"The Blood Runs Like a River Through My Dreams"

Louis Proyect lnp3 at SPAMpanix.com
Thu Oct 26 08:17:38 MDT 2000


"The Blood Runs Like a River Through My Dreams" by Nasdijj

A not-quite-Native American's hard, strange life makes for a fiercely
original memoir about the compulsion to write.
- - - - - - - - - - - -

By Maria Russo

Oct. 26, 2000 | "I became a writer to piss on all the many white teachers
and white editors out there (everywhere) who said it could not be done. Not
by the stupid mongrel likes of me," writes Nasdijj in "The Blood Runs Like
a River Through My Dreams." This is a book unlike any to come around in a
long time, and not just because of its author's unconventional path to
publication. Nasdijj writes as an exile in his own homeland. He's the son
of migrant workers, and he doesn't fit into a racial or cultural category:
"My cowboy dad was white. My mother's people were with the Navajo." He
feels a spiritual kinship with the Navajos, though he has to contend with
their suspicion of him for looking white. (Nasdijj is presumably a
pseudonym, "Athabaskan for 'to become again,'" according to the author's
bio.) His childhood was turbulent: "It was a life grinding its slow way
through chaos." His father regularly beat him with a belt and his mother
was falling-down drunk most of the time, which explains the fetal alcohol
syndrome he suffers from: "Reading is a real struggle. It's extremely hard
work. Things appear upside down. Writing is worse."

"The Blood Runs" is several things at once: an episodic memoir of a
hardscrabble life; a record of its author's defiant, quixotic dedication to
becoming a writer; and a memorial to his dead 6-year-old son, Tommy Nothing
Fancy, who also had fetal alcohol syndrome. Its singular language blends
Native American mythological rhythms and imagery, stirring Whitman-esque
catalogs and unadorned observations about life on and around the
reservation. Nasdijj's terse, elemental sentences don't so much follow one
another as nestle each on top of the next, like a desert rock formation.

His anger at the "white people world" just about reaches off the page and
shoves you, and yet there's a disciplined quality to his fury. For all its
descriptions of drunken violence and crushing poverty, the book has a
gentleness at its core. Many of Nasdijj's stories describe small acts of
kindness that carry huge symbolic weight. He visits a hotshot cowboy dying
alone of AIDS and takes him "into the desert wilderness so he can sit in
his rented wheelchair and watch the horses ... I can't give him his life
back, but I can give him this." In a chapter about being homeless, he
describes living in a public campground next to a desperate woman and her
two daughters, named Molly and Ringwald. ("Now I know beyond the shadow of
a doubt that white people have to have their heads examined," he comments.)
He takes the girls to the library and, when an unexpected check arrives,
buys them new dolls to replace the dirty, balding ones they drag around.
"There is no escape from being defined by what you lack," he writes, as
succinct an evocation of the plight of the homeless as any I've read.

Several of the most affecting chapters tell the story of Tommy Nothing
Fancy's life and death. In between descriptions of the effects of FAS on
Tommy -- mainly "epileptic seizures and out-of-control behavior" -- Nasdijj
broods over his efforts to be a father to an adopted son he seems to have
loved above all else: "I was never a good father. I failed badly. I knew
it. Tommy knew it." Yet it's hard to see him as anything other than
generous and devoted: "Every man who has a son should give something of
himself," he says. "I didn't have much. I had a dog, I had a truck, I had
fishing rods." When Tommy dies of a seizure on a fishing trip (since his
odds of survival are practically nil, Nasdijj refuses to take the boy to a
hospital when his condition worsens, which enrages his wife), he carries
his son's body to his truck, then returns to retrieve the well-organized
tackle box Tommy had endlessly fussed over: "I could not leave this
perfection behind." In these sections, Nasdijj's writing achieves something
rare and powerful: a remarkably controlled picture of an uncontrollable
grief.

All too often, authors of memoirs tell us that writing was a way for them
to come to terms with past events, or to understand themselves. Well,
that's nice for you, I often think when I read one of these, but what's in
it for the rest of us? Too much first-person writing these days seems
fueled by this annoying momentum of self-reassurance, its authors strangely
oblivious to both the likelihood of self-deception and the
not-all-right-ness of so much of life.

Reading Nasdijj is an unusual pleasure because he's something else
altogether: He burns to write, and while he obviously takes satisfaction in
proving wrong the editors who refused to publish him, writing is not a way
to make himself feel better. He clings proudly to his discontent. His
chapters often end with an elegant resolution, but he's careful not to
imply that any understanding he has reached erases or makes up for the
suffering that came before. "I no longer look at every loss like my
arthritis screams in this cold rain," he writes at the end of the chapter
on being homeless, "but now know all my losses for illuminating events
(hard as they might be) that light the brain with the horror of the sun and
the knowledge that there is no such thing as consolation." In the end, he
writes because it's what he has, and that has to be enough.

 salon.com | Oct. 26, 2000


Louis Proyect
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