Some people are like doors. In the case of Tim Barrus and I, the door was one not often used because stigma makes it “stick.” Nice people don’t go there. Wicked people want the privacy. Books were what opened it or maybe “were” the door itself.
The end of publishing as we know it has closed that. It’s over now and will not be resumed, but the door was not between two people -- it was between two worlds. I read as much as I could about Tim’s world, sometimes with his guidance and sometimes not, because it was so completely different. I wasn’t so much reading about his personal life (though I learned about it) as I was learning about a whole planetary subculture I’d only glimpsed before. I DID know it was there and didn’t like being excluded.
Tim’s world absorbs him so completely he had no time or energy to look at my subculture, which is becoming as exotic as his: the world of the liberal, thoughtful, unconventional people who find stigma is a big fat nuisance. Call us post-modern if you want -- the truth is that we’ve always been here and we’ve always been feared as much as Tim’s world because we question everything. Tim hardly believes we exist. He thinks I’m one-of-a-kind. He KNOWS at gut-level he is one-of-a-kind. We both like being unique.
My life path has been marked by short trajectories in which I attached to someone, learned what I could, and then generally got chucked out at the end -- a few times I walked because of abuse or neglect which I will not tolerate. By the time I leave, I have internalized as much as I could, so now these attachments live in me. (Skills, sense memories, patterns.) That’s the way children learn and grow and I don’t stop as I age -- at least I try not to. Tim has done the same thing.
Our shared trajectory is as much a victim of the collapse of conventional publishing as are bookstores, publishing houses, reviewers and agents. The great goal we had in common was getting published. We both had the idea that it meant money, honor, status, legitimacy, access -- vindication. Together we watched it tumble and empty. That trajectory is over, done, fried, kaput.
It is very painful: identity threatening. Even life-threatening. In a sense, I let my brother die broke and alone on the street so I could write. I quit a secure job so I could write before I got too old. I have toughed it through some cold winters and let my house fall apart so I could write instead of getting a job. I have not tended to the problem of self-publication because I’d rather write. I did manage to get Bob Scriver’s biography, “Bronze Inside and Out,” published entire in spite of the Industrial Cowboy Art Cartel. That was before Tim. who now says even the idea of writing suffocates him.
Tim and I ending our writing collaboration is not the end of the world. It was an organic relationship (natural, nothing added, growing in its own way), which is why it ended without us really admitting it. It was not quite a friendship. It had nothing to do with smiling and being nice. Together we rocked.
It cannot be revived. Which is not to say another door might not open somewhere in a different wall. But now Tim’s door is like the one in “Gladiator,” a shadowed door that opens into a place none of us go except over the threshold of death. Tristan is waiting over there. That is the relationship that counts to Tim. But maybe this is wrong. Maybe it will change.
Most of my trajectories were about jobs (teaching, marriage, animal control, ministry). Some of them were “romantical” which I begin to think is a matter of longing to fuse with someone else, the way one was fused in childhood -- a “mitochondria,” a co-dependent, a flat-out dependent, a symbiont, an endosymbiont. This should be resisted. If you want to write.
Tim and I share ruthlessness. It is a survival skill. We cut off relationships in practical ways, like leaving, blocking email. As emotional relationships, they never end -- always there. We both detest control (even disguised as “love” or “healing”) and we always keep a hole card somewhere. (Make that a pun if you want to.) A writer’s notes, an artist’s pigments -- emotions are the substance of art. Tim cannot make me stop loving him. Nor can he make himself stop caring.
In the end we took aim on each other like an old-fashioned duel: thirty paces, turn and fire. I spoke a little piece about feeling old, he took it personally, I was irritated, he was shocked -- the end. By that time there had been a few “practice” sign-offs that aborted. But he’s right -- it’s not about publishing or even writing -- it’s about the end of the trajectory. We will not be returning any engagement rings because there never were any. There was no book-keeping, no obligation. It does not leave a job opening.
What’s weird about it is that the collaboration from 2007 to 2011 produced a body of work that in this internet world can’t be extinguished. Quite apart from copyright laws or deleting, his images and vids, my blogs and binders, go on and on: cached, stashed, mashed, rehashed. People find them and read them -- maybe more than they would if the work were bound in codexes on shelves. Which can’t be done with vids anyway.
Beyond that, shared moments abide in both of us. I cannot think of him without warm feelings. I smile. I never have been bitter and punishing about any of my completed relationships, though I’ve withdrawn from most and slammed shut one or two. I do have ethical obligations that arrive through the years in the ministry. I walk a wobbly line between discretion and disclosure, mostly because I love the story of it and also because I always think (usually wrongly) that if something were just explained and understood, the damage will dissipate. Tim doesn’t think so -- with reason. He is not just one person and some of the people he loves have been hurt badly in the past. That’s “at risk.” “A boy is not just an age,” he says someplace. “A boy is someone vulnerable.”
A co-writer is not just a partner: a co-writer is a mirror. Much of what I saw in Tim was me and vice versa. Many times he’d say, “Mary believes X.” But I didn’t. He made it up because he needed me to be the straight man for his gig and I didn’t mind. But I’d look at Tim, see myself, and think, “Oh, he’s being tricky.” But he wasn’t. Bits of us stuck inside each other, the gene exchanges of one-celled animals, mitosis, not sexual.
Outsiders’ views complicated it. Mostly they tried to make us like a movie they saw once. Some tried to worm in between us. They could not see our hearts, which are pre-verbal, subconscious, just the rhythm under the music. (Aad says, “volcanic.” He knows a thing or two.) Upwelling, landscape-changing, too hot for comfort, unpredictable. Can’t be googled. Can’t be hacked. Too organic. Just grew. Impossible to put into words. Impossible to stop. I’m so amazed that there were two of us in the world and that we found each other, however briefly. Parle, ecouté. Parlicoots.