Tuesday, June 30, 2015

From Total Happiness to Mad as Hell

     Well, as most everyone knows, last Friday the Supreme Court of the United States passed a ruling that allows GLTB marriage in all 50 states.  The joy I felt was overwhelming and the tears of happiness flowed freely.  Pride weekend in Loring Park was especially sweet this year as we celebrated with thousands of like minded people.  Now that the fight for marriage equality is over, my thoughts turn to other matters and my joy has turned to anger.  Let me explain...
     Tomorrow, July 1st, marks the start of the legal distribution of medical cannabis in Minnesota.  I was proud to have pushed for the law allowing the sale of medical cannabis in Minnesota and I had been proud to sit on the Governor's Task Force.  I thought that perhaps I could make a difference with  this law in the lives of many Minnesotans including those of us with HIV and AIDS.  It now seems that I was totally wrong, at least for many of us.
     Since the start of June, I have been trying to get my medical team to certify me so that I would be eligible to legally obtain medical cannabis when distribution began on July 1st.  I finally got an answer last week from my medical team that no doctor in my clinic and no doctor in my medical group was going to certifying patients for the cannabis.  I was told I could find a doctor outside my clinic that might certify me but that would require a period to build a "relationship" with the new doctor that could be 6 months or up to a year.  Add to that the fact that I have been part of the same HMO for over 20 years and they have all my records plus I have already established very good "relationships" with the medical team there, and you can see why moving to another clinic and another doctor is not in my best interest.  Especially because I have always been told that a person with a disease such as AIDS should have continuity of care and changing doctors and clinics midstream does not help at all with that.  Then there is the not so small issue of my health insurance.  Would it cover a new doctor in a new clinic?  And don't get me started when it comes to the cost.  Even if I get certified, will I be able to afford the cost of the cannabis? 
     I hear on the news that there are some who's children suffer from severe epilepsy who are all ready to pick up the cannabis tomorrow morning.  And I read in the paper that the law enforcement is worried that people using medical cannabis will be "driving under the influence".  I am happy that some who need the cannabis are able to get it but I am angry that others, like me, are not.  As far as the driving under the influence, is driving while taking Vicodin for my chronic pain any better?  It is legal and I do take it when the pain is not helped with other less addictive medications.  Is driving while taking tincture of opium better?  I do take that occasionally for my chronic diarrhea when nothing else will work.  And how many children with epilepsy are going to be driving cars?  I am still waiting for more information from my medical team and I am still waiting for an answer to an email written to a certain state Senator.  Since tomorrow is July 1st, I know that I will not hear back with any helpful answers in time to be certified soon. 
     So, here is sit, on the last day of June and I am not certified for medical cannabis and probably will not be for some time to come.  I worked to get this stupid law passed and I worked to make sure all those who needed it would be able to get it and I am one who can't.  I am pissed off, I am mad as hell!  I am almost to the point that I will go out to the street and find a dealer who can meet my needs!  Let me tell you, if I could pack up and move to Colorado or to Washington state right now, I would, without hesitation!  Minnesota is really pissing me off!  Stay tuned to this space for more to come.......     

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The Love and Pride Of a Father

     As Father's Day approaches, my thoughts turn to my father who died 20 years ago in March.  After all these years, I still miss my dad and I still have regrets about our relationship.
     My dad was a very loving man although he was not always free at showing his feelings.  At least not directly.  He did often tell me of his love and showed his love as best he could.  The last time I saw him, about a month before his death, he walked me to my car as I was leaving and there, on the street, he gave me a hug and thanked me for the visit.  This was something he had never done.  I was surprised but I welcomed the public show of affection.  Little did I know that this would be the last time I would see him alive. 
     Dad would say that he loved me every once and a while and I always was surprised when did.  He also would put his arm around my shoulders as a show of affection.  He had various nicknames like "Old Chum", "M.S.D." (My Son Duane), etc. that he used often as terms of endearment.  I knew that I was loved but it took years to realize how much. 
     The one thing I never heard from my dad was that he was proud of me.  At least he never said those words directly to me.  When dad died, I swore on his grave that I would live to make him proud because I still wanted to hear those words.
     A few months after dad's death I watched a video that was taken at mom and dad's 50th anniversary celebration.  As I watched, I realized something.  Dad was often video taped talking about me.  He was telling people of my accomplishments, where I was living and working and that I done a lot of the preparation and planning of the celebration and program for the anniversary celebration.  In almost every scene of the video dad was telling people about me!  It was then that I realized that he really was proud of me!  I was shocked!  Dad might have never said those exact words to me but here, on the video, was the proof I needed to see, he was proud of me and all I had accomplished. It was just that I would never hear him say those words, "Son, I am proud of you".
     So, this Father's Day, if you are a father, tell your kids exactly how you feel.  Tell them you love them AND that you are proud of them.  And, if your father is still living, tell him exactly how you feel about him.  Talk to him about his life and find out everything you can about his past.  I wish that I had one more chance to talk to my dad and to tell him how much I love him and how proud I am to be his son.  Although, maybe he has already heard me.....   I know that I finally heard him!

Happy Father's Day!


Monday, June 8, 2015

Ghosts or voices in my head? You decide...

     I have often been asked about my beliefs when it comes to the "afterlife".  Although I do not believe in a supreme being and a heaven or hell, I do believe that when the physical body dies, there is some sort of energy or spirit that does live on.  Throughout my lifetime I have experienced different things that back up my beliefs.
     I remember as a child that I had a friend who's name was Michael.  Michael was invisible to everyone but me.  He and I would chatter in our special language while coloring, playing or doing other activities during my day.  Adults treated my friend Michael as my "imaginary friend" and that was it.  Looking back I realize that he was more.  For me, he was a spirit that watched over me and kept me company when I needed a companion.  He stayed with me as I grew but our conversations slowly ended and he became just a shadow or presence over my shoulder.  I still feel him with me today.  I have never known who he was or why he has been with me but I think he watches over me and guides me as I live this life.
     One of the strongest experiences was in Germany in the spring of 2001.  Jim and I were visiting the part of Germany where the young Anne Frank's life came to an end at the Bergen-Belson Concentration  Camp.  We took a bus to the camp to visit and learn about that dark period of German History.  We were there on a beautiful spring day filled with sunshine and woodland flowers.  As we entered the camp I began to hear a voice whispering in my ear that said, "There were no birds singing then."  Because of the beautiful spring day, wild birds sang in the woods surrounding the camp.  Jim and I were at the camp for a number of hours walking through the graves and learning about what had happened there.  We visited the marker for Anne and her sister who both died months before the camp was liberated.  The entire time we were in the camp, the small voice repeated the phrase about the lack of birds singing then.  As we prepared to leave, we visited the camps information center and I signed the guest book.  I wrote, "Today the sun was shining and the birds were singing but there were no birds singing then".  After we returned home to Minnesota we learned that there was a TV movie mini series called "Anne Frank, The Whole Story" that would air in about two weeks.  I could not wait to see it.  As we watched the final episode of the mini series that portrayed the last hours of Anne and her sister, Anne said to her sister, "Listen, do you hear the birds singing?".  I felt a cold shiver as I heard those words.  I suddenly knew why I had been hearing the words, "There were no birds singing then" when we had visited the camp.  Anne had been sending me a message letting me know that she was there. 
     Besides Michael and Anne, I have experienced various spirits in various ways.  I have heard screams coming from dungeons in old castles in Europe.  I have heard the blood drip from ancient weapons on display in museums.  And at home, I have met the woman living in our 110 year old house that we call the "Lady of the House".
     The Lady of the House first introduced herself to us immediately after we moved in.  As we looked on the ceiling of the guest bedroom, we noticed the outline of a woman in the cracks in the old plaster ceiling.  The woman wore a large hat with feathers and was looking down over her shoulder.  The outline looked like a woman from the turn of the 19th to 20th century.  Often I would lay on the bed in the room and stare at the outline and think about a woman who might have lived in the house and I wondered if the creaks in the floor at night or the steps on the stairs were made by this woman.  As we remodeled the house, the bedroom ceiling was torn down and replaced with a new one.  As the workers removed the old plaster they found three magazines from 1907.  On the back of two of the three magazines was an add and the add showed a close up of a woman wearing a large hat with feathers looking over her shoulder.  It was exactly the outline that had been in the cracks in the ceiling.  Seems the Lady of the House wanted to stay and make her presence known.  And, even though the stairs were replaced with new ones, the steps continue and the creaks often wake me in the night.  She lives on and watches over her home and those who live here.
     And then there is my father.  He died unexpectedly in March of 1995.  Shortly after he died I had a dream, at least I think it was a dream.  In the dream, I woke up and saw my dad sitting on the railing at the top of the stairs.  When he noticed that I was looking at me he smiled.  I got out of bed and walked towards him.  As I got close, he grinned and spoke, "Hello Old Chum" he said,.  "Old Chum" was one of his nicknames for me throughout my life.  When he said that, I woke up in a sweat.  I actually had to get up and out of bed to look to make sure he wasn't still sitting on the rail at the top of the stairs.  Since then, although I do not see him except in my dreams, I do feel he is with me, watching over me and guiding me.
     From Michael to The Lady of the House, from Anne Frank to my father, I know that I have been lucky to have seen and heard spirits that guide me and watch over me.  And I know that I share this world with those who have passed onto the next part of life, the world of the spirits.  And one day, I will walk in that world with them and hopefully, I will be able to whisper in the ears of the living and watch them as they travel this thing called life.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015


     June is the "Month of Pride" so I decided I should take a good look at my life and see if there was anything that I could say I was proud of.  What I found was a bit overwhelming.
     First, I am proud of where I came from.  I was raised in a not too wealthy household, my parents both worked and bills were sometimes hard for them to pay.  Still, I had what I needed to grow.  I had three meals a day, all home made and nutritious.  I had clothes on my back (sometimes "hand-me-downs" or from the local K-Mart and almost never fashionable) and a warm bed to sleep in.  And most of all, I had a loving family that encouraged me, praised me when I deserved it and punished me when I deserved that too.  I had parents that taught me right from wrong and did not judge me when I screwed up.  They helped me to grow into an adult with good morals and values and the ability not to force my beliefs onto others.  They taught me to have a strong will and that not being a sports jock was okay.  They offered me the choice to learn music and science and they allowed me to have my menagerie of animals.  And they were proud of who I grew to be.   All in all, they made me the proud man I am today.
    Second, I am proud of my relationship with my loving and supportive husband, Jim.  Sometimes I am amazed at the fact that we have been together for 29 years and I know that often I take him for granted.  Jim stood by my side through some really tough times and has always supported me in every way.  I grew up with a dream of a "Prince Charming" and I found one in Jim.  He rode in on a "dark and stormy night" and swept me off my feet to a life of love and commitment.  When I nearly died, he was there to give me the strength to fight for life.  And with my AIDS diagnosis, he never thought of leaving my side.  In fact, we became closer and more supportive of each other.  I am so proud of our path so far and look forward to the next 30 years together.
     Third, I am proud of the family and friends who constantly offer their love and support.  I have been so very lucky to have so many wonderful people in my life who do not judge me and who are there for me when I need them.
     Lastly, I am a proud gay man.  (There, I said it!)  I grew up feeling alone, like I was the only one, afraid and not wanting to be myself.  Then I realized that I needed to be exactly the person I was, in every way.  I am proud of the work I have done to further marriage equality and overall acceptance of the GLBTQ community.  I am also very proud of the work I have done with regards to ending the spread of HIV.  Speaking to classes of teen-agers and not being the shy and introverted person I usually am is really something to be proud of.  And I am especially proud of those people who have helped me with these causes. 
     Most of all, I am proud that I am no longer afraid to be who and what I am. A person who can stand and say with extreme PRIDE, "I am a married gay man who is also a long term survivor of AIDS!"  And I am who I am because of all those who came before me and all those who helped me along the way. 

  Happy Pride to one and all!

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Old friends, New friends... They all make life worth living.

     Ever meet someone and know instantly that you will become friends?  Ever had a friend that you haven't seen for a long time but when you finally get together you can pick up just where you left off?  Ever feel you are so lucky to have met some really wonderful friends that will care for you, support you and share in your life no matter what?  Throughout my lifetime I have had friends like that, people that instantly became a lasting part of who I am and how I live.
     One such friend, I will call her Sally, was my husband, Jim's, boss when we first moved to Minneapolis.  Jim would often come home from work with stories about this woman and the fun they had working together.  Finally, I met Sally and I felt an instant connection with her.  It was almost like I had known her for a long time.  Over the years, we got to know her well and she knew us.  When my life was drastically changed by my illness and AIDS diagnosis, Sally was there to offer her love and support.  When her life changed and she moved away, I wondered if we could still have a connection.  I should not have worried.  Even though miles separate us, we remain connected and I feel that our friendship has strengthened.  Sometimes it is almost like we are spiritually connected and I often feel her near me when she is hundreds of miles away.  We recently reunited and it seemed like we had never been apart.  Of course email, snail mail and Facebook help to keep us connected.
     Another dear friend, I'll call her Mindy, and I started working for the state at the same time.  We immediately became friends.  We seemed to share the same thoughts, the same outlooks.  We both loved nature and animals.  We came from different backgrounds but she was so much like the sister my age that I didn't have.  When I was in the hospital she visited and offered her love and support.  When I was home recovering, she kept me up to date on what was happening at work.  When I returned to work, she was there to support me and help me as best as she could.  And when Jim and I married in Vancouver, she baked a beautiful, huge and lavender colored wedding cake for our reception.  Mindy and I stay in touch by email and Facebook and when we do get together (not often enough) for lunch or a day of antique shopping, we are like kids, laughing and sharing life like long lost siblings. 
     I also have friends from my childhood that I am now in touch with.  Our lives went in totally different  directions and we lost touch for years but yet when we reconnected, we were able to pick up and our friendships remained strong.  It is amazing how joyful it is to reconnect with old friends.
     And now Jim and I have made new friends,  We have met some terrific people on our trips, people from all over the country and world.  Once again, when we meet these people, it is as if we have known them for a long time.  We try to be open and honest with our new friends from the beginning, letting them know about our relationship and about my AIDS diagnosis.  And I have been amazed, our honesty only seems to strengthen our new friendships and often we find that we have more in common than we could have imagined, even with the straight couples we have met.  And an added bonus, we are able to visit these new friends and get to know them even better.  As far as I am concerned, there is nothing better than sharing fun times with good friends.
     When I look at my life so far, I know that I have been so very lucky to have met many very wonderful and dear friends.  They are like an extended family, the kind of family who loves us and supports us no matter what.  And I know that I will continue make connections and friends as I travel through this life.  And perhaps in my next life, we will all meet again!

The politics of the day.

     As most of you may know, my political affiliation leans strongly to the left, more liberal side.  Although I do not believe in everythi...