Mark and Vinny Holiday Letter 2010

Mark and Vinny Holiday Letter 2010

Troika, Vinny, and Mark
A Family Portrait by Garry Gross
(November 2009)

This holiday letter is also on our website at and we are also e-mailing it to you, since it’s more fun to read on-line with live “links” and all the year’s photos, writings, and more. 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 read 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 website (see colophon).

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 is 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 captured a lovely energy in both our home and our relationship. These images are on our website, and our favorite became the cover of this year’s 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 join us on the holiday 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.

Our life really is filled with serenity, happiness, and our love. Of course, it’s also been filled with serious health challenges for both of us. Over the last few years, Mark has become increasingly disabled by the ravages from three 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 Mark’s) 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: HIV patients are living longer but getting older faster. Mark has now had three rounds of vascular leg surgery and six rounds (and counting) of assorted lower back procedures working with an opioid pain management plan. 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 Gay Men’s Health Crisis Continuing Education Scholarships, Mark has been able to take two semesters of “Writing for New York City Newspapers and Magazines” by Susan Shapiro at the New School. Shapiro is a prolific writer who (uniquely) teaches how to be a working, published freelance writer. Unfortunately, Mark’s health has really gotten in the way of getting the full payoff from the class so far, but he learned practical skills and has met many influential editors in the process, so as his health improves, the fruits of this work should pay off and support Mark’s larger project, his Memoir “Not Dying As Scheduled” which tells the story of Vinny and Mark’s seventeen years (and counting) together, most of that time being told they wouldn’t have much more time together.

Amazingly, it’s now been nine years since Vinny’s liver transplant fell through — after our winning the battle to get an HIV-positive person approved for a transplant. Out of options on New Years Eve 2000/2001, Vinny got admitted to home hospice care with “only weeks to live”. In March 2006, he was eventually 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. But, when he is able to cut hair, artistically he is doing the best work of his 38-year precision hair-cutting career.

Both Vinny and Mark have been especially spiritually active this past year, both in the Unitarian Universalist and American Buddhist Communities. That is a more common mix than you might suppose. According to the UUA website, 16.5% of all UUs identified themselves as being Buddhist. And both are more of a lifestyle and ethical philosophy rather than a theology or religious belief or concept of God.

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 have a shorter Sunday morning commute by heading out to Brooklyn Heights from the West Village, 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 progressive, liberal and passionate folks, great music and under the outstanding care of the Senior Minister, Rev. Patrick O’Neill. In August, Mark gave a sermon at First Unitarian “On Being a Church-Going Atheist” that was one of the best attended of the Summer.

Mark continues to be a student member at The Village Zendo, co-founded twenty-five years ago in SoHo by Enkyo Roshi, a Zen Priest in the White Plum Lineage. The Zendo is about equally comprised of gay and straight members and HIV/AIDS has always been central to its mission. In August, Mark went on a week-long intensive retreat called “Jukai” or lay ordination that formalized his ethical commitment to serve the community. On the back of our holiday card, you can read these Zen Peacemaker Moral Precepts that Mark committed to. At that ceremony, Enkyo Roshi gave Mark the Buddhist name
GakuJô (see below)
meaning “A steep mountain peak of mercy, love and compassion.”

GakuJô (in kanji)

Vinny studies with Sharon Salzberg, who he calls his Spiritual Angel. She is best known for her “metta” (loving-kindness) meditation. 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 with the Buddhist Explorers Dharma Fellowship which Mark leads at the LGBT Community Center. On Sunday January 16, Mark will be the guest speaker on “Being Buddhist, Unitarian Universalist and Atheist.” All are welcome, regardless of religious belief or non-belief.

Mark has coordinated and officiated at countless memorial services and “celebrations of life” over the last twenty-five years; this summer it was a life-affirming honor to officiate at the wedding of Jeffrey Folmsbee and Rei Hayashi. Also over the summer, we had the pleasure to host and reconnect with two of our Danish cousins, Tine Hjorth and Isis Hjorth, who came in separate visits. Just last month, we were happy to welcome niece Melanie Allegrini Alvarez’s husband Steve back from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Mark’s father, Derek de Solla Price, discovered The Antikythera Mechanism, a complex geared computer built in Greece about 80 BC. When he died in 1983, what he viewed as his most important work was largely ignored. In the May 14, 2007 issue of the New Yorker, it was finally the subject of an eight-page article and there is now an upcoming National Geographic documentary broadcast on January 20 with lots of never before seen film and images. We’re all so happy that his work is at last being recognized.

Just as we prepared to print our holiday letter, we got the sad news that our upstairs neighbor and dear friend Garry Gross died unexpectedly. He was perhaps most famous for his provocative nude photos of a then ten-year-old Brooke Shields. 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 on the top of this letter. Impermanence can be difficult…

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