Wednesday, February 19, 2014


Several quotes from the first page of this book ("The Boy and the Dog Are Sleeping" by "Nasdijj") have become rather famous, as follows:

“I want the mad ones.  The children mad enough to struggle and survive.  I want the children who have seen war.  The children mad enough to question everything.  The children who have had everything taken away from them.  The children who are broken and mad enough to attempt to repair themselves.   The children mad enough to spit and fight.  Mad enough to laugh outrageously.  Mad enough to make a music of their own.  Mad enough to see themselves as individuals.  I want children who will dance in rain.  I want the mad, crazy ones.  I want the ones insane enough to love hard, and brave enough to be vulnerable.”  

This lays out the bill of particulars for the story.  It is a litany for discarded, troublesome kids, the kind that plague streets and ruined buildings around the planet.  The feral children who have escaped society.

Then “I am haunted by deep, electric flashes of music, memory, dragons and madness.”    So now we know where the author is coming from.  He sounds a little druggy, but up for adventure because of already being a little out of control.  Men who are like him -- carrying Castenada in their backpacks -- haunt reservations out West.  If you should happen to think he’s an Indian, he won’t mind.  He talks like an Indian: everything an evasion, about masks and secrecy, “the power of the enigmatic, and of things that breathe fire and fly about the midnight sky.”  This is neither anthropological nor demographic.  Some will find it spiritual.

I will not defend my right to talk about indigenous people.  I have fifty years of friendship with the Blackfeet and their braided-in related peoples like Cree or Metis or Sioux -- even whites like myself and (lately) African Americans.  This has taught me to never try to define how they eat, what they do, the content of their religion, or the way they describe their families.  In this book I see the spine of the story as being a tension between the mainstream culture and the doomed individual human being, esp. the child.  

The “Navajo” then constitute a third context that goes at least potentially closer to the ideal, a way that allows a person to be themselves.  Rez life is faulty, it's impoverished, it’s inconvenient, it’s scary.  This is not a critique of the indigenous but rather its use as a shadow of what could be.  In fact, one whole stream of Western thought believes that Indians are noble, generous, and therefore worthy.  They are “Other” in the best sense, because they live close to nature.  The narrator is trying to be this kind of “Other” without quite being able to get past the ugly side of stigma and poverty.

The core question is what anyone can do to be saved in a world that simply won’t allow salvation since we all die.  It is a heightened anguish when it comes to our desire to protect and love children.  Yet we discard children to disease, carelessness, ignorance and predators.  Many, as described above (mad, wild), are wanted by no one.  And it is a fact that everyone dies in the end.  (The Christian dogma is about AFTER death.)  But this need not be grim if we take joy in each other, what we might call the laughter of unfolding, so full of surprises, so irrepressible.

The story starts in rain, a powerful force in the SW high plateau country.  The Navajo sun god “cast his sons out, sending them to earth with enormous, almost impossible tasks to complete” and “my little jeep shook.” (I know he still drives that jeep.)  He speaks of his wife.  (He is telling the truth.  Tina IS the author’s wife and she is as he describes: urban, educated, gifted, strong and able to save people, including the author.)

The next move in the story is to the writer as he is giving a reading, frustrated by an audience which has no interest in poverty and suffering.  They want the familiar but paradoxically also magic. (Water to wine.) This time it is the boy -- not his father -- who comes to the bookstore and asks to join the writer.  

Look back at the paragraph about children who are mad, gifted, full of energy, impossible to capture.  They stay in school only long enough to get a hot lunch.  They cannot be put on detention.  No one knows where they stay.  Their parents are missing.  In his sensational way, the author says, “We find bodies of nude boys in ditches.  No one knows who they are or where they came from.  Strangled and dumped in the desert.”  In my practical schoolteacher, animal control officer, and prairie pastor way, I accept this as true.  You won’t find the facts in the newspaper or with the FBI.  The only inaccuracy is that usually what is found around here is bones.  I guess they were bare.

So there are two ways to read this story, one as an initiated person who reads with recognition and the other as a person who is barely aware of this under-world and doesn’t really believe it’s true.  As a mediating context, the author goes to baseball -- that all-American summer ritual that so many people understand.   He says Awee is “something extraordinarily unique, something more beautiful than anything you have ever seen.  Something mad.  Mad to live.  

"Inside a dream.”  

He puts a paragraph break just before that last phrase.  Does he mean the boy wants to live inside a dream?  Or does the author want to tell the story as though it’s inside a dream?  Or both?  (If I had written this book and it was about a Blackfeet boy, I would have had him play basketball.  Not because that is a tribal thing -- though it is now -- but because in this climate you need an inside game and because kids play alone, sinking baskets through empty hoops.)

He says, “This entire book (and then some) could be about his eyes.”  I’ve written a post about the theory of “the Gaze,” but until I sent it to him, Tim did not know this body of theory.  The fact that it seems so apt and useful justifies its arcane and esoteric source in French philosophy.  

But this author is after change.  He says, Change is one child at a time.  Change is one family at a time.  Change is changing the madness of culture into the spirituality of the individual one social structure at a time.”  (p. 15)  This book is meant to make one child so irresistible that we will be willing to change.  At the same time he hopes to discover how to change that boy, who is a kind of changeling anyway.  He is supernatural, described in the most hyperbolic terms.  But the real tragedy to this author is the neglected suburban boys from single parent families who pedal their bikes home in the dark.  They are weeping.

The author says baseball “. . . is about that abrupt unheaval where a human being in his skin and bones and iron determination meets the unmoved thing that is the earth.”   This is not a realistic story so there is no use trying to force it into questions about legal technicalities or conventional propriety.  Nor is the story pornographic.  But it is explicit in the ordinary way of children learning about peculiar stuff like jockstraps.  Talk about seeing and being seen.  Awee discovers his butt hangs out of the rig.  

The whole team joins his opinion and decides to risk their young maleness.  They win the game anyway, but it is the suburban losers who at least get a banana split apiece.  The ball itself is lost in the weeds on its way to China.  Boy and man go home together.  Not lonely now.

These are the basics as I see them.  Now to look at how they play out.

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