Friday, February 29, 2008


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

I'm Competing With Myself

Since launching my blog in April of 2007, I believe that I have never posted fewer than 16 entries per month, and so I've been sitting here, cranking them out on this bonus day of February.

Sadly, I will not get there this month unless I allow myself to rip off excerpts of my life history that I submitted on Monday and plunk them down here. I am ill. My cold hurts: inside my ears, the glands on either side of my throat....My nose has a mind of its own and my forehead is barely containing the explosive ache, traveling up through my sinuses.

All right, I'll cheat just a bit and add one excerpt, but first:

Some Context

The life history is structured around my learning history and what I think it meant, as well as how I think it informed my leadership. The premise, I was telling a friend with whom I work earlier today, is that to the extent I build self-awareness, I'll be a better leader, and also, if I revisit my learning history, I can gain insight now as an adult educator into what motivates adults to learn.

The Excerpt

...The informal learning that meant most to me came from books; there were three that I considered the most instructive works I’ve ever read: Creative Writing, a textbook from 1977, and I didn’t even remember where I found it, but it excited me about the practices of creative writers (and I still have it; it’s sitting in my lap as I type this), and How the Hebrew Language Grew, which my college friend Marni’s mother gave to me prior to my departure for Israel. That lucid book helped me understand Hebrew grammar like I never had prior in eight years of studying it.

The third most instructive book for me was William Zinnser’s Writing to Learn, where he suggested that we learned the most about [new] topics through writing about them. I also did valuable, informal learning about desire by reading...Annie on My Mind, a novel, which featured two girls, falling in love with each other in high school.

My early schooling was mostly painful, with the exception of a couple of teachers....Rabbi Kosowsky, of blessed memory, appreciated and encouraged my creativity, and Mrs. Honan, also of blessed memory, delivered such creative lessons herself that she made school exciting, like the time we learned about early ship navigation techniques and she had all of us create astrolabes out of paper-plates, string and little, lead weights....

Note: I just googled "Rabbi Kosowsky" and his son came up; we were classmates for a time.

Two Movies

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

One an Escape and the Other, Inane

Pat and I watched two, rented DVDs last night: "All Over Me" and "Knocked Up." For awhile, I thought that "All Over Me" was going to feel like a teenage "High Art," a movie that I disliked. Instead, quickly, I grew to care about the main character and to wish her well, and I escaped into her world for a couple of hours.

I was inspired to rent "Knocked Up" because I read about it while in Heathrow Airport in December; the British newspaper critics had made it sound good. I was highly-amused maybe twice and fell asleep before it ended.

Again, like the previous, two shows we saw, "Bernard and Doris" and "Come Back, Little Sheba," which I wrote about recently, each was about a struggling couple. This time, I'll not spoil the plots.

Triple Yahtzee Scored

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

Discovering a Fan of the Game

This morning, I was creating a list of five things you might not know about me for colleagues, just for fun, which we were encouraged to do, to get to know one another better. Along with letting people know that my hands were double-jointed, and three other items, I included this:
I'm the youngest daughter of the inventor, may his memory be blessed, of Triple Yahtzee, a popular game in the '70s (

In addition to that URL, I found another, the comments of which were an extra treat. I added my own.

I felt closer to my father through Matt Goodwin, the apparent author of "Fatty's Blizzog," than to my own uncle, my father's only surviving sibling. My dad and he were estranged and I saw him only a handful of times in my life.

Earlier This Week

Fortunately, as an adult, my first cousin Sari, who was four years younger than I, and I became friendly. A wedding invitation from her arrived in the mail on Tuesday. We had similar names; mine was Sarah Ellin Siegel and hers was Sari Ellie Siegel. It was odd to see a name so similar to mine, announcing marriage to a person named Barry.

After seeing the Triple Yahtzee references in Google, I thought to google my dad, "Herman Max Siegel." I found my sister Deb's "New York Times" wedding announcement from 20 years ago and a little memorial I posted for my father on There was an anti-depressant medication ad that I had to click beyond to get there, which I didn't recall existing when I first posted it more than seven years ago.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

I've Got a Cold, But It Was Worth It

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

Swimming in Moderation

Driving up the Garden State Parkway at 5:30 am on Thursday, I tried putting myself in the same mood as when I swam, but there was darkness and the radio and other cars to reckon with. I needed to arrive by 6:30 am to moderate a panel of four of our executives.

It was sad to miss swimming, but really fun to do the facilitation of the discussion. I told my partner Pat, "I enjoyed the moderation, I mean, moderating." By "...really fun," I meant that I liked having time pressure and needing to encourage at least a decent conversation within the constraint.

We taped it, and I just listened to it again to cull highlights to share with my colleagues. This week entailed lots of extra hours for work and school, hence, the dearth of blog-entries till now. Also, I slept too little and caught a cold, but it felt worth it during the panel.

It was amazing how great I felt while it was going on, and how, listening to the replay was a bit of a downer; I could hear myself speaking too quickly and adding, "uh..." a number of times....Oh, well. It was a reminder that perfection was not primary, but rather trying to ensure the best possible experience for everyone involved, and I did.

A colleague I respect a great deal instant-messaged me, "Beautiful job this morning." Another I respect wished for an even more candid sort of chat. It was intense, with nearly 100 people listening in from around the world, and we had invited them to submit questions prior, so necessarily, it was a bit over-structured in that way, so that it could be manageable.

Among the nicest responses was from an Indian colleague with whom I got to work during my assignment, who wrote about how a number of the Indian team gathered in the Bangalore office together and could picture me as I moderated. The world felt smaller and sweeter then.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Quality and Quantity

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

Life Stories Are Due Tomorrow

For the course I'm taking this semester on life history and leadership, our own life histories (to this point) are due on Monday. We get to read one another's and then each of us will be assigned one of them to be the lead reader, and to provide commentary and help interpret it.

In my insecurity at the prospect of producing it, I remember trying to feel superior, and thinking about the majority of the class, who are half my age: How substantial could their life stories be? And then I felt ashamed on the ride home, as I recalled hearing the author Joyce Carol Oates speak once, and how I was hurt by her similar attitude: I was 30 years old at the time and raised my hand during her Q&A to ask a question about memoir writing.

"A memoir? You have to have *lived* [enough years] to write a memoir," she said, and I disliked her then. She went on about how eager her undergraduate students sometimes were to write memoirs and how inappropriate it seemed to her due to their youth.

I thought she was mean to be so discouraging...and here I was, thinking the same way just 12 years later. Maybe the difference is that I saw my bigotry and was chagrined by it...but if she hadn't said what she had to me, maybe I'd not have had the insight to see my prejudice.

Teenage, then 21, 42, 84...

The other night, my nearly 15-year-old nephew Zach was telling me how he and a friend from 7th grade, and another from 4th grade had found one another on Facebook, and how they met again after not having seen one another for years.

This morning, I checked e-mail on my Columbia University ID and saw a Facebook e-mail notice from a guy, who used to sit behind me in one of my freshman-year classes at Stamford High. It's a similar feeling, but just a big difference in the time lag.

At the Newark Airport on Friday, a young guy was wearing a Hebrew University, Jerusalem sweatshirt and I couldn't resist talking with him. As I've mentioned here before, I studied there for my junior year abroad in college.

Should I talk to him? Shouldn't I? It's so darn early -- around 6 am -- and I'm not yet feeling so sociable, but how many times do I see such a sweatshirt, other than on myself?

"Excuse me. Hi. Did you study there?"

"Yeah." He's not a morning-person, or I'm just not who he feels like talking to right now.

"When did you go?"

"Last year, for a semester."

"Neat! I was there for a year in '85-'86. I loved it!"

He smiled politely and I walked away as quickly and as gracefully as I could.

I was exactly twice his age, and I'm still thinking about what that experience in Israel meant to me. It has been brewing all these years....I wish I could meet someone from IBM, who's 84, and who spent six months in India for IBM at 42...though I don't think we were in the country then. In any case, no doubt, that person might understand what the experience meant with greater hindsight than mine.

Pat's mom will be 84 on Monday and so she's twice my age. I'm always trying to rush my insights and hindsight, I think. I'm envious at the bank of experiences that Pat's mom, and mine, can draw from. Mr. McWilliams, my favorite teacher from high school wrote in my year book, "Sarah, just stay young long enough to grow old."

Have I Ever Been Young?

What did he see? Probably, he saw a 17-year-old , who had lost her father that year and so who was much older than her peers as a result. I've been that way ever since, or maybe even prior to my dad dying.

My family was so much older than I, growing up; my parents were 40 when I was born and my sisters already five and a half and nine, so I had to be precocious if I wanted to keep up, e.g., with vocabulary acquisition....And now, with my partner, being 15 years older than I, I find myself wondering when menopause will begin to hit me when, really, I should have several more years, if not a decade or more left prior to "the change of life."

A friend of ours sent us a hilarious clip recently of a comedy routine by "Mrs. Hughes." She said, When a girl menstruates for the first time, they say, 'And now, you're becoming a woman.' When a woman goes through menopause, they don't tell you what you're becoming....[She rubs her chin and upper-lip, pauses, and says,] "I'm becoming my father."

When my friend Chitra was in the States and met my mom, she told me later, "It's as if you're the mother and she's the daughter. Your mom's so youthful!" Maybe that's why I loved Saffy on "AbFab."

What has my maturity bought me? It's not a fair question. Maturity simply became one of my traits, like having dark-brown hair and blue eyes.

Thursday, February 21, 2008


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

In Anticipation of Our Trip to Green Bay

Early this morning, I had a sneak preview of how I'll feel all weekend. I went swimming at the YMHA in Clifton and the water was a lovely 82 degrees Fahrenheit, but the air was so cold that I kept warm only when doing the breast-stroke. Free-style and back-stroke were so chilly for my arms and swimming faster didn't help all that much; it was so breezy today.

Green Bay, Wisconsin is not its most pleasant in terms of weather around this time of year, but it's Pat's mom's birthday and we missed going there for Thanksgiving this year, since we were in Bangalore, and so we're going now. Bangalore had the world's nicest weather during the six months we were there.

Ugh, am I hitting some bottom with my blog entries, since now, I'm writing about the weather? Maybe. I've felt guilty lately that I've been less active out here, but then I recall the alternate writing activity I've been up to.

Over the past couple of weeks, I wrote my life story, i.e., what I've learned, for my life history and leadership course. The assignment was to write 10-12 pages, single-spaced.

Too Much or Too Little

I told friends about the assignment at a party last weekend. One asked, "Is the page-length too much or too little?"

"Both." I had written about 75 percent by then, but had trouble imagining completing the other 25 percent. Now that it's done, I feel like it's not at all as significant as I wanted it to be. I keep asking myself, What did the exercise teach me?

I've been writing about my life for years, and so I'm not sure that it was as revelatory as it was for a number of my classmates, probably. What did strike me was how my writing was a major theme; the number of times I wrote about how I value getting to write did feel like the key to some insight.

On Monday night, I'm trading my paper with the eight classmates, and each of them will give me a copy of theirs. I do need to celebrate that just several weeks ago, I was feeling anxious about taking the course and now, I've done the pivotal assignment....I'm done early again -- told myself it was because I won't have time to devote to it while in Green Bay -- so it might be sub-optimal, like my previous paper for a different professor, but I'm compelled to stop.

I wonder what my classmates will say about my paper. I wonder if my life history will be more interesting through their eyes.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

"Bernard and Doris"

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

...And Doc & Lola

Spoiler Alert: I'll be killing the plots of the recent HBO special and of the new Broadway production of "Come Back, Little Sheba."

God, I'm so grateful to have Pat, rather than Doris, Bernard, Doc or Lola as my partner. Both shows feature alcoholics and the women, who need them. Both women are intensely isolated, though Doris [Duke] is wealthy and Lola, not. Both are deeply lonely and hungering for affection they can trust.

Both of the men should have achieved more than they've managed to. Neither wants to drink, but can't stay away from it...and both of the women still stick with them.

Bernard is gay and so that seems even more tragic to me -- that he also never really seemed to find romantic love; Doris, too, has trysts, but might have revealed that she probably had loved Bernard romantically, if it would have been requited.

Lola and Doc yearn for impossible love, too: Lola for Dutch, a guy in high school that she did not get to marry, and Doc, for the boarder, who probably reminds him of Lola when she was young.

How can love get so misbegotten?

Thank God, Pat and I do not drink excessively (I don't at all due to my otosclerosis) and we're not pining for anyone else, or other circumstances. Seeing stories like these two, I feel ultra-grateful for the love I have.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Sunday in New York with Pat

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

"One in 50 is autistic. Deal with it, A******s!" yelled a mother to the restaurant at large, dragging out her child while we were at dinner this evening.

Initially, her kid wasn't so much the problem; it was her friend's child, sitting at the other end of the table, screaming as loud as he could and setting off the autistic one.

The mother of the randomly naughty child said to our table, "Everyone was a child once."

"Yeah, but we didn't dare act like that at a restaurant," responded one of our friends.

"I guess we should just stay on the east side," said the woman, in a tone that sounded a bit desperate and condescending at once.

"The thing that bugs me sometimes," I said after they left, "is how people think that regardless of whether or not we are related to their children, everyone on earth is supposed to help take care of their kids, and cheerfully."

"Right, we didn't need to deal with her autistic kid," said one of my friends, who said he has an autistic nephew, "*She* needed to deal with him."

No matter what, I will never have empathy for parents, as I've not had a child. Considering the mother, who made the comment about all of us having been kids at one point, I changed the subject to children's books we loved as kids:

*Toby...*, about a zebra; anything by Maurice Sendak; *Harold and the Purple Crayon*; *The Phantom Tollbooth*; *The Book of Knowledge*; *James and the Giant Peach*; the Paddington series; Thornton Burgess'.....

We talked about gay and lesbian literature that first moved us, too. For our friend, who thought he wanted to be a fashion designer when he was in high school, it was *The Value of Nothing,* a novel by the fashion designer John Weitz; for another friend, it was seeing a gay porn magazine at a newsstand while in high school, "...which I didn't dare buy, of course!"

Another said it was a movie, rather than a book: "Alkali, Iowa." I told everyone of how I felt so bold, checking the card catalog for "lesbian" at my hometown's public library when I was in high school --

One of our friends said, "Right, and it had exploding, blue ink, so they knew what you'd been searching for?"

"There was only the most boring book, which I read in the library's basement all afternoon, a novel called, *Patience and Sarah.*"

Same friend: "So you were an impatient Sarah, reading *Patience and Sarah*!"

In an only-in-New-York sort of moment, when we were getting ready to leave, a group of five women at a table across the restaurant sang to a sixth one, "Happy Birthday" like I've never before heard it -- like they were from Julliard, with complex harmonies and nearly operatic voices.

All in one evening, at the same restaurant, we heard, as Pat characterized them, "Screaming by children from the 'Village of the Damned' and a chorus of angels."

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Unhappy Valentine's Day

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

Bouquet and Bulldog Notwithstanding

Upon entering my car in our garage this morning, I saw a red envelope, perching in one of the cup-holders. The card inside featured a sweet, big bulldog and the printed inscription read, "I'm worth my weight in love."

On the way home, I stopped at the little flower shop near our home, which was still open at 8:30 pm miraculously -- or not, since it's Valentine's Day -- and bought a bouquet of yellow tulips for Pat whose favorite color is yellow. They're waiting for her on the landing of our steps to the living room from the music room; she'll pass them as she comes into the house from the garage.

Saturday, we decided, would be our Valentine's Day, as we're going into the city for a play and then out to dinner at a French restaurant. Tonight, Pat went to see Kathleen Turner at the 92nd Street Y and I worked late.

At around 6:30 pm, just after my last conference call, Pat phoned me from the upper west side to tell me that there had been a bad shooting at one of her former employers. If Pat had still been working there, she'd have been among the leadership team, handling the crisis.

Appreciating the One I Love

I looked on as she was talking to me and it was the top story. I celebrated Pat's earning of her Curriculum and Supervision doctorate with her mom and her on that campus, went to a number of fun tailgate parties and basketball games, and to a picnic with the LGBT faculty and staff networking group. I know the landmarks they're referring to. Thank God, today, Pat was retired, rather than still employed there...because what if she had been injured or endangered in any way!

She's going to feel bad about this forever, I know. I also know that she'd have been amazing in this situation, as she's really smart and sensible about crises. Dear God, please get her home safely from her evening of Kathleen Turner. Seriously.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

"The Bliss of Struggle"

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

Learning to Welcome It

"That's what's so great about friends, who have known you for a long time," said my sister Deb, "They can compare you with the you of years ago."

She was referring to the conversation I'd had at dinner last night with Riva Lehrer, a friend with whom I had a romance, pre-Pat, 17 years ago, and a preeminent artist in the disability culture, who said to me before getting out of my car, "I haven't seen you for a decade and you've accomplished so much in that time, and yet you sound the same as back then -- so self-dissatisfied."

"My mother's always telling me, 'Sarah, why don't you let yourself live?'"

My friend made a disapproving face and said, "I don't mean that you should change, but rather that you should make art out of those feelings....It's the bliss of struggle."

"The bliss of struggle! I love that. Did you make it up?"

"I think so."

"I do try to channel it into my writing, but I've also felt ashamed of the struggle, too. Pat has a T-shirt that I wear; it features a quote from Frederick Douglass, 'Without struggle, there is no progress.'"

"I read something that appealed to me that said, 'An artist has to be at home with embarrassment,' [so that the shame is usable, rather than paralyzing]."

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Friendship Candy

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

Sweet and Fun

We have been meeting quarterly for the past couple of years, though we missed each other for the past six months while Pat and I were in India. Once again, it's just the two of us.

Tonight, we lean in close for the first time, and I flatter myself during my drive home that the servers must have noticed us and totally misread our body-language.

After he returns from the men's room, I say softly, "Your trip to the men's room gave me a gorgeous view. The woman directly behind you -- no, now, you can't turn around -- is stunning."

And I sneek one more peek, just to be certain. Yes, she does have yellow-silk hair to her shoulders, blooming cheeks and lips, plus eye-glasses with glossy-black, plastic frames, sitting on a straight bridge of a noble nose; the glasses make her look like a female Clark Kent -- her appeal, unsuccessfully hiding behind the lenses. And she's wearing a mauve, woolen scarf around her long throat.

And then my friend leans in to tell me about the amazing guy he saw at the gym the other day -- "black hair, blue eyes -- a killer combo -- the sort of beard that even when it's shaved leaves a dark-blueish shadow, which is just so masculine, and he also had high, beautiful cheekbones and a square jaw," he says, holding his hand around the top of his athletic neck.

Both of us are monogamous with our long-time partners, and we agree that life is full of such visual gifts in any case, thank God. "I'm convinced: My sexuality is the engine that makes my whole life work," I say, grateful for his friendship, and the comfort around him to say aloud such a bold sentiment.

"You're reminding me of the theologian whose work I featured in my thesis;" my friend went to seminary before joining IBM. "There was a great book about his theology, *Eros Toward the World*."

I just went hunting and found the following review excerpt:
This original and important work retrieves and develops the often-neglected but extremely fruitful notion of eros in Paul Tillich’s thought. Alexander Irwin’s recovery of Tillich’s rich concept shows how eros is a crucial dimension in human existence and a driving force in all human creativity—in art, social ethics, politics, and religion.

Desire drives my creativity.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Affectionate Memory

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

Vivid, I Already Knew It Was, but Tonight It Feels Affectionate

Speaking with my mom on my way to work the other day, I enjoyed hearing her tell me about a boy she dated in high school, who once took her to Buffalo to see her friends in a convertible. "Can you imagine? Having a convertible in 1940?"

"He had a convertible in high school?"

"Yes, and all the most elegant kids in Rochester were his friends. Of course, a couple of them once did God knows what in the backseat, but my friends and I were different. You must understand; our culture was different. We didn't do those things."

Just like my ultimate culture, it strikes me now; I don't do things with men either.

High School Girl, Silently Erupting

Driving home tonight in the rain, I thought about a girl I knew in high school. She was pretty, but inaccessible, and really friendly, like the mayor of the school, saying hi in the hallways to the many students whose names she knew, but never really making friends with anyone beyond the duration of ski-club trips and high school dances, where she danced with a big group of people and never with just one of them. She had a boyfriend for a short time, but it didn't work.

Tonight, recalling the song that made me think of high school while commuting, Club Nouveau's "Heavy on My Mind," I felt tender about her, rather than judgmental. (I was remembering the time incorrectly, as the group didn't form till my junior year in college, but....)

She was funny, in a warding-off way, but that was her biggest offense. To her local peers, she was a nice girl -- hardly ever anything other than cheerful and kind.

Probably, I would have had a big crush on her, but she was me...and so on and off I doubted her, and sometimes hated her.

She was like that Adam Ant song, "Goody Two Shoes:"
Don't drink don't smoke - what do you do?
Don't drink don't smoke - what do you do?
Subtle innuendos follow, must be something inside.

What she did was deeply desire selected classmates and teachers and then she acted on her self-awareness totally secretly with girls, who didn't go to her school and who lived far away -- during the summer she turned 15, and then again when she turned 17. And *no* one could she was funny, but distant.

There was a power in her self-awareness, and a terror, too. In high school, finally, she was a good student, and athletic, though she never played team-sports. She was lonely more than anyone knew. Reading and writing helped her, and being friendly, if distant. And constant pop-music. And "Charlie's Angels." Her parents didn't know her when she was in high school -- not the whole her.

If I Could Comfort Her...

Jonathan Butler's "Sarah, Sarah" played in my car tonight and I realized that my mother liked the song because it reminded her of the two of us. When it was popular -- I think I was in college -- she said it reminded her of how my one and only boyfriend, Scott, must have felt when we broke up. Something rang false in that and then I realized why tonight:

It's not perfectly appropriate, but most of the lyrics could apply to a parent with a daughter named Sarah. And the parent could be shattered that Sarah didn't turn out the way her parent had planned. "How could our dreams crumble into dust?" he sings tragically.

What if I could go back and be a buddy to myself, and my mother, and reassure both of them that my terror and much of my fundamental loneliness would pass? What if I could tell myself of that time that I ought to enjoy the fun, if secret, romances I managed to have with two girls at 15 and 17? Would I be able to hear myself, or would I be too afraid?

What if I could go back to then and tell my mother and myself that I would find a supremely funny, kind partner and meaningful, relatively lucrative work, and would remain athletic, and would keep learning my whole life?

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

In a Fog

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

Bright Light in the Mist

Getting to the polls at 5:45 am was no small feat, since I could barely see through the clouds on the roads. I turned on my extra-bright back-light on my car, even though no one was driving behind me.

When I reached the elementary school in my dress-coat and pre-swim bed-hair, I was #4 on line. An older man and his older, female companion, stood in front of me -- the man's body odor was bad enough that I had to move away from him. We left at the same time and they got into a fancy model of Audi. Anyone can smell bad, I was reminded.

The first person on line was an attractive white woman with a classic, Japanese surname -- presumably her married name. She said it aloud when she was asking for help with learning her ward number.

Finally, it was 6 am. The poll-worker handed me the wrong colored slip and I pointed it out, rather than signing it. Oops. She was sorry and gave me the right color. It was a new sort of polling machine. Computerized. A little, green "x" appeared next to the candidate that I selected. It was neat to see the light, but less exciting than moving a lever, which is what this polling place enabled until this time.

At the pool afterwards, I saw a woman I often see, who was showering after completing her swim, just as I began showering prior to mine. "I voted," I told her.

"Do I dare ask for whom?"

I told her and she was pleased.

At work, a couple of Indian colleagues in India knew that it was Super Tuesday (evening for them) and they told me who they liked. It's amazing how people from other countries watch our elections.

Taking the shuttle to the lower parking lot after work, I couldn't believe that it was even foggier than it had been in the morning. Was it symbolic?

Two of my colleagues from our Operations team were on the shuttle with me and I surprised myself, saying as I got off prior to them, "Hope you'll vote on the way home; any vote's a good vote."

They smiled, nodded and one agreed, "Mm hmm."

I never talk politics at work, but I think I had the fever. This election is so interesting. What a fascinating collection of candidates. My course this semester is talking about life history and leadership. What calls someone to run for president? How early does the ambition start? What is it like among their families right now? How do their families comfort them? How do they celebrate them? What could be a bigger celebration, or a bigger disappointment?

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Peaks and Valleys, All in One Weekend

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

In the Valley of Shoprite

"Paper or plastic?" asks the same, Downs-syndrome-affected and high-functioning bagger, who helped us when we shopped together last time, on New Year's Eve. Only now, he's sporting a goatee and an official Giants football shirt over his shirt and tie -- just like several of the other staff and some of the customers; it's four hours prior to the Super Bowl, after all.

"Pat, what do we want? Plastic?" Pat takes the bags to the soup kitchen on Thursdays.

"Yeah, plastic."

"Plastic please," I say without making full eye-contact.

"All plastic?" he asks and I look him in the eye as I say yes.

He's bagging the food and says with a stutter he didn't have when he spoke of our cricket caps last time: "Lllet mmmme guess," he says, pointing to the presidential candidate's button on Pat's chest, "She's for [candidate's name]."

"That's right, and me, too," I say showing him my button, which had not been visible prior.

"Well, [the candidate] won't get my vote."

"That's OK. The important thing is to vote, no matter who you're voting for," says Pat.

The young woman at the cash register offers proudly, "It'll be my first election, where I can vote," but adds no commentary on her favorite candidate.

"You know why I'm not voting for [the candidate]?" asks the bagger.

"Why not?" I'm obliged to respond.

"Because [the candidate][pause] is [pause] for *gay* people."

"And that's why I *am* voting for [the candidate]."

"Well, a president who's for gay people is not right," he exclaims, stutter-free.

"You're looking at a human being, who is one of those gay people." (Purposely, I use the phrase, "human being," as I know that it will resonate with him, that he'll be able to relate to the discrimination of not always being treated as human.)

"Well, OK," says the cashier, chagrined and wondering what's next.

"I'm sorry," he says immediately. "I did not mean to be [pause] offensive. I was off the line." (He means to say, "...out of line," and I'm disarmed by his sincerity.)

"It's OK. Everyone is allowed to have his or her opinion."

To change the subject, he pulls out the magazine he has just bagged and makes a point about the stars on the cover. For some reason, our current issue of "Vanity Fair" has not come in the mail, and so Pat wants us to go ahead and buy it. Like the game of Cricket, the bagger knows more about the history of "Indiana Jones" than I do and is regaling me. He needn't be nervous. I have no intention of complaining to the store manager and so I say goodbye with:

"I remember you from when I was wearing my India cricket cap last time. Look, I'm wearing it again," I say, pointing to the insignia on the front. He looks and we seal the deal of acknowledging each other's humanity.

"OK, let's go," Pat says, and I turn to the cashier and thank her. She smiles and waves.

Probably, the bagger is euphoric right now; the Giants won, Pat just yelled up to tell me.

Would Kanye West Do Anything for an Adirondyke?

The trip to Shoprite was on the way home from the 10th, annual "Out and About Winter Weekend," which practically from the beginning, a number of us affectionately began referring to as the "Adirondyke Weekend." Relatively rocketing us down the now ice-free I-87, we listened to my iPod through the car radio and heard Kanye West's "Stronger" among many others. "Stronger" was among the American pop songs I heard all the time while in India.

The inspiration for the weekend's nickname were the 60 or more lesbian couples, who go up to the Adirondack Mountains every year; we think it's cute, but probably, we wouldn't have thought it was cute if the Shoprite bagger had coined it....

The ride up was harrowing. We left Montclair at noon and arrived just before 5 pm; typically, it takes us three and a half hours. We saw 19 accidents on the way, most of them south of Albany. We were in the car with snow-tires and blessedly, Pat did the driving, as I have an ice phobia.

When we arrived, a sign out front read, "Welcome, Out and About!" I nearly cried...with relief that we had made it there without sliding off the road ourselves...and because it was the first time that the little ranch had a sign for us...and because I was so excited to be going this time, since Pat and I were so isolated over the past six months in India.

The weekend was started by my friend Carol, who retired from IBM seven years ago, and it always attracts a bunch of lesbian IBMers accordingly. What a fun bunch we are!

When I came in to the indoor pool for a got-here-safely-gratitude dip, an IBM alumna -- as of this past Thursday -- and her partner were standing by the pool in dripping swim-suits, towel-drying themselves. Shivering as I entered the water, I lasted a very short time, as the pool didn't feel heated, but it hit the spot in terms of getting to unclench myself from the scary drive.

The shower in the lockerroom afterwards reminded me of India at first, as I could not, initially, regulate the water to make it hot. All ended well enough when the water finally turned warm.

Music after dinner was by the band that played at the GM of the ranch's wedding and I'm sure they were great if your family were cowboys and cowgirls, but most of us related less so to the two guys on electric guitars and a drummer, singing only country music. Pat and I went to bed early, only after hearing a very sad story by a new friend, who's just now allowing herself to be herself, at 52.

Her story, I think, made it hard for me to sleep well. God, I could have traveled that sad road, I thought, and yet, she has what I don't -- two kids in their 20s, who are devoted to her. She wonders how devoted they would still be if she told them her reality.

The next day, I sat by the fire, which Pat kept stoking expertly and read for school. "Skating anyone?" another IBM friend asked early in the afternoon. We went to the home-made rink outside with her young daughter. I felt like I was four again, at my nursery school's rink, only now, the skates were better. Every year, one or another childhood experience lets me re-live it and it's blissful. A couple of years ago, I went sled-riding.

Saturday night, though, really was why we braved the freezing rain and ice: A D.J. played from 9 pm to midnight and the floor was never empty. I loved dancing with Pat and my IBM friends, and then also spotting a young woman from my synagogue and saying hello. And then seeing a local couple, who lives there year-round. Probably, they are not yet 30. One wears a cowboy hat and is always graceful and gallant; they are the most elegant, non-professional dancers I've ever seen, of any gender-combo.

It's beyond bed-time now, and there's so much more to re-live through writing about it...if only work weren't waiting for me in the early, early morning. All of us, at any given time, are doing our best, Pat reminds me occasionally:

I'm writing as fast as I can, the Shoprite bagger is trying to do what he thinks is right for the country and the newly active, middle-aged lesbian is trying to figure out her next steps.