MASTER OBSIDIAN’S KEYNOTE BLACK BEAT 2010

The spaces between us…..

We have good intentions when we start out.  We want to be thought well of. We want to be the people our dogs believe that we are.

But many times we don’t measure up.

This has been a busy week for the both of us.  Three days ago I was on my back in the cancer ward of the MD Anderson hospital in Houston.  My brother has leukemia and has been battling it for some time.  He told me over 2 years ago that if things ever got serious, he’d let me know.  And so we talked, we hung out and laughed and had bbq and got mad at each other over stupid stuff, and time passed – but I knew when I got the call this would be serious and it would be time to go.

So I went to Houston for the procedure – it does involve needle play, and not in a good way.  Over 100 needle sticks – thankfully I was asleep for all the bad parts – I don’t like anesthesia though.

They go into your hip bones and extract bone marrow – the purpose of which is to extract the stem cells, in the meantime they’ve spent the past three weeks literally killing his immune system.  My cells in combination with his will join together to repair the damaged place in his DNA that tells his blood to keep making cancer cells and also to attack and kill the cancer cells that are present.

That’s the plan.

The spaces between us arent so great we found – Im not a 100 percent match, Im actually closer to 70%. But nobody, not friends, family, even his children matched as closely as we do.  And it wasn’t because of my rugged good looks, my intellect or my charming wit and sparkling personality that I match.

I match because of things that we share that are quite literally beyond my control.

Enough perhaps to make a difference in his life.  To save his life.

I would remind you also that almost exactly one year and eight months ago something happened which many people believed was just straight out impossible.  The nation came together to elect a black man president.

What does that have to do with you, you may ask?  The relevance of this singular event in our nations history is that we proved that we could do something – we could join together and repair the spaces that divide us in pursuit of one common goal.

And make no mistake black people – you did not do it alone.  There were plenty of people from across this nation that put aside whatever their issues were that divided them and embraced the ideas that they had in common and somehow managed to reduce the spaces between us all until that thing we thought was impossible…..became a reality.

There literally arent enough of us to make that happen – it took literally a nation of millions to make this a reality.

Of course that was only the beginning – after winning the presidency there’s the arduous task of actually leading the nation, and that is apparently a horse of a different color entirely.  It’s a tough job.  Im confident that he’s up to the challenge though.

Over three years ago, I was asked if we were willing to run for this title, in the Leather community the title of Southwest Master and Southwest Slave, as we are in the SW region.  I thought long and hard about what that would mean and what that would require.  At the time we didn’t even think about the International – we were having a hard enough time wrestling with the idea of running for the Southwest title.   The question came again – are you willing?  And the answer came back, yes – we will do it.  So we did, and became the first African American M/s couple to not only win the Southwest, but we also won the International title as well.  In this day and age you’d think that we’d pretty much run out of “the first Black whatever”, but apparently we were mistaken.  So why is this significant and I don’t believe what Im hearing……. but did Master Obsidian just draw a parallel between Barack and Michelle winning the White House and them winning the International and Southwest titles?  Has he lost his dayum mind? They must have taken out too much bone marrow because he’s definitely taken leave of his senses!!!

No, I havent – admittedly one of those is MUCH more important than the other.  I’ll leave that for you to decide which one.  Im just kidding.

They both are illustrative of what can happen when a group of people truly understands that it is the spaces between us where we are weakest – and when we draw closer together as a collective, we can accomplish whatever we put our minds to.

It also illustrates that nobody does this alone.  One man with one vote isnt enough to elect a president. One judges opinion carries the same weight – but together making a decision to choose what we believe is right we are unstoppable.

And it also illustrates that occaisionally what binds us together are things that we share that transcend the individual.

Ok, enough of the lofty metaphors – I was watching the discovery channel and the program was about the buffalo on the african plain – they really have NO defensive weapons whatsoever.
but when a lioness is trying to eat them…they form a circle and the weak and inexperienced are contained within that circle..and the strong face toward the outside and the ability of the predator to affect the group is measured quite literally by the spaces between those who are strongest.  when we allow ourselves to be far apart – when the space between our figurative shoulders can be measured in months, in years – then is it any wonder that we are so easily torn apart by those that really shouldnt be any threat whatsoever?

Words are not enough.  We must do.

So here we have run the gamut from human biology to political processes and leather contests. From the water buffalo to the white house.

So what?

What does this mean to you and how does this apply to our community?

For those who have already heard enough – you already know in your hearts what you need to do starting tonight.

For everyone else, let me get more specific.

The late president of Egypt, Anwar Sadat (who, with former Israeli prime minister Menachem

Begin, brought about the Camp David Peace Accord between Israel and Egypt) wrote these words while he was a young man in solitary confinement in a Cairo prison, “He who cannot change the very fabric of his thought will never be able to change reality, and will never, therefore, make any progress.”

Just like the water buffalo in the earlier example, some of us just don’t get it.  Its always someone elses fault, someone elses problem. Understand this however –  The predator doesn’t care about your issues or who’s ultimately at fault – the spaces between you are just enough to provide the access that is necessary to bring harm.

And it is the spaces between you that continue to be just wide enough, just big enough to provide access to that which you don’t want.

In your leather families.

In your groups.

In your households.

In your relationships.

Its not enough to point out what’s wrong with this picture.  You ALREADY KNOW WHATS WRONG.

But….How do we make it right?

We have got to learn to trust each other again. To seize the initiative and to reach out first.. instead of waiting to be reached out TO.

The spaces between us will not be mended with good intentions – the imaginary good that you might one day do if the perfect situation presents itself is worthless without action.  The spaces between us will NOT be mended with good intentions – besides, everyone knows that we are busy using those good intentions as paving stones on the road to hell so they are actually on backorder…sorry, theres just not enough to go around.

The spaces between us will not be mended with fakery or manipulation.  No tricks.

Trust is the fruit of the tree of regular actions, inspired by our consciences.  It is rarely produced by a dramatic one time effort.

Steven Covey says Loyalty, Apologies, Feedback and Forgiveness Are what builds trust among people and I agree with him.

Loyalty – what does this mean?  Loyalty means being loyal to those not present.  It means not joining in when everyone starts in on the Asshole of the Month discussion.  You’ve got to make a difference, you have to take a stand.

Apologies – when’s the last time you apologized for anything???  For some of us its been decades.  To learn to say “I was wrong” – “I was tripping” – My Bad – Im sorry.  A sincere apology can work wonders to repair a relationship and goes a long way to begin rebuilding the trust that we need.

Feedback – giving honest feedback is hard.  Nobody likes to be criticized for any reason.  But by giving and receiving honest feedback (or learning to at any rate) we free ourselves.  How?  Many of us have serious blind spots that we NEVER work on because the people around us havent learned how to give feedback constructively and we’ve never learned how to receive feedback constructively either. To offer honest and genuine feedback in love is a priceless gift.  To be able to receive feedback on what needs improving with grace and humility requires even more internal strength and fortitude…and its worth the journey.

Forgiveness – Forgiving. True forgiveness involves letting go and moving on. We all make  mistakes. We need to forgive ourselves and others. It’s better to focus on our own mistakes and ask forgiveness than to dwell on other people’s offenses and wait for them to ask forgiveness first, or give it begrudgingly if they do. When you forgive, when you refuse to bear a grudge, you actually take away another person’s power over your life.

And there’s a fifth thing that we can do to heal ourselves and to make the spaces between us smaller.

We need to try a little harder to love ourselves.  Not the way other people say we ought to be, but the way we are created. We can no longer pretend – the spiritual cost is too high. You need to look at your reflection in the mirror everyday when you are doing whatever you do and you need to take a moment to look yourself dead square in the eye and tell yourself that you love you.  You cannot in good conscience expect someone else to love and admire and respect that which you do not. Touch the collar around your neck and rejoice in it – tell yourself I love you. I accept you. I forgive you.  If yours is that hand that holds the end of that rope or leash – you are just as in need of self acceptance and love as the other.  Rejoice in your Mastery, your control, your Dominance.  Tell yourself I love you…often.

Our brother Darque recently crossed over to the other side.  When you look at his life’s work as a photographer – Is not that the central message of Darque’s work in and among us? Just look at those images!!!!!! Darque…he saw what was most lovely, what was most loveable, what was sexy and alluring and powerful and glorious and majestic and divine and special and wonderful and down right fucking spectacular in each of you, whether or not you saw it in yourselves at the time and he put it out there – right there where you could see it, taste it and touch it.

And remember it.

So that afterward you looked at that image and said – wow. That’s me. Some of you for the very first time – saw ourselves in a different light… for the very first time.

Even if the photograph wasn’t of you at all.  Even if you never sat in front of his lens – you look at those images and you say OMG. That’s beautiful. That’s me. There was and is something in his work that inspired us.  That humbles us – and at the same time elevates and celebrates us in a way that makes it almost impossible for us not to love ourselves. Darque made us beautiful – by exposing the beauty that is already within us and giving it a tangible, palpable life and energy. And for that I for one will be forever grateful.

That’s the power of living the life you were given and choosing to exercise the talent that the Divine gave you to the best of your ability.  That’s the impact of a well lived life.

So the challenge before you today – is what are you going to do tomorrow.  You make the difference.

It’s up to me to extend myself.

It’s up to me to love myself.

It’s up to me to say sorry when I’ve offended or hurt another.

It’s up to me to be loyal to the person that isnt here.

Its up to me to be responsible for the distance between myself and others and to do something about it.

Its up to me to not take up arms in a literary, figuratively or literal sense against my brother or sister.

Like I said earlier – a dramatic, one time effort is not enough.  We are going to have to build the trust between each other one step, one action at a time.

If a nation can do it to elect a president, if a leather community can do it to accomplish something unprecedented. If the Divine has invested creatures with barely any sense at all to know enough to draw closer together – to reduce those spaces between….then we really have no excuse at all do we?

What happens next – as always, is literally in our hands.

 

Thank you.

Master Obsidian

Black Beat Keynote Address

August 2010

The Power of Etiquette

“The power of manners is incessantan element as unconcealable as fire. The nobility cannot in any country be disguised, and no more in a republic or a democracy than in a kingdom. There are certain manners which are learned in good society, of that force that, if a person have them, he or she must be considered, and is everywhere welcome, though without beauty, or wealth, or genius.”
From Emerson’s Essays.
What does it mean then to be a Gentleman, or a Lady in this day and age? To be a Master or Mistress and to receive service in all its varied forms for our personal pleasure and also to increase the amount of beauty in the world. How is this done exactly? It isnt found in ancestry, money or in dress – we are all well aware of those that ‘look the part’ so to speak but come across as fake as the proverbial 2 dollar bill.  No, it is in something deeper – in the seeking and uncovering of rare and invaluable traits and the flexibility of mind and spirit to not only receive Truths when one comes across them, but to also incorporate these Truths into one’s mind and heart and to make them your own. Those that would be RM will pay attention to these things. “You must study this” – Musashi would say.
Social Graces
It is in how we carry ourselves.  I believe that one of the strongest motivating forces in the world is the desire to be thought well of by one’s peers. Some books call it social happiness – the desire so to impress by one’s manner that one will be welcome and respected wherever one chances to be.I wrote in an earlier piece about how “The Man that would Master another must first Master himself.” Nowhere is this more evident than in the demonstrating of the social graces – what we call etiquette.
What is etiquette? Society has its own code of manners that must be observed by the RM. There are certain rules that must be followed, conventions that must be observed in something as simple as standing in line, asking someone to pass the salt or pepper at the dinner table, or joining a conversation already in progress. The intent of good etiquette is not to be showy or flashy or flamboyant, or fake – but the gentle exercise of the art of doing and saying the correct thing at the correct time, regardless of the circumstance or situation. And like any other discipline – the more you study it and apply yourself to it the better you become at it. Everyday we have an opportunity to tell the story of who we are inside primarily by two things; How we carry ourselves and how we treat other people. Etiquette is the vehicle by which that story is told during our public interaction with the society around us.
Cool Blood
The RM is never angry or impatient in a social setting. His actions and speech are tempered with a dispassionate calm and traquility – he is the embodiment of the french word; sang froid; the literal translation of this is sang, blood (from Old French, from Latin sanguis) + froid, cold (from the Latin frigidus) n. This is an attitude of coolness and composure, especially in trying circumstances. We all have encountered potentially embarrassing or socially difficult moments. It has been said that we dont have a choice in what happens to us, our choice lies in how we respond to it. The RM knows that it is poor form to show by our gestures and frowns and speech that we are annoyed by some circumstance that is entirely beyond our control.
Politeness Counts
How many times have you heard that in your lifetime?  William De Witt Hyde, in his book, “Practical Ethics,” says, “Politeness is proper respect for human personality. Rudeness results from thinking exclusively about ourselves and caring nothing for the feelings of anybody else. The sincere desire to bring the greatest pleasure and least pain to everyone we meet will go a long way towards making our manners more polite and courteous.” The RM is polite to everyone, regardless of their station. Some feel that being polite makes one ‘less Dominant’ and I emphatically disagree. I’ve always been taught that you can learn a lot about a person by observing how they treat people who are in service. Making eye contact with the person that is serving you if possible to say ‘please’ when ordering and ‘thank you’ when receiving, e.g. when they refill your water glass or coffee cup can often make the difference in their day and insure you receive exemplary service in a restaurant. Servers appreciate politeness and will want to make you happy in return for that simple kindness. Additionally, dont raise your glass, tap on it to draw attention or waive at your server from the other side of the restaurant. Establishing eye contact and being polite early on in the encounter will ‘raise’ your visibility during your meal to the server in such a way that many times a look and a nod is all that is necessary to bring them over if you need something.
“This is the final test of a gentleman: his respect for those who can be of no possible value to him.” William Lyon Phelps
It Pays to Be Agreeable
We are all like huge magnets when you really think about it. We tend to attract those things that are in line with what we send out into the world with our attitudes and actions. If we are ill mannered, irritable, abrasive and intentionally ignore both the boundaries and the rights of others, then we will find that other people will also ignore our boundaries, rights and be rude and irritated with us in turn. The RM recognizes that one of the biggest reasons to know proper etiquette (and also more specifically how to properly receive service) is to make one’s own life more enjoyable and happier overall. If we are kind and agreeable we are more likely to encounter and attract people of the same mindset. I dont know why this is true. It just is. Being an RM is not about being manipulative or trying to convince everyone around you that you are something that you are not. It is actually tapping into a cycle of reciprocity that many of us have forgotten because we learned it when we were kids. Im sure we’ve all seen the bumper sticker “Mean People SUCK!” – its true. They do – the flipside of that truism is that the cultured person, the RM that studies the rules of etiquette and that is polite and agreeable finds that a new dimension of being and a different, better understanding of human relationships begins to unfold before him. He finds that if he is amenable to helping others, then help is also readily available to him in his time of need. By applying a little extra effort to improving the life of someone else, he finds that not only is his life improved in that moment, but he notices that sentiment expressed in his or her direction often from unexpected directions.
Secrets of Success
Everyone that desires to can become a gentleman in every sense of that word – and that is at the heart of being a true RM. Good manners and etiquette must be cultivated – you have to work at it. Exuding grace, poise and self confidence isnt artifice or an acting job. We all must study and learn and get better than we were. We have the sum total of most of recorded human knowledge at our disposal – the wise RM makes the best of it by intentional study of the things in his life that dont come easy. One of my coaches when I was a very young man at basketball practice noticed that all of us consistently came to practice and did the things we were ‘good’ at..we shot from our favorite spots on the floor, we bounced the ball with our ‘good’ hand, always.  Im right handed so he began making me dribble with my left all the time at practice. Because that’s what practice is really for. You get the example so I wont belabor the point further.
Cultivating good manners is relevant and important because every day you come into contact with people who will judge you by what you do and say. They go away carrying an impression of you and it depends upon our manners whether it is a good impression or a bad one. It is a mistake to assume that these skill sets are just for the formal dinner or special occaision. Studies have shown that you have approximately four seconds to make a good impression on someone you are meeting for the first time. In this world of power exchange dynamics you will find that many times that initial four seconds is not under your control – people tend to observe you from a distance before getting closer to you.
Cultivating good manners and etiquette, being agreeable and pleasant to be around insures a favorable impression even if you arent aware that you’re being observed. But most importantly, paying attention to and having respect for how you engage others makes you respect yourself.  When you respect others and respect yourself it naturally follows that those that would serve you will respect you as well. Ultimately, I truly believe that self respect is really the only thing that brings true happiness to all men and women.