What can I say?
Positively Aware Editor Jeff Berry
Jeff Berry @paeditor

In 2004 when I stepped up as interim editor of POSITIVELY AWARE, I was blessed with a tremendous opportunity that few others get, a platform to be a voice for others living with HIV. It is a role that I have never taken lightly, and I’ve always understood that with it comes a certain sense of responsibility. Responsibility to the readers of the magazine, as well as to the larger HIV community, including providers and those affected by HIV, whether positive or not. A responsibility to offer hope, and provide information in a way that’s easy to understand.

I look back at some of my earlier editor notes and I’m struck by how much I had to say. One particular column titled “Who will be there for us?” dealt with the loss of my mother, who died in June of 1998. The column really had very little to do with HIV, but it was very personal for me (I still cry when I read it). I recall how shortly after it was published, while at one of the annual gatherings in Chicago for people living with HIV organized by Northstar Medical Center, many people came up to me and thanked me for what I had written and to tell me how touched they were by my story. I’m always so incredibly humbled when that occurs, which anyone who writes knows doesn’t happen often. The power of words can move others and resonate with them in a multitude of ways, sometimes profoundly, which most of the time we as writers will never hear about, and can only hope for when we “put” something out there.

That’s why it’s difficult for me to admit that, of late, I’ve been experiencing a “writer’s block” of sorts. Often I have a sense of what I want to say when I sit down to write, other times I don’t, but once it begins to click for me the words start to flow out onto the paper. I’ll then rewrite it several times, wordsmith, solicit feedback from my co-workers, and always try to sleep on it to look at it with a fresh set of eyes another day. I don’t always get it right, but it’s always from the heart.

These past few months I stare at a blank computer screen and the only words that come to me are, I have nothing left to say. As someone whose livelihood depends on writing, I can tell you that that’s a very scary thought. I know it’s not necessarily accurate, but it’s what’s been floating around in my head. So now I’m telling you, somewhat selfishly, in the hopes that maybe if I put it out there, the curse will be lifted, and the floodgates of inspiration will burst open.

I think part of it for me is the fact that I’m aging with HIV—hear me out. For many years after being diagnosed in 1989, I wasn’t even sure that getting older was in the realm of possibilities for me. My concern back then was just figuring out how to somehow stay alive, hoping against hope that it would maybe turn out differently for me than it had for so many of my friends. Now, as I approach my 60s, there are additional things to consider that anyone who’s aging needs to think about (for example diet and exercise, and heart, bone, and mental health). I’m also starting to seriously think about my retirement years, and what that might look like.

My point is I’ve been immersed in HIV for so long, that it’s probably come at a cost. It’s like I’ve been wearing blinders or had some kind of narrowing of vision, and those blinders are now starting to fall off, my vision beginning to widen, the HIV haze begining to dissipate. I’m discovering that there’s a whole new world out there, of which HIV is only a small part, a tiny grain of sand in a grand, majestic sand-castle design.

So there, I’ve said it. I’ve officially come out of the writer’s block closet. I’m sure it’s only temporary, but I feel like it needed saying. I felt I owed it to you, in case you felt something too. In case maybe my writing wasn’t resonating with you as it used to. Of course this could all just be in my head, in which case I’ve made an egregious and unretractable error (that’s the simultaneous beauty and horror of print, you’ve got one chance to get it right—or wrong, as the case may be).

But that’s the chance we all take, right? Putting our truth out there, in the hopes that maybe it will help one other person who is struggling right now. Laying ourselves bare, warts and all, in an effort to offer even a slim glimmer of hope, to someone who may need it.

Take care of yourself, and each other.