I have always been fascinated by California. It seems to hold an allure, a mythology unlike any other place in the US. However, as I write this, I am on a timed hotel computer, since I chose to leave the laptop in Chicago, and a man was just smashed in the head with a baseball bat outside the hotel lobby. The mythology of California.
I am attending the United States Conference on AIDS in San Francisco. It is the first conference of this size that I have been to and I am a little overwhelmed. I did not anticipate the raw emotion I would feel in the midst of so many pioneers in the field of HIV. I feel humbled and blessed. It may seem trite to some, but for me this is encouraging. Sometimes we tend to work in a vacuum within our agencies, forgetting that we are not alone in our struggles. Maybe I'm manstrating because my eyes are wet as I write this. The truth is, I was a presenter on behalf of TPAN and our program TEAM today and I am so relieved that it is over. It went well but, unlike a blog where I am free to reflect to my heart's content, I had to present facts, not opinions. Facts must be air tight and questions answered concisely. I am not always so good at that.
This city in general holds so much gay history as you probably know. The Castro, Harvey Milk, Armistead Maupin's "Tales of the City", they all come to mind for me as I stroll the streets of San Francisco. Of course, this is where the AIDS epidemic was first faced head on, in the midst of political apathy and ignorance. As I write that, I am now SURE I am manstrating. Perhaps I am just reckoning with our current ignorance and apathy towards HIV in America.
Since I left for the airport I have been PLAGUED by California-themed songs running through my head. Joni Mitchell, Led Zeppelin, Counting Crows, Tori Amos and, of course, The Mamas and the Papas. All of these songs seem to hold a promise of something new, something magical. Since the days of the Gold Rush that is what California has held. The hope of something better. Not to mention Hollywood, the land of dreams, or complete lies, depending on your perspective. As I tried to grasp this concept, this feeling that is impossible to attain in any kind of tangible way, I called a very dear friend. I told her there was just something about California I couldn't put my finger on. It feels like I have applied to college and everyone else has been accepted, but my letter of acceptance or regret, refuses to arrive. It's like rushing a fraternity, not knowing whether or not you will be a brother. I remember that these ideas about this place are just that. Ideas. Concepts. The California budget for AIDS services has been cut by 80 million. The most visible problem I have noticed is the staggering number of homeless people in this city. Clearly, California is not exempt from harsh reality as all the songs would suggest.
As I prepared to present today, I had to step outside to smoke. I was a nervous wreck. It had been during this doctor's presentation at lunch that I truly recognized what an amazing experience this is. A privlege that I didn't want to fuck up. As I stood outside, I recalled the last time I was here. 10 years ago, early 20's, boyfriend, drinking and cabbing everywhere. Blissfully unaware. My present reality overtook me and I froze. I prayed. Two people came outside. One guy from Oklahoma, and a Native American woman from Oakland. This is one thing non-smokers are missing, by the way. Smoker's bonds are priceless. I told them my fears and how grateful I was, but how nervous I felt. We shared some of our experiences, our frustrations. The man told me that he had walked on the beach and, cliche as it may be, had again recognized how small he was. The Native American woman said "We are all part of the human family and we belong to the four corners". HAND TO GOD THIS HAPPENED AS CONTRIVED AS IT MAY SOUND. They each revealed their 11 and 14 years of sobriety to each other, respectively. I knew I was in the right place. Call it Synchronicity. Call it God. This here and now is perfect. It is enough. It is what we make it, cliche as that may be.
It is probably best to recognize that California is, like everywhere else, part dream part reality. Perhaps its true mythology lies in the fact that it is a place of pioneers. The people who seized their moment in the 1800's, the 1980's and today. Those who paved the way so you and I could make today our day.