Writing is as solitary a profession as anyone can imagine: just you and your pen/paper/computer/typewriter. But no one, no matter how good they are, truly does it alone.
I knew when I started writing that I would have to ask for help. Normally, I like figuring things out on my own, but this was different. The publishing world was changing so fast that it was mind-numbing. It still is. So I risked looking stupid – though I was – and asked questions. A lot of questions. Sometimes I was embarrassed to ask but I did anyway (thank God for email so I didn’t have to look them in the eye).
I am constantly amazed by the willingness of people to help me – people I don’t know. Sometimes they’re speakers at an event. Sometimes they’re other writers.
That was not something I expected when I started writing. I expected it to be competitive (it is), grueling (ditto), even cutthroat (at times). But I’ve also found that it’s a generous, supportive community.
Sometimes I’m contacted by friends of friends on Facebook who have heard about the book I’m writing and want to help (Fag Hags, Divas and Moms: The Legacy of Straight Women in the AIDS Community). I had meetings in New York recently with representatives of AIDS-related organizations. I requested the appointments and they graciously made time in their busy lives. Not only were they in full support of the project, but offered to contact women for me to interview. They followed up our meeting within hours. Two meetings will result in no fewer than eight interviews.
At the moment I’m almost paralyzed thinking about the work necessary to write this book. Not just ‘how will I ever get to all of them?’ (an impossible task) but ‘how will I do them justice?’
I don’t have an answer yet for the first question, but last night, as I prepared to do a reading of my latest book – Friend Grief and Men: Defying Stereotypes – I realized I have the answer to the second:
Just like I did with my series, I’ll listen to their stories and recount them as best I can. They’re eager to share their experiences in the AIDS community – some from the early days, some later on – and how it changed their lives. They’re eager to talk about what brought them in and kept them in. They’re eager to talk about the personal price they paid, both physical and emotional, for devoting their lives to a cause that many insisted was “not about them”.
That’s the most important thing I can do: listen. Give them a safe, supportive, nurturing space to tell their stories. Then do my damnedest to prove to the world that they made a difference.
And through it all I expect to continue to, in the words of Amanda Wingfield, depend on ‘the kindness of strangers’.
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