Am 8. November 2016 ist in den USA Donald Trump zum 45. Präsidenten der USA gewählt worden. Am 20. Januar 2017 wird er in das Amt eingeführt.
Für viele Menschen aus der LGBTI Community in den USA ist dies ein Worst Case Scenario. Die New York Times schreibt in einem Artikel vom 10. November 2016. “ Trump Victory Alarms Gay and Transgender Groups „.
Ed Wolf der seit 1983 in vielen Bereichen von HIV/AIDS tätig war und ist, Ed ist einer der Interviewpartner die in dem Dokumentarfilm “ We Were Here “ von David Weissmann mitwirkten und befragt wurden, teilt täglich auf seiner Facebook Seite in narrativer Form, seine persönlichen Gedanken und Erfahrungen, seine Ängste und Hoffnungen im Kontext zu der Wahl von Donald Trump 45. Präsident der USA, wie den „Challenges Ahead – den vor uns liegenden Herausforderungen“ zu begegnen sei.
Mit seiner freundlichen Genehmigung darf bzw werde ich seine täglichen „Gedanken“ in diesem Artikel übernehmen. Das Copyright der in den Texten erscheinenden Fotografien liegt bei © Ed Wolf. Der Artikel ist von der Creative Commons 3.0 BY-NC-ND) ausgenommen.
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Day 1 – 8. November 2016
I can’t tell if this night is killing me or making me stronger.
„We could never learn to be brave and patient if there were only joy in the world. „Helen Keller
We’ve been through dark nights of the soul. We’ve experienced painful realities that shattered our illusions. We’ve all lost. We know what it feels like to be afraid and disappointed and angry. We also know what it’s like to take deep breaths, to comfort each other, to get some rest and wake up tomorrow knowing we will find ways to move forward.
Day 3 – Finding this helpful today, by Norman Fischer of the Everyday Zen Foundation
I usually don’t completely believe what I think, so when Trump won the election I was, like everyone else, surprised, but not that surprised. Bodhisattvas are committed to their practice, which means to sit, to get up, and to sweep the garden — the whole world, close in and far away — every day, no matter what. They have always done this, they always will. Good times, bad times, they keep on going just the same. Bodhisattvas play the long game. They have confidence in the power of goodness over time. And they know that dark times bring out the heroic in us.
For those older among us who hold liberal and progressive political views, lets not forget we survived Nixon, Reagan, and Bush. It wasn’t pleasant but we survived. We will survive Trump. This is not to say that the policies of those presidents weren’t bad, and that they did not make any lasting impact. They were and they did. Still, we survived. We will survive Trump. As of today, we don’t really know what will happen under Trump because nothing he has said so far means much. He seems not to have much commitment to his own words.
We have been fortunate to have had eight years with a decent, intelligent, thoughtful and caring human being in the White House. This is more than we would have expected. Lets not forget that the same people who elected Obama elected Trump.
It’s OK to freak out, grieve, and vent for a while. Holds each others’ hands. Then we can get back to work, as always, for the good.
Day 4: Can’t hold no more.
Woke up with revulsion for any images of the Donald and the 10s of millions who didn’t vote. Made coffee and phone calls. So much focus and energy going outwards, so much discouragement coming in. No right way to do this, no wrong. Need to take action and feel inspired again. Here’s what some of you are doing:
1. Sending personal thank you notes to Barack, Michelle, Bernie, Hillary and Elizabeth. (Addresses below.)
2. Having a contact list of all the non-Trump senators nearby and calling them: http://www.senate.gov/senators/contact/
3. Joining the ACLU; we need them now more than ever: https://action.aclu.org/…/our-civil-liberties-are-under-att…
4. Signing the Electoral College petition to vote for Hillary:
5. Circling with friends.
6. Figuring out how to approach Trump supporters in strategic ways.
— Michelle and Barack Obama, The White House, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington DC 20500
— Office of Hillary Rodham Clinton, 120 West 45th Street, Suite 2700, New York, NY 10036.
— Bernie Sanders, 1 Church St, 3rd Floor; Burlington, VT 05401
— Elizabeth Warren: 2400 JFK Federal Building, 15 New Sudbury Street, Boston, MA 02203
Experience is what we get when we don’t get what we want.
As many of you know, Buzz has been ill for quite a while now. Community activist, sex positive warrior, advocate for the erotic in public spaces, gentle heart . . . he sends us this blessing:
Three Minute Blessing: A Prayer for Those Who Feel Shunned
I have walked down the street feeling invisible.
I know you have too.
I have felt inadequate and ignored.
I can see it in your eyes.
The meat market is hard —
But if I can bless you and you can allow the forces of love
and the universe to come in,
you’ll find yourself sitting in a circle
being inspired and inspiring other people.
And know that this is where you belong.
Day 7. Responding to hate.
I met a young gay man on the AIDS Unit at San Francisco General when I worked there in the 80s. He had just been diagnosed with KS lesions in his lungs and was told he had a short time to live. The medical team contacted his parents, who lived far away, and they came immediately. During a five-minute meeting with the doctor they found out their son was dying and also that he was gay. When I met the father he told me it was harder for him to find out his son was a fag than to hear that he would be dead soon. It took almost 3 weeks for their son to die; every day his parents watched as the nurses (primarily lesbians and gay men, some with AIDS themselves) continued to care for him, clean him, and lessen his pain as much as possible. I was there the morning he died. When the father stepped out of the room and saw me, he hugged me and cried and cried and cried. He was as tall as me and his grief was so vast; I remember thinking we were both going to fall down; he kept saying his boy was gone. The next day the parents returned to say good-bye. They thanked everyone for their love and care of their son. The mom took me aside and said she was going to miss me; she said, smiling, that she and her husband had talked and wished they could adopt me and bring me home with them. I kept in touch with them for a while; they started a support group for Parents of People with AIDS in their community.
Day 8. White water
“He will never be my president, we have to give him a chance, I can’t tolerate racists and homophobes, we have to engage with them, you should wear a safety pin on your pocket, take that safety pin off – what were you thinking, it’s the end of the world, it’s the beginning of the next chapter, I can’t bear to see his face or hear his voice, we have to listen and pay attention more than ever, I’m moving to Canada, now we need you more than ever.”
I was once in a raft that flipped over in a dangerous section of the Merced River outside Yosemite. There were 8 of us. Several clung to a rock until they were saved; others were helped into nearby rafts; some had safety lines tossed to them and were pulled to shore. I couldn’t get to a rock or into another raft and the safety lines couldn’t reach me; I was on my way into Quarter Mile Rapid with only a paddle. I was freezing, panicked and afraid, but I remembered what our guide had told us earlier: If you get tossed out, go with the current, your feet downstream, and use your paddle to steer. Keep your head above the white water and don’t struggle against the river; you will exhaust yourself and not be ready to swim ashore when the current slows down.
Day 9. Looking for a sign . . .
My car got broken into recently and I lost my un-backed up computer. One of the most painful losses was all my photos, gone forever. I made a final phone call to Apple just now for assistance and met Lynne from Fresno. I told her my break-in story and she was, miraculously, able to access my stolen computer from afar and started transferring all my photos to my new lap top. While we waited for this download to finish I found out she voted for Trump. She said if Hillary had won, she would’ve been terribly disappointed, but had decided to withhold judgement for the first 100 days and she hoped I would give Donald that courtesy. I shared my concerns about his recent nominations and what they portend. She said the thing about narrow minded people is that they exist in both parties, which made me angry, even as I watched her returning 1000s of treasured photos to me.
Day 12. Praise every bridge.
When I worked on the AIDS ward at San Francisco General in the mid-80s I was once asked to go to the locked unit, where patients with mental health issues were admitted. When I entered Roy’s room I saw a cast on his arm and he immediately started telling me his story, how he’d been kicked out by his Texas family for being gay and had taken a bus all the way to San Francisco, how he had nowhere to live once he arrived, no one to help him, how he had a terrible cough that wouldn’t go away, how he’d come to the hospital, was told he had AIDS, how he knew that meant his life was over, how he took another bus out to the Golden Gate Bridge, walked out to the middle and jumped off. He told me you don’t pass out before you hit the water, that you know all the way down what you’ve done, that as the water got closer and closer he wished he hadn’t jumped, and then he landed and passed out. When he opened his eyes his arm hurt really bad, he was laying on the deck of a boat and 4 guys in uniforms were leaning over him. It was the Coast Guard and they said he was really lucky that they were nearby when he landed, that he was only the sixth person they knew of that had jumped and lived. He told me he knew that this was a sign, a message to him from somewhere that no matter what happens, being alive was the most important thing.
I’ve punched one person in my life. It was in 1972 in a bar on Bleecker Street in New York City. It was the place that would eventually become Kenny’s Castaways, but when I worked there it was The Mod Scene. My boyfriend Alan was working the front door when a group of drunk guys pushed their way in. One of them called Alan a faggot, Alan told him to get out, the guy charged him. I stepped between them, made a fist, and aimed it at the drunkard’s jaw; it connected. He fell backwards, unconscious, with such force that the cigarette machine toppled over. I couldn’t believe what I’d done and neither could anybody else. The barmaid, Candy, said, “Wow! Big Bird got pissed off!”
I went to see my physical therapist this past Saturday. He said his good friend lives in the Mission with his mom; they’re both from Guatemala. His mother, a nanny for two children in Noe Valley, was walking down 24th Street with the kids last week when a white man came up to her and asked, “When are you going back to where you come from?” She replied, “Well, you could drive me; I live in the Mission.” He hit her twice in the face and then went on his way. I know I’m supposed to deescalate such an incident if I see it happening, talk to the victim, engage the perpetrator, step between them. I’m prepared to do that. But I also know that I can make a fist, a big one.
It’s been two weeks now. You’ve been asked to sign petitions, make phone calls, read this, stay hopeful, let go, engage with the enemy, stop calling them enemy, organize, sympathize, realize, mobilize, neutralize, reorganize, criticize. It’s exhausting. I’m asking you to read one more thing. I find it helpful and clarifying and suggests ways to protest that makes sense. Here’s the core concept from the author Tina Rosenberg: “Protests can change policies, however — and often have. In other countries and throughout American history, ordinary citizens banding together have triumphed over governments, even when a single party holds sweeping control. Many of those protests used resources that the opposition to President-elect Trump enjoys today. They can learn from how those victories were won.”
And here are the talking points:
¥ Plan, plan, plan.
¥ Provoke your opponent, if necessary.
¥ Think national, act local.
¥ Use humor.
¥ When appropriate, be confrontational.
¥ Pull out the pillars.
¥ Exploit galvanizing events.
Please read this when you can:
Day 16. Thank You Note.
Dear Mr. Trump,
Thank you for helping me achieve something I’ve wanted for many many years: a daily writing practice.
A concerned citizen,
p.s. You won’t like what I write.
Day 17 Black Friday.
“’Black Friday‘ is the name that the Philadelphia Police Department gave to the Friday following Thanksgiving Day. It is not a term of endearment for them. ‚Black Friday‘ officially opens the Christmas shopping season in center city, and it usually brings massive traffic jams and over-crowded sidewalks as the downtown stores are mobbed from opening to closing.“ The Chicago Tribune
I’m not much of a shopper and I’m finding it challenging to be out in crowds anyway. I want everything to stop because of the election, but of course it all keeps coming. We went to the beach yesterday with our friend Jasper; he’s almost 3. He pointed to a helicopter on the sand where a team of medics were reviving a father and daughter who’d gotten swept into the surf. Just beyond them was a large family having a picnic and further on were two lovers taking a selfie. Jasper suddenly laid down in the sand. Sometimes it’s just all too much; you gotta know when to lay your burden down.
I can feel my reluctance to hoping the election results could change. Even so, I’ve signed the petitions and made the phone calls and I’m following the stories as they unfold: the fundraising efforts to pay for the audit, the Wisconsin recount, the potential for an Electoral College surprise on December 19th. I do believe that hope is good and that sometimes it’s all we have, but expectations have also led me into serious hell realms.
Come and listen to a story ‚bout our group, (that’s us!)
We were feelin’ kinda confident ‘fore Hillary went bust,
And then that day when exception proved the rule,
And out of Trump Tower came that orange-headed fool.
Jerk that is, bully, bad news!
Well, the first thing you know the prezs’ a billionaire,
And some of us are thinkin’ to move away from here,
Sayin’ good old Canada’s the place we oughta be,
So we started packin’ up, to move to Calgary.
Maple syrup, hockey teams, rodeos!
Well, our group has reconsidered, though life seems upside-down,
By working hard together, we’ll turn it all around,
The world will be a better place for you and for me,
If we’re respectful of each other as true comrades oughta be!
Chums that is, friends, amigos!‘
Ya’ll come back now, hear?
Day 20. Sometimes the best strategy is to just say nothing.
Day 21. Precita Park
Donald’s cabinet picks, the attacks at Standing Rock, the water in Flint (it’s still brown 30 months later!); as I move through the world these days, I want to see the people around me being troubled by what is happening but life, it seems, just moves on. When I worked on the AIDS ward long ago I would head home to Bernal Heights, a nearby neighborhood, at the end of every shift and no matter what terrible death I had just witnessed, what grief stricken boyfriend I had hugged, no matter what awfulness I’d experienced there, I could almost always find comfort walking through Precita Park. I would leave the concrete and step onto the grass and often there would be a shift, even if only slight, that would help me get home. “The miracle,” Nhat Han says, “is not to walk on water; the miracle is to walk on earth.”
It’s been 3 weeks now since the Donald got voted in and I continue to be angry, disappointed and afraid. A friend said I need to lighten up, which does not sit well with me. He’s someone I used to work with back in the early days of the AIDS epidemic when so many young people were dying. It comforts him to collect the obituaries of people who have lived a long time. He told me he recently come across the obit of the creator of the Hokey Pokey, a man who lived to the wonderful age of 93. His family and friends were grateful for his long full life and only struggled when, on the day of his funeral, someone tried getting him into the coffin. They tried to put his left leg in, and then all the trouble started.
Day 23. World AIDS Day
There are things I can’t do without causing myself pain, like when I’ve strained my back and bend to tie my shoe. One of them is looking at Trump’s face or hearing his voice; the television is still off 23 days later. One of them is not understanding how people that I care about could vote for him; I know you’re reading this right now. The third is not knowing what to do about it all except to keep writing into it. I wish I’d kept a journal during the onset of the AIDS epidemic, so I could remember how it all unfolded, day by day, and how I finally found my way to action. What was the first moment that gave me a sense of direction? I think it was those Polaroid selfies that Bobby Campbell taped to the pharmacy window, his dark purple lesions telling me to be careful. Someday, when Trump and all his hateful awfulness are just a distant memory, I’m going to work on getting a plaque installed on the spot where so many of us were ignited.
Day 24. Indifference.
This is one of the main reasons Trump has gotten so far and we need to resist going in for a dip. No matter how strong a swimmer you are, the undertow here is fatal.
When I became a Shanti volunteer (an emotional support ‘buddy’ to a person with AIDS) in 1983, I had to successfully complete 6 days of training before I could be assigned to someone. Over the course of the training potential volunteers did everything from lay on the floor and visualize our deaths to listen to a panel of people with KS lesions talk about what it was like to walk through the world. There were numerous practice counseling sessions, where we took turns being the counselor and then the person with AIDS. These role-plays became increasingly more difficult as the training went on and culminated in the final two “graduate” level sessions. The first was having to say goodbye to your client and the other, in many ways the more difficult, was working with what was called the “client with the shattered belief system.” These were people for whom the AIDS epidemic (most of us) shattered their sense of the world and how it works. “How could this have happened? What are we going to do? What’s going to happen to me and all the people that I love?” The goal of this role-play was to assess whether the volunteer could avoid trying to “fix” the client, minimize their feelings, or say, “I know how you’re feeling” (because we didn’t). I remember how helpful it could be to sit with someone’s great concerns about how the world suddenly didn’t make sense anymore and I’m hoping we can all do that for one another now.
Day 26. Ghost Ship fire in Oakland.
May the missing be found and the found be comforted.
Day 27. Monday Monday
Oh, Monday morning, you gave me no warning
Of what was to be —
Oh, Monday, Monday
How could you leave and not take me?
Day 28. Forty-seven times
A month ago today I went to the supermarket, bought the makings for a celebration meal, cooked it, set the table and then, as the night unfolded, couldn’t eat it. Since then I’ve contributed to groups fighting the good fight, signed petitions, went to fundraisers, made phone calls, did my work, the laundry and the dishes. I stared at the super moon, changed my clothes, the sheets, the litter and my mind (about a number of things.) I took many power naps and photographs and the garbage out. I’ve told a number of people I loved them, listened to their stories, recounted mine. I removed the lint from the dryer vent (love to do that.) I saw my physical therapists, got an MRI, made soup and stew and spaghetti sauce and gluten-free dressing and a lot of lunch for Kirk. I’ve written every day, went to the beach and the movies and cried in the dark with strangers. I lit candles for the dead. There’s so much more I could’ve done and will do, and with some of you, but mostly I need to do this month again and again, 47 times exactly, until we vote him out of office on 11/3/20.
Day 29. Welcome to California
Forty years ago today I crossed the California state line with my sister and our friend, all the way from New York, in a car that was no bigger than your couch. I didn’t know that Harvey Milk and Dan White were coming, that AIDS and Rodney King and Yahoo and Google and global warming and cell phones and 9/11 and Kirk and Obama and gay marriage were all coming. I didn’t know that Hillary and Bernie and Trump were coming and I certainly didn’t know that, most wonderfully, you were coming too.
I’ve headed north for a weekend retreat called “Honoring Our Experience,“ three days with others who survived the early days of the AIDS epidemic, men and women, HIV positive and negative, long term survivors and those who’ve recently seroconverted. I’m looking forward to circling with others who’ve survived great hardship and continue to do so. I’m hoping some of the awfulness about Trump Inc. will be lessened, at least while I’m here. It feels like a spiritual crisis, this holding of so much contempt and anger. I’m remembering a gang member I worked with long ago. “People who are afraid of hell become religious,” he said. “But people who have been through hell become spiritual.”
Preparing the retreat center for those who are coming with the response that might be the most helpful of all.
We gather in circles to acknowledge our grief, witness our resilience, to sing and to breathe and to dance. Circles within circles within circles; they are stronger than any wall.
I drive home from the retreat center through a mountain pass already gray with shadows. I’ve been off the grid for 4 days and wonder what awfulness Trump has been up to. I decide to focus instead on the thank yous and good byes I’ve just shared with dozens of people; their stories of survival and perseverance accompany me through the spare winter light. As I head home, I can see that the rivers are flowing, filling the reservoirs for the dry months ahead.
Day 34. The perfect part
Reentering the world after being away is a sobering act. The tales of those at the retreat who found their way back from AIDS had a common theme: there’s always something you can do, no matter how terrible the moment. I remember a patient from the AIDS ward long ago who was always angry and sarcastic. “I’m Joseph, not Joe, and don’t want a hug,” he would say. “I’m from New York.” His mother arrived and stood by the bed, perfectly dressed with a hat and gloves and matching bag. They didn’t talk to each other as he grew weaker, his KS lesions darkening on his face and arms. She’d stand in the hall and whisper, “I don’t know what to do.” The staff would make suggestions but nothing seemed to help. The day he died I stood on one side of the bed and she the other. “What will happen now?” she asked. I told her his body would be taken downstairs. She winced and asked if I would go down with him; I said I would. She began to cry and then opened her purse, took out a comb and moved it slowly, lovingly through his hair, over and over, until she’d made a perfect part.
Day 35. Marriage
Kirk and I got married 3 years ago today. We aren’t fans of the institution of marriage and all that it stands for but we also know how hard people fought for our right to reluctantly walk down the aisle. We did it very quickly, without a lot of fanfare; we didn’t even tell you. The county clerk who signed our certificate was Mr. Light and when he handed us the brown envelope he asked, “Do you want me to marry you?” We looked at each other; “I guess so.” He led us to a room with a beautiful view of the city painted on the wall and right before we said “I do” Kirk snatched a nearby sticky white plastic tablecloth to make the moment more festive. We love each other, and other people too. But there’s someone else I’m married to as well. I’ve known him for less than a year; it all happened so quickly my head still spins and leaves me slightly nauseous. He dyes his hair (which I can overlook) but he’s a boor and a bully and he stands for everything I detest. I hate him so much that he’s always on my mind. He’s beside me when I go to sleep, sits up half the night tweeting on his cell phone, and is right there when I wake up. I’m married to him through my hatred of him and I really really want a divorce.
Thirty-six days since the country got Trumped, thirty-six days of questions, over and over: What to do? How to hold up? When to let go? Where to push back? Who to read and listen to? And still the nagging Why did it happen? I walk the streets, looking for answers, and come across this Time Machine. I stop. Somebody put five cents down and jumped through. Where are they now? On hold somewhere, waiting? Already there, jubilant? So many streets still to walk; I keep my nickel in my pocket and move on.
Ugh! The winter cold, the awfulness of world events, Trump’s despicable appointees; it’s all too much. How can we find relief? I attended an AIDS conference in the 80s where the keynote speaker was a ‘laughter’ therapist. The audience was bored as she presented slides comparing the musculature of crying and laughing and the chemistry of tears. We sat and rolled our eyes; really? This was too California, even for us who lived here. She asked if someone with AIDS would come on stage and a thin young man joined her. She began to ask him questions and requested, at the end of each answer, that he add the words, “Tee hee.” We all crossed our arms; it was SO inappropriate. “I’m afraid I won’t live to see my twenty-ninth birthday . . . tee hee.” “I’m so lonely, my lesions scare people off . . . tee hee.” He smiled after that one and continued his sad litany, followed by “Tee hees,” and then began to laugh. I fought my laughter back until he said, “I had to give my sweet kitten away . . . tee hee!” The therapist asked the kitten’s name. “Little Polly,” he said, “Tee hee” and started laughing so hard he couldn’t breathe and then the audience burst into laughter too. It was all so appalling and so terribly funny, hundreds of us laughing with him about the dreadful things he was sharing. I never had so many tears in public or hugged so many people afterwards.
Day 38. Ow
I read that Obama’s last press conference is happening and I pick up the tv remote for the first time in 38 days. He looks good, he looks like my President, he looks like the man I didn’t always agree with but did respect. I feel like he respected me. He’ll be gone soon and I feel a sharp pain in my chest. Ow. I know a wonderful woman with a disease that causes her alot of pain. When she gets up, when sits down, when she lies still, whenever she tries to move. “Ow,” she says. “Ow,” but then quickly she adds, “Wow.” I asked her once why she did that. It hurts to move she says, „Ow“, but the pain reminds me that I am alive, „Wow.“ I thank her for this spell. Obama has finished. the tv is off. I sit in front of the darkened screen. “Ow,” I say. “Wow.” “Ow . . . wow . . . ow . . . wow.”
When phone calls and petitions and donations and smart reading and heated conversations don’t feel like enough to tip the scales, add magic to the mix. I’ve been looking for signs, portents and items to work with. We’ve been cleaning out decades of junk from our deep dark basement and found this. We stood on the street and examined it. Handmade wooden handle, 5 inches long. Metal end, 3 inches wide. We turned it over and over. One end cuts? The other hammers? A tiny meat cleaver? A man who collects old tools arrived. “Look what you’ve found,” he said. We tell him it’s something used in the kitchen, we tell him it’s something from the long ago past, we say we don’t know what it is, we say it’s a mystery. He holds it in his hands. “It’s a key.”
Day 40. Miracles
Tomorrow the Electoral College votes; will they follow their conscience and cast Donald out? Some say, “Impossible!” others, “Our only chance!” Some believe it can happen, others won’t go there. Most agree it will take a miracle. My father fought in World War II, in the Battle of the Bulge, operated a tank, saw terrible things he never revealed. We rarely heard a wartime story, but he did tell us one, the morning he watched several thousand paratroopers float down through early light, right before a major battle. One parachute didn’t open and the poor man’s arms and legs flailed all the way down. Just before he hit the earth, my father closed his eyes. When he opened them, he saw the soldier climbing out of a massive haystack in a French farmyard; he brushed his uniform off and then ran to join his comrades. My father said they all went on to win the battle that day. Miracles happen, over and over and over again. If we don’t get one tomorrow, we need to remember that.
Day 41. Disappointment’s a feeling denied to many.
Day 42. Follow the witches
The recount failed to stop him, the Electoral College raised our hopes, but the darkness of his presidency continues to descend. What can we do with the ache of it, the anger, the grief and the fear? Follow the witches! Go to the ocean, the plain, the mountain, any place you can watch the sun set into the longest night. Sing to it, cry to it, whisper to it, dance before it, ask it to return to help us through the darkening paths ahead. And then watch it rise tomorrow, climbing just a little higher, staying just a little longer each following day. The great wheel has been turning since the beginning and it will not stop now. Nor will we.
Day 43. The dollar and the penny
The dollar is the sun rising after the longest darkest night. The penny has dyed orange hair and is a mean-spirited bully. Happy Solstice to all!
How to release the anger, frustration, grief and fear that’s lodged in our bodies, flooding our dreams and our interactions with one another? In the years before HIV medications arrived and the dying wouldn’t stop, I attended an Elizabeth Kubler-Ross workshop. I arrived late to find a group, mostly men with AIDS, circled around a mattress. The facilitator was finishing her opening remarks and asked me to kneel on the mattress; she told me to put on some gloves before handing me a piece of garden hose. “Hit that,” she said, pointing at a telephone book laying on the mattress. I stared at her. “Just hit the book,” she whispered, “and say no!” I began slowly, but quickly I was screaming, tears pouring out, snot running down my shirt; “No! No! No! No!” over and over again. When I was done I felt incredibly open and lighter; I was able to continue working on the AIDS unit for another year. We need to find ways now to scream it out, cry it out, get it out, over and over and over, until we are emptied, and thus prepare for the big work that is coming.
Day 46. My Favorite Things
Whether you’re into Christmas Carols or not, it feels good to sing out loud! Here’s my updated version of “My Favorite Things” from “Sound of Music.” Find someone to sing with or just do it acapella right now! Guaranteed to raise your spirits!
My Favorite Things
Big dykes with small dogs and butches with kittens,
Diesels in tall boots with chains on their mittens,
Femmes in their lipstick with rings in their nose,
These are a few of the gays that I know.
Men who can cook and make great apple strudel,
Women who think and can sure use their noodle,
Some who like dressing in only black clothes,
These are a few of the gays that I know.
Men in tight dresses with gold lame sashes,
Make up and high heels and long false eyelashes
Men who have muscles and men who wear hose
These are a few of the gays that I know.
When the right
Spews its hatred
And it makes me sad;
I simply remember the gays that I know
And then I don’t f-e-e-e-e-e-l so bad!
Doctors and nurses and students and teachers
Soldiers and singers and actors and preachers,
Lawyers who fight in the courts with our foes
These are a few of the gays that I know.
Nieces and uncles and sisters and brothers,
Parents who live with significant others
Brave sons and daughters who let their love show,
These are a few of the gays that I know.
Young politicians with courage and vision,
Leaders with guts who can make a decision
Those in the closet and those on the go
These are a few of the gays that I know!
Now the Donald
It just makes you mad
But always remember the gays that you know
And then you won’t f-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-l so bad!
Day 48. See nurse before entering
We survived the longest night and forced holiday encounters with Trump voters, but January looms with the departure of the Obamas and the installation of His Awfulness. I’m being encouraged to expect the unexpected and I will. I remember a patient on the AIDS unit whose mother arrived too late; she was traveling by bus (afraid of planes) but he died before she could get to San Francisco. We put a sign on his door, “See nurse before entering.” When she arrived, a doctor took her into the room and sat with her and the body; we could hear her cries. Afterwards, she walked down to the visitor’s lounge. Ricky, homeless and only 18, was on the couch watching tv; he was the youngest patient with AIDS I’d ever met. The mom sat down next to him and they began to talk. After a few hours she left, but she returned the next day and the day after that. By the end of the week, funds had been raised for two airline tickets. Ricky had assured her that flying was safe and she was taking him home.
Day 50. The year that will not die
A friend says this is the year that won’t stop taking and I feel it too, a deep sadness, like more than just the year is ending. When I worked on the AIDS ward, I had a constant heaviness in the center of my chest; it was always there and difficult to know what to do, what to say, where to go. Sometimes, when patients were feeling it too, we’d go upstairs to Labor and Delivery. We’d stand outside the nursery window and watch the new arrivals. Years later, when AIDS finally came into my house and Bob had only a few months left, my nephew Tommy was born. We drove out to the East Bay so Bob could cradle him in his arms. On the way home Bob wept so deeply. “What is it?” I asked. “I wanted to hold someone,” he said, “who has just come from where I am going.”
Day 52. Back into the closet
It’s been 52 days since the election and the year is almost done. Donald is bringing his racism, sexism, xenophobia and homophobia to the White House; it’s all too much to comprehend. It leaves no other choice but return to the closet. Somewhere in mine are my old activist tee-shirts, left-over sign-making materials and my hiking boots. When I marched in the 60s I wore a size 15 boot. After I got Rolfed in 1981 I went to a 16. And now that I’ve had my knees replaced, I’m up to a 17. I won’t be able to go as far or as I quickly as I used to, but I’ll be there. Trump may bring out the narrow-minded hate in other people, but he’s bringing out the best in me. See you in the streets!
We’re not going to have to figure out how to resist Trump and his cronies by ourselves. We can always look back at the strategies women and men have used to get through difficult times before. One of my favorites is Woody Gutherie’s “New Years Rulin’s.” Taking number 17 and 33 to heart!
Day 56 Hope vs Despair
The wheel of the year has turned. November and December felt like a barrier against January and what is coming next. I’m feeling the roller-coaster, the up and down, the easy breath and then the tightening, waiting for what will unfold next, hoping it’s not the worst, despairing that it will be. How do I stay here, now, and not run too far ahead into worrisome expectation which drains and distracts? I remember a patient on the AIDS unit, admitted with PCP, the devastating AIDS-related pneumonia that killed so many. His breathing weakened and he was rushed into Intensive Care and put on a ventilator. Day after day, week after week, he lay there unconscious while the doctors tried Septra and Pentamidine to help him breathe again. Finally, almost 6 weeks later, they moved him back to the AIDS ward. We all hoped for signs that he’d make it. I was putting balm on his cracked lips one morning when he suddenly opened his eyes and looked at me. “Please,” he whispered. I couldn’t believe he was back and leaned over to hear him better. “Please,” he whispered again, “do you have a cigarette?”
Inauguration Day of His Awfulness approaches. I light a candle in the cold dark night and call out to our Ancestors for guidance, support and wisdom. I wait. It seems that no one is there until, through the ether, from the Other Side, I hear her voice loud and clear. It’s Joan Rivers and she has something to say.
“My darlings, don’t get too verklempt about Donald. He’s so dumb he couldn’t count to 21 unless he was naked. He gives narcissism a bad name. The difference between stupidity and genius is that genius has its limits. Once he gets into the White House, there’ll be Hell toupee. Hair Hitler! Oh come on! Donald Trump’s favorite chapter in the Bible is Chapter 11and he actually is going to make America great again by destroying the Republican Party. If minorities have the race card and women have the gender card, what do the deplorables have? The Trump Card! Oh come on! If you’re not outraged you’re not paying attention! Listen, the Bible contains six admonishments to homosexuals and 362 admonishments to heterosexuals. That doesn’t mean that God doesn’t love Donald Trump; it’s just that he’s going to need a lot more supervision. Now get to work!”
Day 60. The street artist
A few days after the election an artist set up his easel in a busy intersection near my apartment. The painting’s evolved slowly due to the cold and rain. I look over his shoulder when I pass by, not wanting to interrupt him. Yesterday he said hello and I stopped. I tell him I’ve walked through this intersection a thousand times but he’s got me seeing the beauty of it; the contrast of light and shadow in the street, the clouds floating above the barbershop, the green hill in the distance. He says it’s all about what the artist decides to include. I look into the painting again as he points out that there are no signs, no cars, no people. “This is my perspective,” he says. “I decide what’s important in the world I’m creating.”
Day 62. Self-care
January 9, 2017. Two months have passed since the election. I see and hear the warnings for what is coming, coming soon, a dangerous storm on the horizon, like the one that’s here in Northern California. The rivers and creeks are rising, sandbags are being placed, the supermarket aisles are packed, people storing up, getting ready, the power going out. How high will the river get today? And then the day after? Twenty-nine years ago today, deep into the AIDS epidemic and Ronald Reagan, working on the AIDS unit, life-saving HIV treatment still years away, friends, colleagues, coworkers dying, my partner moving out. January 9, 1988, so dark and cold and rainy; I knew I had to do something big, something that would be just for me to make it through that day. I placed one of my cigarettes in the rain and watched it, as the day progressed, disintegrate and disappear: I never smoked one again. I look around me, in the here and now, and look for something else to put outside.
Day 64. Not because you must
We ask no promise of you,
no oaths bound up in words,
more than the earth, when summer’s through,
asks vows of parting birds.
We only trust, as earth must trust,
seeing the birds grow far and black,
that someday, not because you must,
you will come back. – Anonymous
Day 66. The worrying mind
Sixty-six days since the election and my worrying mind won’t leave me alone. Today it’s our health care and Planned Parenthood, yesterday a photo of a polar bear swimming in an iceless sea, tomorrow the Muslim Registry and nuclear codes; it’s all too much. Long ago I told a young man he was HIV positive. When I’d met with him two weeks before, he’d described sneaking into Folsom Street book stores and going from magazine racks to booths in back; now he wasn’t feeling well. He returned for his result in a high school uniform and when I told him the test was positive he took his backpack off and leaned forward. He lived with his parents, wasn’t out to anyone, had chosen to test anonymously so no one would know; he left all my referrals behind. I thought of him for weeks, for months, so hoping he was well. One day, riding on a crowded bus, I saw him standing with another student; they were laughing. He saw me, looked down, and then back. He nodded his head, a faint smile; he seemed okay. I stopped worrying about him and started believing instead that he found his way to the support he needed and, ultimately, the HIV meds that would keep him alive.
Day 68. Move along!
A difficult week approaches as the Obamas prepare to move out and the Trumps move in. But there will be the Women’s Marches too; it will feel great to be in the streets with you. I remember the massive protests after 9/11, thousands of us out on Market Street. I’d just met Kirk and it was our first march. We’d stopped for just a moment to have this photo taken (our first together) when a cop started yelling at us. “Keep moving,” he called out. “Move along!” It was such good advice; it’s served us well over the years. Whatever happens this week and the weeks and months ahead, we all need to continue calling out to each other: “Keep moving!”
Day 71. 14 things to do as Twitnit comes into power:
1. Know how to contact your senator and congressperson: http://uspolitics.about.com/…/usgover…/a/contact_congres.htm. Remember that face-to-face has more impact than a phone call, phone call is better than letter, letter better than text, etc. However you do it, be courteous, be brief (get to the point!), be specific, be calm.
2. Be calm.
3. Tell your comrades and loved ones how you’re dealing with the disbelief, disappointment, anger and fear about what’s happening and ask they how they are. Extra points if you can do this with a Trump voter.
4. Flashlights, batteries, first aid kit. (This is mostly in case of earthquake, flood or hurricane, but always good to be prepared.)
5. Stay informed. Read up on the latest stories and strategies about the most effective way to resist. There are many ways to use your voice, your money and your energy. Be selective and do what works for you.
6. Stay hopeful. Easy to say, I know. Sometimes the best I can do is to remind myself that this too will pass, as has every other challenging period in my lifetime.
7. Remember: impact with brevity. Nuff said.
8. Use humor. So good, so healthy, so important to laugh it out!
9. Be calm.
10. There used to be a poster that hung in all the public buildings in San Francisco. It was called “10 Things to do in a Disaster.” It depicted a series of stick figure drawings of what to do in case of catastrophe. The first one showed two stick figures, one standing, one kneeling, both tending to a stick figure laying on the ground. The caption underneath was, “Comfort the dying.” I appreciated the thought (and funding) that went into that kind of messaging. Let’s remember, first and foremost, to be comforting to one another.
11. If all the worst-case scenarios you can imagine about the Twitnit and his cronies come through: read the following poem. But first,
12. Be calm.
13. In Case Of Holocaust Open This Poem
You stand aboard the Titanic.
The boats have filled and pulled away.
The cries and running past,
a still night and no memories.
There is time for tea, a bit of honey,
a seat by the open porthole,
the evening air. —— Eric Kolvig
14. Stay calm.
Day 72. On this day!
On this day, we begin. On this day, our own inauguration. On this day, we mark the beginning of working together. On this day, we know we are part of communities who see each other with fresh eyes. On this day, we celebrate our common values and commit to creating new stories together. On this day, we acknowledge we won’t totally heal from the hurt and disappointment of Trump’s election. On this day, we proclaim that remembering this wound is how we will go about expressing our love and commitment to each other. On this day, we begin anew.
Day 73. Can’t lives on Won’t Street
At some point I’m going to have to start interacting with those who voted for him; it feels like a crucial part of the work we all have to do. But today I reject everything about him and what he stands for. Today I can’t. Today I won’t.
Day 73. Part 2
He wasn’t in the Oval Office 15 minutes before taking these down from the White House website:
1. The Department of Labor’s report on lesbians, bisexuals, gays and transgender people in the workplace? Gone
2. The White House’s exposition on the threat of climate change and efforts to combat it? Gone.
Shouting out to 2 of my sisters, 2 brothers-in-law, beloved high school friends and a bunch of cousins: Shame on you!
Day 74. Preparing for National Women’s Resistance March
1. Orthotics for heel pain
2. Ibuprofen for knee pain
3. Feminist tee shirt (lots to choose from)
4. Sign covered in plastic to use as umbrella
5. Pink hat that is actually orange but the best I could do in a pinch
6. Review of bathrooms along march route: Library, BART stations, food court in Westfield Centre, Palace Hotel, MacDonald’s at 2nd and Market, Hyatt Regency, countless Starbucks and, last resort, Jessie Street
7. 1 dollar bills in case people need them for BART or MUNI
8. Rough draft of chant which goes: “He’s wrong . . . we’re strong! He lies . . . we rise! He’s a twit . . . we won’t quit!” (Still working on that last one.)
9. Power nap before heading out.
10. Commitment to using my anger, grief and fear to create effective ways to support resistance!
We went into the streets, millions of us across the country and we found what we needed: reassurance. We need to remember this during the reign of awfulness that began yesterday. Reassurance gives, it doesn’t take away. Reassurance feeds, it doesn’t make you hungry. Reassurance is easily achieved: we need to go places where we can see each other, sing with each other, dance with each other. We need each other more than ever and there lies reassurance.
Day 77. Close encounters
Seventy-seven days after the election, the story feels different now. We saw each other, heard each other, touched each other, protected each other from the rain and snow and ice. What we feared is here, but another part of the story has been revealed as well; we have new eyes. I’ve been marching for 50 years and though many who walked alongside me are gone, in the blur of faces and bodies on Saturday I could see them once again. We marched in the streets where they raised their voices, sang their songs, went forward arm in arm. The future is different when we remember the determined resistance and the demands for freedom in the past. Let this truth feed us now as we plan to join together again. We marched on their bones just as others will march on ours. The work we are doing is bigger than us in the here and now.
Day 79. Think global, act local
I’m keeping my attention on Washington, focusing on how to best support resistance to the awfulness coming from there. I can also see how easy it is to get pad thai, clean clothes, shiny shoes, double decaf lattes, perfect nails, rental cars, body work, designer pizzas and fancy cocktails. But it’s also easy to not see the awfulness right in front of me, crying out for support and attention as well.
Only one week and the worst of our fears are coming true. The predictions of Trump’s unraveling seem probable, but we don’t know how or when; the uncertainty feels unbearable. In the early days of the epidemic, when the possibility of successful treatments seemed impossible, people from the community would come to the hospital and bring offerings to patients dying of AIDS. Flowers, music, song, food, massage. A man who made stuffed animals with arms and legs that moved and glass eyes that saw you would visit and leave his creations behind. When he eventually became a patient himself, his little bear sat on the bedside table and watched everything unfold, including his maker’s last breath. Afterwards, when they cleaned the room, the little bear was left behind. I brought him home. He sits here now, 30 years later, and looks at me, reminding me that the treatments finally did arrive, as did many other unexpected things, both good and bad.
68,508 people have already died today; by the time we go to sleep it will be over 165,000. Some died knowing about Trump and the awful things he’s doing, others worried about the loved ones they were leaving behind. Others were glad to be leaving, others didn’t know they were leaving, others kicked and screamed against having to go. I was working on the AIDS unit on November 9, 1989, when the Berlin wall came down. I went from room to room and told the patients what was happening. Some were already watching tv, others asked me to turn it on, others were just trying to make it to the next minute. I wonder how important the ways of the world are to those who are leaving right now? Today I think, when it’s mine turn to go, I’d want you to come in and tell me if the cure had been found, the discovery had been made, the wall had come down. Mostly though I’d want to hold your hand and take some deep breaths together.
Day 86. Expect the unexpected
The bombardment continues: the Arctic ice melting, the travel bans, the awful cabinet appointees, the specter of Bannon behind it all. It’s hard to be present in the here and now, so I drift back to other Terrible Times. I remember a homeless man I met long ago, a patient on the AIDS unit. Calvin told me stories about his life, how he survived, how he got infected, how having AIDS was just basic training compared to living on the streets. Before he was discharged he asked me for 5 dollars. I knew we weren’t supposed to give patients money, but I couldn’t say no. Several months later the ward clerk came to find me. “Ed, there’s someone to see you.” It was a stormy day; rain was blowing against the patient’s windows. When I came down the hall I saw Calvin. He was drenched, wearing a tee shirt, a pair of torn pants, and only one shoe. He smiled and held out a crumpled 5-dollar bill. I didn’t want to take it, but I could see how important it was to him that I did. I thanked him and hugged him; he was shivering. After he left I went into the staff bathroom and cried really hard for him, for me, for the Terrible Times we were living in, and the unexpected generosity that was all around us.
Day 88. The dead orchid
I bought an orchid on 24th Street last spring, which seems so far away. The flower seller told me how to care for it and I was amazed at how constantly it bloomed and how long the flowers stayed. On November 9th, after the election, so much of my daily routine got disrupted, including caring for the orchid. I went weeks without tending it and in mid-December I found all of its petals laying together in a dead huddle; it turned into yet another thing to feel bad about. Earlier today I was carrying it to the trash when I noticed a small green bud on one of its branches; another reminder to pay attention and not jump to conclusions.
Day 90. The worried well
I just took a shower and saw the spot on my arm that’s been there all my life. Starting in June 1981, when the CDC first published accounts of male homosexuals dying of strange illnesses, I would look at that spot and worry about what it was, over and over again. It would take a year before the Gay Men’s Health Crisis in New York began and Shanti here in San Francisco would hold its first AIDS Volunteer Training. It took another year before the AIDS unit opened at SF General Hospital and then yet another year before the UCSF AIDS Health Project opened its doors. Finally, a full four years after the initial reports, the HIV test became available and for the first time you could find out if you had HIV rather than just wait for AIDS symptoms to appear. It’s hard to believe now, but it would be yet another two years before ACT-UP was formed and serious focused activism began. And even then, with all the committed and determined work we were all doing, life-saving medications were still another eight years away. I sit here on the 19th day of this presidency and remember the Woman’s march 17 days ago, hear the voices of the protestors out at the airports last weekend, see the work that countless individuals, groups and organizations are doing to resist and realize that today, though I’m worried again, I’m also well.
I was a high school senior when I entered Mrs. Crew’s English class at North Miami High, September 1965. I’d missed the first few days of school because Hurricane Betsy had just slammed Miami and during the height of the storm my mother went into labor and had three little girls. So much had already happened that year: LBJ sworn in, Malcolm X assassinated, Vietnam war and protests escalated, police and civil rights activists clashed, the Watt’s riots. Mrs. Crew had us read Catcher in the Rye, 1984, Brave New World, My Antonia, Native Son, Animal Farm, All the King’s Men and Shakespeare too. She spent a lot of time talking about hamartia, which means a fatal flaw that ultimately leads to one’s downfall. She pointed out that Romeo’s was impulsivity, Hamlet’s was indecisiveness, Othello’s was jealousy and Macbeth’s ambition. She said these were normal human traits that we all felt and experienced and that if we pay attention to them and not let them become extreme in ourselves, we’d all be better off.
Day 94. Expect the Unexpected
As some of you know, I had the great honor to be included in David Weissman’s award-winning documentary, “We Were Here,” and occasionally receive messages from people who’ve seen it. The following arrived a few days ago, a perfect reminder to all of us, in these polarized times, to continue to do our work, stay committed to our beliefs, and tell our stories. Hearts and minds can and do change.
“Hi Ed. I just watched the movie in which you are featured. “We Were Here.” What a very moving and touching testimonial. First I will say that I am neither gay or HIV positive. In fact I am a very conservative right wing type. There is just something that really captures my attention about the AIDS epidemic. Growing up in the 90’s (born in 83) my right-wing family did not really talk about it. My family was very homophobic and so that rubbed off on me. It was not until I took a job in local news and became friends with a few gay co-workers that I really lost all of my barriers. I know that these things don’t matter. My point of writing is I want to say thank you for telling your story. I feel great sorrow for those effected. I am really having trouble putting it into words. But I guess it is just a tragic and fascinating thing. Heart breaking how these wonderful lives, thousands and thousands, just starting out their lives were decimated with no answers. And no help. And total fear. Thank you for sharing. I know this sounds jumbled. Sorry, just know that your voice is valued.”
Day 97. Make your own Valentine
With all the hatefulness coming out of the White House, it’s too bad that Valentine’s Day has so much commercialized baggage attached to it. It would be so great to simply use today to hugely express our love and affection for one another, separate from all the consumerism, forced sentiment, awkwardness and isolation that it creates. My second-grade teacher, Mrs. Sail, sent notes home to all our parents, asking them to not buy cards for us to distribute. Instead, she had us make our own. She gave us colored paper and scissors and glue and magazines and asked us to make a picture of something that we loved. When we were done, she hung them all over the room. I can’t remember what my Valentine was back then, but I know what it is today.
Day 101. The really really bad day
It’s been a 100 days since the election. The good news is that we only have to do this 13 more times (it’s 1354 days til November 3, 2020.) We can do anything 13 times, right? So many friends and colleagues having so many hard days. I once met a patient named Wayne who came onto the AIDS unit after spending several weeks in the intensive care unit. When he’d been diagnosed with AIDS the month before, he’d drank a can of Drano, put his head in the oven and then jumped through the picture window in his living room. When I first met him he said, “I had a really really bad day.” When his 7-year old son visited him, the boy would draw pictures in a book he always carried with him. When his dad fell asleep, he’d come out into the hall, sit in the visitor’s lounge, talk to other patients. He’d tell his stories to anyone who listened, stories that weren’t about death and grief because he wasn’t attached to how things were supposed to be. He told us stories about the world he lived in, the world he saw with fresh eyes that day, and then the day after that.
Day 105. Fighting the flu
Am battling the cold that’s going around, doing everything I can to get it out of my chest. When I’m sick like this I ask myself why I ever get depressed or troubled about anything, including Trump, when I have my health? In the early days of the AIDS epidemic people did everything they could to get better. When Western meds didn’t work, they tried putting Xerox toner on Q-tips for KS lesions, drinking urine for improved immune response, visiting shamans in Mexico and the Philippines to access other healing paths. We protested Reagan’s awful policies, lobbied politicians for funding, created and worked in organizations to support those who were sick and dying. Many of us never let AIDS become normalized; it was always front and center. It was unifying to fight back, to stay mobilized, to find ways to help however you could; it was exhausting too, but you get tired when you work hard. I don’t want what’s happening in Washington to become the new normal; when my wheezing and coughing passes and I’m up and about again, I need to remember that someone else is suffering even as I am feeling well again. There’s always something to be done.
Day 108. One life, one death
Two years ago, after a sweet birthday dinner, I couldn’t return to my apartment because policemen blocked the street I lived on. I could see flashing lights in front of my building and a body in the street. I waited for hours, with many of my neighbors, before police lead us back to our apartments. When I got to my door I saw the corpse was gone, the street wet with blood. The following day I found out that the victim was our neighbor Amilcar Perez-Lopez, a 20-year-old Guatemalan immigrant. He’d been killed by two cops who said he attacked them with a knife, even though autopsies showed he’d been shot in the back while running away. He was unarmed and didn’t speak English; they didn’t speak Spanish and weren’t wearing uniforms. We created an altar for him on the street and attended an infuriating and insulting Town Hall meeting about his murder a few days later. I was eventually questioned about what I saw and heard and now, two years later, the investigation into his death is still pending. Over and over through the course of my life, I’ve see how the most victimized of our citizens are often turned into the attacker and the institutions that oppress them become the victim. I don’t always know what to do in these circumstances, but I’m grateful to still be alive and to add my voice to the on-going calls for justice.
Day 113. Comparative suffering
The AIDS epidemic was much worse than anything Trump will do, the Vietnam War was the most terrible experience I ever lived through, Nixon did more harm than Reagan, Trump will be more disastrous then either of them, the prison industrial complex is damaging our society more than current immigration laws, climate change and global warming are the most important issues of our time. My grandmother was born in 1900, my dad in 1915, my mom in 1925. I remember being a child as grandma described the horrors of the Great Depression and my father raised his voice: “World War II was much much worse than the Depression!” Grandma yelled back at him, saying he’d never known hunger the way she did and he’d slam his hand down on the table and say she was ignorant to say such things. My mom would take my sister and I into the bedroom and close the door. We’d ask her what she thought was worse and she said it was the two big bombs that our country dropped on the Japanese people.
Day 117. A ride in the country
My grandfather loved taking us for long rides through the countryside on Sunday afternoons. We didn’t want to go, it was boring, nothing to see but cows, but our mother said it made him happy. My brother and I would get in the front seat as my sisters reluctantly crawled into the back. I remember one of those beautiful afternoons, grandpa driving slowly down a country road, impossibly white clouds floating above, cows raising their heads in the warm air, when our youngest sister started crying. Grandpa looked into the rear view mirror as her cries turned into deep mournful sobs. No one knew what to say or do as the car moved through that perfect landscape. When her crying slowed I turned around. “What is it?” I asked “Oh,” she said, wiping her face with her hands and looking at all of us. “Just everything.”
Six years ago today the massive earthquake and tsunamis devastated Japan. Thousands were lost, coastal communities destroyed. There were so many cell phones, helicopter videos and security cameras in operation that day you can watch the entire calamity unfold. The monstrous waves appear on the horizon and then quickly flood into the streets, destroying everything in their path. Sometimes when I can’t sleep, anxious about what’s happening in our country today, I get up and rewatch those videos. If you look closely, you can see people running to get each other up hillsides, lead each other to stairways, pull each other from stalled cars, help each other out of harm’s way. And the moment the waves recede, citizens rush into the streets, looking to do more for each other. It helps me to remember that though the tsunami was a catastrophic news event, the story that’s more important is about people helping each other through Terrible Times.
Day 127. RIP Derek Walcott
As the assault on our democracy (and all the resistance to that assault) continues, it’s important to note those who are leaving the good fight. One of those today is Derek Walcott, Nobel Prize-winning writer. This poem of his has gotten myself and many others through some very tough times. Take a moment to read when you can . . .
LOVE AFTER LOVE
The time will come
when, with elation,
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror,
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,
and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you
all your life, whom you have ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,
the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.
– Derek Walcott
Day 132. Devil or Angel?
Ed, you actually enjoy hating him and being outraged at his latest policies. Ed, you know all that resentment is just poisoning yourself. But all of those pictures of him looking so ugly really are funny. All those pictures of him looking so ugly are really mean. You want to contact your friends and family members who voted for him and tell them how disappointed you still are and that you’ll never be able to forgive them. You want to figure out how to build bridges to them and be more strategic in your interactions with his voters. It’s okay to make sexist jokes about Melania and Ivanka and Kellyanne; they support a sexual predator. There should be limits on what you say about him and his family; do you want to be just like him? Ed, it’s all right to want him to go down with all his crooked cronies, even if it hurts the rest of the country. Ed, you might want to look at your need to be right.
Day 139. The Elevator
My spirits rise and fall with all the Trump-related breaking news; it’s overwhelming at times. I got stuck, alone, in an elevator at work years ago. The lights flickered and then silence. I was glad the car wasn’t crowded but wished I wasn’t alone. I pushed the emergency button but nothing happened. I was suddenly both thirsty and had to pee. I called for help, but no one was there. I couldn’t tell if I was feeling claustrophobic as I tried to pull the doors apart with my hands, then broke my house key trying to pry them open. I kept looking at my watch, then felt short of breath, then took so many deep breaths I hyperventilated. I got really cold and then really hot. Thirty minutes went by before I thought I heard a voice. “I’m trapped!” I shouted, then silence. I walked in circles, sat down, watched the insane number of different scenarios that rushed through my mind. When the doors finally opened a man holding a ladder was looking down at me: the car was stuck between two floors. He said I could climb up to where he was or down to the floor below; I chose up. I left work early that day. It wasn’t the experience itself that had tired me; it was my unrelenting mind that had exhausted me.
Day 141. The Hand Model
When I moved to Greenwich Village in the summer of 1971 I met the oldest gay person I’d ever known. Everything about Roy was perfect: his silver hair, his teeth, his tan. A mutual friend told me Roy was a famous hand model and whenever I’d see him I’d discreetly look and sure enough, his were the perfect hands of a much younger man. His hands held the aspirins, the bottles of Coke and the cigarettes on tv; they were insured by Lloyd’s of London. Roy despised Richard Nixon and became obsessed with the Watergate scandal. Whenever I’d see him he’d update me on the latest twists and turns of the unfolding story and when Nixon finally resigned in August of 1974, he had a big party. It was done! Nixon was gone! Gerald Ford was sworn in and within a month, pardoned Nixon. Whenever I met Roy after that he seemed less animated, less interested, less engaged. It was as if he was sorry it had all come to an end.
Day 142. The Road of Resistance
When the Road of Resistance starts to feel long and shadows appear up ahead, it’s important to lay it all down and contemplate your next move.
Day 146. Patience
It’s been 146 days since Trump was elected. Too much to try to recall, remember, rehash, research. Many of us continue to resist and push back against the tendency to normalize the awfulness of everything he stands for and these Terrible Times require our steadfast and strategic response to everything he and his cronies are trying to do. There are 1456 days between presidential elections (November 8, 2016-November 3, 2020) and most of us have lived through 146 of them already. We need to do this nine more times. How many things do we do nine times each minute, each hour, each day, each week, month, year, lifetime? We need to be resolute, committed and patient, which can be so hard when people’s lives and the planet are at stake. “Patience,” Rumi says, “polishes and purifies.”
Day 149. The Big Bed
There were times on the AIDS ward, during the worst days of the epidemic, when several patients died on the same day. Broken-hearted lovers, friends and family members would circle the bed and weep as their beloved departed. There were other days when everyone was well enough to be discharged and live to see another day. As soon as the bed became available, someone else would be admitted. Sometimes, when there was an empty bed, a doctor or nurse would slip into the room, lie down, and spend their lunch break taking a nap. People died in that bed, said goodbye in that bed, people arrived and were discharged from that bed, people rested in that bed. It all happened in the same big bed.
It seems all the news tonight is mean-spirited and cruel and violent, so I’m calling in the kindness of strangers I’ve met along the way. Once, while sitting next to a pediatrician on a flight to Florida, a sudden announcement asked if there was a medical person on board. The pediatrician pushed her call light. The steward came up the aisle and asked the doctor to come into first class. A few minutes later, the steward returned and collected the doctor’s things and took them forward. Afterwards, when I went to look for her, I found her holding the hand of a fellow passenger whose face and torso were covered with a small blue blanket. I asked her if she was okay and she smiled and nodded. When the plane finally landed and we all filed off, she was still sitting there next to him, his hand in hers.
I’m so over all the hoopla about Trump’s first 100 days; I’d rather celebrate and acknowledge more important events that have occurred on this day, April 29th, over the centuries. In 1990, wrecking cranes began tearing down the Berlin Wall at the Brandenburg Gate and, in 1974, US Richard Nixon said he would release the edited tapes that were made in White House. In 1968 „Hair“ opened on Broadway at the Biltmore Theater and ran for almost 5 years and the year before Aretha Franklin released „Respect.“ In 1905, 2 inches of rain fell on Taylor, TX, (in 10 minutes!) and in 1852 the 1st edition of Peter Roget’s Thesaurus was published. Mozart’s Sonata in B flat premiered in 1784 and, if all of this wasn’t enough, in 1553 Flemish woman introduced the practice of starching linen to the English.
Day 177. Waiting For Something
It’s been 177 days since the election and I’m still waiting, waiting for something to happen that will change what’s going on in the White House. I think about it, worry about it, am preoccupied with it, get hopeful about it, get nervous about it, don’t know what to do about it. I went to the beach and watched a young couple holding hands, whispering to each other, embracing each other. I wondered whether they were waiting for something to happen too. Then they began to excitedly point out to sea. “There, there!” they yelled to someone on the beach. I scanned the horizon repeatedly, but couldn’t see it. I stood there, waiting for that which I was looking for to become clear. But without knowing what it could be, restless for something, anything to upset Trump’s terrible trajectory, I could feel how hard I am working, negotiating my hope with the harsh reality that I may be waiting for nothing.
152 years ago today, May 9 1865, President Andrew Johnson officially declared that the Civil War had ended. By then, well over 700,000 Americans had lost their lives. This morning I’m thinking of the Trump voters in my life and wondering how we’re going to come back together, call a truce, practice amnesty, cross the aisle. How do we reunite with such hatred, persecution and division occurring across the land? Continued accusations and mean-spirited interactions are not going to change hearts and minds. How could we possibly come together? I’m imagining a great field, filled with picnic tables, and all of us approaching from different directions with our covered dishes. I’d bring my Peace Chicken and Quiche of Compromise; what would they bring?
Day 197. Friends
It’s been almost 200 days since the election and we’ve all dug deep to find ways to keep sane, hopeful, productive and whole. We’ve marched, donated money, made calls, sent postcards, read some, wrote some, reassured one another, got angry, felt hopeless. Friends are key to getting through these tough times. They listen to your troubles, drive you home, help you up and over the highest passes in the Sierras, move in with you, ask the right questions, love on you, make you laugh, help you cry, get you through the AIDS epidemic, the loss of almost everything and even the death of your mother. They can know you a long time. Keep them close, those who are on the path with you. Keep them close and let them know you are nearby.
I’m tired, like so many of you, of trying to constantly find ways to re-engage against the cruelty and greed emanating from the White House and all of its followers. Hope mixed with anger, resolve pushing back against fear, belief in ultimate goodness challenged by the hateful and murderous times we find ourselves living in. How can we keep coming back into the struggle as fully as possible? I heard a Vietnamese man, who is now an American citizen, talk about his family’s dreams of eventually finding freedom in the United States of America. “Don’t forget,” his father would say. “U S A means . . . You Start Again!”
Day 213. What Lies Beneath
A minus tide occurred this morning along the west coast; the sea retreated and everything usually beneath the waves was exposed. I saw fantastically colorful and varied kinds of seaweed, anemones and barnacles. But also cigarette butts, beer cans, bits of plastic and shards of glass. As we head into the weeks ahead with their testimonies, hearings and investigations, I need to be prepared for what might be revealed. It may bring relief and justice, it may bring disappointment and anger. This is the challenge of revelations: they may assuage my need to be right about Trump and his team; they may frustrate and deepen the powerlessness that is always floating just beneath the surface.
Day 233. The Trump card
My grandmother, born in 1900, always had her purse nearby. In it was her Trump card. She’d lived through the Great Depression; we would never know how terrible that was. You couldn’t be too sad or disappointed or troubled with your own life before she’d pull her Trump card out. My father, born in 1915, had his Trump card too. He was in a tank battalion during the Battle of the Bulge in World War II and his unit was one of the first to liberate the Nazi concentration camps. And I have my own Trump card: the AIDS epidemic. I have flooded many conversations with my AIDS years stories, stopped discussions with my tales of grief and suffering. I try not to do that now. These times we’re living in are difficult enough without someone minimizing your concerns, putting you down, cutting you off. It’s important for all of us to not be silenced, not lose interest, and not be Trumped by someone else.
Day 236. Declare your independence during this time of resistance!
It’s been 253 days since Trump’s election. I continue to struggle with falling back into worry, introspection and angst . . . and for good reason. I took a moment just now to randomly look out the window. There was a cellist sitting in the back yard. Reminder to self: look out the window more often.
On the 266th day since Trump’s election, I’m heading overseas to attend a Global Radical Faerie Gathering which will be held in a 12th century castle in England, not far from Hadrian’s Wall. For 9 months a group of us have been working hard to make this event happen and now it’s time to go. As Special Prosecutor Mueller begins to make his move, I’ll make mine. I’ll be sure to report back on what it looks like Here from Over There. Let’s all keep breathing deeply and staying focused on what we’re doing; it’s the best thing, maybe the only thing we can do to prepare for what’s coming next. Happy Trails!
Today I sat, looking past Churchill towards Big Ben, and waited til the 7 pm bells began and those deep ancient sounds descended upon the crowd, who stopped and looked up, cameras in hand. Churchill still looks weary, even with his Great War so far behind him. I thought about you and all the work you are doing during this challenging Trump Era and could hear Churchill whispering, “If you’re going through hell, keep going.”
Day 269. The Dance of Empathy
We were wandering through the Hall of the Symbolists in the Tate Museum today when a dance troupe consisting of 6 men and a dozen young girls suddenly appeared and performed a dance about empathy. At one point they all sat on the floor and observed each other closely. “I can see the scar on the knuckle of your thumb,” the young girl said. “I can see the faint line around your mouth when you smile,” the much older man said. And then they all stood up and danced together. When the entire troupe fell to the floor, no one in the audience breathed until they rose up and began again. The Dance of Empathy! Oh, how can we do the Dance of Empathy with those who voted for Trump? Will it ever be possible to see the scars on one another, the lines on our faces?
Day 273. Featherstone Castle
On the 273rd day since Trump’s election the clans converge in the ancient and magical Featherstone Castle, close to the Scottish border. The faeries, the witches, the others, the outlaws and the rebels are spending a week singing and dancing and drumming and laughing and crying and climbing the narrow stairway to the Temple of Love, all in the name of freedom; freedom for ourselves, freedom for all of you. There is sadness and fear here, especially about what is happening to our world, but there’s also hope and healing available everywhere. In this beautiful and timeless place we send our greetings and remind you that we, and countless millions of others, are working hard between the worlds to change what is happening in all the worlds. So mote it be!
Day 281. The Magic of the Streets
Yes, there’s murderous hatred on the streets of Charlottesville and Barcelona. But there’s also kindness on the streets of London, gentleness on the streets of Haltwhistle, magic on the streets of Edinburgh. It’s all out there in the street and always has been. Bring your best self out onto the boulevard; it’s how we’ll build the road to peace.
On the 283rd day since Trump’s election I stood in front of the prison door that separated Oscar Wilde from the rest of the world. Locked away for two years, denied his freedom for being homosexual, he continued to do his work, taking three months to write De Profundis (From the Depths) in the half-light of his prison cell. When released, he left his homeland and lived in exile before dying at the age of 45. I stood in front of his prison door and refused to let myself feel held hostage by Trump, his awful subordinates, and the constant drumbeat of hatred and ignorance that flows out of them. I will not be held prisoner by him and will continue to do my work, as I know you are doing as well.
16 years ago today, while having breakfast at Welcome Home, a restaurant on Castro Street that is now just a memory, two young men came in. I’d seen one of them before on Market Street, had even said a timid “Hello.” Now here he was again, sitting just across the room. I wrote my phone number down and gave it to him as I left the restaurant. This was 17 days before 9/11, before the invasion of Iraq, before Katrina and Obama, before the Arab Spring and Snowden and Manning; before the awfulness of Trump. The young man called me, said his name was Kirk Read, and we’ve been together ever since. It’s important for me to remember that we don’t know what’s coming. What’s important is to cross the room and take a risk. What’s important is to connect with others and go through all the bad and all the good together.
Day 302. Hurricane
Today is the 302nd day since Trump’s election. 52 years ago today, September 8, 1965, Hurricane Betsy slammed into Miami FLA. Like today’s Irma, and similar to Trump, Betsy’s course was erratic, threatening and hard to ascertain at times. My mother was 39 years old, 7 months pregnant and, as the storm approached, the television warned that Betsy’s historically low barometric pressure could possibly induce labor. There were 7 of us children at home. The oldest, me, was 14, our father was away, traveling for work. What should she do? Luckily she called a cab at the last possible minute and left her resilient kids to take care of ourselves. When the cab pulled up at the hospital, her water broke. In the elevator, she went into labor. When they rolled into her into the delivery room, the baby’s head appeared. As the hurricane screamed outside she gave birth to one, then two, then three little girls. Following your intuition, trusting the resilience of others, and knowing when to call a cab can get you through a lot.
Day 329. The Lesion Tree
There’s a tree, high in the Sierras, which grows next to the Yuba River, near a camping spot I’ve been going to since 1977. During the worst years of the AIDS epidemic I’d go there with dear friends, many with AIDS, and sit around the late-night camp fire, the darkness all around us, and talk about the Terrible Times we were trying to live through. Someone pointed out that the tree had a wound that looked like a KS lesion, one of the great killers of people with AIDS. Each spring, when the snows melt and the flood arrives, the Lesion Tree is struck, over and over again, by the trees that have fallen over the previous year. It’s wound never completely heals, but it continues to grow, anchoring itself in the river bed, so big now that it protects the smaller trees behind it from the worst of the yearly flood. I’m looking forward to my next pilgrimage there, when I will lay it all down and look upwards through its magnificent branches.
I came up to Sonoma County to visit my husband Kirk this past weekend and awoke Monday with heavy smoke in the air and no wifi or phone service. From the radio we learned that wildfires had erupted on Sunday night and moved into a number of Santa Rosa neighborhoods, causing great destruction and loss of life. The fires continue to burn out of control with no predictions of containment. Over 20 people have died, hundreds remain missing, and evacuations are ongoing. We’re not in danger at the moment, though the fire came within 12 miles of where we are. The wind seems to be the major factor in where the fires move and so far they’re in West County’s favor; may it continue to be that way. As in other recent calamities, most notably the hurricanes and the Las Vegas shootings, I feel the urge to shut down, to numb out, to become paralyzed. But the stories of who the dead are, what the survivors are doing, and how the caregivers are responding continue to draw me in and keep me open to how I might make a difference. As Susan Sontag often reminded us, “Whatever is happening, something else is always going on.”
The rain has finally arrived in Northern California, down onto the fires that still burn, the first responders who still fight them, the neighborhoods burned to the ground, the neighborhoods that were spared, those who were homeless before the fires came and those who now join them. The rain falls on everyone who didn’t vote, who voted for Trump, who voted for Hilary, Bernie or someone else. The rain falls on the ashes of those lost in the fires and the broken hearted who lost them. The rain has arrived and it’s falling on all of us.
Legends say this is the longest day of the year as it contains a 25th hour, the hour when all those who have left the earth over the course of the past year try to find their way back to where we all came from. Those who lived a day and those who lived a century, those who died of sickness, from accidents, in childbirth, victims of crimes of passion, the hurricanes, the shootings, the earthquakes, fires and bombings. Those who voted for Trump and those who didn’t; tonight they all move across the land. We wear masks so they won’t recognize us and become distracted from their purpose. We light fires to help them find their way home. Blessed Be!
Day 365. Certificate of Appreciation
It’s been a year since we all literally awoke to the terrible reality of Donald Trump’s election. Amidst all the fear, disappointment, fury and hopelessness of the past twelve months, you’ve done your best to find ways to support others and remain buoyant through all the turbulence. I won’t forget, nor will others, all that you’ve done to push back and disrupt Trump and the awfulness of his administration. These Terrible Times, like all Terrible Times, will pass and you’ll be able to look back, knowing what you did to support the resistance. Thank You! Thank You! Thank You!
It’s been 379 days since Trump’s election and I often wonder what my mother would say about these Terrible Times. Born in 1925, she’d seen a lot in her 90 years. The wars, the bombings, the elections won and lost, the riots, the assassinations. I remember coming home from school 54 years ago today to find her standing in front of the tv, crying into a dish towel. Decades later, driving across the country, we decided to stop in Dallas. We stood in Dealey Plaza and looked up at the window in the Texas School Book Depository. My mom walked along the white picket fence surrounding the controversial grassy knoll, reading the graffiti that had accumulated over the years. She stopped and pointed. “I remember feeling this way,” she said. Someone had written, “This is the spot where history stopped.” As we got back into the car and drove west she said, “That’s how it always feels when something terrible happens.”
Six years ago today I was admitted to St. Mary’s Hospital here in San Francisco. Within two hours I was rolled into the operating room and four hours later rolled out with a new right knee. It was a big experience. The amount of pain, fear, opioids, assistance, sleeplessness, hard work and inconvenience I experienced over the next four months was daunting. I spent countless hours in rehab doing the same exercises over and over again. “Remember,” the therapists would say, “when you’re on stairs, step up with the good knee, step down with the bad.” Finally, I could do stairs again with confidence. The following November, I was readmitted to the hospital and had my left knee replaced. Through many months of rehab once again, I remembered: “Up with the good, down with bad,” a timely mantra for us all on this, the 382nd day since Trump was elected.
Day 390. The Supermoon
It’s been 390 days since Trump’s election and the supermoon has come back again, just as it did a few months ago and a few months before that. When I stand on the front stoop looking for the moon between the trees, feeling assaulted by Trump and all he stands for, I need to remember that there have been 22,350,000,000 supermoons and there are billions and billions more to come. Human beings have been looking up at the moon through centuries of difficult and catastrophic events. It won’t be easy and there may be terrible situations that will continue through the rest of his term, but a time will come when we will look up through the trees, see the supermoon, and he will be gone.
Day 395. Resuscitation
Some mornings I wake up having forgotten about Trump and all the meanness and cruelty in the world that he represents; for a moment I’m free. Then it all starts to rush in, landing somewhere in the middle of my chest, a silent lamentation. Some mornings Dewey is there too, looking at me, waiting for me to lift the blanket so he can crawl in and lay down next to me. He puts his paws on my heart, and begins to knead there, over and over and over. In that world between sleep and wakefulness, his movements have meaning; what is he trying to tell me? I look at him and wonder: do you just want to be let out? Today, however, it felt like resuscitation, trying to bring me back into hope and love.
Day 405. Doing Something You’ve Never Done Before
Living through the unreality of the 405 days since Trump’s election requires all our skill-sets and strategies. After you’ve written and called and donated and volunteered and argued and compromised and cried and reframed and sunk and revived, it’s good to remember the pleasure and relief that can come from doing something you’ve never done before. As evidence, here I am smiling, making my very first tamales while wearing a Susan B. Anthony tee shirt. Do something uniquely different soon . . . it really helps! P.S. Thanks to Leandro Gonzales for the Master Class in Tamale Making.
On the 410th day since Trump’s election, winter came again. It hit hard, and not only because of Trump and his awfulness; as you know, life goes on, even during these Terrible Times, bringing its challenges and problems and disappointments. I went to a holiday party where everyone was a stranger, and sat next to this incredible couple. They met 46 years ago in a gay bar; they’ve been together ever since. One was a marine, the other a registered nurse. They’ve fought against discrimination and injustice, survived the AIDS epidemic, and participated in countless fundraisers (they both sing!) for countless causes. As the year winds down, I need to remember that there are millions of people all around us, quietly doing their powerful work through all the years, through all the goodness and all the bad.
Day 426. Two Beauties
On the 426th day since Trump’s election I went on a long walk through the hills above Armstrong Woods in Sonoma County. So much rain the night before had made the paths muddy and difficult at times, so twice I made my way off the trail and through the trees. Both times I came upon a small hand painted stone, placed there by someone who wanted to surprise me. It was such a timely reminder to leave the mud of the main trail from time to time and strike out on your own: you never know what beauty might be laying there, waiting for you to find it.
Day 432. What Would Martin Luther King Say?
The 432nd day since Trump’s election is also Martin Luther King’s birthday. Today I want to remember Dr. King’s wise and courageous activism and not focus on Trump hitting little balls into little holes. And though reading Dr. King’s speeches makes me long for such a leader in the here and now, his words remain timeless and true. Of the many things he said, this feels especially appropriate to me today. “Strangely enough I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the way the world is made; I didn’t make it that way, but it’s like that.”
On the 437th day since Trump’s election (and the one year anniversary of his inauguration) the government shut down, providing us with yet another opportunity to push back. While some march in the streets, raising voices, reassuring one another that the movement is alive and well, others move quietly through the trees. Stay open on whatever path you choose today. Onward!
Day 450. Message From the Past
It all just keeps coming, the bad sad news, out of the White House and, it seems, everywhere else. The cruelty towards immigrants and refugees, the hopelessness of stopping climate change, the suffering all around us. I try to protect myself at times but it still finds its way in. I walked past a stuffed animal, a giraffe almost as large as me, laying on Folsom Street, it’s big button eyes following me, and I felt something click inside. I got home before the tears started to flow. I had a great big cry, long overdue, great because it brought relief and opened me up again. Afterwards, I went down to get the giraffe out of the street, but someone else had the same idea and it was gone.
I suspect that most of what happens when you’re living through the Trump era tends toward the cynical, but this Valentine’s Day is hitting me the wrong way. It feels like just another day manufactured to dredge up our memories or manipulate our hopes to get us to buy cards, chocolates, spa days and all the rest. Probably best to just be in the here and now, love the people you love, and trust that they know it. Remember: Cupid doesn’t carry a bow and arrow because he wants you to feel good.
Last week Fred Rogers, creator and host of “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood,” became a Forever Stamp. He died 15 years ago, but his messages to young viewers over the decades have become especially resonant during the awfulness of the Trump era. He was big on kindness: “There are three ways to ultimate success: the first way is to be kind, the second way is to be kind, the third way is to be kind.” But the one that has really stayed with me is something his mother said to reassure him when terrible and frightening events would occur in the world around him. “Look,” she would say, “for the helpers.”
Day 478. Don’t Hate, Celebrate
On the 478th day since Trump’s election I wake up sick and tired of all the hatred and disappointment I feel towards him and his cronies and supporters. In the back of the closet I find an old cardboard tube and in it, a poster for Shanti Project from the late 1980s. There’s some of my comrades from those dark days; they’re smiling, determined, resolved; they keep going, through all of it: the hatred, the hope, the grief, the endless possibilities for action. Thanks Ali, Jennifer Ringewald, Jana Rickerson, Rafael Diaz, Kingsley Luey, Danny, Peter and Mike Frederickson for reminding me there’s so much more than hatred to be felt during these Terrible Times.
On the 500th day since Trump’s election, students led huge rallies for gun control across the United States. And though the NRA and the Republicans and Trump seem unstoppable at times, the voices of resistance continue to increase, growing in volume and numbers. We’re living through the Terrible Times and my challenge is to widen my focus, to see beyond fear and uncertainty, to bear witness to the movement that is all around me.
Day 588. Children’s Cries
My siblings and I were once taken away from our mother while we were waiting in a Greyhound bus station in Miami FL. We were led away in one direction while she disappeared in the other. We were separated for barely a day and half, but the impact remained. We cried for hours and I never forgave the two men involved. Years later, while my mother was at the laundry mat, a young couple with two children approached and asked if she would take their kids for a month. They explained that they’d found a job but they couldn’t take their children with them. And though they were strangers, my mother agreed; she was afraid of who else they might offer their children to. May the cries of the children along the border become a rallying cry for all of us to continue our resistance to Trump, his cronies, and their inhumane policies.
Day 607. Evening in Dallas
On the 607th day since Trump’s election I find myself sweatily walking around empty downtown Dallas. I’m here to facilitate an HIV training and my hotel is a block away from Dealey Plaza, where JFK was assassinated. I went into Good Ole Boy BBQ, filled with cowboys and Trump voters. A homeless man came wandering in and one of the cowboys got up, walked him to the cashier, and told him to order whatever he wanted. A very scary table of tatted football player types sat down right in front of me; they eyed me suspiciously. Then a gigantic transwoman, as tall as me, walked in; I held my breath. She came right over to the table, hugged and kissed every last hunk sitting there, and then dove into the humongous bowl of ribs everyone was eating; from their conversation I could tell they were all co-workers. After dinner I walked to a 7-11 to buy some water for the hotel room. While I was waiting in line an elderly homeless man came in and asked the cashier if he could please have some cold water. The Ethiopian cashier said, “Sure bro! Help yourself!” and the older man walked out with the same bottle of water I was about to pay for. And just now, before I came up to my room, I walked by the eternal flame, lit to remember JFK and his great loss to our country. I can hear a faraway train moving through the darkening city as I write to you. Oh the world, the world! How can we bear it? Tonight I think it’s by being kind and open and generous to one another, keeping the flame burning, listening to the faraway trains and letting our sadness and disappointments and assumptions go with them.
There are only 114 days until the mid-term elections, most of which will occur on Tuesday, November 6. All 435 seats in the House and 35 of the 100 seats in the Senate will be contested. As I talk to friends and colleagues, getting the vote out seems to be the primary strategy for regaining either/both the House/Senate. When I talk to those who are registered but didn’t vote, assisting people to apply for absentee ballots also seems like a wise move. And then, 728 days later, we’ll vote for the next president. Will it be Elizabeth? Bernie? Joe? Someone else? Beyond getting the vote out, can we really listen to each other as we communicate our beliefs about who the next candidate should be? I pledge to do everything I can to remove Trump from the White House, which includes helping to get the vote out, assisting in applying for absentee ballots, and practicing respectful engagement as the hopeful candidates emerge.
Day 616. Remembering What Happened 62,092 Days Ago
On the 616th day since Trump’s election, I’m remembering another time when Americans organized to change the injustices of their era. On July 19, 1848 the first US women’s rights convention, attended by 200 women, was held in Seneca Falls, N.Y. The event was organized by Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, pictured below right with Susan B. Anthony, after they were barred from the convention floor at an anti-slavery convention in 1840. On the first day of the convention Stanton read the “Declaration of Sentiments,” a treatise modeled after the U.S. Declaration of Independence, that enumerated the grievances of women. The next day the declaration was adopted, and men were invited to attend, among them abolitionist Frederick Douglass. Also present was Amelia Bloomer, who went on to found the first women’s newspaper, The Lily. Although widely ridiculed at the time, Stanton’s declaration gave birth to the women’s suffrage movement which finally, 26,329 days later, lead to women’s national right to vote on August 18, 1920. Today I remember the power of organizing, of working in coalitions, of creating press that represents all perspectives, of patiently and steadfastly staying focused and committing to a greater cause. Today I remember all the efforts of women who claimed the right to vote; I remember them as the mid-term elections approach.
Fifty-six years ago this weekend, Nelson Mandela was arrested. He remained imprisoned for 27 years. I’ve been reading about him, looking for clues as to how best respond to what is happening in our country. Found this to be helpful: “When we can sit in the face of insanity and dislike and be free from the need to make it different, then we are free.”
Day 656. A Visa to Visit Russia
On the 656th day since Trump’s election I received a visa to travel to Russia. In 3 weeks my colleague and co-conspirator Terry Cavanaugh and I will travel to St. Petersburg Russia to attend Queerfest. Here’s their statement of intent: “QUEERFEST in St. Petersburg is a cultural and educational event concerning human rights, identities, gender and sexuality. We create the possibility for learning ourselves, society and the world outside. We oppose xenophobia, sexism, discrimination and violence.” We’ve been asked to speak on various topics and will host a special screening of Eric Slade’s documentary, “Hope Along the Wind,” about the life of Harry Hay. We are honored to have been invited and are very inspired by the work this community is doing to further LGBT rights in Russia. More to come . . .
Day 666. The Number of the Beast?
On the 666th day since Trump’s election I saw three 6s, over and over, all day long. What does it mean? The New Testament says it’s a hidden code, signaling the arrival of the beast, the root of all evil. The numerologists say 666 is a wake-up call to reexamine our current situation and change the direction of our thoughts so we can raise our vibrations to a more positive frequency. In modern popular culture 666 has become the symbol for the AntiChrist. For Satanists, it’s used to invoke the Devil. For mathematicians, 666 is a natural number that falls sequentially after 665 and before 667. Whenever I confront a myriad of conflicting meanings, I return to this truth: If you want to create a better world, you need to start with yourself.
It’s been 679 days since Trump was elected and my friend and colleague Terry Cavanagh and I are heading off to St. Petersburg to participate in Queerfest, a 10-day event that celebrates, supports and elevates the lives of LGBT people in Russia. Since some of our friends and family are a little worried about us going there, we decided to reassure them by just blending in with these authentic Russian hats. My husband Kirk Read stopped us as we were leaving. “No!” he said. “Just no!” and so we reluctantly left them behind. More to come . . . – mit Terry Cavanagh.
Day 696. A Fan For You!
It’s been 696 days since Trump’s election. Kavanaugh’s on the Supreme Court and we’re left angry, disappointed, concerned, deflated and hopeless. And then I remembered my fans. My dear friend Ron, who lived with AIDS for as long as he could, used to make us fans back in the 80s, when terrible things would happen: hateful legislation introduced, failed clinical trials, beloved friends dying horrendous deaths. He’d make fans and give them out, reminding us all to sit back for a moment, take a breath, cool off. I found four of them just now: Greg Louganis winning the Gold Medal, people making AIDS Memorial Quilt panels, beautiful healthy bodies, and images of art that heal, that comfort, that inspire. Please, take one, sit back, breathe. Ron would always remind us: “The virus wins if we stop fighting.”
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