Mark and Vinny Holiday Letter 2010
Troika, Vinny Allegrini, and Mark de Solla Price
Portrait by Garry Gross, November 2009
Our holiday letter is also on our website at MarkandVinny.com/Holiday2010 where it is probably more fun to read with the live “links” and all the year’s photo galleries and various writings, podcasts, and more. If we have your e-mail address already, we took the liberty of e-mailing this letter to you as well as mailing the physical card and letter by US Mail. If you only got a physical copy, then please visit our website to subscribe to our updates, opt-out, or change your e-mail address. For those who want to hear the longer narrative, the website also has the holiday letters from 2009, 2008, and 2007. Mark is still moving things over from the old, manual systems to the fully accessible “Acquia Drupal” website built using Gallery, iPhone/iPad, Mark’s Facebook, Vinny’s Facebook and Geni (genealogy) and other great tools.
The expanding website project is the result of Mark sorting, organizing and scanning through his lifetime of photos and memorabilia archived down at Manhattan Mini Storage. These walls of boxes contain the record of his efforts while employed at Studio 54 and as a producer and manager of various nightclubs and theaters in the 1980s. This is also the archive of Mark’s first thirty years of being HIV-positive and becoming an activist, author, educator and same-sex marriage equality spokesman. Although most of the content is posted to the website, some is source material for Mark’s memoir “Not Dying As Scheduled” which tells the story of Vinny and Mark’s seventeen years (and counting) together, much of the time being told they only had “weeks to live” together.
It’s my goal that the website should be not just entertaining to our friends and family who know and love us, but that it might also be useful, educational and inspirational to other folks who, like us, are going through life facing a terminal condition. That’s more people than you’d think. I like to tell people that life itself is a sexually transmitted, progressive terminal condition, so that puts everyone in our “terminal” boat. So for the website to be useful, I don’t want to stamp it all over with traditional copyright notices but rather encourage people to take what they find useful or helpful and re-use and copy it. I have been inspired in this cafeteria-plan “open source” Philosophy of Intellectual Property by my late friend and fellow AIDS activist and author Peter McWilliams. Read our “permissions page” and maybe this radical philosophy of sharing one’s written work might be one of the “useful” bits you carry on for your work.
Back in March, Jason (Woei-Ping) Chen proposed photographing us in our home for a series he was doing of same-sex married couples. Welcoming people into our home is very important to us on a spiritual level – it’s even part of our marriage vows that “We will create a wonderful home together that can be an oasis filled with serenity, happiness, and our love.” Jason turned out to be an amazing photographer, and his series captured a marvelous energy in both our relationship and our home. A number of the images are on our website, and we used the best one as the cover of our holiday card. Unfortunately, it meant that for the first time since our hurricane rescue dog Troika came to live with us on January 6, 2006, she wouldn’t be on the card. Being such a lovely dog, she didn’t complain and we assured her that there were plenty of other photos of her on our website. Troika is the healthiest family member, and so she’ll be back for next year’s photo shoot.
It’s mind boggling that it has been nine years since Vinny’s liver transplant fell through after our long, successful, groundbreaking battle to get an HIV-positive person actually approved for a transplant in the first place. Without a pending transplant, Vinny got admitted to home hospice care with “only weeks to live”. In 2006, he was kicked out of hospice care for “not dying as scheduled.” He still hasn’t made any miraculous cure and he requires daily Roxanol (liquid morphine sulfate) and battles narcolepsy and dementia. Since he’s not dead yet, he’s once again preparing our healthy meals and is able to cut hair at home for family and special friends. With all these obstacles, artistically this is the best work of his 38-year precision hair-cutting career.
Mark’s health has been especially challenging. Over the last few years Mark became disabled by the ravages from decades of HIV infection plus the very toxic effects of the treatment cocktail itself. No one knew that the reprieve from HIV could age some body parts (like some of his) at double speed. That’s why he now has conditions that usually are only seen in geriatric patients. Is 50 the new 80? For many of us long-term HIV survivors, it might be. David France wrote a powerful, must-read article in New York Magazine about exactly this: HIV patients are living longer but getting older faster. Mark had the third round of Vascular Leg Surgery in March and since then has had six rounds of lower back procedures and pain management with Opana, an opioid similar to Oxycodone. AIDS can be a chronic, treatable, manageable condition for folks like us with great insurance, terrific medical teams, and loving families, but these days getting through it has often had to be “one breath at a time.”
Thanks to the Gay Men’s Health Crisis (the oldest and largest AIDS service organization) Continuing Education scholarships, Mark has been able to take two semesters of “Writing for New York City Newspapers and Magazines” by Susan B. Shapiro at the New School. Prof. Shapiro is a prolific writer who teaches how to be a working, published freelance writer. Unfortunately, Mark’s health has really gotten in the way of excelling in the class and getting as many “main stream” published clippings has he would have liked, but he learned practical skills and met many influential editors in the process, so as his health improves, the fruits of this work should pay off.
Both Vinny and Mark have been especially spiritually active this past year, both in the Unitarian Universalist and American Buddhist Communities. The Unitarian Universalist Association’s website explains that 16.5% of UUs identified themselves as being Buddhist. Some folks who come from Abrahamic Religious backgrounds (Judaism, Christianity, or Islam) might even (correctly) say that neither Unitarian Universalism nor Buddhism are technically “religions” at all, as neither include a belief (or non-belief) of God, supernatural or miraculous activity, and neither requires any statement of creed, faith or dogma.
Early in 2010, we both “signed the book” and became voting members of the First Unitarian Congregational Society in Brooklyn. We had become disillusioned and unhappy at The Community Church of New York Unitarian Universalist, and although Mark had been Board Chair at Community Church, we figured out the subways work in both directions and we could commute to Brooklyn Hights from the West Village on Sunday mornings, and now we couldn’t be happier in our new spiritual home Resplendent with the stained glass windows and mosaic by Louis Comfort Tiffany, a vibrant congregation of liberal and passionate folks, great music and under the care of the Senior Minister, Rev. Patrick O’Neill. In August, Mark gave sermon at First Unitarian “On Being a Church-Going Atheist.”
Mark is a student member at The Village Zendo, co-founded twenty-five years ago by Roshi Pat Enkyo O’Hara, PhD, a Zen Priest in the White Plum Lineage. HIV/AIDS has always been a key focus. In August, Mark went on week long intensive retreat called “Jukai” or lay ordination that formalized his ethical commitment to serve the community. At this ceremony Enkyo Roshi gave Mark the Buddhist name GakuJô (? ?) meaning A steep mountain peak of mercy, love and compassion. You can read the Zen Peacemaker Moral Precepts and Philosophical Tenets on the back of our holiday card.
Both Vinny and Mark are active members of the Open Sky Sangha, which offers Buddhist teachings and meditation practice serving the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community and the Buddhist Explorers Dharma Fellowship which meets on the third Sunday of every Month from 2:00 pm to 3:30 pm at the LGBT Community Center. On January 16, 2011 Mark will be the guest speaker on “Being Buddhist and Unitarian Universalist and Atheist”
On the international front: Over the summer, we hosted two separate visits from Danish cousins; Our niece Eva Price fell in love while teaching in Shanghai and has now moved to Australia with her boyfriend; Our niece Melanie Allegrini Alvarez’s husband Steve is back from two tour of duty, the first in Iraq and the second in Afghanistan. Mark’s father, Derek de Solla Price, who died in 1983 discovered The Antikythera Mechanism, a complex geared computer built in Greece about 80 BC. During his lifetime, what he viewed as his most important work was largely ignored. In the May 14, 2007 issues of the New Yorker, it was the subject of an eight-page article and there are now two upcoming documentary movies on the subject. The first out should be the one from National Geographic. Mark has officiated at something like two-dozen memorial services or celebrations of life; this summer Mark had the honor of officiated at the wedding of Jeffrey Folmsbee and Rei Hayashi.
Just as we prepared to print our holiday letter, we got the sad news that our upstairs neighbor and friend Garry Gross (11/6/1937 – 11/30/2010) died inexpediently. He was perhaps most famous for his provocative nude photos of a then ten-year-old Brooke Shields for Playboy publications in 1975. After his retirement from commercial photography, he became a dog trainer and dog photographer, specializing in artistic dog portraits of “senior dogs.” In November 2009 he gave us the wonderful gift last year of a studio photograph of Troika, Vinny and Mark which was the cover of last year’s holiday card and is one the top of this letter.
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