Ya Gotta Have Heart

Ya Gotta Have a Heart

With a nod to Damn Yankees

And other musical interludes

 

You’ve gotta have heart
All you really need is heart
When the odds are sayin’ you’ll never win
That’s when the grin should start
You’ve gotta have hope
Mustn’t sit around and mope
Nothin’s half as bad as it may appear
Wait’ll next year and hope
When your luck is battin’ zero
Get your chin up off the floor
Mister you can be a hero
You can open any door, there’s nothin’ to it but to do it
You’ve gotta have heart
Miles ‘n miles n’ miles of heart
Oh, it’s fine to be a genius of course
But keep that old horse
Before the cart
First you’ve gotta have heart

The conversations have been migrating to the morbid of late, too many ill and fading friends and relatives, too much medical melodrama in our own home. It is the path and pattern of the suddenly seniors. It has sprung, seemingly fully formed, out of a never-ending youthful exuberance we considered our life’s-right.

My particular heart, while large enough to encompass all my loves and lives, started sputtering a few years ago. While certainly not the flutter of youthful first romance, it was Flutter none-the-less. Disconcerting, chest pounding, clamminess-inducing…….Flutter, or aFlutter, short for Atrial Flutter. The ventricles, lower chambers of the heart misfire, short circuit as it were, and set up a cyclical, really, really, fast rhythm that the atrial (upper) chambers cannot accommodate. My particular rhythm at the moment is 300 beat per minute. The atrial node, a sort of thermostat in the middle of the heart, works overtime to try and tamp down the beats to a more manageable rate, which for me is normally about 55 bpm. I’m running about twice that so I feel weird, faint, odd.

Now, suddenly, the danger of stroke and heart attack looms large and you automatically start thinking about every heart beat you’ve ever had and realize, somewhat morosely, that the number you have left is temporal, fleeting, maybe even pre-determined? I fixed mine last week. A rewiring, in effect, that gave yet another extension to my life’s contract.

My husband’s sudden heart attack in March of this year threw another iron in the fire that none of us saw coming. This apparent poster child for boundless energy and limitless youth was quite unexpectedly laid low, if only for a moment, by a gut wrenching failure of his arteries to fulfill their intended job description. I was across the country when this drama unfolded. Like the self-reliant person he has always been, he recognized what was occurring, finished walking Bella the dog, sat with his symptoms for a few minutes trying, in vain, to will them away. Eventually, conceding defeat in that regard, he drove himself the 5 minutes down the hill to our local and, upon announcing his raison d’etre, was promptly given 3 arterial stents and pronounced “cured”. After some cardiac rehab which he dutifully performed for weeks, he is back to his normal routine….with a caveat.

He is a tad slower to rise to the task of new projects. Where once he would plot, plan, and engineer each new remodel we had envisioned and then dive, full of intent and energy, into its completion and revel in the satisfaction that he had brought forth into the world the various visions that I, all too frequently, had inspired, I now hear comments like,

“I think I’m done with projects”

This is a sea change. Between us, we have always been the marvel of our friends and neighbors at the sheer amount of “stuff” we get done. We don’t hire contractors. We have no gardener, no housekeeper, no “help”.

Throughout the last decades I have had my share of physical challenges while Dave has remained unscathed. Four hip replacements, multiple foot surgeries as well as other medical interventions and a 30 plus year ongoing war with HIV but throughout it all, with Dave’s calm and steady presence around, I have somehow managed to maintain an equilibrium about movement, aging with grace, and mortality, all the while steadily looking forward to the next set of challenges, albeit many of them have come in medical form. I attribute our collective upbeatness to a mutual understanding and acceptance of “what is…..is”. Get on with it.

But now, looking forward is taking on new dimensions, not all of them exciting or even comfortable. There is less forward than there is back. The rearview mirror is such an alluring temptress. Facebook’s Throw Back Thursdays fling our former selves into crystal clear focus. Our body’s sense memories of how we have lived our daily lives continue to compel movement and action while the facts that they present us with implore us to slow the fuck down. Now.

But how hard is that??? For perpetual motion machines like us, it is a tacit admission of defeat. Every small infraction that our rapidly aging carcasses impose upon us is not just seen as a minor impediment any longer, it is viewed from our perpetually youthful minds as pure betrayal. Some ethereal contract somewhere has been breached.

According to Garth Brooks, “I’m much too young to feel this damned old”

But age we do. Things fall apart, we repair them. Bodies break, we upgrade their software.

And so, I am left with the word of another crooner of another era way long gone. Peggy Lee has always had the right take,

“Is that all there is, is that all there is?
If that’s all there is my friends, then let’s keep dancing
Let’s break out the booze and have a ball
If that’s all there is”

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I Talk Purty One Day

I Talk Purty One Day

With apologies and a nod to David Sedaris

It’s been a while since I got up on my soapbox but I had a recent heart tune-up and the resultant increase in cerebral blood flow has once again enlivened me.

As a writer, I take a certain amount of liberty with language and syntax and how words look on a page, feel in the mouth, and sound through the ear. That being said, I have a major quibble……no gripe…..no ISSUE with the way public speakers, most vividly newsreaders (and I use that term loosely), and I suppose the writers who dictate the copy for those on air personalities, butcher simple, declarative, English, sentences.

Would it not make sense for the Human Resource departments at CNN, NBC, ABC, and the like to vet, even slightly, their employees ability to construct a sentence without violating the simplest of syntactic rules? Do they even ask them for writing samples? Did they ever have to answer essay questions in school? And who graded these? Teachers? Professors? Where does the freight train of syntax destruction stop?

Brooke Baldwin, CNN, I’m talking to you. If I hear you say “exact same” one more time I just might smash my TV.

I went on a quest to find some back up for my position, ie: the correct phraseology should be exact; same; or exactly THE same but not “exact same”. One of the first sites on “English Language & Usage”, the header being scripted in a vague replica of Olde English fontique, stated:

“Exact same” represents a grammatical practice that is particularly prevalent in American English; the use of an adjective for an adverb. In this phrase “exact” modifies “same” and is functioning as and adverb.”

Anyone want to take a crack at the obvious? A purported “language and usage” site using the phrase “functioning as AND adverb” immediately negates their ability to reinforce any point I may have. They go on to justify the use of “exact same” with a detailed description of two Hugo Boss shirts with differing collar sizes. Really?

There is one word that puts the lie to the use of the sociologically prevalent phrase; redundant. “Exact Same” is redundant hence unnecessary and truly ugly to the ear.

Exactly like “end result”, “basic fundamentals”, and “unexpected surprise” are redundant, so is “exact same”. These Siamese-twinned phrases, and other two word hookups, are saying and meaning exactly the same thing (see how easy that was?).

I realize that, as Americans, we tend to short-cut a lot of things, the great traditions of the English language among the first to feel the pinch of our rush to get through everything we do with the greatest of haste and economy. But if we examine the “exact same” phenomenon closely, we are really missing a perfectly simple and expeditious shortcut. Drop the double-meaning words. Case closed. Mission accomplished. Boring, wordy, language-bloated sentences averted. How very American.

Not to mention that we would all sound a little more civilized and a lot less ignorant in the process. Garner’s Modern American Usage, for example, says “exact same” is merely “a lazy truncation of exactly the same. Although the exact same is acceptable in informal speech, it’s not an expression for polished prose.”

I couldn’t disagree more. (this sentence, readers, is the subject of another column)

Shouldn’t our hired professionals, both the ones who actually ask the questions of world leaders and communicate the import of world issues to us, as well as those who write their copy for them, be held to a greater standard? We would all be elevated by adhering to a slightly better than average format than that which is “good enough for informal speech”. Shouldn’t polished prose be the norm for what we expect of our worldwide news coverage. I would hope that by setting a better example, the rest of the writer’s rooms, and copy editors, and home bloggers around the globe would begin to see, and hear, the difference. Or is all hope gone for the Americanized version of our shared language? Do we, as my mother is fond of saying, come from “the college of that’s good enough”?

No less an authority than Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th edition) agrees with me. It doesn’t list “exact” as an adverb. It can only be an adjective (or a verb, with a different meaning). The adverb form is “exactly”. So if you take Webster as an authority, you should say, “She was wearing exactly the same outfit” instead of “the exact same outfit”.

Most accountings today reference the “idiomatic” usage of this phrase as justification for its continued prevalence (and their continued lazy use of it) in every day speech. I would say another “idio-“ phrase is more succinct and to the point.

Idiotic.

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Life, Re-Imagined

Life, Re-Imagined

Or

To Be or Not To Be

 That, indeed, really IS the question. Do we continue to cling to life despite the overwhelming evidence that our bodies, creaking and groaning, continually nudge to our attention the fact that we are inexorably crumbling earthward?

When we were young, if we grew tired of our rented flat we would go in search of another………we moved…….…we upgraded………we expanded.

As we grew older and owned our first homes, when we outgrew them, either physically or emotionally, we again looked around, saw what struck our next fancy, and moved forward…..….once more into the future.

Now we are settled, adult, kids gone, big houses in the past, our needs are simpler, our space is less demanding. We have right-sized ourselves as social construct and common sense dictates we should.

And then here comes AARP telling us to re-invent ourselves; Life Reimagined, that’s their new jaunty push for the over 50? set that we now fall into.

But here’s the catch.

Our bodies now betray our mind’s ability to do that reinvention that we are desperately seeking to attain. We have worked all our lives to get to a point where we can take a deep breath, look around the wide world and see what percolates up for a new adventure, a next career, a mindful entertainment. We have the time, the resources, the aching will…………but we also have our aching bodies that protest and reject us at every turn as we fitfully start out on each of the new paths that appear before us, looking entirely enticing and alluring, yet requiring a greater degree of energy than we had previously remembered. Our alterations of course are currently demanding more than we have to give.

I cry False Advertising.

What people really need is to absorb the lessons AARP so fervently wants us to learn in our dotage when they are still young and able-bodied enough to put them to good use.

How many of us are having exactly the same conversations at every dinner party and with every friend of a certain age………that would be our age?

My hip is bad

My foot is killing me

My back is shot

My………….fill in the failing body part………..is a mess

It is the ultimate irony that now that we have the time and the interest, we don’t have the physical stamina to tackle all these fascinating and fun things that have waited out there tantalizingly tempting us for decades. If our kids used this type of an excuse in grade school we would never, ever, have believed them. Shirkers. Lay-abouts. Lazy. We’d have decried them.

And yet we gird our loins, hitch up our braces and elastic bands and buckles, and stumble forward keeping care to not really stumble or there’s a hip replacement in our near future. In reality, those hips have probably already been replaced, more than once, and because they’re “like new” our other parts, whether through jealousy or simple re-alignment, groan and protest and flare and inflame for their fair share of the Medicare dollars that they feel they deserve and we, their unwilling foils, spend our days making appointments; for doctors, physicians assistants (doctors-light), MRIs,

“Do you have any metal objects implanted in your body?”

“Have you looked at my medical file? The one that fills a full gig of memory on your computer? Just key in ‘XRay’ and see what pops up. Don’t ask me that again, Tammy, I talk to you every other week.”

physical therapists. And that’s just the traditional medical milieu.

Let us not give short shrift to the massage therapists, yoga instructors, Reike practitioners, psychic alignment shamans, crystal healers, and copper band Internet sellers. They, too, take up a significant amount of our time, money, and quite frankly, the verve that I was planning on devoting to hiking the Appalachian Trail, skydiving the wine country, and swimming with sharks…….oh wait……I may have that last one covered…….insurance companies may be equatable here. But I digress.

AARP             Active Adults, Real Possibilities

It’s a great idea in theory. The reality is we should be teaching our young to fully engage themselves throughout their lives, starting now, today. And a word about this concept of engagement.

This does NOT mean that every child must join every team, every club, every sport, take every lesson, attend each practice, you name the activity. Parents should not be the slaves of their child’s schedules nor should their children, for fear of not having a properly fleshed out resume with which to enroll themselves throughout their schooling, lose their humanity for the sake of their future.

I understand that childhood today is radically different than when I was there. My siblings and friends tend to idealize our time as feral youth but in reality, they were the best of times. We had the great good fortune to live in the country, un-phased by mass murders, school shootings, gang violence, aggressively angry bullying, truly partisan, rancorous politics; any of the myriad, hideous realities that kids and parents today must actually confront. We were shoved out the kitchen door every summer morning, told to pack a lunch and be home by dark. Period. End of parental oversight until baths, BBQ, and bed.

But those days, for most, are really and truly history. And we have replaced them with a frantic push to over achievement and programmed activity that creates a generation of hyperactive, overly medicated, PTSD prone children. With both parents working, free time oversight has been shifted to schools, programs, educators, day care, and scheduled social interactions.

Short of creating Biodome utopian country settings where we plop our kids through a portal into the safety of a “controlled county atmosphere” where we let them play out their version of our historic childhoods I don’t know what the answer is.

But I know what it’s not. It is not what we are currently doing.

If we want our kids to be contented, happy, engaging adults then we must model for them what that looks like, warts, casts, imperfections, etal. We must help them into their future by showing them our pasts. Stop filling up their lives with stuff and start filling up their minds with memories. My best recollections are not of bikes or brand names but of feelings and friendships.

More talk, less activity.

AARP starts when you are young

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THE Plague vs a plague

THE Plague vs a plague

AIDS vs Ebola

I am not prepared to debate or even discuss on equal terms, the comparison between these two horrific scourges. I am simply struck by the frenetic, hyperbolic, media-saturated, coverage of the “Ebola Crisis” versus 30 years of AIDS weariness when, for the first 10 years of it at least, our government and ALL their officials would not even mention the word while it spontaneously erupted like California wildfires and consumed hundreds of thousands of lives in America before jumping back across the oceans to its origins and engulfing other continents as well.

Seemingly suddenly, with the help of a few brave Hollywood hearts, AIDS became a cause celebre and started garnering some of the much needed attention and money it would require to even start to combat the ravaging it was effecting.

==============================================================

By The Numbers

8,400 cases of Ebola, so far. 4,300 deaths

At the end of 2009, an estimated 1,148,200 persons aged 13 and older were living with HIV infection in the United States, including 207,600 (18.1%) persons whose infections had not been diagnosed

In 2013, there were 35 million [33.2 million–37.2 million] people living with HIV.

Since the start of the epidemic around 78 million [71 million–87 million] have become infected with HIV and 39 million [35 million–43 million] people have died of AIDS-related illnesses.

Analogous demographics in terms of fatality rates albeit proportionality is not considered.

===============================================================

The Swedish furniture giant IKEA has pledged £4.1million to combat the deadly disease Ebola, far more than several wealthy European nations.

Paul Allen, the Microsoft co-founder, has increased his commitment in the fight against Ebola to $100 million on Thursday.

Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation has given over $14 million in grants to more than 40 states and 31 countries…..in 25 years.

The Elton John AIDS Foundation has raised 200million dollars………in 25 years

==========================================================

Am I the only one who is noticing the blatant, dichotomous, knee-jerk, discrepancy in these two epidemics?

Did the AIDS crisis of the last century prime us to respond better to global health threats in general? Or did the fact that AIDS was viewed, initially, and to some extent still is, as a “gay” disease and, as such, not quite as threatening to the white, hetero-normative, culture that still prevails amongst us?

But, if that is the case, then why Ebola Hysteria? After all, it’s primarily an African phenomenon and, as such, those same pesky, white, hetero-deniers that tamped down AIDS funding for generations should not be quite this hysterical over Ebola.

Right?

Or should they?

Is this just another form of the chest-thumping, black-baiting, racism that has pervaded our country and our culture since its inception? It could be argued that for exactly this reason alone, corporations, individuals, and countries, are ponying up funding to fight Ebola in unprecedented numbers. Racism or Anti-racism. Call it what you may. Every wants/needs to beon the “right” side of this one.

Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying that Bill Gates, Paul Allen, IKEA, or any of the powerful and potent contributors are racist in any manner, just as I would not call them homophobic on a personal or professional level either. I don’t know any of them that well.

I will only say that race and gender identity aside; it makes better economic sense today for them to jump on the Ebola parade float than it did 30 years ago to wave a rainbow flag and rush to help the millions that were suffering and dying on the same streets that they walked every day…….in their own countries.

I suppose it’s a muted testament to the power of the 24hour news cycle and the pervasiveness of the Internet and its subsequent dissemination of information that we do have more knowledge with which to form opinions today, albeit skewed (FOX, MSNBC) and skewered. Axioms rule:

The More You Know

When You Know Better, You Do Better

But just how much more do we need to “know”?

We know the facts. We know the science. We know the social geography that paralyzes justice and forward movement.

When will we move beyond the newsreaders, the politicians, and the social constructionists, and embrace the facts?

We can stop these diseases now. Today. We have the ability. If we can put a man on the moon with less technology than is currently being held in our hands on a daily basis, we have the brainpower and the science.

We need to unleash the world and ALL its resources, friend and foe alike, in a global initiative to end AIDS, Ebola, and any other scourge that will present itself in the future….and they will come……more and more of them.

Instead of a US Emergency Task Force to be dispatched to the next Ebola sufferer, we need summits, confabs, and direct action monies and manpower and brilliance, all working together, across imaginary political lines, for the betterment of the world. Every country professes a desire to enhance and protect “our” planet. It’s time for the rubber to meet the road.

Instead of posturing for political advantage; for the next border skirmish, the next weapons contract, the next election cycle, if we actually did what we said should do; gather together with a sense of morally guided purpose to rid humans of horrendous suffering, then religious groups, atheistic moralists, economic pragmatists, everyone, would have to agree that the end justifies any means taken to reach it.

Whether global warming (call it what you will, believe in it or not, again, that’s a political ploy), toxic chemicals, nuclear waste, plagues or pestilence, we could solve them all and in the process, a lot of what separates us would wash out in the rinse cycle.

The real question is do we have the will? The will to raise ourselves above the noise. The will do the correct thing and not the expediently right thing.

The will to be…….better.

Human.

Beings.

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How’s Your Life’s Lens?

How's Your Life's Lens?

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Killing Me Softly

Killing me Softly

With a nod to Roberta Flack

Something is going on inside of me.

I can’t explain it. I can’t define it. I can barely think about it no less talk it out or try and make it matriculate into something tangible, concrete, or even ephemeral.

I feel like I have a dervish whirling loose at my core that seeks to fill every crevice and crack with energy and action. Opportunities are falling from the skies above me almost daily and there is so much I suddenly want to, need to, must…..do.

I am as one awoken from a deep sleep, the world searingly bright and hyper-attenuated, waiting for my imprint, my input, my extraordinary need to manifest itself.

People are seeking me out; for advice, opinion, action. I am compelled into forums and mediums, and venues, that are new to me yet seem as conquerable and comfortable as to a toddler learning their native tongue. It is all there before me; I simply must pick it up and start running.

And keep running.

And all the while some small insistent and insidious spark of a notion lies, worm-like at my core; wriggling about my psyche; amid quiet or amongst noise. A premonition? A warning? A still small voice urging me to speed yet screaming me to slow.

Time is running out.

That is what, if I am really thoughtfully and truthfully listening, the voice is telling me. Not in so many words but in exactly so many of the feelings and intuits that I have always believed in and learned to rely upon. I have lived my life on this plain with a very certain sense of having lived before; a destiny of place, a spirit of soul, a conviction of core that, if heeded well and relied upon, has been of great value and guidance to me.

Some may call it intuition, some pre-cognition; some might even say that it’s related to the current state of my heart and its palpitating imperfection. It may be.

And so I run.

I swear I’m going to relax, tend my garden, play with the animals, take long walks, see more movies, cook more meals with friends. I swear.

And then I run.

I run to help a friend who is dying try and live well while he’s here. I run to help another tend their home and animals while they recuperate from a surgery. I run to a conference to learn how to help even more of the masses with HIV help themselves along their paths. I run home to family and ailing parents and siblings and friends in untold numbers. And lest it seems I am only running to others……..

I run to me.

I am writing more, taking more photos, staging gallery shows, if something looks attractive, I do it. Someone says “You should make a documentary”; maybe I should! I am curating a life I never thought I would have, given the certain death I was foretold 3 decades ago.

Maybe I am a latter day Rip van Winkle, finally awakening to the life I was supposed to be living all along.

The young me wanted to be an architect. I loved houses, buildings, rooms, and windows. I loved dark cellars and lofty barns. I loved the smell of cut lumber and the swish of fresh paint. I still love the glint of new steel and the sweep of curved glass. But in those prehistoric days you needed to be a draftsman before you were an architect and I hate drafting. Hated it.

Not too little, too late. More like too much, too early.

Now there’s CAD and programs and apps for that. My visions could be realities. My tools could be virtual. My dreams could have been built.

It seems possible, even plausible, that my core is catching up with my convictions. Yet I wonder why now? Why this moment in time? Why, when my body is really beginning to show its age and ague, am I suddenly infused with an effervescence of action that threatens to blow every gasket in the clunker of a carcass I am hauling around? How many planes, trains, and automobiles can I possible commit to before I get committed to whatever grave I will finally fall face-first into?

Along with these sleep disturbing, twitchingly tense, visions of versions of the self I must yet attain, comes an equally needy, must address, now, requirement to communicate this to my less than ethereally tuned-in husband. He operates in the here and now and I have always lived in another place, slightly psychically removed from the “real” world. We have a very workable truce between the two. Like the nearby Columbia River, we have our own Bridge of the Gods.

My heart flutters, literally. I suppose figuratively as well but it’s the visceral not the virtual that is driving me at the moment.

I am navigating the world of aging organs and failing follicles, although my hair does seems like it will be the last thing to go. Small blessing are good. Heart issues in your 60’s are not so very strange. But history, not simply the medical delineation of progression through the years of procedures and ailments, but the history of behavior and disease and consequence now comes into mental and physical clarity. All those drugs and drinks we inhaled as careless and carefree youngsters have a price now. The HIV that has lain, mostly dormant but insidiously insistent, inside my cells is still there, working its voodoo in unknown spells with untold incantations. The drugs that have kept it caged like a coffin for a sleeping vampire have a price that will be due at the end of the dance.

Is this when the piper must be paid?

It is all of these things, messianic and miasmic, swirling around in a corporeal stew that, steaming and almost ready, will be served up soon. How soon? That is where the rubber band that is me, meets the road that has been trod these 6 plus decades.

I am listening to the voices, both inner and outer, more clearly than ever before. Sometimes they ring like a knife on crystal calling for a toast. Sometimes they whisper like the winter wind through the somber cedars. Yet however they speak, they create that flicker, that flutter, that spark that, at once, seeks to ignite and extinguish, all in one massive conflagration.

We all wonder how we will die. Softly in our sleep was the childhood dream-like envisioning. Explosively alive and then gone; poof, we fantasized in our excessive youths. Agonizingly slow and suffering, back then, before the “cure” of the Cocktail. At our own hands then too, to save others and us our fear and our suffering. And now? What do we envision now that we have really lived this much of life?

I think the choices are still exactly the same only we face them with a greater degree of urgent equanimity as the clock ticks inexorably on. I know I, personally, have a peaceful resolve in some sense.

And yet, there is this drive. This urgency. This need to…………do. More. Still. But then end is closer, I feel it, I am listening. I hear it speak my name.

With that in mind, I actually put voice to it recently. I told Dave that should something happen to me suddenly (and I even admitted I was “hearing” signs of this), that I needed him to know that I was forever grateful for the amazing life we have had together, happier than I ever thought I would be and that I needed him to know that, to remember that.

And this reminded him of something he said to me when we first met and I had to have the awkward, relationship-killing conversation about HIV and what that meant in 1993 as we looked ahead into an unknown void of a future together.

 “I’d rather have a year with you than a lifetime without you”

 Far from Killing Me Softly

 Letting me live Out Loud

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Screens, the New Plague

Screens. The New Plague

“Screens, Screens, everywhere there’s Screens, breaking up the scenery and blocking out my mind”………with a post-prescient nod to The Five Man Electrical Band and their 1971 hit, “Signs”.

I’m guilty. Let’s get this out of the way and off the table right up front. I spend too much time “connected”; Facebook, Texts, Emails, Google, I’m down with most of them but am resisting the Tweet, Ping and many of the instant gratification apps I could be indulging in.

I’m working on it. I’m working my steps.

But the phenomenon is so pervasive, so distracting, so consuming, that I see a new generation of addiction clinic models already thinking about how to profit off the detoxing of Americans from their Screens. Can it be far away that horrific accidents, caused by texting, are proven to be crimes and effective defense lawyers begin promulgating “by reason of text addiction” as a viable defense strategy?

I just came from attending the US Conference on AIDS in San Diego. An amazing amalgam of providers, professionals, experienced Legends living with HIV, and earnest, engaged, people of all stripes and persuasions urgently fighting the good fight. I know we all came to edify, to connect, to learn from each other’s experiences and to open our minds to new theories, treatments, and strategies we can put into our own personal toolboxes when we return home.

USCA14 did an admirable job of organization, garnering sponsors, experts, and the newly minted volunteer enthusiasts into a 4-day fest of concentrated energy and engagement.

Except.

In the organizers forethoughtfulness, they invented an app……….a Facebook for the USAC14 attendees, complete with a point-fueled contest for the people who posted the most; the most updates, the most photos, the most likes, the most comments, etc. Incentivizing the app was really not necessary. We are all already rats in the maze so the adoption rate was instantaneous and complete.

The result.

Where I came expecting to meet and greet and garner; new friends, new information, new attitudes, what I found was table after breakout after plenary session packed, every seat taken, eager minds supposedly waiting to be infused with a new energy and fresh knowledge, but instead of personal engagement, they were ALL hunched over their screens. The chatting, the texting, the posting , the planning of their next move after this room they were currently in was endemic and infectious, a word I don’t use lightly at an AIDS conference.

The almost total lack of eye contact and personal interaction beyond perfunctory greetings was stunning in its completeness. Every table where I sat during the elaborate, sponsored, plenary sessions; these functions complete with truly engaging speakers telling their personal stories and even wild and professional dance performances was exactly the same. It was Vegas Light and quite entertaining and even informative yet almost to a person, everyone was on their Screens. Looking around, other tables, it was exactly the same. The dull, bluish glow actually gave the attendees an odd, filmy, alien quality. 1,300 people and I’d say 1,100 Screens. Their network must be truly muscular.

Every breakout was the same, people chatting with others not in the room or even with some IN the same room; planning dinner, the next session, the bathroom locations, anything to remain connected. The Screens dinged and flashed and buzzed in an almost constant cacophony, sounding for all the world like new age mosquitos……..and the urge to swat them was just as strong.

If I ruled the world.

I could not help but think of the time and thought and effort put forth by all of those who were leading these sessions, urgently wanting to get their point of view actually heard, to prompt discussions, solicit engagement and feedback, formulate new paths forward. Were I them, I would wonder if I was even noticed no less heard. Were I them, I would confiscate all phones at the start and return them at the finish.

If I ruled the world.

I know the arguments. They fall across generational lines. Funny enough, one of my major focuses here at the conference and back at home is fostering conversations between the disparate generations so that the decades of hard-fought experience we elders (called Legends at USCA14) are in possession of might be translated into actionable facts for the next generations below us to put into practical use and not simply to exist as documentary facts found on archived film and video clips or tall tales from the crypt-like carcasses of we aging activists.

The younger among us claim that this IS the way they learn; to connect, constantly;

“It actually helps my concentration to be on my phone”
“I use my pad as my toolbox to education”
“We all use our phones and pads constantly, it’s the way the world does it now”

I try to listen without prejudice, I really do. And yes, I am of another generation, several others as a matter of fact but I am not exactly a dinosaur….quite yet. As I said at the start, I, too, am guilty of too much connectivity. I jumped right onto the conference app. It was Facebook-familiar, easy, quick. I wanted to feel part of the gang, meet the other interesting people I knew were swarming about me all wanting for the same interactions as I.

But instead of “meeting” people face to face, shaking hands, looking them in the eye, feeling the sincerity of their soul reflected through the energy of our interactions I saw, quite quickly, that I was tumbling down the same Facebook funnel that I fight against in the “real word”.

“T shirts for the people who post 1,100 points worth of content”
“100 point a check in”
“500 points a photo”

Really? This is what millions of dollars of effort and thousands of miles worth of plane tickets and travel come down to? Points? T shirt contests?

And I cannot stress enough what I found missing.

Eye Contact.

I seriously felt that I was interrupting some vital communication when I sought to approach someone in a crowd of people that I wanted to meet; as if barging in to shake their hand and say I admired them or their work or to ask them a question would be taking them away from some other, amorphous and obviously more important conversation that was happening elsewhere in their head and on their screen. They were miles, or maybe just millimeters, away from where I stood before them.

I know from my years of planning and attending just such conferences that companies, associations, and organizations pay a lot of hard-fought money to send their representatives to these events to personally engage their compatriots. The purpose; to bring home new contacts, new business, new ideas.

I cannot calculate who I missed or how many I missed but I know I did miss out, I feel it, I felt it, even as it was occurring…or not occurring, as it were. I pulled back on the posting, the following, the picture taking. I left my phone turned off while I was at the convention proper. I made the effort to reach out, inject myself into conversations, introduce myself to my seat-mates at sessions, stroll to breakouts with new acquaintances, but I have to say it took work, a lot of work, a lot more work than it should have at a venue that was set up to promote just this sort of personal engagement.

Habits are hard to break.

They have to be recognized as harmful, first of all. We know texting while driving is harmful. I know I can’t even talk hands-free without a major loss of concentration because I’m thinking about the person and the conversation I’m having rather than who’s driving next to me and who’s stopping short way up the road in front of me. But we are all conditioned; by advertising, by our friends, by our cars, by our desire to connect and be part of the next, newest technology. Where would Apple be without its devotees?

I also know I’m fighting an uphill and a losing battle even as I put pen to paper (speaking of old school, gone technologies) but I refuse to go gently into the good night without at least a modicum of a fight.

It seems to me that we who invented the Alternative Generation back in the 60’s have fallen prey to its promoter, Timothy Leary’s raison d’etre and are much to our own chagrin and shame, victims of its battle cry:

“Turn on, Tune In…………..Drop Out”

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