Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Happy Anniversary!

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

This image is uploaded from my sitemeter, and is actually a list of my stats as of 10:22 pm, May 30th....I hope I'm not violating Sitemeter's intellectual property by using Snagit software to display a bit of what I can see when I click on the "Sitemeter" button in my sidebar.

May 31st marks the two-month anniversary of this blog. What a fantastic way to channel my self-absorption. I hope I never burn out because this is the most fun hobby I've had since being an avid rock collector mostly during my pre-teens!

How do you channel your self-absorption?

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Culture Clarity

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

Cogent Conversation

During vacation, which ended this morning (sigh), I had a conversation with a former colleague and a new friend that reminded me that, as my colleague and friend Brad Salavich likes to say, "Other cultures are not better or worse; they're just different."

The former colleague praised Infidel as a great book that he had just finished reading.

The new friend brought up genital cutting, saying that the term has changed from "...mutilation" to "...cutting" in order to make the dialogue more possible and the label less judgmental.

I said, "Whenever I become perplexed by rituals or routines of other cultures, I remind myself that I come from a culture that circumcises baby-boys. I remember holding one of our twin-nephews immediately after his brit milah, and all of my family and I were proud to be witnesses at the ceremony."

Another colleague next to me, who's also Jewish, leaned over and said, "But I'm not sure that that is as intrusive as female genital cutting."

The new friend heard him and said, "Some would beg to differ."

Ideal vs. Actual Behavior

I have not yet gotten a copy of the book, but the discussion was instructive in any case. I really do try to help myself slow down my visceral reactions to other cultures' practices and attitudes by recalling that what's normative in my culture can disturb people of other cultures.

I'm also recalling an e-mail exchange I had with a friend, who challenged me when I spoke of the value of pluralism in connection with religion. He wrote that pluralism is not an ideal for some religions, including his.

His religion teaches that it is the one, true religion. Yikes. I meant no disrespect. To me, it was natural to be pluralistic, but to him, pluralism was offensive.

I needed to acknowledge that and realize that it was not a concept about which we could agree, and so I stopped speaking about it with him. We are as close as ever, and while I still don't understand his worldview, I don't need to. I just need to respect that it differs from mine in this instance.

Yet how quickly feelings can turn visceral...including my own. I'm thinking about a book that a friend of mine co-wrote, and my primitive, initial reaction to it.

While reading it, I was unhappy that my friend had invested her time, helping a former prisoner find his voice because I wasn't able to sympathize with him. I do not believe in the death penalty, and I do believe in second chances for prisoners, but something about this guy's story disturbed me: It was how I reacted to the connection of his harsh upbringing with his eventual, criminal activities.

My reaction was that plenty of us have extremely difficult trials as children and don't grow up to do crime, but it wasn't really my judgment to make. I see that now.

How do you manage to be diplomatic and even loving in response to activities to which you have a viscerally, negative response initially?

Monday, May 28, 2007

Leisure Suits...

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

Mulch-enriched Fingers and Forearms

"Hi, Daddy-long-legs," I found myself saying aloud while we were working otherwise silently. The special spider was crawling along the base of our house, behind the wildly-spreading rose bush.

Their usual hangout was under the porch-on-stilts at the back of the house where I grew up and where my mom still lives.

Typically, I like to listen to the radio while doing any work outside. And today's a U.S. holiday, and so there would be better music than usual -- countdowns and all.

I'd like to say that I had some propriety, that I recognized it as Memorial Day, and not as a time for blasting the sort of music I love, which need be only cheerful with a beat.

Instead, I was moved by the sounds of the sprinklers and birds and breeze, and by Pat's and my entranced silence. There were four flower-beds to cover and a little circle around the tree-peony bush.

The sun-bleached-old-cedar mulch was moist from the sprinklers, and the new, dark-cedar variety, which had lain in 10, three-cubic-foot bags in the back of our station wagon in the garage overnight, was moist, too. Every time we reached into our bags for new handfuls, the mulch inside rewarded us with inviting warmth.

A neighbor came out for his newspaper and to survey our efforts. His wife had just returned from a cruise with a group from their church.

"Ah, well, then she couldn't have gotten in too much trouble," Pat ventured.

He laughed generously.

At almost 6:30 am, I had woken up, dreading the near-end of my luscious vacation. Turning to see if Pat might be awake, I was greeted with a disarming, deep-dimpled smile and already-bright eyes; Pat was delighted not to have to be quiet any longer. The smile disarmed some of my near-end-of-leisure regret, but only some of it.

After listening to some poignant NPR coverage about Memorial Day along with financial news and the top stories, we agreed to place the mulch prior to breakfast, before the day got hotter.

Crouching and sweating over the the soil and lovingly surrounding each of the flowers, whether in-/post-bloom yet or not with the dark-brown cedar background was just what I needed to rid me of my nearly-time-to-go-back-to-work-full-time dread.

We ran out of mulch finally, and we'll need to buy a few more for the spot under the variegated holly trees, and for the bed of irises by the deck in the backyard.

A shower hadn't been so welcome since the last time we gardened together, or since I used to play rugby in muddy weather in my early-20s.

Roller-boogie and Google Games

Breakfast served me two especially good newspaper articles. One let me reminisce about the times I would pack my sneaker-skates into my school back-pack and let my mom drop me at the train station, thinking she was sending me into the city for a day of culture....She was, but instead of going to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I went to Central Park behind it and found my way to "Boogie Wonderland" and fellow disco-skaters.

The other article made me think about employee attraction. Can Google beat Microsoft in hiring talent? Can either beat compelling start-ups, where the stock options could transform new-hires into rich people? What about Extreme Blue, which is IBM's version of wooing doctoral students to IBM ultimately?

What attracts me to my employer and to stay? It's simple...IBM:

  • Enables me to advance in my career because of, not in spite of or irrespective of, my difference, including my:

  • Religion
  • Sexual orientation
  • Gender
  • Humanities background...especially impressive, since it is a technology company

  • Hires smart, values-driven, capable people all over the world
  • Lets me work with so many of them in a variety of roles
  • Values my contribution to the business
  • Supports my learning opportunities -- both on the job and academically
  • Provides me with engaged, humane management, who give me reasonable autonomy
  • Has a highly-visible, respected global brand; anything I do for IBM is far more visible than it would be somewhere smaller
  • Recognizes employee achievement and good ideas:
  • Twice during my vacation, I was privileged to witness two different managers, delivering a bound book of tribute-letters from 25 years' worth of colleagues to two colleagues who had reached the milestone of being IBMers for a quarter of a century
  • Enables my peers and me to give IBM-logo merchandise awards to one another
  • Says yes to investing in new markets that are aligned with our business strategy in my experience

  • Lets me work from anywhere when I need to, and provides me with a lovely office
  • Compensates me fairly.

Listing all of this, actually, lessens my dread at returning to work tomorrow. The dread is visceral, and practically an automatic response, learned from full-time elementary schooling; none of us wanted summer vacation to end. That's the sensation.

Our neighbor retired years ago and this morning, he asked, "How are you?" looking at me, since he sees me less often than Pat.

"Enjoying the 'calm before the storm.' This is my last day of a two-week vacation."

Holding onto the Calm

Earlier this week, I mentioned visiting my mom and the reminder of Phi Sigma Sigma's motto, but didn't yet mention the marvelous walk we took together:

We finished a dinner of my favorite cuisine and when I suggested we take a walk, my mom thought it might be nice to stroll down a quiet road near her house. It was twilight, like a million that I remembered as a kid, where it was just light enough for me still to be out on my bicycle, but nearly time to go home.

As we walked alongside the stone wall with deep-green leaves spilling over it at the edge of the blacktop, I wondered aloud why, growing up, every friend I had, plus my two older sisters, and even the one boyfriend I had in high school and half of college and I had walked, bike-rode, or built forts along-side this road together, and yet, my mother and I had never before been on foot there at the same time.

We had no answer and just kept walking in wonderment.

We reached nearly the far end of the road -- my mother aided by her walker -- and I felt like I was introducing her to part of my ancient domain. She played along when I showed her the site of the fort that one of my friends and I had built at the edge of a tiny creek.

"I can see where it would have been," she humored me, as I asked for her suspension of disbelief in staring at a completely overgrown part of the woods on the other side of the road.

Family Life

After breakfast earlier, I sat on the rocker-for-two on our sunny deck, finishing a favorite author's memoir, The Mistress's Daughter, while Pat sat in our cooler living room, listening to one of her many favorite podcasts.

A.M. Homes is among my favorite authors for her honesty. My crush on the author has diminished over the years, as I've accomplished things I'm proud of in my own life, but I've still got a bit of one in any case, and a more informed one now.

Homes' characters usually weren't too sympathetic and she wasn't at all, until I read the memoir, about her having been adopted as a baby due to the flaws of her birth parents, particularly her biological father.

During High Holidays about a decade ago, I thought I saw her sitting among the many rows at the Javits Center, where our synagogue necessarily holds those particular services, since it can handle the annual, added capacity. Her eyes and hair were as dramatically beautiful in person as on her book jackets. How ironic that she looked so like her biological father, who I grew to dislike deeply during the book's progression.

From the start, the cover of the book, which featured simply a photo of the author's face at three or four years old, moved me a great deal. And by the end of the memoir I learned that she gave birth to her own young daughter...and I felt bad for a minute because unlike me, who stopped trying to give birth at 38 after 18 months and nine unsuccessful IUI attempts, she had had the fortitude to keep at it at 39, including two, initial miscarriages.

While Pat and I added the mulch this morning, it struck me that both of us are good adoptive parents for all sorts of flowers and trees.

Who/what are you proud of parenting?

Friday, May 25, 2007

Diokete Hupsala / Aim High

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

My of Today

Visiting my childhood friend earlier this week, I saw a magnet on her fridge: "Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you'll still end up among the stars."

At an IBM Quarter Century [of service] celebration for a friend and colleague the day prior, one of our colleagues referred metaphorically to the value of working to "...knock [the baseball] out of the park." He was pointing to the many unprecedented, successful projects my colleague had led so far.

At my mom's home later the same day, I mentioned the colleague's encouragement and she said, "Diokete Hupsala. Aim High. Remember, that was my sorority's motto."

In Who Let the Blogs Out?..., Biz Stone writes that blogs should contain their authors' dreams....Of course, as I'm hunting for the page number, where he included "dreams" per se, I cannot find it, but if he didn't, then I think he should have.

Accordingly, I'm going to post what a mentor recently encouraged me to create; she required that I put it entirely in the present tense, whether or not I have yet realized all of the items.

Here's my vision as of 25 May 2007; I:

  • Love Pat and enjoy each other's physically and mentally healthy companionship into old, old age
  • Invest in loving and respectful relationships with family and friends
  • Eat well and healthily
  • Swim at least three times a week, enjoying my body's bouyancy and strength
  • Am moved to laugh routinely and often, and to help others laugh
  • Champion the advancement of IBM leaders globally, including my own
  • Am a Doctor of Education, having earned an Ed.D. from the Organization & Leadership Department of Teachers College, Columbia University
  • Celebrate my Judaism, ritually and culturally, including chanting from the Torah publically on High Holidays
  • Am spiritually connected to people in the I and Thou sense, including to people who seem different from me initially
  • Transform these connections into art through writing that is appreciated worldwide, by millions of people
  • Help others and myself through my writing, particularly to feel even more akin
  • Have work that enables me to:

    • Meet interesting, kind people
    • Write reflectively
    • Lead
    • Be part of a profound mission
    • See the world
    • Give charity to causes I value
    • Afford more experiences that are high-quality/stylish/stimulating

  • Refresh and recharge myself through a variety of physical exertion and self-expression, as well as through:

    • Music
    • Nature
    • Reading
    • Visual art
    • Films
    • Plays.

As of today, what is your vision?

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

New! Glassmaking and a Graphic Memoir

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

Flowers and Minerals as Inspiration

My friend Adrienne and I were playing at recess in 4th grade when we discovered the most unusual, tall flowering bush. In my memory, the flowers were small, white with pinkish-red dots, radiating out from the pistil, and best of all, they looked like tiny stop-signs -- I hadn't yet taken geometry, and actually, they were not hexagonal, but that was my first memory of their shape; perhaps they hadn't yet totally bloomed and did still look hexagonal before their petals split apart to form small stars.

Later, we learned that they were mountain laurel and our home-state, Connecticut's, state-flower. I was proud that Connecticut's official flower was so unique, and yet had no curiosity about the official flowers of other states.

Back then, rocks and minerals were my obsession. Another friend Amy and I were the youngest-ever members of the Stamford Mineralogical Society. Fortunately, as an adult, my mineral-love was shareable. Pat has gone rock-hunting with me, so far, for garnets in Maine and for Franklinite in Franklin, New Jersey.

Combining Passions

This weekend, for the first time, I considered flowers and minerals together as art. Paul Stankard gave a presentation, a demo and a tour at the Newark Museum on "The Art and Science of Glassmaking."

When he described the orbs (perfectly spherical, wonderous glass paperweights) he began creating two-three years ago, I smiled hard and happily as he described using a machine that was most often used on geodes. He made a more explicit connection for me between flowers-as-art and minerals-as-art...and I acknowledged for the first time that glass flowers were really still minerals-as-art, since they were fashioned from glass, which was made of minerals.

On separate occasions, Pat and I were lucky to see Harvard's world-famous glass-flower and mineral collections. Pat visited them while participating in Harvard's Institute for Educational Management (IEM) 10 years ago, and I toured them the night prior to my remarks at the 2003 annual conference of the American Public Gardens Association (APGA); I was invited to address the organization on being more inclusive of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) visitors, employees and trustees based on my then full-time role in IBM's GLBT Sales and Talent team, helping IBM be even more inclusive of our GLBT clients, shareholders and employees.

Two Artists, Equally Inspired and Inspirational

I hadn't been so inspired by visual art since attending a slide lecture by Fun Home's author last spring, where she explained her process for creating the graphic art that accompanied the plot.

The two artists impressed me by their innovation and detail-orientation....I was reminded of Berger's and Luckmann's The Social Construction of Reality, where they explained how habitualization in the background, as the foundation, enabled deliberation and innovation in the foreground (p. 53).

Both were meticulous and extraordinarily disciplined; both achieved first-of-a-kind works particularly less than five years ago; and both had challenges that propelled their art.

Stankard was exacting in the intensity of the flame he produced, in his creation of glass stamens, flower-petals and leaves, and in expressing how he was inspired continually by nature. Bechdel was supremely attentive to photographing herself and others, appearing in the positions of the characters she drew, so that she drew from models, rather than exclusively from her imagination. Each page represented, if I remember correctly, hundreds of pictures integrated with one another.

Stankard built on the French paperweight tradition and created sorts I had never before seen: eight-inch-in-diameter and perfectly spherical.

Bechdel created a literary graphic memoir, including allusions to fiction by Proust, Joyce and Fitzgerald, plus references to a number of classic myths, yet telling her super-modern story. I thought about what seemed brand new in Bechdel's work; of all the graphic novels I've seen and/or read, none was ever so literary. The pictures were so rich, and so was the language.

Had Stankard been diagnosed with dyslexia as a child and helped to succeed academically accordingly, he said that probably, he never would have entered the flameworking field. And I surmised that if Bechdel had not been lesbian with a gay father, likewise, she would have lacked key inspiration for her recent magnum opus.

Local Art by Pat

Attending Paul Stankard's presentation more recently than Alison Bechdel's, I was reminded of the great photos that Pat took of him during his flameworking demo, and also of the amazing art Pat has created with organic flowers on our own land.

In our family, Pat is the amazing gardener and I just do what she tells me, helping add dark soil and natural cedar-chips, and placing the bulbs where she says they ought to go among our three gardens. We plant about four times as many bulbs as we hope will bloom because the squirrels feast on them no matter what we spray on the chips...particularly the most special among the bulbs.

Around our property, in the order that they bloom, flowers include:
  • Tiny snowdrops
  • Extraordinary crocuses
  • Several varieties of daffodils, including firetails and butter and eggs
  • A mountain laurel shrub, that pre-dated our arrival
  • Rainbow-orange and vivid, buttercup-hued crown imperials
  • Early-, middle- and late-spring tulips of all sorts, including ones that are:

  • Midnight-purple
  • Poppy-red
  • Feathery, pink-and-green
  • Deep lavender
  • Short, rose-petally, orange
  • Feathered red and white

  • A big, deep-magenta azalea bush that pre-dated us
  • A young, and bloom-filled, dark-pink tree-peony bush
  • Clusters of pale- and dark-purple candy-scented irises that we bought from our own town's Presby Memorial Iris Gardens
  • Dark-pink bleeding hearts
  • Short and cheerful, fresh-yellow-highway-stripe-colored blooms that Pat bought one spring at Shoprite, and planted around the street-light
  • A sprawling pink-red rose-bush that pre-dated us
  • Tangerine, burgundy and lemon dahlias
  • Two of what Pat calls our "Dracula flower"
  • Pale-blue-purple hostas with variegated white and green leaves.
This weekend, I learned that the violet represented New Jersey's state-flower, and was taught by example, again, that no matter how many people were in the room with the artist during the creation -- and it was standing-room only, including a workshopful of Glass Roots students -- doing one's art took total focus and an attitude of spirited, spiritual solitude.

By which visual art, artist, flower or mineral are you most inspired?

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Inspiration or Discipline?

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


The Top 10 Reasons I Launched a Blog

  1. A number of colleagues who read postings of mine over the past nearly decade on an internal online community for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and heterosexual IBMers finally asked late last year if I blogged and I banished the thought, feeling nicely cocooned just where I was
  2. An ex-boyfriend, now friend, from high school and college asked if I blogged and I knew the answer was yes, but that it wasn't official, since it wasn't yet external/on the web
  3. I noticed that men's were nearly the only IBMers' voices of which I was readily aware...went to check my experience and hypothesis, and a number of hours later, having proven myself right, returned(and meanwhile, found my colleague David Singer's and from David's blogroll, my former colleague Ed Costello's, and from Ed's,, where I spent a huge chunk of time identifying 60+ songs for my playlist...more about discipline relatively shortly)
  4. Two of the most inspirational of the blogs were by a soon-to-become-a-greater-IBMer colleague and current, greater IBM colleague, and yet, I was reticent because who was I to blog?
  5. One of my mentors, featured among Mavericks at Work, Jane Harper, told me that I "must" launch my own, externally visible blog
  6. I read my employer's blogging guidelines and determined them to be fair to follow
  7. I missed keeping a journal, as I had been assigned to do by my professor during Fall Semester
  8. While enrolled in ORLD 4500 Learning Democratic Practices, I was moved more so than ever to be public about what mattered to me
  9. I thought of how I had been posting internally, behind IBM's firewall for nearly a decade, and how it was time for another coming out...and after seeing how David Singer began his blog in 2000, I was inspired possibly to cull the best of my internal posts and bring them further to light here (Done! See the sidebar -- on the left-hand side of the blog)
  10. Finally, as I thought about it further, I did post excerpts from a coming-of-age memoir on a geocites site in the late '90s, but when I went to geocities just now, I could not even recall my ID or password, and the site hasn't shown up in Google searches of me for ages, and so probably, it's gone...but I guess that could have counted as an early foray.
    Note: One of you was kind enough to unearth it through a more sophisticated/more attentive search than mine apparently, and to add your discovery as a comment here....I don't know how to access the Juno e-mail address anymore, but the guestbook works in any case and I welcome your feedback.

Inspirational Books

Several posts ago, I declared my wish to read whatever I wanted throughout my vacation, and so far, they've included two and a half books on blogging that I got out of the Montclair Library on Friday:

  • Hugh Hewitt's (informative, even as our worldviews differ....After reading the book, I went to his blog to see homage by him to Jerry Falwell, but didn't readily find any, and so felt less guilty for making no comment about the preacher's death, that is, in support of my people -- gay and lesbian, and Jews, about whom Jerry Falwell had some nasty words -- I thought initially that I ought to post an opinion, but what is there to say when anyone dies, other than may his loved ones be comforted in their grief?)
  • Blogging for Dummies by Brad Hill (helpful)
  • Biz Stone's (not done with this one yet, but like his enthusiasm).

I'm still not yet clear on how to work with RSS and other feeds, or tagging, but I imagine my colleague Steve Dale will be kind enough to give me a Part II to the previous blogging tutorial.

The other books so far have included finishing Kiran Desai's great novel and skimming The Pity of It All, where Elon's (2002) best line was, "The patience of the oppressed has always been the most inexplicable, as well as probably the most important, fact in all history" (p. 24). That line could have been included in a book review of Desai's book had read the book and written those were two cheery(!) books.

And then I've been picking up The Namesake again just before sleep, and also, have read the Zingerman's customer service book and was impressed, thinking back on how parallel to my most recent experience was the author's manifesto; the cheese guy told me which cheeses needed no refrigeration and would work as part of the next morning's breakfast, and then cut off the rinds for me, since he knew I was a traveler without my home-kitchen.

Discipline and the Other Side of the Same Coin

It does take inspiration and discipline to begin and sustain a blog, I'm learning. It's demanding and alluring in parallel.

For me, the inspiration comes from cultural experiences, relationships, reading and the writing itself.

The discipline comes from knowing that it's sharpening my mind, and also from wanting to sustain even the 10-14 average of visits the blog receives daily by posting at least every couple-to-few days. While on vacation, it's easier, and it's also harder...because I have time to discover widgets and toys that keep me from creating my own original writing; I'm curious to learn more about twittering, for example. Uh, oh, off I go again.

I'm back. After I created a Twitter profile, I was asked by the site, "What are you doing now?"

"Procrastinating, rather than finishing my current blog entry," I typed in response.

Blogging in my experience so far is risky (e.g., will I be discounted as juvenile for including a music playlist on my blog, or will people understand that just as many bloggers and others are motivated by newsfeeds, music is more inspirational to me), it's isolating (e.g., I haven't stopped to swim today), it's practically thankless (e.g, my own mother's not particularly proud of me for engaging in it and that is not to say that I'm not immensely grateful for the kind feedback that a number of you have kindly given me so far, but...), and it's energizing (e.g., I feel especially alive whenever I'm writing, which includes blogging), hopeful (e.g., I feel I'm part of something bigger than myself), connection-filled (e.g., my classmate and friend Zdravko pleasantly surprised me when he said aloud the same thing I'd been thinking for years: Hypertext is just like the commentaries that surround Biblical text in a concordance, and so I've been familiar with a sort of hypertext since young childhood) and fun (e.g., I'm better-equipped to converse with our 14-year-old niece Zoe, who's at the vanguard of whatever's new, and who'll enter LaGuardia Arts High School in the fall).

Other than blogging, if you're a blogger, of which of your activities does this combination of adjectives (risky, isolating, thankless, energizing, hopeful, connection-filled, fun) remind you?

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Charlotte's Web, Dreamgirls and Loyalty

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

Solidarity and Betrayal

While vacationing in the 3-D world over the past couple of days, Pat and I have watched a couple more DVDs. So what do Charlotte's Web and Dreamgirls have in common? (Warning: Spoilers follow:)

Disclaimer: Charlotte and Wilbur are anthrpomorphized and I mean no disrespect in drawing parallels between them and two human characters in "Dreamgirls," Effie and Jimmy.

Charlotte and Wilbur are not like the others and neither are Effie and Jimmy. Other than Wilbur, Charlotte's community is put off by Charlotte's appearance, as is Effie's by hers. Wilbur and Jimmy are too spirited for those around them; the communities are not ready for them.

Effie and Jimmy are not as lucky as Charlotte and Wilbur; ultimately, Charlotte's talent trumps her appearance and Wilbur's spirit is celebrated by the community.

The two films also focus on loyalty. "Charlotte's Web" demos ideal loyalty among Charlotte and Wilbur and the girl from the perpendicular farm while showing the conditional sort from the rest of the surrounding humankind.

"Dreamgirls" shows more betrayal than loyalty, and then some restored, redemption-seeking loyalty.

All of the players in both movies try to do what I like to call transforming indignities into art, though Charlotte and Wilbur are most successful at it.

Pat is taking me out for some more culture now and then we'll meet two of our friends for dinner in the city.

Whose loyalty have you prized and under what circumstances?

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Book Presentation for Learning Democratic Practices

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

Just for fun, and to pass along some of my recent learning, I'm posting a presentation I delivered as a student of ORLD 4500: Learning Democratic Practices, an elective course in my Adult Learning and Leadership graduate program; I will be as faithful as I can to how it went:

I. Thinking of how and where you grew up, tell me what you think of when you think of American politics. [Wrote down on the board whatever they said, including "freedom" and "corruption."]

Note: The students included a Brit, a Macedonian, a Swiss-Brazilian, a Californian, an Illinoisan, an Ohioan, a New Yorker, and me, originally from Connecticut and a New Jerseyan for the past 11 years.

II. Does the list change when I ask you to use what you read this semester as the lens through which you view the list? [Wrote down whatever they said, including "direct vs. representative democracy" and "participatory budgeting."]

III. Tonight, we'll discuss the biggest possible picture of how American politics developed.

IV. Professor Youngblood assigned this book to me [showed it] because I'm always relating social change to corporations, rather than the government.

V. I've put together this handout for you, and the really fun part comes when we study together what has happened with American political development, or APD for short, since the book was published in 2002, and that will begin on page 3 [of the handout], but first, let's get a foundation of the book's premise [passed out the following handout]:

Shaped By War And Trade: International Influences on American Political Development – The Book’s Essence and a Discussion on Its Relevance Today for ORLD 4500, Learning Democratic Practices; April 24, 2007 (This is p. 1 of the handout.)

[A series of four "New Yorker" cartoons, attributed to Cartoon Bank, and included simply to start us off with some rueful humor, where war and trade intersect:]
“When you get down to it, Dave, we’re all about people: people helping people to kill people.”
ID: 39279, Published in "The New Yorker," April 27, 1998

“Never forget, Bobby, how many brave men fought and died so that we might have a free market.”
ID: 39686, Published in "The New Yorker," June 15, 1998

“How else are we going to pay for the war?"
ID: 52773, Published in "The New Yorker," October 7, 2002

“Oh, that’s good, sir, that’s very good—‘What if they gave a war and nobody profited.’ ”
ID: 123122, Published in "The New Yorker," November 13, 2006

The Top 10 Ideas of
Shaped By War And Trade:
International Influences on American Political Development
(This is p. 2 of the handout.)

Historically, America:

1. Was born of war – by European war resisters and then by American Revolution
2. Needed national credibility among, and respect from, other nations, rather than simply being seen as a disunified collection of states, and so formed institutions:
• Two-branched legislature
• President
• Federal judiciary
3. Had no need for centralized military due to:
• Talented troops and leaders
• R&D with corporations and universities
• The promise of financed higher education for troops
• Pluralism and openness in conferring with interest groups
4. Has coached, not coerced, its electorate, resulting in more buy-in for U.S. actions:
• Committing to the highest technology to minimize American casualties
• Engaging popular support for military campaigns, until Vietnam, when president had unprecedented power from the Cold War era and acted more unilaterally
• Providing inspiration for emergence of member associations from the Civil War through World War I that shaped modern American society, including:
Red Cross
Boy Scouts
5. From the 1770s-1980s, approximately every 30 years, the United States toppled a nation that had world-power support, or a leading world power itself, resulting in:
• Independence in the 1700s
• Ensuring sovereignty; domain expansion; ultimate unity preservation in the 1800s
• International political domination through the majority of the 1900s and into 2000s
6. Coerced populations it considered outsiders: Native Americans; African Americans; Asian Americans – we tread a bit lightly re: Chinese-Americans [due to a trade treaty that we valued especially]
7. The U.S. Constitution sought to ensure:
• U.S. states were unable to create interstate commerce barriers
• National currency; bank; interstate commerce regulation
• Healthy ties with the world economy
8. Some of the greatest internal U.S. conflict has been between U.S. economy sectors that thrive in international markets and those unable to stave off foreign competition; both [Republican and Democratic] parties today are more so protectionist
9. Lesser threat of major war in the ‘90s may have contributed to increase of internal conflict; without as dire a need for the unity necessary during war, disharmony was more affordable
10. We became a nation, interacting at least as much with other nations as with ourselves; American politics, historically and now and in the future, will continue to be influenced more so than has been acknowledged previously by the field of American Political Development by our relationships with other countries, especially during war and trade. (1-10 top tips adapted from Shefter, 2002, pp. 333-357).

The Field of American Political Development: Scholarship Trends (This is p. 3 of the handout.)

Classic APD Scholarship (p. 7 [of the book])

Internal developments or processes are primarily responsible for shaping U.S. politics, including:
• New electoral alignments
• Sectionalism
• Federal system’s changing balance
• Welfare state activity expansion
The scholars of this book feel it’s not just driven internally:
In the United States, debates over the welfare state have historically been seen as quite separate from those about international relations and foreign policy. This view is inaccurate. Foreign trade, arms spending, military service, all impact society greatly and in ways that influence the demand for the welfare state and the politics of getting it (pp. 322-324).

Recommended APD Scholarship (pp. 9-10 [of the book])

Global relations and global processes are primarily responsible for shaping U.S. politics, including:
• Competing empires’ contribution to the founding of the United States
• Initial hardships in battling multiple enemies for extended sovereignty
• Hot and cold wars ~every 30 years
• Cross-national elements in its westward expansion
• Cross-border movements of free and slave labor and capital
• Trade, including its role in adding to government revenue
• 20th century leadership roles in economy and geopolitics assumed by post-WWII United States

Relevant Developments Since Shaped By War and Trade… Was Published (2002-2007)

Classic APD Scholarship (p. 7), including personal commentary Suggested APD
Internal developments or processes are primarily responsible for shaping U.S. politics, including:

• New electoral alignments[, and especially dealignment, probably because citizens see politics as the province of the rich]
• Sectionalism [via gerrymandering, which leads to greater protectionism]
• Federal system’s changing balance […Congress is now Democrat, rather than Republican, and more isolationist and protectionist than prior…and arguably, the change is due to foreign affairs dissatisfaction.]
• Welfare state activity expansion:
o [Up from 39% in 2003, 44% of all polled Americans say, “…they often do not have enough money to make ends meet.”
o Healthcare is a growing concern:
We see the rest of the rich democracies enjoying socialized medicine....Again, the domestic concern is informed by what we see in the world….]

Suggested APD scholarship focus, adapted from pp. 9-10, and expanded to be relevant for 2002-2007

Global relations and global processes are primarily responsible for shaping U.S. politics, including:
• Competing empires’ contribution to the unseating of the United States as the economic powerhouse:
o “Chinese central bank’s dollar-peg/U.S. debt purchase strategy for Chinese export growth has collaterally facilitated both the GOP drive toward fiscal imbalance and war without direct taxation—a confluence that highlights the book’s acute relevance.” (
o Russia now has world’s largest depository of natural gas (
o Today, China and India use 53% of Mid-East oil; in 20 years, they will use two-thirds (
• Continued, perceived hardships in battling multiple enemies for extended sovereignty: [I'm taking poetic license and grouping together same-sex marriage aspirants and terrorists as among America's enemies due to current Pew Research poll results that follow:]
o “Fewer than four-in-ten (37%) [of U.S. citizens polled] support gay marriage ( [...Is it fair to require equal tax payment by gay and lesbian U.S. citizens without affording us equal benefits for the taxes?]
(This is p. 4 of the handout)
o “About four-in-ten (43%) [of Americans polled] feel that torture [of suspected terrorists]…can be often (12%) or sometimes (31%) justified ( [Do they think that...the information they secure via torture will be necessarily reliable?]
• Hot and cold wars ~every 30 years:
o Iraq [...haven’t we learned from Vietnam, or the American Revolution, that a determined populace will not let the supposed powerhouse win? The Iraq War is longer than the Vietnam War at this point…which violates the typical deal that our presidents have had with U.S. citizens: All wars we engage in are relatively swift. Russia and China could be allies, but aren’t. They are watching as we...keep debting, whereas we used to have a surplus; in 1900, Britain had the best military; the highest standard of living; the pound was the world’s currency....]
• Cross-national elements in its westward expansion -- not relevant, 2002-2007
• Cross-border movements of free and slave labor and capital [I’m taking license here, and considering immigrants to be the closest we’ve got to slave labor today]:
o A steady majority of Republicans favor tighter immigration restrictions ( [Do they think that our trade imbalance will be solved by denying passage to immigrants? Or that the good jobs will disappear if Mexicans no longer need to sneak into the country? They are doing the menial jobs that most Americans likely don’t prefer to do in any case....]
o [More license taken, perhaps: iPods are made in China cheaply and sold here expensively]
• Trade, including its role in adding to government revenue:
o We are imposing a tariff on state-subsidized products (
o The tariff directly affects, and might annoy, China, which has 30% imports:GDP ratio – twice that of the United States (
o India-U.S. trade topped US$19B in 2005, US$6.2 billion of which represented U.S. exports to India, “…showing a growth of 24.96% over the previous year….” (
o Russia and GCCC (Saudi Arabia; Bahrain; Kuwait; Oman; Qatar; UAE) are beginning to determine nuclear trade between Russia and GCCC (
o Perhaps the United States will join with Canada and Latin America, like the European Union (
• 20th century leadership roles in economy and geopolitics assumed by post-WWII United States
o Economically we are still the leader, but China, the EU and Japan are gaining on us; last year, China surpassed the United States in car manufacture volume (
o Just after 9/11, “Le Monde” declared, “We Are All Americans…” but then we suffered from “super power syndrome,” according to Dr. R.J. Lifton (
(This is p. 5 of the handout.)
o Geopolitically, the United States was seen to have humanitarian motives that were relatively pure pre-Iraq and now, we can restore our reputation, perhaps, by leading the green movement (

The Essence of Each Chapter

Chapter One: For the most part, historically, American Political Development (APD) has mostly ignored the contributions of international relations and processes on the shaping of American politics (Katznelson, 2002, p. 7).

Chapter Two: Challenge began in 19th century of how to be both a super power and a liberal democracy at once. Economic powerhouse status, without needing to be a strong state, resulted from bountiful natural resources; British venture capital; plenty of labor due to high reproduction and in-flowing immigrants, and the Vienna settlement (Zolberg, 2002, p. 37).

Chapter Three: Lack of credibility from inability to make good on some key commitments thwarted the formation of a stronger state (Keohane, 2002, pp. 60-61).

Chapter Four: We were a state earlier than most give us credit for and the military played a key role in shaping our statehood, which went unacknowledged previously. (Katznelson, 2002, p. 89)

Chapter Five: Trade conflicts were the origin of competitive party politics; they informed their structure (Shefter, 2002, p. 117).

Chapter Six: Great wars inspired American civic voluntarism (Skocpol, Munson, Karch, & Camp, 2002, p. 134).

Chapter Seven: Protectionism is promoted by U.S. House of Representatives due to the geographically deconcentrated small-district system (Rogowski, 2002, p. 204).

Chapter Eight: “…the U.S. government will promote free trade only if a majority favors it” (Goldstein, 2002, p.229). Trade openness relies on support by powerful interests and trade agreements are a solution (Goldstein, 2002, p. 230).

Chapter Nine: The supposedly “weak” U.S. state helped to topple the USSR. U.S. military was contract-based and decentralized compared to Russia’s, and this was to our advantage (Friedberg, 2002, p. 259).

(This is p. 6 of the handout.)

Chapter Ten: Since the end of WWII through the Vietnam War, the president demanded relatively little sacrifice by the American people, informed us less, and upset us when it did inform us, resulting in lower participation in and assistance to the government (Sparrow, 2002, p.274).

Chapter Eleven: Successful policies depend more so on public support than on formal institutions. And “…international forces shape cleavages on policy actions, including “…trade issues, security, culture, migration….” (Gourtevich, 2002, p. 303)

Chapter Twelve: In large part, the U.S. government emerged in order to manage foreign relations, and our global interactions both primarily shape our country’s politics, even by causing in-fighting between U.S. political parties around how to handle problems begun abroad [e.g., Iraq] and likewise, can tremendously influence world events, e.g., the Soviet Union collapse and the end of the Cold War (Shefter, 2002, p. 352).

Bonus Points

The origins of the United States’ wildly powerful capitalist economy and laissez-faire ideology:
In the wake of the Vienna settlement, Europe and the Atlantic world settled down to a century of peace….Under these circumstances, the American state’s potential capacity for mustering external power remained largely untapped…the American economic pie grew effortlessly in comparison with Europe’s, thanks to the abundance of land and natural resources…British venture capital in the middle third of the nineteenth century, and a supply of labor growing rapidly through very high rate of natural reproduction and a steady stream of immigrants (Katznelson and Shefter, 2002, p. 37).

Think about India today. Sound familiar? And in 1900, Britain was on top....

War and trade concerns were a primary catalyst for U.S. competitive party politics:
Conflicts between those Americans who benefited from British international hegemony and those who feared being undersold by British industry provided the economic and social foundation for the U.S. system of competitive party politics.

If Britain’s economic hegemony created the central cleavage in the American party system, its military primacy influenced the basic structure of the nation’s political parties….Parties mobilized not only popular support but also troops for America’s nineteenth-century wars….During the Civil War, many politicians who mobilized troops were given major military commands…. (Shefter, 2002, p. 117)

War and Trade Cultural URLs (This is p. 7 of the handout.)

[In reading the book, I expected to relate most of all to the parts about trade, but instead, found the sections on war more understandable, and so in order to buy in, so to speak, to all of the writing on trade, I went web-trawling and identified URLs on both topics.

I was struck by how much art had been created around the theme of war and realized that the art most easily associated with global trade would be global advertising, and that another facet of globalization is multicultural marketing, including the sort that Commercial Closet focuses on.]


The War Scholar: A Military History Timeline of War and Conflict Across the Globe, 3000 B.C. to A.D. 1999
List of songs about war
War novels
List of war films


History of international trade(albeit Eurocentric, but still useful)
Cyber Lions Categories 2007
Film Lions Categories 2007
• Commercial Closet Association Best Practices: Building GLBT Awareness and Inclusion in Mass/Business-to-Business Advertising

How do you see American political development evolving over the next five years?

Teamwork, Friendship, Rivalry, Peace

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

Warning: Plot Spoilers Follow

What do the films "Blood Diamond" and "Spiderman 3" have in common with the plays "Journey's End" and "Deuce?" By God, I'll put my Comparative Literature degree to use one way or another!

Besides that Pat and I have seen all of them during our vacation so far, all of them also include tension and ultimate peace between complicated friends.

The diamond hunter and slave laborer; Peter Parker and his friend Harry; Stanhope and Rawley; and Midge and Lee (Leona) all show each other love ultimately, though along the way, things turn, and are, nasty.

Considering the trials of these pairs of ultimate friends, I thought further about having declared in a prior post that someone with whom I was friends turned out to be a "jerk," and about other friendships of mine.

There are my longest friendships, with my mother and sisters, and my richest, with Pat, and one that was re-ignited from childhood as adults, and a few others that are more dormant than I might wish, but that I've had since high school, and three from college, and several from work experiences.

Of course, the friends I've lost are the ones that make me ache.

My grandmothers, Nana and Sabta, my middle-school classmate Caryn Lesnoy, my aunt Tovah, my dad, my beloved teachers Rabbi Kosowsky and Mrs. Honan, may all of their memories be blessed, plus friends with whom I've grown apart all remind me of the heaviness of the radiation-deflecting mini-blanket that dentists have draped over me to do teeth X-rays. They are a layer of, in this case invisible, weight.

Two semesters ago, I learned the adult education theory term, "critical incident," which refers to traumatic moments that teach us more than we are typically open to learning. All of my losses have been critical incidents.

The "Blood Diamond" Friendships

There were two friendships in the movie, actually: between the diamond hunter and the slave laborer, and between the diamond hunter's love interest and the slave laborer.

The first friendship was driven by commerce and mutual need. One of our retired executives used to say, "No one hates you more than they love your money." The context for his comment, if I remember correctly, was around multicultural marketing and how positive it can be ultimately for the world, that is, that people who differ from each other sometimes become acquainted by doing business, and then notice and acknowledge their common ground.

The second was driven by memory of poignant experiences and trials they shared.

Most of the people with whom I've become friends at work are people with whom I might never have crossed paths, or necessarily sought out, if not for our common commercial connection. Two come to mind particularly: the friend whose father was a rocket scientist in Nazi Germany and the friend who did a stint as an aversion therapist, delivering jolts/shocks every time she showed gay men images of attractive men. She did not know then what she knows now.

There are three friends who know me from when my dad died in 1982, and who sent me Rilke poems to comfort me, tried to love me during our experimental, teenage years or who were purely platonic and present in every other way. My father's death was a trial.

And there are friends who helped one another through college, to survive our adolescence and earliest adulthood, another trial, and a friend who was with me nearly every day during my year abroad in Jerusalem at 20, which was one of my life's most poignant series of experiences so far.

The "Spiderman 3" Friendship

Ultimately, Peter's and Harry's friendship relied on beating an enemy together. I think of the friends I've made for whom our common enemy is homophobia and exclusion. And in the case of one of Peter's enemies, peace came when Peter listened to what drove his enemy and forgave him for it.

I know that I need to forgive my former friend for what had to have been simply her pure fear. What good does it do nearly a quarter of a century later still to be calling her a jerk?

The "Journey's End" Friendship

Stanhope felt the burden of Rawley's hero worship. As it turned out, ultimately, Rawley was the heroic one. I had a best friend I adored from early childhood, from ages three to seven...and still do -- the mythic, seven-year-old version of her. Her father died when we were eight and by then, we were no longer friends. I remember staring across at her during the funeral, at how remote she was.

She was my Stanhope. I never learned explicitly why she stopped being friends with me, but part of it, I imagine, was how unwittingly, yet probably cloyingly admiring I was of her, and how passive, that is, we always played and did whatever she wanted. Never again did I feel like I was not a peer in a friendship, until perhaps that crush freshman year with the former friend who married a minister.

In the case of that early, best friend, like Rawley, I have gone on to do my share of brave work in the world, and I must acknowledge that as a pediatric nurse practitioner, so has the former friend. In the case of my early best friend, apparently her name is more popular than I thought because Google tells me that she's an army sergeant who recently cleaned placque off the teeth of a security forces squadron military working dog, or is an all-terrain vehicle (ATV) racer, or was a protester at the O.J. trial....Any one of those activities, perhaps, could be considered brave, even as I don't recognize the hero I worshipped among any of them.

The "Deuce" Friendship

Thirty years on, Midge and Leona still felt vulnerable around, and ultimately loyal to, each other. My mother and I have that sort of friendship, I think.

Perhaps, I'm Midge to her Leona. We are not contemporaries, but the dynamic always has been that we might as well be. My life has been more orderly so far and, in some ways, more conventional than my mother's.

Typically, both of us have phenomenal recall of events that happened many, many years ago. Sometimes, we disappoint, and even break each other's heart with our actions, and then ultimately support each other in them.

Over their lifetimes, I loved how Midge and Leona were team-players, rivals, friends and peace-providers for each other, and I see my mother and myself in parallel....I have to comment about any potential rivalry. My mom's not as jealous as some mothers at her kids' achievements; rather, typically, she's proud and sees it as a reflection on her having done something right for us. When someone compliments one of my sisters or me in her presence, she says, smiling, "It's not her fault."

And if I say, "God bless you," after she sneezes, my mother always responds, "He has."

Still, my mother's typical response to most of what anyone tells her is one of her features that haunts me a bit about how I, too, want to respond most often. More often than not, if I tell my mother something, she will respond with something similar that she has experienced.

Is it being competitive? Is it being self-absorbed? Or is it being affiliative? Or is it trying to demonstrate empathy and that she can relate to what I am saying? I am just the same way...which is why my recent visit with my friend was challenging. I wanted to tell her how I related to everything she was expressing in her grief, and tried to bite my tongue most of the time, but not always successfully.

The answer to all of the questions above, I believe in my case, likely is: yes.

Bonus Friendship Points

When I was very little, my mother and I recall my misbehaving and her becoming upset with me. A bit later, I came up to her contritely and asked, "Friends now?"

One of my father's, may his memory be blessed, favorite sayings came from Pirkei Avot (Chapter 1, Verse 6) "...kneh l'chah chaver..." /"...acquire a friend..." He said that the authors understood that friendship is so important that even if you have to buy a friend, it's worth it (the literal translation of "kneh" is "buy"). What that has meant for me, growing up, is that it pays to be generous to friends and that buying friendship is not a matter literally of spending money on friends, though baby-gifts et al are never a bad idea, but rather investing in them.

These two weeks that I have off from work are mostly an investment in my dearest friendship with Pat. Fortunately, I have the whole morning to spend here, on my friendship with myself, as Pat is doing her weekly soup-kitchen volunteering till 2:30 pm, when I'll pick her up from the train, and then maybe we'll go for a swim.

How do you invest in your friendships?

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Why Does the Whole World Have to Know About It?

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

Like the Parents of "Jackass" Stars

Even upon seeing the first "Jackass" in the series -- the second one pushed me over the edge into feeling fully-depraved for watching it and I won't watch future ones -- I wondered how the stars' parents felt about what their children did for entertainment of themselves and others, and then saw that the number of parents they filmed ultimately were resigned, indulgent and strangely proud.

I'm reminded of this by the phone conversation my mom and I had yesterday morning when I read "Free Jazz and Tears" to her.

My mother does not own a computer and I explained the blogging concept to her, but I guess it didn't really register until yesterday.

"I can see you writing about all this in a journal, but why does the whole world have to know about it?"

How can I explain that blogging is essentially me? That I was born to blog? To hope that someone else out there, somewhere in the world can relate to what I'm writing about, and is helped to feel less alone after reading what I've written?

How can I explain how much I relish replaying selected parts of my life and learning from, and making sense of, the parts by reflecting on them in writing? How can I help her understand that it's one step closer to writing a book than not doing it would be?

Parts of all of these posts are ultra-self-conscious, since I'm aware that someone other than me apparently (at least according to my sitemeter) is reading them. And articles like the one I saw in a recent newspaper, about the U.S. soldier whose blog will be made into a book, get my hopes up and then dash them in a single moment....The soldier had a fascinating story. I'm just rolling along in my life and why would anyone pay to read my stories?

My mother, I know, too, has a philosophy that when there is a cost, people value whatever's associated with the cost more so. Oh well, mothers are much more powerful than they ought to be in blessing or rejecting our enterprises -- or at least mine is...and even though her initial reaction couldn't stop me from posting here, it deflated me a bit initially.

"Mom, the blog is called 'Sarah Siegel Stories' and the tagline is, 'Anything worth experiencing is worth re-living through writing about it.'"

"Oh. OK," she says, seeming somewhat to get it or respect it, or perhaps she's just acknowledging that she has heard me. "How would anyone know about it?"

"No one from Saturday night would know about it probably unless we told them."

A few hours later, she calls back and leaves voicemail, as we're gone for the day: "Sarah, call me back to tell me how to get to your blog because I want to tell [the pianist] about it, so that he can read it."

I just called back and left her a message.

It matters to me that she respects this hobby. Yesterday, I tried to help her see its value by explaining, "By writing it in public, instead of just in my journal, people I don't even know, from anywhere around the world, might read what I've written and be able to relate."

"Did I tell you about the pen-pal I had from Wenatchee, Washington?

"Exactly," says Pat later, "The blog is like having the possibility of a billion pen-pals." Pat is unflaggingly encouraging even as she never reads anything I write...and that doesn't bother me at all. In fact, it's probably a good practice. Pat's a voracious reader of non-fiction and mysteries, and I mean books like Team of Rivals... and anything by Elizabeth George, and I don't match either genre. Besides, she lives much of what I experience right along-side me.

Living There and Then Re-living Here

Friends have told me how they love re-reading favorite books. I am a slow reader and never could relate to the idea of spending a second time on a book. And yet I'm a fast writer and routinely enjoy re-living experiences through writing about them.

One of my favorites from yesterday included walking through Central Park with Pat on Walk #1 from last week's "Time Out New York," where she photographed a number of the bronze, literary-figure statues -- all men -- and then the contrast of seeing amazing photo-ops of two tiny, self-assured girls, probably four years old or younger, on two different streets of the Upper-West side.

We had lunch at the most delicious Indian restaurant, which we found serendipitously, walking by it after leaving the park. We walked down Central Park West for a number of blocks and stopped to read and rest. I had brought two books with me and fell asleep, reading one of them, perhaps because it was depressing, though amazing: The Pity of It All....I'm only up to the part about Moses Mendelssohn....

Time to go into the city again, this time for a "Deuce" matinee and dinner.

Which books would be worth re-reading? Which experiences worth re-living through writing about them?

Monday, May 14, 2007

Free Jazz and Tears

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

Mother's Day Season

Whenever there are pre-birthday and post-birthday celebrations, my partner Pat refers to the period as one's "birthday season." We were scheduled to go with my mother, my sisters and their families to the Queens Botanical Garden on Sunday and then an early dinner, but Pat and I also took my mom out on Saturday, after our haircuts, for her Mother's Day Season.

Earlier in the week, my mother had heard a marvelous pianist at the local lunch for seniors. At the end of his set, she requested, "It Never Entered My Mind," and "Dancing on the Ceiling" -- not the Lionel Ritchie song, but rather the one from an earlier era. He told her that she could come hear him play again over the weekend, for free, in Westport.

Which we did. First, we saw Anthony Hopkins make terrific faces, as usual, in "Fracture" and then headed to an early supper at a diner my mother likes and then she directed us to the concert. I had been expecting a free, city-sponsored outdoor concert near the water, like we used to attend as a family, also with my dad and sisters, when I was growing up.

She had us pull into the driveway of a facility called Hall-Brook and I asked, "Is the concert indoors or outdoors?"

"I imagine it's indoors."

Instantly, I needed to re-set my expectations. This would not be a community experience, where we'd be surrounded by kids and parents, all with clean, messy hair -- from a day of sailing -- and madras-patterned shorts and fancy picnics and glowing faces further flattered by twilight.

Free Valet Parking and Free Baked Brie

The courteous guy out front took my keys and we entered a hospital for mentally-ill children, who were completely out of sight. "Where's the concert?" my mother asked the receptionist.


"I was told there would be free jazz here."

"There's an art show downstairs, and there's some music there, I believe."

We were ushered to a sign-in sheet downstairs and had to don stickers that read, "Art Show Guest." As my mother rolled down the linoleum hallway with her walker, I walked ahead of Pat and her and heard, "And the best in show is Nicole Ford" (I hope I'm remembering her name correctly). I peeked in and saw a stunning, blond woman with a devastated expression and I looked at her chest to read, "Xxxxx Xxxxxx, Artist." She was not Nicole Ford. I looked away quickly.

It was one of those moments, where I saw someone beautiful, who also appeared to be prosperous, and who I could not imagine routinely would experience pain. It was more intimacy with a stranger than I was entitled to or bargained for. I didn't look at her again, and didn't look for her exhibit.

My mom went for a serving of baked brie, which was runny and kind of gross to look at, and Pat wandered through the exhibits around the perimeter of the room. I felt like I needed to stick with my mother.

I spotted the electric piano and said, "Mom, I think the pianist is here."

My mother put down her plate and spoke effusively with him while he was on his way to the food table. It was 6:30 pm and the event had begun at 5, and would go till 8.

"Oh, good, I'd *love* to hear the two songs we talked about," my mom exclaimed, as if there had been no break in-between these sets and the ones at the recent seniors' lunch.

"I need to get some food," he said a bit beseechingly, as a reminder of his humanity; he was not merely a music-machine.

"My mom loved your music at the senior lunch the other day, she told me." He smiled gratifiedly.

My mother rolled her eyes with embarrassment and I wondered, Should I have not referred to it as a "senior" lunch? Or what did I do to embarrass her? And what a stark role reversal; my mother's the one who's supposed to do the embarrassing.

He stayed for a minute to talk: "You know Hart, who wrote that song [It Never Entered My Mind], was miserable. He was short and gay and Jewish."

My mother rolled her eyes again, this time at him, and went into primitive, protective mode: "My daughter is gay --"

I saw Pat and asked her over and said, "This is my partner Pat, and I bet he was miserable, to be gay at that time."

"Yes, it was hard, no doubt," said this tall-Jewish-apparently-heterosexual-and-in his-late-70s-clearly-supportive musician.

Meanwhile, Pat just smiled and let herself be used for my demo, and then we left him alone to get his food, my mother satisfied that he was not at all homophobic.

Just a few minutes later, he came back and played my mother's two requests in a row. She sat on the seat of her walker, rolling forward and back to the melody.

The music was indeed beautiful, and "It Never Entered My Mind" is always the song that reminds my mom of losing my dad, may his memory be blessed, at only 56. There's a line about how the singer never imagined needing to order orange juice only for one and it goes on like that.

Note: For the first time, I saw the power of Wikipedia from a producer, and not just a consumer, standpoint; I saw that the biography of Lorenz Hart referred to his "lifestyle" and I changed it to "sexual orientation," since, as Pat says, "It's a life, not a lifestyle."

Still, Pat was checking out the photographs and watercolors and I was standing behind my mother trying not to cry too un-decorously. This was not Westport by the water in the early-mid-70s; it was not a family outing with my mother luring my dad to dance to the music, or at least to hold her hands while she did most of the dancing; this was not an evening, where we'd pile into the station wagon afterwards, and I'd fall asleep and pretend to stay asleep when we pulled into the garage, so that my father would carry me upstairs; this was so not then.

My mother turned around and saw me crying and I kept trying to smile, but she saw the tears; she wasn't as curious as she was transported herself by the music and so she didn't express concern. The pianist also saw me crying and I couldn't help it, and I kept looking away, even as my eyes would thank him for the catharsis in-between looking away.

Some other guests, "Friends of Hall-Brooke," caught my eye, too, whenever I looked away and out into the room. I figured, They are equipped to deal with it if they're supporting an institution for mentally-ill kids.

I wanted the music to go on and on, and to be somewhere private, where I could allow it to let me cry loudly and cleansingly.

No such luck.

Free, Further Vulnerability

During his next break, my mother spotted someone that both of us recognized, the mother of a woman who I was hurt by in college. I had not seen Mrs. Xxxxxxx for at least 15 years, say, the last time my mother ran into her at an event where I was with my mom.

I did not want to say hello. She was already upon us, though. "You're Sarah Siegel?!" she said, poking my stomach with her index finger.

She had absolutely no recollection of what I looked like. The whole encounter was an indignity I wanted so badly to escape from, and Pat was across the room, pouring herself some Diet Coke and I didn't say, "Don't you dare poke such a private part of my body, but since you did, isn't it surprisingly firm?" Every part of me, other than my ego, felt violated, which was a step up from how it had gone with her daughter.

"Sarah showed me around Jerusalem [when I was visiting and she was living and studying there for her junior year]," she said to my mother, pointing at me.

"Yeah, and you were angry at me for not agreeing to skip class to take you to Yad Vashem, but rather for insisting politely that I would meet you there after class. You really were a babyish traveler," I wanted to say in response, but just smiled as sincerely as I could muster.

"[My daughter] married a minister, if you can believe it. They have three kids, one from his previous marriage, and she's a pediatric nurse practitioner."

"I don't want to hear any of this. You daughter was a jerk ultimately," again, I wanted to say, but instead, just listened politely. In fact, at the dinner party I posted about in "Others' Futures..." I told the story of how I felt that her daughter had led me on explicitly and then chickened out when we were freshmen, telling me the next day that her sister advised her no longer to be friends with me, since I was "...obviously a lesbian."

I had taken two steps forward toward coming out and 10 back after that experience. Fortunately, I got over it by senior year, and upon my return from Jerusalem, when we ran into each other on campus at the pool, she invited me to dinner and I felt that she was suggestive yet again, but this time, I was immune to her opt-in-opt-out routine.

Seeing her mother, though, and hearing about her life now, annoyed me in a way I could not have expressed to her mother. I caught Pat's eye again and motioned her over.

"This is my partner, Pat, and this is Xxxxxxx's mother," I said.

"Right, from Michigan," Pat said with a winning smile.

"We've been together for just about 15 years -- in July it'll be," I said.

"Wow, that's great," her mother said.

I sidled away with Pat and then stood face-to-face with her, talking softly while holding her arms off and on. I saw my former friend's mother looking at us and I felt self-conscious and that I needed to assert our couple-ness visibly.

"How did you like the way I just said, 'Right, from Michigan!'"

"Nicely done."

I wanted the mother to stop watching us. My own mother was re-engaged in the piano music and I thought of how my mom had told me that she had run into Xxxxxxx's mother about 10 years prior, at a Jewish older singles dance, and what her mother had said when my mother told her mother about my having a female partner.

My mother said that her response was, "Xxxxxxxx is that way sometimes, too."

How do you feel during Mother's Day Season?

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Life Goes On

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

My Friend Will Be Motherless on Mother's Day

While in Jersey Shore traffic during my commute home yesterday, I phoned my friend whose mom died a week ago and got voicemail. Told her I'd call again. Haven't yet.

Mother's Day is tomorrow here and I am feeling a bit guilty that I still have my mom...and am begging God as I write this to let me keep having her in relatively good health for many more years, and Pat's mom, too.

We'll celebrate Mother's Day first at a botanical garden and then at a restaurant in one of the New York boroughs, if the weather cooperates. I wonder how my friend will feel particularly tomorrow, or if it will be simply another day of shiva.

Vacation: What to Do with Myself


Two weeks stretch out before me. I've already fulfilled one vacation-wish; I slept for eight hours last night. I don't remember the last time I had such a complete sleep.


And this is my second wish for my vacation: to blog freely, rather than as a guilty pleasure in-between work and school projects.


Otherwise, I hope to swim with Pat every day that the pool's open (it is closed on Saturdays), and spend three blasts-worth of time in the steamroom with Pat afterwards -- a luxury that I have time for typically only on Sundays.

It's such a reward after the swim, sitting in the cloudy steamroom for just the right amount of time -- not so long that we become dizzy -- and then standing under a warm private shower without rushing.


The semester is over and I earned an "A" in ORLD 4500 Learning Democratic Practices and I am going through withdrawal, as I'm so used to either working or reading and writing for school...and I'm also delighted not to *have* to read a particular text at this point, for at least a little while.

For pleasure, I've been reading Kiran Desai's The Inheritance of Loss (Click on the book title only if you don't mind having the plot spoiled....I'm not reading the full review myself, as I'm not quite done and I don't want to know the ending) for half of the semester -- just several pages a night pre-sleep -- and it will be wonderful now to just complete it in one small reading binge. My colleague and friend Chitra gave it to Pat as a gift during her last business trip, and I stole it from Pat, to read first. Bless Pat for her flexibility!

And that's my third wish for my vacation -- to read whatever I wish for the solid, two weeks. Maybe I'll read some more Indian fiction.

Love New York

Another wish -- to enjoy New York City (14 miles east of us) whenever we want during the two weeks.

Pat and I are going to see the Broadway play that features Angela Lansbury as a retired tennis player. Pat says, "I'd pay to see Angela Lansbury read from a telephone book." This was her response after reading a not-too-glowing "New York Times" review.

I don't like to read reviews ahead of time, ever since I read the review for Sandra Bernhard's one-woman show several years ago, which included her best lines, and so they were less funny to me live, since I'd heard them before.


During the vacation, Pat will also grill meat and vegetables on the Weber grill on our deck and we'll enjoy the flowering trees and the budding irises in our backyard. She has already told me about an article she read, about grilling portobello mushrooms for breakfast, and placing omelettes atop them. She has pledged to try it for us on Monday.

Visit Friend(s) and Family

Another wish is to see my childhood friend; it has been six months or more, and she lives less than an hour away!

We will see my family this weekend and perhaps again, too. Pat and I are getting our hair cut today in my hometown of Stamford, where my mom still lives, and then taking my mom to dinner and a free jazz concert in Westport.

In fact, time to get ready for a day in the 3-D world....

If you had a vacation right now, how would you like to spend it?

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Life, Part II

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

The Country Club of Cemeteries

It was pastoral and vast, and I couldn't find the gravesite initially. Section 18; 12; 7; Plotnick; Gold; Dunn (must have been changed at Ellis Island, or s/he became a Jew by choice); Blumberg; Levine; oh, there's someone who looks like a smaller, older version of my friend...and there's the canopy over the open site.

I parked my rental car and stood on my own in the bright, cold sun, glad that I was wearing a wool turtleneck and blazer, and wool pants, too. No one felt like making small-talk with a stranger (me), and I felt shy, other than to confirm that I was at the right grave-side funeral.

The hearse pulled up several minutes later and I flashed back to "Harold and Maude," the movie to which my friend introduced me when we were freshmen.

I had called my mom from the airport when I landed in Detroit the morning prior and she said, "Will you go see 'Rocky Horror' tonight?"

"You mean, 'Harold and Maude,'" which ran at midnight every Saturday night at the State Theater when I lived in Ann Arbor. I was so impressed that my mom remembered that there was a midnight showing of a movie, and didn't fault her for remembering it as "Rocky Horror," since back then, in the early-'80s, "Rocky Horror" was famous for playing at midnight all over the country.

My friend loved "Harold and Maude" and we saw it a number of times while we were in college, and I was privileged to write a "Michigan Daily" feature story on the 10th anniversary celebration of its midnight screening tradition.

I stared at the hearse, recalling my friend's favorite line from the film: "Live, so that you'll have something to talk about in the lockerroom." Of course, the context for the line is super-touching, but I'd spoil the plot if I provided it.

During his eulogy, the rabbi stood by the grave, saying that my friend's mother didn't get to accomplish even a quarter of her potential due to her struggles with illness for much of her life. Fortunately, I thought, she accomplished my friend, and I wondered then if the line resonated so much so with my friend as an essential call to action, since my friend had better health than her mom.

One Last, Conscious Communique

My friend's mom was a walking library, one of her family commented. It's true. About two weeks before she died, after I learned that her death was imminent, and while she was still a bit lucid, I wrote to her:

Dear Mrs. Xxxxxx,

[My friend] let me know that you are ill and I am writing to wish you a rifuah shlaymah/speedy recovery, including minimal discomfort along the way.

Your gift to me, *How the Hebrew Language Grew,* remains one of the favorite books of my library; finally, eight years of Modern Orthodox Jewish day school Hebrew language study made sense to me. I'm certain that reading the book when I did enabled my success in my Comparative Literature major.

When I went abroad to Hebrew University for my junior year, I know I was more fluent, faster, thanks to how the book simplified the logic of Hebrew for me. I've just discovered, and 12 other members also own the book.

The other, even more significant gift you gave me was [my friend]. I love her so much.

[My friend] has such a generous capacity for friendship, and other than my partner Pat, has been the kindest friend I've ever had. Along with the rest of your family, [my friend] also has modeled the value of being oneself since our first meeting, freshman year at Michigan.

That was a huge gift during some especially formative years. [My friend] can tell you of my struggles to do whatever it took to belong, including even rushing sororities...unsuccessfully, and I've probably told [my friend] this a number of times before now, if not also you, but the time I visited you in your home was the beginning of letting a chunk of that desire to conform go. Here was another family that was as visibly unusual as mine in parallel with being as brilliant as mine, and whose company I loved.

By visibly unusual, I'm referring to the format of your house compared with the one in which I grew up. OK, I won't mince words: You saved the written word -- all over the house -- and my family did, too.

Before coming home with [my friend], I felt the burden of a variety of unnecessary secrets. I began letting them go after that weekend.

It has been a theme of our friendship, [my friend], reminding me that I have the right to be myself, and feel how I feel....

Throughout our friendship, always, [my friend] has provided relief to me. The relief takes extraordinary forms, including her gentle way of eliciting giant insights from me as well as delicious laughter.

I pray for your restored health, and for [my friend]'s continued health and my own, as I need the comfort and sweetness of [my friend]'s friendship to sustain me for many more years. May her generous love help sustain you, too, particularly during this rough period.

Thank you for your amazing gifts.


Better in Writing

As I watched the coffin containing my friend's mother being lowered into the grave, and listened to the loud thump after thump of shovels of dirt hitting the pine box, it was a painful replay of my father's funeral (may his memory be blessed), only then, November 1st, 1982, the weather was cold and rainy...and I was still fairly newly-17...and was unable to cry...and felt tragically-elegant in my mourning clothes, including the purposely torn (as a sign of mourning) paisley wool scarf -- my dad's favorite tie pattern always was paisley...and it was my first-ever ride in a limo...and the twin-boys from my Jewish elementary day school class were the primary dirt shovelers....I hadn't even noticed their presence till they were gallantly shoveling....I did notice the girl I had a crush on from that time, and was deeply annoyed by her, as she was crying visibly and up-staging me, all the while, staring at the gravestone of my dad's neighbor, a classmate and friend of ours who had died in high school of ovarian cancer....So painful to be reciting the Mourners' Kaddish for the first time at the graveside, in unison as an incomplete family....

Back at the house during shiva, I was conscious of not wanting to tell my friend all of what I was thinking because it was so self-centered, and poor shiva etiquette to take any attention away from the mourners and the source of their mourning...and also because I wanted, yes, to save my emotion for this blog; when I tell a person everything I'm thinking, often, the need to express it in writing diminishes.

At some point, listening to her, I said, "I feel better in writing than I am in person." It made me want to cry. I meant that I didn't feel half as graceful and openly loving as I felt when I was writing her mom that last letter. I felt awkward and un-useful, and even resentful that I couldn't just talk on and on about losing my father.

Being with my friend in person, in the midst of her intense grief, and remaining fully present without heavily sprinkling our conversation with my own experience was much more challenging than I imagined ahead of time.

My throat lumped up, but I never did cry that day. When I left their home to head for the airport, a freshly dead, red squirrel lay in the middle of their street.

By Tuesday

My friend wrote a generous e-mail note to me and I responded that I'd call her on my way to school, which I did. It was so much easier to be present over the phone.

She began crying and I asked what it was per se that made her cry right then and she said, "...I just keep seeing her coffin being lowered into the ground and I can't stop seeing it."

"Yeah, and the intensity never fades. I'm sorry." That's life.

Which memory do you have that is as vivid for you as the original event?