Full disclosure: Lisa Jones and I are friends. We live in Boulder, where we admit to attending one yoga class together. Our birthdays are technically one day apart. Given these factors, this post about Lisa's new book, Broken: A Love Story [Scribner, May 12, 2009], couldn't be objective journalism if I tried. So I'm trying something else. Here goes: )
Lisa Jones is my kind of reporter: curious, fearless, compassionate. Did I mention fearless?
So when it came to interviewing her about her new book, Broken, I decided the best person to interview Jones-the-author was Jones-the-journalist.
Letting Lisa interview herself gave me a sneak-peak into how really good journos do the 'view. It also helped me work through the objectivity issue involved in our story. (Which leads us to the question of whether true objectivity exists. Which is a question that's much better suited to my new friend via Twitter, HuffPoster and philosopher Tom Morris Which is another story. Hi, Tom!)
Back to Broken:
Seven years ago Lisa Jones, intrepid journalist, went to Wyoming to profile Stanford Addison for Smithsonian Magazine. Sandford was a Northern Arapaho medicine man and horse whisperer. That was pretty Smith-tastic.
Stanford was also a quadriplegic who had become a medicine man in the wake of his injuries. At this point, we leave the fact-based land of The Smithsonian Mag and head into the land of Jones's book, which - even if she is my friend, I can objectively state - is beautifully written, with a reporter's eye for a detail and a poet's gift for lovely, lean prose.
At the age of 20, the truck in which Stanford Addison was joy-riding fell on top of him. A few minutes earlier, he had been a super-hottie charmer with a cool dude's way of getting past or around life's daily hassles. Now, he was being pronounced dead in his hospital bed. He woke up. And flat-lined. Two post-mortue later, he woke up on a morgue table with one lung, a body full of pain and a set of kick-ass spiritual powers set in motion by the spirits who'd spoken to him on the brink of life-death-and-life again.
If you're thinking, "Oh, come on now!" Join the club.
Jones enters the story as a hardcore journo. She's not a fan of horses. In fact, she's terrified of them. But within hours of her arrival, she's not only witnessed Standford Addison's gentle approach to horse-training, she has forgotten herself, fears and all. A wild horse has been tamed. And according to everyone present, she has tamed it. Boldly. Fearlessly. Physically.
Jones is not a fan of woo-woo spirituality. But she has a warm (if appropriately dispassionate) spot in her heart for Buddhism. Stanford's kindness, skill and reported miracles fascinate her. Her inner journo starts to wonder:
What was Stanford's secret to life? How had a man who'd survived such a violent life change become a person of acceptance, aid and quietude? And what was up with all the Vanilla Diet Cokes and KOOLs?
A post-article trip to Wyoming leads to another, longer trip. Jones wants to write Stanford's memoir. Stanford and his family agree. They welcome her into their home and tribe. And proceed to kick her ass on multiple levels.
Jones loves to ask questions. But the only way to get the information she wants, she discovers, is to wait and listen. Jones is a huge fan of deadlines. She gives herself a year to get "the story". But Stanford doesn't share her views on death - or lines - or "the."
Years pass. The plot thickens. And shifts. And re-shifts. "In white culture terms," Jones says. "I wasn't so doing so well."
Luckily, wellness, in Broken is a process of redefinition. Over time, Jones moves from looking for answers to living them. Her memoir of Stanford Addison becomes a dual biography of student and teacher. The lessons she's offered aren't always pretty. But for the first time in her life, Jones feels, her mistakes aren't being graded -- or even noted.
She can't make sense of Stanford's world of reappearing spirits, corporal healing and physical poverty. She can't force a resolution to her crises d'amour with her boyfriend, who is torn between marriage and becoming a Buddhist monk. And so she carries on, returning to Wyoming when she can. And staying away when she can't.
While Stanford addresses the changing nature of his health, Jones meets the changing nature of her nature. She moves from barely surviving a sweat lodge to assisting at one. Her obsession with deadlines becomes a passion for lifelines -- not least, with her mother, a Swedish-born, Volvo-driving horsewoman with a Scottish accent and an Arapaho-esque way with horses and humans.
For those of you who'd like to hear the inside scoop from the journo, I've posted an mp3 on my site of Lisa interviewing herself earlier this week about Broken over breakfast in Boulder.
Stanford was going to attend her reading in Denver, she told me.
But as of blog-time, Stanford Addison is scheduled to undergo another surgery to relieve the pain of the sores caused by the ongoing pressure of body and wheelchair.
It's a sad development, given the pair's years of shared involvement in the book.
But happy endings aren't a given, Broken insists.
"Healing journeys aren't about feeling good all the time," Lisa says, as we chat and chew, two kinda redheads on a Colorado blue-sky day.
"They're about loving things even though they're hard."