Vote + amazon music + Podcast: Hope for the Future by David Hunt

Heading over a picture of a VOTE button.

Hope for the Future by David Hunt Happiness Between Tails

#AIDS #Health #History #CDC #LGBTQ+ What do know about when AIDS was first diagnosed in the early 1980s? David Hunt, a radio journalist at the time, shares his experiences. Share your thoughts, experiences, and questions by recording them on my Anchor by Spotify page — or comment at HappinessBetweenTails.com — or email me. Like what you hear? Buy me a coffee at http://buymeacoffee.com/SupportHBT Time Stamps (where segments begin): HBT introduction Intro to today’s topic and guest 1:05 Hope for the Future by David Hunt My question for you HBT outro Links used for the HBT blog post of this episode: Original blog post for this episode at Happiness Between Tails. About my own novels in progress. David Hunt’s website Check out the Happiness Between Tails blog post for this show to see a still from the video that David and I produced. — This episode is sponsored by · Anchor: The easiest way to make a podcast. https://anchor.fm/app — Send in a voice message: https://anchor.fm/depe9/message Support this podcast: https://anchor.fm/depe9/support

Click H-E-R-E for my new podcast page at AnchorFM. Today’s show features the podcast/audio version of Hope for the Future by David Hunt. The text version comprises the second half of today’s blog post.

At the Happiness Between Tails podcast page, you’ll also find links to subscribe, hear, and share it via most any platform, from Spotify and Apple Podcasts, to Google Podcasts and Pocket Casts, along with RadioPublic and Castbox and Stitcher and more, plus an RSS feed. The full list of 50+ places is at LinkTree.

Voting day is right around the corner. Readers and writers, please don’t throw away your voice. Fortunately, there’s still time to make it easy on yourself. Vote by mail! I just did.

Rev up your keyboards and pens and lips — tell every single politically like-minded connection you have to vote and to do it immediately before they find themselves too busy or too absent-minded!

Most of my decisions were easy. 1) Naturally, I’m pro-choice, and 2), whenever possible, I support candidates least likely to give an inch to our ex-ogre, errm I mean former president.

Besides voting, this week I’ve been progressing with learning about podcasting. Since my show’s start a little over a year ago, it’s been on amazon music (and a bunch of other places, as listed at the top of this post). Have you ever reached out to someone or somewhere and, when they took 10+ months to reply, you could’nt remember why you did? In this case, amazon music has a free bonus for podcasters, though I’m murky about particulars…

No matter. Since this show is for me to practice and learn, I did as they asked. Here’s the advert they requested, highlighting that Happiness Between Tails podcast streams on amazon music…

Upon receipt, they quickly (wow!) emailed back that it looked good (double wow!), and asked which of their music genres to aire the commercial on. Umm… I asked them if they have analytics on which attract dear blog-sphere folks like you. But, now hoping they won’t take another ten months to get back to me.

What genre of music do you listen to? Do you ever listen on amazon music?

Dunno how many free times this ad will air, when, and so forth. Will keep you posted if I learn more.

Now that we’ve all voted (yes?), today’s guest blog post is by David Hunt. He also contributed here too. Basically, we met as infants, working at a car rental at LAX. Since then, together we’ve traversed many winding roads.

Voting in mind (and again, tell your friends to be like you and me and get out their black pens to vote now), wouldn’t it be great if our votes resulted in supporting great workers like those at the fore of HIV/AIDS?

Hope for the Future by David Hunt

Thirty-five years ago this month the CDC warned about a troubling outbreak of Pneumocystis pneumonia in five otherwise healthy young, gay men in California. Later that summer, when I reported on the outbreak for radio station KPFK, the number of cases had grown to 41, including 6 in California and 20 in New York. And, in addition to the rare form of pneumonia, gay men were starting to come down with a rare form of cancer and other opportunistic infections. By the end of the year, this new disease, later called AIDS, would claim 121 lives.

Clinical immunologist Joseph Church at Children’s Hospital L.A. with a young HIV-positive patient in 1992. From “Hope for the Future,” produced by David Hunt and Daal Praderas.
Clinical immunologist Joseph Church at Children’s Hospital L.A. with a young HIV-positive patient in 1992. From “Hope for the Future,” produced by David Hunt and Daal Praderas.

I don’t suppose anyone who covered the early years of the AIDS epidemic came away untouched. I’ll never forget Robert Bland’s soft brown eyes and calm determination to serve as “an AIDS guinea pig,” even as he acknowledged that a cure would surely come long after his own death. Or the button imprinted with the defiant message “I Will Survive” that San Francisco AIDS activist Bobbi Campbell proudly wore right up until his death in 1984. Or the scathing criticism gay journalist Randy Shilts leveled at bathhouse owners who refused to provide their customers with condoms or educational materials. Courage, defiance and anger; like the stages of grief, these came to symbolize for me the stages of AIDS activism. To be honest, fear was there, too, just below the surface.

Expanding Epidemic

By the time I began working as a video producer in 1985 the AIDS epidemic had expanded beyond the gay community, and now affected people of color, teens, women and even infants and children. An educational video I co-produced for Children’s Hospital Los Angeles in 1992-93 told the stories of three families struggling to deal with AIDS. it featured a 12-year-old boy, a 4-year-old girl (pictured above) and a baby boy. The message of the video, targeted to the parents and caregivers of children with HIV/AIDS, was not to give up hope, that new drug therapies were being tested and would soon be available. We titled the video “Hope for the Future.”

I don’t know if any of the children on the video survived long enough to benefit from the new drug cocktails that eventually made AIDS a largely manageable disease. I heard that the baby died shortly after we finished production. One thing you learn in an epidemic is to ration the amount of grief you have to handle at a given time. While I’d love to see those kids grown up and healthy, I’m not ready to face the other possibility.

If anybody’s still counting, AIDS has claimed more than 35 million lives worldwide since 1981.

David Hunt’s blog
More about the initial outbreak... and more.
Pediatric AIDS then and now.

Have you voted? And what genre of music do you listen to? Is it on amazon music?

Pro-Age Flamenco + AIDS + Iran + Books + Podcast: M. Alfieri on Story

Titling over photo of Flamenco dancers Elisabeth Fruth and Alina Coman Coman-Rodriguez.
Flamenco is fierce at any age: Elisabeth Fruth, left, with Alina Coman Coman-Rodriguez. Photo: Justine Grover, owner of Naranjita Flamenco school.

Discovery + Connection in Stories by Maria Alfieri Happiness Between Tails

#Authors #Writing #Wellbeing #Women #Community #MentalHealth What do peer support and community mean to you? Author/blogger Maria Alfieri's mission is to create peer support and community for our mental and emotional wellbeing. Share your thoughts, experiences, and questions by recording them on my Anchor by Spotify page — or comment at HappinessBetweenTails.com — or email me. Like what you hear? Buy me a coffee. buymeacoffee.com/SupportHBT Time Stamps (where segments begin): HBT introduction Intro to today’s topic and guest 1:05 Discovery + Connection in Stories by Maria Alfieri My question for you HBT outro Links used for the HBT blog post of this episode: Original blog post for this episode at Happiness Between Tails. About my own novels in progress. Photos available at the HBT post for this show: Maria Alfieri, author/blogger. Cover of “The Silent Scream Anthology,: by Maria Alfieri. — This episode is sponsored by · Anchor: The easiest way to make a podcast. https://anchor.fm/app — Send in a voice message: https://anchor.fm/depe9/message Support this podcast: https://anchor.fm/depe9/support

Click H-E-R-E for my new podcast page at AnchorFM. This week’s episode is “Discovery + Connection in Stories by Maria Alfieri.”

At the Happiness Between Tails podcast page, you’ll also find links to subscribe, hear, and share it via most any platform, from Spotify and Apple Podcasts, to Google Podcasts and Pocket Casts, along with RadioPublic and Castbox and Stitcher and more, plus an RSS feed. The full list of 50+ places is at LinkTree.

Fiction writing, from short stories to novels, is woefully underrated. When people ask me about my writing, I ask if they like reading. Eyes bright, they answer that of course they do. Argh, then they list their fave non-fiction titles. Any discussion of fiction elicits sighs about their lack of free time.

Folks in my circle muscle through books, gobble self-help and cookbooks and how-tos the way they do bitter greens and vitamins. Fiction, to them, is dessert, chocolate that isn’t even in the dark anti-oxidant range.

I beg to differ.

In keeping with the food/nutrition analogy, self-help is great in the way of popping supplements. Fiction, on the other hand, is whole-food goodness, nourishing in ways that defy science.

Cover of "Like a Love Story," by Abdi Nazemian.

“Like a Love Story,” by Abdi Nazemian, is an exquisitely told novel. Ostensibly, it’s for young adults, but don’t let that keep you from reading it. In it, an Iranian-American teenage boy comes to grips with his gayness amid 1980’s AIDS. The audiobook also features a terrific cast of narrators.

In the way only fiction can, “Like a Love Story” evoked memories, feelings, and thoughts. A couple of nights after finishing it, I dreamt of a beautiful young man, David Fradkin, who I knew back then. He was wise, fun, talented, full of life… and got sick… Here’s a bit more about him.

Some liken AIDS to Covid. Hardly!

Yes, Covid involves ugliness, including squabbles between maskers and vaxers. However, the early days of AIDS were completely hateful.

With AIDS, people from government officials on down — and unfortunately they still do! — blamed victims and refused to help. Countless lives would’ve been saved if it had been handled with even half the urgency Covid inspired, false starts, mishaps, and all.

Besides my prior post’s mentions of experiences with AIDS, at another job during the early-ish AIDS era, this one as a temporary administrative assistant at an advertising agency, there was a man who impressed me because of how truly kind and professional he was. I worked many of the agency’s desks, filled in when full-timers were on vacation or sick leave. This man was a dancer in his real night-and-weekend job, and we liked to talk about our involvement with the entertainment industry. When I eventually subbed at his desk, days turned into weeks into months. The office was smallish and everyone lamented his absence. When I couldn’t find one of his computer files, one of his bosses insisted I phone his home.

Oh, how I wish I hadn’t. Everyone knew he had AIDS, that he was home dying. But I called and this good soul answered and then promptly hung up on me when he found out why I’d called Good for him.

On another day back then, I parked my car to temp at another office. (Most likely I was running late, having gotten lost, asked for directions at a gas station, and searched the Thomas Brothers map book under my seat, haha.) In the lot, a gaunt young man gasped with exertion, trying to get out of his car, then sat back down to catch his breath as he rested his forehead on his steering wheel. No, I couldn’t help, because yes, I knew…

In my heart’s eye, we’re all lucky for any gay man who’s still with us, having survived those horrible times. In my circle, by comparison, Covid seems like nothing, nowhere near the overwhelming number of deaths. Regardless of real statistics, senseless deaths due to hatred define AIDS, whereas politics and stupidity define Covid.

Read “Like a Love Story” because it’s hopeful — also, in ways that non-fiction can’t, it lets readers step into history to see that always, we’re more alike than not, when it comes to confusion and fear. Nazemian’s “The Authentics” is a great read too!

Cover of "Cat Brushing," a book of short stories by Jane Campbell.

“Cat Brushing,” is a book that Jane Campbell at age 80! Among her radical collection of short stories, no topic is off-limits. Each vignette of noir humor illustrates how, to put it mildly and without revealing too much, we don’t ever have to stop surprising ourselves or anybody else.

While I’ve got your ear or rather eyes, if you haven’t already heard, a young woman in Iran was killed merely for not wearing her head scarf modestly enough. People there are so angry, so beyond fed up with government oppression, that the murder has lit the fuse to numerous public outcries.

To censor protesters, the government has closed access to WhatsApp, a major international internet phone/text/video app. You can help their voices be heard by sharing this video… 

Were you around to remember or hear about AIDS in the 1980s? Then or now, what’s your most potent impression?

Transgender Visibility Day and Valeska Réon’s Multiple Lives

Rachel Crandall started Transgender Day of Visibility as a day of hope, back in 2009. Indeed it is this year! For the first time, a U.S. President, Joe Biden, issued a proclamation on it!

Here Rachel talks about the annual event…

Now is also a good excuse for an update on what Valeska Réon’s been up to since I wrote of her a while ago.

Valeska Réon has wonderful news!
Valeska Réon has wonderful news!

Her book, “Der Bibelkiller/The Bible Killer,” has a favorable opportunity to become a Netflix film. Here’s an interview with Valeska and director/actor/screen writer Nicolai Tegeler who will film it in Maastricht, Netherlands. If you, like me, don’t understand German, Google Translate does a terrific job.

Valeska Réon with director/actor/screen writer Nicolai Tegeler.
Valeska Réon with director/actor/screen writer Nicolai Tegeler.

In addition, her next book is set to published in less than a year. Already, Valeska is working to make it a Netflix miniseries. The historic novel features Anne of Brittany (1477-1514), the only woman who served twice as France’s queen consort (the most powerful sort of queen). Not just that, Anne was queen consort of Naples, and a duchess consort of Milan. All that and she died when she was only 34!

“Der Bibelkiller/The Bible Killer” by Valeska Réon.
“Der Bibelkiller/The Bible Killer” by Valeska Réon.

“The Multiple Lives of Author Valeska Réon” in her own words

When I started writing back in 1997, the world of literature was not like it is today. Self-publishing wasn’t yet invented, so you first had to find a publisher before the book could see the light of day. The Internet was still in its infancy in Germany, so you had to resort to traditional marketing strategies.

In 2012, after three non-fiction books on health and beauty, I took all my courage and wrote my autobiography, “Flowers for a Chameleon.” What happened next — I hadn’t expected that! Perhaps I should tell you that I was not born a woman, but had already worked as a model in Paris before the sex reassignment surgery. Always I was careful that nobody learned of my secret. 1985 was another time, and models like Andrej(a) Pejic and Lea T. did not exist. The reactions to my book were overwhelming, it sold very well, and a filmmaker contacted me to film it.

But above all, I became aware of one thing – as an author, you market yourself best when you are authentic. Due to my life story, I was suddenly in the focus of the German LBGT community, which I first had to deal with. Countless letters from my readers all had the same core message: “Thank you for giving us such courage with your book!”

Today #beyoubetrue is my favorite hashtag, and I use it not only on Instagram but also on my author portraits.

Valeska Réon wears her favorite hashtag.
Valeska Réon wears her favorite hashtag.

After that, I changed my genre to now writing thrillers –- and that’s when I had a new marketing idea. In my book, “Double Sacrifice,” the song, “J’aime tellement,” plays such an essential role that once I wrote the lyrics, I then found a singer/composer to set them to music. Finally, it was remixed and is now available for download –- a great compliment to the book.

My new thriller, “Walking on Sand,” is was rewritten into a stage play that premiered in Düsseldorf, December 2019. Another autobiographical story, this one is about the transsexual children’s book author Lea. After many years, she returns to her hometown to avenge the terrible things her classmates did to her. The children’s book mentioned within it, “Charlotte Inside,” is taken out of the crime plot and made into a book of its own. It is the first children‘s book ever to tell young readers about therapy with the inner child.

Valeska Réon lays on the sand, a watchtower in the background, with her dog.
What new creative adventure is Valeska Réon conjuring?

My greatest wish is for “Charlotte Inside” to appear internationally so it can bring joy and courage to children everywhere.

How many lives have you lived?

Holidays Capote-Style by da-AL

Gentle and cruel, personal and universal — writer/novelist/artist/actor/personality Truman Capote captured the holiday season to a “T”-ruman in his “A Christmas Memory.”

A lifelong bestie of another of my beloved authors, Harper Lee of “To Kill a Mockingbird” renown, Truman grew up queer during times when that wasn’t allowed. Hell, it’s still not allowed, not really despite the two-steps-forward/one-step-back strides that humanity has been making lately.

Truman Capote at 23, thanks to Wikipedia.
Truman Capote at 23, thanks to Wikipedia.

I happened upon Truman’s “A Christmas Memory” by chance. It’s part of his book, “Breakfast at Tiffany’s: a Short Novel and Three Short Stories,” the whole volume of which is mind-blowing. His print version of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” is nothing less than enchanting for how it captures the heartbreaking nuances of love and friendship, particularly between a gay man and a straight woman. (Incidentally, another book I adore along those same lines is “The Object of My Affection,” by Stephen McCauley. That novel as well is much more profound in print than in the film.)

Poster for "Breakfast at Tiffany's" from Wikipedia.
Poster for “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” from Wikipedia.

Please don’t judge “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” by its movie version. It’s stunning because of Audrey Hepburn, her iconic dress by Hubert de Givenchy in the movie poster above, and so forth — but its racism toward Asians is deplorable. Moreover, it’s nowhere near as deep as the fabulous book. Unfortunately, Truman seems to have actively prostituted his masterpiece novella to Hollywood. Why? Was it due to his tragic and increasingly alcoholic life?

Truman Capote, four years before his too early death. Thank you Wikipedia
Truman Capote, four years before he passed away. Thank you Wikipedia.

The story in its p.r.i.n.t.e.d. form reminds me of how this whole pandemic situation has upended our holiday season, yet in some ways “righted” them. This year I’m extra thrilled that my dear ones are in good health. I’m happier for the smaller gestures. Living “sheltered-in-place,” I’m reminded that even though we can feel alone, we never really are.

Writer/novelist/artist/actor/personality Truman Capote.
Writer/novelist/artist/actor/personality Truman Capote.

No matter how poorly we feel and badly we are treated, one kindred face can make all the difference. Here in this vintage video, Truman doesn’t tell us this — his story enables us to feel it…

How are your holidays unique this year?

Edinburgh Art: U.S. + Notorious Lesbian Book + U.K. Landform

Tourists 1970, by Duane Hanson 1925-1996, constructed of polyester resin, fiberglass, and mixed media.

“A thousand roads lead men forever to Rome.” (Believed by some to have been penned by Alain de Lille in 1175.)

Bunches writers of stacks novels borrow and twist that proverb. The way it relates to this dilemma is — have you ever returned home from a trip and waited so long to sort your photos that you no longer remember where you saw what? Worse, did a pandemic come along and toss your blog posting plans to the winds? Those, my friend, are my excuses for this post.

Do you, like me, find yourself measuring time as ‘pre-pandemic,’ ‘early pandemic,’ etc.?

Not all that very long ago, in pre-pandemic Scotland, I was pleasantly reacquainted with a couple of fellow Americans, both of them artists. Remember Cabbage Patch Kids (o-m-g!!! I just Googled them — they’re still manufactured!?)? The dolls, IMHO vomitous as they are, remind me of Duane Hanson’s art, who respect tremendously. He started as overtly political. Later he segued into depictions of sorely neglects folks and subjects, this way and this way. His life-casts here are portrayed as a couple, yet in real life they never met. Incorrigibly Floridian, they stand out in Edinburgh…

Tourists 1970, by Duane Hanson 1925-1996, constructed of polyester resin, fiberglass, and mixed media.
Tourists 1970, by Duane Hanson 1925-1996, constructed of polyester resin, fiberglass, and mixed media.

“The subject matter that I like best deals with the familiar lower and middle-class American types of today. To me, the resignation, emptiness, and loneliness of their existence capture the true reality of life.” (Artist Duane Hanson)

Rain and more rain; that’s what we got in Scotland. Wetness and all, it was marvelous! The people were kind and down-to-earth, the food was good… a welcome change from the So Cal droughts! There was so much to see that I’m forced to must split Scotland into more than one post. We’d landed in London and had fun at the British Museum here and here and here. Then we drove to Bath, then admired Avebury and a bit of Wales on the route to Stokesay Castle. Later, the Kelpies of Scotland were amazing! Scotland alone had so much wonderfulness that I’m forced to split it into more than one post!

Now this same Edinburgh gallery (or maybe it was at another place, perhaps in Glasgow?) also featured work by my fave modern artist, he of the Campbell’s soup cans and he who may or may not have said that thing about everyone getting fifteen minutes of fame, Andy Warhol

Shoe and Handbag, 1960, by Andy Warhol (1928-1987) Graphite and gouache on paper. In the 1950s, before Andy became a pop art icon, he was a mega-successful commercial artist. By the note on the bottom right, even he had probs with picky bosses like this one who hated this purse.
Shoe and Handbag, 1960, by Andy Warhol (1928-1987) Graphite and gouache on paper. In the 1950s, before Andy became a pop art icon, he was a mega-successful commercial artist. By the note on the bottom right, even he had probs with picky bosses like this one who hated this purse.

 

A Field of Blue Children, 1951-52, by Andy Warhol (1928-1987) Ink and dye on paper. Andy and I agree that Truman Capote was an amazing writer. This is the only surviving piece from Andy's solo exhibition of fifteen drawings based on Truman's work.
A Field of Blue Children, 1951-52, by Andy Warhol (1928-1987) Ink and dye on paper. Andy and I agree that Truman Capote was an amazing writer. This is the only surviving piece from Andy’s solo exhibition of fifteen drawings based on Truman’s work.

 

Here Lies the Heart, 1957, by Andy Warhol (1928-1987) Ink and graphite (a.k.a. pencil) on paper. Only later was this used for the autobiography of Mercedes de Acosta (1893-1968). Of Spanish/Cuban descent, she was known for her poems, plays, and novels. And also for romancing the likes of Great Garbo, Isadora Duncan, and Marlene Dietrich, to name but a few!
Here Lies the Heart, 1957, by Andy Warhol (1928-1987) Ink and graphite (a.k.a. pencil) on paper. Only later was this used for the autobiography of Mercedes de Acosta (1893-1968). Of Spanish/Cuban descent, she was known for her poems, plays, and novels. And also for romancing the likes of Great Garbo, Isadora Duncan, and Marlene Dietrich, to name but a few!

 

Foot with Cat, 1955-57, by Andy Warhol (1928-1987) Ink on paper. A page from one of many books Andy made, some for himself, some to showcase his talent to clients.
Foot with Cat, 1955-57, by Andy Warhol (1928-1987) Ink on paper. A page from one of many books Andy made, some for himself, some to showcase his talent to clients.

Here’s Landform by Charles Jencks beyond rainy windows (rain-less view here) of the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art in Edinburgh…

Landform, 2002, by Charles Jencks (b. 1939)
Landform, 2002, by Charles Jencks (b. 1939)

Have you ever mixed up vacation pix? Or completely lost them? Ulp, I have… And do you, like me, find yourself measuring time as ‘pre-pandemic,’ ‘early pandemic,’ etc.?

Nina Romano’s Writing Astrology Inspo

In high school, a classmate who was as passionate about reading as I was sat near me. Best friendship was in our stars! Better yet, both of us liked to write!…

The carvings with Chinese Zodiac on the ceiling of the gate to Kushida Shrine in Fukuoka (mirror image, to have animals in the correct order). Photo By Jakub Hałun - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=64844306 The carvings with Chinese Zodiac on the ceiling of the gate to Kushida Shrine in Fukuoka (mirror image, to have animals in the correct order). Photo By Jakub Hałun – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

Her preferred reading was historical fiction, the ancient sort with mythology and astrology mixed in. Thanks to her, I read a bunch by Mary Renault, an English author who lived much of her life in South Africa. Those books depicted lots of buff gay guys from olden days. Ironically, a) in South Africa Renault could live more peacefully than in the U.K. with her life partner who was also a woman, b) she often portrayed women harshly, and c) she criticized the gay rights movement.

My friend also introduced me to “Linda Goodman’s Sun Signs.” (A rare video interview with Goodman here.) For me, Goodman was worthy of extra esteem as she was Aries, the same as me. When it came to Aries, all compliments were correct and unflattering attributes were incorrect. Until, that is, at some point in my so-called maturity when I tossed astrology into the same bundle as my Catholic upbringing. Both harbored too many confounding and disturbing aspects, so I decided I was wasting my time contemplating either.

Not so much later, though, a new friend entered who was into astrology. Charts, she explained, are how astrology becomes scientific. She introduced me to Angela Louise Gallo, a master at charting the stars. Gallo read and taught from her home in Van Nuys, which is just above Hollywood, hence she garnered a sizable entertainment biz crowd of followers.

Gallo’s monthly talks culminated with “hororary” readings, as in “hour-related” since those forecasts tied her psychic powers to the time of night when she would take questions. From slips of paper handed to her, she’d give quickie predictions. I’d parted ways with my parents as soon as I graduated high school with no plan other than survival. By the time I met Gallo those few years later, I’d collected myself enough to realize that I needed to do better. I asked Gallo whether I should sign up for college. She answered, “Wait a couple of semesters. Soon you’ll be taking a long trip.”

That month my grandmother sent me an airplane ticket to visit her all the way from Los Angeles to her home in Argentina! During childhood, both my grandmothers and I exchanged many letters. They were fantastic in all the ways that mattered to me: they didn’t sugar-coat life, they wanted the best for me, and they helped foster the writer in me who will eventually publish Flamenco & the Sitting Cat and Tango & the Sitting Cat. I loved them dearly, sight unseen. The one in Spain I first met when I was nine. It wasn’t until my early twenties that I got to hug my Abuela in Buenos Aires.

After that trip, I hired Gallo to do a detailed chart, yet I can’t remember anything about it, including what happened to it. These days, I’d rather not presuppose anyone based on their birthday, and I prefer to bumble along as best I can when it comes to my future.

Yet I still adore other people’s stories about astrology!

Today’s poet/novelist guest, Nina Romano, writes from Florida and Utah. Originally a New Yorker, she’s a globe trotter who’s earned degrees and writing awards galore, plus she’s published a slew of books.

Here she generously recounts the way that Chinese astrology figured into her book, The Secret Language of Women, the first of her Wayfarer Trilogy. Read to the end for an excerpt from it in addition to links for Nina and her writings…

Writer Nina Romano. Writer Nina Romano.

How Chinese Horoscopes Helped Me Develop a Realistic Protagonist by Nina Romano

For The Secret Language of Women, the first book of my Wayfarer Trilogy, I decided my main character Lian’s horoscope would be the Year of the Dog. Knowing her horoscope facilitated my understanding of the protagonist’s psyche for this novel. Since the book is set in China, I used Lian’s Chinese Zodiac sign to learn about her qualities and personality traits intimately so that she appeared genuine yet flawed. She is a warm and caring being, a healer, courageous and intelligent. When a person born under this sign falls in love, they do not ever change.

Loyalty and honesty are two of this horoscope sign’s characteristics. Lian falls in love with Giacomo, an Italian sailor, and remains faithful to that love, despite the fact that she is forced into a loveless marriage. Her quest is a difficult one, but she chooses to follow her path despite menaces, oppositions, troubles, risks, and dangers. She is fierce in her love and faithful to everything she believes concerning it.

Having visited China several times afforded me unique experiences that enabled me to see in person Hong Kong, Beijing, and its fabulous Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square, and Lian’s enchanting city of Guilin. I was able to envision Lian’s travels and travails in war-torn China, an era suffused in superstition, intrigue, culture, and history. I incorporated the themes and things I care about, such as love, family, food and recipes, art, dragons and horses. Why? Simply because it’s straightforward to write what I know and have feelings for, and all of these ideas translated well even to a novel set in China during the Boxer Rebellion. My own horoscope is the Year of the Horse, so I made sure I had an important role for a horse in this novel, and I’m positive that my horoscope had an incredible influence on my stars being aligned because I signed a contract for a three-book deal for my Wayfarer Trilogy with Turner Publishing during the Year of the Horse.

While writing this novel, I pictured what happens during the Chinese New Year: careful cleaning of the house, the distributing of red envelopes, Lian cooking on a wok, and serving rice to her beloved.

Since this story takes place in China where live fish, most especially carp, are good Fengshui, which according to Wikipedia, is a “philosophical system of harmonizing everyone with the surrounding environment.” For this reason, I describe a pool with carp in the Summer Palace in Chapter 1, where Lian meets the love of her life. Do I believe in the influence of horoscopes and how they can help round out a character? Of that, there is little doubt.

Cover of

Excerpt from The Secret Language of Women by Nina Romano

The things that test you and are vanquished bring everlasting joy. The differences between traditional written Chinese and Nüshu, the secret language of women, made it difficult for me to learn it. My mother and grandmother could not write Chinese and learned Nüshu when they were young and wanted me to grasp it too. I cannot say they harped on me or were tyrannical, but I will say they were insistent, and for this I am eternally indebted.

My mother said it challenged me because I wrote like a man and didn’t have to rely solely on Nüshu, the way they did to communicate with other women. The ideograms of Chinese correspond to a word or part of one, whereas each of the seven hundred characters of Nüshu represent a syllable— women’s language is phonetic, in Chéngguān dialect 城关土话, adaptable and pliant for singing, poetry and writing with such delicate strokes they appear as lines of feathers.

Though learning was problematical, I mastered it, like I do all things I set my mind to conquer. At the time, I resented the study of it, yet I knew innately one day I would be grateful to possess the knowledge and skill of this secret language, which would offer me strength and solace for a lifetime. And although I was writing in Nüshu, for some reason, I signed with flourish in Chinese: Wǒ Lián. I am Lian. 

Amazon Author — hardcover, softcover print, and Kindle: The Secret Language of Women & Lemon Blossoms & In America — softcover print and Kindle: The Girl Who Loved Cayo Bradley.

Goodreads & Twitter & @ninsthewriter & Facebook & BookBub

Has astrology helped you with storytelling and anything else?

 

Honoring World HIV/AIDS Awareness Month

Pessimistic about the world? Have you written off activism as a dead end? Think again. Thanks to the courageous efforts of one activist at a time, we’ve come a long way since the hellish first days of AIDS. Once upon a time, being HIV positive meant early death and having to endure enormous bigotry.

Image by Oberholster Venita from Pixabay.

Fortunately, these days we have ways to prevent it. Folks who are tested early and are found to be HIV positive can live long lives with treatment.

Moreover, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is working to end the U.S.’s epidemic within the next ten years!

In addition, it’s working to end discrimination in the U.S. against patients with HIV!

Since 1988, each December, people worldwide show their support to end HIV, both as a disease and as a stigma. We pay our respects to those whose lives have been cut short by it, and to those who live with it.

Here are some of my impressions of the early days of AIDS, which I wrote in reply to my good David Hunt’s post here. He also wrote about it here. Another site with historical information is Gay in the 80s.

Do you ever feel like activism is useless? How do you keep from getting down?

Guest Blog Post: Pt 2 of 2, Ten Commandments of Coming Out by Rhys

The best love we can give each other, as well as ourselves, is to be accepting of who we are. Sharing our experiences, especially the difficult ones that helped us to grow, is the height of generosity. Rhys grew up in India and then relocated to the U.S., where he works as a physician. Together with his boyfriend, Nick, he hosts a truly heartfelt blog. You met him when he told us the first half of his ten commandments to coming out to one’s family.

Here’s the other rest of his commandments…

Photo by Aayush.

Part 2 of 2: “Let it go! 10 commandments of coming out of that damn closet!!” by Rhys

I hope this not-so-exhaustive list will be helpful for you all. (Part 1 of these 10 commandments is here.) Please feel free to reach out to me and/or Nick for any help!

  1. Have resources ready -> Again, going back to my comment about the use of technology, I would say keep some LGBT-friendly movies, newspaper articles, novels, stories of successful personalities, etc., handy. Make sure to say this to your peers and family “Take as much time as you need. Once you are ready, ask me as many questions as you want to. I can share some very helpful resources with you so you can understand more about the LGBTQ+ community.”
  2. Be prepared for aftereffects of the storm -> Coming out can be a SHOCK for some people (who are we kidding, it’s a shock for the majority of people!!). From the person who comes out to the people whom he/she/they come out to, everyone gets affected for a variable period of time. Aftereffects can range from minor behavioral changes to crazy fights (to the point of people being thrown out of their own homes, sadly!). So here comes the con of coming out on video calling – although you aren’t physically there to face those aftereffects every single second, you might feel guilty of not being there to support your peers (or at least I was made to feel extremely guilty for not being there and making a wrong decision of using FaceTIme). Whatever, I have no regrets of how I came out to my parents, and I think it was the right time!). Even the duration of these aftereffects can vary from a few hours to days (in my case) to few months or even years (Nick’s case and most people’s case too), which brings me to my next commandment.
  3. Be patient -> As I mentioned before, it can take up to 5-10 years (or maybe a lifetime) for your family to come to terms with your sexuality. Unfortunately, I know of some of my friends in the LGBTQ+ community whose families have not accepted them yet, despite it being >20 years. But don’t lose hope and be strong….
  4. Be strong -> As I mentioned previously that you must be 100% comfortable with yourself before coming out to people. Being comfortable with one’s self also helps to have that courage to face the world. It is NOT an easy process (but neither is life!). When I say that be strong, it doesn’t mean that you have to be the lone warrior on the battlefield. You have tons of resources at your disposal which you MUST use – movies, music (my coming out song to inspire me was Let it go from Frozen), stories of successful people (Ellen DeGeneres, being one of my inspirations), your partner(s) 😉 , best friends, etc.
  5. Hope for the best and have faith – Eventually, it will work out!! Don’t lose hope, think positive, and try to keep yourself occupied (especially in the immediate coming out period) to destress. Coming out is a tough step (in fact, a MILESTONE for every LGBTQ+ community member), so be PROUD of yourself and everything you have achieved.

I wish you all the very best for the next big step in life.

As I said before, Let it go…..

Love,

Rhys

A bit about Rhys in his own words: Rhys: A simple guy, who was oblivious of the gay world, fell in love with the most unexpected person… Now wants to share what it feels like to be in love and the experiences of being gay….!!!

Rhys and his boyfriend run a great blog.

Here is Part 1 of his 10 commandments.

Has a family member come out to you? What did you or what would you reply to them?…

Guest Blog Post: Pt 1 of 2, Ten Commandments of Coming Out by Rhys

A significant character in my soon-to-be-finished novels, “Flamenco & the Sitting Cat,” and its sequel, “Tango & the Sitting Cat,” is an American/South Asian gay man. While researching his identity, I encountered Rys’ excellent site! Indian by birth and now working as a physician in the U.S., Rhys shares some of his wisdom with us here…

Rhys and his boyfriend operate a great blog.

“Let it go! 10 commandments of coming out of that damn closet!!” by Rhys

As I had promised in my post about coming out to my parents, here are a few tips/tricks on how to come out, if you are very nervous and not able to decide what to do (as I was initially).

The answer to the big question, “how to come out?” is ………… “There is NO one way or magic trick to do it!”

Everyone is different, with different family structures, different backgrounds, and people they grew up with. But that doesn’t mean there is nothing I can tell you to guide you for your coming out process. So, here are the 10 commandments of coming out. I compiled these from mine and Nick’s experience. The list is in NO way exhaustive, but does highlight the most important points:

  1. There is NO need to rush to come out. EVER!! The best time to come out is when you feel like you are prepared – be it 10 weeks, 10 months, or 10 years!
  2. You have to be 100% comfortable with yourself FIRST before coming out to your family, peers, or any random Tom, Dick, or Harry (pun intended) 🙂 If you aren’t comfortable with yourself (physically, mentally, spiritually, sexually, and every way you can think of), it becomes hard to stay strong in such a stressful situation.
  3. It’s 2019 -> Make use of technology. FaceTime, etc., aren’t the most ideal way to come out, but I have realized that having the physical distance can help in decompressing some of the tension and harsh situations, which is VERY common during coming out. I used video calling to come out to my whole family. Since I had no plans of meeting my family for an extended period of time, and I was ready to come out. So, I thought video calling was the answer. Believe me, the physical distance was super helpful, especially to decompress the situation in the first few days (but video calling has its cons as well like not being there to actually encounter the aftereffects, which might make some of us feel guilty – read further below).
  4. Be direct -> If there is any situation in life where you don’t wanna beat around the bush, this is one of those times. The more you talk about random BS and take 30-45 mins to come to the point, your audience would have been exhausted already. (Remember, the average attention span for humans is 25-45 minutes.) I admit of being guilty at this myself too. I talk a lot (if in case you haven’t noticed yet :P), and sometimes, the main point is lost in my jargon. It took me 5 attempts (6 video calls in 3 days) to eventually gather the right words just to say it bluntly “I have a boyfriend, and I am gay!” Boom – silence follows (as if you weren’t expecting that – haha!).
  5. Divide and conquer -> This isn’t ethically the most appropriate title, but it was REALLY helpful. When I started coming out in my med school, I came out one by one to my close friends first. Using the same technique, I first came out to my brother and sister-in-law, and 6 months later to my parents. It serves a dual purpose: not having the added stress from everyone at once and also, the people you came out to already can help others come to terms with the “shock.” My brother and sister-in-law were a HUGE support for my parents at the time when I came out to them over FaceTime.

A little about Rhys in his own words: I am a physician from the East Coast of the USA, who grew up and spent 25 years of his life in India, before moving to the west! Currently living with my boyfriend, Nick, I often post on our joint blog, which we created in 2012 when we started dating. He is also a physician, and we love to travel, are big-time foodies (absolutely love brunches!), and are happy to make new friends always!

Here’s the rest of his commandments! Have you met new friends through blogs? What’s your experience with coming out in any country?…

Who are you calling stupid? by Jean-Paul

I admit it. I’m a terrible friend to you. I’m sharing the following sample of London-based blogger Jean-Paul so that you’ll be snared like I am. Experience the same one-two-punch love-hate I have with his site. #1) I love that he’s so talented!!! (though I am jealous!), and #2) I hate that every time I visit, I can’t resist spending way more time there than I plan for — even his friends who comment are clever!! Read on, my forewarned friend…

Photo by blogger Jean-Paul of “myhusband&i: two guys making out & trying to make it”

“Who are you calling stupid?” by Jean-Paul

When it comes to math, I’ll admit I’m a complete dummy. At school, I understood a lot, but arithmetic? It was all mental to me. My husband, on the other hand, has a brain like a push button calculator.

“You’re not stupid,” said Guido after dinner last night, “you just need some math practice with imagination. I have an idea,” he said, “sit back right this second and imagine yourself in a farmyard.”

As you can see, we really do need to get out more.

This was worrying. I had a sneaking feeling I was going to be asked to talk algebra to a chicken. I’ve only ever visited a farm once in my entire life, and I seem to recall a pungent odour. It was strong enough to make me squeeze my nostrils all day long.

“Okay,” I said involuntarily pinching my nose, “what’s next?”

There was a pause.

“What are you doing?” Guido asked, eyebrow raised.

“I just think it’s important that I embrace this part of the exercise before we move on to any complex multiplications or differential equations. Though I’ll admit, I’m becoming anxious about whether I should go put on rubber boots?”

Take it from me, this was a totally bona fide concern. If you’ve ever walked around a farmyard, then you’ll know there are some big brown stinky things you really don’t want to stand in. Did I mention the flies?

“Don’t worry about that. This is the cleanest farm ever.”

This was reassuring, but I held onto my nostrils just in case of an unexpected whiff of ammonia. I couldn’t see any flies though.  Which was even more re-assuring on account of my limited one arm swatting abilities.

“Now imagine there are 13 animal heads and 40 legs in front of you,” said Guido.

One moment I’m in a loft apartment eating a perfectly adequate mid-week lasagna and the next I’ve suddenly been put out to pasture herding a bunch of unidentifiable livestock. As you can tell, I like to take my visualisation pretty seriously. Which is more than I can say about the math. I mean, where was the straw?

“Now tell me,” said Guido, “how many sheep and how many ducks can you count?”

I closed my eyes. I could actually see the sheep just standing there staring at me. They seemed pretty friendly with only the occasional baa. The ducks, on the other hand, were all over the place quack quack quacking and waving their wings about. Anyone would think they’d just been told the hunting season had started.

There was another short pause.

“Well?” asked Guido.

“Hang on,” I said, “I’ve counted the sheep, but the ducks are proving problematic. Have you got any stale bread I could feed them?”

It was, I think, at that point, Guido began to understand the challenges my teachers had all those years ago.

“Hmm, I think we’ll leave this lesson for now,” said Guido wisely pouring me a glass of wine.

Back from the country, safely at our kitchen table, I let go of my nose. In the end, I couldn’t teach Guido that much about the sheep but what I did tell him was if something walks like a duck and talks like a duck then it’s usually a duck. And there’s nothing stupid about that.