Tuesday, December 13, 2011


For what human ill does not dawn seem to be an alleviation? ~Thornton Wilder

The day shall not be up so soon as I,
To try the fair adventure of tomorrow.
~William Shakespeare

The sun has not caught me in bed in fifty years. ~Thomas Jefferson

I'll tell you how the sun rose a ribbon at a time. ~Emily Dickinson

You can only come to the morning through the shadows. ~J.R.R. Tolkien

My happiest summer was when I worked as a baker in far West Texas. Now, those who remember me then might have a different memory of my mood, but time and distance are the friends of memory, and I can choose to remember it as a summer of unabashed joy. Working as a baker, I had to rise when it was still dark out, turned out muffins, scones, sticky buns, and apple pies--and then went and turned the closed sign to open just as the light was coming up. There's nothing as beautiful as the sunrise in the high desert of far West Texas.

I started feeling that, even on my days off, hours were wasted if I didn't wake before dawn.

Tomorrow, I'm going to try to start waking before dawn again, just because it feels like the person I am becoming.

I need more solitude, more time with God in the mornings, more time with my pen and paper, and I want to be on the jogging trail when the day is just breaking.

(Yes, I know that "Dawn" is my name, but it's a first name I've never felt a connection to, so I'm taking suggestions for new ones. I receive compliments on the name. I do have other names--Olga is my taken baptismal name, after a great-aunt. And the children around town call my Sweetie Pie. My art students call me Miss Purple. But this is another type of Dawn and one I can discuss at a later date. I must to bed now if I'm to wake so early.)

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Contrary Action

When I was 26 years old, I had a brief, intense romance with a young man who was incredibly romantic and kind for a few weeks, and then, less kind. He soon moved to the other side of the country to attend graduate school. Instead of remembering the less kind incidents, I held on to the first few incredibly romantic weeks, and I was determined to win him back. I wrote him letter after letter, so he had a big pile of them on the corner of his desk. I also compiled a book of poetry which I dedicated to him, had bound, and sent to him as a gift. It worked. I won him back--in a way. He was determined not to be involved with someone who lived on the other side of the country, and even when I came to visit him, was not where he told me he'd be when I showed up in the rental car I'd driven from the airport. We did manage a few days of romance on Ocracoke Island, NC, but over shrimp when he told me he loved me, he followed it with, "Don't get too excited, I just thought I should tell you that as you are always signing your letters, 'All love.'" I was head over heels for him; he was determined after I left that he'd meet someone who lived near him. It was me who found someone first, someone he used to share a house with back on the West coast. He and I didn't talk for years. When he later heard I had come down with HIV, he wrote me a letter, and we had several meetings over the years, and during the first of these meetings, he made formal amends to me for how he'd treated me, though I tried to discount his actions. He's now happily married; I was invited to the wedding and chose not to go, though I'm happy for him and his wife. They seem well-matched and supportive of each other.

It's 18 years since I wrote that book of poetry I sent to him, which was called Trumpet Lessons because he was learning the trumpet when we were dating.

About a month ago, I furiously started assembling a book of poems, something I used to do regularly, but haven't done since 2006. My impetus: as a birthday gift for X-man, who had his birthday yesterday. I ended up compiling a 67-page manuscript, using selections of poetry I'd written between April and October of this year, which generally encompassed the romance and the aftermath with X-man. The poems also cover spiritual and creative investigations--struggles and joys--as well as being rooted in a wonderment of the natural world. I sent the book out to some first book contests. Though I've written several books of poetry, my attempts to publish have been haphazard, so I don't have a book out yet.

With the help of some friends who probably value me more than I value myself, I didn't bring the book or a cake or any other gift to X-man's office yesterday. I did pass him as I was driving to the parking lot on campus. He walked by and waved; I clumsily rolled down my window and yelled happy birthday, but he didn't stop to chat. I keep in mind, when I try to romanticize what happened between he and I that he didn't stop and chat yesterday. That's about all the information I should need, I think. My mind wants to twist the event, say, he was late for a meeting, etc. However, if a person really cares about another person, they stop to chat, if even for 30 seconds. They say, I can't chat because I'm late for a meeting but hello, good to see you, etc. This seems obvious to most people who've followed my romance with X-man, but to me (perpetual believer in those first few romantic weeks) what I realized yesterday not only helped me hit another layer of reality. Another layer of grief was let loose. I can admit that the grief was not over anything that I tangibly had, but for the hope I had from the joyful start of my romance with X-man.

I'd made a pact with a friend to text her instead of X-man on his birthday. I sent her a message, "Happy birthday!" And then a follow up message, "I owe you a cake. What kind do you prefer?"

She wrote me back, "Thank you for wishing me a happy birthday! That is so thoughtful and kind of you and I am so happy you are in my life. I value you as a person who cares about me because I also care about you. Thank you for thinking of me enough to offer making me a cake! You are so sweet!"

I'm just about 100 percent sure if I go back over the 1200 text messages between X-man and me, there's nothing that sincerely loving and purely sweet as the message from my friend. Thank you, friend! Reality is not easy, but eventually, my eyes will adjust to the light and it will be more beautiful than the shadowy fantasies I've been living within.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011


Believe that life is worth living and your belief will help create the fact.
William James

Every creature is better alive than dead, men and moose and pine trees, and he who understands it aright will rather preserve its life than destroy it.
Henry David Thoreau

Here is the test to find whether your mission on Earth is finished: if you're alive, it isn't.
Richard Bach
I love life because what more is there.
Anthony Hopkins

In October 1998, I was in the hospital with my then-fiancee who was running fevers of 104 degrees and had been sick for some time. I remember for months before he was hospitalized I would lie next to him while he was sleeping and try to match his breaths, the ins and outs, but the shallowness of them was too much for me to sustain. I knew something was wrong with him, but I didn't know what. I thought he was stressed from work or sick from chronic alcohol and pot use. He'd vomit every morning. We found out what was wrong with him in October. He had AIDS. Two days after his diagnosis, I received my HIV positive results via a telephone hotline. I'd paid a hundred dollars to get quick, over the phone results, and had gone to a local laboratory to have my blood drawn. I was sitting at my fiancee's bedside when I made the phone call. The room started to spin; I still remember the shade of tan of the tiles on the floor and the way they started moving. I felt like I was rising up out of my body. I rushed the woman off the phone even though she desperately wanted to tell me the things she was supposed to tell me. I didn't need to know. What I needed to know I'd watched happen to my fiancee over the last few years.

He and I had recently separated and called off our engagement. We'd each gone on holidays--I'd been at an artists' residency in Port Townsend, Washington, and he'd been camping in the Sierras when his fevers spiked.

When the doctor told his mother and I what was wrong--with my fiancee's permission--he told us, don't worry, you can't get HIV from women, meaning I wasn't to blame. I now know this isn't entirely true, although it's nearly impossible to transmit from female to male. However, his mom quickly implied that he'd started getting sick as soon as he and I started dating. We never found out the source of the virus, though it troubled me for years. He'd been with a woman whose husband had died of AIDS, but she always said she tested negative. Later, upon reflection, I understood that he had severe problems with alcoholism, drug and sex addiction, along with being a compulsive liar, so the source is really up for grabs. I am no longer in touch with this person, though we stayed together for another year. I don't know how he is, if he's still alive. I don't know how the virus came into our lives. It just happened.

Over the years, since then, I've embraced the diagnosis in a variety of ways--moving full throttle speed whenever I felt well enough--and then often crashing into deep dark depressions. At first, I was kind of relieved--this may sound strange, but it was one less ugly thing to be scared of. I would defy it, and everybody, by living life grandly. Which I did for awhile. To start with, I began teaching solo performance art and making my own pieces and running my own performance venue in downtown San Diego.

I also refused to give up my pursuit of romance. As soon as my fiancee and I finally split, I was almost immediately dating a lovely man who'd spent years working as a circus clown. We made performances together. However, I wanted too much too desperately from my romances and pushed a handful of men away over the years with my neediness. I still believe in romance and have a lot of hope in that area, but am finally trying to get right with myself and to find purpose in my life beyond loving another human being so that I don't sort of make him my end all and be all (which I've come to realize is too much pressure for any one person).

One thing I know about my life is that I should be dead. I wouldn't take the HIV medications for a really long time because I'd read such scary things about the side effects. Plus, I was just plain stubborn and thought I could beat it myself--with yoga and healthy eating. Now, I do yoga and eat pretty healthily--but I also take the medications. I let my immune system completely collapse--I had an AIDS diagnosis based on my t-cell count in 2002 and then my t-cell count continued to drop as I went on and off the meds over the next years, so that by August of 2006, I had a t-cell count of 6. (Normal range for t-cells is 450-1200; an AIDS diagnosis is anything under 200). Not only did I not die, I was never hospitalized, even though my t-cell count was at the same point my ex's was when he was hospitalized with what turned out to be the AIDS-defining pneumonia, PCP.

I'm alive, despite my best efforts at killing myself, despite my best efforts to let myself die. I helped this along with a lot of unhealthy habits, many of which I now abstain from.

But lately, I feel like I've lost my life's purpose--like I don't know what it is any more. I know that I have a strong faith in God and that my crosses to bear are my crosses and God's handed me what I can handle and He's handed me this thorn in my side in part so I can be useful to others, and in part so I can remember God. I can't help reflect on my AIDS diagnosis without thinking about the II Corinthian's passage: "But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me."

So here I am boasting of my weakness because it is all the more evidence that I'm meant to live.