Monthly Archives: November 2012

“Serious Literature”!

I got an awesome surprise this morning–a message on Holding Breath‘s Facebook page, telling me that the book has been listed on another Facebook page entitled, “Who Says That Serious Literature is Dead?” (  As far as the book is concerned, there’s very little that could make me happier than having people think of it that way!  (I will, of course, also be happy when Robert Downey, Jr., agrees to play David in the film adaptation directed by Ang Lee, but that won’t be for another few months, probably 🙂 )

The Kindle version of Holding Breath: A Memoir of AIDS’ Wildfire Days is available at:

The paperback version is available here (it will be on the page in a few days):

Hoboken, and the Feelies

I moved to Hoboken from Manhattan in 1987 with my best friend from college, Lynn; she had gone over to the town one night with some other friends and seen a band at Maxwell’s, and her single evening there had convinced her that it was imperative that we move there as soon as possible (she also told me about a bar across Washington Street from Maxwell’s where draft beers cost 35 cents, and that struck both of us as another perfectly good reason to live there).

At that time, Hoboken was a relatively inexpensive alternative to Manhattan; it hadn’t quite been gentrified yet, and it seemed that almost everyone who lived there (aside from the mostly-Italian “old-timers”) was an artist or musician of some sort, and under the age of 30.  I loved it (and still do, and I felt terrible about what happened to it, and the people there, when Sandy blew through).  In Holding Breath, I included an entry from my 1988 journal about “…my apparent moderate, and inexplicable, notoriety in this weird town full of people who refuse to ever grow up.  I do love Hoboken, and I plan to for a while.”  (In retrospect, it was no great feat to have any kind of “notoriety” in a mile-square town.)

I spent almost every night out at Maxwells, and various other bars around town (for a while I tended bar at a place that was, at the time, called the Beat ‘n’ Path, and had much too much fun doing it). Maxwell’s was always my favorite place; they had (and still do) a little room in the back where great indie bands came to play.  It was cheap to get in, and very often I’d get in for free because I had friends who worked the door–a good thing, because I was always broke back then.  As far as I was concerned, it was, and still is, the best place to see live shows.

At the time, my absolute favorite band was the Feelies.  They’re a New Jersey band from Haledon, but I always kind of thought of them as a Hoboken band.  I saw them every time they (or one of their various permutations) played Maxwell’s.  During the day, as I made my way through Manhattan on my way to visit clients in the hospital or in their homes, or to see David, their music was often playing on my Walkman.  It’s hard to think about that time in my life without thinking about the Feelies, and that’s why I’ve included the following song, “On the Roof,” on my playlist for the book:

The Print Edition is Available!

The print version of Holding Breath: A Memoir of AIDS’ Wildfire Days, is now available here:

It will also be available (along with the Kindle version) on in 5-7 days.  The Kindle version is available now at:

Yay.  It was nice to get the Kindle version out, but I still prefer print.

Dancing Barefoot

I think I kind of fell in love with Patti Smith during my freshman year at Reed College.  I listened to her album Horses over and over; it was a revelation to me–an 18-year-old poet newly on her own, trying to find the things that felt right to her (that process became considerably easier once I got to Reed).  Patti felt right.  I had an oversized man’s blazer-type jacket (which I often wore over my long hippie dresses, or with a big button-down white shirt) on which I pinned a little horse–just like Patti on Mapplethorpe’s cover for the album.  I was a little obsessed, but hey–I was 18.  I still love Patti.

I included her song “Dancing Barefoot” on my playlist for Holding Breath: A Memoir of AIDS’ Wildfire Days, because something in the song’s lyrics reminds me of my regrets about my days with David, and of something I learned from those regrets, years later.

In spite of the fact that I risked my job by more-or-less moving into David’s little Lower East Side apartment with him and trying to care for him until his death eight months later, there were things that I held back–things that I wish I’d done, but didn’t (the kiss that he offered, and that I refused early on in our relationship, is like a “ground zero” for the memoir, and for my own memories).  Yes–he had full-blown AIDS, and people will argue that that was reason enough not to kiss him, but I don’t think it was MY reason (I also knew that I wasn’t going to get HIV through a kiss).  I was just confused, and holding back because of that constant, nagging feeling that I was doing something wrong by being there with him at all.  I will always wish that I had, at the very least, accepted his kiss.  That “holding back” continued in many other ways during those eight months.  These days–in large part because of my realization of what was lost as a result of my fear of “doing the ‘wrong’ thing”–I am somewhat braver, and less beholden to some idea of what people might think (although I’m still a work-in-progress in that regard as well).

As far as I can tell, the song “Dancing Barefoot” is about that blessed letting-go, and that willingness to go with what one feels in her heart, rather than slavishly following “conventional wisdom”, dogma, random “rules” set by people who simply have different ideas about things, prejudices (my own subtle and barely acknowledged ideas about “addicts” at the time played into my dealings with David as well–at least at first).

It’s a truly beautiful song.  Here it is:

(Holding Breath: A Memoir of AIDS’ Wildfire Days is available at:

This is What I Want, Too…

I just came across this on a friend’s Facebook page, and knew I had to post it here.  It’s by a woman named Zoe Leonard, an artist and member of the collective Fierce Pussy, which is also associated with Act Up (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power).  To be honest, I’d never heard of her before today (although I’d certainly heard of Act Up back in the days when I worked with people with HIV/AIDS in New York), but when I read this quote I felt that it had to be a part of this blog:

“I want a dyke for president. I want a person with aids for president and I want a fag for vice president and I want someone with no health insurance and I want someone who grew up in a place where the earth is so saturated with toxic waste that they didn’t have a choice about getting leukemia. I want a president that had an abortion at sixteen and I want a candidate who isn’t the lesser of two evils and I want a president who lost their last lover to aids, who still sees that in their eyes every time they lay down to rest, who held their lover in their arms and knew they were dying. I want a president with no airconditioning, a president who has stood on line at the clinic, at the dmv, at the welfare office and has been unemployed and layed off and sexually harassed and gaybashed and deported. I want someone who has spent the night in the tombs and had a cross burned on their lawn and survived rape. I want someone who has been in love and been hurt, who respects sex, who has made mistakes and learned from them. I want a Black woman for president. I want someone with bad teeth and an attitude, someone who has eaten that nasty hospital food, someone who crossdresses and has done drugs and been in therapy. I want someone who has committed civil disobedience. And I want to know why this isn’t possible. I want to know why we started learning somewhere down the line that a president is always a clown: always a john and never a hooker. Always a boss and never a worker, always a liar, always a thief and never caught.”

I’m with you, Zoe.


Early on in the book, I write about one of my first clients, Margaret–“a frail crack addict who really–like so many of the others–wanted to be liked.”  She was a tiny, sweet, energetic little thing who was really happy and excited to be getting a room in a crummy SRO hotel, and to be going out shopping with me to get a few things to make it more comfortable.  She passed away shortly afterwards.

That part about “wanting to be liked”–wanting to be understood as being someone who was more than the stereotypical image that many of us have of being a “crackhead,” or a “drug addict”, or a “homeless person”–is an important part of the book.  It was absolutely true of David, who, as far as I can tell, had very rarely in his life had a sense of being understood beyond those and a few other labels (one of the last of them, of course, being “junkie with AIDS”).

Almost without exception, the people I worked with (David included, obviously) always seemed very happy when they were given a chance to talk about their lives outside of those labels, their childhoods, their interests, their dreams…anything, really.  Something in them seemed to change when they realized that someone actually wanted to hear their stories, or when someone looked them in the eye, shook their hands, and asked them about themselves beyond the necessities of the paperwork.

Even now, when my son gives some money to a homeless person on the street, I tell him to look him or her in the eye and, at the very least, say a few words–let him or her know that he actually SEES them.

That’s why the Animals’ “Please Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” is on the playlist for Holding Breath: A Memoir of AIDS’ Wildfire Days.  Here’s the link to the song (ignore the suits! 🙂 ):

(Holding Breath: A Memoir of AIDS’ Wildfire Days is available at:

Solitary Souls

I know that I wrote in an earlier post that I wasn’t going to post any more excerpts from the book, but it’s Halloween, and it made me think of a Halloween (I was, in fact, in Mexico at the time, so it was more properly one of Los Dias de los Muertos–Days of the Dead, or the Mayan Hanal Pixan) six years ago, when I was just starting to experience the delayed grief I’d suppressed since 1990.  (The quote I use in the excerpt is from a book called Hanal Pixan Yesterday and Today: The Mayan Ritual of the Dead, trans. David Phillips.)  So–one more excerpt:

“…Around that same time, I was sent to Mexico for a magazine assignment.  By coincidence, I arrived on October 31st, the first of the Days of the Dead.  On my second day there, I posted:

The people here create altars for their dead on these days, setting out candles, images of saints, photographs of those who have died, cigarettes, tequila, sweets, the things the things they loved when they were alive. It’s believed that the souls of the dead return and partake of the essence of the food and drink left out for them, leaving what’s left for the living. Yesterday someone gave me a book about Hanal Pixan, the Mayan ritual of the dead, and I found this passage:

‘…it is also common to set up an altar to the solitary soul, dedicated to all those deceased who have no one to remember them on Earth, or who have no known relatives, or relatives who showed no interest in them. It might also be…the sick who were abandoned by their relatives…’

Well, my solitary soul, I’ll need to set up your altar here, in a room at the Ritz-Carlton in Cancun, overlooking the sea. There are bottles of water here, a bowl of fruit, a red flower, and a warm breeze from the sea blowing the curtains around. If you come back, I’ll be waiting here, in a place nothing like the one you left—the kind of place we used to talk about visiting together.

These past few weeks, I’ve been willing to believe in almost anything.”

In the six years since I wrote that, I’ve gone from being “willing to believe” to absolutely certain, and I’m no longer afraid of death.

(Holding Breath: A Memoir of AIDS’ Wildfire Days is available at:

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