Thursday, December 30, 2010


Tim and I like each other’s writing and that’s a fact.  As time went on and we wrote to each other daily on the Internet, we liked each other’s writing even more.  We began to echo each other and even outsiders would say that we were both writing with more power and precision, each from our own place in the world, never meeting.  It was Tim’s idea for us to be co-writers in a call-and-response way but then it was my idea to compose a book of our messages back and forth,  “Orpheus Pressed Up Against the Windows of the Catacombs.”  At the time Tim and the boys were in a warehouse in Amsterdam that was undermined with long tunnels for something or other.  They called them catacombs and put on a dance performance there with their primary dancer pressed into making the plaster skulls one needs for a catacomb. 

So I wasn’t the only one who thinking of the Christians hiding in the catacombs, but I was probably the only one who didn’t know that it was the name of a notorious gay leather bar in San Francisco.  I didn’t even know that my own name, Mary, is what some gays call each other -- which led to a certain amount of confusion.  But then once I sent a message to Kilian saying I had “copied” Tim with something and the boy who was tending the email that day saw it and thought I was admitting to plagiarizing Tim.  He went straightaway to Tim to demand that he break off with me at once!  Had I no morals?  I am not surprised at the strict standards coming from a boy at risk because of HIV infection due to sex work and/or drugs.  These boys stood back-to-back to protect each other and, most of all, Tim.  He was their rallying point, their flag, their rescuer.

In the early part of the twenty-tens, before we met, both Tim and I had written traditionally published books.  His were contracted, copyrighted, and paid to his own real name, but publicly identified as written under a pseudonym, Nasdijj.  Everyone was pleased to think he was half-Navajo.  Parallel to that, avascular necrosis was destroying Tim’s hips so he had to do some author appearances in a wheelchair.  The book money paid for hip replacement surgery.

At that time I was writing my biography of Bob Scriver who was also stalked by the identity police because of selling his family’s collection of Blackfeet artifacts to a Canadian museum for a million dollars.  The FBI had convinced Bob that AIM had targeted him and would burn him out.  I had been divorced from Bob for decades by then, but would have said his enemies were more likely to be white wheeler-dealers, and that did indeed prove to be the case when I tried to get “Bronze Inside and Out” published in the logical places.  I ended up doing what Bob had done: went north to Canada away from the grasping politics.  The book was published by the University of Calgary Press.  The wheeler/dealers have been saying it's not available, but you can buy it on Amazon.

By that time I had picked up a remaindered copy of “The Boy and the Dog Are Sleeping” and loved it, though I saw this was NOT written by an Indian but was true to the reservation.  Tim had been labeled a hoax and the doors were shut on him.  But I knew some of his accusers.  The real hoax was their framing of him. 

In 2007 when I smarted off about Nasdijj in comments on an art blog, Tim saw it and contacted me directly.  “What are the names of your cats?” he asked, disarmingly.  He thought I was a little old lady English teacher.  Slowly I was drawn into his world of boys in a loft in Paris -- without leaving my Montana village.  He suggested we write together -- leaving my blog as mine to write, but joining him on his veritable library of blogs, rapidly becoming “vlogs” because the boys went out daily with video cameras to collect footage for complex layered images that took days to create.  The boys were suspicious of me, but Tim insisted they needed more contact with adult women, so there I was, Mary among the Marys.

It wasn’t adult women they needed: it was a chaplain.  Their lives were constantly threatened by contagion, accidents and despair.  Now and then one died.  Tim’s theory was to keep them moving so they couldn’t form dangerous connections, to keep them working on projects.  He took them on long walk-and-talks and sat with them in the hospital.  Much of his time went to the administrative tasks he learned from managing Headstart when he himself was barely out of high school, keeping together meals, clothes, and the crucial antiretrovirals as they went.  More than that, his questing nomadic life had given him trustworthy contacts all over the planet at every level.  He couldn’t prevent trouble.  Sometimes he could mitigate.

Once, I decided I wasn’t really needed and tried to withdraw.  The boys didn’t mind, but Tim was aghast.  So I went back, but he said never to do that again and I didn’t.  It’s remarkable that with all the friendships and love affairs and intense confrontations Tim has had, the ones who have turned bitter and vengeful are the exceptions.  Otherwise, even attachments from his old childhood “nabe” still endure.  The boys thought there would be a blowup between us any day -- but there never was.  On the other hand, I turned out to be a lousy agent for the two of us and never placed our book.  I’m still trying.

The publishers’ blacklisting enraged Tim, who marched outside their ramparts with his blog trumpet blasting them day after day. Gradually we realized his writing WAS published, right there on the screen, straight to the reader.  It was ePublishing.  No intermediary.  The walls of old-fashioned Manhattan publishing tumbled down like those at Jericho -- almost too quickly to understand.  The whole game was changed: not just the way of producing the object called a book, but also the business plan, the employment structure, the distribution and storage system, the regional salesmen, and the bookstores -- all .  Tim Barrus, even with AIDS and avascular necrosis, had outlived the system.

Barely.  It’s one day at a time now and we’re not really co-writing but the emails still fly back and forth, sometimes only a word or two.  Cinematheque has been put into a chrysalis state to protect the boys in uncertain times.  They govern and comfort each other now and I don’t talk to them, but think of them often.  Some have grown into men and left.  The Paris loft was emptied -- too dangerous these days -- and the boys have gone monastic -- they are in a bonded community removed to safety.

The deepest form of creation is one’s own life.  The truest generosity is to share it.


Art Durkee said...

Your last paragraph says it all.

I find no tragedy in any of this. I find instead the refusal of despair, the stubborn insistence on life against all the odds. Life finds a way to endure, tenaciously.

I'm not too surprised at the boys' reaction to you. I see parallel responses from teenage boys—suspicion, etc.—coming even from boys much less at risk, whose lives have been far less extreme. It's both individuation in process (figuring out and becoming an individual), and youthful idealism (which can be quite judgmental). I've had my own encounters with young men with HIV, or who have been abused, bullied, and rejected, and they can be understandably prickly.

I hope that the boys can take what they've learned from their experiences with Tim and go on, and keep going, and "pay it forward." That is so essential nowadays, to pass this on to the next people who need to learn it.

Pamela said...

How interesting that I would find your blog and a hopscotch ride through the internet this morning.

A long-forgotten book came to mind last night -- and I immediately began searching for it this morning. I couldn't remember the name of the book, but a few key words typed in brought the book up.

I had read this book right after the birth of my son, in 1994, I think, and wondered whatever became of the author. The internet was in its infancy then, so connections were not so readily made. It was a work of nonfiction of a young boy abused by his parents, infected with AIDS, etc etc. Little did I know that in the years since I read this book, the "author" had been exposed as a fraud and the literary world turned, literally, upside down by the hoax.

This hoax lead me to the name of Tim Barrus. A search of him lead me to your blog.

And now....who knows? Your writing partner's story is also intriguing. I enjoy your writing style. And a connection is made.

Isn't the internet and wonderful thing?