Saturday, September 7, 2019

Flirting in Literature

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

On Flirting: a Facilitated Discussion in Chicago, July, 1989 

While cleaning up recently, I opened a boxful of mementos from the '80s and early-'90s, which I hadn't seen since boxing them up for our move to New Jersey from Illinois in 1996, including:

When I was 23 and volunteering as an LGBT youth group advisor in Chicago, I curated a series of literature-snippets accompanied each of them with a question or two, and made handouts that read, "On Flirting. Consider the following excerpts and questions and bring your thoughts to this Saturday's discussion."

My first real girlfriend and I broke up the prior spring and I had no idea how to flirt with women. I created the discussion guide to help myself. Growing up, I didn't feel free to flirt, especially not with girls. Perhaps some of the youth also felt unfree, I thought, and what a gift, via this discussion guide, to plant the seed that same-sex flirting with one another was OK:

The first excerpt was from "You're Ugly, Too" by Lorrie Moore, "The New Yorker," July 3, 1989:
Often, when she spoke to men at parties, she rushed things in her mind. As the man politely blathered on, she would fall in love, marry, then find herself in a bitter custody battle with him for the kids and hoping for a reconciliation, so that despite all his betrayals she might no longer despise him, and, in the few minutes remaining, learn, perhaps, what his last name was and what he did for a living, though probably there was already too much history between them. She would nod, blush, turn away.
And then...

Q: Have you ever planned too much, too quickly with someone you've just met?

The second snippet was from *Miss Manners' Complete Guide to Excurciatingly Correct Behavior* by Judith Martin, specifically the chapter, "Courtship (for Participants, Their Friends and Relations)." She wrote of how flirtation done properly was "an end, not a means."

And then...

Q: Have you ever had fun, flirting just for its own sake without it leading to a deeper involvement?

The third bit was from *Jitterbug Perfume* by Tom Robbins, a section, where Ricki hits on Priscilla and is rebuffed.

And then...

Q: Have you ever flirted with someone who was straight or equivalently unavailable?
Q: Ever tried to turn a flirtation into something more? What were the results?

The fourth excerpt was from *Lesbian Passion: Loving Ourselves and Each Other* by JoAnn Loulan, including, "Sometimes just setting rules takes the pressure off."

And then...

Q: Can you cut off a flirtation if it causes you more pain than pleasure? 

The fifth quote was from *The Lost Language of Cranes* by David Leavitt, where two friends consider becoming a couple.

And then...

Q: Have you ever flirted with a friend?
Q: How did you resolve this flirtation?

The sixth bit was from "The Village Voice" by Vince Aletti on June 27, 1989, where he reviewed a book of Bruce Weber's photography, including, "What makes beefcake so compelling now is its nostalgia for innocence."

And then...

Q: Do you prefer seeing explicit or suggestive images? [How about language?] 

The seventh excerpt was from *Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit* by Jeanette Winterson, including:
Poor Melanie, she didn't understand any of them, she just knew she needed Jesus....I went round to Mealnie's and we read the Bible together...and I was delighted. She was my friend, and I wasn't used to that....I talked about her all the time at home, and my mother never responded.
And then...

Q: Have you and another ever shared a passionate pursuit as a substitute for a romance between you two?

The eighth snippet was from *Hey, Dollface* by Deborah Hautzig. It was a Young Adult novel, where two high school girls fall in love, but in the particular scene, they're talking on the phone about a date one of them had with a boy.

And then...

Q: Have you ever tested a romantic prospect by detailing an exciting experience you had with someone else to that person? 

The ninth quote was from "The Rug of Identity" by Jill W. Fleming in *Lesbian Plays,* selected & introduced by Jill Davis. A lesbian couple is trying to rekindle their spark.

And then...

Q: If you've ever been or are now part of a couple, how do you sustain the fliration between you? 

The tenth excerpt was from "The Man in the Brooks Brothers Shirt" in *The Company She Keeps* by Mary McCarthy. It included an exchange between a man and a woman, where the woman is unimpressed initially until the man is familiar with the author of the book she's reading.

And then...

Q: What makes you not want to flirt back?
Q: Initially turned off, what can persuade you to become engaged in a flirtation?

The eleventh snippet was from *The Mind-Body Problem* by Rebecca Goldstein, where a woman and a man begin flirting with each other's intellect, agreeing that mathemeticians are aestheticians.

The twelfth and final bit was from *Self-Help* by Lorrie Moore, with a funny exchange between a man and woman who just met, where the woman is reading *Madame Bovary* in a Doris Day book jacket.

And then...

Q: Which style(s) of flirting do you most enjoy, e.g., eye-contact, intellectual, humorous... 

I wonder what became of those LGBT youth in Chicago. Today, they would be ages 44-51. Hope that those who wanted to learn to flirt did and found the loves of their lives eventually, like I did. 

Monday, September 3, 2018

Thirty-five Falls Later

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

What's Different:

As I imagine my arrival at the Detroit Airport and then on the University of Michigan campus on Wednesday, I'm thinking of all that's different since Day One of my freshman year there, and am grateful, mostly:
  1. I wrote an Honors thesis, "Women's Damned Desires: A Comparison of Four Twentieth-century American and Israeli Short Stories," and graduated with High Honors as a Comparative Literature major.
  2. Both of my parents (z"l) are gone and my two sisters and I have families of our own.
  3. I'm openly lesbian.
  4. Friends of mine died of AIDS in their 20s.
  5. My career is solid and I've been working full-time for 32 years so far.
  6. Sugar in most forms has been gone from my diet for 28+ years so far and I'm more fit now than I was at 18.
  7. I wrote an unpublished memoir of my life from 0 - 30.
  8. Relative prosperity is no longer a wild fantasy, and my wife Pat & I co-own two cars and a house.
  9. I volunteered to co-lead the Tri-State chapter of our LGBT+ employee group.
  10. I became a people manager.
  11. I chose to leave people management -- but returned to it ultimately -- so that a couple of colleagues and I could start up a business development team in our company dedicated to the LGBT+ B2B market. So far, it has contributed millions of dollars in attributable company revenue. We also enjoyed positive press and being quoted in a Columbia University Press book on LGBT+ marketing. And serving on a TimesTalk panel on being out at work. Although I chose to move to a different role three years in, it's still going successfully 17 years later.
  12. My sisters have children, our niece Zoe and nephews,  Zach, Max and Sam, and I tried to have a child, through nine IUIs, unsuccessfully.
  13. A few childhood friends and I revived our friendship, I held onto others from high school and college and made new friends at work, in grad school, at our shul and locally.
  14. Two great institutions each granted me a degree, one at the Master's level, and my employer kindly sponsored the Master's part-time while I kept working full-time.
  15. Work and vacations have enabled me to become acquainted with many countries, cities and people.
  16. Jerusalem was home for a year, Bangalore, for six months, and Chicago and St. Charles, Illinois, for a combo of nine years.
  17. I volunteered as a co-anchor of a cable access TV program, "The 10% Show," which showcased news makers of the Chicago LGBT+ community and beyond.
  18. With tutoring by my college friend Robyn Weinstein as prep, I chanted the Haftorah for Rosh Hashanah for the LGBT+ congregation we belonged to when we lived in Chicago.
  19. Montclair, New Jersey has been home for 22+ years so far. 
  20. I was working in New York City on September 11th, 2001.
  21. My mom (z"l) & I went to Israel on a Hebrew University global alumni/alumnae trip after the cafeteria was bombed by terrorists and nine people died.
  22. This blog has been my muse for more than a decade.
  23. I became active in all sorts of social media channels, including behind our firewall at work, where I also created a couple of blogs, and became an active agent of social learning.
  24. The University of Michigan chapter of oSTEM flew me in as an alumna to give a talk about my time in Ann Arbor and being out at work in a technology company.
  25. Pat & I adopted two American tabby sister-cats, our feline daughters, from the local animal shelter and named them Phoebe and Toonces.
  26. Pat & I were married legally in my hometown of Stamford, Connecticut.
  27. I became a people manager again and it turned out to be the most compelling of my job roles so far because of the pastoral aspect of it.  
  28. Pat & I visited Israel, including our many relatives, twice so far, and I posted My Israel Autobiography on this blog after our second visit.
  29. MOOCs, or massive open online courses, emerged and I became a spokesperson on our company's point of view on them.
  30. My mom and Pat's mother-in-law (z"l) died in 2014 and Pat's mom and my mother-in-law Bev died eight months later.
  31. Toonces died 13 months after Bev and three weeks after Toonce's death, we adopted Lucy, a giant calico, from the same shelter.
  32. I led the creation of Watson Academy, which was designed, in Watson's early commercial days, to educate the public and our employees on why Watson matters. It won a Brandon-Hall Gold Award for Best Use of Video for Learning.
  33. I was invited to serve on the board of our largest local park's conservancy and am its education leader. We'll host a lecture on New Jersey's hazelnut trees later this month.
  34. Our Chief Learning Officer and I started up the Digital Learning Consortium and invited his peers from 21 other companies and academic institutions to join us.
  35. I designed a course, Global religion and culture, which we're launching soon. It's my hope to encourage my colleagues and myself to teach one another about our religions and cultures for greater inclusion. And I also hope we commercialize it so that other companies can also be more inclusive around the dimensions of religion, atheism and agnosticism.

Friday, July 6, 2018

My dance legacy

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

Rhythm in contrast: my parents

At relatives' simchas in the '70s, my Big and Tall father (z"l) would stand on the dance floor with me. He'd spend the whole song doing nothing more than rotating our clasped hands to whatever the beat. No other part of his body moved.

My mother (z"l) relished time on the dance floor till 2013. By then, her Rollator walker was her partner.

During our cousin Spencer's bar mitzvah in '13, I should have recognized that relatively soon my mom would die of old age. It was the first time she didn't dance at a family function. Instead, my mom watched her three daughters' moves. I was conscious of trying to dance well for her.

"How was that?" I asked after we exited the dance floor.

"Nice," my mom said with a wan smile.

One of my parents didn't like -- and maybe didn't even know how -- to dance and the other was a dancing devotee. I wish I had only my mom's dancing skills, but unfortunately, I have my dad's, too. I'm a mashup of the two when it comes to getting down.

This blog entry is Henry Alford's fault.

Henry Alford's And Then We Danced: A Voyage into the Groove is the first book I recall making me cry since Stone Butch Blues more than 20 years ago. Both books inspired me to empathize especially deeply with the protagonist, the narrator -- never mind one's a memoir and the other a novel.

Henry Alford's book, which I finished this morning, mostly made me laugh and hope. I didn't cry till the last few lines when a tear streaked my right temple as I read in bed. It's also the first book in awhile that has moved me to do some writing myself. I'm a writer because I write.

Good dancers' siren songs

After my dad died of common bile-duct cancer at 56 in 1982, my mom frequented older singles dances. She met some super-suave dancers, but never the kind she'd marry.

My mother had a theory about her favorite singles dancer, that he belonged to Norway's version of Hitler Youth back in the day. Still, he treated her well and tried to court her. My mom wouldn't allow it: "What sort of example would I be setting for my grandchildren?"

Fortunately, Pat and I met at the LGBT synagogue in Chicago when Pat already was on the path to conversion. My mom embraced Pat, who is an appealing dancer, though she never had the treat of seeing Pat dance.

Pat lets loose only among our lesbian people, and only when the mood strikes her. She has the effortless rhythm that I've not yet achieved, no matter my considerable effort.

In our early days, there was a popular lesbian dance club in Chicago called Paris. Pat would hold me close and emote with her gorgeous face along to one hit or another.

Her face entranced me. If I'd seen the two of us, and I'd been alone at Paris, I'd have believed in miracles. Also, I'd have wanted to slit my wrists at the contrast between the couple's happiness and my own aloneness.

In Pat's case, her dancing prowess was a bonus. I guess we always marry one of our parents.

I'm a dancer because I dance.

Henry Alford's book gave me permission to respect myself as a dancer. Talent didn't matter. Enthusiasm and action did. Alford's stories about dancing gave me mostly happy flashbacks, including:
  1. Spinning around the living room as a little kid to my eldest sister Deb's "Tapestry" album, especially "I Feel the Earth Move." I would spin until I became dizzy and would fall onto the rugs, watching and feeling the earth move.
  2. Winning a middle school dance contest with my childhood friend Amy, who choreographed a line dance to The Jackson 5's Shake Your Body.
  3. Trying to keep up with my middle sister Kayla when she danced to "Fly Robin Fly."
  4. Learning fox trot, waltz, cha cha, the hustle and more. My Phil Jones School of Dance partner David and I moved to classics and hits of the day, including YMCA. It prepared our classmates and us for the upcoming slew of bar and bat mitzvah parties.
  5. Being paired with Adam in 8th grade for our school's fundraiser because I was already 5'8", nearly my full height of 5'9", and he was already 6'2". We glided to Erev Shel Shoshanim, the world's sexiest love song (see the English lyrics). Already, there was a No Exit thing going, since one of my (shorter) classmates had a crush on Adam, I had a crush on her and Adam didn't seem attracted to anyone.
  6. Square dancing at Stamford High School during gym with 6'6" Steve. I felt camouflaged by Steve and ultra-free in parallel from the pure fun of it.
  7. Dancing in big groups at high school dances every weekend when I was a senior. My dad had died that November. Although Judaism requires mourners to avoid music for a year, the dances saved me. They were more soothing than the grief group my mom sent me to for Jewish high school kids with dead parents.
  8. Gaping at the Rubaiyat in Ann Arbor at 19 when I was a sophomore at Michigan. I stared at an unusually graceful woman as she danced with another woman. She came up behind me after Teena Marie stopped singing. She tapped my shoulder and practically commanded, "Dance."
    "No, I'm here with her," I answered, pointing to my heterosexual friend who had taken me to the club to help me come out. My friend scolded me for not dancing with the other woman.
  9. Finding relief at the Bar Aton at the Mt. Scopus campus of Hebrew University in Jerusalem weekly with another American student abroad. She wouldn't be intimate with me because she said she "couldn't relate," but joyfully, she and I'd dance to British and American pop songs in a group there most Friday nights.
  10. Grooving with Pat at Paris in Chicago (see above).
  11. Dancing with our friend Sheila during Adirondyke Weekends from 1996 - 2008. Since Sheila and I were the same age, and close to the same height, it felt like sweet reparations for being unable to dance with other girls in high school. Finally, we got to dance to songs from our high school years with the sort of partners we'd have wanted to dance with back then. It was redemptive.
  12. Using my playlist to dance with Pat, my sisters, my childhood friend Amy and newer metro-Montclair friends at my 50th birthday party a few summers ago. I opted not to care how adept I looked and spent my birthday ideally, turning our backyard into a leafy disco.
Where will I dance next? And how will I get Pat to join me?

I googled Henry Alford videos to see one of him dancing and didn't find one. It was a relief. It's best in my imagination, I think, that he's a lot better than his self-characterization. He's perhaps a superb writer while being a decent dancer.

All of us are writers and dancers when we write and dance. I'm reminded by Henry Alford's book that if I can, I want to do both for as long as I live.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Edie Windsor's (z"l) Legacy Lives On

Reprinted from the internal Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT+) IBMers & Friends community

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

At about 57 minutes in, during the inaugural 60 Minutes to Bolder Leadership Panel on Monday, IBMer Ella Slade asked the Out-Role-Model panelists who their role models were. I was the moderator, so I didn't answer, but if I had answered, I'd have answered Edie Windsor (z"l).
We first met in 2002, when IBM alumnus Joseph Bertolotti and I organized a panel on the state of same-sex marriage around the world. IBM co-sponsored it at the LGBT Center in New York City with the United Nations' Susan Allee, an attorney who was also the head of the Middle East Peacekeeping Desk and a member of GLOBE, the LGBT employee group of the UN. Edie and her then long-time partner Thea Spyer (z"l) attended and spoke with me afterward. 
They were there because they were planning to marry and wanted to know the very latest of trends and timing on where it was being made legal. Edie also was happy that IBM had co-sponsored it because she said she had been an IBMer. Edie and her wife were so glamorous. And so down to earth. All at once. I loved meeting a lesbian IBMer who had worked at IBM in New York City, like me, only a generation prior. And we exchanged email addresses and stayed in touch a bit. Sometime later, reading an article, I think, I learned that she and her wife were Jewish, like mine and me! A bonus. I wanted to be like Edie Windsor, even a little bit. 

And then with the help of a phenomenal lawyer Roberta Kaplan, Edie Windsor made it possible for my wife and me to marry legally, which we did, and at the newspaper's suggestion, we even made a 3-minute video about how we got together. Edie Windsor became an icon and I was moved to post a "Where were you ...?" forum entry in our internal LGBT+ IBMers & Friends community the day of the decision. That Yom Kippur, my mom (z"l) opted to join us for services at our synagogue and we were blessed to be sitting right near Edie Windsor, who had recently become a congregant.

My mom's (z"l) name also was Edie, and she was just four years older than Edie Windsor. When I introduced them, my mother started crying and effusively thanked Edie for her leadership. They hugged. My mom said she had a gift for Edie and we shipped Edie a mezuzah, though she was a less observant Jew than we were. That was my mom's final Yom Kippur. She died peacefully in her sleep the following early-June. I still had one more Edie, at least, but it was complicated because Edie had first seemed glamorous to me, and both Pat & I formed a bit of a crush on her. And then she became the Edie who was my gone mother's contemporary plus the incidental mentor and icon on whom I had a crush, and I was happy to live with the complexity.

This past June, I was privileged to speak with Judith Kasen Windsor, Edie's new wife, by phone, to arrange for a rendezvous with Edie and Judith and the IBM delegation of the LGBT Pride March in New York City, so that she could march with us for a bit. During that conversation, Judith told me that Edie displayed the mezuzah atop her piano, which held all of the awards she had received, and Judith kindly sent me a photo.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. In 2015 and 2016, we were privileged to go to Edie's house for a summer-time party; she had the best music and liked to dance, and then Roberta Kaplan's book came out and we brought it with us for Edie to sign:


In 2016, Lindsay-Rae McIntyre, Fred Balboni, Claudia Woody, Beth Feeney, Mary Garrity and Bruno Di Leo invited Edie to have lunch at IBM at 590 Madison Avenue in New York City and I was kindly invited to join along with Kim Messer of the LGBT business development team that I had helped start up in 2001 -- and which was how the event at the LGBT Center in 2002 came to be co-sponsored by IBM -- and also Leanne Pittsford, the CEO of Lesbians Who Tech. At that lunch, I was reminded of why I admired Edie so much: She was a charming, staunch activist. My favorite photo that I got to take that day was of Edie striding down the hall at 590 (and Fred's husband Geoff Collins is accompanying her, carrying her flowers). And Judith did make it possible for Edie to stride with us at the LGBT Pride March this summer:

Edie, thanks for your dedication to innovation that matters, for our company and the world, and for being someone magnificent for me to look up to. And please know that the 60-Minutes-to-Bolder-Leadership panelists in the series, and other LGBT+ IBMers and allies will keep working hard to make our clients and IBM successful while being corporate activists in parallel to honor your legacy. 

Sunday, August 13, 2017

An Awokening

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

Why Aim for Greater Cultural Intelligence?

A series of experiences come to mind because I’ve read two articles today that make me uncomfortable -- my brilliant, openly queer friend Li Sian Goh’s essay and openly gay NYT columnist Frank Bruni’s op-ed:

An adorable Asian young man and I are talking with other lovely, mostly Asian people at the 31st birthday party of MJ Yap, my colleague and friend, several weeks ago. He tells me that he’s from Bhutan. He’s got the same complexion as many South Asian people I’ve met from India. He says, “They call me Baby. That’s my nickname.”

“There’s an amazing lesbian novel called Babyji that I loved – about a lesbian in India, who –“

“I’m not from –“

“I know you’re from Bhutan, not India, but in India, adding 'ji' to a name is an endearment –”

He doesn’t care, his expression tells me, he’s not lesbian and he’s not from India. Get me out of here, I’m thinking. I’m just trying to affiliate with this otherwise sweet guy and I’ve made a faux pas and want to disappear.

Earlier in the evening, I’m feeling awkward around three attractive Asian-American women and blurt nonsensically, “Do you ever feel invisible from an attraction standpoint because the older I get, the more invisible I feel.” One of them dignifies my comment with an answer, “No, but I do routinely have to deal with people cutting ahead of me in lines as if I’m not there. I think they think I won’t say anything.”

Which is better? For me to have avoided going to a birthday party, where I’m one of the only non-Asian and older people there or to go and make at least a couple of potentially alienating remarks? Li Sian has gently helped me see that this is not where my focus needs to be. Rather, it needs to be simply on apologizing for my microaggressions. I'll apologize here and then will also do so individually. I'm sorry for my cluelessness and will work on becoming less so.

Or what about the recent event that included a screening of “Moonlight” and a panel on the intersectionality of diversity and sexual orientation? Does it help or hurt for my gay white friend who is with me to hear one of the panelists, Andi, say that he could never call himself gay and chooses queer instead because gay is “a white men’s” term? (Scroll down for more discussion on this.)

Or how about when a friend who is visibly differently abled posts her despondency at being made fun of by strangers while walking down the street recently? And then clarifies for those of us who write outraged responses, saying that she isn’t looking for pity, just had needed to post about the indignity.

Or the heterosexual Indian friend who posts a 1995 photo of himself the other day with the caption that it was the day he was going to kill himself, but then didn’t? And then explains to friends who comment at how they wish they had known of his unhappiness and how glad they are that he is not dead, saying that he has deleted the original post because it was going in the wrong direction – that he was only trying to point out that things can be bad and then they can improve.

Or the sincere people who ask about Pat & me, “Who’s the husband?” And how I answer graciously and factually, “No one. We’re both women, so both of us are wives.”

Or the colleague when I worked in Schaumburg, Illinois, who wanted to know how I could have blue eyes since I’m Jewish? And who was thrilled when I gave her the ham I won in the company’s free, random Thanksgiving lottery? (I was not the only non-pork-eating employee there. Just ask my colleague Farooq.)

Frank Bruni’s is first, during my breakfast omelet, which Pat has made with love. The op-ed begins snidely, and even though I can tell that it is coming from hurt feelings, I can hardly stand to keep going: 

“I’m a white man, so you should listen to absolutely nothing I say, at least on matters of social justice.” Of course, he’s upset. No one likes to feel excluded or silenced or that his or her opinion doesn’t matter. That same white, gay friend who came to the “Moonlight” event has explained to me similarly over the years: I’ve never known from white male privilege because since boyhood, I was routinely beaten up and made fun of and did not feel part of that club. Yet Andi's experience is no less Andi's experience.
I’ve written about this before: I learned what “inclusion” meant when co-facilitator Steve Basile invited me to the United Auto Workers’ Diversity Conference in the late-90s; our topic covered how to be inclusive of gay and lesbian colleagues at work.

The first night, I went to the opening reception and even after Steve arrived, I was among the only non-Black people in the cavernous hall. I said to myself then, I know what the definition of Diversity is: Environments / teams / places qualify as diverse, as long as I’m included, whoever “I” is in that statement. (Ironically, in the late-90s, LGBT seminars, including ours, unfortunately, did not routinely include education on bi and trans people.)

Li Sian’s essay also is difficult for me to read. Li Sian is writing about the racism of the novel, Jane Eyre.  Somehow, I wasn’t required to read it in high school and I’ve never done so. The essay is difficult because it also challenges privileged people who feel proud of reading books by authors from the margins, and by extension, for feeling pleased whenever they make an effort to stretch themselves beyond their social cocoon.

As a relatively well-educated, employed and solvent American-Jewish lesbian, I am more and less privileged than others. I want to be proud of the times I extend myself to gain some cultural intelligence because if I can’t celebrate my bravery and encourage myself to keep extending myself, then I just want to burrow in and stick with apparently my own people exclusively. That's my experience, and Li Sian's is hers, just as Andi's is his, and the Bhutanian's is his, and the Asian woman's from the party is hers, and my differently abled friend's is hers, and my heterosexual, Indian friend's is his, and Frank Bruni's is his, and my white gay friend's is his, and my Muslim colleague Farooq's is his and Pat & mine is ours.

After reading these articles today, I’m on high alert:

I turn to the last page of “The New York Times”, where I am annoyed by the headline and story, “Why Women Had Better Sex Under Socialism”. Why Non-Lesbian Women Had Better Sex … is what the reporter means, I confirm by reading the article. More lesbian invisibility. Get me out of here – this is the phrase that springs to mind whether I’ve embarrassed myself through my own cultural ignorance or someone has irked me with his or hers.

What would “getting out of here” achieve, though? I prefer to transform indignities into art, whereas escaping just allows me to escape the particular situation, but the unhappy feelings come with me. Getting out of here does not foster art or connection with people. Acknowledging their experience, and my own, does.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Answering Rabbi Daniel Cohen's Questions

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

The Questions Appear in Rabbi Cohen's New Book 

The book is *What will they say about you when you are gone: Creating a Life of Legacy - Live Your Best Life Now* and the questions are ones that -- since my parents (z"l) are gone and I'm 50+ -- I'm especially in the mood to consider these days:

From pp. 13 and 15-17:
  1. Who are you? A Jewish-American lesbian writer, as well as a music, fiction and global museum lover, and a solvent home owner and healthy eater, who has enjoyed the companionship of my wife for nearly 25 years so far, who has parented up to two precious cats at a time for close to a decade, who has been grateful for the siblinghood of my two older sisters Deb and Kayla for nearly 52 years and who comes from fascinating parents (z"l), who loved me and wanted a good life for me. I'm also an aunt, a cousin, a friend and an IBMer, who manages a team of premier instructional designers and who is earnest, loyal and reliable, with occasional lapses into worry that are mostly unfounded, and with flashes of creativity and humor.
  2. Who do you want to be? The same, minus the worry, and plus more discipline, practice and personal success with my writing. 
  3. How do you want to be remembered? For everything in #1 and #2 plus for being kind, inclusive and for being of service.
    By your family:
    As supportive and loving.
    By your community:
    As engaged and valued.
    By the world:
    As someone whose writing helped people appreciate their lives more and whose writing and work helped people excel and advance. And as someone with a capacity for joy.
  4. Pick one person, place or event in your life that brings you happiness and satisfaction, and write down in a journal the various ways it might not have happened: Easily, I could never have gotten together with my wife Pat, since she lived in DeKalb, Illinois and I lived in Chicago, and since I could have not been at Shabbat services when she first visited Or Chadash, the LGBT shul in Chicago at the time, and since we were 15 years apart in age, and since initially, I was afraid to get involved with anyone as amazing as Pat, since I felt still unmoored and still was searching in most ways throughout my twenties to that point, and if Pat hadn't been more self-possessed, patient and clever in drawing me in. :-)
  5. Then imagine your life without that person/place/event and write that down, too: If Pat & I had not gotten together, I might still be living alone in an apartment, whether in Chicago or Queens/Brooklyn/Bronx and searching for without ever finding any peace. Probably, I'd never have a deeper pet relationship than with a Siamese fighting fish if not for Pat, as she showed me the wonder of cat parenthood. Also, I would not be as solvent as I am, since Pat made me save the maximum in my 401K from 27 onward. And assuredly, I would be twice the worrier that I am; Pat's self-assurance rubs off on me.
  6.  Choose the final words you'll ever speak: Thank you, God, and everyone.
Writing Your Own Eulogy, pp. 17-19:
"If you had to write your own eulogy, what would it say? Use the following questions as inspiration, and then craft a eulogy for your own funeral."
  1. What would you do if you had twenty-four hours to live? Why? I'd spend it with my wife, cats, sisters, nieces and nephews and cousins and friends in my home and yard if the weather were warm enough and my favorite music would be playing in the background, say, the George Michael and Sade channels of Pandora. I would serve Indian, Middle-Eastern, Mexican and French food that was catered from favorite restaurants. I would invite one of my congregation's rabbis and some congregants and friends to come over and sing favorite liturgical songs and I'd set up a Hebrew University scholarship for an LGBT student for however many years I could afford to do so without making Pat insolvent. Why: I want the people and pets I love to surround me, along with my favorite music and food, as well as to cover the spiritual element and the g'milut chassadim (acts of loving kindness) angle.
  2. What is worth fighting for? Dignity, love, art, humanity, beauty, truth, freedom, creative expression, inclusion.
  3.  In your life so far, what have you taken a risk for or gone out of your comfort zone for? Living my life as a lesbian; whenever I've needed to learn something new; every time I've taken a new job at work, including a six-month assignment in India with Pat accompanying me  ... homosexual activity is illegal in India and necessarily, my employer told me that it could not protect me if I were jailed; any time I need to go to a party or a meeting, where practically everyone is a stranger initially.
  4. You have five words to write on your headstone. What are they? A dignity and love champion.
  5. When you're feeling low, what song do you play to lift your mood and inspire you? Why? Two come to mind: "The Right Track" from Pippin and "Gesher Tsar Meod". Why: The "Pippin" song is cheerful and helps me remember that I'm doing my best to lead a meaningful life, and that I'm not alone in my worry that I want it to be as meaningful as possible. "Gesher Tsar Meod" encourages me not to be fearful and when I'm not fearful, everything goes better.
  6. Is there a phrase that you find yourself saying frequently when you're under stress? When you're happy or grateful? When I'm under stress, I say to myself the first sentence of the Shema, the central prayer of Judaism. And I hear my mother (z"l) saying, "Sarah, why don't you let yourself live?" (as in, relax, everything will be Ok). And also, if it has to do with gathering courage to deliver a difficult but necessary message, I tell myself: "Sarah, pull yourself together! He/she/they need you!" When I'm grateful, I tend to say, "Thank God!" and simply, "Yay!"
  7. Describe your best day or your best self: My best self is humble, of service, kind, loving, self-possessed, reliable, present, creative, experimental, funny, stylish, fit, attentive, receptive, friendly, organized, on time, lucid, persuasive, inviting, encouraging and productive.
  8. What is your favorite Bible verse, poem, or motto? "Al tifrosh min hatsibur"/ "Don't isolate yourself from the community," *Pirkei Avot* / *Ethics of the Fathers*.
  9. Why are you here? What is your life mission? What do you hope to achieve? I'm here to model dignity from the margins was the first thing I thought of, but why focus on my marginal status? Because if I can demonstrate dignity as someone in society whose sexual minority status if not also religion and gender can be marginalizing, then anyone can. I get that I have all sorts of privilege in my education level and solvency, and citizenship, by accident of birth, but still, I also know from being an outsider. Why is dignity so key to me? Because it's the opposite of shame to me. Shame paralyzes while dignity makes anything and everything good possible.

    What is my life mission?
    To create something artful that uplifts someone else or many people.

    What do I hope to achieve? I hope to achieve peace and unconditional acceptance within myself while remaining loved and loving, and grateful, and amused, and expanded by art of all sorts and while having fun and other vivid experiences.
  10. What are your dreams? How can you realize them? My dreams are to write a popular book that helps others, and me, feel less alone; to stay solvent; for Pat & me to remain healthy mentally and physically till we're at least 95 and then to die in a way that is least painful to us and our loved ones.

    I can realize these dreams by starting to practice writing more routinely, including enrolling in adult writing classes; by revising what I've written .... I can keep working full-time in my stimulating and relatively lucrative role at IBM .... I can keep rowing for 20 minutes daily and reading books every night pre-bed and encouraging Pat to stay active with pruning, gardening and golfing along with reading and working on crossword puzzles as she loves to do.
These questions were great to answer, though I'm not yet prepared to draft my own eulogy.

Page 43: Give thanks every day to one important person in your life. Today, I thanked my friend Mindy for inviting me to her fun birthday party and for providing an orange to me when I didn't prefer cake.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Ten Minutes' Worth of Memoir Free Writing

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

When did a community you were part of use music to overcome a difficult time?

 It's my first day back at high school, straight from my father's shiva. I'm standing in a so-far empty classroom when a dance is announced over the PA system and they play some of Marvin Gaye's "Sexual Healing". I burst into tears, after not having cried at my dad's (z"l) funeral, because the music sounds so, so good. It's the first music I've heard in seven days. No one knows my father's dead, other than teachers; that's how at arms-length I kept everyone back then, punning compulsively to distract them from my attraction to the girls among them, if possible.

The music -- that particular song -- reminded me of my continuous and mostly unrequited horniness and also made me resolve to go to the dance that weekend. Anything to get out of the house, where I was stuck with my grieving mother, my older sisters having left years prior.

That song reminded me: I'm still alive. I'm still alive and I'm sexual and I'm reachable. That song pulled snatched away my numbness.

That song makes me feel the same way every time I hear it. Only I know, though, till now. Get up, get up!*

*Written during the Reading & Writing Club at my synagogue last Wednesday, and I didn't write about my community because the fastest thing that came to mind when I got the prompt in bold above was about the first music I heard when I returned from my dad's (z"l) shiva. The prompt came from

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Notes from A Jewish Exploration of LGBT Musicals Part 4

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

Session 4, last one about *Fun Home*, November 29

During our third session on *Fun Home*, I had meant to bring a printout of the portrait that my artist friend Riva Lehrer painted of Alison Bechdel, but I forgot, so I'll post a couple of links here -- the first to the portrait and Riva's narrative on it and the second, to a link, thanking Riva for giving a recent gallery talk in front of the portrait at the National Gallery. I'm always envious of visual artists because who wants to slog through a blog-post? It's so much more instantly moving to look at a painting, drawing or sculpture, especially by a gifted artist like Riva.

Riva can also paint with words; when we were in our 20s and both living in Chicago, where we met and where Riva still lives, she told me, "You remind me of a Carson McCullers character -- a fierce outsider with her nose pressed up against the window." I think I'm a bit less fierce now ....

The Graphic Memoir and the Play - More Comparison

The coming-out letter aftermath

We looked at pp. 77-79 and listened to "A Flair for the Dramatic". Both covered Alison's exchange with her closeted, gay father -- of whose sexual orientation she was not yet fully conscious -- after her parents received her coming-out letter.

The song version had a great couple of lines, where her father said, "The good news is, you're human."

"What does that *mean*, she asks herself, "What else would I *be*?"

Raising my hand and then speaking as Jonathan nodded to me, "I keep mentioning things my mom [z"l] blurted out to me, but this is reminding me of the time when I was 17 and she found a love letter to another girl that I had left on the kitchen table by accident/on purpose," I said, "Her first words were, 'Don't you marry some man and ruin his life!'"

"You're crazy! It doesn't mean anything!" I yelled desperately.

One of my classmates said, "Your mother had a lot of insight. How did she think to say that?"

"My mother [z"l] was very smart."

Unlike Alison's father, my mom (z"l) was paying attention to my reality, even if I wasn't yet prepared to. Before she was clued in by the letter, though -- perhaps when I was in 8th grade -- we had an informal "birds and bees" talk, but it was really all about my mother (z"l) asserting that I could enjoy myself with boys without spoiling my virtue. I don't recall her also explaining the pregnancy-danger angle.

My mother told me, "There's plenty you can do without having intercourse." I understood that sexual intercourse with a boy would wreck everything in terms of marriageability, but that I was being given permission/encouragement to do whatever else I wanted (with boys) -- not that she explained what that included.

 The scene in the car

We also read pp. 220-21 aloud and listened to Telephone Wire . Alison's and my parents (z"l) gave us so much just by giving us life, but also how frustrating it was to witness Alison's exchange with her dad during college. He was completely self-absorbed and made Alison parent him instead of rising to her occasion and being the parent.

The song version of the scene in the car reminded me of watching the Miss America pageant once with my dad (z"l). I was prepubescent and among my mother (z"l), two older sisters, my dad (z"l) and I, only my dad (z"l) and I watched the pageant; that could have been a clue about my future.

My father (z"l) also died young, at 56, and we, too, never had an explicit discussion about what I wanted for my future in terms of a spouse. In Alison's case, at least she tried to discuss her identity with her father. In my case, I was too scared at 17, which is how old I was when he (z"l) died.

Like Alison, ultimately, I did send a coming-out letter to my mother (z"l) and two more to each of my sisters and I mailed all three on the same day. I was a senior in college and my mom (z"l) must have expected it, since she had found the love letter to my girlfriend four years prior. She called me long-distance from Stamford to Ann Arbor and was purely kind. And for the first time ever, she didn't hurry our conversation due to the long-distance charges.

In the book version of the song, Alison and her dad were heading out to see "Coal Miner's Daughter". Once, when I was five, my dad took just me to see "Gigi" and then out to dinner afterward. It was my first Broadway play. I wonder if we could have experienced "Fun Home" together, and so much else, if only he had lived long enough.

*Fun Home*'s Design

Our instructor Jonathan started the session: Watch these two montages and jot down some differences you see between the Public Theater version and the Broadway version; collectively -- though mostly helped by Jonathan, who was more familiar with the footage and both productions -- we came up with:
  • Cartoon panels were suggested in both productions, but at the Public, there were white frames on the backdrop behind the actors, and on Broadway, they appeared as lit-up, giant squares on the stage-floor.
  • On Broadway: Alison unearthed her memories via the furniture that would emerge/pop up through the stage floor; the actors were lit from four perspectives; and the audience could see the audience's reaction, since it was theater in the round; and the follow spot[light] on the Adult Alison, "... made it look like she was floating through the memories" -- Jonathan.
  • What I caught was less subtle: In the Public Theater version, the male babysitter had his shirt unbuttoned and his chest and underpants band were visible while in the Broadway version, Alison's costume was a shirt and underpants for the college scene, where she had her first intimate experience with a woman.

Jonathan explained that good scenic set designers aim to elicit audience emotions with what they design. We also learned, as an aside, that the Lincoln Center Library has practically every Broadway play and you can sit there and watch any one if you make an appointment. Who knew?

Here are links to the first, second and third in my series of notes on this course. The next four sessions are going to be devoted to *Falsettos*, another LGBT Broadway play that's currently in revival. So far, I'm noticing that the most Jewish parts of our exploration of these LGBT musicals are:
  1. We, who are in the class and our instructor are Jewish.
  2. For the Broadway version of *Fun Home*, the playwright, Lisa Kron, is Jewish. 
  3. For *Falsettos*, the lyricist and co-playwright, Bill Finn, is a congregant of our Synagogue and Jewish.
  4. Some of us share how we're relating to the play we're studying by sharing stories of what happened in our Jewish families that bear any resemblance to the play's plot.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Notes from A Jewish Exploration of LGBT Musicals Part 3

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

Session 3, November 15

Since we continue to meet in the chapel, where congregants' relatives' yahrzeit plates appear on the far wall, my parents (z"l) still are auditing this class, effectively as a pair of brass-plated (dead) flies on the wall (see photo below). My dad's annual yahrzeit lamp was lit this time; it was his 34th yahrzeit on the 11th, so the lamp was staying lit till the following Shabbat:

Exercise: Create a curated exhibit of a day in the past week, or your past week altogether, as represented by three objects that you describe on three index cards and leave somewhere in this room near one another.

My cards, all from one day last week:
  1.  Viva la vida-inscribed, watermelon-slice-shaped-and-colored key-chain from a street artist in Mexico City 
  2. Damascened vessel in silver and bronze, with Arabic inscriptions from Medieval Jerusalem
  3. [A memory of] Size 14 sneakers for skateboarding.
Give everyone a tour of your objects. We walked around on a guided tour of each exhibit and did not necessarily explain the significance of our objects; in my case, I simply described them.

"How does this exercise connect with last week?" asked Jonathan.

"Objects give an entryway into the story," I offered.

"Ok, and objects help us remember. There's something about going around the room to "look" at the objects that helps us recall and remember. It helps us encapsulate emotion. And jump off to go deeper into ... a specific set of events that are embodied by a number of objects."

I loved this exercise and will re-use it somehow. I loved it because it made me feel so invested and engaged in expressing myself creatively, spurred on by what had amounted to the most vivid objects of a particular day.

Video of Alison Bechdel, explaining her artistic process

We watched this video next and I recalled being lucky to go to a live lecture by Alison Bechdel at the LGBT Center in NYC several years ago, where she gave a longer description of her technique. I was amazed by its meticulousness. And then I marveled again at another artist's precise, original method of glass-blowing. I blogged about his demo and lecture and compared it with Bechdel's process a bit. You can see for yourself; just scroll down to the section, "Two Artists, Equally Inspired and Inspirational".

Next, we compared pp. 96-98 of the graphic memoir to the scene/song, "Party Dress".

Both the panels and the scene/song reminded me of a painful memory. My face was so troubled, I imagine, that Jonathan asked if I had something I wanted to say.
This just reminded me of a very painful memory. It was Deena Gans' birthday party and I was 12. [Nearly all of the girls in my class already needed bras, but I didn't yet, at all. I was ashamed that I was still wearing undershirts. I couldn't stand wearing an undershirt any longer, not even under the striped Danskin shirt I put on for the party.]

My mother insisted that I wear an undershirt. "No, I won't," I insisted back.

"Put on an undershirt  n  o  w  !'"

Instead, I ran out of the house and down our long driveway as my mother yelled out the front door at me, "Butch!" I didn't know what it meant, but I knew it wasn't good.

It was fresh, the pain of our exchange of more than 40 years ago. It was another five years before my mom (z"l) was even more consciously vocal about my lesbianism, when by mistake/on purpose, I left a love letter to another girl on the kitchen table. I was a high school senior and just weeks prior, my father (z"l) had died of bile-duct cancer and only my mother (z"l) and I were left in the house, since my sisters were older and had moved out. "Don't you marry some man and ruin his life!" my mother yelled as her initial reaction to the discovery of the letter. She came around to being compassionate and was greatly supportive for most of my life, but those early years were crushing for both of us.

Then we looked at pp. 189-190 and listened to "Clueless in New York". 

I had a couple of memories pop up during the panels and during this scene, too. The panels referred to a trip with Alison's father and her siblings to New York City for the Bicentennial. Along with my mother (z"l), my father (z"l) took my siblings and me to New York during the Bicentennial to see the Tall Ships. Compared to Alison's experience, it was one of the nicest family days we ever had -- we parked with many others in a parking garage near the river and watched from there with tons of humanity pouring out of other parked cars. My mom (z"l) had packed a picnic for us, and we munched our peanut butter and jelly sandwiches while leaning against the station wagon and watching the ships glide by.

The scene in the play didn't refer to the Bicentennial, but rather to her father's cagey wish to find some excitement in what was the gay hotspot back then, Greenwich Village. It reminded me of me, 10 years after the Tall Ships trip, when I turned 21. My middle sister and brother-in-law invited me to stay with them in their apartment at the time, in Sheridan Square in Greenwich Village. To celebrate my coming of age for legal drinking, they gave me a bottle of champagne as a birthday gift. We drank some and then they went to bed. I told them I was going to go for a walk. The difference was that all of us were adults officially, rather than that I was a parent, leaving my kids alone in a huge, strange city, as Alison's father did to her siblings and her.

I left Kayla & Elliot's apartment, hoping for the adventure of seeing real lesbian and gay people, walking around the Village. I scouted for a bit and no one was apparent, not any women in any case, so I decided to do something wild and entered a neighborhood magazine shop to find something racy to read.

The only LGBT-oriented publication for sale was "Gay Community News", a weekly newspaper out of Boston. I didn't peek through it at all. I had the cashier stuff it into a paper bag and walked back to my sister's, where I planned to read it if they were already asleep. They were, and I was excited, till I scanned the headlines. Yawn. It was all straight news ... so to speak. There was nothing pulse-provoking about it. I'm fairly confident that Alison's father found what he was looking for on his Village jaunt compared to my thwarted exploration.

Exercise for Homework: Consider three iconic moments in my whole life that reflect an arc of experience and write/illustrate them; the illustration option is my inference, as the form that Jonathan handed us had three caption fields with space next to each for a drawing. I'll think about it. So far, here are some candidates without doing any refinement, prioritization or arc consideration:
  • Learning to swim / ride a bike / recite the Ma Nishtanah (Four Questions) at the seder / to love rocks and minerals at Dr. Henderson's encouragement
  • Helping complete a minyan by lying by omission at my mother's (z"l) encouragement; they thought I was a bar-mitzvah-aged boy when we were in Mayah Sh'arim, but I was a tall eight-year-old girl
  • My mom (z"l), yelling Butch at me
  • Noticing my physical interest in one of my best friends, rather than in her older brother, at 11
  • My first lesbian experience, in Israel at 15
  • My father dying when I was 17
  • Going to college and exploring my sexuality, including while living in Jerusalem during junior year
  • Getting fired from a job I thought I was too good for in 1990
  • Beginning my relationship with Pat in 1992
  • Starting up the LGBT B2B business development team at my company 
  • Having my Master's sponsored by my company
  • Going with my future wife Pat to India on assignment for my work for six months in 2007
  • Marrying Pat legally in 2011
  • Graduating with a Master's in 2012
  • My mother, dying in 2014 ....
We have just one session more on "Fun Home" and then we switch to "Falsettos" in two Tuesdays, after Thanksgiving.

Here are links to the first and second in my series of notes on this course.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Notes from A Jewish Exploration of LGBT Musicals Part 2

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

Session 2, November 8, 2016, Election Night

Exercise: First, we'll think about the election and then we'll get away from it. Think of the first election you can remember and write about it in present tense:
Sealing envelopes for McGovern mailings in a dark room in his Stamford headquarters. It might have been the first volunteer work I ever did.
How do you begin to fictionalize a true story, asked Jonathan, and how do you create an entryway for the audience?

Exercise: Look at young Alison from "Fun Home". Describe her.

We called out: playful, precocious, inquisitive, tomboy, verbal, aware, observant, older sister, wants her dad's attention.

Now, describe images you remember from the play that are associated with her.

We called out: ring of keys, lace-up boots/short hair, coffin, airplane, barrette, dress, piano with Mom, sketch book, objects of living room, Tall Ships.

These images are more compelling than attributes of the character.

Exercise: Now, choose an age and do the same with yourself; write it down:

Age 11 - flat-chested, tomboy, enthusiastic, vulnerable, observant, aroused, active, loyal, tall, anxious, secretive, suntanned from playing outside.

Images associated with that age: white bikini, sunrise from Jennifer's bedroom, Coppertone lotion, Yes concert T-shirt filled out by Jennifer, beach chairs, terracotta roofed home on the water, the Sound, city bus, white-toweled brother with teeth effervescing from 7-UP.

What was hard about doing that exercise, asked Jonathan? The yearning and the pain from the pleasure that, practically immediately, became a feeling of shame in my case; I recognized, viscerally, that I was attracted to my early-developing, curvy friend and not to her gorgeous older brother.

In groups of three, share what you wrote with one another. And then in plenary, everyone, just share one image from your group of images: bicycle ... seeded jam in a sandwich ... locker room ... white bikini ....

The archival work of your own life maybe requires memoir-ing an image, suggested Jonathan to all of us.

Video clip #1: We watched an interview of the "Fun Home" composer and playwright on how they arrived at an opening number for the play. When the lights went down in the downstairs chapel, where the class was held, the ner tamid (eternal light) and current yahrzeit (death anniversary) memorial lights remained on. Last week, I didn't notice the yahrzeit lights. This year, my dad's (z"l) Hebrew yahrzeit is on November 11th. I hope the light comes on and stays on through our next session next Tuesday.

Video clip #2: We watched the lyrics for the opening number, "It All Comes Back"and I thought about how my older sisters, not my dad (z"l), used to give me our version of "Airplane", which we called g'yupapah. When I was little, I loved for my dad (z"l) to carry me from the back of the station wagon in the garage up to my room; I'd pretend to be asleep, so that he'd carry me.

Written in front of the TV while watching election results:

From the opening song's lyrics:

"My dad [z"l] and I were exactly alike." [Our appetites, our stature ....]
"My dad [z"l] and I were nothing alike." [I eat healthy food. I've been employed by the same company for more than two decades so far.]

The play, "Fun Home", reminded me of my own life, since the main character lost her dad too early and since she was also a tomboy as a kid and an active lesbian by college. At least three of my classmates, one man and two women, are parents themselves, so perhaps they can relate both to the parents and the kid. We have two more sessions on "Fun Home" before we switch to studying "Falsettos".