The Book That Keeps on Giving
While I work on my next book (Friend Grief and COVID: Pandemic Stories) I continue to spend a significant amount of time on my last book. Fag Hags, Divas and Moms: The Legacy of Straight Women in the AIDS Community will be three years old in March. I expected the initial excitement about it to fade by the end of the first year; that’s pretty normal. But it didn’t. If anything, it has given me the opportunity to expand my business in unexpected ways.
That first year was full of book signings, feature articles, and respectable sales. The success of the book turned me into an expert on the topic. The second year, though, is when it really took off.
This is Not A Year-End Review of 2021
I’m kind of tired of those year-end review articles and blog posts.
I’ve always considered Labor Day the start of a new year. That’s when school starts, and in the performing arts, when the new season begins. Other than changing calendars and getting ready to do taxes, I guess living on a school year timeline still rules my life. That’s why I decided I wanted to take this opportunity to look forward to 2022, not back to 2021.
One skill I’ve improved the past two years is the willingness to pivot. I’m not perfect at this: there are still times I rage against changing plans. But flexibility is more important than ever, and that’s why I’ve made plans for 2022 (and beyond) that are fairly easy to adapt. What’s in the works, you ask?
Book Review - Never Silent by Peter Staley
It’s hard to review a book written by a friend.You want to be publicly supportive so that others will buy their book. You know the time and effort and challenges that led to words on the pages. You want to like it. Sometimes, that can be a challenge in itself. I’ve read books by friends that were badly written, badly edited. Should I keep my mouth shut and leave the criticism to strangers? Luckily, I did not have to consider that with Peter Staley’s long-anticipated memoir, Never Silent.
Before You Write Your Story, Make Sure You're Not Alone
Since at least 2013, when my first books were published, people have asked me how to go about writing their own book. They’ve asked about publishing, they’ve asked about writing groups, they’ve asked about how to get the courage to write. Many of them want to write a memoir based on their experiences in the early days of the AIDS epidemic.
For a long time, I would offer unabashed encouragement and suggestions for how to proceed. I let them know I would answer any questions they had along the way. Some of them took me up on that offer; not all of them followed my advice. That’s okay. The important thing was that they were telling their stories.
When the COVID pandemic began, I joined online writing groups of long-term survivors in the HIV/AIDS community. Some were already published authors; many had never been published. A few of them were considering going that route, but others were mainly interested in recording their feelings and experiences during what quickly became their second pandemic.
Warning: Grief Anniversary Ahead
This time it wasn’t Facebook Memories that reminded me. It was my friend, Ken.
A year ago, the world was experiencing a devastating and profound change. Our way of life was about to be altered in ways no one could have predicted. A year ago today, I arrived in New York City for the beginning of a four-week East Coast trip. I had book signings scheduled in several cities. I had an advocacy conference to attend in Washington. I had lunch and dinner dates set with friends, along with book-related meetings to discuss future events.
When I left Chicago, I told my husband I wasn’t sure when I would be back. It depended on how serious all of this turned out to be. My trip lasted only six days. And though I ate indoors in NYC several times, when I got back I refused to eat inside a restaurant. In fact, I’ve only done that once in the past year. The anxiety I felt in that almost deserted restaurant wasn’t worth it.
Book Review: All The Young Men
What began as a simple question to a dying stranger - “What do you need, honey?” - changed the life of Ruth Coker Burks and the hundreds of people in Arkansas she helped during the darkest days of the AIDS epidemic. Little did she imagine that in a short amount of time, she would not only be caring for the dying, but burying their ashes in chipped cookie jars in her family plots in Files Cemetery. And more. Much more.
Making Plans for 2021: A Leap of Faith
The bottom line was that I wanted to diversify my writing and writing business. I didn't want to be overly dependent on any one activity, whether it was public events or book sales. And that meant I had to learn new skills and upgrade the ones I already had.
The Pandemic Had a Soundtrack
The audio version of my book - Fag Hags, Divas and Moms: The Legacy of Straight Women in the AIDS Community - came out in October. I've heard nothing but praise for the narrator, Donna Allen, which makes me very happy. While I was working on the marketing plan, music kept popping into my head. That's not unusual. A lot of people listen to music while they work. These were more like earworms: songs that played endlessly in my head whether I liked it or not.
The music sparked an idea, which apparently former President Barack Obama has stolen for his own book (I'm kidding, really I am). I decided to create a playlist of songs that evoke the first 15 years of the AIDS epidemic, from 1981-1996, the years without effective treatment or hope. Unfortunately, most of the songs I remembered were just, well, depressing. Creating that kind of list no longer seemed like a good idea.
So I turned to the women who inspire me, women whose stories I shared in my book. What songs instantly remind them of that time: of people, places or events? It didn't take long for a response.
How I Found the Perfect Audiobook Narrator
The story of Fag Hags, Divas and Moms: The Legacy of Straight Women in the AIDS Community has been the story of unexpected and meaningful connections. So I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised when my narrator became one of those. When I signed on with Findaway Voices to produce my audiobook, I had to submit a list of requirements for the narrator. That required me to think about tone, inflections, and mood.
Reflection on COVID-19 - More from Trudy James
As I said last week, Trudy James is one of the most remarkable women in my book, Fag Hags, Divas and Moms: The Legacy of Straight Women in the AIDS Community. Her advocacy and activism - in HIV/AIDS and the death and dying communities - was recently honored by AARP Washington. She had so much to say about facing a deadly pandemic, that I decided to share more of her thoughts. I hope you find them comforting, too.
In addition to the “Speaking of Dying” film and workshops, I often give presentations, workshops, and consultations on the subjects of grief and loss. For many people this is new information. In these “Excited States of America” we have never...
Reflection on COVID-19 - Guest Post by Trudy James
If you've read my book Fag Hags, Divas and Moms: The Legacy of Straight Women in the AIDS Community, you were probably surprised by the story of Trudy James, a hospital chaplain in Arkansas in the late 1980s. I know her story surprised me, too! She is now a leader in the field of death and dying, as well as grief and loss awareness. In the first of two guest blogs, Trudy shares an email she sent out on March 30, not long after the lock downs began:
I was enjoying a long-anticipated vacation in Italy with my friend, Jane. We were visiting my son and daughter-in-law who were planning to live in Umbria (mid-Italy, not...
A Reflection on COVID-19 - Guest Post by Krishna Stone
Reflections on COVID-19 - Guest Post by Nancy Duncan
As a woman...
Why Women's History Month is Like A Treasure Hunt
Women’s History Month is like that, too. Just like February’s Black History Month, every day in March brings stories that are new to many and endlessly fascinating. Uncovering those jewels is critical to our understanding of the world.
This year marks the centennial of the 19th amendment, which finally gave women the right to vote. One hundred years ago, my grandparents were teenagers and young adults. It...
Finding Grace on a Metro Platform
I spent the weekend after Labor Day in Washington, DC at the US Conference on AIDS. There was a lot of focus on long-term survivors, as well as how to serve the unique needs of those aging with HIV. As usual, it was an intense 3-½ days, which this year included a book signing in the A&U Magazine booth for the book I’d first started...
Book Review - Nurses on the Inside
That has been a mantra of mine for many years. It has served me well in public speaking, in interviews and in my writing. Nurses on the Inside: Stories of the HIV/AIDS Epidemic in NYC by Ellen Matzer and Valery Hughes is a great example of why it’s so important to share what we know with those who don’t.
Things we take for granted today like case management and universal precautions were unheard of before the AIDS epidemic became publicly known in 1981. One of the great strengths of this book is documenting how treatment changed, so that the reader can fully understand the evolution of critical care nursing when confronting this frightening new virus.
They pull no punches,...
HIV Long-Term Survivor Awareness Day
It’s only the past few years that that designation has become widely used. Hell, no one expected it would ever be possible. There was a time when my only prayer was to get through a week without reading the obituary of someone I knew or admired from afar.
Since many who have reached that milestone are also baby boomers like me, I’ve taken a special interest in their challenges. During a visit to New York, I...
A Special Women's History Month
On April 1, 2014, I was at the New York Public Library for a panel discussion: “The Women of ACT UP/NY! Fight Back! Fight AIDS!” A group of accomplished women - straight and lesbians - talked about the things they’d accomplished that changed the AIDS epidemic. The most significant one was arguably a four year battle to change the definition of AIDS to include women. Until 1992, the government and insurance companies defined AIDS by how it presented in men.
I knew most of the stories they told, though many in the audience, including my 19 year old daughter, did not. I remember thinking,...
Another World AIDS Day - Part 2
Almost thirty years ago, Bonaventure House, their housing program for people with HIV/AIDS, was one of my clients. I wrote government and foundation grants for them. So when I found out they were hosting this event, I wanted to be part of it.
It was also the first time I’ve spoken in front of an audience since my mother’s graveside service in March. I wasn’t...
Another World AIDS Day
I was in London at a performance of the The Secret of Sherlock Holmes with Jeremy Brett and Edward Hardwicke. At the end of the curtain call, Brett made a brief speech. It was, he explained, the first World AIDS Day, and the ushers were about to circulate around the house with buckets, collecting donations for local AIDS service organizations. I dropped some money in the bucket and filed that idea away, not realizing I’d use it back in Chicago on the second World AIDS Day. And here we are, thirty years later.
I have a lot of friends who are long-term survivors. There was a time when long-term meant a couple of years, not decades. The fact that...