Saturday, June 30, 2007

Fresh Pleasure

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

Plane-ride Reflections

Sipping a cup of Peppermint Tingle tea by the London Fruit & Herb Co. , it occurs to me how much better my life is today compared to my early days in Chicago exactly 20 years ago. During the summer of '87, I lived down the street from Saree World and Rosenblum's Jewish Books, now Rosenblum's World of Judaica -- with its own web site.

In the West Rogers Park neighborhood, I had my choice of Tel Aviv Kosher Pizza, Fluky's Hot Dogs or an all-you-can-eat buffet for US$4.95 at one of the neighborhood's Indian restaurants.

The buffet was among the dim, bright spots for me then. I've written about this before, but I'll never forget a hand-written sign on a door I passed while walking down Devon Avenue: "FRESH PAIN." Evidently, it had just been painted, and then the sign-writer forgot to add the "T," but the sign as it was felt more aligned with my state of mind.

Right after graduating from college with my highly marketable(!) Comparative Literature degree, I interned at a Chicago magazine startup, where I wrote blurbs on clubs and bars to which I'd never been, for heterosexual singles...which I'd never been either, though I tried to be between 15 and 20.

Michael Feinstein's publicist sent the magazine a tape of his "Live at the Algonquin" show, hoping we'd review it. We didn't do music reviews and no one else was interested in the tape, and so, knowing nothing about the artist or the songs he was covering, I agreed that I'd like to have it.

The next morning, during the six-block commute by foot, I began listening to it with my Walkman. A song came on that made me cry, "Rhode Island is Famous for You." When I got to work, I learned that it was a Bob Hope song and felt silly. Still, every time I hear Michael Feinstein sing it, I tear up.

This was the era before the era of getting a job as a tech. writer, when Pat had to teach me that sick-days were only for when I was sick. The summer of fresh pain was exactly 20 years ago and the fake sick-days era probably was only 15 years ago.

Now, by contrast, one of my sisters cautioned me as we were leaving for India, "Sarah, don't become a workaholic. It's very seductive, but don't jeopardize your health over work...." More proof that doing work that suits me is the key to realizing my potential.

Twenty summers ago, if I had imagined myself living anywhere beyond the United States for six months or longer, I'd have picked Israel, not India. And we would have been there by now, if Israel had been the destination. Instead we're somewhere between Istanbul and Bagdhad and we'll keep going till we reach Bangalore.

Back when I lived in the Indian/Jewish neighborhood in Chicago, if you had said to me, "In 20 years, you'll have a job that engages you, and that you're good at, and you'll get to go on a short-term foreign service assignment, accompanied by your partner of practically 15 years," I would have been excited about the partner part, dubious about the job part and would have fantasized that the assignment would have been in Israel.

It would have seemed only natural: I lived in Jerusalem for a year at 20; I used to be fluent in Hebrew; I'm Jewish....India, as much as I've always loved the food, had no emotional hold over me 20 years ago, or even until less than 10 years ago, when I had a UK-based, Indian employee on a team I managed.

Even today, the dream of an assignment in Israel remains compelling. When I consider what it would be like compared with this upcoming assignment, though, I have less confidence that I could make a success of it; most of my colleagues would be Jewish and I have close Israeli relatives, and so I think I'd walk into it, feeling that I would understand, perfectly, how our Jewish culture and their Israeli culture informed their leadership...and forget to recognize that every leader has an individual personality that trumps his or her cultural background.

Also, I think I might get a less warm reception than I hope to in India, where I'm automatically more open to the experience because it's almost totally remote from mine. In Israel on the other hand, I would worry about two possible road-blocks: my own potentially inaccurate assumptions based on what I know personally about the local culture, and a fear that I might be "hazed" a bit, i.e., need to pass some initiation rite -- that Jews might be harder on one of their own...or vice versa. Oy, who wants to admit *that*?


A number of paragraphs ago, I suppose, would have been a good time to add a disclaimer that everything I'm writing reflects the lucidity of someone who has had up to eight hours of sleep over the past two nights, total. And there's a teething baby crying almost directly behind me.

OK, I'm sure I should be sleeping, rather than writing, but my hand won't stop. (How refreshing to be writing in an actual journal -- thanks, Ria, Lynn & Mary Alice for the journal-gifts), even as my left hand makes a complete shadow over my words. It's fun to be using this bright red, metal Caran D'Ache ball-point pen, rather than simply clacking keys. Later, I'll transfer all of it to the blog, when I'm plugged in and online. [You're seeing the fruits of that labor now.]

I want to continue my reflections on an Indian short-term foreign assignment compared to an Israeli one. Perhaps I'm in for a rude awakening, but I feel good that every Indian at whom I've smiled on the plane has smiled back readily and instantly. It's vital to guard against my objectifying, human nature.

I don't want to exoticize Indians because I need for us to recognize each other's basic humanity asap, yet I also don't want to shut off my capacity for wonderment and delight at human variety, nor deny them their sometimes curiosity at my blue eyes or height, or however I seem different to any of them visually.

By now, I've had a second cup of Peppermint Tingle. I'd like to tell the girl who was just barely a woman 20 years ago, who ate by herself most often in a brand new city, and who had no idea how well everything would turn out, thank you for the fresh pain you endured, which helped make all of this adventure possible.


Kayla said...

Hey Little Sister,

Isn't that the title of a song from the 80s? What are the lyrics? The singer?

Anyway, being new to the real world blogging scene, I need some pointers on making comments. Is it de rigeur to comment only on your post, or can I make reference to my life and experience and use this as a kind of public correspondence? In any case, I will do what feels natural and accept your feedback later, if I am overstepping bounds or making any faux pas.

I am taking delight in your flair for turn of phrase, for connecting evocative memories to present experience, for capturing emotions with words and with Pat's wonderful eye for surprise, irony and social commentary.

I love the reference to "Fresh Pain." "Who could have thunk it?" as Dad used to say, that we would both be starting new, exciting, challenging jobs on the very same day. Who could have thunk, as you so aptly remind us, where would be in our 40s, given where we were in our 20s... Maybe Mom. I always was wary of her confidence in her daughters, thinking it grandiose...

Speaking of Mom, are you going to send her printouts of your blogs? She would be overjoyed, I think. You know how resistant she is to using electronics. If you don't object, I will ask Zach to teach her how to access your blog at the local library. I'm not sure she'll agree to the exercise.

Love you,
Big Sister Kayla

Sarah Siegel said...

I don't know of any special commenting etiquette. Personally, I prefer hearing how people relate to what I've written and so I welcome people's accounts of experiences that my entries reminded them of.

Thanks for the kind feedback on the blogs and for being a fantastic sister. Yes, you and Zach are welcome to try to help Mom partake of the blogosphere, if not produce a chunk of it herself. Love, Sarah

Ishita Bardhan said...

I am not a poet, but these are some lines i had written long back and when i read this post, they came back to me. So here they are for you :

The piper played..
I heard the flute play a melancholy tune..
Hamlin is far,
Hamlin was warm,

The piper still plays
The same enchanting note
I hear the joyous tune that mesmerizes me.
Hamlin is long gone,
The piper plays and I play along….
I have followed the tune to peace, to love to happiness.

Sarah Siegel said...

I think I missed this the first time 'round. It's terrific. Thanks.

Was just looking back at pre-assignment postings and spotted this poem/comment.

I miss all of you (my Indian colleagues) even as I'm in an excited mood to see my family.