Here Be Monsters Podcast

The Podcast About the Unknown

HBM114: Envisioning AIDS

In a warm and dark room in the winter of 1987, people lay on the ground with their eyes closed.  A facilitator from the Shanti Project guides those assembled on an intimate visualization through the process of dying from AIDS.  

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Content Note:

- Imagining Death
- Language

This took place at the Interfaith Conference on AIDS and ARC for Clergy and Caregivers in San Francisco.  The conference hoped to give religious organizations tools to help their dying congregants. The conference featured speakers representing Catholicism, Judaism, many Protestant denominations, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, and New Age religions.  

AIDS was a major issue at the time, with no cure in sight, and many many deaths per year.  And anti-queer rhetoric (see Jerry Fallwell), laws (see Bowers v Hardwick) and attitudes (see Pew poll on political values 1987) were all common.

News Clips from the 80’s and 90’s regarding HIV and AIDS, which were also known as “HTLV-3” and “ARC” at the time.

Around the same time as this conference, the FDA approved a drug called AZT for the treatment of HIV.  It was highly anticipated, but ultimately considered a failure.  More years would pass and many more people would die before the approval of effective anti-retroviral drugs.  And even more years before the first (and possibly second) cases of HIV would be cured.  

But back in that darkened room in 1987, people laid on the ground with their eyes closed for an hour, while they tried to imagine what it would feel like to be covered in lesions...to sit in a doctor’s office when the receptionist refuses to make eye contact...to watch from above as people try to resuscitate their dead bodies...and to observe their own funerals...all in effort to better understand better the questions people with AIDS were likely asking of themselves and their loved ones—a practice that AIDS scholar Lynne Gerber says was common at this time in the new age circles of the Bay Area.

On this episode, Lynne explains some of the context around queerness and medicine and religion and AIDS.  She’s writing a book about these topics, and also making an upcoming podcast series with audio producer Ariana Nedelman.  Ariana provided us with the audio from the visualization practice via the UCSF Archives.

Jeff Emtman produced this episode. Episode art via The RCSB Protein Data Bank / David S. Goodsell and the NIH / Wikimedia Commons.

Music: The Black Spot | | | Circling Lights

HBM113: The Last Ones

Bethany Denton’s been thinking about grief a lot lately. In 2017, two of her friends, a mother and a daughter, died unexpectedly just two months apart. Since then, Bethany’s started seeing grief in just about everything, including a caribou at Woodland Park Zoo that dropped her antlers after a miscarriage.

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Content Note:

- Language
- Death

Bethany’s good friend, Jesse Brenneman has also been thinking a lot about grief. It was his mother and sister who died in 2017. And shortly after that, his grandfather and father died too. So over the span of a year and two months, Jesse lost his entire immediate family.

HBM064: A Shinking Shadow, in which Bethany talks to Jesse’s sister Erin about her eating disorder.

When Bethany told Jesse about the grieving caribou mother who’d dropped her antlers after miscarriage, Jesse suggested contacting his next door neighbor Ben Long. Ben is a writer and conservationist with an affinity for caribou.

On a snowy January morning, the three of them drove out to the Flathead National Forest outside of Kalispell, Montana for a walk in the woods. They hoped to find caribou tracks in the snow. Caribou used to be plentiful in northwestern Montana and throughout the continental United States. These days, due to deforestation and destruction of their habitat, the caribou population in the lower 48 could be as low as three animals.

You may recognize Jesse’s voice from his time as a producer for WNYC’s On The Media. Today he is a freelancer of many disciplines living and working in Missoula, Montana.

Face the Racist Nation, a piece produced by Jesse Brenneman for WNYC’s On The Media.

Music: Jesse Brenneman | | | The Black Spot

HBM112: Negative Space

Back when HBM host Jeff Emtman was a photographer, he used to solve his problems with walks in the woods.  There, he’d see the ways that branches frame the sky. As an artistic concept, negative space gets hogged a lot by the visual arts.  In this episode, Jeff attempts to wrestle the concept into the sonic world; address his current problems by listening to the spaces between words and by listening to the ambiences of a semi-empty, possibly haunted hotel.  

Music: The Black Spot

👇 HBM021: Potential Energy, the version with words.

👇 Excerpts from Portraits without People photo series by Jeff Emtman, 2011

PSSSSSSSSSST………

HBM111: Waiting for Earth

Motherhood always seemed non-negotiable for Bethany Denton. Her upbringing in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints certainly instilled this. Mormons believe in what’s called a “premortal existence,” a place up in heaven where the eternal souls eagerly wait their turn to be born on Earth so they can prove their faith to Heavenly Father, and then return to glory in the afterlife.  

For Mormons, life on Earth is just a short test, an opportunity to practice free agency and serve God’s will. That’s why leaders of the LDS Church like Elder Dallin H. Oaks are concerned about falling birth rates among members of the church. They believe that “one of the most serious abuses of children is to deny them birth.”

This belief in pre-life gives additional weight to God’s commandment to “be fruitful and multiply.” It’s about more than maintaining the populations; it’s about giving other children of God a chance to live.

As an adult, Bethany lost her faith in the LDS Church. She stopped believing that her primary purpose in life was to be a mother, and for the first time, she started to seriously consider what her life would be without children.


Music: The Black Spot ||| Lucky Dragons

Roberto Molina and Bethany Denton on their wedding day. Photo by Zephyr Wadkins. 2018.

HBM110: Big Numbers

For two thirds of his life, HBM host Jeff Emtman has been thinking about the distance to The Moon in terms of corn snacks.  Bugles specifically.  It was a factoid written on the packaging that purported to convey information about the distance to the moon.  The number itself has been long forgotten, but the taste of degermed yellow corn meal lingers.

Content note:

- Language

In this episode, Jeff takes issue with the significance that is placed on large and round numbers.  And he talks to his 2 year old nephew while they play the piano. And he interviews his brother about larger and smaller infinities.  And he makes podcast music on a tiny sampler.  But mostly he complains about turning 30, a number that’s round, if you count in base ten.

But not everyone uses base 10.  Several languages of Papa New Guinea use base 27, using not only their fingers, but parts across all their upper body.  And many others from across the world have settled on base 20.  

It’s possible that numbers are an advanced technology of language to make the abstract more palatable.  Homesigners are people who develop their own sign languages independent from established sign languages.  In a 2011 study called Number Without a Language Model, researchers contacted several homesigners who lived in numerate societies, but apparently had not developed strong words for numbers past three or so.

Big thank yous to Alan Emtman, Brian Emtman, Ariana Nedelman and Ross Sutherland (who produces the fantastic podcast Imaginary Advice [this episode contains excerpts from Episode 49, “Re: The Moon”]).

Music: The Black Spot | | | Serocell

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