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Sunday, August 3, 2014

Sad Music to Match My Mood

The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

These Songs Help Me Feel My Sadness Around the Loss of My Mom (z"l)

Not all of the lyrics are sad, but all of the melodies make me feel sad, and not all of the melodies are entirely sad, but sometimes the lyrics are. And sometimes, they're neither, but they remind me of sad times. And sometimes, they're just moving to me in a sort of sad way.

Charlie Brown Christmas song by Vince Guaraldi

One Hundred Ways by James Ingram

Wedding Bell Blues by the 5th Dimension

One Less Bell to Answer by the 5th Dimension

At 17 by Janis Ian

Hard Candy Christmas by Dolly Parton

Problem by Ariana Grande, featuring Iggy

Porcelain by Julia Fordham

Where Does the Time Go by Julia Fordham

Father Figure by George Michael

Constant Craving by k.d. Lang

Rhode Island is Famous for You by Michael Feinstein

I've Got You Under My Skin by Nenah Cherry

It Never Entered My Mind by Rodgers & Hart, sung by Ella Fitzgerald - This was the song that made my mom (z"l) sad after my dad (z"l) died.

That's the Way I Always Heard It Should Be by Carly Simon

The Piano Has Been Drinking by Tom Waits

Such Unlikely Lovely Lovers by Elvis Costello with Burt Bacharach

God Give Me Strength by Elvis Costello

The Message by Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five

Mama Used to Say by Junior

Sof la'Sipur (End of the Story) by Yehudit Ravitz

Yo Ya by Poogy - reminds me of dancing to the record in the living room where I grew up, the living room that we'll be listing along with the rest of the house tomorrow, to be sold.

Lost in the Supermarket by The Clash

Luka by Suzanne Vega

Black Boys on Mopeds by Sinéad O'Connor

I Can't Make You Love Me by Bonnie Raitt

No One Is Alone from "Into the Woods" sung by Bernadette Peters

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

This is what grief looks like...

The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

Putting a Brave Face On It

This is the first day I've put on makeup since my mom (z"l) died on June 4th:

Pat said, "You look like your mother. At first, I thought that was a younger picture of your mother."

It has been 13 weeks since my last haircut. At first, I was honoring Shloshim, but now, I have three reasons for not cutting my hair:

  1. When it's longer, it's wavier and my mom's (z"l) hair was wavy; it's a way of hanging onto her.
  2. I feel young in my grief, not youthful, but like a teen again, like I was when my dad (z"l) died and my hair was longer then, too.
  3. The longer my hair is, the more vulnerable I feel for whatever gender-stereotype reasons and it makes sense to me that my outside should match the way I feel inside these days.

This picture is not flattering, I know, but it's really how things are right now and I felt like documenting this time.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Sixteen Days Later

The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

Poor Me

Pat & I were going to go to shul, so I could say The Mourner's Kaddish publicly, but the service tonight honors LGBT Pride, so as I posted in a Facebook status update earlier, I opted out, thinking it would feel more festive than I felt. Instead, we finished binge-watching Derek, a superbly poignant series about an autistic man who works in a home for the aged.

Here are the last books my mom ever read or considered reading with her book group:

Here are the books I've taken out of the library since her death:

The two best book recommendations my mom ever made to me were The Crock of Gold and Cutting for Stone. The first novel was about magic and love and the second, about yearning and grief, and living through both.

That's where I am now -- grateful for the magical parts of my life and for all of the love I experience and express, but living through yearning for, and grief around, my mother (z"l).

I wish I could check out of real-life till I finish reading all seven of the books I listed above, if not also the ones from my mother's book group list (though I don't want to re-read *The Canterbury Tales*).

Suddenly, I was jealous of my age when my dad died -- 17 -- as I thought about how many fewer responsibilities I had then, but that's not really true. I had to continue showing up to high school and had to do well enough to get to go to college. I also forgot to consider how love-lorn I was as well; I had a secret girlfriend then, who was already a freshman at a too-far-away college, and I knew my attachment wasn't requited, not really.

So compared to when my dad died in November of '82, I didn't have love or meaningful work then, but I also didn't have to settle my parent's estate, like my sisters and I do now, now that we're the only adults left in the upper-part of the chain. My other responsibilities, to Pat and our kitties Phoebe and Toonces, and to my management and the team I manage at work, and are more welcome than not at this time. I can always renew the library books....

Sunday, June 8, 2014

My Eulogy for My Mom (z"l)

The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

My Two Sisters and Three of Their Children Delivered Eulogies, Too, and This Is Mine:

When my mom of blessed memory stopped driving several years ago, she started hitchhiking. With her walker. She’d take a bus, cab or senior shuttle to a destination and then when she was ready to go home, if she didn’t spot someone she recognized from her 50+ years in Stamford, she would look for kind people and she’d simply ask if they were going her way. Practically every time, they said they were, and then they put her walker in their trunk and off they went.

Just last week, something unprecedented happened, my mom reported -– something even lovelier than a ride home; a man at Trader Joe’s on High Ridge Road insisted on paying my mother’s $14 grocery bill because he said, she reminded him of his grandmother. The man made my mom’s day!

In Twitter, as my wife Pat drove us back from the funeral home, I tweeted that my mom (z”l), gave me a sense of adventure and my Yiddishkeit. I’m not yet quite as adventurous as my mom – I don’t routinely hitchhike, for example, but I’m confident that I’m as experimental at work as I am because of my mom’s adventuresome example. When I was a kid, my mom invited me to try all sorts of museums and music lessons, swimming, tennis, golf, and ski lessons, and all sorts of art and nature classes.

Sometimes, she pushed me a bit too far with her adventure-sense, like when we were in the most ultra-Orthodox section of Jerusalem when I was eight and she had me wearing pants because it was February and relatively cold, and suddenly an older man grabbed my arm and urged, “Minchah, Minchah, Minyan!” I was tall and short-haired, just like now, and he mistook me for a boy that had already had his bar mitzvah and who could help complete the needed quorum of men for afternoon services.

I was terrified, but at my mother’s urging, I followed the man and donned one of the yarmulkes they provided in a box at the doorway of the sanctuary and then imitated the way the boys in my Modern Orthodox Jewish day school prayed. We never talked about that experience until I was an adult and when I asked why she had urged me on, she said, “I wanted you to have the experience and besides, why should you be excluded?” To my mom, it was an adventure not to be missed.

My mom, as I mentioned in my tweet, also gave me my sense of Yiddishkeit. When my sisters and I sat in the all-night Bull’s Head Diner with our spouses a couple nights ago, writing a draft of our mom’s obituary, it contained the word, Jew, Jewish or Judaica no fewer than nine times... in less than a page! My mother transmitted the best of what being Jewish could mean. By her example, she taught us always to advocate for social justice.

For example, in 1993, when Pat and I still lived in Illinois, my mom decided that she wanted to join the March on Washington for human rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. So she went with the bus that Congregation Beth Simchat Torah chartered. The synagogue is dedicated to LGBT congregants and our supporters. Since moving to Montclair, New Jersey 18 years ago, Pat & I have belonged to the congregation. But in 1993, we didn't yet live in Montclair, didn't yet belong to the shul and my mom went without us. A woman close to my mom’s age began talking with my mom some minutes into the ride to D.C. Thinking the woman was flirting with her, my mother told me she said, “I’m here for my *daughter*.”

And then my mom said that a younger woman popped up from the seat next to the woman and said, “Well, I’m here for my *mother*.” The three of them had a great march. I’m grateful that God gave me my particular mother and I pray that I can remain grateful for the time I had with her and not drown in my sense of loss. She would not want me to drown.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Finding Some Peace After a Rollerblading Jaunt

The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

"Joy and pain are like sunshine and rain" -- Rob Base & DJ E-Z Rock

I'm not sure which photo moves me more. Last night, I photographed the nearly in-bloom peonies in the rain and this afternoon, they were sunbathing in full bloom. I witnessed their sun bath when I returned from rollerblading. I lay down on the lawn and photographed them.

Music Joint-filled Jaunt

I have a semi-secret place I go to rollerblade, where I don't need to wear a helmet and where I can sing along to my iPod with no fear of cars. I'm not a fancy figure-skating type, but I'm highly-proficient, with 45 years of skating experience. After swimming, ice-skating was the first sport I learned -- both at four years old. Today's jaunt featured 30 minutes worth of the "B"'s of my iPod:

  • Baghdad Cafe (Callin' U), A:Xus - At 22, the lyrics, "...a desert road from Vegas to nowhere, someplace better than where you've been" helped me end the first full-fledged relationship I had with another woman, as I figured that a road to nowhere would still be better than where I had been.
  • Be Near Me, ABC - In high school, my friend and her family were new immigrants and lived in a condo, rather than a house, but they had MTV and we didn't. Roxy Music and ABC were featured on it at the time.
  • Beautiful, Bombay Rockers - I cannot relate to the girl to whom they're referring in this song, as they say she's in 7th Grade and everyone's mean to her because they are jealous of her. In 7th Grade, I was just willing myself to develop and be noticed by anyone for something other than being tall.
  • Beautiful, Me'Shell Ndegeocello - Her music is among my favorite for rollerblading; it transports me beyond where the rollerblades can because her voice is lush and she's usually telling a story I relate to, or imagine I could. I can't recall when I first heard Me'Shell Ndegeocello's music -- probably when I lived in Chicago -- but I've loved it ever since.
  • Beautiful Girl, Bombay Rockers - When Pat & I lived in Bangalore for six months in 2007, a helpful Planet M employee recommended the Bombay Rockers when I asked him to suggest an Indian pop group whose music was cheerful with a beat.
  • Beautiful Stranger, Madonna - This album reminds me of being with a couple of IBM colleagues in Madrid, Kris and Miguel. They took me dancing at a lesbian club and Madonna's latest music played then. This song was older, but it still conjured that time for me as I was rollerblading today. "Hung Up", I think, was one of the current hits then, in 2006.
  • Before I Let Go, Maze, featuring Frankie Beverly - The melody was so cheerful, but it belied the singer's reluctance to let go of his beloved, and so when it first came out in '81 and now, I ignored the lyrics and focused on the good mood its melody inspired in me.

As I pulled off my wrist-guards and 'blades, "The Best Is Yet to Come" was playing and I couldn't wait to get home to work on this blog-post. As it has turned out, I could detail only memories triggered by my iPod playlist and then needed to leave the rest of it overnight. It was too challenging to write this next part. But today, a day later, I'm moved to do so:

It's Facebook's Fault

The other night, in my Facebook stream, I saw a picture of my first and former best friend's mom from when she was probably in her early-20s. My former best friend's older brother and only sibling had posted it on Mother's Day as a memorial tribute. She was a beautiful woman whose features were so different from any of the women's in my family; she was blond with a bit of an upturned nose and seemed exotic to me. She died several years ago, but I found out only recently. Even after my friend and I were no longer friends, our mothers remained friends for 35 years, until my former friend's mom moved away. My mother wondered aloud with me recently, "I wonder if she is still alive. I'm afraid she isn't."

"I'll go on Facebook and see if I can find out." And I searched for the brother's name and found him. Yes, their beloved mother had died several years ago. And she was sort of another, early mother to me, too. What was an appropriate amount of grief for someone I had known for only four years, 40 years ago?

A Hot Dog with Every Visit

My former best friend and I met when we were four, in nursery school. I'd get off the bus with her from school nearly daily and then I was there on weekends, too. I took it for granted. It was automatic. My sisters were more than half a decade and nearly a decade older than I, and at my friend's house, the kids -- my former friend and her brother -- were my age or just a few years older. My former friend's brother became as close as I'd ever get to having a brother and their curly, sweet Airedale became a quasi-pet for me. Relatively, their dad wasn't around as often as their mom, and their mom became another mother to me. She fed us, asking what we'd like for lunch and I always asked for a hot dog. At home, my mother made salami and eggs sometimes, but hot dogs were only for dinner and not very commonly.

At school, we learned to ice-skate and my former friend was a better skater than I, learning to skate backwards sooner and she took figure-skating lessons. By contrast, I was steady and confident minus any tricks; that steadiness served me for rollerskating and rollerblading, starting in my early teens. During my jaunt yesterday, I thought of the little rink by our school, where we'd go throughout the winters from ages four to eight. Probably, she kept going there, but I don't know, as our friendship was over by the time her father died, when we were eight.

My former friend's dad was many years older than her mother and still, his death was premature, from a disease. He took us kite-flying once, at the Stamford branch of UCONN. I was impatient and then it was fun when he helped me, so that my kite finally became airborne. Our dads liked each other, too, and at one point, I think they were working on a pie-slicing invention together, but it didn't happen. They hatched a number of ideas that they didn't commercialize. I think they just liked using their imaginations together -- like my former friend and I did, for four years.

My former friend was better at everything than I and I loved going over to her house and doing whatever she initiated. Make Spin Art? Sure. Help put a pair of her flowered, cotton underpants on the dog? Yes. Play with her Barbie camper, and always agree to be Skipper while she was Barbie? Indeed. Sit in their guest cottage at a small table, where she held a glass paperweight and told my fortune? Definitely. Look for arrowheads under an overhanging boulder on their property that my former friend said was an Indian shelter? Yes! Help collect eggs from the chicken-coop? Of course. Hang upside-down off the back of the couch, singing along to the lyrics of "Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree"? Why not?

Were Differing Degrees of Literacy a Harbinger for the Inevitable End of the Friendship?

My former friend was reading The Wind in the Willows when we were five and I would not learn to read for another year. That same winter, she sent me a postcard from her family's vacation in Barbados. It was in her block-print handwriting and not only couldn't I write yet myself, I had to ask my mother to read it to me.

Maybe my former friend was tired of our differing aptitudes. Maybe she was sick of initiating what we'd do when we played together. Maybe she related to what she read in *The Wind in the Willows*, "Here today, up and off to somewhere else tomorrow! Travel, change, interest, excitement! The whole world before you, and a horizon that's always changing!" I never did read the book. I simply cheated just now and found a quote and imagined her latching onto that sentiment. I didn't need new horizons. I never needed to be anywhere but shuttled back and forth between my family's house and hers. I could have done that for years longer. I wondered why it ended. She stopped calling and I never asked.

Nine Years Later, a Shivah Call

When my father died of cancer at 56, my friendship with my former best friend had been finished for nearly a decade. I was a senior in high school, 17. My former friend's mother paid a shivah call, since she was friends with my mother, but when I saw her, I felt as though she had come to see me even though she had probably come to comfort my mother as much or more than she had come to be kind to me. Her visit was a relief. She offered to take a walk with me and I don't recall our conversation during the walk. I had written her a note, in case she came, and gave it to her at the end of our walk. In the note, I told my former friend's mom that I was less grief-stricken than I might have been, since I felt like I still had two parents, since she had been so motherly to me in my early years.

No One is Perfect

Nearly 20 years ago, I saw my former friend's mother one more time. My eventual wife Pat & I were visiting my mom -- from St. Charles, Illinois, where we lived at the time. I don't recall the context, but my mom suggested we drop by my former friend's mother's home. My memory is that Pat was with me, but she doesn't recall the visit, so perhaps not. My former friend's mother was as beautiful as she had ever been, and seemed the same, just visibly older, and so did I...except that I had also publicly chosen a woman as my future spouse (whenever it would be legal to marry her), whereas when I was a kid and an adolescent, my former friend's mother did not need to acknowledge a romantic relationship I would have with anyone of my own gender.

Some years later, my mother told me that my former friend's mother told my mom that she couldn't accept my lesbianism. My hot-dog-providing-loving-beautiful-kind-other mother was telling my actual mother that she could not reconcile it. Fortunately, she never told me her feelings. She must have loved me too much to want to hurt me by telling me.

Finding Some Peace, and Again, It Was Facebook's Fault

While I had seen my former friend's mom once as an adult, I never saw my former friend again, after her brother's bar mitzvah, when we were nine or 10. And we were practically strangers by then, or at least that's how it felt. Over the years, I've thought, what would my former friend say if I asked her why she ended our friendship? She got bored? Or worse, what if she didn't even recall why? And why did this rejection still hurt me 40 years later? And what would we have had in common if we had remained friends anyhow? Once we no longer went to the same school, what was left? Is that what occurred to her then -- that we had too little in common to stay friends?

Historically, whenever I've thought of this former friend, I've time-traveled back to being eight and sitting across the aisle and behind her at her father's funeral and feeling sad not only about her dad's death, but also at the death of our friendship. The other night, though, something sort of soothing happened: After seeing the memorial photo on my former friend's brother's Facebook wall, I commented on it, describing how lovely their mother had been to me. Later the same night, my former friend's college-aged daughter clicked, "Like" on my comment.

What the heck, I thought: I'm curious if I'll be able to see any photos of the daughter and maybe of my former friend. Why not click on the daughter's profile? I did so. And I got to see both of my former friend's kids -- a teenage boy and college-aged young woman. And then my former friend! I clicked on photo after photo, finding the facial features I recalled from our childhood and was amazed to see them on this grown woman. Being able to at least see what she looked like as an adult was a bit of comfort.

Americans in Paris

Just as I was beginning to feel stalker-ish, a beautiful photo emerged: My former friend and her daughter were standing on a sidewalk in France apparently and my former friend was holding a poster that urged, in French, equality for her daughter, and the daughter was holding a rainbow flag and French poster that declared, I love my mother who accepts me. I don't know the sexual orientation of my former friend's daughter, except that currently, she does not identify as heterosexual.

Maybe my former friend and I had more in common after all, or maybe she had more in common with my mother, and I with her daughter. It reminded me that all of us are more connected than we realize, even as there are vast differences among people. And I thought of the 1995 Pride Parade in Paris; I was in France on business and Pat had to work, so my mom came with me and during the weekend, we marched with the Beth Haverim Juif Homo (Beth Haverim Jewish congregation's gay) delegation.

There we were, nearly two decades apart: two American mothers and two American daughters from three generations, demonstrating ultimate loyalty to each other on the streets of Paris. And if that's the peace I can take from our having been friends, it's enough. I think I feel closer to my former friend now that I've seen that photo than I did when we were friends. Here are some snapshots of my mom's and my experience at the 1995 Paris Pride Parade:

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Channeling Desire in a New Direction

The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

When Did My Desire to Leave a Legacy Trump More Conventional Desire?

Six years ago over dinner, I told a friend, Desire is the engine that fuels my creativity. He said he understood and that it was basically what Theologian Paul Tillich said. (Just found the original blog post about our evening and am reminded that I was moved to my confession by a stunning woman sitting near us in the restaurant, whom I didn't notice till my friend went to the men's room and my view of her was no longer obscured.)

Yesterday, as Pat & I met with a male couple of friends, much of our discussion centered on the meaning we felt from the work we were doing. With the product that one of the men is going to launch in June, I said, "You could become ultra-rich while doing a lot of good," since the invention will help health care providers. And the work I'm doing also feels right, including my current project around helping IBMers understand all that IBM Watson can do for the world. And certainly Pat's work with building a bee sanctuary should contribute to saving our planet, and ultimately, the literature that one of the couple writes enriches our understanding of humanity.

When did that happen? When did my attention to my life's work trump my alertness to female beauty around me? Maybe it hasn't trumped it, but now, it's actively paralleling it. Recently, I was speaking with a younger colleague at work whose current dilemma is whether or not to aspire to a more senior role or to focus on family. "Each of us," I said, "has such a personal story around why we do what we do at work. In my case, I aspire to a more senior role because I feel like I want to leave a legacy of helping a huge group of people learn, since I don't have kids through whom I can leave a legacy."

A Sense of History Mashed Up with Survivor's Guilt -- Powerfully Motivating

Perhaps I'm feeling especially reflective because the longer I'm alive, the more time has passed during which I can notice my own and history's progress. Earlier in the week, a former colleague sent me an invitation to celebrate the 20th anniversary of ibm.com. Twenty years! And I've been around for 19 of them. We launched ibm.com/globalservices in 1995 (which IBM since sold to AT&T) and I worked on ibm.com/software and associated microsites, and then ibm.com/shop -- when we sold ThinkPads -- through May of 2001. I remember being much younger, and being spoken of around IBM as the GenXers, the way some talk about Millennials now.

Twenty years ago, we were also in earlier days of corporate activism around lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) inclusion. And they were heady times because there was so much progress to make. These days, we channel our energy into helping our peers in less LGBT-friendly countries around the world to have positive experiences ultimately. Still, in my self-absorbed experience, it's not the same to help others as it is to feel the benefits directly. Yesterday during our diner-meal, one of our friends said, "Who would have predicted the sea change in our favor over just the past couple of years?"

"Yeah, 19 years ago, during my work on ibm.com," I said," Everyone knew about Pat, but who would have imagined we'd ever be legally married?"

In this morning's NYT, I read Frank Bruni's tribute to Larry Kramer and felt a bit chagrined that I haven't been as dogged as Larry Kramer has been all these years about working for our equality. After all, I did not die of AIDS or breast cancer (k'ayn ayin harah) like too many in our community. And then it's also Yom HaShoah Eve today, which commemorates the loss of ~6,000,000 Jews in the Holocaust. The coincidence of the holiday occurring during this period of self-reflection on desire and purpose only accentuates my drive to channel my desire into leaving a meaningful legacy.

Yesterday, a close relative told me, "You're the best person I know." I hope she turns out to be right. Probably, at this stage, at least as much as being alert to beauty around me, that's my most ardent desire -- to be and do good, the effect of which lasts beyond my life.

Total Honesty

After stepping away for a moment, I was reminded of what would make this blog post as honest as it can be: It is true that the longer I'm alive, the more urgency I feel to do lastingly, meaningful work in the world *and* it's also true that part of my decreasing alertness to the female beauty around me is that the longer I'm alive, the less visible I feel as anyone's object of desire in return. With meaningful work, where others are involved, there's at least the potential for healthy, mutual appreciation. By contrast, being intentionally monogamous with Pat for all of our nearly 23 years together, even with the more and more remote chance that someone would appreciate me aesthetically in return, such appreciation wouldn't necessarily be productive.

Why write aloud about this last bit? Why? Because it's honest. Spring is in the air, which is when my mind is most inclined to turn to conventional desire more so than at less bloom-filled times of year. What's surprising about this spring, I think, is that it's the first one where my desire to do good work so powerfully parallels my usual desires.

I'm reminded of getting the newspapers from the driveway this morning. One of our female neighbors is openly lesbian and also in her mid-late 70s. When I walked out of our house in my purple terry-cloth bathrobe to get the papers, she was sitting in her driveway, apparently waiting for her Dial-a-Ride service for Seniors to pick her up for church. I've never walked out at that time before, never before bumped into her in my bathrobe. I waved to her and we called out Good morning to each other. I walked back in the house, flattering myself that she might have been alert to my relative youth. I suppose this is hopeful, as maybe when I'm her age and noticing younger lesbians, they'll give me the benefit of the doubt about still being observant and fully alive.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Valentine's Day Weekend Prose Poem

The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

Love Sickness Healed

It started last weekend when I read Gary Shteyngart's reminiscence on
Falling in love with Becky (Scroll down) while reading *Tom Sawyer* at nine.
Flashed back and realized that I felt similarly moved...or maybe I fell in love with
Romantic love then. It was the literary version of the awakening I felt at 10 -- and
I've mentioned this here before -- when(ever) I heard Minnie Riperton sing, "Lovin' You".

Earlier this week, I read Karl Ove Knausgaard's "Come Together" in "The New Yorker" and
Identified with both the boy and the girl, but especially the boy, who was smitten with
The girl, but didn't know how to handle it gracefully. I identified with the girl because
I had been in hapless kissing situations with boys during bar mitzvah parties when we were
In middle school, where I felt I was supposed to count on the boy to know what he was doing.

Yesterday, a boy from my Modern Orthodox Jewish day school sent me email -- a boy with an
Identical twin brother, and whom I hadn't seen since I was 17, during my dad's funeral and
We didn't speak then, just mourned; we hadn't talked since we were 13, when we graduated and went off to different high schools. I called him and we had a warm conversation. I hung up,
Trying to remember which twin was the one who might have had a crush on me back then.
I felt sad. Wistful.

Why couldn't I have been heterosexual and have ended up with him, or my Israeli, male,
Childhood friend, or my high school/early-college boyfriend, or the new Lehigh alumnus I met
In New Rochelle at the Young Jewish Singles Dance the summer before my Junior year of college,
Or any of the men I met during my year in Jerusalem at 20? Why did I fall for Tom Sawyer's
Girlfriend? Why did "Lovin' You" feel like it was being sung to me? Why did I want to kiss my
Female day-school classmates more than my male ones?

Why couldn't I have been someone else? Isn't that what I'm asking? How ungrateful, if
Reasonably human-nature-ish. Suddenly, I feel the urge to find out which classic rock band
I am via a Buzzfeed quiz. (The Eagles.) And then I hear my beloved wife, laughing heartily
Downstairs. I'm drawn to learn more.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

"Here Comes the Rain Again"

The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

Wishing My Memories Could Rest in Peace

November 3, 1982: My first cousin Yanai and I are sitting on the back porch of the home where I grew up and where my mom still lives. He's distracting me from the events of the day by talking about a favorite book of his, *The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy* and about his interest in Space, as in "the final frontier".

What do people talk about at a shivah call with a 17-year-old whose father's the reason for the shivah? What do they talk about if they are among Georgetown's undergrads and on the proudly nerdy end of the late-adolescent spectrum?

There's a famous -- famous, among our family -- photo of Yanai and me in a bathtub with Mr. Bubble when we were two and four years old. And that was practically the last time I saw Yanai, till the shivah call in memory of my dad (z"l) 15 years later.

We didn't grow up together like first cousins sometimes do. And I didn't get to know his younger sister Sarit (Sari) till she was 22 and I was 27, when she called me one summer out of the blue: I was living in Chicago and her college boyfriend had moved there to attend U. of C. for grad school, so why not meet for dinner, the three of us?

It turned out to be a fun, sweet evening and I felt wistful that we hadn't spent more time together growing up. And then we did stay in touch and she met Pat, and we were invited to her wedding, and Facebook has served as a continual bridge to many of my cousins, including Yanai, Gail, Sari and her husband Barry.

Regret that I Didn't Get to Know Gail, or My Dad, Better

October 26, 2013: Nearly 31 years since that shivah call, it's my turn to pay a shivah call to Yanai; Yanai's dear wife Gail is gone due to cancer, as of yesterday.

My dad was 56 and Gail was 49. I was 17 and her kids are probably 14 and 16. Happily, we were at the kids' Bat Mitzvah and Bar Mitzvah, where we loved seeing Gail dancing and looking vigorous. Unfortunately, I didn't get to know Gail other than at such simchot or at funerals. I'm melancholy, seeing her Facebook wall now, and that she loved some of the same cultural things that I loved, including the book *A Separate Peace*, the movie *Airplane*, and the musician Melissa Etheridge.

We never learned what we had in common, really, other than the Siegel family. We never had a conversation other than about family, or about a bit of her high-tech work -- and she sounded talented at it -- but I'd rather have found out why she loved *A Separate Peace*.

What would my dad have put on his Facebook wall if Facebook had been around in 1982? Perhaps that he loved P.G. Wodehouse (particularly as a kid, my mom told me), George Booth, the "New Yorker" cartoonist, Georg Jensen, the Danish designer, and Letraset.

I don't even recall the music he liked, other than chamber music and Jazz clarinetist Benny Goodman, and that he tolerated a couple of pop songs, "Moonlight Feels Right" because it mentioned Chesapeake Bay and my dad grew up in D.C., and "Sir Duke" by Stevie Wonder, which I adored; it was the only 45 he ever bought me.

On his Facebook wall, my dad might have Liked Max Schulman's books and "Popular Mechanics". And maybe the movie "Diner", which amused him; it was the last film my mom and I ever saw with him. And perhaps Breyers Rocky Road ice cream, though by now, he'd have discovered the many new brands and flavors. And if there were Facebook groups for paisley tie lovers or Carhartt overalls fans, he might have joined them. And he'd have specified that he was married to Edythe Siegel for 58 years, if he were still alive, rather than the 27 years they actually had due to cancer.... I'm pretty sure that Yanai and Gail had fewer than 20 years together.

How did we get from bubble-bath splashing to shivah chats too soon? From weddings and baby-births to Bat and Bar Mitzvot, to more shivah chats again too soon?

Parent Loss

While I'm confident that my mom can relate to Yanai's tragedy directly, I can't at this point, thank God, since Pat & I are both still alive and well k'ayn eyin harah. Instead, Yanai and Gail's kids keep coming to mind because like me, they've lost a parent in their teens.

Everyone grieves differently, but if they feel anything like I did, then it's practically more stress than anyone should have to bear: I was stricken at losing my dad while at the same time, experiencing the first ultimate assessment of my academic talent while yearning for love and romantic attention from my peers in parallel.

It was practically too much to handle. I'd work on my college applications in the hospital waiting room and then walk along the streets of Spanish Harlem, where the hospital was, wishing irrationally that I could get pregnant and have a baby to replace my dying father.

What do Yanai and Gail's kids feel along with their pure grief at losing their beloved mother? And how will they cope with their feelings? I spent nearly a decade coping mostly through junkfood and romantic fantasy accompanied by mostly disappointing reality. I want to say: "And then I got over it," but that's not at all true; I did give up the junkfood and the self-and-other-disrespecting romantic pursuits, but feel no less grief about my gone father than I did when he died.

Spouse Loss

This is territory I've not yet traveled, thank God, but my poor bubble-splashing cousin Yanai now has done so. How will he cope?

How would I cope? Would I go back to junkfood? Would I channel my grief through blogging? Would my remaining family comfort me? Would I find a great grief group or therapist? Would my synagogue community be a source of comfort? Would I swim more? How would I stay strong for my kids (in my case, two feline daughters)? What would I do to survive?

Please, God, help Yanai, Gail's and his kids, and the rest of their families to find life-affirming comfort. And help me not to be self-absorbed when I see them on Monday for the funeral and shivah; help me be usefully, compassionately present.... I guess this is what family is about -- the longevity to splash together in bubble baths, meet for dinner-fun, dance with one another at Bar/Bat Mitzvot celebrations and weddings, and comfort one another at shivot.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Unconventional, 70's & '80s, Pre-Teen/Teenage Dreams

The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

And a Relatively Conventional Adulthood By Today's Standards

The year my dad (z"l) died, I distracted myself with letters from a young woman I wished would be my girlfriend, if only I hadn't also been yearning for a boyfriend in parallel -- to make society and my family happy -- and if only she were actually attracted to girls.

I'd run to the mailbox at the end of our long gravel driveway, even when it was snowing, hoping for a thick envelope filled with her lively handwriting and type-written poems. The poems were never about me, but I was encouraged that she said she thought of me every time she heard, "Always Something There to Remind Me" by Naked Eyes. I was 17. It was 1982.

During the eight weeks I lived with my cousins in Israel, I experienced my first bit of romantic experimentation with another girl. She introduced me to Brazilian music, helped me with my Hebrew and indulged me in my Disco rollerskating phase (which has never left me), facing speakers out her home's windows when her parents weren't there as George Benson insisted, nearly persuasively, "Give Me the Night" while I skate-danced in the village-street. Upon my return, I wrote her letters. Over and over. She never wrote back. I was 15. It was 1980.

Throughout the summer that I spent hanging out nearly daily at the beach in Stamford, Connecticut with my beautiful best friend, I felt so much less cool than she, especially whenever she wore her Yes rock band T-shirts. Once, I saw her gorgeous older brother sitting -- tan, broad-swimmer-chested and shirtless -- in the kitchen while his mom cut his gorgeous curly hair just a little shorter. The 7-Up he drank effervesced off his teeth as he smiled at me conceitedly.

Earlier that same day, his sister wrecked our friendship when she asked me to rub sun-tan oil onto her already golden back as she lay on a beach-chair in a white bikini, years beyond me in her physical development, except for our heights; relatively, I was a flat-chested giant. Unbeknownst to her, the tanning-oil request made my pulse beat in my ears -- made me undeniably conscious of my attraction to her, to girls. I was 11. It was 1976.

I could keep going, back to Mrs. Honan in 2nd Grade, in 1972, but you get the idea.

If only my best friend at 11 had had similar feelings, or the Israeli girl at 15, or my high school quasi-girlfriend at 17. If only it didn't feel like it had to be a desperate secret each time. If only my family and friends could have known explicitly and been supportive. If only I hadn't felt that I needed to put up a prissy, nerdy, aloof front to try to hide my emerging lesbianism.

By now, at 48, I've loosened up and have been out everywhere for the past 27 years. And my family, friends and colleagues have risen to my occasion. My wife Pat and I've also lived in a number of countries and several cities, but Stamford and Montclair, New Jersey hold the record for my long-time residence. As of this September I've lived in Montclair for longer than I lived in Stamford -- for more than 17 years. On the eve of New Jersey enabling same-sex couples to become legally married, I'm feeling relieved that my married life is finally legal in both my native and adopted home states, as well as recognized federally across the United States and also in countries where same-sex marriage is legal.

This post didn't go on to catalog my trials in college till I came out explicitly my senior year -- I've done that in other posts -- but as I consider our country's progress around same-sex marriage, I'm also reminded of our country's current college generation:

By contrast to how it still was when I was in college from 1983-87, our 20-year-old niece moved off campus this year at SUNY New Paltz, and during our second visit, Zoe mentioned that two of her four housemates are lesbian. "How cool that you have lesbian housemates!"

"On this campus, you wouldn't be cool if you excluded them," she said, and I smiled to myself; I guess that people like Pat & I really are becoming more de rigueur. Glad I've lived long enough to see these promising times. And I'm also happy that as secret and scary and disorienting as my pre-teen and teenage years were -- I know, everyone's are, no matter his or her sexual orientation, but -- all's well that's ending well.

Yet even as I feel celebratory about the improving times for lesbian and gay Americans, a piece of me will always feel sad when I think of the energy-sapping shame I felt during the times 30 and 40 years ago -- and still feel when I recall them -- when I felt love and desire for another human being and needed to try to hide my feelings. Adam Ant's "Goody Two Shoes", so popular when I was in high school, felt like it was written for and about me, and I still cringe whenever I hear it.

For me, the best way to transform the leftover shame is to help a new generation avoid it: I'm so pleased to be allotting my United Way contribution to HMI Newark, so that today's lesbian, gay, bi, trans, intersex and questioning youth in metro-Newark at least might be less likely to need to wait 30-40 years to be able to blog openly about societal progress. And here's another reason why plowing through the shame and being visible has been important to more than just my own peace of mind: I learned about HMI Newark from a heterosexual Montclair friend, Tray Davis; Tray and his family are key sponsors of the program. If I weren't open about my life, I wouldn't be able to have such a great friend. Instead, I'd still be stuck in prissy, nerdy aloofness, and that was no way to live.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Being of Service for 10 Minutes at a Time

The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

Wondering what to do with myself on a lazy Sunday afternoon

While my darling cat Phoebe lies nearby, guiltlessly relaxing, I'm wishing there were an app that enabled me to do 10 minutes of volunteer work whenever I felt like it. Probably, there is, but I'm feeling too self-involved to get up and search for it.

During Kol Nidre on Friday night, Rabbi Kleinbaum spoke of the importance of expressing "Hineyni"/"Here I am" routinely, whenever called to action. She referred to Bayard Rustin, the 50-year-ago March on Washington organizer, who was being provoked by the press in the early morning of the march; they suggested that it was going to be a light crowd since no one was there yet (at 5:30 am).

While looking at a blank piece of paper that he'd taken out of his pocket (without revealing its blankness), he responded, "No, everything is going according to plan right now."

Rabbi Kleinbaum suggested that everything is always going according to God's plan, even if we don't yet know what the plan is.