Today is the Day Without Art.

Ever since the tradition of this Day started, I've done a little ritual. I light a candle and sit looking at it for a while, thinking about disease and pain and economics and dying. Then I write down the names of all the people I know personally who have died of AIDS, and say good-bye again. Then I burn their name in the flame. Then I write the names of the people I know living with HIV or AIDS, and I try to send strength to them, and I coat them with wax to preserve them.

I actually haven't done this for the last two years because I'm starting to forget those I knew who died, and I'm feeling superstitious about those I know who are still alive. Epidemiology has overwhelmed me, and I feel so low on hope, as Africa gets swept away, and the Indian subcontinent is slowly massacred. Not the most destructive disease in the world, I know, but its many signifiers--from suspicious origins to the economic and sexual mores involved, intimately involved, with transmission--keep it important. Not to mention the millions of people dying terrible deaths, often because of misguided political leaders, or the neglect of poor urban populations in the US, or the despair or ignorance or sheer plain pig-headedness that leads people to "do it anyway." It's become big business.

HIV always makes me think about our relationship to disease, "we" being humans. Disease plays an important role in maintaining a balance in an ecological niche, but it is impossible at this point to determine what that balance is for humans and how we live in a niche at all anyway. Disease is a change of state, and HIV has taught us that more than anything, I feel. I remember talking to a few people I knew who were infected, and the amazing state change they would express. Being not attacked, but rather co-existing with this organism, living a new life that was not worse, but different--learning something different about existence. I believe that Susan Sontag wrote all about it, actually, but reading about it is very different from talking to someone who's experience it. Cancer also fits in this. I am very attracted to this idea of disease as a change of state rather than a -- bad thing. Same with death. I suppose it's awfully abstract to me in a way, but also right next to me every day, right next to everybody every day.

I worked in HIV research laboratories for over ten years, from 1988-1998. I used to watch cells shift and change and express disease from day to day, I used to take apart each component of that disease, right down to the genes. How much more concrete could you get? Yet in that constant breakdown, often somewhere along the way you lose sight of the thing itself, and it becomes a series of steps in a recipe for a laboratory procedure. In a way, though it probably sounds crazy, I was always glad to work with infected blood--it was connected to a person, to someone I could name and visualize, someone whom might actually be benefiting in some small way from the processes I put their vital fluid through.

I can't stand the world in pain and also I want to accept it. This is not a contradiction, but it is...

Clarinda Mac Low
New York City

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