Shooting for the Stars—Blastoff!

Greetings! Thank you for finding your way to my website and very first blog post. I was going to begin with my recent experience at the Stockholm Writers Festival, but after seeing the movie “Rocketman,” I decided to follow another trajectory. What better way to launch a website than by writing a post about shooting for the stars in which Elton John makes a guest appearance?

Seeing “Rocketman” and listening to its soundtrack brought back memories of stolen kisses while slow dancing to “Our Song” at my junior prom. When clouds were in my eyes, “Daniel” was there to make them vanish. I was impressed that Sir John, at a sky-high point in his musical career, had checked into rehab to get help for his addictions. That took courage. However, I was most impressed when the closing credits revealed that the singer-activist has raised over 400,000 dollars for various HIV-related groups. Wow! I’d done my share but on a much smaller scale. I left the movie theater reminiscing about my friend Patrick Murphy and our “fifteen minutes of fame” when we helped people with HIV/AIDS in the 1990s. That experience had impacted my life, and continues to do so, in ways I’d never dreamed possible.

I first met Patrick when we were both canvassing for local politicians in Massachusetts in 1983. With his charm, warm spirit, and our shared values, he and I became fast friends. When I moved to Los Angeles a few years later, he visited and at once began auditioning at various studios for work as a film extra. He was smitten with Tinseltown in a way I was not and loved to talk about his brush with this or that actor. He was also shamelessly addicted to celebrity talk shows and Hollywood gossip tabloids.

Life changed dramatically when Patrick was diagnosed with HIV soon after returning home. Rather than retire to his beloved P-Town, he founded For the Love of Life! (FLOL!), a wishing-granting organization for people living with HIV/AIDS. Through his numerous political connections, FLOL! received an outpouring of seed money, as both Republicans and Democrats rallied around the young man who had once tirelessly volunteered for their political campaigns. When Patrick told me he was organizing the agency’s first fundraiser, I left L.A. and flew to Boston to assist with the planning. Although he seemed healthy, I was concerned that his boundless reserves of energy might quickly be depleted.

On my first day at the For the Love of Life! office, Patrick told me to draft a letter to Elton John, his celebrity of choice to headline our special event. My jaw dropped. “Elton? Here?” I glanced around the matchbox-sized space. “He’ll certainly feel at home singing ‘Tiny Dancer,’” I said, stifling a giggle.

Patrick chortled and circled his cigarette through the air like a baton. “Well, it’s either Elton or Liz,” he snapped back. I shrugged. “You know . . . Liz as in Taylor.” Of course! Silly me for not guessing.

While I admired my friend’s shoot-for-the-stars attitude, at that moment, I wondered if he’d just touched down from Mars. Nevertheless, I typed a “beg letter” to Elton John but wasn’t holding my breath. Although he and Liz were no-shows, we raised enough money at the kick-off to begin granting more wish requests, which had been pouring in. I was hired as the “wish fairy” and began arranging family reunions and trips to Disneyland for our recipients. We also published a book of poetry and provided art supplies, sewing machines, and concert tickets. FLOL! plugged along on a shoestring budget, but funds couldn’t keep up with the needs of the HIV/AIDS community. Soon it was time to plan our second fundraiser, and I wondered if I’d be writing to Elton again or if Patrick had set his sights on Bette this time around. As it turned out, he’d hit the “jackpot” early on.

Goldie and Patrick, 1993

After returning from a trip to Washington, D.C., Patrick waltzed into our office and announced that he had nabbed a “very special celebrity” for our gala. I forced a smile and continued to flip through my wish Rolodex, wondering if hallucinations were a side effect of his new medicine. However, when a “Miss Hawn” phoned our office the next week and asked to speak with Patrick, I realized I had underestimated my friend. As he repeatedly asked the caller about “Kurt,” I realized he was talking to Goldie Hawn (!) about her long-time companion, Mr. Russell. I’d been a fan of Goldie’s every since “Laugh-In” and thought I might levitate out the window.

Patrick explained that he and Goldie had “clicked immediately” at Bill Clinton’s Presidential Inaugural celebrations, where she had been a guest star. At the end of the week, he had asked her to headline our event, and she’d simply said “yes.” I was more than a little impressed.

After coming back to earth, Patrick and I revved into high gear. First on our to-do list was a move to more spruced-up digs. (“There’s no way my Goldie is stepping foot in this hovel,” he said.) The second most important item was the need for a theme and logo to use on banners and buttons.

A dish of mementos

“It sounds like you’re running a political campaign,” I suggested with a wink.

Patrick exhaled smoke rings toward the ceiling. “Seriously, Lin, we need a theme—and buttons—a gazillion of them!” He put down his cigarette and snapped his fingers. “What’s that quote that begins, ‘Dream dreams . . . ?'” Although he couldn’t recite it in its entirety, he was sure the quote was inscribed on a statue on Commonwealth Avenue. He handled me a pad and pen and sent me off.

Without Google to guide me, I strolled through the Boston Common and Garden, and after exiting onto Arlington Street, began examining the statues along Commonwealth Avenue Mall. At the corner of Exeter and Fairfield Streets, I spotted a bronze image of a young man sitting atop a large granite boulder, wearing a baseball hat and holding binoculars. The plaque revealed that he was Samuel Eliot Morison, a name I wasn’t familiar with. I later learned that Rear Admiral Morison had served in the U.S. Navy during World War II and won the Pulitzer Prize twice for his books on maritime history. In preparation for his biography on Christopher Columbus, he had sailed to all the places that his subject had explored.

Written on a smaller rock below him was the inscription I was looking for:

As I jotted down the words, I understood why Patrick had been drawn to them: he was living his dream by helping others live theirs. It didn’t matter that he might not survive long enough to write about his experiences, he was living them in real time. I was also realizing some of my dreams by returning to Boston, a city I loved, and hopeful about a budding romantic liaison with a great guy I’d recently met. As I walked back to the office, repeating the words “live them first” like a mantra, I had no idea they would stay embedded in me for years to come.

After Patrick and I spent months preparing for Goldie’s visit, she graced our gala and was every bit as wonderful as we’d imagined, and more. She sat for interviews with the local media, spoke about the AIDS crisis with concern and passion, and shook hands with many of the smitten 1,200 guests. When Patrick introduced us, she told me with that famous glowing smile that I had “the best job.” Coming from her, that meant something.

Because of Goldie’s support and participation, For the Love of Life! received a huge infusion of funding and was able to grant wishes for the next few years. She continued to stay in touch with Patrick, even inviting him to the New York premiere of the Woody Allen film, “Everyone Says I Love You.” He was tickled to finally meet Kurt.

After Patrick’s illness entered its final stages, he resigned as director of FLOL! and died a few years later in 1998. It was very painful to be in the office without him, and I left soon after, quickly landing a job at another nonprofit. The pay was much higher but the mission not as close to my heart. I also enrolled in a part-time graduate program at Radcliffe Seminars to strengthen my managerial skills with an eye toward a director position in the future. I was on a roll. Or so I thought . . .

On the day I received my graduate management diploma, I turned forty-one, eight years older than when I’d started working with Patrick at For the Love of Life! I soon realized that while helping others’ dreams come true, I had neglected my own. After seven years together, my “great” boyfriend made clear he had no interest in turning our relationship into a lasting one. Ouch. Because he preferred to stay “within a five-mile radius of home,” I hadn’t traveled abroad as hoped. I’d also been so focused on my job and education that I’d neglected my Kawai grand, which had long ago become a magnet for dust mites. I couldn’t remember that last time I’d tickled the ivories or even wanted to.

Admiral Morison keeps watch

I missed Patrick like crazy and wondered what he would advise. Should I settle for my current situation or bolt and find my heart’s desire? I could almost hear him nudging me along: “Dream dreams, Lin. But remember to live them first!” Yes, the moment for big changes had landed on my doorstep.

Within six months, I left my ex and embarked on an overseas odyssey. Touching down in Budapest, I started teaching English and volunteered for the Friends of the Franz Liszt Music Academy. I sang in an international chorus and rented a piano for my gorgeous flat. During school vacations, I explored the villages of my Eastern European ancestors, as well as other destinations, and flirted with attractive men along the way.

After meeting the love of my life and settling down in Helsinki, I began to write the first chapters of what evolved into ODYSSEY OF LOVE: A Memoir of Seeking and Finding. In doing so, it dawned on me that I’d taken Admiral Morison’s advice to heart and, like him, had written about my dreams after living them. I’d also carried Patrick’s lust for life with me and—dare I say—his propensity to shoot for the stars. If I’d never met and worked with him, my memoir would tell a very different story, if I’d written one at all.

In this blog, “Other Odysseys,” I’ll be sharing all sorts of adventures: travels to faraway destination, as well as inward journeys of self-discovery; spiritual pilgrimages to promote health and healing; tracing ancestral roots; music, writing, and the arts. I’m excited to explore this new frontier with you and know that Patrick is hovering over me somewhere, wondering when I’m going to: “Hit the frickin’ Publish button already!” It takes courage to set one’s words into orbit, as you never know where they’ll land and who’ll read them, but here goes . . .

Thanks for joining me on this maiden voyage and stay tuned!

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