Thursday, July 01, 2010



This "novel," or so we call it, developed out of e-conversation between Tim Barrus and myself. It combines both our posts with a few from the boys and, in this sample, one linked video. It's a tough book, because these boys all have HIV-AIDS and live with the knowledge that even with current meds (which are extremely expensive and must be carefully managed) they could easily die from an opportunistic pathogen. Suicide is a constant worry.

The book is simply a journal of a year. The crux of the story is the death of Navajo, the dog in "The Boy and the Dog Are Sleeping." We'd like feedback.

From the chapter called "CAROLINA"


"Just tell them," Joroen says, "that I used to be this suicidal kid who is learning how to fight and Tim can keep his fucking shovel in the jeep because I do not want to see it."

I do not know about dads and sons. I do know that tonight Navajo leaves her bed and limps to Tim and puts her head in his lap and collapses. Tim picks her up and talks to her and soothes her and tells her it is okay if she wants to go. He means die. He gives her permission. But she does not want to go. I have never seen anything like it. But she is not going gently into any night but wants to be with us and fights for every minute she is allowed to do that. I am 150 pounds and gave up too many times. She is 25 pounds and not one ounce is giving up. I have learned a lot from Tim and our sessions. But I have learned as much from this dog.

Qi Jin: I lov u navajo.

TIM: Staring Down Death


Joroen is really confronting his stuff about death. It's a big stare down. I am very proud of the hard work he is doing because it involves, too, staying connected versus leaving the people who love him. It's easier to run. It's easier to kill yourself. Versus the work of confrontation. I only pretend to be the guide. He is mine.

Mrs Boney just got her morning force feeding. She was ornery. I think it's a good sign. I think I will unspring the blog but just give them a caveat that they are being watched and to act accordingly. Meltdowns concern me but on the other hand so many of them are just beginning to find a safe place to say whatever it is they have to say. Without being punished. We try to balance, Well, we TRY... Maybe if I just tell them to be ready for the inevitable explosion that will come. Back to Mrs. Boney.


People never really know what their limits are until they’ve gone past them. And even animals, when they have “heart”, can pass their limits without stopping. This is true of physical limits and, even for animals, also true for what might be called “spiritual” limits because animals also are more than just emotional. Race horses with heart will finish a race with broken legs.

So many youngsters look at the future or even at their own deaths with the idea that it is unredeemably dark, that there is no hope at all, because they themselves can’t see it and they have no experience with people who know how to break limits, cross boundaries, invent whole new worlds. They are used to operating with only their peers for guides -- with some predigested media notions. No true adult, one who has walked through fire, stared into the abyss, and lived to tell about it, ever interacts with them.

The model of the shaman is often seen as a kind of placid guru sitting on a mountain peak while waiting for enlightenment. But the ancient circumpolar shaman was a person who had died, quite truly and literally, and been gutted, eviscerated, and all his innards replaced with quartz rocks. Barrus could not meet this description more literally. As a teen he attempted suicide with a shotgun that blasted his guts across the stony basement wall in a dark red shadow that was still there when he went back as an adult. His hips are replaced with ceramics. He understands hospital culture with the familiarity of one who has spent months there.

The ancients felt that such an initiated person could accompany someone who was dying -- often traveling on a flying horse that could leap a valley of bones -- and sometimes bring that person back. It was a version of Orpheus, who only went to save his own lover. Just so, the boys of Cinematheque are saved one by one. Tim loves them, he goes where they go.

The shaman is also seen as a trickster, a shape-shifter who might become a coyote or a crow. This is Tim, slipping from one persona to another, speaking from inside someones who can’t speak for themselves, sometimes wearing the ultimate disguise: nothing. The circumpolar environment is nothing like California: it is harsh, those who are not relentless will perish. It is not benign, rewarding only good boys, but will cross into wickedness, even ghastliness. When the early peoples were threatened with starvation, the seed stock of the family was eaten last. The grandmother was eaten first, often voluntarily as she knew was her role. Then the children least likely to survive -- meaning probably youngest first. Between the man, more likely to survive, and the fertile woman, capable of reproduction, fate might throw the dice.

Tim, lifting up in his arms the blood-sodden body of a boy who has torn open his surgical stitches; Tim, lifting up in his arms the sea-soaked body of a boy who intended to drown himself; Tim, hugging close a boy whose self-inflicted wounds must be sterilized and bandaged; Tim, holding the hand of a boy in the hospital, full of IV lines and catheters. The shaman does not sit apart and offer cryptic advice from a privileged position. The shaman comes up against the dying -- skin to skin -- and suffers with them. It is no different for him if the beloved is a dog.

TIM: NAVAJO: Appalachian Spring.

I know you guys loved Navajo hard. There will never be another Navajo. She was totally unique. She taught us about bonding and how we use that in our art. In fact, that ability to connect IS an art. So Navajo left us with a legacy and we are compelled to honor her with that. It is not enough to simply go to the Pecos River and scatter her ashes in the desert she came from. Navajo taught us that living life is an art. Art is life, but living life is an art even more I think than art is life.

It matters what we DO. What we DO is where our art comes from. We connected to Navajo like we connected to one another. The art we make is subsequent to that. We know this: art is not created in a vacuum. Navajo was a rescued animal. Her legacy has to do with time. The desert she emerged from has to do with time. We are only in it. Isabella comes to us immediately because Navajo taught us that time is now. We are now. We are in it. Art is now. And all of this is what we make of it.

We grieve for Navajo. While we welcome Isbaella. Now, let us go and give Navajo back to the desert wind. New Mexico is a place of deep mystery. You will love it. We take Navajo on yet another great adventure. It will touch you as New Mexico will touch your hearts and art. I guarantee it. Artists have been going there for a very long time to learn something of its secrets. It's what artists do. As I write this, it's fall and these mountains burst with color. Autumn is about the ending, too. And now I give you Appalachian Spring. In this music, I see Navajo running.

MARY: Would You Rather NOT Have Loved?

The Zen message is often interpreted as being to prevent all attachments, to live in a sort of gray void, but that can’t be right. Maybe it is clearer in the Tao way, the understanding that all is process and change, going on and on and on -- but the resistance to attachment doesn’t mean not being in the moment. One should live deeply right now, but without trying to make it permanent. Let it come, use all one’s senses and emotions, then let it go on. Allow the butterfly to approach, keep the point of attachment steady and protective, then let the butterfly leave. To try to capture it is often to destroy what makes it precious. What would you do? Grab it with your hand and crush its wings?

Navajo was a working dog. She had a job to do and knew it. It was her life and she loved it, not as an imitation child but as a real dog. Dogs are one of the species who make partnerships with humans voluntarily, fitting themselves to human rooms and yards, attending to human concerns. This is not grudging. They need not be punished to get their compliance.

No comments: