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Derik Cowan

September 1997

Moving On

It's odd for me to think that September has rolled around again, and for the first time in eighteen years I'm not heading back to school. I've been doing my best to ignore the back to school sales (a hard thing to do when you're working retail), the school buses tracing their new routes, the outflux of summer workers and influx of new students (hopefully this will somehow lead to an influx of open apartments so I can get out of my various friends' hair), and the internal clock that tells me that I should be in school.

A lot has happened to me over the past summer. I graduated from college with only a few vague plans on what I wanted to do: go to San Francisco, and possibly work in the not-for-profit world while I started to break into the theatre world. I figured things might be rough for a bit, but I wasn't really aware of exactly what I would face in trying to break into the working world. Part of the problem for me, of course, is that I do have my sights set on a career in theatre, so I didn't want to take a job that might lead me down a career path that I didn't want. What I wanted to find was either a career that would allow me to help others and gain life experience that would benefit me in the future or simply a job that would cover my bills without taxing my energies too heavily.

I didn't find anything for my first month out in San Francisco, but early in August I began work as a salesboy at Does Your Mother Know, a card shop in the Castro. Working there is interesting. I certainly meet a lot of people there (btw, feel free to drop by and say hi if you happen to be in the area.) Perhaps what interests me most about the job though, is its location. Working in the Castro really can make me appreciate what I have. Each day dozens of tourists come into the shop and browse for up to an hour, looking for special things to send to friends, and invariably when I talk to them, they comment on how wonderful it is to come to a place where openly gay cards and gifts are not only easily available but plentiful. This always hits a chord with me. Even in my short time here, I've almost become accustomed to the widespread gay commercialism that I almost forget what it was like back in Connecticut when I was in high school, yearning for some sign that I belonged, eager to buy something that was meant for me or get my hands on information that could tell me something about myself or how to meet others like myself. Back then I would have loved for someone to have sent me a card like the ones I sell every day. My life has certainly changed in the past years.

I've also begun volunteering. When I realized that getting a non-profit job was not going to be as easy as I though originally, I decided that I nonetheless didn't want my energies and desire to help to go to waste, and so I began volunteering for the Bay Area Chapter of the Names Project. I became interested in the Names Project last October when I went to see the Quilt in Washington DC, and as I do more and more work with them, I find myself becoming more and more enthusiastic about the Names Project's goals. The Names Project to me seems to meld almost all the most important needs in terms of AIDS action into one solution: It provides an outlet for the grief of those who have lost friends, family, and lovers to AIDS; it builds a permanent memorial for us as a people remembering the terrible toll this plague has taken; it provides a visual impetus to our politicians by reminding them of the lives lost due to their past mistakes in funding scientific research and providing education about this disease; and finally it serves as an educational tool, using the quilt to teach that each person who has died was more than a number but a person, loved by his friends and family, a person perhaps not that dissimilar from you or I, and if they could die, so could we if we don't protect ourselves. Moreover, the quilt reminds us that just as it continues to grow today, so too does the number of people who have died of AIDS-related illnesses: the AIDS crisis is not over.

I still haven't managed to find an apartment of my own or start my break into the theater world here in San Francisco, but overall I'm optimistic. I can pay my bills and also feel that I'm doing my part in making the world a better place. That's more than I've gotten from the majority of my past summer jobs. Now I have the semester to fill in the rest. Without classes to take, I should have plenty of time.


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