The New York Times thinks that if they tease me with headlines they assume I want to read, then I will be provoked enough to subscribe to their newspaper. They think I am like the people they know. They don’t know that there are people who are not like them. (See reference to monkeys’ ignorance in yesterday’s post.) But I bounce off their teasing by googling the subjects of their headlines to find other sources for information.
Sometimes the subject itself rebukes me harshly for not already knowing things about it. Like today’s refusal to let me read Andrew Sullivan’s review of David France’s book version of a movie called “How to Survive a Plague” meant that I realized I’d never seen that movie, so I went to Netflix and watched it just now. I looked at the numbers go by and watched the people age, both victims and Dr. Fauci who has been a prime medical spearhead, and I wondered why I didn’t know more about it at the time.
It wasn’t until I began to “talk” on email with Tim Barrus that I understood that a huge and significant movement in the world had mostly passed me by. I should have known, since in 1981 when the first signs appeared I was at the U of Chicago Div School, taking classes in medical ethics. I don’t remember Don Browning ever saying anything about AIDS. The cases we tried to resolve were about melanoma and major burns. Just as agonizing, but not socially entwined. “Behavior-related” sniffed senators who probably never had had real sex in their lives. One would as soon kiss a lizard.
In my circuit-riding years I knew a minister with AIDS but no parishioners. (We didn’t separate HIV and AIDS in those days.) “Gay” was a different issue. I’ve always known “gays” of many different kinds. (I put quotes because I don’t see the category as being so hard-edged as some do.) In Saskatoon the most stigmatized group was aboriginals, not gays, and the small UU fellowship did not want to address those issues. Their primary worry was environmental. The later UU “Welcoming Congregation” movement was about as much about growth as about justice.
In Portland in the ’90's the issues were blacks, drugs, and shooting in the streets — sort of muddled up together. Back in Montana I was doing memoir and Western art bronzes until I got the bio of Bob Scriver finished and published: “Bronze Inside and Out”. Then there was a kind of space. And Tim Barrus showed up.
There are cases, genetically proven, of “chimeras” created by two conceived blastomeres, twins, which began to develop side-by-side but then relented and resorbed one of them while the other went on to develop into a person with the nearly quenched one silently folded inside. I’ve meant to develop that into a short story about people who sometimes seem to be two people and — actually — really are. In fact, I’ve been accused of being two people myself: one that was compliant and cooperative and one who was outraged and uncontrollable. It’s one of the things Barrus and I have in common. People think one can control their internal chimera and make a moral issue of it.
We write. We read each other’s writing. We don’t agree. My little town has grizzly bears in the night, following the edge of the lake. His has mountain lions coming down to drink from the child’s wading pool he and his boys have put out to make an oasis. We know forest fires. Even the conflagrations of the heart.
AIDS now is often a syringe disease: injectable drugs carrying virus into the blood. Syringe disease, like all addictions, is a pain-based disease caused by poverty, failure, desertion, and being stuck in a life you hate. Now we can see in the brain by using fMRI’s, both the craving addiction of the syringe drugs and the emotional suffering it’s trying to address, but doesn’t. The official declaration that research finally shows this is what’s happening is at: https://addiction.surgeongeneral.gov/surgeon-generals-report.pdf
Basically, too many people in this country are miserable and they are miserable because they don’t have enough to eat, or proper shelter, or meds — not even for deadly diseases they can pass on to everyone else. Not just HIV but also TB, Hep C. Our leaders don’t care. At least that’s the evidence. And despite the valiant and mostly successful efforts demonstrated in the movie “How to Survive a Plague” or the efforts to stop the poisonous industrialism of a pipeline through drinking water in North Dakota — we don’t seem willing to open up to each other. But healing addiction must be done in a group.
Barrus and I know that opening up is dangerous to ourselves and others. Part of the misery of our country is the constant attacking and blaming of each other which has made a the shambles of our culture. (Shambles once meant a butcher’s slaughterhouse.) Some are trying to revive those assumptions, but they’re gutted.
So how do we rebuild a culture of solace and growth? Do you have to be told? It’s the very thing we keep unfunding when money is short: the humanities. That’s why they’re CALLED that, because they create human values and explain and sustain them. Stories, images, songs, and dances — those are the humanities. When Boccaccio’s characters were faced with the plague that emptied Europe, they holed up and told stories. People still read them.
I save everything I find that Tim wrote. Such a packrat. I save a lot of what I write, but I’m getting better at believing that writing is like “Bartholemew’s Hats” — do you remember that storybook? How every time he took his hat off there was a more splendid one underneath it? Most people who say they are writers don’t write very much. Then they say they have writer’s block. But they really have not-writer’s block.
For Tim and I it’s quite different. The dialogue of the chimera in each of us is so intriguing to the chimera across from us, we just can’t stop with the hats.