Reading last night, a line from Lisa Carver’s memoir stuck with me:
“What we want is something to spread through us, to take us over,” says Carver, “and that’s what diseases do….” No one wants a disease. But we do want something.
From fear to connection, Carver finds something on the stage, “it was probably the most exhilarating moment of my life,” (p.14-5).
These days, my teenagers are writing their own zines, painting their own stories.
We’re tracing those exhilarating moments in our minds, our inner moments, between reading and dreaming, dosing off, wondering if there is going to be snow, if something else is coming, moving through us, something spreading.
It has been four, five years of running from horror, detentions, fascism.
And now we’re finding a distance from it all.
Our dreams still remind us we’re not quite beyond it all.
My friend Emily posted a request:
“I had an epic stress dream last night where I:
-couldn’t find shoes
-ran out of gas
-forgot my mask
-had to do an unexpected stand up comedy routine
-only lined one of my eyes
-had a party ppl didn’t RSVP to
What are your stress dreams like?”
I find myself dashing off a few notes from where I’ve been the last few nights,
missing vaccine appointments, meeting the ditchdigger drunk, wondering what happened, over and over again, winding down winding stairs down a hill, in medieval town, looking out into the distance, lost in a long stairway, trying to find my way back up, a frenetic party, stumbling into a lost friend, forgetting where I was going.
Over and over, I have this dream.
Different versions of the hallway each year, in a subway, a hotel.
We’re all looking inside right now through this long winter.
The loneliness of it grasps, many, with no hugs, for months on end, the cabin fever raging, another year into the pandemic.
The teenagers are still at home, losing senior and freshman year to online classes, community disappearing and reappearing in different forms and dreams.
Collectives taking shape, colors flying, paintings up on the wall.
Dreams about random get togethers, where everyone arrives for a party in Bushwick.
Driving through the post-apocalyptic landscape, separating, searching, looking, a teenager and her friends, encountering a boy and his dog, the last humans on earth.
singing Kimya Dawson
“I will lose my shit if even one more dies. So, please don’t die,” she begged,
thinking about her mom and kids, tracing her adventures…
Next the kids ask for Joy Division.
“Now you have blue eyes,” we all sing, melancholy words to a dance beat still appeals.
Time passes, the kids came.
We celebrated each birthday, many of those aunts and uncles who joined, no longer around.
They joined us for a bit and now they are flying off into their lives.
I still don’t know where they came from.
Its still a mystery.
Saturday, a few of us meet to unpack it all, the friendships, the fights, the moving, the beer pouring at Lavendar Lake, chatting away, wondering why Nietzsche broke with Wagner.
What do you do when you find out a friend has some blindspots?
Do you cut them off?
While Nietzsche recognized his friend was an anti-Semite, he never disavowed the music.
Instead he wrote
Sadly, he may have seen something coming which had everything to do with the future.
We see it in weird science fiction like news every day,
a new outbreak in Hong Kong,
the German right is relishing the MAGA crowd storming the capital, still so much hate.
As much as we want it to go away, each day we hear about a new loss.
Someone else loses a brother, a sister.
In the meantime, the homogenization steamrolling continues.
Rezonings transforming neighborhoods,
Displacing people and quirky spaces into a sea of identical details.
The city is trying to use the virus to steamroller through a rezone, giving our neighborhood to developers.
Sunday, we meet along the Gowanus Canal:
“Message to @brad.lander no climate justice, no rezone. We need a real racial impact study.
The Gowanus is polluted and we're muted. A better plan is possible.
Remember Love Canal? Don't put affordable housing on a brownfield.
If we put affordable housing on Public Place, a toxic brownfield, what happens to the kids who grow up there? #NOGOWANUSREZONE”
A man is passing out flyers:
“Voice of Gowanus is a coalition of community groups and neighbors concerned about
the Gowanus rezoning…”
We make our way through the neighborhood, winding all the way to Brad Lander’s office, speaking out in the cold.
Monday, more doctor appointments.
No one’s sure the new vaccine is going to help stop the new strain.
The Times reports its eluding the vaccines.
Well if that’s the case, we should stop pretending we can stop this says my doctor, frustrated, treating 14 patients with the virus.
ON the way back from my physical, Greg texts.
Try the vaccination portal.
My last was canceled.
It didn’t work last night, I say to him.
Try again, he says.
15 minutes in, I get an appointment out in the Rockaways.
Nine miles and two hours away.
52 minutes by bike 36 by car.
I jump on my bike and ride.
Not sure it’ll help but I might as well try.
I can’t find the entrance, walking from 101st street to 103, looking for the open door.
Two others are looking as well.
Waiting, looking wondering.
A fireman welcomes us inside, approving my appointment.
You are in seat number nine he says, smiling.
99 Luftballoons is playing.
The fire department volunteers are dancing, cheering everyone.
It’s a party in there.
We’re going to get vaccines.
I can’t get a follow up dose, but for today, I got a vaccine.
Is there light?
The virus is sill raging, uncertainty is all we have.
I ride home, past the cemetery, through East New York, to the Brooklyn Greenway, stopping for a minute to have a coke, to think, remembering the last time I was there when I learned Ruth Badar Ginsberg had died.
The Hasidim are still zipping to and from.
The kids going to school.
My friendship research is moving.
Keegan wrote to remind me about Assata Skakur’s recognition:
“One of the best things about struggling is the people you meet. Before I became involved, I never dreamed such beautiful people existed. Of course, there are some creeps, but I can say without the slightest hesitation that I have been blessed with meeting some of the kindest, most courageous, most principled, most informed and intelligent people on the face of the earth. I owe a great deal to those who have helped me, loved me, taught me, and pulled my coast when I was moving in the wrong direction. If there is such a thing as luck, I’ve had an abundance of it, and the who have brought it to me are my friends and comrads. MY wild, big hearted friends, with their pretty ways and pretty thoughts, have given me more happiness that I will ever deserve. There was never a time, no matter what horrible things I was undergoing, when I felt completely alone. Maybe its ironic, I don’t know but the one thing I do know is that the Black Liberation Movement has done more for me than I will ever be able to do for it,” (p. 223).
Friends come together to do great things, to take on huge challenges:
Yet, none of us are really sure what having such a friend means.
At night, I’ve been reading Michel Eyquem de Montaigne, who wrote about the loss of his closest friend, poet Étienne de La Boétie,
in 1563, drafting his seminal essay “On Friendship.” After La Boétie, passed, he was alone. The essay on the nature of friendship became a way to communicate with his lost friend:
“Moreover what we normally call friends and friendships are no more than acquaintances and familiar relationships bound by some change or some suitability, by means of which our souls support each other. In the friendship which I am talking about, souls are mingles and confounded in so universal a blending that they efface the seams which joins them together. So that if cannot be found. If you press me to say why I loved him, I feel that it cannot be expressed except by replying: ‘Because if was him: because it was me.’ Mediating this union there was beyond all my reasoning, beyond all that I can say specifically about it, some inexplicable force of destiny,” (9-10).
We’re all trying to come to grips with those larger forces.
I run into an old video of my favorite ACT UP action with Andy Velez from 2009, fighting for healthcare for all.
Flipping through messages, I see a note from luminary activist John Jordan:
3rd time unlucky ( in 15 years) my hsv virus attacks my facial nerves again and gives me Bell’s Palsy, paralysis of half my face. I’m lucky that normally the nerves regrow but it takes months and last time In 2017 it was the trigger for mega burn out from which I never recovered my old self. These moments are lessons... The last one was the unburying of my witchy self, a self that over rationalist modern patriarchal political culture had crushed, back in the early 80’s before being involved in direct action movements i was immersed in the craft and gave it all up until
enabled me to begin to reclaim that part of me and see it as no different from activism or art, but it still took years to feel ok with it, the collapse enabled the change. This time the lesson is not yet clear, days floored by antiviral drugs in bed might reveal it, but I think it’s linked to my discovery of having being exposed to huge doses of synthetic estrogen in the form of Diethylstilbestrol (DES) in my mother’s womb and that this can have effects on amab’s ( assigned men at birth ) sense of gender. 56 years of a kind of wierd dysphoria, never feeling in my body, hating much of masculinity, always being the only ‘boy’ in the dance class as a kid, and a whole secret trans life where all this was hidden, except in early 80’ when I presented as non binary and went clubbing with the boy George crew in London. But this got again pushed into a closet that only opened occasionally during performances or disguised to not be recognized by cops during actions ! One day I’ll come out about the secret life but not here or now.. maybe I’ll turn it into a funny performance! But the lesson is the body always knows you more than you think and repressing desires and fearing being judged or being a freak is a recipe for illness and collapse!! Right now I can no longer smile but the nerves will regrow and With them my confidence and I’ll perhaps be able to smile without shame again...”
Meanwhile, Joseph exited the stage:
More very sad news. Dr. Joseph Sonnabend, a courageous pioneer in the fight against HIV/AIDS from its inception, has died at 88 in London. Not only did he take patients with GRID (later AIDS) when no one else would, he won a groundbreaking discrimination case when the building where his office was (in Greenwich Village!) tried to evict him for treating PWAs. He worked with Michael Callen, Richard Berkowitz, and Richard Dworkin in the development of their life-saving booklet "How to Have Sex in an Epidemic" in 1983. Honored to have worked with him and Michael and Thomas Hannan in the PWA Health Group in 1986 dedicated to making treatments available that "might help but couldn't hurt" when there was simply nothing available to treat AIDS. He was a giant.
Release from Jay Blotcher:
Pioneering AIDS researcher and clinician Joseph Sonnabend, 88, died January 24, 2021 at the Wellington Hospital in London, after suffering a heart attack on January 3, 2021.
Born in Johannesburg, South Africa, to a physician mother and university professor father, Joseph Adolph Sonnabend grew up in Bulawayo, in what was then Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). He trained in infectious diseases at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg and the Royal College of Physicians in Edinburgh.
In the 1960s, Sonnabend worked in London under Alick Isaacs, the co-discoverer of interferon, at the National Institute of Medical Research. In the early 1970s, he moved to New York City to continue interferon research as associate professor at the Mt. Sinai School of Medicine. Sonnabend later served as Director of Continuing Medical Education at the Bureau of VD Control at the New York City Department of Health, where he advocated for a focus on gay men’s health, particularly programs to reduce sexually-transmitted infections.
In 1978, he volunteered at the Gay Men’s Health Project in Sheridan Square, Greenwich Village, and started a private clinic for treating sexually transmitted infections. When gay men in his practice began to get sick, he was among the first clinicians in the U.S. to recognize the emerging AIDS epidemic.
Sonnabend was widely respected as an unusually compassionate clinician and researcher, willing to see any patient regardless of ability to pay, never giving up on a patient and always providing hope. In return, he earned an unusually devoted appreciation and admiration from his patients.
Simon Watney, a writer, activist and close friend of Sonnabend’s, said, “One of Joe’s most important contributions was his belief—that he conveyed to his patients—that AIDS would not be 100% fatal, that no matter how bleak the prognosis, some people would ultimately survive. That provided powerful hope at a time when hope was in short supply.”
Sean Strub, POZ magazine’s founder and a former patient, wrote in a 1998 profile of Sonnabend, “The environment (in his office) was such that patients in the waiting room sometimes rearranged the order of seeing Joe, based on our collective assessment of who needed to see him first, or who had other doctors’ appointments to get to. Joe’s patients are protective of him. Those of us with insurance remind him to send out bills; those without often helped in his office, cooked him dinner or volunteered with the organizations Joe started. Over the years, his patients have redecorated, filed, cleaned and helped in the management of his practice.”
David Kirschenbaum, an AIDS activist and close friend, said “When thinking of all his accomplishments and contributions to saving lives during the AIDS crisis, one cannot separate Joe the scientist/physician from Joe the man. His compassion for humanity was the driving force behind all that he was able to achieve in medical research. This is why he eschewed the spotlight which he so rightly deserves.”
There seems to be snow.