HIV/AIDS

Pride TBT

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Nunzio's Cafe 1984 Chicago

“I have a friend dying of AIDS. Before I was leaving for a trip, we were talking. He said, “I didn’t want this, and I hated this, and I was terrified of this. But it turns out that this illness has been my greatest gift.” He said, “Now every moment is so precious to me. All the people in my life are so precious to me. My whole life means so much to me.” Something had really changed, and he felt ready for his death. Something that was horrifying and scary had turned into a gift. Things falling apart is a kind of testing and also a kind of healing. We think that the point is to pass the test or to overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.”
Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times

A little TBT and a nod to Pride Month. This is me having a little lunch cooked by my friend Bruce Fortner at Nunzio’s Chicago 1984…

Red Hot Chili Peppers t shirt… they played live at Medusa’s that year… as did Violent Femmes , ESG, Ministry, and Front 242.. I helped a friend open an after hours club in 83 and we were all surfing a big one.

This photo popped up on Facebook from a friend and it took me by surprise.I think mostly because this was just before the tsunami hit. It felt like the Renaissance here. 84 seemed golden.

I was 26 that year. Nunzio (owned the cafe) was still healthy and tickling his muse. Bruce (who posted the pic) was still living with his partner Joey well before Joey was snatched into oblivion. The next year all sorts of hell broke loose. My best friend withered throughout the year. I tested positive for HIV in October. My friend died on Thanksgiving. Nunzio disclosed that he was frantically and maniacally injecting himself with vitamins to combat the virus. Many of us dabbled with macrobiotic diets (see george kushi). louse hay’s los angeles hay ride was making history and a cultural and generational trauma happened at our doors.

I knew so many brave warriors at that time in my life. Many of them helped me survive. LGBT Pride doesn’t just exist because people come out of the closet. It also is real because people endure and make sacrifices without losing their will to be true to themselves. Just as our LGBT predecessors, many paid incredible prices for the choices they made. They danced to their own music and they followed the muses that are theirs. And our world and our collective culture is richer and more beautiful because of them.

front 242 shirt

Please take a moment to celebrate LGBT Pride Month. So many have gone before us to make it possible. They would demand that you find joy. They demanded nothing less of themselves.

It was certainly a time…… you can read about some of our little enclaves experiences at this resident advisor article…. interview with me begins just after Ministry ad if you click here.. https://lnkd.in/b8pG4Ke

marilyn in the moon

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I went off with my hands in my torn coat pockets; 
Becoming My overcoat too was ideal, 
I Travelled beneath the sky, Muse! and I was your vassal; 
Oh dear me! what marvelous loves I dreamed of!
My only pair of breeches had a big whole in ’em. 
– Stargazing Tom Thumb, I sowed rhymes along my way. 
was at the tavern My Sign of the Great Bear. 
– My stars in the sky rustled softly.
Listened to ’em and I, sitting on the road-sides 
On Those pleasant evenings while I felt September drops 
Of dew on my forehead like vigorous wine;
And while, rhyming Among the fantastical shadows, 
I plucked like the strings of a lyre the elastics 
Of my tattered boots, one foot close to my heart!
Arthur Rimbaud
i can remember writing with intention for the 1st time at 16. i was engulfed in melancholy about leaving home and making hard decisions although that is hindsight describing them. at the time- i was just puffed up like a blowfish reacting to a fearful situation and i penned a simile poem  about the vastness of the once-seen ocean as it reflected the enormous terra i had stumbled upon in my world.
i didn’t write again for about 8 years. i did however, craft a number of drug inspired song lyrics sung to the tune of “i can’t really sing” and performed on the front steps of brownstones along chicago’s near-north side. these were seldom heard by anybody else but me. however there was a time i deciphered an image of marilyn monroe in the face of the moon. on many warmer weather nights, i crooned unabashedly to her image and bled some poison from my soul somehow feeling connected to the tragic quality her life represented. 
i journaled for awhile from 1983 until 1985- sporadically at best, and i got a taste of the relief that this activity could provide. life, however, hadn’t provided me with the surety required to make syncopated entries. at best there were scribbles and partial cave drawings which upon revisit conjure up ghost fragments which are both chaotic and sublime. 
since my hiv diagnosis in 1985 until 2005 after finding recovery, i had mostly  hidden this specific part of me from the world and worked hard to deep it separate. this certainly fueled my addiction. the darkness that settled in those years left scars and pockmarks that still  have memory. but i picked up writing again in 2006 in the form of blogging and have been adding entries without fail since then. this is the 2nd generation blog and a style may have begun to emerge. i have found peace, distortion, friendship, inspiration, trauma, challenge, freedom, and fight through the tip-tapping of the keyboard as my musical instrument crafting my lyrics and music to my inspirational  marilyn in the moon. 
i am very clear that i write because i am able and because it pets my soul like i might caress a chinchilla collar. it keeps me warm and feels like a hug. there are many times when i can’t feel my muse. this is overshadowed always by the times that there is clearly a constellation of the points of light in my world. 

seasons of love – and fear and rage- and change

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vito russo at an actup demonstration

i am starting this post the morning after i saw the film “how to survive a plague”.  it brought back so many remembrances of just how terrifying the 80’s became for us. the uncertainty was palpable and in larger cities the anger was like a cloak that kept the gay community warm.  i am humbly amazed at how synchronicity encircles my life.

i called a friend from sin(strength in numbers) and asked him to go with me. we ended up with 10 people going to see it- many of whom i hadn’t seen really for a year or more.there is a scene in the film where mark carrington on doing a film diary and is making a big deal about lighting a cigarette and looking cool. the filmmaker at the time tells him to forget the cigarette after he blows his line and he seems non-plussed because his cool stogie lighting bit won’t be included. the guys i was with laughed out loud in unison at the vanity of it all. it was even funnier because we all laughed and no one else in the theater did- actually we laughed at several bits in the film without accompaniment.

the shots of aids patients of that time are still haunting and rang in that personal nightmare without fanfare or fuss. actually i found the documentary experience utilitarian and cathartic. it gave me the opportunity to reframe some of my terror and uncertainty into something less fearful and maybe even hopeful. to really experience the effects of high-pitched  fear and anger that were focused and targeted changed my landscape. it is sad that it took 20 years for me to catch up with peter staley, larry kramer, mark carrington, and the rest of the bunch. but i am very grateful i have had the opportunity to understand.

before this, i knew well that the actions of actup coalesced in a change of the systems we live with. the medical system, the research protocol, and the fda approval process. what i didn’t know what how well planned and well executed the strategies for change were by this rogue band of frightened and angry men and women.

and just like these lgbt heroes from the film. maybe the change can be for the good. all our lives have been touched and tweaked by the demands of those brave and angry individuals. patient-centered care, fast tracked new drugs, open nih board meetings, peer representatives are just a few of the improvements we’ve seen in our healthcare world. absolutely nowhere in my mind is there doubt that the actions taken haven’t saved lives. i know they saved mine. just how many they have touched may never really be known.

 i continue to be completely mad for peter staley. it is an unrequited crush that i will carry to my end of days. he did all that was documented in this film, plus he shape shifted the consciousness of nyc gay culture around crystal meth in the early 21 century. he grappled with the drug himself, which was no doubt a side effect of living with the terror of looming death for so long. it was mentioned that there were/are issues for many of the long-term survivors. this is part of my experience, too, and is a blessing (albeit very mixed). to survive is a gift even if it has a costly price tag.

currently i have found myself very angry in my life. my sponsor/friend has passed and  i spent many hours volunteering for a friends organization and have walked away feeling empty and burnt. i have removed myself from the fray which has turned down the heat abundantly, but i still have work to do in this arena. this film has lovingly reminded me that my anger can be of good use to me if i allow it to do so. i share in a meeting today that anger is really a signal that something needs work and i might look at anger as an opportunity to change. change takes time and almost everything changes with time. or so i pray.

Denver Sneak Preview- How To Survive A Plague

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GIVEAWAY: Enter to win an admit 2 pass to the advance screening of HOW TO SURVIVE A PLAGUE!
IFC Films presents HOW TO SURVIVE A PLAGUE, the story of two coalitions—ACT UP and TAG (Treatment Action Group)—whose activism and innovation turned AIDS from a death sentence into a manageable condition. HOW TO SURVIVE A PLAGUE opens at the Denver Film Center Colfax on October 12!

Be one of the first to see the film on Wednesday, October 3 at 7:00PM in Denver! Enter to win by texting the word CHANGE and your ZIP CODE to 43549. (Entry deadline: 10/1 at midnight; Example Text: CHANGE 80246). Winners will be notified on Tuesday, October 2. There is no charge to text 43KIX. Message and data rates from your wireless carrier may apply. Remember, movie companies overbook previews, so arrive early because seating is not guaranteed.

Autumn Newsletter 2011

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the human aspect of hiv matters very much to me..

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reckoning

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image credit…. kuku smigun

the reasons i do what i do sometimes reveal themselves to me quietly and unexpectedly. i received a copy of a letter to be read at the “reckoning” of an acquaintance. i am without much to say. i think the words speak for themselves.

                I would like to apologize for bringing a syringe into the facility.  I didn’t have the foresight to see the risk it might have caused others.  I didn’t do it purposely but it came about through deviant behavior none the less.  This behavior is what I would like help addressing.  I don’t wish for forgiveness but instead am asking for help if there is any, to change my behaviors. 

 I don’t like who I am or how I came to be here.  I struggle every day with self esteem and find myself feeling sad and desperate with every decision I have made, but I understand need help to get on the right track.   I understand I have forgotten the skills to successfully make it in the community and it makes me feel hopeless and hate myself even more.  My only hope is there some type of “Change of behavior boot camp” available that I can use to my advantage.  I’m sick of just getting by and I don’t feel prison or jail will give me the necessary skills to be the person I want to become.  If I go back to jail, I will come back out the same person that I hate today.

                 When I was arrested last year I was a homeless, full time I.V. drug user with AIDS who was getting by with stealing and living off of government funding to get by. I was just barely getting by and there was no part of living about it. I was unhappy being who I was but using dope seemed to smudge the reality of being me, to get through the day to day grind.  Now that I am no longer homeless or using drugs, I see what is left of me in a clear and sad way.  I am very much a damaged individual. There is so much work to be done to come up to where I would like to be, that I don’t even know where to start at times.  It would be easy if I could take on just one problem at a time like I’m correcting clerical errors in this letter with word perfect, but life doesn’t come at me like that and I’m pretty sure yours either.  It’s overwhelming at times and again leaves me discouraged and hopeless.  

                                To get through these hard times, I look at what I have good going for me.  I am no longer homeless.  I am no longer using drugs on a daily basis to blur reality.  I am getting the best health care from a top doctor who really cares about me and wants me to succeed.  I am taking the bests drugs out there to maintain my health and understand staying off of dope is more than relevant to do this.  I am getting help from a very caring addictions counselor with my relapse prevention and cognitive classes.  I now have family and friends who will talk to me again.  When I was using they chose to have no contact with me.  Although I may not like myself yet, having someone tell me that they love me gives me the strength to do better and try harder.  I am even capable of getting employment but didn’t have the basic skills to maintain it, due to my recidivist behavior.   So I keep on doing what I think will work but the fact is, I am lacking some basic skills to continue and succeed at this program and life.   Please take all of this into consideration.  I do want to be here and if there is any program available to assist me in getting to a better place, other than prison, I am open to the change.

                                                                                                Thank you for help in this matter,

a simple matter of pride

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he stopped by today to get a letter of support. the change in him these last few months is rather astonishing really. he has been sleeping regularly, has ceased using speed ad nauseum, and has been eating regularly. his eyes have become clear, his thought process has become understandable, and his smile and laughter have returned as if they had gone to afghanistan and had finished their tour of duty.

he has been in residential treatment these sixty-some days and has sparked a new interest in self-care. about 4 weeks in this process, he was told by a couple of employees that he would be restricted from doing his chore work by either cooking or washing dishes. the inference was that since he was hiv positive, he might endanger the rest of the residents if he were near the kitchen.

this had upset him naturally. it has been some time since he had been stable enough to think about standing up for himself. he had spent the last 3 years or so just trying to survive- mostly depending on the kindness of tricks and strangers. as i listened to him tell me this, i could hear the tone of “victim” in his voice. i recognize it well.

i asked him if it bothered him. he indicated that it did somewhat, but he did not want to take the chance of stirring up trouble. i understood this, however i felt it a duty to nudge him to talk to his case manager about the situation. he could relay how the restriction made him feel, and he could underline the fact that this policy is not logical nor legal. i would be happy to help educate the staff  if needed about the facts and the myths about hiv as we know them in 2011.

as we chatted today, he told me that the counselor had listened to him, would research the issue, and get back to him- which he did in 2 days. he told our guy that he was right and he would be talking about the issue at the next staff meeting. yesterday was the meeting, and both the staff members that did the duty restriction came up to him individually and apologized.

his eyes lit up as he lightly savored self efficacy. he almost oozed the joy of being pleased with himself. i don’t often have such a joy-filled disneylandesque experience.  my days seem to be mostly much more complicated. but today, it certainly made me happy to see someone else happy.  for a minute, i got to be lighthearted and witness a beautifully simple (and drug free) pride parade.

 let the rainbow flag fly…:D

so long so long

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image credit… nick knight

i first met laura when i was doing advocacy for a small community based organization in aurora named “itav”. laura was a sex worker and smoking a lot of crack. i drove over to her boyfriend’s apartment in west denver and brought her to the agency so she could go to a women’s group, get something to eat, and get away from her life for a minute. i remember very well the conversations we had in the car on the ride to and from.

fast forward to 2 years ago when i ran into her again. she had now become the house manager for a program for plwa’s in athmar park. she had slowed way down on the crack use and had gotten into medical care-even consistently taking haart medication. she was much more grounded and again we talked often and repeatedly about the direction of her life. she was with her boyfriend who was intermittently quite abusive. it appeared he had a mental health issue and refused to take medication reliably. when he would drink alcohol or use cocaine, his mean streak would especially arise and her physical injury rate would escalate.

shortly after i ran into her again, the two of them had a volatile altercation and he picked up a tv and threw it at her, breaking her leg and some of her spirit at the same time. because of her position at the housing program, a police report was filed and chargers were drawn. he ended up spending about 10 months in jail being released sometime late last fall. 

naturally, what followed were conversations around self-care and responsibility to the residents under her watch. she started to smoke crack more frequently, smoke pot more frequently, and engage in some other odd behaviors. but she was able to reel in it for the most part. many of the residents that she looked after had their own serious life issues going on and i will never really know if she was able to truly present for them because of her own internal drama. but certainly this is how it is with almost everyone. i somehow always felt that she was lost in a current that taking her somewhere quite a distance from here. but i also understood that she was doing much better than when i first met her, so harm reduction rules the day.

this morning i heard the first report of a small tragic story unfolding in the small neighborhood that she lived and worked. as the day unfolded, it became somewhat clearer that there was just a continuation of this same story. i have been both saddened and numbed most of the day. i wish i could have done more.

the following is from the local paper..

Police are investigating after a woman was killed last night at group living facility in the 2400 block of W. Wesley Avenue in Denver.
Denver Police spokesman Sonny Jackson said officers called to the scene at 2:20 this morning found a woman dead of knife or stab wounds. Her identity was not released.
Neighbor Anita Rich said that around 2 a.m. a man who she knows only as Carlos came pounding on her door and screaming.
“He was saying, ‘…she’s dead, she’s not waking up,'” Rich recalled this morning. She said Carlos, who lives in the group home, was in a panic.
They went across the street to the single-story group living home, while Carlos called 911, Rich said.
“She was laying in the hall,” Rich said. “There was blood everywhere.”
Rich knew the woman only by her first name.
Rich took the phone from Carlos so she could talk to the paramedics.
“What do I do? How can I help her?” Rich said she remembers thinking.
Paramedics told her to put on gloves before doing anything, which she did.
Rich said she checked for a pulse and found one. She didn’t see any visible wounds, but said there was a lot of blood.
Emergency workers showed up a short time later and took over from Rich.
The coroner’s office and crime scene investigators were on the scene this morning.
Jackson said a suspect has not been identfied.

 written by kieran nicholson and reprinted from www.thedenverpost.com

move this

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It was unbearable. He had lost himself so often that  last year in chicago that he felt spun.  Disconnected, suicidal, and wretched were the accessories he pinned over his heart. There had so many lost hours, so many broken promises, to himself and his friends. And his table was set with so much sadness that empty would have seemed a banquet in comparison.

He was packing up a U-Haul full of his belongings in the middle of the night. He was at his wits end and felt like he was running out of options. He had been slipping further and further beyond the lines he swore he would never cross. He had been running in quicksand for a couple of years that seemed like lifetimes.

The death of a mentor and friend, the loss of innocence, the confrontation with morbidity and with his own moral frailty pummeled him with the power of a tsunami and what remained as the tide receded was stuffed into that 12 foot moving van headed for the West Coast. Even though he didn’t know what lie ahead, it had to be better than the hell-hole he had fallen into. He had been having an ongoing midnight ménage-a-trois with cocaine and vodka so often that it had become almost impossible to tell the three of them apart.

There had been so many nightmares that swam past him during that storm in his life. Ghouls and goblins and shadows and monsters were all very integral pieces to this shattered puzzle he had become.  He was headed west with no plan other than get the hell away. He had remembered a conversation with his friend Freddie about the onslaught of the virus. As their friends and neighbors slipped into oblivion around them, Freddie had said that the only people he knew that were surviving were the ones that left the city.  Freddie’s words might have germinated this escape plan that was hatching.

However it came to be, here he was, standing in the driveway, piling the last of his belongings into the truck when his landlord slipped up behind him and asked if he was going somewhere. When the driver and his bestie rented the place, they had planned on living in that spectacular wicker park brownstone for as long as they could. It had never occurred to them, or their landlords, that one of these young men would fade so early and the other would be so tragically torn between following his friend and changing the odds.  He certainly hadn’t wanted to talk with the landlord, but here he was, with terror in his eyes, relaying his plans and assuring that the new tenant would make things good. And the new tenant did.

Our hero remembered standing in almost the spot a year prior when he and his friend were moving into this gem of a place. Paul had been feeling oogie and looked beat.   At one point he sat on the rear gate of that U-Haul and tried to catch his breath. He actually never did catch it that day. He went into the hospital and didn’t leave for 34 days. That was how. PCP, thrush, AIDS, Kaposi’s, and candida all became members of their family.  Unspoken terror and uncertainty unpacked their suitcases and took up residence, too.

Once Paul died, he unraveled fairly quickly. He struggled with having dreams when his friend could not. He felt survivor guilt even though he hadn’t a clue as to its meaning. Sometimes the only option is to run. It may not make any sense. It may not even work out, but it is the only breaker in the box that hasn’t been pulled. The power is out and something drastic is required.  The only glimmer of hope for his scratched up viewfinder was this U-Haul and the change it was meant to create.