he would carry hot tea to the old man. There was not always enough food, but there was always hot tea.
Then one morning the old man didn’t wake up. He couldn’t be roused. He was dead. Zi took the old man’s brushes and ink block and hid them. The older boy had lost interest in him by now. He was interested in girls and finally he and one girl became partners and they left together.
Now the war washed back over them and unpaid soldiers were raiding everywhere to keep themselves alive. Word came back that the older boy and his girl partner had been killed, left on their faces in a ditch. Then the soldiers came to the place where Zi was, killed the adults and some of the children -- even little ones -- and set fire to the building. Zi took the brushes and ink block from their hiding place and left without anything else but his clothes.
He walked. He had no plan. He had no destination.
When he had gone as far as he could make himself go, he sat down under a tree near a little stream where he could wet his ink block. He took off all his clothes because for lack of paper he thought he would write on himself. So he did. Long lines of little picture-words down his arms, down his legs, down his shoulders to his hips -- he could not write on his back. Then he lay down and waited to die.
But a different set of soldiers came by and stopped for water. These soldiers were on the winning side and they had food. They saw the boy but thought he was dead and in fact he was unconscious. But one man could read the boy’s story down his arms and down his legs and from his shoulders to his hips wherever the boy could reach. In fact, this man was a poet. He thought that the boy was a living poem. From then on the boy’s fortunes changed entirely.
RESPONSE BY TIM BARRUS:
Beyond Freud's tired, old paradigms, and outlines like frameworks, the problem with this narrative is that it's just wrong.
And this is the fundamental (and opposed to the amusement that a flea such as myself can fling attacks upon the beast) rage I have with the institution, changing or not, with publishing.
"Here's Tim's pattern" is what any reviewer would say based on what has been published. It would be the mainstream view from a hill.
The pattern is cherry-picked by editorial taste.
Those books fit that pattern because those are the small amount of books editors have picked as risks they could assume in a market they thought would respond. Which is what editorial taste is.
I see a picture no one else sees because I see the other books most of which have been shredded.
A few wander around only because they are in expensive binders -- the process of paper, ink for printers, printers themselves, and postage was too expensive for me to engage in when I was just writing, and not working with children) that I just happened to be able to afford (the shredded books mainly represent books I could not afford binders for at the time I finished them), and I have simply had no time to remove those manuscripts from the binders so I can shred them.
I never made copies of manuscripts (some stolen by agents; others just lost) so if the manuscript got waylaid, it was done. My life is littered with this silliness. Writing might be amusing. But it's not important. I don't give a fuck anymore. What writing I do today is almost never created with an eye toward anyone seeing it.
One of the reasons I like facebook is not because they are crazy and erratic about privacy but is because they are crazy and erratic about privacy.
They mainly keep me off Google.
You are basing your assessment on many of the elements that walk through my life; you rarely see things (because I don't correspond about them, why would I, they're ordinary and boring) like my relationships with women (like the teachers of music at Cinematheque), the necessary subterfuges and relationships that get me across borders (in and of itself worthy of a book but why would I bother; most of these would involve medical issues anyway; some of which would involve minors, and some of which are illegal to publically come out with; disclose), my always-evolving relationships with my female granddaughters, my role as a censor of art, the different perceptions of me and my work articulated by boys who are not Eavan or Kilian, but who blog with necessary pseudonyms, my relationships through the United Nations (which I mainly keep confidential and I am only an advisory statistic there but that networking is valuable particularly as it relates to foundations, my frustration with technology (profound but what I articulate is quite different because I find frustration with technology to be dull and ordinary), my friendships with lesbians (they do not want to be written about), my relationships with gallery owners and courts, my litigation battles (the people who represent me are lawyers who sit on boards of directors of major urban art museums; again, if I wrote about it, John Grisham would have to rewire), my friendships with female agents (who will not represent me nor do I want them to), my tempestuous relationships with female poets; none of my plays including Human Trafficking represent examples of the paradigm created in this blog which is actually the notion which people who know me a little bit think.
The people who tell me "we do not want to see our names on the Internet" are legion. Just this week a major economic interest in shipping got inadvertently mentioned and I found myself scrambling to go correct that and render him back to obscurity because if I write anything AT ALL fucking Google is right there like an echo chamber, and there these people are, with their acceptable corporate logo branding listed alongside a broadside by me. What people see is a sound and a fury that charges ahead but they see little if anything of my going back to censor and correct.
They see SOME of what I allow them to see, and they see what editors think they will buy.
Nevertheless, these are, indeed, often issues I tackle in quite simply ALL of the material that does not get published because it is deemed as unpublishable by corporate, entertainment publishing.
In many ways, it's like being type-cast, and I do understand how it drives actors Miss SugarNut. Paul Winfield was a friend of mine. His movie stuff was where almost everyone knew Paul from. They virtually knew nothing of his enormous amount of work upon the stage. That is the American way. Yanks just love their consumable culture. They can have it.
I have written many books where no one is abused.
The books deemed worthy of publishing do carry that theme, but they are a small minority of what I have actually produced.
And people wonder why I hate publishing.
Because it makes me appear to be something I am not.
This kind of Freudian perception is somewhat generational. I find that many younger writers have no concept of how Freud affected the generation of folks slightly older than me in the same vein that Hemingway affected writers; I find that many of the commercially successful group of this oparticular crowd finds the Freudian/Hemingway influce to be as curious as I find their obsession with Updike to be.
I don't get it. I find Updike to be as awful as Fitzgerald. Another Freudian. People are always surprised that my favorite writer is Charles Bukowski. I smile when people copy Updike or honor him but it makes me puke. In private.
So. I have written about what my life has been influenced by but it (real Indians as opposed to mythological ones) doesn't interest anyone in publishing the way violence, rape, war, victimization, and sex does.
Most people might think that violence, rape, war, victimization, and sex (Freud's various lovers) were my themes when, in fact, they're editor's themes, and for me, they're sub-themes, and mostly ephemeral. They bought doctors, surgeries, and groceries. Barely.
They are never edited OUT.
What gets edited OUT of my work is the stuff that makes my work and my life appear to be normal.
People can scream it isn't so but it is so. I have the manuscripts in binders to prove it.
I used to have thousands of tiny disks no computer will even read today. Then I went to floppy disks and now those are trashed. Today, I rarely bother to keep anything at all.
I just do not write that much as compared to the past because it is mostly a waste of time.
I am going to shred those manuscripts in binders, too. As soon as I can find the time.
I used to care about all of this nonsense when I was making money from writing.
Today, my life and finances are set up quite differently.
I do not even make a salary. Things are set up to protect me from litigation. The hoops people have to jump through to sue me are extraordinary and they will not lead anyone to financial remuneration. James Frey was sued and he lost. It doesn't get written about. It's not sexy. But Frey had to compensate publishers. Albert was sued and lost to Hollywood. People wanted to sue me, tried to sue me, pursued me, harassed me, but I am not Albert or Frey, I am not commercially important, and I am not adverse to moving my entire life to avoid lawsuits -- essentially, I just make it so expensive that lawyers tell their clients to forget it because I do not own anything, and I have no money that can be attached. It will cost them more than what water they can squeeze from me. Which might be a judgment but judgments are not checks. Also, if I were dragged into court kicking and screaming, their lawyers know that my lawyers will paint a picture where on the stage of public opinion, I will appear to be persecuted. Health issues will get involved. They do not want to go there. Then, there's the issue of finding me to serve me. I wish them luck on that. Basically, I've been written off. The juice ain't worth the squeeze.
I have written about all of this. No one wants to hear it. "You are too demanding," is what male agents tell me. That work has been shredded. But it was part of a bigger picture. You can cast me as a body of work that represents only what gets published but I always find that kind of thing to be beneath contempt on the part of people who do, indeed, have an investment (certain Indian writers) in the status quo view of what is publishing and what can get published (and who). I used to scream this view was simply limited in vision. Now, I just sigh, and say it's meaningless. It is germane to what.
People can think what they want and believe what they want. This is beginning to work in my favor. Journalists now tell me: "You are a difficult sell to my editors."
Good. I am glad. Since no one believes anything I do, SOME impunity is liberating.
Go ahead publish this blog post. No one will care. And Tim Barrus only shrugs.
My work is just too obscure to mean anything. One-on-one human interactions are where it's at. Publishing itself will be in time grinded-and-gritted-and-sandpapered down to a lens that sees fewer and fewer people.
Fine by me. I can't think of one single good thing to come out of forty years of publishing and writing. That a few people like a couple of my books is nice but it doesn't count. It just doesn't mean anything.
A biography of my life would sell three copies and interest no one. I am so irrelevant that I can write this and no one will care. What I cannot do, cannot afford to do, is bring money-names into my Google echo chamber. Fine by me. People who support me are no one else's business. For one thing, they're often supporting SPECIFIC kids, not me, even if I do pick up dinner and hotel. My expenses can be channeled into exactly that. Expenses. That a foundation or an individual decides to pick that up is not attachable. Stage directors do it all the time. Their expenses are written into the producer's budget.
For one thing, money is connected to projects, not me personally. Anyone in this position would have the hotel and dinner tab paid for. They probably wouldn't live under it but I do. This is stuff I have articulated in writing time and time again but editors find it dull. They want sex and guts.
I give up. Writing is a dead end. It isn't meaningful. It bores me. Editors bore me. Agents bore me. I am quite taken with how one spartan line of poetry can change everything. To me. Orpheus is a devil's errand. I want to do it because it amuses me. It's fun now. I am not caught in the angst of grief. I can stand back and look at it. It is a labor of love. It is not commercial. If it were a commercial property, I would farm it out. "This is not commercial because it's about you," is what I am told.
And that is true.
My tweaking it in the next few months will be done with an eye toward taking me out and putting boys in. It must be so.
I am not even interesting to me.
The only reason Orpheus interests me is because there is no box to fit it into.
One sub-theme in Orpheus that I internally edited -- but what I am going to correct in the next few months -- is a sub-theme any run of the mill editor would remove in favor of blood and guts on the wall. But it's not up to an editor. It's up to me. I am going to explore the relationship between homicide and suicide which I think was really going on in the dance between Johnny Firefly and myself where what I did was use my power with the other boys to come down on him and get rid of the gun.
Johnny was not the one confronted with having to choose who would live and who would die.
That was my role.
I picked Johnny and then I let the boys take the rap.
If I had let him stay, I think he would have externalized and killed someone else with the idea that I might protect him in his crazy head.
I said no. This is power. Then I made the decision appear to be coming from the boys with me in the background.
Does anyone really believe I did not know how they would vote.
And then my complicity was edited out. By me. It needs to go back in to speak to the nature of power and the relationship between homicide and suicide.
This is not limited to blood and guts. These are ideas.
The blood and guts comes later. And it is omniscient. We were not there.
This is the signature scene. And this is EXACTLY the scene that Orpheus as a metaphor is staring at.
It is my looking back at it versus going forward that could symbolically render me destroyed.
And there is my contention. Writing is a looking back.
Writing will destroy you.
And it is only through that destruction vis-a-vis conflict that one is redeemed or reinvented.
Thank you, Joe.
Fuck you, Sigmund.
Freud saw a crumb and thought it was the loaf.
Which is why Fritz hated him.
I have in the past only brushed up against these themes. In Orpheus, I am taking them on.
Redemption is through the writing not the audience.
I will not ask the audience for forgiveness.
Looking back comes with a price.
I have never articulated that. I have only embraced it. It is a limited, sophomoric perspective. To maintain that writing about the past is where it's at is self-defeating. It is a crumb. It is not a loaf of bread.
It renders your evaluation of my work in this blog piece a Freudian crumb versus the loaf.
I am not bothered by it. I simply find it mainstream and ordinary. It's just wrong. It only sees what editors have deemed worthy. But how could you know that. It's not about you. It's about my conflict with what is commercial versus what is real which is far more than Nasdijj was ever allowed to do. he was never allowed to take on that fairly nuanced theme.
The tweaking I will do isn't going to even be all that extensive. It will make Orpheus a better book.
The other books, Tim Barrus as a writer in the scheme of things; it's all silliness and nothing.
My problem with Human Trafficking is that as a play, the platform did not make me a better writer. But Orpheus does.
Let them put that in their pipe and smoke it.'
MARY'S RESPONSE TO THE RESPONSE:
There is no box any publisher has pushed me into because I haven’t submitted enough stuff. “Bronze Inside and Out” is an anomaly, a big honkin’ book that got through the Western Art Cartel by accident because U of Calgary Press is out of the loop and because the normal channels (U of Okla Press and U of Neb Press ) were blocked by people I recognized as predators. Also, I had a good friend from the edge of the cartel who gave me signals. Also, the U of Calgary Press was in uproar because the editor told some pesky female staffer to “fuck off” and got canned, so they were leaderless. What I poured into “Bronze” was all the stories I had accumulated, organized into an arbitrary structure. It is unexpected enough that people can’t assimilate it -- so it’s self-defeating. They are expecting to find out the secret ways Bob Scriver became a big success. They don’t expect to find a love story, esp. one that ended badly.
My book of prairie sermons is so easily mistaken (evidently because a church published it) that though it’s markedly heretical, Christians think it’s “spiritual” and Hallmarkian. My little booklet about hospital chaplaincy is just irrelevant to everyone, in particular hospital chaplains who are expected to have visions of God in the hospital. The book about “dog catching” is on a desk at Purdue University. Everyone likes it. No one has the capital.
So what I am is invisible, but labeled as sort of blurrily virtuous, which can be useful. Like you, I DO know a lot about real Indians and we both know a lot about the 19th century belief in white man’s manifest destiny, how destructive it can be. Also, nurturing is an issue for me. How do you help people without being captured? How does one allow oneself to be helped without being captured? I saw that people were enraged with you because they WANTED you but couldn’t capture you. (They don’t want me.)
So what I saw, after you talked to me a bit, was that I could go “sit beside you” and it might have the effect of being a demonstration that you were NOT a dangerous monster, that S/M was not just torture, the porn books were love stories, that hoaxing in an NA context is a very complex subject since it’s the way so many get through life on a rez, and so on. Evidently that has paid off if, as you suggest, someone did an illicit search to see what you were “really” like and discovered exactly that, a real man, instead of some imaginary boogey man -- boogey, booger, bugger. You are an insightful, resourceful, nurturing man within a complex network that has sustained for decades. Then came the shoulder replacements and I hung on tight. You came through like a champ, but it was a long count.
“Orpheus,” my parts, are my chaplain voice. It’s only a small part of me and it’s handicapped because I can’t see you, I can’t tell what makes you flinch or color or tear up or grin. But the daily posts have continued to be wonderful fun and I’ve let my horse gallop a bit. We’ve established that I don’t write for publication. Most of the stuff that is advice for writers is trivia, old leftover English teacher stuff. Strained peas. Writing with you has let me know I’m not just a burned out old woman hiding in a village near her old haunts. I’ve got a fire going here. Not everyone is welcome to cook on it. You are.
Sometimes -- you mention women musicians, editors, lesbian writers and other female categories -- you mistake who I am. I’m not really very liberal. Liberals want everyone to be safe and put the top back on their Jeep. I say the hell with it. You don’t have to take stupid chances, but don’t miss out on life in the name of mere safety. Take chances that mean something, that have impact in the world, but don’t get sucked into hubris. No more of that kid’s thing of naked on the motorcycle, hands in the air, full speed ahead, devil take the hindmost. I’m male-identified, not a dyke. Now it’s more like combat decisions in the company of comrades. Not easy stuff like blowing something up, but hard stuff like setting an example. My cop-out is to go it alone. I did the same thing with sex. Know all about it. Keep it private. I’m not a lesbian because I don’t want to share with anyone -- I don’t care what sex they are. I’m celibate, isolate, cloistered, not meditating so much as pondering. In print.
Sometimes when I’m on the Internet I can feel others out there. Sometimes what I touch doesn’t feel like human hands -- maybe tentacles, maybe claws, maybe ectoplasm. But then when I put my hand out, open and palm up, suddenly your big warm hand came down on mine and we clasped. It was very welcome, it was just the right handshake, it will not exceed that nor will I pull away -- though you might. Sometimes there are boy hands there, too, skinned up, stinky, warty, stained, tattooed, or soft and clean. They don’t linger. I don’t accept women’s hands. Maybe little kids. Paws and hooves are here at home.
Sometimes I think I’m re-enacting my relationship to Bob Scriver too much, but it was full-scale physical and this is not. I am not your agent. I am not your companion. I am not your sister, your mother -- I’m a little like your aunt. I am your co-writer, but I don’t always write with you. I shred NOTHING because I don’t trust myself to see it as what it is until it’s aged maybe ten years. Our friendship is only three years old. I haven’t seen all your writing, but what I have, I don’t intend to give up.