Friday, April 6, 2007

Freed from My Shyness

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

God bless Jane Harper!

Jane is a mentor of mine at IBM. "Do you blog?" she asked during our monthly phone discussion earlier this afternoon. She's the second person to ask me in a week. I told her how I came out here and posted something, and then felt totally self-conscious and frustrated by sudden shyness.

"Jane, I've been blogging since before there was this term for it, on our internal online community at IBM, but something about going external just froze me."

"I get that and it's true that you'll probably need a thick skin, since you didn't get many rude respondents within IBM, I'm guessing, due to our culture, but if you can have a thick Irving [Wladawsky-Berger] in his recent Golden Rule posting had to before it turned around and a number of people said positive things, then I think it would be so great for you to do it."

Ultimately, I'm being brave and trying it more so in earnest now due to Jane's encouragement and Irving's great example with his blog; and because I did all the internal writing for nearly a decade so far because I was excited at the prospect that what I was feeling someone else in the world might relate to and feel kindred as a result.

Here's a a cut-and-pasted posting from the internal community posting I did earlier this week:

Impressions of two marvelous seders:

Monday night at my sister Kathy's:

What I found inspirational:

All six of the older people, in their late-70s and early-80s, made it up the two flights of stairs

Our eight-year-old nephew Sam's mohawk haircut as an ultimate expression of individuality; he's an identical twin

The speed with which our 14-year-old nephew Zach can play the sitar -- and that he was expressing himself with it as background music while the rest of us talked; typically, all of us stop what we're doing to listen, but this time, he played while we talked and help set the table

My mother's loveliness to one of the guests; my mom simply rubbed her back gently for a bit without trying to speak with her, as she is now in a bad stage of Alzheimer's; it's like her soul's missing and almost just the casing remains...shocking and unbelievable to witness

Her son's relatively gentle coaching of his mother on how to stand up and walk; she needed to be reminded of the mechanics

One of our nephew's accidental(?) spilling of his cup of ceremonial wine and the quiet efficiency with which our 14-year-old niece Zoe wiped it up and replaced his plate, with no shaming or superiority or apparent resentment

Kathy's and Elliot's inclusion of a friend from their synagogue, who was at our seder table in the absence of having family of her own to be with

The twins' Max's and Sam's premier reading aloud from the Haggadah (story of Passover) for the first time

Zoe's voice added onto my sisters' and mine during the songs, and how great all of us sounded; I'm the one without the beautiful voice, but I always sound good when singing with my sisters, and now Zoe, too

Zoe's enthusiasm over Scary Kids Scaring Kids, her favorite band; she had been to a concert the week before -- her first -- and I told her that her mother and her aunt, Kathy, took me to my first-ever concert when I was around her age, to the Pointer Sisters, in Central Park. "Who are they," she wondered. Oy! "He's So Shy," I offered and then her father, "I'm So Excited...." Neither song registered with her

Zach's delicious Indian lamb dishes; he didn't want to be part of the seder, as he feels more Hindu than Jewish, but his mother reminded him of the food element of it, and how he could do some of the cooking, and so there was matzohball soup and other traditional dishes made by Kathy and lamb ghosh and saag(spinach) prepared by Zach; I don't eat red meat -- haven't for years, as I don't like it -- but I made an exception and it was truly terrific, and Zach smiled at me and my praise almost as hard as when I taught him to ride a bike

Kathy, reciting the final "Who Knows One" section of the Haggadah in Hebrew, and in a single breath; last Passover, we did not know if she would survive her breast cancer and this year, she was hosting 16 of us and showing off her lung capacity, just like she's always done, since we were kids.

Tuesday night, the second seder, at our friends' Kathy's and Julie's:

What I found inspirational:

The little, round glass vase of dark purple tulips and some other purple spray of flowers we found on the way to their home, at our local florist

That they were still willing to host us, even as their flight from Chicago, where they spent the first seder with Kathy's father and siblings and their families, was delayed, which meant getting home with just enough time to cook a sponge cake and throw the rest of dinner in the oven

The Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument that I could see from their Hudson River-facing windows; this semester's course talks about how American politics were shaped by war and trade, and I enjoyed being at an event, celebrating freedom from slavery (Passover) and then seeing a monument about a war that helped lead to the end of slavery in the United States (I imagine that the Civil War is still a tender topic for a number of people and I mean no disrespect; I'm just speaking from my perspective)

Their two little dogs' spirited and homey behavior -- very lively and protective as always at first, and then sleeping under the dining room table and in their little dog beds as we sang, read aloud, talked about the reading and ate

The seder plate we brought, which was my nana's and which was copper, and made in Israel in the '50s

The feminist version of the Haggadah -- Julie said it took her seven months to get them -- in its inclusiveness of all people, including lesbian people; it mentioned an idea by scholar Susannah Heschel, that an orange be added to the ceremonial seder plate, to signify the contributions of Jewish GLBT people to Jewish life, which I loved -- another example of a heterosexual supporter, looking to help with our inclusion

Julie's gorgeous voice during the song, Oseh Shalom -- she's in our synagogue's chorus and is a songwriter herself, too

Dinner, including rosemary on the organic chicken; roasted beets; chunky chopped liver; and the necessary appetizer of fresh maror (horseradish) mixed with charoset (fruit and nut mixtures meant to signify the mortar of the pyramids that the slaves built in Egypt); fresh strawberries and freshly whipped cream with no sugar, plus a sponge cake necessarily made from potato starch, which I didn't taste, but which looked beautiful -- in honor of Kathy's upcoming birthday, the next day, and in memory of Kathy's mother's traditional Passover sponge cake, which her mom had shown Julie how to cook in years past; Kathy's mom died last year, prior to Passover

Dinner conversation, including:

One of Pat's first impressions of me, at a community seder 17 years ago, where I was proud to be the youngest in the room and so eagerly volunteered to sing the "Four Questions"

Julie's kindness in response, where she remembered my rushing over to Kathy at a High Holiday service nearly 10 years ago to introduce myself, saying that I recognized her from IBM's diversity booklet that had been published at the time; "It was that same irrepressibility..." that was responsible for our becoming friends, she said

My recent disappointment at some writer's block I felt when trying to create this blog out on the external web; I had thought to do it only because of my friend Scott writing recently and asking, "By the way, do you blog?" And I thought, Do I blog? Yes! (I was thinking about my habit of actively posting on our internal site.) And so I went and read the blogging guidelines on our intranet because I imagined myself wanting to write about my life out there, including mentions of IBM, and started one, and got stuck quickly and stopped; Julie was respectful of the block and also said, "You're a writer because you can't not write...You're a good writer," and then she said something along the lines of: who understands the weight of your words and it's understandable that you'd suddenly be overwhelmed at the public-ness of it, and it will happen when it's meant to. I was so thrilled that she called me a "good writer" that I couldn't really fully hear the rest

Telling amusing -- though not at the time -- stories of mostly unwittingly homophobic relatives; there's power in the solidarity of holding up family's homophobic comments to the mirror of our strength as a group of friends; ultimately, the homophobes reflect poorly only on themselves

Discussing the beauty/poignancy of the concept of the additional item on the seder plate in honor of the GLBT among our Jewish community

Hearing Kathy recite "Who knows one" in English by heart effortlessly and with poise; it's a series of 13 miracles that God gave us and very hard to remember....I guess that's why she went to Yale Law School and I didn't

Listening to Kathy sing the chorus of "Chad Gadya"/"An Only Kid [aka Goat]" with gusto and on tune, though she wears a cochlear implant.

What has helped you to feel free lately?


David said...

Hag Pesach.

So I know that this is fairly random, but Natarajan randomly passed along a link to your blog and I have to say the first two entries were a very enjoyable read.

It is interesting to read a fellow glbt Jewish person's account of Passover. I'd love to hear more about a feminist Haggadah, my Aunt now uses an Ethiopian version which is a little strange. It is great to hear that you have such a great family.

Anyway, I guess this is a hello.

Sarah Siegel said...

Hi, David. I wish I had memorized the title, but if I remember correctly, it was published by the Jewish Community Center of the Upper West Side of Manhattan, and authored/edited by an organization called "Ma'ayan(?)"

Natarajan, thanks for connecting me to David!

Anonymous said...

Hi Sarah, I too had to overcome my shyness to start blogging. So now you know you have company !!! Hema