I have led a very interesting life for someone that has not yet finished out his 30th year of living. For a person that grew up poor and at times near homelessness, I have seen and done quite a bit, less than many but more than most. I have, because of luck or the love of friends, been a part of some moments that will most likely be talked about in history books one day: the first Day of Silence, the first Youth Pride in DC, part of the planning committee for the first U.S. Social Forum, etc. I have also lived through some shit. And done some shit. Some of which I am proud of some of which I am deeply not proud.
As I look back at the last thirty years of life, look at my life now, and continue with my commitment to maintain my joy and strictly apply the Mary J. Blige Rule: No More Drama, I am trying to systematically revist my memories and those experiences that, at least at this point in my life, I believe have done much to shape who I am, where I've gone, and the choices (good and bad) that I have made.
A couple of weeks ago, I started writing a book. I have started many a book in the past. The furthest I had ever gotten before was two perhaps three pages. As of this evening I am in the middle of the third chapter and some twenty or so pages into the project. The book starts off shortly after I turned 19 with a trip I took with some friends to Washington DC to see the AIDS Memorial Quilt the last time that it was fully displayed. In the narrative of my life, particularly now as an HIV positive adult, that experience was and continues to be important. I am writing the book as a memoir. It is creative non-fiction that uses a sassy humor that I hope will both examine personal and collective experiences and help me better understand who I am.
Writing this book has been both liberating and terrifying. There are narratives that I have told to myself and to others that have not always been the most honest and truthful. But, the stories that I have told myself are the ones that I needed to tell in order to get me through. But, as I look back over time and at my failure to face my own shortcomings or my downplaying the choicies of others and the impact of those choices on my life, I see how I have sold myself short and robbed myself of the honest self-evaluation that leads to growth.
Yesterday I went for a walk with Titi around Southdale Mall. Titi is a brilliant man. One of those rare individuals that is honest and tough and you know, even as he is breaking you down, that he is doing so because of love. Titi has let me have it on a couple of occassions. With most folks, I immediately get defensive...Titi's approach to accountability is one that is forthright and pre-emptively disarms those self-defense instincts. As we were talking yesterday, about a range of topics, I mentioned to him how as I have been writing and finishing drafts of chapters, I have found myself going back and re-reading, re-writing, and going deeper into the experiences that I have had.
Titi had some wisdom to share over Dairy Queen blizzards. Titi explained it to me like this, he said that our brains are built to defend us from particular emotions and experiences. Sometimes we are unable to access those experiences because we are not ready to face the reality of what was really going on. But, he said, as we lay down, through writing or whatever, those experiences, each time our brain allows us to add another layer of perception and understanding. As we grow and face that which we need to face, we are able to deepen our memory and, thusly, our interaction with the truth of our experiences.
As I write about some beautiful and tough experiences in my life, I hope that I am able to maintain the bravery necessary to make this more than just a ra-ra to me. Without being morose, I want to be able to critically look at my life, a life that has, without a doubt, been full of humor even at its ugliest moments. I want to be able to show my humanity while still maintaining a joyful engagement with the comedy of errors that is living. And, also, as I tap into the feelings that I have held on to for far too long, it is my hope that I can release them on to the pages and out into the world. Holding on to the lessons of life is necessary, holding on to the hurt is not.