Writing to Help Others

I start with a quote: “A musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must write, if he is to be ultimately at peace with himself. What one can be, one must be.” That’s from Abraham Maslow, psychologist (1908-1970), one of my favorite writers.

As I explained early in this blog, I write because I have to. To refuse to write would be to accept damnation. In my mind, there’s no question that I was put here to write.

Feedback from readers includes compliments on my style and ability to tell a story, but far more often than I would have expected, readers thank me for helping them. That is, perhaps, my greatest satisfaction.

I write about issues that won’t leave me in peace—experiences from the past that still roil my soul and force themselves into my stories. One is my time caring for men dying of AIDS. But the biggest among them is what combat does to the human spirit.

In the 1980s, to help me cope with Post-Traumatic Stress Injury (PTSI), I spent five years taking care of men dying of AIDS. I had seven patients. They were all gay, and they all died. I was a volunteer at the Whitman-Walker Clinic in Washington, D.C., a gay organization. I was the only straight guy there. I was forced to confront my unconscious biases about gay men—that they were weak and effeminate and trivial. The men I worked with were among the bravest and hardest-working I’ve ever encountered. Their courage and self-sacrifice put me in mind of the men I’d served beside in combat. And the patients matched them in bravery. They faced their inevitable deaths with resolve and peace.

My experience moved me so deeply that I wrote a novel about a straight man caring for a gay man dying of AIDS. It’s No-Accounts. That book is arguably my greatest critical success. And it is the only one of my published books not about the Vietnam war.

One of the reasons I wrote No-Accounts was to inform the public about the sheer gruesomeness of AIDS. It’s a monstrous disease. In the book, I catalogued AIDS’ destruction of the human body. And I wrote of the bravery of the care givers and the patients.

So many readers have thanked me for No-Accounts. Some have praised me for debunking myths about gay men. Others have expressed gratitude for helping them understand AIDS and the brutality the disease visits upon its victims.

The response of readers is my fulfillment.

More next time.

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