Mark S. King
Courtesy photo
Mark S. King

‘Every day is still a triumph to have come this far’

Author, blogger, and long-term AIDS survivor Mark S. King talks about aging ‘with grit and grace’ in Bellows Falls on June 20

BELLOWS FALLS-How do you handle growing older with a deadly disease that has killed dozens of your friends, but that you have survived, so far, for nearly four decades?

That is what author and blogger Mark S. King will discuss in "Aging with Grit & Grace," a free event presented by Senior Solutions and Bellows Falls Pride at the Bellows Falls Opera House on Thursday, June 20, at 7:30 p.m.

Growing older with a chronic illness presents not only physical, but also psychological challenges, and King's story of resilience is a portrait in courage, stamina, and humor.

King was diagnosed with HIV in 1985, at the very beginning of the AIDS epidemic and 10 years before any kind of effective treatment was developed.

Against all odds, not only has King survived, but he has gone from a young gay man of 23 to now, at 63, looking at surviving with HIV into old age. That journey has given King a unique life, and a unique perspective on how to live it.

King's conclusions?

"I lead with joy. I lead with humor," he said in a phone conversation last week from his home in Atlanta. "I'm a storyteller. I'm a writer. I started writing in my early 20s when I was diagnosed. Writing was my therapy. It was my way of processing what was happening."

Some of those writings appear in his collection of essays - My Fabulous Disease: Chronicles of a Gay Survivor - released this past September. Funny, irreverent, gossipy, naughty, heartfelt, and at times, dark, the essays not only deal with King's life as a gay man with HIV, but also with his struggles with addiction.

In recovery now for 20 years, King has no doubt that a factor in his addiction was how society viewed him as a gay man.

"You grow up in a society that doesn't value you, and you end up believing it," he said. "It comes with a searching, looking for a place to be yourself."

King is quick to say that those issues don't excuse his addiction, but they do give it a context.

He shares that context in his presentation, which is more than just about being gay, or living with a terminal illness, or overcoming addiction, or aging.

"A lot of my presentation is I'm telling stories," King said. "I can't resist a good, gossipy story. So I'll start a presentation with, 'When I met Elizabeth Taylor, she hated me, and I can't wait to tell you why!'"

He has done a 10-city book tour with presentations from San Francisco to New York City since the book was released last year.

With his presentation sponsored by Senior Solutions Vermont, his Bellows Falls presentation will highlight issues involving aging.

He says that on his book tour, he often gets other long-term survivors and LGBTQ+ allies to participate in his program.

"When I discuss the '80s, I frame it as a time of triumph, not a tragedy," King said. "We did that in the face of complete apathy."

When asked why he feels he's survived so long with a disease that has killed thousands of others, King says "that's a mystery that I stopped trying to answer years ago."

Rather than trying to answer why he has survived so long, King said, he feels it's more important to define "what am I doing with the life that I have. In this program I simply tell my story."

Looking back at the tragedy of AIDS, King said, "I'm telling people this is what happened to us and this is how we responded to it." And rather than just discussing how he's survived with HIV, King said, his purpose for this event "is to talk about aging in general."

In recovery from drug addiction for 20 years, he says "every day is still a triumph to have come this far."

And for long-term survivors of AIDS, King said, as they move into old age, they are confronted all over again by the steady march of their own mortality.

"We're left with the moments we live in right at this minute," King said. "That's what I discuss, and what I try to do. I try so hard to live right here in what is happening right now. That's what we'll be discussing at this event."

Tickets for "Aging with Grit & Grace" on Thursday, June 20 are available at the Bellows Falls Opera House box office and at Doors open at 6:30 p.m.; the event starts at 7:30 p.m.

This News item by Robert F. Smith was written for The Commons.

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