Black Elk Speaks (Legacy)

I wrote “Black Elk Speaks” in 1993, in the old La Parola newsletter, some two years before this website was created. It remains one of my favorites. It is still rendered in the original HTML, but I wanted to create for it a WordPress presence.

“Black Elk Speaks” is all about knowing who we are and where the future may take us. I’m excerpting it below, but you can read the full article here.

Outside, a songbird chirps loudly and brightly in the darkness, happy to greet the new day. It is only a quarter to one Sunday morning. Perhaps Black Elk would have seen some good sign in this. Perhaps I should have chosen to go to the parade this year. There is still time, but then I would not have made that time to see all this from the lonely hilltop of which Black Elk spoke, and still have the fortune to hear the songbird chirp. There was a time, you know, when I would have resented the songbirds who make it their business to announce the coming day at one o’clock in the morning. But now I finally see again that it is given to each of us to see things in our own way and time, and it brings to me a special pleasure to realize it is just as important to be happy in being sure that the dawn is actually coming, as it is to be right about its exact time of arrival.

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The Last Visit

a morality play with beer and a lie

Whatever happened to you? I remember our last visit well. In fact, I never forgot it. Would our friendship have turned out any differently if I had told the truth?

I was just reading an early Stegner short story, “The Glass Mountain”. This is about two college chums who got together for a short visit after seventeen years. One of them was a successful scientist or academic of some sort. The other was a lush, already slurring his words and repeating himself. The visit was awkward, and nothing that needed to be said really got said, and their reunion was mercifully brief.

I remembered that you called in about 1976 to say you were in the area. Did I have time? Well, sure. How long had it been, five years? Certainly not seventeen, thank goodness – I was still not making new friendships or reviving old ones, even by 1988. I don’t remember exactly what seemed so likeable about that person you visited in 1976, and I don’t miss him any more than you do.

When you called on that Saturday morning I was badly hung over – and when was I not? But what could I say? You were over in an hour. It certainly was good to see my old best friend and college chum again, but I repeat myself. What could I say? My life – my island universe as it was then – was all caught up in flying lessons, density altitudes, retail management, beer, scotch, wine, grass, fast motorcycles and braggadocio, all descriptive of my exciting life, in any order you like.

And of course my world was filled with people who knew all about this and heard more every day. There was never anything to explain. There was never anyone to ask, “do you still read any philosophy” or “what did you end up doing with your business degree after you graduated?”

Until you arrived, these weren’t questions I would even entertain by myself. I was working, life was good, and it was filled with adventures and partying and the passage of time and the mandatory morning hangovers.

So I must have seemed uncomfortable while we visited. Worse, maybe I masked my discomfort too well and seemed indifferent.

I felt bad about that, but what could I do? There was hardly any point to thrilling you for hour upon beer-soaked hour with my tales of flying and backpacking and motorcycle trips. This brave new world of mine was light-years removed from anything we had shared together in the old college days. Imagine me dumb-struck, I who always had all the answers for everything, and if I didn’t, there was a reason for that too.

How could I, who never ran out of things to say about any subject no matter how narrow, find nothing I could say about this new life of mine?

You told me a bit about yourself and it embarrasses me to this day – I can’t remember a thing of it. I think you were thinking of going east. I heard later that you had done so, and settled down to raise a family in some eastern seaboard state. You said that your mom had incurable breast cancer and that saddened me. She had always treated me like a prince, as if some of my good qualities might rub off on her boys, I had always been fond of her. Seeing as how an unforgiveably mean stunt I had pulled made me persona non grata in the family, it didn’t seem appropriate to ask if I could see her – what could I say?

I asked if you’d care for a beer, and I forget whether you said “beer” or “coke”. I was relieved to be able to pop the quick first and second of the day. You asked if I was dating, a clever way of putting it, I thought, and I always had a snappy one-liner for such probings. I used it.

So then you remembered you had indeed meant to ask me something – you surprised me by mentioning that your brother thought he might be gay.

Back in college, you recalled, I had been sorting through similar feelings of my own.

Where we had mercifully left off that subject in college, I’d confided that the thing for me to do was to focus on girls, and maybe start dating.

And so, since your brother seemed to be going through the same process, what had ever become of that? Did I ever sort through my issues?

I confess it took me a minute. I looked you straight in the eye and said, “He’s just going through a phase. He’ll get over it. I did.”

Wishful thinking? If I wasn’t exactly sure this was a lie before you asked, I certainly was sure it by the time I said it.

Somehow, at that exact moment you realized it was time to leave. I grabbed another beer from the fridge and saw you off.

Although I never saw you again, I always wished you well, and was glad to hear you were doing well. We were so close in college. Maybe you knew me too well for my own good, and I, not well enough.

It would take me another thirteen years to “sort through my issues”. It’s a shame our last visit didn’t go better. But what could I – or, for that matter, anyone in my position – say? If anyone could fake it, I (who hated fakery) should have been able to. I had become the lie.

That’s just not the sort of thing you look forward sharing with people who know we deserve better.

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Rhetoric 101

New Article, Rhetoric 101: Smoke and Mirrors and the Gay Marriage “debate”: Protecting Yourself from Time-Honored Fallacies. Recently, my favorite Astronomy forum “Cloudy Nights” hosted a Gay Marriage topic: “should we allow gay marriage?”

The thread was an unmitigated disaster. By all accounts a similar debate on Astromart was even uglier, but this one quickly degenerated into defamatory conduct, name-calling and personal attacks. I came home from vacation to discover no one from the GLBT comnmunity was represented in the thread. To me it appeared that the heterosexual community was arguing both sides of the topic as a spectator sport.

I “came out” on the thread to make sure everyone was able to associate the topic with a flesh and blood name and face and real human cares and concerns. I managed about four carefully composed posts before the proprietors deleted the whole thread in despair and inposed a permanent ban on sex, politics and religion. The whole experience was unsatisfactory for everyone, and I almost left the membership for good.

Personally, I would never go to an Astronomy forum for that kind of topic. Moreover, I condemn the whole idea that our civil rights are debatable — despite the fact that is precisely what is happening across the whole nation. What happened here?

What I saw was that (a) the level of debate on that thread was of low quality and no one had the training to control or moderate it; (b) the most objectionable aspects of the thread were assertions that could be stopped cold when anyone challenged them as basic rhetorical fallacies, and (c) the religious gay-bashers were losing good-guy points, but my side was losing votes in the US House and Senate. The other side risks loss of face. We risk continued loss of basic civil rights that we have never had in the first place. The debate and the stakes here are unfairly lopsided.

I wrote “Rhetoric 101” as a primer to help make sure thinking Americans remember their basic debating principles. Right now, few Americans mind being seen as anti-gay, but almost no one wants to be caught red-handed in sleazy debating tricks that were first codified over 2,000 years ago. Do pick up this topic and have yourself a good read.

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Coming Out – 10 Years

Archive: Coming Out – 10 Years: For the most part, I have always avoided references to my own personal experience in these pages in the past, though that is the preferred method through which gays shared issues and experiences in all the peer groups I’ve attended and facilitated. I still think a newsletter is not necessarily the proper forum for a journal of personal experiences and tribulations. On this occasion, I’d like to share an exception. It’s never been my intent to keep my own personal experience a secret. I have written frequently about national and world issues, because I am a citizen, but I especially owe the gay community a lot. I am a gay man, and part of that community, and always will be.

I think that on the tenth anniversary of my own coming-out, it is time to say something about who I am and what I’ve experienced — personally.

Alex Forbes Tuesday, December 7, 1999

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