Thursday, January 31, 2008

Everything Is Relative

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

...Especially Age

Pausing to see how wild my hair looks as I pass the locker-room mirror after my shower this morning, I'm referred to by a pretty, shiny-white-haired woman. She looks at another woman and speaks to her while pointing to me, "When I see you and that young lady [she's referring to me!], swimming, I feel like a has-been. You're such strong swimmers."

I'm caught off-guard. Me, young? Her comment's so gratifying, but I feel bad to have prompted her sense that she lacks vigor. How can I respond graciously? I blow it: "Thank you and I hope to be swimming for a long time [like you obviously have been doing]." I slink to my locker, feeling ill-equipped socially.

Changing from my white beach-towel into my gray, wool suit and purple, cashmere turtleneck for work, I flash back to Monday evening, my first class of the Spring semester in my Education Masters program.

Understanding What It's Like to Feel Ancient

There are two others among the overflowing 14 of us, who are my age or older. Otherwise, everyone in the room looks to be directly out of ungrad., and most are women.

I'm torn: They're beautiful and at the same time, I'm feeling competitive with them in terms of appearance, and in despair that I cannot compete; it's my classic dilemma as a competitive lesbian: Often, when I see a gorgeous woman, I am moved by her beauty and then cannot just purely enjoy it; I compare myself to her.

Now, I need to share how I relate to this older woman's experience with her:

"Excuse me [I must speak up, as she's apparently hard of hearing], excuse me; your compliment made my day and I need to tell you that your point about feeling like a has-been reminded me of how I felt on Monday night. I'm 42, and I'm back in school, for my Masters."

"Oh, that's nice. In what?"

I tell her and she tells me that she went back for her Masters in Education, also, at 41.

"Your point about feeling older reminded me of how I felt in class on Monday night. So many of my classmates were so, so much younger than I, and I felt bad...but there's a happy ending to both our stories, if you think about it: I'm still in school and you're still in the pool."

"That rhymes!"

"Yes, but you get my point, right? We're very alive, being where we are."

"I'm 77 and I wish the rest of me looked as good as my hair," she said. "After all that, what's your name?"

We introduced ourselves and I felt so much lighter afterwards. To a 77-year-old, I guess I am a young lady.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

"The Lost Language..." and "Talk to Me"

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

This Past Weekend's Movie Picks

We like Don Cheadle and I like David Leavitt, the author of the novel by the same name, which "The Lost Language of Cranes" was based on.

The David Leavitt movie focused on a troubled family, where the father was mute in a sense for most of his life, and the Don Cheadle movie was based on a true story about an ex-convict in the '60s, who found his voice as a D.J. for his prison's radio station.

Both were good movies, and neither of them light -- no matter that Cedric the Entertainer played Don Cheadle's rival. In "The Lost Language..." the son had the voice that the father never could. In "Talk to Me," Don Cheadle had the voice that most black people in America at the time couldn't risk using.

Constitutionally Unable to Keep Quiet

What would it mean to stay quiet if I felt I needed to express myself? For me, I would feel less alive. I love this blog more and more daily -- just knowing it's here as a channel for my voice a few times a week is marvelous.

While swimming today, I thought:

  • If I'm not a writer, then I'm a frequent observer and reflector on my observations
  • Swimming is the best offline self-expression for me; it's the total opposite of blogging: No one other than me hears my voice because I must think only, since I can't really speak or hear, or type(!) underwater
  • Before leaving for India, I considered that the experience either would make me feel 10 years older or 10 years younger; in the pool today, I concluded that my body feels 10 years older, as I didn't exercise enough while we were there, but my mind feels 10 years younger.

Writing here now, I'm enjoying realizing that I live in three parallel universes -- one on land, one in the water and one online. Each has its virtues:

A Range of Self-expression Opportunities

On land: I can touch Pat; talk with family, friends and colleagues face-to-face; make [and mostly eat] delicious food; drive or rollerblade; write intensely in long-hand; read books, magazines and newspapers that I hold in my hands; and sleep in a wonderful bed.

In the water: I can feel all of my muscles come back to life, even the ones in my torso; I can move like I did before I was even born; and I can feel paradoxically intimate with the people swimming in and around my lane, even though we never say more than, "Good morning," to each other...unless Pat is swimming in my lane and then we smile at each other as we swim toward each other when both of us are doing the breast-stroke, and sometimes, we sneak a quick touch of the other's leg as we pass each today.

Online, I can go exploring around the web and learn serendipitously; reflect and reflect and reflect; see if anyone else finds my reflections useful by checking my blog's sitemeter, which shows me visitors' geographical locations and the search-words or referring URLs that brought them to them; and connect to strangers and loved ones alike worldwide through our writing, without leaving our seats.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Steeping All Week

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

I Hope It's Finally Ready

Martin Luther King Jr. Day has meant even more than usual to me this year, and I think it will from now on; I am more conscious of brown and white skin than I was prior to being one of the relatively few white people in my surroundings for six months while my partner and I lived in India. Dr. King said:
Let us be dissatisfied until men and women, however black they may be, will be judged on the basis of the content of their character, not on the basis of the color of their skin. Let us be dissatisfied.

My approach is to notice people's difference and my own, acknowledge it, and even celebrate it on a good day, and then also to enjoy finding a way to connect with one another while acknowledging our difference. Dr. King was simply asking for no judgment based on skin-color (see the judgment I was tempted to make below, in connection with Sharon's good deed); I don't think he was suggesting that we be color-blind.

On Friday night, a couple of our synagogue's congregants had a baby-naming for their latest child. Among their family was a sister, who had traveled from India with her Indian husband and their three kids. I looked at the husband, whose skin was relatively dark and thought, Wow, one Indian face in a sea of Jewish ones -- how opposite an experience to having been just two Jewish faces in a sea of Indian ones over the past six months. The kids intrigued me, too; their skin was a pretty, golden that's what Indian Jews looked like, or at least these Indian Jews.

Ahimsa (Non-violence) Shall Overcome

The day, I think, also was about celebrating what Dr. King stood for -- non-violent human rights advancement, and my consciousness was higher around that, too. In October, I first experienced that consciousness-raising and so wrote the following e-mail to a number of my Indian colleagues:
Dear Colleagues,

Ritu and I were talking earlier today and when I asked, she kindly explained that Gandhi Jayanti is a contemplative/solemn sort of holiday.

Realizing my ignorance, I went to Wikipedia over lunch-time and learned a great deal.

Prior to Ritu's and my conversation today, I told my colleagues how I'd participate in a Centra session early on Tuesday morning, since "'s not my holiday."

I am still planning to do so, but since learning what I did from Ritu and from Wikipedia, I hope to dedicate the day to honoring Mahatma Gandhi's memory in some way, even if it's simply by being sincere and having a more peaceful attitude.

Wishing all of you a meaningful Gandhi Jayanti on Tuesday.

It yielded some warm responses and I felt just a little more akin with my colleagues after that.

Amazing Races

On Martin Luther King Jr. Day itself, a complete stranger -- at the time -- left the following comment on my blog entry about my colleague and friend, Earnest Hite's, tragic, accidental death:
Hi Sarah,

I found your blog while googling Earnest's name and I felt I had to leave a comment. I was the second person on the scene of his accident last Monday night. I was coming home from the gym, and just as I reached the turning to my house I saw his car in the ditch. A woman was standing next to it, so I stopped. I assumed she was the one driving, but she told me that she was the first one of the scene. I stayed with Earnest while she went to phone the police. Since the car was at an angle I could only reach his leg, so I put my hand on his leg and I tried to talk to him and comfort him.

I found out the next day that he had passed, and I can't seem to forget him. I spoke to someone at BEHIV where he worked. I wanted to let them know that he wasn't alone when he died. I had hoped that she would pass my phone number on to his family so that I could show them where the accident was. I see the tire marks in the dirt there every day and I think of him. I don't think I'll ever forget him.

If you'd like to speak to me I'd be happy to answer any questions.


My first question was, Are you black, too, like Earnest? What I wrote initially instead was:
Dear Sharon,

Thank you for your kindness to my colleague and friend of 20 years ago, Earnest.

Somehow, it's extra-poignant to me to hear about your helping Earnest today, on Martin Luther King's birthday.

And then I wrote again, more honestly:
Dear Sharon,

...I have a question that I'm ashamed...but too curious not to ask: What is your race?

I thought it was interesting to see your comment particularly on Martin Luther King's birthday and felt bad that I was hoping you were white, as if being black and helping Earnest would have made it less of a good deed. Oy!

Sharon responded:
Hi Sarah,

Hey, no problem. I'm white. I actually thought about that yesterday too. I was watching Oprah's show on Martin Luther King and the show addressed the issue of white people being able to kill blacks and get away with it. I'm glad I don't live in a world like that anymore.


I wrote to Sharon again, asking, "May I have permission to refer to this exchange and even quote us...?"

She responded that it was fine -- that she was a freelance writer and understood.

I asked for a sample of her writing and Sharon sent me a great story about a topic with which I'm confident I'd never otherwise have become familiar. Watching the YouTube clip that was associated with the piece, I marveled further at the way life, simply occurring, along with the web, being available to more and more of us, connects the fates of people, who were often previously remote from one another.

If I take a few steps back in my reflection, I can see how the flurry of connections began. After being referred to me by John (Jack) Ryan, executive producer of "The 10% Show," Andrew Davis, associate editor of "The Windy City Times," sent me e-mail about Earnest's death, asking me to contact him with memories of Earnest. When I called, but couldn't reach him that day, since he had already left the office, I blogged that night, and so it began:

First, Earnest's first cousin Susan left a comment; and then a stranger named Gerry London; and then Sharon, who was a stranger to all of us, until we learned that she was the one with Earnest at the very end; and then his colleague Char; and then one of the former youth Earnest helped with his ImagePlus organization; and then Shequitta, the niece of Earnest's partner.

Just as I had been thinking of Earnest and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. all week, Rabbi Cohen had also been considering the more famous of the two human rights activists; the theme of Shabbat (Sabbath) services on Friday night was Dr. King's legacy.

From the Profane to the Sacred

The start of services didn't bode well for my spirituality; Pat and I sat in the second row, center, and unexpectedly, I was peeking at the lovely cleavage of our rabbinical student intern as she turned to sit down. I did not smile back at her after that, but rather, blushed at the floor.

Later, I told Pat of my embarrassment and Pat said, "Don't worry. She was probably flattered." (Cleavage was another aspect of women that was never on display in India...midriffs, sometimes breathtaking, yes, but never cleavage.) After such a start to services, I didn't aspire to traditional transcendence.

Despite that first distraction, a bit later, I was moved more constructively. We sang the "Mi Chamocha" to the tune of, "We Shall Overcome," which put a sack of gratified tears in my throat. And in our new siddur (prayerbook), we turned to a page that contained the part of Dr. King's speech, repeating, "Let us be dissatisfied." The excerpt ended with, "...we must walk on in the days ahead with an audacious faith in the future."

In addition to the baby-naming, we had a guest speaker, Dr. Constance Buchanan, who was Senior Program Officer, Religion, Society, and Culture, Ford Foundation, and former associate dean of Harvard Divinity School. Dr. Buchanan worked with our congregation to ensure multiple grants for its good, innovative work. Prior to Dr. Buchanan's education of the Ford Foundation on our synagogue, she said, "The Ford Foundation had thought of religion primarily in terms of soup kitchens." Her whole focus, if I understood her correctly, was on religious dialogue around difference -- everywhere, including at the Ford Foundation.

Just as I wrote, "religious dialogue around difference," the sun came out a bit, which was significant, since the weather outside my window no longer was that of temperate, banana-treed Bangalore, but that of currently bare-branched-Mapled Montclair.

That has always been my premise:

Once I meet one (of nearly any group) and we speak (face-to-face or virtually), we can no longer blindly dislike or be ignorant of each other...which is part of why I'm always driven to be visible as Jewish and as lesbian. People need to know me and to relate to me, and I need to know them -- the real them. If I'm open about my identity, I hope they feel disarmed to be who they are with me more so, too.

Right on, Dr. King; Mahatma Gandhi; Earnest Hite; Jack Ryan; Andrew Davis; Sharon Biggs; Rabbi Cohen; and Dr. Buchanan! Thanks for spurring on my "...audacious faith in the future."

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Lift Every Face...

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

Twelve Women on Tu B'shvat

Last Tuesday with my mother and 10 other women at the seder table in a private home in Pound Ridge, the host said, "It's great to see some new faces here."

"Who had a face-lift?" asked my mom, smiling.

I laughed hard, but no one else did.

That night was the one-month anniversary of Pat's and my return from India and I felt both more at home and more reverse-culture shock than at any other time since our arrival back in the States. Pat opted to hear Jack Cafferty interviewed by Sue Simmons at the 92nd Street Y, and so it was just my mom and me with 10 of our Hadassah chapter co-members.

The At-home Part

It was like being seven years old again. The chapter started in 1972 and sometimes I accompanied my mom at meetings, parking on the floor in a corner of the host's living room and playing with the contents of my red, plastic, Lego attache case. I don't recall the content of the meetings -- just how beautiful and/or glamorous several of the women were, including a number, who were there on Tuesday.

One of them had zero recollection of me, I could tell, when I exclaimed upon her arrival, "Mrs. Cohen [not her real name]!"

The other greeted me with, "You look great, really! And I wanted to ask after your partner...Pat. How is she doing?" (She has never met Pat, and hasn't seen me since my childhood, but I know she meant to be inclusive.)

When Pat and I decided to follow my mom's example, becoming life-members of Hadassah, we joined my mother's chapter, figuring we'd never go to any of the meetings, and so what did it matter that it was the Northern Westchester chapter (even though we lived in New Jersey)? We never aspired to go to meetings because we felt we'd be the only lesbian couple, participating, and that it would feel awkward for us, if not the other members.

The Tu B'shvat seder event, though, was a way to see my mom after work and before the semester started.

The Reverse-culture-shock Part

Just a month earlier, Pat and I were an absolute island unto ourselves of metro-New York, Jewish, suburban women, and that night by contrast was an embarrassment of riches. And the only privileged homes I had visited in the past six months were those of Indians, and looked nothing like this house in Pound Ridge, which looked and smelled completely like the homes I had gotten to visit, growing up, but which was overly-familiar compared to Bangalore, and so I felt a bit thrown off by, and mistrustful of, the ease of it.

Before we could get to the universally-appealing part of the evening -- the eating and singing -- there was fund-raising business that the host needed to attend to:

"Our quota has been increased by a lot this year and there are a number of great, upcoming events...dinner and a show for $100, and you don't have to go into New York and pay parking!" And then another opportunity for $36:

The brochure read: "The Westchester Region of Hadassah [the whole region and not my mom's chapter per se] invites you to join our Quest for Sex-cess, featuring Dr. Silkaly 'Lovey' Wolchok, expert sex therapist. Find out everything you always wanted to know about sex...ual health and well-being but were afraid to ask! It'll be a fun-tastic evening! Hope you'll be there..."

My mother said quietly, "Thank God," as the host read the description aloud to the group, and again, only I laughed. More culture shock: There was no way that I could imagine a typical women's organization in India, putting together such an event.

At home later, I handed the brochure to Pat and said, "Let's go!"

We smiled at each other and then I said, "If they considered that some of their members were lesbians, would they have offered such a program? Could you imagine? Never....We should go!"

Invisible or Mysterious Love Beat Bad or No Love

At the table while we were eating almonds, one of the traditional foods of the holiday, I mentioned to the resident Hadassah staffperson how I really wished that Hadassah would send just one magazine to our home each month, addressed to both of us, rather than two, addressed separately.

She said that she had already called the New York office and that they said they couldn't fix the computer-generated lists, and besides, it wasn't that expensive to send two.

Another member, who was listening said, "My daughter [who lives with the member] and I get two, too, and they just can't seem to fix it, but it's all right."

"How would you feel if your husband and you received separate mailings from an organization that both of you belonged to?"

"We do. We belong to a computer society and it just comes to us twice."

OK. Maybe my shoulder-chip didn't need to be quite so big. I let it go...and then I also remembered the initial moments of the seder, while everyone was still talking around the table.

People were bragging about dishes they liked to cook and I offered to the woman across from me, "My partner's the cook in our family."

A woman to my left said, "My nephew and his partner of 25 years are going to have a ceremony."

"That's great; my partner and I have been together for 15 years," I said, hoping she wouldn't ask if we had had "a ceremony," too.

Instead, she responded, "I don't really know what it will entail...." perhaps hoping that I could provide a sneak preview for her. I had no idea what it would entail either. She meant well, but ought to have kept that statement as a thought just inside her own head.

Finally, we got down to business: reading and singing from a photocopied, scripted liturgy, which helped us celebrate the holiday of the new year for trees; in Israel, springtime is beginning soon.

A number of us also spoke of the significance of trees in our lives, including one member, who told us how she included branches from a crab-apple tree for her daughter's chuppah (marriage canopy); neighbors had given them the tree when she was born, since she was a girl, and the tree's blossoms would be pink. "Too bad the marriage didn't last...." she said dolefully.

As my mom and I were leaving, Mrs. Cohen (not her real name) hugged me warmly, as though she had remembered me during the evening and now felt affection for me. I asked if she was a grandmother yet.

"No, my girls don't have anyone."

I reassured her: "Don't you read 'The New York Times' wedding announcements every week? I do and for the past decade or longer, I've noticed that the ages are about 10 years older on average than they used to be."

While driving home, I thought of my gratitude for Pat, so that my mother didn't need to say, "She doesn't have anyone."

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Stock Market Is Down and So Am I

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

Only the Stimulus of Blogging Can Help My Dip

"Writing is about not committing suicide," a friend of mine told me this afternoon.

I got my paper back from my professor this evening and called back my friend to say. "Just wanted to follow up from our talk this afternoon; you're right. I felt like killing myself over it."

She laughed. I told her, "Just as I was leaving the main building, I looked up from reading the comments on my paper while an attractive young woman was entering the door; she must have heard me talking to myself. I said aloud, 'I might as well just give up now.' I kept walking, mortified that a stranger heard such tragic self-talk."

When I described the mortifying moment to Pat, she said, "She probably thought you got an F."

I didn't. Somehow, I received an A for the course. She didn't even mark the paper itself.

Pat: "Me, I'd have said, 'Well, phew! I got an A!'"

"Sarah, can I tell you something as a trained professional?" said another of my friends, who is a psychotherapist. "You don't have to try to feel good tonight. You can feel however you feel and still do whatever you planned to do anyway....Just before you go, can I tell you that men are coming out of the woodwork suddenly? Now, should I feel that I'm not good enough when they're not swarming me? Should I care that they don't love me? It's analogous to what you're going through. So what if she didn't like the way you wrote the paper. It doesn't mean you're not a good writer."

Pat: "It's just a new kind of writing that you have the opportunity to learn now; it's different from business writing and blogging. It's writing for grad school. It'll be good for you as a writer to learn an additional way to write."

"You have a journalist background, right?" asked my first friend, the writer, this afternoon, when I was telling her that all I wanted was to be published, even though I do not want to have to revise anything I write. She flattered me in thinking I had journalism training, but I said no; rather, I made the comment in the context of anticipating getting my paper back, and how originally, my professor had said that it needed to include a literature review, if it was going to be publishable -- an encouraging statement, but I never heard another word about publishing after submitting the paper, I told my friend, and so I felt nervous to receive it tonight.

"You're a very good writer with a deep gift for observation and you deserve to be published. Well, but you are published; you're on the web with your blog. Also, you should ask her about the publishability of the paper."

"What I really like to write is personal essays."

"They're not just personal. You write about all sorts of things."

Psychotherapist friend: "What is making you feel so bad right now?"

"I'm embarrassed that I did poorly on the paper, especially when I delivered a paper she loved in a previous class with her. As I think back on it, there wasn't the same requirement for it to be ultra-academic. But this shakes my confidence in my writing, and makes me sad about it."

My professor's comment on the paper's title-page: "Sarah, I found/find the insights are here, but the writing needs greater depth and more alignment with academic conventions to be persuasive...." It goes on with examples of what she means by "depth." Ugh! I'm so embarrassed.

"Don't be discouraged," my professor said to me on my way out; she anticipated my feeling when I would read it upon leaving the department open-house tonight. "Keep in touch."

The open-house included a number of the people I like most in my program, but eventually, the evening turned sour for me.

Exuberance, Then a Crash, and Then Some Hope

At 4:30 pm, I arrived at Teachers College and went to the library to try to take out Reserve books for my upcoming course. It felt luscious to be back in that privileged environment. A steel-drum band was playing in the lobby and a student was dancing unself-consciously by himself in front of it. One of the librarians had a Michigan accent and turned out to be from Ann Arbor (where I had studied as an undergrad). I felt so at home.

As I checked out my books with the librarian next to her, she said that my ID was obsolete, but that she'd check out my books till I got a new one.

"When did they change?"

"In November."

"Ah, well, I was in India for six months and so I missed getting that done."

She seemed unimpressed. I was reminded that I really had been away from the campus for half a year.

I went to the department party and saw my professor, who hugged me, and I hugged my adviser and both welcomed me home. "How was India?"

I was just so happy to be back in an environment, where I was no longer forced to study on my own; I couldn't wax on about how great the experience was.

And then a former classmate, Caitlin, came in, providing dark-coral fresh air.

And then one of the women I know from QueerTC, and then one of the women I went through orientation with, and then another with whom I was in a workshop several semesters ago, and then I spotted my professor for my upcoming class.

Caitlin, my first professor and I talked about "Brokeback Mountain," since Caitlin announce d that she had heard of Heath Ledger's death. We also talked about where our families were from originally and our parents' Holocaust-consciousness and then a doctoral student with an Israeli accent appeared and my professor introduced us to him. He had grown up in Latin America, where his parents had fled from Eastern Europe after his grandparents were killed in the Holocaust.

Caitlin said she was getting a snack, and so I made my move: "Can you slip me the paper now, and I won't read it till I leave, but I'm afraid I'll forget," I told my professor. And then, "You told me it needed to include a literature review if it was to be publishable. Is that realistic, for students to publish while they're still students?"

"Sure. Now your writing needs to come a long way before it's ready to be published. It's too bullet-pointed -- not academic enough. I suppose if you wanted to publish in a trade publication...."

"Like what would be an example?"

"Like an HR magazine or --"

"OK, well thanks." I found a way to excuse myself because I just couldn't talk with her for another moment, since she thought my writing was so poor.

Instead, I went over to speak with my professor for my upcoming course. And then I introduced him to two of the students I know, who'll be taking it. One of them -- who I know less well -- said, "I hope this course doesn't take me over the edge because I just don't know how self-disclosing I want to be."

"I'm not a fan of pain, but I cannot control where the class takes it during the semester."

"Well, I just don't know if I'm prepared for it to be therapeutic."

Oh, God!!! That's just what I'm hoping it'll be. (I don't say this aloud.)

"You should be all right. The most important thing is for everyone to feel safe."

Well, I don't feel safe at all now. I feel like I'm too much. Too intense. I was ready to be super-self-disclosing. I mean, why sign up for "Leadership and Self Development: A Biographical Approach" if you don't wish to do some plumbing?

The stated purpose in the syllabus begins: "This course takes an in-depth look at leadership from the inside out. It is based on the assumption shared by current leadership theorists (e.g. Raelin 2003) that a leader must develop a strong internal foundation of self awareness and personal mastery to achieve great external results."

I excuse myself and return to the first professor, who had returned my paper to me, and to the doctoral student, to show that I wasn't running away from her, and to enable myself to run away from the other professor, who wanted me to feel safe(!)

God has a plan? My writer friend says to me while I'm driving home, "Your writing, your career, your education, it's all leading somewhere, and it'll work out."

Saturday, January 19, 2008


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

Circa 1989

This week's "New York" magazine has a photo of Shane, the character from "The L Word," in the Low-brow + Brilliant quadrant of its weekly grid, with the caption, "Lesbian Lothario," if I remember correctly. (In the "High-brow + Despicable" category, they mention Andy Rooney's recent "60 Minutes" segment on the current candidates having insufficiently presidential names. I blogged about my annoyance about that last week and feel vindicated.)

Here's what I've been wanting to blog about all day, but till now, felt too sheepish:

It might not be an exaggeration to say that from 1988-91, I pursued romance with nearly all of North-side Chicago's single lesbians, and some South- and West-side ones, too, plus a number from nearby Evanston -- the femme, the jock, the bulimic, the incest-survivor, the lawyer, the alcoholic, the rich kid, the union-loyal trades person, the grad student, the woman with a disability, the pre-transition trans man, who at the time presented as femme, the bookworm, the GED earner....

Having been with Pat for 15 monogamous years, that time feels like a dream -- sometimes a good one and often a nightmare -- and I was reminded of it today when I woke up.

In my e-mail in-box, I saw an e-mail thread, where the writers were trying to track down "10% Show" footage and one of them mentioned that one of "The 10% Show" hosts had been her "...first Chicago lover!!! Too funny!"

I read her statement and looked at her name again and said to myself, "She's gotta be mistaken. *I* was one of the hosts of "The 10% Show."

Not sure who *she* is referring to...and then I recalled, oh yeah! For about a minute, we were involved nearly 20 years ago. She wanted to have physiological confirmation for all of the imagining I believe she had mostly done till then, and there I was....She ended it, if I remember correctly.

Here's the immature thing I did today: Since I had been the dumped one, after reading the note and acknowledging our past, brief history to myself, I simply sent an automated invitation to join my LinkedIn network, so that she could see how well I had done since then.

Mingling Made Easier With Web 2.0

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

Meeting People On No One's Turf

Web 2.0 is a fine way to connect with other human beings. Three semesters ago, a curmudgeonly classmate vomited on all things virtual, suggesting that people, who connect online definitely connect more superficially than they do when face-to-face. I'm fairly confident that he won't be reading my blog, but if he does, I'm also ready to repeat to him face-to-face my original response:

I'd rather connect with someone far across the world, or who could not otherwise connect with me, say, due to a disability than not to connect with him or her at all. Maybe Web 2.0 appeals to me so much, since I might be becoming disabled myself, God forbid. If my otosclerosis advances and makes me deaf, there will be no hearing aid for my sort, which is in the inner-ear, not the middle-ear, and so I guess the notion of still being able to communicate with and connect with people appeals to me especially, whereas learning American Sign Language at this stage of life does not.

I really like what I read at "The Belonging Initiative" blog:
...we can be surprised by the abilities that people with developmental disabilities often reveal - their keen sensitivity to interpersonal situations, the depth of their empathy, their willingness to overlook and to forgive, their faithfulness, their acceptance of difference, their originality, their capacity to be present and to cut through pretense, their resilience, the creativity of what they produce, and their gift for celebration.
From: More Than Inclusion, L'Arche Canada, 2005

If I hadn't been googling for how to connect with people via Web 2.0, I would not have found the blog, which appeared among the first results of my search, and would not have felt connected to the constituents of it -- would have felt more isolated in the lurking potential of total deafness onset.

Writing Made Easier When Digital, but Not Necessarily Better

Seeing a Web 2.0 video that a colleague recommended earlier this week validated my belief in social networking, though it reminded me of an Op-Ed by Nora Ephron in "The New York Times" last Sunday, which among other things concluded that writing these days is easier due to computers, but not necessarily better:
It’s much easier to write a screenplay on a computer than on a typewriter. Years ago, when you wrote a screenplay on a typewriter, you had to retype the entire page just to make the smallest change; now, on the computer, you can make large and small changes effortlessly, you can fiddle with dialogue, you can change names and places with a keystroke. And yet movies are nowhere near as good as they used to be. In 1939, when screenwriters were practically still using quill pens, the following movies were among those nominated for best picture: “Gone With the Wind,” “The Wizard of Oz,” “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” “Wuthering Heights” and “Stagecoach,” and that’s not even the whole list.

It has struck me that I'm relatively prolific due to the ease of typing, and that I always feel more feelings when I'm writing in long-hand, with a pen -- my left hand inking up on the side from pinkie to wrist while the pen presses on.

Self-disclosure...Or So I Thought

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

Fooling Myself

A team meeting we had earlier this week made me consider my level of self-absorption even further; I was disappointed by an exercise we did for fun, where we guessed everything from one another's pets' names to last movie seen or book read, to one of our career aspirations in or outside of IBM. The team was divided in half and the half that had to guess my answers got only three out of nine correct.

The lack of correct guesses shocked me because I thought I was the world's most self-disclosing person.

Self-disclosure on a blog that no one from my team keeps up with religiously vs. self-disclosure during casual conversation with team members should not lead me to be disappointed that they didn't know/understand me better, I realized. In fact, there were a number of teammates who were as apparently mysterious as I.

One of the items, a "wildcard - nugget that you want to share" was written by another colleague, but everyone thought it was mine: "Despite my gregarious appearance, I need significant amounts of time alone." I knew just whose it was and wondered why people mistook that for my sentiment. I decided that it was as much about their not having paid attention to his personality as it was about not having sufficiently regarded mine.

Maybe they picked up on something I've written about, if not talked about: I'm a lonely soul. I don't seek solitude, but rather, often, feel lonely or alone in my experience, and that's just me temperamentally.

Fringe Blogging Benefit

A few weeks ago, I was pleasantly surprised by another exercise, where a number of us completed a Johari Window for one another; the word selected most often by colleagues to describe me was, "trustworthy."

My conclusion was that my habitual self-disclosure on my blog built trust with others, whether or not they were aware that I was disclosing....There was no paradox there, when I thought about it; there was a comfort in my own skin I gained from blogging my thoughts and it naturally informed how I moved through the world, and they caught that vibe whether or not they ever saw the blog.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Show Time

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

And It Went On

Segments on "Thing...she knows who she is;" Girth & Mirth; David Leavitt; International Mr. Leather, including an interview of International Ms. Leather; a documentarian of a self-proclaimed Kentucky drag-queen; World Conference of Gay & Lesbian Jews; ACT-UP demonstrations; show promo by Linda Clifford; lesbian kiss-in at Water Tower Place; Urvashi Vaid at the Chicago Pride Parade....

Most of these were "10% Show" segments that I produced, or for which I served as the interviewer or on the crew in Chicago, 1987-89.

Earnest Hite, may his memory be blessed, was my co-anchor for many of them. Earnest, a complete mensch, died on Monday in a car crash.

Why was Earnest cut off, yet I get to go on? I'm not complaining about getting to stay, certainly, but I don't understand the purpose of taking a good person out of this world.

Today, I interrupted a meeting my manager was having with a colleague and said, "Excuse me. Just wanted to let you know that I'm going to get going before the snow and rain comes."

"Good idea," the colleague offered, "With your history with snow and rain!" (I totaled my car in an ice-storm nearly a year ago.)

"That's not funny," I said sharply. "I know you didn't mean it, but that's not funny at all."

I wish I had said, "That was incredibly emotionally unintelligent."

Why was only my car killed last winter and not me -- and then not even my car, as I learned via e-mail yesterday that it's being resurrected in a Lithuanian body-shop(!)

Ugh! The burden, the responsibility, to do something further with my life to add meaning to the world, so that I can repay society a bit for having lost Earnest too soon. Again, I don't mean to complain. God, thanks for the extra time and please help me use it wisely.

Rest in Peace

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

I Feel Like Saying "Kaddish"

My former co-anchor of "The 10% Show" for Gay Cable Network, Earnest Hite, is dead. I expected to write that sentence years ago. More often than not, the gay friends I made in the late '80s died of AIDS.

I'm trying to remember if Earnest was HIV+ or not. Many guys I knew then were. I'm trying to recall Earnest's day-job, or if he was independently wealthy. I'm trying to recall whether or not he lost his handsome, hirsute partner to AIDS.

They founded a group for African-Amercan gay, young men, and I imagined their serving as lovely role models for the guys.

I don't know that either of us had had prior TV experience, but I'm pretty sure we wanted our version of the same thing: late-eighties visibility for our people, including the Black and Jewish among them.

Once, I crewed for a segment that Earnest did, featuring Robert Ford, the editor of a Chicago-based literary 'zine called "Thing." We went to their apartment to do the videotaping. I can still see Robert Ford's face and body, sitting on his couch: If E. Lynn Harris had been writing then, Robert Ford would have seemed like an anti-character -- he had a close-cropped, yet patchy beard and writerly-rumpled clothes over his lanky frame.

Earnest, with his well-kept beard and frequent smile, dignified presence and lucid questions, always was flattered by the camera. How ironic that I never saw his obituary all these years from AIDS, and instead, I had to read of his death in a car-crash. God is odd.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Love Is Even Better to Me Than It Promises

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

Inspired by Art

Last night, we used the excuse of iffy weather to keep us from making the trip to NYC for synagogue and instead, stayed home to watch two rented DVDs: "Gray Matters" and "Puccini for Beginners." "Gray Matters" was rewarding ultimately for its beautiful stars, funny moments and good intentions, and "Puccini for Beginners," about which I had a chip on my shoulder after reading the description on the DVD, turned out to be marvelous.

I thought "Puccini..." would be "Chasing Amy"-esque, where the women ended up with men and I ended up frustrated. Instead, it reminded me of my own sexual identity development, which involved pursuing romance both with women and men in my teens and through age 20.

And then this morning, I finished an E.L. Doctorow short story in this week's "New Yorker." It reminded me of a recent "New Yorker" short story by John Updike in the lengths to which it went to demonstrate home-wreckage of particular, upper-middle-class, suburban, opposite-sex couples.

After seeing last night's films of struggles for love, and reading and recalling short stories about damaged love this morning, I felt a surge of happiness for the love I have with Pat. I sang in the supermarket while selecting items that Pat wanted in order to make herself lunch -- Kobe roast beef and a poppy-seed Kaiser roll. Meanwhile, Pat stayed home, chopping vari-colored peppers and throwing them in a pot along with mushrooms, four types of beans, tomatoes and chili powder for me.

The Real Deal

How ironic to be writing this blog entry during football-widow season. And I'm not writing it to score points with Pat either; while she supports my writing, and understands that I need to do it, she never reads any of it.

A friend was telling me that 2008 will be a "monument to fun;" she plans to laugh more often. "I didn't laugh enough last year. My partner's --"

"Profound," I interjected.

"Yes, profound, but not that funny. I need to hang out with people like you and Pat more often --"

"Yeah, I'm so, so lucky that Pat's so funny." And then I gave my friend a recent, delicious sample to help her keep her resolution.

In a Spin

Still thinking of the sweet parts of last nights' films, not long after waking up this morning, I reflected aloud about Pat's and my first one-on-one conversation:

"Pat, you actually made me spin around with laughter; it was so *girly* of me."

"Yes, it was," Pat said with pride in her voice. Pat's comic timing while telling me about a film I hadn't even seen was so good that I spun involuntarily at one particularly funny line of hers. I had never done it before, or since, but she agreed that it charmed her and spurred her on. And here we are 15.5 years later.

Us in India Compared to in the United States

Yesterday, I was speaking with a heterosexual colleague, who looked at my blog occasionally while I was in India, and who asked me how it was to be back.

I began to tell her and she added, "And you can be out again." Coming from her mouth, it sounded foreign at first and then right on.

"Yes!" I agreed. I don't think she knew the half of it, nor did most of this blog's readers, I think, as I don't believe I shared this while we were there:

Pat and I slept in the same room only when we traveled and just a few times back in Bangalore during the whole six months. Prior to going to India, we were told a story of a colleague, who took his male partner to India with him on his assignment, and who was rousted out of bed by the police, who told him, "Bring X money to the police station in the morning or...."

The guys left the country on the next plane. Assignment over.

I didn't want anything to spoil my assignment and both of us agreed that we wanted the experience of living in India, so we opted to stay safe and respect the local norms in parallel by having a daily maid only Monday-Friday, so that we could have the freedom to sleep in the same room over the weekends.

As it turned out, Pat's room was uncomfortable to me, since the air conditioner blew at us directly and since her bed was slab-like. And my room didn't appeal to Pat, since the air conditioner didn't face her, and since she couldn't read against the headboard, which she could do in her room.

For six months, mostly then, we slept apart.

During that time, I worried about how it would be when we returned to our bedroom back at home. Would I have grown used to having no one, breathing next to me? Would I end up, wanting to sleep in the guestroom from now on? What if we couldn't fall asleep with each other upon our return?

Once while in India, I took the opportunity to ride to the office with a senior executive and told him of how I almost had opted not to come on the assignment, since I knew that out of respect for the local culture, my partner and I would need to keep a very low profile, being explicitly open about our couple status only among IBMers.

"It's dehumanizing to have to pretend in front of our maid," I told the exec.

The exec. said, "[His boss] said this would happen -- that talented people wouldn't come to India because of this [inability to be open about their sexual orientation, if it wasn't heterosexual]."

He said that he appreciated that we were being mindful of Indian societal norms and that he wanted to be more inclusive of GLBT people at IBM, but that it "...couldn't be a cookie-cutter approach," where we took whatever worked elsewhere around the world and simply applied it to India. "It has to be done in an Indian way," he said, and then suggested that using the media would likely be the smartest approach. "There has been more and more talk about it on TV here," he said, and that was the angle he thought would work....

Narrating a bit of Pat's and my sacrifice to an influential executive might have begun to inspire further inclusion, which is great, but indeed, what has happened to our sleeping habits, since we've returned home?

Miraculously, there's no sleeping re-adjustment. It's even lovelier than it always has been for our having been denied it for half a year, and I'm no longer lonely when I wake up. And our home-bed has such a heavenly mattress, and I'm so grateful, as my colleague suggested, that we don't have to sneak around -- or feel that we need to -- any longer.

Despite Pat's neglect of me for a football marathon this weekend -- the Packers are playing today, and I'm dutifully wearing a green sweatshirt, sporting the Packers logo -- I'm in a romantically grateful mood about us. Alas, Pat's passion is channeled utterly into the game right now. I just heard her screaming in the basement, "First down!"

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Heraclitus Was Right

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

"You Cannot Step in the Same River Twice"

Change is good. Change is good. Change is good. At the table in the IBM Learning Center dining room at lunch yesterday, my rational mind was doing its best to convince me of that.


I looked, and it was one of my former managers, Mike.

"Last time we saw each other was in India," he said and came over to hug me.

And then everyone other than the one person at the table I didn't know got up and we hugged. Tony. Yvette. George. Irwin. It was heart-swelling.

"What are you guys here for?" I asked.

They mentioned their meeting and then we smiled at one another and I went back to sit with my director and another manager in my current organization till our table filled up with my current colleagues.

My director asked me who they were and I was chagrined at not having introduced them to my tablemates. I sat through the rest of lunch, feeling wistful, wishing I could sit with my old colleagues and friends. I kept steeling myself not to look at them. And failed a few times.

Irwin's tie was a great orange with a suave pattern. Yvette was even more lovely than usual, if that was possible. Tony's hair was cute. George was as tall and kind-looking as ever. Mike's shirt was crisp, custom-made.

They were the current iteration of the GLBT Sales team that I helped start up nearly seven years ago, but it was three times the original size (not including Albert from Europe, who wasn't there then).

Toward the end of lunch, I stole a peek and noticed that the table, as well as the one next to it, featured a tent card that read "GLBT Sales;" the second table was full of people I didn't even recognize. Finally, I think I got the message that I feel my dad, may his memory be blessed, was sending me:

Look, Sarah: Teams that you helped launch continue thriving long after you're no longer on the scene. As you embark on your new assignment, which is poised to go well, too, I'm reminding you of this.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Swimming and the Congo

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

A Fellow Swimmer's Brave Daughter

"Sarah, hey, Sarah," my swimming-friend Rita called as I reached the end of the lane, where she and another woman were stretching. "Where were you for six months again?"

"India," I said, treading water, not wanting to stop moving.

"This is Carolyn. Her daughter's in the Congo."

"Wow! What's she doing there?"

"She's with the the International Rescue Committee."

"Rescuing who?"

"It's a humanitarian aid organization. She was in Darfur and the Sudan prior to the Congo. She's been working with them since graduating college seven years ago."

I felt ashamed. I assumed she was a missionary...but more on that in a bit. "Wow, what a hero your daughter is."

"It's hard."

Rita said, "I know you've gotta go to work and I didn't want to interrupt your swimming; just wanted you to meet each other."

"Thanks. Good to meet you," I said, swimming off sheepishly.

In the lockerroom, she heard me exhale in the shower and exclaimed from another shower-stall, "Wasn't it [the swimming] wonderful?"


We were drying off and she happened to have picked a locker near mine.

"I was thinking of how worried my mom was about me, and I was working in an *office* building. As her mother, you must be so scared. I'm sorry I was snotty about your daughter in the pool. Are you Jewish?"

"No. I'm a pastor."

"Well, I'm sorry. It's just that I haven't been around other Jews in six months and I thought your daughter might be a missionary, and since being in India, where I learned that there really are religions beyond Christianity, Judaism and Islam, I don't favor the idea of people being missionaries and converting people from their faiths."

"I know what you mean. I don't believe it's good either. The aid is conditional, that is, they have to accept Christianity to get it, and also, it's the whole package; they try to westernize them on top of getting them to convert."

I meant no disrespect to missionaries, except that I had a completely different orientation to religion, which amounted to zero promotion of mine to people who were not Jewish; as a Jew, it was against my tradition to proselytize, and so it was foreign to me.

Driving to work afterwards, I really did see an older Toyota Corolla, sporting the following bumper-stickers: "Follow your heart;" "We are one;" "It's not our differences that divide us. It's our refusal to accept and celebrate our differences."

Two Movies With Common Ground

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

"A Passage to India" and "Hairspray"

Yesterday, my mom and I went to the Ferguson Public Library to watch "Hairspray." A few nights ago, Pat and I watched a rented DVD of "A Passage to India." Both of the films featured a majority of white people, assuming superiority over darker people.

Mrs. Moore and Tracy Turnblad were the hopeful exceptions to the "white-is-right" attitude of most of the rest of the characters in both movies. The author of the book from which the Indian movie was made, E.M. Forster, was sympathetic to the underdogs of the movie, the Indians, and John Waters, the author of "Hairspray," was sympathetic to civil rights. Both writers were gay.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

My Threshold is Lower Lately

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

What is American Hair?

My threshold for absurdity, and for being compassionate in response to ignorance, and for energy to progress through the day feels lower in these relatively early days back from India. I can diagnose it: Part of it is sheerly not exercising enough and so feeling low on energy, part of it is being anxious about my mother's condition and part of it is the reverse culture-shock that a colleague who has been on a number of international assignments promised me I'd feel.

Would I have even noticed the bizarre name of the beauty salon in North Castle on my way to Armonk prior to my six-month assignment in India? What is "American Hair?"

"Sarah, probably, it was opened by immigrants," Pat suggested when I told her about it at dinner on Friday night.

An Accidental Defender

How about when a guy shook our hands in synagogue on Friday night and then in response to our friend Gloria, telling him that we'd just returned from six months in India, said, "Well, then, I hope you washed your hands [before shaking mine]."

"You'd better watch it," I shot back, "As Pat has a super-witty tongue and I think she's restraining herself right now." I never bargained for being India's defender, but it has turned out that way in some particularly ignorant cases.

(Just as an example of Pat's typically irreverent way, later in the service, Rabbi Cohen said from the pulpit, "And we are praying for peace."

"It ain't working," Pat said not quite in a whisper.)

When a few people have said dismissive things to me about India, mostly revealing that they're in awe of what they've read about it in parallel with being afraid of the current state of its infrastructure, I've felt fierce, rather than patient.

God always does that to me: God helps me champion communities in which I have had historically zero investment by placing me among them or having me become friends with people from them, e.g., I might never have worried about anti-Semitism had I not been Jewish; might never have cared about the GLBT community had I not been a lesbian; might never have cared about the disabled had I not become friends with some people with disabilities, and then been diagnosed with otosclerosis myself.

Having been among Indians for half a year of my precious life, negative or naively generalizing comments -- which happily aren't too frequent -- feel personal. I think of the specific people with whom I became acquainted while there, or of the friend I already had there, and become angry -- angrier than most of my friends, family and colleagues will ever know. It's the alienating kind, too -- the righteous-indignation sort -- and so I have to watch myself.

I do not want to be condescending when a family member makes a sweeping statement, saying, "I think that Indians and Jews have an affinity for one another. I think we're very alike in many ways."

Huh? First, her experience has been only with Indians, who are immigrants, and second, her experience doesn't include having learned about their Hindu, Sikh, Muslim, Jain, Christian... rituals and holidays, which differ quite a bit from Jewish rituals and holidays in my experience...just as one example.

Social Limbo

I'm in a weird limbo place right now, where I don't feel as socially at home in my own country as I did before we left it to live for six months in another part of the world, and I must recall how socially distant I felt frequently while in India, whether or not I told my Indian colleagues.

On Friday morning, I arrived at work and began the day by starting an e-mail letter to my best friend in India until psychically, she instant-messaged me and we spoke by phone. I wrote:

Music you'd hate, "No Scrubs" and Janet Jackson's "Come On, Get Up," serenaded me up 287 this morning and I felt sad, wistful, bereft, comfy, luxuriant, indignant, inarticulate, ashamed, relieved....

Sad that you're not just a one-button call anymore; wistful about and bereft of gorgeous weather -- it's freezing, with dead-leaved trees here; comfy and luxuriant in my new car with its heated seats and good radio, and how it stays far away from the cars in the other lanes, and how the cars in the other lanes stay far away from it; indignant at the expectation that I will provide Americans with entertainment about India on demand; and inarticulate in trying to select and express the best stories of my experience; and ashamed that I'm not more flexible in re-adapting to my environment; and relieved to be back in my own home and to be able to see my family....

Please, God, help me raise my threshold again; I like being relatively non-judgmental, energetic, compassionate and comfortable with where I am. I want to re-gain all of that...or if I can't, then please reveal to me more visibly what I've gained in exchange, so that I can feel more grateful and express my gratitude better. This is my prayer for inner-peace. And I don't want to conclude, in Pat's words, "It ain't working."

Trying to Let Evening Come

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

Having Gone Into The Woods Together...

I just spoke with my relative and she said that I could write here about her experience specifically:

My own 82-year-old mother had breast cancer while I was away; had a lumpectomy with a core biopsy, which showed no further cancer; and now is getting ready, perhaps, to fight cancer's return. In fact, when she agreed that I could name her specifically, my mother said:

"Ask the people who read your blog if they have any experience with someone who's much older, doing radiation or taking the medicine -- Kathy [my sister, who survived breast cancer herself in the past year and a half] will know what the medication's called."

I called Kathy and she said that it's called either Tamoxifen or Arimidex.

"Also," my mother said, "Ask them if any of their elderly relatives were asked to do genetic testing."

When I mentioned that to Kathy, she said, "If Mom had talked to me about it, I'd have told her that it's a good idea for her other daughters; I did it for you and Deb and learned that I'm negative for BRCA1 and BRCA2. That doesn't mean that Mom's negative and she should find out because then you and Deb could make informed decisions. When women find out that their immediate relatives are positive, they sometimes opt to take radical prevention measures."

"Like lopping off their breasts, right?"

"Right, and having an oophorectomy because it's a huge predictor of ovarian cancer, too."

Caryn Lesnoy, my middle-school friend, is buried next to my father; Caryn developed ovarian cancer in high school....I should go visit my dad's grave, now that I'm back in the country. It has been awhile....

I Can't Bear Losing Her

My mother is elemental. My mother is essential. I think I love to swim because of how I'm reminded of swimming around inside my mother pre-birth.

"Will I even be around for five more years to take the medicine?" my mother asked the doctor.

"God," he replied, "could take you sooner."

"'Take me where?' I should have asked him," she said.

I laughed and we hung up shortly after, and Pat and I went to Shabbat services. At shul, I saw a poem in our new siddur (prayerbook), by Jane Kenyon, "Let Evening Come."

The best lines made my Adam's apple swell and put tears in my eyes: "Let it come, as it will, and don't be afraid./ God does not leave us/ comfortless, so let evening come."

Several years ago, Pat took me to see "Into the Woods" on Broadway. I'm pretty sure that I've written about it before, and how I loved these lines from "No One Is Alone; last time, though, I was referring to how my father necessarily had to leave me "halfway through the wood" due to his death from bile-duct cancer at 56:

Mother cannot guide you.
Now you're on your own....
Still, you're not alone.
No one is alone. Truly.
No one is alone.
Sometimes people leave you.
Halfway through the wood...
But no one is alone.

Comfort by God

Twenty minutes ago, the phone rang. It was our neighbor, Sam. "Are you busy?"

"For you, Sam, no," I said.

He laughed and said, "Well, your old neighbor's here and wants to come say hi."

Sam told me who it was and I said, "Of course," and then called down to Pat, who was watching a football marathon, and we answered the door moments later.

Our former neighbor, who we hadn't seen for nearly a decade, since his distant move with his wife and then teenaged kids, wanted to catch up on how his family was and how we were. "You'll see my face more often, since my parents are still nearby and my dad's got Alzheimer's now."

I wouldn't wish Alzheimer's on anyone, but I do feel like Jane Kenyon is right, and that, "God does not leave us comfortless," that is, just as evening had come, literally, and I was busying myself, blogging here about my sick mother, a face from healthier times arrived to share his trial with his dad. Stephen Sondheim's right, too, " one is alone."

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Memory Trigger

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

Pulled By "Hadassah" Magazine

The new issue came in today's mail. I opened the front cover and was captivated by the woman featured in the Ahava skincare product ad. It was like smelling the eucalyptus leaf a few weeks ago at the Bannerghatta National Park outside of Bangalore and being back in my sabta's (grandmother's) living room in Israel, with her offering me a eucalyptus candy or cough-drop.

When I saw the woman, I thought, What silky, strong chocolate-brown hair and beautifully matching eyes she has....She's so classically, beautifully Jewish in her coloring....She reminds me of...quickly, I remembered a Sabra liqueur ad with a gorgeous man and woman from the early-70s. Probably, I saw it in "Hadassah" magazine then, too. I remembered staring at the couple, thinking that something about their coloring and features seemed edible, like candy, and comparing them repeatedly, and concluding that even as handsome as the man was, the woman moved me more so.

I thought I had plumbed every early clue to my lesbianism till seeing that ad tonight and remembering the Sabra ad. At that early point in my life, I thought that the Sabra woman was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen.

Looking back at the current issue at the Ahava ad some more, I see that it's actually a signed photo of Kristin Davis, who has gorgeous, candy-like skin.

Only smells and music, I had thought prior to tonight, could so viscerally trigger a vivid memory. I wish I could find the original ad to which I'm referring. Maybe it wasn't even for Sabra; otherwise, perhaps it was an Israel tourism ad. The guy had a bit more than 5 o'clock shadow and a deep chin-dimple and blue eyes, and the woman reminded me of a more breathtaking version of Davis -- I can't even remember all of the specifics about her features -- just that they mesmerized me.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

"Don't Dream It's Over"

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

Get to Know the Feeling of Liberation and Relief

My friend Susannah works to help people see the humanity of prisoners, former prisoners and victims' families, and blogs against the death penalty. Reading an issue of my college magazine that was among the six months of mail we amassed while in India, I thought of Susannah and her constituents...and myself.

The article, "Art in Dark Places," talked of how a couple of University of Michigan professors enabled students to work with prisoners, so that the prisoners could express themselves artistically. It showed striking artworks and also profiled Mary Glover, one of the staff of UM's Prison Creative Arts Project and an alumna, who had herself been a prisoner.

I finished the article today, after our friends David and Gerard went back to the city, and related to Glover's statement, "I came home and found my mom dying [God forbid, but I did come home to a sick relative]....I had to relearn everything -- how to drive, social to cook...even acceptable behavior on a job. I had to get to know my family again" ("LSA fall 2007," p. 45).

My Own Liberation and Disorientation

Have I no shame at all? In a previous entry, I compared my experience to that of a returning soldier, and now, I'm suggesting a parallel between my time in India and that of a woman, who spent 26 years in prison(!) I know it's gross on the one hand to dare to compare our experience, since she suffered prison life and I led a life of career opportunity and relative luxury while in India.

And yet, I do find that life moved on while we were gone, and it's unnerving; I went to set my alarm clock for work tomorrow -- it'll be my first day back -- and saw that it was set to 3 am, which was the time we got up to go to the airport six months ago. When we left six months ago, the gladioli hadn't yet bloomed; now, they're dead stalks in the garden; the trees were in full bloom and now their brown leaves litter our lawn.

When we left, everyone was relatively healthy; now, one of my relatives is sword-fighting cancer via medication or radiation -- the relative will find out the treatment recommendation on Wednesday. When we left, my identity at work was solid, and now, I've got a new one again; when we left, favorite foods were delicious, but not like manna. Now, I have gorged a couple of times on fruit that is too large and cheeses that are too rich.

Six months is nothing compared to 26 years, and I hope that a foreign service assignment is the closest I'll ever come to understanding what it's like to be away from nearly everyone and everything familiar for an extended period.

Had Hoped That Jet-lag and Being Home's Oddness Were Done...

When I thought of writing about my disorientation, the "Crowded House" tune, "Don't Dream It's Over" came to mind for its one line, "Get to know the feeling of liberation and relief." And I recalled a nightmare from last night that was full of cliches and yet haunted me beyond waking:

I returned to work in Armonk with a head full of gray hair (in reality, I don't dye my hair and there are no more than a couple of gray strands at this point), wearing only a sheet. I went to my office and found that my neighbor had taken the wall down between our offices, to enlarge hers, and so I had no office to go to.

While walking around in just a sheet, suddenly all of us in the Learning Center were being herded into a room I'd never seen, which looked reinforced. We were going to the room to use it as a shelter from some threat.

Being back in Armonk on Wednesday will be a marked contrast, I trust, to the wild dream I woke from today...I'll confirm the difference, I hope, within a day or two.