Tag Archives: Stories

The NAMES Project Quilt as a New Public Ceremony, 1989

In 1989, when I wrote the paper that comprises this blog post, AIDS was still regularly in the news, though most Americans wrongly perceived it as a “gay disease.” Among most lesbians, it was a social/political issue about which some were active. It remained an urgent transmission and educational problem facing gay men. HIV that progressed to full-blown AIDS was a death sentence. “Safe sex” hadn’t permeated the lexicon.

Now, AIDS is “just” one of many sexually transmitted infections kids [should] learn about in health class. First world citizens who have access to the necessary drugs can live with not only HIV but also AIDS. Nonetheless AIDS still kills. Education is still critical. The NAMES Project’s AIDS Memorial Quilt lives on not only in physical form but also virtually; their web application leads to images of Quilt panels.

Here is a look back at the Quilt as a public ceremony, soon after its creation, through a paper I wrote for a graduate course in Public History [What is Public History]. Continue reading The NAMES Project Quilt as a New Public Ceremony, 1989

Mental Instability: on the T

Here is an attempt at writing something short on my blog, in one sitting, and posting it immediately.

The seriously mentally ill are all around us, more so since states closed their mental institutions. My encounters with crazy people have almost all been on the Boston area’s transportation system: the T.

Let’s get two things out of the way. First, I know that “crazy,” “lunatic,” and even “mad,” are seen by some as pejorative. I appreciate knowing that. To me they’re descriptive. Second, read Crazy: A Father’s Search Through America’s Mental Health Madness, by Peter Earley. What a sobering book.  It’s a biographical account of Reporter Earley’s son’s mental illness. Simultaneously, it’s an overview, with vivid examples, of how America’s institutions are unprepared for, and overwhelmed by, the needs of people with mental illnesses.

I’m sure I wasn’t the first person to say that cell phones were the best invention ever made for crazy people. For years, it was easy to identify who was “talking to himself,” on the T or the street. Now, I assume it’s someone have a telephone conversation, until Continue reading Mental Instability: on the T

My hike to Alp Muntatsch

One day last summer I decided to take a hike by myself. We were vacationing in Samedan, Switzerland where my partner’s parents used to live. Samedan is a small village in the Engadin, the upper valley of the Inn river. In every direction there are stunning alpine trails. I love hiking there with my family more than anything in the world. But that day I needed to be by myself to exercise my body and clear my head.

L'Hom Propuona e Dieu Dispuona

I started up the steep cobblestone road to my partner’s parent’s former house, still emblazoned in scraffito with the Romansch phrase her father had chosen: “Man proposes and God disposes.” [Wish you could see larger photos? Click on the images.]

Stucco staircase.

As I passed by the house, my mind wandered through the apartment, holding the iron rail as I followed the curling stairway onto the stone floor, then padded into the Stüva (sitting room) and sat on the bench behind the slate table. By the time my mind was reacquainting itself with the mahogany music stand near Stuva’s the wood stove, I’d gone up the gravel road behind the house and almost reached San Peter, where dear Gaudi’s urn is buried. Continue reading My hike to Alp Muntatsch



Sauna room, Lapland Lake

Hot air envelopes me. The change in temperature is like walking out into the blazing summer sun after a morning of stale air conditioning. After a few minutes I will be reminded how much I hate being hot. When you’re cold, you can always add layers. When you’re hot, there are limits to how much you can remove, especially in public. I check the dimly lit room: no one home. Good. I remove my towel, step up, and sit on the hot wooden bench. I close my eyes and try to relax. I wait.

I hear voices. My senses go on alert. They’re in the hallway: people going in and out of the bathrooms just outside. I reassure myself that if a woman were entering the outer room, I would have plenty of time to grab my towel while she made her preparations to come in. For many, sauna is a social affair. Last year, the two Russian women, old but still cross-country skiers with good form and plenty of endurance, had stayed the entire hour talking non-stop as they moved from outer sitting room to my sanctum and back. The large cartoon strip posted on the wall tells the story of a group of naked Finnish men having an uproarious time sweating together, jumping into a cold lake, going back in the heat, and into the drink again: sauna as party. Continue reading Sauna