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Bloggers share personal pain

On a cold, gray morning in Delaware Park, Chris Barr stands silent and motionless in front of a barren tree that juts out over Hoyt Lake.

After 17 minutes, Barr falls to the ground in a death swoon. He waits a few beats before he pops back up, brushes himself off and packs up a video camera that recorded the entire scene.

It is a ritual of re-enactment for Barr, whose brother, Anthony, killed himself three years ago.

Chris Barr has acted this out dozens of times over the last three months. He records each performance, posts the video on a Web site and invites people to offer their thoughts on suicide.

"Of course it is a piece about my brother. And a lot of the symbolism in the piece deals with my brother. . . . But at the same time, it's meant to be on a broader level," said Barr, a University at Buffalo student.

Barr's video blog -- short for Web log -- is one of a growing number of Internet sites on which people are willingly exposing deeply personal issues to the entire world.

"That's the mode and that's the medium of communication today," said Douglas B. Fabian, executive director of Crisis Services, who said he found Barr's site informative and respectful.

Barr began working on "17 Minutes," available at, last November.

Barr is working on his master's degree in media study, and the Web site started as a class project for the 25-year-old West Virginia native.

This is not the first time one of his class projects garnered attention. An earlier effort, "Chris Barr is Available on Thursday," also captured public interest.

In that project, Barr invited people to assign him tasks -- such as performing a handstand or bringing flowers to someone at a nursing home -- to complete every Thursday last March and April.

This project is more personal and more emotional for Barr.

His brother, Anthony, was 20 when he killed himself. Chris Barr said he was completely surprised when his mother called to break the news.

"It was kind of strange. She said, 'He shot himself,' " Barr recalled. "And I said, 'Did he have a hunting accident?' "

Over the past several years, Barr has struggled to come to grips with his brother's death. For the media study student, it was natural to think about how to use the technology of video and the Internet to approach the issue.

"I think this project is something that's been creeping up on me for a little while," Barr said.

The videos are purposely spare, but rich in symbolism.

A tree is always a focal point because Anthony Barr left a note stating his body could be found in the woods near a tree into which he and his father had once carved their initials.

Barr settled on the time element after finding data that show someone in this country dies by suicide every 17 minutes.

He started filming last Nov. 2, which would have been his brother's 23rd birthday.

Barr doesn't do a lot of advance planning in picking the location, preferring to drive to a general area and then see which particular spot feels right.

One bleak morning a few weeks ago, Barr tramped through the mud in Delaware Park to get to a spot along Hoyt Lake that caught his eye.

He set up a video camera on a tripod and stood about six feet from a solitary tree.

"I like to think I'm setting up a conversation between me and the tree," Barr said later.

Joggers ran by, without even breaking their stride. A dog approached and sniffed the timer that Barr uses to mark the 17 minutes, but Barr remained deep in concentration.

When the timer went off, Barr dropped to the ground like a stuntman in an old Western. He laid on the muddy grass for a few seconds before getting up.

Barr said he didn't want to create a Web site that talks about suicide in a lecturing tone.

He wanted people to feel welcome to watch the videos -- which are posted and dated on his Web site -- and to respond if they feel moved to do so.

Fabian, who viewed the site at the request of The News, said Barr's videos are a modern, high-tech extension of the paintings that people in the past produced as a way of dealing with tragedy.

Many people have e-mailed Barr to offer their condolences or to relate their own painful experiences with the suicide of a child.

"I lost my 16-year-old, Becky, just under one year ago. Thank you. I am trying to get the message out too," Diane Marseglia, a social worker from suburban Philadelphia, wrote to Barr.

Marseglia's daughter, a varsity tennis player who acted in school plays, killed herself Feb. 7, 2005. A family friend maintains a Web site dedicated to her memory.

The hosts of Web sites and blogs are increasingly tackling once-taboo topics such as suicide, depression and social-anxiety disorder, noted Alex Halavais, an assistant professor of communication at UB.

"Part of it is it's a really safe place for people to talk about this," Halavais said, and it can be an easy way to connect with someone else who's gone through the same thing.

Barr is set to film his last video today, the anniversary of the day his brother died, though the video clips still can be viewed on his Web site.

The project led him to parks and wooded areas throughout Western New York, but Barr didn't film at the spot in West Virginia where his brother was found.

"I haven't actually been up to that tree yet, and I don't know if I'll work myself up to that," Barr said.


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