Thursday, October 27, 2011


            Every now and again I catch myself in a moment where I am living a cliché.  I realized that truth this morning as I was sitting in my pajamas on a sunny, hot, humid August morning listening to jazz, reading the Sunday Washington Post, and finishing my coffee.  I grew up in a world without television.  Not that I was born before television, but we did not have a television because I grew up in a conservative, cult-like environment and it was against our religion – my Father’s religion, really.  So I grew up in a world of imagination and books, dreaming about what my life would be like when I was able to flee small-town life and become a real person, my own person.  We were allowed to read books, magazines, and newspapers, and I believe that was the only way we survived, my brothers and I.  And we did read, voraciously, devouring almost anything we could get our hands on.
            In some ways, I think we learned how to live through characters in books, and later on through film, particularly old black and white films.  In those books and films, the young urban sophisticate would be curled up on Sunday mornings with a national newspaper, sipping on a cup of coffee, and listening to jazz on the stereo.  Of course who listens to the radio anymore, except in the car, if then?  But that was the scene, leisurely spending the morning with coffee, the newspaper, and listening to jazz.
            While fewer and fewer people read actual newspapers, particularly in my Generation X, there is something very comforting in the ritual and in knowing that thousands upon thousands of people have spent their Sundays in exactly the same way over the years.  Rituals can be very comforting, particularly when the rest of life is filled with uncertainty and at times, chaos.
            I like the feel of a newspaper in my hands.  Reading the newspaper is, for me, a tactile experience. The smell of the paper, the sound of the rustling as pages are flipped, the black newsprint rubbing off on your hands, these are all part of the immersion experience.
            The Washington Post has started delivering parts of the Sunday paper on Saturday for subscribers, the Magazine, the comics, the advertisements to give people a head start on the Sunday experience.  They say it is in recognition that people have very busy lives and cannot spend hours attending to the newspaper on Sunday, as they used to.  Sometimes I do get a head start on the paper by reading the Magazine and the comics on Saturday.  It makes me feel that I am cheating just a little, but it does allow me more time on Sunday to focus on just the pages of newsprint that land on my doorstep.
            I realize that I am probably in the last generation of Americans that value newspapers, and I am probably well in the minority in my own generation.  My friends in Generation Y or the millenials are quick to tell me that they don’t see the point of newspapers when they can read the headlines on Yahoo or MSN or dozens of websites to get the latest updates.  I find that while the Internet is very fast with breaking news, there seems to be little time or value in analysis of what the news headlines mean or what the greater impact is or will be.  I read an article recently that said that sites like Google and Wikipedia are making us stupid.  Why remember anything when the information is only keystrokes away?  The article postulated that we have access to so much more information than in the past but that we only pay attention to the briefest of information, not caring about nuances or depth.  I don’t know about you but I don’t really want to be like that.  I value knowledge.  I value depth of knowledge as well as breadth.  Anyone can look up information, but I value the knowledge that comes from deeply processing information and making sense of it in relation to me and my world.
            I value the experience of reading a magazine or book that I can hold in my hand, feel the pages turn, smell the print or odors absorbed from surroundings.  I like to hear the rustle of pages, not just the click-click of a keyboard.  I love the urgency that I feel when I want to return to an absorbing read, a page of a newspaper or a book.  I love the way that I feel curled up on a Sunday morning with my coffee, my jazz, and my newspaper.  I love that I am taking part in a Sunday ritual that dates back for several generations, the timeless feel, the connection to both past and present. 
            And that’s the view from here...    

June 25, 2009

              I first heard about HIV and AIDS as a teenager in the mid-1980s.  The spread of this “gay cancer” as it was known then was becoming a talked about mainstream news item.  I remember being quite curious at the time as to why it only seemed to be affecting men, gay men in particular.  The topic was off limits at my very conservative Mennonite high school.  Growing up, we were not allowed to have a television set, as it was considered “worldly,” and a tool of the devil, so the information I had about the virus was obtained through reading the daily newspaper.  My father, the über-conservative that he was, dismissed HIV as “God’s punishment on the queers.”  He advocated that all gay people be shipped off to an island where they could not infect anyone else.  Small wonder that having been raised around this type of bigotry, I did not come out myself until well into my 20s. 
            When I graduated from high school, I worked for two seasons in Rehoboth Beach, DE at a bed and breakfast inn.  The owner’s son, Charles visited from San Francisco for a while each summer.  He was openly gay as were several of my co-workers but it wasn’t until later that I learned that Charles had AIDS.  I received a note from his mother less than a year after I had last worked with him, telling me that she had just returned from San Francisco to attend his funeral.  Charles was the first person I knew, worked with, and respected that died of AIDS. 
            Two years later, the third season of the Real World began airing.  The Real World is a series on MTV which is set in different cities.  In 1994, it was set in San Francisco.  The third season of The Real World featured a young gay man from Miami named Pedro Zamora.  Pedro had become infected with HIV as a teenager and he was dying of AIDS.  At that time (1994), there was still a great deal of misinformation about how HIV could be spread.  Yet playing out in living color, on national television, was a house full of young people, living, touching, hugging, educating, and loving this young man with AIDS.  Pedro was the first young man with HIV/AIDS to appear as a cast member on a television show and his inclusion in the cast of The Real World, San Francisco forever impacted an entire generation of young Americans.  Pedro did not make it through filming the full season of the Real World.  He became ill and was rushed to the hospital about mid-season.  Pedro died shortly after the season finale of the show aired; this brave courageous young man who became for many their first connection to someone with the disease.  My friends and I have discussed the impact that Pedro had on us.  He was born the same year as me.  This was someone we knew, it seemed; he was our age.  For those of us who saw the show, Pedro’s courage and openness about his sexuality and HIV/AIDS remains a touchstone for our generation.
            Through Facebook, I recently reconnected with a classmate, Brooke, who I had attended school with from Kindergarten through twelfth grade.  Growing up, I had always assumed that his oldest brother, Brian, was gay.  Brian left our community as soon as he graduated from high school to pursue his artistic dreams in New York City and Philadelphia.  My mother told me several years ago that Brian had died of pneumonia.  Given his age and my suspicions about his sexuality, I assumed Brian had died of AIDS.  After reconnecting with my friend, I told him that I was out now.  What followed was a heart wrenching series of e-mails about his brother’s sexuality and HIV/AIDS status and how the family had been shamed into silence by the community.  My friend was particularly impacted, as Brian was his favorite brother.  Brian and Brooke were both artists; Brian was a singer and dancer, while Brooke is a visual artist.  Brooke was often accused by others of being gay, when we were growing up because of his own artistic leanings and because of suspicions about his brother’s sexuality.  I shared with Brooke the research I have been conducting for the past year and a half, and we wondered how the negative backlash against homosexuals and people living with the virus had impacted the two of us.  After almost 20 years, we were reconnected by a shared wall of silence regarding sexuality and HIV/AIDS.   
            It has been almost 16 years since I left Delaware, and now I find myself in Miami, working with the Ryan White program.  Ryan White is the program that administers federal funding for services for people living with HIV & AIDS.  I find myself surrounded by some administrators who want me to believe that the clients I work with are dishonest, liars, or somehow less than simply because they have HIV and AIDS.  While this may be true of some Ryan White clients, or any group of people for that matter, part of me will always fight to believe that a piece of Pedro and a piece of Brian is alive in each and every one of them.  In their faces I see the ones that I have known, and some that have been lost to this horrible disease.  
           And that’s the view from here...        


            Six weeks ago, I was living in Coral Gables, Florida with a full-time research job, a live-in girlfriend, and a consulting business that helped me pay the bills.  Today, I find myself living in Delaware with my mother, consulting for an indefinite period of time with my former employer (and by indefinite, I mean that it could end at any moment), separated from my girlfriend of 16 months, and looking for employment and/or consulting work in the D.C. area.
            I know I have a lot to be grateful for:  my mother is still able to live relatively independently at age 69, I am still working at this moment when so many others (including my girlfriend) are not, my family members still have jobs, and I have friends and family that love me.  Still, I can’t help but feel like I woke up one morning and found myself in a completely different life.  So what happened?
            In July, I found myself in the middle of a confluence of events.  The lease on my rental house had expired and my landlord wanted me to continue to pay the same amount of rent on the property as when I moved in, despite the fact that the local housing market had lost over 30% of its value in the past 18 months.  The rent on comparable houses had dropped by $400 per month and there were at least 20 empty houses waiting for tenants on my street.  My employer had lost all but one contract and he was borrowing money on a semi-regular basis to make payroll.  I was informed that layoffs were eminent.  In addition, I was the lone remaining full-time researcher at the organization and I was trying to do the work of two people.  Needless to say I was constantly running behind on projects and deadlines.  Each day I felt like I was falling further and further down a well.  Finally, my mother had developed some new medical and financial issues that needed closer attention.
            Initially, I began looking for new housing options in South Florida, both short-term housing and regular leases.  However, I was immediately forced to face the facts that a) short-term housing was even more expensive than what I was currently paying for rent, b) I did not want to sign a new lease when I wasn’t sure if I would have a job in a couple of months, c) if I did still have a job, my work hours might be cut to the point that I would not be able to afford the new place, and d) while I could stay with friends in Miami for a short period of time, my fourteen year-old Siamese cat was a deal breaker.  I reluctantly consulted with my friends and my two brothers for advice and began to examine other options.
            I had been ready to leave Florida since October 2005, when the aftermath of Hurricane Wilma left me injured and unceremoniously dumped by my then-girlfriend.  However, the past four years had been filled with one major medical issue after another coupled with instability in my living arrangements and my personal life.  The time had just never seemed right to make the move out of Florida.
            But in the midst of this current turmoil, I sensed an opportunity to not only escape a negative housing and employment situation but also to embrace change, assist my mother with some issues, and return to my mid-Atlantic roots.  So here I am again living in Delaware (temporarily, I hope) after sixteen years of life in Orlando, Baltimore, Laurel (MD), and South Florida.  I am not sure exactly why I ended up back here at this point in time, contemplating my future.  Perhaps it is simply to help my mother, perhaps it is to give me some time and space to make some life-changing decisions, perhaps I am here paying off some form of karmic debt, or perhaps I am supposed to be getting some much-needed rest. 
            I’m not exactly happy to be here, but each day as I feel and see the creep of fall dancing ever closer to me for the first time in ten years; I feel a strange kind of peace deep inside.  Peace that comes from knowing that despite my many questions about my career, my relationship, and my future, right now I feel that I am exactly where I am supposed to be.  I am poised on the brink of a whole new path, a new beginning, a new life and I am waiting to embrace it with open arms.  
          And in early Fall 2009 that is the view from here…


            I was coasting along today at work and everything seemed to be going fine when I heard a song that transported me to another place and time.  I am not sure if I am typical of most people, but it happens to me sometime. 
            I didn’t so much start thinking about what if I had done this or she had done that but it did trip me up and has impacted the rest of my day.  I guess sometimes music does that to people.
            I have spent the last several years trying to get better about that.  I do not want to stay trapped in my past but instead move forward into a much brighter and better future, but it is hard when dreaming about people from my past on an ongoing basis several nights a week.  I am also working on a novel that is autobiographical fiction and focuses on some real-life and some fictional events surrounding my past.  It has been very difficult to revisit those past experiences as I did not get my happy ending in that particular situation.
            Maybe it was just a weird day.  The past couple of days, I have had contact with several people from my past, one who is a good friend but who has been missing in action lately.  Two others who I have recently been in contact with include a former colleague at a past employer and the younger brother of a good friend of mine from junior high school.  So currently, my past has become very intertwined with my present.
            So here I am on a Friday night sitting at my laptop while my girlfriend of four and one-half months is reading an article for a class in her first year of graduate school.  She started class about a month ago and is starting to panic slightly as her first days of reckoning in the form of mid-terms are approaching.  I am left to entertain myself quietly, waiting for her to finish.  I certainly understand, having accumulated most post-baccalaureate classes and experiences than most people.
            Come to think of it, it has been a very weird week.  The week began with my mother in the hospital, 1,400 miles away and I was faced with the possibility of having to return to the home of my childhood, which I hate with a passion.  Fortunately for me, she was released fairly quickly and my life returned to normal, but early in the week I had to form contingency plans for work in case I had to leave mid-week.
            So here I am, attempting to write away the shadow cast upon my day, all because of a song.  Isn’t it funny how one little piece of music can transport us and impact us and make us stop and catch our breath, our emotions hearkening back to a particular place, a particular time, a particular moment when you realized that your life was about to change.
            At the moment the song was popular it fit the situation you found yourself in so perfectly, and while the chords and sound of the song remain the same years later, the message has become bittersweet.  It is only fitting to pause for a moment and remember -- the circumstances, the person, the feelings.  How then can I shake off the memories and return to the present, not looking back?  It can sometimes be difficult to close that Pandora’s box and place it back on the shelf of memory.  There it quietly sits, waiting in the darkness until once again a sound, a song, becomes a key to activation – if we allow it to. 
            I am not sure that I understand the mechanism of how it all works, these five senses we possess that enable us to be transported to another place and another time.  But I do know that at times when this occurs, it takes all of my will power to slam the lid down, close the box and return it to the darkened shelf out of my view.  
            I don’t know if the view is the same for you.  All I know is that it is…the view from here.

The View From Here

Published in LETTERS From CAMP Rehoboth, Vol. 19, No. 09      July 17, 2009

How many days in our lives do we get to look back and say, “On that day, my life changed forever.”  On some of those days we sort of intuitively know that our life is changing while it is happening.  Events take on a surreal quality, a slowed-down movie effect such that even while it is occurring, we say to ourselves, “Is this for real?”  Other days start out rather ordinary, but as we look back through the passage of time, the events of the day sharpen and become more focused.  We know that in one moment on a particular day, the pathway of our life was forever changed.  That change can occur through words, through actions, through a choice, or through an unforeseen event that strikes like lightning through our life.

Some life-altering moments happen through the choices of others.  A loved one decides that he or she no longer wants to stay in a relationship with us.  A friend decides to move away.  Other choices may seem simpler on the surface but can still have long-reaching consequences such as the choice of a college or university, a job, or a place to live.  I have found that no matter how frustrating it may be to deal with another’s choice, no matter how unfathomable it may seem at the time, it is still easier to deal with a choice than with the death of someone you loved.

How is it that one day someone can be here, walking and talking and the next day they are not; especially someone who is vibrant, alive, and younger than you are?  While my brain has grasped the idea that death is but a passage to another lifetime and that the soul is infinite, my heart is slow to fall in line.  And while I am not the first person to experience the loss of someone close to me, nor will I be the last, why is it that I feel that there will never be another person in this world that will see me in the same way that she saw me?  Like a sister, a best friend, but it was more…she saw me as her protector, her strength, her shield.  The look of respect mixed with awe, for so many years I could do no wrong in her eyes. 

I held her as an infant her first day home from the hospital, tutored her through high school English, was her chauffeur when necessary, held her hand through her first heartbreak, and nursed her through nasty sunburns when she visited me at the university.  I stood up for her at her outdoor Delaware wedding as she walked down the aisle on that hot August day.  The birds were singing, an occasional car drifted by slowly and time seemed to stop, but only for a moment. 

My world collapsed the day I received the phone call that my beloved cousin and friend was dead at the age of 27.  She left behind two little girls under the age of three: 34- and 14-months.  I will treasure the fact that her last words to me a week before her death were, “I love you.”  In that phone call we had talked about her moving to Florida with her young daughters and I was overwhelmed with excitement at the thought of seeing her again on a regular basis.  But a few days later I received a different kind of phone call and my life changed forever.  I knew it would even as I heard my mother’s words, but you can never anticipate just how life-changing something like that can be.  But life goes on and she would not want my world to stop simply because her life did.

Death is something that will reach out and slap all of us across the face.  It will reach into our chests and wrap its icy hands around our hearts and will threaten us to the core.  But even in our darkest hours, while we must allow ourselves to feel the emotions and feel the pain, and yes even question why, we must never give in and never give up the fight.  At the end of the day, I know that she wants me to live my life.  At the end of the day, I know that she wants me to be happy.  At the end of the day, I am STILL here, I am STILL fighting, I am STILL alive and I will be until death comes for me and we are once again reunited.

That is the view from here.