Monday, March 31, 2008

Across the Universe....

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

Everything's Gonna Change My World

A colleague started my day, discussing his favorite subject, The Beatles. Only Irving Berlin was more prolific and of the same caliber, he said.

"God Bless America" and "Imagine."

Oy, I need to wake up at 5 a.m., so that I can swim. Bed-time!

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Just a Dream

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

What Happened When I Got a Full Night's Sleep

Last night, I had a full night's sleep...and a crazy dream.

Most nights, I didn't get more than six and a half hours because more often than I'd have liked, I rode out the day till, say, 11 pm, but still needed to get up at 5:30 am for work, or 5 or 5:15 on the days I swam. Most nights, I felt like I hadn't had time to dream, at least not any memorable ones.

The Dream

A woman, who is not Pat, and who is not the girlfriend I lived with in Chicago 20 years ago, is luring me to be with her. She is blond and a stranger -- no one I've ever met...and then she morphs into the classically-beautiful cello player I dated, among many other women, pre-Pat.

(The cello player was gorgeous, and lovely, but ultimately, we lacked enough in common and it ended within a few months. For example, I couldn't even play a musical instrument at an amateur level and preferred disco to classical music.

At our peak, she invited me home to her mom's in Des Moines for a weekend. She took me to the Jewish cemetery there, and to the synagogue, and we snapped pictures, but for her, it was just a tour; we were equally exotic to each other, and exoticism didn't make for staying power.)

Back to the Dream

In the dream, I am still with my former girlfriend of 20 years ago, and I am concerned that she cannot find out about my emotional, if not yet physical, adultery. I must hide the gorgeous garment that the blond cello player has bought me. The gift of the Indian outfit has made me feel prized and seems, in parallel, a sexy and romantic gesture; at all costs, my girlfriend cannot find out that the cello player has given me the gift.

In the next scene, my girlfriend and I reunite in a hotel room, or an apartment, or wherever we are -- I don't recognize it -- and she morphs into Pat, and I'm panicked.

And then she morphs back into herself (because I cannot imagine Pat betraying me this way) and holds up a shopping bag. She pulls out a gorgeous outfit, saying that another woman (to whom I know she is attracted) has bought it for her.

She has no compunctions about the presumed betrayal while I'm torn up by my actions. I wake up; it is unresolved.

Desire These Days

Last night, before going to sleep, I told Pat that I needed some new clothes for work.

"Let's just go to Richards ," she said.

"OK, maybe during our vacation [in May, since this one's local]."

Prior to this pre-sleep conversation, we had been at Shabbat services, and there was a profusion of attractive women there, including our ever-lovely assistant rabbi and rabbinical intern...and maybe, I also had a touch of spring fever.

Funny how, 20 years after feeling like a Proto-Shane, my sleep-fantasies focused on a gift of clothing as the height of racy behavior. It was true that I did develop a bit of a fetish for nice clothes over the years, as I earned more money, and yet, felt a bit wistful that it had come to this.

At services last night, the openly-gay, Israeli deputy ambassador to Poland, Yossi Avni-Levy, spoke. I was inspired because in addition to being a diplomat, he wrote award-winning stories and novels drawn from his life. If he could write so openly while serving in a governmental leadership position, then certainly, I wanted to believe that I had license to keep writing this blog as openly as I did.

As I looked for clues on how I dreamt the dream I did last night -- beyond all the press lately for our area politicians' behavior -- I thought about Richards, the women at synagogue and then finally the last image I had after kiddush: Ambassador Avni-Levy was swarmed by male congregants. He was talking to the first one in the line, standing close to him and gesticulating, practically touching the guy's broad chest with every gesture, and standing with one leg extended in front of the other, toward the guy.

"Sexual orientation is fascinating," I said aloud to Pat, softly and jealously, looking in their direction. The guys' active sexuality was so least that of the ones, who were in line, waiting their turn to talk to the handsome, fit diplomat.

When I read the interview he gave to the Polish journalist, linked to from the first occurrence of his name above, I lost my jealousy and recovered my empathy. He spoke of being lonely, of wanting to love and be loved, of wanting to feel like he had a real home, rather than loved ones " every port."

For me these days, desire -- more often than not -- is about:

  • Wanting Pat to live forever, and always to prize me
  • Hoping for recognition that I'm making a positive difference at work and in school
  • Wishing for enough money to be more generous philanthropically and to add more art and further luxuries to our lives
  • Leaving a lasting, positive legacy
  • Being moved by beautiful women I see, but no longer so continuously...if I'm truthful.

The last item made me a bit sad to admit, but actually, it was a relief not to battle that sort of desire as constantly as I did in my twenties....Well, I didn't battle it then; I fell to it nearly every time...but it got exhausting after awhile and made me lonelier.

Nowadays, it was more fun to write about that sort of desire than to act on it.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Spring Treats

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

A Dog and Lawn Hygiene...Unrelated

On Monday evening before class, I met a French bulldog named Digby. A cute, young woman was walking him on 119th toward Amsterdam. He was butterscotch-tan and wonderfully friendly. Fortunately, his walker, and he, let me pet him. He put me in a sweet mood for a number of hours.

And then the landscaping guys were doing spring cleaning of our property yesterday and today. All of the dead leaves (that look like salamanders in the dark, after a long enough day at work) are gone and the emerging flower stalks look longer, since they're fully visible now.

First Daffodils and Hearing Hot Dogs

In December, long before flower-stalks and first-spring landscaping, I posted disconsolately about my hearing. Today, I had a three-month checkup; typically, since the fall of 2004, I've gone back every six months, but because of some poor results during my last visit, the doctor scheduled another checkup for today. Thank you, God. It was an anomaly and did not repeat itself today.

"Do I have good hearing for an adult with otosclerosis, or good hearing for an adult period?"

The doctor and the audiologist both said, "You have good hearing for an adult altogether." And the audiologist added, "Most adults' range is around 13,000 or 14,000 and yours is nearly 15,000 [something-hertz]."

On my way to the doctor, on 2nd Avenue and 59th if I remember correctly, I saw my first daffodils of spring. Ours are budding, but not yet blooming. These were clustered around a small tree, outside a boutique.

I'm feeling extra-alive today.

My Pride

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

...Took a Risk

Last week, I opted to nominate this blog for a grassroots award and today, I learned that it failed to make it to the top five nominees. The criterion for being among the top five was the number of people who tagged it. I sent a note to the award originator, asking why my blog wasn't included in the voting list and he had to explain the criterion to me, which he did gently.

A good sport was what I needed to be, and so I wrote back, "Maybe next year! Meanwhile, I'll be sure to vote. Thanks for organizing this. It's fun." And then honorably/heroically/heart-brokenly, I voted.

Do I feel ashamed that the blog didn't make it to the Top 5? Yes. Did I want to win, let alone be among the Top 5? Yes. Was it a realistic wish? Not necessarily.

A great quote from the Bhagavad Gita soothes me slightly...if only I could heed it: "On action alone be thy interest, never on its fruits."

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Too Big for...

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

...a Twitter Update, Too Small for One of My Typical Blog Entries

Change is good, though...but no promises that any future entries will also be this spare:

Last night, I had the weirdest experience; I was leaving my office at the IBM Learning Center after dark -- chose to work very late, since Pat had her sign language class -- and it was freezing cold out. A dead oak leaf blew across my path.

At a quick glance, I thought it was a salamander, scurrying past, like the ones that ran up the sides of our home in Bangalore, or sometimes across the kitchen floor before we turned on the light. And then I realized that it couldn't be a salamander because it was too cold out...but for a second, I was in Bangalore and Armonk at the same time!

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Treadmillers No More

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

The End of an Era

When I glance at the tagline of this blog, I wonder if I ought to write this entry....Since it made me re-live other experiences that do qualify as worth re-living through writing about them, I'll go ahead....

First thing this morning, Pat and I did what we have been planning to do for a couple of years:

We, ourselves, lifted our sickly heavy treadmill out of our music-room, through the patio door across a bit of the backyard and up the side-yard, out to the edge of the curb for bulky-waste pickup on Monday. I kept looking at it out of the upstairs window, where I was working, and now, am blogging.

"Pat, if we tried lifting it any later than this year, probably, we'd not have had the physical strength to do it," I said upon our return from our walk up to Valley Road. Ironically, Valley Road is up two huge hills from where we live; Montclair is in the foothills of the Watchung Mountains.

Pat agreed. A couple of years ago, when we stopped using it, I wasn't allowed to lift anything heavy for a long time; I had wrecked my neck during a business trip in China and needed physical therapy for months as a result. At physical therapy, Amelia told me that the pounding I did by running, and even walking, on the treadmill was no good for my neck. I switched to swimming.

We felt liberated by having opened up the space of that room. We actually hosted family Passover seders in that room twice, placing the table in front of the immovable treadmill; ha! it wasn't immovable once we were ready to move it out of the house.

One Great Deal and One Bad One at the Chanukah Auction

Probably eight years ago (it was the 925 model -- no longer even featured on the web site), Pat and I went to our synagogue's Chanukah auction. We were the highest bidders on the treadmill. Another couple of women had had it in their Manhattan apartment and had decided it was too big for where they lived, and so they donated it to the shul.

Living in the suburbs, it fit less dominantly into one of the rooms of our house. Still, in the past year and a half, it became no more than the rack, where we dried our towels after swimming, before throwing them in the laundry. That was our dilemma now -- where to dry the towels.

At the same auction, Pat bid on an item that proved her love for me definitively. One of the congregants at the time was a well-known literary agent. The agent donated an offer to read a manuscript of any kind, of up to 300 pages, and to provide feedback on it. Pat out-bid everyone and won it for me.

The agent did not keep the commitment. Even our rabbi contacted the agent ultimately, to no avail. The agent agreed when the rabbi called and then ignored it further. I had just finished a coming-of-age memoir and was excited to have it read by the agent, but God had other plans.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

What I Really Meant to Write

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

Now, No One Can Suggest That I'm Not Authentic

My entire previous entry, it seemed, was encouragement for the re-posting I'm about to do, of two entries that I posted in the course of a few days, at work, on the discussion database, which is dedicated to IBM's gay, lesbian, bi and trans community and our colleagues; I've been really upset about my mom's recent car accident and how it is affecting my routine, and it felt like a huge version of the many times our roles were reversed, growing up, where she needed parenting, and I gave it to her:

Posted on March 18, 2008

Last night, my 82-year-old mom was sitting in her wheelchair in the nursing/rehab facility, falling asleep; on March 3rd, she had a bad car accident that involved only her car, a tree and her, and she broke several bones, including ribs and her lateral tibia plateau (if I remember the term correctly) -- her knee:

Me: "I could sing you 'Shlof mayn kind,' but you're not 'mayn kind' ['my child]." ["Shlof mayn kind" is a Yiddish lullaby that my father used to sing to my sisters and me when we were kids],

My mom: "The roles are reversed."

Me: "Well, it's not the first time."

My mom: Silence and pretending to be, or genuinely, asleep.

I'm full of resentment, anger, adoration, grief, melancholy, devastation, love, regret, guilt, self-preservation sense....

If anyone else has had an aging parent, who has needed extra attention suddenly, please respond to the following questions here or send e-mail to me, so that maybe all of us can feel less alone in it:

  1. Have you had to broach the subject of their selling their home and moving either into assisted living or a nursing home?
  2. If so, how did it go, and what tips for success in such a discussion can you offer?
  3. If you chose to have them live with you, how did you manage it? (I am not likely to go this route and I imagine how culturally alien/heartless that might seem to a number of this community.)
  4. If you were appointed durable power of attorney, how involved and complicated was the responsibility?
  5. How did you compartmentalize, so you could get your work done with minimal distraction?
  6. How did you show love without being selfless?
  7. How did you take care of your other loved ones and yourself while you had to pay extra attention to your parent?

Thanks for providing answers to any of these questions, and for answering any others that didn't occur to me.

Posted on March 21, 2008

My colleague and friend, John, posted first:
Since we've been talking about aging parents, the winner in the Short Film category is a 6.25-minute video about a girl dealing with her mother's onset of Alzheimer's. It's quite (that's quite in the American sense of the word) poignant.

It's here:

The page showing all of the nominees is here:

I watched the winner twice and responded:
Yeah, it was sad.

Once, when I was seven, my mother and father left me at a gas station on the Merritt Parkway, after the three of us stopped to go to the bathroom. They were many miles north before they realized I wasn't under the sleeping bag in the back of the station wagon.

The gas station attendant bought me hot chocolate from the vending machine and sat with me till the Connecticut state troopers came and took me up the parkway to reunite with my parents. I was upset that they might be worried when they figured out that I wasn't there.

This is not fiction.

Writing When Inspired

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

...Or Not

My friend Riva, who has taught at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, says she never encourages her students to wait for inspiration. They could be waiting a long time.

In blogging, it has been helpful to me to be liberal with what inspires me. And then there are experiences that are just essentially inspiring; usually, they have to do with dialogue -- either that I've been in, or that I've heard while watching a movie, a play or reading a book. I'm so grateful that my memory has a gift for recalling what people say to one another.

When I was caring for our nine-year-old, twin nephews during part of last week, I realized that it must be genetic: My mother remembers conversations that happened years ago, I do and so do the boys. I was thinking about it while swimming a few days ago: The gift will serve both of them well, if they opt to be writers, and in any case. Everyone appreciates someone, who seems to be a great listener.

While I could never retain facts, I always thought it was because I cared especially about people that I had the facility to remember conversations; a friend, who's a neuropsychologist, suggested that no, it's just a gift I have, just the way my particular memory works, and it's not because I value people as a source of learning more than other sources....I think I've blogged about this before, while in India, after she demystified my memory for me, but can't recall for certain(!)

Spotting, and Being Inspired By, Others' Inspiration

Reading an article by Peggy Orenstein in magazine of "The New York Times" during breakfast, I thought about how memorable the following bit of dialogue was to the journalist, how it strengthened the rest of what she wrote in its vividness:
A few weeks ago, while stuck at the Chicago airport with my 4-year-old daughter, I struck up a conversation with a woman sitting in the gate area. After a time, she looked at my girl — who resembles my Japanese-American husband — commented on her height and asked, “Do you know if her birth parents were tall?”

By contrast, I will not deny the pleasure it gave me, waiting at the stoplight on the corner in Queens with our nephews Sam and Max last week, and thinking, they could pass as my sons, and passers-by might think they are.

A New Anthology Prompted Further Self-reflection

There was another article, in the Book Review, about a book on great blogs of 2005-07. I read it with envy of the highlighted bloggers, and also appreciated the way it began: "Ten years from now, we'll all be inured to blogs....we current adults will no longer concern ourselves with how frisky, naughty, inflammatory, overly confessional or scarily paradigm-threatening these blog things are."

My blog fell into the category of "overly confessional" fairly routinely, I recognized, and that was what made it so delicious for me...that and the sitemeter; I really related to one of the statements from the author's anthology, which was quoted in the review, on what she refers to as "bloggy to the core": "...conversational and reckless, composed on the fly for anonymous intimates...."

And that was why I didn't, as often, maintain a blog behind our firewall at work: The thrill of blogging, for me, was in having a place to come to relax in my writing, and to reflect on any of the humanity-oriented moments of my day, not just the ones that happened at work. My work-blog, "Learning for Fun and Profit," made me feel closer to colleagues, known and as-yet unknown, when I [rarely thus far] posted to it, but it was out here, where I said whatever I wished to say, about any topic.

That was a bit disingenuous: If I admitted it, I did not write whatever I wanted here, as I could not write about IBM projects I was working on, and did not want to write about some topics that even for me, felt too personal for a public blog...and yet, whenever I did write about the extra-personal topics here, those were, most often, the entries that drew comments.

And there is a discussion database hosted by IBM, for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) IBMers and our colleagues that I mentioned here before, from which I pulled selected entries from 1998-2006 and re-posted them here. That database, as recently as last night, contained an entry that I hadn't planned to post here because I felt close to that community, and felt I could afford to post it there....

God, I feel like I'm admitting a double-life, saying that on the one hand, I didn't post much within the firewall and on the other, posted only the most intimate stuff behind our firewall. It was a question of where: Our blog system is populated by technology pundits for the most part, which isn't me, while the GLBT database invited us to build social capital and post on anything within business conduct guidelines, which actually does leave lots of room for freedom of expression.

Earlier this week, a friend kindly thought of me when she saw news on blogging, on how to blog while employed full-time, and it made me feel better, as one of the tips was that bloggers didn't necessarily need to blog daily, but we needed to blog fairly predictably, which I believed I did.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Spring Haiku

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

With Thanks to My Colleague Jay Cagle...

...who inspired a number of us to write them in honor of the vernal equinox:

Again, crushed flowers
canceling our subscription
if his aim fails thrice.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Had a Nice Day!

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

Working, Swimming, Writing, Talking with Two Friends...

I could scarcely hope for more in a single day!

My morning began with an Indian friend and colleague, letting me know that the major projects I had come to India to help launch, and which she took on upon my departure, have now been selected as the way to go for all emerging markets. I had hoped that that would happen, and I felt so connected to her at that moment, and so much more effective about my time in India in hindsight than I think I could even see while I was there. A lot of it was about laying groundwork that people could build on beautifully.

Before leaving India, more than once, I told a couple of peers, whenever I succeeded in gaining buy-in for projects, my experience was that nothing major I had ever launched at IBM had been shut down; rather, it had just grown even bigger upon my moving on from it. I was trying to help them believe that the project I started during my short-term foreign service assignment was poised for success regardless of my day-to-day involvement, was trying to reassure them; in parallel, perhaps it sounded a bit arrogant, but I'm glad that I didn't speak least given the news I received today.

It put me in a great, creative mood for the rest of the day.

At day's end, I spoke with a friend of mine, who was confined to a nursing home temporarily due to a stroke she had some months ago that left her temporarily, partially paralyzed. Speaking with her always made me feel better because she was inspirational. She survived breast cancer, a heart attack, stroke...and thank God, just kept going. I always thought of the power of the human spirit whenever we spoke. Oy, I didn't want that to sound patronizing.

And then I sang pop songs in my head while swimming hard, and after my chat with my friend this evening, I saw the nicely edited version of an article I was asked to write for my synagogue's newsletter, on Pat's and my experience in India. Once it's published, perhaps, I'll post it here, too.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

"The Ultimate Showdown"

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

Humor Is a Delicate Art

In college, I took a required Psychology course and opted to write about the psychology of humor. I thought it would be entertaining to research and entertaining to read. It earned me an A-, but it was neither.

This weekend, while I was caring for our nine-year-old twin nephews during their parents' 20th wedding anniversary celebration trip, the boys showed me some of their favorite YouTube clips, which were mostly only semi-funny to me. When I returned to the land of adults, Pat's and my home, I read two articles about comedians: one in "The New York Times," featuring a book about stand-up comedians of the '70s and another in Vanity Fair, about funny comediennes of today.

My hopes, always, were high, that I'd find such articles entertaining, and yet I never did. I ought to have learned my lesson in college, when I wrote that Psych. paper. Writing and reading about humor were relatively boring.

The articles did remind me that I craved being inspired to laugh, and even to produce laughter, routinely, and was fortunate to have my own, local laughter generator in Pat.

The Minds of Nine-year-old, Twin Boys

For the boys, Sam and Max, nothing could be funnier than "The Ultimate Showdown."

On Friday afternoon, just before I stopped working for the day, we visited Active World, a virtual world; not too long into our visit, my mother phoned to tell me that her physical rehab roommate had had to be hospitalized. Meanwhile, the boys took my avatar, with my real name associated with it, into a business meeting to which I had not been invited!

Which generation needed more attention at that moment? Clearly, the boys won. I felt crazy that my avatar, dressed as Athena, and labeled, "Sarah Siegel," ended up in a genuine business meeting that was being conducted in Active World. Oy!

It felt like I had opened an incorrect conference-room door, but then instead of excusing myself and shutting it, wandered around for awhile among the businesspeople. And though it was the twins and not me, who roved my avatar around the room, I was accountable. I wondered if the participants copied down my name, and if I'd be in trouble. I was so embarrassed that I didn't even pause to see the topic of the meeting, or any of the people's names. Once I realized what was happening, I just shut it down.

The boys were contrite. What a wild time we had with one another; only several minutes later that afternoon:

"Don't you leave this house!" I called to Sam, who had decided he wanted to wear his brother's jacket for our walk to the park, though his brother didn't want him to.

Sam opened the door and walked out.

"Get back in this house immediately!"

He came back in, yanked off the jacket and kicked his heel backwards, nailing Max's shin. I gave him a five-minute time-out, saying, "It's five to 5. We're going to sit here for five minutes and at 5 o'clock, you're going to decide whether or not to apologize to your brother."

At 5 pm, when Sam apologized, Max replied, "I don't accept your apology because you're just going to do it again."

At dinner, I said, "My sisters never hit me. What is it about you two?"

"It's a twin-brother thing. We do this all the time," said Sam.

"Yeah, we hate each other to a certain extent," said Max.

"And do you also love each other to a certain extent?" I asked.

Both nodded without looking up from their food.

Helping a Stranger

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

Helping Family

The Philips Lifeline bill came in today's mail. It's for my mother; I've been a customer in her behalf for the past seven years.

It occurred to me to call Customer Service and set up online bill paying and then I realized that the more realistic thing to do would be to suspend service for the next three months. As a policy, they didn't suspend service; they canceled it and then re-instated it if necessary.

It was a sad conversation for me. Who knew if my mom would be able to return to her house when her three months of rehab from her recent car accident was done? The house had many stairs.

If I were Indian, in India, there would be likely no other scenario than my mother coming to live with one of her daughters and our family; in India, there was no Social Security and the culture also was such that most parents did live with their kids when they became elderly.

As my American culture, or my own individual sense of what could work differed from that culture's, my mom would need to go to assisted living or a nursing home, if she couldn't return to her house ultimately. And she has been so fiercely independent that it has been painful to see her totally immobilized right now. My mother's spirit never would be elderly and that has been making it harder, and easier, for her right now.

One of my sisters was away, celebrating her 20th anniversary and one could not afford to catch my mother's staph infection and so this past week, I was the most present daughter.

A number of times during the week, I shuttled back and forth to the rehab facility and then stayed at my vacationing sister's to watch over our nine-year-old twin nephews, Max and Sam, from Thursday to nearly midday today. Pat didn't have a desire to join me, as she knew it would be challenging...more about all that in a separate blog entry.

The Stranger -- Not as Complex as Camus'

Monday night, I rolled my briefcase down Broadway toward 121st Street, thinking about the class I had just come from, and wishing that I had left my classmates, wanting more in reading my narrative. I was being comparative -- really, competitive -- with the classmate whose narrative we interpreted that night. By the time I reached my car-door, I was fully self-involved. Pat and I were talking on my cell phone about how bad I felt and she was indulging me.

I turned on the engine and a man, who appeared to be an Orthodox Jew based on his fedora and big beard, motioned to me from the sidewalk. Still on the phone with Pat, I opened the window of the passenger side. Apparently having seen my license plate, he said, "I'm sorry to bother you, but are you going to the New Jersey Turnpike?"

"No, I'm going to the Garden State Parkway. Sorry."

"Umm, I just left my wallet in a taxi and need to get back to Cherry Hill [which is at the southern tip of New Jersey, just outside of Philadelphia]."

"Wow, sorry. I'm just going to Montclair [which is just 14 miles west of midtown Manhattan], which won't help you much."

Pat said, "Give him a ride to the Port Authority."

"You're right across from the Jewish Theological Seminary [JTS]...and you're dressed like an Orthodox Jew, so please tell me you're not a killer."

"I'm not," he said, smiling and lifting his fedora for me to see a woven kippah (skull-cap). It struck me that it was white, with a blue border, rather than the typical color that the Orthodox wear, pure black, but it was a barely-conscious thought.

"OK. Come on and get in, but I'm going to stay on the phone the whole time just in case."

"I can sit in the back seat."

"No, come up here."

"Oh, my mother would turn over in her grave to see me asking a single woman --" he said anxiously, getting in the car.

"I'm not single," I said assertively.

"I'm [the Jewish equivalent of John Doe -- among the most common first and last names a Jewish man could have]."

"I'm Sarah Siegel," I said and knew not to extend my hand to shake his, since Orthodox Jews are not supposed to touch a person of another gender unless they're married to each other.

He got in the car and thanked me while calling 311 to report the mishap. "It was a blue, velvet bag with a Star of David on it and the driver was Sikh...."

When he hung up, I said, "You're lucky that the driver was Sikh. A Sikh friend in India told me that Sikhs are all about standing up for what's right."

"Yeah, I just have to worry about who got in the cab after me."

"Well, they don't want your tefillin. They just want the money."

"Yeah, and I did cancel all my credit cards."

"Good, but the tefillin probably were from your Bar Mitzvah --"

"No, they were my great-grandfather's and I had just sent them to Israel to be repaired."

"Oh, that's too bad!"

In between this exchange, he called the Amtrak station and learned that at that time of day, the train ticket cost $60. I had already given him the $17 I had in my wallet.

"We'll have to stop at an ATM."

"Thank you so much. You'll give me your address and I'll send it back to you."

"Wait here, since I need to double-park, and don't steal the car, OK?"

"I'll do mincha while you're gone...though it's probably already reaching the time for ma'ariv."

"OK, please, just don't take my car," I said, leaving the engine running and walking toward the Chase building on the corner.

Coming back, I saw him, finishing his prayers from a tiny prayer-book -- the sort that should have been in his tefillin bag, but maybe he carried a spare in his coat, and I said, "I heard you confirm that it was $60 for the train ticket, and so here's $60. That ought to be enough, with the money I've already given you."

"Well, oh, but I'll have to get my car out at the other end!"

I was annoyed. "Your wife, or someone from the synagogue, can help you at the other end."

He was quiet, seeming distraught about how he'd manage at the other end, but I wasn't willing to give him any more money, or delay my dinner still further by stopping again.

"What do you do?" he asked.

I told him, and that I was just coming from class in the field.

"Your company's paying for it, of course?"

"Yes, I'm fortunate. What do you do?"

"I work for Steven Spielberg. Actually, I was up there [by JTS], scouting a location."

I had zero curiosity about the film -- didn't wonder about it at all. Instead, I wanted to know what this Orthodox Jew, who worked in the film industry, thought about "Trembling Before G-d."

"Ah, you're the perfect person to ask: Did you see 'Trembling Before G-d?'"

"I did."

"What did you think of it?"

"I have many gay friends in the industry and I think that things have to change."

"Gay, Jewish friends?"

"Sure. I know an actor, who at Passover --"

Passover? Why didn't he say, "Pesach," (the Hebrew word for Passover), since he knew that I was Jewish, too?

" -- said that he just wanted, more than anything, to go home."

"Well, I went to a Modern Orthodox Jewish day school for eight years...[Sarah, take a breath, but why should I feel nervous? After all, he was a captive audience, who needed my help(!)]...and my partner's female [ah, done!], and I was troubled by the movie. You know why? Because I'm convinced that Orthodox congregations screened it as a cautionary tale, to tell parents, 'See, you've got to keep your kids from being who they are if they're gay because look how miserable they'll be."

"I don't think Orthodox congregations will show it at all. It was too positive. What about that rabbi in the movie, who spoke positively?"

"He was an openly *gay* rabbi."

"Sarah, I want to hang up," I heard in my earphone, from Pat, who by now, had established in her mind, as I had, that he was not a killer, and so I said goodbye to her.

"Oh, right, well...I was raised differently than most Orthodox --"

"If it's not too personal, do you mean that you're a baal teshuvah?"


"What inspired you to become so?"

He told me and necessarily, since we were approaching the train station, I wrote down my address and phone number during a red light while listening.

"You can just let me out here," he said, and I handed him the address, which he seemed startled by, and then recovering, said, "I'll send you tickets [to the Steven Spielberg film]," as he exited the car.

Don't send me tickets; send me the money, I thought.

I called Pat back when I got through the Lincoln Tunnel. "You know, I don't know if I'll ever see the money from him, but it was worth it, to get out of my self-absorption, to have the sense that I was helping another person."

Pat agreed, as did my oldest sister Deb when I told her the story. "I'd have done the same thing," she said.

The next day at work, my colleagues told me how sweet and lovely and naive I was and one even hugged me, saying, "We love you, Sarah," and another declared that he wouldn't have even rolled down the window more than half an inch, let alone let the man in his car.

"I smelled distress from him," I said, "It wasn't the sort of smell of someone who hadn't bathed in a long time, but rather of someone, who was weathering a crisis."

"Well, we're very different," said my colleague, and then, "Did you even see him go into Penn Station?"


P.S. It is five days later and no money, yet, has arrived in the mail. In parallel, I feel foolish and fine about the whole experience....I want to believe that he has simply lost my address.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

India on the Hudson

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

...And Jesus Rockers in Hoboken

My car found a spot right in front of India on the Hudson, which solved where to have dinner before I went to Maxwell's backroom to hear my colleague and friend Linda's friend Christian Bauman give a reading from his book, In Hoboken. The book came out today. it began promisingly, with, "The stink was how they found out."

I didn't recall that there would also be music as part of the evening, let alone music played, sung and written by Linda. Linda, I discovered tonight, was the first person I knew that had a Wikipedia entry featuring her. Till the art part of the evening began, I felt immensely awkward in my business suit, since everyone else was dressed like a folk-singer.

Almost everyone else *was* a folk-singer, including two of Linda's three sisters, who were there with her to perform. The third sister was in India. How fun it was to see three sisters onstage, playing off of each other's harmony and instruments, since I'm one of three sisters. My favorite song by Linda was, "A Little Will Do."

The words I caught included:
When I dream, I want it all, but a little will do....If I can't give a dollar, a quarter will do....When I'm missing my mother, I can still call my dad, or visit my sisters, the best friends I ever had....I want it all, but a little will do....

She called it her "gratitude song" and I loved the sentiments.

I came, feeling jealous of others' creativity and wishing I were more prolific and left, feeling inspired and happy and awe-filled, rather than bitter. Upon leaving, I smiled for two blocks in the wrong direction, passing the golden elk sculpture outside the Elks Lodge and the spring-green, neon sign for Elysian Cafe before realizing that 12th Street was four blocks in the opposite direction.

Linda and her fellow musicians all were raised ardently Christianly, or came to the religion by the time they found each other, and some of their music made references to Christian imagery. It was another reason that I was anxious to be there. Was I going to relate to the songs?

As it turned out, my favorite one by Christian Bauman and Gregg Cagno, "The View From Here," referred to Michaelangelo's view while lying prone to paint the Sistine Chapel's ceiling. I loved it like I loved Kirk Franklin, like I've been comforted by C.S. Lewis' thoughts, and Thomas Merton's.

Tonight, at India on the Hudson, I saw the tiny candles lit atop a Ganesh sculpture and thought about how they probably lit them nightly just prior to opening for dinner. Many needed meaning in their lives; the kindled Ganesh; the lyrics about Michaelangelo; and the Jewish blessing over my meal, which I recited prior to eating the Dal Makhani and Chicken Tika Kebob, all gave our lives the meaning they needed. What could be wrong with any of our traditions?

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Passing and Not Passing

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

Passing As Younger and As White

On the phone, my mom does not sound like an older person, and when people meet her, no one believes she is 82. She passes for someone in her mid-70s at most. My mother is relatively open about her true age; she does not take advantage of passing like she could. In my mom's case, it's simply flattering for her to see people's initial, surprised reactions.

Thank God, my mother's mind still fully functions and she has the same sort of memory as I do, for dialogue that happened years ago and for people she has known for any length of time. Yesterday, visiting her at the rehab center, where she's staying till she can return to the hospital for surgery, I learned about Jackie McDonald, a childhood playmate she had, who lived two doors down: "We were friends through high school, and I lost track of him once I went away to college and he went into the service -- it was that time [WWII]; we used to take long walks and tell each other about who we were dating, and his mother used to watch us like a hawk because certainly, we couldn't date each other, since I was Jewish."

Last night, after we got back from Stamford, Pat and I watched "The Human Stain," which was based on Philip Roth's novel. Spoiler alert: It was about a Classics professor, who passed as Jewish when he was actually black. He guarded his secret so closely that he didn't even tell it when he was fired for making what was interpreted as a racist remark. The way his story unfolded in flashbacks, I saw that he wanted to avoid feeling second-class, at all costs.

"The Human Stain" was fiction, but stories like it, I've been told, were relatively common among Jews, Italians and black people in America in the last century. Yesterday, my mother also told me about a great-uncle, who dodged the WWII draft, since he wasn't accepted as a conscientious objector, and moved to the Midwest, where he became George Graham, having been Harry Prensky.

It wasn't a case of trying to avoid being second-class, but I was reminded of it, as "George Graham" was a name that was so utterly not "Harry Prensky." It sounded like while hiding his former identity, he went ahead and chose a name that would let him pass as Christian. I never knew my grandfather or any of his siblings. All of them died prior to my birth.

Not Passing As Hearing Or As Heterosexual

Pat and I saw two other films this weekend, where the main characters could not pass as anyone other than who they were. In Carson McCullers' "The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter," Alan Arkin played a deaf man, who signed with one, unfortunate friend and otherwise, who had to write to communicate. There was no way to hide his deafness.

"The Naked Civil Servant" was Quentin Crisp's autobiography, of having been openly gay in England from the '30s onward. Apparently, he came from an upper-class family, but still, it seemed amazingly courageous how boldly he wore what he felt most comfortable wearing, and did what made him feel most like himself.

From where did that boldness not to pass originate...because Alan Arkin's character didn't have a choice; he was openly deaf because, well, it was impossible to hide. It didn't seem that Quentin Crisp wanted to be brave for bravery's sake, but because it was the only natural way for him to be; he also made a statement about how intoxicating the exhibitionism that his appearance required was, and he sustained the intoxication by continuing to appear boldly.

Watching Quentin Crisp's story, I reflected on my classmates' recent reaction to my learning and leadership life history. Most said that they felt I was bold, and one was especially on target: "You talk about wanting to connect with people, particularly through your writing, but you also seem to set yourself apart from people." And another student said, "You seem to want to be seen as special."

Years ago, a friend of mine said, "You're like a Carson McCullers character: a fierce outsider with her nose pressed up against the window." And it was true. I wanted to be recognized for my difference and in parallel, wanted to fit in with society.

I did not wish for anyone to say, for example, at work, "Oh, your lesbianism doesn't matter to me. All I care about is your talent." My identity was at my core, and my talent and everything else about me flowed from it, and so while many chose to downplay their difference, I wanted to accentuate mine and then enjoy finding common ground with people all the more so.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Spending the Sabbath Half-Peacefully

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

Blogging and Chatting

"What's our boy, doing on TV, crying?"

"Hang on, Sam. Here's Pat," I tell my neighbor, passing the phone to her.

They talk about Brett Favre's press conference, where he announces his retirement, and then Pat tells me upon hanging up, "C'mon, we're going over there right now to give him the cheese-head [we bought him when we were in Green Bay recently]."

We do, and nearly an hour later, I'm back on the blog. Tonight, from here on, is all about watching DVDs of, perhaps, "The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter" and "The Naked Civil Servant," as we have skipped synagogue due to the rain and exhaustion of the week; yesterday, we called in for our rabbi to include my mom in the list of people to pray for their restored health, and on Saturday, we'll go to Stamford to visit her, but otherwise, I need to chill out this shabbat.

My mother is going to need knee surgery, but not till the MRSA she colonized in her nose departs in 10 or more days, and they're waiting for the culture to come back from the gash in her shin. My sister Kathy thinks I'm going through the Anger stage of Kubler-Ross' stages of grief, but I know I don't want to feel angry anymore tonight. None of my feelings feel rational right now. I just want to relax. Seeing our neighbors Margaret and Sam helped me do that.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Anxiety in Its Glory

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

Might As Well Honor It

Tonight, I just need to write what I need to write out of self-respect, rather than out of disrespect for my mother:

Turning the corner at 8:15 am, and heading up the hill to Stamford Hospital, I imagined the river-side park across the road, full of pink tents, like it was every summer when I was a young child. My mom used to take me to the Pink Tent Festival there every year. It was a wonderful time, when I felt solidly like the child and saw my mother solidly as the mother. She held my hand as we walked by all of the booths and even once bought me The [Winnie the] Pooh Party Book, which a friend of hers had authored and was selling at the Festival.

Other times, our roles often were reversed, including today....

Blasting Kirk Franklin's "Looking for You" while racing up 287, anyone, including Jesus was welcome to help me. Oh, God, please don't let her look like a snapped-neck rag-doll. Please don't let her die. Please don't make me have to face things I don't want to deal with by myself today. Please let me rise to her occasion.

It feels good to cry with pre-grief. Can the other drivers see me? Why do I care?

Why did she back into a tree? How long was she by herself in the crashed car before someone helped? Why isn't she living with us? Because it would be unlivable for everyone. Still, why couldn't I have kept this from happening?

"The doctor's coming at 7 to tell me if I need surgery," she tells me at 6:40 am. She'd been there since 5 pm the previous day, but didn't want to worry her children till morning.

"OK, Mom. I'll be there soon. I'm leaving now," I say breezily while really wanting to collapse. I'm coming from New Jersey during rush-hour, so it won't be that soon in reality.

Sarah, you can't have an accident. You just can't. You have to reach the hospital safely. You have to!

iPod to the rescue. Favorite song after favorite song accompanied me on the drive while I tried not to imagine that this was the call I'd been dreading for the past few years.

My mother's fast asleep when I arrive. Her head is held up by a neck-brace and her face is whiter than I've ever seen it. She looks just about dead, God forbid.

I put my stuff down and go out to the nurse's station, where I see the doctor heading toward her room. "How is she?" I ask and he comes back out of the room.

"Who are you?"

"Her daughter."

"The neurosurgeon will come in a bit to determine if her neck needs surgery because it might be fractured, and she also broke her knee and sustained a lot of bruises."

Calmly: "There was a truism that once an older person broke a bone, that was the beginning of the end..." I said. "Is she going to die?"

"It *was* true -- and most typically for hips -- but now, with physical therapy, she should be fine.

I don't believe him, but I shake his hand and thank him. The orthopedic surgeon, who knows my mother, though I don't know why, comes in, saying, "Edythe, what have you done? You were supposed to be at home."

He squeezes her everywhere and concludes that more is broken than the X-rays saw, including some ribs. My little mother is lying there, just taking it. He sets her leg in a splint with a pump under it to keep her circulation going and I see gashes in her shin and ankle. I've never seen my mother cut before. How did those happen? "For someone your age, it's a big accident," he says in conclusion.

Later: "I went to get my prescription at Genovese yesterday before the accident and I hope no one opened the bag on the front seat of the car because Genovese had a sale on Valentine's items and I bought a set of red, plastic 'love hand-cuffs' as a joke for [my sister] Kathy. They were 26 cents."

How is it that my mother always gets to be the playful one, and I'm always the mother? And then she'll surprise me serendipitously, but not reliably, switching roles: "You're so cute; you're so professional, but you're really still just a little girl," says my mother, after hearing me leave voicemail for her swim-physical therapist, letting her know that my mom's had an accident and will miss the next few months of sessions as a result.

I guess that when I left the message, I sounded like a troubled daughter, rather than like a troubled mother, sibling or friend, which are the other roles I play often. The neurosurgeon concluded that she tore a ligament in her neck, but fractured no bones, and so there will be no surgery these first six weeks, and then he'll evaluate whether or not it's needed.

My sister Deb does daughter-duty on Wednesday and I'll go back on Thursday after work to see my mom once again. Meanwhile, I've earned another golden medal....When my sister Kathy became ill with breast cancer, which thank God, she survived, she gave me an extra key to her apartment. Tonight, my mom gave me an extra [gold-colored] key to her house.

I went there this evening to get some things my mother needed/wanted and the car, sitting in its destroyed state in the driveway, was sobering. On my mom's dresser, while hunting for something else, I found a photo of my mom at 19. She was really cute. And vigorous. Now, just her mind and grip still feel strong.

Why isn't there still a Pink Tent Festival in Stamford? Why can't I be a kid again?

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Jewish Or Not...Lesbian Or Not

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

Realistic Appearance and Apparent Reality

This weekend, I read an article in the Sunday "New York Times" magazine, that focused on how particularly Jewish-American immigrants in Israel need to prove their Jewish identity when they wish to marry there, since marriage is overseen by the ultra-Orthodox rabbinate, rather than by the government.

Yesterday, a friend told me that he felt somehow Jewish, though to his knowledge, he came from a family that even had its own crest. I woke up this morning, thinking of a Yiddish expression I've heard my mom use: the "pintele Yid" (the "Jewish spark"). She always applied it to reluctant Jews, who somehow seemed to be drawn back to their heritage in later-life. This was not the case for my friend, but still, it reminded me of the attraction my mom spoke of.

This afternoon, one of my mother's long-time, actively, culturally Jewish friends, who she hadn't seen in some time -- and who I hadn't seen in years -- said that her daughter had been with her female partner for 25 years and yet unlike me, the daughter had not yet wanted to be affiliated with any Jewish community [due to the Orthodox rejection of her as a lesbian]. "I need to work on her," she said.

"For me, I think I was nostalgic for the tunes and rituals I learned in [Modern Orthodox Jewish] school and so I couldn't stay away," I said.

Telling me goodbye, she said a bit urgently, it seemed, perhaps, in case we never saw each other again, "You look well and should stay well. I'm in the forefront of gay marriage activism [at nearly 90 years old]."

I kissed her cheek in response and said, "Thank you for your leadership."

If she didn't declare it, no one would know of her activism just by looking at her. And perhaps no one would know her daughter was a lesbian if her daughter didn't tell them explicitly; I had no recollection of "gaydar" [rhymes with radar and means being able to sense when someone is gay] being triggered in me by any of her children. No one would know about my Christian friend's paradoxical pintele Yid either, unless he told them.

When I worked in Schaumburg, Illinois, for the technology arm of Sears, Roebuck & Co., one of my colleagues wanted to know how it was possible that I was Jewish, since I had blue eyes.

I wrote about this here before, I think, but I responded, "Both of my parents have blue eyes; Russia, where both sides of my family are from originally, had a lot of pogroms, where soldiers pillaged Jewish villages, so maybe they're from that time; I don't know...."

What if I weren't really Jewish?

How ironic! During the era of the Holocaust, people had to prove they were not Jewish and today, in Israel, they had to prove they were. What a strange sensation -- to be worried that anyone would ever challenge the veracity of my Jewish identity, and what a luxury, I guess, compared with the danger my people had been in at various times historically, where they would have been happy to pass as non-Jews.

Blue eyes and tall height aside, growing up, I did always feel that people, who had met other Jews, and who did not yet know my name, which is a giveaway, wouldn't be surprised to learn that I was Jewish. (In my experience, the majority of Jews I have known have not been particularly tall or blue-eyed.)

My parents reinforced the identity so much that it never was a question for me until my colleague challenged me at work. And then, I provided a flippant, yet perhaps realistic, answer.

Fierce Pride

Just as my parents nurtured me to be proud of my Jewish identity, I nurtured myself -- with the help of the gay, lesbian, bi and trans (GLBT) community -- to be proud of my lesbian identity. And that identity got challenged a bit more often, oddly, since I felt, also, that I did not pass as heterosexual. My mother had a colleague, for example -- a fellow art collector, who was in his eighties -- who told me even after meeting Pat, "If I were 20 years younger, I'd woo you."

I just looked at him incredulously.

Today, I saw him again, a few years later and he said, "You're looking as beautiful as ever. Where's your partner?"

"She's not interested in the topic of the lecture."

"You're still together, though?"

"Yes, for nearly 16 years so far."

"That's longer than I was married to either of my wives."

I smiled at him and kept walking.

In the same edition of "The New York Times," this weekend, I read that "Tootsie" and "Some Like It Hot," both of which were films about men, posing as women, were deemed the top two funniest films of all time.

What was it about people, watching people, being fooled by mistaken identity that was so ultimately entertaining?

Why was it hilarious as fiction, but in reality, depending on the era, at a minimum unbelievable and at worst, highly dangerous? And how could my pride have been anything other than fierce with the challenging histories that the Jews and the GLBT communities have had?

Over the years, a number of people asked me why I was so earnest, particularly around role-modeling. Last week, I was asked again after saying that although it was a lot of pressure, I tried to be exemplary as often as I could....Now, I did not define what I meant by "exemplary," which when I considered it further, mostly meant, striving to be authentic; in any case, a black colleague asked me, "Doesn't that get exhausting?"

I wanted to respond, but did not: "I can't believe you can't relate. As someone from an historically-underrepresented group, I would think you'd understand the aspiration to be a leader despite your minority status, along with the importance of making it, so that the next generation of your people could see hope of success by your example."

Perhaps, I was just extra-conscious of my identity compared to most people....

Saturday, March 1, 2008

My Day As a Poem

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

Hearty Art, Hardy Meal

Today provided spring-light,
and cold to offend my cold.
Sitting in Pat's favorite
Port Authority place, seeing
signs not to sleep or linger
longer than 30 minutes,
I read about "Tootsie" in
"The New York Times," killing
time prior to our play.

The reporter wrote of
Jessica Lang's "rose-vanilla
breathiness," saying,
unwittingly to Dustin Hoffman,
"Dorothy, I love you,
but I can't love you."

I was transported back to
the year of my dad's death,
when "Tootsie" and "Yentl"
both were on the big screen --
including two precious
scenes of apparently and
apparently not women,
being romantic with
each other.

Thank God I survived that
lonely adolescent time.

30 minutes and six blocks
later, Pat and I descended
the escalator to take our
seats for "Crimes of the

Three sisters of the South
extended and fended off
their mother's legacy in
the off-Broadway "dramedy."

Me, I prefer a full-on drama.

"'night, Mother," which also
won a Pulitzer Prize, was
more my taste. Suicide is
not a laughing matter --
except somewhat in "Harold
and Maude" -- and Marsha
Norman's brand suits my
theater-going taste better.

Early dinner at Le Madeleine
off of 9th Avenue felt nice
and date-like; Pat still is
great company nearly 16
years later.

Another cold march to our
car from dinner and then
we shot straight into the
Lincoln Tunnel and to our
house in decent time.

When we turned off the alarm,
Pat said, "Hi, nice home."

For Art's Sake

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

Pat's Dad's Name Was Art

...but that's not the Art I'm referring to.

This morning, I talked to another friend of mine who's a visual artist, telling her that I was unnerved by e-mail I received this week from a classmate, who told me that while reading my learning-leadership-life history over this week, he wished he could have put his arm around me and offered me some friendly advice.

"Sarah, once you put your art out there, it's public property. Don't you think that if you publish a book and you sell 100,000 copies, there'll be 100,000 opinions?"

She liberated me, at least for today. It was freeing to realize that just because people reacted to my writing, didn't mean I needed to subscribe to all of their reactions.

Last Monday, our professor asked, "Who wants to go first?" i.e., who wanted to have his or her history interpreted during the next class?

I raised my hand.

There were to be two official readers, who would kick off the discussion while the rest of the class also had to read it, though not as carefully. Will I regret having taken this class after Monday night? Or will it prove to be transformational?