Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Writing a Play

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

What Should Be Its Theme?

Pat and I were taking a vacation-walk and I told her that I was thinking of writing a play on Time for my class this upcoming semester, since the professor specified in the syllabus that we could do a creative project.

"Why not write about someone who's being held captive and who doesn't know if and when the release date is?"

"That's such a great idea because that has a conflict and people would want to see it, but what I was thinking of -- and would want to write about -- would have much less universal appeal, but still....I was thinking of writing about how long it takes one and one's family and friends to learn to accept one's sexual orientation when it differs from that of the mainstream."

As soon as I said all that, I recalled Pat, telling my mom yesterday that what I really ought to write are "...lesbian potboilers." Again, it's relatively big market...and not even slightly compelling to me as a writer. I don't read any sort of mysteries myself.

What I'd love to have the powerful talent to write is a poignant or provocative drama like Marsha Norman's 'night, Mother, or Lillian Hellman's The Children's Hour, or Lanford Wilson's Fifth of July, or Martin McDonough's Beauty Queen of Leenane, or Edward Albee's Zoo Story or Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

What a tall order! To go from not yet having written a play to aspiring to create something of these playwrights' caliber! Ugh, I'm a little embarrassed...but obviously not too embarrassed to wish for it in any case.

I need to read, and absorb, more of Robert Henri's The Art Spirit.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

This is Funny...

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

Or Is It?

In an NYT article that I finally finished reading during this vacation, I learned about the new art scene in Tel Aviv, including a number of female artists.

The article stated, "...Israeli art has found its feet. Once given to a certain histrionic expressionism, it has suddenly acquired something else: a sense of humor."

Yael Bartana's "Kings of the Hill," I would agree, is pretty funny -- at least as much as I watched of it.

Sigalit Landau's "DeadSee," where the artist is floating naked, in profile, among a mass of watermelons atop the Dead Sea is startling and beautiful, if not funny...though it sounds funny, doesn't it?

If It's on YouTube, It Must Be Funny, Right?

Yesterday, I also caught up on an article from a back-issue of "Curve," which was a feature on lesbian comedians. (I almost wrote, "comediennes," but that sounds retro to me, like "Jewess." I am a Jew, not a Jewess.)

Here's the anti-climax: I spent a long time on YouTube between yesterday and today, checking out the humor of the women who were mentioned and for whom there were clips and wished they didn't swear so much, and that they made me laugh aloud more so. Someone had posted a bit by Suzanne Westenhoefer on Animals, which amused me, since we have two cats. And Bridget McManus was funny to me as well; she reminded me of Jennifer Saunders because she was pretty *and* funny.

Historically, Sandra Bernhard, Lea Delaria and Margaret Cho, who I see as more queer-friendly than queer herself, have always made me laugh the hardest, even as their material could be extra-raw.

Note: Added on New Year's Day, 2009: Jessica Halem, a comic I met when she directed the LCCP, also makes me smile broadly and nod my head and feel represented, i.e., what she's observing aloud -- that's so true; I just found Jessica on Twitter.

The comedian who made me laugh aloud more than any during my humor hunt of the past day was Anita Renfroe, an evangelical, suburban mom (with a husband). Her parody of Faith Hill's "Breathe" cracked me up.

Earlier this year, I first heard of Anita Renfroe in a Sunday "New York Times" magazine profile. There had to be a trial in one's life, I think, to enable one to be a great artist. It also didn't hurt to come from a geographically, if not sociologically, marginal place; according to the NYT profile, Anita Renfroe grew up in a small town in Texas and her dad left when she was two.

Israeli artist Sigalit Landau's statement in the other NYT article also made sense:
"When you are always at the center, you live in a valley," Landau said. She was talking about New York, where she studied at Cooper Union. "When you live on the periphery, you're on a mountain. It gives you perspective."

Friday, December 26, 2008


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

What to Do About an Unusual Abundance of It

This is so uncomfortable. Typically, I'm grousing to myself about how I wish I had more time. Today, being on vacation, I have all the time in the world and don't know what to do with myself.

I know that Pat and I will go swimming in 30 minutes, and I know we said we wanted to go to synagogue tonight, but I feel rebellious and like I don't want to swim. I want to walk. And I don't want to go to synagogue. I want to stay home and eat Chanukah party leftovers for dinner.

It is natural that I'm decompressing from the non-stop pace of big projects at work plus my part-time Masters program, and yet, I'm feeling guilty, like I'm frittering away precious time.

It's a little disorienting to have such an unstructured schedule. What is discipline? Should it apply during a vacation? Or would I do better to just let myself rest, be dormant, stay static, "veg out?"

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Quantum of Milk

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

Huge Emotions at the East Hanover AMC Theater

Well, there were some simmering emotions in the car on the way over, too. Because of Christmas-shopping or other traffic, we were 20 minutes late to see "Milk" yesterday afternoon. Pat hates traffic and hates being late.

Could we read our books till 4:50 pm, the next showing? Not in that video-game-blaring lobby. Let's see another movie instead, we agreed.

"Quantum of Solace," the newest James Bond film, was beginning in 10 minutes. Fine. We'll see that.

Half an hour or so into the movie -- or eight or so action scenes later -- it struck me that we could go to the 4:50 pm showing of "Milk" when this finished, which we did.

A Poem Inspired by an NYT Article on Jack Spicer and His Poetry

"Men at Their Best"

Attractive man
Unattractive men
Equally attractive

James Bond
Jack Spicer, Harvey Milk
All singular, heroic, lonely

Avenging deaths, protecting the free world
Protecting the marginalized or channeling loneliness
One survives, one drinks death, the third is served it, rather than Twinkies.

007 keeps chasing women, cars, boats, villains, and this time, a demon
The poet chased no one, but rather, was more chaste than he wished to be
Our gay MLK chased dignity.

Art is any restoration of dignity, as long as not by vengeful means
So many men, and any number of lesbians, want to be James Bond
Yet Jack Spicer and Harvey Milk were the artists.

Facebook is Crackish

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

...i.e., What I Imagine It Would Be Like to Be Crack-Addicted

Before I was active in Facebook, I had a nice thing going with this blog -- socializing one-way with an average of ~20 mystery-people every time I posted, since most of my blog-entries didn't provoke comments, and since at most, the site-meter told me only from which city they were visiting.

Something about that captured my imagination, and still does, and by contrast, I feel I've become dumbed down a bit by much as I am drawn to it. I have more than 350 Facebook friends, and they've become like Wacky Pack cards to me instead of the 3-D people I know in real-life. This comes from someone who aspires to enact Martin Buber's I-Thou, rather than I-It philosophy with people, and not to objectify them. When they are searchable names in Facebook, or LinkedIn, or any other social network, I must admit that they are objects to collect as much as they are people I care about in real-life.

How I Realized My Facebook Addiction

The Crack thought came to me last weekend, when I checked my Columbia Univ. e-mail in-box and was deeply disappointed to see that I had not even received an automated note from Facebook, e.g., the bogus ones on how " of your friends thinks you're a hottie," let alone real e-mail from any of my Facebook friends, or an opportunity to join an appealing cyberspace-based group or cause.

A relative and I talked about it, too, and she agreed that Facebook keeps pulling her back.

This morning, I had intended to wake up and blog about my back-to-back experience of "Quantum of Solace" and "Milk." And I hope I still will, but first, I told myself, I just wanted to spend "a moment" in Facebook, to warm up -- and knew I was fooling myself. The analogy is that it's like spending time, watching TV as a stimulus for writing -- not so stimulating in reality, but rather tranquilizing.

Perhaps I've hit a Facebook "bottom:" When we went to a holiday party at our friends recently, I found myself choosing what I'd wear, so that if I were "tagged" in any photos taken at the party, I would feel sufficiently stylish and not be embarrassed to see them on Facebook the next day. Imagine my anti-climax when no one took any pictures!

What Facebook Has Enabled

I was going to end it there, but then I recalled a recent experience that Facebook enabled, and about which I've gotta blog:

My mom and I are talking earlier this week, as we do nearly daily, and I do not recall why, but she mentions the older sister of a classmate from the Modern Orthodox Jewish day school I attended for eight years, from Grades 1-8. "She has a child and she's not married. Her aunt told me she's a lesbian."

As we're talking, I open Facebook and search on her relatively unusual name: Voila!

My mom and I hang up and I write to the girl, now woman, immediately, about how I was in her brother's class and how my mom told me that her aunt mentioned her lesbianism, and how it's so great to find a kindred spirit from that school finally....

Within record-time, I receive a response. I'm so excited to open the e-mail and it begins by telling me that she has to laugh and is interested in knowing which of her aunts thinks she's a lesbian because though she's not married, the partner she "...still seeks is a man."


And her brother, my classmate, she mentions, has just been visiting, and she'll have to tell him that she has heard from me.

Go Facebook!

So what is the moral of the story? In this case, Facebook did not enable a poignant, pleasant reunion, but rather re-opened a couple of salty wounds potentially -- hers at not yet having found the ideal partner and mine at having endured the Orthodox day school experience as a closeted little lesbian, who to this day, remains the only one I know of from the school.

The other moral is that my need for connection to others is no guarantee of a happy connection. I do think it definitely qualified as an I-Thou exchange ultimately, though.

And finally, I must acknowledge that Facebook did inspire my writing after all. This blog entry is the evidence.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Quasi-scholarly Writing

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

Tucked in a Pocket

Since Pat's still watching her Packers go -- forgive me for saying that it's an unseasonably good game -- I'm inspired to link to the papers I've posted in Pocket Knowledge, the social archive of Teachers College. I hope they are visible beyond the Teachers College firewall.

The Success Is in the Action

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

...Not the Result

The affirmation in this entry's title and subtitle is something I try to tell myself whenever I do something brave that is a long-shot. Tonight, for the first time since I was in my early-twenties, I sent a query letter to a magazine, offering to submit an article for publication.

Here's the automated response I received, which nonetheless thrilled me:

Thank you for your submission to Curve magazine. Please note that it can take up to eight weeks for a response.

Diane Anderson-Minshall
editor in chief

Let's see what happens. I'm grateful to my writer-artist friend, Val, who pumped me up with courage earlier this evening. Little did she know that her encouragement would be applied so literally, so soon. Thanks, Val!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Snow Blanket...

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

And a Cat Coverlet

Phoebe's eyes match my green sweater perfectly. She is draped on my lap like the snow's draped on the tree-branches outside my window.

When I see her little face looking up at me, as it has been doing these past several minutes, I understand motherhood a little bit.

"I'm going to have a son," a 15-year-old declared yesterday when I asked her whether she thought she might want to have children someday. "When I'm good and ready," she said, "Boys are less work than girls."

Friday, December 19, 2008

Shall We Overcome?

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

We Shall...Someday

Like she said.

Thinking about Tracy's blog entry further, I wonder, Could there have been any generation of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people that was as angry as the ACT UP bunch?

I'm not sure that this generation is angry as much as it has an unprecedented -- thank God -- sense of entitlement, to be treated as human, and as first-class citizens.

My least favorite form of self-expression is bitterness, and so I also want to add my pleasure at this mostly positive historical news. I wish my own homeland could have joined the list of 66, but again, I don't like to feel/be bitter....

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Missing Virtual Classmates...

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


Tonight is the final session of the semester of MSTU 4083 Instructional Design of Educational Technology. It was way more like a Science course than I had bargained for and so it was probably the hardest course I've taken so far in my part-time Masters program, but I feel nostalgic already about it ending.

All semester, we met via Adobe Connect and never in person, which was truly strange, yet it had its virtues, e.g., one of our classmates, an animator from Los Angeles, was able to participate, since it was online, and she enriched my learning experience; I'd not have had her as a classmate, if it had been face-to-face.

Two of the 18 students and I had been in classes face-to-face prior, but the rest were just little square, animated heads to me the whole time, including the three classmates with whom I worked on a group project. One of the classmates with whom I had previously learned face-to-face wrote to say how odd the virtual experience was.

My response was, "The minus is not being able to see one another. The plus is being able to go get an orange from the kitchen and nobody knows!" It was also nice to be able to attend the first session from the B&B, where we were vacationing in Maine.

Another classmate, after the first or second session wrote to me in the chat space: "I like you. You're funny." I was startled and thrilled at the distance being eliminated with her quick expression of what she was thinking/feeling, but it proved too tough to launch and sustain a new, virtual friendship. We spoke about our learning and our experience of the class once by phone, but then let our busy-ness take over and never spoke again by phone.

It wasn't till today, for example, that I learned anything at all personal about any of my classmates, which, historically, happened inevitably when we were face-to-face in my experience.

Today, feeling a bit panicky about all of these people disappearing from my life at 8:30 pm tonight, I looked for whoever I could find on Facebook to "friend" them. I found just a couple, including one of my small group.

All semester, I had stereotyped her: She is Italian-American and teaches in a Catholic school of mostly Italian-American kids. When I looked at her info in Facebook, she had declared her religion as Bahai. What an interesting surprise!

And I wondered what surprised her, looking at my Facebook entry. I know she did look because she wrote on my "wall." At the start of the semester, I searched for my professor; he's got a Facebook profile and he readily accepted my friendship request, and so I had a personal sense of him during the semester...but I thought it would be presumptuous to try to connect with the pure strangers that were my classmates at the outset, and then I forgot to do so till today.

What does that mean about the learning experience? Usually, I relish becoming close with at least one of my classmates during a semester. And I did feel especially kindred with one of my classmates this time, too, but it was strictly around the group project we were working on...and that was neat, actually -- that it could be such a nearly purely academic friendship.

I enrolled in the course because the topic interested me, and also to gain empathy for our learners at work who we serve, increasingly virtually. And I did. Whereas they learn virtually for a matter of hours, over as many as several weeks, I learned online for an entire semester. I learned that I save ~US$30 on parking weekly, and gas to school; I learned that I could learn with anyone from anywhere; I learned that I missed the walking-out-of-class together-with-my-classmates-or-arriving-early time, when we learned personal things about one another and also got to debrief about especially interesting features of a particular session...which I think could probably be replicated a bit if it were set up consciously, or committed to by my classmates and me; and I learned that I can learn meaningfully and create substantial learning experience 100% virtually...and I haven't even shared what my group and I designed. I'll save it for another blog entry.

Here's one of the assigned papers I submitted:

MSTU 4083 Instructional Design of Educational Technology, Fall, 2008, D. Shaenfield; My Journaling Experience During this Course by Sarah Siegel

The “After each class” questions you asked us to use as the basis for our journaling were terrific….I did use them as the template for each journal entry and they helped me understand my feelings in relation to the course, which was excellent, since we were not face to face as a class; historically, in face-to-face settings, my feelings felt more obviously manifest and noticeable, and there, perhaps my classmates and professor offered a more visible mirror.

Even the fifth question, “What about the class this week surprised you the most?” always led me to respond in the realm of emotions and not about an intellectual epiphany; on October 15th, for example, I wrote, “Didn’t get scolded for length of presentation.” It surprised me that you did not criticize our group for that when you did for a much less egregious lack of time management during a previous presentation we delivered.

In answering the second question, “At what moment in the class this week did you feel most distanced from what was happening?” I wrote initially in my journal that online learning was more intense, since I could not rely on seeing body language of the professor or my classmates….

The course proved to be emotional for me for the whole semester – sometimes, more frustrating than gratifying during class-times, particularly when I experienced technical infelicities – my own and others’ – and often exhilarating when I was working with my small group, or reading a particularly interesting article or chapter on my own, such as Chapter 3 in Trends and Issues…, “The History of Instructional Design and Technology.” For example, just one of the many margin comments I made in that chapter was, “I don’t know why people don’t approach new media with a sense of adventure. Why is there such conservatism?” I wrote that on p. 23 despite that most of the page referred to the increase in usage of new media….
With my small group, when we decided to develop an online module on immigration for Challenge III, I responded in my journal with the answer to the first question, “At what moment in class this week did you feel most engaged with what was happening?; I wrote that I was delighted that our own group represented such an interesting diversity of ancestral immigration experience, including one, who was in the process of deciding whether or not to immigrate to the United States and one whose ancestors have been here since the American Revolution.

On the September 10th, you asked us to consider for the following class: “What does it mean to participate in an online course?” I reflected on that question all semester. I wished I had done more written reflection on it. This was the first course that included a journal, where I did not feel compelled to reflect prolifically. Was it being given a template of questions to answer that made me less inspired than when I had free reign to write about whatever struck me?

Did participating in an online course cause me to feel less driven to write about my experience of the class than I did when I met with my professor and classmates face to face? Historically, when I learned face-to-face, there was something delicious about considering further what went on in the classroom, and our readings, and keeping a journal on all of it. If I had been asked to predict my drive to reflect in my journal during this course at the start of it, I would have predicted being at least as driven to write what I was thinking, if not more so, since I did not have the extra stimulation of being face-to-face with everyone.

Paradoxically, I was less driven and more dutiful with answering what I was asked, but not venturing much in my responses…though I did go off-script to reflect in my journal on another question that one of my classmates asked aloud early on: “What are we as individuals looking to learn from this class?”

My journal responded: “Hoping to gain the confidence to believe in myself as having the capacity to be an instructional designer. I don’t really want to learn models of instruction even as I know, rationally, that understanding the theory behind the design is key to becoming a credible and good designer. Rather, I just want to design and design and design. I want the majority of the course to be experiential.”
Perhaps partially egged on by my own journal entry, during the course of this course, I took the initiative to design a module on Work-life integration for work nearly fearlessly, including a make-your-own podcast as one of its features. I had never before designed a module solo. I had co-designed a face-to-face one, and had revised a face-to-face one.

The module I designed was 90 minutes in length, and face-to-face, rather than online, but I did design it, so that they produced a public artifact, a legacy. It took me 17 hours over a Saturday and Sunday and when it was complete, I sent it to my favorite ORLD professor for her critique and to our chief designer at work, and both thought it was good. Had I not done all of the reading I did for this course, and all of the participating in class, I doubt I would have been so bold as to have even tried to create it, let alone to ask for feedback on it. And so the course did give me what I sought; it simply took the further reflection of writing this paper to see it.

It was also interesting to me that my favorite question to answer about each reading was, “4. What is your favorite sentence from the reading? Why?” because it tended to validate my emerging philosophy of instructional design beyond the other questions, for example, in The Cambridge Handbook…, Chapter 15, “The Knowledge Integration Perspective on Learning and Instruction,” my favorite sentence was, “Results from studies…consistently show the value of requiring students to generate connections among ideas rather than only reading or recognizing ideas” (Linn, 2006, p. 258) because, as I wrote in my journal, “It makes the case for facilitation, rather than just teaching!”

Always, I have preferred Teachers College courses that have included a journal to those that have not. This was the first time I was required to answer specific questions and through reflection in this paper, I recognized the value of them even as they cramped my typical style a bit. Probably, they guaranteed further/more visible learning than simply a free-style journal because they encouraged me to “…generate connections among ideas rather than only reading or recognizing ideas” (Linn, 2006, p. 258).


Brookfield, S.D. (2004). Chapter 17, Critical Thinking Techniques. In Galbraith, M.W. (Ed.), Adult Learning Methods: A Guide for Effective Instruction (3rd ed.) (pp. 341-360). Malabar, FL: Krieger Publishing Company.

Reiser, R.A., & Dempsey, J.V. (Eds.) (2007). Trends and Issues in Instructional Design and Technology (2nd ed.). Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

Sawyer, R.K. (Ed.) (2006). The Cambridge Handbook of the Learning Sciences. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Ignoring Today's Inspirational Message...

The postings on this site are my own and don't necessarily represent IBM's positions, strategies or opinions. Stay in the Present

Every morning, I read an inspirational message and today's was about not peering too far into the future. Oh, well....

Before I jump into working on my last big paper of the semester, I want to indulge in cataloging some of the fun things I hope to do for the upcoming break between this semester and next -- December 23rd-January 22nd:

  • Taking our niece Zoe to a Broadway play - Done
  • Going to our friends', Fred's and Geoff's, holiday party - Done
  • Swimming at least three times a week, if not five or six, including three steam-blasts in the steam room afterward - Done
  • Choosing and downloading my Chanukah gift of many iTunes - Done
  • Welcoming Pat's adopted Tasmanian Devil into our home, or at least the toy-version, which is her most-wished for Chanukah present - Done
  • Seeing my childhood friend Sarah, just for fun; it has been since Rosh Hashanah! - Done
  • Going to synagogue more often; it always lifts me, and we're too often too tired to get to the city on Friday nights after a long week
  • Seeing "Milk;" "Frost-Nixon;" "Slumdog Millionaire" - Saw "Milk" and "Slumdog Millionaire"
  • Catching up on all the magazine articles I started that have waited in a stack patiently on my nightstand, and that are knocked off by Toonces nearly every dawn as she seeks our attention - Done
  • Finishing Watchmen and Doris Lessing's cats book, and reading Three Cups of Tea and The Zookeeper's Wife - Read Doris Lessing's and Watchmen and opted not to read the other two at this point
  • Figuring out a writing project for fun -- maybe more blogging, maybe a magazine article, maybe the start of a book(!) - Sent a query letter to a magazine for an article I could write
  • Seeing the Calder exhibit at the Whitney - Doing soon
  • Doing some more drawing - Done.

That was a fun catalog to create and now, back to the present, which isn't so bad either:

I've got a purring cat curled on my lap; am wearing my favorite, softest, most comfortable sweater for cold weather; already have read the interesting parts of the Sunday "New York Times," including the Modern Love article and the front-page story on the "first friends" of the Obamas, and how they hope and plan to keep their friendships active once Barak Obama becomes president; and now, I get to finish showing off what I gleaned from what I read all semester in six-eight pages, three of which I wrote last night; and then I get to work on refining a set of FAQs further for work that are going to be appreciated by their audience; and in-between, I probably get to talk to family or a friend or two by phone...and maybe, I will get myself out for a swim on this sunny, chilly day -- a swim indoors.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

God is Odd

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

"sad news"

Just because the subject line of her e-mail was in lower-case did not mean it would be less tragic.

Ancient History Made Vivid by Our Contact

Her mother, in the end, liked me better than she did. Twenty-one years ago, both of us had earned a degree from the University of Michigan, both of us loved reading fiction and both of us were lesbians. I've written before, if not here, that that was the extent of what we had in common. And yet we were a couple for two years and nine months, and lived together for most of that time.

We met while she was earning a Masters in English and I was in my senior year of undergrad. Toward the end of our first date, I kissed her at every red light as she drove me back to my Ann Arbor co-op; I was ecstatic at meeting an appealing woman with a beautiful brain. She was happy, I guess, to find someone presentable to bring home.

Thanksgiving in a Foreign Land

She did bring me home for Thanksgiving our first year together...only then, I was just her friend from Connecticut, who didn't fly home for the holiday. We hopped into her unassuming little, red Renault hatch-back and headed toward Detroit.

Approaching her family's Great Gatsby/1920s Grosse Pointe mansion on the water, I told myself to act cool. There was a golden, glowing Christmas tree in the center window, above the front door, or at least that's my memory.

Suddenly, I was in a foreign country. Her grand, yet similarly petite, welcoming mother swept me into her home and I just smiled at the warm, elegant, tasteful, comfortable atmosphere that seemed like the inanimate version of her mom -- and which so differed from the over-crowded, art-stuffed, hectic '60s split-level, where I grew up.

Her daughter was my girlfriend and instantly, I needed to be comfortable with an entire upper-class, Midwestern family...which wasn't large. She had a mother, father and brother, who was just a year younger than she -- my age. Both of the kids had gone to Princeton undergrad and University Liggett School before that. Her brother went on to law school and passed the California Bar before opting to pursue a different career. He was golden, could do anything he wanted, and yet never acted entitled.

Four years prior to my even being able to imagine this significant visit, my father had died, and my mother was just about making do. I had had to work while I studied, needed scholarships, and had come from a home that had never featured a Christmas tree. (Maybe this was part of what my favorite high school teacher, Mr. McWilliams, was referring to when he told me I ought to go to the Midwest for college, rather than staying east, to "...expand your horizons." Certainly, being welcomed into my former girlfriend's family was a wholly new horizon.)

Encouraging Kindness

My former girlfriend's mother and father were instantly lovely to me....Of course, initially, she didn't tell them that we were a couple. Her brother had come out when they were in high school and she spent undergrad, like I did much of the time, trying to, "beat it." I was just barely beginning to be openly-lesbian myself, so it was all right by me. Of course, I think that if they hadn't yet figured us out explicitly, they could tell I was someone special to her, and that's how they treated me.

Her father was quiet by nature, but almost every time he spoke, he said something that made me laugh aloud. My dad had been funny, too. It was a pleasure to be made to laugh in their palace -- and by the king no less.

Royal Family, Royal Treatment

When we went to bed that night, I felt like I was dreaming before even closing my eyes. What an exquisite world. Who knew I had attracted royalty? She became beloved to me then for being so, so privileged, and yet so...regular.

Of course, her brain was extraordinary, but she couldn't help that. And so was her brother's. They were a fun pair, so close in age, unlike my relatively much older sisters and me. They were extra-close in their love of fiction, in their unusually excellent athleticism (varsity tennis, squash), in their love of their alma maters and of pop-culture, and through their attraction to their own gender.

My former girlfriend came out to her parents over Christmas, without me there, and only after leaving the dinner table in tears over some gay-baiting remark by a guest, if I remember the story correctly. She told me that her mother followed her up to her room then and asked, "Is there something you want to tell me?"

From then on, her parents were even lovelier to me, which I've never stopped marveling at, since they were the most deeply religious people I had ever met, other than the rabbis who were my teachers at the Modern Orthodox day school I attended, growing up.

It wasn't the long-suffering sort of hospitality either. They were genuinely loving and inclusive. Purely lovely. I guess they were *truly* religious. They celebrated my graduation with my family that spring.

My Debut

That's how I came out to my mother explicitly finally. And my sisters. I wrote all of them letters, stating that my girlfriend's parents and girlfriend were going to be included in my graduation party and that if they didn't accept my lesbianism, they shouldn't bother coming to my graduation. All of them came. How daring I was! I had spent most of my life, fearing their rejection of me if they knew, but being treated so well by anyone's family, I guess, had emboldened me.

My former girlfriend and I served as each other's debutante date in the scheme of our lives, I guess, and it was an essential, yet relatively temporary relationship. Almost three years after the graduation celebration, I knew it was over between us.

"Baghdad Cafe," a film all about the virtue of change, kept me company twice in a row while my former girlfriend was out playing Chicago recreational softball with the woman who has been her partner ever since our breakup, I believe. After listening to the lyrics on the movie's soundtrack, about "...being in a little cafe in the middle of nowhere," but which was in any case, "...someplace better than where you'd been," I knew that ultimately, change would be good, and that I could not avoid it any longer.

Within a few weeks, I had moved into an efficiency some blocks west of where we had lived together -- my "little cafe in the middle of nowhere." Then I bought a Siamese fighting fish in a tiny glass bowl for companionship and began my years of serial dating pre-Pat.

Bridging Ancient History to Current Events

My former girlfriend's mother seemed stricken by our breakup; she said to me: "But you can't just end a marriage," using the only frame of reference she had. As we had our final conversation by phone, I shook my head, so sorry that I'd have to lose my former girlfriend's family in the bargain.

For probably 15 years, my former girlfriend and I lost touch. When online social networking dawned, I found her again and made contact. She had done well. A few years ago, her book was published by an elite university press. She had become a professor at a giant university.

And my blog, and online professional profile told much of my story positively, too. All's well that ends well...except it isn't all ending well, unfortunately:

Her Note's Subject Line Read, "sad news"

This fall, my former girlfriend's father died of natural causes at 79; her parents had been married for 45 years. When I learned of their longevity in his obituary, I was jealous for my mother, who had lost my father when they were just 56. My jealousy was curtailed by the next announcement: Five weeks later, my former girlfriend's brother took his own life. No one had expected it, including his partner.

My former girlfriend's brother and I had not been in touch since the breakup and I simply thought of him sweetly every once in awhile. Weirdly, around the time of his death, I was hunting for him within LinkedIn and wasn't even sure why -- too common a name, unfortunately.

After his passing, I tried googling him and was regretful that I hadn't done so in the first place, as his profiles showed up right away. How gorgeous he was, even 20+ years later. What made someone end his or her own life? A chemical imbalance? Private pain that was impossible to express? An accident?

When I learned the news, I felt closer to my former girlfriend than I might have even felt during our relationship. With age came empathy; I had almost lost one of my sisters to breast cancer a few years ago -- she's cancer-free now, thank God -- and had dreaded the thought of being down a sibling. And this was her only sibling.

Some days later, it's her mother I wish I could comfort.

Maybe We Were Meant to Be Sisters Instead

I want to tell her mother that when my father died, the mother of a former best friend came to my father's shivah. I wrote her a note afterward, suggesting that since she had been like an extra mother to me when her daughter and I were friends from three to eight, it was almost as if I still had two parents left.

The offer I want to make to my former girlfriend's mother is this:

Let's agree to no obligation for either of us, but since you were like a loving parent to me in the early time of my being openly lesbian, I'd like to offer to be your child in addition to my mother's if you like; your son and I had the same major in college and both had the same profession for some years, both were around the same age. Again, no obligation, but the offer's open. That's what I'd like to say.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Gray Day, Bright Mood

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

Hope is Hatching

We woke up to snow-dust and trout-feast for our kitties. They must be fed first thing. Toonces began her heavy-pawed march over our prone bodies unusually early today, at 5 am, but we made her wait till 7, no matter that she batted items off our night-tables and onto the floor, trying to get our attention.

Toonces got it, but our dreams won, and so we dreamt between head-butts and purrs in our ears -- from the cat, not from each other.

People as Packages

Last night, Pat and I watched a documentary on Stephen Wiltshire, the visually artistic, autistic savant and then I also finally finished the Amos Oz short story I'd been reading in "The New Yorker." Both reminded me of compensations and deficits from God.

In the short story, the protagonist had a deficit; everyone saw him as Mr. Affability, but his wife was unhappy with him: "A few weeks ago, when they were fighting, Nava had said that his kindness was like a mask, and under the mask: Siberia."

In the documentary, Stephen Wiltshire had grown up profoundly autistic, but he was a remarkable and highly-successful artist, particularly of cityscapes, from memory. Our friend who died recently, and whose Memorial service we participated in a couple of days ago also was compensated: While he had a sadness about him, he had among the quickest senses of humor of anyone I'd ever known.

Something about my recognizing the deficits and compensations of others, even fictional others, is giving me hope today. It reminds me that I'm not alone in my good qualities and less good ones. Each of us is a package.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Unmuting Myself

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

How Can I Share What I'm Feeling?...How Can I Not?

"I must be the only Irish Jew in the world now," said my partner Pat, eulogizing our friend at his Memorial service at the Manhattan JCC yesterday. I cried then and now, as it seemed like a prelude to Pat's funeral some day -- it's my hope that it's many, many, many years in the future, and that, selfishly, I will already be dead and won't have to witness the occasion.

Both of them were funny, not heterosexual, Irish, Midwestern and Jewish converts. All of us met at Or Chadash in Chicago, back when name badges had just our first names and the first initial of our last names by default, in case we weren't public about our sexual orientation.

When I am forced to acknowledge death, I want life. God forgive me for totally watching the vivacious former employee of our friend over the shoulder of our friend's brother as he shared his grief with us. Earlier, she told me that our friend had been her boss for five years, and had been the best one she had ever had.

Later in the reception afterward, as his brother spoke of necessarily flying back to his brother's home city (no longer Manhattan) to retrieve his brother's stuff, she was a fresh vision of life out of the corner of my eye: tall, slim, black-haired, blue-eyed, features too youthful and too perfect to have been created surgically, all in black, except for the unclothed portion, where a long necklace could have lay. She had a ring on her left finger and so did the guy for whom she kept twirling her hair in her fingers. He had the guy-version of her build and strikingly handsome looks.

I never learned his connection to our friend, but smiled at the irony that two, apparently heterosexual people were flirting energetically at our gay friend's Memorial service. Or maybe he was gay, but was feeling like I was:

When will my pregnancy urge in response to death ever stop? I wanted to be either of the pair who were flirting -- young enough to become pregnant, or virile enough to impregnate. I wanted to escape our friend's gone-ness. I wanted to escape my worries of Pat's potential absence from my life someday through death. I wanted to be gone from the room of mourners and be busy, creating life.

Monday, December 1, 2008


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

Perfectionism's Necessary Counter-Balance

Some years ago, I was complaining to a friend at how upset I was that I didn't achieve something or another -- genuinely, I cannot remember about what I was grousing per se. I do recall her response, though:

"Sarah, you are not perfect...very nearly, but not."

I laughed, but I'm reminded of the exchange tonight.

This afternoon, I visited one of my favorite professors. I met with her, so that she could critique a paper of mine from last year. From a year ago.

"I haven't seen you since the Holiday Party," she began.

"Right. I'm sorry that I disappeared. It was babyish, but you handed me my paper at the party and I was so ashamed that you didn't love it [when I peeked at it while walking out of the building and while stopped at traffic lights on my way home] that I couldn't contact you afterward. I was too embarrassed."

"Well, I felt rejected when I didn't hear from you, and am glad to see you now."

"No, no, no. It was all my problem. I was just chagrined. Sorry to have been such a baby."

"I'm fond of you, so I'm glad you're back now."

I had brought the paper with me, so that we could go through it together and I had a giant lump in my throat the whole time, which transformed into tears as we talked.

"Look, you were so driven when you were in my class your first semester that I thought you were interested in the doctoral program here, and so I read it with an eye toward that. It didn't have an academic writing style."

"It's so ironic. I just came here from the information session on Kappa Delta Pi. I always want to do well, and be recognized for it, but...I don't really enjoy writing academically."

"I don't either. It's not creative."

"But you do it."

"Not very much. Mostly, I work with doctoral students on their writing."

"Well, I had such hopes for this paper when I wrote it. I wanted to be a big-shot and get it published."

"You still could. It wouldn't be such a stretch for you to do academic writing...if you wanted to do it."

"That's the thing. Half-way through this program now, I feel a bit lost. I keep thinking there's gotta be *some* scheme I can use to become published and I guess my latest idea was to get published via my work in grad school."

"Now that Obama has been elected, it's probably is fresh again. You could publish it if you wanted to. I mean, if you want to teach anyone, it's probably a good idea to publish."

"See, that's it. I enrolled in Teachers College because my sister had breast cancer, and I was afraid she wouldn't survive, and I thought, someone's gotta carry on where she left off."

"Is your sister an academic?"

"She was the principal of Brooklyn International High School, and has degrees from here and Bank Street College."


"Well, she survived, and then my mother had breast cancer and she survived, and meanwhile, I'm only half-way through this program and it's taking forever, since I'm taking only three credits a semester while working full-time."

"So it sounds like the doctoral program's not something you're still entertaining."

"No, I guess not."

"May I get that? It's my daughter." My professor's cell phone was ringing.

"Of course."

"Honey, I'm at school. May I call you back?"

I watched my professor and thought: I can't even create a child *or* an article, and she has done both!

"Sorry about that. My kids never call unless it's something bad, but she just said that she'd call my husband."

It was 28 minutes into the 30 I had scheduled with her and my sails were airless. "Well, I really appreciate your time and help, and again, I'm sorry that I was such a baby. [And then through tears:] I'm sorry to need this, too, but do you even still think I'm smart?"

"I don't think it. I *know* it."

"Thank you. On my way out, I want to tell you: Sometimes I feel like a visionary, but like people don't always want to hear my vision. Sometimes, I feel like I can scare people." (This had nothing to do with the paper. I don't know why my ego kicked in then, but probably it was meant to be a way to buoy myself.)

"Think about Obama. Nobody is that restrained. Nobody. And yet he is able to not scare people, and he got elected. People can hear his message."

"That's a bonus point. You're right. He's a good role model." I wanted to die more than ever, hearing that, regardless that it was meant to be constructive.

"So your mother and sister are well now?" she asked as my hand reached for her office-door-knob.

"Yes, thank God."

"And your kids, and you?"

She looked away. Someone she loved was "...having inconclusive tests."

I felt even worse. Here I was, whining about my crummy, little paper, which when put in a life and death perspective, didn't feel so big. And yet it did, and still does.

"I will pray for [the person's] restored health because often, like my mother and sister, people turn out fine."

"Yes, they do," she said.

I smiled wanly and thanked her again as I shut the door.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

World AIDS Day

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

December 1st

It's hard to believe that World AIDS Day is a group I can join on Facebook. It was nearly 22 years ago that I first became aware of HIV and AIDS; I was ignorant till then, perhaps, since I spent 1985-86 in Jerusalem and didn't make many gay friends till my return, as I was still "on the down-low" myself then.

I did have one gay friend in Israel that I knew of, and he never spoke of AIDS, and apparently behaved as though he was unaware of it. I've run into him at my synagogue's High Holiday services in recent years, and so either he was genetically lucky, or modified his behavior, or both.

How tragic a distance I've traveled since then, losing a number of dear friends, who were just in their twenties, and have had to wonder at God's plan more than I had ever meant to.

This morning, I read an article in "The New York Times" about a reporter's infertility and her decision to enlist a surrogate mother to carry her egg to term after the reporter had been devastated by a number of miscarriages. She wrote that she wanted to do whatever she could to fix God's plan and I thought: Your drive was greater than mine, since only half of the baby's genes would have come from one of us in my family; Pat couldn't contribute, and so after nine IUI attempts, as I've written here before, I gave up and deferred to what I said must have been God's plan.

This occurs to me on the eve of World AIDS Day, I guess, because my inability to create life organically is the closest I've come to dying myself.

Please, God, let me honor the friends I've lost to AIDS through my behavior on the 1st of December and always.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Market Value of My Art

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

The Inclusiveness -- or is it Self-disrespect? -- of Free Access

Earlier this week, I had the following exchange:

"What inhibits you from determining the market value of your art?"

"I’ve never really tried to sell it [just accepted the rate I was paid for four "Michigan Daily" articles; an "Inside Chicago" magazine freelance piece; and a review on an anthology of lesbian plays for the "Lambda Book Report"] and I don’t know what I ought to expect. Also, something in me feels that it’s great to serve people my thoughts for free – that all should have access."

When I told a musician friend about the exchange, he said, "Sure, I have some of my songs on Myspace, but I also have no trouble spending money on a CD, whether new or used, for music I like, and I appreciate people, spending money to buy my music, too."

I was reminded of a bit of a painful e-mail message I received a couple of Mays ago from an artist whose work I reviewed informally on my blog. He wrote to me in an annoyed tone: Why waste my time, blogging? With my talent, he wrote, why not write a real book? He meant to be complimentary and the question has haunted me.

Blogging feels like a miracle to me: a free forum, where I can reach anyone in the world who has computer access -- and even those without computer access can access my blog, if they can get to a public library; I recognize that that's not everyone, but it's potentially still a substantial number of humanity.

Writing a book and having a reputable publisher publish it feels like a miracle, too: a publisher that values my writing enough to want to sponsor my publication enables me likewise potentially to reach anyone with public library access.

What would the topic be? A graphic memoir? A book on how to be an inclusive leader? A guide to thinking creatively while swimming? All-time best songs for disco-rollerskating, including commentary? How to reconcile one's homosexuality with being Jewish? Helping leaders become better leaders through Web 2.0 tools? How to get through grad school after 40?....What could I write that no one else could, and that anyone would consider being book-worthy? Suggestions are welcome!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving Here

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

...Rather than in India this Year

Pat and I are bone-chilled by the recent news from Mumbai. I wrote to my colleague and friend Anita, who lives there, and haven't yet heard back, but I've heard news that so far, so good re: IBMers in Mumbai, which is a relief.

Last year, the only two brands of hotel in which Pat and I chose to vacation were the Taj Malabar in Cochi and the Oberoi in Agra. Both brands were targeted in Mumbai, the news says so far, due to their being frequented by Brits and Americans.

It's odd to feel survivor's guilt from so far away, but we do, and we're so, so grateful to be with our family this year, when last year, we were with an American IBM colleague we had just met, and were a family for one another for a single day. We ate our Thanksgiving meal (no turkey, cranberries or any food that resembled it) in the Rajgarh Restaurant in Palm Meadows.

Please God, protect the people of and in India from any further bloodshed. Amen.

The Women...

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

..of 1939 Compared with Today's

Last weekend, Pat and I watched "The Women," and it came up in conversation with Pat's nearly 85-year-old mother yesterday; we were discussing whether or not all of us ought to go see "The Changeling," based on a tragic, true story that took place in Los Angeles in the late-20s.

Thinking about a woman of the '20s reminded me:

"Bev, we were just watching 'The Women' the other night and it struck me that while the women's fashions of the '20s differed from the women's fashions of the '30s, the fashions of the '40s didn't seem so different from those of the '30s."

"Well, you have to remember that that was the time of the Austerity. And women couldn't always get what they were looking for in stores...."

I never knew what '30s fashions looked like -- just noticed my mom during her college photos in the '40s, and then was struck that the fashions in "The Women" really didn't look so different from what my mom wore, except maybe in terms of the hats. I don't remember hats being as common.

This morning, while swimming at our Wisconsin hotel -- my mom went to the University of Wisconsin - Madison, Class of 1947 -- I was reminded of the Austerity. At 7 am, the air in the glass-walled room with the pool was nippy, and the sun wasn't yet very high, and then the temperature of the pool itself definitely was lower than the Red-Cross-recommended range of 81-83 degrees Fahrenheit.

As I swam anyway -- and I was alone in the room and in the pool...wonder why(!) -- I thought, Perhaps this is how it'll be increasingly for the duration of our country's/world's financial crisis: Pools will become a bit colder, though still swimmable.

My hair has gotten too long not to swim without a bathing-cap and the cap kept trapping water in my left ear whenever I did freestyle. Over and over, I tried to enjoy a new sensation that was reassuring and unsettling at once: When the water trickled back out of my ear, it left a trail of warmth inside my ear.

"Pat, it was weird to be reminded that my insides are warmer than my outsides," I said over breakfast.

"Well, yeah, your body temperature is 98.6 [degrees Fahrenheit]."

..of 1885-1968 Compared with Today's

As I was writing here, Pat read aloud from an October "Vanity Fair" article about Edna Ferber (see this bio and this one, as one's from the Jewish perspective, and one's from the Appleton, Wisconsin perspective). The "Vanity Fair" article refers to her in passing as a lesbian, but I had to search Google, using, "'Edna Ferber' + 'lesbian'" to find references to her sexual orientation.

In college, I discovered Dorothy Parker, of the Algonquin Round Table, but had never before heard of Edna Ferber. And I liked learning about her as we sat in a hotel 30 miles from where she spent most of her adolescence.

Last night, Pat's mother was singing the praises of Rachel Maddow while Pat said, "I've nothing against her, but I don't like to listen to extreme people on either side, right or left. That's why I like CNN -- because they interview people from both ends of the spectrum."

"Well, I think you just feel that she's a really good person, and she was a Rhodes Scholar," said Pat's mom. I listened to Bev talk on about how great Rachel Maddow was and I felt pride and envy all at once. Was Pat's mother liking her because she was a successful lesbian, and her mother needed further proof that one can be openly lesbian and still be successful?

My additional pride was around Rachel Maddow's name sounding Jewish, whether or not she was -- and I just found that her mother's from Newfoundland, so it's not 100% likely that she was raised as a Jew, as Newfoundland doesn't have a big Jewish population that I'm aware of.

And then I felt envy because we watched a bit of her show on MSNBC last night, and I thought, I used to love being on camera for "The 10% Show," that little, but wonderful cable access show we produced in Chicago, which got syndicated, in the late-80s and early-90s. During this trip, even before seeing Rachel Maddow in action, I was thinking that it could be fun to start a vlog because it's fun to share what I'm thinking here in this blog, and in this age, why not also self-publish a video-based show? We'll see....

Meanwhile, in thinking further about women of the last century and this one, I'm struck by how for most of this trip, Pat and I have been wearing jeans, turtlnecks and brand-new sweatshirts vs. the cool clothes they wore in the '20s, '30s and '40s particularly. And how Rachel Maddow, Pat and I can be openly lesbian in this country while Edna Ferber, if she was lesbian, probably could not have been openly so.

Still, we haven't yet fully arrived: When we picked up Pat's mom after landing at the airport, she introduced us to her building manager, "This is my son Jim and my daughter Pat and her friend Sarah."

"Mom, Sarah's not my friend. I don't even like her," Pat tried to make light of it in the car afterward, "She's my partner."

"I know, but you know how people can be. I didn't want to confuse him or worse."

I'm not including this exchange to tell on Pat's mom. She's lovely and inclusive to me always. It's just that women born earlier in the last century sometimes still have trouble with us, it seems; about five years ago, my own mother poured out an envelope of photos she was carrying, to show an ex-boyfriend from her high school days that she ran into in her hometown, Rochester, New York. It included photos of all of her kids and grandkids. Quickly, she handed me the one of Pat and me and whispered, "We don't need to show that one."

Edna, we feel your pain. Rachel, keep impressing and offering reassurance to Pat's mom and others like her through being at the top of your game.

Sunday, November 23, 2008


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

Not for 8th Graders' Eyes Only

If my grandparents on my dad's side -- all of blessed memory -- and my great-grandparents of blessed memory on my mom's side had not left Russia by 1917 and the late-1800s respectively, I would not be posting this blog entry, or working on this project:

Earlier, I gathered what I promised to collect for my small-group online-module design project for 8th graders, and sent the following to my classmates in the group:

Hi, Everyone. Here's my promised followup:

For Challenge 1, A.1.c., here are immigrant images; we can narrow the number/edit the selection, but wanted to provide a bunch/variety:

[I included links to nine images from the Library of Congress web site, but none were usable, as all were generated dynamically for my computer as temp files, I guess.]

For Challenge 2, B.3.a., here's a great site, featuring the photos of a Smithsonian traveling exhibition, "Becoming American: Teenagers and Immigration;" at, students can read as many of the captions for the photos as we I don't need to cull any quotes from that book I referred to; this does the job.

For Challenge 2, B.3.b., here is a site that talks about the difference between open-ended and closed-ended questions: train our managers to use open-ended questions when they are coaching their you can say that it's a coaching technique we teach our leaders at IBM if you think that'll be further motivational. [Note: We do not refer to this web site in our IBM training; rather, this was just a useful site I found when I was trawling for "open-ended questions."]

For Challenge 2, B.3.c., here are a couple sites on debating skills and tips:

For Challenge 3, C.2.d., here are some interesting pro- and anti-immigration links:


PRO: (and this one reminds me of a fascinating article from today's NYT; this NYT article's purely fyi....

A Man for All Seasons?

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

Courage or Selfish Self-righteousness?

Of all of the Broadway plays, where we could have run into our friend who's a monk yesterday, "A Man for All Seasons" made the most sense. Our friend had been a VP in IT at JP Morgan Chase, and then took a package. And then 9/11 came and his panoramic view, including of the twin towers, was less desirable. And then his religious calling was more desirable and he sold his home and worldly belongings, and finally joined a monastery on the Hudson River.

It made sense that our friend would be drawn to a play about the Lord Chancellor in King Henry VIII's court, who went to his death for his religious convictions. In our case, it was simply one in a series of plays to which we had subscribed. He was meeting friends there, but we caught up at the intermission a bit.

Talking about the plot, our friend said to our other friends and Pat, "That's why I like Sarah," he said, "Because she has a conscience." I was thrilled and completely self-conscious at once -- afraid of coming off as self-righteous, and reminded of what a thin line it is.

At dinner, one of our friends said, "I thought that Sir Thomas Moore was amazing, but as we're sitting here now, I wonder if he wasn't selfish, thinking of his convictions at the expense of his family, who also suffered as a result.

Conscience or Judgmental Self-rigtheousness?

"I want to tell you a story that doesn't necessarily reflect well on me," I said. "Years ago, I had a bulimic friend, who I had known since we were 15, and who was not trying to end the bulimia, but rather was in denial about it. She stole a cookie from the bin while we were grocery-shopping at age 22. I was upset with her, especially when her response was, 'Don't worry, I'd just bat my eyes at the Produce boy if I had to.'"

"At the time," I continued, "I was most disturbed by her plan to charm her way out of the shop-lifting incident, and I also judged her: I decided that she figured, If I don't pay for the cookie, then I didn't eat it, which I decided was more evidence of her denial of her eating disorder. I had no compassion for her and never forgot that it had happened."

"A year later, my friend had just taken the Bar exam for Law school and had passed, and apparently had given my name as a reference for the State Board to call, without asking me. I answered the phone and the spokesperson asked me to give a reference for my friend. I said that I couldn't."

"When I spoke with my friend, I told her why I felt I couldn't provide a reference and she responded breezily, 'Don't worry. I just gave them another name.' But we were never friends after that."

"Oh, they called you?" Pat said, "I didn't remember that."

"Yeah, and I wouldn't give a reference. Of course, as you know, she's a hugely successful partner in a top-tier global law firm now [Google confirmed it], and so my act of conscience or self-righteousness didn't ultimately harm her future."

"I'd have done the same thing," said one of our friends.

"Are you just saying that because we're trying to be friends?"

"*Trying?*" said her partner.

"I just meant that these are the early days [of the friendship]," I said.

"No, I really think I would have done likewise, but then I"m really a rules-based sort of person."

"So am I," said Pat.

Our other friend, I could tell, saw it as complex and not clear.

"I don't ever remember doing anything for which I wasn't prepared for the consequences," Pat said.

I feel defensive as I write this: When it came time to endorse my friend, it was her bald lack of contrition that made my compassion impossible...of course, I know that if I were a better person, it's likely that I would have found a way to have a further conversation with her about the episode, and to gain some resolution about it, so that I'd never have had to disappoint her during her road to her profession.

It's moments like this series with my friend that stay with me 20+ years later and that were triggered by the on-stage drama. I'm sure that our friend, the monk, would have had a lovelier way of handling the dilemma than the way I chose....

Saturday, November 22, 2008

So Brief...

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

...It Ought to Be a Tweet

Earlier in the week, I looked adoringly at one of our cats and she returned my glance, and it struck me that we love each other even though we cannot speak each other's language.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Swimming on a Horse

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

I've Never Done It, but a Colleague Has

She told me it's like being on a horse on a merry-go-round. What a marvelous-sounding experience...if only I knew how to ride on land before- and afterward. Life offers so many experience possibilities, if one lives long enough.

Today, I felt extra-alive. My friend and colleague, who lost her 10-day-old baby recently and I had lunch at her work-site.

The baby was already handsome and somehow adult, like I could tell how good-looking and suave he'd have been as a man, just looking at his dark eyebrows, handsome features and neat, black hair in the days-old photos. His humanity tore at me. His mother's Facebook profile still features gorgeous pregnant photos of my colleague and friend. He was the size of a doll, and yet seemed powerful in parallel.

Seeing him made me feel more alive. Witnessing snapshots of his brief life pumped up mine with some further purpose somehow.

My colleague and friend looked great and I told her so, and I felt suddenly inappropriate and cringed visibly.

"No, I'm glad you think so," she said.

She looked even more feminine than usual, and even more full of dignity. How does someone crawl out of bed after such a personal cataclysm, let alone look better than ever? Maybe her humanity, too, was even more visible than usual and that conferred extra beauty. Anyhow, I felt a little distracted by it, and by the delicious smell of the Indian cafeteria food I had ordered; it was Indian cuisine day.

Everything she said sounded extra-wise. It was awesome, i.e., awe-inspiring to be with someone who was surviving a deep heart-stab...metaphorically, but almost not just metaphorically. At one point I said something I can't recall, but it made both of us laugh hard and I felt immediately guilty. In Jewish tradition, we are supposed to avoid generating humor around mourners...and yet the sound of her laugh made me try to pretend in my mind that it hadn't happened, for a moment.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Kristallnacht Shabbat

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

70-year Anniversary

Every year for the past 12 that we've lived in metro-New York, we have skipped the Shabbat service at our synagogue that commemorates Kristallnacht. We haven't wanted the downer that we figured it would be. Gross, I know.

It's not that I resolutely avoid thinking about the Holocaust; I took a graduate-level history course on it at Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies when we lived in Chicago and thought about little else for a solid semester...not to mention that it's often on the back-burner of my consciousness in daily life. It has been my luxury not to have it be on the front-burner; while my first cousins' mother was a survivor and my childhood friend's father, too, my parents' parents and grandparents all had left Russia by 1917.

This is a photo of my grandmother and great-grandmother of blessed memory on my dad's (z"l) side. I am not sure when it was taken, or for what occasion. What if they had not made it to Washington, D.C. as immigrants? My dad and I would never have been born. Fortunately, they did, and we were.

The father and grandfather of our friend and fellow congregant, Rick Landman, were arrested on Kristallnacht and taken to Dachau. Rick has written a book that Pat has read, and which she says is great. Understandably, he probably thinks about what happened in Germany nearly continuously.

Glad We Went to Shul

We heard Rick speak last night and I needed to learn the story of the Torah he dedicated to a shul in Germany; he mentioned that right before coming to services, he received e-mail that the architect of the German synagogue's new building will be Daniel Libeskind. Rick tells much more about Kristallnacht, his family's experience and highlights some of our synagogue's past Kristallnacht programs here.

In the car on the way home, Pat said, "You really get a different picture of Rick from reading his book. [Rick is always just joking around with us before and after services and that's about the only picture I've had of him historically.] He's got a history of being an amazing organizer."

"Well, he really seems to be driven for his extended family's deaths to be avenged by his good work," I said, "And I guess there's definitely that bright side to being the child of Holocaust survivors -- that lifelong drive to leave an affirmative legacy." Of course, I want to leave a legacy, too, but I think there's an added impetus in the case of some children of survivors.

The Service Was Profound, Exquisite

Rabbi Kleinbaum spoke of the murder, earlier this week, of Marcelo Lucero: "We wonder how the Nazis could have done what they did and then right here in New York, teenagers went looking to hurt a 'dirty Mexican,' and killed an Ecuadorean just this week....I've asked one of our congregants, Francisco Ordonez, from Ecuador himself, to read a poem he wrote to us."

Francisco stood on the bimah (pulpit) and recited it. He kindly agreed to give me a copy afterward, and that I could blog about it. Here it is:

"Long Island, Potatoes, Suburbia"

Long Island - a land of potato farms
I am Ecuadorean from the land of the potatoes.
It feels just natural that we belong her in a mystical link to this island.

My brother's house is here.
The beach house of Taita Stan,
Thanksgiving, Pesaj, the school of the child.
Fire Island, Central Islip, Great Neck, Smithtown and Babylon

The trains full of people and
Less frequent than the number one

You welcome the potatoes and Suburbia Levittown.
I am Ecuadorean, I am the new one among the newest inhabitants
Koreans, Italians, Eastern Europeans, Irish, Germans.

Brother Marcelo Lucero, your home was here you worked here
[Musical notes] Start spreading the news [more musical notes]
some of the highest leaders of
our community
also have blood on their hands
Trade his life for votes

We are from the Andes, the land is our mother
In Long Island we feel like happy potatoes in the Pachamama love
Pachamama is land, Long Island is our pachamama too.

"to beat up some Mexicans"
Look at him he is mexican,
Insult me I am latino
Beat me, I am Mexican.
Stab me I am illegal
Kill me, kill me I am nothing

This time, It was him, tomorrow

Shema Koleinu
Esuchame, Hear Our Voice.

Est ist in November, ein Bahnhof in einer kalte Naacht
Es un dia de Noviember, en la estacion del tren una noche fria.
It is November, It is a train station, and it is a cold night

Now, What do I say to the children? -- Francisco Ordonez

On the back of the poem, Francisco included notes on how potatoes originated in the Andes; on how Levittown was built on 4,000 acres of potato fields; on the goddess revered by the indigenous people of the Andes, Pachamama (Mother Universe); "Shema Koleinu," the prayer on Yom Kippur, where we beg God for pity and compassion; and on how Kristallnacht, which happened on November 10th, was, "...the beginning of the systematic eradication of a people who could trace their ancestry in Germany to Ancient Rome and served as a prelude to the Holocaust that was to follow." What an extraordinary voice and soul!

And then we also heard other, striking, beautiful art from the mouths of a guest quartet, who sang selections of the Shabbat liturgy, using tunes by German-Jewish composers, Eduard Birnbaum, Emanuel Kirschner and Louis Lewandowski.

The quartet featured Lisa Arbisser, Kyle Bielfield, Donna Breitzer and Vladimir Lapin. All of the singers seemed to be in their early-to-mid-20s. I watched the tender face of the soprano, Lisa, as the rabbi and cantor said poignant things about the anniversary of Kristallnacht, and watched her bow out of the corner of my eye during the Aleinu prayer, and thought, For all of their masterful singing, perhaps only one of them is at all observantly Jewish....Maybe some of the others bowed, too, and I just failed to see them.

I spoke with a couple of them afterwards, "Thank you for such a beautiful experience. All of you seem to have German last names. Are all of you from German backgrounds?"

"I'm Russian-Jewish," said Vladimir, who was taller than I, with nearly black hair. My throat caught, as I thought of the irony of a Russian-Jewish immigrant, singing German-Jewish compositions; the truism was that historically, a number of German-Jews looked down on Eastern-European Jews as the peasant-class of Jews -- I'm from that peasant class, too. There we were, two, tall Russian-Jews with German-appearing last names, meeting at the world's largest synagogue for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people and our friends and family. I don't know if he was gay or not, but I loved his deep singing voice and the dignity it conferred on every note he sang.

And then Kyle said something about being the great-grandchild of someone, who had somehow been affiliated with the Kaiser in Germany -- I didn't hear the exact role. Wow, another beautiful irony. I'm pretty sure this video might be of Kyle nearly a decade ago, where he's singing spiritual music in English. Today, he looks like a surfer, who can sing. Pat thought he was cute like Rob Lowe, and I thought he was cute like Rob Lowe with a surfer's or sail-boat sailor's haircut.

It makes sense that he would still be singing spiritual music of any sort, and it's poignant to me that he was able, and willing, to learn how to sing it all in Hebrew, if he's not Jewish. Kyle wore a small, silver Chai at the base of his throat, which moved me, too. It sat right on top of where the beautiful music was coming from. "Chai" is the Hebrew word for "Life."

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Honoring Differences...

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

And Discovering Common Ground

A couple of days ago, I was fortunate to participate in a really cool meeting for work, including 16 women and a four men, discussing how to help our companies' managers and leaders help their employees and peers meet work-life integration challenges. To my knowledge/gaydar, I was the only non-heterosexual person in the room.

But First, a Bit More Self-segregation

Now, why would I even notice something like that? Why would I scrutinize the demographics of the room? Because I always do, wherever I am. Being part of an often stealthy, and even sometimes invisible, historically-underrepresented group, I'm wired that way: Is anyone else here from my tribe?...Oh, and of course, I notice people with Jewish last names, too. I say, "Of course," since it's my nature to look for people, who are at least on the surface like me, to feel less alone.

While 90 percent of the people in the room were women, at times, I felt like a tourist, not a native, e.g., whenever I couldn't relate to what some of what was being said, e.g., smiling about husbands' behavior...of course, I could be a single, heterosexual woman and feel similarly apart, but....

Certainly, I wanted to be a respectful tourist and not the equivalent of the ugly foreigner, and so I mostly just listened, rather than trying to interject whenever something didn't feel familiar to me.

The group was well-established, and had met many times prior, and I was invited as a guest speaker about how our company designs leadership development learning now and in the future. By design, then, I was not part of the group...and yet, since it was predominately women, I wanted to feel akin, even as I was dubious that I would.

One of the women, like me, was unusually tall, and had a Jewish name -- whether or not she was Jewish -- and both of us were huge Web 2.0 fans. And yet her very visible pregnancy felt like a club that I was not able to join. I feel like I'm whining here, and I don't mean to do so.

The woman and I had a raft of things in common, and yet I felt apart from her...and then I went to her blog and saw that her most recent entry talked of how she felt somewhat restless/anxious/off-track about her career, since she was pregnant. Everyone has a reason to feel alienated, I guess. It's important to remember that more often. During that day, I wish I'd remembered to do what my mom suggests when I'm feeling awkward in a crowd of new people: "Try and make someone there feel comfortable and you'll forget about your own awkward feelings."

Joining a Roomful of Our Own

By contrast, tonight, I walked into a room full of 16 corporate lesbian and bi women, and two or three heterosexual women, at one of their Time Square offices, and it was like getting into a warm bath. I don't want to feel guilty for feeling so at ease compared with Tuesday.

It's like the treat we had, downloading "Mad Men" on our computer while we lived in India last year; sure, it was full-on American TV, but we were still extending ourselves culturally the vast majority of the time. So what if we allowed ourselves the guilty pleasure of feeling cozily at home now and then?

Who Are Our Allies?

The group was having its second meeting tonight and the premise of both meetings was to brainstorm ways to help lesbian, bi and transwomen be as visible as they want to be and unlimitedly successful in corporate environments. The theme of tonight's meeting was "Allies."

And I brought up how I felt on Tuesday compared to tonight, and how I need to overcome that, since heterosexual women are a huge, potential and actual pool of allies.

"What do you mean you feel awkward among the women's group at work? Don't you have any female friends, who are heterosexual?" asked one of the women, incredulous.

"Yes, and I even have sisters [who are heterosexual]...." But I was referring to the institutional group of women at work. It's the institutional group, where I feel awkward. I never feel like I'm one of them."

"I can relate," said one of the women across from me.

At the end of the evening, I said, "I think it's that I don't even really feel like a woman when I'm with them. First, before everything else, I feel like a lesbian."

"I agree. First, I feel bisexual and then black or female," said another woman.

Allies for the Picking

Earlier in the evening, we discussed other types of allies we had experienced and thought we could cultivate. And I said that we ought to think further about engaging religious allies. "After all," I said, "In India, our GLBT employee networking group is co-led by a devout Hindu, a heterosexual woman, who says, 'I believe in anything that advances humanity.' And our senior executive sponsor there is Sikh. And he says, as a Sikh, he must stand up for what is right, whether or not it is popular."

The facilitator of the meeting, who was a heterosexual woman, and lovely, asked fantastic questions, including: "How do you create change? Do you have rewards for allies? What do you want allies to say? To do?"

"Allies need to tell our stories," one of the women answered. "They can sell us better than we can sell ourselves...."

Another woman said, "Let's not forget a really powerful group of allies: the women, sitting around this table!" Amen.

Flirty Comrade

This meeting of brainstormers, twice now, has hit the spot. I am a pendulum, though. I went from fighting awkwardness on Tuesday to being perhaps overly comfortable earlier: "You look so handsome tonight," I told one of the women in front of the group she was talking with. She was wearing a navy suit with a navy, pin-striped shirt and a bright, yellow-silk scarf tied almost like an ascot. What am I saying, I asked myself, but then felt happy that I had felt free to tell her. And how harmless. And how great, to have a place, where I felt OK to compliment another lesbian woman so baldly, so safely.

And afterward, I walked out of the ladies room just as another woman from the meeting was headed to the elevator-bank. "I'll walk out with you, if that's OK," I said to her. We talked about the web and how we had had similar jobs on it.

"Probably, it was before your time when I worked on"

"*I've* been working on the web, since 1995."

I smiled, thinking of the pride that those of us, who started back then felt about our early adoption, and said, "No, I didn't mean to doubt that you had started in the early days of the web -- I was just trying to compliment you." Ew, gross. How did I become smarmily flirty so quickly?

She laughed indulgently, and then I thought, Uh-oh, I really *was* flirting just then. "Which way are you going from here?" I asked.

"Just around the corner, to the subway," she said.

"Ah, well I can help till then," I said and opened my giant IBM golf umbrella.

"How nice," she said, and I felt gallant.

"Where's the entrance to the subway?" I asked as we rounded the corner.

"Right here," she said.

"Too bad." [Oh, God. Just stop!]

She laughed softly again.

I cringed to myself after she turned into the subway. Oy!

No wonder I can feel like an interloper among mainstream women's groups at work. My brain does not work the same way as heterosexual women's do....I know, I know: No one's brain works the same way as anyone else's. Still....

And then there was another great woman I met at tonight's meeting who wanted to be a rabbi, but ended up at a technology company instead. "We both wanted to do that [ -- be a rabbi]," I said, "But..." --

"Not enough," we said at the same time and smiled at each other, feeling rueful and validated at once.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Sunny Day

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

At Least in My Head, Anyway

It has been rainy outside for much of today, and it's dark now. A noticeable number of my Facebook friends designated their status as "sleepy" or "reading" or "relaxing."

What's sunny, for me, is coming out of my funk about the recent initiatives that didn't go my people's way. Two leaders helped me shift my attitude: Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum and Tracy Baim.

Last night, during Shabbat services, Rabbi Kleinbaum reminded us that the White House, where President Elect Obama and his family will soon live, was built by slaves from Africa. She called it a miracle -- the history of our country's progress.

And she said that if anyone felt upset at how various religious communities voted on the ballots we cared about, then we should stop and consider that certainly, as recently as 30 years ago, the [whole] Jewish community would have voted the same way.

Rabbi Kleinbaum said that it's a shame how religious people are being demonized -- my word, not hers -- when there's a whole bunch of progressive, religious communities out there. My dear friend Marni just introduced me to another voice among them today: a blog by a rabbinical student, "The Velveteen Rabbi: When can I run and play with the real rabbis?"

And Tracy Baim, who is among the best journalists and GLBT community voices I'm honored to know, wrote a great reality-check, too. What was our part in the failure? Why weren't we a more racially inclusive community all these years? Writing this feels potentially inflammatory of my comrades in the GLBT community, but I'll speak for myself when I observe that the GLBT Community has all too often, historically, looked like the G Community in terms of visibility, and especially the gay, white male community.

Pat just taught me the word in American Sign Language for "Jew," which she learned at her ASL class the other night: It's a matter of taking a fist and dragging it down from one's chin, i.e., to suggest a beard; I am Jewish and cannot grow a least not yet! My parallel is that all too often, when people think of Jews, they think of men. Jews are also female.

Women, historically, worldwide, have been less visible and less audible than men. There needs to be no bitterness on my part about the lack of visibility, but rather just a commitment to help change it. Likewise, personally, I've benefited from white privilege and I need to be even more conscious of trying to include people of color in my communities.

Rabbi Kleinbaum's point was huge last night: Congregations like ours, with progressive leaders, have had a hand in helping a number of the Jewish community shift our thinking to be more inclusive over the past 30 years. That's not what she said explicitly, but that's what I understand as I reflect here now.

And that message makes me feel so sunny because it empowers me. Tracy Baim's message empowers me likewise; From her points, I infer: Don't blame others for not getting what you want. Rather, be more inclusive of others and then they'll be more inclusive of you over time.

Maybe we'll see New York and New Jersey enable same-gender couples to marry relatively soon as the result of behaving as Rabbi Kleinbaum and Tracy Baim encourage.