There are people who follow this blog in hopes of news about Tim Barrus. I follow Tim’s writing and no more than that, though we have a lot in common -- far more than people who think other people are algorithms would ever suspect -- a deep friendship. It’s almost ten years since the big Nasdijj scandal and the culture has changed.
It’s longer than that since Bob Scriver was attacked for selling the Scriver artifact collection to the Royal Alberta Provincial Museum. By now the collection is pretty much dispersed, some of it back to tribal ceremonialists, except for the book Bob published that contained photo documentation of everything. Issues come and go. Time marches on. The young anthros and tribal people ask me who Nasdijj is. Some even ask who Bob Scriver is.
So now maybe we can talk about Tim Barrus’ writing without having to label it this or that, especially porn. (Are you kidding -- when the mainstream media is discussing the sensations of anal intercourse for straight women?) Maybe there’s more to think about than who owns pain and tragedy. The stories keep unfolding and unfolding.
If you’re a regular reader, you know that recently on this blog I’ve written literary reviews of the three “Nasdijj” books. Now I’ve gathered them into a chapbook you can buy on www.lulu.com/prairiemary, but if you’re short of cash just print them out from this blog. Forget about copyright, since it means nothing anyway. I included two blog posts, the one about “The Gaze” and the one that reviews Mendel’s book, “The Male Survivor: The Impact of Sexual Abuse.” What you haven't gotten on this blog until now is the introduction and a quick check of what Tim has done since these three books that I reviewed in the chapbook. So I post them here: Prologue and Epilogue.
I’ve talked very little about this ongoing conversation between Tim and I, but it seems timely now that it has suddenly come to some people’s attention that there is widespread child sexual abuse and trafficking. Both of us have thrown our print weight against this. Tim engages the boys themselves. He works with Rachel Chapple. Look for Real Stories Galleries
but not if you're easily shocked. They are expressing what they know and some of what they know is horrific.
In 1998 Tim and Tina Barrus and Tim’s daughter were living in Florida when Hurricane Georges hit. Their home was destroyed. During the cleanup, Tim contracted pneumonia so severe that his life was barely saved with major doses of prednisone that triggered Avascular Necrosis, bone death. There is no cure. It requires joint replacement.
Still hospitalized, Tim received news of acceptance for publication of a piece he had written about the Navajo country where they had recently been working. For years he had been sending out a mix of fiction and nonfiction as well as doing local journeyman writing, using many pseudonyms. This particular story drew so much response that a publisher asked to expand it into a whole book, to be called “The Blood Runs Like a River Through my Dreams,” (2000) which had been the title of the short story.
Tim gathered up some pre-existing work, wrote some new stories, and this anthology of twenty stories was published by Houghton Mifflin. He wrote two more books for Ballantine. At first there was great praise. In 2006 he came under attack for using the pseudonym of “Nasdijj,” which was interpreted as a cynical attempt to impersonate a Native American. Less revelation than reviling, the criticism shifted attention from the writing to the writer, especially after it became known that he had written pornographic novels, edited pornographic gay magazines, published S/M and Leatherlit books, and photographed the exploding and joyous gay liberation in San Francisco alongside Mapplethorpe and others just before the AIDS plague hit. Then the family took refuge in the SW.
Since young adulthood Barrus had worked in special education settings, emergency rooms, drug triage, and children’s art. He met his wife while working with autistic children. None of this will be considered here. This chapbook is meant to return attention to the actual writing in the three Nasdijj books.
Houghton Mifflin, which had its own problems at the time, dropped Tim. He was contracted by Ballantine for two more books, “The Boy and his Dog Are Sleeping”(2003) and “Geronimo’s Bones.” (2004).
In this chapbook two supplemental essays are provided: one on “Gaze” theory and the other a review of a book entitled The Male Survivor: The Impact of Sexual Abuse, by Matthew Parynik Mendel.
In 2006 Barrus moved to a Paris loft. He discovered a nucleus of young male videographers doing online sexwork. Powered by a major bequest from an American artist who died of AIDS, the group grew to be Cinematheque. In 2009 the collapse of Tim’s shoulders forced a return to the Carolinas for more surgery.
In America he formed a partnership with Rachel Chapple, Ph.D. The two activists run a complex of organizations based on Real Stories Gallery, a website for boys at risk, both writing about them and writing and art by them. Cinematheque, Smash Street Boys, and Show Me Your Life are a mix of actual locations, internet webs, and other NGO’s around the world. An art gallery, “Tristan’s Moon,” was in Tribeca before Hurricane Sandy forced its removal to a private estate in upstate New York.
John Swales, Men helping men in London
Each of us must choose our lives but it would help if people had more consciousness of the lives of other people and gave them shelter for their choices. To be aware of intense suffering and injustice is to be pulled towards doing something about it and that can swallow a person up in small daily efforts. Yet we all admired Mother Theresa though she did so little for so many, patting the dying miserable on their cots and blessing them while resisting everything that might have lifted her from her own hidden misery of depression and doubt. We all demand that politicians do more and then, if they do, blame them for anything that goes wrong and demand that they do still more. We hear the screaming children whose drunk parents beat them and don’t do anything about it because we don’t want to make any trouble.
Is there such a thing as enlightened selfishness?
When I was little, I understood that adults had secrets and set out to discover them. When I was older, I understood that professionals had privileged knowledge so, starting with the petit profession of teaching, I began to look for it. Different cultures see the world in different ways, so I came to the Blackfeet reservation to learn. Emergency responders go where no one else goes, and I found those places as an animal control officer. The churches claimed transcendent understanding, but I found no one has to go to a church to discover that. I never explored drugs, alcohol, sex, violence, wealth -- maybe because of lack of opportunity. Maybe because of what I’d already found out.
I have a particular sympathy for boys at risk, both the little “raccoons” who barely manage to survive and the adolescent "panthers", so beautiful and dangerous. I read what they write and admire their art and videos, but I don’t want them sprawled on my furniture or torturing my cats. Not that they would necessarily do that, but some of them sometimes are inhabited by demons and that's why we're wary. Being demonized does not make them vomit pea soup or twirl their heads on their shoulders. They just lose empathy. So we have to stand in front of them and lean in. Even when they die. Even when they are dead.
But then, lack of empathy is the problem of the whole society. We still cope with people in crisis by shunning, confining, drugging, and shamelessly using them. So I’ve assigned myself to sit here and write every day, pounding on the resistant shell of the “I-don’t-want-to-know-anything-depressing” people. I’m not alone.
Strangely, I do not suffer from Mother Theresa’s depression and doubt. Why? The sun on the snow, the antics of the feral kittens, the calves now arriving in the birthing fields. I know these things, too. Every morning I stand in my kitchen window and the sun comes up in front of me. Even if it's too overcast to see it, I lean in to the sunrise. So does Tim. We're not alone. We're part of everything -- we all are.