Thursday, May 3, 2007

Flexing My Writing Muscles

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

A Happy Dream to Start My Day

This morning, NPR woke me from a dream:

I was rollerblading fearlessly on the streets of a hybrid of Los Angeles and San Francisco. I was 'blading at a leisurely pace and then a cute, short-haired blond woman, rollerblading, too, appeared on my right. We smiled at each other and I began to race her, again, fearlessly, down paved hills and through European-style alleys -- maybe it was a hybrid of L.A., S.F. and Rome or London. The destination definitely was a corporate building, or a tall apartment building, in London...or Chicago.

The woman's and my destinations differed and so we parted ultimately, and I smiled to myself, satisfied that I had kept up with her. I woke up in a great mood.

What Ran Through My Head During My Commute and Since

Driving home from work at 7ish, later than I meant to, I thought of this blog as a writing-muscle builder. I liked that image.

Last semester was my first one back in school after graduating with a Comparative Literature B.A. 20 years ago. As I've mentioned here previously, I began pursuing a Masters in Organization & Leadership with a specialization in Adult Learning and Leadership.

Dr. Jeanne Bitterman, my professor of ORLD 4053 Facilitating Adult Learning, required us to keep a journal throughout the semester and, not surprisingly, I loved doing it. And then I missed it this semester, when it was no longer required for ORLD 4500 Learning Democratic Practices. The blog has filled the breach.

Driving home, I thought about the guy I read about who was a compulsive blogger for years until he just stopped cold. I don't want to burn out on it, and yet, happily, I was thinking while listening to Sheryl Crow and Simply Red and Nelly Furtado and whoever else the radio served me, I cannot help myself. I have to write. Please, God, let that need continue.

There are experiences in my life that inspire me and then I have to debrief them for myself. How harmless it is for me to be out here, using the writing as a great companion for myself at a minimum, and perhaps even being useful to someone I might never know, who might relate to some facet of what I write.

Keeping Myself Company

The writing is an especially good companion while Pat is away, at her annual golfing spree in Tennessee, with her old golf team from Northern Illinois University, where she was the Associate VP of Business and Finance. Pat worked there for 20 years prior to our moving to New Jersey for her VP of Business and Finance job at Montclair State University before she retired from Higher Ed., after another six years, and then worked a bit more at a non-profit organization, and so these are some very tight friends.

Their team was made up of women plus Joanne's husband and was called "Senor and the Machas." We talked earlier and Pat had a good game, though, "Joanne still beat me," she said, predictably. Joanne's always her rival, and the among her best friends.

Pat had left this morning and when I returned home, I saw her old golf shoes in the trash, the nubs on the soles worn down and the leather fringe on the top all curly. I missed her and then quickly felt overwhelmed at having to make my own dinner, that is, by having to pop two pouches of Indian TV dinners in the microwave.

Since Pat's retirement, I'm so spoiled: She cooks every meal for me. Typically, I need to focus only on work, school and Pat -- and our family and friends, though less often than I'd like.

While she is gone, I'm not even sure how to turn on our TV, and so I won't bother. My neighbor Ellen offered to come over to help me turn it on if need be. That's OK. This is more fun anyway...and we have Tivo, so we'll watch a bunch of shows after May 9th, when the semester ends.

Our favorites are "Cold Case;" "The Sopranos;" "Boston Legal;" and "Medium;" my friend and colleague Joy's brother Arliss Howard has a recurring role, which is fun! Also, we're fans of "The L Word" and "South of Nowhere." I wish I could write like the people who write those TV shows, appealing to huge numbers of people.

Popular Writing vs. Mine

My only childhood friend with whom I'm still friends and I had a comforting discussion about audiences of writing. She mentioned that she had a professor at the Jewish Theological Seminary, where she's getting her Ph.D. in Jewish History, who had published many relatively popular books, but whose favorite outlet was the newspaper column he wrote weekly, as he said he felt much closer to his readership through it.

With the books, he said, he didn't have the same connection to his readers. Who knows? I just pray to keep being prolific and maybe something I cannot yet imagine will happen with my writing.

Twenty years ago, I couldn't imagine being able to be prolific, and so who knows what the next 20 years will bring? It's important for me to remember that it's never too late to invent. A professor of mine published her first book at 60.

For years, I used the goal of publishing a popular book as a way to keep myself from being happy. It couldn't be self-published. It had to be published by a major publisher. Once I published a popular book, I'd be happy, I reasoned. And then I grew up and realized that after that happened, I would find another reason not to be happy, and so I stopped worrying about it.

But before I stopped worrying, nearly 10 Chanukahs ago, at our synagogues' Chanukah auction, Pat bid for a famous New York literary agent to read and evaluate a coming-of-age memoir I had written and Pat won the bid...but the agent never honored her commitment. That was disappointing.

Ultimately, I sent a copy to the Lesbian Herstory Archives in Brooklyn. On "In The Life" last week, Pat and I saw a segment about the history of the Lesbian Herstory Archives. As the cameras panned by all the filing cabinets and bookshelves, I imagined with pleasure: My 185-page manuscript is filed in one of those drawers.

The apparently Orthodox Jewish female swimmer who I wrote about yesterday still was on my mind during the commute tonight, as were the precious honeybees. In hindsight, I know they weren't fighting, just as the chipmunks outside my window at work this afternoon were not fighting either. And I thought, Even if people reading my blog cannot relate per se to the particular circumstances of my life, I hope that some of the feelings I'm trying to express resonate with them (you).

In the spirit of my friend Richard's amazingly helpful statement, that, "It's the things we're most ashamed of that are most interesting about us," I am trying to be as open as I can be here.

It's true that at least one colleague would like for me to use this space to write about my expertise as a leadership developer per se, and not just about how my relatively extraordinary identity informs everything I do, but that's too literal for me...and I can be pretty literal myself, but in this case, I want to share my philosophy of leadership through trying to model it a bit, i.e., through being honest and open in my self-expression, which I hope builds trust and yields creativity.

During the drive home, which is almost an hour long, I also thought about how I'd like to visit Ann Arbor, Michigan again, having spoken recently with a friend I made at the start of Freshman year., which I discovered prior to LinkedIn, which I discovered prior to the greaterIBM connection, put Ann Arbor in my head the other day by sending a promo to urge me to be part of a virtual, 20-year class reunion. Oy! Tempus fugit....That's almost the only Latin I can recall and I studied it for three years in high school.

And then psychically, as I read the newspaper while eating my black gram lentils with melted provolone and walnuts, the most marvelous article appeared on p. 1 of the "Business Day" section. Practically, it tempted me to start pontificating about business leadership and client satisfaction being paramount et al, and then I concluded that the article did it for me.

If I could just tell every participant, that is, every future and current IBM manager who comes to our programs: Study the success of, and be like, the founders of Zingerman's, I could let them get back on the plane and fly home without spending time in class.

We went there extremely rarely while I was in college due to the cost of the sandwiches, and it was just a year old when I began my college career. When we did, though, it was magical. It had the vibe of Zabar's in terms of the food's range, but the merchandising was far more appealing.

Reading the founders' story moved me because it was on the front page of "The New York Times" business section and was all about how they keep delivering what clients want, and thinking far, far into the future compared with others in their industry, and how they do not deliver it cheaply, but even so, with small profit margins because they have such high standards, and then finally that they will not settle for making quick money because, "Our goal in 2020 is to leave our world better than it was when we came here," said Ari Weinzweig, one of the founders.

Last night, for the first time ever -- and it happened to be while blogging -- I began to fall asleep at my ThinkPad and I don't want that to happen again...which it started to do a moment ago. If I cannot keep my eyes open while writing, I can only imagine how less-than-stimulating it could be for you to read all this.

What did you think about during your commute today, if you had one?

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