Thursday, May 22, 2008

"Storm Warning"

Storm Warning

Like a Gulf storm, he has come to my life suddenly and completely.
Will he leave the same way? Will I be here alone and empty?

Love for me has been like a southern storm,
Appearing without warning, catching me by surprise,
Emotion pouring out around me like a squall.
First the wind, then the rain, then it’s gone. And that’s all.

So here I am again, standing on the pier,
Watching the clouds forming,
Feeling, knowing, the storm is near.

What do I do now?
I could turn, run. It’s not too late.
Inside, the storm would pass me by,
Though I’d watch it, feeling alone but safe.

But I am still me,
The child who chased rainbows and believed in magic.
Not so innocent anymore, but still that child.

Let the rain come down, and the beads of water pour down my face and soak my body.
If this storm is to pass quickly, I want to enjoy every second of its glory.

But what is to be, of it, and of me,
Once this storm returns to the sea?

Commencement Speech, Univ of Phoenix, June 2005

ome people would be nervous, speaking to a group this large. But I am a University of Phoenix graduate. I know a thing or two about getting up and presenting before a group.

When presented with the opportunity to speak today, I started and discarded half a dozen different speeches. What can I say to all of you - my fellow graduates - that you don’t already know?

At traditional college commencements, speakers tell the graduating class to go out into the world and make their mark. As non-traditional students, though, we have already been out in the world. We have also been at the end of our rope, pushed to the limit, over the hill, on the edge and around the bend. No, we don’t need to be told about the real world. We are the real world.

So I can’t give the usual “the world is yours for the taking” speech. What I can do is take a moment to recognize what we have already accomplished. All of us, one and the same, taking this opportunity today to celebrate a major milestone in each of our lives. Finally, we can take a deep breath, raise our heads high, and enjoy the well-earned feeling of success.

I can also share with you a bit of my personal experience. When I left the Marine Corps, I was worried about going back to school. I remember telling my Grandmother that, if I did go to college, “I would be 30 years old before I got my degree.” She smiled and said, “Boy, you’re going to be 30, anyway.” Those words stuck with me through obstacles and challenges, ups and downs. And here I am at 38, a college graduate. And if all goes as planned, I will have a Masters Degree when I am 40.

So what exactly has the University of Phoenix done for me? My experience at UOP has helped me make improvements in three areas of my life: academically (of course), professionally, and even personally.

Academically, I am more than prepared to start Graduate School in September. The instructors I had believe in what they do. Teaching is more than just passing the time in front of the class, and I was fortunate to have instructors who inspired me to do more than just pass. They made me want to do my best. And here I am today, graduating with honors.

The University of Phoenix has a well-earned reputation for rigorous coursework, high standards, and a quick pace. To keep up, I developed great study habits, actively participated in learning teams, and made and kept my commitment to my education. These same traits will be my strengths as I pursue my Masters Degree in Adult Education.

Professionally, I have benefited already from my time at University of Phoenix. This school prides itself on providing “education that goes to work,” and I can attest to the truth of that. Be it Human Resources, Accounting, Project Management, Communication, or any of the other courses, nearly everything was immediately useful in the workplace. This school combines theory with real-world applications, drawing as much from each of our lives and experiences as from our textbooks. We were connected to the material, and it mattered to us. We listened because we understood that what we were discussing in class often mirrored what we were dealing with at work. I have learned – and retained – so much of the material at UOP, because I had an opportunity to use it in the real world.

And what impact did the school have on me personally? I learned what a fantastic support system I have in my life. Anyone graduating today knows the time and effort required to get to this moment. We spend hours at the computer creating and rehearsing PowerPoint presentations. We edit and finesse page after page of individual and team papers. We study textbooks and course material until our eyes cross. And of course, we meet in study groups to talk about current events, collectively daydream about a life after college, and occasionally discuss things about class.

All of these activities take time. Because we are busy with school, we miss a lot of what happens around us. Houses get cleaned, meals get cooked, dishes get washed, and lawns get mowed. For others, there are children to pick up from school, drive to and from sports and other activities, and watch over and care for. Life goes on at the same hectic pace it always has, but we are often sidelined by school work. If you are like me, though, you discover that no one goes to school alone.

For me, I had someone at home telling me over and over, “you go study and I’ll make dinner.” While I wrote papers, someone else vacuumed the house and folded the laundry. While I cursed and swore at my laptop over yet another project, I had someone willing to do whatever was necessary to help me. My support system was the difference between success and failure. Without all the help and assistance from my better half, I could never have made it to this day.

And I know we all had the same help. Hopefully, in all the excitement of this day, each of you will take a moment to share a bit of your success with those who helped you achieve it. In fact, on behalf of the entire graduating class, I say thank you to all of you who helped us make it to this day.

My fellow graduates, we have proven to ourselves and everyone else that we have what it takes to graduate from college. That’s a pretty cool thing. Everyday, we prove ourselves as valued and valuable members of our workplace teams. We contribute and we excel and we make a difference. Be proud of all that you do, because it is in your actions that you will discover who you really are.

For as long as we have worked for our degrees, we have been described as non-traditional. Well, I say we embrace that label. Be non-traditional in all that you do. Chase your next dream. Build a better mousetrap. Be a role model. Do things now that will make for great stories later. Be wild. Be brave. Heck, you are all invited to come skydiving tomorrow with me and my Mom.

The motto of the University of Phoenix is simple – “You Can Do This.” As we all move forward, I remind everyone of the power in that simple phrase.

Thank you for your time this morning, and again, congratulations.

The “Questions” Speech

Originally, I thought I would talk about the great harm, the damage, being done by the religious right in the name of Christianity, and the importance of accepting and respecting the spirituality of others. Last weekend, though, in St Augustine, I met the neatest woman, a psychic, actually, and we discussed my giving this talk. As I began to explain my intentions, she began shaking her head and raised her hand to stop me. She said she believed I was making a mistake speaking on religious intolerance. I wondered if it was some psychic impression, and she said "No, I am Unitarian. We already know about religious intolerance. If you'll allow the pun, it's like preaching to the choir." She told me instead to speak on what I know.

So, I am. All week I have been thinking of the irony of me speaking to a congregation. I'm the one who turned my back on the church long ago, right after I realized that Catholicism wasn't big enough for me and my homosexuality. Now I know different, because without gay men the Catholic Church would have a severe priest shortage. But growing up, I believed there was no place in a house of worship for someone like me. Sad, but in my time of greatest despair, the place I most needed to be felt like the place most off limits. Standing here today is a bit of coming full circle for me, and I thank you for this moment.

When I came out in 1989, I promised myself that I would never put myself in a position where I had to lie about who I am. Four years in the Marine Corps will do that to a person, I guess. Since then, I have lived my life as an openly gay man. It has been easier in some places than others, but it is a decision I have never regretted. Being so open, though, I have found that I am the person acquaintances come to with "the questions."

What are "the questions?" They are the things non-gay people ask gays about their lives, and the questions are always the same. Sure, there are some variations on a theme, but for the most part, they are always the same. I joke about this, like I joke about everything, but I honestly respect the openness of the people who ask these questions. As silly as some of these sound, they are at least an attempt to understand, and that is never silly.

In celebration of June, which is Gay Pride Month all across America and the World, I will speak for my people and give "the answers." Those of you who are gay may feel free to hum along.

Q - When did you become gay?
A- I have always been gay. As a child, I knew I was different, I just didn't know what it meant. I felt all the same giggly crushes and feelings of puppy love as other kids, I just had to hide it. You don't just become gay, any more than you become right or left-handed. Sexual orientation is a part of who a person is, and though it can be denied or accepted, repressed or nurtured, it can never be changed. It just takes some people longer to understand that.

Q - Did your parents make you gay?
A - My mother is sitting right there, and she can probably answer this question as well as I can. No, my parents did not make me gay. My brother is straight, and no one asks my mother if she made him that way. For every gay man or woman that comes from a dysfunctional family, there are gay men and women that come from Ozzie and Harriet families.

Q - Why do you have to flaunt it? I don't run around telling everyone I'm straight.
A - I don't have to flaunt it, and yes you do. My secretary, after working for me a week, asked me this question. So, I asked her what exactly she knew about me. She said, "Well, I know you're gay." I said, "Really? Well, I know that you are straight, your husband's name is James, you have been married for several years, you have two children, Lindsey, 4, and the baby, 9 months, you are Pentecost, you sing at the church, you Mother does Missionary work each year in Indonesia, and you can't balance a checkbook to save your life." So, who's flaunting their lifestyle? Straight people wear wedding rings, place family pictures on their desks, and walk arm-in-arm in public and hold hands at restaurants. My partner and I holding hands at the local Krystal would not exactly go unnoticed. Coming out is a constant process. I bought a card at a Delchamps, and the cashier asked if it was for my girlfriend. Once again, the great debate over being out. Am I supposed to seize every opportunity to proclaim my sexuality? Am I copping out and hiding if I say nothing? These are all questions non-gay people never have to ask themselves.

Q - How can you define your life based solely on sex?
A - Hey, it works for Madonna. Seriously, being gay is not just about having sex with another man. I knew I was gay long before I was sexually active. And today, if for whatever reason I was no longer able to have sex, I would still be gay. For straight people who are married, I ask if something happened to your spouse and they were no longer able to perform sexually, would that be the end of your relationship? Is sex all you have? Yes, I am sexually attracted to men, but I am also emotionally attracted to men. Actually, one man in particular. But our relationship is about much more than just sex.

Q - Why should you have special rights?
A - Ah, yes, the great special rights debate. Newsflash, ladies and gentlemen, the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness should not be given to gay men and women because they are gay, but because they are human, just like everybody else. I want the right to be hired for a job based on my qualifications, not because the boss thinks I'm straight. I want to be allowed to make medical decisions for my partner in an emergency, instead of being excluded because I am not "family." I want to be able to walk down the street with my partner without fear of being attacked by people "fag-bashing." Since gays and lesbians are the ones most likely to be victims of hate crimes, what good is a Hate Crimes Bill that doesn't mention them?

Q - Why can't other gays be like you? You don't act like them.
A - Please. Why is it that butch women and faggy men are the only image of gays most straight people have? Because we see what we want to see. We look for the stereotypes, never knowing that the beautiful, effeminate woman sitting next to us is lesbian. We see the wimpy, lisping villain in a movie, but we don't know that the tough hero is played by a gay actor. Wherever there are people, there are gay people. And whether they are ‘straight acting’ or not, they are human beings who deserve respect and love. Like everyone else, gay people are bad and good, some worthy of contempt and others worthy of praise, but all worthy of being seen as a person, not a label.

Q - Which one of you is the "man?"
A - (I love this one.) Well, my partner does the laundry, but he also fixes the car. I love to shop, but I also shoot pool and throw darts. In a gay relationship, we are automatically freed from the assumed roles of husband and wife. I mean, if we both sit around and wait for the dishes to be washed, it won't be long before we are eating on paper plates, you know? Every gay couple defines for themselves their roles in a relationship. I like to think that many of us have the best of all worlds, in that we live our lives in a way that feels comfortable, not common. Gay men and women are more than stereotypes.

Q - If you could change, would you? Would you want to be straight?
A - A tough question, and one that many answer differently. For me, though, the answer is definitely no, I would not change. The person I am is the sum total of everything about me, my sexuality and sexual orientation included. How much of my personality is tied to my being gay? I don't know for sure, and I wouldn't want to find out. I do know that being part of an invisible minority has made me more aware of the prejudice and hatred faced by those who cannot hide in a closet. I am involved with women's issues and racial issues as a direct result of being gay. No, I wo
uldn't change. There is something special about me, about all of us, and I know that being gay is a part of it. I heard a comedienne say that she didn't choose this lifestyle, "she was chosen."

Q - Okay, so now I'm open and enlightened. What exactly do I call your, you know, your, well. . .
A - Real good question. Personally, I call him my partner, but other people call them their lover, companion, spouse, husband, wife, lifemate, or soul mate. The only advice I can give here is ask someone what they call their significant other, than respect that term. (It may be difficult to do that if their term is something like love bunny, pumpkin or puddin', but make the effort.)

The most important thing I can say is open your hearts and your minds. In a world such as ours, where gay men and women are openly attacked as immoral, sinful, and perverse, an outstretched hand of acceptance is like a beacon of light.
Do not fear your gay and lesbian neighbors, for we are a threat to you only if you are intolerant, bigoted, and ignorant. (Like that narrows some neighborhoods down.) We are everywhere. We are your children, your brothers and sisters, your parents, your friends and co-workers. We want to live our lives, to love and be loved, to grow old and look back at a lifetime of happy memories. We are, in fact, not so different after all.

Thank you for listening, and hopefully for hearing. Gay men and women everywhere are waiting, watching for any sign of love. Be the one to give it them.

Originally presented to Unitarian Universalists, Mobile, June 1995

A writer writes.

Years ago, I struggled to define myself as a writer. I had a column in a local magazine, and I was working on a short story and a book, but I still felt like I was just playing around. I didn't feel like I was really a writer. When I shared these worries with a friend, her reply was simple and to the point.

A writer writes.

And that was it. As long as I keep writing - books, plays, short stories, essays - than I am a writer.

Getting back to writing...

I used to write. A lot. And then I just stopped. Not good.

Sometime later today, I plan to post several pieces that I wrote in the past. They are going to be my incentive to start writing again. Hopefully, they will do the trick.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

And the not good news...

Brooks left this morning for Iraq. He is slated for a six month deployment, give or take, so we will be looking for his safe return before the end of the year.

Here he is with Ric, checking in.

And here he is at the gate, confirming he is on the right flight.

Liz and Brooks, before the flight.

And all of us, just before he had to leave.

And I have to say how unbelievable United Airlines was. As soon as the ticket agent found out Brooks was military and heading for Iraq, he printed out security passes for the three of us so we could go to the gate and wait with him. Of all the things that made me feel like crying, that simple act of respect and courtesy was what pushed me over the edge. On the way out of the airport, I stopped and talked to one of the ticket agents directing folks about. She said United does that whenever possible, so deploying servicemen and women can spend as much time as they can with their family.

Thank you, United. You were an amazing bright spot in an otherwise sad morning.

The Good News

Jon and AJ returned last night from Iraq. More details later, but for now just know that they are home safe and sound.

Even better, Darkhorse 3/5 made it through this deployment without losing a single Marine. Every Marine came home, and that is a truly amazing thing.

God bless 'em. They're home!